Here is a profound insight on what self-deception (and then deception of others) looks like:
No man, perhaps, ever at first described to himself the act he was about to do as Murder, or Adultery, or Fraud, or Treachery, or Perversion; and when he hears it so described by other men, he is (in a way) sincerely shocked and surprised. Those others “don’t understand.” If they knew what it had really been like for him, they would not use those crude ‘stock’ names. With a wink or a titter, or in a cloud of muddy emotion, the thing has slipped into his will as something not very extraordinary, something of which, rightly understood and in all his highly peculiar circumstances, he may even feel proud.
—A Preface to Paradise Lost, by C.S. Lewis
We rationalize our actions, even if we might rightly balk at the same actions, were it somebody else. Hard a pill as this is to swallow, I think it’s an important truth to acknowledge—and confess to God.
I keep coming back to this arresting passage in Jeremiah:
For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.
— Jeremiah 6:13-14
Any declaration of peace calls for discernment. Anyone can say there is “peace” in a place when there’s really not. In fact, folks with positions of power (formal or informal) have a vested interest in “saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”
That way they can preserve the status quo (from which they benefit). They can avoid “conflict” (or taking a long, hard look at reality and themselves). They can curry favor with those who love to hear that there is peace (don’t we all?).
In Jeremiah it was prophet and priest who were “dealing falsely,” saying “Shalom!” when shalom was decidedly not God’s word for the people. Shalom did not reflect the hard realities.
I find it sobering to remember that prophet and priest are appointed, sacred offices, established by God.
Yes, even sacred communities are susceptible to the abuse of lying leaders who declare peace where there is none.
A hard truth, but I think the even greater challenge is to think about how these verses might apply to our own settings.
It’s easy to call out Jeremiah’s Hananiah, his nemesis who persuaded the people “to trust in lies.” It’s easy to point at pastors, priests, and bishops who have lied and misled people in other communities. It’s easy to call for the resignation of a deceitful and unrepentant church leader in another faith community (or president of a country). Indeed, we should.
But what about when the false prophet is my false prophet? What about when the fake peace proclaimer is our fake peace proclaimer? What about when the deceit is coming “from inside the house”?
We might try to minimize:
Yeah, but she’s been a huge part of our community for decades!
Well, he thinks there is actually “peace” here, and he’s prophesying sincerely.
They’re doing the best they can under the circumstances; how about some grace?
Or the even more insidious: “Who can even know what peace is?”
It’s harder to navigate when Hananiah is one of us… when we have worshiped with Hananiah… when we have shared meals with Hananiah… when we have done mission together… when we celebrated birthdays and holidays and baptisms together. We might even think that Hananiah has somehow earned the right to be wrong, the right to (occasionally?) misrepresent God to the people. Jeremiah’s Hananiah is clearly in the wrong but my Hananiah gets a mulligan.
Jeremiah 6:16 goes on:
Thus says the LORD: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.
Instead of an uncritical acceptance of our Hananiah’s lying, instead of asking, “How can we even know?”, God calls the people to stand and look and ask. (“Seek and you shall find.”) And then to walk in “the good way.”
And then there is the last line of Jeremiah 6:16—indeed, it often goes unquoted:
But they said, “We will not walk in it.”
May God have mercy on us, for all the times we choose not to walk in God’s good way. And may God give us the discernment and the courage to acknowledge the truth about Hananiah and his prophecies, even when he’s “one of us.”
I recently saw a survey given to young people that asked them something like, “Do you use your computer inappropriately?” The number was low, 10% or so of respondents answering yes. The next question was something like, “Do your peers use their computer inappropriately?” The number was much higher; if I recall, close to a majority of respondents said yes. In other words, I don’t do that, but they do.
I suspect that pattern holds with other destructive habits. Take gossip, for example. Deborah Grayson Riegel points out that in her coaching work, her clients often deny participating in workplace gossip, “with a look on their faces that indicates that they are insulted to have been asked such a question.” But when Grayson Riegel reframes the question, the response changes:
When I ask them whether they have ever participated in a “confirmation expedition” — whereby they 1) ask a colleague to confirm their own negative or challenging experience with a third colleague who is not present, or 2) welcome a similar line of confirmation inquiry from another colleague about a third colleague who is not present, most admit that this is, in fact, a regular part of their daily work life.
She talks about the importance of naming gossip (or a “confirmation expedition”) as such:
First, call gossip “gossip” to stop it in its tracks. If you are engaging in “informal and evaluative talk in an organization, usually among no more than a few individuals, about another member of that organization who is not present,” — especially if the aim is to confirm your experience rather than get constructive solutions — then you are participating in gossip.
The intertestamental book of Sirach goes further than just calling gossip “gossip.” It says, “Curse the gossips and the double-tongued, for they destroy the peace of many” (Sirach 28:13, NRSV). Gossip destroys the well-being of persons and disrupts whole communities.
The apostle Paul also warns his first century churches about “gossips,” which in Greek sure seems like an onomatopoeia: psithuristēs (whisperer). Think: “whisper networks,” but not the good, truth-telling kind that rightly bring down folks like Harvey Weinstein et al.
One of the dangers of gossip is that it seeks to confirm information (or at least claims to), but it risks getting reality wrong, because not all the involved people are in the room, including folks who may know more about a situation at hand. Not to mention that such furtive whispering is hard to hear, and often inaccurately conveys information when passed from one person to another (as happens in the kids’ game of “Telephone”).
Grayson Riegel has excellent advice for what to do about this dynamic (see her Harvard Business Review article here). I especially appreciate her “Let people know that you have a policy of ‘if you have a problem with me, please tell me first.’” (Although I think we need to be ready for the unfortunate possibility that some may simply ignore this request.)
I would add this prayer from Psalm 139:23-24, which could help us avoid doing what we are sure only others do:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
The below is a re-post from September 2012. I’m posting it again because it strikes me that summer could be a good time to try something new in your church services, including learning new songs together. Here are some suggestions for teaching a new worship song to a congregation or other group of people.
This morning I had the privilege of teaching our worshiping community this song:
Because I had guessed it would be new to the majority of our congregation, I decided to teach the song before we sang it all the way through. There are at least six things I like to try to do when teaching a new song:
1. Split it into pieces. I had the chorus for All the Earth Will Sing Your Praises on two Powerpoint slides. So I sang through the first half of the chorus (one PPT slide), stopped, and invited the congregation to sing that same part with me:
Then I repeated that same process for the second half of the chorus:
This way the congregation had heard the chorus once and sung it once.
2. Teach it not in order. This helps me and hopefully others remember that we’re actually working on learning the song. It also keeps us attentive to what part of the song we’re working on. We’ll piece it all together only once we’ve learned the component parts.
3. Highlight the lyrical content. If the tune is new, the lyrics likely are, too. At least they were in this case. So because this song speaks of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, I took the opportunity to highlight that. I actually read some of the song lyrics before teaching it, and connected them to something my church says in our weekly worship: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” I mentioned that like 1 Corinthians 15 and Luke 24, this is one of the great summaries of our faith that can unite us across multiple denominations and Christian backgrounds.
4. Teach it with a conversational tone. I can’t think of any other way to teach a song than by actually talking with the congregation about it, what we’re doing, what we’re about to do, etc. I find a friendly, inviting, conversational tone works best. At least it feels right to me when I am teaching a song!
5. Affirm the congregation. Our worshiping community picked this song up so fast today (some knew it already, I think) that this was easy to do. I actually cut short the process of teaching the song so that we could begin from the beginning singing it all the way through. This was due to the fact that as I began teaching the verse (i.e., “I’ll sing so you can hear it”), I could already hear folks singing along. It would certainly not be out of place to sincerely say something like, “You all are good singers!” (Provided it’s true.)
6. Have them hear the song even before I teach it. For example, I had All the Earth will Sing Your Praises played over the speakers as they were leaving worship Monday, knowing we’d be learning it today (Wednesday). It’s a little thing, but it helps. Other options could have been playing it as the prelude today, emailing everyone a Web link to the tune, etc.
The bottom line for me is: if we’re doing a song that I think will be new to most in the room, we highlight it as such and carve out time to work to learn it together. Then singing the new song from start to finish is not only easier, but feels like something we have worked at together in a way that draws us closer as we worship.
Do bosses over time gradually lose the ability to rightly estimate how other perceive them? Yes, according to a recent article in The Economist:
So not only do bosses set too much store by their strengths, as our Schumpeter column notes, they also habitually overestimate their ability to win respect and support from their underlings. Somehow, on reaching the corner office, they lose the knack of reading subtle cues in others’ behaviour: in a further experiment Mr Brion found that when a boss tells a joke to a subordinate, he loses his innate ability to distinguish between a real and fake smile.
Read the whole article (“Deluded Bosses: Who’s Behind Me?”) here.
I wonder if this is more an issue in the corporate world than in the church, although I suppose it’s true that any leader could be prone to this phenomenon.
It reinforces the importance of regular evaluation in organizations (especially large ones)–as well as making sure that there are accessible systems and processes in place for folks to meaningfully offer input.
In my current capacity as pastor, I seek to support, encourage, and equip the congregation, connect with people in local and global communities, preach and help lead services weekly, and minister with the congregation in a variety of other ways.
I am grateful to God for the privilege of serving the congregation, and look forward to our weeks, months, and years of ministry together.
With a puff of white smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel and to the cheers of thousands of rain-soaked faithful, a gathering of Catholic cardinals picked a new pope from among their midst on Wednesday — choosing the cardinal from Argentina, the first South American to ever lead the church.
The new pope, 76, Jorge Mario Bergoglio (pronounced Ber-GOAL-io) will be called Francis, the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. He is also the first non-European leader of the church in more than 1,000 years.
With a puff of white smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel and to the cheers of thousands of rain-soaked faithful, a gathering of Catholic cardinals picked a new pope from among their midst on Wednesday. The name of the new pope, the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, by tradition would not be revealed until he appeared on a balcony on the front of St. Peter’s Basilica.
No name yet, but that will come soon. More here for now.
Ron Heifetz, in his Leadership Without Easy Answers, says, “The scarcity of leadership from people in authority, however, makes it all the more critical to the adaptive successes of a polity that leadership be exercised by people without authority” (183).
In other words, even though leaders should expect good leadership from those above them, they should perhaps not wait for it such that its absence affects their own leadership adversely.
I’m fortunate to work for a boss who leads well. But any person in a position of middle management should be prepared to lead effectively regardless of what leadership they see coming from “people in authority.”
And effective leadership requires proactivity. Stephen Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People talks about being proactive as taking “the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen” (71).
I wonder whether we might at times fear taking on responsibility beyond what is in our job description, or beyond what our supervisors have explicitly asked of us. We may worry that we’ll do the wrong thing, or try to do the right thing but in the wrong way. Worse is not doing anything at all. Our work energies can always be redirected if misapplied; a mistake can always be tweaked and corrected.
But, as Heifetz points out, leadership and authority are not the same thing. Having a position of authority does not make one a good leader, nor does leading well require a position of authority. For organizations to succeed, workers at all levels–those with authority and those without–need to be proactive in their exercise of leadership. Lacking positional authority is not an excuse to do otherwise.
John Wesley (1703-1791) was an Anglican minister and theologian. His ministry (and that of his brother Charles Wesley) led to the creation of the Methodist Church, as well as other traditions that have their roots in Wesley: the Wesleyan holiness movement, Pentecostalism, and the Charismatic movement.
Wesley issued seven “Rules for Singing” in 1761. Here are some excerpts:
Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. …If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.
Sing…with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength…. (AKJ: This is particular pertinent for those services that take place in the morning hours.)
Sing in time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before, not stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can;
And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
Hymn tempo can be largely a subjective decision–some like it fast, some like it slow. But might singing “all our tunes just as quick” encourage more hearty singing? It seems Wesley thought so.
Regarding the call to “attend closely to the leading voices,” I find it particularly helpful when worshiping congregations have vocal leaders for hymns, especially if members of the congregation are not familiar with a given hymn. This may sound self-evident, but the majority of my hymn-singing experience has been in churches where the organist leads the hymn just from the organ. This works fine in a congregation that knows hymns and sings them well, but I’m not convinced it’s always the best approach to leading congregational hymns in worship.
Here’s my favorite part of Wesley’s rules:
Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. …[S]ee that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually.
I don’t think having “your heart… carried away with the sound” is mutually exclusive with offering it “to God continually,” but I love Wesley’s call to “have an eye to God in every word you sing.” We sing hymns best when we make them prayers to God, affirmations of our faith, even heartfelt confessions.