Walking around Whitby Abbey with Hilda and a Camera

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It was a perfect photo day in Whitby.  We drove over to see the monastery that held both Hilda and Bede, not to mention the great poet Caedmon.  It was founded originally in 657 by the Northumbrian king who appointed Hilda as abbess of the dual monastery, serving both men and women.  This was not uncommon in Celtic monasteries.

IMG_2243The monasteries founded in Scotland and Ireland between the late fifth and seventh centuries primarily came from Ireland, most by way of Columba’s monastery in Iona.  Aiden had already founded the community on Lindisfarne, which produced holy Cuthbert.  These holy islands belong to a massive missionary movement from Ireland.  From the islands the monks converted the locals to Christianity in a wave that would startle and possibly scandalize the church today.

 

 

By the time Hilda became abbess of the dual monastery at Whitby, she was expected to serve as more than a small religious community leader, she was expected and did become a force for local governance.  This expectation was surely helped by her heritage as grandniece of Edwin, king of Northumbria.  Her family certainly showed her noble heritage, but she was more than an heir of good breeding.  Bede describes her as an able administrator and teacher who seldom rested.  Her administrative skill was matched by an ability to spot and encourage others gifts, notably the aforementioned shepherd poet Caedmon.

Her baptism though in 627 had been by a Roman bishop-monk Paulinus who had come to England with Augustine and had baptized Edwin and the rest of his household.  Did that connection then effect the outcome of the Council of Whitby where the Roman system of calculating Easter and establishing Roman norms in Northumbria and later England?  There was already a strong influence through earlier Christian influences going back to Roman occupation, from which Patrick was converted and returned to Ireland two centuries before.

 

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The ruins around us on Whitby’s hill are not from Hilda’s time.  There are very few artifacts from the later monastery, easy to understand when one considers the nature of early monastic settlements, more like rustic wooden towns than the later massive stone structures of later building periods that we more often associate with monasticism.  The Benedictine monastery of the eleventh and twelfth centuries that left the beautiful ruins was not of the same character as Hilda’s abbey.

IMG_2284The later settlement by Reinfried was Benedictine and based on the gift of the site by William de Percy and included the town and port.  The port and town remained small though the influence of the newly re-founded monastery reached across Christendom because of its relics.  In the eleventh century as the church began to rely on pilgrimage and the power and pull of relics to improve both religious and economic life, the abbey was susceptible to the same temptations as the church at large.  They charged heavy fees and build magnificent buildings, driving the monastic community into debt to feed the ego of a couple of more greedy abbots, according to the English Heritage headphones we were wearing.

 

 

We come then to the growing lesson of my first few weeks in England.  The holy sites of English tradition often show this double-founding, the first founding being based on a legitimate desire to create a holy community based in a life of discipline and right-living often based in a monastic ideal, but not always strictly based on Benedict’s Rule.  St. David’s, Caldey, Lindisfarne, Iona all began in slightly different ways, but with the same marks of discipline and holiness, based in character of life.  The examples extend outward through countless other communities, early Roman, Norman, Benedictine, Augustinian, Cistercian.  They are born out of mother communities in Rome, Ireland, Scandinavia, France.  The initial foundlings are based in a genuine motivation for evangelism, holiness, and missionary motivation.

IMG_2176The success of these communities varies widely in terms of influence, wealth, and even survivability.  The rule or character varied quite a bit as well depending on who founded them and what tradition they inherited.  But they did have incredible reach in terms of the Gospel.  It is an amazing time, especially when you look back through history.

On the other hand the eleventh and twelfth centuries are marked by new monastic settlements, too.  It is remarkable the reach that those monasteries and priories had.   But what becomes clear in a few places is the greed and power-lust that accompanied certain sites, especially those re-founded on sites previously considered holy.

 

 

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The Western world could be said to relate to either time.  That is one of the tricks of writing about history.  Christianity is in decline, according to some numbers.  The world created by Christianity in the west is rapidly changing, either becoming decentralized away from its Christian center or decentralized globally becoming less central to how we view the world.  In both of those scenarios Christianity is diminished in terms of the West, either because it moving away from being a Western religion or because the West is just less religious.  In global terms, it is also true to say that just as Christendom moved from a Mediterranean center to a more northern one, so we could say that Christianity is moving east and south again and not diminishing much at all.  In that case, it just seems like it because we are no longer in the center where our faith is located.

Christianity was moving in both the fourth to sixth centuries and in the tenth to twelfth.  The question that ruins of Whitby asks of us is “What will we do here and now?”  We can claim this time as a time for holiness and evangelism to our own people and culture, or we can look back at the past and mine it for current profits.  It is remarkable to see how England and Wales have preserved the past and make a decent profit off our secular pilgrimage.

The ruins of Whitby mark a thousand years of profiting from pilgrimage.  There was a time when the monastic community could rely on the faith of the people to impel them to give almost any amount to be close to holy things.  That holy past also guaranteed a certain amount of political power that was drawn on for profit as well as to do good.  We certainly see both in our day.  In the United States we tend not to charge admission to our churches, but then we don’t have the relics to draw in the faithful.

IMG_2177But it isn’t that simple either.  We have movements within Christianity that look to the past for current holiness.  That is a similar impulse I think to the pilgrimage impulse.  Only it may be a three hundred dollar leather Bible that relies on its stilted language to convey a sense of holiness. (I am susceptible, though I can’t afford the best that Allan Bibles has to offer!)  It may be a claim back to the Westminster Covenant or the XXXIX Articles that gives us our authority, or it may be the bones of Hilda.  The pilgrimage impulse is the impulse to look to a holy past for current hope.

I am not opposed to the pilgrim, but rather to the profiteer of religion.  He uses God’s name in vain, and sublimating blasphemy through the saints is no better.  The religious profiteer turns God’s house into a den of thieves and needs exorcism in our day as well.  That is what Jesus was doing in the temple, a good old fashioned Galileean exorcism.

As a pastor I am leery of the lurking tendency to claim authority based in the past.  I have been told dozens of times in the last decade that we had to preserve history.  Now clearly, I love history.  But preserving history it not my job.  Neither is it my church musicians’ or my worship team’s or the Episcopal church’s.  It is tempting to preserve the past and sell it in decorative heritage jars.

But that temptation is satanic.  It takes us away from the true call of our day.  We are called to serve God in our day.  To be holy in our times of unholiness and rot.  To evangelize our culture.  To heal our sick.  To welcome our stranger.  And all for free.

IMG_2220Jesus was asked by the woman at the well whether it was right to worship God on this mountain (the holy site of her ancestors) or in Jerusalem (the holy site of Jesus’ ancestors).  Jesus replied, But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. (John 4, NRSV)

How do we worship God in spirit and truth?  The hour is coming and now is.  It is present time, our worship, and always must be.  We have to be really careful to tend to the holiness and love of neighbor of our day.  There is a shepherd composing poems right now in your church yard, and probably in Spanish.  Attend to his gifts, encourage his success, and celebrate his use of God’s grace in this time.

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I don’t have Hilda’s heritage of nobility.  I don’t have the support of the Northumbrian king, but I have this day.  And my job is to lead my community to worship God in it, to be holy in this hour, to love and reach out to our neighbors, secular and heathen alike.

In Whitby I was struck that the church that sold its birthright to pilgrims, fleecing those who came rather than going out to those who were in need, was the one that left such beautiful ruins and so few saints.

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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?