Monday, May 16, 2011

John 14:1-14

Easter 5 - Year A

John 14:1-14

Another foreground / background opportunity presents itself. It is easy to experience a foreground of Jesus. He speaks, he acts, he touches, he feeds, he probably even smells. It is less easy to get a handle on that which Jesus claims is the background against which we might receive a larger setting in which we are also a foreground of it and capable of being experienced in the same way Jesus was, or even beyond such.

What is the "Father" background that is so spoken of and so invisible to us? At base it is simply the energy source for Jesus to be able to see what is around him and to say, "Here is what you have been taught, the limitations within which you operate," and then to go on to say, "But here is a new teaching that expands your meaning by expanding your background."

We appropriately ask about the background against which we act. In doing so, however, we take our eye off the foreground of Jesus, of one another, of ourself and in losing focus on what is present. With this either/or we lose track of questions about the context of the present - "How did we arrive where we are?" and "what would be better than this and how do we take a step in that direction?"

This same dynamic needs better attention paid to it regarding politicians and stealth candidates that run one way and govern another.

A helpful tool for this is to pay attention to the polarities of life, its yin and yang, its background and foreground, its paradoxes, dilemmas, and tensions.

If you are not familiar with polarities, here is a quick overview.

In church life it would be helpful to pay attention to those arenas where we are tempted to go with foreground or background rather than saying "yes" to both. From MANAGING POLARITIES IN CONGREGATIONS: Eight Keys for Thriving Faith Communities here are some common stumbling places as emphasis is put on one side or the other, losing sight of both/and:
  • Tradition AND Innovation or stability AND change
  • Spiritual health AND Institutional Health
  • Management AND Leadership
  • Strong Clergy Leadership AND Strong Lay Leadership
  • Inreach AND Outreach
  • Nurture AND Transformation
  • Making Disciples– Easy Process AND Challenging Process
  • Call AND Duty.
Jesus’ talk about doing what is asked in his name suggests that background and foreground are being paid attention to. At that point more can happen than might be expected. The qualifier is verse 13, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the “Father” [background of life] may be glorified in the “Son” [foreground of experience].” When these are separated less wholeness is to be expected.


  1. The BOTH/AND is critically important. AND, I would like to enlarge the context and place these polarities in a quad (the diagram below works if it is monospace type, which I put it in but who knows what happens along the way). A kind of QUAND-ARY because it clears things up but also creates a more complex and detailed map (integral). Here's part of that map - "aspects of experience - yours mine and ours:"

    i                                      e
    n            I    |    IT           x
    t                 |                  t
    e   ________|________   e
    r                 |                  r
    i                 |                  i
    o         WE   |   ITS         o
    r                                     r

    So, to take some of the polarities: "spiritual health" pertains to both individuals and communities (the entire upper and lower), but tends to be an "interior" thing (left side). The difference is that individual spiritual health is upper left and community health is lower left. "Institutional health" pertains to systems and environments (lower right, "ITS' which is the awkward plural of "IT"). Management tends to be be individual exterior - behaviors and actions, or upper right, whereas "leadership" is an individual-interior thing (upper left). Inreach is the entire left side and outreach is the entire right side. And so on.

    The curse is this: when you focus on only one or two aspects of experience, you are ignoring the other two. And the deal is, when something arises in one of the four quadrants, or aspects of experience, it always, simultaneously arises in the other three, because these are not four separate things, they are four aspects of ONE thing. It is not possible to separate or compartmentalize these four aspects of experience without tearing the fabric of existence (much like the temple curtain was rent and the day turned dark and the earth trembled and fear and confusion and conversion struck the hearts of persons and a religious/revolutionary movement was launched, not to mention the explosion of artistic flowering including da Vinci's Last Supper and Handel's Messiah, when Rabbi Jesus was executed and the Christ was crucified).

    The blessing is this: when you include the missing quadrants, it gets more complicated (because it is more complete) but the "either/or" cul-de-sac opens up quite nicely. For example, the "easy process/difficult process" of "making disciples" restricts itself to the right side (behaviors/actions and systems/environments) and ignores the left (interiors, the meaning dimension). You can teach process until the crowds go home hungry if you haven't dealt with the interior issues of "I can't/don't want to" or "we can't/don't want to."

    The key is congruity in all four aspects of experience. With congruity, the conflict of "apparent" polarity tends to resolve.


  2. T. -

    Thanks for the expansion of polarities into quadrants. For those interested in seeing a larger picture they can click here. One of these days I expect there will be a quantum leap of some sort in my understanding and I'll move from my standard background / foreground dance to a more nuanced set of polarities set at right angles to one another that expand analysis of a setting further along a plane of understanding and perhaps move into a third-dimension sometime after that.

    I really like the ability to have more space in which to play. It takes the pressure off any I, WE, IT, ITS initial manifestation to bear the weight of continued accountability for its arena of responsibility and authority.

    I am curious about how your model would interact with a model traditionally known as WAY, TRUTH, LIFE. What distinction is to be made between two aspects of ONE thing, three aspects, four, or more? I'm presuming there might be a qualitative preference of one over the other for particular settings, but am open to hearing that one is simply preferable.


  3. The four quadrants have historically often been collapsed into three, with the individual IT and plural ITS being collapsed into simply "IT" (i.e., the entire right side as one), so we have "I" "WE" and "IT."

    i                                e
    n        I            /        x
    t                    /          t
    e   ________ /   IT     e
    r                   \           r
    i                     \          i
    o       WE          \        o
    r                                r

    Or, the Beautiful (upper left, aesthetics in the "I" of the beholder) the Good (lower left, morals, or how ought WE to live together) and the True (right side, objective/empirical truth).

    Or, the Life (upper left), the Way (lower left communal WE) and the Truth (right side individual and communal).

    Or, Art (upper left aesthetic experience), Religion (lower left shared morals/values) and Science (right side, whether empirical study of individual atoms or communities of persons).

    Any way you spell it, whenever we see the Big Three -or- the Big Four as separate things instead of aspects or dimensions of ONE thing we are in Big Trouble.



Thank you for blessing us with your response.