Gifts and Things

Since Pentecost Sunday, I’ve been thinking on and off about gifts. (For those of you whose church doesn’t follow the Revised Common Lectionary for scripture, the epistle was from 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, the one about the variety of gifts given to different members of the church.)

For about 10 years, I was a corporate trainer, specializing in team-building. The primary focus of the seminars was on individual gifts and how, when they were put together, each contributing through his or her areas of unique talent, the outcome was often exponentially greater in impact than any one of the individual members could have produced alone. During that part of my career, I had the incredibly awesome experience of being the advisor to a number of teams—from senior executives developing strategic plans to computer programmers debugging a software program—and seeing breakthrough performances—stellar results on time and under budget. Unfortunately, I had the incredibly discouraging experience of watching other so-called teams fail to coalesce into a unified group, even though all the gifts defined by the instrument I used at the time were present. I’ve been a member of teams of both ilks, too. I’ll bet we all have.

The reason for failure was always the same, though it showed itself in a variety of forms—micromanaging supervisors who gave lip service to creating an environment where all were free to do their jobs in the way they were most likely to succeed but gave poor performance reviews for not doing it their way, team members who judged the talents of other team members as inferior to theirs, others afraid that they’d get stuck with the grunt work if their talents were revealed, still others who devalued their own talents by comparison. A lack of respect for the gifts of others.

Basketball is, to me, the quintessential example of a sport in which the aim is for people to work together simultaneously and equally to achieve common goals, the operational definition of teamwork. It’s also the one that can demonstrate how beautiful and how devastating the result can be. The wisest of coaches recruit players with different talents—the point guard who handles the ball and never misses a free throw, the center who’s a great shot-blocker and rebounder, the forward who can strip the net from anywhere on the court, the guard for whom the Red Sea parts on his way through the lane. But building a team doesn’t stop there.

In the best of circumstances, everybody on the floor knows and values his own talents and those of everyone else on his team. During a game, you’ll see picks to free up the forward to take a shot, bounce passes “magically” threading their ways to the player driving the lane, “alley-oops” arriving just at the right time in the right spot so the center can jump up and drop the ball through the hoop. It’s truly beautiful to watch.

And excruciating to watch when things are awry. Players get double-teamed and nobody comes back to them for a pass. The pure shooter arrives by design in the “perfect” place and nobody bothers to pass her the ball. A prima donna, more intent on individual glory than team success, “hogs” the basketball, and everything disintegrates. Morale plummets, nobody scores and the team goes down in defeat.

Diversity in alliance has the potential to make us infinitely and meaningfully more productive and a formidable adversary of evil in the world, but we don’t “get” it. Instead we judge those of different political opinions, colors, genders, religions, denominations, ages, sexual orientations, national allegiances, and all too often, gifts…as dangerous to our narrow self-serving agendas. When daring to change our paradigms—viewing things from another’s different perspective—is very often a catalyst for growth, breakthrough solutions to problems, pathways to peace. The disconnect happens all the time—in the government, at the office, at school…and most disturbing, within the church.

Imagine for a moment that your right arm suddenly decided it was by far the most important limb and refused to cooperate with the left. Or that your left eye proclaimed that the right eye was evil, its vision not to be trusted. What if your heart got fed up with listening to your stomach and pancreas fight over whose job was more important to digestion and just up and left?

Crazy, huh.

Maybe not. The church isn’t called the “body of believers” for nothing, you know.

Anybody seen our head lately?

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