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July 2010

July 30, 2010

Born by Bits

I had written the following quote down some time ago and have just recently rediscovered it. It describes the counterintuitive way in which the spiritual life develops in people.

"We are not born all at once, but by bits. The body first, and the spirit later; and the birth and growth of the spirit, in those who are attentive to their own inner life, are slow and exceedingly painful. Our mothers are racked with the pains of our physical birth; we ourselves suffer the longer pains of our spiritual growth." -Mary Antin

What an important reminder about the nature of the spiritual life - or better, of life itself. I appreciate Antin's declaration that the "slow and exceedingly painful" growth of the spirit mirrors the pain of biological birth. I am also grateful that she states that this kind of painful growth process is so precisely for "those who are attentive to their own inner life." This seems to be wrong somehow, doesn't it? Shouldn't those who desire to grow spiritually find favor, or at least comfort, in their journey towards life? After all, how many times have we heard Jesus' words, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10) quoted as an invitation to experience the best possible version of life through God? Usually this passage is referred to in such a way that causes us to think that Jesus exists to enhance what is already a pretty good way of living. The spiritual life as a value-added commodity...

Such an orientation takes one quote from the lips of Jesus and ignores others. And not just quotes, but the entire trajectory of the life of the one Christians call Lord - that is, Master. Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds" (John 12:24), and then demonstrates precisely what those words mean: that life is found not by clinging to it but by abandoning it in love and the hope of resurrection. The irony is that life births death, which makes a way for the possibility of a new and different kind of life altogether. This is the story of Jesus. This is our story, too.

So, back to the original question: shouldn't those who desire to grow spiritually find favor, or at least comfort, in their journey towards life? I guess that depends. If favor and comfort from God mean exemption from pain and suffering, then the answer is a resounding no. This is not because God is cruel, but because the nature of life itself is one of birth and growth through struggle and pain. Within that framework, however, there is enormous favor and comfort to be found. Why? Two reasons. First, because our pain and suffering have the capacity to birth something creative and redemptive in and through us. Second, because we follow in the steps of the One who has gone before us on this very journey, who is the "...firstborn among many brothers and sisters" (Romans 8:29).

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July 20, 2010

Wind of God, Unpredictable...

In 2005, I attended a gathering of young church leaders convened by Allelon and hosted by Alan Roxburgh. People from all over the world came to Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, for a couple of days of conversation about building missional communities.

One of the people there was a Kiwi named Steve Taylor. Steve recently moved to Adelaide, Australia; prior to that, he planted a church in New Zealand, taught at Laidlaw College, and wrote a book called The Out of Bounds Church? Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change. I don't know Steve very well, but I was bummed when he left New Zealand before I arrived. However, that is not the point of this post...

At the beginning of the leaders' gathering in Pasadena, Alan asked Steve to lead the group in an opening exercise/invocation. First, Steve handed everyone a post-card with a photograph of a new art gallery that had recently opened in Christchurch. He spoke briefly about a number of things related to the gallery, including the importance of creativity and listening to marginalized voices.


Then he taught us about the "hongi," a traditional Maori greeting in which one person presses their forehead and nose against the forehead/nose of the other. It is a very intimate gesture. The idea is that you share the intimacy of breathing with the other, literally sharing the breath of life (the "ha"). When breath is shared and intermingled, the visitor is no longer considered a stranger, but rather a person of the land ("tangata whenua"). Steve invited the group to greet one another in this traditional Maori way.

Finally, Steve talked about relying on God at a time when so much else is unreliable - or at least unpredictable. He shared a prayer with us that we then prayed.

Why do I share this story now? While the exercise Steve led in 2005 was very powerful, it was my rediscovery of this postcard last fall that really made an impact on me. Late last fall, after I had resigned from Jacob's Well, I returned to my office to clean it out and box it up. As I sorted through my files (seeing what I wanted to keep and what could be thrown away), I found this postcard while going through files of old conference notes. Because of the impression Steve's prayer made on me at the time of the conference, I wrote it out on the back of the postcard.


If you can't read my handwriting, it says:

"Wind of God, unpredictable, blow on us;

Wind of God, unpredictable, blow on me.

Wind of God, unpredictable, be the arriving and the departing;

Wind of God, unpredictable, be the journey and the destination.

Wind of God, unpredictable, be praised."

To randomly find a postcard from a place I would soon being leaving for...I can't adequately describe how powerful it was to read and then pray that prayer at a time when everything in my life felt like it was being "blown" apart. The inscription of that simple, beautiful prayer helped me to see the Holy Spirit's leading and provision where I was experiencing only anxiety and chaos.

We have been invited to share breath with God - to breath, even host, the Holy Breath. We are people who live animated by the presence of the indwelling Wind, the One of whom Jesus said, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." Then, as now, it is important to remember that wherever we go, God is present, breathing in and through us for his glory. That realization was, and continues to be, a good gift to me.

May it be so for you, too.

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July 16, 2010

Learning How to Say "God"


I thought I'd post one more entry from the Stanley Hauerwas memoir - more for my own benefit than anyone else's. (Copying down ideas that are important to me longhand, or by typing them out, is a key way that I learn.) The following passage comes at the end of the book. Hauerwas is summarizing his work as a theologian - both in terms of content and method. Apart from the telling of particular narrative elements of his story, this may be my favorite section of Hannah's Child.

We talk of God in very casual, familiar terms, using the language of faith.

"In fact, faith is nothing more than the words we use to speak of God. And yet the God to whom and about whom we speak defies the words we use. Such defiance seems odd, because the God about whom we speak is, we believe, found decisively in Jesus of Nazareth, the very Word of God. Still, it seems that the nearer God draws to us, the more we discover that we know not what we say when we say, 'God.' I suspect that this is why one of the most difficult challenges of prayer is learning to address God."

Isn't "God," God?

"Disputes between those who believe in God and those who do not often turn on the assumption by both parties that they know what they mean when they say 'God.' This seems unlikely, since Christians believe that we learn to use the word 'God' only through worship and prayer to the One we address as Father, Son, and Spirit. Such a God is identified by a story that takes time, often a lifetime, to learn. Theology is the ongoing and never ending attempt to learn this story and locate it in contexts that make speech about God work."

He continues:

"Learning how to say 'God' is hard but good work. It is good work because the training necessary to say 'God' forces us to be honest with ourselves about the way things are. Our lives are but a flicker. We are creatures destined to die. We fear ourselves and one another, sensing that we are more than willing to sacrifice the lives of others to sustain the fantasy that we will not have to die."

As a theologian who always turns the corner into ethics (who God is shapes how we act), Hauerwas believes that our God-talk ought to affect our attitudes towards death and suffering - and through that, confront issues like how we practice medicine.

"The widespread confidence that medicine will someday 'cure' death is a fantasy. The attempt to develop and maintain a medicine so aimed, moreover, depends on the creation of wealth as an end in itself. A social order bent on producing wealth as an end in itself cannot avoid the creation of a people who souls are superficial and whose daily life is captured by sentimentalities. They will ask questions like, 'Why does a good God let bad things happen to good people?' Such people cannot imagine that a people once existed who produced and sang the Psalms."

He concludes by addressing the reality of suffering as a part of normal human experience. How do we respond to such suffering? With prayer or with a fight for control?

"If we are going to learn to say 'God,' we will do so with the prayer, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' This is word work...The challenge I have mounted against the accommodation of the church to the ethos of modernity is my attempt to help us recover our ability to pray to God, and to imagine what it might mean to be Christian in a world we do not control."

This is how we learn to say God.

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July 13, 2010

Place, Personhood, and the Weight of Glory

woodengrvng.dore.pardiso.jpg I recently blogged about Stanley Hauerwas' new book, Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir. At the time, I wrote that I was reading it in "an episodic and leisurely manner." That lasted until about...the end of that blog post. Over the following couple of days, I consumed what remained - which was the majority of the book. I suppose that among the many things I enjoyed, what I appreciated most about Hauerwas' telling of his story was my sense that I'd encountered a real person, that there was actually a there there. What do I mean?

I am describing the same phenomenon discussed in the short video-blog interaction between myself and Travis Reed posted a couple of weeks back. In that second conversation, Travis asks me to reflect on what I believe are the most important aspects of leadership. I suggest that the most important aspects of leadership are presence, engagement, and the creativity that flows from the interaction of those things.

Being present is one of the most challenging tasks any human being faces. The temptation is always to be somewhere else - which is another way of saying somewhere other than here. We live regretfully in unchangeable pasts. We live projecting ourselves anxiously into unknown futures. We live mesmerized by that which is mediated to us on screens. We live anesthetized by what we consume. We are always seeking somewhere, somewhen, someone, somehow, or something else. We struggle to be present to ourselves, each other, or God. Here. Now.

This phenomenon exists not only on a personal level, as I am describing it, but also on communal levels, too. We live in communities that are rarely present to the world in which they exist. If you look around, you will find groups of every size and kind - churches, denominations, businesses, governments - seeking somewhere, somewhen, someone, somehow, or something else. That kind of forward movement is not necessarily bad, by the way. In fact, I believe it is a good sign that we are part of a story that is going (or leading) somewhere. The irony is that when our desire for outcomes (teleology) eclipses our practice of being (ontology), such an orientation precludes the possibility of ever actually realizing such desires. Paradoxically, I believe that the only way to move forward is to let go of the desire to do so and to live with conscious attention to the present. Easier said than done. But it is done, at least by a few.

Have you ever been around a person who feels substantial? I don't necessarily mean charismatic - though they might be that, too. I mean that when you are with them, you sense that there is a weight to their being. Their souls are heavy. Such people draw others to themselves like magnets draw metal shavings. Why? I think the answer is, in part, because they are there, alive in their place and time. There is weight to their presence that attracts the way gravity pulls objects to the ground. Gravitas. I think such people have cultivated their souls by their practice of presence. They are becoming human beings. The result of this is that they gained ontological weight. This can be especially, though not exclusively, true of people who have encountered, and continue to encounter, God as revealed in Christ - the incarnate One.

Perhaps a surprising way to describe such a person is glorious. What comes to mind when you read that word - glory? Rays of shining light, perhaps? The Hebrew word for glory is kabod. The literal meaning of the word kabod is "weightiness," or "heaviness." To talk about God's glory is to describe his weighty or heavy presence. When the Bible tells stories of human beings who find themselves in God's presence, invariably each account portrays people falling down on their faces. It's almost as if God's glory, or weight, presses down on them. God is Substantial. Present. Real. Here. Now. God's Person and Presence invites our person and presence into an encounter that transforms our being. We become more real, more human when we live our lives in relation to God, his people, and his ways. People who spend their lives cultivating their souls add weight to their being by borrowing some of God's weight. Another way of saying this is that they reflect God's presence and glory the way Moses did when he came down from the mountain, God's glory shining on his face...

What does all this have to do with the Hauerwas memoir?

In Hauerwas' story, and thought, you get a sense of a soul that has wrestled deeply with God, people, and place. You encounter a human being who has suffered and has caused suffering, who has forgiven and been forgiven. Most significantly, you witness a life gradually shaped by the cross of Jesus Christ (the only way it ever happens). I believe it is because we are so averse to suffering that we constantly jettison ourselves out of the present reality and into an alternate and ideal reality fabricated from our fantasies. In so doing, we reject the cross - and the possibility of resurrection! What a tragedy. There is nothing more glorious, or weighty, than a cruciform life lived passionately in the hope of resurrection.

Alas, such lives are only forged in the crucible of specific relationships with people whom we generally take for granted. And such potentially glorious relationships? They, too, are available only in the specific places and times we too often long to escape. When we look beyond our place and our time, we miss that which God would use to shape us into the glorious likeness of his Son. And we become less substantial...weighty...glorious. The Son's glory comes by virtue of his willingness to suffer in humility for the sake of those whom he loves. Our "glory" usually comes as a result of our significance and success.

Can such upside-down, kingdom realities ever be adequately described? I doubt it. We must witness such things first-hand. As John writes: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life" (1John 1:1). If this is the case, then perhaps a memoir is not a bad place to start. But it would be a poor place to end. Why? Because Hauerwas' memoir is not just about theology, but about the relationships that have made him the man he has become. After reading Hauerwas' theology for years, seeing it worked out in the story of his life is a gift that instructs me in the living of my own life. More than that, his story models the relational reality that I am trying to describe.

If we are ever to become what God has made us to be, we must live deeply in relationship to one another. We must pay attention to one another and live attentively, looking for people whose lives show us what it means to know and follow Christ in these times and places. If Hauerwas' memoir were nothing else, it would at least be a testament to the power of friendship to shape a life. That it is virtually impossible to make it through a page without Hauerwas naming a person and describing the influence of that person on his life and/or thought is the most significant thing I will take away from this "book." Which brings me to the following quote. In it, Hauerwas relates his experience having joined the faculty of the religion department at Notre Dame. There he finds people who show him something of the God he seeks in his theological work.

"There is no substitute for learning to be a Christian by being in the presence of significant lives made significant by being Christian...'Significance' can, of course, be a misleading description of the lives that got my attention. Significance suggests importance. It suggests lives that make a difference and that demand acknowledgement. But the lives of significance that I began to notice were not significant in any of those ways. Rather, they were lives of quiet serenity, capable of attending with love to the everyday without the need to be recognized as 'making a difference.'"

To what are we paying attention? To whom are we present? If we never learn to be here, now, then we will miss the many small, "insignificant" gifts that God gives to lead us into the present and unfolding reality of his kingdom - to show us...no, to make us his glory.

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July 08, 2010

Wright and Lewis on Hell


Another post from the Wheaton N.T. Wright conference on a relatively benign topic...ahem.

This time the quote comes from the panel discussion on day two, the last 14 minutes. The moderator is asking questions from the audience to Wright and the other panelists. The question begins by stating that Wright's work renegotiating our understanding of Heaven has been prominent and important. That set-up is followed by an inquiry into whether or not Wright has done any similar kind of renegotiation regarding Hell?

Wright's initial response is telling I think. Before launching into content, he supplies some context that is as revealing as any answer he supplies.

"I did a riff on hell in Surprised by Hope because whenever I talked - I did those lectures many, many times around the country and around the world - and always somebody said, 'What about Hell?' and I used to get really depressed when that was the first question (laughter and nodding by other panelists). What sort of a culture is it where the main thing that people want to know is 'Will there be worms in Hell?' and 'How big will the flames be?' etcetera. I've been asked that question on a radio talk show once. 'Will there be worms in Hell? Because my Bible says there will be worms in Hell and unless you believe that, you don't believe the Bible.' Come on."

That last "Come on" is gold, by the way. It happens so rarely that you see Wright exasperated in public appearances that when he lets a little shine through...well, it's nice to see. Anyway, he goes on to share an anecdote about sitting next to an Greek Orthodox priest at an event in the Sistine Chapel. Looking at the artwork by Michelangelo, the priest looks at one wall depicting the life of Moses and says, "This, I understand." Looking at another wall depicting the life of Jesus, he says, "That, I understand." Then, pointing at the great east wall and its depiction of "The Last Judgment," he says, "That I do not understand." This story highlights the way the Western church, under the influence of Dante and Michelangelo as much as anyone else according to Wright, went on a different trajectory theologically than did the Orthodox communion. Wright aligns himself in the Eastern tradition as it relates to last things, or eschatology as it is known in theological studies. Wright states:

"Hell and heaven are not equal and opposite. I'm with C.S. Lewis on this in The Great Divorce. I'm not a universalist, but I think when people choose to worship that which is not God they diminish, and finally extinguish, their humanness. Insofar as they have a continuing existence post-mortem, it is an ex-human existence, which I think is a very, very, very horrible thing to imagine. But it is not then something that has the capacity to excite hope, pity, or anything else. I write about this in Surprised by Hope. I wish I didn't have to talk about that, I don't like thinking about that, but insofar as there is an answer to the question, that is how I do it."

I so appreciate Wright's Lewis reference. I discovered The Great Divorce in my early twenties and have read it almost once a year ever since. The divorce that the title references is the gulf that Lewis says exists between Heaven and Hell. Lewis is keen to point out that the distance between them is great. In the introduction to this book, he quotes the poet William Blake and his writing about the marriage of Heaven and Hell. Lewis states that there is, in every generation, a temptation to marry Heaven and Hell - that these eternal realities are equal and opposite in a kind of yin and yang twinning. Lewis, and Wright, want to "divorce" these two realities from one another. They are not equal and opposite. A couple of different quotes from The Great Divorce illustrate this and have had a significant influence on my own understanding of the doctrine of Heaven and Hell. That these doctrines are mediated so powerfully through a fictional/mythic account of Heaven illustrates something of the nature of what I was trying to get at in the last post.

In this quote, the protagonist is nearing the end of his journey and is speaking plainly with his heavenly guide. When asked directly about who gets to make the journey he himself is on, the guide replies:

"Everyone who wishes it does. Never fear. There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.' All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened."

Earlier, in response to the question of whether or not Heaven and Hell are only states of mind, he says:

"Hush...Do not blaspheme. Hell is a state of mind - ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature with the dungeons of its own mind - is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakable remains."

We are relational beings made in the image of a relational God. Within this kind of understanding of life in God, we see that eternal life is not positional, it is relational. This is what Jesus is getting at when says, "This is eternal life: that they know you,the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:3). In Matthew 22: 37-40, Jesus equates love of God with love of neighbor (and recasts neighbor subversively as the person you hate the most in the parable of "The Good Samaritan" in Luke 10). The implications of this relational reality are not something we spend a lot of time dwelling on I fear. According to Lewis and Wright, the unwillingness to turn to God and to one another is itself imprisoning, a dehumanization that diminishes, then finally extinguishes creatures made to know and experience the glory of Love through relationship. Which brings me to the final quote from The Great Divorce.

The Heavenly tourist, who is our protagonist, encounters a woman on the shores of Heaven made glorious by Love. Her husband, on the other hand, is in the last stages of his devolution. With our protagonist, he, too, has made the journey to this purgatorial middle ground. He seeks to emotionally manipulate his wife into joining him on his terms, in his misery. It is pathetic. Now knowing love, she refuses.

"Did you think joy was created to live always under that threat? Always defenseless against those who would rather be miserable than have their self-will crossed? For it was real misery. I know that now. You made yourself really wretched. That you can still do. But you can no longer communicate your wretchedness. Everything becomes more and more itself. Here is joy that cannot be shaken. Our light can swallow up your darkness: but your darkness cannot now infect our light. Can you really have thought that love and joy would always be at the mercy of frowns and sighs? Did you not know they were stronger than their opposites?"

Then one of the most beautiful lines I have ever read:

"I am in Love, and out of it I will not go."

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July 06, 2010

Tom Wright: On PhDs and Myers-Briggs Types


In April, my friend Keas Keasler sent an email discussing his plan to visit us in New Zealand this July. As a postscript, he added a link to a recent theology conference that he thought I might enjoy listening to. However, due to school and writing responsibilities, I hadn't had the opportunity to follow through on his recommendation. When the semester began to wind down a couple of weeks ago, I finally clicked that link and discovered a real treasure awaiting me.

The conference that Wheaton hosted in April 2010 was focused on the work of the British theologian and Anglican bishop N.T. Wright. Titled, "Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N.T. Wright," conference-host Nicholas Perrin invited different scholars to interact with Wright's writings - in particular Jesus and the Victory of God, the second of his three (soon to be four) volume "Christian Origins and the Question of God" series. Following each day's papers, Wright responds to the particular points from the different scholars during a panel discussion; each scholar is then allowed to reply, often resulting in a lively exchange. As the culmination of the day, Wright then presents his own paper: the first on Jesus, the second on Paul. It is a little hard to describe how provocative and moving it is to listen to such an amazing group of scholars (Jeremy Begbie, Markus Bochmuehl, Richard Hays, Edith Humphrey, Sylvia Keesmaat, Nicholas Perrin, Marian Meye Thompson, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, and Brian Walsh) interacting so robustly, critically, creatively, and charitably about something I care so deeply about. While listening to the different presentations, I literally caught my breath and/or laughed out loud several times.

(In fact, let me highly recommend listening to these talks if you are at all inclined. If you only listen to a couple, then choose Wright's day-ending addresses on Jesus and Paul. [His chapel address on Ephesians to the students at Wheaton is also great: short, funny, and encouraging; this is Tom Wright at a popular/pastoral level.] A third academic presentation, Kevin Vanhoozer's "Wrighting the Wrongs of the Reformation? The State of the Union with Christ in St. Paul and in Protestant Soteriology," is totally worth your time and undivided attention, too. These resources are free to either stream or download in audio or video formats, by the way. Thank you, Wheaton!)

Wright_Panel_Discussion2.jpgNow, all that prelude to set up the point that the blog-post title references: listening to the first day's response, "Jesus and the People of God: Whence and Whither Historical Jesus Studies and the Life of the Church," Wright said something in the 43rd minute of his talk so out of left field to me that I could not believe I was hearing it. He had just finished summarizing the story of Israel and its fulfillment in the messiah Jesus. He goes on to describe the real world impact for followers of Jesus Christ in light of his resurrection from the dead.

"Jesus is raised bodily from the dead, therefore he is the messiah, therefore God's new creation has been launched. The old world of exile and sin has been dealt with, the new age has dawned and therefore we have a job to do. That is endemic in the confession of resurrection. It is not, 'We just have a nice future way, away, and by-and-by-in-the-sky,' or anything like that. It's 'Jesus is raised from the dead, therefore new creation has begun, and therefore we have a job to do.' And part of that job is to tell the story, the story of Jesus as the climax of the story of God, of Israel's God, and of the story of the climax of Israel - the means of the world's redemption."

So, because of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, we are not waiting around to go to heaven after we die. Rather, we are called to participate in the new creation that has been inaugurated by Christ, the new Adam, who signals a renewed humanity amidst a new creation. Because humanity has been renewed in Christ, we once again are called, like Adam and Eve before us, to participate in the stewardship of creation. As Wright says, that means we each have a job to do, that God's kingdom may come, his will be done, "...on earth as it is in heaven." And according to Wright, part of that job of stewarding creation is telling the story of what God has done and is continuing to do in and through Christ. This is where Wright sideswiped me.

"Where do we go with all this? Many, many tasks are still remaining. The world of biblical scholarship is a difficult world, a complex world. As many of you will know, it is much easier to get a PhD in biblical studies if you're a details person, rather than a big picture person…In Myers-Briggs terms, it's much, much easier to get a PhD in biblical studies if you're a ISTJ. You'll never do it if you're an ENFP because you'll never finish it. You'll be having too much fun. But we need, we need, we need "N"s in this business as well as "S"s because we need big-picture hypotheses. It's very difficult to do that at PhD level because your supervisors and examiners will want you to nail down all the details (and you have to do that) but we need these big hypotheses."

So, first let me say this: Amen. I cannot tell you how true this is in my own experience of writing and interacting around biblcal texts. I am in the middle of my third biblical studies-type writing assignment. If I were to characterize my editorial struggles in each of these works, I would do so with reference to the challenge that Wright highlights above. The need for Old and New Testament exegetical editors to get all the details "right" constantly threatens the larger narrative scope within which the details reside. I am not complaining, by the way. Wright is right to say that such detail is important and this work has to be done. However, he is also right to name the fact that this work, by its inherently atomizing nature, threatens the very possibility of big-picture creative work. I am reminded of Daniel Pink's assertion in his article in Wired, "Revenge of the Right Brain," drawn from his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, regarding right and left brain competencies and how such competencies are harnessed within economic systems:

"If the Industrial Age was built on people’s backs, and the Information Age on people’s left hemispheres, the Conceptual Age is being built on people’s right hemispheres. We’ve progressed from a society of farmers to a society of factory workers to a society of knowledge workers. And now we are progressing yet again – to a society of creators and empathizers, pattern-recognizers, and meaning-makers."

It is these notions about creativity, pattern-recognition, and meaning-making that I fear are endangered by academic and church cultures often over-focused on details and the technical aspects of learning and leading; that these cultures are also blind to their biases is not only a huge part of the problem, but illustrative of the very issue at stake (this is also why a person of Wright's stature naming this dynamic is so exciting to me). In a world flooded by information (read details), the need for people who can recognize patterns amidst the data-deluge is not just important, but critical for finding and making meaning in our lives personally and corporately. That Wright names the inherent bias of PhD programs and supervisors towards such left-brained, or "S", competencies is art of what makes me, a raging "N" (INTP, to be precise), so ambivalent about whether or not to begin such studies myself. I suppose this phenomena is also what is on display in the title of my book, Intuitive Leadership. In fact, hearing Wright say those things reminded me of something I had written in 2006 about the necessity of a new kind of leadership. It comes from my chapter, "Leading from the Margins: The Role of Imagination in Our Changing Context," in An Emergent Manifesto of Hope.

"We need men and women who have previously been on the margins to come forth and lead us. In focusing so exclusively on our cognitive capacities, we have lost our imaginations. We need mystics. We need poets. We need prophets. We need apostles. We need artists. We need a church drawn out of the margins, drawn from the places and filled with people and shaped with competencies formerly thought to be of little account. In fact, perhaps it is from such 'marginal' communities as these that influence will begin to spread outward into communities that have been domesticated in a modern world and thus rendered docile. We need a wild vine grafted into the branch. We need alternate takes on reality. We need a different kind of leader - one who can create environments to nurture and release the imagination of God's people."

It is in the same spirit that Alan Roxburgh likewise describes the need for alternative leadership typologies for churches beyond pastors who teach. In The Sky is Falling: Leaders Lost in Transition, he does inspiring work naming and describing the offices of poet, prophet, and apostle as other possible roles critical to provoking and unleashing the imaginative life of communities of faith today. But naming these alternatives begs a larger question: where will such leaders be identified and trained? Given its trajectory, it is questionable whether or not it will be within the academy. That Wright, while nailing all of the details, still has the ability to see the big picture and name the challenges it faces, legitimizes the need and gives hope that it might yet be addressed.

And that, to me, is "good news."

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