Category: Leadership

Two fears

I have two great fears. One is that I may succumb to a creeping sense of entitlement, that I deserve the freedoms I enjoy, that I’m entitled to fast service even when stores are short on staff. The other fear is that I may succumb to a dullness, or–even worse–an absence of gratitude.

I try to read several free sources via email each day to cultivate gratitude and to avoid entitlement. These sources keep me on my toes. Every day at least one of these sources speaks to my heart and mind. On Monday, all of them did. That’s always a home run. I’m passing Monday’s gems on to you.

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation “A Universal Connection” was one of his best. He puts the Big Picture into sharp focus in ways that inspire, illuminate and challenge.

Heather Cox Richardson’s October 2 installment of “Letters from an American” (emailed on October 3) put the daily mix of sublime and ridiculous news into a historical context that I can understand.

Robert B. Hubbell’s Today’s Edition Newsletter for October 3 was “Citizenship is an act.” He parses the legal and political issues with precision, clarity and a “can do” spirit of hope. He inspires me.

Joyce Vance, the latest addition to my daily inbox, writes Civil Discourse. Her October 3 communique’ was “The Week Ahead,” a synopsis of the critical legal issues in the news this week. She always ends her blog with, “We’re in this together.” And so we are!

We stayed, with gratitude, at three Harvest Host locations on this trip. One was Mohican Farms in New Jersey. That night, two camper guests stayed at the hillside edge of their cornfield with a beautiful view of the New Jersey countryside. We were in Big Al, the red and white camper on the left.

Saratoga

One of the towns we enjoyed on this trip was Saratoga Springs, New York. We passed through the town on a Sunday morning and were greeted by multiple church bells ringing simultaneously. It wasn’t like “dueling banjos,” but more of a collegial announcement that an hour dedicated to prayer had arrived. It was inspiring to see people walking to various downtown churches.

Saratoga is another place familiar to students of the American Revolution. The troops of British General John Burgoyne were attempting to wrest control of the Hudson River valley from the Americans. They had been roughed up in the Battle of Bennington (Vermont) and at Saratoga (New York) Burgoyne’s shrunken army was defeated by American General Horatio Gates’ troops.

Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga in October, 1777 completed the turning point that was begun at Bennington and persuaded France to sign a treaty with the Americans against Britain. French financial and military support eventually led to a decisive American victory four years later at Yorktown (Virginia) that effectively won American independence.

As we drove through Saratoga Springs, we saw references to upcoming annual commemorations of the Battle of Saratoga. I thought of Benjamin Franklin and others who negotiated the Treaty of Alliance with France in February, 1778. Some day, Ukrainian history students will reflect on today’s events and the support Ukraine is receiving from the US and other nations. The quest for liberty continues.

Ironically, today is the Feast of St. Francis, a man impacted by war as a solider who became synonymous with peace. May the nonviolent spirit of the gentle man from Assisi be with you–and all the world–today.

From The American Battlefield Trust

Russian moms

Today, the Sabbath in Jewish tradition, I’m reflecting with gratitude on the role of the Old Testament in my life. Like everyone in the Christian faith, I inherited the Jewish tradition, so I view it through a “Jesus lens.” However, the Jewish tradition belongs to every human being who welcomes its wisdom.

Judaism has a strong, though painful, history in Russia, powerfully revealed in the classic play/movie, Fiddler on the Roof. As the Russian czar cracked down on Jews, Tevye wryly asks/prays, “So we’re the chosen people? Once in a while, couldn’t you choose somebody else?”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is tragic and obscene at so many levels, including the division it has caused between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Orthodox, Jewish and secular moms, wives and girlfriends may be among Putin’s greatest problems now.

Russia is experiencing its most dramatic mobilization and forced military service since World War II. The Sabbath is a day to break away from worldly brokenness to experience (or imagine) harmony among persons, nations, and all creation. Today, I stand in harmony with the babuskas.

From “The Russian Orthodox Leader at the Core of Putin’s Ambitions,” by Jason Horowitz, New York Times, May 22, 2022

They probably never even knew it

I saw my four college years at a state school as a gift–from parents, taxpayers and donors. Three years of seminary were made possible by donors, including a scholarship. Congregations I served during those years provided income. At my church-affiliated graduate school, tuition for the new quarter was posted at the student center for the Schools of Dentistry, Law, Medicine and Theology. The theology tuition was considerably less, which someone noted by writing on the announcement, “Jesus saves.”

Kyle Whitmire’s AL.com opinion piece (cited below) was for me further evidence that love is the energy of the universe, often expressed through our collective generosity (or willingness to pay taxes). From a faith perspective, it’s all grace. Our son, who sent me Whitmire’s article, has struggled with a disability for over a decade. He calls beneficence unmerited favor. By whatever name, it’s a gift to be graciously received and “paid forward” so others can enjoy the fruits of generosity.

Whitmire cited comments by some in Alabama’s Congressional delegation who criticized President Biden’s student loan action. Whitmire said in 1980, Alabama student tuition covered 27% of the cost of higher education. Today’s students pay over two-thirds of the cost. Tuition has risen 485%. State appropriations have risen 8%. Whitmire wrote: “Back then, you didn’t have to hope for a bailout on the backend. These guys got their subsidized schooling upfront, and they probably never even knew it.

From “The hidden subsidy behind those old ‘bootstrap’ students,” by Kyle Whitmire, AL.com, August 26, 2022

Consistent, coherent connections

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was impacted by two world wars. He was cited for bravery as a World War I stretcher-bearer in a colorful, spirited, highly-decorated North African unit of the French Army. He spent much of the World War II era working as a paleontologist in China. He was a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest, and he spent years dealing with church leaders who opposed much of his writing and teaching. Through it all, Teilhard developed an amazing coherence in his faith, science and philosophy.

Teilhard inspires me to ask whether my worldview and my actions reflect an inner coherence. Is there a seamless connection with all things? Is my faith consistent with my politics? Is there a “gyroscope” of common sense, or particular principles, that inform my faith and my political opinions? Has religious or political fervor created blind spots in my vision? Who helps me spot inconsistencies? Do I become defensive or am I able to change my position, or find a workable compromise?

South Carolina Republican state legislator Neil Collins told the House Judiciary Committee that he no longer supports in its present form the bill he earlier voted for after he learned that the law endangered the health of a 19-year-old. Sometimes there are unintended consequences when we act based on enthusiasm, political ideology or religious dogma. Common sense encourages coherence, connection, and consistency in our attitudes, our relationships and our actions.

From “Lawmaker Tearily Explains Teen Almost Lost Uterus Because of Abortion Law He Voted For,” by Dan Ladden-Hall, The Daily Beast, August 17. 2022

Forward

Mergers and acquisitions are common in business. The latest M&A activity is in the political arena. The Forward Party is joining with the Renew America Movement and the Serve America Movement. Initial co-chairs are former democrat Andrew Yang and former republican Christine Todd Whitman.

Skeptics point to limited third party success. A new party hasn’t grown to lasting national prominence since Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party grew out of the old Whig Party. Maybe a multi-party era would inspire more positive creativity among the electorate. I like the name “Forward.”

The new party could help shift the nation’s focus from Backward to Forward, from Negative to Positive, from Violence to Civility. If we can move in those directions, we’ll be stronger and healthier. We could rediscover the art of peaceful, respectful debate. This could be a turning point–forward.

From “Yang announces new Forward party with other centrist groups,” by Shawna Chen, Axios, July 27, 2022

Term limits

A commentary by Norman Solomon in Salon summarizes calls for Joe Biden to announce he isn’t running for re-election: “Don’t run, Joe: After beating Trump, Biden can do the nation one more big favor.” I understand why Biden didn’t, but to get us past the prior four years, I hoped he would make that announcement in his inaugural address. My response to Solomon’s article is this: It’s refreshing for a political party to have an honest, open conversation about what’s best for the nation, rather than kowtowing to a party leader‘s desire for power.

To be fair, historian Heather Cox Richardson asserts that Biden has accomplished more than his critics admit: When he took office, Democratic president Joe Biden recognized that his role in this moment was to prove that democracy is still a viable form of government. … Biden has defended democracy across the globe, accomplishing more in foreign diplomacy than any president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

Before COVID, the conventional wisdom in the financial and political community was that Donald Trump would win a second term. He was confident that he would win big based on the strength of the economy. One of my many “double-takes” during his years in the White House was when he first said he deserved not just two terms, but three.

After a cerebral hemorrhage ended FDR’s fourth term on day 83, the nation codified the tradition begun by George Washington of not seeking a third term. Jonathan Swan’s July 22, 2022 Axios article is a chilling account of Trump’s plans should he win in 2024: “A radical plan for Trump’s second term.”

Washington’s Farewell Address has been read in the US Senate annually since 1862. Alabama’s Donald W. Stewart was asked to read the farewell address to the Senate in 1980.

A hospice to the world

Autura Eason-Williams was a wise colleague in the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference. Her ability to make each person feel important was driven by her belief that everyone is a unique part of creation. She was a faithful, effective leader and friend who was graced with infectious laughter.

On Monday, her life ended tragically during an apparent carjacking in front of her home in metro Memphis that led to charges against a 15-year old and a 16-year old.

Yesterday, help came to me through words from Catherine de Hueck Doherty via “Standing Still,” a meditation by Richard Rohr, which contextualized the meaning of Autura’s life:

True silence is the speech of lovers …. a key to the immense and flaming heart of God …. in the … creative, fruitful, loving silence of final union with the Beloved…. This silence, then, will break forth in a charity that overflows in the service of the neighbor without counting the cost…. Hospitality will be deep and real, for a silent heart is a loving heart, and a loving heart is a hospice to the world.

From “Rev. Autura Eason-Williams, United Methodist pastor, shot and killed in Memphis,” by Daniel Connolly, Memphis Commercial Appeal, July 19, 2022

Stories

“From whence cometh my help” is a memory exercise. As the Webb telescope probes deeper into space, it reveals more of the Universe’s history. When I probe into my past, I find stories. The earliest ones were read to me from story books. When I was old enough to ask questions, grandparents and older neighbors answered with stories. The Bible, the Quran and other sacred writings contain records of who did what to whom, lists of rules, and (best of all) poems, songs and stories.

Some stories are more helpful than others. I invite you to ask yourself, “Which stories are helpful to me?” Which are your foundational stories? Mine include stories of leadership about people like Jethro and Moses. Some are familial, like my uncle describing his service in two world wars. Some are my stories, like listening to JFK’s inaugural address, or his Cuban missile crisis speech, or the Zapruder film of the presidential motorcade passing through Dealey Plaza.

Both sets of my grandparents had porch swings. My memory bank is full of stories heard while swinging, standing, or sitting on those porches. Some were stories of self-deprecating humor or good-natured poking at others. Laughter is therapeutic. The best stories are love stories. They help us find identity, a sense of belonging and gratitude for the gift of life. Good stories help us feel loved. They motivate us to love our fellow creatures. Which stories in your memory bank have helped you?

My Uncle Odie once said, “I’m the luckiest man alive. I was in two world wars and never hurt a soul. As an Army medic in his 40s, he survived the Bataan death march. This story about his contemporaries, 77 military nurses, gives a flavor of that difficult time. From “Nurse POWs: Angels of Bataan and Corregidor,” The National World War II Museum, May 5, 2021

Synergize

Each day, I’m helped by three “first read” emails. Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation offers spiritual grounding via Daily Meditations. Yesterday’s “A Living Web” quoted Joanna Macy: “You know your lives are as intricately interwoven as nerve cells in the mind of a great being…. Out of that vast net you cannot fall…. No stupidity or failure or cowardice can ever sever you from that living web. For that is what you are … rest in that knowing. Rest in the Great Peace…. Out of it we can act, we can dare anything … and let every encounter be a homecoming to our true nature….

Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American offer historical context. Yesterday’s letter from the Boston College professor described those who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Joe Biden: “The difference between Biden’s first 17 award recipients and those former president Trump honored reflects their different visions of the country.”

California Attorney Robert B. Hubbell’s Daily Edition Newsletter offers “a reflection on today’s news through the lens of hope.” Yesterday’s newsletter, “An Opening for Democrats,” cites several resources including Michael Klarman’s Harvard Law lecture on Dobbs v. Jackson, and “The Threat of Exhaustion,” from Lawyers Defending American Democracy.

Another helpful resource is my friend John Draper, an educator who teaches a Sunday School class. Tomorrow’s lesson is about Habit #6 from Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

From “Synergy Saturdays: Practicing Habit 6 with the Family,” by Tara West, Leader in Me, August 31, 2019