Rising Leader Series: Week 6 - Leadership and the Holy Spirit
Updated: Feb 4
New– Song for February. Listen => Footsteps (on finding the Holy Spirit in nature)
If you ever visit San Francisco, try to make time for Coit Tower, at the top of Telegraph Hill. It offers a stunning, panoramic view of the city, with the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge and Alcatraz as backdrop. But a quite special visual gem is inside the tower itself. As you stroll around the inside hallway that encircles the building, you will find its walls adorned with expansive murals, painted in the thirties in primitive style by the artist Diego Rivera. These masterpieces evoke the beauty and struggle of daily life.
Here at the beginning of February, Coit Tower comes to mind as I ponder how to introduce the next few weeks’ letters.
I feel what I’ve shared with you so far is much like Rivera’s murals: big, expansive, not too detailed. The world is in crisis. There’s an urgent need for capable, ethical leaders to rise up. Science offers great power, but it’s ethically neutral-- it can be leveraged for good or ill. And so it is that the ethical state of humanity’s leaders is now so vital to our future. How to cultivate leader goodness? Goodness emerges from soul work. A centered soul will naturally rise to the seven “disciplines of goodness” that can save us: sustainability, diplomacy, democracy, charity, civility, decency and piety. It all starts with piety. Here, in this one paragraph, is the mural we’ve painted so far.
Yes, goodness emerges from piety. It is here we now need to go deeper-- to paint a more detailed picture. In the first letter I wrote to you, back on December 31, I promised to organize this series of letters broadly into four quarterly themes: “Who is God?”, “Who am I?”, “Where’s the need?” and “What’s my call?”. In other words, I promised that half of the letters (the first two quarters of the year) would address piety. Why so much attention to piety? Because piety is about the health of our souls. Goodness starts there.
My Christian faith teaches me piety in trinitarian form. I believe in one God, revealed in three persons: Father, Spirit and Son. Last week, I painted a Sistine Chapel picture of God the Father: God as supreme moral force, God as immanent (a luminous love energy humming within us and all things), God as transcendent (Alpha and Omega; beyond space and time). Today and for the subsequent three weeks I would like to welcome the Holy Spirit to join us on our soul journey. Let’s welcome Spirit in fire, wind, water and oil. Time and again in the Bible, these four symbols are presented as manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
Let me begin with a story.
Almost twenty-three months ago, I joined a Christian ministry team to prepare for a weekend retreat inside a maximum-security prison. I was on the music team. Inside that prison, in a starkly spare gym at the far end of Yard C, it would be my job to play music for twenty-two prisoners seeking healing for their souls. But on day one, as I was led by guards past the gates and progressed to the gym, and as the retreatants then began to stream in, I was shocked and ashamed to find, rising out of my own soul, both fear and prejudice. My stilted “hello”, my awkward first interactions convicted me. I wasn’t seeing these men. I was seeing “prisoner”.
It left me deeply troubled. As I picked up my guitar for the first song, the words pierced: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me…” I realized it was I who was wretched: I needed that grace.
And then I began again. I really met, in the encountering sense, JoVon. Big. Darion. Harold. Blix. Pepe. Ron. Davide. I heard their stories. I felt their brokenness, their regrets, their yearning for forgiveness, their yearning for God’s love. I saw and shed tears. Come Sunday morning, as the sun played through a window high above me, I saw a cross displayed in stark shadow against the wall, and felt the fire of the Holy Spirit surrounding it and me.
Yes, Spirit God came roaring in that weekend-- like a holy fire. As one retreatant shared on that last day, “My soul was parched like a dying plant, shriveled on the ground. But it’s watered now. I’m growing in the sun again.”
Right now, right in front of me as I write to you, I have on my desk the white baseball cap I wore on that retreat. Short notes are scribbled on it, in various magic marker colors: “Thank you for this life changing event in my life-- Big.” “May God be with u 4ever-- Davide.” “God is good all the time-- Blix.” “May YOU stay 4eva Blessed!-- Pepe.” “God bless you brother-- Ron.” “Remember! If you inspire just one person to come to God, it’s worth it.-- JoVon.” “Thank you for giving us your love!-- Harold.”
It changed me. COVID came knocking the week after our retreat. The prisons were shut down. Within our ministry team I offered to initiate a monthly letter, written to all the retreatants-- my small continuing contribution to the work. It’s now my monthly privilege. I, a self-described leader, realized I was really just another sinner who needed grace-- just like the guys all around me. That insight freed me to become a leader again, a servant leader, in my own small way.
Rising leader, I mention this simply as one example of how, in our piety-- in our budding relationship with God-- we might discover Him in Spirit form, shining firelight on our true selves. Imperfect though we are, he whispers to us: “You are loved. Just the way you are.” And that changes us. As we welcome the fire of His love into our hearts, Spirit leads soul back to original goodness. It is your goodness that is the key to saving humanity. When Spirit fire touches your heart, your goodness rises higher.
Leadership is expressed in a set of daily, practical actions. There is a right way to mobilize and optimize change. But change towards what end? For whom? With whom? The kind of leadership our world needs is servant leadership. And for that, rising leader, it all comes down to your soul– to your goodness. That’s the beginning of everything.
“If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? In the same way, faith also, if it has no works, is dead” -- James 2:15-17
Next week, I will continue to explore with you this soul journey from “I” to “we”.
In Spirit and fire, your pen pal...
P.S.: In my poem for you this week, I offer the thought that raw leadership skill is just another tool-- one, like all tools, that can be used for good or ill. It’s only in the coming together of leadership skill with goodness that a “fine leader” can emerge.
Ironic what fine leader skills it took--
to mechanize destruction of our seas,
to slash for coal til Appalachia shook,
to make the Amazon more forest free.
To capture darker passions at the polls,
to demonize the other in our midst,
to undermine those seeking common goals,
to counter outstretched hand with shaking fist.
Imagine what fine leaders it will take
to bridge delusions keeping us estranged,
to slow sweet sphere’s slide with heavy brake,
to mobilize vast system counterchange.
O Spirit God from whom all blessings flow,
Your fire to rising leaders, pray, bestow!
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