Church Life

Progressive Lenses

For the past few years I've been wearing
progressive lenses. On the top, they help me see what is far away, and at the
bottom they help me with reading, but in the middle they don't actually contain
a prescription, since I see pretty well four or five feet away from me (or I did
when I got these glasses!). This means that there are situations in which I take
my glasses off, because they feel unnecessary. And that means I sometimes put
them down in funny places and am not quite sure where I left them. And because
they are partly "rimless," it's not always easy to find them.
All this is to say, last night I left them sitting
on the arm of the couch, and then I put my hand down on them, and now one of the
lenses is loose. And I have learned, the hard way, that it's not as easy to pop
a lens back into the "non-rim" as it would be with a pair of regular
So today, as I prepared to drive to central Vacationland for the monthly
meeting of Interim Ministers, I pulled out my spare pair of glasses, the
pre-progressive lenses that I used to wear only to drive or go to the movies,
the pair with the dark purple frames that proclaimed a hoped-for moment of "geek
chic" in my life. I' looked at the road, and the world, with the lenses of
several years ago, of a time past.
Churches often view the world from a lens of the
past. We look back to whatever we think of as our golden era, the pastor we
loved, or the activities we miss, or the friends who moved away or died. In the church I'm serving now, in a series of small group meetings, we are spending part of our time looking back, because
understanding the history of this church is part of our work. But I hope we will
remember, as we live through this Interim time together, that old lenses are not
enough. We need to look back *and* ahead. We need to see clearly up close and far
away, to look at the inner life of the church and at the call God has for this
church in the community and the world.

It may sound strange, but it seems like churches I would consider to be less progressive have done a better job of relating to the present and thinking about the future than some of our mainline churches do. In part, they may feel a greater impetus because their understanding of salvation is different. When you feel called to bring individuals to Jesus in a specific way, the stakes may feel higher than they do in churches where we understand ourselves to be part of a collective movement toward God and God's way for the world.

But–and it pains me to say this, given my lifelong affiliation with members of various historical societies–our biggest problem is ranking history as more important than mystery.

We forget the reason we are looking ahead. We forget that faith is a confidence in things unseen, not simply a preservation of things past.

I'll wear my old glasses today, for a time, but I
will be eager to see more clearly at all distances again, soon.

7 thoughts on “Progressive Lenses”

  1. The trouble starts when those backwards-looking lenses get all rose-colored.

  2. This was a very timely post for me, both in optometrical and theological/hermeneutical ways.

  3. oh, Songbird, I wear progressive lenses too.
    and “the problem is when we think that history is more important than mystery” … what a PHRASE!!! wow
    right up there with, “The worst thing a church can have is glorious past.”

  4. “our biggest problem is ranking history as more important than mystery.”
    I’m gonna be quotING you

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