Stained Glass Leadership

Note: this post is building on the image of seeing God through stained glass and will make more sense if you read Stained Glass first.

If we have been talking as though we had direct access to the “sunlight”, it can be shocking when we become aware of how our worldview refracted that light.  My worldview is the stained glass through which I see the world outside my cathedral but also God.  Art, music, my DNA, science, experiences, friendships, parents, leaders, and increasingly news sources contribute to and sustain a worldview.  It’s important to note that it’s not the experiences themselves, but how I interpret them – or who I let interpret for me – that form the worldview.  Becoming aware that we are interpreting at all has felt like a crisis.

I’ve always had a worldview

I’ve always had a worldview – everyone does – but I haven’t always been aware of it.  One example of this occurred during the months I spent in conversation about race with my friend Reggie.  As he generously shared his experience as an African-American I realized the view from my pupils were framed entirely by the whites of my eyes.  MLKI would have said America works a certain way without acknowledging that it doesn’t work that way for all Americans.   I found myself in tears at a Martin Luther King Jr rally, seeing for the first time how my worldview had led to my conclusions, and how King’s vision for America was not just better for African-Americans, but for all Americans.

When we first travel to another country it surprises us to learn that the once-perceived universal experience, was only (in my case) an American view.  We were measuring the world in inches and feet and come to find out most of the world uses metric.  Steadfastly clinging to the way we’ve always done things, even when centimeters and kilometers make more sense.

I’ve been travelling lately

I’ve been travelling lately, at least ideologically (see Two Tribes), and wondering just who else is seeing this.  There was a time when our community of faith was a small, homogenous group, going the same direction with the same set of beliefs.  Or did I just imagine it that way?  But then my own young family was the same: two adults seeing eye to eye driving around a minivan of kids to the same destination, eating identical ham sandwiches and interpreting the world together as it passed outside those tinted van windows.  Now those kids are young adults with differing views, off to college and back carrying new ideas to integrate with the old.

I feel like a congregant gone off to college, trying to figure out “what else” father church may have been wrong about.

And likewise, as I approach my community of faith, it feels both wider and narrower.  Narrower in its stated doctrines and statements; but surely wider in the views of the people sitting around me.  As I start to think more critically in my adult years, I feel like a congregant gone off to college, trying to figure out “what else” father church may have been wrong about.  When we realize voices that we trusted for direction are also looking at the world through stained glass, it magnifies the shock.  Their interpretation of the world’s events and sacred texts, mixed with their experience of what has worked for them in the past, what they have thought through and already decided, all contribute to the advice they pass on to us.  If I’m honest I feel disappointed that we are not all interpreting new experiences in the same way.  Being together was better.

Going back home

If you are in leadership, ask yourself if this was not also true about your leaders growing up.  Did you find yourself growing to the point where you disagreed with them and would lead in a different way? That is your maturity and freedom do so, especially since they were leading in a different time and world than you are now.  This idea then is timeless, and generational, and should not be thought of in a personal way.

But it is scary to confront those you’ve been treating with god-like status.  Even though we ourselves gave them too much power it’s still hard to take it back.  This is especially tricky with religious leaders because who God is, and who the leader has told us God is, will need separating.   This is a common point where people walk away from both, but we must push through because God is too mysterious and expansive and generous to be lost over a mere human.

Have we lost the hope of standing on common or solid ground?  No!  Only when we put too much weight on that which cannot bear it.  We can learn from our leaders if we retain a sense of thinking for ourselves.  We can grow in our community – and retain our sense of self – when we enjoy the commonality but don’t glom onto others as if every single DNA chromosome is a match.  We can grow life out of sacred scriptures that don’t pretend to be science books but whisper the story we long to hear:  where we came from and where we’re going, how loved we are and that we don’t bear the burden of being the center of it all.

The glass may be stained, but the light still shines through.

stainglassreflection2

♦ weekendswell ♦

See also Stained Glass and Stained Glass Communities. Make sure to subscribe to be notified of the next post.
MLK illustration source: http://studentengagement.kennesaw.edu/msa/MLK.php

Stained Glass Communities

Note: this post is building on the image of seeing God through stained glass and will make more sense if you read Stained Glass first.  But here is the key part, “we must take our art, our DNA, our human experience, and hold them up to the light.  Imagining them projected onto an empty wall of a cathedral, we could glaze them into stained glass and let the sunlight shine through, casting images onto the concrete floor. It becomes a double projection:  We are projected up into the form of stained glass, then God projects back through the stained glass.”stainglassreflection2

Well here we are, down on the cathedral floor of life, with that pure and holy light seen through the stained glass of our human experience.  This is beautiful, but not without its challenges, which center around how that pure and holy light can be seen only *through* the stained glasses of human experience.

Some of you have long known this, and others will disagree and say we can know things for sure without the coloring of our own view.  But I am in the middle of the transition from one to the other and so I will write to understand.

“Most people do not see things as they are, rather, they see things as they are.”¹

Our faith communities are formed around common projections

When our human experience changes, it can change our view of God and relationship to the faith community.  We may be in a comfy situation, sitting on the cathedral floor centered around an image of God, appreciating the varying colors shining through our shared stained glass.  We have something new to hold up to the light, but others around us may be content looking at the reflection they already see on the floor.  Why do we have to stir things up?

Think about what holds your faith community together.  Is it shared faith, or shared humanity?  Faith seems the answer, but when we lose or change a few of our faith chromosomes, so to speak, do we still fit in the community?

In that time of change we may feel alone, wondering where we fit.

But why should our faith communities lose the wanderer in all this?  Aren’t churches also filled with humans?  If we share our humanity AND our faith, then when faith wavers we can continue in community.  (And, paradoxically this has greater potential to bring us back to faith.)   We might wonder aloud,

“What if we were united by our questions instead of our answers?” 

If I think of the church as a family of faith into which many children are born or adopted, I candanworktripnyccitrix-098 imagine the immense and unconditional love poured into each kid well before knowing how they will turn out.  What they believe is not a pre-condition for family membership – in fact they have done nothing to earn it.

Now for some good news: If we’ve lived cloistered in a faith community it can be freeing to discover how much we have in common with once-perceived “others.”  We can toss some of our fears into the communal bonfire and throw our arms around the others (like the random lady next to me at last summer’s Coldplay concert, draping her arm over my shoulder and full-voice belting out “Para-para-paradise“).   I remember the dread of certain situations where I might be asked what I believe or why my morals were a certain way and need to have a succinct answer.  Ironically it was also my secret ambition to live such a life that would cause others to ask me this.  Now I’ve wrestled with so many core questions, I look forward to conversations with fellow questioners and am even more willing to explain the few answers I do have.

The thankfulness remains – we didn’t get here without our community – but we may flow through many communities in this life to do all the growing required of our garden.  And we work to make our existing communities among those which accept the questions our shared humanity asks of faith.

♦ weekendswell ♦

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This is Stained Glass part 2, see also Stained Glass and  Stained Glass Leadership


¹From Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

Studies or Stories

I had some assumptions about being gay. One simple google could have filled a day with studies to back them up – but I didn’t, probably because no one was questioning them in my (mostly) church community. The information sat well because it surrounded and protected a core belief that “homosexuality” was just another behavior – not an identity – that the Bible spoke against. These assumptions filled the castle moat I described in a prior post, protecting core beliefs.

Our loved-one broke those assumptions: her very being went against every one of them, breaking my mental map of how things work. It sent my GPS into a “recalculating” loop, as if my car took a wrong turn and was trying to find a new route to the original destination. True enough, but if the destination was, “protecting my assumptions and beliefs at all costs” then I actually have a bigger problem and need a new destination altogether. Continue reading “Studies or Stories”

Time Travel

I can’t really remember exactly when I became convinced that we had it all Right.

That somehow we – the independent protestant church, and me – had been able to travel through time directly to the early disciples, skipping all the blemishes and growth from church history along the way, without owning or thanking those who’d gone before us.

We are re-creating the infant church – the New Testament church – but not the adolescent church of the 5th or 10th or 15th century.   Never mind the crusades, indulgences, overruling of science, manifest destiny of America, slavery, treatment of women –no, that church got it wrong, but not our church.

That church got it wrong, but not our church.

When we’re so willing to correct yesterday’s practices, how can we be so incorrigible today? Continue reading “Time Travel”

Castle Walls

How high are your castle walls?

When you find something that clears your muddy brain water, you do all you can to hold onto it.  You find a truth so you protect the truth.

Soon the truth is a castle wall being surrounded by other “truths” that act like a moat.  Now the truth inside can’t even be questioned without first crossing the moat.

This past year my moat was seriously breached by one particular topic, but now that I’m inside I’m examining the entire castle wall.  It’s scary and exhilarating.

The topic was the church’s views towards sexual orientation.   A view that took a handful of scriptures, unchallenged history, and scientific studies from the 1960’s about how people became gay, and built a moated castle.

That moat was drained when our bible believing loved-one – who was not abused, did not have a poor relationship with her parents, did not choose this path (and in fact fought against it for years) – came out.  One beautiful person who we’d known since birth challenged all the teachings around the teaching.  The moat of misinformation had served to protect not just the doctrine, but the questioning of the doctrine.

Maybe I will have more thoughts on the scripture, but currently it’s the moat of misinformation that concerns me most because it affects how the church treats gays in and out of the church.  (Imagine the anxiety of realizing you’re different from the majority, and having that majority conclude that you chose this path and need to change.)

But this is one issue among many.

We might start with the easy-to-carry good news of who God is and how much He loves us, but over time it becomes a heavy load when we pile on church doctrine and community expectation.  When it becomes an all-or-nothing package, the moat is wide and the barrier has been made bigger than it needs be.  The perception of us vs. them increases, and it is a bigger leap for others to come in.

I’m looking outward to discern what other moats I’ve hidden behind.  It’s vulnerable to be honest – to stand out in the sun with no moat and only half a wall, after years of fearing ‘the outside’.

But the air is fresh.

And I’m catching glimpses of the difference between doctrine and doctor, the Great Physician who is surrounding and healing me in the process.  And with the walls down, I can see so many others who were nearby all along, ready to show and receive mercy with me.

I’m catching glimpses of the difference between doctrine and doctor

♦ weekendswell ♦

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Moving Inward

Difficult times boil things down to their essence and give us a chance to discover each other’s depths. To first of all pull closer and declare, “I’m with you” and then to go find out what that means. 2016 was the start of go find out.

Learning last year that our loved one is gay – thinking and reading and listening and conversing about it – triggered a lot of rethinking other things too: faith, church, the bible, assumptions.  Now the boxes we once trusted to hold our branded faith no longer seem big enough to hold their contents.

I picture our small church as a circle of people, arms locked, centered around Jesus.  Facing inward from our circle it’s hard to know if other circles even exist around us.  When someone breaks the circle’s expectations, they may unlock arms, unsure if they fit in.  Evangelical kids who come out as gay so frequently leave the circle and drift outward, looking for a place to belong.

What amazes me is her effort to move inward.

When we are hurting and confused, when things don’t look as they once did, we can draw closer to Jesus and find his hands on our shoulders, blessing those who mourn, who are poor and realize their need for him.  We find solace in every gospel story of Jesus reaching out to all the “wrong” people while challenging the religiously sure.  We move inward to Jesus and are wrapped in the knowledge that he knew all along.

Jesus reached out to all the “wrong” people while challenging the religiously sure.

And then it happens.  From our now-disrupted circle we’ve moved inward to find comfort.  And then we pivot and look outward to discover broad and diverse circles of pilgrims facing Jesus and ready to embrace us.  This has been one of the great joys of the past year – finding the merciful in such abundance, the circles of Christians through history who differ in secondary views but agree on primary creeds.  Discovering long lost sisters and brothers has been like opening and stepping through a window, curtains blowing, and finding freedom on the previously-feared outside.

♦ weekendswell ♦

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