i beside e

Maths, maps and spelling were my favourite subjects as a little boy. A chief contributor to this favouritism was that each subject involved competitive classroom games.

'Around the world' was great fun. One competitor would stand next to the other, seated at their desk. A math's question? A capital city? Spelling a word? Bring it on. The first one with the correct answer moved onto the child at the next desk. In this way it was possible to make one's way around the entire classroom and feel like you were the undefeated champion of the world. In my own mind and memory, however inaccurate these faculties may now be, I was a legend at these games :).

Yes, it all sounds quite dreadful for today's sensitive ears. But I just loved it. Sorry. I was unevenly sanctified in those days (it seems to be a problem endemic to my nature).

With spelling questions, a handy little guideline was i before e except after c, although I quickly hear my French teacher saying, 'always expect an exception' - with the word 'chief' being chief among those exceptions.

Life teaches us that competition does not remain in the classroom, or the playground. It travels with us through life and vocation. Strategies need to be developed to manage it well. One such strategy for me has been i beside e especially with c.

Here the 'c' refers to 'competition', while the 'i' and the 'e' highlight the difference between 'complementary' and 'complimentary' - and the need for both. One way to handle competition is to look to be both complimentary and complementary with that competition - and to do so authentically and prayerfully.

When I started as a pastor, Barby and I were called to a little Baptist church on 'the south-side of the tracks' - ie the sadder, poor-er area of town. 25 adults. I remember thinking how many of the characteristics of 'low self esteem' were evident among us, but in a corporate way. This is Scottish Presbyterian heartland. Within a stone's throw of us (almost) - on both sides - were thriving charismatic Presbyterian churches. Why are we here? What can we add? It was a time to process competitive instincts by being complimentary and complementary.

When I started as a principal, Barby and I were called to an odd situation. We had been on the staff at the only evangelical college in the country. You knew this was the case because when you mixed and mingled with evangelicals anywhere in the country they simply spoke about 'college' in a generic way, referring to this first college. It was the one and only college in their minds. The trouble was that, very unexpectedly, we sensed God's call to be part of seeing a second college, at which my grandfather had forbidden me to train (!), become known for being evangelical as well. They were interesting years! It was a time to process competitive instincts by being complimentary and complementary.

When I started as director in my current role, Barby and I had already decided to live where our work was happening. But this has created an odd situation. There are many other organisations doing similar things. Most of them have roots in the UK, or the US. That is a long way away. So, again and again, I find I don't know the people, or the organisations ... and yet I find myself involved in the leadership of one of the organisations that is perceived by others to be a 'market-leader', if you can permit me to use that phrase. In this absence of knowledge and relationship, there is a temptation to feel competitive - or, more worryingly, to be perceived as being so. The default setting kicks in, almost by habit now. It is a time to process competitive instincts by being complimentary and complementary.

There you have it. Three snapshots from my life.
What about you? Where does i beside e have a trajectory in your life?

Competition always seems unavoidable. Cooperation always seems desirable. Call me unevenly sanctified if you wish, but my experience is that a bit of mild, gentle competition does not need to be a bad thing. I have found that the best cooperation becomes possible when we are confident about our own calling and then enter all possible competitive settings with an intentionality about being complimentary and complementary, prayerfully and authentically.

nice chatting



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