Thursday, November 12, 2009

Franklin Expedition

Source: "Derivatives with a Twist" by Alan Roxburgh. Roxburgh Missional Network Blog. Wednesday, 11 November 2009 11:10
Keywords: paradigm, shift, preparation, planning,

[Annie Dillard’s story, An Expedition to the Pole,] is about the ill-fated Franklin Expedition to the North Pole. Franklin left England in 1845 on two ships with a crew of 138 officers and men in search of the Northwest passage to the Pacific Ocean. Franklin and the crew knew they were heading out into unknown waters on a journey of discovery. The result of this famous journey has captured the interest of many since not one single member of the crew were ever found alive again. Their bodies were eventually found in shallow graves dispersed across the frozen Arctic land.


Clues to why this happened are in the manifest of what they took on the voyage. The manifest is a telling description of what these adventurers understood to be important and necessary for the journey. It captures the narrative in which they lived, a narrative that would destroy them because it made little sense in the environment of the Arctic. Franklin equipped his ships with a 1200 volume library, a hand organ that played fifty tunes, china place settings and expensive silver flatware. These early Victorian era Englishmen took their world with them. So important were these elements of their normal life in England that they only carried a twelve day supply of coal for their auxiliary engines, knowing the journey would last two to three years. So deep inside them were the habits and customs of their world which determined what they took with them when they abandoned ship to seek help. Bodies were found lying out on the frozen ice or in shallow graves with their silver beside them. Despite their brave commitment to explore a new way through the North West Passage, Franklin and his crew went with the assumptions of a 19th Century English world and it killed them in the new space they entered.

Here is an apt metaphor for what is happening to well intentioned people in local church and denominational leadership. The programs and techniques we bring with us to innovate mission-shaped life are like the china plates and library books that provisioned Franklin’s ship and shaped his imagination. The old binary opposites we create around missional change with their inside/outside, institution/organic, hierarchy/flat, and so forth, are like the familiar, precious silver on the bodies of those brave men lying dead in a vast, frozen loneliness.

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