Over the last few weeks, or months, even, I've been thinking of a particular metaphor that arises from having a father who is an engineer (as does the embarrassing fact that when people first spoke of models on a catwalk, I thought, "Why the hell are they having a fashion show underneath a bridge?").
I've been thinking about the idea that foundations need to be rigid, but structures on those foundations need to be flexible.
So, let's take my chosen religion - Catholicism.
God's existence: foundation. Trinity: foundation. "For God so loved the world...": foundation. "Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. ": foundation.
THAT is the foundation. The rest is structure.
And that's my problem. Too much of what is *structure* and needs to be flexible is treated as foundation - hierarchy, form, rules that are generated by underlying principles, not ends in and of themselves.
Too much flexibility, and a structure is worthless, true. But there needs to be some give, and right now, I think the Church has become petrified. The Holy Spirit needs space and nooks and crannies and the ability to FLOW to do its work. I worry that Catholicism no longer has that.
The problem is that we confuse rigidity with strength and flexibility with weakness; yet it is so often the opposite. Leaving aside religion, many problems in secular society come from rigidity: a rigid idea of beauty; a rigid idea of what constitutes 'success'; rigid labels, which ignore the fact that we all have complex stories; rigidity in problem-solving; a rigid idea of what our life is supposed to look like. Rigidity far too often leads to brittleness. It's no wonder the world is such an unhappy place.
All that should be rigid in our lives is that we acknowledge ourselves and others to be human, with all that entails: the right to be who we are, not an extension of others; the right to mess up; the right to meander; the right to our own definition of success; and above all, the right to a life with equal opportunities to achieve that idea of success, whether you live in America, DRC or Kazakhstan. "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." That is our foundation.
The rest? Flexible.
We would do well to remember Jacqueline Carey's motto for one of the Houses in her Kushiel series: "That which yields is not always weak."
After all, what are the strongest natural forces in our world?
Water and fire. Both of which have core characteristics, a foundation, that make them what they are, but both of which are the ultimate in flexibility of form and movement - even so, their power to save or devastate remains unequalled.
Yet in that immense power, they dance.
Perhaps to recover ours, so should we.