Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Insights from the Christian Mystics

I am busy preparing for a trip to India this last week, so I have not been as active as I would like in blogging. I thought I would post a few thoughts from a few Medieval Christian mystics that I have been reading in my devotional time. Their insights on clarity, authenticity and pure devotion to Jesus all help us to explore the impact of our worship on our daily activities. I will start today with a poem of Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) that speak about the promise of mystical union with God through the disciplines of Christian asceticism:

Alleluia! Light
burst from my untouched
womb like a flower
on the farther side
of death. The world-tree
is blossoming. Two
realms become one.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Poverty of Spirit and Vocation

Thomas Merton wrote a great piece on Francis of Assisi that alludes to the Gospel value of "poverty of spirit" and the freedom this brings to our common vocation. In find Merton's perspective insightful and helpful:
"The remarkable thing about St. Francis is that in his sacrifice of everything he had also sacrificed all the 'vocations' in a limited sense of the word. After having been edified for centuries by all the various branches of the Franciscan religious family, we are surprised to think that St. Francis started out on the roads of Umbria without the slightest idea that he had a 'Franciscan vocation.' And in fact he did not. He had thrown all vocations to the wind together with his clothes and other possessions. He did not think of himself as an apostle, but as a tramp. He certainly did not look upon himself as a monk, he would have found plenty of monasteries to enter. He evidently did not go around conscious of the fact that he was a "contemplative". Nor was he worried by the comparisons between the active and contemplative lives. Yet he lead both at the same time, and with the highest perfection. No good work was alien to him, no work of mercy, whether corporal or spiritual, that did not have a place in his beautiful life! His freedom embraced everything."

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:3, NIV)

Merton, T 1955. No Man is an Island. New York: Harcourt.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Finding Our Vocation

I am re-reading Merton's "No Man is an Island" again and am taken with his erudite ideas on vocation. I am not sure why I have not seen this before in his texts. Merton, in usually poetic manner opens several good avenues to think about vocation. What struck me today is his insights in how we measure vocation.
Merton writes:
"Gratitude and confidence and freedom from ourselves: these are signs that we have found our vocation and are living up to it even though everything else may seem to have gone wrong. They give us peace in any suffering. They teach us to laugh at despair. And we may have to."

Merton is closer to the ideals of the Gospel in this paragraph, in my opinion, than the pragmatic, motivational catnip of most of the contemporary authors on Christian Leadership.

Further Reading:
Merton, T 1955. No Man is an Island. New York: Harcourt.

The Credo of Servant Leadership

Robert Greenleaf, the "father" of contemporary Servant Leadership Theory wrote a short article on Spirituality as Leadership in Studies in Formative Spirituality (February, 1982) in which he provides his credo for Servant Leadership:

"I believe that caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is what makes a good society. Most caring was once person to person. Now much of the of it is mediated through institutions - often large, powerful, impersonal; not always competent; sometime corrupt. If a better society is to be built, one more just and more caring and providing opportunity for people to grow, the most effective and economical way, while supportive of the social order, is to raise the performance as servant of as many institutions as possible by new voluntary regenerative forces initiated within them by committed individuals: servants. Such servants may never predominate or even be numerous; but their influence may form a leaven that makes possible a reasonably civilized society."

It is interesting that he links the welfare of society with servant hood. I still wonder if we are ready for a leadership approach that finds its highest expression in service.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Why risk it?

Christian Leadership informed by a deep understanding of the miracle and doctrine of the incarnation involves the willingness to take risks. I was reminded this morning of the inspiring thoughts of Max De Pree on the nature of taking risks.

De Pree writes: "Risks involves ambiguity and uncertainty. Risks result in a kind of learning available in no other way. Risk may entail a loss of control and an acceptance of vulnerability. Risks accompany abandoning the old makes way for the new. Risks on the part of individuals are the only way to improve our world. Humility invites risk, pride discourages it. Risks are inevitable."

May we learn to taking risks in our leadership whilst deeply rooted in the great grace of our God.

Further Reading:
De Pree, M 2003. Leading without Power: Finding Hope in Serving Community. Wiley: San Francisco.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Fully awake, Fully Active, Fully Aware

It has been noted that leadership is ultimately about "seeing reality". Joseph Jaworski is work echoes this notion when he writes: “It’s not about positional power; it’s not about accomplishments; it’s ultimately not even about what we do. Leadership is about creating a domain in which human beings continually deepen their understanding of reality and become more capable of participating in the unfolding of the world. Ultimately, leadership is about creating new realities.”

For Christians, that ultimate reality is God. Thomas Merton comments that the Biblical discipline of contemplation, as the "highest expression of man's intellectual and spiritual life" facilitates this understanding of ultimate reality. Merton writes: "Contemplation is the highest expression of man's intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant source. Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that Source."

Further Reading:
Jaworski, J 1998. Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Merton, T 1961. New Seeds of Contemplation, The Abbey of Gethsemani.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Following in His Footprints

"Almighty, eternal, just and merciful God,
grant us in our misery and grace to do for You alone
what You want us to do,
and always to desire what pleases You.
Thus, inwardly cleansed,
interiorly enlightened,
and inflamed by the fire of the Holy Spirit,
may we be able to follow in the footprints of Your beloved son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
And, by Your grace alone, may we make our way to You,
Most High,
Who live and rule
in perfect Trinity and simple Unity,
and are glorified,
God all-powerful,
forever and ever.

- St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226 AD)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Ubuntu, Mutuality and Leadership

As a South African I remain interested in a contextual understanding of the possibilities of authentic Christian Leadership in that context. I continue to explore the promise that a "redemptive" understanding and use of African philosophy (such as Harambee, Ubuntu, etc.) holds for an incarnational approach to Christian Leadership. The South African Nguni word ubuntu, from the aphorism; “Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu – A person is a person because/through others”; can be described as the capacity in African culture to express compassion, reciprocity, dignity, humanity and mutuality in the interest of building and maintaining communities with justice and mutual caring. More than a descriptor of African values, ubuntu should be seen as a social philosophy that is deeply embedded in African culture.

Leaders with the inherent values of ubuntu, as it might relate to leader/follower interaction, have been described as, people-centered, humble, ready to enter into dialogue, caring, polite, tolerant, considerate, hospitable and as having an attitude of mutual acceptance or mutuality, amongst other descriptors. An ubuntu-based approach in leadership sees community rather that self-determination as the essential aspect of personhood. It is in reference to the community that a person is defined. The Venda saying, “Muthu u bebelwa munwe – A person is born for the other”, captures the spirit of this approach of interdependence between self and community. This is more than mere interdependence, the identity of the “self” is defined in finding the “other” in community. It is in seeing and entering into honest dialogue and interaction based on mutuality with the “other” that the “self” is enriched, formed and defined.

The leadership value of mutuality in ubuntu allows for the breaking down of the superficial and artificial barriers between the “actors” in the leadership exchange and allows both leader and follower to see the “other”, discover their mutual humanity and in doing so foster the construction of a caring community that allows for the respectful tolerance of social, cultural, economic and philosophical differences.

The links between this values-based approach in leadership and the Christian values of kenosis and incarnation are obvious. This needs to be explored further.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Women in Pentecostal-Charismatic Leadership Colloquium

The Regent University School of Divinity will be presenting a Colloquium on Women in Pentecostal-Charismatic Leadership on February 17, 2007. Papers will focus on the Biblical and Theological foundations of Women in Pentecostal and Charismatic Leadership.

The role of women in church ministry and leadership remains a major issue facing the Pentecostal/charismatic movement into the 21st century. Throughout the history of the movement, this issue has set Pentecostals apart from much of the rest of the Evangelical church while at the same time, galvanizing them. Yet though women have been vital in the movement since its inception, opportunities for leadership have gradually eroded and many highly-trained women are moving into traditions which provide them a more public role. Leading scholars from around the world and from both within and outside the movement will join Regent faculty and Ph.D. students in a year-long colloquium designed to look at the historical struggles, contributions, current trends, and future challenges related to this issue which is vital to the future of the renewal movement. The symposium on Women in Pentecostal/Charismatic Leadership is the first in a five-part series reflecting on major trends within this vital movement which has shaped not only American, but world Christianity in the 21st century.

For more information and details of registration see:

Remove all Falsehood

"O Lord, My God,
hear my prayer:
in Your mercy
answer my request;
it is not just for myself
but I make it too for my brothers in love;
You see into my heart and know that it is so.
Let me offer my mind and my tongue in Your service,
If you will give me the means of making this offering.
I am poor and in need,
but You richly bless all who call to You;
You who are free from care, care for us.
Free my mouth and my heart
from all uncertainty and falsehood."
- St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Intimacy Evasion

I spent the last few days in Tennessee on retreat, consulting with a wonderful church community from North Carolina. Deeply touched by the remarkable levels of transparency and honesty in this deeply committed group of believers, I was reminded of how rare this kind of community is across the church world. It seems to me that most of our churches are so constructed as to avoid any form of real intimacy (with God or community). Clyde Reid wrote a marvelous commentary on the state of the church, a while back, in which he comments that: "...we structure our churches and maintain them so as to shield us from God and to protect us from genuine religious experience."

Reid continues with incisive insight: "...the adult members of churches today rarely raise serious religious questions for fear of revealing their doubts of being thought of as strange. There is an implicit conspiracy of silence or religious matters in churches. This conspiracy covers up the fact that the churches do not change lives or influence conduct to any appreciable degree." I am increasingly concerned that churches and ministries mainly aim to produce consumers that will merely purchase their products and support their endeavours and thus we have not heeded the Gospel call to make disciples. Make we rediscover the true purpose and promise of community.
Further Reading:
Reid, C H 1966. The God Evaders. New York: Harper and Row.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Merton on Humility

I am preparing a paper on the problems of pride in leadership and the Gospel remedy of humility. I was reminded this morning of some of Thomas Merton's insights on humility. This a good first step in our recovery of the virtue and promise of humility.
Merton writes: "A humble man can do great things with an uncommon perfection because he is no longer concerned about incidentals, like his own interests and his own reputation, and therefore he no longer needs to waste his efforts in defending them. For a humble man is not afraid of failure, In fact, he is not afraid of anything, even of himself, since perfect humility implies perfect confidence in the power of God before Whom no other power has any meaning and for Whom there is no such thing as an obstacle. Humility is the surest sign of strength."
Merton, T 1955. No Man is an Island. New York: Harcourt.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Success vs. Fruitfulness

This morning's meditation from the e-list of the Henri Nouwen Society highlights once of the most important issues of consideration in our quest for the re-discovery of authentic Christian Leadership: the issue of success. What is success? How do we measure effectiveness in leadership? Is there a difference between success and effectiveness?
Nouwen in his usual erudite manner points us to the promise of vulnerability and voluntary weakness. He writes: "There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities. Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another's wounds. Let's remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness."

May we learn the wisdom of becoming wounded healers that find security in living dangerously and in voluntary vulnerability in the safe and strong hands of God.

The Henri Nouwen Society:

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Sloth, Laziness and Sin

Most of the current leadership literature concerns itself with the positive promises of effective leadership. There seems to be a new consensus (such as was communicated in the recent International Leadership Association's International Conference in Chicago) that there is not enough work being done on the dynamics of toxic/wrong leadership. This possible turn in leadership research has me thinking about the sins of leadership and thus I am re-reading the classic Philokalia, the collection of writings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers on sin and virtue.

The Desert Fathers and Mothers of the Fourth and Fifth Centuries provide us with clear descriptions of sin (sometimes referred to as demons in their writings) and its effect on the Christian Leader. One such clear description is in their treatment of the sin of sloth (in Greek "’Ακήδια" [acedia], can also be translated as laziness and despondency) and how it produces depression and procrastination. The implications for leadership is obvious. Evagrius of Pontus writes:
"The demon of acedia—also called the noonday demon—is the one that causes the most serious trouble of all. He presses his attack upon the monk about the fourth hour [roughly 10 in the morning] and besieges the soul until the eighth hour [about 2 in the afternoon]. First of all he makes it seem that the sun barely moves, if at all, and that the day is fifty hours long. Then he constrains the monk to look constantly out the windows, to walk outside the cell, to gaze carefully at the sun to determine how far it stands from the ninth hour [about 3 in the afternoon, the hour for supper, the only substantial meal in the ancient monastic day], to look now this way and now that to see if perhaps (one of the brethren appears from his cell). Then too he instills in the heart of the monk a hatred for the place, a hatred for his very life itself, a hatred for manual labor. He leads him to reflect that charity has departed from among the brethren, that there is no one to give encouragement. Should there be someone at this period who happens to offend him in some way or other, this too the demon uses to contribute further to his hatred. The demon drives him along to desire other sites where he can more easily procure life’s necessities more readily find work and make a real success of himself. He goes on to suggest that, after all, it is not the place that is the basis of pleasing the Lord. God is to be adored everywhere. He joins to these reflections the memory of his dear ones and of his former way of life. He depicts life stretching out for a long period of time, and brings before the mind’s eye the toil of the ascetic struggle and, as the saying has it, leaves no leaf unturned to induce the monk to forsake his cell and drop out of the fight. No other demon follows close upon the heels of this one (when he is defeated) but a state of deep peace and inexpressible joy arise out of this struggle. (Praktikos, 12;)
Kendell Geers 2006, Seven Deadly Sins (Sloth), Stephen Friedman Gallery.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Simplicity, Clarity and Leadership

Leadership is often marked by a determined effort to simplify organizational structures, procedures and vision/mission statements. This characteristic of simplicity might be one of the most enduring aspects of effective leadership. Søren Kierkegaard famously defined simplicity as purity of heart, the desire of "one thing". For Christian leadership this is the desire for God's Kingdom and His righteousness.
At the beginning of this new year, where do we start in this process of simplifying? Thomas Merton offers good advice: "The greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds and makes all political and social life a mass illness. Without this housecleaning we cannot see. Unless we see, we cannot think. The purification must begin with the mass media. How?"

Merton's question is a good place to start. How do I simplify the barrage of information that I am exposed to every day?

Further Reading:
Merton, T. 1966. Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. New York: Doubleday.