True Leadership Is Followership (Reflection)

#4 - Incarnation of LeaderDo Not Be Called Leaders
Did you know there is actually very little written in the Bible supporting hierarchical human leadership? In fact, Jesus was extremely cautious about, if not totally opposed to, humans having power over other humans: “Do not be called leaders…” (Mt 23:10).

In spite of this, a cottage industry of leadership resources has been produced by U.S. “Christian” publishers to develop, train, and multiply hierarchical leaders (not to mention the myriad leadership books published by “secular” booksellers.)  Ironically, I too wrote a leadership book called The Great Commandment Leader (2011). However, my book focuses much more on being a servant than being a leader, and my second book, In Search of Jesus the Anarchist (2017), further calls for the dismantling of the systems that create the sinful divide between leader and follower.

Over the last fifteen years or so I have tried to emphasize a new way of organizing life and society that promotes a leadership structure that is similar to the upside-down triangle popularized by various “servant leadership” models. Unfortunately, most of the servant models I have seen focus on individual leadership style changes, and not on transforming societies. Simply put, Western education and Christianity does not really teach a servant leadership or followership model of societal or economic life. So, what might it look like if we taught followership instead of leadership? Could we have a course (or, better yet, a course of study) called “Followership Studies?” Maybe there is one, but I have not seen it (and even the many new books on followership don’t address the misguided systemic hierarchical construction of almost all of our social and cultural institutions).

Thus, if I were to develop a course on followership, the outline might be something like: (1) Follow Down: An Incarnational/Non-Hierarchical Model (self-emptying); (2) Follow Up: Multi-Level Communication (self-sacrificing); and, (3) Follow Through: Finishing Well (self-denying). Though these three topics could engender a lot of sub-topics, my reflections today are on just a few overarching ideas.

Follow-Down
In my book on leadership, I challenged the prevailing definition of leadership as influence. Though, I do not necessarily say that “leadership as influence” was wrong, but how that influence was applied. For most leadership authors, influence is defined as the process of how a leader uses his power, privilege, and resources to get others to do what the leader or the organization thinks is best. My definition flipped the script and said that leadership is incarnational—it is the giving away of the leader’s power, privilege, and resources to enable followers to become leaders themselves. Jesus said, in reference to his followers, “Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher.” (Lk 6:40, HCSB).

Follow-Up
So, Follow-Down is the humble (down-to-earth) movement towards recreating a society of equal and dignified human beings through self-emptying. Follow-Up, then, is the process by which people continually divest themselves of their privilege and resources through self-sacrificing for the sake of others. Unfortunately, the top-down, hierarchical, and neo-liberal capitalist system will always reassert itself, because that is how it is designed. Thus, the new flat/non-hierarchical society must be fought for continually; it must be perpetually communicated (followed-up) in different ways, primarily through loving, self-sacrificing actions matched with repeated words (e.g. Repent, the Kin-dom of God is near”). Jesus was the exemplary teacher/healer in this regard.  Like Jesus, we must follow-up with a ceaseless demonstration of the Good News of God’s Kin-Dom for all people.

Follow-Through
Lastly, as we incarnate by following down, and follow-up through a demonstrable program of the Gospel, then we follow-through by being consistent with our program of societal change. Accordingly, we recognize, as fundamental, that the oppressed and the poor will not follow if we do not follow-through. And by following-through, I am talking about knowing that we as “servant-leaders” are called to die to self (self-denying), not once in some mystical way, but through continually dying to self so that others may live. This can only be done through the Spirit of Christ coursing through our very being.

Final Thoughts
I have to admit that I don’t do this well. I am a work-in-progress. This is partly due to my own psychology and familial/cultural influences. Nevertheless, I refuse to beat myself up and see myself as the primary problem when the entire system of hierarchy, competition, and power that we all have been raised and currently live in (neo-liberal capitalism and hierarchical church systems) is opposed to what Jesus called for in his inauguration of the Kin-dom of God.

Thus, my emphasis now on followership focuses more on the societal possibilities of Jesus’s incarnational model. And though it may seem that this idea is not possible, that, overwhelmingly, people are always going to be followers and not desirous of leadership, even if this is true in our current reality, it is not true of human potential. Jesus’s Kin-dom of God, or what I have called the Commonweal of Love, is not unrealistic, it is simply focused on the potential of humanity, not on its current oppressed state.

A life full of meaning will be marked by our struggle for fulfilling our own potential as individual human beings and our struggle for a society where all people can fulfill their potential in intersubjective and interdependent mutuality.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

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Intersubjectivity (Reflection)

intersubjectiveI used to enjoy reading William Safire’s weekly On Language articles in the Sunday NY Times Magazine. Safire would look at how various words were being used in the press, in politics, or somewhere in the life of people. He then would look at the word’s etymology, wondering if the word’s meaning was still graspable or was it being changed by the new usage.

When I first started reading philosophy books almost forty years ago, I often had trouble understanding the words the philosophers used. Some philosophers spent their whole lives defining a single word or term. Sadly, at the end of the day, the word’s meaning was often still understood only by that philosopher. For instance, Karl Rahner’s use of the words “grace” or “transcendence” cannot be read with a dictionary understanding of those words, or even other philosopher’s understanding of those words. Rahner’s definition of some words was peculiar to him.

Sometimes I feel an odd sense of guilt or shame at not understanding some words. Two of the words I went a long time having trouble wrapping my head and heart around were subject and subjective. I still can’t say I understand them fully today. Now, you might ask, “What’s the problem? These are easy words to define.” Well, below are just a couple of very different ways to define the words—and there are others.

Subject: A vassal; someone who is under someone’s control.

Subject: A unique person; the mind; the consciousness; compare to an object, or a thing.

Subjective: one who lacks freedom; obsolete.

Subjective: a perception of reality peculiar to an individual; compare to an objective reality that is accepted by all observers.

I believe the words subject and subjective and their corresponding antonyms (object and objective) may be some of the most important words to wrap your mind and soul around. The reason that these words are so important is that if we are to live peacefully and cooperatively on this planet—with this planet, with the universe—then we are going to have to move towards greater intersubjectivity.

Intersubjective: the sharing of subjective realities by two or more individuals; compare to solipsism, where only my own mind exists.

Intersubjectivity respects the uniqueness and dignity of every person and recognizes that objectivity will always be a noble but, nevertheless, elusive goal. Starting from intersubjectivity, we ask the question, “What does this mean for my relationships with God, people, the universe?” Intersubjectivity, understood, rejects the objectification and commodification of life. Intersubjectivity is non-dual but still values seeing the differences. Intersubjectivity honors direct democracy but also emphasizes collectivism and the need to share without fear.

Anyway, these are some very imprecise, rambling ideas today. They are subjective, but I hope they spur some fruitful and hopeful intersubjective reflection.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Soul Kitchen – A Parable

Soul-KitchenJuly 6, 1971 – Los Angeles, CA

Two teenagers were sitting in a grungy coffee shop called the Soul Kitchen in south LA. One of them was weeping; the other was downcast. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things, a man in his thirties, a hippie, walked in and sat in the booth behind the teenagers. They did not recognize the man because of their bleary eyes.

The man overheard the teenagers conversation and asked, “What are you discussing together?”

They were shocked at the question. One of the teenagers asked, “Did you not see the news or read the papers? Are you from another planet, dude? Didn’t you hear about the thing that happened the other day?”

“What thing,” the man asked?

“About the Prophet. He died in Paris on Friday. The world couldn’t handle him. He was killed by the evil of this world. We thought he was the One. And the crazy thing is now they can’t find his body. Some people say he is not dead, but we saw the pictures. We heard the witnesses. But now some are saying he is alive. They even went to the morgue and the Prophet wasn’t there.”

“Man, you guys are dense,” the hippie man said. “Don’t you know that the Prophet wasn’t made for this ‘world’—that the Prophet is immortal and all the prophecies from all the Books have attested to this Truth. The Prophet cannot die.”

The young teenagers asked the man to sit with them at their table.

When the man sat with them, he ordered some French fries and a beer. After the fries arrived he gave thanks for his food and broke some of the larger fries and shared them with the teenagers.

After eating with the teenagers, suddenly their souls were opened and they realized that they were in the presence of the Prophet. They remembered the words from one of the ancient Psalms, “Well, I woke up this morning and got myself a beer” (RB 4:1).

Just then the man got up to leave and the teenagers asked, “Hey what’s your name?”

“John.”

“John, what? What’s your last name?”

“Doe, John Doe.”

The teenagers were amazed. And the man disappeared from their sight.

Immediately, the teenagers got up and ran to find their friends. “It is true! The Prophet has risen, He is alive.” Then the two told what had happened at the coffee shop, and how the Prophet was recognized by them when he broke the French fry and drank the beer.”

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© Paul Dordal, 2018

Faith is the Victory (Reflection)

Cornelia PetreaI don’t “believe” in god! To believe in god is to construct a thing, an object. It is to conceptualize an idea and give it a fixed, rigid shape. To believe in god is imaginary; it is childish magical thinking. The god that most people believe in is the god they created or had created for them by another, therefore not the God that created them. Our creeds and religions force feed us a patriarchal notion of god, which unfortunately cannot deepen a connection to God, but only further abstracts the object/idol of our own making.

So, how can I claim to be a Christian and not believe in god. Surely, I must have some belief. No, I do not nor do I want to “believe” in god in that way.

I am, however, distinguishing faith from belief. Faith is the victory, as the old gospel hymn goes. Faith is the actual experience of God. Faith is the know-ing of God (John 17:3), not the thought or idea of god. Faith is the concretizing of the abstract, the process of real-izing the Spirit of God that is within and without. “The Spirit joins with our spirits to assure us of our participation with God” (Romans 8:16).

So, faith does come by “hearing” the Word, even the Christ (John 6:68). It is not a word or words, but the Word or Logos. Faith comes by “hearing” the unconstructed Spirit of God—the real God which is beyond the grasp of language and thought.

Faith is the participation of Christ and our openness to Christ’s active participation in our lives.

Faith is the penetrating energy of Love.

Faith inspires compassionate action on behalf of God’s creation.

It is the God of faith that ought to be obeyed and followed: The God of the Kin-dom.

 

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Revolutionary Hope (Reflection)

Rev HopeAnyone who is in the world of the living has some hope; a live dog is better off than a dead lion. (Ecclesiastes 9:4)

Hope is in high demand in these dark days. War, poverty, discrimination of myriad types, and environmental destruction seem like they will never come to an end. Many young people can’t see a future where they will have reliable work, good healthcare, and meaningful relationships. I meet many folks who are in dire need of hope.

One of the problems that some have in finding hope is in the confusing tension of the inner/outer dimensions of hope. Inner hope comes from a meaningful personal existence and outer hope comes from being able to see humanity progress towards a peaceful and just society. Inner hope can be fostered primarily through gratitude: being thankful for your life and any blessings you can name. In the hospital setting, many of the patients I encounter express this inner hope as simply “being seen”—that is, simply being alive.  I say to them, “It’s good to see you.” And their reply is “It is good to be seen.”

Nevertheless, as many look out at the world, a darkness overshadows their hope because the future of our species and the planet looks so bleak.

So, how do I maintain hope in the midst of all that militates against it? Recently, I said to a friend, “The evolution of humanity is very slow—almost imperceptible. Sometimes it might even seem like we are going backward. Yet, throughout history revolutions of hope have always come, especially in the worst of times. These revolutions propel our species forward, despite the slow and deliberate evolutionary process.  My hope is in the coming revolution!”

A prophet once wrote, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). I have faith that we are going to overcome the darkness through an imminent spiritual and social revolution.

Are you at least grateful for your very existence—that you are seen—and can you see a glimpse of the next revolution? If so, then you can have hope too.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Faith “In” The Union

workers-fist(This post originally appeared as an article in my local’s newsletter.)

Why is a priest and chaplain writing an article for a union newsletter? Well, first of all, I am a proud union member just like you. Second, I am simply following a long line of people of faith who have believed in and supported unions and workers throughout history.

Way back in 1893, Terence Powderly, the founder and president of the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor, wrote about labor history up to that day: “Trade-unionists, members of guilds, leagues and other organizations of workers embraced Christianity and proclaimed its doctrines as being especially advantageous to the welfare of the toiling poor.”

Another important historical story is that of Father Thomas Hagerty, a Roman Catholic priest, who co-founded the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union in 1905. Fr. Hagerty wrote the following powerful words in the preamble of the IWW constitution: “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.”

It is my firm belief that these great men of labor history were simply following the tenets of the faith which they avowed. From the original believers in the book of Acts, to the English Diggers in the 1600’s, to the Social Gospel and Liberation Theology movements of the 20th Century, Christian faith has consistently witnessed to the need for justice in the workplace.

Because bosses, landowners, and “lords” have long oppressed workers, the prophets of the Bible spoke out strongly against them. Jeremiah warned those who acted unjustly towards workers saying, “Woe to the one … who forces his own people to labor for nothing, who refuses to pay them for all their hard work” (Jer 22:13). St. James would write as well to the rich, “Listen! Hear the cries of the wages of your workers. These are the wages you stole from those who harvested your fields” (James 5:4).

Unfortunately, fairness in the workplace and equitable wages and benefits for all has yet to be achieved in our country. In fact, the union movement is under attack from just about every corner. Worker rights that were hard won by the fighting unions of the early days are slowly being stolen from the workers. We need to return to the fighting spirit that characterized our faithful union brothers and sisters of old. We need to have faith in the union again!

So, what motivates me to be in the fight for worker rights, to continue to have faith in the union? It is the mission statement of Jesus that inspires my union activism: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:18-19).

I hear the lowly carpenter saying to you and me today, “Now, go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37).

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Growing Beyond Conventional Christian Faith

Arm TreeChristian spiritual development sometimes comes at a cost, especially if you are deeply religious (i.e., committed to a particular denomination or a tradition of theology). Many religious people are conditioned by their churches/pastoral leaders to stay at the level of spirituality they are at. Conventional Christians are threatened by the notion of growth in spiritual understanding because spiritual growth takes effort and is often very unsettling. Spiritual growth requires change: change in thinking, change in behavior. Those who are growing spiritually are often misunderstood by their friends and family who don’t see anything wrong with their conventional understanding of faith. Sometimes, Christians who are truly growing are viewed as falling away from their faith, when in fact they are maturing.

Below, I offer an example for Christians to test their desire or ability to grow spiritually.

Conventional Christian faith views Jesus’s death and resurrection as a transaction. In simple terms, Jesus came to change God’s mind about people. This is the conventional theology of salvation, whereby Jesus died a violent death to appease an angry, wrathful God. Jesus was killed as a replacement for the death that all humans deserve (because we are sinful). God killed Jesus in order that we could go to some far-off heaven when we die. This violent vicarious atonement theory has been the standard Christian theology of salvation for over 1000 years for hundreds of millions of Christians. It’s not just the belief of fundamentalists and Evangelicals, but mainline Protestants and Catholics as well. But it isn’t true; it is a theory. This theory promotes violence, justifies oppression, and leaves most people with a harmful, false belief that they are inherently evil, thus trapped in unhealthy feelings of guilt and toxic shame.

To grow spiritually is to consider afresh the basic narrative of Christian faith. It is to see the Bible with a renewed set of eyes. Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about people, Jesus came to change people’s minds about God. Jesus came to change our minds about a God who we erroneously were taught was angry and wrathful, but who in fact is absolute unconditional love. Humans are not separated from God by our sin. Humans were not created sinful, we were created good. The original blessing is a much more important and biblical starting point than original sin when considering our anthropology. Though we do sin, God loves us and never leaves us. Thus, Jesus’s death on the cross occurred not to appease an angry God but was the result of power-possessed rulers who could not accept the God of love, the God of peace, the God who is opposed to injustice and oppression. Jesus’s resurrection was God’s answer to the cross. It was, as Marcus Borg says, “Rome who executed Jesus, but God who vindicated him.” The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is primarily a picture of the process of individual and collective transformation and not just a transaction.

This is not a subtle shift in thinking, but one that will move you out of the oppressive, overly-individualistic, exclusivist, and Empire-supporting Christian “faith” that was corrupted and co-opted by Constantine and others over the centuries.

Are you stuck in a false construct about a God who is violent and requires appeasement (like the mythical gods of ancient idol worshippers), or are you ready to grow spiritually into a belief about a God who is True Love? Are you ready to be in a relationship with a God who wants to transform you into a whole, loving person, a God who wants to transform our world into what I call the Commonweal of Love (what Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven)? Spiritual growth means moving away from an old way of thinking (and possibly even an old community of faith) and finding the narrow path of Jesus. Spiritual growth requires risk, yet replaces your old, broken wineskins with new wineskins that can handle the glorious New Wine of Jesus.

Contact me if you would like to have a discussion about this. I would love to talk with you about a new vibrant way to live the Way of Jesus.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

 

Good News For All People? (Christmas Reflection)

Good News For All PeopleWhen someone tells me they “believe” in Jesus these days, the question that pops into my mind is, “Which one?” Is it the Jesus who is the universal Savior of the world or an exclusive, personal savior concerned with our personal sins and problems? Is your Jesus for all people or just for you and some people?

Religious scholars have long debated whether we could really know the historical Jesus. They have also debated a variety of pictures the New Testament paints of Jesus. There seems to be a diversity of Jesus’s out there. Yet, the Church institutional would like us to believe that there is one unified Jesus to be found only in their magisterial or traditional systematic teachings (e.g., the Nicene Creed). This institutional version of Jesus seems to be a Jesus who is exclusive for Christians only, inordinately focused on personal piety, and more interested in life after death than what is happening in the here and now.

Recently, I was talking with an atheist in the company of a nominal Catholic. After hearing how I presented Jesus to the atheist, the nominal Catholic remarked to one of my chaplain colleagues the next day, “I don’t think Reverend Paul believes in Jesus!” The following week the nominal Catholic and I had an opportunity to discuss his perception of my beliefs and I assured him that I did believe in Jesus—now, more than ever. But I did say that the Jesus I believed in and followed was probably not the same Jesus he believed in—that my Jesus was the savior of all people, not just my savior.

Over thirty-five years ago, James Fowler wrote a ground-breaking book called Stages of Faith Development, which somewhat mirrored the ideas of Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development and Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. In his book, Fowler noted that most Western adult Christians were comfortable in what he called the third stage of faith development which he labeled “Synthetic/Conventional Faith.” At this stage, Christians stop growing spirituality and are pretty much committed to what would be the party-line theology of the institutional church. They simply believe intellectually in the Jesus who is their personal savior who will grant them life after death in some celestial heaven. They may or may not be part of a community of faith, but beyond that, Jesus is not seen as for all people: for the Muslim, for the LGBTQ+ person, for the undocumented immigrant, for the oppressed person of color, or for anyone that might upset or interrupt one’s personal religious life or their individualized “American pursuit of happiness.”

So, if your Jesus is not “good news of great joy for all the people,” that is, especially, all marginalized people, then we don’t believe in the same Jesus. If your Jesus is only a personal savior, then what you believe in is a religion, an intellectual belief system, a dogma—not the Jesus of the Bible or history. Once Jesus is dogmatized he stops being Jesus, he becomes an object, an idol and a weapon to be used against those who do not “believe.” Dogmatic Jesus is the human construct of institutional Christianity.  And that dogma leads to domination and exclusiveness.

The Jesus I believe in was born “made poor” in the Middle East, raised under the oppression of an evil Empire. He grew up to become both a priest and a prophet, a healer of souls and a righter of wrongs—a fierce revolutionary, a person of peace and a warrior for righteousness. The Jesus I believe in knew it was not enough to simply minister to the needs of a few poor and oppressed people, so he died a sacrificial death for the whole world. This Jesus calls on Christians everywhere to struggle against the systems that create poverty and oppression (capitalism, racism, militarism, etc.)—to love the whole world and give up our lives for the poor and oppressed just like Jesus (1 John 3:16).  Jesus calls us to be both healers and revolutionaries, priests and prophets, peacemakers and warriors of justice.

If the Jesus you celebrate this Christmas is simply a personal savior (a never-ending baby in a manger) and not the incarnate, revolutionary savior of all people, then yes, I don’t believe in your “Jesus” and neither should you.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Suffering Prophets (Reflection)

Emil-Nolde-Prophet-1912I am re-reading Walter Brueggemann’s book Prophetic Imagination with some friends who meet every other week for discussion and breakfast. It is amazing to read a book so many years after first looking at it to see how things have changed in one’s own life.

In the second edition preface to the book, Brueggemann states, “… ‘prophetic imagination’ requires more than the old liberal confrontation if the point is not posturing but effecting change in social perspective and social policy.” This means that if the goal is a societal change, which is what the prophet is calling for, not reform, but revolution, then simply joining a liberal justice group to protest this or that injustice or inequality is not prophetic.

The prophets of old and the prophets of our age were all willing to suffer or die for structural societal change. They didn’t choose or seek out suffering, but they knew that the true prophetic path was one of suffering and self-sacrifice. Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc. were all willing (albeit reluctantly sometimes) to put their lives on the line for the sake of enacting God’s just and beloved community. Jesus, of course, was and is the exemplar prophet who sacrificed his own life for the whole world.

Martin Luther King said, “A person who does not have something for which he is willing to die is not fit to live.” Certainly, MLK was following the prophetic path of Jesus when he said this. “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). Thus, the prophetic path is not set aside for a group of select, elite individuals or “leaders,” but Jesus is saying that all of his followers will be suffering prophets for the sake of the whole world, for the future City of God.

As we live in the heart of the U.S. empire, whose government is wreaking havoc on the whole world, where are the prophets, where are the followers of Christ willing to go the cross to enact the future City of God, what I have called the Commonweal of Love?

We are at a critical point in history, an opportune time to move the evolutionary process of humanity forward, a liminal period to fundamentally change the social structure from one that oppresses the masses for the sake of the few towards a new society based on meeting the needs of all people. To do that we need those who are called to be prophets to accept their calls to suffer, to sacrifice, and to enact the prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Zoe, Agape, Kairos: A Material Spirituality (Reflection)

dance editThe material world is, and the spiritual world is. As we live in the here and now of the material, temporal realm, we, nevertheless, integrate our spiritual, eternal lives in the here and now as well. Spiritual people do not separate the natural from the supernatural; they never negate the physical to validate the metaphysical.

Yet, the body is barren without the breath of the spirit (pneuma), as the spirit is formless without the body (soma). Beauty cannot exist without both as the body is lifeless without the soul, and the soul cannot be beheld without the body.

The relational perichoretic of the Trinity brings this notion to the really real—the supranatural. The Father is the creator of biological life (bios) and gives second-birth by the spiritual life (zoe). The incarnated Child takes physical love (eros) and elevates it through the self-sacrificial Cross (agape). The Mother Spirit labors to effect the movement of evolution (chronos) and moves to effect needed revolutions at just the right time (kairos).

Thus, matter/intellect and spirit/emotion are always working together, as positive theses and anti-theses, to generate new syntheses that create the possibility of an eschatologically free, equal, just and beautiful world: The City (polis) of God.

© Paul Dordal, 2017