I appreciated Tom’s messaged March 4 about the ten commandments, and, reflecting on his message in scanning our society today, I realized the tenth commandment is extremely relevant.
Covetousness is a major driver for good and for ill in our world today. It plays out in different ways is different parts of society. In sports, it is a factor in a drive for excellence, and it is a factor in drug abuse and in stories like that of Tanya Harding. It plays out in the lives of many people in the form of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) as they buy the latest gadgets and swallow Tide pods and experiment with drugs. In business it is a factor of cooperative enterprises like BRZs (Business Revitalization Zones) and in corporate espionage and sabotage.
Businesses use advertising that promotes covetousness, developing a degree of slavery by most people to pursuing material goods and experiences. I see people buying homes that are far larger than what they need and so much more.
It is important that seeing what someone else has or does as desirable leads to a thoughtful consideration of whether or not that would actually make our lives better and deciding for or against working for that. I think of the millions of people who have stuff they bought that they do not actually need or use and end up storing large quantities of this stuff.
As a minister, I think it is helpful to apply this in our church setting. Close to 20 years ago, a few clergy and lay people looked at large churches like Centre Street and First Alliance, and wanted to create a United Church like those, and it was very exciting. But that kind of structure did not really fit the ethos of United Churches. As much as I was supportive of their dream, the use of hindsight poked me with the realization of how wanting something that was not ours can be very attractive and irresistible at times. The experience of Living Spirit tells us that manufacturing new configurations of congregations is seldom successful. If we want some new configuration of existing congregations, that new configuration must be grown organically by the members, not negotiated by the leaders. Most amalgamations of congregations result in a new congregation smaller than the total size of the previous congregations, and seldom change the trends that led to the amalgamations. What seems to be more successful is the choice by congregations to keep their identities but work out agreements to share staff and other resources. If they are unable to work out these kinds of agreements, their merger is unlikely to be a happy marriage. If all members do not feel part of that creative process, they will not contribute much to its success. Leaders may want some bold new structure that strokes their egos, but members need to be part of the process on a day by day, week by week process.
I have learned that it is important that experience and practice contribute to creating vision which drives mission which, then, drives goals and structures. If leaders want closer ties between congregations, they need to carefully grow those ties by respectful evolving relationships.