23 May 2008

there's always ESPN

As we prepare for our presentation on Supporting Muslim Students, we come upon a slide with a photo of a bomb exploding in Baghdad. She averts her eyes. With her face turned away, all I can see is her headscarf. “I can’t look,” she says.

What can I say? I do the same thing every time CNN, Fox News, Sky, or BBC turns to news of Iraq. I even avoid reading the headlines as they pass from right to left across the bottom of my TV screen. I switch over to ESPN.

A reference to The Pottery Barn rule: “You break it, you buy it” was earlier attributed to Colin Powell. Well, we broke it, and now we don’t want it. We blame the store for not taking it back. Shattered to pieces -- 1 million refugees, 2.5 million internally displaced, constant civil conflict, and chaos -- little hope of normalcy. “But we have the receipt. It’s in its original box.” Shattered. Scattered. Beyond recognition.

Is it twilight for the Empire? The shocking 9/11 tragedy handed the US a lottery winner-sized check for “Millions and billions in Moral Authority.” Immediately afterwards, we were stopped in the streets of Middelburg, in the Netherlands, by Dutch offering condolences. The Friday after 9/11 I stood at the second-floor window and listened to three minutes of silence followed by the tolling of the bells of Middelburg -- church bells, school bells, the bells of city hall -- all in support of America and its suffering.

Weeks later, home in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, even the Muslim Kyrgyz could feel our national pain and understand the need to scour Afghanistan in search of bin Laden and his accomplices. “In order to bring them to justice,” they would say.

However, like a stereotypical trailer trash lottery winner, our leaders quickly squandered their newly acquired fortune in moral authority. Behind the mask of patriotism and democracy, hides a toxic combination of fear mongering, blind vengeance, patronizing bullying, deceptive spin, fierce nationalism and personal greed.

Following our leaders, we blundered into Sadaam’s Iraq, without anyone’s blessing but our own. Which is all we thought we needed. “Won’t everyone else be sorry when we win.” How exactly does one win this sort of war?

What becomes of the Empire? History confirms that they don’t last forever. Egypt. Persia. Greece. Rome. England. Will this blow, this stumble, keep us on the canvas?

During the presentation, maintaining a pleasant voice, she comments on the slide. However, I notice that, like a frightened woman who senses a stalker, she fastens her eyes forward, afraid to glance back.

She may never go home. Her family got out because they could, 12 years ago, when George H. W. Bush invaded Iraq. Like so many, sown to the wind, left to take root somewhere else in the world. Who will bring them justice?

Cartoon 'gleaned' from www.ohiomm.com/blogs/bok/2006/12/page/2/

21 May 2008

as they say in russian...

I'd like to make, as they say in Russian, a рекомендация. I am really enjoying the most recent release by Telecast, entitled Quiet Revolution. Modern sound. So much Christian music has a subtle, or not too subtle, pop country sound, which I can't take. (Sorry, all you Carrie Underwood and Rascal Flats fans.) This group has more of a European sound, like Keane or Travis, someone like that. Good lyrics. Thoughtful. Hopeful. On sale at iTunes for only $7.99.

20 May 2008

I appreciate the additional hair

While speaking at IKON last night, an unknown artist (of some skill, I might add) drew a sketch of me. (I just realized that I'm wearing the same clothes today. How come you guys never tell me these things?) I deeply appreciate the added hair, as well as, the generous introduction (It was mentioned that I was a former NBA player).

19 May 2008

my boyfriend, the bible

A reminder for my friends at IKON...

Imagine the bible as your boyfriend or girlfriend. Describe your relationship.

A little rocky? Communication breakdown? A long distance relationship?

In theory, we might all agree that the bible's really important. Christians talk about it. Speakers illustrate their messages with it. You can find little bible verses on everything from calendars to In-and-Out Burger wrappers. A few of us even have bible verse tattoos.

Realistically, how much do we read it? Even when we try, do we understand it? Find it inspiring or confusing?

Here are three ways to approach the bible:

1. Read the bible as a STORY
The bible is 'the story so far' in the true story that God is still busy writing. When we begin following Jesus, he writes us into the story.

2. Read the bible with PURPOSE
Verses like Ephesians 2:10 and 2-Timothy 3:16-17 tell us that the scriptures have a specific purpose: to commission and prepare us for good works that God has designed us to do. As NT Wright say, "It's about becoming agents of God's new world -- workers for justice, explorers of spirituality, makers and menders of relationships, creators of beauty."

3. Read the bible with a Central FOCUS
Passages like Luke 24:13-32 and 36-49, 2-Corinthians 1:19-20, and Hebrews 12:1-2 help us see that the key to interpreting the bible is the person and accomplishments of Jesus. We take two laps around each passage we read. First, we ask "What did the original readers get out of this passage? What did it mean to them?" Second lap: "What does this mean in light of Jesus, his teachings and works?"

NEXT STEPS Get into the story. Read Genesis, beginning to end, Exodus 1-20, the book of Mark and the book of Acts. These books are the foundational stories that the entire bible is based on. While reading, ask yourself: 1) God, what's the story? 2) God, what in the world are you trying to accomplish? 3) What's my part in it all? 4) What will it look like today for me to follow Jesus?

Society offers us many competing stories. The way of Jesus, as spelled out in the bible, offers us an alternative story to live by. Let the story of Jesus begin to "in-habit" your life. It's a life-long, continual conversion.

08 May 2008

July 8th. It will be 19 years.

At the end of a crazy day of work, Tara called to debate with herself out loud, with me listening over the phone, about what to make for dinner. Together we decided on pizza for tonight and tacos for tomorrow, since both evenings require quick and easy dinners. Finally escaping the office, I pull into Papa Murphy’s, rush through the door and… Then it happened. I felt the urge to buy a container of chocolate chip cookie dough. I’ve never before bought cookie dough at Papa Murphy’s before.

The lone customer, I call out, “Two pizzas for Tara,” to the guy behind the counter.

As he’s grabbing my pizzas, he calls back “That’ll be $23.70.” (or something like that)

“Did you get my cookie dough?”

“Yes, she preordered that too.”

“Wow, we’ve been married to long. We didn’t even talk about the cookie dough. We’ve never ordered cookie dough before. But we’re both thinking: ‘cookie dough’.”

“That must be a nice feeling: knowing that someone else is thinking just like you”

“Yeah, it is. It really is.”

Of one mind. At least when it comes to cookie dough. That’s a nice feeling.

06 May 2008

the spirituality of brokenness

An email from my friend, Maribeth:
Yesterday a man offered to buy the oven we had at the garage sale. I told him 100.00 and he didn’t reply. Then I asked the Holy Spirit what He thought. Immediately the Spirit prompted, 50.00 dollars. I turned to the man and said, “Well for you sir, 50.00 dollars!” The man said, “That is interesting because I was thinking if you said 50, I would buy it.” He pulled out a 50 and handed it to me and said his girlfriend would pick it up in a couple of hours. Two hours later, his girlfriend showed up in a beat up pickup truck to load it. I told her how nice her boyfriend was and she laughed sarcastically and said he really wasn’t nice. In fact she said he wasn’t very kind at all. I was sort of shocked but then I got mad. “If he isn’t respectful to you, you should kick him to the curb! I am serious, sister, you are a princess, daughter of a King, and your boyfriend should treat you accordingly”, I told her.

But it wasn’t until we were struggling to load the oven into the back of her truck, that I noticed her scar. It was the deepest scar I have ever seen running vertically down her chest. “Hey have you had open heart surgery?” “I was shot in the chest. Gun shot wound.” That is when I got seriously straight with her. I looked into her eyes and gave it to her straight. “Listen sister, God does not bring someone back from the dead without having a big plan for their life. He brought you back because He knows you by name and has a plan for you.” Then I quoted (more like a pretty good paraphrase of) Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans I have for you,” plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I asked her if she went to church, gave her my name and number and Lakeside’s website. Now I am not sharing this because I think I am all that. Most of the time I am praying that I don’t mess things up badly in people’s journey of faith and that Jesus will repair the bridges I burn. Because in my pride and self-righteousness I mess up all the time. I am telling you because she matters to me. She matters to me. And she matters to Jesus.

I am comfortable around people whose scars are visible, because even though mine may be hidden to most, I have many. People who are “messed up” or “not popular” or “socially unacceptable” are the easiest to be with for me, because in their presence I don’t have to hide anything or have it together or pretend anything. I am free when I am looking into the eyes of a homeless person on the street. I am free when I am grieving with someone whose husband has left. I am free when someone shares their struggle with pride or jealousy or anger or distrust, because it gives me breathing room. Breathing room. Breathing room. Even though I don’t welcome being broken, I am at my best in my brokenness, because then Jesus can do what He does best. Where my capacities end, His begin. And nothing is better than when God shows up.

Thanks for showing up yesterday, Jesus. You are my best bud. And I am so grateful for all that You do. I can’t believe You love me like You do. It makes no sense to me, but I will take it.
Check out her blog, follow her adventure: http://www.acts3.org/blog/sheriff.php

01 May 2008

The Danger of More Shiny New Things

by Patrick Lencioni (from Pat's POV: April 2008)

I‘m sure it‘s natural for people to be fascinated with acquiring new things. Whether we‘re talking about physical possessions like homes or cars or toys, or more conceptual assets like knowledge or technology or business strategies, we seem to highly value what we don‘t have, especially when it is novel.

I suppose this is understandable—even good—in a society that values progress and innovation. However, there is a cost to overemphasizing and over-valuing all things new, a cost that goes beyond obvious concerns about greed and over-consumption. When we are in constant pursuit of acquiring more of the latest and greatest, we usually diminish or dilute the power of what we already have.

My twin boys turn ten years old this month, and as I ponder what gift to give them, I realize that what they probably need more than anything is more time to play with the things they already have, things they haven‘t begun to fully use or enjoy. Giving them something new may not make them much happier, and may actually cause them distress. You‘ve seen this dilemma on Christmas morning as your children sit in the midst of their own FAO Schwartz store, slipping into a toy-overload coma, overwhelmed by the choices they have and seemingly unable to process it all. If you‘re like me, you probably chastised yourself and vowed to your spouse that “next year we should give them just ONE present.”

This same phenomenon affects us as leaders of organizations too. But rather than toys, the objects of our desire usually involve knowledge or information. Most leaders I work with grow bored easily, and are in constant pursuit of strategies, ideas, trends—even employees—that will somehow transform their organizations. Unfortunately, they haven‘t come close to fully tapping the strategies, ideas, trends or employees that they already have, and yet they discard those untapped assets in exchange for new ones.

On a personal level, I‘ve experienced this phenomenon too. I‘ve recently come to the conclusion that I should stop reading so many new books and magazine articles. Instead, I should go retrieve the top ten books and articles that I‘ve already read, and start re-reading them again and again. After all, I‘ve forgotten most of what I‘ve learned in those books, and I‘m certainly not using or tapping into more than a fraction of what they have to offer. Instead, I‘m pursuing more and more new material, which only crowds out the space in my brain to recall and put to use the tried and true goodness of what I‘ve already learned.

Why do we do this? Perhaps we want to stay current. Or we don‘t want to feel out of touch. But I think it is based more in pride of knowing things than in real pursuit of excellence, integrity and discipline.

Don‘t think that the irony of all this is lost on me, an author who writes a new book every few years and who wants people to buy and read them. But I cannot deny that one of my favorite quotes comes from the author Samuel Johnson who said that “people need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.” I suppose what he really meant was that we already have plenty of information. We just need to use it.

At the risk of going a little long, let me provide another example of the power of resisting all things new. This one is grounded in the world of corporate strategy.

There is a regional chain of quick-service (a.k.a. fast food) restaurants on the west coast called In-N-Out Burger. If you‘ve never lived or spent much time in California, Nevada or Arizona, you might not know about In-N-Out, but it‘s a sixty year old company that has a cult-like following among people who like fresh, delicious hamburgers.

What‘s amazing about In-N-Out is that during their history they‘ve almost never changed their menu. All they serve are cheeseburgers, hamburgers, french fries (one size only), milkshakes (chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, one size only), and soft drinks.

Imagine the temptations that the executives at In-N-Out have felt over the years to add something new. In addition to wanting to take advantage of trends and fads, they very easily could have decided they were bored offering the same menu. Why not add a chicken sandwich? Or a shamrock shake in March? Or a Mexican-pizza-melt? Every other restaurant is adding new items to keep customers interested. Weren‘t they worried they‘d fall behind?

They‘ve always said ‘no’, and kept their focus on making the freshest, most consistent high quality hamburger in the world—or at least in this part of the world. And they‘ve never been willing to dilute their focus on that by chasing something shiny and new. They believe that there are plenty of people out there who want great hamburgers, and they‘re okay with those people driving to another restaurant when they are craving something else. That requires great restraint and a real appreciation for what they already have.

I should end this now so that it doesn‘t go too long. Besides, I have to go buy my boys a birthday present. Maybe I‘ll get them sweaters.
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