Tag: Jesus

The “Colonel” Of Truth and our bias in the war against him.

Why do I write this blog? What is this whole #four4soaring thing about anyway? As I ponder this question I am assaulted by what Steven Furtick calls the Chatterbox in my own head:

You are writing this blog out of ego.

You want to be liked.

You crave attention.

You don’t really care about anyone but yourself.

The only one you want to see soar-is you.

I’m not very fond of that Chatterbox guy.

He is the one that I have fought with my whole life.

He has been my adversary since I was a young man. He has been the primary rival working against me all these years as I desperately sought to free the “Colonel Of Truth” from the prison of my insecurities.

In the action-packed screenplay of my life, the good Colonel was captured many decades ago by Comrade Chatterbox. I can’t even recall when Colonel O. Truth was initially caught behind enemy lines and tied up? My loose reckoning is that his capture occurred some time in my early childhood when I knew the unbridled joy of just being loved and cared for, playing in the woods near my house or with my toys, a time when Comrade Chatterbox had not yet begun broadcasting yet?

In those heady days, all was right with the world, I didn’t compare myself to others, I thought I could do anything and be anything, I felt that the love I received from my family was pure, unadulterated, and unconditional. I didn’t know abandonment or hurt. I didn’t know envy for what others had materially or otherwise. I was, in my Faith’s vernacular, a child of God- innocent, accepted, watched over by a heavenly guardian.

One day, who knows what day or what year that was, the broadcasts started. They were intermittent at first, but they were relentless and over time they drowned out a good deal of the unbridled joy and freedom I felt. Year after year, the broadcast of Comrade Chatterbox told me I was not loved by anyone, let alone this Heavenly Father person. Through the years, Colonel O.Truth was brought to lower and lower levels of the dungeon where the light had a difficult time getting in. Before I knew it Comrade Chatterbox had filled my head with things like:

You’ll never get married.

You’ll never have a girlfriend, let alone a wife.

You’ll never get a good job.

You’ll always be poor.

You are ugly.

You don’t deserve to be loved by anyone.

You should give up any creative or artistic feelings that stir in you to write or speak or lead, you are kidding yourself.

At some point, I went to war with Comrade Chatterbox. It was a bit of a Cold War. It was a war of umbrage and one-upsmanship. I started to prove Comrade Chatterbox wrong, or so I thought, because I fought and won so many of the things he said I would never get. I took the hills of work, the plains of romantic love and the battlements of (a modest) austerity. (I never did get very good looking but I got rid of my warts and outgrew some of my pre-teen gangliness 🙂 .)

There I stood having won all those battles, but I was stuck on the ground. I wasn’t flying or soaring overhead, surveying any of the “good work” I (almost spitefully) did to get where I was. I was tricked into thinking all those hills were on my side of the combat zone!

Instead, one day, I woke up to find I was stuck behind enemy lines, behaving just like Comrade Chatterbox- cynical, pessimistic, tribal and petulant. To make matters worst, the Colonel was still locked in the dungeon and the Comrade was broadcasting louder than ever!

Until I found these friends and they had a map. A map that led to connections and those connections led to others who soon started to light the path to freeing the Colonel. Along the way the good Comrade got quieter as I made my treacherous trek toward the Colonel. One day, after a momentous struggle with the Comrade, I found Truth and he was set free (with quite a bit of help from Above.)

The initial price I paid was to shut down my Sherman tank-sized ego and realize I could not fight this battle all by myself. The later price I paid was letting people in, beyond the close circle I held tight. Even later, I started believing in something greater than myself. In many ways the old me died saving Colonel Truth from that dungeon, but, I was brought back to a whole different life.

I locked away my guns and stopped warring with the Comrade. Today, when I hear the broadcast seeping in, I have learned to turn up the volume on another broadcast. I hang out with the Colonel now. I learned that Colonel O. Truth, or Kernel O. Truth as he is known by his civilian moniker, is all about mentoring me and telling me that I do have something to share and I shouldn’t hide that. When I meet up with him, he encourages me to let others see what I have stored inside of me. He says some people need to hear what I have to say, some people just need me to listen and yet others need me to show up for them.

That said, this story is not about me…

…it is about you.

It is not even about asking you to find the Faith I’ve found, although I will always pray you would. This is a story about the Colonel locked away in your dungeon. You see Colonel O. Truth is the kernel of truth that you spend a great deal of time denying and locking away. The kernel of truth is who you really are. I refer to it as a kernel, not because it is only part of the truth, it is the whole truth about you, it is a kernel because you have made it so small.

When you lock the truth of who you are created to be away, it shrinks to the size of a kernel, a morsel that is ever-present, calling from its captivity, for you to be who you were always meant to be.

The kernel of truth was probably well known to that kid you used to be when you believed anything was possible before Comrade Chatterbox and the traps of comparison and ego got in your own way.

Just like when you were young and it was more like a Bountiful Bushel Of Truth, the kernel of truth, once he is set free, will help you realize you are loved and forgiven. When that happens, and you accept it, the kernel will begin to grow back toward its original size.

We avoid letting the kernel have his say and that is where bias comes in. We all have a strong tendency toward confirmation bias. That is when you tend to migrate toward information that confirms what you “already know.” The trouble is, much of the time, what we already think we know about ourselves, is wrong. In fact, most of it is derived from Comrade Chatterbox’ version of the truth.

The Comrade’s propaganda gets overwhelming and a snowball effect occurs where we push the good Colonel deeper and deeper down into the dungeon until we can’t find him anymore. We get lost behind enemy lines, with no map, few connections and no ability to free him (or ourselves) on our own.

When I am listening to my Colonel, he tells me the reason I write this blog is that I have been you. He reminds me that, despite any human failings or need for validation, the overriding kernel of truth is that I want something FOR you, not from you. I believe you can defeat Comrade Chatterbox and you can soar on the wings of Light, Love, Leadership, and Laughter.

This blog and the quotes and jokes I share are offered to help you find your way to free your Colonel. They are intended to be clues and a map to set him free.

You may find you need help getting there and turning the key as I did. My help came from above. Maybe you won’t want to make that choice? I would never try to compel you to do that. In any case, I can advise you to start with connections. Start with the community. Surround yourself with people who are FOR you.

I’m not advocating you join up in some sort of tribal fallacy with people who share the same anti-xyz cause or who follow the same hockey team. (although those can be fun.) I’m talking about taking a step and spending time with people in settings where you can talk to them about what’s really going on in your life, knowing they want nothing from you and everything FOR you. I’m talking about finding the places you can go where people will see you for who you really are and help you see it too.

I’m talking about serving alongside others and working on things bigger than yourself. I’m talking about a place you can soar!

I’m glad you are reading this because I want you to know this is one of those places. Thank you for reading and let me know anything I can do to help you. For the record, in my movie version of your life, Comrade Chatterbox always goes down in flames.

You, my friend, will always Soar.

images are from Rambo and Unsplash

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Thankful ain’t what YOU think

I used to dream of the ability to shower people with gifts that I thought would thank them properly and adequately.

6289194-6399049-image-a-28_1542400463393

The original, first and only draft of the lyrics to ‘Your Song,’ the crown jewel of the Elton John and Bernie Taupin songbook.

I used to pine tirelessly to imagine a way of thanking my bride for all she did to lift me up with “a big house” to quote Elton’s poet, Taupin: “where we both could live.”

There was a time when I wanted to thank my teachers and early adulthood leaders for inspiring me by obtaining occupational status.

I use to think my kids would love me to thank them by buying them a really cool set of toys, The kind I never had at Christmas time.

I used to relish taking my grandfather out for a meal to repay all the meals he provided for me.

I used to think that God was looking for a thank you by reading His book or sitting in a row with other people.

Then I learned thankful is not what I think it is.

You see I did all of those things and I learned something critical along the way.

Thankful ain’t what I think it is, nor what YOU think it is.

Thankful is what we all Get To Be because of the love and sacrifice that God and others have made for us. 

That is why we don’t get to define what thankful is or what it means to God or others.

I learned that is why I have to stop thinking for myself what God and others might see as an act of appreciation and start listening for what

thanks means to THEM.  

To my wife it was never the house, it was my time.

To my kids, it was never the presents it was my presence.

To my grandfather it was never the meal it was the conversation.

To my teachers and leaders, it was never the work it was the (as Godin calls it the) “art” and bringing my whole self to each job or endeavor.

To God it was never about just reading the book, never about checking the box and taking up a seat in a hallowed hall, it was eternally about the circles, perpetually about doing for one another, it was about coming to the end of myself so He could transform me into what I was always supposed to be when I was too busy being in my own way, it was about agape and ekklesia and an ever-present vs. in the moment gratitude. 

So what are you thankful for this season?

How are you planning to show thanks?

Is it about what YOU think thankful looks like? or is it really about what they and He think thankful looks like?

Love you and thankful for you guys, J

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Hello in There?! The call to seek connection and be known.

Who do you let in? Who do you seek out?

How often do you stop, cup your hands to your mouth and cry: Hello in There?

We all yearn to be known. We have this inborn appetite to be seen. We are also prompted to connect with others. The opposite, isolation, is both physically and mentally debilitating.

In the recent episode of Invisibilia embedded below, a young person, Abby Wendle, simultaneously navigates her long distance relationship with her boyfriend and the loneliness that accompanies this condition which leads to the tension between protecting herself and letting people in.  She discovers something else along the way, a connection with an unlikely friend who shares her love of John Prine’s music.

John Prine appears in the podcast as well and he talks about the origin of his song, Hello in There, how it relates to reaching out to older people who just want to be known and his inspiration for the song, calling into the echoing hollowed out trunks of his childhood forest- hello in there!

It so happens that this podcast entered my feed on the heels of a few stark reminders of exactly where I would be if I had not made a few key connections over the past few years.  Recently, there were a few unlikely friends I let in, that have added tremendous value, richness, depth, and love to my life that I never would have known had I remained in isolation from strangers as my deeply introverted, insecure personality had sequestered me to in the past.

Bonus Episode of Invisibilia : Who Do you Let In? 

If you are a reader of this blog, you know that the last couple of weeks have been very hard, as I lost one such friend, Tim Sader. author of Tuesday’s Torch. If you click back to the last couple of my posts, you can read all about Tim, his mom and his wife, all of who I am blesseIMG_4446d to be friends with.  I attended church with these folks for a long time before I was brave enough (and it turns out lucky enough) to spend time and go deeper in my friendship with.

Similarly, my church, Ashley Ridge Church of Summerville, SC, decided some years ago to start a food truck ministry called, Expanding The Table.

When I heard Abby’s story and listened to the John Prine song, Hello in There, it evoked a flood of memories and present-day emotions that surrounded the relationships I built when I used to go out there with the truck on Saturday afternoons. One of these relationships persists today and more recently had me praying for my unlikely friend, Mother “B,” after some medical issues. Nowadays, Mother and I have a “text out of the blue” friendship. Several times a week, we reach out to each other with bits of encouragement or prayer.

If you watch the video below, it will show off Mother’s sparkling personality and zest for life (as well as her Boy Scout-like level of preparedness for summer critters and other unexpected circumstances.)  What is probably less obvious from the pictures and the video are all the laughs we had and the friendships we formed. One of the other ladies from the neighborhood, Ms. “H,” did not have all of Mother’s vitality.  She is pictured above, with a smile, but that is not how I first encountered her.  When we first started going out there, Ms. H was a little ‘standoffish.” Over time, and with enough of us asking, “Hello in there?” Ms. H began to let us in.  She still had many grumpy moments, but many times, toward the end of my time visiting the apartment complex, Ms. H would demand endless hugs before I could go home.  I’ll never forget the first time she said, “I love you.” It was a pretty amazing moment.

The interesting thing is I can recall as I drove home that night, how odd it seemed to me that I begrudgingly went to serve on Expanding the Table the first time.  In many ways, I was like an older version of our friend Abby above, scared of expanding my circle.  Scared of looking into the hollowed out log and asking if anyone was at home inside.

I recalled preparing my introverted brain to go out to the food truck the first time, I told myself how it was going to be tough, but I was doing what I was supposed to do- serve.  The idea I had was that I would go out to serve some food, and I may have to meet some folks who reminded me of the way I grew up. Boy! was I full of sanctimonious crap?!

What I learned from all of the friendships that have pushed me out of my comfort zone to date is that I was under the impression I was the one serving.  I was the one who mistakenly thought he was peering into the hollow log of someone’s life and asking Hello in there? and each time, I learned they were not only asking me the same question right back, but they were also unlocking and revealing things inside me I did not know were there. I also learned that the folks who connect, reveal and know us don’t always have to be sage women of deep faith, sometimes, as with The Sader’s they are younger than us.  Sometimes there are things that simply defy explanation found in making a connection with another person.

I was seeing them and they were seeing me.  They became known to me and I became known to them. When that happens, we discover our, what I believe is, our God-given imprint to be connected to one another.  We unlock what it means to be better together.

One last thing.  I was late getting my blog written today because I attended a men’s breakfast. The speaker had a strong message-it was about connecting to other men. It was about inviting people into our world to connect.  It was a reminder that young or old, man or woman, we all just want someone to shout into the log, looking for us.

Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger

And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day

Old people just grow lonesome

Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello”

So if you’re walking down the street sometime

And spot some hollow ancient eyes

Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare

As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello”

 

Hello In There Video – John Prine

Hello in There
Full Lyrics
We had an apartment in the city
Me and Loretta liked living there
Well, it’d been years since the kids had grown
A life of their own left us alone
John and Linda live in Omaha
And Joe is somewhere on the road
We lost Davy in the Korean war
And I still don’t know what for, don’t matter anymore
Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello”
Me and Loretta, we don’t talk much more
She sits and stares through the back door screen
And all the news just repeats itself
Like some forgotten dream that we’ve both seen
Someday I’ll go and call up Rudy
We worked together at the factory
But what could I say if asks “What’s new?”
“Nothing, what’s with you? Nothing much to do”
So if you’re walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare
As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello”
Songwriter: John Prine
Hello in There lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

May Your Torch Burn Long and Prosper

According to his parents May 19, 2011, was a Tuesday, it was the day they lost their first son and it was a day that his brother had the hardest time writing his blog, Tuesday’s Torch, but he wrote it anyway. He wrote it dutifully, beautifully and eloquently for 9 years.  He wrote it to spread light and salt across the earth and he accomplished those feats that so many who are called to minister and/or write seek-he touched people-he loved people with his words-he met them where they were and lifted them up.

Today, I am resonating with my friend’s difficulty on that day in 2011 as I try to find the letters on my keyboard through my tears. Yesterday, I said goodbye to him along with his parents and his wife.  The day before I stood between his parents and across the bed from his wife and prayed one more of 1000s of prayers lifted in the last few days by the 1000s of people who love Tim.  Yesterday, it was a different prayer with a roomful of broken-hearted loved ones as we all asked God to welcome his mighty warrior and faithful servant to dance with Him in Heaven.

It was just this past Sunday that our pastor, Jenn Williams, talked to us about legacy. She joked that her sermon was not “the old people’s sermon” and her message was around living and loving people as if you were leaving a legacy all the days of your life, not just as you get old and gray and supposedly wise.  Tim is the epitome of this. I didn’t need to be in a room full of greaving people last night to know that my friend, who never got to be old and gray, but was most certainly wise,  was living and loving his legacy every day. Let me tell you a bit more about the man I knew.

Tim was all the “regular” sorts of things: son, brother, husband, friend and follower of Jesus, but there was nothing “regular” about Tim.  Tim’s heart and soul outshined his body. Tim and his brother battled muscular dystrophy.  When I say battled, from my limited view, that is what it appeared to be, a body degrading and betraying its owner until you can’t move, then you can’t eat and then, well you get it… If you met Tim, and I’m sorry if you never got the chance here on earth, you would have met a man who did not surrender easily or willingly to his enemy.

In fact, Tim gave no purchase to any enemies whether that be the very corporeal, tangible, in your face disease he wrestled with or the spiritual forces that told him to give up, give in, be less than who he was created to be.  No sir, not my brother, that is why I asked yesterday for God to welcome a mighty warrior into his arms.  Tim may have been bound to a wheelchair, but he found a way to leap into people’s lives.  He may have had to take gulps of air from a straw between sentences, but he fought to get God’s message out to the world, he may have had to roll down the aisle to marry his bride, but he loved her more abundantly and passionately than any muscle rippled star of stage or screen,  I witnessed Tim’s incredible friendship first hand and second hand.  I saw him lift and inspire people to be more and to do more.  I saw him help people back from the depths of despair and the brink of throwing it all away.  I saw him love people in his family and in his church and among his friends that were hard to love, returning again and again with his peaceful, patient heart and gentle prodding wisdom to welcome them back like prodigal sons and daughters.

No, Tim was no regular guy, he was extraordinary and maybe his soul was just too big and bright for any fragile body to handle? We don’t know, we don’t have any of these answers.  All we know is what Tim reminded us of.  Those lucky enough to be in his orbit just peripherally like me and those lucky and smart enough to be even closer to him, that got to live with his legacy every day, know that this man was a gift to us.  Because he intentionally built a legacy while he was here with us, part of that gift is still here in his blog.  Tim wanted people to read his blog and learn the lessons he learned, both from his battles with his disease and his incredible love story with his beautiful wife Sammy.  So please read it, not as a favor to me or to him, but as a favor to yourself.  Get to know this man that I was lucky enough to get to know just a little over a few short years.  You won’t be sorry.

Here is what Tim says about his Torch.

My blog has a similar theme as does the legacy that I am trying to live and love out loud.  I call it the 4 Ls to Live By and Soar By Light, Love, Leadership, and Laughter.  Tim gave me all of these things every time we met, messaged, emailed, lead, played or prayed together. Sammy paid me the honor of saying that I was Tim’s “bromance” of late.  I happen to know I am not alone in that and Tim just made everyone feel like they were special.  Tim had a “bromance” with humanity. That is his legacy.  That is the torch he wants us all to not only see but pick up and light the way for others just as his Lord and Saviour did for him, just as He does for us.  Tim was a good and faithful servant indeed and we love him so very much.

Tim, to paraphrase one of my very favorite “(deceptively not the) end of the bromance” lines: I have been, and forever shall be your friend, may your torch burn long and prosper.

timandsammy

 

The Struggle is Real…Sometimes…

I am a restless person.  You might even call me “Restless by Nature.” That is not quite as cool as “Naughty By Nature” but I am anything but cool.  This restlessness is all too big a part of being human.  We struggle from the moment we emerge from the womb.  If you believe Maslow’s hierarchy (or pyramid) to a be an accurate depiction of that struggle we start by struggling for basic needs.  We cry out for air, shelter, food and the security of having our basic physical needs met. Then we yearn to be safe.  We want to know we have enough.  “Mom are we going to be able to pay the electric bill, or do I need to pawn my Atari?” Right after that, we want our belongingness needs to be met. We want to know we have a friend, we want to feel we are loved and that we belong. When all these needs are met we start to stress and strain for recognition and for our self-esteem to be bolstered. Finally, if we can make it past all of those hurdles and climb the pyramid, we struggle with being all we were created to be.  We strive to be our full and complete self.

In a perfect and unbroken world, we climb the pyramid, stumbling along the way and look down from the top and admire the lessons learned along the journey.  We don’t live in that world, do we? What happens if we get stuck? A few people probably come within reach of achieving this lofty objective.  For most of us, this may look very different.  It may be less of a linear climb up the pyramid and more of a slipping and sliding, up and down journey. Many of us bounce through these stages and slip and strive our way through life. The key to this kind of climb is that your eyes stay set on moving up.

What happens when someone is less focused on moving up and out of these levels and more addicted to the back and forth struggle of moving between them? 

    Do you know someone or are you one of those people who seem overly attached to the strain and pain of falling down and the joy of going back up?
  • Do you or your friend seem to “self-destruct” every time it feels like your making progress up the pyramid?

I used to really resonate with this.  Not only did I know many people who seemed to relish in staying in the struggle, but I was one of them.  I would create drama when there was no drama needed.  I would manufacture discord out of peace.  I was addicted to the pain and the struggle and my story of overcoming the struggle.  The truth is, I still slip into this mode occasionally, but overall, I live a much different life now.

The irony of this is that the whole time I was addicted to that pain, I would cast dispersions on those who did not seem to be struggling or who appeared to have peace.  These people who I felt were looking down on me from somewhere higher up on the pyramid all had it too easy in my mind.  Their lives were not the painful struggle mine was.  They did not have to pawn their Atari. They had everything given to them in a soft, cushy life I could never imagine. They did not know my pain.  What I later learned was…

I was full of a big ole pyramid size pile of crap!adamsgoodoledays

Everyone struggles.  Everyone hurts and everyone looks for these needs to be met.  There is not one person who has the market cornered on pain, we just all process it and show it in different ways.  Sometimes people don’t even realize how empty their lives are and may appear cocky or appear to have all the material and superficial things you don’t, but they are still hurting and broken on some level.  But this post is not about them. 

This post is about you and me and the people we know who are addicted to the struggle and in love with our own story of struggle.

I am not convinced that this whole process was discovered first by Maslow.  I actually believe Jesus had this figured out way before him.  You can agree or disagree, but he seemed to know that people wanted to be fed, loved and achieve a peace beyond their own understanding way before the first psychologist’s couch ever got its cushions.  What he taught people, people who knew much greater struggles than we know in our first world, modern lives, was that they needed two things to achieve the top of the pyramid- God and each other.  Just two things.

Whether or not you follow Jesus, you may agree that the reason this is so profound is that the reality of our existence is that we are never satisfied and we are never done struggling. 

The key is how we orient ourselves during that struggle.  If we orient ourselves to serve something greater than ourselves and live for each other, something magical happens to our addiction to struggle.  All of a sudden, our story doesn’t take center stage.  Our struggle no longer has the spotlight on it.  Instead, how we fit into the bigger story and how we can help other people tell their part of the story more successfully, takes center stage. 

When we let go of our addiction to struggle and pain and the drama that comes with that, the remarkable thing is we receive a gift.  The gift of peace. 

We get the gift of freedom from the chains of endless struggle.  That is what the top of the pyramid looks like.  We can sit there, on top, still broken, a bit tired, but full of love and unchained…at last free of the need to struggle-endlessly.

Love you guys, J

tozer

 

 

How Can I Influence Others With a Shovel?

I am not sure if you are anything like me, but I find I am too often tempted to engage people proactively with my “t-shirt cannon of wisdom.”  Like a strange combo of a minor league mascot and rogue Dr. Suess, I am known for shooting off my advice here, there and everywhere.  I am a dad, I write a blog, I run a community of practice at work and I help lead people at church,  all of which provide great opportunities to explosively and generously share what I am convinced are helpful nuggets of advice to the people in my circles and the public at large.

What if that isn’t the most helpful approach? What if the pearls of wisdom I offer, despite my best intentions, are completely counterproductive to learning? I was treated to a great lesson on influence recently at a conference I attended. There I learned that my efforts to share may not always have the desired effect.  The speaker, Justin Elam’s message was one about how to better equip others by asking questions vs. providing “ready to use” answers.  The outline of his talk started with this Strauss quote:

“The wise man doesn’t give the right answers.  He poses the right questions.”

In his talk, Justin was clear that we all desire to have influence over others and we all want others to take action and/or change. Elam tells us that is OK to want to influence others as long as our motives are more about wanting something more FOR someone than manipulating them for our gain. He described how communication is our primary tool for influence and that the best way to elicit changes and responses that “stick” are by letting people uncover and dig out their own answers by handing them what he terms “golden shovels.”

These so-called golden shovels are questions.

Justin shared that asking questions allows people to discover their own ideas that will serve to “precede and initiate action.” He asserted that insights people arrive at through self-discovery are superior because we tend to value “what we work for” more than what is simply handed to us.  In addition, he reminded us that we tend to take more ownership of the concepts we feel we uncover or “dig up” ourselves than those shared with us by others.

Elam offers us an invaluable lesson, and for those of us who follow Jesus, it is not only valuable, it is biblical.  Jesus taught in thought-provoking (and often perplexing) parables and by asking questions.  He is Elam’s model for instructing us how to enable others to dig with these “golden shovels” rather than defaulting to a much less elegant t-shirt cannon style delivery system of shooting off answers. Whether you are a believer or not, I hope it is easy to see how this method might be more effective in influencing others.

Next time you are straining to share some profound thought or advice with someone, please reflect back on Justin’s advice and challenge yourself to ask questions instead of providing the advice directly to the person.  Maybe you can make a game of asking enough of the right questions that lead your friend to the same idea, you may have shared, on their own? If you find you are successful, maybe you can join me and look for a new use for your t-shirt cannon. I personally have always wanted to fire one of those bad boys at church!

A powerful question:

•generates curiosity in the listener

•stimulates reflective conversation

•is thought-provoking

•surfaces underlying assumptions

•invites creativity and new possibilities

•generates energy and forward movement

•channels attention and focuses on inquiry

•stays with participants

•touchea deep meaning

•evokes more questions

source: The Art of Powerful Questions

 

What my grandfather taught me about being full of C.H.I.T.

There is a hilarious image I have in mind of a cartoonish, slightly more balding version of me, giving myself a Homer Simpson slap on the forehead and exclaiming “DOH!” as I think back on just how many things I got wrong as I was growing up.  For instance, one of the biggest realizations I’ve had is that my Pepop, my now ninety plus-year-old grandfather, was far wiser than I ever gave him credit for when I was a young man and a teenager.

I used to think when this balding, beer and garbage truck-driving, Brooklyn, NY, through and through, quintessentially Italian “welfare wop” (as some straight out of the Appalachian Trail mountain folks I used to know dubbed us), gave me advice, that he was a bit naive.  If I am being really honest, although I worshipped this man, occasionally, I thought that Pepop, who was a brilliant storyteller, was more full of “$hit” than he was CHIT (I’ll explain this acronym in a minute).  This was most true, one time when he gave me the following advice:

“Be average Johnny, don’t be no better than nobody and don’t be no worse”

I remember thinking, as a brash young person, that this meant he wanted me to be ordinary and not stand out or try to achieve great things.  My developing brain could not grasp what he meant as I helped him create garlic-filled culinary delights from my stove-side perch on the kitchen chair.  While I was always anxious to hear his advice, I didn’t listen as well as I could have.  Even as he would share his working man’s wisdom with me, I always had a good bit of my arrogant-“I’m gonna make it outta this hood” filter on.

That kind of chip develops early when you feel like your life is not as good as the one other people are living around you.  Your shoulder gets heavy at a young age when trapped in comparisons with the kids who have the trademark surfer wear and Levi’s and live in the middle-class neighborhood and you are wearing Salvation army clothes and helping your grandfather cook with salvaged veggies from the Publix dumpster across the street.

I now know that was all an unnecessary narrative I told myself in a vain attempt to be the hero of my own pity party story.  I now know that I had everything that was most important right there, exemplified in a man who worked his butt off to help us have a nice Sunday dinner and then came home and cooked it on Sunday with very few complaints and an abundance of joy and laughter.  I now know what he really was trying to tell me. Some of you may not follow Jesus, but I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that following Him has helped me figure this out, albeit much later than I would have liked.  Whether you agree that He is the answer or not, I hope you appreciate what I recently learned about how to encapsulate this learning from Northpoint ministries.  Here is my re-write of his advice with that knowledge and without the chip on my shoulder.

“Johnny -the key to life is to be full of CHIT at all times. Johnny be Curious, be Humble, be Intentional and be Teachable.” Don’t compare yourself to others.  Don’t try to outdo them.  Don’t think you are lesser than them.  Just be who you were created to be and love others as you would yourself along the way.

(oh…. and “pass me dat oregano,” this needs much, much, much more oregano, always more, never enough, like covering the top of the dark, rich red sauce in a pasture of green amount of the $hit.)

It is not easy to achieve and I fail at it every single day, but I believe it is inestimably worthwhile to try and assume this posture in life.  Are you full of CHIT? What steps can you take to be more full of this posture today? Tomorrow? All the days going forward?

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“Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.
Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoys its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.”
‭‭James‬ ‭3:13-18‬ ‭MSG‬‬

What Motivates You Defines You…or is it Who?

Hidden Motives.  We all have them.  We all experience them, yet often, it is far easier to see them in others, rather than in ourselves.  I recently listened to the following podcast about the so-called “Elephant in the Brain“, that we all carry around with us, but try to ignore.  If you have the time to listen, the podcast embedded below will take you deep sea diving into the depths of brain science, selfishness, hypocrisy, norms/meta-norms, cheating, deception/self-deception, education, the evolutionary logic of conversation, social status, signaling/counter-signaling, and common knowledge.  As with all learning, like you, I try to discern how to best apply these things to my everyday life and to my relationships.  After listening to this, I came away with a strong conviction to be more aware of my hidden motives and to be conscious of not just what motivates me, but Who. Here is how I got there…

At this point, where I have alluded to God with the capital W in Who, you might find it odd that I am a Jesus Follower who listens to a podcast hosted by a devout atheist, Sam Harris.  If you get to know me or read my blog, you’ll probably learn that I firmly believe that true knowledge and dare I say, true faith, is found only when we are open to listening to all the viewpoints and the vast diversity God has created.  I go out of my way not to live and learn “in a bubble” and I believe we are Better Together. That means interacting, and even loving the people, outside our respective “bubbles.”

Denver1-1200x779Hidden Motives (Waking Up Podcast)

In an episode of the Waking Up Podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Robin Hanson about our hidden motives in everyday life. They discuss selfishness, hypocrisy, norms and meta-norms, cheating, deception, self-deception, education, the evolutionary logic of conversation, social status, signaling and counter-signaling, common knowledge, AI, and many other topics.

For any of you who either don’t love science or don’t have the time to listen to a podcast, just hang in there with me for a second while I attempt to set the stage. I promise we will get to the “fun stuff” soon.  In this podcast, Sam Harris and Robin Hanson discuss how our brains are wired for self-deception and the deception of others.  They share how our brain’s wiring creates the unconscious motives that “infect our venerated social institutions such as Art, School, Charity, Medicine, Politics, and Religion.” They allege that these institutions are in many ways designed to accommodate our hidden motives, to serve covert agendas alongside their “official” ones. By extension, they describe the same for our personal relationships.

Harris and Hanson share examples of how our behavior as individuals and our expectations of society are often in conflict, such as our wanting speed limits and wanting those to apply to everyone, in contrast to our unabashed individual want to/need for speed.  Harris asks us this very pointed question: “Why do we, who say we want speed limits, because we know it keeps us all safer, also fail to want our society to make or buy cars that cannot exceed the speed limit?” This is the elephant in our brain: the contradiction between the norms and rules we want society to have and enforce, while we simultaneously look for an opportunity and/or excuse to break them.

I’d ask anyone, reading this from a faith-based point of view, to consider just how similar this is to the concept that, while we know what God wants for us, we “all find ourselves broken and living in a broken world.” In some ways, it is truly similar and other very fundamental ways, quite different; as from their point of view, there is no God to save us from our broken selves.  In their view, only through the awareness of our “tricky biological dispositions” can we make good moral and societal decisions. You may agree with them, either way,  I think we all have something to learn from this.

Hanson and his co-author, Kevin Simler, describe our brains as having two halves.  The half that acts and the half that justifies those actions. They use the analogy of the conscious self as a sort of press secretary, continually making up good excuses for our behavior.  In this way, our press secretary creates and tells the story of our lives, trying to portray us in the best possible light for success in society.

As a further illustration of this dynamic at work, Sam Harris describes a long-standing neurological finding best exemplified in patients with a split-brain procedure.  In this procedure, some of those who experience severe grand mal seizures have their corpus callosum cut.  According to scientists, in most people, the left (linguistic) side of our brain confabulates reasons for doing things, while our right brain does them, in an otherwise mindless, autonomic fashion.  In a famous experiment, they tell these patients’ right brains to get up and walk to the door, only to observe the left brain confabulate a reason for it, such as: “I wanted a Coke.”  In these experiments, the left brain keeps completing the picture based on nothing or next to no information.  The press secretary covers our actions with a made-up story. Usually, that story is one that casts us as having a reasonable motive for the action, or at least a neutral one, like any good press secretary would do.

The podcasters reassure us that we should not be dismayed, they say many motives are relevant and sometimes truly noble, but that we are easily deceived about which ones are and which ones aren’t.  They conclude better awareness of this tendency can help us make better decisions. Which brings me to my learning about the Who over the What.  Just for fun, let’s start by asking ourselves, How.  Based on all this evidence, how can we be sure the motives we think are good and pure, are truly so?  How can we be sure that, even when we are trying to serve others, what we are doing is in those others’ best interest, or at least, not slavishly always in our own? What if, we can’t discern a difference?

At one point in the podcast, there is an interesting exchange between, Harris, the devout atheist, albeit with the strong contemplative and moralistic bent, and Hanson, the incredibly, indelibly neutral scientist.  Hanson shares during one of Harris’ atheistic assertions, that he finds it interesting that all the scientific evidence suggests those with some sort of faith, which Harris may feel is the ultimate self-deception, tend to live, longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives.  He insinuates (or maybe my press secretary just heard it this way?) that these people understand and gain something that those who are straining to rely only on their own understanding of the world, on a purely fact-based level, may not.

For instance, I was brought to tears by a story yesterday.  It seems that someone in our community lost their child abruptly.  That young man was working on a project before he passed with a neighbor of his.  He was nearly done and ready to share it. The day after the tragedy, not only did that neighbor show up to complete the project, he was surprised to find that young man’s friends arrived at the project site with the very same idea in mind.  Together, they will complete his unfinished work and share it with neighborhood children as the young man intended.  (update I recently learned the Boy Scouts are posthumously awarding him his Eagle Scout rank! :)) What were the hidden motives in that scenario? What were the neighbor and friends respective press secretaries telling them and the world?  Does any of that even matter to a mother who no longer has her child and needed her (and his) community to surround her and comfort her and honor her son at that moment?

Which brings us to the Who.  Whether you are a believer in something or Someone greater than yourself, I submit to you that the more we learn about ourselves, the less we know whether it is all “hardware” or if there is something more. There will be disagreements on this, to be sure. From either point of view, one thing is clear, we have a choice to make.  We can choose to figure this all out on our own, focusing exclusively on the mysterious What and the perplexing How, or we can choose to be in this together with some whos.  True, I have put my faith in the big Who, and I would love for everyone to have what I have found.  Until that day, if you are not there, I implore you to choose to find some whos to work through this crazy life with.  If we are in this together, our hidden motives need not define us, nor will our press secretaries.  If we play this right, in the end, our whos and our relationship to the whos, and for some of us, The Big Who, will be the one to tell our story.

I have this friend…a tale of Dr. Awesome and Mr. (other A word)

I have this friend.  For the sake of this blog post let’s call him “Dr. Awesome.”  Dr. Awesome is a pretty cool dude. People think he is smart, they say he is wise and they remark all the time about how kind he is.  The good doc has even been called funny a few times!? Doc has a bunch of these folks called “followers,” not only the kind you get on social media but some of the kind we are blessed to earn in real life.  This is all very true of my friend Doc.

Copy of I have this friend...What is also true about Doc is that he can do some pretty dumb things, make some pretty unwise remarks and, yes you guessed it, he can be unkind or even get angry at times. Doc hates when he forgets just how precious a gift it is to have people that care about him and look up to him, both around him and interacting with him on virtual venues.  He dreads most, when unwise and unkind things come out of his mouth and hurt those people.  The ironic thing is, the recipients of this “less than desirable” behavior are usually the people who know Doc the best, those of us that are closest to him; his wife, his kids, his parents, sisters, fellow leaders, and closest friends. Just like the old tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this is when Dr. Awesome turns into Mr. (other two-syllable A word).

Does this make Doc a bad person? Of course not! It makes him human.  You see Doc has this other friend. One we have in common, let’s just call Him, for the sake of this blog, “Jesus.”

Our mutual friend Jesus is pretty cool.  When Doc and I screw up, He is there to help us remove our head from our butt.  He reminds us that we are fallible.

He’s this kind of father/friend hybrid that Doc and I can turn to when we mess up.

He helps us recognize that our true value and worth is neither found in those mistakes nor in the idealized, Instagram version of ourselves.

He helps us remember who we were created to be.

Doc wants me to tell you about our mutual friend and they want me to tell you that it’s OK.  They want you to know that no matter how different the Instagram looks from the real life kitchen calamity, we all mess up.  We are all broken and none of us is going to get it right 100% of the time, no matter what the perfectionistic slogans say on Pinterest or Facebook.

I am thankful for both of my friends and for all of you.

The simplest way I’ve heard this said is that we need each other and we need God. In fact, my friend Jesus said that.

If you see my buddy “Doc,” even if you see him in your mirror tomorrow am, let him know your rooting for him.

..and…for what it is worth…I’m rooting for him too.

Embrace the Contrarians in Your Midst

Contrarian: Urban dictionary definition

Someone who automatically tends to take the opposite point of view from the person to whom they’re speaking, or to disagree with society at large out of a sort of knee-jerk reflex.

I love these examples the Urban Dictionary gives for one of their definitions of a contrarian.  This definition, and these examples, fittingly, the first one that came up in my search, fit the myriad of contrarians in my life to a tee.

Here are the examples the Urban Dictionary folks give:

Friend: I’ve got some ice cream, you want vanilla or chocolate?
Contrarian: Um, do you have strawberry?
—-
Friend: I love indie rock, you heard of these guys?
Contrarian: Yeah, but they’re not really that indie, though.
—-
Friend: I guess you’re too contrary to vote Democrat or Republican, right? So, what, Libertarian? Green Party? …Socialist Party?
Contrarian: Of course not, I don’t think that any formal political party is a suitable representation of an individual’s views.
Friend: *sigh*

Having contrarians in your daily life, at your dinner table, in your workplace, and in your community organization can be maddening at times.  If you recognize this definition or these examples and you can start rattling off names, you are in good company my friend.  However, have you ever taken a step back from the hair pulling, head shaking and frustration to really appreciate these creatures?  Have you thought what life would be like without them?  I have.

Embrace the contrarians

In a world devoid of contrarians, society would lose a great deal of its color and its contrast.  We would all be so damn agreeable and self-effacing or just plain ambivalent that we might just fade away into the gray nothingness of our own ceaseless accommodation to each other and to society (ever seen the movie Wall-e?).  In a world devoid of contrarians, where we don’t have people who take the opposing viewpoint, seemingly just for the sake of taking it, who would force us to challenge our assumptions and biases?  In this deceptively blissful world, where we all strive to make our children comply, which kid would show our kids what it is like to joyfully and blissfully flout all the playground norms and try daring and brave things?  How exactly, would we be forced to understand and reflect upon how we are being taken advantage of by institutions or people around us? Would everyone simply order only what was described on the menu with no variations? Who would tell us we are being cheated out of our God-given rights and freedoms or our 39.5278 cents? Who would remind us we are living in a bubble of “passionate” agreeability?

I could give you endless examples of the ways that a world without these folks would be less vibrant, less meaningful and just plain boring, but if I’ve done my job, you are already thinking of the ways the contrarians in your life have pushed you out of your comfort zone.  If I’ve made you reflect on what life would be like without the contrarians you know and love, you already see a world where you don’t want to live. A world where you would likely fail to thrive and grow.

My advice to you is the same thing I’ve been coaching myself to do.  Especially when I am ready to lose my mind over something they say or do or I feel somehow injured by these people (this is typically only due to my own frailties, i.e. I can’t always handle the truth, ala A Few Good Men.) I advise you to learn to appreciate these people.  Learn from them.  You are not going to agree with them (much of the time).  I do not think that is the point of their existence anyway.  I think they are there to make us stretch.  They are there to make us see life from another point of view.  They are there, simply, to make us better.

Thank you, contrarians, in my life.  I am sure you will disagree with the way I wrote this article, some or all of my thoughts and opinions, or maybe even say it makes absolutely no sense to you, but that is not the takeaway.  The takeaway is: thank you for being you, keep doing that (as if anyone could stop you) and I love you.

 

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