Thursday, July 2, 2015

Leadership, Laughter, and Michael Curry:
Why a Playful Presiding Bishop is Serious Good News for the Church

A younger me and Rebekah, with Presiding Bishop-Elect Michael Curry,
on the occasion of Rebekah's confirmation (Easter Vigil, 2005)
In addition to Michael Curry's many and other gifts (see here), Michael Curry makes folks laugh. We Episcopalians don't laugh much in church. No judgment there, just observing. The real gift of Michael Curry, however, isn't just that he's funny; it's that he looks like he's having fun. As if the space, the place, where God in Christ meets God's people - even the church! - gives him joy and life and hope for a world in need. Like he'd preach all day, if he could. Like he really loves Jesus and people. Like he's glad to be there: glad to be with Scripture; glad to be at the Table; glad to be with the people; glad to be following the Jesus who leads us out of fear and sends us into the world God sent God's Son to save. As if to be so sent is the very best of all.

Karl Barth once wrote that "Laugher is the closest thing to the grace of God."

The truth is, seriousness is not the lone, responsible response to difficult challenges that require our total engagement, no matter what our parents told us (or their parents told them). In fact, Family Systems Theory has long asserted that seriousness can be a form of reactivity born of stuck-ness in anxiety. Such stuck-ness is exhibited in the coach who is always shouting "Just try harder!" and reflected in corporate cultures that answer every problem with exhortations to be "serious" and subsequently eliminate what are perceived to be elements extraneous to said serious pursuit of the goal. By contrast, says Family Systems Theory, when systems are capable of engaging challenges in a spirit of playfulness, unhooked from anxiety, new and unseen possibilities - new creativity, innovation, and better solutions - emerge. In other words, it's smart to be playful.

Most Playful CEO 2011 - Rob DeMartini, New Balance from Playworks on Vimeo.

To repeat the main point, seriousness is not the lone, responsible response to difficult challenges that require our total engagement. Thriving organizations insist on single-minded pursuit of their goals and approach these goals in ways that are in equal turns serious, playful, instructive, inspiring, structured, creative, and life-giving. We must, it seems, remember why we're here and know that thing to be an obvious source of joy. When we do, we're both more productive and more empowered. When we find ourselves unable to laugh, by contrast, we are not just failing to enjoy ourselves as we go about our work, we are failing the work itself; we are sacrificing a forward-moving future for a reactive climate of fear; we are exchanging thriving for surviving. When we forget to laugh, we forget our animating story. 

Michael Curry does not forget his animating story. I suspect that's both why he looks like he's having fun and why it's fun to be around him. That the story that animates him is the story of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, is seriously good news for the church he has been elected to lead.

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