JOYCE MADSEN AND CLAIR WOODBURY
Learning to be the best we can be is the challenge that we face as Christians. That leads to several questions - Who am I? What is special about me? What gifts do I have to offer?
Prisms was written to be a guide for those who want to explore the answers to these questions.
This is some of the feedback we received on Prisms: "I have more gifts than I thought - including some I never thought counted as gifts." "I discovered it's okay to be who I am."
Why the name "Prisms"?
We cannot see light. It may be all around us, but light itself is invisible. When you shine a beam of light through a prism-a triangular piece of glass-white light turns into a rainbow of colour.
We cannot see God, though God's love is all around us. That love becomes visible to us, however, when those around us exercise their God-given gifts. The qualities of leadership, planning, communicating, caring, discernment, spirituality, mentoring and artistic creativity-each is a gift that reveals the love of God.
That is why it the Prisms process - it reveals the gifts that reveal God.
The book Prisms contains chapters on:
In addition, there are instruments that let you determine your individual gifts, your areas of passion, the companions you prefer on the journey through life, and the communities where you currently have opportunities for using and developing your gifts.
There are 50 pages of text, followed by 40 pages of instruments and other resources.
Remember the closing scene from the movie Doctor Zhivago? Alec Guinness plays Yuri Zhivago's brother who entered the Soviet KGB secret police and has risen high in its ranks. He is talking to the girl he thinks is the daughter of Yuri and Lara. The girl denies it, and is walking away with the young man who is her partner. Yuri's brother spots the balalaika she has strapped on her back. Yuri's brother calls out, "Tanya. Can you play the balalaika?"
"Can she play? She's an artist!" responds her companion.
"An artist? Who taught you?"
"No one taught us."
"Ah," Yuri's brother calls after her, "then it's a gift." He knows then, this is Yuri and Lara's child, but in a moment of full humanity respects her desire to live her life forward and not out of the past. It is a parable, of course, for Russia itself. He lets them go, and she walks out of the film and into our hearts to take up the challenge of building a new Russia.
"It's a gift." How many times have we heard those words? The gifted child, the gifted musician, the gifted teacher, the gifted artist.
When we see people using their God-given gifts, we see God at work. That leads directly to the question: "What are the gifts God has given me? What are the gifts God has given you?"
We have identified eight key gifts possessed by people: leadership, planning, communicating, caring, discernment, spirituality, mentoring, and artistic creativity. Don't think of them as boxes, limiting possibilities. Think of them as doorways that open to a wider world, windows to areas of life that invite exploration.
We wrote the book Prisms because we want individuals to have a clear understanding of what constitute their strongest gifts. We have a deep conviction that it is precisely these gifts that God wants us to use and develop to their maximum potential.
The book is also for congregations. When a congregation recognizes where the real gifts of its people lie, that congregation has access to a new way to be the church. The benefits begin to appear right away. When people are using their gifts, they finish tasks with more energy than when they began. They develop a deep sense of satisfaction over what they are able to contribute. They relate to others with a smile on their face and love in their heart.
Recognizing and supporting people's gifts may well require a congregation to drop some committees that did good work in the past but whose focus is no longer contributing to the current direction of the congregation. That will be painful, but it will be necessary.
A congregation's focus must change as the needs of its people and those in the surrounding community change. In this era of scarce resources, scarce funds, and scarce volunteer time, focusing on essentials is crucial. We are told that the key to being a successful retail outlet is "location, location, location." The key to being the church today is "focus, focus, focus."
Clair is a grandfather. That means relating to five incredible granddaughters. Joyce is a grandmother. Get her started on her four grandsons and there is no stopping her.
What is our role as grandparents? Clair's granddaughter Carys is very clear about that. "Your role is to spoil me!" Well, that is true. But there is a deeper role, and that is to encourage and bring out all the gifts that young women and young men have inside them.
For Carys it meant spotting the ability to be right on key when singing a song. Encouraging that musical ability led to sponsoring membership in the local music conservatory children's choir. Uncovering Carys' flare for the dramatic meant enrolling her in a theatre production. Observing granddaughter Paige's sketches led to buying a full set of artist's paints for her birthday. Seeing Haley's musical ability with a toy keyboard led to purchasing her a full-sized piano.
Joyce spotted a natural curiosity in Carson for understanding what was going on around him. That led to a trip to the star theatre. He was able to explain a concept of time to his mother that he had learned in a way that was beyond Grandma's comprehension. Walking with Maclean at Radium, Joyce found him asking about the various plants and natural formations. Christmas and birthday presents celebrate his interest in nature and how things grow. When three-year-old grandson Joe takes on a persona, he becomes that person, and Grandma has to relate to that persona in order to talk to him. Granddaughters. Grandsons. Fascinating potential that need recognition and encouragement to blossom into full-blown gifts.
Is it any surprise that the key role of the church is exactly the same - to help individuals identify their spiritual gifts and to encourage their full development?
Is that not what Jesus did with those he encountered? When Jesus visited Mary and Martha, he affirmed Martha's hospitality by being there, and Mary's spirituality by affirming she was doing the right thing listening and learning. (Luke 10:38 ff). The Good Samaritan was commended for his gift of caring for the man who had been robbed and beaten (Luke 10:25 ff). He affirmed those with a gift for casting out demons, even if they were capitalizing on his name in doing so (Luke 9:49-50). The examples go on and on.
Not everyone realizes where their potential lies, or what their gifts are. It is as if we are too close to see ourselves. Others, looking from the outside, are sometimes able to see something we miss. That is something Jesus did often.
Making the Most of our Gifts
Recognizing our gifts is one thing. Having the courage to go ahead and develop them is another. There is a lot of pressure on young people to "fit in." In an article in the United Church Observer (February 2003), author Jim Lawson points out how "leadership" has been a bad word in that denomination for the past thirty years. The emphasis on equality and everyone participating, when taken to the extreme, can result in the failure to recognize a particular gift for leadership - or any of the other gifts which make us unique. What we know is that everyone has tremendous potential, but it requires encouragement and the opportunity to develop it.
Those of us who are older grew up in the industrial era. It was a time when every service in the United Church of Canada began with singing "Holy, holy, holy." Every Roman Catholic congregation in the world did its liturgy in Latin. The Book of Common Prayer was standard fare in every Anglican service. The aim of theological colleges was to prepare clergy in a way that they could be interchangeable with every other clergy. Individuality was a problem, fitting-in was the ideal.
Today incredible specialization in almost every profession has made complex treatment, tailor-made products and customized services available. Is it any surprise that people expect their congregation to meet their specific needs? Churches are increasingly realizing that the old sign "Everyone Welcome" that once graced all church bulletin boards no longer applies. No one congregation has the resources to meet everyone's needs. Congregations have to specialize more and more in the particular ministries where their strengths lie in order to provide the quality of service people expect.
Good restaurants have waiters that inform people about their specialties. They know it's the dishes where they excel that will bring people back time and time again. Congregations, likewise, need to make it clear to first time visitors what their specialties are. It also means being on the lookout for lay people and clergy with gifts in those specialization areas.
Paul shared his concept of gifts with the congregation at Corinth (I Cor. 12). Our individual strengths are God-given gifts, and the church needs the gifts of many people working in harmony in order to fulfill the mission God has assigned it. It is that diversity that gives a congregation its richness. Paul also told that same congregation that the greatest gift of all was love (I Cor. 13). We believe a congregation realizes a deep unity through the common love of God shared by all, and a deep richness by sharing that love with the thousands of unique neighbours whose lives its members encounter on a daily and weekly basis.
What does it mean to love? If you love someone, you want the very best for them. You want them to become what God intends them to be, to develop their full potential, to know their gifts and to use them. To be the church means nothing more than this, but also nothing less.
Gifts are a Prism
It is our belief that every gift is a prism through which we see God at work. The common form of a prism is a triangular piece of glass that transforms the white light that enters it into a band of colour. It lets you see light.
Gifts are only gifts when they are being used to give to others. That is the first insight. The second is even more important. Gifts are prisms that let us see God at work. It is in that act of giving to others that we come to know God at work through us. It is in observing giving individuals that we see God at work through them. Gifts in action are the way we know God.
We have seen God very clearly in a child's eyes Christmas morning as they open their gifts with wide-eyed wonder. Many of us have sensed the closeness of God when we have witnessed two people giving themselves to one another in marriage or holy union. It is truer than true that it is in giving that we receive. In giving we receive the greatest gift of all, a deep sense of God's will becoming a reality through us.
A prism receives white light and reveals its component colours. Individuals see their gifts reflected through their work and relationships. In the same way, a congregation receives many individuals and helps them reveal the colour of their gifts from God. Those gifts form a rainbow of abilities that enable the congregation to be what it is intended to be.
The Presence of Passion
The movie My Fat Greek Wedding was a surprise hit. Low budget, strained plot, unknown star. Yet as the young couple prepared for their wedding, their passion for embracing cultural differences captured not only their families but also theatre goers everywhere. We remember Winston Churchill for his passionate use of the English language in the battle against Nazi domination of Europe. It was the passionate portrayal of Mahatma Ghandi by Ben Kingsley that gave David Lean's film Ghandi an enduring place in our consciousness and continues to make the case for the effectiveness of non-violent resistance.
It is one thing to have identified our gifts. It is another to recognize where our passions lie, so that we can apply those gifts in a way that energizes and sustains us. When we give with passion, we receive more energy from the giving than we expend. When we give without passion, the giving drains us of what little energy and passion we might have.
The Prisms process is designed to help individuals perceive where their spiritual gifts lie, then develop a sense of where they have a deep passion for applying those gifts.
Published in Edmonton, Alberta, by the Congregational Life Centre, 2004. ISBN: 0-9688358-2-1.
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