Emerging Complexity

This was something that I wrote for the  Everyday Theology podcast. I thought that it fit here.

Things are necessarily complicated. That is why simple answers often don’t satisfy. This is especially true when it comes to human concerns: sociology, relationships, family systems, psychology etc.

I listened to a presentation the other day that was anti-hunting. I tried to listen with an open mind but I kept coming back to the thought “but you’re going to have to do something”. As sprawl continues to become a reality in most locations, human activity is ever encroaching on the deer’s habitat and we removed their natural predators. Damage to gardens and lawns make the deer a ‘suburban nuisance’. Overpopulation leads to chronic wasting disease. Increased populations become a real hazard for driving. I heard about one state where the insurance company sponsors bowhunting classes. Simple answers like “people shouldn’t shoot Bambi’s mom” just don’t work. Things are complicated and the answers often have to be nuanced and multi-layered.

I like that old quote attributed to H. L. Mencken
“For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.”

This is why I am a big fan of Emergence thinking. I have talked about this before – you may remember the ideas of Philip Clayton or the Scrabble analogy. That Scrabble analogy really works for me. There are tiles that have already been played and can not be removed. Our job is to creatively play the tiles in our hand given the titles that are already down. Two things we don’t have the luxury of doing are A) starting from scratch and B) undoing the past. These are just not options.

Emergence acknowledges that something new grows from something old but then returns to nourish and inform the old structure and forms. We experience and appreciate that, firstly, new expressions come from someplace. They do not come from a vacuum – they owe their life to something previous. Secondly, we anticipate that the new expression will impact the old form and influence it in turn. This is a dynamic relationship. It is also a symbiotic relationship.

We can begin here to integrate the ‘flower paradigm’ ( root – stem – leaf – flower) into emergent thinking and say that the flower is both an expression of the plant, unable to exist without it. But that the plant also needs the flower if it is ultimately to continue to have life.

This would help when we talk about things like worship. Worship is an expression but it is also an edification. It is something to God but also something that nourishes us. When people tried to oversimplify worship the diagnosis never works. Worship is complicated. It involves Mind Body & Spirit, it is communal, is deeply personal, it is historic , it is contextual, it is both ancient and adaptive. New expressions of worship emerge from the heart of the Church but then return to inform and to enrich the heart of the Church. This is dynamic and reciprocal, ever evolving but honoring the tradition from which it came. It is not simple. It is complicated — necessarily complicated!

All content happens in the context. Every form of worship that somebody refers to as traditional or ‘ the way’ was at some point new and innovative. It came out of context. It emerged and evolved – nothing happens in a vacuum. Everything is contextual.  It all grows up from the ground.

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