Tag Archives: mapping

Cumbersome is good for us: Love is not easy

The church makes decisions and plans in any number of ways. We decided making decisions as a community was crucial in an age where individualism kills the soul, loneliness is epidemic and people really need to see the church in action not hear about it in theory. So our mutual mapping process is central to our calling as a church. It is much more radical and important than we seem to think!

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A moment in our weeks-long mapping process.

If we are used to the risky work of participating in mutual discernment, our prayer might be, “Oh Lord, that is a lot of time and energy!” But if we are mapping like it is a new beginning, here in our eternal now, then the process teases out all its inherent joys:

  • It includes the most recent partner, so a living body is strengthened and grows. I want to live in one.
  • It listens to the latest and greatest word from the Lord, so the soul of our group is fed and energized. I love it when you can feel that happening!
  • It teaches us the lessons of love that only serious public dialogue can do, so it makes us real in a world of fake. Nothing makes me feel more relevant.
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Porziuncola. Scene of a lot of Franciscan mapping, now surrounded by its pilgrim reception hall.

Resistance to the work of love has killed some of the best churches

One of the things I learned in Assisi is how the church bureaucrats stole the heart of the early Franciscan way of “mapping.” Francis called Pentecost gatherings and many of the brothers showed up to have a creative , disorganized, Spirit-led, and often-miraculous time of seeing what God was doing and feeling out what should happen next. It all happened at the navel of the Franciscan world: Porziuncola.

As soon as Francis was too weak to exercise his tremendous weight over the process, as a living “saint,” the Pope-led hierarchy of the church made the brotherhood into an “ordo” (that’s Latin for “order, rank, class”) according to canon law. The order people folded the radical Francis right back into everything he had resisted and made the Franciscans like the other monastic orders he never wanted to join.

Francis never saw a need for a rule or much of a map, but he sure managed to make an impact! He mostly relied on the presence of Jesus and the simple, but profound, style of teaching he picked up from the Bible. His own teaching style was like a living parable that he often explained in proverbial fashion.

In any organization, the “ordo” people have a point and I have reluctantly served it in order to build something for Jesus in this VERY organized United States. But the parable and proverb people have a deeper point, and I hope we never lose track of it. Or, I could say, I hope we never have it stolen from us by people who think they are doing us a favor by conforming us to the prevailing ways of the world.

Practicing discernment is harder, but more important, than interpreting law

Every subsequent Pentecost is going to be followed by “ordo people” talking over the future with “proverb people.” It happened in the early church. It happens among us every year as we map, and that is good for us.

For instance, our pastor, Ben, made a list of things he heard at the recent discernment meeting concerning our next Map. One of the things on the list popped out at me: The proverbs are cumbersome.”

Since I was probably in Padua when that critique was offered, I have no first-hand knowledge of the context. But I have my suspicions, since I have heard similar things since forever. Similar thoughts have been popping up ever since economic efficiency and Enlightenment/scientific thinking created a pulpit and tried to make Jesus preach from it. I texted Ben a smiley face and cheerfully said, “Perhaps your 10:30 meeting should become a drive-thru!”  That would be less cumbersome than relating, after all.

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Innovation from Upland, CA, my old stomping grounds.

My point was, proverbs of every kind are supposed to be “cumbersome!” — in a good way. Maybe the biggest reason they persist in being hard to handle is because we should slow down and mentalize! — they force us to do that.  Don’t you think we should resist assessing whether information is taking 30 seconds more to receive than it should?

The proverbs we have collected so far as part of our Map aren’t “information,” anyway. They are invitations to keep talking, to slow down and listen to God and each other. They are the best little parables we could come up with to express the sense of our discernment about who we are called to be. They are more than the traditional value statements ordos/organizations put in their business plans.  They are proverbs like the ones in the Bible, such as, “Love  your  enemies  and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:44-5). There’s cumbersome for you!

Here are a few reasons hanging in there with “cumbersome” is good for us.

Cumbersome fights the desire to control the data and feel powerful.

A proverb is designed to be open-ended. One open end faces God, who is going to supply meaning daily (like “daily bread,” right?). The other end is open to the Body of Christ, where ongoing dialogue brings the best discernment to the moment (if we have a “common spirit” as Paul hopes). Chewing on a proverb with others is part of being appropriately out of control. It is another way Jesus heals us from the wounds of data biting us in the butt all day.

Cumbersome develops your spiritual capacity.

It is a difficult world; we can’t afford to be spiritually shallow!

I used to “fight” with a much-loved covenant member who really wanted a Wiki for our teaching, which he thought was splendid. I told him, “I, and others in the Body, are personally much better than a Wiki, which is why you want a Wiki!” But we gave him and other “ordo” people the Way of Jesus site, which will one day have a better table of contents so people can take less time exploring and access what they are looking for.

But, I have to say, wandering around the foothills of the Kingdom of God, taking time, listening, having our normality challenged is SO much better than seeking God according to what we already know in a fashion we already understand. We don’t know anything like we are known, Paul says.

Cumbersome assumes we need help.

I hope we keep resisting well-meaning people who think it is an outrage, or a shame, if they need someone’s help. Collecting stories, parables and proverbs like the early church and first Franciscans is how we form life in Christ together. Proverbs call together a circle of people who add their personal angles to and applications of a big truth. “What is it?” and “Who am I?” are not the only questions! “Who is God? To what is Jesus calling? Who are WE?” are basic questions for forming new life in Christ.

Goodness is not found alone. It usually comes in a way that seems cumbersome to our normality. Solitude always leads to love. And love leads to goodness —  both for us and for others. Love of and for others, naturally leads to cumbersome mapping,  and irreducible proverbs in the 1200’s and in the 2000’s. I’m glad Jesus is getting us and our brothers and sisters all over the world to risk the miracle of tangible, practical, cumbersome love in an age when it is hard to find.

Radicals Discerning their Direction

Wednesday night cells at BW

Getting from “here” to “there” is always difficult, especially when it is a group that is going! A healthy process of dialogue not only helps us, as individuals, get somewhere, speaking the truth in love helps the whole church cohere and move together. Discerning our map every year is an ambitious process of engaging people at a deep level of personal responsibility, group discernment and covenant action. We are blessed with covenant members and devoted friends who have personal care for our goals and who create an atmosphere of healthy dialogue.

A basic reason for seeking discernment and making a map.

We need discernment in the middle of fear and oppression.

The wicked flee though no one pursues,
but the righteous are as bold as a lion.

When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers,
but a ruler with discernment and knowledge maintains order.

A ruler who oppresses the poor
is like a driving rain that leaves no crops.
(Proverbs 28:1-3)

All these proverbs stand on their own, of course. But it is interesting to note how they came to be collected; in this case, I think it is very telling. On the one hand we are dealing with fear in the first proverb. On the other hand we are dealing with oppression in the third. That seems to be the general state of the population in the Philadelphia region – fearful and oppressed. In the middle of that condition is discernment. When wisdom rules, community can flourish; otherwise, we are all our own kings and queens fighting it out.

If the upcoming election can be understood, I think it might be safe to say that the oppressors are promising that we will all be kings and queens and we have nothing to fear. I question their discernment. Watching the candidates work makes it even more important to be an alternative to what they are producing and to learn the ways of life in Jesus. Our approach to discerning our direction every year is all about being that alternative.

Seven reasons for discerning our map the way we do.

1) We map the way we do because we believe the voice of the Spirit is heard in the body of Christ. Direction should not be set in a board room but in our meeting rooms. We either learn discernment or die at the hands of the data. It is not that anyone really wants to Google their lives, but we are being trained to do so – to not think, to not listen to the Spirit, but to listen to the most expert person in the world, virtually. The Apostle Paul was so exasperated with one of his church plantings that he said: “Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?” (1 Corinthians 6:5). We have to keep listening for God; hearing his voice in the other believers is a crucial way to do that.

Tuesday cells ranking the brainstorm

2) We map the way we do because we need to elevate the dignity of each individual as they presently are, right now. Everyone’s voice has value. Everyone matters and their power should be honored:  “To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).  We think people have the God-given capacity to discern together, as the body, at a very deep level. Everyone has the Spirit of God and they should offer what they have to our common understanding and we should all listen. Whether they are right or wrong, whether we think we should follow their lead or not, listening is the right thing to do and makes us people after God’s own, listening heart.

3) We don’t want to encourage people to merely follow the leader. We want to produce leaders of other people. We are always working out 2 Timothy 2:2. Paul tells his protégé Timothy: “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” Every believer is entrusted with the truth about Jesus and inspired by His Spirit, so they are, by nature, an influencer who leads others to know and follow. Our mapping process is another exercise in deepening that capacity. It requires us to resist leaving it up to someone else and taking the luxury to complain about what we aren’t doing.

4) Likewise, we need to build a trust system of partners. The leaders may have good sense, but if the body does not own a common vision, their leadership isn’t going to make much of a difference. Our pastors think of our work as mainly facilitating what God is doing among us. We’re not just trying to get people to do what we want. We all have to own what God is doing, not just the leadership team. And I think that in order to own what we are doing, we need to have a chance to change it. We all have to drive the car at some level. We all need ways that we connect at a level of trust or we will sink into sitting in meetings and consuming church products, fearful and oppressed.

5) Community is our strong suit for evangelism. One of the main problems the people of today have with the church is that we don’t seem to be able to get along. We avoid conflict or have unhealthy conflict. Our discerning process teaches us how to have conflict in a healthy way. To be cells forming congregations in a region-wide network, we have to master loving communication. Creating a network might be one of the weirdest things about us, but it is also one of the most attractive. We have to keep explaining it to our neighbors by how we act. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”(John 13:35). Coming up with the map helps us answer the question: “Still love each other?”

One of the groups among the Thursday cells and their neat list

6) Discerning for the map teaches a basic missional skill— how to help people get peoplefrom here to there. It is tempting to think faith and service just “happen.” But it is, in fact, very hard to get anything done in the world – especially when it is resisting Jesus! Mapping helps us all figure out how to make the most of what we have and to direct our energies where we should make the most difference. We each need to keep growing and changing and so does everyone we know. Mapping helps us answer the question: “What does God want us to do to get where we are called to go?”

7) Discerning for the map teaches a basic conservation skill – how do we develop and maintain the capacity to do what we have the opportunity to do?  Mapping has a “farming” aspect to it. We have to assess how much people power we have to extend our “acreage.” We need to understand what it takes to fulfill the goals we set. We map because we want to make sure that our basic structure — cells and PMs — is still intact and makes sense. We map because goals motivate us to invest what we have achieved in what God has given us to do next.

I think we are pretty successful at discerning. Our mapping meetings last week encouraged me and inspired me! Themes emerged as different groups met each night. Brilliant, spiritual people revealed themselves and shared their gifts. People felt conflicted and threatened and dealt with that. People felt loved and affirmed and celebrated that. It made me think that authentic Christianity had a good chance of surviving in the middle of fear and oppression.