Small and Imperfect

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a series on the Sarasota Statement, which we unveiled a year ago and continue to promote for use in our congregations and communities, along with the accompanying study guide. You will hear from a variety of voices and contexts throughout March, reacting to phrases in the statement, and sharing ways it is being used. How have you used the Sarasota Statement? What is your reaction to these phrases? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Andrew Kukla

“We, a small and imperfect reflection of the church…”
– Sarasota Statement, Preamble

A friend and I have a little saying we use with each other: “Pulling out the splinter.”

Let me back up. A couple of years ago I posted on FB about one of my children having multiple splinters in their hand and how painful it must be and that I was amazed how long they had gone without asking for help. I was making a statement of part amazement and part empathy. That is all. A statement.

And then 25 people chirped in to tell me how to get splinters out of a child’s hand.

I didn’t ask for help. Frankly, I didn’t need help. I have 4 very active children; I’ve figured out my methods of pulling out splinters. But people just cannot help themselves when it comes to helping others. They must tell you what you are doing wrong and how to fix it.

Back it up some more. I sat in the room we used in my residency for Clinical Pastoral Education with tears streaming down my face. My colleagues had filed out of the room, and my supervisor and I sat there in silence. I was wrung out. I was in a place of despair. I had shared that, and my colleagues did everything they could to fix me. I told my supervisor, “I don’t want to learn from this… but all I’m thinking right now is about how much training we went through not to fix people and yet still we don’t get it. And I’m learning to be a better chaplain as they try to fix my grief, but I don’t want to learn from this.”

We cannot help ourselves when it comes to helping people.

We yearn to be helpful and end pain around us, but also… we crave being the authority. We crave it everywhere for everything — our own myth of omni-competency. Polity, parenting, theology, cultural decay and generational theory, chapter and verse of our canon within the canon of the Bible, politics, purity, and yes, even the best way to remove a splinter. We cannot pass up an opportunity to tell someone how to do things better if they just listen to us. It has me weary of many of the ways I used to enjoy being a part of the Church, and I will admit I have removed myself from most clergy groups I used to belong to because they began to feel like know-it-all groups and I wasn’t interested in what they were selling.

And so… I have grown jaded when I see a statement that starts out saying, “a small and imperfect reflection of the church.” Do we mean it? Will our life-our statements AND practices-bear it out? Do we see ourselves as small? Do we think, from beginning to end, that we are primarily… imperfect? Are we willing to abdicate the authority of perfection? Will we set aside authority at all? Or do we, while giving a tip of the hat to buzzy words and phrases, also imagine that we are right about most things, most of the time?

As I sit here at the beginning of the Sarasota Statement and read “a small and imperfect reflection of the church,” my hope and challenge to myself, and to you, is that we hold that thought close from beginning to end. We are naming big challenges here. Moral arc of the universe kind of challenges. And if we think we know the answers before we start — while we are walking and, frankly, any time before the work is done — we are wrong. Let’s take this journey to justice freed from our preconceived answers, our mantles of authority, and chains of righteousness.

Let’s admit, truly, that we are small (but of divinely ordained significance) and imperfect (beloved of God) and that is exactly why we have to sit in the room with the excluded, the disinherited, and the oppressed and let them speak for a while… a good long while. Before we ever — if we ever — speak. Because our job is not to fix it, but to bear witness.

I see you, I hear you, I value you, I love you. And that is all I know.

“We, a small and imperfect reflection of the church…”

Andrew Kukla is a pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho.

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