Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Using the Polarity Lens for Envisioning the Emerging Church

I am attending the 2014 Polity Conference of the PC(USA).  This gathering of middle council leaders is dynamic and painful as we face the realities of the church today!  Everyone in the room knows the church that we have known and loved is dying.  This is NOT the elephant in the room, at the Polity Conference but front and center.  Philip Bergey, a Mennonite who works now with Design Group International, was recruited to name the 21st century trends, and then facilitate a conversation on the 221st General Assembly mandate to reduce the number of synods to 10 to 12 from 16.  The group expressed a frustration with this technical change when an adaptive change is needed.  Our very name Middle Council smacks of middle level bureaucracy in an age in which hierarchical, command and control is dead in the water.  Instead of rearranging the chairs on the Titanic, ie, reducing the number of synods, we need to identify the best of what we have been, and regenerate that for the 21st century.

What came to my mind in the midst of listening was what we in Lake Michigan Presbytery have learned from Barry Johnson this past year.  He encouraged and helped us move from EITHER/OR thinking to BOTH/AND thinking and gave us a new lens to see polarities and how they work in organizations.  Polarities are as natural as breathing in and out.  Neither can be done to the exclusion of the other.  They are part of life.  They DON'T go away!  Getting rid of them is NOT an option! Polarities are not bad things.  They simple are.  They are present in every organization.  He also pointed out that not all problems are polarities.  However, polarities which are at work in an organization are not problems to be solved but realities to be recognized and managed well!  Those who do, thrive!  There is an energy path that cycles around the upsides assets of one pole and the downside fears of the other.  They feed off each other either in an aspiring cycle toward the organization's greater purpose, or in a vicious cycle of decline.  Barry's gift to Lake Michigan Presbytery was the lens to see polarities at work in congregations, and providing a strategy for managing them and spending as much time as possible on the upside/asset side of both toward our greater purpose. The number one strategy is to affirm the upside of the pole that is being threatened first, and then affirming the upside of the other pole necessary to balance the organization.  

In our adaptive work of regenerating/re-envisioning the church for the 21st century, I wonder, are there polarities at work, which will never go away?  Are we caught in the vicious downward spiral toward our greater fear?  Stuck in the downsides of both poles? And if so, how can we refashion the church's life to better manage them?  Barry's organizational thesis is, that those organizations that thrive don't get rid of polarities, (an impossibility) BUT see the polarities and manage them well.

My musing is, what are the polarities at work in our PC(USA) organizational life that we are not seeing or managing well.  What are the deeper fears that the two poles?  Here are the polarities I hear in our denominational conversation.

1.  Connectional Nature of the Church     AND     Freedom/Autonomy:
  Most PC(USA) Teaching Elders trumpet their love and appreciation of our connectionalism, of their fear of independent thinking of congregationalism.   We are not alone, but part of the body of Christ, and accountable to our colleagues. More on this below. The other pole is the aspiration for freedom and autonomy, and claim the wisdom and seek the power to join in what they see God doing in their particular context.  Their deeper fear is being bound by the actions of others on from following their conscience!    

The Polarity Question:  How can we refashion our denomination to better manage this polarity to honor the upside of both poles and relieve the deeper fears?  An historic Presbyterian Principle that worked for our fore-bearers expressed in our Foundations is Forbearance.  This is different from tolerance, but recognizing the gift of another part of the body, which may not be my particular thing.

2.  Diversity    AND    Affinity"
I hear a lot about the gifts of our diversity.  We celebrate this at every ordination and installation service by reciting Paul's words describing the church as the body of Christ needing all parts of the body.  We see the beautify of diversity in God's creation in nature.  Fred Rogers, one of our heroes, told the story of the Purple Planet where everything was the same, purple...  Presbyterians celebrate diversity.  And we are leery of too much like mindedness.  On the other hand, there is an undeniable sweet blessing of koinonia/fellowship of kindred spirits.  There is a comfort and joy of being able to worship with the same language.  Difference threatens that sweet communion, and we fear and will do almost anything to keep from loosing koinonia.  

The Polarity Question:  How do we fashion a people which leads to both the celebration of diversity AND the fellowship of kindred spirits?

3. Power/Authority: Hierarchical    AND     Flat/Shared
The reformers of the 16th century rebelled against the authority and abuses of the pope and bishops. They re-balanced power by sharing, spreading it in Sessions and Presbyters both teaching and ruling. Today hierarchical power is suspect.  Trust in institutions lost.  Cultural trend today is toward open source, flat organizations where decisions are best shared broadly.  The community self regulates.  This challenges another one of our historic Presbyterian principles, that the higher council reviews and has authority and power over the lower council.  This has brought order and clear lines of authority to bring order to the sometimes chaos in which we find ourselves.  Without it we fear chaos!  On the other hand, we are learning and our Book of Order states that mission is best carried out by those closest to the ministry context.  e may be on the down side of hierarchy and may need to recognize the gift of the shared power of people who have access to all sorts of tools and information.

The Polarity Question:  Is their another way to hold persons and groups accountable?  How can we better recognize the gifts of shared power of people with access to all sorts of tools and information.  The pastor is no longer the only educated person in the community.  Could it be that we are reaping the benefits of 500 years of empowering people to self government through education?

In summary:  most of us celebrate the connectional nature, the diversity, and ordered way of resolving chaotic confusion in the church,  It seems to me that given the cultural trends we are living out the down sides of these polarities, and there is a cry for and deep fear of autonomy, like-mindedness, and a more broadly shared power. How do we adapt organizationally to claim the gifts of all these, and get to the upside of these poles, and relieve our fears?  It seems to me that following Jesus is the path to an church in labor pains to be born anew/regenerated. Will you give your deeper fears to Jesus and risk trusting again?  Will you let Jesus be the host of the table and welcome communion with his other guests?  Will you, like Jesus, set aside authority, position and power to walk with fallen, sinful, broken neighbors and love them, and use power to heal?      

What polarities do you see at work?  

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Sabbatical Report

Lake Michigan Presbytery, thank you for the gift of my Sabbatical.  Our good intentions, our strong sense of call to ministry to glorify God and join God in addressing the never ending needs of our families, our congregations/presbytery, our communities, and world make us vulnerable to burn out and illness.  Too many of us live out of balance forgetting self care. I thought I was doing pretty well at it...but the strain and fatigue does have a way of catching up with us.  The Michigan and American cultures prize work and celebrate 150% effort at the expense of the time and space for the mind, body and spirit to rest and rejuvenate.  Not surprisingly, our culture suffers from the compounding crisis of failed marriages, dysfunctional families, health and obesity crisis...  Step out of our culture for a bit, and one recognizes that it does not have to be this way.  European workers in highly developed countries are granted far more leisure time than the typical American worker.  Christian brothers and sisters in under developed countries exhibit in their poverty a joy that stretches and lifts our spirit, which is far too often depressed.  A recent National Geographic documentary names "stress" as the nation’s most deceptive killer.  I believe God has a healthier more balanced lifestyle intended for us. So does this Presbytery!  My Sabbatical gave me an extended period of time to unwind, get my mind and heart on something else for a bit, nourish my spirit and passion, tend to my marriage and family, and strengthen my body.  What a gift!  I thank this Presbytery and its Committee on Ministry for having a policy which encourages Sabbaticals, the Staff Services Committee and Leadership Team for granting me a Sabbatical and freeing up funds from an unused professional development account to make it possible.  Thank you to the staff and Nelson Lumm and Larry Boutelle who filled in for me.  I return strong, invigorated, healthy, as fit as I can remember being and renewed for ministry serving this presbytery.  
So what how did I use this time? After getting turned around on our return from attending the General Assembly in Detroit, Eileen and I, traveled to Great Britain for four wonderful weeks!  This immediately got our minds on something other than our presbytery duties and gave us an adventure in which we spent nearly every moment together.  We first toured Edinburgh:  St. Giles Cathedral, Greyfriars Church, John Knox House Museum, the Peoples Museum, the National Museum of Scotland, shopping on the Royal Mile. We stayed with an Airbnb hostess just behind Holyrood Palace and park below Arthur's Seat.  We were able to walk everywhere. 

Then we traveled by train down the East Coast to London, seeing Holy Island at a distance and going through York (I was born in York, Pennsylvania) on the way.  There we stayed in a community in the north east outskirts of London and commuted by the Tube.  We watched the changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace on a sunny, blue sky day and walked through the gardens and around the House of Parliament with Big Ben.  We toured Westminster Abbey and worshiped there and at St. Paul's Cathedral for Even Song with the boys choir singing.  These midweek services were well attended, each with grand processions and recessions of many church officials in full dress.  We enjoyed a midday concert at St. Martins of the Field, and ate lunch at the church cafeteria in the crept downstairs.  We visited the National Gallery of Art, next door, the British Museum, The British Library, and the Museum of London.  We took a walking tour of Old Kennsington, and ate a snack at the Kennsington Palace, the home of Will and Kate, then meandered through the gardens there.  To rest our feet, we took a cruise on the Thames,

From London, we traveled straight to Oban by train via Lancaster (Eileen was born in Lancaster, PA), Carlisle (I grew up near Carlisle, PA, and was ordained by Carlisle Presbytery), and Glasgow.  The train trip from Glasgow to Oban is not to be missed if you go to Scotland.  The train travels slowly, as it winds through the incredibly beautiful mountains and along the lochs (lakes). In Oban, after touring London on the cheap, we celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary a month early by staying in a refurbished Bed & Breakfast with a harbor view from our room and going to Oban's best seafood restaurant by the docks!  Nice!     

The next day we hopped the ferry to Mull and headed for Iona.  A waiting bus at the ferry terminal took us across Mull on a single track road. Then another ferry to Iona.  This was my second visit to Iona.  There is a saying that no experience is complete until you share it with the one you love.  When asked what her favorite part of the trip was, Eileen will tell you, "Iona."  There is another saying, if you come to Iona once, you will come three times.  May be.  Hundreds of thousands of people make the pilgrimage to Iona every year.  We stayed at the Abbey for a week long conference, "Love for the Future" with David Osborn, a member of the Iona Community, and author of the book with the same title.  I consider Environmental Stewardship the greatest challenge of this generation.  This conference attracted many kindred spirits.  We spent twenty minutes at the first session on the global environmental crisis and then the rest of the week on the spiritual gifts and disciplines David believes are needed to summons the courage, strength and stamina to address the crisis.  PERFECT!  More on that in another blog.  We participated in the daily chores of community life.  We worshiped morning and evening.  We ate the freshly baked bread and homemade jellies from the kitchen. A highlight for me was the pilgrimage walk around the island.  At Columba's Bay where St. Columba landed after leaving Ireland, I picked up a stone, as we were all invited to do, and cast it into the sea, representing that which I named to leave behind. I named what is almost pathological for many of us ministers, the desire to please people.  I have always tried to speak the truth in love.  Sometimes it's painful.  I cast that pain into the water and gave it back to God.  We took an excursion to Staffa, a neighboring island, where we had a wonderful photo shoot with the puffins.  They are the cutest, friendliest birds.

Our time at Iona was the centerpiece of our month.  Afterward, we picked up a rental car, and explored the Highlands.  I drove 1200 miles on the "wrong" side of the road with a left handed stick shift.  Many of those miles were on single track roads. We drove through Loch Lomand National Park. Walked to a waterfalls in the misty clouded forest of Queen Elizabeth Park, a reforestation project of the queen some years ago.  We explored the standing stones in Kilmartin, south of Oban, the Isle of Skye, toured Eilean Donan Castle, one of Scotland's most picturesque, as it has been restored. From there we drove all day on single track roads up the west coast, including what a National Geographic poll determined the world's most dynamic drive--the Applecross Highway.  Actually the drive up over the mountain was the most exhilarating experience I had.  The mountain pass had many hair pin steep switch back turns, no guard rails.  I was having the time of my life.  Eileen lost a year or two with white knuckles on that mountain pass.  We climbed over 2,000 feet and stopped at the top.  There was the Isle of Skye and the community where we had stayed, just a few miles away as the crow flies.  We could almost the make out the house where we left hours before that morning.  So it is in the west coast of Scotland.  Absolutely stunning views all day!

We then stayed at an Airbnb in Golspie, on the east coast of the Northern Highlands.  Our host was a miller who ran a  water powered Grist Mill, one of two in Scotland.  We toured the Dunrodin Castle, the home of the Duke of Sutherland.  The Castle and gardens were stunning.  A falconer did demonstrations with his trained falcons, owls and eagles.  Fascinating!  The Duke had a museum of hunting trophies from Safari Hunts in Africa.  The next day we drove north and visited the ruins of the seaside town where crofters (subsistence farmers) who for centuries worked the land for the price of fighting the Duke's wars.  When the region was demilitarized by the English after the Battle of Culloden in 1745, the Duke of Sutherland was one of the first to figure out that he could make a whole lot more money by raising sheep.  The Duke expelled the crofters, an experience called "the Clearances."  The families I grow up with were Scotch Irish farmers who had immigrated to Ireland briefly, and then to America.  The church of my youth in South Central Pennsylvania was organized by Carlisle Presbytery in 1766.  Again and again I was reminded of the scenery and of driving the roads of my youth in the valleys of the Appalachian mountains.  My impression of the Duke was transformed that day as the place and history resonated with memories of the families of my childhood.  We drove to the north shore, explored the Grey Cairns of Camster, Bronze Age Pict burial places which look like a pile of stones in a field.  These were reconstructed.  I crawled into three of them on my hands and knees through a 20 foot long passage way just high and wide enough for me to squeeze there.  Another exhilarating adventure!  We drove to John O'Croats. the end of the road on the north shore.  It reminded me of Montauk, the east end community of Long Island.  We went right to the light house and hiked along the cliffs of Duncansby Head on a rare (for the area) clear blue sky afternoon.  Stunning!  We stopped by the Castle of Mey on the north shore, which the queen mom bought when King George died and Queen Elizabeth became queen.  She found a refuge there to grieve.  Prince Charles now oversees it.  We drove to the top of Dunnet Head, the northern most tip of the mainland of Great Britain/Scotland.  Because of the clear day, we could see the Orkney Islands, and much of the northern coast.  We ate dinner at the docks in Scrabster, famous for fresh seafood.  We watched the Orkney Island ferry load and unload.  We headed south.

The next day we headed to Turiff in the North east of Scotland.  We visited a 12th Century church in Dornoch where Madonna was married.  The Clintons and other celebrities visit there.  We passed through Inverness, drove along Loch Ness but the views were limited along the much busier highway.  We retreated to the Culloden Battlefield.  Ran into a couple there who shared our week at Iona!  For those who unfamiliar, it was the Gettysburg/turning point battle in the war with England. The English disassembled the power of the clans, altering the culture of the Highlands.  We pulled into Turriff and were warmly, lovingly welcomed by Jim Cook, a minister member of Lake Michigan Presbytery.  Jim is from Grand Haven, First, was a candidate under care of and then ordained by Lake Michigan Presbytery to serve the Church in Scotland.  He has been there 15 years.  He was a gracious host to us, and is a great pastor.  With Jim, we toured Fyvie Castle and the Glenffidich Whiskey Distillery (self proclaimed as the world's best).  Farmers who raise prize Angus beef and barley rule here, and are quite wealthy.  The many wind turbines that dot there farms are paid for by the farmers at a cost of a million or so dollars each...  We talked long into the nights there, visited his two churches and worshiped at the St. Andrew's Kirk in Turiff.  That Sunday, the Society of the Italy Campaign were present to place their records in the hands of the church for safe keeping.  Nine World War II veterans, all in their nineties were there, along with family and family of their comrades.  It was an emotional exchange.

We then headed south following the eastern edge of the Cairngorms National Park.  We drove along the Linn of Dee river valley.  We toured Balmoral Castle, which was more of a hunting cottage bought by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria.  The expansion of this "castle" was Albert's main project.  He died young and she grieved his death.  One wonders what the Victorian Era would have been if he had remained the life of the party and she was not so long depressed.  We learned there again of the royal families environmental sensitivities and land management principles and practices. High tailing it south we stayed in an Airbnb near the Firth of Tay.  The next day devoted exploring Stirling.  We ended up spending near the whole day at Stirling Castle.  Since 2002, when I last visited many improvements have been made to tell the story of this historic home of the king of Scotland.  After which we made the quick drive on super highways to Glasgow, our last stop.  The Commonwealth Games were opening the next day.  The city was a buzz with the Games events.  The Glasgow Cathedral hosted a flower exhibition/show of the Flower or Woman's Clubs of Scotland.  The cathedral was filled with elaborate flower arrangements, and women.  Reminded my of the movie Calender Girls.  Most of them were in their 70's and 80's.  The games were beginning as we boarded the plane to return home.

That was our adventure.

After a week at home to rest and pay the bills...we traveled to Pennsylvania with our two daughters.  We attended the LIMIAR Family Reunion at the University of Pittsburgh branch campus in Bradford, PA.  These families had all adopted Brazilian children.  I led worship for the group on that Sunday.  We spent a week visiting Eileen's father and her extended family in Paradise, PA, with several family reunions, and a Best gathering.  I painted my father-in-laws basement windows.  The next week we spent at a Beach house in Wainscott, NY.  Spent time with our son, Nate.  He taught me to paddle board in the Sagaponnack Inlet.  We had a fabulous week of weather there.  There I began my physical fitness regime.  I walk/ran on the beach every morning and did a session of yoga, that I had learned when living in Montauk, but have neglected these past years.  We also worshiped with the Montauk Church, which I had served as pastor for 12 years. We met their new pastor and had a wonderful reunion with friends.

We arrived back home on August 19.  Eileen returned to work.  I went to work on painting and organizing my garage, stained the deck, waxed the cars, while continuing the exercise routines I had begin at the beach.  I added lifted weights, which were collecting dust in my basement, a couple of times a week. I bought a new bike and rode the KalHaven, the Kalamazoo River Valley, and Portage Trails.  I became quite surprised and proud at how fit, trim and strong I became.  Until I hear what others are doing ...  Humbling.  Each of us are on our own journeys.  We must stay within ourselves... I also downloaded 2500 photos into a new external hard drive, and a new photo processing software, which I'm still learning to use.  I saved the photo work for winter evenings to savor the memories. I look forward to showing them.  Eileen was our main photographer. I also got a means to transport a Kayak which has been in storage for too long.  Did't get it in the water...but plan to this fall.

You'll notice a lot of "doing" in the above paragraphs.  Sabbaticals are also about rest and making peace with "being," which will be the theme of another blog.  For now, know that I love with my deck at home.  I read several books novels.  To mention a few: "The Monsters of Templeton," by Lauren Groff, about Cooperstown.  An interesting read for me, because Lauren was a teenager in the church I served as pastor in Cooperstown in the early 90's.  And I laughed my way through Christopher Moore's "Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal."  This book is X rated, inappropriate for read aloud groups at church.  But it is hilariously funny, biblically rich, and out of the box thought provoking imagining Jesus' boyhood coming of age adventures and of Jesus young adult years on which the Gospels are silent.  It was good to laugh and laugh often.  "The Boys in the Boat" a remarkable true story of the University o f Washington's 1936 eight-oar crew and their quest for an Olympic gold medal, is a powerful, and beautiful description of the elements of a successful team.  We also viewed a special screening of the documentary film:  "Fed Up" a cutting critique of the obesity crisis in America and the public policy fiascoes, which has caused it.

Finally, one Sunday, I attended a local mega church.  I'll write about that another day.

Again, thanks.  It is good to be back!