Monday, January 14, 2008

Gluttons for Power

Why do we desire to lead? Hint - it is not always because we are humble or want to change the world. Sometimes our desires for fame, fortunate and power drive our aspirations for leadership. I would maintain that authentic Biblical leadership starts with an examination of the "passions"/desires that underlie our desire to lead.

Evagrius Ponticus (349–399 AD), a monastic theologian in Egypt, is believed to be the first writer to record and systematize certain teachings of the predominately illiterate Desert Fathers. A prominent feature of his research was a list of eight evil "passions" (desires). While he did not create the list from scratch, he is credited with refining and developing it. His list of "passions" were, in order of increasing seriousness: gluttony, lust, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia, vainglory, and pride. Acedia (from the Greek "akedia," or "not to care") denoted "spiritual sloth." Evagrius intended for this list to be used for diagnostic purposes. One cannot resist temptation without being aware of how it operates. What is interesting, is that his list starts with gluttony. For Evagrius, sin starts with our surrender to our uncontrolled appetites. This is echoed in the Scriptures, when the Apostle Paul writes: “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.” - Philippians 3:18-19

The age-old discipline of fasting, or the curbing of our appetites might be the first step in the purification of our desires. The philokalia records that Abba John the Short, advising the young brothers to love fasting, told them frequently: “The good soldier, undertaking to capture a strongly fortified, enemy city, blockades food and water. In this way the resistance of the enemy is weakened and he finally surrenders. Something similar happens with carnal impulses, which severely war against a person in his youth. Blessed fasting subdues the passions and the demons and ultimately removes them far from the combatant. And the powerful lion,” he told them another time, “frequently falls into a snare because of his gluttony, and all of his strength and might disappear.”

May we have the courage to reexamine our desires for leadership - this might have to start in the determined control of our appetites - including our desire for power over others.

Picture: Kendell Geers (2007). Seven Deadly Sins