We’ve probably all had that experience in our professional lives: having to work with somebody whose way of doing things is too different from our own for comfort! It’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, differences usually improve a team’s dynamic and make it more effective overall, but that doesn’t change the fact that it can still be a bit of a minefield. Necessary, and fascinating for sure. But a minefield of frustration nonetheless.
Historical examples of this particular dynamic are legion, especially in the world of politics: ‘les cohabitations’ of the French Fifth Republic, opposing congresses in the US, and own Coalition government, of course. All trying to work with people they didn’t chose.
Even away from politics, whenever a groups is fractured and trying desperately to stay together, people are forced together in an awkward, necessary imbalance. Sometimes it works, others not.
This Sunday, much of the Christian world celebrates the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. ‘SSPP’ if you work for the Church and like saving syllables! It’s a celebration of the Christian faith’s original odd couple: Peter, the steady guide appointed by Christ as the Church’s first Pope (my Catholic slant there) and Paul, the great missionary convert who had spent most of his time persecuting Christians before converting on the Road to Damascus when Jesus appeared to him.
The Christian community at the time wasn’t divided in any significant way, and nor was the leadership given by Peter and Paul born of an indecision resulting from changing views among an electorate. Instead, Peter and Paul’s tensions were born of their hugely different personalities and ways of doing things, each finding its roots in the person’s background.
Peter was a simple man. A fisherman, who led an unremarkable life until Jesus called him. He spent much of his time putting his foot in it and was probably as surprised as anybody when Jesus gave him ‘the Keys to the Kingdom’ – a moment which all Christians interpret as Peter being given a leadership role, even though non-Catholics disagree about the ‘Pope’ bit. You get the impression from reading the New Testament that Peter grew in to his role and was faithful (even to his gruesome death) but perhaps relied on others for the dynamism.
Paul, on the other hand, was very much a ‘take matters into your own hands’ kind of guy. Had Jesus not come along, you have to suspect that Peter would have settled for a peaceful unremarkable existence. Not so, Paul. I don’t know where he’d fall in a modern personality typing paradigm, but I’m pretty sure I know what he would be like to manage.
Most people probably think of Paul today as the writer of ‘that bit from the bible about love’ that seems to get an airing at most weddings, but I wonder how much they know about the remarkable man behind those beautiful words?
Before his conversion, he was a zealous Jew. He fought and fought for his religion, and saw Christians as a threat; a threat that needed to be stamped out by force. He wasn’t one to sit back and see how things played out.
After his conversion, St Paul became every bit as vociferous about spreading the Gospel. He travelled far and wide converting communities to the Gospel, and is best remembered for the letters he later sent to those communities instructing them further and correcting their errors. Letters which survive to make up the bulk of the New Testament.
That same New Testament also records a few interactions Peter and Paul had, as well as a few disagreements. Hence, why so much of the focus at this time is on the tension between them and on how, in spite of it, they made things work.
Peter and Paul are a great model for leadership in any walk of life, but perhaps especially today for a Christian community which is rather fractured. They found a way to make things work because their cause was bigger than either of their egos. They both respected Peter’s final authority and they probably also both understood that Paul was the best placed to actually get things done! More than that, we can be sure that they had a great love for each other and that they saw each other as friends.
Ultimately, this Feast isn’t a celebration of the two men and their differences, but a celebration of their martyrdom in Rome. The fact that both men met the same fate for the same reason is perhaps the ultimate testimony to putting the cause before the self.