My wife and I sat down last week to watch Dominic Cummings being interviewed by Laura Kuenssberg. I am, in fact, writing this as I watch it. I was sympathetic to Cumming’s confusion at Keunssberg’s opening questions e.g. how do you view the Prime Minister? How do you view yourself? Slightly pointless questions that he laughed at and asked, ‘in what sense? What do you mean?’
But soon enough some valid and worthwhile questions started to come. And I think one got to the heart of things. At least, it got to the heart of the context of the entire interview: What is this about for you? This was followed up with, what do you actually want? I’ll leave you to watch the interview and decide for yourself whether the answer to that question is very compelling. But the question itself is a vital one if we are to understand at all what is going on here.
But my mind immediately went to the church. We all know of times we have been upset, unhappy or discontent with things in the church. We are all aware of times that others have felt this way. But so often, the key question fails to get asked: what is this about for you? What do you actually want?
Some while ago, when we were facing some particular problems in our church, it was quite apparent there was some discontent. Every time we thought we were zeroing in on the issue, and we offered to see if we could do something about the presenting issue, the goalpost quickly moved. When we pointed out that the presenting issue that we had been told was the problem would not be solved if we stopped doing, or started doing, the thing suggested meant that the presenting issue wasn’t, therefore, the problem. In the end, we could never get to the bottom of what this was about for them or what they actually wanted. We, of course, could hazard our own educated guesses, but in terms of hearing from those at the centre what this was all about for them, why they were actually doing this, no answers ever really came.
But it is not until we get to the heart of what this is about, and why somebody is doing what they are doing, that we have any hope of dealing with the issues that arise. The same is true when we have issues, whatever they may be. Whenever an issue presents itself, rarely is the presenting issue the real issue. Usually, things present as ‘I don’t like X’, but the more helpful question is, why don’t I like it? What lies behind my dislike of this thing? That is what we have to press into. If we can’t articulate what lies behind our problem, we don’t have much chance of properly assessing it or hoping to deal with it.
If we can get behind the problem to what is at stake for us, we stand a better chance of figuring out whether there is any issue at all and, if there is, how to address it. We might ask ourselves why we so dislike whatever it is and discover that it is based on our faulty perceptions or theological reasoning that isn’t right. It may be that we dislike it for bad reasons. But we may also discover that there are legitimate reasons we dislike it, but the thing itself is merely a symptom of a deeper problem. That means the issue that needs addressing is the underlying one, not really the presenting one. We are more likely to reach a satisfactory conclusion if we can address the actual issue at stake rather than presenting ones that are often symptomatic.
Whenever issues arise in the church, this is the question we need to get to. What is this really about for you? Why are you feeling/thinking/doing this? What is at stake here for you? These questions get us behind the problem and allow us to address where the real issues may lie.