Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Temptation to Over-Perform

As a church leader, the hardest task that I face repeatedly is resisting the temptation to over-perform. My husband, Herb, tells it like this: "Once, millennia ago, there were two types of people: those who liked to give advice and those who liked to take advice. Over thousands of years, eventually all the people who liked to take advice died off, and today the people who remain are those who like to give advice."

I am often in situations where people earnestly ask my advice, which I give freely. Sometimes we are in face-to-face conversation. More typically, we are in e-mail dialogue. Advice is a like a gift. Once you've given the advice, like a gift, you don't get to take it back, and you don't get to kibbitz about how best or better to use the advice. If the recipient of your advice chooses not to use the advice, or to misuse it, you don't get a further say in maintaining the integrity of your advice. You gave it, and it's gone . . . even if it makes you want to scream, because you really do think that you know better.

I actually have learned in my consulting work and experience as a volunteer leader to be gracious about relinquishing control and ownership of the adivce I've given. One of the lessons learned is how to distinguish between other people's right to make choices and my egoistic equating of my advice (my wisdom) for my sense of self. It was a lot more difficult to step back from the precipice of temptation when I was a manager and as a parent. The roles of manager and parent encompass an overall responsbility for the welfare of your staff and children that hook you, probably beyond the optimal line between providing advice and interference. Responsibility can be addictive with its potential rewards of self-importance and other people's gratitude.

How can you distinguish advice from interference? When do you cross the line, and how can you back track? A quick distinction might be: Advice is comprised of information, instruction, anecdote and possibilities. Interference occurs when you also supply analysis, interpretation and laying out choices. Advice is about being a reference and resource while interference engages the heavy lifting that should be done by the individual herself/himself. Ultimately, avoiding the temptation to over-perform is about being a well-defined person with good boundary control. Easier said than done.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Paean to the Quean

(for Lutibelle)

My heart follows

the barbed lobs

zinging across the court

excitement and angst

curdle my blood

These are my brethren

whose arrows intend to wound

whose slings intend to cripple

The Quean sits in the new ark

upon an eastern shore

fielding data

from all sources

Emissaries assert

no one else spares

the time or interest

to sort and file

who’s gained entry

who’s newly annointed

who’s MIA

Occasionally her majesty

sends out requests for

film recommendations

just for fun

The Quean has served

her subjects like a royal conscience

soft as a whispered confidence

purred in silken tones

across the network

deputized to makes things

right and make things

happen and save a

pretty penny to entice

new members to the kingdom

This Quean holds gentleness

within her breast and

faith in God within her soul

She lays the truth out

like a fine field of clover

inviting all to tread softly

lest truth be crushed

under the weight of

those armed with

the last word

the final pronouncement

of right and wronged

Joy, Joy, the Quean encourages

Love, Love, the Quean espouses

All the fielding, sorting and filing

making, righting and saving

only matter if we learn to dance

to the music of the galaxy’s stars

connected by our rainbow feathered boas

hugs and kisses for one, for all.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Book of Days

Chapter 706,125

How do we love a place

back to life

that has no hope

A mother’s tears

are insufficient

to quench

the fire of rage

within the breasts

of young men

stoked by “No”

on every horizon

lip and closed door

They may not be able

to pass the state mandated

graduation exam

but they are damned

smart enough

to add 2 and 2

and come up with

all roads lead back

to square one

all highways end

in bridges to nowhere

The seduction of TV shows

with beautiful people

beautiful cars and

beautiful lives

is Hollywood ordained

mass masturbation

You can get off

but you can’t get outta here

Self dignity requires

looking into mirrors

that offer a reflection

rather than a void

Like the Aymara

you look ahead

and see the past

look over your shoulder

and see the future

Chapter 718,601

Saved by the doomed souls

of flight 93

they walk secure corridors

with self-assurance

gushing soundbites

ephemeral as the exhalation

of a naked child’s last gasp

on the plains of Africa

rushing to meetings

less important than

a drink of clean water

planning to rush

aid to millions

oppressed by ayatollahs

suppressed by pompadoured dictators

distressed by broken treaties

built on broken ancestors’ dreams

Where is the volcano

and the ritual

to mark the sacrifice

of innocents

Chapter 720,020

Living below sea level

brings a possibility

of drowning

a present danger

of flooding

a knowledge

of being overlooked

transfused via umbilical cord

Home is not where the heart is

It’s a four-letter epithet

a threat to sanity

a dream




a glyph amidst the tags

graffiti artists spray

to claim lordship of the night

Jazzy dance steps

morph into


over bridges

through streets

to Uncle Sam’s house

of horrors

We never promised

it would be good

we never promised anything

Hey, can’t you people

take a joke


Hope is the last refuge

of the sacrificed

the last light before

the end of days

Hope beats in the hooves

of the last unicorn

in the wings

of the metamorphosed larva

Hope fragile as a flower

slips silently through new snow

face turned to the eastern morn

In the end we are all children

of the great mother in the sky

into whose lap we climb

to slumber

until Love calls us

into Life

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Not going far enough

Years ago, I got some advice from a workshop leader that has stood me in good stead each time I have gotten lost in my car. The advice was to go a little further, because chances were that I hadn’t gone far enough. Remember this the next time you’re lost in your car and drive just a bit further to test this advice for yourself.

Not going far enough is a common failing. I have encountered it in many places.

In Anti-Racism Training, we are often asked about the word “tolerance.” After all, the well respected and much admired Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has a long-standing project known as “Teaching Tolerance.” The SPLC’s reputation is well deserved. Their work is outstanding, and I support them as much as I can.

Tolerance is defined as “The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others” by thefreedictionary.com, and “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry” by dictionary.com.

From a racial justice point of view, tolerance doesn’t go far enough. To be an anti-racist, i.e., to be someone who is actively interrupting racism, one must go beyond respecting the beliefs and practices of others or having a permissive attitude toward those beliefs and practices. One must practice resistance to racist ideas and actions by naming them and refusing to go along with them.

Several years ago, our family “adopted” an immigrant family from a former USSR republic. Because of a series of misrepresentations to the family by their original sponsoring organization, the family ended up as illegal immigrants in the U.S. Both father and mother were university educated individuals who had relied upon the word of American sponsors who made promises that weren’t kept. As we began to help this family traverse the paperwork, filing fees and bureaucracy of the U.S. immigration system, it quickly became evident to us that merely helping with paperwork, driving them to appointments and paying fees wasn’t going far enough.

Living in the limbo and fear of being undocumented aliens and the cultural divide of navigating a (to them) foreign government’s bureaucracy often caused our friends to make the wrong choices in approaching the next steps in the long process to become documented workers and legal residents. Even though we told our friends to call on us when they needed help, pride and a desire not to impose on us meant that they often tried to “go it alone.” We began to realize that it was necessary for us to walk with our friends each step of their journey, not just to complete the paperwork or to pay the fees, but to give them the courage that comes from knowing that they would not be abandoned by us, their sole source of support.

The experience of and with our adopted family made me think about how our advocacy organizations often don’t go far enough. I do not fault the organizations for lack of caring. Throwing money at cases in and of itself is not enough either. I have learned that the methodology that works best in helping people to make the journey from being undocumented aliens or from any other impoverished or disadvantaged condition requires companioning. We used to call it case management when there were fewer cases and the workloads of the case workers was realistic and manageable. Companioning is hard, inconvenient, messy work. Dealing with people and their needs is unpredictable work, colored by people’s inconsistent and sometimes noncompliant behavior.

Recently I’ve been paying attention to some newly identified church leaders who aspire to and/or are being developed for specific roles. In some cases the individuals come from cultural, racial and ethnic backgrounds that are not of the dominant group in the church, which is primarily White and Eurocentric. I am seeing the same need for companioning (something more deeply relational than shepherding) in these cases as I saw in our adopted immigrant family’s case. It’s almost like there is a need for a cultural translation or interpretation going back and forth in both directions in order to facilitate a complete communication process. When I’ve talked with each “side” of the process, things like fear of being perceived as stupid on the part of the individuals in development and fear of misspeaking on the part of those in authority come to the fore. At the very least, additional skills in how to engage difficult conversations around tough subjects are required.

I realize that I have raised several issues here without offering possible solutions for them. Solutions are beyond the scope of this writing. What I do want you, dear reader, to think about is not going far enough and how you will know to go further the next time you are on the road – whether in your car or with someone who needs a companion.