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"Our Answer is God. God's answer is us. Through partnership we make our world better."
- Dorian Scott Cole

Teaching/Sermon Material

Transitioning 1

Coping with and embracing spiritual change

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Transitions in what we believe can have profound impacts on us. Even something as simple as moving to another location often slam doors unexpectedly closed, and unexpectedly open others. Life is always changing, and we have to cope, and even learn to embrace change. Sometimes that difficult change is something we really needed.

Everything changes... and changes... and changes

We just completed another transition in our lives. I've yet to find out how spiritual it was, but it is bound to have impact on our spiritual lives, just as has every move we have made in the past. Once in a while I reflect on the iconic mover in the Bible, Abraham. Abraham is characterized as having lived in a tent, and when the neighborhood situation got difficult, he pulled up his tent stakes and moved.

He left Ur and Haran (Mesopotamia/Iraq) probably because of political turmoil and invasions. Then he left his new homeland because he and his nephew Lot were stepping on each other's toes with their growing families and land holdings. The town simply wasn't big enough for the two of them, so Abraham was big and left. Then he left his next new homeland because of famine. Abraham knew one of the best ways to win a fight is to duck and run. But Abraham was no coward. He was also a big influence on his wild and wooly neighbors, often fighting victoriously for them.

My father moved so often that he was sometimes accused of "running from something." No one really knew what - he just wasn't satisfied with working life and quit good jobs and moved elsewhere. Finally he got to have his own small farm, which satisfied him for years, then his own business, and then he retired to fish in Florida. All of his life he was a hard worker - he just wanted to have it his way and not do boring work in industry. We make changes for a lot of reasons. I have moved more often than my father.

Trouble in our lives sometimes makes us want to run. But running from trouble isn't recommended. The "situational cure" usually doesn't work. Whatever within a person is causing the person to come into conflict with others or with a situation, usually recurs in the new location. Moving doesn't cure problems, even though it might avoid a fight that no one can really win.

People usually find the same troubles when they move, they usually find the same friendly or unfriendly people - depending on what they tend to look for. They find that bullies are everywhere, and bad marriages, alcoholism, unfriendly people, and bad grades. But sometimes changing your set of freinds can be a major step forward... if you can actually change your friend selection strategy.

The best strategy when you find life hands you a mess is to clean it up. Things usually don't get any better when you live in a mess, it just keeps tripping you up. Resolving problems is the best course.

I hate moving. When we moved south to the Atlanta area and bought our house, I swore "never again." I know better than to say the word "never." Saying it usually means that is exactly what you will get to do. But at that time if anyone said the word "move," I developed a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach and hid in the basement until the "bad word" went away. We have moved four times since then.

These last four moves have been family assistance related. Grandkids mean the joy of grandparenting, if you are close, and being close also means the opportunity to assist, if needed and wanted. I built our daughter a sizeable house, at some significant personal expense. (I have architectural and complete construction capabilities, even if this is not my main occupation.) And then this last move we did to make it possible for my now divorced daughter and four children to live on their own - another sacrifice.

This time we decided we would leave a larger home that we enjoyed, and a community and church that we enjoyed, and downsize so that we would fit in an adjoining apartment. We sold or gave away much of the furniture and put a lot more in storage. At a later date we plan to build.

I noticed several significant things about this transition.

1) My wife's temporary reaction to the transition was similar to moving to a very limited retirement home. She felt like everything she had worked for and attained was again going by the wayside. I had to prevent her from putting her favorite activities into storage. (She tends to have a pessimistic outlook on life.)

2) At our previous location, we had chosen a church where we could make a contribution. We had realistically contributed about all that we could, and could no longer work at our potential. Not only had we contributed, we had also gained a lot in experience (Transformation project), and had come to realize the benefits and limitations of those activities for today's church communities.

3) I was realizing that my business (TechGenie Media) would not do well locally in such a limited location as where we were living.

4) Furniture that we had collected and held onto for years (some for 40 years), we were suddenly ready and glad to get rid of. For everything there is a season. It was a good time to "clean house."

5) We looked forward to another day when we would have our own home once again, and we saved some of our favorite furniture and things for that day.

6) We had to keep reminding ourselves that we had talked this move through, and had decided that we would do this, not because we had to or were "supposed" to, but because we felt it was something that would help people who are important to us. We would try very hard to make the best of it, and we also felt that at some future time this would be a stepping stone to a better future for us.

They say that the first thing you should do when you move is to put up your pictures. This puts your favorite things within view, and eases the transition. What we did was put up furniture that the cats were familiar with, so that the familiar smell would make them feel at home. But much of that familiarity was also for us (no, not the smell - the familiar appearance!).

To summarize the above five points about transitions, some things are common to all transitions.

1) There is a sense of disorientation. The things that give meaning to our lives are suddenly gone. This might be as dramatic as our spiritual beliefs, our daily routine, our hobby, or even parts of our meaning paradigm (such as being a parent, a professional, a religious person, etc.). There is that sense that life has no meaning and everything we do is for nothing. This is probably the thing that needs to be managed the most. In reality, this meaning structure will redevelop. The difficulty comes from not turning loose of the old and embracing the new.

2) We outgrow our current places in life and need to be somewhere where we can grow and contribute. All of us want to make a contribution to this life, often through some organization or activity. Most of us want to be working at our potential and trying to grow even more in our capabilities. Most of us want opportunities that allow us to contribute, work at our potential, and grow. This often requires some type of change. (Although my wife prefers the role of home-maker, and mysteriously de-values everything she does, she also wants to know that she has made a contribution.) We kept talking about why we were doing this.

3) Sometimes change is thrust upon us, and we are not ready in many ways to embrace it. At other times, we have reached that time when we are ready for change. For example, the furniture we had dragged around for up to forty years, we now saw as a burden that we were very happy to unload.

4) Our lives often prepare us for a new role. For example, in working with a church on Transformation, one of my main concerns was managing change so that it was not destructive (was somewhat "deconstructive" to get to the vital values), had the best chance of avoiding obstacles that encourage people to resist change, and had the best attributes or methods that help people embrace change. Before this I had worked with attitude change, and with corporate culture change.

I had also studied books on transitions by other authors, such as Transitions, by William Bridges, and Passages, by Gail Sheehy, for my own guidance. I had also studied personal meaning (what gives life meaning), through studying countless authors, plus existential and Postmodern philosophies - to mention a few authors: Viktor Frankls, Phillip Berman, Jerome Bruner, Eugene Gendlin, Robert Neimeyer, Michael Mahoney, and more psychologists than I can count at Indiana University.

My experience is also personal, having moved on average every two years since 1969. The moves have been job related, career changes, and personal, so I have a great deal of personal experience with transitions. So, having been somewhat prepared, I am now writing on transitioning for others' benefit.

5) Maintaining hope is essential, but there is another thing more essential than hope. Viktor Frankl noted that in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, they could take everything away from you, starve you, leave you naked, beat you, kill your friends and family, and destroy your hope for a future, but the one thing that could not be taken from you was love. For us, we kept talking about our long range plan of having our own home again, and probably better things to come. We tried to be supportive of each other (love).

Note: I have a background in psychology and counseling, but I'm not a psychologist. These articles are mainly about the spiritual aspects of transitioning. They may be informed by psychology, but we're not going deeply into psychology or sociology - this is best left to the experts.

Exploring transitions and their impact in our lives

The articles in this series on transitioning will appear once a week. Between now and the next article, there are things that you can do to explore transitions and how they impact our lives, and I list some below, depending on your proclivities (inclinations), including blogging.

For everyone

See the movie Fiddler On the Roof, which is a movie about traditions and change. This is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I use it endlessly for examples. It is available from stores and online services. In the movie, Tevye has to cope with pushing his milk cart himself when his ox is lame, political problems in the land that oppress them, daughters who marry in defiance of his rock solid religious tradition, changing cultural traditions, the changing nature of marriage, and ultimately his family is forced to move to a new land. Each problem forces him to examine his faith, his relationships, and his customs.

For something more intellectual to ponder

Each of us have a meaning paradigm that gives meaning to what we do and the events that happen to us in our lives. We use the paradigm to interpret what our actions mean and what events mean. The paradigm forms mostly from outside of us, given to us by our parents, friends, school, nation, laws, culture, professional school/groups/associates, sociologists and psychologists, anthropologists, our religious affiliation, etc. We internalize it in youth, and then regurgitate it and examine it as we run into things that don't fit. As exceptions occur, the experiential load causes dissonance that requires resolution either to slowly morph beliefs or to make a major change in the paradigm.

Our experiences don't necessarily cause change, they also support parts of the paradigm, making those beliefs stronger. The heavy experiential load supporting meaning makes some beliefs (or values) difficult to change, as they did for Tevye in Fiddler On the Roof. But do we sometimes gain support for the wrong things? An example was slavery. Children often played with the children of slaves, and treated them as equals, but as they grew into adults they came to know, accept, and fiercely defend the separation between them. Sometimes the opposite happened - they felt they were equals. Consider the role of experience in paradigm change.

Let's talk about it. Social Media and One Spirit Resources Blog below. - Dorian Scott Cole.












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