Posts Tagged ‘Change’

Church in North America is Changing Much Faster Than We Think

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

Church in North America is changing much faster than we think.

And there are two common, understandable reactions to change…

  1. A withdrawal, a fatigue sets in and we quit
  2. A panic, a fear sets in and we double down seeking to rediscover the illusive golden era, to return to how things were in the face of challenges around how things are.
Neither works terribly well.
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And an uncomfortable truth here …. there are beautiful opportunities ahead of us but those opportunities will be cut short if we – and here I speak mostly to religious professionals – continue to see our only options as #1 or #2, in other words, if we continue to see our only options as being to quit or to be angry.   
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There are many other options beyond apathy or anger, and they seem to come down to this …. love those in front of us as best we can in our own flawed ways, creating communities that God would recognize, and believe what we know to be true… that something new is forever being born.  Slowly.  Painfully.  And filled with new life.
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Pray for the eyes to see it and you will see it everywhere!
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The Issue is Imagination

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

The issue is imagination.

The issue is moving beyond cherished and long serving ways of doing things, and finding in the process, newness. A newness connected to the old and at the same time reaching for the new.

That remains the challenges for many institutions.  And for churches seeking to serve in new ways.

What we need to ask, continually, is how are we keeping score and how are we telling our story.

The story is good.  Beautiful. And matters.

Matters so much in fact that we need to remain open and imaginative about how we tell it.

Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. (Matt. 9:17)

 

 

“Unto Thine Own Self Be True” … or maybe not.

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Polonius, in the Shakespearean play “Hamlet”, utters the words we know so well, “Unto Thine Own Self Be True.” Schools have used  these words as a motto for shaping young minds. Countless individuals employ these words as a mantra to craft their lives.

But is it true?  Does life’s primary task come down to “Unto thine own self be true”?

Shakespeare thought not. Polonius is generally regarded as wrong in every judgment he makes over the course of the play.  The line uttered by a fool not by a seer.

There is more to “us” than “ourselves” – might that be what Shakespeare is driving at?  Left to that “self”, if it is our false self, we maroon our lives quickly in a dark space guided only by our own frenetic compulsions and accompanying judgments… a false, dingy and shallow freedom.

There remains space for a different prayer to God, as one author noted, “May I see what I do. May I do it differently. May I make this a way of life.”

And with the change, what is next?

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

A reader posed the question in response to the blog ‘Churches are Changing’, ” Wish this were a longer article. I wanted to keep reading to find out what comes next.”  So what might just be next?  What might the church of the future look like?  I imagine it will be distinguished by three characteristics.  It will be challenging, curious, and kind.

Challenging

We live deeply wedded to a culture largely motivated by self indulgence (You deserve) and self actualization (Be your best self).  Within limits, none of that is wrong.  But idolatry grows as we make self indulgence and self actualization the very gods we worship.  (Pick up most magazines and see where the preponderance of articles point.)  Self indulgence and self actualization as ends in and of themselves create a fatal arrogance.  The challenge – they look good and feel good.  And in leaving us satiated, they leave no room for challenge and surrender.

My goal is largely to get more more stuff, feel good etc…..  God’s goal for me is transformation.

A large part of religion today however draws from the wells of self indulgence and self actualization that keep us a safe distance from transformation.  Not unlike the Pharisees of the New Testament, in the pursuit of purity, creedal agreement, and set worship forms  in which all sacredness is mistakenly imbued, we rapidly turn faith and church into a “club” in which we as “members” can feel good about ourselves, indulging in our unique knowledge and practice compared to “them.”  It is an ego trip in religious garb. That is true of churches on the right and churches on the left.

But transformation, not membership is the goal.  And transformation does not occur outside of challenge.   And crazy part … I think we all know that!  I think we all crave challenge.  I think we all harbor a need underneath that material numbness around which most of our lives pivot to have God and our churches call us out not with crushing guilt, but in a way that gives breath to who we truly are, where our soul seeks to come to life.

As Christ says in John:

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

That challenge will be in many forms. It will be personal (Can we see our obsession with consumption differently?)  It will be local. (Can we see and serve the broken in our community?) And nationally.  (How can we step in to areas where the massive economic shifts we are undergoing have creating need?)  These are really hard ways for churches to function because they call us to a certain “death” in terms of self preoccupation but it is death, like the kernel of wheat, that leads to life.

Curious

What if, as one author noted, churches were known more for curiosity than certainty?  What if curiosity typified a religious person?

I think the future church will be a collection of the curious.

And how can it be otherwise?  We simply have no clue what the future will hold.  Simple case in point … approximately 1/3 of all Americans retire with less than $10,000 in savings.  That is daunting.  How long will their life span be? Whose responsibility will it be to give them a baseline quality of life?  How will we avoid “generation war” as the ratio of workers to retirees shrinks? I am deeply curious about that.  None of it will yield to simple answers.  What it will yield to however is transformation, slow and challenging as that is.

Kind

In my experience, some of the meanest folks I have experienced come from religious circles.  As Shane Claiborne noted, you can be right but if you aren’t kind, you quickly aren’t right.  And, it should be noted, some of the kindest folks I have met come from religious circles as well.  Which will we choose?

Creating churches that challenge and that are curious will need to be done in a spirit of kindness.  If such transformation lapses into one church believing they “get it” and needing to “correct” other churches, we rapidly fall away from transformation right back into self indulgence and self actualization at the corporate level.   Transformation means it all belongs … all the parts.

I loved the words of Gregory Boyle.  In talking of the Pharisees, he noted how the Pharisees did everything right, from how they worshiped, to how they prayed, to how they gave alms. What did they miss?  They had forgotten the duty to delight in people.  They had forgotten the simple virtue of kindness.  Swedenborg was crystal clear – churches end not from a theological lapse but from when they no longer hold loving kindness as the priority.   Faith then separates from charity.

Challenge, curiosity and kindness point the way towards a transformation that will breath new life into churches.  We, I think, bear some responsibility in having the conversation about how it unfolds and in the sacrificial work it takes to create churches that do what churches do best … serve.

 

Churches are Changing

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

In this line of work, one hears often of the strength of Christianity in the Bible Belt, a Christianity largely centered around the Southern Baptist Convention, the second largest denomination in the United States.  Even that group however is far from immune to the changes reshaping the religious landscape.  A recent article noted …

Annual baptisms in South­ern Baptist churches have declined by 100,000 in the past 12 years and last year dropped to the lowest number in 64 years.

With a total membership of 15,872,404, the SBC marked the sixth straight year of statistical decline. It remains the nation’s second-largest faith group, behind Roman Catholics. Membership dropped by 105,000—two-thirds of a percent. Weekly worship attendance, meanwhile, fell below 6 million to 5,966,735, down 3 percent.

Long regarded a sign of denominational vitality, SBC baptisms leveled off after an all-time record 445,725 in 1972. They have declined six out of the last ten years to the lowest number since 1948, the year Southern Baptists first exceeded the 300,000-baptism benchmark with 310,266.

What gives?

What gives is that we find ourselves in the midst of a sea change, a dramatic and arguably permanent shift in how churches function within the broader cultural context.  No denomination will find itself immune.

The challenge is that such shifts will tend to encourage a retrenchment back into a “what was” versus a more uncertain and perilous leaning into what could be.  Fear creates strangeness.  And both sides of that argument share a fear in these uncertain times, a shared fear I imagine around an impending sense of loss of the living water of the Word. With traditional involvement in churches declining, maybe even on the verge of collapse, it is easy and understandable for us to feel that fear.  But ends and beginnings are often one and the same.

The furthest point of creation as Emanuel Swedenborg noted is, after all, a seed.   The whole process – the goal – is headed “for a seed that has a new power to reproduce.” (Divine Providence 3)

“Seeds are produced anew from year to year, and new productions of them never cease. They have not ceased from the creation of the world to this day, nor will they cease to eternity.”  (Divine Love and Wisdom, 318)

None of that makes the times we are entering easy.  But such thoughts give us a peaceful sense of what might lie beyond the horizon of our finite sight.

Faith in 4 Seconds

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

This is how many of us want our faith life ….

Quick.  4 seconds.  Let me get back in the race.

This propensity struck me at a recent camp.  Sitting there in front of teens, it is ever so easy to speak to the possibility without sacrifice, to speak to “5 easy steps” to achieve this, that, or the other thing.   I am a sucker for that stuff!   It is the “health and wealth gospel” that has slid into much formal religion.   Give the gas, a new set of tires, and set them screaming back into the race.

But that is not the Gospel.

The Gospel asks time and patient investment.  It does not yield easy answers but instead authors slow transformation.  Things then “grow.”  They don’t “appear.”  There is not a “screaming off to…”  There is a measured “settling into….”  It draws from “peace” and never “frenzy.”

Not an easy message for adults or teens in this culture!

So what did I tell the teens?   With a smile, I told them, that like me, they were spoiled and lazy.  I told them that like me, as the famous saying, they were born on third base and wanted praise for hitting a triple.  And I told them they could make a difference in the world.  It will just take more than 4 seconds.

It Matters Who God Is, And No, California Is Not An Island

Friday, April 20th, 2012

Walter Brueggemann wrote. “God is the map whereby we locate the setting of our life, that God is the water in which we launch our life raft, that God is the real thing from which and toward which we receive our being and identify ourselves. It follows that the kind of God at work in your life will determine the shape and quality and risk at the center of your existence. It matters who God is.”  Powerful words.

Our view of who God is or is not settles as maybe the fundamental paradigm of our lives.  It likewise becomes the most surprising – our view of God evolving and along with that unfolding the “the shape and quality and risk at the center” of our existence evolves as well.  God then becomes what what God has always been – the “I am”, the “I will be who I will be.”  That speaks to freedom and yet those words from the Old Testament yield up a wonderous surprise of a God who while free remains steadfastly consistent – a partner of unwavering love who is forever coming into Being.

I think of the old maps of California.  As the land was originally charted, cartographers  portrayed it as an island for over a 100 years, detached from the North American continent.

For 70 years there was overwhelming evidence that the opposite was true – that California was not an island.  And yet it took all that time for the maps to change, for the assuredness that “history” and “experience” supplied to be finally overturned.  It was not that California had ever changed.  We had.

And There Is More

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

“This sort of feeling has been growing stronger in me: a hint of eternity steals through the smallest daily activities and perceptions. I am not alone in my tiredness or sickness or fears, but at one with millions of others from many centuries, and it is all part of life.”

In the life of faith, we are consistently presented with the premise … “and there is more ….”  Every “eureka”, every “I get it now”, every insight is met with another portal.  I see the “picture” and then witness it slowly dissolve, becoming a window of something beyond.  As the authored noted, it is hints of eternity stealing through the smallest activities and perceptions.

And how different church becomes and faith becomes when held this way.  There is a human natural tendency to nail it down, to place church and faith within four walls, under prescribed times and set sacraments.  And yet even those in the end will be shot through with eternity, with a limitlessness, with an invitation to more movement.

Blessings of a skinned knee? Yea right.

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

We live in a world in which I firmly believe one of the key attributes will be resiliency – the ability to bounce back, to morph and change – while at the same time remaining centered and grounded.  The world simply put increasingly demands flexibility.  That means skinned knees can actually be good.

Working on flexibility is not easy.  I know I spend inordinate amounts of time scripting not only my future but the future of my loved one, seeking to give them safety, security, and a future of “knowns.”  And, I will fail at that endeavor.  They can have those things but not as I define them. They can have them in God. What I can help them with is resiliency.

Lori Gottlieb wrote a brilliant article in “The Atlantic” that spoke to this very point.  The title: “How to Land Your Kids In Therapy.”  (Article)  I would urge to read it even if you don’t have kids.

This Sunday we are looking at the above, juxtaposing Jesus’ clear teachings on the (a) need to take care of family and (b) not take care of family too much.  In other words, “family” is a clear priority in the Bible, and equally clear is the call to reject it as the priority of life. What is that all about?  Could He be telling us something about resiliency, about really helping our kids and loved ones, about safety, security, and what a future of “knowns” really is?

I suspect that family relations are strengthened even more when held in the right way.

Labyrinth

Friday, October 29th, 2010

We recently completed the work on the series “UTurn.” It is easy to think of that in rather simplistic terms – the epiphany, the immediate realization of the reality of all life – leads to the immediate “UTurn.” That seldom occurs though. For most, UTurns are gradual.

Striking to consider that in the first 1,000 years of Christianity, Cathedrals incorporated Labyrinths into their architecture.  These were not mazes per se but winding paths all within a circle.

Labyrinth at Chartres

Miraculous!  How many “UTurns” can you count? Why was this image seen as so central to the Christian message?   What was it supposed to be telling us? What are the implications of it today?  Can such an image build compassion, for ourselves and for others?  What does it say about the mind of God?  What does it say about Divine Providence?