Let my people grow

One of the first things you notice at Walt Disney World is the preponderance of “Mickey-shaped” items.  From pencil tops to fireworks, everything seems to consist of two small circles sitting atop a larger circle.  Sometimes, as with shrubbery, the shape is forced upon the item; those in charge simply alter it until it achieves the proper proportions.  Sometimes, as with ice cream, the item is formed inside a mold.  The latter of these can get downright creepy at times.  Forcing a pumpkin to grow in a “Mickey” shape by placing it in a mold in its infancy is … weird.  The desired effect is achieved, yes.  But at some point a living organism has to be allowed to grow in its own direction.  I don’t know.  Maybe I’ve just seen one too many Mickeys over the last seven years.

Anyway, striking a balance between fostering growth and channeling that growth has been a bit of an obsession with me over the last 23 years. 

 

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The Seven Blunders of the World

On March 20, 1925, an Anglican priest named Frederick Lewis Donaldson preached a sermon centering around what he called the “7 Deadly Social Evils.”  Through the help of what he called a “fair friend,” Mohandas Gandhi had the opportunity to reprint the list in his weekly newspaper.  A few weeks before the Mahatma’s assassination, he gave a handwritten copy of the list to his grandson, Arun Gandhi.  It was Arun Gandhi that brought the list to the world, publishing it after his grandfather’s death under the heading “Seven Blunders of the World.”

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Fellowship

Galatians 6:6 reads, “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him.”  Most of my life I have heard brethren try to cram money into the “good things” category — a questionable association at best, if you ask me.  The better application, and the one more consistent with the letter as a whole, is that we share a bond of fellowship with our teachers.  We owe it to them to display, in words and actions impossible to misunderstand, the debt of gratitude we owe them for ministering to our spirits.

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The curated life

The curator of a museum is responsible for the content of the museum’s displays.  They acquire permanent additions, they arrange for temporary exhibits, they generally set it up so that the museum receives the maximum possible amount of positive attention.  “That place is amazing!” would-be attendees say to one another.  “We absolutely have to go there!”

The plumbing problems, the mounting debt, the personality flaws of the artists — those are not to be put on display.  These negative traits of the museum are every bit as real, perhaps even more so, than the positive ones.  But they stay hidden from the public if the curator has anything to say about it.

Social media has been described as a way of “curating” our lives.  We put on display only those aspects that we wish to show.  Generally that means all good news, all the time — pictures of our dinner, or of the family at the amusement park.  That sort of thing.  “My life is great!  Don’t you wish you were me?” is the general idea.  Or perhaps a bit of wisdom or humor we tracked down on the internet — which, presumably, prove that we ourselves are wise or humorous.  Occasionally we may post a vague request for emotional support — “Can’t get into it now, but I need your prayers,” “Feeling especially glum today,” “New shoes, what do you think?”, etc.  But let’s be honest; those tend very strongly to be more in the “begging for compliments” category and less in the “I am weak and I need help” category; after all, if we really needed help, we would actually talk about our problems.

Actually, “talk about our problems” is another example of the same phenomenon.  Sometimes we can’t seem to talk about anything else.  But I would venture to say, in at least 90 percent of these cases the “problems” in question are not our fault; they are topics of conversation mostly to generate pity or place blame.  It’s the same principle, really — allowing people to see the part of our lives that we are willing to expose — and absolutely nothing else.

But that is not how we build relationships.  That is how we build walls.

The Bible tells Christians, “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another” (James 5:16).  The prayers of righteous brethren “can accomplish much,” as the text goes on to read, because we have created real and lasting bonds.  They know our weaknesses, so they can minister to us in our weaknesses.  Hiding our weaknesses may make us feel secure in the short term, but what they really do is prohibit our spiritual family from doing its job — and hindering our own ability to grow and mature.

The curated life is all about appearances.  We want to act like everything is wonderful — especially when it isn’t.  The vulnerable life is all about realities.  We are in constant need of assistance, and we want to make ourselves available to the ones most willing and able to offer it.

That is not to say you should take to Facebook and begin confessing every character flaw in front of the whole world.  But perhaps privately admitting our frailties and weaknesses to a trusted brother or sister in Christ would not be the worst idea in the world. 

 

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Puzzle

A preaching mentor of mine recently compared the church to a jigsaw puzzle and its members to individual pieces — indented to receive other pieces, and protruding to be received by others.  As big a fan of puzzles, the church, and good gospel preaching, you would think I would have made better use of that word picture over the years.  Well, let me spend 300 words fixing that error of omission.

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Lean into stress

Run toward your fears.  That’s some billboard-variety advice I get while driving past the local university.  And as we all know, multicolored roadside signs are the most reliable source of life advice these days.

Lean into it.  That’s how the same basic sentiment was expressed in an article I read recently.  Except this wasn’t written by a nameless, faceless intern.  This was from an expert in the field of stress management who woke up one day struggling mightily to manage his own stress.

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The wise way to eat a marmot

A couple in Mongolia recently ate raw marmot meat, which is apparently a thing in Mongolia.  It is believed to be a health boost by the locals.  (A marmot is a rodent, sort of like a woodchuck or large squirrel.  I prefer them braised or fricasseed, but that’s just me.)  The couple contracted bubonic plague and died — which I think we can all agree is pretty much the opposite of “a health boost.”

The resulting quarantine held up the lives of 118 locals and tourists for six days.  The danger appears to be over now, so our family vacation to Mongolia is back on.  Get back to packing, girls.

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Perspective

From a distance, my lawn looks great.  Up close, my lawn looks terrible.  Both perspectives are unfair, I think.  It is self-serving and lazy to imagine that a quick glance from the street is how best to measure the quality of my work.  It is self-defeating and depressing to hover over each blade of grass (or weed, or dead spot) and wonder what I did so horribly wrong as to bring on this tragedy.

Perspective makes all the difference.  You’re either a hero or a goat, a genius or an idiot.  Both perspectives are true, and both are lies.

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Preserving the ancient boundary

A landmark, the only one left of its kind, stands upright and proud near the town of Deadwood, Texas, on what is now the Texas-Louisiana border.  It is all that remains of what was once the boundary between the United States of America and the Republic of Texas.

        It stands, more than 150 years after it was erected, for three reasons: it is made of solid granite; it reaches six feet beneath ground level; and it has been deliberately preserved by people who value their heritage.

 Consider this.  Then ask yourselves, “How important is my heritage of faith?”

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Flossing

I hope Dr. Naumann, my childhood dentist, is reading this somewhere.  For the first time … ever, probably, I purchased dental floss.  And I am actually using it.  On my teeth.  I’m not consistent, but I do it.  In fact, I have fibers of mango wedged between my lower incisors right now, and I can’t wait to get home and dig for them.

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Horse

The great Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”  That concept is difficult for us to understand in a world that has never not known automobiles.  But we read about a world (there may even be a few souls left who remember one) in which the quality of your horse or horses determined the quality of your journey.  Knowing a better way now, it seems silly to yearn for yesteryear.

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Niksen: The art of doing your best work by doing nothing at all

Doing something is not always the right choice.  Sometimes it is better to do nothing.  Nothing at all.  It’s a concept the Dutch call niksen.  It encourages people to deliberately take time every day — especially the busiest days — to sit motionless, gaze out a window at nothing in particular, whatever it takes to disengage your mind and body.

American workers, always with the go-go-go mentality, tend to view this approach with disdain.  It’s lazy.  It’s wasteful.  The only proper way to work is full throttle, full time.  On a related note, American workers suffer greatly from depression, stress, high blood pressure, and divorce.  A connection, perhaps?

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Rain: an opportunity, not an excuse

More from The Corporate Coach.  (It’s amazing what you learn when you read books instead of watching TV.  Just saying.)  James Miller actually encourages his sales people to not only go on late afternoon sales calls (traditionally labeled “waste of time” by management), but to pray for rain.  He says that when total strangers on your doorstep, soaking wet, looking for someone to talk to about their product, the strangers frequently get warm receptions, hot coffee, and big deals.

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Light bulb moment: Why my enemies hate me so much

Last week a video emerged from 2015 (the internet is forever — remember that, kids, the next time you Instagram a photo of yourself in a state and location you might regret later) of former Vice President Joe Biden commenting on his relationship with former Vice President Dick Cheney.  He called him a “decent man.”  “I actually like Dick Cheney, for real,” he said.  “I get on with him.”  Cheney, of course, has borne the brunt of the wrath of the opposition (and a fair portion of his own base) for the war in Iraq that his boss perpetrated.

I don’t care what you think about Biden, Cheney, Iraq, or any other particular element of this conversation.  I share this story merely to tell you about the light bulb that went off in my head upon reading some of the vitriol spewed forth against Mr. Biden from some of the people who, until five minutes ago, may have been looking at his 2020 presidential candidacy with an eye toward supporting it.

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