Thursday, December 2, 2010

What We Can Learn From The Servant-King

This high holy day evokes the paradox of Christ the King
who is also Christ the Servant.
There’s a lot we can learn in this paradox of the Servant-King,
a lot we can learn about our own leadership
and our own way of being in the world.

Let’s start with today’s lesson from Jeremiah.
God had entrusted the care of his people to leaders,
the kings of Israel.
In this lesson, he calls them shepherds of the people.

God entrusted Israel to shepherds because he is a God
of order, not chaos; of harmony, not anarchy.
The leader’s job is to preserve the pattern of the common life.
Civilized people have leaders.

Take an example from our own history.
Nevada did not secede from the Utah Territory
to reject governance – quite the opposite.

We had a serious fracas breaking out
over disputed mining claim in the Comstock.
It was getting completely out of hand,
and the Territorial government in Salt Lake
wouldn’t do anything about it.
They had their own problems in Utah about then.
So we seceded from Utah and petitioned Washington
to send us some government.

It took awhile, but President Lincoln sent us Governor Nye
and his trusty Secretary Orion Clemens
to restore order.
Just as President Lincoln entrusted Nevada to James Nye,
God entrusted Israel to the kings.
But they did a poor job of it and God was decided displeased.

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter
the sheep of my pasture,” God says.
“It is you who have scattered my flock
. . . and you have not attended to them.”

What went wrong?
Our lesson says there were two kinds of failed leadership
– there was the aggressive leadership that scattered the flock
– and there was the passive leadership that failed to attend to the flock.
It all fits what we know about the psychology of leaders.

Psychologists Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette
describe leadership in Jungian terms.
They call our inner leader the King archetype.
It’s the part that orders and blesses the whole.
It orders and blesses our own personal life.
It orders and blesses our family, our workplace,
our church or the larger society.

This capacity to lead in this godly way, to order and bless,
is universal.
It isn’t that some people have it and some don’t.
We all have the capacity to order and bless.
It is part of being made in the image of God.

But Moore and Gillette also explain
how leadership can go wrong.
It can slip into the shadow side,
“the dark side of the Force,” Darth Vader would call it.
Moore and Gillette say there are two forms of that shadow
– the tyrant and the weakling.
The tyrant does not lead. He rules, commands, pushes people.
The weakling does not lead. He goes passive.
But these are two sides of one coin.
The tyrant is just a weakling overcompensating.

We see this in government, church, and family life.
We lead badly when our ego gets engaged
and we need to get our own way at the expense of others.
Or we are afraid we won’t get our way so we disengage.
We convince ourselves we are leading for the common good.
But our egos have silently slipped like the snake into the Garden.
That’s when we do more harm than good.

This is a crucial lesson for all of us in two ways.
First, we all exercise leadership somewhere
– perhaps in our home, in a civic club, or at work.
We are all in charge of something or have influence with somebody
from time to time.
How we lead can be a spiritual blessing or a curse
to those around us and to ourselves.

Second, the way we lead others expresses how we
order and bless our own thoughts, feelings, ways of being.
Even if we were hermits on an island,
we can bless or curse, shepherd or scatter,
parts of our own personalities.
That’s called self-leadership.

When things had gone awry in Israel,
God promised to raise up new shepherds
who would be real shepherds, good shepherds,
not tyrants or weaklings.
In Baptism, we have all been raised up to be shepherds to one another,
each of us in our life situation.
Being a good Christian doesn’t just mean being a good sheep.
It means being a good shepherd.
Jesus is our model.
He showed us how to live and how to lead his whole life.
He made it most clear at the Last Supper
when he washed the disciples’ feet.
We usually read that story as being about Christ the Servant.
But as he washed their feet, he taught them.
He said, “You call me master and that is who I am.”
Jesus claimed his authority, but he showed us how to exercise it.
The master’s right to lead is based on his willingness to serve.

The point is about ego.
Jesus chased the serpent of ego right out of the garden.
“I am among you as one who serves,” he said.
Jesus was not passive and he was not a tyrant.
So just how did he lead?

Moore and Gillette say,
“It is the . . . king’s duty not only to . . . take to his people
the right order of the universe . . . . but, even more fundamentally,
to embody it in his own person, to live it in his own life.”
The good king in antiquity, they say, “lived the order in his own life;
only secondarily did he enforce it.”

Plato said it long ago.
Before one can lead a government,
one must first establish order in one’s own personality.
That means we must cultivate the practice of sitting still
and watching the racing thoughts and surging feelings
inside our heads and our hearts.
We don’t watch them with harsh judgment,
but we also don’t get carried away by them.
We cultivate a serene curiosity and gentleness toward ourselves.

Then we can regard others with a serene curiosity and gentleness.
We become more interested in understanding others than we are in trying
to get them to do what we want.

We lead by listening rather than shouting,
by seeing deeply into people’s hearts
rather than projecting our ego visions on screens
for them to salute.

Then the goal of our leadership is not to get our way.
It is to build up the other person, to empower them to lead too.
Look at the first verse in our Epistle lesson.
This is the lesson that calls Christ the head of all creation,
but it does not say, “Therefore cringe and cow tow before him.”
It says, “May you become strong
with all the strength that comes from his glorious power.”

Jesus is not trying to subjugate us but to liberate and empower us.
His hope is that we will then liberate and empower each other.
This isn’t easy.
It takes tremendous discipline when things are going wrong,
in our opinion, not to react, but to watch, to wonder,
to ask questions.

There is an option to squaring off in opposing camps.
That option is there in government, business, and home.
It is always there – the option of awareness and compassion.
The ego-reflex is fight flight, but we have the spiritual option.
Jesus gave it to us and showed us how to use it.

So my prayer for each of you is the prayer from Colossians,
“May you grow strong” – but not with the aggressive, dominating strength
that scatters the flock, tears us apart, and oppresses the weak.
No “may you grow strong with . . . (Christ’s) power,”
relational power, serene power, power devoid of ego,
the power to order and bless.”