Perfectionist Bennett Sims and Parker Palmer
“The blemishes in heroes are signs of the profoundest paradox of servant leadership: perfection lies precisely in the readiness to own one’s imperfection..God is not a perfectionist. God cannot be a perfectionist and continue to allow the world to exist, especially that part of the world that follows Jesus and yet looks so little like him- the church… God’s perfectionism is anti-perfectionist..The biggest hindrance to the high quality of leadership that honors the gifts of and freedom of others is the fear of being found out for who we really are: people who are conspicuously imperfect.” Bennett Sims, Servanthood, Leadership for the Third Millennium, pp. 23-24. 1997.
I wonder if the Episcopal bishop, Bennett Sims, and the Quaker writer, Parker Palmer ever met, for their writings cross paths. Parker Palmer writes in Let Your Life Speak, about the five shadows in leaders that led them to failure if they do not recognize them. The first is insecurity about their identity and worth with their identity depending on the role they play or the power it gives to them over others. Second, Palmer describes the shadow of believing that the world is a competitive battleground with allies and enemies. Third, is functional atheism, the belief that the ultimate responsibility of everything falls on us. The fourth shadow is a fear of chaos, bringing about rigid rules and procedures in order to improve rather than empower the people the leader works with. They forget that creativity comes out of chaos. Lastly, leaders will fail if they deny the possibility of death, resuscitating things that no longer are alive.
Today Palmer and Sims are reminding us what keeps us from being servant leaders. They are giving us some more STOP signs. When we see these qualities in ourselves, their message is to stop and turn around. We are going in the wrong direction. This path is not leading to the God within us. We also will not be able to see the God in others on this path. Ironically, we often first see these shadow qualities in someone else, realize how destructive they are, and finally turn inward with an awful awareness that we may possess these shadows as well that are keeping us from connecting to God and to others.