Last week we started a conversation about the difficulties of clearing out programs that may have outlived their purpose. How does a church board decide it is doing too much, and in that moment, what do we stop doing?
One way to go at this question is to ask why we do so much in the first place.
Thomas Merton offers a potentially helpful, if challenging, answer in the following excerpt from his 1968 collection, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:
There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.
The best pieces for board discussion cannot be consumed quickly, and surely Merton’s short passage is one that calls for careful digestion. Finding the line between activism and overwork, in a world of pressing needs and problems, requires wisdom, and that wisdom comes only after careful listening and sharing among one another.
- Why does Merton call the act of surrender to demands and concerns a form of violence? How can an act of surrender be violent?
- In your work as a church board, are there moments you have crossed the line between activism and overwork? What happened? What did you do?
- Faced with a multitude of conflicting concerns, how do we discern the way forward together?
As this is being sent out on the morning of Maundy Thursday, we offer a text from this evening as recorded in Luke’s Gospel:
47While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; 48but Jesus said to him, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” 49When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” 50Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear.51But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. (Luke 22:47-51)
It is pretty clear that Jesus was not speaking metaphorically here – he healed the servant’s ear as he called for an end to the violence that had overtaken his followers that night. But when and why does Jesus speak “no more of this” to us?
- How do we understand Jesus’ command in light of our work and especially our activism?
- Who among your board offers the helpful word of “let’s get up and get going” and who among you most often offers a balancing word of contemplation?