05.29.13

servant leadership part 2–Christ’s style

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:31 pm by Administrator

see my last entry for some context on this discussion of Christ’s style of leadership

now, despite my contention that Jesus Christ was no model of modern-day “servant leadership”, Christ did demonstrate powerful leadership of His own kind. He demonstrated a distinct style based on a deconstructionist pedagogy aimed at developing disciples who would 1) practice rigorous and continuous moral self-evaluation and 2) actively evade and oppose social acculturation. the fascinating thing about Christ’s model of leadership is that He preached conscientious individualism as the basis of transcendental collectivism.

Christ would have been a terribly poor fit at the helm of any present-day company or government precisely because of this deconstructionist pedagogy. forms and structures were interpretable rather than essential, in His paradigm of knowledge. what was essential to Christ was personal motivation, and He described this essence as something virtually immeasurable. rather than focusing on personal perfection or other theoretical metrics for moral purity, Christ preached identity itself as a changeable form and as a fluid vessel for the active work of motivations and desires. as His focus was spiritual (in a distinctly psychological manner), Christ spent very little of His time prescribing social groupings and institutions; in fact, He implied that societies should be emergent from a conscientious individualism defined by iconoclasm and conscious resistance to social norms.

Christ’s vision of the church as an idealized corporation was a collective of people absolutely aligned in their individual protests against social evils. such a corporation could accomplish its vision equally well through the work of the individual (i.e. when the disciples individually carried the message of Christ to the towns of Israel) or through the work of the collective. the idea was that the spirit that pervades the church is the same spirit individually conferred to believers; an individual is a complete representation of the collective and not merely a component part. this idea of the church is somewhat expanded by the apostle Paul, who ascribes differentiation of role to the members of a local body; but in Christ’s original conception, each believer is a fully capable “army of one”, equipped to demonstrate Christ’s vision through an uncompromising stance against dominant culture.

Christ’s focus on the central importance of cultural resistance is repeatedly exemplified in His use of parables, His confrontational discourse with the Pharisees, His active engagement with marginalized members of society, and His deliberate critique of both Jewish law and Roman law. through rigorous discussion and analysis, He compelled His disciples to identify not as members of their society but as members of a transcending society. He employed an iconoclastic diction meant to undermine traditional indoctrination, in favor of radical self-redefinition.

revolutionary, genius, provocateur, and biting social critic—Christ was all of these. what made him different from the avant gardists of our day is that Christ was committed to social oppositionalism as a means of ultimately redeeming the idea of unified, hierarchical, and monarchical society. in this way, i think Christ is better described not as the quintessential servant leader but rather as the romantic philosopher. He forced (and still forces) His followers to take a lonely path with Him, devoid of traditional landmarks and to the rejection of conventional logic, for the purpose of living outside the box in every imaginable way, ultimately for the liberation and redemption of the human spirit

servant leadership

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:52 pm by Administrator

last week my company sent me and a few other representatives to do a site visit with an organization that has won national awards for excellence. the purpose of the trip was to figure out what our company could learn from theirs, mostly so that we can go about winning some awards of our own. but my personal motivation for this trip was my intense personal curiosity about the CEO of this award-winning organization. he’s personally won this national award for excellence three times. i assumed that there was something about him that’s different.

indeed, it was a fascinating trip. most interesting to me was the obvious fact that the leadership team of this organization was uniform in its commitment to the idea of servant leadership. the CEO in particular stressed servant leadership as the guiding principle by which this company has effected total cultural transformation over the past decade. the term “servant leadership” was in fact spoken or alluded to so often that i left the site visit more interested in the concept of servant leadership than in the servant leaders themselves. for sure, the corporate leaders we talked to were humble, effective, and interesting people; but even the CEO wasn’t a particularly magnetic or charismatic personality. as a group, they directed attention not to themselves but to their guiding principles. and so here i am, writing not about a fascinating CEO but rather about “servant leadership”—a transforming idea.

what is servant leadership? i’m not exactly sure. i think that a lot of people have different definitions of what servant leadership is. wikipedia tells me that servant leadership was defined by Robert Greenleaf in a series of seminal essays, rooted in Greenleaf’s work in corporate America over several decades. the major theme of these essays was an emphasis on a style of leadership characterized by humility and an overt devotion to the needs of the employee. in the 1970s, this depicted style existed in immediate contrast to a more recognizable style of leadership in corporate America characterized by charisma, coercion, and personal strength.

servant leadership, described thus, has evolved into a singular ideal over the last three decades, popularized through the works of other authors such as James Hunter and Jim Collins. certain concepts and values have taken on particular importance within this paradigm, such as transparency and emotional leadership. my sense is that servant leadership has become such a dominant ideal in the corporate workplace that consultants nowadays judge leadership effectiveness according to the qualities of a classic servant leader. vital roadblocks to efficiency, including barriers to communication and to process improvement, can often be traced to root causes related to a senior leader’s personal style.

without having read anything by Greenleaf or Hunter, i’m going to speculate that servant leadership, though attractive as an ideal, is incredibly difficult to embody. i’m speculating this because in some of the things i’ve read and heard, i’ve seen people refer to some strange and perhaps inappropriate examples of servant leadership. for example, a guy will think himself a servant leader because he asked for critical feedback from a front line staff member; but then he couldn’t demonstrate how the feedback changed him or affected the way that he does his job. a servant leader doesn’t simply engage in a 360 review or effect an “open door policy”; a true servant leader demonstrates his or her nature by undergoing constructive change as a response to the needs of the team. a servant leader doesn’t simply deliver a message or a solution; a servant leader must become the message and the solution.

in American self-help/business literature, i’m seeing the person of Christ intermixed with the whole discourse on servant leadership, and this conflation of godliness and servant leadership is fascinating to me. on the one hand, it seems an obvious comparison, and it would appear logical to many American Christians that Christ should embody many principles integral to business success. but here’s what i want to wrestle with over the remainder of this entry: was Jesus Christ really the quintessential servant leader?

by the way that i’ve defined servant leadership—a commitment to personal change in response to the needs of others—Christ both is and is not the quintessential servant leader. on the one hand, Christ did change in response to the needs of Israel, in that He physically died (an experience previously unknown to the divine God). on the other hand, Christ did not take it upon Himself to adapt or to conform, two processes absolutely essential to servant leadership. Christ believed Himself to be perfect, and as such He made little or no attempt to effect compromise between Himself and the radically opposed culture that He contended with. it was in fact because of his uncompromising and confrontational approach that He was persecuted and ultimately put to death. though Christ had an impressive legacy following His miraculous resurrection, none of his contemporaries could have possibly considered him a successful leader up to the point of His crucifixion. in fact, at the time of His death, He effectively had lost all of His followers.

even beyond this, Christ spent most of His career on earth actively befuddling, riddling, and even humiliating those that He spoke with. in many of His teachings, He failed to be an effective communicator, at least according to the criteria we would apply to modern-day leaders. He often chose not to speak in clear vernacular; He failed to convey a clear sense of His mission to his own followers, even up to the point of His arrest in the Garden; and He intentionally antagonized the Pharisaic leadership of His day. Christ, in many ways, appeared bent on engendering controversy and even conflict among the people whom He spoke to. though Christ essentialized humility of a kind, He never compromised His personal agenda; and this is in contrast to the modern-day ideal of servant leadership, in which we expect our leaders to continually contextualize and reevaluate their personal agenda in light of feedback. had Christ been a classic “servant leader”, then we might have seen Him work a bit harder to win hearts and minds; in practice, He fell a bit short of Jim Collins’ ideal of a level 5 leader.

the person of Jesus Christ continues to strike me as a complex and mysterious man, certainly no clear paragon of great leadership by our present-day standards. certainly He was smarter and wiser than everyone else; He knew it, and He made sure everyone else knew it as well. He demanded the absolute devotion of His followers, and He judged His enemies fiercely and with harshly judgmental words. and ultimately, He was a terribly lonely leader. He was unable to share His burden with others, and even at the point of His ultimate self-sacrifice, few of His contemporaries understood what He was doing. He died alone, abandoned and profoundly misunderstood.

there are better examples of “servant leadership” than Christ, though to satisfy ourselves we may read into His life the qualities we look for in our business leaders. in fact, the arenas of business and spiritual life are perhaps not so interconnected as we might be led to believe, and the successes of God’s church and America’s companies are not so easily conflated. it’s just as well. the Gospel of wealth and the Gospel of Christ were never meant to be flip sides of the same coin. we might endeavor to believe the good news in both manners, but we should stop short of believing that material and spiritual wealth can be gained by the same means

05.15.13

ruminating on the bible

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:08 pm by Administrator

yep, as usual, i’m ruminating on the bible. today, i have a few quick observations, straight from the gut:

1. the Old Testament heroes, nearly every one of them, were killers. they had bloody lives, they killed a lot of people, and they were good at the killing.

2. Jesus Christ, oddly enough, was not a killer. in fact, his preaching of the modest, gentle life was incongruous with the forms of righteousness previously preached to Israel throughout its history.

3. Christ’s importance as a sacrifice of atonement, as presented by Paul, really doesn’t have a strong context in the Old Testament. the more one is imbedded in the world and teachings of the Torah and its companion books, the more one must realize that Pauline theology is genuinely a creative work (if not frankly revelatory).

now, this is not going to sit well with Evangelical readers, and there are gobs and gobs of high-quality explorative work out there (including the works of N.T. Wright, whom i strongly admire) to demonstrate the fundamental unity between the paradigms of the Old and New Testaments. but i’ve been spending a huge amount of time in the Old Testament as of late, burying myself in the history and psychology of the Israelites in Canaan. when i step back from those stories, i have a really hard time seeing how Israel’s history (as presented in the scriptures) points definitively to the necessity and inevitability of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice.

it’s not that a case can’t be made. the apostle Paul makes a pretty good one, identifying choice passages from the compendium of the Jewish scriptures to lay out a foundation for Christ’s centrality. and while there are a few very striking passages (Isaiah 53 principal among them) pointing to the person of Christ, these passages don’t constitute the main thrust of the prophetic message to the Israelites; and while the eventual role of a great intercessor is spelled out in the O.T., it is undoubtedly a peripheral motif rather than a central, recurrent theme. overwhelmingly, the prophets, priests, and kings of the Old Testament concern themselves with the righteousness and restoration of the covenant people—strictly defined as the twelve tribes of Israel—with regard to their specific inheritance in the land of their forefathers. it really can’t be surprising that present-day Jews are befuddled by the insistence of their Christian contemporaries on the obvious place of Christ within their belief system.

related to this but not equivalent to this is the even more difficult matter of Christ as the atoning sacrifice. Christ perhaps hinted at this self-definition, but it is the apostle Paul who develops (if not originates) this theological definition of Christ. from my reading of the Old Testament and its treatment of sin, i can see Paul’s logic regarding atonement as being derived from the O.T. without being entirely consistent with the O.T. the idea that one person’s death (even God’s Himself) could vicariously remove the sin of an entire people is really incongruous with the Old Testament’s concept of guilt; nor is blood sacrifice necessarily defined as the single and necessary price for redemption. there are aspects of Leviticus law that form a foundation for Pauline theology; but they work better as metaphor than as principle in the Pauline framework.

and even beyond these concerns is the mind-blowing idea that God’s greatest prophet—even God Himself—would accomplish His supreme redemptive work simply by dying, absent of any other socially transformative work. the Jewish prophets and kings demonstrated the power of God by prevailing over their enemies, not by suffering humiliation and death. granted, Christ’s resurrection constitutes a singular victory, except that this phenomenon was not openly demonstrated to Christ’s enemies; rather, it was a miracle disclosed to a discrete few friends. Christ’s manner of resistance and triumph follows a pattern entirely unfamiliar to readers of the Old Testament. it’s not a surprise that even Muslims who revere Christ as a prophet cannot acknowledge the historical event of Christ’s death; it is an unprecedented thing to read victory into the humiliation and death of one’s leader.

when i read the lives and words of the Old Testament forefathers, i realize that Christ is not the foregone conclusion to their travails; rather, He is a shocking departure from their Messianic concept. what of the land of Canaan and of the restoration of Israel? are the men of Israel to gather that the specific promises made to them were figurative and emblematic, meant to draw them to a promised land of mystical rather than material proportions? i am reminded that the Jew can only look at the Christian’s New Testament as an indictment of his people, as evidence of God’s abandonment of his prior covenant with Israel. Paul’s labored efforts in the later chapters of Romans to maintain a covenantal significance for Israel will strike the Jew as confusing, if not wildly abstract. i too will concede that even NT Wright’s most heroic efforts cannot convince me that Israel continues to have any central theological importance in the Pauline paradigm.

i continue, as always, to struggle with the Bible. its authorship, its internal tension, its self-reinventions—these things point to the troublesome complexity of creation, not the beatific simplicity of its design. i’m forced to admit that though i believe in Christ, i find Him to be awkward if not a misfit in the context of Israel’s story. for millenia, bloody conquest was the instrument of God’s redemptive plan for the world; now we will pretend that this self-evidently laid the foundation for an eventual “revolution of the mind”. truly, this is discontinuity. these are two entirely different covenants, for two entirely different peoples.

05.10.13

the manager

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:00 pm by Administrator

my co-director and i are trying to promote one of our best staff members, but during her interview process for the new role (which i viewed as a formality) she had a very difficult time during one of her interviews with an upper-level manager. as a result of this interview, her promotion has been temporarily deferred, pending a reevaluation of her candidacy. it’s been moderately distressing to me.

her trouble during the interview, simply put, is that she did not know how to present her accomplishments. when i reviewed the feedback from her interviewer, it sounded like she froze up; she couldn’t give discrete examples of her successes and struggles, and as a result she was judged to lack self-awareness and critical thinking ability. yet, when i looked at the questions that were presented to her, i felt that there were many obvious answers she should have been able to provide. her fault wasn’t her lack of experience or competence; the interview simply exposed the fact that she was not prepared for her interview.

i think it’s every leader’s responsibility to him or herself to routinely reassess his strengths and weaknesses in light of his accomplishments and failures. he has to do it at least annually, and he has to do it systematically, as if preparing himself for the next job. unless he does this, he’ll fail to recognize trajectories that are compromising his long-term goals; and more importantly, he may fail to grow as a person.

in any case, this incident reminded me of my need to reevaluate my progress since starting with my company three years ago. here’s how i analyze what i’ve accomplished:

_____________________________________________________

i can describe my growth process since my date of hire as a series of critical stages, during which i focused on categorically different aspects of my job. i’ll describe them according to a timeline.

0-6 months: i dedicated myself to learning THE SITUATION facing my line of business, up front, first-hand, and in person.

7-12 months: i focused on understanding, simplifying, and expressing THE IDENTITY of my line of business, according to business needs, personnel needs, client needs, and overall vision. front-line staff were my focus during this stage.

12-18 months: i defined THE CORE TEAM critical to our success. specifically, i differentiated those with insight from those with real value; i disciplined or removed staff who were a bad fit; i refined my hiring strategy; and i began to develop staff with agility and potential.

12-24 months: i worked with my co-director to effect our GROWTH STRATEGY. we expanded on our strengths by setting distinct goals for our core team. i took standing meetings and redefined their structures and purposes. i focused on setting metrics and obtaining hard data to track them. clinical informatics and marketing partners were my focus during this stage.

24-36 months: i focused on MEASURING RESULTS. we analyzed data pertaining to our metrics, understood that data, and communicated that data to our staff and corporate partners. we used the data to assess efficacy of our growth strategy. we celebrated real results and recognized members of the core team for their unique contributions.

30-36 months: i REAFFIRMED OUR IDENTITY. my co-director and i brought our entire team together for organized self-reflection, during a division retreat. we made sure our corporate sponsors understood our accomplishments, contributions, and needs. and throughout, we laid down the groundwork for a new growth strategy.

36-48 months: we will continue the cyclical process by READJUSTING THE GROWTH STRATEGY.

a critical aspect of this process is that the leader must be open to change, able to adjust to new hires, and dedicated to reassessing strengths and goals based on changes in identity. i did not embark on this process by design; this iterative process of exploring and re-exploring identity was the very projection of my own internal psychological process. i don’t believe that one learns “leadership agility”; one expresses this quality as a direct result of his own insecurities, hopes, ambitions, and sensibilities.

_____________________________________________________

my co-director and i have achieved considerable results, which attest to the success of our growth process and strategy. i’ll list the salient achievements as follows:

1. since 2010, a 20% increase in client enrollment: 900 to 1100+
2. a 25% increase in visit volume per year: 6500 to 8100+
3. 5-fold increase in net revenue: $400k to ~$2 million
4. 50% increase in division budget: $12 million to $18 million
5. a new and highly successful Hepatitis C treatment program
6. expansion of our line of business into a neighboring county
8. a new productivity incentive program for physicians, which has stimulated the aforementioned increase in visit volume
9. a new quality incentive program for physicians, aligned with the most comprehensive tools, which has allowed us to benchmark ourselves favorably against national competitors
10. superior customer service compared to the rest of the corporation, as demonstrated through nationally implemented survey tools

_____________________________________________________

what are the principles of leadership that i have found most important to my success? i would list them, in no particular order, as follows:

1. i think about the stakeholders who are not talking.
2. i contextualize the feedback of those who are talking.
3. i sit down with the influence leaders (21 Laws of Leadership).
4. i aim to work through others and to recognize them constantly (good to great: the level 5 leader).
5. i keep revisiting the critical matter of identity, over and over, as the central aspect of my career paradigm (good to great: the hedgehog).
6. i am willing to take the bad with the good, if i have judged a person to be the “best possible” fit. no one is perfect, and i do not demand perfection.
7. i aim to stay positive—always. i express negativity in constructive ways, behind closed doors, and never in large meetings (see below my answer to the question “when did i fail?”).
8. i pay close attention to my important relationships, and i aim to avoid over-reliance on any one particular advocate or resource.
9. i take care of myself, by emptying myself whenever possible, so as to regain fresh perspective.
10. i avoid assuming tenure. my eyes are always open to alternate career paths or fresh starts.

_____________________________________________________

what are my strongest attributes as a leader?

1. my drive for results. i do not know anyone who is as competitive as i am. if i’d had michael jordan’s body and skills, then i would have won 8 championships. if i’d had shaq’s size, i would have stayed in L.A., won 10 rings, and hit 70% of my free throws.

2. my compassion. i am not sentimental on the job; but i never fail to be affected by my emotional connections with people, and i derive strength and vision from my ability to empathize with people. i consistently relate to people who are marginalized. that allows me to inspire.

3. my courage. i do not shy away from conflict, even conflict with my own boss, if i perceive the need to make a stand. i enjoy confrontation and conflict in many situations, because they can accelerate mutual understanding, and because they confirm one’s core identity and values.

what are my principal weaknesses as a leader?

1. negotiating. i prefer absolutes, as a matter of aesthetic, and thus i favor consensus over compromise. generally speaking, i view compromise as mutual defeat, as opposed to mutual victory. it’s a familial trait that runs on my father’s side.

2. political savvy. i’m far better at this than i once was, but this comes down to caring about how one is perceived and knowing who to consult for advice. i am a man who enjoys ambiguity a bit too much; i don’t ask enough questions, and i sometimes don’t recognize when i don’t have the full picture.

_____________________________________________________

what was my most difficult moment as a manager, thus far?

gaining support/approval for my division’s new productivity incentive plan. the most influential stakeholders were supportive, but my direct boss was not. he viewed the plan as unfair, while i viewed the plan as pragmatic. we butted heads several times on this, before i asked for outside help and intervention. what i learned was this: if one is dedicated to consensus (as a leader of my style always is) then one must first be willing to lose the battle of words (and lose that battle publicly) in order to win the war. every stakeholder’s opinions and objections are legitimate; the effective leader assumes that, and it allows him to win the longer war through consistency and perseverance, rather than through sharp words and logic.

_____________________________________________________

when did i fail?

i failed on two occasions, when i made corporate-level partners look bad in large meetings. there’s a time and a place for winning a public argument, but that time and place is not in front of a large, diverse group of stakeholders. i was perceived as strong, if not excessively strong, on those two occasions, and though i was not specifically criticized for the comments i directed at the two men, i believe that the incidents affected my working relationships with both men. in both cases, i was right about the issue at hand. but i’ve learned that in a tense situation, righteousness is the least important thing to establish. trust and mutual understanding, even in the face of disagreement, are the last things an effective leader should be willing to sacrifice, even when the stakes are high.

05.07.13

the language

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:48 pm by Administrator

it is very common for me to feel anxious about the passing of time. last night for instance, the kids were in bed at 8 o’clock, which afforded me about two hours to do anything i wanted. instead of immediately knowing what i wanted to do with the time, i was confronted by my distinct lack of desire to do anything in particular. i found myself wishing i was more tired, so that i could simply go to sleep. but i wasn’t tired. i was simply unwilling to do anything that i could imagine doing.

so i found myself wandering to one of our bookshelves, and oddly i found myself taking down a book i’d never read before. it was a book of personal essays by Adrienne Rich. i was not in a reading mood, but nevertheless i lay down and opened the book. i started with the last essay, which was an essay about the meaning of poetry, and i began with the last page of that essay. i read the last two paragraphs of that essay; and then i went back and read the whole essay; and then i read the essay that came before it, and the half-dozen essays that preceded it.

i went to sleep in a strange state of mind. for me, rich’s writings about life, writing, and culture were beyond lucid; they were written in a manner that allowed me to intuitively connect with her process of thinking. for lack of a better word, i felt kinship with her, when i read her essays. i felt that what she was trying to share in those essays wasn’t an idea or a belief but rather a way of experiencing life. and that way of experiencing life—protesting, grieving, and restlessly searching for a certain kind of truth—was undeniably spiritual. rich was writing about the spiritual stuff of living; and it moved me, far more than i’m accustomed to being moved, because she was speaking my language.

one thing that i struggle with constantly in my life is the profound disconnection i feel from others on account of language. we may speak the same tongue, in the sense of grammar or vernacular, but we express fundamentally different things with these words. in my society, i most often experience language as an emission—a propositional emission that strikes me in the face, much like a glob of spit. it is language that aims to provoke a stereotyped reaction, encourage a certain kind of agreement, restate a mainstream belief, or reinforce a certain way of approaching life, death, and the accumulation of resources. it is the language of advertisements, announcements, acculturation, and assimilation. i hear that language from the pulpit, from my company leaders, from my patients, from my family, from my friends, and from television sets. it is a language of assumed agenda, of ordered priorities, and of structured realities.

this experience of language forces me to respond in kind; and this use of language on a daily basis forces me to cross a line—to leave the realm i intuitively understand, and to cross into a realm of forced preoccupations and occupations.

but adrienne rich uses a language that is entirely different. she uses a language of humored speculation, bold creation, and disruptive recreation. even when rich is not writing a poem, she is a poet. she uses poetry not to impose constructs but rather to reclaim the natural sounds of evident but unarticulated things. poetry may be in English words, or in Spanish words, or in French words; but poetry is not of those languages. the great poet transcends the vernacular; the great poet abides in the language reserved for poets, that language which scoffs at the self-confident words of the salesman, the double-meaning words of the politician, the abrasive words of the warrior, the practiced words of the preacher. when one reads poetry, one must hear it. one must hear its sound, the way one experiences music, the way one experiences meditation and prayer. to read poetry is to arrest syntax, to break its putative rhythm, to detect its silences, and to question—to always question, in that restless, unceasing, beatific, and ultimately transformational way of questioning.

poetry is not emitted language; poetry is provoked awareness. by nature, it unclothes heralded things, even while it dignifies the things we ordinarily dismiss. for the spiritual man among technocrats, it is his language of protest; it is the natural language of those who quest for a liberty defined not by legal rights but rather by an experience of the divine.

part of what has always grieved me about my experience of Christianity lies herein. the religion of the Bible is inherently poetic in this way; it disrupts rational law in favor of passion and caprice, while abandoning self-preservation in the interests of transcendence. so frequently Christ Himself expressed Himself in the poetic language—parables, metaphors, and protest tending toward the bizarre—so as to remove Himself from the confines of the structured religion inherited by his people. Christ’s interest wasn’t to redefine misunderstood concepts, or to correct people at the level of moral understanding; like Rich, Christ aimed to redefine life itself, by reclaiming the things that had been unarticulated and hence unappreciated. to the rich man, Christ preached the total loss of wealth; to the adulterer, He commanded instantaneous fidelity; and to His own apostles, He preached the abandonment of their former lives. Christ was not interested in the structures and agendas of law-abiding men; He wished a radically different manner of living, rooted in the spiritual, devoted to the unseen.

yet the religion that i am preached is one of structures and laws analogous to those erected by the modern technocrat. as enterprise is a means to wealth, we are preached faith as a means to eternal life. as education is designated as a tool or an asset, the knowledge of scripture is preached to us as a great shield against life’s misfortunes. for me, the apparatus of the church has been erected by pragmatists, for the purpose of housing the great ambitions of the eternally-minded. the preacher does not call his flock to a new sense of living; rather, he uses the very same language of the capitalist to make the case for sacrificial living, the giving of tithes, and the service to one’s community. in his words, he lends to religion a rationale and an agenda; but he often fails to reveal the very powerful thing at the root of the biblical narrative—its unconquerable, insuperable, and uncompromising spirituality.

today, it is this jarring remembrance of language that reminds me that i was set apart, in a way that often leaves me lonely, but i am not alone. we know one another by the resonance of our words, and in the subsequent reflection of our souls in one another’s lives. we are the remnant, who speak the language that says we do not fit in these times or these places. we are God’s children, the ones who, amidst the din of our motions and our machines, hear His voice in all things

05.02.13

the dartmouth boys, and jason collins

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:06 pm by Administrator

when i see the full-page cover story photo of the two Kazakh boys standing in Times Square with one of the Boston marathon bombing perpetrators, i feel both horror and a bit of anger. two young men who had no demonstrable link to the planning and execution of the bombing now find their names and their faces plastered across the national media, forever linking them to a crime that most Americans will never forgive. as far as i can tell, their misdeed was discarding evidence after the fact of a crime, something they presumably did out of loyalty to a friend, and in the context of their probable shock at their discovery. it would be an extraordinary stretch at this point to describe them as terrorists; but the media exposure they are receiving is nothing less than a label of that proportion.

their “innocence” is not the issue here. it is rather the ruthlessness of our media in exposing and humiliating the accused that is appalling to me. these are two college students who acted like the immature and impulsive 19 year-olds that they are. yet, the press appears committed to destroying their reputations and lives in order to maintain the sensational media momentum around the Boston bombing. this kind of exposure is unnecessary and cruel. associations, faces, and names—these are mere facts and fun to reporters, but these are the lives and futures of real people.

i find ugliness in it. not merely in the savagery of our twitterized news culture, but in the excesses of our information culture in general. social media, “news” media, talk shows, and Christian radio—they’re all in the business of bullying, in the cruelest ways imaginable. i fault them for accentuating the worst in ourselves, even as they pave the way toward uglier and more brutal forms of mass coercion and manipulative marketization. we’d be better off without Facebook and Fox News. but i know that in this conviction, i am in the dwindling minority.

jason collins came out, and he’s received a fair amount of public support for his announcement (as well as some of the expected diatribes from religious elements). while i don’t personally find collins’ homosexuality a sensational piece of news, i’m glad that it’s getting a lot of media attention. it shows that Americans are being more consciously attentive to their culturally-imbedded homophobia; it represents a rapid cultural shift that’s occurring with regard to the “tolerance” of homosexuality. if you want to know why i’m rabbit-earing the idea of tolerance, read my entry from last week on that particular term.

i did read chris broussard’s reaction to collins’ announcement, and my reaction was mixed. perhaps a few years ago, broussard’s comments would have made me feel angry and misrepresented as a believer; but our broader cultural shift in accepting homosexuality has enabled me to show more grace to people like broussard. in his comments, i see a dying brand of American Christianity: a religion defined by moral and political naysaying. increasingly, authentic believers are pulling out of the politically charged debate on legalized homosexuality, and the ones who are still engaged in this controversial discourse are being marginalized. that’s a good thing.

there’s absolutely no reason why right-wingers should have exclusive access to the Biblical scripture when it comes to arguing the legal ramifications of homosexuality. we who advocate for same-sex marriage and equal rights under the law have even more scriptural teachings to back our beliefs, and i’ve previously expounded on these scriptural precedents ad nauseum. it’s time for American Christians to categorically correct the anti-gay elements within their own ranks on the gnawingly inaccurate biblical interpretations which underlie the Evangelical Right’s opposition to gay rights. let’s face it. Christian homophobia is embarrassing and stupid; it’s entirely unjustified, and it needs to be rebuked and eliminated—yesterday.