Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Independence Day Reflection on Freedom

20140704-135338-50018726.jpg

I love my country. I’m proud to be an American. I cherish the freedoms we have in our nation. I celebrate our independence on July 4 every year.

But I am also aware that there are reasons to be critical of the ways in which we as a nation and we as individuals have caused harm to other people groups and nations, visitors to our country and even to citizens of our great nation.

The freedom from tyranny, hard-won by our founders, brought (still brings) new challenges.

Freedom from something oppressive brings with it freedom to do something else. Yet, the temptation is great to use our own freedom to seize power and take on the role of the oppressor over and against others.

A parable may help to make my point. Jesus tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:23-35. In this parable a king wants to settle accounts with his slaves. One is brought to him who owes an astronomical debt that he could never possibly repay.

He begs forgiveness:

The slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’  (v 26)

The king has mercy:

And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. (v 27)

He isn’t just given time to repay it, the entire astronomical amount is completely forgiven. The slate is totally wiped clean. He is free! Really and truly and beautifully free from this crushing debt.

But how does he use his freedom?

He uses it to threaten one indebted to him:

But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ (v 28)

He could have used his freedom to bless others as he had been blessed. He could’ve completely forgiven the other guy’s debt, or at least given him time to repay it. But he didn’t. He used his freedom to threaten and oppress one less powerful than himself.

What does this have to do with our nation?

Well, in our wide-open landscape of opportunity, there have been times when we have used our freedom to infringe on the freedoms and rights of others.

Colonization.

Manifest destiny.

From sea to shining sea.

This all took massive levels of effort, sometimes even oppressive force.

Even today, issues of how much government is enough–but not too much, how–and whether–we welcome newcomers, and how we settle differences internally and internationally, all of these issues are opportunities to use our freedom in meaningful, constructive ways.

I am not bashing our nation. I’m not moving out. I’m not leaving. But that doesn’t mean I will sit back and nod and pray down God’s blessings on America as if we are uniquely entitled to Almighty Favor.

I celebrate what is good about our nation. We are strong and powerful and fruitful and industrious and beautiful. And I pray that we always, always use our assets to be a source of peace and a catalyst for freedom for others both within and outside of our borders.

Receiving Others as Gifts: Mutuality in Giving & Receiving

20140314-135655.jpg

This is the first post in my new series about “Receiving Others as Gifts.” For background to this series, please read the introduction from last week: Introducing a New Series on Receiving Others as Gifts. To see all of my blog posts related to this subject, check out the tag: Others as Gifts.

I love the Kenneth Bailey video on footwashing that I posted back in November. I love everything about that video really. But most especially meaningful to me was how he made the case for how radical footwashing is and then how he lifted out the verse about how we ought to wash one anothers’ feet!

Bailey talked about the power dynamics at play when service is rendered. The idea was that service as we are called to is often from a position of power–the one has something the other needs–the giver is the one with the power.

Bailey rightly points out the danger of using service as a power play.

The way to guard against the power dynamics getting out of hand , then, is to wash one anothers’ feet–for each one to take turns both giving service to and receiving service from one another.

When it comes to receiving others as gifts, I think this idea of mutual giving & receiving is really important. The temptation to always be the one giving is great in our busy world.

We don’t want someone else to be put out. And we certainly don’t want to feel like we owe someone for some service they’ve rendered!

No, we’d rather be the ones doing the giving, doing the serving, doing that thing that puts someone else in our debt. Oh, of course, we don’t expect them to repay us–but that only heightens the sense of indebtedness that the one served may feel.

The most profound act of service we can render is to receive service from another, to lay down our need to be large and in charge and to humble ourselves enough to allow another to be or do for us something that we cannot do or be on our own.

Admitting that we can’t be all things to all people is often scary. To own our limitations and our neediness is not comfortable or automatic. It is a deliberate choice to drop our sense of superiority, to drop our self-centeredness, and to allow someone else to be greater or more central to us than we’d like.

Another feature of that Bailey video mentioned above is he calls attention to the bond that is formed when service is given and received. The two parties are brought into closer relationship by the service given and received.

We can choose to decline the service offered to us–I mean, we may not always need what is offered at exactly the time and place it is being offered. But to decline the service of others is to distance ourselves from those offering it.

We may have our reasons to decline, but it is wise to be aware of the cost. If we continually deny others the opportunity to serve us we may find ourselves in total isolation.

We may end up so far removed from others as to have no meaningful, sustaining community on which to rely when we eventually realize that we need it.

Plus, if we allow ourselves to become isolated by refusing to be served, then we’ll have no one left who needs or relies on us! Our own best service will be useless if we have no one close enough to us to receive what we have to offer.

I’m convinced that we need each other in this life. We need the gifts and service of others and they need ours too. This mutual giving and receiving is part of God’s original intent for us and Jesus affirms it.

May we be blessed by and be a blessing to others through our serving one another.

 

Read all the posts in the Receiving Others as Gifts series:

Imagination, Reality, and Kindness in the Realm

kindness-heart

One of my earliest areas of interest as a writer was in writing short stories. I often used my study halls in high school to write fanciful stories about imaginary lands. I even had a science teacher who would let me read my stories to the class if she finished her lecture early.

One gem of a story idea was inspired by an odd panel in the family room of the house where I grew up. This one panel was 1/5 the width of all the others and it had a knot-hole toward the bottom.

I imagined a land of little people who lived inside the knot-hole of that panel. And the little people inside there had what I considered a utopian society.

My version of utopia? The little people all lived and worked in harmony and treated one another with kindness.

Brilliant right?

And what laws governed this utopia? None. None at all.

The people weren’t good and kind because laws told them to be, they were good and kind because they wanted to be.

I never quite got around to writing the knot-hole people’s story because somehow this was not like my other stories. It was more of a vision. And it felt too big and too important to reduce to a short story.

But this utopian vision has stayed with me ever since then…

Click the heart in the photo above read the rest of this essay at Life & Liberty and find out what that youthful vision still means to me today.

What Does it Really Mean to be Brave?

20140218-095557.jpg

The big brave things—all rescue workers and such—those are what we often think of when we talk about being brave. And these folks deserve all the airtime they get on the 5 o’clock news!

But the unsung brave things deserve to at least be named…

I’m at Life & Liberty today expanding on what I think it means to be brave. The post is titled, The Home of the Brave. Click the title to read the post.

What Is She Doing Up There? -or- How I Use My Hands In Worship

Hand

Last Sunday was our once-a-month praise service at my small-town Texas, Lutheran church. I recently joined the praise team for these services and I want to tell you why I felt really vulnerable up there this past Sunday.

Well, of course, as a pastor’s wife, there’s always, always a sense of being in a fish bowl–like everyone is watching my family and me even when we’re minding our own business. Fortunately, most of the church members in the churches we have been in have been very respectful of and gracious toward us fish in the bowl. Our current church has been exceptionally warm to all three of us, so that was no more a factor than usual this past Sunday.

No, the reason why I felt vulnerable is because I use my hands a lot in church. And suddenly, being up front, facing the congregation, all of my gestures were on display.

Nobody said anything to me about it, but with my view facing them I kinda couldn’t help but notice that not many other people (if any) use their hands quite as much as I do.

And here’s the other thing…I have the propensity to offend people across the spectrum of Christian faith expressions because I’m as likely to make the sign of the cross as I am to raise my hands to praise the Lord. Some people might accuse me of being too “religious” or too “Catholic” for crossing myself whereas others might be put off by my charismatic tendencies when I raise my hands. I could face scrutiny for either one, but put them together and what will people say?

And maybe they won’t say anything. And maybe they didn’t think a thing of it. And it is quite possible that I’m overthinking the whole thing because I do that.

Then again, maybe, and this is a big maybe…but maybe somebody else out there has been worried about looking too religious or letting their charismatic spirituality show…As vulnerable as I feel up there doing the things I do with my hands, maybe it can help free up others to express their whole selves in worship?

It could happen.

~~~

This post has been added to Elizabeth Esther’s link-up: The Saturday Evening Blog Post, vol. 6, issue 2

Humorous video by Tim Hawkins about the different styles of hand raising: http://www.davidhousholder.com/raising-hands-in-church-0153-life-liberty/