Archive for May, 2010

Leading from Memory

Friday, May 28th, 2010

This past January I returned to Lackland Air Force Base for the first time since I graduated from Basic Training and Tech School in 2002. For the most part things haven’t changed. The dorms are still the same. The food at the dining facilities is still the same. The trainees walking around developing nevous ticks because they’re afraid they’re going to get yelled at for something they didn’t know they were doing is still the same.

One thing, however, was incredibly different. Seven years ago when I went to the library to check my email (During tech school, I didn’t know there was any such thing as a library in Basic) there was virtually no one there. There were only two computers but I could always log onto one. Seven years later, the situation had changed drastically. This time when I went to the library it was packed. There was a line for people waiting to use the computers to check email, Facebook, Twitter, and a myriad of other social networking opportunities. To me, this was a striking change.

In my mind, Lackland was trapped in time. My memory of Lackland was static. But Lackland was changing. The culture of Lackland was changing. Some of the streets even changed while I was gone. As leaders we often forget this phenomenon. We think that the only changes that happen in our spheres of influence are the ones that we enact. There are places in our organizations that we think are exactly as we left them. They’re static in our memories. The problem is that they’re not static in reality. They are constantly changing. If we try to lead from a distance things will change and we will no longer know how to effectively lead.

One of the essential characteristics of effective leadership is Learn Continuously. As leaders we need to focus on constantly learning about the changes going on in our spheres of influence. We also need to constantly learn how to leverage those changes to fulfill the vision God has given us for our organizations. Seven years ago social networking was sending out a group email to invite people to a party. Today, if you’re not leveraging Facebook and other social networking technology you’re leading through a static memory rather than leading in reality.

What are some of the ways you’re engaging with the changes in your organization to be a more effective leader?

A-Bombs, H-Bombs and F-Bombs

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Several months ago, I was enjoying the hospitality of a local coffee house late into the evening as I finished up a paper for school. On this night I had forgotten my ear-buds so I was able to hear the conversations around me much more clearly than usual. Something about what I heard was particularly shocking to me. I’m used to hearing teenagers spew profanities like a drunk sailor, in an adolescent attempt to sound more adult. That didn’t shock me. I was incredibly surprised by the same type of language being spoken by adults. I kind of thought that somewhere in your mid-twenties you grew out of that realizing how stupid you sound by limiting your vocabulary so drastically. I was obviously wrong.

Then it hit me. No, this is not a post about the moral depravity of our society. I’m not going to jump up on a soap box and extol the virtues of clean language. For me, the problem wasn’t the language, although I do think there are more intelligent ways to communicate.

It hit me, why am I shocked by this language when no one around me seems to be? My life is incredibly cloistered. I spend most of time around Christ-followers. This is not a good situation in which to be. What good is salt in a salt mine? What good is light in a well-lit room (Matthew 5:13-15)?
Since then, I’ve tried to be more conscientious about how I choose to spend my time. It’s been hard. Launching a ministry that helps churches (insert shameless plug for Jericho Ministry Solutions). My target market is leaders in the Christian community, most of whom spend the least amount of time among people that are not Christ-followers. Yet as a member of the Michigan Air National Guard, I’ve had several opportunities to get out of my normal community and routine. In those times I’ve had several opportunities to be salt and light and share Jesus. I’ve also failed many times and been an a … er … jerk ☺. In spite of my failings however, in those times I’ve felt closer and more useful to God.

If you find yourself in a similar situation… if you find yourself spending a lot of time in salty well-lit areas, let me encourage you now. Break the routine. Leave the comfort of the familiar and go be who God intended you to be.

By the way, have you ever thought about the fact that salt in large amounts is poison? Or, that light in large amounts is blinding? Just sayin.

The Rise and Fall of Kwame Kilpatrick

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

The sentencing of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick made quite a stir today. Judge David Groner threw the proverbial book at Mr. Kilpatrick sentencing him with up to five years in prison. (Although, I think the announcement of Steve Yzerman heading to Tampa Bay as the GM of the Lightening is a bigger story. I’m probably in the minority.)

I’m wrestling with how I feel about the sentencing. On one hand, I agree with the Judge Groner’s reasoning for the sentence. Based on my observations, Mr. Kilpatrick has shown nothing but contempt for the City of Detroit and the American legal system working diligently to avoid paying his ordered restitution. In light of all that’s gone on, I agree that Mr. Kilpatrick should spend time in jail. None of the other penalties put in place by the court seem to have affected Mr. Kilpatrick’s behavior.

Yet, there’s another issue. What about the restitution? Judge Groner did not remove the requirement for restitution to be paid. Which I think is appropriate and important. The actions of Mr. Kilpatrick while he was mayor of Detroit cost the city over eight million dollars (of which the restitution covers only a small portion). But, how will he pay that restitution while incarcerated? The City of Detroit must now wait for at least 14 months before Mr. Kilpatrick will be able to begin to pay the rest of the money he owes to the city. In the mean time, the tax dollars of the citizens of Wayne County will be used to pay the costs associated with Mr. Kilpatrick’s incarceration.

That sticks in my craw. Our state is hurting financially and this situation seems to be exacerbating the situation. Yet, what else can the court do? The court ordered the restitution to be paid and Mr. Kilpatrick worked diligently to circumvent our legal system and avoid paying that restitution. I guess I wish the court had other options.

I’m curious, what do you think regarding the sentence handed out today by Judge Groner?

I Can’t Keep Quiet

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

I got a bad case of laryngitis yesterday. In a sick way I was kind of happy about it. I was looking forward to blogging about all the great spiritual insights I gained by spending a day unable to talk. I wanted to have a cool, deep, spiritual post like the ones I often read. The only thing I learned is that I can’t keep quiet. Even without a voice I had to talk.

Yet for me, that is a spiritual insight. I admire the people that have great spiritual depth. I admire the people that have stories of deep spiritual experiences. I admire the people that can spend hours in silence alone with God and learn deep fascinating things.

But I’m not one of those people. My experience with God will never be like theirs. Nor should it. I need to focus on growing closer to God by accepting and embracing who I am. I am a communicator and I need people. I need to connect with people. I see God in my interactions with others. I see God in people. I see God in his image that he has placed in others.

I don’t know how you best connect with God. I don’t know when it is that you see him but remember, you are uniquely created in the image of God and however you connect with God is the right way for you. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Become all that God has created you to be through that connection.

Where do you most often see God?

Talking About Jesus

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

In my last post, I wrote a review of Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family. A major aspect of all of Tyler Perry’s work is his Christian faith. He is very open about it. It seems to me that Christianity is more acceptable in African-American culture than in white culture. Maybe I’m wrong, but I never hear Christianity ridiculed in African-American art and media the way it seems to be in primarily white media outlets.

So my question to you: Why is that? Why is Christianity more acceptable in African-American culture? And, what, if anything, should we do about it?

I

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

Most of my readers have probably never heard of Tyler Perry or Madea. You’ve probably never seen any of Tyler Perry’s movies or stage performances. If you haven’t seen anything by Tyler Perry, you don’t know what you’re missing. In my opinion he is one of the best artists of our time able to seamlessly move from stage to screen. He is both an amazing playwright and screenwriter along with a wonderful director and producer. Mr. Perry can do it all.

Last Thursday my wife and I went to see Madea’s Big Happy Family, the latest offering of Tyler Perry on stage. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. The tears weren’t from sadness. The tears were rolling because we were laughing so hard. I laughed so hard my face hurt. The writing was incredible. Tyler Perry’s whit and way with words make his comedies a laugh riot. I haven’t had that much fun watching a show in a long time.

While Mr. Perry is a phenomenal comedic artist that’s not the thing I like most about his work. The thing I like most is how he seamlessly weaves his faith into his work without it sounding forced or trite. Madea’s Big Happy Family was written by Tyler Perry, in large part, to help him process his grief after his mother passed away. The theme of the show was the influence that mothers have on their families.

The show opens with the lead character learning that her cancer has returned and she doesn’t have long to live. The hi-jinks begin when she invites her family including her kleptomaniac brother and family friend Madea, a 6’ tall 60 year old pistol packin’, ex-stripper, ex-con over to tell them the news. The entire first act is a laugh riot as we watch many failed attempts to get the family to slow down long enough to learn what’s going on. Yet, the comedy is light-hearted. This is not a dark comedy and you forget the morbidity of the situation as you enjoy watching the dysfunction of the family and laugh as you see elements of yourself and your own family in the hysterical situation.

The true theme of the show develops in Act 2. By now the family has learned the fate of their matriarch and they are working through the grieving process. The tears of joy turned to tears of sadness as we all grieved with the family at the loss of their saintly mother. (Even as I write this, I’m starting to feel the emotion all over again.) But the roller-coaster ride of emotion wasn’t over at this point. Our sadness turned to joy as we saw Tyler Perry’s vision of the death of his mother. We saw her weep for her children that were losing their mom and rejoice as she was raised to be with Jesus whom she had served faithfully.
The show culminated with the family sharing the influence their mom had on them and how through her life she pointed them to Jesus.

Madea’s Big Happy Family is one of the best stage performances I have ever seen. If you haven’t seen anything by Tyler Perry you need to check him out. Go out today and rent Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Daddies Little Girls. After you watch them, come back here and tell us what you think. I guarantee you’ll enjoy them. And if you get the chance, go see Madea’s Big Happy Family.

Today is a Great Day

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Today is a major milestone for me. I mailed in my dissertation proposal. Not as exciting as a wedding anniversary or my daughter’s birthday and it’s not an event that I will celebrate for years to come. But, I’ve worked hard to get to this point and it feels really good to have this part done.

Yet, as I think about how much I’ve done I’m also forced to think about the work I still have ahead of me. As I think about that I can’t help but ask, why am I doing this? Why am I working so hard to get a PhD. I’m not planning on becoming a seminary professor. I don’t need the degree for my job. Why am I doing this.
It’s a tougher question than you might think. Here are my reasons. (1) I want to finish what I’ve started. I’ve put several years of work into this project. It would be foolish of me to quit when I’m so close now. (2) My family has sacrificed a lot for me to do this. It would be horribly disrespectful of me to dishonor that sacrifice by quitting now. (3) This degree will help me make a difference. My path to God has always been the intellectual path. I am most in tune with who I am and most connected with God when I’m learning or teaching. I believe, through the research I’m doing now, God will make a real impact on His Kingdom. I believe that the work I’m doing will change people’s lives. Moreover, this is just the beginning. There are a lot of things I want to research and write. I believe they will all have some impact. I don’t know how big. I don’t really care. This is my “talent.” I can either invest it and see God do great things with it or bury it. I want to invest it. I want to be a part of what God’s doing.

I’m writing this dissertation and getting a PhD because it’s part of the ministry to which God has called me, and I believe God will use it to make a difference in people’s lives.

Whatever God has called you to do, don’t give up. God will use you and what you’re doing to make an eternal difference. I look forward to hearing the stories of how God is using you.

The Most Christian Thing You Can Do is Go to a Party.

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Yesterday I attended a birthday party with my 4-year-old daughter for one of her friends. Now, anyone who knows me knows that parties are not my thing. I’m naturally an introvert so even the idea of a bunch people crammed into a small space is exhausting. In fact while I consider the birthday-boy’s mom a friend and I like being Uncle Bryon to the young man, the main reason I attended was because my wife was feeling under the weather and not up to taking our daughter to the party.

Today as I look back on the events of yesterday and my response to the party, I’ve got to confess I’m a little ashamed. All the people at that party are people of infinite value to God but for the most part I didn’t see that. They were just people sharing the same space with me. My focus was 100% on my daughter and I didn’t even attempt to engage anyone in a real conversation. I didn’t treat them with the dignity that they deserve as people created in the image of God.

To be a Christian isn’t merely intellectual assent to a set of propositions (although those propositions and assent to them both have value). A Christian is one who follows Christ; one who longs to be closer to him and be more like him. A cursory reading of the gospels will show that Jesus loved a good party. He never missed a chance to spend time with people, because he saw their infinite value.

Now, I’ll always be an introvert. That is who God created me to be. I’ll never be the life of the party. Those are things that I cannot control. However, I can control how I interact with people at parties. I can control whether or not I show them God’s love or not. The next time I attend a party, I pray that people see someone who values them for who they are rather than someone in a hurry to leave.