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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