Category Archives: 05 Implications from the Findings


We have come to the end of this journey. The research team no longer exists. My writing is done. You, dear reader, and I have finished our interaction. Hopefully, we have found a fusion of horizons that has expanded each of our theological imaginations.

I come to the end of this leg of the journey in a fixed moment in time. I will move beyond this paper and change, while the text of the paper becomes a temporal frame of my theological imagination at its moment of completion. You will encounter this paper at another moment in time, and it will intersect with you in that space, and invite you into a dialogue of its own. My prayer is that the dialogue is fruitful.

This paper has been a part of my journey that began several years ago. I have slowly evolved from my fundamentalist and conservative evangelical roots, across the fields of the emergent church, and into the world of missional theologians in the ELCA. I had a specific encounter with the social Trinity in 2012 that impacted my ideation and praxis of spiritual formation. I wondered if other people—specifically people in suburban ELCA congregations like the one in which I find myself—would have a similar experience. I constructed a participatory action research project as a holding space in which to ask that question. I brought the social Trinity, spiritual formation, and the suburban context into conversation and placed that conversation as the “great thing” around which the research team would gather. Then, I facilitated the communicative action of that team over a nine-month period.

Did the findings of this project come out the way I thought it would? No, praise God! I thought I would discover amazing insights that would change the world. I thought I would make a compelling argument that the social Trinity is the preferred way to imagine God and provides a solid structure for the missional church and suburban spirituality. Instead, I encountered a deepened understanding of communicative action by engaging in communicative action. I cannot make any claims that there is a connection between the social Trinity and spiritual formation. Yet, I believe that, both in the DITB project and your reading of this paper, we have engaged in Trinitarian praxis. However, I also realize that you may completely disagree with me regarding the Trinity and its connection to spiritual formation.

This project has helped me to understand that it is OK for us to disagree. Our goal in missional leadership is not to reach agreement. That is a static and lifeless prospect. I believe that we, as missional leaders, specifically in the ELCA suburban context, are called to invite people to be continually formed in the Creator’s preferred and promised future, through the way of the Redeemer, and in the power of the Sustainer within holding spaces of communicative action where we dwell in the Word and in the World. If the missional leader of the suburban congregation can learn to cultivate these types of spaces in the community, then, perhaps, we can go deep in the burbs.

I conclude this paper with a prayer written by a member of the research team.

Dear God, you have promised that whenever two or three are gathered in your name, you are there also. As we gather together here in this place, we remind ourselves that you are already here, fully present as God our Creator, the One who made us in your own image and who even now knows the thumping of each heart in this room. We remind ourselves that you are fully present as Jesus, our Brother, our Savior, who walked the earth as we walk it, who lived within human relationships we live within relationships. We remind ourselves that you are fully present as the Holy Spirit, the one who gives life and breath and ignites each of our own spirits. God, Three in One, we ask that you would help each of us to also be fully present to you and to each other. Help us to really live your command to love one another, and in doing so, let this time together be a reflection of your own great glory. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.


Implications for Leadership in the Missional Church

I said, in the introduction, that the typical Lutheran suburbanite lives under extreme societal pressures to be a self-actualized, successful individual who navigates between a myriad of cultural choices as a radical individual with the power to choose. How can the Lutheran leader of suburban congregations cultivate spaces in which these suburbanites can find help to navigate these turbulent waters? What have we learned from the DITB project that might provide some insight into this question? In this, the final section, I will focus on my personal experience of leading the RT, my theological reflection upon it, and its possible implications for the missional church.

Stewarding Power

The first way we can address the question of leadership is to be honest about the issue of power. I faced an ongoing struggle with this issue as I led the RT through the DITB process. How would I handle my power? I entered the project carrying two forms of power. The first form of power is positional. I am an ordained pastor in the ELCA. The RT was comprised of ELCA members, most of whom are members of the church in which I serve. The Lutheran tradition has a history of hierarchical power structures in which the pastor (historically male, exclusively) wielded great control over the various congregational processes. I was automatically imbued with this power in the RT simply because I am a pastor. Further, I was the lead researcher. It was my project, for my dissertation, so the position of “leader” also carries with it inherent power. The second form of power I possessed was cognitive. This was, after all, my PhD research project. I have been immersed in four years of academic study, therefore my head is full of information that the RT did not have. Modern, Western society, being dominated by rationalism and empirical science, values knowledge above all things. Therefore, as Francis Bacon famously said, “Knowledge is power.” Knowledge, training, and extended vocabulary tends to intimidate people who are not fluent in a particular academic discipline and shifts the power to the one in the room who is considered “the expert.” I was the “expert” in the question the RT set out to explore and they often looked to me to give them “answers.”

Palmer, Brookfield, Hess, and Kegan all acknowledge the power differential inherent in the role of the teacher/leader. The purpose of critical social theory and PAR is to create communicative spaces in which adults can feel empowered to think critically about the dominant power structures and imagine a preferred future. The subject-centered model proposed by Palmer ideally brings the teacher into the circle with the other knowers. This process, however, is not one that ignores the power wielded by the teacher. Rather, it is one in which the leader/teacher is transparent about the power differential and understands the weight of responsibility to steward this power for the good of the community.

I struggled with the power differential throughout the research process. I was keenly aware of how much control I had over the structure of the room, the framing of the questions, the direction of the conversation, etc. I was also keenly aware of the constant push from some of the team members to ask me to give more direction, more clarity, and more answers. They often felt frustrated by the open-endedness of the process. Honestly, I felt frustrated by it at times and constantly fought the urge to swoop in like the hero-leader and fix everything.

I asked the RT to reflect on this issue in Phase Three. I asked them what advice they would give to the church leader based on their experience in the DITB project. The RT data indicate that the process of this project, and how I stewarded my power, is a good model for how the church leader should structure communicative spaces. They said that the missional leader would be better served if she understands her role to be that of the humble servant who facilitates God’s power, through knowledge and wisdom, to create a democratic and generative community of God’s grace and peace. This was demonstrated through the communicative action in the Dwelling in the Word exercises, the various pedagogical modalities, and the action projects carried out by the RT.

We must acknowledge that none of these things would have happened if I—the leader of the team—did not set a table that empowered such communicative action. This was my research project, after all, and I could have implemented instrumental reason at every step of the way and used my knowledge and skill to manipulate the research team. It was a learning and stretching experience for me to constantly step back and let the process unfold, trusting that God was working in, with, through, against, and for the RT the whole time.

The Communicative Zone

The second way that we can address the question of leadership is to understand the pluralistic dynamic of the suburbs and the skills necessary to navigate the communicative zone that exists in the space between seemingly polarized dichotomies. The typical suburbanite is constantly faced with a myriad of options at every level of life: ranging from mundane choices between brands of cereal to the profound choice of which faith tradition—if any—in which to participate. These choices form a perplexing array of apparent dichotomies.

Every dichotomy appears to have two extreme and opposing views on either end of a continuum. Most of human history is the story of opposing sides going to war over which side is correct and best for the world. Often times a move toward peace is the move to find a spot in the middle between these extremes. This, however, is not peace between the two poles, but is the creation of a completely new perspective that is neither one side nor the other. This is almost never acceptable to either side, and it simply perpetuates the ontological gap between particular spaces on the continuum.

An image emerged in my imagination as I progressed through the DITB project that has helped me to understand the implications for leaders as we help people navigate these dichotomies. Imagine that there is a pendulum that swings between two extremes. It does not stop in one middle place on the continuum, but continually moves back and forth between the extremes. As the pendulum swings it creates a field of energy between the two extremes.[1] The movement of the pendulum is both a particular object—the flat disc itself—and the field of energy created by the perpetual movement between the polar extremes. I would suggest, as illustrated in figure 18, that the space between the polar extremes is the communicative zone. It is a dynamic energy that keeps the tension of the two extremes in constant dialogue, thus creating life in the third space it creates. Further, it is another image of Trinitarian praxis. I witnessed the communicative zone form within the RT as we engaged in communicative action through the various modalities of our shared project.

The Communicative Zone

Figure 18. The Communicative Zone

How does this discussion impact the suburban leader? Here, again, we can look to Kegan for help. Kegan uses historical timeframes as an analogy to help us understand his orders of consciousness. I will add to that analogy and use a caricatured image of the small town vs. the suburban context to further describe these orders. The small town is third-order consciousness.[2] It is a single, homogenous system in which every member understands her particular role in society. Suburban life exemplifies fourth-order consciousness. The suburban landscape is comprised of thousands of radical, atomistic, autonomous selves moving through the chaotic, ever-changing transactionally based networks. Each connection is a consciously chosen, transactional relationship that is accidental to the primary substance of the individual self. Fourth-order consciousness recognizes that there are multiple systems, and each one of these systems are equally valid, and equally meaningless in the larger scheme of the mechanistic universe, in which the detached, objective observer and wielder of power can have free reign. This lifestyle ultimately leads to isolation, loneliness, abuse of power, and the high potential for violence and oppression. These autonomous entities experience an ontological gap between that which is the “other” and this gap can often be terrifying.

This is the challenge facing the missional leader in the suburbs. Most of the members of our suburban congregations are either third-order thinkers overwhelmed by the suburban lifestyle, or fourth-order thinkers experiencing increasing levels of isolation. What if God is calling us, as the missional community, to dwell in the communicative zones between these autonomous entities and myriad of choices that exist in society? What if we are called to stop and reflect on these relationships and to notice the movement and agency of the Holy Spirit between these seemingly polarized extremes?

We are not asked to abandon our faith cultures, but are invited to open ourselves to the interfaith dialogue, to be willing to listen to each other: to dwell in the world and the words of the stranger. Kegan claims that fifth-order consciousness realizes that all the apparently disconnected systems are, in fact, interconnected and interdependent. It is impossible to be autonomous. The apparently radical extremes need each other to exist, and are actually created and sustained by the pendulum that swings in the field of the communicative zone. This is fifth-order consciousness. This is a picture of relational ontology. This is the life of the Trinity.

Fifth Order Consciousness and the Communicative Zone

Figure 19. Fifth-Order Consciousness And The Communicative Zone

Here, again, we see why the ELCA may be an ideal space for the missional imagination, as I mentioned in chapter two. Lutheran theology upholds the tensive energy of paradox and has the theological imagination to cultivate the communicative zone in society. Could it be that the Lutheran pastor, leading in a fifth-order, missional key, might be able to structure spaces that lead to God’s peace? I would argue that this is the framework for a missional spirituality in the suburbs. Who knows? If we step into the spaces between, we just might meet the Spirit of the Living God in the suburbs.


[1] This is similar to the superposition of quantum physics that Simmons suggests. Simmons, The Entangled Trinity: Quantum Physics and Theology.

[2] I am drawing an analogy to the caricature of the small town as a geographically homogenous space as opposed to the caricature of the suburb which is fractured and multi-faceted. It would be naïve to suggest that all small-town people are third-order and all suburbanites are fourth-order. The reality is that individuals within all geographical locations will be spread along the continuum of the orders of consciousness for various reasons.

Framing the Findings

I will reflect theologically on the DITB project by bringing the three primary themes from the data into conversation with the three types of frames that I mentioned at the beginning of chapter two. I make this move because a key assumption that I brought into this project—and one that has only been deepened as a result of it—is that all knowledge is interpreted knowledge. Human being, as Kegan notes, is the action of constructing meaning from experienced data that is received through one’s filter. As the individual human moves through time and space, in communal relationships, both the individual and society evolves.

Table 8. Intersection of Findings and Frames

Major Findings from DITB Data



Awareness of Spirit

Types of Frames

Shifting Time

Relationships in Time

Reflection in Time

The Spirit and Time

Shifting Structure

A Shift to Relationality

Transcending One’s Own Frames

The Structure of the Spirit

Shifting Horizon An Expanded Definition of Neighbor Reflecting on the Frame

Expanding the Horizon of the Spiri

I came into this project with my own set of frames, assumptions, and prejudices, as did each individual member of the RT. I placed the social Trinity, spiritual formation, and the suburban context into conversation and then set that conversation as the “great thing” around which the team gathered.[1] We engaged in communicative action around this subject and generated a great amount of qualitative data. I reflected upon these data and determined that the three major themes that were significant for the RT team were relationships, reflection, and an increased awareness of the Holy Spirit.

I will reflect on each of these themes by bringing them into conversation with the three types of frames that I mentioned in chapter two. The first frame is the motion picture frame, which captures a moment in time. I will take each theme and discuss how these themes changed over the time period of the DITB project. The second type of frame is the internal structure of a building, or the operating system of a computer. Both of these metaphors point to the conceptual structure and prejudices—e.g. personal narrative, socio-economic position, language, etc.—that one brings to any topic that shape the way one perceives new data. I will discuss how each theme was shaped by and impacted the RT’s cognitive frame. The third type of frame is the picture frame in which an artist/photographer chooses which part of the landscape/environment to include in the frame and which part to leave out. I will discuss each theme in light of how the RT’s horizon shifted and/or expanded to include new things, and which things may still be left out of the picture.

shifting frames

Figure 17. Shifting Frames

Finding One: Relationships

The first key theme that emerged from the data was that the RT became increasingly aware of the importance of relationships in spiritual formation. Most people seek to find authentic and mutually beneficial relationships that will “stand the test of time.” The RT entered the project with a mixture of relationships. The members of each congregation had varying levels of relationships with those team members from their own congregation. The Calvary women knew each other well. The Bethlehem men knew each other well. The group from Ascension had varying levels of prior knowledge and comfort with each other. None of the members knew members from the other congregations (with the exception of Sharon and Quaid). Therefore, the RT was comprised of relationships that ranged from stranger to close friend. Analyzing the theme of relationships within the context of each type of frame will reveal different aspects of what the RT learned regarding the importance of relationships in conjunction with spiritual formation in the suburban context.

Frame One: Relationships in Time

The first type of frame is the motion picture frame. It is the analysis of snapshots taken over time. Relationships take time. They require vulnerability and the time and space to demonstrate trust. The RT was only together for nine months, therefore may not have had enough time and interaction to form good relationships. However, the relationships did change over the nine-month period. Initially, many of the team members were drawn to the group in the expectation that inter-congregational relationships could be formed and followed by subsequent partnerships in the community. This did not prove to be the case. The women from Calvary completely withdrew from the group for various reasons. Three men from Bethlehem stayed engaged in the RT meetings until the end, but never connected with the other congregations. Quaid withdrew from the RT, but stayed connected with me personally through emails and coffee meetings throughout the course of the project.

The members from Ascension had varying degrees of relationship development. The S’mores team indicated that they experienced a significant deepening of their friendships with each other and other members of the congregation simply by meeting together weekly throughout the summer to cook s’mores in the church parking lot. John and Mary deepened their relationships with each other and with co-workers by committing to regular participation in Feed My Starving Children. Sharon focused much of her relational energy into the hard work of visiting door-to-door in her political campaign. She reported the value of reaching out to make these relationships as connected to her own spiritual formation. Heather reported that her connection with her sons and with one particular friend evolved over the course of the project in such as way that it revealed deeper insights into the process of spiritual formation.

Frame Two: A Shift to Relationality

The second type of frame is the internal structure of a house, or the operating system of a computer. The RT did not only experience a fairly natural evolution of relationships as a result of the passage of time, but they also indicated a significant shift in their understanding of relationship itself. The RT members each represent the typical white, middle-class suburbanite who has been shaped by the framework of the modern ideal of radical individualism. Relationships, in this framework, are primarily voluntary transactions that take place between autonomous selves. This voluntary type of relationship is also true of one’s connection to God. The typical modern Western Christian imagines a personal, voluntary connection to God as well as to others.

The increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity, through the communicative action of the DITB project, invited the members of the RT to rethink the nature of relationship itself. The more they discussed and contemplated a relational ontology in contrast to substance ontology, the more they indicated an awareness of the essential nature of relationships. They began to see that relationships were not a means to an end, but were constitutive of human being together.

Here I must further nuance the conversation. First, I must acknowledge my own journey in this regard. I am making the movement from conservative evangelicalism into a missional expression of the ELCA. Conservative evangelicalism is thoroughly shaped by modernity and the radical, buffered self. My earliest imagination of relationship with God was one of a personal decision that I had to make in order to bridge the ontological gap caused by sin and be reunited to God through Christ’s work on the cross. My imagination of having a relationship with God was shaped by decisional soteriology. My encounter with the social Trinity and relational ontology was one of the most significant points of impact for my theological shift. I began to imagine the relationality of the persons of the Trinity as constitutive of my own existence, and the relationality of all things as essential to the universe. There is no doubt that I brought that experience as a framework into the DITB project and expected that others would have the same experience. I was surprised to discover that no one had that same type of impact that I did when exposed to the social Trinity.

I believe the main reason the RT did not have the same experience of shift was because the majority of the RT had been raised in an ecumenical tradition rather than an evangelical tradition. The ecumenical tradition has been equally impacted by modernity, resulting in a buffered self, but it has been manifest in different ways than that of evangelicalism. Traditionally, the ecumenical Christian traditions have been more in tune with the connectedness of humanity and the need for social justice, whereas the evangelical tradition has been more focused on the individual relationship with God and personal salvation for the afterlife.

This reversal both surprised me and encouraged my intuition for the importance of this conversation. It surprised me because, as I have already mentioned, it was the exact opposite of my journey. It encouraged me because it reinforces the need to move between the polarized camps of the evangelical and the ecumenical. The conversation around the relational ontology of the social Trinity can bring people into a dynamic shift in how they think about the nature and purpose of relationship itself. [2] This is further reflective of both the constructivist epistemological framework and the communicative action that undergirds the pedagogical framework of Palmer, Brookfield, Hess, and Kegan.

Heather also noted another possible explanation for this shift toward relationality. She said that much of the need for this shift to relational ontology was not because of the decisional theology that was my framework, but because of the masculinist dominance in Western Christianity, both in the evangelical and ecumenical traditions. Women, she said, are more inherently in tune with relationality, almost to the point of becoming lost in their relational identities over against their individual identity. Ironically, many members of the team felt the opposite impact from the discussion of relational ontology than I did. They indicated an increased awareness of a relationship with God and with their own identity in God. In other words, they moved from feeling enmeshed in society, with a vague sense of God’s agency, to feeling a more keen awareness of God’s relational presence in the world.

Frame Three: An Expanded Definition of Neighbor

The third type of frame is the picture frame that selectively includes and excludes elements of the environment. A shift in this type of frame either moves the frame to a different location on the landscape, expands the size of the frame to include more things, or a combination of both of these movements. The RT experienced a shift in their frame regarding relationships. I have already noted that the nature of the relationship shifted from a vertical-personal relationship to a horizontal-communal relationship.[3] This is, indeed, a shift in the framing of the picture. However, another, and equally important shift became evident in the scope of relationships.

The RT experienced a shift in regard to the relationship with the neighbor that is outside the church. Sharon experienced a deep sense of connection as she shared her story and listened to the stories of thousands of people in the community. Her intentionality in framing her political canvasing in the awareness of the DITB project invited her to see the necessity of listening to the neighbor, no matter who they are, or what their religious/political views may be. John journaled extensively about his increased awareness of God’s presence in every person with whom he had contact. This expanded his frame to be able to see God present in the neighborhood, rather than confined in the church or the body of confessing believers. The s’mores team recognized the need to connect with the neighborhood immediately surrounding the church property in order to fully embrace the purpose of their project. Heather connected deeply with a woman from a radically different Christian tradition and racial background and found her framework expanded.

The discussion of neighbor and who is inside the frame came to an acute focus during the Holy Conversations held at Ascension Lutheran.[4] This congregation deliberated over whether same-sex couples should be married in the church. Essentially the congregation was asking whether God sanctioned these unions and if same-sex couples should be considered a neighbor in the same way as every other member of the congregation. When the decision was made to perform same-sex marriages, the relational frame shifted across the horizon. New people were included in the frame, but some people were either left out or chose to step outside of the frame.

The question that I am left with after the DITB project, regarding the shifting frame of relationships, has to do with who is still left out of the frame. The RT was comprised of white, middle-class, middle-aged Christians. Where are the people of color? Where are the poor, the homeless, the physically and mentally challenged? Where are the Millenials?[5] These people live in the same suburbs in which these congregations dwell. Why are they not as represented in the congregations as they are in the community?

I interjected the issue of race into the online conversation in August, 2014. The topic had not come up naturally within the RT, so I exerted my leadership power and placed the question on the table. It sparked a short flurry of conversation, but then the discussion died down. The data from this project does not address the topics of race and social justice regarding socio-economic disparity, so I cannot address them. They are topics, however, that must be included in the frame and should be another “great thing” around which the suburban congregation gathers.

Finding Two: Reflection

Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. The RT echoed this idea in that the second major theme that emerged from the data is the necessity of reflection—the discipline of slowing down, taking time, and thinking critically on the actions previously taken. Several members of the RT explicitly indicated that it was the continual prompting to reflect on our action in the project that made a significant impact on their spiritual formation. All of the RT members implicitly indicated that the reflective process inherent in the project methodology impacted his or her thinking in regard to spiritual formation. The RT engaged in a reflective process in the following ways: (1) instructed pauses for written reflection in personal notebooks during the large group sessions; (2) personal journals throughout the entire project; (3) specific questions during the large group questions; (4) the reflective process inherent in Dwelling in the Word.

Frame One: Reflection in Time

The first frame through which we will evaluate the theme of reflection is that of the motion picture frame. Things change over time, and often the changes go unnoticed unless we stop and reflect on them. One simple change that happened during the time of the research project was the changing of seasons. We began in the bitter cold of February, finished Phase One in the emerging warmth of May, engaged in action projects during the summer and ended them as the leaves changed color and fell from the trees. Finally, we met for the last sessions as the first snow of the season fell.

I think it is significant that we moved through all four seasons of the Upper-Midwest region. The changing of the seasons is a huge factor in the white, middle-class, suburban context. Many people in this context take on radically different attitudes toward work and space based upon the season. The cold winter months are the times when people settle into the pressing rhythm of work, school, and civic involvement. This is especially true for those who have children in school. Their lives are dictated by work, school, and church schedules. Much of their time is spent racing from one activity to the next. The winter is bitter, dark, and cold, and the frenetic pace may help alleviate the darkness. Then, when the summer comes and school is out of session, people switch into a different mode where being outside and away from the rigorous schedules takes precedence over everything. The typical suburban congregation experiences a significant drop in weekly worship attendance during the summer because many people spend the weekends at a cabin or on vacation.

The leader who is not in tune with this seasonal rhythm may become discouraged and find herself fighting against a false idea of apathy in the congregation. The acknowledgment of this rhythm and the desire to enter into missional spaces in the suburban lifestyle was the primary impetus behind the s’mores project. Rob, Kelly, and Stephanie saw this weekend pattern, not as a negative, but as a natural part of the suburban summer rhythm and sought ways to engage the community within that rhythm by allowing people to gather on Sunday Evening in a space that lets them come as they are with no judgment. They reported that this experiment enhanced the sense of communal belonging amongst the congregation. This may serve as a clue to the missional leader to continually listen to the normal rhythms of suburban life and seek to meet people in those spaces, rather than expect suburban people to conform to rhythms that may have been carried over from a rural and/or pre-digital time.

I experienced reflection in time through a very different means. I engaged in a personal action project during the DITB project that may seem insignificant to some, but had deep meaning for me. I have a regular habit of walking at least three times a week along the same path. One leg of my walk takes me along a series of man-made ponds that line the edge of a shopping center. I have been walking along this route for several years and have always noticed that many Canada Geese live in these ponds. When the geese returned in the Spring, during phase one of the project, it struck me how delicately human society and animals live together in the suburban context. I decided to reflect on the geese and began to blog about them on the site under the tag “suburban geese.” I watched the geese pair up and protect their nests. I greeted the first gaggle of goslings as they emerged from the cattails. I watched the goslings grow over the summer and don their sleek coats. Eventually they became indistinguishable from their parents. As the final leaves fell from the trees, I said goodbye to them as they flew away for the winter.

My reflection on the geese did two things for me. First, it marked time in a way that I had not previously done. I felt my own process through the DITB project become enmeshed with the development of these birds. The project matured just as they did. Second, it caused me to reframe my perception of the suburban neighborhood in which I live. No longer was this the asphalt and brick dwelling space owned by humans. I imagined this land long before the European settlers arrived. I imagined the ancestors of these majestic birds flying above the native people as they migrated through the area, living in tune with the land in a way that I could never imagine. My reflection on the geese connected me to time in way that my normal suburban lifestyle seldom affords.

Frame Two: Transcending One’s Own Frames

The second type of frame is that of the building or the operating system. This is the shape of how data is processed and meaning is made. Each member of the RT entered into the DITB project with a unique cognitive framework, or filter, that has been shaped over time. I would argue that the reflective process of the DITB project helped to reshape the cognitive structure of the RT: to give them a “system upgrade” in their theological imagination. To argue this point, I will step up on the balcony[6] and look through the lens of meta-theory to reflect on how the theme of reflection worked in the DITB project.

First, I would argue that the DITB methodology helped the RT reflect upon and become aware of their frames because it was built upon the pedagogical framework of Brookfield, Palmer, and Hess, as well as the cognitive-developmental theory of Kegan. Kegan argues that the typical adult functions in third-order thinking. This is the frame s/he brings to interpret the data of life experience. The key characteristic of the third-order thinking is that the individual is generally blind to the fact that s/he makes meaning through a particular filter. This “filter blindness” creates an immunity to change that can make life difficult in an environment of discontinuous change. “A way of knowing,” Kegan argues, “becomes more complex when it is able to look at what before it could only look through.”[7] Kegan and Lahey suggest that it is possible to help people to become aware of their filters and evolve into fourth and fifth-order consciousness through a series of intentional reflective actions, or praxis. The DITB methodology—PAR, Dwelling in the Word, and action projects—is praxis that helped the RT members to become more aware of their own filters.

Second, I would argue that the DITB methodology helped the RT reflect upon and become aware of their frames because of its connection to and the inherent nature of spirituality/spiritual formation. Schneiders defined spirituality as self-transcendence.[8] I would argue that self-transcendence is congruent with what Kegan calls transcategorical interaction, which is only possible if the self is porous[9] and has the ability to empathize with others, see from another’s perspective (as much as possible), and be open to the unseen, unexplainable, and/or spiritual dimension of the universe. I have noted earlier that Kegan’s argument for transcategorical interaction is also congruent with relational ontology, which is essential to the social Trinity.[10] Therefore, I would argue that PAR methodology—as experienced in the DITB project—is, not only praxis, but is Trinitarian praxis.

Further, I would argue that the DITB methodology helped the RT members become aware of their frames because the data indicate that the Dwelling in the Word exercise helped the RT to engage in reflective action, or Trinitarian praxis. The Dwelling exercise forced the RT to do two forms of reflection that are contrary to the normal suburban lifestyle. First, it invited them to slow down. They were, at first, frustrated with the fact that we dwelt in the same text for three sessions. The modern, suburban mind is used to taking in data in short bursts and then moving on to the next thing. The slow process of dwelling in the same text was foreign to the team. Additionally, the text was read twice during each session. The slowness of the process, according to their reports, opened up pathways of awareness that they had not experienced before. They said that the slowing effects of the exercise allowed them to be more focused on the task of the discussion of the project once we got to that portion of the meeting. Without the discipline of slowing, they said, they may not have been able to get the fullness of the DITB project.

The second thing the Dwelling forced them to do that is contrary to the suburban lifestyle is to listen. The typical white, middle-class, suburbanite is used to being in a place of power and privilege in society. This is true of the RT. Each of them are leaders in their own way, whether it be in work, church, or the fact that they all are parents. People who experience agency in society tend to speak at others and share their own opinion, rather than stop to listen to the other. The Dwelling in the Word exercise invited the RT into the uncomfortable, and unfamiliar space of listening intently to the other. The fact that each person was invited to represent his or her conversation partner’s thoughts and words to the large group compelled the individual to listen in a way that all of them confessed was unnatural for them.

The Trinitarian praxis experienced in the DITB project created spaces in which the RT could reflect. This reflection allowed them to become more aware of the filters (the structural frame or operating system) through which they were previously making sense out of their experiences. The reflective action further allowed them to reframe how they approached the questions that we were asking throughout the project.

Frame Three: Reflecting on the Frame

The third type of frame is the picture frame. The RT indicated that the invitation to reflection was crucial to the expansion of their theological imagination: the frame through which they view God. Reflective action made them aware of their frames and the limited and limiting nature of those frames. I have already mentioned that the RT became more aware of an expanded definition of neighbor. In that section I focused on who is in the frame and who is still left out of the frame of relationships. Here I will focus my attention on the power of reflection to expand one’s frame. Again, Kegan and Lahey argue that it is possible to help people to become aware of their frames, expand them, and, not only take on new perspectives, but actually change the way we make sense out of the world.

I would argue that this is a leadership issue. The role of the teacher/leader is to structure and cultivate holding spaces in which individuals can engage in communicative action—or Trinitarian praxis—through which they will have more opportunity to become aware of the frames, and then learn how to shift and expand them. One of the biggest lessons that the RT said they will take away from the DITB project is the need to engage in this process as a regular part of congregational life. That will not happen automatically. It requires the gentle invitation and modeling of congregational leaders to engage the congregation in the necessary Trinitarian praxis of reflection in order for more people to become aware of their frames in order to shift and expand them.

Finding Three: Awareness of the Holy Spirit

The data indicate that the DITB project, and specifically the Dwelling in the Word exercise, heightened the RT’s awareness of the Holy Spirit as an active agent in the world and broadened their horizon as to where and how the Holy Spirit is present. The RT came into the project with a robust awareness of the Holy Spirit, having all been raised in a Christian context with previous exposure to the Creeds. However, many indicated that the Holy Spirit was a confusing, enigmatic idea that seemed confined to doctrinal statements and abstractions. Now, they reported, as a result of the Dwelling in the Word and the DITB project, they are beginning to sense the presence of the Holy Spirit, not just in the church, but also in their daily experiences in the world.

Frame One: The Spirit and Time

The first type of frame is the motion picture frame in which we can compare snapshots over time. I have already indicated the power of reflecting on the passage of time. However, the RT indicated that the experience of the DITB project heightened their awareness that the Holy Spirit is active in the world. This awareness often happens in retrospect. When one’s frame has been altered to be open to the relationality of God in the world, then suddenly the sense-making of reflecting on past events becomes attuned to the activity of God the Spirit as an agent in the process.

This became evident in a few narrative threads that wove their way through the DITB project. One example is Kelly’s testimony of her awareness of God’s presence through the difficult journey of the Holy Conversations at Ascension Lutheran. She journaled extensively as she carried the burden of leadership through these turbulent waters. She confessed that, prior to this project, the Spirit was a nebulous concept. Through Dwelling in the Word exercises and the Trinitarian praxis of this experience she reported a heightened sense of the Spirit’s presence in ordinary things; like the passing by of an eagle, a sense of peace in a particular moment, the spoken word of a friend. She felt the Spirit’s guidance through the decision-making process, where, previously, she would have explained it away as intuition.

Another example of making sense of the Spirit’s agency over time comes through my own narrative and how it interwove with the DITB project. This is true in two ways. First, I have already indicated the power of the narrative as I told my story, both on the website and during session Four, as a means to communicate the social Trinity.[11] The second way my narrative connects has to do with a comment that Sharon made during session One. She introduced herself to the group and indicated that she had been involved in a prayer group at Ascension Lutheran that was praying for God to bring a leader to the church that would help the congregation discern how to move into the future. She was praying at the same time that I felt God call me to leave my home in Las Vegas and move to the Mid-West to pursue a PhD. That journey ultimately led to my joining the staff at Ascension Lutheran, entering the PhD program at Luther Seminary, and transferring my ordination into the ELCA. As we looked back on these snapshots over time, it became apparent that the Spirit of God was active in each of these moments to bring these narratives together.

A third example of an increased awareness of the Spirit’s agency over time is the experience of the DITB project itself. At each moment that the RT stopped to reflect, to look back at where we had come, to bring those experiences into conversation with our theological conversations, it became more apparent to the team that God’s Spirit was at work in and through this process. The Spirit’s work was not only in the reflective action of the team’s interaction, but, more so, through the way the action projects brought the team into the neighborhoods to experience God in the people and experiences in everyday spaces.

Frame Two: The Structure of the Spirit

The second frame is the internal structure of a building or the operating system of a computer. The RT’s increased awareness of the Spirit’s agency is, I would argue, a result of the shifting cognitive structure of the Trinitarian imagination. The increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity, made possible through the multiple pedagogical modalities, created cognitive space for the RT to become aware of God’s agency in the world in ways that, perhaps were less likely prior to this project.

I will reemphasize, at this point, that all the team members indicated a strong belief in the Trinity and the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the project. It is not that their belief in the Holy Spirit increased or changed as a result of the project. Rather, I would argue, the increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity gave the RT new cognitive frames and new language to both be aware of the Spirit’s agency and articulate the Spirit’s agency when it was noticed.

John journaled extensively about his increased awareness of the Holy Spirit present in all people, both inside and outside the church. He had been raised in a Lutheran tradition that taught that the Holy Spirit was confined to the church, through word and sacrament. He now claims that humanity is part of the Trinity in that the Spirit is the animating force that unites us with all things. Mary also felt a heightened sense of God’s presence. She had been raised Roman Catholic and associated the presence of the Holy Spirit with the lit candle in the church sanctuary. Now, she reports that she senses the presence of the Spirit in each of us and it is the gathering of people in the sanctuary that is the presence of the Holy Spirit.

One of the most dramatic examples of a cognitive shift, in my opinion, is evidenced in Phil’s story. He is a retired Lutheran pastor who enjoys the original language of scripture, theological study, and teaching. He expressed a strongly dualistic understanding of the Trinity in our first session. He wondered how the Trinity, “which is up here” he said, holding his hand above his head, “connects to spiritual formation, which is down here,” holding his hand below his waist. I interpreted this to demonstrate the dualistic gap between the Immanent Trinity and our lived experience that I articulated in the animated videos and that his theological imagination was framed in this perspective. He was publicly resistant to my early presentations about the social Trinity. He was not mean-spirited and was a welcomed interlocutor. However, he was verbally resistant in the large group sessions and often engaged with my blog posts through the public comments.

I encouraged Phil to continue our personal dialogue via the blog comments and emails. My own research regarding the social Trinity continued during the course of the project. I had originally framed the question using the label “social Trinity” but quickly expanded that language to include the term relational Trinity as well.[12] However, I discovered a new set of metaphors borrowed from Quantum Physics that provide a model for the Trinity that speak of God as The Entangled Trinity.[13] Simmons specifically speaks of “Entangled Panentheistic Trinitarianism.”[14] As I blogged about the authors who proposed the entangled Trinity, Phil latched onto that language.[15] Given his particular bent toward science and mathematics, this model connected for him in a way that the previous language did not. He did not fully embrace any of the models that I had proposed, but the introduction of the third model, or language set, expanded his structural framework to a point that he became excited about the implications for a new imagination of the Trinity and its implications for the local church. He became a prolific author and inundated my email inbox with revision after revision of a plan to structure an entire adult educational curriculum around the Trinity.

Phil’s new language opened new frames of imagination for him to articulate the agency of the Holy Spirit in the world. Again, it is not that he suddenly believed that the Spirit was active where he did not before. He clearly believed in the Spirit’s agency as he reflected on his previous ministry experience in the early phases of the project. However, the conversation regarding new models afforded him new cognitive space and freedom. I believe that this type of expansion and reframing may not have happened had we not had the holding space in which communicative action could take place.

I will press the metaphor and suggest that every member of the RT experienced having at least one “wall of their house” torn down and a new room added to their frame, and one “upgrade to their operating system” installed as a result of the DITB project. It will be interesting to observe how these new cognitive spaces will allow each team member to make sense out of their stories as they move forward from here and are aware of the Spirit’s agency.

Frame Three: Expanding the Horizon of the Spirit

The final type of frame is the picture frame that encompasses one part of the environment and leaves the rest out. The data indicate that the RT entered the DITB project with fairly typical frames around the nature and movement of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was either “up there” with the other members of the Trinity, or, at best “in here” within the believer, enhancing the personal relationship with God. The Trinitarian praxis of the DITB project, I would argue, transformed the RT’s frame from a standard portrait configuration of a vertical nature to a full 360 theatre-in-the-round where the Holy Spirit is active on every side and in unexpected ways.

Reframing the Frames

I must pause to acknowledge an important aspect of the previous discussion. It, in itself, was a framework in which I appropriated the data from the DITB project and reflected upon it theologically. The simple fact that I chose to pass the three findings through the lens of these three frames impacted the way in which I thought about the findings. The simple, yet profoundly complex and perplexing, point that I make is this: It is impossible to communicate without frames. The missional leader must always keep this in mind. Our job is not to convince people of particular doctrines, but to cultivate holding spaces in which individuals can come together to engage in communicative action—what I would argue, through my frame, is Trinitarian praxis—to experience a mutual reframing that will bring about a preferred future for the community. This is a leadership issue and leads me to my next and final reflection.


[1] See my discussion of Palmer and Hess in chapter two.

[2] Coakley notes this distinction by naming Ernst Troelsch’s three types of Christian congregation: church, sect, and mystic. The church is the ecumenical type that is focused on institutional structures that hold society together. The sect is the type that is focused on doctrinal distinctives, the purification of society, and eschatology. Coakley argues that the mystic type might provide a third way that is suggestive of the Holy Spirit’s movement in and between these two types. See Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality and the Self: An Essay ‘on the Trinity’ (2013).

[3] See chapter five.

[4] See an explanation of the Holy Conversations under Phase 1.3 in chapter five.

[5] I wrote a large section regarding the aging suburbs and the age gap within congregations in an early draft of this paper. I removed it from the final draft because it no longer fit with the flow of the argument. However, I believe it is a vital issue for the missional congregation in the suburbs, so I have preserved it as Appendix E.

[6] Heifetz suggests that a leader needs to step onto the balcony to get a larger perspective of the organizational “dance floor.” I, as the leader of the RT, need to take this perspective to make sense out of the project from my own perspective. See Ronald A. Heifetz and Martin Linsky, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2002).

[7] Kegan and Lahey, Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock Potential in Yourself and Your Organization, 51.

[8] See chapter two.

[9] Here I am borrowing language from Charles Taylor. See chapter 1n84.

[10] See my argument for this in chapter three.

[11] See chapter five under the heading Phase 1.2.

[12] See my commentary in chapter three.

[13] See Polkinghorne, The Trinity and an Entangled World: Relationality in Physical Science and Theology.

[14] Simmons, The Entangled Trinity: Quantum Physics and Theology.

[15] I mention the entangled Trinity model, not to offer a new argument for my thesis regarding the Trinity, but to illustrate the communicative nature of shifting our structural frames that happened in my dialogue with Phil.

Leadership Matters: God’s Electricians and the Communicative Zone

This final section will focus on the implications that the DITB project has for leadership in the missional church. The postmodern, missional leader finds herself navigating a minefield of polarized extremes. One of the most negative and destructive consequences of the modern dogma is the inevitable dualities that it creates. Modernity polarizes society. This is an inevitable result of the buffered self and substance ontology. The buffered, autonomous self stands apart from and, ultimately against the other. The DITB data suggest that communicative action, inherent in both PAR and Dwelling in the Word, empowers the leader to the find the third way of God’s love that both acknowledges the good in polar extremes and combines them into a more excellent way. This third way seeks a win/win scenario in which hope is born, as opposed to a win/lose scenario that creates the classes of winners and losers.

God’s Electricians

My reflections on leadership matters flow primarily from my own experience of the DITB project. Allow me to use an analogy to express what I learned in this process. The analogy has to do with power. The movement of God’s Spirit in the world is the flow of power in society.[1] Think of this power as if it were electricity. Electricity is the movement of ionized energy and it can be used for destructive or constructive purposes. The way electricity is used is determined by the knowledge, skills, and intention of those who seek to harness this power. These people are called electricians.

The electrician is one who has studied electricity, respects its raw power, and has learned how to channel that power to provide the desired outcomes. There are two ways that the electrician can perceive herself. She can either (a) see herself as an owner and controller of power, or (b) see herself as a facilitator of power. The owner/controller can be tempted to hoard electricity, use it for selfish gain, and extort those who need it. The facilitator, on the other hand, sees herself as a servant of the people who, through knowledge and wisdom,[2] brings the power to the people who need it so that they can experience a higher quality of life.

The church leader is God’s electrician. The movement of the Holy Spirit is like electricity. It is the raw power of God. Church leaders throughout history have been tempted to perceive themselves as owners/controllers of power. The modern leadership model supported a command-control, top-down, bureaucratic style of leadership, and the modern church leader often followed suit. This style of leadership tempted the leader to manipulate power to control and, sometimes, extort the church members.

The DITB data indicate that the missional leader would be better served if she understands her role to be that of the humble servant who facilitates God’s power, through knowledge and wisdom, to create a democratic and generative community of God’s grace and peace. This was demonstrated through the communicative action in the Dwelling in the Word exercises, the various pedagogical modalities, and the action projects carried out by the RT. The fact we must remember, at this point, is that none of these things would have happened if I—the leader of the team—did not set a table that empowered such communicative action. This was my research project, after all, and I could have implemented instrumental reason at every step of the way and used my knowledge and skill to manipulate the research team. It was a learning and stretching experience for me to constantly step back and let the process unfold, trusting that God was working in, with, through, against, and for the RT the whole time.


The Communicative Zone

Two experiences that I had during the DITB project illustrate the necessity of the facilitator/servant style of leadership that is needed for the missional church. The first is a specific experience that took place in a small group that was facilitated by a member of the RT. This group decided to study my book Reading Paul’s Mail.[3] They had finished the study and invited me to join them to mark the end of their journey by having a Q&A session with the author.

One person asked a question that sparked one of those amazing, Spirit-infused conversations that accelerated my theological imagination. The question was whether Paul thought that he was writing scripture when he wrote his letters. The ensuing conversation led to a mini-lecture/group-conversation about the topic of inspiration. I went to the chalk board and drew a continuum—a line spanning left to right. I wrote Spirit on the left side of the board and human author on the right side. Then I wrote our presenting question: What is the relationship between the Spirit and the human author in the writing of scripture? In other words: How did it work? What did it look like? The conversation led to the articulation of two logical extremes. On one side it was 100% Spirit. This is the dictation theory. On the other side it was 100% human author. This is the gifted human theory. I then drew two opposing greater-than signs that overlapped and intersected in order to demonstrate the sliding continuum between extreme poles. We stated the logical problems on both extremes, and, together discussed how the answer must be some form of a mixture of the two. One person said, “It is a symbiotic, reciprocal relationship.” Well said. I wrote those words on the board. Symbiotic. Reciprocal.

I said, “Since we’re throwing big words on the board, might I add the word communicative to the list?” I wrote it underneath the other words, and they were stacked in the center, between both extremes. We then discussed how it was like a pendulum that swings back and forth between these two extremes.

One person said, “If the pendulum stops directly between them, it is at peace, and at rest.”

I said, “Yes, but, it is also no longer moving. Maybe it is the motion between the poles that generates life.”

That comment sparked much lively discussion about how it is not that either side is wrong, but that neither side is 100% correct and life only happens when there is a constant interaction between the two sides.

Another person chimed in and said, “Look at your drawing. The intersection of those two signs forms a diamond. That is where all the good stuff happens.”

I looked at the board and sat in stunned amazement. Light bulb! I had never seen that before. The diamond is the communicative zone. It is the field of energy created by the swinging pendulum that brings forth constructive unity between the apparent extremes. Is it the pendulum that creates the field, or is it the field that generates the existence of the pendulum and the particularities of the extremes? The answer? Yes.[4]

The Communicative Zone

The conversation turned to how Paul was challenging his Jewish culture to move away from following the letter of the Law (as interpreted by any particular Jewish sect) to learning how to listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Paul was continually led outside of his comfort zone and realm of experience as the Spirit showed him how God works among the Gentiles in ways that make no sense to the Jewish follower of God.

I commented that it is a daunting task to think that we might be leading the suburban church to know how to follow the Spirit—to test the spirits (1 John 4:1-6)—to see if we are actually following the Spirit of God. I steered the conversation to the group leader and said, “This is right in line with what we are talking about in our research.” The leader then invited me to share some of my thoughts regarding the social Trinity. I did, as best I could in a short time. Later I realized that I had just increased the awareness and understanding of the social Trinity in some suburban people.

That conversation led us to discuss the reality of living in the suburban context. We talked about how the suburbs, combined with advancing technology, empower radical individualism and make it increasingly difficult to find, form, or sustain community. One woman critiqued the suburban life by reflecting on how she was raised in a small town in Minnesota. They were a Danish, Lutheran Community. “They wouldn’t sell land to Catholics,” she said, “in order to preserve the unity of the community.” This point illustrated the town’s staunch Lutheranism.

That town shared everything. They went to the same school, worshipped at the same church, shopped at the same stores, etc. Then, she said, they grew up, and the goal was to move to the cities. They started in an apartment on the south side of Minneapolis, but then finally got to move out to the suburbs. Now, the disconnectedness of the suburbs that we had been describing left her, and the others that had made the migration, feeling empty. They had arrived, but felt alone.

Later that same week I had coffee with my Dad, like I do every week. I recounted the above story to him. He brought up an interesting topic. He wondered if the Muslim community might provide some insight into how the church should be in the suburbs? We batted this idea around for a while and concluded that, perhaps, the Muslim community is functioning as an exclusivistic, immigrant community that works very well for its members, but does not provide a valid option for the larger, global picture, much like the Danish Lutheran town of the woman’s story.

That is when it all came together for me and inspired me to draw the following illustration.

It begins with a syllogism (of sorts).

  • If Reason replaced Medieval/Protestant religion as the social glue of European/Western society,
  • and if Reason has proven, in the post-modern conversation, to be found wanting as a successful social glue–being equally violent and morally bankrupt—
  • and, if faith seems to be the preferred social glue,
  • but if said faith cannot be a return to the Medieval/Protestant faith of pre-modern times,
  • then we are left with the question: What kind of Faith are we talking about?

That is when I connected the conversation with the small group to quantum entanglement, my knowledge of suburban studies, and Robert Kegan’s 5 Orders of Consciousness.

I have already suggested that there may be a connection between Kegan’s theory of consciousness and the cultures of the small town vs. the suburban context.[5] The small town is third order consciousness. It is a single, homogenous system in which every member understands her particular role in society.

Suburban life exemplifies fourth order consciousness. The suburban landscape is comprised of thousands of radical, atomistic, autonomous selves moving through the chaotic, ever-changing transactionally based networks. Each connection is a consciously chosen, transactional relationship that is accidental to the primary substance of the individual self. The fourth order consciousness recognizes that there are multiple systems, and each one of these systems are equally valid, and equally meaningless in the larger scheme of the mechanistic universe, in which the detached, objective observer and wielder of power can have free reign. This lifestyle ultimately leads to isolation, loneliness, abuse of power, and the high potential for violence and oppression.

Kegan claims that it is only in the later years of a person’s life that she comes to a place of seasoned wisdom and realizes that all the apparently disconnected systems are, in fact, interconnected and interdependent. It is impossible to be autonomous. The Gadamerian fusion of horizons—the communicative zone—is the reality of human existence. The apparently radical extremes need each other to exist, and are actually created and sustained by the pendulum that swings in the field of the communicative zone. This is the fifth order of consciousness. This is a picture of relational ontology. This is the life of the Trinity.

This is the challenge facing the missional leader. What if God is calling us to dwell in the communicative zones between our enclaves of faith? We are not asked to abandon our faith cultures, but are invited to open ourselves to the interfaith dialogue, to be willing to listen to each other; to dwell in the world and the words of the stranger.

Who knows? If we step into the spaces between, we just might meet the Spirit of the Living God.

Fifth Order Consciousness and the Communicative Zone

The Disruptive Nature of the Spirit

The second experience I had during the DITB project that taught me about missional leadership has to do with the curve ball I mentioned in chapter three and the disruptive nature of the Spirit. The congregation at Ascension Lutheran was experiencing the polarized reality that I have been discussing parallel to the DITB project. The congregation was engaged in a nine-month dialogue over whether the church should allow same-sex marriages. Members of the RT were deeply embedded in this polarized debate and I found myself leading through these extremely turbulent waters, both in the congregation and in the RT.

The question I continually asked myself during this experience was, Why? Why would God allow us to go through this difficult experience? I believe it is because that is what the Holy Spirit does. Jesus said that the Spirit exposes the world to sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:5-11).[6] The Spirit never lets us sit idle and become comfortable in our third-order safety, or in our fourth-order individuality, but constantly disrupts us so that we will see the world through fresh eyes and move into a fifth-order consciousness.[7]

Van Gelder states that the missional church that is created and led by the Spirit recognizes that the church is, the church does what it is, and the church organizes what it does.[8] He encourages the missional leader to be adaptive in a world of discontinuous change. I would add to this progression and say that, after the church organizes what it does, it has a choice. It can either concretize, sanctify, and mandate what it does, or it can constantly adapt what it does to the changing environment. I would further argue that, if the church does not choose to be adaptive, the Spirit will disrupt—and even dismantle—what the church does in order to nudge the leaders into the chaotic waters of the communicative zone. This is the disruptive nature of the Spirit.

The Disruptive Nature of the Spirit

In other words, tension is a normal part of life in the Triune God. The pendulum is always moving and generating the communicative zone. The Spirit is always disrupting. One member of the RT posted a reflection on this idea to the DITB website. She says,

Tension is normal. Tension is good. Tension is Love. God’s love is tension.

In May my small group watched Rob Bell’s Rhythm. The gist of the short 11-minute movie is “Are our lives in tune with God’s plan for the world?” It was our last meeting as group, and I thought a good “note” to go out on. I love this film. I’ve had years of musical training myself so maybe I readily identify with the concept of being “out of tune.” Or maybe it’s just that Rob’s movies are so simple, yet profound, asking really good questions and letting you sort out the answers (if there are any). As I was watching the film I kept thinking of Steve’s drawing of the Trinity, the “Beloved, Lover and Loved” or “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer” as he drew for this Pentecost sermon that I listened to this morning. As I was watching the film I kept thinking of us in the middle of this Trinity and if were are truly in tune with the Trinity, we would be in the middle swaying with the forces. No one force would overcome the other, keeping us upright.

Balanced tension keeps us upright.

Then fast forward to a few weeks ago. It was a Saturday and I blissfully had nothing I “had” to do for anyone but myself so I weeded for hours my very weedy garden. Gardens are awesome. They are great therapy. I highly recommend people get one. But I digress. Before I went out my 7-year-old son made the statement that it looked like it was a nice day. I commented back that the weather looked “unsettled” but yes, the sun was shining (not wanting to squash his observation). He asked me what unsettled meant, so I described water and the difference between our boat sitting in the water and the “wake” our boat left after we traveled thru water (It’s all wind and waves right?;) ). All morning and afternoon, the weather was “unsettled.” It was fairly windy and dark patches of sky became more and more frequent until a rather large dark cloud (and the radar on my phone, and kindly next door neighbor) told me my weeding time was done. I gathered my tools and went into the garage, where my husband was working on our boat. After quickly helping him put things away so important things got covered, I sat in the garage, door open, watching the storm pass over. My son, who is fearful of storms, had come out and I invited him to sit near me (I was way too dirty to have him on me) and showed him that storms, especially this not severe one, can be enjoyable to watch. It was nice, because in a way, it forced me also to just watch the storm. He was making comments on the wind, and the driving rain and I kept watching one large tree in particular that was really dancing in the wind and it occurred to me how much tension was in nature. Storms which are necessary and are helpful and needed in some instances (trees that only grow after a fire, nitrogen that is fixed into the soil from lightning.) In nature, the tension between the cheetah and the gazelle. Really I could go on and on. Tension is normal in nature. God created the natural world, and really how far away are we really from this tension? Ours just comes in different forms. After the storm had passed I noticed how calm the wind had become and how clear the sky was. The tension between the fronts had passed. It was a fight, or storm for a while, but it didn’t last. And in the end, things became settled again.

Tension is normal.

Leading in the Zone

What does all this mean for the missional leader? It means we must embrace the chaos and be willing to be God’s electricians who can facilitate spaces in which all people are free to discuss their issues and dwell in the Word of God together. It is time to break down the polarized dualisms that plague our people, our churches, and our society. The DITB project demonstrated that an open conversation about the social Trinity is one way in which we might be able to join the disruptive nature of the Holy Spirit at work in the world. We are called to help people learn how to be in the world.

If ‘to be’ means ‘to be in relation’ at the most fundamental levels of physical existence, then we have an interrelational and communitarian understanding of existence, upon which all other emergent structures of complexity are built. Existence is community in relation. The very nature of physical existence at the micro level points to a dynamic interrelationality that human community at the macro level can also embody. Humans are not single, isolated beings that exist in self-sustaining independence from everything else. Rather, we are becomings that exist in dynamic interrelationship to others in the wider ecology of existence. In other words, identity is a process, not a possession, and environment forms identity. We are constituted by the world around us as we also help to constitute it. Since all existence is interrelated, there is a sense in which dynamic, communal relations are at the core of all existence. For human becoming, community resides in trust and in the willingness to transcend self-interest for the sake of the other. It is empowered by that around which the community gathers; indeed, what it has in ‘common’ to form the communio, the community.[9]

All of the dualisms that we encounter in life are somehow intrinsically connected and leaders must navigate the communicative zone between them. Dualisms are not bad. They are necessary. However, without the third way of the Spirit’s disruptive love the dualisms leave us with disconnected disagreements and corrosive stalemates. It will be helpful to remember that agreement is not homogeneity, it is the mutual existence of diverse elements for the greater good of all. If God is the Entangled Trinity, as Simmons suggests, and we are created in the image of God, then our very existence is the tension of two opposing ideas being equally valid in unique moments. Wisdom is the ability to “sway in the tension of the Trinity” and discern which polarity is the wisest choice in any given moment. Missional leaders are called to facilitate spaces in which people can live deeply in the Trinity each day. God’s love is tension that keeps us alive. It keeps us deep in the burbs.


[1] See Hegel.

[2] Wisdom is applied knowledge, otherwise known as skill.

[3] Steven P. Thomason, Reading Paul’s Mail (Minneapolis, MN: Vibble Books, 2009).

[4] This is a demonstration of quantum entanglement. See The Trinity Frame, chapter two.

[5] See Age Matters earlier in this chapter.

[6] This is one of the passages in which the RT dwelt during the session 07.

[7] I am focusing on leadership at this point. However, this statement is the definition of spiritual formation and at the heart of the research question. Missional leadership is de facto the process of leading in spiritual formation, because the process of evolving into fifth-order consciousness is the process of self-transcendence, and, as we have stated from the beginning, spiritual formation is the process of self-transcendence.

[8] Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit, 37.

[9] Simmons, The Entangled Trinity: Quantum Physics and Theology, 184-85.