Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The Restaurant Conversation

As you've hopefully noticed, I've been trying to move this blog to publishing 5 days a week (Monday - Friday)... and in the process of doing that, I've been going back through a pile of unfinished post ideas & drafts. This particular free association trip through my life/brain was started back in April of 2011... finally seeing the virtual light of day nearly two & a half years and a couple of major revisions later.

I've come to dread "The Restaurant Conversation" with my lovely wife... you know what I'm talking about it, right?

Me: Where do we want to go eat?
Her: I don't know. Where do you want to go eat?
Me: I'm not sure. What kind of food sounds good?
Her: Well, Mexican is always good... but you don't like Mexican. So pick what you want.
Me: Well, I was kind of wanting Chinese, but you don't like that, so...
Her: Just tell me where we're going.

(This is NOT a verbatim conversation, but you get my drift. And for the record, the picture of her with this post was taken a restaurant we both love, the Creekside Brewing Company in San Luis Obispo, CA.)

It could easily have come straight out of the dialogue of the first full-length movie I saw as a kid: Disney's "The Jungle Book"...    

Buzzie: Hey, Flaps, what are we gonna do?    
Flaps: I dunno. What'cha wanna do?    
Ziggy: I've got it! Let's flap over to the east side of the jungle. They've always got a bit of action, a bit of a swingin' scene, all right.    
Buzzie: Aw, come off it. Things are right dead all over.    
Ziggy: You mean you wish they were.
[all laugh]    
Dizzy: [seriously] Very funny.    
Buzzie: Okay. So what are we gonna do?    
Flaps: I dunno. What'cha wanna do?    
Buzzie: Look, Flaps, first I say, "What are we gonna do?" Then you say, "I don't know. What'cha wanna do?" [rapidfire] Then I say, "What're we gonna do?" Then you say, "What'cha wanna do?" LET'S DO SOMETHING!    
Flaps: Okay. What'cha wanna do?
[Buzzie sighs]    

Buzzie: There you go again. The same notes again!    
Ziggy: I've got it! This time, I really got it!    
Buzzie: Okay, you got it. So what are we gonna do?    
Dizzy: [spots Mowgli] Hold it, lads. Look! Look what's coming our way.    
Flaps: Hey, what in the world is that?    
Buzzie: So what are we gonna do?    
Flaps: I dunno- Hey, now don't start that again!

Too often, that's the same kind of conversation we have about vision & direction for churches. For a variety of reasons, we want to smooth over the rough places that inevitably happen in the process of grabbing onto God's unique vision for us - and we end up hitting "the same notes again!"... or settling for the compromise restaurant.

At a Ministering to Ministers retreat this summer, I was exposed to the "the Abilene paradox", which originated with a guy named Jerry B. Harvey. The parable he tells is as follows:
On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas, the family is comfortably playing dominoes on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene [53 miles north] for dinner. The wife says, "Sounds like a great idea." The husband, despite having reservations because the drive is long and hot, thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group and says, "Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go." The mother-in-law then says, "Of course I want to go. I haven't been to Abilene in a long time."  
The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted. 
One of them dishonestly says, "It was a great trip, wasn't it?" The mother-in-law says that, actually, she would rather have stayed home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, "I wasn't delighted to be doing what we were doing. I only went to satisfy the rest of you." The wife says, "I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in the heat like that." The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored. 
The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon.
Wikipedia aptly sums up the lesson by saying:
In an Abilene paradox a group of people collectively decide on a course of action that is counter to the preferences of many of the individuals in the group. It involves a common breakdown of group communication in which each member mistakenly believes that their own preferences are counter to the group's and, therefore, does not raise objections. A common phrase relating to the Abilene paradox is a desire to not "rock the boat".


What would it look like if those in church leadership would take heart from the One who has overcome the world and be brave enough to talk about what God is doing in our hearts & lives? What if pastors & laypeople were united in the hope to see their church make a God-sized dent in their community that can only be explained by Jesus Christ. What if the expectation was for tough conversations would lead us to draw together in prayer rather than to our corners to nurse our wounds & grudges?

No more trips to Abilene. No more roundabout vulture discussions. No more restaurant conversations.

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