I awoke this morning, longing for leaders with vision that transcend our debilitating, small-minded fractiousness. And thankful for those who do!
Ancient mythic images emerged out of the deep recesses of my memory.
There was the Hydra, a nine-headed terrifying sea monster of ancient Greece. Every time a head was cut off, two more appeared in its place: a disquieting image to ponder on both national and church landscapes where many heads talk past each other, competing for air time, marketing space, and diminishing loyalties.
The headless horseman who pursued a terrified Ichabod Crane in Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow came to mind. Sometimes it seems that there is no leader with the stature to gather up all our longings, fears, and disagreements into a transcendent vision of what is meant to be. Anxious people panic, plunging hither and yon. And perish. Pope Francis is now a remarkable contrast image; a leader toward whom crowds flock with surging hope.
The image that most rivets my hope is the Lamb who was slain! The Scriptural visions that are born from among a suffering people, whether in the wilderness, in exile or under Roman persecution, have an unbelievable power to lift our sights and unify us. I am convinced that it is only profound suffering that makes us wise enough to comprehend what is truly at stake. Most of the time, like naïve cocky children, we play with matches, blind to the conflagration and conflict our ignorance and arrogance will (not maybe) ignite.
Obed and Phena Dashan, leaders of a two-million-member church in Nigeria, personified hope this week at AMBS when they were awarded the Alumni Ministry and Service Recognition. They described how Boko Haram has decimated 500 congregations, killing scores of people, burning churches, destroying villages. They spoke of what it is like to know every time they go out that they may be killed. “We find strength in the Word of God,” they said. “The Word of God revealed in Jesus Christ is the truth we preach. We were deeply enriched by the presence of truth, the power of truth, and the inspiration of truth at AMBS, a true community built around daily meditating on the Word of God. Please pray for us. We are tempted to retaliate. The Word of God has given us direction. Don’t hit back. You are more in charge when you let go than when you take control. When you have peace, you have everything!”
It is times of shared suffering that galvanize people to unify around a vision that transcends our fractious, individualistic smallness. Sadly, it often seems that unless we suffer together, we won’t experience the power of the Word of God to unite us; the power of an eschatological vision to give us hope. I experience the most astonishing power of the Spirit in gatherings of those who are real with our individual and shared suffering. Humility and electric joy pervade! The broad horizon of the vision of God’s beautiful reign opens before our eyes and we are moved with surpassing hope to sing: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Amen!