Author Archive

Choose Carefully Those With Whom You Associate

April 24, 2018

What you fill your mind with foreshadows what you will become. Similarly, those with whom you associate will influence how you will be.

Associate with the chronically critical and negative, be careful.

Associate with helpful, achieving people and you will be inspired each day.

[I’m in Hannover, Germany this week. Taming my schedule for the first day of the Messe was difficult. I missed my post yesterday. Someone asked how I build routine when I travel. Well, you grab what pieces of normal that you can and adapt to the local customs quickly. Cure jet lag before it happens.]

Do Not Fall Back Into Fear

April 20, 2018

Political writers according to their common wisdom have identified a voting bloc composed of people who fear losing their jobs to automation. Media writers leveraging our fear of things delight in writing about how robots will take over our lives. We’ll have not jobs. We’ll just sit and rot or something. (Note: most of them have no idea of the reality of robots.)

Since I study technology and manufacturing, I see many of these articles. Every industrialized country in the world, except one, has some sort of national manufacturing plan. (Hint: in the US, we don’t). I just saw a news item that had to do with the Trump administration and others in its base being afraid of “China 2025” the Chinese version of the movement that began with Germany’s “Industrie 4.0”.

Should we be afraid of all this? I don’t think so. I see the younger generation coming along with ideas and education. True, it seems the Boomers in a general sense seem to have run out of steam while yet holding on to positions. This will change.

But we have fear surrounding us.

Fifty years ago we knew very little about typical news events around the world. Now, we hear even little stories that take place everywhere…constantly. The TV news networks must fill 24 hours of airtime every day. People watch only “new” news; no one wants “old” news. And it’s all about getting people to watch so that advertisers will spend lots of money.

Cantore and Abrams and the rest on the Weather Channel exist to get us worried about how bad the weather will be.

As for me, I choose another path for my awareness. I choose to fill my mind with other things.

Paul advised us in his letter to the Roman church, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.”

A Matter of Morals

April 19, 2018

“Money and morals seldom go together.”

Nero Wolfe, fictional “genius” and eccentric private detective created by Rex Stout, summarized the case after the culprit of the murders was identified. It was a case of international intrigue with many international competitors trying to get their hands on a country’s natural resources. Sounds pretty modern rather than 60-some years ago.

(Wife is traveling. Late in the evening I’m binge-watching the Nero Wolfe series conceived by Timothy Hutton–one of the best adaptations of novels I’ve ever seen. He filmed these with a great ensemble cast from around 2001 to 2003. Really brings the stories to life.)

Read the Bible with an eye on its instructions about how to live with-God lives. Discover how often handling money comes up. Proverbs, Gospels, letters.

Beyond that, reflect on how often in general do we put theory over practice–believing the right things over doing the right things. Do we put politics above morals? Money above morals? How we talk about other people above how we are to act toward other people?

Acting on a solid moral foundation is hard. Maybe that is why we so seldom do it. And how often we are blind to our own lack of it.

The Purpose of Life

April 18, 2018

Seth Godin recently dropped a bit of wisdom on us–How to give a 5-minute presentation. Prepare a 4-minute presentation.

In honor of brevity and not filling all 300 words, here is a thought.

The mission of life is to find our gift.

The purpose of life is to give it away.

Workin’ For A Living

April 17, 2018

For my friend Emily who thinks deeply about the Mary and Martha story.

Workin’ for a livin’, livin’ and a workin’, I’m taking what they’re givin’ ’cause I’m workin’ for a livin’. — Garth Brooks and Huey Lewis

The Desert Fathers were a sort-of weird group of men who fled the cities and frequent persecutions in the first couple of centuries after the resurrection. They built monasteries in the deserts of Syria and Egypt. Sometimes they lived in caves. I have several books by and about them. Much of my “theology” comes from them. Here is a story.

A certain brother came to Abbot Silvanus at Mount Sinai, and seeing the hermits at work, he exclaimed, “Why do you work for the bread that perishes? We read that Mary chose the better part – namely, to sit at the feet of her Lord.” Then the abbot said to his disciple Zachary, “Give the brother a book, and put him in an empty cell, and let him read.” At the ninth hour the brother who was reading began to wonder why the abbot had not called him to eat. Sometime later he went directly to the abbot and said, “Did the brethren not eat today, father?” “Oh yes,” said the abbot. “They have just finished their meal.” “Well,” said the brother, “Why did you not call me?” “Because you are a spiritual man,” answered the abbot. “You do not need the food that perishes. The rest of us have to work. But you have chosen the better part; you have read all day and can surely get along without food.” Wisdom of the Desert

These were deeply spiritual men, but they understood life in a deep sense. They lived in the desert. They could not live from alms giving.

I talked about routines yesterday. Monks, even today, live by a rigorous routine of prayer, worship, study, work, worship, and prayer. We can learn from them even in our “secular” lives.

Remembering what the Apostle Paul warned the people in Thessaloniki. In his first letter, he assumed the imminent coming of Jesus and the beginning of the New Heaven and New Earth–the Day of the Lord. By the time of his second letter (2 Thessalonians 3:10), it was apparent that Christians were going to be here a while (he probably never imagined 2,000 years and counting). he wrote, “While we were with you, we gave this order: ‘If anyone doesn’t want to work, he shouldn’t eat.’ ”

The key word in the Mary and Martha story is actually “distracted.” Jesus says, “Martha, you are distracted by many things.” I know many women who worry even to this day about putting on a good meal when perhaps a simple meal prepared with love is sufficient for the guests so that there is time for conversation.

And even the abbot in the story expected others to work so that he could eat all the while condemning them for working. How often do we condemn others ironically while ignoring our own sins?

Creative People Seek Routines

April 16, 2018

You know the stereotype of the creative genius who it spontaneous, keeps odd hours, disappears for a time.

Curious about creativity (see Friday’s post) I read through Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown Sunday morning. By the way, the pursuit of less (simplicity) is itself a spiritual discipline.

He quotes Charles Duhigg (The Power of Habit), “Routine…In fact the brain starts working less and less. The brain can almost shut down… And this is a real advantage, because it means you have all this mental activity you can devote to something else.”

Ah, routine. I glanced at the clock as I depressed the plunger on the French Press this morning. 5:51 am. That is plus or minus five minutes from every day as I prepare the morning’s coffee for Bev and me (except today it’s all mine–she’s traveling). Then I sit down with a light breakfast and gather my thoughts for this post.

Back to McKeown. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his classic Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, said, “Most creative individuals find out early what their best rhythms are for sleeping, eating, and working, and abide by them even when it is tempting to do otherwise. They wear clothes that are comfortable, they interact only with people they find congenial, they do only things they think are important. Of course, such idiosyncrasies are not endearing to those they have to deal with… But personalizing patterns of action helps to free the mind from expectations that make demands on attention and allows intense concentration on matters that count.”

Maybe try:

  • Get adequate sleep
  • Rise, drink water, move a little
  • Meditate, read something spiritually oriented, pray
  • Light breakfast with some protein
  • Exercise
  • Get ready for the day

Go with the flow!

Creativity and Curiosity

April 13, 2018

Just give them a pencil and paper and let them write whatever comes to mind with no thought of spelling, grammar, or coherence. We don’t want to squelch a child’s creativity.

I’ve heard this “advice” until I am sick.

Study any artist. Especially the great (and creative) ones. They all learned, usually through a teacher and mentor, the basics of color, proportion, composition, and anatomy. The creativity came with using the basics in new ways–seeing things others had not. Picasso was great as a “realistic” painter, but then he decided to try to find the essence of the object or person he was painting. He pushed the boundaries with cubism.

You could pick up a guitar and start strumming and picking. Or–you could learn sounds and notes. Tune the guitar. Learn some basic chords. You only need to learn D-C-G and you can play hundreds of rock and folk songs. Just experiment different rhythms within the pattern. Maybe try an added note–go ahead, throw in a C-9 to the progression. If you only learned C-A minor-F-G, you could play around with the progression and play another hundred early rock songs. You’re only truly creative when you can build on the foundation of what works.

Writing is communication. Humans have known just about since the dawn of communication about logic. When you are expressing something, it must proceed logically. Spelling helps us convey the correct word (and it helps if you turn off autocorrect on your iPad, for example). Grammar helps us express a clear idea. Try the book “Eats Shoots and Leaves” or is it “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves”.* Do you get the different meanings? Logic helps us lead our reader to understanding.

No, it’s not “creativity” that we need to worry about in that way.

The real crime is when we kill a child’s (or an adult’s) curiosity.

I love this little poem from Rudyard Kipling:

I have six honest serving men. They taught me all I knew. There names are What, and Where and When; and Why and How and Who.

*There is a story about a Panda who walks into a bar. He orders a sandwich and eats it. He then pulls out a gun and shoots the bartender. He left. Lying on the bar was a field guide to Pandas where an editor had inserted a fatal comma.

Violating The “Andy Stanley” Rule

April 12, 2018

There I was, as my usual habit, on the running track above the back gym at the Y. It came to me there were just two of us up there. The other person was a woman. A woman and me; the back gym; no one else around.

The “Andy Stanley” rule, which I named after the founder, leader, and pastor of Northpoint Ministries in suburban Atlanta, states that a man should never be alone with a woman not his wife. He won’t go to lunch alone with his assistant even to a public restaurant. He talks about being given a ride from an airport to a speaking engagement by a woman and being extremely uncomfortable.

There is solid thinking behind that rule, but also some problems. It is true that if you are rich and famous and powerful (or 2 out of 3), being seen alone with a woman not your wife can lead to gossip.

I think he’s worried as well about leaving yourself open to accusations from which you’d have no defense. Had that woman on the running track decided for whatever reason to tell people that I had touched her or otherwise made her feel uncomfortable, I’d have had no defense other than my word.

On the other hand, I’ve dealt with probably hundreds of women professionally over a long career. My tendency is to treat everyone the same.

But I have come to understand that women in general have a certain wariness about men that is not always apparent to us. I once met a woman while running in the park. I mentioned I’d never seen anyone to be concerned about. “I have,” she answered glancing around. And I thought, even though I’m watchful, she has greater concern and is much more sensitive to circumstances especially concerning men than I.

The New Testament has an often not explicit foundation condition called trust. Some of us trust easily; others take time to trust others. Regardless, trust once broken destroys many.

Strength For the Outer Life of Service

April 11, 2018

Thomas à Kempis

Why is it that we are so ready to chatter and gossip with others, when we so seldom return to silence without some injury to our conscience? Perhaps the reason we are so fond of talking is that we think to find consolation in this manner; to refresh a spirit wearied with many cares. And so we speak of what we like and dislike, and of the things we desire or despise. But in the end this outward attempt to find consolation is only an obstacle to our inner life.

Let us watch and pray that our time is not spent fruitlessly. Let us not busy ourselves with idle conversation, or with what other people say and do.…Blessed are the single-hearted, for they enjoy true peace.

Jesus’ last commandment was an action verb. Love. It’s not an emotion. It’s a way of living.

If you go back and read the parts of the gospel that talk about how Jesus lived as a story of a person, you will see that he lived that action verb–the very personification of love in action.

Yet, if you are writing the biography of a person with a deep inner life, what can you say? Only what you observe–he went off alone to pray. Oh, and he went off alone to pray.

We know that our example is to go off alone to pray.

Where do we get the strength for service? Following the example of Thomas quoted above, we pay attention to our inner life that it is not spent fruitlessly.

When I began meditation practice in my late teens, I never had a thought that it would become mainstream psychological therapy. Now, we have one of my students talking after Yoga class about a mindfulness meditation “class” his employer has during lunch time. He says, “That’s sort of what you teach at the end of class, right.”

He wondered how you could go from a stressful morning filled with meetings to a lunch time of calm and quiet.

Well, it’s called practice. It is not only possible, but necessary. Meditation literally rewires the brain. Your very personality changes over time. And you get strength for the long haul.

It’s Not Everyone Who Calls Me Lord

April 10, 2018

What if Jesus meant what he said?

I truly appreciate that group of teachers who began pondering that question some 45 years ago or so. It is much to our loss that their voices have been drowned by the hype of others.

What if Jesus really meant what Matthew recorded (7:21):

Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Jesus also said (as reported by his good friend John):

I give you a new command, Love one another as I have loved you.

What if we lived today not simply repeating opinions of theology or calling the name of Jesus with empty hearts, but…

that we lived today doing the will of the Father.

Maybe like James teaches, we watch what we say lest we hurt someone rather than building them up.

Hint: perhaps we step back and look objectively at the tone of our opinions and social media posts–remember that the right to free speech does not absolve us from the responsibility of speaking in love.

Maybe like the apostle Paul teaches, such as the list he gives us (1 Corinthians 13) describing how to act with love.

Maybe Jesus really meant that we are supposed to do the will of the Father, not just call out his name.