I’m watching the neighbor’s dog – a friendly lab/mutt named Harley – do the thing he seems to spend about 40% of his life doing: running laps around the backyard utility shed under which (apparently) there lives a rabbit. On each lap he stops for a few seconds to stick his head into a space from which he can see under the thing. After that glance he does another lap. It’s like clockwork – around and around and around.
To my knowledge he’s never caught Br’er Rabbit. But hope, it seems, springs eternal.
I hate to say this out loud…but it reminds me a little of church: Doing the same thing and expecting different results.
There are, of course, some other takes on this scenario. Perhaps it’s the game that counts. Maybe Harley doesn’t really want to catch the rabbit (okay…. I’m attributing higher thought to a dog…. I get it!). Nonetheless, I’m thoroughly convinced that there are fishermen (not most, but more than a few) who don’t really want to catch fish. It’s about solitude and the lake/river and being outside. That’s legit…. even commendable.
But if one believes (as I do) that the Gospel is entrusted to the church as a treasure to be winsomely given away – then offering it in ways that bore those who might benefit from it seems scandalous.
We all know this, of course. But our collective attachments to the familiar are strong and our affection for our own familiar ways can blur our thinking. The end result is that we fool ourselves into imagining that these comfortable habits are as attractive to others as they are to us. But in fact, they are not. If they were, we’d be seeing different results. They are like Harley endlessly circling his owner’s storage shed. The dog may have hope that this accomplishes a desirable end, but if the goal is to catch a rabbit, that’s probably not going to happen.
You can make your own application of this principle to your own local congregation (and maybe your own life – if the shoe fits, wear it!), but I think of it in terms of the conference. I am convinced that the conference must be willing to try new ideas if this middle setting of the church is to sustain real relevance for local congregations.
On Saturday, October 22, the people of the Iowa Conference will have the chance to embrace a (modestly!) different approach to staffing our conference. Can I guarantee this will be a smashing success? I cannot, but I’m pretty sure maintaining the current status quo is unsustainable.
Come to our meeting in October. You, after all, are the Iowa Conference. We all have a stake in this. Let’s work together to find our way into God’s hopeful tomorrow. See you soon!
With Great Hope!
UCC in Iowa