Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense.
- (Sufi Poet Rumi)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Church - I Came Here to Complain! (No You Didn't!)

The Argument Clinic Sketch

Do you feel that when you go to your congregation, it seems like you've entered the Monty Python skit The Argument Clinic?  In the skit, a man pays good money for an argument, which he gets, but he also gets complaints, abuse, and hit over the head.   In this sketch, one line is, "If you complain nothing happens ... you might just as well not bother." I believe that complaints can be valuable, for they tell us what we long for.  It takes however some practice and skill to shift the internal and external conversations so that something wonderful might happen in your congregation.

What complaints do you hear?  

The service went too long!
I didn't like the music this morning.
People don't pledge enough to keep this congregation solvent!
We just don't have enough people to handle all the volunteer duties.
Our congregation is dying, we need younger people!
I'm tired of all the conflict and gossip around here.

Do these sound familiar to you?  If so, you might also have experienced in your body a lowering of energy, or perhaps tenseness when you hear a complaint.  Maybe you feel exhaustion, lack of hope, and a desire to withdraw from the conversation or even the relationship or the congregation.  The needs behind this response are multiple - mutual empowerment, hope, fun, ease, connection, etc.  Over time "complaint energy" can embed itself within a congregation and be difficult to eradicate, but not impossible. 

One way to reverse complaint energy is to play the complaint game. 

Gather with a group of people in your congregation and write down all the commonly heard complaints, or the complaints or criticisms that cause you to go nuts. As a group come up with the needs that exist behind the complaints. Then role play a conversation where one person issues forth a complaint, while the other responds with empathy by guessing what might be the needs of the complainer.  In this way both parties receive the gift of helping each other connect to life and to one another by sharing the needs that exist behind the complaint.  The complaint game is also a good way to practice, so that when you hear a complaint in "real time" you can immediately translate it to life giving needs, both for your benefit and for another's if you so choose to empathize out loud with the other.

So let's play shall we?  What needs are behind the complaints listed above?  When you have come up with a list continue reading.

The service went too long! (consideration, efficiency, rest, integrity, ?)
I didn't like the music this morning. (stimulation, pleasure, joy, shared reality, ?)
People don't pledge enough to keep this congregation solvent! (fairness, hope, community, faith,?)
We just don't have enough people to handle all the volunteer duties. (rest, fairness, fun, ?)
Our congregation is dying, we need younger people! (hope, contribution, justice, love, community, nurturance, ?)
I'm tired of all the conflict and gossip around here. (rest, peace, connection, integrity, ?)

You can play the complaint game by yourself too.

I now invite you to think of an important complaint you have about your congregation.  I say "important" because complaints let you know what you value and long for.  List the needs behind the complaint and then translate the complaint into a statement about needs.  Then imagine those needs being met and rest in that energy for a while.  This will prepare you to share these precious needs with others in a form that perhaps they can hear, empathize with, and experience mutual empowerment so that together you can come up with a strategy that might address these needs.

For example, I might complain:  Why can't we loosen up around here - move our bodies, clap our hands, dance, and shout amen?   

I long for connection, sharing, spirit, fun, kinesthetic movement, physical well being, etc.

To my worship committee I might then say, "I sure do appreciate how wonderful my body feels when I move during a service and value so strongly sharing the embodiment of our faith with others.  Would you be willing to tell me what comes up for you when you hear me say this?"

I believe that people do not join a community of faith to argue, but to serve life, which we can do by translating complaints into needs language.

Good hope in this,