What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3-26-21
“To Improve Your Team, First Work on Yourself” is the title of a 2019 Harvard Business Review article that caught my attention this week. This concept is the foundation of my approach to ministry for the past 25 years. It is the bedrock on which family systems theory is built. Family systems theory, first developed by psychiatrist Murray Bowen and adapted for congregations by Rabbi Ed Friedman, has had a huge influence on generations of clergy. This includes my counterpart in the First Church/South Church consolidation effort, Rev. Denny Moon, and our consolidation coach, Rev. Dr. Claire Bamberg. I encourage you to check out the short article both for your own personal edification and as a springboard for conversation as First Church and South Church move into our next stage of work together.
GUCCI, the steering team for the First Church and South Church consolidation effort, is organizing work groups to lead the next stage of our work. The work groups are: 1) “Getting to Know Each Other,” 2) “Nuts and Bolts,” 3) “Properties and Memorial Gardens,” 4) “Staffing, Technology, and Communications,” 5) “History,” and 6) “Program.”
Considerable thought is being put into the size and composition of these work groups as well as how to build a culture of healthy communication in the work groups so that our time together is productive and to build a healthy foundation for a future congregation.
Which brings me back to the Harvard Business Review article. The author recommends teams master three “foundational capabilities” to improve their functioning: “internal self-awareness, external self-awareness, and personal accountability.”
“Internal self-awareness involves understanding your feelings, beliefs, and values — your inner narrative.” The article goes on to give examples of how increasing internal self-awareness affects interactions. For more details on building self-awareness see this HBR article. I have found maintaining a daily meditation practice key to building self-awareness. Coaching and therapy are also incredibly effective modalties for increasing this “foundational capability.”
“External self-awareness involves understanding how our words and actions impact others.” How do we understand how our words and actions impact others? Ask! I have observed the most effective leaders, including Claire, pause a meeting to ask about body language: “You just scrunched up your face. What was happening in you then?” Or repeating what was said and asking, “Did I get that right?” Or “Are you getting what you need out of this conversation?” It can feel risky to ask for feedback, but all of the best leaders do it.
As for accountability: “When we think of accountability, we typically think of holding others accountable. But the most effective leaders and teammates are more focused on holding themselves accountable.”
Years ago I was meeting with a group of church leaders. We were trying to revitalize a dying downtown congregation that had once been the largest in the state. The team had been attempting to engage the wider congregation in the turnaround effort with little success. The meeting devolved into a complaint session about how we had a congregation of freeloaders who needed an attitude adjustment. By some miracle the conversation shifted to looking at our own attitudes and behaviors as leaders. Finally the light bulb went on and the team leader said with conviction: “Nothing will change until we change.” Long story short: after seven years of hard effort, the congregation was completely transformed. Moral of the story: “If you want to improve your team, first work on yourself.”
How marvelous! How wonderful! We gather in your presence, Holy God. We gather in this sanctuary space. We gather in our home spaces. We gather online here in Granby and around the world and in every place and every time you are there. Each cup of coffee, each snowflake, each fur baby, each floorboard, each thing shines with your light. Every smiling face, every salty tear, every broken heart, shines with your glory. Give us eyes to see, minds to perceive, and voices to praise you. Amen.
Hallelujah, I am not alone. Holy God, you walk beside me even through the darkest valley. You walk beside us. Intimate in every way. You feel our fear. You celebrate our joy. You encourage our hope.
Good shepherd, teach us that every moment is your moment, every pasture your domain. Whether you lead us beside still waters or whether our steps take us into the storm’s blast, you are beside us. Your rod and your staff comfort us.
We often stray. Our discontent, our wish that this moment were somehow other than it is, takes us down all kinds of blind alleys and roads that lead to nowhere. Call us back. Seek us out. Take us in your arms and carry us home, your home, which is right here.
[Explanation: For over 20 years my spiritual practice has been Zen meditation. I am currently a member of Boundless Way Temple, Worcester, MA. I study koans under the instruction of David Rynick, Roshi. Another one of David’s students and I have taken up the practice of writing verses in response to some of the koans we study. My dharma name is “Setsusho.” Below is the koan. Following that is “Setsusho’s” response!]
6: WORLD-HONORED HELD FLOWER
Long ago on Spirit-Vulture Peak, Shākyamuni Buddha, the World-Honored One, held a flower up and revealed it to the sangha. Everyone sat in shadowy silence. Then Mahākāshyapa’s face broke into the faintest smile. The World-Honored-One said: “I possess the perfect dharma of the eye’s treasure-house, the nirvana of mind’s mysterious depths, the true form of formlessness, the subtle mystery of the dharma-gate. Not relying on words and texts, outside teaching and beyond doctrine—I here entrust all that to Mahākāshyapa.”
Hinton, David. No-Gate Gateway (p. 18). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.
Ant crawls across IKEA carpet where a sleepy monk sits.
Amarylis blooms like juice squirting from peeled orange.
Monk, ant, amarylis.
This truth never fails.
[Explanation: For over 20 years my spiritual practice has been Zen meditation. I am currently a member of Boundless Way Temple, Worcester, MA. I study koans under the instruction of David Rynick, Roshi. Another one of David’s students and I have taken up the practice of writing verses in response to some of the koans we study. My dharma name is “Setsusho.” Below is the koan. Following that is “Setsusho’s” response! Note: “Visitation-Land” is David Hinton’s poetic rendering of famous Zen Master Joshu’s name.]
7: VISITATION-LAND WASH BOWL
A monk asked Master Visitation-Land: “I’ve just arrived here in your thicket-forest monastery, Master. Please show me what you have to reveal.” “Have you eaten your mush?” Land asked. “Yes.” “Hurry then, wash your bowl!” At this, the monk was awakened.
Hinton, David. No-Gate Gateway (p. 20). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.
Bowl specked with cereal sits in the kitchen.
Monk covered in bunny fuzz sits on the sun porch.
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 6-12-20
I recently heard on a news podcast that something like 70% of Americans think our country is “out of control.” I don’t know where you’re at, but this statistic points to a feeling we’ve been noticing around us and perhaps feeling ourselves for some months now. The recent protests around the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery just add to the generalized feelings of chaos, uncertainty, and grief that we’ve all been facing.
Recently I was invited to join a cohort of clergy and lay people to receive training on hwo to coach individuals and congregations through the COVID pandemic. Training began this week and will continue (online, of course) through the first half of July. We’ve been learning to identify and contextualize the component parts of the circumstances we’re facing in order to more effectively address them and help people through this time.
There are some practices I’d like to suggest that may be helpful in dealing with feelings of grief and feelings of being “out of control.” When circumstances feel out of control, it’s helpful to find ways to “stay grounded.” Staying grounded is a big reason why I spend an hour every morning sitting still and silent, minding my breath. Literally sitting “on the ground” is an incredibly effective way for me to feel “grounded.” Circumstances can be swirling about me, but I know there is a stable place of rest that is always present–literally beneath my feet.
How will you “stay grounded?” Another technique for when you feel out of control is to identify and describe in detail five things near you. For me, it’s the IKEA couch supporting my back, the Sisal trunk that I’m resting my feet on, the roar of a motorcycle engine on the street, the sigh of the breeze through the trees, now the sound and smell of rain. Is the world really coming apart? Yes, in some ways the world is coming apart. In others it’s coming together. And through it all like the finest of thread the rhythms of the universe continue completely unbothered by our small concerns. While some things are out of our control, other things are in our control. Sometimes it’s helpful to focus on the things we can control beginning with where we place our attention.
Many of you are probably familiar with the five stages of grief originally identified by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross some decades ago: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, acceptance. Perhaps you weren’t aware that later in her career she identified a sixth stage: meaning-making. Meaning-making is the stage of grief that produces creative new life out of death. For example, parents of the Sandy Hook shooting victims creating the organization Everytown for Gun Safety. Or Philonise Floyd, brother of George Floyd, who was recently killed in an encounter with police, testifying before congress in support of police reform.
In the context of our congregational life and our individual lives, I’d like to suggest a powerful question as a tool for meaning-making: “In this time, what are you discovering is ‘essential’ as opposed to merely ‘traditional’?” In other words, what things were we doing before COVID out of mere habit that we’ve found we can do without moving forward? What things have we found we can’t do without that we want to give extra time and attention to moving forward? Loss without a sense of meaning is unbearable. Loss that leads to a simpler, happier, more productive life offers each of us an invaluable opportunity.
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 4-24-20
It’s difficult to know what the lessons of the week will be on Monday morning. This is always true. Human beings have a notoriously mixed record in the future-predicting business. Last week was a great example. The first part of the week was what has become “normal schedule.” Monday: get “to do” list from Sue, start at the top with creating Zoom links for the week’s program schedule, write “What’s Up with Pastor Todd,” do the Monday “Daily Devotional,” create staff meeting agenda, write worship for the coming Sunday, and so on.
By Thursday all my plans for the weekend had been blown out of the water. My oldest daughter, Fiona, got a message from her boyfriend, Riku, that his building was under emergency evacuation. Within 30 minutes Fiona and I were driving to Chicago to pick him up and bring him to Connecticut. This circumstance changed meeting plans, worship plans, sleeping and eating plans. What was up with Pastor Todd on Friday was very different from What was up with Pastor Todd on Monday. Here I am today facing yet another Monday and asking, “What’s Up with Pastor Todd?”
I suppose one solution would be to wait until Friday to write my column, but I’ve found it a helpful discipline to begin the week with a self check-in. And the truth is, even in an unusually disrupted week like the last one, parts of what I had written on Monday were still relevant when it came time to preach the following Sunday. My Monday self check-in ended up being a gift to my very different reality seven days later.
There’s a common principle of spiritual practice that encourages us to “be here now.” Mindfulness teaches us to “stay in the present moment.” But I find that this doesn’t exclude looking forward and looking back. Rather, it includes both and gives a stable place from which to reflect on the past and anticipate the future.