Bruce Reyes-Chow: Letting Go of Institutional Nostalgia?

This past week I took part in a series of meetings that lead to the laying off of many people in the national offices of the denomination to which I belong, the Presbyterian Church (USA). While the situation leading up to these decisions and the process itself have been complicated, it is painfully clear that this has been a difficult time for many people on many levels. With so many, I grieve and pray for the people that lost their jobs, their families as well as those still working and serving faithfully. [Press Release]

As I was sitting through this meeting and have been mulling this over, I am again bolstered in my belief that we are in a time of transition like we have never known. At levels of society from civic groups to churches to government it does not take a bunch of studies for us to know that if we are going to truly thrive into the future, the ways in which we engage the world and one another have got to change.

While it would be easy for any of us to think that our particular institutions are in a unique situation when it comes to how "we do business," I have sat in too many meetings where the same exact responses occur. Be they community groups, churches or local government we cling to the mindset of "if we just do what we do better or more efficiently" it will all be okay. I just don't believe it will. Technical fixes no longer adequately address the rapidly changing ways engage the world, but we have yet to figure out what to do. Tinkering and restructuring a system that has lost cultural relevance only leads to a constant cycle of failure, despair and loss of influence. Our time is sucked up by reacting to the traumas that are caused by cultural shifts around us instead of being out in front of social trends in a way that we can the inform the evolution of culture. We need to be doing more of the shaping rather than always feeling like we are being shaped against our will.

Crap. So now what?

* Now we could certainly give up in disgust, check out and do so blaming the evils of the "the institution" . . . forgetting that many of us ARE the institution somewhere, somehow. A cowardly and easy way out, IMNSHO..

* We could actively work for the destruction of said institution for destruction's sake. Not my style as I just can't get up the energy to try and take down the sweet old lady who has been running our neighborhood association FOREVER.

* Or we can embrace a challenge that we are facing and dive in. For if we do not begin to live into these grand legacies that have formed us, we turn our back on so many who have worked and served in the hopes that the future would indeed be brighter. Don't we now owe that to those who come next? I think I'll choose this option.

First what we must do is ask ourselves soul searching questions about our very existence. What would happen if we simply let things go? And I am not talking about letting go in some metaphorical or ethereal sense, but really letting go. Let go of the security of our structures, the confines of our finances and the stifling nature of wanting to survive. What is the worst that can happen? The worst thing that could happen is that we discover - or realize - that for the most part, we would not be missed. This would be sad, of course, but at least we would know and would be given permission to stop. And then . . . now this is where life could get really interesting. No longer being fueled by our own delusions of grandeur, the best thing that could happen is that we are given permission to focus all of our energy and expertise towards discovering what may be, rather than propping up and dressing up what was. With a sense of possibility, grounded and formed by where we have been, we take on the privilege and challenge of birthing new life and we collectively become transformed.

Now again, I do not pose these questions lightly oblivious to real life issues and ramifications. Quite the contrary, I ask these questions with a deep commitment to honor those community groups, churches and organizations that have formed me and the communities in which I have lived and served. I know that asking these kinds of questions with an eye towards action opens up a whole range of possibilities and complications that certainly will include death. But lets be honest for most of our beloved organizations of the past, the current cycle of joyless rearranging of our communal lamenting is not working. So rather than avoid the conversation, lets invite the discourse into our midst. Lets talk with one another and trust that there is enough passion, wisdom and care that we can enter into these conversations with integrity . . . because if there is not enough integrity present to ask these questions, why on earth would we think our future is going to get any better?

Now what this looks like will certainly different depending on your context: church, not-for-profit, government, etc. but the questions in the same, "What would happen if we simple let go?"

So please share your stories, blog a bit about your "Letting Go" struggles or successes and lets see where this may lead.

We might be surprised at what we discover.

[Taken with permission from the website of the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow. Follow Bruce on Twitter @breyeschow]