“Trust in Action: Control Freaks and Flower Children, Chapter 2”
A sermon given at First Parish Dorchester
Sunday, April 22, 2018
by Laura Graham
Trusting an unreliable person in a difficult time is like a rotten tooth or a faltering foot.
Proverbs, 25:19 of the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
He who does not trust enough,
Will not be trusted.
Soooo…that’s clear as day!
Solomon warns us of the pain we will suffer if we trust unwisely and Lao Tzu warns about the sorry state of affairs if we don’t trust enough. And no one can tell us when or where or whether we should trust or how much is “enough” in Lao Tzu’s formulation.
It’s good to be human, isn’t it? We have such a clear road-map for navigating between wisdom and foolishness!
Notice that we have no such ambivalence about Love – at least not as an ideal. No. Love (we generally agree) is good. Although we prefer to have our love reciprocated, most of us profess our belief in the power and the beauty of unconditional love. Jesus said “love thy neighbor” – no reservations, caveats, or conditions. He is not famous for saying “trust thy neighbor.”
Good morning First Parish Church of Dorchester! My name is Laura Graham and I am your Transitions Coach for your upcoming ministerial search. The sermon today is called “Trust in Action: Control Freaks and Flower Children – Chapter 2.” For those of you bracing for a long-winded exhortation to simply trust more, or trust right now, I really hope to disappoint you. I am no more qualified than you are to decide when and whether to trust. That decision is uniquely yours to make. After the service, I will meet with any who can stay to describe in as much detail as you like the nuts and bolts of the search process and answer any questions you have. But right now, what I hope to do is open a conversation about the act of Trusting (trust in action) as a spiritual practice all its own. Maybe, even, to come to see it as a noble act, sufficient unto itself.
About a year ago – when Chapter 1 of this sermon was forming, my subconscious brain insisted upon substituting “Trust” for “Love” in any pop song that came to mind – a kind of “aural doodle”. So, for example, I heard the Beatles sing “All You Need is Trust (altogether now)”, Tina Turner gave me “What’s Trust Got to Do With It”, and finally, Haddaway, (and this one continues to annoy me, because I’m not a fan but I still can’t get it out of my head) “What is Trust? Baby Don’t Hurt Me, Don’t Hurt Me, No More.” I think you call that an ear-worm, it might be contagious – and you’re welcome!
Trust and Love, Love and Trust. You can do this fun little exercise on your own – and you’ll find that substituting trust for love in any song you can think of does no violence to the cadence or the mood of the song. What is the relationship between these two?
“Crazy Little Thing Called Trust, yeah, yeah…” – that was Queen, by the way…
When you hear the word “Trust”, do you think “abdication” or suspension of critical thought (you Control Freaks know who you are)? Or do you think “cooperation” and “harmony” (“ditto” to all you Flower Children out there)?
Be honest, if someone describes you as “a trusting soul” (“oh he’s a trusting soul”) – are you flattered? Or do you hear it as a back-handed compliment, like the way we used to say in the South “bless her heart” when sometimes what we meant was “what a well-intentioned, but nevertheless obvious idiot?”
We carry around a lot of ambivalence around our willingness to trust – and paradoxically none whatsoever about being deemed “trustworthy” (that’s a “must-have” we can all agree on that). Is our ambivalence partly because we’re afraid we’ll be held responsible for the Trustee’s performance? Do we only understand the act of Trusting by evaluating the eventual outcome? Do we fear the curse of twenty-twenty hindsight? Are we apt to kick ourselves if we choose unwisely? Is this our only frame for evaluating the act of placing our Trust?
When we talk about trust, very early in the conversation, we typically make the point that Trust is something that is earned – placing our focus on the behavior of the person seeking to be trusted, on trustworthiness demonstrated over time. This focus can quickly take over the entire conversation. We spend all our time on “what makes a person trustworthy?” and this formula is so often repeated that it starts to sound like gospel. But, just like gospel, “It Ain’t Necessarily So” (for all you Lena Horne fans out there).
Charles H. Green’s on-line article entitled “Does Trust Really Take Time?”- and Liz Wendling’s, “Do You Have the Sales Trust Factor?” , each with echoes of various aspects of a thing called “Swift Trust Theory” from Debra Meyerson (Meyerson, D., Weick, K. E., & Kramer, R. M. (1996) led me to the following conclusions.
- Once we are persuaded to identify with someone else – once we’ve achieved a kind of pseudo-intimacy, we require only minimal experience (like, moments) with another person before we engage in a limited new trust relationship. And
- literally the last thing you should do is proclaim your trustworthiness or insist that someone trust you (the hallmark of con artists everywhere), and finally,
- my last experience with a salesperson might not have been the authentic encounter I thought. Does that make me feel foolish? No it does not!
In many ways, Trust makes the world go round!
So trust can spring up pretty quickly between people under the right circumstances – and if it can spring up in moments, there must be more going on for the Trustor – the person doing the trusting – than the Trustee’s demonstration of trustworthiness.
And while the apparent trustworthiness of any given trustee is certainly (and appropriately) a factor in any decision we might make in determining whether to Trust, I believe that an overemphasis on that side of the equation starts to rob the Trustor of his or her agency in placing their trust – to make it seem as though the only thing going on is a Trustee who has so manifestly met all preconditions that we, the Trustor, have no rational alternative but to place our trust in them. That’s a fairly passive approach to trust – not one that leaves much room for spiritual action. Some would argue that this wouldn’t be trust at all – and I would agree. I was drawn to the work of both Guido Möllering and Bart Nooteboom on their explorations of Trust.
On that notion of trust being a matter of a Trustee perfectly answering all our questions, Mollering notes – and you’ll thank me for paraphrasing:
“trust only ever enters as a meaningful construct when decisions can’t be made [any other way], which happens to be the rule rather than the exception. For well-structured problems with clear alternatives and expected [outcomes], no reference to trust is necessary.” – in other words, if I agree to sell and you agree to buy, 30 pencils at 30 cents each, neither of us needs to reach for trust in order to define the outcome. We simply have a contract.
Nooteboom says “radical uncertainty is a … fundamental part of trust.”
Mollering adds that “every trustor – by definition – lacks certainty about the consequences of his trust and can only reach the state of trust through a kind of faith…the ‘affective, even mystical, “faith” of man in man’ (p. 318).”
That starts to sound a lot more like a spiritual practice – something that takes courage, a thing of honor that we can embrace as Trustors – a thing we do – whatever direction an errant Trustee might take or whatever disappointment in outcomes we might experience later.
Understood in that context, the act of trust is a radical and active expression of our faith in one another – tangible evidence of our love for one another. When we place our trust in someone else, fully appreciating how imperfect our alignment, how unpredictable the results of our collaboration, and how much at odds we may be in our personal notions of anything, I believe we are proclaiming, loud and clear, our love for one another.
Nooteboom concludes that “Engaging in the challenge of trust is part of the ‘good life’.” P. 180.
I’m thinking that you could easily substitute the word “Love” for “Trust” in that sentence and not lose a thing.
So, maybe the act of Trusting is on a par with Love as, perhaps, flip sides of the same coin. Or as an active expression of one by the other. I’m thinking that my subconscious was trying to tell me something with all those musical.
Now what does that have to do with you, here, now as part of the search process?
By now, most of you are aware that the search for a new minister requires the appointment of a search committee – in your case 5 individuals in whom you are willing to place your trust. And this is no ordinary trust. These 5 will be charged with learning all they can about you, your hopes, your dreams, and your challenges; then taking that deep understanding with them as they discern from among different ministerial applicants which, if any, might be the best fit for you. You are trusting them to bring back the one candidate for your approval and acceptance. You are trusting them to be your matchmaker for your next partner. And no one can predict with certainty the outcome.
This is huge!
Our habits of trusting vary widely from person to person – where you are on the scale between control freak and flower child is unique to you – but the ONE constant between us is that moment we take the leap, that “Leap of Faith” into Trust. We find our way to that leap differently, and we make the decision to leap (or not leap) at different points. Along the way, we may be influenced by the social group around us, but at the moment of the leap itself, we are on our own.
Mollering paints a picture:
“if we want to imagine what a conscious leap of faith feels like, picture the moment of jumping to cross a chasm without being certain that one will make it unharmed … and it does not even involve a trustee or much of a social context either.”
That’s quite an image – Trust is not for the faint of heart! We few, we happy few, who continue to get ourselves up and out, who show up and find one another and hold on to one another through good times and bad, we are the embodiment of that love, we are living that trust. I wanted, ultimately, to hold up a mirror for you to see yourselves, to understand how large a thing it is that you do, have been doing for quite some time, and will no doubt keep doing – trusting yourselves and one another, loving each other, keeping the faith. Our congregations are small miracles in this world, not because our bonds to one another haven’t been tested, but because they have. Not because we never disappoint one another – but because we do. And here you are. Ready to go again, ready to take on another day.
When you make that leap into trust in the coming year, I hope you remember to see yourself as the courageous souls you are – and that you remember to celebrate that act.
And because I do believe that Trust and Love are flipsides of the same coin, I’ll close with the words of Lao Tzu on Love:
Embracing Tao, you become embraced.
Supple, breathing gently, you become reborn.
Clearing your vision, you become clear.
Nurturing your beloved, you become impartial.
Opening your heart, you become accepted.
Accepting the World, you embrace Tao.
Bearing and nurturing,
Creating but not owning,
Giving without demanding,
Controlling without authority,
This is love.”
― Lao Tzu, The Teachings of Lao-Tzu: The Tao-Te Ching
Go out into the world in peace
Hold on to what is good
Return to no person evil for evil
Strengthen the fainthearted
Support the weak
Help the suffering
Honor all beings.