Over the past six months, I have had the pleasure of hanging out with some great folks who care deeply about the future of the PC(USA). Not many feel like the PC(USA) needs to be “saved” – though some on all sides of the aisle feel that we need to be saved from ourselves – most simply yearn for us to be a compelling Christian witness in the world.
Seems simple enough.
Be Christ in the world.
We know that while faith is often simple, living it can be anything but.
From hanging with some students at San Francisco Theological Seminary to spending some time with the Center for Asian American Ministry at McCormick to visiting with some faithful New Jersey-ans to talking with long-time Presbyterians throughout the country, the one topic that keeps coming up is “change.” What needs to change? What needs to remain? What does change look like? Do we have to change?
Change change change.
Transformation. Transformation. Transformation.
Reformation. Reformation. Reformation.
Now we all know that change is a GREAT idea when it is someone else doing the changing, but it is a tad bit more difficult when it is the “me” that has to change and even more difficult when it is the “we or us” being asked to change.
One of the the questions that keeps swirling around my head is, “Do we have the institutional capacity or communal will to change?” I ask this because the transformation that we are seeing in the world around us, the speed in which it takes place and the fluid nature that is required seems so far outside of our institutional experience that I just wonder. Is change even possible for us?
It is even more difficult because we all want some kind of guarantee about what the change/s will look like and the same kind of guarantee that if/once we do change, we will be done changing. As I have talked about the fluid cultural shifts in society and how we as Christians must live in the world while at the same time not conforming to it, folks have continually been asking, “Well Mr. Cultural Shift Guy, what does it look like?”
This is an understandable question in our political climate of change with Senator Obama talking about “Change we can believe in.” and his biggest critique being that hope and a belief in change are not enough. And while this may be a valid critique of someone who may be asked to lead a country, I am not sure it is a valid question or litmus test for a PC(USA) moderator. Because, well, I actually think that one of the roles of the moderator is to help make visible the places of hope SO THAT the belief in change and transformation can be embraced with less anxiety and resistance.
First off, transformation, reformation and change are not stagnant. Never have been, never will be, only now the rate at which the next push to change comes upon ever more quickly. As a results the anxiety and stress on institutions and our need to relieve those stresses are also increasing. Unlike corporate institutions that can rally around monetary motivations and the bottom line, as an institution sustained by the power and understanding of Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit, it is not wonder that our anxiety levels are redlining.
Too much talk of change and not enough guarantees about what that change looks like just feels overwhleming. Institutional anxiety makes hope and change difficult to imagine. We want some guaranteed map and method. We want to know. It’s okay. Breath in, breath out. We’ll be okay.
As we go back to what I think is the role of the moderator, I do in fact think that my role, should I be elected, is to model a way of being church that is comfortable with the fluid nature of today. We must embrace a shift in the way we perceive and act out our authority, we must embrace ours and other’s context when discern God’s will for our individual and communal lives, and we must move away from thinking methodology and simply “doing” church differently is at all what we are called to in our future.
That I can do and be. Not specific things to DO, but some important ways to BE.
It should not and will not be my intention, if elected, to share some grand vision for what the Presbyterian Church will look like in the future. I can help to give hoped for descriptions and characterizations, but defining without any real authority or mandate takes people’s context for granted and seriously oversteps the role and responsibility of any moderator. My intention is simply to embrace the ambiguity of our day and try to model of some the peace that Christ offers in the midst of it.
Sure, ambiguity for ambiguity’s sake could lead to unbridled chaos. But at the same time living in a life of ambiguity grounded and centered on Christ allows us to be agile and responsive in a world that demands this of us. If we are going to have any part of the faith life of so many who have yet to experience the profound experience of Jesus Christ, we must be able to embrace rapid change as a fundamental part of our way of being.
So back the the questions. With all of this said, “Do we have the capacity to change?”
Let me be very clear here, if anyone does, if we can center our lives on the transformational nature of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I have no doubt that we do.
And that gives me hope. I hope it does for you as well.