Thursday, January 25, 2007

Leadership and other musings

I am definitely in vacation mode now. I am truly enjoying taking my days slow and doing whatever I feel like doing. I have even gotten a few shelves and drawers organized, a few boxes out of the basement donated. I never have time to do that sort of thing! I am also learning to bake bread from scratch and enjoying yoga immensely.

I was riding in the car yesterday to run some errands, and I heard an NPR piece reviewing/ rehashing the state of the Union address. I confess: I did not watch. I don't have the stomach or the desire to get all worked up and angry.

Naturally, there was a guest who thought the speech was poor and one who thought it demonstrated great leadership. (Sadly, the one who thought it showed great leadership had among his credentials Lutheran Pastor.) What really struck me was how the guest who thought it was great kept referring to leadership. He talked about how we elect a president to lead, and that leading often means doing unpopular things.

Since I just finished a two year fellowship on spiritual leadership in the church, and my undergraduate degree is in International Relations with plenty of political science, I have a few thoughts on this topic. First, a distinction: there is a difference between spiritual leadership and political leadership. Although, as I write that, it occurs to me that President Bush tries to blur those lines. And there are commonalities. But one of the ten commandments, the one about not using the Lord's name in vain, often comes to my mind when people use the name of God to meet their political objectives. It's a serious thing to me...particularly when political objectives have very little to do with the war for example.

I digress. The guest on the radio show talking about electing a president to lead and not do what is popular strikes me as fundamentally wrong. We elect our representatives to REPRESENT us... our views... not ignore what we want and call it leadership. Granted, when there is a well divided public, as there was in the lead up to the Iraq war, a case can be made for choosing the side one thinks best and doing all in the power of the leader to lead all in that direction. The anti-war protests I participated in were huge, but they had no effect on the leadership at that time because the president had chosen a different course... but he had a LOT of people agreeing with him. The definition of leadership is leading a group of people in a direction in which people follow. If a leader marches down a path, and then finds that the flock has dispersed, the leader is failing to lead a democracy effectively.

I hear people make comments about how they admire the President for sticking to his convictions. I admire this quality as well. It is a spiritual conviction. However, one of the fundamentals of spiritual leadership is that it is not a "go it alone" style of leadership. Spiritual leadership is directed by the Spirit and done in community. It still bothers me that with all of President Bush's God-talk he refused to see his own United Methodist Bishops in the lead up to the Iraq war. How can a person who is claiming both democratic and spiritual authority refuse one's own bishops? It is a deep contradiction. Spiritual leadership can indeed mean doing unpopular things, but most often it is unpopular because it puts love and humility first. Spiritual leadership is about following a crucified Lord, one who rejected the weapons of this world.

This is what kept going through my mind as I listened to the radio: the President is not first and foremost a spiritual leader. He is a democratic leader. And this type of leadership is based upon the will of the people. I really think that to entirely disregard public opinion is to undermine democracy. If our democratically elected leaders don't care what the people want, what is the point?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Choice? Graduation?

After church last Sunday, I asked a woman how her adult children were doing. I had not seen either of them for a while in church. She shared they are both doing well, and then lamented a bit that she had ever given them a "choice" about coming to church when they were young. If she had it to do over again, she would have required them to come with.

I agree with her. The whole idea of giving children a choice is ill conceived. We don't give our children a choice about getting an education. We don't give them a choice about using manners. We don't give them a choice about participating in family activities. Why should they get a choice about something as fundamental as our religion? It communicates that it is less important if it is optional. A person can only make an informed choice about religion if they have thoroughly learned about it and experienced it. If they reach young adulthood, having been steeped in the religious tradition of their parents, and then choose to explore other paths, that is when they are able to make a real choice.

I am in the last chapters of "Leaving Church" a reflective and insightful book by Barbara Brown Taylor about her experience of being called out of pastoral ministry and into a life of teaching. She is a gifted preacher and teacher. This week as I read, she commented upon confirmation in the Episcopal church. Children are usually confirmed around the age of 12 in her tradition. In my United Methodist tradition it is 12-15 on average.

She wrote that unfortunately, many of the youth see confirmation more as a graduation ceremony than a new leg of the journey of faith with a community. Amen. Then, she made an observation that has been on my mind for the past five days. She said it is no wonder that so many folks have an adolescent faith: they leave church when they are adolescents and do not grow any further in their understanding, knowledge, and experience of God.

This made me think about people in crisis. I bet everyone knows at least one person who believes in God, but does nothing intentional to nurture their relationship or tend to their journey. Then, a crisis hits and they find themselves at a dead end. This circle is paved with questions like "how could God let this happen?" and "where was God?/where is God?"

Barbara Brown Taylor's reflection about adolescent faith squared with this. If a person does not grow past a simplistic understanding of God, then this person is not prepared for crisis. And crisis is a part of life. No one is exempt.

It is in a life long relationship, a journey for the long haul, that people of faith are able to move to deeper levels, more complex understandings of God. At the deeper levels, there comes appreciation of daily blessings, daily presence, experience of God's peace and presence especially in times of trial. When crisis comes, faith is something that is able to sustain a person, not trap them in unanswerable questions.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Vacation Accomplishments

I am three days into a four week vacation. So far, I have visited my daughter's future kindergarten (Monday), donated 9 bags of maternity clothes to the Pregnancy Center, gone to my new yoga class, and successfully prepared a special family meal (Tuesday), and slept until almost 9a.m. this morning (thank you sweet husband).

I have made plans to visit my sister for Thursday and Friday, and we are visiting friends in VA for the MLK weekend.

And my anxiety is mounting. It moves between "what if I don't accomplish everything I want to while I am off?" and "what if I can't refocus away from needing to accomplish stuff and never get to relax?" This is truly pathetic.

I had hoped to visit a retreat center today to center and focus myself, but Ray has been sick for the past few days, and I could not just leave him with caring for the kids for 12 or so hours while he is feeling lousy.

So, here's hoping that spending time away from my own house for five days will put me in a "vacation" state of mind....