People in any organization are always attached to the obsolete—
the things that should have worked but did not, the things that
once were productive and no longer are. ~ Peter Drucker
Management expertise has become the creation and control of
constants, uniformity, and efficiency, while the need has become
the understanding and coordination of variability, complexity, and
effectiveness. ~ Dee Hock
“Tell of it, you who ride on tawny asses,
you who sit on rich carpets,
and you who walk by the way.
“To the sound of musicians at the watering places,
there they repeat the triumphs of Yahweh,
the triumphs of his peasantry in Israel.” – Judges 5:10-11
Walter Brueggemann comments on the verses above:
“These verses are in the old Song of Deborah, thus a model of Israel’s earliest self-awareness as being linked to this odd God. They invite a conversation of saturation that continues while riding, sitting, and walking – that is, all the time. There is to be much talking and telling and bearing witness. The talk is to happen at the watering places, at the oases, at the village wells, while the community does its most mundane, daily routines, where the women gather to gossip, to sing while the buskers play and entertain and enjoy.
“In that context, Israel is to talk endlessly about Yahweh, about Yahweh’s victories, about Yahweh’s acts of making things right, about Yahweh’s solidarity with the peasants who, without Yahweh, are hopeless and helpless. Israel is to repeat these exhibits of Yahweh..
“… the subject was ‘the triumphs of Yahweh..’ except those deeds are also ‘the triumphs of his peasantry.’ Thus the singing and telling is about the acts of courage whereby Yahweh’s people have run risks for an alternative life in the world… This is not a courtroom, but it is nonetheless a context in which competing versions of reality are in play against each other. And those who speak while they ride and sit and walk are advocates for a particular, peculiar Yahweh-world.” Cadences of Home, 50
* * *
“He came to a town in Samaria called Sychar,
near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was
from the journey, sat down by the well.
It was about noon.” John 4
In this encounter we are going to see new triumphs at the watering places, the real-life dusty road places where ordinary people congregate and tell their stories. We will hear a new song from this tired Singer, and we will hear a response of deep hunger from the hopeful daughter of Israel. And then she in turn will sing a new song and become part of the story of God’s mighty acts in Israel. What a beautiful interweaving of threads in the garment of salvation!
And the political reality, in the face of the liturgical and cultic life of Israel, is also stunning. There are two dangerous dreams here.
First, Jesus asks the woman to imagine an alternate world where access to hope and to God’s future are not determined by location or ethnicity.
Second, Jesus asks the woman! He shapes new imagination not merely by picturing an alternate reality, but by inviting her into the drama – the new story that he is authoring moment by moment in this god-forsaken place by an ancient watering hole.
He asks the woman! A Jewish teacher contradicts the rabbis and crosses a religious and cultural boundary, thereby affirming for all time that this new Song is not about religion at all – but about something much Larger that God is doing in the world. He challenges the narrow frame of cultic life in a remote corner of Palestine and replaces it with the Big Story – the coming of God’s just kingdom where there is no slave or free, Jew or Gentile, male or female….
So many years sanding language smooth
only to learn and relearn that mystery
resists finished edges.
Karen Connelly. “April, on coming to the island”
“The synoptic gospels present the Last Supper as a “new Temple” moment… Like all Passover meals, it was not just a signpost, but a means, through the sharing of food and wine, of partaking in the event about to be accomplished. When Jesus wanted to explain to his followers the meaning of his death, he didn’t give them a theory, he gave them a meal.” NT Wright, How God Became King, 238
Discipline in the spiritual life means “a gradual process of coming home to where we belong and listening there to the voice which desires our attention. It is the voice of the ‘first love.’ St. John writes: ‘We are in love… because God first loved us.” It is this first love which offers us the intimate place where we can dwell in safety. The first love says: ‘You are loved long before other people love you or you can love others. You are accepted long before you can accept others or receive their acceptance. You are safe long before you can offer or receive safety.’ Home is the place where that first love dwells and speaks gently to us. It requires discipline to come home and listen, especially when our fears are so noisy that they keep driving us outside of ourselves.” Nouwen, Lifesigns, 27.
Our organizations are failing; as leaders we’re struggling. Nothing seems reliable anymore. How do we respond to adaptive challenges? Why do we feel so lost?
The Franklin expedition failed because they carried their baggage with them, a non-adaptive response to extreme conditions. In contrast Jesus sent the disciples out with nothing to sustain them. How do we get comfortable with vulnerability? Living on the edge is a journey into experimentation and adaptation. It requires new capacities and skills from leaders and teams. Leaders get lost: who survives and why? How do our mental maps limit us?
Iceland’s Silfra fissure is formed by the pulling apart of tectonic plates. Modernity has fragmented and broken into post-modernity. Merely managing the crisis is not sustainable. Instead we need to open space, finding a way to withdraw and reflect. Our paradigms of progress are oppressive. Jesus told us that we would lose our lives to find them. We move down to rise up.
How will the future find us? Living on edges creates tension, and tension generates wakefulness. Old assumptions about growth and leadership no longer apply. Our landscape has gone from solid to liquid. When we can no longer read maps, we train navigators. We work with tools and practices that help us “read” the landscape.
Change is a constant condition, and local knowledge has become paramount. Innovators start before they are ready and develop prototypes to test new conditions. New leadership types are appearing: poets and synergists and boundary-crossers. Listening and observing together we invite a new future. I describe organizations that found a new future.
Goal-posts have shifted and the field has become fluid. I offer a framework for understanding organizational culture and examine the role of leaders in emergent conditions. In self-organizing systems leaders disrupt existing patterns, encourage novelty and act as sensemakers. Leadership is less about decisive action and more about shaping environments.
Pilgrimage begins when we discover a yearning for something more. The final phase is arrival at the beginning and “knowing the place for the first time.” The metaphor of exile fits the experience of leadership in our time. What feels like a closed space might be a womb: a place of transformation and rebirth. The One on the throne says, “Behold! I make all things new!”
“Because the very foundations of American society, including the family, are crumbling, we MUST seek and find strong leaders. But we need a new kind of leader—beyond the celebrity, beyond the pragmatist—to show us the way to the abundant life, the food life that God originally intended for his children and still longs for us to have..
“No medium or method of conveying the Christian gospel can meet people’s basic needs for recognition, involvement, worthiness, growth, and indeed salvation itself without the loving give and take of person-to-person interaction over a long period of time. This is what community really means, and this is exactly where popular religion and its leaders are not successful.
“In a secular society, in a world where homelessness is the norm, the only way religion can really be “successful” is to provide a home for the homeless—a family that includes not must my kind of people, but God’s kind of people, who love him with everything they have, and who love their neighbor as much as they love themselves. The church does need to become God’s ideal family, both in word and indeed. And its leaders will have to be heroic leaders ho really live and exemplify the life they preach and teach, whose authority is recognized in their nobility, in their concrete modeling of the love of God, the only force that can save and transform a world plagued with the consequences of sin.”
Richard Quebedeaux, 1982
Begin the song exactly where you are,
Remain within the world of which you’re made.
Call nothing common in the earth or air,
Accept it all and let it be for good.
Start with the very breath you breathe in now,
This moment’s pulse, this rhythm in your blood
And listen to it, ringing soft and low.
Stay with the music, words will come in time.
Slow down your breathing. Keep it deep and slow.
Become an open singing-bowl, whose chime
Is richness rising out of emptiness,
And timelessness resounding into time.
And when the heart is full of quietness
Begin the song exactly where you are.
From Malcolm’s blog
Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest…
you who have had so far
to come.) Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled
a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world.
Charmed by dove’s voices, the whisper of straw,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed
who overflowed all skies,
Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught that I might be free,
blind in my womb to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth
for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn. – Luci Shaw
“Into the Darkest Hour,” a poem by Madeleine L’Engle
It was a time like this,
War & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
Hungry yawned the abyss —
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.
It was time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight —
and yet the Prince of bliss
came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.
And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.
— from Winter Song: Christmas Readings by Madeleine L’Engle and Luci Shaw