The Newest Mission Field

This article is about an extraordinary opportunity that may be emerging before our very eyes. You may, at first, not take it seriously. But keep reading. After a few minutes, your stomach will tighten and go sour as you realize that God may call your children or grandchildren to boldly go where no others have gone before.

So here we go… How would you like to lead a team on mission to Mars? Think mid 2030s…that’s more or less the time frame that tech visionary Elon Musk has in mind to begin the colonization of Mars.

Colonization.

We’re not talking here of a skeleton crew of a half dozen making a voyage to Mars and back. We’re talking about one million citizens of earth with a one way ticket.

Don’t doubt it. The race for Mars is on. India just placed a satellite in Mars orbit last month. Elon Musk, who owns SpaceX, has previously set the year 2026 as the target date for a manned excursion to the Red Planet. The Mars One project has received some 200,000 applicants for their colonization strategy. They plan to start sending crews of 4 starting in 2024. Now, recently, Elon Musk has called for a Million Person March to Mars.

Imagine sending people, one hundred at a time, to terra-form, raise families, live out their lives, and finally die upon another planet. If anything like this happens, Elon Musk may be the most significant leader of the 21st century. And he may be creating one of the greatest mission opportunities of the 22nd century. In the same way that we challenge our young adults to relocate around the world that they might benefit the nations, we should begin to cultivate among our youth the skills to be among the One Million.

I wrote Makers of Fire to help reorient the church towards the future.

I wrote Makers of Fire to help reorient the church towards the future that we might have greater impact in the present. Alex McManus

Perhaps now, when someone feels called to service, we should point them towards cross disciplinary programs that include the sciences. We should encourage them to master their bodies, so that they are fit enough to endure the hazardous journey between our two planets, to immerse themselves in the STEM disciplines, and to master wilderness survival strategies and techniques. (Though, the Mars colony, to be sure, will also need artists!) Whether or not they ever leave this planet, this will benefit the church. Especially those churches that are left behind on Earth (no reference to the movie intended).

Many Christians today live in the world as if it were 1858 – the year before Darwin published On the Origin of Species. Many of them believe the earth is young, that animals didn’t suffer and die for millions of years before “the fall,” and that humans are not part of the animal kingdom.

They haven’t grasped the fact that evolutionary theory strengthens and gains explanatory power with every passing year. And the world has moved far beyond just evolutionary biology and space travel. The race for genetic enhancements will be to the 21st century what the race to the moon was to the 20th. The age of the X-men is here. We will continue to see a merger between humans and technology, the organic with the synthetic. This is what I call the Orgathetic Future.

This may lead to the creation of different species of humans in the future, as there were in the past. We will see the resurrection of extinct species and we may discover signs of extraterrestrial life on one of the many Earth-like planets now being discovered. Robust Human rejuvenation may extend our life spans into the hundreds of years and beyond.

Because parts of the church resisted the new discoveries being made about God’s world and universe, others were able to frame these discoveries along secular lines. As a result, the church is unintelligible to many who do not yet believe. In fact, I wrote a book that is scheduled to come out November 15 titled, MAKERS OF FIRE: the spirituality of leading from the future, because many churches are drowning and need the air that turning towards the future will bring.

So here is another chance to move the church into the 21st century and beyond. As we become a multi-planetary species, the church will become multi-planetary as well. But we have to refresh and update our love for science and engage this science with open minds and hearts empowered by the spirit. Our theology, the way we talk about our story and the unique and precious journey we are on with Christ, needs to match the moment. Rather than resisting, let’s go mobile. Let’s follow Christ… to Mars and beyond. Alex McManus Author, Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future

The Nones

An excerpt from

MAKERS OF FIRE: the spirituality of leading from the future
by Alex McManus

The Nones

Unknown-2The longing for a new way to be human may be why so many in the USA, when polled about their religious affiliations, check the box “None.” We call them “the nones.” I know so many people of vibrant faith who classify themselves as “nones” because they’re detaching from traditional religious institutions in search of something more authentic. This is especially acute in the Christian faith because one is not born a Christian.

In the West, many have  forgotten how, and more importantly, why earlier generations came to believe. I suspect that the rise of those who identify themselves religiously as “nones” may reflect the rise of a deeper spirituality as much as it signals an abandonment of the institutions of faith.

In a recent conversation, a very thoughtful 25-year-old expressed this sentiment: “Even if all the claims of Christianity are true, I wouldn’t want to be a Christian.” Some have moved beyond their faith in Western Culture and it’s religion, Christianity. Because this person had at one time been a believer, I asked if there was something about faith that she missed. She informed me that she still believed that God hears her and that she had at one time heard from God, but she was no longer a Christian. Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 1.40.34 PM

Where might this phenomena of the nones be leading us? It many ways becoming a Christian today may include a turn away from Christendom and the traditional churches that developed during that time. In fact, following Christ, for some, will mean not becoming a Christian.

To make an analogy with the life of Christ, Jesus was crucified by the Romans, then buried by friends. On the third day, he walked among his disciples again, raised from the dead. There were three days of “space” and “time” between the death of Christ and the resurrection of Christ.

Many today may be followers of Jesus who live in the liminal space after the death of the Christian religion but prior to the resurrection of an expression that can be  trusted again. Rather than rely on truth claims issued by an institution, it will try to remember how to trust again. Rather than institutional, the future of the Christ following faith will begin again as relational.

I suspect that the future of the church may be different than we suspect. Let’s put this radically: The Catholic church is not the church of the future.  Neither is the Orthodox church. The churches of the Reformation are not the church of the future. Neither are the evangelical churches, nor the emerging church, the church of the future. None of these are the church of the future nor the future of the church.

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To borrow words from Jesus of Nazareth, these may be some of the seeds but we have not seen the tree. Some will fear the death of the seed. But if the seed doesn’t die, it remains just a single seed. But if it falls into the ground and dies, then it will reproduce itself many times over. (John 12.24)

The search for a new way of being human is the zeitgeist of our times, and many of us are going back to zero and starting again. This is a new  journey of discovery, a new time to seek, and our whole culture is on it.

MAKERS OF FIRE: the spirituality of leading from the future
by Alex McManus

4 Trends for Churches to Consider

When I first saw Ed Stetzer’s original article titled, MissionTrends: 4 Trends for Churches to Consider, I had some points of difference. But I wasn’t sufficiently motivated to write about them because, overall, I think we should all think more about the future.

But the article crossed my sights again in “Charisma News” post titled, 4 Trends in Christianity That Could Scare You, According to Ed Stetzer.

I don’t know why this was in my feed, but there it was. So, I decided to look at the article again. I think what tipped me over was that Charisma News added “That Could Scare You” in the title.

We should not be scared.
We should seize our moment.

For those of you who did not read Stetzer’s blogpost, here are his “4 trends”:

1. The word “Christian” will become less used and more clear”
2. The nominals will increasingly become “nones”
3. Christians Will Increasingly Change Cultural Tactics
4. More Robust Churches will Result from the Death of Nominalism

Here are some of the ways my take differs from Stetzer’s “4 Trends”.

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1. The word “Christian” will become less used and more clear”

The first trend, according to Stetzer, is “less people are calling themselves Christians and those who are will take it more seriously.”

A trend can be described as a change in a variable over time. In this sense, I’m not sure I would classify any of these 4 as “trends.”  These “4 trends” seem more like forecasts based on experience (or hopes)  rather than extrapolations based on data. Ok, too nit-picky and this isn’t my point anyway. Let’s move on to the good stuff.

Stetzer goes on to say, “In the future, the word Christian will mean more to those who would be considered convictional Christians. However, it will mean-and be used-less to those who were nominal Christians in the first place. The word will be less used and more clear.”

In contrast, I think, that in the future, the word Christian may also be used less by those to whom it means more. In other words, those who follow Christ out of conviction, rather than simply because of culture, may use Christian less as a self designation because they recognize the cultural, political, economic acculturation of Christianity with modern culture.

In other words, they will use the word Christian less

  • in an attempt to be less syncretistic in their faith
  • in an attempt to be able to express their faith with less baggage
  • and because they honestly sense that their experience of faith is not represented well by the word

Those believers who are more attached to the status quo, who have less cognitive dissonance between the Modern era, America, and Christianity will be more likely to use the word Christian.

So, it may be Stetzer’s “squishy middle” —those who, according to Ed, were “nominal in the first place” — along with the keepers of the status quo who will actually more frequently use “Christian” as a self designation.

2. The nominals will increasingly become nones

Stetzer’s second “trend” is “The nominals will increasingly become nones.”

Stetzer argues that nominal Christians — those who are Christian in name only but not out of conviction — are becoming the “nones.” For those of you who may not be familiar with term, the “nones” are those who do not identify with any religion.

Ed notes that 30% among college students now count themselves among the “nones.” It’s true that many thoughtful and motivated young people are choosing against Christianity. In some cases it is because they have failed to be convinced by the evidence and by experience. In other cases, it’s because they can’t distinguish between the Christ following faith and the Christian religion as represented by some cultural artifact such as the political right wing or left wing. In yet other cases, the young may be leaving Christianity in a sincere attempt to follow Christ. So here I totally agree with Stetzer, but even more emphatically, when he writes, “we should change the way we think about engaging culture.”

However, the “nones” is not the new designation for nominal Christians. In contrast, I think that the “nones” may also be the new designation for the most zealous Christ followers. (For my post on the “Nones” click here.) I think the “nones” may include precisely those believers who are changing the ways they “think about engaging culture.” And, it’s not just about engagement, it’s about authentically feeling their way forward towards a new way of following Christ beyond Christianity.

I know many devout believers who would say they are a “none” when asked about their religious preferences because they do not believe their relationship to Christ is a religion.

Others refrain from using Christian as a self designation because being Christian is often perceived (depending on the listener) as belonging to a certain political party, or being anti-science, or having a particular attitude, etc. Perhaps we should consider returning —and perhaps will— to the days when others accused us of being Christians, rather than us resorting to self proclamation.

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3. Christians Will Increasingly Change Cultural Tactics

I agree with Ed here. He argues that “convictional” Christians will advocate less for the legislation of traditional values and be more focused on protecting religious liberty.” Again, while this may not yet be a trend, this is a good tactical suggestion, as Ed states.

But focusing on “religious liberty,” as tactically correct as this might be, is not the gospel. We must focus on embodying Christ in the context of community as a way of announcing that in Christ God will make all things thrive. To exercise religious liberty will mean to live out, in our own faith communities, a new politic, economy, and society.

Stetzer argues that we must “hold the Word of God in high authority” and that “we should also wisely discern the present culture…”

I would say it this way: we must know our story and live in it and we must know the competing narratives that surround us.

I would add that we must start new communities of faith that embody this story. Starting new communities of faith is a way of creating the future. And these new communities are the greatest evidence of the trustworthiness of our story.

4. More Robust Churches will Result from the Death of Nominalism

Again, this is not a trend based on data, but something akin to “hope” and more along the lines of “prophesying the way forward.” Stetzer argues that “Churches that are preaching the gospel and are focusing on biblical truths are going to become more clearly distinct from the culture around them.”

Well, first, I think nominalism will survive. There have always be those who say, “Lord, Lord…” (Matthew 7) and I don’t see that changing. And, if more robust churches emerge, it won’t be because of the death of nominalism. It will be because robust churches continually choose to die to themselves and give birth to new communities of faith. If this happens, the spirit may move, regardless of what happens to nominal churches and christians.

I do agree that new unique and distinct communities of faith will arise. But I also think that many new communities will both embody Christ’s resurrection and meld with culture as opposed to “be distinct from” culture, if by this we mean separated/ isolated from culture.

So What is the Way Forward?

There will be the stream that seeks to accommodate the new culture. They will lose a large part of their narrative. There will be the stream that runs counter to culture. They will disappear into antagonistic irrelevance. There will be the stream that retreats from culture. They will have no impact. There will be the stream that tries to educate the new culture. They will leave the will untransformed. There will be the stream that seeks to become the new culture, the future culture, the culture that follows wholeheartedly after Christ. And they will create the future.

Letting Go and Holding On

As we take a turn towards the 22nd century, what do we “let go of” and “to what do we hold on”?
That was a question that came out of the MAKERS OF FIRE SESSION webinar yesterday.

It was asked from the perspective of faith
and so we discussed letting go of…

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  • …truths (propositional) and holding on to trust (personal)
  • …letting go of doctrines and holding on to directions
  • …letting go of cultural power and holding on to spirit
  • …letting go of certainty and holding on to faith

14 EXAMPLES

Here are some examples of things that some of us “hold onto” and some ideas about where we might be going.

HEAVEN. Not too long ago, many Christians evangelized using heaven as an incentive (at least in the Souther part of the United States). Now Christians are beginning to flip over towards an understanding that humans are not intended for heaven but for earth. (What makes this more interesting is that these same Christians warned new converts against cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses who teach that God is making a new heaven and a new Earth. So, at least in terms of language with regard to this one idea, we should congratulate the Jehovah’s witness for leading the way!)

WOMEN AND THE ENVIRONMENT. From the 60’s on Pagans (Yes, the religion) led the way in terms of the role of women in society and in terms of valuing the Earth. Now Christians are adopting a more “biblical” perspective on the natural world and are rereading the scriptures about the role of women. (Again, should not Christ followers applaud the Pagans for pointing us in the right direction?)

HELL. The idea of hell as a place of eternal suffering is falling out of favor and ideas like annihilationism (also maintained by the Jehovah’s witnesses) are stepping up as viable alternatives.

CHURCH. The idea of church as a sunday morning gathering plateaus and church as a path journeyed in community rises. (Yes, the “church gathering” and the mega church will be a part of the future).

CLERGY. The idea of ministry as a career plateaus and ministry as a charism and calling rises. (Yes, there will continue to be leaders whom the “community on journey together” slingshot forward to announce the gospel where needed).

EVOLUTION. Imagine a future in which every Christ following person has evolutionary frameworks for how life emerges on Earth and works out a theology from there. Welcome to the future.

ATONEMENT. Good bye to the idea that God was getting his pound of flesh on Christ. Goodbye angry God and his angry pastors. Human evil, however, is still real and invisible to secular eyes.

HUMANKIND. Good bye to the idea that humanity is the problem and hello to the idea that humanity is the goal. This is what I call, making the world human.

ORGATHETIC.  We will let go of the idea of humanity as a purely organic creature and move towards the embrace of the human-machine merger, the melding together of the organic with the synthetic, what I call the Orgathetic future.

THE RETURN OF CHRIST. What meaning will the “soon return of Christ” have in 3000AD or 4000AD? That’s pretty much the meaning in 2014AD. Alternatives include that the coming of the spirit was the return of Christ AND that the return of Christ and the end of the universe some 14 billion years in the future are one and the same thing.

THE NATURE AND ROLE OF THE SCRIPTURES. The Bible as revelation goes away and the Bible as a culturally conditioned human witness rises. There will be a factual component — the bible is a work of humans — and a faith component — the Bible is a human witness to the Acts of God within history and life experience.

GOD. The ideas of God’s transcendence  and immanence will race to the extreme edges of the spectrum. We will become more humble as we realize that our goldfish has a better chance of understanding our calculus homework than we do of understanding God. And we will become more alert as we begin to experience God more fully within everything around us. The shifts will run from Knowing God in terms of knowledge to knowing God in terms of personal experience and from theism, in the sense of a strict separation between God and everything else, to panentheism (vs pantheism), a sense of God in all things.

EARTH. As we colonize Mars, we will let go of Earth as the final destination of life and instead embrace it as the womb of life from which life spreads across the universe. We will embrace orgathetic humanity as a multi-planetary species and possibly as the launching pad for life across the galaxy.

RISK

Letting go doesn’t mean abdicating the responsibility to articulate, embody, and name the relationship of trust, the trajectories of our journey, the meaning of the spirit, and the understanding of faith, and it certainly doesn’t mean detaching ourselves from the historical source of the Christ following movement, but it does mean recognizing that we are evolving. And, in fact, evolving makes articulating, embodying, and naming … even more important. It is a risk of love we must take because we are all feeling our way forward. And we won’t get there alone. And we won’t be alone, for Christ journeys with us.

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What do you think?

“And the word was made flesh…”

Future Skill #4: Connect

Another skill needed to lead from the future is systems thinking, the ability to connect the dots.

Just as a reminder, the four skills (we’re looking at) needed to lead from the future are

1) SIMPLIFY: the drive to simplify
2) MAKE: the instinct to make
3) THRIVE: the hunger to make the world thrive
4) CONNECT: the imagination to connect seemingly unrelated dots

When thinking about the future, it is not enough to ask what happens next? We must also ask, what happens because of what happens next?

At the personal level this means reconsidering any idea that goes something like this: Well if it doesn’t hurt anyone else, what’s wrong with it? The idea here assumes a nonexistent isolation, and extreme individualism that fails to recognize that we are all connected. The creation is an interconnected system made up of interconnected systems.

At the environmental level, it means seeing the big picture in little actions. For example, recognizing that littering plastic in my neighborhood may end up fortifying the Pacific Garbage Gyre.

I think the science of evolution, the merger of man with machine, the race for genetic enhancements, and the full mapping of the wild and largely unexplored universe we call the human brain will create new ways to think about God.

I think the rising tide of those who are exploring how to be spiritual without being religious will highlight just how religious the human species is. Yes, even the nonreligious, the secularist, and the atheist.

And these are the obvious connections.

Here are a few others that may be less obvious …

What’s happening? We are developing the world’s first affectionate robots.

What happens because this happens? MIGRATION. The affectionate robots being developed in Japan (that will be commercially available next year) may eventually ( say, 5-7 years) lessen demand for filipino migration to Canada.

What else happens because this happens? CHURCH. Pastors of filipino churches in Canada, pay attention. If you depend on these migrant workers for your membership roles, start working on your plan B.

What else happens because this happens? SEXUALITY. Affectionate Sexbots will end human sex trafficking. Or, at least, put a huge dent in it. At the same time, as  human “sex work” goes mainstream, prostitution will go upscale as sex therapists — think of the consort on the popular television series, Firefly — or as technology “pimps.”

The list goes on. Start with any change and, with a little imagination, you can begin to map, hundreds of other resulting changes. (One tool we use for this in our IMN training is the Futures Wheel.) You get the idea.

Leading from the future will mean stepping back and seeing the Big picture. It means thinking in systems. It also means understanding the small picture, the little things, and recognizing how a little action may impact the whole.

At the theological level, remember the profoundly “systems thinking” element of the cross of Christ. We need to ask, How does the death of Jesus on the cross impact the world? And, for a spiritual reflection, think of how Jesus’ words might impact the whole world: “love your neighbor as yourself.”

All things are connected.

Alex McManus

Author, Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future

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Future Skill #3: Thrive

Four skills needed to lead from the future are

1) SIMPLIFY: the drive to simplify
2) MAKE: the instinct to make
3) THRIVE: the hunger to make the world thrive
4) SYSTEMS: the imagination to connect seemingly unrelated dots

Today, I want to draw again on MAKERS OF FIRE: the spirituality of leading from the future for a third skill:

The hunger to make all things thrive

GENESIS CHAPTER ONE: The Poem of Thriving
One way to describe the Creative persona of Genesis chapter 1 is – The One who makes all things thrive.

Everything he touches flourishes.

He is so full of life giving energy that even the things he creates create.

“Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” (Genesis 1.11)

And so the land itself began producing vegetation. The same goes for the fish of the sea and the birds of the air. The process of life begetting life is the result of being touched by a creative force so potent that life kept emerging from within the chaos.

“In the view of the genesis poem, our world of living things regenerates itself as an act of God. They are at once and the same time, the same thing. The discoverable mechanics of the natural world, the evolution of life, are all fingerprints of God at work in our world.” -from Makers of Fire

Towards the end of Genesis chapter 1, God creates a creature in his own image.

“And we, along with the other creatures, continued the creative work. And the biosphere continued to blossom, to open like a flower revealing layer after layer of beauty. According to Genesis chapter 1, God is at work when life thrives. Thriving must be the metric by which human rulership can be measured. Every creative act made by any creature that makes the world thrive is at one and the same time an act of God.” -from Makers of Fire

The third skill required to lead from the future is the hunger to make things thrive. This requires the development of new a discipline: self control. Our rapacious hunger, magnified by our technologies, have demonstrated our capacity to wreak havoc on the world around us and even on each other.

In the last 100 hundred years, we have all but eradicated wild Atlantic Salmon. The passenger pigeon went from being the most abundant bird in North America to extinction in 50 years. From billions to zero. When the first Europeans arrived, the pigeon was here, along with the America bison and the peoples of the First Nations, the Beringians, who had resided here at least 18,000 years since their crossing over the Bering Straight during the most recent ice age.

When the technologically advanced cultures entered the North American space, the wild things, valuable things, began to disappear. And, as our technology evolves at an even faster rate than our culture and our wisdom, we must learn from our past and step into the future wary of our own powers and of how our current choices may impact future generations.

How can we best make our biosphere thrive? How can we best make our society, our neighborhoods, our neighbors, our family and friends thrive? How do we become a species known for how it makes all things thrive?

Making all things thrive is a calling which can have many expressions. These expressions can become the fountainhead around which healthy communities can form. Imagine communities committed to making a world that works for everyone. Imagine that these communities start by making a world that works for their neighbors. This might mean an end to mindless consumption at the expense of others. It might mean we’ll need to simplify. It will mean that we’ll need to understand that everything is connected. Which leads to us the fourth skill we’ll need to lead from the future.

Alex McManus

Author, Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future

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Future Skill #2: Make

My last post began (this series of four short articles) with a suggestion on how to deal with the complexity of our age: simplify.

As a reminder, the four skills we’ll need to lead from the future are

  1. The drive to simplify
  2. The instinct to make
  3. The hunger to make the world thrive
  4. The imagination to connect seemingly unrelated dots

Today’s future skill is the “instinct to make.”

This instinct is suggested in the title of MAKERS OF FIRE: the spirituality of leading from the future

In Makers of Fire I suggest that the discovery of fire was humankind’s breakthrough technology. As the 22nd century approaches there is a growing distance between what we as humans can do (technologically) and what we can do (actually). For example, we can start a car, flip on a switch and light a room, browse the internet, share a post  – amazing. And we have little to no idea how that happens. We shop at the market for meat and veggies and yet have little knowledge of the journey those products endured from earth to market.

There is a growing distance between what we can do and what we can do. But in the beginning, we made fire. We made fire with our hands and nothing more than the raw materials we could find in our environment. And we have still have that instinct to make. The growth of the Makerfaire is one indication of this instinct.

Leading from the future will require harnessing the “instinct to make” again. Rather than waiting for something to happen, we want to make things happen. Rather than waiting for lighting to strike, we want to make fire. There’s a growing interest to farm, for example, among the emerging generation. They want to grow their own vegetables. They want to know where their meat comes from. Both of my sons – 26 and 20 – are tapped into this instinct. And I’m not sure how that happened.

My grandparents left the farm for the city. My mother left Central America to fly the friendly skies as a flight attendant and lived in NYC, San Francisco, and Miami. I thought we had left our rural past and were headed to an urban future. But now, my oldest son now owns dogs, sheep, and horses. He prefers meat he himself hunts and butchers. My youngest son, wants to farm, build his own log house, and fish and hunt for his food. He wants to know how to survive in the world (by which he means the natural world) and live sustainably without such a heavy dependence on the processes on which we are all so dependent and which we increasingly distrust.

We don’t just want to consume things, we want to grow them. It’s not enough to buy organic, we are reconnecting with the instinct to grow things ourselves. It’s not enough to use a robot, we need the instinct to make one. It’s not enough to live in a home, we need the instinct to dig a footer and pour a foundation… and to connect with other humans in the growing and in the making.

Making fire can be a tribal activity.

Even societies and communities are made. Makers of fire need the wisdom and skill to make a society that works for everyone. Making a community is not just a complicated task. It is a complex task. Recently, a leading scientist in the UK, Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, stated:

“Today we have those who like to mix science up with ideology and politics, where opinion, rhetoric and tradition hold more sway than adherence to evidence and adherence to logical argument.” Offenders, he said, ranged from politicians and religious figures to industrial leaders, NGOs and charities.

Sir Paul wishes that our complex world could be reduced to being merely a complicated word. In a complicated world everything can be reduced to a logical argument. Everything is formulaic, predictable, one size fits all. It’s no surprise, then, that, according to the Guardian, Sir Paul urged

“…researchers to forge relationships with politicians, lobbyists, religious figures and leaders of organisations in the hope that they might feel ashamed to misuse scientific evidence.

But if that approach failed, Nurse urged researchers to call offenders out in the media and challenge them in the strongest way possible. ‘When they are serial offenders they should be crushed and buried,’ Nurse said.”

Shame, crush, then bury. I suppose this is an attempt at leadership in a complicated world, where conformity rules. In a complex world, it’s not leadership. It’s abuse. Scientists are not above personal and political bias. The proverbial “follow the money” applies to them as it does to anyone else. Science is also built on tradition and traditions can become layers of knowledge that blind us to new ways of thinking. Take, for example, Sir Paul’s advice that we shame, crush, and bury those who do not conform to our knowledge. That’s a very old way to treat those who think differently. Foolishness follows a society that has lost its instinct to make.

Not everyone is a farmer, robot maker, or scientist, but we are all becoming human. Making a robot is complicated. Building human community is complex. Becoming human requires that we reconnect with the instinct to make. Leading from the future calls upon us, at very least, to make community.

But how can we best make community? That takes us into skill #3: the hunger to make the world thrive.

Alex McManus

Author, Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future

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Future Skill #1: Simplify

“Leading from the future” is the tagline of my new book, MAKERS OF FIRE. As we make a turn towards the 22nd century, what are some of the leadership skills we’ll need to navigate our rapidly changing world?

Four of the skills we’ll need are

  1. The drive to simplify
  2. The instinct to make
  3. The hunger to make the world thrive
  4. The imagination to connect seemingly unrelated dots

THE DRIVE TO SIMPLIFY
One of the characteristics of our age is that of increasing complexity. It’s not that our age is complicated. Our age is complex. The difference is that in complicated systems one can predict the outcomes by understanding the starting conditions, while in complex systems outcomes are unpredictable. For example,

  • Building a Rocket is complicated
  • Formulaic
  • Linear
  • Static
  • Leading a Community is complex
  • Self evolving and determining
  • Multi-dimensional
  •  Dynamic

If you build one rocket, you can build another one exactly the same way, and get the exact same result. If you lead a group of people to live in healthy community, and you lead another group exactly same way, anything can happen.

Our complex age resists linear, one size fits all, and formulaic strategies for success. In order to lead in a complex environment, an important skill we’ll need to develop is the ability to simplify. To simplify is to clarify. We live in a world so obsessed with consumption that we lose the ability to know what we want and don’t want. We don’t know what we need and don’t need. To lead in a world of such clutter, we’ll need to see through the commercials, conflicting truth claims, alternative strategies, and opposing demands that clutter the world around us to a future that others can not yet see.

Describing that future — a skill which in the leadership literature is called casting “Vision” and in the discipline of Strategic Foresight is called creating the “preferred future” — until it becomes the north star within a world of tempestuous change simplifies the world. Others may become paralyzed or frazzled by all the contradictions and competing demands, but leaders must keep their eyes on that star. This will help simplify things without being simplistic. Getting there becomes the goal. That’s tight. How to get there can vary as widely as the conditions dictate. That’s loose.

Hold tight. Hang loose. Make Fire!

Alex McManus

Author, Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future

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Artists (like Gungor) have much to teach theologians about scripture

Recently two Christian artists crossed my radar. The first is Gungor, who does not take the Bible “literally.” The second is evangelical recording artist, Vicky Beeching, who came out as gay.

This post is about Gungor. Now, I don’t know Gungor or his music. I’m listening to his music for the first time as I write this. My tastes tend more towards Thievery Corp, Zero 7, Bjork, Koop, Fau, Brae, Gypsy Kings, and Bebel Gilberto. But as I read this interview about Gungor’s “drift” from biblical orthodoxy as described by World Magazine, I was reminded that orthodoxy is the heresy that won.

Just about every week I read an article about how theologians wrestle with scripture in light of the science of evolution. Let’s be clear, this post is not about evolution as much as it is about scripture. And, for full transparency, I have evolutionary frameworks for understanding how the world came to be as it is. But I could care less if evolution were overturned or established tomorrow. Quite the contrary, I would be delighted by whatever new thing could be learned and discovered.

This post is about how we understand the scripture. Theologians wonder how we can understand the biblical figures of Adam and Eve in light of the fact that, given the evolution of our species, they had ancestors reaching back millions of years. They struggle with how there could have been death and suffering in the world for millions and millions of years before the “fall of man.” They struggle with how the creation story fits with what we know today about the emergence of life in the world, as if they were somehow parallel.

So many of us listen to theologians, academics, and other fundamentalist christians wrestle with these questions with the same incredulity we would if they were wrestling with how to understand cosmology in light of the church doctrine that the earth is the center of the universe.

The challenge for Christians is not that we don’t understand the science. It’s that we don’t understand the Bible… at least not the way millions of believers will understand it the farther we get into this century.

Enter the artist.

Michael Gungor reads the creation stories as a poem.

(This may also be a minority opinion, so far. In any case, majorities are overrated. After all, Christ was crucified with the majority in agreement).

The opening chapters of Genesis are a poetic saga. The creation story of Genesis is an epic myth thoughtfully and intentionally constructed from a multiplicity of sources including the babylonian poem known as the Enuma Elish.

Genesis does not record the chronological origins of the universe. It is the consolidation of stories from multiple sources (and cultures) which had substantial oral histories. These stories were brought together to express a particular and new faith that emerged four to five thousand years ago. This new faith is arrived at by a nomadic tribe whose patriarch, a man –whether a composite or an individual– named Abraham, had encounters with a guiding spirit in the wild. Their intention in pulling together these stories may have been to offer an apologetic for faith in Abraham’s God in a world full of gods.

For so many Christians it seems impossible to maintain this kind of point of view and still follow Christ. But Christians who have an evolutionary framework for understanding the world listen to Gungor and hear nothing but common sense. And they have fewer problems integrating new science with ancient faith than those who read Genesis like it was written by an ancient community that was somehow up to date with 21st century science. This may be one of the fault lines between Modern Christianity and the Christ-following faith of the 22nd century that is still in vitro.

To those within these frameworks, it is the theologians, academics, fundamentalists, and Christian organizations –especially the “watchdogs” of orthodoxy who are cemented in the past —  that seem biblically illiterate.

Are artists like Gungor, with or without intending, parting a theological sea? Are they, with or without knowing, raising a staff and prophesying the way of faith forward? Many who cannot understand the fundamentalist faith will run through these waters and begin to shape a tribe of faith that will populate the latter 21st century. They will read the scriptures with different eyes.

But, even fundamentalists can be saved. That’s the beauty of the courageous leadership offered by Gungor. (And, Im not saying here that he’s got it all figured out or even claims to have it figured out. Like I said at the beginning, I don’t know much about him.) After Israel left Egypt, things went back to “life as usual” in the land of the Pharaohs. The Egyptians probably didn’t even miss a step. But the narrative arc of the story followed the nomadic tribe who found their way across the desert and through the waters led by a guiding wind.

I suspect that the narrative arc of the story of scripture may be headed out into the wilds again and the artists may be leading the way.

By the way, Michael and Lisa, enjoyed your music.

Alex McManus

Author, Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future

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MOF_BOOK

What is MAKERS OF FIRE about?

BASIC IDEA

Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future  provokes readers to ignite change through their own creativity by using the analogy of Making Fire.
book pic banner
In order for fire to happen, three ingredients must be present:

fuel

oxygen

heat

By analogy, in order to create a “burning event” of social change, we must be

(1) fully present in the moment

Exponential change characterizes our world. Being fully present includes developing an awareness of the “weak signals” of change that are all around us as well as the events and trends that are shaping our present world. This is the Fuel.

(2) shapers of meaning

People are shaped by stories. Shaping meaning means telling the story of the human journey in ways that capture the 21st century imagination. We must engaged and expand our ability to think about the future. This is Oxygen.

(3) dream whisperers who are willing to step into the fray

Creating the future doesn’t begin with a plan. It begins with a dream. But dreams must become acts by which we step between the Fuel of culture and the Oxygen of meaning and ignite a spark of change. This is Heat.

When You bring this three ingredients together, you become a Maker of Fire.

BOOK STRUCTURE

The book is divided in three sections: Fuel, Oxygen, and Heat.

(1)

Fuel turns its attention towards our rapidly changing 21st century culture. It touches on the trends and events that are shaping our world. But not for the purpose of trend spotting or forecasting. Instead, Fuel focuses on our orientation towards futurity for the purpose of understanding and engaging the present.

(2)

Oxygen focuses on a timeless element of the human heart: our search for meaning. This second section explores the ways both theists and atheists, mystics and materialists, are tied together in a search for meaning in life. This is the human religion.

(3)

fireHeat gets practical. This is where dreams become deeds, genies come out of bottles, the imagined materializes into the experienced. This is where you apply your genius, creativity, and initiative to the Fuel of culture that settles like tinder at our feet and the Oxygen of meanings that swirl around us all. This is where you become a maker of fire.

The book is about the spirituality of leading from the future, a much needed corrective for those overly focused on the past and much desired perspective for those trying to be more engaged with the present.

The book releases on November 15, 2014 in Print, eBook, and PDF formats. An interactive PDF is available now at a special price and with special benefits, if purchased before August 31, 2014. We hope you purchase and enjoy the book.

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MAKERS of FIRE: the spirituality of leading from the future