Monthly Archives: August 2014

Leadership in the Age of Anxiety

The numerous crises in our lives of late have drawn criticism concerning the leadership in Ferguson, Missouri and yet another tide of anti-presidential comment. The same goes for the ISIS crisis, a bill in Congress attacking the President as overstepping his authority (while Congress has been in a dysfunctional stupor). These and other events brought to mind the work of Rabbi Edwin H. Friedman.

In the late 1980’s I read Generation to Generation by Edwin H. Friedman, a rabbi who used Bowen’s family therapy principals to understand the dynamics of every system families to businesses to political system. Friedman proclaimed that we all operate on the same emotional voltage and therefore all systems exhibit the same traits. I then read Friedman’s Fables which used the literary device of the fable to present the dynamics we all encounter. I was hooked and signed up for “post graduate seminars” held in Bethesda, Maryland. Over three weeklong sessions the participants heard the seminal ideas of a book that would be published after his death – A Failure of Nerve, Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. Earlier Friedman had described the work as “Leadership in the Age of Anxiety.”

It sounds like today.

We are surviving some of the quick fixes in our recent past. The quick fixes to 9/11 and two wars haunt us. The rhetoric concerning ISIS has the usual militaristic quick fix. (Does anyone think that our military involvements over the past fifty years solved anything?) Did Ferguson really require more boots on the ground? More sophisticated military hardware did not appear to resolve the issues.

I think the best response from the President was to speak and then, rather than calling for all out war, returned to play golf. He reacted in self-differentiation. Most self-differentiation gathers a great deal of flack. It has brought out the saboteurs, though many of them have been at work since the election. (One St. Louis County policeman called him “our undocumented president.”)

A case could be made for the national sickness being addiction to quick fixes. It happens in families, churches, cities, states, national governments, businesses, and international relationships. We rush from one train wreck to the next. Have we gotten to the point that we are incapable of being led?

I remember a very painful exchange I had with a person who had early onset dementia. He made a statement which had no basis in fact but came from his feelings. Trying to explain the matter was increasing his frustration and mine. The only helpful thing to do was to act on my own understanding and feelings. I could and did appreciate his dilemma, but there was no convincing him.

That may be the model we are living in our country. We have news designed to meet people’s desires and whims. We get very upset when “someone else” doesn’t solve things the way we think they can be solved. It is like hearing “The truth shall make us free” after Pilate has said, “What is truth?”

One of Friedman’s “post graduate seminars” contained a viewing of a tape concerning President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The different players offered their solution. The air force wanted to bomb them out of existence. The navy wanted to engage the vessel at sea. The army wanted to invade the island and take it over. Every branch had a solution (which was in their area of expertise). Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev both knew we faced the grave threat of nuclear war. Khrushchev had the same multitude of military advisors with the same orientation as the advisors to Kennedy. Our U-2 spy plane had photographed nuclear mission sites being built by the USSR in Cuba but did not want to expose our use of the U-2. After twelve days of long and difficult meetings, Kennedy decided to place a naval blockade around Cuba, not knowing how the USSR would respond. (That is self-differentiation at work.) And it worked. This led to the “Hot Line” connecting Washington and Moscow and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963.

The resolving issue was stated by Kennedy in June 1963: “For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

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Ferguson, MO – A National Tragedy

Ferguson, Missouri. I find it difficult to un-wrap the many layers involved in the current events, together with a large number of similar incidents with striking similarity. It calls to mind the voting rights battles, the employment battles, the killings, and the thousands of frustrating events that have been experienced by the Afro-American community. I only saw the bombed out remains of Memphis, Tennessee following the assignation of Martin Luther King, Jr. on the heels of Mayor Henry Lobe’s refusal to negotiate wages and working conditions with the sanitation workers of his city. The pent up emotions boiled over in places like Detroit, Chicago, Watts, and the like. People have been killed by police and the police have merely gotten a slap on the wrist. Armed with military surplus, it appears as though they are at war with US communities. Calling out more troops sends a frightening message.

The terrible scepter of racial division bubbles up from the cauldron of our society. We wish, we want, we hope that we could live together in peace. I am reminded that the wolf and the lamb lie down together with the lamb inside the wolf. Is that really peace?

In Ferguson, as in many other places, the so called “minorities” are really a majority and the white minority provides the power structure. Heavy handed police have not worked to build community but have instead settled for dominance. Political districts have been so designed as to perpetuate the current power structure, although the Supreme Court of the United States refuses to acknowledge it.
As a society we say we reject oppression. What we really reject is our oppression and we have far less interest in the oppression of others. We stand up for our rights and refuse to stand up for the rights of the oppressed. It sounds great when we insist that all people are created equal while some people seem to be a bit more equal than others.

We have historically stood for the great education of the wealthy, a fair education for the rest, and, for many years, no education for minorities. Our media systematically refuses to portray constructive leadership develop among the underclass and settles for the rabble rousers. Even when the labor movement stood up to abusive management, we retaliated with union busting tactics. We continue to overlook the great disparity of wealth in this country. A token of the poor get into the Ivy League schools and their equivalents.

I heard a very quotable statement in a sermon yesterday. “Does our faith direct our politics – or does our politics direct our faith?” What a nasty question to pose! It made be think of Reinhold Niebuhr, Langdon Gilkey, and a number of others you may not know. I wonder what would happen if we educated people in the sciences and in theology? We might have fewer preachers with anti-science mentalities and fewer scientists that were anti-religion. (Some religious proclamations would lead me to be anti-religious!) A good liberal arts education would help but then we would all have to have another degree in one of the sciences, probably computer science in order to earn a living.

As you can probably tell, I think the core values of this society are suffering from something about as deathly as ebola of the soul. High fever (anger), diarrhea (of the mouth), and it is quite deadly.
Pray for our country that we might come to our senses. Pray for those who have been bruised by our society – and move to bind up those wounds. Pray for the powerful that they might use their power to empower others rather than just growing more power for themselves. Could we once more learn that when my brother or sister is hurting, I, too, am hurting?

Superstition

​With so many “hot spots” around the world, it is difficult to focus upon but one. Before I get going, however, I would commend to you delanceyplace [daily@delanceyplace.com] as a source of daily pieces that are well written and important reading. Of late they have featured the role of bananas in US foreign policy and the Statue of Liberty welcoming immigrants to this country.

​However, the very hot topic for today is the plague called EBOLA. Some reactions to this international event include a statement about US Doctors shouldn’t be there in the first place – they were given due warning and there are Christians in Africa to respond to the epidemic. The soul of our nation is in very bad disrepair.

​Even more disappointing is the response of some citizens in the afflicted nations. The President of Liberia said, “Relying on His divine guidance for our survival as a nation,” she announced, “I call on all Liberians to observe three days of national fast and prayer to seek God’s face to have mercy on us and forgive our sins and heal our land, Liberia, as we continue to fight against the deadly Ebola virus.”

“That followed a recent recommendation by the Liberian Council of Churches, which said in a statement last week the outbreak has Biblical implications. “God is angry with Liberia,” the religious leaders said, according to the Daily Observer. “Ebola is a plague. Liberians have to pray and seek God’s forgiveness over the corruption and immoral acts (such as homosexualism, etc.) that continue to penetrate our society. As Christians, we must repent and seek God’s forgiveness.”

They must have a lot of TV Evangelists in Liberia. Shades of Pat Robinson and Jerry Farwell – or the late Mr. Phelps of picketing funerals fame.

Liberians are frightened by the doctors and medicine attempting to restore them to health. This fear has been called superstition. Is this the teaching of religious leaders in Liberia? It sure does not make me want to do “African Bible Study” so popular twenty years ago. But we call many things we do not understand “superstition.” Our reaction to immigrant children could be called superstitious. Any of our knee jerk reactions could be call superstitious.

The readings in the daily lectionary include stories I would consider superstitious. Consider the fate of Abimelech in Judges 9. How does one understand the fate of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5? I have trouble understanding ”Creationism.” Last week PBS carried the last of their series on Mark Twain, a person with great ability at showing us our own folly. The superstition of racism is featured in Tom Sawyer and now we have people wanting it removed from school and public libraries for being racist. I would call that superstition squared.

Somehow we all need to get the picture of a loving God as displayed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Perhaps all the “good news fellowships” have forgotten the call to preach Christ and Him Crucified. It must be because the crucifixion is a very difficult scene in which to talk about loving even those who offend us. “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” I would wager that the process might well also include those who think they know what they are doing.