The Naked Bike Ride to General Conference

Naked Bike Ride

In May 2016 the world is coming to my home – Portland, Oregon — a place where we proudly claim our weirdness and laugh along with episodes of “Portlandia” in an endearing way. We are into communal and laid back living, farm to table eating, free swaps and DIY on just about everything including our spirituality. We are concerned about the environment and recycle our food scraps. We love our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and even advocate for bike safety with our annual Naked Bike Ride through the streets of Portland. The coffee, beer and wine are always flowing and people who visit feel genuinely welcomed. Tolerance, understanding, diversity, natural fibers, life/work balance, communing with nature, good books, funky flavored ice cream and authentic conversations are important to us.

But frankly, we are having difficulty preparing for the General Conference delegates from all over the world who will be coming to our city for the quadrennial legislation of the United Methodist Church next May. You see, WE will tolerate differences as long as YOU tolerate differences.   We will welcome your expression of diversity as long as you welcome our expressions of diversity.

Here is our issue: We know you don’t want to welcome such diversity.

Here is our blind spot: We don’t want to either.

This is what all of us don’t understand: We are living out of different value systems (value memes) based on our particular life conditions and cultures. In order to be tolerant and understanding we need to respect your value system as much as we honor our own. Ouch!

Don Beck and Christopher Cowan, co-founders of the National Values Center and authors of the book “Spiral Dynamics” help to shed light on our impasse. The premise based on 40 years of research is that human nature changes as the conditions of existence change, thus forging new systems. We change our psychology and rules for living to adapt to these new conditions. When our values begin to collide with more complex life conditions we transcend the old and include the new. Both individuals and societies move along this evolutionary spiral of development. This movement pushes our capacities for compassion beyond ourselves to others in our tribe, ethnicity, religion or country and then to everyone in our world and finally to all life forms. Both personally and corporately we can’t jump levels of development; rather we have to go through them all.

Here are the characteristics of these color-coded stages along the spiral.

Beige – Basic Survival in .1% of world population. Uses  instincts and habits just to survive and get basic needs meet. Think of a newborn baby or the book “Clan of the Cave Bear.”

Purple – Magical Thinking in 10% of the world population with 1% of the power.  Shows allegiance to the chief, elders, ancestors and the clan. Think of tribal customs, animistic practices, and superstitions.

Red – Implusive, Ego-centric Power in 20% of the world population with 5% of the power. First emergence of a self distinct from the tribe. Lives without regret or guilt, conquers, dominates and is aggressive. Think of 2 year olds, rebellious teenagers, gangs, feudal kingdoms, terrorist groups, Tony Soprano, and the Wild West

Blue –  Mythic Order in 40% of the world population with 30% of the power. Life has meaning, direction, and purpose, with outcomes determined by an all-powerful Other or Order. This righteous Order enforces a code of conduct based on absolutist and unvarying principles of “right” and “wrong.” Violating the code or rules has severe, perhaps everlasting repercussions. Following the code yields rewards for the faithful. Think of the birth of all the major faith traditions, the ten commandments, patriotism, the protestant work ethic, and authoritarian regimes.

Orange – Scientific Achievement in 30% of the world population with 50% of the power. The self “escapes” from the “herd mentality” of blue, and seeks truth and meaning in individualistic terms. Societies prosper through the age of reason and science. Democracy, freedom, liberty, technology and competiveness are key. Think colonialism, “success” ministries, Wall Street, the emerging middle class, and shark tank.

Green – The Sensitive Self in 10% of the population with 15% of the power. Feelings and caring supersede cold rationality. The human spirit must be freed from greed, dogma, and divisiveness. This meme refreshes spirituality, brings harmony, enriches human potential. It is strongly egalitarian, anti-hierarchal, pluralistic, and values diversity and multiculturalism. Think of the Beatles, liberation theology, LGBTQ rights, national healthcare, world council of churches, and “Portlandia.”

Yellow – Integrative in 1% of the population with 5% of the power. This is the first value meme that can respect all the memes along the spiral as healthy and needed. Natural flows, flexibility, spontaneity, and functionality have the highest priority. People in this meme think and act from an inner-directed core and are able to access knowledge on multiple levels. Think of chaos theory, systems theory, and living systems.

Turquoise – Holistic in .1% of the population. Experiences the wholeness of existence through mind and spirit. Everything connects to everything else in an ecological alignment. Think morphic fields, integral theory, evolutionary spirituality, intuitive thinking, and cooperative action.

Much has been written and debated about our polity concerning the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters to be ordained and married in our churches. There has been talk of division to the point of no longer being a “united” church. There has also been conversation about compromise.

This week the Connectional Table gathered to recommend legislation for a way forward that would allow United Methodist clergy to officiate same-gender weddings if they choose as well as allow Annual Conferences to ordain and support LGBT pastors and those who officiate same-gender weddings. At the same time the church would retain the historical objection to homosexuality.

If we looked at our world-wide United Methodist church along this dynamic spiral of value systems it could provide a way for us to engage with this recommendation in a helpful way.

It seems to me that our church encompasses purple, red, blue, orange, green and yellow value memes depending largely on where we live and our life conditions.

spiral dynamics

  • The United States — blue, orange, and green
  • Africa — purple, red, and blue
  • Northern Europe — orange, green and yellow
  • Asia — purple, red, blue and orange

Each one of these stages reads the Bible and configures church in a different way because we naturally insert our values into our scriptures, practices and polity. Each one of these value memes lives out of a response to the living conditions in which it finds itself.

Let’s look more closely to the blue value meme. The reason why the church is growing in Africa and Asia is because organized religion helps to bring order out of terror and chaos. John Wesley’s ministry did this well as he helped to lift people out of poverty and alcoholism in England through his preaching and classes. Many historians credit him for the rise of the middle class in England and the prevention of a revolution like the one in France. He literally helped to bridge the transition from a blue value system to an orange system as Methodism crossed the ocean into the new world. The gift of the church in the blue value meme is that it helps to provide safety and security, rules and morals. It is the backbone for further movement along the evolutionary spiral. Organized religion helps societies move from egocentric focus on me to an ethnocentric concern for people who share “our” values. It was the birth of monotheism that brought warring tribes together under one God and allowed us to progress along this evolutionary spiral.

If I grew up first knowing the belovedness of my tribe, its customs and spirits (purple) and then have been forced to leave due to famine, or war and pillage from outside gangs and warlords(red), I would long for protection, rules, law and a God who judges the evil doers (blue). I would need this for my very survival. The church and its polity would help me feel protected and safe. It would help to bring order out of chaos. I can have hope that our God will unite us around moral living rather than divide us among tribal customs. These laws give the clarity needed in order to rein in the impulsive and aggressive manifestations of the Red “Tony Soprano” value meme. These laws always include a strict moral code about sexuality. It is an integral part of the blue value meme.

Likewise, if I grew up in an orange/green value meme with all of my basic needs met and had access to science, technology and global information at my finger tips, I would begin to understand how interdependent we are as global citizens and would want to honor all life and all lives. I would understand that truth is relative depending on one’s perspective and experience. I would want to know your story and honor your truth. Spirituality for me would be found in deep listening, honoring experiences and discernment for where the Spirit of God is manifesting. I would want to join with others to help make the world a more peace-filled place where all can prosper as beloved children of God. If I can’t live out this expression of grace then I will find the church irrelevant, judgmental and hypocritical. (Hence a growing decline in religious affiliation in orange and green value meme areas.)

Neither one of these perspectives is wrong. They are just different due to the life circumstances we find ourselves in. Yet in the UMC we find ourselves stuck in this 35 year-old argument over LGBTQ rights. Both “sides” are expecting the other to change. That would be like asking a 4 year old to get a driver’s license or a computer nerd to survive in the wilderness with no technology or equipment.

Instead, what would it look like to honor both value systems? Could we allow rigid law and order in areas of the world where it is a matter of life and death? Likewise, could we honor a more world-centric perspective where my care and concern extends even beyond the doctrines of my church?

What would it be like to honor our life conditions and the value systems that support where we find ourselves? Wouldn’t that be the loving thing to do? If your heart is as mine, then can we join hands?

There is so much we can do together as a global church – let us join hands in this. But if we don’t honor our particular life contexts, the connectional church as we know it will wither and die.

If I could wave a “purple” magic wand in May 2016 I would hope that we could support the Connectional Table’s proposal because it honors both perspectives and leaves the LGBTQ issue to be lived out in our particular life contexts.

Now about that naked bike ride….

Published by

Beth Estock

Beth coaches weird churches all over the United States. She grew up in the Midwest, began her pastoral work in the Bible Belt, and then moved to the Pacific Northwest two decades ago. She is an ordained United Methodist pastor, a contemplative, cultural architect and futurist. She is co-author of the book, "Weird Church: Welcome to the 21st Century." She convenes a network of missional faith communities in the Wesleyan tradition in Portland, Oregon.

2 thoughts on “The Naked Bike Ride to General Conference”

  1. Asking people to actually honour the Golden Rule, not treating others in a way they would find offensive to themselves, is asking them to transcend their own surety about the world.

    Many Christians like the Golden Rule expressed in a so called positive form, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” rather than the negative form Jewish leaders like Hillel offered “don’t do unto others what would be offensive to you.”

    Shaw understood the limits of the standard vision.”Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.” The assumption that my view of the world is correct and therefore anything I do to impose my view onto you is also correct can lead us into battle and not into harmony.

    I’m not sure where in your colour matrix individuals are ready to accept that while their beliefs and approaches are right for them, they are not right for everyone.

    That is especially relevant when battling over the Golden Rule. Does giving you respect over your choices which I find offensive to me mean that I have to be the loser in the battle? How do I tolerate the offence you give to my beliefs and the institution that I am pledged to defend? Or should I just accept that the choices of yours that I find offensive need to be accepted because you are who you are and where you are?

    For me, meeting people where they are, even if where they are is trying to change or erase people like me, is a key part of the Golden Rule, but it is not easy.

    As a spiritual person, though not a doctrinaire religious one, I know it is important that I try.

    1. Callan, Thank you for your thoughtful response. You have certainly captured the essence and complexity of this kind of compassionate response. How do we allow for Grace and difference and at the same time honor our own values? This is not easy but as you say so important that we try. Part of this practice I believe is to know that we come to this hot topic issues with our own stories and life conditions. How do we set clear boundaries for ourselves and at the same time allow others the same? You have given me much to ponder as you share about the nuances of the Golden Rule. Along the dynamic spiral this capacity comes at the yellow and beyond when we move from fear into freedom.

Let's keep the conversation going!