Beliefs, convictions and motivations

Actions are never neutral. They’re freighted with unexamined assumptions about how to get things done. This means actions tell more about our beliefs, convictions and motivations than written confessions and stated beliefs. We will misidentify the appropriate pathway to the extent that we can’t tell these truths about what we have done and why we’ve done it.”  –  John Ralston Saul, The Comeback via Alan Roxburgh, Joining God, Remaking Church, Changing the World. 13.


Earlier today, I was accused by a friend of valuing the input of men over that of women on Facebook. It was simple thing, really.  I posted something. A female friend posted an insight. I brushed it off and explained myself further. Then a male friend posted an insight. I thanked him for his insight.  From her perspective, she said – basically – the same thing he did. How can you explain the difference in my response to her vs. him?  Her suggestion was that I valued the insights of men over that of women.

My initial impulse was to defend myself. That’s ridiculous ! My response had nothing to do with gender! He made a completely different point!  And so on and so on. Yet, I couldn’t shake the question  – Did I respond to her comment differently because of gender? I had to admit that it was at least possible. That she was seeing something that I couldn’t see. That upon seeing it, I wanted to argue it out of sight.

I apologized, thanked her for the challenge (lofted in love) and committed to further introspection.  I certainly don’t want to be the kind of man that values the insights of men over women simply because of gender.  I don’t want to be the kind of man that is blind to my own sexism (and any other isms I may engage in) and the ways it shows itself in everyday life. I want to examine the unexamined assumptions out of which I act.

If John Ralston Saul is right the only way to find a pathway forward is to try to tell the truth about what I had done and why I did it.  The degree to which I can’t be honest is the degree to which any pathway forward will be inappropriate – his language – or, perhaps, unhelpful – my language.

In the end my friend was provoking me – not to make me angry (that’s what trolls do) – but to help me ask and answer important questions truthfully. She was provoking me to love others better.  I’m grateful.  I’ll let you know how it turns out…

…prepared for subversion and danger.

And it had clearly escaped everyone’s notice that I had already been bull-whipped through the Psalms of David and The Book of Job, to say nothing of the arrogant and loving Isaiah, the doomed Ezekiel, and the helplessly paranoiac Saint Paul: such a forced march, designed to prepare my mind for conciliation and safety, can also prepare it for subversion and danger. For, I was on Job’s side, for example, though He slay me, yet I will trust Him, and I will maintain my own ways before Him – You will not talk to me from the safety of your whirlwind, never – and, yet, something in me, out of the unbelievable pride and sorrow and beauty of my father’s face, cause me to understand – I did not understand, perhaps I still do not understand, and never will – caused me to begin  to accept the fatality and the inexorability of that voice out of the whirlwind, for if one is not able to live with so crushing and continuing a mystery, one is not able to live.  – James Baldwin, The Devil Finds Work, 10.


Pastor, do you feel like a failure?

In my many years as a pastor, I often felt like a failure.

Part of the problem lies with the reality that success in pastoral ministry is hard to define. It’s people work, and the victories that happen in people’s lives – due in part to your work – often go unseen and unexpressed.

The other problem is that the way our culture defines success – bigger budgets, new buildings, more people – is outside of a pastor’s direct control. A church is a community of people and the community, together, impacts the whole much more than a single person.

But, perhaps, the biggest problem is that feeling like a failure and actually being a failure are two different things.

In a recent post, Seth Godin takes on the topic of feeling like a failure. What he says is a good word for Pastors, too.  He writes;

Feeling like a failure has little correlation with actually failing.

There are people who have failed more times than you and I can count, who are happily continuing in their work.

There are others who have achieved more than most of us can imagine, who go to work each day feeling inadequate, behind, and yes, like failures and frauds.

These are not cases of extraordinary outliers. In fact, external data is almost useless in figuring out whether or not someone is going to adopt the narrative of being a failure.

Failure (as seen from the outside) is an event. It’s a moment when the spec isn’t met, when a project isn’t completed as planned.

Feelings, on the other hand, are often persistent, and they are based on stories. Stories we tell ourselves as much as stories the world tells us.

As a result, if you want to have a feeling, you’ll have it. If you want to seek a thread to ravel, you will, you’ll pull at it and focus on it until, in fact, you’re proven right, you are a failure.

Here’s the essential first step: Stop engaging with the false theory that the best way to stop feeling like a failure is to succeed.

Thinking of one’s self as a failure is not the same as failing. And thus, succeeding (on this particular task) is not the antidote. In fact, if you act on this misconception, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of new evidence that you are, in fact, correct in your feelings, because you will ignore the wins and remind yourself daily of the losses.

Instead, begin with the idea that the best way to deal with a feeling is to realize that it’s yours.