Friday Link Love: NEXT Church, Progressive Christians in Texas, Job Security and Creativity, and Sabbath

I've got lots of blogposts percolating right now, but I'm still in re-entry mode from the conference, so those will have to wait until next week. In the meantime: 319533_536892453022802_1621836130_nNEXT Church Blog Roundup -- NEXT Church

Here is a roundup of posts about the NEXT Church National Gathering in Charlotte. These give you an excellent taste of what that gathering was like. Presbyterians, mark your calendars for March 31-April 1, 2014 in Minneapolis.


Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling -- Aerogramme Writers' Studio

Learn from the masters:

2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.


Left, Behind: The Hidden Progressive Christian Community of Texas -- Texas Observer

This is a story that needs to be told more. At a recent rally in against budget cuts to family-planning services and against the proposed sonogram law in Texas:

In the shade of the Confederate Soldiers monument, a woman stopped midsentence and turned to her friend. “Did they just say he’s a minister?” Behind her someone muttered, “Why would a Christian be speaking here?”

Why was it so hard to believe? Rigby is one of the most outspoken progressive pastors in Texas, but he’s not the only one. Last fall more than 350 religious leaders, most of them Christian, signed a Texas Freedom Network (TFN) pledge supporting women’s access to contraception. Some of the same clergy, and their congregants, advocate policies supporting the poor, immigrants, and gays and lesbians; oppose the death penalty; and draw clear connections between their faith and protection for the environment.

“I think the religious Left unquestionably exists,” says TFN’s Ryan Valentine, who coordinated the pro-contraception pledge. “It’s just never been as well organized or as prominent in policy fights in Texas as the Right.”


The Key to Being a Creative Leader? Job Security -- 99U

I want to write more about this next week as it relates to the church, but in the meantime:

In fact, a series of studies by psychologists Cameron Anderson and Adam Galinsky showed that when people felt powerful, they preferred riskier business plans with bigger potential rewards to more conservative plans, divulged more information, were more trusting during negotiations, chose to "hit" more often during a game of blackjack, and were even more likely to engage in unprotected sex during a one-night stand.

In other words: you are likely to be even more creative than you were when you felt relatively powerless.

When you are in power, you can be more innovative because you feel more comfortable and secure, and less sensitive to, or constrained by, what other people think of you.

Some of those behaviors lead to positive outcomes, as I'll talk about next week. But I'm also thinking about "too big to fail" and the incredible risks Wall Street took with our economy. These studies suggest these bankers were influenced by the myth of their own invincibility.


And now, three Sabbath-related posts:

Making Our Peace with Time: A Review of the Book Good Busy -- Englewood Review of Books

Keeping the Sabbath... Radical -- Mirabai Starr, Huffington Post

Why I Keep the Sabbath -- Jana Riess, Religion News Service


The Hunger Games, and Understanding Sacrifice

I'm 2/3 of the way through the Hunger Games trilogy. I'm holding off on Mockingjay because people are counting on me to drive them to piano lessons, and buy groceries, and  actually finish sentences instead of letting them trail off, eyes on the Kindle.

[Minor spoilers for books 1 and 2 ahead]

There's a lot that could be said about HG. I haven't gone looking for commentary, but c'mon, the Internet has got this. I just want to hone in on something in particular.

I was in a conversation about terrorism recently, especially suicide bombers. One person was baffled over why people go the self-destructive route in order to try to effect change. Don't they realize that there are more constructive routes, like education and organizing and economic betterment, that would work so much better? Another person countered that those options seem so remote to people without any power that they may as well be imaginary. If society sees you as worthless---as good as dead---then maybe it's not a huge jump in your mind to being actually dead. And maybe these people figure that a small jump into death can shift the picture. It doesn't end up working that way, but that's the warped logic of terrorism.

Another way to say this: the idea of educating yourself and accumulating power in order to effect change is a very privileged way of looking at things. I say this, obviously, as a person of privilege myself. If you're already middle class, improving your lot in life using the traditional tools is a relatively short hop. For someone near the bottom in society's estimation, it's a huge leap. So some folks get into terrorism or gangs or whatever, because those are the tools that are immediately available.

Now, there are people at the bottom of the power-and-privilege scale who DO organize and mobilize and change things. And I don't want to come off as condoning or promoting terrorism in any way. The evil of suicide bombing is that they take a bunch of other people out with them. But setting that aside, isn't this same self-obliterating dynamic at work in the Hunger Games? Part of what makes the story compelling is that people are willing to sacrifice themselves for others. This theme appears again and again. And yet it's not hard to see why they'd be willing to do so. Between the starvation and the oppression they suffer, conditions are so dire in the Districts that the main characters have very little to lose by being willing to give their lives for their families and fellow countrymen. That short jump from "good as dead" to "dead" is exactly why the HG are such effective tools of social control. The people are conditioned to see themselves as weak. Helpless. Tribute-fodder.

In fact, as deeply as I feel for Katniss and Peeta and the others, the most emotional moment in the book for me was Cinna's act of dressing Katniss as the mockingjay, thus stoking the fires of rebellion. Here is a person who could have lived in comfort and ease for the rest of his days, but he gives it all up for Katniss's sake and for the sake of the greater good. I'm not saying he's the big hero. But as a resident of the Capitol, he had a lot to lose by doing what he did. And he risked it all anyway.

I preached two weeks ago on "deny yourself, take up your cross and follow," and every time I deal with that passage I think about how impossible that seems for anyone, but it's hard for the wealthy and powerful in a very particular way.

I realize this post could be interpreted as extolling the heroism of rich people over poor people. Not so. Indeed, the fact that Katniss and Peeta and others without power and privilege are willing to die makes their sacrifice poignant and resonant in a completely different way than Cinna's. They must face their own deaths knowing that ultimately it may not make a bit of difference. They act as they do, knowing that nothing may change at all. But Katniss knows that standing in for her sister, or teaming up with little Rue, or allying with 80-year-old Mags, or doing everything she can to keep Peeta alive, though she must die, are good things that are worth doing for their own sake. They have a dignity to them. Like Peeta, she wants to live and die on her own terms, because that's the one thing that the Capitol elites cannot take away. That gives their story a power that Cinna's and others of his status will never have.

One with Authority

Today I had lunch with a member of the church, and we got to talking about leadership styles. I mentioned one of my struggles in that area: namely, how to balance the need for collaboration and consensus with the role of the minister as the vision-caster, the one who inspires folks to think big and look beyond the present into the future. I think new ideas take root more fully if people are a part of the process. I'm a big fan of discernment processes. On the other hand, sometimes people don't recognize the answer until someone with a bird's eye view of things articulates it. I have a friend whose church council basically said to her, "We don't have a clue what needs to happen next, but we trust you, so tell us where we're going and we'll follow."

Part of the tension I'm feeling is that only now, almost a year into my time at the church, do I really feel the future coming into view. I also feel like the trust is still being established. It would not have been effective for me to gallop in and start ordering people around---as if that were my style anyway. However, the time is soon coming when I will be called upon to offer what my ministry coach calls the "I Have a Dream speech." And this is a bit nerve-wracking. What if I misread the signs? What if the vision is too ambitious? It can be demoralizing. Or what if the church says, "Eh, that's the best you could come up with?"

As I was pondering our lunchtime conversation in the car afterwards, I found myself in a school zone while a crossing guard was directing traffic.

I was mesmerized. The woman was in complete command of the situation. She wore a bright yellow vest and matching gloves, crisp black shorts and sensible but stylish shoes. Her movements were precise and decisive. With a flick of the hand she made cars move. With a palm upraised, they stopped.

I thought about a training I attended years ago in which the presenter talked about power and authority and used the metaphor of the crossing guard. Let's face it---those of us behind the wheels of these two-ton machines have the power. We could ignore her commands. We could even mow her down if we wanted to. She is just one person out there, unprotected. And yet when she puts on her uniform and steps into the street, she has authority. We confer that authority on her. But that's only part of the process---she also claims it for her herself in the way she stands up straight and projects confidence.

And with that authority comes power, just a different kind. A riskier kind, that involves being a little defenseless out there.

Leadership is like that too.

My lunch companion suggested that people are going to listen to what I say by virtue of being clergy, with training and perspective and whatever wisdom I've accumulated over years of ministry and just being alive in the world. They confer that authority upon me. I can appreciate that, though I have no illusions that everyone's going to just go along with whatever I say. I could stand tall and give all the right signs with as much confidence as I can muster and still there is a possibility of getting mowed down.

True leadership is vulnerable, I am realizing again and again.