Complexity

I’ve spent the better part of two weeks immersed in a book I first read in grad school called Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos. It tells the story of how a group of top scientists from an array of disciplines came together to form The Santa Fe Institute. For two decades now, they’ve studied the science of Complexity, furthering our understanding of how the natural world – which often looks chaotic – is actually comprised of complex self-organizing adaptive systems. That what looks like chaos is almost always part of a larger pattern, and how sometimes life moves toward organization, rather than away from it.

I picked it up again because one Sunday morning as I was trying to finish up a talk on prayer, I had this “intersecting thought” in which God said, “Read Complexity.”

I appreciate this book, but even a couple hundred pages in, I couldn’t figure out WHY God had me re-reading it. It suggests interesting things about finding patterns even when it looks like all hell is breaking loose. And one of the research conclusions about human interaction models how Jesus rolled in the Gospels almost exactly. But still, I couldn’t seem to get to THE POINT.

Then on a fluke, I found a link about novelist Cormac McCarthy’s involvement with the Santa Fe Institute (which seemed both odd and exciting to a non-scientist like me). This led me to a video of him reading the operating principles he wrote for the SFI back in April.

THEN I understood a bit of what God was showing me, because the principles McCarthy articulates parallel what we’re so excited about here at Greenhouse Mission.

Here’s the statement:

Scientific work at SFI is always pushing creativity to its practical limits. We always court a high risk of failure. Above all we have more fun than should be legal.

We are absolutely relentless at hammering down the boundaries created by academic disciplines and by institutional structures. If you know more than anybody else about a subject we want to talk to you. We don’t care what that subject is.

We are beyond relentless in seeking out the best people in every discipline. We will get you here. No matter what. And we will give you the space and the resources that you need.

We don’t care how young you are.

We have in general avoided becoming involved in matters of policy. But if you are working on a program that involves sustainability or the environment or human welfare and you think we might have something you can use pick up the phone.

The educational opportunities that we offer – especially for young people – are simply not available elsewhere. Period.

Occasionally we find that an invited guest is insane. This generally cheers us all up. We know we’re on the right track.

Inspired, I rewrote a version of this for Greenhouse Mission. Then I showed it to Steve, who said, “You know you’re totally plagiarizing that, right?” to which I replied, “It’s not plagiarism if you give credit to the guy who wrote it first!” So here, with all credit attributed to Mr. McCarthy, is my take-away, inspired by his words:

Our work at Greenhouse Mission is always pushing Christian imagination and creativity to their Biblical limits. We always court a high risk of failure. Above all we have more fun than should be legal, and see more miracles than are possible.

We are absolutely relentless at hammering down the boundaries created between people and God. If you think God might be speaking to you – or wish that He would – we’d love to help you make sense of that and figure out how to respond. If you cross our threshold, we will give you the space and the resources that you need.

We are beyond relentless in our insistence that what is impossible for man is possible with God, that a life transformed by Jesus is the most satisfying experience on earth, and that God’s Kingdom is here for us to see and live out.

We don’t care how young you are, or how old.

We have in general avoided becoming involved in matters of policy. But if you are working on a program that involves human welfare, particularly that of children in foster care, and you think we might have something you can use, pick up the phone. Or email. We’re more likely to respond to email.

The spiritual opportunities that we offer are simply not available elsewhere in our city. Period.

Occasionally we find that an invited guest is insane. This generally cheers us all up. We know we’re on the right track.

Let’s just take a moment to admire how fantastic that last line is. Spot-on, right? It’s as if he knew he’d be inspiring a church.

Beyond that, what I appreciate about this document is that it doesn’t claim that the Santa Fe Institute is better than anything else; it claims to be different. It doesn’t claim to replace MIT or CalTech or any of the other schools or research organizations; it celebrates them, while declaring this  truth: that for a sub-set of people out there looking at a certain set of questions, the SFI is the best – only – place in the world where they can get what they need to move forward. It claims their space as a unique and important part of a larger whole.

This is who we are at Greenhouse Mission.

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