Pay Attention To What You Pay Attention To

I have been an Episcopal priest for twenty-nine years and have been involved with churches of all denominations my entire life, and because of that, I have known a lot of fine pastors. I have also been involved with several interfaith projects through the years and so have been fortunate to know many fine leaders of other religions as well. All of these men and women have this in common: they inspire us with their preaching and teaching, they comfort us by visiting the sick and suffering, and they provide meaning for us through rituals that honor and celebrate our important life transitions. I have tremendous admiration for these men and women, not just for what they do, but because most people, even the members of their congregations, have little idea how much they give of themselves and how hard they work. Much of their work is done in private, and they rarely receive much recognition for what they do. These men and women are an inspiration to me, and I hope they are to you as well.

So in light of all of what I have just written, it really saddened me to see a pastor in Florida getting national, and yes, international, attention for threatening to do something completely antithetical to the very faith he was ordained to represent. I don’t even know the pastor’s name, because I intentionally choose to pay as little attention to these media hyped stories as possible, but you no doubt know to whom I am referring.

We live in a culture that loves to shine a light on and lift up the angry and the deviant. Living a moral life, upholding strong values in your work and personal life, will rarely get you noticed in our culture today. But do something outrageous, offensive, unethical or illegal and you are sure to be featured on YouTube and the nightly news. The more offensive the words or action, the more attention the person will receive.

This is a weekly column about wholeness and wellness, so why am I bringing this up? I am bringing this up because it illustrates an essential principle about healthy relationships, healthy families, and healthy organizations. The more healthy a relationship/family/organization is, the more it lifts up and celebrates that which is positive, true and life-giving. Unhealthy relationships/families/organization do the opposite; they organize their emotional energy around that which is negative, divisive and conflictual--in fact they often find themselves “stuck” focussing on these negatives over and over again. It seems that it is easier to continuously complain about our spouse, teen, boss, colleague, or pastor than it is to do the harder work of reaching out and proactively working to heal or improve the relationship or situation. Negativity and complaining allow us to stay safe and protected behind our self-righteousness. Seeking understanding and healing require us to soften our hearts and be vulnerable.

In spite of how much attention they may receive, our world doesn’t need more angry, negative and disruptive leaders. What it does need is people like you and me to lead our own lives in ways that quietly bring peace and healing to our corners of the world. In order to do this, we all need to pay attention to what we pay attention to.