Reflections on #CNMAC11 – number two

As Christians, we are both familiar and comfortable with the imagery of the flock. A flock is a gathering of vulnerable creatures in need of succour and protection from a shepherd. We can trace this image for God’s people way back into the Old Testament, to people like David, Ezekiel and Isaiah.

A herd is a rather different image – a group of wilful beasts controlled by its dominant members. The herd doesn’t get much of an airing in biblical imagery, and we would probably be uncomfortable with its implications of male dominance.

A swarm is a different thing altogether. A swarm may consist of thousands of members, all moving together with astonishing dexterity and beauty. You have only to watch the short video of starlings  exhibiting this kind of behaviour below to see this. For generations the swarm was a mystery to scientists – how could it move as a single unit with no obvious means of co-ordination? To try and understand it, Craig Reynolds built a computer simulation programme called  Boids in 1986. Each element in the swarm was given 3 steering behaviours: separation, alignment and cohesion. Gradually scientists began to imitate the behaviour of the swarm – though fully understanding it is a way off yet.

I mention this because when @JamesPoulter was talking at CNMAC11 about the power of social media for change, I couldn’t help thinking that this was closer to swarming behaviour than it was to flocking or herding. The swarm he was describing was united neither by creed, ethnicity nor even by a single cause – and yet they moved together. How does such a concept fit with our ideas of church, I wonder?

The more I think about it, the more I feel that individual Christians behave in different ways acording to circimstance.

In the Kingdom of God we behave as if in a flock – looking to the shepherd of our souls to nurture us and keep us from danger.

In the church – we occasionally behave as if in a herd, conceding dominance to the noisy ones, whether in official leadership or not.

In the digital church, out there in webland, I wonder whether we behave more like a swarm when the right (or wrong) issue unnerves us?

Comments welcome