Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Joys of Zero

I am re-reading Dallas Willard's great book on the Gospel of Jesus, "The Divine Conspiracy" this week and kept going back to the centrality of the "secrecy motif" in the service that Jesus asks for in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. It seems that this call to secret service remains an important, if not central, element in the recovery of authentic Christian Leadership.

Willard's great contribution in this book is that he links the Gospel call to secret service (or service in obscurity) with freedom from dependency on reputation and material wealth - precisely the "stuff" contemporary leadership studies are so enthralled by.

As I am re-reading this provocative book I could not help but to hear Sam Phillips singing in the background. The inherent falseness of the promises of power and prestige is a common theme that runs through the lyrics of her songs. One example is the lyrics of the song "Zero, Zero, Zero" from her very experimental disk: "Omnipop: It is only a fleshwound Lampchop":

Big numbers go by
I close my eyes
I never count a large amount
My lucky number is below one
You never know when you might need a zero

The zero in my hand
is nothing to lose
It's hard to confuse power with love
love with power
Everything that I'm not is all that I've got

Shane Helmer reviews Phillips' Omnipop and picks up on this central theme of power/powerlessness in her music:
"Pop culture seems obsessed with its own definition of success. Money and power equate with popularity and position. Those who do not fit neatly into the equation are continuously reminded by pop culture icons, who ironically have achieved such success, that they are zeros in society. Admittedly, 'regular folk' feel powerless sometimes. But to have this perception so intricately woven into our culture's consciousness robs us of our enthusiasm for living and crushes our dreams beneath the cynical wreckage of society. There seems to be far too much whining and not enough constructive criticism. It is into this tension, this world of zero-speak, that singer-songwriter Sam Phillips wedges a truly alternative perspective."

The question of what to do with power remains an important element in our search for authentic, Biblical Leadership.

Further Reading:
"Sam Phillips' sardonic look at popular culture" by Shane Helmer. Music Review: Omnipop (It's Only a Flesh Wound Lambchop) by Sam Phillips. (Virgin Records: 1996).
"The Divine Conspiracy" by Dallas Willard. HarperSanFrancisco (1998).