Three Monks and One Sees

Benedicta Ward’s book has this story:

There were three friends, serious men, who became monks. One of them chose to make peace between men who were at odds, as it is written, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ (Matt. 5:9). The second chose to visit the sick. The third chose to go away to be quiet in solitude. Now the first, toiling among contentions, was not able to settle all quarrels and, overcome with weariness, he went to him who tended the sick, and found hims also failing in spirit and unable to carry out his purpose. So the two went away to see hims who had withdrawn into the desert, and they told him their troubles. They asked him to tell them how he himself had fared. He was silent for a while, and then poured water into a vessel and said, ‘Look at the water.’ and it was murky. After a little while he said again, ‘See now, how clear the water has become.’ As they looked into the water they saw their own faces, as in a mirror. They he said to them, ‘So it is with anyone who lives in a crowd; because of the turbulence, he does not see his sins: but when he has been quiet, above all in solitude, then he recognizes his own faults.’

Today there are two major camps in the UMC. One claims the importance of peacemaking (Conservatives) while others are claiming the importance of tending to the sick (Liberals). Both camps have a good and Biblical claim on their task, and both are making good on the call. However, we now find ourselves in a bind where both camps are failing in spirit and there is such a turbulence in the Church. Neither camp sees the value of being quiet and still. Both camps are righteous in their cause and pouring water out, baptizing the work they do. Neither camp can see, as they churn up water, that we are drowning.

Photo by  Haley Phelps  on  Unsplash

The flailing and hand waving and crying out all is in an effort to ensure we can all stay a float through these troubled waters. It is the wisdom of the third monk that we need. The one who elevates silence, stillness, patience. Of course we do not give any merit to such posturing as it is seen as irrelevant and useless (all the while forgetting that Nouwen cautions us to the temptation of relevancy and that prayer is being “useless”).

And so what is the local church and church leader to do? How can we harness the wisdom of the third monk? Perhaps we can at least recall Soren Kierkegaard, who said, “Faith is like floating in seventy thousand fathoms of water. If you struggle, if you tense up and thrash about, you will eventually sink. But if you relax and trust, you will float.”

Church leaders, there is nothing wrong with the wisdom of the third monk. There is nothing wrong with stillness, waiting and trusting. There is nothing wrong with not doing “something”. There is nothing wrong with trusting in the buoyancy of God.

Is that not our call?

Are we creating vital churches on a sinking island?

Diana Butler Bass shared a story on the "Robcast" podcast. This is about a vital and vibrant United Methodist Church on Tangier Island. Tangier Island is in the Chesapeake Bay and is one of the places in the world where rising sea levels are dramatically changing the island. Namely, the island is being swallowed up by the ocean. 

Bass shared that on this island is an old UM congregation that has the longest continuous Methodist class meeting (a type of small group). This group dates to the days of John Wesley. This church is doing great things for the community and, as Bass said, "doing all the right things". However, the land on which this community is built is sinking. 

Over the past several years the United Methodist Church has emphasized how important it is to create vital congregations. And we should be doing that. However, all the focus on creating vital congregations that "do all the right things" may obscure our vision that the ground on which the Church is built may be sinking. 

The church is built on trust. Disciples trust Christ. Laity trust pastors. Pastors trust Bishops and Superintendents. Non-member trust that even though they may not attend, the Church is trying to do good. Clergy trust other clergy are not in competition with each other but in connection and collaboration. We trust that resources shared make a greater impact than resources of one local church. 

The Church is not the only thing built on trust. The stock market and governments are also built on trust. We even use trust as a primary litmus test for who we support for president. All of these institutions built on an expression of trust all face troubled waters. There is mistrust among states to to give any aid to them. Congress has some of the lowest approval ratings of all time. There is a lack of trust toward banks, Wall Street brokers and police departments. 

And so we come to the question facing the church: Are we creating vital churches on a sinking island? What can the Church do to rebuild trust? 

Originally posted January 27, 2016

How You Know Someone Does Not Trust You

Trust is the lifeblood of relationships. This is obvious in personal relationships but there are many types of relationships. When you pass someone on a two way road, there is trust that each will stay in their lane. Without trust in the other then there can be great damage and hurt. Again, I say, trust is the lifeblood of relationships. 

We know when we don't trust another person. You can try to put it into words and sometimes you can articulate why you don't trust someone. Maybe they wronged you in some way and broke trust. Maybe they just look like someone you don't trust (this is sometimes the implicit bias that leads to misjudgments and prejudice). But for many of us, we know when we don't trust another person. 

The question is how do we know someone does not trust you? We can all put on a nice face and be pleasant with one another, so it is easy to miss that someone does not trust you. However, here is one way to discover someone does not trust you: The other person does not give the most generous interpretation of your actions. 

If you find yourself in a conversation and the other person is not giving you the most generous interpretation of your actions and words, then maybe the conversation needs to stop being about the issue but pivot to trust. Talk about how to rebuild trust between yourselves. The conversation about trust is paramount because even if you resolve the specific issue, unless trust is present, there will be another issue in the near future. 

The "thing" is rarely the "thing". More often there is a "Thing" behind the "thing." Many of the conflicts in the world come from a trust vacuum. Broken relationships, broken churches, broken nations and broken systems result a hemoraging of the lifebloood of trust. 

"The Pole Vaulter Fallacy"

A lot of my time is spent listening to people beat themselves up for a wide range of reasons. However, a large bulk of reasons that I hear people being so hard on themselves is what I am going to call the "Pole Vaulter Fallacy."

Generally speaking, listening to people I hear them talk about the shame or disappointment or anger they feel when they were not able to live up to some standard. Some of those standards are internal standards that a person has for what they expect of themselves. Some of those standards are perceptions of what others have of them. Either way, when these standards are not met, there is a lot of hurt that is shared. 

Here is why I call it the "Pole Vaulter Fallacy": The internal or external standards that are perceived to be so high that we need a pole vault in order to clear them. What makes it a fallacy, is that too often the reality is that the standards are only as high as a high jumper. Meaning, that many people are more than clearing the bar, but the pole they are using is knocking the bar down and so it looks like failure. 

Friends, consider the ways that the "bar" that is before us is not as high as you think it is. You don't need to grab a pole in order to clear the mark. Your jump is more than enough. You are more than enough. Trust in that.

Put the pole down, you are only hurting yourself.