Posts Categorized as: journey
Your cultural bias DICTATES your first emotional response to a new form of leadership
My mom did not like whining*. My two older brothers and I have laughed for years at the memory of Mom getting that fierce look on her face and then flicking us right in the lips with her finger if she caught us whining. She would look us right in the eye and say, “You may be angry, you may complain, but you may not whine.” Seriously, try popping yourself in the lips to see just how well that gets your attention!
I also remember that she was very efficient in emergencies. For many years she served as an emergency room nurse. While that had some upsides, the downside of that, of course, was that if one of us started crying, she would go into crisis mode and go straight to the heart of things:
Mom: Are you bleeding?
Me: (sniff) No…
Mom: Do you require medical attention?
Me: (sniff, sniff) No….
Mom: Why are you crying?
Me: (awkward pause) I don’t know…
Mom: Well then, stop it.
Now, this is not to suggest my mother was lacking the maternal instinct or capacities. She was warm and kind to so, so many people. She genuinely cared for us. In fact, she was occasionally irrational in her defense of us. But she had a real displeasure for men who were full of self-pity or weakness. Mom walked past me one time when I was being super-lazy and kinda whiny as a teenager. She asked what was wrong. I was feeling sorry for myself (over a girl), and she said in mid-stride, “no wonder she doesn’t like you…try acting like a man.” Ouch. My Mom was interested in her boys being strong. Add my Dad into the mix, and you get an idea of some of my upbringing. Phrases like pony up (and other less-appropriate phrases) were just part of the lifestyle. My brothers and I had boxing gloves, and we were allowed to use them. I sometimes joke that instead of a “fight-or-flight” reaction, I have a “fight-or-fight-meaner” kind of experience.
Now there was another element to this. Because I loved my family and had so much respect for my parents, I was proud of our heritage and our way of life. We were not financially successful, but our way of life felt authentic and in-line with the entire corpus of Louis L’Amour books on the shelf and the stack of John Wayne videotapes that grew as the years went by.
When I left home, that was the paradigm I had for what a person should act like. This was the model I had imbibed from an early age. But when I got to college, I started coming into contact with people who were so very different. I honestly didn’t know what to do. The introvert in me just avoided the issues (even though I was intensely curious), and I also had to learn to deal with a host of emotional issues I had been avoiding. But here’s where it got really difficult: I was asked to lead others—uh oh…
Like all young leaders I started with what I had—and I made some terrible decisions in the midst of God using me anyway. However, I soon realized that I was fairly one-dimensional in both my understanding and expression of leadership. Really, I had never questioned or thought through why I believed the things I did. I had, like virtually everyone, looked to the leaders I knew (parents, coaches, and community leaders) as my examples. But my failures and stresses forced me to start a journey to try and understand leadership per se. I began reading anything about leadership that was recommended by leaders I respected. I read and asked questions about leadership all the time! But I still had so far to go.
The most significant turning point in this journey came while I was in graduate school at Wheaton College. I took a class on cross-cultural leadership with Dr. Robert L. Gallagher. He pushed me to start thinking of leadership in new ways I had never dreamed of. In another class, Dr. Scott Moreau asked us to reflect on our own “cultural myths.” The word “myth” is cowboy talk for nonsense. I felt offended. Then he explained that “cowboy talk” is just one cultural form among so very many. Oh, so humbling… These two men challenged me so deeply about my own self-perceptions and about what I thought “ought” to happen in leadership. My own cultural bias dictated my emotional response to a different form of leadership! And I learned that I was responding out of hurt rather than clear thought and love. As the old saying goes, “The fish is the last one to understand the concept of water.”
Fast-forward to our team office in Mexico City. I had been reading a book about emotional IQ and leadership. I shared a particularly relevant thought to one of my teammates. It was received in a less-than-impressive manner. He directly challenged me that day to base my leadership thinking off of the Bible first and western ideas of it later. That day I began a process where I read the Old Testament twice and the New Testament four times and I marked every single instance of leadership, management, logistics and use of power in the entire Canon. That took two years. During that study I took copious notes as well. When I finished I realized that a great deal of what I thought GOD said about leadership was just not there. It was (in major part) just my culture… Well… nuts.
Once again, fast-forward on my timeline to the basement in one of the buildings at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA. I was in my third year of doctoral work, and I was learning about leadership theory from one of the best: Dr. Elizabeth (Betsy) Glanville. She (and another professor named Dr. Alan Weaver) were REALLY working me over about leadership. I finally began to put together some of the questions I had had for so many years. As I learned about how to determine things that are supra-cultural vs simply mono/multi-cultural I began to learn about leadership in it’s most basic form. Wow…the light bulbs started flashing.
At this point, if you are still reading, you either have way too much time or you care really care about leadership. I still write and think about it because of the deep, deep needs that our nation/world face today. I don’t want to wait on the sideline wringing my hands, lobbing the theological pot-shots at those who disagree with or frighten me. My heart and energy are for the good work of Christ and His Kingdom and because of that, I want to go forward and be helpful. I suspect you do too… So what’s the point of this particular ramble?
1. We’re not as smart as we think we are
In this season of elections, tensions and overall “the-sky-is-falling” times, we need to think more clearly. We all want to be the person that is clear about what is really going on. I read post after post on social media about how stupid (x) folks are. All of us have our blind spots and while we are able to grow in Wisdom, it takes a great deal of work to do so (cf Prov 2:1-6). Most of us have adopted more of our culture than we are aware of. When, as a young man, I was thinking about how people should lead, I wasn’t thinking in terms of my cultural preferences or even what the Bible, as a whole, says about leadership… I was using my cultural bias as my barometer for what was true. The problem is that our cultural blind spots make us feel self-righteous. Which leads to the second issue.
2. We’re not as grace-filled as we think we are
I recently was talking to a friend who teaches leadership at a very high level indeed. As we were discussing spiritual formation techniques, he mentioned that one of his colleagues was a hard-core proponent of the 38 hour work-week for all Christians. This point of view comes from the idea that to know God, we need time. And when we work too hard we take from ourself the capacity for long seasons alone with God. I get it. But my friend’s point was that their particular community/context was not filled with people who had the kinds of jobs that allowed that kind of schedule; especially with the normal 10 hours of commuting time built in. He said quietly (and sadly), “Sometimes I feel like he’s being a grace-filled pharisee.” I read stuff from pastors who say harsh things about Christians who disagree with them. They rain down judgement on anyone who has a different view of the way ministry ought to be. Often, this is just our cultural bias talking. So really the way to look at this is…
3. The proof is in the fruit
I was so encouraged recently by an article about Conservative churches helping refugees despite some of the tenuous issues involving terrorism and immigration. Instead of ranting about how we should feel about all these things, they just began helping and serving and doing. A friend of mine in Joplin has had a goat roast for the last ten years to meet people from other cultures. A young leader I know in Rhode Island mobilizes their church to help all the middle schools launch their school year! If you want to find people who are living out Micah 6:8, you have to look carefully—and they’re usually not viral. Want to see leadership? Look at places that have amazing results. Most of the time, they’re not getting a ton of publicity because they’re busy doing the work. Paul’s words, “God cannot be mocked.” still ring true.
Earlier I mentioned Dr. Betsy Glanville. During my dissertation writing process, we had a small argument about the structure of one of my chapters. I was convinced I had it right. As we talked, she finally said, “I’m done talking with you about this. You need to learn to think more clearly!” She actually told me that until I read a book called, “Thinking Skills,” she was done arguing. Talk about humiliating…But I DID read it… and she was right. I was making assumptions, not making my case well and arguing from passion rather than logic. After reading the whole book I sheepishly approached her, and instead of arguing I asked her to guide me toward a better way of saying what I intended.
Humility has come hard for me. It has cost me a lot—work, time, humiliation and lots of apologies. But it mostly cost me things that I really don’t want: Pride, stubbornness, self-deceit and isolating myself. I still work hard to understand truth, and I still want to think as clearly as possible. But I hold my opinions much more lightly than before… it costs too much otherwise. Pray for me. I need it.
*I am writing in past tense about Mom. As I write this she is still alive but in a memory care facility, and she is no longer at the same capacity as before. The tense is only indicative of the era…
There have been several friends recently who have commented something to the degree of “…gave up on the blog, huh?” I suppose I did. It was not a conscious decision by any means but life got a little out of hand for a while.
Last August, Garrett started his Senior year of high school (note his cool Senior pic).
Kate started her Freshman year. Between football, choir and a host of doctor visits we had a pretty full schedule. On top of that, we were trying our best to purchase a home. We had lived in a house owned by the church since late March and we felt we needed to put down some roots. We spent a lot of time trying to find the financing to do that. ON TOP OF THAT, the church/missions ministry was growing and I was still teaching part-time for LCU. It got a little crazy.
In December we closed on a house in the kids’ school district and then we left for Christmas. We were stopped cold (sorry) by a blizzard on our way to see family but when we got back to Texas, I started remodeling the house. For six(ish) weeks I would work all day at church and all evening at the house. An untold number of friends and church members helped us and finally in February, we moved in! Throw some mission trips into the mix and then getting Garrett graduated and I just lost the concept of keeping up with the website.
As I write this, Garrett leaves in four days for LeTourneau University. It’s a crazy time in life. Kate will soon get her license and is as busy as ever. Shannon is now an associate youth pastor at Compass and our lives are wonderfully full in a challenging and lovely way. Our home is beautiful (all who know Shannon are not surprised) and we LOVE being a part of our church.
However, there is one continuing challenge that we need to face. The medical bills that have grown up around us during this time of transition/diagnoses are pretty impressive. Nothing like some people suffer but for now, they’re a tad out of our reach. My petitions to God about this were answered one day during a prayer retreat. I was asking God to give me the money for those medical bills. What I believe I heard surprised me: “work harder.” In this particular age, there is a great deal of talk regarding the imbalance that many Americans face with busyness. This is a valid issue. But as I tried to weasel out of more work, I became more convinced this was what is required.
I approached several friends and asked them to send speaking engagements my way. That did not work out. But, one friend got me connected with CDF Leadership Capital and I applied to work as a part-time leadership consultant with them. For the last few months, our team has been working to get an amazing group of talented facilitators together hoping to be a blessing to churches around the world! It’s a very exciting thing. In fact, I was just certified to facilitate the Paterson Center StratOp™ tool. It’s amazing.
So, here’s the point. I took a year off of writing. That’s long enough. Some of our big transitions are over, the hiatus is over and I am going to press forward at Compass, LCU and CDF to do all that I can to serve my role in the Kingdom of God. If you care to comment or communicate, email me at email@example.com and I will get back to you.
I tend to avoid other people’s autobiographical posts. Sometimes it can seem self indulgent or like a form of auto-therapy. Nevertheless, I seem to keep writing them…
During the last six months of my life, I have been in a season of slow grief. It’s a refining time and one I’ve not enjoyed very much. It might be a mid-life crisis but I can’t afford a Porsche. Something deeper is happening. I have sought counsel. Prayer has been a constant practice. I have shared my soul with some dear friends but nothing can change the fact that I’m going through the process of grief. And today, I wanted to write in order to connect with those who might be in the same place.
Grief is not new to me. I experienced it as a boy when our landlord died. As a few more elderly people I loved passed, I began to see it more and more. And then, after my brother Matt was killed in 1985, I endured it first hand in a severe way. Since that time I’ve grieved all kinds of things. You have too. I don’t mean to be maudlin about how we experience sorrow. But this season is different for me. It is a season of slow grief. And it has snuck up on me. It has affected me through at least three areas:
The primary way has been the slow degeneration of my Mom due to her Alzheimer’s. Our family is not unique in this sorrow by any means. And everyone, if they live long enough, has to deal with aging parents. But those are facts and this is about my Mom. My memories of her wisdom and intelligence still amaze me. One time, in order to chastise me for smoking, she sat down by me on the couch and said, “I’m going to the store, do you need anything?” I replied with a negative cro-magnon grunt. She continued, “Do you need me to pick up some more Marlboros? I noticed the pack in your truck is almost empty.” She then walked out leaving me speechless and totally embarrassed. She was so smart! My recollections of her include her impressive office at the hospital, her clean kitchen, her work ethic, and her volunteering at church for almost anything. All of you who know her remember that she had an extraordinary cultural bandwidth. She could work with a crowd of farmers, a ladies’ tea or immigrant women who needed to find a way to immunize their children. She was not perfect, but I am now dealing with a real sadness for her condition and a weird sense of guilt for being so far away, for so long.
The second thing I’ve been grieving has been the health of my wife and daughter. Watching the endless doctor visits has played a weird game with my mind. On one hand, I’m grateful we have great doctors and it’s not nearly as difficult as things that other people face. For example, my sweet niece Hannah has gone through two rounds of cancer and our family has prayed and prayed for her (and their fam) during these last years. I know that Shannon (systemic lupus) and Kate (vasculitis PAN) are not in that same severe journey. Hannah’s processes are far more difficult than our family’s. Yet, on the other hand, the journey of seeing my girls have such vast changes in their lives has developed a grief in me that is hard to describe. It is a dual grief of missing Shannon’s health and grieving the potential future of Kate. God has been so good to us considering the suffering of other people. I can’t deny that nor would I ever want to. Gratefulness pervades my heart about the kind of health-care and provision God has given us for them both. Yet an underlying sadness is there, at the back of my room of my heart that has lost something.
Lastly, our transition to Texas has had it’s own breed of grief. It has manifested in two parts: The first was leaving work and people we loved / the second was arriving somewhere new. All four of us had to leave friendships that had become like family. As we had no immediate family in Lincoln, our friends had to play the role of family for us and for our kids. In particular, Shannon and I both had jobs that we believed to be from God. We worked hard to be competent at those jobs and found them fulfilling. Leaving those was difficult as well. The second part was coming to a new place, with a different culture at a weird time in life. Garrett and Kate were both convinced that God was bringing us to Texas and have done a great job working through the process. And, we are blessed at how wonderful our new church leadership has been. They have helped us and loved us in wonderful, godly ways. Regardless, the leaving of our friends-like-family and the cultural punch-in-the-face that comes from being new have caused another kind of hurt. And watching my kids (as adolescents) suffer through this was harder than I anticipated.
Ok, enough of that…I’m making myself sick. Sheesh. You get the picture—no main tragedy; just a slow grief. But even in this season God continues to teach me.
I believe that feelings are usually not accurate indicators of truth. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane should teach us that at the very least. Sacrifice is a normal part of the way that Christ-followers deal with the demands of Lordship. Sorrow is par for the course for all of humanity. But for me, the season of slow grieving is a new phenomenon and it has been a different challenge. And, like all things broken, God has been turning my grief into good. In particular he has given me three things that I need very much.
The first is a deeper humility. No one I know enjoys the process of growing humble because it involves humiliation. But my inability to effect any kind of change in any of the three areas of grief has dropped me to a deeper reliance on God and on the church than I’ve had in a long time. The fact that our life is a vapor and like the short season when grass grows has never been more apparent. Like many an old-geezer, I marvel at how time accelerates and trends repeat themselves. This kind of humility has kept me from the arrogant passion of younger days and has developed a stronger belief in the body of Christ being mature and faithful. It is a desire to be wise rather than clever.
Another gift that God has given through this grief is more tenderness in my heart. The sorrow of poverty, the sadness of injustice and the deep wounds that infect our nation and our world are less “issues-to-deal-with” and more apparent to my conscience. Resources for “dealing” with these problems have not increased for me but the need to address them in love is growing.
The last one is a growing sense of God’s presence and provision. In my Bible and in my counsel he keeps using the word “wait.” I’ve kinda grown to expect it and hate it all at the same time (when I’m most honest). My need to tangibly trust God has grown. The rhythms of surrender that I have practiced over the years has become a life-line for me and His response to me has increased as well. When he says “wait” I know that he brought us here according to his good purpose. The church here in TX has been another of God’s instruments to remind me that I am still in his hands. It can sometimes be hard to see through the hazy conditions of grieving but his presence and provision is enough to remind me that he sees me. Recently I’ve been privileged to be part of the launch team for Eric Metaxas’ new book: Miracles . God has used that to remind me that he is cooking up a real doozy. I can’t wait to see the finished product.
People innately seem to have a relentless urge to pursue happiness. When it fails we tend to grieve. I want to have a relentless desire to pursue God: I want him to be my “one thing.” He is my portion. He is my prize and he is the antidote to my patient grieving. When other people grieve, try your best to avoid giving “encouragement” disguised as teaching. In my case, I have a long track record of pastoral work. Answers aren’t my problem. What I need now is prayer—and I’ll take it. Jesus will indeed heal Mom…and my family… and me. I’m thankful to have a great family, great doctors, great work experiences and a great church! Hope is on the horizon. The presence of God will be made manifest to us all—soon and forever.
 I will soon do a review of this book. Spoiler: it’s fantastic.