02.28.13

benefit of the doubt, detuning, and missions support

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:23 pm by Administrator

one thing i’m learning about management and leadership is best summarized as this: the good manager ultimately satisfies himself with facts. he expresses judgment not by appealing to historical patterns but rather by addressing the facts specific to the situation at hand.

at present, i work very closely with two fellow leaders. one of them i perceive to be excellent; he is detail-oriented, precise, level-headed, and fair. the other i perceive to be a real burden to the team; he is easily distractable, inexact, impulsive, and openly judgmental. because i perceive the first person to be trustworthy, i take what he recommends at face value; and because i perceive the second person to be unreliable, i sometimes assume his input to be of lesser value.

this week, i dealt with a situation in which the reliable manager leveled an accusation against the unreliable manager. it was a no-brainer to me, and i assumed the unreliable manager to be at fault. days later, i’m facing the facts; and i cannot honestly say that the reliable manager correctly interpreted the situation. i had to admit to myself that i rushed to an unsubstantiated judgment because i saw this incident as a piece of a bigger puzzle, another example of repeated mismanagement. in fact, this incident did not fit that pattern, and it deserved to be investigated for the facts.

i am continually reminded that i am a Birkman Blue, a Yerkovich Vacillator, a Myers-Briggs intuitive feeler, an impulsive visionary. i always see the forest for the trees; and when i’m wrong, it’s because i didn’t recognize that a stand of trees does not always constitute a forest. this manager deserved the benefit of the doubt, not because he is reliable or even competent, but rather because every situation is best judged with a healthy dose of self-doubt. the best investigators and detectives are those who do not rely on their hunches alone; they endeavor to see what they did not expect to see. they examine the way they examine situations, in order to catch the details they did not anticipate finding.

i hate being wrong. but i have been wrong so many times as a manager that it’s best for me to begin learning from my mistakes. there is a lesson here i must learn, and it’s a nuanced one. it’s not wrong for me to be a passionate, macro-thinking man. but when i judge a situation or a person, i must satisfy myself with the facts and the facts only. this process almost always requires time, communication with multiple people, self-evaluation, and self-reevaluation. if a man is never at fault in what he says, then he is a perfect man, says James.

which is all a natural segue to the next important thing i’m meditating on—the importance of detuning. i feel that most of the mistakes i make (and regret making) occur when i’m on “overdrive”. it’s not simply a matter of managing stress; to a large degree, i enjoy a high level of stress and it brings out my best characteristics. but sustained high stress exhausts me, because i’m an obsessive thinker, and because i cannot separate work from the rest of my life. my life is best when my work life is fruitful; my life feels most rotten when my personal life is in shambles. this tells me that i need my relationships with my family and friends to feel worth, but i need to be successful in my work in order to be happy.

critical to maintaining this balance for me is the ability to “detune”. two or three consecutive days of avoiding high-stress activity or sustained mental labor does a lot to change how i feel. my neurohormonal balance changes: my blood pressure normalizes, my sleep quality vastly improves, and i feel sharper and more energetic. but it’s very difficult to detune myself. for me, detuning goes above and beyond unplugging myself from work and from troublesome projects; it requires that i remain stimulated but in a different manner. unplugging alone simply leads me to listlessness and depression. consciously redirecting myself to a different source of energy requires self-knowledge and discipline. it’s a technique that i’m only now beginning to appreciate.

thus, a detuning day for someone like me does not look like a day at the spa or an afternoon on the couch watching television. on the other hand, i’ve really enjoyed the sensation of detuning while exploring a new city, getting outdoors in nature, or doing unusual activities with my kids or with friends. a guy like me cannot veg out; i must stay active. but i need a variety of activities in order to maintain my general sense of focus; and i’m at my best when i’m optimistic about my prospects, not focused on my failures.

a couple friends came over last night to ask for ongoing financial support for missionary work that they’re involved in. anticipating this visit caused my wife and me some consternation. while the visit itself was interesting and pleasant, it did revive some of the inner personal struggles both of us have privately had regarding the matter of international missions. regarding our struggles, we share certain and keen similarities.

my wife and i have both felt called to missionary work. my wife felt a powerful calling at Urbana, which altered the trajectory of her career path. i also felt a calling late in my college years, which influenced my career goals as a doctor in training. both of us had very specific visions of what we wanted to be as missionaries; she wanted to be an international academic, while i wanted to be a medical missionary in an unreached nation. both of us experienced disillusionment with our respective ideas of missions after some shared experiences early in our marriage. for her, vicarious experiences through her missionary friends convinced her that “cultural imperialism” of a kind was tainting the Evangelical brand of international outreach. for me, my disillusionment with Evangelical church culture made me view American missionary efforts as tactical and mechanistic, analogous to the work of some international charities which foster dependence and result in abandonment.

these might sound like philosophical objections, but for my wife and me, they are personal. i disliked missionaries that i met during my time in Uganda; i felt that their beliefs and goals in that country were not only inappropriate but also harmful to the people that they were meeting. my wife’s friend was a missionary in Turkey who was thoroughly disillusioned by the alienation and disunity that she experienced among fellow missionaries there. while we can acknowledge that there are “unreached” peoples, and while it is evident to us that there is a need for human and material resources to be redirected to poverty-stricken areas around the globe, we feel ambivalent about the enterprise that has formed to address these realities. we see naive, idealistic, and uninformed white youth transmitting a certain brand of our faith culture in a manner which offends us. it makes us not want to be missionaries—ever.

i think that my wife and i both understand that we want to be in ministry of a kind. she sees her gifts in teaching and academic exploration. i see my gifts being in public leadership. whether we end up living in America or in another country is, in the end, not an important consideration to us. we want to be used, and we want to be useful. in this conviction, this is where we are strongest; but in mulling the particulars of the 10-40 window and the plight of the unreached, this is where we are most confused. i’ll say that i’ll probably be disappointed if, near the end of my life, i look back and see no evidence that i was used to help the poor and the suffering in an unreached area of the world. but i want my journey there to be anything but guided by the tactical objectives of the Evangelical church. is there resolution for this internal conflict? i’d like to think that this is one of the questions that God means to answer, as i draw closer

02.25.13

the propositionality of materiality

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:05 pm by Administrator

at lunch today, i was seated next to some bushes in a courtyard, and i took notice of half a dozen small birds scampering under the bush and making a ruckus. they seemed to be calling to one another, playing out something of a ritual or a game, and they were absorbed in it.

and above and beyond this bush, people went about their business, paying no heed to the musical outburst from beside my table.

a moment of fondness for the birds was for me intermixed with something of a philosophical sadness. who else would remember these birds for this moment? would the birds remember it? in the scheme of things, would even their short lives matter to anyone or anything in this world? or would their lives, like this fleeting and beautiful moment, be lost forever to the annals of cosmic memory?

as i walked out of the courtyard, i imagined myself forty years from now similarly walking alone, but in a different life altogether. in the present time, i’m intimately connected to people: my wife, my children, my parents, and people that i work with. but in my fleeting sense of the future, my wife and children were gone; no one knew who i was; i was a man truly alone, yearning perhaps for youth not because it is young but because it confers intimate connection with others.

it might be a non sequitur to many, but my mood is such that i was led to reflect a bit on the story of the Transfiguration. here was Christ having this brilliant and miraculous moment in which, theoretically, He might have transcended time and space to experience anything of the imagination. but he chose to spend this mind-bending moment not with angels, aliens, or God Himself; instead He shared the moment with two dead guys: Moses and Elijah. granted, in present company with fellow Jews, perhaps Christ had it in mind to associate Himself with two heralded figures from their common historical tradition. but i’d like to think it was a bit more than a simple demonstration of Christ’s celebrity; Christ was reconnecting Himself (socially even) to long-lost friends.

there is the terrible question i often wrestle with of how God really perceives people—not only the ones that are “chosen” but also the ones that seem decidedly unchosen. how does God perceive the fetuses that die in the womb? the infants who die at birth? the mass murderers loathed by humanity? the bitter souls that take their own lives? how does God perceive us as a species, and how does God view us as individual souls? some believe God loves all of humanity, past and present. but others believe God only loves His own. does God view some life as expendable? are some nations simply ransom for His chosen nation? none of this is clear from scripture. i think it is not meant to be clear. but one thing i have learned is that God cannot be judged to be good according to His treatment of all of humanity—every individual life past and present. He is good, according to His treatment of His own people.

i believe God sits at the table and sees the birds, like He sees everything that transpires in creation. He saves the moments that are pleasurable to Him. He preserves those moments and those lives; they are eternal because they are remembered. the heavenly interaction is built from those memories. He summons to Himself His people, across time, the people who pleased Him, and He connects them to one another and to Himself, to relive the beauty of beautiful moments. it is for interconnectedness, the connectedness derived from the unique constraints of a mortal world, that God saves up in Himself a great repository of lives and their memories, for perpetuity. God loves His people, and He misses them when they die. He births them in a world where their connectedness is both necessary and formative; but He resurrects them in a world where their connectedness can be assumed and thus unconstrained. one world is necessary to the next. and materiality—the basis of both desire and demise—is thus proposed, so that the foundation of relationship can be forever established.

the birds—those very birds i saw today—will live again. they will dance again. they will make music again. this is because i saw them, and somewhere within me, i will always remember them. we take our beautiful moments, our loved ones, and our repressed wishes for perfection with us. we take them to God; we connect those things to Him. and out of His memory of us, our memories of ourselves and what we have loved will be reborn. heaven is not one being’s world; it is a billion universes fully revealed, from the longings of memory

02.12.13

random things

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:05 pm by Administrator

i’ve seen tinker tailor soldier spy four times, including once in the theater during its first run, and it just gets better every time. it might even crack my top-15 list, along with another of the same director’s movies (Lat den Ratte komma in). i believe i’ve already written a review of the movie, so i won’t bother to go into details. everything about the movie is truly exceptional, most notably the performance by Gary Oldman. speaking of Oldman, i still believe that his best role ever was in the fifth element, a slightly better than average movie featuring an utterly stellar performance by an all-star actor.

aside from watching tinker tailor for the fourth time, the other thing i did this past weekend was watch ellie goulding at the wiltern. it was a belated birthday gift to my wife. i think i understand why she (and a lot of others) really like ellie goulding. she’s got a distinctive voice and a funnily British personality to go with it. even though i enjoyed the concert, i’ll say that i don’t really dig her music. there are so many solo women laying vocals on top of what is otherwise fairly generic sounding electronic dance music. in terms of image and sound, i think i prefer la roux; and when it comes to straight-up songwriting, i compare everyone to jesca hoop. but here’s the thing: goulding is only 26 or so, and she’s carved out a niche with that weird soprano of hers, so i think she’s got room to grow.

overall, i’m feeling less “stuck” in the past than i used to, when it comes to pop music. i do still miss that late-90s prog house; and i’ll always reserve a special place in my heart for the U2 of the 80s and the Cure of the early 90s. but i do like me some lady gaga and rihanna here and there. as long as that idiotic song gangnam style isn’t getting play, i can generally tolerate the radio.

i don’t like to admit it, but the dorner story is very much holding my attention. there is an aspect of my reaction to the story that disturbs me, and i’ll keep that part to myself. i’ll say that i do regard the developments with both sympathy for the victims and fear for my friends in the police. those are the aspects that are predictable enough to be disclosed without shame. the ultimate outcome of this feels inevitable. in any event, it has the feel of a cormac mccarthy story, veering toward a gruesome conclusion, and i don’t want to see that ending, as important as closure must be for all the people involved.

it does puzzle me that my thoughts about gun ownership (admittedly a much different issue from gun “control”) have radically changed over a period of time when public opinion is clearly shifting the other way. perhaps more civically-minded people are viewing the rash of gun violence as proof that we are better off without gun owners; but i look at the world and see an inevitable descent into anarchy, which makes me want to arm myself in preparation for a lawless society. i have no need for a fully automatic weapon. in fact, my preferred firearm would be one that shoots tranquilizing darts. we would all be better off if we were universally armed with this sort of ammunition, in my opinion.

speaking of universal armament, i can’t help but find the international response to N. Korea’s nuclear test as a bit odd and unnecessary. why feign shock and disappointment over their nuclear test? N. Korea has had nukes for a while, and they have every rational reason to demonstrate their nuclear capabilities. after all, it’s the only real leverage they have. can you blame a starving, dirt-poor, and completely isolated country for using its nuclear arsenal to obtain food, money, and other essentials for survival? if i were a small despotism on the verge of social collapse, i’d probably want a nuke too; it’s really the only power that industrialized nations care to respect. not to credit N. Korea with the loftiest of intentions, but they are no less rational than anyone else in this game of thrones. to brand them as insane is to ignore the reality of their situation. N. Korea has been at war for sixty-two years. N. Korea is dying.

and lastly, on the subject of games, there is a subject that i’ve thought about much but have written almost nothing about. lance armstrong to me represents something much more than the polarizing man constructed by the media. he represents the real dilemma we face, being shaped by the culture of our times. the question i wonder is whether or not the mystique of lance armstrong, as fake as it was, was critically important to us as americans. here was a man who was in a world apart from that inhabited by our recent run of baseball cheaters. lance wasn’t simply an extraordinary athlete. he embodied the best of the competitive spirit, and he became a unique inspiration to those that he came in contact with, whether they were cancer patients, amateur bikers, or ordinary people looking for a hero. i never followed his career or cared much about what he accomplished, but i was routinely fed quotes and examples from his life by devotees that i met through church or in other social circles. lance was more than a bicyclist; he was the archetypal american hero. even his worst tendencies as a bully were something we interpreted as an insuperable and unquestionably excellent passion for winning.

i think that it is a sign of our times that some of us do ask, in our heart of hearts, whether it really matters that he cheated. we think to ourselves that perhaps he was a cheater among cheaters. he still felt the pain of those mountain roads; he still did what no other man could do, no matter how hopped up on androgens, epogens, and whatever else. for us, there’s a side to the armstrong story that is a moral issue; but in fact, that’s not really the side of the story that matters most to us. what we really want to know, when it comes to lance armstrong, is whether the whole PED scandal will beat him or not. there’s a part of us that wants him to win this battle, in the end; it’s the part of us that still needs to believe in his mystique

02.08.13

my prayer

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:12 pm by Administrator

you wake me up at the witching hour, and the succubus is there, and so are you. and though i’m barely lucid, and though the room is silent, i can hear you asking me the question of all questions, in words clarion to my fogged mind. what is it that you really desire?

i answer you in the night like i answer you all day. your favor, i say. your favor, oh God.

i stumble through my days, wondering at the innumerable things that emerge from the tumult of my thoughts. sometimes, i find myself a beggar. other times i discover myself lustful, fearful, or angry. in all my moments, the heart within me is laid out like a dark glass across my world; i see myself in blurred reflections, an oddity to myself. i see you in the glass beside me, and your eyes are like fire, burning the tint to utter transparency, revealing glimpses of the other side.

what is it that you desire? you ask.

your favor, i cry out. your favor, oh God.

when i am alone, i crave your favor. when i am with people, it is you that i’m looking for. what must i do, to prove that it is your favor i hunger for?

ask me again what i wish for! i will tell you that i want the life of Jonathan, who faced an army on his own, who overcame the enemies of His people on your strength alone. i want the life of Joshua, who defeated the armies of Canaan. i want the life of David, who slew the giant. i want the life of Jacob, turned Israel, who received the birthright he was not entitled to, who received your favor and thus gave birth to your people.

what i must i say or do to have your favor? in all my moments, i am but a word, a hint of ambition, a wish for something i have no right to. my imagination is consumed with the idea that you might take my life, this terribly fleeting life, and shape from it a demonstration of your power. the deeper into this dream i fall, the more i believe that this question you ask and this answer i have are the only things upon which my entire life hinges. i wait for you, God. my every moment is the expression of my wish for you. give me your favor, though i am unworthy. show your face to your people through my own. take the little that i am and make me your servant, for the glory of your people.

today, like every day before, i tell you God in every way i can that i am nothing, except for this one wish that consumes all of my being. i forsake all else. lend me your favor, and fill me with your spirit. in my time, in my place, and in my being, be the deliverer and the hope of my people, that we may rise up in faith and be the church that declares your might to the world.

give it to me, God. give me your favor

02.05.13

being the lion

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:00 pm by Administrator

it’s been very hard to write, as of late. i’m going through a stressful situation stemming from my management responsibilities, and this has quite possibly been the most stressful work-related situation of my career. as usual with the stressful moments, i’ve lost sleep, my blood pressure has skyrocketed, my back has tightened up, and i’ve tumbled through my usual sequence of stress behaviors. this crisis is different though, because i’m the accuser, and because i’m acting in the defense of others, and because the person i’m investigating is someone i’ve considered a friend. it is difficult enough to be a manager of many people in a stressful environment, but it is entirely a different level of difficulty when one’s primary source of grief is one’s right-hand man.

it is perhaps the first time in my life that i’ve really felt the utmost burden of leadership. it is not easy being “the lion”. i’ve written much previously about how i view the vision i was given almost three years ago. the lion is no more “noble” or courageous than any other beast of the field; but what sets apart the lion is that everyone knows where he stands. his presence is unmistakable; his position and his loyalties are clearly defined. no one takes what belongs to the lion without first contending with him; and conversely, what the lion seeks to protect is imminently at risk if he becomes weakened or discredited. this is the specific aspect of leadership that God has pressed me to grapple with and to understand. it goes beyond advocacy; it represents an unshakable commitment to one’s people. for a man who has always been more comfortable with being on the periphery, learning this sort of leadership has been extraordinarily painstaking for me. being subjected to daily scrutiny for my decisions (sometimes controversial decisions) has turned my hair white and taken years off of my life. but this is being the lion. i am not the boy at the beach any longer.

one thing that i’ve been learning through this particular crisis is the necessity of firmness. i have always been one to prefer the softer, more conciliatory approach to conflict. my bias is to assume the best in others, even while i assume the worst in myself. this has been the product of repeated and severe humiliations in my life, moments when God harshly disciplined me. in some ways, it has thus been more natural for me to be the lamb—to accept hardship, to suffer criticism, and to duck responsibility. but God has refused me this pathway. instead, he has chosen to make the humiliations the basis of my unique style of leadership. i see a similar pattern in the life of Moses, who was prepared for leadership by being discredited, humiliated, and chased away from his people. as with Moses, God has endeavored to teach me that firmness is not merely a product of anger; one can be firm out of love and compassion. one can be resolute in that firmness, even when he is not fueled by indignation or rage. one can draw boundaries, enforce those boundaries, and even discipline others, even if the ones that he contains and disciplines are his own people.

sometimes, i don’t know if i’ll ever make it to my destination—that vague ultimate destination that i’ve imagined for myself in full-time pastoral ministry. i look at the real heartaches i’ve experienced over these last two and a half years of managing people, and i wonder how i could hope for better among a people seeking nothing less than spiritual fulfillment in community. the expectations and the potential conflicts seem terribly daunting to me. at the same time, i recognize that God is preparing me for those challenges. he is compelling me to situate myself between poles, the poles of being everyone’s friend and of being the indignant enemy. the lion, after all, is not the lion because of his personal feelings; he is the lion because he projects something that must be accounted for, if not respected, by all people and at all times.

it is not easy being the lion. there are still days when i entertain the dreams of my younger years. i have wanted to be a published author. i’ve wanted to be a world traveler. i’ve wanted to be famous, rich, and loved by women. i’ve hated the church, and i’ve been cynical of people within the church. i’ve even had my differences with God, differences deep enough to make me question His goodness and reject the faith. for much of my life, i’ve wanted to be alone and above accountability, never weighed down by the griefs and demands of others.

i have wanted so many things in life, some good, some difficult to define. but among these many things that i’ve desired, there has always been this desire for the favor of God. and because of this one desire, i’ve been forced to become the one thing that i never wanted to be. i never wanted to be a leader. i never wanted to be the lion. i never wanted to be one who imposed accountability on others, to their pain. but because i crave the favor of God, i am willing to be the thing i never wanted to be, so that i can receive the blessing i was never entitled to, so that i can be loved by one that i am profoundly unworthy of. i have desired so many things; but the one thing i desire more than anything else is now making every other desire in my life irrelevant to me. i am changing. i’m beginning to understand why being a shepherd of men is an impossible thing, a very dangerous thing, and a terrible thing to behold. here, at the end of my prolonged adolescence, i’m beginning to understand why being a shepherd of men is the only thing i’ve ever wanted for myself.