Thursday, October 11, 2012

Future story

In a recent presidential newsletter, In the City, President Cook wrote about her opportunity to serve on the Ministries Council of the Church of God, Anderson. She points out that “The church is undergoing a critical moment of transition” related to the search for a new General Director and is doing serious work about the future. She writes that she has also “been facilitating a committee that has been tasked to write a ‘Future Story’ that will articulate ‘what the Church of God will look like in 2023’” (In the City, September 2012).

I am taken by this idea: writing / describing / illustrating / imagining what the future might look like—what we want it to look like—what we hope it will look like. It is a hopeful idea: there just might be a future. It’s a bridge—at least, that is what I’m reading about future stories: a bridge rooted in the bedrock of the past yet stretching toward the future. Yes, I know, no one can predict that; God happens; life happens; stuff happens, as they say; change is constant, at least that’s what people have been saying since Heraclitus; yet there is something hopeful about the idea. And hope is good.

I’ve been thinking about all this; I’ve been thinking that it might be an interesting ending activity for Hum 310 or Rel 320—after all of this reading and talking and reflecting, write your future. I’ve been thinking that, perhaps, I might write my own. As short term as my future may be, I am hopeful. Most of me is working pretty well—at least, no one has said, “Say, Arthur, could I talk to you about what you…….”

Mostly, however, I’m thinking about the future of Warner Pacific College and about the future of the Church of God reformation movement and about how those two futures intertwine. What is the story our gang of futurists is writing? Who are they, by the way, and why are they the ones who are doing this? Is there a historian among them? What qualifications are necessary to be a futurist? Are they all churchmen, church women, bureaucrats; is there a poet among them? Surely, in some sense, writing the future is writing a poem. What is their demographic—age, gender, ethnicity, geography, and so on? Will we get to vote on our future? Maybe, most importantly, are they people formed by the narrative of this particular and peculiar group of persons—or is their formation along other plot lines? And, then, there is that other question— What if I/we don’t like the story they are writing?

But the question I’m most concerned about is the penultimate one on that list. I’m not sure why we do this, but it seems to me that one way to read our history is that we spend more time listening to other narratives than we do to our own. With the exception, perhaps, of the earliest formational days of the church when a radically different idea was preached, we have often (more often?) listened to other narratives. I think there was a period in the corporate life of the church when the dominative narrative was the narrative of corporate culture—that may be the most dominant parallel narrative. Many, for example, were convinced that the narrative of General Motors was the one we needed to live. I think we embraced a narrative of power (perhaps even of fear) when we decided that the General Assembly should be molded along lines that inhibited rather than permitted dialogue and argument and conversation and mutual discovery and, yes, accountability.

I think the restructuring that resulted in Church of God Ministries—and the struggle we continue to have with it and its relevance—is the result of listening to other cultural narratives: those of the church growth and mega church narratives that have so dominated the church’s conversation for the last 50 years.

Now, I do not mean to suggest that we shouldn’t know those other narratives or ask what they might have to teach us, and neither should this be construed as an argument to go back to another time. We have too many folks around who think that backwards is the direction we should head. However, says Strege, “those who are unclear in their identity can hardly be expected to know how to go forward well. Understanding the present and determining a path through the future become risky and subject to great error when divorced from historical understanding” (Strege, The Quest for Holiness and Unity, 515).

I think there are some ideas and understandings that were central to how we lived together—or, at least, how we thought and taught we should live together—that are still mighty attractive. I hope these narratives and practices are included in the plotlines of this future story.

What am I talking about?

Well, that will be a subject for another blog.

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