Sunday, April 18, 2010

Leadership reflection

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about wanting folks to change, but feeling inept in helping them do it.  Then my brother commented that he had learned from a speaker that if you are going to ask someone else to change, that you should change one thing about yourself first and reflect on what it took to get you from point A to point B.  To be honest, when he said it, I thought to myself, “I don’t know what I need to change.”  Really. I thought about it a fair amount and couldn’t come up with anything specific that really needed to change (particularly in regard to my ministry).
Well, this week I was away on mission in Mississippi and it was apparently my time for seeing myself a little more clearly.  There is something about being away from home, distanced from the “right now” needs of my congregation that allows me to see things a bit more clearly.
My first dose of self-reflection came on day 1 on the job  site.  I had been asked to join the dry wall team by my former head of trustees.  He’s done SOOO much to help me at the church and the parsonage, and is an all around good guy (so good we consider he and his wife like family) that I could hardly say no.  So I went.  I spent a fair amount of the day teaching the other women (none of whom had “mudded” before) how to do the different parts of the job. 
Now, if you’ve never mudded drywall before, you should know that corners are the hardest part.  To do them really well (at least how I was taught) you should only do them once (verses regular joints that require 3-4 layers of mud).  They require a certain level of finesse. Knowing that they are hard, I was slightly reluctant to teach the newbies and would have preferred to just do it myself, but instead I decided to teach.  I tried to teach the first woman and was not terribly successful.  I wasn’t explaining it well and kept trying to correct her technique but managed only to make her very self-conscious, so she gave up the job.  I gave her friend the option, I said, “Do you want to try it, or do you want me to just do it.”  A willing learner, she said she’d try it.  From my mistakes with mudder #1 I decided to try a new teaching technique—hands on.  I had her hold the tool and then I held her hand to teach her the right amount of pressure to apply.  She did a better job with it and stuck with it.  Now, I’m not sure if she had a “knack” for it, or if the different teaching technique made that much of a difference, but they were able to continue with their work in the bathroom. 
Now, in that time I saw how quickly I was ready to reassign them to a different job and just do the harder portions myself.  I was willing to teach, but only if they were quick to pick it up. Now, that wasn’t my conscious thought about it, but rather what I saw in retrospect.  (Remember, hindsight is 20/20).  And I was disturbed by what I saw.  I tend to think of myself as a patient teacher, but could easily see how I do much the same thing in other instances at the church.  I’m willing to teach someone how to do a job, but if they don’t pick it up quickly, I just step in and handle it.  I could name specific instances here, but I would also be calling out particular staff or volunteers and that wouldn’t be fair, so I’ll keep the examples to myself. 
I get focused on getting the job done and don’t always have a good appreciation for the process.  In mission work, especially with inexperienced volunteers, you have to be more about the mission than the task.  That was part of our orientation Sunday night—you have a task (the job at hand) and a mission (healing hearts and homes) and the mission is the most important part of the work you will do.  While it may seem obvious, I’ve never thought about church (meaning on the church campus and the daily affairs of church life) in those terms.  I focus on the task a lot, and I should be focusing on the mission more: making disciples of Jesus Christ—it’s not just about offering a good class or quality program or amazing worship, but it is also important to utilize the process and focus on the mission. 
I am by no means fully reformed, but I do think I did a better job on Day #2 when I took some folks back to camp in the afternoon to work on a different job.  We were asked to build a hanging rack for the yard tools (rakes, shovels, brooms, etc).  We were given a basic design, which we had to modify, and got to work.  We needed to use a chop saw, a skil saw, and a nail gun to finish the job.  I know how to use the nail gun and the chop saw, and one of the other women knew how to use the skil saw (sort of) and I easily could have just made the cuts and done the nailing, but I was able to step back (thanks to day #1 of learning) and see that teaching them to use each tool and giving them that experience was just as important (if not more so) than accomplishing the task.  So I made sure each woman had a chance to use the nail gun and the chop saw as we did our project.  I also made sure that we worked together on planning the project.  So we brain stormed through each of the modifications to make sure we were thinking through each of the possibilities to have the best possible outcome. 
And, the end result was, everyone learned a new skill, contributed to the project, and…

Here’s the finished product!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Feeling inept

I'm good at things.  I'm good at a lot of things actually.  I'm a fairly competent person and those things I don't know how to do, I can typically learn.  (or I just avoid them so no one will actually realize the limits of my abilities.) But these last couple of weeks at work have left me feeling inept--not completely, just partially. 

I am struggling with how to articulate new concepts to "old dogs".  I am really struggling with knowing I need/want someone(s) to do something differently, but have no idea how to teach them how to do it differently.  I just want them to know already!!!  

I feel like I'm hitting my head against a wall and not making progress, like I've maxed out my abilities and should simply move on.  I know that's not how it works. I know that's not how I will grow.  I know that the only way I will ever know how to deal with such things is to learn how to deal with them now.  It just seems like the bell curve got awfully steep again.  

Strike that, I don't think there is anything resembling a bell curve for me, maybe more like mesa flats...

crazy steep ascent...fairly banal long walk across the top to lull you into thinking you're good, and then an easy high speed drop back to the bottom that convinces you are invincible and can do anything...

...until, of course, you come face to face with the next sheer climb straight up.

Yep, that sounds more like it. No bell curves for me..just mesa flats!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Practicing balance

So, now that I've written about how hard it is to maintain the balance, I will attempt to do it. I have a fax to send a couple of emails to send and  a fax to send, and then the plan is to take the rest of the day to restore balance to my soul.  These last few weeks have been extra full and have not allowed for my regular sabbath practices. So I am tired. I've been more emotional, more edgy, and much less patient and it's time for there to be some balance again.  R did a TON of work at the house yesterday. He cleaned, did laundry, washed dishes, and put stuff away, which will help me be able to simply relax and not worry about doing all of those things myself.

We bought extra plants for the garden yesterday since some seeds aren't sprouting, so I'm going to plant those. I hope to journal (and maybe blog) some more.  

I mean even brave the threshold of the quilting room and try and get some things done in there too.  

That is, of course, hoping there are not hospital calls...

Faith work vs. faith walk

I read this today on Joe's blog: "'At the age of 25, I was a full-time pastor and a part-time Christ follower.' It’s a difficult sentence to read due to the reality of it.  Even in ministry, it’s easy to put my commitment to Jesus on the back burner, but think that I’m doing everything for Jesus, when in reality the passion for ministry has taken place the passion for Jesus."

This is a concept I struggle with from time to time.  It's hard for me to distinguish "my" Jesus commitment as opposed to my "work" Jesus commitment.  I think the distinction might be easier if I held a secular job.  It would be an easy test: "Am I praying? Am I going to worship? Am I serving others? Am I studying God's word? Am I taking time to build deep and meaningful relationships with others?  Am I growing in faith?  Am I being stretched?"

But some (or most?) days I don't know that I think that's a fair question to ask as a pastor.  Granted, part of it is valid...the part where what I do needs to feed me and often as clergy we end up giving so much that we don't nurture our own souls.  But when I teach (and learn from) two or three Bible studies a week, when I pray throughout the day for and with people, when I am serving others from morning 'til night with barely a chance to breathe or even process my day...I'm not sure that the reasonable question to ask is, "Are you doing more than this?"

Maybe it's the place I'm in. Maybe if I allowed my faith to be less central to the work I do it would be fair to tell me I should be doing more.  Maybe I shouldn't be interpreting this question as meant for all clergy, but rather as meant for some clergy (or even those in ministry who aren't clergy).

I remember a few months back I had preached (maybe on sabbath--the fourth commandment?) and afterward one of my parishioners who works for Christian radio came outside and told me he was really struggling to hold the balance--between work and personal life.  When your work is faith work, there seems to be an added something...importance? immediacy? relevance?  I don't know the right word, but something that says, "you shouldn't let this slide...this is God's work after all."  I mean really, you can't tell me it's easy to ignore a hospital call on your sabbath, or to not check in with that person you have been meaning to check in with all week because it's your sabbath.  It's hard for most of us to put work aside and take a full day to be restored and rest.  Arguably, I would say it's harder for those who do "God's work" to refuse to do that work for the sake of self--well-being, health, sanity.  

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Hope for Judas

I have had Judas on my heart for the last couple of days.  There are lots of people who demonize him for his betrayal of Jesus.  Others who demonize him for committing the "egregious" sin of suicide.  (This is their term...not mine).  

But these last two days have given me a heart and a sense of compassion for Judas.  I posted the other day that holy week has been not-so-holy this year and that I believe it was not-so-holy the year Jesus died.  And when things are not holy, there is often a palpable presence of evil.

I don't know if you've ever felt the power of evil...the presence of evil...not simply in some emotional-temptation way, but in a physical way....cold, weighty, dark.  It's debilitating. It's suffocating. 

Some of you know I struggle with depression, off an on from time to time. I'd generally call it situational may be more akin to grief (because it typically happens with a major move, which involves lots of grief or a really bad situation, which would also involve grief) but I'd say it's more than grief for it's staying power and for the ways it drains me of any and all desire to do anything. And, for the very few occasions that it has so possessed me that I have been ready to die.  I would have called myself suicidal.  

Being in a place that dark and having those thoughts is a desperately scary place to be.  It's lonely. It's isolating. And, as one might assume, it can be deadly.  There is no reason there. Logic won't work. I remember counseling a friend one summer in college.  She was suicidal.  I knew from previous conversations that she had been there before and so somehow I wasn't alarmed when she told me that summer.  We talked and I reminded her about her family and how much they loved her and the life ahead of her didn't matter.  There was no reasoning with her. The place of darkness and despair where she was did not welcome logic.  

I do not remember how our conversation ended.  But I do know that she is still alive and well today.  It wasn't until later that year that I finally had a glimpse of that reason-less place where she had been.  I hit rock bottom emotionally and it felt like there was no coming up for air.  I was ready to die.  Really ready to die. I had a plan. I had the means.  The only thing I hadn't determined was the time and place.  I don't know what stopped me then, but I am grateful I did not go ahead with my plan.

It had occurred over a school break and when I returned I went to a staff meeting for the dorms and there we learned that one of the supervisors for the dorms had been murdered in Mexico.  I did not know him well. I had only met him once or twice, but I was devastated by his death.  And I was struck by the fact that someone's death can reach so far, even to those who have only seen a person from afar or met in a brief encounter and I was ashamed that I had even considered taking my own life.  But again, there had been no logic in that place.  

Yesterday I felt the overwhelming presence of evil.  I couldn't even track it to one particular moment or thing, but it was there--dark and heavy.  Deadening, sucking the life out of me.  And I thought of Judas.  I thought of how powerful the presence of evil must have been that week.  How consuming it had to have been to convince the masses that Jesus, the Son of God needed to die.  I'm sure it was palpable.  I doubt there was much reason available there--we see that in the trials of Christ.  Not reason, just accusation and judgment.  And then Judas' betrayal in the garden.  But more striking still, his suicide.  I'm sure that by collaborating to kill your friend, your mentor, you teacher, a great healer, and the Son of God, that the presence of evil became suffocating.  My guess is the only way Judas thought he would ever breathe again was to die. And I hurt for him. I hurt that he didn't know that death on the cross would not be the end of the story. My heart broke that he would never hear or see that part of the gospel--the part where Jesus raises from the dead after he has conquered sin and death.  

Judas didn't know the story.  So he didn't have the hope.  He couldn't have the hope for it had not yet happened.  And there was no possibility of finding the light in the midst of the darkness.  And I hurt for him. 

And then it occurred to me that there are others in Judas' they haven't facilitated the death of Jesus--not in that direct way...but they are like Judas in that they don't know the story.  So they don't have the hope.  And without the story, without the hope, there is no possibility of finding the light in the midst of the darkness.  

And that's where our responsibility lies.  For those of us that know the story, we must spread the gospel--the hope.  We must make known the rest of the story--the part where death and sin and shame do not have the final word, and we must shine God's light for people so that they might know there is the possibility of escaping the darkness--of finding life (again).

Making people cry

I think I might be a bit twisted.  Last night I hosted the stations of the cross for my church and our neighbor Arlington UMC.  We had just over 40 people I think.  And I couldn't help but feel satisfied when people walked away crying.  I know. It's weird.  That's why I started with, "I think I might be a bit twisted."  

I'm not sure I want to say, "I like it when people cry."  It's not like I try to make people cry at every turn.  And I definitely don't like tears because someone has been deeply wounded.  But in general, I'm good with tears.  When I'm ministering to someone tears give me a good read on the person.  I used to hate dealing with people who were grieving in the hospital but wouldn't cry. The stolid folks made me nervous. (On occasion they still do, but not to the degree that they used to).  But the criers, I could work with them. I knew how to comfort them and care for them.  I didn't worry that they were shutting me out.  Instead I just got to be a caregiver.  

Last night's pleasure was similar, but probably at least a little bit different.  Last night's pleasure at seeing people cry was more related to the fact that their tears (at least in my mind) meant that had been touched by the stations...more importantly, that they had been touched by what Christ did for them, for each of us.  

I had one woman come up to me and just fall into me as she wept.  She said a number of things that were hard to decipher between sobs, but mostly I just held her and then I heard..."he really loves me doesn't he?"  Yes, he does.  Score one for the gospel coming alive and hitting home! 

Friday, April 2, 2010

Not-so-holy week

Holy week gained it's title after the fact, and I'm sure it was deemed holy because of Easter (the resurrection) not because of anything else.  I mean, think about it.  Mob mentality. Persecution. Pride. Ignorance. Betrayal. Murder.  Not really a holy combination.  

And yet, in the church we honor and celebrate holy week as if the whole week were holy.  Now, maybe you were fortunate enough to have a really blessed holy week.  I was not.  This has been a miserably hard week in the church.  I have been reminded again and again of how broken and fallible we all are.  I have been reminded that I still have a lot to learn and there are many things that were not taught in seminary.  I have been reminded that the power of evil is overwhelming.  It can be suffocating and completely devastating.

Now, it hasn't been all bad.  There have been praise reports and glimmers of hope.  There is a man who has had a foot infection for 22 months who came to have me lay hands on him and pray who later in the week reported that his foot was healing at a rate of 10 days worth in 24 other words, what should have taken 10 days to happen, took only 1.  I praise God for that!!  

There have also been reminders that people care and that God is doing many marvelous things in our midst.  But it has also been really hard.  It is the reminder that I still desperately need's not a one time redemption/celebration, instead it is a regular reminder that Christ has conquered sin and death--that guilt and shame and evil do not have the last word. Christ does.  God prevails at the end of those not-so-holy weeks.  

There is hope.  There is cause for celebration.  There are also reminders that we are sinful people in desperate need of God's saving grace. 


Last week I wrote about the drama that has been involved in planning our May 8th concert.  The latest was a production company who priced themselves out of the game and left us stranded just weeks from the event.  Well, we got to work and made many calls and sent some emails and the response was great.  It made me appreciate the Methodist system, I had emails from at least 8 different people offering options and places to go and referrals to companies they had worked with.

The one that panned out?  A local guy who does the city's major Christmas festival.  He's been amazing to work with.  He's earnest. He's reasonable.  He works hard.  He goes above and beyond.  It has been a blessing. Last week I was NOT so grateful that we were starting all over on this part of the planning.  This week I am so grateful we have somebody who gets our larger mission on board!