This week many Episcopalians will make there way to our triennial gathering the General Convention. This is an important and awaited gathering of many leaders from around the church to undertake a portion of the governance we use to support our mission.
People are excited. I am excited. At our best we are a family reunion like no other. We are sharing our difference, we are setting aside deference, we are celebrating our diversity. At our best we are creating a church wide commons where ideas, excitement for the story, dispatches from the missionary front, and our love of God are shared. When we are doing this we are all in the arena. We are there with our tribe. We are dancing and singing together. We are working hard and playing together. We are learning from one another and we are sharing the road together. We hear ideas and we wonder about them together. We are belonging. We are creating. We are loving.
But we should always remember that the General Convention is an arena. If you love it you will enter it with ideas, creativity, and a desire to make something. Hopefully that is always to make our governance and structure work for our mission.
When you do this, when I do this, we are daring greatly. We are trusting one another enough to be vulnerable with our ideas and to share them with the body so that we might discern together what good might we be about on behalf of the God we believe in. When we do this we are the one in the arena. Brené Brown uses the speech often called The Man in the Arena to describe this moment - this space we inhabit when we risk.
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."This is taken THE MAN IN THE ARENA is an excerpt from President Theodore Roosevelt's speech entitled "Citizenship In A Republic" delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910,
download PDF of complete speech.
Brown reminds us that when we enter the arena it is not about winning or losing it is about showing up and being seen. What we have to know and understand is that the arena - though we would like it to be otherwise - is dangerous. Showing up and being seen means you will as Brené Brown says, "Get your assed kicked." She goes on to say that if "courage is a value that you hold, this is a consequence, you can't avoid it." What you should know is that if the person who is taking you to task is not in the arena with you then you should not be interested in your feedback. Constructive, helpful, supportive, challenging about ideas, looking for common ground, building consensus are some of the many forms that people enter the arena with you to help co-create.
These people are the people in the support section. These are people who have empathy for you. They see and act as though their contributions are given in the spirit of mutual support for the common good. When the Episcopal Church is filled with people like this we are good. We are together and we are moving our mission forward.
There are others though who are not in the support section or not in the arena with us but are really against us. These are the ones not helping, supporting, or moving the creativity forward. These are people who make the arena unsafe.
We are so "hardwired for connection" that when we pretend we don't care we are actually cutting ourselves off. Even though their messages are ones of shame or even anger, we must recognize them as part of our family, part of the arena. We need to understand they are season ticket holders. they are sitting in particular seats.
The people inhabit three kinds of seats: cheap seats, box seats, and the critics section. The Cheap Seats are filled with the anonymous critics who pass judgment on us. They may be named, have a twitter handle, or Facebook Page, you may even know who they are because they are recognized cheap seat ticket holders. The reality is that they are not connected to you or your idea. They want to see you fail and even though they are sitting in your arena they may be naysayers and be working for an opposing team.
The box seats are filled with people who built or maintain the arena and give us the messages about the expectations we must meet. They are the ones who pass out power and take away power based on loyalty. They are the ones who are deeply invested in the arena staying exactly where it is. They will criticize all ideas, have none to add to the arena, and won't tolerate any thing challenging to shifting or changing who sits where.
The last of these is special seats are held by the critics. The critics are the people who give us the messages of shame, comparison and scarcity. These are the ones who demean people because of their difference, they offer shame messages in order to quite you, they compare you to others who "get it right", and they believe there is no possible way for your creativity to work or have any merit.
Thanks to social media these seats won't only be inhabited by people at Convention but there will be a ton of people all over shouting from the seats at those who this week walk into the arena. I am always aware that the General Convention is a wonderful thing and that it has its shadow side which can be ugly and mean.
What we do a lot of the time is we armor up. We move away from the creative idea, the opportunity for change, and either exit the arena and go quietly into the night - we move away. Or we move against and channel all our energy into defeating the people in those seats! This also saps energy from the work at hand. Or we try to placate the critics, cheap, and box seats.
Brené Brown reminds us that when we walk into the arena we are also in the same spot where we discover love, belonging, joy, empathy, creativity, and innovation
So we what do we do? We allow them to sit in their seats. But we chose to walk into the arena for the sake of these things.
Clarity of values - remember what you believe in. For instance, remember not the church and its structures but remember and hold close to you the image of the family of God that Jesus offers and into which Jesus invites us. Have your someone who will tell you the truth, who will dust you off, clean you up, and help you go back into the arena. Finally, remember that the biggest critic in the arena is you - its me. "We are so self critical. We have an ideal about ourselves. We orphan all the parts that don't fit for us. And, all that is left is the critic." Brené Brown says. But put in that seat you - the person who is your journey, your life, your story, and is excited and supporting you.
I leave tomorrow morning for General Convention. If I am honest I have sat in all of those seats in the past. This year as I step into the arena I want to enter it in a different way. I want to share what I have, listen to others. I want to help heal the past. I want to experience our difference and diversity. I want to create a peaceful commons. I want to be about the work of reconciliation and I want to help us be a better church that is a good steward of its resources and finally is focused on its mission. I am looking for others who want to do these things. I am hopeful we will be at our best.
When we are not and we get into the critics, the box, and cheap seats I hope we will hold each other accountable. When we use shame and other demeaning tactics to quiet people or to deal with our own fear and anxiety I hope we will hold one another accountable.
So I am at first prayerful. Prayerful for safe travel. Prayerful for our gathered family. Prayerful for all those who are going to serve, feed, and clean up after us for 10+ days. Prayerful and grateful for the privilege of serving at this church and being able to afford the time and resources to attend this meeting. And, finally prayerful that we will be at our best.
I am hopeful. I believe we have an opportunity to become the church that God beckons us to become. I believe we have at Salt Lake City the moment to take our next step into the future of a church whose mission is amplified for the future.
Here is a quote from Aeschylus' play "Prometheus Bound." After they have bound Prometheus to the rock...Cratus:[to Prometheus] "Go play rebel now, go plunder the god's treasure and give it to your creatures of a day. What portion of your pain can mortals spare you? The gods who named you the Forethinker were mistaken. You'll need forethought beyond your reckoning to wriggle your way out of this device."
[You can watch the Brené Brown video from the 99 conference where she talks about this here.]