The details of the Newhouse prescription for dealing with the broken realities of the world we inhabit are fairly general.

She points more to attitudes than actions. In order to move forward in creative and life-giving ways, communities need to develop particular qualities. According to Newhouse, our institutions need to foster a culture in which we:

  • take the central, unavoidable and potentially beneficent parts of the Flatness Aesthetic (including speed, accessibility; portability) while discarding the poisonous parts (frictionlessness; surveilled conformism; the allergy to excellence)

  • seek out friction and thorniness

  • hunt for complexity

  • delight in unpredictability

  • [develop] tight circles and improvisation and adventure and lots and lots of creative waste

In the community I know best, it feels as if we can tick off most of these boxes.

We discarded the myth of “frictionlessness” over two decades ago. In the face of difficult and important questions, we determined that no one has the right to sit in judgment on the life of any other person simply because that person’s life experience is different than ours. We began to view disagreement, not as a detriment, but as part of the rich fabric of human reality. We adopted the motto that “Wherever two or three are gathered together, there will be friction.” And we determined that we would view “friction” as an opportunity to grow and deepen rather than flee and harden.

There is simply no such thing as “frictionless” human relationships. We are either in relationship with pain, or we are not in relationship. Remaining in relationship with other human beings inevitably is messy. Relationship involves pain, discomfort, confusion, and uncertainty. It requires a deep measure of courage, trust and humility to carry on with the same group of people over an extended period.

We learned the wisdom of Jesus’ instruction to his disciples that we needed to forgive,

Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:23)

We discovered that the fundamental building block for lasting relationship is Jesus’ instruction that

If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also. (Luke 6:29)

Around the same time, that we were learning these difficult and painful lessons, we began to give up completely on “surveilled conformism.”

There is no theological means test to qualify to journey with us. If you are on a spiritual journey and desire support and encouragement, we are happy to walk with you, wherever you may find yourself along the way. We do not require agreement as a starting point, or seek it as our goal. We embrace “friction and thorniness” and are highly conversant with “complexity” and “unpredictablility”, all of which require lots of “improvisation”, “adventure” and “creative waste”. Whether we like it or not, this is simply the world we inhabit. There is no avoiding the messy reality of being together as human beings.

The one place where we really fall down in the Newhouse checklist is “excellence”. I am not sure how she is defining this quality, but I am afraid we suffer from a bit of an “allergy to excellence.” In our defense, it is hard to see how a demand for “excellence” fits with the call to embrace the mess of “friction and thorniness”, “complexity”, “unpredictability,” “improvisation”, “adventure” and “creative waste”.  Who gets to decide what excellence looks like? If you have a gift to offer, we will go a long way to try to welcome your offering with grace.

So, finding a less broken way forward after COVID looks messy and uncertain. It requires a willingness to honour the experience of other people even when their experience is different than mine. It means being willing to put up with the uncomfortable manifestations of others and resisting the temptation to suggest that people must change before they are acceptable.

We will seek to love people towards change rather than because they have changed.

These are soft values. They are hard to measure and quantify. But, if we are going to survive the broken realities of life, they may be our best hope for moving forward with hope in the uncertain future that lies ahead.

“Everything is broken.” Welcome the mess.