Raymond L. Wheeler, DMin

Musings about leadership


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spider web theology


spider webIt is known in my family, who find it simultaneously comical and comforting, that I don’t tolerate spiders or their webs. I even have a special broom that allows me to circumnavigate the house outside and inside destroying the vestiges of arachnid existence. I don’t mind the existence of spiders in the woods around our home, but I do mind when they invade my space. If I see a spider, I immediately dispatch it to its heavenly home.

On one afternoon after I had washed the windows, I lay down on the couch with a cool drink to relish the beauty around me now made more visible by the clean windows. Our home has a 360-degree view and that means a lot of windows some of which are on the wall near the top of our vaulted ceiling.

Movement caught my eye in the highest window. There, in plain sight and apparent disregard for the work I had just completed in removing all webs prior to washing the windows, an orb spider was busy re-spinning its lunch ticket. I watched it work, a painstaking and exacting process and it started me thinking.

I routinely destroy webs and spiders routinely re-spin them. Yet, I have never heard a complaint by said spiders. Re-spinning damaged or destroyed webs is part of their process of survival – stuff happens. I thought about my own responses to setbacks, as losing a web is surely a setback for arachnid survival. I often expended far more emotional energy than is needed when I face setbacks. Rather than simply rebuilding my “web” I complain, bemoan my misfortune, lament the added workload, and on occasion engage in passionate “intercessory” prayer. My eight-legged friend simply does the work of re-spinning.

Jesus once said,

I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution, affliction, distress, pressure. But take courage; I have conquered the world! (John 16:33, Wheeler expanded NIV)

The fact of the matter is that affliction, distress, pressure, and even persecution, sabotage, and setbacks are a normal course. Jesus gives a frame of reference regarding distress that is: the perspective from which we assess life events determines (a) whether they can serve a positive formative purpose and (b) the degree to which we recognize the working of God who is given to contradicting injustice, hurt, despair, oppression, and the afflictions of the human condition.

In a spider’s world, Murphy was right. If anything can go wrong, it will. In our world, the same is true. In fact, I have determined a corollary to Murphy i.e., if its bad it can get worse. In light of this, perspective is important. Given the very real suffering, sabotage, setbacks, and even persecution we may face we are promised peace. Peace is that security or tranquility that is the foundation for flourishing that comes from the reality that the systemic roots of evil and corruption are already defeated in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Jesus has overcome the systemic roots (the world in a systems sense). We are therefore called upon to engage behavior that contradicts the hurt of set-backs. I like the summary of womanist theologian Karen Baker-Fletcher;

The significance of Christ’s response to weapons of evil is not a passive bearing of it all, but is God’s profound “NO” to evil. In following Jesus, we participate in the divine “no” to evil and suffering. For these reasons, it makes sense to follow Jesus while also challenging an adulterous relationship with world power, greed, and violence.[1]

In watching that spider rebuild its web that day I realized it served as an eight-legged evangelist to me reminding me that things I see as a setback are not only predictable but powerful in that they serve to form and shape my development as a person who flourished in life not because I live in an artificial environment but because I have a sense of well-being and purpose that sees what God is up to even in the mundane and enjoys that fellowship with the Almighty that says “No” to evil and suffering and “Yes” to a flourishing and abundant life.

 

[1] Karen Baker-Fletcher. (2006) Dancing with God: The Trinity from a Womanist Perspective. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press.

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How do you Stay Engaged as a Leader?


king_david_statueI have spent the year digging into the life of the biblical character David. I was drawn to David because much can be learned about how to survive the pressures of leadership when there is a way to get inside the head of a successful leader. That David was successful is apparent, he unified a loose confederation of tribes into a central government; he established the infrastructure needed to sustain a nation including the enormous task of shifting the “corporate culture” of the nation from one of tribal self-service and intrigue to one that engaged a sense of unified purpose and support. He survived several attempts to topple his reign and he engendered the kind of loyalty in others that gave them permission to speak the truth and express a willingness to put their lives on the line for him.  Success alone isn’t that impressive, a lot of jerks are successful. What makes David’s success so amazing is that he consistently came back to the kind of character and ethical decision-making process that raised the character of the nation. He openly admitted his faults and openly changed for the better.

It is possible to get inside David’s head because he wrote a lot.  David put his emotions, insights, fears, questions, distress, gratitude, and celebration. This is remarkable for two reasons. First, in my observation leaders who fail to express the full range of emotion ultimately derail into only anger and resentment. These leaders cannot see the impact of their behavior and emotion on others. They become toxic and abusive. Second, the leaders who exhibit emotional awareness and remain emotionally engaged are leaders who can then express a range of emotions appropriate to what they experience.

David wrote 71 Psalms that I analyzed for their major themes. The distribution of these major themes across the Psalms of David is illustrated in the chart below and defined in Table 1.

Chart 1: Themes in the Psalms of David

psalms-by-theme

Three things jump out at me when I review the chart. First, notice the preponderance of lament in David’s writing. Over one-third of David’s Psalms were laments in the face of disaster, disappointment, danger, and loss. I like this because those who study leadership seem to rarely write about how leaders face disappointment, betrayal, loss, danger, and disaster. All of these experiences are part of leading which is why many sane people avoid jumping into a leadership role.   David faced these things with an emotionally healthy expression of anger, grief, and howling. It’s a good lesson for leaders when they face the turbulence of leadership – get alone and have a good howl.

Second, David lived with a profound sense of purpose. It is meaningful because leaders who produce lasting results possess a transcendent awareness of purpose. They inspire others with it. It drives them to continue when every other aspect of their being may just want to throw in the towel. David worshiped and he worshiped with a sense of gratitude. He lived the practical, dirty, gutsy reality of leadership with a perspective that included a sense of the transcendent. This impacted his decision-making, his respect for the experience of others, and his decisiveness and compassion. Leaders devoid of purpose, leaders who have no real sense of the transcendent can fall prey to data pedantic that dehumanizes work and aims at efficiency in profit unaware of the stultifying impact on those who make profit happen.

Table 1: Definition of Terms

Theme Description
Lament Expressions of distress, grief, sorrow
Worship Expressions of devotion, adoration, praise, and love for God.
Worship/Gratitude Expressions of adoration, appreciation, and thankfulness.
Vindication Desire for God’s help to clear from accusation, imputation, or suspicion.
Wisdom/Reflection Expressions of what has been learned through experience.
Confession Repentance Acknowledgement of a lapse in moral judgment and deficiency in behavior.
Vulnerability w/ God Deliberate exposure of intent, dependency, and susceptibility.
Judgment Request for God’s direct exercise of justice and punishment of evil.
Benediction Innovcation of divine help, blessing, and guidance.
Prophecy Insight to the future promise and action of God’s working.
Reflection on Mortality Thought on the meaning of life in light of its ephemeral nature.

Third, the frequency with which David reflected on his experience and drew new insights into the present as he prepared for the future is impressive. The wisdom Psalms of David point to an element of healthy leadership i.e., healthy leaders learn from their experience and learning is defined by a change in behavior.  I am surprised at the number of leaders who relive the same experience over and over from one company to the next, from one year to the next without every asking what has happened and why it continues.  Some leaders operate like a tether ball running faster and faster with less and less a scope of influence until at last they hit the wall only to recoil and start all over again.

Thanksgiving is a good time to do some reflection as a leader. How emotionally healthy are you? Do you have an appropriate outlet for your emotions? Are you aware of your emotional health or distress? Learn from David and be a leader whose emotional awareness gets leveraged into new insights and deeper connections with your partners, employees, and clients.