Thursday, July 2, 2009

Dust It Off!

There is a scene in the Color Purple movie when Sophia lands a devastating punch after being slapped and called a big fat heifer by her estranged husband Harpo's new belle. The band members immediately pack up their instruments, close up their cases and state "Time to go," recognizing the need to leave before all hell breaks loose.

William Shakespeare, in Julius Caesar, Act IV, Scene 3 puts the thought like this:

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

It is part of the wisdom of life to know when to catch the flowing tide and not to waste hope and effort on what cannot - at least at the time - be done. There is a time to hold onto and a time to let go; a time to work for reconciliation and a time to shake the dust off one's feet.

When the timing of the tide of opportunity comes very, very early in a new context or relationship it often catches many people off guard and leaves them in a state of perplexity.

Although many were aware of the conflict and controversy at Riverside Church in Manhattan, the sudden resignation of Senior Pastor, Rev. Brad Braxton, PhD. after a mere nine months in the pulpit leaves many in the religious community in a state of stunning amazement.

Dr. Braxton, like his predecessors, continued Riverside's long and storied fight for social justice but found himself in a fierce and relentless battle with a portion of the congregation and the public over his compensation which exceeded $600,000 a year, including a $250,000 salary and a housing allowance. Braxton was exceptionally credentialed and experts on American churches indicated this pay package was well above average among pastors nationwide, but within the range of packages for senior pastors in New York and similar major churches in other big cities.So while the controversy appears to be over pastoral compensation the real argument, and which lies unspoken and beneath the surface is the issue of Black Leadership.

Dr. James Forbes, the previous pastor was also African American but internal fighting for this progressive, pacifist, and iconic 2,700 member well-to-do church built by John D. Rockefeller, has been going on for over a decade. The racial mix has gone from 60/40% white to 60/40% black as an older white generation becomes younger and African American as well as less politicized. These racial and generational changes are bound to spark intense conflict.

The Perils of Black Leadership are legion but the following small sample may provide an indication of the need to evaluate whether to cut ties and move on, shake the dust off of our feet and go in a different direction:

1. The struggle or gap between the leader's vision, leadership or persona and the expectations of the congregants.

Leaders, Pastors in particular, will always be challenged directly or indirectly to live up or down to the congregation's perception of what a pastor should be, look like, and attempt to accomplish. A lot of people prefer leaders that they can shape and mold instead of those who are able to reshape the congregation and congregants. Sometimes this challenge arises out of a struggle to control the leader to maximize one's own personal agenda and is played out by sniping, misreading or mis-characterization of the leader's motives, maligning of his/her family, or other types of subtle and not-so-subtle abuse or control mechanisms.

The leader has to decide to what extent his/her leadership will be determined by these expectations and what level of respect or disrespect he/she can live with. It may be time to shake dust.

2. Trying to minister with the constraint of worry about ordinary personal financial needs being met.

These needs can vary greatly, especially living in a large urban center with a high cost of living. When the institution is not willing or unable to compensate on a level with comparable peers for a given locale and the leader's attention is divided between shepherding and one's own survival, it may be time to shake dust.

3. Trying to make a drastic change of course while the institution itself is changing

A wise man once said "It's unwise to move with a small majority." It's impossible to effectively fight external battles while consuming energy and resources on simultaneous internal wars. Without a mandate, it may be time to shake the dust.

4. The institution of slavery systematically taught slaves and whites that no slave was capable of leading whites or another slave. Therefore black leaders are often rejected by their own as well as majority persons.

Therefore one must know that A leader isn't always the one at the head of the table. A leader is always thinking ahead of any situation. The leader is the one that makes the most sense in crucial situations. Look for leadership where it is most in evidence, not in positions of authority. Anthony Samad

Just Dust it Off!

1 comment:

SjP said...

This post reminds me of the story of the Rev. Vernon Johns. Seems his congregation thought he was too political and as a result hired a young pastor who they thought they could mold. Little did they know that they would replace Johns, considered the Father of the Civil Rights Movement, with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

Great post!