Posts Categorized as: humility
Your cultural bias DICTATES your first emotional response to a new form of leadership
My mom did not like whining*. My two older brothers and I have laughed for years at the memory of Mom getting that fierce look on her face and then flicking us right in the lips with her finger if she caught us whining. She would look us right in the eye and say, “You may be angry, you may complain, but you may not whine.” Seriously, try popping yourself in the lips to see just how well that gets your attention!
I also remember that she was very efficient in emergencies. For many years she served as an emergency room nurse. While that had some upsides, the downside of that, of course, was that if one of us started crying, she would go into crisis mode and go straight to the heart of things:
Mom: Are you bleeding?
Me: (sniff) No…
Mom: Do you require medical attention?
Me: (sniff, sniff) No….
Mom: Why are you crying?
Me: (awkward pause) I don’t know…
Mom: Well then, stop it.
Now, this is not to suggest my mother was lacking the maternal instinct or capacities. She was warm and kind to so, so many people. She genuinely cared for us. In fact, she was occasionally irrational in her defense of us. But she had a real displeasure for men who were full of self-pity or weakness. Mom walked past me one time when I was being super-lazy and kinda whiny as a teenager. She asked what was wrong. I was feeling sorry for myself (over a girl), and she said in mid-stride, “no wonder she doesn’t like you…try acting like a man.” Ouch. My Mom was interested in her boys being strong. Add my Dad into the mix, and you get an idea of some of my upbringing. Phrases like pony up (and other less-appropriate phrases) were just part of the lifestyle. My brothers and I had boxing gloves, and we were allowed to use them. I sometimes joke that instead of a “fight-or-flight” reaction, I have a “fight-or-fight-meaner” kind of experience.
Now there was another element to this. Because I loved my family and had so much respect for my parents, I was proud of our heritage and our way of life. We were not financially successful, but our way of life felt authentic and in-line with the entire corpus of Louis L’Amour books on the shelf and the stack of John Wayne videotapes that grew as the years went by.
When I left home, that was the paradigm I had for what a person should act like. This was the model I had imbibed from an early age. But when I got to college, I started coming into contact with people who were so very different. I honestly didn’t know what to do. The introvert in me just avoided the issues (even though I was intensely curious), and I also had to learn to deal with a host of emotional issues I had been avoiding. But here’s where it got really difficult: I was asked to lead others—uh oh…
Like all young leaders I started with what I had—and I made some terrible decisions in the midst of God using me anyway. However, I soon realized that I was fairly one-dimensional in both my understanding and expression of leadership. Really, I had never questioned or thought through why I believed the things I did. I had, like virtually everyone, looked to the leaders I knew (parents, coaches, and community leaders) as my examples. But my failures and stresses forced me to start a journey to try and understand leadership per se. I began reading anything about leadership that was recommended by leaders I respected. I read and asked questions about leadership all the time! But I still had so far to go.
The most significant turning point in this journey came while I was in graduate school at Wheaton College. I took a class on cross-cultural leadership with Dr. Robert L. Gallagher. He pushed me to start thinking of leadership in new ways I had never dreamed of. In another class, Dr. Scott Moreau asked us to reflect on our own “cultural myths.” The word “myth” is cowboy talk for nonsense. I felt offended. Then he explained that “cowboy talk” is just one cultural form among so very many. Oh, so humbling… These two men challenged me so deeply about my own self-perceptions and about what I thought “ought” to happen in leadership. My own cultural bias dictated my emotional response to a different form of leadership! And I learned that I was responding out of hurt rather than clear thought and love. As the old saying goes, “The fish is the last one to understand the concept of water.”
Fast-forward to our team office in Mexico City. I had been reading a book about emotional IQ and leadership. I shared a particularly relevant thought to one of my teammates. It was received in a less-than-impressive manner. He directly challenged me that day to base my leadership thinking off of the Bible first and western ideas of it later. That day I began a process where I read the Old Testament twice and the New Testament four times and I marked every single instance of leadership, management, logistics and use of power in the entire Canon. That took two years. During that study I took copious notes as well. When I finished I realized that a great deal of what I thought GOD said about leadership was just not there. It was (in major part) just my culture… Well… nuts.
Once again, fast-forward on my timeline to the basement in one of the buildings at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA. I was in my third year of doctoral work, and I was learning about leadership theory from one of the best: Dr. Elizabeth (Betsy) Glanville. She (and another professor named Dr. Alan Weaver) were REALLY working me over about leadership. I finally began to put together some of the questions I had had for so many years. As I learned about how to determine things that are supra-cultural vs simply mono/multi-cultural I began to learn about leadership in it’s most basic form. Wow…the light bulbs started flashing.
At this point, if you are still reading, you either have way too much time or you care really care about leadership. I still write and think about it because of the deep, deep needs that our nation/world face today. I don’t want to wait on the sideline wringing my hands, lobbing the theological pot-shots at those who disagree with or frighten me. My heart and energy are for the good work of Christ and His Kingdom and because of that, I want to go forward and be helpful. I suspect you do too… So what’s the point of this particular ramble?
1. We’re not as smart as we think we are
In this season of elections, tensions and overall “the-sky-is-falling” times, we need to think more clearly. We all want to be the person that is clear about what is really going on. I read post after post on social media about how stupid (x) folks are. All of us have our blind spots and while we are able to grow in Wisdom, it takes a great deal of work to do so (cf Prov 2:1-6). Most of us have adopted more of our culture than we are aware of. When, as a young man, I was thinking about how people should lead, I wasn’t thinking in terms of my cultural preferences or even what the Bible, as a whole, says about leadership… I was using my cultural bias as my barometer for what was true. The problem is that our cultural blind spots make us feel self-righteous. Which leads to the second issue.
2. We’re not as grace-filled as we think we are
I recently was talking to a friend who teaches leadership at a very high level indeed. As we were discussing spiritual formation techniques, he mentioned that one of his colleagues was a hard-core proponent of the 38 hour work-week for all Christians. This point of view comes from the idea that to know God, we need time. And when we work too hard we take from ourself the capacity for long seasons alone with God. I get it. But my friend’s point was that their particular community/context was not filled with people who had the kinds of jobs that allowed that kind of schedule; especially with the normal 10 hours of commuting time built in. He said quietly (and sadly), “Sometimes I feel like he’s being a grace-filled pharisee.” I read stuff from pastors who say harsh things about Christians who disagree with them. They rain down judgement on anyone who has a different view of the way ministry ought to be. Often, this is just our cultural bias talking. So really the way to look at this is…
3. The proof is in the fruit
I was so encouraged recently by an article about Conservative churches helping refugees despite some of the tenuous issues involving terrorism and immigration. Instead of ranting about how we should feel about all these things, they just began helping and serving and doing. A friend of mine in Joplin has had a goat roast for the last ten years to meet people from other cultures. A young leader I know in Rhode Island mobilizes their church to help all the middle schools launch their school year! If you want to find people who are living out Micah 6:8, you have to look carefully—and they’re usually not viral. Want to see leadership? Look at places that have amazing results. Most of the time, they’re not getting a ton of publicity because they’re busy doing the work. Paul’s words, “God cannot be mocked.” still ring true.
Earlier I mentioned Dr. Betsy Glanville. During my dissertation writing process, we had a small argument about the structure of one of my chapters. I was convinced I had it right. As we talked, she finally said, “I’m done talking with you about this. You need to learn to think more clearly!” She actually told me that until I read a book called, “Thinking Skills,” she was done arguing. Talk about humiliating…But I DID read it… and she was right. I was making assumptions, not making my case well and arguing from passion rather than logic. After reading the whole book I sheepishly approached her, and instead of arguing I asked her to guide me toward a better way of saying what I intended.
Humility has come hard for me. It has cost me a lot—work, time, humiliation and lots of apologies. But it mostly cost me things that I really don’t want: Pride, stubbornness, self-deceit and isolating myself. I still work hard to understand truth, and I still want to think as clearly as possible. But I hold my opinions much more lightly than before… it costs too much otherwise. Pray for me. I need it.
*I am writing in past tense about Mom. As I write this she is still alive but in a memory care facility, and she is no longer at the same capacity as before. The tense is only indicative of the era…
Caveat: This is a complicated post and might be boring to some readers…. fair warning.
It can be discouraging times for a Bible-believing Christian if you look around at all. The Charleston massacre, racism, the vitriol about Bruce (Caitlyn) Jenner’s issues, the decision by SCOTUS on gay marriage, the Pope and ISIS. If you are like me, you might be wondering, “how in the world will we ever be a nation that pleases God?” If you look around a little further, you’ll see the church at odds with itself. Facebook abounds with lazy, ad hominem attacks on why the church has failed (x) demographic and how it has missed (x) teaching of Jesus. I have some smart Christian friends who are avidly anti-gun and other smart Christians who are equally pro-second-amendment. Even the Christians who are trying to do some good tend to take shots at each other regarding justice, poverty, loving your neighbor etc. And, if you’re like most people, this discussion goes at the national or regional level even if you have never met the people involved, or researched the issue at hand. We have, at times, become a church at the mercy of the media. The only vetted purveyors of truth are those self-proclaimed prophets with the fastest internet or the shrillest voices.
Now, in all fairness, this is nothing new in principle. Gossip, rumor, personal attacks and intentional misinformation have been around since the dawn of mankind (e.g. Adam and Eve’s deflection of blame in the Garden). Empires, both old and new, have used these techniques. Mussolini’s first weapon was the newspaper he owned; Hitler had Goebbels. And, while the press has also been a force for truth, freedom and democracy, the issue here is that we have a new platform (internet and social media) but the dangers involved are the same. The biggest change with the new platform?—no editors and no pushback. Anyone can throw out anything they want and escalate things as fast as they like. Passions flare, calls to action abound and clear thinking becomes difficult.
This tends to create camps, groups, and labels. Negative attribution begins to thrive and we start developing a strong sense of who our enemies are. A former student of mine has announced that he’s become “a champion of justice and a defender of gay rights.” according to a social media post. Regardless of your beliefs on gay rights, this person has set up everyone who is not on his side as an enemy. Against whom is he actually fighting? We have turned into a society that demands that you endorse our opinions and feelings. If you don’t, you’re a bigot and,…well, you better watch out because my righteous team is against your evil team. This kind of emotional pain makes us myopic. Our own pain (real, imagined or borrowed) makes us stop thinking about anything other than our wounds. Our “camp” becomes our form of communal sharing of pain. And, when we feel our camp might be threatened, we all tend to get defensive and a little aggressive.
What pathway do we take to find hope for ourselves and assist in healing? How do we engage the suffering we see around us, actually love our enemy (esp if we’ve never met them personally) and do good work in the world today? How do we address racism and white privilege without separating into camps? How do we love the gay community and still pursue holiness? Who can show us how to address poverty, terrorism, domestic violence and hyper-capitalism?
John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (NASB95). Grace and truth—here is our secret and hope.
Some of us err on the side of grace—we say that there is no room for the church to judge anyone, ever. If we’re not careful, sentimentality becomes our new standard. Statements like “love has no labels” creep into our dialogue. Feelings tend to become the indicators of rightness and anything that hurts emotionally becomes the work of the evil one. We can also err on the side of truth and simply let broken people go on their way and smugly judge them. We fight hard to address things as they really are (e.g. love really actually does have labels) and then let the bodies fall where they may. Over the last few years as a teacher, leader and pastor, I have seen most of my students gravitate toward one side or the other. It is very difficult to walk in both grace and truth. It’s a very, very messy pathway. But I’d like to suggest that the grace-and-truth-way gives us several forms of leverage for the world we live in.
- Canceling Revenge: Grace, together with truth stops the revenge cycle. Here’s what I mean—It’s easy to say “you should forgive” if you’re not the one who feels hurt. This is part of the issue of the racism arguments. Truth calls out the evil, the sin, the injustice and takes the brokenness out into the sunlight where we have to address it. However, left by itself, the truth demands action—usually punitive. Our problem is that we all tend to think that we are the judge of what equality should look like. Grace allows us to let God be the judge. We get the chance to forgive, to extend to others the grace that was extended to us. Grace without truth in this situation is a terrible option…we expect people to “get over it” and just decide they shouldn’t be hurt anymore. This just escalates the hurt and the sense of injustice. Grace and truth together give us the chance to address the “Stockdale Paradox”* and still choose to not be chained to revenge. Only then can we move forward. Grace accepts the true debt owed and then cancels it; there is no more need for revenge.
- Thinking Clearly: The combination of Grace and Truth helps us to stop and think a bit. Revenge will scream at us but truth tends to whisper. Allowing ourselves to step back from the issue and think a bit gives us a chance to practice Covey’s habit of “seeking first to understand…” Proverbs 18:17 is applicable here. There are two sides to every issue (or more) and truth helps us see clearly what’s going on while Grace allows us to resist judging motives or intentions. When we stop for even a moment, we can start to see that there are more opinions than just ours. This helps us not be afraid. The Gospel turned Rome upside down and has flourished in far worse civilizations. When we think clearly, we see that God is still in control and we have to pay attention to him.
- Humility: This awareness of the power and sovereignty of God allows us to genuinely manifest humility. We all tend to think we’re geniuses and prophets. Everyone seems to think the answers are obvious. But grace and truth allows us to partially remove our biases, address our weakness and ignorance (and we are all of us, very ignorant indeed) and see that we are both part of the problem and part of the healing. Very few people belong to actual hate groups. Most of us are just weak and afraid. When we humbly admit our fears as well as our bias, we can look for truth, through a lens of love for others that cannot come outside of Jesus. Truth tells us that we are not the judges or creators; we are derived from the One who can see all things. Grace shows us that while we are limited, we are loved and cared for. That’s what humility looks like.
- Courage: When God told Jesus “no” in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was forced to trust God through the worst things imaginable. He was forced to walk through the hatred and violence. He had to trust that God the Father was going to repay him (Heb 12:2). He was an example of suffering unjustly (I Peter 2:21) that we can follow. Trust in God starts with picking up your cross…your death to self. This has never been easy and will not get easy until we have practiced it over and over (Luke 9:23). Courage comes from knowing what really is happening and realizing we can love the messy people around us anyway. And, when action is finally required, we know that grace and truth accompany us as we go.
Grace and truth is what came through Jesus into this world. Law was the option before Jesus and most people are still trying to live by law…only they set themselves or their “community” up as the arbiters of that law. Woe unto those who break their law…
If you would live a life of both Grace and Truth, there are a couple of suggestions I have that might be of help.
First, read a chapter of Proverbs every day and try to think clearly about what’s going on in the text. You’ll begin to see parallels immediately in the culture around you and this will give you a rubric to think more clearly about our issues. I’m not kidding about this one… if you want to think well, you need a teacher. Start here.
Second, take a season and stop listening to social media about the issues and get involved in serving locally. I suspect you’ll find that there are plenty of complicated issues right next door to you that require grace and truth. We all tend to want to have our voices matter on the national (or global) stage but the truth is that what makes the news is probably our local context writ large. If you ask God to open your eyes to the needs around you, he is faithful and will do so.
Next, read wisely. Read Stephan Bauman, or Jud Wilhite, or John Perkins, or Eric Metaxas, or Thomas Sowell or Dallas Willard or… well, you get the idea. Read good history. Read widely—especially books that have been vetted by other thought leaders. What you’ll find as you read really wise books is that our generation is addressing the same problems that have faced humanity since the first day.
Lastly, work through Matthew 5, Habakuk and I Peter to think about how we love those who are against us. Think deeply about what it means to suffer unjustly and yet be pleasing to God in spite of our pain. It doesn’t take much to love the people who look like you or agree with you. It takes nothing less than grace and truth to love your enemies. In fact, you should practice this with the people you work with daily. Let them win….
It can be extremely discouraging if you pay too much attention to the world today. But take heart! God has not left us! The response from the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church after the shooting in Charleston has garnered the amazement of millions—grace and truth is being manifested in power. Thanks be to God, grace and truth still are being made real every day. We can be honored that we have a role to play in this era! You can be part of that same power and process.
*I refer here to what Jim Collins discusses in his book “Good to Great.”
I tend to avoid other people’s autobiographical posts. Sometimes it can seem self indulgent or like a form of auto-therapy. Nevertheless, I seem to keep writing them…
During the last six months of my life, I have been in a season of slow grief. It’s a refining time and one I’ve not enjoyed very much. It might be a mid-life crisis but I can’t afford a Porsche. Something deeper is happening. I have sought counsel. Prayer has been a constant practice. I have shared my soul with some dear friends but nothing can change the fact that I’m going through the process of grief. And today, I wanted to write in order to connect with those who might be in the same place.
Grief is not new to me. I experienced it as a boy when our landlord died. As a few more elderly people I loved passed, I began to see it more and more. And then, after my brother Matt was killed in 1985, I endured it first hand in a severe way. Since that time I’ve grieved all kinds of things. You have too. I don’t mean to be maudlin about how we experience sorrow. But this season is different for me. It is a season of slow grief. And it has snuck up on me. It has affected me through at least three areas:
The primary way has been the slow degeneration of my Mom due to her Alzheimer’s. Our family is not unique in this sorrow by any means. And everyone, if they live long enough, has to deal with aging parents. But those are facts and this is about my Mom. My memories of her wisdom and intelligence still amaze me. One time, in order to chastise me for smoking, she sat down by me on the couch and said, “I’m going to the store, do you need anything?” I replied with a negative cro-magnon grunt. She continued, “Do you need me to pick up some more Marlboros? I noticed the pack in your truck is almost empty.” She then walked out leaving me speechless and totally embarrassed. She was so smart! My recollections of her include her impressive office at the hospital, her clean kitchen, her work ethic, and her volunteering at church for almost anything. All of you who know her remember that she had an extraordinary cultural bandwidth. She could work with a crowd of farmers, a ladies’ tea or immigrant women who needed to find a way to immunize their children. She was not perfect, but I am now dealing with a real sadness for her condition and a weird sense of guilt for being so far away, for so long.
The second thing I’ve been grieving has been the health of my wife and daughter. Watching the endless doctor visits has played a weird game with my mind. On one hand, I’m grateful we have great doctors and it’s not nearly as difficult as things that other people face. For example, my sweet niece Hannah has gone through two rounds of cancer and our family has prayed and prayed for her (and their fam) during these last years. I know that Shannon (systemic lupus) and Kate (vasculitis PAN) are not in that same severe journey. Hannah’s processes are far more difficult than our family’s. Yet, on the other hand, the journey of seeing my girls have such vast changes in their lives has developed a grief in me that is hard to describe. It is a dual grief of missing Shannon’s health and grieving the potential future of Kate. God has been so good to us considering the suffering of other people. I can’t deny that nor would I ever want to. Gratefulness pervades my heart about the kind of health-care and provision God has given us for them both. Yet an underlying sadness is there, at the back of my room of my heart that has lost something.
Lastly, our transition to Texas has had it’s own breed of grief. It has manifested in two parts: The first was leaving work and people we loved / the second was arriving somewhere new. All four of us had to leave friendships that had become like family. As we had no immediate family in Lincoln, our friends had to play the role of family for us and for our kids. In particular, Shannon and I both had jobs that we believed to be from God. We worked hard to be competent at those jobs and found them fulfilling. Leaving those was difficult as well. The second part was coming to a new place, with a different culture at a weird time in life. Garrett and Kate were both convinced that God was bringing us to Texas and have done a great job working through the process. And, we are blessed at how wonderful our new church leadership has been. They have helped us and loved us in wonderful, godly ways. Regardless, the leaving of our friends-like-family and the cultural punch-in-the-face that comes from being new have caused another kind of hurt. And watching my kids (as adolescents) suffer through this was harder than I anticipated.
Ok, enough of that…I’m making myself sick. Sheesh. You get the picture—no main tragedy; just a slow grief. But even in this season God continues to teach me.
I believe that feelings are usually not accurate indicators of truth. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane should teach us that at the very least. Sacrifice is a normal part of the way that Christ-followers deal with the demands of Lordship. Sorrow is par for the course for all of humanity. But for me, the season of slow grieving is a new phenomenon and it has been a different challenge. And, like all things broken, God has been turning my grief into good. In particular he has given me three things that I need very much.
The first is a deeper humility. No one I know enjoys the process of growing humble because it involves humiliation. But my inability to effect any kind of change in any of the three areas of grief has dropped me to a deeper reliance on God and on the church than I’ve had in a long time. The fact that our life is a vapor and like the short season when grass grows has never been more apparent. Like many an old-geezer, I marvel at how time accelerates and trends repeat themselves. This kind of humility has kept me from the arrogant passion of younger days and has developed a stronger belief in the body of Christ being mature and faithful. It is a desire to be wise rather than clever.
Another gift that God has given through this grief is more tenderness in my heart. The sorrow of poverty, the sadness of injustice and the deep wounds that infect our nation and our world are less “issues-to-deal-with” and more apparent to my conscience. Resources for “dealing” with these problems have not increased for me but the need to address them in love is growing.
The last one is a growing sense of God’s presence and provision. In my Bible and in my counsel he keeps using the word “wait.” I’ve kinda grown to expect it and hate it all at the same time (when I’m most honest). My need to tangibly trust God has grown. The rhythms of surrender that I have practiced over the years has become a life-line for me and His response to me has increased as well. When he says “wait” I know that he brought us here according to his good purpose. The church here in TX has been another of God’s instruments to remind me that I am still in his hands. It can sometimes be hard to see through the hazy conditions of grieving but his presence and provision is enough to remind me that he sees me. Recently I’ve been privileged to be part of the launch team for Eric Metaxas’ new book: Miracles . God has used that to remind me that he is cooking up a real doozy. I can’t wait to see the finished product.
People innately seem to have a relentless urge to pursue happiness. When it fails we tend to grieve. I want to have a relentless desire to pursue God: I want him to be my “one thing.” He is my portion. He is my prize and he is the antidote to my patient grieving. When other people grieve, try your best to avoid giving “encouragement” disguised as teaching. In my case, I have a long track record of pastoral work. Answers aren’t my problem. What I need now is prayer—and I’ll take it. Jesus will indeed heal Mom…and my family… and me. I’m thankful to have a great family, great doctors, great work experiences and a great church! Hope is on the horizon. The presence of God will be made manifest to us all—soon and forever.
 I will soon do a review of this book. Spoiler: it’s fantastic.