Tag Archives: issues

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.


Just When You Think . . .

UniverseJust when you think you have the situation under control, the Universe throws a wrench into it.

I was reminded of this today as I indulged in my daily, very guilty pleasure of watching reruns of Gilmore Girls. The episode entitled “The Incredible Sinking Lorelais” ends with Mom and Daughter both crumbling under the weight of the expectations they had set for themselves and what reality actually delivered.

Both business and ministerial situations do that — throw wrenches into our best laid plans. The measure of a good leader is how we respond.

We can let it break us, turning us into blithering idiots who direct the anxiety and stress outward and project it on to others in the form of anger, authoritarianism (pick your favorite form of autocratic behavior.)

Or we can pent up all of that frustration and energy, and inflict needless pain on ourselves in multiple forms of destructive behaviors, the least of which is staying awake for unnecessary hours trying to fix things.

Or my favorite option (in theory, not always in practice) — breathe . . . and let the Universe reveal where that proverbial “wrench” is intended to take us.

If you have ever planned a meeting, only to watch and listen as an agenda topic takes an unanticipated turn, there’s the wrench. Though my preference would be to get the discussion “back on track” (whatever that means!), we can learn a lot from these detours or changes in direction — not usually large things, but small ones.

What new thing did you learn about the perspective of a committee member? What obstacles or issues were named or hinted at that you hadn’t considered before? What paths and options are opened up now that this conversation has taken place?

I admit — this doesn’t work in all situations. But sometimes letting the Universe lead the way — and facilitating that as best you can — can uncover concerns, questions, issues, solutions, directions that had not be considered before.



Identity vs. Issue

This political season can be summed up in three words, to some extent, identity versus issues. For identity to carry the day, the individual must be charismatic, embolden his or her followers to tell others about him or her, and seek to be regarded as the center of attention. Issues often have a charismatic person at the core, but one of humility who doesn’t seek the spotlight. Someone who accepts disagreement with love and compassion, and nurtures the truth in each of us to go forth.

This liturgical season seems to follow suit.

Once when Jesus was praying by himself,
and the disciples were with him,
he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
They said in reply, “John the Baptist;
others, Elijah;
still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’”
Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.”
He scolded them
and directed them not to tell this to anyone.
Luke 9 (New American Bible, USCCB.org)

Jesus is the model of leadership par excellence for most of us. This Gospel establishes the framework for that model.

While the disciples recognize him as the Christ, the Messiah, the great spiritual leader that they have been awaiting, Jesus himself knows that true leadership cannot be deeply nurtured, explored, lived through, and sustained through identity leadership.

Think of how many different times and places where you have seen a strong and charismatic leader develop a rich and grace-filled ministry in a parish or school, only to leave at some point and the ministry to die on the vine.

Most great religious orders have dealt with this when their founder died, and they struggled with how and with whom to move on. They knew that there had to be something deeper — a charism — that bound them together, something that went beyond the personality or the identity of the leader.

Take a moment and think about what would have happened had Jesus told his followers to tell everyone who he was. Would the Gospel have gotten past the first century?

Jesus always knew that his life and ministry were about the issues–feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, taking in the homeless, setting prisoners free. Even the fights of the early Church were not around these. These were fundamental.

So, in what ways are you a leader through your identity? What are the strengths and weaknesses of that? When and where are you a leader through issues? How do you ensure that you can pass on the baton of leadership to others?