Wednesday, October 14, 2009

CCCR's 2010 Synod: A Second Progress Report

Paula Ruddy reports on the second joint meeting
of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform’s
Work/Study Groups

Elsie’s bowling alley, bar, restaurant, and parking lot in NE Minneapolis was jam packed on Wednesday night, October 7, 2009. About 70 of the people were CCCR work/study group members and friends, gathered into the back room away from the din of strikes and spares and gutter balls. About 30 people arrived at 5:30 for drinks and dinner and informal conversation. Threading our way through the Northeast neighbors, we were all ready to engage in the mini-workshop by 7:15.

During the presentation by Dr. Lois Yellowthunder and Dr. Glenda Eoyang on methods of adaptive change, the energy in the back room was as high as the energy in the bowling alley. Glenda is founder and director of Human Systems Dynamics Institute, a training center and consultant to governmental units, companies, and other organizations wanting to improve their function in service of their missions. Lois is an anthropologist and urban planner who often works with Glenda. Some of you may have heard their presentation at Call to Action in Milwaukee in 2007.

Most of us in the room were of a certain age, meaning we grew up in the 40’s and 50’s, in an era that believed change is initiated from the power positions at the top, that it is predictable, controlled, and that you can look to history to tell you the future. We believed we could make large mapped out plans for human systems as we could for mechanical and structural systems and engineer them to completion. We now know that human community is organic, but the old programming is hard to uninstall.

Glenda and Lois did not go into the causes of the cultural shift that occurred around mid 20th Century. We didn’t take time for the trace-back to quantum physics and evolutionary biology, chaos theory and complexity theory, but they spelled out the differences in how we now look at creating human systems. We now know that each person is an agent in the creation of the future. We know that each action has unpredictable influence on other actions because of the connectedness of everyone within the systems. What emerges from each set of interactions creates the future. We don’t look to “the man” to have a master plan. We are in charge of the future ourselves. Every person has power; every action counts.

But how, then, do people direct change? Isn’t this theory all a bit helter-skelter? That is where the Adaptive Action Model comes in. The self-organizing system moves in the direction of its goals. An individual agent is, after all, a conscious, thinking, feeling, imagining, and willing person. A community is made up of conscious individuals. An individual and a community can envision a good life, a good society, or the ultimate goal of human life. People have created ethical systems and religions in this visioning, and these provide the goals toward which the self-organizing system moves. The Christian vision of humanity’s union with God is the goal toward which a community could move if it held the belief steadily in consciousness and acted with intention.

What? So What? Now What?

But Glenda and Lois did not talk about what the vision should be. That is up to us. They brought us into the here and now of directing change by acting with intention. In the Adaptive Action Model, we ask, “What is the situation here?” “So what does it mean in context; how should it be interpreted according to our vision?” and finally, “Now what shall we do?’ The What?-So What?-Now What? questions, asked in each situation you find yourself, give you power to influence the system in reiterative patterns. What we choose to do to further our vision causes patterns of ideas and values to emerge that in turn influence the actions of others in the system and cultural change happens. That is power.

Glenda and Lois talked about the power of language to influence change. Negative words can make us feel powerless, diminished, hopeless, decreasing our power to interact. Positive, affirming words build us up and give us a sense of our own power to choose our path. Using words that describe imbalances of power can diminish a person’s view of his/her place in the scheme of things. For example, the phrase “the hierarchy” puts the people referred to in a superior category within the system. A person with the leadership role might be called bishop but “the hierarchy” sets him apart and creates classes of membership. What does the word “magisterium” mean? Is everyone infused with the Holy Spirit within it? We can re-think our language to reflect an egalitarian balance of power.

We need some simple rules, Glenda and Lois suggested, like virtual “boids” in computer experiments. Program them with three simple rules and they fly in successful patterns like instinctively programmed birds do. Individual agents form working teams and can create coherent patterns if each follows some simple rules. The Golden Rule, derived from the vision of every major religion and ethical philosophy, is a rule that could, if everyone followed it, create a beneficent social system. Glenda and Lois suggested we may want to adopt it for our working teams. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or negatively, Do not do to another what you would not have him/her do to you. Or Love your neighbor as yourself.

In the last section of their presentation, Glenda and Lois asked us about our hopes and dreams. What is our vision of a fully functioning local church? What is our vision of the Church’s mission? If we keep that vision steadily in our communal consciousness, our self-organizing system will move in that direction. Each action of each individual agent acting intentionally within the connectedness of the system triggers the emergence of the future we long for.

The CCCR vision is a church fully alive, locally and universally, that radiates Jesus' core teaching of radical equality, unabashed inclusivity and transforming love. It is humbling and exhilarating to think we have the power to do this.

Paula Ruddy is co-chair of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR).

For the first progress report of the 2010 Synod, click here.


  1. If the top-down model is bad, I'm curious where God fits into this model; or do you tell Him what to do?

  2. Hi, Cathy. I believe God is present in you and me and all humans. The more so, the more loving we are to one another. I wish you well. Paula

  3. I agree up to a point. God is not limited to only be-ing within us.