Thursday, August 16, 2007

Appreciation and Gratitude

I've been working on Sunday's sermon for weeks. It has been going a little slowly up until this morning. I had a story to start with, a reading that was applicable, some good songs, but I hadn't yet found the way to tie it all together. I am usually philosophical about that sort of thing, having learned that sermon elements often come together without my help, that many times what I've written as first draft material suddenly is seen to be connected to another idea successfully, and so the sermon almost writes itself.

I'd thought this week's sermon, "An Attitude of Gratitude", would be easy to pull together. I'd been jotting down thoughts ever since the worship committee had decided to work hard at instituting a culture of appreciation in the congregation, offering thanks more often than critique. Those of you who are active in your own churches know that this can be hard to do, that each member of the group has individual ideas about how things ought to go and that there is often an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with others' efforts.

Scolding is not an effective homiletic technique and is, in fact, an example of just what we are trying to eradicate. I figure that most people know what they've done wrong; they need more often to hear what they've done right. But we forget that, in our communities, and we are quick to criticize and to complain about everything that doesn't meet our high standards. We forget how discouraging criticism is in our own lives. We forget that criticism of us is painful and only causes us to be angry and depressed.

I'm not sure we'll ever get rid of the need for honest critique; just substituting positive feedback is unlikely to fix bad situations. Sometimes the situation demands a tough solution and that includes honest critique. But even honest critique causes pain and may engender resentment and injury to the spirit. It must be done kindly, as well.

It makes sense to double our output of appreciation and gratitude to those around us, to help insulate each other against the inevitable day when critique is necessary. And that's what I hope to say, somehow, in my sermon. I'll let you know how it goes.


Ms. Theologian said...

I'm hoping you post it when you're done. I would love to read it. It's definitely an issue I struggle with. :)

I've been thinking a fair amount about critique, because it's probably one of the reasons I'll leave editing eventually. I think that as creative people we need to get positive strokes (with specifics), but often we only hear criticism and that tends to kill creativity. So if a congregation is really into critiques, it strikes me as difficult to get anything created. Who wants to risk the inevitable criticism (even of good work)?

What I very often hear in my own (paid) work is very general appreciation (Thank you for all your hard work), and then tons of very specific criticisms about what's wrong. I think I'd feel better if the appreciation was just as specific as the critique.

Sorry for the long response!

ms. kitty said...

I will do that, Ms. T. Thanks for the suggestion.

Mile High Pixie said...

What a good idea from Ms T. It makes sense to have praise that's as accurate as the criticism. After dealing with my crazy clients this week, I had an epiphany: how awful it must be to work for that awful CEO. How wonderful is my life to work for my usual boss. It made me go tell him how great he was that afternoon. He was a little startled, but appreciative, then said, "Though I'm sure I apprecaite you more." Sometimes it's seeing something awful and feeling momentarily ungrateful that we realize what we have to be grateful for.