Let Your Eyes Shine!

I have taken up a new hobby over the past year. I am on the lookout for shining eyes. Like everyone else, Gary and I wear a mask whenever we are in a public setting. Masks have become a symbol of the seriousness of COVD-19. I enjoy the whimsy of masks and how they can symbolize our creativity, individuality, and perseverance. At the same time, I have moved beyond focusing solely on masks to the search for shining eyes.

Over this past year, I have adjusted to no longer being able to see people’s facial expressions. But I can look into their eyes. Sometimes the eyes are dim, and I sense depression, anxiety, fear, and hopelessness. Other times, the eyes are shining with love, joy, peace, possibility, and hope for the future.

Did you see it during the inauguration ceremonies? No, we could not see the faces of members of Congress, dignitaries, and guests who were present. But from President Joe and First Lady Jill Biden, to National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, to singer Garth Brooks, the shining eyes were radiant.

One of my favorite books on leadership is The Art of Possibility; Transforming Professional and Personal Life, by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, originally published in 2000. Leadership is an art of possibility, according to the Zanders, who draw on their experience as teachers, communicators, and as the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra (Ben) and family therapist and consultant on conflict and transformation (Rosamund).

The Zanders are convinced that the conductor/leader is not a dominator but a conduit of possibility. We lead by making others powerful, by never doubting the capacity of the people we lead to fulfilling the dreams that we encourage and that they claim for themselves. The book is full of brilliant insights about how leaders empower others to become their truest and best selves. The following are some of the leadership lessons that the Zanders believe evoke the art of possibility in all of us.

  1. Step into a world of possibility. As leaders, we are called to set before people a vision and then become the possibility ourselves. “Enlarge the box, or create another frame around the data, and problems vanish, while new opportunities appear.”[i] Great leaders create new pathways.
  2. Give everyone an “A.” We lead best by reminding those we lead that they are all “A” students. Giving others an “A” from the beginning is a possibility to live into rather than an expectation to live up to.
  3. We can lead from any chair. We need to communicate that every person has the power to make a difference from whatever chair they occupy in the orchestra/congregation. Every person can lead.
  4. Downward spiral talk excludes possibility. Negativity speaks of scarcity rather than abundance and creates a false picture of how things are going from bad to worse. We are called to inspire others to stretch beyond their known capacities.
  5. Don’t take yourself so seriously. When we lighten up our childish demands and entitlements and peel away our pride, we move away from our calculating self to our central self, which is focused on others. The Zanders call this rule #6 – it’s a rule I have to repeat to myself every morning!
  6. Give way to passion. Performance is not about perfection but passion. It’s about letting everyone’s unique voice sing. Passionate leaders take people beyond where they would normally go.
  7. Light a spark. When our hearts burn with faith and fervor, we light sparks of possibility in the lives of others.
  8. Take responsibility for all that happens in our life. Admitting mistakes keeps our spirits whole and frees us to choose again.
  9. And then there are the shining eyes. Zander asks the question in a brief video,  “Have you ever noticed that the conductor of an orchestra never makes a sound?” The conductor depends for his or her power on the ability to make others powerful. How do we know when we, too, have awakened possibility in others, whether it’s our children, our students, or our colleagues in ministry, whether laity or clergy? By looking into their eyes. If their eyes are shining, they have become a vessel of the Holy Spirit.

As we continue to lead and learn during this time of COVID-19, the possibilities for experimenting, adapting, and imagination are endless! All I know is that everywhere I go, I see shining eyes.

  • Knowing that the orchestra conductor does not make a sound but depends for power on making others powerful, how do you lead? Do you lead by controlling or by becoming a servant leader and empowering others to lead?
  • Do you and the Committee on Lay Leadership in your church encourage people to lead from any chair in the orchestra (congregation)?
  • What might happen if you gave everyone in your church an “A” before they “earned” it? Might this be what we call “grace”?
  • Do you train and encourage others to be conduits of possibility: to identify gifts and equip others for ministry rather than do all the hands-on ministry yourself?
  • Can you quiet the voice in the heart of individuals and congregations that says, “I can’t do this”?
  • Do you minister out of an attitude of scarcity or abundance?

A final story. Last May, Benjamin Zander asked Velléda C. Miragias, the Boston Philharmonic’s Assistant principal cellist, if she would be interested in playing her cello in the driveway of the Zanders’ Boston home. Boston’s Symphony Hall had become completely silent since COVID.

Muragias played an hour of J.S. Bach’s solo Suites. Miraculously, people stopped and the outdoor concerts became a weekly event, with over 200 people sometimes and thousands of comments from live Facebook streams all over the world.

“When asked about his role in the concert series, Zander insists that he did very little. He has just gathered an audience of shining eyes, as he puts it. ‘The aim of all of this is to create shining eyes,’ Zander says. ‘My definition of success is not wealth, fame, or power, but how many shining eyes do I have around me?’”

I am convinced that each pastor and layperson in every church around the world gets an “A”. Congratulations! You and your congregation have so much more potential than you may realize. Go for it! Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The whole world is in your hands. Be the possibility and let your eyes shine!

[i] Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, The Art of Possibility; Transforming Professional and Personal Life, Penguin Books, 2000, p. 14.

Come, Be Near Us

I had just awakened last Thursday and was reciting my daily scriptures and prayers. They include my morning prayer, Psalm 23, the Lord’s Prayer, Wesley’s Covenant Prayer, and my personal mission statement. All of a sudden, a song came into my heart from out of nowhere. “Come, Be Near Us” is from a 1977 collection of sacred songs by Bert and Nance Carlson[i]. It had been forty years since I both accompanied and sang this song.

The Rev. J. Bert Carlson pastored a number of congregations for over fifty years in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Indiana and died in 2017. He was also a musician and composer. Pastor Carlson’s wife Nancé wrote the words to Bert’s music and was very involved in music and drama ministries. She died in 2016.

Each of the seven solos in the collection is unique and soulful. I sat down at our piano on Thursday and began to learn Come, Be Near Us once more. You can listen to the song here:

On this Martin Luther King, Jr, Day, as we remember our call to create the beloved community:

Lord, come be near us today,

Lord, keep your hand on our shoulders,

Lord, come, come down, be near.

Lord, come, come down, be near.

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

Lord, let us come on knees,

Lord, as we come alone,

Lord, let our spirits unite as one,

Lord, grant us thy grace.

“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”

Lord, lead us from this day ever on,

Lord, let us know your will.

Lord, let us share your love,

Lord, let us be your instruments, Lord, be near us.

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Lord, come be near us today,

Lord, keep your hand on our shoulders.

Lord come, come down, be near.

Lord, come, come down, be near.

“Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Lord, let us come on knees, Lord, give us strength.

Lord, let our pride never divide.

Lord, when love is tested and tried,

Lord let us turn to you for aid,

“Our goal is to create a beloved community, and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”

Lord, let us be your children.

Lord, let us sing you praise,

Lord, let us thank you all our years.

Lord, be near us.

“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”

Lord, come be near us today,

Lord, keep your hand on our shoulders,

Lord, come, come down, be near.

Lord, come, come down, be near us.

“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

As we pray for a peaceful transition of power when President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on Wednesday, may we all pray these words of Martin Luther King Jr., which are found on the South Wall of the MLK Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C. (Christmas sermon, Atlanta, Georgia, 1967)

“If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”

May God give us the courage to create a beloved community in every corner of our world. Lord, come be near us today.

 

[i] Sacred Songs of Bert and Nance Carlson, Sacred Music Press, Dayton, Ohio, 1977.

What Can We Yet Become?

How sobering that it all came down on Epiphany Day, January 6. Last Wednesday we celebrated the story of the Wise Men, who came from the East to worship the Christ Child because they saw a star in the sky. Having been warned in a dream not to return to King Herod, who ordered that all children ages two and younger be killed, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus went back a different way and settled in Nazareth.

The New Year has certainly kicked off in a different way because on January 6, we observed not only the Slaughter of the Innocents, but we witnessed the occupation of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C., our iconic symbol of democracy. This was the first large-scale assault on the capital since 1814. No one ever dreamed that this could happen. As a child I remember reciting every day, with my hand over my heart, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Hymn-writer Carolyn Winfrey Gillette penned these words after the 2020 elections:

God of love, we’ve known division and we’ve seen its awful cost.
We have struggled as a nation, and there’s much that we have lost.
We have been a house divided – and, divided, we can’t stand.
May our nation be united; give us peace throughout this land.

Copyright © 2020 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Tune suggestion: Beech Spring

At a time when daily COVID-19 deaths would reach an all-time high of over 4,100 the day after the attacks, the Capitol building was besieged around 1 p.m. by a chaotic mob smashing windows and ransacking offices. Legislators were quickly escorted out of their chambers to places of safety. The U.S. Capitol Police were overwhelmed, and federal law enforcement was absent. Rioters and looters had free reign, with lawmakers forced to shelter in place for hours. Six people have been killed, including two of the Capitol Police. Many others were injured, and over 100 people had been arrested as of Sunday, including a man absconding with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s lectern. It was painful to see some rioters waving the “Christian” and “Confederate” flags.

What have we become? It was truly shocking, but we should have known. These were not mere protestors. This was, in effect, an insurrection urged on by President Trump and others who were livid that legislators were about to certify the election of President-elect Biden. As senators and representatives were carrying out the constitutional process of certifying the winner of the presidential election, a violent and menacing crowd disrupted this most basic functioning of our democracy. Zip ties were carried to bind congressional leaders, and a gallows was constructed outside the capitol. Insurrectionists chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” The acts of these people demonstrated a profound disrespect for and attempted subversion of a cherished American institution. In addition, they put lawmakers, staffers, and many others in danger.

Turn us, Lord, from what divides us – fear that drives us far apart,
greed that leads to great injustice, racist ways that break your heart.

May we seek what brings together – hearts that bear each other’s pain,
care and mercy toward our neighbors, love that welcomes strangers in.

After previously promoting the January 6 protests and tweeting on December 19, “Be there, will be wild!” President Trump addressed the rioters on Wednesday afternoon in a brief minute-long video. “We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election. And everyone knows it, especially the other side. We love you. You’re very special. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil but go home and go home in peace.”

What have we become? Have we forgotten who we are as Americans and as human beings? How could we not have seen this coming? Since January 6, more than a dozen White House staff and Cabinet members resigned because of the President’s actions in inciting the riot and refusing to accept his election loss.

May we all, in conversation, speak the truth and listen well.
May we hear, across this nation, stories others have to tell.
May we learn from other cultures and be blessed by their worldview;
May we serve with one another – loving others, loving you.

More important, who can we yet become? In the Christian year, the season of Epiphany reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world who commanded his disciples to preach the gospel of faith, hope, and love to all the nations. What epiphany is God teaching us right now in the midst of a presidential transition? What sudden revelation have we received as we ponder our responsibility to be good neighbors and responsible citizens? I believe God is calling you and me to speak out, as our membership vows affirm, “against evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever form they present themselves.” As Jesus is the light of the world, so we need to allow Christ’s light to shine through our words and actions.

Photo via https://www.goodfreephotos.com/

Together, we have the privilege and the responsibility to proclaim the sacred worth of all people. Lamenting the violence of this week, we remember Abraham Lincoln who, in his 1864 address on the battlefield of Gettysburg, said, “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

You have challenged us to goodness; you have shown a kinder way.
It’s your love that now inspires us as we seek a better day.
May we end our harsh division; may we stop the hate and fear.
Make us one, Lord, as a nation; may we be united here.

Alex Trebek, the beloved host of Jeopardy!, died on November 8. As the final episodes of Jeopardy! were released last week (taped in October), Trebek shared some final thoughts. He reminded his viewers to give thanks for all their blessings. Then he said, “I’d like you to open up your hands and open up your heart to those who are still suffering because of COVID-19, people who are suffering through no fault of their own. We’re trying to build a kinder, gentler society, and if we all pitch in a little bit we’re gonna get there.”

By God’s grace, who can we yet become? We’re gonna get there together.