Newcomers and New Questions

In this fourth week of learning about church administration, I’m learning about being like a “CEO” and communication. If you want to follow along, this week I’m reading and reflecting on the chapters titled, “Oversight (Being CEO) Is a Worthy Calling,” and “Communication: Ministry Means Messaging” (pgs. 143-199) of Church Administration by Robert N. Bacher and Michael L. Cooper-White.

This past weekend I taught a new member’s class for the first time. We had about ten people made up of young families, couples old and young, and some on their own. I got to steward my experience from the last eight months of internship with a hope and a prayer, and hopefully I represented our congregation well.

Reflecting on it now, I know I want to share about all the wonderful stories I heard, thoughtful and open conversations we had on church, LGBTQIA, communion, and Theology on Tap, all the beautiful and broken people I met, and an ADORABLE infant who will be the youngest new member in the next couple months. But I truly want to stick to the administrative side of it. I don’t mean to paint “administration” and “human moments” as polar opposites. In fact I’m finding that they’re more intertwined than I thought.

This week Bacher and Cooper-White responded to 1st Timothy 3:1 by saying, “Such a ministry of oversight [someone trusted to lead a congregation or region], whether as bishop of a diocese or pastor of a congregation, inevitably includes administrative dimensions” (144). This is all too true. As with all pastoral interns, I came into a congregation with systems and a culture already in place, churning, and shaking. So when I asked our Office Administrator if I could make copies of the forms I knew we were going to have the new members fill out at the end of the evening, I saw that there was one that was used a while ago but hadn’t been brought out recently.

In the spirit of the old form, I created something new: “Harvesting of Gifts, Interests, Passions, and Growing Edges,” where you can find things like “Telling stories,” “Comforting people who are sad,” “Making people laugh,” and “Making breakfast,” to select under I enjoy/want to learn more about… The other column are options (strengths and talents) to check for If I were to guess, I think I am…

The form can’t be more than 20 lines long, but it gets people identifying their gifts and growing edges, while giving staff members a way to introduce and connect them with people at our church who can get a new person to feel like we’re their people, and they’re our people. Over half of the people there filled it out and I can’t wait to connect them with people who are experts at giving new folks opportunities to share, serve, be known, and feel like they belong.

Prepping the multi-media, scheduling guest speakers, making sure there was enough material for participants without killing too many trees, answering emails, coordinating with the Office Administrator to invite people, following-up with staff connectors, expressing thanks and asking for previous teaching content, crafting an agenda, making copies, playing with babies (ok maybe not the last one)–were all part of the administrative picture of this wonderful New Members class.

My role as facilitator, teacher, and pastor was to set the table; Bacher and Cooper-White write, “the way the table is set for a meeting will have a significant impact on its ultimate results” (169). I didn’t make the dinner, but I confirmed with the cook that we could squeeze in two more for dinner. We set out dark chocolate candies to hold people over for the dinner break an hour in to my presentation. But I also set the table by setting expectations and setting the space to maximize the learning and connection of the people gathered there.

I shared with them the objectives for the evening, why they were there, and what I wanted them to think and dream about together.

Believe it or not, this whole church thing isn’t 100% unchanging (!). God’s promises are unchanging, but the Holy Spirit has a funny way of blowing people in (and out of) communities and bringing with them (or leaving room for) new questions, new perspectives, new backgrounds, and new pairs of lens with which we read the Bible and the world. I hope I established a space to share how our church is sensing God’s call, and also invited these new members to imagine how their presence and new contribution might enrich this congregation’s response to God’s call and vision for this church. I’m grateful for the staff people that supported me in this teaching, and I’m excited for more opportunities to engage with ministry and administrative tasks in new and creative ways!

Is there a particular class, activity, service, or project that you facilitate regularly that engages in administrative tasks that enrich that experience for your participants? Or do these administrative tasks do the opposite? What’s a way that you engage in administrative tasks with joy and gratitude?

Advertisements

Governance, Volunteers, and Boards, Oh My!

In this second week of learning about church administration, I read about boards, governance and planning. If you want to follow along, this week I’m reading and reflecting on chapters 3 and 4 of Church Administration by Robert N. Bacher and Michael L. Cooper-White.

There was a great deal of helpful and practical content in this section on a variety of topics: the role of a council, its theological foundation, how to call and orient new members, how to manage risk and conflict, how to have good meetings, and how to keep on track.

As I read through these sections, I recalled specific situations and people from my congregation currently, but also churches in the past; good and not so good situations.

On page 55, Bacher and Cooper-White articulate the need for the chair (or president) of a council to draw from the quieter members who otherwise don’t speak up very often in meetings. Likewise they also encouraged the chair to intermittently, especially during discussion on “hot” issues, to do a “round table” and ask for the thoughts and/or questions of each council member before proceeding with more formal discussion or decided-upon action through a vote. Using a reference such as Robert’s Rules of Order is helpful to keep meetings moving, but the authors warned to avoid “heavy-handed legalistic meeting conduct.” At a previous congregation, I observed that one council member in particular was helpful with referring back to Robert’s Rules of Order when the meeting got stuck. She was outspoken and confident, helpful but also made me nervous.

presbytery-580x491-300x253

I couldn’t help but listen to the question rolling around in my head as I read these chapters:

How do you trust people to be leaders and bring their expertise and gifts…and trust them?

I could take on all the work myself… I could waste time searching for sixty name tags instead of asking my co-worker where the box is. I could cold-call dozens of people to help with my project instead of asking my co-worker for a list of her all-star adult volunteers. I could plan for five hours of large-group teaching content about vocation instead of having students learn about vocation by also serving and talking with a trusted adult.

These are some of the administration-related questions that surfaced during my internship project a few months ago. I had a dream that students and adults could discover and feel affirmed in their vocations by learning together, serving together, and debriefing together over 5 weeks. There were (and still are) 30 students. So with my 30 mentors, that’s 60 individuals’ contact information (& parents’ email addresses), schedules, assessment results, assessment codes, and booklets to track, manage, and somehow get into a tidy bin for the confirmation pastor at the end of five weeks to demonstrate their learning.

How do you trust people to be leaders and bring their expertise on a board, on a council, or for an internship project?

I’m still not completely sure, but I think it has to do something with this: It’s not about making people do things for you, it’s about seeing and pointing out an opportunity for that person to try out a gift that you’ve seen in them over and over again.

I’m so lucky to be in this work, because when I hear that someone at church is really into mentoring, and wishes that our church was more into mentoring, I can tap on their shoulder and say “Hey, I heard that you were really into mentoring, and I could use someone with your passion and presence as I try out this project for a couple weeks, could you help me?”

As an intern, I’m probably doe-eyed thinking that all things governance and administration can be significantly altered if we just identify and invite people into opportunities. Rather than the bulletin announcement, “NEEDED: 1 council member,” maybe it’s a tap on the shoulder that affirms someone’s quiet but persistent leadership, and without that tap on the shoulder, they would have never known they had that gift, or a gift.

Has there ever been a time when it was necessary to trust another leader and it was tough to do? Was there ever a time you trusted a leader with a responsibility, volunteer or otherwise, and they betrayed your trust? Why do you think it’s so hard to trust others and delegate responsibility? What are the gifts of trusting others with responsibility?

21.8%

This is what I preached at my internship site on the First Sunday after Epiphany, on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22:

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

[It was a little bit of a whirlwind of a preaching morning, two weeks ago, as my supervisor gave me a ride to the airport for my 1:06 flight right after the second worship service, but the sermon itself I think went well. It was certainly a good reminder as I was traveling off to Minnesota for a week-long intensive Public Worship class at Luther Seminary (which I need to blog about too). I hope you will hear some words of promise and peace here as you perhaps are preaching or leading in worship this weekend. So, here’s what I preached:]

It’s hard not to think of your own baptism when you hear about this gospel story of Jesus’ baptism. Not that I could remember it – for my baptism, I was just 2 months old. I was a newbie to this whole human thing, and from what my parents tell me I was not having it. You know those baptisms that feel like they just go on forever because the kid is just crying though the whole thing? That was mine!

I threw my parents off so bad that they switched my first and middle names – so I could have been a Mabel before you today, not an Allison, but they got it squared out. Allison Mabel was declared a baptized & chosen child of God.

Jesus was an adult when he got baptized by John the Baptist. The heavens were opened and God speaks—yes God speaks, not an angel, not a messenger, but God speaks directly and says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” It’s unclear if just Jesus heard God say this, or if everyone in the world heard this.

I think it was probably the latter. If we’re talking about the heavens opening and the announcement of Jesus’ ministry, I’m gonna say—that must have been a pretty loud announcement.

Today I want to share with you just a couple gifts of this passage.

I could tell you all the theological holes, discrepancies, or missing plot points, but today I just want to talk about its gifts.

Because, truthfully, sometimes I think I beat-up on Bible passages, and honestly I have been trained to in my theological education—thinking that I’ll get to the root of it; to the real truth of it if I deconstruct it to its atoms and molecules.

But what if we treat this passage like how Jesus is treated here—someone who is talked about as someone who is worthy of love. Someone who is a gift. Someone who is loved, and who is so loved that the person who loves him isn’t afraid to show it or shout it. What if we started there?

The first gift of this passage is that Jesus’ baptism is a marker and a commission into his earthly ministry. It’s like God’s scrapbook page for this memory is full of stars and big hearts and cute metallic eye-catching graphics. This is a big day. Even the universe understands it as a big day as it says “the heavens are opened.” This means that not only is Jesus’ life changing, the world is changing, because of the restoration, healing, and revitalization God will bring through Jesus, the Christ, our Emmanuel.

free_digital_paper_pack___simple_and_sweet_by_pixeledpaper-d5h1s4x

What if these were God’s scrapbook choices? Not bad. Needs more sparkles.

When God is with us, things happen, and Jesus’ baptism gets a big, beautiful bookmark in the book of God’s story.

The second gift of this passage is that Luke crafts this story so beautifully, that we see Jesus as a fulfillment of Israel’s desire and longing for a Messiah. Psalm two echoes God’s words saying, “I will tell the decree of the Lord. He said to me ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you.’” In Isaiah 42 we read, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights…he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.” The Israelites in exile, away from home, prophesied about one who will save the nations and establish justice in the earth.

Jesus has been chosen for a task much bigger than him. He is a part of something bigger than himself. Wow, what a feeling that must have been.

But I think the greatest gift of this passage is God’s direct proclamation of love. Rarely do we hear God speaking directly to people—we see angels, and messengers, and speaking through his disciples (and bushes).

But here we hear directly from God. There is no middle-man (or middle-woman).

The heavens have torn open, and now there is nothing that can separate us from the love, and, justice, and voice of God. Wow, what does that mean? I know it means something. God says, “You are my Son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

Isn’t that what we all want to hear? That our dads or moms are proud of us? “You are my Son/You are my daughter. You are beloved. I’m proud of you.”

I’m lucky that I have awesome parents and an amazing husband who tell me that. But not all people are lucky enough to hear that every day. It broke my heart the other day when I read that in 2013, 21.8% of high school students didn’t make it to graduation.

21.8%.

That’s 1 in 5.

This study said the number one reason why students are dropping out of high school before they graduate is because they are disengaged. They don’t know why this material matters and they don’t consistently hear why they’re there.

I wonder if this is a question that ever wanders into your brain when you think about faith?

That you ever wonder, “Why am I here at church?” “Does it matter that I’m here?” Do you want to hear beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’re supposed to be here? I’ll just say it from my perspective: I want to know that I’m not wasting my time. I want to hear that I’m not getting the wool pulled over my eyes and I want to hear that my deepest fear isn’t true: that I’m not a part of the most elaborate, complex, two-thousand-year scheme to get us to believe that a man in his 30’s in modern-day Palestine could bring salvation to everyone in the world.

Oh come on– Maybe you’re thinking, “Oh come on, Allison, we don’t need to know that. We know that this is all true, and we’re children of God, loved by God, and worthy of love. Of course we know that.”

Then why do 21.8% of high school students drop out of school before graduation?

Why were there almost as many shootings than days of the year last year (and not just in 2015)?

Why is suicide the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10-24?

Because have fallen out of the practice of proclaiming to each other that you are loved–in all of your uniqueness, in all of your gifts, in all of your strengths, in all of your ‘oops’ moments, in all of your acceptance letters, mental unstable-ness, bankruptcies, promotions, second chances, and all of your ideas that start with “I wonder if that would work?”

Just like we are called to the vocation of showing and saying our encouragement to one another, God tells Jesus, proclaiming to the world, at his baptism that he is loved, and it’s a passage is begging to be read out loud on a consistent basis to our kids, our adults, and our people that they are loved.

The heavens are opened, and the world hasn’t been the same ever since.

Jesus is made new, and we are made new, in our understanding that we are loved & our unique gifts make God’s smile open like never before. Amen.

Goodness gracious.

Hello All. No sermon or reflection here, just a quick snapshot of the last few weeks.

We are moving to Washington state (#Siburgsonthemove). I am starting my pastoral internship in Vancouver, WA on September 1st. We leave Saturday. People keep telling me, “Goodbye” and, “Don’t leave!” but one of my Minnesota mentors said “Why don’t we just say, ‘See you later’?” Then she laughed at me, as she does. For my first call/first job and Timothy’s first call/first job after approval in a year, who knows where we’ll be in the country (in the world?). But for sure, for the next year we’ll be in Washington. What my Dad humbly refers to as “God’s country.”

But I have to tell you. The last couple weeks have been — let me just show you in pictures.

20150731_214546

In July we were lucky enough to attend back to back Twins vs. Mariners games at Target Field. The M’s won + Friday fireworks with the hubs. The first game was an alma mater PLU MN connections council meet-up with to-be Lutes in the Fall!! THEY WERE SO AWESOME. I am so pumped for them. Yea SEA represent in MSP! Also it was my last on-call at the hospital for CPE. So I was constantly checking my pager. I had fun but felt lame because I was at a baseball game instead of the hospital helping hundreds of people at one time. I know, I have high expectations of myself.

Timothy’s co-worker has season tickets and sold them to Timothy so Timothy could take me out on a date. Day two of Twins vs. Mariners. No more on-call. Celebration of no more on-call. Celebration of last week of “normal weekly CPE schedule & next week is final evaluation.”

Four days previous, I learned that I had had three weeks of intense visits. Just by dumb luck. On-call at night and during the day. In it, it felt like “par for the course” but Timothy, my small group, and my supervisor were all like “…what is up?” So I recounted. Deaths. Accused murderers. Rape. Cheating. Dead babies. Burned houses. Suicides. Repeat families/patients. Daily “regular” visits became daunting and harder. It was because I had been building up a protective wall because this swath of encounters took a huge emotional toil on me. That wall carried into home, family, and work. It was awful. No wonder I felt like crap.

So my supervisor asked what I needed the morning following this “learning” (breakdown, spiritual awakening, whatever you want to call it). I said I needed to go home. So I drove to Timothy and slept in his co-worker’s office. Yes, co-worker came in but I didn’t care. I needed rest. So I did nothing. I walked. Slept. Slept some more. Slept the next morning, late-morning to a sun-drenched living room with my friends serenading me, Nickel Creek, Chris Thile, and Jack Savoretti. Cat nearby. It was the most peace I have found in months. I finally found the reason why I cut my hair this way – walking by a windy lake in the sun during the heat of the day. After CPE weekdays and summer wedding/birthday/gathering-filled weekends (which I felt grateful to be invited to), I took a Sabbath.

20150803_124024

Twenty-four hours later, I came back to work and we played frisbee with a fellow chaplain’s indoor frisbee. I highly recommend it. The rest of our floor (administrative offices) doesn’t like it but I don’t really care (oops). A life (work life) without play just doesn’t make sense to me.

 

 

 

 

 

20150804_200849

Then this happened. My birthday was in April and for my birthday Timothy purchased tickets to a Pentatonix and Kelly Clarkson (with Eric Hutchinson) concert. Yes, Pentatonix who did this and Kelly Clarkson who did this while America, me and my mother watched and cheered to our TV when I was in high school.  We didn’t know we would be moving, in CPE, and Timothy flying to WA for his AIM approval interview 8 hours after the concert – who cares! We went anyway. Oh shoot did we. Concert-Allison is not normal-Allison (or maybe she is?). The music, the people around me (polite Minnesotans who thought I was nuts), the crowd, it’s just awful. I am a hot mess. I cried before we even got in the arena. I cried during a piano version of Kelly’s (yes we’re on a first-name basis now) “Piece by Piece” (mom get the kleenex), I danced during the Daft Punk medly by Pentatonix and pretty much the whole giant Kelly production. Darn does she know how to put on a show. Timothy had no idea what he was getting into, but we’re still on speaking terms and it’s been a couple weeks so I think he was ok with it. And for the record he jumped up and danced to “Stronger.” Best. Moment. Ever.

This is us20150804_230015 after the concert, running to the car, to run to sleep, to run to the airport. I might have just ran to the car by Cossetta’s with my mouth open, omitting noise, because I was so excited. Literally. Life high. Sorry parking garage attendant for my poor singing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

20150806_084515_smallThen we had goodbyes at Abbott. Here’s my spot during morning rounds as a chaplain on a medical/surgical wingin the main hospital. This is the room where I got confused by so many medical terms and got encouragement that it mattered I was there, listening for the “human connections” as we reviewed patients’ charts together each morning. The social worker & care coordinator got me donuts and a nice group card. It was the last day of looking at my patient list & making notes. Gosh. I miss it already.

 

 

 

This is me and the other clinical pastor20150807_140344al education chaplain interns this summer. We were each assigned different wings/unit just like the regular staff chaplains. We each took about 12 24/7 all-hospital on-call assignments throughout the summer. I am so proud of this group. Many are in Master of Divinity programs, or just dipping toes in potential on-going chaplain work; from Luther Sem, Bethel Sem, Seattle School & United Sem. Our supervisor is the strange man in the back. He is so strange and in love with the theme song “Welcome Back Kotter” which we serenaded to him on our last day last week. His spirit of humor and warmth helped me trust him and his trust in me created a really rich space to grow and learn, about others, but mostly about me. Yes, it sounds self-centered, but if we don’t know who we are, how do we know anyone else?

On my last day at my hospital unit during morning rounds, where I was the consistent presence from the Spiritual Care team of the hospital, our care coordinator told each rounding physician, “It’s chaplain’s last day.” She didn’t say “the chaplain” or “Allison,” she just said “chaplain.” That was my name. I know part of me cringes because I’m a unique child of God, and that’s expressed through my name, “Allison,” but something about the way she said it made me feel so proud. I knew who I was there for the most part, but it was in the “being known” that I truly learned who I was. What a radical summer.

So I know this was a totally self-indulgent post, but I had to share this with you, people I care for.

One more thing: When we pray in church “for all those in need…” I think that’s bologna. We all have needs. There aren’t just a few people who have needs. We all need something. We all want something. What do you need? What do you want? Might as well name it instead of beating around the bush. I’ll say mine: I needed to write this. I want to share my story so that someone out there might not feel so lonely in their’s. So that’s all I have for today. Thank you for all your prayers, love, play, and good vibes. I can feel them here. Washington, here we come. Days. Oh man! And like how I finished every written reflection, dialogue or practice in CPE (my final evaluation contains one, turn your speakers up, Northwest Washington candidacy committee!), here is a musical reflection of my FEELINGS! Oh feelings.

Showing up & being present in our differences

My blog will keep going, but my reflection series from my “Adults and Lifelong Learning” class is done! This post is a little long, but stay with me! It’s been so fun to learn, laugh, and reflect with Prof. Mary Hess this Spring as I complete my Master of Divinity degree. What’s next? I’ll give an update when I have a clear update, ha! … serenity prayer, anyone?

This class has been a significant place of learning in my brain and heart, so thank you Mary! Thanks to Timothy, my spouse, for our conversations that often have been the impetus for many of my blog writings, and bigger life thinking – we’re shaping our story together, Timothy, and my gratefulness is too deep for one sentence (and I thought you were the one who uses run-on sentences). Thanks too to YOU, my friends and family in learning and leading, here in Minnesota, in Washington, in between, and in farther off places than that! Stay in the arena and keep asking questions and leading out a place of hope and passion. I can’t think of a better quote to sum up my hope, and for us, as big-hearted, broken, beautiful people:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. – Teddy Roosevelt.

I shamelessly pulled this from Brene Brown‘s TED talk, and this quote inspires me to push myself out of my comfort zone, and I think for her too. I think I can safely say that if you read my blog with any regularity, you saw that coming. Oh Dr. Brown. I cherish your email reply to me, even though it was only 12 words long: “Hi Allison, Check out Grounded Theory by Glaser and Strauss. Thanks, Brené.” Yes, she put an accent mark above the “e”. I literally just sighed. Some day we will change the world together, Brené, some day.

Anyway, as Mary and I were batting around possible topics for this final reflection, she suggested looking at a parable through the lens of what I’ve been learning about how people make meaning an all sorts of varied and different ways.

20150429_092936

We literally were sitting like this (not really) when we dreamed up this post. But this is Mary & me!

I said parables are cool, but what about the experience of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well? Talk about two worlds smashing together. A male, a Jewish religious leader in an authoritative position. A woman, unaccompanied, who has been married five times, from Samaria. Running into each other at a well during the hottest part of the day in the Middle East. In the spirit of the Major League Baseball season starting, this is a pickle.

Just so you know, this isn’t an attempt to put a Jesus-bandaid on lifelong learning. I could quote the Bible with glowing images of our beautiful creation, or little smiling children running to Jesus. But I don’t think Scripture was meant to be cherry-picked in order to support a point. At least, I don’t think that gives Scripture enough credit, or really, it’s own voice.

The Samaritan woman at the well is important to consider as we wrap up this class on how people learn and make meaning, because it shows our insatiable desire to be known by our people and by God (and yes, I’m using the Bible to make a point, but as a wider, frequent theme of the Bible I’m going to say it’s ok). This is not a Bible study or a one-size-fits-all reflection. I want to show that there are a lot (a bajillion?) of points of views on the Bible, and as people in the buzz of spiritual questions/reflection, our task is to be empathetic with each other’s ways of making meaning, no matter how well thought out, complex, or black and white they might be. Why? Because your neighbor wants to be loved (spoiler alert: and is worthy of love), just as much as you are.

d1b54a760ab2c599be9ea991b4427a09

The Northern Lights, in a diversity of color like our diversity of reflections on the Bible.

Curiously enough, this is the space and complexity that Jesus finds himself in when he runs into this woman at a well thousands of years ago. Jesus and the Samaritan woman aren’t just neighbors from different sides of town (80-90+% of US citizens live in urban spaces, think about how hard it is to wrap our heads around this?). They are from different nomad, rural traditions and cultures – Jesus, a Jew from Bethlehem, and this woman from Samaria who the writer of John shares little about. These are cultures with deeply embedded communities and practices, and histories that root them not only in centuries but in millennia.

As much as I am scared for them as a former camp counselor (for legal reasons, rule of three), I’m scared for them if their people, or their neighbors, or their family comes and finds them: a woman and a man from differing and clashing cultures speaking alone. Jesus’ crucifixion (and this woman’s almost-sure stoning to death) could have come quicker than we know them to be. I know, the Bible’s gross, but who are we kidding, isn’t our world now, today?

1d1448e64bd7ad34c239a7c2d2e9cf4b

In case you print this out, have fun coloring this inaccurate portrayal of the Samaritan woman! Ok that’s my sass, now we can move on.

This is a text that comes up in a lectionary (a widely published rotation of Bible passages assigned for each Sunday) that somewhere around 4 million+ ELCA Lutherans and other Christians hear every three years. Many of those people hear in the sermon that the point of this story in the 4th chapter of John is that Jesus saves, even adulterous women.

I don’t want to belittle this perspective, but with some deeper digging into this Scriptural text, I realized that this woman was a survivor of a system that punished women. This kind of thinking that men are good and women are bad is the black and white thinking we find in 3rd order thinking (according to Robert Kegan, the author of In Over our Heads which has informed my learning this semester). Just to refresh our thinking, here’s what 1-5 orders of thinking/consciousness means:

To be clear I’m not saying that those in a more 3rd order of thinking are sexist. Not at all. I am saying that having a 3rd order frame of mind, and perpetuating systems that function in 3rd order frames, provides a fertile environment for victimization, “us vs. them,” and over all “othering.”  I think the frequent sermon on this text screams that our church, its cultures, communities, leaders, and conversations, are often functioning in a 3rd order space. There is only room for the conclusion that Jesus is the ultimate good, and therefore this woman is the ultimate bad that Jesus was merciful enough to pardon and save.

We have to remember that the point of this model is to provoke empathy in each of us for those using the same frame as us, and for people who are at different frames. Me saying, although I am tempted to, “The conclusion that ‘The Samaritan woman has committed adultery and is therefore only just barely save-able by Jesus, and bless her heart she is’ is stupid and I’m never coming back when this preacher is preaching again,” is not empathetic nor pushing us toward being in community like God calls us to be.

So what do we do? What do we do when we go to a church, for the 1000th time or the 1st time, and hear a sermon that is close-minded and so black and white that we couldn’t even stay to the end of the service?

Do we shake the pastor’s hand at the end and say “Good sermon” or “That was a terrible sermon! How about you try living as a first-century woman who is only valued for her slave labor and ability to give birth as she gets shuffled from brother to brother”? Or, do we come back next Sunday, say nothing, and instead connect with your friend back home via Facebook Messanger, only using Pusheen emoticons?

Untitled

If you were wondering, yes, this was a very intense conversation.

Honestly I don’t like any of these options. They scream anger, passivity, insecurity, and isolation. This isn’t what Jesus wanted for his followers 2,000 years later, this isn’t what Kegan would want as people use his model to examine how we make meaning, and this isn’t what I want as someone who doesn’t know what the future holds but knows that we are made our fullest selves together, working toward one mission, not apart in isolation.

Hey, do you have time for coffee? I’m often free Monday mornings, Tuesday afternoons…

We meet at Starbucks (of course), and instead of undercutting their sermon with historical critical analysis, cultural appropriation, and gender dynamics in first-century Palestine, I ask:

Where are you from? … Does your family still live there? … How did you meet him/her? (if relevant) … What brought you to where you work/study/lead/learn now? … Wait, how did you get from there to here? … This might be an odd question, but why is that important to you?

My point is that we have to listen to each other’s stories. I wonder if a significant percentage of pastors and people-oriented roles have experienced hurt in one way or another in their life. This is why they serve, which is beautiful. But it’s also why they sometimes find comfort in 3rd order thinking, in black and white paradigms, because their structured thinking gives them comfort. It gives safety.

669a3bca3a4003eebff7b7640a528532

I’m learning that the biggest way that I can change someone’s hurtful, harmful, or dark behavior, theology, mind, or way of thinking is not through teaching, nor sermon-ing. It’s by example. It’s by showing up. It’s doing little things when I think no one is watching. It’s preaching when I don’t think anyone is listening (accentuated by a little girl last year asking me after a service, “Who made God?” and I had no answer); it’s recycling when I could have just dumped it in the trash; it’s writing when I think no one is reading, it’s dancing when I think no one is watching, it’s caring for my body and eating/buying healthy when I think no one is paying attention, it’s caring for and filling with pride for my spouse, one of my most cherished vocations, when I it feels like too few people care what lies in his future.

Lecturing someone who has preached from a 3rd order frame of mind about the “adulterous” Samaritan woman will probably not make a huge impact. It might. But I think what’s more impactful, in lifelong friendship, in lifelong collegeial relationships, in lifelong communities (we’re just a small portion of the church!), in lifelong learning, is showing a different frame of mind, not lecturing about a different frame of mind.

5443945369bb554caf2ee9e366e2c29f

Growing into a 4th order frame of mind looks like venturing into the unknown with questions, wonderings, and possibilities.

This looks like me offering my historical/cultural analysis in my own leading, designing learning experiences, and preaching, and going back to school to get the credential that shows my church my value and leadership. Yes, there is a tinge of hurt in that last sentence, that it’s only through ordination that I am entrusted with leading in sermon-ing, and leading a community in experiencing communion and baptism, and leading in other ways… so far. Times might change. Systems might change. Expectations might change. It’s through showing up for coffee and modeling a different kind of meaning-making that might be prompt perhaps the most significant learning of all.

For reference and varying views on the Samaritan woman:
John by Karoline Lewis, Fortress Press: 2014. The Women’s Bible Commentary by Carol Newsom and Sharon Ringe, Westminster/John Knox Press: 1992. John by Gerard S. Sloyan, John Knox Press, 1988.

Cat’s out of the bag: why lifelong learning

Welcome to post number two of four for my independent study on adults and lifelong learning! (cue rainbow streamers, balloons, confetti) I had a lot of fun collecting my thoughts and questions in my first post on describing the current situation of adults in American life. It was heavily informed from the first half of Robert Kegan’s In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life.

In this second reflection I want to build on the last by wondering why churches should care about lifelong learning, and the adults that would take advantage of it (at least, I hope would). I finished In Over Our Heads and it pains me to report that the title is truly a statement, not a question – we are in over our heads. But fear not! The opportunities to work together and walk alongside each other as adult learners are tremendous and bring me a lot of hope.

Prof. Mary Hess pointed me to a doctorate student who did a “live draw” youtube video, outlining Kegan’s framework on how individuals know/understand/interact with the world (he calls it “levels of consciousness”) Check it out.

Now as I nerd out about how awesome lifelong learning is, it’s important that I share part of my story (unless you already know it from earlier posts!). I taught adult small group learning experiences at Trinity Lutheran Church in Stillwater, MN before I jumped back into seminary life. When I arrived their lifelong learning pastor helped me stretch my wings a bit and helped me grow a curriculum that she and others created in the past few years. Working with older adults, hockey dads and moms, 40-year old civil servants, engineers, teenagers, bright young women about to leave for college – these lifelong learning opportunities mattered to these folks, and I’ll always be grateful for their willingness to try those experiments with me as I facilitated and created some small group curriculum (and preached and did some one-on-one coaching).

b3e9671d2140b96f80a0fcc1d4167a2b

Another part of my story is that my mom was an elementary school teacher. Now she’s a tutor and has a huge passion to help kids learn, from classroom basics to gardening and helping them be eco-conscious, to building up leadership in kids (like she did for my sister and I for which I’m grateful). Growing up with a mom as a teacher will always inform how I see that learning is and will always be important for individuals as well as communities everywhere.

So now that the “cat’s out of the bag,” learning is important to me and how I understand my unfolding story in the world. Whether you know it or not, your openness to learn, in various contexts, greatly influences your confidence, growth, and sense of self. Whether the church knows it or not, its peoples’ openness to learn greatly influences their confidence, growth and sense of self!

Why, specifically, should churches be pivoting toward a lens of lifelong learning in their work? (As a general group, I’ll address the bigger faith community of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that I know as “the church”)

1. You said you would. Not to be blunt or anything, but it’s true! Parents, sponsors, and/or other people in the congregation promise to walk alongside people as they get baptized. The pastor asks, “As you bring you child (or adult, or significant other, or loved one) to receive the gift of baptism, you are entrusted with responsibilities… [here are a few:] to live with them among God’s faithful people, to teach, to nurture, to proclaim, to care, to work for justice and peace” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship 228). Where in there does it say, “model for them that learning in community ends when you receive a diploma?” Unfortunately by offering little to no lifelong learning opportunities for all ages, we’ve made it a cultural practice to not advocate for and create a strong presence of learning in our congregations. And yet we promise to be with them for their whole lives, which implies a life full of rich, hard, beautiful, and life-giving learning.

2. Because learning grows empathy and you step into another’s world. Money is a tough subject to talk about because it’s emotional. Most conversations about money aren’t about money at all. Money is tied to our relationships, our sense of purpose, our sense of home, and the way we understand ourselves and the world. So when I got the chance to coach and facilitate a financial workshop for couples, I jumped at it. One of the things that we teach couples is that financial conversations are enriched by using a couple of improv rules (there’s rules? It’s true!): one of them is “step into each other’s world.” Feel the height, walls, ground, values, dreams, and voice of the others’ space.

What is required to do that? Learning! Learn what the other is thinking by asking and listening compassionately. Ask what is so important to them about their particular view of money. Stories might come out, ideas, or more questions for more learning. This is why learning is so important and is a lifelong practice. It helps us have empathy, and step into the worlds and perspectives of others – in our homes, right next door, or all the way around the world. Like Sharon Creech writes in the award-winning novel Walk Two Moons, “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.”

6df3fded90be37a7eedb2c4b605e56e3

3. Learning changes you. Yes, that might be your number one reason not to learn! Sometimes it feels easier to hide, but I know I would rather live as myself instead of pretending to be someone else because I refused to open myself up to learning. One of my colleagues was an executive coach at a large Saint Paul company. This company gave its employees the opportunity to learn about themselves, their motivations, their stories, where they’re being lead (big picture), and their alignment with their values and beliefs. Yes, individuals could discover that their current job is not where they should be! But this learning is for the sake of the learner (not for the maintenance of the institution), and how they might show up in the world as their most unique self.

This kind of inner-work is crucial especially for leaders. Finding out the “why” of their work and sense of vocation and identity is huge – and learning is the root of this work.

4. Because they’re learning without you. Get on the bus. Your adults, young and old, are leaning how to make a difference outside of church – don’t you want to contribute to those conversations? Bigger questions of “Who am I?” and “What is my purpose?” are explored all over our world in different ways – through graduate school, through Pinterest boards, through thought-provoking podcasts, or life-enrichment opportunities through work. Why not contribute to those conversations and jump in the water? Intrinsic to the gospel is a claim about who we are (children of God), and what our purpose is (varied, diverse, beautiful vocations). The church has something to say! Yes, it requires the risk of individuals rejecting or ignoring you, but why not try?

caec7e9218b4bc96146d18c141c25cd6

These are just a few reasons why lifelong learning and church go together for me. Communities and groups are starting to see the need to provide adults with lifelong learning opportunities (see this awesome illustration of learning). When In Over Our Heads was published in 1994, Kegan predicted that America would see an increased amount of adults who seek out formal learning opportunities (Kegan 271). Luther Seminary is experiencing the biggest distance-learners community it’s ever seen – around half of its students. How might congregations be a part of this movement? How might congregations sense God’s nudging to care for and walk alongside all of its members in their learning, young and old?

I think congregations wonder about lifelong learning, but I’m not sure if all sense a need, or have the capacity to think creatively about these things. Either way I think adults desire to learn, but are tentative to admit that they have more to learn (i.e. they don’t want to look stupid, because who does?). I wonder what might be creative ways to encourage lifelong learning in safe and welcoming environments.

I think congregations could be these places and communities, and in baptism they promise to be – but do they want to be?

 

Adults and lifelong learning: expectations

So one of the exciting thing about designing your own independent study or learning experience, is that you have just as many printed words on a syllabus as you do pen-scribbled words.

I’ll be writing four reflections for Prof. Mary Hess on what I’ve learned from readings and experiences throughout the spring on adults and lifelong learning. We decided that using my blog to publish these learnings will: 1. make it fun, 2. generate a sense of collegiality, because friends in calls and jobs and are asking these questions too, & 3. help me remember what I learned after the class is done. First call pastors, synod staffers, congregational staff people, people in the pew, honestly my family members (hi mom & dad), students, seminary staff leaders – have all expressed a desire to learn too in this broad topic of adults and lifelong learning. So, are my first thoughts – reflection #1, guided by my reading of In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life by Robert Kegan out of Harvard.

The scribbled words on my syllabus (below) for the first reflection say, “What does learning look like for adults?” This is because Mary and I sat down with my drafted syllabus and realized that my initial “first reflection guiding question” was too detailed. I was going to ask “Why should church leadership coach adults to be learners/Why is lifelong learning important?”

20150217_165913

Yes, those are letters and words. Clear handwriting is not my forte.

You can’t really answer that unless you find out how adults learn. So that’s the first question. Here’s what I learned in reading the first 100 pages of Kegan’s book:

The environment in which adults learn is really complex and really heavy. Yes, In Over Our Heads is just over 20 years old. I was seven when this was published, and the expectations that our culture (Western American, middle class) has on adolescents specifically, not adults, are still very real:

– Employable

– A good citizen

– A critical thinker

– Emotionally self-reflective

– Personally trustworthy

– Possessed of common sense and meaningful ideals

Even the author says “This is a lot to want” (19).

Think about then the expectations that culture places on adults? I’m only a fourth of the way into the book, but I have a feeling that he will start to make the argument that the “training” or “instruction” that adults receive about how to be adults is not inadequate to meet the expectations that culture has on adults, and for what it means to be an adult.

download

Kegan talks about personal development in terms of consciousness – not mental capacity or behavior (which are parts of consciousness) – there are first-fourth orders of consciousness. The first is very simplistic, linear thinking, and the fourth is when you are able navigate the complexities of being yourself and honoring the other, and at the same time maintaining boundaries. This is all in the realm of psychology which I’m not terribly familiar with, but that’s how I would summarize the framework he’s using. I believe he is trying to make the point that to meet the expectations that culture places on adults, adults must be functioning with a fourth-order consciousness.

I would argue that this is a really difficult and complex environment in which adults learn. Adults are expected, by culture, to communicate in various ways, to set limits, maintain boundaries, create and preserve roles, and exercise executive leadership (99).

So, where in there do adults find the space for listening and humility, crucial elements in learning, since to learn is to admit that you have something to learn, right? Perhaps listening and humility is implied in these cultural expectations. That’s the next question I would ask to the author – and honestly to anyone whose interested in this too. How do adults learn about new things, especially things that help them maximize their strengths or grow their vocation as leader/servant – and at the same time meet the needs that our culture expects of them?

Honestly, I read these few chapters and I got stressed out. Now that I’m an adult I have to do all this stuff? I have to maintain boundaries, communicate, preserve roles, etc.? Oh my goodness!

It also made me wonder: What is the list we all silently carry around of things we expects adult to do/be? What do we expect of our colleagues? Of our empty-nester parents? Of our pastors? Or our for profit people or non-profit people? I’m guessing that others might read this and panic too, thinking, “I don’t do all those things!!” So maybe a take-away is that we’re all under that cultural pressure. None of us are immune to the expectations of our culture – and at the same time we can feel comfort knowing we are not alone. That’s the good news I see in this. That adults are under similar cultural expectations – none “bad” or “good” – and we can empathize with each other and know that we’re all together.

a9ae51342e67f940dcd448a921c84002

Well, in an ideal world. That’s a good thought. Does it actually happen? Are there communities where adults lift each other up and say, “I’ve been there too, and you can totally maintain healthy boundaries too.” Where might that comradary be? What might that look like? What does it look like – is there a place or group that empathizes together as adults come together to support each other in the cultural expectations that are placed on them?

Adults are under a lot of cultural expectations. But I think we can shape our response (not reaction) to those expectations with care and with each other. Kegan brings the challenges and dynamics of this to light and I’m glad to have him as a companion, if only in text, in this journey of learning about adults and their lifelong learning.