Ever since I entered ministry as a profession, I've heard leaders speak into microphones, "the United Methodist Church is dying." They bemoaned decreasing numbers, declining engagement and we felt the desperation in the air. The topic came up at most meetings for years. And the subtle undertone was, "New pastors, especially you young ones, you're up. Can you save this thing?"
Innovate, innovate, innovate.
But also, don't ruffle feathers, lose donors, argue with the system or turn in low numbers due to a failed experiment.
It's a recipe for burnout, low morale, fear, competition and isolation. It doesn't feel like a brave, fertile ground for surrender, trust, curiosity and wonder.
It's hard to listen to Spirit's prompting when your paycheck's involved.
As I've navigated my way through this culture for the past ten years while holding onto a nuanced and life-giving path, I've learned a few things that may be helpful to name out loud. And I name them here because I know they're not just true in the United Methodist Church. They're true for so many systems in our world that are imploding at the moment.
We've got to keep our hands open.
Systems are shifting at lightning speed. And it's about time. Sexism. Racism. Patriarchy. Ableism. Classism.
The systems have been shifting for a long time, but there is something about this unique time in history that feels like labor pains of a whole new kind. This is okay. As Valerie Kaur says, "What if this is not the darkness of tomb, but a darkness of the womb? We breathe and we push."
A friend of a friend put it this way, "As the world darkens and even breathing feels impossible, I feel like all my tricks have been exhausted and I am left with nothing but the grace between the womb and tomb."
This is a good thing. I promise. For those who feel like they're losing or something is being taken away, I invite you to get curious about what you had to begin with. Is there a chance you benefitted from the way things have been arranged? Yes. I have, too. So when I'm being invited to let go, it doesn't feel great. But it's good. It's good, if we trust what's on the other side. Let's keep our hands open.
Jesus followers should be the first to let go.
We are literally people of death and resurrection. That's our theology. Our bedrock. The issue, for some, is that they don't see the disruption of the status quo as an invitation to die to the harmful way it's been. Maybe it hasn't felt harmful for you. It's felt normal. I get that. But it's not normal for billions of people. It's oppressive. It forces people to contort themselves to fit into someone else's idea of what it means to be human. This isn't Jesus' dream for us.
Disorder is okay.
Most of us don't like feeling unorganized, disrupted or out of control. It grates on us from deep within. Unconsciously, we will set about ordering whatever we can control at that moment. It's a coping mechanism, which is understandable. I have many of them. However, if we refuse to bring loving consciousness and awareness to our agitation and discomfort, we will miss the very healing we've been longing for.
The disorder is good. Holy. Necessary. New ways of being are stretching out their hand to us all. But we struggle to notice. To sense them. To welcome them. Worse, we fight against the very thing that's trying to save us.
Love is here. Working. Moving. Softening. Singing. Comforting.
While we often deny, avoid, explain or turn away.
What if the chaos is an invitation?
In the middle of this collective trauma, may we spare a few moments to wonder if this chaos is an invitation?
Which continues to invite wonder at how we're feeling equipped (or not) to navigate it.
For the past ten years, I've been practicing palms up, an intentional rhythm that leads to trust and freedom. I've been wondering if this rhythm could help us navigate the chaos in a sustainable way.
Palms up is one way forward.
Dr. Elaine Heath teaches a contemplative posture that offers space to navigate the chaos in front of us.
Show Up: We show up, just as we are, to the situations and people in front of us. Mess and all.
Pay Attention: We pay attention to the person in front of us and the headlines we'd rather ignore. We pay attention to ourselves. We notice what's going on and what's not being said.
Cooperate with God: God is already have work in the people we know. The problems in our world. We're not taking God to people. We notice where God's already at work and we cooperate with the Spirit's movement. This takes the pressure off us. We're not doing the thing, God is.
Release the outcome: This might be the hardest part. And it will change you the most. We let go of needing to know or force outcomes. We trust that God is holding it. We want to give God room to work, instead of marching in with our agenda.
We're invited to breathe deeply of the chaos in our midst. To see it. To notice how we respond. To wonder if there's more going on. To open our hands and allow the new to emerge.
Palms up, my dear ones.