28 January 2013

adventures in the neutral zone

Yesterday, I made some comments about “The Neutral Zone” in my sermon.  I did say that I had a very good reason to mention it, aside from the fact that it exists in the universe of Star Trek!

That very good reason is that it’s a concept of William Bridges that Peter Steinke mentions in his book, A Door Set Open.  He says that “change is an event.  Our experience of the change is transition.  He cites three movements—endings, the neutral zone, and beginnings—in the transition experience.”  We might think of “endings” as the chapter or the phase of life that is drawing to a close.  “Beginnings” would be the next step or the new reality that has now appeared.  It’s the middle one, “the neutral zone”—in which things seem chaotic and unsettled—that can really unnerve and alarm us.

Steinke comments, “Leading change brings out both reactive forces and responsive ones.”  That first one, reactive forces, is when we become defensive.  Sometimes people speak of instinct, the “lower brain,” or the “reptile brain.”  We sense danger; anxiety kicks in.  Anxiety is an automatic reaction to a threat, whether that threat is real or imagined.

That second one that leading change brings, being responsive, is when we are reflective.  This is learned behavior.  We are free to exercise reason and creativity and imagination.  We’re free to explore possibilities.  We’re using the “upper brain.”  And it has a physical response.  Instead of tightness, there tends to be a sense of calm.  We remember to breathe!

Anxiety can overwhelm us.  In Galatians 5, the apostle Paul warns his sisters and brothers, “If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (v. 15).  He’s addressing a different matter, but I think his words are appropriate here.

The neutral zone can be a scary place.  We can learn the wrong lessons there.  We can learn how to bully each other.  We can learn how, in ever so slight a way, to belittle each other.  And that can be expressed in a thousand different ways.

So it’s true, the neutral zone can be a scary place.  But it’s also necessary, though not in the Star Trek sense of keeping enemies apart.  It’s necessary because that’s the time and place to re-orient ourselves.  We hold on to what is good and true from the past, but not so tightly that we cannot embrace the future into which the Spirit is leading us.

05 January 2013

decently and in order

One of the things that attracted me to the Presbyterian Church was the Book of Order.  I joined the PC(USA) congregation across the street from our seminary when I was there in the 90s.  It seemed to me that the Book of Order is helpful in keeping us “on the same page.”  (I’ve mentioned this before.)  Of course, just as with the Bible, it can be misused or ignored.  Experience has taught me that misusing it and ignoring it are equally bad!

Again, as with the Bible, there can be a tendency to use it to control others.  (In a former church that we pastored, someone in all sincerity called it the “Book of Orders.”  That may be a case in point!)

The wisdom and beauty of doing things “decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40) is what gives something like a book of order value in the first place.  It helps to create safe places, such as worship services and congregational meetings—which sadly can become places in which hostility and humiliation insinuate themselves. 

After all, our “God is a God not of disorder but of peace” (1 Cor 14:33).