Tuesday, December 11, 2012

To Everything A Season

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted" -Ecclesiastes 3

Last night in Fort Worth we had our first big freeze. Temperatures dropped down into the low 20's. The freezing temps will come again tonight, signaling an end to the growing season for our garden. This morning when I arrived a church, the plants that were once so vibrant, full of life and flower, laid limp and cold. The season of their flowering had been completed, their purpose fulfilled. It is time for them to be plucked up.

Our theme this fall has been "Raising Faith: Growing Disciples." It is a theme rooted in the idea that it is God who gives us the gift of faith through the Holy Spirit. In Baptism that gift is planted in us and through the nourishment of the community, just as water and sunlight nourish the plants, faith blooms and grows in our hearts.  These plants fulfilled their purpose. They provided a physical presence and sustenance for our soup suppers (and even an occasional snack for the TLCC kiddos or Pastor G). But even more important they provided a spiritual reminder of all that God has and continues to do in our midst. Not only at Trinity but through the work of disciples of Jesus, ministering in their daily lives, in their places of vocation and in their family systems.

Now the season of these plants has come to an end. Tomorrow (Wednesday the 12th) we will hoe them under, back into the ground. They will then provide nourishment yet again for the future. In that beautiful cycle of life and death.The last month has seen a lot of that cycle of life here at Trinity. Four saints of our congregation have claimed the promises of their baptism. Each of these four lived good long lives, faithfully fulfilling God's purpose for them. 

Although we would wish to have them for another day, week, month or year. We could yet proclaim that indeed to everything a season, a purpose. They had fulfilled that purpose and we could commend them, despite our grief, to eternal rest well deserved.

On this cold morning, as I see the garden dying in the cold I reflect also on 2012 and personally lament the loss of two other saints gone too soon. These two, Tricia and Jacob, from my previous congregation in Wisconsin, lived faithful lives. Good lives. But far too short of lives. They were taken from us too soon, wilting in the height of season. Reflecting on them, I cannot so simply say that they lived their purpose, that it was their season. Because it was too soon. There was not a fullness of time.

Yet even in the tragic and untimely deaths of those saints, I believe I can proclaim that there is hope in the midst of loss. That God provides even in the midst of untimely losses. Our garden this year had a good and long growing season. But early freezes do come. Droughts strike, heat waves destroy flowering plants. Illness, accidents, strike down those we love. Not all of us will have long lives. 

Yet in the end, there is hope in the promise of Ash Wednesday. Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. And with that reality comes the promise of life with God. The one who created us and yet claims us in our Baptism and at the end of our days.We are made from this very stuff. The same stuff that grew our garden. God's creation nurtures and feeds us. It is God who gives us the growth. We can water, provide sunshine and do our best to protect from frost. But in the end, God gives the growth. So we return the garden to God's earth. Just as we turn over those we love to God's mercy. On a cold morning in Fort Worth. We are reminded of the wisdom of Psalm 90.

"So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart" -Psalm 90:12

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Why the Chiefs should have stayed home...

(Caveat: For those who don't know me, I LOVE football. Played it in high school and college. Watch and talk about it a lot! These are not the thoughts of an anti-football crusader. But the genuine critique of a friend of the game.)

Today the Kansas City Chiefs did something remarkable for their 2012 football season, they won a game. But there never should have been a game to win. Yesterday afternoon Jovan Belcher, a starting linebacker for the Chiefs, killed his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins (the mother of his 3 month old child). He then drove to the teams facilities. There he talked with teammates, coaches and staff before turning the gun on himself in front of his coach and GM.

Today, just over 24 hours after Jovan's death in the team parking lot at Arrowhead Stadium, 60,000 plus fans came to watch the team play. A moment of silence was observed, the owner talked about how hurt everyone was. But this is a game that should never have been played.

The fact that it was played further demonstrates just how far we have come in our obsession with games and money. How little concern we have as a society for each other, especially for woman and children. Even worse, how little concern we who are fans have, and frankly the NFL has, for the players and their families in this money making monstrosity called professional football.

I can formulate all the practical arguments for why it should have been played. The 60,000+ folks who were coming had made their plans, paid for their tickets. The other team had already flown into town. Rescheduling would be next to impossible. It would screw up all the standings for the Chiefs and Panthers to have one less game than everyone else, even though neither of them have any shot for the playoffs.

Then there are the positive arguments for playing on. To play on shows the spirit of the city in the midst of tragedy. We must persevere even in tragedy. Show our true grit in the midst of loss and grief. For that is what men, especially football men, do.

But this wasn't a "tragedy" this was a murder-suicide of a member of the team that was now to take the field. Yet apparently we cannot let that reality, as one tailgater said, "take too much out of our day." It is irrelevant to us that in this situation a member of the organization in which we have chosen to invest a huge amount of money (average cost for a family of four to attend an NFL game is approximately $450, although I think that is low and certainly does not include many $8 beers) has committed a monstrous crime. We will go to the game anyway. The coaches, even the head coach who witnessed his player die, will soldier on because this is what we do. We will say a prayer, have a moment of silence, but there is too much on the line to let this take much out of our day.

The Chiefs should have stayed home today. Oh, there are those who will say that the win they got was a boost for everyone emotionally. That it will help the healing process. But this isn't a team building up a community like A&M's win over Texas in 1999 after the bonfire collapsed and killed students. I was at that game and there a community stood up and honored those killed in an accident. The game, especially the Aggies win, provided some comfort and normality in the midst of this loss. But this was no accident.

In a couple weeks I doubt many of us will think much about the grandmother who is taking care of an orphaned 3 month old. Her friends may try hard, but Kasandra's name will quickly be forgotten. Maybe in a week, or a month, but we won't remember. But the games will go on.

We learned again today a valuable lesson. People are disposable, interchangeable, but games are not. The incredible money show must go on. But for Zoey, Romeo, Gary, Dianne and Scott everything radically changed yesterday. Don't know who the people are behind those names? Well, that is the problem isn't it. Maybe if the Chiefs had stayed home, we would.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Day in the Life

Had a fascinating day in the life of a pastor today. First off, it started with my wife heading out early this morning. She was preaching so that means she handled the 8:30am service and I would bring the kiddos later for worship. Good deal for me.

Worship this morning was lovely. Then I took the kiddos home and K went to go play with our African Marimba choir at the Crop Walk at TCU. Trinity continued a tradition of supporting this ministry. Reminded ourselves who live in the relatively affluent TCU/Tanglewood area of Fort Worth that there are hungry in our midst. They rocked it of course, then she came home. Which was good because then I left to go to the installation of a new pastor at King of Glory Lutheran Church.

Just an aside, King of Glory is on the far east side of Fort Worth. Basically in Arlington. Founded in 1966 (the glory days of church planting and suburban growth in that part of Fort Worth) it has been a small but persistent  community. Today, the mother of one of Trinity's most faithful members is a big part of their ministry and we are grateful for them as partners on the east side. They are a presence in their community because they host recovery groups and invite everyone to hear the message of God's grace. Trinity recently had two foursomes play in the east side ministries golf outing because of that connection. It is good to be part of ministry in all of our city.

But unfortunately I had to leave early from that installation (as such, I am not in the picture). The reason I left is that I was heading over to a ministry we are partnering with in the Fairmont area of Fort Worth. This is the "hip" area of town. An area of redevelopment and also urban decay. One in which you are as likely to hear Tejano rock coming from a front yard bbq as you are to be offered artisan cheeses or handmade chocolates at the latest coffee shop emporium.

Once at that ministry. I engaged the Kyrie community in conversation, connecting with some friends and they pointed a young woman out to me. They told me she had affirmed her baptism at Kyrie a couple weeks previously and lived in the neighborhood around Trinity. In addition, she actually had worshipped at Trinity that very morning and brought along her special needs son, eight years old.

My immediate reaction? Cringing. Praying she had a good experience. And I was concerned. First off, I had to get over the fact that I had not met her. Why didn't I recognize her? Well, duh, she came to 8:30am service, I was getting the kiddos ready for church. So not only was I not there, my concern was raised. Did the folks welcome her? Were they inviting, did the preacher (my wife) do ok?

Well the verdict was in. Not only good, but moving. She shared with me that she was inspired to see a woman in pastoral leadership. To see a woman preach and consecrate the sacrament. This was new and amazing to her. A welcoming and heartening sign. And additionally, her son had enjoyed the service and especially the music. This young man, so moved by the music, was crying by the middle of the service, especially when he heard the marimba's play the offertory. In response, he took the dollar he had received from his mother as his allowance, and placed it in the offering plate.

Raising Faith: Growing Disciples! That is our theme this fall. It isn't a stewardship campaign it is a discipleship campaign. Today was a day in which I was gifted to witness discipleship. To hear a story of my community expressing the joy of worship in such a way that a young boy was moved to share his abundance. Now everyday is no where near as good as this. But today, today was a blessed day to serve the church. Today I was reminded why we serve and I give thanks, especially for the music ministry of my congregation. If you ever doubt if investing in music is worthwhile. Picture an eight year old with special needs, tears on his cheeks from being moved by music, placing his dollar in the plate in offering and thanksgiving. We are blessed dear friends. Beyond measure.

(Psalm 126:2) Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Table Talk at NTNL Bishop's Convo

Today I had the privilege of moderating a table talk Q&A time at the Bishop's Convocation of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Territory of the ELCA (we like long names!).

The speakers for the last day and a half were noted author, speaker and missiologist Reggie McNeal (not a Lutheran) and Ken Inskeep, the director of Research and Evaluation for the ELCA. They were speaking to us on the theme of the convocation. Missional Renaissance: Discerning Context and Responding in Hope. Basically, Ken was there to give us some of the nitty gritty research and evaluation that the ELCA has been doing (discerning context) and Reggie was there to talk about that context and how we biblically and contextually respond to it as the church.

What was interesting was that I posted that this would be going on to the ELCA Clergy Facebook site and that if anyone had questions they should get them to me and I would try to work them in. That generated some interesting questions, some general, some specific. But also some wonderment as to what these two would talk about together. There was an assumption that they were interested in different things, different aspects of the church. That assumption couldn't have been more incorrect as it turned out.

So what did we discuss and learn. I don't have an actual transcript, but here are my highlights...

1) We HAVE to get out of the church and into God's World. Ok, this is a DUH thing. However, here are some interesting stats and ideas to back that up.

1a) Inskeep posits that the Pew study recently released actually WAY underestimates the unaffiliated in our country. There are probably another 20-30% of the country who may say they are "Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist" but haven't been to a church in years. As a result, that unaffiliated number is more like 40-50%. So he proposes a 1% principle. For example...

-In his data, in Texas there are approximately 12 million unaffiliated. From that he figures there are   about 2.5 million folks who are probably former Catholics, Lutherans or other mainlines (people who are at least somewhat familiar with the story) who are now unaffiliated. 1% of those folks is 25,000 people. If we were to connect with and get connect with that 1% it would double the size of the current worshipping population of the NTNL. So what does that mean? There is great opportunity out there and folks to connect with and you don't have to think in huge numbers.  Your church doesn't have to go from 50 to 5,000 to make an impact. 50 to 70 percentage wise is a huge change. Think in people, individuals, make connections.

1b) So how do we do that. McNeal says the first place to go is the schools. Now he cautions there will be those who immediately say the schools don't want us yada, yada. Go there and ask a very good question. "How can we help? What can we do to serve you?" Do that, and mean it, you will make connections.  Again, if you can't adopt the school, adopt class, or a teacher, or a student.

2) The institution of the church must change its scorecard (this is Reggie's thing) and must be honest about its barriers (Ken's). We measure what we value and as Reggie said, we have to get out of the church business and into the people business. Counting is not bad, numbers are people. But it is our calling to make sure we are measuring and valuing the right things. Lutherans have a great message to help people in this regard. Our theology and teachings are beautiful and connect with those who are unaffiliated. But our traditions often get in the way. What do we really need to keep? That is what congregations should ask. What do we do because it makes us feel comfortable but for a new believer might be a stumbling block? Those things must be talked about.

3) You gotta be the mission. Reggie reminded us that we are in fact ourselves God's mission. God's redemptive power to bring life starts with us as much as with anyone we might want to reach. So we need to live that. The reality is that many don't want to change, so go and lead. Decide what you are passionate about and move forward with it. Find what your community can do to make its world a better place (no matter how small that is) and do it. Ken showed up clearly that there is opportunity there, people who are potentially open to our message of hope and grace. But we must get into relationship with them to share it.

Finally we were reminded by Ken that we must stop thinking about the resources we have or don't have and believe in God's abundance. Money will follow inspired and spiritually focused missions. As Reggie said, American religion is a $100 Billion business.  The money is there, what is it being spent on?

All in all it was an inspiring conversation and I only have hit highlights here. Rooted in the factual reality of what we are facing but hopeful in the reality that all congregations big and small can in fact be vital if they are embodying the mission.

My editorial note is this. We have too many congregations that are stagnant, in decline or just treading water. Too many leaders are ignoring those numbers in their parishes. Pastors expect congregations to be there for them, to provide healthcare and insurance and etc... That can be true, but only if the current generation of pastors make that happen for the coming generation. If your congregation is stagnant or floundering it is your calling to change that. There are ways to move onto God's agenda of hope, opportunities for mission. But first you gotta get out and get on the mission. Don't leave behind a community smaller, less engaged or less energetic than when you were called to lead it. If you do, you cannot expect there to be another engaged, energetic and growing parish waiting for you. Eventually, the numbers can't add up.

We are in an exciting time as the church. The opportunities are there. We don't have to steal sheep from other congregations to grow but we are going to have to change. That isn't easy. But that is the mission. God's mission.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Last Full Measure

Today was our last full day in the Washington D.C. area and we spent it actually on the road to Antietam and Gettysburg. Although I have been to other Civil War sights, these were new to me, so it was a great experience to go and also to go with our professors who know so much about history and can really make it come alive. 

Our first visit was to Antietam, one of the most pivotal battles in the war because there the Union was able to stalemate Robert E. Lee, stopping his northern charge and giving Lincoln the political capital he needed to, 3 months later on Jan. 1, 1963, sign the Emancipation Proclamation. Antietam also was a great lesson in leadership for two other reasons. 

The first relates to this bridge. This is called today Burnside Bridge, named for General Burnside whose forces took the bridge, routed the Georgian forces above and essentially ended the battle by cutting Lee off from his supply chain, forcing his retreat back across the Potomac. It is somewhat humorous that it is named for him because Burnside really didn't want to be there, and for most of the battle, he barely tried to take the bridge. However, because his troops eventually did take the bridge, he gained great credit for ending the battle and became the hero of Antietam. Sometimes, you get credit even when you don't deserve it.

The second lesson comes from the guy who should have gotten the credit, General McClellan. As the supreme commander, McClellan should have received much credit for stopping Lee, however, because he failed to capitalize on the victory, he was later removed from his position by Lincoln. McClellan could have ended the war at Antietam, yet because he was convinced Lee had more troops in waiting (based on faulty intelligence and his own fear) he spent the entire battle a mile behind the lines with 40,000 additional soldiers which he never committed to the fight. Had he committed them, crushed Lee's army, the war might have ended three years earlier. But being too far away from the action, and fearful of what might be, he stayed back.

From Antietam we journeyed up to Gettysburg. There we saw the cost of leadership, including overconfidence, first hand. General Lee, having seen his troops overcome the odds time and again had become so confident in them that he decided to commit them to a fight on ground not of his choosing, against a foe he had little intelligence about and who occupied the high ground. The picture on the right illustrates that high ground. This is the top of Little Round Top, and below is the valley called the "Devil's Den" or the "Valley of Death". Into this valley, Lee pushed his troops time and again, vainly trying to capture the high ground, they never did. 

Yet despite this defeat, Lee pressed on and the next day ordered General Pickett to lead 15,000 men across a field towards cemetery ridge where he believed the Union had undercommitted their resources and a break could be made. To the left we see that field, a mile long march from cover, up a small rise into the teeth of Union artillery and guns. The stone marker in the picture is called "The high water mark of the Confederacy". 

Had they broken the lines, they might have been able to defeat the Union and Gettysburg, push on to DC and ultimately force Lincoln to sue for peace. Instead, his forces decimated by cannon and rifle fire, the last of the charge died there, at the high water mark. And the end of the confederacy was in sight (although it took two more years). While his men were brave, his tactics sound and his fight strong, Lee's overconfidence and refusal to withdraw to more favorable ground, cost his men dearly.

That dear cost is shown at the cemetery where Abe Lincoln delivered his famed address.  Of course no Confederate graves are found here, but the empty field with marker upon marker (no names, just numbers, this was before dog tags) is a stark reminder of the real costs of war and the real costs of leadership. As a leader you ask people to commit their lives to the task, it may very well cost them their lives. This was perhaps the most moving part of the trip for me so far as our professor pulled his copy of the address from his pocket and read it for us.

The Gettysburg Address has really taken root in my mind as a reminder of the true costs of leadership. Of considering closely what we are asking of those who follow us and taking seriously that it is often them, not us, who will hallow the ground of victory or defeat. Too many pastors, politicians, business leaders and others forget this and in their hubris (Lee), fear (McClellan), frustration (like Burnside) or anxiety (too often me) stay away from the fight, and leave others to give a last full measure of devotion. So I close this series of my blog (we fly home tomorrow) with Lincoln's words...

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"See, I am sending you out as sheep..."-Matt 10:16

The White House was our intended destination this morning, however, at 8:30am when we arrived, it was in lockdown mode. No tours today due to a change in the President's daily schedule.  What pray tell ask the sheep, is going on today? Well, over at the Supreme Court they are going to announce a major ruling, a ruling that will have a major impact on the President's legacy, one that is very divisive in American politics today. Oh, and by the way, this afternoon the Attorney General will likely be held in contempt of congress, just for good measure. 

The White House trip thwarted, we moved east, back towards the Capitol and eventually, the Supreme Court building. There thousands were gathered on the steps and on the lawns across the street.  Passionate supporters of both sides screaming and yelling.  On one side impassioned pleas were made "Healthcare for All!" and on the other "Don't let America become the USSR!"(these are but a couple of the many I heard and in no way reflect the nuance of the debate) 
But that is the deal, protest isn't about the nuance of debate. Protest is about making noise! One of the major lessons that our Organizational Leadership professor has driven home this week is the challenge of leaders to manage the 20-60-20 rule. 20% will love your new idea, 20% are gonna hate it...the trick is, you gotta manage the 60% and build consensus, if you want results. The problem is, most folks spend their time on the fringes, bouncing back and forth between the 20%'s and never focus on the compromise and challenge of growing the connection to the 60%. As we walked around today, I heard people yelling back and forth about how right they were, but the reality is, no one on those steps was going to be convinced to change their mind. They knew exactly what they thought before they showed up, and exactly what they would think when they left. That isn't governing and that isn't leading, leading is finding a solution, a way to get something together so that the 60% can get on board. But this takes compromise.

Our congressional host this evening for the our private tour, Congressman Lankford of Oklahoma (who was very generous with his time tonight), reminded us of this reality. "You can have a great idea, and maybe you can get 100 others to agree it is a great idea, but in the house you must have 218 folks on board to get anything done." He is absolutely right. How do you reach the 60%, how do you get to 218? You have to compromise (a lesson frankly the Congressman can continue to learn looking at his legislative record). 
But this is the problem, while our system demands compromise and conversation, so many of our folks just want to yell their talking points at one another. They fire up their 20% who love them and whoever's 20% show up more on election day, that is who wins. In a 24 hour news cycle that is how you make money on the radio, and that is how you win elections, but it is not how you lead. 

After such an intense day. It was heartening to take a moment and spend some quiet time tonight in the Capitol building itself. Again, Congressman Lankford (a Texas native and UT grad), was generous with his time and allow us access to areas we otherwise would not have seen. And insights into his own style of leadership and learning as a freshman congressman. As we toured into the Rotunda, I asked Lankford (a Baptist) if he knew the story of the only Lutheran that I knew whose picture was in a painting in the Rotunda. 

And low and behold,  he did! He immediately recited for me the story of J. Peter Muhlenberg, a clergyman turned soldier and later senator. Whose brother Frederick (who was a pacifist and encouraged his brother not to join the revolutionary fight until his own church was burned down by the British) would become the first speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Muhlenberg appears in the painting here, the second man on horseback in formation observing Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown.
Why is Muhlenberg interesting to me in this conversation about the 20-60-20? He is interesting because he had his convictions about what he believed to be right yet although one of God's sheep he knew that there were wolves and he would have to be wise in his dealings with them.  Although a Lutheran, in Virginia the state required that only Anglican churches were allowed so Muhlenberg went to England and was ordained. He began to build his coalition, to reach beyond the 20%.

After moving to Virginia, certainly there were those who thought a Clergyman should not be doing what he was doing (especially his brother). Yet he continued his training and made his commitment. His work was such that when he knew it was time to make the commitment, he not only brought himself, but convinced 300 others from his congregation to join as well. And eventually, his brother joined the fight. 

Leadership requires much more than giving grand speeches to the already converted. Of yelling out how right you are on the steps of a building to the already convinced of the other side. Leadership requires building coalitions, being wise and serpents and gentle as doves. I am grateful today to live in this country.  A country where the rule of law remains, where people can protest and say whatever they desire about our leaders and one another and be protected. Where the military doesn't move in for a coup whenever there is turmoil. 

But I also believe we need leaders in this country like Muhlenberg. Who will build coalitions and not just look to the 20% who immediately support them. Who will reach out to the 60%, move towards solutions, not just party lines. Who will be creative and find opportunity to work together. That is leadership.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lincoln, MLK, and Korea at Night

Today we had a bit of a hiccup in schedule. Our visit to the Pentagon was unfortunately cancelled due to a schedule snafu. So we went to the library of Congress this morning and then to the Holocaust Museum (as planned) this afternoon.  The Library of Congress was a fascinating tour, beautiful building, but I am going to actually focus on two things in this post. One I did last night, the other this afternoon.

Last night about 9pm I went along with another member of our group to see some of the memorials "after dark." For those who have been in DC before, going to see the memorials lit up is one of the visual highlights of the trip, and this was no exception.  My companion on this trip is a young guy, about my age, a Korean national who served in the South Korean army. So our visit to the Korean war memorial and the prayer he offered in thanksgiving for those soldiers who gave their lives for his homeland, was especially poignant. As was his clear petition to God that peace and reunification might finally come to his homeland.

From there, we went to the Lincoln memorial, quite a sight to see in the dark, although the "Mr. Smith goes to Washington" ambiance is a bit lost when there are 1,000 other people running around taking the same picture as you. ;-) Yet to look out from that monument, over the reflecting pool, past the great obelisk of Washington and to the Capitol, it brings much of our nation's history into perspective. While yesterday was about honoring the past and remembering that you don't, as a leader, have to throw out everything from before, that experience was a reminder that clear breaks must often be made. The risk of split must be recognized but the threats of secession or lack of support cannot keep you from doing that which is right. While a united Korea would be a blessing, I do not believe my friend would be willing to have that unity at any cost.

The cost of leadership was well spelled out as we journeyed from Lincoln over to the new MLK memorial. There, at this newest and very powerful monument, the first to honor an individual who was a non-president on the mall, we see the importance of being willing to stand up to the status quo. Strikingly, King stands sentinel, across the tidal basin from Jefferson's memorial.  I am not sure that was intentional, but in a way the monument shows how this leader, 160 years after Jefferson, forced the issue and challenged the nation to take seriously, against the status quo, of whether we actually believed the words that "all men are created equal." To see Americans of all colors streaming into that monument, but especially to see our African American sisters and brothers walking around this place, obviously proud that finally a person of color has a monument on the mall, is striking.

The terror of what happens when leaders do not stand up and risk split. When pleasing the base becomes more important than doing what is right, is made starkly in the holocaust museum. We had the honor of an hour of time with a survivor of the holocaust. A man who is a spry 90 years old, who survived the horrors of the war, was almost worked to death, yet can speak of hope and promise of friends who survived and is a living reminder of the horrors that come from the reign of fear. Hitler appeased the status quo to the extreme.  He appealed to the basest of instincts of his base and in the end, rather than raising his followers moral plane (a requirement for Burn's transformational leadership), he lowered them into terror and fear.

1 John 14:8 reminds us that "Perfect love casts out all fear." In the museum, as we waited, I saw this plaque. These are little tiles painted by children and others who visited the museum. I found the use of that quote inspiring in the midst of the horror of this museum. Perfect love casts out fear, it allows us as leaders to challenge the status quo, to not remain stuck and to not fall for fear.  May we have more leaders who are willing to risk loss for the life of the world.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Philadephia Trip

Today we set out to Philadelphia, a city that was influenced by and had an influence on George Washington. By the 1770's, this was the most significant city in the colonies, with a population well over 30,000 (which seems tiny to us today), and was the seat of the continental congress.

Independence Hall, with its famous Liberty Bell is the most noted site in Philadelphia, what most folks don't know is that it was actually built for the colonial legislature and courts. However, when the colonists decided to throw off the shackles of English taxation, they utilized this building for both the debate over and signing of the Declaration of Independence and also later, the Constitutional convention, over which Washington presided as President.

What strikes me, in visiting these buildings is just how small they all are. We expect such grand structures and spaces, but the reality was these were built by hand labor, over time with rudimentary tools. The other thing that we were reminded of by our tour guide was that the colonists did not throw out all of what they had learned from the British.  But in fact kept much of the English court system and utilized English ways of organization, just with a colonial twist.

The leadership lesson for the day there, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. While that might seem easy enough to grasp, it is often not followed. As anyone who has been in leadership knows, there are times when it seems like it would just be simpler to throw everything out, start over fresh and with a clean slate. However, that might not serve the best interests of the people but in fact might be simply one more attempt to glorify yourself. The colonists, led by Washington, were smart enough to hold on to many of the best things of their predecessors, while making changes that suited the current situation. Not everything has to be changed all the time, although it might seem like it should be.

Finally, we were given an important choice this afternoon. Which cheesesteak place to order from. For me, no question, the original, Pats. Provolone wit please!

Monday, June 25, 2012

US Naval Academy and Ford's Theater

Today we ventured down to Annapolis to visit that U.S. Naval Academy. While there we had the privilege of conversation with a retired Colonel, graduate of the Academy who now works for the Academy in leadership development. He was very generous with his time in sharing with us his insights into leadership of self, community and how the Academy works to encourage the development of leadership. One of the key learnings of this trip is the concepts of frames for leadership. Understanding that leadership occurs in organizations across multiple viewpoints and that a good leader must understand them and which ones their people are operating out of to be effective.  

The Academy is clearly a structural framework organization in that it has clear rules and procedures, hierarchies and processes. This is the framework that engineers love! It is all about who you report to, who is in charge of whom etc... Certainly a valuable frame and illustrated clearly by the Naval Academy mission statement which you see to the right here. This plaque is in the central foyer of the Bancroft Hall, the main building on campus.  It outlines the structural frame in which those who teach, work and learn at the Academy are expected to operate within. These are the parameters of the organization. However, they are not devoid of other frames.

One of the other major frames (there are 4) is the symbolic frame. This is the frame of meaning. Through rituals, symbols and myths, the organization motivates and ties together those within the community.  Certainly a frame those of us who work in the church understand. The Academy is full of those frames also, which perhaps even supercede the structure. Up the stairs in Bancroft hall, at the center of the Academy is the Memorial hall.  In that room are the names of those graduates of the Academy who have given their lives in the service of the country. This room is full of symbols, symbols that give meaning and purpose to the sacrifice of those men and women. Most notably, the immortal words of the father of the US Navy, John Paul Jones, "Don't give up the ship!" These words, more than any mission statement, structural alignment or other organizational chart, exemplifies the Academy. Because of the sacrifice of those who have gone before, present day students and graduates are expected to continue this tradition.

Interestingly, in conversation with the Colonel who was so generous with his time he related that the biggest issue they have in leadership at the academy is arrogance. These young women and men who come to the Academy are highly skilled, the best of the best. They know they are good and while challenged at Navy, they understand they have the ability to succeed. So the challenge is getting those highly skilled leaders not to operate under the rules to "just check the boxes and win the prizes," as the young ensign who escorted us around related to me, but to live into the ethos of self-sacrifice required to be a part of a symbolic community like the U.S. Navy.

Self-Sacrifice for country epitomized the life of Lincoln.  Leaving Annapolis we drove back to Washington and toured Ford's Theatre and the Patterson House, the place Lincoln died. You all know the story of Lincoln well, what I found so interesting about the tour was this enormous stack of books in the center of the spiral staircase in the museum there. These are all books about Lincoln, an estimated 15,000 in print. Why do we write so much about Lincoln? It certainly isn't because he was a great structural designer of policy. He was a symbolic leader who cared about holding together his nation in the midst of a great conflict. And by embodying the vision, that the Union would be preserved, he achieved his leadership goals. 

Tomorrow we go to Philadelphia...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

This morning we headed over to the National Cathedral for worship. Was a fun experience to worship in such a beautiful space and with such beautiful music and fine preaching. Reminded me again that for many people, they have never experienced this kind of worship, which for me is so much a part of my DNA, before. When we arrived we were seated and the usher came over to asked and asked me if we would be willing to assist in carrying the communion elements forward. This was certainly an honor and for two of my classmates, a complete first. But they were open to it, and experienced it with me. I was very proud as I think the relationships we have developed opened the door for them to recognize that mainline protestants are people of deep faith and tradition.

The cathedral itself is a masterpiece. The 6th largest in the world, the 2nd largest in the United States (only smaller than St. John the Divine in New York). I could fill the entire blog with pictures of this, but I include here just one. It is the art above the altar in one of the smaller chapels. A beautiful mosaic of the resurrection morning scene, complete with sleeping soldiers and a worshiping angel. One of the realities we were reminded of on the tour is that this might be one of the last Cathedrals ever built in the world in this traditional style because the art and craftsmanship of stone masonry, of tile mosaic making are being forgotten. While certainly times change and styles change, the money used to build these Cathedrals might be better spent to serve the poor, whenever something that has been so much a part of human life for a thousand years passes away, it is worth taking pause to reflect.

In the afternoon we traveled out to Mt. Vernon to see General Washington's homeplace (just an FYI, that is what he always preferred to be called). I had been there many years before, but they have really improved the facilities there and it is a beautiful place to visit and see the estate on which this essential leader of our nation lived and raised his family. We traveled down the path to Washington's grave, where he and Martha as well as 25 other members of the family are buried.  Although cannot see it in the picture, when you get up close to the gate, on the inside of the crypt is inscribed the text from John 11, "I am the resurrection and the life..." Much has been made of Washington's faith in recent years (there is currently a best selling print of him kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge) and there is little evidence that he was a very active churchmen beyond the duties expected of someone of his stature.  He spoke rarely of Jesus or of living a life of discipleship of Christ, and I think it is important that we not put that on him.  But it is clear that he did believe that God was a providential part of his life and that he was being called to the vocation of leading this start-up nation.

Certainly Washington was a great leader. But one of the reasons we study leadership is to better understand the people behind the myths and how they actually did their leadership. What cognitive learning did they do, how did they handle the internal contradictions and inevitable challenges of being leaders.  One of those contradictions is apparent for Washington by simply turning around from his beautiful crypt and walking a couple yards into the woods. There you find a simple marker, dedicated to the slaves who served the Washington family faithfully. Unlike Washington, they have no individual markers nor is there evidence there ever was any sort of individual stones placed.  The slaves who died on the plantation were buried there, in this nondescript location, forgotten until archaeological excavation unearthed their bones. Thankfully, they were reburied and the site marked and now hallowed by this stone.

Yet there lies the contradiction. Washington was both a man fighting for freedom and yet one who owned other men and women. They were his property and as a man of his time, that was no contradiction. However, for us today, we struggle to understand the ethics of such a leader. To sort out what we can take from learning from him, what we reject and how we move forward. Ultimately, for me, the truth lies in the perspective of that scripture from John. In the final analysis we are all going to die. The challenge is what we do with the life we have today. The promise of eternal life is the opportunity to live today as if it were true. Washington did that in so many ways, but in that one critical way, of providing true freedom for his people, he was still captive to the times and the shortsightedness of racism and chattel slavery. Although he set them free upon his death, in this life, that was a great failing of a leader.

Lest you all think this trip is simply sight-seeing. Upon returning to our residence here in D.C. we then engaged in 3 hours of case-study debate for our class this summer in Organizational Leadership.  The group was split into 4 small groups that then were each assigned a case study describing a leadership challenge. Each individual had previously written a summary and analysis of the cases and then we participated together as each of the small groups made a more in depth 30 minute presentation on the case and then engaged in 15 minutes of conversation and questioning about how the leaders in question handled the situation and how we would, were we in that situation, handle things. In a sort of humorous twist, my case was regarding a new compensation structure and team initiative in the office of a Bond Trading firm in Boston. Hearkening back to my younger days in my first job at PFM.  It is in this sort of case analysis that we are challenged to take our learning from historical leaders, combined with current management theory and synthesize a solution to the challenge. A fun, engaging conversation, but exhausting.

So off to bed. Tomorrow we visit Annapolis, the Naval Academy and then back for a tour of Ford's Theater and more conversation.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Week in D.C. (I am back on blogging)

Those who actually followed this blog in the past (ancient past since it has been a year or so) know that I have been thinking about doing some continuing study and that has pulled me from blogging. Indeed I am doing study again, working on a PhD in Leadership Studies at Dallas Baptist University.  Part of that learning involves three summer institutes, the first was in Dallas last summer, this summer it is in Washington D.C. (focus on Political Leadership) and next summer will be in Oxford, England (focus on Global Leadership).

Specifically during this week we will be focusing on the leadership of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. utilizing the lens of Ron Heifetz's book Leadership Without Easy Answers (among many, many others). Most critically, thinking about how these three leaders, from three different centuries of American history, led the nation in adaptive change.  In addition to being in D.C. and visiting the Pentagon, Congress, White House, Ford's Theatre and Holocaust museum, we will be traveling around to the Naval Academy, Philadelphia, Mount Vernon, Antietam and Gettysburg. All in an effort to better think about how leadership works in both positive and negative ways, and how leaders can help their communities do the hard work of adaptive change. During this week I will be blogging about this experience which comes at an interesting time as on Sunday, July 1st we will be having our annual Patriotic emphasis worship at Trinity. Certainly this week will give some interesting fodder for thinking about preaching when I return.

With that introduction, just a brief comment about today and the experience of arriving in D.C. This is certainly not my first time here, but it has been several years since I spent any significant time here. For those also in the know, I have signed up to run the El Scorcho race on July 15th, as such, I needed to get a good run in today. So having a couple free hours this afternoon I took a hot and humid tour of the national mall and monuments.

My run started just east of the Capitol then down through the mall to the Lincoln Memorial and around all the newer memorials, back over by the White House, and then back to the Capitol.  A good long run, and an opportunity to see Washington in full action.  

The town is full of tourists and locals, out enjoying the summer, getting prepared for the July 4th festivities.  I had to refresh my skills from the days of living in Boston, strategically running as to avoid colliding with the streams of tourists following after their leader, completely unaware of anyone else around them. No fewer than 10 languages were overheard, couples were sitting down next to the Potomac,  wedding parties hopping out of vehicles to get that perfect shot with the Capitol in the background. Families with children, mom's and dad's trying hard to remember their civics classes to answer their kiddo's questions.

The new King memorial was busy, with busloads of people coming. The steps of the Lincoln memorial, where King gave his "I have a dream speech" reflected today that dream as people of all races sat together. Finding some shade they enjoyed an ice cream or cold drink on a hot day, while their children ran and played.

I ran by the WWII, Korean and Vietnam memorials, places of stillness in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city, a somber reminder of lives lost. Yet just a couple blocks away, a barbeque festival was going on with bands and music, people living into the freedom and joy of this country.

The joke of course this week is, why go to D.C. to learn about leadership, there isn't any there! Perhaps. But there are, as our trip leader reminded us this evening, quoting Hebrews 12:1, a great host of witnesses around us. This is a city full of life and history and even hope. That this nation, with all its crazy diversity, fears and anxieties, still is a great hope for the world. A place where flawed leaders like King, Washington and Lincoln can rise and lead. I am excited about being here, it is encouraging my soul.

Tomorrow we worship at the National Cathedral.  A couple Lutherans, some Baptists, non-denominationals and others.  We will go together to an Episcopal Cathedral, to be preached to by a Methodist woman. Only in America!