The global crisis that we now find ourselves in, with the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus, is placing unimaginable stress on vulnerable communities and those experiencing poverty. As millions are on lockdown and businesses are closing, unemployment is spiking. Paying rent and utilities, getting food and finding basics like diapers is tougher than ever before.
Yet during such a time of uncertainty and crisis, people are together to support one another in new and remarkable ways.
Local Leadership Foundations throughout the world are stepping up and taking the lead in helping demonstrate the COVID-19 crisis as a our collective strength.
In conjunction with church partners, they are managing phone lines every day Monday-Friday. Thanks to their efforts, the elderly and people who are immunocompromised are able to get essential medicine and food, that they’d otherwise have to go without. We then refer the request to sheriff deputies for delivery or to our local food bank for people who cannot purchase food.
RIOTS ON TOP OF THE VIRUS
In Delhi, India, the local leadership Foundation, Catalyst, is serving in an extremely tense environment — many have recently lost their homes to riots, migrant farm workers have been pushed out of their humble dwellings, and the city is under a complete lock-down.
Catalyst has been given special permission and is one of the only groups in the entire city that can leave their houses to provide services. Every day, their staff work tirelessly to try to meet the emergency needs of the most vulnerable and destitute on the streets of Delhi.
Keep Us, our city, our country and the whole world in your prayers.”
says Catalyst president, Abhishek Gier.
These are just a few examples of the heroic ways in which Leadership Foundations are stepping up amidst this global crisis on behalf of vulnerable people in cities throughout the world.
YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Consider making a special gift today to Leadership Foundations to ensure that our network can continue to be as responsive to the growing and long term needs as we seek to not only meet emergency need, but to rebuild and rehabilitate these communities.
It is in times like we find ourselves in today–with the COVID-19 pandemic on everyone’s mind–that many would say to Leadership Foundations,
“Cities as playgrounds?
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
They sure look more like
battlegrounds these days to me.”
With social distancing potentially making us see our neighbors as our enemies, and shelter in place orders breeding distrust and fear, it seems like our cities are becoming more like battlegrounds.
Counterintuitively, I believe that it is in times like these where this central metaphor of LF, Cities as Playgrounds, holds its greatest promise. In fact, this image of Cities as Playgrounds can remind us all of why going through a trauma like what we’re going through is even worthwhile.
So how do we live in a time of crisis like today? How do we lead?
I ultimately believe a time like this calls us to live and lead out of a place of freedom. In his second letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul simply says, “where the Spirit of God is, there is also freedom.” The movement of God is always drawing us toward a place of freedom- both interior and exterior freedom.
And by definition, being free, as a leader, means to engage in the world in a way that is non-reactive.
So here are three practical realities in which I believe non-reactive leadership can be lived out in our day-to-day lives:
1. Non-reactive Leadership is Characterized by a Non-Anxious Presence
You know leaders and you know that place in yourself that is so anxious to please the crowd in front of you, that place so eager for
the approval of others.
Leaders who are able to practice “non-anxious presence” recognize that they don’t require the approval of others.
They are clearly aware that their ultimate value comes from a source much deeper and unshakable–a source that is much different than the whims of the crowd.
2. Non-reactive Leadership Pivots From the Practice of Being Holy
A word that often holds too much religious baggage, the word “Holy” simply points to its relative with a ‘W’, “Whole.”
When we see things as a whole, we see how they are connected to one another.
This then becomes our working assumption in leadership–that ALL things are connected. But the trick is, you can only see this interconnectedness from a nonreactive place.
3. Non-reactive Leadership Leads to an Eschatological – not Apocalyptic – Way of Seeing
Trappist monk Thomas Merton was known to make this distinction. When we see with Apocalyptic eyes, we are seeing in a way that is in response to what is right in front of us–in other words, reactively, out of fear for what we think the future holds.
When we see with Eschatological Eyes, we see with the eyes of hope. This doesn’t paper over the harsh realities we’re experiencing in our day-to-day lives, on our city streets or in our quarantined communities. But nonetheless we can imagine and envision hope in a way that brings our reality into sharper focus–that can envision the fullness of creation being within our reach.
It is in this place of non-reactivity, of freedom, that all of us can continue to see our communities as places of God’s deep hope and love. Even in times of crisis, God’s promise of our cities as playgrounds is there for us to live into.
On a quarterly basis, Leadership Foundations holds a quarterly conversation with our network on what it looks like to think theologically as local Leadership Foundations see their cities as playgrounds.
We were blessed to host bestselling author and public theologian Jim Wallis, who shared about what it looks like to lead and be a follower of Christ in times of crisis.
Meet Mario Matos, one of the remarkable leaders in the Leadership Foundations Network. Mario serves as the president of Sinergia, the Leadership Foundation of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
In a city that is growing rapidly, with a broadening chasm between the rich and poor, Sinergia is bringing together nonprofits, churches, and businesses to work together for the common good of their city!
We had the gift of hearing from Mario recently at a conversation hosted by LF’s Leadership Council, a group LF’s most faithful and dedicated supporters. You can listen to the wonderful conversation by clicking the link below:
T.S. Eliot, in his poem regarding Ash Wednesday which inaugurates the Lenten Season we are currently walking through as a Church, writes these evocative lines: “Where shall the word be found, where will the word resound? Not here, there is not enough silence.”
These words haunt me, and perhaps you. They raise the question not of whether the word is ever present and accessible; we know it is. The very economy of God is described through the parable of the sower as scandalously effulgent. The word is seen falling everywhere on all parts of our life: the holy and the profane. Rather, the question the poem raises is whether you and I are present and accessible. In short, have we nurtured a space where there is “enough silence” so the word can “be found” and, where it will “resound?”
One of the great graces of the Lenten Season is that we are given explicit permission to spend time on ourselves in a way that the other four seasons of the church do not allow. We are meant to focus on those places in our life where “there is not enough silence” and make the necessary changes. This is hard work. Work that while needed, can leave us in a state of disequilibrium, despondency and with a feeling of disqualification.
And yet, it is in this very season of Lent, and this very place of desperation, that God graciously affords us the time and space to answer Eliot’s question in the positive; that we may collaborate with God’s Spirit to create a “silence” where it is possible that the “word be found” where it will “resound.”
Many blessings and may this Lenten Season be a place where you find enough “silence” so the word can be “found” and “resound” in your life, ministry and city.
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 repairthat 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.
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.
Take a moment to listen to the latest episode of the City as Playground Podcast.
This episode begins a new series of the LF podcast which will feature the heroic stories of leaders throughout the LF network. Rick and Dave begin by discussing Bob Terry’s definition of leadership as well as Marshall Gant’s framework of storytelling which will be used in the upcoming interviews of LF leaders. Please join us for the upcoming episodes as we tour LF cities and leaders. Listen here and send in any questions you would like answered to email@example.com.