Changing the world by relationship…

I read this today via the Emergent Village ‘Minimergent’ bulletin…

Despite current ads and slogans, the world doesn’t change one person at a time. It changes as networks of relationships form among people who discover they share a common cause and vision of what’s possible. This is good news for those of us intent on changing the world and creating a positive future. Rather than worry about critical mass, our work is to foster critical connections. We don’t need to convince large numbers of people to change; instead, we need to connect with kindred spirits. Through these relationships, we will develop the new knowledge, practices, courage, and commitment that lead to broad-based change.

Read entire article at Faith Collaboratory by clicking the names below.

Margaret Wheatley & Deborah Frieze

The article make interesting reading as it was written a few years ago (2006) when the language of ’emergence’ was still fresh and exciting. We are part of a different time now. The article suggested an emerging process that goes something like this-

Berkana has developed a four stage model that catalyzes connections as the means to achieve global level change: Name, Connect, Nourish, Illuminate (see Appendix). We focus on discovering pioneering efforts and naming them as such. We then connect these efforts to other similar work globally. We nourish this network in many ways, but most essentially through creating opportunities for learning and sharing experiences and shifting into communities of practice. We also illuminate these pioneering efforts so that many more people will learn from them.

The article then suggested that the next stage would for communities of practice to develop an proliferate.

Is this what is happening?

Well- I think so…


Dunbar’s number and Facebooking…

I was reminded today of Dunbar’s number– the theoretical numerical limit of people that we can maintain meaningful relationship with- relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person in the group.

The suggestion made is that for groups to be cohesive and integrated beyond this number, then increasingly rules and enforced norms have to be used. Dunbar proposed this number as a result of studying primate groups.

The number has been argued about in anthropological circles, but is somewhere between 100-150.

Strangely this number corresponds to the average number of Facebook friends (I have around 120 I think. Michaela has many more, but then she is a very sociable kind of monkey.) I have written before about how Facebook, useful and clever though it is, can reduce communication to a kind of cyber-autism.

The other figure that is relevant though is the number of people with whom you can sustain intimate, deeper friendship- our close community. This is a much smaller number- usually thought to be between 5 and 10.

Even if these figures are more or less accurate (and we humans form a broad bell curve on just about everything) then so what?

If these numbers are a feature of the limitations of our cerebral cortex as Dunbar suggested, then it would mean that we humans (who are above all things SOCIAL animals) are at our best in small groups.

There are clear evolutionary and anthropological implications for this- but of course, I am interested too in the theological ones. These are the things that seemed important to me-

Jesus called us to live in communities, where we might learn to practice the mysterious and challenging ways of love.

And although this love was never intended to be restricted to our small groups, we simply can not be all things to everyone. Start with were you are, and seek to live graciously and generously. Accepting that you will fail.

And there will be some who we are called towards deeper relationship with- soul friendship.

This kind of relationship requires so much more than informational exchange, status updates and Mafia wars games.

It needs flesh.

Lessons on community and theology from the Africans…

Following on from earlier posts digging into the issue of community, I have been thinking about Ubuntu.

No, not the open source software package (although it may well be good- anyone using it?)

Ubuntu derives from a Bantu word from Southern Africa, but seems to be regarded as describing a classical African world view. It interested me because of this man

Desmond Tutu- an eccentric, playful, humble statesman whose way of following after Jesus will be remembered in history. For him, the idea of Ubuntu entered into his understanding of theology- in this way-

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.

We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 2008.

Another quote I liked was this one-

Louw (1998) suggests that the concept of ubuntu defines the individual in their several relationships with others, and stresses the importance of ubuntu as a religious concept. He states that while the Zulu maxim umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (“a person is a person through (other) persons”) may have no apparent religious connotations in the context of Western society, in an African context it suggests that the person one is to become by behaving with humanity is an ancestor worthy of respect or veneration. Those who uphold the principle of ubuntu throughout their lives will, in death, achieve a unity with those still living.

Dirk Louw- from here

Here is the man himself-

Is there a lesson here for us in the west during our ongoing post modern transition into… whatever we will become? Bill Clinton thinks so-

What interests me is not so much the large scale, international challenges of this word- but rather the small scale, individual person to person way of understanding it. Because this seems to me to be of crucial importance to us. As a culture, we value individualism, personal choice, self actualisation, the democratisation of every minute of life. These things may be good, but like many good things, too much of them may well damage our health.

Because the push for these things can make a god out of ‘me’.

And it can so easily build barriers and create distance between the ‘we’.

How might this be happening? I would contend that increasingly we communicate via machines. We collectivise on line, we form ‘community’ that has no real cost as it can dissolve at the click of a computer key.

We followers of Jesus have a different calling on our lives- characterised by the word ‘love’ and the fruiting and flowering of the Spirit- not just in our narrow lives, but in our relationships.

Perhaps our calling in this changing time is to rediscover a simpler, older way of living, characterised by Ubuntu.

I loved this quote from a recent TV programme about Desmond Tutu-

” I am not an optimist, but I am a prisoner of hope…”

Amen Bishop, amen.