Provision #709: Jesus Matters

Laser Provision

Jesus matters. Does that title surprise you? Delight you? Shock you? Offend you? If so, then you probably have an opinion about Jesus. For the first 20 years of my adult life, I had a strong opinion about Jesus. I was a spokesperson for Jesus as a pastor in the United Church of Christ. In 1998, I took off that mantle in order to pursue the art, science, and business of coaching. Since that time, my opinions about Jesus have changed. I no longer see him as I once did, but I still see him as important. That’s not just because of his place in human history; that’s rather because of what his teachings and example can offer those of us who find ourselves in positions of leadership. If you don’t mind a little theology, then I encourage you to read on. This Provision just might kindle a few flames.

LifeTrek Provision

Before sharing a few reflections about Jesus, I want to start this Provision with a shout out to my daughter, Bryn, and her loving partner, Andr’s Rodriguez. My wife and I spent the last few days with them in Los Angeles, enjoying life and preparing for their special wedding ceremony before family and friends, which is planned for April 18, 2011 in Costa Rica.

Our time in LA included a show at the Magic Castle, along with 24 of their closest friends. Many of these folks will be in Costa Rica as well, where the guest list looks to be around 50. What makes for that kind of interest and participation in a wedding? The quality of loving kindness that Bryn and Andr’s have for each other and for others. In a world that is often too busy and too competitive for love, people are thirsty for reminders of the things that are important. 

Which is a very nice segue to the focus of this week’s Provision: Jesus. For the 20 years that I was a pastor, before becoming a coach in 1998, I officiated at many weddings and I learned a thing or two about the relevance of Jesus to the modern world. Whether you are a Christian or not, Jesus has important things to teach us about leadership. This Provision seeks to demystify Jesus and to unpack those lessons for us all.

When I was in seminary, I was introduced to a book by a Swedish theologian, Gustaf Aul•n, titled Christus Victor. Written in 1930, between the two Great Wars of the 20th century, Christus Victor identified three mechanisms of action for the saving work of Jesus:

  1. The “classic view,” which Aul•n argued was the predominant one for the first thousand years of church history, is a cataclysmic view of how Jesus accomplished what Christians believe he came to accomplish: the salvation of the world. How did Jesus do that? By descending into hell and doing battle with the devil, rising victorious from the grave on Easter morning. Up from the grave he arose, proclaims a popular Easter hymn, breaking the bonds of sin and death. There are many Christian sermons and songs based on this motif.
  2. The “scholastic view,” which Aul•n attributed to Anselm of Canterbury, an 11th century cleric and philosopher, takes a more legalistic view of how Jesus did what he did: he sacrificed his life to pay the price for human sin. Going back to ancient codes of righteous divinities requiring blood sacrifices to appease their anger over moral and cultic infractions, Jesus is here understood to be the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Jesus pays the debt, once and for all, protecting God’s honor and dignity in the process.
  3. The “idealistic view,” which Aul•n saw arising at about the same time as the “scholastic view” in the work of Peter Abelard, a medieval French philosopher, theologian, and logician, takes a more subjective view as to why Jesus matters. It’s not that Jesus overpowered the devil or paid the price for sin; it’s rather that Jesus lived an exemplary life and died a spectacular death that would move people to tears. By evoking compassion Jesus brought salvation to those whose hearts were strangely warmed by the graceful love that he displayed.

Theologians have long argued over whether or not these three views of the “atonement,” of how a good God could be reconciled with evil people (at-one-ment), are compatible or incompatible with each other. Many Christians want to have all three, and see no internal contradictions. That’s certainly how I started out in the church: singing all the songs and accepting all the views without much thought or consideration as to what I was really saying.

Over time, however, I’ve become increasingly troubled with the notion that the Prince of Peace has to fight the devil or that a loving God has to extract a blood sacrifice in order to be whole. Call me an idealist, in the words of Abelard, but I no longer see how these three views fit together. The teachings and witness of Jesus do, indeed, evoke compassion • at least for me • and it is that very compassion that calls into question the other two possibilities.

I like the notion that Jesus matters because of the effect he has on people. I can reach out and touch that. I can understand that. Best of all, I can share that with others, even in a multicultural world, without being embarrassed. Jesus matters not because of some metaphysical cosmology; Jesus matters because his words and actions were compelling, conscious, compassionate, courageous, composed, and creative. In a few short years he launched a movement that changed the world and still lives on today. Talk about leadership!

Those qualities speak to me and have much to commend themselves to anyone in any position of leadership, so let’s consider each in turn.

  • Compelling. If Jesus had anything, he had charisma. People flocked to hear him speak, to be touched by him, to look him in the eye, and to be loved by him. On occasion, the crowds were so large that he was in danger of being crushed by the press of the people. It’s hard to say exactly what creates such magnetism, but in Jesus’ case we know he was famous for stories and questions. Not just any old stories and questions, but really good ones.Two things made his stories compelling: they were short and eye-opening. Too many leaders are famous for long, boring speeches. Not Jesus. He was prone to tell short stories with a twist, otherwise know as parables. His questions worked the same way. They were not leading questions with an implied right answer. They were open-ended questions that invited discovery and possibility. When Jesus compared the ways of God to some unexpected aspect of human experience, turning the tables on conventional wisdom, you can bet it made people think and grow.
  • Conscious. The press of those crowds was not an easy thing for Jesus to manage, either in terms of his security detail or in terms of his personal composure. That’s why we read stories of his inner circle defending him against attacks, once with a sword, and telling people to go away when they thought the demands were just too much. But Jesus would not hear of that. He was always conscious and always engaged, beyond the limits of mere mortals. How did he do that? By taking the time to get away, to reflect, and to pray.Those are necessary practices for any leader. I have written before about the STOP Tool, which I learned from Tim Gallwey. STOP stands for Step back, Think, Organize your thoughts, Proceed. Gallwey writes about the importance of short STOPs, scattered throughout the day, medium STOPs, at the start of the day or the week, and long STOPs, where we have much longer periods of time to pull ourselves together in the service of our “destiny, cause, and calling” (Lance Secretan). Jesus took that time and we should too.
  • Compassionate. It was hard for me to decide where to put this attribute, since compassion was such a hallmark of Jesus’ leadership. He was deeply rooted in the notion that love was the be all and end all of both spiritual and moral practices. The greatest commandment? To love God. The second greatest commandment? To love people. Those two commandments are woven tightly together. There’s no way to do one without the other. That’s why I decided to put it in the center of my list: compassion lies at the core.The relationship between the two kinds of love is like the tree and its shadow. Loving God is the tree; loving people is the shadow. Those who climb the tree will sooner or later cast a shadow. Those who labor in the shadow will sooner or later look up and see the tree. By integrating these two elements so fully in his life and work, Jesus became a paragon of compassion. People often commented on the depth and breath of Jesus’ love, especially with those rejected by society. That, more than anything else, is what won people over.
  • Courageous. The fact that Jesus was compassionate did not make him a wimp or a pushover. On the contrary, Jesus famously spoke his mind even when the message was hard to hear. Take the rich man who came to Jesus wanting advice on how to be made whole. Jesus told him to keep the commandments. When that wasn’t enough for the man, Jesus told him to sell everything he owned and give the money to the poor. Now that was a tough word, and the man was unable to bring himself to do it. Nevertheless, we are told that Jesus looked at the man and loved him.That’s the compassion that makes courage possible. Jesus did not condemn the man because he walked away in sadness and surprise. Jesus understood how hard it was to feel both safe and venturesome. He understood the ambivalence that comes when two or more needs compete for our energy and attention. So when the wealthy man walked away, Jesus grieved the loss that made his point: prosperity limits possibility. That assertion was shocking then and it is shocking now. But Jesus didn’t shy away from speaking hard truths. He had the courage to speak his mind with both clarity and compassion.
  • Composed. Although Jesus occasionally expressed anger at injustice, he never physically attacked others or destroyed their personhood. Even when false charges were trumped up to build a case for his execution by the religious and governmental authorities of his day, Jesus remained composed enough to avoid retaliating in kind. That was, in fact, the spectacle that Abelard found to be so moving: a wholly innocent man, condemned to death, who nevertheless refused to retaliate and who remained loving to the very end.Leaders would do well to follow suit. Instead of being triggered by attacks and criticisms, leaders would do well to remain composed. How do we do that? Through intentionally and consciously reframing those attacks and criticisms as “tragic expressions of unmet needs” (Marshall Rosenberg). By seeing the legitimacy of the underlying need, leaders can look beyond unfortunate and often counterproductive strategies to find new possibilities for moving forward. Jesus did that and we can do it too.
  • Creative. Jesus was a master of possibility. He saw possibilities where others, even his closest followers, saw only impossibilities. On many occasions, the situation was so overwhelming that the disciples were ready to call it quits. Send the people away, there is no food! Send the people away, there is a storm coming! Send the people away, the man is dead! But Jesus would hear none of that. See what you can do, he would say, or let me see what I can do. Most of the time, such persistence paid off in the end.If leadership is anything it is the art of possibility. We don’t operate from the vantage point of winners and losers. We don’t give up when the going gets tough. We don’t limit our imagination when the value is clear and the need is great. Instead, we become possibility thinkers. We go outside the box to explore new approaches and design new experiments to see how things might get done so as to bring the greatest good to the greatest number. That was the framework and trust Jesus took • the answer is somewhere • and that is the framework and trust that serves leaders well yet today.

Compelling, conscious, compassionate, courageous, composed, and creative: that was how Jesus carried himself and how he inspired others to be. Jesus did not come to do things for people; he came to empower people to do things for themselves. “You will do greater things than I have done,” was among the promises he made to his followers. Call it succession planning. Call it leadership. Call it Jesus matters.

Coaching Inquiries: In what ways have you learned from or appreciated the words and actions of Jesus? How could you become more compelling, conscious, compassionate, courageous, composed, and creative in your way of being and in your relationships with others? What would have to shift inside you for that to happen? How could you begin to make it so?

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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.

Your Provision, Justice Matters, is so very awesome, astute – true and delightful to read. I struggle with principle, always yielding to it, sometimes to my detriment. This piece that you wrote gives me more energy and intention always when I stand for principle – the right and perfect principle. Thank you for this renewal!!!!!

Thanks, for your Provision, Justice Matters. I hope you will build on this to reflect on US empire and democracy.

I have been reading your Provisions for nearly a decade, and have both enjoyed and benefitted tremendously from your insight, and more importantly, your commitment and focus on growth and embracing life and love. 

I haven’t written to you before, but I must comment simply and disagree with the nature of how you characterized the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi. 

While I have the greatest empathy for this man and what he and others have endured in Tunisia and other countries with little protections or focus on human rights throughout history, I can in no way accept that his actions encompassed a “self-sacrificing stand on principle.” 

Rather I imagine his actions were a final, last act of a desperate Arab man, humiliated by a corrupt female police officer, who felt there was little more to live for, and whose only recourse was to kill himself, and perhaps attribute the manner of his awful death to those who would not even consider listening to him. His own mother even referred to his humiliation as his probable motivation. I know you are aware of the pivotal roles that gender plays in many cultures, and for Bouazizi, there was nothing he could do to ameliorate the humiliation he suffered • and he saw little choice but to kill himself.

While his actions may indeed have helped spark protests that hopefully will lead to improvement of human rights for millions of people (the early pages of this chapter have just been turned)• I had to remind myself that no matter what happens to us in life, we have choices.

Mohammed Bouazizi’s choices stemmed from the context of his life experience and cultural mores. He saw death as the preferred alternative to life. 

He was not “standing on principle” in terms of the corrupt civil structure that existed, but more likely the humiliation that he as a poor, but proud male was made to endure. To cite a “principled stand” as the reason for his actions would also require accepting the belief that some form of “justice” may exist in this context that relates specifically to gender in the Arab world, which most of us in our more progressive cultures now see as oppressive and antiquated.

I believe that, intentionally or unintentionally, the cloaking of Bouazizi’s actions in terms of some “principled stand” may do more harm than good, and turn a blind eye to the oppressive nature of some cultural norms, especially those involving gender. That is a question perhaps for the evolution of individual cultures in the decades ahead.

I think the greatest concern however, is that we would in any way cite as a hallmark of one’s life an individual suicidal action as some form of “principled” stand that we would celebrate. 

Instead I would hope that while we might remark on the direction of events, and the challenging human rights records that do exist in many nations around the world, we would encourage and work toward change in other ways. 

I would also hope that we would remind ourselves and those we celebrate life with that among all our choices • perhaps our greatest, most loving, and even most challenging action or choice is to… keep living.

I believe we can focus on the reasons for the choice to affirm the wonder and beauty of Life • both within ourselves and with those around us, in every way possible… as you have done for many years. I share with you that central theme in my own life, and wish you all the best in future.

(Ed. Note: Thanks for taking the time to write such a long and thoughtful reply. What happened in Tunisia with Bouazizi is certainly a complicated situation that I do not pretend to understand fully. It seems clear to me, however, that this is a case of both and. Yes, Bouazizi was humiliated and violated in ways that led to an emotional breakdown. But this was not just a matter of gender politics. The violence was deeper, more profound, and more systemic than that.

Bouazizi had a chance to choose life, and he chose death. I am not celebrating that choice and I am not recommending it to others. I grieve that choice as well as the circumstances and conditions that led up to that choice. I pray that justice will prevail as revolutions sweep the Arab world, since justice is the key to peace and to all the other life-giving values that you and I both hold dear. Thanks for recognizing the importance of that and for continuing with us on the trek of life.)

I wanted to share my website/blog with you: Thanks for all that you do every day to make this world a better place. 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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