Thursday, September 27, 2012

Paternalism, Authoritarianism in Search of Servant Leadership

Observations From An Outsider

I recently had the privilege to be a part of the Global Alumni Reunion of SAIACS (South Asian Institute For Advanced Christian Studies).  I am not an alumnus of this institution nor was I an invited guest, I just happened to be at the right place at the right time, teaching a module in cultural anthropology.  Since this was my eighth year teaching at SAIACS so I of course came in contact with many former students and enjoyed hearing the stories and history of the thirty years of this school.

For the most part the two-half day meeting was a love fest for Dr. and Mrs. Graham Houghton who established SAIACS in 1982.  It is natural and fitting on such occasions that the founder’s be honored.  Without pioneers there are no legacies.  My sense is that Graham did not have a vision thirty years ago for what SAIACS is today. He and Carol merely set out to develop a quality post-graduate program and through their perceived interpretation of “excellence” did indeed create a unique environment for theological and missiological scholarship in India.  Many of the SAIACS graduates have gone on to be leaders of denominational and mission organizations.  SAIACS alumni can be found teaching in many colleges and seminaries throughout the sub-continent. 

Critics will invariably point to the paternalistic and imperialistic flavor of SAIACS.  Established and directed for over twenty years by a New Zealander and initially funded by Western support, the criticism may have some validity.  However, because I have been visiting India since 1992, I have been exposed to many institutions run by nationals and have a better than average understanding on how things work.  I have met more than a few Indian run institutions that also are funded by the West.  To me, it is never how it is funded or even how much, but the stewardship of resources.  I have been with nationals who have used their resources, however acquired, with integrity and honor.  Like SAIACS, those institutions and programs breathe a Christ-like quality that rings true because there is no underlying feeling that Ananias and Sapphira have held back a portion for themselves. 

Leadership is less about skin color than style.  As an anthropologists and an outsider of SAIACS I am intrigued by style.  No matter what they say, the Westerner, be they British, American, Dutch or New Zealander will invariably be accused of paternalism, as it is the “ace in the hole” for nationalist critics.  I have seen paternalism at its worse in Africa and I can attest that it is alive and well even today.  Did SAIACS suffer under this ancient disease, which has it roots in imperialistic expansionism of three hundred years ago?  Certainly, but only in style, not in the classic form, not always that “whitie” knows best.  A far more common indigenous leadership style in this country is authoritarianism, where the pastor, bishop, president or principal rules with unequivocal and uncontested power.  Both paternalism and authoritarianism is a form of leadership, both unacceptably flawed and not the model that Christ set for His followers (Mark 10:42-45). 

Paternalism and authoritarianism are countered through egalitarianism.  In SAIACS, as well as other institutions of quality I have visited, the community meal is the icon that runs countercultural to a society that is imbued with pretention, caste status, wealth and privilege.   When the cleaning staff, faculty and students all sit at the same table eating the same food it is a powerful ritual symbol of equality.  Conversely an equally powerful is the institution where the staff, faculty and students are separated and do not eat together and the food is of different quality.  The community meal does not wash away all sins, but at least it is an attempt in breaking down paternalism or authoritarianism. 

As an outsider of SAIACS, with no vested interest apart from contributing to the over all quality of its program, the alumni have a right to feel proud, in both their history as well as their future.  The present leadership has done well in building on a foundation that was well laid; insuring, if they remain faithful to its core principles that SAIACS will continue to contribute in advancing the Kingdom in this needed area of the world.  In the end, as we were reminded throughout the weekend, “To God be the glory.” 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Jet Lag and Dreams

Dreams are weird.  Dreams can be mysterious, most often the nighttime subconscious are random thoughts that attempt to make a plot, but they are never quite cohesive. The actors in the drama are usually friends or families, an occasional stranger I suppose, but mostly the characters we knew, though they have been dead 10 years and you can’t think of a time you consciously thought of them in a decade.

My mom told me the other night she had a cramp in her foot in the middle of the night and in the midst of the cramp dreamed of my dad.  She was startled to see my dad at the foot of the bed with a rifle shooting at her foot, thinking it was a squirrel.  Dad passed away over a year ago but a cramped toe was enough for the subconscious to raise one from the dead to eliminate the critter that was causing my mom pain.

I’m presently in throes of the vortex of subconscious illusions, known to the traveler as jetlag.  The eleven and half hour time change compound my thirty-six hour journey from Siloam Springs to Bangalore, which is enough to dull the human senses.  Why, at 3 p.m. do I feel that I should be curled up in a bed in deep zone sleep instead of trying to have a conversation with my host colleague who is clearly wide awake, full of energy and is planning a get-together supper at a fancy restaurant after work?  When I am able to call it a day, hopefully about 8 pm, I’m out in an instant only to be eyes wide open at 11:00 pm.  I search for sleeping pills knowing that if I don’t quickly fall back to asleep I will toss and turn until 5 am, exhausted but must face the cruel morning sun without a chance to lie down again for another 14 hours.  Like a zombie I will see the day as a distorted series of events, neither enjoying nor comprehending what I do in my stupor.

In between the first wake up and the sleeping pill induced knockout, I dream.  Last nights dream was about an uncle that passed away two years ago.  At the funeral the daughters mourned by simultaneously telling jokes and arguing with each other.  We drove to a cemetery that resembled a hay field surrounded by a subdivision in one of the most exclusive resorts in Southern California. My uncle, according to my dream, bought these two hundred aces of prime real estate fifty years ago because he thought it would be suitable resting place.  The land had become so expensive that he sold off much of it in his latter years, but still possessed enough sod to cover his mortal remains.

An old girlfriend approached me at the cemetery and asked me if I had moved on since our breakup.  Not having a clue who she was I said yes, all the time trying to remember who she was.  She said she “needed closure,” which I suppose meant one last date, one last kiss.  I didn’t need closure, I confessed, and was quite happy and that any feelings on my part were nonexistent, especially since I didn’t remember her at all.

Now that it’s morning I review the three acts of my nighttime theater I wonder if anyone of it has meaning.  The funeral of distant relatives I’ve not seen in forty years, the girlfriend I obviously dumped but have no recollection of her existence, and my dad’s quirky remedy for cramps.  I am sure they are not dreams of any spiritual implications, nothing like Josephs dream of seven wheat sheaves bowing down to him, unless it is a sign from God that my uncle wants me to prepare a cemetery plot where in time it will be a good business deal for my children and that the strange girlfriend is a reminder to make things right with those I have offended and dad, though he is gone, still wants to control things as he did when he was alive.

Since jetlag dreams have no basis for rationality I can merely smile, take another pill and see if I can go back to sleep so when I do wake the world will make more sense.