The Past is the New Future
Introductory Notes by Doug Pagitt
DougPagitt.comChange, it's our norm
It's only a slight exaggeration to say that everything in our lives, everything we depend on for our basic survival, was created in the last 200 years.Think about your typical day. You wake up in a bed made of materials-internal springs, polymers, anti-microbial fabrics, that didn't exist 200 years ago. You are awakened by an alarm clock that was invented in 1876 (or maybe to an iPod that was invented in 2001). You take a shower (indoor plumbing arrived in the mid-19th century), eat eggs shipped by trucks from a different part of the country, purchased at a grocery store with a credit card, and cooked over an electric stove. You drive a car to work and maybe make a few calls on your cell phone on the way.
You might live in a state that was open frontier in 1860 or in a town that was nothing but grassland in 1922. You might send your kids to a school where they read digitally printed books and use computers and watch DVDs. You might go to church on Sunday morning at 11:00 where you speak into a micro-phone and sing along with words projected on a screen.
For most of human history, changes in broad social structures came occasionally and were limited in geographic scope. But in the last two centuries, cultural change has become far-reaching, constant, and increasingly rapid.
To the Church at St. Andrew UMC, Santa Maria, CA
I noticed the other day just how often we come full circle in the church.
I was amazed to find several living will documents in the church files, along with an Advance Directive for Health Care. I wondered how these people 30 years ago knew that getting information out about Living Will, Trusts, Lifetime Giving, and Advanced Directives for Health Care are all on the agenda for several of our committees, including worship, finance, trustees, and church council. We have talked about how we haven’t done much with the Giving Tree (which is a Trustees item), about how helpful it was to have a file on a member with the particular wishes for how a funeral was to be carried out (Worship team), and with the many hospital visits to congregation members, and my own surgery this past year, I was reminded that everyone ought to have an Advance Directive for Health Care. We revisit many of the same themes in cycles in the church.
Another conversation led to the discussion about how we might grow the church, and what that means. This too has seen the history of the church take turns in each of several different modes - wandering people, temporary meeting places, permanent meeting places, transitional people (neither tied to a home, nor without one) and back through the cycle. I was asked how we might get people “out of the church” and “into the world”, which sounds an awful lot like the transitional phase, recognizing very clearly that St. Andrew UMC has been very permanent for nearly 45 years, as we come upon our 50 year celebration, and that for almost 100 years the motto has been “if you build it, they will come”, after simply setting up a tent where the people were prior to that. The movement of the church takes us around again.
I was talking with a friend the other day about all the stuff the pastor wears. You know the items, robe, collar, stole. We got to talking some about how those things have come and gone, depending on the times, and the denominations. These days robes are meant to signify something or someone different. They are a throwback to the role of the priest in the Old Testament. Only it wasn’t so much the robes then, but the colors, and the different armor the priests put on, from that of a common warrior. The breastplate had semi-precious stones embedded, and the 12 tribes of Israel inscribed on onyx shoulder pads, and a giant helmet. This was a very strong departure from Moses and his predecessor priests who led by example, rather than ornamentation. Since that time the church has seen the ebb and flow of each of these types of ornamentation, that which meets the people as they are, and that which shows the display to draw attention. The cycle is ever-changing, and the rationale always fluctuating between the need to be seen as “human, like them” and “a special one from God”.
And so it is with life cycles. Some lives run longer than others, like that of the church (institutions seem to have lifespans of about 200-250 years), versus that of a human being (current average age in the US is about 76), or the fruit fly (in optimal conditions about 30 days). As we consider where in the stages of the lifecycle we find ourselves, we have the opportunity to remember why we decided to act as we did in gathering for this activity or that one, and for the mission of the church at the outset. In doing so we have a great opportunity to re-envision how we can help the next generation meet those same questions of “why” in their lives, knowing full well, that the what will change, as well as the rationale that will get them to the why.
You see, for all the cycles and rhythms of life, the why of the church never changes, to worship God, and show God’s love into the world today. In a world with growing diversity, and increasing differences between people, economically, educationally, spiritually, ethnically, and beyond, the lines are also becoming more blurred, and open to question. Ours then, as the church, and its people, continues to be a deep need to share the Amazing God we know with the world, in such a way that God is made clear.