"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Gift of Accountability

By Micky Wolf

Accountable. Has a nice flow, a bit of a ring. If a word can seem important by the way it sounds, this one might be near the top of the list. That being stated, if we ever hope to be and become more Christ-like, we best pay attention to how it may apply for each of us on a personal level.

While I spend a fair amount of time with my spiritual direction practice, writing has been a priority these past few years. As far back as I can recall, I scribbled words—on little pieces of paper, the backs of cardboard tablets or other handy objects, and probably in a few ways and places that would have been better left alone. I could describe numerous examples of why I believe this is a primary calling at this time in my life, however, the whole issue of accountability in conjunction with composing has taken on a renewed sense of value and importance in recent weeks.

By necessity, being a writer means being comfortable with solitude. For me? I am really, really, comfy with my computer, screen, and various instrumental music CD companions. 

This is a most blessed time in my life and I am savoring every moment. When not studying to improve the craft, I have been busy working on a novel that, after many previous guises, now seems to be springing into life in a way that energizes every pore of my being.

That’s the good news.

Now for the less appealing part.

Working alone is a great way to minimize the possibilities for someone—in this case, other than my beloved—to call me to accountability for what is being accomplished. In other words (okay, pun intended) enjoying the solitude too much can create a false sense of reliance on one’s ability and capacity to be objective, persevere, and get the work done.

“How so?” you may wonder. “You’re a mature adult. What’s the problem? You keep a calendar and have plenty of notes posted around as reminders of what needs to be done and when.”

Yep. All true. Except for one minor detail: knowing something needs doing and carrying it to completion can be two vastly difference concepts. If I’m the only one in the room, who is to know? To see? To remind me I’m not staying on task?”

Personally, I do have a conscience, which can fairly scream at times. “Stop playing desktop solitaire! In between the moments of heavenly flowing creativity, you knew writing can be hard, but so what? (Actually it’s the editing and rewriting that can send a writer into a delirium tremens of sorts.)

With the nod to the old saying; “what happens—or doesn’t—in my study, stays in my study.”

Enter the gift of accountability…

Out of the blue several days ago, a friend (the loving kind who isn’t into handing out hands full of that manure stuff) dropped me a note with a brief suggestion for a writing project. While the concept itself was something my beloved and I had discussed before, the idea someone other than the two of us would propose it was akin to stirring a tiny ember into a brighter flame.

Now, here’s the best part—this individual volunteered to put some skin in the process. If I felt the suggestion worthy of time and attention, each of us would have a to-do list to support me in making it a reality. Her strengths and talents would complement mine. I could continue to work on my novel while being accountable and take responsibility for my part with the other project.

Opening the gift…

“Well, fine. Of course. Four hands are better than two.” Nevertheless, fellow sojourner, there is a spiritual principle at work here that goes much deeper.

People who commit to the kind of friendship-relationship as modeled by Jesus, do so with great love and compassion. They bring out the best in one another. In this context, being the caring person who exhorts and encourages the other to “take responsibility” for one’s behaviors and actions, or lack thereof.

As a writer alone in a room, it can be easy to justify what I am doing—or not. I may not be so innocent or na├»ve to believe God is oblivious, but deep in my soul, I know when the work at hand seems too hard to wade into and how much easier it would be to focus on something else that usually offers immediate gratification without all the sweat equity.

Accountability in action…

As we sat down to discuss how writing project X might happen, I could feel every little insecurity and fear crawl to the surface. What happens next?

In the midst of all this, those three little words show up and pack a wallop—the fuel, if you will—behind the accountability. To. Do. List. After we had shared thoughts and ideas, each of us grabbed a sheet of paper as she suggested specific action steps for both of us. No commands or demands. Suggestions. And was I comfortable with these, including a possible d-e-a-d-l-i-n-e?

It might be easy enough to file this experience under various headings: self-discipline, self-direction, goal-setting, short and long term planning, and so forth.

But here’s the deal, at least where I am concerned. There’s nothing quite like experiencing Jesus with skin on—in the form of loving, compassionate, human companions—who care enough to get involved and offer more than a few dutiful words as we journey through the days of our earthly existence. Recall the story of the little boy and the multitudes of starfish on the beach: he couldn’t toss them all back into the ocean, but for those he could reached out to, his action meant all the difference.

Christ-like accountability happens most often in a relationship or environment where people feel safe, validated, and supported. Where making a mistake or screwing up isn’t viewed as a tasty opportunity to dice and slice one another at the first sign of a difficulty or problem. When that kind of atmosphere prevails, it is then much easier (albeit not without risk or pain) to “go out into the world” and behave in a similar manner.

My novel and to do list await.

Do I feel fear or become unsettled with the idea of being accountable? Why?

Do I need to pray and ask God for someone who will be loving and compassionate in helping me be accountable to the service or work He has called me to?

Who are the people in my life that represent Jesus with skin on?


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Can the Labels

By Micky Wolf

Cinnamon. Check.

Cardamom. Check.

Paprika. Check.

When gathering the seasonings for a recipe, it is critical to have the proper ingredients on hand, or what is intended to be sweet and tangy may turn out to be a palette punishing dose of pungent and bitter.

Sometimes a glance indicates which spice is the required ingredient. On the other hand, there are enough varieties of paprika that eye-balling several samples side-by-side is sufficient to confuse any but the most knowledgeable of chefs.

All of which leads to a recent experience, unsettling enough to cause me to catch my breath, somewhat in disbelief with what was being said. Sitting in a meeting (a Christian group in church no less) one participant uttered a single word to describe a particular segment of our population. Mind you, it wasn’t a profanity—oddly enough, that may have been easier to hear. No, this single word was a combination of two words, which, in being put together in such a manner, was so demeaning—downright ugly—that I will not repeat it here.

Sadly, it is likely the speaker did not realize how it sounded to the rest of us.

Taking a position is not the same as issuing a judgment…

As the conversation unfolded, the word was used to define a particular category of people the speaker believes to be un-Christian and sinners at best, despicable and vile members of society at worst. Either way, the end result is they determined this word-label to be apropos.

It is one thing to take a stand on an issue near and dear to one’s heart. To express a personal perspective with honesty and sincerity, even when further insight and understanding might show that perspective to be incomplete. But to pronounce, with teeth-clenching vitriol, that a person or a group of (American) people live as little more than perpetrators of genocide—if only in a conceptual context—is beyond being Christ-like in any sense of the description.

There is little doubt Jesus took what could be considered a hardline approach with many aspects of day-to-day life. Yet, he did so without falling into the trap of name calling and labeling. Yes, calling someone a hypocrite could be construed as such, but here is an important difference: he comprehended the bigger picture. Naming their behaviors by noting their attitudes got their attention which, hopefully, would serve to manifest a change of heart.

We don’t know what we don’t know…

Had I been called home to the throne of the Most High in my teens or twenties, there would have been a pretty intense come to Jesus meeting. In the short term, thanks be to God for the prayer of “forgiving the sins of our youth.”

Nonetheless, one of the perks of getting older for many of us is stepping—or in some cases slipping and sliding—our way into the reality there is a whole lot more we do not know about the mysterious ways of God than we could have ever imagined.

High on that list has to be letting go of the notion that it is okay to speak of other people as if we know the intent of their heart, based primarily on what we can see or hear. True, we are exhorted by God that we will know a tree by its fruit. However, if you can’t stand persimmons and that is what is planted in your neighbor’s backyard, are you entitled to cut it down because you prefer peaches?

There are those within my circles of acquaintance who make choices that wouldn’t occur to me to choose at this point in my life. I am also keenly aware of the reality that a perspective I hold today could change in an instant, or be very different tomorrow. Why? For no other reason than the seeker, the one aspiring to be and become more Christ-like, will not be left unchanged by our great and good God who continues to shape and mold us into His likeness and image. New people. New experiences. Different challenges, difficulties, or joys. All is ever changing.

Can the label label…

It is because each of us are the living and breathing handiwork of God that we can let go of our need to put people into boxes of our own making.

It is important to hold fast to the principles of our faith and chosen religious affiliation, but the fact remains—we are constantly in a process of change, and being changed.

Our bodies are aging. Our minds are encountering new ideas. Our emotions are being impacted and moved by different experiences. Or, maybe, for the first time, we are choosing to feel an emotion we have previously worked hard to suppress.

Lining up people like cans on a shelf or spices in a jar and slapping a label on them is not helpful anyway you look at it. As human beings, God chose to breathe us into existence. We are so much more than a pejorative word or two.

Maybe a good course of action is to choose to give others (and ourselves) the benefit of knowing God can heal, restore, and transform in ways we will never fully comprehend. And then to accept the Divine is not constrained or defined by our sense of the possibilities for how, when, where, in what way, or with whom, that might happen.

How do I feel when I hear an unloving or judgmental word-label directed toward me?

Do I tend to label people from afar? 

Is there a word-label I need to stop using, beginning with this moment?