Did I offer peace today? Did I say words of healing? –Henri Nouwen
Greenleaf writes: . . .Religious Leadership, these two words are used here to describe actions taken to heal, or build immunity from, two serious contemporary maladies: (1) widespread alienation in all sectors of the population, and (2) the inability or unwillingness to serve on the part of too many of the institutions, large and small, that make up our complex society. Each of these maladies is seen, in part, as a cause of the other, and neither is likely to be healed without coming to terms with the other. The test of the efficacy of religious leadership is: does it cause things to happen among people, directly or indirectly, that heal and immunize from maladies like these two?
Alienate = to make indifferent, or hostile; to turn away. How do we make the other(s) indifferent? Consider the following: We marginalize them, we categorize them, we de-humanize them, we ignore them, we shun them, we isolate them, and/or we silence their voices (by not inviting them or by denying them the right to speak or by judging them to be unworthy).
Some go quietly and some do not; they become angry, if not hostile, and let us know that they are [‘are’ meaning ‘they are hostile’ and ‘are’ meaning ‘they exist’]. We also alienate by ‘turning them away.’ We are struggling with immigration today; one response is to ‘turn them away’ (or send them away).
This is ironic in that we are a nation founded on immigration (to the detriment of the natives that were here first). This turning away is also immoral, given Greenleaf’s definition of ‘religious leadership.’ Sadly, some of the most vociferous ‘turning away voices’ emanate from the mouths of ‘good Christians.’ How ironic is this: If a Christian is to ‘see’ Jesus in each person how can a Christian, in good faith, choose to turn another away. Jesus, as I recall, invited all to come along.
Greenleaf’s second point is also a powerful one: Institutions of all sizes are unable or unwilling to serve. Too many are self-serving. It is crucial for an institution to be ‘selfish,’ but to be ‘self-serving’ is potentially immoral (to answer a question Greenleaf asks: ‘When is serving potentially immoral?’).
How many of us – individuals and institutions – that espouse Greenleaf’s concept live out the two maladies he describes above? How many of us – individuals and institutions – truly embrace Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’? How many of us truly seek to ‘rebind’ those who have been, who are being, alienated? How many folks in our institutions are alienated? What are we doing to keep them alienated? What are we doing to help them become ‘part of’? My mother reminded me, over and over and over: ‘Your actions speak louder than your words!’
The highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them. –JFK