Riding the Change by Curt Williams

The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. (Deuteronomy 33: 27)

Lately I have been marveling at the dramatic change occurring in our community and in our church. From the great recession to $15 an hour, from children in Sunday school and the children’s moment to confirmed members or our church, from Findlay St. to Beacon Hill we have encountered, experienced and processed a lot of change as a congregation. Our “managing change competence” is both remarkable and about to be tested again.

Recently I read a book called The Second Machine Age that goes into greater depth about the eco- nomic changes we’re facing in the next 10 years. The basic premise is that our computing power is growing exponentially and will soon lead to futuristic breakthroughs and robotics we’ve just dreamed about. The authors write about Moore’s Law, named for the founder of Intel, which states that computing power will doubles every two years. To better understand the profound nature of this change I found a story Ray Kurweil, one of our era’s greatest inventors who now works at Google tells. “I am fond of telling the tale of the inventor of chess and his patron, the emperor of China. In response to the emperor’s offer of a reward for his new beloved game, the inventor asked for a single grain of rice on the first square, two on the second square, four on the third, and so on. The Emperor quickly granted this seemingly benign and humble request. One version of the story has the emperor going bankrupt as the 63 doublings ultimately totaled 18 million trillion grains of rice. At ten grains of rice per square inch, this requires rice fields covering twice the surface area of the Earth, oceans included. Another version of the story has the inventor losing his head.

It should be pointed out that as the emperor and the inventor went through the first half of the chess board, things were fairly uneventful. The inventor was given spoonfuls of rice, then bowls of rice, then barrels. By the end of the first half of the chess board, the inventor had accumulated one large field’s worth (4 billion grains), and the emperor did start to take notice. It was as they progressed through the second half of the chessboard that the situation quickly deteriorated. Incidentally, with regard to the doublings of computation, that’s about where we stand now—there have been slightly more than 32 doublings of performance since the first programmable computers were invented during World War II.

When asked several years ago what was one thing a computer could never do? A common answer was “drive in urban traffic.” Now the driverless Google car has driven over 300,000 miles in urban traffic without an accident. Imagine society in ten years, with robotic facial imaging security, driverless pilots and pharmacists, grocery carts replacing clerks and computing our purchases as we put them in the cart. We’re in the back half of the information age transformation and we have the most accelerated change or this era ahead of us. I pray that we maintain our humanity as this change unfolds.

We’re facing similar “epic” changes in our church life. We’re in process on our building project, finishing up some financing details and hopefully breaking ground in July. If things go as planned we’ll have a building by fall of 2015. What a series of changes and different expectations we’ve managed through this process. And what an amazing outcome and gift from our decision we made almost ten years ago to let go of our property on Findlay St. And this winter our beloved Pastor Joan is retiring. I am part of a small committee beginning the process of working with the region to find an interim pastor and we need to prepare ourselves for the “letting go” of Joan’s leadership and beloved “Arms” holding us together through this change.

I can get anxious about all the rapid change we face and I worry about outcomes I don’t like. Someone once told me worrying is praying for what you don’t want. So I try to will myself to let go. It can be unsettling, and I know I need God. My mind laments can’t I have one place that’s still and restorative? And then I pause and find some stillness and am reassured we’re all connected at the Table and that we’ve been relying on each other as church for a long time. I love our church and am comforted that we’ve been practicing walking through change. We’re competent at resilience...I leave you with these words from St Teresa:

Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing make you afraid. All things are passing.
God alone never changes. Patience gains all things. If you have God you will want for nothing. God alone suffices.