Friday, August 7, 2009

Presenting a challenge to another

It's been a month since I've written anything for my blog here. It's not that I haven't been writing, just not here. Check out the Colorado General Convention Deputation's blog where I posted daily, complete with photos, while at The Episcopal Church's General Convention from July 6-18.

Right now, I'm both super busy and meditating deeply on "Be Still and Know that I Am." Seems kind of incongruous - to be at both ends of the spectrum at the same moment - busy and still. Actually the first drives the latter. I have, indeed, been super busy, because of the long list of things to do to follow up and follow through on General Convention - people to inform, groups to talk to, articles to write - as well as the other normal activities like board and committee meetings, out-of-town guests, living into being a friend to my friends, being present to my housemates - my mother and my cat, paying bills and doing laundry.

I had a couple of interactions recently that have invited me to reflect on the tone of my communications. I've written some emails in the last week that have been commentary and complaint about what hasn't happened and what should happen, in my humble opinion, which others may view as not so humble.

One of my gifts is naming as in "naming the elephant in the room." When I'm in the midst of a group of people, like a board or committee, and things are happening that are obviously causing concern and distress for many members and no one else is naming those things, I often feel jettisoned into naming mode. I sometimes wait a day or two to see if anyone else will take the initiative to name that elephant, and then, if not, I'm propelled into action. I wonder if the passage of a day or two doesn't exacerbate my own sense of concern and distress over that elephant. Rarely does the elephant disappear after one or two days.

There is a fine line between commentary and complaint. Commentary is generally descriptive in terms that don't carry emotional baggage, and adjectives and adverbs that connote judgment are absent. Complaint ranges from the relative mildness of whining to the fierceness of diatribes. There is often an element of self-pity in whining behavior and blaming in fierceness.

People who are good with words choose their words with exquisite skill and aim them like expert marksmen hitting targets across vast distances. If one could really "curve the bullet" (reference to the contemporary film "Wanted" starring Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman), well, then, I'd be able to curve the staccato of my words. Accomplished complainers with an ax to grind exercise the precision of surgeons excising tiny tumors from deep tissue with persistence to match, digging for every last bit of blemished tissue.

I was told that my tone has been "challenging" to the reader by someone whose opinion matters to me. I think upon General Convention Resolution B033 of 2006, which calls "upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."

I've wondered since B033 was passed in 2006 what "presents a challenge" actually means. I have always been troubled by the fact that this resolution asks for Standing Committees and bishops NOT to do something vs. asking them to do something. This is euphemistic language along the lines of being politically correct: a way to shame and blame without actually having to say anything specific out loud.

Don't get me wrong - I do understand the validity of statements like "Don't hit your sister" and "Don't burn the house down." But I would hope that in addition to saying these things, you're also teaching how to get along with the sister and resolve differences amicably and how to use matches safely and turn off the stove when you walk away.

The good news is that three years later, the Church seems to have learned some lessons about the absolute need to talk to one another across our differences if we expect to live together in the same church. We talk and exchange our thoughts about our beliefs, and there is heat in what we say and how we say it. We keep on talking, because we love and need each other despite the heat and the fact that one or more of us gets burned occasionally.

My recent commentary and complaints have been about this need for the Church to engage those conversations and the missed opportunities that I have seen. In retrospect I might have couched my words differently, perhaps more gently, more dispassionately. However, I also reflect on the effect of bursts of emotion which provide the catharsis, the decision points, that change the course of organizations and projects. Ultimately, I think authenticity is important in our relationships, including authentic moments of frustration, even anger, that are expressed in love and heat.

So, in response to the point raised about my tone, I'm going to meditate on being still enough to allow God's love to infuse my spirit such that when I do speak commentary and complaint, I speak my truth in love.


Eliza500 said...

Hi, is, indeed a real needle to thread...walking the narrow line between authenticity and unnecessary harshness. I am one of your admirers who prizes yur clarity and honesty, even when you speak a truth which is different from mine. Sometimes elephants eed to be named, without obfuscatng extra words. It can still be done lovingly.


Deborah Sampson said...

Lelanda, I fully realize that I resemble a clanging gong in my outspokenness. I always admire your tact. Where I would say "Let's deal with this dead elephant in the middle of the room," you are much more likely to say something softer like "I am wondering if anyone else is noticing a dead elephant in the middle of the room."
It amazes me that someone would criticize your clarity and gentle voice!