Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).
In these hot weeks of the presidential campaign season, we see much of our society’s pain on display. We see the anger of many factions who feel short-changed. We see fear fueled by interracial violence and international terrorism. And we see resentment and resignation as corporations, institutions, and technological systems get less personal and more bureaucratic.
If we invite faith up from the back room of our minds, then we may ask for what kind of leadership God bids us vote. Someone who fights off all threats as we watch gratefully? One candidate already turned up the volume on our plight then declared, “I alone can fix it!”
Call this the superhero model of leadership. But the Christ model looks very different.
When Paul, the leader of early Christian expansion, prayed repeatedly for relief from a thorn in his flesh, Christ answered,
My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Christ disabused him of the wishful notion that he needed a pain-free existence to fulfill his vocation. Moreover, through Paul’s suffering love – and yours and mine – God calls and forms us into collaborators in God’s great peacemaking project.
But really, how can this inform us in the dog-eat-dog world of politics where the ends justify the means until you get caught? Where power translates into nuclear warheads? And where economies rise and fall on shifts in policy?
I say the leaders we must fear most are those who think they possess the personal power to control those forces and who feel above morality in exercising it.
But the leaders we must follow look very different. Moreover, the leaders we already want look different. What makes us angrier at our leaders than their lies? What makes us more suspicious of our leaders than their double-talk?
We want authenticity. We want human leaders, not superheroes. And we can only see their humanity when we acquaint ourselves with our own wounds. Then we share common suffering, even weakness, with our leaders.
We can only trust a wounded leader. But we can only recognize a trustworthy leader if we know and respect our own wounds.
In his classic book on Christian leadership, The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen referred to all who answer God’s call to a life of service as, “ministers.” In the introduction, he wrote:
The minister is called to recognize the sufferings of his time in his own heart and make that recognition the starting point of his service.[i]
We do well to evaluate candidates by that standard. But we will misjudge them unless we first measure ourselves by that standard. Everyone who claims faith in Christ must listen inwardly for resonance with the pain all about us in these hot campaign days, especially the pain of those least like us.
To paraphrase President Kennedy, we must then ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country. And we must choose the wounded leader who will help us do it.
The Comic Beatitude
Patient Peacemaking Trumps Trump: A Christmas Story
The Kingdom and the Empire
Privilege and the Compassion Deficit
When Jesus Paused to Change the World
[i] Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer. (New York: Image, 1979), xvi. Pardon the masculine pronouns. It was 1979, and today, Nouwen would leap to correct that.
Image: “Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet,” by Ford Madox Brown, 1821-1893. Public domain via WikiMedia Commons.