When Good Change Starts, Expect Snap-Back: A Christian Perspective

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When Good Change Starts, Expect Snap-Back: A Christian Perspective
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Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

The Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes is the Minister of Maple Grove United Church, and is a member of the Interfaith Councill of Halton. A chatty extrovert with a conversational preaching style, a multi-tasker who is a “multi-worrier” when it comes to caring about people’s problems, and a leader who treasures teaming with the lay people in her church, Morar says that at Maple Grove she has experienced “a deeper level of ministry than I thought possible.” Anyone who has personally received Morar’s deeply compassionate caring and wise counsel will testify to what an inspirational, healing and encouraging ministry it is.

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If you cut out all the parts of the Bible that have to do with improving relationships, the Bible would simply not hold together. And it all starts with our relationship with God. When your relationship with God is out of whack, it seems that everything else is too.

Abram was without a child of his own to inherit God’s promises to him, to follow in his footsteps. Genesis 15.1-6 That was the problem he thought he had. But really, his problem was that he didn’t trust God. Once he believed, then things worked out. Not as he expected, but however many twists and turns his life took, he trusted in God. He was ‘set right with God.’

The Hebrew scriptures are full of stories like that. People who seemed to be called by God, but because they didn’t have a close relationship with God, their life choices seemed to take them further and further from him. But these stories are all about how they find their way back to God and once their relationships are set right, they can become whom God called them to be. Jacob becomes the leader of his people after a selfish, greedy youth in which he cheats his father and brother; David becomes king after paying penance for poor life choices like getting his lover’s husband killed. The list goes on.

From the ministry of Jesus, we can deduce that he saw this pattern. He recognized a sincere heart that was open to a right relationship with God, and lifted up the faith of those people. He challenged those whose actions showed that their relationship with God has come unravelled.

And with the passage from one of Paul’s letters to a new church he started in Philippi in which relationships featured prominently, we are given a chance to think about our own relationships. Philippians 3:13 – 4:1

A relationship is like a compost pile.

A family is like a compost pile. In fact any group that seeks to be effective in helping its members grow, has a goal or seeks meaning is like a compost pile. A church is like a compost pile.

How, you ask, can any group you belong to be like a pile of rotting fruit?
Think about it: To all those apple peels and eggshells, mouldy knobs of ginger and cheese, tops and bottoms of onions and skins of garlic, sprouted potatoes and yellowed broccoli, add a layer of soil, some dry leaves, a little moisture and air, and the process of change starts. The compost pile shrinks until discarded living matter has changed into high-energy nourishment for a new crop of garden plants. For compost to be useful, the elements must undergo intense change. A lot. They lose their identity to assume a new purpose.

And that’s what meaningful relationships are about. We bring ourselves in together, and commit for a larger purpose. To achieve this we give up something of ourselves.

Family life certainly demands that of us. Getting along with people we don’t always agree with, or don’t ever agree with; having to change as others in the family change. I remember doing a workshop with families of teens years ago. We did an exercise where people placed themselves on a continuum depending upon how decisive they thought themselves to be. Two teen girls found themselves with their mothers on the opposite end of decisive. They looked at their mothers, looked at each other, and without a word, pushed their mothers over to the decisive side. Their mothers had become more decisive in order to raise their headstrong daughters. It probably started when they were two and ran out into the road. At least it did for me!

As we reflect on this compost pile we call the church and our place in it, we have the example of Paul and his letters to the fledgling churches he started.

We can read about Paul’s first visit to Philippi in Acts 16. Philippi was a leading city in Macedonia and a military center where the predominant cultural influence was Roman.
Paul and a friend were beaten and imprisoned for upsetting the community by driving a spirit out of a slave. He identified himself as a Roman citizen, was released and asked to leave the city. The small congregation there must have flourished, for later on when Paul was again imprisoned, the congregation in Philippi sent gifts of money. It is clear from the writing that Paul thought of that congregation as consistent from the beginning in their financial backing of his efforts to proclaim the risen Christ (Phil 4:15).

Paul is writing to them when they are apart; writing to them from prison, knowing he is unlikely to see them again. He loves them, but recognizes they are having disagreements, and experiencing pressure from the dominant Roman culture.

Paul starts with himself — ‘I haven’t made it on my own. What do I have?’
He has a relationship with Christ. He knows it’s not perfect. ‘But I’m trying, I see the goal:the heavenly call of God in the resurrected Christ.’

The resurrection is important here: the goal is newness of life —
Paul knows he is different than he was because of his relationship with the risen Christ. Christ has undergone this mysterious and all powerful change ahead of us, and as a result, we can live differently; we can live a new life.


There are two threats to this new life in Christ.

  1. the threat from within as they disagree and argue, as personalities grate upon one another; and
  2. the threat from the dominant culture in which they live, a materialistic culture that focuses on physical needs and desires; a threat that grows as their witness increases.

Paul expects a reaction. Our late friend and member, Brenda Zimmerman Ellis called this ‘snap-back.’ When you are trying to initiate change, the dominant culture will react. It will seek to snap-back to where it was. This can be a good thing or bad, depending on your perspective. Recently, Liz Weaver has written Thinking of Brenda Zimmerman and Snap-Back Theory suggesting that the federal election was a ‘snap-back’ . For 10 years, the government tried to introduce deep change in Canada. Weaver argues that in the 2015 election there was a snap-back to the dominant culture.


God called Abram: Abram snapped back saying I can’t be father to the nations.
God called Jacob: Jacob lived a greedy life.
God called David when he was a boy: David had an affair with a married woman.

Paul too understands snap-back. He tells his friends, ‘you are living in a culture that is destructive, based on greed, material things. Jesus will transform the context to conform with God’s value through you, if you find ways to lessen the impact of snap-back:’

  1. see this as a lifelong process — a marathon, not a sprint;
  2. stand firm in your relationship with God — give it your attention;
  3. imitate Christ, to gain the maturity that comes with a clarity of vision; and
  4. imitate those you see with this maturity including Paul and other leaders in your church.

The threat from within is that we fall back into old habits even though we are Christians.

Ghandi once remarked, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Imitating Christ and the folk we look up to requires us to overcome snap-back in ourselves.

As a vision emerges for how things could be different in our relationships, we can often see Brenda’s ‘snap-back’ happening.

Ghandi once remarked, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

A friend’s brother — draining resources of others — She comes to me at the end of her patience and emotional resources. He asked her for $700, which she could ill afford. The oldest of 8, she was exhausted by his demands and concerned for her siblings — she was angry with him.

I made a ridiculous suggestion. I suggested she write and tell him that she knew he must be in serious need if he asked her, knowing she didn’t have any to spare herself. With the letter, I suggested that she include a check for more than $700.

At first she looked horror struck, and resisted the idea; but after she thought about it, she decided to risk it. It was the beginning of a journey of change for her brother and his relationship with his whole family.

How can we overcome snap-back?

One powerful tool Brenda offers is to choose our “audience of significance”. Paul knew that the believers in Philippi needed one another. He knew they needed him — even though he hadn’t reached the goal. He knew they needed someone to imitate, to follow, to be a companion on the journey.

And that’s what church is at its best.

In his book, The Light Within You, John Claypool poses the penetrating question, “Who is your audience?” Claypool records his reactions to reviews of his writings. He found that some negative reviews did not bother him at all because they were written by people who did not matter to him. But there were other people whose words of approval warmed him and their criticism cut him to the quick. Claypool concluded that each of us has our select audience before whom we play out our lives. It may be only one person or a small group, yet what they think exerts an enormous influence over our daily actions.

In church, we are choosing one another to be our ‘audience of significance’ to help us to keep the faith:

  1. people who embrace the journey of faith and understand the tensions that are going to arise.
  2. people who are going to be honest with you and ask you to keep the faith.

Ultimately, our choice is about making God our  ‘audience of significance’, and the only way we really know how to do that is by gathering around us other godly folk.

When we hit “snap back” in our families, in our church, in our community, in the world, we are encouraged to:

  1. remember our purpose of new life
  2. fall back on our relationship with Christ.
  3. gather around us an audience of significance
  4. imitate Christ and those who inspire us
  5. strive towards the goal of new life in Christ.
  6. stand firm in God’s love.



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