Wrestling in the open: How innovation required Israel to step out into the world as God’s Open Source

Gustave Doré: Jacob Wrestles with the Angel (Gen. 32:24-32), 1866, Woodcut

Gustave Doré: Jacob Wrestles with the Angel (Gen. 32:24-32), 1866, Woodcut

24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. 28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” 29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. (Genesis 32: 24-29)

Wrestling in the open:

How innovation required Israel to step out into the world as God’s Open Source

One of the great egalitarian moves of the internet age has been the democratization of knowledge and experiences through what has been termed “open source.” Drawn from the world of IT and programming, open source denotes a radical level of sharing and engagement where all parties involved can actively participate in crowd sourcing options, solving problems, and share in the outcomes.  No one lays claim nor inhabits the process – it is a free-for-all, all hands on deck, IT version of Amish barn raising.  Activities like hackathons where groups of programmers gather for intense all night problem solving exemplify the culture of open source.  Rather than take private notes in class, many of my students now use Google docs and other open source platforms to take notes together in real time on a singular document where everyone shares what they heard which contributes to a powerful and rich accounting of collective insight that all benefit from.

One of the theological commitments framing the research and work of Pivot NW is a commitment to being open source.  Rather than keep our conversations and data collection behind some pay-for-view firewall, we will be constantly bringing our conversations out into the open for all to see and hear with the hopes that you will add your voice to the choir of insights.  This commitment to being open source is deeply embedded in the Scripture.  Going back to Genesis 32, we find the patriarch Jacob wrestling with a Divine visitor where Jacob is asking for blessing.  The dawn is coming upon this wrestling match and Jacob persists in holding fast to the Divine no matter what the cost, unrelenting in his desire for anointing (the Hebrew for blessing in this case is synonymous with anointing).  This is the epitome of open source: in the full light of the new day dawning, no shade nor cover in sight, Jacob and the Divine grapple with such intention and abandon that Jacob literally loses himself for the sake of the blessing he seeks.  The wrestling brings forth a clarity of sorts. No longer thinking of merely himself or the dark  state of his situation as a renegade on the run from his brother Esau, Jacob finds focus in merely the name of God and the blessing at all costs that can only come from a full body-soul-spirit intimate engagement on the very soil of creation that is formed and sustained by the Lord.  Two outcomes are given in the end: Jacob limps the remainder of his days in that he is forever physically changed by the encounter, and his name is changed to Israel meaning “the one who wrestles with God and overcomes”.

There is honesty and intimacy found in faith communities committed to open source.  Rather than hide behind our walls and privatize our successes and struggles, being an open source church throws open the doors and windows and invites wrestling with hard questions out in the open.  There is risk in open source to be sure.  We could lose control of our identity, others may snap up work we put in, and members of our congregations could make connections at other gathering places and never return.  What gain is there to keeping conversations secluded and hushed, our prayers and petitions quieted, and our doubts and challenges hidden from those whom God has called us to serve?

True, Jacob was never the same again after his open source encounter.  Perhaps this will be the story of your faith community if you take your wrestling out into the open.  But as we learn from Jacob, perhaps losing everything for the sake of blessing is worth the risk.