Workflow, Practices, Habits, Becoming

April 9, 2021

I got up this morning and started my Friday morning routine–different because I take the trash bins out to the street for pickup.

I remembered my old Friday routine here of writing about leadership every week.

None of my reading sources contain “how to be a leader” writing any longer. Has everyone become a good leader? I think not. Maybe there’s not much more to say?

But leadership is a practice and a skill that must be exercised and honed.

Then I remembered the personal productivity fad where everyone (me included) wrote about Getting Things Done. It’s a practice and workflow and habit of writing down everything on your mind, sorting the things out, and eventually filtering into a list of “next actions” so that you know what to do and don’t waste time worrying about forgetting something.

This is great for projects. Even personal. Don’t simply write on a to-do pad “spouse’s birthday.” Think what are my next actions? Under the project “Spouse’s Birthday” write stop at bakery to order cake, call son A, call daughter B, call spouse’s sister, research for latest hint for a present online… Then, if you’re out, swing by the bakery. If you wind up with a little spare free time, pick up the phone and make the calls, and so forth.

I have a few things I do daily. After I mix up my vitamins and make coffee, I grab my latest book and the laptop and proceed to write this. For my technology blog, I copy interesting information I find or that comes to me into a Microsoft Word document and save to Dropbox the file name beginning with a keyword so that everything sorts out automatically. When it’s time to write that blog, I pick a topic, write it in Word, copy to WordPress, perform a few administrative chores, and publish. It’s all a workflow and regular practice that becomes a habit. Habits, of course, define the person.

Therefore, take care with your spiritual practices. Part of getting up (after the coffee) is grab the latest reading material, the cup of coffee (or tea), sit in your regular chair, and you are ready for some study, prayer, meditation. That little habit, which can be as short as 15 minutes or an hour or more, will set the pattern for the day. You’ll become a different person over time.

And The Point of the Sermon Is

April 8, 2021

A good keynote speech or sermon or presentation concludes with a point. Maybe an action item. Maybe a challenge.

Jesus had healed a bunch of people and talked with them. He then led them to a hillside by the Sea of Galilee and talked to them. The talk was about the kingdom of heaven and life there. That life was attainable starting right there.

He built through the talk that we call the Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew chapters 5 through 7) and came to a conclusion. A summary point. A call to action.

There are two types of people–those who hear his words and act on them and those who don’t.

He illustrates.

The first type are like the man who builds his house on rock, on a solid foundation, a house that will withstand storms.

The second type are like a man who builds his house on sand, a weak and shifting foundation, a house that will be washed away.

That leaves every generation with the same decision. Will we be a disciple with a firm foundation? Or, will we drift like the shifting sands?

I Am The Kind of Person Who

April 7, 2021

Some people would take that sentence and say I am a person who does the right things, follow the rules, watch others to make sure they follow the rules (or else condemn them in my conversations). In the first century, they were called “scribes and Pharisees.” Today, they are still Pharisees. We just don’t call them that.

Some people don’t care and disregard all the rules. These things are for dull people. They don’t apply to me. Or, I just don’t care.

Some people are the kind of people who get a good night’s sleep, get up and spend time in prayer and meditation, study from helpful texts, look for opportunities to serve, do their work with joy.

Jesus spoke harshly to those whose outlook was following rules, making sure everyone knew they followed rules, and harbored contempt for those who didn’t.

Jesus talked about the kind of people who would live in the kingdom of heaven. The kind of people whose hearts were attuned to God. Who thought of others first. Who served when the opportunity presented itself. Who lifted the spirits of others. Who spent time alone and in groups aligning their hearts to God.

These people didn’t need the rules. They just lived them.

I’m reflecting again (and not often enough) on what we call The Sermon on the Mount found in the gospel of Matthew chapters 5-7. This needs to be read as a single passage, a single teaching. And it needs to be read often.

Youth and Maturity

April 6, 2021

We watched the first part of the Ken Burns documentary on Hemingway. Burns and his team tell a powerful story. I don’t think they were being Freudian telling of his youth. But it is interesting. His mother treated him and his older sister as twins. Sometimes she dressed them as girls. Sometimes as boys. When he wrote, he was able to capture both the boy side of boys and the girl side of girls.

I saw a guy watching an action movie on his iPad once when I was traveling. The cars were speeding, jumping over barriers, crashing. Here is a guy vicariously reliving being four years old playing with cars. Sometimes we try to slip back into the joy of being young.

Pre-teen boys like to play pretending to be soldiers. Sometimes these older boys in their 20s or 30s even still like to dress up in camouflage clothing and pretend to be soldiers. Sometimes this is benign. Sometimes they become injurious to people and property. Maybe they missed the joy part.

Jesus once said that we must become like children to understand living in the kingdom of heaven. I’m not sure what he meant. But perhaps it was that unabashed joy of the child that we sometimes try to recapture as an adult.

Jesus also told us that only one commandment mattered–love. Loving God and our neighbor. This requires maturity beyond dressing up and pretending. Jesus condemned those who dressed up and pretended to be pious. He praised those who simply lived the life.

There’s the discipline of just quietly living the life of the spirit.

Decline In Number of Americans Belonging To a Religious Congregation

April 5, 2021

The Gallop organization has conducted a survey of Americans for more than 60 years on the topic of belonging to a religious congregation. For most of the 60 years not surprising to most of the world’s observers, the percentage hovered around 70%.

This year, 47% of Americans say they belong to a church, synagogue, or mosque.

Having been in church leadership at times, I’ve heard many excuses. And many plans for church growth. There exist doctorate degrees with an emphasis in church growth. I know of one such graduate who grew a congregation from 650 to 250. MBAs and economists talk of negative growth rather than decline. I guess that sounds better.

Most blame cultural influences.

I’d suggest that church leaders seriously ask and answer the question, “What have we done to turn people off?”

One of the accepted spiritual disciplines is meeting with others.

But most of us just want to associate with welcoming people. Not divisive ones. Where meeting is more than attending a “rock concert and a TED talk”. Where, perhaps, we can have a cup of coffee or tea with others and share what living in the kingdom of heaven has meant this past week.

Two metrics seem to matter. And as we say in manufacturing, what gets measured gets managed. The metrics are attendance and money.

There is no metric for the status of people’s hearts. And that is what matters to Jesus.

In the pandemic, most of us are not meeting with many people. As we begin to ease out of the isolation, perhaps we look for small gatherings of seekers and learners and worry less about rock music, smoke machines, flashing lights, and a rocking sermon.

Love One Another As I Have Loved You

April 2, 2021

The thing about a good story, whether fact or fiction, is that it harbors truth in many layers.

When the first disciples of Jesus began telling the stories of this last week–the march into Jerusalem, the Passover dinner, the prayer in the garden, the arrest, trial, conviction, execution, and later the resurrection–there were of course many layers to the stories.

One layer begins with Jesus last command. Remember? Once he answered a scholar about the greatest command from God, and Jesus told him there were two. This time Jesus says, oh yes, I’m giving you one last command. Love one another as I have loved you.

In a bit, he goes to the garden to pray and takes a few guys with him. They are armed. We know for sure, at least, that Peter was. When the armed patrol comes to arrest Jesus, Peter draws his sword and cuts off the ear of one.

Jesus rebukes him. He heals the severed ear. He lets himself be arrested without a fight. He says he lays down his life for them.

Setting aside theology and looking just at the story–Jesus did lay down his life for them. Had he told them to fight their way out of it, they would all have died on that hilltop.

Then they looked at the story and we look at the story, and we put it all together.

Jesus gave a command. Then he lived it by example. And there it is for all who call themselves followers. Can you love one anther even as Jesus did? Even up to giving up your life so that they may live?

Pointless Knowledge

April 1, 2021

Seneca spoke critically of literary snobs who could speculate for hours about whether The Iliad or The Odyssey was written first, or who the real author was (a debate that rages on today). He disliked hearing people chatter about which Roman general did this or that first, or which received this or that honor. “Far too many good brains,” he said, “have been afflicted by the pointless enthusiasm for useless knowledge.”

I find this point of Seneca’s to be disturbingly true even today, 2,000 years later.

Today is celebrated in many Christian traditions as Maundy Thursday, a remembrance of Jesus Passover meal with his friends just before his arrest.

Scholars may think it was only the Twelve plus Jesus. Some have suggested that there may have been more disciples there than the Twelve. What does it matter?

I believe Jesus had a dinner celebrating both the tradition of Israel’s emancipation from Egypt and anticipation of God’s working in the world again. Later, he was put on a quick trial, found guilty (sort of), executed, and then came back to life. All this in four days–Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in our calendar.

It is good to remember.

When his close friend John remembered later in life and wrote his memoir, he called Jesus the Light of the World. That is what we celebrate. And what we try to incorporate into our life.

Where Am I?

March 31, 2021

I found myself reflecting on Paul’s Letter to the Roman Christians. This is perhaps the most cogent blueprint of spiritual formation in the Christian Bible.

It begins with knowing where we are. Spiritually and emotionally, of course.

When we pause over a period of time and begin to understand what drives us. We begin.

We have to become aware of the things that influence us–advertising, comments on social media, character on a TV show, social media influencer…

Awareness that we are capable of doing and thinking of things that violate our own best self and are hurtful to other human beings. That comes first before we can do anything.

Then we can begin to be open to change. We can find that Jesus pointed to a path.

That path includes time alone in prayer and meditation. But if you stop there, you’ve missed the point. It’s all about going from that secure place to be able to help others in whatever way we can.

At the end of his life, Jesus left us only one command for life–love one another as he loved us.

Go figure that out in your own actions.

Backed Up and Out of Balance

March 30, 2021

The huge cargo ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal has been freed.

One blockage threw the entire shipping system from Asia to Europe out of balance. Backed up. Threatening economic health.

Sometimes our bodies get similarly blocked and out of balance. We lose energy and optimism Threatening our physical and emotional health. And when it’s free, what a great feeling.

Sometimes our intellectual life gets blocked and out of balance. We become fixated on an idea where we are right and everybody else is wrong. We cannot learn anything new. We are argumentative and surly and not pleasant to be around.

Sometimes our spiritual life gets blocked and out of balance. We are stuck. We’ve become “them versus us” religious. We think “certain kinds of people” cannot be as religious or accepted by God like us. We become unpleasant people behind our plastered on stage smiles.

Sometimes we’re like the cargo ship in the Suez–it takes a mighty and coordinated effort to clear us of the blockage and get our system back into balance.

Sometimes what we need for body, mind, and soul is simply to get out. Outside. Take a long, slow walk in nature. Hear the birds. See the otters, muskrats, rabbits, foxes or whatever is around. Walking is great for digestion. Outdoors is great for mind and soul blocks.

Try it with the attitude of gaining new perspective.

Holy Week or Spring Break

March 29, 2021

This is Monday before Easter. Where are you? I mean physically, mentally, spiritually?

It used to mean new, spring clothes and anticipation of Easter eggs and chocolate. And, everyone in town would be in church on Sunday–looking good.

The Easter gifts came a little later in the generations.

Maybe now you are in Florida getting drunk and spreading viruses. Like Easter used to be a thing for everyone to do, now Spring Break is a thing everyone must do (or so I read in the media).

Somewhere in the mist of history, this is a week of remembrance and in the end–celebration.

The church we are now “attending” is doing one of those evangelical stunt things–dropping Easter eggs from a helicopter. I’m sorry, I keep having visions of Les Nessman reporting live from a shopping center parking lot in Cincinnati on the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati as the turkeys fell from the sky. The key sentence from the boss, “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.” I have these visions of eggs…

I’m sure it will be fun for the little ones.

Or maybe it will be a gathering on Thursday evening recreating Jesus’ Passover meal with his friends. Followed by a solemn service on Friday to remember Jesus being killed by the authorities for daring to buck the system. And on to the celebration of joy of Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday.

So will the week be adolescent memory making, Christian tradition, first family gatherings in months?

No matter. Best is to read again the final chapters of the Gospels and have a right attitude for the week and weekend.