Jurisdictional – Fear, Trembling, & Leadership!

In preparation for Jurisdictional Conference and the episcopal election process, I have been reading a lot of N.T. Wright, novels, and Rabbi Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. Friedman, famous for his work on Family Systems in his book Generation to Generation, attempts to tackle universal and especially American dysfunction about leadership. He says that we are overwhelmed by anxiety in our culture and that a key to overcoming this toxic state is “clear, decisive, well-defined leadership.” His assumption is that when a system, be it family, religion, or state, is driven by anxiety, there will often be a failure of nerve among its leaders.

He states that a belief that having the right data or technique has been valued over personal responsibility and leadership. His diagnosis of our current state of anxiety and chronic tension is perpetuated when systems sabotage the initiative of leaders. Friedman suggests that we need to ponder the emotional processes that focus on “issues” or “identified patients,” rather than on the challenging self-differentiation of leaders. Often in counseling situations it seems appropriate to “fix” the problem child, adult, or issue, when what one really needs to do is coach the strongest element of the emotional field to differentiate. Sounds a bit like Gil Rendle saying a problem without a solution isn’t really a problem.

Success comes when leadership is able to stay connected to the rest of the system emotionally while at the same time remain separate. Integrity is the word Friedman uses for this concept. Integrity is an interesting word. Its French roots, in tegere, mean “in touch.” A person with integrity is “in touch” with those with whom community is shared, but more importantly, for leadership and the dissipation of anxiety, persons of integrity are “in touch” with their own self/core. From that core of strength a leader can manage their own anxiety and can maintain challenge and connection with those to whom they relate as leader.

Good leadership doesn’t react to troublemakers or the emotional processes of a group. Leadership offers vision that is an emotional rather than cerebral approach. In other words, leadership depends more on a person’s capacity to deal with his/her own anxiety rather than quick-fix gimmicks that only mask the latent tensions. A leader, according to Friedman’s experience is someone who, “generally turned out to be the one who could express himself or herself with the least amount of blaming and the one who had the greatest capacity to take responsibility for his or her own emotional being and destiny.”

Wow! This is exciting material, thought-provoking and challenging. This is the kind of leadership I want to exhibit as a bishop. Therefore, in preparation for the possibilities of the next two weeks I am trying to avoid reactivity and stay centered in God. I want to continue working on my own self-definition, and practice non-anxious presence. It will be a challenge. These coming days for our denomination demand leaders who are grounded in Christ and able to both still and stir the waters of a tumultuous yet yearning world.

I have been pigeon-holed as a Moderate, a Liberal, and a Conservative, and I can’t be boxed in. Bottom-line, my call to the episcopacy is at the intersection of 4 quadrants: one has been an extremely successful Local Church ministry and Denman Evangelism Award; another has been as a Teacher in two seminaries and Candler Distinguished Alumni Award; yet another has been as Servant of the Annual Conference as Parliamentarian, District Superintendent, and much more; then finally as a Bridge Builder and Worker on the General Church level via the General Council on Ministries, Connectional Table, Worldwide UMC Study Committee, and 5 time delegate to General Conference.

These opportunities have meshed over time into an episcopal call. Now it’s up to the church to confirm it, and I say that with more than a little fear and trembling. I want to do all I can to be an effective leader for Jesus Christ! All the more reason to keep reading Friedman and simply, not so simply, being me – an interesting mixture of leadership opportunities and perspectives – trying always to be faithful to the task.

A Time For Everything

Yogi Berra said once “It’s Déjà vu all over again.” I sort of hope not. A lot has happened in the last 3 years. In 2008 I was honored to be South Carolina’s nominee for bishop in the Southeastern Jurisdiction. It was a great privilege, the delegation was whole-heartedly behind me, and I came in second to a great nominee. I wondered like most of us do as to why such and such happened, but now 3 years later things make more sense, and feel so very differently.

I’m not suggesting at all that things go a certain way in an “It was meant to be” kind of way. I am no predestinarian. However, I do believe in God’s providence. Providentially I can look back over the last 3 years and count merciful reasons why I wasn’t elected bishop. Our family has had 2 births, 2 deaths, 2 graduations, 3 hospitalizations, and 1 ordination. The two births were Narcie and Mike’s Evy and Josh and Karen’s Kaela. The 2 deaths were the sudden losses of Cindy’s Mom and my brother, Carlee. The 2 graduations were Caleb and Karen. The 3 hospitalizations were Cindy’s saga this year with a series of surgeries, and, of course, the June 11, 2010 brain tumor surgery for Narcie. Please keep praying for her. The 1 ordination was Josh as an Elder in the UMC yesterday.  It’s been a busy couple of years.

Now perhaps the real providential reason I wasn’t elected 3 years ago was because I needed to grow some more and I still do for that matter. But here we are again and the South Carolina Annual Conference has spoken again. I was first-elected clergy again, amazingly, and I am so grateful for all those who have prayed for me and given their support. Yesterday afternoon the delegation unanimously endorsed me as their Episcopal nominee for 2012. It will be another long year, but things already feel so much better.

The primary reason this feels so different now is the groundswell of the Spirit. It hasn’t just felt like the delegation is behind me, but the whole Annual Conference. It’s a “we” thing and everyone is on the team. Jesus’ Spirit of Pentecost is alive and well and I am grateful. Maybe 3 years ago it was more of a personal call still. Now I feel it in my bones as an ecclesiastical call. It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus and the church.

This Annual Conference is our family home. Narcie, Josh, and I are full members of the conference and feel that community in such a rich way. I want to say “Thanks!” to every one of you. Thanks for being with us through all the peaks and valleys. This is our journey together. The Scriptural theme of what we’ve been through is clear:

Ecclesiastes 3: A Time for Everything

1 There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3 a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

6 a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7 a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

9 What do workers gain from their toil?

10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.

11 He has made everything beautiful in its time.

He has also set eternity in the human heart;

yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Amen!

I don’t know what the future holds, but I trust in the providence of God no matter what.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmYOc2iZozU – The Summons

Memories and Calling

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This picture says a lot – Great perch except for the doo under your feet. I know folks who can see a pile of manure and believe there’s a pony underneath, and then there are folks who seem to attract trouble. I guess most of us are somewhere in between those that appear to have a Teflon coating and avoid trouble sticking to them, and those that seem to never ever catch a break. Reminds me of the Apostle Paul who said in Philippians that he had learned to have contentment whether well-fed or hungry. How? The answer is in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ.”

Now that’s the rub isn’t it? At least it is for me. Doing everything through Christ is easier said than done. Basing my contentment and joy on Christ rather than circumstances, doctor’s reports, or bank account balances is more than kind of hard for me. For instance, the bird picture comes from a shot I took this past January at Epworth-By-The Sea on St. Simon’s Island, Ga.; beautiful spot and brings back memories. One of those memories is from 2 years ago when I was a nominee for Bishop. I, along with others, had to stand up and speak about our episcopal calling. Then last week I was at Lake Junaluska Assembly in NC where I made the same type speech and where the election was held. Two years ago today I came in second to a great guy. Second, second – beats last, but… am I spiritually up to going through that gauntlet again? There’s a lot of doo and poo that abounds in the process, but that’s life, c’est la vie, n’est pas?

Someone yesterday asked me if I was “running” again for Bishop. Well, it’s not “running,” is it? At least, not for me. It’s a calling, and in the United Methodist Church, you can have a wonderful personal call, but that call has to be ratified and confirmed by an ecclesiastical call via the voters at Jurisdictional Conference. Well, the answer is “Yes.” I still feel called to do the task. Everything I’ve been through has been a school for this calling, but I am not and will not be presumptuous about other people’s clarity about that. I can die content with whatever happens, and I’d trade everything I have in life for my little girl to be well.

Next year’s Annual Conference elections have a lot to say about all of this anyway. That’s who gets a lot of “say” in this, and my hands are full in the meantime as a Dad to Narcie (Mike) and her future, husband to Cindy who was thankful to get her mother’s estate settled today. And, of course, I’m MacMac to Enoch and Evy and will keep on encouraging Josh (Karen) and Caleb. Plus, I love being District Superintendent to the Columbia District Clergy and laity spending time with both. For going on 5 years I have been spending 3 hours with each clergyperson doing whatever they want to do and we’ve done everything from hiking, trips to the zoo, crawling under churches, Frisbee golf to real golf. What we’ve been doing is making friendships, connections beyond consultations in my office or at a Charge Conference. I have spent hours with District laity getting to know the people, teaching in Lay Speaking classes, leading United Methodist Men’s retreats, and more.

To be honest, I think this kind of community-building underscores one of the most important senses of my call about being a bishop. You can’t be a decent one, in my book, if you don’t stay in and know the Annual Conference to which you are assigned. I don’t know why over 4-8 years I couldn’t do what I do now with the Columbia District clergy and laity. If a bishop takes their being on site seriously, there has to be a genuine concerted effort to connect with the clergy AND laity of an Annual Conference. It can be done!!! I’m doing it now, on a smaller scale, every year.

And this is in the midst of everything else on my plate. There’s no way that being a Bishop or a District Superintendent is a part-time job. Next week I head to Emory’s Candler School of Theology for my 10th year of teaching “United Methodist Discipline and Polity.” Then right afterward I head to our Cabinet Retreat, then it’s off to Africa for the Worldwide UMC Study Committee where we will listen to how other UM’s around the world live out our polity and ponder how much do we have in common and what should be in a shared Book of Discipline and not adapted region to region. I’m not for much, if any, diocesan regional adaptation. That’s one of the reasons why we’re UNITED Methodists! I’ll stop in Ethiopia, go to Mozambique, then through South Africa, and end up in Ivory Coast (Cote D’Ivoire). I’ve had enough inoculations to last me a lifetime – wish I’d had some before I went to Manila for the Connectional Table earlier this Spring.

Anyway, in the midst of all this my email from the Columbia District will be answered, and I’ll be in touch with the needs at home with my family. As a potter I know how you have to stay connected to the clay, become one with it, to create art. The emotional oneness is what makes the difference between a craftsman and an artist. I want to be an artist and feel the inner dance of this marvelous life God has given us through Jesus. You can’t enjoy the perch without making fertilizer, right? Ah, but the view is great, and worth it all. The song “The Summons” from The Faith We Singarticulates the call I feel better than I can. Give it a listen.