In the series of six addresses presented as part of this past Lent’s Noon Forum series at the Church of St. John the Divine on Quadra in Victoria, there was a frequent call for the church to move in radically new directions. The specifics of what that new direction might look like were never clearly articulated. This is perhaps inevitable as the thing we are becoming has yet to emerge.
But, I find myself wondering, when the church is urging its members to embrace the new wind of the Spirit, whether there are any parameters upon the movement of that wind. The question was well expressed in Lenten Noon Forum session number five by Archbishop John Privett who asked,
How can we speak to the modern world of our identity without losing our identity? We risk losing a unifying theology. We do not create metaphors; we discover them.
One might simply dismiss the question as of course the kind of question an Archbishop would pose. It sounds like a question about control.
Why this concern for preserving our identity as if it was something fragile and insecure? Has there ever been “a unifying theology” that we “risk losing” if we let down the fence posts protecting the metaphors we have discovered? What is the real fear here?
But, it would be rash to dismiss the concern completely. Is there not some point at which a church that ceases to share any identifiable set of beliefs that can be articulated or any common practice, ceases to be a definable community?
If we move away completely from defined dogmas and agreed upon ways of conducting ourselves as a community, are there no limitations to what practices we can embrace and what beliefs we can incorporate? If every idea and every spiritual fad is held to be equally valid, do we risk losing the depth of our tradition and surrendering ourselves to the superficial passing fads of the moment?
How do we know where the edges of the playing field are if we refuse to draw any lines that define who is on the field and who is sitting in the stands? What is the boundary between too much control and complete chaos?
Is all faith simply a matter of personal preference? What role is there for a corporate embodiment of faith that challenges us to look seriously at our own individual convictions and to enter into the demanding exercise of wrestling with a received vision of what it might mean to be a person of faith?
A new wind of the Spirit seems to be blowing through the church. The church is being forced to acknowledge that we must change or die. These are refreshing realities that place us in an awkward in-between time.
I had a conversation recently about transition in communities. It was suggested to me that, when a person in a key leadership position is leaving a community, the community goes through three stages. First there is “Good bye,” then there is “Hello.” Between these two there is a “Neutral Zone.”
The “Good bye” stage is the place of letting go. We can no longer cling to the old familiar patterns. Change is upon us. Everything is shifting. We feel uncertain and full of doubt. Some people may experience excitement and expectation, others are overwhelmed by panic and insecurity. There are those who will embrace “Good bye” with enthusiasm. Others will attempt to slam the gates with rules and regulations that attempt to get things back under control.
We are all at different places in the “Good bye” stage. We need to honour where each person is in their process of saying “Good bye.”
The “Hello” stage can be equally unsettling. Adjustments have to be made. We need to find ways to talk to one another. Old lines of communication have to be reinvented. We need new images to speak about how we relate and how we conduct ourselves together. There are no guarantees in the “Hello” stage.
As “Hello” begins to unfold, some people may feel the need to leave our community due to the changes that are emerging. We may attract new people to whom the new things “Hello” is bringing are more appealing. These movements all bring changes and tensions of their own.
The church at the moment is between “Goodbye” and “Hello.” We are in the uncertain zone between the two. We must look honestly at what we are being asked to let go of in this stage. But, we must also be cautious about running too quickly to “Hello.”
What language is suitable for this in-between place? How can we resist the temptation to reassert what is old and familiar? How can we be faithful to our traditions, while remaining radically open to the “Hello” that is approaching whether we like it or not?
There are too many questions in this post. But, perhaps in this in-between time, questions are the only appropriate response. We need to resist the temptation to reassert the rigid dogmas of our old familiar answers. We need also to resist the urge to move too quickly to new formulations that risk enshrining superficiality and lack the depth to bring transforming power into our lives and our community.
In the in-between stage we are challenged to hold uncertainty. In-between calls us to return to the deep awareness of God in our lives and in our communities.
Ultimately our trust is not in parameters and boundaries. Our trust is in the presence of God at work in our midst. We may not always be able to nail God down or define exactly what God is doing. So we live lightly in the present moment. We open to the wind of God’s Spirit. We listen to the voice of our traditions, and we enter into conversation with one another and with the world around us, with openness, respect and deep listening.
Those who navigate in-between places successfully are those who operate from a deep inner awareness of God and a profound confidence in the movement and guidance of God’s Spirit. In-between requires patient waiting and courageous action, deep listening and respectful speaking. These disciplines will only be learned as we open deeply to the Spirit of God who alone has the capacity to transform us into people who can freely and joyfully say “Hello.”