Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Is your Church a Victim or Creator?

Recently in a course I am teaching on College Success, I became aware of the distinction between “Victim” and “Creator” language as a result of the teaching material provided by the college. The distinction is straightforward and the assignment likewise. Simply translate “Victim language” into “Creator language.”

Take, for example, the following:

“I would be doing a lot better in college if the teachers were any good.”

“They ought to do something about the food around here.”

“I couldn’t come to class because I had to go to the dentist for a checkup.”

“I can’t help sleeping in class.”

All you do is change the language. One might say “control the language and you control the battle.” Here is some corresponding “Creator language.”

“I need to find better teachers at this school and do more research online.”

“I should pack my own lunch.”

“I need to find out from a classmate what we covered while I was at the dentist.”

“I need to stand up during class instead of sit down and then I won’t fall asleep.”

What is even better in this exercise is to not only “create” but “excel.” This requires finding opportunities instead of obstacles. For example,

“I can’t go to class because my car needs to go to the shop and that class period is the only time that the mechanic can accommodate me.” You could change this to:

“I will get my parents to drive me.” That’s “Creator language.” But “Excellent language” changes an obstacle into an opportunity.

“I will ask the professor if I can make an announcement in class to see what other student lives near me. Then perhaps I will make a new friend and even start to car pool to save on gas and auto repair costs in the future.”

All of this a parent or grandparent or pastor could teach a young person or student. Unfortunately, those same parents, grandparents and pastors often regularly allow similar “Victim language” to control their lives and the church. This may reveal that those authority figures and mentors are not really masters of the art, but only beginners themselves. Church board meetings can quickly turn into “Victim language” sessions in which the vicious “woe-is-me” cycle scenario is talked through time and time again. The impression formed is that, just like the student, those who should be elders and teachers of the Christian community just don’t really want to try and succeed. They want to be victims instead. See if the following dangerous scenario resonates with you:

“We can’t grow because the parking lot isn’t big enough. We don’t have enough money to build a larger parking lot. We don’t have enough money because we don’t have enough people. We can’t get enough people because the parking lot isn’t big enough.” So compared to younger folks the “Victim language” is more complicated and sophisticated, sophisticated in the art of subtle “Victim-hood” but not actually or ultimately paralyzing. As my grandfather used to say, “There’s a solution to every human problem; we just might not like the solution.”

In fact, this complicated Victim language is a bit ridiculous, like the song, “There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza”. This is a children’s song which goes around in a circle. “There’s a hole in the bucket” says the husband, Henry, to his wife, Liza. “Then mend it” says the wife. “With what?” says the husband and the song goes around in a circle. Eventually the axe is dull and needs sharpening and the wet stone is dry which means water is needed but something is needed to carry the water at which point the problem again becomes “There’s a hole in the bucket.” Then the song begins again like another children’s song, “This is the song that never ends.”

And this song of Victim language is the song that never seems to end when it comes to churches overcoming the problems that they face. One eventually wonders whether churches would rather sing the song or find opportunities in the midst of obstacles. Will we be teachers of Wisdom or will we perpetuate paralysis?

     Painting of a Difficult Vestry Meeting
by John Ritchie, 1867

Fr. Peter Geromel is Assisting Priest at Church of the Incarnation and an adjunct professor of Philosophy at Northampton Community College. Educated at Virginia Military Institute, Hillsdale College, Reformed Episcopal Seminary and the University of Dallas, Fr. Peter has authored Sublime Duty: Its Emphasis in The Anglican WayChrist & College: A Guide from The Anglican Way, and Frankincense & Mirth on HighHe manages Traditional Anglican Resources.

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