Another great chunk of wisdom from Margaret Wheatley’s Perseverance speaks to me about what we do as pioneers and people working in mission on the edges of society:
People who persevere walk the undulating path between hope and fear, success and failure, praise and blame, love and anger.
The difficult path often feels razor sharp and dangerous, and it is. Scientists call it the edge of chaos. It’s the border created by the meeting of two opposing states. Neither is desirable. In fact each must be avoided, no matter how enticing or familiar it appears. Possibility only lives on the edge.
Security is not what creates life. Safety, safe havens, guarantees of security – none of these give life its capacities. Newness, creativity, imagination – these live on the edge. So does presence.
Presence is the only way to walk the edge of chaos. We have to be as nimble as the wind and awake as a high wire artist, sensitive to the slightest shift of wind, circumstances, emotions. We may find this hire wire exhausting at first, but there comes a time when we rejoice in our skilfulness. We learn to know the edge, to keep our balance, and even dance a bit at incalculable heights.
Walking the edge never stops being dangerous. At any moment, when we’re tired, overwhelmed, fed up, sick, we can forget where we are and get ourselves into trouble. We can lapse into despair or anger. Or we can get so caught up in our own enthusiasm and passion that we lose any sense of perspective or timing, alienate friends and crash in an exhausted mess.
The edge is where life happens. But let’s notice where we are and not lose our balance.”
This is one of the best things I’ve ever read in terms of describing the experience of pioneering, on the margins of church and the margins of society. (NB There is a debate ongoing via FB and twitter at present about the use of the terms pioneering and mission and their overtones, but for now in the absence of new or clearer language, I continue to use them.)
On the edges, it’s easy to become hugely frustrated at our inability to make change happen fast enough. The church, whichever part of it we intersect, can seem like a monolith that won’t move. The people we work with can at times seem entrenched in suffering, much of it structural or generational in nature, and our political system can seem to generate muppets with soundbites and no solutions to the huge scale of the problems. Liberation can seem further off than ever. We can rage against everything around us and our creativity disappears as overwhelm and anger fuse.
On the other hand, when we are attentive and engaged we can notice shifts and catch glimpses of a new light and like a dog following a scent, be off chasing the idea down rabbit holes, taking risks to track down what we may have seen. Most of us have no companions for this phase and we have to get used to the loneliness of an idea incubating inside us which can make us feel like an outsider. We are mostly going to be hovering around the edges of orthodoxy as we explore theologically and try to duck under the wire of received wisdom to detect what the Spirit is stirring around us.
The answer to life on the edge is to keep our eyes wide open, be aware of the conditions we are working in and how they are impacting us. Be kind to ourselves and others, rest and have fun. Don’t beat ourselves up about what we can’t yet change – the desire for change does not emit from us but from God, the reconciler of all things. If he has put it in us, given us eyes to see a better way, it is for a reason and a season of birth might be on its way. It’s good to know our weaknesses, how we support and care for ourselves, what makes for life and laughter, so we don’t become dour and leaden and become dangerous as we stretch to grab the trapeze as it swings by.