Guest Blog by Rev. Dr. William A. Holmes (my dad) —
I thought I knew what the word “community” meant until I was in one.
Six months ago, my wife, Nancy, and I moved to Homewood, a retirement facility in Frederick, Maryland, founded and supported by the United Church of Christ – a home which provides life-time care for approximately 400 residents. A recent article in the November 26 issue of the Christian Century, entitled “Bonds of Affection,” gave a new perspective to what we’ve been experiencing since arriving.
The article, by Scott Bader-Saye, refers frequently to C. S. Lewis’ thoughtful study, The Four Loves, where Lewis parses varieties of love by exploring four Greek terms: eros, philia, agape, and storge. Most of us are familiar with the first three expressions depicting love as desire, friendship and gift. But what of storge? I learned it is the Greek equivalent of “affection,” and although not as robust or as intense as the other three expressions, it is storge, or “affection,” which the author finds especially suited to community.
For instance, affection can grow readily in short conversations and shared routines. Of all the loves, it is the most linked to place – arising among those who find themselves sharing a common life not because they have chosen one another but because they find themselves thrown together. Lewis observes that affection is “the least discriminating of loves….Almost anyone can become an object of Affection….There need be no apparent fitness between those whom it unites.”
Furthermore, affection makes possible the largest number of interactions with the most people. As Aristotle observed, it is hard to have too many true friends. It’s just not likely we will find a large number of people with whom we share a great deal, even if we had the time to develop myriads of such friendships. It is affection which makes possible a wide swath of contacts with people whom we can know on a less personal, less intimate basis – persons who can still be the occasion of our appreciation.
One of the less obvious gifts of affection is its tolerance for people who rub us the wrong way. Whether we are attracted to a person or offended by them is really beside the point if, over time, circumstances require our interaction. The author of the article writes: “Gathering becomes the critical practice through which one learns to love those we thought we couldn’t love, those who are not like us, those who will never be more than acquaintances.”
Where do I find such community at Homewood? I was in it the day I arrived, and I’ve been a contributor to it ever since. Community happens every time we go to the Dining Room and visit with whomever may join us at our table. It’s in the Exercise Room where people are working out on a variety of machines, and where my wife and I attend several exercise classes. It’s on the Homewood bus we take to attend plays in Baltimore. It’s in the scores of volunteer opportunities which surround us, from pushing wheelchairs to assisting in the feeding of persons with dementia. Some of us are healthy and mobile, some of us use canes, walkers, rollaters or wheelchairs, and some of us are bedridden. Whether we play golf, bridge or dominos; find ourselves with or without a spouse; hear readily the sounds around us or are “deaf as a post” – this is where life is for all who occupy this space.
The cultivation of our affection for one another only requires a serious commitment to presence. Toward the end of the article, the author observes: “Physical presence, bodily quirks, and simply brushing up against one another all contribute to affection. Affection grows from the soil of time and space, from commitment to place and community. Gathering becomes the critical practice through which one learns to love those we thought we couldn’t love, those who are not like us, those who will never be more than acquaintances.”
To the above description of “community,” I would further add the imperative of a “social conscience.” I’m referring to an informed commitment to the “common good” and a sense of responsibility for the relief of human suffering and deprivation wherever they occur. I’m not proposing that we become advocates of a Utopian world, or that we feel obligated to address and solve all the problems of humankind. But our affection for each other as residents of Homewood, pleasant as it may be, isn’t the same as a caring advocacy for those in need outside our “circle.” We are not a “gated community.”
On the whole, we who are Homewood residents are a privileged people. Our retirement incomes are above average, and we pay for services and amenities many people cannot afford. What keeps us from becoming a parochial enclave is that, in addition to providing for fellow residents who have outlived their funds, most of us are involved in a variety of services addressing the needs of persons in the larger Frederick area, the nation and the world.
“Community,” in the deepest sense, is an affection which not only includes learning to care for persons with whom we share a local space, but also caring for persons with whom we share a common humanity. From the moment we are born, we are inextricably connected to those persons – here and everywhere.
May Homewood always be this kind of community.
In every middle school there is a group of kids who are the trendsetters in hair length, fashion, how to act cool and even how to talk. You know who they were in your school, and maybe you were even one of them. I was a cool kid “wanna-be” languishing somewhere in the unremarkable vortex of artsy geeks and awkward athletes; a species classification I have been unable to shake.
But as it turns out, the cool kids never stopped; they just grew older and became the language trendsetters of today. A few years back they started the theologically shallow “IT’S ALL GOOD” craze. Then they birthed the “WAAAAAHOOO” movement –as in a dinner table full of middle-aged women throwing back Chardonnay trying to out “WHAAAAAHOOO” one another.
Most recently I’ve noticed cool speak has ebbed toward the aggravating “I KNOW, RIGHT?” For most of my five decades of living, I never heard one single person exclaim, “I KNOW, RIGHT?” Now it is everywhere. I heard it twice on TV last night and five times today in a short conversation.
In light of this proliferation of annoying “cool speak,” I want you to know that I will resist all temptations to succumb to using it, and I confidently promise that you will never hear me rip a “WHAAAAHOOO.” After all there are standards. I know, right?
I listen to the news of your suicide bombings and your “Death to the Infidels” chanting, your subjugation of women, your use of chemical warfare and the audacity of beheadings, and I want to do two things to you.
First, I want to wave your Holy Book in your face reminding you that nowhere does your faith justify such misguided hatred, oppression and butchery. I want to force you to admit your arrogant sinfulness and the incredulous incongruity with which you are living your “faithful life.” You “so called” believer in one of the world’s great religions, mocking the very tenants of your faith. You hypocrite!
The other thing I want to do to you is bomb the hell out of you in response to your barbaric actions. I want to “drone bomb” you completely out of existence before you further terrorize the world. The world would be better off without you.
Then, I see the Holy Book of my faith sitting on the edge of my desk as I write. It is about the same size and shape as yours. I know what its well-worn pages say about humility… the peace-makers… those living by the sword… loving enemies…and turning the other cheek. I have studied that book for a life-time and know unmistakably what it says.
And suddenly I find that my voice crying “You Hypocrite” is reverberating in my own ears. I realize the phrase “incredulous incongruity” is a one-size-fits-all jacket resting on my own shoulders.
Left up to us and our visceral reactions to one another –you and I will just continue to kill each other. The only hope I know is taking your Holy Book more seriously, or mine, or both. To be a person of faith, any faith, is not to just know what’s in the book, it is to live what’s in the book. To be a person of faith is to risk living with Credulous Congruity.
Beside my desk is a total of about 10 linear feet of bookshelf real estate occupied by books on Leadership. They are squatters there actually; most of them have no idea how close they are to one giant shove into the recycle bin.
It’s not that the collection of books has not impacted my life; they have significantly. I probably owe some of the shape of who I am and what I do to their influence. It’s just that as I skim back through them now or scan through the new books I have not yet read –much of what they are saying sounds remarkably similar, like the same ideas warmed up again only slightly nuanced by the latest big name author. I get the strong feeling that most of them really should have been an article rather than a book deserving only about a foot of my precious bookshelf space.
Here is my sad religious contention: most of us who are in leadership roles don’t need any more books on leadership. We have allowed ourselves to believe that if we could just read the right book on leadership or get the book with the right answers entitled, “The Six Easy Steps to …whatever.” we would find the direction we are looking for.
The truth is, we are mining for ore on the wrong continent. The answer to how God is calling you to lead right now in your present situation is inside you. It is not in a book written by someone else, it is in the jumble of notes, wadded up papers, scribbles and post-it notes compiled by what you have experienced and what you already know, piled up inside you somewhere.
Leadership coaching is helping a leader sort through that vast pile of what you already know to find the gold and to piece together the path forward. Coaching is archeology of the soul.
I would be honored if you would read my latest book on leadership. Here it is: what you really need to know, you already know…trusting your gut and the Holy Spirit to decide what God-sized things need to happen…develop a concrete step-by-step measurable plan to help those things emerge…and find an accountability partner to walk there with you.
What I have just described is the role I am privileged to play as a coach in the lives of leaders who are organically figuring out how to lead congregations, districts and conferences.
Colleagues, we have read enough books! It’s time for courageous, hope-filled action drawn from deep within.
Author: Chris Holmes
I thought about titling this piece, “reduce the size of your big But,” and then decided that might be a little too crass given the context. The truth is however, in ministry our “Buts” too often cut short emergent possibilities.
How many times have you said to yourself something like, “I want to go to the gym more often, but I don’t have the time?” Actually, both parts of that statement can be true and stand side by side with equal merit and strength. You have the desire for more exercise AND you are very busy. Notice I used “and” as the conjunctive in that sentence, rather than “but.” When we state two truths about our lives using “but” as the conjunctive between those two truths we effectively negate or minimize the first truth. The desire to go to the gym gets trumped by “I don’t have the time.” The use of “but” leads to a “.” While “and” invites a “…”
Very often in coaching we assist our clients in designing lives or ministries with greater intention. That means helping them to excavate new ideas, to reexamine long held positions on the way things are, and to expand the range of possibilities before them. In this exploration stage the objective is to help them be expansive rather than restrictive. One tool to help clients stay open to the wide range of what is possible in their lives and ministries is to challenge their “buts;” literally replacing them with “ands.”
A surface change in the use of language can affect a deeper shift in what a person holds to be true. In coaching I encourage you to mind your “buts” and “ands,” calling forth the use of intentional language which preserves for the client a posture of openness, exploration and possibility. I guess that really does sound better than “reduce size of your big but” AND I hope the thought of it made you smile.