Wednesday, December 31, 2014

One Big Thing

Every year around this time I make end of the year goal-setting and personal evaluation a part of my new years eve festivities. (for last year see 2013). These are 3-4 goals I set for myself, family, education, and my organization each year and then look at them at the end of the year to see how I have done. Some of these goals I can achieve on my own (exercise, study, prayer) but others require the cooperation and involvement of others. Honestly, I rarely achieve fully more than 50% of these goals. But that has always been ok with me.

2014 was a different story. Again I set goals for myself, family, education, and organization. But in 2014 I achieved very few of them, less than 20%. Personally, I didn't blog as much as I would like and my exercise regime stayed good but weight loss and metric improvements in performance weren't achieved. Trinity didn't grow to 200 in worship as I had hoped and our small group ministry replicated itself but did not multiply.

This honesty is important. It also doesn't mean I was incompetent. I do exercise regularly and maintained my fitness levels (which is becoming more difficult as I am in my "late" 30's). Our family life was good and we had wonderful trips together and with extended family. Some important lessons were learned as well about emotional distance and space. In my call. Trinity experienced another year of growth although not what I had dreamed of. We celebrated 50 years of our children's center with wonderful events and a new playground. We moved confirmation back to Wednesday nights increasing youth involvement and activity. God has blessed us with abundant resources of time and talent as well as financial gifts. We have achieved our 3 year goal in our capital campaign and will celebrate retiring that debt this January.

But the fact remains that the 10-12 total goals I set in these 3-4 areas were not largely achieved for 2014. So what of it? Do I look at 2014 as largely a failure of improvement? On reflection one could say so. However, I have realized a truth about goals. One that no doubt others have discovered but I had to find for myself.

This truth is that if you are desiring to achieve something big in a given set of time. That BIG thing (or BHAG in Jim Collin's terminology) is going to dominate everything. In 2014 I had a BHAG that I would pass all three sections of my comprehensive exams for the PhD in Leadership Studies I am pursuing at Dallas Baptist University. Those exams were at the end of August and their study dominated the first 8 months of this year and recovery from those exams as well as writing a dissertation prospectus dominated the final 4 months. That was the BHAG for 2014. I achieved it. But as a result, not a lot of other goals got reached.

I remember as a newly ordained pastor sitting in a synod assembly listening to my new Bishop recite the priorities for the synod. When he got to priority number 11 I had this sinking feeling in my gut. Right away I knew this was not a focused community clear on their mission and purpose but a loose confederation of competing ideas and priorities. Achieving anything large and meaningful together would be, and proved to be, quite hopeless. Many small things got done. Lots of good work happened. But there was no overriding sense of purpose or unity.

This is the lesson for me of 2014. If you are trying to achieve a once in a lifetime thing: a BHAG. Everything else is going to have to take a back seat. You still must do your job, be a parent, a spouse, a child. But you must also be realistic about what else you can achieve.

So for 2015. I have one big thing: write chapters for my dissertation.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Help vs. Hype

Last week a lot of hype was going around the internet that a 90-year old man had been arrested in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for feeding homeless individuals on the streets. First off, he had NOT been arrested. However, this feeding program that he was organizing used public spaces such as parks or beaches in violation of an city ordinance and he had been cited for his actions. Much of the news around this has been sensationalized with misleading headlines (such as the huffpost article linked above). Unfortunately only on rare occasions has there been much substance to the conversation.

Cities around the country face a significant challenge in caring for and working with our homeless communities. In Fort Worth we have anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 individuals who are homeless at any given time. Of this number 400-500 are listed as being "chronically" homeless (homeless for over a year or with 4 or more episodes of homelessness in the past 3 years). Many of these homeless are children, victims of domestic abuse, or suffer from a mental illness. Again, in contrast to the hype, a small percentage of them have a debilitating substance abuse problem. 10% of our homeless also tend to be veterans of the U.S. armed services.

When you actually engage the homeless community these statistics come very clear. As the pastor of a church in the heart of the city I have had the opportunity to get to know our homeless neighbors. Several times a week, especially in colder months, I have the opportunity to speak with and engage homeless neighbors who seek shelter in our courtyard or come asking for food assistance.

Through the generosity of Trinity members and the fees I earn doing non-member weddings my pastoral discretionary account allows me to buy these individuals a meal at McDonald's or help them with a tank of gas if they are passing through. I encourage them to seek assistance with the programs we support. However, the vast majority of these individuals are the small percentage (less than 10%) of our homeless community who are homeless largely due to substance abuse problems.

Rather than seek shelter, treatment, or solutions to get off the streets, their addiction has trapped them. Rarely does a day go by I don't pick up several empty cans of high alcohol beer from the church property. We have had to warn our yard volunteers when picking up leaves to wear gloves and watch for sharp objects. These are the realities of being a church in the city and we embrace those realities because this is where our church is planted.

Then there is the experience I have every second Tuesday of the month when Trinity hosts game night at the main shelter and the women & children's shelter at the Presbyterian Night Shelter. The PNS is the largest provider of services to homeless people in our community. That evening members of Trinity serve hot chocolate (lemonade in summer) and provide cookies, conversation, game partners, and prayer partners. Each evening we serve 200 or so individuals in the main shelter and 20-30 children and their mothers. These are a mixture of folks who are homeless for a variety of reasons. Many temporarily homeless due to job loss, illness, or domestic violence. Some came to Texas for the winter or to seek work in our "booming" economy. PNS and other programs like them provides them a place to land, to prepare paperwork to receive benefits they might be due (especially for Veterans), and hopefully being a journey home.

All of these individuals are human beings deserving of being treated with dignity and respect. And at Trinity and in the shelter programs in our city I believe they receive that respect. In addition to shelter programs our city has an organized program to assist those who are willing to make the journey from homelessness to home. Shelter is available to individuals willing to conform to simple rules and only a couple hundred a night choose to do otherwise. Although hunger and food insecurity is a problem, often for our school children (80% of students at my daughter's school qualify for free breakfast and lunch) more than adults, there is no wide-spread starvation on the streets of Fort Worth.

Despite this positive work we do have significant problems in Fort Worth. We have ghettoized the homeless programs largely into the East Lancaster area away from the tourist areas of downtown. Directions Home has been underfunded by local and state government. More could be done for the spiritual and emotional well being of homeless men, women, and children. We spend hundreds of millions on new arenas and development projects. Yet the windfalls from those projects directly benefit only a small percentage of the Fort Worth population. Directions Home struggles to make its commitments due to budget cuts.

We have challenges in our city as does every city. However, the hype and sensationalized coverage of the events in Fort Lauderdale do little to truly help our homeless sisters and brothers. During the holidays many will have the desire to go to a "soup kitchen" and serve or donate one of their spare coats to a clothes closet. That is a noble gesture and one to be encouraged. However, if you truly desire to serve those in our community who are homeless please get involved with organizations that have the ability to do more than provide a meal and a photo-op. Make service more than just a holiday thing but a regular part of your life, the life of your church, and your family's life.

I have no doubt Mr. Abbot is sincerely trying to bring attention to and move conversation forward about the root causes of homelessness in our communities. As a 90 year old man he sets a challenging example to any who might say they are to old or too young to serve (follow Paul's admonition to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4).

However, to help people, to accompany our sisters and brothers in need, requires much more than setting up a table with some food in a park. It takes engagement, relationships, case-management, knowledge, and connections to services and spiritual care. There is work to be done year round. So I applaud Mr. Abbot's desire and take a challenge from him. If a 90 year old can do it, so can you. Let go of the hype and get to work with help.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ruling at 53%

Elections come and elections go. However, with the advent of Facebook in recent years every time the first Tuesday in November rolls around there is a rush for folks to post their "I voted" pictures and wax poetic (largely) about the democratic process in our country.

However, a funny thing seems to happen about 9pm or so that evening. A change occurs in the posts. Lamentation and depression begin to fill one group while further cheers about the joys of living in a free democracy come from another. And there is silence as the Libertarians and Greens once again realize they have no legitimate chance of winning state-wide or national elections of any real scale.

This year those of my friends who support the Republican party were the one's who were able to cheer and celebrate while my Democratic party friends lamented. This should come as no surprise, the six year itch always seems to hit the party of the President (Teddy Roosevelt and Bill Clinton are the exceptions). This year should have been no surprise given the intense response to President Obama from the first day he took office.

The trouble however comes now. No party really has a mandate from the American people (rarely do they ever). The electorate is firmly divided nationally and even locally. How can one claim to be the will of the people when you hold an advantage of only two or three votes (as the Republicans do in the Senate now) and no ability to enact cloture (without invoking the so-called "nuclear option"). And without the ability to override a Presidential veto.

The late Tip O'Neill was right all along when he stated "All politics is local." The trouble with him being right however is that American people have an incredible ability to assume their local context is the national reality. I have been a resident of 3 states in my life (Texas, Massachusetts, Wisconsin) and lived a significant amount of time in two others (Pennsylvania, Washington). These are diverse and dramatically different places.

Yet the one thing I have found in common in those places is a tendency of the residents there to normalize their existence to the nation. Their reality is somehow the global reality. This is especially a challenge because we continue in this nation to segregate along economic, racial, political, and linguistic lines. Rarely do individuals by choice come in contact with "the other." We tend to sit in rooms in which 8 or more of the people look, talk, live, and think like us. Otherwise we become uncomfortable and we drive out those whose opinions are different from ours.

The challenge then is leading when you only gained 53% of the electorate. I use 53% because in Fort Worth the State Senate seat was won by that number. 53% is hardly a mandate. Theoretically if you put together 10 random people from your district in a given room 5 would agree with you, and well over 4 disagree. How do you lead that room? History, at least the last couple/three decades of history, tells us there won't be much leading but much more power. Certainly there has not been Transformational leadership. There will be Transactional exchanges and exercises of power utilizing the 53% who put you in office. The leader will be desperate to keep that number happy. Because when you win with 53% if only 3-4% were to shift, you would be out.

Unfortunately what this means is that the rooms our leaders tend to spend their time in aren't reflective of the electorate as a whole. They, as do we, live in echo-chambers that repeat what they want to hear, that reinforce the normalizing instinct.

Our churches can and often have been like this as well. In 1973 a slim 55% majority radically shifted the future of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. This slim majority impacted the future of that denomination and, as James Burkee has well argued, led it to become increasingly marginal in the national religious landscape.

But this also happened to those on the other side of that convention. While the leaders of the Seminex movement and later the AELC felt they had a strong base of support, they did not have much of the rank and file in the pews and pulpits. Their own echo chambers failed to take into account the majority of individuals want three things from their church: worship, sunday school, and bathrooms.

If history is our teacher, the control achieved today will no doubt be held for 2-4 years, and then relinquished again. A mandate will be proclaimed by the winning party and transactional leadership will go on until the swing back occurs. This is both part of the genius of the American democratic system (that keeps things from going too fast and too far too quickly) and one of the great failures as well. A failure that can only be righted by the American people stepping out of their own personal echo-chambers, gated communities, neighborhoods, facebook groups, preferred news outlets, and engaging "the other" in their midst.

But that is hard work. Work that cannot be done without leadership that goes beyond power wielding and grasping. I see this most hopefully at the local level. Neighborhood councils, city government, PTA's, and congregational leaders. Mayors who actually speak to their people from many different walks of life and work together to find solutions to the local problems.

We need Leadership that challenges our normal assumptions, that moves us to a higher moral plane, transformational leadership. This can and does happen locally everyday. Let's take the focus off the macro and look at the micro. This should be good new for those helpless Libertarians and Greens as well. Lift that leadership up and celebrate that hope, go meet a neighbor who doesn't look like you, speak your language, earn your same level of income, or eat the foods you eat. And if you don't have such a neighbor, ask why?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Yes, I am afraid

Ebola frightens me. It frightens me because it kills its victims in a horrific way. It frightens me because I have a wife and little children and their health and well-being are so very important to me. It frightens me as a pastor of health care workers, day-care providers, children and the aged. It frightens me because it has come to the Metroplex where I live. It is no longer far off in West Africa. It isn't in New York or LA. It is here, just across 360.

I am afraid because of how disappointed I am in the obvious lack of communication when the first patient arrived at the hospital in Dallas. And even further how insufficient protocols at the hospital were for dealing with the patient and staff.

Ebola is a real disease that has been with us for many years. However, we have been able to ignore it largely because it has been isolated in Africa. A place and people most Americans know little and care even less about. But now Ebola is on our shores.

Make no mistake, hospital workers and staff, law enforcement, ambulance crews and clean up crews are all in danger from this disease. As they are from many other diseases and dangers. I am afraid for their health and for their family's health but I am also afraid of something more.

Most of all Ebola frightens me because of what I am already seeing happening in my community and around the United States. The things I see from "friends" on Facebook. What I read on the news. The fear and sensationalizing. The misinformation, stereotyping, and the profiling of West Africans. The xenophobia from the usual cranks as well as people I have considered friends.

This is my fear. That we will succumb to the fear that not only kills the body, but also kills the soul. Jesus knew about this fear. He had sent the 12 into mission in Matthew 10. They were sent to "Proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons."

They go with a mission to be part of the missio dei. God's saving work in world. In doing so they would face adversaries and adversity. Jesus encourages them to be strong. But also warns them about the dangers of this mission and who they should really fear. "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (gehenna)"

I am afraid because I worry that the fear of Ebola, not Ebola itself, is going to destroy not only bodies but also souls. That getting just a taste of the anxiety of this disease our sisters and brothers in Africa are flooded with will show our true captivity to sin and that captivity will win. That we will fall into that fear that destroys rather than take the opportunity to confront this disease and our fears.

I am afraid we won't take this opportunity to build up our society and and make us stronger. To learn from our earlier mistakes. To recognize that what happens in west Africa does matter to us. To take seriously that those ancient words about being the body of Christ in the world and that when one part of the body suffers we all suffer, aren't just words.

This is very real for us here in the Metroplex. But I have a feeling it will be increasingly real for people around this country and ultimately around the world. It is easy to close ourselves off. To spread rumor and fear. To blame and to stereotype. It is harder, much harder, to have courage. To insist that hospitals quickly establish protocols for healthcare workers. To give generously to help stop the spread of this disease where it is most devastating. To recognize that thousands die in this country each year from diseases like the flu or from inadequate access to general health care.

I am afraid. Afraid that instead of mobilizing the massive resources and potential of our great nation to combat this crises here and abroad we will turn inward. "Let them descend into chaos and death" we will say. That the mission to proclaim good news will fall short. That we will lock our gates to our homes, neighborhoods, and ultimately our nation. That even in the church the mission of God in the world will be forgotten in our fear. That the one who can destroy both body and soul will win.

I am afraid and I want to end with hope. But right now, I am afraid.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Foundation Laying

One thing I love about being in the heart of the arts district of Fort Worth is being able to walk just blocks to some of the finest museums in the world. One of those museums, the Kimball, just created a new addition to their facility. Designed by famed archited Renzo Piano it added additional gallery and performance space as well as reoriented the Kimball's land usage back to its original configuration.

They just released this video. A time lapse sequence of the construction over two years of the new Renzo Piano Pavilion. What impressed me as I watched this little video was not just the completed project, which is lovely, but the time it took to prepare for the construction. About 80% of this video shows nothing that would resemble the finished product. It is not until all the ground preparation has been completed and the foundation has been laid that we see the building take shape.

So many of us reach for glory. We want that last 20% of the work to come right now. To finish the marathon without the training. To speak another language without the study. To have success in our relationships without the work of daily life together. I see this in the church all the time. People want to be up front, they want to lead the bible study, they want to contribute their thoughts. But how many are willing to mow the grass or wash the windows? To sit in the nursery so other parents can go to worship? To sing in the choir to support the congregational song, not to be a soloist?

Jesus spent a lot of time with his disciples laying the ground work. He was with them day after day. Coaching, challenging, empowering, and pushing them. And a lot of that work seemed to be failure, especially when they all deserted him at the end. However, without that work would the early church had any leaders?

Most of what we do everyday is foundation laying and preparation. It isn't glamorous and sometimes it looks like we aren't making progress. But this is where the work gets done that makes that last 20% possible.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Are you the white rabbit?

Currently GG wants to read her "Alice" book everyday on the way to school. So much so that by now she has the thing memorized. She knows the name of all the cats in the story (Dinah, Cheshire) and she also knows what the white rabbit says. "I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date!"

With the start of school I had several Facebook friends who lamented the return of school zones as part of their commute. The inevitable slow downs or pedestrian (20 mph or less) speeds they were expected to drive. The need to put down their cell phone or risk a ticket. Some of these are folks without kids largely. So I kinda understand. They don't get yet how important it is to be aware and watch for children and adults who are busy carrying supplies and backpacks. How challenging it can be to get everyone wrangled and how quickly a child can step just 2 feet into the street.

I see this also on my commute from the school to church. Largely I drive on surface streets, many of which are residential. Yet people, often those who even live in the neighborhood, drive these as if they were superhighways. Annoyed by the speed bumps the city had to install to keep speeds somewhat reasonable. Obviously we are all late for important dates.

So I get that, a lack of understanding. Yet the last couple mornings I have noticed a distinct phenomenon both at my kids elementary school and also at our pre-school. When parents have their kids in their car, when they are waiting in line to drop off or to park, they are often deliberate and slow in their driving.

However, the minute the kid is out of the car or they get back in from dropping off, they accelerate quickly and take off. Often times failing to notice others who are getting out of vehicles or dropping off their children. They behave just like many others on the road. Unaware and seemingly unconcerned with others.

Why is this? Well, frankly I go theological of course. It is sin. Sin that focuses us on our family and our needs when it is in front of us. But once that responsibility is done we fail to notice the needs of those around us. We are entrapped by our own desires and fail to think about the neighbor around us.

This happens in many and various ways in our society. It is what Luther referred to in his lectures on Romans as the "Incurvatus in se." The life lived for self rather than God. We focus on our children and our schedule. We fail to notice or pay attention and live a life for God. And this happens to parents as well as non-parents. The moment our children are safely in their school, we become just as unaware as so many others. This is not living our lives for God.

How do we live a life for God? By serving our neighbor. By thinking of their needs first. And an easy way to start this is by driving carefully. Slowing down not just in school zones but on neighborhood streets and even on the highways (the speed limit in town is often 55 or 60, not 80!).

So be aware. I know you are late for a very important date. But please. Slow down.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Let there be mercy

Tonight we began our Wednesday Lenten series at Trinity Lutheran-Fort Worth. We began this series with the emphasis on the theme "Let there be mercy". We are drawing this theme from a song written by Ben Kyle called "Mercy". The song sings of issues and realities of life coming time and again back to the hook "Let there be Mercy, Mercy, Mercy".

We sing this as our closing song after we have sung a gathering hymn, heard the word, sung one of the great Lenten hymns of the tradition and praying a prayer of confession and hope (see below).

Tonight our scripture was Matthew 9, the call of the tax collector Matthew. We heard these words and were challenged to think about what Jesus meant when he said he came to call sinners, not the righteous. To learn what it meant when God says "I desire Mercy, not sacrifice." These are profound words for us especially, I believe, when we recognize Jesus' most important statement of mercy to Matthew. For when he called Matthew he said nothing about sin, death or Matthew's own situation. He simply expressed mercy to him by saying "Follow me."

Mercy is an invitation. An invitation into Lent. Into disciplines and repentance not because God is angry or demanding, but because God is merciful and inviting. Like the pharisees we question Jesus' invitation to Matthew. He is but a tax collector and sinner. But he is also a human being. Is he not worthy of mercy? Of the invitation to discipleship?

Sometimes in Lent we get so caught up in the rules (I have largely given up meat for the season) that we forget the purpose. We have been offered an opportunity to experience mercy. To recognize our sin, our guilt, and our need for repentance in community. To receive the invitation to mercy and to follow Christ.

The most profound moment for me this evening was after the service ended. The community left in silence and in the pews were two friends. These friends were praying together. Uninterested in those in their midst, focused on prayer together and mutual consolation. Mutual mercy. I have no idea what they prayed for tonight, but I pray that they received from God the invitation to mercy.

So this Lent I pray for you and for all. Let there be mercy. You are invited.

Prayer of Confession and Hope
P: In the scriptures we are reminded that God calls us to repentance. That when we acknowledge our sin God graciously hears our prayer. So we come now with words of confession, scripture and prayers for forgiveness. All praying that God might show mercy, forgive our sin and reconcile us to God and our neighbor...
C: Let there be mercy

P: From First John: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and God's word is not in us.
C: Let there be mercy

P: From Psalm 32: Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD." And you forgave the guilt of my sin.
C: Let there be mercy

P: From James: Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
C: Let there be mercy.

P: Let there be mercy on us O God. For all of our sins we have committed against you, our brothers and sisters and your earth. For our wastefulness, for our greed, for our indifference to others suffering.
C: Let there be mercy.

P: Let there be mercy on us O God. For all of our sins that come from our failure to act. For standing by in the face of injustice, for prejudice and unkind thoughts about our neighbors, for our lack of generosity with your abundance.
C: Let there be mercy.

P: We confess our sins before you O God, trusting that in you we have mercy through the son Jesus Christ. Cleanse us, free us, and send us forth into the world to serve you, grow as your disciples and proclaim good news in Christ's Name.
C: Amen. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

"Alright, Alright, Alright" and "L-I-V-I-N"

Last night, unbeknownst to me because I didn't watch the Oscars, Matthew McConaughey won the best actor prize for his portrayal of Ron Woodroof in "Dallas Buyers Club". This movie was about a straight man who contracted AIDS in the early 1980's and became an advocate for alternative drug therapies, opened his mind to be compassionate to others, and spent years fighting the FDA for the right to import alternative drugs.

I didn't see the movie, and I frankly didn't know anything about McConaughey's speech until I heard it in a clip on ESPN radio here in DFW Monday Afternoon. Since he is both a graduate of The University of Texas and a local celebrity, they were discussing his speech and its significance as it related to who his "hero" was.

Some have called his speech a "rambling discourse" which didn't really say or mean anything. However, what he did say I believe has significance and value. Basically, McConaughey said that when he was asked at the age of 15 who his hero was, he didn't have an answer. Finally he claims he stated his hero was who he wanted to be in 10 years. Who he would be at 25. Then when he was 25 he was asked again and he said his hero was who he would be at 35. Ultimately he said "My hero's always 10 years away...I'm never going to attain that. That keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing."

The debate on ESPN radio and in other places was whether this was just more self-adulation from an over-hyped star. And indeed McConaughey is known for being a bit of a goof (some of us in Austin remember a naked bongo incident in Tarrytown post-Dazed and Confused fame). However, I think his thoughts have real value.

Most people's heroes are other people. Folks who achieve great things and we aspire to be like them. That is great. However, you can never be another person. You are who God has made you to be. You are uniquely gifted as you are gifted. I wanted to be a great NFL Offensive lineman growing up and idolized Anthony Munoz, Erik Williams and Joe Jacoby. Yet I could not be them. My body, my mind, my being, are a unique gift of God and I was not to be them.

McConaughey hit on this in his speech last night, intended or not. He made a profound statement about being who we are called to be. A profound statement as we head into Lent. On Wednesday many of our tribe will gather to receive Ashes on their foreheads and acknowledge that they are dust and to dust they shall return. In so doing they will read the words of Psalm 51.

Reading this Psalm we will confess many things and yet have hope that what God wants is not for us to be something else than what we are, but to truly be who we are..."For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."

God doesn't need us to be more than who we are. We are broken sinful beings. We aren't superstars. But neither were Moses, Aaron, Peter, Paul or Thomas. God wants us to be who we are. To confess the brokenness. To embrace possibility. Who can we be if we live into this? Can we be our own hero?Be the one to whom we aspire? Let go of trying mimic a hero. You aren't Gene Upshaw or Mike Webster or Matt Birk, deal with it. But can you be the person God is calling you to be in 10 years?

This is why I believe in the ministry of Coaching. It is a ministry that calls us to be who we are. To encourage us to think about who we might be in 10 years. Can that leader, teacher, pastor, custodian, lawyer, maid, medical tech, doctor, financier, nurse, engineer, mother/father/uncle/aunt/step-parent/god-parent/grandparent etc... ad infinitum be our hero? I think they can. And I think they should. But you will need a guide along the path. A friend, a coach, who can help you discern the markers for your journey.

I end with a quote from a great Gen X philosopher.

"Let me tell you this, the older you do get the more rules they're gonna try to get you to follow. You just gotta keep livin' man, L-I-V-I-N."

Be who God is is calling you to be. Confess, be free and live into that. L-I-V-I-N

Friday, January 24, 2014

"What would you say you do here?"

Yesterday I posted the following on Facebook.

"Listening to an interview on Fresh Air with an author turned book store owner. She's asked if she ever buys books online. "Of course not" she says "and neither should you!" Terry asked "Well what if you don't have the book I want?" She says "I will order it for you." Seriously? You will order it for me? Sounded like Office Space. "So you physically take the design specs to the engineers?" "Well no, my Secretary does...""

The post generated a good amount of traffic about whether e-books were good or not, small bookstores vs. big bookstores and the importance of value added customer service.

This is fascinating to me because none of that was my point. I love small independent book shops. When I lived in Somerville, MA a favorite place to visit was an old used bookstore. They added real value with knowledgeable clerks and small touches like being surprised to find a book I never would have bought, but it was on the shelf next to the one I came to find. All of these and other points were lifted up by folks in defense of the book store owner in the story.

However, that completely missed my point. The point was the ridiculous notion that for some reason a person should go to a bookstore to have them order a book they don't have. This notion that one would go to order a book from a bookstore hearkens back to days when only a book store would have the catalog from the publisher. They held the keys, the knowledge and the credit to get a book shipped. It is a quaint notion and a completely outdated one.

Why in 2013 would anyone need someone to order them a book? I can do that on my phone faster and probably cheaper than they can. While I value the ambiance their store provides and I will frequent their shop the need for an intermediary to order the book is ridiculous. If they don't have the book that I want I don't need them to order it, and neither do you.

It reminded me of the 90s movie Office Space. In which a couple of "consultants" (reallly just downsizing experts both named "Bob") are interviewing a character Tom. Basically, he does nothing and they figure this out. But he argues he is needed because he has "people skills."

His ranting and raving of course shows Tom has no real people skills. But he wants to hold onto his job even though he provides basically no service. Just like the author turned book store owner in the interview arguing we shouldn't order books online. Why? So she can order them online for us? I hope she has a better business model than that.

So why does this matter to me and why should it to you? Well the first part is, if you do something that basically someone else can do for themselves, you better watch out. Your job is not long for the world.

The second is this is essentially the same argument the church made before Luther and often still tries to make. "You need us to get to God. You can't do it on your own." Luther blew this up in his day and the revolution we are seeing in the rise of the "nones" demonstrates it today. People have figured it out, they don't need church to give them God. If that is our business model, we are toast.

So what value do you add? What service do you provide? What do you create? Why should anyone come to your shop, office or church?

For the church, the danger in this is that we try to become a service provider for peoples needs. Felt-need Bible study, small groups so people can have like-minded friends, sunday school that is essentially free daycare, worship that is simply entertainment and not proclamation. That is a false value added.

What I hope we offer is a connection to God with real community and an invitation to discipleship. Small groups that center on prayer and mutual support. Worship and preaching that proclaim both Law and Gospel. A people sent in service and proclamation of God's word of hope to a broken and sinful world. The outside voice that speaks the truth of the Gospel saying "Christ is given, broken FOR YOU." And having heard that word a charge to "go and do likewise." Real community, real service, real discipleship. That is the value of what I hope we offer.

That is something you can't order off Amazon.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014 Goals

A couple days ago I posted about 2014 goals and what you wanted to put into your Christmas Stocking. What do you want to open up in December 12 months from now and see if you have achieved. Have you gotten where you wanted to go?

Well, perhaps even better than putting notes in your stocking is to make public, or at least make accountable with a friend, a coach, what you want to achieve. What are your goals, plans, dreams for the coming year? Put them out there and see if you accomplish them. As my previous post noted, you probably won't achieve everything. I certainly didn't. But it is good to say what you would like to do and make it noted.

So in that spirit. Here is my sheet for 2014. This is by no means everything we are going to do in the coming year. But these are points of emphasis for me. Things I really do want to make sure I emphasize and encourage myself to work on. To do so, I am putting it out publicly. This will hold me accountable. In addition, I should get a coach. This is the service we offer at nGage Coach Network. A group of folks who are willing to take on your goals and dreams and help you achieve them. So if you are interested, give us a call. And tune in over the course of the year to see how I am doing...

                                                             2014 Personal Goals

Anticipated Outcome
Expected Date of Completion
-Friday Lunches
-Have 3 Friday Lunches/Month with wife
May 2014

-Meat Free Mondays
-One day a week eat a meatless diet
Dec. 2014

-Swim once a week.
-Provide alternative cardio/strength exercise with lower impact
Habit formed by Mar. 2014

-Weight loss
-Weigh 210 pounds
July 2014

2014 Professional Goals
Anticipated Outcome
Expected Date of Completion
-Build Coaching Practice
-Grow online presence and coach 2-3 individuals
December 2014

-Grow Spanish Language Competency
-Increase ability to converse and comprehend the language. Especially liturgical Spanish
December 2014

-Prepare for and develop tools for Comps study
-Pass Comprehensive Exams in August
Aug 2014

2014 Trinity Goals
Anticipated Outcome
Expected Date of Completion
-2017 Vision Work with TLCC, Landscape, Latino Outreach
-50% completion of landscaping, 50th Anniversary of TLCC. Plan for starting Spanish Language outreach
Landscape June 2014
Dec. 2014

-Grow Stewardship
-Increase number of pledging families by 10%
Dec. 2014

-Increase community connection
-Host 2-3 community events at TLC
Dec. 2014