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

A/The (?) Path Through the Unknown

Written by: on November 17, 2020

Of the many conributions Renner & D’Souza have made to my leadership philosophy this semester, one stands out: the future is shaped by the leader’s response to the unknown.

This past weekend, I took some time of silent reflection in the moutains of southwest Orgeon. There were three locations I wanted to explore as I imagined that stillness within each would offer diverse gifts. The first location was a paticular snow-capped summit. The second was a mid-mountain convergene of trials. The third was the creek bed at the moutain’s base.

From the summit, I considered the work that it takes to achieve such a view. With goal setting, careful preparation, and step after arduous step, I stood on top of what once seemed insurmountable. The view was stunning, but I had to acknowledge that its brilliance was influenced by the work that it had taken to get there. With hours to linger, I embraced the gifts of beauty and silence and accomplishment. I recongized that I wasn’t the first to achieve this summit and that I wouldn’t be the last. But in that moment in time, I was the only one who was there seeing the view as it had never been and never would be again.

Hours later and from the creek bed below, I listend to its gentle gurgle and tried to imagine the volume of its landscape-altering power when it was a larger river.  What now was but a trickle, this body of water had once given shape to the valley. I reflected on all of the river and current analagies that have arisen throughout the semester. With hours to linger, I considered Jesus as the living water and truest source of my leadership vision and passion.

It was at the mid-mountain location where Renner and D’Souza’s writings became illuminated. While there, I discoverd a location where seven games trails collided into one before branching back out into seven distnict paths. I selected a location just above the trail system where I could sit and wonder about what the Spirit was saying to me through the landscape. After some time, I recongized that many trials led to the same location. It was a destination of sorts, but not the destination. From the convergence point, two decisions needed to be made: the first was whether to settle or continue the journey; the second was which path to take.

Since I was the only mammal in the area (as far as I could tell), I sensed that the most common decision was to continue the journey. It was a beautiful location and one in which, no doubt, the lives and stories of a diversity of creatures had intersected. It was a waypoint, but it wasn’t where any of us were going.

Observing the trails that branched onward from the convergence point, I recongized that, while they all moved in different diretions, each continued upward. Once the first decision was made to continue rather than to settle, the next decision would shape the future of creature. The path that one would take would lead them into a distinct unknown. The experience of unknown that each trail provided would likely undo and remake pilgrim. There was no “right” way. Instead, there were multiple ways.

I didn’t have the time to take each of the seven trails, but had I, I imagine that each would have eventually led to the summit. I wondered if the journey thorugh the unknown that each path provided would have shaped me and my future differently.

About the Author

Jer Swigart

11 responses to “A/The (?) Path Through the Unknown”

  1. Dylan Branson says:

    Within the video game industry, there’s a company called Bioware that’s famous for making games where your choices directly impact your experience of the sequels. Each subsequent game takes the choices you’ve made and it alters the scenarios you’re put in going forward.

    *puts on nerd glasses*

    One of the series they made was called Mass Effect – a sci-fi space opera that followed Commander Shepherd and his companions as they worked to stop an intergalactic genocide by a group of sentient machines called The Reapers. The Reapers had completely eradicated life multiple times, essentially hitting the reset button on the galaxy each time. The story of Mass Effect was one that was driven by the characters (to this day it’s still my favorite series), but the ending to the game caused a massive controversy in the gaming community. Everyone expected that their choices would have a direct impact on the ending, only to find that in the end…a lot of their choices didn’t matter (personally, I think the ending worked out exactly like it should have, but I digress 😛 ).

    But for me, the end point wasn’t the purpose. It was the journey over three games, coming to love and care for the characters and the world that was so intricately crafted, that mattered. Each play through had a different feeling to it and shaped the way Commander Shepherd was in the end. One choice would lead to another, which would drastically change something along the way. But it all summited in the same place, though with a different Shepherd in the end.

    In the same way, I often wonder as well how many of my choices, if I had done one thing differently, would have shaped where I am now and where I’ll end up one day. Though I guess that’s part of the journey and questions we all ask ourselves at some point.

    • Jer Swigart says:

      There’s seems to be a lesser talked about the pain connected to making a decision. The pain is an acknowledgment of limitations. To choose one is to not choose x. I don’t spend much time considering this, but at times, I do wonder what shape my life would have taken had I chosen a over b. While not every decision carries the same transformative potential, there have been a few that, had I chosen a rather than b, I might not be the same person.

  2. Darcy Hansen says:

    I love that you went to the summit first, and then the valley spaces. I wonder if the order had been reversed if you would have wanted to stay on that mountain top? We love those peak moments, because they are so beautiful and rewarding, but it is in the valley where grit is really needed. What happens when the path comes to a dead end, converges with another path, or loops back to where you began? How does that shape you? What happens if you get lost along the way? or step off the path on accident? There are so many variables when entering the unknown. Being open to the range of possibility is key. When you’ve encountered such intersections in life, how do you decide which path to take? Wild animals have instinct and memory for where they are going. What role does instinct and memory play when you step into new/unknown territory?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      That I can’t immediately call to mind how instinct shapes my decisions and discernment likely indicates that it shapes it significantly. Perhaps a desired outcome of discipleship is that our intuitions and instincts are reshaped into those that resemble Jesus’.

  3. Greg Reich says:

    I have often asked myself a similar question now that I am in my 60’s. If I would have made different choices would have I ended up some where else? Would I still be doing what I am doing now? For me since I can look back over the years I can say that with different choices my life would be different in how it looks but not different in purpose. I think ww all have the ability to look back and see where we could have chosen a different path but then we face the reality that we chose the path we chose and we now in the present. Though some may say looking back at how one navigated life is a waste of time since it is used up future I believe it helps bring a sense of understanding to the unknown. For me some of my futile past choices is a reminder of what didn’t work and it helps me avoid making similar choices in the future. My past victories and blessings from God make the unknown a bit more exciting. Paul reminds his readers in 2 Corinthians 4 that daily hope lies in the future promises of God. How does your past assist you in navigating the unknown future?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      In two ways.

      1. Reflecting on the past helps me recognize and learn from “mistakes” and “landmines.”

      2. Reflecting on the past reminds me that significant decisions are not meant to be made in isolation.

  4. John McLarty says:

    I had a very similar hiking experience last summer- the peace of a babbling spring, the elation of the summit, and the thrill of forks in the trail. Your reflection resonated and also reframed that experience in a powerful way. In light of how much your organization has pivoted this year, what does it feel like to sit at place where multiple paths converge and diverge- seeing the options laid before you and having the freedom to choose?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      The freedom to choose is both exhilarating and intimidating.

      Exhilarating in that wonder and exploration are life-giving and inspiring.

      Intimidating in that the stakes are higher now than when we first began.

      Your question makes me wonder why we all don’t recognize that each of us sits a convergence of trails and has the freedom of choice. I wonder what causes us to believe otherwise.

      • John McLarty says:

        I think the cause is that most of the time, the well-traveled and familiar path is the easiest and requires the least amount of effort or thought and we just put another foot in front of another and do what we always do. We don’t even notice other paths, much less consider taking them. Your posts invites us to notice and encourages us to give a new path a try. The next step is ours.

  5. Chris Pollock says:

    “The view was stunning, but I had to acknowledge that its brilliance was influenced by the work that it had taken to get there.” How was the brilliance influenced by the work?

    “After some time, I recongized that many trials led to the same location.” Trials and trails and ‘to the same location’, this point convergence, centripetal force to centrifugal (imagining a kind of pressure involved of somehow). Inward to outward and upward to the summit. I love the idea of this inward movement toward the core by trails; where integrity is fashioned.

    Sweet physics. Good practise in keeping balance out there (inward and outward).

  6. Shawn Cramer says:

    I sense that D’Souza and Renner’s work was genuinely helpful for you this semester. While it started slow for me, I intend to keep “Not Knowing” in my regular rhythms for reading and leading. It even provides a model of accessible, disarming, yet challenging content for conversations around the unknown. Do you think it would track well in a small group or team setting?

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