Archive for the 'Me-Evolution Will Be Televised' Category

Party Failure

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The headline above a recent article from grabbed my attention immediately. Having fallen short a lot, as we all do, I wondered what premise the author may be starting from.

Is it better to forget it?

I’ve seen some say so, but that invites more mistakes and misguided decisions. Blowing off unsavory outcomes could lead us to repeat the same action in search of a different result. As my pastor and mentor Steve Clifford once told me, “Sometimes wisdom is not putting your hand back in the fire.”

Really, though, who throws a party when things go wrong?

The key is to avoid mourning for an extended period or being possessed by shame and disappointment. Even the author admits what is occurring is “a wider appreciation that failure is an inherent part of innovation and taking risks,” an undercurrent of acceptance the prime demands of this web-enabled generation — better and faster — require more defeats than victories.

What is actually happening, then, is the abolition of perfectionism.

The idea is to allow people to come up short and do so openly, to brush aside the embarrassment and take another shot…and another….and another…and another, if necessary.

Further, encouraging people to make an effort engenders a spirit of cohesiveness, in which it is much less “easy for us to point fingers, to find blame, to gleefully critique the things that went wrong,” as Seth Godin writes in his new book Poke the Box. When everyone is allowed to swing for the fences, everyone is going to strike out more — but everyone will support each other more, too.

We walk a fine line in creating a culture which accepts failure “just right.”

Facilitating experimentation — giving people the freedom to explore uncommon concepts and create based on them — inevitably leads to dead ends and discouragement from time to time. Become too lax and the whole venture goes down the tube without any wins.

Making the most of undesired results, squeezing every lesson about the wrong (and right) out for future application, expands the possibility for a major breakthrough — one that will, with persistence and consistency, certainly arrive.

Then we throw the party.

After all, there is a time to celebrate failure: when we’ve succeeded.

The Theory of Change

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I wanted to know how to spend $100 million.

Provoked by the teaser on the cover, I opened a recent issue of Inc. magazine to see how such a large sum of money might help education.

Inspired by Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s recent donation to the Newark school system, the author tackled the inherent challenges to reforming education guided by an entrepreneurial mindset.

What it comes down to is the “theory of change.”

This is “a set of beliefs about the best strategy to produce a desired outcome.” Organizations of all kinds — industrial, political, religious — operate under basic assumptions about how results are achieved. In fact, it’s most accurate to say they are defined by these ideas; membership grows based on how many people identify themselves with this or that method for making a difference.

If these central concepts are absent, it is nearly impossible to get anything going.

An agreed-upon approach is the foundation for decision-making, it creates the boundaries for what will be done to reach a stated goal. Used properly, it streamlines the process for advancing from stage to stage.

This is true of people, too. How we go about moving from one station in life to the next — if we ever do — is a function of the perspective we have on tactics.

And, being human, we often cling tightly to what we’re comfortable with, continuing to work furiously despite our efforts having questionable impact.

What must be done to change how we think about changing?

Do we allocate more resources (money, information, time)?

How about taking different action? Is simply doing that enough?

Can it be identified without the 20-20 prism of hindsight?

What, if anything, can be deemed necessary without argument?

It takes commitment.

Early returns do not a revolution make. Challenges are bound to arise when steering a new course. Just overcoming the momentum built traveling the old way is a task unto itself — one which must be completed before going full speed in another direction.

Determination, then, is a component.

It also takes patience.

Change, for the most part, is a gradual process spread over days, months and years. Though we find ourselves frustrated and overwhelmed when it takes a while for everything to coalesce, steadiness of spirit and the willingness to persevere are necessary to witness anything bear fruit.

Regardless of how we anticipate change occurring, we can be certain of one thing:

Deeply-held belief and inspired effort will be harnessed over time to create the hoped-for conclusion.

Trust Issues

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Developing trust in the wake of pain is a challenge.

When you see the person, if you can stand to look, all you can think of is the injuries suffered.

You show off the emotional scars, the aftereffects of being hurt so many times.

Anger simmers beneath the surface, begging to boil over.

Good deeds are hidden by bitterness.

What matters is your unmet expectations — and the price of that failure.

You sit and count the ways you were let down.

You struggle to forgive.

You wish to forget.

Eventually, though, you trust yourself again.

New Ears Hear

"The Return of the Prodigal Son" by Rembrandt

Music should mean something.

I have long maintained the virtue of song — or any art, really — is the ability to reveal common feelings with uncommon technique. The magic of inspiration allows one person to open their soul and, in so doing, give others the key to their own.

Sometimes we are reached in an unexpected manner, as though our eyes are opened and our ears hear for the first time all over again. Our brains are set ablaze and something of life makes sense to us, regardless of the artist’s intent.

This Fall, I became acquainted with the now-Grammy nominated Mumford and Sons.

The worship pastor at my church, a tall, blond Californian who would look just as appropriate holding a surfboard as he does playing a guitar, recommended the English folk band to me. I had approached him to express my appreciation for bluegrass-inspired renditions of our typical praise music and he encouraged me to give them a listen. He raved about the “passion” and “energy” as though the foursome had managed to corner the market in delivering emotion.

I headed to YouTube and did a search, then watched the most popular video, “Little Lion Man.” Sufficiently intrigued, I purchased Sigh No More, their big-label debut, and went about listening to it the next day during my commute.

From the very start, I felt moved.

Beyond the thumping rhythms and charged vocals, the words spoke to me — a rarity on anything short of the twelfth or fifteenth spin for a given album most of the time.

I could identify parallels between the lyrics and my blossoming life.

There are references to being made to meet your Maker and living life as it’s meant to be.

One song, though, continues to hit home more than the rest: “Roll Away Your Stone.” The title itself highlights the resurrection of Christ, yet an examination of the poetry contained within the four-plus minutes describes the soul’s rebirth. Have a look:

Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine.
Together we can see what we will find.
Don’t leave me alone at this time,
For I’m afraid of what I will discover inside.

Engaging faith is a lot like stepping into sunlight after enjoying an afternoon matinée — we stumble around confused and half-blind at first until we adjust. Encountering the past and evaluating attitudes is enlightening, to say the least. Sometimes we find a person we have trouble liking at all.

You told me that I would find a hole,
Within the fragile substance of my soul
And I have filled this void with things unreal,
And all the while my character it steals.

Coming to the end of ourselves, we find all the different means by which we attempted to cover up our ache for the Father. We realize what we’ve given up in doing so — the fools we’ve looked chasing money or the selfishness we’ve displayed towards others — and come to grips with the ramifications of that trade.

Darkness is a harsh term, don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see.

We all wish those decisions had been better (though they can and will be used for good), yet we realize how much our misguided choices led us into bad spots and possibly even self-destruction.

It seems that all my bridges have been burned,
You say that’s exactly how this grace thing works.
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive at the restart.

Having wandered as far down the path as possible, we are often left with nothing before we turn towards God. When we encounter His love, when we see Him running to greet us, it is difficult to be anything but overwhelmed by joy.

Darkness is a harsh term, don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see. (2x)

Stars hide your fires,
These here are my desires
And I will give them up to You this time around.
And so, I’ll be found with my stake stuck in this ground
Marking the territory of this newly impassioned soul (2x)

What was once important — the pursuits apart from our purpose — fade into the background as our attention shifts. We take the wishes of our heart and lift them up to the Father, doing our best to make our lives His sovereign province every day.

You, you’ve gone too far this time
You have neither reason nor rhyme
With which to take this soul that is so rightfully mine.

Then we turn back to the world, determined as ever to follow the path He carved for us — aware we’ll still falter from time to time — and claim the future He has in store.

Well, that’s what I hear.

How about you?

Fragile Focus

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“You’re going to screw up and make a mess.”

She was right.

I did.

My sister-in-law got in my head.

I had been alone for several days while she and my brother attended a funeral in our hometown, cooking and cleaning and caring for the the dogs without anyone to talk to.

Though I enjoy solitude, extended periods to myself invariably lead my mind to find entertainment in practicing random skills. This time, I settled on the chef’s trick of flipping eggs in the pan.

I’ve watched a lot of Food Network. How hard could it be?

I gave it a shot and got close.

I kept at it. By the sixth or seventh attempt, I could execute the basics with consistency. After that, it would be more remarkable if I failed than if I succeeded. Having added this little party favor to my cooking arsenal, I set about to show it off.

I called for attention.

I set up.

I heard those eight words.

I got nervous.

I flubbed the flip.

The meal ended up as delicious as it would have been, if a little less aesthetically pleasing.

I could only think of how easily I became rattled.

Why does new-found confidence disappear so suddenly?

How many of these little battles do we lose each day?

Our brains light up with a fresh idea and energy surges through us.

Enthusiasm bursts to the surface and we get excited to share our good news.

We tell someone and the reaction deflates us.

We hunch our shoulders in defeat and return where we came from.

We lose focus.

Here’s what happened in the kitchen: I heard her voice just as I readied my wrist for the flip and my concentration vanished. I became aware of the consistency of the egg. I noticed my grip on the pan seemed off.

Was the heat high enough?

Was it too early?

Was the right amount of oil in the pan?

I was thinking about everything but snapping my hand through the motion I knew worked and had performed several times without a hitch.

When adopting a new habit or changing a belief, the margin for error is slim.

Just as with long division and the crossover dribble, development is a conscious process at the start. Every step is measured and done and remeasured and redone until it becomes aut-o-mat-ic.

Such diligence is the difference between “good” and “great” and “exceptional” and “excellent.”

It’s time-consuming and rigorous, for sure, but worth the effort.

In the meantime, we must hold on for dear life to our fragile focus.

Unreality Check

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There are a few sentences I contend with immediately.

My brain is encoded to detect these phrases from across rooms. Like a sophisticated set of military instruments, my ears perk up and I instinctively tune in to the subsequent conversation.

“The University of Louisville is a fine institution.”

“Wearing brown and gray together is impossible.”

“I can tell he’s a __________ because he bought __________ and voted for ___________.”

“You have to be realistic.”

Though I refrain from running off at the mouth due to the conventions of polite conversation, I am completely unable to keep my mind from asking a simple question:


Those five words command people to stick with what they know. Look at what’s reachable and go for that.

Reality is stark and unfriendly.

Focusing on the perils of day-to-day life strips us of the imagination necessary to go beyond it — absent the slim hope of lottery victory.

What’s real to us is often far beneath what’s possible.

The capacity to think beyond what we can see and comprehend is the greatest of humanity’s gifts.

It defines us.

It moves us.

Advancement in any arena is the direct result of gazing towards the horizon and setting out to discover what lies beyond it.

History is the compilation of stories about those who believed this simple truth:

We can only be extraordinary if we are first unrealistic.

U Can Reach Anyone

I’ve spent most of my life an ignorant Christian.

Until recently, only a handful of lessons regarding faith could be counted as having reached me. To be plain, most of what I heard in church floated from my consciousness the minute I stepped out the front door.

Very little of what I was taught was memorable.

As a freshman at Friends University, I sat in a classroom of about twenty-five people listening to my Basic Christian Beliefs professor, a soft-spoken and plain-dressed pastor named Chris Kettler.

Over several weeks, I’d become accustomed to the manner his quiet voice droned on, a gentle lullaby with little change in pitch or tone. I strained to pay attention — as I often did throughout college — in the hopes I would gather enough information from the lecture to make it appear I’d read the material.

One Fall day, a solitary fragment embedded itself in my brain.

“Some people call it ‘The Big U’, because,” he explained while drawing on the chalkboard, “there are three components to Christianity which demonstrate God’s grace.” As he continued, a light bulb went off in my head.

Everything finally made sense.

I have only recently — some twelve years on — come to understand grace in a real way, yet The Big U has been integrated into my beliefs from the moment Dr. Kettler presented it. Today, I wish to share it in the hopes it may be as enlightening to others as it was to me back then.

Even non-believers know the central figure of Christianity as a man named Jesus of Nazareth, who died on a cross two millenia ago and, according to the faith, rose from the grave three days later as part of God’s reconciliation with all mankind. The Father’s love is said to be expressed in the Son, but how?

The Big U explains God’s work in three simple parts.

1. Incarnation

Relevant Scripture:
Matthew 18:25
Luke 2:4-7
(Mark and John begin with Jesus’ baptism)

John 1 tells us “the Word was God” and He “became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” His primary step, in order to better understand and reach His children, was to walk among them.

Without this, obviously, the progression is moot.

2. Humiliation

Relevant Scripture:
Matthew 27:37-44
Mark 15:17-18
Luke 23:35-39
John 19:2-3

In very basic (and understated) terms, Jesus — and, by extension, the Father — is humbled by the cruelty of those who take him prisoner.

A crown of thorns.

A sarcastic sign hanging above his head.

Taunts from passersby.


Though the cross is Christianity’s recognized symbol, Jesus’ death at this midpoint is actually secondary to the first and third, in my opinion. It may seem sacrilegious, considering my beliefs, but lots of people died on crosses or hanging from trees.

The step is important, but victory was not yet achieved.

3. Resurrection

Relevant Scripture:
Matthew 28:5-9
Mark 16:8-18
Luke 24
John 20:1-7, 13-29

Now we have come to a matter of faith: Jesus rose from the dead to walk the Earth again. God proves, in a literal and figurative sense, only He can overcome death.

Further, He offers His children the opportunity to do the same through an act of lifelong devotion, that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

This, God’s loving redemption of selfish humanity, is the embodiment of His grace. It is a uniquely Christian doctrine which is, by definition, as much undeserved and unearned as it is freely-given and all-encompassing. He did all the “heavy lifting,” we are asked merely to accept it.

God acted as any parent would.

The Big U is, in short, a Father doing whatever it took to see his kids.

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