Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Bridges, Spirals, Windows and Stories

Written by: on February 13, 2015

This morning I ran/walked across the Narrows Bridge, beginning on the Gig Harbor side one mile later I am in Tacoma, then back again. Even with thousands of cars crossing it remains my favorite place to run and walk. Today was a pleasant trek, the wind was minimal, the sun was attempting to break through the overcast and it was not raining! The two bridges are known as the Narrows simply because of the narrow passageway far below the bridge deck. Depending upon the ebb and flow of the tide one can walk from one park along the waters edge, under the bridge and all the way around to Gig Harbor. Crossing the bridge today I could not help but think of Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone’s book, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re In Without Going Crazy.


I thought about the effect of tidal action, the cleansing that comes as the water responds to the moon’s display. I remembered learning several years ago in a seminary class, Spirituality and the Heavens the positive cleansing effect that hurricanes bring to the atmosphere. I thought about how, according to Scripture, nature itself yearns for redemption. Reading Macy and Johnstone I wondered if the effects of climate change is not also in some way the earth’s way of seeking to restore balance. “Looking at the planet as a whole, Gaia theory proposed that the Earth functions as a self-regulating living systems.”[1]


Active Hope is stark in its message and yet in its message of choice the reality of hope is present. “Recognizing that we can choose the story we live from can be liberating, finding a good story to take part in adds to our sense of purpose and aliveness.”[2] The authors framework is really a look at the world through three windows. In the first window we just keep on keeping on, they referred to it as “Business as Usual;” the second window reveals a landscape of turmoil and consequences, “The Great Unraveling.” Finally the authors point us toward “The Great Turning.”[3] Macy and Johnstone referred to them as stories rather than windows. Both, I think, are appropriate. Stories do provide and describe a narrative. Our invitation in the three narratives is to consider which story we presently find ourselves the consequences of our reality and the potential and cost to live a different story. But finding the good story is one that hinges upon understanding and embracing a sustainable lifestyle. I likened the three stories offered to windows, because in a sense what we will see is very much dependent upon the room we are presently in. By describing how our present stories are shaped by our perceptions[4] we are invited into an approach which is “not about being dutiful or worthy so much as it is about stepping into a state of aliveness that makes our lives profoundly satisfying.”[5]


How does aliveness happen? It certainly doesn’t come from trying harder, unless it is that we are realizing that our present trying harder is deeply connected with a way of life that cannot be sustained. And here again I found my thinking drifting toward my DMin work. One of the lingering questions we seem to not be facing in the Church is whether our present way of being and doing church is sustainable. I am not advocating that sustainability means we do not gather as a people in a corporate gathering. In recent years I have actually become more convinced of the need and its importance. But I wonder if the Church is not “stuck” in some way, shape or form within the first two stories. On one hand we look out the window at what was or the perception of what was and at the same time we are in the “room” that has been decorated with a dominate focus on getting people saved so they can get into heaven. Once that is accomplished, the décor does not change.


This does not mean I believe that accepting Christ as Lord and Savior is insignificant or even unnecessary, but it does mean that we have limited ourselves to one room and one window when there are many more areas in the house. More and more, the breadth of God and God’s commitment to fulfill creation’s purpose and intent captivates me. Lately “my” Presbyterian “lectionary” readings have included Isaiah. The image of life as God imagines is compelling and challenging.


Some may find this book too sourced within a Buddhist framework, but I found the authors generous and inclusive as the references to Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandala (and others) attest. There is wisdom in this book that is not bound to one religion or source. We are approaching the season of Lent in the Liturgical calendar. I am fairly new to this way of walking, but I found this book timely. Joan Chittister reminds us, “Lent calls each of us to renew our ongoing commitment to the implications of the Resurrection in our own lives, here and now.”[6] Living into the shift offered by Macy and Johnstone is within the very fabric of Lent.


In the spiral of Work that Reconnects – gratitude, knowing our pain, seeing with new eyes and going forth[7] there are opportunities to expand how we walk, perhaps even our spiritual disciplines might be seen afresh. As I consider why baby boomers have left the church what factors have nourished them and what has drained them?[8] “So to strengthen our resilience, we need to pay attention to all the factors that sustain us.”[9] Surely we can find a better way to be.


This is a book that sparks interest, deepens awareness and confronts the status quo. And it is also very practical when it comes to updating and revising a certain Personal Leadership Development Plan.

            [1] Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2012), 31.


            [2] Ibid., 14.

[3] Ibid., 14, 17, 26.

[4] Ibid., 4.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009), 110.

[7] Macy and Johnstone, 39.

[8] Ibid., 215.

[9] Ibid.

About the Author

Carol McLaughlin

Carol walks this DMin journey from her locale in Gig Harbor, WA (USA). She is preparing for pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church (PC-USA), as well as teaches in the Online Learning Community programs at GFES. Part of the DMin Leadership & Global Perspectives 4 cohort (dminlgp4) her research and dissertation focus is exploring why baby boomers leave the church and what it means for their faith development. The views expressed here are her own.

6 responses to “Bridges, Spirals, Windows and Stories”

  1. John Woodward says:

    Carol, what a wonderful and encouraging (and may I say “hopeful”) post this week. I appreciate your personal reflections and applications. It was so helpful for me that you viewed this book from the perspective of a Lent exercise. This is wonderful way of looking at this topic. It helped me to get over the “eastern mysticism” of the book. It also is helpful to approach the larger issues addressed in the book. I agree that we (the Church) have often missed the real focus of what the Church should be about. Coming from a church tradition that had “getting people saved” as the only important task, I am growing every more passionate about caring for people where they are at…believing that God does care when people are hurt, abused, and hopeless, not just whether they are saved. It is an interesting question to think about how we got to this place where such a compassionate and loving God could seem so heartless and uncaring about people…but I am afraid that is how the Church often comes across. It is my prayer that in the future the Church will be that place of cooperation and hope for a hurting world again.

    Great insights Carol.

  2. Carol,

    Thanks for your post. Lots to think about here.

    I agree with you that the church might be “stuck” in its story. Yes, Jesus is the focus of the story that matters, but knowing about Jesus doesn’t mean that we now stop growing, stop learning, stop being involved in life.

    This week in one of my classes, I began with a quote by Thomas Jefferson. “I was bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow truth and reason to whatever results they led.” I then talked about the “I Found It!” bumper sticker campaign that Campus Crusade for Christ did many years ago. So, if I find Jesus, am I done or have I just begun my search? I believe that we focus far too much on having all the answers rather than searching for truth. There are many problems in our world today. Just because we know Jesus does not mean that we do not have responsibilities in the world in which we live. That would be ridiculous.

  3. rhbaker275 says:

    Your post was an encouragement to follow the strands to reconnect. I think to often we (the church) think that reconnecting is maintaining the status quo not realizing that the goal is not to maintain the “American way of Life” (13). Perhaps we do not even realize we are a part of “business as usual.” I do agree with Macy and Johnstone, that the narration we choose will “shape our response to global crisis.” In this sense, our choice is more significant the crisis itself. In the story of the Old Testament People of God, the message was to make a choice … serve the Lord God Creator or the gods of the creation. When we choose creation rather than the Creator, we think we are the owner and creation serves us. It is a whole different story of how we face the crisis around us.

    Thanks for personalizing our choice of story; the way we are engaged in the narrative.

  4. Liz Linssen says:

    Dear Carol
    Thank you for your blog. Very thought provoking. I found interesting where you wrote, “One of the lingering questions we seem to not be facing in the Church is whether our present way of being and doing church is sustainable.”
    This week I’m at a church growth conference, led by Bob Jackson, a great Anglican vicar who is an expert in this field. He mentioned one survey that was taken on the street, asking people, IF they were to ever go to church, what time would suit them best? The result? Saturday tea time (between 4 and 6pm). I was so surprised to hear that, yet it makes me think about what you wrote. We are so fixed into our church boxes, and perhaps we need to revisit how we do things. Anyway, what you wrote is making me think even more. 🙂

  5. Carol, wonderful and intriguing post that you have done on what, I consider to be a difficult book. I so much appreciate your weaving the liturgical understanding and embracing the lent season in your reflections. You have managed to bring some redemptive analogy on a book that I, too much extent, have set aside as unimportant for me in this season of my life. Perhaps now with your words, I might take another look at this book when my seasons have perhaps changed. Thank you Carol. blessings to you.

  6. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Hi Carol, you ask great questions to reflect on. It is sad that churches have limited their calling only to get people into their church. Evidently, we have forgotten our relationship with and responsibility to care for the created order. I too agree with the authors, “so to strengthen our resilience, we need to pay attention to all the factors that sustain us.”

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