14
Aug
15

Between the terrarium and the museum

Roosts-Terrarium-Table-Lamp-3As I was driving past another new shopping center development in the suburb where I live earlier this week, I was struck by two vivid – and yet directly contradictory – thoughts. The first thought was, “This is so COOL to see all of the new development and business activity happening here! It must mean that things are really reviving and getting onto a much healthier track in the local economy.”

I mean, most of the time we associate growth with health, right?

But then my second thought – which followed very closely after the first one – was, “Holy cow! I just realized that I am older than every single building around here! And probably most of the trees, too!”

The sensation that went along with the second thought was hard to pin down right away, but as I reflected on it, it seemed to be a feeling of a sort of rootlessness, or discontinuity… kind of like being cut off from any sense of history or tradition… as if I had been plopped down into the middle of an artificial environment of some kind.. like one of the terrariums we used to build for our pet turtles when I was young.

That might not make a ton of sense to many of you… especially if you are young. But the reason I bring it up is because – for me – it represents a dynamic tension that is regularly a part of any healthy system… but most especially of a healthy church.

It is the tension between the OLD and the NEW and the creative challenge of maintaining the right balance between them. Social scientists tell us that there are vital human needs that are served in both settings… that is, we all need the benefits that accrue in settings of stability and tradition, but we are also “fed” by the things that happen in settings of creativity and change.

Stability and tradition bring us a sense of confidence and peace about the world. We know where things are and how they work and what will happen over HERE if we do THIS.

Creativity and change ignite our imaginations and bring an excitement about the future and our place in it.

When those dynamics are present in the right proportions, life is smoother. But too much emphasis on OLD and we stagnate… become brittle and inflexible… and relate to the world around us out of fear. Too much NEW and we lose our center and become panicky and manic and unable to locate ourselves in the swirl of events.

That is exactly the place where God comes in. God is the God of eternity… present when the foundations of the earth were laid and its measurements were set (Job 38:1-7) and steadfast and unchangeable through every age (Exodus 20:6). God is also, simultaneously the God of the “new thing” (Isaiah 43:18-19), who seems to take special delight in surprising and unsettling God’s people. Check out the story of Balaam and his talking donkey in Numbers 22 for a good example of God’s creativity and imagination in communicating a message.

If the church today wants to be faithful to its calling and identity, we should remember that we often find ourselves caught in that dynamic tension between the old and the new and wanting to resolve the tension somehow. I guess I am suggesting the possibility that this could be EXACTLY the place God is calling us to stand… right here in the middle, being pulled in both directions at the same time… holding on to the past, while also straining ahead to embrace the future and the NEW.

True… it’s not a very comfortable place to stand. But then again, no one ever promised us that changing the world was a comfortable project to undertake either.


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