Edge Moments: When Hindsight becomes Foresight

by | Mar 15, 2021 | Reflections Blog

Photo by Erin Dunigan

The quality of our communion in Christ, the resurrected life we share together because we have been touched by grace, is an unstoppable force. Wars, famines, and plagues throughout history have failed to extinguish our movement because our movement isn’t tied to any one expression or technology; it is tied to our Risen Lord who is the Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation.

The History Buff

Chris Cramer and Matt Rattner

As some of you know, my younger brother is a brewer and restaurateur. He and his college buddy started Karl Strauss Brewing Company in 1989. But what you may not know is that he is also an historian.

Chris spends hours every day reading business journals and histories, reflecting on people’s behavior from the Roman Empire to the American industrial revolution. Running a company of 1000 employees and presiding over the California Restaurant Association might seem all-consuming to us mortals, but he regularly finds time to study history.

Edge Moments

Photo by Tom Cramer

A particular interest of his are “edge moments,” when one technology overtakes another, or an ideology proves to be more virtuous than its predecessor. Historians look at these shifts and notice patterns of storm and form, of messiness and new order.

He says that if you look long enough, the adage “history repeats itself” becomes increasingly obvious. And just as obvious, he observes, is that history moves intrepidly forward. Great ideas, new ways of doing things and connecting with each other, take on a life of their own, and eventually become the new norm.

Surviving Tough Times

As a restaurateur in California, my brother’s industry was hit harder than most by COVID-19. When your livelihood depends on people sitting face to face across a table while enjoying hospitality, food, and beers, it makes things difficult when they can’t be near each other. In Karl Strauss’ case, much of their business model, employee training, food delivery, ordering technologies, even the menu, had to be reinvented from the ground up.

A Quick and “Brutal” Pivot

When I asked Chris how his company was able to pivot so quickly, he talked about his studies at Stanford Business School with Professor Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great. Collins preaches that organizations that want to thrive must “confront the brutal facts.”

For Chris, that meant spending February and March of 2020 taking a deep dive into the science of COVID-19 and working quickly through Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief. Quicker than most, he was able to get his head around—his heart, really—the brutal reality that the pandemic, along with California’s one-size-fits-all employment environment, were going to eviscerate his industry and change the economics of casual dining forever.

The courage to face “the brutal facts” helped his leadership team take the dramatic steps necessary to not only ensure the survival of his business, but to position it to thrive again as the pandemic ebbs.

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

I could spill a lot of ink writing about the myriad changes Karl Strauss made this year–pretty much everything from the way guests order food, to how the kitchen receives their order, to how the food is delivered to their tables. Something called “technology accelerators” are now an integral part of every step.

Angels vs. Dodgers 2019

But here is the interesting thing. The hoped-for result of all those changes, as dramatic as they have been, is that guests still love their experience. A positive sign of things to come, kind of a miracle really, is that revenues over last year are better than you would expect for such dire times, and that’s with outdoor dining only. Apparently, hundreds of customers are still saying to their friends, “You gotta try this!”

The Best Host EVER

Photo by Erin Dunigan

I tell this story not only because I am proud of my brother or what he and his college roommate built from scratch, but because of its parallels to our life in Christ. We are a people who gather around a table, one hosted by the best host EVER, and invite others to gather around his table with us. We offer welcome to outsiders and a nurturing place to explore friendships and love. When people feel cared for and attended to by us, they say to their friends, “You gotta try this!”

At the end of the day, the quality of our communion in Christ, the resurrected life we share together because we have been touched by grace, is an unstoppable force. Wars, famines, and plagues throughout history have failed to extinguish our movement because our movement isn’t tied to any one expression or technology; it is tied to our Risen Lord who is the Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation.

I See This in You

If there were ever a people whose teachings equips them to “confront the brutal facts” so they might let go of practices that no longer work and embrace new practices that will, it is us.

Across our presbytery, I see teaching and ruling elders confronting the brutal facts of this pandemic head on. They have made hundreds of difficult decisions, including abiding by the science of physical distancing when some of their members were pressuring them to meet in person. And, like other organizations that wish to thrive after the pandemic, they have introduced new technologies which will help them connect with new people long into the future. If this year were in an Olympic diving competition, the judges would say, “This dive has a difficulty level of 10!” but you are pulling it off.

Los Ranchos prepares for Good Friday Worship 2021

In the meantime, the presbytery and synod has stood with you as you have taken these difficult steps, granting over $550,000 to over thirty faith communities, and keeping the communication networks open so that we can continue to serve each other and the world as the Body of Christ.

The Calling of the Church

If you haven’t read it recently, I strongly recommend you read “The Calling of the Church” in our Book of Order (F-1.0301), and daily if you are a ruling or teaching elder. Every time I read it, I’m struck by its confidence in God, its security in what we are becoming as followers of Christ, regardless of what history throws at us. One of my favorite paragraphs reads:

“The Church is to be a community of hope, rejoicing in the sure and certain knowledge that, in Christ, God is making a new creation. This new creation is a new beginning for human life and for all things. The Church lives in the present on the strength of that promised new creation.”

But another one speaks even more poignantly to where we find ourselves at this time:

“The Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life.”

If we are in an “edge moment of history,” we are uniquely called to take great risks and make radical changes so that the world will continue to experience the love and justice of Jesus Christ through us.

Photo by Tom Cramer

Reinventing Ourselves

We are doing this as a presbytery, as I have mentioned, by spending our communal savings to help local congregations survive the pandemic and position themselves technologically and otherwise for a post-pandemic world.

But just as importantly, we are doing this through a twelve-person Strategic Task Group that is hard at work reimagining how our presbytery should be designed to serve a post-pandemic Church. The “paint on our canvas” is too wet to report out on our progress, but what is evolving gives me great hope for the effectiveness of our common ministry for years to come.

Please be in prayer for the STG as they continue this important work on your behalf: Gus Altuzarra (Laguna), Sue Currie (Tustin), Co-Moderator Maggie Goodwin (Whittier), Margaret Hullett (Covenant Long Beach), Stanley Kim (Minister at Large), Rob Langworthy (Covenant Long Beach), Chris Lee (New Praise Cypress), Sara McCurdy (Honorably Retired), Chris Mears (New Hope Anaheim), Co-Moderator Eliseo Morales, Jr. (Morningside Fullerton), Lucy Stafford-Lewis (Minister at Large), Cheryl White (Grace First Long Beach). Carol Bridgeman, Forrest Claassen, and I are staff.

Holy Week Greetings

Our confession is that dying with Christ we shall be raised to new life with him. This is the pattern of our spirituality both individually and communally.

In Lent, we contemplate our dependence on God. We take stock of where we have been, the idols we cling to, and the things we do that grieve God’s Spirit. Even so, we live in faith that God’s grace bridges the chasm that our sin creates and meets us where we are. May the hope of Easter, therefore, give you courage to live in the strength of God’s promised new creation now and always.

With you on the journey,