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.”

 

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

 

The Only Way Out Is Through

There is a moment in every Great Undertaking when I realize I can not go on.

I think to myself, “This Great Undertaking is a fool’s plan, unachievable, and just not going to happen no way-no how, stop the ferris wheel NOW I need to get OFF!”

When I was about eight months pregnant it occurred to me that this large wonderful Creature-Lump inside me was actually going to have to come OUT at some point. Up until then we had been having a lovely contemplative time together. I mostly read books and drank nourishing herbal teas. The Creature-Lump mostly hung out, grew, and mildly squirmed in an increasingly constrained space. We had a rhythm. It was just fine.

Then the comprehension happened. I was doing my normal evening routine, on a day like any other, and suddenly realized that this large Creature-Lump was going to come out into the world. It would come out. Out of me. That was just weird, freaky, and scary. And I couldn’t run away from this reality. I couldn’t wish it to be magically over or find an older sister to do it for me. I realized was just up to me and the lump-creature to make the change.

The only way out is through.

Turns out is wasn’t just up to me and the C-L, though. When we came to the moment of no return, a sizable network of people helped me, cared for me, encouraged me, and literally held me up when I couldn’t go on.

Life is often just plain hard. And hard is not always bad. The challenge sometimes leads to really great amazing stuff. That lump-creature became the most wonderful girl (now young woman) who made my whole life better.

But, facing the reality of knowing there is absolutely no turning back or hiding from the process…is a defining moment. Whether that stampeding process is childbirth, or another equally terrifying unavoidable truth ….the only way out is through. Equal measures of awareness and acceptance will save the day.

I wish I could say it has gotten easier to accept this truth. Somehow, it sneaks up on me every. damn. time.

Writing term papers. Getting a project completed. Telling the truth that needs to be told. Not telling the truth that doesn’t need to be told. Stepping away from what is known toward something new. The only way out is through.

SO I remember what always always makes the impossible possible. Surround myself with people who love me. Talk to people who have traversed this path. Feel the feelings. Read books about inspiring heroes. Dance to great music. Take naps.

And when the transition comes, because of course it will…Stay present. Breathe. Be curious and rely on the process to happen.

 

 

 

 

 

Time Travel

Every day I imagine that things are different, that the thing I know is true is not true, that somehow we can all go back to 2 months ago…back to when we complained about having a busy day, how the weather was to hot or too dry or too wet….meaningless small annoyances that filled conversation.

But there is no changing time, no reversing, no matter how much we pray, plead, or wish.

That’s what feels hard today. Facing the starkness of knowing we have no control over how long we get to be with the people we love.

I want to go back to taking people for granted. I want to go back to not needing to touch my kids’ skin just so we can be a little more physically connected- as if just seeing them or talking to them is not real enough.

I want to stop listening to people so intently. I want to stop caring how their day went and appreciating that stranger who held the door open for me.

I would trade being part of this amazing loving community  in a millisecond if it would bring us back to Before.

Is this selfish? You effing believe it.

Pee for Two and Two for Pee

A collaborative post with Kim about pee:

One thing you may have not thought about this evening is pee. We have decided that it is fascinating! The subject of proper hydration started out innocently enough, but then took a decidedly different turn when another friend mentioned that in sports training center bathrooms, there are often charts, in full color, advising when a person needs to drink more water -based on the color of their urine.

Being lovers of learning, some google searching ensued* …. We determined that one of us (I wont say which of us or how it was determined) is a bit dehydrated. And one of us is doing just fine on the hydration front.

Here’s the chart so you, too, can do some comparison!

You’re Welcome!

dehydration-chart

*I certainly hope that no one ever wants to check my search history. Sometimes I just want to find out about things and then there’s a piece in one article that leads me to another odd random thing…..and on…. and on….. Let’s just say that my years as a Religious Educator have brought me to some really weird google searches ….and leave it at that.

Religious Needs of Young People

Summed up in one line:

"Young people have a deep interest in religious matters"

“Young people have a deep interest in religious matters” from Young People in the Liberal Church by Stephen Fritchman

True. Young people (or any age people) DO have interest in “religious matters”. They may not have interest in Sunday School, or unnecessary meetings, or  sitting and listening without getting to participate.

SO if it’s as plain as this picture suggests, why are we having conferences, books, and summits devoted to figuring out the sharp decline in church involvement? There’s a difference between religious matters and static religion.

Religious matters are the ideas and values that connect us and help us understand our lives. The questions and life events that we can only understand when we explore them in community.

Perhaps we can shift the conversation away from discovering the perfect structures or program to entice people back to church? Maybe our conversation can be more about our common concerns and what binds us together.

Working Title

Like many folks in the world, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get out of this stuck place and into the Next Great Place (NGP). In the NGP, we will have figured out all the worrysome issues of now. The NGP will have integrated, relevant, faith formation in people’s regular lives. The NGP will empower a justice filled, mulitcultural society. In the NGP, bacon will be back on the good food list.

I jest, but the pain and fear is real. We are at a point of frustration in so many areas of life and the size of the problems seems unmanageable – too complicated to know how to begin. We have named the struggles, and even have come up with quite a few possible solutions- so what keeps us immobilized and having the same conversations year upon year?

We are afraid to be messy.

With some admirable exceptions, most of us are really hesitant to fail in public. Heck- we are even afraid to fail in private! I write “we” because I am part of the group of folks who want to look more together than I feel.

I have this blog. I like writing. There have been no posts for two years. I could say I’ve been kind of busy…sure that’s true, but mostly I have been full of doubt and fear. Concerned that my ideas are not ready for reading. That I will be misunderstood or mocked for poor word choice or just plain getting it wrong the first time I express myself.

Yesterday I committed to writing just a bit every day until Dec 14. At the time, I had just read a really cool book and had all sorts of Big Thoughts and Sparkly Connections that I thought would seem exciting. Yes! I will write! It will be Glorious!

Today I woke up and thought, “Oh, I didn’t sleep too well…..there’s some personal stuff happening that is hard…..I need coffee…..”

So, I’m sorry and welcome, Reader, this is what I’ve got for today. It’s messy. It’s disjointed, and the “k” key doesn’t work on my laptop. I looked back and saw that I wrote a tiny bit years ago about failing in the congregational context, and somehow haven’t really been willing to apply that lens to my creative and professional writing.

The stars have aligned I suppose. My friend, Tim, isn’t the first to say it, but he did make a handy graphic for me to use:

If you are afraid of failure, you will never succeed.