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Archive for March, 2022

TO LEAD OR NOT TO LEAD, PART II

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.  —John Quincy Adams

Each of us has the choice of being a leader.  True, there are role-defined leaders and they are charged with and entrusted with a variety of role-defined responsibilities.  AND there are situations that require someone to step forward and take the lead; each of us is charged with and entrusted with this type of leading. 

To say ‘yes’ to leading – whether by role or by situation – is to say ‘yes’ to living dangerously.  Being a leader is dangerous because the leader challenges (sometimes by simply inviting folks to ‘consider’) what the other holds dear – daily habits, deep assumptions, values, beliefs, stereotypes, prejudices, loyalties, and ways of thinking (to name a few of the things we hold dear).  What ups the ante for the leader is that the leader does not offer ‘surety’ or ‘guarantees’ but ‘opportunities’ – the leader who consistently provides ‘surety’ is setting him or herself up for some real bother.    

The leader – especially by situation – often chooses to exceed his or her authority as he or she embraces the challenge; this is often disturbing to others.  When folks are disturbed they push back; they resist in all manner of creative and unexpected ways.  The leader is at risk of being marginalized or of being ‘removed’ from the process or of being undermined or shunned. 

No wonder folks choose not to lead; even leaders by role hesitate.  On one hand it is wise to hesitate; only ‘fools rush in.’ On the other hand, no matter how careful you are, how gentle you are, how invitational you are, choosing to lead is risky at best and truly dangerous at times. 

Given all of this, why would anyone choose to step out ahead and lead?  What’s in it for them?  What’s in it for the other(s)?  Because each of us is unique and because each of us has certain skills, talents, abilities and capacities and because we, for the most part anyway, espouse that we care for the other(s) – all of those stakeholders we serve – we are called to lead and we respond to the call by choosing to lead.  We have knowledge and experience that the others need and in choosing to offer these up we choose to lead.

To be a leader requires the courage (i.e. heart) to choose, to act, to experience, to reflect and to learn.  It requires embracing doubt more than surety.  As Lincoln reminded us: It involves trusting the ‘better angels of our nature’ and the ‘better angels’ of the other(s).  To be a leader requires that one believes that ‘we really are in this together’ – interdependence is required. 

Being a leader is dangerous. Yet, there is hope. There is hope for the person who chooses to lead because for the most part the others are capable of embracing both the ‘good’ news and the ‘disturbing’ news; they are capable of engaging the burning questions and they are capable of thinking together in ways that tap the wisdom of the collective (which, for the most part, is more impactful than the wisdom of the individual). 

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. –Lao Tzu

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TO LEAD OR NOT TO LEAD, PART I

We convince by our presence. –Walt Whitman

Almost every day each of us encounters an opportunity to lead.  For example, at work one might sit in a meeting and watch folks avoid the undiscussables (the ‘elephant’ in the room) and then this person might embrace the opportunity to lead and name the undiscussables and invite the others to engage them; more often, however, the person chooses not to embrace the opportunity to lead and remains silent (people have a variety of justifications for choosing ‘silence’).   

Each day presents us with opportunities to frame one or more ‘burning questions,’ or invite folks to live into and out of ‘higher’ values or virtues, or challenge folks to surface and engage unresolved conflicts.  Each day we have an opportunity to make a difference by choosing to lead (consider: to ‘show the way’ by example). 

Each day one must decide whether or not to lead – to put his or her contribution ‘out there’ or keep it to one’s self.  One holds back because one does not want to offend the other(s) or upset the other(s) or ‘make waves.’  On one hand, folks are right in choosing to be cautious.  Prudence is, after all, a virtue.  If we have paid any attention at all we know that folks are disturbed when one offers unpopular initiatives or suggests provocative new ideas or names the ‘elephant in the room.’  People can become quite irate when one questions the gap between their values and their actions (‘irate’ might be too soft – ‘rage-full’ might fit as well).  Folks don’t like it when another invites them to name and face tough realities; such awareness does not bring folks comfort or solace.

When one chooses to lead one chooses to risk the ire of the other(s); one chooses to become vulnerable.  Being vulnerable means that one is willing to take the risk and lead; it means that one is willing to be transparent – i.e. to be an imperfect human being who will more often stumble the mumble rather than walk the talk.  Being vulnerable also means that as a leader you will be wounded (on purpose or by accident) and thus you will be challenged to ‘carry the wound with grace’ (vulnerable is rooted in the Latin word ‘vulnus’ which means ‘to carry the wound with grace’); you will not seek revenge, you will not return ‘wound for wound.’ 

Simply put: One can get into a great deal of bother when one chooses to lead.

A quotation from Ron Heifetz sums it up quite well: “the word “lead” has an Indo-European root that means “to go forth, die.”

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Frances de Sales counseled us:  Keep in mind the main lessons Jesus left us – in three words, so that we would never forget it and could repeat it a hundred times a day.  “Learn of me,” He said…  “that I am gentle and humble of heart.”  That says it all: to have a heart gentle toward one’s neighbor and humble toward God.  At every moment give this heart, the very heart of your heart, to our Savior.  You will see that as this divine delicate lover takes His place in your heart, this world and its vanities and superfluities will leave.

Jesus dares to draw us into the radical reality of the reign of God embodied in a transformed life.  For Frances, as for those in the tradition before and after him, the transformed life was expressed in virtuousness.  The Noble Three Virtues – faith, hope and love – are siblings of the Four Cardinal Virtues – temperance, prudence, fortitude and justice.  These are the great overarching qualities of heart that mark the transformed life.

The Relational Virtues such as kindness, patience, simplicity, humility and gentleness are those that Frances saw as especially central to the Virtuous Life.  These Virtues could be put into practice by anyone.  They are ‘simple’ but not ‘easy’ to embrace, integrate and live into and out of.  Frances also reminds us that it is easier to practice Virtues that we choose.  For Frances, of the many Virtues that we are invited to embrace, it is gentleness that he focused on in a way that few have done before or since.

Gentleness is to be put into practice in every conceivable circumstance.  Frances was intimately aware of the challenge that living this Virtue of Gentleness presented us.  We are invited and challenged to live into and out of this Virtue.  We must also accept our limitations – we must be willing to stumble and fall and get up again without self-recrimination.  ‘Let us be what we are and be that well’ said Frances. 

Frances de Sales was convinced that heart speaks to heart, that we are drawn closer into union with God by others whose hearts are gentle and aflame with love.  We are moved, perhaps transformed, by a heart that strives to love as God loves – unconditionally.  As we live rooted in gentleness and love we model for others what Jesus modeled for us. 

As I conclude PART II, Gentle Reader, I leave us with these words from Frances de Sales:

Don’t lose any opportunity, however small, of being gentle toward everyone.  Don’t rely on your own efforts to succeed in your various undertakings.  Trust in God, rest in his care of you, confident that he will do what is best for you, provided that you, for your part, work diligently, but gently.  I say ‘gently’ a tense diligence is harmful both to your heart and to our task and is not really diligence, but rather over eagerness and anxiety. . . . I recommend you to God’s mercy.  I beg him, through that mercy, to fill you with his gentleness and love.

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Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as strength. –Frances de Sales

Gentle Reader, why is it that we humans persist in associating gentleness primarily with children, babies and the care of those who are incapable of caring for themselves?  This morning, Gentle Reader, I am inviting you to join me in a brief exploration of one ‘Way of Being’ – ‘Being Gentle.’  There are many perspectives we can take, I will, generally, be taking the perspective of a ‘Christian.’  Gentle Reader, if this perspective does not resonate with you then I invite you to embrace a perspective that does and embrace that perspective as you consider with me this ‘Way of Being’ – ‘Being Gentle.’

Why do we Christians associate ‘Christian Character’ not with ‘Being Gentle’ but with more robust qualities like courage, fortitude, discipline or vigilance?  Perhaps more importantly, why do we humans so often define ourselves using war, mechanical or banking metaphors?  Is it because we Christians came into being as a persecuted sect?  For sure we are heir to inspiring literature written by imprisoned folks.  Those writers have left testimony that encourages us to think of Christian life as people involved in a contest, if not a war.  We consider ourselves to be combatants in a cosmic war.  Why are these the most favored images of the ‘Christian Life’? 

On the other hand, how often do we associate ‘Being Gentle’ as a quality that is ours to claim as followers of Jesus-The-Christ?  I am thinking of Col. 3:12: God loves you and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. In Eph. 4:2, Paul cautioned: Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience.  Paul appealed to the Corinth Christians ‘by the gentleness and patience of Christ’ (2 Cor. 10:1). 

Christian, for Paul, meant being a new person, clothed in Christ, whose qualities were not fashioned on the tough, rugged patterns of battle garb but cut from cloth of a gentler texture.  ‘What the Spirit brings is very different: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ (Gal. 5:22-23)

I am thinking of Jesus’ words (Matt. 11:28-29): ‘Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.  …learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.’

Sadly, kindness, gentleness, patience, peace do not often stand out in highest relief for us Christians.  Frances de Sales (d. 1622) offers us an exception.  He did see these ‘little virtues,’ as he coined them, as major tap-roots that nurtured the Spirit-led life that Jesus invited us to embrace and live into and out of. 

At the core of Frances vision was the art of ‘Living Jesus,’ having our hard and all-too-stony hearts exchanged for the ‘Heart of Christ.’  Our heart, Frances reminds us, is the ‘center of each person.’  Our human heart is made by and for the God of Love.  Our human hearts are created to beat in rhythm with the Divine-Heartbeat.  Because we are imperfect beings our hearts only imperfectly replicate that primal rhythm. 

Next time, Gentle Reader, we will continue our brief exploration of ‘Being Gentle’.  This morning, I will leave us with these words: Bear with one another, charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness, and patience. (Eph. 4:2)

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WAR (See PART I for the context of this topic)

Sadly ‘The People of the Book’ have become accustomed to the Way of War.  War seems to be our default position ever since the first sibling rivalry between Cain and Able.  We need to remember that Able was murdered by his brother over religious ritual – over this question: ‘What is the correct form of obedience?’  We humans have been choosing up sides ever since.  And, we, ‘The People of the Book,’ have mastered the art of war when it comes to sibling rivalry and sibling war.

‘The People of the Book’ have, generation after generation, honed the art of war – at minimum in the form of arguments and at maximum in the form of physical-death-dealing confrontation.

Each of the three Abrahamic Traditions have done great good AND great harm – internally within the Tradition via splits and condemnations and externally by demonizing a sibling and/or attempting to exterminate a sibling.

Now in war the sibling who holds a different opinion is labeled an enemy, partly by a process of disrespect and dehumanization.  The ‘other’ must be labeled a ‘heretic’ or a ‘follower of Satan’ as this helps one sibling to guilt-free reject, condemn and harm the ‘other.’ 

History and current reality confirm that we, each Abrahamic Tradition, loves war.  War is intoxicating.  War simplifies ‘good and evil.’  War is energizing and uniting (‘We’ versus ‘Them’ destroys love, compassion, empathy, and healing).  War is dehumanizing.  Thankfully and Grace-fully there are antidotes to war.  One of these is ‘Generous Pluralism.’

GENEROUS PLURALISM

‘The People of the Book’ are of one family.  Yes, Gentle Reader, ‘doctrine does matter.’  AND yet, unless there is discerned sufficient common ground the ‘family’ – ‘The People of the Book’ – will not survive. 

Consider: There have been and are splits within Judaism AND because of common ground the Jews remain Jews.  There have been and are splits within Christianity AND because of common ground the Christians remain Christians.  There have been and are splits within Islam AND because of common ground the Muslims remain Muslims. 

A paradox.  Each Sibling is different AND the three are members of the same family with one Father.  The challenge for each is to embrace the ‘both-and’ and avoid emphasizing the ‘either-or.’ 

What is this ‘Common Ground?’  Consider this: Love as you are loved by God.  Embrace one another as God embraces you.  Honor your differences as God honors your uniqueness.  Forgive and Reconcile and Heal as God forgives, reconciles and heals you.  Each sibling espouses that ‘God IS Love.’  Each is charged by God to Love.  Actually it is quite simple.  Each one of the siblings, however, continues to complicate God’s charge.

A ‘Family’ is defined by how the members treat one another.  The Abrahamic Family is challenged by God to be a role-model.  Thus far the siblings are not doing well when it comes to being a ‘faithful’ role-model.  The three siblings do not model, for example, ‘unity in diversity.’  They do not model ‘religio’ – to make whole, to bind together or to re-bind and to heal.  They do not model love and forgiveness and reconciliation.

No wonder cynicism is running amok in our world.  Each sibling espouses ‘Love’ and lives, at minimum, negative judgement of the other(s).  As a result, God Weeps.

In closing I offer the three siblings the following: ‘We choose a meager vision.  God, you tell a story that asks which one was my neighbor.  God, you want us to understand – yet, we continue to be perplexed by your simple charge to love one another as you are loved by Me.  God, you sow the seeds of hope and love and WE, your children, sow the seeds of suspicion, envy and self-righteousness.  YET, God, you still believe that WE will grow in love for one another.  God, you have Hope.  We, your three children, have Choice!’ 

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