I heard a rumour the other day. Dangerous things rumours, particularly when - like this one - they're about yourself. But hey - I heard it and had to respond.
This time I heard someone had expressed the view that I don't set a good example when it comes to practical serving - like washing the dishes. After the initial fleshly reactions (why does my flesh always move faster than my spirit?) of hurt feeling and wounded pride, I realized two things.
First, it was a fair cop. I'm not to be found at the sink nearly as much as many others I live with in community. Secondly, there are reasons why that is the case and they're not all bad. (I promise this is not simply going to be an extended self-justification - I've got my pouting over now and I stand by point one, it was a fair cop and I resolved to be humble and get to that sink more.)
Yet, fairly often, I'm not at the sink because other responsibilities prevent me from getting there - anything from putting children to bed to preparing a meeting.
As I thought about this I found my mind ping-ponging between the fencing foils of a paradox. Thrust: you need to do the washing up more! Parry: no-one else can put my children to bed! Thrust: a leader must set an example! Parry: a leader cannot live for what others think! Thrust: imagine if everyone came up with their excuses and left the dishes to rot! Parry: the Body of Christ means we all have our different contributions... And so on and on.
Paradox is defined by Dictionary.com as something "that seems self-contradictory but in reality expresses a possible truth".
The Christian life is full of paradox. Perhaps this isn't surprising when you consider some of the Church's essential beliefs. (Is Jesus God or man? Er... yup. Is salvation predestined or freely chosen? Er... yup again. And so on.)
But - as the washing up rumour has already given away - right now I'm thinking not so much of those lofty theological paradoxes which have kept the sharpest minds of the Church whirring for centuries. I'm thinking of some of the more down-to-earth, daily seeming contradictions we have to negotiate as we live as Christians - and, in particular as Christian leaders.
For example - I've been learning over the past few months, sometimes painfully, that it doesn't do to be too concerned about what people think of you. People-pleasing is a particular danger to those involved in pastoral work whose daily work does, in one sense, revolve around being sensitive to how others are doing and feeling, and working hard to care for them. But it can all become tyrannical if I start to live with what people of think as my only guiding star. So I've been learning not to care too much about what others think.
But immediately danger looms. It's only a few short steps from thin-skinned over-sensitivity ('Oh help, I think I've upset you') to bloody-minded insensitivity ('Don't give a monkeys how I make you feel'). Somehow, I have to live the paradox: care about the effect I have on others - but not too much.
Live for the 'audience of One', as someone once put it - while acknowledging that that One is watching carefully how much I love and serve others.
It can feel like like walking a tightrope. As a good friend of mine often puts it, much of life comes down to a fine balance.
Here's another paradox, somewhat related to the first. For a leader it is particularly important to follow the apostle Paul's instruction "not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think". Too much of the "I'm the leader" mentality is a highway straight to pride.
But what about the opposite? "I'm just the same as everyone else and what I do doesn't matter; no need to set any example, no need to embody anything which anyone may find it useful to imitate." Well, clearly, that would be pretty rubbish leadership.
So: I'm just the same as anybody else - but people see me as a leader and rightly so: my example matters. Paradox.
Christian leaders: tender-hearted and thick-skinned; humble and confident; easily entreated and not easily swayed. Like Jesus, full of grace - and truth.
So this is what I've resolved: I'm not going to let everyone tell me to wash the dishes! And I will humbly let anyone tell me to wash the dishes.
I've got to live in the paradox.