Sometimes I simply marvel at the convergence of concepts and ideas. One feeds the other, provides understanding and forges new connections. This has been true of our reading this week. As I write this I am in Tigard, Oregon, a short distance from the Seminary. I’ve been here since Monday for a face-to-face for Pastoral Counseling, a GFES seminary course I am “adjuncting. The really nice thing is that I am doing all the online work and Dr. Frank Green is doing the F2F, so the days and evenings this week have been filled with work. There are definite connecting threads in our reading, however partly because of time and mostly because I need some sleep I am going to weave in a little family systems theory into my writing.
“It Starts With Uncertainty,” a dialog between Margaret Wheatley and Pema Chodron. “We are at a point where we feel very badly about who we are as a species.” Thinking about family systems – both within the family and its applicability to institutions, particularly the Church, these words have a strong ring to them. The Church has long stressed humanity’s guilt, based in what we have done and truly in what we have left undone. Paul’s words in Romans, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” is among the first bible verses memorized by many. But Wheatley is not referring to guilt, something that I have done, but rather to shame, “We are at a point where we feel very badly about who we are as a species.” This speaks to our identity or rather our loss of identity. Where guilt places the emphasis on I did that bad thing, shame is rooted in I am that bad thing. Wheatley is alerting us to this dynamic and significant shift.
“First of all we need to listen to one another’s stories.” If there is one thing that I am learning, have been reminded of and continue to realize is that I need to listen and learn to listen. It means simply dropping my agenda, my to do list to give full attention. I am still learning what that means, to be honest. Sometimes it means putting aside what I think is so important and sometimes it means being honest enough to acknowledge that I cannot give my full attention at that moment. Mostly it means I just need to listen and not talk. “The experience of really listening to another human being is the source of our willingness to love them.”
Len Hjalmarson takes us into the realm of leadership and the crisis through the task of map-readers, cartographers, navigators and a doomed expedition with a lot of china and not enough coal. In liminality we are neither here or there. We stand on a threshold and once it is crossed we are not the same because of what we experience. This concept and understanding of threshold fits in with the Wheatley article, consider Hjalmarson’s words, “In liminal space identity is suspended.” Could our liminal space be a contributor to our dis-ease about how we feel about ourselves? If our identity is suspended (and I agree it is) in what and how do we find it? Is our shame because we have misplaced our identity or even forgotten who we are?
Homeostasis describes our resistance to change. We talked about it in the Pastoral Counseling class. Hjalmarson’s helps us understand the cost of this resistance. The church (and even we ourselves) might seem to be fixed on what we think is necessary. This is, as Phyllis Tickle reminds us, often about doctrine. Every 500 years of so the Church has a rummage sale and discards what is no longer needed. We are trying to figure out what is necessary for the journey. Perhaps we need to consider that what we think is necessary is not sustainable. Perhaps there is more for us to consider as navigators beyond what Barna or Pew Research point to for those leaving the church.
A key component in family systems theory is that the person in the family generally recognized by their actions or unhealthy behavior is the “identified patient.” However the identified patient is almost never the person alone that needs fixing. There is a system in place and so the key is to look at the relationships within the family and family of origin. It is process and relationships. It’s fascinating and it makes me wonder if Len’s writing and thinking might help us to recognize what we have ‘pinned’ as the identified patient might be pointing us toward a broader landscape. (I don’t know that the metaphor fully holds up but it is intriguing!).
The question Len Hjalmarson asks is perhaps the question we have been wrestling with and exploring over these past two years, “How do we walk with God into a new future – an unknown place?”
Hjalmarson refers to Margaret Wheatley, “We instinctively reach out to leaders who work with us in creating meaning.” If we have lost a sense of who we are, creating meaning will be crucial. Meaning might be essential if we are to find our way and remember who we are and to discover whom we will be. “Authority is a tool for making sense of things, but so are other human tools such as values and work systems.” But rather than an end in themselves where the tool defines our value, Hjalmarson is pointing us toward influence, as MaryKate Morse did, authority in relationship, not in the sense of domination or manipulation but toward wholeness. I am reminded that Roberta Bondi wrote in her book, To Pray and To Love that our life and death are bound up with our neighbor.
 Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead and The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go Of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are are good starters. John A. Forrester, Grace for Shame: The Forgotten Gospel provides a good overview.
 Wheatley and Chodron.
 Len Hjalmarson, “Chapter 1” in Broken Futures: Adaptive Challenge and the Church in Transition, unpublished.
 I have been intrigued with liminal space since having Jason Clark in Missional Ecclesiology in my first semester of seminary studies. If I were to ever plant a church I would explore the possibility of naming it “Threshold Space. “ (Now you know!).
 Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing And Why (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008). I do not have the book with me on this trip so I cannot give an exact page number. I am going from memory.
 Len Hjalmarson quoting Margaret Wheatley, A Simpler Way (San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler Publications, 1996) in the article “Leadership in the Chaordic Age.” PDF.
 Roberta Bondi, To Pray And To Love (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1991).