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Posts Tagged ‘Kansas’

Church does not often like to compare itself to other societal organizations.  We declare theologically that we are the Body of Christ drawn together by Christ‘s call upon our life and the striving of our shared ministry.    While the Body of Christ is a  this is surely what we hope to be, I contend that we must also acknowledge that we are an organized group of people by virtue of culture, denomination (or lack of it) and our context.  For this reason, the rigor of Complexity Perspectives in Innovation and Social Change is worth the church’s time and review.

A challenging work, the book provides a look at organizational life from some of the keenest scientific minds.  These authors are actively bridging the gap between biology and sociology.  The importance of this bridge is that historically, sociology has rested upon the research and assumptions of Darwin’s biological research.   Lauding Darwin they note that his work allowed  scientists to “parallel evolutionary research:  laboratory scientists explored the genetic basis of variation mechanisms, while field researchers investigated the past history and present operational changes through selection.” (18)     Most exciting to me is that authors of Complexity Perspectives are also critiquing Darwin’s work which has now become orthodoxy for so many.

Their critique is a splicing of variation at the molecular level from selection at the sociological level.  They splice variation and selection as they detail the rise of dog breeding.  Breeding on the one hand is a manipulation of the genetic of dogs.  On the other hand, there is a culture and a context that rises up in the “dog fancying” culture that has nothing to do with genetics but everything to do with interpretation and information sharing.   That is, dog breeders began to make decisions about what was preferred among genetic variations.   “They were less interested in producing dogs well-adapted to hunting than in satisfying the growing demand for household pets, and so they selected for features that appealed to the non-sporting dog-loving public: “cute”, human-like facial features and a glamorous full coat.”

Leaving many important details out of their first chapter, suffice it to say that I believe that Complexity Perspectives.  Has great relevance for the church will may also rest upon assumptions of organizational development theory that in turn rest on Darwinian orthodoxy that has collapsed the biological and sociological.  The most powerful example may be found in copious Google images charting a congregation’s (or another organization’s) “life cycle” beginning with birth moving through a prime toward an ultimate death.    Such biological assessment of the church has contributed to a bias toward new church development or revitalization as resuscitation.    Both these models are becoming increasingly difficult for the church.  New Church development is difficult because of economy and increasing religious competition.  Revitalization is difficult because it is understood as  reversal of the life cycle process.

Complexity Perspectives offers another way to view organizational vitality when they draw you and I into the dog breeding metaphor. The vitality of organized life is not just at the molecular, genetic, biological level.  There is something unique about the sociological life that is under-addressed by Darwin and by the church.  That is a flow of information and communication that allows organized groups to invent tools, understanding and ascribe meaning to those inventions .  These inventions can then present new challenges that then require new tools, understanding and most importantly a new ascription of meaning.

It seems to me that the church of a living God  is evolving but those of us that manage the church are using outdated tools, understandings and meaning to try to manage the evolution.   We are not actively participating in the sociological selection process of adapting tools, understanding and meaning.  (Even secular organizations do this better than us)  What is worse, we refuse to be as nimble as Jesus was in the realm of investigating sociological context.    Issues of membership, tradition and finances are just some of the subjects that I hope to approach with the help of editors, David Lane, Sander van der Leeuw, Denise Pumain and Geoffrey West.

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The final petal of Calvinism‘s TULIP is the “P” i.e. the perseverance of the saints.  For Calvinism, this is the idea that the “elect” never lose their salvation in the eyes of God.  Back tracking through Calvinism, however, we come to understand that perseverance of the saints emerges from Calvin’s idea of ongoing sanctification throughout the believer’s life.   (Our previous review of the “elect” in my blogs of  10/25/2011 and 12/13/2011  are a sufficient critique of the difference between Calvinism and Calvin for this blog as well.)

Sanctification is, for Calvin, the continual renewal that goes on in the life of the believer as they are increasingly persuaded by Jesus’ life and ministry.  Calvin would say their heartfelt union with Christ provides for the continual sanctification but sanctification does not stand alone.   The essential twin to sanctification is justification.  While sanctification is the renovation of the individual believer, justification is a gift that Calvin imagines is bestowed by God through the life and ministry of Jesus.  Said yet another way, Calvin does not imagine that a human responsiveness as in sanctification is possible without the generous provision of God i.e. justification.

I have, for a time, had a brief but indelible friendship with a gentleman who committed much of his life to the work of the church.  When talking about the joy of working in the church, he, having been a sailor, likened his joy to scut work.  As he told me not long ago,  “Scut work is a euphemism from Navy parlance for garbage”.   Scut work within the church has an essential nature  that exemplified his industry among good Presbyterian folk.  The essential scut work of congregational and denominational life is found in the tasks that keep us connected to one another.

  • In the records of a meeting or concern for the vitality of congregations other than our own….scut work has a sanctifying effect in that we are involved in a bigger picture than our own immediacy.
  • Scut work of the church involves interpreting the rules and order of being a church in  personal way that allows people to value and honor their relationships more deeply and with greater complexity.  Such was the scut work of Jesus as he traveled house to house…. that continues into the present day sanctifying us when we take it up within our own responsibilities.
  • Scut work in the church is the giving of ourselves (our specific gifts and talents that are organized uniquely in each individual life) trusting in the gifts of others that when compiled realize not only the industry but also the joy of what it means to be the Body of Christ to which the Apostle Paul called the Corinthians and thus us.
  • Scut work is persevering for some 71 brief years, as one welcomes the Holy Spirit to hone the mind, heart and behavior  toward a loving and inclusive God.

One of process theology’s essentials is that truth is emerging.  The world changes and we, as Christians, are challenged not to resist change and hide unnecessarily within an orthodoxy.  Rather, process realizes that each orthodoxy began as a response to changes in world view and individual understanding within it.  What becomes orthodoxy began as a suggested framework by which we might wrestle with and pray about the new world views that continue to challenge the tradition of the church of Jesus Christ.  The perseverance of the saints from a process perspective might be exemplified by one who loves what has been and that same person, with courage, welcomes God’s next thing with a discerning, open  and joyful heart.

I believe that my friend was actively editing his own life, the life of his congregation and his denomination not only because it was what came naturally to him, but also because Jesus was the finest of editors.   Scut work is an unending process attending to the mundane so that the extraordinary may emerge.  Such work ironically produces a sweat-equity sort of joy that is perhaps our finest evidence of sanctification and the continued imagination for Calvin’s notion of justification.

It is my prayer that as I persevere, I might never be talked out of scut work which now has such a joyful face and life associated with it.

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God of all savory truths and digestion, we have gathered this morning to cleanse our palates.  For we have partaken of things too sweet and ravaged what was excessively sour.  We have indulged in the bland and gorged ourselves.  We have avoided the more complex and nourishing diet because we have been in a hurry.  We give you thanks for bread and cup that will remind us of adequate portions.  May what sustains us be a balance between appropriate satisfaction and appropriate hunger so that we may strive as your servant people.  Hear our prayer as we consider the brain of Jesus who enjoyed fellowship and the mind of Christ‘s communion. Amen.

Written by Rev. Dr. Leslie King for March 6th, 2011 worship at the First Presbyterian Church of Osawatomie, Kansas

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