Monday, August 31, 2009

A New Dawn

Last week I took my Focus Leadership Institute staff for a two day off-site retreat. We drove out of the Springs to a semi-remote location - Christhaven Lodge. The goals of the retreat were to (1) build a deeper understanding of each other; (2) build a deeper understanding of the transition we were undertaking; and (3) to get pumped up about the next set of students coming in. By this time of the academic year (i.e. August) our staff is just plain pooped. We sort of live our lives along with the academic year, thus the Fall is the "kickoff". We had changed some staff, added a couple, changed our name, adapted our curriculum and implementing a new marketing approach. There is a lot to be excited about, but also a lot of hours and hard work have gone into this (and still is) so they are tired.

So....what was my plan? First we spent the afternoon doing some activities related to Myers-Briggs - (figuring out we have a bunch of extroverts - which explains a lot about the overwhelmed introverts who show up at the Institute); Strengthsfinder (and learning that we've got just the right folks in our two key areas - "learner" and "empathy" - which define our academic and community aspects of the program); and Spiritual Gifts (and confirming I need to surround myself with folk with "mercy" since that is WAY down my list). After dinner we had some "forced fun" and ended up in an incredibly competitive and creative game of charades and pictionary. Sometime before I run for public office I will have to burn the pictures of me acting out the TV show Lassie. :) Right before turning in, I introduced the theme for our year; the dawn. Then I asked a great deal of them... I want you gathered at 6am to watch the sun rise.

Man, they were great troopers and even though a few saw the sun rise through sleepy eyes, we shared that moment. We also talked about what Scripture has to say about the dawn, sunrise, the morning star, etc. My question to them was, "what happens when the sun comes up?"

We figured out that even though we were struggling with some of the transition, it was always darkest before the dawn. Also we found that the dawn brought a feeling of new life. We saw that God promises the same thing in our own lives when we commit what we are doing to Him. He reveals paths and direction when the sun comes up. We see things for what they really are when the sun comes up. It may reveal some absolute beauty but also the dirt of our lives. The sun rise is about rebirth and renewal. That is our hope and prayer for this year - we would be renewed in our passion to see college-aged student's hearts touched, minds engaged, and lives transformed to live it out in this world. One of our big challenges this year comes from a motto of a church down in Atlanta; "Love God, Love your Neighbors, Prove it."

May this season be a dawn for each of you too...

P.S. Thanks to Jeff Abel who took this wonderful shot of the sunrise at the Grand Canyon last year...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Finding the "Jesus" balance

On the way to drop the boys off at school the other morning we were listening to WAY-FM and the topic of discussion was one of their staff member’s dealing with their young daughter’s unexpected pregnancy. The topic surrounded the issue of how the Christian community is unfeeling and sometimes insensitive to people going through stuff like this. On the one hand I’m impressed that they were willing to address these tough issues. On the other hand the discussion went into the tougher area of the mix between taking a stand and doing so with love and compassion.

What concerns me when the latter topic comes up is that Christian’s have found themselves in the “extremes” of the possible responses; from the extreme of taking a stand with little or no compassion (and the “world” loves it when we do that because it totally fits the stereotype they have come to expect and delight in) to the other of extreme of ultimate compassion that leads to an acceptance of pretty much anything (and we then are prey to fall into the relativism of the world as well).

I’ve always wondered what it took for us to get to that point. My contention, after probably incomplete thought and due diligence, is that part of the issue is external – i.e. the cultural pluralism, postmodernism, and issue of tolerance becoming the “ultra-value” for our culture. I believe that part of it is internal – i.e. we have lived out the modernistic view that there is shame in sin and we ultimately hide it. In fact we’ve gotten really good at playing the part of “everything is fine” even when it is not.

Whatever re-building that authentic community looks like (and Francis Schaeffer has a great article about a few aspects of it called, The Mark of a Christian – www?) much it comes down to the problems the WAY-FM on-air staff was somewhat addressing; how we communicate our standards and compassion. This is the extremely challenging view of how one communicates Truth in Love. A former colleague of mine once told the story of a graduate student from east Texas who said, “It appears to me that love without truth is sappy romanticism, and truth without love is a mighty bloody sword.” Simple but profound. So that leads me to ask, what are some ways in which we can better address this tough balance when we are dealing with real people with real issues?

One perspective has to do with knowing who are audience is. Jesus did this not only intuitively but also through recognizing where people were at. We need to do more of that. Before we lay down the law have we realized where the person hearing that message is coming from? In the case of most of us, when a particular sin is mentioned and we have had that issue in our lives, then we are in one of three places; (1) we’re being tempted by it, (2) we are in the midst of it, or (3) or we have felt the redemptive power of being delivered from it. The way we address the Truth related to “it” depends somewhat on understanding that our hearers are coming from different perspectives.

The next perspective to understand the power of the words we use. In Matthew, as Jesus tells about the fruit and tree (i.e. a tree is known by its fruit, remember) he makes the comment, that we will be judged for every careless word we have spoken. Compassion is partially about understanding the words we use. My wife contends that sometimes I have “gumball’ communication – i.e. I let a thought come out of my brain, onto my tongue and out of my mouth like a gumball. This type of communication allows for some of the careless talk to get us in trouble. In the WAY-FM discussion they talked about Christian artists, preachers, speakers, etc. who publicly take a stand on an issue and put their foot down. People cheer the fact that they are taking a stand. I disagree with a comment that was made, however, that taking a stand is easy. Nope – more Christians need to take a stand – but to learn how to do it with words that understand the reality of some people’s circumstance. The acceptance or use of language can be key to finding that balance. Let’s suppose I am a young, good looking, spiritually filled Christian rock star – work with me here! J I stand up in my concert and I have been convicted to really stand up against abortion and to speak out on sanctity of life issues. In my audience, research tells us, that probably over half of the teens in that audience are sexually active and because of that probably about ten percent (or more) are dealing with or have dealt with the abortion issue personally. I need to be able to say that God is a God of life and abortion is wrong. That is a true statement but I need to also be able to acknowledge those that are dealing or have dealt with it. The audience needs to hear the message of life, but also of redemption. I can foresee the strong stance on life being followed immediately by a softer tone delivering the words of redemption from the hurt and reality of experiencing abortion. It removes the shame (since they more than likely already feel plenty of this) but demonstrates a community of love and support – not necessarily condoning the actions that led to the situation.

The final perspective is that of reading other people’s feedback. In a concert that is tough to do… in an email or post on a social networking site, a bit easier… in person, so much easier. That leads me to better understand that our best demonstration of love and truth comes in personal relationship and interpersonal conversation with others. So if I am the Christian speaker or musician, I need to try to move the members of the audience to find a time, place and person to talk more deeply about this; if I am the writer of a completely awesome blog, then I also encourage you to either write to me, comment to me or others or sit down over a cup of coffee with someone to talk through the issues; or if I am already in conversation with them to practice good listening habits, kind responses, and the ability to speak truthful but understanding things into their lives.

There is so much more we can take from this simple yet challenging discussion… maybe more posts, discussion or books need to be written… ?

Doc Leland

Monday, August 17, 2009

A French Paradox

I've been to France a couple of times. I've worked with a French co-author on a project some years ago about political matters. I've fallen in love with the Tour de France each July. I've even come to appreciate most French foods. However, what I get the biggest kick out of is the absolute paradox that the French live with each day.

Let me give you some background on my take... I am reading a book called, God is Back (excellent read) and in chapter 1 the authors (two Oxford educated editors of The Economist magazine) make the point that Europeans - namely led by the French are responsible for most of the anti religion sentiment that we've experienced in the world since about 0h... the 1500's. Most of it, they claim, comes from an intellectual snobbery that looks down its nose at anything that is not entirely pragmatic and empirical. Now... that led to the birth of the intellectual atheistic movement we've got today including guys like Dawkins and Hichens and the rest. Follow me if you will... if they take God out of the picture they are left with a purely humanistic way of determining morals and ethics. That leads inevitably to the following of the philosophy of "if it feels good do it." The French began to lead the world in morally questionable cultural things like the Moulon Rouge and there came a sexual freedom that came with the times. Even in age of high collared dresses and floor length hemlines, nudity and the celebration of the human body became a norm for them.

Fast forward several years (okay 1985 when I was studying in Europe) and after arriving in Nice, in the south of France on a very late train - my buddy and I headed to the beach and plopped our heads down on our backpacks and slept. I was awakened the next morning with my traveling companion saying, "Look but don't look too noticeably when you open your eyes." What? I popped up and looked around... we had decided to crash on a nude beach and were were VERY clothed at the time. It was one of those moments of western awkwardness versus the idea of absolute freedom that came from the birth of postmodern thought in that country. That is, I am free to be me and do what I please. For them, it was sans clothing!

Fast forward again to a vacation I was on with my wife in Cancun, when on a sunny, warm and lazy afternoon I fell dead asleep in my lounger next to the pool. My wife is to my right, and some friends of ours are to her right. They watched me with anticipation as I woke up only to realize that the lady on my left was sunbathing topless. You guessed it - she was French as it turned out. Again, awkward.

In the last couple of trips, that same resort has put up signs to prohibit topless sunbathing. A sign of the times? Prudish American morals? I'm not sure... but based on something I just read, it may not be out of line to propose that a new social ethic is cropping up in of all places, France. Time magazine did a story on how less and less young French (and other European) ladies are even desiring to sunbath topless.

Okay, stay with me a bit longer. In the place where the postmodern thought that allows for a culture to accept one thing as a freedom, individuals choose to return to, what would be considered by some, a more modest approach to outdoor living. One might say this is just the postmodern deciding that something else is appropriate. I would contend that all around us, there are examples of where people are choosing to return to, in this case, modesty. The decision to go away from modesty to nudity was based on some sort of thought process. What brought us back? What prompted the return that Time magazine is reporting? Perhaps, just perhaps, there is a Truth - a moral foundation on which our lives are supposed to be based and when we wander away from it, believer or not, eventually we return to or at least desire to return to it. Maybe we are wired to seek that foundation even when we think we are finding freedom and happiness in doing "our own thing."

Remember - it is never just a French beach! :)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Great Outdoors

Last week Team Leland went to Steamboat Springs for Nicolas to play in a baseball tournament and to have some family time camping. There were so many things that crossed my mind while either sitting on the warm metal bleachers or sitting comfortably in a camping chair by the fire looking beyond the sparks to the stars...

One thought was a worry that as a parent/dad I've not done enough for the boys. There are moments when they demonstrate such good traits and then there are other moments when they are at each other and you wonder what went wrong. With my oldest, Stephen, heading into his junior year in high school in a week, you realize how fleeting the time has been and will be in the next two years. I don't know if a parent ever feels totally at ease with the job they've done and whether they have prepared their kids enough for the world that awaits them.

Another thought that came to me was the sad state of some families where the parent lives vicariously through their kids. This was apparent at the tournament we were at this past week. I watched parents (mainly dads mind you) who lost their cool so easily and began tirades either from the stands or if they were coaching, on the field. In one case, an entire game was stopped while the umpires had a conference to figure out how to deal with the unruly parents. In one conversation with a long time umpire (who was an active duty military officer as well) shared that the umpires had a meeting before the tournament began to warn them of the extra difficulty they were going to see that week. It was a national tournament, he explained, and as such the grown ups thought there was an extra layer of anonymity that protected them and allowed them the freedom to speak out more than they normally would. I guess if you are in your hometown, you might hold your tongue. At this tournament, he also explained, they hear louder voices than normal, more criticism than normal and the use of language that was more shocking than normal. I honestly wonder how many of those kids puff up with pride when "dad" gets thrown out of game.

One other thought that came to me, was the importance of family time in this chaotic world. This summer our family did too much. We had four boys playing on six different teams. Though everything on the schedule was valuable, it squeezed out the simple "do nothing" or "do little" times when you just hang-out. Dr. Dobson would claim that the biggest problem facing families today is over-commitment. I learned a lesson, when the two things that my kids wanted to do while out camping was to (1) find some cheap inner tubes and just float down the Yampa River (which they did a couple different times); and (2) play a simple card game like Uno or Phase Ten or even go-fish (and it was an extreme game of go-fish). Smores were of course in order, as was riding bikes. There was no ultra organized hike to the top of a mountain but simple activity of being a kid and being a family.

One final thought was the incredible blessing of living in Colorado and having the splendor of His creation at our backdoor. The cool mountain air on a summer's evening; the crisp water of a mountain stream or river; and the beauty of a mountain range called The Rockies. His majesty spoke volumes each morning with the sunrise and each evening with the expanse of stars above.

Thanks for letting me ramble... some may have a photo album, others have a journal, I have the randomness of thought... :)