PITTSBURGH, July 2, 2012 – “I think that you are farther along the path of change than you realize, and I think better days are ahead,” Brian McLaren – author, activist and public theologian – shared with those gathered Monday morning for the General Assembly Breakfast. His presentation continued a tradition of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) bringing in speakers and writers from outside the denomination to address the commissioners.
McLaren used as an analogy the idea of forest fire.
“When you see the landscape after a fire, it looks irretrievable,” continued McLaren. That’s a vision some may have of the church, he said.
“But even within a matter of days you start to see a bit of green and realize the fire itself is bringing nutrients back to the soil so that even more vitality can spring up,” he said. What looked like destruction at the start was actually necessary for renewal.
“I think that Presbyterians are farther along in moving through this crisis and change, with renewal and new diversity springing forth,” said McLaren. He also challenged Presbyterians, however, to consider impediments to change – including an unwillingness to share authority; a tendency to create identity through hostility to others; and a too-deep comfort in familiar ways and traditions.
It’s not only the church that faces the challenges of change, McLaren pointed out, but other parts of society and culture as well – including the U.S. Postal Service, caught up in a financial crisis that is tied to a revolution in the ways people communicate and exchange information.
But adversity is also provides opportunities for innovation. As McLaren put it, “unsustainability has a great way of stimulating creativity.”
He challenged the PC(USA) to ask itself: “Are we in the envelope, paper, stamp and mailbox business, or are we in the communication business?”
Whatever decisions this assembly makes, as a denomination Presbyterians are grappling with change – with issues, statistics, internal demographics and external data. The membership of the PC(USA) does not match that of the U.S. population – it’s much older and mostly white, not ethnically diverse. Presbyterians may feel they are in a time of chaos, confusion, and destruction – as in a forest fire.
In it, McLaren suggested, they may also find the seeds of new life and possibility.