One thing's for sure--I'd better get straight what I mean by "sustain."
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we do a lot of it. My local congregation near Chicago had its annual ward conference in March. I was raising my hand for everyone from the nursery assistant to Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the entire Mormon church, as "prophet, seer, and revelator." I've got a handle on what a nursery assistant does; how a prophet, seer and revelator operates is less clear to me.
Does sustaining mean I have to understand what every job entails? I don't think so. Given enough time, however, most active church members get to see plenty of church jobs by being asked to do them. We are a lay church--no paid clergy--and it can be Fruit Basket Upset when positions (or "callings") within a ward shift around. The bishop who led a congregation for five years can end up teaching the seven-year-olds. The choir director can teach the Gospel Doctrine Sunday School class.
Sometimes the callings are good fits; sometimes they stretch our abilities to infinity and beyond. Those of us sitting in the Sunday School class taught by someone who knows everything about Purcell and nothing about Peter and Paul can learn bucket loads about patience and long suffering.
Does sustaining mean I think this person is the best candidate for the task? No, not if best means most qualified by some worldly measurement. Yes, if I think God was involved in the choice.
When I raise my hand to sustain someone--prophet or program typist--am I agreeing to go along with everything they say, do or propose? I think this question misses the mark completely. Sustaining is not raising my hand and saying "Yes, sir" or "Yes, ma'am" until the next switcheroo. That's too passive. Sustaining is robust, interactive, and multi-layered.
Pulitzer prize-winning historian and Mormon Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has a fresh spin on sustaining. "Sustaining is nourishment," she says. We sustain our leaders as we sustain life, by nourishing them with all the good we have to offer. That good can be our ideas, our feedback, our fresh point of view, our thanks.
Fond of food analogies, Ulrich says, "You don't give somebody tacos who is recovering from the 24 hour-flu, but neither can you sustain someone with a continuous diet of Jello."
I am an advocate of feedback. Not the whiney, combative kind; that would be the tacos after stomach flu variety. I know well how demoralizing this can be. When called to be a teacher for the teenagers in our new town, I was reeling with inexperience and anxiety. My 15-year-old snarled, "You don't know what you're doing. Why don't you just call Sister B. back in Massachusetts and find out how it's really done?"
On the other hand, the Jello approach of soft, jiggly praise feels so good going down, but won't nourish us for long. We need all the help we can get to improve our service to our congregation and for our own spiritual development. Kindly, constructively, gently, sparingly--these are good adverbs for sustaining.
Another friend tells of an interview she had with her church leaders. They asked, "Do you sustain the priesthood?" She responded, "What do you mean, do I sustain the priesthood? The priesthood sustains me! It's the power by which the universe was made! How can I sustain it?"
Amen, sister! This underscores our fuzzy thinking about two words.
"Sustaining" is not acquiescence to the Suits. It implies power, life and energy. And "priesthood" is not synonymous with Y chromosomes. The Priesthood heals the sick; it raises the dead; it binds families together through all generations of time.
Jesus handpicked his apostles during his time on earth. He knew them and loved them for the humble, bumbling, sweaty, real men that they were. Church leaders now, handpicked as well, are just as real with all that implies. Can I love them as Christ did the original batch? Can others do the same for me?
Can we sustain each other with patience, forbearance, feedback, gratitude, and grace?
Yes, I'm sure.