Archive for the ‘family’ Category

Articles

Risks involved with your job

In business,Community,culture,exercise,faith,family,Spiritual on August 15, 2016 by mstevensrev

0814016-OLY-Ryan-Lochte-2-LF-PI.vadapt.980.high.79There are risks involved in your job. For some, such as police and firefighters, the over all daily risk of death is much higher then others. Being an Olympic Athlete is not a job generally thought of as high risk for death, and yet this week Ryan Lochte was held up at gunpoint while in Rio. The details seem sketchy and this could end up going strange directions, but the fact remains that many of us do not have regular threats on our lives in daily work or even when we travel for work.

I’m grateful for the peace that I experience on a daily basis and I also am grateful for those who put themselves in harms way intentionally for the sake of others. So the next time you take a cab or Uber and end up at the destination without being robbed, say a little thanks.

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Advertisements

Articles

Don’t let the crisis go to waste

In art,Books,business,culture,design,faith,family,Friends,Fun,Theology,Uncategorized on August 12, 2016 by mstevensrev

2012-11and12-tt-03-ia-to-the-fire-a-firefighter-searches-for-possible-survivors-300x200In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, there is case study after case study on how organizations unwritten rules led to crisis at the time when the organization needed to function optimally. The King’s Cross fire in the Underground is one example where all those in authority were occupied with their kingdoms and no one was focused on rider safety costing 31 passengers their lives.

Every organization functions with a “common grace” approach that keeps rivalries in check and the orders shipped. During crisis is when the unwritten functional rules of the organization can be re-examined, when great scrutiny is on the operation unproductive power structures can be address. It is even said that in some crisis great leaders prolong the crisis in order to get the greatest positive effect of the change. Great wisdom is required to pull that off.

Is it possible to address this change without the crisis?

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

Rahm Emanuel

Articles

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

Articles

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).

Her-with-Theodore-Twombly-on-red-movie-poster-wide

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.

 

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!

Articles

The Lessons, a big table

In art,Bible,church,Community,devotional,faith,family,food,Fun,generosity,Uncategorized on April 19, 2014 by mstevensrev

BKP_0070There was one special lent and easter while I was a minister at All Nations Presbyterian Church in Oakland, CA.  I was responsible for the Sunday evening service we referred to as Tenebrae, it consisted of about twenty regular people that attended, we lit candles and used liturgical format that was more in line with high church when compared to contemporary churches.  Since we had such a small group we would regularly try to incorporate things into the service sometimes for the good and sometimes not.

During Lent one year we decided to create a banquet table at the front of the church during a time of reflection early in the service.  The table would be set in stages and at the end of it, at Easter, it would culminate in our Easter Service being a meal together.  The first week I remember the table alone being set out, then each week incrementally we added an element that would eventually be part of our meal including wine, chairs, plates, silverware, candles, napkins, and of course the food was amazing on Easter. The meal we enjoyed together at Easter was a joy and will go down as one of my favorite memories of my time as a full-time minister in Oakland.

Nuremberg_chronicles_f_21r_The table was set in order for people to come and they did.  We had artist, software developer, gay, straight, white, black, Asian, religious and irreligious. There was room for all of us.  As I have reflected on this event biblically since one of the biggest problems the early church had was who you were allowed to eat with and who was invited to the table.  Peter got it wrong.  There is also a reading of the Older Testament story of Sodom and Gomorrah that deconstructs the story being about sexual sin, rather this reading reasons the condemnation of  the city is because they were inhospitable to strangers that were not like them and lawless.

One thing I appreciate about my current job is the belief that when people eat a meal together there is a better relationship, trust is established at a deeper level, and in the best circumstances you enjoy each other more.  Jesus had the reputation of being a lush because of all the parties he went to and who he ate with, and who doesn’t want to be like Jesus. My table has expanded and I want many to eat and drink with me, my vision for the table is more grand then I ever expected.

images (1)

 

Articles

The Lessons, big things and little things, Part III

In Bible,church,Community,faith,family,Friends,Grace Seattle,Japan,leadership,mission,PCA,Prayer,Presbyterian Church in America,principles,prophet,Spiritual,Theology,Uncategorized on April 12, 2014 by mstevensrev


sacred-heart-of-jesus with a pair of flame within it
At this post I want to make shift from the previous two I shared regarding the last few years of my spiritual journey.  In the previous posts the mid-faith crisis I experienced was manageable because of a few light posts that were available to me over the four year period.  These were far from mountain top experiences with God but rather as 2 Corinthians 12:9 encourages us, ““My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” From these few cold glasses of water I was kept from throwing myself off a bridge literally, and I with this post I want to transition into sharing a few things that I have learning in the experience.

The Walk and the The Wall were completely necessary for me as they each provided insight into the God I have known since a young child, the God who I had studied about in Seminary, and yet the God who I had shaped so clearly in my image I hardly knew anything about at all.  I love the Annie Lamott quote, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” This quote is also a very good starting point for my first lesson, Big Things and Little Things.  As we all know most profound lessons that we incorporate into our lives actually come from kindergarten. This one is no exception but it came from my daughter’s kindergarten.

My second daughter began kindergarten this year, and having been the first of our kids that went through Montessori preschool we were unsure how she would adjust to Seattle public school. Thankfully our concerns were without merit and she is thriving, most of the credit goes to her teacher, Ms. Pattsy Burgess of Broadview Thompson.  One of the major lessons that Pattsy has taught my daughter, me and our entire family.  The simple lesson is “Big Things and Little Things”.

go dog go 2

The assessment is fair that our family is a sensitive family that often has emotional responses to the situations life throws at us, this can often lead to a blowing out of perspective small situations because of our emotions.  Early in this academic year my daughter explained to me that, “Daddy, your house burning down is a big deal. Losing your pencil is a small deal.”  Of course I had to ask more and she went on to explain that Ms. Burgess began to ask her when she was frustrated or emotional in a situation, “Is this a big thing or little thing?” Often the big thing would be your house burning down, so pretty much anything in comparison is a little thing.  A part of me was concerned that having a child consider her house burning down may have risk associated with it, but in my continued discussions with this wise six year old this never seemed a big deal, thankfully. So what was shared as a framework to help my daughter identify if her emotional response is in line with the situation has become a reminder for me as well.  This is not to eliminate emotional responses or even call them wrong, rather it is an opportunity to calibrate to keep them in line with what is actually going on rather then spiraling into a world that is out of touch with the actual situation.  Often it provides a good conversation with the younger two girls in our family when they are fighting, it just takes some of the spit and fire out of the situation.

Every human being on the planet has had their share of both Big Things and Little Things.  In my life the Big Things include suffering sexual abuse as a child, severe cycles of depression since middle school age, the deposition of pastor and dear friend during seminary at Grace Seattle (the church where my wife and I met), working over three years for a hypocritical conservative pastor who was unfaithful to his wife and family for more than fifteen years, and counseling a serial murderer as a first year pastor.  Each one of these Big Things in my life takes years of counseling and meditation to properly understand and remain human after suffering, part of my recent spiritual journey is recognizing that these are Big Things and to not live in denial of the impact that just one could have on a single human life much less a marriage or family.

Another point to share is the event that caused me to lose my ordination and ultimately leave the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) was actually a small thing.  In the past few years sharing it I almost felt embarrassed.  My family was almost broken apart and we left the church because  Grace Seattle, where I was serving as a ruling elder, did a terrible job of firing the worship pastor.  Churches and business hire and fire all the time, to someone outside that church or outside the church at large it would be confusing as to why it caused such an impact on me and my family.

The first point I had to reflect on was, did we overreact?  I have come to peace that we did not.  Admittedly I am an sensitive emotional person and as I stated before this can lead me to making Big Things out of Little Things.  This is the reason for a time I would be embarrassed talking about the situation with people, I was still exploring the option that I had overreacted.  Unfortunately, I did not overreact to a Little Thing rather this Little Thing exposed a Big Thing far worse then simply firing a worship pastor.

The worship pastor and his family had been serving Grace Seattle for thirteen years when the firing went down.  They had served the church during the first major crisis where the pastor was deposed, and the original music created by this pastor was the only stability during the crisis.  The Big Thing that happened in the firing was he was no longer a member of the church or even a human deserving to be treated with dignity, rather this pastor  was a limiting factor on the future growth of the church and threat to the senior pastor and needed to be dismissed regardless of the impact on his family or his spiritual health.  This act was cruel and abusive, and I write openly on this because I was on the side of the perpetrator as an elder before I left the church. This was a Little Thing for the church that resulted in a Big Thing for a family, and as a leader who failed I need to publicly repent of these decisions I supported.

In reflecting on this situation and my experience in the PCA as a whole I realized there is another Big Thing.  As a denomination, organization or business the PCA has a fundamentally broken model in that they fail to value people. In my experience in and outside the church this is not unique.  Very few embody the words of C.S. Lewis,

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, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

During my brief experience as an Elder in the PCA, this failure has lead to regular acts of corporate abuse and deceptive harmful group think. Under the guise of being “balanced on Scripture” or “true to Scripture” the PCA abuses people if they are out of line with conservative reformed theology. It is assumed by the PCA that you are not even elect if you think differently then their narrow misogynistic modern view. Orthodoxy is dogmatic and completely violates the Biblical requirements for being part of the community of God as described in both the Early and Late Testaments.  For those ready to battle me on this point, feel free but at least take a moment to read Scott McKnight’s recent post (by guest blogger Michael Pahl) that relates to what it means to seek “Biblical Christianity”. Scott’s guest blogger Michael Pahl writes in regarding the current WorldVision Situation but the depth of the divide described in the article I believe applies to my point, here.

At this moment I think it is important for me to share a part of my first post in this series, “I am on a new path where my thoughts will be appropriate to share with the world.  There are some who know me that may read this post with concern or possible feel threatened that I am making a case against beliefs they hold close, if that is the case for you do not feel obligated to continue reading.  Your friendship from afar is appreciated, yet I am not interested in arguing or persuading anyone of making this same journey if they are not open to it.  So in short if you found this via Facebook instead of leaving nasty comments feel free just to unfriend me now, no hard feelings and I wish you many blessings.”  So in short you can attempt to argue with me all you would like but I feel no obligation to fight anyone on any of the content of this post.  If your goal is to correct me or start a fight my advice would be to unfriend me now, rather if you are open to discussion I long for that.  Any defensiveness to protect a theological view is a Little Thing for me and I am focusing on Big Things. May God have the glory.

Also I think it is important to mention that I did ask the family of the worship pastor permission to use their situation as an example, they suffered through enough already related to Grace Seattle, and they said yes without names named.  In regards to the leadership of Grace Seattle or the PCA I did not ask their permission or allow them to review this post.  Since leaving Grace Seattle and nearly being excommunicated I have had no contact with the leadership of the church, I am essential dead to them.  The PCA on a denominational level perpetrated lies on why I left my ministry role in Oakland, CA at All Nations Church and have not contacted me since ripping my ordination during the last crisis at Grace Seattle. In the face of all the sin that both of these organization are perpetrating, I think their actions toward me are Little Things. My hope is through these prophetic words and the work of the Holy Ghost, repentance will come to all who have been involved in these horrible destructive actions and bring them closer to God. That would be a wonderful Big Thing.

Related to this kindergartener I am trying to raise with her two sisters in the church, it is really challenging yet our family has never left the church and God has not abandoned us.  As a parent I long to keep telling a story to my kids about a Big Thing, with all that has shifted and changed in my spirituality Jesus is the Big Thing.  Also I long to tell a spiritual journey story that allows them to see the beauty and pain of their spiritual legacy.  Only my oldest daughter was alive when I was a full time vocational pastor, the other girls have only known their daddy as a sales monkey, I long to tell all three a redemptive story that is a Big Thing.  But the legacy goes back further on both sides of their families, faithful Catholics and fundamentalist with cult like loyalty in their blood, a strange but sweet mix. All this is only a part of the wonderful lesson the God of the Universe has for this little tribe known as the Stevens, may the God of the universe give us the imagination for the big things that have been prepared in love for the world as well.