Two simple words, now iconic because the President of the United States used them once a week on Sunday nights.
Wait, what? You’re saying that was all fiction? Don’t you remember how you felt when President Bartlet announced he had multiple sclerosis? What about the constitutional crisis when, before he could confirm his new vice president, one of his daughters was kidnapped and the speaker of the house was president for a few hours?
No? Still saying it was fiction? Well, OK. I’ll just counter that life can be stranger than fiction; our current presidential leadership is Exhibit A.
Still, “what’s next?”
What’s next is this: I’m beginning an apprenticeship for the next chapter in my work life. Over the next four months, I’ll apply what I’ve learned from my work in teaching businesses to grow, leading teams, and managing projects to Share on Purpose. Share on Purpose is an umbrella for several businesses. There’s a marketing firm, a talent development service, a small business accelerator, and more to come. In the short run, I’ll be working as a project lead in the marketing firm and the small business accelerator. I’ve got my eye on the talent development piece in the long run.
Let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room. Yes, my plan A was to find work in the NFP sector using those same skills. Yes, I had my sights set on one in particular. But I’ve always entered my work with Plans B and C. Thankfully, I never had to get to Plan C.
What about Plan B? I’m fortunate to now work in a business where:
- My dreams and desires for my career will be nurtured and encouraged.
- My best gifts will be engaged.
- I share a similar vision of work life with the CEO
- My vocation will have opportunities to be fed, as well. I’ll continue volunteering at CitySquare.
So thanks for your prayers and concerns along the way. Yes, I’ll confess–being 42 and on the lookout for jobs was no picnic. Though I never doubted that it was the right direction to go, it was scary at times. There were a couple of mornings in the last 8 weeks when I doubted my sanity, if not my direction. I’ll skip the “what I learned” speech and just say that relationships make the difference. Relationships make it easier to stomach the bad days, enjoy the good days, and look forward to the days ahead.
I’ve been reading to my oldest son at bedtime for many years. I’m not sure how much longer he’ll let me do that so I savor every moment. Over the last 5 years, we’ve bonded over Harry Potter’s courage and Katniss Everdeen’s angst.
After finishing The Mockingjay recently, we graduated to Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. Lord of the Rings was introduced into our house when we named our new rescue dog “Frodo.” When I suggested that name for the dog, both of my boys responded with confused stares. My immediate reaction was to silently confess my shortcomings as a parent. Then I explained that like our new dog, Frodo Baggins left behind everything he knew because something better was waiting for him.
Career-wise, I’m feeling a bit Baggins-ish. There’s something waiting for me out there, as well.
Business coaching has become my Shire–full of laughter, familiar faces, successes, failures and lessons. But like Frodo, I’ve stolen every moment I could to sit out under a tree or scan the horizon to see what’s “there,” rather than here. So like Frodo, I’m going on an adventure. I’m leaving business coaching behind. I could keep coaching a while longer and make a good living. I’d be safe and sound with plenty to eat, drink, and enjoy. But…
Safety and security aren’t in the cards when you’re praying what Jesus taught his followers to pray. Our church family has been praying the Our Father together for several years. During that time, my family has prayed the same prayer at home. If I’m honest, this prayer has been as upsetting as it’s been exhilarating.
Our Father in heaven
Holy is your name
Your kingdom come
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Is this prayer wishful thinking, or is it a call to action? If Jesus really meant for us to pray this, then what do I do about places where earth doesn’t look like heaven?
What about cyclical poverty reinforced by the policies of rich people voted into office, paid for by the money of corporations? What about how my boys have a head start simply because the homes in our school district generate more tax dollars than other school districts?
What about single moms who are living hand to mouth trying to survive on too little to feed themselves and their children? What about our family’s wastefulness and casual disinterest in our possessions?
What about the air laced with racism that I’ve breathed for so long? What about the unjust numbers of black men in our prisons? What about the unbalanced numbers of people of color living in poverty? What about how my circle of friends is completely white Christians?
What about the outrageous idea that we are the most prosperous nation in the world, yet Christian elected officials are reducing health care for the poor, the chronically ill, and the elderly all in the name of “freedom”? (I’m talking to you, Pete Sessions.)
Round and around these ideas have gone, like fingers turning a ring of power in my pocket. They keep me awake at night. They’re stacked and dog-eared on my bedside table. They fill my social media. In the quiet creep of my obsession, I’ve thought for too long and stayed too still.
So I’m headed off on an adventure where I hope to join my head, my heart, and my hands. Here’s the crazy part—like Frodo and Bilbo I don’t know exactly where I’ll end up. I could use your help. I’m in need of connections, introductions, and organizations where I can jump in to the spiritual, political, and economic battles all around us.
About my friends and associates in Rockwall and Rowlett, I feel a bit like Bilbo in his farewell speech: “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.” I’ll miss seeing you at networking meetings and civic events. I’ll miss figuring out how we can help each other’s businesses.
I know that each of you who’s read this far is someone I respect. Thanks for understanding, and thanks for your prayers and encouragement. I’m off.
The story of Christians who helped a Muslim community rebuild their mosque is a snapshot of what human freedom, faith praxis, and self-government can be–at its worst and at its best. It’s a snapshot of the hatred that will always be the underbelly of society. It’s a snapshot of the vulnerability of marginalized culture. It’s a snapshot of the beauty and warm-heartedness of good people.
As a Christian who lives in a place where speech is free and self-determination is accessible, I would absolutely help them rebuild. Not because I share their faith (though how much we share might surprise you), but because I share their humanity. I share their vulnerability to hate. I share their willingness to suffer for what I believe in.
When one of us suffers, all of suffers. That is the mantra that Jesus calls us to live by, and it is the high bar that self-government demands of us. Of all the so-called similarities between the Christian faith and American form of government, this is the closest. Of all the things Jesus offers, this is the most poignant offer that is global and without border. Without empathy and shared suffering, we have no hope of living together in disagreement–civilly, nationally, or globally.
So yes, I’d welcome refugees even if it increases a terrorism threat (not what the probabilities say) or if they change our economy. Yes, I’d help rebuild this mosque. Yes, I’d hide an illegal immigrant if ICE came looking. Yes, I’d buy lunch for a Trump supporter who thinks I’m nuts, politically correct, and in the words of some of my biggest fans, a “pansy” and in favor of “caliphate.”
Whatever. If one of us is suffering, all of us are. And until we get that in our head and heart, we will continue to settle for faith with no relevant praxis and government with no participation.
I came “off the bench” from my Anabaptist perspective this year. I did it because I see too much apathy or willing ignorance towards suffering. As a human who follows Christ, I cannot see suffering and not participate in efforts designed to alleviate it. Not without sacrificing my integrity. We can debate the how, but we cannot debate the call.
God imagines a flourishing human race. Humans, collectively, desire flourishing. If we will not fight for that flourishing, we are a party to those that stand against it.
There’s lot I love about my alma mater, Abilene Christian University, but one of my favorites is Sing Song. Sing Song pits classes (freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors) against one another in an acapella choral musical production. Made up of a medley of well-known songs put to (sometimes) humorous lyrics, each class’ musical acts are at once funny and musically impressive. If you’re an alumnus, it’s a great memory. If you were to see the show for the first time without knowing what it was, you’re likely to think it’s, um, quirky. But you’d also notice how much fun the students are having.
Some shows are funnier and more impressive than others, and that’s where my story begins. I’d like to start with a caveat: we had fun. We joked around. We made up some fun lyrics that poked fun at our winless streak. We smiled on stage and looked silly in our costumes. We made a few last memories before graduating. Our theme was rodeo clowns, if you can picture that. The participants were dressed as clowns and I was dressed as a bull, complete with a football helmet covered in brown paper that had horns taped to it.
On to the story…when my senior class officers asked me to direct our Sing Song, I was hesitant. My main hesitation was our class’ Sing Song reputation. Let’s say the expectations were low. Like most rookies, we had no idea what we were doing our freshman year. In our sophomore and junior years, we ran into a buzzsaw by the name of The Class of 1998 who had already won twice. But I was honored to be asked, and having successfully played to my ego, the class officers brought me on board.
Playing to my ego should have been my first warning flag.
I came on board with one caveat. If I would be directing, I would be directing to win, not just play around. The officers were very hesitant about that. They reminded me of our reputation and of the expectations of the senior class participants. They said OK, but they were skeptical. I was going to do it well and others would follow. Right?
Having a reluctant team of leaders who favored different outcomes should have been my second warning flag.
When rehearsals began, it quickly became clear to me that what this group needed was a whipping into shape. We warmed up vocally instead of just starting. We worked long practices, getting pretty good (I thought). I thought my motives were good. I was determined to do something our class had never done before. I wanted us to win the class competition. I wanted to beat those pesky undefeated underclassmen. I was in this to beat the other guys.
I was in this to beat someone else. Third warning flag.
In the end, we did win a sub-category. I considered that a big win for us, but really it was a big win for me. That was never more evident than at our final performance where the participants threw a part of their costumes at me during the show. I’m pretty sure it was in protest to how hard I had pushed them to do something they really didn’t want to do!
I was the bull. All I could see was a bunch of clowns running around. I stunk at leading that group.
This isn’t an exercise in self-pity. It’s a reminder to me, and I hope to you, that you cannot push your team to go where they do not want to go. In the end, you’ll be corralled and the clowns will have the last laugh.
And now, I present to you, the Senior Class of 1997, directed by Trey Finley, “After the Dust Settles, These Clowns are Outta Here.” Enjoy.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.
Hatred cannot drive out hatred. Only love can do that.
Because I believe that, and because I believe it was inspired, I continue to insist that this is no touchy-feely easy solution love. It’s agape, and it has something to say about how leaders lead, regardless of their arena.
This kind of fierce love believes that:
Executive orders against refugees cannot keep us safe. But radical national hospitality with thorough vetting is life-giving for our nation and for those who’ve barely escaped death.
ICE raids cannot deter illegal immigration. But sanctuary with clear paths to citizenship can show immigrants that there is room here for them to contribute as neighbors.
Drones cannot minimize terrorists. But the will to stop publishing their every move will decrease the fear we feel.
Death sentences cannot force forgiveness and repentance. Only reconciliation and rehabilitation can do that.
Following the law cannot forge justice. Only just laws can do that.
Fierce love. Not the touchy feely church devotional bonfire love. Agape love in the bible is fierce love. Love that fights for those threatened by power gone amuck. Love that insists on finding ways to save one more. Love that gives freely of its resources. Love that stands strong for diplomacy in the insistence upon death. Love that takes a bullet and refuses to fire one.
Our leaders can create enemies or build faith.
They can prey on the desperate or engender hope.
They can feed off fear, or they can be fierce in their love.
We know which of these three will remain. Which will we pursue?
I’ve written about and read more about politics in the last six months than I did in forty years prior. I confess my morbid fascination with the poisonous concoction we as citizens are rabidly consuming.
At the heart of my newfound interest is my education and experience in building communities of like-minded people. I was taught early on that community was best done with people who look, think, and believe as I do. That’s straight from the church small group training manual of the 90’s and early aughts. It’s mixed with the marketing axiom that we must pander to our target audience. That formula also has some white supremacy and classism mixed in.
This formula was executed (still is) at many mega-churches around the US. I’d need to do research to confirm, but my educated guess is that the largest churches are statistically more likely to be skewed in attendance towards upper middle class white people. They are not representative of either our nation’s demographics nor the demographics of the people gathered around the Throne.
It’s been a well-intentioned but ill-fated effort at community. The mixture of marketing, homogeneity, and classism accomplishes the opposite of what it intends. It results in division and echo chambers rather community and compromise.
Can we agree that’s exactly where we are as a nation and as participants in the Great Experiment?
Thus, my interest. My theory: our nation is the concoction of efforts towards homogeneity (gerrymandering), marketing (niche media), and $ as free speech (classism). (Side note: classism and racism are bedfellows. You can’t talk about one w/o addressing the other.)
Mixed in a bowl of voter inattention and representative inertia, a very poisonous mixture has been served to us. This isn’t just a political party, choose-your-pet-issue problem.
It’s about what a blessed community looks like and how it behaves. Read at its best, Christian history has a lot to say about this. Look past the fractured identity sub-groups that are wrapped in favorite verses and pet issues. The Biblical story points us towards a community that is inclusive and welcoming. We are welcomed to a community that’s fed with a rigorous helping of self-discipline and self-denial.
The national suicidal concoction sitting on the plate before us has an antidote. It’s not the dismissal and annihilation of the other party, liberal elites, deplorables, city-folk, rednecks, or snowflakes. It’s a character that believes in and fiercely pursues the blessed community.
I was honored to have the opportunity to speak at a fundraiser for breast cancer in Rockwall. “In the Pink” supports local organizations who help women who cannot afford cancer care on their own. Knowing some women would have a better chance to become or stay a mom, daughter, wife, and friend, was reason enough for me to give a half hour of my thoughts on the idea that cancer is a gift, but not one we’d ever ask for.
You can download a copy of the script here. It’s filled not with my ideas of cancer’s unintended gifts, but rather of stories from women who have beaten cancer in this life, and of women who are longer alive to tell their own stories. I hope you’re blessed by it.