January 16, 2018

Christ-Centred Leadership: COMPETENCE AND COMPASSION

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This morning, we started the day by singing "How Great is Our God!"  After this, I shared a devotion that was influenced (and written) by Nicholas Wolterstorff.  My daughter was graduating from Calvin College and eventually she became a nurse.  The speech was shared at the convocation at Calvin College in May, 2006.  I have edited the address to fit the Dominican COCREF situation.

"Here is a true story. Some years back, when I (Nicholas Wolterstorff) was doing some teaching at the Free University of Amsterdam, my wife and I had a discussion with an obstetrician on the academic staff of the university hospital. The question arose of how he taught prospective nurses to deal with mothers whose babies were still-born or died shortly after birth. “I tell them,” he said, “that when you go into the room, you need two eyes. With one eye you have to check the I.V.; with the other, you must cry. I tell them one eye is not enough. You need two eyes.”

When we walk into many Christian schools, we see the focus on the mind.  That refers to the first eye, the one that checks the I.V. It’s the eye of the mind -- the eye of knowledge and discernment. Every school is in the business of trying to see to it that its students know more when they leave than when they arrived.   But is the mere increase in knowledge enough?  What might that “more” be? What is the mind that Christian education seeks to nourish? What is the heart that Christian education seeks to nourish in its students?

We want our students to be well trained in the skills of their occupation.   We want students that you can count on to do things right and to do them well.   Students who know how to check the I.V. and how to correct it when something goes wrong.   But that’s only the minimum.

A person who thinks like a Christian school grad isn’t just good at doing things the way things are done. She asks questions. She asks why things are being done this way. Why is it important that they be done this way? Why is it important that these things be done at all? In doing things this way, what assumptions are being made? Are those assumptions correct? What are the moral implications of doing things this way? How does doing things this way serve God’s cause of justice and shalom? Is there integrity in doing things this way, or do you have to sell your soul to the devil? Can this way of doing things stand the light of day? When we come across a person who thinks like this, we feel that we have found a soul mate.

This person has the sort of mind that we try to nourish.  The best term we have for this way of thinking is critical engagement. You engage the world of nursing, of business, of law, of art, of medicine, of education, of politics, of recreation, whatever; you don’t pull out, not unless integrity requires you to do so, as it sometimes does.

But you engage it with critical discernment; you don’t just run with the crowd. You say No when No must be said, and also, let me add immediately, Yes when Yes is to be said. Be forewarned that critical engagement is likely to get you into trouble; it’s not a recipe for popularity at the office. People don’t like having somebody around asking whether their customary ways of doing things are worthwhile, whether they are important, whether they have integrity, whether they serve God’s cause of justice and shalom. That was the first eye, the eye of the mind, the eye of knowledge and discernment.

Now for the second eye, the eye of the heart, the eye that weeps. It may have occurred to you that you don’t need good eyesight to have the eye of knowledge and discernment; you don’t need eyesight at all, literally speaking. That’s even more true for the second eye; in fact it’s probably easier for the blind person to have the eye of the heart than it is for the rest of us. We all recognize the need for the eye of knowledge and discernment.

The need for the second eye is less obvious; and schools, colleges and universities are much less good at nourishing it. What good does a crying eye do? What good does it do the mother? What good does it do the nurse? What good does it do anybody? Why not stifle the cry and get on with knowledge and discernment? Why the eye of the heart? The nurse weeps because the mother weeps. And the mother weeps because she loved her child. It was right that she loved her child. For her child was a creature of great worth, a creature of God’s own making meant to flourish until full of years, and a creature of Christ’s own redeeming. Now the child is gone. The mother’s weeping is the pained recognition that this is not how God meant things to be. It is her pained recognition of the fallenness of our world. Things have gone awry in God’s world – which, of course, is why God has committed himself to redeeming it.

The nurse weeps for the same reason the mother weeps. “Weep with those who weep,” said Paul to the Christians in Rome – to which he added, let me emphasize, “Rejoice with those who rejoice.” The obstetrician that my wife and I talked with surely did not mean that if all goes well in childbirth, the nurse needs only the eye of knowledge. Do you begin to see why you need the second eye? It’s with the second eye that the pain of the world and the hope for a new day enters your heart. “Blessed are those who mourn,” said Jesus. He was not blessing those who go around moping. He was blessing those who discern all the ways in which life in this world falls short of justice and shalom, who then go on to say “This must not be,” and who struggle to change things when they see the chance of doing so. The mourners are discontented visionaries. They will be comforted, says Jesus.

The eye of the heart is not relevant only to such professions as nursing and medicine. Every occupation and every profession touches human beings. Every occupation and every profession either advances justice and shalom or hinders it. Some of our students will be going into business. For that they need two eyes. With one eye you have to check accounts receivable and accounts payable, overhead and profit margins, payroll and insurance costs. With the other they will have to attend to your employees – are they  receiving just reward for their labor and can they find fulfillment in their work, and they will have to think of their clients – do the products or services that they provide enhance their lives rather than diminishing or debasing them. One eye is not enough. Some of our students will be going into law. For that you need two eyes. With one eye they will have to check the law books, dig out precedents, keep up with the courts, figure out what’s best for clients and what’s fair to adversaries. With the other they will have to discern and share in the pain and grief that almost always lie just below the surface of court proceedings and legal briefs. One eye is not enough. Some students will be going into teaching. For that they will need two eyes. With one they will have to make lesson plans and read student papers, keep up with theories of reading and developments in math. With the other they will have to discern and feel the tender hearts of the students with whom you are dealing. One eye is not enough. Some of you will be going into politics. For that you need two eyes. With one eye they will have to figure out the intricate details of what justice and prosperity for all require in the present situation, both at home and abroad – not what is keeping their own party in power, not what is flexing their nation’s muscles, but what justice and prosperity for all actually requires. With the other eye they will have to weep with those who are abused, wronged, killed, and demeaned by all that goes wrong in politics. One eye is not enough.

 Now specifically……Teachers and Leaders of COCREF, in whatever walk of life you find yourself, you will need two eyes. Whatever your walk, you will need knowledge and discernment, critical engagement. And whatever your walk, you will need compassion. You will be touching the lives of human beings, creatures with minds like yours and hearts like yours, minds that seek understanding, hearts that suffer and rejoice -- kinsfolk, creatures whose differences from you fade away before the fact that the creator of the universe and restorer of all that is fallen is mirrored in them and you alike. Do not be so focused on knowledge that you neglect compassion; do not be so overcome by compassion that you neglect knowledge. The eye of the mind without the eye of the heart is heartless competence. The eye of the heart without the eye of the mind is mindless empathy. You need both eyes, both the eye of the mind and the eye of the heart, both the eye of discernment and the eye of compassion -- one eye to check the I.V., the other to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.

One eye is not enough.

You need two eyes."

 

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