Looking for a leader

People, especially those who would lead, are interesting. Check out these two descriptions:

1) man of medium stature… hair lay smooth as if it had been combed… beard shaggy and trained to a point… eyes were bright and full of fire, bespeaking the keenness of his mind… eyebrows fine… nose perfectly straight… mouth a bit large, with full lower lip… neck thick and bent… shoulders large and broad… from head to fingertips well proportioned, and therefore strong and a good runner.

2) not handsome nor youthful… long beard with lice, like a thicket for wild beasts… head disheveled… seldom cuts hair or nails… fingers nearly always black with ink.

Two interesting, very different descriptions. Same man. The most powerful man in the world at the time. In the first he is described by Ammianus, in the second by himself. In other words, he saw his flaws.

The man — Roman Emperor Julian, called the Apostate by some.

“This pagan lived and dressed like a monk. Apparently he knew no woman carnally after the death of his wife. He slept on a hard pallet in an unheated room; he kept all his chambers unheated throughout the winter “to accustom myself to bear the cold.” He had no taste for amusements. He shunned the theater with its libidinous pantomimes, and offended the populace by staying away from the Hippodrome; on solemn festivals he attended for a while, but finding one race like another, he soon withdrew. At first the people were impressed by his virtues, his asceticism, his devotion to the chores and crises of government; they compared him to Trajan as a general, to Antoninus Pius as a saint, to Marcus Aurelius as a philosopher-king. We are surprised to see how readily this young pagan was accepted by a city and an Empire that for a generation had known none but Christian emperors.”

There can be such a thing as a powerful, exemplary, service-oriented leader. He or she will not rise to power in the USA as Julian did in Rome. Here, the people need to be looking for such a person and then lift them above the crowd of egotistical and power hungry.

It is good to lift up people of competence, integrity, experience, intelligence, compassion, and humility. Maybe such characteristics can be summed in one word — wisdom.

We need wise women and men to lead. Any leader will make mistakes, and no leader can right every wrong. But a wise leader gives us our best hope.

On Memorial Day it is good to remember the responsibility we all have to choose our leaders well.

Quote and info from Will Durant, The Age of Faith: The Story of Civilization, Volume IV . Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

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Learning the art of listening

It struck me today how fortunate I was to have been a journalist.
 
Real journalists ask questions, lots of questions, and most of their time is spent listening to the answers — getting the responses right but also thinking about the responses. Is it a real answer to the question? What new questions does the answer raise? Thought upon thought, all while listening and trying to understand.
 
Then, after all the asking and listening is done, you try to make sense of what you learned, fitting it in with what you’ve learned from others and also letting it stand on its on.
 
Usually by the time I got to a keyboard, I had shaped in my head what I thought was most important in what had been said and how I could convey it. A one-source story is simple, but it gets more complex as you layer in sources trying to get at broader truth, not just one person’s perspective on what is true.
There are good and bad journalists just as surely as their are good and bad ministers, politicians, cops, plumbers, housewives, etc.
A bad journalist doesn’t really listen. He or she is more interested in finding what he or she wants or expects to hear or even “making” a person say what the writer wants. It happens.
A good journalist listens and shapes the story to the emerging understanding of reality, wherever it might take the reporter. And a resulting story is never the last word; it is part of the word, often the first word, which one hopes will lead to more understanding.
My thoughts surfaced as I read the introduction to Denise Shekerjian’s book, Uncommon Genius: How Great Ideas Are Born. She wrote about the process of interviewing 40 recipients of the MacArthur Prize. Here’s some of her words about the process:
“In the end, the common themes linking these creative people separated and floated to the surface like cream. . . .
“But some of what I learned was a surprise. . . .
“With these conclusions in hand, the problem then was to devise an artful structure for telling the story. . . .
“Somehow, I had to allow for the untidiness and inconsistencies of it all. And, too, there were the subtleties of reducing an interview to the written page: people should sound the way they really talk. A casual statement, isolated from the whole, shouldn’t be made to stand for an entire formal dogma.”
She reminded me of what it’s like to listen, to really listen, to listen for understanding, to listen for honest sharing. That’s what good journalists do; that’s what all of us could benefit by doing.

Andrewes: ‘Besides our skin and flesh a soul we have. . . .’

I’m thinking this morning on a nasty word. It is an old one we don’t speak of much. The generator of my thoughts is a man long dead and little known today — Lancelot Andrewes.

The word, the almost lost word — sin — with a simple truth.

“Sin it is will destroy us all.” — Andrewes

If we forget sin, we forget our destroyer. All we need do is look around us to see the truth. But sin does not merely destroy life in the now; it has consequences that reverberate through both history and eternity.

Andrewes, sounding somewhat like Yoda: “Besides our skin and flesh a soul we have, and it is our better by far. . . .”

I read these words from Andrewes’ exposition on Luke 2:10-11, which tells of the birth of a savior who is Christ, the Lord.

Andrewses speaks of the joy that a savior of any kind brings. People may talk all they want, but there is “no joy so great, no news so welcome” as when “when ready to perish” hears of “one that will save him.”

To a person in danger of dying to sickness there is no greater joy than to hear of one will make the person well again.

To a person sentenced by law to die there is no greater joy than to be pardoned.

“Tell any of these, assure them but of a Saviour, it is the best news he ever heard in his life. There is joy in the name of a Saviour,” Andrewes said.

But most of us are not on the verge of death, in sickness, or living on death row. The thing Jesus came for is the “saving we need all; and none but He can help us to it. We have therefore all cause to be glad for the Birth of this Saviour.”

“. . . there is another life not to be forgotten, and greater the dangers, and the destruction more to be feared than of this here, and it would be well sometimes we were remembered of it.”

Our spiritual joy arises out of our true selves — our flawed selves, our sinful selves. It arises because we see ourselves and those around us, and thus we see the need of a savior. In seeing our sin it becomes possible to find our joy, it is in a savior from that sin — a savior to love and lift up, to heal and pardon, to walk and reside with us.

[The Andrewes quotes are from T.S. Eliot’s essay on Lancelot Andrewes.]

Holding hands is for more than romance

I remember the excitement of holding the hands of girlfriends in youth.

I remember the connection when holding the hand of the woman I came to love. Not like the others, she remained from day to day.

I remember the tenderness of holding the hands of our babies; small and soft, they grasped your finger.

I thought of hand-holding this morning when listening to a song by David Kauffman — “A Hand to Hold.”

It reminded me of another hand-holding song first heard when I was 8 in 1963 — “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” by The Beatles. The excitement of that song thrilled and laid the foundation for the excitement that would come a few years later when I held the hands of girlfriends.

But, excitement is only part of life. Kauffman’s “A Hand to Hold” points to something deeper.

“Someone asked me what I want, the question sent me spinning off in circles. I could not see. Seems like so much of my time is spent chasing what my mind invents, that my heart lost its way.

“It took stripping away every plan in me to understand the simple things I need, a hand to hold, a heart that knows, a soul that welcomes and makes a whole, a smile that warms what’s grown cold ’til I’ve become a hand to hold.”

To hold a hand is one of the great joys of life. Yes, it can be exciting, but more joyously it can become a true connection with genuine tenderness, and it’s not just about romance. To rephrase Kauffman’s words:

We all need hands to hold.

We all need hearts that know us.

We all need souls that welcome and make us whole.

We all need smiles that warm us when we’ve grown cold.

We need real love, the Jesus kind of love. The love that touches our hearts, warms our souls, makes us whole, and smiles upon our lives.

We can receive these spiritually, directly from our Creator and Sustainer, but we also need to receive these from the people God brings into our life path.

God may touch our spirits, but God knows that flesh is important and needs to be touched, as well. Jesus became flesh so he could actually touch people. What might it have been like to walk a path in Palestine holding the hand of the one who loved perfectly and would one day give that hand to be assaulted in crucifixion?

And, as Kauffman’s song says, when we have been touched and changed, we will “become a hand to hold.” We need others to hold our hands, and others need us — the power of touch.

(David Kauffman has been one of my favorite Christian songwriters for years. “A Hand to Hold” is on his album by that same name.)

 

Oh, the friends you will make

When first told I had cancer, my initial thoughts were these: This could kill me. This will cost me. This is going to disrupt the lives of my family and me. I did not think of how God would bless me through the process.

One of the blessings is that I have gotten to know a bunch of great people — competent and caring. They’ve brightened my life.

Today marked the 31st day of my 38-day radiation treatment. I get to see the folks at Urology Austin’s radiation center every morning at 7 a.m. to get zapped.

Dr. Garza is the ring leader, but there’s also Isabel, Kristianne, Angela, Erick, Katherine, Que, and others. They rotate. They’ve become my friends. In the brief moments before and after they leave the room we get to share tidbits of our lives.

They know their stuff, which is critical, but they also show they care, and that is just as important for me. I’m going to miss them when this is over.

I would have preferred to forego the cancer, but I am surely thankful for the people — the blessings — I have encountered through the journey.

Trustworthiness is tied to truth & actions

Trustworthiness is so important. Understanding it can help us understand why lying and deceit are so damaging.

I want to simplify a sentence from Christopher Hall, quoting Robert Wilken:

Authority sometimes refers to power, but it can refer also to trustworthiness. One way we establish trustworthiness is through “teaching with truthfulness,” which resides “in a person who by actions as well as words invites trust and confidence.” A person’s “trust is won not simply by words but also by actions, by the kind of person the teacher is—in short, by character.”

Hall and Wilken were referring to the pursuit of truth and trustworthiness in the Christian tradition. It is, I think, something that can be applied to all of life. We win the trust of others not merely by our words but also by our actions — by being a person of high character, by being trustworthy.

The paraphrase and quote come from Christopher A. Hall’s Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers (p. 28). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Making sense of a personal past

Reading about others can help you see yourself better.

I was reading this morning about the differences that emerged during American slavery between house slaves and field slaves. I cannot begin to compare my heritage to the black experience, but I as I read knowing my own heritage I realized that in many ways I’m from the white field hand tradition.

One of my grandfathers was a sharecropper. Both of my grandfathers were eventually land-owning farmers (thanks, in part, to the women they married). I still see the field hand in myself. I’m not comfortable in the world of fancy; I like to dress more simply and behave more casually.

But I went and got a bunch of education, so I don’t really fit in with the field hand world either. I would rather talk about ideas than the weather.

So now I see a little better why I sometimes feel alone. I’m not alone regarding people; I’m a bit alone within myself — connected, yet disconnected from my past and in my present.

That may sound like a sad thought. It’s not, because I know there are lots of people who are like me in feeling disconnected from something old and yet connected to something new.