Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

Say What You Mean

August 4, 2017

Don’t you ever wish that when the gospel writers quoted Jesus that once, just once, he’d just come out and say things in plain language?

I’m puzzling over chapters 7 and 8 of the Gospel of John. Of course, one of John’s agenda items is to emphasize the conflict that Jesus caused in the Jewish religious community.

But I read Jesus’ words over and over. I’m still confused.

Perhaps that’s the point.

We should work for understanding.

Question and Listen

August 2, 2017

It’s a small, private dinner party. A few corporate executives, a couple of writers, and a featured guest. He had recently published a book and was a distinguished professor at a prestigious university.

I took a seat two away from the guest. I had a choice of either end of the table. I chose poorly.

I had actually read his book and came armed with a couple of questions. There were parts I wasn’t sure what he was getting at, and there were parts where I thought he had taken a wrong path.

Unfortunately I had arrived after most other people. The person between the guest and me was monopolizing conversation.

After a period of time I noticed that the guest was decidedly turned the other direction talking with the person on his other side. I spent the evening talking with the person beside me. Don’t think he even noticed that the guest had turned his back our direction.

Aside from my being too shy in some social conversations to take charge–I hate to interrupt people–I let an opportunity for learning slip away.

How often do we let our tongues get in the way of learning?

There are very few people I’ve met who couldn’t teach me something. See an interest, ask a question, sit back and listen and learn.

Helping The Poor As A Mission Discipline

June 26, 2017

My grandfather used to tell me about an incident during the Depression when a train derailed in town. His step-father, along with half of the town, ran down to the train that night and helped themselves to loads of “free” coal. It was the depression. Many people. Were out of work. It gets very cold in Ohio. It was like a gift from God.

News from Pakistan at the end of last week. A gasoline tanker truck wrecked and fuel was spilling out. Hundreds of poor people ran to save some of that fuel. Gasoline is a flammable. Catches fire easily. Yes, this spill ignited. A hundred people died.

A gospel that preaches “We’ll save your soul if you wish, but you are on your own for food, clothing, and shelter” isn’t the gospel of Jesus.

Jesus talked often about the responsible use of money. Paul collected money from his churches to return to Jerusalem to feed and clothe women and children left in poverty by their joining the community following Jesus.

It baffles me that we (the collective rich country “we”) cannot devise an economic system that shares something of the wealth of the economy with such poor people. There are so many people who are so focused on “I want my share…and more; and I want to keep it for me”. That emotion is driving an awful lot of worldwide politics these days.

I’m not talking politics, though. Politics won’t solve any problems.

I’m talking mission and service as a discipline. And how if every Christ-follower who has any financial means contributed, so much good could happen. 

  • Fresh drinking water to help eradicate diseases
  • Investment in businesses large enough to hire people providing jobs and dignity
  • Medicine and access to health professionals
  • Investment in agriculture, aquaponics, and other technologies where people could feed themselves
  • Investment in communication and transportation infrastructure 


I’m still amazed that at least in the US we can’t treat women better. But some little progress and awareness seems to be hitting the “bro-land” of Silicon Valley. After denying and obfuscating for a long enough period to complete a funding round, the VC leader finally stepped down and apologized for his treatment of women and said he’d seek counseling. Hope that works out better than the “counseling” that NFL players get.

How much counseling do you need to stop reaching under the conference room table and feeling up a woman’s leg during a meeting? Maybe we need to bring back the slap in the face or something?

And Uber now is looking for a CEO, COO, CFO, VP of Engineering, and other top staff after cleaning house due to the frat house culture they enabled.

Remember when boys grew up and became men?

Are You Teaching Quality

April 28, 2017

Some of you may have seen my Facebook post about the death of Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values as seen in The New York Times.

The book is not really about Zen (a form of Buddhism popularized by Alan Watts and the Beatnik generation) or about repairing your motorcycle. “The real motorcycle you’re working on is yourself.”

Along with the Bible and St. Augustine, this book was most influential in my life.

While teaching rhetoric at Montana State University in Bozeman, another professor asked while passing him in the corridor, “Are you teaching quality?”

That led him into a deep dive into the meaning of quality.

Part is philosophical as he detailed his battles with the famous leader of philosophy at the University of Chicago. (I’ve read Mortimer Adler. I prefer Pirsig.) I think he was right about the decline in western thinking with the over emphasis on rationality thanks to Plato and Aristotle (especially the latter).

Part was details on working on his motorcycle preparing for a cross-country trip with his son and two friends. He must have been worse than me, by the way, as a travel companion. I often get lost in thinking. He must have gone a bit overboard on that.

He talked about learning skills in metalworking to do his own repairs because he was upset with the lack of care so many mechanics took in repairing thing.

Quality in part comes from caring about what you do.

He also taught logical troubleshooting. Something more of us need when we approach a problem.

Living With God Every Day

March 28, 2017

Do not be transformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern the will of God. Paul, the apostle, writing to the church in Rome

Paul has dropped that ancient wisdom on us before–you become what you think about. He knew that centering our minds on the right thing leads to life. On the other hand, focusing on the wrong things leads to alienation, strife, destruction.

Yesterday, I was pondering the passage from Steindl-Rast’s book about spirituality infusing us as an everyday thing. Perhaps this is a part of that living spirituality.

We transform our minds. That means a choice. And will. We intentionally choose things, reading, activities, and the like, that will renew us in our knowledge and relationship with God.

With our minds renewed daily by focus on God, we can move beyond the vicissitudes of political winds–beyond “political stupidity”, which by the way is different for you and for me. Or theology which is often different for you and for me. But God is still God. The creator. The essential life-force.

Just before Paul told us this, he told us to offer our lives as a living sacrifice to God.

I’m not entirely sure about all the implications of what he meant. But I’m sure that he means for us to wake up daily, pray / meditate asking God what we are supposed to do for him today. The day is his, not ours.

And if we are clueless, then Paul drops some hints. Read Romans 12:9-21. Paul Simon once sang about 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. Paul the Apostle gives us 29 ways to show love and be that living sacrifice–he could have written a song “29 Ways To Be a Lover”.

Overcoming Our Own Ignorance

March 10, 2017

“Our mind is the instrument of knowledge, but it is very imperfect and filled with all sorts of ignorance.” John Climacus

The Ladder of Divine Ascent has been on my “to read again” bookshelf for a long time. John is so perceptive. It’s an education in psychology as well as spiritual development to read his work.

It is easy to see ignorance everywhere–everywhere but in ourselves, of course. Does your heart ever ache at those times when someone seems ignorant on purpose? Proud of it? The answer is right there in front of them, and they stubbornly cling to an idea completely different?

I actually took a couple of years to study brain science to figure that out. But, I digress.

Have you ever stared at a passage of Scripture and then exclaim, “Oh, that’s what he’s saying???”

Happens to me often.

I try to be open to new ideas. New interpretations. Open to God breaking through and going “Open your eyes, dummy, and learn this.”

Two things help. One is to read a lot. I watch about 3-4 hours of TV a week (well, plus another 4-5 hours of soccer, but that’s s different story). Otherwise I read.

The other is meeting people. Not just seeing people. Meeting them. Christian fundamentalists. Ordinary Christians. Atheists. Pagans. Muslims. Hindus. Buddhists. And having conversations. And listening. And seeing people as people–God’s children.

Know what? People are different from what you see in the news. Some people like to see their names in the news. Most people try to live a moral life as best they can. Most Christians I meet no matter what flavor of theology are just trying to live a spiritual life an hour at a time. Quietly. No headlines. No anger. No hate. Just people.

We have to watch our minds. Root out our ignorance through continual learning. Listen to someone today.

Talk Less and Listen More

December 9, 2016

For those of you who get up to read these essays by 7 am EST, I’m late. Plane was delayed and I got home at 1 am. 

Here I am. Five hours of sleep. Nothing prepared. Nothing on my mind.

But I try to write leadership thoughts on Fridays.

So, here is the thought of the day. Works for leaders. Works for parents. For spouses. Even for public speakers 😉

Talk less; Listen more.

I could give examples. But…you get the point. What are you going to do today?

Foster A Learning Organization

September 30, 2016

There are two institutions in society where time spent matters more than work done–schools and prisons.

I saw this quote in a book some 40 years ago. I forget the attribution. Twenty minutes just went down the drain searching the Internet for it. Oh, well, how many of us resemble this remark?

There was a candidate for a job opening. “I have a BA degree, therefore I’m an expert in that topic.”

Some people see themselves as never done, as in they must always be learning–both inside and outside their disciplines. Marketing guru Seth Godin has another phrase–Fully Baked. “Knowledge workers, though, the people who manage, who go to meetings, who market, who do accounting, who seek to change things around them—knowledge workers often act as if they’re fully baked, that more training and learning is not just unnecessary but a distraction.”

Managers in all manner of organizations are taught to say “people are our most important asset.” Yet, how many of them encourage the continual learning required to keep the organization fresh and innovative. And to encourage their people to grow and develop?

This works for marketplace organizations, non-profits, and churches.

Are you the sort of leader who leads by example? What are the latest books you’ve read? Podcasts you’ve listened to? Conferences you’ve attended? Notes you’ve put into your notebook or Evernote?

Are you the sort of leader who listens to others–indeed one who solicits advice and then acts on it?

And not just business or leadership books. Read outside your area. Learn something totally new. My reading in brain science has deepened my understanding of Scripture and how to change habits to incorporate the new information.

How about a goal? Read at least one book a month for new information. Then maybe you can make it two. Then you can read that mystery for relaxation.

By so doing, you can influence others to also adopt a learning lifestyle.

Michelangelo wrote on a canvas when he was 87, “I am still learning.”

The Joy of Learning

September 28, 2016

I hated school. Well, I was bored for much of it. Then I went through a period of not working hard enough. Then I learned the “game” of school and got good grades…and got out.

There was the time in graduate school when I looked at the professors and thought, “I don’t want to be them. I don’t want campus politics. I don’t like the picky hierarchy.” So, I got a job.

When you’re no longer doing something just for the grade, it’s liberating. Not that I didn’t learn a lot at university. I did. It’s just learning wasn’t fun.

Paradoxically, I’ve had on my mind for months the idea of the joy of learning. A couple of years ago, I went through about 1,800 pages of scholarly work on Paul the Apostle. Had it been a grad school assignment…well, who knows. But such a deep dive over an extended period of time brings an understanding of the person that can only be explained as a great joy in learning–and in understanding.

I missed a couple of posts last week and I’m a little late this morning because I’m on the West Coast. Well, today I’m in Phoenix, not the coast for sure, but the same time zone. What am I doing? Learning. My job for the past 20 something or even 30 years has been to learn about a technology, digest what it means, and then explain and interpret it for others. There is joy in that exercise. The end result is to help others build machines and processes to improve manufacturing and production.

The same holds true for Bible study–or also studying great interpreters. It is the pure joy of learning what the Scriptures really say and then bringing it into a life that builds deeper understanding and a deeper response to life.

The challenge in this sort of study is to understand the gap between knowing and doing. Or as some writers have taught–the distance from the brain to the heart. There is joy in learning, but the goal is to change the way you live. That comes when the knowledge becomes embedded in your entire being. You change the way you live.

Purpose of Education in Spiritual Development

June 2, 2015

For a very long time, I’ve been concerned with the prevailing “wisdom” that education exists solely for vocational enhancement.

I respect the engineers and pastors and other professionals that I work with in my various “lives” who had the intelligence and tenacity to finish degrees, and advanced degrees, and even more advanced degrees. But that isn’t me.

I learned almost all the electronics, computer science, theology, biblical studies through my own “outside of the education system” education. The university was good. I have a degree. Most companies didn’t ask what it was in. They looked at my experience and I got several engineering jobs. And, I guess I did well. I’m pretty technical and love technology.

Mostly, I love learning. I want to know everything about everything. (To dream, the Impossible Dream….).  My unique perspective prepared me for my 10 career changes.

So, how many career changes have you had?

Here is a voice from the Silicon Valley venture capital community issuing a warning much as I would. In Hard-Core Career Advice for a 13-year-old, James Altucher notes, “[My experience] shows that school is too focused on ‘education leads to a job.’ This is not true anymore. “

He continues, “The reality is the average person has 14 different careers in their lives and the average multi-millionaire has seven different sources of income. So anything that is ‘one-job focused’ will create a generation of kids that will learn the hard way that life doesn’t work like that.”

I have always believed that education is necessary for personal growth. And beyond personal growth, it leads to social growth and understanding. It should broaden our awareness of the world around us and the people who are our neighbors—no matter where on earth they may reside. 

The best blend of education includes technical and humanities, institution training and personal study. My university education both in engineering and Liberal Arts formed a nice foundation. Unlike what some people I’ve interviewed over the years have believed, I never thought that an undergraduate course made me an expert in anything. In face, my graduate courses were not much better—but that may just be a result of the school I chose to attend. 

Engineers who have no art, literature, history or music education (whether self-taught or through a university) are usually too one-dimensional. They can solve problems, but they often don’t know which problems to solve. And personally, they are missing out on much of what makes life interesting.

On the other hand, humanities or social science majors who think that they cannot learn technical things are also missing out on an entire body of knowledge that would deepen their understanding of the world and help them read popular (i.e. news media) articles much more critically. 

So, I’m with Altucher. Prepare for many careers by obtaining a broad education obtained from many sources. Most of all, learn to read critically, think rationally and express yourself clearly whether written or oral. 

I just finished a long work of deep scholarship by N.T. Wright on the Apostle Paul. I understand the complexities of scholarship even though I am not one–technically speaking.

With effort, you could learn that, too. It calls for suspending emotional responses and seriously considering arguments. That is the way to greatly increase depth of learning–something seriously lacking in today’s so-called university education in the US.

One thing I’ve learned about people–simply possessing a degree is only an idicator of the perseverence of completing the program. It is no assurance of actual knowledge. That comes from reflection upon continuous learning. Learn continuously so that you can grow continuously.