Improv and Contribution

When I was learning to program, each exercise was done in pairs.  One person had hands on the keyboard, while the other person narrated what to type next based on their vision of how to solve the problem at hand.

This is hard.  Like, extremely hard.  For a bunch of big reasons.  Chief among these reasons is the analysis each person does of the other.  I do not understand where this is heading.  Does this person have any idea what they are doing?

But, of course, learning to confront the analysis that breaks down communication was a major objective of the exercise.  To help us with this objective, the school organized an “intro to improv comedy” class for us.  

The parts of the improv session that were actually funny happened when we were able to tune into another person and respond generously and whimsically.  The point was to follow another’s lead without hyper-analysis.  Indeed, we were to replace analysis with cognitive empathy and lightheartedness.

As we consider the present (and future) of our church and world, it is worth it to realize that we make the road by walking.  Much of this road will be improvisation.  Let’s tune into each other and respond with generosity and lightheartedness. 

Lead from Any Chair

I love the current pediatrician office that cares for our sons.  The doctors are fine, but what really is exemplary is the front desk staff.  They are attentive amid (occasional) chaos, curious even when fatigued, and actually solve a remarkable number of problems without bringing families into the office to see a doctor.  In an important way, the folks answering the phones are leading the practice.

I’ve heard that, while playing in an orchestra, one might “lead from any chair.”  That is, whether I am the conductor, violin soloist, second oboe, or the guy playing that huge drum, I am able, through my actions, to lead. 

What would the church be like if we realized any of us could lead from any chair?  This is, in part, what I think Pope Francis is asking us to consider during the current Synod on Synodality.  (Check out the questions 40% of the way down the page of the Synod Survey of our diocese.)

Labels are Lazy

When we use a label to comprehend a person, we trade encounter for ease. That is, we substitute lazy thinking for actually approaching the reality of a person.

This is true (whether we admit it or not) even for the labels that we give ourselves a pass on.

It is true that, as we communicate, it is extremely difficult to avoid labels entirely. If and when we do use them, though, let’s be dissatisfied with them, and use this dissatisfaction to tip us toward curious encounter.

Taking Charge of the Weight of Reality

This week (16 November) we recall the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador.  One of the Jesuits, Ignacio Ellacuría, was a philosopher and theologian, and part of his legacy was to offer a three-fold approach to engage the times that one lives in.  It is:

(1) To realize the weight of reality (hacerse cargo)

(2) To shoulder the weight of reality (cargar con)

(3) To take charge of the weight of reality (encargarse de)  

Even the first takes major guts.  With all three, a disciple can transform reality, and be transformed by the courageous work.

Rearranging Our Prejudices

Psychologist William James once observed that “a great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” The alternative to this, learning to see the world as it is, is difficult work.  But if we are to change our culture to serve the common good, it is the only place toContinue reading “Rearranging Our Prejudices”

I Am an Ass!

Anthony de Mello, SJ once ostentatiously declared in a spoken retreat that he was going to write a book entitled, “I’m an ass and you’re an ass!”*

The point he was making was that it is profoundly liberating to experience one’s own capacity to be petty, selfish, mean, or worse.  This realization frees us from our moral superiority before others and opens a world of connection.

And how right he is!  Acknowledging oneself as no better than the person we judge frees us from nasty narratives that divide us.  

*The retreat has actually been turned into the audiobook of Awareness.

The Contagion of Contempt

When we consider someone with contempt, we say that they are beneath our consideration.  Engagement with them is not worth our time.  They receive only our disgust.

And contempt is contagious; as two people pass it back and forth, it grows exponentially.  This is even more true within an in-group, a cultural echo chamber, a tribe, until contempt kills any curiosity or engagement of the other.  These days, particularly in political discussions, contempt for “those people” is on the rise.

Contempt kills our ability to communicate and work for the common good, and so interrupting the contagion of contempt is an act of courage.  This courage begins by naming clearly what we fear and getting close enough to love.