Monday, June 30, 2008

Moving at Different Speeds

I mentioned in an earlier post (How Much Would Jesus Water? ) that I tend to think about everything theologically. I also think about a lot of things in terms of systems. I was in Walmart today picking up a few items and since I was not in a particular hurry, I was noticing the problems and frustrations of flow-through in Walmart. The problem is a variety of different tempos. If you think about it, different people move at different speeds at different times when they are in Walmart. For instance, as a rule, I move pretty fast most of the time. It is just how I am wired. So if I am running in to Walmart for some milk I walk at a sprint-like speed through to the back of the store, grab the milk and dash to the fastest looking checkout. (Which isn't very fast if I am in a hurry. But that is a different point.) However, today, I actually was running a little early for an off-site meeting and had some time to kill. So, I was looking around, taking my time. I glanced at some leaf-blowers, contemplated the different environmental impacts of some different furniture polish, looked at the vegetable seeds contemplating if I could get lettuce to grow this late in the summer and generally strolled around the store taking in all the consumerisitic goodness. I noticed on a couple of occasions that there were people behind me growing impatient at my speed and lack of direction. This can be a little aggravating because sensing their impatience, I feel compelled to move along and cut short my browsing. What is more interesting is that I caught myself at one point aggravated at a person in front of me for going too slow. Some people, no matter what their mood and purpose for being in the store just move slow. My sauntering, killing time pace may be faster than their, let me hurry up and get some milk pace. When Walmart gets a little crowded, this begins to cause chaos. All the rhythm and flow is killed by people trying to deal with and adjust for the paces of others. The person who switches sides of the aisle to pass the slow person in front of them is cut off by the person who just veered off to look at something and was nearly struck by the person behind them aggravated at their pace. Most of us are so focused on our own pace that we don't pay much attention to the person behind us who is in a hurry or the person in front of us who is going as fast as they can.

These are complex systems and they are just a snapshot of what happens when we drive. Often we are struck in traffic because someone was impatiently tailgating another and had to stop short. By the time they got back up to speed they had caused a ripple effect that actually caused you to stop.

You might not believe it at this point, but I am going to tie this into life in the church. Churches are incredibly complex systems and they have flow problems as well. I am not talking about the traffic flow problems in the halls and parking lots. (Which, by the way, are remarkably similar to Walmart.) I am talking about how we become disciples. Have you ever been aggravated by the way something works at church? If you have ever been heavily involved in small groups, Sunday school, Bible study or any other adult education and/or spiritual formation program you may have found yourself aggravated by some aspect of it. Next time this happens, ask yourself, "is this a flow problem?" In other words, we are all on a journey of discipleship. We are all on our way toward perfection. However, we are all in a different place and we are all running at a different speed. It might be helpful to be mindful of our own pace, a pace which might be perfect for us at the moment, and the pace of those around us. What can we do to help the system flow so that traffic jams happen less and all of God's children have a smooth ride on their journey of discipleship.

Thanks for shopping.

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