“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and will find pasture.”
Street Psalms leads a collaboration of 13 training hubs (UTC) in cities around the world; together, we seek to develop incarnational leaders who love their cities and seek their peace. We have a strong sense of what UTC Hubs are called to do on a communal level. But, we can sometimes lose sight of where we, as individual leaders, are guiding people to on a personal level.
This short poem arrived in my inbox the other day. It has haunted me ever since:
“I lost my identity trying to fit into your shadows,
until I realized you reek of an emptiness no one can fill.”
– Tasneem Kagalwalla
While the poet here wrote as one deeply disappointed in the emptiness of the other (likely a failed romance), it left me considering my legacy of leadership as a spouse, father, pastor and ministry leader. How many people do I erroneously lead down a path into the emptiness of shadow? While our UTC Hubs are successfully calling forth incarnational leaders for their cities, what is the destination for those close to us who follow the trajectory of our lives on a personal level?
Richard Rohr wrote a very compelling book exploring a spirituality for the two halves of life entitled, “Falling Upward.” He writes, “your shadow is what you refuse to see about yourself, and what you do not want others to see….We never get to the second half of life without major shadowboxing and I am sorry to report that it continues until the end of life.” When I live my life out of an alignment to misplaced desires (what Ignatius referred to as “inordinate attachments” or “disordered loves”), I lead others to a destination filled with shadows — the fake news of my own invention.
A key for authentic leadership is the ability to confront your shadows. Failing to do so leads others to a destination of falsehood and emptiness. Authentic leaders, often rising out of personal suffering and failure, learn to embrace the necessary courage to shadowbox with an acknowledged foe.
I have sat with this week’s lectionary text from John 10 on many occasions. What struck me this week, in light of the piece of poetry above, was verse 9, where Jesus says that the sheep he leads will find pasture.
Much has been written about the Biblical imagery of shepherd and sheep. Sheep, as has been well documented, are dumb animals that can only live under the care and protection of a shepherd. There are no “wild” sheep. They have no sense of direction, cannot feed themselves, have no way of protecting themselves and cannot get up if they fall over. Thus, the image of sheep portraying humans living in shadows is an ample picture indeed.
The Good Shepherd, in comparison, leads his sheep in a very different way and to a very different destination. He enters with his sheep, calls them each by name, leads them out (as opposed to driving them with a whip), goes on ahead of them to protect them from any danger, and all the while creates the perfect scenario for sheep to follow. What is the destination of all this leadership (shepherding) activity exemplified by the Good Shepherd? Where are the sheep invited to follow the shepherd to?
The pastureland represents the sustenance of life, where one can eat to his/her heart’s content. It is the place representing the abundance of God’s love, provision and protection — the only place where sheep can thrive.
Pastureland, as a destination, is the antithesis of the destructive whims of the shadowland. In pastureland, one is able to embrace life as a liturgy of abundance. Shadowland, as destination, is the blind allegiance to the myth of scarcity. From the destination of pastureland, I can be fed and I can feed. I can release instead of hoard. I am free to proclaim peace as opposed to living incarcerated behind the bars of rivalry and fear.
In the conclusion to C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, there is a striking conversation ushering in the “farewell to Shadowlands.” Lewis writes,
“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadowlands – dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is over: this is the morning.”
The leadership of the Good Shepherd invites us out from under the darkness of shadows and into the new morning of abundant pastureland. As his sheep, we are invited to follow; what an incredible privilege it is to encourage others to do the same.
Joel Van Dyke
Director, Urban Training Collaborative