Waving the Broom: A Leadership Parable

By Diana Butler Bass 4-24-2008

Several weeks ago, a pair of doves built a nest on a front windowsill at my house. My family watched as the mother bird laid two eggs, as they hatched, and as the young chicks feathered. We grew attached to the winged family who made their home with ours.

Two mornings ago, I was checking on the baby birds when a grackle (a large blackbird that a friend calls the "Darth Vader" of the bird world) swooped down and attacked the terrified mother. She flew off. Then, to my horror, the grackle plucked one of the babies out of the nest. Still in my pajamas, I ran outside with a broom yelling at the blackbird, hoping to frighten it and rescue the chick. But the grackle escaped with his prey. For a couple of hours, it circled around trying to collect the other chick. I stayed by the nest, however, waving the broom to save the remaining baby bird until its parents returned. Eventually, the much-calmer mother dove came back to one tiny offspring. When I called wildlife rescue, the volunteer told me that, "the days before a bird learns to fly are the most dangerous in their lives." Standing guard with the broom saved the other young bird's life.

This episode reminded me how fragile new life is-and that it needs to be protected by someone willing to wave around a broom to scare off predators who wish to destroy it before it can even fly.

New movements have the same need. Right now, as my friend Jim Wallis points out, a new religious movement for justice has emerged among evangelicals. Not only is this true, but parallel movements have birthed in other religious communities, too-among mainline and liberal Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, and Muslims. Some are not even faith voices, as new political, social, and broadly spiritual movements coalesce across racial, class, and religious divisions as many people are speaking out on behalf of God, the human future, and transformation. The movements for change are varied-and include politicians, artists, philosophers, scientists, activists, pastors, teachers, business leaders, students, and writers-and people are forming new communities, networks, and organizations to create paths toward global flourishing.

Because my work as a speaker takes me around North America, I am well aware of the voices for change, their longings and passions, and their increasing self-awareness of being part of something larger that is coming into being, of a cultural yearning for a new day. Like Jim, I am also convinced a new awakening has birthed in our time-a movement for justice and change that probably surpasses any that history has known, and whose inclusive scope can only be surmised.

But all this is new, very young, and still fragile-it does not yet know how to fly. For many people, the idea of a new movement will be exciting. For others, however, it will be threatening, and they will resist change with all their power.

During such days, leadership calls for many capacities: inspiration, imagination, risk, marshalling new resources, and reorganizing communities. But leaders must also be willing to wave the broom-to ward off dangers while the chicks are learning to fly.

Diana Butler Bass (www.dianabutlerbass.com) is the author of Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith (HarperOne).

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