Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Monday, November 07, 2011

Boldness has magic

"You are so bold, young lady."

My mother sometimes said that to me.

Like it was a bad thing.

She would also say, "You have tone, young lady." Which meant that I had an 'attitude' about something she didn't like. That I was being 'disrespectful' in having an opinion of my own about a certain matter.

All of which was true - at least in part, depending on your perspective.

It's part of the task of being an adolescent to push at the boundaries and challenge the status quo so you can figure out where your newly emerging sense of self is going to land.

Psychologists call this "self-differentiation". It's an important part of the human enterprise which begins at adolescence in equal measure of rebellion and experimentation.

We then spend the rest of our lives trying to "mature" out of adolescence so we can "fit in".

I've begun to think that "maturity" is highly overrated. I suspect that if we recovered some of the good stuff of adolescence, we and the institutions we create and in which we serve might be better for this bit of "regressive recovery".

Indeed, I think we confuse "changing the status quo" with "rebellion" and the bold risks we take to achieve that change with the failures that sometimes ensue on the road to successful change.

Or, at least, we'd rather complain about the misery of status quo than take the difficult risks of what might lead to a new path and a new beginning.

I grow so weary of hearing cautious, mature adults tip-toeing around the harsh realities of our institutions. Everyone can see that the system is broken in our democracy. It started, I believe, when we began to give more and more power to institutions and less and less power to people.

The irony of the call to "less government" is that we have created a parallel power of corporations and big businesses upon which the Supreme Court has now bestowed "personhood". These corporations are now free to "buy" legislators and people in government power - which, oh by the way, takes away the voice of the people.

Likewise, in the institutional church, we've gradually changed the office of the episcopacy from "chief pastor" with "oversight" to Chief Financial Officer. In my humble opinion, we've given way too much power to the office of the episcopacy - most of which is not inherent to the office.

As I read the canons of The Episcopal Church, the real task of the bishop is to have and to hold the vision of the diocese for mission. The bishop is the one who sets the course of direction for the diocese, through the development of mission churches and diocesan programs that embody that mission.

In the system of checks and balances of our institutional government system, however, the bishop has no power to enact these programs or start mission churches unless Convention and/or Diocesan Council and/or Trustees (depending on the church/program being proposed) approves and allocates the money to be dedicated to that vision.

That's as it should be.

The only real power the bishop has is currency of trust and persuasion.

Oh, of course, that power can be used for good as well as for ill. We all know clergy (and some laity)  who have taken risks for the gospel who become diocesan pariah - unable to be elected or appointed in the "councils and corridors" of the institutional church.

If the bishop is a person of prayer and integrity and honesty and authenticity, s/he can get an entire diocese - indeed, the rest of The Episcopal Church - to follow her or him anywhere. I've seen it happen - and so have you - for good as well as for ill (Think: ACNA, AMiA, ACK, etc.).

People will throw pots of money at - and work hard to secure - programs that they can see have congruence with the vision.

Likewise, if said bishop makes a mistake, s/he can also get an entire diocese to forgive, re-strategize, and move on to the goal.

It takes courage to fail and then get up, dust yourself off, and try again.

That's the real measure of maturity, I think. To not take on the negativity of those who are anxious or afraid, but to be bold enough to believe in yourself and your dream and the people you are trying to serve.

The magic lies in the boldness of the vision and the trust the people have in the deep spirituality and honesty and authenticity of the person in the office of leadership.

That's the spirituality of a democratic system - of government or of the church. We all work for this idea of the "commonwealth".

When each of us contributes our little bit we can be so much bigger and accomplish so much more than any one of us alone.

The genius of democracy lies in the deceptively simple idea of "government of the people, by the people, for the people."

Those are words used by Abraham Lincoln on the occasion of consecrating a portion of the battlefield at Gettysburg, as he said, "as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live".

And, what was that BHAG - that Big Hairy Audacious Goal - that people lived and died for? The idea that "all men - all people - are created equal". That includes people of different races and ethnicity, people of different creeds, people of different gender and sexual orientation, and people of all ages and physical abilities.

Lincoln had a vision of the resurrection of the country from the death and injuries of those who died at Gettysburg. He called it "a new birth of freedom".

He wrote:
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
I think we can experience that "new birth of freedom" when we honor our past by dedicating ourselves to our foundational principles and beliefs.

I think we can do that in our government as well as in The Episcopal Church.

That, I think, is the impulse behind the "Occupy Wall Street" movement. That some churches and her bishops and clerics and laity have not gotten behind this movement is very telling. That some churches and her bishops and clerics and laity are involved in this movement tells another story - one that sounds more like the Gospel stories to my ears. 

We can talk all we want about "audacious hope" and "bold action" but unless we start living like we believe that, nothing will happen.

I think our nation - and our church, indeed, our world - could stand to recover the good parts of our adolescence.  Just a little bit of rebellion and just a dash of tone.

Part of the task of maturity is to discover that safety is an illusion.

Risk is a day-to-day reality.

Boldness has magic.

Don't believe me? Give it a try. See what happens.

Do one, small, bold thing today for something you believe in.  Push a boundary on the status quo. Have some "tone" in your voice when you do it.

Don't worry.

Your mother isn't here to scold you. 

You'll just enter the process of becoming more of who God made you to be, living into the baptismal vows we all took to grow into "the full stature of Christ".

I promise you: there's no greater magic than that.


Matthew said...

I think many of our Episcopal clergy are too old, or too old when they become clergy (and I have served on disernment committees). The average age of our student seminarians is old. When I served on discernment committees, the very young, often 20-somethings, always had a hard time getting through the process. They did not have enough "maturity" and needed to grow up more and made to many rookie mistakes and needed more "perspective" and life experience. Blah, blah blah. On the other hand, if you were in your 40's or 50's and had been a nurse or lawyer or accountant or professor and wanted to be a priest, the process was quite friendly to such people. If we think 25 is too young to be a priest, we need to articulate why and provide sound reasons.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Wait. Ouch. How old do you think I am, Matthew? Let me give you a clue: I haven't been 25 for a long time. And, I'll admit that I've passed the legal "double nickle" speed limit. Who do you think wrote this?

In some ways, those of us who enter priesthood as a 'second vocation' have careers to fall back on so we can take more risks than those who are just starting out.

All that being said, I agree with you that when we say we want "young vocations" we ought to back that up with mentors and, oh yes, CURES (as in churches or employment opportunities. .

Matthew said...

But you are young at heart, and you are bold as this blog is evidence. And many young people are complacent. Perhaps our stereotypes about age groups is part of the problem, especially when we impose them on our decision making. The point is that I see many evangelical mega-churches headed by young pastors, people like Rob Bell. I don't agree with their politics or theology but nonetheless they have been willing to ordain people without "maturity" whatever that is. We need more people like Giles Frasier -- willing to give up a job based on principles because the institutional church does not want to be associated with OWS. That is true regardless of age.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Amen, Matthew. Except, I don't know that all young clergy are complacent. I'm thinking now of Michael T. Sniffen in Brooklyn Heights who is bold and brave for the Gospel and has been on the front lines of OWS since the beginning.

We need to avoid stereotypes at every level.

And yes, my heart is very young. So is my mind. Well, most days. Not those days when I find myself in the kitchen, looking around and asking, "What did I come in here to get?". Then I discover that I am part of the ancient "Fuckarewee" Tribe.