The adventure of tentin

compost capitalism

The occupations of Occupy London are, according to their website, “about social justice, real democracy and challenging the unsustainable financial system that punishes the many and privileges the few”. But the juxtaposition of the protesters’ camp and St Paul’s is challenging those of us on the inside of the Church of England wearing the vest of vested interests.


saint paul's [1]The juxtaposition highlights the challenge that has faced Christians down the centuries. Juxtaposed is the soft and the hard, the fixed and the flimsy, the playfulness of the tent and the seriousness of established tradition, the movement and the institution. These contrasts are not new. Paul, to whom the Cathedral is dedicated, was, as Giles Fraser pointed out, a tent maker and missioner of no fixed abode. Tonight a friend who is beginning to explore the Christian faith emailed me her puzzlement that “God and religion don’t seem to match”. What has been happening in London seems to be another replay of this mismatch. (Is it either the grace of God, or prophetic imagination and energy that makes more of a match?)


capitalism is a kind of slaveryMadeleine Bunting has written of the spatial aspect of the paradigm shift represented by the protest. For her, the protest is about “seeding questions in thousands of minds, shaking certainties and orthodoxies so that there is space for new alternatives.” It is about “taking key symbolic public space … to use it for conviviality, living, learning and participation.” To me that sounds exciting, and something which Christians should be engaging with. In fact, it represents the very heart and aspiration of Christian practice. Conviviality, living, learning and participation are fundamental to the intention of Christian liturgy.


The British Jewish community seems to have responded to the protest positively. In the statement they have published today, they “welcome the movement’s openness, pluralism and commitment to imagining a more just world.” Their statement includes a reminder that “the Jewish heritage includes a long tradition of reshaping society to help the least fortunate, from the teaching of prophets like Amos and Jeremiah, to Rabbi Hillel, to modern figures such as Abraham Joshua Heschel and Naomi Klein.” The church shares the same Jewish heritage, but the juxtaposition and apparent conflict of tent and Cathedral suggests the ease with which an institution can forget its origin as a movement of liberation.

institutional crisis

We’re in an accelerating, global epidemic of institutional failure … [with] organizations increasingly unable to achieve the purpose for which they were created, yet continuing to expand …
schools that can’t teach
universities far from universal
corporations that can neither cooperate nor compete, only consolidate
unhealthy health-care systems
welfare systems in which noone fares well
farming systems that destroy soil and poison food
families far from familial
police that can’t enforce the law
judicial systems without justice
governments that can’t govern
economies that can’t economize …

Dee Hock – 1999 – Birth of the chaordic age – page 28.

>Dog nose

>Dog nose macro close up

With ears pricked and nose to the ground, dogs create a mental map which we can never know. Dee Hock asks the question: “how many ways of knowing are there which escape human perception?” His probing of organisation is spurred on by such considerations – together with the awareness that institutional failure will continue to escalate, and the prediction of social carnage and the development of even more dictatorial institutions in response to that carnage.

Organisations, organisers, institutions would benefit from following the dog’s nose, in realising that there are many ways of knowing, that progress isn’t along straight lines. Scratch beneath life’s surface and we see a totally different reality which defies the truths of our mechanistic planning. We know in our heart of hearts that “life isn’t that simple” and we become more intolerant of institutions and responses that pretend that it is. Hock writes (after he scratches the forest debris under his do’s nose):

Billions upon billions of self-organising interactions are occurring second by second in the square yard of soil, each inter-connecing, relating, creating,and shaping self and others. Every particle is inseparable interacting and relating to others, and they still to others, unto the remote reaches of the universe and beyond – beyond knowing – but not beyond awareness, respect and love. The mystery of it all is overwhelmingly beautiful. Birth of the Chaordic Age. page 288.

Blackbirds and Hock

I am back with Dee Hock this month as I reread his book ‘Birth of the Chaordic Age‘. What a treat that is for me. Dee Hock has spent his life considering these important questions:

  1. Why are organisations, everywhere, whether political, commercial, or social, increasingly unable to manage their affairs?
  2. Why are individuals, everywhere, increasingly in conflict with and alienated from the organisations of which they are part?
  3. Why are society and the biosphere increasingly in disarray?

He contrasts the ways of nature with the ways of institutions. He describes his own childhood discovery of the lack of generosity and respect within institutions by telling the story of a disastrous event in church in which he was scapegoated for the spilling of the communion (and he was not guilty!) He writes:

What is this chasm between how institutions profess to function and how they actually do; between what they claim to do for people and what they actually do to them? What makes people behave in the name of institutions in ways they would never behave in their own name? Church, school, government, business – all the same…. Nothing in nature feels like church or school. There’s no ‘principal’ blackbird pecking away at the rest of the flock. There’s no Super frog telling the others how to croak. There’s no teacher tree lining up the saplings and telling them how to grow….

 Nothing in the early years prepared me for the shock of institutions. With school and church came crushing confinement and unrelenting boredom … It was as though everyone began to shed wholeness and humanity at the door, along with coats and overshoes, and, one by one, to cut the threads of connection to the inner spirit, the world of nature and the humanity of others.

Hock’s response was the creation of VISA for which he is renowned and from which he turned to work on land savaged by over-cropping from a culture of command and control. He translates his learning from nature into his thinking about organisation, and the “birth of the chaordic age”.

Tyranny is tyranny no matter how petty, how well rationalised, how unconscious, or how well intended. It is that to which we have persuaded ourselves for centuries, in thousands of subtle ways, day after day, month after month, year after year. It need not be so, ever. It need not be so now. It cannot be for ever. (p24)

Tyranny’s culture is reversed, nature is respected and chaordic organisation is celebrated as Hock reports that “soil is building as thousands of gophers, mice and moles work assiduously carrying grass underground and dirt to the surface. Beneath us, billions of worms, ants, beetles, and other creatures till the soil round the clock. Trillions of microscopic creatures live, eat, excrete and die beneath my feet, fulfilling their destiny and mine as well, just as surely I fulfil theirs.” (p21)

In my view, we are at that precise point in time when a four-hundred-year-old age is rattling in its deathbed and another struggling to be born. A shifting of consciousness, culture, society and institutions enormously greater than the world has ever experienced. Ahead, the possibility of liberty, community and ethics such as the world has never known, and a harmony with nature, with one another and with the divine intelligence such as the world has ever dreamed.

Unfortunately, ahead lies equal possibility of increasing institutional failure, enormous human and ecological carnage, and regression to even more mechanistic, tyrannical concepts of control, which, in turn, would have to collapse with even more carnage before chaordic institutions could emerge. It matters not a whit whether such regression and tyranny is in the hands of political, commercial or social institutions, or by what ideology we label them. In the end, it will come to the same.

We do not have an environmental problem. We do not have an education problem. We do not have a health care problem, a welfare problem, a political problem, an economic problem, a peace problem or a population problem. At bottom, we have an institutional problem, and until we deal with it we will struggle in vain with the all the symptoms.

Dee Hock

>The Information Age (2)

>Noise becomes data when it transcends the purely sensual and has cognititve pattern.
Data becomes information when it can be related to other information in a way that adds meaning.
Information becomes knowledge when it is integrated with other information in a form useful for deciding, acting or composing new knowledge.
Knowledge becomes understanding when related to tother knowledge in a manner useful in conceiving, anticipating, evaluating and judging.
Understanding becomes wisdom when informed by purpose, ethics, principle, memory of the past, and projection into the future.
Dee Hock comments that more primitive societies had a far higher ratio of wisodom and understanding to knowledge and date. They hadn’t got much in the way of data but loads of wisdom. On the other hand our society is high on data and information “but understands very little of what it knows”, leaving us with “separatist, linear, mechanistic institutions, confined with our ever more isolated specialities, constricted by ever narrowing perspectives.”
So, it looks like we are stuck between a rock and a hard place – institutions not fit for purpose in our information age and no time or inclination to understand all the information of our age. Cue – theologian and sage.