Focus

There’s a prayer after communion that I have forgotten to include in the last few worship bulletins, and thus failed to lead. This week, though, it’s in there and I’m ready. I check the bulletin five, six, seven times during the service to make sure it’s there. It’s there. Communion happens and the prayer is said. I sit back down.

It only takes a few seconds of silence to figure out something is amiss. Then the musicians start to play the closing hymn, but when I look over at them the singer is clearly confused and is muttering something to the bass player. My colleague leans over to me and points to the “Call for Offering” listed directly beneath the “Prayer after Communion.” I’ve forgotten all about it. So I stand up and make self-effacing joke, then plow ahead.

Focusing overmuch on one element can lead a person to miss other elements you don’t need thought about at all.

Introductions

I invited one of my stellar colleagues to address the Confirmation class about her leadership of our church’s interfaith relationships. Introducing students to church leaders outside the youth ministry staff and volunteers is an important function of Confirmation. So I began the hour, “Raise your hand if you’ve met Pastor Nanette before.”

To my surprise, every hand went up. “Wow,” I responded. “How do you all know her already?”

Someone answered right away: “Because she came to Confirmation once already.”

I found this on my guide for Confirmation on October 3rd: “Introduce and briefly interview Nanette.”

I have reached the stage where I’m doing things I forgot I already did.

Odds and Evens

Being a good collaborator means pulling your weight, but the right weight. My colleague and I divided up two blocks of work into odd and even numbered tasks, and I emailed, “Give me the odds on this block and the evens on that one.” And then I pulled my weight. I did the tasks. Only, when we came back together my colleague was confused: why had I done the evens on this block and the odds on that one?

“Because that’s what we decided,” I answered, confidently.

Check the tape.

Sure enough, my email on his phone shows me saying “odds on this . . . evens on that.”

But it gets worse.

The pages I have produced are actually labeled at the top: odds this, even that. So I proposed who would do what, and then I set up my own work to do what I had personally proposed, but then I did the exact opposite work.

Pulling your weight isn’t worth much if it’s the wrong weight. To your collaborators, it might be better if you hadn’t pulled any weight at all. You might be dead weight.

Brackets

Brackets are beautiful. They contain competition within discrete units and assert who should win each engagement, because every team in the bracket has a number signifying their strength. A number one has been beaten by a number 16 only once. There is an infinity of possibilities for who your team might ultimately have to take on, but they will get 48 hours to prepare no matter who it is. Brackets and tournaments are a special kind of experience that combines elegant order with thrilling unpredictability.

Would that life were like this, that we could bracket off today’s challenge from all the others and make the rest wait two days for their turn to take us down.

Type

“That’s so unlike a 9,” a friend said to me over breakfast. She was referring to the Enneagram, a personality type indicator we’re both familiar with (my denomination requires a psychological assessment of candidates for ordination, and when I did mine 20 years ago this year the Enneagram was one of its tools). I learned then that I was a 9, and the few times I have revisited the inventory over the past two decades have more or less reestablished that type, even as those years have also featured numerous exchanges about the relative value of personality typing instruments to begin with.

So my friend thinks this thing I just told her I’m doing is unlike a 9. It’s not “reassuring” or “agreeable.” We chuckle.

Of course, we are what the moment makes us.

Advance

The meeting about the meeting.

The backup plan for the backup plan.

The three extra slides or activities you don’t plan to use.

Preparation is never wasted work. The most valuable work we do is often the preparation behind the class or the event or the decision. We thought about it in advance, and that shows everybody involved that we care.

“I anticipated this” is another way of saying “this matters.”

Convicted

When I was young and zealous, the Bible had no higher function in my life than to convict me. Early morning Scripture reading was rewarded by pangs of guilt arising from some command I was conscious of breaking (“If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to them the other also”) or some pious ideal I was ignoring (“let justice roll down like waters . . . ).

God grant that we retain this capacity for conviction throughout our life. God grant also that this capacity matures, moving us beyond a shallow discipleship that wallows in conviction as its own perverse end and toward changed lives that change the world.

If conviction doesn’t aid growth, it’s distorted.

Here’s Matt’s and my latest podcast episode, timed for the beginning of Lent: The Top 10 Most Convicting Passages of the Bible.

What if?

One of the reasons to keep reading descriptions of the Ukrainian resistance to Russian invasion and to keep watching the remarkable reporting being done about it (I’ve relied heavily on the BBC the past 11 days) is the inescapable question: “What would I do?”

It’s not theoretical.

Something tells me the Ukrainians who are returning home from surrounding countries and even from far away ones, as well as the Ukrainians risking their lives to flee west, are not considering that possibility for the very first time just now. I suspect they witnessed recent invasions and watched people both flee and fight (there are critical reasons for doing both) and asked, “What if that were me?”

Putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes is more than empathy. It’s preparation.

P.S. The writing of Timothy Snyder is helping me understand what’s going on and what outside observes can do to help. This post is especially helpful.

Try

There was something I wanted to try, a change I wanted to make, and I proposed it several days in advance in a setting that was missing some of the people who would be needed to make it happen. It didn’t fly.

There was something I wanted to try, a change I wanted to make, and I proposed it a few minutes beforehand, when all of the relevant figures were present. It was surprisingly easy.

Leading change is not only about the change(s) we are proposing, but also when, where, and to whom.

Measure

If you don’t measure, you won’t know your impact. You won’t know how that impact is changing, whether it’s expanding or retreating, whether it’s greater on Mondays or Fridays. The abundance of tools for measuring attendance and engagement has given us all a lot of work to do (I spend time each week noting down YouTube unique views, for example). Measurement is important work; someone has said, “You are what you measure.”

Measuring can’t tell you what you want to be or ought to be, though. Measuring can’t determine the impact you’re trying to make. We did Ashes on the Way this week and I chose not to count the people who received ashes throughout the day, because I couldn’t see what that number would tell us about what we were trying to achieve. Instead, I spent time observing how people were interacting with us and who was: joggers, students, police officers, restaurant workers, a British tourist with a tin of biscuits. I asked our servers what their experience was like and how it might be improved.

That’s measurement too. Qualitative measurement.