Influence others like Eleanor Roosevelt – Rev. Margaret Marcuson

Margaret Marcuson

March 18, 2020 – The Christian Citizen

What does an American First Lady who died in 1962 have to do with leadership in 2020? She was never elected to public office. Yet she was the most well-known woman in America for years. She was both loved and vilified. Eleanor Roosevelt faced challenges and shows us today ways to step up to leadership in anxious and difficult times.

She is one of my heroes. She survived a difficult childhood, a challenging marriage to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the many restrictions on what women could and couldn’t do during her lifetime. She was cripplingly shy, yet became the most well-known woman in America. She was a visible First Lady from 1933-1945. During and after that time she spoke publicly, wrote a column and books, and played a key role in the first U.S. delegation to the United Nations (1945-1952). Eleanor Roosevelt’s story is compelling. And her own words and example are inspirational and challenging.

Here are three ways that we can lead as she did, with her own words to reinforce them.

  1. Face up to difficult tasks. “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”[i]

Leaders must speak and act in ways that are frightening and difficult. It may be standing up to a bullying staff person or church member or making a public statement about a controversial issue. Sometimes it’s just getting out of bed and going to work when you are discouraged and exhausted. “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

  1. Immunize yourself to criticism. No doubt the pace of vicious criticism has accelerated in our day. But Eleanor Roosevelt faced her share of it, both before and after her husband’s death. Many people thought she was too bold (perhaps including her own husband). They tried to put her in her place. In this regard, she said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”[ii]

To lead is to invite criticism, condescension and worse. It requires a strong sense of self to handle the barrage that can come your way when you lead, and to hold on to your clarity about who you are and what you are called to do.

  1. Act according to your principles. “In political life I have never felt that anything really mattered but the satisfaction of knowing that you stood for the things in which you believed, and had done the best you could.”[iii] She also said, “If silence seems to give approval, then remaining silent is cowardly.”[iv]

Here’s one example: The African American singer Marian Anderson was refused the right to sing in Constitution Hall in Washington, DC, by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Eleanor Roosevelt resigned in protest. She worked behind the scenes to see that a massive outdoor concert took place instead.[v]

In politics, at church, in our wider world, there are no guaranteed outcomes. Be clear about your principles and assess your actions in their light (sometimes with the help of others). Then do what you can and let go of the rest.

The Rev. Margaret Marcuson helps ministers do their work without wearing out or burning out, through ministry coaching, presentations and online resources.

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An Interfaith Prayer in a Time of Pandemic- The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson

Washing my hands, reminds me of the waters of Chautauqua Lake,
Which reminds me of the majestic tolling of the Miller Bell Tower,
Which reminds me of the many kinds of music that fills the air and our hearts,
Which reminds me of the laughter of children and the beauty of our gardens,
Which reminds me of the beauty of different faces, complexions, generations,
and faiths,
Which reminds me of dance and art, being challenged by different perspectives,
and the restorative power of prayer.
Which reminds me of how sacred everything feels at our beloved Chautauqua,
Which reminds me to give thanks to the Holy One for all these blessings we share.
Be with us, Divine One, in this time of anxiety,
Comfort those who are infected, soothe all of us who are affected,
Strengthen and protect the medical caregivers,
Embolden our leaders with strength and wisdom,
Give us holy permission to do what is best in each moment, even if that’s
“hunker down.”
Renew our hope for a world —
With less anxiety and more joy,
With less “me first,” and more “no, please, after you!”
With less fear, and more love.
And bring us safely home, back to the Chautauqua which was, and is,
and will be.
Amen.
—The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson
Vice President of Religion and Senior Pastor
Chautauqua Institution
March 18, 2020

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How not-so-random acts of kindness from strangers – Rev. Dr. Molly Marshall

transformed my latest air travel odyssey

Molly T. Marshall

One thing any experienced traveler learns is that other travel veterans can always trump your “worst trip ever” stories. I just endured one of those “eventful” overseas flight experiences, but this journey also introduced me to strangers who offered this Baptist theologian a few reminders about kindness and compassion.

My annual pilgrimage to Myanmar did not have an auspicious start. I left Kansas City early Friday morning headed for Seattle, then Seoul and then ultimately Yangon. Fog shrouded Seattle and planes could not land, so our flight was diverted to Eugene, Oregon, where we sat in the plane nearly four hours waiting for fuel and a landing time.

Trying not to be too anxious, reluctantly relinquishing control over the logistics, I kept my eyes on my app. Sure enough, I received notification that my flight to South Korea had taken off without me.

One of the flight attendants demonstrated impressive emotional intelligence. She came by with water and empathy in generous servings, and she helped us see the humor in our situation. Who would not want to spend time viewing the surrounding mountains through the small windows of our plane?

At this point I wondered if I should have heeded the admonition of friends who thought perhaps this trip to Myanmar was ill-conceived as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread. With my usual stubbornness, I said all will be well.

Indeed, all would be well, thanks to the kindness of strangers who use their professions as a place of caring and service.

Arriving in Seattle, I headed to an airline club to get rescheduled, if possible. Many had missed connections, and agents were pressed to fulfill our requests. A young woman of Asian descent took up my case and worked for several hours to get me re-booked. She told me to go get some food; she would find me when she had completed the task.

It takes fortitude to do methodical work pleasantly when you are facing a long line of anxious, weary and impatient customers clamoring for attention. I had plenty of time to observe her as I spent the next eight hours awaiting my flight.

“It was as if an angelic messenger had been sent my way.”

Flying back to Detroit on a red-eye would allow me to catch a midday flight to Seoul; it was my best option. Again, with a long stint in an airline club (I’m thankful for the thousands of frequent flyer miles that qualify me for this amenity), I met a remarkable person. As one of the attendants who collects the cups and glasses and newspapers of the guests in the travel lounge, this tall, African American woman circled around to check on me several times.

She asked what I was doing, and I told her a bit of my travel challenges. She said God had placed her there to work so that she could notice God’s people and encourage them. While others may render her invisible as she goes about her routine tasks, she is perceptively observing those who come through her section of the club.

I teared up at her kindness and witness of faith, and she offered a prophetic word as if she could peer into my very soul. Sensing that I was burdened about some matters, she firmly said, “God has got this.”

She disappeared to complete other tasks, and I could not find her when I needed to leave for my flight. It was as if an angelic messenger had been sent my way; and, of course, God had her busy noticing and encouraging some other inconvenienced traveler.

When I arrived in Seoul, I met another ministering spirit. The usually bustling Incheon Airport felt a bit like a ghost town as fear of the virus has slowed travel dramatically. Everyone was wearing masks, trying not to get too near anyone else, and viewing others with furtive suspicion.

Once again, I had to spend a couple of hours waiting in an airline club. Upon entering, I encountered a mask-free, smiling young Korean man with a most hospitable attitude. His capacity to welcome guests, anticipate their needs and seem genuinely interested in each was contagious. I asked him why he served as he did, and he said it was because of his faith in Jesus. He wanted to be like him in how he treated people.

Finally, there is no greater kindness than to be met by a friend at the end of a long journey. By now, my travel had lasted about two-and-a-half days. Arriving in Yangon, there was a flurry of activity as a medical agent took each passenger’s temperature, and an extra step was added as a medical form was examined prior to going through customs.

Emerging from the chaos of collecting baggage and the throngs of persons awaiting their passengers, I searched the crowd for my Myanmar Institute of Theology colleague. Soon he was by my side helping me thread our way to find our driver.

“You must be tired,” he said, acknowledging that I was arriving a day later than originally planned. His kind words and pastoral attention reminded me yet again how important our caring is in helping others manage their challenges.

During the first week of this Lenten season, I have been the beneficiary of unanticipated, but not-so-random acts of kindness from sisters and brothers who are my fellow travelers in the compassionate way of Jesus.

I wonder what the trip home has in store.

 

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Let’s bury the patriarchal narrative in American culture. Rev. Dr. Marshall

 

Molly T. MarshallHow tiresome is the perspective voiced by churches, political campaigns and businesses when they say something like, “We need a strong leader,” followed by something like, “We are not ready for a woman as pastor, or president or CEO.” While we may celebrate the strides toward equality, we know that achieving gender and racial parity in all realms of life remains more aspirational than reality.

I have been devouring a recent book by Leslie Dorrough Smith entitled Compromising Positions: Sex Scandals, Politics, and American Christianity. If that title is not arresting enough, her thesis surely is. She contends that:

“… evangelical rhetoric provides the cultural template for the moral promotion of sexual men and the moral condemnation of sexual women when situated within particular racial contexts. This influence enables Americans to excuse certain politicians for their sexual misbehavior so long as they conform to other critical aspects of ideal male identity.”

Of course, ideal male identity in the United States remains white, heterosexual and given to “family values” (even while their behavior contradicts this supposed conviction). Smith’s book is full of examples.

Through examining the varied sex scandals of recent decades – which include the likes of Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas; Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky; Roy Moore/young or underage women; Rudy Giulani/several wives; Newt Gingrich/several wives; Donald Trump/varied liaisons and several wives; and Brett Kavanaugh/Christine Blasey Ford – the author perceptively argues that the national discourse wants to reinforce the narrative of the white, heterosexual, hypersexually driven man who is, simultaneously, a wholesome father figure with great moral integrity.

It is surely a double standard, and it sustains the patriarchal narrative.

“Patriarchy is not just about gendered relationships; it is also about race.”

Why does the public overlook such scandals and give these men a pass even while using the rhetoric of sin and need for redemption? Because American culture is patriarchal to the core, believing that only a strong red-blooded white male can protect national interests. If that means accepting or overlooking his sexual exploits, so be it. Religious rhetoric that sees men as the God-ordained leaders helps sustain this understanding.

Women fare badly in this construction. Their testimony is held in contempt; they are pilloried if they are sexual in any overt way; and their competence to lead is questionable. The varied examples listed above demonstrate that white males win; women who protest their treatment by them are shamed, called nutty and slutty, or simply deranged. The need to prop up white male hegemony trumps their rightful witness, and the desire to protect patriarchy wins (at the cost of any egalitarian integrity).

While progressive Baptists are proud of their movement toward gender equity and inclusion of sexual minorities, we know that statistics still convict. Only 6.5 percent of senior pastors among Cooperative Baptists are women. American Baptists are only slightly better at approximately 11.3 percent. The data for the Alliance of Baptists shows more progress than these others. Surely there are break-out leaders among these ecclesial bodies, yet preference for a white male remains the default for churches. (The largest African American Baptist bodies lag in promoting the leadership of women, not to mention LGBTQ persons.)

Patriarchy is not just about gendered relationships; it is also about race. Projections about the sexuality of black men and women from a white perspective colors the national discourse.

Smith cites studies that demonstrate “white evangelical Christians are disproportionately likely to interpret the poverty and social disadvantage that many people of color face as the result of individual moral failures (and sexual failures …) rather than as systemic phenomena caused by forces that transcend any one person’s circumstances.” The horrific critique of the Obama presidency and his family and the current backlash from white nationalists signal the fear of those who anticipate their power eroding.

In the midst of the relentless election cycle in American politics, we once again see how hard it is to bury the patriarchal narrative. Persons of color have vanished from the contest for the Democratic nominee in the 2020 election. And the labeling of women as incapable of being presidential, because they are bitchy or bossy, continues. The old tropes of masculine strength are on display as candidates are subjected to analysis through the lens of evangelical social worth – white, straight, married – and the capacity to use religious rhetoric to promote a triumphant conservative agenda that remains a hierarchical ordering of gender and race.
Repentance and conversion of heart will be essential to rectify this ongoing diminishment of women, sexual minorities and persons of color. It is not easy to dismantle what has been projected as normative and how God intended things to be, but it is necessary if we pursue the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven.

We can construe a better narrative where all who bear the image of God can flourish if we but have the will to do it.

 

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