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Thursday, February 04, 2010

At the Edge of Chaos

How are the following connected:

The War in the Congo, Human Trafficking and Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT)?

How are The Proposed Legislation in Uganda, "The Family", and today's National and American Prayer Breakfasts connected? 

Indeed, how are they all connected, one to the other?

I can hear some of you tut-tutting already. You think they're not. You think I'm stretching to make a point.

No, I'm not. Not if you subscribe to the application of Chaos Theory. Not if you're paying attention.

In in the early 1960s, Edward Lorenz, an MIT meteorologist who tried to explain why it is so hard to make good weather forecasts wound up unleashing a scientific revolution called chaos theory.

Lorenz realized that small differences in a dynamic system such as the atmosphere--or a model of the atmosphere--could trigger vast and often unsuspected results.

These observations ultimately led him to formulate what became known as the butterfly effect--a term that grew out of an academic paper he presented in 1972 entitled: "Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?"

Lorenz's early insights marked the beginning of a new field of study that impacted not just the field of mathematics but virtually every branch of science--biological, physical and social.

Chaos theory can be applied to human relationship systems such as families and teams. The emerging fields of systemic coaching and systemic psychotherapy provide massive insight into the behavior of individuals.

Applications of chaos theory in the social sciences can unite physical, emotional, mental and spiritual realities - if we can let go of classical, pre-systemic notions.

The first order of business then, is to abandon - at least for a time - linear thinking.  Expectations of "natural order" or the "natural progression" of  events and our mastery over "predictability" have to become secondary to curiosity and imagination and creativity.

That's because Chaos Theory maintains that under the chaos, at the core, is an order that has a logic all its own.  It's the inexplicable hope and trust that gave rise to an ancient understanding that God is in the midst of the whirlwind of the chaotic storms of life.  It's the believe that, as St. Paul writes, when one suffers, we all suffer, and when one succeeds, we all rejoice.

So, yes, the "forgotten war" in the Congo can remain isolated and abandoned, or we can allow the suffering to motivate us to see our connections to the people there and try to make a difference. 

We can allow the practice of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to be applied on a different scale. If we turn our heads and avert our eyes from the truth - even personal, intimate truths, then we can also ignore the truth about what some people feel is "really none of our business".

We don't see "the stranger in our midst" and learn of the "Bitter Guest Worker" stories of human trafficking from which corporations are making huge profits.

Indeed, we ignore that the role of Immigration and Customs Enforcement — reported in The Times by Julia Preston — is, thankfully, being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department.

This particular story connects an oil rig company in Mississippi with people in India, many of whom invested their life savings, for a chance to earn a green card and come to this country for a chance at a better life for themselves and their families.

The story of The Great American Dream has been deeply tarnished by greed and avarice. In some ways, it is a permanent stain on the Book of Life in the USA.

Nicholas D. Kristof has a brilliant Op-Ed piece in this morning's NY Times about a woman named Lisa Shannon who watched an episode of Oprah about the hideous effects of massacre and rape in Congo and was moved to build a "Sisterhood" that today, five years later, is making a real difference in people's lives - at no small personal cost to herself.

Much has already been written about the connections between "The Family" which is, this morning, hosting a "National Prayer Breakfast," to the proposed draconian laws in Uganda. President Obama is being encouraged by no less than the likes of Bishop Gene Robinson to address the issue in his speech.
“Prayer is a good thing, and Americans ought to gather to pray, but we better be careful what we pray for,” said the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the Ninth Bishop of New Hampshire and the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal church, speaking at the National Press Club Tuesday morning. “We have a duty to confront those who are praying for those things that would break God’s heart.”

“I call upon our president to make himself known to be in opposition not just to the death penalty but to this violation of human rights for all of God’s children in Uganda and beyond,” Robinson added.
That, my friends, is one of the finest applications of Chaos Theory I've ever seen.

It's not just about "teh gays". It's about the order in the midst of the chaos that is calling us to new life. We are, at this time in our common lives, at the edge of chaos. Indeed, we are standing at the precipice, peering over into the abyss.

The edge of chaos is a critical point of a system, a phase transition or crisis, where small changes can either tip the system into chaotic behavior or into stability. During a crisis, tiny details from our past or present can have enormous and unpredictable impact on our future.

We may surprise everybody, including ourselves, with solutions that shorten or prolong our survival. Crisis provides motivation - not just for us as individuals to change - but for us to transform ourselves and the world in which we live.

At the edge of chaos, when little makes sense and everything is possible, miracles can happen. But hoping for a miracle rarely ensures survival. Survival requires endurance, a benefactor or transformation - a change in identity that helps us find and manifest previously unimaginable solutions.

I'll leave you with a quote from Kristoff's article about Lisa Shannon, the woman from Portland, Oregon who is making a difference in the lives of people in The Congo.
Lisa tells her story in a moving book, “A Thousand Sisters,” that is set to be published in April. Congo is now her obsession, and she is volunteering full time on the cause as she lives off the declining royalties from her old stock photos.

She earns psychic pay when she sees a woman here who named her daughter Lisa. After we visited Congolese Lisa, I asked American Lisa about the toll of her Congo obsession — the lost business, man and home they had shared.

“Technically, I had a good life before, but I wasn’t very happy,” she mused. “Now I feel I have much more of a sense of meaning.”

Maybe that’s why I gravitate toward Lisa’s story. In a land where so many “responsible” leaders eschew responsibility, Lisa has gone out of her way to assume responsibility and try to make a difference. Along with an unbelievable cast of plucky Congolese survivors such as Generose, she evokes hope.

On this visit to Congo, Lisa is organizing a Run for Congo Women right here in Bukavu, for Feb. 28, with Congolese rape survivors participating. You can sponsor them at And one of those participating in the run, hobbling along on crutches and her one leg, will be Generose.
But, please read the whole thing. Initially, it may make you feel uncomfortable. Indeed, I hope it does. Like everything's out of control. You know, chaotic.

Just remember that God always stands with us at the Edge of Chaos. That's because God is at the center and very core of Chaos, breathing Ruach - the breath of life that stirs and whirls and brings about new order, and a new creation.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

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