Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Death of Integrity

I don't want to hear about it anymore. It's a dead topic, dead to me, gone, obliterated, covered in sackcloth and ashes, shamed, defamed, besmirched,soiled, sullied, trampled underfoot and left for - who cares for what? It's dead already, never really existing in the natural world, as far as we can tell with electron microscopes, spy satellites, and the entire, vasty science armada who tracked down the super-secret Higgs Boson particle.

I'm referring, of course, to the long, slow - bullet-time, really - super, super slow-mo - fall from grace of college football's own Mother Theresa look-alike , Joe Paterno. Joe Pa, as he was affectionately referred to by legions of Penn State students as well as players, current and former.

The death knell is sounded by a forensic whiz, a guy with credentials of his own, former federal judge, former director of the FBI, Louis J Freeh who looked it over, looked it over for seven months - they talked to everybody, over 400 interviews according to the New York Times, and tons of email and other documents - and Louis says that the top guns at Penn State, Joe Pa included, were more into protecting the status quo than they were into protecting children. Poof! There goes a legacy. There goes the whole enchilada.

This kind of thing happens all the time. It just doesn't happen to hallowed old men, for pity's sake, practically sainted old men, enjoying near universal adoration. This is different than simply powerful old men, this is old men lauded for being different, different in outlook, different in motivation, made of special stuff, sprinkled with the extra-special pixie dust, men, we love to say, of integrity. You can hear the holy hush bracketing that word when uttered, the angel choir sighs out a long breath in perfect harmony, and eyelids snap more open by a couple of millimeters. Hey, you've got our attention. Here comes a prince among men - nay! - grander than that. He's like an emperor.

And guess what? The emperor is buck naked.

If you're an institution - and that's a loaded word, meaning either an organization held to a higher standard, or an individual perceived just as trustworthy because of decades of perceived flawless, selfless service - if you're an institution, at some point you get more interested in preserving the institution than in doing the stuff that is the reason for the institution's existence.

What's the upside of this debacle?

Maybe it calls on us to quit trying shotgun coronations, kangaroo parliamentary promotions designed to win arguments and corral vast sums of loot or prestige or maybe just say-so. Maybe we'll quit trying to wield that kind of club, because it turns out that the sorry thing is hollow, rotten to the core - more useful as a threat than an actual stick to hit someone with. And now it's not that great a threat, either.

"Oh, really? Your guy's got integrity? ... Isn't that what Joe Pa had?"

Maybe we could start to cooperate instead of coerce. Maybe we could start to collaborate instead of compete. Maybe we could learn to discuss instead of attack.

I know that's not very likely. But less likely is the man of great integrity. It's now officially dead.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Mike Breen's New Book

Mike Breen's new book, Multiplying Missional Leaders, makes the case that most churches don't have leaders at all, they have managers: people carrying out the vision of the top leadership. Under this pov, leaders are people that receive their own vision from the Lord, that they are uniquely tuned to receive, and they go about implementing it.

So under this scenario, to use a musical metaphor, leaders use original material and managers only do covers - other peoples' material. It's more nuanced than that: successful recording artists do occasionally cover other artists' songs, and your local cover band will sometimes do originals.

Maybe the work place example of the self-starter will be more helpful.

What's the big deal about a self-starter? Once she knows what the big picture goals of the group are, she naturally begins doing things that need doing, things that directly contribute to the fulfillment of those goals. You don't have to give her her every single task in order to get her to contribute to the success of the group.

This does not, and should not, mean that self-starters can't work effectively on assigned tasks. Our ideal person is versatile: he can work for others, with others, independently of others, and lead others.

This is what I believe Breen is talking about.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Mercy Triumphs

Mercy triumphs over justice, justice being equivalent to logic, all tied into a grace extended, turning an instant decision, that I should obey instantly but can't, into the process that eventually transforms me and delivers me beyond the wretched-man place and into the man-God-intended space, apparently molecule by molecule. Sufficient grace for the insufficient me. Not a pat answer, but an actual encounter, no off-the-rack provision, but a tailored response, designed and executed to work with, and in spite of, my Quasimodo uniqueness, that which can't be mentioned, now beginning to be healed in this, his ministry of reconciliation. O happy day!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Is Finding Your Role an Excuse?

I think it highly likely that many of us don't know our true role in the kingdom. It appears to me that we're somehow in process on this, and not in any long-term, set format just yet. I mean, come on, it's too convenient, way too convenient, to have this thing waiting there in the wings so that you can simply say, "That's not my role" when things get uncomfortable.

That's like me saying, "Avoid chips and dips? That's not my role!" anytime the nachos come rolling around.

How's it any different from "that's not my gift?"

It's really easy for your conception of "your role" to be exactly the same thing as "your comfort zone."

I think about the King's X song "We Are Finding Who We Are." That's a much better way of putting it.

What about finding our persons of peace? We have to get out there and engage with some people, and see who responds in an open and friendly manner. We don't need to pick and choose who we're going to engage with, just get started and keep going until someone proves himself a person of peace.

A person I think well of said something that I found troubling. He talked about living in his world, and what it consisted of. No doubt, he thinks of it as rich and varied. I'm sure that it is. Then he talked about a hypothetical person he might come into contact with. "All this guy wants is to get off work, get a couple of beers, and go fishing. We don't live in the same world. I would have to pretend to be something I'm not to interact with this guy."

I was surprised at what I heard. This was hate in action, and my friend was completely unaware of the problem. He saw his life as rich and varied. He saw the other guy's life as containing only two elements. How accurate do you think that really is? I don't think he even saw it as being all that accurate, but only as sufficient justification to cross that guy off his list as a potential person of peace. But a simple hello could lead to several common elements. Maybe they like the same baseball team. Maybe they like a couple of the same shows. Maybe they have some common acquaintances, or they both like to play "Gardens of Time" on Facebook. Maybe they both had a really tough football coach that they wound up being really close to.

Endless possibilities, but shut off, denied purchase in the here and now because "knowing my role" was a convenient excuse. It becomes a repackaged caste system where I don't have to talk to someone if I can make a case for pigeon-holing them.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Doug Pagitt's Evangelism in the Inventive Age

I like Doug Pagitt. My wife and I met him on the North Little Rock stop of his book tour for A Christianity Worth Believing. He was working his way through the room, chatting and laughing, shaking hands. He made his way over to us and visited for a couple of minutes before moving on again. A friendly, likable guy.

So now we come to his new book, Evangelism in the Inventive Age, the latest in his “Inventive Age” series, and I’m predisposed to like it, too. Doug posted a message on his blog about giving away pre-release .pdf copies of the book if some people would be willing to blog about it, and I jumped in with both feet.

Does your evangelizing seek to bring people into conformity or help them achieve transformation? This is one of the first issues tackled in section one, and I think it’s a good question, highlighting a common problem we run into: people often reject our evangelism efforts because they sense we’re trying to control them, that we want them to conform to our way of life.

Doug goes on to point out the effectiveness inherent in each approach. Think weight loss. If you go on a crash diet, you might lose weight and hit your target. After the diet’s over, however, your weight creeps back up and you find yourself back in the same boat or worse. If instead, you transform the way you eat, picking new, healthier patterns and habits, you might lose weight at a slower rate, but the change is more likely to be permanent.

“Conformity is temporary,” Doug says, and then goes on to deal with how to engage in transformative evangelism instead. It involves the word resonance. You hear people say “Oh, that resonates with me. I’m really in tune with that,” all the time, and Doug makes good use of it here, so the stage is set.

Next up, sections two and three, where Doug gets more into just what this “Inventive Age” is all about.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Quick Look at Psalm 131

Ps 131   My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore.

Man, I love this psalm. It’s a huge confession, this gateway to humility, this doorway to peace in the midst of turbulence. When I can’t figure something out, this is where I go. When I’m so confused, or overwhelmed, or disgusted by life’s circumstances or the mystery of other people, when I need to just shrug my shoulders and get on with things, this is what I do.

First, a little self-examination. Is my heart proud? Do I think I’m self-sufficient? Is this circumstance within my comfort zone and therefore a potential area of pride? I have to remind myself at times that I don’t want to have a proud heart; I don’t want to go down that pathway, because it can easily lead me into haughtiness.

Haughtiness is being a jerk, thinking I’m better than others. It’s dehumanizing to those around me, too. If I don’t want to be proud, it’s because I sure don’t want to be haughty.

Then comes the letting go, the turning away. This is like getting rid of that bad to-do list that you had no hope of finishing, or giving up the idea of fixing that thing that was way too broke for you to fix anyway. This is great stuff, and the more reluctant you’ve been to give this whatever up, the greater the relief when you do reach this state of grace, this opening of your hand. You can’t fake this; it’s an act of balance, coming right out of the inside of the experience. You’re either stepping free of something that had you bound, or it doesn’t really happen.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Quick Look at Ps 113:5-6

Ps 113:5-6 Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?

I love this quality of the Lord’s to stoop. This action, stooping to us, is usually offensive from a human, but for the Creator of the universe to take notice of what’s going on in our personal little pocket-world is simply fantastic. We get ignored by plain, silly humans all the time. But our God doesn’t ignore us.

And He doesn’t just turn His eye our way, either. That would be sufficient, what with His super x-ray vision. I mean, He could know anything about our condition with the tiniest glance. Well, heck, He wouldn’t even need the glance. He just knows. But He’s so cool; He stoops over to get down on our level, to check us out. He really, really loves us.