Transformation.

As a pastor, I have to spend time learning ancient Greek.  Which, can be fun.  Greek and Hebrew words…as with lots of ancient languages, have multiple meanings.

The Greek word for transformation is “metanoia”, it’s a great word which means a shift in thinking, a paradigm shift, a change of an inward reality.    You find it throughout scripture in the Christian Bible.  It seems as if the writers are trying to point us towards an evolutionary shift in our being.  A movement towards growth, empathy, maturity.  It’s also a word that is translated in many different languages and is something that is shared in common with most main religions and philosophies.

We live in a world that often says it wants transformation, but it settles for “transaction”.  In other words, I’ll do this if you do that.  I have to give something in order to get something.  It reduces us to thinking that we can somehow achieve something if we can just accumulate more or get to the proverbial “top”.  We become consumers or commodities and run the risk of losing our humanity.

Yet, there is a movement towards a different way of being.  We still have to live in a transactional world, and not all transactions are bad, but what if we could move towards a transformational way of thinking?

In order for a new way of thinking, and even being, we have to be open to taking some risks, asking hard questions of ourselves and others, and then working together towards deeper relationships and authentic community that can lead us towards healing and growth.

A few years ago, I attended a conference exploring how change happens within our movements and institutions.

The analogy that one of the facilitators used was of the need for “adaptive change leadership”.  Often we feel like when we have challenges put before us in the church, or in any organization or institution, that we can fix our issues that need fixing by simply making technical changes.  For instance, if we break our leg, we can put it in a cast, take care of it, stay off of it, and rehab it.  If we do steps A through B, then our foot will probably come back stronger than before.   That’s also the mentality in organizations when faced with a changing culture or challenging issues, as well as our own personal lives.  If we just “work harder” or “smarter” (terms I’ve personally used!), we can “right the ship”.

However, that’s not what our organizations, or we, need today.  Working harder and smarter does not always produce movement or change.  We do not simply have a broken foot, we have to ask if we have lost our foot completely.  We need to adapt and have “adaptive change leadership” and learn what it means to “re-function” in a new way of being.

When I think of adaptive leadership that is transformational, I think of Robert and Erin Lockridge in Norwood.  They were featured on PBS a while back for their work in a neighborhood in Norwood.  They saw the need for healthy food and access to it.  So, they started a restaurant that’s only open on Fridays, they make gourmet pizzas and pies from ingredients that they grow within the neighborhood.  They show amazing hospitality and foster a genuine community atmosphere.  All are welcome.  They also don’t have a set price on any of their amazing food.  It’s pay what you can or think it’s worth.

They are sustaining themselves while also working towards transformational relationships and have adapted within their community in a new way.  The transaction for good food, hospitality, and community?  It’s what you can bring to the table.  As you do that, you may find yourself in an atmosphere that can leader to deeper awareness and possible transformation within you and others.

I like being around them.  I also like being around organizations like the Parish Collective, Oasis, Economics of Compassion, and so many others that are doing and being the work of building relationships that are transformational, and highlighting others that are doing the same and connecting them.  Places where trust is given and tested.  People that believe in one another and work towards the betterment of communities.

When we look around us, we know that the neighborhoods, the city, country, and world are in the midst of some major shifts and changes.  Oftentimes those changes can be divisive and destructive.  But, we can work towards transformation.  It is our task to have our eyes and ears opened to a deeper reality at work within us and within others, and allow the shift to happen within us as we do the work that leads to freedom.

If we are willing to take risks, to ask questions, to get involved in things and with people and organizations that are good, we can begin the task of working together towards a better way of being and experiencing the abundance that life can offer, even in the midst of cultural, personal, and community upheaval.

Rich Jones is the pastor of Fleming Road UCC in the Finneytown neighborhood in Cincinnati.  He is on the board for Economics of Compassion and Oasis Cincinnati and is an organizing team member and community connector for The Parish Collective.  He also coaches cross country at Finneytown Schools and is an obsessive runner.  His spouse, Debbie, is a PTA and they have two teenagers, McKenzie and Brennan.  

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