Tuesday, March 31, 2015

peterborough dialogues

I don’t know much about Chaos Theory. Except that it is a theory that accounts for the random events that give theologians a headache trying to fit into their categories. And that Chaos Theory  pushes past the popular belief that “everything happens for a reason”. Chaos Theory holds that while patterns – many patterns - exist in the universe (and in hindsight our meaning making minds are quick to connect the dots of random events as meaningful) there still persists the fact that – shit happens.

The kind of shit that makes god weep. The kind of shit that can fertilize new seeds of an idea and make them grow.

So, if god is not in control (a huge statement to make I know – let’s talk) then the big question is “why should we try to be?”.

With some fancy media-making, free food, and warm welcomes, a small team of idealists manage to gather a few dozen social activists for a series of five four-hour conversations over ten weeks.

The Peterborough Dialogues is, from what I can tell so far, an exercise in chaos. Hosted by the staff at Axiom News, they’ve opened up their workspace to the question...

How Can We Create a Local Living Oasis in a Global Storm of Shifting Sands, and
What if We Could Awaken Our Deepest Gifts and Possibilities to Cultivate A Resilient, Thriving Peterborough?
Now, I happen to be a big fan of chaos.  It has been observed by people who’ve known me since public school and people who’ve known me for only a year or so – that if I encounter too much order I soon get to work mixing things up. Some call this “shit-disturbing”. I prefer the term “catalyst”.  To break through the barriers and systems that we fear-full humans create - in the name of the god of security - is to discover the god who makes what’s wild and free.

God (who else to blame?) has given me a lifelong thirst for something that only rarely exists. I hunger for what I’ve only had wee tastes of. And so I pursue my heart’s content.

Is an authentic, welcoming, diverse, community gathered around the precepts of common dignity instead of divisive dogmas, cooperative economics instead of win-lose competition, possible?

Is there a community with room enough –at its centre - for children and elders, abled and differently-abled?

Is there such a place where my faults might find compassion and my gifts might find a challenge worthy of my sweat - in exchange for just enough security (but not too much) to keep me focused on the common good instead of my bottom line?
Is there a place where peace is defined not by keeping the “others” at bay but by our capacity to welcome the stranger; both celebrating the discovery of differences and discerning the common ground of our sustenance?

Can it be found? Where can such a community grow from?

Chaos Theory points to a self-organizing universe. Nature, when left alone, quickly finds its cycles. What looks like a jungle to a farmer is actually god’s garden. What looks like a disaster to humans in control of their environment (a power outage for example) is actually an opportunity for community-making.      

The art of community-making just might begin with chaos. Instead of agendas that call us to control the crisis – poverty and corporate greed, environment and consumptive addictions, violence in all its many manifestations – what about calling us together without an agenda?

Without an agenda we can be our selves first. Without an agenda we can – perhaps – relax and discover. Without an agenda might our curiosity, our imaginations, our best, common, needs and hopes emerge from the hunger, the thirst, the heart’s desire?

When I make plans with my own team, we so often push aside such open-ended questioning - to pursue instead the compromised practical option our more immediate, seemingly urgent, planning comes up with.

Parker Palmer refers to this as “Functional Atheism”. A third shadow common among leaders is “functional atheism,” the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us. This is the unconscious, unexamined conviction that if anything decent is going to happen here, we are the ones who must make it happen – a conviction held even by people who talk a good game about God.”

Peterborough Dialogues (at this point I’m guessing/hoping) is an opportunity to come together - not as a team with an agenda to accomplish- but as curious and the hopeful citizens first. Might nature do its thing and integrate us into its natural rhythmic harmonies?

Peterborough Dialogues holds for me an enticing opportunity. To find kinship among citizens, co-workers, neighbours. To find – within a carefully crafted container – an invitation to play, to create, to be our best most vulnerable selves.

In such a jungle a divine nudge of imagination occurs. By listening, a divine whispered chorus might emerge. We are led to what’s already there alive and growing. The nourishing roots. The healing leaves. The fruit that is food and fruit that is not for us.

And then we catch sight of the elusive community. There in the midst of the thorny bramble beyond our reach. With long ears and big eyes and a heart beating through fur, it keeps still. Too wild to let us get hold and kill it. To quick to let us get hold and farm it. It waits til we turn our attention to one another and it disappears – maybe to lay eggs for an easter morning ritual pagan-fun, sacred-new, and profoundly non-religious.

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