While repentance is a year-round, daily practice for all disciples of Jesus, we’re aided by the Lenten season when we particularly focus on this practice. Repentance isn’t about being sorry for our sins, although personal sorrow is probably an appropriate emotion we experience while repenting. Repenting isn’t a feeling or an idea. Repentance is an action where we intentionally seek to change our understanding of ourselves in relationship to God, and consequently, the way we live in the world. The Greek word for repentance in the Bible, metanoia, literally means: “to change our understanding.”

A story that instructs me in my repentance is the story of a rather obscure saint of the Church. Her name was St Mary of Egypt. In her early life, Mary was a prostitute in Alexandria, Egypt. One day, she went to exercise her profession down at the boat docks and there saw two groups of men. One was a group she knew well, a group of sailors. The other group was a group of Christians heading for Jerusalem on a pilgrimage. Without thinking, she decided to go with the pilgrims to Jerusalem. Her life story even reports that she exercised her profession among, shall we say, the less mature pilgrims on the boat trip to Jerusalem.

When they arrived in Jerusalem she had a profound experience. She went with the pilgrims to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is the Church built on the place of Jesus’ crucifixion. She saw the pilgrims enter the Church and she tried to enter with them. But when she tried to enter, she couldn’t. A force she couldn’t see was keeping her out. She tried again to enter, but to no avail. She left the Church’s entrance and ran into the city. She spent the day repenting of all that she had done throughout her life that had obstructed her relationship with God. The next day she entered the Church. She left a changed person. She had changed her understanding of herself, of God, and of her life in the world.

She spent the rest of her life, over 40 years, in the desert south of Jerusalem. There she lived in prayer and praise of God. We’d know nothing of her life, if it hadn’t been for a monk, Abba Zosimas, who accidentally came upon her, a naked old woman, in the desert when he went there for solitary prayer. At their meeting, she told him her life story. But before she did, this is what she said to him: “I am ashamed, Abba, to speak to you of my disgraceful life, forgive me for God’s sake! But when I start my story you will run from me, as from a snake, for your ears will not be able to bear the vileness of my actions. But I shall tell you all without hiding anything, only imploring you first of all to pray incessantly for me, so that I may find mercy on the day of Judgment.”

Notice the honesty and humility of her words. Not present are the arrogant and entitled words that we so often hear today. Her words do not presume a sense of deserving anything, yet they are filled with the hope of God’s love. St Mary of Egypt saw herself clearly and changed her understanding. She repented. Her life story invites us to do the same, trusting that when we do, God will not run from us, “as from a snake,” but rather that God’s mercy will envelop us “on the day of Judgment.”

+Scott

 

God’s Mercy & Exhausting Judgment (eCrozier #255)

God’s mercy is the heart of what we observe in Lent. Mercy describes God’s essential nature wherein God says to us: “Even though you’ve broken my laws and my covenant, I won’t break you. I forgive you.When Jesus cries from the cross: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” he was being overly kind and especially polite. Because I think we knew exactly what we were doing to Jesus on the cross. And we did it anyway.

There is no Christianity without mercy because it’s God’s essential nature. There’s no intelligible explanation of the Christian faith that anyone can make that doesn’t have God’s mercy foremost in it. Mercy is the proto-virtue because it alone creates a space for forgiveness to grow. Without mercy, there can be no forgiveness. So, if we wish to participate in what God is up to in the world, then our practice of mercy will be essential to our identity. We must learn to practice mercy, not judgment, with everyone.

We, however, live in a culture rampant with judgment. We’re judged all the time. It’s everywhere. Our bosses judge us on our job performance. Our neighbors judge us over the weeds in our yard. We’re judged when we don’t dress in the right fashion. We’re judged by the words we choose. We’re even judged by our spouses, friends, and parents. Even our children judge us. Oh my! And such constant judgment exhausts us because we can rarely measure up to their judgment. Even when we do measure up, we often end up thinking we really haven’t. Such is the power of living under such daily judgment.

There’s a story of a woman who took her ten year-old grandson to spend the day at the beach. She brought his sand toys and a blanket, beach chair, and umbrella for herself. When it all was set out, she told her grandson to go play while she settled down to read. Minutes later she heard her grandson crying out. She looked up from her book and saw that he was far out in the water struggling against powerful waves. The lifeguard on duty was already swimming out toward the boy fighting a strong tide and relentless waves. At last, he grabbed the boy, but it took him a half hour before he could bring the boy safely to the shore. A crowd gathered around the exhausted lifeguard as he administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Minutes later the boy coughed up the water from his lungs and sat up breathing normally. The crowd cheered. The lifeguard rolled onto his back in the hot sand completely spent from his work. The grandmother smiled and looked at her grandson. Then she stared down at the exhausted lifeguard lying in the sand. With a look of displeasure, she said to the lifeguard: “He had a hat!”

We know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of judgment, earned and unearned. It’s not that we don’t often deserve judgment. Of course, we do. But it’s not about what you, I, or anybody else deserves. Rather it’s about what God is up to in this world through Jesus. God is up to mercy. Jesus’ cross on Good Friday proclaims that eternal truth. So, what if we became flagrant in granting mercy to everyone all the time? What if we just gave up sitting on the judgment seat and sat in a place of mercy instead? We would offer a compelling witness to the mercy Jesus embodied in his life and in his death. And in the process we would change the world for his sake.

 

+Scott

 

Forgiving Others (eCrozier #254)

Forgiving others is one of the hardest things we’re commanded to do by Jesus. The hurt can be so deep. And since we can’t undo what’s been done (although many hold on to a fantasy that the past must change), where does all the pain and anger of the sin go? Often it gets projected on to the people around us. Or it gets directed inwardly into self-destructive behaviors and, sometimes, into self-medication.

Yet, this isn’t a minor teaching by Jesus that can have many interpretations. Jesus is clear: we must forgive, if we expect God to forgive us. He states this plainly in the prayer he taught us to pray: “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who sins against us. (Luke 11:4)” So, we must learn to forgive. Minor transgressions against us are easy to forgive, but when we’ve been deeply wounded by another, it’s hard to forgive. And then when we hear the command of Jesus to forgive and we can’t yet forgive, we can experience guilt over this inability. If that happens, things become compounded: we haven’t forgiven the other person and we’re also now paralyzed by guilt that we haven’t forgiven. This is where real, deep despair occurs.

Taking all the above into account, let’s look at what steps we can take to forgive:

1) Ease the pressure on ourselves. Forgiving others is a process of our spiritual growth. We aren’t born “forgivers.” We learn to forgive as we see it modeled in our homes, communities, and churches. We need patience with ourselves when it comes to forgiving so we can develop the spiritual maturity and capacity to forgive. Once we have learned to do so, it becomes more a part of spiritual practice in life.

2) Don’t get hooked into the emotional state of the sin against us. We must find a place to stand outside the sin (St Igantius called this “detachment”). When we’re emotionally entangled we can’t move towards forgiveness. Rather, we become fused to the hurt of the sin and we lose our identity as one who is washed in the forgiving waters of baptism.

3) See forgiveness as a gift from God. If we don’t ask God for the gift to forgive another, then we can’t receive it. Some folks don’t ask God for the gift to forgive because they’ve so defined themselves by the hurt of the sin against them that they wouldn’t know what to do if the hurt weren’t there anymore. It’s like the Hatfields and McCoys. They couldn’t stop the feud because, if they did, they’d lose their identity as the victim of another’s sin.

4) Forgiveness is about us and not about the other sinner being repentant or not. We should not connect the other’s repentance to our work of forgiveness. Yes, we pray for the amendment of life for the one who has done us wrong, but it’s a spiritually dangerous thing to wait for the other person to repent before we’ll forgive. Honestly, that may never happen. When we hold that in ourselves the event continues to define us. By not linking our forgiveness to other person’s repentance, we remove the capacity they have to keep us fused with the sin. Forgiveness is always about our spiritual practice and not about the actions or inactions of the other.

+Scott

 

Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple. – John 2:15

We’re more accustomed to a different Jesus, aren’t we? The Sunday School image of Jesus as the gentle good shepherd carrying a baby lamb on his shoulders still resonates with us. So when Jesus takes a whip and clears the temple, we’re taken aback. His action doesn’t fit our Sunday School image. But maybe such an image is mistaken? Some believe Christians should never get angry because Jesus never did. Well, he did. There’s nothing wrong with anger when it’s directed toward pursuing justice for God’s children.

We shouldn’t sit idly by while people suffer injustice. In fact, I’d say that if we’re not angered by injustice, then we’re not being faithful to the Gospel. It’s anger with injustice that leads us to confront the sin of racism. It’s anger with state-sponsored vengeance murder that compels us to end capital punishment. It’s anger with our society’s indifference to homeless people that leads us to work for safe housing for everyone. We should be angry when we see God’s creation polluted or God’s people brutalized.

Some of us, however, have adopted an insular spirituality. Pursuing spirituality is very popular these days. People want to become more spiritual. But much of what is called being spiritual” has no basis in the Bible. Biblically speaking, there’s no separation between our spiritual connection to God and our pursuit of justice for God’s people. The Great Commandment sums this up: Jesus says that loving God and loving our neighbor go hand in hand. We can’t love one without also loving the other. And we can’t love our neighbors without seeking justice for them. It’s just not biblically possible.

But that’s what some people do. They’re just interested in their spiritual growth as if such growth can be separated from justice. The Bible claims a wholeness of spirituality and justice, of prayer and action, of contemplation and its inextricable connection to God’s justice. If we wish to be spiritual, we should help a child learn to read. If we wish to be spiritual, we should help a hungry person find the food they need. If we wish to be spiritual, we should rebuke that colleague when he makes a racist or homophobic joke.

Yet, working for justice will be rudderless and random if it’s not grounded in the faith of the Church, for that’s where we learn how to order our lives so we’ll avoid a superficial spirituality or a definition of justice that simply mirrors a political party at prayer.

The pursuit of God’s justice needs to begin with our own self-examination and fearless personal inventory. Before we can point our finger at anybody else, we need to point the finger at ourselves and allow our anger to motivate us to change how we live. We must admit that in some ways we’re no different than the buyers and the sellers Jesus confronted in the temple. When our lives in the Church are turned over by Jesus the same way he turned over the temple tables, then we’ll begin to learn to be the Church. Then we will live holistic lives where our spirituality isn’t disconnected from seeking justice for God’s children.

+Scott

 

During these days (of Lent), therefore, let us add something to the usual measure of our service, such as private prayers and abstinence from food and drink, that each one, of his own free will and with the joy of the Holy Spirit, may offer God something over and above the measure appointed for him. That is to say, let him deny himself some food, drink, sleep, pointless conversation and banter, and look forward to Easter with joy and spiritual longing. Rule of St Benedict 49

Part of a traditional Lenten discipline is to deny ourselves something we usually enjoy during the rest of the year. It’s one way for us to remember gratefully the “great denial” Jesus made on our behalf; for he denied himself and took up the cross for our sake. Benedict’s admonition from his Rule reminds us that we shouldn’t do this out of obligation, but out of our “joy and spiritual longingfor Easter. So, we don’t engage in self-denial to prove anything to our self or to others. We don’t do so to impress God or others. And we certainly don’t do so for the purpose of self-justification, which is always a dangerous path to travel. Benedict reminds us there’s a telos to this Lenten discipline and it is joy, the root of that word being, God (“to enjoy” is literally to be “in God”).

I don’t know about you, but I find it easier to deny myself some things more than others. While I enjoy good food and drink, I don’t miss it much when I don’t have it. I’m pretty pedestrian in my tastes and my palate is hardly that of a gourmand. So, for me to give up chocolate or single malt scotch (of which I’m unworthy anyway) or some other delicacy may appear like an act of self-denial to some, but to me, since I could take it or leave it, it’s hardly what Benedict had in mind. When we make such non-denial denials, it’s for the sake of appearances to others and not for a true Lenten discipline.

But, “pointless conversation and banter” hits me closer to the bone. Denying myself that is much harder. Thus, it’s a more needed act of denial on my part. Maybe more than any other vocation in the Church, a bishop regularly engages in “pointless conversation and banter” whether he or she desires to or not. That’s not to say with we don’t participate in “pointed conversation. Of course we do, hopefully more often than not. But the temptation to deflect or to ignore or to trivialize rather than to get to the heart and truth of the matter is always there. Like with many temptations, such behaviors are a way to run away from one’s true self and the vocation to which I’m called.

Lent then can serve as an invitation for us to get back to the heart and truth of the matter in our lives; to recognize how we might be too serious about the trivial banter in our lives and not be taking seriously enough the people, things, and circumstances of our lives that matter. This is what Benedict meant by stability in the three-fold promise Benedictine monk’s make; that capacity to hang in there when the temptation is to run away from what’s difficult, or to deflect the issue by “pointless conversation,” or to trivialize ourselves or others. Such self-awareness comes as a gift even though it’s often hard to receive. Yet, if we accept the gift for what it is, then we enter into a place where the ground is holy and where we open ourselves daily to the thrust of grace.

+Scott

 

Lent, the Lone Ranger, & Tonto (eCrozier #251)

Growing up I enjoyed watching Looney Tunes, cartoons that had many levels of interpretation. One of the recurring bits the cartoons used was this: a protagonist is faced with a dilemma and he doesn’t know what’s the right thing to do. As he struggles with his choice, a little angel pops up on one shoulder and a little devil pops up on the other. They both try to persuade him. “Do it,” one urges. “Don’t do it,” the other replies. It goes back and forth until the poor protagonist’s head begins to spin rapidly 360 degrees. I also remember Flip Wilson’s TV show where he played a recurring character named Geraldine. Whenever Geraldine did something naughty she’d shout: “the devil made me do it.” It was never Geraldine’s fault. She never had to take responsibility for her own actions. She was always free from guilt. After all, the devil made her do it.

Both of these elements of pop culture give us a distorted view because both treat our agency like we’re toddlers who are incapable of taking responsibility for the choices we make. It’s the evil out there somewhere that’s the real problem. In this view, left to our own devices, we’d always choose the good. With such a presumption, we can absolve ourselves all the while perceiving a world where some people are evil and some are good; and where we group ourselves in with the latter. In such a worldview, there’s no room for self-examination and repentance because evil exists apart from us. But our Christian teaching on sin tells us that’s not right. The capacity to sin and to choose evil is inside each of us. There’s some part of us that is “fallen” like Adam and Eve; that rebels against living under God’s gracious rule. As we seek to follow Jesus, we know full well that we’re still active participants in a rebellion to God’s gracious rule.

We begin Lent this week hearing of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. We can misinterpret this story seeing Jesus inhabiting the role of a Spiritual Lone Ranger battling against temptation. But that’s not what the story says. The Gospel tells us “angels waited on him.” He didn’t go it alone. Occasionally, I’ve gone it alone in the wilderness, even thinking that the wilderness is a safe and attractive place to be alone. But I’m a fool to think that. The Biblical meaning of wilderness isn’t some desert oasis like Palm Springs. No, the Gospel word for wilderness means “a place of terror, a place that destroys.” So, I’m a fool to try it alone. Alone, as a sinner, I’ll consciously or subconsciously opt for death for the wilderness is quite a harsh place.

This is why the Season of Lent is a gift to each of us. Lent helps us recognize the truth about ourselves. Lent helps us name the wilderness in which we live. And in that wilderness, we know that we will struggle to be faithful to God’s call. Yet, the cross that’s placed on our foreheads at our baptisms reminds us of Jesus on whose grace we can always rely. Also at our baptisms, angels surrounded us. Some we could see and some we couldn’t see. And angels still surround us. Many of them are our fellow disciples who are on life’s pilgrimage with us. Count on them and let them count on you.

So, don’t go it alone. Sin is too powerful inside of us. Even The Lone Ranger had TontoWho will be your Tonto this Lent?

+Scott

 

Brian Williams, St Augustine, & Me (eCrozier #250)

When I was about 14 years old, a group of guys I desperately wanted to hang out with invited me to an overnight party where the boy’s parents would be out of town. I made up some lie to my parents assuring them that there’d be adult supervision. So, I went hoping to fit in with this group. The party turned out to be boring. We played cards and listened to music. Someone brought beer. As so often happens when teenage boys mix beer and togetherness, someone had a “bright” idea: “Let’s go steal some road signs!” We went into the garage, found some tools, and set off to steal. I don’t recall how many road signs we took that night. Who knows what kind of danger we put motorists in during the weeks that followed? Why did I steal those road signs? I wanted acceptance. I wanted to be part of the cool kids group. I’m ashamed of my behavior even to this day.

In his Confessions, St Augustine tells about a time as a teenager when he and some friends scaled the wall of a neighbor’s pear orchard. While there, they picked a pear tree clean of its fruit. St Augustine says his group did this “not to eat the fruit ourselves, but simply to destroy it.” Why did he and his friends engage in such pointless destruction? Were there “double dares” declared? For St Augustine, the answer for why he did such a thing was clear: our inherent human sinfulness. OK. But I also wonder, was the pear tree incident about him wanting acceptance by the other boys? Did he just want to fit in with the cool kid’s group? He, too, was ashamed of his behavior.

And that brings us to Brian Williams, the NBC News Anchor, who is currently being pilloried in the media for his lies about his record as a TV journalist in Iraq during the war and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He apparently embellished his record citing deprivations and dangers that were simply false. We don’t know how he really feels about these embellishments. So far, his response to being exposed hasn’t been quite confessional. He hasn’t said why he felt he needed purposely to misrepresent his resume. Why would someone who has achieved all he has feel a need to lie about his record? My hunch is there’s something inside telling him that what he’s achieved isn’t good enough; that embellishing his resume would make him more loved and accepted; that the lies he told would assure him of a seat at the cool kids table. He didn’t steal road signs or destroy pears, but I hope on some level he’s ashamed of his behavior.

There’s something profoundly human about the need we have to be loved and accepted by others. We all long for others to love us. We desire their acceptance. But such longing and desire can become consuming and twisted because it can never be fully satisfied this side of heaven. Just how much love and acceptance do we need? We may get plenty of both, but we may never feel that’s enough. That’s the power sin exercises in our lives. That’s why we shouldn’t be so snarky about Brian Williams’ situation. He’s just struggling with the same issues with which we all struggle, that is, if we’re honest with ourselves. Even accepting God’s grace-filled acceptance of us through the mediation of Jesus on the cross doesn’t keep us from longing to sit at the cool kid’s table. My prayer is that Brian Williams and all of us finally realize how truly unimportant that is. God’s grace is more than sufficient for all of us.

+Scott

 

Would Jesus Vaccinate? (eCrozier #249)

I don’t remember much about taking the General Ordination Exams 32 years ago, but I do recall one question that was particularly good” (read on and you’ll see why that’s in quotes). It had to do with moral theology and specifically with the moral issues that arise when motorcyclists choose not to wear helmets while riding. Some states in 1983 allowed for personal choice on that (maybe some still do). While I can’t remember my entire answer, I remember addressing the recurring moral questions we have when we seek to attend to individual rights as well as communal responsibilities.

If a person chooses not to wear a helmet while on a motorcycle, then one might argue that’s his right. It’s his life. But what if he’s in an accident and receives serious head trauma? He then becomes dependent on the larger society for years of costly health care, not to mention the emotional, spiritual, and financial cost to his family. So do the potential communal costs outweigh the cost of his personal choice not to wear a helmet? We have these choices as a society all the time. Wearing seat belts is another example, as are guns. People have a right to own a gun for their self-protection, but others also have a right not to be shot by that gun. In every case, it’s about whose “good” is being honored and whose “good” is being limited for the sake of the larger “good” of society.

We each tend to fall on one side or the other when it comes to balancing individual and communal goods. Conservatives tend to have a higher view of human nature (a higher anthropology, if you will). They lean to the side of people being left alone and if they are, then they’ll choose the good. Liberals tend to have a lower anthropology (or a higher doctrine of human sin) believing that people can’t be left alone to choose “the good” because more often than not, given our sinful nature, they won’t. Neither the liberal nor the conservative tendency is always right. It’s more complicated than that because human nature and our communal relationships aren’t simple to navigate. So, each moral question, as it arises, should be weighed recognizing these “goods” are held in tension.

And that brings us to the current debate over childhood vaccinations. Parents choosing not to vaccinate their children against measles and other diseases claim the right to choose what’s done or not done to their child. Others say that’s fine, but what might be the health effects on others if that child contracts a disease that could’ve been prevented by a vaccine? Whose “good” do we honor here: the parent’s right to choose or society’s right to be protected from a preventable disease? As one who tends to be theologically conservative, but socially liberal, I struggle with which “goodshould be honored here. Since I have a high doctrine of human sin, I’m wary of trusting people to choose the good” because so often we won’t (sin being what sin is). So, when I look at the data, it shows vaccines are very safe. Their potential side effects have been shown scientifically to be infinitesimal. In this particular tension between the individual and communal, I think the “good” that vaccines provide trumps the parents right to choose. Still, such a position makes me uneasy. Asking: “Would Jesus vaccinate?” won’t produce a very intelligible answer. My hunch is that his teaching on loving our neighbor will better form us on how we deal with this issue.

+Scott

 

We Murdered a Man on Tuesday Night (eCrozier #248)

We Georgians murdered someone Tuesday night. It was premeditated. We planned the murder right down to the precise amount of poison we would use. And then we did it at night. Maybe we thought God wouldn’t see us if we did it at night? God though was watching. The person we premeditatedly murdered was a man named Warren Lee Hill. He had a clemency hearing five days ago in front of the State Board of Pardons and Parole. That Board could’ve stopped our vengeful and shameful retribution, but they chose not to do so. They deemed him unworthy of clemency and said he was unfit to live. Warren Lee Hill did some despicable things in his life. He was a murderer.

But by murdering him on Tuesday we taught our children that two wrongs make a right. We taught them that it’s all right to murder someone as long as the State does it. By murdering Warren Lee Hill we’ve chosen to be like him, morally speaking. We’ve chosen the lower, baser path and not the path of humanity’s higher calling grounded in the merciful love of Jesus. By murdering him maybe we thought we were achieving some sort of justice, but what we really achieved was the recognition that we’re more like Warren Lee Hill than we’d ever cared to admit.

My brother and colleague in the Diocese of Atlanta, Bishop Rob Wright, wrote before Warren Lee Hill was murdered that it wouldn’t “be done in his (Bishop Wright’s) name.” That’s how he sees it. While I stand with him in opposition to this barbarity, I differ a bit with my brother and colleague. There’s no truthful way around this. This murder was done in Bishop Wright’s name, in my name,and in your name. Every citizen of this State, whether we want to own it or not, is complicit in the murder of Warren Lee Hill. No, we did not strap him to the executioner’s table, nor did we inject him with poisonous drugs, but we cannot deny our complicity.

Some have contended that Warren Lee Hill was horribly abused as a child; that he grew up to live violently since he was taught to be violent by his abusers. They’ve also pointed out that he was mentally deficient with an IQ of 70 and that Georgia’s standard for judging such mental deficiency (“beyond a reasonable doubt”) is unique among the other 49 States, which have a lower standard (“a preponderance of evidence”). So, they feel that those issues should have stopped his murder. But in my mind, Warren Lee Hill could have had an IQ of 140, had no childhood issues whatsoever, and what we did to him would still be wrong. This is about our behavior, not his. We chose vengeance and that, as the Bible tells us, is God’s province alone.

There are those who will reply to what I’ve written saying that Warren Lee Hill just got what he deserved. But isn’t our faith grounded on receiving the mercy we don’t deserve? Or, they’ll reply that we were just exercising the Old Testament maxim of “an eye for an eye.” But Jesus demands that we show mercy to others as God has shown us mercy through his mediation on the cross. I wish I could find some way for me and you to feel good about what we did. I wish I could find something uplifting to say, but I can’t. We murdered Warren Lee Hill on Tuesday. May God have mercy on us all.

+Scott

 

People are complex, amazing, exasperating, and funny creatures. If you doubt this, look in the mirror (and be honest about who you see there). We’re able in one moment to engage in remarkable acts of love and devotion and then, in the next moment, act in petty, vindictive ways. All this complex and exasperating behavior shows itself in our social interaction. Our interaction with others can produce in us both joy and anxiety, and yet it’s fundamental to who we are as God’s creatures. We drive one another nuts at times, but the other is blessedly necessary for us. In theological terms, we might say that God has hard-wired us to be in communion with one another (thus, it’s God’s fault!).

David Brooks, the author and columnist, tells in his book, The Social Animal, of a psychological research experiment (although he can’t find a source verifying that this experiment was ever actually done). In the experiment, middle-aged men were hooked up to a brain-scanning device. Then they were shown a horror movie while the device recorded the reactions in their brains. Later, they were hooked up to the same device when their wives were present. They were then asked to share their feelings with their wives. The researchers then compared the first and second brain scans. They were the same: complete terror during both episodes!

I share Brooks’ tale partly because I think it’s hilariously true, but also because it illustrates our complexity and differences. And those aren’t just in terms of gender. Personality research and insight, such as produced by the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory, informs us about our complexity and differences in how we take in and relate to the world around us. Some of us are innately introverted, while others are given to extroversion. Some think first and then feel second, while others feel first and then engage their thoughts. All this causes great challenges for us as we try to navigate the complexities of our myriad relationships in the world, especially in the church.

Maybe the most challenging difference we experience in community is the one related to the tension between accomplishing tasks and attending to relationships. And this tension is a core challenge for those of us who are leaders in the church. Some folk are task oriented. When they’re faced with a job to do or a role to live out, they just want to get it done. Others, however, attend themselves more to relationships. Accomplishing tasks are less important to them. This doesn’t mean task oriented folk don’t care about relationships or that relationship oriented folk don’t care about tasks. It means that in every community there will be people who tend to be more of one than the other.

The key skill here for church leaders is to help people stay on task while also helping them attend to the relationships in the group. God’s mission is not well-served if a particular task is accomplished, but in doing so people are at each other’s throats. Likewise, we’ll never engage in mission if we ignore the real tasks required to do so. If we wish to be effective leaders in the church, then we must practice mindfulness about this basic reality and attend to it in every part of church life. Both kinds of people are a part of every group within the church. That’s why church life is never boring!

+Scott