I pull my bike out of the shed, and bump up the stairs that lead to the driveway. Since my house is built into a hill there are two living levels, each opening out to gently sloping turf. Access to the roadway is on the higher level.
Quickly checking over the brakes and shifter mechanism, I strap on my helmet and push the bike up the driveway to the road. The first part of the descent is fairly mild. It’s a beautiful day and the sun is shining and the birds are singing. It must be around 80 degrees F.
From the top of the hill I can see most of Kelowna and the hills across the valley. Looking to the south I can see a portion of Lake Okanagan, just catching some rays now. The air is clear … not much dust or haze at this time in the mid morning.
My bike quickly picks up speed as the elevation drops. I can barely keep up with the pedals, and then I just let the bike coast. What was method becomes surrender. Change is sometimes like that. It begins slowly and then picks up speed. We can feel out of control … or learn to enjoy the ride.
[INSECURITY & TRANSFORMATION]
One temptation is to slam on the brakes. My daughter did that on this hill not long ago and did a nice flip end-over-end. Luckily she hadn’t gained much speed yet and landed in such a way that she minimized the damage. Change does involve risk, and the greater the pace the more likely we are to react with anxiety.
Once committed to the descent there is no turning back. There is some traffic today, and I pass a number of vehicles heading up the hill. It’s a fool’s journey, going down when everyone else is going up. But it’s effortless, natural—the result of unseen forces pulling on physical bodies. Some of those unseen forces are named, like gravity, and God. Others include the forces that hold whirling particles in orbit around a nucleus.
Scientists who theorize about the smallest particles tell us that they know some things about atoms, but they can’t figure out where the power comes from. Others theorize that the power is in the blank spaces.
Perhaps this is why community resists definition, and even more, resists construction. We can’t program and construct community, though we can and do build small groups. It takes more than good leadership to build community, though good leaders can draw a large audience.
In modern churches leaders are central and hold the power. In communities, the power is in the blank spaces.
The wind is whistling around me as I pick up speed on the final stretch. I let the slope determine the pace and I straighten up slightly to act as a wind brake. I pass a young boy who is walking down the hill.
We each have our own preferred method of travel … two legs or two wheels, the goal is the same. Or maybe I should say "process." We and our world are in the process of change. The goal is joy, truth, love, community … things that are at the center of the Gospel, things not easily defined and that are mostly gift. Unlike previous generations, this isn’t the lonely hero’s journey—it’s a journey in company, just as Jesus sent them out two by two.
Moving on two legs allows a much greater sense of control. I chafe at the speed of change among some groups; others are moving too fast for me. We all have to find a pace that is comfortable, yet the world waits for no one. Maybe that is the real function of community … a group that can negotiate change at a common pace so that we don’t endure it alone. The company I choose are riding bicycles. Some groups are in Porsches; others are walking along enjoying the view. Still others look down the hill and decide it’s too steep to attempt. I feel for those who fear to start the journey.
I’m at the bottom now, and the work begins. Two legs, two wheels, two pedals… up this side, down that side, up here, down there. The cycler’s rhythm of push and push and push. If you want to stay centered, keep moving.
[PARADOX and HOLISM]
For too long we’ve lived with a split in our collective psyche. We separated sacred and secular, reason and revelation, flesh and spirit. Yet there is One who held these together. Jesus hung between heaven and earth, was both God and man, united word and Spirit. Our challenge is to live the mystery. We have to progress from dualism to holism.
To stay centered, which pedal do you push? You push the one that’s up.
For a long time the leadership pedal has been on top, brought there by cultural forces that we welcomed into the church. We saw leadership as the key to all good things, and all good things were defined by modern culture. The direction of flow was from the top down, creating a huge bottleneck that limited life. Now the community pedal is rising to the top. We are relearning the context of leadership and life is bursting out all over.
"The usefulness of a metaphor for rereading our own context is that it is not claimed to be a one-on-one match to "reality" … Rather a metaphor proceeds by having only an odd, playful, and ill-fitting match to its reality, the purpose of which is to illuminate and evoke dimensions of reality which will otherwise go unnoticed and therefore unexperienced." Walter Brueggemann, Cadences of Home
I cycle to Starbucks to chat with a friend about models and metaphors, vision and truth, church, kingdom and culture. Models provide us with a framework for understanding, and then help us to incarnate our values. The problem with models is that they are static. The framework interacts with our understanding in predictable ways, in turn influencing the model. The intransigent character of the model inevitably manifests itself … it becomes a vision we impose on reality instead of allowing reality to continue to speak to us. We stop thinking creatively; we get stuck inside the box. We insist that others join us there; one size fits all. We feel we have arrived at universal truth … about leadership, about the kingdom, about faith. We don’t see the sand toys around us. We forget who we are.
Metaphors picture truth in story form, about as close to incarnation as one can get. Metaphors maintain flexibility; they adapt to new circumstances. Metaphors are the text that reads us. Metaphors can carry us to places that we can only travel to in our imagination. They move beyond intellectual barriers, beyond walls of prejudice and fear. So far, this bicycle ride has been a good metaphor, carrying you along with me on this journey of discovery.
But after that, who knows what is possible? What begins in the Holy imagination can be born of the Spirit. The dream can become reality, the Word can become flesh. As Brueggemann wrote, "concrete change—attitude, action, behavior, policy—of any serious, lasting kind arises only through an alternatively imagined world…"
In order to travel to the imagined world one has to let go of certainty. One launches out on the path of discovery like Abraham, “not knowing where he is going.” There are more questions than answers. The pace increases; the bike hurtles down the hill.
Sometimes we choose the journey; sometimes the journey chooses us. What worked yesterday doesn’t work today. Life’s crises shake our very foundations. “Why is there pain in the world? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is attendance declining?” When we can no longer count on the old certainties we launch into uncharted waters: “Our chance to be healed comes when the waters of our life are disturbed,” as Elizabeth O’Connor said. The initiative is usually divine. God explodes out of the box, a wild untamed force. We long for order, but chaos is pregnant with possibilities.
I arrive at Starbucks and park my bike against a garbage can anchored on the sidewalk. There are a few tables outside, with the odd patron engrossed in conversation. I enter the store and am greeted with the inviting scent of coffee and chocolate. The poster on the far wall reads SAN FRANCISCO. I ponder for a moment the legacy of St. Francis and how he might relate to the coffee industry.
“For our light affliction is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but the things which are unseen …” (2 Corinthians 4:18). Our culture has shunned weakness and glorified strength. The leaders have been the ones with the answers. The ones with the answers got us into this mess, so we no longer trust those who think they know the way. In the postmodern world it is the ones willing to journey to unknown lands who gain our hearing. Interesting … we find community around weakness, but rarely find it around strength.
McChurch may have served a billion people, but it abandoned its true vocation. Francis chose the way of weakness, the way of the holy fool. He chose descent when others were riding up the hill, building power and prestige on the backs of the poor. The real crisis today is a crisis of spirituality and of faith. To the extent the modern church adopted worldly goals and sought prestige and power, she abandoned Christ.
She also abandoned the hope of transformation, choosing security instead of growth. New learnings only come when we leave the place of certainty behind. Only the meek will inherit the earth, and the truth is hidden from the wise.
The modern church is powerful and wealthy and a dying cause; a new church is waiting to be born.
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