An excerpt from Broken Futures, chapter 5 (unpublished)
It took many years for Israel in Egypt to realize that their lives had become unmanageable. And then came the transition to the Promised Land. That went well, right?
Well, sort of. It took just a few days for Israel to get out of Egypt. It took forty years to get Egypt out of Israel. It wasn’t possible to skip that part. Transition is a process of disembedding and unlearning. It’s painful and uncomfortable; but it’s preparation to enter the unimaginable world.
On one side, we let go of habits and values and patterns of action that are familiar and understood. These practices and values were not theoretical: they anchored our lives and gave them stability. Until we are well into the letting go process we rarely realize just what is required of us. It feels intensely vulnerable.
On the other side, we pick up something new, or rediscover something we almost lost. We re-enter the narratives and traditions that anchor our lives in Christ. The Exodus story suddenly becomes our story; it becomes a personal narrative of transition, disembedding and remembering. Entering the traditions of our faith helps us reconnect not just with God but with our faith community. Tradition becomes personal experience. The recovery of hours of prayer and of traditional practices of silence and reflection is not incidental to our time: it is a living movement to reconnect with God that is necessitated by liminal conditions.
“Generals lose new wars because they are still fighting old battles.” CBC, Ideas
In long periods of cultural stability, organizations establish very particular roles and methods and ways of being.
It was 1981, and the engine in my 1965 Chev was burning oil. I decided I would do the minimal work and replace the rings, retool the valves and valve seats: a top-end job. I drove the car into my father’s garage and used his trusty chain hoist to lift the eight cylinder motor off the mounts. At the time I had no idea that the smooth running chain hoist had an unusual pedigree.
WWI was a nasty, brutal affair. It was a trench war, a defensive war, with fixed lines and little movement for years. There were many hard lessons, and after the war the French responded with the Maginot line: a series of concrete fortifications built into the high ground along its border with Switzerland, Germany and Luxembourg. The line did not extend to the channel because of the French desire to avoid offending neutral Belgium. The Maginot line was an engineering feat: layers of underground bunkers connected by underground tunnels. At the peak were large guns facing toward Germany. Power was provided by underground diesels. The network included recreation facilities, a library, even a hospital and movie theatre.
The Maginot line was a response to a known problem: how to stop a sudden attack from Germany. The eventual success of the static combat of WWI conditioned the response. Along came a small man named Hitler. From the start, he rewrote the rules. Hitler believed the key to success was shock and awe. He tooled a fast moving army and invented the lightning war. When the Generals encountered the fixed fortifications of the Maginot line, they simply went north around the obstacle.
Not long after the war, around 1953, a Canadian Corporal was stationed in France and touring the French countryside on a weekend. He and a friend had driven to one of the access points for the Maginot line. The Corporal was a diesel mechanic, and he wanted to have a look at the powerplant that was two levels down. They descended two levels with the help of a flashlight. When they left they took with them a number of souvenirs, including a hardened steel chain hoist weighing about 65 pounds that my father used all his life.
Our successes often become a set-up for future failures, as happened to the French in 1939. Germany was in chaos and traditions and habits – good and bad – were discarded, opening new possibilities.
In stable times habits and roles come to be seen not as chosen or embedded in a certain culture but as the way things should be and should always be. For much of the twentieth century organizations in North America functioned within a stable, well managed, and relatively predictable environment. The assumptions of Modernity prevailed: by rational and technological means we could make and maintain our world. Our collective intelligence and know-how would help us attain the good life.
Since early in the last century, churches adopted the same way of seeing the world. This corporate form and imagination became embedded in our churches via the culture. Leadership roles and leadership functions developed in this context to fit the needs of congregations. Pastors and church leadership learned these roles and ways of being as the normal way to run an effective church, and churches rewarded workers who were effective in these roles.