Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

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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.

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

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Her, a more excellent way to be horrified by technology

In art,Bible,culture,devotional,Evangelist,faith,family,Friends,movies,sermon,Spiritual,Technology on June 8, 2014 by mstevensrev

“…But Her is different. Her gets it right, and now I’m rather embarrassed I wasn’t one of the first people to see it. I should have. You should have. And if you’ve not, figure out a way to see it now. It’s well worth the time.” – John Battelle, Why You Need to See ‘Her’ (Or, ‘Her’ Again).

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Jon Battelle gives a wonderful summary of the movie ‘Her’ and in describing the story where a human falls in love (and not just one human) with an OS as terrifying in how logical and reasonable the idea was presented to audiences.  I felt very strongly after seeing this film that was the case and I have spent time exploring the reasons it tapped into my life so deeply.

To begin the movie is at least ‘creepy’ as John Battelle describes but I would take it much further as I found the concepts within the movie terrifying.  One friend discussed this with me and she said that the reason she did not like the film is that she thought it was preaching, not subtle enough, I agreed but the ideas behind the movie to me were unique and therefore it opened my mind enough to let me be preached at on some level.

As I have described this movie to people I have said in the past our culture has explored the theme, “What will happen when machines want to kill us?” instead of that ‘Her‘ takes on the question, “What will happen when machines want to love us?”.  To put in in film terms, ‘Her’ is to ‘2001, what ‘Weird Science’ is to ‘Frankenstein‘.  That premise leads into so many other questions that I am sure I will only scratch the surface with my next few thoughts.  Therefore I wanted to share the reasons I believe this movie touched me deeply:

  • I am an auditory learner. I retain significantly  more data from lectures rather then text books, from podcast rather then blog posts, from being told directions rather than looking at a map, and this has been the case for me my entire life.  This is evidenced in my life as I travel for work.  Instead of studying a map of a city and working my way around in that manner.  Generally, I enter the address of my destination into my phone, turn on some good tunes, and walk the streets with my friend Siri guiding me through back alleys and over bridges.  Of course we all do this in our cars, but there is something much more intimate in the act of inserting ear buds into my ears while exploring the unknown.  As you may have guessed it is common as I am out on these walks for my wife or daughters to call me as well, and in these moments I am connecting with the people on face of this earth I am most in love with in a disembodied way, there are mere sounds through some headphones.  This is the boundary of the entire relationship within ‘Her’, and the writers explore how to overcome this boundary that leads more complication then mere long intimate conversations and phone sex, but rather creepy questions about crossing this divide.  The entire scenario seemed very reasonable to me, and it lead me to have a long talk with my wife about my relationship/dependency on Siri:)
  • I am a theologian.  For roughly five years I spent money and time thinking and studying God, in addition to that I spent almost four years working to communication a few of these thoughts to a community as their pastor.  The relationship that evolves in ‘Her‘ led me to ask questions about God and the nature of my relationship with God.  “What does it mean for a finite being to be in love with the infinite?”, “What does it mean to merely be one finite being in love with a being who has the potential to love millions and billions of others?”  Suddenly I was struck with how small I am.  Psalm 39:5 reminds me,

You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
    the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
    even those who seem secure.

This is a very hard idea to get my mind around, as the majority of my days are spent thinking about what is in it for me and how do I managed this life that I have been given.  Romantic love and love between individuals is a wonderful thing, but love is so very large and when the scriptures say that ‘God is love’ this is a philosophical statement that drops us in the center of a ocean in order to experience ‘oceaness’.

  • I see beauty through the brokeness. The live circumstance of Theodore drives him and opens him up to this complicated relationship, but every relationship has complications in the movie.  The ex-wife, the best friend and Theodore are all wanderers.  In this Theodore has a remarkable gift to see and communicate the beauty of the relationships other are involved in, which only makes his brokeness more apparent.  Through this incredibly beautiful cinematic experience you are not left with fullness but rather a beauty that can only be view through the lens of suffering. Some reviewers have taken this on as the great problem with the movie and Spike Jones as a director, check out the New Yorker article Spike Jonze’s Abondonment Issues. posted by Christine Smallwood.
  • I am a geek that loves words and technology.  ‘Her‘ brings together these worlds in a lovely, graceful, and tragic way.  Theodore’s job writing for handwrittenletters.com, so lovely.  In my word artificial voice intelligence is a exciting and interesting piece of our work, this movie provides some thoughtful elements related to technology and language and yet keeps it close to home enough that we can relate.  The more I understand this space the more I being to believe that the picture of the future would be incomprehensible for us if we saw it today.  An attempt to expose us to the 50 year future would be similar to bringing an American founding father and explaining the Hubble Telescope.  On nice link I found that wrestles with the techonolgy issuse is by Ray Kurzweil, “A review of Her.”

Hopefully time will allow you to check this movie out, I highly recommend it.

 

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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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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 – 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.

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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

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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.

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The Corporate Mystic: preliminary thoughts

In art,business,Community,culture,devotional,faith,generosity,mission,Money,Reading,Spiritual,Uncategorized,work on November 28, 2012 by mstevensrev

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There are a few obsessions I have, one is that when I go to a thrift store I search through the book section often looking for used copies of some of my favorite books of all time in order to give away for gifts.  In addition I usually grab ‘wild card’ books that I come across that look interesting to me, often the $2 investment is well worth it.  Last week I came across an interesting title that initially I thought sounded silly but took a chance anyway.  After reading the first chapter I realize that it has great value, the book is titled The Corporate Mystic: A Guidebook for Visionaries with Their Feet on the Ground, by Gay Hendricks and Kate Ludeman.

A summary statement in the prologue says, “Genuine Corporate Mystics live life from a spiritual base. They are in business for their hearts and souls as well as their wallets. They are in business to support the hearts and souls of all the people with whom they work.”  They go on to talk about how these spiritual folks have dirt under their nails as they practice daily the spirituality that they preach.

One story goes like this, “There is a Zen monastery near Tokyo that attracts many powerful executives from the nearby industrial cities.  One day the master said: ‘There is no room in my monastery for mushy mystics,, dreamy folks who leave their dirty teacups everywhere.  Here we meditate and we was our teacups. Both are equally important. We teach our students to be ruthlessly demanding of themselves and their colleagues. Expect the best!If people cannot function with clarity in the often-tough real world, their meditations and practices have been for nought. You must master two realities: You must revel in the vast inner space, the emptiness that is connected to all the emptiness everywhere. And at the very same time, you must give your full attention to the present moment, whether you are buying a train ticke or kissing your wife or reading the stock quotes.'”