Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Activity, Weariness, and You

Another day begins and with it the frantic pace of daily life swings into full gear. We each prepare to engage in the activities that seem to rule our lives -- commuting, caring for children, working, going to meetings, shopping, paying bills, running errand, planning parties, working out, phoning family members, cooking, cleaning, and so forth…. Instinctively we feel and readily admit that we are over-committed. And yet somehow when we look at the roles we play and the tasks of each role, the very idea of reducing our responsibilities seems unlikely bordering on impossible.
As long as there were no roads, you had to interrupt a journey at nightfall. Then you had all the leisure in the world to recite psalms at the inn, to open a book, and to have a good talk with one another. But nowadays you can ride on these roads day and night and there is no peace any more.
-- Tales of the Hasidim
This constant exertion towards activity opens us further to the madness of consumerism and materialistic living.  An infinite cycle of weariness leading to openness to the promises of merchants and peddlers. Their subtle web persuades us that buying just one more thing, one more item, will relieve the pressure of our responsibilities that feel so burdensome and take so much of our time. All the modern conveniences, and at the end of the day, we still feel the assault. Our body is exhausted and our souls are empty. We lack the sense of significance and fulfillment that we thought we were supposed to have in life. We have misunderstood the role of activity in life.

Which Way Is Up Again?
Our model of activity and business is hardly new. Often, this ascribed solely to the compromises of living in the modern world. Sure we take phone calls about work in the middle of dinner, but that's just the trade-off for the convenience of a cell phone, right? We get bombarded with offers for Viagra, mortgages, and from helpful Nigerian millionaires, but that is balanced out by the convenience of email.  While we naturally assume that this is a modern issue, Jesus addressed this same concern centuries ago.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.
--Luke 10-38-42
What a profound answer! Jesus was not proposing that we all sit around and do nothing. He was pointing out that we shouldn't allow business and activity to steal away the best part of life.

Sometimes just getting things done is a necessary part of life, but it is only a single aspect of the experience that is life. We need activities and we need accomplishment, but not at the expense of our relationships. The story about Mary and Martha should remind us that being over-committed is not about time, it is about our faith, about our growth, about our relationships.

A Story
A man was walking down the street and saw a lady weaving. She was so focused on the weaving that she didn't even look up as he drew near. The man said a cheerful hello and asked what she was making. The lady simply muttered that she did not have time to talk. But the man was insistent and again asked her what she was making. The lady refused to even look up, she just kept right on weaving and mumbled something about interruptions. The man tried again and still could not inspire a reaction. Finally, the man said simply, "Everything that you are worried about is in God's hands. You need only look to Him with reverance and be amazed." At this, the lady glanced up from her work and for just an instant she was reverently amazed.

The quickest way I know to keep faith vibrant and robust is to look up with reverence and be amazed. The most efficient way to grow in strength, is to worship.
If you see me on my knees, it's not because I'm weak.  I'm getting stronger.
-- Bob Carlisle
Nothing stops the onslaught from the world around us.  We will continue to be asked to take on new roles and responsibilities.  We will continue to look for ways to eliminate unnecessary activity in your life. We will continue to commit and to perform.  As you exert in your activities, ask yourself this:
  • Is this activity making me less or making me more?
  • Is this activity deepening my relationships or diminishing them?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Soft Touch

If you were going to be caught in your worst failure, who would you want to catch you?

For myself, I'd want someone who would treat me as gently as Jesus treated the woman at the well. I think His interaction in that particular situation models how Believers are called to live, and how spiritual leadership should be exercised. Funny enough this has significant spill-over into the practicalities of everyday leadership as well.

One of my current struggles revolves around being gentler, more soft-spoken, perhaps even tactful if the planets happen to align properly. In the midst of my becoming, wouldn't you know I come face to face with an environment in which a delicate touch and mild manner are at the same time both necessary and onerous. Fortunately, this post isn't really about my current situation, my sincere apologies for the tangent.. [Editors note: no llama's were harmed in the writing of this post.]

A common thread I find in both the secular and spiritual environments is "How does leadership function in a relationship-driven environment?". When taken specifically from a spiritual perspective this is often linked with the notion of Relational Christianity. In this context alone, the question brings to light two significant issues with our perception of church and organized religion. Since I'm not really writing about secular leadership (prior tangential paragraph excluded) let's stick with the spiritual aspects.

First, this question clearly shows how we are so dependent on the leadership of men and women that we lose our ability to function without it. This is quite tragic actually. You see, if our dependency isn’t in Christ we will never discover the power and simplicity of being truly faithful.

Before you get your knickers in a twist, I'm not suggesting that if you subscribe to a leadership doctrine or an organized religion that you are somehow not a Believer. I am simply implying that to be a living richly, sold-out, on-fire, at-peace, on-your-feet, free-to-dance, all-you-have-to-do-is-fall, can't really afford to get to wrapped up in an organization structure per se.

The second issue brought to light with this question is how our perception of leadership is so imbedded in managing or controlling institutions that we cannot recognize it without titles or positions.

The protest at this point usually involves the leadership evidenced in the early church. I am by no means contesting this point. Leaders must exist, leadership must always be exercised. This point is well and truly conceded. My dissent requires asking the question, "What kind of leaders were they?".

You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. -- Mark 10:42-45

We read here clearly how Jesus warned His disciples that in God’s reality leadership serves a vastly different function than it does in the world. The crux of this difference is because spiritual leadership is not based on management. Take a walk through Barnes and Nobles and see how many books on Christian leadership today are supposedly adapted to the business world. This alone should make us stop and question how the popular view of leadership has been tainted.

The Gospel portrait of leadership doesn’t portray leadership as the power to command, but instead it is the passion to serve others. My own views on leadership have matured over the years away from viewing leadership as power, influence, or even giftedness. Thinking on my own life I came to realize that those who have helped me most to grow, didn’t hold positions of power at all. They simply loved me enough to point out the way to God’s heart and then let me decide if I wanted to follow it. In my walk today I notice how it is those who have been most transformed with a Godly character who disregard the power of the Religion I once thought so essential to furthering the kingdom. It is these Faithful who reject anything that doesn’t reflect the child-like freedom to walk together in right relationship with the Father.

Considering my own walk and reviewing the life experiences of those I respect, a subtle truth emerges. Those who most effectively function in leadership don’t need titles, salaries or positions of authority. On the contrary, those things only distract from a true calling. Those who have been called to effective leadership know there is an inherent conflict between spiritual authority and institutional power.

Today people qualify for leadership in our religious institutions based on their educational background or eloquence. They are hired for Biblical knowledge or for their ability to draw a crowd. We recruit for positions from those who can manage a vision or motivate people to help achieve the organizational goals. If they draw a salary from a religious organization, if they have a title, we believe them to be leaders even if their lives don’t reflect a walk with Christ. We now have an entire industry of seminaries and educational programs to "prepare" people to lead our Religions.

The Gospel describes leadership as being evidenced by a transformed life. A life lived in daily, right, relationship with Christ. Leadership in the early church had nothing to do with what gifts a person possessed or lacked. It mattered only that their character had been transformed in a visible way. They began to treat others with truth and tenderness, just as Jesus did.

As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him. -- 1 John 2:27

This in no way downplays the importance of wise counsel and teaching. The crucial perspective is to realize the fleetingness of it. The role of a leader is only temporary, helping as needed, then returning to the permanent role as brother or sister.

But you are not to be called "Rabbi", for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth "father", for you have one Father, and He is in heaven. Nor are you to be called "teacher", for you have one Teacher, the Christ.The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. -- Matthew 23: 8-12

This doesn't leave much to interpretation does it? That is one of the things I love most about Scripture. When put so simply, it becomes obvious what leadership is not. It can be less obvious what leadership is.

The best piece of advice I've ever distilled usually comes out when talking about being successful in life in general. As is often the case, that same piece of advice is what I have found to be crucial to spiritual leadership as well.

Be Deliberate, Be Articulate, and Be Transparent.

When you are about your business of life, it should be clear what you are doing, why you are doing it, and you should be able to communicate clearly about it. If you are doing something you can't or don't want to talk about publicly, you probably shouldn't be doing it. If you can't explain why you are doing something, or your intentions aren't obvious, then there is a good chance you need to reconsider your motivations. Of course there is place for discretion, and everyone doesn't need to be all up in your business, but in general I've found those three little words to be a handy measure of whether my Walk and my Talk are lining up.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Where You Are

Sometimes when I'm synching my Ipod, a random song I haven't heard in a while jumps into the mix unexplained. Then later, when I'm working out I get a treat listening to music that somehow seems to fit me...just so. I really needed to hear this song, this morning. Do you?

I think we're going somewhere,
we're on to something good here.
Out of mind, out of state,
trying to keep my head on straight.
I think we're going somewhere,
we're on to something good here.
There's only one thing left to do,
drop all I have and go with you.

Somewhere back there I left my worries all behind.
My problems fell out of the back of my mind.
We're going and I'm never knowing where we're going.
To go back to where I was would just be wrong.
I'm pressing on.

Pressing on, all my distress is going, going, gone.
And I won't sit back, and take this anymore.
'Cause I'm done with that, I've got one foot out the door.
And to go back where I was would just be wrong.
I'm pressing on.

I think we're going somewhere,
we're on to something good here.
Out of mind, out of state,
trying to keep my head on straight.
I think we're going somewhere,
we're on to something good here.
Adversity, we get around it,
searched for joy, in You I found it.

You look down on me, but you don't look down on me at all.
You smile and laugh, and I feel the love you have for me.
I think we're going somewhere,
we're on to something good here.
And we're gonna make it after all.
- Pressing On by Relient K