Rob Voyle's Appreciative Way Blog
The Sermon I Need to Hear this Christmas
Posted: December 22, 2012 by Rob Voyle
I won't be preaching this Christmas, but I have been reflecting on: "if I was preaching what would I preach" and realized that what I was ruminating on was "what is the sermon that I need to hear this Christmas?"
Over the last few years I have become increasingly discouraged by the level of public discourse and even more frustrated that political ideologies have replaced seeking and finding practical solutions for the myriad of problems we as a society face. This all came to a head with the shooting at Newtown.
I wanted to scream, and yell, but most of all I just felt hopeless and wanted to give up, after all what can I as an individual do? That sense of hopelessness gets compounded by the sense of economic struggle of the past couple of years and where would I find time to do something in the midst of all that I am currently doing. Its hard to think of others when I find myself locked in a struggle to survive.
So with that as the context what is the sermon I need to hear this Christmas I need to hear?
The answer came on one of the weekly teleconferences that I run, which brought me to the first realization:
I can't do this alone, it is in community that I and we have the power to change the world.
And the Christmas message I need to hear (and had forgotten) was the prologue of John's Gospel and especially:
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
When children are afraid of the dark, we don't turn off the dark, we turn on the light.
Much of what discourages me is that I and most in our country are focused on trying to turn off the dark.
There is much talk of "gun control," which I avidly support, but I realize gun control is like putting a small scab on the gaping wound of our society
We focus on and vilify one or two people as "crazies" with guns yet we live in a culture that places a high value on revenge, often wrapped in a primitive idea of justice, and a high value on physical violence as the means to achieving that idea of justice.
Violence in any form is an example of communal moral failure and should be a time for communal sorrow and repentance for all involved. Why should we be surprised when one person takes a gun, invades a school, and kills 20 children and 6 adults when we as a nation invaded a country and killed hundreds of thousands of children and adults? Both were wrong, and we are all part of the problem and the solution.
I remember walking through an airport weeks after 9/11. At each corner of the terminal was a national Guardsmen with an assault weapon. There presence did not make me feel safer, on the contrary, I just knew that any terrorist would have to come with a bigger weapon, and the end to that spiral is joint annihilation. I also had a feeling of profound sadness and awareness that I don't want to live like this where everyone is armed to the teeth.
Please don't get me wrong. I am grateful for our military who are willing to make sacrifices that I am not prepared to make. I just have a huge problem with the way we as nation use our military.
Adding more darkness to a dark world isn't the solution, we need to turn on the light! The light that the darkness has not overcome.
And John goes on to say that all who received that light were given power to become the children of God.
Now I have known that light and been a child of God for over 40 years and I realized that it is time for this child of God to grow up and become an adult of God, to stop whining and do something. To stop blaming others and accept my part in this communal mess we are in and more importantly my responsibility for being part of the solution.
We get one choice in life with two options: to live in fear or to live in love. From "our time in the garden" humanity has been afraid and living in darkness. Each theophany begins with "do not be afraid" and is followed by a welcome into the light and a call to manifest that light in some way in the world.
And so as an adult of God I get to make choices. I choose to:
Live in love, which for me means:
To renounce using fear to motivate myself or anyone for that is the path of and to terrorism. To see the world through the eyes of love, for those are the eyes of God. To stay in community with others who walk the path of love. And whenever and wherever to seek and find the light in others and discover how we can make that light burn brighter.
And in the words of Steve Bhaerman to become a "nomad." That's where I no mad at you and you no mad at me. A little peace here, a little peace there, and pretty soon there be a big peace everywhere.
So that's the sermon I need to hear, or that I will preach to myself this Christmas.
I wish you, your families, and your enemies a great piece of peace this Christmas and pray that together we can all see and live in the light.
Song for Times Of Sorrow
As I thought of the families of those who lost children in Newtown my thoughts went to my own family. My sister Marilyn and her husband Don and their daughter Brie are two of my heros when it comes to dealing with grief. Marilyn and Don's son Zaan died when he was eight years old having lived most of his life with a brain tumor. Zaan was an amazing child, who, like many with a short life span seized what life he had and lived it to its fullest. When he died my sister wrote and recorded "Child of the Angels" as her tribute and farewell to Zaan.
You can listen to a recording at: http://www.appreciativeway.com/hope/hope.cfm
There is also a brief account of Don's experience of grief excerpted from the book Restoring Hope.
Blue Christmas Meditation
Posted: December 12, 2012 by Rob Voyle
Many of you will be leading "Blue Christmas" services for families who have lost loved ones and find the Christmas season a sad rather than a joyful time.
Using the understanding of grief I presented in Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment I have developed a meditation for Blue Christmas services.
You can find the meditation and background instructions at: http://www.clergyleadership.com/hope/BlueChristmasMeditation.pdf
The meditation is designed to help people remember or "put back together in consciousness" their loved one in a way that evokes love and gratitude rather than misery and sadness.
The key strategy in the meditation is based on the understanding that it is not "what" we remember but "how" we remember that determines whether the memory will be distressing or a source of love and well-being.
Jesus gave us the Eucharist to "remember" or put him back together in our minds and lives. This way of remembering him becomes a core resource for many Christians as they go about living and loving in the world. By changing the way people remember their loved ones from distressing memories to memories that evoke love and gratitude we can create memories that provide valuable resources for the person as they live without their loved one's physical presence.
How Do We Want To Remember
The meditation would also be helpful as an exercise to help people "rebuild" their image of a loved one following a difficult death. Often in these situations where family members watch a loved one suffer and waste they will say things like" "this is not how I want to remember them." Unfortunately what happens for many people is when they try to remember their loved one all they "see" in their minds is a large picture of the person suffering which obscures all other memories of the loved one.
In these situations it is not uncommon for 40 or 50 years of great memories to be obscured by one bad memory. The good news is that we can change the way we remember and help the person to regain access to the great memories.
In the exercise we take the troubling images and reduce them is size and intensity. We don't erase them or deny them, for that would be to create a delusional system, but when reduced in size we can place them in the midst of all the other memories, and by doing so their ability to evoke distress will be significantly diminished.
The meditation also deals with the fear of forgetting which is a common obstacle for people top resolve their grief. Enabling people to remember their loved one with love and gratitude rather than not forget them by being miserable, will free them to reengage in those things they find life-giving and begin to create a new preferred future that includes the reality that their loved one is gone.
Please feel free to download the meditation and use it as you will. http://www.clergyleadership.com/hope/BlueChristmasMeditation.pdf
One word of warning: If you know someone who is grieving don't give them the meditation, do the meditation with them. This is not helpful information about grief, it is a very effective process to resolve some of the troubling aspects of grief. To access the benefit they will need to actually "do" do the exercises and not simply "know about" the exercises.
I am continuing to develop my training schedule for next year where you will be able to develop your skill in helping people resolve, grief, resentment. I will keep you posted as the schedule is developed.
With Advent Blessings
Remembering Dr. King
Posted: December 1, 2012 by Rob Voyle
Fellow companion on the Appreciative Way, Dr. Ron English was a young assistant pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta when Dr. King was slain. Below is the prayer Ron prayed at Dr. King's funeral. With a couple of contextual edits it is a prayer that we could all pray for today.
In next weeks newsletter I will provide the schedule of training for 2012.
Lenten Program: Saving America: Growing the United States of America not the Divided States of America. A group of people are developing an Appreciative Inquiry based Lenten study and dialogue program to respond to the destructive rhetoric that abounds in our churches and society. More details to follow.
Dr. Ron English's prayer at Dr. King's funeral.
Let us bow our heads in a moment of solemn utterance.
Eternal and everlasting God Our Father. The height of our aspirations, the depth of our existence, Thou who are the giver and sustainer of life, from Whom all things have come and to whom all things shall return, we beseech Thy comforting presence in this hour of deepest bereavement.
For our hearts are heavily laden with sorrow and remorse at the removal of one of history's truest representatives of Thy will and purpose for mankind.
While we pray for comfort we pray for wisdom to guide our thoughts aright at this hour. For we, oh God, in our limited vision cannot begin to comprehend the full significance of this tragic occasion.
And so we raise the perennial question of Job: "Why?" as we weep for the moment.
Yet we are reminded by the best of the Christian tradition that in the total economy of the universe good will ultimately triumph. Though sorrow tarries for the night, joy comes in the morning.
We know, oh God, that even in this little while of sorrow we need not weep for the deceased, for here was one man truly prepared to die.
In his last hours he testified himself that he had been to the mountaintop, that his eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. We know he had no fear of death.
Help us to find consolation in the fact that his life was a gift given to us at this crucial juncture in our history out of the graciousness of Thy being.
And so we had no real claims upon him. In the fullness of time he came and in the fullness of time he was gone. He knew where he came from and he knew where he was going. And so as we abide in this knowledge our gratitude will abate our sorrows.
We know, oh God, that life is but a moment in eternity and that he who lives for the moment will surely die, yet he who lives for eternity and dedicates his life to those ultimate principles of truth, justice, and love as this man has done will never die.
Inspire us to accept the imperative that his life so fully exemplifies - that we would not judge the worth of our lives by their physical longevity but by the quality of their service to mankind.
He has shown us how to live, oh God. He has shown us how to love. Yet the manner of his teaching and the manner of his being was so strange and unfamiliar in our world, a world that abounds in war, hatred and racism, a world that exhausts the wicked and crucifies the righteous, a world where a word of condemnation is familiar while a word of kindness is strange.
So this man was a peculiar man. He taught a peculiar teaching. So he was not of this world. So in the course of human events the forces of time, faith and the hope of the oppressed converged upon a single man.
Though once in a century the midwife of oppression snatches from the womb of history a child of destiny, the records of events testifies to the fact that history cannot bear the truth.
We have witnessed the life of the crucified Christ and we have seen the slaying of Martin Luther King. So like a wild carnivorous beast that turns upon and devours them, history has turned once more upon its own because it could not bear the truth he spoke or the judgment that he brought.
And so like Jesus, not only did Martin Luther King challenge the status quo, but he challenged our mode of existence. Therefore, like Jesus he had to die as a martyr for a cause that challenged the world's assumed posture of security.
The light came into the darkness but the darkness knew it not.
Oh God, our leader is dead. And so now the question that he posed during his life finds us all in its garing proportions: "Where do we go from here? Chaos or community."
We pray, oh Merciful Father, that the removal of this man will not nullify the revelation given through him.
Undergird our feeble efforts with Thy strengthen and renew our courage to devote the full weight of our being to the ideas that he has thus far so nobly advanced.
Deepen our commitment to nonviolence so that this country will not be run asunder by a frustrated segment of the black masses who would blaspheme the name of Martin Luther King by committing violence in that name.
Grant that the Congress and President of this nation who have been so generous and gracious in their memorial tributes will be guided by the memory of this suffering servant and return to the legislative halls determined to pass without compromise or reservation legislation so vitally needed to preserve domestic tranquility and prevent social disruption.
Grant, oh lover of peace, that we will effectively negotiate for a peaceful settlement in Vietnam to end the brutal slayings and communal atrocities committed in the name of democracy.
Turn our hearts, oh God, to hear and respond to the echoes of this undying voice of the ages, a voice of love and reconciliation in the present, a voice of hope and confidence in the future.
Grant that in response to his sacrificial death we will work toward that day when the long and tragic tune of a man's inhumanity to man will resolve into a chorus of peace and brotherhood. Then love will tread out the baleful signs of anger and its ashes plant a tree of peace.
With Gratitude for Dr. King, Dr. English and other servants of justice and peace.
What's the Purpose, What's My Purpose?
Posted: November 16, 2012 by Rob Voyle
Are you struggling to create change, or wish that change would occur?
For example have you got a weekly meeting that is boring, often frustrating, and you would wish it were different but don't know how to make it different?
Before making a change ask yourself and or the group you are working with:
What's the purpose of what we are doing?
Sometimes you may have to ask follow-up questions:
Then make changes that help align the purpose of the activity with your core purpose or the groups core purpose.
Sadly, based on my experience, many people and most congregations live without a profound awareness of their core purpose. They do what they do in order to survive rather than manifest their purpose for being.
The purpose of the Clergy Leadership Institute is to:
Transform the church from being a place of fear to a place of love,
One of the core things I teach and you get to experience first hand is how to discover and manifest your core purpose. If you don't what your purpose is how do you know how to plan and create the world around you? Without a sense of purpose you will be the victim of other people's plans.
Knowing your purpose is the way to liberate: love, joy, delight, passion, freedom, and competence in your life and work.
When I read people's valuation of my programs two things are consistently at the top of the list of what people value about the training:
* Discovering and understanding my core purpose
I have also found that helping people and groups discover their core purpose is the foundation for passionate, resourceful living.
Martin Buber once said: "If a person carries their own light within them, then they need never be afraid of the darkness."
Knowing your purpose is a big part of having your own light within you. If you would like to discover your purpose, or use your sense of purpose to define and create change then I invite you to attend one of my Appreciative Inquiry based training programs.
With blessings on your life and work
The Language of Growing in Love
Posted: July 12, 2012 by Rob Voyle
The Language of Growing in Love
Here is a simple exercise on love that could work well as part of a wedding homily or spirituality class:
Think of someone you really love and who loves you... As you remember them be aware of your love for each other... Remember (but back together in consciousness) that love and be aware how important and deeply valuable your love is...
Since the love is so valuable take a moment to hold onto it so you don't lose it... Make sure you grasp it firmly so no one can take it from you or that you don't lose it because it is so valuable...
Now put that experience aside, distract yourself by wondering what you will eat at your next meal or some other thing.
Now come back to the person you love. Rather than holding onto the love, let the love hold onto you and the other person... Be aware of what happens when love holds onto you rather than you hold onto love...
Many people when doing this exercise report that being held by love is freeing, enlarging, warming, opening, and wanting to share it with others. Whereas holding onto love, makes the experience of love smaller and often fearful. Holding onto love leads to grasping, possessiveness, greed, and jealousy.
This exercise points to the language we use about love. We say we are "in love" with someone. That means that love is the "container" or space we find ourselves in. Its not that I love my beloved or that my beloved loves me but that together we find ourselves in a reality of love that transcends both of us.
Notice in the above experience the external reality has not changed but everything is different simply from changing perspectives.
Changing language and perspective is a core aspect of the Appreciative Way.
If you are struggling with a persistent problem then one of the first steps is to change the questions you are asking. Many of the times we are asking how can I have less of the problem rather than asking: what is it that I want more of?
Another common question related to problems is: who is to blame for the problem rather than what do I need to do to have what I want more of?
Changing perspectives, and reframing are just some of the tools for transformation tools that I teach at the Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry and Congregation Development programs.
Church Growth and Making Disciples
Posted: June 15, 2012 by Rob Voyle
Here is a pattern of conversation I have had as a coach and consultant with numerous church leaders.
Parishioner: "We want a pastor who will help us grow." Response: "I am curious why do you want to grow?"
Parishioner: "We need the people and their money." Response: "Who do you know who would want to join your church so they can have a share in your debt?"
Parishioner: (Bewildered look of recognition of doubtful motivation) Response: "What do you have that is of great value that the people in your community need."
In times of decline people go into survival mode and are motivated by fear based strategies that in addition to being antithetical to the Gospel will actually hasten the decline.
In recent years I have also heard lots of conversation around the idea of focusing outward and becoming a missional church. While there is much to applaud in the outward focus I am concerned that in many cases becoming missional is perceived as creating a lot of busy work for people who are already too busy.
One of the basic assumptions of Appreciative Inquiry is: when we are dealing with problems, change the questions we are asking.
Here are some of my conclusions and questions.
1: We aren't called to grow the church, we are called to make disciples.
For many in the mainline churches making disciples and evangelism raises in consciousness behaviors that we detest. We need to find authentic ways of discipleship and evangelism that express our deepest values.
One question to start asking people: "What do you love about being a follower of Jesus?"
This question will grow in consciousness several things:
i: That we are actually followers of Jesus. This counters the idea: I knew I was a Christian but I didn't realize that meant I was a follower of Jesus.
ii: What we deeply value about being a follower of Jesus. If we want to make disciples we need to discover what is so valuable about being a disciple that we want others to share in that value. 2: What if people only came to church on Sunday morning? AND it was the most important two hours of their week.
because it inspired them to be the best plumbers, electricians, nurses, teachers, bankers, moms, dads, etc. that they could be, because what they do in the world is actually their ministry. Most volunteering at church is actually a hobby it is not a person's ministry. Ministry is what we do in the world with the bulk of our energy.
Question: What is life-giving and inspiring about our Sunday church experience? What do we need to do on Sunday to make it the most life-giving experience in your life?
Imagine what would happen to your church if you and or your leader stopped doing things that suck life from them and spent twice as much time growing what was life-giving for people on Sunday morning. One difference I know about big churches and little churches is that the leaders of big churches spend several entire days during the week preparing their sermon and the leaders of small churches spend just a few hours, if that, after the tyranny of the urgent has swallowed them whole.
If that touches a chord inside, don't bother contemplating why you can't spend more time working on a sermon or worship, ask yourself: "What do I need to do to make my work on Sunday morning my main priority."
If you are interested in learning more about Appreciative Inquiry and Making Disciples, Discovery and Engaging people's passion for work and daily life I invite you to attend the training next training I will be holding:
Transforming Victim Narratives: Mark 7:24-30
Posted: June 9, 2012 by Rob Voyle
Have you ever tried, unsuccessfully, to help someone with a victim narrative?
I know in my own church ministry and as a coach and therapist people with big victim narratives can be a real frustration. They continually report they feel like a "worm" and you tell them no you are not, you're a child of God, or something similar, but they never get it. Week after week they say their line, you say yours, and nothing changes. Actually your arguing against their position just keeps their position in balance. What you need to do is radically unbalance their position if you want to bring transformation and healing.
This week we have the story of the Syrophoenician or Canaanite woman whom Jesus calls a dog. I realize there are many ways to interpret this story, especially how Mark is using it in context to explore Jesus mission to the Gentiles and not just the Israelites.
Personally I read this story as a healer and I am fascinated by the strategy Jesus uses to bring transformation. The great healers in the mystical tradition often use "crazy wisdom" as Buddhists call it to bring about transformation. It is often bizarre, paradoxical, ambiguous, and may rely on the telling of parable or indirect communication rather than direct or literal statements. Jesus is one such healer, and this Sunday's Gospel is a good example.
The woman is an outcast and her daughter is possessed. This is a person who is likely to have a very powerful alienation narrative, much like those people with victim narratives that can drive us crazy. They will fall at your feet begging and wailing for help, maximizing their victim potential, because that's the way they have learned to be noticed and get help. And they will what they can get but never give up their victim consciousness because that is how they get help.
So Jesus has a dilemma. Simply healing the daughter would reinforce this pattern of behavior. Ignoring her would also reinforce the behavior and the beliefs that motivate such behavior.
So what does Jesus do? Rather than arguing against her alienation narrative he agrees with her narrative and even ratchets it up a few notches calls her dog and says it wouldn't be fair to give such dogs the real children's food. Now the woman's story is unbalanced. if she really believed it she would slide on down the slippery slope of alienation into the hell of despair. The only way she can achieve internal balance is to argue against her alienation narrative. She gets in Jesus' face and tells him: "you may call me a dog sir, but even the dogs are worthy to eat the crumbs from the master's table." In Matthew's version he says it is this faith - her fundamental belief that she is worthy of belonging at the table - that has facilitated her daughters healing.
As a coach I have used this paradoxical strategy with remarkable success. The next time you find yourself arguing against a person's victim narrative, stop and simply agree with it, maybe exaggerate it a bit and see what happens. I think you'll be surprised.
If you would like to learn more about Jesus' tender, fierce, and, mischievous way of compassion and how you can use it in your ministry I invite you to attend one of my Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry training programs where we look at the subject in considerable detail.
Creating Sustainable Change through Incarnational Leadership
Posted: May 4, 2012 by Rob Voyle
I often hear clergy discussing when to make changes, immediately upon arriving in the congregation or waiting for a year before making changes. I don't think the timing matters what really matters is HOW not WHEN you lead change.
For the last couple of days I have been at our Oregon diocesan clergy conference. The presenter was the Rev. Melissa Skelton from St. Paul's in urban Seattle and the topic was "Worship Matters: Enticing others into the Reign of God."
When Melissa arrive at St. Paul's 7 years ago the church was a small declining Episcopal congregation with very traditional Anglo-Catholic worship. For Protestant readers think smells, bells, vestments, statues, and all things that probably make you cringe.
In her 7 years as rector Melissa has lead the congregation through a major transformation of their worship and congregational life which has grown the congregation from an AWA of 89 to 250.
What impressed me about Melissa's story was not the outcome she achieved but HOW she lead the people through the changes. Her story is a story of incarnational leadership.
1. It begins with delight in what already is and not in what might be.
In the search process Melissa found a place of delight in the people. Yes she also saw a lot that needed to be done but she clearly identified a place of delight within herself for the people she would be ministering with.
The opposite of delight is contempt. Too often I see clergy seeing what needs to be done but without a foundation of delight the impetus for change is perceived as judgmental and despite any good intention, the leader is likely to call forth a contemptible congregation.
If you are in a search process and can't find a place of delight in the people, LEAVE, it is not your place to minister.
2. From a place of delight the next step is to join.
All sustainable change is an inside job. If you don't join the congregation you will be doing TO the people not doing WITH the people. Change agents who bring change TO people will be perceived as arrogant and the change will be resisted.
The place to join is in place of shared values. You can not join people by focusing on what is wrong. You have to join at a place of shared values, and from that place of shared values work together to create more of what is good rather than less of what is wrong.
What Melissa did was create a relationship of trust by discovering and honoring shared values. Trust is the ability to make vulnerable to someone else's actions what you value, knowing that what you value will be kept safe.
When the people knew that Melissa knew what they valued and that she shared that value they trusted her and were then willing to follow her lead in experimenting and making changes.
If you want people to trust you there are two things you must do: discover and then honor what people value. If you can't value what they value, become curious and dig deeper into what they value to find a place of shared value.
Remember Jesus didn't come and inflict salvation on us he came and lived as one of us.
3. When you make changes ensure the change grows the shared life-giving value.
We live and make changes in a temporal world. Within this temporal experience are timeless or eternal values. Idolatry occurs when people cling to a temporal vehicle by which some eternal quality has been experienced.
Once Melissa had joined the congregation she helped the people discover and identify the deeper eternal values in all the temporal ritual of the congregation's traditional worship. She was then able to lead changes in the temporal rituals by opening these rituals to the deeper shared life-giving reality.
We can live without a foot but we can not live without a heart. When you make changes make sure you are not amputating the heart, or the people's access to the heart of the congregation.
4. Creating an Intentional Culture of Excellence
As pastors it is very easy to get distracted and held hostage by the tyranny of the urgent and in the midst of that lose sight of the core things we need to do, and do well, such as community worship. Crummy worship happens when all the worship gets is the crumbs left over from the daily grind.
Melissa's story is also the story of the people of St. Paul's and their response to being called into that deeper place of shared value. In many ways they hold it very important and give it an important place in their lives.
They spent time learning and training to be participants and leaders in the worship. They were very intentional and spent time in community dialog to discover what was working and what was not. They are intentional and have created a culture of excellence, but they are not slaves of that culture they are the free children of the God they intentionally seek.
I am continually amazed at how our young people spend hours practicing their sport or band or cheer leading and we require next to nothing of them when they lead worship as acolytes. Or I think of the NFL and the time and effort they spend to deliver 3 hours of amusement on Sunday and how little effort the church spends on its 3 hours on Sunday morning.
My own experience as a pastor tells me that people will be enormously grateful when we are intentional about the things people value. In Melissa's story that gratitude is expressed, in part, by their practical intentionality toward the thing they value.
If you want to learn more about Melissa's and the people of St.Paul's story you can find it in The Hospitality of God: Emerging Worship for a Missional Church by Mary Gray-Reeves and Michael Perham. The book is primarily about emerging worship and has stories from 14 churches in the Episcopal/Anglican tradition that the authors studied. Here is what the authors say about St. Paul's:
"St Paul's Church in Seattle regards itself as a 'progressive Anglo-Catholic church', and though it has its own alternative worship the service we attended was in no way alternative, but a deeply spiritual eucharistic celebration of the inherited church. We have included it in order to have a good model of mainstream liturgical life to set alongside what is developing in the emerging churches."
One Note of Caution. As you read the stories in the book don't find a model of worship, such as St. Paul's, that you like and try to do that in your congregation. Remodeling your church to fit the model in your head is the antithesis of the incarnation and will likely get you fired. Instead pay attention to the dynamics of what the leaders did to achieve their outcome and do the same leadership behaviors in your congregation to co-create with your parishioners a way of enticing people into the presence of God.
Find Resurrection this Easter not Reincarnation
Posted: May 4, 2012 by Rob Voyle
You Can't Have Resurrection without Crucifixion
And Crucifixion Isn't Supposed to Last a Lifetime
Find Resurrection this Easter not Reincarnation
Too often I see individuals and congregations get caught up in endless cycles of suffering and mutual victimization. In some situations the suffering may be romanticized, theologically and psychologically and seen as the essence of life, when in fact it is the essence of death. In the midst of such suffering people will often look to Jesus as the one who will help them have less death or at least to make this suffering tolerable.
Contrary to trivial and popular western understandings of reincarnation as a way of immortality, Buddhists actually see reincarnation as a curse. Reincarnation is the never ending recycling of patterns of suffering, such as a congregation calling four active alcoholic pastors in a row. For Buddhists what is required in these situations is not reincarnation but enlightenment - a radically different way of seeing and being in the world. For Christians this is resurrection, where the old ways dies and new life bursts forth.
This is the Easter message of resurrection, of new life. It is not a message of tolerating misery or of having less death. The Apostles were called to be witnesses of the resurrection. Crucifixion does not create community or bring people together, it causes disciples to scatter, it is resurrection that brings people back together in community.
Here are three patterns I see in congregations and individuals when they suffer:
* suffering - struggle to avoid death - exhaustion/apathy
* suffering - dormancy - reincarnation/repetition
* suffering - death - resurrection/new life
The way of resurrection requires death, not just a winter of dormancy. Resurrection requires a radical surrender or letting go of that which is not working, especially our ego attachments to our way of seeing the world. Rather than let go of our understanding and see things the way God's sees them we struggle to get God to bless our understanding.
This is true not only for individuals or congregations but also for our nation. Every four years in the US we get together and elect new leaders who promise change. While the players may change rather than real change we get reincarnation, the same patterns repeated over and over, where the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. What we need is resurrection not reincarnation and that requires that we as a people have courage to let our old ways die rather than getting our way.
One of the things I value about the Appreciative Way is that it provides specific strategies to create new life regardless of where we find ourselves. The Appreciative Way does not ignore suffering or crucifixion. In the midst of suffering it provides strategies for finding the seeds of new life and in the midst of death of finding those qualities such as love and delight that will never die for they are of God.
This Good Friday take some time to wonder what needs to die, for example a way of seeing things or a strategy that despite your best efforts is not working. And don't stop there, wonder what life-giving quality needs to arise in its place and invite that into your God-given awareness.
I wish you and those you love a Blessed Easter.
Lent, Coaching, Change and Transformation
Posted: March 12, 2012 by Rob Voyle
"Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it, it remains a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (John 12:24)
When coaching people or congregations I often wonder what needs to change and how does it need to change. Does something need to grow and develop or does something need to actually die and allow new life to spring forth.
Simple changes, such as learning or developing a skill or implementing new procedures typically don't require that anything needs to die. We simply build on the understanding and resources that we already have.
Transformation on the other hand requires that something dies so that new life can be created. If we want to transform our churches or organizations then we need to become masters of allowing things to die and midwives to the new life that is coming into being.
Here is an example of where something needs to die. Many people and congregations have an underlying victim narrative. No amount of coaching and trying to help them learn new skills or ways of doing things will be of genuine help, because the person or congregation will screw it up because success would interfere with their victim consciousness.
Incompetent coaches and helpers will blame the person and say the person didn't want to change rather than recognize that fact that they the coach didn't know how to genuinely help the person.
What the person with victim consciousness needs is transformation. The victim narrative needs to die. That is the grain of wheat that needs to fall into the ground and die. The victim narrative needs to die so that a survivor and then a thriver narrative can be created.
What dies in a grain of wheat when it falls into the ground is its temporal form so that its life-giving essence can be released into a new temporal form. When helping things to die we need to pay attention to what actually needs to die and what needs to be allowed to blossom forth with new life.
There is an old joke: "How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?" answer: "only one but the light bulb has to want to change." I think that is a bunch of nonsense. The truth is: "it only takes one psychologist to change a light bulb, but the psychologist needs to know how to change a light bulb."
Transformational coaching requires non linear strategies, or the crazy wisdom that Jesus was a master at. Think of the weird conversations he had, with the woman at the well, the woman he called a dog, the man at the pool, or telling a group of angry men to stone a woman. These conversations were not about change they are about transforming the underlying narrative of defeat to a new way of being.
If you would like to learn the crazy wisdom of Jesus and some of his patterns of transformation I invite you to participate in the Foundations of Appreciative Coaching training.
In the training you will learn some ways to change the bulb, and more importantly, turn on the light. We will explore the dynamics of change and transformation and you will practice some of the crazy wisdom of Jesus.
In the meantime consider what needs to die and be curious as you wonder what new life will blossom forth in its place.
With Lenten Blessings
Thinking about Language: Are People Assets or Treasures?
Posted: March 1, 2012 by Rob Voyle
It has become common in business circles to hear leaders say something like: "our employees are our greatest asset, or in churches our staff or parishioners are our greatest asset.
At first glance that seems to be an affirmation of employees or parishioners until we reflect on what we do in the United States with our assets: We leverage them, trade them, sell them, deplete them, mine them, and all sorts of things that I wouldn't want done to me.
One time when I was in West Virginia I heard people complaining about strip mining, which I to typically think is bad for the environment. However my reaction at the time was to think the strip miners were real wimps in comparison to the ways I have seen many churches strip mine the emotional and spiritual environments of their parishioners and employees.
When people experience burnout that tells me some one has been strip mined. They have been working in a way that is not ecological, in the physical, emotional and spiritual realms they inhabit. Thinking of people as assets is a first step on the path to strip mining them. It is the beginning of legitimizing treating people inhumanely.
Rather than thinking of people and especially employees and parishioners as assets, think of them as treasures. Take a moment and remember a time when you were treasured. What was that like?
Who do you know that needs to be treasured? What is one thing you could do to treasure them? For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
With blessings on your life and work.
From Transfiguration to Tempting Job Offers
Posted: February 23, 2012 by Rob Voyle
Have you ever been tempted by a job offer that raised little voices of "something's not quite right here?"
Or have you got caught in job search desperation that you took a job that really wasn't right for you?
Last week I reflected on the transfiguration of Jesus and how transformation is preceded by confusion. This week we go from transfiguration to temptation in the wilderness.
In the transfiguration Jesus' identity and purpose are revealed. In the temptations this revelation is clarified for what it is and what its not. Being the Son of God is not an opportunity for self-serving aggrandizement.
In the mountain top experiences of life, those moments of transfiguration, we discover new things about our selves and the world we live in. Like all great blessings they can also become great curses. Blind allegiance to these discoveries can lead to great errors. Or our egos can take hold of the discovery and make us think it is all about us and not about the One who is the Source of all blessing.
All discoveries, regardless of their origins, need to be tested and honed in the challenges of daily life and we need the humility to acknowledge that we may have got it all wrong.
St. Paul had a transfiguration experience on the Damascus road and got so wound up that he had to be dropped over the town wall in the middle of the night. The next time we hear of him is some thirteen years later. He took nearly two 7 year life cycles to understand what it all meant and to begin his public ministry.
Appreciative Inquiry Summits, Congregation visioning, or personal visioning may result in mountain top experiences, but the outcome needs to be tested in daily living. This testing may feel like a wilderness, times of false starts, and frustration. What is needed is to keep our eyes on the vision and a humble stubbornness to keep our feet on the path of love.
My friend and colleague Rev. Steve Ayres calls the temptations of Christ three job offers. When we are looking for work, like Jesus, we may be tempted by many situations that are really not a good to match for our skills or are authentic to our calling.
In addition to being the Vicar of Old North Church in Boston, Steve is a coach specializing in clergy deployment. Steve, my wife Kim, and I will be teaching a series of classes in Byfield, MA (north of Boston) in May 21-25 in which we will look at clarifying personal purpose and career development.
You can find Steve's deployment blog at: http://stephentayres.com/
You can find more about the program at: http://www.clergyleadership.com/training/schedule.cfm
In the meantime I wish you great visions and the clarity of mind to pursue them in the midst of the great temptations of life.
With blessings on your life and work Rob Voyle
Transfiguration and Agents of Transformation
Posted: February 12, 2012 by Rob Voyle
The season of Epiphany ends with the story of the Transfiguration. Theophanies have always interested me. They typically begin with some experience that evokes great fear and then confusion. The confusion arises because something is occurring that is beyond our understanding and we have no way of comprehending the new reality that is breaking forth into awareness.
Fear and confusion are always precursors to transformation. But fear and confusion don't always lead to transformation. In most cases they drive people back to the certainty of what they used to know rather than enter into the new world. As the fear and confusion increase people will become more determined to cling to the past and old certainties.
In many ways our society and church is in the midst of a major transformation from modernism to post-modernism (whatever that may be) and fear and confusion abound in ways that haven't been experienced since the enlightenment. Strident voices call us back to the past, but the problem is that the past no longer works in this new world. Others fall into a self-protective apathy and seek only to endure. And a few hear the voice: "Don't be afraid... Behold my son."
Do we fearfully cling to the Jesus we used to know or do we look for the Jesus who is always going out ahead of us and stretching the reach of our understanding. The Jesus who won't stay on the mountain top of our understanding but continually seeks out the lost and lonely and confronts the principalities and powers of our day.
It is easy to fall into the trap of Peter and want to stay on the mountain. Throughout the Gospels we see Peter struggle to understand. Just when he thinks he understands his understanding is shattered and confusion returns.
Church Board retreats, Appreciative Inquiry Summits, transformational workshops, mission programs are all susceptible to the transfiguration phenomena. Great times are had by all, great vision, great energy, and then nothing happens. Seeking to implement new programs after the event are met with fear and confusion and to keep the peace we settle back to the way things were.
The ability to manage fear and confusion is essential if we are to be agents of transformation and co-create with God the new day that awaits us. At times we will need to make it safe for people to be confused. At other times we will need to let people walk away as Jesus did with the rich young man.
As transformational leaders and coaches we need:
* confidence in the One who knows even when we don't know
With Transfiguration Blessings on Your Life and Work With blessings on your life and work.
Managing Resistance to Change
Posted: January 11, 2012 by Rob Voyle
I think resistance to change is an act of wisdom!
Think of some change that you recently resisted. There are three reasons why you resist the change:
1: You cannot perceive the benefit of the change
2: You cannot perceive the outcome is worth the effort
3: The change, regardless of perceived value, was imposed
The first two are interrelated and are based on the perception of value and not on the actual value. Only an idiot would put effort and resources into achieving something they can't see has any value.
The third reason is a response to having your essential dignity violated by someone imposing a blessing on us. Remember, Jesus didn't come and impose salvation on us, he came and lived as one of us. The incarnation is a radical story of God's valuing of humanity not a trespassing on humanity's dignity. Resisting a denigration of your dignity is also an act of wisdom for only an idiot would gladly let someone trample their dignity into the ground.
People love change when the change is perceived as a blessing, that is something of value that is worth the effort of achieving and that affirms their dignity. People will wisely resist change that demeans or takes them to a place of reduced value.
When it comes to resistance, as change agents, we need to be wiser than the people who are wisely resisting us.
Years ago I worked as a psychologist in a mental health clinic. Many of my clients were highly resistant to change. As the client would resist my therapeutic endeavors I would record their resistance in their chart: "Client remains resistant to change and therapist's efforts."
In those days I knew very little about the nature of resistance and how in many cases I was actually evoking the client's resistance. It is interesting to note that I never wrote in their chart: "Client continues to suffer from an incompetent therapist." Yet that would have been a more accurate description of reality. I just blamed the resistance on the client and not my incompetence.
Becoming a competent, skillful, and effective change agent has been my personal life-long quest and led me to people like David Cooperrider, the founder of Appreciative Inquiry and Milton Erickson, the forerunner of many positive change work processes. Understanding the nature of change and how to create change that will be welcomed as a blessing is at the heart of the Appreciative Way, a synthesis of their work and contemplative spirituality.
At its core the Appreciative Way is a way of being and doing in the world that explore the life-giving values and realities of the community and how to collaboratively grow what is truly life-giving.
If you are working with a group that is resistant to change and are thinking, "these people just don't get it," then start by "giving it."
Explore what they value, and not just the surface things such as power but the deeper life-giving things that the power is used to protect. Then create change by growing the perception of value that grows what is truly life-giving to you and the people. And do it incarnationally "with" them rather than "to" them.
If you would like to learn more about the Appreciative Way of creating change and resolving resistance then I invite you to participate in one of my Appreciative Inquiry and Transitions programs.
With blessings on your life and work.
The Appreciative Way
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About the Author
The Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle is a leader in the development and use of appreciative inquiry in church and coaching settings.
Rob's Approach to Writing and Training
Practical Appreciative Inquiry based strategies to effectively resolve grief and resentment.