When people come into my office for career counseling or life coaching, one of my favorite exercises is to have them take a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle, and have them put a smiley face on one side and a frowney face on the other. On the smiley side they write down the things that are going well and, as you might guess, on the frowney side they write down the things that are not going well.
I do this for two reasons. The first reason is to name things. Many of you have probably read the Harry Potter Series; in that series we meet the villain Voldermort, who Harry insists on naming, much to the chagrin of the rest of the community who refers to Voldermort as the “one who must not be named.” This is actually a very important theological point, in that namelessness is power. Once something is named it can be addressed, and eventually overcome or strengthened. So when we put a name to the things that we find to be negative, they lose power, and when we name the positive things they can be built upon.
Secondly, I have watched and seen how negativity is like an emotional cancer that can take over one person and spread to another. Negativity is so powerful that it can at times change something good into something bad or, worse, cause us to close ourselves off to the reality of what is going on. Often I find that people let the negative take over, leaving behind that which is good.
Ultimately, in almost every case I have seen, negativity, dysfunction, sadness, etc. are a choice. I know some will bring up depression and like psychological problems, but I would come back and say even there everyone at some point makes a choice to get help, or not.
As I mentioned last week we are going to go through a list of things that happen when things are going well in the church and not so well over the next few weeks. It so works out that the positives and negatives seem to balance each other out. This week I am going to highlight the joy that happens when we “Do stuff together” and the “suspicion” that some have in the church. Again, there is a choice!
Over the past year, I have seen that there is a lot of joy when we come together as a church family. When we set aside all politics and just enjoy ourselves. One of the greatest examples of this is the monthly Game Nights. With no agenda beyond fellowship, the gathered community that evening eats, talks and enjoys each other for who they are. What makes it so special is that often we talk and through the meal or the games we really get to know each other and some of the struggles that we have, as well as some of the blessings in our lives. More than anything, because we are getting to know each other in a genuine way, we begin to trust and through that trust, we share and open up.
That is the opposite of the feeling that some have in the church of “suspicion.” There are a lot of reasons why people are suspicious in our congregation or have vast conspiracy theories. On all levels of leadership, at times there have been abuses of power and, at times, bad decisions. Heck, we are a 120+ year old church in a 2000+ year old religion, it is bound to happen. Saying that, often time suspicion comes from our lack of trust, understanding, or knowledge. Take, for instance gossip, did you know that gossip is one of the most talked about sins in the bible, and one of the most evil? Anyhow, gossip breeds suspicion, because most of the time within gossip is a narrative of incomplete information.
This is really prevalent in churches, unlike businesses and other institutions, because decisions are made in various different ways. Sometimes we are thinking of how we support the greater mission of the church, sometimes we are thinking about addressing missional needs in our community, and sometimes we are addressing emergent needs in our congregation. All of these reasons and a lot more sometimes makes understanding the reasoning of the Session and other leaders seem inconsistent and raises questions, but when you know, and more importantly, trust those who lead, you understand that everything we do is ultimately for the Glory of God.
Interestingly, upon finishing my dissertation on a similar topic, I found another couple dozen who found the same conclusion, that when we take the time and commit to real dialog, sharing faith stories, and leaving agendas out of our time together, churches, almost by magic change and become healthier, and the people who are involved in those churches tend to feel far more complete and better about themselves.
However, like all the topics we are going to look at, there is a choice that happens. When you feel suspicious, what is the best way to address that? Get to know the leaders and others in the church. Take time to open up to them, and let them open up to you. Leave agendas out, and just be present. I know it is not a quick fix, but really, what quick fix is ever a good fix?
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen