Monday, 13 July 2015

The acid of planning

There’s an extraordinary rebus wherein the ends are only glimpsed when they’re entirely ignored, when purpose is dethroned by obedience, and when utility is, apparently, usurped by futility.  It’s then that the ends come and find you, rather than vice versa.  The promise of faith is that on the far side of meaninglessness there really does emerge meaning; but actively looking for that meaning dissolves in the acid of enquiry.

That is Tobias Jones (in his Utopian Dreams) on Newman.  I was reminded to look for the quotation by a review of a new book of his (A Place of Refuge).  I thought I’d find it in an early post on this Blog, but in fact I find had noted it a little while earlier. 

I found I’d noted it alongside a more utilitarian comment in Brendan Walsh’s review of the book:

It is precisely (the) eager concentration on the individual’s search for happiness that makes its achievement so elusive.  Somehow happiness is found only when our attention is completely focussed on something, or someone, else.

And I’d also noted a parallel with Recovering Confidence, the report of a Church of England recruitment strategy working party nearly twenty years ago (chaired by Bill Ind, the then Bishop of Grantham) which said that emergency strategies in areas like recruitment and stewardship have short term gains only; it is taking one’s eyes off those immediate targets and deepening the basic work of nurturing discipleship from which we would expect to see commitment and vocation to follow.

At its best, our current diocesan Year of Discipleship reflects this, but remembering these quotations helps me identify the source of my underlying unease at the way it can fall back into faith in intentional planning which comes dangerously close to pursuing things like meaning and happiness; I find that the template which the diocese now provides for what we had originally been invited to think of as ‘Discipleship Development’ is actually labelled a ‘Growth Plan’.

Some level of 'Mission Action Planning' is of course desirable, indeed we have been engaged in it.  But the most crass part of a diocesan Year of Discipleship training event I attended a while ago was the invitation to identify biblical examples of planning as if thinking of one simply legitimised it.  The person who thought of the journey of the Magi quickly recalled the unintended result was the slaughter of the innocents, and another identified David being punished for the lack of faith demonstrated in his apparently responsible careful counting his army.

But what do I know?  Those of us who have spent the last twenty years with this particular approach to  'recovering confidence' and coming slant at Christian meaning and happiness (the vocabulary is remarkably similar to the present diocesan strapline of 'confident, faithful and joyful') see things draining away around them.  Those who have systematically developed and deployed, say, Alpha Courses are seeing the immediate growth.

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