“I’m a Video, not a Snapshot”

Drum kit shutterstock_123948400

Too often our opinion of a person gets “frozen” in time, especially when there’s been a conflict. We allow one negative experience to become the defining factor in our view of that person. Because of that “snapshot” image of the person, we get stuck in our expectations and perceptions. We may even withdraw from them and avoid them. This hurts our relationships, especially in the community of God’s people.

Russ, an elder in one of the congregations I served, taught me a key principle about people and change.

We were meeting for prayer together before a Sunday service and began by reviewing the service assignments. There was a definite ‘contemporary’ (a reference my Presbyterian readers understand!) tone to the services that Sunday, and I had heard that Russ ‘hated the drums.’

“Russ, I imagine this service may be a challenge for you,” I said.

“Really? Why’s that?” he responded with genuine surprise.

“Because of the drums. I heard that you weren’t really a fan of them.”

“Oh, I used to make a pretty big deal about that, but I’ve changed over the years. Worship needs to connect with all God’s people, not just us ‘traditional’ types. I’m not a snapshot, I’m a video.”

That really hit me: a video, not a snapshot. A continually changing image, not a static one. We are not wise when we lock our perception of a person or group of people into one position, as if they are frozen in time, like a snapshot. We need to expect that many will continue to work through their ideas and preferences and make changes. People, especially those actively pursuing growth in Christ, are dynamic, changing, growing and learning.

Paul describes our transformation in Christ as a process of changing “from one degree of glory to another,” as the Revised Standard Version translates the following verse.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 Revised Standard Version).

I appreciate that image of degree-by-degree, step by step; and most often it’s baby step by baby step.

The stimulus for change comes as we break free from the limited and limiting perspective of this world. We learn to view everything with the eyes of faith. Another way to say this is that we are learning to see life from the aspect of eternity. We are gaining perspective and a sense of proportion by viewing life as if we were seated with Christ in heaven.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7 English Standard Version).

This is a staggering concept with countless implications for every aspect of life: our values, priorities, relationships, commitments and so on. For now, let it remind us that we need to give each other grace to grow. Instead of getting stuck with a negative impression of a person and their ideas, check to see how they have changed with time and experience.

 

Gollum and Necessary Companions

We all have people in our lives we’d like to avoid and be done with. But in doing so, we may miss something essential to our life and mission.

Gollum was a disgusting, dangerous and necessary companion for Frodo Baggins. If you’re not familiar with J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic novels of the The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, a brief background will suffice. Tolkien’s epic work The Lord of the Rings, tells the story of evil power rising to tyrannize and exploit Middle Earth, controlled by The One Ring of Power. Thousands of years before the events of the novels, the Dark Lord Sauron had forged the One Ring to rule the other Rings of Power and subdue those who wore them: the leaders of Men, Elves and Dwarves. Sauron was later vanquished in battle by an alliance of Elves and Men. The One Ruling Ring was lost in the River Anduin at Gladden Fields. Over two thousand years later, the ring was found by one of the river-folk called Déagol. His friend Sméagol (who was eventually called Gollum) immediately fell under the ring’s influence and strangled Déagol to acquire the Ring. Sméagol was banished and hid under the Misty Mountains. The power of the ring seduced Gollum, controlling him and making him a lesser being. One of the benefits of the ring was being invisible, which had great advantages for survival. The ring also extended his lifespan and transformed him over the course of hundreds of years into a twisted, corrupted creature. Ironically, Gollum lost the ring, his “precious”, and, as recounted in The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins found it. Meanwhile, the Dark Lord Sauron re-assumed physical form and took back his old realm of Mordor. (Hang in there– I’m getting to my point…).

The hobbit Frodo Baggins inherited the ring from Bilbo Baggins, his first cousin (once removed) and guardian. Neither were aware of its origin and nature, but Gandalf the Grey, a wizard and old friend of Bilbo, suspected the ring’s identity. When Gandalf became certain, he knew the only way to destroy the Dark Lord and prevent the absolute corruption of Middle Earth was to keep Sauron from getting the ring. Gandalf strongly advised Frodo to destroy the ring by throwing it into the Cracks of Doom, the lava flow in the heart of Mt. Doom, where the all the rings were originally forged. Frodo agreed, and thus began an arduous and very dangerous quest.

Along the way Frodo was tracked and attacked several times by Gollum who was driven to get the ring back from Frodo. When Frodo had the opportunity to do away with Gollum, however, Frodo showed mercy. Instead of killing Gollum, Frodo made constructive use of Gollum’s knowledge and skills. Like David with King Saul, Frodo never took judgment into his own hands (see 1 Samuel 24:6-15 and 1 Samuel 26:1-25). The result (spoiler alert!) was that Gollum led Frodo to the Cracks of Doom and (there’s a lot more to this story!) the The One Ring of Power was destroyed. Middle Earth was saved.

We all have ambivalent relationships that we cannot avoid, trying as they are. I think of Jesus choosing Judas as one of the disciples and entrusting him with the group’s money (John 12:4-6). That decision takes us into serious contemplation on the nature of fellowship. Even among God’s people there are relationships in which we may feel devalued, undermined, put on the spot by competition and comparison, taken advantage of, taken for granted, and any number of other frustrations. And, to be candid, we often consider ways to avoid these relationships. The Gollum principle (perhaps we could call it the “Judas principle”…), however, sounds a note of caution. Maybe there is a redemptive purpose in the midst of this trying relationship. Gollum is that person who causes persistent irritation, but in the end plays an important, even essential, role.

Some time ago I made a list of my “Gollums.” I know this sounds terrible– but I had to be honest with myself as a discipline of confession and repentance. On reflection, I was able to name not only the “challenge(s)” those few people posed, but also the value they brought into my life. I do not claim I wanted to continue in those relationships. They are not friend-type folks for me. But I’ve learned that I am called to humility and patience, even when I think I have justification to change the relationship. They ended up helping me move along the journey.

We can all understand difficult, antagonistic relationships in the world. The sobering truth is that fellowship in the Body of Christ brings the us into community with those who would not choose to relate to us under other circumstances. It helps me to remember that I am to value and love all whom God calls. Knowing myself in all honesty, I am amazed at God’s love for me. And I sometimes I wonder whose Gollum I am.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord… 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.                  Romans 12:14-21 New International Version (NIV)

Storms are part of the journey

Knowing where you are in a process can bring hope and keep you going when things look discouraging.

 

Form Storm Norm_slide geometric
This is my version of the process, with the graphic developed by Stephanie Curry Copyright 2017

We all know the feeling of starting a new venture or a new relationship with great expectations. Things go well at first. Maybe this time will really work, we tell ourselves. Then… well, some not-so-great stuff starts to happen and the questions begin: “What did I do wrong? Why are they so difficult? Will I ever find the right person, the right place, the right job?” What if I told you that when the questions and challenges begin, you are (most likely) on the road to healthy, fruitful functioning?

Life is a process. It is not always “upward and onward,” as much as we idealists may want it to be. Relationships and groups and projects go through a series of stages and phases. Each stage has its own order and meaning. When you step onto the balcony (a phrase from Professor Ron Heifetz) you can better observe what’s going on.

One of the concepts in organizational development is known as the Tuckman’s stages of group development. In 1965, Bruce Tuckman, professor of educational psychology at The Ohio State University, published a study [“Developmental sequence in small groups,” Psychological Bulletin63 (6): 384–399] that presented the model of group process going through the stages of form, storm, norm and perform. He stated that these phases are all necessary and inevitable in order for teams to grow, plan their work and work assignments, define problems, find solutions, and deliver results. These stages describe company teams in the workplace, but can easily be applied to other groups and personal relationships.

Form is the stage of introduction. In the workplace, a team forms to pursue a certain task, accomplish a goal, or pursue a new project. People are usually on their best behavior in this stage, and likely focused on their responsibilities and desires. On the personal level, forming is that initial period when you sense some connection and begin to learn and explore what type of relationship this will be.

Storm is the conflict-leading-to-clarification stage. Tuckman wrote, “…participants form opinions about the character and integrity of the other participants and feel compelled to voice these opinions if they find someone shirking responsibility or attempting to dominate. Sometimes participants question the actions or decision of the leader as the expedition grows harder…” It is also a time when the group’s competing values are exposed. There’s a lot going on at this stage which should be addressed if the relationship or group wants to move forward in a healthy, productive, satisfying way. The focus must be on developing trust, clarifying the issues and tension-points, and working through misunderstandings.

Norm is the values-and-process-agreement phase. Norm refers to the “norms” established by the group or the parties in the relationship. They have established clarity in core values, in the division of labor, best practices for conflict management, and other important aspects of the relationship and team so the work can proceed more effectively efficiently, and harmoniously.

Perform is the now-we’re cooking phase. The group has figured out how to work and function together in a mutually satisfying and proficient way. Having learned to manage the relational dynamics they are now able to focus on the project. Understanding each other strengths and weaknesses enables them to maximize their output by using their complimentary skills.

It’s important to realize that this process of form, storm, norm, perform continues at a mirco-level on an on-going basis. So don’t be surprised to find yourself storming and norming again and again as new issues emerge.

What has helped me the most in this model is learning to accept and anticipate the storms. Storms are part of the journey. I see this dynamic throughout the Bible. Adam and Eve in the Garden faced the storm of temptation in Genesis 3, but they didn’t handle it well. They found themselves with a very different norm for life in light of the consequences of their fall from grace. Likewise, Abraham and Sarah faced the storm doubt when they involved Hagar in their anxious plan to provide an heir (Genesis 16). Jesus went through a number of “storm stages” with his disciples as they struggled to understand their calling. In Luke 9:54, we read “When the disciples James and John saw [that the Samaritan villages would not welcome Jesus], they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’ 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them.” They had the wrong idea for managing rejection! Jesus’ disciples also “stormed” over their roles and value in regards to “greatness” (Mark 10:35-45).  In the early church, the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) provides a clear example of the “storm” of the basis Gentile inclusion in the Christian community being resolved by clarifying new norms rooted in the gospel of grace.

I see this cycle in relationships, in staff situations, even in my own growth and development. Why does this matter? Because it gives me hope and a framework for progress. When people are aware that they are “storming,” and that this stage is necessary for progress, they learn to lean into the issues with the goal of norming and performing. It helps them to “objectify” the issues, instead of personalizing and internalizing the conflicts.

As I said at the outset, life is a process. Our confidence is that God is in charge. God forms us, guides us through the storms, and reveals the norms that will empower us to perform, living in ways that honor God’s will, our neighbors and others.