Thursday, October 16, 2008

Agendas and Goals

Driving into work today, I had an epiphany.

Maybe it was the music on the radio, or the prayers on my heart or it was just time for God to give me an idea...whatever it was, I felt a cool surge of seeing things in a slightly different way in that moment than I had just seconds before.

I was struggling with all the twists and turns life is throwing our way right now. There is stuff in the world financial markets, stuff on the national political scene (only a few weeks to go in the election!), stuff in the national Church (Diocese of Pittsburgh), stuff in our diocese (the Bishop's sentencing and now the anticipated appeal), and stuff in the parish (the conflict and wonder on how we are going to travel through our own hard times). Then, in a flash, I had a vision of a man on a ladder cleaning out the gutters on a house. Plebian, right? A simple chore, but here is where that image took me:

There is a difference between having a goal and having an agenda. The man's goal is to take care of his house. His agenda is to climb the ladder and clean out the gutters. The goal is organic and ever-evolving. It is about an overarching committment to fulfilling a vision-a well kept house in this instance. The agenda is the way of dealing with the task of the moment-the chore of cleaning out the gutters.

I know this sounds basic, but think about it.

On my house there is a wall with no windows and no gutters. What good would it do if I only had the resolve, in the name of taking care of my house, to put a ladder up against that wall and climb it? I would be at the top of the ladder in the middle of a blank wall with nothing at hand to accomplish. I would have realized my agenda, but have now lost the ability to focus and deliver on my goal. That is, I am lost until I am willing to come down off the ladder and move it to a more appropriate spot for the chore I want to complete.

The goal never shifted, but I did move off the point when I decided that blank wall was where the ladder was to go.

It doesn't take much to stumble off of being committed to a goal when we lack a clear and healthy agenda.

Setting my ladder up against that wall was something I wanted to do, to accomplish. My goal was to take care of my house...but the fine point of doing the work of the moment is now lost.

Goals are the important thing. They form our actions and reactions. When we lose sight of those goals we are quite obviously lost. Agendas are tougher to deal with because they are the way we deal with a specific moment's challenge. Instead of just drifting off point, we are making active and intentional choices about the fabled "next steps" of any endeavor-but when we insist on just getting any ladder up against any wall, what does that accomplish? Even when we are very organized. Even when we have the best ladder. What is the point?

To take care of the house and to make choices in the moment that serve the goal, even when it means being open to having the agenda be something we were not expecting when we first set out to get the proverbial ladder out of the proverbial shed.

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