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Monday, June 26, 2017

Pause. Reflect. Act.

In any given week my clients range across a wonderful spectrum: small business owners, college administrators (presidents, provosts, deans), denominational leaders, executive directors of non-profits, pastors, and sometimes just someone in their mid-thirties trying to navigate a career change. While their contexts vary widely (from the Pacific Northwest, Chicago, St. Louis, Phoenix, all over Southern California), and their responsibilities span from a struggling church of 75 to managing a multi-million dollar budget, invariably I find one thing in common: each person is nearly overwhelmed by the variety of tasks and voices clamoring for their attention. Stress levels are high, imaginary scenarios of quitting everything, buying a van and living off the land are toyed with (#vanlife), and meanwhile email inboxes pile higher every day.

When I come on the scene, I start by spending a great deal of time listening, trying to take in all their concerns and crises, roadblocks and risks, and details and dilemmas. Once that happens, we slowly work together to map a plan forward. Rather than "solve" everything for them, my greater goal is to equip them with some tools for managing the many demands differently. Sure, we do assessments, mind-maps, SWOT analyses, strategic plans and all that, but my job is not finished if I have not had the more important conversation of all: do you have margin in your life? In other words, do you regularly (read, "consistently," "weekly") take time to reflect on your life's purpose, relationships, career and questions?

If this is a whole new concept or things are seriously sideways, I often recommend that a person reads the book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson. It really helps someone sort through the seemingly hopeless tangle of responsibilities and fears surrounding a stressed-out life. 

If reading a book seems like too much to take on, I read an article today that is a great start: Why You Should Make the Time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It) from Harvard Business Review. Here is a thoughtful paragraph that comes early on:

At its simplest, reflection is about careful thought. But the kind of reflection that is really valuable to leaders is more nuanced than that. The most useful reflection involves the conscious consideration and analysis of beliefs and actions for the purpose of learning. Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning. This meaning becomes learning, which can then inform future mindsets and actions. For leaders, this “meaning making” is crucial to their ongoing growth and development.

I am hoping this has won you over into reading the article because it's good (and did I mention it's brief?!). But if you're still coming up with evasive excuses like, "I don't run my own business," or "I'm not really a leader..." I want to stop you up short by slightly modifying the author's list of ways to inch into habits of reflection. Use these questions to start:

What are you avoiding?
How are you helping your friends/family achieve their goals?
How are you not helping or even hindering their progress?
How might you be contributing to your least enjoyable relationship?
How could you have been more clear in a recent conversation/argument?

We live in a noisy world where we can be over-stimulated, distracted, and bored all at the same time. One of the great tragedies of this is that a person is left not even knowing what they think or feel. So before I try to "fix" whatever problem my clients are having, I know it is far better to ask them how they are doing and how we might work together to help them build some self-awareness, self-discipline and self-care. 

Yeah, I'll admit it: that's a lot of "self's." But for me it's analogous to the safety drill on the airplane. (You know where this is going...) Please put the mask on yourself before you try to be everyone else's hero. As the HBR article concludes:

Ask for help. For most leaders, a lack of desire, time, experience, or skill can get in the way of reflection.  Consider working with a colleague, therapist, or coach to help you make the time, listen carefully, be a thought partner, and hold you accountable.

I agree. Turn off your device right now and go do it....

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Treasure Hidden in the Field

For this summer, one of my main tasks has been to do some reading, research and long-term planning related to strategic initiatives in youth ministry and education with the Free Methodist Church in Southern California. Last week I read a book titled Bonhoeffer as Youthworker and it fed me in a multitude of ways. The first section (the majority of the book, really) is a fascinating, very readable biography of Bonhoeffer that especially focuses on the fact that he worked with young people for the majority of his career, and how that shaped his writing and calling.

What I was reminded of so powerfully throughout was Bonhoeffer's classic teaching from Cost of Discipleship, a book I first read in my impressionable 20's. So I am slowly going back and reviewing some of his writing (Life Together as well), which are having new meaning for me as I pray about reformation in the church (especially in the US) as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on Oct 31, 2017.

Rather than wax pathetically on all this, I will simply invite you to cook on Bonhoeffer's words yourself. Allow yourself some time to let them sink in, stir the pot, perhaps trouble you. They certainly have had that effect on me.

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks' wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?... 

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. 

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. 

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. 

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "ye were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God. 

When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.

Side note: in more than one conversation, friends and clients have commented on the struggle to make time to read. I am with you on this. Here's a practical article on how to make it happen.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

At Home in This Life ~ Some Thoughts

Occasionally I receive books to review, and to be honest, some go directly into the gift-giving pile. Perhaps their title doesn't grab me, I am already neck-deep in three other books, or the blurb on the back makes no sense to me...

A candidate for the gift-giving pile arrived earlier this week. The title didn't connect for me: At Home in This Life. It looked vaguely like something for stay-at-home moms, which I am not. The subtitle, "Finding Peace at the Crossroads of Unraveled Dreams and Beautiful Surprises" sounded like a line from Lifetime television. Bleah.

But something stopped me: the book felt really good in my hands. I can't quite describe it, but the paper and the heft of it sort of reminded me of the old Sears-Roebuck catalog we got when we were kids. And those invited me to look inside, so last Saturday night I opted to give a test-drive to this book rather than zone out on a movie from Apple TV.

I'm not gonna lie, I nearly put it down a couple of times at the start. I was encouraged by an opening quote by St. Teresa of Avila, but then she starts whining about wanting a house in the country and I rolled my eyes and thought, Not another mommy blogger with first-world problems... I find these books predictable: lots of sentences that pair high contrast words like "beauty" and "mess," "disaster" and "delight," and so on. Then they go on and on about the wonder of life and yet all their struggles, which seem like not-struggles to me but instead are just part and parcel of being an actual grown-up.

Nevertheless, the book kept feeling good in my hands. And when she quoted Phyllis Tickle, the Book of Jeremiah, and St. Benedict, I rallied. By page 49, I was in. In fact, Chapter Seven kicked my butt and challenged me hard. Overall, the book is an interesting balance of simple examples from her life that many women might find easy to connect with, coupled with a rich library of references and quotes from outstanding contemplative and mystical authors, spanning centuries. (The Notes in the back, pages 183-187, list all of those resources and it is an abundant reading list for anyone wanting to learn more about spiritual disciplines and contemplation.

My conclusion overall? I grew somewhat tired of her many examples from her own life (some of which seemed a little contrived and corny), but this was offset by some really good stuff to chew on. One sentence in particular, from a chapter regarding the slow and steady work required for God to heal and transform us, is staying with me:

"Take the vow of Conversion is a fancy monastic way of saying: I now agree to cooperate with God in my own transformation, doing the work set in front of me."

Immediately I thought, "Guilty as charged." All too often I insist on God doing 95% of the work and me stepping in with that reluctant, final 5%. How much better things would be if I would move from arm-wrestling with God to a deeper, reciprocal, interdependent relationship, where I am looking for him everywhere and in everything, choosing to join in what he is up to rather than sticking with my safe and unimaginative agenda. Yeah.

If you are looking for a book that is easy to read and yet pushes you to pause and think about how you are walking through your day-to-day life, this one just might do the trick.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Have Mercy on Me!

Luke 18: 35 As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 Then he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me see again.” 42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.” 43 Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.

In this gospel account, we see a blind man who actually sees the truth better than those around him. The crowds surrounding Jesus are drawn in by curiosity and the excitement of celebrity. But the blind man (named as Bartimaeus in the parallel account given in Mark 10) is vulnerable and desperate, boldly willing to cry out for mercy.

We live in a country now where the federal government wants to silence the suffering, telling them to "go back to your country where you belong" rather than welcome and comfort them in their pain and loss. But here we see Jesus stopping and listening. He does not order the blind man to be quiet, as those do around him. He stops and asks what he can do.

In Philippians 2:5 we are told "You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had." May we not slam the door on those who need and want mercy, regardless of where they come from. May we do that not out of political affiliation or human pity; rather, may we simply do what our Lord would do. This is not complicated!

And let us not forget that once our friend Bartimaeus received his sight, he saw Jesus in his fullness and "followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God." The American church wonders why her numbers are in decline... we would do well to go back to the gospels and be reminded what we are called to do. If we call ourselves Christ-followers, we must live as Jesus did, with loving, welcoming, merciful arms wide open.

On October 31, 2017 we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther's posting of the 95 Theses, which rocked the church, and soon, the world. Join me in praying for a new reformation, where the church gets back on the path toward the kingdom of God rather than empire. I believe God will grant this prayer if our eyes our open and looking for it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Books, Balconies and Best Practices 4-19-17

Egads!! I haven't had one post in 2017 yet. I won't even bother with excuses, but let's just say I've certainly stayed occupied since my last post. Travels to Illinois, Kentucky, and a few times to So Cal have kept me on my toes, and I never tire of learning from everything I do. As a result, I've also used a bunch of useful resources in that time and want to share a few with you...

8 Ways to Read a Lot More Books This Year While it would be stretching the truth to pretend that I have not posted in 4 months because I've been too busy reading books, I will say that this article got me motivated to get more strategic in my plans to read. I've read three books so far in 2017 and am currently working through two other books. I won't ask for a show of hands for those whose ambitions to read outpace their actual accomplishments in this regard (guilty as charged!) but I did find that applying even a couple of pointers from this article was helpful... and I'll add another one he didn't mention: seek out friends who are equally motivated to read and keep each other posted on how things are going. Sure, this can get weirdly competitive if you're not careful, but so far I find myself motivated by my friends who tell me about what they're reading, and I do the same. Let's do this and prevent our brains from turning into mush!

(PS Those three books I have read so far have been The Road to Character by David Brooks, Longing for Spring by Elaine Heath and Scott Kisker, and To Know as We are Known by Parker Palmer)

How to Establish a Meeting-Free Day Each Week Maybe your work life is like mine: a strange balance of focused deskwork, endless (ENDLESS) emails, and face-to-face meetings. The emails are always screaming at me, the meetings come and go, but I sometimes stumble in really carving out that ever-elusive "balcony time" for big-picture, strategic thinking. This article helps jump start that process if you feel stuck.

5 Questions Leaders Should Be Asking All the Time I also heard this guy interviewed on this topic, and I liked the simplicity and clarity of his approach. Leadership is not always about leading the charge -- often it's the mundane but utterly necessary task of getting everyone on the same page and working together. To be a good leader is to be a good listener... These questions help to take the conversation in that regard.

6 Things Every Mentor Should Do Last numbered list for today, I promise! One of my main gigs is directing intern programs. I have had interns since 1986 (gulp!) and have formally run intern programs since the mid-nineties. In all of that time, one thing has become very clear for me: the internship experience is only as good as the excellence of the MENTOR who trains the intern. All too often I have had supervisors who treat their interns as indentured servants, or merely want them around to observe rather than actually do anything. Though a little simplistic, this article helps clarify priorities and puts the responsibility where it should be. I plan on using this to set expectations with my next round of intern mentors.

Final thoughts...
I'm slowly working through a book of quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr as a way to maintain a long-term vision for justice and healing of the deep divisions in our world. This quote really hit me the other day:

“The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage they did not know they had.” 

(Martin Luther King, Jr)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Diversity, Deals and Diet... 12-20-16

Gahhh!! I have not been on my blog game this fall. Too much interesting work has kept me hoppin'... It won't make up for my neglect, but I'm giving some extras on this one.

But before I share these Latest Links that I have Lingered over and Loved, I want to share a photo from my day. Sort of bringing Instagram to my blog...

Caught this shot on my scooter (don't worry, I was safely parked) on the way home from Trader Joe's.   I had some chicken and green chile tamales and a stalk of brussels sprouts strapped on the front basket, and this glory unfolded in front of me. #nevergetsold

Onward and upward... here are what I am guessing are my final recommendations for 2016:

New Yorker magazine documentary on Rob Bell As Relevant Magazine states, "the film is a fascinating -- and extremely emotional -- look at Bell's life, legacy and influence." It doesn't capture everything (heck, it's only 13 minutes long), but certainly describes some of Bell's unique trajectory. And I am equally fascinated by the fact that the New Yorker is fascinated by him...

Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World I just read this book with two college interns who both serve as worship leaders for their campus chapels. We didn't have enough time to really dig into it, but I keep thinking about it. It's as much about leadership as it is about worship. You may not agree with every word, but I think it will get you thinking, big time.

Thrifty Christian Reader OK, so maybe the dude who compiles this should consult with some marketing people regarding the title, but I have found serious deals that I would have missed out on. I think I've mentioned this one here before, but it bears repeating. And it's not just Christian books. I just got 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories for $3.99 thanks to this site. That is plane reading GOLD right there!

NutritionStripped.com This one might get your head scratching (it's not in line with what I normally recommend here...) but I just got home from camp last weekend and had a humbling reminder of how I ate during 30 years of youth ministry... I won't go into details, but I'm having to deal with years of poor nutrition NOW and this is a website that is proving quite reliable, creative and even inspiring? If words like "inflammation" or "gluten-free" or "joint pain" or "digestive issues" are passing your lips at times, this site is for you.

3 Foundational Tips for Senior and Youth Pastors... And now for a tiny bit of self-promotion. Here's my latest article for Seedbed.com. They are the bomb in my world.

25 Truisms This fall my denomination invited us to attend an "Emotionally Healthy Leaders" seminar by Peter Scazzero. This list of 25 truisms for pastors are a valuable place to start in terms of reflecting on personal and spiritual health. Number One hits you right between the eyes: It is not possible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature. There you have it.

My President was Black I won't venture into election fatigue territory, though I'm tempted... but I finally finished this remarkable article today. Regardless of how you voted, I deeply recommend this one. Listen to the voice of Ta-Nehisi Coates as he reflects on these past 8 years and where things seem to be now. 

May it be so...

Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.


Jane Kenyon, poet




Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Inspiration, Innovation and Intercultural Dialogue

It's November 1. I am momentarily stunned as I think of how 2016 seems to have just flown by. So much has happened this year, both in my own life but also far more importantly, in our world: Zika, presidential debates, horrifying attacks in Ankara and Brussels and Orlando and Nice and New York, refugees from everywhere, the agony of Syria, Brexit, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Dallas police killings, Keith Scott... And how can we ever forget this dreadful presidential election. Who knows what the news will be in these last two months, especially after Nov. 8!

Before I fall into a spiral of anxiety and dread, I want to share some resources that gave me insight, inspiration, and a surprising amount of hope.

Sinfulness, Hopefulness, and the Possibility of Politics. IF you only have time to view one of these links, make it this one: This is the most lucid, hopeful but also realistic conversation I've heard about religion and politics, ever. One little tidbit: "We are over-politicized and under-moralized." Do not skip this one... share it with friends, perhaps even listen to it with a bible study, small group, family, whomever you can gather. Profound discussion that really moved me.

Clayton Christensen on Disruptive Innovation So much of what I work on with people is how to bring their workplaces, systems, cultures, and organizations into the 21st century. This podcast speaks to that process in some thought-provoking ways. It might be interesting to listen to this with some colleagues. I got very energized as I considered the ways I have not gone outside the box in terms of structures, assumptions and goals in planning ahead.

Intercultural Discussion at the Catalyst Conference So much of the turmoil in our country and certainly in our world revolves around identity and isolation, racism and reconciliation, fear and faith. The panel assembled for this discussion was very well done, and again, this civil discourse on the role of the church regarding love for our neighbor again gave me the strength to be expectant of what might be ahead. The next link might add a bit more to the conversation too...

Multicultural, Cross-Cultural and InterCultural What do these terms mean? I just guest-lectured in a college course designed to assist students entering the health care field to engage in population health. I started off with a discussion of these terms and their meanings, and this article does a good job of defining them. I continue to look for ways to foster genuine dialogue and relationship, not just short-term projects and items to check off a list. This article comes from LinkedIn.

Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2020 Just when you think you're starting to figure out Millennials, you better slam on the brakes! Because we are now dealing with "Generation Z," the first true digital natives. And I already see some differences between these two groups. To wade into the cultural waters of "kids these days," I have often used this resource from Beloit College. Each August since 1998, Beloit College has released their Mindset List, providing a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students about to enter college. Here are a couple of tidbits for this year's class of first-year college students: In their lifetimes, the United States has always been at war.
Also, they have never had to watch or listen to programs at a scheduled time. But perhaps this says it all: “They’re an impatient generation learning how to be patient.” Full List: https://www.beloit.edu/mindset/2020/

Final thoughts

An individual has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow horizons of his particular individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. 

Martin Luther King, Jr