Lawson Whitesides, a Seabury trustee and my former student in church history, is sitting beside me at the Board of Trustees meeting, and his Starbuckss take-out coffee cup bears a quotation from Dave Grusin: “In my career I’ve found that ‘thinking outside the box’ works better if I know what’s ‘inside the box.’ In music (as in life) we need to understand our pertinent history…and moving on is so much easier once we know where we’ve been.” (I didn’t transcribe it myself, but found it on Sarah Friedlander’s blog —thanks, Sarah).
I note this because future-oriented church thinkers tend to be ready to dismiss the out-dated, antiquated thinking of those archaic servants of God who bequeathed to us the foolish ideas that have defined Christian theology over the millennia. “Christianity,”in Bishop Spong’s flatulently pompous prose, “must change or die” (as though Christianity has not always been changing, as though one could somehow prevent change in the church). If we care to change wisely, to respond soundly to changes in the world around us, I’m with Dave Grusin. In this, I sympathize with Katie Geneva Cannon, whom I once heard to explain that her theology graduate students complain about having to read so much of the writings of dead white guys; Katie Cannon answered something like, “If we want to do better than they, we have to understand the theology that got us here.” Dumping the past as a dead weight is the easy, quintessentially modern response to the past; a sounder, richer, more productive approach to our future would involve engaging our forebears, allowing them to teach us, and then endeavoring to figure out what will withstand the stresses of oncoming years, and what has lost its structural integrity. Let’s don’t repeat the harrowing mistake of bulldozing our heritage to slap together steel-and-glass monuments to an ephemeral aesthetic. We don’t need to; that hurts us more than it helps us; and if we put in the effort to think along with others (with whom we may not always agree), we prepare ourselves much better to offer our ideas, plans, and hopes to another generation (which may not, after all, agree with us).