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Order, Disorder, Reorder—and Resolution

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August 30th, 2021

In the 1970s, the record player was a standard fixture in many households, and our home was no exception. In fact, my first words as a toddler were “record player,” or, as I would say, “wrecka-p’ayer.” Having grown up with a “wrecka-p’ayer,” I absolutely, positively loved music—and I still do: all genres, from classical to hip hop to jazz to gospel. In my opinion, music expresses the human condition in a manner that cannot be captured by mere words.

If someone were to ask me, “Why, why do you love music?” I could boil it down to one single thing: resolution. Musically, resolution is when the music moves from a sense of suspense or chaos to a sense of stability, structure, or resolve. Hearing a symphony, quartet, or choir resolve from the complex and disconcerting to the steady and calming is one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed. And to actively participate in resolution as a musician is indescribable. Butterflies erupt in my stomach when I know that the second I play this note, at this moment, combined with others playing their notes, we will create a sound that is steadfast, firm, and warm. Resolution: A word you may not connect to music, but we all know it when we hear it, sense it, and, more importantly, feel it.

I discovered my love for resolution when I embraced jazz music. Jazz, a genre full of dissonance, distortion, and improvisation, grew my appetite for more difficult melodies. The more disruptive the melody, the stronger its resolution. Ironically, the most challenging and complex melodies may never resolve, leaving room for mystery and the unknown.

In systems or organizations, the musical concept of resolution translates to order (and reorder)—this notion of accepted and agreed-upon structure, boundaries, and norms. This idea of order provided a place of comfort and certainty for me as a young leader. Therefore, it is no surprise that my professional career has included time served in two of the most rigid and structured organizations on the planet: the military and the institutional church.

One of the first principles of church leadership I ever learned was that things are done decently and in order. Decently and in order. Cue the Hammond B3 organ and pass me the tambourine (in that order, please). This principle, coupled with my military training, molded me into someone who played it safe and rarely took risks. As a leader, I recognized the initial container of order within organizations, and the absence thereof. Like my discovery and love of jazz, I also learned that organizational growth and change comes through disruption, disorder, and discomfort. Whether the growth journey evolves as linear or non-linear, the starting point is the same. It begins with the initial container, order.

Jazz, with its cycle of dissonance and resolution, is where I first learned the concept of order, disorder, and reorder. Many years later, as a leader searching for deeper truths, I identified the cycle once more in Fr. Richard Rohr’s wisdom pattern of order, disorder, and reorder. This teaching resonated deep within my soul before I ever actually understood it intellectually, and that inner knowing is what makes it beautiful. About order, Fr. Richard states:

“A sense of order is the easiest and most natural way to begin; it is a needed first ‘container.’ But this structure is dangerous if we stay in its safe confines too long. It is small and self-serving. It doesn’t know the full picture, but it thinks it does. ‘Order’ must be deconstructed by the trials and vagaries of life. We must go through a period of ‘disorder’ to grow up.”

In the summer of 2019, I assumed my current role as Chief Operating Officer for the Center for Action and Contemplation. My charge was to operationalize our organizational strategy and lead our fifty team members to understand, align with, and fully support our strategic goals and plan for growth. (That sounds like order.) I welcomed the challenge of developing an organizational infrastructure that is both scalable and sustainable, leveraging both my faith-based and operational experience to ensure proper alignment, fiscal strength, and desired outcomes.

My initial impression of the CAC was that the organization was deceptively complex. Behind our many outputs (i.e., daily meditations, events, podcasts, publications, online courses, and two-year Living School program), there exists an intricate set of processes and sequencing that involves much collaboration and care. After a few months, I recognized a pattern and began my attempt to establish an initial container—to establish order.

As a part of our 2020 annual planning, I introduced an organizational rhythm (referring to the intent, frequency, and duration of meetings that occur annually, quarterly, monthly, and weekly); ensured the approved budget was balanced, yet aggressive; and provided clarity around our 2020 priorities via a written operations plan. With an emphasis on project management, using our favorite Asana platform as a tool, I felt confident 2020 would provide the foundation required to build the future CAC.

However, I forgot to remind myself that this starting point, this initial container, was only temporary if I truly desired growth for the organization. Like the feverish pitch of music building to a crescendo of chaotic dissonance, we all began to watch the sustained notes of uncertainty play out in the world. On March 16, I made the decision to shift our operations from our physical office to remote work due to the COVID-19 virus. While this disruption has hindered the efforts of many organizations, the CAC has weathered the storm, ensuring our team was cared for and simultaneously increasing our productivity.

As my body waits with great anticipation for the warm feeling of resolution that will come from a return to normalcy, I know in my deepest knowing that we will never return to that initial container. During this time of collective disorder, informed by lessons learned, lives lived, and hardships experienced, we have grown tremendously.

And to that I say, “Let the music play!”

Doug Murrell
Chief Operating Officer
Center for Action and Contemplation

Doug Murrell is a decorated Navy officer and a former executive pastor with twenty-five years in operations management. He holds degrees in human and organizational development and public administration and was the director of global faith engagement at Habitat for Humanity International before joining the CAC as Chief Operating Officer. This article originally appeared in The Mendicant.

The Center for Action and Contemplation, its Core Faculty, and Board of Directors invite you to accompany us on this journey of transformation as we do the challenging work of reclaiming our founder’s vision for action and contemplation in a time of global change and contemplative renewal.

Returning to the Center will be an opportunity to reflect together with our community on our discoveries and growing pains as an institution on the path of praxis and prayer, action and contemplation. You can expect regular updates on our progress in this work as well as institutional history, community stories, staff essays, videos, and even opportunities to contribute. You will find the latest posts on our website as well as social media and in the News from New Mexico, the CAC’s monthly newsletter. We welcome your feedback!

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