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Changing from the Bottom Up

Richard Rohr has fascinated me for many years. I read his daily meditations almost every day. This morning I found myself drawn in to his Introduction to the 2017 Daily Meditations theme in this 8-minute video called “From the Bottom Up.

During the video he references his newest book The Divine Dance and quotes Thomas Kuhn regarding paradigm shifts. One of the reasons that I resonate so much with Rohr is because so much of what he says correlates with the training I received in the Ph.D. program at Luther in Missional Leadership. His comments on the paradigm shift reminded me of this sketch I drew in 2014.

Let me unpack this drawing.

Read it left to right as a timeline. The left side shows society in a moment of stability where conventional wisdom on how reality functions is the dominant view. Everyone who’s anyone knows right from wrong and nobody questions it.

Until somebody does.

There’s that one person who takes the time to really look at how things function and is willing to ask big questions. The classic example is how Copernicus was willing to observe the “wobbles” in the celestial spheres and question the geocentric universe and propose a heliocentric universe.

At first, this new idea is heresy and the proponent is marginalized, at best, or executed at worst. Yet, his or her work is noticed by the next generation of intellectuals and research continues to explore the hypotheses generated by the “heresy.”

Eventually, the new, radical ideas are taught in the universities to the people who are being groomed to be the next public leaders and power-brokers. The new thinking raises eyebrows among the establishment and intellectual resistance and countermeasures are engaged.

While the radical intellectuals are building a case for the new idea, society encounters a series of crisis events (politically, culturally, environmentally) that challenge the conventional wisdom and bring the “wobbles” to the forefront of public discourse.

At that critical moment, the public leaders, trained in the new idea, step forward and present the new idea as the solution to the current crisis.

This is when the conflict that has been merely intellectual bickering suddenly bursts onto the public scene in a bold way.

Those leaders who have been trained in the conventional wisdom, and have much to lose if the status quo is disrupted, become staunch, conservative defenders of “how we’ve always done it or understood it.” The leaders who see the new idea as the better understanding of reality and the path to fix the problem become radical, sometimes violent, adversaries of the status quo.

Notice that most of this conversation takes place amongst the intellectuals and power-brokers in society. When the conflict bursts into the public discourse, it usually takes the average citizen completely by surprise and causes great panic across the general population.

Why we need voices like Rohr

Notice one more piece to the drawing. There are two groups on either side of the dotted line in the middle. I call these two groups “generous listeners.” The only way that society can navigate the paradigm shifts that continually happen is if both sides–the conservatives and liberals–enter into a space of generous listening. This is a posture of willingness to genuinely hear what the “other side” has to say and be humble enough to admit where one’s own perspective is limited and/or flawed.

I believe Rohr presents this spirit. He presents Jesus in this light as well. Lutherans would call this The Theology of the Cross.

It is hard to deny that we live in a moment of massive paradigm shifts at almost every level. The Modern age of the Enlightenment is dying and the Church that was crafted in the Modern, Imperial Age is dying with it. We live in the time-between-times which is fraught with turbulent, discontinuous change. This is not easy for anyone.

I hope to be a missional leader who can invite people into a contemplative path of Spirit-led change. That is why I will continue to read leaders like Richard Rohr and Dallas Willard to help me learn how to follow Jesus in the Kingdom that is “at hand,” from the bottom up.

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