Over the phone I was hearing a familiar story. Another visionary (not a pastor) flying too close to the sun with wax between the wings melting, intimate relationships dissolving, then the predictable fall from the sky. I hung up the phone, and sat in silence for a while, feeling deep sadness. A profound tragic sadness.
This is the tragedy: he has been a voice of life-changing news. His vision was eye-opening for many. His five-talent skills were invested for good, much good.
This is the sadness: he came to believe he was good news. His admirers made the message about him. And, sadly, he came to believe them.
I’m referencing the familiar Greek myth. Icarus, in spite of the warning from his father, Daedalus, flies so close to the sun that the wax attaching wings to body melts. The wings fall, along with his body, into the sea.
Flying high is a part of a pastor’s job description. It’s not optional. It’s inherent in the fine print of an unwritten contract. With no small amount of chutzpa, every week pastors stand before congregation being a living symbol of More than they are. They enter into the dark places of human anguish, vulnerable to the raw cries, “Pastor, where is God in this? Why us? What should we do?” Pastors fly high with their humanity on display, becoming the subject of evaluations seldom heard and a Rorschach for outrageous projections — all the while holding confidential information without it showing. What daring, I say. What audacity.
Most pastors I know fly high with a vision that they cannot but proclaim. They cannot stop themselves from attempting the flight. They seem to heed a compelling summons that will not let them go.
But they fly high at the great risk of self-destructive and others-destructive hubris.
But I call attention to the rest of the story. Often left out of the telling of this myth is the other advice that Daedalus gives his son. He also warns him not to fly too low, too close to the sea, less the water prohibit the lift of his wings. This is the counter caution: flying too low, playing it safe are equally self-destructive. Fear of failure, risk, and vulnerability is as lethal as flying too close to the sun.
This seems to be a cautionary tale in two directions: the danger of believing your service is about you; and the danger of believing it is not about you. One hazard is pride that “goeth before the fall;” the other is low self-regard that lacks boldness.
I’m left wondering if there is a wax that holds in high flying? I suspect its substance includes humility, not hubris. The few visionary leaders that come to my mind are keenly aware of the Wind that sustains and empowers them. If pressed, they speak of yielding to and working with a force far more than their power or even their understanding. “Success” or “achievement” are not in their vocabulary. “Gratefulness” is.