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Reflections/Essays

A Tribute to Max De Pree (Dr. Nathan Hatch)

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A note from Leighton followed by a tribute from Dr. Nathan Hatch of Wake Forest University:

I met Max DePree when he was chair of the search committee for a seminary president some years ago, and I was asked to serve as an “outside” member of the committee.

What I contributed was very minor. What I learned from watching this wise man lead and chair was major!

I commend to you his books Leadership is an Art, and Leadership Jazz
Most of us are privileged in life to meet a few people who lift our spirit, capture our imagination, and inspire us to become better at what we do and who we are. It is hard to say exactly how exactly they convey this gift, this charisma, but they do and for that we give thanks.

Max DePree was one of those beacons for me. I got to know him just at the time I was making the transition from active teacher and scholar to actual leadership as dean, then, Vice President, then Provost at Notre Dame. I was privileged to get to know Max, and to read his writings at the same time. I talked to Max about Fuller, and, as I joined the Fuller Board, came to experience one of his magnificent legacies in the health and dynamism of this body. I heard him give a seminar on not-for-profit boards to the trustees of Wheaton and I invited him to lead a retreat for leaders at Notre Dame. I took council with him in a time of personal stress and confusion; and found him wise and grace-filled. His advice, in person and imprint, shaped my thinking in powerful ways.

A number of lines from Max remain etched in my mind:

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”

“Leaders don’t inflict pain, they bear pain.”

“Leaders owe a covenant to a corporation or institution.”

“Have we stopped hiring people better than ourselves?”

“Do we have a nose for stale air?”

“When was the last time I called to say thank you.”?

“Leadership is an art, a belief, a condition of the heart more than a set of things to do”

Why was Max’s vision of leadership so powerful? One reason was that there was such congruence between what he said and wrote and how he lived. T. S. Eliot’s once said of Charles Williams: “Some men are less than their works, some are more. Charles Williams cannot be placed in either class.[ He was] the same man in his life and in his writings.” Max was the same in his life and his writings.

In the introduction his recently published book of sermons, As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” Eugene Petersen writes: “ The Christian life is the lifelong practice of attending to the details of congruence—congruence between ends and means, congruence between what we do and the way we do it, congruence between what is written in Scripture and our living out what is written.” The congruence of Max DePree’s life commands our attention.

Max’s life and advice were also compelling because he envisioned leadership as an art. Talking about it was not in rules and dictums. Preparation for leadership, he wrote, does not come from books. What he offered was elusive hints and suggestions, colorful illustrations, provocative questions and powerful metaphors.

“Why isn’t a college like a symphony of Beethoven?”

“Success is fragile, like a butterfly. We usually crush the life out of it in our efforts to possess it.”

“Leaders and followers are all parts of a circle.”

“In a way, leadership is as delicate as Mozart’s melodies. The music exists and it doesn’t. It is written on the page, but it means nothing until performed and heard. Much of its effect depends on the performer and the listener. The best leaders, like the best music, inspire us to see new possibilities.”

A metaphor does something that the precision of a definition or an explanation doesn’t do: it insists we join the speaker and participate in the creation of fresh meaning. Metaphor activates our imagination.

Max Depree didn’t announce to us how to be a leader. He invited us to explore creatively the difficult and elusive calling of leadership: to build up people and organizations, which he saw as living and organic. Such a task was sacred because it involved the lives of invaluable human beings—“the sacred nature of personal dignity”– and was responsible to build around them institutions that could be havens. “A good family, a good institution, or a good corporation can be a place of healing.” He invites us into this task and expands our thinking about what it will entail. Max sought to infuse human organizations with life and vitality. And that was more like the work of artist or musician than that of a task-oriented or bottom-line manager.

I have suggested that Max was compelling because of the congruence of his life and message and because of his invitation that leaders take up their positions like an artist, with all the sensitivity, creativity, caution and solemnity that befits a holy calling.

A third, and related, reason that Max’s own leadership was so compelling has powerful relevance to our own day. How does someone with firm Christian belief go into the marketplace and lead organizations in all their complexity and diversity. In our own time, orthodox Christians have been much better building their own churches, schools, and not-for-profits than they have in infusing secular organizations, public and private, with salt and light. We are often better at retreating or combatting than in participating.

Max was called to lead a company, once family owned, that in his time became a public company. This drew him naturally into the role of breaking down sacred/secular distinctions. He came to model how a Christian leader speaks, acts, and leads in a secular organization. His deft approach eschewed any easy answer such as bringing a chaplain into the workplace. He was more concerned with the organic culture of the whole organization; and whether it operated in ways that allowed full human flourishing.

The principles that infuse Max’s writings—the responsibility of leaders to followers, the covenants and promises that leaders should show employees, the call to equity, fairness, and non-discrimination, the challenge of giving all people the freedom to expand their knowledge and creativity—these principles are an excellent primer for how to operate in the world with conviction and authenticity. These principles also point to how business can be a worthy calling, one that allows people and communities to flourish.

Max’s winsome approach had appeal far beyond the walls of the church. He demonstrates that the gospel is anything but narrow and crabbed. When graciously applied to human organizations of all kinds, the leaven of faith can bring life and wholeness to the core institutions of our society.

I am grateful that Max sees such promise in all human organizations, businesses, governments, not-for profit agencies, colleges and seminaries. His life and message call us, not to retreat wholesale from the world, however post-Christian it has become. Instead, we are to engage it with humility, longsuffering and patience, and with courage and hope. Max DePree wrote about his own experience at Herman Miller, taking everyone seriously, treating each person with dignity and respect. And he worked to mold Herman Miller into a humane organization. He also challenged not-for-profit organizations like Fuller Seminary to make music like Mozart or Beethoven. What a splendid calling. And what a powerful legacy.

Dr. Nathan Hatch

President, Wake Forest University

 

Photo cred: Modern Servant Leadership

Reflecting On The Eclipse (Leighton Ford)

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This week almost the entire nation stopped to pay attention to the total eclipse of the sun.

What an amazing spectacle as the power and beauty moved swiftly across the sky and was gone in a few seconds

Why, I wonder, do we not pause to take in the everyday miracles that surround us all the time?

As the poet Denise Levertov wrote, days pass when we forget the quiet mystery …

that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything.
rather than void; and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.

What if we took a few moments every day to wonder at this?

We might truly live an attentive life.

 

Leighton Ford

 

Photo Credit: NASA

Teannalach! For Jeanie!

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Happy Birthday to my Beloved Jeanie! Today!

I was reading this morning of an Irish farmer who told a poet that he himself could not write poetry, but he did have the gift of “Teannalach.”

He said that he lived by a lake, and often heard the ripple of the waters, but on days when it was very still he could hear more deeply – below the surface – the “magic music” of the lake.

The poet-philosopher John O’Donohue says this story underlines “the hiddenness” of beauty. Beauty, he says, only reveals itself to awareness, when “the imagination is finely tuned.”

I like that! And when I think of Jeanie that Celtic word applies!

There is beauty in her face – no one believes she is really her age!

But also the hidden beauty of an open, warm, loving and caring spirit – for me! For our family. For our friends.

She sometimes says she’d like to be her own best friend! I understand why.

And so do the many friends of the years, men and women alike, drawn to her for those qualities, both evident and hidden, which reflect the beauty of Christ in her.

So, Jeanie, happy birthday! I love you!

And love your own observant quality of “tennalach”! You do know how to pay attention!

Leighton Ford

There’s Good News Today (Leighton Ford)

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A few days ago I was speaking at a church in the mountains, and asked a question that dated me.

“Does anyone here recognize the name of Gabriel Heatter?”

Quite a few hands went up, which also dated them. Gabriel Heatter was a nationally respected radio newscaster during the dark days of World War II, well known for his signature sign-off: “There’s good news today.”

His name came back to me recently when my wife and I were watching the national news, and it was all so bad that I got up and walked away.

Later I remembered a little story tucked away in the Bible. The Israelis in the city of Samaria were desperate, under siege by an enemy army. Food was running out. Even children were being eaten.

Four leprous men were sitting outside the city, shut out because of their disease. One of them finally said, “We’ll die if we stay here. The worst the enemy can do is kill us. Let’s take a chance and go to their camp and see if they’ll spare us.”

When they got there they were astounded. The enemy camp was deserted! The Lord had sent in the wind the sound of a great army coming and the enemy had fled. The four leprous men started to grab for themselves the food, weapons, treasures left behind. Then one said, “This is wrong. This is a day of good news. If we don’t tell it we will be guilty.” So they ran back to tell what they had found.

They were evangelists those four men! Evangelists in the sense of being good-news-tellers.

I was ordained as an evangelist. Some times I am hesitant at first to be introduced that way, only because “evangelist” is a much misused and abused term. Advocates of any one of many causes are often dubbed evangelists. And some evangelists have given the word a negative connotation.

I am honored to be an evangelist because the word itself, classically and in the Bible, simply means a bearer of the evangel. Five centuries ago William Tyndale, one of the first translators of the English Bible, wrote that the Greek word “signifieth good, merry, and joyful tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad, and maketh him sing, dance, and leap for joy.” Nothing to be ashamed of there!

I was ordained years ago to preach the good news of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. That I hope to do as long as I live. I have also decided that I want to notice some everyday good news, and tell about it.

“What good news do you have” I asked a ninety-year old retired pastor who is suffering back pain. “We talk too much about health, not enough about hope,” he said. “Health is blown away like the wind. Hope opens a door to the future.”

Over lunch I asked a young public defender who he was representing last fall when he walked as a peacemaker between the police lines and the protesters. “Just me,” he smiled. “I had friends among the police. I knew many of the protesters. And I knew God wanted me there.”

I know a woman at a local Y who interrupts her morning workout each day to listen to a veteran of two wars, who is recovering from surgery, and just needs someone to talk to.

You and I can hardly avoid the bad news that bombards us 24/7. And we may not be able to stop the violence, cruelty, and the bitter divisions and name-calling on a macro scale. But, as my late friend George Beverly Shea used to sing, “Little is much if God is in it.” Small acts can be good news

So I want to be like those four men outside Samaria who could not keep quiet about what God had done. I plan to look every day for some bits of good news, and to pass it on.

I invite you to join me!

Leighton Ford

Originally published in the Charlotte Observer on July 8, 2017

Challenging Times in Britain (Rev. Canon J. John)

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In Britain we find ourselves in challenging times. We have had an election in which the winners lost and where the losers feel they won, we seem to have regular acts of terror and we have had the most appalling catastrophe in London which has revealed incompetence and injustice at the heart of the nation. Finally, almost as an incidental, we have a weakened and divided government starting the most important international negotiations since the Second World War. In these troubled times we hear all around angry cries for ‘change!’ and ‘justice!’.

How do we respond? I’m afraid neither the overused mantra to ‘keep calm and have a cup of tea’ or the appeal to ‘the British spirit’ are really adequate. Instead, I find myself turning to some very old and very wise words: the Beatitudes of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5. Here Jesus pronounces eight blessings and for each gives an appropriate promise.

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’: this is a time for prayer and dependence on God rather than pompous pronouncements. There are issues here that are beyond trite and simplistic solutions.

‘Blessed are those who mourn’: at a time when there is a suspicion that behind public grief lurks private ambition we need to be those who mourn for no other reason than we stand because those who suffer are in misery.

‘Blessed are the meek’: crises bring out both the best and worst in people. One of the worst can be the pressure for ‘strong leadership’, for ‘firm measures’ or even ‘radical change’. In contrast, meekness presents no agenda: it listens, seeks wisdom and neither shouts nor screams.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’: our society is full of cries. Some, out of a genuine desire that right be done, are for justice and explanation, and to these there must be an honest response. Yet amid these voices are similar cries which are driven by anger and the hunger for revenge. A legitimate demand for justice must not be diverted into revolt and disorder.

‘Blessed are the merciful’: to be merciful is the authentic and caring desire to put others first and seek their welfare. It’s encouraging what we have seen but there needs to be more and it needs to persist when the cameras have gone.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart’: motives for protest and calls for change can be complicated. We must be sure that in what we say and do we are truly seeking the welfare of others rather than seeking our own good.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers’: perhaps the most distressing element of these times is the sense of disunity; of factions, of communities talking in increasingly bitter terms of ‘them’ and ‘us’. Peacemaking can be a blessing.

And finally ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.’ The last and longest of the Beatitudes is the sting in the tail. To do these things, Jesus says, is no easy path to popularity and acclaim. On the contrary, to be a peacemaker is to be assured of being mistrusted, hated and attacked by both sides. And as that rarest of things, Jesus, who lived out what he taught, knew what he was talking about.

These are challenging times but they are also times of great opportunity: opportunities to pray, to serve and – slightly less comfortably – to suffer for what is right.

 

The Revd. Canon J. John is a Leighton Ford Ministries Point Group member

Am I Wasting My Time? (Steve Hayner)

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Steve Hayner was a devoted servant of the Lord, president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and of Columbia Theological Seminary. I knew him as friend and fellow board member of World Vision.

Joy in the Journey, by Steve and his wife Sharol, published posthumously, is a classic, their mutual musings in the course of his illness and death.

He always signed his letters, “Joyfully.”

I will always remember his smile.

Leighton

 Recently I’ve been plagued by questions about how I am using my time.  Knowing that my time on this earth is limited is a strong motivation to use the days I have left to the fullest.  Some days, of course, I have little choice because I don’t feel well enough to do much.  There are natural, health-related limitations. But on the days that I feel relatively good, I do have options.  I look back some days and wonder whether I have been as faithful as I could be in how I have used my time.  Have I accomplished enough?  Should I have written more email messages or made more phone calls? Should I have been willing to see more people or worked on more projects that are on my list of possibilities?

I wonder some days how God regards my time.  I’m sure that just being busy isn’t the right criterion.  Yesterday I was taking a little rest and found myself wondering whether resting was the right thing to be doing when I actually felt good enough to do more.

As I said before, discerning and pursuing God’s “call” for any particular day seems to be an important goal.  But discernment isn’t easy.  Sometimes giving myself to little things, or simply to periods of thoughtful reflection may be more important than my activists spirit will approve.

Internally I find that I am developing questions to help me in my discernment.  They include, for example: 1) Is this activity something where my joy intersects with my perception of what brings joy to God? 2) Am I living into this activity with gratitude for the opportunity given to me? 3) Am I able to receive the time before me as a gift, or does it actually feel like a waste or a burden? 4) Does this activity play into old patterns of procrastination on the one hand or overwork on the other? 5) How does this activity express love – for God, for each other, and for God’s work in the world?

Woven into this whole process of discernment for me must be a clear perception of grace, otherwise all of this fuss does little more than encourage me to worry.  If there is no joy in my life, then I am not listening to God’s voice but only to my own perfectionism.  I truly believe that “joy is the business of heaven.”  C. S. Lewis made this important point in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (1964).  Lewis pointed out that it is far too easy for us to assume that only the very serious things of life are approved by God.  But in God’s economy, where so much is upside down, even things that look frivolous, unimportant, wasteful, or playful can be important when they are attached to the joy found in the heart of God’s character.

So the real question about my day is not “how productive was it?” but rather “how much joy did my activity bring, and how much love and gratitude did it express?”

Steve Hayner

A Commencement Address (Steve Johnson)

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Steve Johnson has been pastor, mentor, church planter, and member of LFM’s Point Group. Recently he had the opportunity to speak at his son’s college graduation. This is what he said…

I was asked by the President of Bethel University to speak at their commencement. I told him no because my son was going to be one of the graduates. He asked me to talk to my son and ask him if he would mind. I did and he thought it would be awesome.

This is a simple outline of what I shared.

I acknowledged how everyone looked the same and yet they took different classes, have different majors but even though today they looked the same with cap and gown, their parents, family and friends could pick them out of the hundreds graduating this year. Each are unique and the parents and loved ones are proud. I told them that I was just like the other parents and I have a special graduate today, my son David.

I looked at my son and told said those in attendance that the message I was about to share I would share with him privately if I didn’t have this opportunity. I invited those in attendance to listen in on a father/ son talk.

My points were very simple … I used physical posture to share my father/ son advice

1) Reach High – You have achieved a lot by graduating and following your dreams … I believe in you.
2) Reach Wide – Be inclusive. Build deep and meaningful relationships with all people.
3) Reach Low – Don’t walk by people in lowly positions and not notice them. Leave a legacy of being a man who lifted people up. Making a difference in this world begins with you helping one person.
4) Reach Deep – You have been raised in a family of faith and you have made a commitment of your life to Christ, but that is just the beginning of the wonderful journey ahead. God wants to use you to represent Him in this world

Mothers’ Day – In Baltimore And Beyond

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Toya Graham is “the Baltimore mom” who during the recent protests saw her teen-age son on the street with a rock in his hand. She ran after him, grabbed him by the hood, shook him as fiercely as a mother bear cuffing her cub. Later she said, “I just lost it.”

If she is not “mother of the year” she certainly has been mother of the news cycle. Her maternal slaps went viral across the country, bringing both cheers and jeers for her “mom attack.” I certainly would not have wanted to be that son! And I have always regretted the one time I slapped one of my sons in anger.

At Harris Teeter last week I asked Mary, who was checking me out, what she made of Toya. “If it had been my mother,” she said, “I would have gotten more. Toya probably wanted to save her son from jail.”

Certainly the protective instinct of mothers matters. Colin Powell tells about growing up in the Bronx. “It was the ‘auntie network’ that kept us out of trouble. We knew our mommas were watching us from their windows.”
All of us who have known our moms know they were not perfect. But they also had less than perfect mothers. As Charlie Brown said in Peanuts, “Lucy, parents had parents.”

I had two mothers. The first I knew was my adoptive mother Olive, who with my dad ran a jewelry store. When I was fifty I met my other mother, Dorothy, the unmarried daughter of a stern Presbyterian minister and his wife, who gave birth to me at seventeen.

Both were troubled through their lives by fears and suspicions. Yet I owe them both much. Dorothy gave me life. Olive taught me faith.

The mothers portrayed in the Bible were a mixed lot (as the fathers most certainly were). Some were called “blessed” by their children. Others caused huge family problems by their cunning and grasping.

Yet the Bible also celebrates motherhood. Here’s language the prophet Isaiah used for God: “As a mother comforts her child so I will comfort you.” Jesus pictured his relation to the people of Jerusalem as a mother bird. “How often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”

Today many of us will have good reasons to be thankful for mothers, those past, those present. I certainly have for my Jeanie. She was both mother and father to our three children across the many times when I was away in ministry.

But this year, in addition to the cards, flowers, and words of love in our own families, how about reaching out to mothers around the world? Nearly 150,000 Syrian mothers are the sole caregivers for their refugee families, facing daily conflict and often without food to put on the table for their children. Then there are the mothers in earthquake devastated Nepal.

A gift for them through our churches, and agencies like World Vision and Samaritans Purse, will bring help to their children and hope to their souls. The mothers of Nigeria, whose daughters have been stolen away can also be blessed by our prayers.

Perhaps this story out of Baltimore can help us to recognize our mothers this year with less sentiment, more honest realism, but no less love and appreciation. And with that a determination to join with them to bring justice and healing to our own homes and neighborhoods.

Leighton Ford

Friends and Last Meals (Leighton Ford)

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This morning I read the passage in Luke 22 where Jesus eats his final Passover meal.

He told his disciples that he had longed to eat that meal with them before his passion and suffering.

Who would I want to eat with, if it was my last meal?

Who would you want to eat with, if it was yours?

How can you let them know what they mean to you?

And .. can you imagine that Jesus wants to eat with you?