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?

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