leadership, madness and the dancing guy


What is madness

but nobility of soul

at odds with circumstance.

The day is on fire

and I know the purity of pure despair.

Theodore Roethke


Today we heard one of the shortest gospel passages we are offered in the lectionary (Mk 3:20-21). It’s even kind of weird that the compilers would leave it so open-ended!

My friend Jeff sent me a link to a YouTube video called “Lessons on Leadership from the Dancing Guy”;  I watched it just yesterday. And as soon as I read this gospel it seemed absolutely fortuitous and synchronistic. It’s meant to be lessons about how to start a movement; I will let you draw your own conclusions about Jesus and the Jesus movement of which we are all a part.

So it starts out at a large gathering of people, the Sasquatch Festival (I assume there is music playing somewhere) and a shirtless guy wearing nothing but a pair of black shorts is dancing freely in the middle of the crowd, obviously having a very good time. So the voiceover says that first of all a leader needs the guts to stand alone and look ridiculous. But what the shirtless guy is doing is pretty easy and that is the second lesson: You must be easy to follow. Then suddenly someone else gets up and starts dancing with him. Now this is a pivotal moment: the first follower has the crucial role. And the dancing guy does it right: he embraces the follower as an equal, so suddenly it’s not about the leader anymore­—it’s about them, and equally important, it’s about the dance.

The first follower then calls to his friends to join in. Now, the point is, being a first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership. It takes guts to be a first follower (!) because that’s when you stand out and you brave ridicule yourself. As the voiceover says, “The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark that really makes the fire.” The second follower, then, is the turning point, proof that the first follower has done well. “Now it’s not a lone nut and it’s not two nuts: three is a crowd and a crowd is news.”

The lesson for leaders, of course, is to make sure that outsiders see more than just the leader: “Everyone needs to see the followers,” because new followers don’t emulate the leader; they emulate the followers.

If you are a version of the shirtless dancing guy all alone, remember the importance of nurturing your first few followers as equals, making clearly everything about the movement not about you [the leader]. Be public, be easy to flow.

But the biggest lesson here­­­ [is that] leadership is over glorified. Yes, it started with the shirtless guy and he’ll get all the credit but . . . it was the first follower that transformed a lone nut into a leader. There’s no movement without the first follower. You see, we’re told that we all need to be leaders, but that would be really ineffective. The best way to make a movement . . . is to courageously follow and show others how to follow. When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.

As Theodore Roethke said, madness is only nobility of soul at odds with circumstance. Now, I am seasoned enough to know that there is a difference between madness and real mysticism, but still… sometimes what looks like madness is actually just someone challenging the status quo, challenging complacency and mediocrity, challenging things in society that have been accepted with no discernment. So when we find a lone nut doing something great, we have to have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.

Like Jesus, for instance. It’s later on in chapter 3 of Mark that we find out who his true kindred are. Just after they have said he is mad…

. . . his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’

I hope that we will have the strength and grace to be the sisters, brothers and mother of Jesus by following the will of God––to courageously follow the foolishness of the cross which is the true philosophy of life, and trust God’s foolishness which is wiser than human wisdom (1 Cor 1:18-25).

Because it’s all about us now. It’s about the movement. It’s all about the dance.

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