My wife has a rule in her seminary classroom – no complaining about laypeople. A money jar sits in the front of the room, where offending students place their fine for griping about the people they're supposed to love and lead.
I like that rule. Not that the work and relationships of being a parish pastor don't warrant a complaint from time to time, but too often we clergy-types fall into an us-vs-them mentality, exasperated that the accountant on church council or the vocal worship critic doesn't share our sophisticated and nuanced faith perspective (a faith perspective shaped over four years of formal seminary training and perhaps many years of parish or related church leadership experience). If the laity are uninformed (a broad claim that I am not willing to make), we clergy-types are to blame. Where will Christians learn about faith and become familiar with the Bible and Christian tradition if not in our churches? Surely there is a responsibility for all Christians to engage in independent learning and reflection on their faith. But the church, it seems to me, is the primary location for Christian formation and learning. If it isn't happening, pastors are largely to blame.
So that's the rule: don't complain about laypeople. Look at the log in your own eye first, Reverend Bucko.
Now let's jump to politics. As I highlighted the other day, the Washington Post Virginia Politics blog highlighted a distinction between how the McCain and Obama campaigns approach distributing lawn signs. For McCain, the signs were readily available at a rally last week. For Obama, the signs are given out in exchange for volunteer work, and are largely unavailable to people walking into the local campaign office.
In response to some weeping and gnashing of teeth that appeard on DailyKos (which I don't read) about the dearth of Obama signs in Virginia, the folks at FiveThirtyEight.com wrote a sarcastic and somewhat belittling piece about this lawn sign conundrum: BREAKING: Obama Campaign Organizers Trying to Win Election Instead of Get You Yard Signs. The article explains why lawn signs are a very low priority for local campaign officials who are trying to get voters registered, garner commitment from voters, organize get-out-the-vote drives, etc. etc.. Signs don't vote. Signs are pretty irrelevant. And those who are complaining about the lack of signs . . . don't have a freaking clue what they're talking about.
They might be right. But they're breaking my wife's rule – don't complain about laypeople. We political laypeople who want to be supportive might not appreciate the sophisticated workings of a national campaign. We might not really know what it takes to elect a president. But whose fault is that? Instead of blaming us for being igorant slobs, why not take a few minutes to explain to us interested laypeople that signs are relatively irrelevant and show us what is most important? Explain to us your priorities, and invite us to participate in those priorities. And then send us online to buy a sign for $20 (a mark-up that more than covers the cost of the sign) and remind us that the local campaign office is not a sign distribution center. (Or organize a sign sale – much like a Girl Scouts Cookie sale. How hard can that be?). It's all about managing expectations, and perhaps the Obama campaign – in Virginia, anyway – hasn't done a good job at managing the expectations of its supporters.
[Anyway, isn't this a problem of their own making? If they didn't put signs everywhere, we wouldn't want them on our lawns, would we?]
When I worked for Augsburg Fortress Publishers – the publishing ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – I often ran into pastors and lay leaders who didn't fully understand what we did, why we made certain decisions, and why (for example) their favorite curriculum was no longer in print. I could have just complained about the ignorant fools who didn't understand the complexity of our work. But it was my job, in part, to explain to them the broader vision and work of our non-profit publishing house, the constraints under which we worked, and to invite them into the mission perspective of our work. Often those few words helped to remove misunderstandings and establish a better working relationship between us and that congregation. They may still have prefered to use the discontinued curriculum, but at least now they understood why we no longer published it. And that little bit of understanding would go a long way toward improving our relationship of mutual support and shared Christian ministry.
So please, Obama campaign people, don't complain about us simple, uninformed, annoying laypeople. Do a better job at explaining to us your priorities and constraints, and invite us to participate in your priorities. And if that doesn't work, sell us a sign for a hefty mark-up and say, "Thank you for your support."
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PS. Yesterday I received a call from a journalist at the Washington Post who saw my blogpost about the lack of Obama materials (the Post reads my little Lutheran blog?). They might be running a piece about the lack of signs and the concerns that some supporters have about the issue. I expressed my concerns, with the caveat of "what do I know about these things? I'm just a volunteer who makes lunch for the office once/week and who gives a small amount of money to the campaign." I also expressed my concerns about Obamamania, and questioned the lack of available Obama-Biden materials (about which I blogged here). The weak promotion of the whole ticket seems to contribute to (or derive from) the celebrity mania that surrounds Obama. But as someone who is leary of Obamamania, I would like materials that emphasize the ticket and/or the party. Even though Obama is atop the ticket, it's not all about him . . .
UPDATED: See Rick Klau's comment on my previous post responding to some of these thoughts (sentiments I expressed in a a comment over there which grew into this present post).