Monday, April 24, 2006

foundations

What are you made of? What’s at your core? How deep do you go? Or maybe the question is more importantly, what’s your foundation laid upon? I’ve rolled that around in my brain so much lately I’m beginning to suffer from a bizarre sort of motion sickness.
I’ve been totally out of sorts lately, enough so that I wonder about things like the stability of the human mind and the limits that each individual are capable of. The Bible tells us that God will not give us more than we can bear “through Christ”. I’m not sure that this is much comfort. I use these thoughts at times as I talk to people about brokenness and life and things troubling. These words seem nice at the time. I’m not sure if they’re comfort or denial. I am sure that I don’t want to test that theory. How close to that line am I? I remember watching “A Beautiful Mind” for the first time and totally missing, the later on obvious fact, that the college roommate was the only one who never aged. He was merely an illusion of his mind. Sometimes I wonder that people I interact with might never age, just illusions of a brain totally out of sync with reality. I now look suspiciously at friends who seem not to age. I deal with the destructiveness of denial all the time. I wonder if I could recognize it close up. It all comes back to the depth of my being. Where is my faith? Just yesterday I found myself, during a time intended for meditating on a sacrifice more wonderful than has ever been made, instead contemplating the flow of the message that I was about to deliver. Did I miss the point? Was the messenger more important than the message? Is my foundation built on grace for me or responsibility and image and appreciation and all that gets thrown my way? They are all fleeting, some good some bad, some encouraging some not. Then I wonder, is my responsibility for leading others into God’s presence a liability for my own spiritual well being? I fear that I may become merely the bellman at the Hilton, ushering guests into an elaborately gilded lobby while remaining outside at my post. I can sit here this morning admiring the majesty of mountains etched in the sky across the water and find my thoughts focused on conveying to others the beauty of their pure white faces rather than on my own gratitude to their creator. Foundations are the key. My time spent on trips to New Orleans has brought me face to face with those struggling for all they are worth to rebuild, wondering what kind of foundation will hold them up the next time. It’s a battle that not only takes place through Home Depot, but also in the depths of their being. How much more can they take? How deep can they go? I’m impressed by those I’ve met who are battling inner doubts and outer barriers to their very existence. They tell me stories. They convey resolution. They reconfigure their priorities and shore up foundations, but always with an eye to the next test. Inside they all struggle with “how much is too much?”. I’m reading “Unspeakable” by Os Guiness which deals with the depths of evil and suffering and I wonder “how much is too much?”. I’m reading the news headlines of teenagers plotting in groups to massacre their classmates. I’m jumpy. I’m nervous. When will I turn on CNN and find out that someone will again have succeeded. When will the “Big Quake” hit, the next hurricane, tornadoes? The phone rings, I cringe inside. What does someone want to tell me. I don’t want to be away from my wife. I breathe a sigh of relief every time another school day has started and I know that my daughter has safely made the commute. I think that I know where some of my limits are and I’m terrified of being brought within sight of the line. Do you remember the part in many movies where one of the characters walks right up to the edge of a cliff and the cliff crumbles out from under them? I know many people like that. I’m surrounded by them here. At the edge, their foundation is very fragile. All of the anxiety may at times rise up like the long predicted Tsunami, threatening to wash over me…..BUT….The sun is still gleaming off of the snow canopied peaks this morning. God is. When all else fails I am reminded that God is. God was. God will always be, and I will always be his. I get tired of this world, but when it becomes overwhelming, I can reread the end of the story. My foundation is built on the end of the story. It is strongest at the edge of the cliff. I’m still not excited about going there yet.

foundation

What are you made of? What’s at your core? How deep do you go? Or maybe the question is more importantly, what’s your foundation laid upon? I’ve rolled that around in my brain so much lately I’m beginning to suffer from a bizarre sort of motion sickness.
I’ve been totally out of sorts lately, enough so that I wonder about things like the stability of the human mind and the limits that each individual are capable of. The Bible tells us that God will not give us more than we can bear “through Christ”. I’m not sure that this is much comfort. I use these thoughts at times as I talk to people about brokenness and life and things troubling. These words seem nice at the time. I’m not sure if they’re comfort or denial. I am sure that I don’t want to test that theory. How close to that line am I? I remember watching “A Beautiful Mind” for the first time and totally missing, the later on obvious fact, that the college roommate was the only one who never aged. He was merely an illusion of his mind. Sometimes I wonder that people I interact with might never age, just illusions of a brain totally out of sync with reality. I now look suspiciously at friends who seem not to age. I deal with the destructiveness of denial all the time. I wonder if I could recognize it close up. It all comes back to the depth of my being. Where is my faith? Just yesterday I found myself, during a time intended for meditating on a sacrifice more wonderful than has ever been made, instead contemplating the flow of the message that I was about to deliver. Did I miss the point? Was the messenger more important than the message? Is my foundation built on grace for me or responsibility and image and appreciation and all that gets thrown my way? They are all fleeting, some good some bad, some encouraging some not. Then I wonder, is my responsibility for leading others into God’s presence a liability for my own spiritual well being? I fear that I may become merely the bellman at the Hilton, ushering guests into an elaborately gilded lobby while remaining outside at my post. I can sit here this morning admiring the majesty of mountains etched in the sky across the water and find my thoughts focused on conveying to others the beauty of their pure white faces rather than on my own gratitude to their creator. Foundations are the key. My time spent on trips to New Orleans has brought me face to face with those struggling for all they are worth to rebuild, wondering what kind of foundation will hold them up the next time. It’s a battle that not only takes place through Home Depot, but also in the depths of their being. How much more can they take? How deep can they go? I’m impressed by those I’ve met who are battling inner doubts and outer barriers to their very existence. They tell me stories. They convey resolution. They reconfigure their priorities and shore up foundations, but always with an eye to the next test. Inside they all struggle with “how much is too much?”. I’m reading “Unspeakable” by Os Guiness which deals with the depths of evil and suffering and I wonder “how much is too much?”. I’m reading the news headlines of teenagers plotting in groups to massacre their classmates. I’m jumpy. I’m nervous. When will I turn on CNN and find out that someone will again have succeeded. When will the “Big Quake” hit, the next hurricane, tornadoes? The phone rings, I cringe inside. What does someone want to tell me. I don’t want to be away from my wife. I breathe a sigh of relief every time another school day has started and I know that my daughter has safely made the commute. I think that I know where some of my limits are and I’m terrified of being brought within sight of the line. Do you remember the part in many movies where one of the characters walks right up to the edge of a cliff and the cliff crumbles out from under them? I know many people like that. I’m surrounded by them here. At the edge, their foundation is very fragile. All of the anxiety may at times rise up like the long predicted Tsunami, threatening to wash over me…..BUT….The sun is still gleaming off of the snow canopied peaks this morning. God is. When all else fails I am reminded that God is. God was. God will always be, and I will always be his. I get tired of this world, but when it becomes overwhelming, I can reread the end of the story. My foundation is built on the end of the story. It is strongest at the edge of the cliff. I’m still not excited about going there yet.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Napolean

Here’s a great question…Why does it seem as if most people who have no business whatsoever in leading people usually do? I mean really. I can’t tell you how many times I encounter someone, especially in a mid level management position, attempting to lead a group of employees or even volunteers for that matter and just messing it up royally. I don’t think there’s a person in this country who has ever worked in a fast food environment or maybe a retail environment who couldn’t relate a story or two or ten about a boss of theirs who mysteriously made it to management seemingly to make their working lives miserable. Managers of fast food chains are almost the worst in my humble opinion. Some of you may argue in favor of your favorite boss to hate. Whatever your history, and mine for I have suffered as you have J, I have found some universal truths to these types of people. Feel free to tell me if you can relate. It seems as if many if not most of these people have a Napolean complex. They are always trying to prove something to the world and especially those underneath. It’s a “You will respect me even if I look small in your eyes”, kind of attitude. They have an associates degree in business management and automatically you are expected to genuflect in their presence. I find that many if not most have a “that’s the way it is and you’ll just deal with it” approach to helping their underlings succeed in their positions. There is some wisdom that encourages individuals to establish expectations and responsibilities upfront in an employee / employer relationship. These mean nothing to the Donald Trump wannabe’s who find themselves with your life in their hands. They don’t tend to flex or accommodate unless it’s in their best interests. Another quality that is common is that life for them is their position and they expect all those around them to live in their world. They don’t seem to be able to look outside the bubble and understand that most peoples life ambition is not to perpetually ask “do you want fries with that?”. They don’t understand bigger ambition, larger goals, or maybe that you are only doing what you have to do in order to do what you want to do. I know that these may be huge generalizations, but I merely see them as observations. Where this all plays out for me in my life’s environment is in the church. It’s been my experience that the church is not immune to little Napoleans. In fact, I find, unfortunately, a disproportionate number. I think that it’s because you don’t even have to work to get into some form of management in the average church. You just show up and present yourself louder than those around you. Or you just show up more often and then by default you are the leader. It’s a dangerous place filled with dangerous people and too often the underlings (volunteers?) decide very quickly that they don’t need to be treated in an underling fashion. After all, they’re not even getting paid minimum wage. It’s a shame because it’s not at all scriptural, let alone right. In fact, the bible does give plenty of management advice. One of them in particular is a completely reverse kind of logic thing that goes something like “If you want to be great, you need to become servant to everyone”. Now I wonder what would happen if people of faith actually committed to just that this year. No witnessing, no preaching to, no knocking on doors, no five spiritual laws, just serving others, especially those “beneath” you. Try not being responsible to those you are responsible for. That goes for you reading this who lead volunteers and for those who lead employees. I write these wandering thoughts nearly weekly and rarely get feedback. I know that many are reading this (I have no idea why) so I’ll simply ask you to consider this concept. Imagine what we could conquer when we’re not seeking to conquer.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

numb

I’ve been gone for a long time. It seems like years since I’ve written here. Actually I think it’s only been a few weeks. I’ve been creatively challenged as of late. I just spent another week in New Orleans. I originally thought that a brilliant idea would be to bring my laptop with me and do a kind of daily log (blog, duh) of my experiences there this time. I brought the laptop. I even creatively found an open Starbucks to transmit from. I had my digital camera to record the images. I was all prepared to be the “live eye” @ 11. I wasn’t prepared for the experience though, once again. You know, I’ve already been, already “seen it all” I thought. And this time it really wasn’t much different at all. I’ve come to believe since returning home that this was exactly the problem. It wasn’t much different at all. It’s been almost a week and I’m just now, maybe, going to be able to put together a coherent thought. I’ve never more appreciated the sentiment expressed by Bruce Springsteen in “Jungleland”…. “and the poets down here, they don’t write nothing at all. They just stand back and let it all be.” I was speechless and unable to write much that would have helped to convey anything at all. I still couldn’t until yesterday as I drove down a street in my city where the businesses were actually in business. The houses had people. The roofs were on, the windows were in, and the lawns were not 3 foot high weeds. I can’t describe total abandonment of a culture other than to ask you as you drive through your daily routine, to imagine no one else sharing it with you. Oh the signs of others are there. The playgrounds where boisterous 5 year old boys would chase each other with sticks. The benches where curly haired little girls would have doll sized conversations and life was a tea party. The schools where balls bounced and bells rang and buses puffed out blue/gray exhaust. The convenience stores where the only thing convenient was buying lottery tickets. The “pay-at-the-pumps, the overstocked carts at Sam’s Club, and malls with early morning gray-haired and blue haired walking fanatics, are all there. The people are not. It’s quiet…it’s eerie, it’s unsettling, it’s humbling. Life as we’ve come to create it, to expect it, to experience it, no longer is a reality there. There are certainly people trying. The old people on porch swings are trying, surrounded by broken glass and waterlines on their homes, sitting and waiting for a sign of electricity, or running water, or mail even. They are waiting. The people of the French Quarter are trying, existing in a state of denial and you get the sense that the people there are content, not wanting to travel outside the boundaries of this part, lest their illusion be crushed. I haven’t decided whether it’s the destruction or the desolation that disturb me the most. I’m just disturbed all the same, not enough though that I won’t go back. I’ll be back. They need hearts that still break for them to help them beyond the numbness that is always threatening to overtake them. Don’t get me wrong, there are others there who are helping them. But they’re not there because their hearts are breaking. They tend to be there for “what’s in it for them”. There is money to be made in others misery. It’s sometimes our human tendency in a fallen world to exploit the exploitable. Fortunately, this element makes the sacrifice and sweat of those whose motivation is compassion shine even brighter in the darkness. Evil exists. Anyone who has ever doubted this can easily see it firsthand in New Orleans. Fortunately, God shines brighter still. There is some evil that even Satan himself in all of his angel of light glory cannot make attractive.