Written By Committee
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.” – Psalm 46:1-3, King James Version
“Ok, ok,” I’ve heard said (or said myself) in more than one committee discussion about written policies or procedures, “Can someone volunteer to work on this and bring it back next time? The last thing we want to do is write-by-committee.”
Written-by-committee has a bad rap, no doubt. It brings to mind images of people wandering around piles of words, aimlessly tossing them into the middle, arguing about them, discarding the ones they had chosen originally and then beginning again. The result of writing-by-committee, we insinuate, is as muddled and mediocre as the process.
And yet, if you ask me to tell you the most melodious words in the English language, I would certainly suggest you take a look at Psalm 46, in the King James Version. The Bible translations I read most often are vigorous and clear, accessible and inclusive. But no translation of these tumultuous words punches me in the guts quite the way this one does. The KJV was not just written in committee with fifty or so writers. It was also in conversation with other English translations, with translations in other languages, with the original written text, and with the oral traditions that began it all.
When written-by-committee works, it really works, I guess. Maybe this can be our encouragement the next time we’re sitting around a committee meeting table, trying to find just the right words. Maybe this can be our reminder that the Holy Spirit can create beauty even from the most inefficient and inelegant of human processes.
God, you are our refuge and strength. Ours. Remind us when you call us into communities, and even into committees, that you are calling us to do your sacred work. Amen.
Jennifer Brownell is the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Vancouver, Washington, and the author of Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe: How I Lost a Triathlon and Caught My Breath, her inspiring memoir.