Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Articles

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!

Advertisement

Articles

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.

Articles

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: , , , , ,

Image

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 – Finding our Way Forward Beyond Generational Apartheid – 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, “It means,” said Aslan, “that 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’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”

Seek the deeper magic today.

Articles

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.

Articles

Integrity: theme for the week and continuing The Corporate Mystic

In Books,Community,culture,devotional,Evangelist,faith,family,generosity,journal,leadership,mission,Money,Uncategorized on November 30, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , , , , , ,

Each month (when I am not traveling for work) I attend a great networking event here in  Seattle called Kiros, yesterday there was a striking talk on “Crossing the line” by Mark Sabo. This was Mark’s personal story of his failure in business regarding integrity and the consequences that followed.  Personally I was struck by what a small decision by Mark led to such very serious consequences.  The point that hit home for me (again) was this idea of identity.  Mark, like myself, considered himself a man of integrity and yet he was able to justify his later regretable actions.  As many say, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”  Seeing yourself as a person of integrity is not enough, often times that view leads to the least common denominator and efforts to do the bare minimum.  What is needed, what I need is something greater than myself to guide my actions daily.

In The Corporate Mystic the author states, “The first question to ask is whether you are out of integrity with yourself.  Are you genuinely at ease with the path you are on?”  Many successful people are working to heal a wound from their family, perhaps earn recognition from a loved one that never expressed it.  In my case I worked  (and often work) to overcome shame that has been present in my life and in my family story for generations.  This is a dry well to pull from, and only when you are able to step back to you realize that. “Many of us learn very early to tune out inner signals, and the long-run costs of this are enormous…Happiness flows from a clear spring: You need to have a totally honest relationship with yourself.”  This is a key reason I believe that how people answer who they have been created to be is key to all of life: personal, spiritual, professional, and family.

A friend shared on facebook today the article, Success Will Come and Go, But Integrity is Forever by Amy Rees Anderson, a very good article that inspired me.  The last few lines of the article are very powerful, “If you want to build a reputation as a person of integrity then surround yourself with people of integrity. There is a plaque on the wall of my office which reads: “Do what is right, let the consequence follow.” It serves as a daily reminder that success will indeed come and go, but integrity is forever.”  I couple that with a friend who’s dad gave him the advice in college, “Know who you are before you go into the party.” Integrity is not something that is learned on the fly, life is too hard and our minds are too easily tricked.  It is essential for all people (including business people) to take time to do the tough personal and spiritual work to find the source of integrity, and the reward is well worth it.  As Amy Rees Anderson states success will come and go, your character is what you are stuck with.

“I contend that dishonesty will create a failure force that often manifests itself in other ways-ways not apparent to the outside observer.” -Joseph Sugarman

Articles

Corporate Mystic: The person we want to be

In art,Books,business,Community,culture,devotional,faith,familiy,family,Fun,generosity,leadership,Prayer,principles,Spiritual,Sports,Theology on November 30, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , ,

“The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be.” – Bruce Lee

Twelve characteristics make up the corporate mystic:
Absolute Honesty
Fair
Self-Knowledge
Focused on contribution
Nondogmatic spirituality
Get more done by doing less
Call forth the best of themselves and others
Open to change
Special sense if humor
Keen distant vision and up-close focus
Unusual self discipline
Balance

I hope to come back to these and examine each more deeply but I’ll leave you with this story…

“Master,” said the student, “where do you get your spiritual power?”
“From being connected to the source,” said the master.
“You are connected to the source of Zen?”
“Beyond that,”said the master, “I am Zen. The connection is complete.”
“But isn’t that arrogant to claim connection with the source?” Asked the student.
“Far from it,” said the master. “It is arrogant not to claim connection with the source. Everything is connected. If you think you are not connected to the source you are thumbing your nose at the universe itself.”

Don’t forget the source.

Articles

Growing into the person you have been created to be

In art,Bible,Books,business,church,culture,devotional,Evangelist,faith,familiy,Friends,Fun,fun video,leadership,Lord of the Rings,movies,principles,Proverbs,Reading,Theology,Uncategorized on November 4, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , ,

During the past week I have been thinking through many of the experiences of my life that have been used to bring me to where I am at. This morning as I am reading I came across a passage in 1 Samuel 21, that clearly reminded me of something out of Lord of the Rings, and it was a passage of scripture that I never have remembered reading.

In a previous post I spoke about King Saul, who had been chosen the leader of God’s people Israel really for no other apparent reason other than God chose him by placing God’s Spirit upon Saul.  Later in the story a new King (a different King) is ordained and the Spirit of God leaves Saul, only returning temporarily in the story.  The kingship essentially is passed on to a young boy named David.  Now just about everyone in western culture knows of David because of the story of David versus Goliath. In a battle between God’s people and their most brutal enemies, the Philistines,  a bet is made to decide the war, instead of all the warriors fighting the Philistines make an offer that if an Israelite warrior can defeat the best of the best of the Philistines it will settle the dispute.  Sounds like a good way to spear blood shed the only problem is the Philistines have a weapon of mass destruction named Goliath. He is essentially an indestructible giant that leads God’s people into fear and cowardliness. Except for one pre-pubescent boy named David, who as everyone can remember defeats Goliath by relying on God and using a slingshot an one stone.  This is often used culturally as a parable on bravery, when it is actually a story of relying on the work of a powerful God in impossible circumstances. Through the event David is thrust into popularity that creates almost constant tension between the old King, Saul, and the newly ordained not yet King, David.  Multiple times Saul tries to kill David, and the story I’m about to share takes place after one particularly intense attempt on David’s life by Saul where David flees.

While on the road David and his men are starving so he stops in to see Ahimelech the priest for some food. The part of the story that gets most of the attention is Ahimelech the priest allows David and his men to eat the holy bread, a big no no.  Then Ahimelech realizes David has no weapons:

8 Then David said to Ahimelech, “Then have you not here a spear or a sword at hand? For I have brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s business required haste” 9 And the priest said, c “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you struck down ind the Valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you will take that, take it, for there is none but that here” And David said, “There is none like that; give it to me”

The sword that David won in battle during his youth, is only given to him once he becomes a man.  There is no explanation as Ahimelech just provides it.  The part of the story that is not mentioned other then not being given a reason that David didn’t know about this sword beforehand or already have it, is that it appears David is now ‘big’ enough for the sword.  Going back and reading the story of David and Goliath reminds us that Goliath was a giant, therefore Goliath would have possessed a sword worth of his stature.

In my minds eye I never picture David as a large man, actually after reading this morning I realized that most of my images of David depict him as a handsome late teenager or twenty year old of average stature.  I’m uncertain of any descriptions of David’s stature later in his life but there are many details that provided this picture for my mind: in spite of being a successful warrior David was a musician and poet, David had a way with the ladies, and David had a deeply intimate emotional relationship with Saul’s son Jonathan.  All these details combined with being introduced to David when he is a boy have lead me to always picture him as a smaller man, until now.  In this story he is handed Goliath’s sword without concern that he is ‘big’ enough to yield it when necessary.  David has physically grown into the great manly character he demonstrated as a youth when he defeated Goliath.

This morning I am struck with the connection to the story line in The Lord of the Rings, where Aragorn the misanthrope ranger, who is a human son of the king of Gondor destined to lead the Kingdom of Men into prominence in Middle Earth, receives Anduril.  The sword that defeated Sauron in the ancient epic battle of middle earth that freed the ring of destiny from the possession of the evil King Sauron. Embedded in this post is the scene where Aragorn is given Anduril.  This is a picture I have of David receiving Goliath’s sword from 1 Samuel.

One other brief note on this is related to David’s use or lack there of use of the sword.  After being handed it I would be very excited to go out and yield it at the first opportunity.  Yet David does not, he understands that God has given him many ‘swords’ at the moment and in the next conflict he is faced with he does not use Goliath’s sword as justification that God intends him to go and start a fight with all those who oppose him.  David understands that just because you have the sword doesn’t mean that you are meant to use it.

12 And David g took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath. 13 So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard. 14 Then Achish said to his servants, “Behold, you see the man is mad. Why then have you brought him to me? 15 Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?”

David when faced with conflict while holding Goliath’s sword at his side, uses his cleverness to avoid getting killed by Achish by acting crazy.  It reminds me of a friend’s explanation of wisdom, “Wisdom is not merely knowing the correct action to take, but rather the correct action at the appropriate time.”  Everyone has a destiny, something that you have been created to do, embrace it.  When you are given a physical reminder of that destiny use wisdom because possession of the great gift does not necessarily mean that you are meant to use it in that circumstance.

Articles

Not another blog post on leadership, ugh

In Bible,Books,business,Community,culture,devotional,faith,leadership,principles,Theology,Uncategorized,work on October 30, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , , , ,

Leadership is such a popular topic that for me it is beginning to lose any meaning.  Organizations that I respect like Amazon.com use it as core to their hiring practices, just check out their values and Jeff Bezo’s ten leadership principles that never go out of style.  Over the years I have spent a ton of time learning and studying the topic, I have The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell and other books on the topic right next to my desk in the office.  Continually I go back and forth with embracing these ideas as a rule of life and going contrarian to the popular thinking.  Needless to say I am still learning and somewhat tormented with the concept of leadership.

This ambiguity increased when I read a story this morning from 1 Samuel 10 about the anointing of King Saul:

10 1-2 Then Samuel took a flask of oil, poured it on Saul’s head, and kissed him. He said, “Do you see what this means? God has anointed you prince over his people.“This sign will confirm God’s anointing of you as prince over his inheritance: After you leave me today, as you get closer to your home country of Benjamin, you’ll meet two men near Rachel’s Tomb. They’ll say, ‘The donkeys you went to look for are found. Your father has forgotten about the donkeys and is worried about you, wringing his hands—quite beside himself!’3-4 “Leaving there, you’ll arrive at the Oak of Tabor. There you’ll meet three men going up to worship God at Bethel. One will be carrying three young goats, another carrying three sacks of bread, and the third a jug of wine. They’ll say, ‘Hello, how are you?’ and offer you two loaves of bread, which you will accept.5-6 “Next, you’ll come to Gibeah of God, where there’s a Philistine garrison. As you approach the town, you’ll run into a bunch of prophets coming down from the shrine, playing harps and tambourines, flutes and drums. And they’ll be prophesying. Before you know it, the Spirit ofGod will come on you and you’ll be prophesying right along with them. And you’ll be transformed. You’ll be a new person!“When these confirming signs are accomplished, you’ll know that you’re ready: Whatever job you’re given to do, do it. God is with you!“Now, go down to Gilgal and I will follow. I’ll come down and join you in worship by sacrificing burnt offerings and peace offerings. Wait seven days. Then I’ll come and tell you what to do next.”Saul turned and left Samuel. At that very moment God transformed him—made him a new person! And all the confirming signs took place the same day.

The background of the story is rich, the nation of Israel had a long string of bad leaders called judges, the people began to bitch about wanting a king like other nations because they though that would be best, finally God relented giving them what they asked for, and Saul a really tall good looking young man is anointed king of the nation. This morning as I read the story I was struck with how little Saul did to become their leader.  He was lost looking for his father’s donkey’s when the prophet Samuel finds him and anoints him, Saul did nothing. Then God orchestrates a number of signs for Saul to confirm the anointing: finding the lost ass, people giving him bread, and even an ancient rave with a bunch a prophets where Saul prophesies as if he is a holy man.  All of this happen ‘to’ Saul but most striking to me is, “When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart.

Saul had nothing to do with getting into leadership and this flies in the face of popular theory I have studied and the theological concept of servant leadership.  Saul was neither a great leader nor a servant, rather Saul’s life (and heart) were consumed by a powerful and living God in order to lead.  Even as I write this I know that I should not be surprised as David, the greatest leader ever to live, was nicknamed a man after God’s own heart.  God raises up leaders as fit for God’s plans. As a side note it is no wonder that followers of God are admonished to pray for our leaders, if God has placed them there we are to pray whether they are a blessing or a curse to us personally they are part of God’s greater plan.  This is key to have in mind during this election process in the United States, more prayer and less banter.

To borrow some of the best thoughts I have heard recently on leadership I want to share a sermon from St. Pauls Church Seattle, Rev. Melissa M. Skelton is one of the best leaders inside or outside the church I have ever had the privilege to meet.  Her sermon two weeks ago said this:

Robert Greenleaf, a retired AT&T Executive, championed a similar model of leadership during a time when more authoritarian models of leadership dominated corporate life. In his thin little pamphlet entitled The Servant as Leader, Greenleaf, consistent with his title, wrote not about the Leader as Servant but about the Servant as Leader—a crucial distinction for him. Greenleaf says this: “The servant-leader is servant first… Becoming a servant-leader begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first… The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and the most difficult to administer, is this: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?” Check out the entire manuscript of the sermon here.

Personally I will continue to wander through the waters of what it means to lead.  I will pray for leaders, I will pray that God will ‘change my heart’, and I will evaluate my life through the lens of whether those I serve are more likely themselves to become servants.

Articles

A thanks and what I learned from my first race ultra-running and how does it apply to the rest of life.

In Books,business,Community,culture,exercise,faith,family,food,Friends,Fun,humor,quote,Reading,running,Spiritual,Sports,Theology,Uncategorized,work on October 28, 2012 by mstevensrev

Yesterday I participated in a twelve hour race less then a mile from house called the Carkeek 12 Hour, which is marketed as the worst race in the world.  It is twelve hours of a two mile loop on poorly marked trails and approximately 400 vertical feet every loop.  You begin a six in the morning in the complete dark with headlamps and go until six in the evening.  And now the results, I WON, okay I didn’t win the most number of loops, I’m not even sure if I won the costume contest (I was Waldo from Where’s Waldo, pretty clever if I do say so because it was easy to run it).  I am certain I WON the prize for most smack talking in the race, I think I met every runner and had a blast getting to know them, in addition I accomplished my goal for the race and finished with a smile on my face, clearly I was the day’s winner.

Before I start talking about what I learned from the experience, I’m sure some of you have some questions:

Q. Did you run the whole time?

A. Depends on what you call running.  I averaged about 4 miles per hour over my race.  So my questions is how fast do you run? I kept moving and other then some adjustments to my costume throughout the race I kept moving, there were laps I completely walk these laps often were when I was eating.

Q. Did you say eating?

A. Yes, I ate good.  One of the sponsors of the race was Seattle Biscuit Company, @SeattleBisCo and it was amazing.  I did tell them if I had a Biscuit Truck I would have a picture of someone’s butt in the logo and an African-american woman named Flo serving them…perhaps for their second truck SBC will do this;)  
Image
They offered us food included in the cost of the race, so I took full advantage I 
had two eggs, bacon, and ham over grits, and two biscuits.  One biscuit with jam the second with Apple butter.  It was amazing, many runners stick with Goo and other sports products that make me want to puke.  The candy they provided was great initially but I noticed that I would crash from the sugar about in the second lap after eating it, so SBC was my savior and was one element of the race that made my experience unforgettable.  Very grateful for the amazing food and wonderful service from these guys.  They even laughed when I told them that, “If I crap myself or throw up I won’t blame you guys..” That is a line that could really be taken poorly by the wrong person.  So if you are in Seattle find this food truck, you will not be disappointed.

I’m glad to answer any other questions related to the race, my experience, and my training for it (actually I didn’t train specifically for this race, I’m currently preparing for my triathlon season next year…this race was just for ‘fun’).  As I ran there were a few things that came to mind that I wanted to share, principles that I applied that I thought applied to both my personal and professional life, check it out.

The Plan

Going into the race I spent a good amount of time mentally planning, I don’t just hop out and try to go running for twelve hours without thinking it through.  The course record was 33 laps, approximately 66 miles and 13,000 total vertical…keep in mind Mt. Ranier and Pike’s Peak are 14,000 vertical feet.  I knew if I ran the race of my life the best I would do is 30 laps, so while that was in the back of my mind it was not reality.  I set an achievable goal of running 15 laps (30 mile), which would be the longest distance I have ever run (6,000 vertical feet which is two trips up to Snoqualmie Pass) this was a goal I would be completely satisfied achieving.  Since the trails are only .5 mile from my house I spent many training runs exploring and enjoying the trails so they would seem familiar to me for the race, I did not run more then two laps for any training run because I didn’t want to get sick of the course before I even got to the time of the race.

During the race I executed my plan.  Some ultra runners are so remarkable they can push their bodies to run an entire course like this one for the entire distance of the race.  That is not me.  I knew for me to survive the day walking was important.  The course was marked the opposite direction of what I had trained and there were a few areas that I had never run and was unfamiliar with.  Thankfully at the start of the race in the pitch black I was able to run the first lap with a few people including ‘Big Bird’, an extremely gifted woman ultra runner who had completed the race the year before.  This lap was much faster then I had anticipated starting but it was worth it just to have someone take me through the course, honestly it was tough for me to keep up that first lap but I knew in the long term for the race it would be to my advantage as getting lost would have discouraged me from the start.  After that lap I was able to reorient my mind going the opposite direction from what I had anticipated, the parts that I thought I would run downhill now became areas to briskly walk, the hills I anticipated walking now were opportunities to bomb down, within the first hour of the race I had completely adjusted my thinking and honestly I think it is one of the factors that kept me mentally fresh.

Most of my life I have lived without a plan, only in the past five years has planning enter the equation.  Having a plan with stretch goals and achievable goals is important, otherwise as Yogi Berra famously said “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you going, because you might end up there.”  This applies in my personal and professional life, plans for the next month, year, and years into the future are important.  These plans are not set in stone but they are the maps for the trails of my life, I can always vary from them if I want to see a view or if a hill seems too difficult to climb at the time, but at least I know (on some level) why I am where I am at in any given moment.  Even when wandering because as someone once said, “Not all who wander are lost.”

Winning and being competitive

The reality is there are amazing ultra athlete’s in the Pacific Northwest, I got to witness these men and women first hand yesterday.  And yes I’ll admit many times during the day I fantasized about what it would mean for me to finish with the most numbers of lap, and in my fatigued state I may have even thought it was within my grasp.  So I ran competitively, at the point in the race when these amazing athletes began to pass me I played a game with them, though they had no idea.  They would come up behind me and as they got closer I would incrementally speed up, this had two advantages as I saw it.  Here were people already working harder then I was early in the race, this meant they would have to work even harder perhaps even harder then they had anticipated.  Once you see someone often you determine regardless of your pace to pass them, so you do what is necessary to get by, this meant I could ‘fool’ them into using more energy then they would prefer.  Also it improved my time, even though I was not racing at the same level as these folks I was able to benefit myself and my time by being competitive with them even if it was only for five or ten minutes while they passed me.  Again this was a complete personal secret that improved my time and kept me mentally fresh, it also made me better.

In life there will always be someone who is better then you.  Your chance of winning often is dependent on whether they show up to the race or not, because you have no chance of beating them head to head.  Whether they show up is not in your control, but if they do show up it is an opportunity for you to personally improve.  Take the opportunity to make yourself better and perhaps one day you will end up being the person that everyone hopes doesn’t show up to the race.

There were two ‘official’ ways to win at the Carkeek 12 hour, most number of laps and the costume contest. While I would have loved to win both or either of the honors, I created a third way to win “Best Trash Talker”.  For me this meant that I would talk with anyone where every on the course regardless of how bad or good I was feeling.  While alone on the course I would imagine what fun conversations to have with others and I created a catch phrase that I stole from work “Gitty up!”  When I would be passed by the most serious of runners for the second of third time I would accuse them of using their car or cutting the course short. Knowing the truth, that they were just better then me, I didn’t let a little truth get in the way of me connecting with others on the course;)  This created a bond for me, one that I began to enjoy seeing these folks even though they were kicking my butt, and my hope was that they were enjoying seeing me because they knew they would get some entertainment value when they passed the guy dressed up like Waldo. At one point I came upon the aid station and said to the crew of people who were assisting us, “I don’t want to be a tattle-tail but unless Hippie Runner is a costume I don’t think anyone ahead of me in the race is actually dressed up in costume, can you disqualify them so I can win?”  It lead one runner who overheard me say this say that he was dressed as Lance Armstrong and has a blood bag full of horse blood that he was going to run with later in the race.

Chris McDougall in his epic book Born to Run, discuss the evolutionary theory that humans were pack animals and each member of the pack plays an essential role for survival.  At the core of the ‘pack’ theory is that we are created for connection with each other, frankly I believe connection is key for our existence as a species.  Yes, my trash talking talking was a means of connecting more deeply with my pack yesterday.  One more popular example I relate to this has to do with trash talking and the NBA.  Rumor has it that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were/are two of the greatest trash talkers in the history of the game, not only two of the greatest athletes every to play basketball.  I draw a connection here to their athletic performance and their connecting with people.  Just to clarify, trash talking is not merely swearing at people or telling them the are worthless pieces of trash.  Trash talking is connecting more along the lines of “your mother dresses you funny”. Clever thoughtful words used to engage your competition mentally.  You don’t have to be a great athlete to pull this off, you have the opportunity even if you are average to make a deeper more ‘human’ connection.  Since none of us are machines operating through life we have the chance to enter into another reality through engaging conversation with people. Take this opportunity today, if you have the skills in an area to back it up then the world is your oyster.

Gratitude

A few months ago I read with a book club Chris McDougall’s Born to Run, and it was the inspiration to participate in the Carkeek 12 Hour. I am grateful both for the book club and the book itself to have provided the soil for me to grow as a person, I could not and would not do something so insane without others.  We do not change the world (or ourselves for that matter) alone.  I have hard people say, “Even the lone ranger had Tonto.” Yesterday the people that made the race possible were the race organizers (Sam and Brock) and the folks that volunteered to run the aid station.  Many of these folks probably would have preferred to be running the race themselves and instead they made it possible for me to enjoy the day and have an experience of a lifetime.  During the race my goal was to show my gratitude by keeping these folks entertained.  Somewhere around my seventh loop I came by the aid station to check my time and laps.  When they told me how many I had run I said, “Crap I am going way too fast, if I keep running this fast my intestines will fall out my asshole.” While they were still laughing I added, “I know because I’m a doctor.”

Regardless of where you are in life you did not get there on your own, I don’t care what any politician tells you.  People help people and often especially as Americans we forget the fact and continue to move forward.  Make sure that you find someway to say thanks, a grateful heart leaves no room for bitterness.  I am so thankful for my family, friends, co-workers, race organizers, and crew that made yesterday possible and make everyday of life possible.  Each one of us has dark seasons, during my darkest times I have taken to the intentional practice of gratitude.  At the end of the day I will light a candle and reflect on all that I am thankful for starting with the beginning of my day and working through until the end, often I will do that twice because it is very hard for me to think in a linear manner for any length of time.  Once your mind is oriented in this way go out and practice acts of gratitude.  In our family we emphasize saying the words please and thank you, showing others their proper value.

C.S. Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.  We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, is fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”  Yesterday was not without me being flippant or superior toward other, therefore I know I have a long ways to go before ever achieving this goals.  Regardless I am grateful to Sam and Brock and the crew who made such a wonderful event possible.

Articles

Open communication and repair work critical in stressful conversations

In Bible,Books,business,Community,culture,faith,familiy,leadership,Spiritual,Theology,Uncategorized on October 12, 2012 by mstevensrev

Patrick Lencioni and his consulting group the Table Group have great material that I have benefited greatly from.  The general concept of their work is that companies fail, not because they aren’t smart enough, but because they are not healthy.  Their goal is to lead organization (and people) to act in smart healthy ways.  A big part of this is open honest communication even when it it difficult.  These can be tense moments and adding to that is sometime you can be wrong even when being ‘honest’.  One friend of mine who is a teacher says, “I’m wrong 50% of the time, the problem is I’m not sure which 50%.”  This is where repair work comes in.  In spiritual terms this is called repentance when your error (intentional or unintentional) has been brought to light.  In psychological terms Dan Allender refers to this as putting your weapons down, an act much harder said then done.

Today I read a passage in the Bible that highlighted this for me.  It is from Joshua, the background is the nation of Israel has entered the Promised Land.  Amazingly of the twelve tribes that wandered the desert, one and a half of them decided not to enter the Promise Land.  I guess they were tired and felt like staying across the river and not fighting anymore battles in the Promised Land was the best option for them.  So they set up home away from the rest of God’s people.  After Joshua and the rest of the people had secured the land, they took a look back on the other side of the river, and to their surprise the one and a half tribes (Rueben and the half tribe of Manessah) had build a huge alter.

Joshua 22:10-12 And when they came to the region of the Jordan that is in the land of Canaan, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of imposing size. 11 And the people of Israel g heard it said, “Behold, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built the altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region about the Jordan, on the side that belongs to the people of Israel” 12 And when the people of Israel heard of it, h the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them.

The other tribes already ready for battle after many victories were pissed and ready to teach these people a lesson.  Adding to their frustration they had already had an incident of the disobedience of some folks worshiping other gods and sleeping with other women (The sin at Peor) that God had punished the entire nation for, and as the text says they were still recovering from that.  The were in a state of religious zeal ready to wipe out anyone not following God, especially their own.  This is a tense situation, probably more tense then any faced by the Table Group in a corporate setting.  Instead of just attacking the tribes sent these seemingly rebellious tribes a message:

Joshua 22:13-20 13 Then the people of Israel sent to the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, iPhinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, 14 and with him ten chiefs, one from each of the tribal families of Israel, j every one of them the head of a family among the clans of Israel. 15 And they came to the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, and they said to them, 16 “Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord, ‘What is this breach of faith that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away this day from following the Lord by building yourselves an altar this day k in rebellion against the Lord? 17 Have we not had enough of l the sin at Peor from which even yet we have not cleansed ourselves, and for which there came a plague upon the congregation of the Lord, 18 that you too must turn away this day from following the Lord? And if k you too rebel against the Lord today then tomorrow m he will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel. 19 But now, if the land of your possession is unclean, pass over into the Lord’s land n where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and take for yourselves a possession among us. o Only do not rebel against the Lord or make us as rebels by building for yourselves an altar other than the altar of the Lord our God. 20 p Did not Achan the son of Zerah break faith in the matter of the devoted things, and m wrath fell upon all the congregation of Israel? And he did not perish alone for his iniquity'”

They decided to communicate before going to war, principle number one.  Then the seemingly rebellious tribes responded back:

Joshua 22:21-29  21 Then the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh said in answer to the heads of the families of Israel, 22 “The Mighty One, q God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God, the Lord! r He knows; and let Israel itself know! If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith against the Lord, do not spare us today 23 for building an altar to turn away from following the Lord. Or if we did so to offer burnt offerings or grain offerings or peace offerings on it, may the Lord himself s take vengeance. 24 No, but we did it from fear that t in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 For the Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you people of Reuben and people of Gad. You have no portion in the Lord’ So your children might make our children cease to worship the Lord. 26 Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, 27 but to beu a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we v do perform the service of the Lord in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and peace offerings, so your children will not say to our children in time to come, “You have no portion in the Lord”‘ 28 And we thought, If this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we should say, ‘Behold, the copy of the altar of the Lord, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be u a witness between us and you’ 29 Far be it from us that we should w rebel against the Lord and turn away this day from following the Lord w by building an altar for burnt offering, grain offering, or sacrifice, other than the altar of the Lord our God that stands before his tabernacle!”

The action of building this huge alter that was seemingly rebellious was actually the complete opposite.  Though the tribes did not start by proclaiming their righteous intention, they started with building the bridge.  God is God, if we did anything wrong let God allow you to destroy us.  Principle number two, bridges can be built from both sides.  Only then did they let their intentions (heart) be known.  The tribes built the alter, not to worship, but rather as a symbol.  As outsiders across the river they did not have access to the same worship as God’s people, they did not want to be forgotten by their brothers and cousins.  Principle number three, let your heart be know even if what you did may appear stupid.  Amazingly, though the other tribes were geared up for war…they listened:

Joshua 22:30-31 30 When x Phinehas the priest and the chiefs of the congregation, the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh spoke, y it was good in their eyes. 31 And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh, “Today we know that z the Lord is in our midst, because you have not committed this breach of faith against the Lord. Now you have delivered the people of Israel from the hand of the Lord”

The people of Israel, the battle ready warriors, listened.  Listening is principle number four. God was present, they acknowledge this and they saw that their assumption was wrong which they admitted.  This goes back to principle number two but also provides principle number four, it is okay to be wrong. 

Joshua 22:32-34  32 Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the chiefs, returned from the people of Reuben and the people of Gad a in the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the people of Israel, and brought back word to them. 33 And the report b was good in the eyes of the people of Israel. And the people of Israel c blessed God and spoke no more of making war against them to destroy the land where the people of Reuben and the people of Gad were settled. 34 The people of Reuben and the people of Gad called the altar Witness, “For,” they said, d “it is a witness between us that the Lord is God”

Admitting they were wrong the tribes put down their weapons.  At that point the conflict was closed and both sides moved forward in faith knowing that God is in control. Principle number five, trust is essential in order to move forward. This could have turn into a long drawn out theological fight on whether building the alter was the best action or they could have created committees to examine the communal effectiveness of allowing the alter to stand or they could have scolded the blood thirsty tribes who just put down their weapons for being warmongers, but they did not.  The moved on both sides trusting one another.

Here are two videos from Dan Allender related to conflict in marriage, but the application is much broader http://theallendercenter.org/2012/03/conflict-and-forgiveness/, I have embedded one of the two related to forgiveness.