The first time I watched the movie Jurassic Park I really disliked the character of Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum). He was cocky and a little too suave for his own good and worse yet he was not the order loving Dr. Alan Grant. Dr. Malcolm’s area of study is Chaos Theory, which is “the study of apparently random or unpredictable behavior in systems governed by deterministic laws.”1 In layman’s terms it is the study of why things get weird in physics and mathematics. Dr. Malcolm was the cynic in the bright eyed optimism of the park. In 1992, cynicism was still off-putting to me – little did I know that in the coming years it would become the source of my greatest joy, but that is another blog post – so I did not much like him. It was not until I had grown from my naive eight-grade self into a young adult that I would discover the truth of the commentary that Dr. Malcolm was providing in the film, most notably one of his most famous lines, “life will find a way.”
Working with people is fraught with possibilities. Making plans is easy in the sterile environment of ones office, but once those plans are exposed to the congregation nearly anything is possible. As a bit of a control freak, this is where I start to struggle. How to deal with the oncoming chaos is baffling to me.
Emma Percy in her book What Clergy Do, argues that the key to dealing with the chaos of ministry is by accepting the rhythm of the parish and weaving it into a meaningful whole.2 In a sense Percy is arguing that life finds a way in parish ministry. What seems like chaos can often bring about the best interactions and change in people.Percy’s history as both a parish priest and a chaplain indicate that she has no doubt figured this bit out.
An important part of chaos theory is that the beginnings are of extreme importance for how things act. It is in setting the conditions right that chaotic behavior is established. The variance of the types of people you interact with in parish ministry make it so that conditions are ripe for chaos to ensue. But the interesting thing that Percy is arguing is that the chaos is actual a feature and not a bug of parish ministry. In allowing the chaos of ministry to evolve around us we are able to see the Spirit work in ways that we might not expect. This acceptance of the chaos also allows us to continue to push into the work of the ministry we were called to without being continually distracted by the tyranny of the urgent we might normally see in the craziness of ministry.
While we do not need the level of extreme confidence seen in Dr. Malcolm, the cool resolve to understand that the Spirit will make a way is of ultimate importance. Perhaps my initial aversion to Malcolm was not his attitude, but my own unwillingness to accept that it is impossible to control all of the variables in any situation.
1. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Chaos Theory.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Last modified April 2, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/science/chaos-theory.
2. Percy, Emma. What Clergy Do: Especially When It Looks like Nothing. London: SPCK, 2014. 101.