Friday, June 10, 2011

Kool-Aid

I remember with fondness drinking Kool-Aid at summer Vacation Bible Schools in Louisiana when I was a child.


As refreshments were served, the lady in charge would say, "drink the Kool-Aid" and we would hurriedly gulp down the Red-40 dye laced drinks and hurry on to the next activity.


"Drink the Kool-Aid" took on new meaning on a hot summer day in 1978 in Jonestown, Guyana as Jim Jones convinced his cult followers to drink Kool-Aid infused with potassium cyanide. On that day 913 of his 1100 followers "drank the Kool-Aid" and died. That experience introduced the phrase into the vernacular of modern conversations.


Recently the phrase has taken on a different and more positive nuance as marketers have used it to mean, "one who has embraced a particular philosophy or perspective."


For the last 20 years I have been a PC guy.


Earlier this week, "I drank the Kool-Aid" and today I am writing this blog from a MacBook Pro.


Please don't judge me. And please forgive me for all of the times I made fun of Mac users. The timing was right and my faithful PC began to grumble and complain about all of the things I was asking it to do. So, I decided to take the leap.


The salesman/geek/genius at Apple said as I completed my purchase, "welcome, you will never return to the dark side." Say what?


I didn't even know I was on the dark side, but today seems brighter. I feel smarter. I feel more tech savvy. My only fear is that people's expectations will rise exponentially as they read things that come from a MacBook Pro.


To be clear, I have a MacBook, but I am by no means a Pro. I'm just sayin'.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Thursdays

Thursdays are my writing days.


I treasure them and look forward to the quietness they bring. There is something mystical about writing that allows a person to empty their minds and see their thoughts splashed on paper or screen. Sometimes the experience of writing is shaped by where you write.


Today I am sitting in the Flint Institute of Arts coffee shop and the museum is quiet as they prepare for the Flint Institute Arts Show over the weekend.


Somehow being in the presence of other creative works is a great impetus to be creative.


Pablo Picasso, the great artist, said..."Art is a Lie that makes us realize Truth."


Surrounded by works of art reminds me that there are still a wealth of ideas, projects and concepts waiting to be developed by those willing to pursue them.


I have been wondering what it would take to create art that has a transformative value?


Julia Cameron, writing in The Artists Way, challenges the serious writer to do two things that have helped me in my quest to be creative.  First, she challenges the writer to commit to "Morning Pages."  These are three pages of long hand stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning." She says, "there are no wrong ways to do Morning Pages-they are not high art. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind-and they are for your eyes only."


Commit to this practice and you will have over a thousand pages of narrative at the end of one year.


Secondly, she says commit to an "Artist Date" weekly. This is a simple exercise of taking yourself to different places and different experiences out of the normal rhythms of your life. It is amazing what can happen when you go to experience other people's creativity.


So, Thursdays are my writing days. They are sacred days. They are "set aside" days to creatively write my way through life. Thursday mornings and early afternoons are given to the writing task in preparation to share powerful stories every Sunday with the community of faith.


So, gotta run...thepages are calling me, and I am ready to respond.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Technoslave

Adbusters Magazine has a wealth of resources that capture the meaning of our fast moving culture in pictures and narrative. Although I do not subscribe to it, I often read it over coffee and my favorite book museum at the mall.


This morning I was reading through some old notes I had written in spring of 2008. I had forgotten about an article I read in the May/June 2008 issue of Adbusters.


The title of the article was Technoslave by Eric Slate. He writes....


"Once, while I was riding on a crowded bus, the man sitting next to me threw his cell phone out the window. When his phone rang, instead of dutifully answering it, he casually tossed it away. I was stunned. He looked at me, shrugged and looked away. I had no idea if it was his, if it was stolen or even if he knew what a cell phone was. But in one seemingly careless motion, he managed to liberate himself from something that has completely consumed me."


All of this has caused me to think. That is a haunting phrase..."He managed to liberate himself" from something that "completely consumed" him.


I wonder what would happen if we were "liberated" from things that completely "consume" us?  I wonder what our lives would look like if we were not consumed by our calendars, clocks, commitments and confusion?


What would happen if our lives were not "consumed" by our kids sports schedules, the sales at the mall, coupons, appointments and busy-ness?


What would happen if we "threw away" all of those things that ensnare us and lived "liberated" lives?


Back to the story...


Imagine walking along the sidewalk and seeing a cell phone hurtling toward you from an open bus window. If that ever happens to you, I am hoping that it is someone being set free from the "tyranny of the ought" rather than someone who is angry with you and wants to settle it by throwing a cell phone.


Either way, the person is "liberated!"

Monday, June 6, 2011

Judge

This morning I spent two hours in the court room of one of the finest judges in our community. He is known for his fairness, his faith and his fast wit. The reason I was there was to be supportive of a young person who has had a difficult life and who was faced with a series of serious criminal charges.


One by one other people appeared before the judge. Some appeared in person and others appeared via closed circuit television. Each had their story and each made a plea before the judge.


After several of the cases, the judge asked questions from some of those who appeared before him


I marveled at the judge's candor and the way it disarmed those before the bar. I was amazed as he inquired about people's educational and family backgrounds. I was stunned by how easily and honestly the people responded to the judge's inquiries.


Finally, he paused as he concluded his questions of one of those who had been charged. It looked like the accused was heading toward a prison sentence. 


The judge looked at the young man and asked him, "Do you know the five factors I take into consideration when I prepare to sentence people who are guilty of crimes? The young man stood silent.


The judge spoke as he pointed to each finger on his left hand. What he said next was stunning. He said, "I consider a person's education, their employment, father involvement, drug usage, and mother involvement." 


It was amazing to me that the majority of those who appeared before the judge today were under-educated,  had no job or prospect of a job, there was little or no involvement of a father, there was drug addiction yet there was involvement of a mother. 


It was just like the judge said.


As I walked out of the court, I met an attorney who is a part of our community of faith. He asked me what I was doing in court. I told him why I was there and seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. We laughed and parted ways.


But I was still thinking about all of the people who stood before the judge. I wondered how the trajectory of their life story may have been different if they would have taken advantage of educational opportunities, if they were busy working, if they had both parents active in their life and if there were no drug or alcohol issues.

Something to think about....

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Emma

video 

Emma is a local hero who is a part of our community of faith....


She has exemplified courage and faith in the midst of adverse circumstances caused by leukemia.  It has been my privilege to visit her in the hospital during her many stays. Each time I visit her I go to be an encouragement to her, but I walk out encouraged.

We salute you Emma as you continue to wage a courageous battle. Thanks for being an example of courage!

Thanks for your story!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Deep Change

Yesterday I had lunch with a trusted friend.

We discussed everything from A to Z. We solved problems. We strategically thought through complex issues. 

Then we paid our bill and left the restaurant.

Except, my mind kept on going after we left the restaurant. We are living in a demanding time and it is not easy to lead in a changing culture. Then I remembered something I read recently.

As a stark reminder to those facing the shifting forces of culture, Robert E. Quinn writing in Deep ChangeDeep says we are faced with two options...Change of Slow Death. He doesn't suggest any middle ground. He doesn't provide a half way point, rather he calls for "deep change" that ushers in new realities personally and organizationally.

"The land of excellence is safely
guarded from unworthy intruders.

At the gates stand two fearsome
sentries - risk and learning.

The keys to entrance are faith and courage."
 Deep Change, p.165 

There are few people who lead with their heads and their hearts. There are many who think they do, but few have mastered the craft of head and heart leadership. For those who lead with both, they have experienced the "deep change" necessary to knock on the gates of the "land of excellence."

No longer living as "people pleasers," they have centered on the hard work of principled leadership that casts vision and articulates mission. They are willing to make tough choices even when it might be unsettling to those whom they lead. They do what is right because it's the "right thing to do" and people follow them.

They are familiar with risk and learning...they are comfortable with faith and courage even though circumstances try their resolve.

Watching leaders over the last twenty five years, I have seen "head and heart" leaders who re-shaped organizations and recaptured fragments left behind by lack of leadership. I have marveled as these leaders "storied" their way through a myriad of competing cultures and clashing expectations and in so doing have ushered in a vibrancy to the organizations they lead.

Reflecting on my conversation over lunch, I have again been reminded that change is difficult. It is often resisted and "excused" away.

Quinn says, "the price of not making deep change is...slow death, a meaningless and frustrating experience enmeshed in fear, anger, and helplessness, while moving surely toward what is most feared."

That is a frightening prospect to consider. Looks like "deep change" is on the horizon for all of us. I wonder if we will embrace it and see transformation or resist it and experience organizational paralysis.

I have a great friend who is a leader...The organization he leads has embraced a "Deep Change" mission statement. It is..."Moving with God Now!" I like that...it doesn't leave any room for mediocrity or apathy.

So....I am headed off today to "keep in step with God" (and embrace change)!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Hunch

I wonder how many people who regularly attend church have a basic "working knowledge" of the Old Testament stories in the Bible?  I have a hunch...that number is diminishing...


I am not talking about an all out proficiency and expertise in being able to rehearse the stories in vivid detail at a moments notice.  I am talking about a basic understanding of the narratives in the Old Testament and their relevance.


All of this has got me thinking about the people around me who have been a part of the church all of their life. I wonder if there is an imperceptible biblical illiteracy slowly creeping into the church?


Last night I received an interesting article entitled, "Squaring Off with Biblical Illiteracy: 7 Bricks for a Solid Foundation" by Mark Steiner. In the brief article he addresses my suspicion that there is a drifting that could lead the church adrift unless we recover the lost stories in the arc of Scripture.


With clarity, I remember the family Bible Story book from my childhood. I recall hearing the stories and seeing the pictures of characters from the pages of Scripture. I remember hearing the stories on vinyl 33's played on the hi-fi. I remember hot Sunday School classrooms and teachers using flannel-graph to communicate the stories.

I remember with fondness reading the stories to my kids from "The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes" by Kenneth Taylor.


I am not traveling down "memory lane" for the purpose of recalling the "good old days" rather I am thinking about the future of the church and her mission in the world. I am asking myself hard questions about my role in communicating these stories in compelling ways so that future generations will be able to tell them in relevant ways.

Mark Steiner writing in his article says,  

"20 years from now, the churches across 
America that pulsate with life and show signs 
of vibrant health will be those that address 
the crisis of biblical illiteracy. Churches with 
anemia or those that have collapsed will be among
those that have failed to come to grips 
with this issue."

In preparation for a series of messages, I have been exploring lists of "core" Old Testament Bible Stories that every person should be familiar with.  I though it would be an easier task.  But there are a lot of stories embedded in God's Story that have not surfaced in my preaching and teaching recently. Stories many have relegated to the bin of irrelevance or improbability.


So, I am going to begin a series this summer that will unwrap these "core" stories. I am not doing this series because I can't think of anything else to do. I am going to be intentional. I am going to be patient. I am going to be be a storyteller rehearsing the Great Story of God over the next several months. It is with great joy and anticipation that I embark on this "story-journey."


By the way...what Old Testament stories do you think should be included in the series?