On Owning A Vision

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I love a vision. You might say that I am vision-driven. Some have even called me a visionary. Not that I come up with visions - they are God's doing. A vision is like a kernel that drops into the soil of the human spirit and takes on a life of its own. It is quite different from the chaff of bright ideas that Monday morning's busyness blows away. A vision has self-sustaining, energy-creating capacities. It produces life. Within the force field of a vision, serving can reach optimal effectiveness and fulfillment. In twenty-two years of urban work, I have never witnessed a Kingdom class vision like the Rebirth of Summerhill. It has all the ingredients of a history shaper: rebuilding homes, returning community, reconciling relationships, releavening spiritual values, re-igniting economy - all in the heart of the crime ridden inner-city. At a time when despair reigns in the cities of our nation, this vision is a beacon of bright hope. It may be the most important involvement of my lifetime.

I can't remember when I first became aware that God was authoring a vision in Summerhill. I just know that for several years now there has been an awareness in the hearts of a growing number of involved people that something very significant was astir. Seven or eight years ago residents and former residents began dreaming about a Summerhill reunion. FCS started building affordable homes in the neighborhood about that same time. Our Adopt-a-grandparent ministry had been involved in the lives of home-bound elderly there for several years prior. We all became aware of some unusual "convergence" of new life that was drawing us and a host of others into a phenomenon far greater in scope and complexity than any of us had imagined.

Strong leadership has now emerged in the community and a highly capable cadre of outside volunteers has committed expertise and resources. New neighbors are being drawn to repopulate the decimated area. FCS has refocused almost all of its ministry energy on this one neighborhood. As I said, it is a most remarkable and exciting visionary "convergence".

So why am I feeling so depressed? Why, if the vision is right (and I am confident that it is), do I experience so much resistance these days from community leadership? I am committed to Summerhill, to invest my best there. Why then do my initiatives get blocked and delayed by the very people I have come to serve alongside? Renovation of the public housing project should be under way by this time. A new subdivision should be standing where trash-strewn vacant lots now lie. Peggy and I should already be settled into our new Summerhill home rather than living for months now in temporary housing. All the foot-dragging, the indecision, the unspoken resistance is enormously frustrating to me.

"Why the resistance?" I asked David, a trusted friend and attorney who has been heavily involved in the inner-workings of the Summerhill vision. He fumbled around with his coffee cup and a made a few oblique responses about servanthood. Then he began to recount the story of Nathan the prophet who told King David about a wealthy man with many sheep who seized a poor man's only pet ewe lamb and served it up to dinner guests. King David, outraged by such an injustice, demanded to know the identity of this greedy perpetrator and vowed to have him severely punished. Nathan, of course, knew of King David's lust for Bath-sheba, the wife of one his soldiers, and of his plot to have the soldier killed so that David could have Bath-sheba for himself. Nathan's crushing confrontation - "Thou art the man!" - sent the King into a deep depression and bitter repentance.

"I think you have taken their vision," my friend gently confronted. The most treasured possession of the people of Summerhill is their vision, a vision that has given much needed attention to their long ignored community. And now I was being told that I had stolen this treasure from them?! All of a sudden my heart felt enormously heavy. Sure, I had a real sense of ownership in the vision but I had always viewed that as joining into a partnership with the community - as embracing, not stealing. I had promoted the vision, worked tirelessly to help organize and mobilize the vision, raised money for the vision, recruited others to join in the vision, but steal the vision? Never!

Anger and defensiveness churned in my gut, though I managed to maintain a pseudo-serene expression. What ingratitude! After all I have invested to help this dream become reality - what a kick in the teeth! The sick feeling in my stomach worsened as David continued his explanation of how my "lead-follow-or get out of the way" style was perceived in the community. And how I allowed (maybe even invited) funders and other important people to believe that I was in charge - behind the scenes perhaps, but in control none-the-less. And how I pushed ahead with my ideas with the unexamined assumption that this is what the community wanted.

I fought to blink back tears. This was no new pattern that David was describing. It was an old familiar tendency resurfacing in a new setting: control in the name of servanthood. Somehow I thought I had dealt with this issue a few years back, even taught some sessions on "serving without controlling". But here it was again, right in my face. "Thou art the man" was the inescapable message.

Servanthood 101. Basic Christianity. Fundamentals of the faith that I seem never to master. I must repent - again. And begin once again to listen and attend and wait and all those inefficient relational things that communicate respect and care for others. A vision of a community reconciled, of diverse people rightly related - I know in my heart that this is the highest vision of all.

Bob Lupton

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