Who We Are and Whose We Are

The man simply can’t stop talking about himself.

In the lobby of the Central Intelligence Agency Headquarters building in Langley, Virginia, there is a large marble wall. In the wall are engraved 117 stars. Each star represents a C.I.A. agent who lost his or her life in the service of our country. There are no names attached to the stars. Intelligence work is dangerous and requires secrecy and anonymity. So the identity of the agent each star represents is not revealed in order not to endanger the lives of other agents.

That Memorial Wall is sacred space, like Arlington Cemetery and the Vietnam and World War II Memorials.

I stood in front of that wall once and found myself thinking that those stars and what they represent are a quintessential example of what we know as Servant Leadership. It’s a phrase that has gained currency not only in the churches but corporations, business, industry, even the military. There are lots of books describing and documenting how when a leader submerges ego, loses self in pursuit of the enterprise’s goals, good things happen. Employees work more diligently with less interpersonal conflict, organizations experience less turnover and more success in reaching their goals. We Christians like to take a little credit for the concept of Servant Leadership and trace its origins directly back to Jesus and St. Paul. Those C.I.A. agents who obviously dedicated their lives and submerged their own egos, identities, even their names in the line of duty are examples of Servant Leadership at its highest and best.

And standing in front of that wall on Saturday morning the newly inaugurated President of the United States, our leader, not only could not submerge his own ego for a few minutes, but could not stop talking about himself: how great his Inauguration speech was, how even the dishonest media loved it, how huge the crowd at his inauguration was, larger than any crowd before it and how the media lied by publishing clearly doctored pictures depicting a crowd significantly smaller than his predecessor’s, how he will make us win again, be great again and by his leadership be “first” again.

It was a performance astonishing in its insensitivity and utter egotism and narcissism. It was as far as possible from Servant Leadership.

There is a lot about the new President that concerns me: during the campaign making fun of a handicapped reporter, bragging about grabbing women’s genitals, bullying and belittling opponents and critics, demonized and discrediting the press, and now appointing a Cabinet of billionaires. I comforted myself after his nomination that if and when he was elected President he would change, reach out to those who voted against him – which turned out to be a healthy plurality in the popular vote – soften the crude rhetoric, tone down the self-serving, self-celebrating egotism, maybe even talk civilly and coherently.

If the first days of this presidency are any indication we are in for some dark times ahead. Like the majority of voting Americans I disagree with many of his positions: his disregard of climate science, his intent to see Roe v. Wade reversed and Planned Parenthood defunded, his dismissal of the Black Lives Matter movement, his demonizing immigrants and Muslims, and his relentless advocating “America First!” in a way that flies in the face of our long history of generous global leadership. I could handle all of that because I have such respect and esteem for our country, its laws and institutions, its form of government – including the office of President.

But I have never seen anything like his campaign and the first days of his presidency. So I did something unlikely for me. I put on a pink hat and accompanied my wife on the Women’s March on Chicago Saturday morning. I was glad to be there with 250,000 women and men who share our concerns and more importantly our hope for a better, kinder, more just future.

And I went to church this morning and was reminded that God is the Lord of history, all history, even this little chunk of it; that though there are times of exile and dislocation from the values we all hold dear and that are a precious part of our nation’s history and heritage, there will be a restoration, a return to generosity, civility, respect, kindness, inclusivity. I don’t think I ever needed church like I did this morning. The hymns were stirring, the music beautiful, the players gathered us all up – our concerns and anxieties and fears and our hopes. And when our minister reminded us that cultural and political divisions have always been reflected in the life of the community of faith, we followers of Jesus stubbornly refuse to forget that everyone, even those with whom we strongly disagree, everyone, is a child of God; that before we are Republicans or Democrats, even before we are Americans, we are Christians, the gathered congregation was grateful, relieved to be reminded of who we are and whose we are, glad to be together, and we applauded.

Comments

  1. Coleen Myers says:

    Thank you — well-written and exactly how I feel.

  2. John, Thank you for your words. Jill, SallyJane, my neice and I were marching in D.C. It was incredible to realize all of the marches that were being held around the country…..and…..around the world – for the same causes! I saw a wonderful photo in today’s paper. Someone had put a pink hat on a statue of Eleanor Roosevelt!! How appropriate! I think it is important for our voices to be heard. There are unbelievable things being said and actions being taken by our President. Your words, as always, provide perspective and comfort. Sandy

  3. Carole Ogden says:

    Thanks for this John, I find myself missing your counsel more than ever at this time when I am having a hard time dealing with what has taken place in this country that I love. Praying for the strength to get thru the next four years.

  4. stredfield says:

    Dear John. Thank you for your continuing inspiration.  I think back on all those baptisms you performed: “you are a child of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism…”  And so we are.  

    I’m working with Servant Leaders through Mental Health America,  all 250 of them, who reach out and bring care to the homeless in Long Beach, those who are chronically and persistently mentally ill.  They succeed, by submerging their own egos. 

    I marched with my 20 year old niece and a small group of friends along with however many others in LA last Saturday.  It was humbling and gratifying to be among and with so many like-minded people.  Several friends shared their photos of Chicago,  including baby Flora whose sign read “I’m an Obamacare baby.”

    Hoping the joy of Church, family and friends will keep your blood pressure down and your spirits high. Love, Susan Redfield

    Sent from Samsung tablet.

  5. kay Friedberg says:

    Thank you! I marched in Naples Florida and realized
    that what is happening now requires speaking out.

    You have always stood for integrity and intellect.
    So grateful for your words and actions.

  6. Thank you, John. I needed to hear some words of hope, as well as encouragement to take a longer view……to be reminded of who and whose we are.

  7. Cristina Ohr says:

    Thank you John..we so agree John. This is beyond politics. Thus is uniting together for Americas soul and values.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  8. Carol Carpenter says:

    Thank you John. My concern right now is so strong that we do have, as you say, dark days ahead of us, that I need to continually be reminded of glimpses of hope. Your words help give me that hope.
    Carol

  9. Michael Cotter says:

    Pray for his guidance. He is OUR President now.

  10. castaway5555 says:

    Thanks John … clear and to the point. We’re in trouble …

  11. Robert Chesnut says:

    Thank you, John, for this and for marching in Chicago. I was marching in DC. Christ is Lord!

  12. Virginia Tennant says:

    Thanks, John, I am so proud to know that you were out there supporting so many who have been
    insulted and cast aside! Thanks also to Sue!…love you both! Jinny Tennant

  13. Charlotte Kroeker says:

    Thank you, John, for articulating the situation so well, for acting in good conscience on Saturday when many would say you need not have bothered, for showing us how to find hope in our faith communities through the beauty and transcendence of worship. I just finished reading The Firebrand and the First Lady about the friendship of Pauli Murray and Eleanor Roosevelt, an inspiring example of supportive friends who made a difference. We do not have to lose ourselves in sorrow or disgust. You are helping us find another way, among others who have walked through difficult times. I thank God for you and for them.

  14. Larry McCracken says:

    Thanks, John. I needed that! We needed that. Please don’t stop writing, we need your counsel and guidance.

  15. Thank you, John, for eloquently saying what many of us feel, and why many of us took part in the protests.

  16. Always grateful for a space of comfort.

  17. My present strategy for dodging the slings and arrows of outrageous Trump is to shelter in place. I’m finding that my days are much happier if can manage to not see Trump’s picture and not hear his voice. I realize that this ostrich-like approach leaves me news deprived, but it’s arguably Biblical:
    Proverbs 4:14-15, 1 Timothy 6:20, 2 Timothy 6:20 (“chatter” = “tweets”), 1 Timothy 6:11-12. Dr. Buchanan, thank you so much for your insight and encouragement during these dark days. Your words lift my spirits.

  18. Correction — I think the quote about godless chatter is actually at 2 Timothy 2:16. Sorry. – TW

  19. John, Thank you for this. I needed this after watching the President’s introduction of his Supreme Court Justice nominee following a week of horrible ineptness or demonic chaos. Thank you. how do I re-post your blog?

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