‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ There is little that is more pleasant than to be lead by a happy leader. Over the past 50 years I have experienced what it feels like to be led in both a work setting and a faith community by an unhappy leader. The dismal demeanor of the leader spills over onto the entire group. When a manager or supervisor or pastor are unhappy and in doubt of who they are and their mission of leadership…the people suffer.
Once I had a pastor who did not want to be a pastor. I know this because he told me so. This person, who I was fond of, felt insecure and was threatened by several in the congregation. Much of what he said in the pulpit was colored by his unsure feelings in the pastorate and pride. Subsequently the church members heard a plethora of doom and gloom Sunday sermons.
A manager who I worked closely with for many years felt that most people were against him and therefore were out to get him. He saw a monster around every corner and thus became very insular and combative. This man had a lot of ability…but he could not be convinced of it. He felt that he was accomplishing the foremost duties of a manager when he had the majority of the staff upset and mad. He told me on more than one occasion that when people are mad…they work harder. I noted many years ago that when an administrator or manager told me, as Chicken Little of the fairy tale proclaimed, ‘The sky is falling,’ more often than not it was falling for them…and they had extrapolated their dismal dilemma to the entire department. Leaders make the primary mistake of leading from their own complex emotions and egos. Freud told us how powerful the ego is in our decision making. It requires first an understanding of your emotions and a clear delineation of your personal life from your professional life…to lead when you are troubled or sad…or mad.
One of the character attributes that I appreciate regarding our pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Carbondale is his happy leadership. I have worked with pastors since I became a christian in 1969…and I have an attuned eye for a happy leader. Kerry projects a can do attitude that is sprinkled with humor and an accessible communication style. That is saying a lot for a leader when I can remember faith leaders who when I saw them…I went the other way.
I believe that Chancellor Lane of Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale is a happy leader. Nothing is more vital or important to the success of our great University. I have witnessed happy leaders at SIUC…and their attitude was infectious. We knew that we not only could talk with them…we knew that they were listening to us. We understood that we Building Service Workers and we Grounds Workers…and we Food Service Staff…were important and essential to the mission of our School…and that our Chancellor needed us….
It is another hot day in Little Egypt. It appears that much of our nation is under a heat dome and thus unprecedented temperatures. As I was taking my daily walk on Campus it felt a bit like a sauna. Tomorrow would have been Neva June’s 93rd birthday. I have heard her state that her birthday was on June 29th, 1928 many times. Once…after I had moved away from home I missed calling her on her birthday…and there was no consoling her and no excuse that was sufficient for my great transgression. Nevertheless…I never forgot again. Mom loved her birthday…I think I must get my habit of relegating my birthday to holiday status…from her. She had nine siblings. She spoke of them on almost a daily basis as if they still were children. One of her sisters died in early childhood, Rosebud, and she missed her and thought of her often. I was born when Mom was 30 years old. I am 63 and she is 93. Mom loved almost everyone that she met. You understood if you were one of the few that she did not appreciate.
Neve June had been raised in the Pentecostal faith…along with her entire family. She had left the church…or what was termed as ‘Back Slid,’ and she desperately wanted to renew her christian faith. If you were downtrodden or in need or hungry or poorly clad…Mom would help you without thought as to her own means or resources. If my Mom had 2 dollars…1 dollar was yours. She befriended the marginalized of Eldorado, Illinois. The poor and disenfranchised people that others made fun of…Mom loved and helped. There was one elderly lady called, ‘One Eye,’ due to her having one eye…that Mom took to the market and to the doctor and welcomed into our home. Another was, Rosy, who talked to herself sometimes and who distrusted most people..but she loved Neva June. Mom by her actions illustrated to me what it meant to be a christian…more than any church ever will.
Mom was so happy to return to church attendance and a faith community in 1969…just after her mother, Grace, passed away. Later she came to live with us in 2001…and attended our church, First Presbyterian, and sang the hymns with gusto and reverence…in spite of her Alzheimer’s Disease. MJ took such good care of her…making her Malto Meal for breakfast and ultimately bathing her and caring for her every need. One morning when Mom and I were pulling out of our driveway on the way to take her to the Adult Senior Care…she saw MJ in the door waving at us and she remarked that she was so pretty…’The Little Dutch Girl.’
Neva June enjoyed kicking up her heels in her youth. She liked to go to Honky Tonks and drink slow gin fizzes. She had no hidden side. What you saw was the genuine article. She worshipped her mother. She almost succumbed when she and my dad divorced. She blamed herself for the rest of her life. She and dad were a World War II couple. The moved to Chicago to find work…and that is where I was born. We lived a happy life…until we did not. Mom enjoyed doing the Twist to Chubby Checker’s dulcet tones. She loved to visit with her best friend, Ivy, who smoked one Salem cigarette after the next. Ivy had a husband named, Bob, who was primarily silent…as Ivy did all of the talking. Ivy and Bob had 2 children, Susie and Steve, I had a crush on Susie and she hugged me every chance that she got. She was a bit older than me. Mom looked at dad with reverence…but she was fiercely jealous of him. He was a good looking gentleman with wavy hair and a devilish grin.
At Shawnee Christian Nursing Home it was often difficult to find Neva when I came to visit. I would finally find her pushing another resident in a wheel chair…or visiting another peer in their room that was far removed from her own. She told me that she did so much for the old folks that the Nursing Home wanted to hire her…but she did not want to be committed to full time employment.
Caution is advisable in a world full of risks. Thinking twice…and perhaps three times is a good thing before proceeding on a new or different venture. I was listening to the Reverend Al Sharpton, recently, who said that he had advised a group to be careful to realize the gains that had been attained and to not let rhetoric obscure reality. I was reminded when I, on behalf of the Civil Service Council representing nearly 2,000 civil service staff…requested from university administration that Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale close its doors, on Veteran’s Day, in honor of our precious veterans. This discussion had been going no-where for over 20 years until we asked for simply the University to recognize the sacrifice or our veterans, both living and dead, as well as the 100’s who were part of the University Community to be afforded a day off of work to reflect and pray and remember their fallen brothers and sisters. Having heard the contention that we just wanted another day off… we noted that to recognize the holiday when it occurred Monday – Friday would be a wonderful consideration for our Campus.
Success is incremental. Whether in a public setting or our private lives. Sometimes we feel like Jerry Seinfeld from his popular show in the 90’s. Jerry noted in an episode that when he pops the top on a can of soda…all he hears is the fizz and is provided a sweet drink. The soda did not produce the beautiful women or parties or surfing or ecstatic fun…that he had observed on commercials on television. Advertisement and the exuberance of lofty speeches and super heated emotions…can be a significant let-down to concrete reality of moving forward in a positive direction. A good example of a recent positive compromise is the bi-partisan infrastructure bill.
Carefulness was a recent hallmark of a life well lived in our country. After WW II our veterans came home and married and went to university on the G.I. Bill. They had risked their lives…and seen many of their friends die…and observed the devastation across Europe and the United Kingdom…and they were careful with their lives…and their loved ones…and their money…and their time. My and MJ’s parents knew what it was like to be hungry and jobless and without much hope during the Great Depression. When they emerged from the other side of the economic calamity…they saved their money…they abhorred debt…they looked askance at hucksters and snake oil salesmen. They verified…and then they trusted.
Skepticism is a health emotion…when lies are being told as truth.
It is after 9:00 P:M: and it feels like 88 degrees on the writing porch. Although the porch is screened in there are still tiny flying insects that find their way inside. I love hearing the frogs croak as they sit around our pond and tell war stories to each other. The sounds of the night are intriguing and melodic. It is a cloudy evening and I can see little outside the walls of my outdoor/indoor enclosure. The knowledge that there is a plethora of living creatures within my hearing and just a few feet away…that I can not see…is mysterious. As I sit writing with the porch lights on…they are watching me…and wondering what I am doing and why I am not in my house.
Life is a bit dark as we stare into the void. It has been said that past practices can predict future results…but that is not always true for we residents of our beautiful blue planet. The old west cavalry had a person who was appointed the lookout for the group. He would ride ahead of the rest and see what was coming…what was in store for them. Sometimes the news was good…and at other times it was not so good. We still rely on our lookouts. We humans can not see everything. In fact our vision is poor as compared to many members of the animal kingdom. So may times our reality is what is in front of our face. Our peripheral vision can not be relied upon to provide us with a clear understanding of what is going on…either on our righthand or our left. That is why we need each other. We are safest and we function optimally when we work together.
Poverty separates us from our lookouts. Domestic abuse separates us from those who should be caring for our needs. Marginalizing members of our city or town….our faith community…separates us from our natural support system. Many people that you see or meet are living in a dark reality. Have you ever been down on your luck…have you ever needed a dollar…and did not know a way of obtaining one? Have you ever been hungry and you lied about it to others…because you were ashamed of you lowly estate…
I think I hear cicadas singing. They only come to see us every 17 years. The 2021 group is called Brood X. The cicadas are calling out to each other. They want to be with their group. They want to fellowship together…and sing…loud… We can take a lesson from the cicadas…let us call out to each other…
I watched with great joy this afternoon as President Biden announced a bi-partisan agreement on an infrastructure bill. I marveled as Republican and Democrats stood together in agreement on a just under 1 trillion dollar bill that our country has desperately needed for many years. The bill was agreed on by both sides…compromising. Neither received everything that they wanted. That is called…democracy. We are the United States…not 50 separate kingdoms with the governors and legislatures ruling over stand alone fiefdoms. We are a Federalist system not a feudal system. Being an Old Salt…I remember when Democrats and Republicans worked together and subsequently moved our nation forward. I recall when the Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, and President Ronald Reagan, for whom I voted…twice, were friends and had cocktails together at the end of the day. It seems like only yesterday when our House of Representatives and our Senate were filled with Stateswomen and Statesmen…not individuals who are more interested in holding on to their jobs…than the good of our country.
Recently I had the honor and privilege of serving on our church Board for the First Presbyterian Church U.S.A. The Board, called Session, is compromised of members of the congregation that are elected from the congregation as representative government for the group. There were many Presbyterians in the group whom we call our Founding Fathers…who formed our government after the representative government of their church. Simply said…you can have a democratic government or an authoritarian government…which is why we first sailed over on the Mayflower.
Members of a successful marriage understand how to compromise… Often you will hear it said that marriage is a 50/50 compromise. However to be a part of a truly pristine marriage that will stand the test of time, as popular comedian Chris Rock says…you may be relegated to being the member of the band that plays the tambourine. Play that tambourine as hard as you can…Chris advises.
During my years as the president of the Civil Service Council at SIUC I was privileged to request considerations and benefits for nearly 2,000 civil service staff on the Carbondale Campus. We were successful in obtaining several nice considerations for our group. We did not accomplish those advances by being intransigent and obtuse. Every thing that we gained was by compromise.
A populist politician assures the voters that when he or she is placed in office that prayer will be returned to the classroom and the Bible will be held high…and In God We Trust will be restored to our land. The primary question to ask yourself is the loquacious defender of faith and truth speaking of your faith…or theirs?
I can remember when there were only Cracker Barrel restaurants in the southern states. We folks in Southern Illinois had never heard of a Cracker Barrel eatery. The first of these unique establishments was during a holiday in Tennessee. The Cracker Barrel is a combination of a restaurant and a General Store. Along the walls are either replicas of old things and antiques or the genuine articles. Vintage toys and games and treats are sold in the General Store. During the 1980’s there was a prominent display of Cairn Gnomes that were created by the artist, Tom Clark from North Carolina, and I had never seen anything like them. There was, Enoch who was a depiction of a farmer and Parson Patterson who was a pastor, and Gnomes that looked like they would like to know me better. MJ would say let’s move along now…we don’t need something else to set around….and I reluctantly followed…still wondering what the Gnomes were concocting.
Paducah, Kentucky is a wonderful town to visit. We do so often and in the 1980’s we regularly stayed at the Executive Inn Hotel…who had the most delightful two nights for one night price. Aaron and Jonathon loved swimming in their large indoor pool and they had several shops as well as an indoor restaurant that prepared delicious cuisine. We were accustomed to being awakened by the fragrant aroma of bacon frying and coffee brewing…around 5:00 A:M:. One morning, during breakfast, the person serving us told us of a lunch special…we returned in 2 hours…still full of bacon and eggs…so as not to miss the lunch special… During our weekend adventures we would drive to the Kentucky Oaks Mall. I have never seen a busier mall. I have deducted that everyone in Paducah…fellowships at the Kentucky Oaks Mall. In those days…in the mall…was a Hallmark Shop. The proprietor’s name was Elizabeth…and she made the Tom Clark Gnomes…come alive… Elizabeth of Hallmark was so into each artwork that Mr. Clark had produced that once you heard her passionate portrayal…you had an emotional connection to an inanimate object. Then and there was where we began collecting Gnomes.
Elizabeth of Hallmark had the prized ability of explaining what she had to offer with a narrative that drew the customer into the story. We became excited about the art of Tom Clark because someone took the time to invite us into the story and to become a part of it. Two institutions that I have been a member of for over 40 to over 50 years…Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale and the Church…could take a lesson of Elizabeth of Hallmark of over 35 years ago…take enough time to personalize the story of your group and by your compelling words…invite your guest to come in the open door…and become a part of the family.
My step has been lighter the past few days. I think that it must be a wining combination of a wonderful Father’s Day and the unusually cool temperatures that we have been enjoying. I have been so fortunate in my life to have nice things happen to me and nice people to help me.
When I hear others speak of people being out to get them or do them ill will…I have to say that by and large that has not been my experience. Oh I have experienced many ups and downs on our rollercoaster of life…but the good has outweighed the bad.
Rather than being marginalized…I primarily am treated with kind respect and consideration. I have been marginalized…more than once…thus I can write about it from firsthand experience. But…I write from a position of joy and satisfaction that I did not let the naysayers bring me down…to what they perceived was the level that I should be on. So, I have always been comfortable in my skin. I have always known who I was. I continue to understand what I want to accomplish. Humility is beautiful…a sycophant…is not…
You are unique…no one is like you…why not do a happy dance for the power that God has given you…
Have you communicated today? I suppose that there is not a day that goes by where we do not communicate in many forms. Have you ever verbally stated something on several occasions…only to discover that the person or people that you are talking with either do not recall what you said…or have forgotten it completely? Silence is a true form of communication. If a colleague takes the liberty to speak for you and suggest that you will be happy to perform a task…and you are silent…that is not consent…
Over the past 50 years I have been a member of twice as many boards and committees and study groups and advisory conclaves…as years served. The first element of a successful Board is teamwork. If people do not collaborate…you have a group of Lone Rangers without even Tonto…as their sidekick.
Human Connection is achievable in committee settings. Not only in the Board room but in your office or in a social event…it is vital that the chair of the Board has a clear understanding of the opinions and feelings of each member of the group. Without that human connection and one on one communication…you have a prescription for disfunction.
As a manager/administrator for 25 years at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale…there was nothing that I worked more diligently on than communication…and nothing that I failed on more regularly when miscommunication occurred. No matter how large the Board or Committee that a Chair or a Moderator oversees…they will have a poor understanding of the thoughts of the individual members of the group if they do not take the time to know them and form a personal connection with each of them…as much as is possible.
MJ disclosed to me when I mentioned that I could not help but notice that she was reading a lot…that she had purchased Kindle Unlimited for $9.99 per month. Just observing her captivated interest as she reads her Kindle Unlimited books on her IPad…made me want to jump into the Kindle Stream of literary joy and brain cognition. So I did. I have been about half a day trying to figure out why, since I joined the Kindle Unlimited for a 30 day free trial and subsequently began downloading free books to read…and even a free subscription to Readers Digest…which I have missed for the last 25 years, why the magical downloads were not showing up in my Kindle Applications on either my I Phone or my I Pad. I have wrestled with this conundrum for the past 4 or more hours…and finally it dawned on me that my Kindle Applications on my devices were old and under an old email and password. Problem solved and I feel like a new man!
MJ has always been a voracious reader. When we were first married, in 1978, she would easily read a book a week. I would read a book a month. We did not watch television…we did not own a television. On the rare occasions that I would see a television show…I would consider how much less fulfilling that TV was as compared to reading. Reading is an immersive experience. Reading is time travel and international travel…all rolled into one sublime experience. Many of my most memorable experiences that fashioned my life…came from reading.
Reading envelopes the participant in a cocoon of another reality…another world. After reading I feel centered and calm and reflective. Life does not seem so manic and frenetic and requiring my supreme energies at every moment and at every turn and juncture. I read, on Father’s Day, two books…one written and illustrated by Liz Climo, called, You’re Dad, and the other entitled Summer Camp Critter Jitters, authored by Jory John and illustrated by Liz Climo, and both treatise put me in an excellent mood and a settled frame of mind. Our Pastor, Kerry, often reads from children’s literature and my son Jonathon loves books for young people…I think I will follow their example. I can remember reading the book, Across Five Aprils, when I was in the sixth grade. I had a terrible cold…which was common for me all thru out my childhood…and the comfort of the narrative acted like a balm for my body and soul. I felt appreciably better for just being in the world of the book.
Bookstores excite me…now and when I was a child. Johnathon and I have a book collection of upwards of 1,000 volumes…when I am surrounded by books…I feel safe and secure…and in the groove of what life was intended to be. MJ and my friend, Jo Ann, had a room that was her library. She stood in the middle of the room on one occasion that we were visiting her and said that she felt hidden from the world when she stood there surrounded by her many shelves of books. I can relate. Books are a surety for me that our world has not gone off of its rails… Books assure me that I am surrounded by knowledge and at times wisdom…and that I can avail myself of the treasures of the bounty of the hundreds of authors…at any time that I wish. Readers create thinkers. Thinkers examine what they are told by leaders both political and religious. Readers question what they are told for fact. They seek empirical and scientific evidence. The seek peer review…they seek verifiable facts…they seek evidence of claims and assertions.
Seventy degrees fahrenheit in our neck of the woods…and does it ever feel good after the over 100 degree heat factors that we have had for the last week or more. It is the kind of comely climate that you want to luxuriate in and not to leave. It is reminiscent of September…which begins my 4 favorite months. I would rather be a tad to cool than a degree to warm… I like to watch people. We humans enjoy seeing others of our own ilk. We are interested in what the other humans are doing. We wonder what they are eating…and if you do not think so…just open your Facebook account. We enjoy hearing stories about others…when I was younger we called this gossip. But not only gossip but just any story that we can identify with and feel akin to and understand how much more we are alike…than we are different. We love babies. We were all a baby at our beginning…we have been around babies for much of our lives…and babies say to us that we are marching on…we are not defeated…we are continuing… Laughter is good medicine. When we laugh together our souls communicate. We relate on a biological level. Laughter is a universal language that has no communication barriers.
When we see others doing something similar to what we have done…or perhaps the same activity…we feel like family…we understand them better…we can almost read their mind. Speaking of reading minds…have you ever noticed that wives and husbands often complete each other’s sentences? Our brains make connections…whether it be on a church board or an office setting. We look for shared experiences. We look for commonalities. If we find enough experiences that unite us…we tend to diminish or forget what divides us… We seek a soul touch… We are seeking someone who ‘Gets Us’…someone who know what we are thinking…sometimes before we realize it. Fellowship and community and oneness…can be achieved with ease…if we are into each other…if we care…if the journey is taken…together…