Design at Ignite

Four days spread over five.

Residential, deliciously so in the high pines of the Colorado Rockies.

Some themes that progress us from initial meeting into communion, and then release.

Some shape that we know will move from list to a stream and flow.

It’s journey.



It’s hard not to be attracted to a horizon, right. There is something inviting. Something that pulls not only eyesight, but an inner imagination beyond the edges. Horizons open many of us. Even, if just for a moment, to lift our sight, and again, our imagination, beyond that task list and those deadlines on the paper or screen in front of us.

I snapped the horizon in the picture above, just yesterday. I was flying from Denver in to Salt Lake City. This picture faces south and east, about fifteen minutes from landing in Salt Lake City. I love the clouds as layer. I love the sky underneath. I love the two ranges that bound a valley. Miles and miles.

In Denver, this weekend I worked with the Vestry of the Saint John’s Cathedral, Bishop, and two local clergy. My friend and colleague, Father Charles LaFond and I hosted this group of thirteen people, that was very much a day of looking at horizons. In this case, the horizon included growing and building upon a practice of discernment. This vestry is in some significant decision-making, which includes recommending a next dean of the cathedral, which will of course impact much of the future.

“Discernment,” Charles reminds me and us, “is not just decision making. They are related, but not the same.” Discernment is more, right. And sometimes something that we need to reminded of both individually and collectively. Discernment, to me, digs deeper. It utilizes our good brains and good thinking. It welcomes our good hearts and honest feeling. It requires our good bellies, a knowing that reaches to deep places and is often only heard in a whisper.

Epistemology is a rather big word, isn’t it. I remember learning it in college and tripping over how to say it. I learned it as “ways of knowing.” It is the study of where knowing comes from. What I loved with the Denver group is there commitment to knowing from many layers, and, their welcoming of not just the task in front of them — “ready, go, let’s get to it” — but also, their willingness to look into the horizon. Up from the paper. Out through the window. Over to the mountains, and further to the next range. To see the awe, pause and stay with it, and then recognize that awe, in an among us, arising from being willing to engage with one another in the horizon that is just a bit of learning and few important questions together.

What a great day. It’s hard not to be attracted to that, too, right.

Emergence is the Game

Recently, in working with a core team preparing for a multi-day, system-wide event in a faith community, there were six of us sharing reflections during a video conference call. This was a call that was less about the details of the event — room setup, supplies needed, and when breaks would occur. This was a call that was more about being in learning together — what are you learning now about yourself, facing the unexpected, holding responsibility for the whole? One of the primary practices that I’ve been sharing with core teams like this one is that we need to do together in our phone calls and meetings as a core team, what we hope the larger community group will do together when meeting for the multi-day event. This particular core team — Sara Rosenau, Kelly Ryan, Gayle Dee, Walter-John Boris, Alison Killeen, Chris Hyde, and Drew Terry, from the Central Pacific Conference of the United Church of Christ, does this super well.

One of the particular topics that we discussed, that is really core to the ongoing invitation process that is now happening — the meeting is in September — was how to respond to people that are expecting the old format of meeting that has been filled with presentations and power point slides. Sara Rosenau, my friend and colleague that is chairing this year’s annual meeting planning team, is really gifted and clear in how she is responding to these queries. She is offering very good colloquial descriptions of the process methodology that is Open Space Technology. She is pointing people to how we will self-organize into working and reflection groups based on passion and interest.

It isn’t surprising that the people asking the questions to Sara are wondering how they should prepare. “You mean we should bring handouts? How many should we bring?” This group, this conference, is evolving not just who they are and what they take on together, but how they are together. They are evolving the annual meeting format to a new practice, if you will, which we were naming together as paying very close attention to emergence.

“Emergence is the game,” I said to them — OK, there’s still a 14 year-old in me that wants to make it a game. Emergence is not the familiar skill that is showing up and willing data or meaning upon one another. It is less about imposing, and selling or winning a perspective. Emergence is a less familiar skill (though I would say it is one that we are remembering, not learning as new) that is listening for the surprise that shows up among people engaging together, because they are interacting in words, and play, and silence. It’s paying exquisite attention to what is showing up in the together part that can’t show up in the not together part. “This is not a 100-level skill, the marker for most entry level college classes. This is a 500-level skill. It is a graduate class.”

I know that there will always be many layers of working together that exist simultaneously. Rooms do need to be set up. Supplies do need to be ordered. Breaks do need to be planned. And, to be clear, there are good keynotes to be delivered. Learning well always matters. But the skill of working with emergence is one of those underlaying approaches that changes everything. Not just meetings, but also the day to day norm of how we are together and how we attend to one another, and how we nuance into the future, the sourcing of “us” rather than “I.”