Being a public employee, I hear a lot about ethics. We have a long "ethics" policy that delves into details like can we eat the cookies appreciative citizens drop off (yes), can we go on vendor supplied junkets to Vegas (no), and can we use our agency-supplied cell phone to call home in an emergency (yes, if it is short and infrequent - there's also a whole discussion of what constitutes an emergency, but that's another story). In government, ethics = rules.
One of my professors in grad school said over and over that true ethics don't have much at all to do with rules. That was a little hard to comprehend at the time, but I think I understand it better now. For instance, as I've mentioned before, I work in a law enforcement agency. Law enforcement agencies tend to be very paramilitary. Thus chain of command is VERY important.
Last week, my Police Chief was engaging in some behavior (political, primarily) that was detrimental to my organization as a whole. I was faced with a choice - violate chain of command and inform the overall agency manager, or keep to myself. I chose to go over my boss' head. This isn't about me being courageous - I used to work for the agency manager and they were so grateful for the information that they pledged to protect me if necessary.
I'm sure we've all heard the saying, "Ethics are how you behave when no one is watching." Trite, but true to an extent. But I also think our ethics cut to the fundamental honesty of our character. Can we speak the truth, even if it will hurt? Today I had to tell an employee I couldn't give them a raise, as much as I value their work. That was the hardest conversation I've ever had to have with an employee - but I think that being a Christian helped prepare me to be honest.
I think we need to talk more about ethics in church and how being a Christian should affect all areas of our lives. I know that I'm constantly challenged, and it would be good to walk through those challenges with others.
I mentioned our small group event in my last post. During the event we had an interesting discussion on what it means for church to be a "safe space." Our congregation (prior to my family's arrival at the church) had an understanding of what that meant. We're now trying to work that concept with our new pastor.
One of the people in the group said that there were a couple of key aspects of safety (I'm paraphrasing):
- The church should accept members and guests wherever they are on their journey of faith and recognize that people will always be in different places in terms of theology, worship, prayer, etc.;
- The church should accept what a person can give in terms of their time, spirit and money realizing that lives are often complicated;
- Members should be able to expect that confidences will be held, both by clergy and parishoners.
My approach was that as a member of the leadership team, I need to be able to feel that I'm accepted in spite of my failures as a leader. I have a very stressful job and I don't want church to become a place I feel guilty about attending because I'm struggling with my leadership duties.
It was interesting to me how differently we identified what it means to be safe in church. I certainly agree with the three points above, but they're not at the top of my list. I'm realizing what a challenge it is to create a space that is truly safe for people. We need to create a space for people to grow and succeed, but also cope with failure. We need to be prophetic voices for truth, but recognize the different spiritual roads we all follow. We need to provide comfort and compassion, but realize when people need to carry their burdens closely.
What does it mean for you for church to be safe? Should church be safe?
It's tough being a Christian sometimes...
I'm tempted to blog about Falwell's keen observation about the homosexual indoctrination in Spongebob Squarepants, but that's just too easy (and has been done better by others). One of our local radio hosts made a joke that Falwell would really be upset by the spinoff, Spongebob No-pants. Might have to watch for that one...
Church is still tough. It's tough to go, and it's tough to be part of community that's suffering. But we made some good connections with other church members that live nearby this weekend, and that was a welcome ray of sunshine. We had a small gathering of members who lived in the local area at our house to help our pastor get to know us. That last part didn't go so well, but we enjoyed getting to know each other.
It helps me understand the attraction of house churches. I think absent the formal agenda, we could have really experienced some great Christian community. But I also can't imagine leaving formal liturgy and the physical church completely behind. Maybe a small group will be the way for me to transition through this crisis?
Sorry for the light blogging - dealing with major grant applications at work and personnel issues that test my ability to follow Christ in all aspects of my life. More on that later.
We spent the last five days traveling to and visiting my wife's grandparents in NE Washington. It is always wonderful to be up there, out in the country, and experiencing a completely different way of life. One thing I really love is the sense of connection. On the day we were leaving, we were trying to decide our route out of town because of problems with snow and ice. My wife's aunt and uncle teach at the local school. They talked to another teacher who had just come the way were thinking of leaving. This teacher (who we've never met) called our grandparents and advised them about the road conditions for us.
In our home town of 80,000 that would never happen. This woman who doesn't know a thing about us, took the time to call and give us information to help us make our trip home safely.
I also love how welcome you feel at the church. We hadn't been there for five months, but the pastor remembers us and we're treated like family. We're treated like family.
Where I struggle is that I know theologically we're desperately different. If they knew half the things that run through my head, they'd really wonder about me (and not entirely without justification). Probably some people in that church would tell me I'm not a Christian. At the least they'd have grave concern for my soul.
So I struggle between being able to just embrace the loving connection of that community and wondering what they'd think if they really knew me. I don't believe I'm better than them or smarter than them, I just fear they might not be as willing to accept me and my crazy ideas as people in my home church are.
What are the limits of Christian love? Should there be limits?
My church is in turmoil as we deal with the impact of a pastoral change. In the United Methodist Church, our ministers are itinerant. They work for the conference and are assigned to local congregations. So in a lot of ways the strength of the congregation is in the laity, rather than the pastor. But this recent change is desperately testing our congregation. It is an exhausting process.
I really like the fact that our churches tend to based less on the success of a charismatic pastor and more on the strength of relationships and community. But the pastor is a such an important part of that community that they can and should have a tremendous impact on the church.
But the trouble comes when a pastor doesn't connect with the laity or the laity doesn't connect with the pastor. How do we fix this?