All Saints: "Causing a Paradigm Shift"

The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams

As a child I fell in love with the character of Atticus Finch, at the age of 10 I thought I’d name my first child Atticus. The character from To Kill a Mockingbird was a lawyer challenging the basis on which society judged guilt and innocence of a black man in the 1930s Southern USA. One of the primary lesson which was conveyed to the narrator, his daughter Scout, and to us readers, was that you can’t understand somebody ‘until you have stood in their shoes and walked around in them.’ 

Fundamentally people do things which are utterly reasonable to them, however unreasonable we might feel they are when we are looking in from outside. We make decisions based on our own paradigm of why things are the way they are in the world.

In business, the discerning of an existing corporate paradigm can be very difficult, but it can also be incredibly revealing. The idea is that in every business or organisation, as well as for individuals, there is a paradigm, an accepted model or pattern to how things work in the world.

A good paradigm, which is well accepted, can be extremely effective at ensuring good, hardworking staff who deliver. Singapore Airlines, for example, had a strong paradigm of customer service shored up and communicated through their internal corporate news paper reporting on how employees have gone the extra mile to help struggling travellers find a place to stay the night or a way to get home.

Many larger companies struggle with a ‘blame culture’, a poisonous paradigm, often driven by certain approaches to targets or reporting which cause in-fighting and a failure to cooperate or trust one another.

One of the challenges in our political discourses is built around a kind of paradigm of ‘Mother knows best’ government which has led to protest votes and volatile election results, you can draw your own conclusions on what examples I might be pointing to.

In Question Time last Thursday a member of the audience asked if British society had lost sense of compassion. The week before some of us were at a lecture at St-Martin-in-the-fields by Sarah Teather, the former Lib. Dem. minister who now heads up the Jesuit Refugee Service and she was asking if the paradigm that is being used to discuss refugees is not fundamentally flawed. In that the conversation is based solely around the world view that we have limited resources which these other people, namely refugees, want to take from us. She argued for a kind of paradigm shift in the dialogue, which was based more around the potential benefits which refugees give to our society. Not that the conversation on resources, distribution and allocation can be ignored, they cannot. However, if that slightly cynical approach is where we begin, it becomes difficult to act compassionately.

Paradigm shifts, changes to corporate cultures, to world-views are incredibly difficult to achieve. In a company, good strategic planning considers how do you make that shift work. What are the values you need to instil and how do you do them and how do you communicate this new paradigm? By ritual, by targets, by rewards, by internal press?

I most make a small admission that I watch the Apprentice weekly. If you have ever watched it you know that there is always a poisonous paradigm at work, created by the nature of the competition. Everybody wants to win and is quick to make their voice heard, and then to walk away when their view leads to failure. This week was a classic example, one candidate pushed hard for a specific decision. The team’s project manager took their advice. When it didn’t work they put there hands up and said, I only made a suggestion, you made the decision to listen. Switching this competitive paradigm of blame, to one where working together, taking risks and responsibility, relying on others, who you know could throw you under the bus - takes trust… 

In the Old Testament God uses the consequences of the Exile, and the preaching of the prophets, like Daniel, to instigate a paradigm shift in the Jewish people, back towards trusting God.

In a similar way the Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ could be considered one of the greatest attempts to shift a paradigm in history. Setting a paradigm for the people of God, for Christians, for the Church to follow.

Jesus' life sets out a model of service, of sacrifice for others by an outpouring of infinite grace and love. It’s a paradigm where Jesus stands up to ‘the man’ without changing his values to serve expediency, risking his life. It is like the freedoms which terrorism attempts to steal from us by making us scared to live our lives freely. 

Much like Atticus’ lesson for his daughter Scout, Jesus tells us to do to others as you would want them to do to you. Not in a cynical way, saying oh, well, I’d want to take advantage of the situation so that’s clearly what another person will do. But in a positive way which is built on a hopeand trust that if we do good to others, that makes them more likely to do good to others too. It means taking a risk to trust others one another and to trust God.

The model we are told is the Kingdom of God, or, perhaps more helpfully, the kingship or reign of God. A reign which is based on God’s love for creation, God’s grace and steadfastness through all the mistakes. It’s a model whereby we seek to become one with God. We seek to become more Christlike, to live as the Saints’ which we are called to be.

Christ is the ultimate communication of the paradigm, but what we do here together as the Saints’ on earth, as God’s Church, is to continue to try and build up this paradigm of the God’s reign in what we do here on a Sunday. By remembering we are forgiven and are called to forgive in the confession and absolution, by remembering to be compassionate in raising our prayers of concern and care for others and listening for God to call us to action, by remembering we are striving to become more like Christ, one with God, in consuming God in words of scripture and reason. And we consume God in bread and wine at the Eucharist. Because God’s presence in us is not just philosophy,  it has an innate physicality to it as well. Consuming and imbibing God into us, is such powerful imagery of us becoming intimately one with God

So we go out from here working hard to live up to the forgiven and sanctified nature to trust one another and God, as we act as a blessing for one another and seek to become Saints on earth, one with God, acting as God would act, out of compassion and love for one another.