Are you feeling a little worn out? When Lent begins as early as it does this year, we feel like we turn around from Advent/Christmas to encounter Ash Wednesday before we’re really ready.
I’m continuing to read and enjoy Twain’s The Innocents Abroad. He comments on the different approach to work taken by Europeans and Americans: “Just in this one matter lies the main charm of life in Europe–comfort.” He goes on “When an acre of ground has produced long and well, we let it lie fallow and rest for a season…when a razor has seen long service and refuses to hold an edge, the barber lays it away for a few weeks, and the edge comes back of its own accord. We bestow thoughtful care upon inanimate objects, but none upon ourselves. What a robust people, what a nation of thinkers we might be, if we would only lay ourselves on the shelf occasionally and renew our edges!”
If you engage in a Lenten discipline, perhaps one possibility might be more sleep…
I’m reading Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad for a new book group I’m in which is reading classic books (you know, all the stuff you read–or didn’t read–in high school and college). I was a bit sceptical, especially when I found out it’s 700 pages long. But I’m loving it! Twain’s writing style and pointed perspective is hilarious. He satirizes Europeans and Americans equally.
As a congregational leader, particularly when we are new to a congregation, we are traversing a foreign country, even if we just moved across town. We bring our own prejudices, and the church members have theirs. Sometimes a clash occurs, or a misunderstanding, as when Twain desperately tried to obtain some soap in a public bath in Italy. If we can maintain our sense of humor, as Twain did so well, we’ll be better able to learn the territory. If we can laugh at ourselves and ask genuine questions, we’ll learn the territory more quickly and avoid the Ugly American reputation.
“Explore, and explore. Be neither chided nor flattered out of your position of perpetual inquiry. Neither dogmatize, or accept another’s dogmatism.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
I’m applying this not to “dogma” in the sense of doctrine, but to our view of the gatherings of humans we are a part of, both families and churches. We have our own dogmas, our own points of view. Others will tell us their points of view. Rather than accepting our own perspective as it stands, or that of others, Emerson suggests we continue to be curious, and explore what is in front of us. This attitude will help our leadership and our relationships, because we can be open to new learnings about others.
Is your focus on the present, or the future? My friend Israel Galindo sent me a writing book, A Writer’s Book of Days, by Judy Reeves, which I’ve been using daily this year. The book includes a writing prompt for every day of the year, a phrase to write about every day, just for practice. Today’s prompt was this: “in the meantime…” As I wrote I realized yet again how much my mind flies away down the path to the future. The present becomes nothing more than “the meantime,” the time we are marking until the real stuff happens.
Considering the future, clarifying goals, making plans, is all an important part of leadership. But the only moment we can experience is the present one. The present is not simply a prelude to the future. If we only think about the future, we don’t really show up in the present.
Stop right now and take a deep breath. Look out the window. What do you see? Look at the next person who crosses your path. What do you see? This moment is not simply the meantime: it is all we have. It is the only moment we can truly experience God’s presence.
It’s easy for church leaders to lose their sense of humor in January. Winter weather takes its toll. Many churches have annual meetings this month, and finalizing the budgeting and nominating processes can be stressful.
Here’s another approach: what can you learn about your church’s story, past and present? Perhaps annual meeting time can bring out the memories of long-term members. What new perspective can you gain on this unique church you are a part of? Every congregation is fascinating. How can you tease out what it is they do and when? (Asking “why” is rarely useful.) What are the patterns that you see? When we can remain curious about our church’s story, past and present, we will be less likely to become willful, frustrated, or burned out.
Cultivating curiosity about your church might even be better than a trip to the Caribbean. The impact lasts longer. And it’s free!