Parker Palmer tells a story of his own life’s experience that I will attempt to convey to you now. Coming out of a season of some depression in his mid-40’s in one of those “all the way down” moments that we have talked about previously – he thought that to shake himself out of it that he would go into a program called Outward Bound, which took place on Hurricane Island off the coast of Maine.
Upon further reflection, he thought that he would have been better served having gone to something called “Happy Time” rather than Outward Bound.
He talks about being out there at the summit of a cliff, some 110 feet above the surface. The leader tied a rope around his waist – a rope he was pretty sure has ill-kempt and likely fraying – and, according to him, begins to push him off this cliff, or push him backwards – and he finds that he’s hanging off the edge of the cliff with his body banging up against the wall of the cliff.
He has no control over his movement, and asks, “What do I do now?”
The instructor said, “The only way down now is for you to lean all the way back so that your body is at a right angle to the cliff and your weight will then be at your feet.”
Palmer was pretty sure that was the exact opposite of what he was supposed to do, because it is so counter intuitive.
So, he argues that the best way down is really for him to hug the wall of the cliff and work his way down – but the result of that effort was continually losing control and banging again against the wall of the cliff.
Finally, he decides to take the counsel of those above him and leans all the way back only to discover they were right, and he had manageable control with his feet, where otherwise he would have none.
Working his way down and reaching about half way, he hears the voices from below warning him that he needed to look below him at where he was headed. You see, his pattern of descent was leading him toward an opening in the cliff wall.
He was trying to figure out if he could maneuver around it to the right or left, and now he’s panic stricken – what does he do?
About that time, he hears the voice from below that asks him, “would you like to hear our motto for Outward Bound?”
He says, “I’m hanging here on a cliff and you want to give me your motto?”
And the motto, simply, is this – “If you can’t get out of it, get into it.”
Which went from some pithy saying to a maxim to live by as he descended this cliff. Palmer uses that as a metaphor for what would spring forth for this chapter of his book
We’ve been using Parker Palmer’s book, Let Your Life Speak, as a guide through which to understand the holy things of God and how our lives, yours and mine, have a vocation to embrace.
Thus far, we’ve been encouraged to listen to our lives – for in the deepest parts of our being there is a call of God - a life, a vocation – a gift, a birthright, from the Divine that is for you to claim.
That vocation is the place where your deepest joys intersect the world’s deepest needs.
But that call, while present, is rarely discovered on the surface of our lives – it lives in the deepest recesses of our beings – the place where pain and shadows dwell, those places we never go to gladly, and avoid at all costs –
Today, we hear about leading from within. And the word “leadership” now begins to emerge in our conversations, for, as he has discovered, and, clearly, as the Scriptures indicate, as in the call of Jeremiah, we turn to leadership by turning inward.
And if you go inward, downward and through enough you realize that your life and your world is not about “you,” but it is about how you serve those in the world with you.
“Great leadership comes from people who have made that downward journey through violence and terror, who have touched the deep place where we are in community with each other, and who can help take the rest of us to that place. That is what great leadership is all about.”
The Christian world has been abuzz this week. It appears that Mother Teresa of Calcutta had some spiritual angst. How could that be?
But truthfully, I found no more validation for faith than that story. Have we not always held her up as a paragon for all other comparisons? I mean, you might think you’ve done some good stuff in your life – but you ain’t no Mother Teresa! Right?
And her she was, this woman, this servant of God, who dealt for years with the dark nights of her soul wondering about life, about God – but notice through all the struggle, what never stopped – being the hands and feet of Christ for the broken in the world.
Her struggle, whatever it was, never stifled outward expression – day in and day out.
Can you believe it’s made the news this week? Mother Teresa had faith crisis issues, and I say “thank God,” she’s human. She lived her life. I have faith crisis issues, too, does that mean that I might yet be o.k.?
Isn’t it interesting? Some will make judgments of whether or not she qualifies for sainthood based upon these questions. I say, make it so, now – there’s no question of what her faith and life have been.
Not for her, now, but for you. Have you wondered how you are called to lead? The quote from the book earlier read tells you, you lead, whether you think you do, or not. By what you do or don’t do, say, or don’t say – leads others to understand what you think is important.
As you live your life, as you participate in your workplace, your family, your church, you city, the world – leadership is present whether you think it is, or not.
Parker calls upon the work of Annie Dillard to focus on this issue of leadership. And if you are called upon to begin our leadership from within, we must recognize the monster with which we must wrestle while we are in that inward journey.
The first is Insecurity – who am I really? Does what I have to offer, to contribute, really matter? Listen again to the call of Jeremiah – listen again to any call of God in the Scriptures and you hear elements of insecurity. It usually comes out as “me? God? Me? Really? Can’t you find somebody else?” Who am I to do that thing you call me to?
The second monster we must battle is what he calls the “hostile universe.” The reason, he suggests, that we shirk from leadership is that we are sure that everybody’s out to get us – it’s rough out there, not for the timid – so, do I engage the world or not?
The next is functional atheism – the only way to get something done is to do it ourselves. And then, he notes, ironically, you know who the worst people are at this - People of faith. Church people. Isn’t it amazing that people who think and use God language in their life and liturgy, when it comes down to believing that there is something more in the world to occur than we, ourselves can construct, that we can believe that God is the one who can make it happen?
Can we ever really surrender and believe that God is able to do something far greater than we could do on our own. And I know what you’re thinking, because I live there, too – is not the standard motto we live with, whether we speak it aloud, or not, that if “you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.” Right?
There may be some wisdom in that, but truthfully, such a posture eliminates others’ opportunities to lead.
The other two are this - fear and denial of death.
Fear is fairly obvious, for if you are called to lead, especially in the face of something new, it is a scary proposition. Fear cripples so much of what a spirit could be.
Denial of death is believing that if I work hard enough, and if I do it the right way, whatever the thing is I am a part of will live on forever. But just as we die, so do systems and structures. They have a death – and how often do we leave them on life support, when we really ought to let them go, but believing, as people of faith, by the way, that, just as we do for we humans, so, too, that if we give ourselves up, we will be resurrected by the power of God through Jesus Christ into a new creation.
Do you think of yourself as a leader. Palmer said of himself that he never saw himself as president of anything. Man, I get that, I really do, but you know, I do lead. Everyday, I’m announcing something of what I believe in by how I live. Not only by what words come from my mouth, but by what choices I make. I’m leading – always. And so are you.
In the 20th century, one of the great leaders thrust into the forefront of change who didn’t expect, or look for it, but embraced the moment was Vaclav Havel. Palmer quotes him briefly, and so shall I:
The power for authentic leadership…is found not in external arrangements, but inWhat is it that you and I seek to be as leaders within the Realm of God? Is not the word of Jesus from Luke 4, when he calls upon the words of Isaiah not that for which we are called to lead?
the human heart. Authentic leaders in every setting – from families to nation states – aim at liberating the human heart, their own and others, so that it’s power can liberate the world.
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’Right here! Right now!
You and I are called to lead from within, and we are called to go places within ourselves to find that vocation that might scare us a bit. But you’re never going to fully know what God has for you as vocation until you take that inward journey.
I close with a brief word by William Stafford – a poem titled “The Way It Is.”
There’s a thread you follow.
It goes among things that change.
But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt or die;
and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.