The Resurrected Body: Don’t Add Ableism

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul answers questions about the resurrection, and in vs. 35 he introduces his reply to this one:

“How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come back?” (1 Cor 15:35)

Paul isn’t one to mince words, and take the first question straightaway, giving the logical answer that “how are the dead raised?”–by first dying (vs. 36). Drop mic.

Okay, now that we’ve got that taken care of, Paul’s more descriptive response to: With what kind of body will they come back?

Our world often brings an ableist lens to this. Ableism is at its core, an assumption that disability/disabled people/people with disabilities are inferior, “bad,” or otherwise in need of correction/fixing to be “normal.”

Yet, Paul’s writing does not ask or require us to bring abelism to his response.

And what you sow [in death, vs. 36] is not the body that is to be but a bare kernel of wheat, perhaps, or of some other kind; but God gives it a body as he chooses, and to each of the seeds its own body. (1 Cor 15:37-39)

Take away? Different people have different bodies, in ways visible and invisible. Difference in bodies is normal, not inherently “bad.”

Now, Paul takes the next step, contrasting heavenly [resurrected] bodies and earthly ones:

There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the brightness of the heavenly is one kind and that of the earthly another. The brightness of the sun is one kind, the brightness of the moon another, and the brightness of the stars another. (1 Cor 15:40-41)

What’s the key difference Paul highlights between earthly bodies and resurrection bodies? Brightness.

Not “fixing” of disability through a lens of abelism (where an “inferior” person without agency needs a “cure” to be “normal” or happy), not elimination of difference, instead it’s “brightness” of a different type, kind, or magnitude. [Note that Jesus’ resurrected body has a physical difference from the “typical” (John 20:27)].

Our resurrected bodies are transformed, but not in an ableist narrative. Paul comments on this transformation:

It [the body] is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Cor 15:42-44)

Corruptible/dishonorable/weak/natural…this description of our earthly bodies applies to everyone. Our resurrected bodies will be different than our earthly ones in brightness, and also be incorruptible, glorious, powerful, and spiritual. None of these descriptions require a “special fixing” of disabled people / people with disabilities. It’s a transformation universally, yet uniquely applicable to every human being. God knows each of us intimately, in the secret of our soul, in a way no other human or spiritual being does. This blessing of transformation is not from “disabled” to “abled” (or any other such “inferior” to “superior” false categories or “isms”), but from our present created body to brightness, incorruptibility, gloriousness, power, and a fully spiritual unity.

Paul concludes:

Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one. (1 Cor 15:29)

What shall we be?

We shall bear the image of the heavenly one.

There is mystery, yet concrete beauty. Brightness. Glorification. Incorruptibility. Hope.

As it’s written by a different New Testament writer, to a different community of 1st century believers:

What we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed- we shall be like him [God], for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

When we are like God, we will (among many other things!) intimately know each other’s brightness without the earthly biases of abelism (or racism, nationalism, or any lenses that degrade the worth, value, or dignity of another person).

Many Christians call this week of Easter, the eight days (or Octave) of Easter, bright week. Let us embrace life eternal already offered to us in part, in the here and now–seeing each other’s brightness, as God does, with differences (including disability) that are a part of our common identity in God’s image.

God is working. Transformation. Renewal. Resurrection.

Mini-Explainer: History, Tradition, Deacons, Deaconesses

Pope Benedict XVI often wrote of the importance of the historicity of Christianity. That human beings truly experienced these things, in history, and left historical evidence. While many Christians have become more aware of this with regard to events of the Bible, the richness of the early Church, the church of the first millennia, is less known in popular mindset. Many assume that “old” (when it comes to liturgy) is the current Extraordinary form of Mass, a liturgy connected to the Mass of the Council of Trent (aka Tridentine Mass, or what is often called Traditional Latin Mass, though this is a bit of a vague misnomer, since all Masses are Traditional and most can be celebrated in Latin).

Here’s a sampling of that wonderful, intriguing, exciting, and mysterious history, especially as it pertains to deacons.

In the first millennia the term “Church Order” is a genre that combines many forms of writing we have today. “Church Orders” an be a mix of liturgical rites, catechesis, and Canon Law–all rolled into one!

One such Church order is the Apostolic Tradition. Here’s a public domain English translation. Do a “find” (Control+f) keystroke for “deacon” any you can get a sense of the various roles deacons played in liturgy and the life of the Church. Another is the Didascalia (English translation here). One of the most common questions I receive in teaching the New Testament or when discussing these first millennia writings, is, “deaconess? what’s that?” (Check out paragraph 12 of the Didascalia for a section that includes deaconesses).

Understanding deaconesses and/or deacons who are women is a question that Church has been exploring in recent decades, especially since the revival of the permanent ministry of deacon following the Second Vatican Council. (Note: permanent, meaning not-in-transition-to-priestly-ordination, deacons, had largely disappeared from common public ministry between the time of the Church of the first millennia and the Second Vatican Council.) Understanding this history and discerning how the Holy Spirit is leading the Church today in this area is one the Church considers an “open” question to which faith and reason are continually applied in discernment.

An example of this “open” status can be seen in Pope Benedict’s 2009 revision of the Code of Canon Law (CIC) to read:

“Those who are constituted in the order of the episcopate or the presbyterate receive the mission and faculty to act in the person of Christ the head, while deacons are enabled to serve the people of God in the diaconate of the liturgy, the word and charity.” (Canon 1009)

While not “changing Church teaching,” his example shows doctrinal expressions becoming more explicit and precise–not a change to eternal Truth, but appropriate precision in our language to express it.

There you go–history and Tradition (the living transmission of the faith)–both relevant and in action.

Pray in This Way: Divine Intimacy and the Universe

Today’s Gospel reading is Matthew 6:7-15, a portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount where Jesus demonstrates how to pray. I’ll be sharing reflections from Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis’ Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew (Volume One) (pg. 254-267).

Two Words (Mt 6:9)

Our. Father.

“Our” implies a my. The Divine Creator of the Universe makes me his child. The Divine Creator “is the common Father”–I am in community, in communion and solidarity with all of God’s Creation.

Your Name (Mt 6:9)

The second person singular “you”–intimate and personal–is used to describe God’s Name.

God’s Name is what makes our Divine Creator not an abstract force, an idea, or disconnected reality, but instead a Living Presence who invites us to relationship and connection.

Praying that God’s Name be sanctified (=hallowed; made holy) is asking that “the holiness of God take roto and grow in the heart and lives of [all] in this world “(pg. 256).

Come Here (Mt 6:10)

“May you soon be king over all creation”–an “expression of desire” from the one praying, who knows that “the present state of the world is not as God intends it” (p. 257). This is a statement of boldness, asking “May your Kingdom come here where we are,” a petition that asks for divine glory to come over us and the universe (pg. 257). We cooperate by letting divine grace into our hearts personally, and into the world. We yield so that the earth can be transfigured in the image of heaven (pg. 258). God’s “will” is singular. God’s Will is to heal and transform in and through Love.

Daily Substance (Mt 6:11)

Daily renewal is found in our renunciation of independence–that we can do it our ourselves, provide for ourselves, fill ourselves of our own means, talents, luck, and wealth. Instead, we must receive life from the Creator of the Universe. Humble hunger that receives Love is our disposition.

Forgiveness Transforms Us (Mt 6:12)

Notice that Jesus shows us to ask for God’s gracious, life-giving sustenance first, before asking for forgiveness. This shows that we can’t claim to be deserving of what we receive. “Forgiveness has to flow out of the sense of the pure gratuity of our existence” (pg. 263). “Sin is a refusal to let ourselves be embraced by God, a violent shaking of the shoulders to break out of the sweet grip of his arms” (p. 263). When we forgive others, it “will begin to reveal to me the wealth of goodness of God’s Heart” (p. 263). We do not merit or earn God’s love by forgiving others.

The practice of forgiveness opens me out interiorly and efficaciously disposes me to receive the inner life of God. Without it I remain a cramped, frozen being, a mercenary out to plunder bits and pieces from the heavenly banquet, but by no means a child worth–or capable–of sitting at the same banquet table with his Father. ‘If you want to enter into the bliss of who I am,’ says our Father, ‘first be like me!’ (pg. 264)

Humility. Again. (Mt 6:13)

“Today, give us our daily sustenance” (6:11) is an expression of humble hunger. The petition “do not subject us to the test” repeats this, in a different key signature. At its heart, “lead us not into temptation” says, I am not the Messiah. I am not the Savior. I am not the Christ. I’m not able to independently “fix” myself anymore than I can save the world.

Indeed, we must enter the battle of wills and desires with God, but it is a struggle we enter with the full knowledge that we will come out defeated. What human ego can take that? The one that has been crucified with Jesus. (pg. 266)

Our spiritual life is not about ambition, winning, or being the best.

This prayer, “lead us not into temptation” is the prayer of one who has “overcome the human need to win.” It’s a delusion-free prayer of humility (pg. 265-66).

Rescued to the Divine (6:13)

This final plea cries out, “do not let me be taken captive by the Evil One!”–the great accuser who wants to “convict us of unworthiness and so separate us from the divine mercy” (p. 267).

It is an urgent appeal that God enter the arena where our destiny is being ought out in a life-and-death struggle, that God engage combat as our Hero and Deliverer, since we have already given up all pretense at being able to save ourselves…I must stretch out my hands in dogged expectancy of the Deliverer I know is coming, offering him arms ready to be snatched up in flight. Needy wrists cry out to loving grip. (pg. 267)

Closing Thoughts

The “Our Father” or “Lord’s Prayer” thus concludes as it began, “in the Father’s bright presence, having been raise there on the wings of Christ’s redemption” (pg. 267).

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, H. Teplitz and M. Rafelski (IPAC/Caltech), A. Koekemoer (STScI), R. Windhorst (Arizona State University), and Z. Levay (STScI), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Lent Begins: “Pay attention, all of you…”

The Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday is Matthew 6:1-6 + 16-18, a portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that teaches us about the practices of God’s People, the practices emphasized by the Prophets of the Old Testament–prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

I’ll be sharing reflections from Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis’ Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew (Volume One) (pg. 243-288).

Alms

While the message of the prophets is directed corporately to God’s People, Israel, often during a time of Exile in the Old Testament, Jesus’ words bring us to the fundamental, personal nature of our inner selves. Leiva-Merikakis writes, “I must turn my attention away from a group-consciousness as ruling norm of my actions and fasten my glance on the source, rather than the impact, of my actions, and this in the sight of God, who is in heaven.”

How challenging this is for us, in an interconnected society! That I cannot make myself feel good about my goodness, high-standards, and morality by comparing myself to others. I must resist the temptation to blame others or society for what is flowing from my heart. The source of my actions matters. To have good emerge from my actions due to luck, privilege, or external factors does not make my heart pure and full of love.

Leiva-Merikakis writes:

We Christians should never forget the crucial point of continuity between our Jewish ancestors and ourselves. We do not pray or give alms mainly or only because we happen to feel inclined to do this, or because this gives us a certain satisfaction. Our fundamental reason ought to be the fact that we owe these things to God in justice.

Jesus tells us, do not celebrate yourselves; do not seek self-glorification. Don’t pretend on the outside what is not the authentic love and mercy God desires to pour into our hearts.

Pay attention to one’s “hidden place” (vs. 4), the inner most depths of one’s being, the place of “authentic life” (Leiva-Merikakis).

If our mercy gives to others what we have received from God, then we will have nothing left and God in his honor will be in the position himself to accomplish justice by giving us more of what we have given away, which is nothing other than his own life. (cf. Matthew 6:4)

Prayer

Our prayer too should reflect these realities. As a shoutout to our human nature 😉 Jesus tell us first (6:5-6) how not to pray. Apparently what Jesus is about to describe must be a pretty universal temptation!

Jesus says, “when you pray, you must not be like the pretenders/hypocrites…” who pray as an means to being seen in public places, in places of worship, prestige, and widespread fame. This desire for notoriety and positive acclaim is, in the Greek, something that “consumes,” as if an addiction we cannot control.

The antidote? Your self. Your heart.

“Go into your storeroom, lock your door, pray to your Father” (6:6, translation Leiva-Merikakis).

Public piety or the experiences of others are no substitute for our own, personal friendship with God.

“Once I have entered this inner chamber, I can go out to find God everywhere, but not before, because in fact the God I encountered deep in my interior silence will show me his presence in the cosmos. Until then I will be seeing only reflections of my own desires and hearing echoes of my own inner noise.” (p. 248)

While verses 7 and 8 are not part of our Ash Wednesday Gospel selection, they provide an important key to understanding the nature of Christian prayer. Jesus tells us to not talk excessively in prayer, but to listen. In the 1st century, pagans “babbled” with many words because their gods were thought to be far away, out of touch, and sometimes disinterested or not caring about the needs of humans.

What might the modern equivalent of this “babbling” look like for us?

Accumulation of arguments, flattering phrases, idle gossip, grandiose sentences with little content…[words that] become a self-defense, a shield against the naked encounter of love…the semblance of clarity [in contrast to] the spontaneous sighs of the lover…[a] barrier of pseudospirituality (pg. 251-252)

Whatever forms “babbling” might take on for you and I (something likely to vary with our natural personalities) the bottom line is this: “Communicating information to God cannot be the purpose of Christian prayer.” Prayer is instead entering into relationship with God, the movement of spirit to abide in God’s presence–to simply be with God who is Love, the “Father [who] knows what you need before you ask him” (6:8).

We’ll skip over 6:9-15, where Jesus shows us how to pray (as today’s lectionary Gospel text does) and continue with verses 16-18, Jesus’ teaching on the final piece of our lived spirituality, fasting.

Fasting

Asceticism. Is this not something our modern society is longing for? From minimalism, to advice on simple living, to healthier eating habits, to decreasing screen time, to increasing our time outdoors…a life of greater fasting and asceticism is a desire of modern western society, so it seems.

The text (a bit cryptically) reads: “When you fast, perfume your head and wash your face, so that you will not appear fasting to men but to your Father” (6:16-18, translation Leiva-Merikakis).

What’s going on?

Jesus is here transforming the practice of fasting from being a sign of sad remorse and reparation for sin to a joyful preparation for the coming of his Spirit to dwell within us…it is an invitation to begin existing at a new level, in a new manner…God does not read self-satisfaction in the beaming face of one who is fasting. He reads joy. (pg. 269-270)

The world is groaning.

Let us begin existing at a new level, in a new manner during this annual time of renewal.

Image Credit: Chamara, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Easter Vigil Without the Exsultet

“Stay Home. Stay Safe. Save Lives. This order takes effect on March 24, 2020 at 12:01 am, and continues through April 13, 2020 at 11:59 pm.”

And with that, what I’d seen coming in mid-March was now a reality. It’d be an Easter Vigil without the Exsultet. Read more at The Catechist >>

The Liturgy after the Liturgy

Our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters have an expression, “the liturgy after the liturgy”–meaning the rest of the week, flowing from Sunday and returning to Sunday. The Body of Christ sent out (the origin of our English term, “Mass”– Ite, missa est, meaning, “Go, it is the sending”). As those intimately joined to Jesus the Christ in baptism, we who are sent share in Jesus the Messiah’s common priesthood, as well as His identities as prophet and king/shepherd/pastor (CCC para. 1546).

Okay, so how is it, practically that you and I as baptized believers truly exercise that priesthood during the week? In the “liturgy after the liturgy” of our lives?

An especially visible way, is through sacramentals.

Sacramentals are:

“sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men [and women] are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy (CCC para. 1667).

Blessings are “first” among all sacramentals. Blessings can be of people, objects, places, etc. and usually involve invoking the name of Jesus and making the sign of the cross (CCC para. 1671).

The power of a blessing flows from the baptismal priesthood given to us in and through Christ Jesus as baptized believers. As the Church teaches, “every baptized person is called to be a ‘blessing,’ and to bless” (CCC para. 1669). We consecrate the created order to, for, and through God. We are sanctified (aka “made holy”) as is the created world. The Church teaches, “there is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be thus directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God” (CCC para. 1670). The liturgy after the liturgy is expansive, indeed!

“Liturgy” itself derives from a word meaning the public work done on behalf of others. The Mass is liturgy we the baptized do or participate in, for ourselves–yes–but also for the sake of the world. The Eucharist and all liturgy, each in a mysterious way, is for the “life of the world” (John 6:51), not merely for those physically present–or even just for those joined to Christ’s Body. For the life of the world. What an amazing, humbling responsibility this is, that Jesus has shared with us! (Does Jesus know how messed up we are? Yes. And yet, God still uses us to bless and consecrate the world! Amazing!)

Are there some blessings that lay people should not give, that are reserved for the ordained, ministerial priesthood? Yes.

In general, “the more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the ordained ministry (bishops, priests, or deacons)” (CCC para. 1669). For example, blessings within Mass (clearly an ecclesial and sacramental setting), belong first to the bishop [if present], then priest, or the blessing of the water before a baptism–an ecclesial and sacramental act. You get the idea 😉 The vast majority of people, places, objects, locations, situations, etc. are not part of the Church’s sacramental or ecclesial life in a direct way, and thus are wide open for any member of the common/baptized priesthood to exercise his/her ability in Christ, to bless.

Keep the name of Jesus, the sign of the cross, and (if you have it) some holy water handy–and you’re all set to be a conduit of the grace of the Holy Spirit in our world.

 

Revised Common Lectionary

Happy Week (or Octave) of Prayer for Christian Unity!

While it’s hard to know exactly how many Protestant Christians are worshiping in churches using the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) or a local/denominational version of it, the overlap of Biblical texts used in the liturgy can be a place of Christian unity, and opportunity to hear the Holy Spirit speaking to us anew, through the inspired Word of God. The Revised Common Lectionary and lectionary used by most Catholics are extremely similar.

Interested in learning more? 

signature_divinityThe Revised Common Lectionary site of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library is a wonderful online resource for anyone wishing to explore this way of interpreting and engaging the Scriptures communally.

In addition to the readings (listed in the 3 year Sunday cycles), the site offers art and prayer supplements, ready-to-print Biblical readings, and an in-depth FAQ list that provides historical background on the development of the RCL.

The Nearness of Our God

The alternate Collect Prayer text for the Christmas Mass at Dawn petitions:

Almighty God and Father of light,
a child is born for us and a son is given to us.
Your eternal Word leaped down from heaven in the silent watches of the night,and now your Church is filled with wonder at the nearness of her God.
Open our hearts to receive his life
and increase our vision with the rising of dawn,
that our lives may be filled with his glory and his peace,
who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

My parish often sings this prayer at Masses for the Nativity of Our Lord, in an arrangement written by Sr. Stacy Whitfield, SGL, a religious sister and member of the parish. This year, listening to the song, I was also looking down at my own five-week old infant, peacefully nursing. This is how near God comes to us. God comes near enough to drink milk from a human mother. How awe-inspiringly close; how near to us.

This particular image of God’s nearness is easy to wonder at in delight. But, the nearness of God is not only the image of a baby nursing. As we turn now into Ordinary Time, the nearness of God is manifested in other ways. Our weekday lectionary texts begin with the Gospel of Mark, and we continue with his Gospel for weekday readings through the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time.

Compared to the other three Evangelists, Mark has a knack for including the emotions of Jesus in his narratives with bit more color and precision. For example, in Mark’s Gospel we hear of Jesus being moved with pity, angry, indignant, saddened, compassionate, grieved, amazed, and loving (see Mark 1:41, 3:5, 6:6, 6:34, 10:14-21, and 14:34–the particular English words will vary by translation).

Some of these words are easy to accept as God’s nearness. We are delighted by a God who is loving and compassionate. We readily accept God’s desire to be close to us when we are feeling these emotions.

On the other hand, most of us stumble or hesitate a bit more to readily accept God’s nearness in his or our anger, indignation, grief, or sadness.

The reality of the Incarnation is that Jesus is as near to us in anger, indignation, or grief, as Jesus is nursing at Mary’s breast.

I am filled with wonder at a God who so longs to be near to me in all of those human experiences.

“Strategy is Not Planning”

Do an internet search for “pastoral planning” and you’ll quickly discover this is a vague topic, nebulous in that many “good things” seem to be said, but they don’t necessarily connect with any precision. Many priests will joke about the absence of formation in this area in seminary studies–and even from a lay person’s perspective–I can attest to this! As a graduate student, I was dual-enrolled in a Master of Divinity program and a Master of Nonprofit Administration business school program simultaneously. In the Master of Divinity program, “planning” was rarely spoken of, and without much detail or depth. On the flip side, in a business school, we were assigned many (probably too many!) articles from the Harvard Business Review where leading scholars wrote on the differences between strategy, operations, management, planning, etc. It’s a deep field and unpacking it in a relevant way for parish leaders isn’t intuitive.

Today I’m going to attempt a different approach and leverage terminology used in military settings [my other professional background] to help give us a way forward for real-life pastoral planning. The military terminology “cuts to the chase” more than business scholarship, and avoids the vagueness of much of the existing pastoral planning literature. This post is excerpted and paraphrased from Harry R. Yarger’s monograph Strategic Theory for the 21st Century: The Little Book on Big Strategy (Strategic Studies Institute) p. 47-64.

Let’s begin…

Strategy and planning are not synonyms.

The prominence of the term “strategic planning” probably does us all a disservice by overly associating and mixing “strategy” and “planning.”

What is strategy?

Strategy lays down what is important and to be achieved (objectives), and sets the parameters for the necessary actions and resources.

In strategy formulation, getting the objectives (or “ends”) right matters most. While it’s also beneficial for the strategist to correctly  identify the parameters of action and resources that are crucial to success, naming actions and resource-needs is a subordinate task to naming objectives.

More on “Objectives”

Objectives (aka “ends”) explain “what” is to be accomplished. in short, doing the right things. This is why objectives are the most important element of strategy [and by extension, planning]. The right concepts and resources are great; but if they are used to accomplish the wrong thing, then what’s the use?

How do we get objectives? We start with the “end state.” The way we want things to be. [Note: in civilian-land, this is often called vision]. We allow objectives to flow from analyzing the end state we’re aiming for in light of the factors in the environment (or setting) affecting the realization of the desired end state.

Picking objectives that are too confining leads to problems for planners because it limits their ability to be flexible and adapt for execution. Picking objectives that are too vague becomes problematic in that they can be easily misinterpreted, intercommunicated, and/or fail to provide appropriate direction to others.

The ideal is to choose objectives that create realistic boundaries or parameters (the guidance planners and those on the ground need and want!) but, not overly confining boundaries for planning and execution.

Now to the subordinate elements of strategy, concepts (ways) and costs (means), remembering that these come after selecting the right objectives.

Concepts (aka “ways”)

Concepts are concerned with doing things right. Concepts explain “how” the objectives are to be accomplished. Concepts link resources to the objectives by addressing who does what, where, when, and why to explain how an objective will be achieved. Choosing the right concepts/ways for action matters because it’s possible to achieve a correct objective, but have the positive results undermined due to negative effects of the incorrect concepts/methods used to achieve the goal.

Resources (aka “means”)

Resources (or means) are the costs–financial, human resources, effort, equipment, opportunity costs, material, facilities, goodwill, courage, will to persevere, etc. Resources can be tangible or intangible.

Flowing from correctly chosen objectives, the strategist identifies the types and levels of resources necessary to support the concepts chosen to accomplish the objective. The responsibility of the strategist is to ensure that the resources necessary for the accomplishment of the objectives as envisioned by the concepts are articulated and available. The strategist’s responsibility is to ensure that the strategic concept will accomplish the objective, and that it is resourced to do so.

Remember, a better concept may require less or different resources than available. This is where strategic decisions are made, as a strategy that is not adequately resourced is not a viable strategy at all.

Onto Planning

Now that we’ve covered strategy, what is planning?

Planning bridges the gap between strategy and execution. Planning makes strategy actionable. Planners work within the “box” of the parameters of actions and resources given by the strategists. Planners adapt strategy to their real world setting with the necessary details, facts, and figures that lead to interrelated and sequenced actions calculated to achieve the objectives set forth in the strategy.

Organizations need planning to:

  • reduce uncertainty at the on-the-ground level
  • deal with the concrete and explicit (and therefore shorter, time horizon)
  • create certainty so that people and groups can act

Parishes or ministries without adequate planning can have a well articulated vision and strategy, but end up going nowhere. Action players might even be aware of this strategy if it’s well communicated, but cannot act or implement because the practical actions are too unclear.

Summarizing Strategy

“Good strategy is an integral whole of the right objectives pursued through appropriate concepts and supported with the necessary resources.”

The strategic concept answers the big question of “how” the objectives will be achieved by articulating clearly for subordinate levels who does what, when, where, how, and why in such a manner that the subordinate strategist or planner can see with clarity how the execution of the concept leads to the accomplishment of the objective and what he or she is required to do in order to support the strategy.

Alpha Pitfalls

As a follow up to last week’s insights from Unlocking Your Parish by Ron Huntley and Fr. James Mallon, some key points from the book’s launch podcast/video.

First off, doing Alpha isn’t foolproof. Alpha can be done poorly. And, Alpha done poorly, doesn’t work very long. The fruit won’t be sustainable and won’t transform a parish’s culture. Because Alpha’s a small piece of a bigger puzzle, if the “soil” of the parish is truly lacking or toxic, both the culture [soil] and program/Alpha [seed] need to be addressed simultaneously.

Other common Alpha pitfalls?

Negative initial experience at Alpha. 

When a parish runs Alpha in a “rolling” or continuous style [which is ideal], the Alpha guests are in-training to be the next Alpha team. But, if being a guest provides the wrong experience, i.e. if your first impression is a bunch of church-going Catholics complaining about the church, then that becomes the “training”–and transfers/replicates in future sessions.

Spinning off Team members too quickly. 

It usually takes intentional encouragement to keep people in the Alpha pipeline/team, in contrast to immediately allowing Hosts and others to start leading new/other parish ministries for those who “want more.” Human nature often drives a desire to new/other/novel, but retaining Team members for multiple seasons is important for getting the momentum for church renewal and transformation. Once momentum is sustainably generating, then it’s time to help people move on to new ministries. As the Divine Renovation team emphasizes, “Keep your best leader on Alpha, until they can raise up another best leader.” With Connect Groups as the next step after Alpha, it usually takes about 2.5 years from the start of the first Alpha in a parish to the launch of a first Connect Group.

Alpha in isolation.

As Unlocking makes clear, Alpha is a tool that transforms parish culture and is enriched by being rooted in a missional parish culture. This means the pastor and staff are completely on board, i.e. the pastor preaching into the principles of Alpha and how/are these the principles you want in your church. Alpha thrives in the context of relevant homilies/messages, powerful community, non-judgmental interactions, high hospitality, and a belong-believe-behave paradigm. Otherwise, when those who experience Alpha experience the rest of the parish, they’ll be in for an unpleasant surprise! The “Alpha in isolation” pitfall can also look like a small group of parishioners deeply engaged in Alpha while the others merely look on. As Ron Huntley and Fr. James Mallon remind in the podcast, “you’re not doing Alpha until 30-40% of parish has been through it”–it takes a critical mass of a parish community to experience, adopt, and embrace Alpha for a culture to be truly transformed and renewed.