Friday, March 30, 2007

The Power of Silence and Solitude

I presented a workshop today on the need for the return of the ancient and Biblical disciplines of silence and solitude to normative Christianity. I find it difficult to practice these discipline with any regularity, because the quest of these calls is in essence a call to do nothing. J. P. Moreland summarizes the benefits of these disciplines as means to sift our hearts and return us to a clearer, devotional and honest state of being:

“The regular practice of doing nothing, however, is crucial for spiritual growth. It keeps us from having an inflated view of our importance, it surfaces anxiety, fear, and worry along with our controlling strategies to keep from facing them, and it opens our heart to hear from our real, authentic selves and God. These benefits of solitude combined with silence — a form of ‘doing nothing’ — are of crucial importance in today's climate. Arguably, the most distinctive, pervasive characteristic of contemporary folk is stress. And a stressful life is one prone to depression and anxiety. So now more than ever it is important for Christians to incorporate the disciplines of solitude and silence into their regular practices.”

May we all learn the wisdom to be still in the presence of the Lord. "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth" (Psalm 46:10, NIV).

Painting by Luke Flowers (2006).

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Human Longing and Christ

Why do people follow bad leaders? One of my fellow professors here at Regent University once told me that in the absence of good leaders that people would follow any form of leadership. I wonder if this does not relate to the deep existential desire that people have for Ultimate Truth and Love. Ronald Rohlheiser points to this human longing in his normal erudite manner: "Whatever the expression, everyone is ultimately talking about the same thing – an unquenchable fire, a restlessness, a longing, a disquiet, a hunger, a loneliness, a gnawing nostalgia, a wildness that cannot be tamed, a congenital, all-embracing ache that lies at the center of human experience and the ultimate force that drives everything else…”
Authentic Christian Leadership points to Christ as the answer to our human longing for meaning. Claire of Assisi in her letters to Agnes of Prague offers this advice in finding fulfillment in life: “Place your mind in the mirror of eternity; place your soul in the splendor of glory; place your heart in the figure of the divine substance; and, through contemplation of Him, transform your entire being into the image of the Divine One Himself, so that you, yourself, may also experience what his friends experience when they taste the hidden sweetness that God alone has kept from the beginning for those who love Him.”

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Bruce Manning Metzer (1914-2007)

I was informed last week that the eminent theologian, Bruce Metzer passed away in February of this year. Metzer was an important guide in my own undergraduate and graduate studies in New Testament Textual Criticism. I remain inspired by his brilliant scholarship and the depth of his devotion to Jesus. He is a marvelous example of authentic Christian Leadership in the Academy. His orbituary from the Society of Biblical Literature reads as follows:
Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, the internationally renowned textual critic, bible scholar, and biblical translator, New Testament professor emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary, and past President of the SBL (1971), died on February 13, 2007 at his home in Princeton at the age of 93.

Internationally recognized as a leading NT textual critic, Metzger was arguably the greatest textual specialist and biblical translator America has produced. Among his many publications, pride of place belongs to his trilogy on the text, versions, and canon of the NT. Most widely influential is his handbook on The Text of the New Testament (1964; translations include German, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian, and Russian; 3d, enl. ed. 1992; 4th ed. with Bart Ehrman, 2005), from which multiple generations of textual critics learned their craft. It presented (in a genuinely balanced and pedagogically useful form) the essentials of what would later be termed "reasoned eclecticism," the dominant approach in the discipline today (his influence with regard to methodology was extended even more widely by A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament). Without rival in the field, and an outstanding example of Metzger's wide-ranging and encyclopedic knowledge, is his Early Versions of the New Testament (1977), which surveys not only the expected major versions, but also many minor ones (e.g., Thracian and Sogdian). The Canon of the New Testament (1987) combines careful and erudite attention to historical matters with a concern for theological questions and implications — another typically Metzgerian characteristic.

Metzger's recognition as a leading NT textual critic is due also to his influential role as a member of the editorial committee responsible initially for The Greek New Testament and later for the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece, and also his involvement in, and leadership of, the International Greek New Testament Project (1948-1984).

The full breadth of Metzger's scholarship is most visible in his hundreds of articles, which cover textual criticism, philology, palaeography and papyrology, classical topics, Greco-Roman religions, the Hebrew Bible, the Apocrypha, the New Testament, patristics, early church history, and Bible translation (to name only the major areas). In addition he has published (in at least two dozen journals) reviews of hundreds of books written in eight languages. A master of bibliographic detail, Metzger would find that telling reference in sources the rest of us did not know existed (see, e.g., p. 271 n. 28 in the latest edition of the Text of the NT). In a remarkable feat, Metzger published in eight different decades: his first article appeared in 1938, and his most recent book in 2006.

Metzger's many awards, prizes, honors, and academic recognitions include honorary degrees from his alma mater, Findlay College, University of St. Andrews, University of Münster/Westfalia, and University of Potchefstroom; the presidencies of Studorium Novi Testamenti Societas (1971-1972), the Society of Biblical Literature (1971), the North American Patristic Society (1972), and the Society for Textual Scholarship (1995); and three Festschriften. Of particular note are Metzger's election in 1978 as Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy (its highest honor for those not residents of the UK), and the receipt in 1994 of its prestigious F. C. Burkitt Medal for Biblical Studies (only the third American so honored). As Iain Torrence, the Seminary's current President, observed, "Bruce Metzger's sheer brilliance, clarity and Christian devotion set a standard all of his own."

Yet for all his academic achievements and international renown, Bruce is warmly remembered by many as much or more for his personality and character. Friendly, modest, and self-effacing, seemingly always courteous and gracious, he took a genuine interest in his students, was a source of encouragement to colleagues and younger scholars alike, and deeply enjoyed his many speaking engagements in churches throughout the world. He had a knack of always finding something nice to say about a person or a book, an engaging sense of humor, and an apparently endless supply of amusing anecdotes. Though he tended to avoid talking about himself, he had some remarkable stories to tell (many were finally told in his Reminiscences of an Octogenarian [1997]), some of which were quite endearing: he once admitted, a bit sheepishly, to having studied Syriac vocabulary instead of listening to the lecture in a Christian Education class while a seminary student. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him, whether as colleague, teacher, mentor, or friend.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

New Book on Humble Leadership

There is a new book out by N. Graham Standish entitled: "Humble Leadership: Being Radically Open to God's Guidance and Grace". The write-up on the book reads as follows:
"A humble leader says to God, 'I’m yours, no matter where you call me to go, what you call me to do, or how you call me to be. I will seek your will and way as I lead others to do the same.' With this straightforward vision, Graham Standish invites leaders of faith to consider an approach to leadership he admits is at odds with popular images of leaders. Standish makes the case that humble leadership, grounded in the teachings of Jesus, means recognizing that what we have and who we are is a gift from God for which we must be grateful. It also means being radically and creatively open to God’s guidance, grace, and presence in all things. This state of being is like the jazz musician’s trust in improvisation. When we lead out of such openness, God’s power and grace flow through us.Standish offers advice on how to gain greater humility and sustain it in the face the pressures all leaders face. He discusses self aware leadership, wherein you understand your personality type; the need for prayerful discernment; overcoming divisiveness to be a unifying force; being spirit-led; and being effective through the practice of humility in all things."

N. Graham Standish is pastor of Calvin Presbyterian Church in Zelienople, Pennsylvania, a church devoted to following Christ through prayer and spirituality. He is the author of the best-selling Becoming a Blessed Church as well as other books and articles on spirituality and spiritual direction.

Prayer as the Source of Authentic Leadership

I am currently reading the early Church Father John Climacus (579-649 AD) in my prayer time. Here is an excellent section, where John speaks beautifully about the power of prayer as a source of authentic Christian Leadership:
"Prayer is union with God and colloquy with Him. Prayer maintains the equilibrium of the world, reconciles people to God, produces holy tears, forms a bridge over temptations, and acts as a buttress between us and affliction. Prayer drives away the struggle of the spirit. It is the blessedness to come. It is an action that will never come to an end. Prayer is a spring of the virtues, it is an illumination of the mind, it is a curtain to shut out despair, it is a sign of hope, it is a victory of depression. Prayer is a mirror in which we see our steps forward, it is a signpost of the route to follow, it is an unveiling of good things to come, it is a pledge of glory. Prayer, for the one who prays truly, is the soul's tribunal, it is the Lord's judgement on that person now, in advance of the final judgement."

Moral authentic leadership is birthed in the presence of God in prayer.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Simple Hearts

I was part of a great conversation this morning with some of the pastors, leaders and elders of our church on the subject of simplicity. I was reminded of several good statements that helps us in this regard. The Psalms declare that "The LORD protects the simplehearted" (Psalm 116:6, NIV). The idea in the Hebrew here is that a simple heart is a heart that wants one thing, focused in its pursue of God.

Richard Foster defines simplicity, in his book by the same title, in the following way: "The Christian Discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward life-style. Both the inward and the outward aspects of simplicity are essential. We deceive ourselves if we believe we can possess the inward reality without it's having a profound effect on how we live. And to attempt to arrange an outward life-style of simplicity without the inward reality leads to deadly legalism. Experiencing the inward reality liberates us outwardly. Speech becomes truthful and honest. The lust for status and position is gone because we no longer need them. We cease from showy extravagance not on the grounds of being unable to afford it, but on the grounds of principle. Our goods become available to others." Foster highlight several very important aspects of the Christian discipline of simplicity, in particular the connection between simplicity and holiness, charity and wholeness.

Francios Fenelon echoes this sentiment when he writes that, "...when we are truly in this interior simplicity our whole appearance is franker, more natural. This true simplicity...makes us conscious of a certain openness, gentleness, innocence, gaiety, and serenity, which is charming when we see it near to and continually, with pure eyes. O, how amiable this simplicity is! Who will give it to me? I leave all for this. It is the Pearl of the Gospel."

What would Christian Leadership rooted in simplicity looks like?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Back Home

I am back home after a two week speaking and ministering trip to South Africa. It was a deeply fruitful and providential time for me, but I am grateful to be back. As I flew over the Chesapeake Bay in the flight from Washington DC to Norfolk, seeing the familiar bay bridge from the air, revelling in the joy of being back where God has put me, I was reminded of the importance of giving consent to God's will for our lives.
There is this wonderful interview that was done with Mother Teresa in TIME Magazine in 1989 by Edward D. Desmond, in which he asked her if she thought that she had any special qualities. Her answer: "I don't think so. I don't claim anything of the work. It's His work. I'm like a little pencil in His hand. That's all. He does the thinking. He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do it. The pencil has only to be allowed to be used. In human terms, the success of our work should not have happened, no? That is a sign that it's His work, and that He is using others as instruments - all our Sisters. None of us could produce this. Yet see what He has done."

When we give consent to where He puts us and do what He asks us to do with a big smile great miracles can happen.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Importance of Theological Reflection

I have been traveling in South Africa speaking and ministering at churches, ministries and University conferences and so have not been able to blog as regularly as I wish. This morning I presented a new paper on the use of the critical reflective competencies of theological reflection as a source for the construction of authentic Christian leadership at the “Leadership that Transforms” Conference at the University of Stellenbosch. Whilst presenting I was reminded of the words of Henri Nouwen on the importance of theological reflection in the formation and facilitation of true leadership:

“Without solid theological reflection, future leaders will be little more than pseudo-psychologists, pseudo-sociologists, pseudo-social workers. . . . But that has little to do with Christian leadership because the Christian leader thinks, speaks, and acts in the name of Jesus, who came to free humanity form the power of death and open the way to eternal life. To be such a leader it is essential to be able to discern from moment to moment how God acts in human history and how the personal, communal, national, and international events that occur during our lives can make us more and more sensitive to the ways in which we are led to the cross and through the cross to the resurrection. The task of future Christian leaders is not to make a little contribution to the solution of the pains and tribulations of their time, but to identify and announce the ways in which Jesus is leading God’s people out of slavery, through the desert to a new land of freedom.”

I will be back home next week and will return to blogging regularly.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Bridging the Gap

The challenge of Christian Scholars working in Leadership Studies (for that matter any academic field and discipline) is to bridge the gap between the world in which the Scriptures were produced and our own contexts. In a sense, serious thinkers working with the sacred Scriptures must be good exegetes not only of Scripture but also their own world.
Vernon Robbins' approach, amongst many other contemporary hermeneutical approaches is a good start to try to bridge this gap. Robbins summarized his approach in a speech he gave in South Africa in 1999 at the South African New Testament Society:

"As the twentieth century ends and the third millennium begins, socio-rhetorical interpretation has become a multi-dimensional approach to texts guided by a multi-dimensional hermeneutic. Rather than being another method for interpreting texts, socio-rhetorical interpretation is an interpretive analytic an approach that evaluates and reorients its strategies as it engages in multi-faceted dialogue with the texts and other phenomena that come within its purview. The approach does not claim to be comprehensive. Rather, the claim is that the approach uses the insights of sociolinguistics, semiotics and ethnography in an interactionist philosophical mode that sets ancient, modern and post-modern systems of thought in energetic dialogue with one another."

When we flesh our the Word in our world, we will see the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Start of the Journey

I discovered a box of old music cassettes today and as I listened to some of them I was taken back to the start of my journey with Jesus. As I listened to an audio cassette of the self titled album by John Michael Talbot (recorded in 1976 and purchased by me in 1981) this morning, I remembered the clean sweep God's presence made in the last months of 1981 as I surrendered my life, hopes and dreams to His Lordship. My favorite song from that album was a simple song called "Hallelu", a song that expressed my new found faith, the lyrics follows:
I gazed into the stars
I followed where the eastern light does show
I tried to find the Light to fill my achin' soul
I looked into the ocean
I walked upon the mountain tops
I trusted in my garden tryin' to set my spirit free

And then the Son of Man, He beckoned to me
The Spirit of the Light came in true love
Like a gentle summer breeze, so comfortin', so free
He gave the Light of freedom within Me

He is the Mornin' Star
He causes all the lights to shine
He walks within the garden beside me

From the depths of the sea
Beyond the highest mountain top
He causes all the universe to be

And I sing Hallelu, sing praises to my Lord
I sing Hallelu, Hallelu

My prayer for us all is that we might rediscover the simple faith we once had as we started this journey.

Laying down our broken Idols

I read an interesting book last night by Rick McKinley, entitled "This Beautiful Mess", in which he makes use of a great poem of Vania Brandley entitled, "Rahab's Song". I cannot help but to think that the first broken idol we need to lay down is that of our pre-occupation with self-affirming, proud leadership.
In the dirt I used to kneel
idols fixed upon vain hopes
blocks of wood brought down with weight of prayers spilled
but You came and stole my heart
now I pray to ears unstopped
I am watched over by eyes I can't outrun
You are God alone
lesser gods before you scatter
to the winds like sand
for you, the God I love
I lay down my broken idols
following Your steps

I can feel upon my skin
that Your tears have met with mine
and the earth around me shakes with your resolve
all my hope in You I find
all my heart like water poured
what is one more drop in hands that frame the world?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Downshifting and Voluntary Simplicity

I have been invited to contribute a chapter on voluntary simplicity in an new book on downshifting that will be published later this year, edited by Dr. Franco Gandolfi and Dr. Hélène Cherrier, published by ICFAI University Press.
In contemporary Western society, the idea of living more simply through "simplifying life", "downshifting", "lowering material possession", or "resisting consumerism" is a life choice phenomenon. Being widely used in ordinary conversation and by writers, the idea of downshifting consumption practices is not well understood by consumer researchers. Why are these lifestyles becoming popular in a consumer culture? Why are some consumers choosing to consume less? What types of discourses are used to learn about and justify this lifestyle? The goal of this book is to present theoretical aspects and real-life cases from around the globe that will help to better understand downshifting consumption.

My chapter will focus on the ancient Christian discipline of voluntary simplicity exploring the history, scope and significance of this devotional discipline.

ILA Conference in Vancouver, November 2007

The International Leadership Association (ILA) will have have its annual conference in Vancouver this year, November 1-4. The Conference theme is as follows; "Leadership: Impact, Culture and Sustainability." The Call for Papers puts it as follows:

Leadership: How can we assess its impact? How do we understand its cultural, ethnic, and organizational contexts? How will we ensure that practices advance sustainability and are themselves sustainable? The 9th annual ILA Conference will address, among other issues, these crucial questions, the answers to which influence and inform the works of those in the leadership field. When we assess impact we learn from our experiences. When we understand culture we open ourselves to ideas. When we practice sustainability we plan for the future. Vancouver will be the setting and inspiration for our global network to engage in dialogue, share best practices, and present research. The ILA seeks submissions that represent the best contemporary thinking about leadership from a diverse range of scholars, practitioners, educators, leadership program directors, leadership coaches/consultants, grant makers, business/community/public leaders, and students. Proposal formats include: paper presentations, panel discussions, workshops, conversations with leadership authors, roundtables, and posters. While we encourage submissions on all leadership topics, extra attention will be given to those submissions that relate to the theme, Leadership: Impact, Culture, and Sustainability.

I am part of two proposals for panel presentations; one on the integration of spirituality and organizational leadership and another on the dark side of leadership. Both of my presentations reflect my current research in the ontology of sin in the writings of the early Church as it applies to organizational leadership.