This week I've been attending a symposium put on by the Episcopal Church Building Fund. There has been much here to ruminate on, in particular the keynote speaker, Ron Finley, whose TED talk can be found here.
While I am still processing the symposium itself (and will probably post about it soon enough) on my way there I read an article in the on-air magazine of Southwest Air, Spirit, that you can read here.
Knowing that I am that I am one of those people who does not always click through to the hyperlinks when I'm reading a blog post, I really do encourage you to read the article (even if you don't click on those first two links at this time.) The article is way better than any ruminations I have to offer below...
In summary, the article is about a man who lost his leg in a water skiing accident at 21 and then went on to invent those new prosthetics that you see runners wearing. But the focus is on asking questions, because that is what innovators do. Specifically: Why? What if? How? This cycle needs to then be repeated.
I think the Church needs to be a place where we are learning to ask and re-ask these same questions. Often congregations jump right to the third question, which leads to technical answers to old questions. How will we pay the bills? How will we find new people to serve in this ministry?
But the "why" questions are critical, in congregations and in our lives. Why does this situation exist? Why does it present a problem? Why hasn't this problem been addressed? To linger on "why" gets those creative juices flowing, and can lead to a whole new set of "what if" questions. What if we came at this from a different direction? What if we try a whole new approach? What is this like - and are there analogical insights to be gained here?
Now if we stop there we can fall into the problem of just dreaming but never acting; of perpetual "discernment" without moving forward. "How" questions are practical and actionable. If we start there, as mentioned above, we just keep doing the same old things. But if we return there after asking the other questions, we are now forced back on the ground: how can we this get done? Who needs to be at the table? What are the first steps? And if this fails, what can be learned so that the cycle can be repeated? Beautiful questions.
In The Book of Common Prayer, each time Holy Baptism is celebrated, the celebrant prays that the baptized might be given "an inquiring and discerning heart." We are meant, I think, to live into the questions because they represent the lure of the Holy Spirit.
The questions unleash missional energy, in our personal lives and in communities of faith. So again, in this great convergence of "coincidences" this conference has been bringing to me, I read this article on the plane and then heard the "gangsta gardener" talking about how he came to do what he has done in South L.A. He didn't phrase it the same way but this is what he did: he chased after those beautiful questions. Several times the other night he said "it was no big deal." It was no grand epiphany. But it was, I think, a revelation in the deepest sense, the kind that comes when we pay attention and learn to ask why, what if, and how.