Archive for September, 2010

Don’t Know Much About…Religion

Posted: September 29, 2010 in advocacy, Bible, church, life

There was much news yesterday that Atheist and Agnostics know more about religion than religious folks.  I didn’t find it surprising. We must remember that there are streams within Christianity that have taken the Apostle Paul’s teaching that knowledge “puffs up” to mean that it’s OK to be uniformed.

To be fair, the quiz is only 15 questions. A few of them are church history questions that have little to do with the central tenets of the faith’s they represent. In fact, there is not a single questions about Jesus or Mohammed. Seems a bit of an oversight to me.

At any rate, you can take the U.S. Religious Knowledge quiz here.

Success is rooted in the conventional. There I said it! I know, I know, there’s a lot in this day and age about creativity and innovation and that’s all well and good. But if you’re not careful you can become so consumed with innovation that you forget about convention and the myriad ways it serves your organization. When you fail to be somewhat conventional, you’re compromising your success, and I’ll tell you why.

But first, a caveat: I LOVE innovation, creativity and moving organizations and churches forward in ways we hadn’t imagined before. In fact, the majority of the world’s accomplishments have been made through innovation and many of today’s more pressing societal concerns will be solved through creativity and innovation, but there is a place for convention.There is a wonderful place for innovation and I love it, but there’s a necessary place for convention as well. And it’s a necessary place for success — especially for leaders.

Why do I think this? Boise State football.

For years now, Boise St. has been ascending in the college football rankings, but still, many people like me can’t take them seriously. The reason? They dismiss convention by playing on a blue field. And when your organization completely dismisses convention you put your success at risk. Here’s why?

1. People like tradition. No matter what anyone says, people like tradition. This is not traditionalism. But tradition gives us a lens with which to interpret their lives. When you or your organization steps too far outside of convention too fast it’s disorienting and folks are likely to reject it out-of-hand. For instance, no matter how well Boise St plays football, TV networks will continue to be somewhat reluctant to broadcast Boise St. home games because of the blue field. What has been a disadvantage to visiting teams – the blue field – is also off-putting to home viewers.

2. Convention Tends Toward the Easier. That’s why it became convention. Conventional things are easy to understand and handle. When watching Boise St, for instance, it’s hard to see the football in flight. It cuts against the way we’ve learned to visually interpret the game. Regardless of whether we should or not, people gravitate to what’s easy. We’re busy, we’re stressed, we don’t need anything to be any harder than it needs to be. Think about that as you’re programming for your business or church; preachers think about that as you write your classes and sermons.

3. Convention Defines the Parameters. A common myth is that convention and structure curtail creativity yet nothing, in fact, is farther from the truth. Conventional approaches have emerged from tactics tried and failed. Certainly, still, some conventions need to go away, but when we know the parameters, leaders and creatives need not lose time pursuing innovations that don’t or won’t serve the mission. When you turn on a Boise St football game, it doesn’t even look like football. It takes 6-seconds to notice what you’re noticing. The football guild throughout the ages has defined the field as green with white lines, when you do your own thing you risk the audience thinking your product is something other than it is.

Your organization needs to carefully discern when, where and how to implement innovation and how to care for and appreciate tradition and convention. If you don’t, what you thought was a “game-changer” can quickly become a “game-disorienter.” And no one enjoys looking at a blue field!

Every successful person you know or have known is a nerd. By nerd, I don’t mean the Lewis and Gilbert, Revenge of the Nerds kind, but rather true nerds. A true nerd is someone who has a disproportionate interest in something. They read all the books, they make special trips, they tweet endlessly, they comb the interweb to experience, know and engage their pet subject as much as possible. It can be Star Trek, baseball cards, or fantasy sports; but it can also include athletics, cars, acting, or just about anything else. Nerds love the minutia and intricacies of their guild and there’s no limit to what they’ll spend, where they’ll go, or what they’ll do. Just imagine: Many of you readers are church attenders, but how many of you would pay money to attend the Festival of Homiletics? I would!

All that to say this: If you want to be successful, embrace your inner nerd!

Here’s why nerds are leading you:

  1. Nerds Don’t Care About Balance. As a matter of fact, balance is a ridiculous notion. When it comes to things that matter — your family, your personal success and happiness, etc… — why would you want balance? Those who achieve in their field pursue the depths of it well after others have given into balance. Michael Jordan and Bill Gates didn’t achieve their dreams because they were equally interested in their fields as they were something else. They worked hard and cared more than most people, so they got the edge. Forget about balance!
  2. Nerds Are Passionate: Each time Apple rolls out new products, thousands tune in to watch Steve Jobs’ Keynote. These are commercials, in essence. In fact, Jobs shows little commercials while he’s presenting his big commercial, and people love it. Why? Because he brings tremendous passion to new products, and passion is contagious. No one with a passing interest in something is passionate. Only nerds are. Nerds can tell anyone the complete in and outs of a subject with missionary zeal. Because they can, they lead.
  3. Nerd Don’t Care What Others Think: Believe it or not, people who are nerdish about a subject don’t care if you think they’re nerds. Their thing is more important than you. For this reason, while you’re making fun of them, they are learning and developing new skills and techniques, and one day they will own you. If you want to shift the leverage in your favor, regardless of what field you’re in, becoming a nerd about it is the best way to go.

The world belongs to nerds. They are the innovators, leaders, developers and thinkers that are paving the future. If you want to join them then it’s time to embrace your inner nerd.

It really should. Can you think of any organization that better fosters commitment and loyalty?

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

Though the title is tongue-in-cheek, La Cosa Nostra as an organization, though criminal, creates for its members a sense of identity, belonging, purpose and deep commitment. Here’s why:

They Know What They Do. There’s no ambiguity about the mission, and no uncertainty about what should happen when and what the leadership structure is. They askew distractions and petty arguments. They do what they do. And they do it better than anyone else.

They Know What They Don’t Do. For years, drug dealing was outlawed within the mafia.  The saying was, “If you deal, you die.” Dealing drugs, though lucrative, brought too much attention to a secretive organization and wasn’t worth the heat. They knew what they were not going to do which allowed them to continue doing what they did well even better.

They Tend Thier Neighborhood. Too many churches have forgotten their best potential audience: their neighbors. Don’t allow podcasts, Twitter, Facebook, and all things “Interweb” to distract you from opportunities across the street. Plus, God is pretty clear about that whole loving your neighbor thing. For years the mob enjoyed the protection of their neighbors because their presence was a benefit to their neighbors. The mob invested earnings back into the local community. This means giving things away to your church’s neighbors.

They Do “Favors”: Favors Build Loyalty. The Mob built their empire on “doing favors.” Unfortunately, many churches only want to extract from their communities and members. Your church needs to do things for the community while expecting nothing in return. This is the way you build trust, respect, and, oh yeah, loyalty.

They Remind People of the Consequences. In the mob, the consequence for not “playing ball” was harsh. How much worse is it when churches lose sight of the consequences when the people God has entrusted to them never engage God. There are bad consequences — in both this life and the next — when we fail to make people an offer they shouldn’t refuse.

There are any number of scriptures we Christians don’t take seriously, but maybe none are taken less seriously than

Romans 12.18-20. Here, the apostle Paul instructs the church this way: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’”

Living at peace is tough business, and “Christian America” has particularly struggled with it in the wake of September 11, 2001. The reasons are obvious. We were struck! Hit! Devastated! All by an enemy that had long been at war with us, though many of us knew and cared very little about them. It felt reassuring to hear President George W. Bush tell New Yorkers — and the rest of the world — that the people who did this would hear from us. We needed protection from the twisted minds that could envisage, plan, and celebrate the kind of destruction visited New York, Washington, and Shanksville, PA. Innocent people were targeted, children were killed, families undone. It was a slaughter, pure and simple. And in some sectors of the world, there was dancing in the streets.

It was no wonder then that so many of us — Christians, that is — supported combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. I did! And I wasn’t shocked to learn, even years after 9/11, that the majority of Christians supported torture in some instances. It’s not that we’re evil or vengeful, it’s that we’re human. We have spouses and children; parents and grandparents; friends and classmates that we love, that we want to protect and we have a country we want to flourish. What’s more, many of us believe that God has blessed us to live in the best, most humane, most prosperous and healthy country in the history of the world. And we want the best of that country to live forever and would love for others around the world to enjoy the benefits and blessings of our system. In sum, the September 11th attacks came from a place of evil, and as scripture teaches, evil must be resisted.

But the scriptures teach us about peace too.

I don’t find the New Testament to be naive concerning nations, nation-states, war and violence. There are times, unfortunately, when nations go to war. These times should be entered into soberly and with careful thought.

But most Christians, in our day-to-day actions, are not at war. Though our nation be at war with Muslim extremists, I am not at war with my Muslim neighbor. As a matter of fact, taking Jesus seriously means my neighbor is the one whom I am called to love. And much like a nation, I can only be at war with my neighbor if I choose to be.

Which I why I find the weeds of Christian/Muslims enmity which have sprung from the earth recently perplexing. As mentioned above, the apostle Paul’s instructions are very clear, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” This means that you and I can choose to be people of peace, to be agents of peace, to be extensions of peace. In the verse previous to this the apostle instructs us saying, “Do not repay evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.” This is a radical, counter-cultural call to peace-making. But it’s far more than that, it’s a call to sacrifice. In this very same chapter of Romans, Paul exhorts us to “bless those who persecute you” and “offer our bodies as a living sacrifice.” This, for Paul, is worship.

You and I can have our opinions regarding the propriety and necessity of when and where our nation goes to war, but that’s not my primary concern. After all, where two or more are gathered, there will be opinions. My primary concern is when you and I as individuals and in our Christian communities decide to go to war with our neighbors (or stand silently by when others do). I’m concerned about Qu’ran burnings in the name of Jesus and Mosques being vandalized. The apostle Paul assumes that those that you might be tempted to war against don’t share your values, but he calls us to peace anyway. He takes it for granted that evil has been visited upon you, he asks us to extend peace in return.

And Paul can do this for one reason: He believes in God. He believes that if there is vengeance to be paid, God is the one to pay it. I wonder sometimes if our reflex for violence and vengeance is a subtle suggestion that we think God isn’t competent to the task.

So this September 11th, I urge you, my fellow, fallible, fumbling followers of Christ, to do whatever you can to live at peace; to call your communities of faith to live in peace. Paul says, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

This is living at peace.

This Saturday, September 11th, as a member of Board of Directors for the Peninsula Clergy Network, I am joining clergy from across the Peninsula Bay Area for a ‘Day of Remembrance’, honoring those who suffered and died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Our program is simple, at the Redwood City Courthouse, we are providing a space for reflection, remembrance and prayer. There will be no speeches, no stumping, and, thank heavens, no books aflame.

There will be men and women there from every faith and creed. Why? Because only the twisted and insane rejoice in death, whichever faith they claim. I don’t believe our silent vigil this Saturday will change much, globally speaking. But I do believe that we can make a small statement about the things we share.

If you live in the area, please come out and join me. I’ll be manning the station from 8-9AM, this Saturday, September 11.