Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Temptation to be Relevant (Reflections on Christian Leadership - Part 2)

As a college student, I decided that I needed a profession whereby I could make a difference. So,I spent the next 25 years trying to make a difference in the lives of children. In the professional world, education, experience, credentials, and accomplishments matter, so, we keep a record of them. We write them in resumes, or in our vitae, and we update these documents to keep them relevant.

In his book, In the Name of Jesus, Reflections on Christian Leadership, Henri J.M. Nouwen states,
" I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God's Word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life."

He goes on to point out that even Jesus' first temptation was to be relevant: to turn stones into bread. Yet, he he saw that trap for what it was and pointed out that even more important than filling our stomachs with food is the filling of our spirit with God's word. More important than trying to make a difference in someone's life is showing them how God can transform their lives.

To live a life that is not dominated by the desire to be relevant, Nouwen suggests the discipline of contemplative prayer, which will keep our identities deeply rooted in God's love, rather than our own accomplishments or relevance. After all, is there anything more humbling than being in the presence of God?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reflections on Christian Leadership - Part 1

I read several excellent books in 2008. One that comes to mind was written by Henri J.M.Nouwen entitled In the Name of Jesus.

Nouwen is a priest who, after 20 years in the academic world, accepted the work at Daybreak, a community for people who are mentally handicapped. Nouwen writes:

"As I entered into my fifties and was unable to realize the unlikelihood of doubling my years, I came face to face with the simple question, "Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?" After twenty-five years of priesthood, I found myself praying poorly, living somewhat isolated from other people, and very much preoccupied with burning issues. Everyone was saying that I was doing really well, but something inside was telling me that my success was putting my own soul in danger. I began to ask myself whether my lack of contemplative prayer, my loneliness, and my constantly changing involvement in what seemed most urgent were signs that the Spirit was gradually being I woke up one day with the realization that I was living in a very dark place and the term "burnout" was a convenient psychological translation for a spiritual death."

The New Year is typically a time of resolutions. I am good at making them, not so good at keeping them. I decided that I would try something different this year. I would make the New Year a time of personal reflection. Personal reflection is a wonderful learning tool, whereby one reflects on something recent, thinks about what went right, what went wrong, and what might be done differently next time, similar to a personal debrief. It can be done anytime, anywhere, preferably soon after the event.

As I reflect on my own life, and even just the past year, two questions posed by Nouwen come to mind. "Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?" and his follow-up question, "What decisions have I been making lately and how are they a reflection of the way I sense the future?"

Still thinking about it. I am interested in your thoughts.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Spiritual Mulligan

In golf, a mulligan is a retaken swing, usually due to a previously errant one. Strictly prohibited in the official rules of the game, mulligans are commonplace in social golf.

The term has found a broader acceptance in general speech, referring to any minor blunder which is allowed to pass unnoticed or without consequence. It is implied that a mulligan is forgiven because it was either made by a rank beginner, or it is unusual and not indicative of the level of play or conduct expected of the person who made the mulligan.

A mulligan is a re-do, a second chance to make it right.

How often do I mess up in my speech, in my actions, in my relationships with others, and think, "Well that was a mistake. I shouldn't have said (or done) that. Look at the mess I've made. Lesson learned. I won't make that mistake again."

What if, instead, I took a spiritual mulligan? What if upon realizing my blunder, I asked for a re-do? What if, instead of quietly musing on what went wrong, I owned it and asked for another shot at the conversation that went bad, or another chance to do the right thing, or committed to working on the relationship?

Spiritual mulligans take courage, courage to show just how weak and vulnerable I am, courage to own my mistakes, courage to let God do His work through me.

Have you ever experienced a spiritual mulligan?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Like a Child

We recently went on our church's bi-annual church camping trip. This year we went to Tyler State Park, without a doubt, the most beautiful park in Texas we have visited so far. The weather was perfect, crisp in the morning, warm in the afternoon, and cold at night.

On Saturday morning, I was zipped up in my tent, talking to my daughter and trying to get my sweet granddaughter to take a nap. She, however, was more interested in rolling around on my air mattress. Suddenly, a sweet voice yelled, "Hello. Can I come in?" I unzipped the tent to find a precious little four-year-old girl that I had never seen before. She was from our church; her family's campsite was across the trail from ours, but since we were all from the church, she, like the other kids, felt safe visiting the other tents, and she knew my daughter.

After talking with her awhile, I was called away. My daughter stayed to visit with the precious little girl, but then she had to leave to tend to my grandson. Unsure what to do, she told the little girl that she needed to leave the tent and asked if she wanted to leave too.

The precious little girl replied, "No, I'm ok here. Jesus is with me."

Oh for the faith of a child.

For those of you concerned about her wandering around the campground, about five minutes later her mom, who had apparently been calling her name, snatched her up to return to her camp.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Personal Reflection

One of my favorite poems by my favorite poet:

Edgar Guest

I have to live with myself, and so,
I want to be fit for myself to know;
I want to be able as days go by,
Always to look myself straight in the eye;
I don't want to stand with the setting sun
And hate myself for the things I've done.

I don't want to keep on a closet shelf
A lot of secrets about myself,
And fool myself as I come and go
Into thinking that nobody else will know
The kind of man I really am;
I don't want to dress myself up in sham.

I want to go out with my head erect,
I want to deserve all men's respect;
But here in this struggle for fame and pelf,
I want to be able to like myself.
I don't want to think as I come and go
That I'm bluster and bluff and empty show.

I never can hide myself from me,
I see what others may never see,
I know what others may never know,
I never can fool myself- and so,
Whatever happens, I want to be
Self-respecting and conscience free.