An Alternative to Organizations – I

As I wrote in my last blog post, I have been putting most of my thoughts in writing on Facebook.  I have been surprised lately, to see how often my thoughts are repeats of what I’ve written before.  Usually, when I post, my ideas seem like they are fresh creations of the moment, rather than something which has been pulled up from the past.  The theme of ‘power’ has been a constant.  I wonder sometimes, if I’m like an uncle of mine who I remember as having a one-track mind.  On Sunday mornings, he would stand and offer a sermon with the same topic based on the same biblical passage –

A woman shall not wear men’s clothing, neither shall a man put on women’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to Yahweh your God.” (Deut. 22:5).  

Apparently, in his mind, all social problems were related to the disobedience of this law.  OK, so I admit that, in my mind, there is nothing  that isn’t in some way related to power.  But that is because I see the universe as constituted by experiential relationships which require power to come into being.  Therefore, power is absolutely related to everything. I also believe many of our ideas about power are fundamentally flawed which isn’t necessarily sinful (maybe pathological?), and I do see a connection between our ideas about power and social problems.  And environmental problems.  And economic problems.  And, as it goes without saying, political problems.

Well, this blog is dedicated to Neighbors Gatherings and therefore, staying consistently in my track, requires me to write about power in connection to my subject.  There are hints of this connection on my Neighbors Gathering website (which I will exploit in future blogs), but I discovered it this morning in a post on FB from three years ago. >> I am an anarchist.<<

I didn’t understand the connection at the time, so when I was asked in the comments following by my friend, William,

As a ‘REALIST’ AND PRAGMATIST I need a model of a society that impliments relational power. Cultural inertia is a fact. That fact opposes any sudden change unless there is a compelling change in the social environment, eg. a Pearl Harbor kind of incident. Perhaps the soon to be experienced global effects of climate change would bring about the conditions where the need for cooperation is paramount….  I do NOT have a model to even suggest which is why I need to have one.”

it didn’t even occur to me to suggest Neighbors Gatherings as a model of communities based on relational power.  I knew that Neighbors Gatherings were different from other forms of neighborhood associations (usually legally defined) and what I have experienced in organizations in general.  Now I’ve come to realize that Neighbors Gatherings is not an organization. But, I didn’t necessarily have the language tools to describe the difference.  For instance, I’ve always used the term “community” to describe what I was trying to create but recently ran across the term “communitas” which helps to describe the difference.  And, several years ago, I didn’t know anything about what ‘anarchy’ meant (other than the popular misconception), and now it has become a self-label.

So, with new tools, and hopefully more clarity, I’ll go back to what I’ve written in the past, make some revisions, and perhaps come up with something new and fresh.  And, I have to admit, I do it with a sense of urgency, or a sense of mission which may be due to the apocalypticism I was exposed to as a child. But be that as it may, it is part of me, I think it is justified, and I cannot help but express it.

The System is Broken

I worked for a period of time as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) in an Assisted Living Facility. As a CNA, I was near the bottom of a hierarchically structured business (a “Non-Profit Business). The only layer of authority below mine was that of the Residents. Above me were the nurses, and above them the Director of Nurses, and then the Administrator who answered to the CEO, and then at the top was the Board.
If you didn’t work at this Facility, and just made a visit (as a State Inspector, perhaps?), you probably wouldn’t see how screwed up the system was. It was the Director of Nurses’s opinion that the majority of CNAs were “lazy” and incompetent. She believed that if they were kept under a constant threat of losing their jobs that she could improve the kind of care that the residents received. She was also concerned that the Facility would be shut down by the State if it received another poor or failing report. She feared that the CNA’s incompetence and “laziness” could cost her job – and if fear served as a motivation for her to perform her role, why wouldn’t it motivate the CNA’s as well?
The Administrator administrated by issuing orders. She would make frequent inspections throughout the Facility, and, with a trained eye able to spot events that occurred contrary to her orders, she would loudly demand that someone who happened to be present at the time, do something to bring her world back into the correct order. The Director of Nurses, knowing the impossibility of always matching orders to reality, would at times do her best to hide any evidence of disobedience from the Administrator, sometimes reinterpreting the rules for the CNAs and sometimes providing tips about how to cover the evidence of rule-breaking. The CNAs, under pressure to perform and in fear of their jobs, did their best to hide the evidence of disobedience or noncompliance also. It was a game that to some degree everyone knew about and participated in. Even the Residents, knowing about the rule that forbad them to remove food from the dining room, would nevertheless take food and hide it in their rooms. It was the CNA’s responsibility to search the rooms and remove the food – and try to come up with something to instill fear in the Resident so they wouldn’t break the rule again.
The whole system depended upon fear of consequences in order to control behavior. At the same time, I saw acts of kindness and compassion occur – sometimes requiring that the rules be broken in order to serve the needs of the Residents and fellow workers. I saw that fear was a very poor motivator and that there was an alternative which wasn’t being utilized. I was somewhat immune to the fear in the environment because I wasn’t particularly concerned about being fired. My primary motivation was to serve as best I could (I felt called to serve) – and so I frequently broke the rules. For instance, one rule required that each CNA change the bed linens in the rooms assigned to them according to a written schedule. It was difficult to do what was required in the time allowed without taking shortcuts on other duties. Often there weren’t enough sheets or pillow cases and so decisions would have to be made concerning which Residents would have to continue to sleep on dirty linens. If a bed had been pooped and/or peed in, the first reaction on the part of the CNA often was to take it personnally – as though the Resident had intentionally soiled the linens to make life harder for the CNA – and so the CNA sometimes found ways to retaliate, usually by scolding, condemning, and humiliating the Resident. Wanting to serve, I began helping the other CNAs change the linens on their scheduled days. The chore was accomplished in half the time, it was fun to work together, and the CNAs were able to find time to wash linens. CNAs and Residents were made happier by the teamwork. We also began to work as a team in the dining room and with other duties and acts of kindness and compassion multiplied.
However, the system was still broken. If it was to be fixed, it would require a change in the way authority and power was understood and used. Working as a team, we CNAs had begun to empower one another by working with one another – as partners. But, rather than excercising power WITH us, the Administrator continued exercising power OVER us. Unless the paradigm of authority changed, fear would continue to be an infection that caused everyone to suffer – especially those who had the least power: the Residents.
I tried to talk to the Director of Nurses and had some good discussions with the Administrator about how things could be done differently – but they would dismiss any idea of changing the system and insist that the only changes that needed to be made were in the behaviors of the CNAs.
One of the Shift Nurses was praising me one afternoon, thankful for the positive changes that she noticed. I explained that the changes occurred simply because relationships were changed – from competition, jealousy and fear to mutual caring. I described how such changes could be made throughout the organization if we simply changed the way we used power, and how much more enjoyable the work environment could be – and most of all, I pointed out that the Residents would receive the most benefit from change. Sadly, she just shook her head and said, “It will never happen. This is just the way it is.”

The Worship of Power

When we lived in Kansas City, Terry and I joined a church whose primary mission was to integrate blacks and whites in one church community. I was on the Leadership Team and met weekly with the co-pastor – a young guy who had recently graduated from seminary. Most of our conversations seemed to revolve around the issues of leadership and authority and the nature of Divine Power. I tried vainly to persuade him that the ultimate form of power is synonymous with love. In other words, the assertion that “God is Love” is an assertion about God’s power. I’m convinced that this is true from personal experience, from rational thought, from biblical and theological studies, from science, and from philosophy. All of these provide important perspectives on the nature of reality. A single perspective should not be trusted. A perspective from Classical Theology (or traditional Christian theology) is in contradiction to my understanding of Divine Power. Using theological language, it asserts that “God is Omnipotent”. In commonly used terms, it asserts that God is in total control of all events. It asserts that God’s power is like the kind of power a king has – the kind of power that the Caesars used to control the citizens of Rome – a power exercised in force and violence, domination and control. It is a type of power that legitimates control under an ethic of “Might makes Right”, and which has produced male-dominated social structures (including the human family), and competing national armies. Religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam base their dogmas on an understanding of “inspiration” as the domination of human writers by a Divine Spirit in a puppet-like manner. These writings continue to justify the infliction of tremendous suffering and environmental damage to humans and animals. A glaring example of this justification of inhumanity on biblical authority can be seen in this quote from John Henry Hopkins (1864):

The Bible’s defense of slavery is very plain. St. Paul was inspired, and knew the will of the Lord Jesus Christ, and was only intent on obeying it. And who are we, that in our modern wisdom presume to set aside the Word of God … and invent for ourselves a “higher law: than those holy Scriptures which are given to us as ‘a light to our feet and a lamp to our paths,’ in the darkness of a sinful and a polluted world?”

More examples could show how this misunderstanding of God’s power led to the subjugation of women and other races, and equating those with a different religious view with demons and forces designated as being “against God”. It is the kind of power that Jesus and the early Christians rejected.

Until recently, power was not differentiated into its two modes: power as love (or subjective influence), and power as force (power applied to objects). Also, adequate thought has not been given to God’s status as the unique Divine Individual. By ‘individual’, I mean any entity which can influence and be influenced by others.  An ‘individual’ as I define the term, acts as one and responds as one to the actions of others. Therefore, in describing God as an ‘individual’ I understand that God shares the attributes of individuality purely as such.  However, there are two categories of individuals that are related in the same way that the universal is related to particulars:

  1. Non-divine individuals with contingent non-universal existence. All individuals in this category have bodily existence which can interact with other bodies, and all the interactions between bodies can be defined by the science of physics studying the phenomena of objects.
  2. The unsurpassable Divine Individual (God or Spirit). The individual in this category has necessary universal existence, is the ground for all other forms of existence – but has no individual form or body with which to interact bodily with other bodies.

It is impossible for the individual in category (2) to use power in the mode of control and domination. That kind of power can only be used in the interaction between bodies or objects. Just as it would be impossible to move a rock with your hands if you had no hands, Spirit cannot move rocks. This limitation of Divine Power is often referred to when it is stated that we (humans) are God’s hands and feet. Subjects (like biblical authors) can be influenced by other subjects, but cannot be controlled by other subjects (although they can be forced to submit by the threat of violence to their bodily existence). Therefore, we can see God’s influence (if we have eyes to see) throughout the universe in forms of order, creativity, and beauty. We do not need to, nor should we, credit God with the evil that we see all around us. When we are sick, impoverished, or oppressed, we should not be asking ourselves why God is doing this to us or to others we love. We should not become angry when it doesn’t seem like God is answering our prayers. And we can stop trying to defend God to the atheists. Instead, we can agree with them, that the ancient mythological controlling God who jealously protected his Divine Supreme Ego, never existed except in mistaken human mythologies. That God and the Santa Claus who climbs down chimneys at Christmas have the same ontological status. Unfortunately, it is that mythological god which is often worshiped on Sunday mornings, rather than the God that Jesus spoke about and for which he was accused of blasphemy and executed.

Worship of the mythological ‘Omnipotent God’ has produced an eschatology with the universe ending violently – an end which could only be applauded by an audience of demons.

Worship of the God of Jesus, on the other hand, leads us to belief in the Divine Eros, the Spirit that calls us to love our neighbor as ourself – to be perfect in our love as God is perfect (all-inclusive). It is under the influence of that Spirit that nature conceives and brings forth life. It is the influence of that Spirit that works to transform ‘that which is’ into ‘that which should be’.

At this point in the evolutionary path of the universe, a path that has led up to creatures with the ability to be aware of, reflect on, and respond consciously to Spirit, and thus be co-creators of the future, a sort of crossroads has been reached. As co-creators we are also co-responsible for the future. It is imperative, it seems to me, that we wake up and grow up, to become spiritually mature, to put away childish and foolish ways of thinking and acting, to take our place in the community of life forms existing all around us, to become channels of Divine Power, working in partnership with God and with one another (it’s the same thing), to build the Body of Christ (which has nothing to do with a particular institutional form or belief system).