Friday, November 17, 2017

A Better Way





A friend recently expressed frustration that empowering people to take ownership and leadership takes a lot more time than doing something one's self. This is true... in the short term. In the long term, empowerment is the more efficient means of reaching a given destination because empowerment involves honest recognition of one's own limitations, the skills of others, the need for community and relationship, and the reality of having a few more eyes on an issue. 

As a person who often makes an idol of efficiency, I confess that I have sometimes let empowerment fall by the wayside. This is not because I lack the skills to empower others, but because I haven't taken the time to offer the opportunity or been willing to let something flounder when others didn't step forward. I have come to realize, through time and experience, that enabling is not actually an efficient path to any destination other than the Land of Resentment, Burnout Island, or Frustration Station. 

In the church, as with many other organizations, good leadership does not mean that one or two or even a small committee handle the majority of the work. Instead, good stewardship of the resources of people, locations, time, and money means sharing duties between those who have the necessary skills, those who could learn them, and those who would like to assist, but not be in charge. 

Lay leaders, as well as clergy, can be guilty of taking the enabling path by way of control (doing it alone resentfully or instructing how it should be done). They may also grow tired of doing a thing, but not let go of it- lest it be changed or "done wrong". Some may make a choice, certain that their way is correct and that change is good, and lead off- only to find that no one has followed. Others may distribute activities, chores, or roles without considering the skills, abilities, and desires of the ones whom they are pressuring as recruits. 

Empowering involves a certain level of vulnerability- a willingness to be honest with one's yes and one's no, the effort to ask for help or explanation, the patience to listen reflectively and with self-control, and a level of discernment via the Holy Spirit. None of these things are outside of the grasp of anyone in the church. Often we tolerate bad behavior because that's just "the way someone is" or because we don't like confrontation. Both of those options seem efficient, but are the way of enabling. 

The fruits of the spirit- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control- all contain an element of honesty within them. When we embrace and are embraced by this honesty, then we can become communities of empowerment, not enabling. And empowerment seems like the most efficient way to help one another live the baptized life of imitating Christ to which we have been called. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Jesus Test (A Corollary to The Rock Test)

In response to new/old news about powerful men abusing and manipulating women, blogger Anna Victoria Clark wrote a fun and true piece called The Rock Test: A Hack for Men Who Don't Want to Be Accused of Sexual Harassment. I recommend this piece and if you haven't read it yet, take a moment, click over, and then come on back for some theological reflection.

I like The Rock Test, but it's not totally great for my context.

Confession: I don't think about Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as much as I do about Jesus.

Thus, I'd like to propose that for a certain part of the population, "The Jesus Test" may be a more effective hack to prevent bad choices and encourage good (and godly) behavior.

Setting One: Passing the Peace

Sure, maybe you're a "hugger", but you know the person who has always stiffly held out their hand? That person doesn't want to be hugged. You don't know why. It may be taking all they have to be in the presence of all these other people. It may be that they have an illness where even light touch is painful. They may just not like to be touched. Your identity as a "hugger" doesn't surpass their desire not to be hugged.

Think of this Jesus:



This is when Christ appears to Mary Magdalene in the garden and asks her not to touch him. We don't know if he didn't want it because it would break his resolve to ascend to the Father, because it would be hard for her, or if it would disrupt some other divine part of His work. 

Jesus has the right to ask not to be touched and to have that request respected. Look at the person you are approaching. What are their body signals? What do their eyes say? If you know you are a person who is NOT good at reading those things, a handshake is always your best bet. If someone has a hand out, respect that hand. Noli me tangere, Jesus says, "Do not touch me." We listen to that from him and when he says it from within our neighbor. 

Pro tip: This applies beyond passing the peace. When someone asks you to withdraw your hand or to step back, additional commentary or pressure is absolutely uncalled for and unnecessary. No means no. It did for Jesus, it does for those whom Jesus loves. 


Setting Two: The Inappropriate Story

Are you in Bible study or a group meeting? Are you having a one-to-one with another person? Are you having coffee, drinks, or a snack with a group of 2-3? Are you leading? Are you a participant? Do you have a question you want to ask or a story that you want to tell neither of which is for the full edification of the group? 

Is your story because it gets a good laugh or because you like to shock people? 
Is your question to show how much you know, rather than to offer information? 
Is your goal to disrupt or unseat the person in charge? 
Is the purpose of the story or the question to show your power in the group and/or in the community? 

Would you tell this story to Jesus? Would you interrupt Jesus to ask the question? Is there a way that you would frame things differently if Jesus were the one in the front of the room or the one listening to you teach? 

Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing [CC BY-SA 3.0
(https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons



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I began this blog post on 10/11/17, right after the Harvey Weinstein allegations came out and the "Rock Test" was fresh and viral. However, I never mustered the energy to finish it. Frankly, my dears, I'm tired of having to think of clever ways to say, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." 

It's not about how you would want someone to treat your mother or daughter. It's not about how you feel about your gay son or your cousin who is trans. It's not about whether you could see your Indian neighbor's face or your Muslim cab driver's family picture. The truth is that you either believe all people to be your equals in the eyes of God or you don't. 

And if you don't, if you don't... you won't- even if someone rises from the dead. 

If you don't, it's not about things being different in the era in which you were raised. 

If you don't, it's not about a boys' club or what was good enough for you or your father or your grandfather. 

The fact is that you think that you are better than people around you and that the rules that govern everyone else don't apply to you. 

My carefully constructed writing will not convince you that other people are not means to your end of power, perceived control, money, awards, rewards, or advancement. 



So, here's the deal. I will not be sad when you lose your job. I will not be sad when your empire collapses. I will not shed a tear if you find yourself without everything that you so carefully built, believing yourself to be invincible. 

Someday, when (not if) it happens, I will have tea with you. If you want. I will not be sympathetic to your plight. I will look you in the eye and say, "This was always going to be a totally shit time." 

And I will wait to see if you want to make it better or make it right. 

I will not offer cheap grace. 

That's the true Jesus' test. 

And many people are shocked to find themselves failing. 



Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Something New

Knitting a basketweave hat! 
I recently taught myself how to knit, with the help of videos, books, and a few friends. I ultimately want to make a certain kind of sweater and I can only find knitting patterns for that sweater. Knitting makes a different kind of fabric and would open up more projects for me. 

However, in order to start knitting, I had to stop crocheting (at least for a little while). To fully learn and grown in my new skill, I had to set aside other habits. While there was nothing wrong with crocheting, I can’t crochet and knit at the same time, so one had to be put down while I took up the other.

It seems that we often try to do two things at the same time, even though they are mutually exclusive. We harbor longing for change, but we do not set aside harmful habits or take up helpful ones. We try to fit complacency and courage into the same space at the same time. We like the idea of something new, but we don’t want to put the energy or time or thought into how it might come about.


The only way to truly change, to embrace a new way of being, is to set aside the thing(s) that cannot continue to happen at the same time. As we enter in the season of holidays, apocalyptic scripture readings, donation requests, and thoughts of a new year, let us remember that God promises to make “all things new” which is NOT the same as “all new things”. How do we lean into the renewal work of the Holy Spirit in this busy time? What are we being called to set aside, so that we might take up something new, grown in a new way, or be led down a new path?