Transformation requires change. Change, however, does not imply transformation.
Exhibit A: Pittsburgh.
Last weekend, Denise and I made our first ever visit to the Steel City to visit our friends Erik, Lisa, and Steve. Although we found the city–especially PNC Park–captivating, it was missing one key piece from our mental picture.
Namely, steel.
Pittsburgh is a very old city, by American standards. British, French, and native Americans all laid claim to it in the mid eighteenth century, when the conjoining of rivers made the region of strategic importance as a military and trading post. Only a few generations, later, however, the land had been stripped bare and put to use, its century old cottonwoods replaced by steel mills that belched thick, soot filled smoke. Pittsburgh was a place of productivity, but also of grime and pollution.
Efforts to clean up the city made some strides after World War II, but it remained a gritty industrial town. By the time the bottom fell out of the steel industry in the 1980s, Pittsburgh had changed from picturesque town to what one writer described as “hell with the lid off.”
Recognizing their dire straits, city leaders went to work. They rebuilt the economy around robotics and finance, and they set out to attract tourists. Downtown mills gave way to cultural districts. Smog cleared out of the valley, once again allowing those atop Mt. Washington to look sown on the rivers and the land between. The city, which had changed so much in its two and a half century existence, underwent another radical makeover–this one not the result of military necessity or industrial logistics, but of careful planning with an eye to the future.
Not just change. Transformation.
In the hours since we said goodbye to our friends, I’ve spent considerable time thinking about this difference. I am not afraid of change–as if fear could do anything to stop the world from changing anyhow. Yet I’m constantly reminded that I live in a world where the climate is rapidly changing, and I can do almost nothing to stop it. I work in a church that is aging and declining, but that continues to whitewash its exterior to hide its paltry understanding of God and God’s work. I often experience change as a piece of seaweed might experience the tide. Like it or not, I can’t help being carried along.
But there are other forces at work, even as much of what I’ve always known crumbles. I believe God is not satisfied with change, that he wants real transformation–change with some direction, some purpose, some essential alteration in the fabric of our being. I believe Jesus when he promises he is making all things new.
Transformation is change that is going somewhere. It is far more costly. But also far more important.
Pittsburgh’s transformation has bern radical, and who’s to say it is complete? Even though it’s still called the Steel Citu, another nickname has grown in popularity of late it is also called the City of Bridges. That sounds like a vision worth striving for.
For all of us.

One thought on “Transformation

  1. Thanks Eric for this reflection– how long does transformation take– we plan for it but then it may end up much different than what we think.

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