I’ve written and presented a good bit about the theology and practice of improvisation. To be precise, I’ve thought and read a lot about the theology of it, and am still a real amateur of the latter. Yet it’s one of the best metaphors for life that this recovering control freak has stumbled upon.
Starting in February I’ll be embarking on a major improvisation. I am leaving my post as pastor of Tiny Church in order to focus my vocational energies on writing, speaking to churches and groups, and doing some writing/editing consulting work for a non-profit or two. This is my attempt to say “yes-and” to this work I’ve been doing for the past couple of years–work that continues to deepen, widen, and beckon.
While there is great joy in this new endeavor, the path is not clear. I don’t have a ten-year plan or even a ten-month plan. Yes, there will be lots of thought and intention going into this new chapter, but my hope is to be open and flexible to learnings and opportunities as they arise.
But I need practice in this. I need to hone my improvisational chops. And DC-area folk, you’re invited! Here’s an invitation from Ashley Goff, a friend and co-conspirator on this improvisational journey. From Facebook:
Church of the Pilgrims is hosting an all-day intensive on the practice of improv on January 20th from, roughly, 9:30-3pm. The intensive will be led by my improv-guru, Andrew Wassenich. Why an all-day intensive on improvisation? Life is improv. The work of Jesus was improv. The Holy Spirit is improv. The Church has a lot to learn about improv. We will spend the day engaging in improv games, Bible study using improv techniques, and group/personal reflection on what improv unlocks within us. Perfect for Epiphany. Cost is $50 and lunch is included. Space is limited. Connect with me via FB comment, FB message, or email.
Get in touch with me if you’re interested; we’d love to have you.
No, not this website—the actual blue room, our dining room-turned-office and craft space for which this website is named. The Blue Room is a symbol for the stuff in our lives that doesn’t work that needs to be reimagined to embrace the way things are, not the way we think they should be. With three young children, we never used our formal dining room. But I did need a study at home. And the kids would benefit from a place where they could play around with glitter, paint, glue and stickers. Preferably a place without carpet…
So during Snowpocalypse of 2010, our Blue Room was transformed from a useless place to a space for life and creativity.
I realized recently that despite the symbolism of the Blue Room, the walls have been adorned with the same artwork I’ve had for a long time. I don’t remember when I got this labyrinth poster (scroll down for the only image I can find online), but it was well before the 1999 gathering being advertised.
And Jane Evershed’s First Supper has been with me for many years. As a former Baptist who grew up with a blond Jesus and very male-centric images of God and Jesus’ closest followers, I love Evershed’s table, with 12 multi-racial and beautifully adorned women raising their glasses into the air. (Which one is the host at the table? Which one is Jesus? None of them. All of them.)
But life moves on. And now I have one of these, a rendering of the cover of Boston Magazine from last spring:
Peace, love, and running.
Here’s poster #2. Brain Pickings is one of my favorite sites, and Maria Popova recently published Seven Life Lessons from her work on the site. The folks Holstee Company came up with a beautiful graphical rendering of it. It arrived last week and is hanging on the nail I used for the Evershed poster. The placement isn’t quite right in the room, but I love it. A closeup from their website:
Which brings me to the giveaway. The Holstee company initially sent me their manifesto poster by mistake. The corrected the order, and asked me to keep the poster. But I want to share the love. So comment here or on my Facebook page with a recent “Blue Room” experience: either something you’ve reconfigured to fit your life as it really is, or something you know you need to reconfigure. (Or a general “hi” is fine too.) Each comment will be entered once. Submissions are due by Friday August 22 at midnight EDT.
Here’s Holstee’s manifesto poster (actual size 18×24″). Good luck to everyone!
I meet monthly with a group of pastors to talk about ministry, leadership, family systems stuff and more. (We also catch an occasional Nats game.)
Today our facilitator shared this handout which inspired much discussion:
The most effective leaders strive to be in quadrant B: high “pain tolerance” in self and in others. Pain tolerance in this case means willingness to experience discomfort in order to move a system forward, fostering growth and needed change.
I’d argue that quadrant C and D leaders are rare—if you have a low pain tolerance for yourself, you’re not likely to want to attempt the work of leadership. But many of us probably cluster in quadrant A: willing to endure plenty of personal discomfort, but less willing to inflict it on others. We squirm when we have to hold people accountable and support them as they risk and grow.
Being a pastor undoubtedly compounds this quadrant A dynamic: we are tender-hearted types who want to comfort the afflicted. And news flash: everyone’s afflicted. (Philo reminds us to be kind, for everyone is fighting a great battle.) So quadrant A leaders can come up with every excuse in the book for letting people off the hook.
And yet, for us Christians anyway, transformation is the name of the game, and that means some pain. Flannery O’Connor writes, “All human nature resists grace, because grace changes us and change is painful.”
What do you think? And where do you see yourself in this diagram?
Source: Leadership in Healthy Congregations
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I haven’t seen The Tonight Showin years, and my main late-night indulgences are Colbert and Stewart. So I haven’t watched much Jimmy Fallon. Except for “Barack Obama Slow-Jams the News,” which still cracks me up two years later. (The Prezi of the United Stezi!)
But I did catch Jimmy’s inaugural monologue on The Tonight Show this week, which led me to seek out several other clips. Here’s the monologue:
Jimmy Fallon is succeeding a giant of late-night television, and he’s entering a crowded field. At 39 years old, he’s taking a leap onto a larger stage and needs to prove himself in some ways. As I watched, I was struck by the smart stuff that was going on under the surface, whether calculated or not, and I started to relate Jimmy’s debut to other situations leaders find themselves in. (What can I say? It’s whatIdo.)
Leaders sometimes find themselves following beloved leaders, some of whom are older, more experienced, and firmly entrenched in the culture. Or we may find ourselves having to step into a new role thanks to a promotion or other circumstance. How can these transitions succeed?
Here are just a few things that came to mind as I watched Jimmy take the helm. Might some of these relate to you as a leader, or in other roles you play? Some of these would apply not just to leadership, but any new creative endeavor:
1. Locate yourself in history. Fallon made explicit mention of every Tonight Show host (and turned it into a joke by listing “Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno.”). This was a reverent nod to the folks who’d occupied the chair before him, but also a clear statement: my name belongs on that list now.
2. Make the role your own, but don’t go overboard. The set and format were very similar to the previous incarnation of the show, but with several small tweaks, and a few big ones. For example, Jimmy Fallon brought the show back to New York after many decades in L.A. (Carson started out there but moved the show to California ten years into his tenure.) You’ve got to find the right balance between continuity and novelty.
3. Mix self-deprecation with really knowing your stuff. As a young woman pastor wanting to be taken seriously, this was always my approach. It would do me no good to demand respect and get strident when I didn’t get it. So my approach was to be completely disarming, even self-deprecating, while still projecting extreme competence. The former takes the wind out of the sails of your detractors; the latter ensures they don’t write you off. Fallon achieved this balance with his characteristic aw-shucks modesty, coupled with running the show very well and taking his role seriously.
4. Make your family visible. This doesn’t apply to every situation, but it was sweet the way Fallon mentioned his wife and daughter and cut to his parents in the audience. Many leaders I meet (especially younger ones) don’t want a brick wall of separation between work and family. We want to be integrated. Having your family visible humanizes you. Also, knowing more about you makes people want to root for you.
5. Call in every favor you can. The sheer number of guests and cameos on the first show was dizzying! Check this out:
This isn’t just great TV, it’s great strategy. Don’t go it alone. Calling in favors builds excitement and makes you feel more comfortable too.
6. Spend it all right away. This relates a bit to the previous point. Don’t keep good ideas in reserve. Use them immediately, trusting that other ideas will come to take their place. I’m sure there will be other surprises for the rest of this week, and beyond. But taking the previous clip as an example, isn’t there something so abundant about the way that parade of celebrities came on stage, one after another? Too fun.
Speaking of which:
7. Don’t forget to enjoy the moment. Fallon sure looked like he was having a blast, didn’t he? I watched the episode mainly for curiosity, but now I want to tune in just to see what he’ll do next. (It’s one reason why I prefer Colbert to Stewart these days. Nobody looks more tickled to be doing his job than Stephen Colbert.)
8. Keep your goals modest. As leaders, we sometimes have an overinflated sense of what we can accomplish. We have to remember that we’re stepping into a system that existed before us and, we hope, will outlast us. Jimmy Fallon made his goals clear: to “take care of this show for a while” and to make his viewers laugh, to send them off to bed with a smile on their faces.
9. Be gracious with your “competition.” I put this in quotes because not every leadership role involves competition. But you will notice that Stephen Colbert made an appearance in the clip above. Fallon and Colbert are slotted opposite one another. But having them together is a statement that there is room for both of them.
10. When in doubt, bring on U2. Enough said:
Did you watch The Tonight Show? What did you think of Jimmy’s debut?
The other day I heard Maya Lin talk about her design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC. I’ve visited the wall many times, and it’s always crowded with people, many of them deeply moved by the v-shaped black granite gash in the earth.
The memorial seems brilliant, even inevitable now, as if the memorial couldn’t have possibly looked any other way. But at the time, it was controversial, scandalous. Many Vietnam veterans fought it. They wanted something more traditional. A few concessions were made—a flag, a statue of a soldier—but through it all, Lin remained convicted and steadfast to her vision and her design.
The night before the memorial was dedicated, Lin was touring the space when a Vietnam veteran walked up to her. He was a big guy, an imposing guy, and he was livid at what he saw. He lit into her, practically pinning her to the wall with his rage, asking, How dare she do this?
As I listened to this story, I imagined what it would have been like to be Maya Lin, and to be the focus of such ire. Then I realized that of course, it has happened to me, though on a more modest scale. One time in the church I used to serve, we made a decision to change the way we served communion. It was the right decision, and we communicated our purposes the best we could. But a man left that day and made a beeline for me: How could you do this? How dare you do this? I received his rancor as non-anxiously as I could, but inside my heart sank and I was flooded with doubt.
I was expecting Lin to admit to similar feelings, but she responded differently. As she listened to the veteran, and heard all of that pain tumbling out, she thought to herself, It’s working. The wall is doing exactly what I’d hoped it would do.
Pastors, leaders, and any of us in the transformation business: take heed. When you touch people emotionally, people may lash out. But that’s not necessarily a sign to stop. It can be a sign to stand firm, or if you dare, to go deeper.