Archive for ◊ June, 2012 ◊

• Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Recently,  I read a wonderful book called The Positive Dog  by Jon Gordon.  It is a fun and wise re-take on The Power of Positive Thinking published by Norman Vincent Peale in 1952.  I was not surprised to find the same helpful message about the power of approaching our lives with optimism and positivity.  Nor was I surprised by the fact that contemporary  research bears out the truth of all that Peale wrote sixty years ago.

What did surprise me was to find out  that current research has explored the power of positivity  not only as it applies to our individual lives, but to our lives in groups and communities. Barbara Frederickson, PhD, has been researching the power of positive psychology for twenty years.  In her 2009 book, Positivity,  Frederickson reveals  the results of her research.  Her studies discovered that the key to being a fully functional and productive human being is to have three positive experiences for every one negative experience. Individuals with lower ratios of positive to negative events in their daily lives did not “flourish” as those with the 3:1 ratio did.  Those who make a point of creating more positive experiences, live happier, more fulfilling lives.

Further, Frederickson’s research demonstrates that the same is true for teams.  Groups of people working together need to be experiencing at least three positive interactions for every one negative interaction in order to be high functioning and effective. 

Think about your church life.  Consider a team (committee, board) in your congregation of which you may be a part.  Do you experience three positive events for every negative event in that context?   For many of us, the answer would be no.  We find much of church life aggravating and often, disappointing.   Is it any wonder that so many who visit our churches do not come back, or stay to develop a deeper relationship?   Should it surprise us that folks get burned out and disengage?  Or leave in frustration?

What can we do to change the ratio of positivity to negativity in our churches?

1)    Take it upon ourselves by making our  interactions with others more positive and uplifting.  Look for the good in what is happening, rather than complaining and harping on every negative we can find.

2)    Gently, but firmly call people on their negativity.  Communicate how their negative behavior affects the group.   If the whole team refuses to pay attention to the one guy who whines at every gathering/meeting, he will eventually stop.  When he does, find ways to reward good behavior, even if it’s something as simple as telling him how nice it is to hear his positive comments when he makes them.

3)    Reward good behavior.  Lift up those who make a consistent effort to find the good in others and in situations.  Make them a model for appropriate behavior by affirming them and celebrating their positivity.

4)    Tell folks about the Frederickson study.  Challenge everybody to create three positive interactions with others for every negative one.

5)    Develop a better theological understanding of God and Jesus Christ.  Our God is a God of hope, of  a bright future, of resurrection.  Are we fully reflecting those qualities in our  life together?

One of the things that has always excited me about the power of positive thinking is that it is really so simple.  The key is realizing how our own negative feelings and actions affect us and those around us. Negativity disables us and makes us unable to function effectively. We must choose to be optimistic, positive and look for the good in everyone and everything.  Only then will our individual and congregational lives strengthen and improve.

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• Monday, June 11th, 2012

Over the past few years, my church has become a lot more musical. It could be our minister or the make up of our congregation, it could be our worship space, or maybe this is happening all over the place.

The buoyant sounds of the new church music is fun – no complaint here. We sing more, we smile more, we praise God through joyous songs. Who wouldn’t love that? Okay – I acknowledge that some churches feel differently about sacred music and that’s fine.

I do have one problem with the music at my church – the hand clapping to the more upbeat music. Just to clarify – I love it when everyone is clapping – feeling it – going with the beat. And if they all sway to the music – more power to them.

But it’s MY clapping that concerns me. I have no natural rhythm – none. I’m even toe tapping challenged. So when everyone around me is clapping to a musical beat, I join in only when the whole room is involved – and I carefully watch my neighbors’ hands so that my clapping is in synch.

I’m not the only one. There are several of us who simply don’t have the ability to go with the sound, to clap to a beat. Hey, I’m a lousy dancer, too.

So this is a message to the clappers – and the non clappers – whether in church or or any public musical event.

Hey, clappers: More power to you. I love that the music moves you and that your joy is so infectious that it lights up the room.

You non-clappers: It’s okay. As long as you’re not standing their scowling, it’s fine to observe. Well, I wouldn’t stand there like a stone. Please try to be engaged. But if feeling the beat is not your thing, so be it.

But here’s the core thing: Just because I’m not clapping – and swaying and gyrating, that doesn’t mean I disapprove of those who are. I love being in a room that feels the spirit – a room that is rocking with good sounds. I’m not standing there being judgmental; being ole sober sides. I just simply can’t do it. I can fake it a little, but I’d be the one who’s clap is off by a nano second, or the one who sways to the sounds like a robot.

So clap on – lift the roof with joy. But please don’t think badly of me if I simply smile happily. And – okay – my toe might tap a little bit.

• Monday, June 04th, 2012

I was talking with a colleague the other day and he observed that churches sometimes forget that the constitution and by-laws of a particular congregation are not sacred.

 He’s right. All too often, congregations cling to these documents as if they were a lifeline to order and efficiency. We are unwilling to revisit the rules the church’s founders created and modify them in light of current custom and need. For instance, I know of a church whose by-laws stated that a “quorum” (the number of voting church members required to be present and participating in a meeting in order for decisions to be “legal”)was 200 people. This by-law was written in the early 1900’s when this congregation had 1000 members, of which 200 was a customary 20% for a quorum., but it was stated in the document with an exact number rather than a percentage. No problem there, as long as the church had hundreds of members, but by the year 2000, this congregation had only 100 members and 50 worshipers on a “good” Sunday. Still, the by-laws required 200 people at a meeting in order for major decisions to be made. The obvious solution, to some, was to change the by-laws, but the church’s council/board/consistory, maintained that no changes should be made to the by-laws because this is how their ancestors in faith intended things to be and that no changes could be made to the by-laws because they didn’t have a “quorum.” Never mind that this decision literally crippled the congregation. Never mind that they couldn’t foresee a time when the church membership would increase by enough to make this rule work. There was no flexibility, no room for the movement of time or the guiding of the Holy Spirit. It was what it was. This congregation used the lack of usable rules and helpful organizing principles as an excuse not to move forward, and it was their demise. They became victims of their own short-sightedness and lack of creative thinking, and when the church ceased to exist, they couldn’t even vote on the distribution of their assets, like a hefty endowment and a huge old building. In the end, everything was left to chance because they were so tied to “the rules”

 Even as I tell it, this strikes me a s a crazy story, but we all know human beings can do crazy things. A constitution and by-laws is a set of guidelines to organize the life of “the assembly,” to make it more efficient and just. It is not a sacred document that is meant to stand no matter how circumstances change. To my way of thinking these documents should be understood as living, breathing covenants that grow and change as the body of Christ changes.

 This, too, is how we can best understand the Bible. – not as a book of rules and judgments, but as living breathing message whose basic intent never changes but how we live it out and understand it is constantly in flux.

 Have you ever noticed how you can read one scripture passage today and it will mean one thing to you, but a week later or a year later, the message of that same passage to you may be quite different. The word of God is alive and breathing, and our understanding of it grows and alters as we are nurtured in the faith. So, too, should be our understanding of our organizing documents – not as a set of unbreakable, un-bendable rules, but as living ideas whch can be adjusted and enjoyed in new ways as the present and the future unfold.

To Purchase “Finishing With Grace” click here

Click here to email  Gretchen