The basic structure, you Do. Not. Break.

Quite a few years ago, I got to sit in on a Masterclass for a jazz band. The leader kept saying snippets of advice to the band, so I jotted them down. The more I listened, the more I heard universal wisdom in the phrases.

At the time, I was involved in a lot of worship planning and creating learning environments. Now, I am primarily involved in creating virtual space for community. These jazz masterclass tenets hold up either way.

I invite you to read through this list and consider how each may apply to some aspect of creating community in which you are a part:

“Don’t be afraid to come IN when you are at the entrance.”

“This is OUR music. You are part of an ensemble. Listen for yourself in the whole.”

“The more silence you put in your music, the better the music sounds.”

“Help the audience know when something new is happening.”

“If you are one of the loud people, maybe play closer to your stand, or back it down a little.”

“Not every note gets the same attention. Make sure the melody is singing when they get the chance.”

“Hit the back wall with your sound. You set the mood for everyone else to join in.”

“[Jazz] is like a rubber band, you can pull it any way you like, but the basic structure you Do. Not. Break.”

 

Order, Chaos, Order, Chaos

I am feeling the lessons of pendulum waves lately:

I’ve been experiencing periods of tremendous synchronicity, harmony, oneness from many… and corresponding interludes that feel like every molecule near me is on some random, not quite colliding path.

Order, chaos, order, chaos – can’t have one without the other- really they are expressions of a larger whole.

We may ascribe the label “chaos” to a pattern that is just too close for our understanding, or that is a piece of an unfinished pattern. When I am sitting in the midst of the shuffle, and there is too much competing stimuli, too much happening, I can remember that order is on the way. Breathe. Remember. Trust the science. Trust the waves to make their shapes.

Love watching pendulum waves? Me too.

Here’s another video that comes with kids making sounds of awe when the balls make a pleasing alignment. May we all recognize the fleeting moments of order in our lives and be appropriately awed. May we also feel a connection that exists even in the midst of chaos:

Increasing the Size of My Soul: A Practice for Growing Relational Power

Increasing the Size of My Soul: A Practice for Growing Relational Power

What is the size of your soul? By S-I-Z-E I mean the stature of [your] soul, the range and depth of [your] love, [your] capacity for relationships. I mean the volume of life you can take into your being and still maintain your integrity and individuality, the intensity and variety of outlook you can entertain in the unity of your being without feeling defensive or insecure. I mean the strength of your spirit to encourage others to become freer in the development of their diversity and uniqueness. I mean the power to sustain more complex and enriching tensions. I mean the magnanimity of concern to provide conditions that enable others to increase in stature.  -Bernard Loomer

Bernard Loomer, a twentieth century process theologian, speaks to how personal growth leads to an increased relational power that can change our world. The wounds to our planet and its people are dire and call for immediate action. Understanding the connected web of relationships, from individual to global, helps me know that all positive action is influencing the whole system toward health.

Today, one can listen to the news and believe that hate and greed are gaining ground, but we can also see evidence that more and more people are interested in a building a new way. 

The work of leading this change is to expand our sense of “We” so that it reaches beyond what is comfortable and easy. My identities, and the privilege embedded within many of them, allow me to work within the establishment. My responsibility in this system is to listen to marginalized voices and amplify their experience especially when it is is different than the experiences I am having. This requires me to see beyond my own perspective and find ways to be an accomplice to our collective liberation.

When we are willing to inhabit liminal space, I mean not just a whistle stop but really set up a home there, powerful change can occur. Strong emotional reactions are an opportunity to stop and slow down. We must make room for some new way to take shape. Creating this pause allows a generative force to exist and work in our relational systems so that they are loving enough and we can be honest enough to not only challenge each other, but remain in the uncertain, messy space once truth is spoken.

Choose to be extravagant with uncertainty. Traditional, mechanistic systems are built on the idea of closed systems with impenetrable boundaries and restricted supplies of resources. Part of creating a holistic society is disrupting the mindset of scarcity that governs us. We can increase our authentic relationships, trusting that there is enough hope, joy, and love for everyone growing all our power, so that no one is left behind as we build a holistic world.


 

The image is a close up of Bronze Fennel in my garden. It is a teacher of persistence and expansion. Leave a comment for whatever connections you draw to the text!

Sloppy Joe, Slop, Sloppy Joe*

I have been stuck.

In constructing fractal faith formation, I had some initial gelled concepts that came from my grad school work in 2017 and a little bit of more public facing writing, but then I hit a moment where the “so what?” crept in. So what if I personally have found meaning in this lens, this description of age old concepts. Nothing new here, move along….

Having been steeped in the tea of production and marketability above all other virtues that is academic culture, I had to come to peace with the fact that nothing I am thinking is new. I don’t have a final product to offer. All I have is thoughts and questions. All I want to “do” with these thoughts is be in conversation with other seekers and see where that conversation takes us.

The world wants a product – a book, a paper, a curriculum, a tangible distillation, a box of chocolates tied up in with a bow. All I have to offer is a sloppy joe.

The academic establishment declares that ideas can be claimed by a person, that ideas have an expert, that once an idea is published, other people better back the fuck off and find their own tree to piss on.

Last summer I read the great book Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne maree brown. I love this book, go buy it and read it. Here is a book that celebrates process, and relationships, and complex adaptive organizational systems, and following the wisdom of nature, and , and…. all the stuff that matters! Reading it oxygenated my spirit- knowing that other folks are celebrating and applying countercultural ways of doing work together and finding meaning together. Each chapter was like, “Yes!”

Now here’s the thing I have not wanted to admit- my insecurities went into hyperdrive when I finished this book.

Emergent Strategy applies to community organizing the concepts I had been trying to express toward fractal faith formation – and of course these concepts are/can be/should be applied to all areas of endeavor. But if Emergent Strategy the book was already written, what could I offer with fractal faith formation that would add to the conversation? The demons of perfection and individualism (who live in my head) declared my work derivative and unnecessary.

It took a while but I finally remembered what my friend CB says,

“Those voices in your head are lying liars who lie.”

One of the core concepts of fractal faith (and Emergent Strategy) is that we are in relationship – relationship with nature, with each other, with the All. The academic establishment (insert capitalism or any of the other dominant systems of power), wants us to be in competition, that’s how it’s reinforced and perpetuated. BUT when we honor each other by co-creating, adding our voices, being in conversation together, we are contributing to the advancement of the good, we are dismantling the dominant systems in power.

SO until the primacy of relationship is my default, it will take effort and remembering to set the old ways aside. Again. Until looking in the mirror returns a view of generations of ancestors and future kin always present with me, it will take effort to remember myself into a present We. Again. Until we break down the artifices of dominance that built this society, it will take effort to be an accomplice to justice.

 

This new year I wish for people at tables sharing good food and hashing out messy ideas. Each of us knowing our presence and contributions are necessary. While we are always part of a system bigger than just ourselves, that system requires our engagement to fulfill its purpose, to build heaven on earth.

 

 

 


*The environment of my formation will always inhabit my writing. So if you sang this title in your head à la Adam Sandler, I nod to you, fellow Gen X-er.

Co-creating the World & Communities of Practice

I am an introvert. To all who know me, this is not revelatory news. I recharge in solitude and my creativity needs quiet and space to integrate ideas I’ve gathered out in the world. Even though this is true, all of my most transformational growth experiences have happened in community. These growth experiences haven’t just occurred in community, they required interaction with others for transformation to take place. This goes beyond introvert and extrovert tendencies, but is about how we explore and synthesize personal learning. I believe we must have communities of practice for transformational growth.

Sometimes accidental or informal, and other times intentional and structured, a learning community is two or more people who share a common interest and intentionally engage tools and meaning making approaches to build collaborative knowledge and practices. 

Communities of practice assume a diversity of perspectives, interests, and abilities. We know that people have different life experiences and ways of knowing truth and that is celebrated when we learn together. We need these differences to enhance our own growth. Development of trust is central to a community of practice. We are bound together in relationship. This perspective applies to the leader as well as the participants.

Interactions with others in a learning community provide challenge to our entrenched ways of functioning and rote operations. We navigate boundaries for ourselves and for how we are with others, testing new ideas out and tweaking them in preparation for the larger world where we practice recognizing “what we do and what we know, as well as on our ability to connect meaningfully to what we don’t do and don’t know – that is, to the contributions and knowledge of others” (Wenger).

This core idea is what guides my work on resilience, and why we can accomplish tremendous growth when we come together to practice new ways of being resilient together*. So many barriers to resilience are created by isolation. Parts of resilience work certainly can and must be done on our own, but extroverts and introverts alike benefit from external feedback, challenge, support, and energy in communities of practice.

    • Explore experiences of unsuccessful risk through spiritual and concrete lenses
    • Examine the role of risk in our lives
    • Test new ways of functioning 
    • Develop a plan to move forward with learning gained in community

Communities of practice are counter cultural. That is to say counter to the dominant culture that would have us struggle, disconnected and isolated in the name of “putting on a good face” and “being strong”. True strength is not bearing pain alone. It’s not efficient to navigate challenges without partners. True strength is co-creating our world.

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together

-Aboriginal activists group, Queensland, 1970’s

 


*Click here if you’d like to learn more about Unbroken: Accessing (Y)Our Resilience, a community of practice.

Portals of Discovery

A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.

– James Joyce

OOF! Of all the failure reframe quotes out there on the interwebs, this one is a doozy. I never made it through Ulysses, the book from which this quote originates, so I can’t comment on it’s relevance to the story, but Joyce’s words are often held up on their own for us to pull meaning and wisdom about mistakes in general.

Mistakes. Disappointing, and at times, brutal. I totally get why folx want to pretend that mistakes are not inevitable parts of everyone’s life. It’s tempting to imagine that there are special people, genius people, who are exempt from making mistakes, that these heroes possess special qualities that make them impervious to failure. Each error a planned event, a sort of experiment, testing out a hypothesis. But like when we trip on uneven pavement and loudly exclaim, “I meant to do that!” the myth of the impervious genius is not describing reality. Sorry, Friends. Joyce was, after all, a storyteller.

The notion is dangerous, though, because it perpetuates the idea that mistakes are shameful. If super smart people can be mistake free, maybe, if we try hard enough, we can be like them, figure out their secret, and avoid the pain of mistakes in our own lives. As if that is the goal- to never make mistakes, to never fail, to never fall.

The more I embrace mistakes as part of the human experience, the more I am able to see them as opportunities and, as Joyce describes, “portals of discovery” not only for genius people, but accessible to all of us. That doesn’t mean that I enjoy being in the midst of mistakes…or fresh from a new failure, but it does help me ride out the low points and remember to reach out to others, because we all can relate to the experience of having messed up. We all can help pick each other up and move forward.

We can’t think our way to a mistake free life. No one is born with an extraordinary ability to choose when to gain insight. One of the best things about mistakes is that absolutely everyone makes them – it’s one of the few commonalities that binds us together. We are here to support each other in making meaning from our failures. Our portals of discovery are created by relationship. Relationship is my resilience superpower.

If you’d like to be resilient in community, check out my project Unbroken: Accessing (Y)Our Resilience

 

Moving the Fulcrum

I love this short video from Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University on the science of resilience:


This video is centered on the experience of children, but the science works for all ages.

We inherit a baseline of resilience through our genes, but that baseline does not determine our capacity to be resilient. Our physiology is one important piece of the equation, but our initial resilience setting is not final.

We can permanently change our ability to be resilient as adults. We can be resilient even if our genetic setting is less so. We can build resilience even if we have fallen down in past experiences. The more we build our resilience factors, the easier it is to be resilient in the face of future adversity.  We can move the fulcrum.

This fact revolutionized my own life and is the reason I am compelled to do group resilience work. Resilience is built through relationships. So, we absolutely can not do this work in isolation.

We are amazing and adaptive beings!

If you are interested in moving your fulcrum, check out Unbroken: Accessing (Y)Our Resilience

Feeding Hope

Hope is an integral part of well being, made up of the belief that we can find pathways to our life goals and the ability to follow through (agency) and achieve them. Hope is serious business. Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Hope is the thing with feathers,” simple and inspiring, has been a helpful reminder to me during difficulties.

YES we are blessed with an ever available source of love, “perched” in our souls. YES this source of love can withstand great storms. YES we can trust this source to guide us in uncertain times. But….unlike in the poem, Hope does require something from us and asks far more than “a crumb.”

A high sense of hope comes from taking care of ourselves, for surrounding ourselves with a community of support, and engaging in practices that make us creative and strong. We need creativity to find new pathways to our goals and we need strength to sustain us in following through and achieving our goals. Especially when our goals are as immediate as “today I will not give up.”

How are you feeding your Hope?

 

Hope is the thing with feathers  by Emily Dickinson

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all,

 

And sweetest in the gale is heard;

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm.

 

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,

And on the strangest sea;

Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.