The Psalms and Sufi Poets

A while back, I encouraged readers to become more globally minded and one way of doing this is to read international authors. With this in mind, don't forget poets. Martin Luther came to a profound understanding of the gospel through reading not only Romans, but also the Psalms. And this part often gets overlooked. The impact of Romans 1:16-17 has become legendary and indeed, 'the just shall live by faith' is something that shouldn't be glossed over in its consequences. Yet, let's not gloss over the Psalms either.

The Psalms, often noted for their emotional impact, are often neglected in their theological importance. Yet, this is so often the case with poetry in general. Quite often, we reduce poetry to the fluff of greeting cards or relegate it to the darkness of bad days. Poetry is often seen as something for extreme days and more the exception than something that is quite instructive and a valid form of literature for reflection and redemption. Take for example, Psalm 23 and its almost universal appeal. The singular phrase, 'though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,' is perhaps not only a visceral note to us, but also a theologically rich truth that says as much or more than Romans 8:28 does, 'where all things work together for the good of those who love Him'. Now, set these texts side by side and you begin to see and experience what Luther did.

Poetry can be fluff, but it doesn't have to be. And certainly the Psalms are not fluff. In fact, I was reminded about this in a recentImage blog posting on Sufi poets. The article says that Sufi poetry can be both 'welcoming' but also 'mysterious.' In other words, the reader is often drawn in by an inviting image, but then the reader lingers and stays a while because that image or metaphor haunts and helps at the same time (the full link is here) The most famous Sufi poet in the West is simply named Rumi and his work is worth reading through at least once (though you'll get hooked on some of the pieces).

Sufi poetry is often utilized for devotional exercise as well, similar to that of the Psalms. And while the theological focus is distinct and different, reading Sufi poetry brings me back to the Psalms (after all they're both written in roughly the same part of the world) and the Psalms bring back to a God rich in mercy and steadfast in His love. And that God often brings me back to Romans 8 where there is now no condemnation for those in Christ. And that truth often brings me back to my knees, which is so often a good place from which to impact the world.

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The Future of American Development

Last year, Vishal Mangalwadi, an Indian scholar and outstanding speaker and writer, made some compelling remarks regarding the future of America. Here is an excerpt from an interview dated last summer: (the full interview can be found on


"How can you be so sure that America will turn into a third world country?"


VishalLet me tell you this, how I can be so sure. Right now the FBI is investigating 52,000 wealthy Americans who are hiding 15 billion dollars in secret, safe accounts. America is a very rich country with lots of millionaires, and altogether they have 15 billion dollars in tax-evaded secret, safe accounts.

India is a poor country. How much money do you think Indians have in secret safe accounts? It’s 1500 billion, 1.5 trillion dollars that Indians have in secret accounts. We’re number one. Russia is number two; Russians have 350 billion.

Now, what does that tell you about America? It tells you that Americans pay taxes. Very few people cheat. They hire tax consultants; they save as much tax as they can legally. Very few of them take illegal means to save taxes.

Why do Americans pay taxes? Is there any reason for you to pay your tax if the government is going to take that money and give it to corrupt corporations that have made a mess of your economy by billions of dollars…trillions of dollars? 

While you are making money, they are messing up money. Why should you pay taxes to bail them out? The reason we pay taxes, is because the Bible said that you shouldn’t steal --that you should pay your taxes.  

- Vishal Mangalwadi 
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::informed by the end of the world::

I attended a lecture this week from teacher and author Michael Goheen. He said something striking and it's worth noting. Here's my paraphrase: how you understand the end of the world will inform what you believe your mission to be.

The band, R.E.M., used to close many of their concerts with their song 'it's the end of the world as we know it...and I feel fine.' Interestingly, the song is informative and not far from Goheen's point. To feel fine about your mission, you must come to grips with what you believe about the end of the world. But, for many, the world may never end and for others, this is simply paranoia. But, think about it. Goheen's point is that the end of the story informs what we believe our part to be in the story. In fact, Goheen writes,


Michael W Goheen
 Heaven, which has been is joined in harmonious unity with earth.
 (it's worth reading the entire article here)
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Empathy for the Persecuted Smoker

Up until recently, I have been on the bandwagon to make smokers pay for all of the polluted air, the lighting up of a cigarette in a restaurant or near my children, and the absurdity of driving by a hospital (the refuge of all things healthy) and witness a dozen doctors and nurses standing outside smoking. Smoking will harm you, cut your life short, and slowly destroy various parts of your body. The packs come with giant warning labels and the prices for packs are becoming outrageous (how many smokers need to quit nowadays, simply because they can no longer afford it?).

How many house fires and forest fires have been carelessly started by a smoldering cigarette? How many lives lost or cut short because of the lingering health problems associated with smoking? How many times have you seen an attractive woman (or man) walk down the street and you say to yourself 'wow, she's got it together....' Then she lights up a cigarette and the whole scene turns ugly....I am on the bandwagon that says smoking is bad. Smoking should be banned in hospitals, restaurants, and shops.

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Three Easy Ways to Energize Your Global Inner Child

Living in an interconnected world is here to stay. One cannot claim ignorance any longer on some parts of the world with 24/7 cable networks visually reporting the recent news and images from around the globe. Couple this with Twitter updates, texts messages, and online updates: information is not our problem. Engagement with that information is another story. How does something like news impact us emotionally? Part of our emotional engagement comes when we actually allow ourselves to be immersed or exposed in a fresh way to people and their stories.

So, to become more emotionally connected rather than mere information collection, here are a few suggestions....

1) Read books written by foreign authors.....don't simply read a book by a Western author about a different part of the world, but truly read a book by someone who does not live here and who has written a book for people who don't live here. Spending hours and days, not sound bytes and minutes, will help with emotional engagement.

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True Leaders in an Interconnected World

(this is part 5 of 5 of a series of posts on leadership in an interconnected world)

If you have been keeping up with the previous posts, then you'll note that Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Rosa Parks, Steven Spielberg, and William Shakespeare all contribute something to leadership in an interconnected world. To review, let me simply make 5 brief points.

In an interconnected world, leaders will have to:

1) work with people of clashing ideologies (see Lincoln in Goodwin's book Team of Rivals)
2) focus on something bigger than their job or themselves (to me Lincoln is the example again, but a case could also be made for Wilberforce)
3) utilize words carefully and understand that words do leave a legacy (see Jefferson's example)
4) know when to stay seated on principle and when to move ahead; sometimes staying still is progress (see also Rosa Parks)
5) understand who the storytellers are and how their influence shapes ideas (see how Spielberg and Shakespeare have shaped ideas)

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The Legacy of Storytellers: Quiet Leaders of Every Generation

(here is part 4 of 5 on leadership in an interconnected world. This particular post is an excerpt of a longer study I have done on storytellers as heroes and the ones who shape our identity and ideals)

In a world increasingly interconnected by visual media and web technology, emerging personalities and heroic personas will often arise in the midst of stories told that withstand the test of time. We are saturated with information, what remains in our minds amidst the onslaught of email, web pages, scrolling television updates, film clips, and advertisements will be personas that we not only resonate with, but who reveals the longings deep within that shape us all. Understanding that “in a world of networks, individuals, companies, communities, consumers, activist groups, and governments all have the power to be shapers,”[1] two artists have emerged above the rest in the cinema and theatre respectively. William Shakespeare continues to be the standard by which theatre is judged hundreds of years after his death, while the films of Steven Spielberg have so captivated our culture, that he is the single biggest money making filmmaker in history. The pervasive use of English as an international language has not only served to disseminate the works of each artist, but also helped each to shape the way people see the world.

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Speaking Out While Sitting Down

(this is part 3 of 5 of a series dealing with leadership in an interconnected world)

In the last post, I discussed the power of words and the legacy that our words can leave behind. The example being, Thomas Jefferson, whose words have transformed our country and have often been the envy of other nations. In this piece, part of leading in the 21st century will not only be linked to skills, but also to a sense of timing as well as self awareness. And here, the example for me is Rosa Parks because she linked both timing and self awareness.

Parker Palmer in his book Let Your Life Speak speaks of Rosa Parks in the following terms:

"Rosa Parks sat down because she had reached a point where it was essential to embrace her true vocation -- not as someone who would reshape our society but as someone who would live out her full self in the world. She decided, "I will no longer act on the outside in a way that contradicts the truth that I hold deeply on the inside. I will no longer act as if I were less than the whole person I know myself inwardly to be."
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Remembering the Power of Words

(this is part 2 of a 5 part series on leadership and legacy)

In part one of this series, I began with Abraham Lincoln and why some of his leadership traits are not only necessary in the 21st century, but in fact, leaders like Lincoln remain elusive and rare. In this series, I am processing in my own mind, but then also building a case that if leaders are going to be effective in a globalized world, then certain traits will need to be prevalent. In looking at the legacy of Abraham Lincoln two primary traits needed for leadership in today's globalizing world stand out: 1) Lincoln's resolute focus on a higher purpose and his commitment to something greater than himself and 2) Lincoln's amazing ability to work alongside people with 'clashing ideologies' and to get people who disagreed to move in the same direction.

Now, in this installment, I want to focus in on yet another trait necessary for leadership in an interconnected world and one that has considerable relevance for bloggers and readers of blogs. Leaders in an interconnected world (particularly where English is often the primary tongue of global business, technology, and higher education) will still need to learn how to use words effectively. And perhaps, the best wordsmith in American history remains Thomas Jefferson.

Historian Stephen Ambrose, though, doesn't set up Jefferson as a great leader. In fact, he writes,

To Amercia "Thomas Jefferson did not achieve greatness in his personal life. He had a slave as a mistress. He lied about it. He once tried to bribe a hostile reporter. His war record was not good. He spent much of his life in intellectual pursuits in which he excelled, and not enough in leading his fellow Americans toward great goals by example. Theodore Roosevelt called him our worst President,"
(To America, p.2)
The enigma of Jefferson doesn't stop there. Ambrose continues,
"He ignored the words of his fellow revolutionary John Adams, who said that the Revolution would never be complete until the slaves were free...Jefferson left another racial and moral problem for his successors, the treatment of the Native Americans...The author of the Declaration of Independence threw up his hands at the question of women's rights,"
(To America, p. 5)
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Learning from Lincoln: Leadership in the 21st Century

This weekend, I finished reading Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, the Pulitzer Prize winning book by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I will make a confession: this book will linger with me for a long time--it's an amazing experience and if you allow yourself the time to get lost in its 19th century world for a while, this book could change your perspective on leadership in the 21st century. Growing up in Northern Illinois with regular trips to Springfield, I encountered Lincoln's heroic status at a young age and as I have grown older, I am simply more appreciative of Lincoln not simply as a leader, but also as a man.

The New York Times, in November of 2005, published the following words in regard to the book by Goodwin and more specifically in regard to Lincoln the leader:

"How did he do it? Goodwin deals with this question better than any other writer. Part of the answer lay in Lincoln's steadfastness of purpose, which inspired subordinates to overcome their petty rivalries. Part of it lay in his superb sense of timing and his sensitivity to the pulse of public opinion as he moved to bring along a divided people to the support of "a new birth of freedom." And part of it lay in Lincoln's ability to rise above personal slights, his talent for getting along with men of clashing ideologies and personalities who could not get along with each other." (the full article can be found here.

Let's reflect on the lessons as identified by this New York Times writer, but let's do so with an eye to faith and leadership in the 21st century.

1) "steadfastness of purpose"--instead of caving in to public opionion or trying to be trendy and relevant, Lincoln seemd to focus his energies on leaving a legacy. And I believe we'd do well to mimic his example.

2) "inspired subordinates to overcome their petty rivalries"--how many times have we seen teams split up or churches fall apart due to 'petty rivalries'? The phrase seems to haunt the present relationships being exhibited in Congress as well.

3) "his talent for getting along with men of clashing ideologies"--this may be one of the single most needed traits of leaders in a globalized era. Now, how will faith leaders within Christendom prioritize what's essential over and above what's not essential? Who will not only lead God's people, but who will also "get along with men of clashing ideologies," so that Christians can press forward with what's important instead of devouring one another in partisan debate?

Of course, there are many more lessons to draw and Team of Rivals is worth its own seminar or college class. For whatever reason, the world seems devoid of leaders who are willing to put a higher purpose above petty debate and rivalry. If you have a leadership role in any organization, do yourself a favor and read Goodwin's book. You won't be sorry and you may find yourself challenged to imitate Abraham Lincoln over a 100 years after his death.

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As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.