My very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year!
In keeping with my ANOTHER VOICE tradition, this week’s reflection is The Journey of the Magi by T.S. Eliot.
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
ANOTHER VOICE will return after Epiphany. Right now, however, I would like to thank all who have travelled with me this past year. I greatly appreciate your supportive comments and observations. Particular thanks to those who were able to contribute to my ANOTHER VOICE fund.
Without being overly political or overly anti-clerical, I would say we have major leadership problems in church and state: dishonest and disingenuous politicians, claiming to be virtuous; and religions leaders, claiming to be good Christians, but concealing and lying about their sexual abuse of children, men, and women…..Clerical sexual abuse by the way is not just a Catholic problem…….We are in the dark days before Christmas and we need light and enlightenment.
Leadership? Leadership is all about getting people to work together to make good things happen that might not otherwise occur or to prevent bad things from happening that would ordinarily take place.
Doing some pre-holidays cleaning, I found a forgotten book: Daniel Goleman’s Primal Leadership. For me this was real Advent serendipity……
Goleman co-directs the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University.
In his book Primal Leadership, Goleman describes six different styles of leadership. The most effective leaders can be helped to move among these styles, adopting the one that best meets the needs of the moment. Leaders need support but also ongoing and constructive criticism.
(1) Visionary Leadership: This style is most appropriate when an organization needs a new direction. The goal is to move people towards a new set of shared dreams. Visionary leaders articulate where a group is going, but not how it will get there – setting people free to innovate, experiment, and even take calculated risks.
(2) Coaching Leadership: This one-on-one style focuses on developing leaders, showing them how to improve their performance, and helping them connect their goals to the goals of the organization. Regular performance appraisals are a great aid here….good for teachers, pastors, and bishops.
(3) Affiliative Leadership: This style emphasizes the importance of team work, and creates harmony in a group by connecting people to each other. The authority structure here is not the vertical pyramid (as in ancient Rome) but the horizontal circle of colleagues with shared leadership and shared decision-making. Goleman argues that this approach is particularly valuable “when trying to heighten team harmony, increase morale, improve communication or repair broken trust in an organization.”
(4) Democratic Leadership: This style draws on people’s knowledge and skills, and creates a group commitment to the resulting goals. This works best when the direction the organization should take is unclear, and the leader needs to tap the collective wisdom of the group.
(5) Pacesetting Leadership: In this style, the leader sets high standards for performance. He or she is “obsessive about doing things better and faster, and asks the same of everyone.” Goleman warns, however, that this style should be used sparingly, because it can undercut morale and make people feel as if they are failing.
(6) Commanding Leadership: This is the classic model of “military” style leadership – probably the most often used, but most often the least effective. We see this in today’s church of course. Since it rarely involves praise and frequently employs criticism, it undercuts morale and job satisfaction. Goleman argues it is only effective in a crisis, when an urgent turnaround is needed.
Now we move closer to Christmas; but there is good material here for New Year’s resolutions. ☺️
May we better observe, better judge, and better act!
PS And: May we all be the kind of leaders we wish we had!
Last week I offered some reflections about the Infancy Narratives……recalling the birth of Jesus as reported in Matthew and Luke.
As we begin this second week of Advent 2018, my thoughts are more contemporary but prompted by the wisdom women in Luke: Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her cousin Elizabeth. They are the ones who see and comprehend what is really happening. In the Hebrew Scriptures, by the way, Wisdom is feminine….
We have wisdom women today but, in the church, we have not been such good listeners. An editorial in the National Catholic Reporter (December 4) says it strong and clearly: “This season of expectation, of wonder at the possibility of God with and among us, is a perfect time to sink into that authentic tradition and to contemplate where we’ve gone off track. How did we get to this point of aberration where the clergy culture itself has become the church’s greatest scandal, and our identity as a people of God could be so crimped and co-opted by religious ideologues?”
We have ignored the wisdom women and have allowed the old boys club to shape and control our religious and secular culture. Patriarchy is not a virtue. Frankly I was disappointed when Pope Francis announced last week that archbishops must discipline wayward bishops. Once again the patriarchal pyramid was reconfirmed.
The entire Gospel According to Luke downplays patriarchy and points to women as the beaters of God’s wisdom and truth. The high standing of women in Luke’s Gospel is evident from the beginning with Mary and Elizabeth playing enormously important roles in the history of salvation.
Re-reading Luke, it is also evident that there is concern for widows. They are specifically mentioned (Luke 2:37; 4:25-26; 7:12; 18:3; 20:47; 21:2). Mark 15:41 and Matt 27:55 inform us that women accompanied Jesus during his ministry, but only Luke mentions that the women cared for Jesus out of their own means (Luke 8:1-3). Martha and Mary received Jesus into their home and Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, the position of a disciple (Luke 10:38-42). And of course at the end of Luke, the angel reminds the women (no men there) at the empty tomb that Jesus had said he would rise from the dead on the third day.
And then we read: “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them told this to the apostles.” And, following this announcement, we read (surprised?) “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Peter has to confirm that what the women said was true….Creeping paternalism?
So my friends, who are the wisdom women in our lives? In our families, among friends, among colleagues? How can we support and encourage them so that more people not only hear them but really listen to them?
I strongly recommend a book by theologian Sr. Elizabeth Johnson: She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse.
And may the Holy Spirit sustain all of us with her wisdom!
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The Christmas trees are lit. We are now rushing into the season, celebrating in theory at least, Jesus’ birth.
A friend asked how we know when and where Jesus was born. My short answer: we have biblical suppositions and creative theologies, but there is much we really don’t know.…. We do know what is important: that Jesus was born, what he said, what he did, and what happened to him. We believe. Jesus, “the anointed one,” Christ, the Messiah, is our Way, the Truth, and Life. When and where he was born are secondary matters.
Another friend suggested that we really need to “Put Christ back into Christmas.” I understand the concern but feel more strongly that we need to put Christ back into the lives of those “Christians,” who deny and reject him in their words and actions. First, let’s put Christ back into Christianity. Then we can move on to Christmas.
As we begin Advent 2018, I do have some thoughts about interpreting the birth of Jesus. First, however, some background information:
Jesus of Nazareth was born more or less around the year AD 1. The Anno Domini (The year of the Lord) dating system was invented in the year AD 525 by Dionysius Exiguus, a medieval monk who wanted a calendar system that was not based on the reigns of anti-Christian Roman emperors. By around the year AD 800 the new calendar was a fact of life across Western Europe. Dionysius picked the date for the start of his AD calendar system using his own theory and calculations about when he thought Jesus was born.
There is a trend today to move to BCE/CE. The years are the same as AD/BC: BCE understood to mean “Before the Common Era” and CE to mean “Common Era.”
We really do not know the month when Jesus was born. The first recorded date of Jesus’ birth being celebrated on December 25th was in AD 336, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor. A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December, the old Roman festival day celebrating the birth of “the unconquered sun.” Jesus, of course, was understood as the Light of the World. When Christianity became the new imperial religion, the old “pagan” Roman festivals were replaced with Christian ones.
The Gospels offer very little information about the birth of Jesus the Messiah. Although we refer to the “Infancy Narratives” in Matthew and Luke, they do not actually give us information about Jesus’ infancy and childhood. Rather, they answer the theological question, “Who is Jesus of Nazareth?”
Moving into December 2018, I suggest that we re-read the actual infancy texts: Matthew 1 & 2 and Luke 2.
Some observations as we begin:
(1) The Scriptures are more concerned about theology — belief — than strict historic detail. There is some real and some imagined history in the Scriptures, but that is secondary to theology.
(2) The language in all of Sacred Scripture has to be understood in the original socio-cultural understandings of the people at the time when the biblical narratives were being composed and written. As the biblical scholar, John Dominic Crossman, stresses: “My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.”
(3) As the first century Christians reflected on the meaning of Jesus they also re-read and re-interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures: seeing signs of Jesus in the Hebrew Scriptures that they had never seen before. They understood Jesus, for example, as the NEW Moses.
Matthew and Luke:
The Infancy Narrative in Matthew was written around AD 85 for Jewish converts to Christianity. Matthew constructs his genealogy to link Jesus with Abraham. For Matthew, Jesus as the New Moses and he uses creative historical imagery. Note the striking parallels between Jesus’ birth and Moses’ birth – the slaughtering of innocents, and the flight to Egypt.
The Infancy Narrative in Luke was written around between AD 85 and 90 possibly as late as 95. It was written for highly educated Gentile converts to Christianity. In Luke, Jesus is the high point of humanity and the light to enlighten the Gentiles. Luke creates a genealogy (chapter 3) that links Jesus with Adam. For Luke, Jesus is the man for all peoples, with special compassion for women, the poor, and social outcasts.
Closely examined, the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke offer differing pieces of information:
(1) Luke mentions the census of Quirinius which requires Joseph to go to Bethlehem.
(2) Matthew, however, gives no details of how Joseph and Mary came to be in Bethlehem.
(3) In Luke, shepherds guided by an angel find Jesus in the manger.
(4) In Matthew, wise men from the East, guided by a star, come not to Bethlehem but to Jerusalem to worship the Infant.
(5) In Matthew Joseph flees with his wife and child to Egypt where they live until Herod’s death. Later they return to Nazareth not to Bethlehem.
(6) Luke, on the other hand, does not mention the descent into Egypt. Instead, he describes how the Infant is brought to Jerusalem for the ritual of the first-born.
(7) AND there are some historical problems if one sees Matthew and Luke as strict history: Herod died in 4 BC. The census of Quirinius was in AD 6.
By the way, there is no mention of three kings in either infancy narrative. ONLY Matthew mentions “some wise men.”
We will continue our Infancy Narrative reflections next week….Read the biblical texts and jot down your own observations….
Many kind regards!
As I indicated last week, at the end of this calendar year, I invite all readers of ANOTHER VOICE to contribute to my blog fund. This is my once a year appeal. Your end of the year contribution helps cover internet and computer costs as well as books and subscriptions that keep me updated as an older and retired historical theologian.
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