Open for questions
So this week I had to explain something to my son Harry that I never thought I would have to explain. The ins and outs of intellectual property licensing between movie studios and the reason that one of his favourite superheroes will no longer (as of now) be a participant in his favourite sprawling cinematic universe.
(for those of you out of the loop, or with just more important problems to worry about, Sony Pictures and Disney/Marvel got into a spat about revenue sharing over the Spiderman character and the cross-licensing deal that fans have enjoyed is now dead.)
The story is tragic, and fascinating, but the point of this blog is not to reflect on why Spidey deserves to be in the MCU (#bringspideyhome) but rather how in a moment of my son asking me to explain what happened I realized something important about not just fatherhood - but life in general.
You see, I am not a patient man by nature. I have rightly been accused before of getting frustrated when being asked to explain a concept that seems simple in my mind to people for whom it is not as clear-cut or obvious. And explaining the details of this rather convoluted studio deal (that frankly I don't even fully understand as the terms are largely confidential) to a ten-year-old is exactly the sort of conversation that I instinctively avoid. Part of that is simple impatience, but part of it is also a sense that having to explain myself opens up the possibility that I might have to address questions that I don't know the answers to, which weakens my position and challenges my authority on the matter. But this past month, as I have been working through our social media series on the book of Proverbs (#WiseUp), I have been reminded repeatedly that a wise person is also a patient person, and a wise person is not afraid of correction if they are wrong. And so in a moment of uncharacteristic clarity (at 5:15 in the morning no less - thank you jet lag!) I sat down and painstakingly explained the situation to my son.
And as I've reflected on the experience I have come to realize that we are a lot like this in the church as well. We have our convictions, we have our understandings, and we jealously protect ourselves from having to defend or explain them for many of the same reasons that I don't like explaining myself. Explaining ourselves forces us to confront why we believe what we believe and dialogue opens us up to the risk that the person we are speaking with might expose a place where we are wrong. As a result we tend to close ourselves off, entrench in our positions, and stonewall those who ask for explanation.
We like to think that this response comes out of a sense of certitude, or righteous conviction - a commitment to not be swayed from our long-held beliefs, but what it really comes from is a place of fear. Fear that we might not be right. Fear that we might not understand the way we think we do. Fear that we might have to do the hard work of articulating our beliefs and convictions to people who don't share them and may challenge them.
As a pastor, I understand this fear. I am just as prone to becoming closed-off and defensive as the next person. I have been called to be the guy who stands up week after week to make bold assertions about the scriptures, ethics, discipleship, and how the Church works. Every time I speak I potentially say something that challenges, offends, or confuses someone listening. I know that despite my best efforts to be clear and persuasive when I teach, that there will be times when people don't follow and need to ask questions, or don't agree and need to engage in dialogue. When this happens I have to make the same choice that I had to make in my kitchen in the early hours of the morning when Harry asked me to unpack the Spiderman news: "Am I open to being questioned?"
I would love to say that I have been perfect in this area, but that would be a lie. But what I can say is that I am committed to trying to be open, and willing to be called out when I haven't been. This is one of the reasons that I am so committed to the concept of #ClergyCoffeeHour.
At #ClergyCoffeeHour you have time every single week to drop in and ask questions without fear of being dismissed or ignored. You are invited to sit across a table from me and monopolize my time on any issue you want. You don't need to make an appointment, you don't need to get permission, you don't even need to let me know why you're coming or what you want to discuss ahead of time. It is a weekly opportunity for your pastor to be vulnerable to you and open to your questions. I may not always have an answer, or I might not always be able to give you the answer you want to hear, but I will always have time for your questions. I want you to know that your questions matter and that is why I do what I do.
Even if your particular schedule makes you unavailable for the times that #ClergyCoffeeHour happens, if you want to talk we can still make things happen. In some ways, #ClergyCoffeeHour is more than just a weekly time slot for discussion, it's an idea that points to something bigger than itself. On those weeks when nobody shows up and I sit alone with my computer drinking coffee for hours on end, I remind myself that the message of #ClergyCoffeeHour is more important than the event. The message of the event is that I'm open to talk, and if you hear that message and schedule a time to sit down and chat with me at another point in the week as a result, then those lonely hours getting over-caffeinated become worth it as well.
I'm here for you. So if you want to talk about anything. From last Sunday's sermon, to a book you've been reading, to an issue in congregational polity, to a struggle you're facing in life, to why Spiderman belongs in the MCU - your pastor is going to be at The Daily Grind every Thursday morning ready to engage. No appointment necessary, and no topic off-limits. I can't promise you that I'll be perfect, but I can promise you that I'll be present, patient, and open. What's holding you back?
See you for coffee soon,