The lost art of consensus building 

Making sense of situations isn’t always possible. That never stops me from trying, though. I believe that understanding grows with every puzzle piece we add toward the big picture.

I have been deeply puzzled lately by a combination of two phenomena in our culture. The first is the great difficulty churches are experiencing in maintaining their communities. The second is the circus unfolding in our 2016 Presidential race. As I see it, there is a common issue – that being the tyranny of personal opinion and its twin desire to amass majority agreement through strategic influence. In other words, our culture places value in not only having strong personal opinions, but also in having enough charisma to persuade others to agree with that opinion. When we can persuade the coveted majority to our opinion, we achieve celebrity status.

The problem – as I see it – is that all of our tendencies to forge opinions, argue our point, develop allies and enemies along arbitrary lines of agreement and disagreement do nothing to establish or even encourage unity.

It is no wonder we are all so divided. But, there is no doubt that God’s people are being drawn toward repentance for our divisiveness and to search for ways to become an example of true unity.

consensus-logo-on-blue-large1One piece of the puzzle, as far as I understand it, seems to be the lost art of making decisions by consensus. Here’s what consensus is not: majority vote. Here’s some of what consensus requires:

  • Inclusion of all members
  • Accountability to the larger community as well as the process
  • Ground rules for process
  • Commitment to implementation

In consensus-building, levels of agreement still exist. Not everyone agrees wholeheartedly with the final decision, but everyone accepts the decision or else agrees not to block it, for the good of the whole and for the sake of making the best decision for the community involved.

If you are interested in the concept, check out this document developed by the American Heart Association.

Clearly, consensus unifies in ways that voting cannot. Consensus helps us see and honor a continuum of ideas while voting sets us up to think in binary comparisons. 

Somewhere along the line, we started believing that we experience unity when we find our particular tribe of like-minded people. There, we all have the same basic opinions and values. Most likely, we all wear the same brands of clothes and drive similar vehicles. We all look and think practically the same way, so this must be unity!

What I’m saying is … that is not unity. Unity is something much more challenging. Unity happens when you find yourself working alongside someone who is quite different from yourself, achieving a common goal and forming bonds of trust and honor. Even love. True community happens in this type of mold-stretching unity.

My heart aches when I see division building rather than unity. It aches because I know it is not our purpose or our calling. I always go back to the Gospel of John, Chapter 17, where Jesus prayed for our unity. Us. OUR unity – with God and with each other.

When we ask God’s will to be done, we are asking for unity.

I beg for it and fully believe it will be reality. On earth, as it is in heaven.

The 70% majority I never wanted to join

I can typically live my day-to-day life now without thinking about it. It happened in two different contexts over the course of ten years, but I’m nearly 25 years beyond the last of it now … Thanks to the recent media coverage of Ray Rice’s violent abuse of Janay Palmer caught on tape in a casino elevator, and all the commentary that followed, I have been clearly reminded.

Up to 7 out of 10 women around the world experience some form of physical or sexual abuse at some point in a lifetime according to the UN’s UNiTE campaign website. For 1 out of 4, it happens during pregnancy. End violence

What’s strange is that, even though I am within that 70% of women, it isn’t something I know to be true about any of the women in my various circles of friends. That doesn’t make me question the statistic, though.

Women don’t talk about their experiences of abuse for lots of reasons. We can’t figure out why it happens – what makes him snap – and we conclude that he is right about it being our fault. Maybe I am too mouthy and I should have just kept quiet. Maybe I was wrong to question him that way about his drinking…

Maybe I …

After all, he’s such a great guy most of the time. No one would ever believe me if I told the truth about what really happens.

There is such an insane degree of inner conflict that goes along with abuse that it almost always requires intervention from someone outside the cycle in order to convince a victim to leave or an abuser to seek rehabilitation. Add to that the social barriers of the abuser being a powerful or well-loved leader in religious, business or political circles and you’re looking at a situation that is nearly impenetrable.

The most maddening realization is that the heart of the reason we as women don’t talk about violence against us is because we have been conditioned to believe it’s ok. We don’t really see abuse against women as a crime. We see it more as … boys being boys. Excessive behavior. When we buy the idea that abuse happens because we make a man angry or we shouldn’t have worn a certain shirt or pair of pants, we buy it because it restores a sense of power that is lost to us in the abuse. It’s easier to believe that I had the power to make that happen than it is to believe that I had no power to either cause it or to stop it. Even though it’s a ridiculous preference, it seems to be the one we often choose by default. At least, until we can conjure the power to walk away.

And, since the power to walk away can require Herculean effort all by itself and gives us the greater relief that we seek, we may never find the power or support from the police or the legal system to take the next step and file criminal charges against our abuser(s.) In stopping short here, we as women actually encourage the belief that abuse against us is not criminal behavior. Most of the time, however, this is another form of victimization, requiring an outside advocate in order to bring abuse to full closure.

Hundreds of millions of women around the world live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime. This isn’t one of those countries, but it remains an issue as long as women are discouraged and unsupported when it comes to bringing an abuser to justice.

For local victims and supporters, visit, or call 919-828-7501.
Domestic Violence 919-828-7740 | 866-291-0855 toll-free
Sexual Assault 919-828-3005 | 866-291-0853 toll-free
Solace Center 919-828-3067 | 866-291-0854 toll-free

Woo-hoo: confessions of a party pooper

I, for one, am glad it’s over – “it” being New Year’s Eve.

When I consider the prospect of being in a place like Times Square to celebrate with thousands of people (anything over 200 people is arbitrary – it’s simply too many folks in the same place at the same time), I … well, let’s just say I never have really considered it, and I likely never will.

Where I grew up, we would say “gag a maggot” for things that were particularly repulsive. Times Square on New Year’s Eve? Gag a maggot.

By far, New Year’s Eve is the biggest, most extravagant party in American culture. My hometown has its own special way of ringing in the new year – we drop an acorn. I think I stayed for the acorn drop once. That was enough.

On New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, my Facebook news feed was full of comments by friends and family who felt “lame” because they fell asleep early or else didn’t party with the big crowds, choosing instead to celebrate (or not) at home in a cozy setting. I just want to say to those dear people, “Don’t believe the hype. You are still cool, even if you didn’t go out into the throngs of revelers. And 2014 came, just the same.”

I am one of those (seemingly few) Americans who was born without the party gene. I don’t care for small talk. Drunken people annoy me. I adore getting all dressed up, being in beautiful places and seeing beautiful people, and I love to talk to someone – maybe a couple of people – in that setting, but I like meaningful conversation, or at least witty. I am perfectly fine with this understanding of myself. However, it makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I’m sure someone of my type was labeled the original “party pooper.” The way our culture defines celebrations, there is little or no room for an introvert such as myself. I’m actually fine with that, too. The problem is, I haven’t settled on a redefinition of “celebrate” … or “fun” for that matter … that can fill the gap between the cultural definition of a celebration and that of a more intimate celebrant like me.

Of course, that’s part of the hype, too. I shouldn’t feel as though I need to “fix” anything since I believe there is nothing wrong with people like me. I am intensely uncomfortable in crowds and I deeply desire intimate conversation with people who have good sense. (Don’t miss the inference.) I suppose the odd thing is that, as a performer, I do not mind crowds one bit while I’m on-stage. There’s enough distance and opportunity for an emotional connection there that I’m totally fine in that context. Same thing goes for events that I’m in charge of or otherwise leading. That’s an analysis for another article, though.

For years, nothing convinced me more quickly that I need ongoing therapy than a large, celebratory gathering. Oh, I have always attended special celebrations for family and friends because I have a very strong sense of obligation and loyalty to be present for the people I love. I simply learned to go with both an entrance and an exit plan. Honestly, since I learned how to navigate crowded celebrations, most people would never guess how draining and un-wonderful such things can be for me. That doesn’t mean I’m being fake, because I’m not. If I’m laughing and talking, then I’m genuinely enjoying the moment. (Of course, I could be genuinely enjoying the moment while sitting quietly, watching everyone else do whatever they’re doing, too.) If, however, I’m pacing and making strange faces, I’m probably trying to reconfigure the exit plan.

At that point, you might say – as the now-more-famous-than-ever Robertson boys would say – “She gone!” (sic)


What’s in a name?

I suppose we’re all “Royal Watchers” to some degree. I mean, how could you not know that Kate and Will’s son was born this week with all the media coverage?

Our interest in the story of The Royals is nowhere near the interest level in England, of course. (I’m sure the same is said in reverse of our infatuation with our American celebrities.) We have to admit, though, that the appearance of a new heir to the throne of England is exciting stuff. Particularly to those of us who have ever fantasized as children (or adults) of being a king or queen or prince or princess.

So, today’s big news is that Baby Royal has a name: George Alexander Louis. Otherwise, he’ll just be called “His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge.” You know, his nickname.

Not too long ago, there was big news about another choice of name – that of Pope Francis. News agencies referred to the choice as “precedent shattering.” According to the Vatican spokesman, Pope Francis chose his name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi because he is revered as a lover of the poor. I like Pope Francis. I like the way he takes seriously his role as a servant leader who genuinely loves people.

Of course, then we read about the slew of names given recently to American celeb babies: Moxie Crimefighter Jillette, Tu Morrow, and North West, for example.

I know. Hard to know what to say about that. I mean, it certainly isn’t the kids’ fault. I wish them all a happy life. But, still …

your name hereThere is something very important in a name. I like the stories in the Bible that tell of God giving people a new name after some defining mission or transformation comes along. (Think Abram, Sarai, Jacob, Saul …) In counseling, we talk about something called “key memories.” One of my key memories as a child is looking up the meaning of my given name, Sandra. In the book I used those many years ago, the name was defined as “helper of mankind.” (I just pulled it up online and found it to mean either “defender of men” or “unheeded prophetess.” Hey, pay attention.) Reading the meaning of my name led my young self to decide that I should be a missionary of some kind. That knowledge became a very important part of my identity development.

Our names give a certain impression of who we are outside of our actual presence. I have one of those annoying hyphenated last names, by choice, because I have children with two different last names. I chose to maintain my identity with both.

It’s interesting to see the process of choosing when it comes to names. Some choices are driven by tradition. Others are inspired. Some are selfish and silly. A few are earned.

As The Royals have announced the name of the newest heir, I am reminded of a simple girl named Mary, who named her baby Jesus. It was a very common name. Yet, Jesus would become the one to whom all authority in heaven and on earth is given.

There’s a name for the headlines, eh?

Why history is important

History is the only class I’ve ever failed. Seriously. It was the summer of 1984 and I was enrolled in a history class that met every weekday at 8:00 a.m.  I might have made it to three classes the entire session. (I remember waking up around 11:00 in the morning, having had a vivid dream that I was in class …) The ungodly start time, coupled with the fact that I found it atrociously boring at the tender age of 17, deprived me of any motivation at all to attend. I couldn’t have cared any less than I already did about history or that class.

Since those reckless days, I have grown up and learned a lot about the importance of knowing what people before me have experienced, learned, and accomplished. Knowing history allows us the luxury of not having to reinvent the proverbial wheel. If we’re smart, we look at history and learn not to repeat the same dumb mistakes. At least, that is our hope.

I grew up in a Baptist church, but I really never learned anything about Baptist history and tradition. I knew about missions, and my dream as a child was to be a missionary in Spain. (I figured we could get there quickly by boat from my home along the coast.) I participated in GA’s and I sang with my mother for revival meetings all across our northeastern North Carolina region. No one ever told me about the earliest Baptists who fought and died for the separation of church and state or taught me what that meant. As a matter of fact, where I grew up, there wasn’t much of any separation of church and state. We prayed at school the same way we prayed at church.  We recited the Pledge of Allegiance at school and sang “America, the Beautiful” at church. I was a Baptist, but I had no knowledge of what that meant in a denominational sense, other than that we “get dunked.”

Bill of Rights

In light of the recent attempt in North Carolina to pass legislation that would allow our state to establish a state religion – and my attendance at a private Baptist university – I looked online for a Baptist historical perspective on the subject. One article by Bruce Gourley seemed to speak to my experience. The concept of Christian Nationalism isn’t new at all for me – and likely not for anyone who grew up in an evangelical religious culture in the rural South. For those of us who are Baptists, however, it strikes me as being extremely important to understand how certain ideas and sentiments crept into our practice of faith and how some of those ideas are entirely un-Baptist.

For those who are members of Baptist churches, here is a link to a biography of a man who shaped our denominational beliefs and established the first Baptist church in America: Roger Williams


It’s a free lesson in Baptist history. And you don’t have to attend an 8:00 a.m. class to learn it. You’re welcome.

Me vs. DST

Every year around this time, I struggle with the onset of Daylight Savings Time (DST). Somehow, this change to our national clocks represents far more than one measly hour lost – or gained, depending on your perspective.

For those with a positive view of DST, it represents a gift that keeps on giving. Every evening, beginning with the first Sunday of DST, these happy people celebrate an extra hour of daylight by taking walks, working in the yard, or otherwise enjoying the outdoors. (Imagine smiling faces, couples strolling hand-in-hand, games of croquet, fetching dogs – all in dramatic slow motion.) You get the picture … and don’t miss my rolling eyes.

For those with a less-positive view, DST represents a stolen hour, robbed under protest and flaunted every morning as we are forced to rise from sleep and begin our workday in the darkness of pre-dawn. This cruel distortion of time lingers in our bodies throughout the rest of the two impacted seasons like a chronic case of jet-lag, leaving us tired and irritable with one daily dream: to catch up on our sleep.

I haven’t done a formal study on this, but my theory is that those of us who despise DST are more concerned with the way things begin than the way they end. We are cyclical thinkers who see most everything occurring in cycles. If a cycle begins badly, then it recurs badly. If it begins well, then it has a better chance of being good when it comes back around.

On the other hand, those who love DST are, in theory, more interested in endings than beginnings. “All is well that ends well.” These are more linear thinkers who see things with set beginnings and endings. Every day is a chance to start again. And a good ending signals a good day.

To unpack that a bit more and put it in different terms, as a cyclical thinker, I don’t really see relationships as having true endings. For me, once you know someone, you always know them. Some of my relationships cycle back together often and some only rarely, but I don’t ever see a relationship as having ended. (I don’t even believe death ends relationships entirely, but I won’t follow that thread here.) To a linear thinker, relationships begin and they end, then new relationships begin. If an old relationship is re-established, it is seen as a new beginning and not as a continuation from the previous relationship. These would be the friends who say, “That relationship is over, now move on.”

If you look up the concept of linear thought versus cyclical thought, you’ll discover this is a very old discussion. I just might be the first one to relate it to DST.

Rather than to fight about it or struggle through it, perhaps the best answer for someone like me is to move closer to the equator. Manaus It would be the best of both worlds, really: days are longer than our North American winters, yet shorter than our North American summers. Plus, it’s the equator – the biggest circle we have on earth! (Don’t tell me you call that a line.)

Fall Festival: A Christian Alternative?

I suppose the idea of Fall Festival that has become so common among Protestant churches this time of year came about as an alternative for the children of Christian parents to have a chance to dress up and have some good, clean fun on Halloween without the inherent dangers or pranking perils of the night-time event. And, of course, those who planned it wanted to encourage the community to come take part in a Church event that might open the door to knowing Jesus and joining a community of faith. I’m sure that was the intention.

My experiences have led me to understand that not everyone who professes Christ as Lord has a problem with dressing ghoulishly or participating in the fright-fest along with our larger American community. I can appreciate that point of difference with brothers and sisters. I just wonder if we are doing our children and our neighbors’ children a dis-service when they find our church events decorated with ghosts, goblins, and the like. And I’m really not sure how we could share our testimony of faith in Jesus with our children or our visitors while dressed as a witch. Or from a trunk decorated with scary red eyes or severed limbs.

I totally “get” the intention of Fall Festival. What I don’t get is how churches sometimes fall into the trap of allowing Fall Festivals to look and feel so much like a regular Halloween party. Kids love costumes. So do some adults. Costumes can make a church event fun as long as they are within some defined boundaries. Games, food, and candy are always fun party fare. All of those things are perfect ways for a church community to celebrate. But if those things happen without giving Jesus center-stage, we may as well have met down at the Club House.

I have raised children during the 1990’s, the 2000’s, and now the 2010’s. It is a challenge to raise Christian children, folks! It is a challenge because we are faced with so many calls to make on where to draw our lines. We are responsible for helping our children understand what it means to identify as a Christian and how that identity looks, feels, and behaves differently from what we experience at school, around town, and on TV. That, my friends, is a tall order and it requires great clarity and courage. Christian parents must dare to do things differently . . . and to explain why we make the choices we do so that our children learn to use Christian sources of authority in their own decision-making.

Do you have some defined boundaries within your family about the ways you allow your children to take part in Halloween events? Perhaps you have a different perspective you would like to share. Even when we see things differently, the discussion is always valuable!

Just what we need: another “ism”

I typically read local and national news online everyday, but seldom go to international sites for news. Last week, I searched for a news source related to the death of Amy Winehouse that would have a more vested interest in her story, so I went to the BBC online news page. While there, I did find pages and pages of articles not only on her life, but also on British ideas on the topic of addiction and treatment options for addicts and their families. Unexpectedly, I also found an article series that piqued my interests in another direction.

The series was a viewpoint debate between two journalists: A British journalist named Matthew Engel and American journalist, Grant Barrett. The argument specifically was about the prevalence of American English words and phrases – referred to as “Americanisms” – becoming more and more commonly used in everyday British life. The editors published a list of 50 most-detested Americanisms based on responses. Just for fun, here are a few that made me giggle a bit, mostly because I do use them often: 24/7, touch base, “Can I get a . . .”, and heads-up.

Now for me and for other Americans, this might seem a bit ridiculous. It is especially so when the complainers suggest the use of words like shopping “trolley” and not shopping cart or “expiry” in place of expiration. Engel argues that we Americans “forged [English] to meet [our] own needs, then exported our own words back across the Atlantic to be incorporated into the way [British] speak . . .” Apparently for the British, these “imported” English words are quite maddening! Engel is quoted as lamenting that British English is being allowed to wither due to “sloppy loss of our own distinctive phraseology through sheer idleness, lack of self-awareness and our attitude of cultural cringe.”

Barrett, the American journalist in this linguistic banter, argues that there is no parent English but that “English is, in truth, a family. American English and British English are siblings from the same parentage.” One of the commentors within the series states that language is “a living thing that adapts and changes for the society . . .”

I do agree fully with Barrett’s viewpoint in this debate. Similar to the awkward purity debate regarding races that we have witnessed for centuries, there is no eternally pure human language. Language is continually tweaked and edited through years of use by successive generations. (Did you ever have to read Chaucer in high school or college?!) Beyond language itself, I see a parallel with the Christian debate surrounding worship styles. Just as language itself is our method of communicating – of expressing ourselves – to each other, worship is our method of communicating and expressing ourselves to God. To prefer one’s own dialect of worship over someone else’s dialect to the point of believing that other expressions are wrong or otherwise offensive is what I call “worshipism” – an “ism” along the same lines of racism or sexism.

Now just because the English language as developed in America uses its own phraseology and terms that are particular to Americans, it doesn’t mean that British phrases and terms became obsolete. It also doesn’t mean that American phrases and terms are wrong or inherently obscene. Having grown up as an American Southerner, I know all too well how it feels to be on the receiving end of condescending American attitudes about proper use or preferred dialects of American English. Having served as a contemporary worship leader for the past ten years, I also know all too well how it feels to be on the receiving end of condescending Christian attitudes about proper worship styles within the larger Christian tradition.

It is my simple opinion that worship styles use different “dialects” in expressing worship. It doesn’t mean either style is inherently better or proper or obscene or obsolete. Differing dialects in worship are a natural progression within the larger language of worship! Whether you worship by expressing “Thanks be to God” in concert with other worshippers at the appropriate moment, or “Hallelujah” or “Amen” as you feel led, or in your own special prayer language as someone sings to God, you are expressing the authentic language of worship.

Music has its own special place in discussions of English language. Our shared love of music transcends the originating sources, whether British or American. When we sing, our dialects, phrases, and “isms” seem to disappear into thick, beautiful, melodious air. It is also my belief as a worship leader that music styles matter little in authentic worship. Whether we choose to sing songs penned centuries ago or written by contemporary worship artists of today accompanied by organs, orchestras, pianos, guitars, drums or else altogether unaccompanied, I am convinced that our God – our audience of one – is pleased when our hearts are connected to His through our varied expressions of genuine worship.