6.12.11

Christmas Small

(image by guitargoa via stock.xchng)
The world is too big, though we pretend it’s not. We pretend, and try to take it all in, carrying it in our purses and wallets and hearts. For a while, we contain them—wars and famines, floods, governments rising and falling, the successes of success, the desolation of failures. But eventually the seams begin to split and tear, where sinking realities seep into the orderly places of life. They can be found in the strangest places, and we say—upon their discovery—“Aha, how did you get here? I thought I had cleaned this desk of clutter and disposed of all the dreadful thoughts. Away with you!” But like dust and the webs of invisible spiders, they return. It is because we were never meant to hold the world at all, much less in the smallness of our comprehension. But there is a penchant about such nonsense—supposing greatness. We can only tuck the unraveling threads for just so long before the mind is more wrent than whole, and what falls out is more than what stays in.

We feel it most acutely at Christmas time—the greatness made small by our smallness. That is because of the heightened accuracy of awareness sharpened by hope and memory, tempered by disappointment and loss. Summers and springs and other seasons are not so. They are always one: one kind of summer, one kind of spring. Summer is—what?—all heat and dry and sticky sleep; or warm with constant rain; or something completely different. But it’s always the same. Think of summer and what do you think of? It is all the same—whether the years have been eight or eighty. It is scary to talk that way because it shows us how small we are, that we are unable to keep a few summers separated in our minds well enough to say, “That summer was uniquely thus and so,” and so forth. A man can do that with one or a few, but not all of them. We can’t keep them straight and so compress them down into a monolithic recollection of sameness: heat and sweat, or warm and rain, or whatever the memory. But always the same.

Christmas is different. Having spent eleven months trying to hold in the world, we find ourselves undone at the seams. The world came in to us, and all the world goes out. Christmas is not flat: one dimensional. It can’t be chalked up to a homogenous sensation: cold. Every year is different, marked with the vividness of dreams fulfilled and not. The arousal of the senses is not easily dulled: eyes dilated, pulse increased, lips dry. The anticipation of hope is felt as acutely as is the wariness of apprehension. For good or for ill, all Christmas are different.

If we expect too much from Christmas, it is because we expect too little the rest of the year. All the bottled-up and undirected desire bursts out with such a vengeance that the most-best Christmas could not satisfy. We let it burst out on family and demand more than they can give. We pour it out on presents we wrap and unwrap with fury. Having drunk in the world and pissed it out eleven months straight, the emptiness is poignant, insatiable. The world is big; we are small. That’s the end of that.

Which is why the image of a barn trough is both so repulsive and compelling! The contraption is easily assessed, measured, and weighed for value: small. What lasting satisfaction could possibly be drawn from such an insignificant space? The mind offers suggestions: gold for a poor man, water for a thirsty man, food for a starving man, fire and light in the coldest, darkest night.

More than these, and less: an infant human, not less and so much more. One in whom the entire world could be taken in, taken in, and held. All the violence and homelessness and longing and sadness taken in, but the seams held. The cup would be offered, and he would drink it; his heart would not burst. He would expect the same of everyday, and it would be enough such that—at the end—he had no undirected desire. All was sufficient to him. That insignificant space would grow to wrap creation in such a wrapping as Christmas never saw, setting us all free to become small again. Heart seams are mended. Once pursed lips relax and in the air a sigh, as the smallness of comprehension yawns with satisfaction at the child making smallness great by his greatness.

1.10.11

What Dying People Have to Teach us?


This week a British Judge refused a family’s request to end the life of a family member. Specifically, the mother and sister of the disabled woman had been seeking permission to let her die to escape her—in their words—“pointless existence.”

Just to be sure that “pointless existence” doesn’t have a technical, medical definition that I was somehow missing—I Googled the phrase. Top hits: Existentialism, two separate questions on Yahoo! Answers (of people describing their lives), and the lyrics to a song. So, I guess it’s safe to say that this mother-daughter combo are using the term “pointless existence” to summarize their own perspective on the life of this woman.

Sadly, these women have missed the point behind this pointless existence. Namely, that living people can learn more from dying people than from…well, Google. Vocationally, dying people and people in vegitative state are teachers. (Pragmatists need not respond about the burden on medical services to sustain dying people. When frivolous, self-glutinous waste has been permanently eradicated from all the corners of individual and institutional superficiality, then we can talk about financial constraints.) and, as they are teachers, we need to ask, “What do dying people teach us? “

The Value of Our Time
This woman in the vegetative state—referred to only as “M” by court documents—is in no hurry to get anywhere. If she’s not inside her own head, she isn’t experiencing anything: no pain, no loss, no regret, sorrow, frustration, disappointment. She doesn’t even care that she’s in a vegetative state. There is no burden on her. But there’s a burden on the mother and sister. Specifically, a burden on their time. (Not on their money, mind you. This is Brittan where health care is fully government run, and government funded.)

These women clearly have more important things to do. You know, like…stuff. I’m sure they’d rather go to the grocery store, or catch a little more sleep, or check their Facebook status, or something. Who wouldn’t? We like—all of us, mind you, myself included—to do what we want with our time. We’re Temporally Obese. No generation has worked less, had more free time, and actually been less productive. Free time makes us temporally fat. And nothing says I’m a selfishly obese time-hog like looking in the face of a non-responsive person. Staring into that face, I’m guessing it’s hard justifying many of the ways we’ve spent our time.

How Important Am I...really?
Once we’ve acknowledge how un-importantly we sloth away our free time, looking in the face of a non-responsive person gives us the opportunity to ask, “How important am I, really?” M hasn’t always been a vegetable. She was brain damaged in 2003. Before that, she was certainly...busy. But we just debunked the “I’m Busy therefore I’m important” myth. So now that the vitality of social contribution is less than the measurability of social demand, is there any point to living?

The second thing dying people teach us is reality. Frankly, I’m just not as important as my Facebook wall and email inbox indicate. None of us are. Any one of us could contract the same illness that debilitated M. Any one of us could go out for a run, stumble and fall into the path of an oncoming vehicle—as a young boy did just outside of Covenant Seminary this week. Any of us could die today, or become utterly incapacitated. In the end, the world keeps going. Yes, people cry. Yes, they care. But eventually, the days turn into months and the months into years and—at least for M and people like her—it just keeps going.

And for Mom and Sis to stare into the face of such a person day in and day out—torn between the seemingly urgent demands of electronic communication, economic issues in the Euro zone, wars in the Middle East, on the one hand; and the unhurried, generally un-valued life of this woman: well, who wouldn’t have to ask questions about their own significance. And based on the way we’ve spent our time (point one), the answer isn’t usually very satisfying. Few of us want to learn that lesson.

Get Busy Dying
Dying people teach us about…dying. They teach us about our own pending death—whether that is hours away or decades. Dying people remind us of our mortality and finiteness—how there will come a day when we no longer exist, at least not in time and history. (Beyond that depends on the afterlife.)

This is an important lesson because everything around us tells us we are super-important, super-loved, the best, awesome, perpetually young with a penchant for immortality. Our cars make us strong. Our diets. Our clothes. Our twitter followers. Death can’t beat strong. Strong conquers. Strong wins, right?

Wrong. Strong sucks. Strong is only strong until it isn’t any more; then it’s crap. And if we’ve been investing in “Forever Young-n-Strong Retirement Strategy,” we’re as bankrupt as the United States Government. That’s what dying people teach us. M teaches us that you can be a vibrant middle-aged person who suddenly is frail, dependent, weak, and...dying.

That isn’t a message anybody wants to be reminded of. No wonder we’ve ushered the dying off to their pretty houses of old age so that we don’t have to face death. We drive by hospitals, but spend as little time in them as necessary. We’ve forgotten how to die which means we’ve forgotten how to live. Consequently, dying people teach us how to live as much as they teach us that we’ll die.

Sacrifice Shows Our Humanity
Maybe it isn’t so much that dying or vegitative people teach us about sacrifice, as that they provide us the opportunity to show it. Take away all the needy, broken, hungry, dying, lonely, sad etc. people and you have just eradicated every need for sacrifice. Without hungry people, I can eat everything I want. Without needy people, I can buy whatever I want. Without middle-aged women in vegetative states, I can spend my time however I want. And when we live life without these constraints, we self-destruct.

The pointlessed existence of vegetative people is that they make self-destruction that much harder. I would argue that there are plenty of people living pointless lives; I’m talking about healthy people. They are living without restraints of any kind, and have forgotten the lessons of sacrifice. Far from being set free, they’ve been enslaved: to selfish, self-destructive living. These people have become inhuman.

M may live an un-human life. That’s still better than living inhumanly. The everyday, moment-by-moment sacrifice of M’s mother and sister speak the value of humanity more than ten thousand words. That’s not my opinion. In the end, that’s the decision that Mr. Justice Barker came to. M may know, experience, hear or see nothing. And yet, the doctors, nurses, passersby, and bystanders of life are more human as a result of the sacrifice of these two women. Heck, the whole world is bettered.

For this point alone, these women should be praised. Mom and Sis, M can’t tell you so I will. “Thank you for reminding us how to be human.” M teaches us things. So do you.

Now the only question is—are we ready to be students?

28.9.11

Why Sharing Information is So Terrifying, and Essential?

I’m working on a “10 Year Project”(that’s the working title) where I’m collecting some 20 data points for some 650+ graduates from an institution of higher learning to see if I can develop a predictive modeling approach to identifying the best candidates (for this program) on the front end. As part of this data pool, I was hoping to compare this with information from comparable schools. So I emailed contacts at those locations. The result—despite my guarantee to share all our data and the findings—was a big, fat, net ZERO. Why is sharing information so terrifying?

Because We Don’t Have It
Information is too…concrete. Data is too easily….analyzed. And so, as a protective measure, we don’t seek it, don’t capture it, and then don’t ask the right questions about it. It takes a lot of individual differentiation and emotional health to be able to capture the very thing that might end up showing how poorly we have performed. That is true, whether you are a mom-and-pop business, a Fortune 100 company, or a school. Opening up data means you might be proven a failure. If you show what you are spending, what you are getting in return, how well your product is performing in the marketplace, retention of key employees (or turnover)—you are immediately open to an Apples-to-Apples comparison. And the results might get ugly.

So, instead, we hide our data, or simply chose not to capture it. We don’t talk about graduates placed in their respective fields of study, or even about degreed graduates. We just talk about “alumni”—and use the loosest definition for that: namely, anybody who took a single course, ever.

Or in the business world, the pattern is to spin whatever metrics make us look best. For example, Toyota claims that “80% of all vehicles sold in the past 20 years are still on the road.” Great—so how many is that? How many did Toyota sell in the past 20 years? I seem to remember that the 90’s weren’t great years for Toyota.

Of course they don’t answer that question for us. We have to piecemeal the information that is available. For example, in November 2006, USA Today reported that Toyota was eyeing 15% global market share (total), or 14% for vehicles under the Toyota brand (excluding those sold by Daihatsu and Hino Motors). This 14% represented a sale of some 75 million vehicles worldwide in 2010. Then, in January of 2011, Autoblog reported that Toyota expects sales to jump to 13 million in 2011. Is that global? Who knows! The point is, you actually have to read Toyota’s annual reports for two decades actually find the answer.

Back to the educational industry. Nothing says we might be failing like actually being able to compare reality to reality, using the same terms, in the same ways. And so, we hide information.

Because Others Might Steal from Us
So long as nobody knows how well (or poorly, as the case more often is) we are doing, then others won’t want to copy us. This “close your eyes and hope for the best” approach to institutional health is ignorance reinforced by ignorance. The thinking goes like this: if the competition knows what we’re doing and how well it’s working, they’ll copy us; then, we’ll have to come up with something new. The whole thing smells of complacency. This kind of thinking is the beginning of the end of relevance.

Revealing the outcomes of our endeavors—that enrollment numbers or sales are down—is actually the first, needed step toward change and improvement. We have to stop being afraid of the possibility that others are going to copy us. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. Then again, if we are an always changing organization, then competitors are only ever imitating our last best thing. Messages can be copied. Institutes can be mimicked, but core values of organizational life give the flesh and blood behind these forms that will ultimately grow and retain our customer base.

Because we’re Not Prepared to be Self-Reflective
Necessity is the mother of invention. Ignorance is just the step-brother of stupidity. And as we are honest about the state of affairs, then we can begin to listen to the voices of others who might actually help us move in the direction of new growth. But this takes a great deal of self-reflection, and a higher commitment to our constituents than to our personal opinions.

And this is the other reason why information isn’t shared. Sharing information means empowering others to act. When people know how well or poorly our company is doing, there can be calls for accountability. The façade is gone. The fear associated with this process is a fear of self-protection. Self-protection requires the maintenance of the façade: nobody gets past the showroom.

Fear is a stupid reason not to look at the truth. People who think they have cancer and don’t go to the doctor aren’t cancer free. They are just ignorant. Companies who pretend that their sales are just fine, and never bother to see how they compare across the industry, aren’t doing just fine. They’re dying. Organizations, companies, and institutions—like organisms—are either growing or they are dying. There isn’t a condition called “holding steady” in real life.

Self-reflection requires a willingness to critique, analyze, and even—if necessary—to abandon endeavors that aren’t working. This is hard to do, especially when the endeavor—the marketing campaign, the product placement concept, the established idea—comes from you personally. This reveals a lot of maturity. It displaces fear, helps establish trust, and even positions us to learn from the sharing of information.

Essential…because Otherwise We are Moving Toward Irrelevance.
The moment we stop assessing how we are doing—as a company, a church, a school—we have become irrelevant. No, that doesn’t mean we cease to exist immediately. It means that we’ve stopped learning. This is something that dead people do: they stop learning. In fact, it’s a key difference between the living and the dead. Ask your coworkers, “Are we continuing to learn?”

When I lived in the Mississippi Delta (late-90s), my primary care physician—Dr. Duff Austin— was a (at least) 69 year old man who had been practicing medicine since…well, before the time of computing. But he never stopped learning. He was one of the most well-read, up-to-speed doctors I knew. He remained this way until his death.

The moment we stop learning is the moment we start dying. True learning comes through curiosity—questioning why things are the way they are, and asking how to make them better. It is exhausting because it means never being content with where you are or what has been accomplished. And the only power that is really going to hold our feet to the fire of accountability is openness about reality: our metrics, our data, and our analysis.

When we stop sharing information, we become an encyclopedia: filled with useful data as static as the day is long. Irrelevance waits for us, sitting at the end of complacency and pride—of a sense of final accomplishment. Atrophy is just one workout away—our last workout. Institutional assessment, organizational evaluation, corporate growth depend upon staving off atrophy and complacency.

Don’t believe me? Ask Iomega, Novell / Corel, Woolworths, Lionel, Orion Pictures, Pan Am, Rolls-Royce Limited, Auburn-Duesenberg, Studebaker, or the other truly innumerable companies that once lead their industries and eventually gave way to irrelevance, dissolution, and eventually to history.

So, what questions do you need to ask about your church, company or organization? How up to date are the roles, enrollment numbers, member participants, etc? Who is in a position to analyze the metrics being used, and the adequacy of information being captured by those? It's never too late to ask good questions, but tomorrow always puts understanding one day further out from today.

(I just listened to a great, free, webcast that applies to this topic. It was with the author of Now You’re Thinking, Judy Chartrand; and with Col. US Marine Corps David Bellon. It totally applies to this topic.)


25.8.11

What Steve Jobs and Harry Potter Have in Common? (It isn't the glasses!)


The announced resignation of Steve Jobs feels reminiscent of...well, the last Harry Potter film. There is no evil Voldemort to be slain: Microsoft ceased to be that some time again, and Google isn't quite the threat it desires to be. But all endings have something in common. Call it a moment of reflection. Old storytellers referred to it as "the moral of the story." In any event, endings invite us to be reflective in a way that, mid-stream, we are prone not to be.

Try-Try Again
Jobs wasn't always the glowing success he is today. Remember, he too once got the boot from Apple--by then CEO John Schulley. Reasons given were Jobs temperamental disposition and dissonant leadership style. Jobs is--in Myers Briggs Type Indicator language--a classic INTP (Introversion, iNtution, Thinking, Perceiving): knowledge is valued above all else, even relationships. Known as "absent minded professors," they generally don't like to lead or manage people. It's too messy and...well relational....(read entire article here)

17.8.11

The Role of Interdisciplinary Study in Leadership Innovation


"Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise." (Prov. 6:6)

Proverbs is rightly described as the book that teaches the "art of godly living" (CJ Collins). But--more than that, and not surprisingly--it drives thoughtful people toward a habit of multidisciplinary comparative study. Isn't that the point of the above parable? To learn about one topic, you study something totally unrelated, with the end goal of understanding both topics better.

Isn't it also why we use illustrations in sermons--that by the telling of a story which appears unrelated (and usually is), some pattern of behavior or belief may be revealed. One need not be Aristotelian to espy the fractal repetition of ideology and intent. It is placed there by God for those who seek to find. Indeed, the entire story of redemption is fractal--showing in part, time and time again, what was broken in the garden and fixed at the cross.

Should it surprise us, then, that at the heart of innovation is this cross-disciplinary study. In a recent article called Think Different, the Economist interviewed professor Clay Christensen on the nature of disruptive innovation...(click here to read the rest)

(this post contains affliate links to Amazon.com)

11.8.11

Tea-Party Just the Beginning of Political Plurality


The age of the two-party system is nearing its end. It isn't finished just yet--and many are riding that dead horse of hope into the next electoral cycle. But--as the recent debt-ceiling debate shows--within a decade, the Tea-Party will be just one of many "tribal" groups vying for power in and influence over our political and national interests.

One (Tea)Party-Crasher Does not a Pattern Make
The Tea-Party has had the spotlight in recent days, but it is not the first party to challenge the status quo of Washington. The Green Party of 2001 is still alive, if not thriving. Other parties have come and (thankfully) gone--like... (click here to read more)

28.7.11

Talk to the Hand: A Moment of Self-Reflection


Texting while driving can be dangerous. But so is going through life at the whim of the next demand. The urgent is no longer tyrannical; it’s just easier. It demands less forethought, less deliberation, less contemplation, less consideration.

Twenty years ago, for example, frustration with political decisions meant the tedious process of using the yellow pages to find a phone number, using a Ma Bell descendant, paying 10-25 cents per minute to call either the state capital or Washington DC to secure an address where you could send your complaint—typed preferably, though hand written would still be accepted; taking the time to type or (gasp!) handwrite your complaint, print it off, secure and envelope and postage stamp, place in mailbox, put flag up, and wait—maybe two weeks—in the hopes that the letter arrived securely; hoping all along the process that someone on the other end would take the time to read it.

Now, lettering is a lost art. Ebonics was arguably a passing threat to lingual accuracy and visual literacy; but nowhere near what text message shorthand (i.e. Textese, chatspeak, or txt lingo) has become. I can now tweet a frowny face to my politician at #Geithner to express my disapproval of the Treasury’s handling of debt and the Fed’s issuance of currency. Communication sent; message received.

Or not. The noise of communicative attempt has become more a deafening force of cognitive wholeness than all the psychological manipulation of Orwell’s 1984. One reviewer writes, “One of Orwell’s most important messages in 1984 is that language is of central importance to human thought because it structures and limits the ideas that individuals are capable of formulating and expressing.” Are we still capable? Ideological slavery is self-imposed more than it is militarily enforced. At least, that’s what one must conclude from the rise of Hitler in post-WWI Germany. Before he could come to power, there had to be the willingness of the people to let him.

So, I’m trying to make sense of the noise and—where possible—turn it off. How do I keep focused on what is legitimately to be sought after? The present reminder that I can only do one or two things well. Whether reading Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, or Strength’s Finder, the message is the same: I am limited, and am only good at a few things. To pretend otherwise is hubris, self-ignorance, and self-neglect. Those strengths are situational: I wasn’t born a hundred years ago, or else I would likely be a really good farmer. I live today, and my nurturing finds expression in the fields of the immediate relationships around me (e.g. in my family, my church, and my job). My development finds expression in the tools of the pen, the paper, and the unformed shaped of raw wood. That’s it, or pretty close to it.

So I’m not going to text while driving. Actually, I don’t plan to text at all. The message will get through to you—I’m sure of that. But it won’t be me, and I won’t understand myself in the act of developing the attempt to communication. Yes, Babel has been undone (Acts 2). But not all the effects thereof.

(this post contains affliate links to Amazon.com)

25.7.11

Two and a Half Men!

CBS's New "Two and a Half Men" Advertisement


The Federal Government's New "Two and a Half Men" Advertisement


August 2 is the Debt Limit Deadline.

3.6.11

The Sadly Predictable Failure of Firefly


Ever Wonder What Makes or Breaks a Televison Show. I Promise You, it Wasn't the Reavers

Sorry guys--"guys," in that non-gender specific universal Midwestern-and-north kind of way--Firefly was doomed to fail. That's fail spelled ISFP. Yep, at the end of the day the success or--in this case--failure of a television show is tied to the Myers Briggs types of the characters, the roles they play, and the ways those reflect trends in cultural expectations

Background, Foreground, and Landscape Analysis
Once you get beyond the herd of cop'n'crime shows, the trend of successful television keeps the man in his place and elevates the woman to hers. Men are either gay (Two and a Half Men,Modern Family) or else they are ENFP--which means they talk a lot, are slightly on the goofy side, cuddly and cute (or, preferably downright sexy), likely a little dense, and reminiscent of the not-yet-grown-up-kid in a man's body.

And the woman is the driver-leader--less talkative, more logical, decisive, reflective, analytical, scheduled, well dressed, and -- well, sexy. Okay, so they have the sexy thing in common, but beyond that these types are opposites. In Myers Briggs speak, these women would be ISTJ (usually) or INTJ (occasionally) types. Examples: Doctor Temperance Brennan (Bones), FBI Agent Olivia Dunham (Fringe), Lawyer Alicia Florrick (The Good Wife), and Detective Kate Beckett (Castle). Even their titles and jobs distinguish this archetypal modern woman.

So What about Firefly Don't They Like?
Well, it isn't the lack of...(click here to read full review)

(this post contains affliate links to Amazon.com)

17.5.11

Fortitude and the Uncertainty of Times


The theme of fortitude has run throughout more than one Wall Street Journal article of late. It is a theme which might as well be accidental as intentional; and yet, in any case, leaves one with an immensely heavy question. Namely: Have we faced the cost of losing? Specifically, have free people faced the cost of living in a world without freedom, in perpetual fear, with prevailing injustices, without recourse; in short, losing?

Andrew Robert’s commentary (Britain Goes Wobbly on Terror, May 11) asks that question by pointing to the resolve--of generations past--not to lose. He writes, “…[T]he intestinal fortitude of a people matters much more than weaponry, economics or even grand strategy. Morale is almost impossible to quantify, whereas demoralization is all too evident.”

Lt. Cmdr. Eric Greitens asked that question in his article, “The Seal Sensibility” (May 7). There he writes, “Some men who seemed impossibly weak at the beginning of SEAL training—men who puked on runs and had trouble with pull-ups—made it. Some men who were skinny and short and whose teeth chattered just looking at the ocean also made it. Some men who were visibly afraid, sometimes to the point of shaking, made it too.”

What both of these poignant reflections spotlight is that the fortitude of a single person or an entire nation succumbs, in the end, to loss when the cost of that loss is never fully considered ahead of time. I believe the reason these “impossibly weak” men made it to the end is that they tasted failure at the beginning. It was a taste they were unwilling to live with and so, resolved, they would die rather than taste it again. England had tasted loss before and during the days of Hitler, as had Russia. It was the knowledge of what loss cost that was the final, un-breached foundation of their national fortitude.

By comparison, Greitens says that those who failed had never “been pushed beyond the envelope of their talent to the core of their character.” Character is simply another word for intestinal fortitude.

Which leaves the question to us: have we truly faced the cost of losing? Whatever some might say, the rhetoric common boasts of talent that has yet to be pushed. Loss is a powerful pedagogy. There are lessons in failure, lessons that many in this world have learned but that we—the United States—have managed to avoid in our long running years of success.

(this post contains affliate links to Amazon.com)

26.1.11

Diversity of Calling. Diversity of People

Covenant Presbyterian Church of St. Louis, MO hosted their first (of many planned) Faith in Work speaker series—where discussions will center on the value, dignity and goodness of vocation (read, non-church); and to inspire and invite deeper reflection on the purpose of vocational calling.

On Eric Metaxas

Today’s speaker was Eric Metaxas—author of Amazing Grace (about William Wiberforce) and, more recently Bonheoffer. He’s also written for Veggie Tales, which commends him as something more than a dry historian recounting (or regurgitating as is so common) epochs of the past. Metaxas is funny and engaging; witty, and worth having speak in other forums. After a fairly long and impressive introduction on background, experience, and accomplishments, emcee Caroline Leutwiler summarize Metaxas in this way: “He reminds me in some ways of Bonheoffer… His abilities and convictions have been used to change lives.”

Metaxas was raised in New York City in a nominal (cultural) Greek Orthodox family. He later studied at Yale University where, he says, “everyone is supposed to lose their faith [and] become a nihilist with your parent’s money…without them finding out.” Then in 1988, he had a radical—and one might say charismatic—conversion experience. While he only hinted at that experience (which centered on a dream), he tells a fuller version of it at his website. Speaking of true Christian faith, Metaxas said, “It changes one’s life. Or, at least, it should.”

The same year as his conversion a pastor asked him if he’d ever heard of Dietrich Bonheoffer. Metaxas (said) he replied, “No. I went to Yale where it’s not allowed to learn about historic Christianity. And Welcome Back, Cotter never covered that topic.” Metaxas’ decision to write Bonheoffer is particular significant because of his own family ties to Nazi Germany—where his own grandfather (if I understood the relational dynamic) was forced into military service and died in the war.

On Bonheoffer
Bonheoffer was 14 when he declared that he intended to study theology—meaning, he intended to distinguish himself academically in the field of theology. He went on to study at Tübingen and Belgium University. Bonheoffer was intellectually independent—or, what I would call “differentiated”—such that he was not influenced by the liberal theology of the day. He’d completed his doctorate by the age of 21, writing his thesis on the topic of “What is the Church?” This focused study ended up birthing in him a desire to actually be a pastor (not just a theologian). He couldn’t get ordained—because he wasn’t 25 yet; so, after a year pasturing in Spain—in the words of Metaxas—“Bonheoffer killed a year in New York,” adding, “I too have killed many years in New York, and am working on my honorary doctorate…starting right now!” (laughter).


Praise God that Bonheoffer ended up in NYC. Because, after his less than positive interaction with the theologians at Union Seminary—of whom Bonheoffer thought them shallowly liberal—he began worshiping at an African-American church in the Harlem. That was in 1931.

When Bonheoffer left Germany, the National Socialism party was 12th in terms of power and size. When he returned, it had attained to the second largest and most influential party—eventually taking full control. The idea of a “human savior”—in the form of a Führer—had begun to take hold. Immediately following Hitler’s appointment to that position, Bonheoffer gave a radio speech dissecting the idea of a human savior—pointing all of German back to Christ. The implicit question in the speech was directed at Hitler: “Where do you get your authority?”

Within Germany, the populace that was spiritually and theologically illiterate saw nothing at odds between the role that Hitler had assumed and that of the Bible. Bonheoffer—among others—did! Many are confused in thinking that the Nazis were Christian. Far from it—Metaxas says, emphasizing that those people should read the chapter of Bonheoffer on that topic.

Foremost among theological issues was the Jewish question. The Nazis tried to restructure the church along lines that were racial by nature. The inconceivability of this attempt moved Metaxas to hyperbole, "I could be wrong here, but I think Jesus was part Jew. And Mary—well, she was either Jewish or Italian. I don't remember!"

Bonheoffer, along with many who held to true Christianity (and not just a cultural guise), died for their commitments—including many church leaders who signed the Barmen Declaration. Sadly, many believed that the rise and corruption of the Nazi was temporary and would pass , believing that Hitler was “a one term Führer” (Metaxas says, tongue in cheek). But the faithfulness of witness and faith in the life of Bonheoffer offers a call to the American Church. As Metaxas says, “If the American Church were to read [and embrace] the writings of Bonheoffer, we would be transformed…a real church.”

“In the end, the pseudo-Church will always fail,” Metaxas said in closing. “The real church never will.”

(The title of this piece comes from the prayer that Pastor Ryan Laughlin prayed at the beginning of the luncheon.)


(this post contains affliate links to Amazon.com)

20.1.11

Determined to Write....Something.


Every morning is the same, in this one regard. I think, “Tonight, I am going to write. And not just one page, but a dozen.” Sipping hot coffee and warm oatmeal, I nod to myself in silent reassurance. Driving past trafficked byways on the way to work, I look for scenes of certain inspiration. Walking beneath snow covered trees, I make up couplets about the cold.

The day goes on: work-filled hours pass slowly, broken intermittently by conversations and prayers, notes and encouragements. Email is the bane of sane existence, such that I’ve begun working “offline” to delay—if not completely deter—the constant barrage. Surfing the web splinters focus like glass on cement. I resist the urge, and chose instead of stare into the sky—which is the only thing I can see (and that in part) from the small portal of my high-placed, low profile window. Eight hours, ten notes, fifty emails, and eleven phone calls later—the workday ends.

Someone said that men only have a thousand words each day. Driving home, I check my reserves to find them totally depleted. I still desire to write, but determination has waned. Signaling cars lane change across the landscape of my eyes with more certainty and direction. Staring blankly at the red light, I resolve to give my family nothing less than what I gave to work.

Dinner talk is all the day. I stare past half drunk glasses and competing desires to meet the eyes of those who speak: my children and my spouse. Their micro-expressions—mostly those of the children—are a running narrative of emotion and experience, accentuated by emphatic verbs tied inexorably together with simple conjunctions. Amidst the tide of telling, voices compete in chorus. I drink my water to keep from drowning in the moment—that “homework driving home from playground football playing teams of mud tracks on the hallway floors as beeping watches chime far across the laughing classroom lessons that contains history unfolding lunch to teachers slight chagrin” moment. Then it’s over.

All the floors are picked up, and bedtime stories told. The hallway stretches out before me; light leads off to dark. The silence takes up much more space than all the spoke words. I am lost, for a moment. And then I find myself, there, tired. Slowly, I manage a few remaining habits of business—to brush my teeth clean of all the gnawed on thoughts, and put my shoes away. I lay my body down and think—as sleep overtakes me—that I did not write today…not many pages. Not many. Just one.

It is the best kind of writing—full of memory that will fuel joyful praise when all that’s left of life is frail breath, gentle sleep, and recollection.

Today was a page of history, written on heart and lives of children, my wife, and a too-often forgetful--but sometimes watching--world.

As for the rest: it will have to wait until tomorrow.