Monday, July 18, 2011

Can one depart a relationship graciously?

I heard the term again today . . . Gracious Departure.  I can't tell you how uncomfortable that term makes me.  It's like a CIA coverup, let's work out a deal and then it'll be done and all go our separate ways.  Before you know it, it'll be like nothing ever happened.

For people that's BULL.  For churches that's BULL.  It is the nature of relationships that some end.  Many when they end, need to end, and when both parties recognize that it does become easier to move on.  Those in that situation though are few and far between, and even then division of shared identity is problematic.  This best case scenario then recognizes the irreversible change that we create on one another and the links created.  This does happen, but it's never quick and painless.

A truly gracious ending to a relationship though is more complicated and happens only 1 of 2 ways in my opinion:

1. A recognition that a relationship needs to end from 2 parties, with a full recognition of mutual connections and commitments, and an understanding of the continuation of these apart, leaving open the potential for forming a new relationship in the future.
2. A realization that a relationship is not, nor was it ever as both parties may have interpreted it, with an agreement to continue to work and define said relationship for what it is, not what either side thought it was.

Of course to read between the lines there, many would argue that neither is an actual departure from said relationship.  I would argue from a Human Communication viewpoint they are actual departures, just outside of what we view as the norm.

Yet, at this moment it seems though that this split that is happening within the PC(USA) is not amicable, much less gracious.  Both sides have put a claim on parts of the shared identity as solely belonging to them.  This means that we're not looking at a Gracious Departure, but a Violent Disassociation.  I've been here done this in the Baptist world, some churches there had packed their bags more than a decade earlier and were already out the door, just playing house with the denomination.  Their exit was expected, but they still thought that it would "prove a point."  It didn't.  Other churches still cling to some form of dual identity, but really have hacked off a leg or 2 in the process in order to feel comfortable with their decision.  The problem for these churches is they realized the bond that was already formed and didn't want to lose it, there was value in the relationship they had fought for, and they still wanted to be heard. . .on some things.  On the other issues, they'd take their ball and play elsewhere until their partner (SBC) made them take the rest of their stuff from the house as well.

I see both of these things happening in PC(USA).  The "Fellowship" group is seemingly trying to do the latter, while a number of churches are willing to just take the bags they packed and leave.  There though are many churches who haven't committed to either of these approaches, but feel the tugs of one or both.  It is for these that I fear the consequences of what we choose to do with the others in regards to a "Gracious Departure."

I will use a circumstance I know for an example.  I know 3 churches in an area who are all currently restless due to the passage of 10A.  They all have sessions that are "examining the options" or have examined them.  Given the right set of circumstances they may all take a chance at a "Gracious Departure."  The pastors and sessions have tired of fighting with the denomination.  So let's assume they agree to make a "Gracious Departure" would it really look like Grace?

Church 1 - Leads the Hispanic ministry in the area, without them this growing ministry collapses within the PC(USA) for the area.
Church 2 - Is more theologically diverse than their Session believes.  Their pastor is honestly struggling to work through issues he's having, but is committed to the denomination, if they leave his turmoil becomes worse.  The other staff member would quit immediately.  The church would lose people and probably go under in the resulting turmoil.
Church 3 - Again, an active church in community outreach, heads up many presbytery wide initiatives (school and clothing drives, education events, etc). 

Regardless of how both the church and denomination handled the departure of any of these churches it would be less than gracious because the connections are too deep.  Termination of these relationships couldn't be done cleanly and quietly. No relationship termination is without explosive collateral damage when disassociation is involved.

I admit that I do not desire for there to be a mass exodus of conservative congregations, I feel denominations are stronger and better able to grow faithfully when there is pushing and struggling together rather than moving to places of ideological agreement.  This also goes for efforts to name churches according to ideological stances on any certain issue (fellowship, more light, etc.) but as long as we don't use these tags to disassociate with one another, it would be a smaller price to pay in my opinion.  I do not believe that in all cases the fight should be to keep those who have been out the door for years, they're going to go anyway, but let's not encourage others to go that way because we're acting as we feel we've been acted towards.  I don't think this denomination would be stronger if the chopped off all that feel uncomfortable, don't fit.  To say that it would is as fundamentalist as one may claim those who now feel like leaving are.  This has been and will continue to be a complex journey of faith we take together.  This is not the end nor is it a beginning, it is just another moment in the journey and the journey together is what I think it is really all about.

So maybe there is a way still to redefine these existing relationships, maybe though there does need to be some sort of "break."  I don't know the answers, but I feel we're not doing enough to truly be a people where ALL are welcome when we're too willing to let the uncomfortable, the misfits walk (regardless of who these misfits are).  This is a hard issue for our church, just as it is when friends, lovers, or any other relationship becomes strained and difficult for a long time.  Let us journey together in God's grace.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Creating a Spirit of Fear

I spent today with a youth who I know has lots of thoughts and opinions, but rarely expresses them.  You can see her brain working but rarely do words come out beyond "That's fine", "It's okay", "Whatever you want", "I can do that", etc.  Around the half way point of the day, she finally says this: "I don't say much because I'm afraid I'll say something wrong and disappoint someone or embarrass myself."

I was told recently how impressed people were with how "mature" my kids are.  Well, I wanted then to tell that parent then that I wish my kids knew more about what being a kid is like.  These are kids who are expected to take care of younger siblings, take care of grieving parents, and take care of each other due to loss in the community.  They are kids who live structured lives run by coaches and directors, kids so talented that they seem to always be placed in leadership roles wherever they go.  This seems to have been the case for most of them since they got to middle school.

How hard do we push our kids to grow up?  Why do we push them in certain ways?  It seems to me that we far to often view kids as our legacy, and thus try to give them a leg up in being "the best they can be."  Youth are the future of the church, our kids "shouldn't go through what we had to,"  we want them to have "happy lives."  All of these ideas have major issues.  We set up kids to shut down because they're afraid of failing us, and thus failing themselves and God by extension.  We make kids feel like what they do is attached to who we are and our emotions.  We set them up to think if people aren't happy then things have been a failure.

We shouldn't focus on happiness of any individual or group when talking about what it means to be adult or to be Christian.  Rather we need to use a language that encourages finding "meaning" and acting on that "meaning."  Kids know they want more than to be happy, but we've been telling them for so long that "we just want you to be happy" or "I'm not upset at you, I'm just not happy right now" that they don't even know what it is they're seeking.

So since they know there's more to life than being happy, but it seems the only other options are pleasing "adults" who seem to want to be happy at their core.  This sets up the fear of disappointing others or self that my youth today spoke of.  They want to make sure they're saying, doing the right thing.  They don't want to feel bad about a wrong choice, so why even bother choosing anything when "someone will tell me what to do." 

So what type of place do we need to create within the church for our young people?  A place where they know they can't disapoint us? A place where they can seek meaning?  A place where they're encouraged to speak what is on their mind freely, just so they can get it out there? Probably a little of all of these things, but it's not easy because both the culture and the church is full of this legacy thinking, full of people afraid to be wrong, afraid to risk their "good name," afraid they may find themselves uncomfortable while searching for meaning instead of happiness.  We can't ask our youth to be in the present, to be the change they want to be, if we're not willing to join them.  They are not the future, they are the present, and their questions, their struggles are our struggles.  But we're the adults, we should provide real opportunities to journey through these things, not provide a place where youth are afraid to journey as individuals and within the community.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Human Communication and Social Media

I love social media, I truly do.  As an Aspie, it has been a wonderful way to get closer to people without the difficulties I have in normal social situations.  I've met people I never would, shared great ideas, gotten closer to people who I may have just barely known otherwise.  Yet, those who know me know I go against the grain when it comes to the idea that we can form community from social media alone.

My issue has always been based on issues of how much we share with each other in these places and the types of connections we form.  We tend to gravitate towards the extremes, towards those who share views close to our own, or in some cases towards conflict with those on far poles from us.  It seems that many people just form pseudo-communities based around ideological or demographic similarities.  There's nothing wrong with these relationships, but if you read my previous blog posts you will know that I don't think these things can be the basis for community as defined from a Human Communication perspective.

Well, now I'm adding a new piece to this.  I've spent some time today reading and researching on the idea of a global/cosmic consciousness (or 6th sense).  In studying this, I begin to really see patterns that show that we "think" with some idea of each other, that we don't just react but that we connect to each other and all of creation with some commonality of thought or common desire.  A "God Spark" if you wanted to make it theological.  But studies show that the level of connection over distance is significantly weaker than that of people who are closely connected through local communities that interact physically.  Much like magnetism, the closer we are to one another, the more this global thought is shared.  These are not common opinions, but emotional responses and physical subconscious reactions.  This is not saying we can make each other think alike, rather that we share a deep emotional, maybe even spiritual connection.  It is the feeling we're being watched, it is these moments that come from a physical experience, not just one through interaction of ideas (social media's base).  Our emotions are not just reactions, but do seem linked to something bigger and greater than individual moments.

It also makes me wonder about myself as an Aspie, I really want to find some research about the subconscious activity of people with Asperger's syndrome. Some of this research tonight on human emotions and how we understand them individually and in community seems to indicate to me it is those connections that act differently in Aspies. We don't read faces well, we don't act according to social norms, is it possible that my extreme logic is something connected to being somehow disconnected from the global consciousness. Yet, studies also show that some Aspies have a higher level of premonition than normal, so this would say we're still connected but less reactive and more proactive. So I want to ask: do we move outside the collective consciousness or do we just connect differently? Regardless of this answer: How does that effect how we view and understand God? 

All of this put together makes me wonder if my response to social media is based on personal experiential evidence, or if there is something real that social media can't recreate?  I am convinced that there is something more to physical contact that even the best connections through electronics cannot recreate.  For that reason, I plead for those who feel alone to seek community in places like churches where not everyone thinks the same.  I plead for churches to be those places, places where we can walk faithfully seeking and discerning, not being indoctrinated and conformed to ideological ideals.  I hope that what we find out about our commonality as humanity, be it a global consciousness or not, is the key to what brings us together into community.  For it is that commonality, that "image of God" in all of us, that truly can change the world.