Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Spirit of Adventure

I'm still trying to find my new voice by stepping back and pondering what I have learned as a parish priest that may be of some help to me as the context for my ministry shifts to the diocesan level. In my most recent posts I've been thinking about our post-Christendom context and the opportunities for ministry in this time and place as we seek to envision the Reign of God. If you have not read these previous three posts it may be worthwhile to do so, as I think they set the context for what now follows.

If it was as easy as all of this: to unleash creativity by just singing a new church, then perhaps the Reign of God would already be here not just proleptically but fully. The truth is, however, that what we get are glimpses; or as Eliot once put it, "hints and half-guesses." One reason for this is that we can get stuck, both as individuals and as communities. (Or as the theologians might put it, because of the nature of Sin.)

I am carefully reading Edwin H. Friedman's A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. I am deliberately reading it slowly and trying to mark it and learn it and inwardly digest it, because I think that Friedman is truly onto something crucial. Below is an extended quote from the chapter he entitles "Imaginative Gridlock" that I think is quite relevant to the questions I've been exploring.
Anyone who has ever been part of an imaginatively gridlocked relationship system knows that more learning will not, on its own, automatically change the way people see things or think. There must first be a shift in the emotional processes of that institution. Imagination and indeed curiosity are at root emotional, not cognitive, phenomena. In order to imagine the unimaginable, people must be able to separate themselves from surrounding emotional processes before they can even begin to see (or hear) things differently. Without this understanding, it becomes impossible to realize how our learning can prevent us from learning more. (page 31)
This is a terribly important point. I think of Jesus debating the Pharisees, who did not have eyes to see and ears to hear the new thing he was doing. They were literally blind and deaf to the Reign of God that was unfolding before their very eyes, and so they came to him at worst seeking to trap him  and at at best looking for more information. But it was a lost cause, because they were so clearly gridlocked in their imaginations: they were so certain that nothing good could ever come from Nazareth.

So it is a good thing to sing a new church into being and it is indeed the task of prophetic ministry to cultivate a vision that nurtures and nourishes and evokes an alternative way of being in the world. But that vision falls on deaf ears if the system is imaginatively gridlocked, as are so many congregations in our time. Friedman goes on to write:
Conceptually stuck systems cannot become unstuck simply by trying harder. For a fundamental reorientation to occur, that spirit of adventure which optimizes serendipity and which enables new perceptions beyond the control of our thinking processes must happen first. This is equally true regarding families, institutions, whole nations, and entire civilizations...but for that type of change to occur, the system in turn must produce leaders who can both take the first step and maintain the stamina to follow through in the face of predictable resistance and sabotage. Any renaissance, anywhere, whether in a marriage or a business, depends primarily not only on new data and techniques, but on the capacity of leaders to separate themselves from the surrounding emotional climate so that they can break through the barriers that are keeping everyone from "going the other way." (page 33, emph. mine)

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