Tinder Piles, Gasoline and Leadership

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The scandal at NNU is now entering its second week.  What started out as the announcement of a simple restructuring plan has grown into a wildfire of conflict.

Unfortunately, I am far too involved right now to back out.  My blog posts and comments are available and public.  There is no turning back. With that said, if I owned a Delorian I might go back in time a week and encourage my more ignorant self to stay away from this one.

As I move forward without my Delorian, I do want to clarify that by supporting Tom Oord I am not worshiping Tom or even agreeing with Tom’s views and opinions.  I think the best person to defend Tom’s theology is Tom himself, which he has done repeatedly.  Instead, I am supporting my friend, someone who taught me how to love and how to think and who has reached out to me numerous times to give me opportunities and career advice.

With that said, to say this issue is about Tom Oord would be a crazy understatement given the events of this weekend.  This has grown to be a very complex and interesting dilemma, one that involves the entire soul of the Church of the Nazarene and her commitment to higher education.

As we enter week two, it is not time to back away from this dilemma or let it fade into the night, but time to recommit ourselves to charitable discourse, peaceful (and hopefully speedy) solutions, prayer, fasting and, of course, living lives of love.

With that said, it also a week to be a bit reflective.  Most of what happened last week was understandably reactionary.  Now that the hard data is out (which you can read here) it is perhaps time to stop reacting and be more discerning and proactive.

Therefore, my blog posts this week will focus on discussing the deeper issues at play.  These issues include the role of leadership in the 21st century, the ongoing battle between conservative fundamentalists and the more moderate wing of our party (to say the Church of the Nazarene has liberals is to vastly misunderstand the meaning of the word, “liberal”), the role of social media in aiding or preventing charitable discourse and the relationship between the sanctuary and the classroom.

At the same time, I am not promising I will address all those issues.  I do still have a local ministry context that deserves priority.  However, these greater issues need to be discussed or they will continue to bubble to the surface again and again.

Since I just wasted a lot of my word count on introductory material, I only want to say a bit more about leadership in the NNU situation.

I have lately been profoundly influenced by the book, “Fierce Conversations” by Susan Scott.  In the book she argues that careers, marriages, institutions and churches fail one conversation at a time.

Click here to buy.

Due to my own connections with NNU’s campus, I know that this is exactly what has happened here.  Over the last four years there have been several conversations between the faculty and administration that have served to metaphorically stack up a large pile of dry tinder.  Some situations before this one have even poured gasoline on that tinder.  After the pile of wood and gasoline had been constructed, all it took was one spark to set the thing ablaze.  This spark was the layoff of a highly public and controversial professor.  To change metaphors, it was like the dominoes had been stacking for years and Tom Oord was the single domino that set the chain going.

The comments on Facebook and Twitter and the faculty’s letter have all shown that to be the case.  With that understanding in mind, President Alexander’s apology about the way in which Tom Oord was terminated seemed a bit misunderstanding of that truth.  The issue right now is not about Tom but about a severe lack of trust between a faculty and an administration.  It now involves the very structures and covenants on campus.

With that said, I have very much appreciated the confessional community surrounding NNU.  Several times on the “Support Tom Oord” page we have posted our own apologies, clarified our own mistakes and even prayed a liturgical confession together.

And in that spirit of confession, I know that I too am a leader of an institution, albeit a much smaller one and God uses situations like this to ask me, “what dry tinder am I piling up?  What gasoline am I pouring?  And how can I disperse and water it all down?”  Those are good questions every leader should ask, particularly before something sparks a wildfire.

And so being fully aware that even lately I have been guilty of actions that have turned my communities into piles on tinder, I close by praying the prayer of confession:

Almighty God, our heavenly father,
we have sinned against you and against each other,
in thought and word and deed,
through negligence, through weakness,
through our own deliberate fault.
We are truly sorry
and repent of all our sins.
For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, who died for us,
forgive us all that is past;
and grant that we may serve you in newness of life;
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

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What Happened This Week

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On Sunday night I heard a rumor and joined a Facebook group only to see if it was true.  I thought joining the group was an innocent enough gesture, just showing support for a friend and former professor who had been unfairly treated.

As the week unfolded it became apparent I had done so much more than join a Facebook group.  What had happened and is happening is so much more than a mistreated professor.

I wrote a blog expressing some frustration on Tuesday.  Actually, that blog kind of wrote itself.  I went into a really rare writer’s trance and emerged out of it having all ready posted it.  I reread what I wrote and noticed a few grammatical errors and awkward phrases which reveal the overwhelming passion I felt at that moment.  That passion has not subsided.

When I posted the blog, I felt like it would be fairly popular but I had no idea how popular.  As of right now 5200 people have seen the link on Facebook and it has been viewed 1500 times.

I want to pause a minute and say “Thank you” to all of you for hearing my voice and thank you to those who have given me positive feedback and helped me know I am not alone.  In cases like these social media is certainly a means of grace.

That last sentence is not being widely recognized right now.  There are a few voices in this particular crisis who have leveled frustration at Facebook claiming the social media service has blown things out of proportion.  And I agree that 10 years ago, this local situation at NNU may not have started quite the firestorm.  But that is all the more reason we need forums like Facebook.  There were very real misdeeds being done and if social media helped expose them and right the wrongs than I am all the happier.

With that said, how do you follow up your most successful post ever?  How do we move forward after the last 7 days as a church, as a people, as a denomination?

I don’t know but I do take heart in the voices who have called us to prayer and fasting.  I have found my prayer life deepened by this tragedy, as if we really do serve a loving and wooing God who in the midst of trials and tragedies beckons us to come into God’s presence.

With that said, what we did this week and what we do next week are incredibly important.  Love really is on the line here.  This is a moment when as a denomination we can choose to treat each other better and hold each other (even our leaders) accountable or to turn a blind eye and so let the list of victims increase.

To illustrate how love is on the line, I want to share my story of being a student of Tom Oord.

I first heard his name in the Christian fundamentalist high school that I graduated from.  It was our Old Testament teacher who hated the very name, “Tom Oord” and had grievances with all of NNU’s faculty.  He made us memorize the books of the Old Testament (and I am still grateful) but stopped there and instead taught us all the “heresies” being taught by NNU.  He regularly tested us on those heresies, even beginning his tests with a question, “Is this test an attack on Tom Oord?”

One student circled “yes” and got detention, even though that student knew the truth.  My high school teacher hated his enemies and the hate dripped off of him.  He regularly got red in the face and yelled about the evils of wrong thinking.

So when I started attending NNU, even though I was called to be a pastor, I avoided the Christian Ministry department like the plague, declaring a business major.  Unfortunately, they made me take a Bible class.  In that class we were actually required to read the Old Testament.  In 2 years of “Old Testament” classes at my high school I had never once opened the Bible.

A year later I took Sophomore theology and we read Scripture there too.

But it wasn’t until my junior year that I met Tom Oord.  Tom knew people disagreed with him but never demonized them.  He would often say in class, “some disagree with me and here is why” and he would represent their opinions in the best light.  A few times he even talked me into going with them instead of him!  He never got red in the face or angry.  He knew his way around the Scriptures and seemed to quote large texts with great love for God’s written word.  This love spilled out of Tom at every turn.

I had never seen a fundamentalist actually love Scripture and it was Tom who really taught me that love is a verb (with all due respect to that lousy DC Talk song).  It is not an expression or a feeling.  You have to show it.

And Tom, along with his colleagues, helped me actually show my love for Scripture, a love that continues to inform my love for others.  It is not enough to claim Scripture’s authority, you have to read it and delight in it and use Scripture as a means of delighting in God and others.  That is how Scripture is used at NNU and that is how I have endeavored to use Scripture since then.

So with Tom and all of our friends in this great movement, I plan to live a life of love because they will know we are Christians by our love!