Kisses, Hugs, Rib Bones, and Accountability

Several of my friends serve as leaders in a ministry.  Several are educators and administrators of schools.  One’s an editor and entrepeneur.  There are writers.  One works for county government, and another adds to his life in ministry by singing and not doing it enough.  A good number of my friends are friends of each other, which isn’t always the case.  Last weekend Patrick Winfield, one of these folks, returned to Chicago from Dallas to speak at his uncle’s church.  So, one of our circle took the lead in organizing an early dinner last Saturday. 

We took up a couple of tables in Carson’s, snapping pictures, slapping backs, and trading kisses and hugs.  It became clear quickly that everyone around the table lived in Chicago and could take more opportunities to snap, slap, and trade.  For some reason, it took Winfield’s arrival to rekindle what is there, what has been there.

You should know that when these gatherings take place, in whatever venue and for whatever purpose–be it a special birthday, somebody’s wedding, a critical decision facing one of our number, or no purpose other than the sad passing of time between these fun evenings–there will be laughing, loud talking, and what many affectionately call “the dozens.”  We haven’t quite grown out of all our adolescent practices. 

We joust and spar verbally.  We argue, doing what I hope is keeping each other on our intellectual and theological toes.  We talk about current events, old events, and any new events we see coming soon.  We ask each other questions and tell each other what to do.

Last Saturday we talked about what many pastors, particularly, but not exclusively, black pastors are talking about–Bishop Eddie Long.

Not all of us were as interested in that particular topic, but the one thing that bounced around our tables was the need for two things, despite whatever comes of Bishop Long’s situation: 1) For us, around the table, to live a clean life; and 2) For us, around the table, to be honest when we couldn’t.  Live clean.  Live well.  Don’t separate honesty from the process.

I thought about how around those tables–tables dressed with rib bones and chicken pieces and potatoes au gratin–sat one of the major requirements for people who want to live well, whether in ministry or not.  Accountability. 

When I hear that word, I think of Mrs. High’s classes at Simeon High School when I first learned of debits and credits and balance sheets.  I learned what it meant to account for things.  I learned that whatever happened on one side of the paper had to be balanced on the other side.  Things were a bit more precise than that.  Accounting is more precise for sure.  But the language of balance and the practice of being critical of one’s transactions connected with me Saturday as we ate and talked and laughed and, underneath those things, prayed.

I don’t think a person can live well without somebody(ies) else contributing to that life.  Being in a relationship, or in a lot of friendships in this current example, is the context for honesty and vulnerability and truth about what and who I am. 

If I didn’t have those faces and stories and sarcastic dialogue partners, those present Saturday and those who clutter my life with love and grace and soul confrontation on all those other days, I’d leave ministry tomorrow.  And not because there’s something looming or some stuff questionable.  Indeed, everyone has something looming at the core in my view.  Still, not because of that.  But because work would be boring, lonely, and impossible without those folks and their jokes and their truth-telling.

Questions for you: What do you need to live well?  Do you think relationships without accountability are real relationships?

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