It Became Clear from the Balcony

It happened from the balcony, in a way similar to Ron Heifetz’ image from “Leadership without Easy Answers.” My spot in the balcony allowed me to see the whole sanctuary as people came in response to the pastor’s preaching—sure, but more to the response of something inside, beckoning them to step out, move down the aisle to the front of the sanctuary to accept a call by God to begin a new life.

Sitting in the balcony allowed me to view the whole scene in a way I could not from the floor—the proverbial forest for the trees. What flashed in my mind that morning was a question: “Why?” “Why are people responding?” Hundreds sat still while about five took the 100 foot walk. Why did they publicly move?

The response to my own internal question that burst in my head was “it’s the invitation.”

Being invited. We’ve all been invited to something at some juncture of our lives. Birthday parties, weddings, anniversary celebrations, bar mitzvah, or so many other celebrations that come during a life time. And for some reason, we responded to them. I’m always struck with words and their origins. And the word invitation is one.

The etymology of invitation comes from the Latin invitatio, which probably meant “be pleasant toward.” It may also come from a more ancient root word meaning “to go after something, pursue with vigor.” These roots in time morphed (as all language does) into the word from the Middle French inviter. The word invite thus came to mean “to ask politely or graciously to be present…to perform an action; a courteous solicitation.” There are synonyms to the word also like attract, allure, incitement, and attraction. All of these meanings are what I experienced that morning. People graciously asked to make a decision…to perform an action. It was on that day I changed the wording of my personal mission statement to include the verbal form inviting.

From the balcony, I had come to realize that I was inviting people to something when I lived out my mission statement. My mission at the time was “inviting people to abundant life by choosing God’s best.” I realized in all the years I had been working with people, I as inviting them to something. I never forced them, chided them, coerced them…I simply graciously invited them to make a choice about their lives. I was inviting them to choose abundant life and living well. That is always a personal choice. It is something that has to spark the heart. No matter what I said or did, it always came down to response freely chosen by a person.

So that is what I have done these many years, invited people to examine their lives and make decisions about how they want to live their time on this planet. And I have become aware, just like that Sunday morning, that hundreds who hear the invitation will sit quietly, while a handful will make a choice to do something different in and with their lives.

The experience from the balcony was actually freeing as the word became captured for me in that moment. In that split second, I realized I had no initial responsibility other than to share an invitation. The courage of the person and their self examination was the factor in determining that they would choose to do something different with life. They alone would have to make a deeply personal choice to walk those “100 feet” to something better. I would have responsibility to assist them in the time after their decisions, but that’s for another blog (or two or three—stay tuned).

Blessings to you for this day as you consider and hopefully accept the invitation to live well that these blogs have announced over a few years. Grace and peace to you for the days to come.

“Yes, Virginia, you can be a Leader.”

“I don’t think women can lead.” This was the statement uttered confidently by a women being interviewed on the radio from a group in Iowa labeled Christian Conservative. The large group was being interviewed about the Republican presidential debate, the upcoming primary, and why a person would or would not vote for a particular candidate. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann was summarily dismissed as a candidate by this woman, not because she lacks character, logic, leadership abilities, no vision, or any other reason. Bachmann may not be able to lead for a whole host of arguments, but being a woman is not one of them.

I have to say this statement pushed me over the edge and into this writing to affirm from my Christian perspective and study of the Bible that God calls, equips, and places women in roles of leadership.

I won’t make the laundry list….it would be pages and thousands of names long. An almost endless number of women have effectively and with vision lead nations, NGOs, universities, states, churches, businesses, etc., etc., etc. As a Christian, however, I now realize a statement like the one uttered this morning is based on personal opinion and little to do with intense scholarly exegesis or study of scripture, household codes of the ancient world which is the context of the Bible in these passages, or examinations of western church dogma as it plays on one’s opinions. Statements like these don’t pay any attention to the gospels and Jesus’ affirmation of women as disciples nor Paul’s overall tone in his letters about women and their roles as leaders, deaconesses and coordinators of the early church. One text…one text in Timothy…not fully examined has been read in such a way as to relegate women to second class roles and status. Even the Genesis text has been misused to simply dismiss women as equal partners. All the references to chapter three of Genesis of man being over women is after the “Fall” if one reads the context; chapter three is not the created order God desired. It is the order after sin and disobedience had entered into the world. The ideal described in scripture of women and men is in the first two chapters that the two should be one and in a partnership with each other.

It saddens me that these texts and others have been used to tell women they cannot lead. I have personally talked with young women called by God to serve in ministry and leadership roles who agonize over what they know God has placed on their hearts because people use the Bible to blast them or tell them they are unworthy of leading because they are women.

I believe we serve a God who calls all people to serve him where he appoints them and equips them. I believe the Holy Spirit equips and guides all people to lead within the kingdom. I believe Christ invites all people to be his disciples and lead the structures of the world where they have the ability. Women and men; men and women, partners in kingdom work and ministering through the structures of this world.

“Yes, Virginia, you can be a leader” and if you want support, drop me a note and I will supply you with all the resources you need to affirm, guide, and encourage you in the journey.

Blessings for this day. Grace and peace as you thoroughly study the sacred texts we hold dear.

David Neidert

A Sacred Conversation

The hours went by very quickly sitting in a private hospital room.  The hours cascaded seamlessly as I sat with my college roommate discussing health, the past, what has transpired already, and the future.  He was there for a knee replacement, the result of years of wrestling (where he was a collegiate champion).  The surgery would hopefully return him to some freedom from pain that he had experienced for most of his adult life.

But the time was more than talking about injuries (mine included which resulted from a fall that shattered my femur just a year earlier).  Our time was filled with remembering our roommate days (and laughing about them) and it was filled with the lessons learned to date.  We talked of friendship, perserverance in life, passions, things beyond our control, contentment, and legacy; all of it to consider what the two of us together and individually have given to the world as our payment for being in it.

The best conversation came when Rick asked, “What is your burn?”  I knew what he meant.  What is the passion that burns in my heart.  As a good coach, he has asked that of hundreds of student athletes; now he was asking me.  It hasn’t changed over the years.  My passion is education through a number of venues; teaching at the university level, writing, and teaching in the life of the church.  If there is one that has become more essential for me in the past five years, it is the area of discipleship education in the life of the church;  helping people not just know something about scripture, but make sure they integrate into their daily lives.  And, not just to have an opinion about something, but to have a solid foundation of why they believe what they believe.  Too much meaningless talk in this world, as noted in the New Testament letter to Titus.   Too many talking-heads available 24-7 telling us what and who to believe.  So my passion is helping people understand what they believe SO THAT they might discern what is true, noble, excellent, and worthy of our energy in these complicated days.

The conversation ended with what have we done in this world; what lessons had we learned.  We both agreed that we have learned to be content in life; to savor what has been given to us, to embrace what happens every day, to be present in the moment and not worry about what is not yet realized.  Our experiences have taught us that today is the day, even if we have plans for tomorrow.  We were in sync as we both realized that we are only a cog in the vast machine of the universe, playing out our part for a minute or two in the scope of the history of the universe.

We agreed that what we offer each day, to the best of our abilities, with “kind and generous hearts” (as Mr. Hoggett said to Babe) is all we can do in our four score of life, if we should be so lucky to get them.  I was deeply blessed to be in the room with my former college roommate.  It has been 34 years since we shared a dormitory room, but our hearts are kindred and linked nontheless.  It was a sacred moment for me (and I trust too for Rick), one that will be etched in my soul for years ahead.

Blessings to you, dear reader, for this day and those to come.  Grace and peace.

David