April 15, 2014
There are probably as many definitions of leadership as there are leaders. Harry Truman, in his typical, straightforward style, once said,
A contemporary of Truman but a very different soul, Mahatma Gandhi, ironically used military imagery to identify tenacity as the key element:
Hannibal, as he contemplated crossing the Alps to attack Rome, would probably like Gandhi's attitude. He said,
Also ironically, a statement from the mouth of one of the greatest military leaders in history, Napoleon, sounds more like something Gandhi would say. He identified a core emotional/spiritual dimension as central. He believed:
The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-tse said something that sounds right for an aphorism coming out of the East:
The Bible has much to say about leadership too. Paul affirmed its value when he told Timothy,
In fact, he gave Timothy and Titus the very job of appointing church leaders.
What's one of your favorite quotes on leadership and why?
March 25, 2014
Every once in a while a kerfuffle bubbles up about whether or not the United States was founded as a Christian nation. The question can take many forms. Were the Founding Fathers personally committed Christians? Did they expect the Bible or parts of it to be the bedrock of the country? Was Christianity intended to be the unofficial established religion of the land?
Often such questions are raised in the context of justifying calls to reinsert Christian customs or values back into the public culture. Since the country was founded on such a basis, so the argument goes, we should return to these founding principles.
I was rereading a book by twentieth-century apologist Francis Schaeffer the other day, and I think he got it just right over forty years ago.
If one were to ask whether Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson personally were Christians, the answer, as best we can judge from what they said, is no. Nonetheless, they produced something that had some sort of Christian framework because they were producing it out of a Christian consensus of Samuel Rutherford's Lex Rex.* Thus from a Christian framework Jefferson and Franklin were able to write that men have certain inalienable rights, a notion derived from a specifically Christian world view.
In essence, Jefferson, Franklin and most of the other Founders used ideas built on a Christian foundation to frame a country and a political system, not to promote Christianity.
What is interesting about Schaeffer's point is that he makes it in a book that's not about politics at all. It is in Art and the Bible that Schaeffer explains how artists might not have personal Christian convictions but nonetheless do their work out of a Christian consensus. To illustrate how this might happen, he makes his comparison to Jefferson and Franklin.
For two millennia Christianity has influenced great artists, great political thinkers, great scientists, great humanitarians, great business people, great inventors, great educators. They fought slavery, reduced poverty, cured diseases, increased literacy, made amazing discoveries. Sometimes they were Christians and worked toward Christian purposes. Sometimes not. Schaeffer knew that. Now we do too.
*A seventheenth-century book by a Scottish Presbyterian minister published with the subtitle The Law Is King that emphasized the importance of covenant and which influenced John Locke's political theory.
March 11, 2014
This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Kitty Genovese on March 13, 1964. So here I rerun my post from two years ago on this landmark episode in American culture.
Kitty Genovese was murdered in Kew Gardens in Queens, New York, forty-eight years ago today. It rocked the nation. The New York Times article about the incident famously began, "For more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens."
It became a scandal. The national outrage and soul-searching began. Were we that jaded? That apathetic? Were our cities that corrosive to human character? Was TV making us a nation of mere watchers who refused to "get involved"? Psychologists and sociologists joined in the discussion, with studies showing that people are less likely to help in a crisis when there are more bystanders. Kitty Genovese and those who watched became a staple of every major psychology textbook discussing "the bystander effect" and "the Genovese syndrome."
Enter Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner and their book SuperFreakonomics. What they reconstruct piece by piece, giving credit for much research to Joseph De May, is a very different story from the one that has risen to the level of urban myth.
Yes, there was a terrible, brutal murder that night. But thirty-eight people in an apartment building across the street did not stay transfixed at their windows doing nothing for half an hour. To begin with, they were all asleep. Some, perhaps a dozen, were awakened by screams, and some of those came to their windows. But the street was dark and poorly lit; it was very difficult to tell what was going on. Nonetheless several witnesses opened their windows and screamed at the attacker, Winston Mosley, who then ran away. Kitty Genovese struggled to get up and staggered out of sight. In the dark and at a distance, no one knew she had been stabbed. All this took perhaps ten minutes.
One apartment dweller (these were the days before 911) then called the police to report an attack but that the victim had gotten up and stumbled away. That probably didn't sound important enough to the police to arouse their urgent attention.
Mosley returned ten minutes later and followed a trail of blood to the vestibule of Genovese's apartment where she was hidden from view. There he attacked her a second time, robbing her, raping her and killing her. And then he left.
Not three attacks but two. Not thirty-eight people but a few. Not uninvolved zombies but citizens yelling at the perpetrator and calling the police.
How had so reputable a newspaper as the New York Times got it so wrong? In that era reporters relied heavily on the police for information. The police provided the number of witnesses--thirty-eight--though later a prosecutor could only find a half-dozen. The police also said there were three attacks; they later corrected it to two, but we rarely hear about that.
Why such bad information? We don't know for sure, but the police may have been trying to cover for not responding more promptly to the call they received.
We also don't hear about the fact that shortly after the murder, Mosely was arrested--as a result of someone in another neighborhood who got involved by calling the police to finger him for another crime--leading eventually to his conviction for murdering Kitty Genovese.
Moral: Don't believe everything you read. But keep reading.
January 28, 2014
"Because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth." This verse from Revelation 3 certainly must rank as one of the most misused in the Bible. In the last month alone I have heard two speakers give it the same incorrect interpretation.
In the first three chapters of Revelation we find seven letters from Jesus to seven churches in late first-century Asia Minor (now western Turkey). In the letter to Laodicea, he says, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!" As a result, he will spit out their tepidness.
Often this is misinterpreted to mean that Jesus is tired of namby-pamby middle of the roaders. He would rather people be passionately against him or for him. This is ridiculous on two counts. First, Jesus simply does not want people to turn resolutely against him. He wants all to come to him and be saved.
Second, when Jesus refers to hot and cold water, he is drawing an analogy from the fact that Laodicea did not have a good water source. Instead, using Roman aqueducts, it received hot water from the north, from the city of Hierapolis, famous for its soothing and healing hot springs. Refreshing cold water came from the south, from Colossae, eleven miles away, from snow melt on the mountains. Unfortunately, by the time the hot water and the cold water got to Laodicea, both were lukewarm. As Richards and O'Brien say in Misreading Scripture Through Western Eyes, Jesus "wished his people were hot (like the salubrious waters of Hierapolis) or cold (like the refreshing waters of Colossae). Instead, their discipleship was unremarkable."
So why describe the church as lukewarm? The answer found in the next verse. "You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked."
Laodicea as a city had a reputation for its many banks, for its excellent medical school and for its clothing industry. But, Jesus says, actually it was not rich but poor, not healthy but blind, not well clothed but naked. Their resources led them to rely on themselves instead of on Jesus. Their problem was not lack of fervor but a sense of self-sufficiency. They relied on themselves instead of on God.
For a culture that prides itself on its massive economy, the best medicine in the world, and a fashion industry second to none--Revelation 3, correctly interpreted, becomes all too relevant.
photo credit: BiblePlaces.com
January 21, 2014
January 15, 2014
The nominees are in. Here's what I read this past year. It's my usual mix of history, some fiction, a couple memoirs, a couple business books and, of course, some IVP books after they were published. The winners will soon be announced.Continue reading "Nominees for the 2014 Andys"