Saturday, December 31, 2005

Nemawashi, preparing to move

Nemawashi is a Japanese horticultural term.[1] It describes the binding of the roots of a large tree in preparation for transplanting by excavating the soil and then cutting the roots. “The legendary Asian gardeners,” says Robert Dale in Seeds for the Future “know it may take years to transplant a tree in ways that spare the plant the chock of being uprooted”[2] and nemawashi is the carefully honed procedure that honors the life of trees. In this method, cut roots are bound with straw to ensure transportation without damage. Though time consuming, this preparation ensures that the next stage of growth can be completed in a new place.

Nemawashi is an important concept for the 21st Century church as we endeavor to transplant ourselves into a future that looks markedly different from our recent past. Transportation into the future requires an incredible shift, and whether that shift is best expressed as a movement from modernity to postmodernity, from propositional truth to storytelling, from personal piety to community devotion, or from rationalism to existentialism our world is shifting quickly to a new version of itself.

And it’s not going to stop.

“Immobility,” says Zygmund Bauman “is not a realistic option in a world of permanent change”[3] and we must learn how to manage that change, how to survive in order to avoid “massive adaptational breakdown.”[4] We are not just transporting mere ideas, but people. People are carriers of consciousness, ethics and aesthetic, and deserve to survive their uprooting. Sadly, it is other people who hurt their fellows during these shifts and cause long term damage to the human environment. The tension between modern Evangelicalism and the Emerging church might be expressed as the absence of nemawashi, for there has been little care on the part of the Emerging church to gently transport our forebears to a new worldview and far too much caustic critique.

Nevertheless, we are entering a new place in history - and it is a place in history. It is temporal space and we are left to wonder if this new space can be set apart, if this can be sacred space, and if so, how might we imbue this space with glory. Robert C. Belden talks about sacred space being contested, that every spiritual site in North America is a place of conflict.[5] Indian burial sites, or places like Medicine Wheel and Ground Zero are locales that remind us of conflict; and is not our time a place of conflict? Is not the time in which we live a place in history that is greatly contested? We are the nomads of kairos,[6] wandering through our shared history looking for a place to set up camp and once again live spiritually. This, perhaps, is the kind of postmodern placelessness that Thomas Merton referenced when he wondered how far he must “have to go to find you in whom I have already arrived?”[7]

We might look for a place of emergence, the axis mundi[8] or Jacob’s Ladder, where we can settle and experience a spirituality indigenous to our historical place. We might look for a place to put down roots, to reward our gentle nemawashi, and to complete our postmodern passage which has been marked by the signposts of “recreation, experimentation, and [now] existential relocation.”[9] Where once we were vagabonds, we now look to a new identity as tourists, as people who move voluntarily and not because we have been uprooted.[10] Ultimately, though, we will land in our place and redeem it for history, for we know that our nemawashi will safely re-place us in the transnational future of the global village. Our time of liminality[11] will end, and instead of existing on the margins of a structured world, we will center ourselves in the soul of a world alive.

Poetically, Margaret Wertherim posits that the internet may be such a place. She claims it is the place on earth most like heaven, the place for which we long to land. Others seem to agree. “The spiritual lure of the web is the promise of the return of our voice”[12] says The Cluetrain Manifesto, in accord with Wertherim’s notion and noting that “however much we long for the web is how much we hate our job.”[13] While probably not the place where we will put down roots, the internet does give us a box to be carried in during our transport, an integral part of our nemawashi, and it may foreshadow what our new home will look like when we get there.

Says Wertheim:
Just as early Christians envisaged heaven as an idealized realm beyond the chaos and decay of the material world - a disintegration all too palpable as the empire crumbled around them - so too, in this time of social and environmental disintegration, today's proselytizers of cyberspace proffer their domain as an ideal 'above' and 'beyond' the problems of the material world. While early Christians promulgated heaven as a realm in which the human soul would be freed from the frailties and failings of the flesh, so today's champions of cyberspace hail it as the place where the self will be freed from the limitations of physical embodiment.[14]

The internet is the discovery of a temporary home, a chez soi,[15] where we can let down our proverbial hair and speak as ourselves, with our own voice. It is the waypoint of our transfer and a distraction from our dislocation.

In a world where people have come to “feel a close affinity with their environment”,[16] where globalization is not “our desire but the inevitable future of our world”[17] and where there is a “strong sense of global unity”[18] we must take care to protect ourselves in transit from one Time to the next, from one Place to the next, and from Faith to the Future.

[1] The term is often used by Japanese businessmen as a metaphor for the “coordination and adjustment of opinion in a company or other organization.” Nemawashi…is the process of informal discussion that takes place at a company or other group before a resolution is introduced at a formal meeting. Its purpose is to ensure that the resolution will be passed smoothly, without any confrontations or heated disputes. Although the essential purpose of a public meeting is to allow the participants to exchange opinions and debate the issues freely, the Japanese have always preferred their decisions to be unanimous, and it is regarded as prudent to achieve a consensus of opinion before the meeting and thus avoid any differences or discord afterwards. Cf.
[2] Dale, Robert. Seeds for the Future, (Danvers: Lake Hickory Resources, 2005), 43.
[3] Bauman, Zygmund. Globalization (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 2.
[4] Toeffler, Alvin. Futureshock (New York: Bantam, 1970), 2.
[5] Lane, Belden C. Landscapes of the Sacred: Georgraphy and Narrative in American Spirituality (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1988), 67.
[6] Greek, “to what time brings, the state of the times, the things and events of time.” Strong's Number: 2540, Cf.
[7] Merton, Thomas. Dialogues with Silence (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 13.
[8] The axis mundi, or “world axis”, is considered to be the place where heaven and earth collide. It is also known among shamans and indigenous peoples as the “place of emergence.” Cf.
[9] Barna, George. Revolution (Wheaton: Tyndale, 2005), 83.
[10] This notion of tourists and vagabonds was first introduced by Zygmund Bauman in Globalization (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 78ff.
[11] Latin, lit. 'threshhold' [liminality], describes the experience of movement involved in having left one place, one conventional state of being, and not yet having arrived at another. Cf. Appendix A: Rejected Terms.
[12] Locke, Christopher and Rick Levine, Doc Searles, David Weinberger. The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual, (New York: Perseus, 2001), 39.
[13] Ibid, 42.
[14] Wertheim, Margaret. “The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace” in Architecture of Fear (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1997), 296.
[15] French for "at home"; a space in which one seldom, if at all, finds oneself at a loss, feels lost for words or uncertain how to act. Cf. Appendix A: Rejected Terms.
[16] Tomlinson, Dave. The Post-Evangelical (Grand Rapids: EmergentYS, 1995), 136.
[17] Bauman, Zygmund. Globalization (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 83.
[18] Tomlinson, Dave. The Post-Evangelical (Grand Rapids: EmergentYS, 1995), 136.

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