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Encouraging words are effective

In art,Books,business,culture,design,faith,family,Friends,Fun,mission,Prayer,quote,Reading,Spiritual,swimming on August 2, 2016 by mstevensrev

iStock_000014997757Small1Two moments recently where someone offered me encouragement had immediate impact. The first was during my recent Olympic Triathlon during the swim. While contemplating giving up during the swim section of the race, I swam past one of the lifeguards and assumed I looked as bad as I felt. The lifeguard looked at me and encouraged yelling, “Doing great, you can make it.” I thought to myself, really? If this guy has said it then perhaps I can finish. It was that moment in the race where my swim improved and I got on with it.

The second situation was before an interview for the podcast this past Sunday. We recorded two in the week and after listening to the first I was focused on how I could improve. There were questions that ran on, and a number of “ums” and “ahhs” during my speaking. I was determined to focus on my speech and questions with our second guest. Before the second interview, our guest complimented me on the podcasts she had listened to and encouraged me in my voice and style. It was just the shot in the arm to focus me for that interview.

In writing this I consider how easy is it for me to find something to encourage someone else in today, perhaps it is exactly what they are in need of to perform their best.

‚ÄúAll we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.‚ÄĚ
‚Äē J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

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Just because it worked once

In art,Books,business,design,faith,leadership,principles,Uncategorized on August 1, 2016 by mstevensrev

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Just because it worked once doesn’t mean that the same actions will have the intended effects now.

The expression is that you cannot step into the same river twice, and that is true. Both you change and so does the river.

In reading “What happened to WikiLeaks?“, I was struck with how something so important could with similar actions to the past act so poorly in the moment. “The WikiLeaks project has fallen far from the lofty heights of its founding a decade ago, when Julian Assange promised to ‚Äúfacilitate safety in the ethical leaking movement.‚ÄĚ”

We all have success, just don’t think you can do the same thing this time.

It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation. -Herman Melville

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I’m all about that GROWTH

In art,Bible,blogging,Books,business,journal,PCA,Presbyterian Church in America,prophet,sermon,writing on February 12, 2015 by mstevensrev

As I’ve reflected on my life as a whole trying to find a unified theme that connects all the seemingly random events and achievements, that one piece of yarn that is the thread through the entire story, providing some sense of unity, I have often come to the theme of relationships. In addition to being an extreme extravert, I also find the deepest joy (and pain) while looking into the face of others. The principles I use to guide my life contains one principle dedicated to this, “Relationships are what matter in life, so value them.” So for years this I thought that this was my theme and my motivating factor.

Then I was writing this week in an attempt to help me focus with my work, and something kept popping up. Then this morning I realized that I had stumbled onto something significant to understanding myself. I value relationships, yet I clearly have let many fade away or have had to break relationship with people. Why? Because (for the most part) these were not healthy growing relationships, not moving toward life. Therefore relationships are part of what brings my life meaning, yet only from the perspective of growth.

Note: For anyone reading this that believes I am only referring to positive growth in a constant directions for good at every moment, that is not what I mean. Often the hardest circumstances and relationships provide the opportunity for the most growth. Growing a baby is an incredibly positive thing in pregnacy but any mother would say that it is not all “positive”, “easy” or in a “constant direction”.

So hear are a few items broadly where I have identified this GROWTH in my life:

Professionally: My career has taken the eclectic experiences I have had and put me in a place to use my talents and continue to evolve to be more of a person then I ever imagine. Throughout life I have sold, but now I am growing in international business, technology, management, and client delivery.

Relationally: Growing up in Baltimore it was common to see neighbors in the front lawn fighting to settle a disagreement, my instinct toward aggression has lessen and a world of non-violent communication has opened up to me. Thankfully this is the case because the most important relationship in the world to me, my wife, would not tolerate the primal dualistic ape that roamed my psyche.

Spiritually: God reached out to me very young. Most of my spiritual development took place in a fundamentalist power driven women hating sect of Christian spirituality, and I was a professional with them. This is the place where I can see how much growth has been the theme in my life. Thankfully as the feminist father of three daughters I can know stand open minded filled with love as I engage the world.

All of this reminds me of a passage from The Books of Bebb, by Frederick Buechner. Bebb a wild evangelist has a man in his office who points to a Bible and essential asks how can this thing make my life Bebb.  And Bebb knowing that there is no magic answer that he can provide by pulling out this book then goes on to share with him. (please mind this is my paraphrase, not a direct quote)

growth-chart1-handmade-charlotte-notonthehighstreetSo Bebb asks, “Do you know the passage John 3:16?” The guy nods as just about everyone does. “For God so love the world that he gave his only Son..” pausing “you know the rest. The thing is that passage talks about sin and most people these days don’t even know what sin is. So instead of sin I like to talk about shit. For God so love the world that He sent His only Son down here into the shit with us. You see people can understand that, it something that we all relate to. And God did this, sent his Son into this because shit can be deadly. If it piles up too much in one place it will kill everything. And yet if you take it and spread it out something happens. You see God sent his Son down here with us, so maybe a little green can GROW.”

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The Lessons, rapid prototyping (Part V)

In Bible,Books,business,culture,devotional,Evangelist,faith,family,Fun,Grace Seattle,movies,PCA,Presbyterian Church in America,principles,Spiritual,Technology,Theology,Uncategorized on April 27, 2014 by mstevensrev

the-lean-startup-book-400x376-300x282 (1)A few years ago the book Lean Startup, by Eric Ries took off, at the time I was working for a offshore software development company and it was unthinkable to not have read this holy text for innovation. There are major take aways from this book: Do not be afraid to fail and be willing to fail often.  One thing that is unique I have learned since reading this book is that American culture stands out worldwide because of the position that failure does not define you as a business leader.  You have very famous examples of this including Steve Jobs with his first go around at Apple, and this is even reflected within our legal system a it relates to bankruptcy (America has some of the least punitive laws for bankruptcy in the world).  In an area like Silicon Valley it is likely to meet an entrepreneur who among a success has a string of failed companies that did not work out, this is accepted and according to The Lean Startup even encouraged.

This fits well within my spirituality as God’s grace is central to my view of what is happening in the world. ¬†A minimal definition of grace would be a continuous second chance. (As a side note I have an illustration about ice cream and grace being you get rewarded even though you deserved to be punished, but I’ll save that for ¬†a later post.) Christ came to offer second chances to us, that is the point. ¬†Failure does not have the last word, just as the cross was not the end of Christ work rather he rose from the dead. ¬†There are beautiful examples of this throughout the scriptures: Joshua and the people of God attacking Ai just after the victory at Jericho¬†and losing (Joshua 7:1-26) and Peter’s denial of Jesus where he didn’t just lie once but three times claiming he did not know Jesus (John 18). ¬†These are examples of great leaders from history in the church that were not defined by horrible failure, but rather defined by God’s transformation of their failure.

There is an opposing force to what I have mentioned so far, that failure does not define you and that is the concept of shame.  Just a few weeks ago I was in a presentation at work talking about what happens when teams make mistakes.  I was already at the white board so I added this diagram for our discussion:

fears_and_tears

ToiletBowlFlushThe lower path I would describe as a pathway of shame and perhaps the best image would not be arrows but rather a swirling spiral like in a toilet bowl. Shame is a powerful force that instead of saying, “You made a mistake.” says “You are a mistake.” Instead of saying, “Let’s not cry over spilled milk, grab the rag.” It tells you that your life is an abortion. ¬†For a person controlled by shame there is no place for failure or mistakes and therefore significant work has to be done to face this horrible virus of the soul. ¬†Needless to say if you are a person controlled by shame this idea that you are free to fail will be very difficult if not impossible for you.

For those of you with children right now you know that the movie Frozen is all about this. ¬†The scene creating the ice castle is about Elsa coming to terms with who she has been created to be and understanding that she is not like everyone else, but the storm of shame is still a part of her life as she lives in isolation and suffering under the weight that she is created ‘wrong’. ¬†In my minds eye this is a modern feminist picture of Martin Luther’s great speech at the Diet of Worms, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Only when Elsa’s sister Anna is able to love her unconditionally even given her life for her, is the curse of shame broke. ¬†Though Elsa is still different this difference is used for the good of everyone around her rather then being a curse.

 

So if you buy into this idea the fear is destructive, or a positive was of saying it being failure does not define you then a natural fruit in your life is to not be afraid of failure! Lean Start up pushes this idea with the concept of Rapid Prototyping. This idea of create, create quickly, create well, but get it out there so you can find out what is wrong with it as soon as possible.  Take feedback and grow, or my preferred verb is EVOLVE.

A major evolution in my spirituality was letting go of having to be right. The denomination that I was ordained in, the PCA, was right.  They were well educated and studied theologians that had put in the hours of dedication to create a theological framework and church governance that was Biblical and therefore right.  Once you walk away from a group like that you cannot help but be wrong, because they are the only ones that are right.  This devastated me for a significant period of time, I was lost and certainly I was on the wrong side of right.  Shame played havoc with my soul and my spirituality.

lesmis2Then I became convinced that my spirituality was not about being right and it never should have been. ¬†I can be completely wrong and still loved fully by God! ¬†WOW, what freedom! ¬†One of my professors from seminary, Steve Brown, used to say “I’m wrong at least 50% of the time, I just wish I knew what 50%.” Another way to put is, my faith is not about my sin rather what it means for me to live fully human before God who has saved me. ¬†I have been redeemed from my sin and am being redeemed from my sin.

So does this mean we just run off not caring? Roman 6, is helpful here. ¬†Also I remember¬†Steve Brown¬†using this great illustration. ¬†The discussion of grace and obedience is like a dog chasing his own tail, and the good news if the dog follow the master everything lines up. Let’s live with complete affection and focus on the master and trust that others have been created to do the same!

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Suffering: further thoughts after the school shooting today and a wonderful heartbreaking note I received from a new friend of facebook

In Books,church,Community,devotional,facebook,faith,principles,Theology,Uncategorized on December 15, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , , , ,

Being an information worker events like today are very hard to remove yourself from, there are two many questions and no answers.  It is far to easy to listen to the latest reports or scan facebook to see how others process evil.  This is one attempt to follow up on a note I received related to my previous post, Suffering: a devotional primer, and make some sense of the tragedy from today.  In respect to my friend I will not share the note that inspired these thoughts, but rather will share my response:

Your note lead me to two thoughts.

First, there is great power in the example of Christ. Each week at our church I am reminded of your exact point during the Eucharist and the priest states “On the night he was betrayed.” Jesus put walking in the midst of suffering into practice in a way that we strive for, as scripture reminds us he was faithful…even to death.

Second, the topic of forgiveness is one that I may address at some point but is so very difficult. The easy part is our responsibility in working toward justice for others, when we are witnesses to wrong doing that does not involve us we must take the role of prophet and speak, “Thus saith the Lord…this shit is wrong.”

The hard part is the ongoing posture of forgiveness. My experience in this area is very rocky, there are people who I have worked very hard to forgive in a moment when circumstance in my life change I realize that I need to forgive in that present moment. I’m not sure how much of Dan Allender you have read but his thoughts on this topic have been helpful for me. In the last year I went through a dark period and realized that my forgiveness needed to move deeper.

Tied in there somewhere is wisdom gained from being wounded, often times the Christian way of forgive and forget leads to unhealthy patterns…I am sure you would never go to work for/with that guy again…yes he deserves grace but that does not mean you need to bear the brunt again of his sanctification. I have also worked with people that have done tremendous evil, personally as a steward of God’s Kingdom and of the family God has provided me it is my responsibility as best I can to not submit to evil authority. Jesus only had to go to the cross once, there are appropriate sacrifices and martyrdom…and then there is a unhealthy martyrdom complex that I find with many Christians. (and I myself have bought into during times in my life, suffering comes you don’t have to chose the path)

The word may not be ‘shocked’ by the presence of sin, but there is an appropriate place to call out to God, we pray ‘thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’. The kingdom again is in the here and now, so today I did cry for those families who’s children are not coming home safe from school, also I sent out my holiday cards for work because that was my way of spreading some good while feeling completely powerless..seemed the only way for me not to run to my daughters school and bring her home:) I really like how you put it ‘be a living example to all men of how to actually live in our daily tempos’, we are different and our lives should reflect that. We have the ability to grieve like no one else and we have the ability to party like no one else.

Obviously I am grateful for the discussion. Feel free to let me know if you have any thoughts.

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A reflection on embracing your inner self, from a middle ager inspired by middle earth

In art,Books,C.S. Lewis,Community,culture,devotional,faith,Fun,Lord of the Rings,movies,poetry,The Hobbit,Theology,Uncategorized on December 14, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , , , , ,

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This last week I was inspired by listening to Malcolm Guite‘s talk from Kindlings Summer Fest, the third of a series of three. ¬†We attended Summer Fest but were out ‘living’ the topic he spoke of, primarily being the¬†recipients¬†of amazing Orcas Island hospitality from our hosts…they took us on a tour of the island on the boat, simply amazing! ¬†If you have not heard of Malcolm or The Kindlings it would be worth checking out. ¬†The podcast is in the archive and joining Kindlings as an Associate is well worth the $2/month to listen to the content. ¬†His talk was titled,

Malcolm Guite ‚Äď Finding our Way Forward Beyond Generational Apartheid ‚Äď Live from Kindlings Fest 2012¬†

 

In the talk Malcolm covers some amazing points on how to reconnect across generations, his first two points will be the focus of my thoughts today:

  • You Yourself are Intergenerational! Start by remembering and befriending your inner child, the one that dreamed Dreams and saw visions.
  • If you are a youth still in touch with your inner child, how about getting in touch with your outer adult?

There are parts of who you have been created as a person that were transparent when you were a child and over time you ‘learned’ that those things were wrong, immature, or even shameful. ¬†While yes there are ‘childish’ ways that we are encourage to let go of, that is not what I’m talking about here. ¬†I’m talking about that calling from Jesus to be ‘childlike’. ¬†When you ask a kindergarten class to raise their hands if they are an artist, almost every hand will be in the air…yes this is probably because they love raising their hand but also that there is a love and passion for creating and learning. ¬†By middle school that entire poll completely changes as perhaps a few kids will raise their hands while most will look around to watch what their peers are doing. ¬†How does that middle schooler get back in touch with that kindergartner? ¬†A better question might be ‘how do I get back in touch with that child in me’?

Last night as my wife and I went to the midnight showing of The Hobbit, an unexpected journey, I was struck by a few small points around this topic.  First, the story is told generationally.  The way it is framed is Bilbo Baggins is writing his adventures to his cousin Frodo Baggins, they are more than seventy years apart and therefore this connection is intergenerational.  Also it is a time for Bilbo as he is entering a late stage of life to reflect upon his adventurous middle life experiences.  Lastly, when Gandalf describes why he chose such an unlikely home-body as Bilbo to Bilbo himself, Gandalf reminds Bilbo of his youthful adventurous spirit that had been all but replaced by reading and looking at maps as an adult. Bilbo is brought face to face with the need to embrace the passions of his childhood and realize them as an adult.

One small aside this embracing of childhood passion can be a perverted immaturity as a grownup child plays with expensive and dangerous toys at the expense of others to fulfill selfish desires, the guard against this is clear from the movie…other centeredness. ¬†Bilbo embraces the adventure for the sake of reclaiming a home for the dwarves, be a child and then live passionately and childlike for another’s good!

Let’s also remember what I just described is the part of “getting in touch with your outer adult”. ¬†There is a beauty that comes along with age, that of wisdom, loyalty and integrity. ¬†These are also why Bilbo was chosen for the journey, fear would cause him to doubt his place at moments. ¬†The beauty of having a hobbit on the journey..and in this world is that they are the only ones of such great¬†character (especially the Baggins)¬†that they can carry the ring.

Today there are a few practical things I want to encourage you in. ¬†First, reflect on your passions from your childhood. One for me was the grandfather clock in our house, hands down the most valuable possession in meaning to my family. ¬†I grew up with a love of that clock and when an opportunity arose to be involved with making a clock, my passions from childhood were ignited. ¬†Second, sing a song or read a poem or riddle…today. There is a beauty and inspiration that cannot be captured in words by doing this. ¬†Christopher Alexander in his masterpiece, The Timeless Way of Building, ¬†captures this well…he spends an entire book describing how this nameless power is present in good (true) architecture.

I will leave you with the powerful ¬†words of C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,¬†‚ÄúIt means,‚ÄĚ said Aslan, ‚Äúthat though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge only goes back to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor‚Äôs stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.‚ÄĚ

Seek the deeper magic today.

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Vision: further reflections on the corporate mystic

In art,blogging,Books,business,Community,devotional,Fun,generosity,leadership,principles,Theology on December 5, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged:

“One can’t believe impossible things.” “I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age I always did it for a half-an-hour a day. Why, I sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” -Lewis Carroll

The first time I heard this quote was at least four years ago when my oldest daughter was doing Through The Looking Hlass at Stone Soup Theater camp. Even as I read it I hear her voice from practicing the part, still causes me concern that it was the Queen who said it, such an angry ambitious woman sure for it right when it comes to vision. Perhaps that is why she was as successful as she was.

Science fiction is very helpful to me in this area of vision. An exercise I attempt daily is to think about something I have seen or read about that I want to become real. One example from my work is translation via telepathy. That one should be able to merely think of the words desired to be translated which would be shared telepathically with the translator and returned. Wrestle through this long enough and other creative interesting ideas and new methods will emerge, and perhaps one day it may be possible.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” -Albert Einstein

There must be space in our lives carved out for this purpose. For me it begins with having daily goals clearly defined, if the minimum requirements for success in a day are not defined by me early in the day I will find time for nothing more then trying to remain busy. Once I know the three to five things I need to accomplish in a day I feel the freedom to dream. Whether I have scheduled that half hour or more does not make a difference and as a matter of fact often I cannot schedule it because the time is inspired from ideas that I a playing with related to other more concrete tasks.

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” – Walt Disney

There are so many wonderful things yet to be done in this world, why not be a part of it. It begins with your thought life. It is hard to battle through the negative records that play in your head as Anne Lamot says, One tells you that you are the greatest thing in the world and the other tells you that you are worthless both are lies and the truth exists in the silence. Discover who you really have been create to be, take a moment to dream about be the world could be better, then prayfully move into a world that is waiting for your unique contribution. We all will be better for it.