Any action that rebinds…is religious. –Robert K. Greenleaf

Greenleaf writes: All but the crude and insensitive live under the constant threat of coming unbound, alienated.  ‘Alienated’. . .designates those who have little caring for their fellow humans, who are not motivated to serve people as individuals or as institutions, and who, though able, do not carry some constructive, society-supportive role, or who miss realizing their potential by much too wide a margin. 

 Any influence or action that rebinds – that recovers and sustains such alienated persons as caring, serving, constructive people, and guides them as they build and maintain serving institutions, or that protects normal people from the hazards of alienation and gives purpose and meaning to their lives, is ‘religious.’ 

Ever since I first read these two paragraphs many years ago I have been deeply moved by Greenleaf’s definition of ‘religious.’  It is also a powerfully challenging definition.  How many of us – either as individuals, or as collectives of individuals – intentionally embrace his definition and the challenge that is imbedded within it?

Who are the alienated today?  How do we treat others so they end up becoming alienated?  Why do some choose to be alienated?  I know some folks who experienced being betrayed (trust was broken, for example) – either by another or by a group or by an organization – and have then been alienated or have chosen to become alienated.  The result is that they do not care for others nor do they care for themselves.  They see no point in ‘serving.’  They appear to be apathetic as they have little, if any energy (their energy is turned inward and they are depressed by it); their ‘inner fire’ has been extinguished and they are full of smoke and are suffocating from within.

Individuals, relationships and organizations (which are individuals and relationships writ large) can become, have become, alienated.  Alienation nurtures depression, cynicism, anger and at times rage.  It drains the energy so that the potential inherent in the individual and/or the collective is stifled if not destroyed.

Greenleaf is not without hope.  ‘Any influence or action that rebinds’ is important when it comes to helping the alienated reconnect.  There is healing power in caring for others, in serving others (so they grow as persons), in protecting others (in keeping others ‘safe’).  This healing power emanates from individuals, from relationships and from organizations.  The response-ability lies with those who are not alienated; they are called to reach out to those who are alienated and help them re-bind so they are reconnected – to themselves and to the other(s).

There is no guarantee that if servants reach out to the alienated that re-binding will occur.  If a servant becomes focused on the outcome he/she will soon give up (I know this one only too well).  In this case, like Mother Teresa, the servant is committed to being ‘faithful’ rather than to being ‘effective.’  The servant is faithful when it comes to caring, to supporting, to reaching out, to serving those who are alienated; the servant may or may not be effective (i.e. re-binding might not happen).   Do we, who espouse to be servants, have the courage (i.e. heart) to be faithful even though we might not be effective?

I am called to be faithful, not effective. –Mother Teresa


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