Archive for July, 2010

There is a persistence to agitating moments.  Agitating moments emerge from very specific circumstances/individuals.  They hang around the mind, gut and heart long after the conversation or non-verbal exchange is over.  It is not uncommon to attempt to release oneself from agitating moments through rationales that justify our own response/behavior or we attempt to release ourselves by declaring the circumstance/individual to be our enemy.    Truly agitating moments will not realease us until we honor their function which is to produce a jewel.   Remember how an oyster produces a pearl? 

Jewel is a key metaphor for Dr. Ramon Corrales and his work in the field of family systems and self mastery.   While his meptaphor is much larger than the jewel itself, suffice it to say that Dr. Corrales defines a jewel as the positive need that we have.  I want to suggest there is a jewel in our agitating moments and once we discover it, the agitating moment is relieved. 

For example when we are involved in a high conflict coversation in which our  good intentions and integrity are questioned, the moment may well agitate us until we consider the need we have in the situation.  When our inner dialogue sounds something like: “This really bothers me because I would like for people to understand my intentions to be honorable and trustworthy” this identifies our need and refines our future behavior.  We never have to go to the more defensive and unhelpful place of “I still can’t believe they did or said that to me.”  Attention to the agitating moment may be a very profound way to honor our immanent God.

In fact, it is remembered that Jesus encouraged us to love our neighbors, but then agitating moments get in the way – or do they have to?  What are your experiences with agitating moments?  Dealing with them is more fully considered in thesis which is attached to this page.


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In Chapter two, Philip Clayton defines emergence as the evidence of distinct levels of organization or experience.  Further, emergence is the repetitive pattern that is at work in each of the levels.  He is careful to note that emergence is not a theory of how to transition between these levels.  It is about the existence of those levels.   None the less he returns to his argument for Strong Emergence or the downward caustion whereby “some whole has an active, non-additive causal influence on its parts” (49).

 The chapter brought to mind the biological/physical and social levels that make up a congregation.  Individuals who are cultivating a church habit will say things like:  “I just feel better when I go to church.”  or “get fed when I go and when I miss, I am hungry all week.”  Often, individuals  who struggle to get into a church habit have the strange but common experience of feeling guilty.  Assuming that the guilt is more than a cultural script that one should do church, I wonder if individuals are really sensing that when they set aside time to think and to focus on sacred texts, pray and sing they are connected to a larger whole to which they inherently belong.  Perhaps there is some downward causation at work from the whole that is the Body of Christ as realized in a congregation who lives as an effective conduit of God’s lure upon individuals. 

In light of Clayton’s chapter, perhaps building congregations begins as a lure to belong to the larger whole…the Body of Christ.  This may be realized in distinct levels of experience.  For example, perhaps an initial level looks like the approach and participation i.e. a fledging membership in a congregation.  Here the individual is bound up in new experiences and associations.

Individuals then take part in the congregation in habitual and somewhat anticipated ways.  The tie that binds is no longer about introductions to practices or nascent associations.  Now the tie that binds is a sense of purpose and leadership.  What has been new takes on an enriched novelty as the individual realizes that they are integral to the life of the congregation and its ministry.  

Perhaps yet another level of membership in the Body of Christ can be discovered as individuals commitment is not only through newness and purposeful leadership but now in a desire to be open to those wandering and seeking in their own faith.  The openness may be to those who are socially marginalized or to those who are making entry to the congregation itself. 

What began as a lure to belong now becomes a lure to include.  But the emergent pattern, perhaps something like the tie that binds functions reiteratively at each level but with different rules and unanticipated outcomes.  

I hope in this example, the mind of the congregation can be seen in its various parts as emanating from a whole.  Perhaps this contrasts the notion of building a congregation from the ground up.   As Clayton says in his closing sentence “…the present view presupposes that upward and downward influences are operative.” (62) 

Have you seen evidence of downward causation in the life of your congregation?

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Informed best guesses are critical for leaders.  They are paid to provide them in order to provide direction and method for an organization.   An informed best guess takes into account the external environment  that surrounds an organization/congregation, the internal culture of the organization/congregation as well as the particular adaptive challenge that is being faced.  (Adaptive challenges are those situations that cannot be addressed by the congregation/organization’s current skill set.)  However, Leaders are also individuals that should be affected by the feedback that they get to their informed best guesses.  Sometimes this feedback is supportive and enthusiastic but when the stakes are high enough, this feedback can be resistant or oppositional.   In the latter instance, leaders then grow in their purposeful dimension when they are no longer just providing the informed best guess, but additionally become attentive to the resistance or opposition.  This does not mean that they do what they can to placate and alleviate the tension between the best guess of their direction and congregations reaction to it.  Rather, in such moments, leaders serve their organization’s processes well if they are willing to serve as a  “holding environment” (See Ronald Hiefitz, Leading without Easy Answers) for the tension.  This means that in an  organized and humane way – leaders allow the voices of opposition and resistance into their mind and heart where they can be hosted in thought and prayer and perhaps further inform the original best guess. 

An example of this may be as a pastor imagines that the way for a  congregation to retain its vitality is to operate at a rigorous pace all year long.  However the pace is beginning to affect congregational members.   Even when the pastor cites studies that show how reliable summer Sunday morning programming is crucial to maintain momentum, the pastor’s best guess (rigorous pace all year) is met with resistance as members of the church begin to express fatigue, even burnout.  One member approaches the pastor and says “You know I don’t know how I feel.  things are wonderful and successful, but I am tired and feeling like I need a break.  If I take one, I worry I miss out on what is happening here.”  Such a statement with its authenticity and vulnerability opens the heart/mind of the leader to become an intrapersonal holding environment.  It is contextually rich enough (holds the extreme experiences of fatigue and interest) to truly inform the leader’s best guess with the help of active thought and prayer. 

Otto Scharmer in his book Theory U takes a “holding environment concept beyond the intrapersonal level suggested here.  His work focuses on how communities open themselves to the future that is trying to emerge.

 An intrapersonal spiritual discipline for for leaders is provided in my thesis which is attached.

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Though change can be an ambiguous term, there is help for the church from the field of Organizational Development and Process theology.   From the field of Organizational Development research at least two types of change are obvious:  structural and relational.  Structural change in the church may be programmatic/ Sunday morning schedules, administration/staff, church organization or building changes.  What is interesting about Organizational Development’s research is their discovery that in order for structural changes to be effective, it needs to be informed by the relationships that the change may affect.  For example, before the institution of a second worship services, investigation and interest of how that second worship service will affect individual’s experience in the church may be essential.   This is a very different approach than assuming that some people will just have to “get over it”.  Most people want change in the church, they just do not want it at the cost of their meaningful relational experiences.  

Congregational change literature often anticipates resistance to structural changes.  OD would remind us that relationships are the infrastructure for more obvious changes.  Very often our investigation into how relationships might be affected can change and often improve our pursuit of structural changes within the church.  Two important works in this regard include:  Breaking the Code of Change by Micheal Beer and Nitin Nohria eds. (from Organizational Development) and Claiming New Life:  Process Church for the Future by Lisa Withrow Associate professor of Christian Leadership at Methodist Theological School in Ohio.  Withrow provides discussion questions in her book.  The books suggests scenario groups as a way to welcome the future.   Since the future and change are often terms used in similar circumstances, her book may be helpful to the subject. 

More detail on this subject is included in my thesis which is attached to this site.

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Philip Clayton defines at least two branches of emergence:  strong and weak emergence.  He defines them this way: “Strong emergents maintain that evolution in the cosmos produces new, ontologically distinct levels, which are characterized by their own distinct laws or regularities and causal forces. By contrast, weak emergentists insist that, as new patterns emerge, the fundamental causal processes remain those of physics.” (9)   The laws of physics state that the universe is a closed system with predictable laws the working of which can be reduced to its components. 

At the risk of insulting Philip Clayton’s work, I will attempt a translation to congregational life. 

Clayton notes the prevalence of the weak emergent position in philosophy and science.  I wonder, if perhaps it is not also prevalent in the church itself.   The current mood or consciousness of the church is disturbed.  Sometimes to such an extent that we want to return to fundamental parts rather than addressing the complex novelty as it is presented to us.  Amid the sense of disturbance, there are real expressions of novelty:

Example #1: A spiritual society that has questions and quests regarding the lure of God, but avoids membership examinations and requirements in the local church. The lament goes up:  “People just do not take membership seriously anymore.  From the whole of membership there is a break-down into parts as to the cause of membership decline:  resistance to authority; a desire for anonymity; busy and over-scheduled lives etc.  It would be different if identifying the parts was reversing the trend – but that is not the case.

  • What if the church opted for something other than reductionism and pursued a strong emergent approach in dealing with the church’s declining membership?  What if the traditional concept of membership was forfeited in order to determine how the church might serve the faith journey of these individuals?  Specifically, what if membership was somewhat reversed.  Individuals decide when they are a member not upon examination but because they have determined it is a place they can learn about the gospel and reflect upon their life experience.

Example #2: The concern regarding “right beliefs” has become all consuming for the church.  The reasons for this may be related to the membership issue, to pluralism or to the increasing pressure for all churches to comfort people by reflecting the omnipotent God that their traditions confession but a scientific and technological world continually challenges.  It seems to me that the concern with right beliefs can be understood as a form of reductionism.  In other words, getting the right parts assembled will somehow provide the right product for the church.

  •  What would a strong emergent move look like?  For example, local preaching could decide to be less concerned with “right answers” and more concerned with respectful but daring inquiry engaging the edges of faith and the imaginations of the faithful.  In this way, the preacher trusts deeply in the partnership between individuals and the divine and trusts that as the congregational mind ebbs and flows there will be an exciting discernment process.  But this of course, would require that preachers become much less concerned with being right and more concerned with being provocative.   Thus worshippers are truly welcomed to evaluate, meditate and experiment in the week that follows.  Afterall, when we read scriptures carefully enough to recognize God and all of creation experimenting, reintroducing and returning to one another, we have to question why we are pursuing of right answers. 

  Clayton’s first chapter in Mind and Emergence:  From Quantum to Consciousness provides a “pre-history” of emergence as a concept.  He provides four features of emergence (4):

1. Reality is ultimately basically composed of one kind of stuff.  The form of this stuff cannot be adequately explained by physics. For the church this may mean that the scientific and social scientific discoveries (often reductionistic) that seem so challenging or alien to our religious sensibilities are insufficient to address our theological concerns but not because they are too radical but because their reductionism exacerbates the notion of a transcendent God with not enough emphasis on God’s immanence.  

2.       As aggregates of materials attain appropriate complexity, genuinely novel properties emerge in these complex systems.  For the church this may mean that “right answers” never last very long.

3.       Emergent properties are irreducible to and unpredictable from, the lower-level phenomena from which they emerge. For the church this may mean that we never have the luxury of returning to previously well-working parts.  Rather as we are stumped about how to move forward, our energy, intelligence, imagination and love for one another are ultimately required.

4.       Higher level entities causally affect lower level constituents. For the church this may mean that our responses to the complexity not our avoidance of complexity may release local congregations to vital ministries.

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Today begins a series of reflections on Philip Clayton’s book Mind and Emergence:  Quantum to Consciousness.  My hunch is that this book can inform congregational change and development.  Clayton is always challenging and I admit that this review will be a stretch.  However, congregational studies may really benefit if we embrace the discoveries from the cutting edge of our scientific communities.

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God is perhaps most readily understood as transcendent.  A transcendent God is understood as a knowing God who imparts wisdom, blessings or challenges to us.  Too often, transcendence leads to us to imagine that God is separate from us.   Imagining God in this way can lead us to imagine our co-w0rkers or family members as somewhat objectified and separate from us.  Extreme examples of this could be that when we disagree we are tempted to believe that we can do without each other or we seek to change another person to coerce them to our point of view.   

God has also be imagined as immanent.  The immanence of God can inform and balance against the temptations that arise when we understand God as only transcendent.  God as immanent invites us to recognize the God that is at work in our lives and circumstances.  When  we experience our relationships as messy and uncertain, or joyful immanence reminds us that God is at work in all these circumstances.    When we are agitated by people or circumstances, there is a sense that God is a part of that agitation.  So, not only does our mind wander to a transcendent and timeless God, an immanent God is keeping us “on our toes” in the here and now.

Perhaps profound agitation (within our heart and mind) is as a catalyst of an immanent God who invites us to consider more closely those things that, at first blush, seem to be thwarting and challenging us.  What if our very agitation is the pulse point that allows us to monitor the health and circulation of our relationships and organizations? 

There is caution required as we imagine God as either transcendent or immanent.  The caution is that we not call upon or recognize God’s activity only in ways that are easiest for our status quo.   Scripture remembers often that God’s activity lies with “the other”.

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