The Kind of Leader We Need

What Kind of Leader Do We Really Need?

It goes without saying — though I will say it anyway! — that we are facing deep divisions in both our nation and (speaking as a United Methodist) in our church.  What kind of leaders do we need to show us the way forward?

I had never heard of William White, but he’s become a model for me of the kind of leaders we desperately need at this moment in history.

220px-William_White-Bishop_Episcopal_Church_USA-1795 (1)Born in Philadelphia in 1747, White was a priest in the Church of England. In spite of his ordination vow of loyalty to the King, he supported the Revolution and served as chaplain to the Continental Congress from 1777 to 1789.  He then served for ten years as the Chaplain of the Senate. He led in writing the constitution for the Episcopal Church in America and became its first Presiding Bishop.  One writer points to the way his “gifts of statesmanship and reconciling moderation” led the church through times of revolutionary upheaval and change.

I was drawn to White because of the collect in his memory that is included in the Episcopal calendar of daily prayers on July 17.

O Lord, in a time of turmoil and confusion you raised up your servant William White, and endowed him with wisdom, patience, and a reconciling temper, that he might lead your Church into ways of stability and peace; Hear our prayer, and give us wise and faithful leaders, that through their ministry your people may be blessed and your will be done; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Don’t miss those words: wisdom…patience…a reconciling temper…wise and faithful leaders. They became my persistent prayer for the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference as it elected five new bishops for the United Methodist Church. They are my prayer as our Council of Bishops attempts to lead our denomination through this critically important time in our history. They are also my prayer as we continue to make our way through the noisy conflict of this Presidential election season.

A Time of Turmoil and Confusion

Like William White, we live in “a time of turmoil and confusion” in our church, nation and world. What kind of leaders do we really need to lead us through these revolutionary times “into ways of stability and peace”?

There’s always the temptation to go for the “strongman” who feeds on our fears and frustrations and promises to solve every problem by the sheer force of his personality and power.  We’re always tempted to deepen the polarization that separates us, to listen only to those who reinforce our preconceived assumptions, to demonize those who disagree with our chosen positions and to make every issue an “all or nothing” decision without being willing to search for the “common good.”

William White represented a very different kind of leadership.  His leadership was rooted in the wisdom that comes from broad learning; patience that looks at each decision in light of the long-term implications, not immediate gain; and faith that grows out of lifelong disciplines of biblical reflection and spiritual growth.  All of which resulted in a “reconciling temper” that brought people together who would otherwise have been driven apart.

For United Methodist readers, I commend James Howell’s recent blog Four Compelling Reasons Conservative and Progressive United Methodists Have to Stay Together as an example of that kind of leadership.

May God give us leaders in every area of our lives who lead with wisdom, patience and a reconciling temper, that together we might find ways to stability and peace.

Grace and peace,

Jim

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For Spacious Skies

Fireworks Under Cloudy Skies

The skies weren’t “spacious” over Washington last night.

A text from a friend who was watching the fireworks from a condo looking out over the Mall said, “The balcony was wet and the clouds were low but the show this year was hauntingly beautiful.”

PBS later confirmed that along with live shots of the cloud-covered Mall, they dubbed in recorded clips of crystal clear nights in the past.

It could be a metaphor for the way “the patriots’ dream” we celebrated yesterday sometimes seems like a beautiful vision that haunts our memories and hopes under the cloudy skies of our current political divisions. We can hope.

(Musical note: I love “The 1812 Overture” with its cannons, choirs and chimes! I also wonder if folks realize that we’ve borrowed it from Tchaikovsky, who wrote it to commemorate Russia’s defeat Napoleon’s invasion of his homeland. Perhaps our adaptation points to deep, common ties between often competing nations.)

For Spacious Skies

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The skies were spacious over Sioux Falls, South Dakota, when I was there as the teacher for the Dakotas’ Annual Conference a few weeks ago. The sun was peeking over the horizon when I made my way onto the running/biking/walking trail that winds its way along the outskirts of the city.

As a rare visitor to the Great Plains, I was in awe of the “spacious skies and amber waves of grain” that stretched out as far as I could see to the north and west of the city. A cool, early-morning breeze contradicted the blistering heat of coming day.

Making my way along the trail, I remembered the Psalmist’s words: “In tight circumstances I cried to the Lord; the Lord answered me with wide open spaces.” (Psalm 118:5 CEB)

That phrase — “wide open spaces” – also appears in 2 Samuel 22:20Psalm 18:19, Psalm 31:8, and Psalm 119:45.

Old Testament scholar and friend, Dan Johnson, confirmed that the Hebrew word, merhab means “vast expanse” or “broad domain.”  It refers to “Yahweh’s celestial abode,” in other words, “spacious skies.” It can also mean “salvation.”

The Spacious Skies of Salvation

Walking under spacious skies that morning, I realized again that being “saved” means that by God’s grace I am being released from the suffocating smallness of life turned in on itself (we call it “sin”) to live in the spacious greatness of God’s boundless life and love.

Now the way we live is based on the Spirit, not based on selfishness. People whose lives are based on selfishness think about selfish things, but people whose lives are based on the Spirit think about things that are related to the Spirit. The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, but the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life and peace. (Romans 8:4-6 CEB)

I’m being set free from the “tight circumstances” of a rigid legalism that needs to squeeze everyone else into my narrow assumptions so that I can experience expansive receptivity to others.

I am being healed of the sin of selfishness to live into what Thomas Merton called “the infinite unselfishness of God.”

I am being saved from a life motivated by self-serving so that I can experience the self-giving life of Jesus Christ.

So then, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation, but it isn’t an obligation to ourselves to live our lives on the basis of selfishness. (Romans 8:12)

In God’s love, I’m living toward a life “undimmed by human tears.”

In all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created. (Romans 8:37-39)

Thanks be to God for the spacious skies of saving grace, unending love and relentless hope.

Grace and peace,

Jim