How Then Shall I Vote?

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There are numerous discussions on how one should make decisions about for whom to vote. I approach this question as a Christian and the first thing I note is what an exceptional thing in Christian history it is to be able to vote for those who serve us in government. For much of history and even today in many parts of the world, Christians have no say over who leads their government and must figure out what Christian faithfulness looks like in these circumstances, sometimes under regimes openly hostile to Christians. The U.S. recognition of the right to vote for all our citizens (with certain exceptions) is a precious right that should be vigorously protected for all as a recognition of our common humanity in the image of God.

For many Christians, their primary criteria is where their candidate lines up on the issues. My difficulty is several-fold. One is which issues? My difficulty is that when I consider biblical teaching, I find no party whose platform conforms to biblical teaching across the board. Also, there are differences among Christians about how to achieve certain aims, or whether the aim of Christian political engagement is the conformity of a pluralistic country to biblical morality specific to followers of Christ. There are many issues, for example local issues, for which there may not be a clear biblical principle.

I would contend that the Bible prioritizes character and competence, that I might summarize in the phrase, “skillful shepherds.” Psalm 78:72 pays this tribute to David: “And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.”

First of all, the psalmist emphasizes the integrity of David’s heart. David wasn’t perfect, but when confronted with wrongdoing, he admitted his wrongdoing and the justice of God’s judgments. I grew up in Youngstown and saw the impact of a half century or more of political corruption, where political leaders would say they were serving the people when they were beholden to criminal elements and lining their own pockets. As a young voter, I saw how Richard Nixon betrayed the trust of the people in the Watergate cover-up, helping undermine confidence in those in public office.

Second, he describes his work as leading with skillful hands. I want to find not only a person of integrity, but one who has demonstrated skill in the requirements of the office to which that person aspires. I want to see that in their family life, their business affairs, or whatever prior office they have served in. Perhaps this reflects the experience of hiring people based not on their aspirations but on the basis of their deeds done. Doris Kearns Goodwin highlights Lincoln’s skills in Team of Rivals in uniting and calling out the best from a cabinet made up of Lincoln’s political rivals.

Finally, David is described as a shepherd. Good shepherds do not drive sheep, they lead them, going ahead, interposing their own bodies between any threat and the sheep. In John 10, Jesus says that he knows sheep by name. Elsewhere, he says good shepherds care for all the sheep, going after the stray. A good shepherd does not have favorites or those they ignore. A good shepherd serves the sheep, not oneself.

One of the challenges of leadership is that one cannot know the future. No political leader in the world had a platform article or position on responding to a pandemic in 2019. The character and competence of leaders has played a significant role in the differences in outcomes in a virus that knew no distinctions of people, or state or national boundaries.

No political leader is perfect, nor are any of the rest of us for that matter. What I want to look at as best as I can determine is the basic trajectory of the person’s life up to now. Only then do I turn to issues, especially when the contest is between two people of integrity and skill, a choice to be wished for, but not always achieved. I also keep in mind the important but limited purpose of political leaders in God’s economy. At their best, they uphold justice and maintain order and pursue the flourishing of all our citizens, but they cannot bring in the new heaven and the new earth, nor can they effect the inner transformation of the gospel. They can create or abolish laws, establish programs, make policies and appoint judges. But so much of the fabric of society is sustained by how we “do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God” in our neighborhoods, businesses, and wider communities.

I neither think it is my place to tell you how I am voting, nor how you should (if you have not already!). But I know there are some of you, like me, who are conscientious about making these decisions and wrestle over the question of issues and campaign promises, and I hope my own discernment process is helpful. It is how I think about voting, whether for presidents or local officials. It is how I’ve made these decisions for much of my life. It’s how I will make these decisions this November. Stay well, friends.

[I have no time to respond to standard campaign slogans or tropes or gaslighting or trolls. I will just delete such comments. I’ve not advocated for or against any candidate. If you do, I will delete that. Serious questions and discussion are always welcome.]

Review: Good Man

Good Man, Nathan Clarkson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020.

Summary: Goes beyond the stereotypes of what a “real man” is to explore the character of a good man and the journey of discovery this involves.

This is a hard time to be a man. There are all the stereotypes of what a “real” man is. There is also a widespread rejection of these stereotypes. The author goes a different way in this book. He explores what the character of a “good” man is, defining masculinity in terms of Christian character rather than external characteristics, roles, or stereotypes.

The author completes the sentence “Good men are…” with fifteen different qualities. Some sound like traditional stereotypic masculine traits like adventurous, heroic, ambitious, and fighting, but with each of these, the author thinks redemptively. For example, he would encourage fighting for the good and the just, though without physical violence. There are things worth fighting for, adventures worth pursuing, heroic ways to live, great, as opposed to small ambitions worth embracing.

He also proposes a number of qualities less-often associated with stereotypes of manhood, such as devout, honest, healthy, emotional, wise, simple, and servant-hearted. One that I thought was surprising was “healthy.” Between the extremes of “ripped” and “couch potato” he addresses the need for men to responsibly care for their bodies and the connection between our physical and spiritual lives. In the chapter on emotional life, he addresses male stoicism, the myth that men don’t cry and the permission to express our emotions.

He leads us through his own journey of growth in each of these qualities. He movingly shares his own headstrong character in high school, and the story of the college man who hosted him and his friends in weekly discussions, and one night washed their feet. He’s vulnerable about his struggles and failures–his struggles with weight, the break up of a marriage, struggles with porn and alcohol, with mental illness and suicidal thoughts. His honesty (one of the qualities of good men) offers hope that as messed up as we may be, God can work with us, and form us into good men.

Each chapter ends with a few reflection questions and a prayer, and I thought that the prayers alone were worth the price of admission. This is a good book for a group of men serious about following Christ might read with each other. And if one is serious about this “good man” stuff, you could read it with a wife or girlfriend, someone who sees a different side of you than your male friends.

This is a man calling out other men to live this way, calling them out of toxic forms of masculinity to what David Brooks calls the “eulogy virtues,” the things you would want others to say about you at your funeral. It’s worth considering because all of the “real man” stuff fades. It is the goodness that endures not only in the minds of people but into eternity in Christ-formed lives. Clarkson’s honest account points us all toward that journey of growth.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Tech-Wise Family

tech wise family

The Tech-Wise FamilyAndy Crouch. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017.

Summary: A book for taking steps to put technology in its proper place, allowing persons to grow in wisdom and courage instead of giving in to an “easy everywhere” life.

I think anyone who uses our modern technology–computers, tablets, gaming systems, and especially smartphones, realizes how powerfully addicting these devices can be and the various ways they destroy our engagement with the flesh and blood material world, and especially the other real people in our lives.

Crouch organizes the book around some fundamental premises worked out in ten commitments that he and his family have sought to live by. The premises are that families exist to form the character of their members–to form them in wisdom and courage through their relationships and shared lives with each other, and that this is hard yet rewarding work. The other is that technology is “easy everywhere” luring us into easy preoccupation rather than extended conversations, isolation rather than shared experience, distraction rather than devotion, virtual sex rather than the much more challenging real thing, and listening to music and viewing art, rather than making it. Most of all, it lures us away from real into virtual presence with each other.

The book is interspersed with statistics and diagrams that underscore the impact of technology in our lives. One that caught my attention was on the pervasiveness of digital pornography:

“The rise of digital pornography and its effects are hard to overstate. More than half of teens seek out pornography (only 46% say they ‘never seek it out’) and the numbers are much higher for young adults ages 18 to 24 (less than one quarter of whom never seek it out). Even when they aren’t actively seeking it out, teens and young adults regularly come across it (only 21% of teens and 9% of young adults say they never come across porn). While most teens say they seek out porn for personal arousal (67%), substantial minorities regularly view porn out of boredom (40%) and curiousity (42%). “

Yet this is not a book driven by fear of such things but rather a commitment to putting technology in its proper place, helpful tools rather than addictive devices that destroy our capacities for human engagement. What Crouch proposes and that his family seeks to practice is a life that prioritizes people and experience that are not mediated by devices and taking measures such as media sabbaths and vacations and transparency with each other to ensure that this happens. What they wanted for their children is the discovery of the rich experiences of books, long conversations, explorations of nature, singing and making music together, and real presence in life and death with each other.

Crouch gets real and admits his own failures in the commitments they’ve made, but also the victories and what this has meant for his family and in his own life. I was a late adopter of smartphone use, but a quick convert to its addictive properties. Commitments to keep phones away from the table, to wake before my phone does, to put it away before I retire and to mute it during important conversations are beginnings of keeping this form of technology in its place. If you are becoming aware of the intrusion of technology into relationships and life experiences that matter more, this book may be helpful for its practical counsel, and a vision of life centered around growing in wisdom and courage rather than in our access to “easy everywhere.”


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


What I Learned From My Father


My father, on a beautiful autumn day in 2011. (c) Robert C. Trube

I’m writing this on the evening of Father’s Day and I’ve been remembering my own father, who passed nearly five years ago. Remembering him is cause for profound gratitude for the kind of man he was, and the ways he gave himself to shape the man I would be. Whether I’ve lived up to that or not, I’ll leave to others to judge. All I can say is that while he was never famous, he is truly great in my eyes, a member of “the greatest generation” not only by association but by character. These are some of the things he taught me:

  • Any work is worth doing well, if for no other reason than you know whether or not you’ve done your best.
  • He taught me to assume responsibility to earn my own spending money. When I was ten he fronted me the money for a lawn mower to cut lawns. He helped me sign up for a paper route, and got up early on winter Sunday mornings to help stuff and deliver the Sunday papers.
  • He treated people with dignity, no matter who they were. I saw him treat hourly employees and company presidents and people of all races the same way.
  • I grew up in the Vietnam era. Dad taught me that military service could be honorable and something to be proud of. The military salute he was given at his burial was a fitting closure of his life.
  • Perhaps because he never finished college, he valued education and encouraged all of us to excellence. He took our grade cards seriously and responded to teachers’ comments and talked to us about them.
  • He communicated how proud he was of whatever achievements I made in school. Years later, he gave me a file he had collected of these various recognitions. He tracked my career and he gave me the wonderful gift of never having to wonder about his approval of my work, or wife, or anything else.
  • He taught me what love and faithfulness means in marriage. I watched him holding my mother’s hand as she passed, loving her to her last earthly moment before death parted them after nearly 69 years of marriage. Perhaps it is no coincidence that between us, my siblings and I have celebrated 123 wedding anniversaries of our own. Mom and dad taught us well.
  • Because of dad, I never struggled with the idea of God as Father. When I was little, we took walks in the park together and I loved the time where he taught me about different trees, birds, and plants and where I could ask him anything. It is what I think of when I think of “walking with God” or what we call prayer.
  • I work among academics and it is easy to intellectualize and “complexify” almost anything, including matters of faith. Dad often brought me back to earth with what I call his “watchword” which summarized for him what it meant to live as a Christian:

Read and pray;

Trust and obey;

Live God’s way.

My son and I had an interesting conversation today. I happened to use the word “adult” as a verb in a sentence, as some in his generation do. He rebuked me for that. He said adult isn’t something you act like, it is something you are. I think that would have made my dad proud (actually it made me quite glad that he felt this way). Whether it was military service, separation from family, scrambling to make ends meet, dealing with health emergencies, and more, my father just kept showing up, just kept being responsible. In a word, he was an adult. And so much more. He was a father.



Old Friends


“Two Old Friends Out for a Stroll” by smigg44_uk via

“Can you imagine us
Years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange
To be seventy.
Old friends…”

–Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel

I thought of this song yesterday. I was sitting in a cafe on a break between talks by a visiting speaker on the campus where I work in collegiate ministry. An elderly couple sat down at the next table. She walked with the assistance of a wheeled walker, he with the shuffling gait of older men.

What caught my attention was their conversation. I wasn’t making an effort to overhear them but I caught snatches and what stood out to me was the beauty of the interaction between these two “old friends.” There was none of the bleakness of the “winter” of life that one senses in the Simon and Garfunkel song. There was amusement and quiet laughter at shared jokes and musings about friends. There was a gentleness with each other. No complaining about physical maladies. One had the sense of being in the presence of two people comfortable in their own skins, and at peace with their age and stage of life.

I thought again of the song, which I first heard in my teens when imagining being seventy was indeed “terribly strange.” Not so strange any more when this is less than a decade away. How is it that life passes so swiftly?

All I saw was a “snapshot” of the life of these two old friends. But I found myself thinking, “I want to be like them when I am like them.” Only God knows if my wife and I will live to see these years. But I hope the gentleness and grace and humor I saw in their lives will be true of us. And it occurred to me to wonder if this is what others see now. Old friends.

Review: Deep Mentoring

Deep MentoringDeep MentoringRandy D. Reese and Robert Loane. Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2012.

Summary: Deep Mentoring proposes that the development of Christian leaders of integrity is a lifelong, God-driven process that mentors play a crucial part in through attentiveness and focus on the spiritual and character formation of rising leaders.

We usually become aware of our need for leaders of spiritual depth, character and skill when we don’t have them. And far too often, our response is the crash, leadership course and filling positions with warm, and maybe willing, bodies–only for the whole thing to end in many cases with disappointment.

Reese and Loane contend that spiritual leaders of character and skill are developed over time through the deep work of discipleship and the attentive guidance of mentors. The book is broken into three parts. The first begins with “noticing God’s already present action.” Informed throughout by the leadership development work of J. Robert Clinton, they believe God calls leaders but that critical in the work are attentive mentors willing to engage in the slow, deep work of leadership development eschewing superficial, one-size-fits all, ends over means, hurry-up approaches. And what do mentors pay attention to but the stories of persons recognizing the three critical formations of character, skill, and strategy that are worked out in the course of our lives.

The second part focuses on four seasons of our life stories. These are:

  1. Foundation. In leadership development, consideration needs to be given to how God has been shaping a person from their earliest years and also the “family of origin” influences that shape us for good and for ill.
  2. Preparation. This ten to twenty-five year period is focused around growth in holiness while discerning and cultivating one’s gifts and the skills necessary to effective leadership.
  3. Contribution. If one has prepared well, this is the season in which character, gifts, and skill come together in service that has spiritual authority. It is the season of one’s maximum impact.
  4. Multiplication. In this final phase, the focus shifts from one’s own leadership to developing the leadership of others while continuing to grow spiritually.

Part three goes further with this last phase, which in some sense is involved in helping with the development of others through the four phases. It looks at how Jesus came alongside others in a way that was deepening, particularizing, hospitable and patient and then in the succeeding chapter how mentors might do the same.

Five premises serve as bookends to the book:

  1. Shape the person and you stand a much greater chance of shaping everything else.
  2. Discipleship and Christian leadership development are inextricably linked and together make a slow and deep work.
  3. Igniting a grassroots way toward renewal is possible. It doesn’t have to be top-down.
  4. A Christian approach to leadership formation requires a ministry of paying attention.
  5. Conditions can be cultivated in order for local communities to become significant places of learning and growth.

The book concludes with several appendices. “Lessons from those who come before us” is worth the price of admission as they discuss both why leaders finish badly and well. Three other appendices include one on lifelong perspective in developing leaders, observations from Clinton’s leadership emergence studies, and five practices to sustain long haul leadership.

I appreciated the book’s character-driven, developmental perspective and the practical counsel throughout for those mentoring or being mentored. Working in collegiate ministry where one often thinks of the academic year or the four to six years students are with us, the slow and deep perspective can be challenging. Two things seem of importance. One is to never neglect the dimension of investing deeply in people simply to get things done. In our work, we need to think how leadership activities not only accomplish goals but develop people, and make sure they do. Second is to realize that the most important things we do is lay down the preparation for a lifetime of leadership, and a contribution phase still to come.

This is a good book for anyone thinking about leadership development, but is far more than the typical leadership book in thinking of how leaders are formed and of the depth of attention required of those who engage in this work.

Review: The Road to Character

The Road to CharacterThe Road to Character, David Brooks. New York, Random House, 2015.

Summary: David Brooks explores the issue of character development through the hard-won pursuit of moral virtue, exemplified in the moral quests of people as diverse as Augustine and Bayard Rustin, Frances Perkins and Dorothy Day.

I’ve long followed The New York Times op-ed pieces of David Brooks. Brooks often has seemed to me to be a quiet, reasoned voice speaking against the prevailing cultural winds. I wrote recently about the qualities of charity and cogency in public conversation and have long considered Brooks an exemplar of such qualities.

In The Road to Character, David Brooks seeks to initiate a conversation about moral ecology, particularly that of the United States. Brooks contends that there are two moral ecologies, one that emphasizes “resume” virtues, the other that emphasizes “eulogy” virtues, and that the resume virtue (or Adam I) moral ecology is prevalent in our moral landscape. It is a moral ecology that emphasizes “the Big Me” and focuses on skill and human potential. The other ecology (Adam II) understands human beings as “crooked timber” (a phrase drawn from Kant), and recognizes that we often fail to live up to our own ideals, and are not always fully aware of the drives and impulses that shape our moral actions, for good and for harm. This tradition emphasizes a moral awareness that results in humility, a striving toward moral excellence while acknowledge the reality that we fall short of the mark.

Brooks explores the “road to character” through brief sketches of a variety of individuals who he believe exemplify this “Adam II” quest. He explores the lives of a diverse cast of people from Frances Perkins, Roosevelt’s Labor Secretary, to the contrasting figures of A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin (the former one of iron moral discipline, the latter who struggled toward a moral life and commitment for much of his life). There are both the religious, such as Augustine, who recognized that our incorrigible fallenness could only be overcome by grace, and those who turned from religion, like George Eliot, and who strove in their own character for moral coherence. We have the outwardly sunny Dwight Eisenhower, who struggled with a volcanic temper, and the self-controlled George Marshall, whose sense of calling and greatness of vision meant often working in supporting roles and yet gave Europe the Marshall Plan, which he always spoke of as the European Recovery Plan.

The concluding chapter is a kind of summing up, contrasting the “Big Me” of our current moral ecology, with the “code of humility” of the crooked timber tradition. His statements in this section were for me worth the price of admission. One example:

“We are all ultimately saved by grace. The struggle against weakness often has a U shape. You are living your life and then you get knocked off course–either by an overwhelming love, or by failure, illness, loss of employment, or twist of fate. The shape is advance-retreat-advance. In retreat, you admit your need and surrender your crown. You open up space that others might fill. And grace floods in. It may come in the form of love from friends and family, in the assistance of an unexpected stranger, or from God. But the message is the same. You are accepted….” (p. 265).

It seems this is an especially important conversation in this age of “Trumpery” where glitz and appearance seem to count for more than character. What I appreciate in what Brooks does is he engages us in a public conversation that includes both people of faith and those who would not identify with any faith but care about the moral character of our lives and public life. His exemplars are drawn from all of these backgrounds, and all are those who have had moral struggles and some reached moral conclusions that not all would embrace (for example George Eliot, who co-habited in a relationship with a married man).

It seems to me that Brooks is serious about this conversation. Not only has he appeared in various public and online media as well as his regular op-eds, but also he has created a companion website (The Road to Character) to the book. For my readerly friends, it includes a library of resources. He speaks in his book, borrowing a phrase from Eugene Peterson, of “the long obedience in the same direction.” It is my hope that Brooks will persist in this work, and find many companions on the journey.

Review: Christ-Shaped Character

Christ Shaped CharacterChrist-Shaped Character by Helen Cepero, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Summary: Cepero, through personal narrative and formational teaching and practices, traces a path of growing to be more who we truly are as reflections of Christ through the embrace of love, faith and hope.

As a teenage follower of Jesus, I often agonized as I considered the high ideals of the Christian faith and the reality of my often-misbegotten attempts to follow Christ. I despaired with how far I fell short, and it was only gradually that I began to understand that, nevertheless, Christ had chosen me to be his and that the formation of my character was something to which he was deeply committed and would work out through the journey of a lifetime.

In this book, Helen Cepero believes that the three great virtues of love, faith, and hope of which Paul speaks provide that path along which we might walk by which Christ forms us both in who we truly are and as reflections of his own character. The table of contents for this book might be helpful for prospective readers to see how Cepero unfolds this:

Part I: Choosing Love
1. Choosing Life—Living as God’s Beloved
2. Compassionate Hospitality—Choosing the Other
3. Forgiving as We Are Forgiven—Loving the Unlovable
Part II: Choosing Faith
4. Following Jesus—Learning the Language of Desire
5. Embracing Vulnerability—Finding Strength in Weakness
6. Living with Integrity—Sustaining a Life of Commitment
Part III: Choosing Hope
7. Paying Attention—Watching for God
8. Seeing Blessing—Living into Possibility
9. Trusting in Christ—Improvising a Life
Appendix 1: Journeying Together Along the Pathway of Love, Faith and Hope
Appendix 2: Bibliography

Each chapter begins with a personal story related to the chapter theme, followed by a “taking a closer look” section in which she invites the reader into a journalling exercise, a prayer practice that relates to the theme, a closing discussion of what it means to chose to embrace this aspect of love, faith, and hope and some prompts for further reflection around listening to our own stories, to the story of scripture, and to the continuing story of love, faith or hope. The book concludes with an appendix giving ideas for group discussion of the book and an extensive bibliography of further readings around love, faith, and hope.

Cepero’s personal stories were what engaged me the most and they reflected her own journey along the path she commends for us. They were not self-indulgent reflections but rather windows onto the choices into which she believes each of us are invited. For example, the chapter on embracing vulnerability describes her own desperate vulnerability when she belatedly brings her desperately ill, weeks-old child to an emergency room, facing her own failure as a mother by surrendering her son to those who might better care for him. She then leads us into seeing how the embrace of our vulnerability is the doorway into knowing the compassion of God for us in our weakness.

In a later chapter, she begins with the story of lying in a hospital bed after one of many surgeries to correct a hip dysplasia. She describes the visit of a pastor who sees her not as physically damaged but as intellectually curious. When others bring her stuffed toys, he brings her books and blesses an intellectual and spiritual curiosity that led into Cepero’s life calling. She uses this to speak of the power of blessing another and embracing that blessing of hope in one’s life.

I am thankful for the unnamed pastor in this story. I had the privilege of working alongside Helen Cepero at a conference for graduate students and faculty in 2002. Her insight and formational pastoral care toward participants in the track we were working in was a gift to us all, a blessing. I came to know her as someone authentically living into the journey she describes and maps for us in the pages of this book. If you’ve struggled, like me, with the disparity between your life and your sense of the Christ-shaped life, I would warmly commend this book.

Review: The Steward Leader

steward leaderThe author of this book caught my attention in the third paragraph of his first chapter when he wrote:

“Here is the confession: in my roles as a leader I have been mostly wrong.”

He goes on to describe the trajectory of his career and reputation and observes that the point wasn’t a trajectory of greater responsibility and reputation. It was rather in following Jesus in becoming a leader of no reputation. Fundamentally, he contends that what matters most is transformed character through one’s encounter with God, where one’s greatest desire is to be accounted trustworthy by God, to be a steward of God’s trust. Then one is ready to lead.

The first part of this book lays the foundations for this steward leadership. He traces the work of the Triune God from creation of humankind as stewards of creation to the fall where we act as owners through our redemption and the call to godly stewardship.

He goes on to talk about the freedom of the steward leader, and this, I found, was one of the highlights of the book. Very simply, it is the freedom of trusting and obeying God in our relationship with Him, ourselves, others and the creation. An old chorus says, “Trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.” Leaders who live like this are happy and free.

Finally he contrasts being a steward leader, which is about character with other theories of leadership including transactional, transformational and servant leadership. He urges docking the “ship” in leadership that focuses on practices and focusing on transformed character that results in trajectories of leading.

The second part of this book elaborates what transformation looks like in a leader’s relationship with God, oneself, others, and the material world. He then describes “trajectories” of leadership rooted in these transformations. He looks at both the implications for the people and the organizations one leads. Such leaders prioritize relationship with God and living out of one’s call and gifting and empower people and organizations to do the same.

One other critical idea that recurs through this book is that steward leaders are not owners and that the great temptation leaders face is to forget this. Owners are self-reliant and shallow, they consider a vision theirs and resist change, they use others, and exploit the creation.

This book proposes a new model of leading. The idea of a steward is comprehensive, addressing the leader in relation to God, self, others, and the world. The author also gives a number of examples from his own leadership journey to illustrate what it means to be a steward leader. At the same time the book seemed a bit conceptual. Perhaps the next step that would be helpful in developing this model would be to highlight organizations led by steward leaders and committed to developing them. I hope Rodin will consider a follow up book along these lines.

R. Scott Rodin proposes a new approach to thinking about leaders rooted in an old biblical idea–the steward. His focus on character rather than charisma, and on transformation rather than technique, is a welcome departure from bulk of leadership books.


A Community of Character?

One of the perennial questions, at least since the 1960s is that of whether colleges and universities should play a role in the formation of the character of young, emerging adults. With the declining influence of the humanities, there is a back and forth discussion about whether the humanities in their exploration of the best of what we have thought, written or created have a role in character formation.

In yesterday’s post, I reviewed Big Questions, Worthy Dreams by Sharon Daloz Parks. One thing that is clear is that emerging adults are undergoing significant development of moral conviction and belief during their time in the university. The book infers that the university can play an important role in that development but the question remains, what is that role?

I would propose that, unless they are faith-based institutions (which most once were but are no longer in a secularized culture), that the university stay out of the character education business as an explicit part of its agenda because character and moral conviction are rooted in deeply held beliefs, whether religiously based, or not and for the university to engage this as an institution, it will inevitably privilege a particular set of beliefs.

What I think universities and colleges can do is consider carefully the values, which are often tacit rather than explicit, which govern its life and mission and consider what qualities of character are critical to sustain this and become increasingly explicit concerning what is expected of one who as a faculty, staff, or student s a member of this community. Moreover, most people quickly figure out where there is a difference between “ideals” and “how the game is really played.” It is the latter that will have the greatest shaping influence on the character of most people in the community.

Here are a few qualities of character which I think are essential to the life of collegiate communities:

1. Honesty. Of course it is easy to recognize the importance of sanctions against cheating and plagiarism and the falsification of data.  All of these are absolutely crucial to academic inquiry, and if anything need greater clarification in our morally pluralistic climate than ever.  But honesty also extends to how our institutions run. Are the ways policies are formed and funds allocated transparent? Are whistle-blowers punished or rewarded and protected?

2. Respect.  It seems a basic premise of higher education at its best to assume the dignity of every human being in all of their complexity–their gender, orientation, beliefs, ethnicity, social class, and station in life. The real question may be whether you know the name of the person who cleans the bathrooms in your residence hall or the academic building where you spend the bulk of your time. Beyond this, do you accord others the same treatment you would want with regard to your gender, beliefs, body type, ethnicity and more? For students, it might begin with how you treat yourselves and others on a Friday night, and what consideration you give to those who have to live in the same space as you.

3. Humility. This may seem like a strange quality and it is indeed hard to find in academic settings and yet it seems essential to the flourishing of university communities. Increasingly we consider education an entitlement, rather than a blessing. A huge deal, often to the point of silliness, is made of pecking orders and credentials. And there often can be an elitism in academic circles that “looks down” on others. Might it be good to remember how much public money from hard-working non-university types make the work of a university possible? In addition, it has often been noted that it is incredible what can be accomplished when we are not concerned about who gets the credit. And should this not engender a work ethic that strives for excellence, realizing what a gift it is to be in this place? And finally, should not the wonder of what we study and the fact that the more we know, the more we realize we don’t know engender a humility of sorts?

I might be naively ideal here. Yet it seems that even without some “character education” agenda which often is dismissed as so much “window dressing” the university can and ought to uphold and function as a community of character that does have a formative influence.