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.

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