Spirit Alive: 2019-- Happy Old Year!


Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog that looks at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and beyond.

January 1, 2019

With Heart, Soul, and Mind:

How Do You Know If You Made Any Progress Last Year?

"The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order."

Alfred North Whitehead

As a new year begins, it is only natural to think ahead and move forward...to make New Year's Resolutions...to bury last year and move on. In fact, we are especially good at this as Americans, since we are a society that always seems to be looking toward the future...to what's next...what's new...what's novel.

We're mesmerized by the latest fad, the newest upgrade, the hottest ticket.

BUT WAIT...STOP for a moment....

If we don't pause, if we don't stop to look around...and focus a bit on where we've been traveling, how do we know if we're making any progress...or for that matter if we are even headed in the right direction? Remember it was George Santayana who famously said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Years ago, when I worked at United Way, I was involved in a project we were doing there that included a diversity consultant from NW Natural Gas. As we were training our leaders about work related to cultural awareness, rather than talking about outcomes and measurements, the diversity consultant from NW Natural Gas drew a picture on a flip chart. It was of a path.

And along the path she drew a series of sign posts or markers.

She spent a good deal of time talking with us about the importance of paying attention to the "markers." She said that if you are traveling on a road as an organization and...say one of the goals you have is to be more ethnically diverse and have a better sense of cultural understanding within the organization...then if you want to monitor your progress, you will need to look at the road signs or markers along the way.

If the first reads "Portland 50 miles" and this is the way you are heading...at some point the next marker should read 30 miles, not 75 miles. Or in the case of diversity and cultural understanding, over time the complexion of the organization should begin to change...both in terms of who is in the room...and in the way is which people act and behave toward one another. Yep...markers are an important part of determining our progress.

We talk a lot these days about outcome measurements and progress indicators, but all too often, these concepts sound so technical, so clinical, so difficult to accomplish. What if instead we simply asked ourselves: What are the markers you see that demonstrate that you are moving in the right direction?

If this was the question, what would you pay attention to and notice...in your own life...in your family...in your church?

The truth is that reviewing the past plays an important role in life. In fact, the Christian Year itself has a kind of "marker" quality to it. Think about it for a moment...Advent is a season focused on waking up, so that we are ready to experience new birth in our midst. If we aren't alert. If we don't pay attention. If we don't look around and read the signs that are there, it will be easy to miss the whole experience of new birth.

And the same holds true for Lent. Lent is a season that is about a number of things, but one of them is to use this time to prepare ourselves for what lies ahead, so that when we go through the ordeal of Holy Week and Jesus' journey to the cross, we are open not only to the struggles involved in Good Friday, but also to the joyous surprise of Easter. If you don't notice the markers...it is not only difficult to see what's really taking place, but it is hard to see our way ahead.

So as a new day...and new year...begins, don't just impulsively jump ahead. Take a moment to reflect on the year that has just concluded. How did you grow during that time? What new insights did you receive? What shortcomings do you want to address? What blessings do you want to savor as you move ahead? What do the markers along the roadside tell you about the progress you've made toward your destination?

And...in your faith community...what happened this past year that has created momentum and meaning as you look ahead? What steps have you taken that are important to celebrate? What do you have to build on as you look to the future? What concerns need to be addressed and resolved?

You will need this information in order to make progress.

2019 has already started, but it will be informed and influenced by what has already transpired...and what steps have already been taken. As we approach 2019 and continue the journey of this Crossover Year, it is important to remember that we do "make the road by walking." But as Brian McLaren reminds us: "...faith was never intended to be a destination, a status, a holding tank, or a warehouse. Instead, it was to be a road, a path, a way out of old and destructive patterns into new and creative ones."

So Happy Old Year and Happy New Year...and continued blessings on the journey ahead!

 Let us walk in the light of God's love,


Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. It seeks to identify where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities. Check out past editions, or subscribe to the email list.




Lowell Greathouse
Lowell Greathouse is the Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church. He looks for places to find where the spirit is alive and help them grow in vitality and fruitfulness. Share with him at lowell@umoi.org