Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Risk management...a bland concept?

Something popped into my head this morning as I sat down to write. What am I really risking as I put finger to keyboard here in my office in New Jersey? At root, I suppose I might be risking a great deal. Blogging means being willing to send your thoughts and words out into the wider universe. Each little fragment of a phrase, each turn of a word is eventually referenced and cataloged in search engines that continually troll cyberspace looking for logarithmic connections between concepts. How do I know this? I don't really, beyond seeing the reference keys in the site meter that tells me from what point some visitors to the blog come from out there in the world as they search for such and such idea or sources. I do sense that there might be something bigger out there; but really I just see its leading edge. Like the tip of an iceberg, there is much more beneath the surface than up top. So, as I write and post, write and post my words are going out there; and not just mine...much wiser, better and more powerful writers are putting their stuff out there as well. Thoughts on all of the odd bits of life. Deep philosophy and profound theology...and musings on cats playing with bits of lint in the dining room...it's all out there.

Yesterday, I took a swing at leadership in the Church. A friend who is a better writer and thinker recently went further out on that limb and took on the question of identity politics in our church's national power structures. Years ago, another friend went through a very public discernment process for a leadership position and found her life exhibited in some unhealthy ways as bits and pieces of her resume were lifted out of context in concentric rings of confusion by people commenting on comments on comments on observations that someone had about the choices she had made in her education. There are risks that come with living a life out in public. Some we assume at the outset and some we discover along the way.

I give thanks to God that I live in a time and in a society where I can pretty much write what I wish. The Church is not breathing down my neck. There are other, more important people, out there who demand the attention of the pundits. Even the political leadership is less bothered by mainline religious leadership now than it ever has been before. Our social capital is all but exhausted at this point. Right now in my life, there are no individual strong men, or women, that I am aware of whose will and opinion I have to be careful about offending. I am relatively free.

Does that make things better for me? Safer perhaps, but not necessarily better. As I sit here and look up at my bookshelf, most of the "great works" I see on it relate back to a risk the writer had to assume in order to let their words be known. They faced ridicule, dismissal, censure and perhaps death if the words they wrote wound up offending the wrong person at the wrong time. Even now, out in the world, some voices are being silenced as you read this post because someone in a government or corporation is concerned that if "this got out" there would be trouble for them in the resulting challenge to their authority or control.

Writing is a gift, and a privilege, that brings with it a great and godly responsibility. Even humor has power to unseat tyranny...nothing plagues evil so much as its fear of being humiliated or laughed at, eh? So, how important is it to take that risk?

Would the world be a different place if Dante' never had the courage to publish his Divine Comedy? If Machiavelli never offered up the first manuscript for The Prince? If Gandhi had never penned his autobiography? If Archbishop Romero had decided it was too much trouble, too risky to challenge the systems of encomiendo in his home country? The short answer is, Yes. And yet, all the writers paid a price. I would also argue that their genius came from wedding conscience to risk to spirit...a threefold stool giving support to a resolve to speak, to be heard and to stand up for what might mean real justice for someone out there in the world.

Paul's first letter to Timothy is filled with advice about leadership. Most of the counsel offers up a model of restraint and conservative forbearance. It would seem that Paul is pushing a model of leadership that is based on keeping our head down and avoiding risk. But, as I continue to reflect on the question and wonder what impact my life and words might have on the wider universe on behalf of the kingdom of God, I find myself coming back to a more subtle interpretation.

Save your words, Paul is offering: Save your self, for God has a vision of the Kingdom and a mission for you to play a significant role in its evolution. When the time is right, speak boldly and proclaim God's mercy and love-and justice-to this broken world. Get up, and speak, and know that all the waiting, training and wondering will have their place and the risk will be worth it when the cause is in and of God.

In a world wherein my own personal risk ratio is low; and the links/searches/references that draw people to these pages is a tiny fraction of those that link people to more controversial writers, I sit and pray and wonder where next God is going to call on each of us to speak, to write and to be heard.

What man, counsels Jesus, who when going out to build anything does not first weigh and consider the costs? Still, when it is time to risk, says Paul via his letter to Timothy, don't hold back out of fear. Stride into your role, having conserved your spirit and lived with moderation so that when the time does come to offer it all up to the glory of God we can do so with light spirits and open hearts softened by the love of Christ for both our beloved ones AND our adversaries.

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