Thursday, February 24, 2005

Postmodern emerging Christian leadership and stuff

Personal news:

Have successfully shored up the north side of the foundation to the shed out back that is my office. This is happy, because when both sides are done, we'll be able to go ahead and finish out the built-in bookshelves that are (to be) on the walls, and load 'em down with Mark's Books. Then, sweet organization will descend on my life, and all will be well. Chili meat will grow on jalapeno pepper plants, and geese will lay down with ganders. Or something like that.

We bought a push (reel-type, i.e., non-motorized) lawn mower from Green Living yesterday. Happiness. Unlike our last attempt at such, this one really cuts the grass. It's smooth, nearly silent, nonpolluting, and nontrivial exercise. Yay for Mike and Kate at GL for helping us rent-to-own, and props to Jonathan for being enthusiastic about it and volunteering right away to put it to use.

The following is not less personal, but is more organized. I haven't done this before, and for all blog's description as a web publishing service, this is as close as I can get on my freebie platform, I think. So, with your patience for a long scroll...

Outline of Some Thoughts: Leadership among Christians

I am concerned that all the emphasis on leaders in Christian circles is misplaced for a postmodernizing context. In Lower Greenville, people exercise leadership, but are quite allergic to "being" leaders. There are some unsavory possibilities here: it's just terminological nitpicking, or typical male avoidance of commitment, or a hypocritical unwillingness to be outted as what one in fact is. There are some negative possibilities here: as with marriage, some postmoderns elevate leaderhood to such a high standard that they know they and doubt anyone can meet that standard--so better not even try it. In that sense, would leading a group without being its leader or even being committed to the group be analogous in a way to living together without being married, not so much (or not just) because one wants to evade the responsibilty as because one acknowledges the responsibility and doesn't want to screw it up, to guarantee future hypocrisy by taking on a role one knows one cannot fulfill?
And yet leadership occurs, and should. That is, unless you just accept the status quo, change must happen, and, since it cannot just happen presto changeo, but happens because someone makes it happen, someone will have to be the change agent, lead others to do things differently, etc. And besides, we *do* influence each other whether we acknowledge it or not, and what is leadership but influence? So it does occur, and the only personal position consistent with that reality is to fess up to your own influence on others.

As I think about this, and go over and over it because so many people, especially in emerging church circles, want to debate it with me, I want to focus on what it is to be aware that you influence others. And since I'm talking about Christian leadership here (and whether or not you have to have human leaders to have it), the kind of influence I'm talking about is primarily spiritual and religious influence. To keep the blog from going forever, I'll throw out in annotated outline form three ideas.

I. Drop and Give Me Reasons
A thirtyish professional woman several years ago offered to hire me as her worldview coach. She had a personal trainer, and a career coach, and a therapist. She needed philosophical counseling and spiritual guidance, and thought to hire me (at market rate). In the typical stand foursquare against reproducible systems and reliable income that I often take, I declined. But it got me thinking.
>Worldview coaching< If we agree that postmodern leadership is not authoritarian telling people what to think and do, then what is it? Or, if that's too hard, then, what is it like? Maybe Christian leadership in the emerging context is like being a coach or trainer. You help someone know what they have and where they are; help them determine and make explicit where they want to go, what they want to do, and who they want to be. You then analyze that to determine what they must believe in order for those things to be desires, and then secondly, what has to be done or believed in order to get there from where they are.
>the worldview market< There exists more than one worldview, even though presumably there is only (or, as John Searle famously said, "exactly") one world. As coach, one job is to already have a position on whether the relationship between worldviews is complementary (a la John Hick), synthetic (Teilhard de Chardin), competitive (Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations"), or what. One also has to already have a theory as to the relation between worldview, the world in which one has (and others have) that worldview, what Habermas calls a lifeworld, and one's life in that world with that worldview in the society holding that worldview (i.e, in such a lifeworld). Sorry about the gobbledygook. I just mean: What is it to be a Christian, a postmodern Christian? How does one integrate (a postmodern value, as opposed to modernity's interest in specialization) one's lifestyle, one's worldview, and one's social life? How does being in a pluralistic setting affect this--i.e., being constantly around people who fundamentally differ with you?
>an integrated life< For any worldview then, an integrated life espousing that worldview would be lived with the passion often associated with religious true believers, the personal satisfaction currently associated with genuine spirituality, the mental thoroughness and toughness associated with philosophy and science, and the singleness of will and calculation usually associated with economic and career behavior.
>But while an integrated life assumes you are social (one can't have a religion or live in a society or carry on a critical endeavor like science by oneself), it does not assume that you are a follower. And so, even though it assumes change, and therefore implies change agency and so change agents, it does not require there to be leaders per se. What then is it to yourself be someone who leads others to change without you being the one who changes them?
In other words, isn't there a contradiction of sorts in *guiding* people to *do it themselves*?

>>>Let me first address two criticisms here. One is the confusion brought on by Western marketing. In modernity, change is a positive value because there is a secular belief in progress. So "brand new" is an endorsement, whereas in every other worldview it's a warning. What modern marketers have discovered is that to keep the modern world running routinely, you have to tell people progress is being made. So those who want to maintain the status quo--Texas politicians, the makers of soap--do so by loudly advertising the (same old) things they are doing as "new and improved."
On the other hand, real sabotage of the system is of course not welcomed. The only way to get people to not pay attention to it is to say that fundamental, radical change is uninteresting, boring. That is, if you really intend to pull the rug out from under people, you don't say so, since they'll think it'll be business as usual. Instead, you say, go to sleep, shhh, nothing's happening here, no changes are being made, everything's fine. "Stay the course" usually means something basic is being attacked.
Of course, this rhetorical inversion makes any real advocacy for change difficult for Christians, since if you *say* you're advocating change, people misunderstand you as approving the status quo, but if you dont' say you're doing so, you run the risk of lying about your intentions or being accused of a bait-and-switch.

The other problem is that of the Tao Te Ching. I read the Tao at least partly as China's equivalent to Machiavelli's The Prince. It is written to leaders, advising them how to get things done. A famous Taoist proverb (supposedly) is to the effect that if the leader leads well, then 'the people will say, we did it ourselves.' Of course, this can be liberating and empowering, or manipulative. It was Foucault who pointed out that governments stop needing to shoot or imprison their citizens when the citizens' own consciences enforce the government's wishes, without the citizens realizing that that is what is going on.

Well. With the caveat that any leadership, any interpersonal influence, is at risk of being immoral in some way, we forge ahead. After all, as I said, to not do so is to endorse the status quo, which I'm not willing to do; it is to act as if change does not happen, which is unrealistic; and it's to dodge one's responsibilty for the fact that influence and change agency happens anyway, whether we do it intentionally or accidentally.

II. "Occidenteering"
Orienteering is finding one's way around with a map and compass. Occidenteering, at first blush, is finding one's way around the West, i.e., around the modern / postmodernizing world dominated by European cultural byproducts like technology and representative democracy.
I want to suggest another kind of occidenteering, which does not advocate for the West, or assert that the West is the best, but simply says, the West is here, and we must get around in it. It is not that postmodernity is good, let alone modernity; so I am not a postmodernist or a modernist. It is that they are here, and must be gotten around in. So I am a guide to those in postmodernizing territory.

1. The first stage in outfitting for an exploration is that one must look for and accept a guide. This is at least uncomfortable, since it requires trusting someone who knows things you do not know, and therefore you do not know enough to know whether or not she is trustworthy. (Of course, if you did know enough, you wouldn't need the guide.) Morpheus, Sacajawea.

2. The second stage is the decision to follow the guide, and then to actually do so. Publishing a list of guides of whom you approve is not the same thing as following the guide into territory the guide understands but you do not. To say someone is trustworthy is only validated when you trust them enough to entrust yourself and things you value (like your kids) to them. Following Gandalf into Moria, even when he is only "nosing" his way around.

3. normally, following will include three aspects:
a. going along with where you're led and what you're told to do
b. trying to learn and find out why the guide does what she does
c. disagreeing with, being suspicious of, and wrestling with one's guide

4. eventually, one should come to the point at which one understands not merely where the guide has led one and why (why there, and why that way), but also understands the guide.

5. at this point, one ceases to need the guide.

6. as one moves out on one's own, others see you doing this. First they notice you, then they start following you; pretty soon they say you are leading them because they are following you; and so in the end it is other people who call you a leader, not you.

7. then, you again have a choice, as you did when you decided whether to identify someone else as a guide and to take them as your guide. and that choice is whether or not to accept other people's definition of you as a guide, their guide, and to let them follow you, and more, to lead them as and to follow you.

III. "Waterfall Psychology"
1. this may seem vain. but it too is about humility, as was the first step in followership. if you have a false confidence in the noun--"I am a leader"--you'll annoy others, and not do what you need to do to keep leading, and you'll cease to be a leader, because people will stop following you.

2. in pomo circles, it's actually, as I observe it, a more naturally-occurring problem to exhibit a false modesty: to, in the name of self-denial, to deny who you really are. this is what Jesus said was the sort of hypocrisy disciples (as opposed to Pharisees, who are tempted to pretend to be what they are not) are tempted to.

3. in order to shoulder a burden, you have to get under it. true, you are admitting that you can bear the burden in some way (prayer, the help of the Spirit, how far God has gotten you, whatever you say about your qualifications), but leading others by acknowledging your influence on them is a going down, it is acknowledging the influence their following has on your living.

4. this means that Christian leadership, which is trying to lead people in any case not only humbly and not proudly but to Christ and not to you, is a John the Baptist enterprise where always you must decrease so that He might increase, and that for this cause came you into the world. The more your influence spreads, the more you must, as it says in Hinds' Feet on High Places, imitate the water of a waterfall and seek the lowest place, and do so with joy.

Just so, Christian leadership in the church that is emerging in the culture that is emerging.

May I approximate this.


Monday, February 14, 2005

Happy Valentine's Day

Socks, burrito love, and a Nietzsche finger puppet: our family really cleaned up on Valentine's Day. Hope your day is lovely and love-full as well.


Friday, February 11, 2005


Hey. A cloudy day, feeling much cooler than it is. The pit bull roaming the neighborhood the last few days seems to be gone now.

That faint buzzing sound you hear is dozens, even hundreds of people who know and support LGBC, all making little tiny Monty Python cheers (and waving flags) for the fact that Mandy the Magnificent is taking over the administrative hooha here. Given how far moi is from organization generally, it's generally a good thing the further away I am from the administrative organization of this organism (LGBC) in particular.

For those of you keeping track of how we're doing at relationship maintenance, Dawn and I, knowing that we're going to be deluged (delightfully, but still) with people next week (which is *Valentine's Day*, for doughhead guys not keeping track), went out last night. A bookstore, a bottle of water, and thou.

Moses, looking back over the Red Sea as it rushes in on the Egyptians: "parting is such sweet sorrow."

Exciting new car names: for the large-wheeled, slit-windowed SRX, I recommend "Cadillac Squatty." For the overly aggressive 300 (and Magnum), I suggest the name "Dodge Gangsta."

Turned in a book review of Huston Smith's "Why Religion Matters" today. Hopefully it'll be published soonish. I'm reading Chesterton's wild and crazy novel "The Man Who Was Thursday," the philosopher Donald Davidson's "Subjective Intersubjective Objective," and just got John Julian Norwich's (Lord Norwich's) "Byzantium: A Short History." Page-turning bodice-rippers, each and every one...

Some may not know I'm teaching adjunct at El Centro College in downtown Dallas. This term it's intro philosophy (taught using "Sophie's World") and survey of major world religions (using the Idiot's Guide).

More soonish.


Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Ruined for Superficiality

Just a brief props to Dawn (spouse du vie) for being someone who is not at all intolerant of superficial conversation; she simply does not engage in it because she cannot. Her depth is contagious, a deep field effect that alters spacetime and personalities around her. Very very annoying. Also good. Hard to live with and impossible to live up to. But not bad at all.

Ash Wednesday

Hey. Well, it was yesterday rather than today that was a downer. Today, which is the normally somber Ash Wednesday, should be a cheery picker-upper compared to yesterday. It was one of those days that starts with someone insulting your mom, goes on to someone kicking your dog, somebody else lifting your wallet, and the final indignity, somebody messing with your hat. Ah well.

I keep wondering how many people get that part of my teaching technique is to not do all the teaching. The Tao Te Ching (or some Chinese source) may be Machiavellian, depending on your reading of it, when it says that when the leader leads well, the people will say, we did it ourselves. But I choose to be naive about it and take it at face value. All of which is to say that Kristen has made Ash Wednesday her own, and that's very cool.

The infection spreads, though. I hear from Dawn that Amber led an Ash Wednesday service in Pennsylvania today. Little by little, the LGBC virus perfuses the environment, mutates to adapt to and be more virulent in local conditions, keeps to its mission of replacing other DNA with its own. Thus comes the Kingdom...