Tuesday, August 20, 2019

What I Didn't Know I Needed to Know

Like many others, I wasn't able to escape the craze surrounding Hamilton: An American Musical that has swept America in the last few years. Whether it's the shock and novelty of rap in a major musical, the celebration of an unsung American hero, the brilliant character development, or the themes that keep recurring in unexpected places, it seems to be finding its way into American hearts on a host of levels.

And even though I can't resist getting into a good hip-hop song, I think my favorite thing about Hamilton is the way you're invited to empathize with so many different characters. You can relate to the heroes and the villains. In fact, some might say there aren't really clear heroes or villains. There are just humans ... all of whom made some poor choices and some heroic choices. History tends to flatten these individuals as good or bad, and Hamilton brings those characters back to life and gives them dimension. Makes them all relatable. Makes you ask if you might have made the same choices in the same circumstances ... makes you question things you thought you knew about yourself.

This is really what I appreciate about any good musical, when I give myself the chance. What do I not know about the world, or myself, that I can discover by seeing through this or that character's eyes?

I've observed recently that the opportunity exists to use movies and music in the same way—to invite them to expose me to different perspectives—but I typically don't. I typically listen to music that celebrates the things I already think and feel. I typically like movies that celebrate the kind of stories I already value or paint the world in a way I already see it.

And I've realized I don't like that about myself. I am missing the chance to see the world through the eyes of the artist or director—and in doing so, to learn and to grow. To bump into ideas and experiences and perspectives I wasn't aware of. To learn things I didn't know I needed to know.

I say I don't like to spend time around ideas and people that reinforce what I already think, but I don't always act on that. Sometimes it might be that I don't know where or how to look for those artistic expressions outside the circles I already walk in. But I appreciate contemporary art in all its forms as something that can break through my current viewpoints and stretch me farther.

And I'd like to do that more—I'd like to invite more art into my life with the purpose of letting it show me things I didn't know I needed to understand.

Do you use art to expand your mind? Or to reinforce what you already think? Or do you invite art into your life for a totally different purpose?

Written by Megan Panarusky

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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

"Take a Chance on Me!"

A friend of mine who is in the job market just shared a bit of frustration with me: almost every position that is advertised, he said, is requiring 3-5 years of experience. My friend looked me in the eye and asked, point blank with a bit of despair, "How am I supposed to get any experience if I can't get hired in the first place?"

A good question.

My friend's experience brought back my own memories of job hunting over the years. I had faced the same problem. Thankfully, at various times, people took a chance on me, and I was able to get that precious on-the-job experience.

Requiring 3-5 years of experience seems like those who are hiring are really looking for candidates who won't require a lot of handholding, on-the-job training, or a significant amount of oversight. In other words, it sounds like the those who are in leadership—the ones to whom the employee would directly report—are aiming for some level of certainty and control. After all, were they to hire someone who couldn't hack it, their own position might be threatened due to a failure of leadership.

But what if leadership of the best sort is just the kind that leaves a lot of space for failure? What if leadership means leaders take on a significant amount of responsibility for raising up those around them to meet the demands of the job? What if "a job well done" in this context is the job that is accomplished collaboratively, by people who are relying on each other because they form a network of gifts, talents, and skills that are shared among everyone, even if everyone does not possess the same ones as all the others?

Leadership in this sense would be a kind of weak leadership. The leader, whoever that person is, would know what needs to get done and what it takes to do it. He or she would know they are incapable of doing the job alone. Perhaps this leader could only do just a facet of the necessary tasks to complete the job. That makes him or her vulnerable, putting them in need of others. It seems to me that this would prompt a different approach to leadership—something like leading weakly.

Leading weakly is just a name for what I think good leaders really do. Good leaders know their weaknesses, deficiencies, gaps in their learning, understanding, and abilities. They also know that they need others to make up for these things. Furthermore, as leaders, they know the abilities that others have, and they encourage, promote, upbuild, and direct those they lead so that, as a network or team, whatever challenge is set before them can be accomplished.

I'm struck here by a unique story about Jesus. He was a leader of a band of disciples. He knew full well that what the future held for Him, so He commissioned those disciples to carry on His work. But the striking thing is that He commissioned a bunch of inexperienced, untrained, feeble, and mistake-prone humans to do something that it seems like only a God could do. Interestingly enough, however, He did it without worry or concern. He was not some kind of micro-manager who interfered at every level of the process to be sure things got done His way. Rather, He was really quite hands-off.

I'm reminded in this sense of a quote my wife likes to use, the origins of which I'm unaware: "God does not call the qualified; He qualifies the called." It strikes me that this perspective offers a leadership principle that pictures leadership from a weak, rather than strong and confident, perspective.

What if, as we find ourselves in positions of leadership, we reflectively spend time knowing our weaknesses and our needs, hiring those who have the potential to supplement our deficiencies, and build teams that are made up of people who have complementary gifts, skills, and talents? Then we could spend our time as leaders supporting them, investing in them, caring more about their success than our own, and working together with all of them to achieve mutually beneficial goals.

I'm astonished when I'm reminded of it, but it seems as if this is exactly what Jesus did. If you believe He's Lord of the universe and Creator of all things, well then, He doesn't need any help getting His mission accomplished. Yet He chose to involve others, none of whom had 3-5 years of experience. And they changed the world.

Can we learn something from His approach?

Written by Chad Lakies

What's been your experience with leaders and management over the years? Were there any standouts for you—men or women who proved fully capable and yet were interested in seeing you grow as an employee?

On the flip side, have you had people over you that left you scratching your head, wondering how in the world they got to that position?

You can let us know what you think by clicking here and leaving a comment.

You can let the folks at THRED know what you think by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

If I Identify as a Christian, Does It Have to Be 'All or Nothing'?

Some people associate an "all-or-nothing ultimatum" with identifying as a Christian: "You believe the entirety of the Bible and take it as fact, or none of it. There isn't room to pick and choose."

This is a big challenge for people who—by contrast—identify as Christian, but take more of a middle-ground approach on many of the issues the Bible raises.

On one hand, I get it. Religion isn't Chipotle: you don't get to customize your order and get something completely different than the patron behind you ... or do you?

Like most children who grew up attending church, I took all of what I was taught as fact. The stories of apples, snakes, arks, and crowns of thorns swam around in my thoughts. As I closed my eyes each night, I drew comfort from these stories.

As I got older, I was faced with contradictions between what I had come to believe and what I was experiencing. I began to doubt. In all honesty, this doubt brought along with it an enormous amount of guilt.

The first time my faith came into question was during a 6th-grade mythology lesson. As a society, the ancient Greeks had created gods to help make sense of the unknown. These gods were blamed for misfortune or worshiped for blessings. The idea of creating tales to help cope with unexplained events brought comfort into a situation that was previously frightening.

The concept of stories explaining the unknown was a part of my own faith background, too.

The second time I examined my identity as a Christian was near the end of college. I attended a church that was a different denomination than the one I grew up attending. They still used a Bible though. So how different could it be? I left in shock about not only how differently the sermon was approached, but how the meaning in the words had changed for me.

It became apparent that the Bible was being interpreted in a number of ways to fit a purpose, or even a specific agenda.

As a consequence of this experience, I found it difficult to see the Bible as factual. My opinion was a fact is not interpretable. You shouldn't be able to read the same passage and draw individualized conclusions from it.

Overwhelmingly, I had the urge to find fault in all of it.

As the years have passed, I still find comfort in the faith I had as a child. I have allowed myself to accept the Bible for what I believe it is: a wonderful guide for life, yet still subjective to the reader.

After openly talking with others, I have found I'm not alone. People might not use the phrasing "pick and choose," but they have found other ways to meet in the middle when it comes to the Bible and its rich selection of narrative.

I have found my own way to believe. I personally don't need the approval of other religions or institutions; I need only the approval of God. I will find what I think is good, and in the good, there will be God or whatever he/she may be called.

I think a middle ground can exist. It just takes people realizing their own way can't always be 100 percent right. Finding faults in other people and their interpretations is easy, but taking the time to understand each other's thoughts and ideas—and recognizing that just because they're different doesn't necessarily mean one of us is wrong—would leave us all much better off in the end.

Written by Alisha Wittstruck

Interesting. What's your take on the Bible and inerrancy and literal and figurative meanings and how we read it and what it means to believe in it?

You can let us know what you think about this by clicking here and leaving a comment.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

When Your Parenting is Put to the Test

In a few weeks, my son will be on his way to college. At such a time, lots of parents take stock. (Just Google "tips for parents of college students," or look for online essays on the topic).

I'm a bundle of nerves, sublimating my anxiety by buying sheet sets and collecting boxes for the car ride, one which will result in driving home without the boy who, now almost a man, was the second-grade "new kid on the block," the diligent Eagle Scout, and the senior high school student playing Macduff in "Macbeth."

As parents, we tend to second-guess ourselves a lot along the way to such transitional times. Did we give our kids the tools they need to succeed in work, in relationships, in the challenges they will inevitably encounter? What about the times we waved the white flag when we should have stood firm, or didn't give in and perhaps should have?

Whether you are a stay-at-home parent or have a career outside of it, you are likely to have the same question: Did I help my son or daughter navigate the rocky path to adulthood as best I could?

At such times, you might also remember how many other people and places have influenced-and will continue to influence-your child. There's the English course in junior high where he was introduced to a famous British poet for the first time, one he can't wait to study in college. There's the music class where she learned to play the trumpet: she's already signed up for marching band next summer.

Then there's the music he plays when he's hanging with his friends-and the door is closed. And let's not forget the friend who's grappling with drug addiction, the Cub Scout trip to the mountains, the Saturdays volunteering at the hospital, and the mission trip to Guatemala.

There are so many threads that weave the fabric of a person's life. As parents, ours is only one of them, though certainly one of the most important.

Your voice and influence won't cease to matter when they show up at their freshman orientation week. But they will be put to the test as perhaps never before. And in that way, the example you set may, ironically enough, be very important. Are you a person of your word? Are you generous-with praise, with money, with moral and psychological support? Are you a good friend?

Part of the fun (or so I'm trying to tell myself) of being the parent of a college student is watching what happens when you become the backbeat of your child's life, instead of the melody. I feel as though I'm cramming for a very important test ... and I'm not sure how I'll do.

Ask me in a year. I'll let you know how it goes.

Written by Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans

A kid going off to college can be traumatic—for both the kid and the parents. If this has been an episode in your life, how did you handle it?

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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Gratitude—The Big and Small of It

Many of us, myself included, use the words "thank you" as carelessly as "excuse me" or "gesundheit." We tend to throw around "thanks" without necessarily giving it a thought. We say it at the Starbucks drive-thru, after opening a present, or when someone holds the door for us. But I want to talk about gratitude, and I'm not entirely sure that thanks and gratitude are as synonymous as we might think.

To be fair, I try (at least some of the time) to be genuine and sincere when expressing thanks—even in the most trivial of circumstances. I'll sometimes see people do a double-take when I do express genuine thanks. Sometimes the thank-yous that seem trivial to me, may not be to someone else.

Less ubiquitous than thanks, and assuredly far less automated, is gratitude. I think gratitude has both a macro and a micro aspect to it. My genuine gratitude towards someone could be macro to them, even though it seems micro to me.

In my estimation, micro gratitude is more closely related to the expression of thanks, but without the same impetus. For example, at this moment I'm very grateful to be on a plane pointed towards home and to my daughters who I haven't seen in a week. The sensation of gratitude and its expression are very specific and intentional. (Even more so because I almost missed my flight.) I miss my girls. This plane is getting me back to them, and therefore I'm grateful on a number of levels. The micro aspect of gratitude is also the one I'm more frequently aware of primarily because many little things happen every day for which I should be grateful.

The macro side of gratitude is a bit more nebulous (which is probably one reason we are less frequently aware of it). Still on the topic of my girls—I'm grateful for them beyond words. But I'm not always mindful of that fact, especially on no-nap days when I long for the peace of early bedtimes.

Today, for example, has been quite frustrating, with airport shenanigans, delays, and a higher-than-normal amount of bureaucratic inefficiency. All of those things combined played into my earlier expression of thanks that I'm at least now headed in the right direction. As I arrived at my gate (the second one, which required two rounds of airport security) and my ire was rising, I met a woman who had been through that same security as well as four terminal changes to be on my flight. Her cheerful expression of relief at finding the right gate finally completely shamed my experience and returned my sense of perspective.

It's a question of perspective, and true gratitude is a game-changer in that regard.

I believe it is impossible to be grateful and anxious at the same time. True gratitude tends to quickly dampen anger. If I'm being honest, and really spending some time focusing on the macro side of gratitude, things that often give me tunnel-vision (see also: stress) usually diminish in importance.

The great part about both the macro and micro sides of this is that when they're combined, they usually give me ample opportunity to realign that perspective. I can be grateful I made my flight with just one terminal change (micro), I can be grateful for my kids in general (macro), and I can also be grateful for the reason for the flight at all, which was celebrating my fifteenth wedding anniversary. I'd call that a check in both macro and micro columns.

The magnitude of those things makes my somewhat ridiculous morning gallivanting around the San Francisco airport seem quite unimportant in comparison.

Gratitude is certainly more prominent when there is an upcoming national holiday dedicated to it, as well as another one focused on gifts and giving, which also generates thankfulness (or not) for those gifts. However, during this busy season, I often find myself contemplating the nature of gratitude all year long in everyday life, rather than simply in conjunction with a holiday or even a season.

How often do I really focus on expressing gratitude—not just an automated response to a barista, a delivery guy, or the customer service rep who fielded my call—on a person who did something that merited thanks, however small. If I'm being honest, I don't do this as often as I should. I know folks who begin and/or end their days making a list of things they're grateful for, and I believe they are happier because of it.

Likewise, how often do I try and take in the view of gratitude for the large-scale things present in my life that make it what it is? Again, the answer is far less often than I should. How is it that the people I know with the most difficult situations are sometimes the most grateful for what they have? Is it privilege that makes me ungrateful?

I'll conclude by saying that I am very grateful for the opportunity to put thoughts out into the ether on this forum. If my words cause even one person to pause and consider something more deeply or in a different way, I'm grateful.

Written by Aaron Roose

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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

What if I'm Wrong?

During the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-1989), a group of U.S. special forces—operating undercover—were captured by Soviet special forces. On searching the U.S. soldiers, the Soviets found large amounts of U.S. dollars—funds designated for their covert mission. It was a ton of cash.

The Soviets were baffled to realize the U.S. soldiers were carrying out their mission willingly. Why would you be fighting in such a harsh, unforgiving place, when you could take all that cash and get out of there?

It was a turning point among the war-hardened team of men from the Soviet special forces. Their passports were held by their government while they were fighting in Afghanistan. They fought because they were under orders. Yet here was a bunch of guys who fought not only because they were soldiers, but because they personally believed in the ideals of their country.

This is a true story. I know one of the Soviet soldiers who was there. It changed his life and the lives of his men.

It got me thinking—what if someone told me everything I've learned about life was wrong? That my understanding of right and wrong is haywire, and what I thought was gold is essentially worthless. That my perception of reality comes from a systematic program of brainwashing.

Now imagine if you're the person that has to break this news to someone. What do you say?

"You're an idiot. You're like this because you're a product of a narrow-minded sheltered life. You have an evolutionary genetic fault that causes you to be pre-deposed to this idiocy."

Sadly, on social media these days, this approach seems to be the norm. There are plenty of folks trying to change someone else's long-held mindset (or maybe protecting their own) by bullying them online. This is especially true in the areas of politics and religion. We've entered an era of verbal warfare, thinking that words don't really inflict injury. But they do. They have led to a greater divide in this country.

An idea: what if we learned to use a posture and tone of dialogue online, instead of debate?

Some might say, "I'm absolutely certain about what I believe, so why would I need to dialogue? I just need to debate and convert people to my way of thinking." I'm not advocating for arbitration—though there's definitely a need for that on some social issues. What I'm suggesting is that we can get better at agreeing-to-disagree if we have a posture and tone of dialogue instead of debate.

Why is debate our default position? Why is it that we struggle to listen to other points of view?

In my opinion, it's because we've developed a calloused layer of pride in our culture. If someone attacks our left- or right-leaning political position, or our Christian or atheist beliefs, we don't start by assuming it's possible we could be wrong. We don't start by assuming someone else's point of view might have value. We start with, "How can they be so stupid?"

Our culture has instilled a sense of "me first." We have been taught to fight for our rights. We have been instructed to stand on our own two feet. God forbid you should attack my beliefs; I'll come out fighting.

I'm not suggesting we need to let go of our strongly held, time-tested beliefs. I'd be a liar if I said I didn't want everyone to adopt my worldview, and I'm quite happy to debate it with you. But maybe if we started conversations with a tone and posture of dialogue, instead of debate, we might actually learn something from each other instead of engaging in verbal warfare.

In the Bible, there's story about some religious orthodox Jews who brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in an affair. According to their law, she needed to be stoned. Jesus doesn't disagree with them, but essentially says "go ahead, just make sure the first person that throws a stone at this woman doesn't have anything sinful in their life." They all walked away without throwing a stone.

It always seems to be the people that have an egocentric approach to life—whether it's politics or religion—that are demanding a public stoning. Something needs to change.

That's why we started THRED. Yes, we're a Christian organization and have strongly held beliefs about life and faith. But we see the need to replace debate with dialogue. We may not agree on whether there's a God, but maybe we can work together for justice in our communities. We may not agree on how the world came into being, but maybe we can work together to protect the environment and restore the beauty of the earth we live in. Maybe there are some things we can agree on that can change this world regardless of our differing motivations.

Of course, if I can convince you of my worldview, I will try. But I want to learn to listen with a posture that says, "I am willing to truly listen to your point of view and learn from you." To have this posture, there needs to be a layer of humility. It may not be the automatic reaction like our pride is ... but maybe that can change over time.

Written by Andrew Fitzgerald

For many of us, it's easy to adopt a different persona online. Do you try to stay true to who you are when you're conversing online?

Do you take liberties online that you might not in face-to-face conversation?

You can let us know your thoughts on using social media by clicking here and leaving a comment.

You can let the folks at THRED know what you think by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Do You Pray Like a Preschooler?

Have you ever been in a restaurant when a customer doesn't get what they want, and they completely freak out? Are you sometimes that customer? It's certainly a tense and awkward situation when this happens. You're sitting there listening to the person yell that they ordered cheese on their burger, and somehow the meager slice they received just didn't cut the mustard.

As awkward as it can be, I'm never surprised. This is the culture we have set up for ourselves: "I have money. I want to spend it on what I want, and you must give it to me. And if you don't give me what I want, I have the right to act like a three-year-old who needs a nap."

It doesn't surprise me that this is the way we often treat prayer. And it's not limited to Christian prayer. I hear people from different walks of faith talk about sending out positive energy so they can get what they want. It's like a magical wish list. We add small things we think might be nice. Then we add grand things just in case God is feeling generous. Then we add things we actually want in the middle of all that. Then if God doesn't give us what we want, we get mad and wonder what's the use.

I've even seen something like this on a certain evangelist's website: post your prayer, and if two or more people like your post—and of course you have enough faith—then God will give you what you want. Sometimes you see people praying for a real need. They are praying for someone they love to be healed of cancer. Or they are praying to get a job and not become homeless. I even saw someone's request for more faith.

But in the middle of these heart-wrenching needs that you want to pray for, there are other prayers. You might find some disgruntled soul who no longer likes his Porsche and wants something better. Or they might want a house with a few more bedrooms. Now I'm not saying you can't pray for expensive things, but are these prayers selfish?

The problem with having this mentality toward God and prayer is what happens when you don't get what you want? Does it mean you don't have faith? Does is mean God doesn't love you? Treating prayer, which is a gift from God, in this way is dangerous. It can lead people away from God—unnecessarily—if it doesn't appear that He is listening or responding to their requests.

Prayer shouldn't be this complicated. We shouldn't use it to try to convince God to grant us our every wish. It's better to just pray, and trust God to answer how He will. The best example of this is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying before He gives His life for the sins of the world. And as He's sweating blood from the intense pressure, He prays to His Heavenly Father to take this burden away. But He concludes the prayer by saying, "Yet not My will be done, but Yours."

Jesus has complete confidence that whatever takes place will work out for the best.

As I said earlier, prayer is a gift. It's a time when we can have a holy conversation with our loving God. He cares about our wants but more than that, He cares about our needs. So the better approach is to use prayer as a way to give everything that is weighing on our hearts to God, and trust that He will respond in the way that is best for us.

This means that God might say no to your request to win the Powerball—even if you promise to give more money to the church if you win. 😊

It's easy to make our prayers grand wish lists of things we think we can't live without. Do yours resemble that kind of prayer sometimes? Do you notice it when they do?

If you pray, why do you do it? And what do you hope to get out of it?

Written by Micah Glenn

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