Three Reasons (Not) to Avoid Hard Conversations this Holiday Season

My first guest post from my wife, Rev. Jenifer Stuelpe Gibbs!

A consistent topic has floated through my social media the last few days. The topic has been covered through cartoons, memes, jokes and even a Saturday Night Live (tv show) skit. Some are incredibly funny and made me giggle. All of them make light of difficult conversations which might arise when families gather during the holidays. Most joke about how to shut those conversations down, ignore them, or evade them so as to “survive” the holidays. The jokes are funny because they point to a deeper truth, which is that holidays aren’t always easy for everyone and relationships can be messy.
What struck me was this; every form of media commended not ever having the hard conversations. There are certainly times not to have the conversations. The truth is, not everything requires a conversation. But avoidance of hard conversations seems to be a trend and now the norm. We’ve all done it.

We make the conscious choice to avoid conversations for the usual reasons. First, it’s far easier to blame someone. That blame can easily turn to gossip and complaining. Second, we don’t want to offend anyone or upset the waters. Many of us have had hurtful experiences with conflict and don’t want to endure that again. We fear the other person won’t see it our way, won’t give us an apology we think is due, or will simply react badly. Also, not many of us feel particularly equipped with tools to work through hard conversations. Third, hard conversations make us vulnerable. Both because of our past experiences and also because by doing so, we expose ourselves to things we don’t want to experience –hurt, disappointment, shame, failure, anger, and other people’s imperfections as well as our own. So we protect ourselves. These reasons apply at work, church, but I imagine particularly with our families. There is some gain to avoiding hard conversations, but what is the cost?

The cost is brokenness. Moments ruined by resentment. Hearts and relationships cracked and broken. And brokenness between a couple or few then affects a group. Have you ever been at a dinner table with a couple folks who have unresolved issues? The entire dinner party feels the tension. No one can gobble their food fast enough to excuse themselves from the table! The conversation avoidance that preserves us or the peace for a moment runs the risk of turning to brokenness. That brokenness ultimately turns to loss. We lose joy, peace, relationship, growth and connectedness when we avoid hard conversations. This is why a major theme of the Bible, and the reason Christ came, was reconciliation. To heal separation and brokenness. God invites us toward life. That life is found in following Christ.

What to Learn from an Awful Management Decision

Lots of folks were talking about this play last night and again this morning. When looking with the all knowing eye of instant replay it’s obvious it never stood a chance. But they snapped the ball anyway. 

Here is the disaster:

Coach Pagano quickly took the responsibility for not communicating clearly enough what had to be done in various scenarios. Good leadership there. But how did they get there?

They took a chance. They lined up hoping that the oddity of it would fool New England’s special teams unit and it didn’t. If it had then they might have picked up the line to gain. It was worth the risk. Since it didn’t work at all, there are a few things to learn:

  1. If we are good leaders, we’ve had decisions go at least that badly. Most leaders don’t have to think back that far to remember when they tried something that seemed good at all the time but exploded from the word “go.”  Risk is necessary for leadership. Have grace on yourself when it is a disaster. 
  2. Everyone saw it was bad but the one making the decision. Even the quarterback knew this wasn’t going to work; he was surprised when the ball was snapped. The one person that had to make the decision (the wideout tasked with playing center) couldn’t see it or didn’t know what to do. Football is too fast to get much feedback. But if someone could have spoken into his helmet they could have alerted to the impending disaster. The people with a little distance may be able save you if you can listen to them. 
  3. If a few things had gone different, we’d be talking about the genius of it. Coach Pagano explained that the play had two ways to catch New England in a penalty (offsides or 12 men/substitution penalties). It also could have been a three yard run if New England had only put two men on the ball. And the escape valve was a delay of game that wouldn’t cost the punting unit at all. The difference between success and failure is sometimes small. 
  4. Preparation matters. Snapping the football wasn’t the only mistake. The entire line was in a wrong formation. However much this was practiced, it wasn’t practiced enough to keep the ball from being snapped in a clearly losing situation or to keep the line from missing the formation. In this case better preparation would certainly have made the difference between a decent attempt at trickery and the disaster we saw. 

Rarely do our mistakes get played out in HD with the entire field in clear view. What can you learn from the Colts disaster that will help you lead?

Do Not Despise the Foot: A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:12-26

How do we affirm Paul’s “body of Christ” language when the world is not only divided between Jew and Gentile, but is made up of radical diversity even within the Church? In our unique university Christian community there are Catholics and Pentecostals Methodists and Evangelicals and lots of other kinds of Christians. Paul’s language call us to see those that are different as a gift to the whole of the “body.” Listen as we learn to appreciate the great gift that each member our diverse Christian community offers to us all.

Helenor Davisson: First Ordained American Methodist Woman

A portrait of Helenor Davisson made from the only known photograph of her, which is badly faded.

In August of 1866 the Civil War had just ended and America was slowly becoming a United States again as confederate states began rejoining the union. Perhaps more astonishingly, in that same year President Andrew Johnson vetoed the bill that eventually become the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing citizenship and equal protection under the law for black Americans. He did so in spite of such broad congressional support that his veto was overcome by a 2/3 super-majority. In the highest leadership position in the country, prejudice was preventing even basic rights for black Americans. Nine years later the Supreme Court would rule against women’s right to vote. Progress was coming on several fronts, but this was still an age of considerable challenges to equality. [Read more…]

Follow Saint John: A Children’s Sermon on the History of John Wesley

This is an unusual post for me. But recently I was asked to write a children’s sermon on the history of John Wesley. It was fun to consider how to tell this history in a way that would be meaningful to a little one. I hope you enjoy and find it useful! If you’d like a resource to tell Wesley’s story to kiddos, you might check out this illustrated children’s book on his life.

Have you ever heard somebody called a “saint?” What do you think that word means? … That’s right. A saint is someone that lives a holy life and loves God very much. We like to learn about saints because they are good examples of how to live a Godly life. Do you know any saints from here at our church? Who? …Yes. We want to live like “Annie” because “Annie” shows us how to love God well.

Well I want to tell you about another saint. His name is John. And John helped start the United Methodist Church. When John went to college he met with a group of friends that wanted to love God the best that they could. They knew that they could never love God at their very best if they tried to do it on their own. So John and his friends started a little small group (or whatever they are called in your local congregation) and started helping one another love God. They would pray together and sing songs and read their Bible. They would ask each other about where they had not followed God’s law and they would pray for those sins. And they worked for a long time to learn how to love God best. Sometimes people around them would make fun of them and call them names. It wasn’t easy for them to follow God with their whole lives, but they did it anyway. In fact, one of the names that people called them to make fun of them was “Methodist.” But John said, “That’ not such a bad name. I kind of like it. We should call ourselves ‘Methodists!'”

Now John and his friends lived all the way across the ocean in England. They got a chance to get on a boat and come to America to start a little group of Methodists here in America to help people love God. After a while people got really mad at John again. They said that all his rules were too hard. So they made John leave America. It hurt John’s feelings very much to be told to leave, but he did what they told him to do and got back on a boat to England.

But on the way back to England, John’s boat got into a terrible storm. During the storm John was really scared. He met some other Christians that weren’t scared at all. John was so impressed that they loved God so much that they weren’t even scared of the storm. They trusted God even in a terrible storm.

So when John got back to England, he started praying and reading his bible even more! He knew that some people had learned to love God so much that they could trust God no matter what. But John didn’t stop learning how to love God more. One night when he had been praying a very long time, John said that God made his heart “warm.” Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt really good on the inside because you knew that God loved you? Well John felt that way, too. And he learned it from his friends on the boat. And when John learned that he could learn to love God more, he really wanted to learn how.

That’s what makes John a saint. When John had a chance to learn to love God more, he went for it! That is a great example to all of us. When you have a chance to sing praise or pray or meet with other Christians or help someone, you need to always do it. Because those are the times when we learn to love God best. Let’s pray together!

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