Archive for the ‘change’ Category

I’m in the process of redesigning this blog and working more intentionally on branding, so I haven’t been posting. But I couldn’t let this moment past. You can see the post below as a kind of follow-up to a brief post I did several years ago.

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Rochelle and I saw ‘The Help’ this weekend with another couple from church. They are wonderful people and gave me the book last year. Since the wife of the other couple, like me, is from the south, she thought I would resonate with the book, and in many ways I did.

 I was born in Jackson, MS, as were my parents and grandparents. Both of my grandmothers were maids in Jackson, working for multiple white families. ‘The Help’ nails the look of Jackson and its cultural and racial ethos  – both in the 60’s and today. From my read – visiting hundreds of times over my lifetime – Jackson remains two cities; one white, one black. Speak with contemporary Jacksonians, white and black, and you’ll get a completely different picture of the city, just like you do in ‘The Help’. The whites in the movie don’t see a racial problem in Jackson while it’s painfully obvious to blacks.

It’s been interesting to see the response of my white friends to ‘The Help’ (and I have tons of them and I love all of you). What has startled me is the amazement by which they look at the racial division in the 60’s. The white characters in ‘The Help’ are largely unlikeable. They want separate bathrooms, believe in separate stations in life, and mindlessly go along with the status quo; a status quo which occupies a social position of separate and unequal and the theological position that God did not create all people in his own image. When we see it in Mississippi in the 60’s we look back and marvel with confused awe and disgust. Some of us even think, “How could people be that way?” But many of us don’t think that most Sunday mornings when we sit in our segregated churches.

Our senses get offended when someone like Hilly Holbrook speaks of segregated bathrooms because “niggers carry different diseases than us”. But that’s hardly a concern at most congregations I know. There’s no fear of black butts on white toilets because there are no black butts in the building. If you don’t believe me, what’s the racial make-up of your congregation. I bet most of them are OVERWHELMINGLY homogeneous. As a matter of fact, that’s how the church-growth experts tell us is the best way to grow a church.

Once, in college, I sat in a ministry class and listened to a young white woman explain that segregated churches are better because different ethnicities like different worship styles.

Seriously?

It would seem that the apostle Paul didn’t consider the powerful importance of “worship styles” when he said that Jesus Himself was our peace and had destroyed the the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility between us (Eph. 2:14). Apparently, even the church is  inventing mythical reasons to keep the races separate. Shockingly, this is antithetical to the message of the New Testament, wherein one of the central questions is bringing Jews and Gentiles together as one under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Just this last week on Twitter, someone referenced seeing ‘The Help’ and asked, “I wonder what our kids will look back at and be embarassed?” I submit, it will be the same thing…at least if they’re better Christians than we are. Jesus Himself prays that all his disciples be one (John 17), and Paul works for it throughout his entire ministry, yet it is the least talked about issue in the church. We get all in a bunch about things we can’t do anything about; real important things like millennial debates, and hardly lift a finger to do what was critical to Jesus and Paul, bringing people from different backgrounds together to become one.

The difficult and deadly work of ending Jim Crow and segregation in the south was undertaken by courageous men and women, who under the banner of Christ, sought to end a wicked, demeaning system of life. Yet it was the white churches in the South who were last to the party. In fact, they openly defended the status quo, rebuked Martin Luther King, Jr., and called to uphold segregation and second-class citizenship. These churches and their leaders saw nothing wrong with segregation, with white, blacks, Latinos and anybody else all worshipping separately, though supposedly to the same God.

Some churches still do this.

Some churches maintain racists systems in the David Duke kinda way. But the majority maintain it by not caring at all, not working to end it, not standing up for others and by  sitting on their hands…in the theatre.

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Recently I’ve found myself, once again, thinking about what brings people to faith. This has been prompted by two things: (1) I’m walking a church group through Tim Keller‘s best-selling book, “The Reason For God”, and (2) multiple conversations with Atheist and Agnostic friends. I love these conversations. They force me to refine my thinking, listen to new people and perspectives and process what I actually believe.

Though I’m having conversations with both Christians and non-Christians regarding faith, our language – in some cases – is strikingly similar. One linguistic construct we share is the notion of “a leap of faith.” What is commonly meant by a “a leap of faith” is acting as if something is true regardless of the evidence present. Both Christians and non-Christians mean the same things by this phrase. What I want to suggest is that taking “a leap of faith” is not a Biblical understanding of what it means to “come to faith.” More to the point, the Bible does not ask anyone to make  “leap of faith,” but the scriptures do call all of us to make a “leap at faith.” Here’s why:

Christianity Isn’t for Stupid People. To the dismay of many, Christianity requires thinking.  Taking “a leap of faith” connotes that evidence doesn’t matter. Another way we call faith stupid is by calling it “blind faith.” The truth is, no one does anything on “blind faith.” We all do what we do out of some calculation. The calculation may be ill-informed, misguided, or poorly constructed, but we don’t do anything that matters “blind.” No one takes a “leap of faith,” we negotiate the knowns and unknowns and select. That’s not a leap, it’s arriving at a decision point and taking a step, not a leap.

Plus, I don’t know about you, but my faith is neither blind nor stupid. Yes, it is the product of participation in a particular community over the course of a lifetime, but I have also read, studied, and questioned. My questions about the Bible, the nature of God, and the nature of the world are tougher and more accurate than the passing machinations of a freshman philosophy major somewhere because I bothered to seriously investigate. I investigated Christianity, Atheism, Buddhism, and Mormonism in particular. My list isn’t exhaustive, but I’ve studied the world’s major worldviews enough to know what I’m talking about, and I’ve tried to take all claims seriously.

Taking a “leap at faith” means those both inside and outside orthodox faith owe it to themselves to investigate earnestly what is at the heart of the world and ask the toughest questions they can imagine. Christians should not fear what the hard sciences discover or what historians unearth. If we believe all truth is God’s truth, then what is there to unnerve us? Real faith is not a leap, it’s the intentional examination of the available evidence and then carefully formulating something that is philosophically coherent and realistically useable. The Apostle John even instructs us to do so in 1 John 4. Our job is to “test the spirits.”

Christianity Isn’t Mental Assent. Far too many folks think “a leap of faith” means “a change of mind.” Of course, in many ways, this is accurate (just think about the literal meaning of “repent”). Though coming to a place where you believe that God exist does mean that you’ve made a philosophical shift – that’s just the beginning, and can oftentimes mean very little. As James, the brother of Jesus, reminds us, “even the demons believe…” (James 2.19). One of the great problems in the world is that Christianity has become nominal (Christian in name only) and notional (people like the ideas of Christianity).

Taking a “leap at faith” means looking at the life and teachings of Jesus and trying them on, taking them out for a stroll, not just agreeing with a few principles. Faith is a lived-experience, not a thought-experience. If interaction with Jesus doesn’t result in kinder words, radical generosity and justice, engagement with the poor and self-denial, it just ain’t faith. There’s only way to know if God is truly the Provider or if His Spirit will be with you in times of disappointment and brokenness; you have to try it. It’s not theoretical, it has to mean something. That’s why the people you know who have a mental assent to faith, but who haven’t experienced what the Apostle Paul would call “circumcision of the heart” are some of the worst people you know. Jesus’ instructions to those living in His time was simple: “Go and do likewise.” It was about trying it out and seeing if Jesus was right.

Ultimately I’m advocating that faith isn’t a stumble in the dark. Those inside the church who believe so, do God, themselves and their fellow-believers a great disservice. And those outside the church who would suggest that faith is “blind” simply haven’t done their homework. But worse still, Christians have made their homework harder by not reflecting the real thing.

Sooner or later every leader will have to deal with someone – or a group of someone’s – who are reflexively oppositional. Most of us know what to look for, but if you don’t, here are a few profiles.

  • The person who is against every idea, sometimes even their own.
  • The person who when presented with a any idea, first tells you all the obstacles or hurdles involved.
  • The person who during the implementation phase of anything new determines, at the first glitch, that the entire program is unworkable.

I could give you more, but you get the idea. There are some folks, that no matter what, will react negatively to any and ever idea, proposal or change. In a certain way, these folks can be helpful. We all need people who can look down the road and help us avoid some of the pitfalls. But mostly, without redirection, the reflexively oppositional are a drain our emotions, progress, and morale. As a leader, you need to know that the reflexively oppositional exist; they will curtail and undercut any opportunities for growth and development and then ultimately blame the leader when things don’t get better. If one thing is true about the reflexively oppositional, it’s that nothing is ever their fault. Now that you know that, what should you do? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Teach! Believe it or not, many of the reflexively oppositional have never been taught to brainstorm and develop ideas. Find a conference or teacher that can help Negative Nellies how to brainstorm. In the short term, at your next meeting, ask your team to bring $20 in $1 bills and you bring a large bowl. During the brainstorming session, whenever someone says, “we can’t…” or “that won’t…” they have to put $1 into the bowl. After about 6-months use the money to do something fun with your staff or buy gifts.
  2. Redirect! I did this just this week. When a new idea or initiative is proposed, make sure that positive comments are shared. As my wife says, “Any dumb dog can tell you why something won’t work.” Ask your team to give you 5 positive and possibilities before they can say anything negative. When someone complains, stop them, and say, “Now tell me something positive about __________.” People aren’t wired to think this way, so we have to be constantly redirected. The people on your team that can’t ever be positive will learn that you’re not a worthwhile destination for the negative.
  3. Project. As a leader, you must focus on projecting the positive. Sit down with a journal or notebook and map out all the successes you and your team have had, then remind people of them. This past week, I sat down and listed the successes we’ve had in my brief time at Redwood Church – building renovation, incredible small group launch, Men’s Fraternity, reconnection with our mission point in Haiti, relaunched Women’s ministry, increased mid-week attendance,  etc…. These efforts required prayer, time and hard work. Don’t lose them to the archives of memory. Keep them close to inspire you and your team.
  4. Give it Over. Many of the reflexively oppositional are so because they feel they are never listened to or don’t have enough influence in the organization. Therefore, give it to them. Give them a large responsibility and the freedom to run with it. Many an oppositional worker has been humbled by the experience of having to lead and produce something from beginning to end. Handing over responsibility allows them to unleash their full potential. And you never know, they may be a lion of a leader who just needed an opportunity. For this to work, though, they have to be responsible for all aspects of a project. It’s easier to gripe when you’re only responsible for 6% of a project. Give it over.
  5. Hire Differently. The simple truth is that you don’t want to work with everyone, regardless of their competence or lack thereof. If you’re in an industry that requires innovation or if you’re a possibility thinker, you MUST surround yourself with the same kind of people. You’re looking for “What if…” people, not “We can’t people.” We can’t people have never innovated an industry, grown a market-share or otherwise changed the world. You don’t want them! During the hiring process ask outlandish questions and see what responses you get.

The Reflexively Oppositional will always be with us, it’s our challenge to manage them well. Many Debbie Downers are critical-thinkers that organizations need, but their comments and affect need to be harnesses. Hopefully, leaders can help one another out.

How do you handle the reflexively oppositional in your organization?

 

…it’s time to get serious about transformation. You know you’ve waited long enough to transform whatever it is that you think you want transformed (and yes, I said “think you wanted” because if you really wanted it, you would be doing it already.)

Resolutions are weak! They fail because (1) they begin at the level of behavior, (2) are hastily made and typically cliche, and (3) are arbitrarily set. Yet many of us want to change and live healthier, more productive lives. Here’s how:

  1. Begin With Who NOT What. To sustain a change, you need to decide who it is you want to be; what you want others to think about you and say at your funeral. For instance, if I want to be a generous person, there are endless possibilities – time, money, talent, hospitality, credit. But if you simply want to give more money to charity, your decisions will be predicated by your bank statement. Plus, you have to seek out agencies to give to. Trust me, if you decide to live a generous life, it will transform all your interactions not just one.
  2. Structural Change. We are people of habit. If you want to lose weight this year (which is a bad resolution when compared to being healthy), you’re going to need to physically change  functions in your life. Where is the workout time going to come from? Where will you get the money for new shoes, workout clothes, a trainer, gym membership, or a treadmill? Who are you going to give permission to hold you accountable? What are you going to do with your kids while you workout? How are you going eat differently? Do you need to buy organic? Where will the money for healthier (and more expensive) food come from? If you don’t execute a structural change around your transformation, it will fail.
  3. Reward. You’re going to have to reward yourself – no one else will do it! If you’re looking to lose 40lbs, you’re going to have to celebrate losing 2lbs. This is what Chip and Dan Heath would describe as “shrinking the change.” Before you begin, you should determine when and how you will pat yourself on the back. Major changes take a long time, congratulating yourself along the way will help keep you motivated.
  4. Focus On The Good. It’s easy to quit something after you feel you’ve failed. However, that’s the wrong thing to do. Forgive yourself and start anew. Lamentations says the Lord’s mercies are new every morning. God’s willing to do it for you; do it for yourself. If you miss a deadline or going to the gym one week, just go back. And remind yourself that last year you weren’t going at all.
  5. Embrace The Spirit of Discipline. Of course, it’s going to take some discipline to get where you want to go, but often it’s not the discipline itself that thwarts us. We fail because we don’t understand the “spirit of disciplines.” The spirit of disciplines is that change comes from doing small, often boring things repetitiously and change is produced over time.  Whatever you’re doing is going to take time, become boring, and appear as if it’s not working. You must know this going in. If you don’t, the monotony will wear you down. Remember, the change only comes through the tediousness. When you’re bored, it’s beginning to work

Transformation can come for you, it just takes serious, focused effort over time. Go for it! I’m in your corner.

 

 

On Disappointment

Posted: December 28, 2010 in Bible, books, C.S. Lewis, change, leadership, life

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about being disappointed with God. Whenever I am faced with an issue–either personal or pastoral–I often come back to the writer who is the source of so much contemporary theology, C.S. Lewis. Cherish these words from ‘The Screwtape Letters,’ (an older demon instructor mentoring a younger).

“Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anti-climax which is certainly coming to the patient during the first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavor. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing. The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His “free” lovers and servants–“sons” is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liaisons with the two-legged animals. Desiring their freedom, He therefore refuses to carry them, by their mere affections and habits, to any of the goals which He sets before them: He leaves them to “do it on their own.” And there lies our opportunity. But also, remember, there lies our danger. If only they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much less harder to tempt.”

It occurs to me that the “initial dryness” doesn’t go away after we’ve been disciples for a while, but re-occurs at every intersection in which we attempt to step out with Jesus into something new.

We are never safe because Jesus makes all things new.

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.