Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Dark Night of the Soul

I am presenting a lecture later today on the approach to spiritual direction of the Spanish Reformers of the 15th century: John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. John of the Cross remains an important guide in the quest for authentic Christian formation and thus leadership.

John's image of the "dark night of the soul" as a necessary step in our formation and journey towards God stands unmatched. He says it best in his famous poem:

One dark night, fired with love's urgent longings
ah, the sheer grace!
I went out unseen, my house being now all stilled.
In darkness, and secure, by the secret ladder, disguised
ah, the sheer grace!
in darkness and concealment, my house being now all stilled.
On that glad night, in secret, for no one saw me,
Nor did I look at anything, with no other light or guide than the one that burned in my heart
This guided me more surely than the light of noon
To where He was awaiting me
Him I knew so well
there in a place where no one appeared
O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.
Upon my flowering breast, which I kept wholly for Him alone,
There He lay sleeping, and I caressing Him there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.
When the breeze blew from the turret, as I parted His hair,
It wounded my neck with its gentle hand, suspending all my senses.
I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved.
All things ceased; I went out from myself, leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Silence and Leadership

I am re-reading portions of the Philokalia (the Sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers) as part of my morning devotions and am struck once again by the centrality that these sayings give to ethical conduct in leadership. The connection between the "control of the tongue" and ethical conduct is often made by these early Christian hermits. Two stories from this time will suffice to illustrate this point:

Abba Isidore of Pelusia said: Living without speaking is better than speaking without living. For a person who lives rightly helps us by silence, while one who talks too much merely annoys us. If, however, words and life go hand in hand, it is the perfection of all philosophy.

Abba Poemen said: There is one sort of person who seems to be silent, but inwardly criticizes other people. Such a person is really talking all the time. Another may talk from morning to night, but says only what is meaningful, and so keeps silence.

May we learn the wisdom of silence.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

To be a Disciplined Disciple

I am reminded this morning of the semantic similarity between the concepts of discipline and disciple. To be a disciple/follower of Jesus is to live a disciplined life. Thomas Merton describes this commitment to a disciplined life in the language of the appropriation of the cross of Jesus. To experience the "discipline of the cross" is to move from an ego-affirming spirituality to an ego-transcended approach to life and leadership. The contributions that this make in our search for authentic leadership are obvious.
Merton writes:
“But basically, the discipline involved here is that of a crucifixion which eliminates a superficial and selfish kind of experience and opens to us the freedom of a life that is not dominated by egoism, vanity, willfulness, passion, aggressiveness, jealousy, greed. Finally, discipline means solitude of some sort, not in the sense of selfish withdrawal but in the sense of an emptiness that no longer cherishes the comfort of various social ‘idols” and is not slavishly dependent on the approval of others. In such solitude one learns not to seek love but to give it. One’s great need is now no longer to be loved, understood, accepted, pardoned, but to understand, to love, to pardon and accept others just as they are, in order to help them transcend themselves in love.”

Thomas Merton. “Renewal and Discipline” in Contemplation in A World of Action (New York, Doubleday and Company, Inc.): 131-132.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Winning at any Cost?

I have been travelling, speaking and ministering for the last month, and so have not had the oppertunity to blog. This has been a providential time for me with lots of time for prayer, study and reflection. I continue to be taken by the extra-ordinary levels of competitiveness amongst Christian leaders. We compare and compete with one another and in a mad rush for legitimacy construct elaborate systems/ideologies that ensure that the world and the church know/acknowledge that we are the best, the greatest and on top. We parade our strengths, list our accomplishments, argue how only "our group/ordinations" can be traced back to the early Church (and thus to Jesus) and conduct an endless advertisement campaign to prove that all others are wrong and we are right. I wonder how this is different to the current "war" between certain fanatic Islamic groups and the Western world. But is it really about "winning"? Where is the "signature" of Jesus in the church and larger world today? How can we mirror the love, mercy and salvation that Jesus offers, if our greastest value is triumphing over others?
The Franciscan singer, song-writer and leader, John Michael Talbot writes in his Thanksgiving Letter to his Community about the need for authentic Christian leadership: "If we truly began to grasp the meaning of what it is to be 'Christian,' or 'like Christ,' we would shake the world, and in a good way! A revolution of Love would spread across the planet like a healing fire, and across the oceans like a life-giving tsunami! For the authentic follower of Jesus, this is done by really giving witness to Jesus, not through religious fundamentalism and fanaticism, but through a radicalism (or rootedness) that is willing to truly live the way that Jesus lived. Jesus changed the world with only 12 apostles. Are there twelve who will respond, or 120, 12,000, or 12 million? What would happen if we would all dare to do this? We would change the world, and for the better."
The only one that never suffered from a messianic complex was the one that was/is the Messiah.
Brett Murray (2005): "Our religion must win". Goodman Gallery.

The Future according to Jesus

I got word last week, whilst travelling in South Africa, that our proposal for a panel presentation on the future acoording to Jesus at the World Future Association's International Conference in 2007 has been accepted. Lots of thanks and appreciation go to Jay Gary (PeakFutures, Colorado Springs: USA) and Tsvi Bisk (Center for Strategic Futurist Thinking, Jerusalem: Israel) for graciously inviting me to do this presentation with them. Here is an abstract of our presentation:

The Future According to Jesus
Futurists often encounter religionists who hold views that undercut future-oriented behavior, including determinism, fatalism, or millennial beliefs. But as a Palestinian Jew, what was Jesus’ real view of the future? And how does that view compare with that of futurists who focus on “this world,” rather than the next? Drawing on historical Jesus research, this session identifies three driving forces of the first century, and argues that Jesus rejected the conventional and counter-futures of His time to envision a creative future for His generation. This first-century foresight will then be compared and contrasted with 21st century global scenario frameworks to consider how visionary leadership might shift society's deeply ingrained attitudes toward impending conflicts and catastrophes.

Who should attend: Any futurist who has encountered resistance to futures thinking from religionists.

What you’ll learn: Participants will learn how to ground foresight in the historical world of Jesus, and relate religious concepts to futures thinking and contingency planning.

How this knowledge can be applied: Attendees will learn how to generate “third way” scenarios that seek to transcend the clash of mainstream and side stream futures.