Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Monday, June 22, 2015
This week many Episcopalians will make there way to our triennial gathering the General Convention. This is an important and awaited gathering of many leaders from around the church to undertake a portion of the governance we use to support our mission.
People are excited. I am excited. At our best we are a family reunion like no other. We are sharing our difference, we are setting aside deference, we are celebrating our diversity. At our best we are creating a church wide commons where ideas, excitement for the story, dispatches from the missionary front, and our love of God are shared. When we are doing this we are all in the arena. We are there with our tribe. We are dancing and singing together. We are working hard and playing together. We are learning from one another and we are sharing the road together. We hear ideas and we wonder about them together. We are belonging. We are creating. We are loving.
But we should always remember that the General Convention is an arena. If you love it you will enter it with ideas, creativity, and a desire to make something. Hopefully that is always to make our governance and structure work for our mission.
When you do this, when I do this, we are daring greatly. We are trusting one another enough to be vulnerable with our ideas and to share them with the body so that we might discern together what good might we be about on behalf of the God we believe in. When we do this we are the one in the arena. Brené Brown uses the speech often called The Man in the Arena to describe this moment - this space we inhabit when we risk.
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."This is taken THE MAN IN THE ARENA is an excerpt from President Theodore Roosevelt's speech entitled "Citizenship In A Republic" delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910,
download PDF of complete speech.
Brown reminds us that when we enter the arena it is not about winning or losing it is about showing up and being seen. What we have to know and understand is that the arena - though we would like it to be otherwise - is dangerous. Showing up and being seen means you will as Brené Brown says, "Get your assed kicked." She goes on to say that if "courage is a value that you hold, this is a consequence, you can't avoid it." What you should know is that if the person who is taking you to task is not in the arena with you then you should not be interested in your feedback. Constructive, helpful, supportive, challenging about ideas, looking for common ground, building consensus are some of the many forms that people enter the arena with you to help co-create.
These people are the people in the support section. These are people who have empathy for you. They see and act as though their contributions are given in the spirit of mutual support for the common good. When the Episcopal Church is filled with people like this we are good. We are together and we are moving our mission forward.
There are others though who are not in the support section or not in the arena with us but are really against us. These are the ones not helping, supporting, or moving the creativity forward. These are people who make the arena unsafe.
We are so "hardwired for connection" that when we pretend we don't care we are actually cutting ourselves off. Even though their messages are ones of shame or even anger, we must recognize them as part of our family, part of the arena. We need to understand they are season ticket holders. they are sitting in particular seats.
The people inhabit three kinds of seats: cheap seats, box seats, and the critics section. The Cheap Seats are filled with the anonymous critics who pass judgment on us. They may be named, have a twitter handle, or Facebook Page, you may even know who they are because they are recognized cheap seat ticket holders. The reality is that they are not connected to you or your idea. They want to see you fail and even though they are sitting in your arena they may be naysayers and be working for an opposing team.
The box seats are filled with people who built or maintain the arena and give us the messages about the expectations we must meet. They are the ones who pass out power and take away power based on loyalty. They are the ones who are deeply invested in the arena staying exactly where it is. They will criticize all ideas, have none to add to the arena, and won't tolerate any thing challenging to shifting or changing who sits where.
The last of these is special seats are held by the critics. The critics are the people who give us the messages of shame, comparison and scarcity. These are the ones who demean people because of their difference, they offer shame messages in order to quite you, they compare you to others who "get it right", and they believe there is no possible way for your creativity to work or have any merit.
Thanks to social media these seats won't only be inhabited by people at Convention but there will be a ton of people all over shouting from the seats at those who this week walk into the arena. I am always aware that the General Convention is a wonderful thing and that it has its shadow side which can be ugly and mean.
What we do a lot of the time is we armor up. We move away from the creative idea, the opportunity for change, and either exit the arena and go quietly into the night - we move away. Or we move against and channel all our energy into defeating the people in those seats! This also saps energy from the work at hand. Or we try to placate the critics, cheap, and box seats.
Brené Brown reminds us that when we walk into the arena we are also in the same spot where we discover love, belonging, joy, empathy, creativity, and innovation
So we what do we do? We allow them to sit in their seats. But we chose to walk into the arena for the sake of these things.
Clarity of values - remember what you believe in. For instance, remember not the church and its structures but remember and hold close to you the image of the family of God that Jesus offers and into which Jesus invites us. Have your someone who will tell you the truth, who will dust you off, clean you up, and help you go back into the arena. Finally, remember that the biggest critic in the arena is you - its me. "We are so self critical. We have an ideal about ourselves. We orphan all the parts that don't fit for us. And, all that is left is the critic." Brené Brown says. But put in that seat you - the person who is your journey, your life, your story, and is excited and supporting you.
I leave tomorrow morning for General Convention. If I am honest I have sat in all of those seats in the past. This year as I step into the arena I want to enter it in a different way. I want to share what I have, listen to others. I want to help heal the past. I want to experience our difference and diversity. I want to create a peaceful commons. I want to be about the work of reconciliation and I want to help us be a better church that is a good steward of its resources and finally is focused on its mission. I am looking for others who want to do these things. I am hopeful we will be at our best.
When we are not and we get into the critics, the box, and cheap seats I hope we will hold each other accountable. When we use shame and other demeaning tactics to quiet people or to deal with our own fear and anxiety I hope we will hold one another accountable.
So I am at first prayerful. Prayerful for safe travel. Prayerful for our gathered family. Prayerful for all those who are going to serve, feed, and clean up after us for 10+ days. Prayerful and grateful for the privilege of serving at this church and being able to afford the time and resources to attend this meeting. And, finally prayerful that we will be at our best.
I am hopeful. I believe we have an opportunity to become the church that God beckons us to become. I believe we have at Salt Lake City the moment to take our next step into the future of a church whose mission is amplified for the future.
Here is a quote from Aeschylus' play "Prometheus Bound." After they have bound Prometheus to the rock...Cratus:[to Prometheus] "Go play rebel now, go plunder the god's treasure and give it to your creatures of a day. What portion of your pain can mortals spare you? The gods who named you the Forethinker were mistaken. You'll need forethought beyond your reckoning to wriggle your way out of this device."
[You can watch the Brené Brown video from the 99 conference where she talks about this here.]
Sunday, June 21, 2015
This is a sermon preached at Good Shepherd, Kingwood, Tx, following the Mother Emmanuel AME church shootings by Dylan Roof (aaaaaahttp://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/21/us/dylann-storm-roof-photos-website-charleston-church-shooting.html?_r=0).
It is based upon Mark 4 beginning at the 35 verse.
And, in some way tries to make sense about why we have a difficult time seeing this as an act of racism (despite Dylan's own clarity that it was an attempt to begin a "race war"). Why we want to make this about Christians. And, what we Christians might be able to do to open our eyes to the work that is before us.
Saturday, June 20, 2015
In a recent post to the House of Deputies, the president, The Rev. Gay Jennings sighted some very good reasons why she thinks we should not consider the proposal for a unicameral house. You can read her letter to the House of Deputies here.
She offered the first reason was to be a kind of balance or check on those who have, "the authority to hire, fire, discipline and shape the careers and ministries of members" of the laity, priests and deacons. This offers that the House of Deputies is an important balance. I agree. I think this is not automatically lost in a unicameral situation and room can be made that this balance is maintained, for instance through number of laity and clergy vs bishops, voting power, etc. So this is more of a hurdle and not a road block.
She then offers that because we meet from time to time that bishops (and I am one) control more of the governance. I don't think this takes into account the vast majority of meetings held each triennial of the CCAB's (committee, commissions, and boards) where joint governance is structured and undertaken through mammoth cost of time, gifts, and money. Furthermore, it does not recognize or honor the amount of work the Executive Council does on our behalf to govern the Church. Together the CCAB's and the Executive Council do the vast majority of governance while the House of Bishops spends about 3 hours each year on governance. So this doesn't actually work as a reason to not have a unicameral form of governance.
I agree that balances within the system are important and that all people, deputies and bishops, laity and clergy alike have a hard time looking as Jennings says, "beyond their own self-interest. It isn’t sensible to bestow tremendous advantages on one group within the system and expect that members of that group will never be tempted to use them. Checks, meet balances. Balances, meet checks." Of course what you see here is actually the huge amounts of power, time, and money that is being used for governance under the leadership of he laity, priests, and deacons - the deputies. It is funny though that the argument that Jennings uses is the same argument that the House of Bishops uses when they are fearful of the unicameral system.
Like Jennings I too, "want to be sure that our polity continues to allow bishops, clergy and laypeople to work together to create proposals, programs and advocacy agendas for the Episcopal Church. Right now, the House of Deputies, Executive Council and the commissions, committees, agencies and boards of the church are among the means through which that happens." And, I would not want "the ability to create a legislative agenda and lobby for it is in the hands of only one order of ministry." As you can see though that is a straw man for why we shouldn't have a unicameral. None of that is automatically taken out of the system if the unicameral is designed well and designed by the people of General Convention.
3 Reasons Why We Should Consider A Unicameral
Let me begin by saying that I think governance is important and we are going to spend time and energy on it. I like our system of two houses and believe those houses should meet in a unicameral gathering. Why? I offer you three reasons.
Governance costs money. No matter what you have to have it. But it should not be overwhelming or keep us from doing our work. At our General Convention I promise you we will do some things: we will cut budgets to our poorest mission dioceses that we support. We will cut ministries for youth. We will cut work with emerging ministries and new church starts. We will not pay the pensions for clergy and laity working in the poorest diocese so that they can have a living retirement like their peers in the U.S.
Transparency: I recognize if the 45% of us who don't give our full asking did we would also be in a different position and that is why in Texas I am working to fix that and together with my people are getting close to giving $800,000 of or our asking to the budget - while maintaining the other $1,000,000 in gifts we make to the Episcopal Church outside of the budget.
At the same time we will spend a vast amount of money at every level on General Convention. I went through and I added up the cost of General Convention. I added together the budget components that are visible, I added the tourist data on what an average person is expected to spend in Salt Lake City for hotels and food, I added in transportation cost, and I added in the salaries of those who help us run convention as it is formed in its two houses for eight days plus the four days of set up in advance and this is what I found out. I found out that by the first day of convention we will (in money spent by deputies and bishops and staff) write a whopping total of $1,125,000 roughly. And by the end of it we will have spent more than $11,125,000+ and I think that is really conservative. That takes out sunk cost for those salaries of full time church workers who could be doing something else. It also does not include the church and para-church organizations who will themselves spend large amounts of money to be present to argue for their budget or sell their goods.
Think of it this way. A small and poor diocese traveling from outside of the country could spend well over $20,000 for the event. A small to medium diocese will spend about $40,000. A large diocese might spend well over $100,000 given the numbers of people.
People keep saying that the unicameral house will undo the two house system we have at General Convention. That could be true but it doesn't have to be true.
In this understanding they are using the term to mean one house. But that is not the technical definition of unicameral.
Unicameral means meeting in one chamber. So the integrity of the different houses in our system that typically meet bicameral form (in two chambers) could be maintained. They could in fact have provisions to meet separately when desired.
The way this works now is that we typically meet bicameral form and have provisions for meeting unicamerally. So it is that this General Convention we will actually have several unicameral meetings of the two houses. For instance on budget and on hearing the nominee presentations for Presiding Bishop. This is hardly going to be the end of the world.
If we chose to move forward with a unicameral meeting we could vastly improve our governance while at the same time providing for separate meetings from time to time in bicameral form. And, we could maintain the two house system and their integrity - which I have always supported.
So as you use the term make sure we are using it correctly.
You can learn more about the celebration at this link for Juneteenth.
o Heal historyWe Episcopalians are proud to be part of the Island community, San Augustines, Grace and Trinity continue a great ministry work of reconciliation. St Vincents House is a legacy ministry where we undertake to make – with you our beloved community – a better Galveston
o To live with difference instead of expecting deference, and to celebrate diversity
o It is to create with god, to co-create, a peaceful commons for all of God’s family
So it is on this day that we are proud to be considered your neighbor, to be invited here, to celebrate 150 years since that prophetic Juneteenth day.
We must pray to change America but we must also pray to be changed for sake of America yes, but that we may better reflect God’s family – God’ peaceful and peacefilled family, God’s loving and forgiving family, God’s reconciling family…On this day I am mindful of our President’s remarks at the anniversary of Selma and the long way we have yet to go as brothers and sisters….so let us bow our heads so that I may offer a prayer for us on this day. Let us pray:
Heavenly father, creator of all that we are and all that we have, elevate the character of this nation. In this time of disruption disrupt us for what is true and is right. Disrupt us that we may move and act for the cause of freedom. We honor the courage of the long line of heroes that brought Juneteenth to a reality 150 years ago. We honor the courage of the men and women who make up the long line of heroes who have labored to bring emancipation into reality lo these 150 years. Let their lives, their story, disrupt us and give us courage. Let their non violence in the face of violence, their love in the face of hate, their hope in the face of despair disrupt our ways and remind us on this day that violence, hate, and despair tho they infect our nation shall not have the last word. The emancipation proclamation is call to action to continue the journey to freedom for all black Americans and all of God’s people. Every American – women, Latinos, Asian Americans - has been affected by this word of hope. This is our time, we write our story, and we will leave our legacy. So disrupt us that we may see our purpose to build a better nation, a better state, a better Galveston. Disrupt us that we may discard cynicism. Disrupt us that we may face boldly the sin or racism that is yet before us and that we will have a moral imagination, a sense of urgency to improve our criminal justice system, to roll back poverty, make opportunities for all people to make a living wage, to protect democracy with the right to vote restored fully for all people, to care for the migrant and immigrant, to ensure access to health care, to support the responsibility of each person to make their voice heard - to make a just society. So on this 150th anniversary of the reading of the emancipation proclamation let our voice sound out as it did on that day, let our actions be clear, and let our legacy be true that a second 150 years need not pass before racism, classism and violence are shed and liberty and freedom for all people are once again our nation’s heart’s song. Amen.
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
Monday, June 8, 2015
|Not Quite the Hierarchy I have In Mind.|
She points out that over the last 100 years organizations have moved from bureaucratic to distributed leadership.[i] The Episcopal Church in large measure has not progressed during this same period of time and I believe it is this difference between what people experience in the real work place coming into conflict with outdated models of hierarchy which is frustrating our mission and keeping our structures from change.
Giang introduces us to Deborah Ancona, a professor of management and organizational studies at MIT who talks about how companies in America circa 1920s were "super bureaucracies."[ii] Interesting to note that this was the last period of time in which our own Episcopal structures underwent any major change. We are in an organization that largely reflects the best organizational thinking of men in the 1920s. However, thinking about organizations did not stop with these super bureaucracies they evolved. According to Ancona “in the 1960s, people focused on interpersonal relationships and lots of discussions centered around trust and empathy. In the 1990s, it was all about organizations needing to undergo large-scale changes and vision. Finally, today’s workplace centers on what’s called variously eco-leadership, collaborative leadership, or distributed leadership.”[iii]
What is amazing is that shared leadership between laity and clergy has always been a hallmark of our Episcopal Church. While dioceses and congregations have continued to move along this organizational trajectory – although outpaced by the rest of the culture – our wider church structures have not. We have ground into our deep theology of the prayer book the understanding of a ministry of all the baptized. We value shared leadership. We raise the banner of interpersonal relationships, discourse centered around trust, we value vision, but we have yet to understand the very nature of a networked hierarchy. We remain imprisoned by a bureaucratic model that assigns roles by virtue of an out moded system.
Ancona in her book X-Teams: How to Build Teams That Lead, Innovate, and Succeed, as in who do you know outside and inside of your team. "It’s all about your network. If you understand the internal network in your company, you have a higher chance of moving ahead." Every organization has to have leaders and a hierarchy. At the same time a shared leadership and shared power can level the hierarchy and bring people closer into partnership.
You don’t have to get rid of shared relational power and organizational identity to go flat. At the same time clarification of roles, and centralizing convening powers (even if shared between executives) can create adaptive opportunities.
For this to happen the leaders at the highest levels have to look more at what they can accomplish together than spending time compete for power or not working together.
Even Google has hierarchy. Remember in 2007 when they announced a “Chief Culture Officer”?[iv] The work Stacy Sevides Sullivan says is to help the company keep their unique culture keeping the “the core values we had in the very beginning--a flat organization, a lack of hierarchy, a collaborative environment--to keep these as we continue to grow and spread them and filtrate them into our new offices around the world.”[v] They employed Sevides as part of the hierarchy to keep the structure flat. It sounds oxymoronic but it protected a key ingredient that is essential to Google.
The truth is that we must pay careful attention to our own religious history here a bit. Is this flat culture not the culture Jethro advises Moses to use in sharing his authority? It is the same culture as modeled by Jesus in the sending out of the seventy. The disciples and first apostles use a similar flat cultured organization – even if they would not have considered it so. Paul certainly offers us insight into flat culture communities of the first century. In my own book CHURCH I argue that we are seeing a new flat culture in terms of mission develop. Our small batch communities that are local, organic, and sustainable are examples of a mission with a flat culture.
Furthermore, sustaining big bureaucracies is costly and in an economic situation with shrinking mission we must chose carefully what it is we wish to fund.
I believe our work is always and everywhere to remind ourselves of the difference between church and God’s dream of the church - ecclesia. We are to make sure that we are clearly focused on God’s dream of the ecclesia so that as we make decisions we are doing so mindfully aware that our own attempts are always falling short of God’s dream. They are always rooted in our earthiness and limited by our human nature.
We say we believe in the ministry of the baptized we have to then flatten our organization, we need to get clear about what drives us, and we need to orient the whole organization around the furtherance of the mission imperative of the organization. I believe that is on the ground mission through evangelism and service. This is where the work of creating peaceful spaces where difference can dwell together and just communities can be built.
We talk a lot about the value and importance of a one on one relational mission strategy where all are empowered and we (at every level of the organization) at our worst spend a lot of time funding a bureaucracy that undermines our key goals and values. In Texas we are pondering how do we take our old model of Diocesan Council and do this very thing? How do we transform our diocesan staff into an organization that coaches, connects, and collaborates? How does the diocese shift so it is clear about its decision-making, flattens its hierarchy, and truly empowers (vs disempowers) the people?
This work has to be done at the highest levels of the organization too.
TEACH PEOPLE TO THINK WITH A STRATEGIC MINDSET
The goal in this new mission age has to be a transparency and shared leadership that empowers and gets out of the way of people who are doing the ministry. So here is the second big idea from Ancona’s work: You can’t expect people to innovate and create and move in a rapidly paced environment if they don’t understand how to move.”[viii] So it is that we must move as much money down (not up) the food chain. We have to keep resources at the grass roots level. This helps to financially flatten the organization. But along with financial resources we need to also move away from funding programs to funding people.
We have to fund people to go out and work with other people to help raise up leadership. We have to coach and collaborate and share in such a way that we empower people to be entrepreneurial. I am unclear, honestly, about how much of this is possible at the wider church model. More of this can be done locally at the diocesan level. My guess is that some of this could be done at the wider church level for those dioceses who need it. I would be for supporting that work. As I have said repeatedly Tom Bracket’s work from the Church Office is really good at this. I know there are others. This convening and sharing ministry though is very different than the ministry of program.
What we must realize is that we may be in a “bad-context command-and-control [environment].” Here what we do is we have a pedagogical model where the wider church model tells everyone how it is going to be and burdens the rest of the church with policy in order to control. We only need point to our ever-expanding canons to see what is taking place. Another area is the liturgy. Instead of empowering liturgical innovation we seek to get everything approved. I love liturgy and I think it can be a powerful tool in the toolbox of mission. I want my people to feel free to do liturgy and not have to follow policy on everything. I don’t mean to be picking on these two areas (liturgy and canonical – especially because I have friends who LOVE this work) I am just pointing out that we need to be lean in our policy and command control if we really want to empower people. I would offer that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had over 613 laws that were to govern their faith and that one of the primary reason Jesus got into trouble was that he ran around breaking all their rules.
LOTS OF "CONNECTORS" NEED TO BE IN PLACE
If we are going to flatten the hierarchy and we are going to expect people to do the entrepreneurial work of mission then they will need access to resources.[ix] This is why networks are so very important to the emerging organization.
Acona says, "There needs to be easy connectivity because that innovation and that collaborative environment requires people doing what we call creative collisions."[x] What Clay Shirky has taught me is that human beings have a tremendous amount of power for their work if we count the resources of personal gifts and time. This is what he calls cognitive surplus. (You can watch his TED talk to better understand the concept.)
Here is the key concept I want you to understand. Organizations exist for a purpose and in order to accomplish this purpose it has a “management problem.”[xi] The management problem is how a hierarchy of employees managing other employees enforces the goals of the organization. In 1920 our current bureaucracy and managements system was AWESOME at doing this! (It was helped along by the fact that the denomination church was about to enter a unique zenith of American church attendance.) It came with a particular economic structure as all structures do, and an economic structure, and a system that is exclusionary. (This reality hurts us Episcopalians and we don’t like to face it. We want to believe that we are not exclusionary. But our councils that meet during the weekdays, our convention which takes 8 days, and the vast majority of our working groups are dependent upon people who can, in the case of GC, give up 8 days and can spend about $250 a day on room and board, plus the conference costs.)[xii]
The reality that Shirky points out is that you just can recruit everyone into a organization. You have to exclude and you end up with a professional class.[xiii] We in our church have multiple levels of professional classes of people including deputies, bishops, clergy, and lay people who are paid.
The whole reason for flattening the organization is to unlock the limiting power of the infrastructure. Yes, you do loose the power of control. But you gain something very important. You gain the reality that you shed institutional cost and increase adaptability. You create a cooperative system. [xiv]Ancona says “that this is where new ideas come from, because people are able to wander from one place to another, purposely meeting and speaking to people across the organization.”[xv]
Acona continues: "They need to connect and collide with people who have different ways of thinking, and [thus] mechanisms that enable that to happen. Having a culture that enables people to move freely from one part of the organization to another and having connectors in the organization who connect the people to one another are all part of creating that kind of organization."[xvi]
WE ARE A HIERARCHICAL CHURCH BUT A FLATTER ONE
We are a hierarchical church. Nothing in this offering changes the fact we are hierarchical. Yet we need to make changes in order to become a flatter organization; and I don't believe those changes undo the structure of the church in terms of its DNA or nature. The purpose of the church wide organization is to serve the mission of the local congregation. To do this the church wide organization must remember that its value is in sharing, connecting, supporting, and cheerleading the diocese and churches as they undertake the local mission. I do think that in order to hold up the mirror to the organization we must take seriously a few things.
1. We need to create a shared power of the presidents that enables us to close the gap of power struggle and increase collaboration and accountability with very real clarity in job descriptions and boundaries of power that draw them together and not pull them apart.
2. We need to decrease numbers of board members and hierarchical structures while protecting representation. These groups need to have clear roles of authority and accountability.
3. We need to increase participation and voices at levels of the organization through media and social connectivity.
4. We need to have staff with clear lines of authority that are not confused by complex bureaucracies and multiple reporting roles.
5. We need to decrease costs and time spent on distractions and increase efficiency in governance (decreasing time, money, and distractions from mission).
6. We need to increase ministries that build networks, share resources, support innovation, empower collaboration, and add flexibility. In areas where there are populations in need of the Episcopal Church we need to focus dollars and resources under the direction of local mission to build healthy communities. (This may mean also supporting ministries and diocese where there is a church but they do not have resources for support. We need to chose to do this work rather than pay for structure.)
7. We need to stop behaviors that continue to drive up costs through complicated management, structures, and administration.
8. We are running too many duplicate services. For example there are many duplicate services between the General Convention Office and the Church Office at 815. We need to work strategically to combine and bring down overhead.
[i] Vivian Giang, “What Kind of Leadership Is Needed in Flat Hierarchies?” Fast Company, May 19, 2015.
[v] Elinor Mills, Newsmaker: Meet Google's culture czar, April 27, 2007, http://news.cnet.com/2100-1023_3-6179897.html.
[xi] Clay Shirky, TED Talk Summary, July 2008, http://www.ted.com/talks/clay_shirky_on_institutions_versus_collaboration/transcript?language=en
Friday, June 5, 2015
Yes Mr. Cromwell, "I could be wrong."
I could be wrong. I could be wrong about a lot of things. I wonder if the possibility of being wrong isn't actually a freeing one. This enables me to cast a vision, argue my case, lead and listen and know that God will work it out in the end. While offering visions of the future I could be wrong always frees me to ponder every aspect and consider adaptation.
Am I the only one who ponders being wrong?
Organizations in crisis can spend a lot of time controlling outcomes by pointing at dissident voices and telling them they are wrong instead of pondering how the organization might be wrong. We can control tightly the voices in committees and at microphones. That is just how the system seems to work.
I remember sitting as a member of the committee tasked with hearing the special resolutions on structure at the last General Convention. We sat on a dais and listened for over an hour to individuals give testimony about the future of God's church that they believed in. I remember hearing voice after voice call for change. I remember unanimous votes, unbelievable unanimous votes, call for change.
I don't think that vision of the possible future church is wrong. I believe in that future church of God's making. I believe in a structure than can support it. I am hopeful that people across the church will let their deputies and bishops know their vision of that future change is still alive and that our structures have to change. Yes the bishops and deputies vote their mind and are not representatives. But Let the voices be heard at convention and let them sound in the halls of the committees. Let the social media continue to light up with memorials and good ideas about strategies for our future. Together, by listening, by being generous to one another, by believing we each have the very best of God's mission at heart, by making room in our own heart (because we might be wrong) to hear one another we might begin to see the places where our buttresses are misplaced and move and then slowly we might together shift to be the church God is inviting us to be.
Tuesday, June 2, 2015
The task it seems to me is to make the changes in opportune moments as emerging energies synergize for positive steps forward.
It made me think that we truly live and minister in an ecosystem of interconnected pieces. Eschooltoday defines an ecosystem as: An ecosystem includes all of the living things (plants, animals and organisms) in a given area, interacting with each other, and also with their non-living environments (weather, earth, sun, soil, climate, atmosphere).
As we have approached the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (#GC78) there has been a lot of talk about how the structures of the church should change in order to create a more adaptive organization in the changing context of the world around us. The debate often ends up in an either or category. "We should change or we won't survive." vs. "Why would changing our governance change anything - really?" We have the same discussions about congregational development, judicatories/diocese, the vocations and ministries.
Eschooltoday offers this example of an ecosystem, "Consider a small puddle at the back of your home. In it, you may find all sorts of living things, from microorganisms, to insects and plants. These may depend on non-living things like water, sunlight, turbulence in the puddle, temperature, atmospheric pressure and even nutrients in the water for life."
The ponds live with a delicate balance. Snooping around on the internet I found this helpful description of the delicate balance in a pond. This website we learn that "balance is the key word. In a balanced body of water the life in it is in harmony. Things come into being, live, reproduce and die at a rate that is for the most part in perfect proportion to the need. That is to say 'what lives and then dies is beneficial to the entire environment.' Each living organism is nourished and dependent on other living things contained in the same ecosystem."
When the balance is affected eutrophication can happen. "A pond that is out of balance or becoming unbalanced might have an over abundance of algae and weed growth. This happens because the available bacteria are not absorbing the decaying organic matter from previous growth at the natural cleansing rate... Eutrophication means over fed. The main reason for this is pollution. [When there is too much] nitrogen, phosphate, potassium, sodium, iron and calcium. All these elements greatly [stimulating] algae, aquatic plant and weed growth. In turn more and more plants die off, which in turn end up on the bottom as organic sludge. If the bacteria can not keep up and dissolve (decay) this heavy loading of organic matter the pond begins to deteriorate. Left unchecked, sooner or later the pond fills with dead plant life and becomes a swamp. Side note: Actually this also happens in the natural order of things. Natural pollution can cause a pond to become a swamp, then a bog and finally a meadow."
I say all of this because the pond is an ecosystem. The world is an ecosystem. Organizations have an ecosystem too. (I am not worried about the church dying because just like the pond the ecosystem doesn't change if complete eutrophication happens. The pond is simply transformed. So I know that the church's ecosystem will be transformed.)
We cannot change only General Convention or congregational development, or ministry. The reality is that as the ecosystem of our whole denomination as it lives within the ecosystem of our culture is shifting and needs to change. All of it will and must go through change - either adaptive or reactive change. Now I don't want to get overly metaphorical and start labeling the "decaying organic matter" that was previously "growth" in our system. I am just offering that we cannot believe that any one change will begin to shift our ecosystem. We cannot believe that any one area will go unchallenged by the shifting ecosystem. Moreover, as a system there has to be systemic change in order to keep everything in balance.
We can't just change the parts of the system we don't like in order to spare ourselves from the pain of change. In our system one house wants the other to change, one wants this or that presiding officer to change, one wants that group over there to change. It is all out of whack and it will take systemic change to give us the opportunity to regain our mission footing.
It is my opinion that we must seek to discover those places within the ecosystem where there is health and balance being restored already. We must create safe spaces for life and innovation. We must create new communities and new ponds. We must realize that we must hold onto the very important pieces of our DNA as a church that are necessary and jettison those things that are no longer helpful or that no longer serving the health of the mission. We must channel resources towards growth and mission and away from decay.
I don't believe that everything that exists within our church will itself somehow die or that all of it has to change. I do believe that we must be focused on systemic change. Tinkering here or there will not in the end bring about the change needed.
In order for us to move into this new era and navigate it, we will need to become comfortable with a measure of chaos and complexity and their effects across the church system . “What is being sought,” writes biologist Steven Rose, “is a biology that is more holistic and integrative, a science that is adult enough to rejoice in complexity.”[i] We need to remind ourselves that God is a God of chaos and disorder and is always playing and molding and making. It is true for the church that comes next. It will have to mimic and invite God into co-creative work. Yet, not unlike the faithful people of Israel who believed in the Creator God, we may find God’s hand is already creating in the world around us.
We must be willing to allow ourselves to become accustomed to volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes in his book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, we must allow our “fear to be transformed into prudence, our pain into information, our mistakes into initiation, and our desire into undertaking.”[ii] We must also realize that we are going to have emotions of anger about these changes and that we need to capture and harness that energy into action and invest in good works. As the author of Hebrews writes: “Do not neglect to do good and share what you have for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Hebrews 13.16)
It is not too late for The Episcopal Church to transform itself into the kind of vessel needed to navigate the waters of the new world of tomorrow. We are a church of tradition and innovation. We are a church of resources spread across seventeen countries. We are a church made up of every kind of human being; with every kind of gift; and with multiple resources. We are a church that has never been afraid of facing difficult tasks or asking hard questions.
The answer is that it is not too late. God has a mission and God’s mission has The Episcopal Church helping to undertake God’s reconciling work on earth. Our vision is clear and it is up to us to breach the gap between the vision God has of God’s reign and the reality we experience. It is our work to think intentionally about the shape of the once imagined and future church that even now lies before us.
Bob Johansen reminds future leaders that it is up to us to make the future.[iii] Leadership, organizational vision alignment, and governance all must shift from being a locked system to an open and usable organism. On the one hand, we must be permission-giving; on the other hand, we must take initiative. The Church exists to invite people to interact with the God who has repeatedly sought to enjoy the diversity of God’s creation. The Good News of Salvation, the love of God, and the unique witness of Christ are to be possessed by all God’s people and not held captive by the Church.
In the Diocese of Texas we are not simply asking questions about old structures and staffing we are changing the ecosystem. We are talking about change and adaptive leadership at every level from the attractional church, the sending church, the missional community and diocesan structures. We are seeking to discover new models of lay ministry unchained from the internal work of the church (altar, lectern, usher) to leading communities. What does it mean to have a diocese and be a bishop in a different kind of church that is adaptive to the ecosystem it is called to do mission within?
We are going through a 360 degree review of our canonical structures and our diocesan staff. We are moving from an old pedagogical model of telling people how to do things and running programs to a new model of coaching and connecting people to people and resources. We are putting as much money into congregations as possible. In fact we gave away more money this last year for congregational projects than we took in by directing our foundations and budget to community work. Why? Because we believe the church is an ecosystem and like an ecosystem the the whole thing must be moved into a sustainable, healthy, mission focused organization based upon the context in which we find ourselves.
We are tasked with the responsibility of leading our church in proactive decision making that supports the mission. The questions we ask ourselves and the decisions we make are important at this General Convention. Will we be a Convention that supports the new and emerging forms of mission leaving ever more dollars in the diocese accounts to do local mission or will we continue to believe that what we do at convention is the highest and best use of our time, energy, and dollars?
I personally am invested in writing a different story than I believe we are writing today.
- "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
- "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
- "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
- "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
- "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
- "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
- "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
- "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball