Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Making Idea-Machines Inside Your Head

"Thousands of competing contradictory impossible visions that make no sense at all because they can't all fit together but they do fit together, he makes them fit together, this way today, that way tomorrow, as they're needed. As if he can make a new idea-machine inside his head for every new problem he faces. As if he conceives of a new universe to live in, every hour a new one, often hopelessly wrong and he ends up making mistakes and bad judgements, but sometimes so perfectly right that it opens things up like a miracle and I look through his eyes and see the world his new way and it changes everything." - Orson Scott Card, "Xenocide"

The quote above is from the sci-fi novel I'm currently reading (again), and is spoken by an alien who is able to communicate telepathically with the main character, Ender Wiggin. The alien is remarking to another alien about what she has discovered in Ender's mind. And she is amazed by what she has found there.

I was floored by these sentences when I read them last night, and I read them over four or five times. I am caught up by the idea of conceiving new universes to live in every hour, of building an entirely new "idea-machine" to respond to every different situation. At a time when there are literally thousands of different ideas being submitted to BP as ways to stop the disastrous oil leak (which now has its own Wikipedia entry, btw) in the Gulf of Mexico, and nothing so far actually working, it may be a strange time to celebrate the amazing, unlimited potential of human creativity. Or maybe the current "case study" clarifies, sharpens things.

Here's an article that says the human mind has brainstormed all of these ideas - more than 30,000 have been submitted - and BP has kind of "triaged" them so that a couple hundred have made it to a team of engineers to see if they might work, and the few ideas BP has tried (each of which was an idea from their own organization, none from those submitted, btw) have been to no avail.

What's happening here? Truly, is the human mind capable of imagining a way to extract oil from 5,000 feet deep in the ocean but incapable of imagining a way to stop it from leaking? This is like figuring out how to put a astronauts on the moon but not knowing how to get them back to earth!

But back to my larger point: given the right atmosphere, human beings are capable of almost unbounded ingenuity. When given permission, people can become so much more than we think we're capable of. And when that ingenuity is unleashed in a community of people on a mission, like the church for example, what happens borders on miraculous! (You knew I'd bring this back to the church, right?)

The trick for the church is to define the mission in a way that allows for the ingenuity to happen in a creative rather than a destructive way.

For me, the time has come to stop making jokes whose punch line is "But we've always done it that way" and start just doing things differently. I cannot imagine that God created us with such wonderful minds, only to have us minimize everything down to it's basest level. I celebrate innovation! I celebrate nuance! I celebrate obfuscation, if necessary! Just be different, for the inherent value of difference.

I've thrown down the challenge to the staff here at Campbell - think differently, do something new in ministry, innovate! I've preached about it, too - asking people to be bold and take risks in ministry ON THEIR OWN, for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I figure, if it's truly inspired by the Holy Spirit and it is focused toward the end of realizing God's mission in the world, my approval or disapproval (or the approval/disapproval of any particular church committee, either) isn't going to matter anyway.

In the past few years, there has been a push for clarity, simplicity, and focus. I dig that! But in the rush for simplicity, sometimes we go too far and become simplistic. Have you noticed that many congregational "Vision Statements" are essentially re-arranged versions of someone else's? Will Mancini says that churches get bogged down in complexity and never move through it into the happiness of true simplicity because "the tunnel of chaos is too unbearable." So maybe the "simiplistic church" (constrasted with the truly "simple church") fails not because we go too far, but because we don't go far enough. Rather than shy away from complexity, perhaps we should push through it and discover where we end up on the other side.

So I'm going to be making "new idea-machines" in my head from now on. I'm sure that most of the ideas I generate will bomb. But I'm also sure that a few of them will succeed! Bring on the complexity ... new ideas ... it's innovatin' time!


Anonymous said...

i think i need to give that book a read! i thought for sure it was written by a theologian (which of course it probably is regardless of seminary training).

push through the complexity. i love it.

we've been gifted with amazing brains that we barely know how they work much less their full potential, how dare we not use them to imagine a whole new church. a whole new way of being?

this past weekend my middle daughter was asking about time and our constructs of it. your post reminded me of that conversation.

great post!

bob said...

Orson Scott Card has written several religious biographies as well as the scifi.

Andy If you truly come up with new ideas you should post them so we can share in the bounty of the newness.