Rising Leader Series: Week 15 - The Saint
Updated: Feb 25
APPLES OF GOODNESS
Apples of goodness, ripe and in season
If plucked with pride could cast us from Eden
Warned C.S. Lewis: the greatest treason
Is to do the right thing for the wrong reason
So, as we rise, to our knees we must fall–
Lest puffer-fish egos swim self-enthralled
If we are to lead as creator God calls,
We must pray, pray again, preening airs to forestall
From God– our source of all gifts old and new
For God– our sole motive to carry it through
With God– our Guide who keeps our path true
To God– all glory for the good that we do
How to develop such fine self-restraint?
Commune with God– it’s the way of the saint
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to sit in the back of a City of Montgomery, Alabama bus. A young pastor from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church named Martin Luther King, Jr. gathered up a small group of local civil rights leaders and mobilized a boycott of the Montgomery city transit system. He was just twenty-five years old: a young rising leader, just like you.
Blacks throughout the city stopped taking buses, which quickly thrust the transit system into a financial crisis. King’s home was dynamited. His family’s safety was threatened in other ways. But he didn’t give in. A year later, the city’s buses were desegregated.
This was King’s initial foray into the fight for racial justice, a fight that would shape the rest of his life. Building upon the success of this first protest, King started the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, composed of Christian civil rights activists from all across the South. He began to travel the country, discussing race-related issues with civil rights and religious leaders. Under the gaze of television cameras, he mobilized a protest movement committed to nonviolence, with sit-ins at lunch counters in Atlanta, boycotts and protest marches.
His commitment to nonviolence struck the conscience of Americans across the racial spectrum. What began as a small demonstration in one Southern city became a mass national movement. As police met protesters with attack dogs and firehoses, King and his fellow protestors responded with poise, grace and dignity. Arrested and put behind bars, he wrote from a Birmingham jail:
“You may well ask: ‘Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?’ You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”
In 1963, as part of the march to Washington, King stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial and gave one of the greatest speeches in human history. In his “I Have a Dream” speech, King spoke of the “fierce urgency of now.” He foresaw a country in which all are treated as equals: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” His words and actions inspired and changed a nation.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a saint, but he was not superhuman. In the months before he died, he gave voice to his work’s toll: “I’m tired of marching. I’m tired of going to jail. Living every day under the threat of death, I feel discouraged every now and then and feel my work’s in vain.” And then he said this: ”But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul.”
Take note, good leader. King’s relationship with God gave him the energy to keep going, despite the fear and suffering.
The differences between you and Martin Luther King, Jr. are fewer than you might imagine. When we idolize our heroes it makes it easy to distance ourselves from them. King saw and uniquely responded to “the fierce urgency of now.” As you look at the state of today’s world, do you not feel called to do the same? Yes, he was smart; so are you. He had leadership talent, just like you. He was afraid, just like you. King felt the fear– but he still moved forward. Will you?
It’s clear where King’s courage came from: his piety. King prayed and meditated daily. That’s piety– the first step on the ladder I call the “disciplines of goodness”:
The decency, civility and race-blind democracy he fought for flowed up naturally from the depths of his relationship with God. Rising leader, take the cue from Martin Luther King. Prayer and study are the wellspring of servant leadership. When you drink from that spring, you will fuel your desire to lead, and will refresh your soul for the struggles ahead.
For the past two weeks we’ve considered the archetype of “sinner” and “saint.” Next week, let's consider the “sojourner”-- that solitary soul on a lonesome journey towards deeper awareness.
“A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley; then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”-- Isaiah 40:3-5
With thanksgiving for your passion,
Previous Weeks' Letters: