Monthly Archives: April 2018

Conflict and curiosity


The church subscribes to a quarterly publication called Leader.  We distribute copies to various folks in leadership positions.  The theme of the most recent edition is Conflict.

One of the essays is by Richard Blackburn, long time director of the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center.  He notes that conflict is inherently emotionally charged.  A healthy response includes recognizing those emotions and, rather than distancing oneself from their source, to remain relationally connected with the other and approach them with curiosity.  His phrase for this is “moving toward the other with interest.”

He writes: “Staying connected in the midst of disagreement requires one to move toward the other with interest.  It involves being respectfully curious about the other’s perspective while communicating a genuine desire to listen and understand.”

This approach is most appropriate when conflicted parties have a similar amount of power.

These are challenging days to be a peacemaker, especially when so many people are wrong : )

Hopefully we have not lost the capacity for curiosity about why another feels/thinks the way they do.  On good days we might still be able to move toward the other with interest.


Adult selves


Recently I’ve been reading from a book by Cynthia Lindner titled Varieties of Gifts: Multiplicity and the Well-Lived Pastoral Life.  She teaches at the University of Chicago Divinity School.  It’s a book about pastoral ministry, but much of it applies to anyone attempting adulthood.

One of the ideas I’ve found helpful is this: “Lively, functioning adult selves are always emerging from whatever sense of identity we’ve achieved” (p. 96).  Rather than a solid and continuous form of identity as the crowning achievement of adulthood – I’m a business person, I’m a mother, I’m a home owner, I’m a Christian – Lindner suggests that we are always “moving back and forth between who we know ourselves to be and who we might yet become, between received tradition and new insight, between traditional practices and adaptive ones.”

This is healthy adulthood, and comes with risks.  It can be easier to cling to a solid sense of who we are and what the world is.  But it doesn’t work.  Reality bumps up against whatever shelters we’ve built and not-so-gently demands we “emerge from whatever sense of identity we’ve achieved.”  It’s an emergence into the unknown, toward God.

I was reminded of this at lunch on Sunday, eating with people considering membership at CMC.  We were talking about the Membership Commitment – what we can affirm in it, and what questions it raises.  Although they didn’t word it quite this way, a number of people were wondering if we’re asking them to commit to a solid (and narrow) sense of Christian identity, or if this is a congregation where they will be welcomed to keep emerging, to keep asking questions, and discovering Love’s reach, within the context of Christian community.

My sense of CMC is that we aspire toward the latter.




Spiritual direction

I didn’t hear about spiritual direction until I went to seminary.  There I heard about this unique kind of relationship one can form with a spiritual director, and what is meant by “direct.”  Rather than being a therapeutic relationship or counseling, spiritual directors are trained at directing another’s attention toward areas in one’s life that might be fertile ground for growth.  Each director has a different style, but they all are skilled listeners.  The “spiritual” part of direction is the connectivity that one’s life has with oneself, others, and that mysterious reality we call God.  Healthy spirituality allows us to become more fully alive in our humanity. We’re all spiritual beings, whether we are conscious of it or not.

I’ve had three spiritual directors – one during my last year of seminary, one in Cincinnati, and in the last year I’ve begun meeting once every 6-8 weeks with a director in Columbus.  What I have found most helpful is when I speak about something, am asked to go deeper in a particular area, or one of the words I chose, and we both sit there together as I mumble through what I think I might have meant by what I said.  Usually it’s in that second or third run over that it starts to make more sense.  Or I start to realize that I don’t actually know what I’m talking about and need more time to sit with it.

In my experience spiritual directors are gentle and nonjudgmental, but willing to ask pointed questions to stir new thoughts.

Several CMC folks have been trained as spiritual directors as well as past CMC pastors Susan Ortman Goering and Dan Schrock.

I’m very pleased that part of the Sabbatical grant has been designated for up to 24 CMCers to get a taste, 3 sessions, of spiritual direction.  What would normally cost $150 per person is available for $25.

This Sunday we’ll have a Mission Moment about spiritual direction, and during the Sunday school hour Amanda Cushing from the Spirituality Network – which trains directors and matches them with directees – will lead a session for anyone who wants to know more about direction.  And, oh yeah, sign-ups are open.  Get your spot by contacting Mim Halterman.

If it sounds uncomfortable then maybe it’s something you should try.



50 years

“The one thing that would be dishonorable for us is to bring all this attention to the assassination of Dr. King and not have a resurrection of the efforts and the unfinished business dealing with systemic racism, systemic poverty.”  Rev. Dr. William Barber II

Fifty years ago today Martin Luther King Jr. was shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.  The anniversary is as important as we choose to make it.

The narrative I absorbed through most of my life was that the Civil Rights movement exposed deep seated racism in the US, inspired millions, won key legislative victories, and set our country on course toward racial equality.  And here we are, almost there, with merely a scattering of personal prejudices yet to be overcome.  That’s a powerful narrative, made all the more compelling because it centers on a hero, Dr. King.

Over the last several years this narrative has been exposed as simply untrue.  It’s not that it has become untrue in the last several years.  It never was true.

People of color have known this.  Many white folks have been helped by important scholarship and movements that have been difficult to ignore.

Michele Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness lifted the veil on how our prison system targets and decimates black communities.  The Black Lives Matter movement demanded that we pay attention to black deaths at the hands of police whose charge is to keep citizens safe.  In our current political climate white supremacy parades in the light.

Part of what we seek to nurture as people of faith is an ever deepening spiritual bond with “the neighbor.”  As difficult as it is to sustain in a culture that veers toward individualism at nearly every turn, an ever expanding sense of the neighbor and the neighborhood connects our well-being to others.  It sounds lovely and lofty in theory.  It is difficult soul work to develop and enact.

Three days after we have celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who overcomes to powers of death and violence and offers the same power to those willing to receive it, let’s practice resurrection in how we educate and orient ourselves toward what Rev. William Barber refers to as “the unfinished business (of) dealing with systemic racism.”

If you are looking for another veil-lifting book on par with The New Jim Crow, I recommend either of the following, both published in 2017: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein, and The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap, by Mehrsa Baradaran  (If you have the free Hoopla app through the Columbus Metro Library, this audiobook is available there for download).