Archive for April, 2016

Jalaluddin Rumi was a remarkable person.  He was a thirteenth century Persian poet, dancer, prayer, jurist and teacher.  He was a Sufi mystic.  To those in the West who have been savoring his poems and his insights these past nine hundred years he is simply known as ‘Rumi.’

One day Rumi was sitting under a tree (how many stories about ancient wisdom figures begin with the mystic sitting under a tree) when a traveling searcher spotted him, approached him, and with great deference asked Rumi, “Master, are you ready to teach me?”  Rumi, smiled (these mystics also smile when such a powerful question is posed to them), looked the searcher directly in the eyes as he searched the soul of the searcher.  After a bit of ‘soul-searching’ Rumi replied: “That depends, are you ready to learn from me?”

A thousand years before this occurrence, another searcher who was traveling in the East was directed to the hut of a wise teacher (why do these searchers always travel to the East – see Hermann Hesse’s powerful story, ‘A Journey to the East’ for one answer).  After more traveling and a bit more searching, the searcher-seeker came upon the hut.  The door was invitingly open and so the traveler entered.  Sitting on a mat in the center of the hut was the ‘teacher.’  In front of the teacher was a tea pot and two tea cups.  Without asking, yet somehow knowing, the potential student sat down.  He was seated directly across from the ‘teacher.’

They looked at each other.  Then the potential student asked: “Can you teach me?”  The teacher looked kindly into the eyes of the searcher, smiled that knowing smile of the wise and began to pour tea into the seeker’s tea cup.  The ‘teacher,’ however, did not stop pouring once the cup was full.  He continued to pour and pour and pour.  Tea was spreading out over the mat, over the floor and began to soak into the garments of the searcher.

The searcher was stupefied – there were no words that could capture the seeker’s confusion.  Finally, the ‘teacher’ spoke.  “You are like this tea cup.  You are so full of yourself and other stuff that you have no capacity to learn anything.”  The ‘teacher’ paused and then continued: “Go empty yourself and return and you will have the capacity to learn.” 

In between these two occurrences, the great Chinese sage, Lao Tzu noted: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

I can hear a more modern voice, the voice of ‘Dirty Harry Callahan’ asking: “Well, punk, are you ready?”   Winston Churchill responded: “I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.”   

Are you, gentle reader ready to learn?  Look around, do you see a teacher waiting to be called forth?  Are your ready enough to ‘behold’ the teacher-in-waiting?  Do you have the courage (think: ‘heart’) to call the teacher forth?  Are you ready? 

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Caught in this syndrome (a syndrome of reactive-fear) is the ‘Other,’ who has had the misfortune to make him/herself, his/her wretchedness, his/her own conflicts, his/her own disruption, clearly visible at the precise moment when our ‘white’ culture is least prepared to cope with an extra load of challenges.  In one sense I do not fault us for we are not a ‘mature’ culture yet; developmentally we are in early adolescence and like the early adolescent we are more emotionally driven; our ‘brains’ have not fully developed nor have we had enough life experience (compared to some other cultures we might not even be in the early adolescent stage).

What complicates all of this even more is that as a culture we have a great deal of physical power and like the early adolescent who feels his/her physical power, we are tempted to react using our physical power rather than our intellectual power.

What is the result of all of this?  On the one hand, there are elements of the ‘white’ culture that are striving to welcome, to embrace, to integrate, and evolve together with the ‘Other.’  On the other hand (there is always this ‘other hand’ isn’t there), there appears to be a viciously hardening of our insecurity, a growing ‘last-resistance,’ a confirmation that we must indeed be fear-full, if not hate-full on the part of the ‘white’ culture who are determined to blame the ‘Other’ for disrupting our life (think: If it weren’t for the ‘Other’ than all would be O.K.).

At the extreme (which, sadly, appears more often these days), the incredible inhumanity of the ‘white’ culture’s refusal to listen to the ‘Other’ and to seek to at least ‘understand’ and empathize with the ‘Other’ guarantees that the ‘Other’ will continue to be ‘kept in their place.’  [As an aside: Some of the most fear-full and most reactionary folk are those who espouse to be followers of Jesus-the-Christ; if Christ were in a grave he would surely be turning over in it].

The animosity, suspicion, and fear which the ‘white’ culture feels (and which is rooted in our own insecurity) will lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy (there is not one ‘prophecy’ to be fulfilled and this, too, complicates things for we in the ‘white’ culture).

Sadly, for me at least, the ‘white’ culture’s fear is morphing into hate of the ‘Other.’  ‘Fear’ and ‘Hate’ allow one (permit one?) to guilt-free keep the ‘Other’ in his/her place (by using force if necessary).  ‘It’s all so simple,’ the fear-full folks say.  ‘We in the ‘white’ culture are being victimized by the victims’ (projection and scapegoating run amok).

If we continue on this path things will become quite unpleasant for all of us (now that, gentle reader, is an understatement).  As a member of the ‘white’ culture I put the ‘blame’ for this squarely on our shoulders (although I do give us some wiggle room for we are an ‘emotional and immature’ culture and so we might not be capable of the insight we need in order to embrace the ‘Other’).  The ‘white’ culture claims to be rooted in the Judeo-Christian Tradition and yet, we are not willing to trust the most powerful – and most repeated Bible advice – ‘BE NOT AFRAID!’  If we in the ‘white’ culture cannot trust God, who will we trust?  [As a final aside: For we who espouse to be followers of Jesus-the-Christ it might be wise if we actually followed Jesus-the-Christ’s example – His be-attitudes are always a great place to begin.]




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It seems to me that as a culture, we have a problem.  It is a problem with the ‘Other.’  It appears to me that the ‘core’ of this problem is that the ‘Other’ (think: African American, Hispanic, Muslim, Refugee, Asian, LGBT, etc.) is victimized by the psychological and social conflicts deeply rooted in a historically dominant ‘white’ culture which, today, is more fear-full than the Southern States were prior to our Civil War.  This culture being fear-full makes sense to me (I am a 72 year old, white male who spent the first 18 years of his life in an all-white city; literally, the first non-white I met was when I sat down in my first college classroom and sitting next to me was a person of another color).  The dominant ‘white’ culture is quickly becoming the minority culture (when all of the non-white cultures are taken as a whole); this means that there is a cultural ‘identity’ shift, change and perhaps even a transformation occurring (transformation = a fundamental change in character or structure).

Sadly, for me at least, our ‘white’ culture seems to have little, if any, deep, mature insight into the reality of what is taking place.  Because of this, our ‘white’ culture is not able to be responsive; we are trapped into being reactive, if not reactionary.  Our ‘white’ culture appears to be incapable of accepting the ‘Other’ and assimilating him/her.  Our ‘white’ culture cannot even, it also seems to me, cope with this shift, change and transformation.  Because we cannot assimilate, much less cope, we interpret the ‘Other’ as a threat not an opportunity and hence we ‘defend’ (sometimes even ‘attack’).  Our emotions are running amok and we in the ‘white’ culture are becoming more and more emotionally unstable in response to the rapid changes washing over us (think of all of the laws that local and state governments are passing to protect the ‘white’ culture).

In order to defend-cope the ‘white’ culture attempts to minimize the threat (or control it) we (remember I am a member of this ‘white’ culture) seek to accomplish this by projecting our fears onto the ‘Other’ and then declare that the other is ‘the threat.’  The greater our insecurity (think: perceived threat) the more powerful our projection and more ‘paranoid’ we become (think: We have to build a wall to keep folks out.  We have to deny refuge to the children of the ‘Other’).  We have to deny the ‘Other’ rights they already possess because of our Constitution.  Although there is a grain or two of ‘truth’ present (think: as a nation we are not as ‘safe’ as we once were) our over the top response is still more pathological than rational.

[To be continued. . .]

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Although folks often use these words interchangeably they do not mean the same thing.  Justify = to show (an act, claim, statement, etc.) to be right/correct.  Rationalize = to invent plausible reason for one’s acts or opinions.  This morning I am going to focus in a bit on Justify.

In printer’s language, to justify means to set type in such a way that all full lines are equal length and flush both left and right; in other words to put the printed lines in the right relationship with the page they are printed on and with each other (as I am now striving to do as I put finger to key and type these words).

In some religious traditions the sense of this word, justify, is close to the printer’s sense.  Being Justified means being brought into right relation – with self and with a higher power (both are necessary).  As a ‘Person of the Book’ I seek to understand Paul (the person and his writings) and his being justified by God.

Paul notes that being justified simply means having peace with God; I like this idea.  Part of me resonates with Paul, in great part, because of his ‘conversion story.’

For some time Paul had been striving to become a Super-Pharisee by cutting down and mopping up those pesky Christians.  So, one day, Paul was on his way to Damascus to mop up some Christians when suddenly he was, literally, knocked from his horse (how often have folks my age heard our parents tell us, ‘If you are going to continue to be full of pride then some day you will be knocked off of your high horse!’).  As Paul was rubbing his backside he heard the voice of Jesus-the-Christ.  Until that moment Jesus’ resurrection had been considered by many, including Paul, to be a nasty rumor started by those pesky Christians.

Now, what the ‘voice’ said was not what Paul expected to hear (Note: ‘the voice’ sounds like the name for a T.V. program; but I digress).  Let us recall, that for some time Paul, in his zeal, had been doing nasty things to these Christians and now he realized that ‘by God these folks are for real and so was this Jesus-the-Christ guy!’  YIKES!!! ’Now I’m in for it; I will now get mine!’

But the ‘voice’ did not say, ‘Now, Paul, you are going to get yours!’  The ‘voice’ said, ‘I want you on my side!’  What???  Paul never got over this experience; this radical invitation.  God invited Paul into ‘justification’ – into peace with God.

Now, as far as Paul was concerned, he was the last man on earth that God would have called to ‘be on God’s side.’  God had revealed to Paul that God was a God who was willing to do business with you even though you were in the process of going about mopping up Christians.  Paul also discovered that all of the points he was striving to make as a Super-Pharisee had been, in the end, pointless.

God wants to make things right with you – to justify you – not because of who you are but because of who God is.  Paul is the great model of this for me.  Simply put, all the ‘voice’ seemed to want Paul to do was believe that the ‘voice’ meant what the ‘voice’ said and to do as the ‘voice’ asked.  Paul committed to doing both.  In carrying out his commitment, Paul was justified with/by God.

To say that Paul was stunned is, to say the least, an understatement.  Paul was staggered by the idea that no matter who you are or what you’ve done, God wants you on God’s side.  There is nothing you have to do or be.  It’s, as they say, ‘on the house.’  God ‘justifies’ you; God ‘lines you up.’

Each day, God reminds us of God’s ‘justification.’  How?  Each day the sun shines warmly on the wicked and on the good.  God loves us all.  Of course, today’s ‘Super-Pharisees’ continue to be greatly troubled by God’s love for all of us; they have yet to experience their ride to Damascus.  But God is a patient-loving God so all is not lost, even for today’s Super-Pharisees.

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Leaders who believe that being an effective leader is somehow synonymous with achieving ‘Perfection’ are headed for a fall over the cliff of reality.  The art of leadership – and, by the by, being an effective leader is being an artist – involves human beings.  Human beings are imperfect – they stumble, fall down, and frequently fail.  Therefore: Leaders are ‘Imperfect’ – ‘Perfection’ is an illusion.

I am not sure what a leader would be if he or she were ‘Perfect’ – I do know, however, that this leader would not be human.  In spite of this, there are leaders who still strive for ‘Perfection’ – they strive to be flawless-leaders (how often do these leaders dehumanize themselves and dehumanize the other).

‘Being Imperfect’ is not only a common ingredient in being a leader, it is essential if one is going to be an effective leader.  The great American photographer, Ansel Adams, was never one to mistake ‘Precision’ with ‘Perfection.’  He often reminded his readers of the old adage that ‘the perfect is the enemy of the good.’ His point being that if he waited for everything in the scene to be exactly right – to be, in his eye, ‘Perfect’ – he would never make a photograph.

The leader who is seduced by ‘Perfection’ is the leader who will suffer from paralysis – this person will never be able to make his or her ‘photograph’ – he or she, for example, is the leader who waits and waits and waits for all of the information before making a decision when having all of the information never occurs.  This is the artist who never completes the painting because there is always more to add, or correct.

How do you do this?  As a leader you cling even more tightly to what you already know you can do – you shy away from (or is it you scurry quickly away from) exploration and risk.  You lose ‘heart’ (think: courage).  You emerge many reasons as to why your behavior is ‘prudent’ (and ‘protects you from failure’).

Sadly, over time you lose your capacity to engage the art of being a leader.  Then one day you take the final step and find that you are not capable of engaging the art of leadership.  You quit. You resign yourself to your fate.  Sadly, in one of those perverse little ironies of life, your pattern itself achieves perfection – you have created and lived into and out of a perfect ‘death spiral.’

Our imperfect humanity is the ultimate source for our developing the art of being a leader.  Our imperfection is the very thing we need to embrace in order to be the ‘artist-leader.’  ‘Perfection’ is a flawed concept.  Einstein reminded us of this when he observed that ‘As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.’ 

Charles Darwin also helps us understand this when he noted that a perfect survival strategy for one generation would become, in a changing world, a liability for its offspring.

The leader’s ‘failings’ are the guides – valuable, reliable, objective, non-judgmental guides – to help inform him or her about matters that must now be considered.  By embracing both the Vision-for-the-Future and the ‘Imperfect-realities’ the leader can become the artist he or she is called to become while avoiding the seduction of ‘Perfection.’

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