"I am frustrated that our new interconnectivity and access to information is not leading to a larger sense of community -- but is instead causing everyone to fragment into their own little world of narrow special interest. People are mining information that simply supports their own pre-determined prejudices."
This message from a close friend and supporter of my ministry landed in my e-mail this morning. I strongly identify with this sense of discouragement and find myself wrestling with being part of the problem. Sometimes I feel like "fighting fire with fire" is the only path to making sure the "truth" is heard.
"Significant positive personality change does not occur except in a relationship."
This quotation in my counseling textbook from noted Humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers has in the margin a double asterisk with an exclamation point! I was captivated by this belief then, and now twenty-plus years later, no matter where I roam, I still am.
In the middle phase of my ministry, I was immersed in learning and practicing pastoral theology, counseling, and chaplaincy. My sole concern was in transforming my innermost self into a healing salve for those who are hurting and grieving.
I had a bunch of family, church, and cultural crapola in there to shape into something useful for the pastoral enterprise. Years of intensive personal therapy, training, supervision, and actually being a counselor and chaplain got me closer to the aim of "embodying the gospel." In time, I got in the vicinity of being "a worthy vessel."
In 2004, after Bush's re-election, I began to crawl towards a shift from a pastoral to prophetic ministry. I found myself retracing the same debilitating issues I thought I had achieved some perspective on. This makes sense as I reflect on it. When one ramps things up from the personal to collective level, the ante leaps in kind.
In spite of my smile and humor, I found anger at the bottom of my well, poisoning the groundwater. In writing this I get the image of myself as a Laughing Hyena. I think those dudes are pretty deadly! I don't believe anger itself is negative, but it most assuredly needs a lot of tilling to be of positive value.
I engage my anger with my Spiritual Director regularly. I wrestle with it in my sermons, radio shows, and blogs. I have searched sacred texts for mantras and divine antidotes. I intentionally read Gandhi and King for their mentoring.
A lot of my anger is directed at the radical religious right and their successful political influence. I grew up as a fundamentalist preacher's son. A few months ago one of my Unitarian Universalist Church members began attending a job-seekers' group at the Evangelical mega-church around the corner. She met the lead pastor, Pastor Tim, who agreed to consult with me about some practical church communication issues.
As I was driving to his church the afternoon of my appointment, an inner voice screamed, "I don't want to visit no damn Evangelical Christian minister!"
I ended up spending three and a half hours with Pastor Tim. I found him to be a thoughtful, kind, generous, gentle, non-judgmental man. I sensed not a whisper of disdain for me being a dreaded Universalist.
When I left, my body was buzzing with the energy of a healing inner tectonic plate shift. The transformational soul quake is still moving my inner architecture around.
Rogers was onto something. One of his foundational qualities for change is what he names "unconditional positive regard." He writes, "If I can provide a certain type of relationship, the other person will discover within himself the capacity to use that relationship for growth, change, and personal development will occur."
My church is in a fundamental transition as we look at our vision and mission afresh. I have asked Pastor Tim to be a mentor to me. When I told this to some of my Unitarian Universalist minister friends, they thought it was cool but were perplexed: "Why would he want to mentor you? There is such a wide theological divide."
Pastor Tim and I are developing a relationship based on positive regard. One Sunday I had the day off, so I went to hear him preach. As I greeted Tim after the service, he embraced me and said, "Thanks for coming, Brother." The buzz of acceptance filled my body once more. What if that buzz filled the airwaves and public discourse in America?
Another friend and supporter wrote me: can you write about "specific ways to make our way back to discourse that is civil ('No more You Lie'), that sincerely considers the others' points of view as possibilities, and makes heroic those who refuse to travel the rotten road?"
Can simply relating in a respectful way with another human being with whom we differ be heroic?
Perhaps in our time it is.