“Men love plain speech.”
Fundamentalists have so long confused intransigence for steadfastness that they have to resort to announcing change by saying there is no change. This is the quagmire in which my alma mater is currently wallowing.
I must preface the following comments by declaring myself as a happy, supportive and encouraged alumnus of the non-changes in my former institution that are so remarkably different from my days as a student that I’d be very tempted to call them “changes” if I were anyone else but a loyal occasional dues-paying alumnus. Long afflicted with a quirkiness to see something as it really is, to call a spade a spade, I find it very difficult to suppress the urge to call the non-changes at my alma mater changes. On the one hand, we are told that “things are changing” and alumni chatter about “the changes,” but on the other hand we are told that there are no changes.
And I’m charitably enthused!
Imagine, however, how another variety of the human species may interpret the data coming out of the North Woods like, say, normal people. Normal people would be a tad mystified that there is such a big announcement about no change. A mass mailing. An open letter on a widely-read blog. And though we are told, for example, that the music philosophy of the institution is the same as it always has been, it is simultaneously announced that the Director of Fine Arts cannot take them forward in this way. He brought them hither; but he cannot take them yon. It would appear that the Director is uncomfortable with the non-change.
This is explained by saying that while there is no “philosophical” change, there is now “missional” change. Normal people scratch their heads.
Please, my friends, stop the silliness.
Let’s just be plain in our language. To even use the word “missional” is a philosophical change, not to mention the “missional” emphasis in music training that is now the new focus. There has been a philosophical shift. Call it what it is. Though in my vainer moments I like to fancy myself as a notch above average in understanding nuances between abstract terms thus enabling me to put a more charitable interpretation on almost anything that would appear like obfuscation to mere mortals of lesser intellectual sophistication, I am nonetheless repressing my average-joe instinct to say, “What that there politician is tryin’ to say is that they’re making changes by sayin’ ‘xactly the opposite.”
So enters self-defined curmudgeonly one from the right armed with common sense. Never give your opponents the common sense edge. Never. Of course, he is immediately pounced upon as being ornery, cantankerous, and basically typical of his normal self by defenders of the institution, but no one (so far as I can see) has actually dealt with the uncomfortable reality that common sense is his ally. In normal experience and in normal language all these non-changes are, in fact, changes.
If they are not changes at all one who was an alumnus in the early 90s must conclude:
1. That the current attitudes toward, say, non-fundamentalists like Rick Holland and Bruce Ware and Warren Simien were so masterfully disguised that one thought that he was in a typical fundamentalist school. Alas! I was duped. I would have been so much happier had I known that was the official stance!
2. That the current missional approach to music was a well-kept secret perk consistent with the what-seemed-to-be-excessively-legalistic limitations of music checks (non-existent now) and stylistic restraints. I was not sophisticated enough to know that the lectures on guilt-by-association masked a then-held philosophy that could so easily discard music checks and ultimately embrace “missional” (?) training. Alas! Had I known that the philosophy was that elastic I would have spared myself the effort of disengaging myself from it. Years of wasted time. Sigh.
The bottom line is this. There has been change. There is change. There will be change. Change is happening. And the letter basically says, “Deal with it.” That’s my interpretation in plain speech.
I’m frustrated though.
I think the changes are overdue. And, yes, I do think there is a sense in which some of this is not new. Certainly, the disposition of Northland toward many of these issues has been favorable toward its now-public stance. I offer myself as Exhibit A of alumnus influenced by latent reasonable disposition under shell of fundamentalist hard nose. Therefore, I think the changes are, in the main, good changes.
But there is something that Northland and other fundamentalists leaders and institutions really need to change and that is the latent pride that cannot come to grips with the fact that they have been, in some instances, wrong. In five years we have seen a flood of changes with many of these places and people but concurrent with the changes comes a torrent of explanations that all boil down to “we are who we have always been.”
The problem is because the culture of fundamentalism twenty years ago (and in most parts of it today) was stagnate and could not tolerate dynamics of growth, development, maturation, and change. Change of any kind was tantamount to compromise. Compromise of any kind was always akin to apostasy. Consequently intransigence replaced steadfastness as a virtue and no one realized it. It was never in fundamentalist vocabulary to say, “You know, we held this position for so long but we’ve come to realize that we were wrong on that position. We are now changing.” The practical result is a culture that fears to admit change more than it fears being dishonest about changes. “Sticking by the stuff” is the cardinal fundamental fundamentalists are so proud of that when they quit sticking they passionately redefine the new stuff they are by and say that they have always been sticking by it.
It’s unfortunate that the letter that dismisses playing politics came across as politics. I think that the substantive change that fundamentalism needs is to move from intransigence to steadfastness. And that comes by shoot-from-the-hip transparency in the growing process. Steadfastness allows for all the wonderful changes that many are trying to make and has the added benefit of giving people the assurance that you are indeed who you say you are. Presently, the changing institutions that are insisting that that they are not changing have added a new problem to their complex public relations challenges: the lack of credibility.
We would all do well to learn from Spurgeon:
“In minor matters as well as more important concerns I have spoken my mind fearlessly, and brought down objurgations and anathemas innumerable, but I in nowise regret it, and shall not swerve from the use of outspoken speech in the future any more than in the past. I would scorn to retain a single adherent by such silence as would leave him under misapprehension. After all, men love plain speech. ~ Charles Haddon Spurgeon
The real change fundamentalism needs is not in the cultural matters of music and fellowship, but in the culture of intransigence and pride that precludes the possibility of growth and adjustments without the acrimonious condemnation of other intransigents. Where there is humility, there will always be growth. Where there is growth, there will be change. Changes are good. Just say it.