Posts Tagged 'pandemic'

Three Leadership Lessons from Good Friday

This coming Friday is Good Friday, a day of hopes dashed, a day of deep grief.  Jesus and the disciples went from Palm Sunday, with Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the crowds shouting “Hosanna!” to betrayal, denial, arrest, and crucifixion in five short days.  The disciples had thought the crowds had at last recognized Jesus as king, only to find them turning against him a few days later.  In shock and disbelief, they watched as the Romans crucified their beloved. 

Everything had looked so good, only to be overturned in such short order. Jesus had taught the disciples to be leaders, to help him invite people to encounter God in fresh ways.  They saw people healed.  They saw hearts opened. They witnessed their ministry expanding. They thought they knew what being a leader following in Jesus’ footsteps meant.  Now what? Brokenhearted, they responded in different ways.  Peter denied Jesus. Others ran away.  The disciples were not at their best. They hid in the upper room, afraid.  They didn’t know the resurrection was coming.  They had no idea what the future held.  For all they knew, they would be crucified like Jesus. 

I find myself empathizing with the disciples on this Good Friday.  The future looked bright for the organization I lead, the Shalem Institute, just a year ago.  With programs filling, a visionary strategic plan, and a prospering major fundraising initiative, the future held promise.  A staff and board who loved Shalem and worked well together held it all together.  I felt like the most fortunate person in the world, to be able to work at this place with these people at this time. 

Then COVID-19 hit. We had to cancel our pilgrimage to Assisi.  Then our Iona pilgrimage.  Then another major program down.  Then our annual staff/board retreat homeless, as the retreat center hosting it closed.  Then, our staff working from home. Suddenly, we had let down many eager pilgrimage and program participants and lost about 10% of our annual income, with more looming losses on the horizon.

We found ourselves facing great loss.  So much of what we do involves gathering in community, staying in beautiful, nurturing, prayerful retreat centers, sharing meals together. Staff share walks and lunch together in the middle of the work day. We celebrate birthdays and accomplishments together.  We experience embodied love, laughter, and prayer.  All of that had vanished in the blink of an eye. 

Even as we began to re-envision our upcoming programs, we knew they wouldn’t be the same.  A virtual staff/board retreat on Zoom can’t hold a candle, for example, to the in-person hugs and meals and walks at a retreat center nestled in a wooded area in Maryland in the first blush of spring.  The losses were real.   

Now, a year later, while we look back in gratitude to the ways that we have encountered God in our re-envisioned programs, experiencing the power of contemplative community even through Zoom, we also continue to experience grief and loss.  As spring begins, we face another cycle of our spring and summer residencies on Zoom.  A year ago, we had thought that, by now, we could meet in person again. Yet with only 15.5% of the U.S. population fully vaccinated, we know we need to wait.

What can we learn from Good Friday? First, we can acknowledge that we, like the disciples on Good Friday, will not always be our best selves as we feel shock and loss.  This is a time for loving and tenderly forgiving one another. Second, like the disciples, we must grieve.  Acknowledging the magnitude of the losses and allowing ourselves to feel grief is an important step.  Third, as we ask, “What now?” there will be messiness. We don’t know what the future holds or how we will be called to step into it.  We must live in the not-knowing for a time before the next steps become clear.

Loving and forgiving one another when we are not at our best, acknowledging the magnitude of the losses and allowing ourselves to grieve, and accepting the messiness and not-knowing of this time of loss will all serve us well as we seek to muddle through to the unknown future. May we allow the lessons of Good Friday to lodge deep within our souls. 

(This is a further development of the Executive Soul blog of April 2020).

3 Leadership Lessons from John Woolman

We currently face at least five pandemics in our world:

1) COVID-19

2) Racism

3) Police brutality and militarization of police

4) Climate change

5) Economic inequity

In the face of these pandemics and the related refugee crises, wars, world hunger, bitter political divisions in this country, and international political tensions, I sometimes find myself feeling helpless and even hopeless. What can one person do in the face of these impossible challenges? Where can I find the courage and hope to move forward? And in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic, in which I must quarantine, no less?

I find the eighteenth-century American Quaker John Woolman inspiring and instructive for this time.  He faced one of the impossible challenges of his time, slavery, with prayer and action.  Through prayer and discernment, Woolman discerned what was his to do.  He felt called to travel to visit American Quaker slaveholders to challenge them to free the people they had enslaved.  Woolman was both loving and prophetic. He didn’t give into hating the evildoer while denouncing the evil of slavery.  He didn’t water down his prophetic message in order to “love” the slaveholder.  How did he hold this tension?

He held it through prayer and discernment.  After visiting a slaveholder, he would return to worship, holding that person in the Light, reflecting on the pro-slavery arguments with which he had been presented.  Not getting hooked by his ego, he would systematically refute each argument, returning to the slaveholder and presenting his thoughts clearly, with humility and love.  He knew that oppression hurt the oppressor as well as the oppressed.  He met each slaveholder with love, yearning for the slaveholder’s liberation from slaveholding as well as for the enslaved people’s liberation from slavery.

What can I learn from John Woolman in this time in which I find myself?  Can I love Donald Trump, a President I see as dangerous for my country and my world, for example?  When I pray for Donald Trump, I do feel compassion for him.  I see a hurt little boy inside and I long for his liberation from the fear and hatred that imprisons his soul.  Will I be called to speak truth to him?  Is there hope for his transformation?  These are questions that are beyond me.  All I know is that I will continue to pray for him and I will seek to be faithful as I am led.  I also know that I will work to get him out of office, to stop the damage I think he is doing.

Closer to home, how do I love the Trump supporters in my own family?  I know that I can pray for them.  When I pray, I am changed from an oppositional stance toward them to feeling compassion for them as I see the fears and hurts that draw them toward Trump and his rhetoric.  As I am led, I can speak to their fears and hurts, and also speak prophetically to them.  And when the conversations grow tense, I can keep returning to my spiritual grounding, keep praying that I will come from a place of compassion.  When my ego gets hooked and the conflict escalates (which happens more frequently than I like to admit), I know it’s time to take a break and center down.  Loving and speaking prophetically at the same time is a spiritual practice for me.  Will it change others?  I don’t know.  But I do know that it changes me and that it sows seeds of transformation in others that might take root and grow, either now or sometime in the future.  There is no template for loving across differences, no formula that we can follow that will result in transformation of others at the end.  There is the lifetime work of spiritual practice, practice that will change me and, through my actions, sow seeds in the world.  Whether those seeds grow is up to other people and to God.

So, in this time of multiple pandemics, how can we have courage, faith, hope, and love for all, even for those with whom we disagree? First, by staying spiritually grounded through daily spiritual practice. Second, by making the practice of loving across differences one of our regular spiritual practices. Third, by discerning in community “What is mine to do?” and being faithful in carrying out our part.

 

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.