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Archive for the ‘Vocation’ Category

A Failure of Nerve

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For several years now I’ve appreciated and benefited from Edwin Friedman’s book on leadership, A Failure of Nerve. I enjoy thinking about big ideas that help to make sense of God’s world. For example, it is helpful to think of all sin as being a form of idolatry, or a form of pride, or arising from a kind of covetousness. We look for a structure of conflict and climax in most of our stories. René Girard teaches us to look for imitation and scapegoating in all of the crises of story and history, and points us to the one scapegoat who alone can cover mankind’s sin.

Edwin Friedman’s organizing big idea revolves around anxiety. He was a student of organizational behavior, ranging from families and churches to businesses and nations. He suggests that all of the ways that an organization can break down involve a kind of anxiety on the part of the group or the leader or both. And from this he draws a program of non-anxious leadership.

Friedman sees anxiety behind how a group or organization becomes stagnant, resistant or even hostile to change and growth; and also behind leaders’ addictions to either quick fixes or to data rather then decisive action. He suggests that a non-anxious approach to leadership is crucial, that the “calm presence” of a leader matters more to calming an organization’s anxiety than almost anything else the leader says or does. He develops this into an idea of what he calls “differentiation,” which is the leader’s own focus on his integrity and stability. Out of this non-anxious differentiation, he charges leaders to allow their organizations to experience a healthy dose of their own learning experience and even pain so that they can mature; what you might call a sort of non-anxious “tough love” that is appropriately sympathetic but does not devolve into the kind of empathy that is powerless to help others grow. In Friedman’s model, the leader functions both as a kind of anxiety absorber and also an immune system.

Although Friedman was not a Christian, many of his ideas have Christian parallels. Jesus charges us not to be anxious, and the fact that Jesus himself is not anxious is perhaps the greatest boost to our own faith. It is faith, after all, that is the true antidote to fear and anxiety, and Jesus invites us to bring our cares to him. Perhaps a way of expressing Friedman’s differentiated self is to say that it is a faith-filled, wise, mature, patient, and Spirit-governed self. This integrity of a leader includes the careful watching of his life and doctrine, and the taking of logs out of our own eyes before we address the specks in others’ eyes.

There is a superficial way of reading Friedman that suggests that leaders should be aloof and uncaring. I don’t think this is what he is saying, but in any case we want to be careful not to swing the pendulum that far. And while anxious leadership may be the problem of our time, we should also be on guard for a sinful complacency.

Additional reading:

Written by Scott Moonen

November 17, 2019 at 5:54 pm

Posted in Books, Parenting, Vocation

Good Timber

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The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing.

The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began.

Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.

Where thickest lies the forest growth,
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
This is the common law of life.

Douglas Malloch, HT: Michael Foster

Written by Scott Moonen

September 11, 2019 at 11:10 am

Easy

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A world where everything was easy would be a nursery for babies, but not at all a fit place for men.

C. H. Spurgeon; HT: Michael Foster

See also: Better

Written by Scott Moonen

August 14, 2019 at 12:38 pm

Posted in Quotations, Vocation

Self-discipline

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Why not do the thing you admire, instead of admiring the thing you do?

Lisa Moonen

Written by Scott Moonen

June 20, 2019 at 8:21 am

Posted in Quotations, Vocation

Anti-natural

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Gentlemen, organic processes delay the fall. . . . When you build a wall of a house, you do not delay the fall, but you dam it up. You prevent it. You put on the brakes. You dam it off. So, gentlemen, you stop the fall. That’s what all work does, because all work tries to build, energetically, resistance against what would otherwise happen by nature. Work is always an anti–natural. By nature, the thing would crumble. By your work, you stop the fall. . . .

If you are passionate, gentlemen, you defy all the gravity. A lover, and anybody who is passionate can swing—can overcome hurdles and obstacles. He can swing himself over fences, which no impassionate man can. Passion, therefore, gentlemen, overcomes gravity. It defies gravity, and it can soar with the wings of the dawn.

(Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Comparative Religion, 1954)

Written by Scott Moonen

May 6, 2019 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Quotations, Vocation

Authentic

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Modern society tends to deprecate cultural modes of expression such as ritual, ceremony, and formal signs of affection and respect because they appear “arbitrary.” Of course, each individual cultural expression, like all symbols, is arbitrary, but the existence of some cultural expression is not arbitrary. It is humanly essential. The meaning of a cultural expression may be determined by tradition rather than by the rationally calculated requirements of the situation. But in language, art, and other matters of cultural expression, much of the symbol’s effectiveness in strengthening a community derives from the community’s tradition. To reject a language because the meaning assigned to each sound is arbitrary misses the point. All languages are arbitrary, and there is no workable substitute for a common set of meanings passed on by a human tradition.

Likewise, people in modern society can often deprecate cultural expressions as “inauthentic.” This objection also ignores an important human truth. If each individual or grouping is expected to develop independently an “authentic” and rich system of symbolic expression, then such systems will never come to be. Instead, human life will be gradually impoverished of its means of expression, and the human realities that need regular expression will be left unprovided for. Cultural expressions are shared meanings, not unique creations.

(Stephen B. Clark, Man and Woman in Christ, 607–608)

Written by Scott Moonen

March 27, 2019 at 6:50 pm

Singing and slaying

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The Rohirrim sing oft in battle:

Merry and Pippin heard, clear in the cold air, the neighing of war–horses, and the sudden singing of many men. The Sun’s limb was lifted, an arc of fire, above the margin of the world. Then with a great cry the Riders charged from the East; the red light gleamed on mail and spear.

And much later:

And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of the battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.

See also: Worship is warfare, Treebeard, Worship is warfare (2)

Written by Scott Moonen

December 9, 2018 at 7:31 pm