Sunday, December 17, 2006

visionary leaders and managers....

I was looking at my bookshelf and noticing how many books on management and leadership I have. In consideration of the difference between visionary leaders and managers I find it interesting that the books I've read only speak of it as an either or situation.

I think more attention should be given to the fact that leaders and managers are often the same person. In some cases doing one or the other poorly, but the point is that if you are going to be a significant leader of vision it is difficult to move forward without management and procedure in place. Without these things vision becomes a mere pep talk.

It's been my experience that some of the best partnerships are a combination of these skills and gifts.

Some of the most successful churches are those where the leaders have given administrative responsibilities to someone who is more capable.

Friday, November 24, 2006

A vision we give to others....

I recently heard a speaker talk about the importance of a person’s name. Jesus was a vision caster; he impacted the lives of his disciples by renaming them based on the vision of who they could be. Larry Crabb says, “A vision we give to others of who and what they could become has power when it echoes what the spirit has already spoken into their souls.”

Eugene Peterson tells a story about Martin Buber having said, "The greatest thing any person can do for another is to confirm the deepest thing in him, in her--to take the time and have the discernment to see what's most deeply there, most fully that person, and then confirm it by recognizing and encouraging it."

Peterson stresses the importance of looking beyond surface appearances. "We have dealings with hundreds of people who take one look at us, make a snap judgement, and then slot us into a category so that they won't have to deal with us as persons. They treat us something less than we are; and if we're in constant association with them, we become less."

Sunday, October 22, 2006 country music

11547628t_2About twenty years ago a business partner commented that my music choices were somewhat strange. At the time I think we were listening to Bruce Cockburn... I admitted that I had always had an eclectic taste in music, and he jokingly responded, "When you grow-up and mature you'll like country music!".

Honestly, I thought this idea was not likely, but today having listened to all 43 songs on the latest Vince Gill album, These Days (without a break I'd like to add), I am reminded of my friend's words.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

truth telling....

About two years ago, author James Fry published a book entitled, A Million Pieces that shot up the National Best Sellers List with the help of Oprah Winfrey's Book Club endorsements. He followed up with a sequel entitled, My Friend Leonard. I am a sucker for a good memoir and read both of these books with anticipated excitement. Upon finishing the last page of My Friend Leonard, I closed the book, put it on the nightstand, and turned out the light by my bed. Before my head hit the pillow I woke my wife up by saying aloud that James Fry must have embellished this story, it didn't ring true.

Later that week I realized that I had had a "BLINK" moment, because The Smoking Gun (a website that regularly posts legal documents, arrest records, and police mugshots with the intent to bring to public light information that is damning, shocking, outrageous, or amazing, yet also somewhat obscure or unreported by more mainstream media sources) exposed James Fry's best-selling nonfiction memoir as being "filled with fabrications, falsehoods, other fakery." After learning my suspicions about Fry's books were at very least embellished truths or at worst shameless fiction, I quickly removed the books from my "Recommends" list on this blog.

006077174701_scthumbzzz__3A storyteller is a person who invites others to enter into the experience of a story. Barbara Brown Taylor's latest book, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith does just that. Unlike the James Fry books mentioned above, her words about truth telling, public and private give you a window into both. Taylor shares her story of leaving a 15-year career as an Episcopal priest. Her honesty is striking and at times her descriptions are comparable to other great writers like Annie Dillard or Frederick Buechner. The following excerpts are from an address given at the Washington National Cathedral, June 7, 2006.

"If there are other memoir writers sitting here this evening, then you can take a little nap now, because you already know how it goes. The book you meant to write is not the book you write. You turn out to be even more narcissistic, melodramatic, and self-pitiful than you had reasonably feared. People who love you are willing to tell you this, which makes you even more narcissistic, melodramatic and et cetera. Finally, after you have written the book three times, ruthlessly wringing the necks of chapters you raised from baby chicks, you find that the writing heals itself as it heals you. The language runs clear at last. The flaws you can still see are not the ones in the writing but the ones in the mirror. You can look at yourself now with something closer to forgiveness than shame, so that a mere five weeks after you have sworn on everything holy that you will never, ever put yourself or your family through anything like this again, you are already thinking about the next book. Am I right?"

"One thing I discovered over the years was that the people who put themselves at risk like that—telling their story out loud, taking responsibility for their lives, making their private truth public—they were the ones who seemed best able to move on, while those who concealed their damage carried it around with them like an IV drip."

Saturday, September 2, 2006

rarely will a politician say anything....

A couple months ago I was listening to an interview on Public Radio with an Associated Press writer (don't quote me but I think it was Denis Gray or maybe James Fallows). He was commenting about how with so many political consultants and pollsters surrounding our Presidents these days that rarely will a politician say anything without considering the numbers.

He said that George W. Bush won the election on one sentence, "You may not agree with my policies, but I stand on my word." Of course as one would expect, this slogan was a calculated response to the accusations of John Kerry's "wishy-washy" stances.

The writer went on to say that Robert F. Kennedy's remarks to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. assassination would never have been possible in today's age of sound bites, because to go "off book" can be a "political career disaster." I assume the writer was being ironic, although he did not mention that two months later, Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down during a celebration following his victory in the California primary, June 5, 1968.

I finally got around to downloading an mp3 recording of Robert F. Kennedy's address and found it to be very moving.

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God.
~ Aeschylus

Monday, July 17, 2006 resurrection.... an invitation; it asked.

Sometimes it takes someone to ask the right question or the same question. Over coffee I shared my vocational search with a local Pastor and friend. After hearing my story he asked me if I was pursuing my M.Div. to somehow "repay God for what he had done for me?" I would prefer to call it a "response" rather than payback, but the result is something " resurrection... an invitation; it asked."

Practicingresurrection_1I thought having come this far that bringing personal faith and pastoral vocation together would be the next step. But I find myself in a similar place as expressed by Nora Gallagher, "I was meant to remain in the middle for a while, between clergy and laity, a hybrid, a crossbreed, not the one and not the other. An inhabitant of the borderlands, in order to inform not only myself but the church, too. I needed to live out the "priesthood of the laity" to find out how far it could be taken inside the church, and what it might mean outside her walls" (207-208).

Sunday, June 25, 2006

lose our life to find it....

StevensYou said, God is in the business of transforming people right where they are, and that my business is as much "holy ground" as any other piece of real estate around. Last year "fulltime ministry” seemed the best thing to do, regardless of the Paul Stevens book you loaned me about Christian vocation and ministry in the workplace. I remember Stevens quoting George Bernard Shaw, that every profession is a conspiracy against the laity, insisting that professionalism robbed people of the greatest motivation to “turn ordinary work into a sacred ministry.” So why did I want to go to Seminary

0060611820Do you recall telling me that you loved reading Frederick Buechner? Right away this endeared me to you, because I highly regard this author and his insightful wisdom about life. Buechner says, “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness; touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are kept moments, and life itself is a grace.”

006077174701I am reminded of this as I have been reading a new memoir by Barbara Brown Taylor entitled, Leaving Church. Her story has resonated with my own sense of vocation and calls attention to the words of Jesus saying that we need to lose our life to find it.

Sunday, April 2, 2006

Eat this Book....

I often experience when I read books and investigate different subjects that I regularly hit upon the same realities. I am more tempted to think that I am reading into these writings somehow, but I have come to understand that "spiritual reading" can be a matter of receiving.

From an early age I was taught to read like most people. I read for information and for comprehension. I learned to distill what I read to basic ideas or depersonalized facts. Reading for information only, I can distance myself from the facts; I can pick and choose what suits me. I may ask what can it do for me? How will I benefit from it or more specifically how can I use it? While admiring good writing, I learn to summarize, glean the main thesis and I make every effort to pack these facts into my brain falsely believing that just having more information will change my life.

Unless I internalize or take in what I have read it will never change me. I have always appreciated what the writer of the Book of James says about this concerning Scripture, “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like” (1:23-24). In a modern day parable involving his grandson Eugene Peterson shows that Scripture “depersonalized into an object to be honored, …detached from precedence and consequence… perpetuates a lifetime of reading marked by devout indifference.”

080282948101_scthumbzzz__1In his latest book Peterson draws on the prophetic experience of Ezekiel, Jeremiah and the Apostle John. Eat this Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading reflects on the nature of our Holy Scriptures.  He explains that Scripture is more than informational it is formational. The Spirit uses it to shape us into what God intends for us. In this way we present ourselves to become more like God’s Son. “The book, the Bible, reveals the self-revealing God and along with that the way the world is, the way life is, the way we are. We need to know the lay of the land that we are living in. We need to know what is involved in this country of the Trinity, the world of God’s creation and salvation and blessing.” (34).

Spiritual reading is personal and participatory, receiving the words in such a way that they become interior to our lives, the rhythms and images becoming practices of prayer, acts of obedience, ways of love (28). We depersonalize the text when we read for information or just what we can get from the text whether it be inspiration, instruction or comfort.  We may be in danger of using the Word for our own ends and therefore miss the formative nature of the life revealing text.

"Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me once more: 'Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.’ So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, "Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey" (NIV, Rev. 10:8-9).

Monday, January 30, 2006

Asking God-questions....

A couple weeks ago we celebrated my father's seventieth birthday. There were many family and friends in attendance and I was feeling a little uncomfortable. I realize that my social discomfort was because I was tired of explaining why we had not moved to Pasadena. In fact I spent most of the time talking to those at the party I had not known previously, to avoid the issue altogether. However, I eventually sat down next to my Aunt to eat a piece of cake, giving her the opportunity to ask me about our plans to move. At this point I felt like a recording when I gave the details of the turn of events that had led us to postpone our move. When I explained that we had taken our house off the market after the third escrow had fallen through my Aunt said, “Maybe it is God’s will that you not move after all.”

I responded by saying, “I bristle a bit when people say that.” Feeling that I may have been rather abrupt, I explained I didn't want to assume to know the answers to God-questions like that. She paused a moment and then said, "I understand that, but sometimes we just need to feel sure about these things.” I agree with my Aunt that we all have a need for direction. Fredrick Schmidt says, “We want some indication that we are doing the right thing with our lives, and we are more comfortable having a set of ‘marching orders,' a to-do list.”

006059821201_scthumbzzz_This author goes on to say, “The complexity of our lives also lends urgency to that quest. We live increasingly unreflective lives, consuming minutes, hours, and days without savoring them. We rush from encounter to encounter without asking how those experiences might modify or challenge the way in which we live. And we move reactively through the events of a day, making incremental and unrelated decisions that shape our lives without our being aware of it. Then one day we find ourselves saying, “This is not the life I intended” (xvi).

Questions of choice and God’s sovereignty tumble over each other. Os Guinness warns that there is a danger of conceit in view of one’s uniqueness, and that we should “not confuse calling with guidance.” In our culture we are saturated with choice and change and that leads to real fragmentation.

“Asking God-questions ushers us into another way of being, a new way of seeing the world. As important as the I-questions might be, it is necessary to set them aside initially. If we focus on the I-questions, our search for the will of God becomes myopic and self-centered. God becomes enslaved to our needs, our program, our concerns, and our vision. What we think we can or should be doing is fashioned with little or no awareness of what God is doing in the world” (Schmidt, 27).

I think in many of my own efforts to be sure or comfortable with what I should be doing I have often missed the point. What is God doing in the world and how can I align myself with that? Where is God working? How can I get in on it? Schmidt recommends that we trust and embrace the God-questions so we can move forward with a hope and expectation that the needs of our lives will take shape and significance from something larger; from activity that is no longer focused on us alone, but an enterprise that involves and serves others---whatever that looks like.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

bound to one another....

I have been thinking about the importance of long-term friendships today, having received a beautiful email, filled with good news, wonder and joy from a close friend living somewhere in Croatia. It caused me to consider how often we track our lives with the lives of the people who are most dear to us.

I am reminded of a conversation I had while visiting another friend about fifteen years ago. We were on an evening walk through the neighborhoods near his home, enjoying Christmas decorations so many people had put out. I remember the lights and my excitement about so many things that had been going on in my life. At the time my friend was wrestling with some difficult issues and he responded by telling me that relationships were often like a wheel. Sometimes we ride it together to the top, while at other times we’re alone heading downward. We discover ourselves under the wheel with the weight of others trying their best to stay on top. Eventually something breaks and we find ourselves riding to the top again, while many of those we love and care for are still under the wheel. In these friendships there is no competition, only a desire for each other’s best. It’s a cycle of ups and downs, or the ebb and flow of our lives.

We had a guest staying with us this weekend. She is another “long-term” or “lifetime” friend. I always look forward to spending time with her; she fills me with gratitude. Her friendship, like those I mentioned above, is affirming, understanding and loving.

157683929x01_scthumbzzz__1Eugene Peterson says, “In this resurrection-created world, we find ourselves as allies and companions to friends, bound to one another not out of need or liking or usefulness but because there are common operations taking place among and within us. We are part of something larger and other than ourselves that we cannot adequately be part of by ourselves” (110).

Sunday, January 1, 2006

the mystery of vocation….

On this first day of the New Year I want to look forward to new beginnings, new resolutions, new challenges, probable good fortune and hopeful life changes. My wife read her journal entry to me today and in it she expressed the same desires, but also stated the flipside of things in a most conspicuous way.

She said, “Putting aside the old, always brings to mind the coming winter depression and that everything is still the same; how we are in a rut and haven’t been to church for a month.” She goes on to reflect on more than a few events and discouragements of the past year, not the least of which is a failed business venture, illness, hindered plans to move (the sale of our house fell through three times), and this preventing us from following through with the sale of our business and me attending seminary fulltime.

That should sum things up, but standing out against these things my wife also recognized the countless celebrated and sacred moments of the past year. I ask, why have I allowed the difficulties and disappointments of the last twelve months to overshadow so many marvelous things? For me it has been the mystery of vocation…

About three years ago I had lunch with a friend. I had what seemed like a difficult decision to make about an issue at work and I thought I needed to ask for some business advice on the matter. Like a Rogerian therapist she listened to my complaints until I had exhausted the subject and then I asked her what I should do. She said, "Darren, do you hear what you've been saying?" She went on to inform me that I already knew the answer to my question. I just had to get beyond the obstacles and objections and make the only reasonable choice. She was right, and at that moment I made what has proven to be the best decision; I implemented the change when I returned to my office.

With the business question out of the way I surprised myself by telling this same friend about the dramatic change that had come over my life since I re-embraced the teachings of Christ. I tried to express how I feel; I am redirected, focused, experiencing a renewed joy for life and people. I am a new being, it is a new beginning, I am loved by the Creator and God has given me the Spirit of peace. She listened to what I had to say and with excitement she said, "Darren, do you hear what you've been saying?" I was startled by her reaction and asked her what she meant. My friend responded, “You’ve got the call!” I was stunned by her response and at the same time I was confronted with the truth of what she had said. What made this revelation feel like a bombshell is the fact that my friend claims to be an atheist.

Musicalbear_4It was through this experience and countless others that I began to acknowledge the mystery of vocation. Matthew Fox describes this mystery in his book, On Becoming a Musical Bear, “It is the mystery that one experiences when he says, ‘I feel I want to be a lawyer and work in legal aid,’ ‘I have to write,’ or ‘I feel called to minister the Gospel,’ or ‘I used to play around all the time until I began my own family and I love them so much I want to do everything possible for them,’ or ‘I must make music.’ All of these instances are what we might call ‘vocations’; that is, a ‘being called’ to one’s work or one’s contribution to life. That these callings are mysteries is evident from the very wording in which they are couched. They are convictions, imperatives, that invite one to respond positively. They bring about change in a person’s life or attitude toward life. They motivate and dispose him to dedicate himself. They are inescapable. They imply in every case some passivity on the part of the individual; that is, a claim that something happened to him (whether by words or events is incidental) that was bigger than he and drew him out of his tiny world into a bigger one” (45).