Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Your Choice

If you were in Seattle, Wash., you'd be in for a treat if you took your cup of coffee and walked over to the Pike Place Fish Market. At this market you can buy fish, see a show and walk away with a smile. The energetic staff at the market lives out a business model that guarantees the visitor a good time. You will be treated to songs, stand-up comedy and may even have to duck a fish as employees sling low-flying fare from the front of the counter to the back for weighing, wrapping and a quick toss back for the customer. The mood is lively and everyone is in good spirits. The fun-loving employees have an attitude -- and it's contagious.

One of the four parts of the successful model practiced by these fish market employees is summed up as "Choose Your Attitude." One employee said it this way: "When I come to work I can choose to be upbeat and have a good time or I can choose to be tired and grumpy. I choose to be upbeat and the day goes by faster."

It sounds too easy, doesn't it? Choose your attitude?

Let's put it to the test.

Suppose there is a long line of female college students at the airport's security check point. Each is somehow unaware the jewelry around their necks, wrists and ankles will get them rejected by the metal detector. This, in turn, requires extra passes through the magnetometer for other metal objects fastened in place but out of view. Behind them seasoned business travelers and other frequent flyers stand sock-footed with their shoes on a conveyor belt, their laptops pulled from their cases and their sundry cosmetic and shaving accoutrement spread out for the world to see. Let's see if choosing an attitude is productive.

Choice One: Veteran travelers can mock and quietly (or not so quietly) insult the mental abilities of college-aged travelers, the state of training of the TSA agents and, in general, put everyone within earshot in a bad mood. (Yeah. That's something I want to have: fellow travelers on an airplane angry before the plane even takes off.)

Choice Two: A traveler waiting behind the girls shares the simple wisdom of taking off all the bling and placing it in the tub he just handed her while securing tubs for her friends; he then steps aside to let the loudest of the complainers go ahead.

This choice brings smiles to the TSA agents, gets the line moving and everyone leaves the security area in a much better mood.

A wise choice? It would seem so.

Now, what about the time when your teenage son calls and tells you "the car's been in an accident"? Will a moment of pause and a decision to choose your attitude be beneficial in this instance? Let's see, you can yell at him, make him feel really bad (not that he doesn't already) and take away his driving privileges, or you can let him know you're thankful he's not hurt, give him a big hug when you see him and encourage him when he gets back behind the wheel -- a wiser and more careful driver.

Guys, choose wisely. There's a lot riding on it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Don't Do Today What You Can Do Tomorrow?

Just the other day I had a conversation with a friend who shared how he was browsing in a book store and found a book that would help him overcome his habit of procrastination. He told me that he did not buy it, but said to himself, "I'll pick it up tomorrow."

This made me think of that little-known rule of house repairs, "If you can live with it for 30 days, you can live with it forever." I recently was reminded of that when I was inspecting the house before a dinner party, and my wife commented how I needed to change the light bulb above the kitchen table. I was struggling to remember why I had to change the bulb since we just had dinner and I could see my food perfectly fine. Then I glanced at the light fixture, a fan with five bulbs -- four of them burned out. I replaced the four bulbs and noticed I should also wash the windows. I washed the windows and saw I needed to cut the grass. I cut the grass and then needed to trim. You get the picture. I should have turned off the light fixture, lit some mood candles and called it "ambiance."

Yes, I, too, procrastinate. But then again I can always start getting things down tomorrow.

Now, lest you get the wrong idea, if I have a headlight out, I'll get it fixed before I get a ticket, and if the sink backs up, I'll fix it in a reasonable amount of time -- saving me the time it takes to walk to use another sink. But, for me anyway, the more unpleasant the task, the longer I put it off. Sometimes my reasons for delaying the inevitable are creative: perhaps the president will contact me for an important spy mission overseas so that, naturally, my boss will understand if my report is late. I guess that's one holdover from grade school and growing up with snow days -- a pleasant reminder that once in awhile it pays not to study for the test.

As we enter a new year it seems this is as good a time as any to stop procrastination. Part of the benefit of doing now what can be done now is that when an unexpected snow day does come your way, you can use the unexpected gift of time for you personally - - i.e. reading, goofing off or just taking a guilt-free nap.

Doing little things periodically avoids having to face large tasks all at once. We all know if we put our tools back immediately after we use them, we can save lots of time and frustration not looking for them when we need them next. Being an unprocrastinator gives us more time and energy, as well as a faster tax refund!

So, I think I will put off procrastination and organize my tax receipts now -- just as soon as I find them.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Stop the Violence?

It is hard not to feel pain when listening to reports from Arizona about a gunman who took the life of six people and wounded 15 others. Among the victims was a nine-year-old girl who was born on 9-11 and wanted to attend the town hall meeting to meet her Congresswoman. Christina-Taylor Green was well on her way to becoming someone involved in politics, someone who would help lessen the problems of the world, someone who cared. Will you join me in prayer for her and the other victims of this latest tragedy?

After the shooting I listened to the local news report. There were four shootings and one case of reported arson. I did a quick web search throughout the United States and Canada and found numerous instances of shootings and other acts of violence. Teachers report how school children are being bullied; news reports bombard us with acts of violence, and flag-draped coffins continue to be sent home from the war's front. People who used to wave friendly greetings to each other on the highway now see their wave returned with only one finger. Kids who got in trouble and used to lament that their parents would "be mad at them" are now telling their friends they will "be killed." We live in a violent society, and it appears the violence is only increasing.

Some have speculated that part of the growing trend in violence is the enormous popularity of graphically violent video games. Some have postulated it's the weak global economic situation that has created tensions significant enough to spawn violence. Some have suggested that inflammatory political tactics and polices have contributed to the spike in violence. Some conclude the violence stems from the ongoing war on terror and those religious zealots who instigate others toward acting on their hatreds.

While it's easy to say a combination of all these influences makes for a violent society, I offer another idea: could it be the world is irretrievably lost and the above instances simply reflect that grave condition? It doesn't take a university-trained sociologist to tell us the world has got problems -- big problems. While some of our global malaise is due to tanking economies and ignorant political rhetoric and religious fanaticism and yes, even video game violence, those are merely surface tumors on the face of society.

The real cancer goes to the bone or -- to the soul -- in our case: sin. The world is lost and in love with the very enemy who is hell bent to destroy it: Satan. What a sorry, miserable state of affairs.

And so it would be without help from above. "But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:57).

Men, is it time for us to band together and study the Prince of Peace and His plan for our lives? Is it time for us to join together and love God and love our neighbor as ourselves?

What do you think? Is it time?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Taking Down the Decorations

Ah, yes, this is the week of the Christmas afterglow. The frenetic activity and commercial hype of the Christmas season has wound down. Retailers everywhere are slashing prices, eager to move their overburden of unsold holiday inventory out the front door as they hold their "I would rather sell it cheap than count it" sale. And now the moment has arrived: it's time to take down those decorations that were so carefully hung for all to admire just a few short weeks ago.

What is your tradition this week? Do you leave the decorations up until January 6th and celebrate the Epiphany? Do you have an un-decorating party and get the family together to carefully hand pluck and box the ornaments, de-tinsel the tree, and put all the other Christmas figures and knick-knacks away? And what about the lights? Do you wait until those first warm breezes of spring to take the outdoor lights off the roof, or have you made the executive decision that white lights outside look nice year-round? If you do take them down, do you get a family member or neighbor in on the action, or do you fly solo?

No matter what the tradition or procedure is for taking the decorations down it always fills me with a distinct sense of sorrow. When the decorations go up each year, they herald a new season of joy, family gatherings, gift-giving and all the other good will vibes that make the season bright. Each year the approaching holidays promise new opportunities to reach out to those on our Christmas card list we'd like to be closer to but always seem to lose touch with. Sometimes a Christmas reconnection results from giving somebody that "perfect gift" -- one that's remembered for years to come. Sometimes a mental reconnect is made when family or friends who are visiting take in your carefully preserved Christmas decorations -- decorations they might recognize and remember from years ago when they were displayed on your parents' hutch or dining room table. You've no doubt noticed how some of your prized decorations, like museum artifacts that get more valuable with each passing year, prompt certain reactions from those who have seen them through the decades. Each of these decorations contributes to the joy and pleasure of the Christmas season.

But now, this week, it's all different. The last of the leftovers are being eaten and there's not much left at that. The bevy of gifts that covered the skirt below the tree before Christmas has been reduced to a box or two left to be put away or returned to the store for a different model. The house is empty and quiet (though the voices and images of recently visiting family and friends still press firmly on the memory) and everywhere, right where they were put, still hang the decorations.

So it is always with no small tinge of sadness that I dismantle the intricate displays, box up the ornaments, the lights and the Christmas train and store them away for Christmas 2011. I know when I see these decorations again the world will have changed: I will be a year older. My family, job, finances and future will be something other than what they are right now. These thoughts can fill me with a sense of apprehension or a sense of anticipation. I must confess it is usually both. But then I have to remind myself what the Christmas season is all about. As the decorations are coming down and the Nativity figures are going back into their straw packaging, these trinkets are simply reminders of what God has done for each of us at Christmas: He has given us His Son as the greatest gift of all.

May the year-round Good News of Christmas be yours throughout the New Year!