"The adult is not the highest stage of development. The end of the cycle is that of the independent, clear-minded, all-seeing Child. That is the level known as wisdom. When the Tao Te Ching and other wise books say things like, 'Return to the beginning; become a child again,' that’s what they’re referring to. Why do the enlightened seem filled with light and happiness, like children? Why do they sometimes even look and talk like children? Because they are. The wise are Children Who Know. Their minds have been emptied of the countless minute somethings of small learning, and filled with the wisdom of the Great Nothing, the Way of the Universe."
(from, The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff)
It was G. K. Chesterton who kept alive the spirit of Kierkegaard and naive Christianity in modern thought, as when he showed with such style that the characteristics the modern mind prides itself on are precisely those of madness. There is no one more logical than the lunatic, more concerned with the minutiae of cause and effect.
Madmen are the greatest reasoners we know, and that trait is one of the accompaniments of their undoing. All their vital processes are shrunken into the mind. What is the one thing they lack that sane people possess? The ability to be careless, to disregard appearances, to relax and laugh at the world. They can’t unbend, can’t gamble their whole existence, as did Pascal, on a fanciful wager. They can’t do what religion has always asked: to believe in a justification of their lives that seems absurd. The neurotic knows better: he is the absurd, but nothing else is absurd; it is ‘only too true.’ But faith asks that man expand himself trustingly into the non-logical, into the truly fantastic.
This spiritual expansion is the one thing that modern man finds, most difficult, precisely because he is constricted into himself and has nothing to lean on, no collective drama that makes fantasy seem real because it is lived and shared.
(from, The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker)
Text: John 21:1-19
Who am I? I have been called the Episcopal Church’s expert on new ministries. “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field.” (Physicist Niels Bohr)
“I live to serve the Spirit in all of creation by being a loving, compassionate, courageous, playful, outrageous & provocative midwife to the Spirit’s life and joy that are longing to be birthed in this moment.” (tlb 2000)
Chose this passage for an odd reason: it disturbs the coherence of our status quo way of being the institutional church.
There are three significant challenges posed by this story: the reversal; the rigging, and the riddle.
Peter was the finest Eeyore the world has known. He didn’t say, I’m going fishing – it was more like, “OK … I guess there’s nothing left for poor old me to do other than to go fishing.” Jesus chose to leave us so I am going back to my old identity.
They thought they were living out the effects; Jesus lets them feel the power they have as causative forces in the world. Effect and Cause. Cause and Effect.
Break it down with me … What would Peter describe as the cause and effect link?
The cause? Jesus leaves the circle of his trusted disciples and he doesn’t come back. Jesus, you left us and you didn’t come back!
The effect? Peter reverts back to the old Peter – the fisherman who knows his business. As usual, he takes a few with him. He goes at this with his whole heart, you know?! He’s standing their naked on the deck – offering his whole naked unguarded self to this venture. (BTW, I find it curiously ironic that when the earliest popes chose to copy Peter, they decided not to imitate this part of Peter’s lifestyle choices!)
Jesus offers them (and us) an antidote: He says, You have the power – much more than you realize. No more Eeyore! You thought you were living out the effects when in reality, you are a powerful causative force in the world.
Break it down with me … The cause? Jesus leaves the circle. The effect? Peter reverts back to the old Peter – the fisherman who knows his business. He expected Jesus to be King – Lord – Conqueror – Mighty God. That’s not how the story shakes out, though.
This story is Jesus’ version of “inversion therapy.” His followers think that they are the living effects of Divine abandonment. The malady that Jesus addresses here is the malaise of despair and the loss of personal agency.
Peter Block explains that, “To reclaim our citizenship is to be accountable, and this comes from the inversion of what is cause and what is effect. When we are open to thinking along the lines that citizens create leaders, that children create parents, and that the audience creates the performance, we create the conditions for widespread accountability and the commitment that emerges from it.”
You, many of you, your great challenge will be that of changing your self-image. You think you have certain gifts that the world hopes to receive from you. In reality, your commitment to the life and teachings of Jesus are to be a causative and powerful force. You are not subject to societal forces – you are called to be a societal force.
The rigging: They thought they knew how to use their equipment – they were professionals. Jesus invites them to the disciplines of the chaordic path.
Boats rigged one way.
Jesus asks them to cast off the other side, not turn the boat around.
The reason they struggle is because Jesus’ directives bypass their professional skills.
They cast off in the midst of chaos and they are overwhelmed with abundance.
Consider the following:
We cannot demonstrate any correlation between seminary education and congregational vitality.
We cannot show that the recent proliferation of consultants and subject matter experts can stem the decline in our old line churches committed to their old ways.
We are now clear that we have fished all night in our favorite fishing holes and we have caught nothing.
What is our equivalent to casting off the other side?
Starting the new year out right asks us to reconsider how we prioritize!
In the worlds of sociology and psychology, heuristics are simple, efficient rules proposed to explain how people make decisions and solve problems, typically when facing complex problems or incomplete information. The field of study explains how we make use of “satisficing” – situations where people seek solutions or accept choices or judgments that are “good enough” for their purposes, but could be optimized.
Of course, in situations exposing us to high risk, ignoring relevant information is probably folly. But this is not so in a world of uncertainty. A world of uncertainty includes the presence of chaos. In moving from risk to uncertainty, we move from many moving parts to a scenario of moving parts each with their own motivations and force fields. Scientists can now show that, in this case, if you try to anticipate all of the factors or the “variables” of chaos, you are likely to make a poor choice.
Let’s assume that you resist the typical urge to “control” these variables in an attempt to minimize chaos, OK? Let’s assume that we already have tools at our disposal for managing this complex work of prioritizing our efforts, our energies, and our focus.
Baseball outfielders and transformative leaders both struggle to explain the decision making processes they use to catch a deep field fly ball or to initiate and sustain a vibrant faith community. It is often such an intuitive process that when scientists attempt to explain it, they often over-analyze the constituent steps and make the process unrealistically complex.
The Gaze Heuristic is an explanation of a remarkably intuitive and simple (not easy) process. The gaze heuristic is a adaptive mental process employed by individuals when trying to catch a ball. Experimental studies have shown that even the smartest of sports brains do not calculate windage, velocity, acceleration and spin before running to the predicted point of landing. Instead, they fixate the ball with their eyes and move so as to keep the angle of the gaze either constant or within a specific range. Moving in such a fashion assures that the ball will hit the catcher.
It was this same heuristic that allowed the pilot to save a jetful of passengers during the Miracle on the Hudson’s Flight 1549. Chesley Sullenberger had to determine whether or not they could make it back to LaGuardia with no engines. They had very little time – certainly not enough to calculate the flight trajectory of a jet with a full payload of fuel and passengers. Guess how this experienced pilot made the calculations! He looked through the cockpit windshield at the distant air traffic control tower of the airport they’d just left. He knew that if the image of the the tower rises higher on their horizon, beyond a certain point, they would not make it – they would crash. In that event, they would have to find the best spot to make an emergency landing in a very populated area. Fortunately, the entire crew and all 150 passengers survived! When asked later, “Sully” explained that everything in him made it clear that he needed to ignore all the warning bells and the gauges and use everything he had to guide the plane to a safe emergency landing. The point was not to interpret all of the data. The point was to choose best outcomes. He was using one simple heuristic – the same one that the outfielder or the trained dog uses in catching the ball!
So, here at the start of 2014, how will you manage all of the data and the variables and live in the presence of chaos? Will you give in to the temptation to “control” or will you find your own chaordic path?
Some questions to consider, together:
What do you believe we might learn from this Gaze Heuristic parallel in the world of prioritizing our ministry efforts?
What might be the equivalent of the air traffic control tower on your horizon?
When you look back at the Core Values you have been using in your 90 Day Micro-strategies, which one or two is foundational for your measure of success, on an ongoing basis?
How might you adjust the way you manage all of the variables (maybe even the “chaos”) of your ministry environment?
What metrics might you focus on, to the exclusion of the ball’s windage, velocity, acceleration and spin?
____ Joy Index?
____ Laughter Meter?
____ Fun Factor?
____ Ratio of Chit Chat to Hear to Heart conversations?
____ Ratio of insider ministries to outsider ministries?
"To gain the kingdom of heaven is to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen, and to know the unknowable."
This is an accumulated list of questions and responses from ministry leaders across the Episcopal Church. We will update this list with fresh questions and discerned responses, as they come to us.
1.) After reading the application, my question is, must this be a new ministry? We have a ministry in place that needs to be expanded or perhaps we have laid groundwork for a new ministry. Can you give me some guidance about this?
Response: Resolution AO73 asks that “each Mission Enterprise Zone feature a strategic plan to start or redevelop a congregation that is intentionally multi-cultural, incorporating the presence and leadership of under-represented generations, socio-economic groups, races, ethnicities and/or languages…” So the resolution makes room for both of the options you’ve named: starting a new ministry as well as redeveloping an existing ministry, as long as that congregation can demonstrate the collective commitment to incorporate the PRESENCE and LEADERSHIP of under-represented generations, socio-economic groups, races, ethnicities and/or languages. We have so many Episcopal Churches that would experience some measure of benefit from expansion or revitalization. This funding is for those ministries that can offer a strategic plan to live fully into AO73’s description.
2.) The application form is all online. Do I need to complete it all in one sitting and then send it in?
Response: No, you can print out the PDF form as a guide for your fact-finding and planning process, here. The online form has all of the help dialogue attached to each field that you can actually treat as a tutorial for each of the questions. I would print out the PDF version and then gather up all of the information. Try to have all of the information available and in a Word Document so that you can copy and paste your answers in the dialogue boxes.
3.) We want to start to start a ministry with Latino Hispanic peoples and physically build a church since we have been given land. Can these Mission Enterprise Funds be used for “bricks and mortar?”
Response: Because so many of our dioceses have no money for the other costs of new ministry development, this might not rank as a high priority application. Many of the applications coming in are asking for help with funding leadership and organizing/planting/gathering community skills. The answer to your question is not a “No!” It’s just a reminder that the hope was to offer funding in places where there was no funding available outside of this 1st Mark of Mission possibility.
4.) What about forming a new Spanish-speaking congregation at the facilities of an inner city Anglo church?
Response: This scenario you are describing sounds like a good fit for matching funds from the 1st Mark of Mission Fund. Reverend Anthony Guillen is ready to consult with you and share our best learnings for ministry ventures like these from across the Episcopal Church, as well as the Lutheran Church. You can reach Anthony at email@example.com
5.) I would like to know whether each diocese can only partner with one congregation or more than one in the matching grant of 1st Mark funding and partnership.
Response: Resolution AO73 calls for Enterprise “zones.” The zone can be “defined as a geographic area, as a group of congregations or as an entire diocese.” In other words, you as spiritual leaders are encouraged to ask, “How are we called to bless what the Spirit’s up to in our context? What kind of a networked approach to ministry collaboration would serve this best?” Tell us that you hosted this discerning conversation and then let us know how we might partner with you!
6.) Is it possible to present a proposal which involves inter-diocesan (e.g. three dioceses) collaboration for a missioner for marginal communities (e.g. Hmong & Southeast Asian communities scattered as neighborhood clusters in random diocesan contexts?)
Response: Not only is it possible – it is being encouraged! We are also pursuing ecumenical partnerships (inter-denominational) and inter-faith partnerships! The goal here is to join God in “mission and evangelism that engages under-represented groups, including youth and young adults, people of color, poor and working-class people, people with a high-school diploma or less, and/or people with little or no church background or involvement.” The hope is that we can demonstrate the practices of mission and evangelism more than the development of resources or the creation of positions. I personally would hope that if a missioner position is funded, it is for the sake of sponsoring and sustaining worshipping communities in those neighborhood clusters. I also would hope that we offer comprehensive reflection and observation on what we are to learn from leaders in these Hmong & Southeast Asian communities!
7.) The maximum match that a qualified diocese and congregation can receive is up to $100/diocese. T or F?
8.) Are funds available for funding a weekend coffee house in a rural setting with no liturgical presence within a 50 mile circle that contains 34,000 people?
Response: As long as it is “intentionally multi-cultural, incorporating the presence and leadership of under-represented generations, socio-economic groups, races, ethnicities and/or languages…”
9.) Does re-planting a church count as a new church start? (We are basically planting a new church out of an old one.)
Response: Yes, it can. The plan and the actual strategy proposed in the application will verify for the Executive Council subcommittee that this is a New Church Start, instead of a redevelopment.
10.) So can the diocese start up a mission enterprise zone in parallel with congregations that want to be planted or replanted? Then the question is, if one requests $, can those funds be used for mission enterprise zone and the "more than one plant or redevelopment"?
Response: Yes, as long as the plan is to offer ministry with “under-represented groups, including youth and young adults, people of color, poor and working-class people, people with a high-school diploma or less, and/or people with little or no church background or involvement,” this sounds like an ideal “zone.”
11.) I get the point of having matching grants as far as diocesan buy-in is concerned. What about underfunded dioceses, however? How does this avoid being a rich get richer and poor stay poorer situation?
Response: two weeks ago, my colleagues at the Episcopal Church Center reminded me that the original hopes for this 1st Mark of Mission funding were to fund ministry in places where it could not normally happen for the lack of local resources. If you are in a setting where you will struggle to raise the matching funds, let’s have a conversation. Invite your Bishop or your Diocesan Leadership team to contact Tom Brackett at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s explore creative approaches to make the funding happen. We would like nothing more than to discover with you the loaves and fishes that will be transformed into food enough for the 5000! (I read about that somewhere … !)
12.) For those of us who are getting established in a new context right now or would need a bit more time than between now and Sept 28 to find partners and funding, is there another grant cycle this triennium?
Response: After collaboration with our Lutheran peers, we have decided to make this a “rolling application” process. We will continue to receive applications after the Executive Council meets in October. Our hope is to release funding as soon after review as possible. In short, the rest of the triennium will be “open season” until the funds run out. The sooner you apply, the more likely it is that there will be funds to release.
13.) Is a new community alongside an existing community a 'plant?’
Response: It could well be. Whether or not it qualifies for AO73’s description of a MEZ or a New Church Start depends on how it plans to live into this call!
14.) Do entitled, post-Christian, spiritual-but-not-religious, Californians count as an under-represented group in the Episcopal Church?
Response: Please don't be limited by the idea of "under-represented groups." People who don't go to church -- never did or left a while ago -- are absolutely people with whom we need to be in relationship.
My father spent the summer of 1904 on the farm of an aunt and uncle who lived a stone’s throw northeast of Lucknow in Bruce County, Ontario, Canada.
It so happened that the aunt and uncle had a son the same age as my father. Story has it that when the two boys were together, they were a couple of hellers with a genius for mischief.
One sunny Sunday, the boys feigned stomachaches and so were excused from going to church. Uncle hitched the horse to the family’s carriage and helped his wife on board, and the two of them rode off to town for their communal worship. Of course, as soon as their carriage was out of sight around the bend, the boys’ stomachaches miraculously disappeared, and the two 10-year-olds set about to find something to do. Wanting to impress my father, a city boy, the cousin asked:
“Do you know how to mesmerize a chicken?”
“Mesmerize? Uh-uh. What’s that?”
The cousin led the way to a ramshackle chicken coop out behind the farmhouse. There he selected a fine white hen. He carried her under his arm to the front of the house, produced a piece of chalk and drew a short line on the porch. He stood the creature over the chalk line and held her beak to it. After a moment or so, the boy slowly removed his hands. The chicken stood motionless, beak to the chalk line, hypnotized. My father hooted with glee.
“Let’s do another one! Let’s do another one!” he pleaded.
The two boys ran back to the hen house for another chicken. And another. And another. Before long, the hen house was empty, and the front porch was filled with 70 or so dead-silent, stark-still chickens straddling chalk lines, beaks seemingly glued to the porch.
The boys, too, seemed hypnotized — mesmerized by this glorious example of their own cleverness. A breeze gently rippled the feathery coats of the unmoving chickens. In the distance, soft thudding hooves and the rattle of turning carriage wheels signaled the return of Aunt and Uncle. Wouldn’t they be surprised at this latest joke? (Aunt and Uncle did take a perverse pride in the boys’ escapades.)
But wait! There were two carriages, not one. Behind the family’s carriage followed a small runabout driven by the preacher! Aunt and Uncle had invited their Scottish Presbyterian reverend to come to lunch (or dinner, as they said back there, back then). Worse, Aunt had already explained to the preacher that boys had not been at church because they were ill.
Upon seeing the fowl foolery, Uncle flew into an embarrassed rage, leapt off the carriage and bounded onto the porch, place-kicking chicken after chicken back to consciousness. Feathers and clucking and curses filled the air. The preacher, scandalized, turned his carriage around and, without a word, fled back to town, never to return.
The same thing that happened to those chickens can happen to you. When you join an organization, you are, without fail, taken by the back of the neck and pushed down and down until your beak is on a line — not a chalk line, but a company line. And the company line says things like:
“This is our history. This is our philosophy. These are our policies. These are our procedures. These are our politics. This is simply the way we are.”
If you are not careful, you will be hypnotized by this line.
And what a pity if that happens.
When you come into an organization, you bring with you an arcane potency, which stems, in part, from your uniqueness. That, in turn, is rooted in a complex mosaic of personal history that is original, unfathomable, inimitable. There has never been anyone quite like you, and there never will be. Consequently, you can contribute something to an endeavor that nobody else can. There is a power in your uniqueness — an inexplicable, unmeasurable power… a magic.
But if you are hypnotized by an organization’s culture, you become separated from your personal magic and cannot tap it to help achieve the goals of the organization. In losing connection with your one-of-a-kind magic, you are reduced to nothing more than part of the headcount. Deep inside the Hairball.
So, whenever you feel your head being pushed down onto an organization’s cultural chalk line, remember the challenge is to move out of the way, to choose not to be mesmerized by the culture of the company. Instead, find the goals of the organization that touch your heart and release your passion to follow those goals.
It is a delicate balance, resisting the hypnotic spell of an organization’s culture and, at the same time, remaining committed from the heart to the personally relevant goals of the organization. But if you can achieve that balance and maintain it, you will be out of the Hairball and into Orbit, the only place where you can tap your one-of-a-kind magic, your genius, your limitless creativity.
In his backbreaking effort at naming a “startling new role for religion in the Modern and Postmodern world,” Ken Wilber makes some audacious claims that I believe need to be at the heart of any discussion of new ministries in American Christianity. Ken is, by all accounts, a social scientist with a prophet’s sensibilities. In his book, Integral Spirituality, Ken claims that the church is best understood as being a kind of “conveyor belt” for “humanity and its stages of growth” (p. 192). He explains that religion alone can do this for the following reasons:
The world’s religions are the repositories of the great myths. Since the early stages of human development (according to Piaget, Kohlberg, etc) are archaic and magic and mythic in flavor and because these myths could never be recreated in 2009, “not because humanity has no imagination but because everybody has a video camera,” religion has the capacity to serve as a safe place for humanity to move through those early stages of emerging (magical and mythic) awarenesses. Precisely because the religions of the world control the legitimacy conferred on those beliefs, they are also the “only sources of authority that can sanction the (higher) stages of spiritual development in their own traditions.” These religions, then, are the only systems in the world today that can act as a “great conveyor belt”, helping members as they move from thinking about God as “Daddy on his best Christmas morning” to God as known in our respective mystical traditons and better.
IF (and I repeat “IF”) Ken is right, then there is a real need for denominational leaders and local leaders alike to create the safe space for individuals to explore what the next stage of faith development might ask of them. There is also the need for communities of faith that are practiced in their ability to companion the faithful through the requisite faith crises that come to all of us when the faith language that once worked no longer serves us.
Of course, the deep theological exploration on which Ken Wilber relies is really James Fowler’s stages of faith Development. If this is of interest to you, consider finding Weaving the New Creation: Stages of Faith and the Public Church by James W. Fowler. It is one of the most hopeful visions of the Gathered Community (and denominations, as well) that I’ve found recently.
Thanks for indulging my wonderings . . .