But what does it mean to keep God at the centre of our efforts? Let me explore one answer by examining the central theological categories of ‘trust’ and ‘love’ and linking them to God. Before I start, two explanatory remarks are in order. First, I will begin ‘with a piece of earth’—human trust and human love.
My purpose, however, is to use them to focus our attention on God, their ultimate object. Second, I will start with failures of trust and love. This may suggest that we can know what proper objects of trust and love are by examining the point where trust and love break down. But that is not so. Under certain conditions, negatives can prepare us for the positive; in and of themselves they do not lead to it, however. We understand failures of trust and love adequately only when we know their proper object — which takes us back to the centrality of God in our lives as persons of faith and theologians.
What do we trust? In what do we believe? My question is not, ‘What do we say that we trust?’ Most of us will blurt out the right answer without much thinking: we trust God. My question is rather, ‘What do we actually trust?’ The answer seems to be the same today as it was centuries ago in the time of the great Church father Augustine. We trust in power.
When one is captive to power, one manipulates and exploits, and the victims are the powerless—the poor, the old, and the very young, the unborn. Augustine believed that the lust to dominate is the main characteristic not only of the earthly city but also of its ruler, Satan.
“Dancing for God: Challenges Facing Theological Education Today.” Miroslav Volf, 2005. 200-201.
In an age so obsessed with ‘making’ and ‘producing,’ the greatest challenge for theologians and theological educators, is to keep God at the centre of what we do. If we succeed here, we’ll succeed, even if our efforts get stifled by lack of funds, obstructed by inadequate pedagogy or lack of sensitivity to context, and marred by faulty institutions and warped institutional cultures. If we fail here, we’ll fail utterly, no matter how brilliantly we do as fund-raisers, institution-builders, cultural analysts, and teachers. Why?
Some ten years ago, my own theological teacher, Professor Juergen Moltmann, gave as good a reason as one can give in the opening lines of his key-note address before the American Academy of Religion:
‘It is simple, but true, to say that theology
has only one, single problem: God.
We are theologians for the sake of God.
God is our dignity. God is our agony.
God is our hope.’
We theologians are either like Moses, ascending Mount Sinai to meet with God so he can speak of God and God’s designs for the world, or we are no theologians at all!
“Dancing for God: Challenges Facing Theological Education Today.” Miroslav Volf, 2005.
“Unlike most commentators, Andrew Keen observes the internet as if from a distance. Digital Vertigo may be one of the few books on the subject that, twenty years from now, will be seen to have got it right.”
- Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO, WPP
“In a world of cheerleaders promoting a Randian cult of connectedness for the sake of it, Andrew Keen is a breath of fresh air. Part-William Gibson and part-Christopher Hitchens, Keen embraces new technology and all the devices that allow him to reach and listen to millions, but shows us the nagging doubt in his own mind about the long-term impact of constant self-exposure and infinite personal information: knowledge without wisdom.”
- Peter Bale, VP & GM Digital, CNN International
“Web 3.0 has catapulted society to new technological heights, yet afflicted us individually with a profound sense of vertigo as we stand naked for all to see. It is almost too late to ask whether we would live our digital lives differently if we had known that privacy would become the scarcest commodity on the Internet… Digital Vertigo brings us back to 19th century debates that have an eerie relevance to today’s technological dilemmas…”
- Parag Khanna, author of How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance
“What I glimpsed that late November afternoon in Bloomsbury was the anti-social future, the loneliness of the isolated man in the connected crowd. I saw all of us… isolated from one another not only by the growing ubiquity of networked communications, but also by the increasingly individualized and competitive nature of twenty-first century life. Yes, this was the future. Personal visibility, I recognized, is the new symbol of status and power in our digital age. Like the corpse locked in his transparent tomb, we are now all on permanent exhibition, all just images of ourselves in this brave new transparent world.
“We … social networkers are becoming addicted to building attention and reputation. But like the solitariness of my own experience in that University College corridor, the truth, the reality of social media, is an architecture of human isolation rather than community. The future will be anything but social.”
Digital Vertigo, 13-14
“Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.” Seth Godin
Jenny Warner writes,
“I have been pondering the heart of my role as a pastor. There are plenty of people who want to define that role for me and I field regular requests to lend my support to worthy causes. But. What if I am an artist in the spirit of Seth Godin’s definition? What if the purpose of my work is to create opportunities for change? What if the focus of Sunday morning worship, meetings, and personal counseling is to create a context for transformation?
“A pastor is not just an artist of single works, a pastor’s artistry is in being a curator. Curating works of art (people, projects, services) that have the possibility to transform others and transform our world. Curating involves artful arranging and careful analysis. It requires making wise choices and using empty space as well as the artwork itself. Curating means taking a larger view and doing your best to allow others work to shine. The curator can only use what is available and works to connect past and present, the other and the self, and to tell a larger story with many smaller parts.
“In the end, the curator has no control over the encounter. Each person who walks in has their own story that they bring to the works of art and to the collection itself. The curator gives their work back to become a new work in someone else’s life and trusts it will impart courage to create more transformation.”
“Each of us is an artist of our days; the greater our integrity and awareness, the more original and creative our time will become.”
– John O’Donohue
“We need to consider the paradox of these digital devices: On one hand, they can contribute to heightened productivity and a greater connection to the global community; yet on the other, we experience an increasing sense of loneliness and isolation that leads to many mental and physical health risks that threaten our shared community and cultural forums. What happens when our experiences with others are mediated by technology? In the formative young adult years, we must consider what is being lost in human experience because of our seeming dependence on these new, even luminous, technologies.
“Another trend that affects our present generation is the economic realities of working in a more brittle economy than in the past. It has become more complex to work out issues of vocation and purpose when there is less confidence that the economy will hold, making choices for the future of our young adults seem more stark. This manifests in asking the pivotal question: Is there a place for me in this new economic order? One of the tests of a culture is its capacity to receive its idealistic youth, and our culture is failing this test wherever “success” is equated with monetary reward alone.
“A byproduct of this trend is the commodification of young adults who now have to learn to market themselves in order to be successful in our complex world. Young adults are encouraged to focus more on resume building and networking rather than being supported in exploring the many possibilities of who they can become. This economic trend constrains the imagination of young adults at the time when they otherwise are most able to discern and claim a worthy dream.”
Interview with Sharon Daloz Parks in “Spirituality in Higher Education,” Nov. 2007. See also Leadership for the New Commons
“The metaphor of “shipwreck” can be used to describe times when young adults experience something unexpected and disappointing or engage questions that
challenge the way they make meaning. Their world begins to change – even fall apart. Shipwreck can take many forms, including a family crisis, loss of relationship or identity, a health crises, the defeat of a cause, betrayal by a community or government, or intellectual inquiry that poses a challenge to an assumed faith or belief. Yet with every shipwreck, there is also the possibility of washing up on a new shore. In my book, Big Questions, Worthy Dreams, I describe this process of enduring shipwreck and how it can help in the development of new meaning and faith as young adults ponder big-enough questions:
“If we do survive shipwreck – if we wash up on a new shore, perceiving more adequately how life really is – there is gladness. It is gladness that pervades one’s whole being; there is a new sense of vitality, be it quiet or exuberant. Usually, however, there is more than relief in this gladness. There is transformation. We discover a new reality behind the loss…As the primal, elemental force of promise stirs again within us, we often experience it as a force acting upon us, beneath us, carrying us – sometimes in spite of our resistance – into a new meaning, new consciousness, new faith.” (2000, 29).
“As we look back from this new shore, we often are both glad and amazed. In this way, much of the journey of faith can be described as the experience of shipwreck, gladness, and amazement. The sense of gladness is linked to a new kind of knowing. This process is a part of an intellectual journey where one approaches a new horizon of understanding that is more adequate than earlier ways of making meaning.”
Interview with Sharon Daloz Parks in “Spirituality in Higher Education,” Nov. 2007
Ron Martoia was asked in an interview in 2003, “What do you see as the two biggest problems facing leaders in the emerging church?”
“The first thing is lack of maps and few cartographers. Our modernist moorings, where being seminar junkies and bookaholics was rewarded with the right answers for our analytical questions, makes ministry in this emerging era very problematic. The fact is indigenous ministry will not tolerate book answers to our questions. And the maps may look very different from what we are used to.”
We need maps to help us determine direction. But what if leadership has more to do with finding meaning than setting direction? In an increasingly complex world, setting a direction can get you killed. Where once we could forecast the future based on a series of measurements, and assumption of a constant rate of change, we live in a time when change has become non-linear, and we control only the smallest factors. The danger of imposing the old models on complex problems have been amply demonstrated in American foreign policy. Joshua Cooper Ramo writes,
“Louis Halle, an American diplomat and strategist of the 1950?s, once observed that foreign policy is made not in reaction to the world but in reaction to an image of the world in the minds of the people making decisions. ‘In the degree that the image is false, actually and philosophically, no technician, however proficient, can make the policy that is based on it sound.’” (The Age of the Unthinkable)
A few years ago for my D.Min I was reading for a course titled, “Theology and History of Spiritual Formation.” The texts included Sheldrake, A Brief History of Spirituality. I don’t have a large background in spiritual theology. I have a smattering of courses starting in 1980 with the Church Fathers and then finishing in 1986 with two courses from James Houston. I similarly have a small sampling of books on my shelf, perhaps 40 books including two by Foster, three by Bernard of Clairvaux, four by Thomas Merton, ten by Nouwen, eight by Peterson, and the rest spanning the Celts to the Brethren of the Common Life and the odd Quaker (Parker Palmer).
Let’s compare and contrast the two texts: Sheldrake and Foster, Streams of Living Water. Each offers something quite different to the student of history and spirituality and apprentices of Jesus. Sheldrake is a solid history, but in the narration the text sacrifices the dynamism and passion of the persons and movements described. Sheldrake is 251 pages including the index. The index is eleven pages.
For comparison, Richard Foster’s book is 422 pages, with twin indices. The subject index is eight pages (longer pages so roughly the same number of entries as Sheldrake) and the following Scripture index is two pages. Read the rest of this entry »
“Western cultural views of how best to organize and lead (the majority paradigm in use in the world) are contrary to what life teaches. Western practices attempt to dominate life; we want life to comply with human needs rather than working as partners. This disregard for life’s dynamics is alarmingly evident in today’s organizations. Leaders use control and imposition rather than self-organizing processes. They react to uncertainty and chaos by tightening already feeble controls, rather than engaging our best capacities in the dance. Leaders use primitive emotions of fear, scarcity, and self-interest to get people to do their work, rather than the more noble human traits of cooperation, caring, and generosity. This has led us to this difficult time, when nothing seems to work as we want it to, when too many of us feel frustrated, disengaged, and anxious.”
Margaret Wheatley, Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time
Earlier in the month Brad Brisco offered his top 40 — I want to edit and expand the list slightly.
Why the changes?
1. No author will appear in this list more than three times. A friend used to tell me, “No one has more than three lines. After that, they repeat.”
2. My bias is that “missional” is something that the Brits and Aussies and Kiwis know better than all of us, having lived the transition to post-modernity and post-Christendom for longer than we in North America.
3. Missional literature is expanding and engaging more richly in contexts. This list adds a half dozen books that showcase that change.
Here it is, with a download link for a PDF at the end. Thanks again to Brad for getting me going!
**** **** ****
Movements That Change the World.
Downer’s Grove: IVP, 2011
Bolger, Ryan. Ed.
The Gospel After Christendom: New Voices, New Cultures, New Expressions
Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012
The Missionary Nature of the Church: A Survey of the Biblical Theology of Mission
New York: McGraw-Hill, 1962.
Bosch, David J.
Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission
Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1991.
Brafman, Ori and Rod A. Beckstrom.
The Starfish and the Spider
Portfolio Trade, 2008.
Signs of Emergence
Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007
Brisco, Brad and Lance Ford.
Kansas City: The House Studio, 2012. Read the rest of this entry »