Tag Archives: trust

What Do I Do When My Leader Seems Half-Baked? — Rehoboam: 8/27/03

[About 7 years into my service as Circle of Hope’s pastor I offered the congregation some teaching I first heard from Janet Hagberg in 1979. It stuck with me. I happened upon this forgotten message on Rehoboam when I was searching my files for something else and thought it was worth repeating, since it is a very challenging time for leaders, inside the church and out, as so much is changing.]

You people are amazing. In our network we have 22 cell leaders and 20 apprentice cell leaders. 4 coordinators of cell leaders. A pastor. 5 PM team leaders. 2 PM facilitators. 9 Mission Team leaders. The list goes on. Lot’s of leaders. Not only is it amazing that we have found so many wonderful, gifted, willing people to lead, you follow them well, you nurture them well, you cheer them on and support them – even when they drive you crazy.

It is the being driven crazy part that we are exploring tonight. Someone wanted to know, “What do I do when my leaders seems half-baked?” It is an excellent and frequently asked question. And it has lots of variations.

  • I’m fifty, my leader is 23, she seems to me like a cookie that was taken out of the oven after four minutes. What do I do with that?
  • I’ve been a believer for fifteen years my leader has been a follower for fifteen months. He looks like a pretty loaf of bread, but the inside is doughy.
  • I’m working hard on my issues and repenting of my sins, the leader doesn’t know about some important issues, apparently, and I’ve heard a few too many things about his sins. Do I report them or something?
  • I am serious about my faith and our mission, I want to contribute time and energy to the cause, but the person in charge seems to be on a perpetual vacation and implies that I am a pain in the neck because she thinks I am being too critical of her lack of intensity. Am I being too critical or am I being criticized?

Do you recognize any of these variations? If you do, then you are not alone. And that’s why there is just a lot to say about this subject. I am not going to talk about all the ways we have structured ourselves as a body to alleviate the stress of having a half-baked leader – which mainly boils down to our reliance on being a team and the accountability and nurture involved in having apprentices and being in cells. I want to answer it at the micro level : what do I do when the leader is half-baked – which, in one way or another, may be inevitable, since we’ve all got a long journey to completeness. Jesus is the fire, but we are the oven, and you are part of that oven. If the leader is half-baked, you may have a part in his or her completion. So let’s start with you and me this time and see where we get.

The Tragedy of Rehoboam

Rehoboam
Rehoboam. Fragment of the wall painting in the Great Council Chamber of Basel Town Hall. Hans Holbein ca 1530

A tragic story about a half-baked leader and what people did about him can be found in the history of Israel in 1 Kings 12. (I know how you love 1 Kings). It kind of starts with the prophet Samuel. You know that he was not too happy to be asked to give the nation a king. He liked the old way of letting God be the king and relying on prophets and judges that were raised up by the Spirit of God in them to fulfill the leadership functions necessary for the people. But Israel wanted to “go to town” like the nations around them and have a king. So Samuel anointed Saul, who turned out to be a disobedient disaster. He replaced him with David, of the great heart but dysfunctional family. David was followed by the famous King Solomon, who was probably the most famous king Israel ever had, as far as being a king of note among the other kings of his age.

King Solomon, by most accounts was a great leader. He was famous for being wise. He expanded the borders of Israel and the whole nation prospered for the forty years of his rule. But there were some flaws. It seems like the more authority a person has the more important his or her flaws become.

Solomon may have had a wise beginning, and may have been very learned, but his method for solidifying his kingdom abandoned trust for God as King and relied for security on the common approach to kingdom building of the time – marriage. (Be careful about what your leaders tell you they need to do for security). Solomon filled his life with foreign-born wives, who were the guarantors of the treaties he was making with their fathers and brothers. What’s more, he let them keep their foreign ways as he moved them into the enormous new palace that he had built at the same time he built his enormous new temple for God. The simultaneous projects, tell you that something might be mixed up right there, plus, they cost the people a huge amount in taxes and conscripted labor. He was a flaming polygamist. The son who succeeded him – some people say it was his only son from all those wives, maybe he was just the oldest one, was the son of an Ammonite princess. His name was Rehoboam.

From the little we learn of him in the account, Rehoboam sounds like an insecure man who didn’t have much direct fathering or king-training. As soon as he is crowned he ruins the kingdom. His people wanted to go with him, but they had a few questions that people always ask their leaders, and Rehoboam answered all of them wrong.

12:1 Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all the Israelites had gone there to make him king. 2 When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard this (he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), he returned from Egypt. 3 So they sent for Jeroboam, and he and the whole assembly of Israel went to Rehoboam and said to him: 4 “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.”

5 Rehoboam answered, “Go away for three days and then come back to me.” So the people went away. 6 Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. “How would you advise me to answer these people?” he asked.

7 They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.”

8 But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. 9 He asked them, “What is your advice? How should we answer these people who say to me, `Lighten the yoke your father put on us’?”

10 The young men who had grown up with him replied, “Tell these people who have said to you, `Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter’–tell them, `My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. 11 My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.'”

12 Three days later Jeroboam and all the people returned to Rehoboam, as the king had said, “Come back to me in three days.” 13 The king answered the people harshly. Rejecting the advice given him by the elders, 14 he followed the advice of the young men and said, “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.”

15 So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the LORD, to fulfill the word the LORD had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite. 16 When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, they answered the king:“What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse’s son? To your tents, O  Israel! Look after your own house, O David!” So the Israelites went home.

If you are a leader, of a cell, a family, a school project, an outing to the Camden Waterfront, make sure to pay attention to what the people asked Rehoboam. It really wasn’t much that he couldn’t supply if he would have relied on God.

People keep asking the same three questions.

Essentially they began with “Do you love us?” “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.”

Solomon got caught up in his own grand schemes and ended up enslaving his own people. By the time he got done people were resentful because it seemed like he cared more about himself than them.

They also asked “Can we trust you? Are you listening?” “He asked the elders, “How would you advise me to answer these people?” he asked.  They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.”  He did not listen to their advice. He went back to his cronies, which was like looking in the mirror. It was like these guys he’d been playing the grand prince with since he was a kid were hungry to exercise some power. When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, they answered the king: “What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse’s son? To your tents, O Israel! Look after your own house, O David!” So the Israelites went home. The ten northern tribes made Jeroboam their king and Rehoboam spent the rest of his life at war trying to put the kingdom back together again. If he just would have listened to one of his father’s proverbs: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes; but he that listens to counsel is wise.” (Proverbs 12:15)

I also think they were asking “Who and what do you serve?” The historian who wrote the story in 2 Chronicles said,  “Rehoboam did evil, because he prepared not his heart to seek the LORD.” (II Chronicles 12:14). People know when the leader can see a picture that is bigger than herself and her cronies. They can sense when the direction is coming from God or from one’s half-baked maturity. They can tell if you are open to understanding what is happening with the least as well as the greatest among us. They know if a certain action is about the cause or about enjoying the exercise of power or getting one’s needs met through draining the life out of one’s followers. They can tell if you serve or dominate. And that counts even if you are just taking your nieces to the mall.

There are not too many leaders who never have a Rehoboam day. If you get one that is as unbaked as he was, poor lad (although he was 41 years old!) I guess you’ll be wondering what to do. Normally, your leaders around here will be doing the best they can and not feeling like they are all that great at it. They will be serving because someone asked them or someone had to do it, not because they always had an aspiration to give their heart and time to further an extremely difficult cause for no pay, little recognition and the headache of having people ask them penetrating questions about their character. Even so, they will have half-baked days, they’ll have bad ideas and they will undoubtedly not be complete yet. What do you do?

I would take responsibility for your leader like they were your precious first-born child. When they spill the milk, do not slap them around; keep helping them to learn to hold that cup, because they will be dealing with milk again at the next meal. Don’t just leave the spilled milk there to stink, clean it up together – if they don’t want to deal with their stinking spilled milk, make them help you – and let’s go on. My conviction is that leaders are baked; they are nurtured into completeness by caring followers.

Love them

So if the leader is half-baked, for instance, they don’t love you or even God well, love them.

We have had leaders involved in some sins that became as public as their leadership. Getting drunk. Sexual sins. Major lacks of reconciliation with other leaders. And worse things will happen and may be happening right now. In the middle of that, I think our first responsibility is to love. They are having a problem, just like you and me. For instance, right now my parents are both terribly sick and might die soon. Some days I am going to act out of my grief and conflicted feelings about that. Before you decide my actions make me a bad, unholy leader, ask me some questions. When you think a leader is half-baked, talk to them, understand them. Figure out what is baked not just half-baked. They are people, so speak the truth in love to a person, not to your abstraction of what a leader ought to be or to your fantasy of what you would like or to your unfinished business with your mother or father or with the last leader who abused you. The talking will be very instructive. Talk to God about them, too. Prayer may soften your heart to love.

Please notice that I did not say, “Love them by pretending they are baked.” That will do no one any good. I did not say, “Learn to love unbaked food.” I did not say, “Turn off your brain and stop being so critical.” But I did say, “It is easy to see where someone is. And it is relatively easy to see where they ought to be. But love calls us to help them get from here to there, even if they are the leader. If everyone has to perform perfectly for you, they will either fight you or run from you because you are scary. Either way, that won’t help them lead.

Trust them

Secondly, if the leader is half-baked, they are not altogether worthy of your trust, trust them.

Naturally, you’ll have to have hope like God’s to do this. To trust the demonstrably untrustworthy is God-like. After all, isn’t it true, that God entrusts us with his own Spirit and God is relying on you and me to advance his cause of redemption? God’s is an heroic trust. I say that trust breeds trustworthiness. It is true that we give people responsibility and authority and they get too full of themselves and run people over, their natural insensitivity is heightened, they say wrong things, say things that aren’t true, they alienate people. It is true that when my son Ben uses a butcher knife I find it almost impossible to watch, but I trust him with it. And it is also true that I have been known to cut myself, as well. He needs to learn how to do that and he needs a person who loves and trusts him and who has been cut to help him learn better.

If you can’t trust your leader, you may not be trusting God enough to bear the pain of seeing someone go through life as half-baked as he sees you are. Trust God in someone else, not just what you see them doing. Trust God’s precedent, not just their track record. Don’t build a case against them, build a case for them and then help them realize their potential. Your admiration will do more to make them trustworthy than your suspicion and anxiety.

Every leader is going to make mistakes, but we need them, and we need more of them. We live in a trust system so people can gain their fullness and serve us and transform the world. If you hold back all the time, they can’t do as much, and they can’t catalyze us to reach our potential as a body. Can you see how much power mistrust can have? I used to sit in Council meetings and have elaborate discussions about what we were going to do as the church. It seemed like I would end up paying special attention to people who could always find a flaw in any argument and always cast suspicion on the process. I finally stopped listening so carefully. What I had counted as discernment was just mistrust. People wanted to move, but the mistrusters didn’t.

You’ve noticed that I’m turning around every question people always ask of leaders and asking them back at the followers. Do you love me? Can I trust you? Now, Who and what do you serve?

Serve with them

When the leader is half-baked, when you’re not sure what they are serving, serve with them.

It is hard not to serve God when you are surrounded by people determined to follow Jesus. Our leaders either have to bake or flee the oven, because we are not changing our minds. I’d say that most of the time we get the leaders we deserve. If we are apathetic we frustrate them and make them lazy and ambivalent. If we are critical we make them defensive and short-lived, and maybe even cause them to give in and serve us, rather than the Spirit of God! If we follow Jesus first and allow the leader to catalyze and steer and discern the process of the journey, they end up being very valuable to us.

It is true, Rehoboam was a bad leader. He was worse than half-baked. He didn’t love them, couldn’t trust him and he served himself and the God of his own power, and maybe some Ammonite idol his mother brought to town. But while the elders did try a little bit with him, it probably should be noted that the people didn’t love him too well, they did not have a radical trust for God in him, and they never served the cause larger than him. So they ended up with half a kingdom and civil war and eventually a whole boatload of them got carted off to Babylon. It’s not just about the leader.

I think you know that, for the most part. But someone asked the question, and it will come up again, because we are going with the people God calls out to lead us and many people have answered his call. They are shaping us, nurturing us, guiding us, and helping us make a difference in the world. If God is doing so much with the half-baked, what might he say to you if you came before him at the end with a whole plate full of fresh leaders for his people and the cause of his kingdom, baked to perfection by you and your little oven in Philly? I think the Lord would really enjoy that.

There is another way: In an age of suspicion develop a trust system

 

When the birds start singing in spring, my heart starts to remember old, joyful songs, as well. I pause for birds, partly because Jesus taught me to do so: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matt. 6:26). But even if I did not know the Sermon on the Mount so well, the birds would have taught me to trust God. And such trust would have loosened a song of joy in my heart.

This spring, we have experienced an avalanche of the unmelted snow of mistrust on the mountains of lies and greed that characterize our no-trust country. I’m afraid it is all going to melt and flood us by June. You may have stopped watching news channels, but they are all unmoored from the truth. This week the President lied so hard about the Mueller report that his tongue must have hurt. People are not only losing their trust in God and the church of Jesus Christ, they don’t trust one another either.

We are called to develop a trust system

In the middle of that flood, we have a very prescient proverb we managed to get into our collection: We are called to develop a trust system. That means we are more like the birds of the air and less like Donald Trump and we know it. What’s more, it means we intend to build an alternative system to the world’s mistrust, by trusting each other and breeding trust in people who want to stop feeling worthless and claim their honor as trustworthy people.

I was cleaning up my books the other day (they tend to multiply!) and I ran across one I could not remember buying called Smart Trust. It is one of those business books that teach capitalists basic morality as a means to be happy and successful like Warren Buffet. I like these books because they boil down ideas into practical ways we can implement. For instance, here is most of this book boiled down into a 25-minute speech.

And the rest of this blog post is going to boil the book down even further into a few useful paragraphs.

I offer this to you for a couple of reasons. 1) A big reason: Quite a few of us are sucked into the mistrust system the world is perpetrating. We are susceptible to conspiracy theories, suspicious of all leaders and prone to cutting off because no one can be trusted. If that is you, you are undermining our trust system. 2) A bigger reason: Each of us can contribute to making an alternative by staying conscious of our responsibility to build a trust system, which simply begins with trust in Jesus and trust in his people.  We can nurture joy instead of despair. A new world is possible.

Trust builder traits

Covey and his team did some nice business-book research on their topic by finding people all over the world who demonstrate “smart trust.” In their opinion, this conscious, strategic trusting is the defining skill that separates mere managers from leaders.

For our purpose, “smart trust” it is the defining skill that separates a Jesus-follower who can develop a trust system from those who James calls a “double-minded” — who can’t trust and can’t be trusted. Likewise, they are people Jude calls “clouds without rainwater.” If those negative attributions seem to harsh, return to Jesus trying to lure us into leaving  destruction by pointing out the birds managing to trust God in the middle of it.

The authors collected five traits that characterize these trust builders:

  • They choose to believe that trust is essential.
  • They start by developing the character and competence (the credibility) that allows them to trust themselves and be a trusted part of a trust system, in our case, the kingdom of God.
  • They say what they intend to do and assume others also have positive intentions. They make people prove they are untrustworthy, not earn trust.
  • They do what they say they are going to do.
  • They take the lead in extending trust, which leads to a “virtuous cycle” in which others are unleashed to build great things and feel the joy of the good work of faith, hope and love.

I think you can note these traits in the character of our church. We have been building a trust system for a long time. When it breaks down, we can see it, because we normally don’t live in a Trump-like world in which no one can be trusted and the untrustworthy cast suspicion on everyone else. When Trump decided not to cooperate with Congress, it became evident that the authors of the U.S. Constitution, even though they put checks and balances in their famous doc, relied on “gentlemen” to apply it. They expected leaders to at least be concerned about their honor and reputation! When power is more important than mutuality, the “rule of law” is about whoever has the power to enforce the law. When we can’t trust our leaders, we need to find some new “gentlepeople.” We want to be those  trustworthy people, led by Jesus, the ultimate leader.

The example of the Grameen Bank.

The authors piled up stories of trusting and trustworthy leaders from around the world. I think the story of Muhammad Yunus is especially notable. He should be honored, as he is, by people around the world. He is the Banker to the Poor who made a bank built on trust to help the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh, initially, get out of their slavery to their lenders. In his system of microcredit, trust is the key. He says, unlike banks who tie up clients in legal knots, making sure they are never out of the bank’s reach, “Grameen assumes every borrower is honest. There are no legal instruments between lenders and the borrowers. We were convinced that the bank should be built on human trust, not on meaningless paper contracts….We may be accused of being naïve, but our experience with bad debt is less than 1 percent.”

Our Debt Annihilation Team is an ongoing experiment with similar intent. They have also experienced “bad debt.” But there has been more joy than confirmation that people cannot be trusted. We extend some relational “microcredit” every time we sit down face-to-face in one of our free-forming cells, don’t you think?

Blind trust or mistrust

Good business books come up with metaphors and charts to make their big points. Covey asks us “Which glasses are you wearing?” Is your lens blind trust or distrust?  The Proverbs taught us long ago what social scientists keep proving: “As we think in our hearts, so we are” (Prov 23:7 KJV). The “glasses” through which we see people and situations make a difference. The two extremes most of us fall into in relation to trust can be seen in the chart below. See what you think about how you generally work, or how you work in various situations like job and family. How do you work in the church?

 

 

 

The third way: build a trust system

One of the reasons to excerpt this book for you is that their idea of  “smart trust” is a “third way.” And we do love our third ways! These ways are alternatives to the either/or the world usually presents to us. Our alternativity is not just our own way, it is a way of trusting the leadership of Jesus all along our way. Our basic faith in the trustworthiness of the Lord makes us radicals.

This “smart trust matrix” is designed to give us a better pair of glasses so we can see our way into a better place where being trusted and trustworthy unleashes our creativity and joy.

 

I don’t always get what a four-quadrant matrix means, but they at least get me to think. This one is trying to move me to have some discernment when it comes to trusting people in our trust system. Like Paul tells the Corinthians while he is helping them move through some conflict, I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.”  That’s the kind of assumption we want to develop. Paul knows he is talking to people in all four quadrants, but they all need to get to a place where they are on the Lord’s side (1 Cor 10). Quadrant 1 is blind trust; Quadrant 4 is mistrust; Quadrant 3 is no trust. You may need to move through all of them to get to Quadrant 2: smart trust. Or, as Paul would say, we need to develop good judgment that leads to reconciliation and unleashes joy.

The other side of the smart trust coin of course, begins with being trustworthy ourselves. We don’t just inspect other people to see how they fit into a matrix! Being trustworthy breeds reciprocal trust. And even if no one trusts you back, Jesus does. The Lord’s trust strategy is at the heart of what Victor Hugo was working out in Les Miserables when the bishop trusted Jean Valjean with the candlesticks. Viewers have gotten teary-eyed ever since, believing that one person can, in fact, make a difference. Grace works. Entrusting people with grace is the basic strategy of God in Jesus for the transformation of creation.

Jean Valjean becomes a better man and even releases Javert. Over 70 million people have seen Les Mis onstage. They long for a different kind of world where grace makes a difference and people are considered worthwhile. The BBC put out yet another TV version this month. People keep hoping the liars who set off avalanches of mistrust will not win the day! And even the days they seem to be winning are better because of  those who trust God and one another and stubbornly build a trust system where the skills of transformation can be learned.

We are called to develop a trust system.

Relationships in the community, whether it is the church community or the city community take trust if they are to flourish. The proverb says:

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother — Proverbs 18:24 NIV

The proverbs are so honest about life! This one is drawing a contrast we all experience. On the one hand, there is wickedness and superficial gunk that messes up the togetherness we’d like to experience. There are friends who pretend to be friends; they fill up your time with a lie. There are companions who do nothing but chatter; they fill up conversation space but not your heart. There are acquaintances who remain superficial; they fill up on your affection and generosity but never attempt mutuality or sacrificially give. There are a lot of people who might share a drink with you in a noisy bar, but they don’t bind themselves.

On the other hand, there is a friend who is worthy of the title — it is possible! We are all looking for them, or despairing that we can’t seem to find one. There are people who will go deep, who will connect, who are real, who can be relied upon. Those are the kindred souls with whom we feel bound our whole lives. We want that.

Jesus is that kind of friend who sticks “closer than a brother” — the “friend of sinners” (Luke 7:34), the one who comes with the ancient promise of God: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). People who have Jesus for a friend are blessed (see John 15:14). We can trust him. If we follow Jesus, we’ll see he is moving into the world to make friends and make more friends who can be a friend like him. He is restoring a trust system. We’re moving with him when we  dare to look at what the world is really like (and ourselves!) and try to figure out how to be like trustworthy brothers and sisters in the world.

Trust is shot down on the streets

The recent outbreak of consciousness about the proliferation and protection of automatic weapons has highlighted the level of mistrust in the United States. While hundreds of thousands rallied during the March for Our Lives, NRA allies in Congress pushed the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act. “Congress is currently considering bills that would force every state to recognize every other state’s concealed carry permits,” said Sen. Stanley Chang, D- Hawaii.  Ideological warfare and mutually assured destruction playing out on every block destroys friendship; Christian intellectuals lament the death of trust.

Violence from your neighbor: a teenager or mentally unglued person with a gun no one will regulate, a drug dealer with an automatic weapon, a soldier or insurgent with bombs and weapons in your neighborhood, a super-rich country flying drones overhead, none of it makes for trusting relationships. The proverb notes this.

A violent person entices their neighbor
and leads them down a path that is not good. — Proverbs 16:29

Philly.com keeps track of homicides and puts them on a map.  Periodically they dip into Camden. They try to tell the truth. The president has 75% of the population suspecting that news outlets broadcast “fake news.”  But they try. They also point out the valiant people who try to undo the violence.

Trust is the alternativity we crave

Many people have been “lead down a path that is not good.” We, the people of God, the Jesus-followers, the Church are called to be the alternative, the antidote to the poison, along with good people who would painstakingly make a murder map so we can see what is going on. The proverbs invite us to trust those who can be seen to deserve it, because they are the cement of society. Jesus invites us to develop a trust system so we can rebuild what is being torn down.

We can start by being trustworthy and daring to trust another. We can build cells, teams, congregations, and a network that is devoted to building a trust system. The Circle of Hope proverb in the title says we are convicted to do just that. What might that practically mean today? A few general ideas:

  1. Trust first. Life is too short to wait until someone proves trustworthy (as if you had that right, anyway). Let them prove untrustworthy and make it hard for them to do it. Treat them like Jesus treats you, who entrusts you with the Spirit of God.
  2. Tell the truth. The world is too messed up to hide (as if you could succeed in that). Let people know who you are. Speak the truth in love to them like Jesus speaks to you, who affirms your value and hopes for your best.
  3. Risk relying on people. The world is too dangerous to be alone (as if you ever are). Let people hurt you and recover. Submit to others out of reverence to Christ, who will save you, who lives with you in an eternal now.

One more proverb:

Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil,
but those who promote peace have joy. — Proverbs 12:20

There is no little deceit woven into our hearts and seeping into us from the troubled world around us. A few people reading this probably think that proverb is “fake.” But most of us know, since the Holy Spirit brings the conviction to life in us, that promoting peace is the way to joy, even if it is hard, disappointing or unaffirmed. We are called to develop a trust system. Just living in the alternativity of its promise is joy enough. When we taste more of its reality, it is that much better.

Where is a trust system when you need one?

Photo: Newton Knight leading his strange new trust system.

The world is drowning in an ocean of mistrust—as usual. As we watched Free State of Jones the other day it was even more obvious that the disturbing storms that are stirring up the globe right now are not that unusual. Reflecting on Brexit, a British journalist says,

“When leaders choose the facts that suit them, ignore the facts that don’t and, in the absence of suitable facts, simply make things up, people don’t stop believing in facts—they stop believing in leaders. They do so not because they are over-emotional, under-educated, bigoted or hard-headed, but because trust has been eroded to such a point that the message has been so tainted by the messenger as to render it worthless.” — Gary Younge

Are we filled with that mistrust, too? In the 2016 Map we affirmed in Council on June 25, we included a proverb that says, “We are called to develop a trust system.” But do we mean that? Do we really think that is even possible? Do all of us even embrace the Map? Are we so mistrusting that we didn’t even participate or consider being part of the Council? Those seem to be relevant questions in a day like today, when the airwaves are filled with fear.

There was enough mistrust at the Council meeting to make some people start talking about trust. Some people did not think the meaning of the words were clear enough to be trusted or to show to others. We had to convince them that nothing we do is designed like law; it is designed to be personally delivered. But can the persons delivering it be trusted? It seems like there should be easy answers for those questions, but trust is not that easy. Nevertheless, we are still going for the atmosphere John teaches us to pursue: “We know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” — 1 John 4:16

Can we make a trust system? Even though we communicate a lot about our process and invite everyone into it, some people do not read the mail. Even though we work hard to listen, some people don’t care to speak. They are among us, but they can’t be with us; their trust is broken. Without trust we survive instead of create; we withdraw instead of include; we suspect instead of hope; we avoid instead of transform. We unlearn love. We demonstrate how we do not rely on God.

Our newest pastors have already experienced a few pinpricks of mistrust. Most people make their leaders prove they are trustworthy. We say the opposite, that it is our love that makes a leader. Our support can make a weak-kneed leader learn to walk confidently in the shoes of responsibility. Yet someone can still hold themselves off to the side and question the process. When I sent a report about the Council to the covenant members I “brazenly” included a list of the Leadership Team with all its new members. They might not like to have their names out there in an age of mistrust. Leaders are thought of as likely liars. But we have to build a trust system.

Building a trust system begins with trusting the Lord, of course. When we trust the Lord we have the confidence to trust others. They have to prove their untrustworthiness rather than the other way around. Our confidence embraces others and gives them a place to recover from the constant trauma of living in the world without God and his people.

But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit. — Jeremiah 17:7-8

Whenever the domination system lies (which is nothing new) we have somewhere to go.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me? — Psalm 56:4

When my lack of trust is growing, I always end up back in 1 John, where John is struggling with churches threatened by liars and full of people who are not too adept at discerning among all the spirits wandering the world. Our trust system heeds his call: “We know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” — 1 John 4:16.  A trust system is built from the ground up, not the top down. Jesus followers who live in love build it. The leaders can deter them, but not defeat them because God lives in them.

Is that Jesus dancing?

There is far too little tribal dancing in the church. That is my critique for the day, so if your train stop is coming up, you can stop reading, you’re good.

I think we may have finally “got it” the other night on Mardi Gras and “did the word”:

Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp” — Psalm 149

We did not have specialists interpreting with dance or waving flags and such (which is fine too); we just got out there and shook it as the common good we are.

We even had a flash mob moment in honor of Ben/Gwyn and Nate/Jen — which made Gwyneth teary over Uptown Funk.

Of course we did that! It’s in the Bible!:

Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow” — Jeremiah 31:13.

Jesus has saved us and made us his people. We’re happy. That’s a good enough reason to dance. So if you are getting off the train now, feel free to stop reading. You probably have what you need.

We have good reasons to dance

But I do want to point out that there are some more very good reasons to dance. I’m glad we exercised a few. Yes, people showed up for our party! –- and they even danced with nothing lubricating their system but fastnachts and root beer!

Dancing makes trust.

For most of us, it is hard to get out on the dance floor. Ra begged Gwen and me to get out there and get the party rolling, since nobody will dance at a dance for the first half hour. She reminded me of jr. high when I was in dance class and the teacher would taunt us boys to walk across the multipurpose room floor and ask a girl to waltz. Terror.

Being pushed out on the floor was threatening. It reminded me that people love looking at dancers and talking about how they dance. A couple of my dear friends were, indeed, rating the best COH dancers the other night. That’s scary. Some men, in particular, refused to dance all night and stood off to the side like the kids in the Lord’s quote: “They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: “‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance’” (Luke 7:32).

But when you get out on the floor and realize we are all in this together, heedless of the fear, forgetting the judgment, and despising our shame, it loosens the place in us that trusts God and works trust into our very bodies! And getting out there does wonders for trusting others, too. Dancing with someone is pretty intimate, pretty vulnerable – its trusting someone because you think they love you enough to do so. We need that. Dancing is a trust system and we want to live in one.

Dancing commits us to joy

Very few people can dance with the tribe without a smile on their face. I suppose that’s why the Baptists I worked for were against it. Actually these Baptists were privately pretty fun and happy, but publicly they were straight-laced and sober because they thought that was being holy and they didn’t want anyone to know they were secretly a lot less perfect than they appeared. For quite a few years my dancing instincts were squashed by the Bible lovers who ignored all the dancing in the Bible.

They were like Michal watching David dance when you’d think everyone would want to be as out-of-control holy as David was: “Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart” (2. Sam 6). I don’t know, for sure, why Michal despised David, but she sure was not increasing the joy in town that day!

There cannot be too much joy, even when things are bad and people are bad and they don’t deserve to be joyful – or insert any Michal-like judgment you feel here____. The fact is, most of us are not Michals and it makes us happy to see you dance. It probably makes you happier too.

Dancing represents a common good.

One time, a long time ago now, a close-knit church I was in realized that they felt really good whenever someone got married and the whole church got our on the floor at the reception and danced like one big group, partners notwithstanding. A few times they made such a positive impression with their happiness and togetherness that it became the talk of the rest of the guests and the bride and groom were proud of their cool, Christian friends. So we decided to hold a dance for All Saints Day. The one glitch was that the Brethren in Christ also thought dancing was not a holy thing to do. So we asked the bishop to give us a special dispensation. He did not think we would fall into sin, so he dispensed with the policy. I’m not sure he had the power to do that, but we went ahead.

Heimo Christian Haikala, “Christ Dancing on the Sea of Galilee.” Oil on canvas. Source: http://www.heimohaikala.com

In a communal group like the BIC, dancing is a great visual aid. It is an incarnational demonstration of being the visible body doing what Jesus does. At least it represents God’s mindset as Jesus describes it in the story of the lost son. The father says, “Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing (Luke 15).

You could have “heard” our dancing a long way off on Mardi Gras! — stomping, hooting, Cyndi Lauper wailing about girls and fun. It drew quite a few people into our common good. Near the end I was dancing with a group of men who were finally into it. One of them came in mentally worn out and for a while got some relief. He could feel his spirit rise. That’s what Jesus does. We hope to dip people in the music of his body to share some happy resonance.

Everything else we do builds trust, joy and the common good, as well. But I really like it when we dance — even though it is kind of silly for me to dance. We don’t hear about Jesus dancing (I bet he did, though) –- but we do hear a lot about people thinking he was silly, and we still hear that directed at us whenever we act like Him, too. His whole life was kind of out on the dance floor, wasn’t it? — asking people to dance, making people know joy, demonstrating a different way to live. Our Mardi Gras party was a good training.

We are called to develop a trust system.

Like I was saying last night, relationships in the community, whether it is the church community or the city community take trust if they are to flourish. The proverb says:

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (18:24 NIV)

On the one hand, there is wickedness and superficial gunk that is messing up the togetherness we’d like to experience. There are friends who pretend to be friends. There are companions who do nothing but chatter; they fill up time but not your heart. There are acquaintances who remain superficial; they never attempt mutuality or sacrificially give. There are a lot of people who are fine for sharing a drink in a noisy bar, but they don’t bind themselves.

On the other hand, there is a friend who is worthy of the title — it is possible! There are people who will go deep, who will connect, who are real, who can be relied upon. Those are the kindred souls with whom we feel bound our whole lives. We want that.

Jesus is that kind of friend who sticks “closer than a brother.” And Jesus is moving into the world to make friends and make more friends like himself. We’re moving with him when we  dare to look at what the world is really like (and ourselves!) and try to figure out how to be like brothers and sisters in the world.

I think the Inquirer did an OK job of lamenting the state of relationships in the Philadelphia region last week. They made a graphic that served to highlight the level of mistrust in Philadelphia and Camden. It is at the left. Since 2003 in Philadelphia and Camden, the number of murders almost equaled the number of U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq during the course of the war. That is a shocking comparison.

It is worth being shocked about, but I have to point out that it is a false comparison. We have enough self-esteem issues without the Inquirer making it worse with misleading graphics! The highest number of soldiers in Iraq was in 2008 when there were about 158,000. That is less than one-tenth the number of people in Philly/Camden. What’s more, the comparison is grossly misleading because upwards to 127,000 Iraqi civilians have been documented casualties of the war. In case you are bad at math, that’s nearly thirty-seven times the number of U.S. soldiers killed, and it is also just the number of documented casualties. So it was actually much, much safer to live in Philly during the Iraq war.

Nevertheless, such violence from your neighbor: a teenager or mentally unglued person with a gun no one will regulate, a drug dealer with an automatic weapon, a soldier or insurgent with bombs and weapons in your neighborhood, a super-rich country flying drones overhead, none of it makes for trusting relationships. The proverbs note this.

A violent person entices their neighbor
and leads them down a path that is not good. (16:29)

The Inquirer made us feel like we are terrible (again). I think it was important for them to tell the truth. They tried. They also pointed out the valiant people who have been trying to undo the violence every year since 2003 and beyond. Someone in the organization either procured or made a map of every homicide in the city. Here are the murders in the immediate area of our building at Broad and Washington since Circle of Hope began in 1997.

Many people have been “lead down a path that is not good.” We are called to be the antidote, along with good people who would painstakingly make a murder map so we can see what is going on. The proverbs invite us to trust those who can be seen to deserve it, because they are the cement of society. Jesus invites us to be the cement of society. We can start by being trustworthy and daring to trust another. We can build cells, teams, congregations, and a network that is devoted to building a trust system. The Circle of Hope proverb in the title says we are convicted to do just that.

Launch on St. Brendan’s Day

When Gwen and I were on the Dingle Peninsula last summer, we did not expect a new grandson to end up with the name Brendan! It is a good name. On May 16, when we remember St. Brendan the Navigator (484-577) I would love to help launch the next generation of daring souls looking for the fullness of their life in Christ. Maybe our own family’s Brendan will be among them.

Each generation has a boatload of people who will set off into the “deep,” looking for God in all the places the Lord can be found. I don’t think it is such a coincidence that Jesus looked for fishermen to be his first disciples. The Lord found another good disciples when he met Brendan near Tralee in Ireland.  St. Brendan’s voyage was an inspiration for hundreds of years for seafaring and church planting daredevils. When Brendan got back from his journey of discovering himself in Jesus (and discovering America!) he founded several communities that added to the missionary fervor of the Celtic Church.

I want to be like him, so I ended up on pilgrimage to the place where his daring journey began…

Brendan’s Creek, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland
…and where it ended.

 

Clonfert Cathedral, where Brendan is buried

In the devotional book, Celtic Daily Prayer I have been using, there is a nice prayer in honor of Brendan. The Northumbria Community suggests we use it on this day. I offer it to you.

Lord, I will trust You,

help me to journey beyond the familiar

and into the unknown.

 

Give me faith to leave the old ways

and break fresh ground with you.

 

Christ of the mysteries, can I trust You

to be stronger than each storm in me?

 

Do I still yearn for Your glory to lighten me?

 

I will show others the care You’ve given me.

 

I will determine amidst all uncertainty

always to trust.

 

I choose to live beyond regret,

and let You recreate my life.

 

I believe You will make a way for me

and provide for me,

if only I trust You

and obey.

 

I will trust in the darkness and know

that my times are still in Your hand.

 

I will believe You for my future,

chapter by chapter, until the story is written.

 

Focus my mind and my heart upon You,

my attention always on You without alteration.

 

Strengthen me with Your blessing

and appoint to me the task.

 

Teach me to live with eternity in view.

tune my spirit to the music of heaven.

 

Feed me,

and, somehow,

make my obedience count for You.