Spirit Alive: Final Reflections from Spirit Alive

Spirit Alive: Final Reflections from Spirit Alive


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.

May 21, 2019

With Heart, Soul, and Mind:

Catching the Next Wave...

"As long as there is light in one's heart, you can always find home."
  "To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself."
Soren Kierkegaard

I love thoughtful quotes and aphorisms. I also love powerful images and sacred moments in life. And...we live in an amazing world, which is filled with so much holy stuff. There are all kinds of people who can teach us about life and the preciousness of human relationships. And...there are lots of ordinary moments that can suddenly pull us onto holy ground and change everything. It doesn't take much to realize that the spirit is alive and moving among us in so many ways!
When I started Spirit Alive as an experiment back in September 2015, I thought I'd write twelve installments, hoping that it would contribute something new and helpful to the annual conference...and call it good and move on to other things.
Little did I know at the time that I'd end up writing one hundred Spirit Alives over the course of nearly four years! As result, this has been an amazing 44 month experiment, which is now coming to an end. But I would be remiss if I didn't say thanks to those of you who have been reading Spirit Alive and have been a part of this experiment.
Thanks for sending me your feedback and reflections during these many months....I've enjoyed the variety of responses, personal sharings, wisdom and insights that I've been privileged to receive. Thanks for being a part of our common spiritual playground. And...quite frankly....thanks for taking the time to read! And yes...I know that I write way too much, but such is life. I appreciate your patience with this tendency of mine!

So...it's hard to believe that this is my final Spirit Alive entry. But...here goes....
One thing that needs to be said from the very beginning is that sharing life with others in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference leaves one with a rich and varied set of powerful images and experiences. I believe that we all need to take more time to savor this reality.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.
In our fall Annual Conference Sessions Committee meeting, where we are involved as leaders in planning the 2019 annual conference, we started our first meeting by sharing our individual responses to this question:

What were your lasting images from the 2018 Annual Conference?

People's responses to this question were varied and touching...from the return of land from Wallowa Lake Camp to the Nez Perce tribe to people having time to share life experiences with each other in Table Talk gatherings...from people marching in the Boise Pride Parade to the Bishop's Award given to Yuni Rueda, who is a DACA/Dreamer...from Dr. Leroy Barber's powerful sermon on disruption to Duane Medicine Crow's powerful testimony and sharing with the Nez Perce tribal leaders...from Jessie Cummins/Connors' ordination to the One Matters Award, which was given to Arlington and Wasco UMCs and honored the pastoral work of Bob Reasoner...from the learnings about Anatomy of Peace and Rev. Brian Brown's teachings to the closing bi-lingual worship service....and more. There was so much to savor and remind us of the rich reservoir that is a part of our life together!
This is not to say that we aren't surrounded by pain, tragedy, challenges, injustice, and suffering. But too often those realities stop us from seeing the blessings that point us in the direction of Jesus' proclamation of the Good News, which he announced in the face of Roman rule. There is goodness and kindness laced throughout our reality as well.

Mr. Rogers put it this way: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers-- so many caring people in this world."
So here's a question to ponder as we move forward as a church: What kind of community of faith are we...will we become...will we choose to be in the aftermath of the 2019 General Conference?

I'd like to offer three observations that I've been thinking about recently as a result of recurring conversations I've been involved in.

These aren't new ideas. In fact, as I've been reading the early documents of the American Founders, it is clear that they struggled with many of these same matters in their own time and place. And...if you look closely, you can see them present in the struggles of the followers of Jesus, as they tried to make sense of what to do in the aftermath of Holy Week...and as they attempt to follow the Way that Jesus taught.

Each observation has to do with a threshold or tension point in which two or more truths come together.

Here goes....
1. The old and the new, the institutional and the movement...the existing structure and new innovations... need each other in order for things to become whole and capable of changing the world in significant and lasting ways.

All too often those who have power and represent the institution are threatened by new voices, outside criticism, and innovation. But as in nature, when movement stops, generally death isn't far behind. And...it is also true that new voices and inspiring innovations can learn something from those who have fought similar battles before or who have insights into how the system works...

Together these two dynamic qualities can leverage things in beneficial...even new...ways.

A good illustration of this happened for me recently. I was sitting in a Cabinet meeting in which we were reviewing a document that our local churches use. At one point, the comment was made that "this material just isn't helpful to what we are trying to accomplish. It's outdated and isn't in touch with our current realities."

I sat there listening and smiling, thinking about the fact that this comment might have been said by several of us, back in 2010, when we were reviewing an earlier version of this same material. In fact, I actually wrote the document that was now being seen as old and out-of-date. At one time I was an innovator, challenging something that felt like it had become institutional and worn out...and now this earlier innovation was seen as being out of touch with our current reality.

I would contend that both revisions were important and on target...the one in 2010 and the one in 2018... because each one was trying to address a dynamic, changing world.

This isn't to say that changes don't matter; it is to say that we are in constant motion...and that contexts change....that we are "moving on to perfection," and that what was once new at a different time and place becomes old. Movement and innovation matter...but they themselves eventually become old and institutional. So we always need to keep both qualities alive and well in our work or we will get stuck in our ways...and at the same time, lose track of our story and heritage.
2. Context matters....and the curriculum is always present in those who are in the room.

This is very similar to the dichotomy I just spoke about, except it focuses on the people who are actually present in the dynamics, not just the roles they occupy.
All of us have a tendency to enter situations with our own scripts, plans, and assumptions. But when we encounter other human beings we have the opportunity to change scripts, alter plans, and revise our assumptions with new experiences, insights, and stories that become a part of the mix.
And this is what happens if we are willing to be open up to the context we are in and the people we encounter. This is not easy to do. The tendency is to stay with what we know, to hold fast to our prevailing beliefs and relationships, and to forget that contexts differ...and that others can teach us something new through their own life experiences.

For me, this is why the One Church Plan was so critical to our future as a church...and why I grieve that it was not supported at General Conference. I know that there are things that are universal in life, but even these universals are mediated through various cultures and realities...and they don't look the same in Africa, Europe, or the Philippines...let alone in St. Louis, Houston, Cedar Rapids, Nashville...Portland, Heppner, or Idaho Falls.
The one thing that often remains the same, and I first realized when I moved from working at Catholic Charities in San Francisco to my first appointment in Filer, Idaho, is that people in every place have a tendency to see where they live as being at the center of the universe. In many ways this might be true, but the reality is that the curriculum of life is always in the classroom...among the students...in the context at hand as well....which means that the curriculum of life changes place-to-place, encounter-to-encounter.

3. Finally...moving from the center to the margins is critical so that new voices, new people, and new understandings can influence and challenge power...but what is more important is for marginality to meet marginality.

Again, we are tilling similar soil here, except for this time we are talking about intentionality.
First, the intention is to move from the center....from a place of security and power...to the edges and margins in order to see, learn about, and understand from a new and different perspective, especially one that isn't privileged or certain or acceptable by those making decisions. This is about giving up a colonial way of being, where there is an us and them, powerful and disenfranchised. And replace this way of engaging others with a spirit of humbleness by identifying our own brokenness, sense of alienation, and marginalization.
For sure....these realities are not experienced in the same way by all of us, but all of us have experienced some kind of hardship that has damaged our spirits and wounded our souls. These are the places where we can often best meet each other across culture and place...and sometimes even class.
It is why, for many, volunteer in mission experiences are so life-changing and consciousness altering. Each time we meet others in the fullness of our humanity and the brokenness of our lives.... transformation is possible.

In fact, if we can meet each other at these three thresholds, we have a chance...to be renewed, to come together, to be transformed...and to change the world.

It reminds me of something that William Penn once said: "I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again."

Well...that's it...so now what?

Let me close with this....

One of my favorite stories is about Peter Drucker. Many of you have heard me tell it before. Drucker was often referred to as a business and management guru, but he was also a great teacher, writer, and business visionary. When Drucker was 90 years old, an interviewer asked him, "Peter, of all the books you have written (38 of them at that point in his life), which one is your favorite?" Drucker responded by saying: "The next one."
I love the spirit embodied in this response.
And it reflects who Drucker was as a person. After all, he taught into his early nineties and continued consulting until his death in 2005 at the age of 95. So it makes sense that among his many memorable quotes, one would be: "The best way to predict the future is to create it."
We all have something to learn from this...And so maybe, as people of faith, we should take Claire Morris' words more seriously as well: "When we walk to the edge of all the light we have and take the step into the darkness of the unknown, we must believe one of two things will happen...there will be something solid for us to stand on, or we will be taught how to fly."
I hope to see you in the future...and hopefully...perhaps up in the sky ways where we learn how to fly!  I understand that the view from up there is truly amazing!

Blessings on your journey,
Spirit Alive was a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference. It sought out where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities.

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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

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