Listen To Article
Today was one of those incredibly busy days. You know, the kind where you fly out the door early in the morning, already late. The kind with back-to-back meetings and a million things on the to-do list. The kind where you grab lunch as you walk between appointments and then end up trying to eat that lunch in quick, stolen bites over the next couple of hours.
Yep, today was that day.
When I finally got home, I found an email from an all-campus colleague. He wondered why I hadn’t attended a breakfast this morning that his department had coordinated for some of our incoming students. Though his email was very temperately worded, I could tell that he was not pleased that I had been absent.
Simple, I responded: I thought the breakfast was optional. All the email I had received had said it was—or at least implied it. So I had taken them at their word that our required work was doing the advising of these same students in the afternoon. That I had done—and gladly. The breakfast sounded nice, but it was one thing I was glad was non-compulsory in an already busy day.
Turns out, though, my colleague and the folks with whom he works had a different sense of what “optional” meant. “To be honest,” he wrote me in reply, “I’m not sure how optional the breakfast really is.” Though the emails I had received had taken a tone of invitation (instead of directive or demand), the breakfast was, for he and his staff, clearly an indispensable part of the day.
Now, my colleague is a good-hearted man, and his office works hard to make students welcome at our college, so in our email exchange, we were able to quickly see how unspoken assumptions had influenced the way we each had interpreted our expectations of the situation.
But our exchange reminded me of how often we react to each other—in judgment, in criticism, in frustration—based on things we implicitly believe are obvious and fundamental, even though we seldom actually ever communicate them—or sometimes communicate, intentionally or not, the very opposite.
I’ve always been fond of the formulation: in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.
The problem comes, of course, in the definition of “essentials.” The conversations on this blog, for example, over the last months continue to demonstrate that the warrants of our belief need rigorous articulation and examination. What are our “essentials”? How do we communicate them? In what things must we work towards unity, in what towards liberty?
Without a clear sense of these, we’ll continue to waste more time than we should on kerfuffles that distract us and drain the energy we have available for the work of servanthood that lies before us. In bringing folks to God’s abundant table, that breakfast is not optional.