How Firmly Rooted Are Your Feet? (Rule #8)

yogaIf you have trouble with resolving conflict, this is the rule for you.

One of the things that I love about practicing yoga is what the focus is–practice.

I find balancing poses–tree pose, dancer’s pose, Warrior III–to be very challenging. When I first started yoga, I thought the focus was supposed to be on doing the position perfectly, and it started with the feet. I learned–after many unattractive, acrobatic flourishes–that it has nothing to do with the position, and everything to do with core.

Rule #8, focus on interests, not positions. In yoga, the focus is on the core, those all-important muscles that keep everything else in alignment, not the position. I’ve found this to be true in groups, relationships, and pretty much every other aspect of work and life.

When we focus on the position, we become adversarial. In tree pose, I used to get mad at my arms because they were fighting what my legs and the rest of me wanted to do. In relationships, we get rooted to a spot, and often there is no bridge to a place where we can join minds, hearts, and heads.

When we focus on interests, the starting point is very different. I read many years ago that the best negotiators started conversations with the simplest of decisions–where and when to meet, how many people would be invited, what language would be used. The best of the best knew that each of these little decisions created a base upon which more challenging interests could be addressed, and ultimately the questions that were at the core of the positions the parties held could be answered.

I think about really big international conflicts that have been addressed in my lifetime–the peace settlement in the Mid-East (not permanent, but it was a step), detente and ultimately the breaking down of the walls between East and West, the opening of dialogue with China. Each of these negotiations started with questions like, “Where do we meet? Who should we invite? What are the rules for dialogue?” And which smaller partners were these negotiations tested with, practiced on?

When faced with conflict, how tightly do you hold onto your position? Think of the most recent experience you had, at the heart of it, what were you interested in accomplishing? What was the other person interested in accomplishing? Where did your interests potentially overlap? And how could you go from there?

Discipleship Is about Making a Decision

NormanEvangelist Luke and Olympian Peter Norman understood the cost of discipleship. And we should pay attention.

Peter Norman was the unknown and unremembered white man on the podium for the 200-meter sprint at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. He stood beside the two African-American medalists, Tommy Smith and John Carlos, who famously stood in bare feet, and raised their arms in the Black Power salute to show their support for the Olympic Project for Human Rights.

In yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus preaches division, not for division’s sake, but to challenge his listeners, to help them understand that following him was a conscious decision, a decision with consequences, even death.

In choosing to stand with Smith and Carlos, Norman understood the consequences and did not falter. He would have worn a black glove and saluted like Smith and Carlos, had there been a third one. So instead, he wore the same badge that they wore, declaring his support for the cause.

After the Olympics, he returned to a racially divided and deeply segregated Australia. There he was ostracized from sports and life (he struggled just to find employment because of his stance) and marginalized for the rest of his life. He was asked to condemn the other medalists in exchange for a pardon, but he refused.

In the long-run, Smith and Carlos were acknowledged for being on the right side of the civil rights issue. The government’s pardon came too late for Peter when he died in 2006.

“Peter was a lone soldier. He consciously chose to be a sacrificial lamb in the name of human rights. There’s no one more than him that Australia should honor, recognize and appreciate,” John Carlos said.

“He paid the price with his choice,” explained Tommie Smith. “It wasn’t just a simple gesture to help us, it was HIS fight. He was a white man, a white Australian man among two men of color, standing up in the moment of victory, all in the name of the same thing.”

What is the cost of discipleship for you?

Words and the Word

words“Ich bin ein Berliner.” “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” “I have a dream . . . ” “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Words have meaning. Kennedy’s brief German phrase showed his sympathy for those who lived within Berlin’s walls. Gandhi’s invitation challenged us to choose a path of virtue and for the common good.

King dispelled the darkness of day with the clarity and light of his dream for all. Roosevelt called us to rise above that which might have held us paralyzed and work together.

The Word of God brought a simple, yet profound message of love, repentance, and salvation that we still seek to unpack each and every day.

Words–and the Word–have meaning. We can’t ignore that. And listeners go where the words lead. That path may be intended or not, clear or ambiguous, but listeners go where the words lead. And that responsibility is with the creator and speaker of the words.

Yesterday, one of the news shows shared an anecdote from one of our past presidential administrations. While the interview with him was over, his microphone was still open, and the president jokingly made the statement that the U.S. was preparing to bomb the Soviets. Upon hearing this, the Soviets prepared for war, going so far as to make their intentions public in the press. Eventually, it came to light that the president’s words were only a joke and no harm was intended. But what if . . .

Most leaders know this. We know that our words have meaning, and that we want to communicate our thoughts and ideas as clearly as possible. With the speed of social media, we know how quickly words can do harm. But we also know how quickly they can bring healing–see the responses to the many human and natural disasters in the last few years, even weeks.

We tell children to use their words. We’re missing one word–“well.”

Handling Success

humilityShortly after my very exhausted husband walked through the door yesterday, he told me about a conversation that he had with his peer leaders at the high school about humility and leadership.

He’d been struck by how the USA swimmers who medaled in the first few days responded to questions about their success–thanking their families, their coaches, the team–recognizing that the end result could have been something very different if they hadn’t given it their best.

Within the last few days, we’ve seen the value of humility illustrated on many stages. Katie Ledecky, proud of her medals, but oozing gratitude to her family and friends. As opposed to Chad de Clos, strutting in front of Michael Phelps, trying to psych him out before their semi-final. (Yes, he was indeed strutting!)

Daniel Boudia and Steele Johnson thanked Jesus Christ for inspiring them to work so hard that they were able to win silver in men’s synchronized diving.

And Ichiro Suzuki reaching 3,000 hits without the fanfare and over-analyzed attention of the Alex Rodriquez retirement press conference.

What we have seen and heard is that humility does not ask for attention. It proves its value by actions we take. It recognizes that “I” am always part of the “we” that is bigger and greater than me.

In what other realms have you heard or seen humility at work recently? How do you strive to imitate Christ’s humility in your daily work?

Reason and Wonder

wonderReason and wonder are the two sides of a coin like the one that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel.

Good leaders have the ability to use both reason and wonder to inspire and motivate themselves and others to embrace the Good News, evangelize, and nourish those they encounter.

Today’s first reading from Ezekiel illustrates this. It begins with an ordered account of the when, rooting us in a specific time and place . . .

On the fifth day of the fourth month of the fifth year,
that is, of King Jehoiachin’s exile . . .
–Ezekiel 1:2

Then unfolds the mysterious, awesome, and wonderous vision of the glory of God.

Jesus recognizes this too in today’s Gospel. He puts the question to Peter about paying the temple tax, then instructs Peter to go fishing. In the mouth of the fish Peter catches, there is a coin with which they pay the tax. Practical yet wonder-filled.

I’ve often thought about how much of my day, week, month is spent focused on the quotidian efforts of answering the questions of who, what, where, and when, and limited time spent reflecting on the vision of the glory of God and what that might mean in my work and ministry.

I know I need the reasoned side of the coin, but do I forget the wonder side?

Where do I see wonder and want only to express it in praise?

 

 

 

Thwack! (Rule #6)

doorThat’s the sound of the door closing your mind when faced with someone who disagrees with you.

Here’s the key. At least don’t lock the proverbial door.

When we let ourselves maintain a closed mind, we fall into the “we’ve always done it this way” trap. And that trap is particularly dangerous in our amazingly fast changing world and culture.

A few ways to keep yourself open to different perspectives.

  • Surround yourself with people who approach problems and situations differently than you do. It’s the “Abraham Lincoln” approach–keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer (replace “enemies” with anything that refers to people who see the world differently.)
  • Keep a journal where you start with your perspective, and breakdown why others around you are taking a different approach. This approach encourages sympathy which can help breach the gap between differences.
  • Ask yourself what are the potential positive outcomes of a differing perspective.

If you have other ideas, please share them. Staying open takes energy, and it’s a lot easier when we are surrounded by others who are doing the same.

Vatican Announces Commission on Women Deacons

america-logo

In a press release issued this morning, the Vatican announced that “after intense prayer and mature reflection,” Pope Francis has established a “Commission of Study on the Diaconate of Women” and named twelve members to it, six of them women, including one American—Professor Phyllis Zagano, who teaches at Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y.

Professor Zagano is a widely published author on the subject of women deacons whose writings who have appeared in America.

— Tim Reidy, Gerard O’Connell, August 2, 2016

Read the complete article in America Magazine

Complimentary or Complementary?

ColorI think of myself as “color-challenged.” I don’t often know what color to pick when it comes to shoes or paint or much of anything else, so I resort to the basics of the color wheel.

Limiting myself to the 6 options of the primary and secondary colors, the internal conversation goes something like this. “If the room is blue, then what are the adjacent and opposite colors?” Answers? Green and purple, and orange.

When it comes to leadership culture, I can be equally challenged, but find that I take a similar tack in addressing the question, “What kind of leader do I need to be in this particular situation and for this particular group?”

The summer issue of Harvard Business Review includes a “Defend Your Research” article on how leaders should complement their culture, not embody it. Sort of counter-intuitive, but I’ve seen it in action in my own experience. I find the answer is similar to my color challenge — go with the opposite or complementary skill set.

Does the program or office need someone who is task-oriented to right or steady or focus the ship? Then you are called to bring your organizational and administrative skills to the vision of the ministry so that it can be its most effective.

Does the ministry lack vision or direction, but has lots of great volunteers and doers who are generous and willingly give of their time and talent? Then you need to provide and communicate that vision at every turn, stay out of the proverbial weeds, and help them see how they plug into it and can make it concrete and human.

Start with recognizing your own leadership strengths and which specific skills they naturally support (are “adjacent to”). Then look at which skills are opposite yours — or complement them. How do you bring a balance of these complementary gifts so that your ministry can be the most successful and effective?

 

What Do You Look for in a Leader?

presidentMovies often propose and “try on” the paradigms for leaders that we see and seek in our world.

Last Thursday, PR Web reported on the ten most and worst respected presidents as depicted by Hollywood.

Harrison Ford in “Air Force One” was the #1 best — a president threatened by foreign terror, defending both his family and his country, unwillingly to concede defeat and willing to sacrifice himself for both. A hero in the best sense of the word.

I confess: I love that movie, and I love the Ford’s character in it. As a leader, I aspire to the kind of dedication and willingness to sacrifice that his character embraces.

I’ve seen most of the most respected ones–Michael Douglas (The American President), Robin Williams (Man of the Year), Kevin Kline (Dave–a personal favorite!), and Michael Keaton (First Daughter.)

While these and the others in the top 10 had Ford’s heroic qualities in common, what I truly admire most about these other four is their humanity–a leader who can listen, admit when he is wrong, and stand for what is right; two men who come to see that the office is more important than the man who fills it; a poseur who truly can walk in the shoes of those he is supposedly leading; and a father who learns the hard way what it means to be a father and leader at the same time.

Who do you respect most? Why? Which of these qualities to you try to cultivate in yourself? In others?

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.