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A Culture of Grace

In the world of organizational development experts there is a saying. "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." This line, attributed in 2006 to the management guru Peter Drucker, and made famous by Mark Fields, who later became chief executive of Ford Motor Company, articulates the challenge a system faces when trying to make any significant change. As we entered the new millennium, there was a lot of management and leadership energy going into culture change. From corporate to civic to educational, culture change was the buzz word of the decade.

With the election of Barak Obama in 2008 it looked as if the culture shift so many fought for in the second half of the 20th century was solidifying. Sadly, the culture of White Supremacy, misogyny, and so many attendant -isms, ate the long-hoped-for transformations for lunch. I, for one, didn't see the ferocity of the backlash coming. In hindsight, I can see how it happened. But when it was roaring forward in 2016, I was unaware of how rapacious this particular culture would be.

If you've been reading my blogs and listening to my sermons, you know that I've been talking a lot about culture, and the choices we make to build a culture based on the values we articulate. Loving Kindness, inclusivity, peacemaking, justice seeking. These core values have been in the DNA of this congregation for a long time. I call this a Culture of Grace. And, at times, our lived culture is in conflict with the values we articulate and to which we aspire.

This is true in families, congregations, communities and countries. It is also true for each human being that walks this earth. As Paul said 2000 years ago, "I don’t do the good things I want to do. I keep on doing the evil things I don’t want to do." (Romans 7:19) And why does this happen? Because the mindsets we carry inform the behavior we choose which creates the culture in which we live. For anyone familiar with 12 Step Rooms, Portia Nelson's An Autobiography in Five Chapters is often quoted as a perfect description of the recovery process. Whether personal or communal, change is always about our mindset as we seek to be transformed.

In the 2019 fall issue of Jabian Magazine (shout out to Gay Wallin-Brewer), Gokhan Guley and Tracy Reznik offer an illuminating piece about this dilemma around change as it relates to corporate culture. Written before the Pandemic, they name the things necessary for successful transformation within an organization. If you read the article using your decoder ring , replacing employees with members, company with congregation, you will read the same story we face when congregational change becomes necessary.

The need for transformation usually emerges when groupthink leads the organization away from success, in a direction other than what the strategy intended. Either through a false sense of security or via a disillusioned view of the environment, an organization under the influence of groupthink cannot correctly assess changing market conditions and does not take the necessary steps to prevent failure.

What I love about their article is the naming of what (in my humble opinion) is the most important factor in a successful transformation of any community or system. That one thing? It must be a grassroots - read, congregational - effort. Too often change is initiated from the top, supported by a few, and imposed with punitive incentives for compliance. Conform or leave. This model is so much easier! It reminds me of the oft-spoken answer many parents have said to a child who asks "why?" - "Because I said so." I swore I would never say that until expediency felt more important than doing the slow work of explaining in a way that a 3, or 5, or 8 year old could understand. But I digress...

To go back to my sermon a few weeks ago, for change to be sustainable it must have a compelling center that draws us toward that common goal. This is why knowing WHO we are matters so much. Our proposed Covenant encapsulates our collective work of 2022 to articulate our core values, our core identity. It is your grassroots effort to define the center. It speaks of the culture we seek to create. It offers a mindset from which we make our choices as the Whole People of God. It will inform the actions we take, as individuals and as a community, to live within a Culture of Grace. And, it will help us reach out to one another when we fall into old habits, despair or a nostalgia for what used to be.

As we gather for Annual Meeting, approve our 2023 budget, and continue our trek through the proverbial mountains, let us exercise our Grace muscles, putting on the mind of God and the heart of Christ, with the Spirit as our trainer and guide. Let us remember that changing a culture, even when it is inherently good, is hard and requires our attentiveness to all the elements if we are going to all get to the other side.

As always, I am humbled to be sharing this journey with you.

Pastor Robin

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