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.

Worship of Numbers

Perhaps the topics that are “hot” when you enter a professional field create the frame which follows you in your career. Not that we can’t adapt our perspective with new learning and changing times, but the orientation never fully leaves us and the may be default approach we might bring to our work. Perhaps not.

My professional entry was in the early years of this century when Church Size Theory was all the rage. From the UUA page on this topic:

“Congregations have been grouped by size by a number of congregational growth specialists who have found it useful to understand common characteristics among similar sized congregations.”

Church Size Theory teaches that behavior in a system is directly linked to the number of members of that system. There are labels for the sizes of congregations based on counting the people in the congregation: Family size (0 to 50), Pastoral size (50 to 150), Program size (150 to 350), and Corporate size ( 350 to 500+)

Every leadership training and professional conference I attended for about 5 years used Church Size Theory as the lens for approaching the challenges in our work. Membership numbers were tracked very closely. Articles and books counseled how to move your congregation up a level, placing a positive value on growing in numbers. A Program size church was better than a Pastoral size church and “successful” religious professionals were ones who served larger congregations or who had managed to bring a community up a category. Colleagues with larger congregations held high status and more often were invited into the positions of power in volunteer or paid service.

I remember wringing hands with colleagues because we couldn’t seem to get over a numerical hump. If we couldn’t bring a congregation along with the goal of being bigger and having the perks that come with a larger size category, we were frustrated and disappointed. I know talented, dedicated colleagues who lost their jobs over decreasing membership numbers, and it is still happening.

This worship of numbers harms our congregations and our spirits. White supremacy culture* values quantity above other forms of success. Things that can be measured are more highly valued than things that cannot. We can count how many people show up on a Sunday morning. We can count how many people sign the membership book. White supremacy culture says that the church with a bigger membership is richer in complexity and deeper in spirit.

Tema Okun articulates the characterisitics of white supremacy culture that show up in organizations, such as “Quantity over quality” and “Progress is More, Bigger.” I find it useful to keep returning to this list, reminding myself that what the dominant culture tells me is normal or has value, is not the only way, and it is unhealthy to have one approach. We do not have to continue a devotion to quantity over quality!

There are antidotes to the primacy of size framework. You can read some in Olun’s work, and I have some additional thoughts from my fractal faith formation point of view:

  • Everything is process and all process is relationships
  • Success is scalable
  • Be exponentially impactful
  • Bronchi OR broccoli; you can’t be both

I’ll dig deep into each of these in later posts. I have much more research to do before this is clear enough to explain outside my head. If you’ll forgive my brevity, here are my thoughts today…

  1. Everything is process and all process is relationships: I feel like this concept is well explored by many other writers and activists. In a nutshell, dominant culture tells us that we can do things on our own, create ideas on our own, lead and learn on our own. Not only can we do these things in by ourselves, but it shows grit and strength to go solo!  This is a lie. There is literally no such thing as transformation in isolation. Process requires feedback and relationship. We are always part of a system bigger than just us.
  2. Success is scalable. Scalability is the ability to increase or decrease in size while maintaining function, usefulness, and accuracy.  I am searching for that ability in religious life. Everything that actually matters should be scalable no matter what size your congregation, group, or organization. System size does impact dynamics, communication, and power for that system, but authentic success is a core within any size range.
  3. Be exponentially impactful: When we are engaging with one person or one thousand we have an opportunity to make it an interaction that expresses our truth. By knowing the values we want to promote in the world, we must be aware of forwarding those values on individual, family, community, and global levels.
  4. Bronchi OR broccoli; you can’t be both: Looking to nature, we notice that the structure of a head of broccoli is visually similar to the structure of a lung. (Go image search “Broccoli Lungs.” I’ll wait…. Cool, right?) We could go into a whole discussion of nifty correlations of shapes and patterns in nature, and whether there is a spiritual dimension to these connections…. and I totally will want do that later, but in this moment I just want to hold on to the idea that just because they look alike it doesn’t mean diddly about how they each function. The fractal lesson is that the branching pattern is a successful shape and that exponential pattern of branching is what allows them to be successful, but the two examples have different purposes that are not interchangeable. We can have similarities of mission or values and those will help us be successful in all our size iterations, but there are going to be important difference in our relationships- our location or system- that will make success look different in different families or communities.

Like I said, I am just starting to articulate these ideas – let me know what resonates with you (or not!)

I don’t want to throw away Church Size Theory. There are some helpful frames for understanding how to work in systems when we notice patterns by size. But let us recognize that valuing larger sizes over smaller and rewarding growth just for the sake of numbers is damaging to our movement. We can be more complex than that.

 

 

*White supremacy culture from Resource Generation: “the ways in which the dominant culture is founded upon and then defines and shapes norms, values, beliefs and standards to advantage white people and oppress people of color. The ways in which the dominant culture defines reality to advantage white people and oppress people of color. The norms, values, or standards assumed by the dominant society that perpetuate racism.”

Self Similar Across All Scales

One of the barriers I have had to working on Fractal Faith Formation is a question that has plagued creators of all stripes since times immemorial, “Where to begin?” Thank goodness for friends who listen to my rambling thoughts and by doing give me space to realize that It Doesn’t Matter Where You Begin….Just Start.

It especially doesn’t matter where I start when talking about fractals. Why? Because fractals stay true to their core in their beginning, middle, and on into infinity. No matter where you examine a fractal, it will have the same defining expression which runs through the entire shape.

From the Fractal Foundation: “A fractal is a never-ending pattern. Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop.”

(Check out a wealth of information on fractals and online tool and apps to play with fractals at the Fractal Foundation website)

With this truth in mind, I am free to explore topics with less concern about creating a linear narrative or going in some manufactured order…step one, step two, etc. However this project assembles is right and good. Let’s go!