Finding the “Courage to Be”

Kent Beduhn

October 28, 2018

Where does courage come from?

  • The one essential ingredient for leadership is courage, for many reasons:
    • COURAGE is the movement of the heart, from the French coeur, meaning heart.
    • It’s hard to stand for what you believe, sense and know to be true; to do so we must learn to “live by heart,” it calls for decision and commitment by heart.
    • It’s important to own your own strengths and gifts, but also weaknesses and vulnerabilities. If you, as a leader, don’t do that you end up projecting them onto one another, a kind of scapegoating that divides, excludes and separates.     
    • When differences are owned, revealed and then worked through among leaders, a larger set of truths and learnings emerge. This shows up in 8th Day’s continued commitment to consensus-oriented decision-making, where empathy is critical in resolving unresolved issues.
    • This heart-centered process gives us, in our best moments, the courage to be our authentic selves, the courage to serve the whole community, and most importantly the courage to be who we can in service to the poor.
  • The relationships that helped us become our most brave selves are one of the keys.

    • When we were around the camp fire at Camp Meeting, the stories that most inspire us to act out of the “courage to be” our authentic selves, are those that come up from often deep, emotional places of sisters, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, and mothers, who acted out of a greatness we continue to embrace.
    • Not surprisingly, the stories of the people who help us most to be brave, to be our best selves are those individuals and communities that we trust, who model that bravery for us. We continue to tell these stories among us and remember how to be courageous through one another’s influences.
  • The courage to be real, or as Gordon Cosby would say, “Really real,” comes from the quality of the risk in those relationships that affect us most deeply.  My own short list, drawn from saints in our midst, of these qualities includes:
    • Vulnerability
    • Listening
    • Friendship
    • Commitment (no matter what)
    • Perseverance (in good humor)
    • Creativity
    • Willingness to be open to change (one mark of a well-led community)

It is important to make your own list: What are the qualities within and among us that help me take authentic, service-focused risks?  How can I follow Jesus, as a servant?

Jesus, the Servant Leader

  • How did Jesus model and act with “courage to be” in his leadership?  First of all, he chose the life and model of the servant, a suffering servant.  This is the model we have from Isaiah 53.  How did Jesus “sing the Lord’s song” as a servant?
    • Jesus moved TOWARDS suffering.  The slight—intended as a slur—was that Jesus did the unthinkable, sitting with tax collectors, sinners and women. 
    • Jesus bowed and stooped, choosing in the lead up to his death to model connection within his inner circle, washing feet with a basin and towel wrapped around his waist.
    • Jesus consciously chose to bear others’ wrongs, sins, confessions, infirmities and insanity, by offerings of presence, acceptance, forgiveness and, yes, love.
    • This hurt!  Jesus consciously chose to work with the pain, grief, “oppression and affliction” by contemplation and prayer, grounding, centering, deepening and renewing intimate connection with God.  Usually by going away, alone, often into natural, wild regions, Jesus’ inner life was marked by the “right action/right relationship/right heart,” the righteousness, which sustained him through to death.
    • Jesus was ultimately human, crying from the cross the utter despair of abandonment, asking the High God, “Why have you abandoned me?” Even though Jesus made conscious choice to lead, and let go of his life for the sake of others, and courageously did so, it was not without feeling the isolation and sense of meaninglessness in human suffering.
    • Jesus chose to model his life and commitments in the service of one who is least among many, who is last in the group, who chooses the least respected seat and the lowest people to associate with, and in doing so, many things happen (directly out of Isaiah 53):
      • Through him, God’s “will prospers:” Jesus’ project to align his will Gods—from the Wilderness in the beginning to the Garden of Gethsemane, works to build the Kingdom of God, where “God’s will prospers.” 
      • He “finds satisfaction through his knowledge:” For all that news and “fake news” brings us, it is not the kind of knowledge that brings satisfaction, good fruits.
      • He “makes many righteous by bearing their iniquities:” We are all made better because Jesus took on our “iniquities,” defined as “immoral or grossly unfair behavior, vice or sin.”
      • He is “allotted a portion with the great:” The Servant is given the part of life the great truly partake in.
      • He “shall divide the spoil with the strong:” Whatever is gained in the fight for right is shared with the “strong”—those strong enough to serve the good of the whole.
      • So, remarkably—back to the beginning of the Suffering Servant Song in Isaiah 52:13, “See, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up very high.”  

Marks of Leadership among us, as Exiles

  • Yes, we are in Exile.  I often think of our little, faithful community as counter-cultural, giving us, in Jesus, the courage to help us stand AGAINST what the prevailing values, interests and commitments of the culture are.  That works only so far, because we are STILL IN the culture of the United States, and deeply affected by moments like elections and decisions that follow them.  SO, do NOT use your servant leadership as a citizen in God’s Kingdom to justify opting OUT of the World’s Kingdom.  Please, vote, vote your mind, conscience and heart, out of the same commitment to the greater good that led Jesus.      
  • We are like the nation of Israel who did not pay “tribute” to the invading Babylonian king, were besieged and then exiled from home, and back to a strange culture, where we “sit down and weep” when we think of what it’s like being at home again.  We are subjected to messages and decisions that blare vast misunderstanding, injustice, mis-truth and disdain for the common good, much as Jesus must have felt under Roman occupation.
  • It’s remarkable how the prophet, anonymously named “Second Isaiah,” aligned himself with the earlier Royal Prophet Isaiah, and, probably to give meaning and purpose to their suffering, then imagined the Nation of Israel to be freed by the vicarious substitute of suffering they were experiencing as a “suffering servant” in Babylon. This was nearly 600 years before Jesus, who understood and identified his life through prophetic imagination of the Suffering Servant. 

How can we move to embrace Servant Leadership, as individuals and a community?

  1. This essential hope—in exile—the act of a Servant-King, who was capable of such willingness to transform injustice and wrongdoing through service.
    1. Our personal identity as a spiritual person, and Christianity as a religious identity, may rise or fall on the understanding of this servant identification. It has been and is a radically transformative form of leadership. 
    2. At the close of the Gospel reading for today, the phrase “servant of all” was the traditional Roman and Greek understanding of leadership: the King who is “slave of all.”  Jesus expands this by adding “and give his life a ransom for many.” The Harper-Collins Study Bible interprets: “Ransom, originally a compensation required to release (or ‘redeem’) something or someone, was subsequently developed as a metaphor for the reclamation or redemption of God’s people (in Exodus and earlier Servant Songs), particularly through Christ.”
  2. The Servant Leader identity is a pathway from exile back to community: it is a Prophetic stance, focused on Justice, Righteousness, Truth
    1. It is also a pathway TOWARD the suffering of others, which we continue to do as a community, as in
      1. Our recent rallying around Mary Brown and “Life Pieces to Masterpieces,” or
      2. L’Arche at their 35th Anniversary celebration (which celebrated another servant leader from our community, Dottie Bockstiegel),
      3. Our ongoing sacrificial tithing and giving as a community in our upcoming budget and evolving priorities, with special attention to the poor.
      4. Servant Leadership becomes the scholarly focus and work of people like Fred Taylor in his work in expressing his theological imagination and memoire of a life of servant leadership in an upcoming book, or David Hilfiker in his Blog on Truth and Democracy, at a time when both are seriously threatened.
      5. When Gail Arnall recently shared with the Ecumenical Council the inner callings to turn the Potter’s House more intentionally back toward ministry in the marketplace through forming a supportive mission group, and 8th Day’s support of her ministry there as a Manager;
      6. When we choose to meet with or take into our homes those who have special needs, unique places of suffering, only confidential and long-term committed relationships can embrace and sustain.

My Personal Journey, One Story

  1. Coming to 8th Day as I did, following what I viewed as a “failure of my dream” to become a Methodist minister, a pastor in the kind of top-down, no-nonsense way I was raised in as a Lutheran.
    1. I entered therapy, eventually, after battling depression more than a year, alone, while working construction in Jubilee Housing Renovations of the Ritz in ’79.
    2. While there, I met another energetic young woman, Connie Ridgway, who was reading a book by Robert Greenleaf in a book-study circle called Servant Leadership.  I was curious and joined.  He inverted the power pyramid of top-down, talking about bottom-up leadership.  I listened and learned.
    3. After a year of doing therapy, I just about fell off my chair with ironic laughter, when my therapist said to me, “Hey, you’re pretty good at this therapy business. Have you ever thought about helping others as a therapist?”  It’s literally the last thing I could have imagined.  The next 3 years I finished the Social Work program at Catholic University.
  2. Some 20 years after being in regular worship and doing music here, I eventually joined the 8th Day myself, and eventually, with Marcia in Jan. ‘12, called the Servants Mission Group into existence, which was affirmed by the covenant members.

Know What You’re Asking

Turning to our Gospel, briefly, when the desire rises within us for special favor or esteem in the eyes of others, can our leaders remember the words of Jesus:

  1. “You don’t know what you’re asking.”
    1. You’ve acted as if you are in control, and should be better than others.
    2. You’ve assumed you have power not given you by others, because of your strengths as a servant of all.
    3. Rather than serving what is good, just and true,
      1. You are arrogantly taking the good for yourself, stealing from the poor and from the good of the whole society,
      2. You are distorting what is fair for your own aims, and being unjust,
      3.  You are mocking and obscuring truth, fogging it with deceptive lies.
  2. Jesus asks us: “Are you able to drink of the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” When we commit, we reply as they replied, “We are able.”
  3. Jesus says, “The cup that you drink, you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not for me to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
    1. I imagine Jesus saying “To drink this cup, you must sustain yourself the way I did—in intimate relationship with the Father, in close community, in self-giving, self-emptying;
    2. To walk this walk, you must do what I have done, choose to be a servant unto death;
    3. To receive honor, you must be granted it by others rather than assume you’re entitled, and honor those who have been honored and prepared-for in honoring.

Remember What’s been Asked

And when there is anger or rancor among us at the special treatment of the “James and Johns” among us, can we remember these words of Jesus?  Can we remember what’s been asked?

1.“…whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”

2.“For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Let it be, Lord.