Archive for the ‘Disciplines’ Category

Active Not Passive

May 17, 2019

“I’m pretty sure there is an 8th habit of highly effective people,” said Adam Grant in a New York Times article. “They don’t sit around all the time just reading the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

I think James, the writer of the wisdom letter found in the New Testament would agree. Early in his letter he writes, “But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”

Jesus certainly did spend time alone with God. The derisive people would call it “contemplating his navel.” But that was for his spiritual formation and foundation. We only read that he would go out to a mountain or just be alone. No details. But his daytime life was full of action. We read about how he was constantly interacting with people–teaching, healing, guiding, helping.

He didn’t spend his time yelling at other people to behave like he thought. He didn’t go to the ruling authorities and try to get more laws passed. In fact, he pointed out that the whole passing laws and following them wasn’t working out so well for the Pharisees.

When asked what it meant to love your neighbor, he answered with a story. The story defined neighbor, but it also defined love. We call the story The Good Samaritan.

Or, as I used to ask the leader of the anti-abortion group in the county, “So, you’ve talked a woman into giving birth. Now what? Do you just leave her to fend for herself? Or, do you take an active part in helping her cope?”

It’s one thing to talk and yell and moralize. It’s another to take an action to help someone like Jesus told us. Like James instructed. Like Adam Grant alluded to.

Be a doer of the word. You may not get headlines in the local newspaper. But I’m pretty sure that you get a pat on the back from Jesus.

If You Have To Yell, You Have Lost

May 16, 2019

Mom takes her two kids grocery shopping. Kids explore and wander away. Mom yells at kids to behave. Then yells some more. Often the tone of voice scales the range from exasperated to downright nasty.

At one time, and maybe even in many places today, “leadership” reveals itself through force of personality and intimidation.

Eric Schmidt dropped this thought during an interview promoting the book Trillion Dollar Coach (a must read for everyone), “If you have to yell at someone to get them to do something, then you’ve lost.”

You are a parent. You’re distracted by the difficulty of shopping caused by the “paradox of choice”. Controlling the kids takes energy. A commodity that most likely is in short supply. But you have to suck it up and walk over to the kids.

You are a leader. Someone made a mistake. You could just yell. Then what?

Or, you could begin by asking questions. The other person will ask themselves, why is she asking that question. Then the leader leads the other to understanding.

It’s just a different approach. Maybe doesn’t even take more energy, other than finding your own inner calm. This builds relationship.

While I was outlining these thoughts, another thought occurred. Isn’t that like many (too many) people who call themselves Christian? They would rather exhibit force of personality. And intimidation. And threat. And standing outside and yelling.

A follower of Jesus learns from the master. Jesus asked questions and understood. He led by asking and telling stories. Never by yelling and intimidation (well except for the money changers and vendors in the Temple, even he had a breaking point).

If you have to yell, you’ve lost.

Be Guided by the Spirit Not Driven by Ego

May 15, 2019

Ego is such a killer. It kills relationships, businesses, ministries, and eventually its carrier.

Interesting that this phrase reveals two types of actions.

In one, we are driven. We are not that actor. The actor is ego, father of pride, son of unreflected emotion.

We cannot see the havoc we are creating in our wake as we blindly forge onward satisfying our desires.

On the other hand, there is guidance. It’s a bit like stopping to ask directions when traveling in a new place.

We are in fact traveling into the new space of life unknown. We stop, ask for directions, and are guided by the Spirit.

Two different kinds of people. Two different results in life.

Don’t let it be said about you as the old Crusader observed in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “He chose poorly.”

Choose wisely.

Don’t Be Replaced By AI

May 14, 2019

There are linchpins; and there are cogs.

I’m not talking mechanics. It’s about people.

Some people fit in. They find their place in an organization or team. They do the quiet, repetitious work. Work that can eventually be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI). Or by robots.

Humans have a brain. Organizations, teams, companies need people who use their brains. The become vital to the cause. They are linchpins.

I’ve had very few mentors in the flesh. But I’ve had many mentors through the books they wrote. Seth Godin has become one of my mentors. He wrote the book on Linchpins.

Go find a way to make yourself valuable. Make a difference wherever you are. Don’t be replaced by AI.

If you keep butting against walls where you are, leave. Find a place where you can make a difference.

Another of Seth’s phrases applies–Go raise a ruckus!

Where Speculation Replaces Fact

May 13, 2019

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to converse with many people around a couple of subjects of interest to me. Each time I heard many thoughts about incidents and/or motivations about other people.

Then I would talk with the person directly referenced by the preceding conversations. Painted a completely different picture.

No one was intentionally spreading malicious gossip. But they were pretty much all wrong. Often with facts. Always with motivations.

This is not the famous “fake news” which merely means “news I don’t agree with.”

Rather it is when we replace fact with ill-formed speculation.

It’s one reason I shun national news and all TV news. I choose news sources where I can get closer to facts and further from speculation. We have far too many half-educated people who fill print and airwaves with opinion and speculation (note a popular obsession with rumors and speculations about professional athletics, for example).

If we are serious about being fully formed in our spiritual life, we learn and practice discernment. We learn to filter out extraneous fluff and get in touch with the Spirit. Then our life will improve.

Quest for a Moral Life

May 10, 2019

Some people throughout their 30s and 40s are on a quest for individual success. It’s all about them. Many hit their 50s and 60s and seek rather to make a contribution to others, to their community, to a mission beyond themselves.

I noticed as far back as my university days that while some people were oriented toward service, most seemed to be in it for themselves. They had no empathy gene. Of course, I’m a Boomer, and we’re notorious for being the “Me Generation” as Time magazine nailed it back in the day.

David Brooks writes a column in The New York Times. He has a book coming out that I’ve read some excerpts–The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. He researched the observation I’ve had.

We start out as individualists trying to climb the mountain to success and fame. It’s all about us. Being better than everyone else.

Then something happens–a death, a brush with serious illness, an experience that shakes us out of ourselves. And we leave that first mountain and begin to climb the second one.

Then a banker quits and teaches elementary school. A lawyer goes on a mission trip to a destitute country and begins to devote time and expertise to helping the people there. A mother shaken by a child’s suicide becomes strong helping other mothers through the grief.

Bill Campbell, whom I discussed from the book Trillion Dollar Coach, was a successful Silicon Valley executive who coached many of the leading executives of his day–Steve Jobs and the Apple team, Eric Schmidt and the Google team, and more. He was never paid for the coaching. He was contributing back from the many blessings he had received.

When I was an adolescent, I thought moral people were those uptight, judgmental, hypocritical people whom I grew to detest. But actually, these people are far from the ideal.

Moral people have depth in experience and a desire to contribute seeking no glory for themselves. They offer not judgement, but help.

How To Read a Book

May 9, 2019

How To Read a Book is a book by Mortimer J. Adler. It was required reading for incoming freshmen at the University of Dayton when I was a high school senior. Dad bought the books for me at that time. I remember there were three books on the list. I don’t remember the other two. This one was worth reading.

(Oh, dad wanted me to go to UD. He went there for one semester. Majored in going to the movies. Wound up in the Army. But was a life-long fan of UD basketball. I went to the University of Cincinnati. Big mistake. That’s another story.)

Mortimer J. Adler was a philosophy professor. He was notable for editing a set of books called The Great Books of the Western World. I bought that set with my second paycheck after college and still have it. The first paycheck went toward a good guitar–once again, that’s another story.

Adler was also the foil of Robert Pirsig at the University of Chicago in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

This book was mentioned in a recent podcast interview I heard, and that brought all these thoughts out of hiding.

Oh, how to read a book? (This is a good thinking skill.)

You will not want to do his entire methodology for every book. But if you pick a few books a year with some meat to them (and I hope you do), try this.

Every good writer has an outline. How do you figure out her outline? Check the Table of Contents.

Then scan the book. Look, for example, at the first and last paragraphs of each chapter. You will then have an idea of where the author is taking you.

As you read, write your version of the outline including important points to remember. I also tend to stop occasionally and recheck the TOC to get a sense of where I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going.

Think of the argument the author is making and whether it is sound or has some gaps of logic.

Think about the book when you finish.

I believe the thinking part is the important part. It allows you to digest the information and consider the validity of the argument.

Oh, yes, and I’ve read almost all of the Great Books set. Some several times.

Exercise Your Self-Control Muscle

May 8, 2019

So, think clearly and exercise self-control. Peter, the Apostle.

I just finished a weekend of youth soccer tournament and am preparing for a second one. Then watching a baseball tournament the following weekend.

Once again, as I have observed since calling my first baseball game as an umpire at around age 15, a few parents/coaches/bystanders who could well try applying Peter’s advice.

Not that anyone is perfect. I have the type of personality that sometimes has flashbacks of stupid things I’ve done or said where I could have exercised a bit more self-control. Well, OK, a lot more self-control. And I am embarrassed by the thought, even now 30 years later.

Exercising that self-control muscle takes time and practice and reflection. It is not just experience but reflection on experience that helps us improve.

It is a practice not unlike Yoga or Tai Chi or hitting a baseball or serving at tennis. No one nails it the first time. It takes time and effort and attention. Or did the first cake you ever baked turn out perfectly? Or the first time you flipped an omelette?

I’m only using sports as a metaphor. We need to exercise self-control with relationships, food, exercise, church, business, whatever. I’ve been observing way too much pride and ego within the Christian church lately. It’s probably always been there but just more called out lately. That falls into this broad category, too.

My practice begins now. How about you?

Beyond The Helicopter Parent

May 7, 2019

Executive Director of non-profit agency to job candidate, “Congratulations. I would like to offer you this position. Can you start Monday?”

Candidate, “First before I accept, my mother must interview you.”

She didn’t get the job.

I’ve written, probably many times, about my experiences assigning soccer referees to games over the past 25 years.

I’ve tried “Rachel needs to call” or “Jeremy must go to this website and fill out the form” or whatever.

That’s too subtle. Mom never gets it, and sometimes is offended that I suggest that her precious darling actually show some initiative to get the games. After all, I’m expecting them to be professional arriving at the site, making decisions, helping manage the game.

Earlier this season there was a young, new referee who obviously didn’t want to be there. Probably was told there was money to be made. I wouldn’t be surprised if I found out that dad or mom did the online course work before the classroom session.

So, I was told about the “snowplow” parent who goes beyond hovering like a helicopter into the territory of removing all obstacles. Researching that term, I discovered another term–“lawnmower” parenting. Same idea.

This does the kid no good. It’s a good way, I guess, to breed dependency. But that’s a bad thing. Who wants a society of weak, dependent people?

I guess they never took to heart the ancient story of the butterfly.

A child brought a cocoon to a wise guru. “What is this?” The guru told him. And he continued, “Watch this cocoon and soon you will see a beautiful butterfly come out. But you must not help it when it is leaving the cocoon.”

Later the child brought the cocoon and a dead butterfly to the guru. The guru said, “You helped the butterfly get out, didn’t you? You see, child, the butterfly must struggle and beat its wings against the walls of the cocoon in order to gain enough strength to leave the cocoon and fly.”

So it is with us. It is in the facing and overcoming of obstacles and challenges that we become stronger–physically and spiritually.

Practicing Forgiveness

May 6, 2019

To forgive the incessant provocations of daily life – to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son – how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night, “Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

C.S. Lewis reminds us of a fundamental spiritual formation practice. The practice of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is core to most, if not all, of the religions I have studied. Yet, practitioners often manage to subvert the practice. They draw circles around favored types of people and deny forgiveness to those outside their circle of favorites.

Maybe you have read about how we should practice forgiveness. But the scope of the problem looks overwhelming.

I’m looking out my front window at a Magnolia bush. Its branches send shoots of new branches seemingly at random. It needs to be pruned. There are so many, the work seems overwhelming. Then I adjust my insight and realize that focusing on just clipping one shoot at a time more quickly than I realize gets the job done.

We cannot forgive the entire world. That’s overwhelming. But we focus first on ourselves, then on our versions of “the bossy mother-in-law, bullying husband, nagging wife, selfish daughter, deceitful son…” One at a time. Who in your life needs to be your first shoot?