The ins and outs of learning

It is important to recognize that mastering any of the disciplines requires effort on both the levels of understanding the principles and following the practices, It is tempting to think that just because one understands certain principles one has “learned” about the discipline. This is the familiar trap of confusing intellectual understanding with learning. Learning always involves new understanding and new behaviours, “thinking” and “doing”. This is the reason for distinguishing principles from practices. Both are vital.

Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline p 384. This quote from Peter Senge (picked up from Friday mailing) emphasises the ins and outs of learning. We can indeed take in many things in terms of understanding, but there needs to be outcome in terms of disciplined practice, through which we learn more and better.

Generation chasm

You can tell a culture is in trouble when its elders walk across the street to avoid meeting its youth.

Quoted by Meg Wheatley in Finding our Way and attributed to Malidoma Some from Burkino Fasso and Parker Palmer. Meg Wheatley’s has written a very appreciative and moving essay Maybe you will be the ones: to my sons and their friends.

Giving hope and changing lives

“This task [of giving hope and changing lives] moves beyond what the city council or national government can do, not least when budgets are being reduced drastically. It will require the combined energy, resources and wisdom of everyone to address some of the fundamental economic and social issues we face, and to protect those who are most vulnerable in our communities.

“I am aware that I am taking a leap of faith that we want to promote another’s fulfilment at the same time as our own. As we seek the welfare of the whole city, may we know that we are committed to Giving Hope and Changing Lives when, in our relations with our fellow human beings, distant respect moves to deep appreciation and mere tolerance becomes full participation.”

David Urqhuart, Bishop of Birmingham, writing in the report Giving Hope Changing Lives on the future development of Birmingham, as reported in the Chamberlain Files. Jenny Gillies brought this to my attention in a tweet @revjennyg.

The work of forgiveness

Forgiveness doesn’t change the past, but it releases us from the power of the past. Forgiveness doesn’t rewrite history. But it prevents our histories from asphyxiating us. Fundamentally, forgiveness transforms our past from an enemy to a friend, from a horror-show of shame to a storehouse of wisdom. In the absence of forgiveness we’re isolated from our past, trying pitifully to bury or deny or forget or destroy the many things that haunt and overshadow and plague and torment us. Forgiveness doesn’t change these things, but it does change their relationship to us. No longer do they imprison us or pursue us or surround us or stalk us. Now they accompany us, deepen us, teach us, train us. No longer do we hate them or curse them or resent them or begrudge them. Now we find acceptance, understanding, enrichment, even gratitude for them. That’s the work of forgiveness. It’s about the transformation of the prison of the past.

Sam Wells from his Easter Day Sermon 2013

Spring Learning

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In my own life, as winters turn into spring, I find it not only hard to cope with mud but also hard to credit the small harbingers of larger life to come, hard to hope until the outcome is secure. Spring teaches me to look more carefully for the green stems of possibility; for the intuitive hunch that may turn into a larger insight, for the glance or touch that may thaw a frozen relationship, for the stranger’s act of kindness that makes the world seem hospitable again.

Parker J. PalmerLet Your Life Speak

from Pope Francis’s first Chrism Mass sermon

“We need to “go out”, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters …. giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all.

A priest who seldom goes out of himself [herself], who anoints little …. misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his [her] priestly heart. Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. ….

It is not a bad thing that reality itself forces us to “put out into the deep”, where what we are by grace is clearly seen as pure grace, out into the deep of the contemporary world, where the only thing that counts is “unction” – not function – and the nets which overflow with fish are those cast solely in the name of the One in whom we have put our trust: Jesus.”

These quotes are taken from a sermon preached by Pope Francis on Maundy Thursday 2013. The full text of Pope Francis’s sermon is here.

Big ain’t beautiful

Richard Beck, in Experimental Theology, quotes William James:

“I am against bigness and greatness in all their forms, and with the invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, stealing in through the crannies of the world like so many soft rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, and yet rending the hardest monuments of man’s pride, if you give them time. The bigger the unit you deal with, the hollower, the more brutal, the more mendacious is the life displayed. So I am against all big organizations as such, national ones first and foremost; against all big successes and big results; and in favor of the eternal forces of truth which always work in the individual and immediately unsuccessful way, under-dogs always, till history comes, after they are long dead, and puts them on top.” William James

Richard Beck’s blog is well worth following. He has helpfully organised his blog into series of posts. One of them is A Walk with William JamesRichard regards James as one who anticipated the leading ideas of the emergent church movement as well as the “greatest American psychologist”.

I am increasingly struck by the big significance of the small, and the tiny significance of the big. The large institutions are increasingly seen as disappointing. It is the tiniest interactions which constitute nature and these are becoming our trusted teachers.  This subversion was already realised in Jesus. His subjects included a mustard seed, a small child, a raven. His relationships were in the margins of the alienating big society.

In chaotic times

TU ES PETRUS!!!

I know that leaders today are faced with enormous challenges, most of them not of their own doing. As times grow more chaotic, as people question the meaning (and meaninglessness) of this life, people are clamouring for their leaders to save and rescue them…. People press their leaders to do anything to end the uncertainty, to make things better, to create stability. Even leaders who would never want to become dictators, those devoted to servant leadership, walk into this trap. They want to help, so they exert more control over the disorder. They try to create safety, to insulate people from the realities of change. They try to give answers to dilemnas that have no answers.

Today is the inauguration of Pope Francis’s papacy. We pray for him. This quote on the temptations and spirituality of leadership in times of chaos (all times) is from Meg Wheatley’s Finding our Way. It struck me as helpful on a day when many will be thinking through issues of leadership.