in reflection, relationships

On intimacy and efficiency

“Intimacy is not good for business.  It is inefficient, it lacks ‘glamour.’  If love of God can be reduced to a ritualized hour of worship, if love of another can be reduced to an act of sexual intercourse, then routines are simple and the world can run efficiently … Intimacy is no easy achievement.  There is pain—longing, disappointment and hurt.  But if the costs are considerable, the rewards are magnificent, for in relationship with another and with the God who loves us — we complete the humanity for which we were created.”

from “Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work” by Eugene Peterson

This quote jumped off the page for me this morning as I thought about many of the ways in which I am feeling led to make a difference in the world.  I have been meditating for a while now on what I refer to as the ‘empathy gap’ … the inability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and at least ‘try’ to walk where they are walking – so that we can better understand their view of the world.

I feel like the empathy gap is growing wider daily as we get more ‘efficient’ with our communications and relationships … it is much easier to compartmentalize other people into groups and ‘boxes’ because it is ‘efficient’ when you are processing as much information as we all do daily … but it is at the cost of empathy. 

Because every moment we spend in ‘broadcast’ mode – is a moment we lose in building intimacy with one person.

The reason the quote jumped off the page for me is because it reminded me of something that I know is very true based on my experience with marriage, parenting, and friendships in general – building real intimacy is hard.  

And when something is hard, if I can find a ‘close second’ to it, I sometimes substitute the ‘close second’ to avoid the deep work it takes to grow in a relationship.

And I can do this without being aware I am doing it.

There is no substitute for putting in the time when it comes to intimacy.  So the more I am ‘rushed’ in life and avoid those quiet or still moments with those I love, the more superficial my relationships become.

Take a moment today and think about the relationships in your life – what is the quality of the intimacy in those relationships?  

And is the empathy gap growing or shrinking?

Peace at all costs is hollow

What I am writing about today probably saved my marriage.

Most of you who know me know I have a mild temperament. My nature is to avoid conflict and to seek peace.

Early on in my marriage, I realized that this was not always a good trait.

Because when I avoided conflict, it was impossible to uncover the truth. And with the truth buried, both of us could not move past an issue.

In those early years, if Leslie brought up something, I had two ‘go-to’ reactions:

  • Apologize quickly so she can stop being upset, but silently never repent and slightly resent her for not understanding ME or for being UNREASONABLE
  • Get super defensive and justify my position while negating what she was feeling

Thank goodness for our mentors Deen and Roslyn Allen who told me I needed to learn …”Leslie-ese” (that was the way they referred to learning to REALLY listen to her).  

It would have been virtually impossible for me to learn ‘Leslie-ese’ if I steadfastly held onto my prior beliefs because I was missing rich opportunities to pick up on the vocabulary and grammar of that language.

What I learned is that when she got to the point that she was raising something that was really ‘heated’ – it was something that was REALLY important (even if I didn’t think it was important) … and as much as I was uncomfortable and wanted to make the discomfort go away … I needed to LISTEN and LEARN … and then take ACTION.

This is not to say I am perfect at this – I still mess up.  Just recently, she called me out on something I was not taking appropriate action on … and my knee-jerk reaction was to defend myself … but that night I couldn’t sleep and I went and spent some time in prayer and reflection.  Then I took out the notes I had written about the issue earlier in the year – and realized that my hesitation to act was not justified.

By doing my RESEARCH, I was able to see a fuller picture (we had more information now than earlier in the year) – and I could see that she was right.  

So I repented and we were then able to walk side-by-side instead of against each other to a better outcome for all of us.

I said all that to say – seeking peace at all costs … without understanding that there is no true peace without understanding … is just a band-aid – its a hollow peace.

There is difficult work to be done for the pain in this nation to be healed … and it will take discomfort AND repentance (which simply means “changing your mind”) AND new actions.

A lot of my recent social media posts may have made you uncomfortable, defensive, self-righteous, or even confused … maybe you believe there is a media conspiracy that is making a big deal out of nothing and you can’t wait for things to ‘die down’ so you can go back to a peaceful life.

If that is you, consider that there just might be a ‘language’ that you need to get better versed in and that as you learn more, you will understand more.  When people say to get ‘educated’, they are not saying you are not an educated person – they are asking you to learn a language that will bring healing and reconciliation.  That language is a fuller understanding of this country’s full history – a lot of which you did not learn in school – and how that history has true and lasting effects TODAY.

Every time that Leslie and I have gone through one of those intense periods we have grown by leaps and bounds – we have come out on the other side stronger and more resilient.

I truly believe that is a realistic outcome for this nation too – you just have to be willing to do the work.

Tired

I don’t think it was an accident that the topic of our men’s Bible study this past Sunday was ‘Anger’ and how to manage it as a Christian.

Last night as I tossed and turned, I needed to use all the tools we discussed – as I reflected on what I described to my wife as the feeling of living in a Groundhog Day Twilight Zone.

It feels like the same movie plays out over and over again – but doesn’t seem to change.

This is how it FEELS.

The facts may be different. The circumstances may be different. Even the responses may be getting better.

But this is how it FEELS.

In Mark 12, Jesus answered a question about the most important commandment as follows:

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:29-31

I don’t think it is an accident that He put these two thoughts together – your relationship to your neighbor is intricately tied to the way you relate to your Creator.

Your relationship with your neighbor is intricately tied to your relationship with yourself.

It may seem like a non-sequitur, but this thought process brought to mind Michael Vick and the way his story played out over the years. His choice to take part in a dogfighting ring cost him his career AND cost him some years of his life that he served in jail.

In some circles, if you bring up his name today, you will immediately hear vitriol and OUTRAGE.

Remember, he mistreated DOGS.

But as much as dogs are wonderful companions and part of the wonderful creation God surrounded us with – they are NOT my neighbor.

So if I have in my heart the capacity to display outrage about the mistreatment of creatures that occupy a lower rung in the hierarchy of value in terms of life … yes, DOGS are lower on the totem pole than human beings … is it so unreasonable to be upset that the response to the mistreatment of them can be exponentially different than to the response towards human beings.

Again, this is how it feels.

Because every time something like this happens, it’s important to pause and reflect on the humanity involved, before going into a rant about politics and social ills.

Reflect on the fact that this is your neighbor.

We are your neighbor ….

…that I am your neighbor and could easily be in a similar situation just because of how I look.

And if you substitute yourself for your neighbor – is that what loving yourself looks like?

#GirlDad

This is my contribution to the #GirlDad meme. One of my favorite photos with my daughters. What a blessing they are to my life. I love being a father to daughters.

Its been hard for me to process the tragic news of Kobe, his daughter and the families they were travelling with passing away. I can usually put my finger on how I feel and work through my emotions, but its taken me a minute with this one.

I think its because they were on their way to a travel basketball game.

I think its because it was too close to home with the season of my life right now.

I spend countless hours watching my daughters play basketball … And countless more dissecting games with them, finding videos of moves to help them and pretty much watching them fall totally in love with a sport that I have been passionate about since my early teens.

Kobe was a big part of the highs and lows I’ve experienced as a basketball player and fan … I don’t think any other single player made me yell ‘noooooooo’ as much at the TV (I was always on the wrong side of his brilliance 😊).

A few hours after I heard the news, somebody posted a montage of Kobe and his daughter … It wasn’t a montage of a celebrity family as much as it was of a father and his daughter totally consumed with the game they loved together. I couldn’t watch any more tributes after that … And I’ve been avoiding sports radio all week … (My kids know how unlike me that is 🙂).

I didn’t know Kobe or his family and friends personally … But what I shared with them was our common humanity. Our common experiences of loving and being loved. Our common capacity for passion.

My meditation this week has been on how precious every moment is – and how much I cherish the gifts that God has given me to love ❤.

Note: This is the story that led to the #GirlDad meme

The simplistic theology in Daredevil

Daredevil Fan Art Image

Image courtesy of Jamie Castro from Devian Art

The new season of Daredevil is out on Netflix and of course, my superhero fandom cannot allow me to stay away.  If you follow this show and have not yet watched the newest season, don’t worry, there are no spoilers here.  This post is primarily about a theme that it looks like this season is exploring – and I wanted to comment on a few things I noticed.
When we start the season, Matt Murdoch, Daredevil’s alter ego, is struggling with the events that ended the previous season; events which caused him to doubt himself and his ability to fulfill his ‘calling’ as a superhero.  The lens through which he works through this struggle is his relationship with God.
He focuses on a few questions that have been asked universally over the ages by people from all walks of life:

 

  • Is God mad at me?
  • Does God speak to me?
  • Does God care about me?
  • Does God even matter?
These are all powerful soul-searching questions that we all have every right to ask. I am very pleased that the show is exploring this as a theme because it is an important discussion.
Where I think the show (or maybe just Matt) becomes simplistic about these questions about God is to frame them as an examination of whether or not God answers prayer.
The argument goes something like this:

 

  • God’s job is to answer prayer and help those who are in need
  • I see so much suffering and unanswered prayer, so God is either not doing His job or doesn’t care
  • In addition, I have never heard God speak to me, therefore I don’t think He speaks to people
  • Therefore, I don’t think He answers prayers
  • Therefore I don’t think He cares about me
  • Therefore I don’t care about Him
  • Therefore He doesn’t matter
  • Therefore I will do whatever I want (Matt puts it like this: “Not even God can stop me!.”)
The problem with the conclusion stems from the initial premise about who God is and what He is ‘supposed’ to do – about His ‘job’.  This misunderstanding about the purpose of prayer mischaracterizes the way in which prayer is actually illustrated and modeled in the Bible.
If I see God as a ‘vending machine’ that takes my prayers as the coins, then it’s easy to see how I would expect Him to do His part and give me my Doritos.
But, if I see prayer for what it actually is – a conversation through which I build and strengthen a relationship – I have a very different conclusion when I connect God’s answers to what I see around me.
Consider your own reaction to this post. I have a wide variety of beliefs represented in my relationships so I know that you could fall into one or more of the categories below:
  1. You believe God does not exist: you will probably see this post from a lens of anywhere from skepticism to outright annoyance. That’s okay, let’s just continue the conversation and allow me to present the case over time.
  2. You believe that some ‘higher being’ exists’, but he or she is not ‘knowable’: in your case, there is no need for prayer, because this higher power exists apart from us and we plot our own way. If this is you, I would love to continue the dialog with you too because there is indeed a mountain of evidence that says the contrary.
  3. You believe that it doesn’t matter whether or not God exists because it’s just a crutch for dealing with the reality of life: I am especially happy you are here because you are in the same place as Matt Murdoch on this and I hope I piqued your curiosity to learn more.
  4. You believe that faith is a very personal thing that we should not discuss in polite company and trying to force people into one way of thinking is wrong: This might surprise you but, I absolutely agree with you. I do not believe it is my, or anybody else’s job to ‘convert’ you. I do however believe in two things: two propositions that oppose each other cannot both be true (i.e. truth is mutually exclusive) and the art of civil discussion, even in the face of disagreement, is dying, and I have a burning desire to revive it. This post, and some of my future ones are my contribution to this dialog.
So, if you enjoyed reading, look out for my future musings. I cannot promise a consistent schedule, but I can promise consistent reasoning.
And if you have thoughts, questions, or comments – feel free to jump in. I only ask that you be respectful to others as you would want them to respect you.

The next time you say “I can’t afford it”, think about this

When you say “I can’t afford it”, what do you really mean?  I think this is an important idea to deconstruct because money and your thoughts about money are an integral part of your emotional health.  All adults spend some portion of their life thinking about money.  Whether you have a lot of it, a little or just enough.

This is because money at it’s core is an abstract idea.  There is a practical element to money because we all need to trade the value of money for goods and services we need.  But most of the time when we are thinking about money, it is not the practical aspect of money that is occupying our thoughts.

What Money Represents to You

Before I go into my recommendation about what to do when you think “I can’t afford it”, here are some things to consider about what money represents in your life.  There are three key things money represents when we are dealing with the abstract concept:

  • Actions or Lack of Actions
  • Fears
  • Beliefs

Our thoughts about money are a representation of actions that we have either taken or failed to take.  An example of this is when you bounce a check, the emotion you have about money at that moment is based on a lack of balancing your check book.

Money also represents our fears.  This shows up primarily in your attitudes around spending, saving and investing.  Based on your internal programming, if you believe that life is about scarcity, you will try desparately to hold onto everything you have and miss out on opportunities to be a better steward of your money.  On the other hand, if you have a fear of being ‘controlled’, you may reject the idea of a budget and just spend whenever you want without planning because discipline translates to emotional bondage for you.

When it comes to beliefs, money and how we use it is generally aligned with what we truly believe, regardless of what we say we believe.  I have a friend who says: “Your spending history is your true story”.  So if you believe that your worth as a person is tied to how much money you have, when things get tough financially, your self-esteem takes a hit and it is difficult for you to move forward.

The Two Meanings of “I Can’t Afford It”

The next time you say “I can’t afford it”, examine the meaning of the thought.  It could mean one of two things.  The first source of the phrase could be a question of priorities.  When you say “I can’t afford it”, you might really be saying that the thing you want is not of a high enough priority for you to move the resources from something else to get it.  On the other hand, it might be a true issue of capacity and you really have a shortfall even if the thing you want is a true priority.

One Word to Change The Meaning

In the case where it is a capacity issue, there is one word that you can use to shift your mindset.

Yet.

“I can’t afford it … yet.”

By adding that one word to the phrase, you force yourself to go into planning mode and to face the real issues around why you are stuck.  You can’t plan for a way to afford it without addressing your limiting beliefs and your fears.  So you can do the true internal work that will get you unstuck, instead of staying on a surface level that doesn’t move you forward.

I talk about this at greater length in this Facebook Live Video.

 

shining a light of humanity on the conversation

Last week I was riding the bus and felt like I was at a bursting point. My Facebook feed was ‘blowing up’ once again and I was watching the two silos in America duke it out. Some of the things I was reading made me do something uncharacteristic and weigh in on social media on a sensitive political issue.

I usually prefer to have these conversations in person, because I don’t find the forum of ‘comments’ very productive in have a conversation that truly seeks understanding.

I also understood in that moment that the majority of the people on my feed had never heard me tell my story and how I process what I see on the news from a very personal level. Because they know me as a person, and not as an abstract image on television that could have any manner of story told about it, I felt an obligation to share.

I am reposting the content of that post here because (based on the comments I received) it helped two groups of people.

  1. People who were able to develop a more nuanced understanding of an issue that has been watered down to soundbites and sometimes lost its rooting in humanity
  2. People who live the experience every day but did not have the words to accurately articulate what it really feels like to feel powerless towards this issue

Here is what I wrote in its entirety:

I generally keep things on a positive note on my Facebook feed. Not because I am blind to my surroundings, but because I think it is important to shine light even in the midst of all the darkness that may surround us sometimes.

Today is a little bit different for me. I feel helpless because it feels like my life is in imminent danger whenever I leave home. Not because my pants are sagging. Not because I don’t know how to say please or thank you. Not because I am loud and boisterous (read threatening), when I ride the subway. Not because I walk around with a ‘hoody and swagger’.

I do all the ‘right things’. I am educated. I am a devoted husband and father. I am a devout Christian. I am a geek. I love superhero movies. I live to inspire and motivate. I’m not ‘mooching’ off anybody.

I’ve had friends tell me that I’m different from those ‘guys’ on the news. They are not referring to ‘the ones like me’. Those guys ‘did something’ that led to their fate.

And yet, I am still terrified. For me and for my son. For the ‘gentle giants’ in my life – one of whom posted a heartbreaking post last night about how he spent a night in jail a few days ago because he fit the description: 6’4 black male … and just happened to be in a particular neighborhood.

Maybe I should take a bath and wash off my blackness. Because when my car breaks down and I am looking for assistance, there is no way for me to physically show my Harvard degree, or my faith, or my sense of humor, or my family pictures, or my paycheck, or my charitable donations, or the title deed to my home.

So please tell me what else I could possibly do to ensure I survive that encounter. Because right now.

I. Just. Don’t. Know.

I can’t get myself to watch the most recent video. And I don’t plan to. When I watch those things, it is impossible for me not to see myself, or my son, or so many men in my life that I love and respect. None of us can wash off our blackness, so we are in the same boat.
P.S. If it is possible to take in a suspected terrorist alive after a shootout, surely there is a way for both me and you to walk away alive from our encounter.

consolidating my online presence

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about my online presence.  As I am helping more and more people strategize about their presence online and how to maintain a consistent brand, I have realized that some pruning is needed for the different places I have created assets online.  I strongly believe that focus and intention are more important than being present everywhere at all times, so I have decided to close down some of my ‘outposts’ and redirect them here.  If you clicked on a link that got you here, that is the reason.

My focus now (until experience tells me otherwise) is that I am going to maintain two blogs, facebook, and twitter. I will occasionally produce content on other networks, but these will be the main components of my platform.

This is the purpose for each one:

  • This blog is my personal blog where I explore ideas and write about a wide range of topics without restraining myself to any editorial direction.  I loosely focus on creativity, technology, health and leadership – but once in a while, I write things that don’t neatly fit into those buckets.
  • MoreThanAHut Blog is where I write about platforms and tribe building, especially from the perspective of owning your online presence
  • Facebook is my choice for daily engagement and ‘in the moment’ expression.  I like the immediacy of the audience on Facebook and the ability to have a more personal engagement with my relationships
  • Twitter is mostly an announcement and article sharing platform for me.  I use it to spread my written articles and any other information I come across that I have not yet digested into more coherent ideas for a blog post.

This is subject to evolution over time because my goals will evolve and the tools will change – I will make sure I reassess the decisions here periodically to make sure the solutions that best serve my tribe are the ones I focus on.

today is its own day

sunrise-173392_1280

Today is its own day.

Regardless of what yesterday looked like and what you are worried about for tomorrow, today is its own day.

You can only live in today.

To change tomorrow, you work on your plan today.

So make today the very best you can, so that when you go to bed tonight you know that you gave it your all.

Then wake up tomorrow and tell yourself again …

Today is its own day.