Thursday, December 17, 2015

Try Hard to Come Before Winter

Action is better than guilt or shame
Say hello to Prisca and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus in Miletus because of his illness. Try hard to come to me before winter. Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, Claudia, and all the brothers and sisters say hello. II Timothy 4: 19-21 CEB

You will never look back and regret that you were too present to a frail and failing parent, grandparent, or friend. You will never wish you hadn't attended your daughter's recital or your son's little league game. You will never wish you hadn't served the Sacrament to a senior friend in hospice.

The plea from St. Paul to his younger friend and partner in ministry, Timothy, is one that echoes down the centuries to counter our lack of urgency and timeliness: "Come to me before winter." Paul was staring at his impending end, and a last visit with Timothy could not be put off until better traveling weather permitted.

There are some things we can choose. We learn to do what is in our power to do. Harold Kushner writes, "Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you."

God is not especially honored by our guilt nor shame. "Father, I am not worthy to be called... treat me as one of your slaves." Luke 15: 19. Who in your life needs you to "come before winter?" They don't need guilt or apologies. They need you.




Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Opposite of Love- Complete Indifference

Encourage each other every day, as long as it’s called “today." Hebrews 3:13 
If it be so, O listener, dear to him in all his visions, try to bear in mind the stern realities from which these shadows come; and in your own sphere- none is too wide, and none too limited for such an end- endeavor to correct, improve, and soften them. So may the New Year be a happy one to you, happy to many more whose happiness depends on you! So may each year be happier than the last, and not the meanest of our brethren and sisterhood debarred their rightful share in what our Great Creator formed them to enjoy. The Chimes: A Goblin Story 

A Christmas Carol and The Chimes are two of Dickens' masterful Holiday works. The Chimes is a darker piece, set on the eve of a New Year, it's about indifference and passivity in the face of social misery The people of privilege, those of repute, try to ease their guilty consciences. For example, Sir Joseph serves pudding on New Years to the "deserving" poor, where the recipients are truly at the mercy and whim of the "Poor Man's Friend and Father." 

In The Chimes, Toby, a struggling porter or street runner, passively accepts the condemnation of the poor, that they are "born bad." That is, until a bad dream causes him to see that his own beloved daughter, Meg, is in danger of living under that same societal curse of poverty and ridicule. His New Year's nightmare (similar to Scrooges), allows him to see the perils of taking the judgments of others without question, and his own indifference to his dear daughter, the only thing in the world he truly loves.  

It's often said that the opposite of love is not hate but fear. I John 4: " There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love." Another argument can be made that the direct opposite of love is  total indifference.

Indifference, too,  is reflected in a couple of biblical terms. One is a major theme throughout Scripture, hardness of heart: "Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion... But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end." Hebrews 3:8, 13-14 (NRSV) Another reference is from Revelation 3: 14 ff. The infamous lukewarm or tepid Christians of Laodicea are "neither cold nor hot," the perfect metaphor for indifference and neglect. Here, lukewarm is not the failure to have strongly held opinions or "taking stands," as we all have them. Instead, it's about forgetting that love alone is the greatest measure of our life with God and others. 

We don't necessarily need a nightmare to shake us up to compassion for others. We can begin 2020 by resolving to "correct, improve, and soften" the harshest realities, both in this world and in our own spirit. For starters, we can speak a word of encouragement, appreciation, and kindness to those closest to us.     



Thursday, December 10, 2015

Deconstructing the "Good" Leader

"Leadership" is less important, according to the Apostle Paul 
Gradually I came to see that the results which can be called good are few. And they cannot be the criterion for whether or not what we do is worth-while. It is hopeless to try to weigh up the good, the bad, the futile, and the merely harmless, and hope that there will be enough of the justify all the rest. Elisabeth Elliot, quoted in Servants and Fools
In Servants and Fools (2015), Arthur Boers launches a sharp critique of the Christian leadership genre- and constructs a consistently Biblical theology of leadership. Boers, who holds the R. J. Benardo Family Chair of Leadership at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, describes the inadequacy of the endless supply of church leadership volumes, presenting easy to follow recipes for effectiveness and success.  
So many books are simply business manuals with an anecdotal use of a Moses or Nehemiah thrown in: " 'best practices' drawn from Moses leading people from slavery through the wilderness do not translate neatly to what it takes to manage a nonprofit organization or pastor a congregation large or small, let alone run a corporation or launch a business or manage a store." Boers notes the worn out "servant leadership," a creation of Quaker writer Robert Greenleaf. A fictional Herman Hesse character is the origin of the idea. Jesus contrasts servants from leaders- the "leaders" of his day are examples of what not to emulate.  
From Israel's Judges and Kings to Herod's Banquet, Boers substantiates his main contention that "the scriptures are predominately pessimistic about human leadership, especially when it comes to rulers." The Bible's wariness of leadership is summed up in words of Psalm 146: "Put not your trust in princes."

The Prophets are the one leadership institution that survived (he lifts John the Baptizer as a model of New Testament leadership). The prophet's primary role "was always to undercut the pretentions of the mighty and to give God's voice to the voiceless." Boers also contrasts saints with heroes: the biblical "leaders" such as kings, rulers, and princes, are not included in any of the litany of the saints- and are in fact left out of the "cloud of witnesses" named in Hebrews 11.

God's Kingship and Lordship in Jesus from the beginning were political rebukes of human leaders who held those titles as "they were a denial of other messiahs and other lords (i.e., Caesar)." The chapter titled "The Plattered Head and Five Smooth Loaves," presents a grim contrast of two feasts to show that the world's kingdoms are in deadly competition with God's reign.

In Paul's Epistles, "leader" is far from synonymous with charismatic and self-promoting entrepreneurs. It is functional, and of secondary importance. The Apostle Paul's mention of "administration" (NAB) as one of the spiritual gifts in 1 Cor. 12:28 is also  translated "leadership skills" in the CEB - or "patronage" in other cited scholarship. Boers notes that the term, aside from being ambiguous, is actually listed second last in priority among Paul's ranking of the gifts, only higher than different kinds of tongues.
What would Paul have to say about the "branding" fad? Would he have likened it to "boasting?" First, he mocked self important leaders as "super-apostles." (2 Cor.2:11). Second, he leveled the traditional leadership categories so important in the Roman world: boasting, wisdom, intelligence, rhetorical skills, and social status. (I Cor. 1:20- 21, 26- 31) Finally, he boasted of his own weakness: "We have become the scum of the earth, the waste that runs off everything..." (I Cor. 4:13)
How can a leader be called good? Are there good leaders? These questions take up the last part of the book as Boers builds his theology, describing the actual spheres of leadership. It's not just about good leadership, it is about Christian leadership. Here is his definition: "Inspiring, challenging, or empowering people or groups to join God's mission of redemption and healing." All Christians are called to some form of leadership, not to "brand ourselves or to proclaim  great things about who we are or what we accomplished." Jesus simply commands us to be who and what we already are- salt and light.  
Convictions, people skills, and effectiveness, according to Boers, do not define the good leader, because opinions are not always worthy, reasonable, or true, even sociopaths are able to work well with others, and "making and selling junk can be effectively profitable."  Instead Christian leaders have ethical goodness and bear fruit consistent with justice and righteousness. Because fruitfulness is elusive, we don't judge by what we harvest, but by the seeds we plant. The value and rightness of the work is more important than the results. 
This is what Merton wrote about fruitfulness: "All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God's Love. Think of this more, and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it."

Refreshing in its approach and scholarship, Servants and Fools is a rigorous biblical examination, and a welcome departure from Jesus CEO and its offspring. It's a journey to the spiritual core of serving in the name of Christ. Along these lines, it has much in common with Peterson's Working the Angles or Nouwen's In the Name of Jesus than even Good to Great, (whose author, Jim Collins has written a follow-up volume explaining that Good to Great does not translate to non-profits -Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking is Not the Answer).


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Holiday Self-Care: N-O-E-L

Easy does it
›Notice the effect of environment and activities on your energy level

›Observe your normal routine. Keep doing the things that support and strengthen you.

Expect and accept changes in the way you celebrate and keep an open mind.

›Limit your expectations you place on yourself and others. If old traditions don’t work, try starting a new one.

Oldies but Goodies