Reflections on Doxology-Part 3 (2005)

More Learnings in the DoxComm

Those of us who get assessed as half-and-half introvert/extravert on Myers-Briggs have some things easier, some things harder. Or perhaps both, when it comes to processing events. We are wired in such ways that we absorb huge stores of observations, so our conclusions probably come out detailed. But then, it takes a lot longer, with some brain-strain thinkwork.

Which is all to say, here it is, a week after getting back from Doxology, and I’m still processing it. So, wanted to share a few more findings that have distilled their way from my brain down through my fingers.

First, though, a sort of disclaimer-description about why I’m sharing so much about this. I hope my friends don’t feel dissected by the laser-rays of what I’m about to say in my analyses and reflections. It was never my intent going into Doxology to create a case study. But the combination of such an extraordinary experience and the fact that I just “can’t not think about things” provided an opportunity to gain perspective on some things I’ve been wondering about -and searching for! – for many, many years.

Specifically, Doxology gave me a very positive situation to see an intercultural paradigm at work. And my gut tells me that intercultural approaches hold some of the strongest possibilities for catalyzing transformation in individuals and in societies. It seems to me that people in Doxology, as well as many “non-churched Christians” with a radical approach to following Jesus, and many others at the unfolding edges of Western societies, are all using aspects of an intercultural paradigm intuitively. I’ve been working for 10 years to live, study, and describe this paradigm, in part because I believe that having a clearly articulated theory helps practitioners move from intuitive to intentional, so they can have higher impact. (How many of you reading this who’ve had conversations with me have told me things like, “You just put words to what I felt but didn’t know what to call it.” When paradigm descriptions resonate with us, not only do they validate the fact that we are NOT crazy, but they often help us to see an even bigger picture of how God is at work in the world. And then, perhaps we can find intentional ways to amplify what we had already been doing intuitively. Having an articulated paradigm doesn’t have to kill the Spirit and spontaneity …) Okay, enough semi-apologies for what may come across as labeling, but I hope we who are practitioners will find it empowering.

Specific Gifts and General Service

In my last entry, I talked about having witnessed people using their spiritual gifts and special areas of knowledge, but also jumping right in to do whatever they could to serve, regardless. I’ve given some more thought to that, and had a great conversation with my friend Jason about it this afternoon. How many times have we heard about spiritual gifts, and also about the “one another” commands of the New Testament epistles? But how often do we hear about both of them together, and their relationships to leadership?

The way I see it, spiritual gifts are like a shot of espresso. They give a full-on dose of the essence of a specific way of serving and building up other people. The one-anothers are like a Cafe Americano. They represent that same amount of “service caffeine,” diffused into boiling water in a much larger container. So, what some people have as a thimble full of concentrated coffee, others have in diluted form.

In the Doxology community, I saw people using the diversity of their very potent gifts – an artistic eye, an ability to give clear and concise directions, an orientation to detail, time management, writing, mediawork, computer savvy, sewing, relating, manual dexterity tasks, cooking, childcare. (It didn’t matter whether the expert was a man or a woman, and often the person in the role would be counter to who would be considered appropriate for that role in traditional cultures.) I also saw people contributing whatever efforts they could, even if it was not a top-level gift. No one needed to remind anyone to park their egos at the door, because everyone was putting their all into the event.

Probably there is nothing particularly unusual in that. However, the new perspective I gained as I observed a trail of activities and interactions is this: Every Doxologist contributed leadership through his or her own gifts, and also willingly deferred to this or that other person who was generally acknowledged as having the espresso version of some other ability that was needed. It wasn’t anarchy – i.e., no leadership. It wasn’t even a so-called flat or horizontal leadership model, which contrasts with traditional approaches that use ladders or pyramids to represent hierarchical leadership. It was not just a bunch of nice people, all acting relatively politely because they held some stake in the outcome of the event. No, some other dynamic was afoot. But what?

Different Paradigm of Leading and Following

I think it’s best to call what I witnessed “flexible leadership/followship.” I think this kind of mutual-respect give-and-take community-building is done far more intuitively, and based on a huge amount of entrustment in people’s desire to connect and participate. People didn’t really even have to be TOLD who was good at what, because people SHOWED what they were good at. It was openly acknowledged, and accepted.

Yet, that didn’t prevent people from having the freedom to participate in co-creativity with “the experts.” It was a far more open forum than I expected. I can’t even number how many times I heard things like, “That’s a great idea! Let’s see how we can do something with that!” Or, when necessary, “You know, that’s a brilliant idea, but I don’t think we’ve got the time available for this one to do something with it.” (There will be more Doxologies, after all.)

As I think back over many kinds of communal experiences, I quickly see that the ones which generate immediate fond memories were all a sort of open system. They all exuded this same kind of atmosphere of entrustment.

You know, I just realized that I’ve used the terms trust and entrustment repeatedly in my reflections on Doxology, but haven’t really framed exactly how I mean them. So, here is a description of how I’m thinking about them: So often, we use financial metaphors to talk about our relationships. Investing in others. Expecting relational pay-offs. Account-ability. These words easily carry implications of me sharing the best of what I have with you, so that I can do something productive with the overflow of my assets. Meanwhile, entrustment is my relying on you to share your best, while I do the same, and perhaps in that connection we will also draw out from each other what has been underutilized in each of us. Quite a different set of implications! Entrustment returns the us into trUSt.

The Roles of Being Culturally Fluid

Now that I’m thinking about it, I wonder if this quite different lead-follow paradigm is just one dimension of something far bigger.

Could this widely apparent flexibility among the Doxology community members to free-flow between leading and following, between contributing directly and deferring without passivity, be linked with other forms of personal paradox or being relationally intercultural?

Methinks it is thusly so!

So, let me try to fill that out a bit.

Here are some key patterns I noticed in the Doxology core group and those drawn in from amongst our friends new and old who helped with or attended the premiere:

  • Very comprehensive, holistic, and integrative. We are men and women of very broad interests and abilities: highly spiritual, creative in various ways, oriented to justice and advocacy, ecologically-minded. But these aren’t segments of life, they are interwoven. We use our creative gifts to promote justice. We see creativity and advocacy as expressions of spirituality. We mentor/nurture others, yet see children as able to teach us as well.
  • Very “psychologically androgynous.” We presented all kinds of evidences of not fitting into the traditional cultural compartments of roles exclusively for men or for women. We bridge beyond the traditional stereotypes of masculine and feminine, drawing together the positive human qualities from each. For instance, we are men who tend to be in touch with our emotions, women who can analyze objectively, men who enjoy cooking and spending time with kids, women who start businesses and trouble-shoot management problems.

I’m not advocating psychological androgyny per se, but instead, a biblical integrity that gives us far more freedom to embrace and express the full range of God’s character qualities. In Scripture, God presents his character with a range of terms, images, and metaphors, some masculine and some feminine. If we are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ, then we should not be bound by a truncated, non-Trinitarian list of men-must-act-like-this and women-must-act-like-that, as dictated by any culture – sacred or secular. We can/should integrate all those character qualities, because all of us are made in God’s image.

In fact, I think this sort of integrating of the broadest imageness of God in us is part of biblical mysticism. And, this integration process of taking as complementary of what culture says are conflicting or opposites, is one way that we become bicultural. And, when we examine the cultural backgrounds of the apostles, we see they are at least bicultural. (For instance, Paul was a Pharisaic Jew, raised in a gentile country, and also a Roman citizen. Barnabas was from a priestly tribe of Jews, raised in the non-Jewish culture of Cyprus.) Which leads to another learning from Doxology . . .

The Catalytic Community

I suspect that we usually think of apostles as being individuals: Paul, Barnabas, Peter. Maybe we relate with their activities in pairs or in small teams. But how often do we think about whether an entire community could be able to spark the creation of another new community?

Mark Fletcher is the vicar of Church on the Corner, a converted pub in London. He wrapped up the dialogue on the night of the premiere, stating that the Doxology exhibit was a gift to all, because it was attempting to let people experience Jesus directly instead of through the faulty grid of previous associations that we overlay onto Him from our interactions with church, ministry organizations, Christians, etc. Mark also challenged people to a higher level of responsibility, in not letting anyone take away the gift, or taint it by false associations. That kind of entrustment talk will, I believe, lead to relationships among people who take his exhortation seriously.

Also, I caught intriguing bits of drive-by conversations here and there throughout the days of preparation and the premiere. People were speculating about future communities being instigated by the presence of a Doxology art exhibit, and how the experience was far more than just the exhibit, and how amazing Rob was in gladly sharing ownership of the community with all. Doxology was and is a countercultural, peace-making community. It brought together men and women, adults and children, from multiple countries, different generations, and different cultural backgrounds. And we changed into something beyond a collection of individuals. As one person said at the opening-night dialogue, “Doxology is primarily about loving God and loving others. It’s a way to get into loving relationships.”

It seems to me that there are two main catalysts to change. First, being traumatized – I don’t want this experience, so I’ll do something to avoid or change it. Second, being touched – I do want this experience, so I’ll do something to retain or restart it. And I suspect Doxology as an embodiment of loving relationships can reproduce more easily and organically than I think more organizationally-oriented groups. Hope we’ll see that happen!

Would it make more sense to have communities try to reproduce communities, than by having one person or even a very small team try to do so? People working together as communities have more possibilities to touch people physically, emotionally, spiritually, etceterally in ways that spark a desire for more.

This idea of apostolic community is yet another possible reason why the holistic, integrative paradigms of Doxologists cannot easily be mimicked by people who are used to traditional paradigms. Even if they are sincere in their efforts, they just are not indigenous to these ways of thinking. Their encounters with people like us send them into culture shock! But, in the long run, hopefully Doxology sparks some constructive changes for them as individuals and for their communities of faith.

So . . . about time to conclude for the day. One last thought. When the Doxology exhibit goes to tour to other cities, I believe the tentative plan is for members of the Doxology community to go there in advance, help catalyze a new community there, and work with them to establish the local exhibit/community. And, given the quality of relationships begun during the Houston exhibit, I would not be at all surprised if some Houstonites participate in setting up the Austin Doxology, and Houstonites and Austinites help set up the Amsterdam Doxology, and etc. This sounds very much like the historical descriptions of tribal training of pastors and elders in the early Christian eras of Ireland, as presented in books like How the Irish Saved Civilization. Pick up a few people here, train them there and leave them to do the local work while you pick up a few new people from there to take with you to the next tribal area, and so on. Sustainable. Impactful. Intergenerational. Intercultural . . .

Originally posted October 20, 2005, on futuristguy’s Randomocities.