LEADERSHIP AND SPIRITUALITY -- Keynote address by Rev. Marilyn Sewell

Rev. Marilyn SewellI've been asked to speak about leadership and spirituality. What is the relationship between these two concepts, I began to ask myself. Are they compatible, or is “spiritual leadership” an oxymoron? Let me explain: spirituality is not essentially pragmatic, leading to a goal. It is a relationship, a relationship with the Mystery. It is about listening and yielding, about opening and softening, about letting go. The fruits of the spirit are classical through the ages, and similar, no matter what the faith tradition: humility, compassion, gratitude, kindness, presence, and generosity of spirit. In contrast, leaders are generally thought to be tough—powerful and unyielding, strong of ego, passionate about their vision, thrusting boldly where none have dared to go. I ask you – are these concepts compatible? Is spirituality from Venus and leadership from Mars?

No, not at all. Good leaders are both yin and yang — that is, they evidence a combination of masculine and feminine principles that are complementary, not contradictory. Certainly our greatest leaders, both religious leaders and political leaders, have been spiritually grounded. I give you, for example, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Margaret Sanger, Eleanor Roosevelt. This is not to say that any one of these individuals was saintly, without flaw — but each was moved by purpose and principle beyond himself or herself, and each changed the world for the better in significant ways. Note that they were very different personality types.

So being a leader does not require having a certain personality type. Well, what are the criteria? Let me clarify. One might say, by some measures, that Hitler was a great leader, or Jim Jones – these two men certainly were strong leaders – they were charismatic, and they inspired many to follow their vision. But I'm not including such leaders in my definition of a great leader. The ancient linguistic root of the word lead means “to go forth, to die.” The forward motion is there, or the yang, and the dying to self, or the yin.

True leaders don’t necessarily set out to be leaders — I believe they are called into leadership, by history and by circumstance, and a by their own qualities of character. Some kind of adaptive change is needed—in an institution or society at large--and a leader comes forth. They are visionaries who see a future that is not yet visible to their followers, and they can articulate that vision in a way that will inspire others to own the problem, and redeem it.“To go forth, to die”-- this is the operative phrase: great leaders are able to die to self, in service to the greater good.

A story.

This story is about Eleanor Roosevelt and the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. These pilots were excellent fliers, but as we entered the war, they were not allowed to fly in combat simply because they were African Americans and therefore not trusted. It looked as if they would spend the war grounded on their Alabama training field. Then Eleanor Roosevelt learned of their situation.

Against all advice, she traveled to Tuskegee and visited the airmen. It looked to be nothing more than a “photo op.” But then she surprised everyone by asking one of the pilots to take her up for a ride. He agreed, she climbed into the small plane, and an hour later they landed. The wife of the President of the United States led the country to the understanding that the Tuskegee Airmen deserved to fly for their country.

And fly they did. They were escort planes for the B-17 and B-24 bombers attacking Germany’s industrial complex toward the end of the war. The Tuskegee Airmen proved themselves to be such superior pilots in their P-51 Mustang fighters that bomber crews universally requested them as their escort. Tuskegee Airmen earned approximately 1000 awards and decorations by the end of the war.

The Tuskegee Airmen led, that others might have an easier path to follow. And what about Eleanor Roosevelt? She embodied many of the qualities of a leader: she was tough and willing to go against the grain; she was not caught up in her ego needs, but rather had given herself to a higher purpose; she acted decisively, out of her own convictions; and she was grounded in sound values, elevating the values of those around her.

Leadership requires courage. It requires saying yes when the powers that be are saying no. It requires making some people uncomfortable, and chances are that those people will make you uncomfortable. If you want to be popular and well-liked, if you're afraid to ruffle feathers, if you want everybody to love you, you will not be able to lead.

Good leaders are clear and decisive — they are willing to take a stand, even though they know they will never have all the information they may need. We have all seen people in positions of authority who refuse to lead--maybe the mayor of the city, maybe a board chair.If a leader doesn’t lead, followers are left insecure and without direction. Remember what Alice asks the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland?

“Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?” Alice asked the Cheshire cat.

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where—“ said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“So long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if only you walk long enough.”

That wonderful kind of nonsense in Lewis Carroll’s book hits so close to home! All too often churches fall into that kind of aimlessness.They don’t know what their mission is, other than pleasing themselves. I was talking with a church staff recently, and they could not articulate their church’s mission. Finally, someone said, “Our mission is to grow!” To grow to what end? Every institution needs to constantly ask, “Where are we going, and why?” If we’re clear about that, the easier piece is getting there. A good leader helps an organization define and clarify its purpose.

Leaders are willing to put some greater objective ahead of personal gain. Leadership is not about individual accomplishment or self-aggrandizement—in simple terms, it is about giving one's talents and energies to making the world a better place.A leader can draw from a people qualities they never knew were even there, can call them to be their noblest selves.

Let me tell you about Sir Ernest Shackleton. In 1914, he went on his third trip to Antarctica. His ship, ironically named “The Endurance,” got stuck in the ice in 1915, was slowly crushed, and went down. Shackleton was faced with the daunting task of getting his 27 men safely back home. It’s not that they didn’t know what they were in for—this is how he advertised for his crew: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages.Bitter cold.Long months of complete darkness.Constant danger.Safe return doubtful.Honor and recognition in case of success.” After they lost the ship, the ship’s doctor said Shackleton showed a spark of real greatness when he “told them simply and calmly that they would have to spend the winter in pack,” or on an ice floe. After almost two months, the ice floe broke in two, and Shackleton ordered the men into life boats. After five days they landed on an uninhabited island, and then Shackleton chose five companions, and they rowed 800 miles over stormy seas in constant peril to S. Georgia Island. Shackleton and two others then traveled 32 miles over mountainous terrain to the whaling station; he engaged Chileans and rescued the 22 others who had been left isolated for 4-1/2 months. Shackleton’s men looked to him for physical and emotional support through a saga that went on for two years. His calm and confidence brought them all home safely.

Ronald Heifetz, who has written and lectured widely about leadership (Leadership Without Easy Answers), says that the single most important characteristic of a leader is self-differentiation. What is self-differentiation? It includes first and foremost a knowledge of self: a leader can be clear because he knows himself well, accepts both his strengths and his weaknesses, and knows what purposes he is living for. She has convictions that are strong and clear, and an ability to stand firm when pressured by others. In the self-differentiated person, boundaries are clear, projections of others are not taken in. They know who they are, and feel no need to please everyone.

Another story. A man was traveling down a long, dusty, road, with his wife and child and his donkey. They passed someone on the road who said to the man, “Shame on you, letting your child walk. You should let your child ride on the donkey.” So the man put his child on the donkey and continued. Soon they passed another traveler who said to the man, “You should be ashamed, making your wife walk on this hot day. You should let her ride on the donkey.” So he put his wife on the donkey. They went on and soon came to a third traveler, who said to the man, in no uncertain terms, “You should be ashamed! Look at this poor donkey carrying this heavy load in this sweltering heat.” Whereupon the man put the donkey on his back and continued down the road.The self-differentiated leader doesn’t put the donkey on his back.

To be self-differentiated, though, does not mean that the leader is inflexible and will not listen to others. She should always be testing her views against competing views, rather than defensively sticking to a particular perspective. He needs to be in touch with the emotional state of his followers. A good leader knows that change is difficult and, understanding the human need for protection and order, he is compassionate when others find change distressing. Your church is growing! You may think that this is just great, having all these new people—but oldtimers are saying, “I don’t know the people anymore,” or “I can’t find a seat on Sunday.”This is not a soft kind of compassion, though, for the good leader doesn’t allow the followers much leeway to escape the difficult work they must do.

Sometimes change needs to happen, but an organization or society may not feel enough stress or pressure to make the needed change. This is our problem at the present time with the danger of global warming. Until people are uncomfortable enough, until gas prices are high enough, until weather is unbearably hot, until storms are even more destructive, until the edges of the country go underwater, we will not change our ways – we will continue in our flagrant use of fossil fuels. Unfortunately, knowledge is not enough to stimulate change – only felt experience will do that.

So in order to bring about change, a leader sometimes has to raise the level of anxiety. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lyndon Baines Johnson colluded together to do just that in 1965, to fuel the Civil Rights Movement. In private meetings early that year Johnson encouraged King to push voting rights, believing that public pressure might allow legislative action. Johnson wanted to ripen the issue.

On Sunday, March 7, 1965, black Americans and whites in solidarity with them set out to march from Selma to Montgomery, AL, to demand voting rights. Selma had around 29,000 people, and slightly more of them were black than white—but only 3 percent of the people on its voting rolls were black. Laypeople, nuns, priests, and ministers from all over the country--including many Unitarian Universalist ministers and most of the UUA Board — drove in, bused in, or flew in to Selma. Governor Wallace sent the state police against the 600 marchers, and Americans all over the country witnessed with shock and deep anger the televised scenes of black men and women and children being clubbed to the ground, choking on tear gas, and being bull-whipped by troopers. One of our ministers, James Reeb, was clubbed by a group of white men, and died a few days later. Demonstrations sprang up all over the country, demanding that President Johnson do something. The pressure grew. Pickets surrounded the White House with signs shaming the President. The issue had ripened, all right.

The following Sunday, while 15,000 demonstrators sang “We shall overcome,” Johnson asked to appear before a joint session of Congress the next evening to do what he had wanted to do all along: make his historic speech asking for voting rights for all citizens. By inaction Johnson raised the level of tension, says Heifetz, so that people could no longer ignore their own responsibility. The issue could no longer be framed as "states rights." The issue was racism, and it was witnessed in living rooms on television every night. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965, and six months later 9000 black citizens in Selma were registered to vote.

This would be a good time to talk about the proper use of power. A lot of us fear power, and for good reason: we have all seen power misused, sometimes personally and often institutionally – consider the suffering caused to millions by the recent misuse of power in the financial industry. Unitarian Universalists as a group are particularly ambivalent about power. We distrust it. Ours is a free faith, and that is what makes us unique as a religious people. No religious tradition, no scripture, no priest or prophet, no authority is predominant over the conscience of the individual believer. But there is a shadow side to our freedom of belief, and that shadow is our discomfort with authority. In fact, one of our favorite bumper stickers reads “QUESTION AUTHORITY.” We attract highly intelligent people with strongly held opinions, many of whom find it difficult to play in an orchestra, so to speak—and are more comfortable as soloists. The problem is that in order to build a strong institution, close attention must be given to structure and leadership—and yes, the exercise of power.

This fear and distrust of authority is particularly problematic when it adversely affects the relationship of the congregants to their minister. The minister is pastor, preacher, as well as institutional leader. In this leadership role, the professional minister works with lay leaders to keep the church focused on mission, and gives lay leaders guidance and support in carrying out that mission. It is a contractual relationship, in that the minister is paid for services rendered, but that contract is wholly subordinate to the convenantal relationship, which is a sacred partnership grounded in love and trust. However, in many of our churches, lay leaders have patterned their relationship with their minister after the model of the Federal government, with its checks and balances of power, and the relationship becomes adversarial, with lay leaders making sure the minister doesn't gain too much power. When we went to policy governance, the cry was “the minister will have too much power!” Wonder what I would do with all that power? Do you trust your minister? If the relationship is a healthy and trusting one,power is shared and enhanced, towards a common end.

In and of itself, power is neither good nor evil: it is morally neutral. It can be used for nefarious ends, or it can be used to heal and to bring justice. It just depends on the spiritual maturity of the one who wields the power, and the purpose for which it is used. The word power comes from the Latin potere, meaning “to be able.” If one is powerful, then, one is able, one is potent, one is capable. But then the element of dominance or control begins to rear its ugly head.

And so the question arises: can we act, can we exercise power--or indeed can we dominate--without domination becoming onerous? An adjunct question is whether or not we should do away with hierarchy in our organizational life.

The term hierarchy has a strong negative connotation these days in Unitarian Universalist circles, because of its association with economic or social class. Let me be clear: no Unitarian Universalist should support a hierarchy of value. Our First Principle says it well--everyone has inherent worth and dignity, and “inherent” is not subject to conditions of wealth or happenstance of birth. But when hierarchy refers to the order and discipline of an organization, the word takes on positive value, in that such an arrangement makes it possible for the mission of the organization to be clearly focused upon and carried out.You will note that the Occupy Movement purports to be nonhierarchical, to have no leaders, but of course leaders have emerged, because they always will. Because leadership is necessary for any organization to operate and exercise ongoing influence.

Again, let’s define some terms, before we go further. By dominance, I mean “to exert the determining or guiding influence.” This is what leaders do. A board president once said to me: “A leader puts a leash on the big dog, and then follows where that dog pulls you.” Wrong! The “dog” might pull you, for example, to remove civil rights from gays and lesbians. Or in earlier days, into a lynch mob. Leaders often go against the “will of the people.” In fact, by definition, leaders must see beyond what is to what could be.

So what about control? To say that someone has “a controlling personality” is not a compliment. And yet we all admire those people who can take control when the situation calls for it. We talk about “crowd control,” the absence of which brings chaos and even death. We all are familiar with the situation in which the facilitator of a question/answer session is passive and allows audience members to drone on with lengthy comments of their own, ignoring the needs of the group. Why doesn’t the leader take control?we think. Presumably, we want a President of the United States who has a strong sense of control, given all the forces coming at him. Control by definition simply means “the power or authority to manage.”

I am simply advocating for leadership here. And I am speaking for leadership grounded in a formal structure, so that everyone in the organization knows who is responsible for what, and who is accountable to whom.When organizational structure is formal and clear, communication flows easily, questions are answered readily, and responsibility is taken. On the other hand, when leadership of an organization is ambiguous, the result is confusion about responsibilities and bottle-necking around decision-making. There is no such thing as a “leaderless group,” for if there is no assigned or elected leader, an informal leader will emerge. Also, if power structures are unclear, power will be exercised in covert ways, under the table, instead of exercised openly by persons who are accountable for decisions.

Those who actively seek power because they are insecure or needy are the least able to handle it well, and in our churches these people are too often allowed to dominate groups and meetings. There is a kind of deference to the underdog in Unitarian Universalism — i.e., nobody’s opinion should be considered better than anybody else’s. And then many lay leaders and many ministers are simply conflict averse, and would rather not risk offending anyone, even at the expense of the health and well-being of the institution. Power used in the service of others should be honored and supported. Power that is colored by ambition, tyranny, or selfishness should be called out and resisted. Note: to be a spiritual leader is not to be a weak or passive or permissive leader.

During the last year of my ministry in Portland, the economic downturn came, and gifts were way down, so we didn’t make our budget. I took an extraordinary step – I exercised what some people might consider overweening power. You judge for yourself.We were facing a financial crisis.We were already operating on what I considered a bare-bones staff, and I hesitated to cut staff, nor did I want to reduce the salaries of my hard-working staff. So what to do? I knew that there was more money to be had in the congregation, but people were afraid, given the dire predictions about the economy. I decided to put before congregants the consequences of the failed canvass: after explaining my plan to the board, I announced to the congregation that we would close the church for the month of July. It was a simple and straightforward solution: the staff would not have to work, if they were not getting paid. Pastoral emergencies would be seen to, as usual. There were two results from this decision. First of all, the news was reported in the local paper and on the radio, and traveled from there all over the country – Local Church Closes Because of Weak Economy! And then, appalled that our church might actually close, someone in the church donated a large sum of money as a challenge grant, so that the church could stay open.

Had I cut staff, or cut the salaries of all the staff, the congregation would have accepted that easily enough, and said, "Oh, well.” The solution, however, shifted the problem from the ministers and staff to where it belonged – to the congregation.

That story has a happy ending, but all my decisions did not turn out so well. First Unitarian in Portland was my first church, and I made many, many mistakes. But practically speaking, you can make a lot of mistakes and still be an effective leader (lay or ministerial) if you focus on two of the most significant things: (1) stay on your spiritual path and (2) stay focused on the mission of the institution. In terms of spiritual path, as I said, this was my first church, and it was a large church, and I knew no one in Portland when I arrived. I knew instinctively that I would fail beyond any hope unless I threw myself absolutely on the mercy of my God, as I would put it, and so I maintained a consistent spiritual practice during my ministry. And I became clear in the early months of my ministry about the mission of our church – it was an urban church, and every day I saw homeless people walking the streets, needles and condoms left on the sidewalk from the night before, teenagers sleeping in the doorway to the church on Sunday morning – I got it: the purpose of the church was for the members to grow spiritually and to bless the larger world. We became a strong justice church – how could we be other?

And then to lead, you must know yourself. By knowing yourself, I mean first and foremost becoming intimately acquainted with the issues of your family of origin. Sometimes we uncover patterns that have to do with social class or with certain trauma that occurred in the family – like alcoholism, the early death of a family member, financial difficulties, or abuse of one kind or another — experiences that have affected the way you see the world and your place in it. And virtually all of us have issues with our family of origin. Generally, we can count on the fact that when we become “hooked” over some issue, defensive and confused, unable to handle it well, we have dipped into some unresolved childhood stuff. Of course I’m not suggesting that you can change your childhood — none of us can — but you can be aware of these formative experiences and how they affect you as an adult.

Moving on now to spiritual development. When I use the word spiritual, I’m not talking about theology here—let me be clear. I’m not talking about whether you are a Christian or Jew or a Buddhist or atheist or an agnostic. And spirituality is not something esoteric and other-worldly — it’s not about fasting or traveling to some holy site or sitting at the feet of a revered teacher. We may do all these things, and they may help us along the way. But spirituality is much more basic than that:it’s the essence of what we are as human beings — it’s about ultimate meaning. What are you ultimately accountable to? Whose are you?

We are generally led to spiritual growth out of suffering. We want relief. We find that living as we have been living is becoming increasingly intolerable. Our addictions aren’t working so well, and our fantasies are growing shaky.

Once I heard Jungian James Hollis say in a workshop, “Most human behavior is an effort to escape anxiety.” I think he’s right. So how do we do that? How do we attempt to escape anxiety? We tell ourselves stories. In other words, we construct a reality. Our brains are really good at this, and so they work overtime, keeping us “safe” from reality.

Of course we already have some basic stories that were constructed as we grew up, some positive and some not so positive. We elaborate upon these stories, change them somewhat according to our unfolding experience, and construct what is known as an ego. We also call this a “self.” This ego or self then goes about in the world interpreting events, people, words, etc., according to the story that has been constructed. The ego is the “me” and others are the “not me.” Others get to take on all the characteristics that we don’t want to own, or the shadow parts of ourselves.

We find that we can’t entirely escape the realities of life, however — you know, realities like death, loss, betrayal. We can’t escape suffering. Bingo! We begin to look for a new way. But some of us are stubborn—count me in that lot. We try for a long time to avoid just accepting who we are and being with reality as it is.

One of my chief coping mechanisms is trying to be good. If I can only be good enough, pure enough, totally unsullied, actually, then I can hold my little constructed world together. I learned to follow all the rules. It’s not for nothing that I was elected “Best Christian” when I was a senior in high school (an honor which failed dismally in attracting the opposite sex). Naturally enough, I became a minister. Now this persona of personal virtue I’ve adopted is absolute, unadulterated fantasy, of course. I think I latched onto this particular one early in life because of the flagrant sins of my charming and handsome alcoholic father. Somebody had to balance out my father’s badness, and it might as well be me.

But the fact is that I have a huge amount of aggression in me. I get in touch with this in certain predictable situations—for example, at the airport, when I find myself surrounded by people separated from one another, connected to their respective cell phones,whiling away the time, in chatter. I’ve done a lot of traveling lately, and I’ve been stuck in airports for long periods of time — not long ago, I spent 7-1/2 hours right here in your Chicago O’Hare Airport.

Let me tell you what happened. So I’m sitting there, packed in with thousands of other people who have had their flights cancelled by too much wind in the windy city — what the airline is calling “an Act of God,” so they won’t have to give us any food or put us up for the night — when this svelte blonde, perfectly coiffed, and dressed to the nines comes up and asks if the seat next to me is vacant. She sits gingerly on the edge of her seat. She is carrying inside her jacket a live creature that pokes its head out to survey the scene — it is a dog, a little Yorkie, and she begins feeding it a MacDonald’s hamburger, saying how little Fifi wouldn’t eat anything else.

She engages me in conversation, and I reluctantly put down my contemplative reading and pay attention to her and little Fifi. She asks me where I’m going, and I foolishly tell her. I say, “I’m going to Lexington, KY, to marry my best friend.” And then realizing that she might misinterpret my remark, I add, “I mean, I’m going to do the ceremony. I’m a minister.” Big mistake.

She perks up. Fifi perks up. She grills me, with one question after another. What kind of minister? Oh, I’ve never heard of that. What do they believe? That’s interesting. Does it bother you that some of your people are not saved? Do you believe in Jesus? I believe in John 3:16 — do you know that verse? Have you ever read the Bible?

At that moment I truly wanted to smash a framed copy of my Ph.D. in theology over her head. As I remember, I did the verbal equivalent of that. This is not what I call acting from my Buddha nature. So I’m supposedly a peace-maker — but I have a huge amount of aggression in me. So what do I do with that? I need to ask myself that question.

Another fantasy that we construct for ourselves is the belief that things won’t change — things that we like, situations that make us comfortable. Things won’t change. But of course they do, ever and always. And the shift always feels like such a violation, somehow. The other day I was moving a plant, a gorgeous blooming amaryllis, the last of the season, and I hit the stem against something, and the flower broke off — just like that. For a moment, I considered scotch tape, but no, that wouldn’t work. The flower was so beautiful, and now it was dying. How often is something we love — a vase, a job, a home, a relationship — how often is it just perfect, just the way we want it, only to have things surprise us by disappearing or becoming something else as we watch, helplessly.

Let me tell you a story about impermanence — and compassion. And this is a true story, told to me by one of the family members. A husband and wife were hosting a fancy dinner party, having brought out all of their best china and silver and crystal for their guests. Everyone was having a lovely time, and then one of the women accidentally broke one of the very expensive crystal glasses. She gasped in horror. Everyone stopped talking. At this point the host, fearing the judgment of his wife upon their guest (for the wife tended to be judgmental), the host promptly picked up his glass, smiled and said, “Don’t worry about it, happens all the time,” and he nonchalantly broke his crystal glass against the side of the table.

The one thing that we can depend on is that we cannot depend on anything — everything in this world is unreliable and temporary. So what do we do? We do not add another dimension of suffering to our original loss by saying to ourselves, “Things shouldn’t be this way” or go into denial or try to change something or someone who cannot be changed. We learn to go forward, in love, knowing that all is precisely as it is, and all is impermanent. I hear the echo of that man’s words at the dinner party: “Don’t worry about it — happens all the time.”

Some of you may have experienced the peace and grace of a Japanese tea ceremony. Even though the pottery used in the traditional ceremony was made of the simplest of materials, clay and basic glazes, the cups and bowls were prized for their clean lines and spiritual qualities. They were treated with great care and respect, and so a cup from a tea ceremony was rarely broken. When one was broken, however, the cup was sometimes repaired with gold, leaving shining tracks clearly to be seen. Rather than trying to cover up the break, the cracks were celebrated, announcing to the world that the cup had been broken, was repaired, and vulnerable to change. And in this way its value was even further enhanced.

Why is it that we tend to deny and to cover up our mistakes? It is so freeing to say, “I’m sorry”; “I misjudged the situation”; “I was wrong”; “I behaved like a real jerk. I hope you will forgive me.” When we break, we change, we mend, we may very well grow stronger. Maybe some of you have read Kathryn Schulz’s recent book, Being Wrong. As she points out, it's so difficult to admit that we were wrong, and it's such a positive act—it’s the only way we can grow.

When we have had enough of the false escapes, enough of the trying to look good, enough of the self-righteousness that divides us from others and from the Holy, we want transformation, and we come to our spiritual practice. We come to pray. Or we come to contemplate. Or we come to sit in meditation. And what do we discover? Same old stuff--anxiety, anger, envy. More false escapes, trying to be holier than others, even through our spiritual practice! And so we sit with all of this human stuff. And sit and sit and sit. We give up our shoulds. We say, “I am who I am, right now.” We stop trying to fix ourselves and stop judging and fixing others. For this present moment, this moment of presence, at least, we have broken the illusion that we are separate.

We accept ourselves as we are, in that moment. We accept reality as it is, in that moment, and we ask only for that awareness and that acceptance. The mind quiets, we’re breathing more deeply now, more air coming in. The story that we’re not good enough, not worthy to be loved, goes. The story that everything will stay the same goes. The story that our hunger will one day be met—that goes. And yet, paradoxically, all is well, all is well, with our soul.

Myth, prayer, poetry, meditation: these take us into “deep time,” where we can experience healing and a new kind of consciousness. There are many paths, many kinds of spiritual practice, and one may be more compatible with your personality than another. You may find that you wish to go with one for a while and then change to another, or combine several. The time and method matter not, only the true longing of your heart, and one day you may find that you are "praying without ceasing," that your life has become a prayer. You are not so apt to be shaken by the surprises that existence lays on all of us. You are still enough, strong enough, soft enough to lead.

Church leaders with spiritual grounding can help church members see themselves as a people called out to a larger purpose in the world, a purpose larger than their own needs. A church’s mission should be more profound than hanging out with people like ourselves—yes, we will gain community at church, but in the context of a devotion to something larger than ourselves. We would be aware that we are called to use our power for the good in a world in which the worst hold power through greed, and people follow, blindly. Who will redeem such a world?

At church it’s important to build spiritual components into every meeting, every retreat, every dinner — a church is not just any secular group getting together about an issue. Every meeting, including board meetings and finance committee meetings, every gathering should have a sacred dimension because that meeting is generated by and held in a church.

And we can offer support—covenant groups of various kinds, and classes—to deepen the spiritual lives and the consciousness of our members and friends. We would provide a place where people can grieve and meditate and pray and play—a place to be renewed spiritually and emotionally, a place where people can be safe to share with others their struggles, their hopes, their failures and successes.

When people come together in the name of something larger than themselves, to heal, to grow, to work for change, they feel their power, their creativity, their unity, and their joy. These are sustaining feelings that will take us through the tough times, keep us focused, give us courage. This is not spirituality somewhere off on top of a mountain alone – this is a relational spirituality that acknowledges our kinship one with the other.

The spiritually grounded leader doesn't have to act powerful – such leaders are powerful by virtue of their bearing and presence. Others feel this power before a word is spoken. Such a leader invites others into their own power. When a leader accepts the challenge, and steps faithfully into appropriate power, and leads with strength and love, power will be greatly multiplied. Then the body of people are likely to be blessed, and in turn, are likely to use their power to bless the world. So be it. Amen.

 


 

Raw Faith DVD - at Amazon.comRev. Sewell's documentary DVD is now available online via Amazon.com.

Last Updated (Tuesday, 26 June 2012)