30 October, 2012

A View of the "Dark Side"

Barry Gittins, a writer, researcher and a real ‘handyman’ with the pen, has commented on the visit of a prominent leader & theologian who visited Melbourne recently. Read his Blog then check out some questions for follow up – or make up your own for a group discussion!

View Dr Burke's full articles here:
Frederick Coutts Lecture 2012.pdf
The Dark Side of Leadership Australia.doc

A View of the "Dark Side"

Salvationist and academic Dr Don Burke* spoke at The Salvation Army’s Australia Southern territorial headquarters in Melbourne on 2 August on ‘Joseph and the Dark Side of Leadership’. The discussion and subsequent private discussions with cabinet members were largely based on his reflections on the Genesis accounts of Joseph, the Jewish patriarch who rose to hold executive power in Egypt (second only to Pharoah).

Stating that people’s levels of surprise and the sense of betrayal at the failures of leaders reveal ‘our childish desire for flawless heroes and leaders who don’t do bad things’, Dr Burke acknowledged that ‘leaders great and small often succumb to the temptations offered by power’.

In an era of increasing medical and psychological understanding of how human beings interact, how brain chemistry functions, and how even altruism can actually be a selfish pursuit (as strange as that sounds), Dr Burke said we need a mature expectation of leaders in society. However, he suggested that disillusionment with fallen leaders – and in particular church leaders, who display the ‘foibles of the frocked’ – can function as a wake-up call for positive engagement with issues of: accountability and transparency; self-knowledge and humility; and a cognisance that power can and is abused.

‘It’s not good enough to simply parrot pious platitudes about servant leadership and “being like Jesus”,’ he said.

Dr Burke called on his audience to recognise the creative tension ‘between the implicit good [of creation] and the fallen state of the world’, suggesting the answer to the cognitive dissonance is found in the quality of grace. ‘Even our most difficult decisions are covered in some way by God’s grace,’ he said.
‘The illusion is that “pure leadership” is possible. We must lead with humility and recognise the limitations of our virtue, while possessing the confidence that ‘grace is available to us to forgive our sin and mitigate its impact on victims’.
In leadership, or the exercise of power, Dr Burke suggested that the reality of collateral damage was inevitable. People can and do get hurt by conscious choices of leaders. Hierarchical structures, he acknowledged, also have the potential to do harm inadvertently, but said that the same potential is present in all organisational structures.

As well as calling for leaders to pursue humility and reflective self-knowledge, Dr Burke said one of the solutions is to have a series of checks and balances available to the leader, which takes desire, time and diligence. If leaders do not consider the impact of their choices then they, whether they are acting in a familial, political, religious or business setting, they run dangerously close to adhering to the Machiavellian maxim that ‘the ends justify the means’.

Questioned about the place of holiness in the mix of human dynamics, Dr Burke said there could be a danger of people cloaking themselves with a ‘holiness ‘ mantle that justified their actions. ‘Holiness doesn’t prevent us from making mistakes or hurting people,’ he said.

Pointing our Old and New Testament examples of human fallibility and the abuse of power, such as St Paul telling detractors among the Galatians to ‘go castrate themselves’, Dr Burke said that ‘except for Jesus, even the best of people have had that ambiguity’ when it came to the human tasks of exercising leadership roles and using power.

Dr Burke PhD is president of Booth University College in Winnipeg, Canada. He espouses, through faculty and students, the following needs: ‘To think deeply in a world that reduces complex issues to trite slogans; to believe intensely in a world that longs for something in which to believe; to become agents of hope in a world too often filled with despair; to promote social justice in a world where too many live in poverty or on the periphery of society; and to proclaim mercy in a world that too often is driven by a desire for revenge.’
To Ponder / Discuss:

• What do we / you ‘expect’ from leaders? (Church, community, politicians etc).
• How may the phrase ‘servant leadership’ become a pious platitude?
• In what way is ‘pure leadership’ an illusion?
• Whether a leader or not, how do we deal with the issues of accountability, self-knowledge, humility, understanding of power abuse in our own lives?

19 October, 2012

Children's Week 2012

The 4th week in October is Children’s Week! This is a week set aside to celebrate the right of children to enjoy their childhood. Children’s week encourages kids to express their skills, talents and abilities.

However, not all children live in environments that support and protect their rights. Many are abused; forced into childhood labour, sexual trafficking and early marriages. Millions of children miss out on education, health care, nutritious meals - their childhood. Poverty affects a child’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual development. Additionally, according to UNICEF, 22 000 children die each day due to the consequences of poverty.

In Australia 10.9 per cent of children live in relative poverty (2012) . Children are negatively affected by family violence, substance abuse, mental health concerns, lack of education and lack of healthy eating. “A picture of Australia’s children” (2005), a report released by The Australian government indicated that the health and wellbeing of children is adversely affected by the socioeconomic environments they are raised in.

In Isaiah 1:17 we see a message to the people of Israel that can be applied to our living today.
“Stop doing wrong and learn to live right. See that justice is done. Defend the widows and orphans and help those in need”. Isaiah 1:17 (CEV)
God values the lives of all individuals. He values the lives of the marginalised and vulnerable that societies often ignore. When living in circumstances of poverty, children are often the most vulnerable and at risk. As adults, we have a responsibility to foster safe environments for children to learn and grow. The world children inherit should be a world that we ourselves would like to live in – are we building for ourselves or for future generations?

Join Just Salvos in praying for children who are in difficult and vulnerable circumstances. These can be children of Asylum Seekers and Refugees, indigenous children (who are over represented in the justice system and health & wellbeing scale) and children affected by family violence.

What can you do?

1. You can make a difference in the life of a child by providing sponsorship. For more information visit The Salvation Army’s Child Sponsorship Department. http://www.salvationarmy.org.au/en/get-involved/sponsor-a-child/

2. Get informed. For more statistics and information regarding children and poverty have a look at the follow article: Shah, Anup. “Poverty Facts and Stats.” Global Issues. 20 Sep. 2010. Web. 18 Oct. 2012. http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats.
Understand the rights of Children. Attached is a poster explaining the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in child friendly language. http://www.childrensweek.org.au/UN%20poster%20Jan%202008.pdf

3. Mentor a Child. KIDS HOPE AUS is an early intervention mentoring program operational in primary schools across Australia. KIDS HOPE AUS mentors help to develop social and emotional resilience in mentored children, thereby enhancing their ability to learn. For more information visit, http://www.youthmentoring.org.au/program_details.php?pgDetails=Mzg2

12 October, 2012

Anti-Poverty Week

Next week, 14th – 20th of October is Anti-Poverty Week. The Salvation Army is committed to eradicating poverty in all its forms. According to the United Nations (UN) poverty is,

‘a denial of choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and clothe a family, not having a school or clinic to go to; not having the land on which to grow one’s food or a job to earn one’s living, not having access to credit. It means insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households and communities. It means susceptibility to violence, and it often implies living in marginal or fragile environments, without access to clean water or sanitation’ .

The Salvation Army in Australia is specifically concentrating on the problem of debt with the theme, ‘Debt Doesn’t Discriminate’. Debt contributes in multiple ways to people’s experiences of poverty. The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) reports that almost 2.2 million Australians – 11.1% of the population – live in poverty. That percentage has increased from 7.6% of the population in 1994, and 9.9% of impoverished Australians in 2004. We all experience knowledge of this poverty in some way – whether it be our friends, relatives, ourselves or marginalised people.

How can we all use this week to increase awareness and accountability of a problem which strikes at the very root of our society? We recognise that each individual has worth and dignity as being created in the image of God and we cannot be indifferent to each others’ needs. We are called to act. We all know the consequence of poverty and the resulting injustice in our communities and across the nation; let us work hard together toward eliminating poverty and restoring justice.

Additionally, The Salvation is present in 126 countries and committed to eradicating poverty globally. In partnership with other organisations we work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals and halving extreme poverty by 2015.

For further information have a look at the following links, resources and additional reading:

• The International Social Justice Commission has released a paper that discusses poverty and a social justice perspective: http://www1.salvationarmy.org/IHQ/www_ihq_isjc.nsf/vw-news-34/B88D3F164E8D7A5180257A45003C881F?opendocument
• The Salvation Army Mission Resource Department has released resources pertaining to National Poverty Week, including a fact sheet: http://www.sarmy.org.au/en/Resources/MeetingResources/other-events/poverty-justice/2012-Debt-Doesnt-Discriminate/

• Additional information regarding The Salvation Army’s involvement in National Poverty Week including information on an event organised by The Social Programme Department Tuesday 16th October: http://www.salvationarmy.org.au/en/News-and-Media/Antipoverty-week/

• For information on policy, politics and the Millennium Development Goals see Micah Challenge. Further information about an event observing International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on the 17th October is also available: www.finish2015.com.au