The New Authority: Trust

Deutsch: Polizeihauptmeister MZ (mit Zulage) a...

Phyllis Tickle, in The Great Emergence, outlines our past, describes our present, and previews our immediate, swirling future into what she calls the Great Emergence.  The book is now over three years old, but as astute as ever.  In it, she tackles the question of authority as I raised in a previous post about the Anglican Communion.  I wrote that the source of our biggest conflicts are around the nature of authority and that, as Tickle suggests, we battle every 500 years or so over the who/where/what/why/how of authority.  Specifically, how do we resolve issues in which  there is no discernible structure or force that has jurisdictional punishment over bad actors?  Or, how do we deal with conflict without either a person or a system that has authority to punish?  My response is simple: our punishment simply matches our source of authority.  We just have trouble seeing it yet.

The specifics of conflict are actually pretty common: the kid that gets away with bullying because he does it online or because she isn’t physically seen by a teacher; the youth that gets away with stealing from his neighbors because his Dad is a police officer; all the way up to the president who simply ignores the law on torture or war powers.  Each is a case of someone who gets away with a crime because there is seemingly no mechanism for curtailing the behavior.

Well, Tickle outlines the last two battles each yielding a new sense of authority that made sense for the age.  With the Great Schism in the 11th Century, the answer of who has authority was to put it in the hands (or the seat) of a single person: the pope.  Therefore one person can be the final judge on all things Christian.  Which was great, until there were more than one person claiming to be the pope.  And the pope didn’t seem to have all of the answers.  Or he had the answers, they were just inconsistent.  So in the 16th Century, through the Great Reformation, authority shifted from a human to a book.  Sola Scriptura! they shouted!  And suddenly all authority rested in an inanimate object.  All of the answers could be found there…until they couldn’t.  Until there were too many ways of reading a “plain reading” of the text.  The great revolution that put the Bible in the hands of individuals, led to the downfall of Scriptural authority, because individuals came to different conclusions without the structure of the church.  The Great Reformation worked almost too well!

How Tickle describes the current age, the beginning of the Great Emergence, is to argue that authority will be found not in a person or in a book, but in the network.  That the collection of people, not as a structure, but as a loosely affiliated network, would come to agreement more organically.  I loved the idea when I read it three years ago, but I haven’t been able to quite see it until now.

The problem is that we are dependent on those other means of authority, institutional structures, individual decision-makers, irrefutable texts, and we lazily understand our own part as imbibing what the smart people say and following along.  But the new sense of authority rests in how we come together and upon that which we can agree.  This is to say, not in ignorant cultural beliefs necessarily, but in active attempts to wrestle with questions and problems.

What this means for my specific question is that these individuals get away with criminal behavior because we collectively allow them to.  We don’t stand up to it, either as individuals or as a group.  We allow others to deal with it (or not).  This isn’t a call for vigilantism, far from it, but collective action. It is us who ignore the bully, relying on teachers and principals to act, rather than step in as a class.  It is us who allow a youth to be protected by his place in society.  It is us who allow a president to carry out heinous acts in our name or perhaps more disgustingly, in the name of freedom.  Our action opportunities are plentiful.


Image by hybrid756 via Flickr

It comes down to trust.  Our current behavior demonstrates that we don’t trust the system, we simply rely on it and expect it to function.  Then when it doesn’t, we condemn it.  Sometimes we even argue that the system can’t do it.  And even then we still don’t hold the community responsible for cleaning up the mess.

Perhaps this is why there is so much confusion about the Occupy movement, as it is not about political expediency but method and consensus-building.  The way it functions isn’t just a political tactic, but a vision of new community.  Community without a singular figure-head and decision-maker.  No Scripture to hold up as an idol.  No specific confession to demand adherence to.  No institutional hierarchy that demands allegiance.  It is people standing up and taking care of each other.

And that is also a vision of trust.

Telling Secrets: “…Another World Is Possible.”

Elizabeth Kaeton preached the quintessential Advent 4 sermon–about Occupy Wall Street.  Amazing!

This has me moved to see a simple idea.  Head on over, read it, and then reflect over that picture of Bishop Packard for a moment.  When you are done, come back and ask yourself the following question:

What if, in the midst of all of our structures and beliefs and plans, G-d is here, breaking through?  What if this is the image of G-d and anything but support for it is a denial of the kingdom?

The parable you never knew

Two of the most recognizable parables sandwich a poor, misunderstood parable in Luke’s gospel.  A parable of revolutionary proportions, often mistaken for an afterthought.  A small, instructive parable that speaks today in the volume of a whisper with the effect of a hand grenade.

Before we get to that parable, it is useful to talk about what is around it.Continue Reading

Forward living or backward obsessing?

My brain is intent on proving me wrong.

More than a decade ago, when my two closest friends were living in East Lansing, I moved down to join them.  Having only visited the apartment once or twice, and not knowing the area very well, I was confident that I knew the way to get there; however, I wasn’t confident of other ways to get there.  After getting stuck behind a few slow-moving cars, I sped around them, only to find I had misjudged the distance before my turn, so I checked my blind spot and did that merge/turn from the left lane.  I focus on that brief moment in which I waited to see if I a car would rear-end me.

I don’t know why, but that memory pops into my head whenever I have the slightest bit of doubt in myself.  I think of that dangerous, stupid thing I did when I was 22, that could have caused a major accident.  And the funny thing is that that comes to mind today when I poor the wrong cereal in a bowl.

The other day, I wrote that we must appreciate a broad view of history, particularly making account for the big picture and the unsavory bits, rather than cherry-pick the meaning we desire.  Sometimes we can’t help it because our feeble brains do that for us.  But I was reminded of the Soren Kierkegaard quote:

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

I don’t believe time is so linear as that: as if we follow a straight line like a never ending railroad.  Nor do I believe that we live in a circle; locked into a perpetual loop of constant relearning of the very same things.  Time is more mysterious than that.  But I do identify with the underlying difference between forward and backward thinking.  It does seem that those focused on the past are ill-prepared for new challenges: that rather than being knowledgeable about the entire historical endeavor, we relive it in a shorthand.  Like that crazy mistake I made years ago, popping up out of the blue.

A few days ago, Tony Jones wrote about a Hartford Seminary study that demonstrated steeper, more troubling decline across all Christian denominations than expected over the last decade.  The study isolated the one common factor within those places with high congregational vitality is innovation, while the steepest declines are being felt among the unchanging and rigid churches whose liturgy lives in yesterday.  This tracks with the emerging church’s sense that our living, including our liturgy, must be lived as if God is present among us, and should represent a current, interactive relationship.

It might seem as if this contradicts the earlier post’s suggestion of being knowledgeable about the past.  But it doesn’t.  Because the important part is our focus: where our heart resides.  If your heart lives in the past, living in the midst the memories of dead friends and family and life highlights, then your intentions aren’t prepared for the future.  Visiting the future is seen as rejecting the past, so an eternal present is spent in constant backwards comparisons.  However, if your heart lives for the future, then excursions into the past attempt to learn for future benefit, mindful that our present needs are a viable future.

That mistake that haunts me in the present doesn’t really inform me of anything, even safe driving habits.  I don’t remember it constructively or in instructive moments and my brain doesn’t think of it thankfully.  It comes at times of doubt–when I am not confident–and tries to sabotage the present and future, making me cowardly.  It is my brain’s own attempt at intimidating me into not growing up and not dealing with the future.  This is why the idea of seeing our thinking as backwards is so useful, and yet our living must be forwards.


I encourage you to click over to Tony Jones’ blog in the above link or right here, because he asks an important question about serving the needs of aging membership and the needs of the next generations.  My question is this: how might we help all of us to live forwards, even when our orientation is to be in our heads reading our history backwards?

On Ecclesiology: Leadership, Emergence, and #Occupy

In the Premodern world, humanity was led by “the divine right of kings,” in other words, authority was bestowed upon a singular human authority from a divine source.

In the Modern world, humanity was led by singular representation.  Authority was bestowed on an individual to represent the people, either through fiat or election.

The Enlightenment shook the world and transformed how we would come to understand authority; however, one thing remained the same: singular authority.  We only saw one vision of leadership, which was like a pyramid with a pointy tip–and only one man could be at its top.  In this way, it didn’t matter what kind of leadership it was or how a leader came to power.  Monarchies, military dictatorships, democratic elections (rigged or not), it doesn’t matter when the end result is one person that has power over others.

We are infected with the belief that leadership is singular and that responsibility for groups come from one individual.  We believe that groups cannot be held responsible and that it all comes down to the guy in charge.  This is not a contagion, but a mutation.

In the Postmodern world, humanity is increasingly led by a network of the people collected, rather than represented by individuals.  We know this as grassroots leadership in many parts of the world and groupings of people have been promoting this revolutionary leadership style for decades.  It has only become more relevant to those stuck in a modernist framework as it has become increasingly popular and powerful.  The rise of social media, from Facebook to Twitter, is proof of the power, not only of innovation or of technology, but of the rise of grassroots leadership itself.

This isn’t dogmatically destructive anarchy or rudderless ships or some other metaphor for the absence of leadership, but a prescient form that takes the uncontrolled id out of the equation–that constant individual pursuit of power–and the community’s subordination to such a figure.

The rise of the network leadership model is a principle driver of emergence–both the theory and the emerging church movement–in which the group bears responsibility for the fruits of its faith, rather than collected individuals or the charismatic leadership at the top of the pyramid.  The Occupy Wall Street Movement (#OccupyWallStreet, #OWS) is such an example of network leadership.  So there is no wonder the media has such trouble with covering it: they themselves are operating with the wrong assumption.

That assumption, of course, is that one person has to be in charge, or at the very least, one person has been responsible for casting the vision for the people.  One man that rides forward like William Wallace and declares that the enemy may take their lives, but not their freedom!  That one man must be responsible.  Not necessarily.

This is an erroneous assumption.  It is a fundamentally corrupted view of the world.  We don’t need ecclesiological fascism: one ruler with many followers.

We need to be the leadership together.

The obvious fallacy of “traditional” leadership is found in its devotion to not only physically male representation, but a masculine gendered one.  The alternative to this isn’t simply the elevation of women (which I support), but the elevation of the whole community to leadership.


Most of the criticisms of the Occupy Movement’s lack of “specific goals” or “unified vision” bear the hallmark of modernist leadership principles: one man responsible for the many.  But the true hallmark of democracy is shared leadership.  That each takes not only responsibility for themselves, but their neighbors.  At the same time, they show deference to the others who are doing the same.

See, this has nothing to do with purity of message, organizational structure, or other concerns for marketing the modernist leadership paradigm.  It has everything to do with creating together a more democratic, more honest relationship to our leadership.

I have seen no stronger example of how the church of the future operates than what has been going on at Liberty Square and popping up all over the country.  This is the vibrant, organic church we yearn for.  And the only thing stopping us is our own artificially narrowed sense of ecclesiology.

Occupy Wall Street’s collective statement

For those following #OccupyWallStreet, click on their first collective statement.

One of the criticisms of the movement has been their lack of central authority and a clear, concise statement of demands.  What is unique to this movement, and more typical of organizations today, rather than 50 years ago, is the belief that the first step toward organizing isn’t the assent to common beliefs articulated in a specific way by a singular individual.  Rather, the gathering of like-minded people to act in a certain way and form their beliefs together.  This is one of the hallmarks of the Episcopal Church, for instance, which sees common practice as the first step toward integration, rather than membership or assent to doctrinal faith.

What has come out of the Occupy Wall Street movement is a demonstration of real patience and wisdom that the process is important: how a group goes about forming its identity for itself.  It has also encouraged several leaders to guide different areas in working groups, to avoid both the charismatic leader approach and the very subservient nature of a group passively following such a leader.

In both of these ways, this is a movement representing the best of current political thinking, the spontaneity of the social media generation, and respect for the multiple avenues of public discourse.  Perhaps other groups and movements could learn to do the same, particularly our churches, who rarely recognize the fact that they are part of a social and political movement.

The Nines: at a conference in my office

This morning, the free conference known as The Nines will start. For more information about it, including how to register), see my previous post.

I’ll be updating this post throughout the day with some of the highlights and questions that come out of it, so check back later.

12:24 pm: I just got home a few minutes ago from the weekly art class with my daughter.  We read a book about fish called Swimmy and did art projects based on fish.  It was great!

Less than 30 seconds after I logged on, one of the leaders I hoped to see came on, Jon Acuff.  I’m in the middle of his book, Quitter and he covered the topic of time management.  Here’s the gist of what he covered:

Time is one thing we can’t get back, so we have to make it count.  There are two things that get in the way:

  1. Perfectionism: The perfect always appears closer than it is.  We can always read one more article or blog or take one more class and understand it better.  No.  90% perfect and published is better than 100% perfect and stuck in your head.
  2. Match the right level of energy to the right activity.
1:49 pm: Just wanted to point out that the first woman has appeared since I turned this on a few minutes after noon.  This is a cool video conference, but about 15 speakers an hour, so I’ve seen almost 30 speakers and Jenni Catron is the first one that isn’t a dude?
4:05 pm: I’m about to close up shop.  It has been a rewarding few hours, but not life-changing.  It certainly would have helped if there were a greater “mainline” or liturgical presence, and I would certainly prefer being able to cherry-pick some of the people I want see.  But I’ve got a family that needs me, so I’m signing off.  Talk tomorrow!