“A friend is more than a therapist or confessor, even though a friend can sometimes heal us and offer us God’s forgiveness. A friend is that other person with whom we can share our solitude, our silence, and our prayer. A friend is that other person with whom we can look at a tree and say, “Isn’t that beautiful,” or sit on the beach and silently watch the sun disappear under the horizon. With a friend we don’t have to say or do something special. With a friend we can be still and know that God is there with both of us.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen
I have been thinking a lot about friendship lately. As I think on my friends, those from the past and those in the present, I well up with gratitude for the gift and privilege of walking the journey with them. I grieve that for some the journey has ended and we have parted ways. And while our lives have taken different roads, I still love them. I am awestruck by those friends that I have walked beside for decades. Our friendship is as familiar and comforting as a warm house on a bitter day. I fill up with emotions as I think about my sisters, who know me better and love me still.
A friend of mine said the other day, “sometimes I think I love and give more than my friends are able to receive, and that’s o.k.” Indeed it is.
Nobody says it better than James Taylor…..
The Alban Institute’s latest “Congregations” has an article entitled “Leaders are Lovers,” by Herbert Anderson. It’s an article I wish I had written. Anderson talks about the importance of bonds and boundaries in ministry. He says, “pastoral bonds are as important as pastoral boundaries because connected leaders are differentiated leaders.”
He asks the question, “what kind of leadership will foster hospitality inclusive enough to penetrate the walls of separation among people and between generations erected out of fear?” Yes! This is the question. We want stability, tradition and nostalgia, and we also want to grow, be hospitable and open to change, and some how these two desires seem to be contrasting rather than supportive of one another. How do we establish boundaries of ideals and principles and at the same time create bonds of diversity and inclusiveness?
Anderson talks about how pastors have long been trained to have strong boundaries and to strive be self differentiated. The challenge is, how do we maintain appropriate boundaries and at the same time stay connected? He quotes the expert, in my opinions, on self differentiation Rabbi Friedman, reminding us that as leaders we have to see where we are in the system instead of seeing where everyone else is and then responding to the system. I think this is so difficult. When we hear that people are unhappy, or annoyed or don’t like this or that, it is tempting to go with wind to try be all to all. I have a friend who calls this “chameleon ministry.” We change our theology, our polity, and our personality to fit the needs and desires of our congregations. We do this because we are pleasers. We want to make “everyone happy,” and we want to be liked. This is what means to NOT be self differentiated.
Pastoral leadership comes not from being a chameleon or a perpetual pleaser, it comes from knowing who you are and who you are not. It comes from the ability to listen and trust. Anderson quotes a pastor named Doug Purnell, who described his vision of ministry this way:
“I offer no big plans. I can only offer to live honestly,openly and deeply as your spiritual leader. I will love the people given to my care. I will provide the best worship I am capable of. I will listen to the people of the congregation and community. My understanding of ministry is lie standing in front of a canvas with a brush in hand but no preconceived plan. If I listen deeply to the paint, occasionally, just occasionally a miracle happens and something very new and unexpected emerges.”
I love that. I think the best we can do is simply our best on any given day. We love. We listen. We pray. We think. We are open to the spirit and we laugh at our humanity.
At our church, we are in the middle of officer training, staff retreats and elder and deacon retreats right now. We have quickly turned the page from Advent and Christmas to budgets and programming. It’s so easy to get caught up in the details of the church. Who is going to do sound, usher, greet, sing, play, plan, teach, prepare, cook, clean, pray, visit, shovel, call, write, count, organize, lead, serve, speak, etc. These questions are vital to “getting the job done.” But they are not the questions that really matter. And while all of this is a tremendous amount of work, it is not truly the hard work.
A parishioner recently wrote me and said, “people care less about being appreciated and more about being connected.” (This was humbling to me, as I work so hard at telling people I appreciate them.- Here I go again, being a chameleon) .
The heart of the matter is connectivity and relationships, that is centered on trust and care. That is why we go to the canvas.
Next Saturday we have our officer retreats. My hope as spiritual leader is come with a clean palate and listen, listen, listen and ask that we all paint together the vision of who we are called to be.
Here is a blessing I picked up at a conference this summer:
A Blessing for Our Work Together, by John O’Donahue, “For One Who Holds Power,” in To Bless the Space Between Us
May the gift of leadership awaken you as vocation,
Keep you mindful of the providence that calls you to serve.
As high as the mountains the eagle spreads its wings,
May your perspective be larger than the view from the foothills.
When the way is flat and all at times of gray endurance,
May your imagination continue to evoke horizons.
When thirst burns in times of drought,
May you be blessed to find the wells.
May you have the wisdom to read time clearly
And known when the seed of change will flourish.
In your heart may there be a sanctuary
For the stillness where clarity is born.
May your work be infused with passion and creativity
And have the wisdom to balance compassion and challenge.
May your soul find the graciousness
To rise above the fester of small mediocrities.
May your power never become a shell
Wherein your heart would silently atrophy,
May you welcome your vulnerability
As the ground where your healing and truth join.
may integrity of soul be your first ideal,
The source that will guide and bless your work.
Please Read, “Leaders are Lovers: Fostering Bonds and Honoring Boundaries,” by Herbert Anderson. Found in Congregations: Issue 4, 2012
It was April in 7th grade and that meant it was time for track in PE, or for me, hell. It meant we had to run the mile, and jump over those hurdle thingys and attempt to thwart our bodies over the high jump. Yuck. Yuck. Yuck. I wanted to be in theatre, in choir, or English, or home. Anywhere but on that track, in the middle of an Illinois cornfield.
I hated it not only because I was the slowest, least agile kid in the seventh grade, but because it was in those 30 minutes that the bullying would be the worse.
His name was Warren and our lockers were right next to each other. Every morning he would make gross, suggestive sounds under his breath, as we put away our coats and got out our books. He would make comments about my body, about what was too small, and what was too big. He would be just insulting enough without being overt enough to make me feel like I could report him. – And no, he did not “like” me. This quiet harassment took place all school year.
Then came the spring and track. Every day as I attempted to run a mile in less than 15 minutes, Warren and his friends, who had finished in under 8, would sit on the hill and laugh and throw rocks at my feet as I huffed around the track.
Finally one day I had enough. Warren and his cronies had to stop. I ran over, jumped on top of Warren and tried to hit him as hard as I could. For some reason, the PE teacher, who never noticed anything, noticed this. I was sent to the office. Mortified. Sweat, dirt and tears mixed together. I was so nervous, “Oh God, I’m going to be suspended! Or worse, they are going to call my Dad!”
I went to the counselors office and cried and shared everything. I was not suspended. They did call my Dad. Warren stopped picking on me. Track ended. So did 7th grade, thank God. Summer came, and when school started the next fall I learned that Warren had moved to Chicago.
Schools today do a much better job in addressing bullying. I had assemblies on drugs and alcohol prevention, my kids have assemblies on bully awareness. I think my kids are far better prepared today to confront bullying than I was, or at least I hope they are.
We know as adults that bullies show up in our work places, our churches and on the Highway. I believe that the only way to stop bullying in our society is for the culture to be mature enough to say that such behavior is unacceptable. – Which is why junior highs and church sessions are so vulnerable….that’s a joke.
But in all seriousness, we have to raise the bar of expectations of how we treat each other as a culture in order to put an end to bullying, harassment and violence. Only by setting the standard of acceptable behavior, can that behavior be obtained.
Here is my list of Do’s and Dont’s in dealing with a bully of all ages.
Don’t make excuses for their behavior.
Don’t justify their behavior.
Don’t think you can change them or make them “like” you.
Don’t ignore it and hope it goes away.
Do address the behavior immediately. Call it out. “Dude, that is NOT happening.”
Do tell an adult or friend. Solidarity brings power.
Do find a way to regain power. Tell the truth. Call it like you see it. Your truth matters.
I think all of us have painful memories of bullying, like what happened to me in 7th grade. Some, much, much worse, I’m sure. We all have stories locked up in our adolescent psyches that are still a part of who we are, and explain why we are cautious or defensive around certain issues today. It would be wise for us to treat each other with the understanding that we all walking around with hidden scars.
While we all have hidden scars, we also have an inner fire that empowers us to step up, speak out, and stand strong. Let’s stoke that inner fire and be stronger for it.
Just a side note, today I am a runner. – I found that inner athlete, deep down underneath that self-doubt and insecurity. – I’m still slow, but I don’t care.
Every youth group has their “go to” game. It’s the game kids want to play every week on a Sunday nights. When I was a youth pastor, our youth group’s game was Sardines. Here is how we played it: Turn off all the lights in the church. It should be totally dark. Send two kids out to run off and hide somewhere in the church building. Wait five minutes for them to be good and hidden and then send the rest of the group off to find them. If you find them, you join them, without letting the rest of the group know where they are hiding. The goal is to get as many kids packed in one space possible. (Like Sardines)
Why is this fun? Well for one thing you have permission to run in the church building. Second, it’s dark and spooky. Third, its something the group tries to accomplish together. I remember one night, after 20 minutes of Sardines, the youth leaders and I called “time” and the whole youth group of 30 kids came pouring out of a closet, gasping for air, laughing hysterically. They were having a blast!
We have been watching our elected officials in Washington DC be snarky with each other repeatedly over the past, I don’t know a decade. The latest episode being the fight over whether or not they were going to push our economy over the fiscal cliff. The frustrating thing in watching this dysfunction is recognizing that it could be prevented. I have heard people say that elected officials in Washington used to have better relationships. They used to build relationships through recreation and social settings. Today, members of Congress leave over the weekend and go back to their families and constituents. They don’t stay in DC and socialize or play. They don’t have an opportunity to care about each other on a personal level.
Imagine if the House or Representatives all played a rousing game of Sardines? Imagine if they just turned off all the lights in the Capital, and ran and hid and played, and worked together for a common goal. Imagine if they all poured out of the building, laughing. Congress needs a youth leader. They need someone to facilitate community building, report and relationships.
We wonder why they are so dysfunctional. – It’s not because they are selfish or conceited. – Although for some that might be the case. It’s because they don’t trust each other or know each other. They have forgotten their neighbor’s humanity.
They need to play a good game of sardines and then do some trust falls, maybe close off the night with a game of passing marshmallows with toothpicks and then all come together and lift up prayers of joys and concerns. I’m not saying they all hold hands and sing kumbaya, but they need to figure out how to be a community. They need to care about each other, understand each other and respect each other. They need to understand how to hold each other accountable with kindness.
If they could accomplish that – they could govern.
I have attached two contrasting commentaries from two leaders in the Presbyterian Church on the challenge of being a pastor and/or friend in the church.
As I read both of these articles I filled up with old, familiar feelings of loneliness and sadness.
I am often criticized for not being tough enough. I have often lost the balance between being tender-hearted and thick-skinned. My heart always wins.
When people leave the church for whatever reason, I am often reminded to not take it personally. But I do. Not because I have lost a friend, but because I have lost a parishioner. As a pastor, I am invested in people’s lives. I care deeply about their faith journey. When I ask people how they are, I really want to know.
So when the pastoral relationship is severed, part of me feels severed. I understand that people shop around for churches with the right music, theology, polity, demographics of young and old, building, location, etc. I understand that the church is not about the pastor, or at least it shouldn’t be. But that does mean that I ever stop being a pastor. I am a pastor as clearly as I am a mother. I can never turn it off. So, even when people leave the church, I do not leave them. I am still invested in them, their lives and their family.
TS Eliot once wrote, “teach us to care and not to care, teach us to sit still.” This is my life lesson.
The bottom line for me in this vocation is that relationships matter. People matter. The well being of any community is based on the quality of relationships in that community.
As a leader, I think I can only convene and give space for relationships to take place. I can only be open to relationships, or as a friend reminded me lately, “bring light to those I love.”
Peter Block says that leadership is about being intentional. I think as pastors we have to get our personal needs out of the way, and be about creating space for people to form relationships that matter. We create the environment of openness and listening, of vision, generosity, and accountability, and we set our personal needs and egos aside. We listen, we love, we ask questions, and we listen again.
That’s not sad. That’s reality for effective leadership.
After a month of Advent festivities, church responsibilities and family expectations, I once again found myself earning for solitude. After a month of news of one tragic event after another, I found myself aching for silence. Sometimes nothing seems easy. Living in community, whether that be our family, our religious organization or our global community, isn’t easy. Sometimes we have to get away. We have to put our feet on the earth and marvel at the formation of a tree, or the deer in the woods, or the carving of a rock and be reminded that really life is very simple and that we make things so much more difficult than they need to be.
I told my family for a Christmas present I would like to go for a hike in the woods. I wanted to sink my boots deep into the snow, to feel the cold air on my cheeks, to hear the silence of the woods, sleeping and dormant. I wanted to be among the trees. So on Christmas Day, we bundled up and went out for a hike.
When I Am Among The Trees, from her book “Thirst” by Mary Oliver
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off each such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves,
and call out, “Stay a while.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say, “and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy,
to be filled with light, and to shine.”
Dialogue cannot exist in the absence of a profound love for the world and for people. The naming of the world, which is an act of creation and re-creation, is not possible if it is not infused with love. Love is at the same time the foundation of dialogue and dialogue itself…. If I do not love the world–if I do not love life–if I do not love people–I cannot enter into dialogue.
There is a quote from the Mr. Rogers that has gone viral. It’s a quote that reminds us and children that even though scary things happen, there are a lot of people in the world who also do good. Mr. Rogers has always been my hero. His calm, an assuming humility, his commitment to children and the greater good and his ability to join children in their wonder are all qualities I love about him. I also felt like he knew me, like he was talking directly to me, that he really did like me “just as I was.”
Mr Rogers spoke to adults as if they were children and children as if they were adults. He gave them the same amount of respect and knew that essentially we all need the same caring attention. We are all children at heart.
Mr Rogers asked us every week if we would be his neighbor. Jesus admonishes us that the greatest commandment is to love God and love our neighbor. Every week Fred Rogers, Presbyterian minister, preached the great commandment. He preached it over and over again. Have we learned the lesson yet?
Mr. Rogers never stopped affirming people. He was never fake or phony in his affirmation. You knew his words were genuine. He let people know they were special, and he meant it.
Mr. Rogers was a champion for children. He believed they deserved respect, care, love and honesty. He treated all children with dignity. He welcomed them into his home and invited them to explore.
Mr. Rogers understood that children need ritual and stability. He switched from jacket to sweater, from dress shoes to gym shoes, and fed his fish every week, not because he lacked creativity, but because he understood the comfort of routine and predictability. In the same way we know in our worship service the Prayer of Confession follow the Call to Worship. Our rituals tell us we are home.
Mr. Rogers knew we need creativity and imagination. The Land of Make Believe, was always my favorite part of his show. It was the take home message of his sermon. I loved Daniel and King Friday. I loved the permission to go to the Land of Make Believe. I think we need to give ourselves permission to use our imagination and go to the land and ponder and create.
Here is his Benediction. He always blessed us before he walked out the door. Promising us that he would be back with a new idea, or two:
Thank you Mr. Rogers, for being our neighbor. It’s time his congregation of viewers, who heard him as children now adults to go teach what we learned from him. We are the caring people who can do the work for the world.
Close your eyes… who has made a difference in your life? Go tell them thank you and be that person for someone else.
Will you be my neighbor?