catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 6 :: 2012.03.16 — 2012.03.29


Slow organizing

When springtime arrives, as it has in southwest Michigan March 21 or not, of course my thoughts turn to spring cleaning alongside so many others.  The garden and compost pile need tending, the dust that’s stirred up by the open windows needs to be collected and I think this might finally be the year to tackle the basement…the basement!

This year, however, I’m also wrestling with the how’s and why’s of another kind of organizing: community organizing and institution building.  Winter has been a time of hibernation, but not a lazy or inactive hibernation — more like simmering a stew.  Last fall, we threw a lot of questions and ideas into a big pot: what does *culture is not optional (the organization behind catapult) do well?  How is our organization structured?  What fears or doubts or conflicts do we need to name in order to move forward as a healthy community?  How can we connect with our city and neighborhood in fruitful ways?

And now we’re trying out the results of this big reflection soup.  Or, to use another metaphor, we’re examining what’s left on the ground now that the blanket of snow insulating our questions has melted.  One of the things we’ve discovered is a mission statement that feels more fitting than any we’ve had in the past ten years.  Also emerging from the thaw is a collection of core values and an understanding of how the four major areas of our work — publishing, community development, events and intentional community — fit together and support the mission of the organization as a whole.

Perhaps this is boring stuff to many, but it’s important stuff, necessary stuff.  So much of getting organized organizationally involves this kind of down-and-dirty work, just like most any programming, spectacular as it may be, involves scrubbing the toilets, sweeping the floors and figuring out how to feed the masses.  It’s what happens when humans get together for a purpose, because we can’t help but bring both our mess-making and our ordering everywhere we go.

So now that the snow has melted and we’ve found the raw materials of language beneath the drifts, the next phase of things involves figuring out what to (re)build around these ideas.  As I continue to reflect specifically on organizational structure and healthy community relationships, I’m looking to several resources to guide me.  I’m re-reading Dorothy Day’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness, with an eye toward a servant leadership style.  I’m digging into Andrew McLeod’s book Holy Cooperation! Building Graceful Economies to reflect on the biblical narrative’s pull toward cooperation rather than competition.  I’m even finding interesting fodder about organizing in the midst of human nature and brokenness in a novel called Blindness by José Saramago, about how individuals and institutions respond to a mysterious epidemic of sight loss. 

But in addition to this book learnin’, I’m looking to those around me for stories and models. Organizing will always involve relationships, which defy being rushed into existence or codified and captured in a handy spot on the corporate web site.  In looking for alternatives to competitive, market-driven models, I find myself drawn to low pyramids, democratic collaboration, and corporate culture with plenty of room for flexibility, listening, creativity, Sabbath and forgiveness.  Perfection is not to be found, but inspiration is abundant!

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far, I think, has been to be patient and forgiving with ourselves and with the process of reorganizing, letting Grace fill the gaps where we fall short. If we want our community to be characterized by such core values as radical hospitality, compassionate listening and creative collaboration, those qualities need to be present in the very soil from which we grow.  In the wise words of the Mad Hatter, “How you get there is where you’ll arrive.”  In which case, perhaps we’re practicing a form of “slow organizing” not unlike the slow food movement — allowing ample time for the flavors to develop on the vine and on the tongue, for the conversation to blossom around the table, for the full expression of gratitude to something and Someone beyond ourselves.  The asparagus is getting ready to poke its head out of the ground, and reflection soup is on the menu in the *cino community — welcome, spring!

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