Holy God, in the changing circumstances of our lives give us wisdom to discern your will. Give us the skills and insight we need to be instruments of your salvation. Give us confidence to bear witness to your truth. Give us humility to meet each person as a shining example of your abundant provision. Though our limited views often prevent us from seeing the big picture, help us to trust your guiding hand. Amen.
Good Shepherd, teach us to listen for your voice in rumbling traffic, clacking keyboards, complaints, laughter, birdsong, the ringing that remains when all other sounds go silent. Teach us to discern your call amid the myriad voices competing for our attention. Teach us to trust your leading. Amen.
Our transition coach, Claire Bamberg, recommended everyone from First Church and South Church read Weird Church: Welcome to the Twenty-First Century by Paul Nixon and Beth Ann Estock as a resource for envisioning what the new church God is birthing among us as a result of our collaboration might be. In chapter 5, Nixon and Estock write about “shame-based systematic theology” (p. 51), which has been a feature of many Christian churches for centuries. The authors propose a shift away from “shame-based theology” toward an approach to doing church based on love and letting go.
While this may sound a bit abstract mystical, it is not in the least. Some researchers argue that shame is the most powerful force in human psychological, social, and spiritual life. Shame is an emotion. Emotions are made up of thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. Here I think it’s important to distinguish between what some researchers call “healthy shame” and “toxic” or “chronic” shame. In it’s benign or “healthy” form, shame simply lets us know when we are out of alignment socially. It might be that feeling of “dis-ease” when we enter a room of strangers or that feeling of embarrassment when we make an inappropriate comment. Internally it could arise as a sense that we are not living in alignment with our values.
Healthy shame can prevent us from doing socially harmful things. This is the kind of shame the Prophet Jeremiah writes about: “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. They acted shamefully, they committed abomination; yet they were not ashamed, they did not know how to blush” (6:14). For an in depth study see Shame: Theory, Therapy, Theology by Stephen Pattinson.
When Nixon and Estock are writing about “shame-based theology,” they are referring to “toxic” or “chronic” shame. Toxic/chronic shame is the sense that “there is something fundamentally wrong with me.” Whereas guilt is the sense that “I’ve done bad,” toxic shame is the sense that “I am bad.” Author Brene Brown talks about this as the difference between “feeling shame” and “being shamed.” Listen to her podcast “Shame and Accountability.”
When I moved from my church of origin to the “liberal” UCC I thought I was leaving shame-based theology behind. I discovered that we have our own version. Some call it “toxic wokeness” or “cancel culture.” All of it–whether it’s from the “right” or the “left,” conservative or liberal, “blue,” or “orange,” or “green” stages of spiral dynamics (to use Estock and Nixon’s terminology) arises from a deep-seated desire for purity. It’s a belief that there’s something fundamentally wrong with reality and if we could just eliminate it or “them” everything would be “good.” It’s a worry or a sense or a fear that the declaration of Genesis that “God saw all that God had made and behold it was very good,” no longer applies.
Toxic shame is a tool of oppression. In her podcast, Brene Brown quotes author and activist Audre Lorde: “You can’t dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools.” A “weird church” won’t abandon working for justice, but it will avoid using the master’s tools to do so.
The vision of a theology oriented toward loving and letting go is grounded in a practice of radical acceptance. It looks more like a “yellow” or “turquoise” stage in spiral dynamics. Loving and letting go means letting go of our dreams of purity and meeting the world as it is. Filled with deep faith in the ongoing goodness of creation, we can meet each moment whether pleasant or unpleasant, each person whether loveable or hateful, each situation whether harmful or healing, with fierce tenderness and longsuffering patience because everything we encounter is woven into the seamless fabric of God’s boundless love.
Holy God, Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Scripture tells us that resurrection is assured. Yet we live in fear. We’re afraid of losing our loved ones. We’re afraid of the unknown. We’re afraid people won’t like us or our children will forget us. We know we’re not the church we once were and afraid of what that might mean. We’re afraid that if people knew who we really are, they wouldn’t love us anymore. While we long for abundant life, we’re afraid of what it might demand from us. Disrupt our addiction to fear. Open our lives to true boldness. Give us confidence not in what we can achieve, but in the power of what you are doing in and through us. Amen.
“Communication” is a perennial concern for congregations. It is also the one and only landmine of the “engagement” phase of church consolidation (Better Together,p. 133). Communication is the means by which information is shared. Communication can blow up a consolidation process because–as we have learned from “below the green line” organizational theory–”information is like oxygen in a system. In its absence, people will “make it up” in an effort to keep moving forward. Access to information greatly minimizes the negative rumors that can occur within organizations” (“Leading for Equity”). If information is oxygen, communication is the circulatory system. If there is a blockage in the circulatory system, I think we all know what happens: heart attack! (OK. So now we’re mixing metphors, but I’m hopeful you get the idea.)
The circulation system metaphor fits well with St. Paul’s metaphor of the church as the “the body of Christ.” It is critical, then, that enough “oxygen/information” “circulates/is communicated” throughout all parts of the body continually. Just as the body regulates oxygen flow in the bloodstream, so, too, information needs to be “regulated”–that is, accurate information needs to get to the appropriate people. There are areas of church life governed by confidentiality, but those are very small. In general, the encouragement, especially in the “engagement” phase of consolidation is to overcommunicate! The feedback I’m getting from folks at FCCG is that they need more communication about the consolidation process. Not less. And I’m beginning to notice the “make it up” dynamic happening due to this perceived lack of information.
There is communication happening, though it may not be circulating as widely as needed at this point. GUCCI, the steering team for this project, has created a shared Google drive to store common documents. There is, of course, the Granby UCC Facebook page. The GUCCI FAQ. A joint website has also been discussed. A summary of the February GUCCI meeting is available on the FCC website. A summary of the March meeting will be available soon.
In his book The Eighth Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, Stephen Covey writes about “the speed of trust.” When there is adequate trust among members of an organization, it’s easy to speak with one voice. Decisions are made quickly. Communication is timely and accurate. This is because we can trust that we all share the same values, are working toward the same goal, and will follow through with our commitments. I’m wondering if some are sensing that our communication is a little anemic because trust levels among the congregations are not quite where they need to be. Of course, effective communication builds trust, so it’s a little bit of chicken and egg here. But in my mind this means the congregations need more face time. I realize–pandemic and everything–but interacting together as much as possible seems absolutely critical at this moment. Communication is not just about reports. It’s about hanging out, worshipping together, working side-by-side, making decisions together. Let’s locate whatever “circulation system” blockages there may be and “go with the flow!”
“Marriage mergers occur when two comparable churches, similar in size and/or health realign with each other under a united vision and new leadership configuration. Marriage mergers in churches are a lot like a marriage of two people coming together as one bringing strengths, and liabilities to the new entity. and like a lot of human marriages churches coming together may have some difficulties, but they can work through them.”
This seems to pretty accurately describe our situation. In this metaphor, as I understand it, the past three years of Union Services and GUCCI meetings and other joint efforts could be described as “dating.”
The vote this coming Sunday is to “get engaged.” No metaphor is perfect. Different folks will have different understandings of what it means to “get engaged.” The important thing to keep in mind is that getting engaged is NOT the same thing as getting married. It’s a commitment that the parties will make whole-hearted and good faith preparations for making public and sacred vows of union.
So engagement is serious, but it doesn’t mean the marriage is a done deal. Even with the best of efforts things can fall apart. That’s OK. There’s no way to know for certain beforehand, but if we proceed with openness and honesty we can walk this journey together and find some blessing in it regardless of the outcome.
My wife, Nicole, and I are both children of divorced parents. We approached our engagement with few illusions. I asked Nicole to marry me Valentine’s Day (I know, so cliche) 1996. She said, “Yes.” Afterward we had a very serious but honest conversation about our expectations for our engagement and anticipated marriage. Nicole said to me, “This means that whatever happens, we do it together.” Fast forward, this year we are getting ready to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.
That’s my understanding of the step we as churches are being invited to take. What’s yours?
Holy God, the world is so surprising and we know so little. Outcomes are uncertain. Threats loom. We long to bring peace to our lives, but even our best efforts often miss the mark. We upset when we meant to soothe. Sometimes speaking the truth in love results in an unpleasant reaction. Sometimes our emotions overtake us and we respond in ways that just make the situation worse. With so much beyond our control teach us to rest in your embrace. Within the swirl of events make us steadfast, kind, and compassionate. Amen.