DO YOU LIVE IN AN ANXIOUS SOCIETY?
(I am continuing to draw upon Brene’ Brown’s work on vulnerability and applying it to the work of ministry.)
Anxiety is a response to what William Butler Yeats spoke of in his poem The Second Coming: “Things fall apart, the center does not hold.” When we feel the ground shift beneath our feet, whether personally or globally, it is as if we have lost control. Our sense of security dims and we begin to feel helpless to affect the outcome.
Think about our society and the institutions which we have depended on to provide a sense of order and rationality to life. Whether through greed, arrogance, lust, or ignorance, what institution can you name that has not failed our trust in significant ways. If I say, “You can take that to the bank.” does that build confidence in an era of failed financial institutions. I recently saw a poll suggesting that only 13% are willing to say they “trust the government.” It is not hard to find many people that believe the military lied with respect to some of the wars we have fought in recent years. The list can go on to include churches, educational institutions, businesses, etc. It is as if things are falling apart and it is not clear that anyone has the power to change that.
THREE BASIC RESPONSES TO ANXIETY
Brown suggests that there are three basic responses that communities make in response to feeling anxious and vulnerable.
They want to make the uncertainty into certainties.
They are not interested in questioning, exploring, or theorizing about problems. They want answers–Clear, direct, unambiguous answers. The popularity of fundamentalism and the rise of cults builds on that need for certainty in an age of uncertainty. Someone must know the inside secret to how we can solve our problems.
They measure things, people, institutions, and communities by the criteria of perfection
Things should be perfect. If they are not perfect, someone else is being evil. There are no excuses. Only perfection is acceptable. We want our children to be perfect, our spouses to be perfect, our doctors, businessmen, and politicians to be perfect and mistakes are not acceptable.
Grace is a nice concept but we expect our pastors to be perfect pastors and our churches to only be successful in all their programs.
accept responsibility for the consequences of their decisions
other people’s lives.
No general ever looked at the video of the children playing in the city when he made the decision to order bombing that city. No Senator or congressman looked into the eyes of a suffering returned veteran or a small homeless child right before they voted to slash the budget and eliminate programs to assist them. No CEO counted the human cost for the workers when cutbacks were decided or when s/he accepted huge salaries in place of modest raises for those who worked for the company.
Few churches or denominations make pronouncements while being fully aware of the effects that such decisions will have on those who feel excluded by the vote.
HOW TO PASTOR TO AN ANXIOUS COMMUNITY
Whether it is Moses as he faced the Red Sea, the Disciples following the crucifixion, or the church in our time, we are called to proclaim boldly a message of hope in a sea of uncertainty. There are no easy answers and we are to be faithful in the face of an impossible task. Yet we as clergy bring our own anxieties and fears of vulnerability as we engage in ministry.
In a future blog, I will sketch out some of the approaches we need to take to engage in ministry. As shown in the stories of the faith community in the Scriptures, the call was never meant to be an easy task. We are to dare greatly, hold firmly in the midst of the storm, and trust that God really does know what God is doing.
How do we do that?
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