Shift Happens: The Value of Unlearning and Relearning

You know this, but I’ll say it anyway. Culture is always emerging.

You get what that means, right? That the world and ways around you are always shifting — always innovating. The introduction of new things and new methods continues to happen every moment of every day, whether or not we are willing to embrace it. The larger question lies in how we choose to respond. Do we welcome the uncomfortableness of the new or do we double down with a comfortable existence in the world?

Regardless, shift happens.

Am I allowing this shift to happen in me? Always for the good? Always letting go of the old me in order to make room for the new, less comfortable me? I have to be honest with you for a moment: Every morning, I wake and have to check myself because it feels like the ground beneath my feet continues to shift. I feel compelled to regularly address the question: Who am I?

Rev. Dr. William D. Gibson

Around our country, overt hate and xenophobia have stepped out from behind a thin veil in a sprint to become the new norm. It’s bolstered by unapologetic fearmongering and outright lies. And, it’s insane. I refuse to allow it to gain a foothold among the space Christ calls me to steward in the world — a place of peace, hope, and justice. I simply refuse. Being a United Methodist demands that I “do no harm,” “do good,” and “stay in love with God.”

How do I allow myself to be undone and recreated by the grace of God? There’s enormous value in the process of unlearning my cultural identity as an American Christian and relearning what it means to be a follower of a rogue revolutionary, un-American, Middle Eastern-born person of color, represented in Jesus the Christ. Secondly, how does my personal undoing become a part of a corporate rebirth — shifting from individual to community?

I am always drawn to Matthew’s telling of the Sermon on the Mount, which you can read in chapters five through the beginning of seven in the Gospel of Matthew. There, you have this 30-something newcomer, sitting on a hillside near the Sea of Galilee, with disciples, followers, and the curious gathered around. Among people who have been shaped for generations under the Law of Moses, Jesus calls into question everything that had defined their perspective of the world. He basically said in varying ways, “You have heard the law that says _______________. But now I say _______________.” Jesus was rewriting the Torah on the fly! Surely people were reflecting (maybe even out loud), “Who does this guy think he is?” Can you imagine the internal struggle going on within those listening to Jesus? He called into question their cultural formation and challenged them to see the world — including the “other” — through a new lens. The lens of Christ.

This unlearning and relearning process can be painful, but it is a necessary part of spiritual growth and re-formation. It inescapably remains at the core of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. And if the statement “culture is always emerging” is true (and it is), then how are you I emerging as part of the Body of Christ within the neighborhood, community, region, nation, and world? How are our individual actions creating space for a fresh, communal voice to rise up above the bombastic noise we (and others) are hearing?

As we move toward a CrossOver Year in the Greater Northwest Area, beginning this Advent season, these questions could never be more important than they are now.

Shift happens. While making room for others, how will you respond in the midst of it and cross over to life? A new season is dawning. Let’s make the road by walking into the new.


Rev. Dr. William D. Gibson serves as Director of Innovation for a New Church for the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area including the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Annual Conferences.

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