It’s February 27th, 2019, and like you, I’m speechless. Almost.
If you’ve taken a ride on the UMC rollercoaster these last few days, I’m with you. My emotions have been all over from deep sadness, regret, doubt, and anger. Just when I think all is well within the church, I am blindsided, shocked, and disheartened by the direction of our faith initiatives.
I have spent the last 7 years within academia and professional circles as a Christian counselor and as a professor of Group Dynamics and Psychology. Now, I know folks are all across the board when you hear the term Christian Counselor, but please hear me out before you draw your conclusions.
There is a lot I don’t begin to understand or claim to have expert knowledge. And the more I go to school, the more this an in-your-face reality. I know very little about, say, quadratic equations or marine biology. But, a couple of things, I know really, really, REALLY well. And that’s human behavior, especially as we behave in groups.
I’ve had the pleasure of reading a collection of work by Dr. Terry Hargrave who made it his life goal in helping persons and families through the death process to finish well. And while this was his main prized work, he mentions a dynamic process termed Multidirected Partiality (Boszormenyi – Nagy, 1966). In easier terms, a trust-based, contextual dialogue.
I’m sorry if I lost some of you with what seems to be psychobabble. I promise I have a much finer point, and honestly, I just need somewhere to lay down my thoughts before I bubble over.
Groups come in all kinds of forms. We engage with our families, friends, professional colleagues, special interest coalitions, etc. And whenever there are groups, there are always joys and concerns, aren’t there? I won’t go much into the therapeutic process of the multidirectional approach except to highlight the major point: in order to resolve conflict within groups a shift needs to happen. A shift in transactions that build trust, encouragement, an increase of satisfactory roles and responsibilities. A shift that allows for all members to yield beneficial returns. Sound familiar? 1 Thessalonians 5:11
There are several ingredients required for this to happen.
Empathy – This is an easy concept to comprehend, but much more difficult to practice. It’s like crawling into the skin of another human being and looking out through his/her eyes. Atticus says it best in Harper Lees’s To Kill a Mocking Bird...”You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” The challenge is to try and understand those that are different from us, not those most like us. And with this deep understanding comes great benefit, for both persons.
Crediting – the acknowledgement of justice or injustice. This requires us to see the good in others, Christ in others. It’s full validation of our existence and importance.
Expectation – One of the more important ingredients to the mix. We come with open minds and expect great things of the other person. Not the other way around.
Inclusiveness – Each member vows to hear the other member and creates a safe place to share concerns where each is treated equally with respect and fairness.
Timing – a crucial aspect when we often become reactive in emotionally tense situations. Set a pace for yourself, but don’t expect that others follow this same pace. And we all know God’s timing is perfect timing.
Add these up, put them in motion, and you’ve just created sacred space. What a gift!
So, I have no idea what will happen to the UMC. I do know, I can do my part. Here is what I have on my list of items:
- Each week I will create a least one meaningful conversation with a person I do not know well. I will show up with expectation and humility.
- I plan to write letters. A lot of letters, cards, and a few phone calls. I wish to express my gratitude to those persons who took a risk for the good of our institution and held fast with complete integrity. I plan to send letters to my theological seminary and professors who have always encouraged me to think for myself and have always pointed me toward a full relationship with God.
- Good leadership can be learned, but it must always start with integrity. Leadership requires sacrifice, effort, and the power to influence that is rooted in a kingdom heart not for personal gain but for the good of all. Justice, equality, fairness with respect to differences are to name a few.
Where are our fresh, dynamic, creative, talented leaders, UMC? I know a few, but there are more if we only look. I’ve also just met a few new ones!
What will it take to turn it around? I don’t have all the answers, for sure. It will take Jesus, the Jesus that calls things out.
Jesus the Revolutionary……We are reading Don Kraybill’s book, The Upside Down Kingdom in Bible Study. What a timely piece for us in this day. The ways of this world are not the ways of Jesus. If only we still had a child’s heart, we could run to the playground monkey bars, turn upside down, and see things from a divine perspective!
Only in seeking Jesus, can we begin to understand how to lead in ways that build up the kingdom of God and subvert cultural injustices, even injustices inside the walls of the church as an institution. In the face of a “steeple-jacking” (just learned about this word, so had to throw it in) what will we do? Do we resign to injustice? That’s not in our baptismal covenant nor in our congregational DNA. Resist? Yes. We have creative and peaceful ways to resist. Speak out? Yes. 1 Peter 3:15
What do we have to lose? Perhaps this is the greatest loss of all when leaders say not a word.
Dead silence is a killer, Y’all.
Thanks for listening. I feel a little better. I will continue to be faithful in living out the rule of life in the order of St. Luke, as we together pray for our church, its leaders, and congregations, every morning and every evening with joy that springs up from our hearts and passes through our lips to be a witness of light to the world.
May the United Methodists, never stop singing and may we never lose our joy!