Thursday, May 10, 2012

Let the Intimacy Begin....

 The first three levels of intimacy named by Matthew Kelly in his book The Seven Levels of Intimacy are clichés, facts, and opinions. For many of us a good part of each day is spent in this shallow end of the intimacy pool. Sometimes it is so shallow that we are only getting the soles of our feet wet. Simple remarks that we aren’t really wanting a truthful response to are thrown out there to those who cross our paths. “How are you today” is asked of a receptionist while “I certainly hope he doesn’t tell me the truth” runs through our head. The same clichéd greeting, with or without the internal dialogue starts the conversation when we get home from work.

From the cliché level we move easily into the facts level. The receptionist might respond, “I’m fine. What’s the weather doing outside?” and we respond with a fact, “It’s snowing.” A few more pleasantries follow and we bury our head in a magazine while we wait for our name to be called. We might do the same thing to our partner when we get home.

If we are feeling a bit more daring with our partner we will venture into the opinions level. “It’s snowing” might be followed by our opinion, “I don’t think you should drive to that meeting tonight.” The opinion level is where most dialogue and depth of intimacy ends. Why is that? Because it is where we begin to be vulnerable. We don’t want to argue or look foolish.

So how would a conversation at church look following this pattern? How about something like this – “Hey! How are you this morning? I heard you were sick last week.” To which you would get something like this – “Hey, great to be back. I’m good now that I’ve taken a boat load of antibiotics. Thanks for asking!” So far so good, but there’s more. “I don’t know if you have heard this yet but pastor didn’t wear her vestments last week. She said it was too hot but I think she should wear them anyway – it’s part of the job and she knew that when she went to seminary.” Oh boy, now there’s a potential can of worms being opened. It can escalate quickly from here. Imagine if this was a question of theology!

In my opinion, this is where the point of disillusionment can rest most heavily. If you are in a relationship that goes to more depth than this, even all the way to the seventh level, and it falls apart because of a difference of opinion, it can be devastating. “I thought we had more than this. Walking away from this relationship because you don’t agree with me means that I can’t be real with you. You don’t value me because of me, you value me simply when I agreed with you.

So let’s move this scenario from the sidewalk to the sanctuary. You have a number of relationships within your church that feel meaningful and then one day you begin to question some of the church teachings. You probably get many clichéd responses – like “Well, that’s where faith comes in – you just have to believe.” So you’ve just moved backwards in the intimacy venue from opinion to cliché.

But your curiosity is not satisfied and you begin to not only ask questions but take a stand that’s a bit different from that of your peers. You also begin to realize that each time you brooch the subject, someone is trying to tell you why you are wrong – they end their words with you by saying, “I’ll pray for you.” Before long you decide that you need to ‘take a break’ from church for a while and when you do, no one calls to check on you or visit you. People aren’t returning your calls, you’re extremely hurt and disillusioned – you thought they were your friends but you learned they were only friends as long as you thought like they do.

If you are a pastor, you may have experienced this at a denomination level rather than a church level. As a pastor, one of the greatest gifts you can give your congregants is the ability to tolerate sitting in the pews with a great diversity of view points. Many pastors spin their wheels trying to ‘get everyone on the same page.’ If parents did that with their children, the eldest children would be waiting forever for the younger children to catch up to their current maturity, they would be fed up with not being allowed to grow and would leave home.

Ahhh….but there’s the catch….can you, as pastor, sit with a diversity of view points while people are working their way through to an understanding of an issue that will make sense to them? Could you possibly even facilitate the journey for them? What if they end up at an understanding that doesn’t match yours? Can you stay in relationship with someone who doesn’t see things exactly as you do? This may be the point of intimacy that a church is functioning at. It’s a dangerous place because the premise is that as long as we all agree, we will get along. Intimacy is built on learning how to stay in relationship when there is stress.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Shallow Church Relationships

The Seven Levels of Intimacy

According to Matthew Kelly there are seven levels of intimacy. He describes them in his book, The Seven Levels of Intimacy, as they relate to couples. The principles however, apply to any relationship and any number of people. He describes succinctly how those of us who work with people in relationship understand intimacy: mutual self-revelation that causes us to know and be known. The principles could be applied to families and organizations – particularly the church.

The levels do not function as discrete modes of intimacy but intermingle at any given time, situation, or relationship. The seven levels described are:

(1) Clichés (“Pretty hot out there today, isn’t it?”)

(2) Facts (“Nasty accident on the road by the convenience store on my way home.”)

(3) Opinions (“I think the decision to change the date for the meeting is wrong.”)

(4) Hopes and Dreams (“Someday I’d like to own my own restaurant.”)

(5) Feelings (“This gray, rainy day has drained my motivation.”)

(6) Faults, Fears and Failures (“I am so messed up I can’t even make up my own mind.”)

(7) Legitimate Needs (“If you really knew me, you wouldn’t like me. I need to be loved even after you know my dark side.”)

In this blog series, each of these will be explored as they relate to church relationships.

Many relationships, from casual acquaintances to long term committed partnerships, don’t advance past level three or four. There are a lot of people who would argue with me on this point, but if you ask people who deal at a professional level with relationships, they would agree. I have watched it in couples who have been together for decades – and these same people would report that they have a ‘deep relationship’. Relatively speaking, they probably have as deep a relationship as they can without some further guidance – maybe even as deep as it can be because of other issues – but we can always go deeper.

So what does this look like among church members? How does it benefit the local church or the church universal? How does a pastor nurture appropriate intimate relationships among their congregants? The next few blogs in this series will look at these questions as the seven levels are explored as they pertain to churches and their congregations.