Posts Tagged 'mindset'

Party Failure

Courtesy of RyanMorgan.ca

“STOP CELEBRATING FAILURE!”

The headline above a recent article from BusinessInsider.com 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 Can Do Man

Courtesy of KVOA.com

Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.
John Wooden

I love to cook, but have a hard time boiling eggs.

Over the years, I’ve tested every method I could find to make them.

The internet has been a bust.

Food Network was no help, either.

If the Queen of England came over tomorrow and wanted one for dinner, we’d be ordering in.

For someone who enjoys being in the kitchen as much as I do, this is a bit distressing. How can I consider myself a decent cook if one of the most basic tasks eludes me?

I am frustrated by this fact until I remember what I am able to do.

Chocolate chip pancakes with blueberries.

Scallop and shrimp salad.

Pork tenderloin medallions with asparagus.

All of these dishes are palatable, to say the least. Why be concerned about something else?

The best use of my time — for myself or anyone else — is the things I do well.

Something about the American ethos glorifies the idea of turning weakness into strength. The legendary figures of this culture are perceived as heroes for rising above all that would hold them back.

Guided by this assumption, we come to believe triumph is rooted in overcoming faults.

Most of the time, it’s quite the opposite.

Success, in any walk of life, is about leveraging what we do really well to create the desired result. All of us have done so — and will continue to — time and time again.

Greatness is the repeated expression and magnification of skill. Attempting to improve lesser talents takes time away from the pursuit of excellence in those that matter.

And, if we’re not careful, what we cannot do keeps us from doing what we can.

The Theory of Change

Courtesy of CBC.ca

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.

The Upside of Chaos

One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.
Friedrich Nietzche
 

The great ones always seem to have something more to prove.

If we tracked the career arcs of the most-admired athletes, entertainers and businessmen, we would often find them hunting for new ventures after high achievement in their chosen field or simply chasing down new dimensions to work they produced before.

The public sees the riches and fame and asks, “Why?”

Maybe they’re greedy.

Maybe it’s just ego.

Maybe it’s something different altogether.

When passion rules our lives — the kind tied to true purpose — there is an innate determination to keep going, like a surfer heading out again and again in the hopes of catching the perfect wave.

It’s not about the compensation.

It’s not even about the competition.

It’s about the connection.

To express our essence — whatever we are created to do — is to ride lightning.

The energy is necessary, because fulfilling our potential is a tiring endeavor.

It requires a single-minded doggedness and unfailing grit.

Those who push forward — who strain for the very edges of what’s possible — have a certain restlessness. Their minds are driven by the relentless pursuit of the horizon. When reaching a destination, they look around and say, “What’s next?” or “What could be done better?”

This “chaos,” as Nietzche calls it, is in actuality a quiet discontent with the idea of leaving something incomplete, of walking away before the tasks of this life are finished.

Seeking that kind of fulfillment naturally leads to upheaval and disarray.

Becoming engaged in the quest for the best of oneself demands inner turmoil.

We ask what’s possible.

We face what holds us back.

We change or rot.

We come to understand the underlying truth of what makes us legend:

No turbulence, no growth.

Unreality Check

Courtesy of BearSkinRug.co.uk

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:

“Why?”

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.

The Annual Review, Part 2

Image Courtesy of The-Reel-McCoy.com

What follows is the second in a two-part series to celebrate my 31st birthday. In it, I’ve sat down to discuss the last year with my guardian angel, a malakh called “M.” The opening was posted yesterday.

JE: Having faith is challenging for us. Believing something without seeing or feeling it — without some way to quantify it — is the opposite of what we understand best.

M: (sternly) Which is precisely the point of it.

JE: I know this is kind of off topic since we’ve been talking about faith, but what’s the worst sin?

M: Disobedience.

JE: Not murder?

M: Think about what you just said. The Ten Commandments lay out “the big ones,” the major offenses — all of which are meant to be obeyed. Disobedience is the root of all sin. If you want to get very technical, it’s the only one.
Everything from a white lie to homicide is turning away from His will, it’s just by degree. Most of the time people ignore small things, little instances where God intends something for them and they’re either too scared or too self-centered to follow through. Of course, it’s not the same as taking a life, but it’s a transgression nonetheless.

JE: That depends on what you mean by “taking a life.”

M: What are you getting at?

JE: Well, if we deny His commands, aren’t we taking our own life, in a manner of speaking?

M: I don’t follow.

JE: Let’s assume God, in His love, has intended tremendous blessings along His path for us. There’s still ups and downs, obviously, but He would generally shower us with abundance.

M: Fair enough. Go on.

JE: If we shrink from a task, we’re “killing” that life He’s laid out, slowly but surely. I’ve been thinking a lot about how avoiding the gifts He’s given us is pretty bad. Can you see how I link that to disobedience and sin?

M: Absolutely. That is one way to look at it, if a bit different than most would expect. Nothing frustrates me more than seeing you brush up against your purpose and then turn away from it.
Humans are phenomenal at suppressing the instinct for what He has made them to do. You all find reason after reason to avoid something big.
I can’t speak for Him, but if it were me, I’d feel pretty insulted by that.

JE: Grandma always said, “God’s plan will not take you where His grace cannot keep you” or something like that.

M: Right, but what you struggle with most — beyond the fact you’re gifted — is understanding you have to cultivate whatever He’s given you. Michael Jordan had God-given ability, yet he worked all the time to squeeze everything he could into his game. Leonardo da Vinci would have robbed the world of tremendous art if he left his ideas in his head.
It takes time and effort and consistency and desire to be what you’re made to b–

JE: The fullest expression of God as He made me. That’s something worth living for.

M: It goes way beyond that. It’s worth working and dying for. What is that for you? What sets your heart alight like that?

JE: I don’t know. I mean, I know I have something but I feel like I don’t know what it is. You must know better than anyone how much that weighs on me.

M: You bet I do. What are you looking for? What is it you’re waiting to see?

JE: A big neon sign. Something to prod me in the right direction.

M: That’s not the way it works. Faith is minimized by explicit commands. Does He use them? Sometimes. He knows — and this is very important — it takes a lot more trust to follow a hunch than a shout.

JE: My heart aches to do a good job for God, to fulfill my purpose for Him.

M: I know. How do you plan on going about making it happen?

JE: I’m making a conscious effort to hear Him, for one. I strive to emulate Jesus’ example as best I can. Honestly, that’s what motivates me, Christ is a stunning example of complete surrender to God. It’s why I love his prayer in Gethsemane so much.

M: When he asks the Father to let the cup pass from him?

JE: Exactly. He lays out his desire to go another way, then follows God’s will. I’m drawn to that. It’s very human, the only place I think he is in the whole Bible.
People seek what they want from God a lot of the time. I’m sure I do more than I even think I do. Forgiveness is great, the crucifixion humbles me more all the time, yet I’d hate to rest on it. We all struggle against our own nature, our selfish and misguided choices. Everyone wants to know there will still be someone who loves them despite all their mess ups. Who am I to say that’s wrong?
When I die, though, I want to know I’ve given all I can of this soul in the time this body affords it. I want to have been a messenger, a servant. To have made lives better. To have been a good example and helped others find their own way to fulfill the massive potential God gives each of us.

M: What stops you?

JE: Me.

M: Correct. He believes in all of you. More than you know and sometimes, I think, in a way you’re utterly unable to comprehend. He made you. He is sure you have the ability to do the job.

JE: It doesn’t seem like it sometimes.

M: Again, that’s you. You don’t believe enough in yourself.

JE: Huh?

M: Like a lot of people, you hardly think of your capabilities beyond what you can see in front of you. You want to climb a mountain, then stare at the top and say you can’t make it instead of looking at your feet to figure out the first step or two.
You may be required to scale something else first, but I guarantee you’ll find a way from that peak to the summit you wish to stand on if you allow for the journey to be something other than a straight line. You — all of you — have the tools. You, finally, have really begun to accept the fact He gives you guys a compass instead of a map.
For the longest time, I couldn’t decide if you didn’t know what you were being told to do or if you were willfully ignoring them. I know what the answer is now. It wasn’t always so obvious.

JE: What if things don’t work out?

M: They do. All the time. Not always the way you expect, but they do.

JE: I get that. What does He think of criticism, then?

M: Criticism?

JE: He must hear people complain when results don’t match up to prayers. How does that make Him feel?

M: Much of life is built on how you react. Though all of us are surprised by how people interpret events, He realizes some will see opportunities where others see doom and gloom. It’s been that way since the beginning — somebody decries what’s beyond their control, then uses it as a crutch instead of a springboard.
There will always be some who shake their fists at the rain forgetting it waters the flowers.

JE: It’s tough to accept going the opposite direction of where we want to.

M: It is. Remember the scene in Dogma where the lead character finds out she’s a distant niece to Jesus and goes running off into the woods?

JE: You seem to know that movie pretty well.

M: (shaking head) Sadly, it’s the best frame of reference I have for you. Anyway, remember how angry she is at God?

JE: Yes.

M: Do you recall what the Metatron asked her?

JE: Not at all.

M: He asked her if she could have believed him without seeing everything else first. She had to be brought to the point she could face the truth.
The script wasn’t too far off, either. For some, there’s a process of observation and evidence-gathering until you’re even slightly capable of understanding what you’re called for. You had to be broken, humiliated — even if only within the confines of your own head. A lot of people have to suffer before they can conceive of the fact nothing great gets accomplished without Him, regardless of whether any of you acknowledges the fact.
Then, after all the pruning, when you’re ready from His perspective most of you still don’t feel you are. Others accept quickly. Some, not at all.

JE: People are generally turned off by the idea following Christ means a shift into piety worthy of sainthood, I think. The stereotypical holier-than-thou Christian undermines the reality. I mean, it did for me.
Though I’ve noticed a shift in my thinking as I’ve sought to really follow Jesus — a direct result of my gratitude for God’s grace, I believe — I realize I’m still me. I still like jazz and astrophysics and Newcastle Brown Ale. I simply have incorporated faith into my decisions and, hopefully, make better ones with more consistency.
When “it” hits you, you know. I’ve been amazed at how it’s permeated everything about me.

M: Take all of that and tell the story. Imagine what it’s going to be like when you really step into what He has for you.

JE: I try to.

M: I know. It’s the best part of my day. What do you think your task is going forward?

JE: Keep studying and growing into my faith. Talk to Him. Really listen. Do my best to screw up less. Be grateful He uses my faults and failures for His glory.

M: All of those are good things. What I’d like to see out of you in the next year is new confidence in all there is within, all He blessed you with, all He has for you to do and is aligning for you. Show some courage and commitment.
God loves you and has made you to be great, to live well and joyously. Why do less?

JE: OK, I understand. Can I ask a question?

M: Go ahead.

JE: I have this theory wealth in all ways — physical, financial, spiritual — is proportional to how close we are to living on purpose. Is that true?

M: (smiling) Give it a shot and find out.
Well, we’ve come to the conclusion of your review. I have a few more questions to ask you, if you’re willing to answer them.

JE: Why wouldn’t I be?

M: They’re optional. I hate to admit it, but I really like the Proust questionnaire.

JE: The what?

M: The Proust questionnaire. You’re probably more familiar with the modified version at the end of interviews on Inside the Actor’s Studio.

JE: (rolling eyes) Are you serious?

M: It’s one of the few indulgences I’m allowed.

JE: In that case, far be it from me to deny you the pleasure.

M: Thank you. What is your favorite word?

JE: “Nebulous” or “flourish.” The first rolls off the tongue well. The second has a way of breathing life into whatever it’s describing.

M: What is your least favorite word?

JE: (thinking) Hmm. I’m having a hard time choosing just one. Most of my examples are contextual.

M: Try for me. Please.

JE: How about “orientated” or any other non-word that’s worked its way into the lexicon. People get disoriented. No one has ever been “disorientated.”

M: I see. What turns you on?

JE: Passion. It is amazing to watch someone work out of love instead of obligation.

M: What turns you off?

JE: Negativity. I seem to shut off almost immediately when I sense a string of it coming.

M: What sound or noise do you love?

JE: Joy. It’s different for each person, but distinguishable nonetheless. It’s like my soul can identify with theirs for just a moment. It’s great.

M: What sound or noise do you hate?

JE: Intolerance coupled with aggressiveness. There are few things which upset me more than people screaming loud with massive ignorance.

M: What is your favorite curse word?

JE: Dammit. It’s my default word for exasperation or disgust, primarily with myself.

M: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

JE: I’d play soccer. I doubt that answer will ever change. It’s my first love. I still dream some nights of suiting up for my favorite team.

M: What profession would you not like to do?

JE: The law, I think. Maybe collecting trash. Wait, those answers are kind of the same, huh?

M: What would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

JE: “Well done, son.”

The Annual Review, Part 1

Image Courtesy of BeyondHollywood.com

What follows is the first in a two-part series to celebrate my 31st birthday today. In it, I’ve sat down to discuss the last year with my guardian angel, a malakh called “M.” The conclusion will be posted tomorrow.

M: Good morning.

JE: (sighing) Good morning.

M: Something wrong?

JE: I figured God would be doing my review. No offense.

M: That’s common. Everyone forgets He said “no man shall see Me and live.” Watching you is my job. Who else would you talk to?

JE: You mean that thing in Dogma where they’re unable to hear the actual voice of God is true?

M: (grumbling) Sort of. He didn’t go through five Adams, though. Does Exodus 33:20 ring a bell?

JE: Is that when Moses finds the burning bush?

M: No, it’s when the Ten Commandments are written. It’s nice to see your Bible study paying off. The Father is quite pleased you’ve begun taking it seriously the last few months, though. You’ve undergone a lot of necessary change in the last year and, to begin your review, tell me about it.

JE: Wow, a lot went on. Before I start, can I ask you a question?

M: Sure.

JE: Do you already know how this conversation will go?

M: Yes.

JE: Then why are we having it?

M: Because you don’t. That’s the value in it. You’ll see things you were unaware of. Now, talk about about your last year.

JE: I’ve been through the wringer a bit. It seems like the whole year has been a process of self-examination, a real quest to figure out how I made such a mess of myself. I look back now and see how much my life had been guided by the desire for riches instead of happiness.
I’ve been humbled a lot by that realization. It’s probably the most important thing that occurred, other than moving to California and discovering a real, living faith.

M: This is a bit ahead of where I would normally ask, but what was the difference? What about that really brought you to Christ?

JE: The message is presented in a way that reaches me. I wanted desperately to really accept salvation for years, I just didn’t know how. I felt unable to let it in, if that makes sense, like I’d have to surrender my brain — my best asset — for it to happen. I wondered if that was possible. I knew I was the roadblock, yet felt wholly incapable of getting out of my own way.
Then I fell into WestGate and everything lined up. I was “home.” I got baptized and, well, the phrase “eternally grateful” has taken on new meaning.

M: You’ve all got to find your way and I’m very happy you did. Here’s the thing: all of you have been saved. Everyone’s already got a seat on the bus. God sent Jesus for that reason. He died and was resurrected, then everything was washed away. He’s the bridge God built between Himself and all His children.
What I find most amazing is, after all that, God lets you decide whether you’ll accept it. I mean, both of us were made to worship Him, but you guys get a choice. I envy that sometimes. The trade-off for free will is being unable to see Him work all the time, to comprehend the enormity of His power the way I do. If you could, there’d be no choice at all — the amazement would convert even the hardest hearts in an instant.
Because I’ve seen what I’ve seen, there’s no other option for me. You guys are allowed to make a decision and — in all His mercy — He loves you either way.

JE: I get that now. It’s incredibly powerful, but a lot of people seem to have trouble understanding it.

M: Why do you think that is?

JE: Because we attempt to compare what we know of love with what He has for us?

M: Precisely. Even the best human relationships have conditional aspects to them. The love of the Father does not.
Let’s get on with the review. Describe a situation in which you feel you’ve contributed well to the company.

JE: I always have problems tooting my own horn. Pride has been my biggest downfall, you know.

M: Yes, it has. There’s a fine line, though, between confidence and arrogance. To be very candid, you’ve spent way too much time thinking you’ve crossed over in some areas and being blind to the fact you actually have in others. So, I’m going to ask you again: What do you think you did well this year?

JE: The best thing I did was teach. Being a professor is one of the more meaningful experiences of my life. The students’ response, at the time and continuing today, has humbled me. I am really blessed to have had the opportunity. I feel I did some good.
Though I had no idea at the time, Providence shined very bright upon me.

M: Absolutely. I love watching you roll your eyes at the little connections which bring things about to eventually benefit you. Honestly, seeing people disappointed or suspicious of something while knowing how it will end up is what I love most about my job.
What do you think are your three biggest strengths?

JE: A poet’s heart. A scientist’s mind. Those both seem so cheesy, but I know they’re true. I spend entire days wondering how I can put them to use.

M: I know, we’ll get to that. How about a third?

JE: Loyalty. Maybe respect. I think the two are cut from the same cloth. I am fiercely loyal to my family and friends. I do my best to honor simple human dignity like my grandfather, but know I fall short a lot.

M: What are your three biggest weaknesses?

JE: Impatience. Fear. Lack of faith.

M: I asked for three. You only gave me one.

JE: (counting in his head) I’m pretty sure I listed three.

M: No, you did not. The first two are extensions of the third. Impatience shows a lack of belief an outcome will arrive. Fear is the result of thinking you’re unprotected. The kind of faith I know you and a lot of people wish to have stamps both those out. Even in the darkest hours of your lives, it gives you the glimmer of hope to keep going.
While we’re on the subject of faith, describe your relationship with the Father.

JE: I’ve felt abandoned. I’ve felt confused. I’ve felt certain. I’m very happy to say the connection is growing, though. I still feel disconnected sometimes, like I’m way off base or my mental radio is tuned to the wrong frequency and all I hear is static. I hate feeling distant from God, like I’m not making the right choices. I hate feeling uninspired, unworthy, unable and unhappy.
My work seems to be so far away anything good right now, which is frustrating. I think all of us can do many things well, be great at four or five and truly excellent at one. It seems to me that “one thing” is where ability and passion blur together. I really want to do that with the rest of my life. That thought inspires me. Why can’t I get a burning bush to direct me?

M: Inspiration works both ways. In reality, it’s defined by what you do with it. Think combining tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich is an accident? No, it’s inspiration applied for deliciousness. Sometimes the application is a couple of steps, sometimes it’s a couple thousand. It’s up to you to stick with it.

JE: Finding my purpose is up to me? That seems a bit counterintuitive. I figured it would be revealed to me.

M: Consider Matthew 7:7, “Seek and ye shall find.” The only way to find any answer is to really look for it. Sometimes that means going to the wrong places.

JE: Yet He talked to Moses through a shrubbery.

M: Mysterious ways are different now. It’s my opinion He’d be better off reaching your short attention spans with a text message. Alas, He still likes the old way.

JE: So you’re saying the Ten Commandments weren’t a product of one of your colleagues talking to Moses?

M: Of course they are, he wrote them down and shared them with his people, you know? Plato’s Republic came about when a friend of mine got him to scribble out his thoughts on the perfect government. The Sistine Chapel is the direct result of a near-constant conversation with Michaelangelo. Special relativity was whispered to Einstein.
Sometimes people listen with their ears when they’d be better off doing so with their heart.

JE: What about all those homeless people on street corners that say you’re telling them something?

M: They’re right. The message sometimes gets jumbled in their heads. He’s more concerned with those who are deliberately deaf and mistake that for Him being silent.

JE: That makes sense. I mean, I know He has something for me to do and has made a way for me to do it, even if I feel like I’m having trouble understanding what it is at the moment. Certainty and confusion is the uncomfortable paradox of faith.

M: That uncomfortable paradox is exactly what makes it faith.

Do You Believe In Miracles?

Courtesy Home-School-Coach.com

There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.
Albert Einstein

On the long road back to California from Christmas in my hometown, this quote from the German-born physicist grabbed hold of my brain and begged to be pondered.

I turned it over and over in my head, arriving at this conclusion:

The central question is whether you wish to believe there is purpose to life.

The first case is guided by a belief disconnected people smack against each other coincidentally, a haphazard sequence of actions leads to events large and small. Day-to-day choices — and, by extension, life as a whole — are basically irrelevant.

In short, we merely exist for a time and die with some joy sprinkled in to make the grind easier to bear.

Such an attitude quickly leads to disillusionment and detachment — nothing really matters, why be concerned with consequences? We wander around grumbling about circumstances without understanding our worth or the boundless possibilities of every day between birth and death.

Our time is a series of inconsequential actions crossing over with others’ inconsequential actions narrated by the voice(s) in our heads.

It is very challenging to have an adventure this way.

In the second philosophy, every moment is imbued with design. Individuals cross paths in a specific order and for designated reasons. Lives are knitted together such that we are eager to see what’s next.

Thus, the whole universe becomes a symphony.

Each instrument’s sound blends into a magnificent result under the direction of a spirited master conductor. Every note resonates perfectly as one concerto bleeds into the next.

A “fantastic coincidence,” has implicit direction from a loving God.  When a “chance meeting” works out for good, there is a tacit acknowledgment of purpose, an unconscious nod to something pulling things together – regardless of how much one works to suppress it.

No matter how hard the heart, a question always comes up:

Is it “good luck”?  Or is it “good God”?

The miraculous goes beyond our willingness to accept.

It occurs and we can only shake our heads.

Deep down, we know.

Even the worst experiences — those in which the strongest believer turns to the sky and asks, “How could You let this happen?” — have value when viewed with perspective.

Heartache becomes a blessing instead of a curse.

Isn’t that a miracle?

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Waves

Courtesy Sulekha.com

I love staring at the ocean.

Having grown up in the Midwest, the waves I’m accustomed to are more of the “amber” and “grain” variety.  Since the first time I set foot on a Brownsville, Texas beach in my late teens, I’ve been captivated by the powerful flow of trillions of gallons of salt water.  Even though I’ve gazed at the surf in places all over the United States and Caribbean at least a couple dozen times, I’m still just as amazed and soothed by the sight of it now as I was then.

It mirrors the way God moves in our lives.

Sailors and surfers know the strength of the tide is “out there,” far off shore. What we feel washing across our ankles with a tranquil swish is a fraction of the energy created – a pale shadow of the unbalancing force generated. Occasionally, a stray wave reminds us of the magnificent power we are surrounded by, but in general what we experience hardly knock us off our feet.

We adapt to the gentle current and quickly lose track of where we’re standing.

There, with the water rushing over our toes, we easily forget we are in the midst of something far larger than we are — planted firmly on its fringe and unable to quantify its mightiness. The miraculous, the tremendous work of pulling together all of creation into a synchronous story, is done by Him “out there.” On the shores of this life, we fail to remember billions and billions of things are gathered together for what we perceive as the observable results of just one day.

God bends space and time to get us in the exact place to receive what we need when we need it.

Trusting Him is counterintuitive. The vast majority of His work cannot be seen. It’s challenging to even sense, as we focus so much on what is tangible and measurable.  Sometimes we acknowledge He is on the task of building something that will wash up at our feet, yet ignore the fact the sheer grandeur of His design would boggle our tiny minds.

Pacing anxiously, we check our watches and cross our arms in frustration.

We walk along like spoiled children, kicking the sand and utterly oblivious to the possibility He did anything simply because it falls short of the huge movement we consider appropriate. Wrapped up in our desires and our timetables, we’re exposed for the petulant, selfish, unappreciative creatures we are.

Miracle of miracles, He loves us and keeps exerting Himself “out there” anyway.

Breathe.

Have some patience.

The tide is coming in.

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Shibboleth

Courtesy of ClusterFlock.org

Words are my passion.

My days are spent in the quiet pursuit of concise, elegant phrases to paint clear verbal pictures. This is a process designed to illuminate the images on my internal movie screen for the outside world with perfect clarity – a goal achieved far less than I would like, it seems.

For me, a sentence is a brush stroke.

I carefully place every syllable.

I am precise with each comma and hyphen.

Further, I do my best to match my speech to my actions.

Aligning the two concerned me less during my youth than it does now. I’ve been uncomfortable around people I thought were “better than me” and made the mistake of puffing myself up for others. In my late teens, I decided to avoid compromising when it came to one subject: spirituality.

For the most part, I kept the topic in a silent room in a private corner of my mind. I did my best to shut my mouth when it came up, lest a disingenuous statement spill from my mouth.

I agonize over what small sentences reflect, why would I be haphazard when it comes to faith?

Growing up, the ritual nature of religion squeezed the meaning out of everything wonderful about the message of Jesus Christ and the love of the Father. Through my eyes, “following” seemed geared more towards achieving pre-planned steps  in a systematic fashion laid out and agreed upon by a congregation. What I felt most important of all, the personal quest for understanding, appeared to be stripped away in favor of a routine.

One of my deepest desires is to keep from doing something because I’m “supposed to” or saying whatever I “should.” These are offenses of the highest order, violations against myself and my principles. I would rather do nothing than perform a bunch of empty gestures simply to prove I know the secret handshake.

I strive to choose those words which give proper weight to every situation instead of gaining acceptance by uttering the appropriate shibboleth at the right time.

In my mind, to say something half-hearted is far worse than being silent.

When discussing my walk with God, I choose to speak only what I can safely put my soul behind.

Therefore, I do my best to follow my heart and go where it leads.

Sometimes that means I have to shut up. Others, that I have something to declare.

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