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