Wednesday, March 25, 2009

spirituality of change

I sat with my spiritual director last week. Where was God since we last met, was the question. And so I reflected on my sunflower prayer from a few weeks ago:
As the sunflower tracks the sun,
God, help me track your warmth and love this day,
And grow, unfold, bloom,
into my full splendour as your child, Amen.

So what would stop you following God’s warmth through a sun/day, Steve? my director asked. The question floored me. I searched within myself. I fumbled and fudged and we moved on.

Thirty minutes later, we returned. Somehow the conversation slipped back to that same question (sneaky spiritual director). So what would stop you following God’s warmth through a sun/day, Steve?

And I knew the answer. It was time for me to stop looking in and look out. To name what I have been afraid to name. That when external change happens, some people don’t like it. It’s not the same and it’s not the good old days. Change is hard and I don’t understand/agree.

To use the sunflower analogy, other people can stop following the sun. And when they stop following, when they fold their arms, they run the risk of acting in ways that, in fact, can stop others following the sun. This is heightened by my sensitivity and intuition. As I travel through my sun/day, I feel the resistance and as I feel it, I am tempted to stop following the sun, and start tracing the shadow.

Here’s the rub. The cold hard rub. When do I as a leader stop listening to these people? When do you say enough is enough? When do you say, if you are not following the sun, it is quite likely that your input is no longer life-giving to us in our journey of change?

This is not your church. Nor is this my church. This is God’s church. God is at work and we are required to follow that movement. I might not like and nor might you. But this is not our church.

This shifts the focus away from personality. But it begs another question, that of discernment. Who discerns what God is doing? This is the heart of the missional conversation. What is God doing?

It is not a technical process that tweaks structures. It is not a relevancy search that flashes the video. It is not your songs over my songs. It is a following of God’s warmth.

Which raises another question. Who discerns what God is doing? Often it is the charismatic, annointed leader. Yet this is a leadership model fueled by passivity in which sheep are glad to delegate responsibility to another and hardened by modernity, in which charisma was flashed before us.

But it’s not maturity and it’s not the heart of a missional conversation, which dares to believe that at Pentecost, young and old, male and female, might be dreamers with God’s spirit.

What is God doing? is a shared conversation among the people of God. To discern what God is doing involves a set of practices which orientate the conversation in community – Dwelling in the Word, living in the Lord’s prayer, practising the presence, listening to the Other. These are skills to practice and gifts to enjoy. In them comes discernment of what God is doing, of where the warmth of God’s son/sun is. This is a theology that find’s what God is doing among the people of God.

Ahhh. But the wise among you will notice the flaw in my logic, for we have simply returned to my spiritual direction, my fumbling and fudging. Because if the conversation belongs among the people of God, then what to do when those very people include those who might have stopped following the sun. Ahh, the tensions of leadership. Oh the need for clarity. Oh the pain.

For I have failed. I have done all in my power to communicate, to love, to explain, to pastor. But I have failed to bring some people with me. Sure they might have dug in their toes, but the pain of the leader still remains. This is more pointed in historical churches, but I’ve also seen it time and again in fresh expressions. That God is a pilgrim God, a moving God, active among a people who like to settle, to rest, to relax. So the pain when people choose to settle, to stop following the sun. Because these are God’s people. These are people who have loved God’s church. God must weep, as I weep.

enough for today, for today I weep …

Posted by steve at 10:31 AM


  1. In Latin America the sunflower is used by some indenous people as a symbol of resurrection. At the WCC assembly in Porto Alegre in 2006 the worship tent was decorated with sunflowers on the second day – it was quite stunning. It’s a life giving plant in many rural economies there – not just an cerebral symbol of resurrection

    Comment by jane — March 25, 2009 @ 12:30 pm

  2. that’s a neat insight Jane.

    our children have their own garden and one of them has been tending her own sunflower. we arrived home at 5:30 as a family yesterday, feeling a bit war worn and weary. the 2 kids burst out of the car yelling “the sunflower, its in bloom.” and it was. that very day.

    i’ll pause beside it 2nite and say a prayer for resurrection,


    Comment by steve — March 25, 2009 @ 12:59 pm

  3. I can see two groups of people who stop following ‘the sun’ as you put it. Those who don’t like change, who feel uncomfortable outside what they are used to, who like the good old days. The other group is those who discern in their relationship with their Lord and God that the following of the ‘sun’ is not the following of the ‘Son’. There is a vast difference between these groups and how you handle them would need to be very different.
    Who decides which person’s discernment is correct?? I take it this is the question you are asking?

    Comment by Karen — March 25, 2009 @ 10:14 pm

  4. Thanks Karen. I think there’s a third group. You name
    – those who don’t like change
    – those who discern the change are not Christian (which raises another whole set of questions around the best way for people to express their concerns and be heard).

    there is surely also a (3rd) group who are used to following the “sun”/Son a certain way and who don’t connect with the different ways of following the “sun.” to be banal, they might be used to hymns and don’t connect with choruses. or their kids might be used to attending a decile 6 school and suddenly find themselves in a youth group with decile 1 kids who behave differently. that’s hard for the church, the existing parents, the existing kids and the new kids who’ve just started coming.


    Comment by steve — March 26, 2009 @ 9:54 am

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