For 8 years, I led a homelessness charity which was based in offices attached to a church. In these offices, there was a room that we frequently used for smaller meetings. On the end wall of this room there was a small cross.
During the years I was in the job, many of the most difficult experiences that I had were in this room.
Some were Managers meetings where colleagues disagreed with my decisions; some were Trustee meetings where I was challenged; some were with local and national government teams who were reviewing our funding.
We also held many HR meetings there: investigations into misconduct and formal meetings which led to dismissals, resignations and redundancies. Of course, these kinds of meetings are not easy for anyone involved, especially for those directly affected. But they are also unavoidable if you are to manage an organisation effectively.
Grace and truth
Leadership is relatively easy when you can be gracious, accommodating and inclusive. But a leader is really tested when you have to confront situations and take responsibility for hard decisions. A commitment to uncovering the truth, and acting on it, is costly.
But the health of any organisation (or business, club or church) can be measured by how well these kinds of critical conversations are managed.
As someone who likes to be liked, I found this aspect of leadership difficult. I don’t have particularly happy memories of that room, but there is one aspect that I will never forget: the cross on the wall.
It became very important to me.
Comfort and challenge
Historically, the cross is a cruel instrument of death favoured by the Roman empire for its political opponents. But for Christians it is the core symbol of our faith. This is because it was the route that God took to heal and redeem humanity.
Over the years, the cross in that room became simultaneously a comfort and a challenge to me. As I sat through difficult meetings, it reminded me of a down-to-earth-God who shows solidarity with those who suffer and bear pain. But it also challenged me to be brave, to ask the hard questions, to go deeper, not to settle for the false comfort of a cheap grace which side-lines the truth.
I don’t want to pretend I got it right all the time, far from it. I made plenty of mistakes and there are many things I would do differently if I had my time again. But often, when I was tempted to skirt over something, duck a challenge, pretend things were better than they were, ignore a difficult issue, the cross on the wall spoke to me.
Objective and historic
Jesus’ crucifixion, in Palestine, under Pilate’s jurisdiction, is a historic ‘happening’ rooted in time and space.
Yet, Christians believe that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection provides the central ‘clue’ to understanding human purpose. Ultimate meaning is not found in ‘timeless truths’ which lie outside of history but in the specific life and actions of a carpenter-turned-healer/preacher.
Jesus death on the cross achieved something objective: it was the unique moment where God sealed a victory over death to redeem humanity. The creator God shows his power and glory through self-sacrifice.
But this is not just an objective theological truth detached from us. Jesus told his followers that they also need to take up their crosses. It is a divine template for us to follow, an example to apply in the vast range of subjective experiences we all face.
It this fusion of the objective and subjective which makes the Christian story so compelling.
The cross is the ultimate symbol of grace and truth. The wrongness of the world was confronted and overcome. And this makes forgiveness and reconciliation possible. The truth is that grace has triumphed over evil.
As the early Christians put it, who suffered so much persecution and threat:
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2)
The cross on that wall did help me to ‘consider’ Christ and the opposition he endured. And this helped me not grow weary or lose heart through some tough times. I pray that this can be true for you too.