“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” That seems to be one of those universal truths, expressing the way life seems to remain in a state of flux. Actually, the fact that things continue to change is part of life itself. Whether we’re thinking about single-celled organisms that constantly move in order to find food—or the larger creatures called animals that are “animated”—by its very nature, life requires movement; it requires change.
There is a technical term for something that never changes: it’s called “dead.”
Congregations are living things. As a result, they also are constantly changing. Some see a difference, however, between change and transition. Change is something that happens. Change is an event, whether we choose it or not. Transition is how we experience that change. We have very little say in whether or not we want change (that is, of course, if we want to remain alive!). Transition, though, is something we can control.
In Philippians 3, we see the apostle Paul trying to lead the people through the change that the gospel inevitably brings. In this case, it’s the abandonment of circumcision as a requirement for Christian faith. Whether they embrace that as transition in the changed reality is another question. Will they come to terms with it? Will they change their practices?
In his book, When God Speaks Through Change, Craig Satterlee applies these ideas to congregations in interim, transitional times. He says that in-between times can seem “wasted and meaningless.” But that need not be the case. “Chaos,” he says, “is more hospitable to new ideas than are standardized methods and routines.” For Satterlee, we need to “resist the desire for certainty and closure. Congregations often try too quickly to ‘get back to normal’ when in reality there is no ‘normal’ to get back to.” There is no “normal,” because due to change, we’re in a new environment, a new world.
What changes are we facing now? If we want to choose life, what transition do we need to follow? The season of Lent, with its focus on reflection and discernment, lends itself well to such questions.
As Henri Nouwen once said, “When we cling to our own positions and are not willing to let our hearts be moved back and forth a little by the ideas or actions of others, we may easily be broken. A humorless, intense, opinionated rigidity about current issues might cause these issues to break our spirits and make us bitter people. Let’s be flexible while being deeply rooted.”
(The above also appeared in our church newsletter.)