Tag Archives: leadership

Pluralism and Individualism: Links and Videos

Just in time for your weekend viewing: links and videos on leadership, space negotiation, and consumerism in contemporary plural societies.


Inset from Carrol Grady's "Baby Quilt for Samuel Joseph" (2009)

Inset from Carrol Grady’s “Baby Quilt for Samuel Joseph” (2009)

Nilofer Merchant, in Time and Gawker columns on board-level diversity at social technology companies:

Innovation is a direct result of openness to new ideas. The key is to design for differences of perspective and world views so you can have a better chance at new ideas.

“All innovation is a derivative of ideas and especially new ideas,” added Merchant, who serves on the boards of both public and private companies. “What [the companies are] saying is I’m gonna work under my same old, same old. And same thinking leads to parrot ideas, which ultimately leads to failure.” 


Aryeh Cohen explains why he’s conflicted about Israel’s Women of the Wall, a group of observant Jewish women who’ve been protesting their sometimes forcible exclusion from prayer at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount (the Kotel ha-Ma’aravi):

This is the beginning of the story of the modern Kotel, out of which grows the story of the women of Women of the Wall, who demand equal ritual access to it. The silences in that historic story prevent me from praying at the Wall and from supporting the women who want to wear tallit and tefillin when they pray there. —Aryeh Cohen

Cohen’s concern reminds me of Native American/Indian and immigrant activists in Canada and the US who argue that new immigrants inherit the settlers’ burden to reckon with the cultures that the emergent United States displaced and that remain marginal here.


Image via Nomad Nation

Image via Nomad Nation

Adam Curtis’ four-part documentary, The Century of the Self (2002), charts the evolution of individualism through the 20th Century by describing the influence of Freudian psychology on modern public relations and politics.

Edward Bernays, Freud’s nephew led PR to shift toward correlating commercial products and symbols representing consumers’ emotions, desires, and irrational beliefs about themselves.

Adam Curtis: What Bernays had created was the idea that if a woman smoked, it made her more powerful and independent, an idea that still persists today… It meant that irrelevant objects could become powerful emotional symbols of how you wanted to be seen by others.

Peter Strauss: Eddie Bernays saw the way to sell product was not to sell it to your intellect, that you ought to buy an automobile, but that you will feel better about it if you have this automobile. I think he originated that idea, that they weren’t just purchasing something, but they were engaging themselves emotionally or personally in the product or service… That was his contribution.

This Vimeo link contains all four fascinating episodes, “Happiness Machines,” “The Engineering of Consent,” “There is a Policeman Inside All Our Heads: He Must Be Destroyed,” and “Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering.”

Run-time is just under four hours, so budget about an hour for each.


Caring for Our Mother: Sexuality and the Seventh-day Adventist Church II

In Part 1 of this series, I described the Seventh-day Adventist church’s approach to sexuality as a “spell” that dissociates members from themselves, confines them to different-sex relationships or self-suppression, and encourages them to lobby against civil laws for LGBT people in North America and internationally as well. [1] With a handful of doctrinal premises, a few has controlled the many.

But this isn’t the only part of the story that I want to tell. One of John J. McNeill’s contributions to my thinking is the idea that it is psychologically critical for a child to come to terms with his or her parents’ limits—and this acceptance must apply to our religions of origin as well as to our biological families of origin. According to McNeill, our Church Mother also merits our recognition and acceptance; she too reaches the outer bounds of her capacity as we grow; she too fails us and not always out of conscious malice. Her efforts have caused us objective harm, but as we mature, we have opportunities to care for her regardless of what she has said and done. The last few generations of LGBT children have lived out this model vividly: an increasing population of declining parents looks to these far-from-the-tree children for their elder care, and most of us are providing it.

I wrote that the Adventist church administration withdrew from healthful and helpful service to its gay members after its first official meeting with SDA Kinship a few years before I was born. This may have been the worst possible choice for the church and yet it was probably the best outcome for LGBT Adventists. By abandoning the LGBT community during decades that involved deep, significant changes in psychology, medicine, church history, theology, public health, and public law, the church forced LGBT people and the heterosexual Adventists around them to go beyond the church’s borders for fact-based insight, the latest research, thoughtful biblical interpretation, principled exegesis and application, and practical policy and pastoral guidance for homes, schools, and congregations.

I view the church’s treatment of non-hetero sexuality as a more extreme edition of its approach to human sexuality overall. But as McNeill has written, the failures of our church mother can spur us to grow up. Without coming to the outer limits of her capacity, we might never have learned to seek, to engage reality directly and without using her as mediatrix for our unfolding understanding of ourselves or our callings. In growing up, we develop moral sensibilities and ethical agency. And we can choose how to apply what we’ve come to know in our relationships with other people and those institutions that shaped us.

Green things grow.

Green things grow.

It is now 2013. SDA Kinship will host its 34th international meeting this year. I am 30. And the Seventh-day Adventist church is still a full two years away from reporting on “alternative sexuality practices”—a remit that, at best, represents a gross misapprehension of the science of orientation and gender and frames human variation in terms of misbehavior. The committee conducting that study was announced at the 2010 General Conference session and is due to produce its report in the next two years. Without any information on this committee’s membership beyond its chairman, and with its only preliminary contribution a doubling down on the church’s 1996 statements, I can’t vouch for the value of its outcomes or its relevance to my generation or the younger people who follow us and wish to remain a part of the church. [2]

Would my denomination ever dare to call Blackness an “alternative ethnicity”? I’d hope not. Yet some of its most vocal speakers and authors over the years have framed European and White American worship styles and music customs as the norm from which other cultures vary at their spiritual peril: ethnocentrism is an old art. Even if current membership trends continue and South American, African, and Asian divisions move to the center of the institutional wheel, their centering after years of marginalization will still fall far short of “unity in diversity” or any other model of organic collective flourishing. Imbalanced relationships among constituents undermine the grounded, healthy development of any group deemed an aberration rather than a variation. The church’s heterosexism has long produced these outcomes.

Cartoon of animals—monkeys, elephants, and others—being tested on their ability to climb a tree.

It doesn’t matter to me which of us get to live at the center of the wheel if some of us are relegated to the outer ring. I don’t believe the Incarnational Kingdom of God is about inner and outer rings, and, unlike the orientation change ministries I described in Part I, I don’t hold a theology of sexuality based on separation from our Creator and Source, regard a hetero orientation as the inverse of others, or represent LGBT people as “heterosexual people with a homosexual struggle.” That is not what they are.

Yet I believe it’s important for the General Conference’s committee to complete its work and report on sexual and gender minorities 35 years after ministers first recommended the study.

Even if

  • the church has preemptively described orientations other than heterosexuality as “a manifestation of the disturbance and brokenness in human inclinations and relations caused by the entrance of sin into the world;”
  • a number of church members and LGBT people have already plugged out of this conversation because it does not reflect the realities of gender, intersexuality, or orientation;
  • the committee intends to represent heterosexuals as normative and all others as deviant;
  • by 2015 we’ll still have no rounded theology of relationship, creativity, commitment, or celibacy, and still lack a model for organizational and spiritual vocations that evaluate members based on gifts rather than gender or marital status; and
  • no LGBT Adventist has been invited to join the General Conference’s committee in studying the Bible, Adventist tradition, or current knowledge about the LGBT community

—it is still important that the church administration continue its process.

The next generation of Adventists deserves the best its denomination can offer, not as the end of conversation but as the start of it. The church’s contributions in the next few years will influence the climate in which youth grow and adults endeavor to shepherd them: even as our societies change, the church’s statements, retractions, explanations, and pronouncements will continue to matter.

Unwillingness to discuss openly is devastating: silence and shadows never saved a soul. So the 2015 study is important for the health of my church and its members. I have wondered whether it’s even more important that pastors, teachers, counselors, parents, and friends continue their personal learning and dialogue, though they’ve explored their questions so far with very limited support and in some cases active resistance. As Protestants, we have no Magisterium, and we also share with the various Catholic and Orthodox traditions a reverence for discernment and conscience. Neither discernment nor conscience is based on stubbornly abdicating continuous learning.

So, whatever the church’s judgments in 2 years, everyone in the wider Adventist community has opportunities to co-learn today. Some church members and former members are returning to this common learning table thanks to their relationships with LGBT people and to the documentary Seventh-Gay Adventists (SGA), which has screened in small groups since February 2012.

Poster for Seventh-Gay Adventists (2012)The movie does not pretend to see or tell all; it is situated in particulars and as such it has limitations (I’ve  discussed my thoughts with the director personally so am not writing out of turn). SGA‘s focus on couples, gay and lesbian individuals, and the lives of people resident in North America means that the Adventist community has yet to hear from unmarried, bisexual, intersex, or transgender people, and we’ve not heard the range of experiences that LGBTI Adventists have outside the United States or Canada, sometimes supported by their ministers and sometimes publicly demonized by them.

Despite these limits, SGA doesn’t seek to end the conversation: it is an extremely charitable contribution to a relationship that needs more charity, and it has resonated with people from all sides of the table. I know the filmmakers hope that others will tell their own stories just as Jill and Sherri, Marcos and Obed, and David and Colin told theirs. The isolation of the status quo isn’t good enough for any of us, and our church, our “Mother,” will benefit from learning with us.

“Homosexual people eagerly wanting to live the Christian faith, could they do it in their specificity, not in isolation or [outside the law], but also in the shared wealth of the ecclesial community? Would it not be desirable that these brothers and sisters in Christ are respected and accepted as people with an infinite value in God’s eyes?

… No one can be forced into belief and response.” —Ethics Committee of the Franco-Belgian Union of Seventh-day Adventists, March 2013

In the third and final part of this series, I will share how this context has shaped my life and relationship with the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

[1] Sample lobbying in North America: VermontCanada, California [AB 1976 & Proposition 8], Maryland, and Washington state; sample international SDA lobbying: the Netherlands, KenyaUganda, and England. Additional links were shared in Part 1 of this series.

[2] Shortly after this article was first published on June 5, I received a copy of the committee’s appointed membership. The 50-member group is dominated by General Conference and world division church administrators, and includes only 1 woman.

Based on the writings of William Arthur Ward, a 20th Century optimist and inspirational writer:

I will do more than belong—I will participate.
I will do more than care—I will help.
I will do more than believe—I will practice.
I will do more than be fair—I will be kind.
I will do more than forgive—I will forget.
I will do more than dream—I will work.
I will do more than teach—I will inspire.
I will do more than learn—I will enrich.
I will do more than give—I will serve.
I will do more than live—I will grow.
I will do more than suffer—I will triumph.

Always do what you can where you can.

Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” ― Robert F. Kennedy

Obit: Margaret Thatcher

Baroness Thatcher (BBC)

Aren’t all colossal leaders ambivalent figures, feted by some, hated by others, & rarely understood in life or death? Former British Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher died today at the age of 87.

I grew up in Thatcher’s England. My family suffered under her economic policies and has never recovered. I have no love for her cabinets’ social or educational impact and my father developed a semi-permanent frowning wrinkle just for her. She coddled South Africa’s apartheid regime and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and with Chile’s tactical support, she warred with Argentina over tiny islands 8,000 miles away from England’s shores. Distance between UK and Falkland Islands (London Mirror)She narrowly escaped death when the Irish Republican Army bombed her party conference hotel at an English sea resort. And she was re-elected as prime minister the year I was born.

The Iron Lady was also one of many strong female leaders in my life who showed and taught me that authority was not gendered, that sex neither qualified nor disqualified men or women for leadership, and that tradition and custom were not themselves reason to dodge significant change. Her incredible visibility when I was small cracked open realms of possibility for me and young women like me. Her clarity and tenacity modeled passage out of social prejudices and limiting expectations; even when these paths were mirages, they were mirages of the best kind and they became my muses. Because she walked ahead of me, I gained.

I expect historians to fight over Baroness Thatcher’s legacy more than any other recent Prime Minister except perhaps Tony Blair. But I won’t fight anyone about her legacy myself; I have my own memories of her and her work, and that is enough.

“Her outstanding characteristics will always be remembered by those who worked closely with her: courage and determination in politics, and humanity and generosity of spirit in private.” —Former Prime Minister Sir John Major, Thatcher’s successor

Blessings and love to the Thatcher family.

The unfaithful witness is the one who simply transmits the conventional and familiar, unchanged and undigested. He is unfaithful, in the first place, because he is lazy. For the labor of interpretation and contemporization, the work of ‘translation,’ is grueling work and it is never done without abortive trials and breath-taking risks. . . . He who simply repeats the old phrases takes no risks; it is easy to remain orthodox and hew to the old line. But he who speaks to this hour’s need and translates the message will always be skirting the edge of heresy. He, however, is the man who is given this promise (and I really believe this promise exists): Only he who risks heresies can gain the truth. —Helmut Thielicke, The Trouble with the Church

Thanks to Ryan Bell for sharing this quote: it is equal parts inspiring and unsettling, which strikes me as the right balance to take!


What If The Kids Don’t Want Our Church?

“What happens when a generation comes along that doesn’t care about the game you’ve spent so much time buying equipment for, has little invested in the durable nature of the stuff you value? … You could spend your time trying to convince them that they have a responsibility to value the things you value… Convince them the stuff they value is pointless and shallow. That should work.” —Derek Penwell*

Heh. You could tell them they’ll value what you value when they get older, are truly converted, and/or mature. You could explain that their perspective has been skewed… because, y’know… Culture. Secular Education. Relativism. You could tell them that Jesus’s best intention when he wandered around with his disciples was to set up a 501(c)(3) 5-tiered corporation with leadership (s)election via closed-door committee. Yes, that was in the master plan; if only they’d had the system we have today.

Surely the kids will understand all of this when they grow up. Won’t they?

* Derek Penwell writes at The Company of the Eudaimon and tweets @reseudaimon.

Women Fired Up

A book recommendation via the Son of Baldwin community: Dr. Barbara Ransby‘s biography of Ella Baker, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision.

Ella Josephine Baker (1903-1986) was an under-recognized organizer and operative in the 20th Century U.S Black civil rights movement. In Virginia, North Carolina, New York, and across the Southern states over nearly 30 years, Baker supported and helped to grow some of the most visible labor, voting, and black equality groups including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Crusade for Citizenship, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Ultimately her distrust of hierarchical leadership and support for participatory democracy led her to work less with such well-promoted groups and more with egalitarian and grassroots collectives. She remained socially engaged until her death at 83 years old. 

Human Symphony Foundation logo

This weekend, three contemporary female civil rights activists were honored at the annual Living Legends for Service to Humanity program in Ashton, MD. The 2013 honorees were Ella Baker’s peer, U.S. civil rights activist Juanita AbernathyLouisiana native Sister Helen Prejean, and India’s Dr. Sunitha Krishnan. Sr. Prejean has devoted her life to campaigning against the death penalty and the social order that supports it. Her acceptance speech described the “fire” that can motivate and sustain life-long commitment to people regardless of their social standing and to creating a more just world with them. Dr. Krishnan, founder of anti-trafficking and pro-education organization Prajwaladedicated her award to “a legendary generation” who would act for the equality and worth of all people, regardless of gender, caste, or background.

Next year’s award program will highlight educators.