The Glass Darkly

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Can God's Voice be Heard in Media Soundbytes?

A friend sent out this note about an article that was published, basically as another scare tactic against Barak Obama. Here is the beginning of his note and my return letter to him is below.

The Huffington Post's Jon Wiener writes, in the commentary attached below, with jaded incredulity of the LA Times's decision to run a front page article on April 10th, Allies of Palestinians see a friend in Barak Obama, about the fact that Barack Obama has a friend of Palestinian descent (the prominent Columbia University historian Rashid Khalidi) and went to hear a lecture by Edward Said ten (yes, ten!) years ago. No one can be surprised that big media, in articles like this, and American politicians on both sides of the aisle continue to pander to powerful Israel-right-or-wrong constituents. They merely reinforce a toxic trend in which anyone who can possibly be characterized as a critic of Israel or as sympathetic towards Palestinians is liable to be demonized with all the familiar epithets.

Jon Wiener

Breaking News: Obama Met Palestinian Intellectuals Ten Years Ago

Posted April 10, 2008 | 04:42 PM (EST)

An edited response I wrote to the article and email:

Most days I see ridiculous accusations like this and think,
the American people must be able to see through this type of diversion.

However, to my discouragement, I have found time and time again that these tactics work their magic. Yes, sadly, the media not only has the power to control the fate of any story, it has also become the voice "of God" for many of God's people. Its artistically devised messages declare judgment and warning and approval on whom it deems worthy and even on those on whom the judgment is unfair.

The other night Bill Moyers, on his show, Bill Moyers Journal, interviewed Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Here is the link if you didn't see it Bill Moyers Journal, April 25, 2008. It was most fascinating to hear Rev. Wright share after all the media has done to demonize him in recent months. Also it was so encouraging to hear Rev. Wright's message and views directly. Honestly, I sat there listening and thought to myself, this guy could be a Mennonite pastor! However, many of the Mennonites I know nowadays would no longer subscribe to his radical message of non-violence and discipleship. The interview was most heartening and refreshing. Bill Moyers is always a good interviewer too - he asked Rev. Wright to give more background to the sermon he gave following 9/11 and they aired more of the message, framing a context for the soundbytes we've been hearing in the news. Unfortunately, most Christians I know who believe the contrived messages surrounding soundbytes that have been taken out of context don't ever watch shows like Bill Moyers.

I have been teaching a Sunday School class from Conrad Kanagy's book, Road Signs for the Journey, based on a research project comparing trends in the Mennonite Church over the last 30+ years. Kanagy says that mostly white Mennonites have moved from the margins to the middle in society (basically through assimilation and increasing affluence) and now all we care about is protecting our lifestyles, culture and nation. Kanagy challenges us that the prophetic voices we need to listen to come from the margins of society, this includes the Racial/Ethnic members of our churches. Rev. Wright is truly a prophetic voice to our society, however, like many who speak God's message, he has been labeled as blasphemous. And I'm grieved to see how it has affected Obama's campaign mostly because we can easily see how it has fueled the racism and prejudices that too quickly flare up in our country when the "middle" feels threatened.

Quite honestly, one thing that impresses me about Obama is his interest in hearing all sides of an issues and his willingness to build relationships on all sides of political divides throughout the world. The accusations in these articles only raise my regard for his character and humility. . . humility is something the United States could sure use a ton more of in its leaders.

Enough for now . . . I pray that those on all sides of the political divide can drop any indignation long enough to join together to pray for God's peace to transform us . . . so that, as God's people, we can see the world the way God does and hear His voice as He speaks in the most unexpected ways.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Artists, Craftsmen and Technocrats

No, not a democrat, a technocrat. . . This morning I started reading Strengthening the Heartbeat, Leading and Learning Together in Schools, by Thomas J. Sergiovanni. In chapter 8 he talks about different kinds of leaders. I found it interesting in light of discussion about what kind of leaders we see the Presidential candidates being and what gifts we could see them bringing to the White House. I am not completely sure which applies to McCain, Clinton and Obama, but the point of the chapter is that, as is the case with any of these tools, we need to think in terms of who we can surround ourselves with to fill in the roles where our giftings fall short. In terms of politicians, they usually choose running-mates who balance themselves out on the political spectra, however, the key, of course, is who they surround themselves with, staff-wise, to help make a more balanced and effective team.

The three "archetypes" were developed by Patricia Pitcher (1997) who argues that leadership training is important, but personality factors, dispositions and styles (archetypes) of leadership count for a lot. These are the three archetypes:

Artists are brilliant visionaries, people oriented, open minded and intuitive. They view leadership as vision which transfers into goals. Artists tend to be imaginative, emotional and entrepreneur-like. People are drawn to them for their charisma and inspiring ideas. Artists are also daring and unpredictable at times.

Craftsmen are empathetic and effective developers of people who empower others and are skilled at bringing people together to get things done. They view leadership as design which transfers vision and big ideas into understandable and useful practice. Though sometimes seen as critical, craftsmen tend to be stable, wise and and responsible. They are good at managing attention, meaning, trust, paradox, and, with practice, can manage effectiveness.

Technocrats are also brilliant, meticulous, and superb at managing things, though not so much people. They depend more on hyper-rationality, rules, steps, procedures, standardization and what has been done before. Technocrats view leadership as script, making sure everything and everyone is running by the book. They tend to be serious, meticulous and methodical.

I was surprised to hear Pitcher argue that in our school systems, we have too much vision and not enough people who can build strategies, develop the ideas and rally the human resources to get jobs done and build good teams. She also went on to say that too many technocrats in top leadership roles can do irreparable harm. They are best suited to lower management. In the broader picture of an institution, Pitcher recommends that artists and technocrats each make up about 10% of the population of leaders and the rest be craftsmen (80%). It seems like a tall order if her assessment that our nation is lacking in craftsmen is, indeed, true.

As I think about the three candidates I mentioned above, I see Obama as a visionary. He inspires people and is able to imagine a future not locked-in by the past. Based on Pitcher's archetypes, it would be imperative, however, that Obama surround himself with craftsmen to help people feel that vision being worked out. What I am not sure about is McCain and Clinton. I really can't say I see them as artists. In fact, I'm worried that they may, in fact, fall into the Technocrat category, in which case, based on Pitcher's analysis, could cause trouble as far as their ability to work with others and envision truly new possibilities. Maybe Hillary is a Craftsmen. I'm not sure.

Or maybe, they are all artists, to a certain extent. I suppose to be a politician in the first place means that you must have some visionary ability. And maybe it is more their personalities which make them more or less team players and able to see global issues outside of the box of precedent. In either case, as Pitcher points out, when we match leaders to particular positions/roles, we should be taking into consideration, not just what they say, but how they work, how they relate to people, and even the types of people they are willing to surround themselves with to make them more effective. This is something I'm going to pay more attention to in the next few months.

After living overseas for a number of years, I have come to realize that our awareness of these issues as Americans is never enough. For I am humbled to say that when we cast our votes for the President of the United States of America, the truth is, we are also casting a vote for the most powerful leader in the world. Do we bear this burden with enough courage and integrity balanced with a healthy dose of fear and trepidation?

Monday, April 07, 2008

God's People Then and Now

My Sunday School class is looking at some research done in the Mennonite Church over the last 35 years and its implications on the health and direction of the Church today as analyzed by sociologist, Conrad Kanagy, in his book, Road Signs for the Journey. In his analysis Kanagy compares the state of the church today with that of God's people in the time of the OT prophet, Jeremiah, sixth century B.C.

In his description of Jeremiah, Kanagy describes the roles of prophets in society. First, they were futurists. Jeremiah was able to step out of the past to imagine what God was going to do next. While prophets were often seen as pessimists and preaching doom and gloom to people, actually, prophetic messages were usually ones of hope. The hope was in the very fact that God was speaking to them and giving them another chance to listen and obey, thus saving themselves from a future of gloom. The prophetic message was an offer of joyful reunion with God and His purposes, a future of hope!

Jeremiah was also a social analyst and time-keeper. He was observant of trends in society and signs of the times. So when God spoke, he was able to understand what God was getting at. Prophets would have been labeled as activists as well. Their messages were not only spiritual ones, but rather addressed social issues, promoting social reform. Finally, Jeremiah, along with many of the other prophets were often considered blasphemers. The very fact that Jeremiah claimed that God was going to destroy the temple and Jerusalem and send His chosen people into exile was unbelievable! Who did Jeremiah think he was??? So it could be today, this word that Kanagy brings to the church could be considered blasphemous, attacking our very existence. Yet, the Spirit affirms and confirms prophetic words in the hearts of those who long to hear God speak. I look forward to hearing how the Spirit affirms and/or confirms this word in our class.

Our class looked at 3 assumptions around which we had some interesting discussion.
1. We are living in a post-Christendom society. Christianity no longer has the kind of influence it once had to shape the broader culture and society (p. 30).

2. The church in the West is in Crisis. Kanagy along with many others throughout the Church claim that this decline can be measured both in numbers and other qualitative spiritual indicators. The Church in North America is uniquely poised between the declining post-modern church of Europe and the rapidly growing church of the global South. Kanagy claims that we are most like the church of Leodicea, described in Revelation 3: wealthy, healthy and well dressed, but in Jesus' own words, 'wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked' (p. 25)

3. Mennonites have moved from the margins (history makers) to the middle (history stoppers) of society, and thus, have lost their prophetic voice. Kanagy looks at how the White middle class Mennonites today used to be the immigrants, farmers and common laborers 50 to 100 years ago. We have now assimilated, moving from those margins to the more comfortable middle where we have encountered affluence, security, and better education. Natural human tendency is to protect the comforts of living in the middle. But the longer we live in the middle, the less we are able to identify with the life experiences of poverty and injustices of those we are called to serve in cross-cultural contexts. Kanagy believes we need to acknowledge the invaluable role of our Racial/Ethnic congregations in helping us to see the perspective of the world that God has, and from which we should be open to hear and learn (p. 28-29).

From all of this, some interesting questions came from our group:
1. What kind of influence did the Mennonite Church have 100 years ago (aside from dress)?
2. What is our focus of influence? Sometimes we seem more global than local. (though we do now have TATH) Can we do both?

3. In what ways do we exert our influence now?

We didn't come up with a lot of answers yet. But I'm very much looking forward to more discussion and ideas!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Lord's Prayer

Our Father in heaven,

may the holiness of Your Name be known.

Your kingdom come,

Your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today the Bread of the coming Day.

Forgive us our sins

the way we release those who wrong us.

Keep us from temptation;

and deliver us from the evil one.

For Yours is the kingdom,

and the power, and the glory,

now and forever. Amen.

(Fr. Demetrius Nicoloudakis)

The Lord's Prayer

As I was cleaning my kitchen about a month ago, my prayers for the Church, once again, were on my mind. All of a sudden, the burden became too heavy for me. I fell on the floor crying out to the Lord, pleading for God's mercy to be poured out on the Church. I was begging for God's voice to be heard and His reign to be seen. These intense episodes seem to be coming on me more frequently in the last year or so. Part of it, I think, is not only my burden for the Church, both in North America and around the world, but also I've been frustrated with myself, not knowing what I am supposed to be doing to be a part of the mission God has for the Church . . . I often don't feel like I am doing what I should be about as a disciple of Christ.

Well, what was different about this episode was God actually gave me something to do. He asked me to pray the Lord's Prayer everyday. At first I responded, "sure," more out of politeness. I was wondering what was up with that request -- was He just trying to calm me down by giving me something to do? Or maybe He wanted me to be more intentional in my prayer time. But of course, no matter the reason I was going to do it, believing that in due time I would see why. Though I admit there were a few days amidst the craziness of life when I nearly forgot, the most amazing thing happened. Since that day, I have literally been bombarded by the Lord's Prayer. Just yesterday someone who I hardly ever talk to sent me a YouTube of a little girl singing it (see the link below). And I appreciated the version we prayed on Easter, so I asked my pastor for a copy of it to hang in my bedroom. In the routine of this prayer, I started out focusing on the parts about God's Kingdom and our Daily Bread. And as I listened to what it says, I prayed it with increasing fervency.

A lot of the people I know are much more organized and systematic about their prayer times than I am, so this is probably not a big deal to them. And maybe this will be a step for me in that direction. We'll see.

Here is the 2-year old little girl singing The Lord's Prayer. I noticed her parents have done several YouTube recordings of her, a very talented little one!