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The best teachers and leaders I’ve known were those that not only spoke but lived what they taught and said. Their coherence between what they said and did created a dynamic of authenticity that pulled me and anchored me in their example, allowing me to become more of who I am. Such integrity and authenticity are like rich soil in which a seemingly can only grow up and out, maturing into the future. And conversely the worst that I’ve known or followed did the opposite, everything about them was hypocritical, their actions seemed to have been simply self-congratulating lip-service. [David Brooks wrote about this very authentic dynamic of doing what we say in today’s NY Times Opinion pieces. See: “Students Learn From People They Love. Putting relationship quality at the center of education.”]
Our second portion of the pastoral letter of 1st John is dealing with such leadership and life example. The author writes to a church community divided and hurting from leaders and teachers who were more about lip-service, than life-service, seemingly more concerned with their words the with the word of life known in Christ. While we have no specific examples of what happened in this troubled community (or communities) we can’t help but hear the admonition to love as Christ loved. Such love is a life in the light, walking in the example of Jesus the Christ in whom we see, experience and know the living God. The world is changing. Light – God’s light – is ascendant. The darkness is fleeting and fleeing. The world as we’ve known it has changed, even if and where we still see shadows of how things were before the coming of Christ.
The implication is that the human condition is one rooted more in hate and darkness than light or love. The latter represent the freedom that we can know from the human condition: the darkness and decay of unavoidable death; fear-based other-destroying actions; a pervasive mistrust of others, of ourselves and of God.
Words have power. It’s the ultimate power that homo sapiens have (the thesis of the recent best-seller Sapiens). And words seem to have more, or different power, today in our technologically enhanced society which seems to speak increasingly the vernacular of social-media. We see that in the surprising power of a #hashtag, in the mob mobilization of a culture of Call Out posts to shame and ban offensive offenders, and the increasing breadth of mental illness and anxiety related to self-doubt, isolation, trolling, and cyber-bullying via social media. It’s one thing to practice what you preach. What about practicing what you post? In a time of great change which is generating division, partisanship, and fear; what does it mean, what does it look like for us to not just believe in Jesus, but to do what he did, to love as he loved, to walk in his light?
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation