learning to honor tenderness...

For some reason I have lost my once protective armor. The brash stupidity of some - and
the calculating cruelty of others - gets to me more since returning from sabbatical. This, too is a change I could not have anticipated. And it is unsettling because much of the time a thick skin is essential for pastoral work in the church.  In the past I've managed dumb pronouncements, boring suggestions about how church life could be improved and/or fixed, or even mean-spirited critiques with a certain detachment. But not so much any more and I have to confess I am not so sure this is a good thing. My heart resonates with the call towards tenderness and mercy - and that makes detachment complicated if not impossible.

Clearly I went into a tailspin yesterday that I had not expected. The presenting issue involved yet one more unimaginative annual meeting.  The details are less important than my highly charged reaction: it has become very hard for me to listen to foolishness and disinformation about our ministry of worship and community building in a non-anxious way.  So I left frustrated and even exasperated - and it took me the better part of 24 hours to sort out why.  Here's my hunch:

+ First, the form of our official church business meetings no longer serve the needs of the worshipping and compassion-sharing community. I have sensed this to be true for a few years, but now I know it in my gut. The model we use is ok for a secular club - or even a business association - but not a church growing in spirit and truth.  After all, the budget is only a part of what binds us together, yes? And yet for generations the heart and soul of these gatherings has been all about the financial bottom line. Why do we even have a budget? Where is our understanding of where the Spirit is inviting us to journey as we follow the Lord? What about the meaning of our ministries and the sacrificial work the people of God in this place share with one another in the world.? Without giving as much attention to both the form and content of our business meetings, they "suck the life out of us" as one young leader told me. 

+ Second, the culture of these gatherings treats all comments as equal - and that simply is not true.  Those who only have one tool - namely, a hammer - always treat others as nails. That means care must be exercised in moving conversation forward - or even to a point. Another way of saying this is: the classic definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. Those who have been trained/allowed to monopolize a public meeting - especially those without insight - need to be retrained by those willing to be kind and courageous. My take away is simple: the form and content of our business meetings must be grounded in prayer, saturated with an awareness of God's grace, and committed to sharing the good news in clear and useful ways. They must be designed to use the gifts of the community - including emerging leaders - rather than repeat what took place last year... and the year before that...and the century before that. Further, new and life-giving forms for meetings not only help train those who choose to speak with more thoughtfulness, they can also help model kindness and respect. The Living Room Conversation movement, inspired by Parker Palmer, suggests the following  ground rules:

Be Curious and Open to Learning:  Listen to and be open to hearing all points of view. Maintain an attitude of exploration and learning. Conversation is as much about listening as it is about talking.

Show Respect and Suspend Judgment:  Human beings tend to judge one another, do your best not to. Setting judgments aside will better enable you to learn from others and help them feel respected and appreciated.

Look for Common Ground:  In this conversation, we look for what we agree on and simply appreciate that we will disagree on some beliefs and opinions.

Be Authentic and Welcome that from Others:  Share what’s important to you. Speak authentically from your personal and heartfelt experience. Be considerate to others who are doing the same.

Be Purposeful and to the Point:  Notice if what you are conveying is or is not “on purpose” to the question at hand. Notice if you are making the same point more than once.

Own and Guide the Conversation: Take responsibility for the quality of your participation and the quality of the conversation by noticing what’s happening and actively support getting yourself and others back “on purpose” when needed.

+ And third, interpretation of the facts on the ground is an essential component for all future gatherings. Staying on point - and knowing the point of the meeting - helps prevent it from either being hijacked, or, devolve into a painful hoop to jump through that must be completed in as little time as possible.

My self-understanding about this growing inability to tolerate outdated forms of church - and that
includes aspects of the larger church - stems from two sabbatical insights.  a) I have limited
 time left in life and ministry; I have long believed that Jesus wasn't fooling when he told us: I have come so that your joy may be full. This is the season in my journey to live more fully into that joy and let go of what is deadening and done. And b) at this stage in ministry I have some clear wisdom about what advances the cause of Christ's joy and what kills it. I must become more assertive in honoring that wisdom. Sabbatical brought me into rest. Rest is encouraging me to challenge what is crazy-making about ministry. And challenging the crazy-making stuff is pushing me to bury what is outmoded and move forward with joy.

Last night, after a lot on angst, I saw the following quote from Richard Rohr - it was an epiphany that I want to honor:

"If your only goal is to love, there is no such thing as failure. Really! Even, and most especially, failures are another occasion and opportunity to learn and practice love, even toward yourself."


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