Everyone was after me; I felt targeted and alone. The weekend is not a quiet time at the Church. On Fridays we had Youth Group, Saturdays an afternoon jam session followed by a Saturday dinner and Sundays, street church with an evening café called the Urban Hermit. The scenes changed numerous times over the weekend, sometimes things were moved around, untidied in spaces, and Monday mornings I heard about the mayhem of less than perfection. Every Monday was painful like a gut-shot and I was always young and defensive. I slowly realised, with my arms up and elbows in ready to block blows, that the shaming I stood to absorb every week, was the result of the pain others felt I had inflicted on them.
Simon Walker, in the first book of his ‘The Undefended Leader’ trilogy, ‘Leading Out of Who You Are’, relates that ‘our defended way of being in the world is deeply embedded in us, like a habit or even an addiction’1. The defended way, I struggle to shake when I feel the lightning of tension surge through my body, arousing my nerves in the second a plastic face pushes an unqualified challenge and condemning, incredulous judgements.
The weekend at the Mustard Seed was free. There was ‘less stuff’, less heaviness, the flow was simple and straight. There was more chaos, less ‘negative’ fear and playfulness reigned. The house we serve through was emptied of possessions (spiritually speaking), and empowered by the kind of liberation that doesn’t hold strings2. Matthew recalls the words of his friend and Messiah, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in.’3
The attitude of ‘child’ and ‘play’, Simon Walker focuses on these as positive approaches and expressions to leadership. Perhaps, the maturity and manicured approach characteristic of the traditional (20th century) style of leadership that we have been born into, being childlike and playful in leadership could be perceived as ‘negative’ capabilities? What is it that changes us, since once we were there, in the part as playful children, and we figured it out? Not only that, but life and things were much simpler, less burdensome and fun. Is our survival based on dependency (as a child depends on parents)? If so, that works quite well with our current models of administration*.
Monday mornings, I felt like a thief and a messy trespasser. I felt like one of our house mice that, for their ‘dirty’ presence, needed extermination. It turns out, based on a diversity of failed attempts toward connection and reconciliation, that communication wasn’t the issue. The problem was me; it seems that if I wasn’t around, like the mice, there wouldn’t be a problem. It was well known by gossip, and subject for meetings where I wasn’t, that our presence in community was less structured on the weekends. I will admit, with intention it was a different ‘kind of a place’ because it could practise a different ‘kind of a thing’. The weekday authority stuck closely to schedules so, the weekends were left wide open. The invitation was always on the table for those pouring in their hours on other days to ‘come and see’, and on the table it remained. That’s ok. Perhaps, in the midst of the ‘administered permission’ to be present for the community on the weekends, regardless of interest, there was trust.
There is a balance and a challenge that the whole system of organisation is in involved in, what is perceived ‘positive’ and worthy for keeping, and that which is spoken of as ‘negative’, destined for destruction. It all must be kept, for the battle to carry on, growth happens by stress and in the dark places, we can become stronger. Can the ‘battle-between’ be tinkered, with the hope of an organisational conversation developing that encourages a greater self-awareness (organisationally and interpersonally), that is constructive and creative? There is more to this that Walker leads us into through his work, writing of the freedom we present as we choose ‘to start to live an undefended life’, ‘not for the sake of balance or wellbeing’, but ‘for a greater good’. ‘And that greater good’, he writes, ‘is to set people free.’4
Margaret Wheatley in her book ‘A Simple Way’, raises the question that ‘with so much freedom for discovery, how can life be anything but playful?’5 Instead of systemic war and disunifying disease, what can be the result of communication breakdown, there’s the option of facing the relationship challenge between ‘kinds and types’ playfully. Could this be the creation of a context for undefended conversation wherein the consideration of an undefended and playful interdependence could be explored? For this movement, trust would be the key ingredient and, most likely, this trust would have to surmount a mountain of disagreement and wounding.
A depleted leadership can be a symptom of distrust in a system or company. Over time in a toxic, distrusting environment, people (and, even the seeming-strongest, most self-aware leaders) can learn to not trust themselves, developing a wounded persona and insecurities streaming from an impressed upon decrease of self-respect and self-belief. Walker reminds us of home, ‘remember what it feels like to be trusted. It feels good doesn’t it?’6
In the surrounding of trust, we can be free to be ourselves, no hiding, no need to do things in secret, nor to feel bad about doing things differently, tinkering with life and being playful sometimes. In the place of trust, there can be a wonderful openness to the ‘other’ ideas, as opposite as they might seem. This is the fun part, when the ‘opposite’ way can be encountered with an imagination-peppered embrace of the upside-down innovative ‘maybe’. What encourages this progressive, relationship-building ‘engagement-between’ can only be trust.
Nature is full of disagreements. Solutions to problems are sought after in a myriad of ways and the adventure toward true becoming will be painful and call for resilience; further, perhaps for endurance, antifragility. Using the example of the butterfly’s true becoming, Walker states that ‘nature builds in struggle as an essential part of the formation and development of healthy life.’7 There is a struggle between us that can either inhibit or enhance our ‘becoming’.
How can we jump in together, like Peter seeing Jesus on the shore following his resurrection, to the discovery of ‘what it is to be fully human, to participate fully in the world.’8 The inspiration is not very far away, it is still close to us; that is, the child within us whose heart is so near Home and whose eyes are still opening to Christ who ‘plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his to the Father through the features of men’s faces.’9
‘Life is about invention, not survival. We are here to create, not to defend.’10
- Simon P. Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership, (UK: Piquant Editions, 2007), chap 12, Kindle.
- Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are, chap. 15.
- Matt. 18:2-5, (The Message).
- Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are, chap. 13.
- Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers, A Simpler Way, (San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler Publishers, 1996), 10.
- Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are, chap. 14.
- Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are, chap. 14.
- Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are, chap. 8.
- Gerard Manley Hopkins, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” Poetry Foundation, 2021, lines 12-14. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44389/as-kingfishers-catch-fire.
- Wheatley and Kellner-Rogers, A Simpler Way, 11.
* stay tuned for the furious burning of administrators to be perceived and respected as leaders.