This ten-part A Deacon’s Musing series will explore the intersection between the change philosophy known as Appreciative Inquiry and a Christian theological orientation grounded in diversity. I am most grateful to be co-shaping this conversation with my mentor and friend Maureen McKenna. We sincerely hope that the definitions, metaphors, theological reflections, images and videos help impart the significant generative potential that is centred in appreciation, gratitude and abundance.
As this Appreciative Inquiry series of theological reflections unfold, you can find each blog on the Tabs above.
This unfolding series about how Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and a Christianity, which is expansive in nature, can be conversation partners has been exciting to explore. One of the things that AI brings to Christianity is the reminder that things are always unfolding. That such a reminder is necessary may surprise some. The reality is that those whose faith is explored through the Christian lens tend to lean towards adhering to traditions in order to resist the only constant that we ultimately experience as a species: change.
As the philosophy of AI has deepened, it has become clear to practitioner with the dawn of the new millennium that the core principles were not solely adequate to address the insights and learning that were growing. Inadequate, not in the sense of deficiency, but in the sense that learnings and insights were spilling out of containers that could not solely accommodate such wealth. As such, the emergent principles have been nurtured to help encapsulate some of this rich wisdom that has become more abundant as AI nears 35 years of engaging where practice and theory meet in the change life-cycle of people and organisations.
AI takes literally that an entire system and all its parts, whether a company or a family, an NGO or a faith community, are connected. In turn, functioning and resilience, creativity and possibility are directly tied to the degree to which a system is not only aware of that reality, but intentionally embraces and nurtures further relationships and connexions.
The metaphorical image of the Christian community as a body is very old. It is an image that continues to challenge the Christian faith tradition. We are often divided upon theological and moral understandings which have led the metaphor to being considered more as an aspiration than an inspiration. In my The United Church of Canada context, the metaphor as literal is also confronting structural change that carries with it considerations that are grounded in deficit, whether that is financial or commitment. Whether the image of the body speaks to the general Christian experience or denominational ones, the metaphor has difficulty engaging with AI in such a conversation.
Difficulty, however, does not preclude possibility. It has been my experience that, when AI is used in practical congregational contexts, it does not take too long to not only “get it” but to “embrace it.” This quote from Wendell Berry speaks to how I have seen Christian communities awaken to the body as literal:
So, let us pause in this unfolding series with some questions that Berry and AI bring to faith communities that are experiencing change. If the questions we ask help to determine the future, let us ask a few in respect to taking literally that we are One:
- What does it mean for a faith community to not only accept that it is literally connected, but to begin to live that way?
- If a community literally embraces that every part of the body contributes to its well-being, how might that relational position reveal opportunities, which are indiscernible when focused on what is missing?
- If Christian expansiveness embraces the gift of diversity, how might the tradition begin to see the larger body, which includes not only our species, but the planets and all its constituent parts, as One?
- What might that mean for our relationship to Creation and to others who have found ways to express reality in different ways?
- What does it mean if these different ways are not perceived through contention or competition, but parts that compromise a whole that require each individual component to be nurtured and refined so all may shine?