Bring Your Own Subtext

February 13, 2009 at 12:39 pm (change, Feedback Received, Introspection, Leadership, Musings) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Today has been an interesting day of reflection and introspection.

First, I heard an interesting interview with Joss Whedon, the creator/writer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  He coined the phrase, Bring Your Own Subtext.  That phrase right there, redefined a strength I have – which has recently been labeled a weakness.  I’ve been told I have untested assumptions, however, that can also be a gift.

Next, I finished reading a fascinating book excerpt on The Christian Century website.  The article, Poet in residence: Listening for the sacred subtext,

“Complaining is usually a veiled lament about deeper issues of the soul. Since people are unaccustomed to exploring the mystery of their own souls, they will often work out their spiritual anxieties by attempting to rearrange something external, like a church’s music program. But it doesn’t matter how many changes they make to the environment around them. They will never succeed in finding peace for the angst of the soul until they attend directly to it. This is why people have pastors.”

I’ve known this for years – it is a part of my being, however, I tend to cut to the chase and get right to the core of the problem.  My feelings has been that talking about all the issues surrounding the problem is just wasting your time, and mine.  Here’s the issue, here’s the solution, “is there anything else we need to talk about?”  In fact, I had an encounter yesterday, right along those lines.

And that’s when I cam across this statement in the article:

“I am often unsure that redemption occurs in parishioners’ lives even when I do direct them to the true issue… But that [is] more truth than they [are] prepared to confess at the time. What was clear to me, though, was that unless I invited them to look beneath their complaint to their personal loss, I would only be part of the distraction that was keeping them from ever finding healing for their hurt.”

This is where Barnes shows real skill in his writing – and thinking.  He doesn’t take short cuts (like I tend to do) – he takes his time and lays out the issue.  In the scenario he’s referring to above, I would have just told them what the issue was, and told them to fix it.  But, as he says, this is more truth than most people are able to handle.  When I’ve done this in the past, I’ve been amazed by their continued lack of progress in the area of concern.  I now see more clearly, that if they couldn’t handle the truth, they won’t even be able to hear it.

I’m dealing with several situations right now that are similar to the situation that Barnes writes about.  Unfortunately, I don’t possess the skill sets of compassion or patience that enable me to wait for these conversations to unfold.

I’ll let you read the article for yourself, but there were several key thoughts that leaped out at me.  He talked about the various roles of the pastor (i.e. priest, shepherd, administrator, leader, etc.), but what he proposes is that the pastor becomes a poet – or an interpreter of the truth and a bridge from reality to truth.  This leaped out at me and struck me as something I’d like to become.

I have seen a couple of models for this sort of pastor/poet: Rob Bell, Erwin McManus, and Brian McClaren.  Each of these men, while well versed in the word, are able to lead people into a new understanding of truth – even from well-known scriptures.  Chuck Swindoll is also able to unpack the word in ways I never have seen.  None of these men seem to focus on organizational/leadership issues, they just move ahead – and because of their skill in unpacking the Word, people follow – and people step in to organize the flock that follows.

Later in the day yesterday, I stumbled upon this article – which was an analysis and review of a presentation Rob Bell made at the National Pastor’s Convention. Live from NPC: Rob Bell, Paper cuts, forgiveness, and chocolate covered turds. Several statements really struck me, some from this blog post, and others from live Tweets.  One was that “pastors are not ecclesiastical punching bags.”  Oh, how many times do I feel that people feel like they can say, or do whatever they want towards me, because I get paid to be their friend, and I can’t rebel because I would lose my position.

It’s like, I have to be their friend, because that’s what pastors do – they friend everyone.  Also, because we are supposed to “be like Jesus” we have to just take it.  Bell offers some unique insight on how to receive and process these millions of paper-cuts.  None of them fatal, but nonetheless, they will destroy.

Finally, I share with you a blog, and post, I stumbled across last week.  The more I read of this man’s blog, the more convinced I became that he and I were walking similar journeys.  His post, Go, or Get Dragged!, dealing with the challenges of orthodoxy, really pushed some buttons in my soul.  From the quote and his post, I now more clearly see why I get so much heat when I step out of the box.  The problem is, I really don’t know where the box is.

I now see why some people are so anxious about my attempts to step out of the status quo – or even explore other possibilities.  I think they forget that Jesus was not orthodox either.  And I can’t forget that it was the religious leaders that killed Jesus.

But, the final revelation I had was after I got home last night and read some of the comments to the post on Rob Bell’s talk.  One quoted a Bell podcast:

“In a Neue podcast in October, Bell shared that his wife had helped him to see that by creating a church that is different from other churches he was tacitly criticizing others. He was picking a fight. I think this realization was a real turning point for him in realizing he had unconsciously or consciously “started it.” I think he has felt humbled and chastened since.”

As I processed this comment, I realized that basically, when I suggest a new way of doing things, I am “tacitly criticizing others.”  I started the push-back, now didn’t I?  That great theologian, Sir Isaac Newton taught us that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Now, all I have to do is develop a new subtext, within a broken orthodoxy that refuses to see it’s brokenness – all without getting killed or maimed.  Shouldn’t be too hard, should it?

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Lying to Myself

January 8, 2009 at 1:44 pm (change, Introspection, Musings) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Blame is a dangerous thing.  Not only can it do damage to others, but often it involves lying to ourselves.  It is much easier to point fingers at others and cast responsibility on “them.” And while this may satisfy us for a short time, it will come back to hurt us in the long run.

Over the course of the last year I’ve been enduring a number of struggles.  They are too great to enumerate here, but suffice it to say that it was a hard year.  While prone to self-examination, and doing a lot of that, I was quite easily led down the path of blame.

I blamed my employer, my friends, my circumstances, my neighbors, society, and so on and so forth.  Very few escaped the broad swath of blame.  Now the scary part is that I didn’t realize I was doing this.  I knew I was unhappy, I knew I lacked joy, and I knew that there were issues, but in typical fashion, I continued to trudge forward and ignored the consequences.

In the last month I’ve had several epiphanies that have unlocked the the doors to joy, success, and better relationships.  It has really been an amazing thing and I’ve had outbursts of laughter as I’ve realized my own blindness and ignorance.

The first epiphany came just a month ago.  To truly understand this, you need to read, or listen to the story, Who Moved My Cheese?

Last year I was doing the job of my dreams, this year I was doing something different.  Last year I had autonomy and was seeing amazing things happen, this year I had to process everything through committees.  Last year I was living in a state that received 300 days a year of sunshine, this year I live in a state that gets 300 days a year of drizzle.

I first read the above book about six or seven years ago, but recently I picked up an audio copy at a second-hand store.  Though I hadn’t listened to it yet, just the title reminded me of the story.  It suddenly occurred to me – my cheese had been moved and I was acting like Hem and Haw.  Instead of adapting as quickly as I should, I was struggling.

I laughed out loud when I realized this.

The second epiphany came a couple of weeks later.  Again, it came from a book that I’d read several years ago.  One Size Does Not Fit All, was one of those books I read awhile back, but it is very relevant to me now.

In my previous situation I was the leader, but in my current situation, according to McIntosh, I realize I need to be the lover.  While this is a stretch for my giftedness and temperament, it is also an opportunity to grow.

Again, I laughed out loud.  In fact, I laughed for a week on this one.

We knew that we were here following God’s calling, but I didn’t realize just how much of a shift it was from my previous position.

The third epiphany came in the last couple of weeks.  We had an opportunity to visit our previous home and friends.  It was after that visit that I realized how important those folks are to us and how much we miss them.  And during the long drive home, I began to realize how many resentments I had regarding last-year’s move.

I learned through my 12-Step Journey that “expectations are premeditated resentments.”  But I didn’t realize all the expectations I had accumulated over the past few years.

First, I expected to be so successful in my previous project that my employer would throw money and more resources our way.  Second, I never expected to leave the home where my wife and I had settled and where my kids were born.  Third, I expected things here to be different.  And on and on went the missed expectations and ugly resentments.

When I began to realize all the harbored resentments in my soul, I again laughed out loud.  I’ve been laughing for a couple of weeks now.

Releasing those resentments has been very healing.  In addition, I’ve been repairing some broken relationships that occurred through my building resentments.

So, in nutshell, over the course of the last month I’ve realized that my situation changed, and so do I.  I realized just what my current situation is, and I’ve begun to take steps to re-educate myself and grow into the challenge.  Finally, I realize how I’ve been weighed down under a load of resentment, and I’ve let go of that.

“They” say that life is a journey, and I’ve always agreed.  But somehow I thought that journey should be easy – it isn’t.  There are potholes and detours; roadblocks and distractions; clear sailing and storms.

While I’ve been through this part of the journey before (e.g. depression, divorce, missed hopes, and failed dreams), I feel now like I’ve learned this lesson better than I ever have before.  It always makes me said to see people stuck in time and expecting something else.

I’m hoping and praying that others can move past their resentments and grasp the opportunities of the present.

I’ve got to say, that since I learned that my cheese has been moved, discovered where to find my new cheese, and let go of the resentment that prevented that journey – I’m re-experiencing the joy of life!

And that, has made all the difference.

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No Longer Stuck – but Hopeful!

November 20, 2008 at 2:20 pm (change, Introspection, Leadership, Musings) (, , , , , , , , )

My last two posts were somewhat cathartic.  They probably could have been shortened and put into one good post – as opposed to verbose, rambling, themeless musings.  But, for my sake, I needed those posts.  It really came down to two issues, which are really one.

U2’s song, Stuck in a Moment.  I remember when I first heard that song a few years ago.  I realized that this is where people go when they get depressed.  Instead of living in this moment, they are stuck in thatmoment.  Whether grieving the loss of something good, or living in the Glory Days of the past, we get stuck and don’t live in the goodness that is the present.

Who Moved my Cheese?  We get so used to having things happen a certain way and when that changes, we don’t know what to do.  No matter how many times I’ve said, “The only constant in life is change.”  When it happens to me, I’m lost.  I’ve figured out that I thrive on change – as long as I initiate it! 🙂

Living in the moment requires an understanding that we can’t change the past or the future.  If we worry, or stress, over what is going to happen; or, if we regret what happened in the past; then we are unprepared to deal with, process, or rejoice in the present.  Besides, who knows what is coming next?

They say the great nations of the world are always fighting the last war, not the wars we currently find ourselves engaged in.  Isn’t that true of people too?  We fight with our spouses, because we have unresolved issues with our parents; We are always telling our current coworkers about our last place of employment; and when we have children, we try to correct in them the mistakes we made as kids – or the parenting mistakes our father and mother made.

But what if we were like a competative athelete – always ready for the next play.  They shake of the blown plays and don’t rejoice too long in the goals.  The game isn’t over till it’s over and they have to stay engaged in what’s happening right now!

That’s what happened to me, after getting transfered across country, I found out how drastically different things were here.  Instead of adapting and seizing the opportunities, I’ve been moping around singing the “poor me” song.  In case you have no experience with this, it doesn’t really work and people get sick of being around you after a very short time.

So, the other morning while trying to discover that spark that gets me out of bed in the morning, I shot up a quick prayer: “What’s wrong?” I asked.  Instantly the epiphany came to me: “Things aren’t going the way I want them to and I’m refusing to adapt to the situation.”  In other words, my cheese got moved.

The light came on brightly and I instantly saw the problem.  Things aren’t going to change.  The people involved aren’t going to change – and, in fact, expecting anybody or any situation to change is just setting oneself up for resentment.  The only person I have control over is myself.  If I want to see a change in my attitude, I’m going to have to learn to adapt.  I’m going to have to find some new cheese.

This discovery has renewed hope and restored my sense of vision.  I don’t know where I’m going with this and I don’t know what adaptations I’ll need to make, but at least I have hope that this isn’t all pointless and meaningless.  But in order to bring meaning and focus, I’m going to have to figure out where I’m going – without expecting others to change.

Now, it’s actually starting to sound like fun!


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