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Creating a Community of Blessing

Updated: Mar 4

In 1979 Elizabeth Carrey published a book called “Without Spanking or Spoiling”.  When I had my first child in 1984, I was given a copy of this book, and it opened a world of parenting skills that were based on an awareness of developmental stages and the impacts of negative reinforcement and lack of boundaries.  This model has become the norm for many families today. The shift from punishment to reward and demand to collaboration has raised a generation (or two) of people who value choice, affirmation, self-improvement, and consent.  The old school “because I said so” in response to the developmentally appropriate “Why” is no longer understood as the healthy response, even if it is the one our momentary frustrations may elicit.  And while I swore I would never say those words so easily employed by my parents, my own frustration, and lack of emotional resources at the time, delivered those words to my children on more occasions than I wish to count.

I share this to illustrate just how hard it is to change behavior in the face of our familial acculturations, let alone the societal ones we have lived within all of our lives. My parents were raised with the Victorian era ideas about children. And while they tried to embrace the ideals Benjamin Spock (ask me about meeting him when I was a teenager) proposed, it was hard to adopt the less demanding, punitive methods when their internal emotional resources were not there.  For them to learn a new set of beliefs and skills while raising four kids and working full time was an heroic task that they did their best to embrace.  I am grateful they tried!

All of that said, what I experienced as a kid in this time of culture change was a lot of mixed messages.  The inconsistency of their behavior made it difficult to trust that what was expected was really what was expected.  I had no way of interpreting their behavior in light of the massive shift they were attempting.  I just knew I was never sure which mom or dad was going to show up - the engaged, interested, empathetic one, or the frustrated, demanding punitive one.  Sadly, my kids had their own experience of parenting inconsistencies, with two very different parenting styles and cultures after their dad and I divorced.  

I say all of this as a way to illustrate the project we are involved with here at FCCUCC.  As a congregation, we are trying to shift a culture and embed a new way of being with one another that is based in the new understandings about neurobiology and organizational behavior. Add to that, only a few of us may have experienced, let alone be at home within these new norms.  I am certain that there is a collective desire to embody our new culture as expressed in the Bylaws. (There was a unanimous vote by the 35 people at the meeting to adopt the new bylaws!) And yet, this doesn't mean there is a complete understanding or consistent interpretation of our new way of being consistent throughout the congregation!  That is a profoundly unrealistic expectation, one that sets up lots of shaming and blaming (internal and external) accompanied by a strong desire to regress to the known/familiar ways.  (Think of the Hebrews who want to go back to Egypt in Exodus.)

The desire to return to the “because I said so” way is the normal, human process of learning something new.  If you have only ever driven on the right side of the road then when you go to a country that drives on the left you will be REALLY uncomfortable until it becomes normal.  You practice, use extra focus, and (hopefully) don’t beat yourself up when you pull into the right lane out of habit before correcting so as to avoid a disaster.

Unlike when learning to drive on the other side of the road, when dealing with cultural shifts within organizations and families, there are no yellow lines letting us know when we have crossed into old patterns.  We have to rely on one another to help us learn a new way of being.  It is much easier to change when we don’t have long-standing cultures and practices that define who we are.  In the early church, and in every era of the Church since, our ancestors wrestled with making and breaking community norms and standards as they continued becoming the Body of Christ in the world for such a time as theirs.  

What allows for those new norms to become THE Norm is our willingness to invite dialogue and offer our consent through our participation in these new ways of being.  Another way of think about it is that we want as much buy-in as possible!  Without a substantial amount of buy-in division is inevitable.  And division will sow a rebellion and, before you know it, we are back in Egypt complaining about being slaves!  

To get to consensus (a substantial level of consent that is not necessarily unanimity) requires a commitment to listen and learn, to try things even when you are uncomfortable, and to agree to remind one another of the goals that this new thing is trying to support.  

The goal of better parenting inspired my parents was trying to give my siblings and me something that they felt was lacking in their childhoods. This was my goal as well. The goal of the Hebrews was to get to the Promised Land.  The goal of the Church across time has been to become more of what God is calling us to be as the Body of Christ in the world for the time and place in which we live.  And the goal of this new way we have embarked upon, after two years of listening, imagining, dreaming, and thinking together about it, is to seek to be,

…a community of faith drawn together in our common search for spiritual life, 

as a, of covenant rather than creeds, 

And to acknowledge,

…our commitment to the teaching and practices of Jesus of Nazareth,

whom some of us call Christ, 

As we celebrate,

….the freedom of each individual to pursue their own spiritual journey. 

(Italicized phrases are from paragraph 1 of the Covenant as found in the new Bylaws.)

To hold the tension between freedom and responsibility demands that we practice becoming a Culture of Consent.  It requires us to move slowly enough to wait for a response when we ask a question, and to remain open to an answer that isn’t the one we, as individuals, might like, and to trust that the consensus of the whole is far smarter than the intelligence of the one.  

This new way of being is really about building a Community of Blessing, a place where we bless the things we consent to uphold, to bless the things we are ready to let go of, and to bless the space between us as the doorway where the Holy Spirit resides.

I’ve only ever driven on the right side of the road once and it was hard, but I know if I was doing it regularly, I would get used to that perspective and discover views that I could not imagine from the other side of the front seat. And, just so you know, my kids and I have wonderful relationships even though we are still unlearning some old habits.  This goes for my dad and I, as well.  I am grateful that we are all committed to the goal of grace-filled, loving relationships that inspire us to be the best people we can be in such a time as this.    

May FCCUCC be a community that leads the way as a community that embeds a culture of consent as we follow our guide who continues making the invitation, Follow Me.

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