FranklinCovey and the Beginnings of a Rule of Life

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My introduction to the ideas behind forming a rule of life began during college when I discovered FranklinQuest planners and the book Ten Natural Laws of Time and Life Management by Hyrum Smith. The simple pyramid scheme of determining life values then translating those into goals and daily actions has been a part of their formula for success for years.

I think what is helpful for a follower of Christ is that our faith, like a value, needs to be translated into concrete daily steps. In Benedict’s Rule he lays out a daily schedule that forms a backbone of prayer. In our lives, we need something very similar if not exactly the same.

We need a schedule of prayer, and like the Rule it may change seasonally, and we need a set of guidelines for making our faith and community realities rather than concepts.

A lot of faith can feel like Jesus wall paper on the rooms of lives in which we live as functional atheists. If my faith is to be something that becomes a virtue, a lived value that becomes as natural as breathing, I need daily activities and a schedule that makes that happen.

I rise and pray. We pray before meals, every meal no matter how small. I don’t eat without thanking God, not because anyone else needs it, but because I do. I do evening prayer, usually long after the “vesper light” of the prayers. I stay really faithful to the Book of Common Prayer, but I almost always use apps on my phone.

I want to give a direct plug for http://www.missionstclare.com They have consistently provided a solid form of the daily office of the Episcopal church for as long as I have been crossing myself. I skip a lot of it, frankly, but never the opening, Psalms, Gospel, and Lord’s Prayer, daily collect, and blessing. That sounds like a lot, but it only takes as long as checking Facebook or reading the AP wire. And neither of them make me a better person.

A simple schedule and daily actions. My daily actions are not noble or great. I plan something everyday for my wife and I, some intentionally clear time with kids, and time to pray, study, and write. My life is overflowing with service for others and time with others as a pastor. I don’t have to work at those. What I have to plan in is marriage, family, and friends.

Becoming more Benedictine means living into stability and transformation. Taking these lifelong values that define who I am, or can, and making them into daily actions means that I have the chance to hear God say at the end, Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter into my rest.”

And I know that is really simple, but it is my reason for having a planner.

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Freedom is not a Christian Virtue

My one concern here is for mature Christians, disciples of Jesus.  I have to state that up front because what I am about to say is open heresy in the other major ethos and theology of our day.

Freedom is not a Christian virtue.  It is not a virtue at all.  It is not something that you can earn, practice, or become.  Freedom is a gift.  We are given freedom by others and ultimately by God.  We have freedom as rational creative creatures, but it is immature to claim it for our selves.

When have you ever seen someone claim their freedom, insist on their freedom, and create a better relationship, a better family, a better community?  I have seen lots of people take responsibility for themselves, their children, their neighbors, their world and change lives for the better.  I have seen us plaster the language of freedom on thousands of selfish acts.

Freedom has become a virtue in our ethos today.  We want freedom, we celebrate freedom, we claim freedom, we defend our own freedom.  Freedom has become an end unto itself.  It has become a good.  All of this is weird and a little sick for followers of Jesus.

In America we celebrate the virtue of Larry Flynt publishing Hustler because he is practicing his freedom.  Because he is “owning his freedom,” we see that as a liberative story.  I am disturbed less by Mr. Flynt than by the narrative that celebrates freedom as an end unto itself.  He is virtuous because he set himself free from the constraints of society in publishing pornography.  We celebrate unquestioningly people breaking free from social, religious, moral restraints.  Then we grieve when we see the victims but cannot understand how that happened.

The western narrative in its American form is the lone male, usually white, usually fit, setting himself free from social constraint to face an uncertain but glorious future unconstrained by community, ethics, or values others than those he chooses.  We celebrate people acting free in their sexuality, of course, but also in many other ways.  This is incredibly adolescent.  It leads to death.  Next time you watch a movie, count the “collateral damage” wracked up in the pursuit of freedom.

I used to teach an eighth grade religion class, and I began by asking them what it meant to be an adult.  We often don’t aim our lives at anything because we never take the time to figure out what we are trying to become.  I wanted to build a picture of what a mature Christian looked like with them; so I would ask, How do we define adulthood in America today?  The answers always came down to what you could do once you become an “adult”: cigarettes, beer, pornography, and voting.  But what does adulthood really mean?

Adulthood is the voluntary taking of responsibility for yourself as a child of God, for your neighbor as a part of God’s family, for our communities of faith and geography, and for the world around us.  It means growing in your ability to love God, your neighbor, and your self.  I add care of creation from our original humanity.  It is not the choice or choices we can make that make us adults; it is what we choose to do.  It is choosing to live and love in particular ways that we should celebrate, claim, and defend.

In the process of choosing virtuous lives we give freedom to others to live, love, and pursue happiness.  But we cannot succeed to be a free people if our ideal is just claiming freedom for ourselves.  As a father, I choose to provide for my family, to be home with them when I can, and to live virtuously so that they don’t have to fear my behaviors or the repercussions of them.  They cannot have safety, security, and health without those choices.  If I live as lech my wife and children, my community, and the world will suffer in obvious and not so obvious ways for longer than just my life.   My good is in their good.  I practice virtues both at home and at work because I have made covenants to do so, and so that I can provide my family a secure home, provision for their needs, and care for their bodies, minds, and spirits.  I am free to do this because my father and mother did the same for me.  I am free to do otherwise I suppose, but not if I am to keep my integrity.

We now must face that freedom as a virtue is destroying other virtues in our lives.  In fact many of the traditional virtues are acts of  restraint in the face of freedom.  When we choose to follow Jesus we choose not to be free in all our choices.  It is ironic that this gives us true life and freedom.

The practices of our faith are intended to make us the kind of people who will choose to act in virtuous ways no matter what others do, no matter what our situation is, no matter what even our desires may be in this particular moment.  We are born and formed as a people of God, just as my children are my offspring by birth but formed as my children by living and loving and learning from me.*  They will choose to act as my children, or far more importantly as God’s children, in every decision of their lives.  Or not.

As we face headlines of renewed violence in our world, we have to stand at the edge of this new valley of the shadow of death and say, How do I follow Jesus here?  How do I live as a child of God here?  How do I see God’s rule of love and peace here?  This is the crux of discipleship.

On Sunday, Peter will try to pull Jesus back and say you can’t go there.  Jesus’ rebuke isn’t “I am free to do as I please.”  He doesn’t remind Peter of his freedom as God’s son or a son of humanity.  He rebukes him and tells him that his mind is in the wrong place.  He didn’t rise from prayer on the Mount of Olives and practice the virtue of walking away.  He took responsibility for us and all humanity in fulfilling the will of God knowing the cost of that decision.  In doing so he gave us freedom from sin.  What we do with that freedom matters for ourselves and our world.

Will we take responsibility, grow up, and care for our selves, our neighbors, our world?  Or will we just be free?

 

 

 

*I use “I” and “my” in relation to my family, but it is really “we” my wife and me.  Truth is she is far more virtuous and responsible than I am.

There are No Inalienable Rights

We don’t have inalienable rights endowed by our birth.  We don’t.  I love Thomas Jefferson more than you do, and I think he was right about a lot of things, including this one.  We have rights “endowed by our Creator“.  They are not inalienable rights, either.  We make them alien when we fail to live as God’s people.

Jefferson was smart enough to see that we have rights because there is a social covenant*, a covenant that binds you and me in a common life.  Any rights we have are given by our living into our covenant.

Test it out: take a baby of any race out into the woods and let him (or her) vote.  They have no right to vote given by the Creator.  Instead they will die slowly and probably horribly unless us or one of God’s other creatures steps forward to care for them, love them, and raise them up.

I am not arguing for social Darwinism.  Too often Christians have completely given up moral philosophy to biological impulse, or as Paul called it “the flesh.”  We are endowed with Spirit, and the Spirit teaches us, and what it teaches is law and life.

We have rights because we have a covenant.  That covenant is spelled out in the Bible as the Torah and then the New Covenant “Law of Love,” that Jesus teaches.  Both of those laws are versions of covenant, and they command us not to hold on to our own “rights” but rather to a set of social responsibilities that teach us what the Creator made us to be.  Our “rights” derive from all of us living rightly, or in Biblical language “righteously” that is to God’s approval.

We have to work at knowing who God is in order to get our social responsibilities straightened out.  We don’t serve a god of violence and retribution that we often create in our own worst image.  We don’t serve the god of our tribe, though that god is still very popular even in our day, even in our churches.  We serve a God who made the world for pleasure and called it good, who set us to keep it as stewards with dominion.  We serve a God who is about our redemption when we fall, but who lets consequences pay out unless we repent, and sometimes by grace, even when we don’t.

As Christians, we serve God who is known as Father, who sets our boundaries and defines our relationships, rules and provides, and we serve God as Abba, who has given us new birth and holds us, calls us by name and sets us free, who loves us and forgives us.  And we are supposed to become God’s children who do those same things, as Jesus our Lord did.  And the Spirit teaches us how, moving and dancing, reminding and teaching and making us new.

When we live into our covenants and the laws of God our Creator, we create rights for everyone around us that extend beyond the abuse-boundaries of the laws of our land.  A lawyer friend always reminds me that “the law is not made for the righteous man.”  The thing is that the righteous human being lives the law into irrelevance.

As we grow up from people who need to learn the rules, to people who can keep the law, we become people who don’t have rights so much as give others rights by our righteousness.  We supersede law in love, moving from protecting rights to providing life, and from defending against injustice to defining what justice means, the human being in right relation to God, creation, and other human beings.

When we find a baby in the woods, the law tells us many things, but love tells us to take it up, love that baby, give her a name, feed her, care for her, teach her, raise her up, so that she can take her place in the stewardship of the world and live up to the covenants of the children of God.

And that is why the people of Ferguson or wherever else violence defined by race or gender or nation raise their heads feel more than grief.   Their anger is righteous due to the expectation at the very level of  being that the covenants that make us human are being violated by the ones who are supposed to protect them.

We understand that sometimes protecting the people who live according to the covenant means a violent justice, but it should not and only as the last of last resorts.  But if our understanding of our basic human responsibilities under the covenant are out of line with our cultural norms, we are in real trouble.  Our cultural norms collapse from a call to mutual covenant to self protection, Darwinism at its 18th century worst.

When we are just protecting our own “rights” we miss the point. We have to protect each other. There is no other way to have a covenant based life of togetherness.

The alternative is violent coercion.  The alternative is violent freedom that belies our best intentions, which are called “best” because we are usually at some lesser place.

I am not arguing for theism.  I am arguing from theism.  I am a Christian.  I follow Jesus and have promised to live by his teachings embodied in the New Covenant and based, rooted, and understood from the Original Covenant of the Hebrew Scriptures.  I cannot leave a baby in the woods, and I cannot watch idly by while my neighbor gets destroyed by those who are supposed to protect them.

We have police to keep us safe, to defend the version of the covenant that we have enshrined in our country’s Constitution.  We should be a people of law and law evenly and fairly applied.  We should support the police while living in a way that makes their job as unnecessary as possible.  We should grieve when their job demands violence, but we should also ask our selves how much violence they actually should expect, and not be prepared for more without reason.  We should fire and prosecute them when they violate their oaths, but they should be able to expect us to keep ours as well.

Christians, we must live as we were created to live.  We have stewardship of the creation and should protect it.  We are called to love each other and protect and help each other, and we should, we must.  My favorite verse in Leviticus is “If your neighbor’s ox falls down in the road, you should lift it up; you shall not refuse your help.”

The news, this month from Ferguson, reminds us that we have work in front of us if we are to steward the world with the compassion of God.  We cannot ignore the stranger in the marketplace because of his skin color, language, or clothes; nor can we ignore our responsibilities toward him.  Not if we claim to love God.

 

 

 

*Covenant is preferable to contract or construct or other similar words because a contract’s obligations are dependent on parties keeping the contract.  A covenant is a binding statement that changes the realities and identities of the parties involved.

The Chapter Room – Travel Notes

During our travels over the summer, I dragged my family through dozens of former monasteries, abbeys, and friaries.  I can recognize all the various types of stones from one end of the British isles to the other in the backgrounds of movies.  The features started to run together for my family, not being obsessive over the same issues.  There was one feature that stood out from place to place as they began to grow familiar.  It was the Chapter Room.

In Benedictine life, and other orders as well, the Rule requires that after mass or at another time of the day, the community gather to read and discuss a chapter from the Rule.  It is also the place where the abbot or prioress might call the community together for business that required everyone’s insight.  They were often round and quite beautiful.  There was usually a bench around the outside wall, though active communities also had chairs, they were quite rare when the communities were founded.

The Chapter Room was replaced in Anglican life by the Vestry.  This was a sad development in a way.  Not that I think Vestries are a bad innovation.  Business in a lay community requires a different ongoing oversight that would it would be superfluous to involve the whole community.  But we rarely see a place outside the sanctuary where the whole community is gathered.  Our fellowship hall at Grace is not even large enough for our whole congregation.

I am not advocate of multi-use facilities because I have come to see over time that our architecture expresses our anthropology of community in particular ways.  As Louis Weil used to say, “When it comes to liturgy, the building always wins.”

What if we saw our entire community as essential to the mission of our church?  What if we didn’t accept members unless they committed to the ministry of the congregation?  What if we built our community into our space?  Shared leadership or mutual ministry models often miss that there is a particular charism to leading that is necessary to healthy community.  As I have written elsewhere, leadership is service.  My towel work may be telling a group that it is time for them to stop meeting at our church.  I believe in leaders as necessary, as necessary as toilets.  But on the other hand, I also advocate for shared stewardship, the ownership of the mission by the whole community.

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The Chapter Room at Westminster Abbey

If we are to embody a whole community as part of the wisdom and necessary to the function of our congregations, do we need a Chapter Room?

Spending enough time below deck

Ships.  The church is often compared to a ship at sea in some helpful and some terrible analogies.  A good friend used this analogy to talk about how the church can be a place of faith in a world without faith.  I have used it to talk about our job of saving people from the flood.  Another common one is to see the world as the ark in the flood from the Noah story.  I am deeply uncomfortable with that one because we are called to be about the redemption of the world, not to shut the doors and let everyone else drown.  But on the other hand in one of the better books on constructive theology, Peter Hodgson in Winds of the Spirit compares the theological task to repairing a ship at sea.  There are lots of ship analogies.

My favorite analogy is leadership-oriented.  As a captain, I have a certain job to do on the ship.  It is not possible to captain a certain size of ship without a crew.  You just can’t.  And though there may be times when you are needed to step in and help with rigging, if you are spending all your time on ropes, you are not the captain.  The captain has a role that requires a sense of direction, purpose and mission, and time spent planning.

This latter piece is the one I want to focus on today.  You have to spend enough time below deck with the charts and maps as a captain.  You have to know where the ship is going.  You don’t always have to be the one at the wheel, of course, but the crew and passengers, investors and customers are all waiting on the ship to go somewhere.

As a pastor, this is an important part of our role that is undervalued and underdone in communities that begin to grow.  My congregation is not a Sunday-only institution.  We work all week long.  Our worship is, and should be, the praise of a community that is living the faith and doing the work of redemption during the rest of the week.  Sunday is dessert.  The meal is served Monday through Saturday. (I would love to take credit for the life of Grace Church, but I inherited a busy church.)  Our ship’s problem isn’t speed.

The analogy is not going to hold for long, so let’s look at our primary idea.  As a captain, you have to know the ship.  You have to know the ropes, so to speak.  You have to know the crew, and your first officers especially well.  You have to know what is in the hold and what the scheduled stops are.  You have to know these things and know them first-hand as much as humanly possible.  There is no substitute for time with the crew and pulling on the pieces.  But you can do all of that and get everywhere late, nowhere important, and make everyone involved feel lost and frustrated.

You have to know where you are going, that you have the resources you need, and can plot a course, even if you have to modify it a million times.

Knowing where you are going is one of those mystical sounding phrases that can mean not very much in the real world or it can save your community.  If you don’t know what it means at all, I recommend Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage highly simply because it offers some examples and then practical ways to discover direction within a corporation.  It is especially good when the captain shares the chair with a room full of people, as most of us do.  Another good book is Rainer and Rainer’s Simple Church.  This one benefits from church-specific advice, from a free church congregational model, but it is great on principles as well.  You need to be able to state your purpose over a set period of time in a sentence.  One sentence.

This seems like it would be an easy thing to do, but as already shown the large areas of moving pieces and people involved in a healthy community make it a challenge to get far enough perspective to see it all, name it, and then be able to get people involved with the whole picture from where they currently are.  You cannot “wing” the work of perspective.  It takes time to look down the route, chart the currents, and choose the language carefully.  You have to spend enough time below deck.

In old pictures of captain’s desks there are always piles of charts and maps, old books, and arcane tools.  I feel like a pastor’s office should be the same way.  It takes some basic tools to do our job.  They don’t really change century to century.  You will always need a Bible and a Book of Common Prayer, for example.  But then there are the current events and relevant histories.  Too many pastors and priests get used to our favorite maps and do not update.  We are luddites by attrition and busyness.  But we cannot effectively guide in today’s waters without some relevant maps.  We should be comparing notes with other captains and other sailors.  We should be staying current on the currents.

Time to think and work and compare should not keep us off the deck either, but we do need significant time below to do our job.  The church has gotten used to pastors and priests who are hospital visitors and funeral planners and deacons first.  We are called to a particular role, and if those roles are yours, great; you may not be the person to lead a community.  Leaders lead first.  It is a service that the church needs like the ship needs a captain who knows where they are going.

It is telling in Acts that the community complained about the inequities of help and service and the response of the apostles was to assign some people to do the work, after prayer and clear delineation of duties.  Too many pastors do the work of the laity.  Too many captains spend their days pulling on ropes and holding the hands of those who should be working.  We are called to proclaim the Good News and teach and preach.  We do have to make sure that the work of the community gets done.  A ship with no sails has a captain who isn’t doing their job too.  But we do that work, our serving, in relation to the whole ship.  Our job on the ship is to know where the ship is going and to get everyone working toward that destination.

Our service is leading.  We are no more or less necessary than the kid who swabs the deck so that our crew doesn’t slip into the sea.  But that kid can’t do my job, and I can’t do his, at least not all the time.

As a pastor I have cleaned a lot of toilets and wiped down a lot of counters and set a lot of tables.  It happens.  But if I am always doing those things and not praying, studying, and preaching and teaching, then I have failed as a leader in the church.  And my ship is adrift at sea.

How do we discern what is the leader’s duty and what belongs to the crew?  How do we clarify roles?  Lencioni can help with this process.  How do we set aside time with the charts and maps of your community?  What tools are necessary?  What new maps do you need but don’t have?  Who are your first mates, your crew, your investors, your customers? If you are not the captain, how do you make sure your captain has time to do their job well?

 

 

How Not to Get Blindsided

In seventh grade, I came into Junior High Football as the fastest kid in my class, or at least that is how I remember it.  My ninth grade brother, who was post-growthspurt, was waiting for me.  On my second or third day, I got a hand-off up the middle and was just breaking the line when the sky appeared and pain erupted from my chest and chin.  My brother had let me get loose enough to not see him coming and blindsided me.  

Getting blindsided is one of those experiences that can either make you better or bitter.  I was both, but that was a long time ago.  Now as a leader I have been thinking a lot about the kind of community that I want to build and what kind of leader I have to become in order to build it.  

After just writing about the dangers of the father knows best kind of leadership, it may seem ironic to think that a leader can and should determine the kind of community they are forming, but that is what stewardship means.  As a Christian, the kind of community that I want to create is one that does naturally what Jesus said that we should do: love, be compassionate, forgive, offer mercy, bring peace, and tell the truth.  

A natural leader affects the systems they are in without necessarily thinking about it very much.  You have seen the eight or nine year old who just changes the way the kids around them act.  That kind of leadership is a gifted form of what we all have: influence.  Influence is real power.  It is not necessarily the power to change a single event, but rather it allows over time the changes to whole chains of events, if it is allowed to work without manipulation.

Influence may or may not come naturally to you, but you can grow in your influence as you grow as a human being.  Following Jesus, you have to attend to the log in your own eye, rather than the splinter in your neighbors.  You have to go into your closet and pray.  This work that turns inward in terms of discipline and law and outward in terms of gentleness and peace, think repentance within and mercy without, this work allows us to actually follow Jesus and to grow the kingdom.  It brings wholeness and peace that begins to look a lot like our Lord.  It makes for integrity.

Integrity is a subtle thing to notice in someone, but it allows your gravitational weight in systems to grow exponentially.  People notice when people are consistent and humble and still honest and strong.  People begin to give what you say more weight and what you do more influence.  

So, what does influence have to do with not getting blindsided? In leadership people are always going to be angry and reactive to change.  Most leaders cause change simply because as we try to move the world closer to the Rule of God that movement is change from the previous status quo.  Since we can rest assured in a world post-Eden that the we are not in God’s Rule completely yet, we should be leading change somewhere.  Even good people resist change.  Even saints are held down by gravity and back by inertia.  So as systems change and pull on people around you, someone somewhere is getting pulled, and if they resist, then something will give, and there will be a reaction.  

I never suspected that my brother would hit me.  I just didn’t.  I should have.  He was on defense, and he had been hitting me for years for fun.  If I had more influence and more integrity, someone would have warned me, maybe even my brother himself. 

In leadership, influence allows us to move the system through something more like God’s way of being in the world.  We can cause change through goodness, calling, love, forgiveness, healing, influence.  We don’t have to resort to violence in our relationships.  This more subtle change allows people to join in and respond without build up of reactive energy, but it also allows time to deal with build up constructively, chasing down those who are left out or hurt by the changes. 

The work also should give us clear enough vision to not be blinded to real dangers by ego, pride, or false reality.  We can hear God’s warnings in the subtle movement of the Spirit, but also in the words and warnings of others.  Because we are not led by our blind pride, we can move with others and see more clearly what they need.  

Leaders change systems.  They influence others, hopefully towards love and peace with gentleness and mercy.  As I grow, I am seeking ways to call more clearly for the leaders around me to own their own weight in the system, trusting that influence is more powerful than either inertia or reaction.  I am also more able to admit that I don’t know where the next hit is coming from and to ask for help from others, especially when I feel vulnerable.  

Finally, I have to say that I do believe that if you lead, you will get hit.  Systems don’t like change.  The crowd prefers Barabbas because though he represents violence and danger, they know violence and danger keep things the way they are.  In football I learned to take hits because I had a larger goal.  That is still true.  I have to turn my cheek if I want to see the kingdom.

 

Don’t Call Me Father – Part II

So how do you teach this as a new way of leadership?  It has been one of my contentions since seminary that we were given Biblical studies, theology, even prayers that demanded a new way of leading communities to follow Jesus, but we were not offered any particular way of making that real in the systems and ethics that we bring to the Church in our congregations and parishes.  We may have good ideas in our head, but until we create systems that embody those ideas, we keep falling back on the old Roman model of Caesar.  Maybe we have a somewhat functional committee or Senate to support us.  Maybe we even have a retainer class of “people who really get what we are doing here” and a military police to keep us safe.  I call that last one the altar guild.  No one protects the old ways like the altar guild.

We fall back on rule by law and order embodying, or so we claim, the will of God.  We, the priests and pastors, become the persona of Christ, usually not understood as the sacrifice or the servant, but rather the one who should rule.  

The temple and throne have the same structure.  High priest, Sanhedrin or Bishop and Council.  We keep rebuilding the old system of rule and control because it works.  I know it works.  I wear a collar to some meetings because I know people will behave differently and defer on things I need them to defer on.  I don’t usually wear a wreath of laurel crown, but I have thought about it when people were really chaotic.

The claim of this model, which you can read in the Latin of Marcus Aurelius or the speeches of our Presidents, is to provide safety and order against the dangers and chaos of the world out there, by which we mean both outside our community, but also outside the inner circle within our own community.  The problem is that this model is that is based on the enemy’s view of the world, and not on God’s.

If we take the Bible seriously, God intended humanity to be caretakers of the world and each other in relationship to God.  We were made to be God’s children, and we become the royal priesthood of God when through Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit we are taught to live and love, forgive, heal, and feed as God does.  We restore the world, not control it.  We heal, not destroy.  Where the enemy sees chaos and danger, we see children of God in need of healing, love, belonging.  

We lead within communities by learning to be within communities as Jesus is in community.  We serve.  Among the Gentiles, Jesus said, the leaders among them lord it over them, but it is not be so with you.  The greatest among you is to be the least.  And the leader is to be servant to all.  We cannot even pretend to be following Jesus by lording leadership over others, reminding them to call us “father” and greet us with honor in the marketplace.  

“Father” puts us at the head of the Table, in the place of honor, and it doesn’t take long for God to come as host and move us down a little.  

So, how do we lead without titles and honor, power and control, threat and enforced order? This is a real question that I have been struggling with for a long time.  I cannot read and study Jesus and think that my leadership instincts need some real reform.  

Peter Block has been a huge help to me though.  In college I was supposed to write a paper on fundraising for a class on non-profit management intended for pastors-to-be.  Instead I found a book entitled Stewardship that radically changed my ideas about leadership, organizations, and power.  I read it cover to cover sitting in the upstairs of the Phoenix Public library.  I still own it and apply the lessons of that book today.  A few years ago during my post-Christmas travels to see my family I walked past a new book of Block’s called Community.  It promised to offer what I was looking for in forming and leading communities where the belief is that the real Wisdom and Spirit reside in the people, and the leader is one of them who serves that Wisdom and Spirit.  

To take one small lesson which Block gives, when you want to get the wisdom of the group and form a community on mission together, you focus not on leading the conversation but on setting up the room and asking the right questions.  That sounds like servant leadership, or butler priesthood.  When you focus on the setting up the room so that people relate to each other intimately and as equal partners, you help form community and allow the group to function as children of God discovering God’s call and wisdom together.  As a leader, the job becomes centered in set up and asking good questions, something Jesus excelled at.  The focus is on getting people to think and act as the children of God that we believe they are, rather than as either an army out to control the chaos of life or chaotic enemies that need to be conquered by either or reason or power. 

This is one step toward the Rule of God embodied in our systems of leadership.  It takes, as Weisbord and Janoff point out in Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There, a lot of self-control and maturity to not take control of the conversation and overpower the quiet voice of the Spirit.  That maturity comes from living into a theology, ethos, and expectations over time, but that self-control and tactics of calling forth our brothers and sisters into community can be taught, as can the room layouts and methods of facilitation that can set up the family to be family.  

But we have to think differently.  It is as if Jesus has sent us ahead to set up for the Passover, let us not set up the dinner as if it were something other than the supper of the Lord.  Let us not forget who the true host is and who the guests are.  Let us take up our towels and serve if we are the leaders in the way of Jesus.

Don’t Call Me Father – Finding a New Way to Lead or at Least a New Way to teach Leadership

Over lunch this week a good friend and parishioner reminded me of the call to teach others what we are learning about leadership and this vision of Christianity, which is both old and new.  Frankly it doesn’t feel new right now, but there is a vision of pastoral and priestly ministry in the Anglican tradition that is emerging.  I like to think of it as a reclaiming of that is really old, rather than something truly new, but it shocks some people to hear the implications. 

No priest should be called father.  I think it usually points to an unformed pastor or worse a system of anti-kingdom work.  This sounds harsh, and I have good friends and people I respect who will argue for the pastoral merit of letting people respect your role and relationship to them.  Fair enough.  But there is no theological warrant in the New Testament for the title of “father” outside of Paul’s calling the people in several places a “little children” and stating that he was like a father to them.  I think this should be held with Jesus’ direct command to “call no man father.”  Why? 

It is systemic thinking.  The question to ask is “What kind of system are we setting up in order to embody and systematize the Rule of God in our local church or diocese?”  Are we setting up systems that recreate the temple or empower the royal priesthood of the called/gathered?  Ultimately we are trying to create and recreate systems that reflect the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and he had some particular things to say that speak directly to those systems.

The Gospel of Mark has a deep theme of suspicion towards “fathers” because “you have but one father, your Father in heaven.”  It is important to ask why this suspicion was so prevalent. The analogy of “fathers” and “sons” was a social meta-narrative that presented social, political, economic, moral, and even religious norms to all participants.  Roughly in every social interaction there was a “father” and a “son” or “sons.” A patron (root word pater) would be addressed as father by someone he supported and cared for, his “son.” This support and care while primarily financial would imply a great deal more about the ethics of the relationship, expectations, and norms of behavior.  In actual father-son relations, these were true, but they extended far beyond.  A father provided the ethos of the behaviors and expectations for the son in all interactions.  Who you worked for determined how you were expected to act, behave, and even think.  As with all social norms, this was probably true and also an incomplete picture.  But we do see in Latin the remnants of the system in the words that remain in use even today.  Everyone was a father or son in every relationship, but the supreme “father” was known and embodied in the emperor and his rule.

In several recent works of scholarship the relationship between Jesus and the imperial state of Rome has been lifted up as one of protest and threat.  The emperor was proclaimed on coins and statuary as the Son of God.  The God of Rome was immutable, unchangeable, and just.  The emperor embodied that God’s rule on earth and was seen as either God’s emissary or God himself, often supported by claims of virginal birth.  I would point to works by Herzog, Malina, Crossan, and Borg, but there are countless others who have explored the social and political world of Jesus in great depth.  I owe a special debt to the works of N. T. Wright who works along the edges of these claims from the side of studying the claims of Jesus and Paul.

So if we believe as orthodox Christians in the claims of Jesus as the embodied Son of God who came to a particular place and time in history, and if we are going to take the claims of Jesus, the Bible, and the Creeds seriously, we have to look at them in the complex of their time and place in history with some care, at least as much as we are able to.  This is commonly accepted in scholarship, but it can seem overly difficult for many lay people or less-learned pastors.  I won’t claim to be more than a medium-learned pastor, but I am an avid reader who has been stuck on this issue of the meaning of the Rule, or kingdom, of God for a couple of decades.  

So if there is a father-son system of ethics, rules, and expectations or norms in the first century, what does Jesus say to it?  In some way Jesus co-opts the system in his teaching about God as Father, or Abba, and both his claim of sonship and what he makes possible for his followers.  I would go farther to say that Jesus uses this social language to explain and embody his ethics, rules, and expectations.  It should not be surprising that Jesus’ way of understanding should upset the accepted patterns of interaction, but how complete this system and its implications for our life as his disciples may surprise you.

First off, Jesus calls God “father.” This is well known and accepted.  You should have heard sermons about this and you should be teaching it.  It is simple and orthodox.  Jesus also says that as God’s son, you can know who God is, what the ethics, rules, and expectations or norms of his kingdom-family are through Jesus himself.  God is the one who provides the ethos, but we learn it from Jesus and later from his apostles and the Holy Spirit.  We are not to call anyone else “rabbi” because we have one “rabbi” or teacher of the way of God, the Holy Spirit.  

But there is a twist here that is again well-known, but still surprises many people: Jesus calls God Abba and not just Pater.  Pater is directly translated from both Greek and later Latin as “father.” It represents a particular relationship-dynamic.  It is a formal word, just as “father” is for most English speakers today.  Abba is a little more subtle.  It is an Aramaic word that gets brought into the New Testament a number of times directly.  Aramaic is a local language that represents the mix of Arabic (geographically local) and Hebrew (religiously local).  It is what Jesus and his first followers probably spoke at home.  They probably used Greek in trading or when talking to non-locals, of which there were quite a few in even the rural places of Palestine and Israel of the time, due to Greek and Roman imperialism and trade and geographic centrality.  That is a lot to explain that while the Gospels that we have were likely written in Greek, although I would argue that Mark was probably written in Aramaic and then translated into Greek.  There are very few Aramaic words that come through untranslated.  Abba does.  Why? It represents a different way of relating that “father.”  It is a primary language word, the language of infants and intimacy.  Abba is more like “Daddy” in English.  

The father-son relationship dynamic is one of formalism, obligations, and strict hierarchy.  “Daddy” is intimacy, safety, provision, and care.  Father is cool; daddy is warm.  When Jesus refers to God as his father, he is pointing to rule, ethic, and expectation. When Jesus refers to God as daddy, he is pointing to love, relationship, and reciprocity.   It is important to note that Jesus uses both terms.  We should try to understand and live into the implications of both.

Father gives us a system of being and relationship.  If God is to be a father to me, and I am to be God’s son, I have to know what God expects, what God’s rules are, and how I am supposed to act.  

Jesus tells us all three of these.  God is compassionate, knows you intimately and cares for human beings, especially the lost.  God is concerned with mercy and forgiveness, embodied in healing and return. God provides for needs and is good.  It is important to note that these are not the only attributes of God known or taught in Jesus’ day or in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Jesus teaches these.  He does not refer to the God of Armies or Hosts, a common phrase in both the Psalms and Isaiah which he quotes extensively.  He does talk about God as just, but then locates that justice in the city gates with concern for the poor and widows.  When he proclaims the Lord’s day from Isaiah 61 in his hometown, he edits the quote from Isaiah to leave out the wrath of the Lord and replace it with the “year of the Lord’s favor.”  He then points out God’s concern for the foreigner is several stories from the Hebrew Scriptures. (See Luke 4).

Jesus gives specific rules that he connects directly to God’s attributes.  The most obvious and often repeated example is forgiveness.  As followers of Jesus we are to forgive as God forgives.  We are to forgive seven times seventy-seven times, meaning an infinite amount.  We are to be perfect in compassion.  This verse has confounded and confused many people because of the word perfect, but it is connected to the teaching that God is compassionate and gives good gifts to his children. 

7 ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 11If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

So Jesus has used the father-son relationship as a lens to show us how to relate to God and to each other.  He also used it to directly counteract the systemic ethics and abuses of his day.  He did this by showing that we are to relate to each other as God’s children.  This implies treating each other (and others) with compassion, mercy, and forgiveness.  We are to heal and feed others.  

Jesus asks the crowd in Capernaum when his mother and brothers came seeking him,  “Who are my mother and my brothers? . . . Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 4

Jesus warns against calling others “father.”  He does this because of the role that fathers play in the systems of his day.  Who your father is determines your way of being and relating.  You are the son or daughter of the one whose will you do.  I think the mistake of the church to adopt this model of relating again is that the model teaches dependency on who the father is.  The called community ekklesia becomes the priest’s community as they become the one who sets the ethics and expectations and norms of the community around them.

This is precisely what Jesus was fighting against.  God is Abba to his children.  That is not dependent on the person who leads some part of the system.  In fact, the leadership of Jesus’ disciples was to be one of servanthood, not privilege, to be one that embodied God’s rule basileo not the clergy.  The leadership was to embody something even more than others because of the danger that we would become “father.”

The reality is that most communities are made up of humans, who we know are incomplete, non-divine, unholy creatures who have become so desperate over the centuries that if found the Tree of Life we would chew the bark off after selling the fruit for profit.  We who are trying to lead know that we must take control of the systems of our communities if we are to change them.  And control is exactly what “father” gives us.  It is honor and privilege.  It gives us our “due place” at the table.  It is the damnation of the follower of Jesus.

I want to play nice, but I can’t.  I know why we like the title.  In Benedict’s rule the head of the monastery community is the “abbot.”  Abbot is derivative to Abba.  It encapsulates something that Benedict was trying to say about what was needed in his day.  An order based on family obligations and even love.  Abba, remember, implies love, care, and intimacy.  It also implies one who gives identity and provision and place.  I could find a place for “abbot,” I suppose.  But Father is so dangerous, so counter to everything Jesus taught that I find it anathema.  I join the Protest of Protestants and say no. 

Don’t call me father.

Rather, I am learning to lead by serving the community with love, care, and yes even intimacy.  I think the only way to find our “due place” at God’s table is to stand at the side with a towel and tray, ready to forgive, offer mercy, and heal and feed.  I would rather be a butler in heaven than face the smoky future of false fathers.  

Oddly, in my slightly obsessive compulsive exegesis “mother” stands up as safe.  Funny.

Benedictine Vision and Pastoral Leadership – part II

Accountability in leadership is primary in Benedict’s Rule, but it is only possible with humility. Reading Chapter 7 in the Rule of Benedict is always both profoundly challenging and oddly liberating.

It is challenging simply because as a leader we are challenged to be in charge, to hold a community, and to make decisions and live with them. Anyone in active leadership should be experiencing some form of push back as part of the natural inertia of communities, and anyone in Christian leadership should be doing enough to challenge the world that they experience the additional opposition of the world. (I want to note that this should not be sought out in either case, that is the beginning of becoming a jerk-for-Jesus which Jesus did not ask us to become.)

These two forms of push-back come most profoundly from within. Whenever I go to do something that changes me, I resist. Habitual work taken in slow doses can build to overcome that resistance naturally most of the time, but I still don’t want to grow. This is true in simple external things like running for exercise. I run weekly in order to stay in shape. Often I just don’t want to run. Some days I have used up my energy in other things. Some days I have been sick. Some days I just don’t want to make the effort. But I have been running for so long and so slowly that I love it enough and what it does for me that I keep going most of the time. But even then, when I add a new workout or change my routine, I resist and I feel sore afterwards.

Humility is no different. We are not naturally humble. There may be someone out there who is just naturally humble, but most of us are either proud or beaten down. We are either blindly positive about our bestiness, living blindly unaware or unable to admit to our limitations and weaknesses, or we are perpetually negative, living blinded by our limitations and weaknesses to our God-given goodness and strengths.

True humility is honest about both where we fall short and where God is lifting us up. Benedict seems harsh about destroying the self will and pleasures. I have had parishioners reading Benedict for the first time really focus on the negative aspects, like self-negation and physical punishment. Honestly seen in context, Benedict is kind compared to the post-Roman times he lived in and brutal compared to The Baby Whisperer. But Benedict can be favorable compared to the Baby Whisperer.

The Baby Whisperer recommends that parents give their babies a schedule for both the parent’s sake and for the baby’s. In Benedict, humility is for our sake and sanity and for God’s sake. We can see how submission to God in fear and to other’s in humility would be for God and the community, but it is also for us. When we see ourselves as we really are, blessed and broken, we can put ourselves in the right places and expect what we are capable of.

It is just as vital to acknowledge that some people are not suffering from pride. They have been beaten down or just struggle with a view of themselves that is distorted to the negative rather than the positive. When I have met people in ministry who is broken in this way, I pray for them and try not to worry. The resistance mentioned above often includes personal attacks and attacks that feel personal, warranted or not. It is just as vital to deal with the destroyed self as it is to deal with pride. They are similar.

Following Benedict, the beginning of both treatments it to keep “fear of God always before the eyes.” To awe God for the prideful brings her down to a right place but lifts up the broken to honor God’s creation, image, and blessing within the depressed or negative person. To adapt God’s will in the second step is to give up more than just “what I want to do” to do what God wants me to do, but rather the will involves how we see and what we value that gives content to our desire and therefore actions. We must give up our overly positive or overly negative view of our self for God’s vision of us and the world. This is primary and necessary for the follower of Jesus.

How often have we been taught that as a Christian? You have to value yourself to follow Jesus. You have to take care of yourself. You have to love yourself. This is an important correction to our cultural worship of self. We have to love and care for our selves, but as creatures created by God who were made to live into God’s purposes and rule.

So here is where we circle around to leadership. A Christian leader following Benedict knows that accountability and humility means seeking God’s will and rule before self. We should be moving slow enough to seek God’s word and care for others. We should be moving enough that we are following God’s word and care of others.

Leadership speed is a vital concept that doesn’t come through in the Rule, but I think it is vital to healthy leadership. It is speed at which we are making direction-changing decisions. This is not the rate of movement or change. Movement and change are presumed to be decided by upstream factors like a river.

The rate of rainfall and width of the banks are not controllable by the canoeist. At Christmas and Holy Week my church is wildly busy with movement, so I avoid making direction-changing decisions during those seasons. It is unwise for me or anyone else. I hold off others until the waters are smoother. Change may be on-going due to decisions made earlier, but you don’t change decisions, including going back, during busy times.

I want to make changes as a norm. I like change. I am a leader. People look to me to make changes. They think of me as leading when I make change. But here is the thing, if my goal is to be a great leader then what I want and what people want of me are not really important at all. What is important is what God wants, and that is something that the Rule reminds me I can only know in part through prayer and calling the whole community together to seek everyone’s advice.

<strong>We</strong> make changes based on God’s reality and will as best as <strong>we</strong> can determine in community and in prayer, humbly admitting that we are only humans seeking after God. But we do make changes because when we hold ourselves up to God’s will for us and our church, we seek clearly that change is necessary.

Humility is hard work, in large part because we all have distorted views of our selves. Jesus was right, that splinter in my eye is either hard to see or it looks like a plank. I need someone else to help me pull it. I have a committee that I am accountable too. I have people that I can ask, Hey! what is in my eye? I have to trust them because I cannot see what they can see.

Are you humble? Do you fall on the too positive or too negative side of your vision of yourself, others, the world? How do you maintain healthy balance? What should you be doing now to find God’s will?

I strongly recommend <em>Humble Leadership</em> by Graham Standish for further reading.

Benedictine Vision and Pastoral Leadership

This blog was started as a place to explore a simple question: What does it mean to follow Christ in the way of Benedict?  Today, I just wanted to look at one area of my life where it means being accountable to others as a leader.

Pastoral Leadership sounds really specialized, but there are tens of thousands of pastors, leaders, and servants in the church, ordained and not ordained.  In applying Benedictine thought to our position, what comes into focus?

A few years ago now, the parish congregation I serve was given three-quarters of a million dollars in a bequest from a beloved local saint.  As the functional CEO of the group I had a list that needed that money.  I also knew the main other priorities that should arise from our saint’s legacy, other leaders, and the general thoughts of our community at large.  In our tradition, fiscal decisions are made by our elected church board of laity called the vestry.  The vestry meets monthly, and this bequest was the issue for several months, understandable as it equaled about a year’s worth of total budget.  We were on sound financial ground, but this could really open doors for us to take on some maintenance delayed for decades, extend our ministries, more than double our small foundation.  We felt the pressure to make quick and sound decisions, but we had also worked for a couple of years on being led by the Spirit rather than just our best intentions.

So, I have this habit of taking books with me into the meeting.  I put them in front of me, sometimes to read from, but sometimes just to be reminded of something that they represent.  Usually those books include the Rule of Benedict.  On this one particular night it was Joan Chittister’s commentary on the rule called A Spirituality for the 21st Century.   Benedict’s face was staring at me as a particular member began to report on the current plan for the bequest.  I was tired of waiting for a decision and getting fidgety, but I was trying at the same time to be coolly “pastoral.”  Another member began to say that he thought we ought to have an intentional method that encouraged every member to give their suggestions for how the money should be allocated.  Now, understand we had been taking written suggestions from the eager for two months already. I was frustrated bordering on angry, but that wasn’t on my face yet.  I was being cool, but I was about to get really directive when I looked down to see Benedict looking at me coolly, pastorally.

And I was reminded of the beginning of Benedict’s Chapter 3,

As often as anything important is to be done in the monastery, the abbot shall call the whole community together and himself explain what the business is; and after hearing the advice of the brothers, let him ponder it and follow what he judges the wiser course. The reason why we have said all should be called for counsel is that the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger.

The Spirit spoke through Benedict, and I was corrected and just nodded, kept my mouth shut, and encouraged what turned out to be a wiser course.

The thing is that Rule expects that every member of the monastery is a monk who takes his vocation seriously.  In a community where are all are living their purpose, leadership becomes very different than in one where we expect that we, however we define “we”, are leading them, however we define “them”.   I cannot cede my responsibility, but I also cannot take away theirs, not if I want them to be healthy members of the community.

Leadership in the Benedictine community vision is servanthood from the front.   The abbot has a role to play.  He calls the community.  He explains the business. He hears the advice.  He makes the decision.   Taking the rest of the Rule into account, he also listens to God in the process and encourages the proper function of the community by being accountable to the Rule and holding others accountable as well.  The monks come together, offer their advice “humbly”, and let the abbot decide without second guessing once the decision is made, but trusting in God to work through each monk’s vocation, even the abbot.

Servants serve the household.  In the church that means we serve God in the community of the faithful.  We all have roles in God’s household.  And yes, of course, every role is important, but leaders serve by leading.  We call, explain, listen, and make decisions.  Surely you have been in a community or business where a leader didn’t listen; you have probably also been in a community or business where a leader didn’t make decisions.

It is often easy to recognize leadership in the decisive person, but being decisive does not make for a whole leader in Benedict’s view.  It is clear that abbots have near absolute authority in the monastery, but their decisiveness is not what counts, but rather their accountability.   As a leader, holding others accountable is tough, uncomfortable work in an age where every self is worshiped as a god.  It feels sacrilegious to say, You are not . . . have not  . . . did not . . . Whether or not such a statement is based in fact or well attested, it is often taken as a wrong statement because it goes against the religion of the day.  But the Rule of Benedict is clear that accountability is the defining virtue of the holy community, and that accountability is ultimately standing before God at the end of all hours.

Accountability is tough in today’s churches.  It is easier with a staff because they are hired and directed.  But churches are basically voluntary associations for most Christians.  When someone stops coming, there is really no consequence because there are so many options, including the option of no church, since salvation is unrelated to the community anyway, being individualized.  None of this makes any sense in Benedict’s Rule or most of history.  Because we can always leave, we rarely take the opportunity to become mature and wise.

I have become convinced that the ailments of our age are mostly due to immaturity.  Spiritual, religious, social, even moral immaturity is not only rampant, it is supported and encouraged by our idolization of the individual.  Maturity demands that we are accountable to others.  It is a simple fact that no one lives and survives alone.  The Bible never indicates that we can be saved alone or that our salvation is ultimately for our own self.  To be saved is to be set free to live in God’ house as a child, an heir, with all the benefits and responsibilities of keeping the house.  Freedom in the Scriptures is accountability to the right household rule, not to no rule.  Being accountable to God’s rule, of which the Rule of Benedict is simply a translation or restatement, is freedom and maturity, wisdom.  When we are mature, wise, able to understand and live by God’s rule, all rules fade into the background, and the focus shifts to relationships with God and others.  We cannot skip the rules or ignore them until we are so formed by them that they are our own rule.  Then we are wise and can sing Psalm 119 with joy and peace.

A major part of healthy leadership is becoming mature, wise; and if we are to become wise, we have to be accountable to something larger than ourselves.  Abbots need the Rule as much as the novice.  We, pastors and leaders, have to submit to God’s Rule in one form or another.  I have found that I am incapable of keeping myself accountable to much of anything, honestly.  I need a community that includes my wife, colleagues, bishop, vestry, prayer group, spiritual director, friends, even a centuries old saint from Italy.  But with God’s help and a whole community I am finding myself shaped to God’s Rule and tasting the freedom and joy of being a child of God.

Who are you accountable to for the various areas of your life? Is there an area where you are not accountable to anyone else? What would it mean to adopt a Rule outside yourself? Have you?