Though some may see martial arts as counterintuitive for peace-loving people of faith, Ali embraced both elements of his identity with conviction — something Cloninger said she’s been thinking about a lot recently.
“For me, as a female martial artist and a person of faith, Ali represents what we should all be striving for: alignment of the mind, spirit, and body, and the greatest for ourselves and our community,” Cloninger said.
If we were to go by the titles of books about leadership, we might be tempted to imagine that good leadership is a matter of following the right set of instructions. And this might work if we could all agree what good leadership is. The roiling presidential season just might suggest otherwise.
Nearly everyone I know believes that one or more of the presidential candidates is an exceptionally bad leader, and this leaves us to grapple with why so many of our fellow Americans support them. Personally, I reject public stupidity as an explanation for anything. Our people deserve a more generous attempt to understand them. So let us look deeper.
Often I wonder, what is it about me that puts me at the table? I love my x chromosomes and femininity; being a woman is an amazing thing! But in these circles, they seem to come with a cost. No, I’ve not been barred from sitting at the leadership table, but am I only here because I don’t have two other things I longed for – a husband/partner to share life with and children to love and care for and call my own.
Three weeks ago, on Aug. 7, the American public had ample summer entertainment choices for killing time. There was the release of the latest Marvel film, Fantastic Four, which despite its fantastic failure with critics still had a $26.2 million opening. There was also the first GOP presidential primary “debate,” which guest starred The Donald and drew 24 million viewers, making it the highest-rated primary debate in television history.
Meanwhile, in the Middle East, radicals weren’t killing time at all, but making further advances. That same day, ISIS attacked Qariyatain, a strategically located town in the Syrian province of Homs. The attack is said to have resulted in at least 230 kidnappings.
August 7 was already a day of infamy in the Christian history of the region. It was already known as “The Day of the Martyrs” within the Assyrian Christian community. On that day in 1933, as many as 3,000 Assyrian Christians were massacred in Simele (northern Iraq). It's also the day ISIS captured Qaraqosh — the “Christian capital” of Iraq — forcing Christians to flee the Nineveh Plain to Kurdistan, eliminating 1,900 years of Christian presence in Nineveh.
Many American Christians say they are hungry for leadership, but what are we actually doing beyond indulging in fictional stories of Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch, and The Thing battling evil, or the barely less fictional “leadership” on display in contemporary politics?
EVEN AS SOUTHERN states—and GOP candidates—jumped through hoops to distance themselves from the Confederate flag, a backlash erupted among those claiming the flag was merely a symbol of “heritage.” Battle-flag waving Southerners (and Confederacy sympathizers) seemed to leap at the opportunity to wave their banner high.
But what about the rest of us? One of the most profound statements I’ve heard recently came from Rev. Jin Kim, founding pastor of Church of All Nations in Minnesota. This Korean-born pastor stood at the podium of the Sojourners Summit and said with conviction: “I am a white supremacist.”
How can this man, a person of color who’s dedicated his life to ethnic and cultural reconciliation, be a white supremacist? The same way any of us can. After all, at its heart white supremacy is not about white hoods, battle flags, and burning crosses. Those symbols are what we call explicit bias. People know when they are practicing it.
But most often white supremacy is about implicit bias that favors whiteness. It’s about the unconscious associations we make in our minds before we even know we’ve done it. White? Rich. Black? Poor. White? Good. Black? Bad. White? Trustworthy. Black? Scary. You get the idea.
These are the unconscious biases that shape the way we order our lives; the communities we live in, the places we shop, the churches we attend, the leadership from others we accept (or reject), and the policies we support (or don’t).
It’s not hard to fume at the thought of the killer of Mother Emanuel’s Nine. And it feels good to click “like” and share posts calling for the removal of Confederate flags.
But if we stop there, bias beats us. It is the unconscious biases of the masses that keep us from moving forward, not the explicit biases of the few. So, check out this tongue-in-cheek list of four easy ways to be a white supremacist (regardless of your own race).
1. Plan a conference on church planting with a speaker lineup so white it would make Honey Boo Boo blush. And if you want to increase your “diversity,” have one speaker of color (even if he is from India), an Asian emcee, and maybe a black worship leader.
The Boy Scouts of America ended its national ban on openly gay adult leaders and employees on July 27 while allowing local religious units to continue to exclude gay adults.
Meeting by conference call, 79 percent of the BSA’s national executive board members favored the resolution ratified earlier this month by its executive committee.
The policy change represents the end of a long and bitter struggle over whether to accept gay members that began more than two years ago when it allowed gay youths to participate, but not adults.
My experience in the worlds of both religion and politics convinces me that one of three issues is at the heart of the catastrophic demise of any leader — money, sex, or power. Sometimes it’s a trifecta of all three together, like the case of John Edwards, the former Democratic presidential candidate. But in virtually every case, a leader’s personal inability to exercise appropriate constraint and control over one or more of these three dimensions of life can lead to careers that crumble and reputations that become shattered.
That’s why, despite all the fascination on the external qualities, traits, and strategies of successful leaders, it’s their internal lives that can be far more decisive in their long-term ability to be transformative leaders — or not. But that requires attentiveness to the powerful but often hidden dynamics of one’s interior life, which “successful” leaders rarely have the time or courage to undertake.
I love the story of Shirley. Her family was struggling to survive in the Philippines—a nation plagued with poverty and modern-day slavery. Her husband Ramir took whatever small jobs he could to help the family, but without land, his only options were to work helping on a rice farm or a fishing boat. The pay was irregular and unsustainable, so he made the tough choice to look for work in a bigger city and send money back to Shirley and their three kids. Shirley applied to work at Dignity. She was skeptical as she had never worked with a team and doubted her abilities. When Dignity hired her, it changed her life and her family. Shirley was able to make a consistent income from Dignity. The cycle of poverty and human trafficking was stopped in its tracks.
Last summer, Sojourners hosted The Summit: World Change Through Faith & Justice. It was a powerful gathering of 300 leaders that convened on important issues of faith and justice. The Summit is a chance for leaders to grow, learn, and be encouraged. It is a rare opportunity to be supported by peers who understand the pressures and struggles of public ministry and leadership.
I’m pleased to announce that Sojourners is hosting The Summit 2015 this June in Washington, D.C. It’s poised to be this year’s gathering of cross-sector leaders joining together to effect change in this country and beyond.
And I need your help. We need to you to nominate the best leaders that no one has heard of to attend The Summit . She could be a seminarian or young pastor, an entrepreneur creating jobs, or a civic leader solving problems. He could be an academic, an artist/musician, a philanthropist, or a local leader who has been working tirelessly for years to knit a community together.
That leader could be you. Fill out the nomination form and tell us why.
An early fellow Sojourner, Perk Perkins, reminded me this week that not long after we started Sojourners as a new Christian magazine for justice and peace, I came running into our little office one day and exclaimed, “Dean Smith is a Sojourners subscriber!”
Here were young Christians in Washington, D.C., saying our faith called us to racial and economic justice, opposing the nuclear arms race, ending the death penalty, and supporting the equality of women. And the greatest college basketball coach in the country was reading Sojourners?!
Dean Smith died on Saturday. He was 83 years old.
Monday’s front page New York Times story — not just in the Sports section — was titled, “A Giant of College Basketball And a Champion of Equality.”
ESPN and everybody else ran the numbers. But all the tributes and comments on the death of Dean Smith have quickly moved on from the numbers. Current UNC coach, Roy Williams, said his predecessor "was the greatest there ever was on the court but far, far better off the court with people."
Player after player who were coached by Dean Smith, as famous as Michael Jordan to those who barely walked on to the team and hardly ever played, testified in the last few days to how much more than a coach he was to them — their “mentor,” “teacher,” “second father,” “role model,” life-long inspiration and guide.
Wesley Granberg-Michaelson’s advice to Christian leaders: Discern God’s call and learn how to sustain your inward life for the long term.
“Leaders have to know who they are,” he said.
“When everything else crumbles and when you are in situations of disillusionment, when plans haven’t worked out, when colleagues have disappointed you, there’ll come those times when you say, ‘Why am I doing this?’
“At that point, what is needed is a deep and abiding sense of God’s call.”
Granberg-Michaelson’s call led him to take on a variety of roles in his career. He served from 1994 to 2010 as general secretary of the Reformed Church in America. He is the author of several books, including “Leadership from Inside Out: Spirituality and Organizational Change.”
Before that, he served as research assistant for U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield, managing editor of Sojourners magazine, co-founder of a nonprofit organization, and director of church and society for the World Council of Churches.
Q: You’ve had a really interesting career, including working on Capitol Hill and in Geneva, Switzerland with the World Council of Churches. What did you learn from those roles?
Working in the U.S. Senate with Mark Hatfield is when I first learned about how important it was to have a group that had a deep level of trust together. And that you have to work on building that.
And then in the life of Mark Hatfield as a U.S. senator, I saw the importance of giving voice to crucial issues in ways that helped empower others. The role of prophetic ministry I really witnessed in his life in the U.S. Senate, the kinds of stances that he took against the Vietnam War, stances that were rooted in his own convictions.
Those were qualities that came out of his Christian character. But those were also qualities I saw and learned in that secular context.
When I went to Geneva with the World Council, I got to see the enormous complexities of how organizations function and how decisions are made. I was very involved in a restructuring effort.
We spent a lot of time figuring out models for how church bodies can govern themselves. And the World Council was in a deep discussion — conflict, really — with its Orthodox members at that point. I was involved in a special commission on relations with the Orthodox.
One of the key issues was how we make decisions. To the Orthodox mind, it was incomprehensible that a central committee of 150 people could meet together and by a majority vote determine God’s will.
That led to a whole fascinating journey that I’ve continued on ever since, to rethink how church bodies make decisions.
Out of that dialogue came an embracing of models of consensus decision making, which the World Council still uses today, where 150 people will come to a decision that they arrive at by consensus. It’s a discussion, a deliberation that’s led very carefully, very artfully, taking into account the opposing points of view and getting to a point where either the body as a whole agrees or a minority that may not agree are willing to say, “We will step aside and allow this to go forward.” Or convictions are held so strongly that the body as a whole decides it’s really not ready to decide this.
None of these functions by majority vote. It’s a very different model, and I think one that’s much more attuned to how the church could make decisions.
It probably can’t. It may help you ponder the kind of person you hope to become, and it might even help you orient yourself towards the next few baby steps you take in this life, but decide what you want to do with your life? Not likely. None of us ever really decides ‘what to do with our lives,’ as if that were some golden tablet plucked out of the heavens. But that won’t stop us from frantically stressing.
As a recent college graduate who does indeed stress about such a question, I recently rediscovered the modern classic that is Good Will Hunting as I spent Thanksgiving anxiously deliberating my future — and realized it has a lot to offer.
Although the film is perhaps most famous for pulling heart strings, it is also a deep exploration of courage and humility. It forces viewers to question their vocational priorities and even invites reflection upon why we choose to seek, or avoid, outward success. If you haven’t seen this 1997 drama, and you’re stressed about what to do with your life, you should stop reading now and go watch it before I start dropping spoilers.
I believe that Nelson Mandela was the greatest political leader of the 20th century — because of his 27 years of spiritual formation in prison. Visiting Mandela’s jail cell on Robben Island was the most emotional moment of my visit to South Africa this past summer. How could such a small place so change the world?
I found this quote by Mandela when I visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg on my last day in South Africa. It’s about how “the cell” drove him much deeper into his interior life. I think his words are a good reflection for us as we choose our elected leaders next week:
“The cell is an ideal place to know yourself. People tend to measure themselves by external accomplishments, but jail allows a person to focus on internal ones, such as honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, generosity and an absence of variety. You learn to look into yourself.”
Let’s reflect on that quote, both personally as leaders in the faith, and politically as we confront a very depressing election.
Know yourself. That is such different advice from what our candidates and other leaders get from their advisors and pollsters and boards of directors who want them to know their audience, their constituency, their potential voters or consumers — but not so much themselves. Leaders are often being told to “be who they need you to be,” and seldom are they invited to go deeper into themselves.
Mark Driscoll is back. Kind of.
The controversial founder of Mars Hill Church who stepped down last week offered a brief address at the Gateway Conference on Oct. 20. Initially, he and conference organizers agreed that he would not give a formal address at the conference.
But Robert Morris, pastor of Gateway Church in Dallas, said Driscoll requested to come to the conference as an attendee. “That was big of him to just come and be ministered to,” Morris said.
“We could crucify him, but since someone’s already been crucified for him…” he trailed off. “It’s very sad that in the church, we’re the only army that shoots at our wounded. And I’d like you to stop it.”
Driscoll’s resignation came in the wake of accusations of plagiarism, bullying and an oversized ego that alienated some of his most devoted followers.
Conference attendees gave Driscoll a standing ovation as Morris handed him the microphone.
“What do you want me to do?” Driscoll asked Morris, teasing him about the dangers of giving “a microphone to a preacher who’s been gone for a while.”
Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman elected to head a national branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, announced Sept. 23 that she will not seek a second nine-year term in office.
Her departure will likely set off debates over her legacy and the future of the 2 million-member denomination.
“I believe I can best serve this church by opening the door for other bishops to more freely discern their own vocation to this ministry,” Jefferts Schori, 60, said in a statement. “I will continue to engage us in becoming a more fully diverse church, spreading the gospel among all sorts and conditions of people, and wholeheartedly devoted to God’s vision of a healed and restored creation.”
Her 2006 election was celebrated as a breakthrough for women leadership in the church; delegates sported pink “It’s a Girl!” buttons after the vote. She remains the only female primate in the Anglican Communion, but last year the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America followed suit and elected its first female presiding bishop.
Jefferts Schori’s current term will end at the conclusion of the Episcopalians’ General Convention in Salt Lake City in June 2015. Church membership during her term has dropped by 12 percent, according to the most recent statistics available from the denomination.
Jefferts Schori’s time as presiding bishop has been lauded by theological liberals and bemoaned by conservatives, but both breakaway Anglicans and Jefferts Schori were instrumental to one another’s rise.