“Kindness eases change Love quiets fear” ― Octavia E. Butler
In a lot of my classes and work at Guilford College, I talk about renewal. I think that much of my work is focused around renewal, not because of a failure in the institution but because change is constant, change is inevitable, and with each new shift in leadership, change can be dramatic. These shifts unfold within the larger community and political systems in coordinated and inevitable. Therefore, some intentional approach to renewal is needed and necessary.
Without renewal we get stuck in the past. Without renewal we devalue all that has been done before us. We need someways of approach change-work that helps us hold these various pieces of the puzzle together.
Regardless of what you draw on when you are working within a community, large or small, you will draw on something. We all have our own desires, ethics, and biases. If we’re not paying attention and being intentional with what we do and how we approach this work, it is very possible that we can do more harm than good. Secondly, while it is important to be aware of the things we bring to this work, it is equally important to know what the communities we are in or are working with bring. What are their own contexts, histories, biases, successes and failures? How will all of this play into the final mix?
I was re-watching The Last Jedi with the family yesterday and the scene with Yoda and Luke at the Sacred Tree with all the old texts hit me like a ton of bricks. Yoda is totally convergent, wanting to see the tradition renewed and remixed, while Luke is seen here clinging to “traditionalism.” This reveals an interesting twist, that often it is the one student who believes they are the ones with the responsibility of protecting tradition who turn out to be guilty of leading it towards a slow death. Luke is rebuked here by Yoda as essentially policing/protecting the tradition in a way that will kill it off. Yoda points out that the tradition can actually live without any of the “trimmings and trappings” that Luke has associated with it. I think this scene sums up the key ideas of a convergent model of renewal beautifully.
W hen we think about renewal and “rebuilding” our faith communities, practices, and programs we are a part of, it is important that we focus on the strengths and places of life so that we are building on that which is most alive, rather than spending so much time or focus on the pathologies and weaknesses of the places we find ourselves. I have found that these weaknesses and pathologies persist whether you give them energy or not, but containing them within a framework of strengths helps the community not become overwhelmed by the issues.
One of the tools I have found extremely valuable for doing this is the social model of Appreciative Inquiry, a model of renewal that I have had the privilege of walking a number of communities through. Appreciative inquiry is a participatory change process that helps a community focus on the life that is already within the community. While there is a whole process to Appreciative Inquiry, it all starts with the kinds of questions you ask. A.I. puts a lot of care into the designing of questions that are meant to stimulate passion and gratefulness for the community, in order to draw out the kinds of insights that might help us to build upon the strengths.
For instance, A.I. asks questions such as:
What brought you to this community and what keeps you here?
What are three dreams you have for this community?
In your opinion, what is the best part of this community? What is the core?
What do you bring to the community – this could be something that is common knowledge or things that people may not know about?
Recently, I had the opportunity to ask these questions as a part of a series of Sunday morning sessions I led on the topic of renewing faith traditions at a Quaker meeting. The class was a combination of some of my work and Brent Bill’s great pamphlet: A Modest Proposal for The Revitalization of the Quaker Message. There were about 20-25 of us who worked through this reading and topic over the course of about 5 weeks.
I think the conversation was worthwhile and would highly recommend Friends wanting to have a discussion around renewal of their meetings to reading through Bill’s pamphlet. As a part of the discussion series, I also put together an eBook with some of my thinking on the subject that can be found here. I think both resources work well together.