Sunday, September 8, 2013

True Authority

beginning once again

Yesterday my new book was published and my wife asked me how I felt now that I am an "author." It was an interesting question because it really made me think about what it meant for me to be an "author."

An author creates -  breathes new life into his/her work. Interestingly enough, the word "author" is the root word for "authority." The word "author" helps to get at the root meaning of "authority."  The person who exercises "authority" is one who breathes new life into another -  a far cry from the way we have typically come to understand what authority means. 

We think of "authority" as "power" over another - the person in authority is one who has the power to reward or punish.  So we often placate the authority figure- "kiss up" to the boss, give a gift to the teacher at holiday times in order to win favor.

On the other side of the coin, we are sometimes afraid of people in authority, fearful of what they might do to us. You can get fired by the boss, failed by the teacher, and no one wants to be called aside by the "authorities" while waiting to pass through airport security. It's scary to be pulled over by a police car. 

We confuse authority with power, and in doing so we miss the life-giving possibilities afforded us by the proper use of "true" authority. When we exercise true authority, we bring out the best in others, we breathe life into others. 

In the Christian Scriptures, Jesus regularly compares himself to the "authorities" of his own day. He instructed his disciples to observe how the scribes, pharisees and rabbis exercise their authority by dominating and crushing others. They place heavy burdens upon those over whom they have charge, demanding strict observance of the law and accurate adherence to dogma, warning that any deviance will result in punishment. 

However, Jesus exercises a different kind of authority. He lifts the burdens - his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Jesus saw goodness and beauty in everyone he ever met - saint or sinner. He used his authority to help everyone to see that each person is a beloved child of God.

Jesus invited his disciples to follow his example in their exercise of authority over others.

Buddhists understand and exercise "authority" in a similar fashion. A teacher exercises authority over a student by helping to "bring out the best" in the disciple. Everyone has an enlightened "Buddha nature;" everyone is connected to and an intimate part of the universe.  The teacher helps the student find that Buddha nature within.

There is a wisdom saying from the Hindu tradition:

Your teacher introduces you to the real teacher who is within you.

This morning as I reflected on what it meant to be an "author" and to exercise "authority," an old professor of mine immediately came to mind. He was my dissertation advisor and major professor in graduate school, and so he truly had "power"over me, but instead he exercised "authority" with me. 

Charles always brought out my potential, sometimes encouraging me, other times challenging me. When I was having trouble with statistics, he pushed me toward taking an advanced course in statistical analysis, and I suddenly discovered that I loved statistics. He kept challenging me to revise my dissertation, and when I said, "I've had enough," he accepted that, and I was finished with my degree. 

My professor, was a crusty old avowed "agnostic." But unlike most of the many bishops, bosses or teachers I ever had encountered, Charles taught me something about true authority- the kind of authority Jesus invited his disciples to exercise over others.

Every day I sit in my garden and I watch the sun rise.  The rising sun is almost like a magnet, calling the very "best" out of me every morning - day by day inviting me into new beginnings and new possibilities.

I want to be like the morning sun. 

I am an "author," and this is the kind of "authority" I want  to exercise.

1 comment:

  1. What is the title of your new book?