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

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.

autocorrecting myself

Did you know the average person spends 4 years of his life looking down at a cell phone?

Every time I watch the video below where I got this quote, something rises up in me emotionally.  Its weird to have such a visceral reaction to a commentary on our obsession with devices – but I know the reason is that I am often in many of the traps he describes.

Take a moment and watch it:

Some of the great lines:

Do I not have the patience to have ‘Cnvrstn’ without ‘Abrvtn’ / This is the era of media overstimulation

The news is a hundred and forty characters

And this is the one that really hit home for me:

No longer do I want to spoil a precious moment by recording it with a phone / I’m just gonna keep them

I don’t wanna take a picture of my meals anymore / I’m just gonna eat them

The part about precious moments is often me – scrambling to get my phone out and actually missing the moment.

What a shame.

But like he says, all of this is a choice. And each day I am making a point to choose a little better.

For one thing, I don’t get the neck ache I used to have after my commute anymore because I don’t spend the whole ride looking down at my phone.

frozen in time – a piece of me that I am badly missing today

snowy-day

When somebody passes away, its like their image is frozen in time. They are no longer a physical presence in your life but you don’t lose that familiarity with their spirit. So you have experiences like hearing something that makes you think about them and you catch yourself before you dial their number to talk to them about it. Or you have holiday dinner and its just not the same because there is a gaping void in the room.

Or you miss the fact that they were always the first to comment on the cute pictures of your kids you posted. That they always seemed to call you just when you needed them.

Then sometimes you feel guilty about the aspects of their wonderful existence that you took for granted.

Or you chuckle about the many ways in which they annoyed you.

Even the annoyances were part of that shared experience you had with them – and it is no longer there.

I wish I could say that the memories of my sister who passed away two years ago are what make me strong and keep me going. But that is only true some of the time. There are other times when I am just angry about the unfairness of it all.

Until two years ago, I did not have any concept of life without Phina. I do not remember the day she came home from the hospital with my mother – as far as I can remember, she was always a steady presence in my life.

Now things are a little destabilized. I still have goals, but they are just a little less optimistic and grand than they used to be.

I still freak out when I hear somebody I care about has an ailment that even closely resembles the one that took her from us.

I still miss her – and I’m glad I do.

I know that the right thing to say is that ‘life goes on’ – and it does.

But just for today which would have been her birthday …

… I feel frozen in time.

letting my model be the guide

Yesterday, one of my friends sent out a group text wishing me and several of his friends Happy Fathers Day. In the same message he asked us each to share some words of wisdom about being a father so that everyone on the text could benefit.

Here is a sample of the replies he received:

“As a father to a son I strive to be the example. As he follows, he learns to walk the right path”

“walk the talk, talk the walk” the walk is more powerful than words”

“More is caught than taught.”

“Our children will learn more from what we do than what we say.”

“The more time you spend with your kids the more influence you’ll have on them”

“Your presence as a father is magical to your kids” (my contribution)

There was an unexpected consistency about the responses. I was expecting there to be a wide range of tidbits of wisdom, but instead, as the original sender of the text summarized:

The recurring theme is show and prove

I thought about this virtual conversation this morning when I caught myself doing the opposite of “show and prove”. One of my daughters was trying to tell her sister something at the dinner table but we could hardly make out what she was saying because her mouth was so full.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full” I admonished … through my equally full mouth.

I was basically saying “Do as I say, not as I do…”

During the week leading up to Fathers Day, I often reflect on my role as a parent and how it is evolving over time.  I also think about ways in which I can become a better father to my kids and guide them as effectively as I can.  The themes I get from this introspection are often things that apply to how I behave as a leader even outside of being a parent.

Show and prove is one of those themes that resonates with me on many levels – especially with how it ties back to the theme I set for my family this year:

Be the change you want to see.

In order to effectively lead others, I need to combine sharing vision and motivating others with modelling actions.  Becoming more consistent with this blog is one of those actions that is important for me to master because I find myself talking more and more to others about creating a cadence with which they ‘ship’ – but then find myself in the situation I was in this morning with my daughter when I am not following through on my own instruction.

Its all a process though, and I can already tell that I am getting better. (Both with the parenting and the blogging).

watching my daughter grow up

From the first time I laid eyes on my first born as the doctor helped her out of the womb, I knew that I am one of those fathers who is completely ‘whipped’ by their kids.  As I watch my two year old slowly figure out the world around him, I know that these moments have to be cherished because they cannot be re-lived.

I’m slowly accepting the reality that I only have one little girl now (not two).

Earlier this year when my oldest turned eight I began feeling a sense of loss that I have not yet shaken off.  I know that she is no longer a ‘little girl’ – and the days are coming soon where there will be a whole litany of topics that she can only discuss with her mother.

And as much as I want to avoid it, the topic of ‘boys’ is right around the corner.  The comments about the Justin Beiber-obsessed friends at school pretty much assures me we are on that horizon.

So how am I helping myself deal with my emotions?

I think I have two coping mechanisms for dealing with my emotions around this.

One: Cherishing the ‘little girl’ moments I have left with my five year old.

The middle child is still very much a little girl who gets a kick out of being picked up or cuddling with her daddy. She still sees the world very simply and often cracks the whole family up with a very well timed and pithy comment about a situation.

Even the things that should annoy me more – like her inability to clean the sink properly after brushing her teeth. Or the way she completely shuts down and can’t function when she is hungry.

These things are all ‘joys’ for me to experience.

Two: Creating ‘male bonding’ moments with my son.

The second way in which I am subconsciously coping is the great satisfaction I get from hearing my son ask for the basketball game to be turned on for him to watch.

Or how much he relishes imitating Biz Markie’s beatbox with me from Biz’s Beat of the Day.

He even has the hip hop finger wagging down and I didn’t teach it to him.

While my five year old is helping me deal with my sense of losing the innocence of my older daughter, my son helps me deal with the sense of losing some portion of her experiences that her mother will relate to better with her.

There is comfort in know that there will be some exclusive experiences that I will share with him as he develops into a man.

This all leaves me with one question though:

“What will I do when the five year old turns eight?”