It is not God’s "thinking" that is productive – its his speech. God speaks and makes us. He says that how he is going to make us is “in his image” .

We would expect that our speaking has the power to make. What we didn’t appreciate was that our speech has the power to literally make ourselves.

But there is a dark side – speaking as un-making. Be careful how you name yourself and others…

I was reading the story behind Dave Snowden’s naming of his Cynefin model, and it struck a chord. He wrote:

“For those who don’t know the origin of my use of the word, it can be traced back to the year 2000 when I was scheduled to debate with Nonaka at the University of Aston (it didn’t happen but I prepared for it). I had been uncomfortable with the SECI model for some time. In my more polemical moods I call it The model that launched a thousand failed knowledge management initiatives and I still hold to that opinion. The model became “BA” in a later article and I decided that if Japanese authors could use Japanese words with semi-mystical significance then there was no reason why a welsh author could not to the same.”

For me this is very much the same as my experience in working in the creative fields of strategy and design and noticing that Buddhist thinking is seen as a credible adjunct in the conversations of business. For example, William Duggan’s work on Strategic Intuition goes from a discussion of Napoleon’s coup d’oleil, and General Patten’s patterns of warfare, to recommending the 8-fold way as a path for the cultivation of such intuitions. That’s fine. There is a great deal of knowledge about mindfulness embedded in Buddhist practice. They have use it in pursuit of detachment for centuries – a dose of it in modern business to enable people to step back and be personally engaged in their strategising is a Good Thing. The problem is that any parallel usages of ideas from the (older) judeo-christian traditions is generally not OK. And that’s not OK.

It gets more extreme than that of course – see for example Strategic Intuition for the 21st Century: Tarot for Business, which I’ve not read, but backs up both Dave Snowden’s stance and mine! But I’m interested in the debate at the centre, not the fringe. The core issue is that as we claw our way back out of the captivity to technical rationalism, what resources will we draw on. We need rich and fitting traditions of thought, robust histories and big stories. I’ll keep saying that the judeo-christian legacy has a lot to offer.

God is speech… …yet God is silenced by the silencing of the lambs.

That is the topic of this blog, but it’ll take me a few moments to get there.

I’m a slow learner. Having been at this blogging for a few months now on several different sites, I’m realising that its really hard to write a cogent series. My Drafts box is full of stuff waiting in line to get posted according to a logic of orderly publication. It finally dawned on me why there are all those tools that form clouds and link themes and bunch by index – you can actually post in any old order and let the reader find stuff with the tools.

So I’m not going to publish in order any more – at least not hold myself to that discipline. I’m going to follow the energy and post stuff, and lets the chips fall. As a friend of mine would say “whoo hoo!” This particular post belongs in what will be a big set of posts eventually – a series around the theme of “Unsilencing the lambs”. The stuff I will post has a long history – and that’s ok, because the debate hasn’t moved far

In this series I argue that the body of Christ is dreadfully and chronically sub-optimised by the failure to enable every believer to speak of and about their faith.

In a lead article/sermon in "The Alternative" newspaper (Autumn 2000), Derek Brown wrote: "A pastor friend of mine put it this way: "The church is out there" While most of us would intuitively agree with this viewpoint the reality remains for many Christians the world is an intimidating place and one we are not sure how to relate to” (footnote). My hearts desire is to assist my brothers and sisters in Christ to find the sheer pleasure of being able to connect their own minds with their own hearts by giving voice to their experience of Jesus as it relates to all their life – their everyday life, their world of Monday to Saturday. This may “simply” be with one another, or with anyone they encounter who will listen to the good news about Jesus.

I toyed with the idea of some catchy slogan like “connecting minds to mouths”, because I really do think it is a matter of literally breaking the silence by talking. But that is too glib for the challenge that faces us. The opposite to silencing is not blabbing. It is having a deep connection to my insides, to feel and know the movements and longings of my own heart, to be safe enough to give those voice, and to do that often enough to be fluent at it. This is not the same as being a public speaker. For some the times they actually speak may be rare, because they are reflective types, living on the edge of conversations. But my longing is that they are no less able to speak out of their hearts experience , out of their articulated – and therefore articulate – connections to Jesus and everyday life.

God is speech… …yet God is silenced by the silencing of the lambs.

God is silenced because his people are silenced. He wants his word to go out and be powerful to bless and curse, but it is muted. A distinctive of Christianity is lost. It is supposed to be the idols that are dumb, but in a travesty, the Christians are dumb and the idols speak

I argue that this tragedy has its roots in our western culture, and has been exacerbated by the unholy alliance between evangelicalism and scientific rationalism. But it has become so much one with our christian, churched culture, that we need to just see and acknowledge how central it is to the way we behave, without even bothering with all the complications and over-layers of roots or shoots

Mine is not a belligerent agenda. I have no desire to be “anti-church” I am weighed down by sadness at the experience of gathering many believers are stuck with, and desire to make it different. To observe that certain ways of being together as christians seem unhelpful in achieving our stated desires, is not the same as “hacking on the church” No belligerence is not the same as no energy, or no emotion. I aim to share the passions of Jesus and Paul when they spoke the lifesaving words of truth.

I have no intention of getting stuck on any particular argument so it shifts the conversation (footnote).

SO here is the mission for these posts

b I want to share with you a message I have burning within me[i]. I believe that because of the culture we live in, and the way the church has adopted that culture, the people of God have become unable to speak about their relationship to Jesus in a way they will long to do if they are his children. I want change to come – and believe it will best come through the assemblies of God’s people

b The real tragedy of the silencing of the lambs is not the diabolical (see fn) entrapping sociology of the church, but the abject emptiness of believers faced with the trials of life.


Footnote to Derek Brown quote

Derek’s piece went on to say:

For this to change we need to realign ourselves first theologically and secondly pragmatically. Theological realignment: One of the reasons we are intimidated about the world is that we may not be convinced that God is in control of what happens in the world…." (Here follows exegesis of the parable of the sower and Matt 28:18) Pragmatic realignment: (Here follows an exhortation to Kingdom work in the world, e.g. ) "Churches would need to reexamine their priorities to ensure their programs and activities gave expression to significant community focus"

My contention is that Derek’s observation of the symptoms is 100% accurate. But his solutions are like too many others offered today, and while they are true, they profoundly miss the mark he seeks.

Footnote on “shifting the conversation”

As will become clear in future posts, getting stuck in adversarial point versus point arguments is one of the fundamental tactics that keep us silenced. I would not even get to say what I am seeing before the conversation would sidetrack into any of a number of well-worn paths, traversed so often that our cart would grind to a halt, its wheels trapped in deep ruts.

The point of any point is to help people see in new ways, and make new choices – not to argue the point. Therefore at times I will choose to remain allusive rather than rigorous – to open up contexts for discussion, rather than close them down. This is also a model for breaking silence – the boldness to begin to say, but not to end all saying – to open up a new space without knowing where its ends are. (We tend to think this is somehow wrong – that “withholding” is a morally questionable act. On the contrary, it is the way God has opened up progressive conversations, not told us the endgame (at least not for the whole era from Moses to Malachi)!

Footnote to the word “diabolical”.

I wrote that harsh word perhaps 10 years ago – as I said this series has deep roots in my life. And as I re-read it I heard its harshness, and hesitated – long enough to write this footnote. I leave the word stand. Why? Because it stands true. Take just yesterday. I am going through some particular trials at the moment that cast a doubt over my income, and therefore mortgage and therefore……whatever. I was speaking to a colleaguye at work, and she asked permission to speak of some learning she had done in her life with Jesus – and of course I welcomed her input. What she said completely shifted my heart, my fears, and my approach to today. But in the course of telling that story she told me why she had studied law. Because her parents went in good faitha s missionaries to an African nation, and came back 7 years later, penniless, spent, and besmirched – trashed not by the work, but by the missionary (church, assembly of gods people) community they were located in. And she spoke of her own recent experience of being the truth-telling voice into a dysfunctional church community (it had scored only 3% (!!!) on one of the metrics used by the National Church Life Survey community health diagnostics) – for her trouble she was pilloried and removed. Her only passing comment on that experience, which was a story on the way around to a different comment, was that “If you haven’t had an experience like that you haven’t been in church long enough.” Ha ha ha. Who’s laughing? The enemy. Diabolical.

Yet again I say that is not the real tragedy. My friend did that willingly, I have done such things, and hundreds of thousands of christains put their faith and hope at risk on a daily basis attemting to make church a better place, and would continue to do so. The real tragedy of the silencing of the lambs is the abject emptiness of believers faced with the trials of life.

We keep looking for the details to drive our lives. We have a natural drive to simplicity, to strip out messiness and follow clear lines. This is reasonable. It is also well documented in research on why people don’t make good decisions – because even at the level of our brains we try and simplify rather than nuance our choices. So its not surprising that this mindset creeps into our faith. And it is re-inforced by many other dynamics, eg

a) the use of Sunday schools to “teach” faith – which inevitably means stripping out compexity as we try and teach kindergarten aged children (actually aged 5 to 14) what amounts to moralism.

b) The cramming of faith into an hour of didactic transfer on a Sunday, disconnected from the flow of life, and generalised to reach every age, gender, learning style and walk of life. Of course we want he preacher to keep it simple!

All of these dynamics – and many more – have conspired to reinforce what is the foundational issue, however. And that is that, (mis)guided by hundreds of years of education and science that the hard, specififiable rule-based bits are what matter, we think faith is a matter of rule-based obedience. The “narrow gate” is the tightness of the rules we have to meet to satisfy an angry God.

Stopping to hover at the 1000 foot level over the Bible, however, we note something extraordinary. That the way God has chosen to talk to us is NOT through specifications. The Bible is actually full of stories. Its almost end to end stories. Even Pauls “teaching stuff” is actually story-laden – about his struggles, about the particular located communities he was interacting with and their struggles.

Why Stories? Because stories are the best way to help someone understand what you mean when you give really big principles to live by. Requirements, not specifications.

God’s requirements have remarkable continuity: Love the Lord with all your heart , mind and strength, love your neighbour. Old Testament, New Testament, JHWH and Jesus, all say these are the biggies that all else flows from. Of course Jesus made the fulfillment of requirements possible ….

I was reviewing a CV from a prospective employee today – a lovely concise one pager obviously done by the designer this person is. At the bottom of the page, the candidate listed

a) his “epistemology” (theory of how we know what we know):

· Design Theory

· Human centred Design

· Cognitive science

· Buddhism


b) His “axiology” (statement about what they value above all else):

“It is man’s nature to be his own creator; he forms and develops himself by working on and transforming the world outside him in cooperation with his fellow men”

(…a curiously sexist framing from a 20-something that betrays his own gender. But laying that aside….)

I take it that this applicant is optimistic in his axiology. That is, I take it that as a professional designer he will be like every other young designer I have ever met – full of hopes that his offering can make the world a better place, keen to apply his creative urges to making things new, humanistic in its best and richest sense to the core – longing for the best from and for people. So I am not diminishing his statement about what he values. I don’t think he is just spouting shrunken truisms of language constructivism – that we enact our world through what we see and say. If he were here, I would want to talk with him in ways that enriched both of us about what is possible in transformation and collaboration.

So I’m saddened that he is espousing a Buddhist foundation for his axiology. Again, I don’t know him beyond this one page, but I fear that he has caught a modern virus. Having accepted and owned the once unacceptable yet always inescapable reality that we are spiritual beings, he reaches for the now socially unobjectionable option of Buddhism to clothe his naked spirituality.

But I would want to ask him: How does his vision for himself and other as creators for each other fit with this epistemology: “Vedanta and Buddhism are the highlights of Indian philosophical thought. Since both have grown in the same spiritual soil, they share many basic ideas: both of them assert that the universe shows a periodical succession of arising, existing and vanishing, and that this process is without beginning and end. They believe in the causality which binds the result of an action to its cause (karma), and in rebirth conditioned by that nexus. Both are convinced of the transitory, and therefore sorrowful character, of individual existence in the world; they hope to attain gradually to a redeeming knowledge through renunciation and meditation and they assume the possibility of a blissful and serene state, in which all worldly imperfections have vanished for ever.” (

I contrast the fatalism of karma as an epistemological soil for a designer with these texts:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… And God said Let us make man in our own image… In the image of God created he them… and said Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth….and whatever he named the animals, that was their name….”

And I’m maddened that those who own these texts as their epistemological foundations by birthright – the christians – have ceded the ground so pathetically that young men like my applicant are left with such poor frames for their hearts and lives. While he writes a feeling declaration about his life passions he is left to build on the wrong foundations.

Typically in the old frame we don’t know how to talk about the significance of Jesus’ resurrection….

But if we are wondering about the shape of the future, what happened to his body is full of discussable meaning – and his body becomes an interesting template for possibilities!

I’m not trying to tackle faith and hope as theological words, or change faith into a verb, or corrupt the New Testament in whatever way some panicky orthodox person might think…. All I’m asking is that you reflect on what these two different stances might do to you emotional experiences of “faith” and “hope”….

There is nothing wrong with this stance – “clinging to the Rock” is a place I have been often, and expect to be again.

But I confess I would have needed to do less clinging if I didn’t start by reading the world as a “fixing up the mess” kind of world. The more “front foot” I am listening to Jesus stories, the more I spend my emotions and energies building forward. The hope of the resurrection includes carrying forward the best of who I have become while walking and talking here with Jesus and his wider family (other sons and daughters of the living god I meet). So its worth exercising my talents and shaping my character for the kingdom.

We have been notoriously inward facing as god’s people. Being together and organising ourselves around those activities are the core to our identity.

This makes sense if the focus is huddling together to preserve the effects of Jesus’ works of personal redemption, which seem so frail. We pour huge energy into helping saints to work out how to live in ways that are satisfactory to the church.

The shift is not so much to turn our backs on that work – it is to be called out to a totally different vision. Like a young man falling in love, and all his attachments to family fading into the background (not necessarily lost or disrespected – just faded into different proportions), catching the new testament writer’s picture of the kingdom coming re-colours everything.

I remember seeing a black and white movie when I was in primary school from a marvellous (especially in those days) series was it called “Fact and Faith? Was it the Moody Science institute? Something like that. But what was fascinating was the links it made between the then VERY new physics (this was perhaps the mid 60’s) and some of the Bible’s remarkable observations about the post resurrection Jesus. He appeared and disappeared at will, moving through locked doors. He flew straight up (“ascended”). And yet he wasn’t a spook – you could feel his wounds, and he ate and drank. What kind of a body was that?

Unfortunately, to my recollection, the focus of our amazement was on the post resurrection Jesus. His dying and rising as such remained stuck firmly in a narrative about my personal sin and defectiveness. I don’t doubt my personal sin, and I experience my defectiveness daily (most recently an encounter with some rocks while snorkelling has lefts its bloody marks). But the missed opportunity was to do what the New Testament authors do – celebrate the resurrection as a demonstration of God’s supreme power and his appointment of Jesus as Lord!