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Commentary: 'Bourne' offers lessons for churches

A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Kelvin Sauls*
Oct. 5, 2007

Rev. Kelvin Sauls
The Rev. Kelvin Sauls

All he wanted was to be a disappearing act. Instead, Jason Bourne is targeted by the very people who gave him his purpose and mission. He struggles to come to terms with the double loss of his memory and his only love. Defying bullets, car crashes and highly trained enemies, Bourne pursues a mission to rediscover his identity and redirect his destiny.

The thriller "The Bourne Ultimatum," with its global dimensions, invites congregations to reconnect with and re-imagine the Great Commission for the transformation of the world.

This "three-quel" to "The Bourne Identity" and "The Bourne Supremacy" holds lessons for the church in three areas: memory, identity and activity. The loss of who he was and who he loved are not excuses for stagnation for Jason Bourne. His grief gives birth to motivation for engaging in the mission at hand.

Likewise, the church cannot freeze as a result of grief and loss. God's comforting presence is about resurrection, not stagnation. Loss will affect memory. Bereavement will influence identity. Grief will have an impact on activity. Through Bourne's response to loss, the movie invites the church to employ memory, enlighten identity and exhale activity to reconnect with God's preferred future.

"Ultimately, his flashbacks do not leave him stuck in what was. His memory fuels his quest to restore integrity. … Similarly, the church must learn again to use memory for enlightenment and empowerment."

As Bourne slowly remembers what has been done to him, and what he has done to others, he seeks to change the present and the future. He also gives other characters permission to examine and question what they had been working for.

Ultimately, his flashbacks do not leave him stuck in what was. His memory fuels his quest to restore integrity. The restoration of his memory guides his future activity.

Instead of being paralyzed by the pain of the past, Bourne is mobilized by the possibilities of the future.

Similarly, the church must learn again to use memory for enlightenment and empowerment.

The power of memory

Memory brings enlightenment to identity. Knowledge and understanding of the church's identity are imperative. Bourne reaches back to reclaim his identity so that he can reach for his destiny.

Unfortunately, the church often survives on who it was and not who it can be. Rooted in social class and racial classification, the church's identity must be reclaimed through its Pentecostal and spiritual roots.

The journey toward congregational transformation invites leaders to rediscover the power of memory. Ultimately, congregational transformation invites laity and clergy to redefine congregational identity and redirect congregational destiny.

Bourne struggles with loss, identity and purpose. Moreover, he struggles with how to understand and undo his past, and re-envision his future. Bourne is focused and faithful, resourceful and purposeful.

Congregational transformation is an experience that requires long-term focus, multi-dimensional resourcefulness and participatory faithfulness.

By bringing meaning to memory, congregations can grow into their creating responsibility. This creating responsibility unleashes opportunities for congregations to focus attention on innovative strategies to engage our culture. Innovation paves the way for congregations to fulfill their calling in service.

Congregations must learn again to use memory and history for enlightenment and empowerment. Remembering is not an end in itself. We must remember to re-imagine! Remembering and innovating are two sides of the same coin. The historical reexamination of the church’s purpose is critical for the mobilization of what is possible in the name of Jesus.

Redefining ministries

"The Bourne Ultimatum" is ultimately a movie about identity and discovery. Its momentum is really about the search for authentic internal meaning. To serve the world effectively, congregations must journey inward and seek the Creator of the world. A congregational identity rooted in "the mind of Christ" can produce a piety that is prophetic and a holiness that brings about social righteousness.

"Congregational transformation, like the Bourne trilogy, is action-packed. However, unlike the Bourne trilogy, congregational transformation in not as fast-paced."

Identity guides activity with neighbor. Knowing that he cannot change the past, Jason’s desire is to be "Bourne" again for a different kind of activity. He works diligently to review his past activities and reprogram his current and future activities. Rediscovering his identity gives him permission to rediscover his purpose. That, in turn, enables him to redefine his activities.

Knowing the needs of neighbors is crucial for congregations to redefine and redirect their ministries. Such knowledge and understanding will force churches to ask the hard and relevant questions. The answers will inform the Good News that congregations must express in word and deed.

"The Bourne Ultimatum" invites congregations to understand memory, update identity and upgrade activity for the purpose of reconnecting with God's preferred vision and destination.

Congregational transformation, like the Bourne trilogy, is action-packed. However, unlike the Bourne trilogy, congregational transformation is not as fast-paced. In the words of Bishop Melvin Talbert, "It's a marathon, not a sprint."

*Sauls is the director of congregational development at the United Methodist Board of Discipleship. He can be contacted at ksauls@gbod.org or (615) 340-7066. A longer version of this commentary appears at the board’s Web site at www.gbod.org.

News media contact: Linda Green or Tim Tanton, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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