So what does my lack of regard for the materials of this word mean for my congregation?
Part of caring for function over material and form is my commitment that systems work, or ‘function’ as it were. So many people on my band of the spectrum are systemitizers. We look for the rules by which organizations thrive and succeed, and then attempt to implement them. I am a pragmatist to my core.
One of my heroes is the father of Utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham. Modern humanism is deeply influenced by this philosophy. He was committed to the notion of the greatest good for the greatest number of people, but he had no close friends. Jeremy Bentham was said to be autistic, and I believe that. What does this mean organizationally?
It means that I try to make sure everyone is heard and appreciated, and so when I implement a policy or make a decision contrary to a certain person’s desires or opinions that person often has had a conversation with me and understands why I acted in that way. I try to make sure that the minority opinion is never devalued. I will talk ten minutes to a person who feels that disposable cups are a wasteful luxury and harmful, and we should not use them at our functions. And then I will talk half an hour to the person who bought the paper cups and whose feelings were hurt.
This is some of the most difficult work I do, but I consider it the most worthwhile.
This deeply ingrained order of priorities also means that when we lose our physical space, and our material goods, I am able to focus on what counts rather than superficialities. I understand that for some physical space and in-person interaction are deeply important, and I can cry with my congregation that we lack them, but I can more easily able to move onwards. One of my greatest successes during the pandemic, is leading the congregation seamlessly into the zoom era. We did not miss even one meeting because of the pandemic, and in fact we tripled our programming, so we could be there for as many people and create a sense of community during a very hard time in our history.
The irony though is how guilty I felt about these successes.
I want to share an interaction that I had three months into the pandemic, I had just asked for overtime pay, but I felt very guilty that I did so. So many people were hurting financially, and here I was asking for more money. Clergy all over the world were being overworked, but I am a man on the spectrum, I had it so much better now that people were little squares on the screen. 20 minutes in person was equal in my eyes to 2 hours in front of a screen. Was I lying when I said I deserved overtime? I was and I wasn’t. Those two extra hours meant I had less time to walk silently with my autistic child through the woods, or eat dinner with my wife, I had less time to spend with some of the only people in my life who were not little boxes on the screen. And so I took the money, because I gave my congregation the most precious non-renewable resource we possess, time, and Ecclesiastes was mostly right but just a little bit wrong when he said ‘there is a time for every purpose under heaven.’