Thursday, November 4, 2010

Messy Fractal Leadership

Trinity has a Men's breakfast/book study group that gets together the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of every month to eat, pray and discuss a book of mutual interest.  This fall, the group has been reading The Shack and discussing about three chapters at a time each Thursday we gather.  Although I have to honestly say I wasn't terribly fired up to read The Shack (it seemed a little too pop-culture religion for me) the conversations these men of faith are having by the issues raised are fascinating.  Certainly worth my time and the energy it takes for me to get up before sunrise (which if you know me is a LOT).

This week we got together to discuss chapters 6-9, which (for those who know the book) is when Mack encounters and has conversations with the three persons who represent the persons of the Holy Trinity.  Papa, Jesus and Sarayu (the Spirit) have many conversations with Mack about their internal relationships, human structures of authority and power and the human choice of individualism over relationship.  If you can get over the Sabellian heresy within the structure of the conversation to listen to what they are saying, there is some real insights to begin to think about leadership, the church and our life together.

What was most impressive was how this group of men (mostly senior age) could take on and think critically about Papa and Sarayu's critic of human authority and power.  Although certainly challenging to their world view, a view shaped by time in the military and being raised in an era valuing conformity and following of authority, they could critically think about how power is used and can get in the way of community and relationships.

Most interesting to me was our conversation brought up by chapter 9 when Sarayu and Mack are in the garden.  Mack is stunned by the colors of the garden and Sarayu goes on to explain that when viewed from above, the garden is actually a fractal.  Which she/he describes as "something considered simple and orderly that is actually composed of repeated patterns no matter how magnified.  A fractal is almost infinitely complex." (page 129)

Yet while beautiful, Mack calls this garden a "mess."  For when viewed from his perspective, not above but within it, the colors and shapes seemed to go in no apparent order or structure.  He was confused and frustrated by it even as he admired its beauty.  Ultimately, of course, he learns that this garden is his own heart, which has been made more and more complex by the world and the experiences he has had, to the point where when viewed from one perspective could only be referred to as a mess, but from God's, is a beautiful and orderly fractal.

So what does this have to do with leadership.  Almost without knowing it, the men in the group began to tease out of this conversation that their family systems, communities, even their church, is just like these fractals.  In the midst of them they seem messy and painful.  To do relationship, to be in many relationships that aren't completely ordered by power and straight line authority, will be messy and sometimes chaotic.  Yet, if we can step back, we can also see that it is beautiful and pleasing to God.

Leadership from this perspective is certainly a post-modern ideal.  It isn't about creating power structures of councils and committee heads and elected officials and priests who utilize power to control and structure things linearly, top down.  But instead is about creating systems in which tangency can take place, in which relationships build upon each other over and over again, creating a multi-layered fractal structure that  creates beautiful and often chaotic results.

To modern ears and sensibilities, this is strange if not dangerous.  But as we see structures breaking down, power utilized not to build up the kingdom but to keep the status quo, I wonder if we don't need to be more fractal in our leadership.  To get a little messy in relationship so that a beautifully chaotic kingdom building structure that is pleasing to God can be created.

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