• on October 17, 2019


Last week I discussed Rebecca Solnit’s, “When the Hero Is the Problem” on retreat in Colorado with pastor friends. Her argument is genuine transformation occurs not as heroes rise above the crowd to pull the rest of us up and along with him or her. Real change happens as deeper bonds are forged among people, making true community to replace our anonymous crowds.

Here are some quotes from Rebecca Solnit: “’Unhappy the land that needs heroes’ is a line of Bertold Brecht’s I’ve gone to dozens of times, but now I am more inclined to think, pity the land that thinks it needs a hero, or doesn’t know that it has lots and what they look like.” Perfect for these bleak political times! “Positive social change results mostly from connecting more deeply with the people around you than rising above them, from coordinated rather than solo action.”

“The virtues that matter are those traditionally considered feminine rather than masculine, more nerd than jock: listening, respect, patience, negotiation, strategic planning, story-telling. But we like our lone and exceptional heroes, and the drama of violence and virtue of muscle, or at least, that’s what we get, over and over. In the course of getting them we don’t get a picture of how change really happens and what our role in it might be, or how ordinary people matter.”

Despite the landmark of a first black president, too many wanted to make Barack Obama into a hero. That didn’t serve him or us. Donald Trump promised, “I alone can fix it.” He recently self-referenced his “great and unmatched wisdom,” as a new debacle of death unfolds in Syria.

I don’t know about you, but “great and unmatched wisdom” recalls the great and powerful Oz. Creating the Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum parodied political heroes with a bumblin
g wizard in a booth pulling levers and knobs to project power to awe the Emerald City (think Washington.) At the end, he tells everywoman Dorothy from Kansas, and the community she created–a tin man (industry), a scarecrow (farming), and a lion (military)–they had within their own resources everything that they needed among themselves to accomplish their goals and meet their needs.

Wanting to wean us from heroes who will “fix everything” doesn’t mean we dismiss leadership. I have read everything I can get my hands on about leadership since becoming a pastor 40 years ago. It might disappoint you that I find this line by Ron Heifetz to be one of the most profound things I have read on the subject: “Leadership is disappointing people at a rate they can stand.”

What does Heifetz mean? Clearly, some leaders charm and entertain folks out of their socks while projecting that they, and they alone, will magically fix everything. But true leaders face into realistic headwinds by mobilizing people to engage deeply pressing problems or challenges.
When I began, no few here defined our central task as bringing back those lost in our troubles. In earlier churches I have served, I lacked the confidence to say, “Most are not coming back.“ But I said it here, even before arriving. Yes, disappointment was written all over on their faces.

True leaders bring real transformation, not fiery images through the pulling of levers and handles. We need transformation, but don’t really want it. Why so ambivalent? I close with writer Victoria Erickson, author of “Edge of Wonder”: “Transformation isn’t sweet and bright. It’s a dark and murky, painful pushing. An unraveling of the untruths you have carried in your body. A practice in facing your own created demons. A complete uprooting, before becoming.”

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