Monday, October 08, 2007

Archbishop Desmond Tutu's Foreword to Pillars of Flame: Power, Priesthood and Spiritual Maturity

[available from Seabury Books, September, 2007]

The reappearance of Maggie Ross’ Pillars of Flame after twenty years could not be timelier. As I was reading it, I was frequently pulled up short -- it was as though I had spied my image in a mirror and did not like what I saw. By rights I should equally as frequently have ended up on my knees; far too often the model of power I have followed in my priesthood was certainly not that held up by Ross. For Ross the power of priesthood is self-emptying, kenotic. I have come to see how even in close personal relationships, I have often engaged in power plays, seeking to browbeat the other into a kind of submission,that was a far cry from the kind of healthy and mature relationships that ought to exist between equals. Thus I have come to understand a little better the Apostle’s exhortation that as believers we should not conform to the standards and ways of the world, but that our minds should be renewed and transformed to emulate the mind that was in Christ, who emptied himself, who did not throw his weight around or pull rank in order to get his way.

The ways of the world have infected God’s church and left us in a desperate plight. It is precisely because we have conformed to the world’s standards and ways of operating that we Anglicans are in such parlous state in our worldwide Communion. To observe the power games that have been played over the whole question of human sexuality is unedifying in the extreme.

No one in their right mind has ever imagined that we Anglicans would enjoy unanimity on every topic. It is doubtful whether at any period in church history there ever was such an idyllic state of affairs.. What has become particularly distressing, however, is how adept we have become in following the ways of the world. Where we should have been concerned to ensure that there was as much latitude to differ as possible, whilst accepting the bona fides of all and seeking to maintain our communion with one another, we have been far too quick to say, ”You are either for us or against us.” Our Anglican Communion used to boast of a distinctive attribute – namely, a comprehensiveness which appeared to accommodate even apparently incompatible positions. There was an eagerness to be as inclusive as possible. Today there seems to be the opposite – an eagerness to excommunicate one another, or to accepting other only on conditions they would find reprehensible.

We really could teach politicians a thing or two. Some of our church leaders are engaging in considerable self aggrandizement and the building of power blocs among people and institutions that barely tolerate one another. God must weep to see us strutting on our particular stages, seemingly obsessed with this matter of human sexuality when the world God loved so much is groaning under the burden of demeaning poverty, devastating disease, widespread corruption and conflict. We appear to be unable to say to one another, ‘I disagree with you, but accept you as my sister/brother in our one family.’ What hope of credibility for our message of healing for the world? “Physician, heal thyself!” is the cynical retort we deserve.

What is distinctive about our Christian concept of leadership? In Pillars of Flame Maggie Ross argues cogently and persuasively that we should provide the world with the paradigm of the self-emptying leadership of Christ – not self-serving, not self aggrandizing, but poured out in selfless service of others. Some of the leaders the world reveres seem to have lived out this understanding of what it means to be a true leader – figures such as Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, and Nelson Mandela. They have all in some way suffered in their service of others, thus proving that they took part in these endeavours only for the sake of others and not for what they could get out of it. May our church hear this heartfelt plea from Maggie Ross that its leadership be self-sacrificing, kenotic, and Christ-like.


Blogger Annie said...

Isn't his humility beautiful? And I am so glad to see this. What he says here ought to find a wide audience in our Communion, calling us all to reconsider what we have done and are doing. (And of course, yourself as well!)


2:37 pm, October 16, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is great info to know.

11:24 am, November 11, 2008  

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