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Linda Irene

The Value of Structure

My website is called Unruly Christian. Friends would probably define me as a free spirit, so it's not a big leap to conclude I don't like rules.

Does this mean I don't want rules? No. They have an important place in our lives. I don't want rules in my religion or spiritual practice. When we engage in spiritual practice based on rules or traditions imposed by others who have determined the 'right' way, it oppresses and limits our experience.

That said, structure is valuable. Rules oppress when misplaced, or incongruent to the spirit of a culture, religion, or society. Structure is different. Structure acts as a container.

Imagine a vase or a jar that holds something. Let's say in that jar is something that holds life. A terrarium, for instance! If that terrarium didn't have the jar to contain it, it couldn't thrive. Structure that meets the boundaries of what we need to grow is a very good thing. Now think about what would happen if this jar began to get smaller? What would happen to all that is living inside it?

Now imagine the ecosystem living inside this jar has grown to the top of the jar and wants to come out. Now what? Do you transpant the ecosystem to a larger jar? Or do you just leave it alone? Do you trim it to remain inside? What would happen if you do?

You have quite a few options at this juncture. Which action will best serve what lives inside it?

It depends on your goals.

If it were me, I'd be wondering what the best possible outcome is for what lives inside it. Are the plants that live inside it best suited to the environment they're already in, or will they flourish in a bigger space?

I'd ask myself (or others who know more than I do) which action or response will bring the greatest good to the world as a result of it.

Sometimes the structure is the limit it requires to sustain itself - such as earth at the moment. We don't knwo what will happen in the future in regards to life on other planets, but right now, this is the only planet we have. The only way to live inside the jar we call Mother Earth is to find the greatest good for the most people, animals, plants, and the rest of life that needs this planet for sustenance.

However, what if we're talking about a community or a church, for instance. What happens when that group of people begin to decline? Entropy has set in and they're regressing in a myriad of ways. Their gatherings are not inspiring anymore. The people, mostly young people, who used to engage in this community have stopped coming. Financial support to sustain it has significantly decreased.

This is a good time to not only look at what is happening within the community itself - like behaviors, traditions, attitudes, but to also examine its structure with new eyes, and from a distance. Invite other people to share their experience of it, people who have never been part of that community.

Most people in community understand change these days, and to meet people where they are. If they don't resonate or understand us, they don't hang out there. Just like the life inside a terrarium. If the environment isn't suited to a particular plant or microorganism, it will remove itself through death. Or not introduce itself in the first place. If the space or structure isn't pruned and monitored, everything in it will eventually die without new growth to replace it. Why would any community do that?

There is life in renewal and change and growth. If communities of tradition can collectively identify and agree on the structure, why not have fun and experiment with what's held inside it? Allow open dialogue and creativity - risk trying new things. Just like soil needs to provide the right environment for all ages and species to be healthy enough to sustain itself into the future, so do human communities. Including churches. Be honest with what works and what doesn't - for everyone. You'll not only understand each other better, but you'll grow along with it.

Don't get stuck in the rules. And have fun in the structure. Diversity rocks. It will make you bigger and happier if you let go of your need to control it. When have you ever been able to control anything anyway? C'mon. Let loose and see what happens.

Remember these things:

  1. Celebrate each other. Find what you love in those you don't.
  2. Laugh at yourself. Especially when you're a stick in the mud.
  3. Be teachable. If you cringe because you don't like something - and others do, ask yourself why. Then challenge your belief. Or ask others to help you understand or see it differently.
  4. Pay attention. For instance, if you're one of the oldest, are you getting input and agreement from other old people? Do you resist out of a need to control, or because it's inappropriate? Why? Ask why 6 times, each time going deeper. It could be your issue.
  5. Say YES. Is someone gifted offering to help, but you reject it? Why? Get honest and talk about it openly with the group. Self-inquiry works. So does open and honest communication. The person offering the help will respect you more for your willingness to look at yourself with humility and get to the root of it. If it's because they aren't gifted or aligned with the goals of the whole, talk about it with others to be sure it's true. Just don't kick a gift horse in the mouth because you feel threatened.
  6. Diversify! If your structure has been created or shaped by the same people who've led your community for a long time, take it outside. Chances are a long time leadership has adapted. They might be agreeable for fear of stirring the pot, or the group was designed - consciously or unconsciously - to be like-minded. Maybe it's time to shake it up and take it outside. Your community depends on it.
  7. Take yourself lightly There's a riddle that asks, Why do angels fly so high? Answer: Because they take themselves lightly. Doing things differently is not the end of the world. Go with it. And ask yourself who you want to be? A wet rag or the life of the party? Are you the person who discourages people by taking the joy out of it; or someone with a sincere curiosity to learn why or how others appreciate what's different or do what they do?
  8. Inquire Ask questions. Ask questions. Ask questions. Don't make assumptions about what's right or wrong. Learn from it. If it irks you that some people suddenly start referring to God as Presence or the Divine, ask them why they prefer it. If your pastor no longer uses the Apostles Creed during the service, ask why. If changes in the order of a church service upsets you, ask yourself why it must always be the same. There's a good chance you'll learn something. If you don't, pray about it sincerely. And listen for the response.
Ihidaya
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