As someone soon to be graduating from seminary, who hit her sanity quota of “enough” school about two years ago, I can attest that change is good. I am so excited to get to move on to the next stage of life. Graduation cannot come soon enough. It’s not that my time in seminary—and the 4 years of my college religion major prior to that—have not been good. I’ve learned and grown a LOT through both. But right now (and for the last year) I’ve been just itching to move on. A change is just what I need right now: change is good.
It’s really tempting to generalize sentiments like this, but the fact is that our opinions toward change are quite fickle. When things are going well, we don’t want change. But when things are a struggle, or boring, we want nothing more than change. Ironically, our attitude about change changes more often than almost anything else! Contrary to the title of this blog post, and to my feelings regarding graduation, my guess is that change is more often dreaded than eagerly anticipated. For most of us, most of the time, change is not
Change was the theme of the assigned readings we were given in one of my classes last week. The emphasis in these readings was not on individual changes, like the one I’m going through right now as I approach graduation, but on collective change. Organizations—whether churches, businesses, governments, or non-profits—are always experiencing changes. Very often, they try to resist change: they keep the system going as usual even though the world is changing around them. It is all too common for organizations to be ignorant (or in denial) of the changes happening around them. If asked, they would say they are not experiencing changes. Sometimes the effects of outside changes can be easily overlooked: a handful fewer attendees at worship, an employee leaving, or a slight budgetary change. But even small things like this are often signs of a bigger truth: change is inevitable. No matter how much we may love the current <insert anything here>, it will not stick around forever without having to change in some way. These days, it’s most obvious with technology, the way every new gadget gets replaced after a few months and is deemed worthless a few years later. (I experienced this personally a week ago when I replaced my 2006 laptop, with its soon-to-be-obsolete Windows XP operating system, with a new touch-screen laptop that runs Windows 8. Now that was a big change!) But other things change just as drastically. Personalities change. Relationships change. Understandings change. The weather changes—and, now, so does the climate.
Thankfully, we in the Christian tradition have reason to approach change with hope rather than fear. Granted, in some situations, hope is a natural result of the type of change taking place. But in many other situations, the current (or upcoming) changes cause people to fear. Even with its problems, the current state is one we know; its familiarity is comforting. With change underfoot, we have to learn to accept the unknown. One of the articles we read (“No Surprises Please: Engaging Natural Resistance” by Beverly A. Thompson and George B. Thompson, Jr.) described three common fears people have when facing change in a congregational setting:
- the fear that your status or influence will fade
- the fear that the new direction will not be fulfilling
- the fear that you won’t fit in once the changes happen (Thompson&Thompson, 102-103)
These fears are not unique to congregations. They come up in any setting in which we currently feel belonging and/or fulfillment.
This is where the Christian faith comes in. When it comes to the future, we’re not utterly blind. We know from Scripture, from our religious tradition, and from experience, that our God transforms. God works through changes to bring forth new life. In the beginning, God created the world. Ever since the beginning, God has been continually renewing Creation, working to transform it into its fullest potential. We’ve been reading Jürgen Moltmann’s book, The Spirit of Life, in my pneumatology class this semester, and its insights speak to this idea of change. One of the main points in the book is that, through the Holy Spirit, God creates and re-creates life. Where there is life, the Spirit draws it forward to increased fullness and wholeness. Where there is death, the Spirit births new life. As Christians, we look forward to the culmination of the New Creation: the time when God’s reign is fully established on earth, when there is peace and justice, and where all things find wholeness. God’s reign is already on its way, shining brightly through the dust and darkness of the world in every instance of love, justice, peace, and new life. When you believe in the Spirit’s continual transformation of the world from ways of death to ways of life, it’s much easier to see change as a good thing. Change opens up the pathway for new life. The pathway for transformation.
Another article (“Change: The Capacity of Life” by Margaret Wheatley) emphasized how, basically, life is change. We don’t need to fear it; it’s essential to life—to growth. Although she doesn’t express it in terms of the Holy Spirit, I believe her point is the same as mine:
- “Surrounded by creativity expressed as unending diversity, living in a world proficient at change, which maintains its resiliency through change, I hope we can begin to work with these powers rather than seeking to control or deny them.” (Wheatley, 139, emphasis added)
Rather than fearing change and trying to avoid it, we can join in on the Spirit’s work of transformation and embrace change. Renewed by the vision we have of God’s transformative work in the world and the hope of the New Creation, we can step forward into the future. We’re not fortune-tellers, but we do know the ending ahead of time. New life.
Today’s world is so complex that there are no easy answers as to what the big-picture vision translates into on a smaller scale. Every organization must examine its own situation carefully, keeping in mind the web of relationships in which we all exist. The world itself is changing dramatically through globalization. What we do affects people both near and far, and what they do affects us. In response to these constantly changing dynamics, it is important to constantly assess where we are in relation to others. Those people who are most successful in navigating change while working for positive transformation are the ones who not only care about themselves and their own organization, but who also see the larger implications of their actions (“Connection and Complexity: The Challenge of the New Commons” by Sharon Parks Daloz). In order to embrace and participate in God’s transformative work, we can follow suit. God is bigger than we are, the world is bigger than we are, and God’s reign is bigger than we are. Any attempt to bring forth change that ignores our interrelatedness runs the risk of inhibiting, rather than enriching, life. The Holy Spirit has never been one to follow orders or be predictable. To participate in the Spirit’s work, we must think in new ways, cross boundaries, question fears, and embrace possibility. Without change, life turns into death. Only through change is New Life possible.