I was intrigued as I walked to lunch down our Main Street. I must have walked past this tree seventy to eighty times during this past year. This time, for some reason, I glanced up, instead of forward. There it was.
This tree has to be a hundred years old. It's massive. It's trunk is about 6 feet in diameter. It's solid. Think about the years its seen. When it was young, there was no pavement on main street and no concrete sidewalk running beside it. Back then, no one walked through its shadow talking on a cell phone. It's been growing through vinyl records, cassette tapes, compact discs, mp3's, and, now, streaming media. It preexisted old ,black and white, standard-definition television. It stood there through party lines, rotary phones, push-button phones, cell phones, and Skype. Gunfights took place right in front of it as dust from the old west settled on wooden planked boardwalks. Yes, its old. Its age is as massive as its size.
Yet, none of that impressed me. What arrested my attention was the eighteen inch satellite dish attached to the nub of a sizable limb that was lopped off some time in the past. It's a perfect mounting spot. Dishes need something stable on which to perch. Satellites fly 22,000 miles away. Once pointed, slight movements of the dish sever your signal connection and crater your data.
I pondered what I saw. Technology is great, but it's also fragile and finicky. A pipe set in the ground in concrete can still shift and settle. But, that old tree isn't moving. Think about how deep its roots penetrate. It won't budge. The nearby traffic likely doesn't cause any vibration, either. Technology needs something very old and stable to stand on. It needs a solid mount. Perhaps the approach of leaving the old behind to replace it with the new is short-sighted. Technology is more stable when attached to our immovable past. New approaches and new gadgets can function more consistently if they have a foundation that shares its ancient strength with innovative newbies.
I'll walk past that tree again and again, I'm sure. But, after pondering it, I'll have trouble not looking up. Likely, I'll think twice when I use my smartphone or tablet. Think about it, wasn't Johannes Gutenberg's press a sort of mass distribution technology for prepared messages, kind of like a really slow blog. Of course, life moved more slowly then, too.
Naturally, my pondering began with technology, because deep inside I'm a techie and Star Trek junkie. But, this idea goes deeper. Old ministry programs and philosophies have deep roots, too. In ministry, throwing out the old is a rough way to introduce the new. Where there is a way to attach new things to the foundation of the old, our improvements advance more smoothly. Launching new ideas, programs, and approaches, in such a manner, respects and appreciates the investment people have made for a church to exist, continue, and reach its current state. New concepts and ideas attached to them don't shift and sway dangerously and destructively. That's powerful.
I imagine that if a car ran into that tree, the dish wouldn't move much. But, the car would come away totaled. That can happen in ministry when we don't respect how entrenched and powerful the past can be. The art of change is using the strength of the past to help build the future. Change agents who master that task deserve the respect of a sage.
Anyway... That's how old meets new on Main Street.
Crossing the Lines
The ideas behind this blog emerged from my study and preaching of a message I titled "A Single Step." It was an unexpected message out of Philippians 2:12-18. I'm the one who was surprised. I had a whole different idea of where the sermon would go. Then, I got into the text and followed it. That led, eventually, to the response by individuals after the message. God worked in me and in our congregation. He's still at work.
If you'd like an easy way to check up on the blog, paste this RSS feed link into the bookmarks bar of your web browser. Just click below where it says "RSS Feed", and follow the instructions.