Monday, June 18, 2012

Management and Chaos Theory

I am not writing this post as an expert. I'm re-reading a book I last read in 1997 or 8, Leadership and the New Science: Learning about Organization from an Orderly Universe, by Margaret J. Wheatley. I loved the book then, and I'm loving it again. It's very readable, if you're worried by "science" in the title, or the fact that the book is usually found in the business section of your bookstore.

I commend the book to you to read for yourself. I just finished chapter one, and would like to note a few things that apply to the current apparent chaos in which we in the churches believe ourselves to be.

Chapter 1 is titled "Discovering an Orderly World". It opens with Wheatley's revelation as she soaks her feet in a stream. She learns from the stream about adaptability, and the temporary state of solutions as the stream answers its overarching call to reach the ocean. She writes, "There is none of the rigid reliance on single forms, on true answers, on past practices that I have learned in business. Streams have more than one response to rocks..."  "Organizations lack this kind of faith, faith that they can accomplish their purposes in various ways and that they do best when they focus on direction and vision, letting transient forms emerge and disappear. We seem fixated on structures; and we build them strong and complex because they must, we believe, hold back the dark forces that are out to destroy us." (chapter 1, page 15-16, 1992, 1994; Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, CA.)

Once, long ago, thanks to Newton and others, we came to believe the world was a machine set in motion by a clockmaker God who then left the scene. The world understanding was that every machine runs down, and therefore we had to scramble to make sure this machine kept going. "This is a universe, we feel, that cannot be trusted with growth, rejuvenation, process. If we want progress, then we must provide the energy, the momentum, to reverse decay. By sheer force of will..." (Wheatley, pg. 17)

And then she writes, "What a fearful posture this has been!" Indeed! And still is.

Wheatley then turns to Ilya Prigogine and dissipative structures in chemistry. Prigogine found that, while structures dissipate, as energy ebbs away, that very dissipation can play a constructive role in creating new structures. "Dissipation didn't lead to the demise of a system. It was part of the process by which the system let go of its present form so that it could reemerge in a form better suited to the demands of the present environment." (Wheatley, pg. 19)

We are desperately trying to control what is happening to our churches. Wheatley describes seeing a moose hiding from her behind a tiny sappling, the trunk of which only covers the moose's eyes. Yet the moose is confident it is hidden. She says that in our passion for control, we are like that moose. "As long as we stare cross-eyed at that tree, we won't see all around us the innate processes of living systems that are there to create the order we crave" (Wheatley, pg. 23).

But it's hard to step away from the tree. Wheatley would have us move away from control and embrace "dynamic connectedness". She writes, at the end of chapter 1, "I want to move into a universe I trust so much that I give up playing God. I want to stop holding things together. I want to experience such safety that the concept of 'allowing' - trusting that the appropriate forms can emerge - ceases to be scary." (Wheatley, pg. 23)

We Episcopalian Christians are in the business of trusting God. And I experience very little of that trust in myself, and see little of it in other Christians. I certainly don't see it in the way we interact with one another in this nation, nor in our government. What would it take for us to trust God? What would it take to trust Jesus, the Christ, our Lord?


Carol said...

I don't there is an answer to question(s) "What would it take for us to trust God? What would it take to trust Jesus, the Christ, our Lord?"

I trust God one day at a time. Which basically means, some days I trust him completely and other times I don't. My goal is to trust him more days than not.

Lois Keen said...

I'm with you on that, Carol. I'm finding the thought, "Trust", is coming up more and more often lately.