Tom Hanks stared in the movie “Cast Away” which was released in cinemas about 15 or 16 years ago. Despite this now being considered a dated movie, there is one ‘character’ that I found enduring and memorable: Wilson. For those of you who don’t know the movie, or if your memory has failed you, Wilson was the ball that became the imaginary friend/companion and point of sanity for the main character Chuck Noland, played by Tom Hanks. Chuck and Wilson adapt to daily life on a deserted island as they wait for rescue…some day.
For one of the first times in my life I work a lot from a home office. In the past I have worked in offices (sometimes up to four different offices at any one time) with colleagues and staff members. In one particular parish I was the sole employee which I discovered, meant that I was the on-call plumber, secretary and pastor. I began joking with synod staff that as the secretary I would write a note for the rector if dates in the calendar were open for the furnace inspector to come by. Me, myself and I.
The most creative time in my own ministry have been in moments where clergy and staff met together on a weekly basis to check-in with our programs, challenge each other to think differently, and support each other in prayer, and have a genuine interest in our lives. Communicating round the water cooler has been thought of in the past as a huge waste of time, and ultimately a drain on business. Gathering with others for parts of the day, does however, make work more productive and creative. I have to get up every once in a while and go to the kitchen and make myself a bottle of carbonated water (as one does in Germany). The thing is that in these ‘water cooler moments’ in my ministry I am starting to talk to ‘Wilson’. Don’t get me wrong, Wilson is great. He laughs at all my jokes. He agrees with all my plans. Sometimes Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther chip in their two cents into our discussions as they stare from their picture frames. Did they just nod in quiet agreement?!
Before you get too concerned, it is more an observation about my own adjustment to a different mode of daily work. Of course my day is spent with people such as family (including the dog who in reality thinks he is a person), peers in planning meetings, ecumenical partners, and those sheep in the flock of the church.
These various interactions are in a sense, purely functional, as we meet and gather with a purpose. We meet: to plan our council. We meet: to pray. We meet: to read the Bible together. But when do we really meet to just hang around the water cooler and dream? When do we meet and go deeper in our conversations? When do we get a chance to speak of our loves and our irritations? Instead, we might let things come to a boiling point and have a momentary outburst. Instead, we might find ourselves interacting in different ways. Wilson thinks I am right. Right Wilson. Wilson?!
Having just finished reading a short book entitled “Story: How to tell our story so the world listens.”, by Babette Buster as part the “DO Book Co.” series; we live, I live, in an office environment that makes me feel connected (via the copious emails I receive daily) but in reality I am skimming the surface of real connection. Buster writes, “As they [people of today] are no longer being shaped by a storytelling world, they seem to lack the will to dig deeper, preferring to surf in the immediate.” (pages 11-12)
Now, how is it that I connect with people in the church when so many of our interactions are functional, and I have limited water cooler time? Currently, I am gaining a curious mind because I always wonder what makes people tick. What are the stories behind the people. What are the deeper relationships and meanings behind the frictions that arise as part of being in community? Maybe a virtual water cooler discussion might begin, as Wilson is just nodding in agreement. Maybe our time together…although some might see it as time wasting, is really the fruit of a deeper commitment in discovering the Spirit within each other. Jesus met a woman at the well, and this raised eyebrows even among his disciples, yet in the end it dramatically changed a persons life, and brought the seeking of an entire village after this deep message.