We’ve experienced more life disruption in the past seven months than in the past seven years.
We’ve been holding on for dear life. We’ve been telling ourselves we just have to get through this disruptive time. Each day brings new waves of political drama and sad stories of people suffering from this relentless virus and the economic fallout.
We’ve learned to repattern our lives. We’ve learned to work from home, socially distance, wear masks, and use Zoom. Some of us also learned how to spend quality time with our partners, pay attention to our children, baked sourdough bread, meditate and pray, and work reasonable hours.
As church leaders, we’ve learned as we never could have otherwise, that the Church is not the building. It’s us. Our love and care for each other and our neighbors is the Sacred Work. It always has been, just some of us forgot.
But we like our buildings, and now we are focusing our attention on getting back into them. We like our choirs and organs and robes and orders of worship. We like our meetings and our fellowship hours and our close group of friends. We want them back just as they were.
We’ve been holding on for dear life. Just trying to get through. Waiting until “normal” returns.
Here is the hard reality: Your church is never coming back. It will never be the same. Even when we gather again, it won’t be as it was. We are different now. The world is different now. Your job is different now. We are not going back.
I say that emphatically because the deep grief and fear that I now see driving many pastors and churches to “go back” threatens to overtake the extraordinary discoveries we’ve made in the past few months and derail our continued evolution. Our nostalgia threatens our forward momentum. We risk gathering as threatened survivors to “Make Church Great Again,” rather than as pioneers who know the only path forward is into an unknown but trust-worthy future together.
While the old church is crumbling, we can already see something else coming to life, a spiritual movement grounded in the Christian liberation and contemplative traditions, powered by the justice movements of our time. This new expression is taking the best of our past traditions and stripping them of the racist, elitist, patriarchal trappings they picked up along the way.
Do you see? We can’t go back to the way it was; it was the wrong way. We have a system design flaw of our making, not God’s. When we built American Mainline Christianity, we placed white nationalism at its heart.
Now we do the work to remake and build anew. In this, we must be brave. We must commit to avoiding the sin of Attentional Violence, the intentional withholding or denying of seeing what is so. We use attentional violence to maintain power. If I refuse to see you, to acknowledge that you exist, then I don’t have to hear your voice or honor your needs as equal to my own. Attentional violence lets me see only what matters to me, feel only what is important to me, and act on only what benefits me.
If we are to honor the transition that has already at work within us, we must be brave enough to ask:
- Who/What am I not seeing? (Where is my vision distorted? How might my blindspots be serving the status-quo?)
- What am I not sensing? (How am I ignoring my own inner knowing in order to maintain my current values, beliefs, and conditions)
- What do I know that I pretend not to know? (How am I hiding from facts, experts, and wisdom that may not serve my agenda?)
- What am I failing to act upon? (How is my frozen agency or disingenuous action serving me above others?)
This time of deep disruption revealed that too many of our leaders, institutions, and systems refuse to see, sense, know, and act on reality as it is. They are driven by personal agendas built on fear-based, false narratives. They are not built for this age of radical inclusion, technological innovation, and global community. By design, they lack sufficient integrity and imagination to face the BIG questions before us, questions of climate change, white supremacy, consumerism, and artificial intelligence just to name a few.
I believe this holds true for the Church as well.
There has never been a more exciting time to be a leader in the church. We can now redesign our churches and the systems that support them, following the leading of the Spirit. The work will not be easy. Acting from a contemplative mind, we will have to face what is so – our systems as they really are – owning the good, bad, and ugly about ourselves. Repenting for our wrongs, we must repair what we can to move forward.
This is our moment to bring into being a more just and generous world that works for all of us. The Church has an essential role to play if we can release the nostalgia of a way of life now passed, realizing the transformation we seek begins within each of us first. We must actually practice what we preach. In the end, this is all we need to do. If we can be that radically honest, that aligned with the Spirit of God, we won’t miss anything we have to leave behind.
We are in this together,