Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Office Politics: Let the Games Begin!

I was recently sitting at a hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Behind me there was a heated discussion erupting. Toward the end of this conversation, an older gentleman announced, “I don’t play those games. All I care about is the people and the work. I am NOT going to get into some political fight with the Board…”

Sounds altruistic, even quite spiritual, but it is, in fact, quite na├»ve … at best. At worst, it is subterfuge, by which I mean it is actually a game he is running on his Board to remain the Big Cheese. “See? I am more worthy/spiritual/pure than ye all, so I deserve to be the Big Cheese.”

When I was a young man, my dad, a Southern Baptist pastor, said, “Where two are three are gathered together in my (Christ’s) name, there will be political machinations.” (For the uninitiated, Jesus actually said that where two or three were gathered in his name, he would be there with them.) I, of course, being far more spiritual than my father, didn’t want to believe this, or at least didn’t believe this had to be the case. It is. Period.

All Industries have their games, and if you want to succeed you had better understand the players and the rules of the game. My experience is that there are two “industries,” or fields of endeavor, where some people have difficulty accepting this reality: spiritual guides (ministers/priests/rabbis/gurus) and artists. These people often want to be above the fray, living on the mountaintop where they can breathe the pure oxygen of divine inspiration. The problem is that pretty much everyone else is down in the valley playing The Game. Why is this a problem?

If you are a spiritual guide, the people whom you wish to care for are down in the valley mixing it up in the market place, fighting to provide for their families. They might go to the mountaintop for a visit on the weekend, but the other six days of the week they are working their derrieres off down in the valley. Many of these people are going to come to you for advice. If you point them toward altruism, you might as well also tell them to begin working on their C.V.

Your Board members--your coworkers, elders, council, vestry, deacons, what-have-you—also have specific reasons for Being There. There is something they wish to accomplish, and, being well versed in political maneuvering via their business experiences, they are going to bring all their resources to bear so as to accomplish their mission. If you choose not to Play the Game, you are giving up on realizing your own vision.

If you are an artist, the marketplace—the place where you have to go sell your art—is also down in the valley. All those other chaps up on the mountain with you don’t have any money. Or, if they do, they have learned how to traverse from mountain to valley and back to the mountain, so as to have the best of both worlds!

You can get all hot and bothered about this reality or you can embrace it. Getting all agitated, however, seems to me to be counter-productive, as it handicaps your efforts to succeed. Embracing The Game, on the other hand, allows you to focus your energy on winning, or at least surviving.

Let the Games Begin
Right now, someone you work for or with is mounting an assault. For them to succeed, they are going to move players around the game board. “This pawn goes here, the knight will move just-so, and my Queen … WHAM … right here.” And you, my dear friend, are removed from the table.

It’s not always personal, either. People want what they want and are going to use all of their resources to get it, within their ethical parameters. While you might be sorely affected by their chess moves, they were not “after” you; they were after the project, or the promotion, or whatever.

Sitting out and refusing to play only insures that you remain a pawn, or worse, that you are removed from this particular chessboard.

Of course, if the game involves people with whom you wish to remain friends, there is a caveat. Here, I suggest that you consider being open as to your goals and intentions. Let your friends know what it is your moving toward. On the other hand, you had better remain aware of the reality that these people may not hold your friendship as valuable as you do theirs. If this is the case, you gave the game away before your first move.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2010

Monday, August 30, 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010

How Big Is Your Heart?

When I first started out in the world of charity it was as a Christian minister. In my mind and experience, bringing food and medical attention to desperate people provided concrete evidence of God’s love. The problem I began to encounter was that while I was looking for ways to express God’s love for people out in the world, when I got home it was one battle after another: Christians against so-called Pretend-Christians, churches against churches, and etc.

Understand. The churches I grew up in pretty much had God’s Truth down pat. Before you could even complete your question, they had The Answer. There was no room for objection, no room for nuance, no room for friendly debate, and certainly no room for mystery. Sadly, there was also no room for love.

As time went by, I grew weary of the ”cultural wars” and the theological nitpicking that left people outside the Christian world wanting to have nothing to do with Christianity or the Church. “If that is your idea of God’s love, get me outta here!” So, I gradually began spending more time doing charity work in places like Kenya and the Sudan, than I did in church.

Around 15 years ago I could no longer stomach the constant condemnation, ridicule, and downright mean-spiritedness of people whose message appeared to be, “God hates everyone who disagrees with me,” so I pretty much walked away from having a formal identification with any particular church, and began solely giving myself to charity work. I am not saying my reaction to “church” was wise or mature, much less “loving”: I am simply sharing my own experience.

On the other hand, I believe I am also relating the experience of millions of others, as well. Read the surveys: the largest Christian “church” in America is probably the UN-churched! What is this communicating about people’s experience of “church”? What is this communicating to non-Christians?

I am sharing this brief personal history because I want to recommend a book to those of you who are interested in the topic of “Church.” My friend John Armstrong has written a book titled, Your Church is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission is Vital to the Church’s Future.

When John says that your church is too small he is not writing about Church growth and mega-churches, but about the limits (historically, theologically, and relationally) we place on who is in the church and who is not.

The book is divided into three sections:

I Past: The Biblical and Historical Basis for Christian Unity

What John advocates in this section is a relational unity: a cooperational love.

“If ‘God is love,’ then our expressions of love within the Christian community must line up with his. It is his love that enlarges our hearts and forms our character so that we are freed to love others, whether they are a fellow Christian or an enemy.” (p 54)

“Unity” is not synonymous with “unanimity,” or “uniformity.” (pp 54-57) The unity that John is writing about is based in the universally shared reality of all believers: the life of Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, living in us all. The more we are filled with his life, the more we love him, the more relational unity we will experience with all those who share that same love.

The problem for many Christians is that, rather than starting with the fundamental truths to which all believers adhere (see The Apostles and Nicene Creeds), we start with our favorite Bible verse, or, even worse, with where “they are theologically in error.” Such an approach inevitably leads to arguments and divisions. On the other hand, if we base our conversations and relationships upon our mutual love of God and agreement on the core beliefs of Christianity, there is immediately space for us to work together for the advancement of the Kingdom of Christ.

II Present: Restoring Unity in the Church Today

One of the chief roadblocks to relational unity that John deals with is sectarianism: “a path, a way, a method, a party, or a faction.” Synonyms would be narrow-minded, parochial, and limited.

“The word implies mutual exclusivity, an exclusivity that thrives where people and groups believe they have a superior claim to truth. Sectarians believe their church/community/tradition can best ‘represent the body of Christ, to the exclusion or minimization of other genuinely Christian groups.’” (p 93)

He is not suggesting that we ignore or compromise our beliefs—this would only create a pseudo-unity. What he is suggesting is that we all remember that our beliefs are our best attempts at understanding Scripture, God, and his message for mankind.

“(A)ll theological truth claims must remain biblically contestable so the church remains fully open to the Spirit….This does not mean that all truth claims are relative or that Christian confession is nonbinding; It simply means that all human knowledge is ultimately provisional.” (p 95)

We are humans who “see through a glass, darkly.” The beliefs we assert are, at best, a close approximation to the Truth of God. This means that we should always be open to added meaning or nuance …or even to discovering that we are wrong.

Another roadblock John deals with is our understanding of “church.”

“One local congregation is as much the church as any other church. But the church is also the whole of all such congregations throughout the whole earth.” (p 108) If John is correct here—and I believe he is—what bearing should this understanding of “church” have on our attitudes and actions regarding other Christian communities? At the very least, I think it requires that we obey the laws of love (I Corinthians 13).

III Future: The Missional-Ecumenical Movement

“What is the Ideal Church?”

“Easy: it’s my church/denomination/tradition. Sure, we aren’t perfect, but we’re closer to the True Faith then the rest of ‘em.”

Evangelicals and Fundamentalist often teach – implicitly or explicitly – that you aren’t a Christian unless you adopt pretty much whatever theological hobby-horse they are riding. While Jesus said, “Follow me … Come unto me … Believe in me … Trust in me,” these folks scream, “NOT SO FAST! You need to ALSO believe the following system of theology.” Is it any wonder then that their churches are run more like boot camps for troops in the Special Forces? “The Few, the Proud, the Chosen!” Yup, that was Christ’s vision of his Church—the Body of Christ divided and at war.

Roman Catholics and Orthodox churches have their hobby-horses, as well. Of course, their horses are older than Protestant horses, but this doesn’t mean that they aren’t barriers to the good news of Christ being offered freely to all people, or to the relational unity that is possible with those outside their traditions.

As John sees it, it is the (relational) unity of the Church that points people and nations to Christ. “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:21) Conversely, the more divided the Church, the more impotent it becomes in fulfilling its mission.

And what is the Church’s mission?

“The mission of the church is not to solve society’s problems or to gain political influence in order to change culture. And as important as adding members to a church is, recruiting new members for the church is not the church’s mission either. The mission of the church is ‘to participate in the reconciling love of the triune-God who reaches out to a fallen world in Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit brings strangers and enemies into God’s new and abiding community.’” (p 153f)

This mission requires that we exemplify God’s reconciling love. This doesn’t mean that Christians paper over their differences. It means that we have truthful and loving conversations regarding these differences, rather than mouth-to-mouth combat.

“(W)e can begin a healthy new conversation , a conversation that can lead to reconciliation in a context where the truth is profoundly important. This conversation could well become one of the Holy Spirit’s primary ways of pushing forward the ‘new ecumenism’—an ecumenism rooted in core orthodoxy and deeply shared love for Christ and his mission.” (p 167)

If you are weary of Church Wars and are seeking another paradigm for unity …

If you are sick of church in general and have chosen to go it alone …

If you think the way to unity is for everyone to see all Truth as relative …

If you think the way to true unity is for everyone to agree with you …

If you are a theology geek …

If you are a church-history nut …

If stories and anecdotes are needed to drive the point home …

This book is for you.

PS (For John): I said I didn't have any formal identification with a church: I didn't say I was not attending. I know ... I know ... pray for me.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ethiopia 2010

Mention Ethiopia and most people immediately start humming the multi-platinum song “We Are the World” (written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie) and thinking about the millions of dollars of aid raised for famine relief back in the mid-80’s through this musical effort. (Actually, this song is still raising money: to date it has raised around 60+ million dollars for humanitarian aid in Africa and the US.) To this day, at least to most Westerners, Ethiopia is synonymous with Poverty.

When “We Are the World” took place, Ethiopia’s population was around 40 million. Today it is 80 million, with around 10 million of these people dependent on foreign food aid. One disaster—a drought, a flood, or an earthquake—could easily increase this number exponentially. And to make matters even worse, over the last 20 years Western aid to Ethiopia has dropped by 70% … or more.

As you read this report or hear of people suffering in Ethiopia, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter, you think to yourself, “How sad. People are suffering and dying.” But it’s not people that are suffering: it is 4-year old Hadese.

Thinking in terms of People, rather than thinking of Individuals, disassociates us somewhat from the personal. “People” are an “It,” whereas Individuals have hearts, minds, and stomachs … just like you and I.

Four years ago, when we began working here in Angatcha (population: 260,000), there were 50,000 people just like Hadese who were starving. Today, after dispersing 200 tons of food aid over those 4 years, that number is a little over 700.

The Sebata Girls Home is finally fully up and running ... and what an amazing family of girls! They have been found wondering the streets, sleeping under trees or dropped off by gov't officials who know the girl will be cared for, educated, counseled, prayed with, and taught skills for her future.

Many of these girls do not know their names, if they ever had one, so the staff chooses one for them: a name that fits their personality. This is Gifty. And, yes, after only a short time with her, I can tell you, she is a Gift. Just being around her makes your heart smile.

This work is difficult. Thousands of miles of travel, lousy conditions on the ground, and constant interaction with suffering people takes its toll, so you have to learn to lighten up every chance you get. Psychological hernias may appear worthy of martyrdom status, but they only leave you incapable of truly serving the INDIVIDUALS you came to help.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sunday, August 1, 2010

In the News

So Anne Rice has decided that, while she loves Christ, she doesn’t love Christians: something about having a problem with the Church being too anti-this-and-that.

Hold on, Sister. No cutting in line! People started lining up to join this club 2,000 years ago. Take a number!

It’s okay, Anne. Most of the Christians I know don’t like themselves, either. And for good reason. They have looked down into the heart of their hearts and have seen and frequently wrestled with some pretty dark stuff. Of course, interestingly enough, this keeps most of these same self-aware people from getting too uppity about the sins of others.

What, exactly, is it that she is expecting from a Church founded on the confession of a man (St Peter) who failed Walking on Water 101, and denied Christ three times … with curses: sinless perfection? +

Did you hear? Chelsea Clinton just got married. This story interests me about as much as Lohan’s trip to the hoosegow. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why I am supposed to be aghast or even interested in the fact that the festivities might cost 3 million. So what? It’s not my money. And other than the fact that there will be some Secret Service boys and girls hanging around her mom and dad, it’s not US taxpayer’s money being spent on the wedding. So, again, who cares?

Wonder what the percentage of their net worth that 3 million is for the Clinton's. Bet it’s about the same percentage (or less) a lot of people pay for their daughter’s weddings. +

Just read where Prince Charles’ said that he has been placed on the earth – drum roll, please—TO SAVE THE EARTH. I thought that this was Al Gore’s job. Let's put them in a cage and let them fight to the death for the right to be The Messiah! +

And then there is this over on National Review Online:

"In the last fortnight: 1) The NAACP called the tea party racist; 2) Andrew Breitbart called the NAACP racist; 3) Shirley Sherrod called Republican opponents of Obamacare racists; 4) Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called Shirley Sherrod racist; 5) many in mainstream media called Andrew Breitbart racist; 6) Howard Dean called Fox racist; and, 7) it was revealed that liberal journalist Spencer Ackerman proposed calling Fred Barnes and Karl Rove racist.


"Thus, through a confluence of bizarrely unlikely events, the vicious act of falsely accusing people of racism became a laughingstock. It went from being a career killer to a punch line; from villainy to vaudeville; from knife in the back to pie in the face."

Cry Racism, and let slip the dogs of politics. Tony Blankley

Great stuff. Racism is a cancer that needs to be eradicated from society. Problem is that, over the last 25 years or so, people all too often use the word to deflect others from the fact that they have nothing of substance to say, or simply to gin up hatred against whomever it is they want us to hate. Now, when we hear the word, it’s only so much white noise. This makes it difficult to confront actual racism and bigotry when it rears its ugly head. +

Finally. No more World Cup, and Lebron James' smug smirk has past from Center Stage on ESPN. I can now tune back in ... just in time for FOOTBALL!!!! +

Tomorrow, I am headed for Ethiopia with the best of friends, Derek Hammond, where we will be taking in food and material for the suffering people in Angacha. Back when I get back.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2010