Surfing the chaos*


What will help you stay on the surfboard?

One of the best kind of coaching questions, this, one of the ones which build on the metaphor you were using and hit you sideways.  The kind of questions which sometimes elicit an answer deeper than you knew you had.  Yes, I do so love powerful questions.

My answer to this one was instinctive.  I’ll stay on this surfboard, unperturbed by the wind, skipping over the waves rather than being overwhelmed by them, and I’ll do it by being intentional about making meaning.  I will stand in the wind and the waves with my eyes on Jesus.  I’ll even see the things meant to drown me become the platform for this surfboard’s speed and movement.  I will not sink.  Instead I’ll skip through the wind and waves, flying freer and faster as the turmoil around me increases.

And what will help me stay on this surfboard, eyes on Jesus instead of the waves which try to knock me off, is a practice of telling and retelling to myself the story Jesus has been working so far.  I will make meaning by weaving the strands of narrative.  I will remind myself of his grand narrative, the story of a God of outrageous love and searing holiness and of a people dear to his heart.  And, oh my soul, I will whisper to you the Scriptures he has enlivened in these days, the prophetic words from a decade previously, the encounter kneeling on the floor of that church this weekend, the imagery which resonates in my daily living.


Somewhat excitingly for the beleaguered leadership tag (see my last post!), it’s getting appended to this post.  You see, meaning-making is a function of leadership.  It’s not one which has been much written about until latterly.  In Christian circles, Scott Cormode and some of the missional guys like Roxburgh/Romanuk have got hold of it.  In the secular field of leadership, you’d be wanting to read Margaret Wheatley, the relevant chapters in Bolman/Deal, and maybe the eminently readable Drath/Paulus.

Now, meaning-making is really interesting stuff.  It’s about leadership as interpretation of reality in conversation with an overarching narrative.  It’s about reading the culture of an organisation through its rituals and practices, its rules and unspoken values.  Indeed, for Drath/Paulus (Making Common Sense), meaning-making is

the process of arranging our understanding of experience so that we can know what has happened and what is happening, and so that we can predict what will happen; it is constructing knowledge of oneself and the world.

This, of course, gets fun when you start reading Christian contexts through this lens.  I shan’t try, for sure – though I’m involved in more than one Christian context and thus you wouldn’t know which one I’m talking about, I can guarantee I’d have people from both contexts assuming it was about their context!  But you can imagine how it works.  You read the context to see what carries meaning currently through the way people behave, the things they are willing to fight over, the way they handle that conflict, the way the organisation treats its people.  You read the organisational history to see where meaning was previously embedded and how.  You do that by listening to the contented old-timers and the ones the system spewed out.  You look at financial records and old newsletters and historical web copy and…and…

And then in your reading, you read and reread the narrative which was meant to be.  You read the old, old story of a God and his Bride.  You read of betrayal and separation and desperation.  You read of hope and incarnation and restoration.  And you dream again out loud in the hearing of your people.  You live convictions older than the hills and you live them even if no one is looking.  Because one day they will and they’ll begin living it too…and the meaning will have been made.


It’s a funny thing, this meaning-making.  Simple yet complex.  You take an image like a surfboard, image of a prophecy received twice from others.  Simple, so simple.  Yet as you play with it, write about it, meld it with the words you wrote about a night on the waves with a boat and a cushion, it becomes complex.  Meaning layers upon meaning and the surfboard which was about experiences of convergence becomes also about daredevil ride of faith and about eyes fixed on Jesus.  It becomes about being in the wind and the waves and confounding them rather than being confounded.

Simple yet complex.  And as you piece together the story that you’ve been living, as you trace the wildness of the last eighteen months, hold the thread of the Scriptures in which he’s come to you in these days, hear echo of the eleven year old word about nations and ploughs and not turning back, you start to know.

You start to know what has happened.

You start to know what is happening.

And maybe, just maybe, as you strive to live true – and yet truer still – you start to know how to live into what will happen.

Photo credit

* Honesty requires me to admit that this post’s title runs close to the title of a book by Pascale/Milleman/Gioja!

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