Where does it all lead?
Do you remember James Burke’s Connections? It was a ten-episode documentary series that aired on television in 1978. It was also made into a book and was followed by two sequels, Connections2 in 1994 and Connections3 in 1997. In these documentaries, Burke explores connections as what he calls an “Alternative View of Change.” His thesis is that you can’t look at any particular development in the modern world in isolation. You can only look at modern developments as a series of interconnected events.
For example, in one episode he explains the bizarre series of connections that led to the invention of plastic. He traces it from the invention of a 16th century Dutch ship called a fluyt all the way to DuPont Chemical creating nylon 400 years later. He goes into tremendous detail about the long sequence of events leading up to plastic that I won’t go into here. The short version is these ships were insured by Edward Lloyd. He wanted the hulls covered in pitch and tar, which came from the colonies. During the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) the source for pitch and tar dried up. So in Scotland, Archibald Cochrane tried to distill coal vapor to produce tar. This led to the discovery of ammonia. Subsequently, the coal vapor work led to gas-lit lamps, waterproof garments and colorful dyes. Eventually, this led to plastic nylon being invented in 1939.
In his convention address, Bishop Breidenthal asked us to dissolve deaneries. They are an outdated way of connecting. He wants us to make room to develop more effective, powerful and inclusive relationships. I wonder where all of these new connections will lead us?
Sometimes, I think we want certainty about exactly where new ideas and new connections will take us before we pursue them. The point of mentioning James Burke is that in these series of connections, you don’t always know the “end game.” You don’t know where they will lead or what wonderful newness might develop. You don’t know that a shortage of pitch and tar for your ship’s hull might someday lead to the invention of plastic.
Sure, some of these connections will fail. In fact, the more we stretch our wings and try to connect in radically new ways, the greater our risk of failure becomes. Only the status quo lowers our chance of failure. However, never forget that the status quo also lowers our chance of success.
The bishop’s challenge at the end of his address was, “Let’s just do stuff together. You’re already doing stuff together. Let’s do more, and let’s do it more intentionally, and gather more and more partners into the work that the Holy Spirit is leading us into.” I think the bishop is asking us to not overthink it but to just start doing it. Let’s gather up our old friends with our new friends and start pitching and tarring our ships and see what comes out of it. Let’s try new ways of looking at ministries through the lenses of these connections and keep doing it over and over because we don’t know where any of these connections will lead us until we get there.
David Dreisbach serves as communications director for the diocese. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tell us: What’s going on?
The first step is to identify where we are already connected with each other and our communities. These stories of connection could be about many different things; prison ministries, outreach programs, literacy classes, employment workshops, mother’s groups, father’s groups, coffee house Bible studies, beer and hymns, ministries with other Episcopal Churches, ministries with other denominations, ministries with other religions, ministries with secular goodwill organizations. You name it. Let us know all of the creative, wonderful and impactful ways your congregation is connecting with those around you. We’d like as many stories as possible to be submitted to us by the beginning of Lent. Email them to me directly at email@example.com.