Clarity

“I can, with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing.”

Flannery O’Connor

“Do we have clarity?” Boards ask that all the time. It’s a good question. But it is not an obvious question.

What we see, as a church board—and how we see it—is always in negotiation. For every board member who wants to bring the board columns of statistics on Sunday school and worship attendance, or headcounts for mission participation, or year-to-date financial statements, there will be another board member who wants to recount the remarkable afternoon spent with a now retired long-term first grade Sunday School teacher and the stories that woman told about her role in the church and how her faith continues to grow even through the loss of her husband and an adult child.

Can a board function without good participation stats?  Not well.  Can a board do its work without knowing the story of that woman who taught first grade Sunday school for 32 years?  Not well, either.

“Do we have clarity?” is still a good question for a board to ask … as long as it is accompanied by other questions:

 

  • What are we seeking clarity about, exactly?

 

  • What are we trying to see—or not to see?

 

  • What is in focus? What is not in focus?

 

  • How do we adjust our eyes to see space for God to create something new? Should we squint—or go see an eye doctor?

 

The German-American poet and translator Lisel Mueller died this week. Born in Hamburg in 1924, she fled the Nazi regime with her family when a young girl and spent the remainder of her long life in the American Midwest. Mueller left us many deeply beautiful poems, including this one:

 

Monet Refuses the Operation

By Lisel Mueller

 

Doctor, you say there are no haloes

around the streetlights in Paris

and what I see is an aberration

caused by old age, an affliction.

I tell you it has taken me all my life

to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,

to soften and blur and finally banish

the edges you regret I don’t see,

to learn that the line I called the horizon

does not exist and sky and water,

so long apart, are the same state of being.

Fifty-four years before I could see

Rouen cathedral is built

of parallel shafts of sun,

and now you want to restore

my youthful errors: fixed

notions of top and bottom,

the illusion of three-dimensional space,

wisteria separate

from the bridge it covers.

What can I say to convince you

the Houses of Parliament dissolve

night after night to become

the fluid dream of the Thames?

I will not return to a universe

of objects that don’t know each other,

as if islands were not the lost children

of one great continent.  The world

is flux, and light becomes what it touches,

becomes water, lilies on water,

above and below water,

becomes lilac and mauve and yellow

and white and cerulean lamps,

small fists passing sunlight

so quickly to one another

that it would take long, streaming hair

inside my brush to catch it.

To paint the speed of light!

Our weighted shapes, these verticals,

burn to mix with air

and change our bones, skin, clothes

to gases.  Doctor,

if only you could see

how heaven pulls earth into its arms

and how infinitely the heart expands

to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

 

 

  • What kind of clarity has Monet achieved over time?

 

  • What does the world he sees look like, feel like? What way of being does it call forth from him? 

 

  • By contrast, what kind of clarity does the doctor want Monet to experience?

 

  • What kind of clarity are you seeking in your church board meetings?

 

  • Are there competing ideas of clarity on your church board? How well do you negotiate them?

 

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