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September 29, 2020
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September 29, 2020

The domestic Church and feedback

By Fr Donald Chambers

In his homily on September 2, 2020, Archbishop Jason Gordon incisively pointed out that adolescents and young adults have unresolved issues because within the family, “feedback was not the breakfast of champions. Feedback wasn’t given in a way to be received”.

Writing on the topic, ‘Spirituality of Feedback in the Domestic Church’, I expand on the Archbishop’s metaphor by proposing that feedback is like loosening the soil at the base of plants and placing fresh fertiliser to facilitate food production—the source of breakfast for champions.

Today’s reflection focuses on the use of Luke’s narrative of the Emmaus disciples (Lk 24: 13–34) as a teaching model to educate the domestic Church about the ‘Spirit of Feedback’.

Feedback is a human art of communication that is rooted in spirituality. Dennis Saleebey, a social worker and educator, argues that within this context, appropriate feedback is exercised via the “strength perspective”.

This perspective means that you provide persons with the opportunity to examine their struggles in light of their own capacity, talents, competencies, possibilities, vision, values and hope. In a word, feedback ought to be guided by the questions, ‘What is it that the person does best?’ and ‘What are the areas for improvement?’.

From the Christian perspective, this art of communication occurs in the soil of accompaniment by the family and the Christian community, where they are affirmed and challenged to become the integral and whole person that God intends. In a word, the domestic Church can become the space of encounter with Jesus Christ who appears through the art of solid feedback.

In her book entitled Daring Greatly, social worker, Brené Brown points out that there are two unhealthy aspects of our culture which are obstacles to quality feedback. They are the blame game and cover up.

She writes, “We blame when we’re uncomfortable and experience pain— when we’re vulnerable, angry, hurt, in shame, grieving. . . and it often involves shaming someone or just being mean.”

With respect to the cover-up culture, she writes, “cover-up cultures depend on shame to keep folks quiet”. These unhealthy habits are not evidenced in Christ’s accompaniment with His disciples in the post-Resurrection stories.

Despite Jesus’ experience of betrayal and abandonment by the disciples, the narratives show that Christ neither assigns blame nor shames them for their errors of judgement that contributed to His suffering and death. Accompanying them, the Risen Christ provided quality feedback to help them manage the feelings of fear and confusion.

There are three characteristic features of feedback that Brené Brown identifies. First, there is the need to be straightforward. Brown writes, “When we don’t talk to the people, we’re leading . . . they begin to question their contributions and our commitment.”

‘Straight talk’ with our children is the channel which allows them to value themselves, affirm their worth, and feed their self-perception as persons who are growing. We can perceive this ‘straight talk’ in Christ’s statement to the Emmaus disciples, “How slow you are to believe everything the prophets said.”

Second, vulnerability is an essential component of feedback. She states that an “honest engagement around expectations and behaviour is always fraught with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure for everyone involved”. Accompanying the Emmaus disciples, one imagines the vulnerability of the Risen Christ. In their emotional frailty, the Risen Christ takes the risk to engage them in ‘straight talk’. In so doing, there may have been a level of uncertainty about how they would respond.

Third, Brown uses the metaphor of sitting on the same side of the table to describe the method of feedback. As with the Emmaus disciples, the posture of the Risen Christ is to walk, converse, and sit at the table with them. He sat on the “same side of the table”.

This reminds me of a similar personal encounter while in the seminary.  I attended a meeting with my moral theology professor to discuss the low grade for a paper. Arriving in his office, he moved from behind his desk, sat in a chair in front of me, and spoke about the strengths of my paper and areas for improvement. While still feeling disappointed with the grade, I also felt encouraged and motivated because he “sat on the same side of the table” with me.

If parents and adults of the domestic Church are formed in the spirituality of feedback, then the domestic Church would be prepared to feed champions!

Fr Donald Chambers of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica is the General Secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference.

We must remember that feedback occurs in the context of accompaniment, not on its own. In this context, I invite adult members of the domestic Church to practise these steps:

  • Embrace and accept feelings of discomfort in preparation to give feedback
  • Plan and invite persons into a non-threatening space and start with prayer
  • Communicate areas of strengths
  • Reflect on ‘How did a certain behaviour/action fall short of the vision that Christ has for them?’
  • Allow them to respond and open a discussion especially with adolescents
  • End with a prayer

If this is a regular routine in the family, you will begin to witness significant and gradual transformation in your life and the lives of your family members.