Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Question of Anxiety, or the Way to Love?

A reflection on Matthew 22:34-46

One of my favorite television shows is found on the Discovery Channel from 6:00pm to 7:00pm Monday through Friday; it’s called Cash Cab. The premise of this show is a New York taxi driver who hosts a game show in his taxi.

The game show is simple to play. The host/driver asks the riders a series of general knowledge questions and the riders respond. Each time the contestant gives a correct answer they earn prize money. Each wrong answer is a strike against them. Three strikes and the cab ride is over, they have to get out of the cab immediately and they lose all their accrued prize money.

Once everyone agrees to the rules the cab starts the trip and the driver asks the first question. The first few questions are worth $25.00, then after awhile the prize money doubles to $50 and then the last few questions, if the riders get that far, are worth $100. I’ve seen people win over $1000 in just one cab ride. The questions are supposed to be general knowledge questions but the point is for the host to ask them in a tricky fashion in order to increase the confusion rate and cause the responder to doubt their answers.

Such was the technique being applied by the Pharisees when they approached Jesus in today’s Gospel. The Pharisees hoped to trick Jesus into an endless debate of confusion and misunderstanding. They asked a simple seeming question, “Which commandment is the greatest of all?”

But here is the tricky part. The Old Testament has 613 commandments, something the Pharisees knew and so did Jesus. The Pharisees hope that Jesus will pick one commandment as the most important, and in response they are primed, with 612 other options, to argue against what-ever he says.

The Pharisees were having a lot of concern about Jesus and were plotting against him. He was doing new and unusual things. They felt a need to question what he said and what he did. And the anxiety, for the Pharisees, was high.

Some days there is a fair amount of anxiety here, at large church too. But I want to assure you that, unlike what was going on with the Pharisees, who were full of deceit and trickery, the anxiety we are feeling is a normal response to our lives. A certain amount of anxiety is an appropriate response to our lives at this time. The reality is we have a lot to be anxious about. In addition to our health, and our finances, we are trying to settle into a new relationship between you and me. We are in the early stages of a new relationship, congregation and Rector. This kind of relationship is unique. It occurs on a corporate level and it also occurs on a one to one level.

Relationships of every kind take time to grow. We need to nurture them, which takes effort. Testing, too, is a natural part of relationship building – will you still love me if you know all my warts and pimples? Kids test parents, husbands and wives test each other, groups of people test the leader and one another this way.

The truth is, yes, I will still love you, warts and pimples and all. And, in time you will love me and my flaws too. At the moment though, neither one of us really knows the other. There is some uncertainty, and as a result some anxiety. In addition to being a priest, I have a Masters in Social Work. I have an understanding of group dynamic and parish life that is broad and deep and grounded in lots of parish life experience, some 20 years of it.

The point I want to make is, anxiety always likes to find a focal point. The Pharisees want Jesus to pick one commandment. It will give them a place to focus their anxiety and argue their point. It is very difficult for human beings to focus anxiety on intangibles, like the emotions and feelings of a new relationship. It is much easier to focus anxiety on things – what ever the “thing” may be. Focusing our anxiety on some “thing” enables us to think we can control that “thing” and as a result control the anxiety and settle down the anxious feelings. The problem is that the “things” are not the real issue. So trying to fix the “things,” what-ever they may be, will only be a temporary fix, soon the anxiety will crop up again. What will fix the anxiety is time. Time to grow into relationships of trust.

William Bridges wrote a book a number of years ago called, “Managing Transition.” This and other resources state that the transition time for a parish begins as soon as the incumbent rector announces his or her retirement and continues until 18 months after the new rector has come. In other words parishes are in a state of transition for the better part of two or three years every time the incumbent rector leaves and new rector comes on board.

We are only 7 months into the 18 month process of getting to know each other. You, see, we are normal and right on target, experiencing the usual kinds of anxiety in this process.

As we go along we will find things we like about each other and things we don’t. Its ok, we’re human, not perfect. We will try things together. Some of the things we try we will really enjoy, and so we will do them again. Some of the things we try we may discard, and then try something else. It’s a learning process of getting to know one another. Slowly we will begin to feel less anxious and more trusting.

So, back to Jesus and the Pharisees’ question. Jesus gives them an answer they were unprepared for, a brilliant, absolutely right answer. And the answer Jesus gives offers us good direction as well. Instead of choosing any one of the commandments, instead of focusing on a “thing” Jesus recites for them the Shema, the summary of all the commandments, a prayer well known by any good praying Jew: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all strength, and with all your soul, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

This prayer points us to the ultimate truth of God’s desire for us, love. But the trick to understanding it is to know what love really means.

Love is risky. Love is challenging. Love changes us. Our love for another person enables that person to become most fully who they are able to be. We do not and cannot love instantly. True love takes a long time to grow, and ripens as it lives through challenges, uncertainty, anxiety, joy, hope, and patience.

Here is an example of this love: A woman has a stroke. Her daughter takes her into her home and cares for her, helping her recover. Despite the steady loving care a fight breaks out between this mother and daughter. Finally the mother yells, “Why are you doing this?”

The daughter offers a variety of answers about helping her mother get well, about trying to make up for past hurts and painful memories of her childhood, of not wanting her mother to go to a home, and so on…her reasons were numerous. Finally the mother said, “Junk.”

“What!” said the daughter. “Junk” said the mother. “You don’t have to have all those reasons. We love each other, that is reason enough.”

Relationships are complicated. We have a tendency toward temper tantrums and stopping of feet when we don’t get what we want in a relationship. This is true in churches, in marriages and families, and in friendships. But being in relationship is not about getting what we want. It’s about growing in and through one another, in and through our experience of each other, and ultimately growing into being deeper richer fuller human beings. And most importantly being Church is not about getting what we want, but about doing what God desires of us.

Beverly Wildung Harrison, a Christian Ethicist, wrote the following in her essay, “Making the Connections.”

“I believe (she writes) that our world is on the verge of self-destruction and death because the society as a whole has so deeply neglected that which is most human and most valuable and the most basic of all the works of love – the work of human communication, of caring and nurturance, of tending the personal bonds of community. This activity has been seen as….too mundane and undramatic, too distracting from the serious business of world rule….This urgent work of love is subtle but powerful. Through acts of love…we literally build up the personhood of one another. It is within the power of human love to build up the dignity and self respect in one another – or – to tear each other down. We are better at the latter (at tearing each other down) than the former (of building each other up in love). However, literally through acts of love directed to us we become self-respecting and other regarding persons, and we cannot be one without the other….”

Today we baptize another person into the Body Christ. Christ, who is himself the embodiment of God’s love. In Christ God’s love pours into our world, and into our lives, seeping into the broken places and holding them, seeping into the anxiety and bringing peace, seeping into our joy and celebrating with us. God’s love in Christ is a mystery and grace, the fullness of love. In baptism this love is given to us. As Christians God’s love lives in us in particular ways, defined as much by the quality we bring to it through an open heart, as by its innate quality. This love is not to be limited by our own inward focused neediness.

Today V S comes to us as an adult seeking baptism. He has spent a life time looking for a community in which to live a life of faith, a family of faith to help deepen his understanding of what it means to love as God loves. For years God has been speaking into his being and V has responded, searched, prayed.

Now, today, he chooses to enter into a particular expression of his life-long faith, an expression grounded in baptism, the fundamental Christian sign of God’s love. In our baptismal preparation on Friday I told V he would be asked six questions. “Oh,” he said, “How will I know the answer?” And then I assured him that they were not trick questions, the liturgy provides the answers. The process of question and answer will provide him an opportunity to remember that what he promises, will happen, “with God’s help.” Through this baptism V S will be blessed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. Just like the rest of us he comes into this relationship: vulnerable and anxious and yet, hopeful. And, just like the rest of us, he comes seeking to love and be loved.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Fist

One of the rare but chronic symptoms I experience under stress is a spasm in my chest. The spasm occurs in the proximity of my heart, but it isn't my heart. I've had it checked out. It is caused by a spasm in the intercostal muscles near my heart. These muscles are literally in the intercostal spaces between the ribs and attach at the sternum. When my stress is high, the kind of high stress that comes from a breaking heart, these muscles hurt. They twinge and spasm. You see I have what is called a Trigger Point in the muscle. Maybe the TP is in the pectoral muscle, not the intercostal, but who really cares? I know that the spasms are from a TP because I can feel it, and when I put steady pressure on it, the TP hurts with the same kind of pain of the spasm. But after a few minutes appling steady pressure on the TP the pain ceases.

And so do the spasms.

I think that when under stress my body tightens like a fist, angry and protective and preparing to protect. This is not always the healthiest response. But, since my massage yesterday I have suddenly been able to meditate once again. Meditating has alluded me for about two years. And now, just like that, I can again. I feel remarkably different. It all reminds me of this poem by Mary Oliver:

The Fist

There are days
when the sun goes down
like a fist,
though of course

if you see anything
in the heavens
in this way
you had better get

your eyes checked
or, better still,
your diminished spirit.
The heavens

have no fist,
or wouldn't they have been
shaking it
for a thousand years now,

and even
longer than that,
at the dull, brutish
ways of mankind -

heaven's own
creation?
Instead: such patience!
Such willingness

to let us continue!
To hear,
little by little,
the voices -

only, so far, in
pockets of the world -
suggesting
the possibilities

of peace?
Keep looking,
Behold, how the fist opens
with invitation.

(Mary Olive: Thirst; Beacon Press Boston, 2006)

Nothing has changed in my life. All the stresses are still there. But I hope that the fist has opened on this diminished spirit of mine and peace can settle in despite it all. I think the fact that I have had no chest pains since yesterday is probably a good sign...

Heart Pain


Last night was one of those nights where I thought that everything as I knew it was coming to an end. I continue to be stunned at the amount of intense stuff that keeps hitting the fan in my life. And every bit of it is coming out of the blue and broadsiding me. I never even see it coming.

So after a sleepless night I went to the office to be the "Non-Anxious" presence. And, well, I can do that. I am trained to do that. I lead and guide and hold firm in a gentle and hopefully wise way. But every bit of everything I do feels about has hard as it can be. I trust it will pass.

After work today I went for a massage appointment. I am trying to have consistent massages, at least one every three weeks. I walked in and while talking to the therapist I started to weep. It really doesn't take much for me to cry, sob even. As soon as I open up the compartment, the one I stuff it in so I can be non-anxious and function, it all pours out. Anyway. I was clearly right where I needed to be.

This massage therapist is truly gifted. She took me to a place of such deep, profound relaxation that deep sighs were pouring out of me uncontrollably. At the end of the treatment she just held my head in one hand with the other on my sternum and breathed with me. Slowly. S.l.o.w.l.y....and I was transported to a deep place within me that just let go.

And then I remembered. For the first time in years. I remembered the feeling of deep deep relaxation, the kind that is directly connected to God.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

React in Fear or Respond in Love



flikrfoto

She was a mere nine years old but inside a deep desire was brewing. She longed to be baptized. Her parents were in no hurry and failed to see the urgency. But the girl persisted and eventually the parents consented.

So, on a warm June morning the girl prepared for her baptism. Her denomination baptized everyone, from all the local churches, in the same baptismal font located in a special building in the center of town. Every baptism was by full immersion, a complete dunking into the water.

That morning the girl arrived for her baptism, was assigned a special changing room and given the white gown she would be baptized in. When she was ready she walked out into the baptismal chamber and waited her turn in line. Finally she climbed up the steps to the pool and waited on the side as the person before her was baptized. Next her uncle, who would baptize her, stepped into the pool and motioned to her to come in.

At that moment she froze. Looking at her uncle, and looking at the water, filled her with fear. She thought about running out the door, but there was a line of people behind her, waiting their turn. Trembling she slowly stepped down into the pool. The water was nearly up to her shoulders. She walked slowly toward her uncle, in the center. Her mind raced, panic set in. In the baptism her uncle would clasp his hand over her nose and the other hand behind her back. He would dip her backward into the water three times. What if, she thought, he drops me? What if he drops me and in my panic I drown? She knew she couldn’t swim. She knew she was afraid of water. It was possible that she might die in this baptism. Or so she thought in that anxiety- filled moment…

Then, suddenly her uncle placed his hand firmly on her back while his other hand clasped her nose and he proceeded to tip her backward and fully under the water three times: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Suddenly her baptism was over, she was up, standing on her two feet, dripping wet, and fully alive.

That day, that baptism, still stands as a powerful, profound, and defining moment in her life. Now grown the woman understands that defining as it was, her faith journey did not begin with that baptism nor was it the end of her journey. However baptism shaped her faith journey in particular ways.

Baptism is the defining ritual that marks human beings as Christian. The ritual itself describes baptism as a process in which we die to one way of life and are born into another. Images of death and birth are significant. Water holds the ability to give life and the ability to take life.

Baptism is the moment in which we enter into a particular kind of relationship with God and Christ. But entering into a relationship with God and Christ is not the same thing as living into that relationship through a life-long faith journey.

Sometimes we think that because we are living a life of faith that our lives will be simple, that all will be well, and that we will not face any obstacles. Sadly this is simply not true. People of faith face many issues, just like everyone else, but hopefully, because of our faith we have a different way of moving though those obstacles. Grounded in an experience of the love of God we are called to approach our challenges with love, with grace and integrity and compassion. But just like the people in our reading from Exodus, we too can get distracted, filled with fear, and anxious.

These Israelite people, after waiting a long while for Moses to return, could no longer contain their anxiety. They began to grumble and complain. They gossiped among themselves and said mean things about Moses and about each other. Soon their anxiety began to affect Aaron, who was left in charge when his brother Moses wandered off to the mountain. Before long the anxiety was palpable. Something had to be done. They could have done something constructive – they could have prayed and they could have reminded themselves and each other to trust in God. Instead the people began to build an icon to their former Egyptian pagan god, a golden calf. The frenzy of gathering, melting, and sculpting, focused their anxiety, even as it also misdirected it.

We all do this, don’t we? Something happens that causes our anxiety to rise. Fear and worry take over, and soon every little thing begins to feel insurmountable. When this happens we lash out and do anything we can to ease the anxiety and help us feel ok again. Sometimes in the process we say mean things. We accuse people of things that feel true but may not be accurate. Often in this anxious state, the things we do and say may be wrong; at the very least they are often hurtful.

When the Israelites built that Golden calf our scripture tells us that God was hurt. Their actions hurt God, broke God’s trust in God’s people. And then the scripture tells us that just like the people reacted in fear and anxiety and anger, God too was about to react.

And here in lies the critical piece when we face our anxiety. Are we going to react? Or are we going to take some time, think it through, and respond? Reacting is always emotional, responding is always thoughtful. Moses chooses not to react to all the emotion shown by the people nor does he react to the emotion shown by God. Instead Moses chooses to respond. He talks to God, he offers real, thoughtful responses. And, by responding he is able to calm the situation down instead of igniting it further.

Our Gospel reading directs us similarly. What happens when things don’t turn out as we anticipate? When people fail us in our expectations? Or when someone’s behavior hurts our feelings? Are we to be reactive like this King? Are we going to get riled up and angry and react from our emotions?

What if that girl, as she stood on the side of the pool, had given into her emotions? What if she had turned around and instead of being baptized, ran out of that room? Thankfully she didn’t do that. She didn’t give into her emotions but instead walked right into her anxiety, allowing it to literally wash over her and then wash away.

There is a lot of emotional reactivity happening in our world right now. And for good reason. But the point remains the same. We need to be careful. Being reactive, letting fear or anger guide us, can cause us to misstep or hurt others or cause bigger problems. When we are able to set our initial emotional reactivity aside and give something some time and thoughtfulness and prayer, another way appears. God models this for us, in this story from Exodus God does not destroy the Israelites. God responds….God forgives them.

And in our reading from Philippians Paul points us in this same direction: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known…and the God of peace will be with you.

Our faith journey with God is no guarantee that life will be easy. The waters of baptism do indeed show us both death and life. In these days when everything feels scary, when any little shift in the familiar seems to be the very hole that will sink the ship, when panic rules, and anxiety prevails, it is even more important that what dies is our reactivity and what ceases is our panic. Then, what lives will be our ability to respond, grounded in God, with hope for a new day. What lives will be our ability to respond with trust in the ultimate goodness of others. What lives will be our ability to respond with love.

In a moment we will baptize B R and welcome her into this Christian family. On this day, when we all share the same surname, Christian, we are the Body of Christ. And as the Body we are called by God to be the hands and heart of Christ in the world – not by hurting others, but by embracing them with love and compassion. In just a moment we will renew this very promise to God – a promise to be different…instead of reacting to each other and the world in fear and anxiety, we will promise respond with love – to love God, love self, and love neighbor. And we will do it all, with God’s help.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Ok...the world has not ended....and I'm still breathing

I have said more than one lately that the only way I know how to pray these days is through my breath...or rather...in the act of breathing. I am virtually unable to spend time in silence, which used to be my preferred prayer posture....silent...contemplative.

Now, well, NOW I rarely find prayer in words. I never (almost never) find prayer in silence - BECAUSE - I can't find the silence...my inner spirit is beyond silence....

So. I settle for breathing.

Yesterday was a dreadful day...but I lived through it. We all lived through it.

I thought I was through the worst of it....but silly me....I should know better.

Last night another parishioner began an emotional bleed-out...I swear I experience something like this about every other week....some parishioner having a melt down about something, usually not life threatening, but well, for that person it feels as though life as it is known is being threatened....

Generally they are about things like implementing new security measures to protect our valuables. Or adding a little something else to the worship service, or at least some of the services....or perhaps two services a year...

I think it has been weeks since I have slept well. Oh sure I might have a night or two but then the bleed-outs begin again and then, no more sleep....

I called the consultant today and shared what has gone on since we spoke last, in early Sept. He is such a great voice of reassurance. It helps me to hear that my leadership is heading in the right direction....this from someone who really knows, really gets it....

Thanks to all of you too for your kind words of support and hope....

So. Even though every muscle feels tight and my neck is all out of wack....The world has not ended. I am still breathing.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Speaking of Sin

Lately I've started to think about Barbara Brown Taylor's book, "Speaking of Sin." I don't have a copy of it here, it's at the office. And, I haven't read it for about 5 years....(guessing here, like I said I don't have a copy so not sure when it was printed).

The point is, as I recall from her book, she argues for the necessity of a language for sin. She says that we have become a society that brushes off sin, ignores it as a reality and writes it off. People don't want to go to church and feel "bad" so let's don't offer a confession and absolution.

I remember this topic in a conversation at seminary, lo some 12 years ago. I think I argued, then, for confession, but not at everyone of our daily Eucharists. I thought it would be good enough to have it once or twice a week, so it wouldn't become rote and meaningless. Others wanted it less, while others wanted the confession included in every Eucharist.

Not sure if I would argue it the same way, now. But that's beside the point. What I am thinking about is, how do we name sin? And how do we teach it to people, especially our children?

My kids just roll their eyes when I use language like, "sin." So I have to describe their behavior in other words....words about justice, respect, accountability. My hope is convey what sin is even if they don't like the word.

Another thing, as a I recall, that BBT says in the book, is that forgiveness is important and so is reconciliation. These concepts are important for human well being - in a real, deep, way. I can't recall how BBT unpacks this, but I remember that I thought is was right on.

My daughter is now 20. I think she has grown up understanding the concept of sin and reconciliation even without the language. She has a fine sense of justice, honesty, and accountability. Some days I stand in awe of her strength and integrity.

Now, my son, who is 16, is another story. He, currently, is living with the impression that the world needs to adapt to him, not he to the world. It makes it complicated to teach him accountability....

And, it is leaving me feeling impotent and unable to parent.

But I don't think it is just about me and my son. I think we are a reflection of our society, our world. People who have lost the ability to speak of sin and then understand what to do....and our society is crumbling under that loss...crumbling from denial, from pushing things under or away, and pretending that each of us is entitled to what ever it is we think is right.

Yes. I chose to write a public confession of my failure. It's true. I have. My hope is that accepting my failure (not that I am a failure, but that in areas of my life I have failed)...by accepting it and confessing it, I can seek ways to reconcile it. I trust that the forgiveness is there, but that does not relieve me of my responsibility to reconcile...

That is, with God's grace.

Someday: Mary Oliver



The possessive hummingbird at the feeder in our backyard...he chases off all the other hummingbirds...

Someday

Even the oldest of the trees continues its wonderful labor.
Hummingbird lives in one of them.
He's there for the white blossoms, and the secrecy.
The blossoms could be snow, with a dash of pink.
At first the fruit is small and green and hard.
Everything has dreams, hope, ambition.

If I could I would always live in such shining obedience
where nothing but the wind trims the boughs.
I am sorry for every mistake I have made in my life.
I am sorry I wasn't wiser sooner.
I am sorry I ever spoke of myself as lonely.

Oh, love, lay your hands upon me again.
Some of the fruit ripens and is picked and is delicious.
Some of it falls and the ants are delighted.
Some of it hides under the snow and the famished deer are saved.

(Red Bird: Beacon Press Boston; 2008)

This day is going to be a difficult one, for reasons I cannot say, pertaining mostly to my son. I am anxious and crabby and deeply sad. At times I wish I could just wake up from this nightmare. (That was the pervasive thought running through my dreams last night)

I am also worried about my friend M2, the mother of twins, my God-daughters. She is desperately looking for a job. She too is an Episcopal priest. And having been in some 30 searches since January, no church will hire her. It seems churches think a single mom of twin babies won't have time for the parish. Maybe the churches are right? But maybe they are not. It is tragic nonetheless. Please hold her in prayer.

And I am worried about some of my blogging colleagues. Concerned about their well being as they face tragedies and life changes. Voiceless to help, sometimes words fail, hugs are needed.

Some days it is enough just to get out of bed and put one foot in front of another.

I am sorry for all the ways I have failed to be a parent or a friend or a blogging colleague...may my failures (our failures)somehow, SOMEDAY become nurishment for new life.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Leadership...

As I watch the Presidential debates I am distracted by thoughts of leadership. (Ok, I admit, I am finding the debate between McCain and Obama to be a bit dry).....

Anyway...What is good leadership? What kind of leadership do we, will we, trust? I think the answers to these questions varies from era to era, from politics to society to religious institutions.

Before I entered the process for ordination I spent many years in the arts community working in theater and dance production and then in Interior Design. I saw myself as an artist, not the typical artist using paint or ink, pottery, glass, or metals. Rather I saw myself as an artist portraying and bringing forth human emotion, human experience, human hope, in the lights I used to illuminate dance theater or later, as I naively thought, in the furnishing of homes for the wealthy. (yeah, I don't know what I was thinking there - except perhaps that being an interior designer was a means to an end for me - a way for me to get "rich"). I also had a fair amount of leadership experience, not just from theater and interior design, but also from having started a ministry in a local hospital that lasted for 8 years.

So, after another career as a Massage Therapist, working with hospice and hospital and a small private practice...I attended seminary and was finally ordained. In my first "call" I was drawn to a parish that claimed to have a fabulous priest/rector who knew how to raise up great priests. I was excited to be offered a job with that church and eagerly took it...

Despite the fact that a previous interview at that church had left me hyperventilating, yeah, really an interview at this same church a year earlier had felt so up-tight that I left there gasping for air.

This time, this round of interviews, I had friend on the "inside" who assured me that the rector was a great mentor - leaving me to doubt my own experience.

Anyway, I accepted the position and was excited to begin ordained ministry. I anticipated a time of formation that would include deep prayer, building of spirituality, teaching of the practice of sacramental rites.

What I got instead was a corporate church engaged in a corporate model of top down hierarchy. Of competition amongst the staff. Of disengaged, unemotional, corporate model of leadership that spent more time teaching me how to give the dismissal from liturgy than it did teaching me to care for my spiritual life.

It drove me nuts.

I had to work hard to not buy into and think that all my intuitive sensibilities of leadership were not "flights of fancy," but pointed me toward real, good, alternatives for leadership. Real and good in terms of content, of how women lead, and how that kind of collaborative leadership was being overlooked by my male colleagues...This was 10 years ago.

Now I think more and more young people are influenced by female leadership and grow up with new images of what leadership can look like... Young men and women who have had the opportunity of experiencing a woman pastor....Soon, I suspect, this will not be an issue.

All this is to say that I went into the position, my first call, with one sense of what this time would be like (rich in spiritual formation of priesthood and faith development) and what I got instead was a corporate model of leadership and loads of skills in leading that way.

True, that kind of formation has held me in good stead. I "get" organizations and processes and ministry. I understand "Corporate" models of leadership and while there is value in them, they are not my preferred way of leading. At least not in the ways they reinforce hierarchy, top down, authoritarian leading. I prefer collaborative and mutual leading...the sharing of authority.

But, as Susan Beaumont so wisely said, One has to have authority first before it can be shared..." Ergo, sometimes one has to function in that corporate model in order to gain the authority and then teach people how to lead as team, how to share leadership.

Therefore the longer I live into my vocation as a priest, the more certain I am, that women's leadership has changed the entire landscape of our society, our churches, our world. That said, I don't think we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater - I think there is a way to blend the corporate models of the past with the leadership of relationship that women bring to the process.

That's what I am working on now...

I'll let you know how it goes...

Oh, and in terms of the debate and our Presidential election - we need a new model of leadership there too....I really hope that Obama is elected AND that he can live into the change he offers....I know how hard it is to do, even when one has all the best of intentions. (and, a lot less at stake)....

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Holy Chaos



That's what I called our worship services today, Holy Chaos. We had our annual pet blessing, a service held on Sunday morning, in the context of the worship service, Eucharist and all.

Some folks suggested, earlier this week, that we bless the animals in the beginning of the service so that those who wanted to leave afterward, could. I declined that suggestion. In my mind and experience, (I've done pet blessings every year in church for the last 10 years), the blessing of our beloved pets falls squarely in our worship in the same order and manner of the other rituals of sacrament. True, blessing our animals is not a sacrament in the way that Baptism is or Eucharist. But because we are blessing our animals in church there is something sacred, sacramental about it. I placed the pet blessing in the same order of worship as a baptism or the wedding vows - at the end of the Liturgy of Word - following the opening prayer, the scripture readings, and the (very brief) homily, after the homily we blessed the animals...then we skipped the prayers of the people and the Nicene Creed and went straight to the Peace, followed by the Eucharist, the entire service, 55 minutes...

In spite of a long history offering pet blessings, I don't think this church has every done it quite this way before. I began the service with some instruction on the how and what and where of things, and reminded the people that the service would be a little chaotic, in a holy way, and that was OK. I said, if we don't get anxious, then our pets won't either - and since the pets can't do anything wrong, then there is nothing to be anxious about. Then I encouraged people to be sensitive to the animals around them, to give people and pets appropriate space.

Can I just say - everything went really well! Between two services we had a total of 77 dogs, 5 cats, two hermit crabs, a chicken, and a horse...(the horse had to stay outside the side door, I was worried that he'd crack the tile floor or slip on the tile)...All were blessed, and all had fun. Probably 1/3 of the people attending church today were visitors, there just for the pet blessing. I hope they had a good time too!

It was really fun to stir things up a bit, to invite some Holy Chaos into our lives, and to find in it a real sense of joy.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Women, the Conscience of the Church?

This morning I drove north about an hour to attend the Diocesan Convention for the Episcopal Church Women (ECW). Our Bishop and his wife were scheduled to speak about the recent Lambeth Conference. (Lambeth is a conference held every 10 years, convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury and held in England. Lambeth Conference is non-governing entity, intended for study and fellowship). This was the second time I have heard the Bishop speak about his experience there and I am getting the impression that it was, perhaps, a real eye-opener for him.

The Bishop and his wife spoke of their experience of the small group work, a Bible study held every morning of those three weeks, except Sunday. After the Bible study (done Lectio Divina method) the small groups would talk and share stories. One of the things that made this year different is that the Bishop spouses, 98% of whom are women, were also invited into Bible study. It seems the Janie Williams, wife of the current Archbishop of Canterbury (Rowan Williams) wanted the women, the spouses, to do more than the usual shopping trips and visits to gardens. She wanted the women to participate in Lambeth. And so they did.

The remarkable thing that came out of this, and the message the Bishop gave to the ECW was this: he came to believe that the women at Lambeth were the conscience of the conference, the conscience of the church. The presence of women, studying and sharing stories, prevented the men from wandering off into intellectual arenas of theory, doctrine, and dogma. The women kept the men connected to the real world and the real problems. It was a call to realize that human sexuality issues are taking way too much time while human tragedies of poverty, hunger, and violence are being ignored.

At one point in the conference the two groups, the men and the women, gathered in one large Bible study to consider the issue of "Power." The used the scripture reading from 2 Samuel on the rape of Tamar. To do this study the group was organized with women on one side of the room and men on the other. It was done this way so that the women could speak freely and safely. Some of the women in that Bible study are in marital relationships of abuse. They would not speak freely if they were at a table with men. It seems this Bible study was very powerful in the context of human sharing.

It also seems that some folks couldn't take it. For one reason or another 120 male Bishops left that tent and Bible study. Not a single woman left. This count was verified by the people who "guarded" the doors.

Who knows why the men left...perhaps they were bored. Perhaps they did not see the value in this kind of conversation. Perhaps some of them are the abusers.

From this the Bishop asked the ECW to go back to their churches and become the conscience of the church. To speak up and keep us focused on relationships not dogma, on real people not hypothetical idea, and on the "heart" of compassion in such a way as to keep us from being lost in the "head" by over-intellectualizing real life issues.

I've been writing a lot about leadership. I haven't said much about women's leadership, although being a woman, I have done a lot to understand how it is that women lead differently than (most) men. I've had to do this kind of work in order to understand who I am and why I do things one way, even when common business practice might point to another way.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

More About Leaders...

My friend and colleague read my blog and sent me another email elaborating on the Harvard Business Review on Leadership:

"Here’s a bit more that struck me from the essay, written by Abraham Zaleznik, Professor of Leadership emeritus at Harvard, called “Managers and Leaders: Are they Different?” Published in the “Harvard Business Review on Leadership” Harvard Business School Press, 1998

“Managers tend to adopt impersonal, if not passive, attitudes towards goals. Managerial goals arise out of necessities rather than desires and, therefore, are deeply embedded in their organization’s history and culture.”

“Leaders adopt a personal and active attitude toward goals. The influence a leader exerts in altering moods, evoking images and expectations, and in establishing specific desires and objectives determines the direction a business takes. The net result of this influence changes the way people think about what is desirable, possible and necessary.”

“Managers relate to people according to the role they place in a sequence of events or in a decision making process, while leaders, who are concerned with ideas, relate in more intuitive and empathetic ways. The distinction is simply between a manager’s attention to how things get done and a leader’s to what the events and decisions mean to participants.”

“One often hears leaders referred to with adjectives rich in emotional content. Leaders attract strong feelings of identity and difference.”

Leading On Eggshells



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A friend of mine sent me an email that included this:

"I thought about you yesterday as I was reading a collection of essays on leadership published by Harvard Business School. One writer emphasizes the differences between a manager and a leader. A manager, he said, copes with complexity through the accomplishment of daily, necessary tasks – in short, maintaining things as they are. A leader, on the other hand, is concerned with change – articulating its vision and ensuring its accomplishment, not by imposing it from above but by developing it from among the existing staff, getting people excited about the future. Organizations need both managers and leaders; it seems to me that what you are doing in small town big church is providing leadership – exactly what they need."

Reassuring words from my gifted and knowledgeable friend as I struggle to claim my voice in this new place.

In that same Alban Institute conference (previous post) the facilitator Susan Beaumont told us that the Senior Pastor, the Rector, the primary leader of a parish is the ONLY person who can be responsible for these 7 things:

1. Mission/Vision/Outcomes: who we are, who we serve, and how we do this. (My words, not hers)

2. Structure and Hierarchy: How the structure we function in enables us to live into our Mission and ministry. What do we believe about power and authority and leadership relationships? What does our structure communicate about what we believe?

3. Leadership Style: What does the leader believe about motivation, ability, skill, and worth of the people who serve on the leadership team? How are these reflected back in the leadership style?

4. Role Management: How do we manage our roles and the expectations that others have of our roles? How do we balance spiritual and organizational leadership?

5. Performance Management: What are the essential functions, core competencies and targeted outcomes expected from each member on the team? How will team members be encouraged and held accountable for their portion of the work?

6. Strategic Decision Making: How will we make decisions together? What will we choose to pay attention to? How will we recognize and seize strategic opportunity? What value do we place on planning? Does our decision making process leave room for discernment of the Spirit?

7. Team Culture: What kind of organizational culture will we embrace? What values do we espouse? What behavioral norms will we covenant together?

The course was designed to help those attending examine and strengthen the messages we create in these seven dimensions of team life. We worked on skill building, individual reflection, and small group support.

In relationship to the materials presented in that course, and incorporating the email from my friend, I am left pondering this. I am clearly the leader in my parish leadership team. I think the vestry and staff are functioning as managers. But in that process we are not working as a team.

I think the staff and vestry view me, rightly so, as younger than they. But as a result they also think (unconsciously) that they are supposed to "correct" me when I veer off the well worn path of having always done it this way. The do not (yet) trust me. I do not (yet) have the authority that comes with my position. And more importantly I don't trust them. I don't know who I can trust.

And, so I am leading with every thing I know and understand, all the while walking on egg shells hoping that they don't crumble beneath me.

The one thing I do trust is that after this team has worked with me for a year, and gone through an entire liturgical year, they will trust me more. And that is what enables me to be a non-anxious presence in very anxious times.

Imperfect....Listening

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