Thursday, June 29, 2006

Warning: Product Endorsement

OK, I never do this, but I am going to promote a product on my blog. In this day and age of rampant commercialism, I am very reluctant to do this, but this product is just too good for me not to share it with you.

Boulder, CO based "Crocs" are the best shoes I've ever worn. They're extremely light (6 ounces), really soft, bacteria and odor resistant (when your feet smell like mine, that's a huge selling point), and extremely comfortable. I can't bring myself to wear anything else. If you get a chance, buy yourself a pair of Crocs. Your feet will thank you!

Oh yeah, and rumor has it that Crocs are made of edible plastic. That's right, if you're lost in the middle of nowhere, you can eat your Crocs to stay alive!


Peggy Noonan does it again with a funny new piece entitled "Stop Spinning: Contrarian thoughts on Hillary, flag-burning, the Times and 'The View'". Man, this is a smart lady, and her mix of wit, cynicism and common sense makes her my favorite "political" talking head. This is one person who manages to see through all the crap.

These days I'm less conservative, more (gulp) liberal, but very cynical about both of those classifications. I guess you could call me a "conservaliberal", or maybe just an independant. Either way you want to classify me, I like Peggy Noonan. It's almost like she's reading my mind. Stop it, Peggy, or I'm going to have to start charging you royalties.

Trouble for The Times

The New York Times has come under quite a bit of scrutiny lately for its decision to publish an article that apparently used classified information to detail how American forces use finances to track terrorist groups. Lt. Tom Cotton had a few harsh words for The Times in in a recent letter. This is pretty interesting stuff.

I think what we're starting to see here is that those who strongly disagree with the war are starting to let their hatred of George Bush get in the way of their message. As a result, they find themselves compromising the same kind of ethical standards that they continually accuse the Bush administration of compromising. Irony bites.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Beautiful Messes

How do you think they would’ve felt if we would have screamed and yelled at them because they were covered in mud? When I first saw them out there, practically naked, playing in the mud, I was mortified. I thought I was going to blow a gasket. They were going to bring all that stuff into the house and make a huge mess of the place, and I’d have to clean it all up. What in the heck was the matter with those boys?

Then my wife came to the rescue. She ran outside with the camera and started taking pictures of the kids. She was telling them to throw more mud at each other so that she could get some “action shots”. What was her problem? Instead of yelling at those little dirt daubers, she was encouraging this mess! I curtly shouted Kim’s name, and gave her that look that parents give each other when they don’t want to say in front of the kids, “What in the name of mud bugs are you doing?” She looked back, rolled her eyes, and said “Don’t look at the mud, honey, look at the kids.”

So I did. I looked at my naked boys, drenched in a muddy stew, and then I looked past the mud. It was like a Magic Eye poster where you stare and stare at some random design, and then a delightful image suddenly appears just beyond the surface. This delightful image was comprised of smiling mouths and gleaming eyes. It was a picture of joy and freedom, and I soon found myself grabbing the camera from my wife and joining in this beautiful mess.

John Burke, in his book No Perfect People Allowed, writes about the feeling you might have if you found an original Rembrandt covered in mud. He writes:

“Your primary concern would not be the mud at all – though it would need to be removed. You’d be ecstatic to have something so valuable in your care. But if you tried to clean it up by yourself, you might damage it. So you would carefully bring this work of art to a master who could guide you and help you restore it to the condition originally intended. When people begin treating each other as God’s masterpiece waiting to be revealed, God’s grace grows in their lives and cleanses them.” – pg.97

Burke’s basic question is “Do you see the mud or the masterpiece?”

What kind of person am I? Do I look for the mud in the lives of others, or do I patiently perceive, Magic Eye style, the masterpiece’s around me? I’m afraid I usually don’t take the time to look for the beautiful messes of life. Instead, I walk around soured by this dirty world. I use my faith like a bottle of weed killer. In so doing, I kill the good plants with the weeds. Rather than allowing God to convict and change peoples lives, I feel the need to relieve Him so that he can take a lunch break, and I can be the boss.

Well, I’m not the boss (thank God), and it’s not really my job to clean people up. All I can do is accept them for who they are and point them toward the one with the ability to change them. What happens next isn’t up to me. If it were, I’d probably be looking for cleaner people. Unfortunately, I think we’ve all had our fair share of mud baths.

Monday, June 19, 2006

"Pocket Guide" Better than Pocket Lint

Not long ago I read a hilarious little book called "The Pocket Guide to The Apocalypse" by Jason Boyett. This book was sheer joy. Finally something on the end times that didn't take itself so seriously! At last a book about eschatology that made me laugh out loud! Any book that has within its pages an "apocalyptionary" that defines end times terminology, and a list of possible anti-Christ candidates (repute with Hitler, Reagan, and Clinton, among others) is a must read. I'm telling you, if you haven't read this little gem, buy it today.

Well, Mr. Boyett is at it again with his "Pocket Guide to The Bible." He was recently interviewed by noted Caedmon's Call drummer and really cool guy, Todd Bragg, for the Common Grounds blog. I've linked the article for your perusal here. Check out this taste of the interview and enjoy the read! It's one of the funniest interviews I've ever read.

Bragg: What sort of impact would you like to see the Pocket Guide to the Bible make on the reader, or culture at large?

Boyett:I'd like the individual reader to buy the book, enjoy the process of reading it, and find themselves intrigued enough by the Bible to, upon finishing my book, crack open the source material. If my book were to be considered a biblical appetizer, I'd be thrilled.

As for the culture-at-large, I'd like it to have the same impact as The Da Vinci Code, which is to say, I want it to be so powerful it makes Tom Hanks grow his hair weird. That's not overly ambitious, is it? Am I aiming too high?

Bragg: Have you thought of making a Pocket Guide that actually fits in your pocket?

Boyett: Have you thought about buying pants with bigger pockets? It's time to scrap those dungarees, Todd, and graduate to cargo pants.

Funny stuff!!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Land, Ponds and Freedom

Roughly twenty five years ago there were ten or so kids who threw down their bb guns in the middle of a cow pasture in order to jump into a small pond for a swim. These kids threw mud at each other, splashed each other in the face and frantically screamed as imaginary snakes attacked. It was dirty, raw fun, and although there were no Gameboys or Playstations, there was some serious entertainment.

Last weekend I watched as my children and their cousins swam in the same pond my siblings, cousins and I enjoyed so many years ago. They threw the same mud, splashed each other in the face with the same water and frantically screamed at the same imaginary snakes that so wonderfully terrorized us a quarter of a century back. That old pond still sits nearly 150 yards from my grandparents house, and as we watched the kids I could almost see Nana shaking out the rug on the front porch as Paw paw sorted through his tackle box for just the right bait for a trip to the pond that afternoon. It was a flood of simple yet delightful memories.

My Father used to call that land his "therapy", and he said a few days at the 7HR ranch (the name my grandfather gave to his land) was better than any phsychologist he knew. My uncle, whose grave now rests a mere twenty feet from the pond, spent every free hour of his adult life working the land of that ranch. He successfully raised cattle and built a small empire on the west side of the land. His wife and children still live there today. As a child, I remember every important person in my life gathering at the ranch for a nice meal, some great family time and a few moments in the country where the hum of the interstate couldn't be heard, and every star in the sky looked as bright a well decorated Christmas roof.

Those were the simple times of freedom and rest. There was no worry that a deadline wouldn't be met, no stress about an overdue project. We listened to old country music (the real stuff), and ate like kings. We'd tell ghost stories and put grass between our teeth, and there was nothing like the acres and acres of freedom that was found in that remote setting.

As I looked at my kids swimming in that pond I felt free for the first time in a long time. I was reminded of the kind of freedom that Paul talks about in Romans 6-8. The kind of freedom that you know you have, but find difficult to attain. The freedom that comes with knowing Christ, but is hidden by the hopeless cycles of life. As I looked on, I prayed that God would set me free to embrace the freedom that Christ has already given me. Just like that old pond, God's freedom is always there. Sometimes we just need to forget about all the "stuff" and just play in it.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Leadership the Hard Way

I've learned a ton about leadership this year. It's been a very successful year in many respects, but I've definitely had my share of failures. The year has taught me vital lessons about what it means to lead. Ultimately I've found that leadership is very hard work, and is not for the faint of heart.

This year I've had to fire an employee, confront several people who suffer from various mental disorders and deal with my own personal demons along the way.
Leadership lesson #1: It's a mixed bag. There are so many wonderful people whom I have the pleasure of knowing as a result of my priviledged position as a pastor. There are also many relationships that are challenging, and some that are downright unpleasant. Leadership is a door with hinges that swing in two directions toward two separate rooms. One room is warm and wondrous. The other is cold and cruel. Both rooms, however, lie under the same leadership roof.

Another aspect of leadership that I've encountered is the principle of overactivity.
Leadership lesson #2:
People will gladly bite off more than they can chew. Most folks are terrible at knowing their limits. Unfortunately our current leadership culture takes advantage of people's good sense, and we make them feel guilty if they're not doing enough, and guilty if they're doing too much. As a result we have a huge throng of people who have either dropped the leadership ball altogether or are pants-on-fire busy with various projects they have no business getting involved with. There is no middle ground these days, but the majority of people I know have a very hard time limiting themselves to the core aspects of their effectiveness.

My final leadership lesson is one that I've always known, but have never truly experienced until this year.
Leadership lesson #3:
Be transparent about your own struggles. Effective leadership is not ivory tower, untouchable leadership that never honestly expresses the true nature. Real leadership is broken about personal and corporate struggles. It is these struggles that make leaders approachable and tolerable, while building loyalty from those who follow.

My greatest leadership successes this year have come as a result of quite possibly the biggest shortcoming I've ever experienced. Shortly after my diagnosis of General Anxiety Disorder, I wrote an article for our church magazine entitled "Too Sick to Pray." In it I detailed how this struggle had taken hold of my life in a very serious way, and how shocking it was to experience my own limitations. That honesty has resutled in greater impact on others, and deeper loyalty from others. People have responded to this struggle with open arms, and they've taken me more - not less - seriously because of my honesty.

Leadership is an industry these days. Everywhere I look there is a new leadership best seller. It is often over-analyzed, and definitely over financed, but it feeds people's desire to feel important. Hopefully these few lessons I've learned will demonstrate that leadership isn't always about getting ahead. Sometimes it's about getting hurt, humbled and haggard. One thing's for sure: you'll learn a lot more about leadership from leading than from reading a book about leading.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Abortion Makes My Head Hurt

My Good Friend, Dr. Denny Burk, wrote this post on his blog, and I couldn't help but use it here. I'm going to post it in its entirety because it makes some fantastic points about abortion. I still, for the life of me, can't understand how so many peace-loving Americans can buy in to such barbarism. I'm truly baffled by the abortion debate... or even that there is a debate at all.

Here's Dr. Burk's post:
In today’s Wall Street Journal, Peter Berkowitz reviews Ramesh Ponnuru’s anti-abortion tour de force The Party of Death. In this critical review, Berkowitz puts forth the same pro-abortion arguments that have been refuted time and again by pro-lifers. He writes:

Invisible to the naked eye, lacking body or brain, feeling neither pleasure nor pain, radically dependent for life support, the early embryo, though surely part of the human family, is distant and different enough from a flesh-and-blood newborn that when the early embryo’s life comes into conflict with other precious human goods or claims, the embryo’s life may need to give way (source).

The problem with Berkowitz’s critique is that none of the deficiencies he lists make a human a human. His argument is essentially this: “Since the unborn are really small, since they are not fully developed, since they are after all invisible to us in their mother’s womb, and since they are dependent upon another for life support, they therefore do not have a right to life as other persons do.”

Is this really what Berkowitz believes? Do we treat small people as less human than bigger people? Do we treat one-year olds as less human than fourteen year olds because the one-year olds aren’t fully developed yet? Do we treat the person who depends on insulin or kidney dialysis as less than human because of the degree of their dependency on another for life? Of course not. We don’t treat such people as less than human because we all know that personhood is not dependent upon size, level of development, environment, or degree of dependency.

Berkowitz really misses the point here, and his critique of Ponnuru rings really hollow precisely for this reason.