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FJ3: Organic vs. Mechanical Thinking
Written by soulster   
Saturday, 08 September 2007

Smoke StackThis is the third part of the “Following Jesus” series.

Up to this point, I’ve discussed the problem of following Jesus and our various possible responses in “The 500-Pound Gorilla“. In “The Starting Point“, I also pointed out a fundamental shift from Ecclesiology >> Missiology >> Christology to Christology >> Missiology >> Ecclesiology that undergirds all I am going to say about following Jesus. Now it’s time to get into some of the fundamental changes required to “unstick us” in our crisis of discipleship: Am I really following Jesus?

During the time of Jesus’ earthly mission, people lived a very rural, tribal life style. From the dawn of human civilization until then, man had lived with a constant insecurity towards a world far beyond his control. Before scientific advancement gave him knowledge and technology gave him comfort and safety, he created mystic answers to why things happened — placing most control into the hands of spiritual forces that dwelt in mystery and to which he could only beg for mercy.

The MachineBut our story does not take place in this world. The birth of the modern age gave rise to science and technology that tamed the world and revealed much that had been shrouded in the fog of superstition and ignorance. Humanities’ creative genius blossomed as this revolution educated the masses and employed them in rebuilding the world into man’s domain. We built machines to control every aspect of life, and cultural machines to control every aspect of man. And now, far into the modern age, we live in a world very much under our control, accept for the occasional intrusion of an “act of God” beyond our current capacity to overcome.

In such a safe and well-managed world, we have made one critical error. Our eyes are filled with the glory of our own achievement, our own innovation, and in arrogance we have declared that the Creator creates like us and his creation is like ours. We assume the whole universe to be one great machine, full of wiring gears and cogs. Living things are the same — components and mechanisms ticking and clicking like a clock. We’ve become so choked by these over simplifications that we now explain everything from a child’s laugh to the great cultures of the world as a collection of only so many moving parts.

This mechanical worldview encounters the world and interprets experience in the following way:

  1. Observe from a detached position
  2. Simplify and formulate how it works
  3. Manipulate it based on the formula

When applied to the mission of Jesus, this worldview stands back and speculates about the people that are the “targets” or the Gospel. It tries to identify their issues, learn their likes, figure out their stories, etc. It’s building a formula so it can push the people’s buttons when the time comes and manipulate them into what is supposes is the Kingdom of God. What happens is one-sided and partial gospels that create one-sided and partial Christians fit only to keep the machine running.

Perhaps you’ve encountered this in some evangelism. The first indicator is that they do not listen. They categorize you as a “sinner” and assume they know you from detached observation. Then they attempt to apply a formula they call “The Plan of Salvation” to you using the carrot of destiny and the whip of hellfire. If you happen to fall victim to this machine, you will quickly find yourself a cog in the culture of minimalist church attendance, listening to regurgitated formulas, and working to squeeze other people through the machine.

Or it could be that you have encounter methods that treat the Bible mechanically. Apart from living it out, they observe the living stories and narrative and reduce it to mathematical formulas of legalistic morality and absolute characteristics of God. Then they construct a theology of manipulation rather than relationship where working the formula makes God act and sanctifies the soul. Such theology is always simplistic, ignoring the wild Living God who refuses to live in man-made boxes, and ignores the pollution it causes in the soul and how roughly it handles God’s living children and the world that he loves enough to die for.

If we continue to think of everything and everyone as a machine, we will miss out on the great wonder of our world. Ask yourself: which of our creations heals itself, grows, creates copies of itself, or interacts perfectly with its environment without waste or destruction? Have we even come close to recreating something like a single cell that marvelously knows it’s work of living and growing and creating more cells like itself? Shouldn’t we be struck speechless when we realize a dry seed can take rain and wind and sun an knit it together into a tower of beauty and refuge for all sorts of life — all because God whispered these instruction to it in some long forgotten time before man was made? These things reveal much about how God’s ways are higher than our ways — how he builds things that connect and dance in perfection and how he longs to involve us in the whole and beautiful process of living.

What’s more, we will remain alienated from the world as much as we are from our machines. Forged out of our desire to master the world, machines have become our mediators coming between us and creation, and in many cases, between us and God. We are insulated from what they cost the world in terms of impact and numb to what they cost us in terms of what it means to be alive. If we continue to allow such a separation, especially from the religious and social machinery we create, we will fail to see that we too are living, organic beings that can only exist healthfully in full participation with all of the creation God has given us.

The LeafThe alternative is to adopt an organic worldview. Such a view of reality would take seriously God’s command to care for the Garden [Genesis 1:26-30; 2:15], but with the humility that understands God has already made the Garden to run by certain processes. We care for it by promoting God’s will in the Garden, not by bending and twisting it to our own will and desires. To ignore how life is built to work is to ignore God’s revelation. To ignore that it is he who invents and maintains life is to put ourselves in the place of God. An organic worldview understands our creation is only a imitation of God’s creativity - like a child copying the artists masterpiece. So it attempts to work as much as possible to create along side the Artist, being as like him as possible and learning his mysterious and magnificent ways of making and maintaining life.

Such a worldview would interact with the world through the following matrix:

  1. Encounter
  2. Submerge into it, merge with it, emerge as something new
  3. Continue participation in the new creation

For example, let’s contrast a mechanical view of childrearing to an organic one. Mechanically, we would assume that all human children are basically the same. We would listen to those who have observed their needs and come up with formulas of what creates a good child. We would then attempt to apply to formula to the child through structures, methods, and various other behavioral machinery.

Organically, we would assume that God has built this child as a wonderfully dynamic creature complete with important variation and complexity only God can completely comprehend. We would learn to encounter the child and attempt to submerge ourselves into his world, especially so we could learn what God is already doing in his life biologically, organically, and socially. We would merge with God’s work there learning how to cooperate with his natural development, serving God’s processes and purposes in this young life. As the child grows something new emerges — a deep care-giver child relationship that continues as mutual participation in life of decades to come.

Or maybe it would be helpful to discuss evangelism and theology again. In evangelism a person with an organic worldview would begin by listening to the other person so they might learn their story and submerge themselves into their life. They would then look with how they could join (merge) with the work of God in this person’s life, careful to make sure this person learns to listen to God and form a relationship to Jesus — not just to an ideology or to us. A spiritual friendship would emerge based on the shared experience of living the Gospel and two lives would now participate with each other in the Body of Christ.

Theology would be seen as a dynamic process. It would then be impossible to comprehend God’s revelation apart from the real experience of living it out in radical ways. Bit’s of God’s word would appear everywhere, in every experience and relationship, but would be interpreted by the real presence of Christ in both the word and the world.

An organic view of Christian community would organize differently than a mechanical one.   Instead of outer boundaries, concrete internal structures, static statement of faiths and dogmas and rigid procedures, an organic community would maintain simpler cohesion by emphasizing their relationship to each member and to the Head member — Jesus.  They could be highly mobile and highly agile by focusing on their relation to Jesus and what he is doing out in front, and their relationship to the few members they are closest to.  By doing this they can react to change, respond to threat, and move to take advantage of opportunities in a lightening fast way.  This phenonmenon is called flocking [wiki], and God uses it in nature to create groups that are much faster and stronger than individuals.  They are also much more responsive to the outside world and to each other than the institutions humans create in which people must encounter and navigate the institutional machinery before they can access relationship to each other.

It’s no accident that many of Jesus parables are organic. He’s doing more than speaking to an agrarian society in object lessons they can grasp. He talking about how God works in all things — growing and expanding them in full health and beauty.

Let’s go back to the “Parable of the Sower”, or the “Parable of the Soils” as we might call it for our purposes here. Jesus talks about the problem of getting the seed of the Gospel to grow well in hearts that are pavement, stony soil, and full of the weeds of distraction. But he purposely leaves out what is in good soil. The implication is good soil is a heart absent the obstacles to the work of God. We should believe organically that it is God who does the world of causing the Gospel to grow, so our work is keeping the soil open for his work.

Applied to the life of an individual, this might entail the work of getting the soil ready. The person who is pavement has been run over by life. They need a love-jackhammer to break up their shell and allow the Gospel to penetrate. The shallow soil needs someone who can dig around and discover the underlying issues that keep the Gospel’s roots from going deep. These issues need to be brought to the surface and pulled out for good. Likewise, the person with a weedy heart is distracted by worries and desires. They need focus but can’t find it on their own. You can help by asking them if each thing in their life is a weed or God’s growth. Help them pull up the weeds and learn the disciplines of watching their soil from weed seeds that wander in from time to time.

If you’re serving a spiritual community, part of your role is to make sure the group life remains good soil. Do they grow the Gospel seeds God plants in them, or is there something in the way? Instead of trying to usurp God and make them grow with obstacles in place, perhaps working to gently remove obstacles so God can grow everyone would work better. You cannot have a relationship with God for people, nor can they grow from your participation in mission. Because this is true, what they really need is nurture and care in support of what they are hearing from God and what they intend to do about it.

Do you often suffer from a lack of creativity? It might be because you don’t tend the soil of your imagination. Do you allow it to remain calloused and impenetrable from past disappointed dreams and ideas? Is it shallow because underlying issues — like lack of competence and discipline — prevent imaginings from taking root so they can become reality? Is it choked by the intrusion of worries, insecurities, and fantastic daydreams? Organically, the thing to do is seek silence. Silence is the context of creativity, it’s keeping the soil clear of obstacles. It allows space for God to work with you in your mind without all the usual clutter. So if you are meant to serve people with your creativity, you must find was to practice silence and tend the soil of your imagination.

Here’s the point: we struggle to follow Jesus because we have too many human solutions to the problem. We have all the knowledge and formulas and technology of faith. What is lacking is a real sensitivity to the working of God and a responsiveness that seeks to participate with him. Being a better Christian cannot be accomplished by becoming a cyborg with the latest mechanical updates.  Jesus’ ways are the ways of God and the ways of life.  The way he serves people — his actual methods and actions — are as much a revelation of who God is and how he works as are his words.  While we often profess to follow Jesus, we have our own ways of accomplishing the mission, relating to people, and caring for their needs and they unintentionally distance us from who Jesus is and what he is doing. We must roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty in life and mission right beside the One who makes every seed grow. It’s as simple as being with Jesus in his work by practicing a humility of good student-ship and submissive cooperation.

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