Disorienting. This is the best word I can find to describe The Silk Roads and its effect upon me. Frankopan takes on a mammoth challenge to tell the long, convoluted history of the silk roads throughout Asia and the Middle East and to “inspire those who read this book to look at history in a different way.”
I liken the disorientation to seeing the Broadway show Wicked years ago. Prior to, I had considered the story of The Wizard of Oz to be quite simple. It fit neatly into my dichotomous world as a child – good (as in Dorothy and Glenda) and bad (as in the wicked witches). But the story of Wicked disrupted all of that. Things were not as neat and tidy in the land of Oz in light of this backstory. Categories of good and evil suddenly became messy.
I experienced a similar sensation recently while researching Puritans and their view of work. I had some predisposed ideas about what I would find, aided by our culture’s caricatures and Weber’s more academic sketch. Should be fairly easy to have this group of people figured out by the end of it, I thought. But no, it was not easy. I endeavored to keep an open stance as I dove into the research but really wanted a tidy conclusion. In the end, I could not make a broad, sweeping judgment about them. As soon as I found “evidence” that they were obsessed with work, I would find the opposite. How tiresome.
It is frustrating to not be able to draw a hard line and land on an absolute. Were the Puritans a positive or negative force for the cause of Christ? Were they motivated by love of God or by love of profit? Is the Wizard of Oz a good guy or a bad one? Or back to Frankopan, is the United States of America always right, while the Middle East is wrong?
Growing up in the US, it is hard (impossible?) to not read history and current events through our lens. And it makes me wonder what lenses I am using when it comes to my research about large church ministry staff dynamics. For my personal research, Frankopan reminds me to hold my assumptions loosely and remain curious.
Throughout my researching and writing about the challenge of ministry staffs remaining healthy and productive, I intend to be open. How can I hear the other side of my own perspective? What voices may be missing from my research? Have I endeavored to listen to understand dissenters and detractors? Have I judged too quickly? Have I blamed and categorized in a hasty, tidy manner? Is it the senior leaders or the ministry staff responsibility for the pace and push? Or is it the congregation’s expectations?
Are these the right questions even?Are there other questions than that of blame? I love what David Shosanya shared at our London advance about shifting from blame to consequences. That statement shifted the room he was in when he offered it. It was disorienting.
I need to experience more disruption in my normal way of seeing and processing. What does the world look like from Tehran’s perspective? A bit extreme I admit but I am appreciating the disorientation.
Peter Frankopan, The Silk Roads: a New History of the World (New York: Vintage Books, 2017), xix.
Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Captalism, and Other Writings(New York, NY: Routledge, 2006).