Posts Tagged ‘system thinking’

Wednesday of Holy Week

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Accepting Mark’s chronology. The temple authorities are conspiring; the woman anoints Jesus; Judas goes and arranges the betrayal.

Borg & Crossan have the nameless woman as the only one who understands Jesus’ prediction of passion and death, and therefore gives away everything to perform a sacramental act, as opposed to the disciples who just bicker about who’s the greatest whenever Jesus brings the subject up.

It’s interesting in the light of what I mentioned in the Ludlow post, the unanswered temptation of stones into bread, that if we accept the legendary identification of the woman with Mary Magdalene, she has transformed her mercurial quality, that involved her in inappropriate ‘encounter’, with the element of money, into a sacramental quality. Judas on the other hand cannot find enough stillness to understand the truly revolutionary – but utterly nonviolent – nature of Jesus. Borg & Crossan are dismissive of John’s polemic about him, that he was a thief; but that also belongs to Mercury. Maybe John is only characterising Judas’ grasping impatience with process.

In any case from a systems point of view, Judas is only acting out what the group as a whole hasn’t managed – really to comprehend Jesus. And amazing: the trigger is given by the one who really has comprehended him – it’s the ‘waste’ of the oil that makes him boil over.

Look at the experience of the woman. When did she decide to buy the oil? it must have been long prepared! Which saying of Jesus made her realise what was going to happen – the one about selling all you have and giving all to the poor? – after all, Jesus is ‘poor’ in this moment – he is in need. And how free she is! She does this deed – tricky, as a woman in that society, even to come close to him, let alone to perform a priestly service to the master, surrounded by his male disciples. And how typical of groups that are struggling: they turn on her. In Mark’s story it’s the group, not just Judas, that grumbles. What goes on in her meanwhile?

Who did the ‘right thing’? It’s an anticipation repares of the yet deeper mystery of the commission: what you have to do, do it!

Purpose – owned and unowned

Friday, March 26th, 2010

One big problem in organisational life comes from the discrepancy that may exist between the stated purpose of an organisation and the actual purpose. Normally we think that we have a purpose, which is our ideal, and what hinders us from reaching it is our human shortcomings. It’s frightening and strange to think that there are other purposes at work – are we to think that we’re conspiring against ourselves? This is a place where the concept of the system of an organisation helps. Let’s say for the moment that this is made up of all the unconscious drives and motives that the human beings in the organisation bring into it. The less these are acknowledged, the more power the unowned motives will have. Far from being frightening, it’s liberating to step back from our organisation, in which we invest so much hope and effort, and see what purpose it is trying to realise. A crass example is the organisation with a charismatic leader: the stated purpose may be education, or care, but if we examine the evidence we find that, whilst these are important, they take second place to the aggrandisement of the leader, or his protection from painful self-knowledge. Some anthroposophical institutions make conducting an experiment into consensual decision-making without clear leadership structures into their purpose, sacrificing their stated purpose to this end, even in the face of very strong evidence that their stated purpose is being hindered.
(This is not to dismiss the importance of trying to find appropriate forms of leadership for today; in fact if we examined what ‘appropriate’ means, we might find that our definition included the idea of enabling us to work to our purpose. )

The mirror we look in when we examine this discrepancy is a great liberation. The problem can of course be on either side: we may need to realign to our stated purpose; or we may need to restate our purpose to include new elements which have become important to us. Then we can integrate these into our mission statement or leading thought, and all stakeholders will have the opportunity to decide whether they can identify with them. In the crass example of the charismatic leader, could we imagine what would happen if the mission statement was recast to say “the purpose of X is to provide Y with an opportunity to realise his aims, and to mirror positive reflection to him in doing this. One of the tasks that enables us to do this is Z (eg education etc).” Leaving the absurdity to one side for a moment, how liberating would that be for all concerned! How much time have I spent agonising to understand how to square my experience of unstated purpose with that which was stated.

To recognise all this is one thing. The next challenge is to find ways of communicating it that don’t alienate, but liberate!