Tracing the Network of Curiosity

Curiosity is my superpower.

It’s always been the most active part of my Self. Curiosity may have have killed the cat, but it funded me with the drive to ignore my native fear and press to find out more about this intriguing world.

It’s not always worked out for me, as it has led me down some paths that were dead ends, and even worse, chasing some rabbits that took me deep into the proverbial briar patch.

But, I stand by it. Curiosity is my superpower.

It has prompted me to seek out some thought leaders that have shown me ways that I would have never come upon by myself.

When I find myself curious about a particular subject, my method to my madness is to seek out one of the leaders in that area of expertise, hang out, and ask lots of questions.

When I was interested in meditation, I sought out a Trappist monk who was world-renowned for a particular way of meditating. I knew that I needed to find a “center” that would hold me solidly as I sought to discover all I could, so I sought him out and spent time with him, asking a lot of questions that tended to start with the words “why” or “how”.

When I was chasing down MY particular and peculiar questions as to why some people have faith and some people don’t?, I hung out the leading developmental psychologist in the world of faith development. Again, I asked a bunch of questions, taking on the “beginner’s mind”, soaking up what he had to teach me.

When I was interested in working with the transformation of people, I connected with one of the renowned psychotherapists, a person who had developed a practice of therapy that was psychoanalytically tuned but nimble enough to include family dynamics.

When I wanted to explore the connection of spirituality and social justice, I travelled to see a man whose word’s had funded the action of Martin Luther King, Jr. and provided a depth of spiritual base that would sustain.

I could continue to list other interests that I have pursued, always going to the brightest in the field, to observe, question, but most of all, listen. These bright lights of knowledge and wisdom have always been good to connect me with other sources of information and perspective, which leads me to my point of writing this particular article. These other sources of knowledge weaved a network of connections that continue to gift me today.

My quest began, as most of mine do, in the middle of praxis, that is, my experience. I was working as a very junior member of the staff at the Cathedral of St. Philip, at the time, the largest parish in the Episcopal Church in the United States. The leader, Dean David Collins, had been the leader for years, melding together a diverse congregation made up of traditionalists, Evangelicals, socially aware activists, and, for good measure, Charismatics, which was a new flavor in the Episcopal menu. His “big” personality held the place together. My image for him was sitting on top of a pressure cooker of diversity, the weight of his person keeping the lid on, but it always felt to me that it was just ready to blow.

When Collins retired, we began an extensive search for a successor. Even though I was young, I knew that this was going to be a major change, thus filled with both danger and opportunity. My question was: how does change happen? What is the best way to serve as a midwife to the birthing process of something “new” that was coming? What is the best way, with the least amount of blood, particularly mine, on the floor, to make a change happen?

Following my typical mode of operation, I began to research: who is the best expert in the process of change? That question led me to a person named Daryl Conner. Conner was the head of an firm called Organizational Development Resource (ODR) which was based in Atlanta. His group had worked with many corporations and organizations in the burgeoning world of change management.

I began by attending a two day seminar in which Daryl explained his basic concepts of how change happens. I did not know it at the time. because I had no experience in organizational development (OD), but he was drawing on the rich work of Kurt Lewin, a original thinker in the field.

As I hung out with Daryl over the next months, he introduced me to Dr. Charlie Palmgren, an Episcopal priest who was a principal consultant for ODR, adding some philosophical depth to the work. Underneath his work in change, Charlie had his learning of a brilliant process thinker, Henry Nelson Wieman, who promoted a process of creativity known as Creative Interchange. I was immediately drawn to Charlie and found his work on communications between people in organizations, with the possibility of synergy, so helpful, and needed by me in operating in such a diverse congregation.

So this was my first introduction to the formal discipline of Organizational Development, though I had been introduced to systems theory in my training in family therapy. I began to use the concepts of culture, resistance, sponsor, change agent, and target as I helped to plan for the transition ahead of us at the Cathedral.

After watching this change play out in some good, some bad ways, it was time for me to move on, trying my hand at leadership, and to use the Change Management process in starting to work in a new parish, I called Charlie to say good bye as I was embarking on a sojourn to Texas. Before we concluded the call, he mentioned that there was this guy in Dallas that I might find helpful. His name was Mike Murray.

When I got to my new parish in Tyler, Texas, I went to a local community meeting that was looking at ways to collaborate among the various downtown churches. I was surprised to find that our facilitator was none other than Mike Murray. We connected and exchanged notes.

Later, when I got a grant from the Pew Charitable Trust to begin a leadership training program that would include blacks, Hispanic, and white folks, I knew my first call would be to Mike to help me design it. How could we plan for a year long program that would develop people and build their capacity to make a difference in Tyler.

As we planned, Mike told me of a friend he had in Washington State who had developed a program of leadership. His name was John Scherer, a Lutheran minister who had worked on a process for transformation of people. I invited him to come to Tyler to lead one of our weekend intensives. It was a beginning to a relationship that has now spanned over thirty years. In fact, John, Mike, and I are newly engaged in designing a new process of leadership development for clergy.

That curiosity about the process of change connected me with Daryl, Charlie, Mike, and John. But with my East Texas effort, I became connected with Harrison Owen, the founder of Open Space Technology, that I used with the inaugural event at the beginning of Bishop Payne’s tenure in the Diocese of Texas. It allowed me to connect with the Industrial Areas Foundation, training in community organizing which we employed in our work in Tyler and Longview. It also connected me to THE major player in community organizing in Texas, Ernie Cortes (see Cold Anger, Mary Beth Rogers). I was able to bring him to Tyler, which was a huge boost to our organizing initiatives. All of this started with a moment of following my curiosity as to how an organization, namely a parish, goes through a process of change. A surprising network was producing fruit!

That seed of curiosity, sewn in the field of experience, developed an ever-extending vine that now connects me to Poland, Finland, Italy, Scotland, to name a few. It connects me across this country, across industries, across faith traditions. My curiosity has formed a network that enriches my view of the world and is a result of my boundary-spanning impulse. It is a deep source of satisfaction as I do the inevitable review of my life’s work.

What are you curious about? What have you always wondered about in your free moments of pause? What did you wish you could read more about, do research in, discover? A favorite way I have of teasing out those hidden passions in the souls of folks is to ask “What sandbox have you always wanted to play in?” I love the answers people have within, just waiting for someone to ask.

Think this through with me, let me know your mind. What is waiting for you to discover? Don’t forget to enjoy the ride. And don’t forget to be kind. Blessings.

4 thoughts on “Tracing the Network of Curiosity

  1. SO good to read this, David. . .

    Often I have wished for a word in English that would combine curiosity (which on the surface looks like a mental thing) and empathy (which is more like feeling into another world) — because this is the gift you have, my brother.

    How about ‘wonder’?

    And, as you know, Mentoring is a two-way street: each of those bright lights you mentioned also received great value from your hanging out with them when you did. Wouldn’t it be cool to hear what they would say they got out of those moments?!

    Personally, I treasure our current two-way street,

    John There is not another human being on the Earth who experiences life or makes meaning the way you do. You are unique for all time.



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