July 28, 2016

Biased media

I'm not arguing that the mainstream media don't lean left. I'm arguing that it's a silly criticism because everyone leans somewhere. If leaning disqualifies them, it disqualifies everyone else, too. But does that automatically make them wrong about everything?

Both "sides" exist because they speak to realities and constituencies that must be accounted for. To ignore the arguments of the opposite side is unwise because they serve as a hedge against overlooking valid and vitally important things that impinge directly on your neighbor that you may not realize impinge indirectly on you. To avoid them altogether is foolhardy and leads to tunnel vision. And eventual backlash.

The opposition are not really our opposite. They are our complement. They complete a picture that isn't whole if I only look at my side of things. That's why dismissing any source because it's "biased" is just as bad as accepting anything you hear.

January 01, 2016

Do It Again

Last year was probably extremely tough for many of you. For others it may have seemed like a blur that saw no real investment of time or effort, only expenditure.

Seeing another year arrive today - with no idea what it may hold - may be a bit daunting. But life doesn't really come to us in years. It comes to us in moments. Mostly in mundane daily routine and ongoing maintenance and re-doing things and re-fighting battles we've re-done and re-fought a thousand times before.

All we have within our control is our response to each moment, our dedication to incremental improvement in wisdom, joy, and faith. We can see it as either monotony or opportunity. We're not going to roll out of bed tomorrow and be 100% better. Some days our progress may not even be evident. On others we may lose ground. But we cannot quit. We don't always have the strength in ourselves to keep going. But we can receive the strength from outside ourselves!

This video is an AWESOME illustration of that principle.




In repetition, we can develop discipline. In repetition, we can evolve expertise. In repetition, we can receive refinement. Get up again. Go out again. Live it again. Do it again. DO IT AGAIN!

December 05, 2015

Janitor versus CEO

Actually living this requires more than a smile and back-pat and asking about the next football game. It means recognizing the janitor's status as a team member and finding ways to help make their job easier.

I worked at a department store for two years, collecting the trash from the cashier stations, cleaning the toilets every night, assisting customers with heavy appliances, working on the loading dock, and delivering stock to the sales areas. It was the employees and area sales managers who were not only nice but also thought ahead about the impact to us, who pitched in to unload boxes, etc., that we respected and trusted.

I still remember the name of the best ASM we had, totally humble and very real - Joanne. Another ASM who stands out was really cool, too. She was very gorgeous and stylish but also extremely grounded and gritty and not afraid to do the unpleasant work with us. She left us to become the manager of the first Victoria's Secret in Huntsville. Then there were other departments where we were treated with open contempt.

That was all thirty years ago. Sticks with you, though.

June 29, 2015

The Fruit of Civil Discourse

This post was written during the days immediately following Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court decision declaring same-sex marriage constitutional.

Many of my Facebook friends are openly asking, "How should I respond to current events?" I have friends on the far edges of both sides of the political and theological divide. I am often maddeningly centrist as far as they are concerned. C'est la vie.
I can make only one statement. But I can say it with certainty because it's not dependent on my wisdom. (Thank goodness!)
This isn't about what my response is but about how I should give it. I must respond in a way that models the Spirit of God, not my flavor of theology or politics. That means my response must demonstrate a power greater than this man or any manmade philosophies like conservatism and liberalism and libertarianism can provide. God's Spirit is described in the New Testament as producing nine different verifiable characteristics, like fruit on a tree. If I see apples hanging off a tree, I know it's likely an apple tree. Same thing with the people of God. If you see these fruits in their life, they're probably one of His kids.
This is how I see them applying here.
First I must respond with LOVE for all parties involved. Period. 
Second, I must respond with JOY. Joy that I am loved by God and so is everyone else. And joy that most everyone here actually believes they are trying to do what is best for others. We can work from that starting point! That's why we can drop our differences and turn against common threats because we know we're basically on the same side. We're Americans! Be happy that is still at our core! Let that joy show forth on the Fourth!
Third, I must find PEACE no matter which way the winds of society blow. Fear is the base of all our conflicts on these issues, not hate. Constant fear of the whims of politicians or of the majority acting in prejudice. And remember what Yoda said fear leads to? Anger. Then hate. Then suffering. I still need to learn to trust God - for that helps bring inner peace. I also need to avoid voices on any "side" that prey on my fears 24/7 in order to create panic and control me - and my vote. This is serious business. In Revelation, what is listed as the first category of sinner thrown into the Lake of Fire? The liars? No. The sexually immoral? No. The murderers? No. Who goes first? It is the fearful. Did you even know that was a sin? Let's soak that one in for a second, shall we? The Bible says perfect love - God's love - casts out fear. How do we model peace? Focus on love. Not fear.
Fourth, I must have PATIENCE. Patience with others and patience with our system. And patience with God. (And patience with the length of this post.)
Fifth, I must show KINDNESS. I must be giving and welcoming and cheerfully proactive in my interactions with everyone, not just those who agree with my politics and have the same list of sins I have. Because all philosophies are deeply flawed. And because I do have a list. And so do you. Let's be absolutely real about that. Being real can lead us to be kind.
Sixth, I must have true GOODNESS. My love and patience and kindness can't be gimmicks or techniques or a means to an end. They have to come out of the depths of who I am. I must truly have a good and pure heart toward God and others. Don't tell me this one doesn't give you pause. It does me.
Seventh, I must demonstrate FAITHFULNESS. I have to consistently and continually renew my commitment to love God and my neighbor. This extends to my politics but it must start with the person right in front of me - my daily commitment to family and friends and co-workers. Politics must be neighborliness writ large. Be faithful in the little things first. That faithfulness will resonate in the larger issues.
Eighth, I must be gentle. GENTLENESS hinges on recognition of the fragility of life and of emotions. We're all just an eighth of an inch of cholesterol or a tiny bloodclot or a slight swerve of an oncoming vehicle away from death. Will it really matter a damn what your neighbor's position on the flat tax was when you go to their funeral? No. Then for the love of all that's holy, stop calling them insane or evil when they talk about it today. Think forward. And be careful with people's hearts. At some point in our lives we will all be one bad day away from giving up. Don't be the last straw for someone else. Heal. Don't hurt.
Ninth, I must have SELF-CONTROL. This is about self-discipline. Doing the right thing at the right time and in the right manner. Consistently. That's a hard road. And it takes humility and honesty - and often a good deal of trial and error - to determine all those "right" decisions. Don't let someone else dictate those right things. But don't exclude the lives and hearts of others from those decisions. Because then it's not self-control. It's selfishness.
Peace and love to all.

September 10, 2014

My sisters

I never had any sisters and I'm sure I'm the poorer for it. But I have always had a strong connection to, admiration of, and affection for women. I've had tremendous women as mentors and role models throughout my life. I've probably had more female friends than male in my adult life. And for a debilitatingly straight guy my age, that's unusual.

I've long felt like I should post a tribute to a few of the women whom I admire, respect, and cherish. There are many friends and family members I could have chosen who were very worthy. I was tempted to forego this post to avoid disappointing anyone but I felt so strongly about celebrating someone that I knew I must write something and just trust others would understand that I can't choose everyone.

I finally decided on these two ladies because they are from my workplace and virtually all of my non-work friends do not know them. I am extremely proud to introduce them to you. If I could pick any women to "adopt" as my sisters, these two would be on the list.

Besides the fact that both are extremely tall, they share many traits. Each is a force of nature. You can almost wring their personality out of your clothes when they leave the room. They are both unapologetically themselves: Remarkably strong, unflinchingly outspoken, fiercely independent, and intentionally unique. They are women of deep faith in Christ. They do not suffer fools well. Yet they seem to love this one!

They are deeply human. They are flawed. But they are perfectly themselves. And this fool loves them for it.


Denise


Once, a co-worker overheard Denise and me as we were discussing something. (It's impossible not to.). He told me later he was concerned at first that we were arguing. We were not arguing. We just have a very distinctive, over-the-top style of banter. Denise feigns alarm, disgust and indignation at whatever I am doing that she finds silly or questionable. Loudly. I counter with cynicism, rationalization, and denial. She shakes her head. I smile. It's essentially carefully crafted performance art developed through years of trust-building. We get it. Others don't.

Denise has always been the type of person who knows virtually everyone at work. And she keeps tabs on them all, making sure their doctor appointment went well and their child overcame spelling test anxiety and their vacation plans are on track. And she has a cheerful greeting, a warm smile, a hug, or a sarcastic comment for everyone, as the situation warrants.

Sadly for those of us at the office, Denise's team began telecommuting full-time just a few months ago. We - meaning I - miss her terribly.

Denise and I have been working together for a decade. We've seen each other through tremendous highs and devastating lows in our work and personal lives.

These are a handful of the things Denise has reinforced in me over the years.

Have a victorious mindset - I was raised to be an Eeyore. Denise always actively calls me on that and reminds me of who I am as a child of God. She's always right because it's always true. Whether I believe it or not.

Root out self-deception immediately - Denise will always bust you if you try to rationalize or justify something you know is sinful, selfish, or potentially self-destructive. And she's honest with herself, as well. She always keeps things real, in the best sense. I always try to do the same for her. Frequently!

Care - Denise is always deeply concerned and very thoughtful about her friends and their lives. And she actively does practical things for them. I am forever in her debt for her work in organizing and creating a wonderful silver anniversary reception for my wife and me. It's not enough to talk. You have to do.

Children are people, too - As an educator, Denise has a great heart for children and they absolutely love her. She treats them with respect and dignity and encourages their sense of wonder and achievement. She is acutely aware that they are adults in training yet she wants them to experience the joy of childhood. When fellow employees bring their kids by the office, they want to know if they'll get to see Denise!

Celebrate! - Denise loves any excuse to throw a party, whether to mark a milestone or to take a break from the office grind and rejoice in an important life event, a job well done, or just being alive. We desperately miss her since she began telecommuting. Please come back and bring a party with you, Denise!


Cynthia


Cynthia and I have known each other for two years but we have formed a very strong friendship.

I enjoy watching people meet Cynthia for the first time. She is an extremely impressive person. She is very sharp-minded, calmly confident, direct, relentlessly charming - and strikingly beautiful. When Cynthia begins conversing with a third person in the room, the newcomer will sometimes never turn to listen to that other person. They will still be watching Cynthia.

But that's not what makes her Cynthia. She is an old-school, down to her bones, living and breathing example of what was once known as the Protestant work ethic. Cynthia exudes hard work and integrity and she commands respect. You are compelled to step up your game just by being around her.

And it's not just her professionalism that compels. Cynthia has taught me so much in such a short time about applying the same zeal to enjoying life. She has helped me change in positive ways. I can't bring higher praise to a person than that. I can only hope to return the favor.

Here are a few of the many things that Cynthia encourages in my life.

Keep your word - If Cynthia tells you she will do something, she does it. No matter what she has to do to get it done, it WILL be done. That is almost freakishly uncommon in this day and age. I do not take it for granted. Cynthia also shares a trait with one of my greatest heroes, Theodore Roosevelt: She will calmly promise something that she has absolutely no idea how to accomplish and will then secretly learn how to do it on the fly.

Loyalty - This is among Cynthia's most cherished values. She cannot abide disloyalty. Don't throw people under the bus. It's cowardly. Don't betray their confidence. It's an assault on their security. And both will always come back to haunt you. Always. No one is perfect at this, including Cynthia and I. But we have proven ourselves enough that we each know the other has our back. That's a rare and great thing to have at work.

Stand up and be heard - Cynthia's highest praise for anyone is to say they are 'strong'. To her, strength is the ability to project yourself into and onto your environment, the force of will. Cynthia is very direct and candid with her opinions about work and, well, everything! And she will actively defend and promote her opinions, ideas, and career and anything else that is hers. Little by little she's teaching me - the soft-spoken guy who must be liked by everyone - to do more of the same.

It's just work. Have fun! - Even though Cynthia is a dynamo of productivity and a model of professionalism, she is also an engine of laughter and a lover of new experiences. We've even had a few Nerf gun battles with each other at the office. (I was usually the winner. Just saying.) She also manages to stay closely connected to her adult children during the day. And when she leaves the office, she leaves the office.

She lets me 'borrow' her kids - Since my wife and I don't have any children here on Earth, I sometimes enjoy parenthood vicariously through the kids of my friends.  Cynthia's are no exception. Everyone thinks they have smart and beautiful kids. But Cynthia seriously does. She has three incredibly responsible, remarkably high-achieving, impossibly good-looking kids whom I love to hear news about.


September 08, 2014

Influences: Star Trek

Today is the 48th anniversary of the first broadcast of Star Trek in 1966. It seems a fitting day to celebrate the influence the show has had on my life.

Yes, you read it right. My life.

I was only one when the show originally began airing on NBC. But I did catch it when it entered syndication and was a kid during the massive explosion of popularity that Trek enjoyed during the early and mid 1970s (complete with plenty of toys, books, and other merchandise). And I can tell you the moment I fell in love with Star Trek.

The scene that first hooked me on Star Trek is in the clip below. I'd seen a few episodes of Trek before and enjoyed the action scenes and the futuristic technology and weapons. But this scene closed the deal. It is from an episode that seems extremely cheesy by today's standards of production. But the heart of the show is encapsulated in its message. And, for me, that message was - and is - part of the ultimate appeal of Star Trek.

The plot: An outpost of humans on a distant planet is massacred by alien attack and the Enterprise chases down the offending ship. A battle begins. But the Metrons, a race of advanced people with nearly unlimited mental powers, halt the ships and the battle and condemn both parties for their barbarism. Suddenly, the captains of both ships are teleported to a desolate planet to engage in mortal combat. The Metrons will release the victor and his ship. The loser's ship will be destroyed. Using makeshift weapons, the two captains slug it out until Captain Kirk gains the upper hand over his reptilian opponent, the Gorn captain. What happens next turned my nine-year-old sensibilities on their ear. Watch it.



I was stunned. Kirk didn't kill the Gorn? This blew my mind. I'd watched enough monster movies to know that monsters get killed by the hero. It ends the threat. That's how it worked.

But here I was shown another way: Recognizing the value of every life, regardless of its outward appearance. Mercy. Communication, identification, and possible reconciliation. Self-determination. Refusal to be used by self-appointed authorities. And Star Trek championed that way. After my initial surprise I was suddenly inspired. Ennobled, even.

This was how I wanted to live.

(You can watch the entire Season 1 episode, "Arena," on Netflix.)

Another key contribution Star Trek made to my life was a fascination with the inner workings of the production of entertainment. Contrary to popular opinion, we Trekkies don't believe the Star Trek universe is real. Quite the opposite. Many of us are acutely aware that it is developed and maintained by a large group of talented professionals, each with an impressive degree of industriousness, creativity, and resourcefulness. We love to learn how each step of the process works. From the writing of an episode, to the all the way down to the guy who designs the images on the computer screens - we love to learn how it's all done.

To be sure, this fascination has been a tremendous asset to me when I have written, directed, and acted in volunteer theater for church and other venues. But it has also given me a heart for teamwork and creativity in many other areas of life.

August 31, 2014

My Facebook face

I hope I don't give people the wrong impression of me online. I don't think I'm Captain Spiritual. I'm not the wise old man. I don't know all the answers. I don't have any more of a connection to God than the next believer.

I love God because He first loved me. And He doesn't love me because I'm a good guy but in spite of me not being one.

I am not better than anyone else. In fact I'm likely worse than you in many areas. (And vice versa, I'm sure. We're all experts at some bad things, aren't we?)

I pray for people not because I'm a saint but just because I love them. It boils down to, "Daddy, sister is sad. Help her feel better." I'm not very good at praying and the way I do it is pretty odd but it's the only way I've come up with that I will do with anything resembling consistency. So I just do it that way.

My life is not all pretty pictures. I love beauty in nature, art, and in people because I live in a frequently messy world and a permanently messy life. Beauty is a marker of truth and order in the chaos, a post card from the Kingdom we know is here but is not yet visible. So I try to appreciate it at every opportunity.

My life is not all pithy sayings. I write down and post profound ideas when they occur to me because - frankly - I can be pretty shallow and these ideas are like a floodgate being opened into my little creek. When deep truth flashes for someone else, I appreciate it when they point it out to me. I just try to return the favor when I see it myself.

I'm not the greatest husband by any stretch. I just make do and make up and try again. When people ask me how we've stayed together so long, I just say, "Because we choose to. Every day." In every choice you make, you're moving closer or farther apart. Just choose closer more often than farther.

You're probably sick of hearing me say it but I am moved almost to tears every day these days by how many wonderful people I have in my life. Some people I've had to steer clear of because I'd have cried if I saw them that day. I often see myself as a weird and inscrutable nuisance. I will never deserve them but there they are! They love me anyway.

As one of them has said to me, "I am blessed and I'm forgiven. That's all I can say." We have nothing to do with either blessings or forgiveness except to accept them and cherish them.