Leadership and Playrooms

Did I ever tell you about our house in Wichita? It was a beautiful, three-story, 1912 box colonial, with hardwood floors and the kind of molding that our nation has forgotten how to produce. The den had a fireplace of painted brick, a tin ceiling, and wood-paneled walls (1920-style, not 1970) with an etched and painted chair rail that matched a pattern painted on the edges of the polished floor. The master bedroom had a sitting room and a bathroom big enough to significantly lower the odds of divorce.

And space? Oh, the space! Five bedrooms, and a full, finished basement. It was embarrassing, the space we had. The doors were the thick heavy kind, built back when we still knew how to manufacture a good solid tree in this country. The wiring was outrageous, the venting antiquated, the foundation stronger than a preacher’s promise.

Our house had a detached garage in the back, and over that garage was a small apartment. The couple who bought it announced that they were going to put a handicapped relative back there. We took extra care making some needed repairs to its floor.

Fast-forward a year and a half. A young friend visited our old house, on the off-chance that the apartment might be available to rent. It turns out that it isn’t available, but not because someone is living in it. “My husband made it into his playroom,” the wife told her.

His playroom. They have one child and one big dog (which lives in the house with them, where it clatters across those beautiful floors). But the husband needs his own playroom.

I had dinner with three men Tuesday night, each of them wiser than I. The talk turned to leadership, and each of them had something wise to say about what he’s learned in this area. Eventually one of them looked at me and asked, “So, Tony, what have you learned about leadership?”

I confessed that I’ve learned I’m not very good at it. I’m adequate at work, but I fail in the places that matter most — in the world, in the church, most of all in my home. They nodded in commiseration. None of us is happy with his performance in these latter domains. The world cries out, I said, and so do our churches and our wives, for men who will lead, who will say “this is right, and that is wrong, and I will stand with what is right.”

But instead we remain silent when good is pronounced evil, and evil, good. We pray silently in those moments, or worse, we signal agreement lest we offend anyone. We slouch in the back of our churches when volunteers are needed, and ask the women to be God’s hands. Even in our own homes we expect our wives to raise the children and keep us on a good spiritual track.

The world cries out for leaders, and we build playrooms.

A passage of scripture that has always stuck with me is God’s first conversation with Moses. God told Moses that he would use him to deliver the people of Israel from Pharaoh’s rule. Moses replied by doubting God’s choice of messenger. Next he asked what he was supposed to tell people who questioned his authority. Then he asked what to do if the Egyptians wouldn’t listen. Then he tried to wiggle out of the task altogether by pointing out what a poor public speaker he was. Finally, Moses simply begged God to use somebody else: “Please, Lord, now send the message by whomever you will.”

Anybody, that is, but me. Isn’t that what we’ve grown accustomed to saying? Let somebody else lead. Let somebody else draw a line in the sand and declare to what is evil and destructive around us, “You will shall not pass.”

Lead, or build playrooms. Which will we choose?


  1. Lucy

    Ah, but you’ve neglected an option. There must be followers. It does no good to have leaders if no one is willing to follow. The men lurking in the back not-volunteering at church (and dreaming of the moment they can escape to their playrooms) are neither leaders nor followers.

    I suppose I see the difference between leaders and followers and those AWOL in the playrooms as being: The players say nothing. The followers say “this is right/wrong”. The leaders say “this is right/wrong, and we’re going to do something about it”.

    The world would be a mess if no one followed good leaders, and it would equally be a mess if everyone wanted to lead. There is no shame in being a follower (as long as you’re actually following).

  2. Jeff Brokaw

    Your make a lot of sense, Tony, but I do find heartening news in some places, such as here in the blogosphere, where some of us do take the battle of ideas very, very seriously. It’s why I started doing it, really. Thousands, maybe tens or hundreds of thousands, of people have learned so much from reading issue-oriented weblogs, that has to be a good thing. It’s a form of leadership, anyway.

    My oldest son, who is 15, has shown quite the independent streak with his views and thoughts. Where in the world could that have come from?! I hope he keeps it going; I do try to teach him to use his brain to analyze the world around him instead of swallowing whole whatever b.s. is being flung about by our political and opinion “leaders” at the time. My dad did this for me as well. He told me 30 years ago that he only read the editorial and op-ed pages in the paper, not the news stories, because at least there was no pretending about the lack of objectivity on the op-ed pages.

    Independent thinkers run in the family, I guess.

    And BTW, you’ve got mail.

  3. LHW

    Just read your post from the 7th….Caroline’s Birthday. I have never had any real words of comfort. I would pray for some, but I don’t think an answer would be forthcoming. In my humble opinion, your sons are the comfort. And your dear wife. And your writing will help save you from even more pain. I really believe that.

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