Every Christmas I make sure and watch one of my favorite movies of all time, White Christmas. Yes, I love the song. Yes, I love the romantic angle. Yes, I love the story of loyalty to old friends. But the real reason this movie touches me is because of the relationship between General Waverly and his men. When the film opens, a tired, war weary group of men are trying to celebrate Christmas Eve on the German front. General Waverly is being sent back to the states. The men sing a song to “the old man”.
We’ll follow the old man wherever he wants to go
Long as he wants to go opposite to the foe
We’ll stay with the old man wherever he wants to stay
Long as he stays away from the battle’s fray
Because we love him, we love him
Especially when he keeps us on the ball
And we’ll tell the kiddies we answered duty’s call
With the grandest son of a soldier of them all!
It is hard for us to understand this kind of devotion in today’s jaded, cynical world. A group of men so tightly devoted to each other they would tell their leader they “love” him? Unthinkable!
Why did they love General Waverly so? What characteristics of his leadership inspired this kind of devotion? A key to understanding the answer to this question can be found in the following dialogue. Bob Wallace, played by Bing Crosby and Phil Davis, played by Danny Kaye have arrived at the General’s inn in Vermont and watch as the man once a commander is now cleaning kitchen floors. This is what they said:
Bob Wallace: We ate, and then he ate. We slept, then he slept.
Phil Davis: Yeah, then he woke up and nobody slept for forty-eight hours.
One of my favorite photographs shows Walt Disney walking through Snow White’s castle in a very early Disneyland. Walt was famous for his “management by walking around” philosophy. He would pop up unannounced and ride the rides; watch the shows; listen to the musicians. Yes, he was a stickler for quality but more than anything, he wanted to be a part of his creation. He would wander the hallways of the animation studio after the animators left for the day and dig through their trash to find new ideas. He really believed in his animators. And, his expectations were very tight and rigid, but inside he cared about his employees; he loved them. There were many times he would take an employee who was in trouble and pay his salary while he dried out in what we would call today “rehab”. In fact, when his animators joined the union, Walt was devastated. He considered them a part of his family and the decision to join the union was akin to saying they didn’t appreciate his tender care.
I’ve been writing blogs the past few days about the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. I’m trying to focus on his teachings and put aside, for now, his claims to be the Messiah. His teachings are universal and transcend anyone’s religion. And, in the history of mankind no one has changed the world than this one man and his 12 followers. What did Jesus do that inspired these simple men to go out and literally turn the world upside down?
Many books have been written about Jesus’ “leadership” style but I believe it comes down to a simple act that typified Jesus’ approach to assuring these men would indeed change the world.
It is the night of his betrayal and Jesus and his disciples are gathered in a room to celebrate the feast of unleavened bread prior to the Passover. It is a somber and moving dinner filled with meaning and remembrance of the passing over the children of Israel by the angel of death while they were slaves in Eqypt. Imagine the men talking among themselves; eager to take their place at the right hand of this new king who would soon overthrow the tyranny of the Romans. They are excited; filled with hubris and arrogance; over confident after Jesus’ reception by the people of Jerusalem. Suddenly, the door to the other room opens. Standing in the doorway is Jesus. He has taken off his robe and wrapped a towel around his bare waist. His chest glistens with sweat and his eyes are filled with a haunting passion. He holds a wooden bowl filled with tepid water. As the disciples watch in utter amazement, this man; this king; this ruler of all of mankind kneels before the first of his disciples and begins to wash the man’s nasty, dirty feet.
Shocked and stunned they whisper among themselves as their leader takes their feet, dipping them into the warm water and washes away the dirt. Their king is kneeling before THEM! The world has turned upside down.
This stunning development was just the beginning of a huge paradigm shift for these men. Later, anticipating a board room meeting in which each man would receive his marching orders and his assignment in the new hierarchy Jesus shocks them again with these words:
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
Stop here for a moment and really hear those words. Jesus is talking about love? Not conquest or battle strategy or corporate intrigue. He has become a servant to his men and now he speaks of love! How has he loved these men? Listen to his next words:
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.
There is an awful lot love mentioned in this section. The word here is a Greek word, agape meaning “the love of God or Christ for humankind. In the New Testament, it refers to the covenant love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God; the term necessarily extends to the love of one’s fellow man. Many have thought that this word represents divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love.”
In fact, the original Greek word, agapao, has taken on this meaning through its use by Jesus of Nazareth and his followers. There are some interesting words in the above definition such as “the love of one’s fellow man” and “unconditional, self-sacrificing”. I could go on but lets stop right here for now. Let’s look at what Jesus of Nazareth is telling us about his concept of being a “king” or a “leader”. Simply, put Jesus of Nazareth is teaching us:
You cannot be an effective leader until you know how to follow.
You cannot ask someone to serve you until you know what it is like to serve someone.
Loyalty is freely given and cannot be demanded.
The truest form of “friendship” is based on “agape” love.
Jesus of Nazareth redefined love as unconditional and self-sacrificial love for his fellow man; his friends.
As this season approaches, no matter what your worldview; no matter if you believe in God or not; these simple teachings of Jesus of Nazareth carry profound implications for us today. If we are to be the kind of leader that changes the world; the kind of leader that results in “love” from our “followers”; the kind of leader that inspires the kind of creativity and self sacrifice we see in the above two modern examples then we must first understand that the highest place to lead from is often at the feet of those we serve!