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Archive for November, 2014

Before we begin to briefly explore some of the ‘Inner Dimensions’ of the Leader I invite us to pause and reflect a bit upon the tap roots that support, nurture and sustain the ‘Inner Dimensions.’ Consider, gentle reader, the following tap roots: core values, core beliefs, core guiding principles, core virtues, core vices, deep tacit assumptions, certain prejudices, stereotypes, and judgments, certain perceptions and views of the/my world and ‘entheos’ (the animating spirit that sustains us).

CORE VALUES: The leader brings with him/her a set of values. Some of these are open to compromise. Some are ‘positive’ (e.g. integrity) and some are ‘negative’ (e.g. greed). A few (perhaps 3-4) are ‘core values.’ A ‘core value’ is a value that to the best of my ability I will never compromise. There are philosophical and theological traditions that advocate (or is it ‘demand’?) that one NEVER compromises a value. I have never met a person who did not embrace at least two ‘core values.’ There are stories of folks during WWII who lied with integrity (their core value was integrity, not truth) in order to save others from the death camps. More recently there have been stories of folks who demonstrated (verbally and via their behavior) that a core value for them was greed. What is important for the leader is to discern his or her core values and to then ‘own them.’

CORE BELIEFS: Belief = ‘an opinion or a conviction.’ The leader has integrated a number of ‘beliefs.’ Again, a few of these are ‘core’ – that is, the leader will seek to hold these no matter what. There is the old adage: ‘Facts will not deter me from what I believe.’ Our core beliefs directly affect our relationships with others; in this case, the relationship of the leader with the led. Consider: If I am the leader and I hold a core belief that ‘People are not trustworthy!’ then how I lead might be dramatically different from the leader who holds a core belief that ‘People are inherently trustworthy!’ A belief, as we well know, does not have to be rooted in ‘reality.’ Again, my experience has taught me that it is crucial for a leader to become clear as to his/her ‘core beliefs’ – the one’s that will not be compromised. It is also crucial for the leader to publicly ‘own’ them. This can be a daunting challenge for the leader.

CORE GUIDING PRINCIPLES: There are ‘principles’ that we have integrated that literally ‘guide’ us along our way. Although they guide us we are not always aware of what they are for they operate outside of our consciousness. The leader has integrated principles that guide him/her as a leader. Sometimes we ‘espouse’ a guiding principle and are not consistent when it comes to following it. Again, a few of our principles become ‘core’ to us a humans and as leaders. There is frequently a direct correlation between our core values and our core guiding principles. For example, a leader might hold a core value of ‘integrity’ and a core guiding principle might be ‘I will act with integrity at all times!’ Consider that the more we compromise a guiding principle the less likely it is to truly be ‘core’ – no matter what we say or espouse.

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During the past two months I have had the privilege of engaging in depth-conversations with three different school leaders: a public school superintendent, a headmaster of a private school, and a principal of a faith-based school. I cherish depth-conversations. A consistent by-product is that my thinking continues to be stretched and challenged. Another by-product is that a burning question or two will eventually emerge into my consciousness. Among others, the following question emerged for me: ‘What motivates and sustains the leader so that he/she can engage the challenges – the difficult work – that present themselves?’

The response to this question depends upon a number of factors. Does the leader view his/her role as ‘a job,’ or ‘work,’ or ‘a career,’ or a ‘call’? Is the leader focused on ‘externals’ to motivate and sustain him/her? Is the leader focused on ‘internals’ (i.e. the ‘Inner Dimensions’) to motivate and sustain him/her? Does the leader seek a balance between the ‘internal’ and the ‘external’?

So far I have spent more than 47 years intensely observing and learning from a wide-variety of role-defined leaders. I have observed leaders who view their role as a ‘job’ – ‘I have a job to do!’ I have observed leaders who view their role as ‘work’ – ‘I work hard every day!’ I have observed leaders who view their role as a ‘career’ – ‘I am a professional!’ And I have observed leaders who view their role as a ‘call’ – ‘I have been called to serve!’ The externals and the internals that motivate and sustain each of these varies.

I have decided to focus on the leader who views his/her role as a ‘call.’ I have also decided to focus on the ‘Inner Dimensions’ that help motivate and sustain this leader [by the by, the three leaders mentioned above all view their serving as a ‘call’]. The number of inner dimensions is not infinite but is legion; hence, I will address a finite number, smaller than ‘legion’ I might add. Given this, I am not sure as I put finger to key how many postings will emerge; there will be more than two as far as I am able to discern this morning.

For some, one’s ‘Call’ and ‘Life Purpose’ are the same. For others they are quite distinct, yet complementary. For example, I knew when I was 16 that I was called to be an educator (i.e., one who calls forth; as contrasted with a ‘teacher’ one who ‘puts in’). The context within which I have ‘called forth’ has taken a number of forms. I was ‘informed’ when I was six years of age that my ‘life’s purpose’ was ‘to serve’ (I finally affirmed this when I was in my late twenties). So, for me, my ‘Call’ and my ‘Life’s Purpose’ are powerful complements. So, gentle reader, what is your ‘Call” – Do you have one? What is your ‘Life’s Purpose’ – We each have one, do you know yours?

Consider that one’s ‘Call’ is also an expression of who one is at one’s core (and, as I just noted above, ‘Call’ and ‘Life’s Purpose’ can be the same or they will be at their most powerful ‘complements’ of one another). My ‘Call’ is motivated and sustained (sustained = nurtured more than depleted) by ‘Inner Dimensions.’ Before I name and we briefly explore some ‘Inner Dimensions’ I invite us to consider the following; these support and frame one’s ‘Inner Dimensions:’ core values, core beliefs, core guiding principles, core virtues, core vices, deep tacit assumptions, certain prejudices, stereotypes, and judgments, certain perceptions and views of the/my world and ‘entheos’ (the animating spirit that sustains us).

Thousands of years ago the Oracle at Delphi advised: ‘Know Thyself’ and Socrates noted that ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ Hopefully our exploration will help those of us who are searching and seeking to know ourselves a bit better and help us examine ourselves a bit more fully.

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This past Sunday three long-standing churches in our community closed their doors; their congregations were asked to ‘merge’ with other congregations. The reasons for mainline churches to close are legion. When I heard about these church closings yesterday I began to think about some of the reasons as to why church closings continue. I began to consider ‘Religion.’

The root of ‘Religion’ is ‘religio’ – to rebind, to make whole. Church closings do not re-bind, they fragment; they do not make whole, they shatter community – they divide its members. What follows is some of what is emerging for me as I consider ‘Religion.’ By its nature what follows will be incomplete; the story is still unfolding.

Consider that contemporary religion asks little of us. Oh, it is ready to offer, if not provide, comfort AND it lacks the courage (the heart) to challenge (We are our brothers’ keepers!). Religion prides itself on offering edification, YET it demonstrates little courage (heart) to challenge and shatter our idols (possessions, money, distraction, noise, busyness, power over). Religion struggles to replace de-humanization with humanizing love, compassion, caring, forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation (don’t believe me…consider our ongoing struggle with immigration). Religion as faith-trust has been replaced with religion as dogma and self-righteousness (pride, hubris).

Today’s religion involves neither risk nor challenge nor tension; it is rooted not in doubt which both challenges and nurtures faith, but in surety which nurtures self-righteousness. Contemporary religion mirrors the self-righteous religion that Abraham, Jesus and Muhammad (to cite three examples) found so disturbing and that they had little tolerance for.

Religion rooted in ‘religio’ requires faith and commitment. Religion calls us to be ‘faithful’ not to be ‘effective.’ How many of us have defined ‘self-reliance’ as ‘faith’? How many of us have renamed ‘shrewdness’ ‘wisdom’? How many of us have embraced ‘relativism’ as our idol, our golden calf and in doing so announced that there is no ‘absolute truth’? It is a bit ironic that the relativist’s ‘absolute truth’ is relativism!

Religion is guided by the whisper of God’s Spirit. Contemporary religion silences God’s whisper by its noise. All of the great religions of the world have always embraced ‘silence.’ Because God’s Spirit comes to us in whispers silence is necessary. Contemporary religion embraces noise – don’t believe me, try finding even brief moments of silence during a church service (traditionally the Quakers have provided us an antidote to noise and have provided space and time for God’s Spirit to whisper).

Churches are closing because religion has become irrelevant. When faith is replaced by creed; when worship is replaced by distraction; when religion involves ‘righteous authority’ more than compassion; when ‘Justice’ trumps rather than being balanced by ‘Mercy’ religion becomes meaningless for it no longer re-binds; it no longer makes whole.

Consider that religion is a response to ‘ultimate questions.’ Contemporary religion no longer speaks ultimate questions and it no longer engages them. Contemporary religion has replaced the ultimate questions with irrelevant ones; perhaps religion no longer knows what the ultimate questions are. This might be a good starting place: ‘What are the ultimate questions that religion is called to address?’

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ABRAHAM & ISAAC. The ancients in nearly every culture – from Mesopotamia to Borneo to Mexico – practiced human sacrifice. There are Greek tragedies that remind us that the killing of one’s child was not out of the question. So, when Abraham loaded up his donkey, and he and his son set off for the mountain in order to perform a human sacrifice this was not news; the event would not have made the local paper.

What was striking – what changed the story which resulted in it being told over and over again and what motivated someone to write it down and what continues to grab our attention today is that the Lord of Lords, the Judge of Judges, the Voice of Voices intervened and commanded Abraham to stop the sacrifice. Now that was News to Note! I am not aware of another sacrificial story where God or one of the gods intervened to stop a sacrifice.

The command to stop – and a command it was, it was not an ‘I invite you, Abraham. . .’ – came from the transcendent; it did not occur to Abraham to stop. Now, think about it, gentle reader, the same fellow who some chapters before had challenged the Lord of Lords, the Judge of Judges and the Voice of Voices to not only consider the unknown and unnamed innocents of Sodom to spare their lives doesn’t utter a single word in defense of his own innocent son.

Unlike the Sodom story, Abraham holds his tongue, creates the sacrificial bed, puts Isaac upon it, raises his dagger; he utters no word. He trusts. He trusts that no matter what, all will be o.k. Does his silence in this situation move the Lord of Lords, the Judge of Judges, and the Voice of Voices to speak the words that save Isaac? Unlike Sodom, this story, it appears, requires Silence. If God had not spoken this story would not have had any special meaning for the People of the Book. Because God did speak the story has informed and continues to inform all three Abrahamic traditions.

The Abraham of Sodom is interesting, the Abraham of Mount Moriah is an icon. For the People of the Book (and perhaps for others who know both stories) one lesson is clear: There are times when it is crucial to bring your voice – on behalf of others in spite of the risks (altruism rooted in empathy and compassion and caring) AND there is a time to remain silent even when another is at risk of being harmed. The challenge, of course, is to discern when to speak and when to remain silent. One does not trump the other; both are crucial for those who embrace one of the three Abrahamic Traditions. What guides one in choosing is the same for both situations: ‘Faith as belief and trust’ in the Lord of Lords, the Judge of Judges, and the Voice of Voices.

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ABRAHAM AND SODOM & GOMORRAH. For me, the third point that captures my attention is ‘detail.’ For the Judge, in this case the Judge of Judges, moral judgment does not involve a one-off decision – distinctions are crucial. Numbers matter. Degrees matter. Abraham has the mind of an accountant and the heart of a moralist. If Abraham can influence the Judge of Judges to consider small differences then all of us will benefit. Moral judgments take time, they consider the specifics and are seldom absolute. Mercy can trump Justice! This gives me hope as I consider my – and our – relationship to the King of Kings and the Judge of Judges.

This story reminds me that we have moral needs. Abraham’s story reinforces that these moral needs can be so powerful that they will override our instincts for self-preservation. We are called to see the world, our world, in moral terms. Abraham had the courage, the heart, and the moral fortitude to ask ‘Why’? He did not remain silent; he brought his voice – not in strident tones but in tones rooted in humility, reverence and awe. When confronted with Moral Issues, how do we bring our voice? Do we, indeed, choose to bring our voice?

ABRAHAM & ISAAC. [You might remember, gentle reader that the ‘People of the Book’ include Jews, Christians, and Muslims and that in Islam this story involves Abraham & Ismael, not Isaac. As a Christian, I will go with ‘Abraham & Isaac’.]

We have been speaking of morality. Is morality rooted in, is it motivated by, is it driven by faith? Folks for thousands of years – theists and humanists – believe that it is. In fact, this belief is so common that Abraham’s behavior at Sodom stirs little attention. Abraham’s pleas for the Sodomites is far less familiar to most of us than his silence when it comes to this story: Abraham & Isaac. God commands Abraham to kill his son and Abraham is silent. He is silent! The man who brought his voice to save unknown innocents holds his tongue when it comes to his own beloved son. What?

The binding of Isaac has sustained a variety of orthodoxies for many years. Think about it. When a Voice – and not just any voice, mind you, but the voice with a capital ‘V’—commands you to take your son whom you deeply love, saddle up your donkey, travel afar to a mountain (that will only be named later) and once there kill him, you do so. You have ‘faith’ that the Lord of Lords will make it all o.k. in the end. For Christians, Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son sets the scene for the Lord of Lords to sacrifice His Son. For Muslims, this act is so fundamental that Ismael, the forebear of Islam, rather than Isaac is the son to be sacrificed. For Medieval Jews it provided the courage (again, the heart) to sacrifice themselves and their families rather than convert to Christianity.

Multiple faith traditions have sought, and continue to seek, multiple interpretations of this story. Consider that one interpretation is crucial; it is the dominant one: Abraham’s unquestioning readiness to heed the Lord of Lord’s command to sacrifice that which he loves the most is the act that qualifies him to become the father of the three Abrahamic Faiths. [To be continued]

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ABRAHAM AND SODOM & GOMORRAH. For me, the most important part of this story occurs prior to the cities destruction. God calls Abraham into His confidence. Now this is not a one-off occurrence. Many ancient faith-traditions relate stories of their gods or God bringing a human being into their confidence. God chooses to reveal His decision to destroy the cities (and kill all of their inhabitants). I love Abraham’s response; the faith and courage (heart) it took is, for me, beyond the pale. Abraham had always received God’s word without any hint of questioning. Now he pauses – his pause, for me, moves his action from being reactive to being response-able. Abraham now brings his voice. What if there are fifty innocent folk living among all of these sinners? The King of Kings and the Judge of Judges cannot be so unjust as to allow these innocents to be destroyed; the innocent and the guilty should not suffer the same fate.

The King of Kings and the Judge of Judges agrees; if there are fifty good people in Sodom He will do more than Abraham asks, He will not destroy Sodom. Abraham pushes back (I try to image Abraham standing there, sweating a bit, striving to find his voice once more): But certainly the Lord of Lords is not rigid. What if the number of good folks turns out to be smaller? Would the King of Kings and the Judge of Judges destroy the city because there were only forty-five good folks? The Lord of Lords does not hesitate; He will spare Sodom if there are only forty-five good folk. Abraham pushes again and again; he bargains God all the way down to ten. The ten will be spared but not the city and the sinners. Lot attempts to convince the good folks to leave and some of his own family decide to remain behind and are consumed in the fire. The others flee with Lot and his wife sneaks a peek and the rest, as they say, is history.

A number of things about Abraham’s story grab and hold my attention, warm my heart and give me hope. The first is Abraham’s concern, compassion and care for all of the innocents. The innocents of Sodom are nameless numbers (50, 45, 10) AND they are worth his risking a tough conversation with God. How great is that! Another is his determination, his resoluteness.

In his concern for the innocents he puts his own life on the line (remember the Judge of Judges is more than a bit ticked off). Abraham lives in a world where challenging kings often results in bad things happening to the challenger and Abraham challenges the King of Kings, not just once, not just twice, but – how many times? Abraham has the courage (heart), care, and compassion to remind God about the moral law that might trump the law of justice (there exists that powerful tension between ‘Mercy and Justice’ which many of us – as parents, for example – have had to embrace). It is clear that Abraham is afraid (smart guy). His plea is rooted in the knowledge that his God could extinguish him with but a glance: Here I venture to speak to my Lord, I who am but dust and ashes! …Let not the Lord be angry if I go on. . . . [to be continued…]

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Abraham is said to be the Father of the three faith traditions that comprise ‘The People of the Book’ – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. There are two ‘Abraham’ scripture stories that the three faith traditions embrace. They are great teaching stories and are contrasts to one another. Historically, the members of each of the three faith traditions interpret them differently; and within each faith tradition there are a number of interpretations depending upon whether one is a fundamentalist, a moderate, a liberal, etc.

For me the two stories powerfully capture two ways we are called to relate to God. The first story involves Abraham and Sodom & Gomorrah; the second involves Abraham & Isaac (for Muslims it is Abraham & Ishmael). We will explore both stories and see what emerges for us. The first Abraham story is the story of Sodom & Gomorrah and the second, which appears later in scripture, is Abraham & Isaac/Ishmael.

ABRAHAM AND SODOM & GOMORRAH. The story of Sodom & Gomorrah appears, at first blush, to be a simple story of crime & punishment. People sin and God destroys them and turns a magnificent city into a wasteland and a careless, heedless woman into a pillar of salt (one inappropriate sneak peak was all it took). For People of the Book (Hebrews, Christians, and Muslims) who are fundamentalists the sin is both general and particular. The general sin is sexual license; the particular sin is homosexuality. The story, a fundamentalist would say, is clear; as is the lesson. I invite us to consider that the story is wonderfully complex and the lessons are not what they appear at first blush.

First, one need not be a fundamentalist to abhor the sin that does the Sodomites in. The sin is not fornication it is rape; gang rape no less. The locals demanded that the hospitable Lot, who is housing two strangers, turn them over to the crowd to be raped. As in many cultures, ancient and modern, there were cultural norms in Sodom about what hosts and guests owed each other; these norms helped frame what was considered to be moral and violations of the norms were seen as threats to the social order. We might recall that the Greeks thought such violations were reason enough to spend ten years attacking the city of Troy.

Lot takes his duties as host seriously; so seriously that he offers his virgin daughters to the mob in order to protect the two strangers. The strangers are stranger than one could imagine; they turn out to be the angels of God. As the mob begins to storm Lot’s home the angels blind them. Now it doesn’t matter, at this point, if one believes in angels or in Ancient Customs, most of us find the Sodomites behavior to be beyond what is acceptable (is this an understatement or what?).

According to some Jewish scholars the Sodomites were not simply immoral; they were antimoral. Gang rape in Sodom was prescribed by law. Helping strangers was punishable by death – one of Lot’s daughters was put to death for giving bread to a poor person. What upped the ante (as if the ante could actually be upped) was that Sodom was a city blessed with riches. It was said that gold flakes came up with the roots and gems of all types lined the city streets and that a wide variety of fruit trees blossomed and bore fruit year round. Yet it seemed that the Sodomites were fearful that they would have to share their abundance (sound familiar?). Sodom, it seems turns morality on its head.

For me, the most important lesson in the story occurs prior to Sodom’s destruction. I now invite Abraham to join us on center stage as I relay his story.

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