What Are You Thinking?

I have been meeting weekly with a group of thinkers who focus on the process of change.

These folks come from all over the world: South Africa, London, Manhattan, Los Angeles, Netherlands, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv….. just to mention a few.

Our convener, Dr. John Scherer, is currently living in Warsaw, Poland, developing a leadership program there for entrepreneurial leaders. I had John teach in my Leadership Foundation in East Texas back in the nineties. He was one of the first people I invited to teach a group of business leaders in Atlanta when I returned here in 2001. John is using his global base to ask the pressing question of what we are going to do moving forward from this pandemic.

We have been framing these questions from the smallest unit, the individual, to a variety of other sized grouping. That would include couples, families, work teams, and organizations. All three of the questions we are posing are pertinent to how we are going to move forward into the NEW. Our bet is that there will be no return to the old “normal” but we will be moving into a new way of being in all our configurations of being.

I was reminded as we were working on this of the old wisdom adage: there is nothing as valuable as the process of planning, and nothing so worthless as a plan. This used to bother me when I was a young man, wondering as to the value of long range planning that seemed archaic the moment it was completed. I had to learn of the inherent value of planning, with the foreknowledge that the plan will be out of date and needing refinement as soon as it sees the light of reality. The process of thinking, imagining, anticipating, planning is, in fact, the breakfast of champions.

And so the three questions ask some pressing questions as we emerge from the shelter of our quarantine. We suggest you start with your self, carving out some reflective time to consider how you might respond.

John initially framed this for couples, which made me laugh. After over a month of being “stuck” in shelter with your beloved, a poorly asked question might ignite the unstable explosive just lying beneath the surface. One of my predictions as we entered into this new time, without the safety valve of work and outside activities, was a rise in domestic violence. It was a pretty simple call and is being born out in police reports. The thought of couples engaging in questions of depth without a trained facilitator was both funny to my comic side but frightening to my therapist perspective. You will be the best judge of the timing of opening up these questions within the marital/relational bliss you find yourself within. Good luck to you, as my Texas friend, Ted, might drawl.

I happen believe work teams will be the most productive venue for these probing questions. How is your business going to be changed by the pandemic? How has the new social reality impacted your business in the very way we are gathering? Having a team with a variety of perspectives offer the gift of diversity as well as overcoming the tendency to be overwhelmed by emphasizing the value of a team of folks working together on a solution.

Let me add the grouping of congregation to the table of consideration. It may make sense to convene the leadership group of a congregation to consider these questions. It might make sense to form a task force of influencers and imaginative people to try these on. In large churches, I would definitely get the staff together, either by Zoom or in a safe-distanced meeting to wrestle with these questions. One of the young ministers I am coaching is gathering a variety of groups together through Zoom to generate some new ideas and insights into the future of their ministry in this land of the new. Using a trained and disciplined facilitator might help in making the process yield better results. That’s just a hunch on my part……

The questions are simple but profound and worth some time:

What part of our past do we want to hold on to? What will provide us an anchor as to who we are essentially?

What have we had to let go of, due to this change in social reality, that we really needed to let go of? What did we used to do that we don’t want or need to continue?

What new things have we learned about ourselves that we want to make sure we continue? What gifts has this crisis given to us that we did not know or were not clear about?

In my initial meetings with church groups, there has been a recognition of the deep value of relationships, and the gift of presence. The crisis has forced us to pare down our activity to the essential, forcing us to jettison some behavior and activities that we not really worth our time and energy. And, surprisingly, we have discovered new ways to connect with one another that we never really considered before we were forced to get creative.

One congregation in particular discovered that it could us the ancient discipline of daily prayer in the day to provided some reassuring structure to an otherwise chaotic day. In the Anglican tradition, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer serves as a way to mark our days and give us a sense of order. In addition, the regular discipline of prayer, deepens and widens our circles of concern as we are re-minded of our neighbors, our community, and the world. This congregation that initiated this recovery using the technology of Zoom plans to continue this practice beyond the crisis.

I was impressed by one congregation’s board that decided to take of the task of reaching out to their members making making phone calls to every member. The leader divided up the directory, assigned the list to each board member, asking them to make that call, and record the information gathered for response to the need. This is old-fashioned community care but in a fresh environment provided by the pandemic. Do you wonder how members felt getting a phone call from the church for something other than soliciting money? I don’t. How caring is this initiative…a gift from this crisis. I hope we have the capacity to learn.

Three simple questions: What do we want to keep regardless, what is essential? What do we need to let go of as we move into the future? What did we learn in this crisis that we want to hold onto?

Start with your own self. If you’re feeling lucky, or sporty, try it on your marriage, and/or family. Then, how about your work team, or an organization that you are engaged in. And what about your congregations.

We all have gotten the experience of this pandemic, some with more intensity than others. But the real question is: who will get the insight, the learning, the lesson?

As my colleague, Mike Murray, reminds me: Experience is NOT the best teacher. Processed experience is! How are you processing what went on in this odd time? Have you wrestled a blessing from this encounter?

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