Administration kills visionaries


– Are they enemies? –

I admire prophets and visionaries, but I have realized that I am not one of them, neither do I want to be.  I had wanted to be seen as a prophet. Looking back on my career, however, I have realized that I am more suited to be an administrator than a visionary.  I am not a self-loathing failed prophet though.  I know that institutions require both: bureaucrats and visionaries.  Sustainability and creativity.  Advocates for law and order and rebels.  The world needs them both.

I was born in 1932.  I have never imagined I would live to be 81 years old.  If you live long enough, as I have, you are bound to cross paths with famous people, not necessarily because of whatever you have done and deserve such an honour.  I am amazed, so do people who have found the persons I know, how many famous people, prophets, or visionaries I was fortunate to share the same paths with.  I take no credit for this.  I just stumble into them and got to know them, some of them rather well.  There are two Nobel Peace Prize recipients, one as a very close colleague and the other now a saint with whom I worked briefly.  Two martyrs who died for the cause.  There are two one time heads of the major Canadian Christian denominations.  I got to know them because of various positions I held in the bureaucracies of an university and the Church.  They can be called mavericks, therefore, quite frankly, they were bureaucratic nightmares.  Let me describe my encounters with fame.

One time I was contacted by Mother Teresa from India by telephone.    During the late 1990’s, I was working for the Canadian Council of Churches.  I held a position responsible for the administration of a fund to pay for the overhead cost of the programs jointly supported by the member churches and Canadian government.  There were three in Africa and one in the Middle East.  In the telephone call, she asked me to pay for the cost of a heart surgery of an important person for her.  In a  heavily accented English, the caller introduced herself as Mother Teresa.  She said that the person, a doctor, was indispensable in her work in Calcutta.  He was already on his way to Toronto and the surgery had already been scheduled.  She must have realized that the Ontario Health Insurance did not cover the cost of a surgery for a non-resident, hence her phone call.  I had no idea how she found out about me and the money.

I did not have a program in India, therefore such a cost was totally out of the mandate of the fund I managed.  She did not accept “no” for an answer.  Besides, he was already on the plane bound for Toronto.  I wrote a cheque: tens of thousands of dollars.  It’s a miracle I was not fired.  I guess nobody dared to speak against Mother Teresa’ request.

Archbishop Ted Scott, former President of the Canadian as well as the World Council of Churches, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Commander of the Order of Canada, did not carry a date-book, at least on a surface he did not appear to do.   Later I found that he carried a thin month-at-a-glance type of pocket date book, which was not much of a help for a busy person like Archbishop Scott.  It was a nightmare for any administrative person working for him, I being one of them.  An example,  one time he did not show up at an important meeting of a nation-wide significance.  He was the Chair.  We found later that he was helping an old woman hauling coal into her basement.

Steve Biko was beaten to death in a prison in King Williams Town, Eastern Cape, South Africa in 1977.  He was a leader of Black Consciousness Movement during the 1970’s while Nelson Mandela was in prison.  In Mandela’s absence, Biko was a real threat to the Apartheid regime.  His life and death became a Hollywood movie: “Cry Freedom.”.  I met him in 1972 in Johannesburg at an annual conference of  the University Christian Movement of South Africa.  After I was made a persona-non-grata in South Africa, I move to Geneva, Switzerland, and worked for an organization that supported his programs financially, funded mainly by Scandinavian governments.

At one point, all his organizations were banned, finance and property confiscated, and all workers were placed under the banning order, a virtual house arrest.  Steve told me that at this point he spent all the funds in the organization’s bank account to buy a luxurious Italian sports car in the name of one of the staff members.  South African government could not touch a private property.  What a nightmare that was for a person like me who had to account for all the government grants!  Their grants paid for a Ferrari which was given to a staff person!  Bureaucratic nightmare!  The movement continued underground, obviously a Ferrari produced sizable funds enabling its continuation.  Does a bureaucracy understand it?  Normally I would be fired for misappropriation of public money.  Fortunately the Swedish Embassy had a way to know what was happening in Sotuth Africa, and I was not fired.

I don’t want to mention my experiences working with people like Desmond Tutu, who was a teaching colleague at an university in Southern Africa and Lois Wilson, who was a president of the World Council of Churches, where I worked.   They are still with us alive.  I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable because of my exposure.  But I can say that they also fit nicely into the model of a prophet or a visionary: creative visionaries.

Institutions need two components to be effective and sustainable: Good administration and vision, sustainability and creativity.  They need each other though they exist in opposite poles.  They exist in tension.  They must respect each other without compromise.  They are prophets and priests, Popes and Curia, elected politicians and civil servants.  If one tries to continue at the expense of the other, both die.  Empire and priests murdered Jesus, but in the end the empire died but the vision of the Kingdom of God still lives.  Time is fluid, therefore any institution must undertake metamorphosis to survive in the rapid of time.  Otherwise it dies trying to defend itself.

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