Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Making Connections

The "Holidays" are a time when many folks endeavor to make connections.  Either with old friends, family or just the "hometown" crowd that they only see once a year when everyone is back in town.  It is fun to make connections, to hear about what folks are doing and even maybe meet some new people they brought along.  The key though, it seems, is some sort of shared experience that brings us together in the first place and breaks the ice.

Last night I had a fun opportunity to get together with a group of guys who played football at Harvard and now live in the DFW area.  I was invited by a guy who was a couple years younger than me and is a lawyer in Dallas.  So I made the trek over to Dallas (a long way for us living here in Fort Worth) to see who might be there and who I might meet.  It was a big group, probably about 25 guys, and I quickly realized I knew none of them except my teammate who had invited me.

Luckily, I quickly found my connection and sat down and met many of the guys around us and wound up having a fun evening making new connections.  As I left, I had 2 major thoughts...

1) I don't hang around with just guys that much these days, it was a fascinating thing to be in a room with 25 other guys, most of whom are tremendously successful in their business lives.  There is just a different energy in a room when you get that many alpha males together around good food and drink.  

2) These guys know how to talk to people, make a connection and find a shared experience.  Although I had never met most of them, we had the one point of contact in that we played football, most of us for the same coach and at the same school.  But we didn't just stay there, from that point of contact new contacts and experiences were shared and by the end of the evening, you would have thought this was a group of old friends.

In his book "The Tipping Point", Malcolm Gladwell talks about three types of people who are essential for any epidemic/movement to gain traction and grow.  You need Connectors (people who link the world), Mavens (the information folks, early adapters) and Salesman (the persuaders who get others on board).

Of these the connectors (my belief) may be of the greatest value.  These are the folks that live in multiple worlds, who have tentacles (for lack of a good term) in a lot of different places and can reach into those places for experiences and contacts who might be able to help each other succeed and grow.

I think one of the great challenges for pastoral leadership is that it is so easy to get stuck into only one box and forget to make those connections.  We may be a Maven, with lots of information and knowledge and ability to solve problems creatively.  Or we might be a Salesman (in the church we might call them evangelists) who can bring a person in, sit them down, make the case of our product and why it is important in their life and "close the deal" as it were.

But if we don't have connectors, how are the Mavens and Salesmen ever going to reach anyone?  That is one of my biggest concerns in our church today, especially as so many of my pastoral brothers and sisters continue to draw more and more lines of who is in and who is out.   Who are encouraging their communities to become wholly self-involved entities, with little cooperation with other communities.  They do this under the guise of faithfulness to the Scriptures and our statements of faith, but so often I think it is more about holding fast to traditions and cultural ways of thinking and fear of engagement with the world.

Will our congregations, with the hope of keeping "pure" doctrine and teaching break down connections with other congregations, traditions, institutions, resources in our communities?  Some traditions (like the Amish) have chosen to do this, to keep separate from the world for the sake of purity, only engaging very loosely with the world.  It works for them, but rarely do I think it leads to growing, thriving and relevant communities, especially if you choose to be a community living not as an enclave but fully in the world.

This is risky business, we need connections but those connections will change us.  Yet we proclaim a God who made a connection with us in Emmanuel:God with Us.  It was risky for God to connect with us, to get down into the mud and grime or our lives, and it required God to be willing to sacrifice God's own self on the cross.  Yet this willingness was and is essential for our salvation.

Are we as a church willing to do the same?  Will we be connectors?  Or will we simply retreat into our "Holy" enclaves?  I for one resolve that my congregation will not.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

vocation and joy

I watched a member of my congregation tonight fully living into his vocation.  This is a business he inherited from his father, has nurtured and grown, and now his son, daughter-in-law, wife, friends and employees were out working with him as he brought joy to hundreds, some of whom are children who may not see another Christmas.

What a joy to watch someone live into their vocational calling.  To see what gifts they can give, to experience great joy in those gifts and bring others along with him.  It was a privilege from nika and I to be there and experience it.  And a reminder to me to make sure that in my vocational calling I truly take joy in the opportunities I have to serve, live and love.

RT, I am grateful to know you.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The good, bad and yet excellent?

Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien. 
(The better(perfect) is the enemy of the good.)-Voltaire

This quote popped up again and again in my mind today.  In political debates about tax cuts and unemployment benefits (and I am making no political statement here, just observing), in dealing with my little girl who doesn’t want to eat her peas, discussing the challenges of keeping the fellowship hall floor clean; again and again, the debate of the perfect versus the good.

How do we decide when it is worth it to compromise and accept good, knowing the perfect is out there but at this point unattainable?  When political debate and election results have shown that you just can’t do what you thought you might.  While following the training program for the marathon exactly as the cyber coach tells you is ideal, sometimes life gets in the way and you are sore and tired and frankly your body says no.  While it would be good to completely scrub the floor everyday that job takes too much time and a good old fashion sweep and mopping is ok and we will scrub once a month.  While you wish your daughter would, after a 5 minute time out involving screaming and gnashing of teeth, come back to the table and eat the meal you prepared, perhaps her eating plain noodles and drinking her milk and not crying, is victory.  The list goes on and on.

Voltaire was on to something here.  Perhaps he foresaw the devastation of the French Revolution (even though it was inspired by much of his writing).  He could imagine the destruction caused by those who clung so hard to their hopes and dreams of the “perfect” society that they wound up eliminating everyone around them who thought differently.  He could see a downside to democracy in which entrenched positions prevented compromise and created the possible tyranny of a majority that ruled, seeking its own perfection, with no consideration for the opinions and beliefs of others.  Or of small groups who, because they refused to acknowledge the needs of others, chose to disengage and seek perfection apart from the other.

As a disciple of Jesus and one who confesses that humanity is truly captive (or in bondage) to sin, I see real promise in this line of thinking.  The perfect is unachievable this side of the resurrection.  Yet we seek it so desperately to achieve it.  We grasp so desperately for the perfect solution to our problems.  We strive to have perfect jobs, families, and even hope to achieve a perfect “true Lutheran” church.  We go forward in this, as if any of those were possible.  Forgetting that the while we can hope for the perfect, the good is pretty worthwhile as well.

So does this mean anything goes?  To quote a well known author, I say “By no means.”  Saying the perfect shouldn’t eliminate the good, doesn’t mean that anything goes or that anything is good or even excellent.  Yet excellence doesn’t mean perfection.  Can we allow ourselves to not be paralyzed by the fact that we haven’t or can’t achieve the perfect?  Can we create ways of discerning that focus on achieving what is helpful, useful, brings hope, serves those in need, gets us started on achieving a mission, keeps the facility running another day and be satisfied?  It may not be the perfect master plan, but it certainly is better than nothing, right? 

Well, certainly some do not think so.  But in my experience in leadership, those who strive constantly for the perfect plan, the exact right answers to every solution, aren’t dealing with actual people and actual communities and they rarely get anything done. 

We aren’t going to achieve the perfect, but is there value and excellence the good?  Can we be excellent and not perfect?  Certainly I am not the only one to have wondered this.  For that same author I quoted before (not Voltaire) also wrote…

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Indeed, lets think on those things.  A blessed Advent to you all.