THE CONTEMPORARY CHALLENGE. . .

Few are guilty, but all are responsible. –Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Greenleaf writes: . . .any influence or action that rebinds or recovers alienated persons as they build or maintain serving institutions, or that protects normal people from the hazards of alienation and gives purpose and meaning to their lives, is religious..

 The challenge to contemporary religious leaders. . . is to establish, in contemporary terms, through rational inquiry and prophetic vision, beliefs that sustain those actions and influences that do in fact rebind, heal alienation in persons, and render institutions more serving. 

 . . . an urgent need for our times is for beliefs that unify rather than further fragment society.

I resonate with and embrace Greenleaf’s definition of ‘religious.’  It challenges me, it stimulates my thinking, and it provides one way of living into and out of his ‘Best Test’ for the servant.  It is also ‘servant’ focused and not ‘leader’ focused; any of us can embrace this definition for it is not role defined nor personality defined.  It also provides a test that any one of us can actually live out for it is rooted in the ‘influence’ and ‘action’ that is available to each of us.  It also reinforces Greenleaf’s idea that an important ingredient is ‘serving institutions.’

How many of our institutions are ‘religious’ in Greenleaf’s sense?  How many who espouse to embrace Greenleaf’s concept actively seek to help institutions to become more serving?  How many of our institutions are rooted in an organic rather than an inorganic metaphor (remember, Gentle Reader, that the ‘Banking Metaphor’ has become our primary Cultural and Institutional Metaphor – people are assets, resources, and commodities).

I also resonate with Greenleaf’s idea about ‘theology’ as ‘rational inquiry’ plus ‘critical reflection’ regarding ‘communal concerns.’  The question: ‘What do we want our institutions to rebound into?’ is crucial.  What is our response to this question?  How does our response help frame what we will choose to influence and what action we will choose to take?  How many of us have developed our capacity for ‘rational inquiry’ and for ‘critical reflection’ and for ‘critical thinking’?  How might we develop these given our current culture that appears to be ‘anti-intellectual’ (the intellectual vs anti-intellectual topic is another crucial topic for us today)?

What are the ‘beliefs’ that might help us ‘unify’ rather than ‘fragment’ our society?  As citizens we continue to elect folks who are to represent us who appear to be committed to ‘fragmentation’ rather than to ‘unification’ – George Washington warned us that ‘tribalism’ and ‘sectionalism’ would put democracy at risk of failing.

Although the wisdom of our Founding Fathers demonstrated – over and over – that democracy is rooted in compromise we continue to put our democracy at risk by electing those who seem to abhor compromise.  Have we lost our way?  Greenleaf wrote the words ‘an urgent need’ in the 1980s and here we are in 2019 with his ‘urgent need’ still at play (perhaps it has moved from ‘urgent’ to ‘critical’).

Greenleaf believed that ‘servants’ – individuals and institutions – were the hope for our society (remember that our elected officials are our servants; we are not their servants).  I don’t think Greenleaf was wrong in his thinking.  The question, the ‘Challenge,’ remains, however: ‘What are we doing to help individuals and institutions develop more fully their servant natures?’

It is astonishing what a different result one gets by changing the metaphor. –George Eliot, ‘The Mill on the Floss’

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