Tag Archives: meaning

Why I don’t take myself too seriously as a leader

‘There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s Tale’, by Bilbo Baggins

I have begun re-reading the ‘Hobbit’ by Tolkien in preparation for the first installment of the movie trilogy coming out this year and to be honest, it (LOTR) is the only fiction I have ever enjoyed.  I never read fiction, not sure why, but it’s not a genre that connects with me though I really like ‘story’ and ‘narrative’.  Perhaps I’m more of storyteller than a reader.  But I do find the themes in the LOTR epic to be full of meaning and lessons for our real-life adventures.  Themes of courage, perseverance, community, friendship, wonder, questions, lusts, greed and the personifications of evil.  This is the stuff of real life.  The simple hobbits from the idealic shire have much to reveal to us as to how to adapt and take on the challenges in life we choose, and more importantly, how to take on the challenges in life we have not chosen but seemed to have chosen us.

Most notably in the Hobbit, it is a theme of life being incredibly ‘cyclical’. 

There’s a cycle to life in that if we live long enough, we start in diapers and we end in diapers.  But that’s not the adventure I’m speaking of.  Bilbo is coerced to leave his simple life and in the end, he returns back to his simple life, though notably changed.  When we look at the cylcles of societies, governments and nations in history, we see similar cycles.  Nations are born out of revolutions of the people, typically the grassroots.  Once the grassroots gain power, they organize as is neccesary for governing.  William Penn experimented with the ideal of less governance so that the people would choose rightly, they rarely did and metaphorically ate each other in early Pennsylvania days.  Penn practiced leadership differently in his later governing period than he did in his early and perhaps naive Quaker roots.  Given enough time, organizations/societies/governments naturally evolve away from grassroots to the development of systems that exist to perpetuate the norms and the survival of those systems.  In worst case scenarios, this leads to a kind of institutionalism that is a far cry from its revolutionary cry.  Literally the revolution became what it was against, co-opted by time, differing agendas and the complexity of organizational leadership.  In time, new grassroots rise up and revolutions are spurred on only to repeat the cycle again.  It is a world history tale of ‘there and back again’. 

While in Korea the past couple weeks, I listened to the history and evolution of the Christian Church in Korea.  It has for decades been seen as the hotbed for evangelicalism around the world.  Of the 100 largest churches in the world, Korea has 50 of them while sending missionaries around the entire globe.  The narrative of coming out of poverty after Japanese occupation and the Korean War, the explosive growth of the church in South Korea paralelled the equal growth of economy, technology and modern development.  A driven and faithful people rising early several mornings a week for concentrated prayer, they ‘awakened the dawn’ asking their God for deliverance and direction.  Growing nationalism was directly tied to growing Christianity.  What resulted was a miraculous crescendo of the Modern ‘Era’ like never seen before.  However, like the rest of the world, with the dawn of postmodernism and the seductive power of consumerism, the church in Korea is on similar decline like the West.  Out of poverty, they don’t have a yearning for deliverance as they did in their ‘grassroots’ days.  This is so similar to the American story yet in such a dramatically shorter timeframe.  It is showing a ‘cycle’ that no one is immune to, it’s another story of ‘there and back again’

So why don’t I take myself that seriously as a leader?  I’m not a fatalist, but I deeply understand by looking at history that I’m a part of a larger story that is in and of itself, a part of a larger story.  I live on a globe that is one planet in a galaxy of what we now understand is interconneted with millions of other galaxies.  Quite simply, it’s not up to me.  But also quite remarkably, I’m an individual story in community with trillions of other stories called life in this Creation.  And I do get to play a part.  I get to choose some adventures, and I also get to respond to some adventures that seemingly have chosen me.  It’s not up to me, but I do get to live my story and let it rip so that others can read of and learn of my tales.  Leadership isn’t a science, it’s not done in a clean and sterile lab.  Leadership is a response to the needs in front of you and a thirst to get on the adventure of doing something about it.  People don’t follow statistics, they follow those with dirty feet who have been to the dark places and can act as the guide for a way out.  None of us know ultimately how our story will be used in the greater story, but we do get to choose to show up, have some courage and even fight a few dragons along the way. 

My encouragement to leaders is not to take yourself too seriously, it’s not about you.  It’s about the wonder of a larger story.  Cheers to the tales of your courageous journey of ‘there and back again’.

Giving up self


“The principle runs through all life from top to bottom.  Give up yourself, and you will find your real self.  Lose your life and you will save it.  Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end:  submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life.  Keep back nothing.  Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours.  Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead.  Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay.  But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”  – C.S. Lewis  Mere Christianity

I have longed believed the secret of the mystery of Christ to be this principle, fundamentally a death to self.  This is the call to follow, its the call of true discipleship.  It is a call to leave the false self, the impostor.  It is a call to put on the true self, the one we were designed to be from the beginning.  This doesn’t happen overnight, this is a daily call and free choice to give up self and then find in it a journey of spiritual transformation and discovery.  When it’s not about me, then it can be about Him, the One who authors my path.  To deny myself and be lost in Him is the place where my heart finds a home.  That I live in harmony with His creation and in line with His purposes on this side of the veil. This is life, real life.  Don’t accept counterfeits. peace,Marshall

Work as Sacrament


Today’s Aidan reading from Celtic Daily Prayer re: St. Columba’s residence in Iona Community:

“The days were filled with prayer, study and manual labor . . . In dairy, granary, or in the fields, each worshipped God in his appointed task, and made his toil a sacramental thing . . . The secret of the early Celts lay in this, that they linked sacrament with service, altar with hearth, worship with work.”  – F. M. McNeil/Troup 

 Wow, I’m a fan of this kind of thinking.  I am as guilty as the next person of having a bad attitude re: work.  I worked in vocational forms of ministry for about 10 years before somewhat firing myself for a life of being bi-vocational in ministry.  I just couldn’t stomach the focus on $ for church buildings and staff salaries when the needs were so great in the larger community around us.  I struggled for years with this shift internally, feeling that I had lost a huge part of my identity, of who I was.  Now I see all and any kind of work somewhat wholistically.  No separation of sacred and secular.  All work can be sacrament, that is sacred, holy, meaningful and done unto our Creator.  We may struggle with work structures, culture, organizational management, pressures, over-bearing coworkers, lack of respect, sense of being dehumanized etc.  But no matter the context, the desire to make work sacramenet I think is up to us.  I have longed believed that hard work is good for the soul.   I was in a meeting this week with a room full of life coaches, corportate speakers, HR consultants, inspirational cheerleaders, job seeking gurus etc.  It was all about them wanting to work with my clients to help them find fulfillment in their work etc.  There is some merit to this kind of coaching, but I really struggle with the premise.  I do not believe you look to work to find meaning, meaning is found within.  You have a life for meaning, you work to work .  Meaning is in relationships, work is for provision.  I believe the curse to man going back to the Garden of Eden that he will toil the land all his days is still a part of this broken world.  Women face pain in childbirth as a part of this curse and anyone (male or female) who are working to provide, will find work hard.  Work is supposed to feel like work and the sweat of our brow can be a holy thing. Work as sacrament, sacred and holy, it’s what we choose to make it. peace,marshall

on leaving home


“Aren’t you, like me, hoping that some person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire?  But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied.  You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run.  This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burn-out.  This is the way to spiritual death .”Henri Nouwen  Life of the Beloved  .

This is part of my lecture tonight on the book of Romans and I think Nouwen describes our internal search for salvation well.  We are wired to look for it and be restless until we find it.  Even after our intial finding of this salvation, we are tempted by so many pursuits to search for the next fix or magic pill somewhere else.  But these searches are often fruitless and sometimes destructive in their consequences.  All we need is found in the home of our Father.

“Now I realize that the real sin is to deny God’s first love for me, to ignore my original goodness.  Because without claiming that first love and that original goodness for myself, I lose touch with my true self and embark on the destructive search among the wrong people and in the wrong places for what can only be found in the house of my Father.”– Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son


Are you not entertained?


“Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?”  – Maximus in Gladiator

 Fans think twice about hero worship?  I’ll believe it when I see it.  Hero worship for our sportsmen and now women as well is thousands of years old.  We love our spectacle, we love our circus shows.  We want our neighboring mammals from the ocean to spend their lifetime in a bathtub leaving their context to amuse us for a price.  We love to be entertained and our appetites seemingly have no limits.  We shutter at an orca whale who turned on its trainer, but I myself have paid more than a few times to see it perform in the past and now it seems shameful.  Tiger Woods was the can’t miss marketing icon, clean and perfect like the Gillette shaver he promoted, until he wasn’t.  I am in no way pointing a finger at Tiger, the man is human and clearly had a lifestyle he now deeply regrets and the consequences are heavy.  My issue is the pedastal to begin with.  Perhaps Tiger believed his own hype, my beef is with the hype itself. None of this is new.  The Roman gladiator shows with animals also mauling their trainers.  They were mostly slaves, hoping to win their freedom, and if not, at least to taste some glory.  They were idolized as Rock Stars, sex objects and archaeologists have even found children’s dolls/playtoys in the shape/form of their favorite gladiator.  Babylon, Persia, Egypt and as far back as the Sumerians as we can tell, had some form of sport (usually violent) and hero worship.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE sports, always have.  I love competition and respect and have a sense of awe about the talent of others.  But they are human beings and that’s all I’m looking for. What is it in us that wants to idolize?  Are there deep insecurities?  Is fantasy and escape more normative for us than reality?  Why are we so thirsty for amusement?  Why are we so bored with our own selves?  It seems to me to be an issue of meaning.  If we have no real meaning ourselves, if we are not living out our own grand story, then we are looking to latch onto someone else’s.  If we can’t live our own dream, we try and ride the glamorous coat-tails of someone else who seemingly is living theirs.  (although in the end we find it is often no dream for them either)  We live in a culture full of hype, hyperbole and consumer driven marketing.  You HAVE to see this, recognize it and get some appropriate distance from it or those seeking your $$ on TV will be the ones to dictate to you what your story is.  What you should feel, what you should care about, how you should vote, what you should buy, how you should live . . . etc.  Why do we let someone else, who does not have our interest in mind dictate our story?  This is why I ceased watching the news years ago, tired of them dictating to me what to care about with hype and hyperpole for ratings.  (that’s a rant for another day).Here’s the thing, you have all the power and resources within you to be a hero or heroine.  Let me say that again, YOU do, not someone else.  You can parent in such a way to leave a legacy of love and blessing.  You can neighbor in such a way that spurs a culture of generosity.  You can work in such a way that brings to life more than just your company’s mission statement.  You can teach in such a way that inspires introspective learning for life.  You can friend in such a way that you literally become someone else’s answered prayer.  You can spouse in such a way that the experience of Oneness breeds a daily deep affirmation of who you truly are and who you belong to.  You can have a life with meaning and purpose that everything you touch, say, do, feel, think, express and attempt is heroic.  Not someone else, you.  You just need to decided to do so, and decide that everyday.  Then it will be your story that is told for years to come.

“What we do in life echoes in eternity. ”  – Maximus in Gladiator 

That could be your life.  Don’t seek entertainment, seek personal meaning.peace,marshall