This post is the second in a 3-part series pondering what it means to be in community with people we disagree (particularly in congregations). The previous post laid the groundwork, and today we start to tackle the questions of how and what this looks like.
How to Live in Diverse Community
To engage and live in a diverse community takes intention. It takes a willingness to risk offending one another in order to be honest and authentic. It also takes a risk both on your part, and others, to enter into relationship. If there is no interest or effort to create a relationship, no matter how hard one tries, community won’t emerge. Community is not a one-directional thing, rather its a multi-directional thing. Like friend and adviser Dr. Terri Elton reminds, “its messy,” especially when in the midst of congregational communities.
One of the ways that can be helpful to living and co-existing is to have some sort of promise, covenant, or even ground rules. The more formal the community, the more likely that there can be actual rules or ideas that are adapted and held by a community. The less formal the community, the harder this is to do. It may not be necessary, but it could help. It is especially helpful for when within a community engaging in a difficult, controversial, and altogether divisive topic.
Here’s an example. In the year following the ELCA Churchwide Assembly and votes in August of 2009, my home congregation engaged in a discussion and time of conversation around concerns, hopes, etc. This was not unlike many other congregations. There was a wide range of viewpoints expressed, and it was obvious that not everyone agreed coming into the conversation and certainly not everyone agreed when the conversation ended. (I would add, to this day not everyone agrees.) I don’t think this is atypical. But the act of being able to have a mostly civil conversation in the midst of anxiety, worry, emotions, faith and faith questions provides some hope about how to have community in the midst of differing opinions and perspectives. Out of that conversation came some compromises and stances which I myself might not have agreed with, nor agree with now (like that of “bound conscience“), but I recognize that’s what happens in community.
The sign of a healthy community is that it is willing to live into that tension and paradox and not run away from it. Another sign is a willingness or an ability at least to revisit these tough conversations and ideas down the road and reevaluate the communities’ perspective in light of that. And, to admit when perhaps it was wrong and to be able to come together, admit that and then change course based on their communal discovery and discernment.
Along these lines, in order to live in diverse community there needs to be safety to ask questions. (This is one of the reasons the Discourse series exists actually). This is both for evaluation and reevaluation purposes, but also in the sense that true relationship can only happen when people are free and able to say and express what they are wondering about, thinking about, hoping for, afraid of, etc. If people do not feel comfortable expressing these things that are weighing on their hearts and minds, the community is not a safe place but its also not its fullest potential. More cynically, if community is not this, its really more just superficial which leaves many people wanting and perhaps looking for something else more fulfilling, rewarding, safe and open to wonder and imagination. Perhaps this is a generational thing, but I have seen this to be especially true among millennials. If they don’t feel the safety and ability to be authentic, they are not apt to get much out of or invest in a community for the long-term.
What do you think about these ideas and perspectives? What have been your experiences? What are some helpful tips for living in diverse communities? Or, for living with people you greatly disagree with?
This post offers beginning reflection for a 3-part series pondering what being in community means with people we disagree.
This past fall, friend and pastor Kent Shane and I went back and forth imagining what it might mean to really claim all are welcome, all are sought, and to have a community and practice of accompaniment as part of this. It was our conversation which really sparked a series of posts that appeared on this blog in September and October. These posts included the aforementioned ones, as well as some collective thoughts on what those pieces have to do together within and regarding the congregation. And then in light of another piece I found entitled, “Hello My Name is Church,” I offered a response that continued this series and conversation.
Since the middle of the fall this conversation had quieted down on my blog, until a recent post of mine. My friend Carrie Gubsch, a great writer and thinker in her own right, had helped me edit and refine this post prior to its publishing. In her comments regarding the post she wrote, “As a follow up I would love to see a blog post on living in diverse community with people we deeply disagree with.” That is the impetus for this post. Carrie, I hope you appreciate the thoughts that follow.
So, together with that extended introduction, let’s pick up the conversation and see where it takes us.
Pondering Community with People we Disagree
On the surface, I imagine that we would all love to live in the world where we always agree with one another. In this world, we would effectively always be right. We would coexist in our agreement and unity. We would be of one mind… You can see where this logic leads. It’s not too much of a stretch to think of the horrors of a one-mind society like portrayed in George Orwell’s 1984. No, there is a beautiful thing about diversity. We are richer for it. Our conversations, communities and relationships are deeper because of it. But needless to say, it isn’t easy. In fact, its quite hard.
It is especially difficult to live in diverse community with people we deeply disagree with. If anything, the events of this past week with World Vision confirm that. But that is not to say that it is impossible to live in diverse community with people we deeply disagree with. If it were impossible, we would have given up on this notion long ago.
This post has really been about laying the groundwork for the conversation. Tomorrow, we will pick up the conversation by considering how to live in diverse community. My pondering to come is not going to be about families or systems necessarily. I am going to focus specifically on congregations, but hopefully my thoughts to come will be applicable to other communities and quite possibly even families.
What are your initial thoughts? How do you live in community with people you disagree with?
I have been wrestling with being willing to write this or not. Well, since you are reading it, its obvious that the push to write it won out over my resistance to doing so. If you haven’t heard by now, World Vision, an organization I do respect, recently made a decision to be willing and open to hire people, regardless of their sexuality and if they were married or not as long as they were “abstinent if not married.” Within two days though, the organization then changed its mind.
I share much of the sentiment theologian and blogger Rachel Held Evans has already expressed. My heart hurts. Theologically, I am sad because those who would create barriers to Jesus’ love and service have convinced or expressed the power to restrict. I am sad because this organization which does such beautiful work is based in my home state and has decided that not all people are welcome and created equal. I am sorry, that just doesn’t stand well in light of the gospel. In the gospels, its repeatedly and abundantly clear that whenever people create rules and barriers which divide, Jesus is always on the side that is being shut out and marginalized (the Gospel of Luke practically hits you over the head with this). It is abundantly clear, that to create barriers is not to live into the vision Paul expresses particularly well in Galatians 3:28-29:
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28-29, NRSV).
However, in articulating this, I am confronted with a core piece of Lutheran theology that I hold. We are all broken. We all need healing, because we are all broken. It’s this brokenness that results in the hurt in relationships, in the broken or absence of community, and in the pain and sadness that we feel today. So, I express what I am feeling here recognizing that I myself am broken in ways that I may not even recognize and need healing. This being true, I cannot leave this discussion here though as a sort of “cop-out.”
I must admit, I am perplexed and confused by the acts of leadership and process that went into this. If its true what I have seen that the decision to change the policy to accept and welcome people who were married in same-sex relationships, was a decision that was prayed about and discerned about for nearly two years, how did it take only two days to reverse the work and discernment? I ask this somewhat rhetorically. The answer is obvious, funding and threats of withheld funding.
But to make a decision out of the fear of withheld funding, and to make that decision only two days after a multiple year process of discernment and reflection about this possibility seems shallow, disconcerting, weak leadership, disrespectful for all those involved in the process of discernment, etc. It also shows that no matter what the organization believes to be true and right, it will always bend to the will of those with the money. Values and beliefs be darned. I would argue, the love of the neighbor, be darned as well.
I mean, its a fair question what kind of person would withhold giving to support the work of World Vision because of its stance about its employees? If you say that is what a Christian would do, then I hurt as a Christian. That’s not who I am as a Christian. As a Christian, we are called to love and serve, to baptize and teach, to point out the light in the world and to wonder and discern together about the in-breaking of the kingdom of God.
For awhile on Monday, I thought we were having one of those moments. I thought the kingdom of God was breaking in, as the sense of greater welcome and community was being broadened. To be honest, I share Paul B. Raushenbush’s sense though that there may still be positives here because many in the organization wanted to make the change, and because of that I trust that this was a God breaking-in moment.
I have to wonder though, how an organization claims to be about love but its decisions are dictated more about funding (and particularly the threat of lack of funding) then the love of the service it does. I also have to wonder about what this says about those churches and people of faith who were willing and ready to abandon World Vision on Monday. But then again I have to remember that we are all broken.
World Vision on Monday was living into a discerned two year process. Sadly, it never gave itself a chance to see what that would lead to. It never engaged the conversation more openly with different denominations and faith groups. It just closed the doors, somewhat similar to Thrivent’s decision recently.
I know that this post won’t change your mind. But its obvious, that the message of love needs to be continued to be shared. It’s also obvious that we have to keep speaking, sharing, and writing. We can’t let the message of love and grace found in the gospel to be lost because of some people in our wonderful tent of Christianity who think they have it figured out better than others and that there is supposed to be some “of us and them,” rather than all of us together. We may disagree about certain things, but we shouldn’t let that keep us from being the Body of Christ together, because really that’s not up to us to decide anyway.
I guess much of my pain comes from my core theological convictions which I reflected on in the nine-part blog post series unpacking my current theological understandings. To summarize, I believe that:
God creates all with value and that this has serious implications for creation and community!
I admit I am not perfect at standing up for this core belief. But I do believe that this is something that we as leaders are called to embody and share. This is the message of the gospel, “God loves you and God is for you.” Not “God loves you and God is for you if you do this and that and this and that.” No, there is no “if.” God loves you, period. How can we put limitations on God’s love and mercy? I mean if God did, God never would have allowed God the Son to die upon a cross. So if God doesn’t place limits, why do we?
What do you think? Have I offended your theological convictions? Am I preaching to the choir? Perhaps you have some thoughts based on this to continue our conversation? I would love to hear them.
One of the areas of theology, ministry, neighbor love and leadership that I love is stewardship. I have written some occasionally on the blog about my perspectives about stewardship, but thought it might be good to do some intentional wrestling about stewardship. To do some wrestling though, I believe takes some definition or at least some expression of what assumptions might be being made.
First of all, what does stewardship mean?
One of the best definitions that I have found as a starting place comes from Helge Brattgard. In God’s Stewards: A Theological Study of the Principles and Practices of Stewardship, Brattgard explains that stewardship is expressed “by the willingness of church members to take active responsibility in the service of the church through a voluntary contribution of time, money, and natural gifts” (Brattgard, 2). You could broaden it out so that its not limited to church members and I believe that the definition would hold. The key though is that stewardship means more than just the voluntary contribution of money. It means this, but it also means time and natural gifts. These gifts I would argue include vocations, passions, gifts, opportunities and talents of all kinds. Stewardship in its fullest sense for me then is the practice, expression, belief, study, etc., of offering one’s own time, money, and talents in service of others. In the sense of ministry, this is in service to God.
If you want to take this a step further theologically, stewardship is not just about being in service to God. It’s grounded in a belief that all that we have and all that we are, are entrusted to us by God. Our time, talents, our treasure, they are entrusted to us and meant to be stewarded by us in service.
This idea leads to a second question then, what does it mean to be a steward?
I could offer my own answer, but two of my friends who are wiser than I when it comes to stewardship, do a nice job of answering this question. Rev. Chick Lane and Grace Duddy explain that, “A steward, by definition, cannot be the owner. A steward is a person who takes care of that which belongs to another. A steward is a manager of someone else’s property. A steward is the trustee of that which is owned by someone else.” This builds upon the idea of being entrusted to. It also points to a relationship that stewards have with the one who is doing the entrusting. In the Christian understanding of stewardship, this is God. Duddy and Lane explain further that “God owns everything, and has seen fit to entrust some of God’s stuff into our care, our management, our stewardship.”
When you put these understandings of being a steward and an overall understanding of stewardship together, one’s view of relationship with God, creation, money, possessions and others is forever changed. It also requires a move beyond basic definitions to a deeper understanding. This is where we face questions about how we view money and resources. Do we believe that we live in a sense of abundance or scarcity? What does this mean for our faith and relationship with God? How about our understanding of scripture?
These questions and ideas lead to much further discussion. A good starting synthesis can be found in this post on “The Bible, Stewardship and Money” by Chick Lane and Grace Duddy. I share their conclusions here to help broaden the conversation. They write:
“Stewardship is about how you understand yourself to be in relation with God. Do you understand God to be a generous loving God who has entrusted more into your care than you could ever deserve or exhaust? Or do you understand God as one who must be appeased by you diminishing your already scarce possessions through giving some to the church, because you really ought to? Is your relationship with God characterized by abundance or by scarcity?
Stewardship is also about how you understand yourself to be in relation with the rest of creation. Do you live so that you can make the lives of other people and the created order richer through encounters with you? Or do you live in competition with other people for a finite pool of resources? Is your life invested in others, or is your life invested in yourself?
Stewardship rightly understood is about money, but it is also about these very basic spiritual matters. The writers of the Bible understood that money and possessions have a distinct hold on our hearts and what we do with the money that God has entrusted to us has the capacity to affect not only us, but our neighbors and communities. The Bible invites us to use the money and possessions that God has entrusted to us to love our neighbors and by doing so enrich our relationship with God” (Grace Duddy & Chick Lane, 2014).
So, what do you think about being a steward and an idea of stewardship? What do you make of these ideas, definitions, understandings and assumptions?
I wanted to provide some grounding so that I can offer an upcoming post or two about what “Stewardship Leadership” means and might mean. In an upcoming post I will begin to make some connections between stewardship and leadership and see what we think and make of these connections. I will also offer some thoughts about what this means and might mean for congregations.
Resources and Sources:
Helge Brattgard, God’s Stewards: A Theological Study of the Principles and Practices of Stewardship, trans. Gene J. Lund, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1963), 2.
Tuesday means its time to share some links. I use the word “some” loosely this week, as it seems I must have done a lot of reading. This week’s topic categories are: Church and Ministry Thought & Practice; Cross-Sector Collaboration; Leadership Thought & Practice; Neighbor Love; Social Media & Blogging; Stewardship; Vocation; Worship; and Miscellaneous. I entrust these to you now and hope you find them interesting, helpful and enjoyable.
Karina Kreminski wrote, “Being Single, Being Church & Being Family.” Have you ever wondered about the implications (good and bad) of family imagery in relation to congregations? Helpfully, Karina asks, “What do we mean by ‘family’?” There are some important ponderings in this to think about and ponder yourself so give it some time and thought.
The Progressive Youth Ministry conference happened last week in Chicago. In light of that and conversations with other conference attenders, achurchforstarvingartists shared, “Youth Groups for the 21st Century Church.”
Friend and soon to be pastor Emmy Kegler shared information about a wonderful project she has been doing, the “Twin Cities Passion Walk.” According to Emmy, “This project is a synthesis of several interests: a desire to experience the final hours of Jesus’ passion in powerful ways; a hope for experimental ways of doing “church” and “worship” differently; and my love for walking in the city.” Check it out!
Lawrence Downes shared, “Dying Churches, Revived in a Flash” in The New York Times. Check it out and see what you think. Might this be something replicable in other contexts?
Jason Horowitz shared, “The Catholic Roots of Obama’s Activism” in The New York Times. It’s an interesting read about President Obama’s faith and social focuses, especially for those interested in the relationship of congregations, neighbor love and service.
Rev. Dr. David Lose asked, “Why do you go to church?” Give this a read and some thought. There is great stuff in here!
Along the lines of questions and asking the questions, a post of mine from last year was picked up, adapted, and shared by Ministry Matters. If you haven’t seen it before, I would be honored if you checked it out and joined the conversation.
On the HBR Blog Raghu Krishnamoorthy shared, “How GE Gives Leaders time to Mentor and Reflect.” There might be insights and ideas in here for how your own organization can empower and enable its leaders time to mentor others and to reflect on their own leadership, learning and experiences.
Drucker friend and business and leadership hall-of-famer, Jack Welch, and Suzy Welch, shared this post yesterday, “So Many Leaders Get This Wrong.” To give away a little of the intrigue, there is the added sub-heading, “The team that puts the best people on the field & gets them playing together wins. It’s that simple.” Check this out. (Side note, to show how big of an influencer Jack Welch is, consider this- this post went up about 24 hours ago and in that time over 102,000 people have already seen it. Wow!)
Judy Philbin shared, “Motivate from the Top.” There are some good technique ideas about how to go about doing this here.
Jena McGregor shared insights on “Why people really leave their jobs.” Give this a read, and particularly check out what else Jena McGregor writes because as the Washington Post explains, she “teases out the leadership issues in the day’s news.” Great insights and good reflection.
This next post could have been placed under a number of categories this week, but I am going to share it here. Wally Bock shared “Mindfulness.” It seems that this is a timely post for me as much of the leadership thought and practice I have recently been engaged with has had to do with questions, discernment, and presence. Give this a look.
In a timely post, “Living Lutheran” shared its “Ask a Pastor” column which focused on the question of “Is God’s mercy for everyone?” See how a few Lutherans respond and wrestle with this question. (Needless to say, I like this a lot.)
Friend and pastor Diane Roth wrote, “Give Me a Drink.” I especially love the conclusion, “It’s a mission strategy, and its a Lenten strategy too: Go thirsty. Don’t be so self-sufficient. Depend on God, on one another, on strangers.”
Social Media & Blogging
Here is a story about how local schools are implementing and continually revising social media policies. What do you think?
The Minneapolis and St. Paul Area Synods are putting on a “Jump Start Your Stewardship” event April 5th in Bloomington, Minnesota. Check out this letter from Rev. Deb Stehlin, and then see this information from the synods. The deadline to register is April 1st, so don’t miss out. It looks like it’s going to be great! Friend and stewardship mastermind Grace Duddy will be leading one of the workshops.
Jenny Youngman shared “Faith and Fame,” which features good reflections on ideas of “faith being a journey” and providing means to grow into this journey for youth, but also as a life-long adventure.
My amazing wife Allison is back with more thoughts as part of her “Mira Voce” series, this time reflections on “friend dating.” Obviously, I had to check out what this meant, but rest assured its a good thing!
Friend and adviser Dr. Terri Elton wrote, “Anticipation…And Wonder.” There are great wonderings in here, vocational insights, and perspectives about change and the challenges associated with change.
I was working on a post recently for First Third (which I will share once its posted) and came across this post about “Children’s Stations of the Cross.” This is wonderful! Perhaps it might be beneficial and helpful for your congregations and/or faith communities?
Picking up on a series I shared a little of previously, here are some thoughts about traveling around the Northwest from Seattle. Here is a good quick post on “venturing into the Olympic Peninsula.” If you are going to venture into the peninsula, then visiting the Hoh Rainforest is an obvious thing to do, as is seeing the beauty of the north Pacific coast and especially Ruby Beach.
The famous Disney ride and attraction, “It’s a Small World” celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Here are “9 Little Known Facts” about the ride which might make you smile.
That will conclude this week’s edition of the links. I hope you have enjoyed them. As always, if there are particular types of stories or articles that you would like to see included, please let me know. Also, please let me know if you have particular topics or questions that you would like me to wrestle with on the blog. Until next time, blessings on your week! -TS
Today marks the first birthday of this blog. The first post appeared right here on March 23, 2013. Since then, we have gone through a few design changes. But the topic and focus on the intersections of and thought about the church, leadership, and the neighbor have remained consistent. I believe we have covered a wide range of topics and asked important questions as we have wrestled together. I am grateful and thankful for all of you who have engaged in the on-going conversation in some way, and who continue to do so. I am also grateful and thankful for all of you who are new or are just recently joining the conversation.
I have no idea what lies ahead in the next year, but I am sure that this blog will continue to wrestle with these questions and be a place of thought, reflection, and conversation. The blog has been a great joy for me, and its been a vehicle for me to wrestle on and through while experiencing the challenges related to job searching, discernment, and questions related to roles and vocations. So with that said, allow me to say a huge THANK YOU to all of you for being part of the conversation and for making this first year so rewarding for me!
To celebrate, here are 3 questions I have for you. I would love your thoughts on these. To answer them please comment here below, reply on Twitter, comment on Facebook or Linked-In, or share via E-mail.
1) What is one topic or question that you would love for me to wrestle with in an upcoming blog post?
2) What was your favorite post from the first year of this blog and why?
3) Would you be interested in sharing your thoughts anywhere within the spectrum of church, leadership, and the neighbor as a sort of upcoming guest post on this blog?
The theme and potential doomsday catastrophe of the second Daniel Craig “James Bond” film, “Quantum of Solace,” had everything to do with water. Particularly, it focused on the challenges, need, and resource (scarcity/potential scarcity) of water. Its kind of scary to think about how the next great conflict or war could well be fought over water rights and usage. But when you take a step back, water is without question foundational to life.
Without water… well, there is no hope for sustainability, growth, prosperity, and really, life. When you get to the heart of the matter, access to clean drinking water and water sustainability and renewability aren’t just social justice hopes, I believe they are life imperatives.
Taking a step back, I think I grew up with a unique perspective. First of all, growing up in Western Washington state, meant growing up between major bodies of salt water and close by to beautiful fresh water lakes, and glacier fed rivers. I mean, we even had a creek in our backyard. Of course, it also rained a fair amount, so growing up I could have easily taken water for granted in its seemingly over abundance. It helped though having a dad who worked (and continues to work) in the public utility (and particularly water resource) world. He views his role in utility and water resource as leadership, stewardship, one of his vocations and even his own sort of ministry in the world. Because of this, it naturally follows that some of that passion and awareness would rub off on his kids.
Through his connections, I grew aware of a number of organizations (both non-faith based and faith based) which did work domestically and internationally around water as a resource. One particular organization, Water for People stands out to me. In fact, I used them as part of my economics capstone research in college. For the project, I did a little research and used them to compare organizational design and effectiveness as a non-faith based Non-governmental organization (NGO) with some faith based NGOs. Ever since making those connections and learning more about Water for People I have held that organization, its mission and service, in a very high regard. For me, they are an NGO which meets and lives out its mission daily and effectively as they provide water solutions and help in many different nations, communities, and contexts throughout the world.**
Now, returning to water more directly, I believe that World Water Day provides us a day to reflect and take a bit of stock on how we use water and how we steward it. Do we overuse what we have? Do we share it effectively? Do we waste it, pure and simple? I know I probably could cut back on how much water I use while showering, brushing my teeth, or washing the dishes. That’s something I am working on in my daily life. But also, what are ways that we can go beyond this?
In the spirit of questions, here are some others that I want to have you ponder. When you contemplate the idea of a “World Water Day” what comes to mind for you? Where does your idea of leadership fit into the conversation here around water? How about ideas related to the neighbor? The church? Other thoughts and questions that come to mind when contemplating the world water supply?
**An interesting side note. In my research, I heard an insight which has stuck with me to this day. I asked about who Water for People partners with when they serve. They said that they try to avoid partnering with faith-based NGOs and non-profits, because so many of them place restrictions on their work or a need to “proselytize” before serving. They provided one exception though. They said that they love to partner with Lutherans. I asked them why, and they said “because they serve without limitations and let their actions and service speak for themselves.” They went on to clarify that its not that they don’t share their faith, they mentioned how when asked why they serve a number of Lutherans had shared some of their faith stories and perspectives. But, they did so after or while serving and only really after being asked, without stipulation or any effect on their service. I think this was a forerunner observation of the idea of accompaniment which I have written about now on the blog elsewhere.