Slow Ideas: Reimagining Church

Chinese depiction of Jesus and the rich man (M...

Chinese depiction of Jesus and the rich man (Mark 10) – 1879, Beijing, China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I just read an article by, Atul Gawande, entitled, “Slow Ideas”-

 

(http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/07/29/130729fa_fact_gawande)

 

Atul Gawande says, “We yearn for frictionless, technological solutions. But people talking to people is still the way that norms and standards change.” This is slow. It is a process. Gawande begins by describing the case of the need for, and discovery of, anesthesia and antiseptic agents in medicine. One was embraced quickly and its use spread like wildfire; the other took decades to be used with any consistency. This is an excerpt from his observations:

 

So what were the key differences? First, one combatted a visible and immediate problem (pain); the other combatted an invisible problem (germs) whose effects wouldn’t be manifest until well after the operation. Second, although both made life better for patients, only one made life better for doctors. Anesthesia changed surgery from a brutal, time-pressured assault on a shrieking patient to a quiet, considered procedure. Listerism, by contrast, required the operator to work in a shower of carbolic acid. Even low dilutions burned the surgeons’ hands. You can imagine why Lister’s crusade might have been a tough sell.

 

This has been the pattern of many important but stalled ideas. They attack problems that are big but, to most people, invisible; and making them work can be tedious, if not outright painful. The global destruction wrought by a warming climate, the health damage from our over-sugared modern diet, the economic and social disaster of our trillion dollars in unpaid student debt—these things worsen imperceptibly every day. Meanwhile, the carbolic-acid remedies to them, all requiring individual sacrifice of one kind or another, struggle to get anywhere.”

 

An overarching good that is subtle, but is also painful/difficult to the practitioner will be unattractive and avoided. It takes time. It also takes people talking to people—relationship building, trust building, explaining the “procedures,” and then explaining them again. As more people are entering the process, the rate of exposure increases. That is our prayer, at any rate!

 

As in the case of germ-theory development, it was difficult to help others understand the (invisible) cause, and still more difficult to convince doctors to employ the remedy. The rate of increased recovery from (or prevention of) infection was anecdotal and challenging to prove its source. Put another way, success could not be measured indisputably, and would only be noticed substantially over considerable time.

 

“Frictionless, technological solutions” and, I would add, empirically quantitatively measured, is more comfortable, and, easier to manage and justify the process. One can easily understand the desire for the medical profession to operate with these conditions. It makes me uneasy (to say the least) that the church has done and continues to do so. An evangelical magazine on leadership just sent out an email that includes an interview with a gentleman who is no longer captivated in the institutional church. He is interested in relationships that are built (over time) on mutual knowing and loving, no agenda, just being—in relationship. And, then the article continues with this program/curriculum that addresses that! Is there an app for that?!

 

It is nearly impossible to provide a salary for those called (and gifted) to lead and gather people in this kind of church-doing/being. How does one measure discipleship when it is based on the supposition that we enter into the lives of our neighbors—and, stay there? And, then, they go on to enter the lives of their co-workers and third-place neighbors with the love of Jesus (themselves having been loved into knowing Jesus)—and, stay there. How can we justify receiving financial support of some sort to be involved in the lives around us with our gifts and training, experience and expertise—helping them enter with us into communion with Jesus, growing in faith and union, in knowledge and passion to do as Jesus did—and does?

 

It is time—necessary—that we reimagine what success is, what church looks like, what Jesus is doing in this time and space where young people do not want anymore detached imperatives, compulsory directives, during an hour or two each week. It is time to reimagine how we support those who are ordained to move and live as apostles and pastors, evangelists and teachers of God’s law of Love and grace and mercy, justice and life! To release and encourage something new—or, perhaps, something very old. . . .

 

It is time. Will you reimagine with me?

 

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