On Friday evening, Javan Bernakevitch, the keynote speaker, spoke on Right Livelihood. This blog links Right Livelihood and the church; the next blog explores many of his key points in his presentation.
The heart of right livelihood is living free from cognitive dissonance, living in a way consistent with one’s values and beliefs. Often church actions and decisions lack this consistency. A big one for me is avoiding risks out of fear of potential loss, choosing not to trust God in spite of claims in our hymns and words about trusting God. When the UCC decided to not bar gay people from ordination, the fear of loss of members and loss of status in the community appeared with much wringing of hands. Accepting the attitudes of others was more important than doing what we believed was right with God to many people, but not to General Council in 1988. This same fear arises many times when changes are considered by church leaders. This fear has locked many churches into patterns where they become irrelevant to God’s work in the world, and irrelevant to potential members.
This can also apply to decisions to choose changes because they might bring in more members or money. When the fear of irrelevance drives changes in music, style of service, or other changes, the changes seldom work for long. Changes must flow out of a communal sense that this is where God is leading us. The old hymns may no longer speak what we believe. Extending a welcoming and caring hand on Christ’s behalf becomes more important than preserving a tradition of being reserved. Changes in what we believe, feel and know must be the driver for those changes.
The tasks we offer to volunteers succeed when they fit those volunteers. For far too long, too many churches have relied on warm bodies to fill positions instead of the right bodies. It is better to leave a position unfilled than guilt someone into taking on a task that does not fit with how they feel called to serve the church. If no one in the church wants the position, that is a message to change the position to fit the people who are in the church.
Living in right livelihood leads to lives that are more rewarding and successful, including churches. It is key to being in right relationship with ourselves, others and God.