13 June 2008

Success is not an option

This is something I've been thinking a lot about for the past week or two. My thoughts are still quite preliminary, so maybe there will be more of them later.

The question on my mind is this:

Is failure - i.e., critical crisis; death with optional resurrection - a necessary and unavoidable step in authentic emergence - at least in the realm of human social institutions like the Church?

I'm not talking about setbacks - I'm talking about major, life-torpedoing failure that makes it blatantly obvious that if life can go on at all, it will go on in a radically different fashion than before. I wonder about this in the journey of the individual, but even more right now I wonder about it in the shared journey of a community.

My wondering has been shaped by a number of high-quality nodes, including some recent good stuff from Grace, but much more from conversations with genius friends like Dee, P3T3, and Amy, and reflection on the journey-stories of various people and communities I know (including my own). For some theoretical/practical reasons why I fear this might be the case when it comes to communities, see here: The Practices Must Support Each Other.

If this is true (and I have no way of knowing whether it is or not - but I have to tell ya, I have a strong intuition that it's at least mostly true) - if this is true, then several other questions follow, it seems to me:
  1. Are "emergent" books, conferences, etc. leading folks to believe that they can shortcut this process - this death and resurrection? That it's possible to read some books and say "Yeah, baby! That's where it's at!" and then just go thou and to likewise?
  2. If so, is that necessarily a bad thing? Or is that setting folks up for the failure which is, perhaps, a necessary stage in the journey?
  3. This, to me, is the biggie. Unlike the others, it's not the least bit rhetorical. To the contrary, it's extremely concrete and personal, and it's one that I sort of feel like every person who feels called to "emergence" needs to seriously wrestle with (like, don't walk away without a dislocated hip and a blessing):
If I feel that God is calling me and/or my community (present or future) to emerge into a radically different way of being and doing Church, what am I willing to lose?


P3T3RK3Y5 said...

this is a eureka idea mike.

more than anything else, this would be our bound contribution to the emerging conversation.

you must lose your church to really find it.

Mike Stavlund said...

Word, Crog.

The first emergent gathering I did was notable b/c I hung with a handful of folks talking about 'failure' and how invaluable it had been to me (Ryan Sharp was facilitating the session). We were nervously applying the title "Failure" to ourselves, and finding some freedom in it.

I'm with you-- I wouldn't want to make any hard-and-fast rules about failure, but I wouldn't trade my failures for anything. They are precious to me. And I've seen the collective failures of churches and other organizations to have a similarly beneficial (if unspeakably painful) effect.

Moff said...

Wow, Crog. Way to take all the strands of our conversations and your thoughts and distill it into one very important question.

and I would say, as much as I hate hate hate HATE it, that yes, failure does seem to be necessary for the really amazing stuff to happen. I could prattle on about how nature shows us a constant cycle of death and rebirth (not to get all Hindu on everybody), and how Christ's crucifixion and resurrection as the Christian's central metaphor speaks volumes about how God works.

But why prattle about metaphor? We all know what happens when folks hang on to something too long when it should either die or undergo massive change... it morphs into something awful. and we all have examples in our lives of times when folks have had gut-wrenching failure, and slowly, slowly, rebirth happened. They were --gulp-- humbled, and the clay became pliable enough for God to mold.

Blech. Wish it wasn't so... but such is life on this side of the veil.

Ryan said...

Well said everybody. As Pete mentioned maybe one must lose their church to find it. I feel like I went through this process of failure and had to lose my "ministry" for lack of a better word to really find it.

I went through about four years of what felt like failure most of the time only to be in the midst of a time of great success over the last six months.

I think my failures as Amy said provided a humbling that was definitely needed. I feel like I'm far more understanding and accepting of people now no matter where they are on the cycle.

Cori said...

I don't know if this connects bu Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 'Life Together' seems to suggest that we come to any community with an ideal of what it should look like. We then go through extreme dissapointment that it is not our ideal. This disappoinment can be accompanied by anger, hurt, a desire to quit, a sense of failure etc. Once we get through this period, he suggests that something mor real and Godly can take place - once our ideal has been destroyed to make space for what God wants to do. I wonder if this isn't at the heart of the 'failing' process - a getting over our picture of what things are and should become so that God's picture can become clearer. And perhaps that needs to happen in every community uniquely because every community has unique false expectations... And a unique thing that God wants to do with it/them.