Category Archives: Christian leadership

Take a Step Off the Soapbox (Rule #7)

speakerMany ministry professionals find themselves advocating for the needs and concerns of the people with and among whom they serve. Advocacy is incredibly important, especially when it is for those who have no voice or whose voices are not heard.

But advocacy without inquiry can become a blaring horn that eventually fades into background white noise.

And when two individuals advocate from opposing positions, they can almost cancel each other out.

In my young adult years, I had the blessing of teaching at an all-girls’ high school. A new teacher–new to the school, new to teaching–I had ideas, great (!) ideas, on how to improve the faith life of the school. And, as you might expect, no one took me seriously.

“You’re new.” “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” “This is the way we have always done it.”

Thankfully, my department chair had the soul of a wise man, and listened very carefully to everything, taking in and storing what might have value sometime in the future.

We spent two years of formal and informal meetings talking through my biggest idea–making all-school Masses optional–possible. And all he did was ask me questions. Lots of them.

Question after question. Why optional? How did we expect the students to respond? What issues would the teachers raise? What strategies did we want to propose to address those strategies? What was our mission-based reasoning? Lots of questions.

About midway through my third year, we met with the administration, and made our proposal. This wasn’t the first time that they had heard this proposal from us, and their faces showed it. So we posed the questions that we had identified, and offered the answers that we had discussed. We invited more questions from them, and responded as best we could.

As it turned out, “as best we could” was good enough.

By combining advocacy with inquiry, we had turned the somewhat inevitable “clash” that many of us experience when pushing a particular program or position into a dialogue by building the bridge from advocacy to inquiry. And we demonstrated right from the start that we had questions, too.

In the end, they agreed with our proposal. (And it was very successful, by the way! More than we had anticipated.)

We had moved advocacy away from being a clanging bell that the administration wanted to silence to a starting point for deeper, greater, and shared advocacy. In the end, campus ministry and the administration were partners promoting a Eucharist-based and -rich faith life in the school. A win-win for everyone.

Turn On the Light

lightThe first two words I heard were “darkness” and “death.”

The various media commentators used these words, reflecting on Mr. Trump’s acceptance speech on Thursday. “Darkness” and “death.”

Our public and political discourse seems to have given voice to a deep-seated anger and frustration that has expressed itself in unkind, even violent (physical and verbal) behaviors.

We have seen “easy” words (“We’re angry”) become “easy” actions (shootings, brawls).

And in direct contrast to that, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” and “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

Light and life. Words we cherish and enshrine in a Constitution and Catechism. Actions that we honor with National Medals and canonizations.

Regardless of how dark and angry our environment, businesses, parishes, or Church may become, we are called to be light — always — in the world. To stand up for what is good and right, to model Christ’s response to the darkness and death that he encountered in his world. To offer faith instead of faithlessness, healing instead of pain, a path forward instead of a pit downward.

One of the stories and pictures that has stayed in my mind lately has been that of the protesters who were joined by police — joined, not opposed by.

Faith instead of faithlessness. Healing instead of pain. Forward instead of downward.

Light instead of dark.

Two by Two

twoI’ve heard the Gospel of the sending of the 72 disciples, two by two–frankly, haven’t we all?–so many times over the years. It has never captured my attention like the Passion narrative, parables, or John’s “I AM” discourses. It seemed pedestrian, a set-up to lay the foundation of other passages and what transpired after Jesus’s Resurrection and Ascension.

Until now.

On Sunday, my younger brother was hit by a car while on his bike, trying to avoid another car that was distractedly driving right into him. Like the saying goes, he took it on the chin, breaking his jaw and chin.

Normally, I would have jumped on a plane to be there, but I was already scheduled to jump on another plane to go to the West Coast to see our parents. When we arrived late on Monday, my Mom and I immediately started searching for flights and hotel rooms so that we could turn around and go to him at the hospital the next day.

As the next 48 hours unfolded, we both had this “ah-ha” experience. We couldn’t have done it without the other. While my Mom stayed at my brother’s side, I ran around the city, late at night,trying to get his prescriptions filled so he could be discharged. Sort of a “Martha-Mary” thing. Chicago–where he lives–was my “home town” for many years, and as she said, I know it pretty well. Logistics were my lot. Consolation, empathy, and advocacy were hers. We complemented each other.

We also were there for each other.

We had decisions to make–and we were sounding boards for each other.

We had emotions to express–and we had the other’s shoulder to cry on and ear to bend.

Two by two. That is how we are sent into the world. Two by two keeps up balanced. Two by two tempers anxiety and fosters humility, not egoism. Two by two reminds us that we are not alone.

#TheDukePriest on What Young People Say About Jesus

ONE16 FR MIKE lowMAC is honored to welcome Fr. Mike Martin, OFM Conv, former president and principal of Baltimore’s very own Archbishop Curley High School and now director of the Newman Center at Duke University, as one of our featured mega-workshop speakers.

Fr. Mike is bringing his years of experience with interacting with young men and women in school environments to the topic of what they are saying to each other about Jesus.

In a world that favors the succinctness of a tweet or the uniformity of a #, what does the conversation sound like when young people discuss the Son of God?  Since our peers remain one of the most influential groups in our lives, let’s explore how millennials are being disciples and evangelizers to each other in an age that may need them more than ever.

What do the millenials in your family, among your friends and colleagues, in your parish or school — how do they approach the question of who Jesus, the Son of God, is? What questions do their conversations raise for you?

 

 

Rule #2: Share All Relevant Information

When sharing information, I’m pretty much the queen of starting with A, then B, and then jumping to J, K, and L, and finishing right with T. With all of those gaps in between, no wonder I get blank stares or long, silent pauses once I stop speaking.

It isn’t intentional. At least, not consciously. The adage that “information is power” is frighteningly true, but many of us withhold information out of negligence rather than malice.

To break the habit, try these 4 things.Board's Role

  1. List out the information that you are trying to share. Then go back and ask yourself the journalist’s 5 “W’s”–who, what, where, when, why,–plus “how.” Anticipate the information that you may be excluding.
  2. Practice a conversational style where you encourage your colleague or partner to question you about the information you have shared. It’s important to realize that what you think is relevant might not be relevant to them, and vice versa.
  3. If you have newsprint or a board available, map out the information. Start with the central piece of information you are sharing, then draw lines extending outward. On each line walk through–as a group–what additional information is needed to fully understand the information. Keep adding sublines until you all agree that what you have is complete. (See “mindmaps” for a great illustration of this.”
  4. Practice a little humility, and confess straight out that you know you will forget to share something, and give your colleagues permission to ask questions as they need to.

 

The Rules: Important Words

fenceOne of the most stressful parts of a new job for me has always been learning the “rules” of how the office works, how people interact, what is expected of me, and what I should expect of others.

One boss I had did our entire staff the great favor of inviting a consultant in, and teaching us a set of rules to work by. They weren’t magic words, but when adhered to, they eliminated some potential landmines, reduced tensions, and made it possible to work through conflicts.

This post is one of a series of posts featuring each rule.

Rule #1: Agree on what important words mean.

A word like “rules.” Is a rule only in writing or can they be “unwritten”? I once worked in an office where the unwritten rule was to never question when the supervisor arrived at work even though it was often hours after everyone else.

An important tool in discovering what the important words are is to listen carefully to how colleagues phrase questions and even what they complain about.

A friend and colleague taught me a lot about the first. I had pulled together the text for a resource, and had gotten to the point where I was no longer a good judge of how good or bad it was or what was highlighted well and what was missing. So, I asked, “Can you give me some feedback on this now?” as I extended a printed copy to her.

Her response was fabulous! “Do you want whatever I can tell you now or do you want my best response?” She taught me about how important it is to be specific, especially in my questions.

Same office, different colleague on complaints. “It isn’t perfect.” Surely something we have all heard ourselves say as some point in time. At that point in time, striving for perfection was slowly killing us, partly because we all had slightly different definitions of. Me? I’m good with anywhere between 95-98% perfect. Not so my colleagues.

After a brief discussion, we arrived at a new and common definition of “perfection.” We decided that we were striving for excellence, not perfection, and recognized what some of the boundaries are around achieving excellence.

So, what key words are essential in the culture of your office? What do you think they mean? What else could they mean?

 

Ties That Bind

DallasOne of the advantages of working from home is that when major news events happen, I have the freedom to be present when they are live.

The interfaith memorial service for the 5 men who died in Dallas last Thursday was one of those such occasions.

President Obama’s reflection repeated the phrase, “We know this . . . ”

As a leader, he reminded us all that we only know the experience of others when we have empathy, when we can stand in the feet of another. It is that ability that binds us to each other and ultimately allows us to hope — to hope with our God who assures us He will be with us in all of the highs and lows of our lives.

Being Witnesses to Civility

Two somewhat bizarre observations spoke to me about the type of leaders and witnesses we are called to be.

Observation #1: CivilityThe numerous green, magnetic bumper stickers saying, “Choose Civility” on the cars scattered throughout my home county.

Observation #2: The traveler alert from the Bahamas, warning its citizens about the dangers of traveling to the United States.

So, here’s the line that connects the two for me. We in the U.S. are seen by many in other parts of the world as a nation of compassion, peace, and civility. A place where people can openly voice their disagreements and not be thrown into jail or killed. A place where we can practice freely four different faiths on the four different street corners of a city intersection anywhere in the country. A place of welcome and respect for our diversity.

But more than anything, we are–or have been–a model for civil behavior. And I fear that that is changing.

Rather than “using our words” (as some teach their children), we use our fists (or guns, in some cases.) Rather than channeling our anger into non-violent protests as Dr. King called us to over 50 years ago, we choose violence.

Maybe that is why when the families of the Amish children who were gunned down in their one-room Pennsylvania school in 2006 forgave the shooter, it seemed to be extraordinary. When it shouldn’t have.

In a civil society, we as leaders must practice one of the most difficult behaviors we know–that of forgiveness. It’s hard to miss how many times Jesus forgives people throughout his ministry. It’s central to who He is and who He calls us to be.

In fact, it is the only Way.

 

To What Values Are We Witnesses?

crossI woke today to the news about the shooting in Dallas, TX, of police officers and the peaceful protest that took place there last evening.

There were two competing narratives seeking to outdo the other.

The first was all about the shooting. The Dallas chief of police shared details of the conversation that the negotiator had had with the shooter, noting that the shooter wanted to kill white men, especially police officers. Anger, vengeance, helplessness — all of these clearly brewing in this man’s mind.

Where else have we heard and seen these emotions and the values that underlie them recently? I’ve heard a lot about anger and vengeance, and have seen the helplessness that some feel in our communities across the country. It’s hard to miss. And it’s equally hard to miss how our leaders are addressing it.

The second narrative caught my ear — and it won’t get the kind of airplay that the first one will, especially today.

One of the news networks interviewed the leader of the peaceful protest. He talked about how deeply they valued the peacefulness of their protest, and how closely they had worked with the Dallas police to ensure that this was the case.

The protest leader talked about the initial moments of the shooting when the group heard the rapid “click click click” of bullets. He realized that he was holding a 10 foot cross in his hands, and yelled at the people around him to follow the cross to safety.

What does it mean to follow the Cross of Christ? To what values are we to be witnesses? The protest leader answered the question easily — and repeated Jesus’ own words, “Love your neighbor.”

So, what values to do we want to see in our leaders, and what values do we want to embody in ourselves as leaders?

Acknowledge What Is (Part 1)

stepsThere is a dialectic between what is (e.g., reality) and what could be.

As Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is a time for everything, including a time to acknowledge what is, the reality, and recognize it for what it is — in all its messiness, creativity, craziness, lack, and fullness.

As leaders, we try to uphold our strategies and visions with every might of energy we have. But there is a time when it is important and necessary to acknowledge what is before us — the reality, what “is.”

The reality before us is the first step toward what could be. Until we see and accept what is, we have no hope of achieving what could be.