Before we left Yankton a friend loaned me a book entitled, Thank You for Being Late, I know I have referenced this book before, but it seems every few pages this author comes up with a tidbit that sends me on a tangent. The tangent of the moment concerns stability, or what does it mean to find and maintain stability. Maybe it because Deb and I are in the midst of an ever changing place in our lives. You see at the moment; we are “homeless”. Unless you count a three season cabin and camper as having a home. For most people part of their stability is having a place to call home. In interest of full disclosure, we do, have a place, it is found on Elliot Road in Custer, SD. We have a physical address, but unless we want to camp here through the winter, we really don’t have a home. Some would say you are footloose and fancy free to borrow an old phrase, but for now it feels like we are living in an insecure place, our footing is less than solid. But then again it forces me to wrestle with what exactly does it mean to find our footing at this time in our lives, or for any one of us for that matter?
For most of us having stable footing, means a place of stability. When we wake in the morning the coffee pot is already brewed or brewing. The morning paper is waiting by the door, and we know our routine for the day. We know what the day will bring. There is work to attend to, or meetings to go to, there is meaning and “purpose” to what the day has for us. Life in that regard is stable and comfortable. We like stable, don’t we. We like what we call routine, we know what to expect, and what will happen next. What if stability is really a prelude to death? What if standing still, doing the same things over and over again is not what stability is all about? What if everything we have ever considered to be essential to our life is really counterproductive to our life and goals? That is a disquieting thought, isn’t it? Yet that is what is prompting this blog today.
By now you are wondering if I haven’t been either out in the sun too long, or that I have finally lost what few brain cells I had left. Let me assure you I have done neither, so hear me out. Again back to the book I am reading. Friedman suggests that if we want to learn how to adapt in a world that is rapidly changing, we need to look a mentor who has been doing just that for a long time, and he suggests Mother Nature! Let me borrow a few lines. One “of Mother Nature’s killer apps, [is that] she never confuses stability with stasis. She understands that stability is produced by endless acts of dynamism. She would tell you there is nothing static about stability…In nature a system that looks static and is static is about to die.” (Friedman, Thank You for Being Late, p.333) Let that soak in a minute before you rush on. What if everything we treasure in life is really just about ready to die? Take your body for instance, it is constantly changing and growing. When cell division stops, we stop! When we become static, we are not holding on, we are dying. Too much time on the couch is not conducive to physical health. So why is it if in nature we value change, the seasons, the growth plants, a ripe tomato in the summer and pumpkins in the Fall, that we think our institutions can remain the same for a millennia? The only way for our organizations to remain vital and living is to change, to grow, to adapt to the environment in which they find themselves. Trying to keep things have always been is counter to stability, it is really a prelude to death. Think about riding a bike. What happens when you stand still? You fall over, of course. On a bicycle, as in life the key to maintaining our balance is found in moving forward. It is when we attempt to hold on to things that life unravels. Take the Transfiguration, when Jesus meets with Elijah and Moses on that mountain top, what does Peter want to do but to hold on to the moment, to build a “church” on that spot so that things will never change. (Matthew 17:4) We have been doing the same thing ever sense! What does Jesus do, he walks back down the mountain and heals a boy with a demon. He does not stay on the mountain top, he does not try to maintain the moment, he knows that ministry, the life is ever changing and stability is found in dynamic acts.
The challenge is most of us are so wrapped up in the business of maintaining the system, or caring for the organization that we don’t see the calcification settling into the joints of our once nimble organization. We become caught in the old proverb of trying to ride a dead horse, not knowing that the horse died a long time ago. Because we are so invested in keeping the system going, we have confused being faithful with not changing. What we have not understood is that unchanging nature we have cultivated could well be the prelude to our demise, not maintaining our faithful standing.
What do we do? We can keep on propping up the dead horse and finding new and exciting ways to ride that animal, or we can take some time to pause and reflect. What are we really trying to do? I will tell you now, you cannot do it while sitting in your office. There are way too many distractions. The phone will ring, someone will stop by, you will notice the mail you haven’t opened, or you will look at your calendar and realize you have a sermon to write, a Bible Study to prepare for, a hospital/Nursing Home visit to make, or that magazine you haven’t read yet. Pick your poison, our churches/offices/organizations are all designed to keep us in the same paths we have always followed, even if the horse that brought us died of old age years ago. I invite you, of course, I would invite you, to come out to New Trails, but if you cannot, because of either time or distance, I invite you to get out and away. Go spend time with Mother Nature and listen to what is going on around you. After all, our Father created this world and while we credit Mother Nature, it is really God’s plan and static is dead, and dynamic is living. Just take a look at the narratives in the Bible, God is constantly sending people hither and yon! He sends Noah to build a boat, Abraham to take a long walk. Paul is constantly on the move. Jesus tells some would be followers that he has no place to call home. Why would God change now, to tell us to preserve the past, when he challenges his followers to come and follow him! Keep in mind I am not suggesting jettisoning the old, old story of God’s love and grace, just looking at what it is we are really trying to hold onto.
I would keep going this evening, but looking at the shadows on the walls I can tell it is time for the evening light show. No not the TV (we don’t have TV reception here unless you want to pay someone to provide it). What I am talking about is the sunset. You see Deb and I spend an hour or more every evening, unless it is storming, sitting on the porch watching the sunset. We see the sun settle behind the limestone ridge, then we watch for that first star, really it is a planet on the western horizon, and if we are in the mood we wait till we can really see the Big Dipper. Then it is generally late enough and cool enough for us to think that maybe we should call it a day. But what is interesting about a sunset, is that it never stops, there is nothing static about a sunset, or the Moon rise. If God has made even simple things like that dynamic, why would he want us to build monuments to stasis? While God never changes, his word remains the same forever, even God decided that one day a change in his method of communication was in order and he sent his Son!
Maybe, just maybe I have been out in the woods too long, but if God made the world to continue to grow and change, why should the institutions we develop remain forever caught in a time warp? You see the Gospel never changes, it is still the message of salvation, but if God can move from the mode of sacrifices and temple worship, to the New Testament world we live in, what will he lead us to next? For that, I am going to have to watch and wait, but I know that as winter is unlike summer, so the next season of church life will look nothing like what we have seen before. What I do know is that we have to keep moving unless we want to die!