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Thoughts on Change

Posted on: April 24, 2022

Category: Theology

Due to an overwhelming week, I have not had time to write a blog as I normally would for the Quest News. I thought in place I would offer a few notes on current events in my life and what I am thinking about. I hope they are of interest if not inspirational.

My uncle died recently, the husband of my mother’s sister. His death made me think of my father because my uncle and father were childhood friends. My father was a political animal. He started out his political story as a member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada; at the end of his life, he was a member of the New Democratic Party. It was an incredible political journey. My father suffered from dementia at the end of his life. The one conversation I wish I could have had with him concerned what made him move from one end of the political spectrum to the other. Unfortunately, that will always be a mystery to me; however, it is in some ways good news: my father’s political story is evidence that people can and do change.

It is change in theology and theologians that concerns me most these days. It used to be that a theologian’s job was to explain theology, but since there is so much in theology that is no longer credible, the job description has changed. Like the question that I never got to ask my father, there is a mystery in this change, a set of questions with unknown answers.

One question concerns the future of theology. Since it is no longer about explaining God, what do we do with several God-items that have been left behind like sin, providence, and evil? In various attempts to reinterpret these traditional problems, theologians in the twentieth century avoided the need to change. This avoidance has become impossible in the twenty-first century where the traditional industrial economy has become less and less sustainable. There is an emerging economy yet unknown, but it will arrive because finding a way to survive is something human beings are good at. The theological question is, can religion change too, and can it survive? At its worst, religion pulls us back to the pre-industrial age where it remains a threat to our common humanity. Where can theology go? I don’t know the answer to that question, at least not yet.

Another question I can’t answer is will theologians let the traditional God die? Even when we say that we do not believe in a God upstairs, we often still believe in control, in privilege, and in power. Our God images may not as often be upstairs images, but they often remain imperial images, nevertheless. It is interesting that for Jesus God does not control anything. To Jesus, the rain falls on the just and the unjust, and the sun shines on the righteous and unrighteous. The God of Jesus is the same God found in the book of Ecclesiastes, someone indifferent to the particularities of our personal lives. This indifferent God, though, is a plus because only out of this spirit is it possible to surmount our personal hatreds and love our enemies. You have to get over yourself to love your enemy, and you have to get over yourself to “be compassionate as God is compassionate.” These two lessons found in Jesus sayings are similar to Buddhist teachings about detachment. Both lessons are about getting over yourself. Can theology get over itself? Can it let its traditional God die and can it change?

I have seen people change in their lives, sometimes dramatically, and when I think of my own life, I have managed a few changes myself. I fear that theology, and with it, the church, can’t manage change. For some reason, for an institution, change is too risky. Change can put an institution out of business. Yet, theology is the business where risk is faith. In theology, going out of business could be an act of faith if it genuinely follows from taking a sincere and thoughtful risk.

People often want the church to change, and even implore the church to change, but as an institution, it will take its time so long as it continues to sustain itself. This gives me the radical idea that perhaps the best future for the church involves people leaving it. Institutions are difficult to change, but do change, sometimes dramatically, when it is clear there are no more customers. Religious faith is not about being a customer, but it is about finding a home. Sometimes finding a home involves leaving home so that home can be recreated.

© David Galston

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