Many who read my new book like the last four pages best. There I visit the story of the last breakfast, when Jesus cooked fish for his remnant. So much better than those little wafers and grape juice! That simple act is so touching that it shows up in all four gospels, which tells you something about what people need to hear. I find myself ending sermons and speeches with it, too, for these are hard-hearted times, and we need to eat in peace.
So let me get this out of the way: Sarah Huckabee is welcome for lunch at Senor Bravo’s right up the street anytime. I’ll pop for the guacamole and Pacifico. Maybe we can talk about why a pastor’s daughter says such mean and misleading things pretty much every day. I’ll apologize to her for adding any fuel to our cultural dumpster fire. Surely, we can do better. I ate at a Cracker Barrel this week as a gesture. The fish was pretty good.
But then we will have to get back to work. God knows that the world needs us to be working for life, with life about life. Now. Most of the other 200 pages of Speak Life: Crafting Mercy In a Hard-Hearted Time are about that. First, you have to understand the logic of the leading causes of life. That helps us get beyond just fixing something something, which is good, but not the same as generating life. It takes a living system to do that.
That’s what the work is about and what the book is about. It’s a craft, not magic.
Four Basic Social Forms
Generative agents (that’s you) need to work with four basic generative social forms: projects, committees, limited domain collaborations, and poeisis. The first two—projects and committees—are familiar to you, if you’ve made it through kindergarten and into institutional life. The third “limited domain collaboration,” is a more complex and open level of collaboration. Poeisis is a sustained highly generative relationship. You’ve probably experienced this without having language to describe it. It takes a whole chapter by itself.
Generative agents need all four forms—and we need to know which is most appropriate for each challenge or opportunity.
All of these forms are social. You can’t be generative all by yourself. There is no life in internal qualities that do not express themselves in social relationships with other human beings. The most mundane project—laying sidewalks comes to mind—has social dynamics. If you don’t pave the places where people want to walk, your sidewalk project will be silly at best. All human work has technical aspects, too. Not even Dr. King could create magic when the microphone didn’t work or the lunches didn’t show up.
Work is not high or low; it is generative or degenerative.
The surest way to do degenerative work is to avoid thinking or talking about life, to treat the labor as merely mechanical or technical. It is important to ask the question: Does the action my project or committee is contemplating add to the fear, friction or disconnection of the social web it may affect? Sometimes it may be impossible to avoid these things. There are many complications in community and institutional life that inevitably involve some friction. But we don’t need to fear. Fear always degenerates social trust and exacerbates social distance. Nobody with a microphone, pen or pulpit should generate fear. “Love casts out fear,” said John writing to one of those snarly and quarrelsome young churches of the Jesus movement (1 John 4:18). Ditto DC.
Most of life work involves casting fear out and crafting mercy in.
Don’t disdain the “lower forms” especially those that demand listening and collaborating with people with whom you do not entirely agree, with whom you do not need to entirely agree in order to jointly serve life. Politics is almost entirely in that space I call “limited domain collaboration.” Politics does not demand poeisis. That is the wrong social form which imports expectations of unity that cripple the actual work of political life. Politics is not higher or lower, just different work. But it is still accountable for nurturing the life of the common life upon which all life depends.
I’d note that the white evangelicals have settled for a limited domain politics of a very limited domain indeed, pretty much abandoning any semblance of character, moral or consistency, purely to score some victories in what they have always seen as a culture war. Meanwhile, my dems savage each other for not agreeing on every jot and tittle. We need a limited domain, but a lot more domain than getting supreme court justices named while shredding every thing else of common good.
We can do better–all of us. I actually think most Christians know this–all of us. But we need to talk about it over some fish.
If you want to do this kind of craft, you might need to read more of the book. You can get it on Amazon here. Or…..you can get a signed copy by donating $50 to the Shalom Project of Green Street United Methodist Church. You donate through this link; I’ll have your email and send you the book. Shalom!
Technically, the Shalom Project is not a “project” in my definition—it is another kind of Limited Domain Collaboration that involves many, many people who pray and probably vote differently. It gets shalom into the lives of many diferent people in the form of free healthcare, food and the stuff they need to live. It’s worth $50 (consider the book as free).
Here’s a chart of the four social forms:
|Project||Committee||Limited Domain Collaboration||Poeisis|
|Highly Technical||Normal Work||New Work||High Relationship|
|Relationality||Listen to take others into account, but just to work with as few as necessary hands on the plough.||Structure of power, but shared deliberation reflecting diverse interests.||Negotiated, fluid, uncertain, flat. Assumes partial investment that might expand.||High Trust Relationship; all in, often more than family, organization or professional identity.|
|Precondition for Generative Dynamic||Enough trust and humility for the project to be useful and adapted.||Enough trust to convene and sustain dialogue to reach a decision.||Safe for vulnerability of association without presumption of full alliance.||Much greater shared language and logic. Goals far in the future.|
|Technical Focus||Do the work well. Good stewardship of time and money.||Decide and act on evidence to balance interests. Give clear permission or clarify the lines.||Craft new goals, bend and blend to do new things. Align assets beyond mere control, use life logic.||Protect the generative dynamic. Be smart and brave. Serve life of all, not just the core.|
|Biggest Danger||“Good work” is instrumental, not generative. Invasive, distracting wasteful.||Unequal risk. Or unequal tolerance of risk. No courage so no action.||Too broad a domain stunts meaningful collaboration. Too narrow isn’t worth the time.||Becomes a club or support group instead of action for the world.|