Leadership and Listening

In the first book of Kings in the Old Testament there is a story I love when the Lord speaks to Elijah who is in crisis, and tells him to stand outside a cave where he will be passing by. The Lord is not in wind rending the mountains and crushing the rocks, it was not in the earthquake, or next a great fire that pass Elijah by. The Lord was in a whisper that Elijah had to be still to hear. I love that story, because it goes to the heart of the matter of God’s influence. When we shut down the chatter and move away from the noxious drama and all the noise…we will be in a better position to hear God, that is if we really want to hear what God has to say. Listening, while not as flashy as some of the other qualities of a great leader, is, for me anyway, the most essential quality. How can you lead anyone if you can’t hear their pain, their fears, their concerns, their hopes, their passions about the journey ahead? The role of a leader, contrary to many of those who presently act in leadership positions, is not to forge ahead with their own agenda, with everyone else be damned. It is to do what is in the best interest of those who are following you. That being said, the listening only comes after your commitment to what it is you stand for and proclaim, because I guarantee, in the listening process that follows, there will be those who will try to convince you to sway from those ideals to pursue an agenda that will not benefit the whole.

I know I’ve used this before, but in the the first book of Corinthians in the New Testament, Paul creates an apt analogy of the Church being the Body of Christ, with all the many members having different functions to sustain the body, and those differences should be celebrated, because it is their interdependence that allows the Body to fully function. Knowing that in any hierarchy there is a tendency to give greater power to those members that seem more honorable like a foot or hand, and less power to those more unseemly parts, Paul would have none of that and he states logically, if all parts were the same where would the body be? He declares if one part suffers, all parts should suffer, if one part is honored, all parts should share it’s joy. What a beautiful image, right? Sadly it is one where we have failed miserably…and perhaps it is because no one has taken time to listen to the parts of the body that suffer, or to listen to God in the whispers to tell us what to do.

I seem to be in tears a lot these days…a reflection of a developed sense of empathy and artistry, I hope. I hear the pain of those parts of the body of our country, and the scramble of those who try to convince us the pain isn’t real, or those who would damage the rest of the body just so they will listen. So lets all be better at listening, for a start, before we write off a part of this body that isn’t like “our part”. None of us can function if can’t work together and see the value of each gift an individual brings that will keep this body functioning. It need not start from the top down, it just needs to be a reflection of who we are and what we stand for.

Love and Vengeance

“Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay” is an important theme in the Old and New testaments…and one in my own life as well. I once wrote a paper in law school entitled, “Vengeance is mine saith the law, it will repay” My professor rolled her eyes when she saw the title, but changed her tune after she read it (I got an “A”). The point of my paper, from a theologian’s perspective was to render what is God’s to God, and to Caesar what is Caesar’s. The bottom line, was that if you are going to be a person of faith, then, as scripture states many times, leave vengeance to God. If you are an American citizen where freedom is recognized as an unalienable right then vengeance is in the hands of our legal system which is set up to protect those freedoms, even in the face of a criminal act. I know, I know, we don’t live in a perfect world…there are unjust laws, and as for faith…its hard to let go of the hurt, unfairness and cruelty of this world. The tenor of our hate filled world is a sorry reminder of that. As one who harnesses and wields of love, though, vengeance can never be a driving force.

For Christians, Jesus speaks about forgiveness, loving your enemy, praying for those who persecute you, etc., etc. My time on this earth is too short to waste it worrying about who is going to get their just desserts. I used to be that person crying over the injustice in the world and it ate me alive (which is not the same thing as working for justice). It’s just a waste of emotion. If we trust that God has our backs, and that whatever you put out into the world will come back to you tenfold…then the exercise of letting go and letting God is instrumental in effectively harnessing love. I’m not suggesting passivity, not at all. Fighting for justice is also fundamental to my faith…but there is a powerful distinction between energizing a fight for love and justice because you believe an omnipotent God has our backs and will trust those precepts that are fundamental to that faith and the energy of a fight that obliterates the “enemy” because they think they can do a better job than God or believe that have been enlisted by God to hate another or it just feels good in the moment. Regarding Caesar’s world, we can’t revere the rule of law and then seek vengeance by disregarding it and manipulating it when it doesn’t give us the result we want. When we stand against all the negativity and hatred in the world, it has to be done with the belief that everyone, even those we see as enemies at the moment stands to benefit from wielding love.

As any person of faith, there is an expectation of certain behaviors that are in alignment with the central tenets of that faith. As a citizen of this country, there are also certain expectations of behavior as well. Melding the two together is a natural struggle to be sure, but wielding love whether it be for God, country or both can’t be done by bean counting those that break both sets of laws. That is why I struggle so deeply with the present situation in this world. People are far too eager to justify their vengeance against their “enemy” because they happen to think they are on the right team and believe the notion that anyone who doesn’t believe like they do are the enemy. Its exhausting, and stands in direct opposition to what it means to wield love in the world. Like it or not, America includes many “teams” and Christianity commands that we love one another…even our enemies. Vengeance has no place in either.

I will be the first to admit that there are days when I want to hate everybody. Part of love’s training is to be aware of and work through these weaknesses constantly. I am not always a compliant student, but I am getting better. It is often the hardest part of my training…to wield love to those who demonstrably relish in the us against them fight, or judging others as lessor than, or bullying and name calling, or those who lie or are violent or are all of the above, the list goes on and on. The truth of the matter is that we are all human and I’m sure there are those out there who wish vengeance on me by wishing me ill, judging me and calling me names…and I may not even be aware of it. I know my heart, but others may not, which may mean attributing to me qualities I don’t think I deserve, and I know I have, at times, done the same thing to others. I’ve stopped allowing the world to define or weaken me by those judgments, especially when the world is in such desperate need of love which also means bringing my heart to the forefront for everyone to see, and that is not easy…because the world can be a cruel and unfair place after all. And yet it is because I have faith in a God that has my back and augments my vulnerable heart with a greater one that vengeance plays no part in my journey. It is a burden I don’t want or need anymore. So I wield love and celebrate those that do the same in the world. The other problem with vengeance is that it take our focus away from the people who should be celebrated for all the love they share.

Every day I say the phrase “I choose” in my head, whether it is to control my vapid tongue or expose my heart…it is my¬†choice. I make the conscious choice to wield my love in the best way I can. I choose love, not vengeance.

 

When there are no Words

There-are-no-words-300x292When I have no words to express the sadness, the shock, the shame that I feel when I am witness to events that I find unconscionable, unreasonable and unacceptable, I turn to scripture to find comfort. I came upon this verse in the gospel of Matthew 10: 28-31.

And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

In this moment, with grief and anger regarding senseless loss of life, I pray for our national soul. In this moment, we need to be our best selves, and that will look different depending where we stand. Wherever that is, it is counterproductive to focus energy on blame and vengeance. In this moment, those of us who stand on the outside must shine light into the darkness with love and support. All are essential in God’s eyes. That has to be the foundation in finding a solution, one nation under God. A nation that is not just one color, religion, or political ideology. Unless you stand for the freedom of every citizen, you do not stand for America. As for your faith, unless you see God in the eye of every citizen, you do not stand for God.

We have to be willing to have uncomfortable conversations about racial inequality and gun violence. We are becoming an angry, fearful, judgmental and self righteous violent people. If we truly believe that we all matter, then a change in attitude is the only possible solution. It starts with me, and it starts with you. None of us can stay the same…we all have to move forward, together.