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Thinking Out Loud

Currents of Change

by Michael Jinkins | Feb 05, 2016

Currents of ChangeRecently I participated in two group discussions reflecting seriously on the changes facing our churches and theological schools in North America. These were wonderful and difficult conversations: the first among the presidents and board chairs from our Presbyterian seminaries from across the country; the second among presidents from a variety of seminaries in a gathering sponsored by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS).

As Dr. Ann M. Garrido, associate professor of homiletics at the Aquinas Institute of Theology, made an excellent presentation on the spirituality of administration for our ATS gathering, I remembered an experience I have had repeatedly and something it may be teaching me about leadership in a time of rapid change.

Walking along through the shallow waters of a beach, sand shifting beneath and through my toes, I have often wondered at how surprised we are by change when it is among the most constant realities of life.

From season to season the sandbars on my favorite beach shift dramatically. These are huge hills of sand that weigh tons. They are seemingly immovable, yet they are moved all of the time by the ceaseless rhythms of wind and waves and the regular rhythms of tide powered by the pull of the moon on the earth.

The sandbars teach us what we resist recognizing. Everything moves, even the most apparently solid, heavy and permanent. We cling to anything in life in vain. Still, everything moves.

Recently, while practicing meditation using Jon Kabat-Zinn's guided mindfulness meditation program, I was invited to become conscious of the rise and fall of my breath as if I were riding gently on it, up and down, like a small boat rising and falling on the waves. Completely still, completely quiet and the mind recalled to rest, I was more conscious than ever of the constant movement and change that runs like a current through each of us and all of life.

It occurred to me later that it might be a good exercise for most of us, worried about changes threatening the ways things have always been done, to walk more on the beach and to spend less time in the mountains.

Certainly things are changing in the mountains too. But the mountains and the hills don't move as fast as the dunes and sandbars. From one season to another, a ridge does not seem to shift positions at all. It takes millennia to notice. Of course, over time even continents move, but only God gets to see this happening.

Walking along the beach, the tide relentlessly shifting the vast sandbars on which we walk, we sense and we see what remains otherwise much less apparent. All things are moving; all things are changing. To lead well or to live well, we must learn to love the moment and the movement, neither to resist nor deny it.

We are not made of stone. Nor are the groups of people, the organizations, the institutions that bear our faith, our traditions, our deeply ingrained ways of finding meaning, passing on from age to age the hopes and beliefs we hold most precious. Flesh and blood, sand and sea water, move and change continuously. And, yet, a beach is always a beach, and the sea water is always salty, and the sun and the moon and the winds endure.

I wonder what new sandbars God is carving on these beaches we love?

"Be thankful to the Lord, and speak good of God's name. For the Lord is gracious, his mercy is everlasting: and his truth endures from generation to generation." (Psalm 100:3b-4)

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