December 7 – Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011? (Author: Cali Harris)
December 8 – Beautifully Different. Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful. (Author: Karen Walrond)
It’s been interesting reflecting on these last two prompts… where have I found community and what makes me different. As clergy I walk the fine line between living in and caring for our faith community and also being “set apart” for leadership within that community. I find it a difficult balance. Fostering community takes a certain vulnerability, and yet (I’m told) leadership requires a certain distance.
The truth is, the distance is important for reasons of safety and ethics. Every clergy person should be wholly aware of the consequences of having shaky boundaries between themselves and the people they serve. The newspapers tell far too often of stories of clergy who haven’t kept enough distance from people they serve. And yet too much distance leaves the relationships feeling inauthentic and distant, including the minister in question, who needs to remain connected to the struggles and joys of her congregation in order to care for them well.
So any given day I might fall off on one side of the line or the other….Perhaps at this point I shared too much of my own history, or wept too openly, or laughed a little too loudly at that inappropriate joke. On the other hand, perhaps I wasn’t quite present during that last conversation, distracted or disengaged. Perhaps I responded to that person out of academic understanding rather than human experience. Perhaps I just wasn’t listening very well.
The balance between community and leadership has been a growing edge for me in 2010, one that I am still very much working out. In many ways I believe the traditional understanding of leadership in the church has passed away. Younger generations want less of the “heir pastor” to come to their homes and bless their babies or dying loved ones, to teach scripture and offer sage advice. Instead they want peers who understand their experiences, they want friends to confide in, they want someone who will walk alongside them. And to be truly honest, I want that too.
Community is something I reflect on quite a bit, given that my path as a minister places me in the role as a leader of community. It is a part of who I am and what I do every day. My role is in many ways to bring people together, to connect them with one another and with the God we seek, to find ways to nourish one another in the faith so that when we go back out into the world we are strengthened for the journey. Every day I participate in my community in some way. And in the midst of that, I am constantly aware of the ways in which I can relate to the community I serve and the ways in which I have little to no understanding of their lifestyles. I often need to struggle to see through our outward differences of money, career demands, house management, etc.. to see the ways in which we are the same – in sorrow and grief, in concerns for our families, in hopes and dreams, in fears..
As I’ve participated in various communities this year, both online and IRL (in real life), I’ve been struck by the ways in which each of us present or hide our authentic selves. The ways we choose what and when we share pieces of our stories, The ways we choose to share moments of our lives or stories of our loved ones. Each community we participate in is built on (as Gwen Bell put it here) “the foundation of our vulnerability.” That is to say, the more authentic and vulnerable we are, the deeper or stronger our community can become.
The culture in which we live doesn’t often reward vulnerability. Vulnerability equals weakness in the minds of most and so it’s rare that someone will truly wipe away the shiny veneer and show their authentic, wholly naked selves. Even more so, there is a risk when we let it all hang out, and sometimes the risk is a big one. There is always that chance that revealing who we truly are will be met with offense or even dismissal. Vulnerability is scary.
It’s a give and take, and I admit the relief I feel when the other person goes first. This year, I have been blessed by a small handful of people who walked without fear in the the land of vulnerability and who have brought me along with them. Some are in our church community, and some are not. I am carefully walking my way through that foreign territory. The more I ponder the consequences, the more I find that even one small act of vulnerability is an act of gospel-living. If we truly believe that Jesus is God-with-us, Emanuel, God born in an infant child, then our act of letting down our guard, moments of being naked and known, are moments of incarnation and grace. And for me, this is what makes me different, beautiful, and in community with the God-born Jesus and with all who meet me in that vulnerable, divine place.