Monday, May 11, 2015

Teaching And Selfies And A Walk In The Woods

My background and education prepared me to be a teacher - a music educator. I have an all-level music ed degree that allows me to teach kindergarten through high school. I love teaching; I am so inspired by the privilege of sharing information with others, by that beautiful moment when a light bulb goes off and some new discovery comes to light. I've taught private piano lessons for 30 years now, and I continually find a 30-minute session with a committed, devoted, passionate student of piano one of the most rewarding and fulfilling parts of my life.

I love to teach.

But I never found great success in the classroom. It's the structure of school; the paperwork and the testing and the strict framework in which a free-form, easily-distracted creative like me does not thrive. The bell schedule drives me nuts. I loved being with students when I taught - in Texas, in the Dominican Republic, in Ohio, in Matoaca. I cherish the relationships I still have with some students who are now adults, who remember me as their classroom music or choir teacher. But I'm much happier in the creative, spiritual, less-structured role of Creative Director in my work life.

I'm also a Campus Pastor for my church, and that's where I get the tremendous joy of being with the people. I focus on that role Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; but the rest of my work week sees me leaning hard into the creative role; and more and more, I'm focusing on the director side of things.  We have an incredible team of technical, production, communication and music specialists who form our creative / production team at all of our campuses, and as the "Pastor of Weekend Experiences", I get to lead them.

Week to week, we plan services, working on the nuts and bolts; timing, transitions, songs, videos. But once a month now I am stepping back and doing long-range, big-picture series planning with this team. I set aside four hours on a Monday for us to envision larger concepts and bigger ideas, to learn to think differently, to step outside the box. It's a necessary thing; it helps us get ahead, and we gain a foothold on some creative elements that require more lead time.

And I get to teach.

I plan a good chunk of our time together to focus on creative growth - stretching, imagining, thinking, settling into ourselves - for the sake of our souls, rather than a service element. Honestly, I am always a bit hesitant about dragging our staff into this touchy-feely stuff, knowing full well that most of us have schedules that are crammed full, and that stepping away for two hours of imagining things might be frustrating and fruitless. I wasn't sure it would work for us.

It does.

We had our second Monday meeting today, and while I won't presume to speak for everybody else, I'll say that I walked away inspired, encouraged and connected - with my co-workers and, in a deeper sense, with the spiritual and emotional center of my soul in a way that seems to matter.

I'm not sure we accomplished as much as we hoped when it comes to the big picture ideas. We did discuss a few things for the summer that will probably come to life in a fun and meaningful way. But here's what we did do:

We talked.

We simply went around the table answering two questions:
What is happening in your professional life right now that you want to share? 
What is happening personally that we should know about?

It was fascinating, hearing a deeper story from the people that I see several times a week; office mates and partners in various ministry departments. When we make time to sit, to listen, to offer up the truth about who we are and where we are and what we care about, it's enlightening - and very meaningful. It builds trust. It adds wonder to our daily interactions, as we see a bit more about what's happening underneath the surface.

I asked everyone to share about someone that they are concerned with at the moment, a person or a family who is on their heart. Hearing those names brought about empathy and compassion - an understanding of the unique burdens that each of us bear as we connect with and strive to be present for others.

We walked.

I sent everyone into the woods behind our meeting place (the Powhatan Library) with specific instructions: 20 minutes of meditation, 10 minutes of praying for the people that we mentioned, along with anybody else who came to mind. I gave them each a folded piece of paper to be opened at the end of 30 minutes, in which they received instruction to create a 20 second video that showed their reaction to the 30 minutes of alone time and their reaction to a short piece of scripture.

Here's mine:

Everybody also had to take a selfie.

We reconvened, and everybody talked about their experience - what worked, what didn't. You'd think this is no big deal, right? Take a walk in the woods and then come talk about it. Sounds simple.

But for people who work under pressure, churning out ideas and leading others and taking care of people and managing personal lives full of friends and family and just living, it's not so simple.

Maybe not so simple for any of us. 

How often are we really still? Simply still. Sitting and hearing the sounds around you, rather than subject to the churning of what's coursing through your head.

How often do we really see?

What's it like to walk away, into the woods, sit down on a stump and observe an ant?

We rediscovered some things today, I think; and we talked about them, and it may not ever make a difference in what happens at PCC on a Sunday morning, but I felt the deep, certain joy of teaching today - of seeing discovery and sensing new things and - best of all - sitting still in the sacred space of sharing these things with seven other humans who walk the same rocky terrain, climb the same rugged mountain, fight the same battles and embrace - on a daily basis - the celebration and challenge of simply being human.

We changed our perspective and watched this video - an incredibly powerful story - and talked about the presentation, and why it worked, and how we felt, and why it mattered. We brainstormed ideas about how such things can translate to the work we do each week.

We pulled out calendars and did some detailed work, thinking through the summer. We got stuck on some ideas, agreed to table some things, and walked away from the meeting on time, with a commitment to process a bit and come back again in a month.

I'm a teacher. I get to facilitate moments, and it's precious time for me. In the grand scheme of things, I think it matters - and in the end, that's what matters.

Grateful for this day, and these selfies of people who make a profound difference in my life.

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