Author Archive

Pride and Power

April 16, 2021

Power seems to draw out the latent personality tendencies within us.

Think of people you have known or read about who achieved some level of power–political, organizational, familial–and whose basic personality came out.

Some leaders use the power to satisfy sexual lust that had lay hidden and eventually caused a downfall. Some have seen their pride cause them to lose their way and alienate those around–even to the extent of losing power and even winding up in jail.

On the other hand, sometimes power draws out hidden strengths. Think of people who have been thrust into powerful leadership positions whether in government, business, church. They stepped up to the challenges often surprising all but their closest friends.

Self-awareness becomes important. We must see those tendencies. We must deal with them before the negative ones cause our downfall.

Sometimes I think that Wisdom literature such as the Proverbs or the letter of James lead me to believe that there is no hope for the prideful. I hope not. Although I’ve seen many prideful people in positions of power who seem unable to come to grips with their own pride following a fall.

A lesson for us. In our daily meditations, take some time regularly to do a self-check. Have people been dropping hints that perhaps our worst tendencies are showing in our leadership? Or have our strength and vision and humility come through?

Vaccination

April 15, 2021

I am fully vaccinated against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This morning I realized that I don’t feel any difference from when I was not vaccinated.

What this means is that I was given something of the disease to teach my immune system to fight the virus. The science is deeper than that, but that is enough explanation for where I’m going.

There exists a “vaccination theory” of education. We are “injected” with some education in grammar school and perhaps high school. Even many college graduates I’ve come across. And now, we are immune from education. In the words of the inimitable philosophers, Pink Floyd, “We don’t need no education.”

And it is a sad fact of life. Look at how poor is scientific understanding among the populations of the western world. Even the journalists writing about it are, on the whole, sadly lacking in basic knowledge of the scientific method and basic facts of nature that scientists have uncovered over the millennia.

I observe a vaccination theory of Christianity. Many people have received an injection of Jesus–they uttered the magic words–and now are immune from catching the spiritual disease. They do not feel they need to follow the time-proven spiritual practices of study, prayer, meditation, simple living, praise, and the like.

Jesus’ invitation was clear. “The kingdom of the heavens is here, among us, available to us right now.”

We could live a life in the kingdom following Jesus’ teachings. But that is the “disease.” We are immune.

Or, we could live past the inoculation. We could live a life of continuous learning. We could live a life in the spirit of God.

People Like Us

April 14, 2021

Not that people like us, but people such as us. Seth Godin likes to talk about “People like us do things like this.”

That is a definition of culture. Within your group. Your church. Your business. Your neighborhood, perhaps.

It is worth stepping back mentally and observing: is what we do in our business, our church, our committee on target with our goals and mission; or, is what we do dysfunctional?

If we are starting a business or committee or organization, we must be conscious of this. Or, it will just happen. And the loudest or strongest personalities will determine culture.

If we are joining something already existing, we need to be aware. Do we fit in? Are we the type of person who does what they do?

You can tell. There are hints when you walk in. Do people complain? Are people full of energy and focused on mission?

What do you project when people see you and talk with you? Would they think, I want to join her group. I would like to be like them in order to do things like that.

“People like us do things like this.” Choose the right things to do and join in. If you’re the leader, be aware and make changes as necessary.

Unfounded Assumptions

April 13, 2021

I once read a remark by a Christian author I respect (unfortunately, I don’t remember which one) who talked about how the one place that you cannot really confess and be real and seek forgiveness is in church. The level of trust and openness just does not exist there.

While doing some research, I chanced upon the Instagram and Twitter feeds of a fairly well known Christian woman. (No, don’t jump to an unfounded assumption, not Beth Moore.) She had been silent about a family situation and had just acknowledged that she perhaps should have been more forthright.

It’s not that woman that concerns me here. I read the responses to the posts. Seemingly from Christian people. They were accusatory and filled with, dare I say it, hate. I’m thinking, some compassion and understanding are called for. Where is it? In a few responses buried within the feed.

Pictures had appeared on a social media feed about some celebrity. They showed a person physically wasting away. People started posting about how the celebrity was abusing drugs and other negative speculation. Then the real situation was posted–stage four cancer.

Unfounded assumptions–assuming the worst in people–a human condition.

Antidote: daily practice of compassion. Perhaps beginning with ourselves.

Talking It Out

April 12, 2021

Note: This thought is a little late today. I was up and at my computer at 6am listening to a press conference in German (fortunately translated or I’d have only understood about 25%). Three more followed. I’ll follow it up with a 2-hour soccer referee training session this evening. I “should” be in Hannover, Germany, but, well, you know how travel is these days. Perhaps by fall, I’ll be back attending in-person conferences.

I appreciate Nicholas Kristof’s thought pieces and reporting in The New York Times. The article I linked to discussed how two sides of the lumber industry in an Oregon town came together to solve a problem–whether or not the town would survive due to the closure of the last sawmill and the end of logging.

No, they didn’t all smoke something now partly legal and sing “Kum Ba Yah”. They didn’t group hug and decide to love one another. But two bitter enemies–loggers and environmentalists–sat down and discussed the problems at hand. Each discovered that the other was not evil, just that they had disagreements. And they could work out an acceptable, if not joyous, resolution.

They said that food and alcohol didn’t hurt anything. They’d talk and have dinner.

There’s something about a meal and breaking bread.

This should happen in Christian circles, too. In fact, shouldn’t these be the example? But sadly, they are not.

I have been a long-time member of the (now) DisUnited Methodist church. Since I’ve moved, I probably won’t be again. But I’m grieved that some people bring a theology and then the politics break out. No one can agree. The whole idea of being a disciple of Jesus and following his command, the last one he gave us, “Love one another as I have loved you,” seems to have been lost in translation into action somewhere.

But it’s not just the Methodists. The Southern Baptists have been skating around issues for some time and now have a public division. Presbyterians divide (I know of three denominations). Roman Catholics have their own problems. And getting Catholics and Methodists and Baptists and Independents and the rest together remains a huge problem.

But those lumber people in Oregon. They could figure it out. Perhaps Christians could take a lesson. It’s not easy work. It’s not all soft love and gentle songs around a campfire. But it is possible as humans.

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.