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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Community, Transformation, and Transcendence, v.0.2

November 13, 2008 at 10:21 pm (change, Introspection, Musings, Social Networking, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

Not only can it be a difficult balancing act to find one’s place between two hard places,  but sometimes the more difficult process is to ascribe to holistic intergrity.  I define itegrity as being one in personal values and public words and actions.  It is relatively easy to have beliefs that are true to oneself, but it get’s much more difficult translating those into actions that are in alignment to those beliefs.

I remember the first time I drank beer.  I was 15 years old and on a scouting campout.  Several, including our troop leader, had brought beer on the trip.  I had tasted beer in the past and had not liked it.  As the evening progressed, I continued turning down the offers of a beer.  There was a cute girl who I had my eye on; she asked me: “Aren’t you going to have a beer?”

“No.  I don’t really like the taste.”

This was the truth.  It was a moral issue.  It wasn’t that I was afraid of getting into trouble.  I just didn’t want one.

A couple of hours later this same girl came over and asked me why I was drinking a beer now.  “I thought you weren’t going to have one?” She asked.

I was stunned.  I was caught flat footed.  I didn’t know what to say.  She didn’t know that for every awful sip I took, I poured about a quarter of the can onto the ground.  She didn’t give me slack for bowing to peer pressure either.  That was the last time she and I had a significant “conversation.”  I’ll never forget her look of disgust at my lack of integrity.

I wouldn’t ascribe to be a follower of Jesus if I didn’t believe in what he taught and the work He came to accomplish on this planet.  To me, it isn’t enough to “play” church.  I need to be a fully developed follower.  I believe that one of the greatest causes of atheism today is the total lack of integrity within the Church.

The reason I bring up this topic is two-fold.  I’ve found that if I even mention that I’m a Christian, many people will write me off as a religious zealot.  The conversation stops.  It isn’t safe for me to ascribe, publically, to my Kingdom values.  On the otherhand, if I talk about my friendships outside of the church club, I am often labeled a heretic, immoral, and unsafe.  “Why would I want to hang with the unchurched, unless I was partaking of their immoraliity?” Or so the argument goes.

The reality is, I am a very devoted follower of Jesus, I am loyal to the church, but I refuse to abandon my conversation with the rest of the World.  Jesus didn’t call us to erect walls and build a fortress against the elements of the world.  To the contrary, He called us to be “salt” and “light” in the world.  Specifically He said, “Be in the world, but not of it.”

Maybe that’s why so many so-called Christians have difficulty being a part of the world?  Maybe they can’t be in the world without being of the world?  Maybe they fear their own weakness towards the slipper slope of indiscretion?  Maybe they don’t know how to maintain personal integrity?

On the other hand, I believe the unchurched are afraid of the churched because of the blatant proselytizing.  And the real problem with these so-called efforts at evangelism is the self-centered approach.  Much of the evangelism doesn’t seem focused on improving the lives of others through a more powerful relationship with Jesus.  Instead, it appears to come from a need to grow the church, affirm our beliefs, or to control others.

If the church would take a more selfless approach to revealing the character of God, I believe we would be less threatening to the unchurched.  What if we, as churched people, just offered unconditional love – much like Jesus did?  No strings attached.

Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  There are deep connotations to this.

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