Posts Tagged ‘Words Matter’

I’m No Fool

Foolishness

Art by Jennifer Clark Tinker

“Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

–1 Corinthians 1:20

When I was in 8th grade my health teacher told me, “You should be a defense attorney because you’re the most argumentative person I know.” This was after a particularly lively class discussion in which I was defending an unpopular viewpoint, and doing quite well for myself.

In 9th grade, my team and I (we were Ben, Ken, & Jen) won our big debate in history class that year.

In 10th grade, my English teacher predicted, “I see you as a zealous ACLU lawyer” because I had been outspoken about certain issues in papers I wrote for her class.

I tell ya, when I get on a topic I can really go at it.

I’m passionate about what I believe in and I don’t mind speaking up. Okay, let me be perfectly frank, I enjoy speaking up. I like a good hot-topic discussion.

In recent years I have had some great opportunities to have some of these kinds of discussions online. There is a particular Facebook group of ministry colleagues with whom I especially enjoying bantering.

However, online discussions lack a lot of the check points you have in in-person dialogues. You don’t get to see the other people’s faces or hear their tone of voice. It’s possible to ram right through a discussion and not realize that you’re coming across all wrong.

I try to watch myself online. I work at being civil–talking about issues rather than making personal attacks on my conversation partners. I admit when I’m wrong and I apologize when I realize I have made a conversational misstep.

But…I do love a good debate. I can hold my own quite well. I’m pretty stubborn persistent too. And with my goal not to make the discussion “personal,” sometimes I err too far the other way and get so caught up in the impersonal ideas behind it all that I can forget about the people.

One of the texts for my sermon on Sunday was 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 and it’s all about the foolishness of the cross and comparing human wisdom with God’s “foolishness” (see art of verse 25).

It’s a great passage to preach on.

But verse 20 (quoted above in bold type) about “the debater of this age,” preached to me this weekend as I reflected on my zeal for a good debate.

It was a bit of a warning shot. Sometimes when I get on a roll, the sheer energy of the discussion fuels my passion all the more. I needed this warning to remind me to continue to watch myself that I don’t get too carried away in cool, rational, debating.

I cherish my people and I never want to be so “argumentative” as to harm a relationship. I’m not giving up on the friendly banter–I just want to be sure to keep the “friendly” in there.

I’m glad that God have me this reminder not to behave like a fool.

Leaders: Are You Too Sexy for Your Church? So Sexy it Hurts?

Too Sexy for Church

One of my pet peeves among ministry colleagues is when they say, “I know it’s not the most sexy aspect of ministry,” about some unsung part of church-work. It has become a popular turn of phrase–almost a cliche–to talk about something in terms of how “sexy” it is.

Colleagues I know and deeply respect have said it. I won’t name names and I’ve lost track of who and how many. Just if you happen to be one, I’d like to suggest that you stop using the term “sexy” to refer to anything related to church or ministry. What follows are my reasons.

 

Four Reasons Faith Leaders Shouldn’t Use the Term “Sexy”

 

1. Stop the Obsession

Our culture is bombarded enough already with sex in advertising, sexual innuendo, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse. Too much. We as church-workers can do ministry just fine without making it look “sexy.”

It’s true that some aspects of ministry may seem a little ho-hum, but even the great moments don’t have to be “sexy” to be worthwhile.

There are so many other ways to describe ministry highlights: mountaintop experience, a holy moment, a God thing, serendipitous, great teamwork, etc. Please try saying what you want to say a different way.

 

2. Keep it Safe

Associating ministry with sex at all is just disturbing. People need church to be a safe environment not a sexualized one.

Unfortunately, sexual abuse by faith leaders happens.

Oftentimes predatory faith leaders will “groom” others beginning with small, seemingly innocent words or touch to desensitize them to the wrongness of their advances. Other times faith leaders will promise that sexualized talk or touch will have a spiritual benefit for the parishioner.

These behaviors are way out of bounds and just plain wrong. Faith leaders should never attempt to sexualize their relationship with parishioners in any way.

 

3. Words Mean Something

So you’re not a predator, you’re not “grooming” anyone. To you it’s just an analogy. But what you think of as a harmless analogy may trigger unwanted sexual thoughts for others.

I get that people use this term without intending to sexualize the church environment, but words matter and you can’t just throw around the term “sexy” without somebody thinking about sex.

And by “somebody,” I admit I am one; I’m very visual and yes, I’m going to go there in my mind…and I won’t hear another word you say.

 

4. Stop the Objectification

I don’t even like the term “sexy” when it would be more fitting because it represents a highly objectified view of sex.

I teach my son not to refer to others as “hotties” or as “sexy” because those terms treat people like objects.

Saying someone is “sexy” is saying, “I want to have sex with that person.” Such an announcement is often made with no appreciation for the personhood of the one desired or a relational context for the fantasized consummation.

Sure, most people want to be seen as attractive, even desirable, but we’re whole beings, not just play things.

 

I’m not opposed to sex. And I’m not saying that the subject should be off limits in church; in fact I think there are good and helpful ways to talk about healthy sexuality in our parishes. I just don’t think the term “sexy” accomplishes what it is intended to accomplish when used to refer to church or ministry happenings. The term itself is just a little too sexy for church–so sexy it hurts.

Happy vs. Blessed Thanksgiving

The last way to be happy is to make it your objective in life.

—”Nick Smith” in Metropolitan

I try not to say, “Happy Thanksgiving” when I remember. Instead, I prefer to say, “Blessed Thanksgiving.”

Why?

Because happiness is just way too elusive.

How are happiness and blessedness different?

Happiness is a feeling and feelings change frequently. Also, happiness is often closely tied to our circumstances–when they’re good we feel happy; when they’re bad we don’t.

Sometimes–even on holidays–or especially on holidays–it is really hard to feel happy. In fact, sometimes holidays can accentuate circumstances that are pretty crummy.

But blessedness just is, no matter how we feel and regardless of our present circumstances. We are all blessed in some way.

We are blessed with life and most especially we are blessed with a God who loves us. One of my dear theology professors used to say, “God loves you for Christ’s sake and will never let you go.”

When the message of Thanksgiving is that we should be happy, I go a little Scrooge. Partly because we can’t just flip a switch and be happy.

But also I think gratitude is deeper than that. Gratitude is tied to blessings–to those realities of life that are despite feelings or circumstances.

When we can see that which is true in our lives because of the God that loves us no matter what, we may not necessarily get giddy-happy, but we can begin to access a deeper sense of gratitude for God-with-us.

So when I say, “Blessed Thanksgiving” it is a prayer of sorts–that folks may know God’s love and grace in their lives amidst fluctuating feelings or shifting circumstances.

I am blessed by each and every one of you and the way you each stand as reminders of God’s love for me. I pray you will know the deep and abiding love of God in your life.

Blessed Thanksgiving!

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2 Powerful Lessons About Keeping a Group Together

My son and I were soaked to the bone from the Cub Scout hike, but still had a great time!

My son and I are getting ready to go home after our first Cub Scout hike together. Despite the nearly-constant rain on the hike we had a great time and we learned about leadership in the process.

Last month I had the privilege of going with my son a Cub Scout hike. On the hike, the Den Leader taught the boys two important lessons about how to keep a group together on a hike. I’d like to tell you about those lessons and how they tie in with some of my own thinking about decision making by consensus.

The First Lesson

The hike began with us walking down a stony path to a clearing. When we got to the clearing the Den Leader stopped the group and waited for everyone to catch up.

Then the Den Leader asked the group who was the slowest hiker. It seemed to me an awkward question–I mean, who wants to be known as the slow kid?

But the purpose of asking, the leader explained, was because “we don’t leave anyone behind.” Therefore the slowest hiker was called upon to lead the group, to set the pace.

I loved this so much because here all of suddenly the slowest hiker got a confidence boost by being in a leadership role!

The Second Lesson

Right after the lead hiker was chosen, the Den Leader instructed the lead hiker on a dialog to begin the hike. He was to ask the group, “Is anyone not ready?”

Of course this is very different than we’re used to. We usually ask it like “Are you ready?” or “Is everyone ready?”

It seems like the same question just asked a different way. But that different way of asking the question is actually much better at finding what you need to know!

Since it was already established that “we don’t leave anyone behind,” it is important to know if someone in the group is not ready to go forward. So the quickest way to find out is to ask directly if anyone is not ready!

The Den Leader explained that when you ask something like, “Is everyone ready?” instead, then the voices of those who are ready all-too-easily drown out the voices of the few who are not. This puts those who are not ready in jeopardy of being left behind.

Connections with Consensus Model

These two lessons–about having the slowest hiker be first and about checking on whoever is not ready–remind me a lot of what I have studied about the process of making decisions by consensus. I have mentioned my work with that on behalf of my Deaconess community in a previous post.

One of the essential aspects of my Deaconess community’s practice in decision making by consensus is the idea that we honor the input from everyone in the group–and especially those who are most vulnerable.

In consensus-based decision making, we’re not trying to carry on at all costs. We don’t want to leave anyone behind!

Just as in the Cub Scout hike the slow hiker was invited to lead, so in the consensus model the one who is most vulnerable is invited to teach the group a different perspective. New proposals can then be crafted that take this new perspective into account.

Another principle we are trying to put into practice in my Deaconess community’s use of the consensus model is the idea of asking questions the different way. When the group seems close to adopting a new proposal we are learning to ask, “Are there any concerns about this proposal?”

The momentum of the majority of the group toward a decision makes it easy to want to ask, “Do we have agreement?” But just like on the Cub Scout hike, the “yes” answers too easily drown out the voices of those who are “not ready” to move forward.

Taking the time to check for remaining concerns may sometimes be a mere formality when, in fact, everyone is actually ready. But in the times when someone is truly not ready to move on a decision, that is vital information for the group so that noone gets drowned out and left behind.

I love that my son is getting these lessons in scouts. I want him to be attuned to the vulnerable, to those at risk of being left behind. And these powerful lessons are valuable for us grown-ups too!

Note to regular readers: If you’re watching the “How Christian Community Helps Us Face Challenges” posts, you can expect a new one next week.

Vases of Grace

Vase of Grace

I blew it. I blew my top with my son. Again.

I don’t mean to do it. I really don’t. I don’t mean to yell at him.

He’s a good kid. A great kid really. He’s smart, funny, and caring. He’s a Lego pro. He does great character voices when reading aloud or playing make-believe. He “gets” God and Jesus and grace better than some people five times his age.

It is not his fault that I yell at him. Even if he does bad stuff, I’m the grown-up–responsible for keeping my own reactions in check.

There’s no good reason to angry-yell at any kid–none that I can think of in the whole wide world. Not a single one. It’s just plain wrong.

Add to that I’m this mom who is passionate about Positive Discipline, making a point to offer loving support, and non-punitive correction. I should know better. I should do better.

When I yell, I know that it is me who is out of control. I know that.

And I want to be quick to tell you that it doesn’t happen very often. Most of the time, we’re all pretty laid back around here. We get along well in my family of three: we cooperate, we talk about anything and everything, and we’re generally really nice people.

I don’t yell all the time. Hardly ever really. It’s almost not even worth bringing up lest you get the wrong idea about me. It’s not that bad…

Except, I saw a headline the other day that if you yell at your child it can cause as much emotional harm as physical abuse. I would never lay a hand on my child. I’ve never even spanked him as discipline. Ever.

But to think that my out-of-control yelling could cause him emotional harm?

Oh, Lord have mercy.

And I see it. Rather, I hear some of the fall-out of the yelling. “I’m the stupidest kid in the world!” is a typical response when I yell at him. His negative self-talk peaks whenever I lose control with my tone of voice.

Two Tuesdays ago, after I yelled I was quick to apologize. And he was quick to forgive saying, “That’s okay mommy. I’m kind-of used to it.”

Oh child. Oh sweet boy.

“You shouldn’t have to be used to that. Mommy is wrong to yell. Just as I want you to talk to mommy in a respectful tone of voice, you can expect the same from me. When I don’t speak to you respectfully, it is wrong.”

I spent the better part of that day feeling really crummy for having yelled, and for him being “kind-of used to it.” And my own negative self-talk dominated my inner-dialog.

But something happened that gave me hope. I can’t remember if it was the same day or the day after that, but I was still beating myself up about the yelling when my son brought me flowers from the yard.

Before I had a chance to come and see the flowers, he put them in glasses of water. But the stems were far too short to reach the bottom of the glasses, so he custom-engineered supports out of some of his Legos to keep the blooms above the water level.

These vases of grace gave me hope. Great hope. Hope that his predominate mode is confidence and kindness, not self-loathing. Hope that I get a second chance to do better. Hope that we can move forward and that he had already moved past the difficult moment on which I had still been dwelling.

It has happened again since I got those vases. But I caught it quicker. And I’m recognizing my triggers–triggers that have nothing to do with him at all. And I’m seeing that some of what triggers my out-of-control behavior are stressors that I can reduce or eliminate. So, with God’s help I’m working on all that.

It is important work, but it is a work in progress. But the vases, those beautiful vases remind me that there is grace, even for me.