Maybe you have already seen this during the holiday season. The family comes together for a meal or to exchange Christmas presents. Family members have driven from a variety of locations in order to be together. Then, someone gets extremely upset.
Why is this person upset? She says she is upset because her children were slighted during Christmas. Or, she might say she is upset because of what Uncle Harry said when she told him about her new job. Perhaps you can see her point of view and even emphathize with her displeasure. Yet, her anger and resentment seem for be over the top for the offense that occurred. You are baffled by the sheer intensity of her anger.
The issue is often not the issue.
If you probe beneath her statements or attempt to understand some of the feelings being expressed, you might see that there is more going on than frustration over Christmas or an Uncle’s comment. Sometimes, a person will focus on something external instead of focusing on what is happening in that person’s own soul. I have seen this for many years in the life of the congregations where I have served. A person might complain about something that happened in the life of the church. Maybe I can understand this person’s displeasure. However, the emotion that is being expressed and the level of sadness and anger may be more extreme and intense than the situation seems to warrant.
Then, I learn that this person is dealing with numerous losses in his life. He lost his job after a business deal went sour. He recently discovered that his adult son is a long time drug user. He is having health problems related to stress and anxiety. His parents are in poor health. He has experienced loss after loss in a short period of time.
The issue is often not the issue.
M. Craig Barnes has written a fine book entitled The Pastor as Minor Poet . In this book, he suggests that the image of “poet” might be helpful to those who preach and minister in a congregational setting.
I want to suggest still another image: the poet. I present this not as the normative or even preferred image, but simply as another biblical description of the calling of those who have been blessed with a vision that allows them to explore, and express, the truth behind the reality. Poets see the despair and heartache as well as the beauty and miracle that lie just beneath the thin veneer of the ordinary, and they describe this in ways that are recognized not only in the mind, but more profoundly in the soul. (p. 17)
This means is that we must learn to pay attention to God and at the same time pay attention to people in the messiness of the congregation’s life. Ministry not only requires that we drink deeply of the things of God (through prayer, study, reflection, and our day to day walk with God) but that we pay attention to people. This means that we pay attention not only to the words being said, but to what these words might mean.
This is how I learned to think poetically about my work and myself. It allowed me to dig beneath all of the talk about budgets, personnel, the recruiting of Sunday School teachers, and who was mad at whom, as well as the more personal concerns about relationships and work, in order to enter the deeper realm where theology makes sense. Only then could I speak to the soul of the congregation about the real choices that make an eternity of difference. (p. 19)
Do you recall an experience where you looked beneath the issue only to discover that the real issue was something that was not being expressed? Can you share an example?