Change and Growth
A Lesson in Community
by Micah Mundinger
While growing up in Northern Indiana I spent a lot of time at my Grandparents’ house out in the country. They had several acres of land carved out between several nearby farms and patches of forest. About a third of this land was set aside for growing trees, and another third for flowers; predominantly daffodils. Over the years, I spent countless hours mowing, tilling, planting, replanting, trimming, and grooming the flowers and trees. The goal, for my Grandpa, was always beauty… or, rather, to display the beauty each plant or group of plants was capable of. For the daffs, this meant weeding and constant thinning and re-planting. For the trees this meant a lot of pruning; removing old or irrelevant branches in favor of more beneficial growth.
When I was younger, I though this pruning to be cruel and could not understand how it could benefit the tree. “How,” I asked, “can cutting off new growth cause the tree to grow better?” At times the pruning was even more drastic. Sometimes we would cut off what seemed to be a vital limb, even when it still seemed to be growing well. Sometimes my Grandpa would just say that it was what was best for the tree, and that one day it would be a better tree because of it. When pressed, though, he would do his best to explain about how a tree, left to its own would grow in a pattern that predominantly followed the path of least resistance. Unfortunately for the tree and its caretaker, this is not often the path that, in the long run, results in the strongest or most beautiful tree. Generally, trees were designed to live in a forest, where they have to compete for light. Hence, in their natural environment, trees grow tall and straight. Unfortunately, when you start a tree farm on open land, there is no competition for that light. The path of least resistance leads outwards. In order to achieve their potential, their options for growth need to be limited to those that will produce a beautiful, healthy tree.
Why, you may wonder, do I go on at such great length about trees of my youth? I say all of this because I have just witnessed the caretaker’s first saw stroke in the pruning of a limb. Communities are living organisms. In some cases they are thriving, dynamic organisms, and in others they are near death due to stagnation or decay. My community, Jesus People USA (JPUSA) is both old and large by most standards within the communities movement. We will celebrate 40 years of existence this year. Many branches have grown, served their purpose for the time and either fallen off or been pruned within those years.
One limb that has, in many ways formed part of the core of our community for nearly three quarters of its existence (since ‘82) is a festival that we have hosted, called Cornerstone. Through this yearly, week-long event of music, art, seminars, fellowship, and worship, we have met, welcomed, and ministered to over 100,000 people. The impact of this limb upon both our community and the surrounding culture can never be adequately measured. It has been host to new friendships, relationships, weddings, and honeymoons. We have given artists a chance and a voice when few would. You may have heard of P.O.D. or Switchfoot. Both have roots at Cornerstone, as have many other bands over the years.
Over the last several years, we have watched with sadness as numbers have dwindled. Some of this is due to the fact that we are no longer the biggest fish in pond, so to speak (though come to think of it, we never really were). While we are still on the cutting edge of the Christian music scene, we are no longer the only ones there. Gas prices continue to rise and the economy is faltering. Due to these and a host of other reasons, we have found ourselves stewarding a festival that is not only unable to turn a profit, but unable to pay its own bills. The cost of the limb to the health of the tree has begun to outweigh the benefit of its continued existence.
After years of consideration and recent months of agonizing introspection and number-crunching, it was decided that this year would be our last. We decided that a last, modest, hurrah was in order. As is usually the case in this type of situation, the primary cost in the affair is human. There are so many, both in our community and outside it, who have invested so much into this event over the years that saying goodbye is a heart-wrenching experience.
Questions centering around the basic “what now?” abound. Yet within that very question, we begin to see a glimmer of hope. There is a way in which that question is voiced that lends itself to despair. The flipside of that coin is that there is a way in which the question can be voiced that carries with it a resounding “THE SKIES ARE THE LIMIT!” response. We begin to ask ourselves questions such as, “What can I do with the resources that I have been funneling into this branch for so long?” One of my friends here finds himself rejoicing in the fact that he no longer will be expected to carry the vision of the past generation further, but will be free to cast his own vision and inspire others to do the same and/or join him in his. What areas can we shore up and improve with the manpower that will no longer be required for this endeavor? What new and wonderful growths will be able to spring up and flourish because there is free energy just floating around?
Those that have been in community for a while know that growth, both personally and corporately is a pre-requisite to sustainable community. On the other hand, most of us have a hard time accepting change. The thing is that growth IS a change. You cannot grow without changing. We all know the saying, “No pain, no gain, ” yet we shy away from the pain that is so often involved in change.
The axe has fallen. The branch is about to drop. Change will happen. I wonder how we will grow.
Micah is a member of Jesus People USA.