I am still reading the excellent book, Paradoxy: Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them by Ken Howard. Being more disenfranchised with the whole disunity thing in the Church, I value Ken’s insights and commentary on this subject.

I have been guilty far too often of creating division rather than bringing unity, of drawing the line between two views rather than seeking common ground on which to unite.

Ken speaks about the paradigm of both conservatives and progressives and shows how, for both ‘sides’ of the Faith, problems arise.

. . . If the paradigm has become your reality, what do you do when the cracks become too noticeable to ignore? If you can’t abandon the dominant paradigm (or maybe even recognize that you are in one) in favor of a more complete and encompassing one, what are your choices? There seem to be three:

1. To the Ramparts! Rally around the purist position with increasing defensiveness and increasingly elaborate rationalizations.

2. Compromise and Adapt! Adopt compromises that soften the position or attempt to prop up confidence in it by means other than facts.

3. Create a “Them”! Focus all of your attention on what seem to you to be the greater inconsistencies (and the “unlikeablilities”) of the other side.

Being a natural ‘right-seeker,’ I immediately say ‘Amen’ to all three as I see all of these positions alive and well in those who seem to enjoy harassing me with their version of truth.

But, looking deeper, I realise that I also, at times, defend my ‘more reasonable’ position by rallying support amongst my friends who embrace a similar paradigm to my own, compromise when around those on the ‘other side’ just to be seen to be acting with civility, or encouraging taking sides and fighting the other side with my weapon of choice: words.

As Doug Pagitt has said:

Our biggest challenges come when we assume that those who hold worldviews or values different than ours lack knowledge or values.

Too often I’ve mocked the beliefs of people unlike me (in time past when I had a more fundamentalist mindset, and now as more of a progressive Christian). What I have assumed is that they had to be uninformed, ignorant, or living in a cocoon to believe as they do. I’m beginning to see this is not so. They have simply started with a different framework for their thinking, a different bias. And in the light that we all have incomplete knowledge and limited ability to understand life’s mysteries, their worldview may be just as valid as mine.

If we are ever to live together in community–and I believe it is the only way to be true followers of Jesus–we must learn to accept (not just tolerate) one another fully, in spite of our disagreements. This doesn’t mean we won’t hold our convictions firmly, but when we do say or do something that flows from those convictions, we know we will be fully loved and fully accepted, regardless.

One of our staff members said something in morning prayer recently (sorry, I can’t recall who it was) that is relevant to this post. Essentially, they said that God chose us as a collective body, not merely as individuals. God chose that you would live in community with me–that is not either your or my choice. If God, who we claim is all-wise and all-knowing put us together in the same body, there must be a good reason for it. Rather than try to figure it all out, why don’t we just accept it and live together in harmony? Rather than fighting and arguing and stirring up each other to debate and discord, why don’t we simply clothe ourselves with love which, as the apostle writes, is the bond of perfection?

(Easy to say–damn hard to do!)

On that note, I realise I have much to learn, and I’m looking forward to what else I discover as I continue reading Paradoxy.

Inventive Church

Ok. Two posts in one day. I know. But it’s worth it.

I’m reading Emergent’s latest blog posts and Mike Stavlund wrote a needed post entitled “Inventive Church.”

Here’s a taste:

Doug Pagitt’s recent book Church in the Inventive Age is not a clarion call for change. Rather, it assumes that change is normative, and that innovation is in fact a way of life. Moreover, it contends that younger generations are trending away from resistance to change, and are in factembracing it. That there is a shift from the ‘information age’ toward something that is more about discovery, creativity, and collaboration. What Doug terms the ‘inventive age’ is one where churches need to decide how they will relate to this shift in culture—will they get on the change train, or will they stay put? Pagitt is remarkably charitable to those who would choose the latter, arguing that they provide an essential function in a changing world, too. And while I might quibble with Pagitt as he argues that such shifts are largely demographic—rather than, as my friend Deanna Doan has put it, ‘psychographic’—I understand that more younger people will experience this psychographic shift, so it’s actually both. Fair enough.

It’s a short book that means to make its points succinctly, with money quotes like this one:

“The ability to teach and preach and lead is taking a backseat to the pastor’s capacity to create and facilitate open-source faith experiences for the people of the church.” (p. 33)

I wholeheartedly agree with this call for leaders who stop parroting the party line and repeating conventional wisdom, and who choose instead to open the door to let in the heat and cold, the light and darkness, the hope and doubt. And to, in equal measure, let that same stuff go out the same door and into the larger world. (Read it all here.)

I am not into change for change’s sake, nor am I into change as a marketing ploy or a ‘kick-start’ to re-energise or re-focus congregations. Like Mike and Doug, I believe people, organisations, things naturally change. These changes need to be encouraged, recognised and celebrated. In churches, especially, these changes can result in great movements of God in the community.

Lest this evolve into a rant, I’ll leave it here. Read the blog. Get the book. Open your heart to the flexibility and adaptability that will bring God’s change to your world.