Arresting the Drift



Back to Leonard Sweet…

So we all sort of agree a little bit in some touchy-feely way that leadership depends somewhat on circumstances every once in a while maybe. How very postmodern of us.

This describes in large part my experience with Sweet’s book, Summoned to Lead.

But there were two or three things he shared (that my modern mind cannot yet link together to some logical whole) that had a great impact on me. This is one of them:

Hebrew history scholar George Adam Smith makes this compelling analogy from the natural environment of the Middle East: “Great men are not the whole of life, but they are the condition of all the rest; if it were not for the big men, the little ones could scarcely live… In the East… where the desert touches a river-valley or oasis, the sand is in a continual state of drift from the wind… which is the real cause of the barrenness of such portions of the desert at least as abut upon the fertile land… But set down a rock on the sand, and see the difference its presence makes. After a few showers, to the leeward side of this some blades will spring up; if you have patience, you will see in time a garden. How has the boulder produced this? Simply by arresting the drift. Now this is exactly how great men benefit human life. A great man serves his generation, serves the whole race, by arresting the drift.” (Summoned to Lead, pages 31-32)

If Sandi can look past the gender-bias reflected in this 1928 commentary (smile), then I’d like to suggest that I found in some measure a purpose for my life in Smith’s comments: arrest the drift.


I met my now nineteen-year-old daughter when she was six, and I fell in love with her before I fell in love with her mother. We have all been together ever since. I think her biological dad, despite his obvious mistakes, didn’t so much make a conscious choice to abandon his daughter. As John Lennon once sang, “Life is just what happens to you / While you’re busy making other plans.”

But actions have consequences. Especially when children are the victims.

On my daughter’s fourteenth birthday, by accident of course, I stumbled across something good. She was infatuated with the reality show, Making the Band, at the time, and when I noticed the show’s creation, O-Town, was to be in concert at the House of Blues in New Orleans, I hatched a birthday surprise plan. Without her knowing where we were going, we took off on an adventure, just she and I. We bonded that night in a good way. To put it another way, I think I set something down in each of our lives, a marker if you will, and began to arrest a drift.

On birthday number fifteen we chased soccer star Landon Donovan to Dallas and got her picture made with him. At sixteen we drove to Orlando to spring training and a murder-mystery dinner. At seventeen we saw LeBron James in his rookie year. At eighteen we took a haunted tour of the French Quarter. Then last Saturday…

I told her to set her alarm at 2am. We left the house at 2:30. We made it to New Orleans by 4:30, and we were on our plane to Miami at six. We rented a convertible and drove to Key Biscayne to watch the finals of the Nasdaq-100 Open, watching Maria Sharapova get whipped in straight sets, along with part of the men’s doubles finals. We then drove with the top down along Ocean Drive in South Beach, which isn’t easy during spring break, before heading back to the airport that night. Our plane was delayed, landing back in New Orleans at 11:30pm. On the drive home, we witnessed a U-Haul truck flip on the I-10 bridge near Slidell and parked on the interstate with a few thousand other people for an hour-and-a-half. We made it home at 3:30am, a few hours before I had to be preaching.

I was exhausted, but I really don’t care. I’m too committed now to arresting the drift, and I’m most interested in seeing a beautiful flower emerge amid the burning sands.


I wasn’t raised a racist per se, but I had great potential. If I had paid attention, I could have easily been content with a homogeneous life filled with people of the same color, religious persuasion, and income bracket. Nirvana for some I guess.

Instead, I’ve fallen in love with Habitat for Humanity. I’ve found nothing else like it for breaking down community barriers, something that can build bridges between Catholic and Protestant, black and white, young and old, liberal and conservative, rich and poor, and male and female.

The landscape of community may be a barren landscape, but for nine years now I have seen Habitat for Humanity set up shop against the strong winds and produce little gardens. Arresting the drift of religious exclusivity, racism, age segregation, political division, the rich-poor gap, and gender issues.

I cannot escape it. In this effort, I find purpose. Gardening in the desert of community.


And where’s Nancy Grace? As you may have read already, I don’t mind admitting that my religious heritage is an imperfect one. Whose isn’t? But I am choosing to expend my energies arresting the drift.

There are hot winds that have blasted my religious landscape, winds of closed-mindedness and sectarianism, winds of apathy and atrophy. Winds that could make a guy want to up and quit. And I just might someday.

But not as long as I see a purpose in arresting the drift. There may be an oasis yet. When I look closely enough, I can already see blades of grass.


I’ve been learning to come to terms with the fact that I just might not be able to defeat the barrenness of the world I inhabit. Instead, I’m learning to take my stand facing the killer winds, look for flowers blooming in the vicinity, and smile.

Heck, I might turn out to be a good postmodern after all.


2 Responses to “Arresting the Drift”

  1. DocWatson Says:

    Great post Al. I said last week that a leader emerges when the circumstances around them fall into place. After reading this post I feel that everyone HAS to take on this job of being a leader to the people that they influence the most.
    You have great leadership qualities that are evident in the things that you have been involved in your whole adult life. You were a basketball coach (leader), school teacher (leader), foster home parent (leader), habitat for humanity chapter founder (leader), preacher (leader), disaster relief coordinator (leader), husband (leader), father (leader). In every one of these places in your life you were a boulder producing fertile ground in the desert.
    It is imperative that everyone be able to see the need to be a leader in some aspect of their lives, if they do not, they will never be blessed to see the blades of grass grow around them.
    Most of us will never be in a position of visible leadership, but we should all strive to be the rock in the sand to those we love.

  2. Capt MidKnight Says:

    I just got around to actually reading “Arresting the Drift” this morning. Excellent, as usual.

    As someone who has two daughters, I can identify with your efforts to “connect.” When you’re dealing with teenagers, the term “whatever works” takes on real meaning. The extent to which you have succeeded in coming up with things that work for the two of you points out, I think, one characteristic of a leader or “great man.” It seems that, when it comes to your daughter or Habit for Humanity or disaster relief, you have good instincts. Leaders who emerge in unusual circumstances must not only have good instincts but also enough faith in them to follow through. By trusting your instincts enough to follow through with your daughter and the other things you are involved in, you overcame your natural fear of failure and accomplished some wonderful things. That’s what leaders do.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: