In September, I will turn 51. Saying this here is a sort of “true confessions” moment. Confessing my generation means some may simply lump me into categories with titles like: Oppressor, Stakeholder, Gatekeeper and Entitled. Because the Interwebs make it easy to be obscure, I simply slide sideways into the cultural vernacular of another generation. As a cusper Boomer/GenX with Millennial proclivities, I no longer want to carry the baggage of a generation that is eyed suspiciously as domineering, old school (not in a good way), grasping, clinging, hindering, controlling, out of touch, selfish, etc. What I say here might simply be dismissed as yet another sad Boomer attempt to preserve the status quo or perpetuate current structures with the associated benefits. Please hear me. This is not that.
For more than a decade, there has been a growing awareness that methodology which finds its roots in the halcyon days of the post-WW2 boom no longer produces the kind of results it once did. If I have learned anything at all from my engagement with UNCO and similar conversations I’m involved in, it’s this: Frustration with the status quo is high. There is an intergenerational, cross-disciplinary, multi-industry yearning for change which many of us still struggle to name. It’s not that we don’t want to, we often simply lack the vocabulary and the framework to comprehend what we sense at gut level.
This is not news any more, and the Church does not get a pass here, no matter how much we lag in acknowledging that fact. Even when we are able to articulate our angst, because it strikes us at a fundamental level, the institutional response is often to assume a kind of “circle the wagons” approach. No matter how hard we try, it seems we quickly succumb to the “incurvatus in se” attitude Augustine warns us about. We know things must change. We need change to happen soon. And we want the change to be most beneficial to us and our needs.
There’s no doubt that the status quo in the Church needs a critical eye. Conversations at UNCO12 reveal that there are plenty of good people already working on that. This a very, very good thing, though not without risk. Ironically, the same impulse that sends congregations into hunker down mode, causing well-meaning people to take sides, can easily derail transformational efforts. Conversations about shared, vibrant futures quickly devolve into high-stakes arguments as the arc of the vision is bent toward those with the loudest voices, or the best-articulated need, or the freedom of body, mind or circumstance to move quickly. Here’s where we would all do well to pay attention to Martin Luther who reminds us of our tendency to turn everything toward ourselves. In times of transition, when passionate people are on the move, it is easy to claim “the best gifts of God” for our own use or worse, to attempt to use God’s own self to get what we think is best. (see Lectures on Romans)
This doesn’t mean things need to come to a grinding halt. Nor does it mean we have to gather every sheep into the new fold or make use of every old wineskin for the sake of the people who paid for them with their time, talent and treasure. But if we are to sidestep our own narcissistic penchant, the critical eye with which we evaluate the Church needs to be turned on our own visions, too.
So where do conversations like those at UNCO12 need to go? What needs to be on our collective radar as we seek transformation? What is really at the center of our concern? And how can we move forward through necessary changes with an awareness of our natural inclination to make all conversations about us?