Messy and Complicated

The last piece of dialogue in this trailer for the movie Gone Girl is between a police officer and detective.

“You ever hear the expression ‘the simplest answer is often the correct one?'”

“Actually I never found that to be true.”

The thrill, intrigue, and plot twists of the movie (and novel by Gillian Flynn) are based on the premise that marriage is messy.  That people are complicated.  And that the truth may not be as obvious as it appears.

Presbyterians are known for our preference for things to be “decent and in order.”  Perhaps this was a way to bring some order or consistency to a complicated theology, spirituality, and governance.  More and more our “decent and in order” policies and polity are being challenged by the complexities of context.  More and more I find myself answering “it depends” when I’m faced with a question that should appear straight forward.  We live in an interdependent and highly complicated reality that demands thoughtful and equally complex and intricate solutions to the challenges we face.

The question in this week’s unit of my online course, The Age of Sustainable Development, is “Why Did Some Countries Advance While Others Remained in Poverty?” Why did some nations get rich? Why did some countries stagnate or appear to regress economically?  Some (dare I say, especially Americans?) like to blame the people, the governments, the cultures, for non-development or later development of regions.  Others look to answers in geography, geopolitics, climate, and chance.  The research and statistics tend to indicate, though, that the answer is “all of the above.”  And that the reality is complex.  There are trends and correlations that can explain “big picture” tendencies, but they don’t always correlate with an individual country’s situation.  Much like a doctor attempting to diagnose a disease from the symptoms … patients with similar symptoms don’t necessarily have the same illness.

The factors at play in economic development around the globe are a complex interaction of the following:

  • technology — the invention of the steam engine was the beginning of our rise of global economic development.  Other technologies that are factors include the railroad, the automobile, radio and television, and the internet.
  • natural resources — fertile farm land is necessary to support industrialization. Coal and oil are necessary for energy production.
  • proximity and geographical features — being close to the heart of industry makes it more likely that a country will also develop economically.  Geographical features like access to the ocean or rivers are important for trade.
  • governance and corruption — a government that doesn’t serve the people is a huge deterrent to economic growth.  A safe and secure environment is necessary for production.  The ability to work with other nations is important, too, for the building of transportation and trade routes.
  • transportation and accessibility — the ability to transport goods is important for trade in a global market.  The interconnectedness of railroads and roads with other markets encourages trade.
  • climate, disease and natural disasters — a temperate climate with shelter from natural disasters is ideal for economic growth.  Disease can be rampant in tropical regions and can hinder a country’s ability to develop industry.
  • imperialism and colonialism — regions that were under colonial rule were not developed to be economic powers or even sustainable in their own right.  They were seen as resources to be spent in order to support the ruling nation and people.
  • culture and values — people’s values and personal characteristics can give them an advantage in the global economy.  Determination, persistency, education and innovation are all positive characteristics that can impact an economy.

As I participate in this course, I ask myself … what might be a correlation (real or metaphorical) for the development of the Church?  So, the obvious question is … why do some churches grow while others remain stagnant or decline?  Perhaps we can find corollaries for each of the bullet points above.  Certainly, though, we have to concede the answer is complex and contextual.  Demographics, economics, the ability to adapt and be accessible to the people … these are all part of the collage of reasons.  Governmental, educational, and theological issues also come into play.  Personalities, heritage, reputation, polity and denominational values are all a part of the equation.

Understanding how and why development happens in churches or in nations is important for prescribing a way forward. It is not a simple answer.  What works for one, won’t necessarily work for all.  There may be models of success, but there are no cookie cutter solutions.  And the process is not a quick fix.

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