The community has gathered today. We are a community! I look forward to every meeting. We all do. The presbytery has gathered today, but what for?
We identify social agencies and institutions that serve the public good as “not for profits.” The “not for profit” label seems to suggest that all we need to know about “not for profits” is just knowing what it isn’t.
Can you imagine introducing yourself by a name you are not? “Hello, my name is not Alice.” “Friends, I would like you to meet my friend, not Roger.” Or referring to your church as, “Welcome to not First Church,” or even, “Thank you for gathering at, “not Peace Lutheran Church.” There is insufficient information conveyed by describing what something is not. Identifying what you do —by what you don’t do— is an essentially purposeless effort. Recently there has been some national conversation referring to “not for profits” as the “public benefit” sector. Maybe its a good idea.
Thankfully, Jesus asserted ideas and purpose with much more clarity.
In the Luke 19 story (below), a relationship of expectation is established between a ruler and servants. This led to a conversation of possibilities. What would these servants do with the investments while the owner was gone? Some of the citizens focused more on trying to change the relationship than on investing the money.
Citizens have the capacity to change the community story, to reclaim the power to name what is worth talking about, to bring a new context into being. Instead of problems (the past), citizens can invest in possibilities (the future).
Those of us who help create the current dominant context for the community conversation drive the conditions that nurture either a retributive or a restorative community context. If we do not choose to change this context and the strategies that follow from it, we will produce few new outcomes for our institutions, neighborhoods, and towns; nor for our churches or presbytery.
Not for profits are for the public good, right?
Take one example I recently read in USAToday: A Christian-founder who created a not for profit to distribute anti-Muslim information, collects hundreds of thousands of dollars. His same “not for profit” group, formed a separate “for profit” that pays the founders (him) to produce the anti-Muslim information. Who is that founder “For” ? It appears he is “not for profit” but in actuality his organization is for inciting misinformation about Muslims.
The marketing of fear is not just “for profit.” It also holds a political agenda. Fear justifies a retributive agenda, fundamentalist in the extreme have been on the rise for some time.
The retributive agenda’s focus is a civil, just society that gives priority to restraints, consequences, and control, and underlines the importance of rules.
The communities our churches are in, and the faith-community in our congregations, each require a context shift. Fear, fault finding, and retribution fragments our lives and diminishes our social capital, (what we have that we choose to intentionally and authentically offer as a gift to others in a spirit of generosity and joy).
Citizens of civil societies, and citizens of presbyteries, can give voice to an inclusive community and restore a healthy listening context for unconditional mutual positive regard, collaboration, dissent, possibilities, and hope.
What is the presbytery for? As a restorative community we can create a hopeful future together, without retribution. Take a look at the chart derived from Peter Block’s, Community: The Structure of Belonging (2009).
What can we create together as a presbytery?
Newark Presbytery is, and can be, for many things. We are for every congregation living into their unique mission. We are “for” 800,000 neighbor-citizens that live within our bounds. We are “for” the city of Newark and all people in its adjacent urban centers, and “for” the ring communities, suburbs, and towns. We are “for” the poor, disenfranchised, abused, and suffering, and for peace, justice, and wellness. We try to become a healthier context where each citizen (member) chooses to be accountable rather than entitled.
Accountability means that each of us can be “possibilities” of willingness to care for the whole. (Entitlement is a conversation about what others can or need to do to create the future for us.) We can create the kind of conversations about the new story we want to take our identity from, and build our future upon.
You have been gifts to me. I am grateful for each of you; every minister, congregation, session, committee, and team. I am honored to listen and help co-create and initiate possibilities of an alternate future with you. We are gifts to each other. I know you try to do the same as you serve your congregations.
“What, then, shall we say in response to this? Since God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8.31). This Good News of Jesus Christ will drive and sustain our transformation as we gather.
What possibilities do you offer your team or community today?