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A number of my friends are beginning to say “farewell” to careers. It’s hard to believe. I know for many “retirement” is not an issue and they will be finding something productive and challenging for the next several years, but nonetheless it’s a change and a transition. Not only are they saying farewell to work but to friends, clients, customers, donors, and people that have helped define them for so many years. For some it comes as a shock and they are unprepared. For others, they have had a plan in place and even though it is difficult they have had time to consider how they leave and what they want to say.
I have been re-reading farewell speeches lately. Very few, if any, farewells will match the poetry of General MacArthur’s farewell at West Point: “I address you with neither rancor nor bitterness in the fading twilight of life, with but one purpose in mind: to serve my country.” Some are brief and some interminable. It is the farewell address of Moses I keep re-reading.
While it could be the embarrassed farewell of a failed leader or even be bitter and angry, it is not. It is the final gesture of a man whose life was, for better and worse, tied to these people. Yet, the central message is not a reflection of his relationship with them but impressing on them they are now the carriers of God’s name and whatever they have been through has been for the purpose of preparing them for that. He is leaving the honor of God’s name in their hands. There is no going away gift from the people to him. He is instead putting the burden on them.
I know a little of what that means as I share the same name as my father. It was not always a good thing for me or for him. There were times I wanted my own name. I didn’t want his name because I was responsible for his reputation…but not by my choice. My sisters had it easier. They had their own name and reputation to worry about but I was carrying around mine and his. It was not until years later that I understood how the burden could turn into a badge and the load become a legacy. It would have been fine to be a part of the family but carrying the name was different. Like that, God gave them his name and there was no changing the assignment. They were now God’s identity and reputation in this world.
In some ways those who are saying farewell have the same responsibility. It is not enough to slip away with a “well done” and sense of having done their best. The people who are going on need to hear a challenge and know they are expected to live up to what they have been prepared to do. That is how a leader says good-bye.Comments
I was with a young man who had just completed the biggest business deal of his career and, if managed right, left him with a fortune that would provide for he and his family for the rest of their lives. I asked him how he felt and he said, "I'm afraid. I know I don't deserve this and I might lose it as quickly as I made it. God might take it away."
That reminded me of Jesus' calling Peter in the boat on the lake. They just had the biggest catch of their lives and suddenly Peter says, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinner." It's odd, really because it is his biggest success. It's a windfall catch. So big the boats are sinking with the enormous haul. Why are my friend and Peter not thrilled for more than a moment? Why does sudden success so often create crippling inadequacy and fear?
Of course, Peter may have been saying something else entirely. Success upsets the routine of life. It interrupts the ordinary that we count on for stability. It's better as a goal than an accomplishment - especially when it comes out of nowhere and is inexplicable. It's not supposed to happen this way. Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania is quoted by Arthur Brooks in a recent Wall Street Journal article. "We found that even when good things occurred that weren't earned...it did not increase people's well-being. It produced helplessness." Peter may have been saying, "I'm more comfortable with what I know than I am with this. I don't need this because it will at some point, sooner or later, expose what I know to be true about myself. There, I've said it. Now leave and let life go back to what it was."
Of course, that's not how it ends. Fortunately. It ends with that extraordinary invitation only a few people heard from Jesus. "Follow me". Even better for Peter he heard it twice. Here after his greatest success and then later after his greatest failure.
I suppose that's what I want my young friend to hear. "Follow me." That is always the point of the story. No easy explanations or assurances. No promises of future miracles or an easy life. Just follow me.Comments
I used to kid our youngest daughter that she came into this world saying, “Let’s go, guys.” She was five when we set up a lemonade stand in the front yard. She was ready to flag down all the passing cars. I stepped inside for a minute and when I returned she was nowhere in sight! I looked down the street and she was standing at our neighbor’s front door with the pitcher and cups. I ran down and asked her what she was doing and she said, “They weren’t stopping.”
That same word (except in Greek) for “let’s go guys” is dierchomai and Jesus uses it to describe the way he led the disciples much of the time. Just about the time they were settled or had things under control Jesus would say, “Dierchomai” and off he would go. They never knew from one day to the next what that meant or where they were going – but he knew. For those of us who like everything on a calendar this is not a comfortable way to live, is it?
In “Overland to the Islands”, the poet Denise Levertov writes:
“Let’s go – much as that dog goes, intently haphazard. ..changing pace and approach but not direction – every step an arrival.” That’s not our preferred way of living as we finally get our lives under control. We want a plan and goals – with few interruptions. That “next step” should be thought through carefully. In a sense, Jesus had no interruptions. He had complete flexibility because he left his daily life up to God. He could change directions or go with someone or respond to an individual with no disruption of his day. He had a purpose that was clear and focused – but not a plan in the way we would think about it. Oswald Chambers says, “Beware of getting ahead of God by the very desire to do His will.”
I’d like to live with no interruptions or “intently haphazard” in that same way. It doesn’t mean living without purpose. It simply means being always ready to be up and off when we hear “let’s go.”Comments
In a few days I'll be in a leadership seminar. There will be hundreds of others in the room with me to watch speakers and consultants on the topic from all over the country via live feed. I know there will be some thought provoking content but I doubt this thought by G.K. Chesterton will be part of it. "Distribute the dignified people and the capable people and the highly businesslike people among all the situations which their ambition or their innate corruption may demand, but keep close to your heart, keep deep in your inner councils the absurd people; let the clever people pretend to govern you, let the unimpeachable people pretend to advise you, but let the fools alone influence you; let the laughable people whose faults you see and understand be the only people who are really inside your life, who really come near you or accompany you on your lonely march towards the last impossibility."
Yet, it is just those "laughable people" whom Christ sent out with the power to heal and preach the kingdom of God. He didn't surround himself, like David, with three mighty men and thirty champions. Of course, the disciples tried to be at times with their bravado about protecting Jesus from competitors and threats but they were, truly, laughable. In the kingdom Jesus described he surrounded himself with flawed men who were anything but heroes. They were not winners or champions or even particularly brave. Just the opposite oftentimes. They were fearful, risk averse, slow to understand, fickle and self-seeking. They were more like entrenched bureaucrats than mighty men. More like the top management of Ford Motor described in Bryce Hoffman's recent book, American Icon. Yet, that is who Jesus chose and those very same men became the martyrs of the Church.
Jesus was not a leader of great men. He was a savior of sinful and lost men. In a kingdom the world understands, the closer you move to the king the higher your rank and more people serve you. In the kingdom of God, the closer you move to the king the lower your rank..and the more people you serve.
I’ve been reading more stories about teaching philanthropy to kids by handing them funds to give away. One article had a well-meaning foundation settling $100,000 on a group of college students and challenging them to figure out the best way to dispense the money. The amounts are all over the map but the assumption is the same: If we give kids our money and help create a structure they will learn to give. For instance,
Students in a new philanthropy course in the University of Virginia's Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy awarded $100,000 in grants to seven Charlottesville-area nonprofits.The grant funding was provided by the Once Upon A Time Foundation to encourage students to think about philanthropy, said the course instructor, Paul Martin, Batten's director of professional development and a former chair of the City of Charlottesville's Community Development Block Grant Task Force. The 28 students, representing 17 majors from across the University, spent the semester deciding how to award this $100,000 – acting, in effect, like a miniature private philanthropic foundation, Martin said. Starting on the first day of class with 46 letters of inquiry from local charities, the students did research, site visits, interviews and other due diligence to whittle the field to seven organizations that work on poverty alleviation and youth development. "We quickly all learned that giving away money is difficult," said Mary Kate Steinbeck, a fourth-year sociology major in in the College of Arts & Sciences. "Especially when you have 30 different voices of passion coming into the class with different ideas of how best to spend it."
I would suggest what the foundation taught the students was not how to be personal givers but how to be what we call a “philanthropoid” – and those are two different skills. That is why I always argue for parents and well-intentioned people to match the giving of kids and students rather than give them their money to, as the article says, “spend”. Unfortunately and sadly, this kind of giving almost inevitably ends up teaching more spending habits than giving skills.Comments