“Thou shalt not kill.” [i] I know, I know…this refers to other human beings most of the time. But I think it can, by extension, apply to very human elements like trust/trustworthiness. Why? Because so many of the actions that kill trust, that destroy trustworthiness, destroy people.
Why am I blogging about trust/trustworthiness on a blog about the journey to a synodal Church? Simply stated, synodality needs the soil of trustworthiness in order to take hold. As long as there’s a fundamental distrust, cynicism and disdain for the Church, it’s not possible for us to become a pilgrim people, on the road together, drawing ever closer to Jesus and one another. It’s not possible to hear the Spirit together. How so? Because we are not in real relationship with one another. There’s no “we” on the road together.
Let’s take a look at trust killers, identified by social science researchers far and wide. As I list them, you decide to what degree they are part of the landscape of the Catholic Church in the world, but more particularly in the United States, and even more particularly, in your parish. You decide…does the Church, in more cases than not, have a trustworthiness issue?
Dishonesty…with a cover-up being the most severe breach of trust. But any form of dishonesty from silence, to half-truths, to refusing to confront evil, from hiding out and running away from people and issues that are not what Jesus has in mind: all of this falls in dishonesty.
Inconsistency. This has to do with aligning what you do and how you do it with what you say you believe and value. This also has to do with pastoral practices such as visiting the sick, spending time with the kids, looking out for the elderly, and supporting the poor. It has to do with scheduled office hours, policies and procedures and how they are enforced, and it has to do with repentance and change.
Absence. This trust killer is tied to the expectation that a person, often a clergy person, will be present in a given situation and they are not, without explanation. Absent from meetings, from the office when others are there, from social engagements, sickbeds, wakes and funerals. Absent from difficult conversations and difficult people, from times when hard decisions have to be made, from conflict and from the hard work that arises after a natural disaster. Absent from the conversation, failing to lend the voice of wisdom, prudence, reason, hope to the cacophony of voices in our world. Absent.
Arrogance. Doesn’t embrace ongoing learning, or the possibility of error. Looks down on others, does not accept feedback, acts unilaterally, refuses alternate points of view. Sure they are right almost every time. Unrepentant. Won’t work with others or delegate the lead on a project.
Irrelevance. Prioritizes things that do not connect with “real life.” Uses language, metaphors and analogies from another age. Applies thinking and problem-solving methods from a different culture or time. Refuses to examine the signs of the times, the influences of the media and other factors impacting life. Preaches and teaches about subjects no one cares about or from points of view others cannot understand. Insists on making “cosmetic” adjustments to appear as if they are addressing real issues, but what is really happening is they are, figuratively speaking, re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Duplicitous-Two-faced. This has several manifestations. The most obvious is that they say one thing and do another. But there’s also saying what people want to hear so that individuals or groups act on what was said, but it’s not consistent with other groups. Two-faced also includes “do as I say, not as I do.”
Scattered, unfocused and offers no clear pathways. I call this the B-B in a barrel behavior: pinging all over the place rapidly, not landing anywhere long enough to be seen or understood, and deferring decisions that belong to them because of a need to think, consult, and wait.
Doesn’t’ do what they say they will do. OK, everyone messes up in this category. But this doesn’t include the failure to be on time that we all experience now and again. This is chronic: doesn’t return phone calls, cancels meetings, doesn’t bring the materials or make the connection with another. Constantly changes scheduled meetings, misses deadlines, forgets what they said they’d do during a meeting.
Unprepared. Doesn’t have the agenda. Preached “off the cuff.” Misses rehearsals, walk-throughs and planning meetings. Refuses staff meetings, and the detail work required for beauty, efficiency, compliance with rubrics etc. require. Doesn’t do the work asked to be done before a meeting. Improperly attired for the situation. Hasn’t prayed over this.
Too secretive/guarded about self and schedules. No one ever knows where they are. They make their own appointments, out of the office. Leave town without notice with no way to reach them. Never shares personal stories about their lives, their vacations, their families. Hides medical and psychological issues.
So there you have it. If some of these, or all of them, are afoot in your parish/diocese, there is a trustworthiness issue. To the degree that you continue in these behaviors, either yourself or enabling others to do so, is the degree to which you are killing trust.
What does this have to do with synodality? Everything. Because if these are afoot, there is no “journeying together.” There is no listening from the heart and speaking boldly in love. There is no humility before the Spirit, and no searching for other voices. There’s no shared humanity, no repentance, sorrow, forgiveness, and therefore no real communion.
Participation, communion and mission, the three legs of the stool called synodality, are fragile. They cannot exist if the ground on which this stool is to sit is not trustworthy.
How’d you fare? Who else needs to be in conversation with you about this? And what’s the next step for those of you on the #synodjourney?
You’re invited to journey with us at www.pentecostvigilproject.org. Sign up for notices when more blogs appear. Share in the Facebook community. Check out our Resources, all free, and our products and services. Set up a conversation with one of the PVP Leadership Team. We’re here to unleash synodality by addressing trustworthiness.
[i] Exodus 20:13
Photo Courtesy of Unsplash Johnny Gios