LF Blog

Anne Snyder Brooks remarks at LF Gathering, November 6 2019

Thank you, Bill. I never thought I’d be in the position of being introduced by YOU, someone who not only has become a kind of elder statesman in my life, and mentor, but a real friend. You’ve been someone whose convictions around the foundational importance of relationships in all their mess and all their glory have granted people like me permission to celebrate the softer mysteries of life in a town and frankly a broader philanthropic arena that tend to be afraid of the stuff you can’t measure in an input-output linear logic. Thank you, Bill, for paving the way so that romantics like me might sing with a little more confidence.

 

And speaking of singing, I confess it’s hard not to let my eyes water up here in following Nyack’s Gospel Ensemble. This evening is complete with their offering – you don’t need my words. The first piece they sang, “Amazing,” was actually the celebratory anthem that circled my husband and me almost three years ago as we held hands underneath the chuppah that served as a canopy over that holy altar of vows exchanged on our wedding day. David and I were surrounded by concentric circles of friends who had suffered long with us to discern our way to that marital consecration, and punctuating those circles were eight singers from Nyack’s Gospel Ensemble, proclaiming the amazing grace of a God who had not let the purity of our unexpected love story be defeated by those who would seek to twist it. It’s really humbling to find myself sharing a different kind of stage with you all tonight.

 

So I actually want to peel back the curtain on the very institution that these amazing singers come to us from, namely, Nyack College, because I think something about Nyack, which of course is a fallen and very imperfect institution like all institutions, still, something about it points the way toward a future and some ancient truths that can rejuvenate all of us in the work of “Thy Kingdom Come,” of turning battlegrounds into playgrounds, of serving as civic and spiritual nodes that connect and cohere local ecosystems for the patterned build of hope for the nation at large.

 

In the spring of 2015 I encountered two worlds within 24 hours—worlds yoked by creed but divided by demographic and disposition. On a crisp Wednesday evening, I was invited to attend a cocktail reception at the New York Yacht Club for a celebration amongst Catholics, evangelicals and orthodox Jewish individuals honoring the legacy of a man named Dietrich von Hildebrand, a philosopher and anti-Nazi hero during World War II. The room was filled with intellectuals, politicos, bankers and think tankers, and it was largely male and 100 percent Caucasian. These were true believers, and yet they felt isolated in their faith amidst a secular elite, beleaguered as well by a mainstream culture that seemed increasingly hostile to some fundamental principles.

 

“New York is so secular,” one panelist lamented, “we need the moral courage of von Hildebrand to stand against the corrosive culture of our day.”

 

It was just weeks before the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, and there was an air of embattled weariness in the room. The panelists sounded fearful, even defensive, though our surroundings were plush, and many of us, had you asked for a resume summary, held pedigrees sparkling with brands like Harvard and Yale, The New York Times and Google.

 

Not 24 hours later I was sitting in the front row of Bethel Gospel Assembly church in Harlem, waiting for graduates of Nyack College to walk down the aisle and receive their hoods. As you’ve no doubt figured out by now, Nyack is an unapologetically Christian university whose campus in Battery Park draws from the hundreds of storefront churches that line the boroughs beyond Manhattan. The pews were overflowing with immigrant families, Asians, Latinos and African Americans hailing from Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and beyond, with the bulk of the international students coming from the majority world. I watched a 79-year old grandmother ascend the stage and collect her diploma for the first time, followed by a Chinese woman in a wheelchair, followed a single mother, followed by an ex-offender.

 

Joy and expectation filled the air as one by one these graduates walked, danced and bowed their way to the stole that would confer the student’s official readiness for ministry and community-builders. According to the commencement bulletin, most graduates were planning to return to their home neighborhoods to serve in churches, social agencies, schools and counseling centers. Instead of expressing fear that a great Christian heritage was losing ground, there was compassion in their testimonies, the scent of hope anchored in humility and fervent faith. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when one Nyack professor addressed the graduates: “You don’t have to wait in line behind other people who are more important than you to receive God’s love.” Said another, “If the world will not listen to your words, make them listen to your lives.”

 

I’m going to show you a brief video so you have a fuller sense of the spirit of the thing. And Nyack singers, I don’t think anything here will feel all that new, but, assuming you’ve not graduated yet, hopefully a preview of this scene helps you pull through the grind of your last few semesters to arrive at this culminating day.

 

 

So I was sitting here caught up in the gorgeous triumph of it all, and I couldn’t help but let my mind wander back to the reception the night before. The contrast was striking. One room had held a concentration of the elite faithful, largely homogenous in educational and racial make-up, nostalgic and worried. Yet not one subway stop away was this room full of Christians of every tribe and tongue, radiating hope and purpose. I found my own soul singing, moved by the sight of faith without fear nor guile. Where was this world in the Yacht Club’s more foreboding diagnosis? Why the demographic blind spot among the quote “influencers” anxious for the future of Christendom?

 

It’s now been four years since that encounter, and we in the U.S. have since had an election that has exposed the cultural fences between coast and heartland, the “creative class” and everyone else. National elites are wringing their hands at a country they thought they understood, but don’t. Racial tensions are up, accompanied by a renewed, hot reckoning with our mottled history as a nation founded on ideals of human dignity and equality, that time and again has failed to embody them. A crisis of solidarity has cracked open, running first along lines of social class, now layered if not eclipsed by race and ideological worldview. Some of the more prominent voices of the Church, instead of serving as repairers of the breach, as is always the call for the people of God, have capitulated to the pressures of a divided land, baptizing their belligerence in the name of the common good while manifesting few of the virtues this good requires.

 

A subtle yet important question embedded here is one of influence: How are Christians called to influence the larger culture? As long as I’ve been an adult swimming in and out of Christian waters, talk of “witness” and “Christ redeeming culture” has seemed to hinge more on strategies leveraging temporal power than it has about nurturing contexts for demonstrations of God’s power. From messianic hopes placed in the White House every four years, to theories of cultural change overly dependent upon our elites and the institutions they represent maintaining the public trust, there seems to be a glaring forgetfulness about who Jesus Christ said He was and the Beatitudinal Kingdom He came to bring.

 

Now, a personal caveat. I’m not anti-Western civ: I have been shaped by its ideals, I have worked for institutions that seek to protect the best of those ideals. I’m also growing – I hope – to appreciate the healthy role that top-down strategies of cultural and even political influence can play, to believe in the possibility that advocacy organizations and platforms of national reach can serve the common good if these large power stewards are humble, if they listen, and if they’re able to serve the public interest in deferential relationship to the local wisdom that today seems to be making the kind of impact we as a society actually need. It was just that at Nyack, in all its grittiness, local orientation, prismatic perspective and eyes made deep by more suffering than I could ever understand, the future felt closer, the Christian difference more palpable. Here were souls whose stories were rooted in exile, and yet they were living into it with hope and hospitality. And I wondered, sitting there, tears coming down my face, if the more visible ambassadors of American Christianity, concerned for Western civilization and the freedoms of the faithful, could learn something from their posture and build an alliance.

 

This is where Leadership Foundations comes in, in fact where I think you’ve already been existing. You all, as I’ve learned the last number of years, quietly understand how to bridge and even marry the roles of the context-shaping influencers at a macro level, to the trenches-serving doers at a local level. City by city, regional network by regional network, across race and ethnicity, ideological conviction and faith or non-faith. You understand that theories of cultural change are shifting, from top-down to bottom-up, from institutions to networks, from structured hierarchies to open ecosystems, from advice by outside expert to praxis by indigenous shepherd. And I’ve watched you live out the truth that love can never be abstracted – we’re touched by incarnational living and doing, less prescription from on high.

 

There’s a lot of despair and diagnosis of problems at the national level today, in our media, in all our Facebook feeds, but out in reality where I think most of you live and work, human beings are still human beings, and there really is a defiant civic unfurling going on, one that I see and hear as animated by a mischievously Christ-shaped truth that forgiveness is where all pride dies and all flourishing begins, that reconciliation is never impossible, that hospitality and respect for the other are the birthstool, and that it may be more important to care for the world than to rule it, to weave opposing factions together in shared projects than to win a bunch to a side.

 

I’ve had the privilege of meeting many of you and people like you the last few years, people I like to call community shepherds, those have mastered the skill of seeing others and knowing them deeply, of being vulnerable with their own wounds and hopes, and initiating relationships across difference and discomfort. There’s Pancho Argüelles in Houston, who has spent years accompanying a group of immigrant workers paralyzed by construction injuries to find wheelchairs, diapers, catheters, and other supplies they and others need to survive day-to-day-life. Men and women whose spines are literally broken beyond repair, but who, in a powerful twist that is the logic of the Kingdom, have become key players in the very spine of Houston’s recovery efforts post Hurricane Harvey. There’s Reverend Lew Powell, a black Episcopal deacon who goes up to Magalia in the mountains of northern California every day, to walk alongside people who’d much rather be cantakerous loners, rural white folks who have lost everything as a result of the awful Camp Fire that wiped their town and the neighboring Paradise, California off the face of the map last November 8, a year ago this Friday. There’s Dave Durocher in Salt Lake City, who, after 20+ years serving prison sentences is now leading the most effective regimen for moral change and habit formation in the country. There’s Michael Allen and David Dillon in Chicago, who with an unlikely band of pastors, business executives, philanthropists and social activists have gone all in a cross-racial, cross-neighborhood, urban-suburban collective impact strategy to reduce Chicago’s homicide rate and weave divided constituencies together. There’s Mack McCarter in Shreveport, who’s made initiating behaviors block by block transformative of the city’s neighborhoods. There’s Peyton and Andrew Hart in Indianapolis, whose school, The Oaks Academy, pairs transcendent ideals with the worthwhile friction of the most racially and socioeconomically diverse school in Indiana. There’s Jimmy Dorrell in Waco, whose Church Under the Bridge with the city’s homeless and mentally ill glows more with the fragrance of Christ than any cathedral I’ve ever visited. There’s Byron Sanders and Larry James in Dallas, whose friendship across the north-south, white-black divide in that city continues to transform them both even as it breaks itself open to close the opportunity gap for the city’s youth. And there’s Dave Hillis here, whose humble way of discerning the times is a model of 21st century leadership, certainly a model for me. And all of these folks, all of you realists who yet choose to act and serve, guide my steps more than the jeremiads of today’s pundits.

 

A couple of weeks ago I had the joy of learning from the painter Makoto Fujimura who some of you may know, whose visceral experience of trauma at Ground Zero on 9/11 has transformed his vocation as an artist. He brought a few of us together to consider what the ancient Japanese craft of Kintsugi might have to teach an age of fracture, most of us burned and weary from trying to build bridges in our respective fields at a time when no one wants to hear, “Love your enemies.” Kintsugi is a traditional way of mending broken pottery – it uses a shimmering gold lacquer to glue together fragments of plates and bowls that would otherwise be rendered useless. We sat at the feet of a kintsugi master who’s spent decades perfecting his craft, and I felt like I was watching the book of Isaiah come to life through clay and tender hands.

 

This kintsugi master advised us, “You have to look at the fractures for a long time before you understand what’s going on. Before any hope of healing can occur. Generations of tea master families have literally hung on to the fragments of the broken bowls, BEHELD these fragments, not despairing at their impossible future, but waiting in a patient, long-flickering hope. Not unlike fragile kinds of pottery, the traumas of a given land may be so deep you can’t fix them quickly. And indeed, Kintsugi is not just fixing something and re-using it. It’s a repair that creates something new – something unprecedented that is actually far more valuable than it was before. Kintsugi goes beyond restoration, to a new creation. It proves that something can be more beautifully broken and mended than it was before it even broke.”

 

A few weeks ago I gave the same beginnings of this talk to a different audience of intellectuals and institutional leaders who I hoped to galvanize toward a fresh vision of Christian witness, in this case, embodied in a magazine called Comment. I talked about Nyack and the hope it gives me for faith in the West, I gave a bit of my personal story to explain why a place like Nyack cuts to the quick of every longing in my soul, and I tried to paint a fresh picture of the long table of elite next to commoner, black next to white, immigrant next to indigenous, handicapped next to able-bodied, and what the conditions for such a table might be. It went well the night of, frankly the folks who looked like me cried and stood up. It did feel like a graced moment from some transcendent future, a moment of new beginnings for our little magazine engine that could.

 

But in the intervening weeks I’ve realized that the path ahead is tricky. I believe in my bones that the people of God are not only called to be repairers of the breach, restorers of homes to dwell in, but we actually uniquely equipped to do so by the powers of grace that have been granted to us and now reside in us to extend to others. But we’re in an era that seems to have lost all hope, to say nothing of muscles, to give those across perceived lines of difference the benefit of the doubt, to consider one’s own rights a loss. Power and perceived power and privilege are the bogeymen of this moment, and they’re not imaginary foils. I’ve certainly been wrestling with my own inheritance of power that I am uncomfortable holding, to say nothing of owning and relinquishing. What unknown waters of confession and repentance lie ahead of ME, someone who really only desires to be a host for a different kind of conversation amongst a larger group of souls, but may be required to lead in the way of a humility I don’t now understand and suffer in ways I can’t predict? What might I have to give up, even as I try to build?

 

      “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. …Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

 

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

 

There’s a beautiful line in a new movie directed by Terrence Mallick you all should see when it comes out in December, called A Hidden Life. It features the life and choices of a man who lived in the Austrian countryside and resisted joining Hitlers’s army. Toward the end, as the protagonist gazes up at the bars of his prison, he writes to his wife these words, “When you’re no longer willing to survive at any price, a new light floods in.”

 

I think this is the wisdom that disarms the tribal temptations of our era. A letting go, a willful self-abnegation, a breaking up of self-preservation and a breaking open of self-surrender. I want to thank all of you who are part of the global network that is Leadership Foundations. In your way, you are embodying the foolish things – you labor at the cracks of the riven landscape in city after city, waiting and watching for opportunities to mend. Your method of sewing the sacred sector together in city after city is creating gold lines in a kintsugi model, a landscape which, viewed from the sky, become a portal to a New creation. A scarred creation, maybe, but more beautiful than any clean incompleteness of yesteryear.

 

And this is our road as people who have been marked by the scars of a man who lived 2,000 years ago, the healing scars of Jesus himself. We have no choice but to walk in His way, His healing, hard, long and redemptive way.

 

Thank you.

 

Anne Snyder Brooks

Editor in Chief, Comment Magazine

CCIC Trustee 


2018 Annual Report

Your investment in Leadership Foundations in 2018 made a remarkable year possible in our quest to develop and empower the leaders of Leadership Foundations. From launching the Colangelo Carpenter Innovation Center to strengthening the Global Youth Initiative to creating an online training platform to the continual development of our data collection platform and more, LF worked hard to discover, develop, and empower leaders around the world. Your support provided the opportunity, resources, and energy to keep us in humble service to our plumb line—the leaders of Leadership Foundations.

 

 

Click here to view the 2018 LF Annual Report


Senior Associates

Is leadership born or bred? The theme of this month’s City as Playground podcast was Eucharistic Leadership. As Dave and Rick discussed, one tenet of Eucharistic leadership is that the ability to lead is just as much, if not more, a product of nurture as it is of nature. At Leadership Foundations, one of the ways this nurturing occurs is through our Senior Associations. In April, all 20 Senior Associates gathered for a three-day Stages of Impact and accreditation training in Dallas. This was a rich time of education, resourcing, and growth as a community in mission.

 

Senior Associates are committed veteran leaders who have demonstrated excellence in their respective fields of leadership. They come from backgrounds in ministry, non-profits, consultation, and a variety of other environments both inside and out of LF. This experience equips Senior Associates to resource and support LLF presidents.

 

Being a Senior Associate is no simple task. They play an integral role in LF’s mission as they meet monthly with LLF presidents to deepen the impact of the LF network. Senior Associates serve as a personal coach to LLF presidents delivering LF’s menu of baseline and ancillary services. They are also conduits between members and LF as information and opportunities arise in the LF network. Senior Associates mentor LLF presidents working to operationalize the wheel of change in their city. In addition, they are consultants to LLF presidents as inevitable problems arise. Lastly, Senior Associates are guides that listen to and spiritually support LLF presidents on their personal and professional journeys leading an LLF.

 

Senior Associates are one of the essential elements that allow LF to equip LLFs to do the difficult and joyful work of turning cities into playgrounds.


2016 Annual Report

We are excited to share the Leadership Foundations’ 2016 Annual Report with you. Last year was filled with a remarkable number of developments that have further positioned Leadership Foundations (LF) and our members as a force of good will on behalf of cities throughout the world. In this report, you will learn about the intentional process LF has taken to cultivate and drive global impact.

 

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Click here to download the 2016 LF Annual Report


2015 Annual Report

Leadership Foundations took many important steps in 2015 that have further positioned us to positively impact cities around the world for generations to come. Through this report you will learn about the processes, decisions, investments, and strategies taken to achieve these impacts. It is our sincerest hope that you sense our deep thankfulness for your contribution to making cities better and that you receive further encouragement to invest in LF moving forward.

 

Click here to download the 2015 LF Annual Report

 

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The “Faith Factor”

This blog post was written by Samuel Acevedo, Pastor and Executive Director of Boston HERC, the Local Leadership Foundation in Boston, Massachusetts.

 

I often ask God, “What is the role of the church and faith-based institutions – what is the role of ‘people of good faith’as we seek to serve and love the youth of this increasingly skeptical city? How do we make it a playground for our young people? We certainly have a role in convening ‘people of good faith’ and ‘people of good will.’ But is there more? Should there be more?”

 

In the summer of 2015, the Boston School Committee asked me to serve as the Co-Chair of a body called the Opportunity and Achievement Gaps Task Force. Of the 19 members of the Task Force, I was perhaps the sole person of good faith (as a vocation, anyway) among some of the brightest, most committed people of good will I have ever worked with. Two weeks ago, the Task Force, with great relief, presented to the Boston School Committee the results of our twelve months of toil. We had competed our revisions – really, a thorough re-casting – of a ten-year-old policy aimed at closing the gaps in academic performance afflicting Boston’s primarily black and Latino youth as long as anyone could remember. This achievement gap influences, more than anything, the long-term likelihood these youth will ever achieve a college degree, break into a profession, or earn a decent living.

 

The goal is that Boston would be the first city in America to close these gaps. It is perhaps the most ambitious challenge the School Committee has taken on in decades. Whether we achieve it, however, may depend on the role that the church (Boston’s “people of good faith”) plays in the days and months ahead.

 

What should that role be? What is the role of people of good faith in addressing the challenges facing black, Latino, and other children of color? Indeed, what was I, a Pastor and Executive Director of a church-based resource center, doing co-chairing this Task Force to begin with?

 

Four years earlier, the Boston Foundation (one of our city’s leading philanthropic institutions) launched this conversation by convening fewer than a dozen of Boston’s “Black and Brown” clergy. They gathered us around the idea of finally reversing what they referred to as the “underperformance of black and brown boys.” I had the privilege of being in the room that morning.

 

But why the clergy? I posed this question to the Foundation. I am not sure that even they realized why this, decidedly-secular, institution felt compelled to begin this conversation with a gathering of the city’s clergy. One reason the Foundation may have been interested in the clergy was the sense that they have an important constituency; these clergy men and women are significant “civic leaders.” But that only begs the question — what makes them “civic leaders”? Is it purely a manifestation of Black and Latino historic tradition? Or is there more than mere tradition at work here? Is it that our community’s churches and religious institutions possess a unique galvanizing and life-transforming power that could be harnessed to reverse the destructive trends that would otherwise claim another generation of our young men and women of color? And if we were to discover that they do possess such a life-transforming spiritual energy, would Boston have the courage to do what is necessary to unleash it?

 

There is actually a good amount of social science indicating that church involvement is one of the factors contributing to the success of those youth who grow up in “high-risk neighborhoods,” and still manage to complete college and achieve great things. (One seminal study- by no means the only one- is the federally-funded National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. After studying 13,500 adolescents in 80 communities across the nation, the study concluded that youth living in “high-risk neighborhoods” were far more likely to stay in school and do well if they attended church regularly, than if they did not. See: http://www.baylorisr.org/wp-content/uploads/ISR-Making-Grade_071.pdf)

 

But determining the proper role of the church in attempting to close the achievement and opportunity gaps haunting our youth is not so simple a thing as merely following the data. There is a sense (shared even among those who do not consider themselves religious) that a kinetic energy is locked in our houses of worship that could be unleashed to transform the lives and vision of our failing youth and the shape of our cities. But the “governing community” – the government, philanthropic institutions, corporations, etc. – is nevertheless reluctant to unsheathe that energy as a consequence of legitimate, countervailing considerations such as the separation of church and state, or a host of other issues emanating from operating within a diverse, pluralistic society. Releasing that spiritual energy, at least in its purest form, may be too high a price to pay. Even if we knew it worked.

 

I continued to contemplate these questions and ideas as I drafted the preamble and much of the language of the six core goals of our new Opportunity and Achievement Gap Policy. I think what Boston is attempting is truly heroic and noble. I pray for its success, and would be honored to contribute whatever time and energy is needed to arrest and reverse these trends that have clouded the future of our youth for far too long. Something has to change; whatever is broken needs to be fixed.

 

But the “fix” may require that Boston – and its carefully-assembled collaborative community of “people of good faith” and “people of good will” – implement solutions too unsettling for our current comfort zones. Solutions that allow the church to be “the Church”; the Church assuming the soul-saving, life-transforming role that it was created for, but has all but forgotten. To work for both its social and spiritual renewal, so that the city can truly become a playground. A role for which our broken cities, and our lost youth, have no substitute.


Changing the Metaphor: Competitors or Colleagues?

Deraa, Syria, 2011. Fifteen school children are arrested for graffitiing anti-government slogans. Locals take to the streets to protest. Military police open fire and kill four; the next day the same. Syrians all over explode into protest. The crackdown grows worse as armed resistance intensifies. Before long Syria devolves into a civil war where brutal atrocities rule the day and chance encounters can land you in prison and tortured. <1>

 

Four years later we are witnessing the largest mass migration in recent history as hundreds of thousands of Syrians, the peaceful and the practical, escape the hell of civil war in search of a better life for their families. Their goal? Wealthy Northern European countries with near-zero birthrates who urgently must replace an aging workforce. Germany alone agreed to accept a half-million immigrants per year quite literally in order to save its economy from ruin. <2>

 

Then Paris, the horror and the aftermath. The Islamic State, the new Al-Qaeda, arms and trains a group of French and Belgian ethnic Syrians to strike terror and inspire fear. And the world reacts accordingly. Syrians en masse are cast as terrorists. Suddenly they are no longer welcome anywhere.

 

By the logic of the terrorists Paris is a big win, and we should recognize it is. Their goal is to recruit the ethnic Muslims who lead lives of desperation in the dismal suburbs of Paris and Brussels. To expand jihad to the West, terrorists must convince the oppressed that jihad is the better alternative. Our reaction plays into this. For the more we vilify Muslims as terrorists the more permission we give ourselves to oppress. The more we oppress the greater their desperation. Desperation mixed with fatalism makes jihad appealing.

 

Consider Paris today in the context of the riots of 2005 <3>, when bitter, second-generation Muslim youth set fire to the outer suburbs. Over weeks nine thousand cars were burned, three dead. While the body count today is much higher, the biggest difference between now and then is simply an infusion of weapons, knowledge and a cohesive ideology.

 

Leadership Foundations urges leaders across the world to not play into the vilification. We urge leaders in media to refrain from stoking the flames of fear. And we urge our local leaders to open their communities to those who most need the support of community. Let us focus less on the act and more on relieving the social and spiritual malaise that drives desperation. How can we loosen the binds of oppression that are at the root of so much evil?

 

First we must overcome fear. Shun the voices that incite fear, and let our reason check emotion. See fear for what it is: an ever-effective way to divide, coerce and exclude. History repeatedly shows it is all too easy to succumb to fear, but let us find strength in our common humanity, our common home.

 

And let us examine ourselves. Do we regard immigrants as competitors carving out ever-smaller pieces of a fixed resource, or do we see them as colleagues with the talent and good will that will ever expand that resource? This crisis reveals a Rorschach test for our souls. Do we orient toward scarcity or abundance?

 

The Incarnation teaches that the will of God resides in flesh through Jesus. When we truly follow Jesus we take into our core being, our flesh, the will of God. It animates us and shapes who we are, how we live our lives, where we shop, how we interact with others. And it is a metaphor for humanity. We all hold in our being the will of God. When we acknowledge the divine in those who look different, have different customs, we truly may walk hand-in-hand. Let us move with grace toward each other.

 

In the end we are confident fear and vilification will subside and cooler heads will prevail. And as we set about incorporating the Syrian diaspora into our communities let us remind ourselves that how we regard our new neighbors, as neighbors, will set the tone for generations to come. Are they competitors or are they colleagues?

 

Joseph Campbell tells us that if we want to change the world, we must change the metaphor. Our communities, our common humanity, are not battlegrounds to maneuver but playgrounds to celebrate.


What National Leadership Can Learn

At the end of September we witnessed the second in a series of political cage-matches otherwise known as U.S. presidential primary debates. Afterward an article in the New York Times, Trump Remains Center Stage, wryly summed up the debate with cheerful info-graphics charting each opponent’s attacks and counter attacks. Tellingly the article reveals just how much we’ve come to regard our national politics as a spectator sport.

 

Of course spectator politics is nothing new. We root for our team, we enjoy the give and take, the strategy of outmaneuvering our opponents – it helps us stay involved. And like sports we have generally taken a view that sometimes your side wins and sometimes you lose. But in the last decade or so it seems our better natures have soured, with less give and take, more rancor and an unyielding attachment to entrenched ideologies.

 

Fueled by a cynical media we have devolved to take a more hardened approach. One that stems from a scarcity-driven mentality which assumes anything you gain I must loose. Tolerance and respectful rivalries have ossified into a false dichotomy of conservative vs. liberal, believers vs. nonbelievers, the tolerant vs. the haters. You’re wrong, I’m right. From our national politics to our personal Facebook pages we shout loud and long, vilifying our opponents by proclaiming our own righteousness.

 

What we need to do is to step back and collect ourselves, examine our consciences, and consider our motivations. We need to open ourselves to others; to put ourselves in their shoes, see the world through their eyes and, in the spirit of Jesus, work toward reconciliation rather than perpetuate animosity. All of us.

 

At Leadership Foundations we think of this as the third-way of leadership. We reject the false dichotomy, the either/or scenario, and embrace a leadership inspired more by abundance than scarcity, reconciliation over obstruction — servant leadership that seeks to nurture our common home and sublimate ego to the common good. Our work in cities around the world teaches us that this is the best path to take; to bring together opposing sectors and mobilize them around a common vision or set of values. We achieve lasting progress only when all are considered, all have a say in the outcome.

 

And while we seem mired in the zero-sum game mentality at the national level we are inspired by what is happening locally. We take heart as more and more people discover grace through community. Younger people coming into their own, less bothered by color, gender, sexuality. Who eschew the divisive and embrace that which is larger than themselves – God and our common home.

 

From Pittsburgh to Sioux Falls our cities are undergoing a renaissance. They are becoming centers of innovation, laboratories for democracy and conduits for spiritual growth. Consistently across the US our cities are transforming from places once characterized as battlegrounds into interconnected communities seen more joyfully today as playgrounds.

 

Leadership Foundations knows it is exactly this third-way, this servant style leadership that is enabling transformation to occur, and we are proud of the role we have played cultivating servant leadership in cities across the US and beyond. Our cities are becoming playgrounds not because of ideology or partisan politics, they are becoming playgrounds because local leaders of all walks are putting differences aside, checking their egos and making way for the common good.

 

We think our national leadership could learn a few things from the folks at home.

28
Aug

Hurricane Katrina: Ten Years Later

Ten years ago today category five storm surges breached the levies of New Orleans and triggered a fast moving flood that rose 20 feet and swallowed whole swaths of the city. The devastation was utter and complete. The response slow and inadequate. The situation gut wrenching. It was a momentous event that affects our psyche still.

 

Momentous for the response by our national leaders which caused a proportionate breach in trust that lingers with us. A cynical response that bet Americans did not care about poor black people or that we could be consoled by political theater. It revealed a leadership marked more by cronyism than competence, as if the very notion that “government is the problem, not the solution” had come home to roost.

 

But Katrina was equally momentous in that she showed us the brighter side of leadership too. Leadership that is local and can-do, genuinely inclusive and anchored in belief, and most of all, effective.

 

When the storm hit, Kevin Brown had been the director of Trinity Christian Community, a local leadership foundation, for six years. Their work was based in Hollygrove, a working class neighborhood of modest homes, higher than average unemployment, and its fair share of New Orleans crime. Hollygrove was a part of the 80% of the city underwater. The foundation office was destroyed, computers ruined, records lost.

 

Kevin, who managed to evacuate, was turned back by the National Guard as he tried to enter the city the day after. Aboard a boat one week later he was able to sneak past the guarded perimeter. There he found a city devastated by water, its easy spirit deep in shock.

 

As we reflect on the storm and its aftermath we reached out to talk with Kevin Brown about his effort to rebuild Hollygrove and the city of New Orleans.

 

The storm destroyed everything: your home, your staff’s homes, your office. How were you able to get back up and running?

 

It was devastating on so many levels. We lost everything; our homes were inhabitable for many months. Right afterward Reid Carpenter and other senior leaders came down and offered us a collective shoulder to lean on. They listened patiently to our stories, and were a tremendous source of healing and support. They helped us regain our confidence.

 

As we talked through how to get back on our feet, we knew we needed to do three things: 1) relocate people who had lost their homes, 2) rebuild our city, and 3) create a city that is better than we had before.

 

You managed to find homes for a couple thousand people. How?

 

Teamwork, mostly. My friend John Wiseman went from motel to motel talking to refugees, understanding their situation. Each night his wife Karen would write up his notes and send them over to me. Then I’d reach out to the Leadership Foundations network. I’m proud to say our network reached back in a big way by adopting families who needed temporary relocation. We asked the network to help folks with transportation costs, initial rent and utility expenses, provide job leads and connect each family to a house of worship, and they did. Everyone wanted to help.

 

Why was the connection to worship such a priority?

 

These people are relocating with nothing but the clothes on their backs, far away from everyone they know. Churches are full of people predisposed to care, to offer aid, to witness another’s story. It was the most practical way to connect people to community.

 

You grew up in Hollygrove and based your ministry there. What was it like when you first returned.

 

Complete destruction. Besides the overwhelming smell of rot and decay the first thing we noticed was that everything was dead. Saltwater had killed the trees, the grass, had rusted out all the cars. There was a thin white layer of salt all over everything. Eerie, like all those descriptions of nuclear fall-out made real.

 

Incomprehensible. With all that devastation where do you begin?

 

There was a long period when we couldn’t do anything. Only those with hazmat suits on official business could get in. That was when we were focused on relocating people. It was also when I became obsessed with how to rebuild flooded houses. How do you get rid of mold? Well it turns out it’s not rocket science; you tear out the old drywall and spray the framing down with boric acid. Let it dry out then put up new drywall.

 

When we got back in and were ready to build we were blessed with thousands of volunteers. Church groups from across the country came to spend their vacations helping us rebuild. Over a period of seven years they repaired or rebuilt 221,000 houses in New Orleans.

 

That’s where AmeriCorps comes in right?

 

We had a standing partnership with AmeriCorps for tutoring and mentoring. Of course the storm hit right as the school year was starting. All of a sudden we have no schools. No kids to tutor. I told them what we really needed was help repairing and rebuilding houses. “Oh we don’t do that!” But they came and saw what we were up against, and they gave us 100 AmeriCorps volunteers. How do you organize those thousands of eager and enthusiastic church volunteers? You call AmeriCorps!

 

When other organizations saw how our partnership worked they wrote their own grants. AmeriCorps was amazingly instrumental in helping New Orleans rebuild. Afterward they added disaster relief & recovery to their areas of service.

 

Sounds like it was a time to think creatively.

 

Months after the storm Mayor Nagin was waging his reelection campaign, which, given the city’s reality, was rife with a number of divisive issues, including, but not limited to, race; religion; and money. One example of the creative thinking that took place was how we used the Mayor’s campaign signs, that we believed further divided, and we cut them into strips and painted them to make new “make-due” street signs. Understand that New Orleans was crawling with insurance adjusters who could not find their way around the city — the storm blew away our street signs! Nothing was getting done because the insurance adjusters couldn’t find their way around. They were able to find their way around Hollygrove.

 

What about the third part of your plan – to recreate a better city?

 

In many ways New Orleans is in fact a better place to live. Hollygrove definitely is. In addition to rebuilding, we were able to construct ten new houses, something that hadn’t happened in decades. Those ten houses spurred more development till some 30 more houses were built. Our school was a decrepit relic from the days of segregation. Now we have a new school and a new senior center.

 

We built a hugely popular pocket farm that brings people together and feeds them. By organizing block watches we were able to shut down a notorious bar long the source of drug deals. Crime in Hollygrove is down 70% from pre-Katrina levels.

 

Even Costco! They redeveloped a moldering strip mall into their very first store in Louisiana. Say what you want but Costco brings in folks from all over the city and provides the neighborhood with good-paying jobs.

 

Perhaps most telling is that some people who came to help us rebuild actually stayed. White folks, Latinos, black folks – they’ve bought houses here.

 

I imagine those first few years were a time of amazing personal and spiritual growth for you and your team. What are your big take-aways?

 

Katrina taught us that no matter how bad things get, the way you see will greatly determine how things will work out in the end. When one of my kids is going through a rough patch I find myself telling them that if they can just make it through today, and tomorrow, and maybe the next day, it will get better. Things do get better if we orient our focus on what matters most – loving and serving each other through the good and the bad.

 

Katrina also taught us to let go. We lost our kid’s photographs, their artwork. I lost my treasured record collection. Eventually you realize it’s all just stuff. And when you can let go of that stuff you are truly set free.

 

It was an awful time in many ways. We lost a lot but in the end we gained more. We’ve developed friendships we never would have before, we improved our city, and we’ve come to know ourselves deeply.

 

As I often do I’ll quote Romans: Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope.

 

Words to live by. Thank you Kevin.

 

You can read more about the story of Trinity Christian Community’s response to Hurricane Katrina in the LF Book, Cities: Playgrounds or Battlegrounds? Leadership Foundations’ Fifty Year Journey of Social and Spiritual Renewal. Copies are available through Amazon or the Seattle Book Company.