Progress – yes and no

For me October is always a month of reflection; by the end of this month I will have completed 20 years at DOOR. My conference minister regularly reminds me that people and institutions become what they pay attention to. It was December 2004 when I began paying attention to something different. In many ways this something different was and is tied to the words in Jesus’ prayer “on earth as it is in heaven.”

The journey began in 2003. When recruiting for a new Denver City Director there were no applications from people of color; the scenario repeated in the search for a new Chicago City Director a year later. In both cases extremely well qualified individuals were hired. But what did it say about DOOR and our commitments to diversity that we were unable to attract even a single candidate of color for these positions?

If DOOR was going to become a “multi” ministry, we were going to have to begin paying attention to different things. With a great deal of naiveté I wrote the following reflection/vision statement:

 As we think about DOOR in 10 years, part of that dream includes a transformation of the ethnic make-up of our City Directors. We are not saying it is wrong to hire Anglos, nor do we want to fire any of our current staff. Our current City Directors are some of the finest and brightest people with whom one could ever hope to work. We do, however, want to think about how and with whom we replace outgoing City Directors.

As DOOR looks down the road 10 years, it is our desire to develop a plan that would enable us to identify, train and hire City Directors who are from the urban minority community. It is important to recognize that for a plan like this to be successful our current set of City Directors will have to own this vision.

The goal was that by 2014, 51% of full-time DOOR staff would come from the urban minority community.

Well, its 2014, how did we do? Today, ten years later, 50% of our full-time staff and 72% of our summer Discerners are persons of color, and our local boards are no longer dominated by white men. The changes at DOOR are real; however we still have much to learn.

You see, in 2004 we were primarily thinking about diversity through the lens of race. The other forms of diversity - theology, class, age, orientation, and gender- were always important, but there was a sense in which these secondary diversity issues. In the last few years it has become increasingly clear that to limit “diversity” to one particular aspect, in DOOR’s case “color,” leads to an incomplete and potentially twisted understanding of the kingdom of God.

DOOR is both a tolerant and intolerant organization. On one hand we are open to participants who “don’t get it,” but on the other we do not have a whole lot of tolerance for people who are content to live out their racial prejudice or stereotypes. What happens when we expand this tolerance-intolerance tension to issues of religion and orientation?

Entitlement and the young adult

I have been working with youth and young adults for well over two decades now.  During this time I have also become a parent of two young adult boys (men).  I say this because I am not innocent of the issues I want to raise. 2013-12-27 12.59.34

We live in an era when parents are more involved in the lives of their emerging adult children than ever.  This didn’t just happen. Concerned parents have been there at every step, from planned play dates and selecting the right pre-school to hiring tutors and college prep coaches; we have wanted nothing but the best for our children.  Smart phones and social media have allowed instant and continuous access to literally everything our children do and are engaged in.  It might even be an understatement to say that parents have embraced these tools fully.  The jury is still out as to the benefits and costs of this level of social media.  It is not a stretch to suggest that these instantaneous connections slow down the “letting go” process.

It makes sense that letting go is not easy for either the parents or the young adult children.  What we sometimes fail to recognize is the cost to this extended and intense connection.  A grown child’s dependence on the parent to always be present, always come through, and always be available delays adulthood and creates a level of personal entitlement that stunts social development.

In the last few years I have seen this play out in all kinds of unhealthy ways.  Parents have inserted themselves into the crises and stresses of their young adult’s experiences in our Dwell program.  At DOOR, Dwell is a program that invites young adults to spend a year living in intentional community exploring the call of God on their lives.  During their year all kinds of issues and stresses arise from the mundane, like deciding who will cook dinner and how to keep the house clean, to the serious, like how to deal with health concerns or a co-worker who is acting inappropriate.

In the last few years it has become increasingly common for parents to insert themselves into the “crisis.”  Their reasoning is always good, “I am just looking out for the well-being of my child.”  As a parent I understand these fears and concerns all too well, so I am also speaking to myself. Our young adult children will never become mature functioning adults if we, the parents, keep inserting ourselves in their crises, attempting to be the hero and fix everything.

Deep down all of us know that failure and stress are the things that develop character.  Rescuing only creates dependence and immaturity.  It is a natural impulse for parents to protect their children, but there also comes a time when we need to let our children fight their own battles, even when they beg us to fight on their behalf.

An Eternal Moment

Every once in a while I find myself participating in an important moment. These moments rarely arise because of planning. They just happen. Last evening I was part of one of these moments. It took place after the DOOR Atlanta board meeting at Manuel’s Tavern. I like going there because they have two prime parking spots reserved for clergy. There were eight of us around the table. Two board members, our Atlanta City Director, my friend Anton, me and three Discern staff representing three of our DOOR cities. These2013-08-12 22.48.07 Discerners were in Atlanta for a Fund for Theological (FTE) event. Chris is from the west side of Chicago and has worked for DOOR every summer for the past 10 years. Today he is a confident 20 something about to complete his Master of Communication Studies, but I remember the high school freshman who was so skinny the wind could blow him over. Manny just completed his third summer in Denver. He likes to claim Los Angeles as his home town, but he spent most of his teen years in Denver and is a member of the church our family attends. Kelli spent one summer in both Denver and Hollywood. She came to DOOR through a more “traditional path;” she came as a Discover participant, liked the program and applied for a summer staff position. Here were these three young adults – a Hispanic, an African American and an Anglo.

For two hours we sat at that table. The waiter could hardly get a word in to take our order. The conversation was animated, passionate and emotional. We began with the “simplest” of topics, how should we think about sexual orientation? This went on for about 45 minutes. Once we had come to a general consensus we moved on to talking about how working for DOOR has impacted each of their lives. For each of them working with a diverse staff had helped them to better understand who they were and the radical breadth of the kingdom of God. The concept of “For God so loved the world” had taken on new meaning.

One of our hiring commitments is to find people who are different from one another and ask them to work together in unity. Our staff comes to us from urban, rural and suburban settings. Some have been raised in the church while others are new to the Sunday thing. They are young adults of color and they are Anglo. Some are progressive while others hold a more conservative theology. All of this diversity could be viewed as a prescription for disaster. I am constantly surprised that this doesn’t blow up in our face. Every year these young adults choose to define themselves first by what they hold in common. When this happens everyone is given a glimpse of what the church can be.

Effective

Every once in a while I decide to organize my life.   I file all the papers scattered around my office, delete old emails, reorganize my inbox folders, and sort the books on the bookshelf.  For a day or two I feel better about myself and slightly more efficient.  Within a week I am back to my old ways and feeling like I should reorganize my life. What is it that makes for effective ministry at the personal and institutional level?  I have been to seminars that proclaim the virtues of time management.  There are the books and charts I have poured over outlining healthy organizational structures.  Well-meaning friends have advised me develop comprehensive policies and procedures.  All of this is good, but I sometimes wonder if all of this is a smoke screen designed to keep people and programs committed to ministry from following their call.

Some of the best advice I ever received was from a stranger.  It was his belief that we show value to others by choosing to waste time with them.  It is not surprising that potential employers shy away from hiring people who value wasting time and hanging out.  On one hand I understand this; effectiveness and efficiency are seen as opposite sides of the same coin.  This is too bad.

Hanging out or wasting time with other people are the activities that develop understanding and respect for the other.  When we understand and respect each other it becomes much simpler to work with each other.  In a world that is religiously pluralist, culturally diverse, and ideologically separated - understanding, compassion, and empathy will only emerge if we take the time to simply be with each other.  Wasting time together and hanging out without an agenda.

I cannot help but wonder what the impact would be if we started to value time together just hanging out over developing programs and structures?  I am not sure that Jesus ever started a program, but his time on earth just hanging out changed everything.

Remembered

A couple of weeks ago I watched “Troy,” a movie loosely based on Homer’s Iliad.  A scene near the beginning where Achilles must decide if he is going to join with the rest of the Greek kings in attacking Troy caught my attention.  He has gone to his mother for advice and she offers the following:

“If you stay in Larissa, you will find peace, you will find a wonderful woman, you will have sons and daughters and they will have children and they will love you. … When you are gone and when you children are dead and their children after them … your name will be lost…

If you go to Troy, glory will be yours.  They will write stories about your victories for thousands of years. … The world will remember your name.”

There is something appealing about glory, knowing that how I lived will be remembered.   I want my life to have meaning, to make a difference.  It would be really cool if stories were written so future generations might find inspiration from my life.

This year I turned 45. This means I am about halfway through my working years.  I suspect that it is somewhat natural to start asking the, “Have I made a difference?” questions.  How have I performed in my roles as husband, father, friend, pastor, and boss?  These are ultimately questions that others will have to answer.  But I would like to stack the deck towards a favorable response.

During my time as a pastor, I had the privilege of officiating at many funerals.  The centerpiece of every funeral service is the eulogy.   To be honest, some eulogies are much easier to write then others.  I remember visiting with one family that was glad their mother had died – not an easy eulogy to write or deliver.

There are eulogies that are easy to write.  They tend to have two themes – love and sacrifice.

If you think about it, this is the theme of John 3:16, “for God so loved the world (love theme) that he sent his son (sacrifice).

Do you want to be remembered?  Love unconditionally.  Sacrifice recklessly.

Just Listen

“Service as listening.” With these words, Eduardo Vargas, the assistant city director for DOOR San Antonio, began his report to the local board of directors.

To be honest, I sometimes check out when staff members report to the board. It’s not because I don’t care. Many times, I have already read a version of the report or I can sense where the conversation will go.

Eduardo’s description triggered an avalanche of ideas and concerns.

Most of us think of service as something concrete. People participate in DOOR because they want to serve. When I think of service I go straight to the list of tasks that need to be accomplished.
· Painting a house.
· Helping with summer day camp.
· Sorting food at the local food bank.
· Serving a meal at the rescue mission.
· Running a Vacation Bible School program.

When people come to DOOR, they want to feel good about the tasks they accomplish. They want to make a difference. This is noble and good.

This is my fear: would people want to participate in a program that defined service as listening?

What does listening accomplish?

It doesn’t paint a house, or run a program. Food for the needy doesn’t get sorted, meals go unprepared, and children miss out of Vacation Bible School.

But listening has the potential to move me past my stereotypes and assumptions.

It is tempting, when going on a “mission trip” to have all the answers and solutions for where you are going before you get there.

Listening has a way of exposing the hypocrisy of my prepackaged answers.

Listening first opens the door to authentic service.

When we take the time to listen and be listened to, mutuality is often the result. This in turn creates an opportunity to both give and receive.

I have a sneaking suspicion that this is what service is all about.