I've been doing some Fall Cleaning - started with the garage, moved to the basement, now I'm up in the attic.
I found a few suits that I used to wear back in the day when I was 'lean 'n mean' - easier to do when your nightly conversations about dinner prep revolve around "alternate (aka 'cheap') sources of protein." - including the suit I bought to preach my first sermon in my sponsoring congregation.
And. . and. . .and . . . the winter-white Christian Dior suit that I bought for $25 at what seminarians at Episcopal Divinity School fondly called "Church of the (Fashionable) Redeemer" in Chestnut Hill, Boston. They had a GREAT 'thrift shop' there and one of the volunteers used to "put aside" some stuff for the EDS seminarians.
It was a real blessing to those of us who were graduating with enormous student loans and still expected to look FABULOUS during the job interview as well as on the job.
Going to the gym on a regular basis has gotten me back into shape. Also, having been correctly diagnosed with and treated for Hashimoto's Thyroiditis has been near-miraculous in terms of the way I feel.
To my absolute delight, I've discovered that all my suits fit me again. I took them all to the cleaners and expect to wear the Christian Dior on Sunday, when I celebrate the 23rd anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.
October 18. Feast of St. Luke, the physician. My ordaining bishop, +Fred Wolf, thought that might be appropriate since my ministry has been so informed by my background in Health Care.
+Fred preached a lot in those days about 'Servant Leadership' by which he was talking about Jesus as the model of leadership through service.
It was all the buzz back then. There were tons of books by Robert Greenleaf and Margaret Wheatley, among others.
In Servant Leadership, the priority of the leader rests with the needs of her/his colleagues and those they serve. Servant Leaders practice to become humble stewards of their organization's resources: human, financial, physical.
Greenleaf , in his classic essay, "The Servant as Leader", described the servant-leader in this manner:
The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.It's an ancient concept, one that can be traced back to the 4th Century. The ancient Chinese leader Lao-Tzu also wrote about it in the Tao Te Ching:
The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?
The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware. Next comes one whom they love and praise. Next comes one whom they fear. Next comes one whom they despise and defy. When you are lacking in faith, Others will be unfaithful to you. The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, All the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it!"
"Back in the day," Bishop Bennett Sims, bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta, preached and wrote extensively about the topic. Indeed, he founded The Institute for Servant Leadership in Hendersonville, North Carolina. His book Servanthood: Leadership for the Third Millennium is still an important and often used resource on my library shelf.
I don't believe in coincidence. I prefer to think of 'Coincidence" as the name God uses when S/he wants to remain anonymous. I don't think it was coincidental that I found my old suits, had these very strong memories about Servant Leadership, and the gospel lesson for Sunday is about Servant Leadership.
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28; also Mark 10:42-45)I don't know about you, but the buzz I'm hearing more and more these days from those in 'purple shirts' is less about servant leadership and more about being a 'team player'. It's all the rage, I understand. Colleagues from around the country are writing me about it. Must be something they put in the coffee over at the House of Bishops. Gives "Bishop's Blend" a whole new connotation.
Team Player. Hmmm . . . .
I hear the term "team player" and my natural default of a hermeneutic of suspicion kicks in. When spoken by a person in authority - the captain of the team, as it were - my hermeneutic goes into hyper-overdrive.
Maybe it's just me. Maybe it's something in my personality. Maybe it's a character flaw or the kind of genetic personality defect that results from being birthed and shaped and formed by a long line of feisty Portuguese women.
Maybe its just in my DNA, but when I hear "team player" I always hear the undercurrent of a whispered bravado " . . . because I'm the captain and you're not. Let's just get that straight right up front." (See picture at the top of this post.)
It has been my experience that when someone in an office of authority starts talking about how s/he is recruiting 'team players', I always hear it coming from a place of deep insecurity in that person. I hear it being more about the captain and his/her authority than the team - or the individual on the team.
I hear it not as a call to excellence, but a call that results in unintended mediocrity. I hear it not as a call to creativity and imagination, but one that leads, ultimately, to conformity and thus to boredom (see also: unintended mediocrity).
I don't know. I could be wrong, of course (or, is that just Jonathan), but, just for fun, let's compare and contrast the descriptions of Team Leader vs. Servant Leader.
I did a really quick google on the word "Team Leader" and found Ten Qualities of an Effective Team Player. Okay, so it's from the Dummies series, but bear with me. Briefly, they are:
1. Demonstrates reliability.Okay, so are we catching the drift of this? In this scenario, these are 'players' on the 'team'. Someone - some as yet unnamed someone - is clearly 'the captain'. These don't sound so much like qualities as they do expectations from the captain.
2. Communicates constructively
3. Listens actively
4. Functions as an active participant
5. Shares openly and willingly
6. Cooperates and pitches in to help
7. Exhibits flexibility
8. Shows commitment to the team
9. Works as a problem-solver
10. Treats others in a respectful and supportive manner
Let's look now at what Bennett Sims had to say about Servant Leader.
We believe that Servant Leaders will:Okay, so some simple questions: Which model do you think has greater authenticity with the leadership of Jesus? And, which model do you think the church has greater need?
* Engage in a spiritual journey rooted in a worshiping community and a personal spiritual practice.
* Enhance the power and freedom of others.
* Value all people, with special compassion for the least privileged in the human family.
* Work for justice and peace in the world through the practice of non-violence.
* Celebrate with gratitude the sacredness, abundance and interconnectedness of all creation.
* Embrace a simplicity of life that honors work and the willingness to be held accountable, while leaving time for rest and play.
* Recognize the gifts of each person, and seek discernment through dialogue as the context for all decision making.
* Call others to be Servant Leaders.
I think you may be able to hazard a guess at my answer without even breaking a sweat.
I am also remembering that great story about basketball player, Magic Johnson. The captain was giving the team a pep talk, saying, "Remember, there's no 'I' in 'team." Magic reportedly responded, "Yeah, but there is in 'win'."
I think that sums up what I think is really going on here in the gradual transition from 'servant leader' a few decades ago and 'team players' of today.
The Episcopal Church has undergone some very serious losses in the past few decades. I think bishops are sick of losing. Sick of the loss. Sick of being considered losers.
I think they want to win. Indeed, I think they are anxious and, in some cases, desperate to win and they take their elections as a personal vocation to 'win one for Mother Church." These fragile economic times with big losses in salaries that used to provide fat pledges and tithes only add to the anxiety and desperation.
On the more pastoral side, I also think they - we all - are suffering from "compassion fatigue". It can lead to the kind of cynicism that has become all about the "I" in win. All a good captain needs to do is to cultivate 'good team players". If s/he doesn't, then the fault lies with the 'team members' - not the captain.
The other thing I remembered about going into seminary in the '80s is that we were in a serious economic recession. The job market was probably no better, comparatively speaking, than it is today.
One of my memories of an ordination gift I received was an apron that read, "I just graduated from Divinity School. You want fries with that?"
Yeah, it wasn't so funny then, either. Today, that apron might read, "What size: tall, grande or vente?" That's if you're lucky enough to land a job at Starbucks and have the hope of getting a decent salary with some health care benefits.
I want to make a pitch for a return to Servant Leadership as a model for Christian communities. I think now, more than ever, we need to create a climate that promotes individual spiritual and religious excellence, creativity, and imagination that inspires other Servant Leaders.
Not so we can find the "I" in 'win'. Rather, so we can recover or re-discover the radical roots of Christ's ministry and be on His "team", of which He is "captain of my (and, all our) soul(s)."
I hope we will also rediscover the power of "I" in the South African Zulu greeting, "Sawu bona" "I see you." If you are a member of the tribe, you respond by saying, "Sikhona" which means, "I am here."
The order of the exchange is significant. It means that, until you see me, I do not exist. When you do see me, you bring me into existence. As Bishop Sims once wrote:
"In all of us there is something that does not want to be seen - either by others or by our own selves. Self-protection operates as a barrier in all human interaction. But the "I see you" of servant leadership activates the mystical power of love and begins the process of release, in both the leader and the led, from the fears that inhibit the exchange of truth and drain the energy of collaboration."It's easy to see that this greeting flows naturally from 'Ubuntu' - "A person is a person because of other people."
I want to add my own 'spin' on that: A leader in the Body of Christ is a leader because s/he is a servant of the people.
Or, as in one of the mantras I remember from my earl days of training in Sol Alinsky's IAF (Industrial Area Foundation) community organizing, "A leader without a following is just a person out for a walk."
You know, it occurs to me that I'm in the midst of Fall Cleaning, having my ordination suit dry cleaned and - I hope - to wear it on Sunday, but I'm also dusting off and polishing up the theology that brought me to ordination and has sustained me lo these 23 years.
It may be 'old fashioned' and perhaps even out of style, but it suits me just fine.