What does it take to trust?

This month’s “Perspective on Hope” envisions a future founded in God’s unfailing grace.

REV. DR. JEROME DEVINE
Director of Connectional Ministry, Detroit Conference

There is an old cliché often used in interviews related to nuclear regulatory efforts: “Trust, but verify.” It seems to suggest an openness and desire to see the best effort in the “other” yet a need to make certain that actions follow words of intent. Trust is most often rooted in past experience of actions that are consistent with stated intent or in tangible present steps that would convey the same. Trust also can be linked with whether or not we see some form of personal depth and integrity in the person(s) or systems seeking to have us trust them. Do we feel comfortable with where they have come from and the journey they have taken to get to where they are? This is especially true if it is someone in a place of influence or authority, or someone introducing significant change into the current environment. Placing trust in an individual or in a system is not automatic, and we all have our own internal cautionary signals as we consider “What does it take to trust?”

Recently I had the opportunity to read an interview with Mary Barra, the CEO of the General Motors Corporation. While I had been previously interested in this transition to a woman in power in a historically male-dominated industry, I really had no background on Ms. Barra. For me as an outsider to that industry, the only glimpses of her leadership were those shown on the secular news media. What little I heard did impress me. She seemed to have the qualities necessary to bring about the internal corporate culture shifts that would move this company forward with new vision. The title of the magazine news interview article was “Driving Innovation”, so I wondered what it would take for people within the industry to trust her, both the corporate executive level people as well as those who do the physical labor of building the vehicles we drive down the road every day.

What I learned from the article was that Ms. Barra is the daughter of a former die-maker who worked with Pontiac for 40 years. She has some legacy heritage. She herself started as a quality inspector on the assembly line, then moved on to design before entering management. She had personal history and awareness. Then, alongside of these two important factors for building trust, she never lost sight of the desired outcome—building a vehicle of such quality that the customer determines if they got it right. When asked what were the biggest changes that she had made at GM to “focus on the future” she stated:

”One: To focus on the customer in the center of every decision we make, recognizing that we don’t win until they say we win.

Two: Really freeing our technical talent to do great cars, trucks and crossovers.  … I think sometimes we had too many constraints on them.” 

While I do not work for the auto industry, I do see three key reasons I would rely on if I were to trust this leader: 1. Heritage; 2. Personal history and awareness; and, 3. Clear vision for the future. Any one of these three by themselves may not be sufficient to build trust in a season of introducing change. Heritage, while important in shaping who a leader is, is not enough if that leader does not have their own story to tell. Having your own story without a sense of where it will take you next, i.e., the future vision, will not compel others to follow your lead. And, for a vision to be compelling requires that it be deeply connected to the impact on the quality of life for others outside of that industry. Trust often comes from the weaving together of these elements.

“My god, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? … Yet you are holy, …  In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.” (Psalm 22:1,3, NRSV)

The cries of the psalmist in Psalm 22 may seem far removed from industry, yet they are not far removed from the ways people may feel in a time of significant change in our world, our local communities or in our personal lives. The feelings of not being heard, that pervaded some parts of the electorate, produced a distrust in our entire political system. The results of that distrust created an environment that has since caused multiple other segments of the population to also not trust. This is, without a doubt, a difficult time for many in this country and in our state. Building trust in this time is not a simple effort.

We who are United Methodists here in Michigan are also living in a time of shifting our focus to a new vision and the building of a new Michigan Conference. We would do well to remember how the other “outside” forces at play do impact how we approach one another. Building trust around a new vision means building trust in relationship to one another. Have we, each of us, taken time to know the heritage stories we bring to this time of change? Do we know each other’s personal histories and gifts of awareness that we each have? And, are we able to expand our focus beyond ourselves so that we see the desired impact on the world outside of our “industry”? Do we see a vision shaped and guided by God through the lenses of the “customers” in our communities? The people who are not a part of our churches but are a part of our communities and thus our lives may be saying, “Trust, but verify” as they await to see if the God whom we say we love and serve can be seen by the tangible manner in which we love and serve our communities on behalf of this same God.

Psalm 22 is not often read in its entirety, which is unfortunate. We hear just a few words of this painful and hopeful poem when we read the crucifixion passages during Holy Week. The Gospel of Matthew simply has Jesus crying out “with a loud voice” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, NRSV). One of my teachers long ago taught me that to proclaim one part of the specific Psalm is to embrace it in its entirety, even if the energy of the moment does not make it possible to do so aloud.

The entirety of this Psalm proclaims God’s heritage of faithfulness to all in the past, God’s gift of redeeming presence in the psalmist’s own life experience, and the vision of God’s commitment of grace into the future. May we, as United Methodists here in Michigan, place our trust in this vision of grace as together we build the future Michigan Conference and continue to be a source of transforming grace in our communities across the state and beyond.

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