The Common Good

Becoming Unglued (In a Good Way)

SOUTH PASADENA, Calif. --- Like many air travelers, I have learned to expect the worst and be surprised by anything positive.

Glue image via Feng Yu / Shutterstock
Glue image via Feng Yu / Shutterstock

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I can't imagine that gloom is the customer experience that airlines are going for. Yet they can't control their hunger for adding fees, overbooking flights, disrupting seat assignments or treating passengers like petulant sheep.

Technology to the rescue! Facing a six-hour encampment in Row 22 of a United 757, I stifled a cry of outrage and ponied up $17.95 for Internet access.

It was a great decision. Six hours in a window seat became six productive hours of managing subscriptions, answering emails, editing a presentation, and reading The New York Times. As a result, I arrived refreshed and caught up with work.

I had a similar experience recently on an Internet-equipped Acela train to Boston. Slow progress on a supposedly rapid rail line was less irritating when online access helped make lost time into found time.

We live in an era of dysfunctional systems, or as blogger Seth Godin termed the problem, "the immovable object of the stuck organization." (His example, of course, was the airline industry.)

Think of how many systems have simply stopped working: the U.S. Congress, paralyzed by crash-the-government conservatives; the recording industry, trapped in an old business model; the U.S. auto industry, still pushing power in an era of clogged freeways; and, my candidate for most discouraging, parenting by insecure grown-ups who push their kids to succeed but fail to spend the time and set the limits that it takes to nurture a complete human being.

Technology can't solve all dysfunctions. In fact, technology can sometimes be the problem, like the prevalence of online pornography that is dooming a generation of American boys to underachievement and relationship deficits.

What matters is human ingenuity. Allow people a window of freedom, and they will fly through it.

They will buy millions of tablet computers as escape from cramped airplane seating and being tethered to desktops. They will create homegrown social networks when Facebook goes weird with their privacy. They will abandon overpriced private colleges, avoid uninspiring suburban housing, and seek investments other than the rigged game of common stocks.

If venture capitalists exact too high a price for startup funding, entrepreneurs will turn to crowd-sourcing. While civic leaders chase yesteryear solutions like industrial parks, real job creators set up shop any old place and work around stuck politicians.

In my work with mainline Protestant churches -- perhaps the most "stuck" of any enterprise -- I see two tracks diverging.

One is the steady-on-course track of elderly leaders who cannot imagine new ways of doing faith community. The other is innovating seekers -- of all ages -- who can imagine new ways and are actively seeking them. They're given up on trying to coax elderly pillars into embracing progress. They are pursuing other avenues to faith.

I figure those of us who want progressive Christianity to escape its doldrums and find new ways forward have about three years to intervene. At that point, it will be game over for all but the nimble. A 1950s way of doing church will have been preserved, and those who did the preserving will be in nursing homes or dead.

The answer to escaping stuckness, you see, isn't technology or youth or brilliant presentations. It's the will to embrace change and the courage to face down those who profit from dysfunction.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of "Just Wondering, Jesus" and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich. Via RNS

Glue image via
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