People are complaining because they only have two choices, Clinton or Trump. It’s the same number of choices as we always have. Yet even lifelong republicans and democrats are praying for a viable independent, who has legitimate credentials and the skills needed to form a winning coalition. For several decades now, the United States Congress has been descending into a similar state of polarization. Polarized institutions die. They fail to solve current problems. They are too marked by conflict to plan for the future.
I’ve been watching the political process culminating in the two party conventions with an ulterior motive. I want to know which party has a healthy organization, is the American democratic experiment on the fritz, and how any of this applies to the local congregation and its struggles to remain relevant and united.
In light of the troubles at FIFA, and at the Red Cross, and knowing that I will be attending a meeting of the grand poo-paws of the United Methodist Church next week, I present a remembrance of Richard Feynman. He was a clown, prophet, atheist, and one of the sharpest minds of the twentieth century. Famous for picking the locks and leaving ‘got-cha’ notes in top secret file cabinets at Los Alamos, where he worked as a theoretical physicist on the Manhattan project, Feynman was asked to serve on the commission investigating the Challenger explosion.
Ideology often trumps common sense. Common sense says that honey catches more flies than vinegar — being sweetly concerned about the interests and needs of others, will lead to a more fruitful and peaceful existence. But if you are acidic, competitive, slow to forget slights and always looking for a way to put others down, your life will be marked by sorrow and loss. Why do we choose the latter? As individuals and as congregations, we are often mired in destructive and painful thought systems, or to use an appropriate word, ideologies.
There once was a District Superintendent who got It. He:
To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Denominational officials have a very limited tool box. They can credential new clergy and defrock inept ones. They can move pastors from place to place (or make suggestions if it is “call” system). They can keep both the congregation and clergy persons informed about policies and best practices. Given this tool box, every church problem looks like a leadership issue. The nail that fits the denominational official’s hammer is a church that will do better, if only they have the right pastor. But, what if governance of the congregation is dominated by a group of dysfunctional lay leaders?