July 29, 2012
MAKE ROOM FOR THE OBSTREPEROUS by Raymond J. Lawrence, CPSP General Secretary
When my thirteen-year-old daughter Lauren dissolved into tears on hearing that a trip to the Orlando Art Museum would be substituted for her anticipated trip to Water World, my first thought was to remind her that the world did not revolve around her and to order her to conform to the stated agenda. On reflection I came to see that there is a time to be immovable and a time to be generous. In this instance, Water World won the battle, and I think it was the right call. What's a trip to Orlando for anyway, especially for a thirteen-year-old girl? And rain is predicted for tomorrow, in which case art museums might be just right.
I am happy that my daughter could prevail in this case. I don't even mind that she used her female tears as an instrument of torture. She needs to win a few in life, and I'm delighted to be in a role in which I can be defeated, especially when she's arguably right. Of course there have been and will be yet many points in her life that I as a responsible father cannot allow her to win. Tears will just have to flow. We all know what that's like, whatever our age or gender.
Our CPSP has experienced considerable pushing shoving over the past year. Water World against the art museum writ large, over and over. We have had some powerful struggles over the question of what kind of community we are and what kind of community we want to be in the future.
The first thing to note about these struggles is that they are a sign of seriousness and of life. All of us are part of organizations in which one would dare not give voice to a word of dissent, much less an ugly or tearful dissent. Churches generally are such places, unfortunately. One gets the impression in so many churches that everyone is of one mind and spirit, and no dissenting voice is ever heard. One has to be suspicious of such communities. Anyone who lives in a family, or even in a coupled relationship knows very well that unanimity of opinion and a unified commitment to values is more the exception than the rule - except in communities where a gloved fist silences all outliers.
How many communities do you belong to in which you feel free to express your most obnoxious dissent from current decision-making or current practices? I am confident that your answer will be somewhere between few and none.
I believe the CPSP community must encourage and give space for dissent and contrariness, even of the ugly and obstreperous sort. Such qualities bring life to any community. I believe we should be generous toward all contrariness, and allow space for dissent, even harsh dissent. Without such generosity any community will eventually wither and die. We can see that kind of death all around us.
However, from time to time our obstreperouness has drifted over into character assassination. We must guard against such exhuberance. Our Covenant does not allow for character assassination, and we must be prepared to hold persons to account when they speak publicly in ways that damage the reputation of another. Trashing one another is contrary to our Covenant.
Therefore those in leadership - and we cannot prosper without strong and plentiful leadership - must be prepared to be firm and resolute at points where our basic values are in danger of being eroded. The balance of generosity and firmness, the balance between yes and no, is no simple matter of course. Sometimes it's hard to find what seems to be the correct course.
The parental metaphor may seem odious to some. None of us are children after all. We certainly don't want our conveners and other leaders to start posing as parents. And yet, in a way we are all in need of parenting of sorts. Who among us is beyond the need for correction, or the need for advice from one more experienced, or a shoulder to cry on, so to speak? The pastoral role itself, a role to which we have all committed ourselves, is essentially a parenting role. Even those who like us provide such parenting, are also in need of it from time to time.
That said, CPSP as a whole must be doing something right. We are growing rapidly, growing almost too fast for our own good. We are finally addressing tough issues of quality control. We are succeeding in this only because so many competent persons have taken on leaderships tasks and joined working committees that are now diligently at work. We have an impressive array of younger professionals rising in our ranks, without whom we would have no future.
So do not be troubled by dissent and contrariness. It is always a sign of life, a signal that what we are as a community is important. Let us take any critique seriously, and maintain always a generosity of spirit. Furthermore, there is no warrant for anxiety about dissent. We have a strong cadre of leadership, women as well as men, of all kinds of faith and no faith at all. These leaders are not the kind who run for their closets at the first sound of a shot. I am fully confident that they will keep us focused on our Covenant.
All of this to say that, in my view, we are on course, and our future appears quite promising. And I believe that we will maintain that course as long as we continue to keep the Covenant.
Raymond Lawrence, CPSP General Secretary
Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at July 29, 2012 8:55 PM