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Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks in an undated photo.

Most of us know the name Rosa Parks. And we think we know her story.

It’s an inspiring account: A little, old lady gets on a Montgomery bus and sits down, tired from a hard day. When she’s told to give up her seat to a white man, she does something unheard of: She refuses. And it’s that spontaneous and gutsy decision that launches a movement for racial equality and forever establishes her name in the annals of our nation’s heroes.

There’s just one problem. This isn’t the entire story. And what’s been left out — and a lot’s been left out — is essential to understanding how real change occurs.

If you’re like me, you want to make a difference in the world, be a better person, and see an end to the hostility of this election season. Heck, most of us would settle for a Thanksgiving meal without Uncle Drew storming off. But we just don’t know how to create change.

Forget changing the world; we can’t even figure out how to change ourselves, all those New Year’s resolutions notwithstanding.

Writer, musician, and activist David LaMotte observes that we’ve been fed what I’m calling a “mythology” of social change. In this mythology, it’s heroes — brave individuals different from the rest of us — who save the world, usually after making a speech of some kind.

But of course, we’re not heroes. We’re just regular people with jobs and families and a whole lot of uncertainty about what we’re doing and why we’re here.

In the meantime, the world’s hurting. Auburn’s hurting. You may be hurting.

And no hero’s showing up.

This October, we at Westminster Presbyterian Church (17 William St.) are trying to get to the bottom of how we can produce real change. Each Sunday this month, at 9:30 a.m., we’re offering a spiritual experience of worship, music, and preaching that will inspire us to become change-makers. Participants will dig into the Bible, learn about cutting-edge research, and hear powerful stories, as we together discover practical ways forward through the inertia of our times.

Each Sunday, we’ll address a different aspect of change.

This past Sunday, on Oct. 2, we talked about the hard task of changing people’s minds (and opening our own to be changed) and looked at emerging case studies and research in the art of persuasion. (This sermon can be found on our church’s website, westminsterauburn.org.)

Today, on Oct. 9, we’re going to be exploring how we can change other people’s (and our own) behavior. Psychologists talk about non-complementary behavior, but Christians know it as turning the other cheek. And it turns out that this idealistic, seemingly naive teaching of Jesus is actually scientifically proven to alter human behavior and change the emotions in a room.

On Oct. 16, we’ll talk about how to find our true callings and not be overwhelmed by the sheer number of needs and causes asking for our time, energy, and money. The early church in Corinth will help us find some answers.

On Oct. 23, we’ll turn our attention to systemic, cultural change. Using biblical and historical stories, we’ll cut through competing ideas to find out how we can improve our communities and advocate justice.

On our last Sunday, Oct. 30, we’ll remember that famous maxim of Gandhi: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” By looking again at that beloved story of Zacchaeus, the short tax collector who climbs a tree to see Jesus, we’ll think about how we can change ourselves.

Throughout this series, we’re going to try to tell stories right. That means talking not about a “little, old lady,” but about a 42-year-old, trained activist whose actions that day in 1955 were, in the words of David LaMotte, “rooted in years of undramatic daily work for change.” It means knowing that, prior to her arrest, Parks was trained in civil, nonviolent disobedience at the important Highlander Center in Tennessee. It means knowing that she was not the first to refuse to give up her seat. It means knowing that Parks’s arrest only made headlines because the Montgomery Women’s Political Council (which had been addressing busing for years) arranged a boycott and stayed up the whole night making thousands of flyers.

It means knowing that the world could benefit from a few less heroes and a whole lot more regular people willing to organize.

“Want to change the world?” writes David LaMotte. “Make some copies.”

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The Rev. Patrick David Heery is the pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Auburn, and the former editor of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s denominational magazine, Presbyterians Today. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, Heery lives in Auburn with his wife, Jenna, and their two dogs, spending much of their free time hiking the countryside.

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