Leadership….is not a dirty word

There are two leadership quotes that I particularly love.

Lao Tzu: A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him….But of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, “We did it ourselves.

Napoleon Bonaparte: A leader is a dealer in hope.

Leadership is not demanding, commanding, directing, or driving.  It is not managing or administration.

We have an oversupply of ‘leaders’ (whether political or otherwise) who lead by being negative, by pointing out the problems in our world, the dangers we face, what we should “not” be doing.

The kind of leadership that is most effective, and that is most lacking in our world today (and if we’re honest, in our church as well) is the kind of leadership that deals in hope, that inspires initiative and energy.  A truly effective leader is one who paints a picture of an alternate reality, who reveals to us what we ‘could’ be, and motivates us to go where we might not go if left to our own devices.

That’s the kind of leadership I would love to see us nurture in the Uniting Church in Tasmania.

What does it mean for you to deal in hope?  Who can you encourage or inspire? What new possibilities can you imagine….and call into existence?

(this story first published in Uniting Tas – the monthly newsletter of the Uniting Church in Tasmania)

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Knowing the ending

I read a book last week.  It happens occasionally.

It wasn’t the latest literary classic, or a leadership text. It wasn’t even theology.

It was, how shall we put this, airport fiction. Clive Cussler.  Adventures. Craziness. Action.

I like reading Cussler’s stories when I’m after a bit of escapism.  They are non stop adventure romps. This particular book featured a husband and wife treasure hunting team who lurched from adventure to adventure, taking on and single handedly defeating the bad guys, finding the treasure and saving the world.

All good.  Right?

Somewhere along the way, I found myself getting annoyed at the book.  I was frustrated at the predictability of it all. No matter what the odds, no matter what the obstacles, the hero couple always prevailed, always found the hidden clue no-one else could see, saw off trained commandos with a piece of rusty steel and some basic physics…..and so on…..endlessly.

Now I knew full well what I was getting into when I opened the book. Cussler books definitely follow a fairly standard format, so I wasn’t surprised.

But still, I was annoyed.

Where was the reality?  The obstacles that sometimes are insurmountable? The good guys that sometimes can’t defeat the bad guys?  I found myself just wanting a little more rawness, a little more “real-ness” in the story.

And somewhere along the way I got to thinking a bit about church worship services (no, I don’t know why my mind makes these strange leaps either).  I got to thinking about how so often our church services follow predictable plotlines, where the good guys always triumph, where we are always able to “praise God”.

Sometimes in church, as in Cussler, I wish for a little more rawness, a little more real-ness.    Sometimes we should spend a little more time crying out to God about the awfulness, and a little less pretending we’re full of praise and worship.

Sometimes life just sucks, and church is one place we shouldn’t be afraid to name that reality.

Even if Cussler doesn’t.

workshop description: re-imagining worship in a traditional space

The Uniting Church in Tasmania is blessed with many fine old church buildings.  They’re traditionally shaped, and often furnished accordingly. Long fixed pews, pipe organs, even old-school box pews are common. Heritage listing prohibits re-shaping many of the buildings to a form more appropriate for a modern faith community.

Those buildings are both a blessing, and a profound challenge to the church – in ways that we’ll continue to explore.

Last week we had the opportunity to run the latest in our regular “Hobart 2020 Forums” for those interested in exploring the themes of “How then shall we live?”, the interim report of the Uniting Alive: Hobart 2020 process.

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hammering home hospitality

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail……or so the saying goes.

For those churches who follow the lectionary (a set cycle of bible readings around which church services are based), this week there is a story of Jesus’ encounter with a woman who washes Jesus feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, then cracks open an expensive alabaster jar of perfume to finish the job. All this happens in the middle of dinner….at which Jesus is a guest, and the woman an uninvited gate crasher.  Read it here.

I was chatting briefly about the passage with a colleague this morning, and she pointed out what were, to her, the important features of the story.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking a bit about hospitality lately, as I’m working with a group of people to host a training/reflection weekend on that theme.  So with hospitality in my mind for other reasons, I read this story looking for, and finding lots of expressions of hospitality.

When you have a hammer, you see nails.  And that’s the beauty of good stories (and the bible has more than a few good stories). Good stories speak at many levels, offering insights into many different situations, and allowing many different ways of interacting with them.

As I think about this story through the lense of hospitality, I’m drawn to ask the question, who offers who hospitality in this story?

Jesus is invited for dinner, but not particularly cared for by the host.  The cultural practice of offering water for foot washing for instance……is not extended.

The woman is not invited, but comes anyway and offers generous hospitality to Jesus.

Jesus in turn, seeing that the host is not happy about this intrusion, or Jesus welcoming of the visitor, extends welcome and honour to the uninvited guest in a must unexpected way.

What does it mean to offer hospitality in our culture today?  Or for that matter what does it mean to accept?  Surely it’s more than bringing a bottle of wine to dinner….or offering to do the dishes (an offer which must by convention be politely refused).

And who are the outsiders in our day? The uninvited? Who is not welcome at the table?  How can we make the outsider welcome…even if we are guest rather than host?

These are the kinds of questions this story evokes for me.  But I have to say, I’m wondering, what do you see in it? What kind of hammer are you holding?