Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Wineskin Dilemma

It's happened again.  A colleague with whom I am doing an online study came up with a quote that rocked my world.  It might yours as well.  I forewarn you, however, the longer you think about it, the more it captivates you.  And, though it was written for the church by a church leader, it has applications in every industry today.  Finally, don't think this is going to be rocket states a simple principle that, taken seriously, causes us to plumb the depths of our wisdom.  When I began this blog, I wanted to share some ideas that, like coffee, get me buzzed, activated, maybe, even jittery.  This is one.

It's a quote discovered by my classmate Steven Summers, a United Methodist Pastor in Virginia.  He shares this quote from a collection of essays entitled Ancient Faith, Future Mission (Canterbury Press, 2009).  In an essay by Brian McLaren, there is this interpretation of the stewardship of the "wine" with which we've been entrusted through our use of "wineskins."  Here goes...

“If we believe that the fresh wine of the gospel is ever fresh, then we will realize that every wineskin is destined to serve for a while and then be discarded for the sake of the wine. When the old container grows rigid and inflexible, what are the church leaders to do? They have three options I believe.
1. Wait until it’s too late. Wait until the wineskin ruptures and the wine is lost.
2. Throw out the old wineskin when it’s too early. If we discard the old wineskin before we have a new one in place, ready to receive the wine of the gospel, the wine will be likewise lost.
3. Develop the new wineskin while the old wineskin is still working, so that the wine may be transferred before the old wineskins burst.”
Clearly, the third option is the wisest if we choose to preserve the "wine" of our endeavor - whether it be the church's Good News of Jesus Christ or the fruits of any other human endeavor.  But, it seems so...I don't know...troublesome?

For instance, what if we were to take this approach to energy in our society.  It's clear the petroleum wineskin is declining in its ability to deliver the wine of energy to us.  And, one day, it will be gone entirely.  If we really sought the wisdom of aggressively developing new wineskins before the old one breaks, why are we so largely complacent about alternative forms of energy?  Granted some of this is happening, but the majority of effort seems to be behind wringing the last drop of oil out of that old wineskin before we seriously seek another.

Or, how about our schools.  Maybe the reason the effectiveness of our educational system seems to be dropping isn't a combination poor teachers, poor parenting and culture wars.  Maybe the wineskin that was created during and in the pattern of the industrial revolution is so dated and inflexible as to make it increasingly inefficient to deliver the wine of knowledge in a postmodern, digital, and multi-cultural age.

But, I'm out of my bailiwick.  The Christian church - and let me speak only for my folks, the United Methodist Church - has no room for judging other facets of our society.  In the name of stewardship - which often means following the path of least resistance, which usually means least cost - we have created a culture where "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" is treated as an a priori statement of truth.  To ensure we don't get ourselves in the complex process of developing the next idea before the current one dies a natural death, we have also conveniently created "scapegoats" (a good Biblical tradition) for why current wineskins only appear to be failing.  Sunday School attendance isn't falling, poor parenting and a secularist culture is increasing.

There are so many other examples, but I'd rather not list all of them...too depressing.  But, here's what we - again, may I speak only for United Methodists - tend to do.  We ride that horse (yes, I'm changing metaphors; horse = wineskin) until it drops.  Then, we kick it.  Then, we kick it even harder.  Then, we blame the staff at the stable who obviously are not performing their duties because that horse worked just fine 30 years ago!  And then (we're not done!), we stuff the poor thing, making it look alive and we worship it instead of that which it used to transport.  Which is why, brothers and sisters in the United Methodist Church, in 1984  good UM's sent a bishop death threats when it was merely rumored the committee he chaired was not going to include "Onward, Christian Soldiers" in the new hymnal.

Things die...they age...they become brittle, rigid, inflexible...they become less effective...they leak...(my body is a living testimony to the preceding statement).  Things that worked great yesterday and, maybe, today will one day burst or just drop dead.  But that which they carry/transport is priceless.  So, what are we doing right now, even while the current wineskin/horse is still working to prepare for that day?

There are those who, even now, write the sacred music that will carry the wine of worship music when the  500-year-old hymnody wineskin finally fails...we grumble...we condescendingly dismiss as 'less than'...we grumble some more.  There are those who, even now, are discerning and creating new notions of church and worship that will carry the wine of the Good News when the current notions finally fail...we grumble...we condescendingly dismiss as 'less than'...we grumble some more.  There are those who, even now, are discerning new systems for making disciples of Jesus know the rest of the sentence.

I wonder what would happen if a conversation began?  And the conversation probably begins with the difficult statement that the wineskin is not as important as the wine; the horse is not as important as that which it carries/pulls.  If you're part of such a conversation, let me know...don't stop there, let the world. know.

1 comment:

  1. You leak? Well, maybe not exactly what you meant, but I know the feeling (and the feeling is stiffness and pain!). This is VERY thought-provoking indeed, and yes, very exciting! Thank you, Pastor Jon for still being "here" even when you're way waaaaayyyyy over "there"!