Thursday, November 3, 2011

What are we afraid of?

"People don't fear change, they fear loss." the speaker at the Clergy Leadership Project told us the first week.  That rings true for me; people often don't want to be seen as obstructionist or against progress--but they also don't want to give up what they currently have. Not all change is for the better, it's true. But when we see things that are broken, it seems like change might be a movement forward.  Jesus said he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it--a huge change, but one that resonates as a model for me when I think about change.  It's not abolishing what is, it's fulfilling that which in the present moment does not live up to the God's intentions for us. 

This was brought to mind by an article in the NY Times about school lunches today; surely the goal of healthier school lunches to reduce obesity and diabetes in children is a change we can all agree is good? And yet those who fear the loss of what those changes will mean--the potato industry, for one--are fighting hard to maintain the status quo.  There are a hundred semi-legitimate arguments for keeping things the way they are, but they all add up to no change, no hope for better health habits for kids, particularly those in poor areas who depend upon free school lunches.

And it's true in our economic system as well, as witnessed by the "Occupy" movement. Any change in the system would cause loss for someone, somewhere--and the most immediate loss would probably be for the very people who have the authority to make the change. But would those changes not ultimately benefit the very people who lose in the short term? If, say, CEOs and executives had lower compensation packages, and low-level workers were paid a living wage, would that not ultimately benefit even the wealthy, because the destablizing effects of poverty and societal anger would be relieved?

In the church, resistance to change is almost a punchline.  So many people in our church look at the two issues above and advocate for change--but when it comes to change for us, we dig in our heels.  Again, not all change in the church is for the better--but when we're faced with bleak statistics, big deficits, declining attendance and clunky systems, it seems like we may not currently be fulfilling God's desire for us, and it's time to re-imagine what that desire is. Since what we're doing right now isn't working all that well (see the bleak report from the national church here) it might be time to do things differently in places that are not flourishing.

So what are we afraid we will lose if we do that? Will it be our self image? Our jobs? Our security in having things stay constant? Maybe.  But maybe we should move ahead with the same courage (dare we say faith?) we would ask of the potato lobby or of investment bankers or others in financial services to bring about change that ultimately benefits all of us.  I believe Jesus calls us to seek a world  in which children's lunches are healthy; in which the economic system is fair and just; and in which the church is renewed and revitalized, attracts people who are longing to hear Good News, and thives on fulfilling God's mission to the poor and marginalized. 

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