Sunday, March 8, 2009

Discovering Our Insides

First, this poem from Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times, edited by Neil Astley, (Hyperion, New York, 2003).

From Blossoms
by Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

I've been reading in two books about congregations this week. Journalist Gary Dorsey explores of the dynamics of a church in New England in Congregation: The Journey Back to Church (New York: Viking Penguin, 1995). Dorsey attempts to figure out the relationships between ministers and a congregation and answer questions such as: what is church, why go to church, what makes a church work; by spending a year as an observer, then as a participant/observer. This is a good read if only because it makes clear how complex the relationships are, and how a church cannot be all things to all people, and how when church is working it draws people in. Being an intense description of the life and work of one congregation and Dorsey's own journey back to church, it offers a basis for comparison for our own congregations and journeys.

The other book I'm reading is Israel Galindo's The Hidden lives of Congregations: Discerning Church Dynamics (Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2004). Galindo, like Dorsey but with a broader sweep, explores congregations as organisms, in relationships, as communities, not as just "organizations." Looking at churches through the lenses of Bowen family systems work, Galindo provides a good summary of a number of models of understanding church dynamics. In the chapter I just finished reading he writes: "The five organic relational dynamics that are at play during the lifespan of a congregation are: Systemic Anxiety, Energy, Organizing, Controlling, and Relational." (p. 52) Every congregational organism has some of each of these at play, and depending on whether there is too much high anxiety, too little good energy, not enough organizing, too much controlling, or not enough relational activity, one congregation will die and another with different dynamics will thrive. Recognizing those dynamics will make it possible to understand them and perhaps to change them toward a healthier way of being in relationship.

The usefulness of this book for my study is in and of itself, but also as background to understanding what might be the dynamics in making decisions about pastoral leadership. What dynamics would need to be in place for a congregation to handle or welcome a woman as minister, or to thrive with a pastor who is not like the perceived norm for a clergy person? In the line from the poem above, how do we risk a new love, something outside the box, how do we "take what we love inside, to carry within us an orchard, to eat not only the skin, but the shade, not only the sugar, but the days, to hold the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into the round jubilance of peach?"

The intersection of pastor, congregation and God is a complex relational dynamic. Where might congregations learn about managing the steps of the dance of engaging/having a new pastor, and where do clergy learn that about congregations? I'm thinking that the third player in the triangle is perhaps not consulted enough in this work: where is God in all this? Tony Pappas, Executive Minister for The American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts wrote a response to the Pulpit and Pew study, What Do Lay People Want In Pastors, (referenced in March 1 blog posting) that starts to get at this question, "Where does the Spirit come into play? Or, to phrase it differently, without passion what good are all our procedures and practices? … What if we were to focus on matters of the Spirit? What if judicatory staff were to deliberately attempt spiritual interventions? What if incoming pastors were to concentrate on matters of the Spirit before launching off into the busy-ness of programs? What if local congregations were to seek God’s face with even half the energy they have heretofore invested in preserving the status quo?" (p. 42)

My prayer is for the Spirit to be with congregations who are seeking leadership, and with pastors who are seeking congregations, as well as those already engaged in working together, that we all work toward relationships that might carry not only the jubilant juice of the peach but the entire orchard inside us.

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