Sunday, March 16, 2008

Experience - coming out the other side

Some recent discussions have brought to mind some of the darkest moments of my 50 years. One such discussion prompted me to pull out a prayer journal from over fourteen years ago, something I rarely do. Oh my! Such pain is on those pages as I went reeling emotionally from having the rug abruptly pulled out from under me in terms of ministry. Page after page after long, tedious page of journaling through the pain, trying to sort out what had happened and get my feet back under me so that I could face those involved without splattering them with emotional fallout. What I had condensed to a week or so in my memory actually dragged out much longer than that on paper. (I had to return to the attic for the next notebook before finding some resolution.)

I enjoy books written in first-person narrative where the narrator is focused on her own feelings and thoughts but gives the reader glimpses of what's happening in her world that she herself doesn't necessarily catch. (Recent examples are the Miss Julia series by Ann Ross for adults and the Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot for teens.) I was rather amused to find that in my own writing. In between the self-focused anguish and tears, there were glimpses of a friend who was caught completely by surprise by my meltdown in response to what seemed like a minor decision on his part. At one point he explained to me that I had a mental block and was immature. Even at the time I believed him, but it didn't particularly help anything. I was already working hard at overcoming both the mental block and the immaturity, but neither seemed to be dissolving away easily.

In those dark, dark days, I was walking carefully, aware that the phrase "this too shall pass" was still in effect. I expected to come out the other side and was committed to not sabotaging any relationships along the way -- either my own or the relationships between the people who cared about me and saw my pain and those who had knocked me off my feet. I expected to retain my friendship with everyone involved and didn't want to be responsible for rifts between those around me.

Fourteen years. That time, along with many other times of crisis and emotional duress, is now a part of my history. Sure enough, I came out the other side. My emotions stabilized, my spirits lifted, I mended my fences, and added each time of difficulty to my reservoir of experience upon which I can draw when I hit another difficult place or when I want to encourage others who are going through dark days.

Does anyone ever reach the point where they can weather the dark days with full assurance that what is happening to them will prove to be an invaluable experience in the days ahead? I can't say that my reaction to setbacks and perceived attacks is any less emotional than in days past. Maybe the most I can say is that I am more aware than ever that there is experience to be gained from the pain itself if I can simply survive long enough to get to the other side.

It has been more than twenty-one years since my third and last experience with natural childbirth. Going into that last time, I was aware that my previous labor experiences had been blessedly short. I prepared myself with the assurance that I could endure anything for eight hours, which experience told me was a reasonable expectation for the maximum duration of labor. However, when the labor pains were upon me, my confidence slipped away. Instead of saying, "I can endure anything for eight hours," I was reduced to saying, "I can handle this one contraction. I don't know about the next one, but I think I can make it through this one as long as it doesn't last more than two minutes."

One painful crisis at a time. And when added together they equal that great treasury called experience. Yet, each new crisis looms large and makes me wonder if this will be the pain that does me in. I'm still looking for a quicker path to the positive benefits of perspective.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Book review - Organic Community by Joseph R. Myers

The full title of this book is Organic Community: Creating a Place Where People Naturally Connect. It is Myer's second book. The first is The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups. I wrote about it here. Both books have given me much to consider.

In this second entry, Myers contrasts a "Master Plan" approach to leadership with a more natural, "organic" order. He focuses on nine areas of contrast. I won't pretend to have a full grasp of those nine areas, but I found much in his words to appreciate. I hope to do a re-read in the near future.

The first "aha" encounter for me was the contrast between representative and individual participation. He calls this "responsible anarchy." As one who tends to lead by consensus, I appreciated the value he placed on individual members of the organism. They shape the organism. They give form to it. Rather than leadership forming a master plan and looking for people to plug into the roles needed to accomplish that plan, individuals within the organization offer their unique abilities and passions and everyone works together to reach the goal. This fits well with my rejection of the statement oft heard in the church that "It's not about you." It IS about people, about individuals. All the individuals. Communities are comprised of individuals and individuals matter.

Another chapter is titled "Coordination" and expands further on the idea of involving individuals in creating the narrative for the organization. The contrast here is between cooperation and collaboration. In the former model, leadership creates the plan and looks to "team members" for cooperation in implementing it. In collaboration, the team works together. There is less structure. Things may look rather messy and out of control along the way. Individuals are valued for their potential contribution and empowered to find their own role.

Other chapters deal with such issues as creating an ongoing story rather than focusing on a bottom line, incorporating new resources by adjusting the form of the organism, making helpful suggestions concerning the contribution of others rather than watching for failure ("edit-ability" rather than accountability), having an attitude of "abundancy" rather than one of scarcity, rotating leadership roles to capitalize on the strengths of various individuals, and focusing on the verb nature of relationships. This final topic depicts language as a requirement and basis for thought in a manner that takes me back to another book I have enjoyed -- Live to Tell: Evangelism in a Postmodern Age by Brad J. Kallenberg.

Myers looks to nature for examples of the idea of organic community. Flocks of birds have no designated leader, yet they move together. Geese rotate the responsibility of being at the head of the "V." Organisms in nature move together without formal, permanent assignment of leadership roles.

This book comes at a good time in my life as I am finding new opportunities for leadership that don't necessarily include formal structure. It opens doors to a sort of "sloppy" leadership that keeps a general destination before the organization without dictating the route to be taken to get there.

Like a said earlier, this is a book I need to revisit.