Sunday, March 27, 2016

Resurrecting Ourselves

It feels like dark times, when, inconceivably, one of our major political parties seems poised to choose a hateful bigot as their presidential nominee, when a state's government passes legislation that enables discrimination, when mass shootings and terrorist attacks have become near-daily news. When cometh the morning that we awake from this nightmare?

I'm currently reading, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, which posits that we all possess, within us, the ability to shift from unconscious to conscious ways of leading and being. Unconscious leaders operate within a paradigm of scarcity and attempt to motivate through fear, guilt, and shame, whereas conscious leaders operates within a paradigm of love and therefore inspire others through their integrity and commitment to personal growth.

The book's authors assert that these shifts bring a leader from below the line to above the line and that the choice to shift is available to all of us, all of the time (as is, by the way, the willingness to be and act as a leader).

It's the choice we're making when we experience our feelings rather than react to them; when we seek to understand another's point of view rather than defend our position; when we acknowledge and learn actively from our missteps no matter the collateral damage to our egos.

It is a crossing of the threshold from dark to light, from despair to hope, and from fear to love. It is choosing grace even – and especially – when we're in pain.

It is, in other words, our soul's awakening from the nightmare that swirls around us.

Though lapsed churchgoer that I am, my memories of Easter Sunday at Zion Lutheran Church in my Iowan hometown remain vividly clear. I still see Pastor Roy Nilsen walking to the lectern, adjusting his glasses with just the right measure of dramatic flair, and announcing in his booming baritone:

"Christ. Is. Risen."

He is risen indeed, we the congregation would exclaim in reply.

"Alleluia!" the pastor's pronouncement continued.

Alleluia! we would practically shout (or, rather, state loudly and with glee, which is the Lutheran equivalent of rioting in the streets).

The call and response would repeat twice more, the jubilation in our voices rising each time (my own, in retrospect, owing more to the novelty of "talking back" during the sermon than an informed understanding of Scripture, but nonetheless).

Though, as a young child, I struggled to make literal sense of a man dying and coming back to life – even Jesus himself, who I knew had magical powers – the optimism of those Easter mornings required no leap of understanding. From the uplifting harmonies of the hymns to the organist's animated accompaniment to the slight bounce in Pastor Nilsen's steps as he led the post-benediction procession down the aisle following the service, the contrast between the previous weeks' mood of Lenten mourning and this one was stark. It was abundantly clear that the occasion was one of utter joy and relief.

I understood we had journeyed through several months of darkness, in search of light, and had made it.

Our despairs had been quieted, our fears quelled, our hopes rewarded. Our shadows had been illuminated by the twin high beams of faith and love. Alleluia indeed.

I wonder, now, if that Easter Sunday enthusiasm was born partially from the reminder that the ascent from darkness to light was possible on a personal level, that the proclamation of Christ's rising was also an invitation to look around at the earth in full Spring bloom and remember that our own rebirth is constantly available: that our ability to choose it is, in fact, the great prize of being alive.

And choose it we must, as individuals and a society as a whole. The current political environment requires that we set aside our beliefs about how best to solve our problems to answer the greater question at hand. Do we think so little of ourselves that we would consent to a culture of fear, guilt, and shame? The imperative is that we awake on a massive scale to proclaim it: that we will not allow ourselves to live or be led from below the line. Life in the shadows will not suffice. We are worthy of so much more.

Will we resurrect ourselves? I'm optimistic. Not because I'm naive, but because faith in people's good-heartedness is the antidote to the fear that breeds hatred in the first place.

The choice to shift is ours personally and collectively. We can rise above. What joy, what relief.

Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia, indeed.

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