Spiritual Reflections

Glendale Road is the shortest way from my home to St. James Lutheran Church. Since I spend most of my life in either place, I travel Glendale a lot.

When the road went under construction and I had to take a detour for almost the entire summer, it didn’t bring me joy. It was a downright inconvenience that I wasn’t sure was necessary. Why do things always need to change? What was wrong with the street as it was? It seemed OK to me; it got me where I needed to go. Was the expense worth it? How much was it going to cost, anyhow?

Each morning as I took my alternate route, I’d grumble a little. These and other less than helpful thoughts and questions would pop into my mind. I don’t like someone else telling me where I can and can’t go. On the mornings in which I forgot about the construction, it was worse. With my blinker on, ready to turn, a bright orange sign reminded me: “Road closed.” To say that on these days I was frustrated would be an understatement. Things ought to be the way they were. Period!

As someone who has led churches through times of transition, I know that we can have a difficult time embracing change. The same is true of communities. We don’t like it when we lose familiar landmarks, businesses and events. When our familiar patterns and paths are no longer options, we can perceive the inconvenience as a threat to our way of life. Guards go up. Fear stokes our resistance. Quickly we join the chorus of the disgruntled and grumbling. Finding others who share the same passion for complaining, we gather up proverbial pitchforks and torches and prepare for battle.

I also know that regular change is needed in congregations. Not only is it a natural part of life, but change also allows for possibilities that were not possible previously. When change is absent, things become stale and stuck in the muck of the status quo. We can become buried in the tomb of the past. Embracing change, hard as it might be, is a spiritual task. It yearns for resurrection and life. It is an opening of ourselves to what God is doing around us, making all things new.

Let me be clear; not all change is good, nor is it of God. We need to question and test the unknown and unfamiliar. As a Christian, I make this judgment based on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. What did Jesus do? How do Jesus’s values of compassion, kindness, forgiveness, love and grace play out? Does this change move in the direction that Jesus walked and bring life, or does it slide down the hill to distrust and destruction?

Since Jesus’s ministry was one of bringing people together and including the outsider, does the change operate similarly? If it does, then I pray for the strength and courage to push aside my hang-ups, uncertainty, and resistance. If the change does not, however, then my prayer shifts and asks for the resolve to stand firm in opposition.

Back to Glendale Road. The first time I drove down the remodeled road, I was stunned. Beautiful. Nice job. Worth the wait. The decorative street lamps, bricked median and trees add aesthetic charm to the neighborhood. It is also a safer street to traverse, with brightly marked turning lanes and new crosswalks.

As a resident of Savage, I’m grateful for all those whose efforts made this improvement a reality, everyone from the planners to the construction crews. Thank you. Now I see things literally in a new light as I travel down what was an otherwise unnoticed route.

I wonder, where else in our community are things illuminated differently? What light shines in the shifting of demographics as we become more culturally diverse? What glints do expanding perspectives provide?

It is my pleasure as a pastor to interact with teenagers regularly. They offer me much hope for the future as they challenge “the way things always have been.” I see God at work in their efforts to counter biases and prejudices. For example, they don’t seem to be as constricted by homophobia as older generations and are more willing to accept folks of differing orientations and sexual identities. They trek a closer path to the radical love of Christ in their inclusion. I am grateful for the light that they shine.

The spiritual life is one that faces constant road construction and changes. Faith and life never stand still as both interact with the presence of God and the experience of others. It is good for us to seek the places where light pushes back the darkness and reveals hidden truths.

Suitable for us to ask: How might we follow the guiding light of God that moves towards connection, life and peace? How might we pray for the strength and courage to put away the pitchforks and stop our grumbling? Instead, how can we take a deep breath and welcome the gift that change can bring to us?

The Rev. Dr. Walt Lichtenberger is the lead pastor at St. James Lutheran Church in Burnsville. He is one of several area pastors who write for “Spiritual Reflections,” a weekly column appearing in this newspaper. He also writes devotions on his website, lightfromthishill.com.

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