Burning Bush and Leading Movements

In a recent TIME Magazine article covering the Bernie Sanders campaign, a supporter of the movement summarized, “The end goal is to build a political movement that pushes beyond whatever the campaign is or does.” The article describes Sanders’ approach in this way:

He has volunteers eager to be involved in 47 states from Alabama to Michigan, where the campaign has no staff and no offices. In a largely unproven experiment, two staffers at the Burlington, Vt., headquarters are using conference calls, Internet chats, organizing parties and digital seminars to train hundreds of Sanders enthusiasts—who in turn are supposed to train other volunteers in rippling circles of self-sufficiency.

The results? “Unpredictable.” Sanders concedes, “Sometime, I’m sure we’ll get in trouble because one of these groups will say something we’ll have to disavow.” One former Democratic campaign advisor declared “the whole notion of self-organizing is a pipe dream,” but, Sanders is not discouraged by such sentiment. He maintains that there must be a way to make this work. Indeed. It was something that worked for President Obama for his 2008 campaign. What Obama lost sight of, however, is that the movement needed to be nurtured, the light stoked, long after he was elected. Sanders recognizes, “It’s all about the movement.”

It would seem there is a growing awareness that there is something very wrong with the way that leadership, and characteristics of leaders, is reinforced in this country. I suggest this impression is felt in all venues in which one has power over another to affect change or to maintain the status quo (e.g., coaching, teaching, preaching, managing, CEOing). This sense is masterfully teased out by Kristin van Ogtrop, editor of Real Simple and contributor to TIME, in the same issue of TIME as the Bernie Sanders coverage. Van Ogtrop suggests that for women, ambition is not working out very well for them in the end. Ambitious women are perceived differently than ambitious men, and a whole host of reasons attest that the hard work of a female executive will not, ultimately, speak for itself. While the article hints at possible biological (read: hormonal) explanations for difference, the eventual conclusion is that it’s not just a women’s issue. One Harvard Business Review study revealed that men are increasingly family-focused, expect to split childcare, and value flexible hours in the workplace to accommodate family concerns. Men are as likely as women to articulate a desire to foster meaning in their lives (vs., being enslaved to the endless climb to the—more often—elusive “top”). It is in the interest of all involved to promote gender equity in the work place and flexibility for both men and women to make family a priority.

To help the powerless be empowered, one must first give up some power.

To help the powerless be empowered, one must first give up some power.

The “problem” that is usually cited when all voices are given equal weight, and power is more horizontal than vertical, people begin to panic. Though, the most intense panic seems to emanate from those who no longer wield control. What about some of those earnest individuals that the group may need to “disavow?” What if some misunderstands the mission and takes an errant route, perhaps embarrassing the entity as a whole? Yes—what about that?

It is true: some people will misunderstand; one or two might radicalize a vision; someone may even bring a few people along for the ride. This is the case in any group (family, church, school, organization). It happens even in the most rigid hierarchies—though, admittedly, not as often. And, in the case of rigidity, creativity and dignity are severely stunted. Regardless, the essence of freedom is that it is unrestricted—uncontrolled. And, beautiful things happen when freedom is valued. Communities form; trust develops; cooperation and creativity flourish; love leads. And, when love leads, I do not hold my opinion as tightly—my desire is to listen and understand another perspective. When another understands my perspective—understands me—I trust the contributions of that person.

In a recent interview with Krista Tippet, Brother Consolmagno comments on original sin by noting that there is more to the creation narrative than the attention it is usually given. He says, “the essentials are the free will of the actors and the invitation of God.” God could have shown us redemption in a different way, but chose to come as Jesus, revealing Divine Love to us in that way. When I say that I know something and hold it tightly, I make that notion—idea, perspective—an idol. And, as Jewish ethicist, Louis Newman observes, “Sin is about pretending that something is true when in fact it is not. Idolatry is pretending that something is divine and worthy of our devotion when in fact it is not. Repentance is all about choosing truth over deception.” Repentance is really a mindfulness practice. God created us perfectly, in God’s image. So, doing repentance is about reconciling one’s wholeness, “it’s about honesty and truthfulness. It’s about being true to who we really are.”

Leading movements is about allowing groups, communities, gather around a truth that can only be approached in honest, communal reflection. When I find something that sparks that wholeness that is my true self, and you resonate with this proposition and we gather with others to explore its possibilities for greater Good, and I continue to hold my perspective lightly, giving space to the other so my space can be filled again in greater truth . . . well, a spark takes hold. A fire is ignited. A movement has begun. And, the best way to put that fire out is to stomp on it because you do not have control over it. Can you imagine what would have happened if Moses tried to stomp out that burning bush? Listen first. God might be speaking. Are we not standing on Holy ground?

“Do not quench the Spirit . . . . The one who calls you is faithful.” (1 Thess. 5:19, 24)

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