Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The voice that stills the storm...

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see-- we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

I am increasingly disturbed by the way our current culture is reacting to shifts in authority and control...and then how we treat our leaders in the midst of that shift. I grew up in the era of Watergate. My earliest memories exist with the backdrop of the congressional hearings and commentaries over one of the most notorious crises in presidential leadership our nation has faced before or since. Couple that with the last years of the conflict in Viet Nam and the crazed hatred of the late Cold War and it shouldn't be a surprise that I am-as should be most of our population-wary of anyone who might express a desire for leadership in any venue in our culture.

We are seeing that all over, really. There is a rot that has eaten away the integrity of the role of chief executive officers in corporate America. There is a crisis in congressional leadership at the state levels, epitomized by the stalemate between party factions in the State Senate in New York. In the Anglican Communion, there is an increasingly strident, and increasingly impotent, demand on the part of primates and archbishops as they appeal to their canonical authority to demand conformity amongst the independent provinces and dioceses of the Church. Even in the local parish, finding, training and encouraging leadership (clerical or otherwise) has become an increasingly difficult endeavor. We struggle to find people with the time, energy and self-less commitment to stand for election to primacy...mostly because we parish priests and lay leaders have forgotten how lead.

Perhaps that is the great challenge. Real training and preparation for people to be in charge has become a forgotten art. There are any number of books out there that hope we will engage leadership formation, but have they worked their way into the fiber of our society, or are they-like Malcolm Gladwell's latest book Outliers-just that, outliers in a world of self-interested and self-centered leaders who forget why they have been charged with leadership? I count myself amongst those who lose their way from time to time. When my leadership style breaks down, when I base my decisions out of a sense of self-defense or lose myself in crisis response instead of long-view care and attention to leading the whole body and not just preserving my own skin I then count myself as one who stands more closely to Nixon than to leaders like Winston Churchill, FDR or Andrew Jackson.

I don't really have an answer to this concern, yet. Right now, I am focused on understanding what it is that we are missing as leaders. Paul, in the second epistle to the members of the Church in Corinth, is speaking directly to this ideal of sacrificial leadership and the lack of it amongst the Corinthians. There is something about being a leader that should take us up and out of ourselves. We should feel a deeper commitment to caring for the whole, and being able to put into perspective the choices we need to make to serve the communities we have been raised up to lead. Not easy. In a world climate where leaders have let down people over and over again, the host of folks engaged in "Monday morning quarterback" analysis of every action we take can be overwhelming. Fact is, we earned that probity. Now, we have to learn new ways of leading that both maintain the integrity of the offices we are called to while at the same time making our actions and choices transparent and possessing of integrity. All that in the age of "spin" when people spend almost as much time worrying about how something seems to appear as opposed to how it actually is, because truth can be manipulated, twisted and altered into new shapes and forms-with just an application of making sure one perspective gets aired first, or loudest.
We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return-- I speak as to children-- open wide your hearts also.

Paul enjoins the Corinthians to refrain from applying their agendas to him. His heart is open. His leadership is centered in Christ. His Gospel is love and life founded in the people's mutual commitment to living the life of Christ in community. What remains for us? To make the commitment to lead, and to be in healthy relationship with our leaders in such a way that our hearts really may be opened wide. What a world-that those who lead and those who are led might actually find that there really is no limit or restriction to the affections which bind us together in Christ.

I have a hope that I can learn to lead in such a way. I pray that self-motivated leaders find ways to step beyond their own self-interest and into a perspective and posture that spends more time thinking of other rather than attempting to "win at all costs" a race that was never ours to begin with, for it is God alone who truly leads us all.

How do we get there? By modeling Paul in the passage above. With true humility that subjects the leader to the led...and reminds the led that the leader has surrendered all to serve. When we give it all up to God, then we are all able to begin to set aside personal agendas and rediscover new ways to serve the whole Body.

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