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Jesu, Juva

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

Joyful

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Naw, I don’t think life is a tragedy. Tragedy is something that can be explained by the professors. Life is the will of God and this cannot be defined by the professors; for which all thanksgiving. I think it is impossible to live and not to grieve but I am always suspicious of my own grief lest it be self-pity in sheeps [sic] clothing. And the worst thing is to grieve for the wrong reason, for the wrong loss. Altogether it is better to pray than to grieve; and it is greater to be joyful than to grieve. But it takes more grace to be joyful than any but the greatest have. (Flannery O’Connor, Collected Works, quoted in Ralph Wood, Flannery O’Connor and the Christ–Haunted South, 214-215)

Written by Scott Moonen

November 17, 2018 at 4:29 pm

The joy-filled life

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I was delighted by C. R. Wiley’s thoughts on Tom Bombadil in these two blog posts: Bombadil at Home and The Bombadil Option.

I try to keep [Bombadil] in mind when the Gandalfs of the world try to send me gallivanting off on an adventure. I’m not immune, mind you. At times I feel the stirring, and sometimes I even ride off to try and save the day. But eventually I come home again. And after that?—wistfully stare out the window and long for significance?

Or should I gather water lilies for my Goldberry and enjoy her charms; eating the food she has prepared for me and sitting by the fire and laughing as I recall the queer antics of badgers? I think so—because that’s the world I’m made for, the world I go to save when the lust for derring-do sweeps me along. That’s the world I’ve been given to serve as master.

Written by Scott Moonen

December 30, 2017 at 12:26 am

Posted in Miscellany, Vocation

Joy at the end of the tether

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The Lord enjoins every one of us, in all the actions of life, to have respect to our own calling. He knows the boiling restlessness of the human mind, the fickleness with which it is borne hither and thither, its eagerness to hold opposites at one time in its grasp, its ambition. Therefore, lest all things should be thrown into confusion by our folly and rashness, he has assigned distinct duties to each in the different modes of life. And that no one may presume to overstep his proper limits, he has distinguished the different modes of life by the name of callings. Every man’s mode of life, therefore, is a kind of station assigned him by the Lord, that he may not be always driven about at random. So necessary is this distinction, that all our actions are thereby estimated in his sight, and often in a very different way from that in which human reason or philosophy would estimate them. There is no more illustrious deed even among philosophers than to free one’s country from tyranny, and yet the private individual who stabs the tyrant is openly condemned by the voice of the heavenly Judge. But I am unwilling to dwell on particular examples; it is enough to know that in every thing the call of the Lord is the foundation and beginning of right action. He who does not act with reference to it will never, in the discharge of duty, keep the right path. He will sometimes be able, perhaps, to give the semblance of something laudable, but whatever it may be in the sight of man, it will be rejected before the throne of God; and besides, there will be no harmony in the different parts of his life. Hence, he only who directs his life to this end will have it properly framed; because free from the impulse of rashness, he will not attempt more than his calling justifies, knowing that it is unlawful to overleap the prescribed bounds. He who is obscure will not decline to cultivate a private life, that he may not desert the post at which God has placed him. Again, in all our cares, toils, annoyances, and other burdens, it will be no small alleviation to know that all these are under the superintendence of God. The magistrate will more willingly perform his office, and the father of a family confine himself to his proper sphere. Every one in his particular mode of life will, without repining, suffer its inconveniences, cares, uneasiness, and anxiety, persuaded that God has laid on the burden. This, too, will afford admirable consolation, that in following your proper calling, no work will be so mean and sordid as not to have a splendor and value in the eye of God. (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.10.6)

HT: Rich Lusk

Written by Scott Moonen

March 26, 2017 at 7:24 pm

Posted in Vocation