Confessions of an Obstreperous Pomegranate

Confessions of an Obstreperous Pomegranatepomegranate-seeds
or “My Core Values Beta Test”

By Rachel Patton

As volunteer website designer for Bethesda, it fell to me to generate content. There’s going to be a lot about subjective words in this piece, and content is the first one. On the web and social networks, content means that there has to be something. It’s like the daily news. They’ve got to go out and find their content, regardless of its worthiness, in order for their show to go on the air and say something. But to us, to a church, it is more loaded. It can’t be yadda, yadda yadda… it’s got to have meaning. Real, true depth of meaning.

This lead to a lot of discussion and questioning, what do we want to say on our website? What are our goals for our website? Should we put our mission statement there, does it clarify our character; our uniqueness? How old is it, have we been achieving it, and do we truly understand it? Now we’re (especially me) getting into real existential angst territory. I haven’t been coming to Bethesda long. I started going after my sister became their regular preacher. I’m a minister’s kid, so while growing up it was “whither the family goest, I goest too.” I don’t really know the church that well yet. I haven’t been part of its history and I don’t have a great handle on its character, so these questions are important to me.

My research turned up what looks like a possible answer: Core Values. I first read about them in the article “What Core Values Drive Our Church?” by Herb Miller, which I found in a PDF of The Parish Paper from January 2008 that was on the Presbytery’s website.

Miller wrote, “To understand the powerful nature of core values, think of an apple core: the seeds in that core are the apple tree’s core values; these seeds create the future. A congregation’s core values are deeply ingrained thought-patterns that motivate behaviors. Core values are those beliefs and convictions that are extremely meaningful to the majority of a church’s leaders and members.”

The more I delved into the topic online, the more I found about Churches doing surveys to determine their core values. It’s easy to talk about the values we aspire to, but it’s harder to determine what our deeper, inner seeds are. We may not even be that aware of our subconscious motivations — what’s pushing us forward, what’s holding us back.

I saw this not only as an opportunity to get a grasp on our web goals and our online image, but to really get to know my fellow worshipers and understand them better. And hey, we could write a new, super-cool mission statement that would shine a guiding light on all our content needs. I began pushing. And now it looks like I’m getting my way. The session decided to hand out the core values worksheet after the congregational meeting this Sunday.

Meanwhile, I started getting anxious. This survey asks you to take your pick from a lot of subjective, value-related words from a very long list and then rank your top ten and elaborate on their subjective meaning to you. So I decided to take the first beta test myself, and THIS is how it worked for me:

I added words and circled words, and then drew lines connecting words and making notes around them, and then my ranking lines ended up with clumps of words like this:

1. Mission/Purpose/Helping/Challenge
2. Belonging/Acceptance/Openness
3. Hope/Growth/Future
4. Guidance/Wisdom/Knowledge
5. Equality/Justice/Integrity/Love Thy Neighbor
6. Joy/Love/Laughter/Humor

I figured that was more than enough to get started on, so my elaboration/exploration was this:

My #1 goal is to find mission and purpose in creatively challenging myself and my community to help and connect with others. CHALLENGE is my word here.

Well, I was just warming up, and there were so many very good words on the list!

My #2 desire is for a community where openness reigns and everyone has equal access to acceptance and belonging. My word here is OPENNESS.

My #3 word is ACCEPTANCE, although I would like that to be characterized by the loving embrace of belonging, without compromising who I am in order to fit in.

My #4 value is hope. I believe our mission is to water the seeds of healthy growth – the growth of good things for the future, as well as all the qualities that are good in ourselves and for the world. My word here is HOPE.

My #5 word is GROWTH – to water the seeds of peace and starve the weeds of violence.

My #6 thing is mercy and generosity, especially for the vulnerable. Not because they are pitiful, but because they are human or one of God’s creatures (animals, included). And generosity and kindness to Earth itself and all creation. My 6th word is MERCY.

My 7th word is GUIDANCE. The guidance of Jesus Christ – gaining knowledge and understanding from the wisdom of the Bible.

Here, I had to pause and ask myself, why did Guidance come so far down? Then it came to me that this list was turning into something Buddhist – The threefold path. The Buddha, The Dharma and the Sangha. The teacher, the way and the community. Could Christianity be like this, too? Jesus, the teacher, the practice of the teachings and the community. So again, as a Preacher’s kid, I hope God doesn’t mind if I think I know some of his teachings and wisdom already and that the practice of them seemed to be turning up first on my “threefold path” , then the community and then more of his teachings.

My #8 core concern is social justice and integrity. To me it means that we are all equal and without borders or other divisions. It means that I want the world to be fair, to be just, and that empathy moves me to be angered by the injustice I see. That is especially the case because I most often see it at a distance, through the news ,or in some way that it seems I have no power to rectify or change things. That’s when I feel most helpless and frustrated. and these are negative emotions I don’t want in my life. My 8th word is EQUALITY and #9 is JUSTICE.

My last word, my #10 word is JOY. It is last, but not least because it is very dear. Humor was part of my upbringing, it’s our family thing. Love and laughter attach to it, and it eases pain and helps to overcome anger and obstacles. The last word for me is practicing all this with JOY.

It would be great if that were the ending of this piece, and I really meant it to be – ‘The Last Word is Joy.’ Very inspirational, great title. But even typing up what I wrote down, I realize I need to be a little more honest with myself. Challenge? I think that’s not only aspirational, but a little pompous. At its core, the real value there is purpose. Just a little something to get out of bed for in the morning. Just a basic human need. In order to whittle this bloated aspirational list down to its seeds, I have to imagine no one EVER seeing this, so that I can dare to listen to my inner child and submit to the will of something like Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

So then, my real list looks something more like this:

1) Purpose – reason to get out of bed in the morning.
2) Belonging – I just want it.
3) Hope – optimism isn’t my strong suit.
4) Guidance – I don’t have all the answers, and I often don’t even know where to begin.
5) Justice – Nothing is fair
6) Kindness – A little bit of mercy
7) Respect — Please do not judge me or put me down.
8) Openness – It takes too much effort to hide myself.
9) Creativity – I like this.
10) Humor – I take this for granted.

The top few words here combined with everybody else’s priorities should make up our congregation’s core values. Gathering these filtered ‘seeds’ of growth may take some picking away, more like getting all the seeds out of an obstreperous pomegranate than coring an apple, but we hope it will bear fruit.

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