Posts Tagged 'disciples'

Step by Halting Step: Leadership in Uncertain Times

In this season of the year, following the crucifixion and resurrection and Jesus’s subsequent forty days among the disciples, Christians celebrate the ascension, the time when Jesus left the disciples and ascended into heaven.

What a roller coaster that month and a half must have been for the disciples.  First, when they expected Jesus to proclaim himself king of Israel and overcome the Roman occupation, they got the crucifixion instead.  In shock and grief, the disciples hid away in fear. And then the resurrection came. Unbelievable. How could this be? Still in shock and grief, the disciples weren’t ready. Even after Jesus appeared to the disciples, they kept hiding in fear.  It took most of the forty days that Jesus lived among them, post-resurrection, for the disciples to begin to trust that he was really back and really himself.

In this past Sunday’s reading from the book of Acts, after Jesus had been with them for forty days, the disciples wondered what would come next.  After forty days with the resurrected Jesus, they had at last recovered from some of the shock and grief and fear.  They began to anticipate the future with Jesus.  “Is this the time that you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” they asked.

But at that very moment, when they had finally regained their footing, Jesus turned everything upside down yet again.  First, instead of answering their question, he spoke what must have seemed like nonsense. And then he disappeared!  They were left open-mouthed, staring up at the skies.

Jesus had spent the past three years developing the disciples as leaders, asking them to join him in inviting people to encounter God more deeply.  And then he vanished, leaving them in charge.  Reeling in confusion, the disciples retreated to pray.

I find myself identifying with the disciples this past month and a half.  Just when I regain my footing, everything changes again in my leadership role at Shalem.  First, the cancellation of two pilgrimages and postponement of a major program, with the resulting loss of 10% of our expected income for the year. Then, our entire staff adjusting to working from home.  Then, all our programs being re-designed to be held online, programs that have cherished the in-person experience of deep connection with one another in beautiful natural settings. Then, a two-week quarantine stretching into six weeks, into three months, into…

Like the disciples, we, as a Shalem staff and board, retreated to pray and discern what is ours to do in these times.  We hear that this is a time for contemplatives, that living in love speaks to a world experiencing loss and grief, that being grounded in God invites people out of fear and panic into trust and hope.  We offer new resources to support people’s deep grounding, to help people live in the love that casts out fear.  We walk one step at a time, the future unclear.

I find that Susan Beaumont’s new book, How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, provides wisdom for these days.  Beaumont talks about leadership in in-between times, when the old way is gone but the new way has not yet emerged.  I believe that we won’t go “back to normal,” but that we are in the midst of a major shift, that we are being invited into a new way of being and doing worldwide.  What this means for Shalem is not yet clear. While we wait for the future to come into focus, we move by the light that we have. We will continue to listen and discern and seek to be faithful, step by halting step.

Like the disciples, our worlds have been turned upside down.  Like the disciples, we need to learn to lead when we don’t know where we’re going.  And like the disciples, we need to continue to pray and listen and be faithful, one step at a time.

 

 

Grieving and Rejoicing

On Good Friday, no one anticipated Easter.  The disciples, in shock and grief, hid away in fear.  Neither the disciples nor Jesus’s enemies expected resurrection.

And then the resurrection came.  Unbelievable.  How could this be?  Still in shock and grief, the disciples weren’t ready.  Even after Jesus appeared to the disciples, they kept hiding in fear.

In the weeks following Easter, Christians observe “Eastertide,” a time of living into the resurrection.  So far, in the biblical stories read in churches the last couple of Sundays, the disciples aren’t doing too well at manifesting resurrection reality.  In one story, we find them locked away in a room out of fear.  In another, they are walking along the road and don’t even recognize the resurrected Jesus when he starts walking and talking with them.

What keeps the disciples afraid?  What makes them blind?  Why do they keep slipping back into a mentality of fear and disbelief even after Jesus appeared to them?

Perhaps they felt blindsided. Already reeling from the crucifixion, still taking that in, they weren’t ready for the resurrection.  Dreams shattered, hopes dashed with the crucifixion, they felt betrayed.  They had believed Jesus was the Messiah, about to deliver them from the cruelty of the Roman occupation. And then they witnessed the crucifixion.

Now this.  Could they trust the resurrection?  Their hurting hearts and confused minds struggled to make sense of it all.  How could this be? Was Jesus a ghost?  Perhaps they inwardly questioned: “Are you kidding me?” “Are you toying with us, Jesus?” “I won’t be tricked again.”  “Fool me once, shame on you. . .”

Perhaps they tried to shut out the pain by retreating into reason.  They tried to make logical sense of all that had transpired.  And of course they couldn’t.  The events defied rational explanation.

In this season of Eastertide as I observe the disciples, I’ve been reflecting on death and resurrection at Shalem, the organization I serve as executive director.  We have been living with grief as we feel the impact of the cancellation of two pilgrimages and a major program, losing over 10% of our annual income. Furthermore, we feel the loss of being together in person as a staff, the loss of hugs and walks and good food together, the loss of staying at retreat centers in beautiful natural settings.

At the same time, we see resurrection and new life.  We both grieve and welcome new life at the same time.  When the leadership team for our Group Spiritual Direction program creatively re-envisioned the program, interest quadrupled.  Our Young Adult Life and Leadership program also grew when the new format was announced.  Over 60 have registered so far for our online clergy retreat. As other program leadership teams wrestle with loss while also listening for the new life that is emerging, they also experience grief and resurrection together. A wave of sadness washes over us when something reminds us of the in-person experience we won’t have this year.  Then a wave of joy comes when creative juices flow and we see the potential for new life and energy in our re-envisioned program.  Then the waves get all mixed up together, many emotions roiling around inside of us all at once.

Like the disciples, we are living in a time of experiencing death and resurrection together.  Like the disciples we feel grief and hope, sadness and joy, anger and healing, sometimes in waves, sometimes all at the same time.  Let us be gentle with ourselves and with one another as we go through the grieving process while also learning to live in resurrection.