The book Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne maree brown (sic) has been influencing many thought leaders in Unitarian Universalism, but the structure of the book can be challenging for leaders who are linear thinkers.
In the book, brown proposes nine principles to help guide emergent thinking. These are not "principles" like the UUA's seven principles, but more like patterns that can be used to understand and approach today's challenges.
Thinking in terms of patterns can expand our understanding. When we study the patterns that appear in nature (e.g. spirals, waves, branches), we notice that similar patterns can evolve in animal, mineral or vegetable.
Patterns can also be used to understand the human experience. Architects use A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander (et al) to understand how to design human-friendly buildings. City Planners use The Death and LIfe of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs to help understand what makes neighborhoods attractive and safe. (I learned about patterns in a Permaculture Design Course I took a few years ago.)
The patterns in brown's book give leaders an understanding about how to be strategic during this time of great upheaval. I've spent some time meditating about them, and even made index cards for each one as a visualization aid for myself (see photo). Perhaps my understand will be helpful for other linear thinkers.
Small is good, small is all.
(The large is a reflection of the small)
When we want to make a change in our congregations (such as creating "beloved community") we often look to big-picture solutions, such as adopting a congregational covenant. We know how to do this. We appoint a task force, who gets input from the congregation, and the task force comes up with a proposal. The proposal is then tweaked until there is buy-in. It is then voted upon, and "adopted." But it doesn't actually change the culture of the congregation.
Instead, we could start by focusing on our interpersonal interactions. Do we practice deep listening? Do we practice ompassionate communication with "I statements" about needs? What might we do to encourage better communication habits in our small group ministries?
Then we might look at using circle processes such as "rounds" to make sure our meetings and other gatherings are inclusive.
Setting a pattern in small interactions can repeat "fractally" so it becomes a larger pattern of attention, appreciation and inclusion.
Change is constant
(Be like water)
If you observe flowing waters in nature, such as rivers or even the flow of melting snow in the spring runoff, you'll notice that while the water is contained by the banks, it also changes the banks.
We may not have complete control over changes, but we can learn to adapt and shape our response and help shape the change when we engage with it intentionally.
There is always enough time for the right work.
One of the myths in our congregations is that because people are so busy, we can't ask them to do anything else. Like with most myths, there is a truth underneath: People have a lot of demands on their time. But when an opportunity comes to participate in something that is life-giving and transformational, people find the time. If we encounter something that we can give our "sacred yes" to, it's much easier to also give our "sacred no" to the things we can let go of.
There is a conversation in the room that only these people at this moment can have. Find it.
I've noticed a similarity between both inventions and social movements. There seem to be moments in time where different versions of similar ideas emerge from different people or teams at the same time, such as in the invention of the light bulb.
If you seek out others with similar challenges, you will find thought partners. Together you can come up with ideas that might elude you otherwise.
Never a failure, always a lesson
Another part of the story of the invention of the light bulb is how many versions were tried and failed, until at last the incandescent bulb was ready for the market.
In our congregations, we will need to "experi-fail," i.e. to experiment with ideas that are creative enough to help us learn, but not too risky where we might cause harm.
Trust the People
(If you trust the people, they become trustworthy)
When inviting people to work together as thought partners, it's important to be clear about your mission and objectives, to build teams from existing relationships, and to provide processes that are inclusive. When done well, flat structures have many benefits:
- You have more ideas and experiences to work with.
- People are more invested in the outcome.
- The more people work together, the easier it becomes to work together.
- When people experience being given latitude (with accountability), they will rise to the task at hand.
Move at the speed of trust
Focus on critical connections more than critical mass—build the resilience by building the relationships
This pattern connects the "Small is good, Small is all" principle to the principle of "Trusting the people." Trust is built slowly, through shared, mutual experiences. Trust is built by showing vulnerability and inviting trust as a response.
Investing in relationships is critical to building resilience. The web of connection need each of the connecting strands to be strong. This is why community organizers start with one-on-one meetings.
Less prep, more presence
The word presence can be understood as an active way of creating space for transformational thinking. Emergent leaders Otto Schwarmer and Peter Senge have called their organization doing this work The Presencing Institute.
If we do too much preparation, we might be limiting the possibilities that can come out of the interaction between potential thought partners. Instead, think about how--as leaders--we can "host" gatherings with the most potential for transformative thinking.
What you pay attention to grows
We've learned from quantum physics about the observer effect: By the very act of watching, the observer can affect the observed reality.
But we also experience this in our every day lives. When someone is listening deeply, we tend to open up more. When we are held in the light of love rather than in disdain, we are more likely to blossom. Bringing our full attention to our work can have an impact beyond our understanding.
Even if these concepts seem foreign or squishy to you at first, I invite you to try them out for a while. Make your own versions of the pattern cards and use them to reflect on challenges as they arise. You might just find new ways and new partners to meet those challenges.