It’s annual personnel review season here at the church. and this year we’re using a new narrative template for these things. I like it a lot. Here’s one of the questions:
Are there particular skills or areas of professional development you would like to undertake during the coming year?
Yes. Yes there are.
I want to get better at leading change . I want to learn strategies for forming self-learning groups. And some other stuff.
I want to get better.
What about you? 12 months from now, what do you want to be better at?
People play recreation league softball for different reasons. Some are there to play a game they love and get better at it. Some want the competition. Others need the physical activity. Still others do it for the regular social interaction. The community softball league is a durable institution because people want to do it for lots of different reasons ranging from the competitive and athletic to the social.
Some teams are young, brash, and win a lot. Others are slow and laid back, and they don’t win as much. They don’t care as much either. The fiery competitor will be frustrated on the laid back team, and the team won’t take well to her. Same is true of the duffer on the team of hot shots.
Of course this makes me think about church. There’s a line of thinking that churches need simple expressions of themselves that everyone can rally around, things like, “Bible-based” or “Inclusive” or “Missional.” That seems to me to make a team out of church, rather than a league.
Which is better?
Susan Cain says there’s no correlation between the best talker and the best ideas.
I’ll stop talking now.
“Break our hearts Holy God by the reality that faces so many of your people. Let the scales fall from our eyes so that we may see how our own choices and passive acceptance contribute to unrest and injustice.”
That’s part of a prayer I used in church Sunday. It was offered by some of the leadership of my denomination following a week of war, refugees, and a downed airplane. Use was strictly voluntary. I scanned it briefly and decided it would be helpful.
Only I didn’t scan it close enough. Because where the congregation heard me pray “our own choices and passive acceptance contribute to unrest . . . ” what the prayer actually said was “our own choices and passive acceptance of U.S. policy contribute to unrest . . . ” I didn’t see those three words until the I was standing in the pulpit leading the prayer.
And I choked.
Moments like that reveal your instincts. You default to your training. My instincts and training are to avoid politicking in the pulpit.
It would be one thing if I’d reckoned with it earlier and stuck through “of U.S. policy” in a conscious decision to omit it. I didn’t. I saw it there on the page charging me like an angry buck, and I dodged it.
After the service I confided in a colleague about it in a text message. She replied, “Don’t worry. Jesus died on the cross so you don’t have to afflict the comfortable.”
It’s much more likely that you’ll choke if you’re not prepared.
I read this book about two years into my pastoral career. It has had a lasting impact on the way I preach.
Sermons are made up of “moves,” discrete units of thought that are trying to say one thing clearly. String four or five moves together and you’ve got a sermon.
When people ask, “What was the sermon about?” the answer shouldn’t be easy. Because there’s a move in the sermon about the depth of God’s love, but before that there’s a move about the reach of injustice. One of those moves doesn’t set up the other; they both–and all the others–stand on their own.
Of course, there’s a narrative that binds the moves of a sermon together. The narrative is made up of a “but” in between these moves and a “Wait!” between these two.
Isn’t this life? Isn’t this work?
There’s the move in high school about finding your people. Then there’s the move after college about learning independence. But wait: there’s another move later about cultivating interdependence in community. And don’t forget the moves about enduring loss.
What move are you in now? Can you see the narrative structure holding all your moves together?
Communities need continuity of participation in order to form connections strong enough to mediate nurture, growth, or change.
Social media can help with this. The comment left on a fellow church member’s Facebook post is no less meaningful than a chat during coffee hour. Both make people present to one another.
But how much is enough? Now that weekly worship attendance, for many, is practically impossible (what with soccer games, visits to ailing parents, work), when do the returns on community participation begin to diminish? After one week away? Probably not. Two? Six? And do social media really and truly make us present enough to one another to still function as a “body” (1 Corinthians 12)?
Though people may be present less, they still may be vitally connected to the body. I suppose that’s their call; if it feels to you like you’re connected, then you are. But it feels very difficult to grow in relationship when a certain minimum threshold of interaction isn’t being met.
So what’s that threshold? And what matters more? An individual’s sense of connection to the community, or the community’s sense of connection to them?
Bias isn’t bad. My high school journalism class taught me that it is. But it isn’t.
The middle ground is as biased a place to stand as either of the extreme ends, only the middle is biased towards oneself and ones own safety.
When discerning the right and the good in a complex conflict, people of conscience are not required to always be “objective.” They are required to listen and to pay close attention, to forswear the chicanery of the zealot and to put away sentimentality. But they are also required to stand somewhere and to have a bias.
A bias is derived either from personal experience of from loyalty to a set of values and the community that asserts them. I have friends who are biased towards the Palestinians because they spent summer’s in Israel learning about the occupation. I also have friends who are biased towards Israel because they value the Biblical promises made to Israel regarding the land.
Neither bias is bad. Constructive conversation and learning, however, growth and transformation, require us to narrate our own biases and to understand others’ biases fairly and not as an excuse to walk away.