Blessed Are The Innovators

I think the opening lyric from Buffalo Springfield’s popular protest song – “there’s something happening here, [but] what it is ain’t exactly clear” – sums up how many of us feel about the paradigm shift we find ourselves in. What is clear to anyone paying attention, is that epic change is sweeping across our planet: from the social and political revolutions in the middle East and northern Africa; to the significant role the internet and social networking now play in every aspect of life on every continent; to the shocking vulnerability of one of the worlds most economically and technologically advanced nations to catastrophic natural and nuclear disasters; to China preparing to surpass the USA as the world’s largest economy in a few years; to many scientists predicting an impending environmental apocalypse if we don’t change our ways; to the rapidly declining Christian church in virtually every Western country built upon Christendom.

Everything is in shift. Including Christianity.

So how are churches responding to this faith transition? One of four ways.

1. Denial (What paradigm shift? Postmodernity is a fad!)

2. Defiance (The remnant shall fight this rebellion against God to the death!)

3. Despair (Will all our children & grandchildren abandon our church, denomination, and faith for good?)

4. Deconstruction and Innovation (Lets look at this with fresh eyes and try something different.)

The fourth response holds the key to the future. It is the faith of present day Iconoclasts and Innovators that will move forward into the new paradigm and inspire future generations to heed the timeless call of Christ to be people of peace and love, attuned to God’s Spirit.

However, innovation is certainly not what church culture is best known for these days. Many would go so far as to label church culture a bastion of tradition and protector of the status quo.

Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation Theory states that:

2.5% of people are innovators (creators of big new ideas).

13.5% are early adopters (support innovation and risk trying ‘crazy’ ideas).

34% represent the early majority (open to new ideas that have demonstrated promise).

34% represent the late majority (open to new ideas that have a proven track record) and

16% are laggards (reluctantly go along with the majority or dig in their heels and resist).

This would mean the vast majority of church members, roughly 84%, are wary of innovation and new ideas. This has several implications.

First, we tend to be laggards instead of pioneers, change-makers and cultural influencers (i.e. adopting egalitarian policies years after the women’s rights movement; accepting other forms of music as valid expressions of worship many years after those forms of music became normative for the culture that is our missional context and accepted in other denominations).

Second, we tend to discourage, silence or shut down the most creative people in our midst, the very innovators who could help us move forward with vitality into the new paradigm.

Third, our current decline is directly related to our fear of change and aversion to unbridled creativity. The sustainability crisis the Church is facing will not be solved by status quo mentalities – it will only be exacerbated. As Albert Einstein allegedly said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” He’s also credited with another saying that seems appropriate for some of our ecclesiological tendencies, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.” I hear many traditionalists talking about our need to “get back to the basics, resurrect old programs, conduct more Bible studies and hold more prayer meetings” as if this will make the church a thriving movement that is impacting and transforming society once again. While some of these are certainly things we can’t abandon as followers of the way of Jesus, they are not the solution either. Attempting to breathe life into our dying congregational bodies by doing the same things we have been doing for decades (or even centuries)…well that’s doing the same things over and over again expecting a different outcome this time!

For such a time and place as we find ourselves – the way of Jesus needs certain kinds of leaders and certain kinds of communities. These leaders and communities will need to be:

  • In Tune with God’s Spirit
  • Iconoclasts (open to new ways of seeing God and open to surprising plot shifts in God’s unfolding story)
  • Innovators (creative, risk taking, imaginative, ground-breaking, experimental pioneers)

The good news here is that God continues to gift the world and churches with innovators – but it is up to faith communities to empower them and experiment with their ‘far out’ ideas.

This means, first, we’ll have to risk ‘failure’ because many (most) of their ideas will not work. (Remember Edison created 1000 commercial light bulbs that didn’t work before coming up with the one that did.) It is important for us to remember there are no such things as failures, only outcomes, only results to interpret and learn from.

Second, to create faith community environments where innovation is celebrated and encouraged we must elevate the status of creativity in our theology and practice. Patterning our lives after our Creator includes pursuing creativity. To be godly is to be creative.

The majority of conventional Christians may caution us to “be careful about being creative for the sake of being creative” but I think that makes about as much sense as being careful not to be moral for the sake of being moral. I am not sure why creativity has become secondary to other divine character traits we strive to emulate. We should value creativity equally alongside holiness, mercy, and honesty and make it just as much a mark of authentic Christian spirituality. When I look around at this incredibly diverse and strange universe full of platypuses, aye-ayes, Venus flytraps and the like – it certainly seems like God gets carried away with being creative! I certainly can’t think of a moral or practical reason for the creation of blobfish or the proboscis monkey.

It’s time to unleash our innovators and get carried away with the Creative Spirit.

Questions For Followers of the Way:

Are we intentionally working at encouraging and creating space for innovators in our communities?

Are we inadvertently encouraging our most entrepreneurial and imaginative young adults to pursue leadership in other fields rather than ministry because there is not enough room for innovators to experiment and flourish in church settings?

Are you snuffing out your own creativity and innovative tendencies to conform to the status quo expectations of your own faith community or your conventional belief system?

Blessed Are The Iconoclasts

In my past series of posts, I have strongly suggested the future of the church and Christianity in Canada will be markedly different than the conventional forms we have become accustomed to. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what the future holds for faith in the postmodern shift, as I have misplaced my urim and thummim and it turned out my crystal ball was not dishwasher safe. As I have repeated – we are in new history now – and only God knows what the future holds.

What I can tell you with confidence is that it will be the iconoclasts and innovators who will lead and shape the next wave of Christian faith in the emerging paradigm. It will be the courageous, non-conformist, entrepreneurial pioneers, who are inspired by God – and inspiring to the disenchanted and disenfranchised spiritually hungry souls around them – that will be the radical reformers of our day. Why? Because they always have been.

The current faith crisis the church and Christianity are experiencing will require 21st century Peters and Pauls, Sattlers and Simons, Wesleys and Luther Kings – leaders who are in tune with the hearts and minds of the ‘common’ people as well as the heart and mind of God. Radical, risk-taking lovers of God and humanity will again be the ones to mobilize and empower faith communities with fresh teaching, new perspectives, reckless openness to God’s Spirit and love for all.

Today’s reformers and revolutionaries, like yesterdays, will be the daring iconoclasts.

The first major iconoclast movement in Christendom was initiated by Byzantine Emperor Leo in the 8th century. The second major one occurred in the 16th century during the Reformation. Both of these movements were primarily focused on physical iconoclasm – which is the deliberate destruction or riddance of religious icons and other symbols, usually for religious or political motives. What I am referring to is spiritual iconoclasm (or conceptual iconoclasm). Spiritual iconoclasm is eradicating or letting go of mental concepts that limit God. Meister Eckhart (13th century German theologian and priest) succinctly articulated this type of iconoclasm in his curious statement, “I pray to G-d to rid me of God”, meaning I open myself up to the God who is, as I let go of the God I have constructed in my mind with human ideas and doctrines. He believed it is only as we empty our minds of finite preconceptions about God and how God works that we are able to perceive and participate in the eternally new thing God is doing. As Jesus said, “New wine requires new wineskins.” To be continually open to God requires a perpetually renewable mind.

Revolutions always have and always will frighten the majority – from the original Jesus movement to the Radical Reformation of the 16th century to the postmodern faith renewal happening today. It is not surprising that the majority of churches and Christians are confused by, concerned with or committed to fighting the emerging spiritual paradigm shift. I do not judge people for carefully considering something before jumping in headfirst. As the saying goes, “Angels fear to tread where fools rush in.” So the questions I hear cautious Christians asking contemporary iconoclasts are very important and we need to pay attention.

Questions like:

What are you iconoclasts letting go of? The Bible? Jesus? Truth? And what are you still holding on to?

What the iconoclasts are letting go is the illusory assumption that any of us were ever holding onto the Bible, Jesus or Truth in the first place. Iconoclasts realize we are always holding onto our own versions of Jesus, God and the Bible and that notions such as – our interpretation of the truth is the truth   and              our thoughts and assumptions about God is who God really is –are wrong. Dangerous. Idolatrous even.

Meister Eckhart said the physical iconoclasts missed the point when they destroyed physical art, symbols and images of God. (Art is usually not the problem. In fact, good art often opens us up to the mystery and inconceivable glory of God.What we need to smash are our mental images of God. We need to rid ourselves of our theological pictures of God painted with finite words and dogmatic concepts. If we don’t, we become idolaters, substituting the infinite God who is bigger and beyond our loftiest mortal comprehension, with a God we have created in, and constrained to, our human minds.

All our ideas and images of God are at best incomplete and provisional and we are wise to hold them loosely, constantly humbling ourselves beneath the transcendent mystery of the great “I Will Be Who I Will Be”. It is only as we let go of the ‘God we know’ that we are able to be led by the ‘God who is’.  And to be open to the “God who is” that consistently appears and moves outside the boundaries our beliefs have limited “God” to – we must become spiritual iconoclasts. Or at least get to know one. And let them blow our minds open so we can catch a glimpse or two of the God who dwells outside the cage of our finite dogmatic assumptions.

Embracing the Warrior

I am trying to encourage my inner warrior. My attempts are feeble, but after listening, uncomfortably, to the teachings on this particular spiritual journey, I want to try. I want to encourage my inner Joshua, or perhaps my inner Xena, wherever she may be hiding.

The phrase “The universe is conspiring for you” haunts me everywhere I go. I’m trying the phrase on, breathing it in, attempting to make its uncomfortable form fit somehow onto my rather meek head.

Today it was a simple task. I merely wanted to work on some editing at Starbucks. I went; I saw the one, tiny empty table. Contrary to my usual slow and self-conscious self, I purposefully marched to claim the table in the long, dark corridor. Once seated, my eye caught sight of a man leaving the table I really wanted: next to the expansive window, where I could let my mind take wandering breaks while contemplating the pitter patter of the rain.

“This is silly,” I thought. “I just sat down.” I checked out the line. No one else seemed to be moving toward the table. “The universe is conspiring for you.” Damn, perhaps it was. I grabbed my belongings and purposefully marched again, satisfyingly plunking myself down beside the window, thankfully taking in the view. (Well, okay, it’s just a parking lot and a McDonalds, but it’s still a view.)

I’m happy to report that I’ve just completed a very productive session of editing. Sometimes, it’s in the small details of life, eh?

How is the universe conspiring for you today?

 

Today

On this rainy Monday morning, when my bones are achy and my spirit yet undecided, I choose Life. I spread my arms, lift up my head, and inhale this sweet new day. I breathe in, remembering, remembering, and then breathe out, letting go, moving forward.

Oh God, help me move beyond the inner workings of this very busy mind to see the beauty and the pain around me today. Help me to give, and help me to receive.

The Wanderer Journey and Quest

The notes I jotted down from Troy’s message on March 20th read like this:

–           You have to know who you are before you can give to others.  If not your      motivation for giving gets messed up and becomes manipulative

–          Service can serve the ego in order to find validity and value

–          Temptation to conform

–          May have to visit this stage a few times

–          Might have to try on a few personas to find out who you really are

–          What they need?  Space.  Give them lots of space

While I identify with the wanderer journey on a very personal level I was struck by the fact that Quest itself may be on a wanderer journey. 

I wasn’t around in the beginning but if I understand correctly those that formed Quest left what they knew, which was similar to what they’d always known and ventured out to start something new. Not knowing what form it would take or where the journey would take them.

So as I listened to Troy and reviewed my notes later I felt that this was also a message for the community called Quest.

You have to know who you are before you can give to others.  Boy – this is counterintuitive for a Christian community.  It feels selfish and self centered and goes against the grain of everything we were taught in the past.  But, as his second point stated, ‘if not (if you don’t know who you are) then your motivation for giving gets messed up and becomes manipulative.  I’ve been around churches all my life, and all I’m going to say about this is that it’s pervasive.  I’m not overly critical of them because it’s extremely easy to fall into this and I think we all do it – a lot.  But, it’s a thing.

 Service can serve the ego in order to find validity and value

I’m sure as a forming group this will be a temptation for some time to come.  It would be great to resist it.  It will take effort to resist it and acknowledgement when the temptation comes. 

Might have to try on a few personas to find out who you really are

Just like the teenager that Troy described who experiments with different personas to see which one (or more) work for them, so Quest may do the same thing.  Freedom is the order of the day.  Give each other freedom and give yourselves freedom to try things or ‘personas’ and then to decide whether they have traction or not.  If they don’t work, try something else.  We get so serious about ourselves, don’t we?  I hope we stay free in this experimental stage for as long as possible.  With so many talented people in our midst we may have a few personas emerge.

What they need?  Space.

Let’s give each other lots of space.  Space to try new things and to be who we really are and to change our mind about that if we like.  To re-invent ourselves and our rituals and practices as a spiritual community.  To allow new people to inform the whole as they join us.  To try new things and to participate with others as they express themselves as part of the community.

I think as a group we’re on a kind of Wanderer Journey. 

What do you think?

 

 

Labyrinth Walk tomorrow

If you’ve been hanging around Quest Christian Community you will have probably heard me rave about the Labyrinth as a tool for prayer and meditation. Tomorrow, March 26, St. George’s Anglican Church (on Church Street at the end of Carlisle in St. Catharines) is hosting a labyrinth walk from 9:30am-12pm. It is located in their gym which you can access from the back parking lot off of Raymond. Look for a very small sign on a door that says ‘labyrinth’. Finding it might feel like a maze, but remember the labyrinth is NOT a maze, but a single path that winds it’s way to the center and then back out. Check out www.veriditas.org for more information on what the labyrinth is and guidelines for walking it. Take some time to explore this ancient form of prayer.

What I have learned from my experiences on the labyrinth:

Every walk is different. In some ways I hesitate to share my experiences because of the fact that every person’s experience is so different and because one of the biggest barriers to walking the labyrinth can be expectations of what the experience will hold. So…remembering that this represents my very personal experience and is in no way a formula for walking I will share…..

Basically the walk is characterized by the way in, the center and the way out. Sometimes I take a particular issue/problem/concern with me on the walk and in the walking practice surrender and openness to the movement of the Divine. I usually find that the walk in to the center is a time for noting the thoughts that have been crowding my mind or lying in wait below the surface. I have found the safety of the path – not needing to make decisions about where to walk, comforting and purposeful, the twists and turns representing my experience of life. Usually by the time I reach the center I feel open and ready to sit in the Presence of the Divine and receive whatever is meant for me to receive. Sometimes a new level of stillness greets me, sometimes an insight, sometimes nothing, sometimes a strong sense of Presence and Love. The walk out is often a time of empowerment and clarity. I like to journal immediately afterward to remember the prayers, thoughts, insights that have come to me during the walk.

If you get a chance to try it out, please share your experiences!

An Interview with Karen Armstrong

I was very interested in the following interview with Karen Armstrong on CBC’s show “Tapestry” this past Sunday. It involved a fascinating interweaving of politics, religion, and the importance of compassion and mindfulness. Take a listen and see what you think.

http://www.cbc.ca/tapestry/episode/2011/03/13/a-call-for-compassion/

If you’re interested to learn more about her Charter of Compassion, you can watch her TED acceptance speech here.