Discern the crumbling, join the rebuilding

Friendly Reminder: A weekly reflection from the Quaker Leadership Center

Last week, I reminded us to “let go with grace” as we confront the reality described by Walter Brueggemann: “The world for which you have been so carefully prepared is being taken away from you, by the grace of God.” To live and lead by grace, we have to learn how to let go with grace.

I recently came across a passage by scholar Willie Jennings in his brilliant book “After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging.” Jennings talks about the importance of belonging in any kind of education and tells the story of a student on a journey of deconstruction who needed someone “who would discern with him the crumbling and live in it and toward it. He needed companions on a journey of building that together would discover what blueprints emerged from overturning.”

It occurs to me that we all need those kinds of friends. And we need to be those kinds of Friends. Companions who accompany one another to do the complicated work of both “discerning the crumbling” and rebuilding our communities. We say goodbye to toxic habits and reject historically embedded injustices. We let go of good things that are outdated or no longer serving us. And we work to rebuild our thinking our patterns, and our communities, using a combination of ancient and fresh wisdom.

Author and activist Joanna Macy paints a similar picture of our present landscape. She sees us in a time of simultaneous stories: The Great Unraveling and The Great Turning. There are great currents of change and crumbling all around us, but these currents also create the conditions for a great transformation. The only thing we can’t do is to stay in Business As Usual.

Quakers have undergone many major changes throughout our history. We have also been instrumental in working for change. Ever since George Fox started, as Jon Watts sings, “pulling down the pillars of the world,” the Society of Friends has been a mix of crumbling and rebuilding, unraveling and turning. The same Spirit is at work among our meetings, churches and organizations.

For those of us who follow the way of Jesus, we shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. His pattern was death and resurrection. He promised nothing different but he did promise his presence “even unto the end of the world.” And he’s with us in all the little endings of all our little worlds in the meantime.

Remember also the old Shaker song “Simple Gifts.” We sing “To turn, turn, shall be our delight/Till by turning, turning, we come ’round right.” Most of the time, our “turning” is a terror. We don’t like change. It comes at inconvenient times. We aren’t ready for it. We don’t know where God and faith and meaning can be found in the midst of it. But good leaders invite folks to practice “delighting” in the turns. To see them as ways we are learning to live differently and love in new ways, to see them as the Spirit’s wind moving through our lives and our communities.

So discern the crumbling, even as you join the rebuilding.

Delight in the Great Turning, even as you endure the Great Unraveling.

Take up your cross, and believe in the resurrection.