the potential of chaos
Guest post by Nick Lindsey
Every so often, conversations about the church’s Correlation Program pop up around the “bloggernacle.” On the surface, the function of the Correlation Program is to standardize church policy, Sunday School curricula, calendars, understandings of doctrine, and to codify the structure of hierarchicalized priesthood leadership currently in place.
Alongside all this, Correlation also creates a culture of standardization that seeps into the popular language of the church, that attempts to define what constitutes “proper” spirituality, and that creates the historical narratives so often passed off within the church as “true” and complete. Simply put, Correlation seeks to cut out variance, to eliminate inefficiencies, and to avoid messiness. It is a homogenizing, simplifying, tidying force. It despises chaos.
While there are certainly situations in which efficiency, neatness, and impeccable order are necessary—the performance of brain surgery, the machining of high-end bicycle components—there are other cases in which we might benefit from taking a deeper look at the chaotic, the inefficient, and the messy. For example, when we set aside the standardized and sanitized popular historical narrative of the church—the one told by Correlation culture—we more clearly see a messy process of figuring things out on the fly, of working with whatever’s there, bumping into problems, asking questions, praying, trying new things, and taking new paths. And while this view of history is certainly filled with a certain degree of chaos—“chaos” being used here to refer very broadly to that which is unplanned, unexpected, and precisely because of these qualities, unknown—it is also characterized by a uniquely dynamic, vibrant, and powerful type of spirituality.
There are many examples we could cite to illustrate the always-transforming, chaotic development of the church: evolving understandings of priesthood, changing interpretations of the word of wisdom, revised temple ordinances, altered garments. The point here is that, contrary to how smooth and tidy the Correlated culture’s version of history may appear, the LDS church has long been, and still is, an organization in flux; it figures itself out as it goes.
Recognizing that the church is always in the process of making and remaking itself—that its knowledges, understandings, practices, and policies are never entirely fixed or complete—opens up important space for hope. If the always-changing, never-fixed nature of the church made possible a more racially expansive notion of priesthood membership in the mid-20th century—a change that undermined beliefs and practices previously deemed eternal—then what grounds do we have to assume that our present understanding of priesthood is somehow the final, complete, and unchangeable one? When we understand the church as always in flux, there is suddenly space for the very real possibility that we don’t have it all figured out. Such a perspective allows us to see Divinity and Eternity as infinitely larger than both ourselves and our church—as truly limitless. Such a perspective refuses to foreclose possibilities, and recognizes that there may very well be space for women in the ranks of the officially ordained priesthood, for homosexuality in the church, and for a host of “non-normative” identities to find a safe home within the LDS structure.
The understanding of the church I’m suggesting here is one that flows in the opposite direction from the current of Correlation. It is one that prizes and explores—rather than denies and discourages—messiness, unexpected change, and unfixedness. It ultimately sees chaos as generative.
Interestingly, such a broad conception of chaos actually aligns itself quite closely with certain LDS teachings. The ninth Article of Faith states: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (emphasis added). Such a statement positions us at the very edge of a cliff, “all that God has revealed” beneath us holding us up, with all “that He will yet reveal” remaining somewhere out there in the unknown void before us. This is a precarious position to be in, as we can never be entirely sure of what’s next, only that there is something yet to come—we are never complete or finished, there is always more.
In some ways, this precariousness can be scary and uncomfortable. But it can also be electrifying and thrilling. It forces us away from ourselves and toward the Infinite. It allows us to enter a productive state of uncertainty out of which new ideas, practices, beliefs, and identities may emerge. This precarious flirtation with the unknown—with the chaotic void of as yet unrealized potential—may even provide us a glimpse into the process of Divine creation. For as Joseph Smith taught, God “[organized] the world out of chaos—chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory” (see Smith’s King Follett Sermon). God didn’t make the worlds out of nothing; He organized them out of chaos. True, this theology of creation outlines a process of systematizing and ordering, but the fact remains that chaos is the actual site of creation. Without chaos, there is no possibility for generation. Chaos, not order, is the fundamental ground—the original ingredient—of creation.
So what do we, as a global organization, gain and what do we lose in the church’s rush to Correlate? We certainly achieve a great deal of organization, standardization, and the sense of comfort, ease, and safety such features often carry. But it seems that we also lose out on a great deal of possibility, creativity, and hope. Through Correlation we trade standardization and order for dynamism and productive chaos. We limit ourselves to a tidy and manageable mode of spirituality at the expense of a more vibrant, unruly, unexpected spiritual energy. We opt for carefully restrained tears rather than spiritual raucousness and uncontainable energy. We cling to narrow understandings of identity and belonging rather than striving for loving expansiveness and openness.
A sincere rethinking and re-valuing of chaos as potentially productive, while moving us uncomfortably away from Correlation culture, may very well allow us to tap into a critically dynamic spiritual vitality while simultaneously opening up new worlds of possibility. Perhaps part of our work as Mormon feminists, thinkers, writers, artists, lovers, workers, believers, and activists, then, is to seek out those spaces where unexpected chaos is still possible and explore the spiritual potential they contain.
 If you’re interested in learning more about Mormon Correlation, take a look at Daymon M. Smith’s work. Here’s a good introduction.
 I understand that this article isn’t thinking about “chaos” at all in the theologically dense ways Joseph Smith is. I’m most interested here in thinking about chaos as more of a broad category, a concept, an approach with which to look at and think about our histories, existences, doctrines, and the possibility for future change, growth, and transformation they contain.
10 Responses to “the potential of chaos”
I’m feeling all Game of Thrones here, ‘Chaos isn’t a pit, it’s a ladder.’
In Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot, the two of wands is thought of as destruction with the next card, the three of wands, being thought of as creation.
To create something new, of course we need to tear everything down and start from scratch. And I think that’s what Joseph Smith was willing to do, constantly destroy and create one theological system after another until he created something truly radical and inspiring.
Do we trust members of the Church to be able to come up with a theology quite as beautiful as Joseph’s if they use the same methods that Joseph seemed willing to use?
Saying that God was a man once is blasphemy, but it is awesome. Are we comfortable to create a setting where awesome statements of supposed blasphemy and truth are encouraged? Or do we prefer everybody repeating what they’re told and being discouraged from coloring outside the lines?
Jill, SO much love for you and your church in the UK. Church as the surrcttue of Truth and Love is absolutely boundless no matter where we are! How cool is that!?love love love to you all!Jpchurch family
That’s the best answer of all time! JMHO
This is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time. Thank you so much for writing it.
Big help, big help. And suprtlaeive news of course.
I’ve been thinking something along these lines for years. This is a great articulation of it, and maybe I’ll be able to figure out what else I was thinking, when my muse comes back.
The World Cup represented a success representing South Africa, no doubt. The hearty crowds created a unique ambience (they before all cheered in return South Africa, then Ghana, then almost anyone), had a hardly unforgettable matches (Germanys 4-0 belting of Maradonas Argentina) as well. Ghana nearly made things special for the host continent, a spot-kick away from seemly Africas firstly semi-finalists, but bottled it big in the nick of time b soon (should we mention Luis Suarezs Assistance of Divinity II?).
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