Spirit Alive: What Tense Are You Living In?


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.
February 23, 2016

With Heart Soul, and Mind:

What Tense Are You Living In?

"The best way to predict the future is to invent it."
Alan Kay
Perhaps you've heard this joke before: "What happened when the past, the present, and the future walked into a bar?" Answer: "The situation was tense."
There are lots of ways to focus one's attention in terms of mission and ministry. This joke begs a fundamental question about that: What tense are you living in?
In short, are you: (A) fully present in the present? Most religious traditions would say that this is very important.
Or..(B) are you living in the past? Most would agree that tradition and heritage are valuable, but not if they drown out the seeds of new life.
Or...(C) are you focusing your attention on the future? There are many scriptures that remind us that without a vision of the future, it is possible that a people will perish.
So what "tense" are you and your congregation living in? And...what is the evidence of it in your life? Are you longing for past glories, engaged with people who are standing right in front of you...or contemplating how to make the world a better place in the future? Each aspect has its place, but it is very easy today for congregations to focus too much of their attention on why things aren't the way they used to be. Sometimes we can even get caught up in this to the point that it is all we talk about with each other.
So without wanting to be overly callous, I would contend that while it is fine to remember our past glories fondly, it isn't terribly helpful to dwell on them. In fact, I'd say that if we aren't careful the past can easily become as much of a fantasy as the future if we let it.
So think for a moment about how you spend time in your church meetings.
I was recently in a meeting in which our group labored away on the present. The longer the meeting went, the more we micro-managed the present without much satisfaction. From my experience, this tends to happen at precisely the time when we lose track of paying enough attention to the future.
So consider this: What would happen if we spent as much time in our meetings discussing and building the future we want to create rather than talking so much about the past...or micro-managing the present? What would that mean...and what would it look like? What items would be on that agenda?
"If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better."
Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, by Ed Catmull
(Ed Catmull is President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation)
Many congregations appropriately work on developing vision or mission statements, but just as often as not those statements quickly make their way into the archives and are only referred to again when doing a year end review. But what would happen if those statements...and the strategies that gave them life...were talked about regularly within our churches...and we started asking ourselves these quetions: "Is the future we long for becoming a part of our present reality? And....What are we doing together to help make it so?"
"I believe that inspiration will always try its best to work with you--but if you are not ready or available, it may indeed choose to leave you and to search for a different human collaborator. This happens to people a lot, actually."
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Finally, in order to live more fully into the future, we need to make room for new leaders to become a significant part of our discussions. Their presence helps to widen our perspective, bring new energy to conversations, and change the way we think about things. New leaders help us consider new directions  and strategies for being church. They often look at the future in different ways than we do. So, by engaging new people in our lives, we learn to challenge our assumptions...and consider new possibilities.
Simply stated, the future doesn't look like the present, and there is lots of evidence all around to support this reality.
What tense are you living in?
Blessings on your journey,
Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference. It seeks 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