Time to clear institutional clutter

14_Synod-2014-travelling-leunig-coverAnother year has begun, and we each begin our trek again in whatever we do within the life of the Church. While we are forever beginners, we often carry into a new year the baggage of past expectations, failures and unfulfilled desires.

Towards the end of last year, at the meeting of Synod, we used a Leunig cartoon (pictured) to depict our journey.

Some may say that I’m obsessed with walking. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote: “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” But I could also be accused of an obsession with being still.

In his trilogy The Lord of the Rings, referring to Aragorn or ‘Strider’, JRR Tolkien wrote: “Not all who wander are lost.”

I’ve just enjoyed a few weeks of staying-put. And now, along with everyone else, I’m on the move again.

I daresay that work on the Synod’s Major Strategic Review has already resumed, so during 2015, I think it will be reasonable to expect that we might come to some forks in the road. And when that happens, it’s likely that the terrain will be anything but flat.

The Church is of course continually obliged to make choices as each new situation presents itself. It could easily be argued that not all the choices made in the past have been the ‘right’ choices. But choices have been made. And so it is that there are those who inevitably feel the Church has, from time to time, strayed from the path.

What of the contents of our red and white polka-dotted swag? If we are truly ‘pilgrim people always on the way’, surely ours should be an ultra-light swag, where we empty it of everything and only carry compassion from one day to the next.

But compassion is not carried on the end of a stick. It’s inside our very being.

Perhaps this prompts us to ask: “What is in the swag that could possibly be relinquished and left by the side of the road for others to pick up and carry?”

People who are good at clearing clutter will tell us that we don’t really need anything we haven’t touched in a year.

But letting go of institutional fixed ideas about the way we should go about our business is another thing altogether. It’s not easy. Resistance can be very strong.

The collective mind likes the security that comes with long-held ideas, even if those ideas have been inherited.

The spiritual life, however, requires us to constantly examine and even revise our ideas. The call to ‘turn around’ manifests itself only at a particular moment, when various factors have made us vulnerable and ready for change. What may seem like a relatively minor piece of baggage can serve as a catalyst for major change.

Surely this is a time to look with honest and ruthless clarity about what it is that we need to let go of in the life of the synod.

If we do not recognise a fork in the road and make the turn when we should, we will inevitably continue on as has been done in the past and then it’s a matter of having to backtrack in an effort to find the missed intersection. The detour can cost many years.

If we look again at the Leunig image, we will see that there is no trace of a path or a road or even a fork in the road. But out in front is the duck … Christ, leading the way, quacking and echoing through our individual and collective consciences.

Dan Wootton

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