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Tastes like ... what??

When our son Ben was a toddler, he was struggling to learn colors, and to develop new food tastes. One day as we pared pieces of a golden de...

Friday, February 3, 2017

I AM AFRAID

You know, I really have almost no fear about terrorists from foreign countries. I know the stats on the likelihood of being a victim, and my odds are very slim. For those whose lives have been affected, I know there is a different perspective. When any of us has our life changed by an event, it heightens our awareness of those types of things. And when they hurt we want to protect ourselves and others from them happening again. So I get why some people feel that way about terrorists, but I frankly don't share that fear.
What I fear far more are the hundreds of ways we are terrorizing each other here in the U.S. As the parent of a young adult with special needs, I am far more concerned with the hatred that our POTUS and cronies are fertilizing in my neighbor's heart and home, and when I'm honest and stop being self-vigilant for too long, the hatred being tempted in my own heart, hatred directed at the vulnerable of this world, and toward the powerful, too.
The tone of voice, the combative posture, the self-righteousness disregard of history, law, and reality, and the impulsively repulsive carnage being imposed into real people's lives is unconscionable. The lack of regard for basic human decency and contempt for those things which are beyond their own experience or far-too-limited capacity to comprehend is vile.
I don't actually hold very high expectations for government in general. I have never believed that our politicians are responsible for granting us the kind of life that, as a Jesus follower, I long for and work for. But there are certain standards of decency, postures of humility, perspectives of compassion, and a respect for humanity that I do believe serve as the hallmark for "successful" government.
Here in the U.S. I have always thought that what gave us our place of privilege in the world should be, and to a large extent has been, these things: decency, humility, compassion, humanity. Clearly we've not been perfect, for the conundrums of politics and nations frequently mean our officials are working in muddy waters. Republican administrations and democratic administration alike, I've felt for the most part that we've at least given it the 'ole college try.
I don't feel that way right now. I feel that our most powerful leaders, and many of us ordinary Americans, are instead more interested in proving self-righteousness, exercising unfettered power, satisfying greed, and perpetuating division.
Like many of you, I AM AFRAID, but what I am most afraid of is what we, of what I, am in danger of becoming. As I see it, the danger is not out there; it's in here - in my heart, and my hands, and my voice, and my actions.
Like each of you who've read this far, I love my family: my wife, our three kids, my parents, sister, cousins, you know, the whole deal. A special needs child has a unique place in the heart of a parent, and our son Ben in ours. But I am afraid for him, not because some terrorist hell-bent on destruction will come for us, but because YOU, yes YOU, my friend and neighbor and sister and brother, may fall prey to a heart of hatred.
It was Peter, one of his closest disciples, that denied Jesus three times. So before you say, "Not me," I implore you to stop, take a deep breath, and examine what is being birthed within you. Resistance is one thing; hatred is quite another.
The policies of our government will come and go. From my p.o.v. it's not primarily the policies that are the problem; it's the hardened hearts that are fashioning them, and the hearts, like yours and mine that are being shaped by them. We cannot give in. We. Cannot. Give. In. - to the hateful and dehumanizing forces that are wrestling for control.
I will start by examining what is within me. I will work, so that love will win. And, with God's help, I will not be afraid.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Oh, Say. Can you see?!?

Yesterday I was standing in a gym surrounded by amazing, brave, and loving athletes and their families, ready for a day of basketball.

As we focused our attention on our nation's flag and anthem, I could not ignore the painful irony that this week we will inaugurate a president who shows willful disdain for the very folks who are the best of what these symbols represent.



Also recited in that gym,
the Special Olympics pledge is 
"let me win, 
but if I cannot win let me be brave in the attempt." 




I would love for our son to look at the flag and hear the anthem which calls forth this courageous and honorable endeavor and know that we actually mean it, but instead, what I see and hear is a depraved PEOTUS making fun of the people I love the most, and a cadre of defendants rising in heartbreaking defense.

In spite of all this, we will not surrender hope

The love and bravery that filled that gym yesterday will remain undaunted. 


It is love and courage like Jesus - 
big love, 
unconditional acceptance, 
courageous inclusion, 
self-sacrifice, 
quiet power, 
all accompanied by enormous smiles.


There is no coercion. 
There are no threats. 
Bullying is wholly absent. 
Self-aggrandizement is nowhere to be seen. 
Indignant self-righteousness is mute. 
Personal preservation yields to the whole.

Teachers, coaches, volunteers, parents, friends and athletes: 
these are what is good about our world today. 
It is this good which will prevail. 

We are not going away. 
We will not be dismissed. 
We will persevere, with or in spite of or in the face of those who hold structural power.


We will win, and if we cannot win, 
we will be brave. 

Which means in the end we cannot lose the things that really matter.

Oh, say. Can you see? You will.




(originally published as a facebook post on January 15, 2017)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Into the Webbed World

Today I sent a piece of me into the webbed world.
An email, a message, a text, a chat, a tweet;
I can’t remember which.
It really doesn’t matter.

Into the webbed world it went,
Rich with wisdom,
Full of expectation,
Bare with honesty.

Into the webbed world it went
In search of a reply;
Anything would do.
“Thanks.”
“Hello.”
“Like.”
"Maybe."
"Yes."
“No.”

Into the webbed world it went,
This byte-sized piece of
Thought synapse,
Probing inquiry,
Smart observation,
Information request.

Into the webbed world it went.
Audience known:
You.
Friend.
Consumer.
Audience unknown:
You.
Friend.
Consumer.

Into the webbed world it went:
Truth.
Opinion.
Perspective.

Into the webbed world it went,
Testing,
Probing,
Challenging.

Into the webbed world it went.
My dreaming.
What I imagine.
How I hope.

Into the webbed world it went.
But who knows
Where it arrived?
If it was heard?
Will it be kept?

Does it really matter?
I can’t remember which:
An email, a message, a text, a chat, a tweet.
Today I sent a piece of me into the webbed world.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What an old Honda Civic taught me about how I think about people

I am the proud owner of this 1992 Honda Civic hatchback. It's the simplest modern car a person can own, with a tiny engine and a simple interior. Our one non-negotiable when we purchased it new was air conditioning to combat the midwest humidity. We were especially glad we made that choice when we took it to southern California. It's a five speed manual, and the clutch is original (more on that later).

It's been used gently over its 24 years. There are just over 170,000 miles on it, and for a Honda of this vintage, there is only negligible rust on it. The interior has some tears in the driver's seat, the door locks, having frozen and then broken during harsh Chicago winters, only operate with the key, and the rear window hatch needs to be propped open with a stick,

For its age and life experience it still gets over 30 miles/gallon around town and would probably do better if I felt the need to take it on the tollway. I don't.

At least twice a year somebody comes up to me in a parking lot, stops at my driveway, or rolls down their window next to me at a stoplight and says, "Hey, man! Interested in selling that?" My answer used to be "no." Now I usually give them a ridiculous number (like $6000.00) and then explain to them that it isn't possible to put a value on this little workhorse that, with regular maintenance and necessary repairs, just keeps doing its job.

This week was one of those "necessary repairs" weeks. The starter went out and left my wife sitting at work. I'm not patient enough to make the repair myself, and don't really know too much how to do it, although I'm sure I could figure it out. Instead, I put my AAA membership to work and had it towed down to my trusted guys at Kellenberger Auto. They expertly took care of the starter and it's back on the road. It will need a clutch soon, too, a more expensive proposition, and that got me to thinking.....

When and how do we decide to keep something or to replace it instead?

Jack and Larry at Kellenberger like to say that, with cars these days, the choice is between a monthly payment or the expenses of fixing an older car on a regular basis. Either way there's cost involved in ownership. Cars have to be one of the most resource-exhausting tools in our lives. Often it comes down to fix or replace.

Sometimes we treat people the same way.

Our culture is becoming a disposable one. Lots of things we purchase these days aren't able to be fixed, or the out-of-pocket cost of fixing them outpaces the cost to replace them. I just threw away my toaster oven and got a new one. When something can't be fixed, or is cheaper to replace than repair, we simply throw it away. I tend to think that manufacturers understand this phenomena, and strategically design items in a way that requires consumers to buy more of their products more often. Cynical, I know, but still....

I see this happening to people, too. When they can't be fixed, or their value seems to be outweighed by the challenges they pose, then we get rid of them. This disposition happens in businesses. It happens in families. It happens in churches.

Another spin on the throw-away approach relates to my Honda Civic. Because sometimes it requires a significant amount of effort to repair (a head gasket, for instance), it would be easy to decide to get rid of it rather than repair it. The time and money required to solve the problem overwhelms us and our reaction is to give up and start over with something new(er). There are days, like when it needs a new head gasket or the original clutch is finally giving out, that I feel exactly this way about my Honda Civic. But I also know that with the proper attention that little engine will run for many more years. I know precisely what I'm dealing with. Oh, and I love that little car.

I see this happening to people, too. When it seems easier to replace than repair the person or the relationship we have with them, we get rid of them. This disposition happens in businesses. It happens in families. It happens in churches.

I recently helped my 18 year old son buy his first car. It's a 2014 version of the Ford Fiesta, a stylish and spunky little car. It, like my Honda Civic, gets great gas mileage and comes with strong ratings. With any luck he'll own it for 24 years. But it did get me thinking. Well, maybe not thinking. More like coveting, desiring the hands-free bluetooth connections, the 1.6L ecoboost engine with 197 horsepower, the racing interior, and sports suspension.

We're often enticed by our desire for something new. Marketers understand this, and prey on it. Our consumer economy counts on it. In order for us to have a growing economy, our desire for the new, even when the old still works, must prevail. While the old may still be good and solid, it does not have the appeal of the new, and so out with the old and in with the new.

I see this happening with people, too. When someone new and more exciting comes along, we are enticed and "phase out" the ones who are already here. This phasing out happens in businesses. It happens in families. It happens in churches.

Our relationship between the old and the new is complex. It's one thing to think of inanimate products, consumer goods if you will, and how we covet, care for, and dispose of them (and these things are important to consider!). It should be something quite different, though, when we think about people and the relationships we invest in.

Unfortunately, it seems that there is "consumer creep" in our approach to people. People become a commodity. They become disposable. We treat them as replaceable. They're not.

I understand that it's complicated. I have cut people out of my life for "good" reasons. I have contemplated throwing away lifelong commitments in favor of "newer and better" opportunities. I have fired people from jobs that I knew they needed.

I'm glad I got my Honda Civic fixed again. Today it will get my wife to work and then to the doctor. This evening it will get me to the grocery story and a meeting. Tonight it will sit familiarly in the driveway next to an under-used 2006 Starcraft pop-up camper and a shiny orange Ford Fiesta ST. The family vehicle, a 2006 Honda Pilot, will rest in the garage.

In the morning I'll get up and settle myself into the slightly ripped driver's seat of my old Honda Civic and be glad that I haven't thrown away a quality piece of my life.

I'll be glad that you're still here, too.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Stepping Out: Unexpected Thoughts on Being an Entrepreneur

When I resigned from my job in April, I assumed that I would find another job within an organization. I immediately began exploring possibilities where I could use my years of organizational experience and a newly minted certificate in nonprofit management in an executive management position.

I was excited about the changes, and nervous about how to translate my church-based experience into other fields of leadership, but I was confident that my work background, skill set, personal profile, education and references would open opportunities for me. And although job searches in today's work environment are arduous and largely impersonal, there has been some progress. No job, but what feels like progress.

One day along the journey I had a person suggest to me that I start my own business. My laughter could be heard down the hallway! But that laughter turned into consideration, and the consideration led to imagination, and imagination led to consultation, and consultation led to articulation, and articulation is being converted into action. I am starting my own business. Are you laughing now?!?

Since some of you might also be in transition, I thought I'd offer some of my thought process. Maybe it will help you. If you'd like, I'd be glad to talk with you more directly. Drop me a line.

Here are some of the thoughts that I've wrestled with along the way. I'm pretty sure my wrestling is not done.

Point: I don't have much to offer. Even though I have rich and varied leadership experience, there is a nagging sense that such experience is not really experience. I've had great staff members to cover my backside. It's hard to point to the specific skill sets that distinguish me.

Counterpoint: My experience and education are unique and profound. I am frequently surprised when practices and concepts about leadership and organizations that for me are intuitive are heard as new (and helpful) ideas by others.

Point: I am not an entrepreneur. I've always worked in organizations with a set job description and lots of bosses. I don't know anything about starting something from scratch.

Counterpoint: My whole life has been entrepreneurial. Within the context of my jobs, I have always been a creator, initiator and developer. Each of my jobs required major changes, and it was an entrepreneurial spirit which helped me thrive in those situations.

Point: I am at the wrong point in my life to risk self-employment. While my wife and I share the income burden, I have always been the primary wage-earner. Insurance, retirement savings, paid vacation and the like are all part of the work culture that we count on.

Counterpoint: There will never be a better or right time to take the risk. This is my mid-life. Well designed and astutely managed self-employment will be different, but it is not impossible. We will learn to adapt to a different financial flow to our lives.

Point: I am a team player and this is an individual sport. It will depend wholly on me, and I work better in teams and as a leader of groups.

Counterpoint: Already I see that I will not be alone. There are several wise advisers walking with me. There are potential partnerships emerging. I will able to use my passion for working collaboratively to bring people together.

Point: I don't have my act together. I am a flawed and limited human. I have weaknesses and vulnerabilities. I am unsure at times. My brain doesn't always work the way I want it to when I want it to.

Counterpoint: I don't have my act together. I, like the people and organizations I work with, am a flawed and limited human. I, like those I serve, have weaknesses and vulnerabilities. I, like those I would encourage, am unsure at times. Amazingly, my brain still works, and in mysterious, unique and wonderful ways.

There are, of course, other points of concern. Where will the business come from, especially that first contract or two? How will I respond when things don't go as planned? Will I be able to focus? Will the work become too consuming?

But the possibilities are too great to ignore, the calling too strong to shrug off. I love helping others perform at their best. I have a passion for healthy organizations and a deep understanding of how leadership fosters that health. I like questions, big, hard, complex questions alongside simple obvious ones. I have a unique view of how artistry impacts leadership, a perspective cultivated as a musician and bureaucrat.

So here I am at a crossroads in life I never anticipated. How I got here is still a bit of a blur, and where it ends up is definitely hidden around the corner. The current vantage point, however, holds a clear vision. It is a vision for how artistry leads and how blessed I'll be to help others find that synergy.