Saturday, January 29, 2011

Breaking Point

The question is: How much can a man handle before he breaks? How much disappointment can he endure before, as a "defense mechanism," he numbs out and disengages? How hard and steady can the winds of pain blow before his trunk snaps and he's lying over on the forest floor?

So many wonderful things have been taken away in such a seemingly short amount of time. So much loss in quick succession. At such times I cling, white-knuckled, to those things which cannot be shaken or ripped away from my grasp. They are few - and they're all creedal. Though all else is violently yanked from me, rending my heart along with it; yet will I remember what cannot be taken away. It's all I have left to hold onto.

And yet, at the same time, I am very afraid...

The turnover we've experienced in church family has left us feeling like a foster child who, being being very near to or having actually connected with a set of parents, is told that "the system" is changing their family again. Just when the child is truly accepting the guidance of the father and the nurturing of the mother, a social worker, for reasons the child can't understand, says,"You're going to get new parents tomorrow."

"But I don't want 'new' parents!" the foster child exclaims. "I want these people. These ARE my parents! Why can't you see that?"

Nevertheless, the social worker, following some inexplicable protocol of "the system," maintains their composure, and with passionless certitude proclaims, "That's the way it's got to be." The organic and natural manner in which families are brought together is discarded. Procedure is king.

The coldness with which the families are changed out has the inevitable effect of extending it's icy chill into the child's soul. They numb a little more to the possibility of real connection. This process repeats itself over the years, with the defensive walls built up a little higher, and a little stronger each time. How many times must this play out until the foster child finds true familial intimacy too difficult? Who can say? But each familial "rotation" is, by no means, helping.

How much change, upheaval and disappointment can a man handle before the "breaking point" is reached? That is never really known until the break occurs. What does the "break" look like? That is distinct to the situation; but regarding the "family" analogy, the "break" takes the form of a closed off youth resigned not to expect close familial relationships in the future. The ability to connect is like a limb crushed in a car accident - the pain can be anesthetized, but the limb does not grow back. I don't know if I would ever reach such a "breaking point." It can be faithfully asserted, though, that if such a point does exist, surely each time I'm forced to "rotate" church families, I get a little closer to it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Parting Shots

It's always very unattractive when someone, leaving an organization or position, uses that opportunity to get their last "licks" in. For one reason or another, they are stepping down or passing the baton. In those moments when grace and class could really prevail, they instead discuss openly the frustrations that might have facilitated or motivated their departure. We've all seen it. The outgoing employee or leader inserts, in the midst of their last comments, observations about what they "just couldn't stand about this place." While the rest of us hang our heads in embarrassment for them, they leave the remaining dignity that they might have otherwise preserved tumbling around on the table like dice in a crapshoot.

I find that this practice is a violation of an unspoken "honor code." Not only does it dishonor the one that has been one's employer, but it also dishonors one's self. It suggests that this was a rotten place to seek vocational fulfillment and, at least until now, you lacked wisdom to detect it. It's a fundamental denial of your own abilities to perceive the landscape and anticipate the "potholes" that you might encounter. Listening to the final rant, we rightly wonder if you were the appropriate choice for this position in the first place. Your "parting shot" also dishonors those that will remain and labor to improve the organization or system you so venomously eschew.

Your "parting shot" dishonors those that hired you and expected your best efforts.
Your "parting shot" dishonors those that remain and seek to "enjoy the work of their hands."
Your "parting shot" dishonors you for shedding decorum and revealing your lack of poise.

When I witness this first hand, I typically just hang my head in shame; not on account of my own shame, but that of the one leaving. To observe someone shame themselves in this manner is an ugly thing to behold. I don't like to watch them shed their dignity in this way. Let them exit with grace and poise, and retain their honor even as they wisely (and quietly) move on from a position they should not maintain.