"You never change things by fighting existing reality. To change something, build a new reality that makes the existing reality obsolete."--R. Buckminster Fuller
Reality is a funny thing. If the two of us look at the same picture, read the same article, or observe the same interactions between two or more people, each of us might well come away with very different conclusions. This is because everyone brings his or her own perspective to the situation. The perspective we carry with us has been developed over many years through various life experiences. Sometimes our perspective on reality is what keeps us sane. At the same time, having a certain perspective on reality does not make one’s viewpoint “right.”
For example, I had a conversation with someone after the Presidential election and commented, “I think many people voted based on their fears.” My friend responded, “No, this was all about power and keeping certain segments of society subjugated.” We were looking at the same experience and, although we have a lot in common, our backgrounds informed our perspectives. What if there had been five or six people in the conversation?
The Fuller quote reminds us that each of us has constructed her or his own reality. No matter how many rational arguments someone comes up with to convince you to change your point of view, you will probably be confident that what you see is reality. Nothing will change your mind.
If someone is convinced that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is the only appropriate time for worship, you can argue that this expectation has more to do with the agriculture of the 19th century and when we need to milk the cows than with divine edict, but it is unlikely that you will change that person’s opinion.
Someone may argue that the only way for a person to get a theological education is to pack up and move to another city for three or four years and be a full-time student because this was their experience and it is normative to them. You can make the case that this no longer works for many who have been called to ministry, but your arguments will probably fall on deaf ears.
So what are you to do? As Fuller says, it is time to create a new reality. I was part of a church that was discussing the need to provide worship in a different style and a time other than 11 am on Sunday morning. Some argued that the church should just make the change and accept the consequences. The pastor had enough wisdom to suggest, “Let’s add rather than taking away.” He suggested offering an alternative service and letting those who preferred the traditional approach to keep their time and style, while offering a choice for others. Consequently, both approaches continued to have their adherents while, at times, it became clear that each was moving toward some of the characteristics of the other.
In theological education, there will continue to be a place for traditional approaches that require moving out of state and being a full-time student. My friend Mary, however, is thankful that she could stay where her family was already established, continue to work at her job and serve in her church while completing a Master of Divinity degree that allowed her to fulfill her goal of becoming a hospital chaplain.
Of course, not all alternatives will succeed and even those that do may have to be fine-tuned along the way, but we must remember that there was a time when everything we value as traditional was brand new and untested. Eventually, new realities emerge and are embraced because they work.