Heat, Light, and the Five M's -- by Rev. Tom Thorpe

This week marked our first 90 degree day of the season here in Missouri.  I enjoyed the heat after such a cold early Spring.  Riding the Red Rocket (my motor scooter) feels amazingly good on a warm day.  There’s another kind of heat, though, that I don’t enjoy nearly as much.  It’s called “ecclesiastical friction.”  The “ecclesiastical friction” principle tells us that many discussions within churches and the religious organizations to which the churches belong generate more heat than light.

The “Ecclesiastical Friction Principle” is one of six “Penguin Principles” discussed in a book by the same name.  The Penguin Principles, written by David S. Belasic and Paul M. Schmidt, was published in 1986 by CSS Publishing Company.  I first read The Penguin Principles in 1990 and used it as a text when teaching leadership and administration to ministerial students.  The “Penguin” reference points out that, among other similar characteristics,  penguins, like members of the clergy, can appear dignified and ridiculous simultaneously.

History shows us that differences of opinion, sometimes expressed vehemently, are quite normal for a religious movement in its second century.  Unity entered its second century in 1989.  Our movement is 134 years old now, a remarkable achievement for a religious movement.  Many spiritual movements have gone from birth to death in far shorter periods of time.  The thrill of the first years of the movement is long past.  Two complex Unity organizations have evolved, along with the infrastructure  — buildings, equipment, and human resources — needed to maintain them..  Balancing the responsibility of maintaining the organization with the mission of spreading the movement’s magnificent teachings is no easy task!

  • I bless our movement’s leaders, both at Unity School and Unity Worldwide Ministries.  I affirm Faith, Strength, Understanding, Love, and Wisdom (Discernment) for all of them as they do their best — and I believe they are doing their best — to fulfill their responsibilities.
  • I also affirm these same Christ Qualities for all who offer opinions about our movement’s leaders and their work.
  • I affirm Light instead of heat, light that brings hope and a sense of possibility to our world and its people.  

A Google search of the term “Five M’s,” yielded more than four million results.  “Five M’s Of Spiritual Movements” is a concept I’ve been sharing with just about anyone who will listen for some time now.  I didn’t find this kind of reference to “Five M’s” anywhere in the early pages of results.  I’m not recalling where I first heard it.  The “Five M’s” apply to larger organizations like our Unity movement and also to individual ministries like our own Unity of Independence.  Although the numbers in an individual ministry may not be great, the concepts still apply.

The First M is Message.  Divine ideas, I believe, are spiritual entities.  Charles Fillmore and other founders of Unity did not claim to have “invented” the concepts they taught.  Jesus himself didn’t invent those concepts and ideas.  They are, literally, emanations of Divine Mind.

The Second M is Messenger.  Jesus, the Buddha, Muhammad, Baha’ullah, Joseph Smith, and Charles Fillmore all rank as major Messengers, early Prophets whose work was to articulate a message they “received” or discovered.

The Third M is Movement.  Messengers attract followers.  Jesus never organized a movement, but his followers did.  As far as I know, the Buddha organized no movement either.  He simply lived the Truth he knew and taught it.  Charles Fillmore, I believe, would have preferred not to organize a movement.  The pressure from his followers to organize a movement proved irresistible.  Our Unity movement grew out of that UPWARD pressure.  Mr. Fillmore’s followers “got what they wanted.”

The Fourth M is Machine.  “Machine,” used to describe organizations of any kind, doesn’t always appear to be a complimentary word.  We can step away from the judgment, though, and recognize the positives in the term.  “Machine” describes the infrastructure, the organization and its physical and human resources.  The phrase “a well-oiled machine” comes to mind. When you think about it, don’t we appreciate a smooth-running motor or any appliance or machine that does its job with excellence. Similarly, we appreciate an organization that functions smoothly.

A shift in focus happens as a Movement grows into a Machine:  whereas the Movement’s primary function is to spread the Message, the Machine must devote some portion of its resources to perpetuating itself.   As the Movement begins to function more like a Machine, an important question/concern arises, a question that should never be far from the minds of the Movement’s leaders and committed followers.

Does the Machine serve the Movement, or must the Movement serve the Machine?  Ideally, a balance develops.  The Machine serves the needs of the members of the Movement.  The members of the Movement recognize quite readily the value of the services they receive.  They  respond with gratitude by assuring that the needs of the Machine are met.  The focus remains on spreading and living the Message.

When the spontaneous response of the members of the Movement is not forthcoming, it’s likely that the members either are ignorant of available support services from the Machine or fail to see the value in them and therefore make no use of them.  The Machine may be out of touch with the needs of the members of the Movement.  It may not be providing the kinds of services that meet the Movement’s most recognized and most important needs.  Telling the members of the Movement about the value of available services is ineffective.  The members need to see and experience that value for themselves.

  • It is the responsibility of the members of the Movement to express their needs in a way the leadership will understand.  
  • It is the responsibility of leadership to listen, to plan for, and to provide its services in a way that meets those expressed needs.  “Top down” planning is less likely to respond effectively to the Movement’s needs than broadbased planning.
  • It is also the responsibility of leadership to include the members of the Movement in conceiving,  planning and developing these services.
  • To meet their own responsibility, the members of the Movement need to become involved in developing and providing the services for which they’ve expressed a need.  
  • The members also have a responsibility to express their gratitude through their participation and financial support of the Machine, the organization the Movement has developed.  

When this cooperative activity fails to occur, the Movement/Machine risks seeing itself become a Monument or Memory.  That’s the fifth M.  All over the United States and, I suspect, other parts of the world, you can see church buildings that are either vacant or have become restaurants, shops, banks, or even private homes.  In some cases the communities that built those buildings have moved on to greater buildings.  In some cases the communities have disbanded.  It happens in all spiritual movements, including Unity.   Spiritual movements, themselves, also risk becoming Memories when they fail to remain relevant, when they fail to recognize and respond to the needs of their members.

Unity of Independence does its best to demonstrate the qualities of a Movement.  Our “Machine” is modest.  Our leadership does its best to practice good stewardship of our physical plant and other resources.  We do our best to maintain clear channels of communication, so that anyone who considers him/herself a member of our community will be able to express his/her point of view and be heard.  A core group of people work with real dedication to provide the services we believe our members need.

  • I affirm growing willingness among the people in our Unity of Independence community to become more active in our work, to enjoy the blessing of living and sharing the message.  I affirm that more and more people will act on that willingness.
  • In this affirmation, I include all Unity communities — all spiritual communities of every tradition — throughout the world.
  • In this affirmation I include our Unity Movement and its organizations, Unity School of Christianity and Unity Worldwide Ministries.

May 16th, 2013