Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Turning 40

I’m turning 40 this week. But if you know me or looked at my profile, you would see that I’m about four years off. Let me explain. I was raised by parents with a can-do attitude. They were not complainers in any way. They both worked very hard at whatever they did, and I think that rubbed off on me. Consequently I find it easy to take responsibility for my actions and outcome in life. As a freshman in college, I encountered what was called at the time the “freshman fifteen,” those extra pounds you found clinging onto the midsection as a result of the all-you-can-eat dorm food and countless late night pizzas. Some of my friends would bemoan the fact that they were gaining weight, as they stuffed another slice of Dominos in their mouth. I resolved not to follow suit. So I changed my diet, changed my lifestyle, even changed my major. I got serious about getting fit and doing something about my circumstances. I lost weight as a result, and started looking and feeling better. I was on a new path I liked very much. I liked the feeling of being in control. I charted my course. I started exercizing. I set my goals. I ran 10k’s. I even ran a few marathons. Life was good. So when I turned 40 for real, I decided I needed another challenge, so I committed to run another marathon. I did it before, why couldn’t I do it again? Who knows, maybe I can even run a PB (personal best). Being no stranger to training, I did what I knew to do; put in lots of miles. No better place to start than with a steady dose of LSD (long, slow distance). But like the other LSD, it came with its after effects I noticed it first thing of a morning. Getting out of bed each day got harder and harder. Joints were slow to bend back into working order. The next thing I started noticing was the heat. I always loved summer heat. I felt it made me stronger, but now it makes me fatigued. I had to run earlier in the day. From there I became acutely aware of other conditions. Bumps on my body that wouldn’t go away with ice or heat packs. Hair growing out my ears instead of the top of my head. Stray eyebrows that looked like curly banjo strings. What is happening here? No more cause and effect. No more feeling in full control. So this is what I mean when I say I’m finally turning 40. It’s taken me about four years to accept the aging process, to resign to the fact that regardless of how hard I work, I will never be as fast or strong or lean as I once was. My body is failing, just like everyone else’s. It’s normal. It’s part of life and I can allow it. I’m losing control of my physical body and for once I am beginning to see that it just might be another step toward freedom that I am longing for. I can feel free from the need to chase an unreachable goal. I would hope for a healthy life free from illness for the rest of my days, but the true life of liberty really flows from someplace other than muscles that flex and joints that don’t ache.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Thinking inside the box.

Junk has a way of accumulating in a house after living in it for any length of time. There are two ways to deal with the junk, my way and the wrong way. Some people are savers of the junk, some are tossers. It can cause trouble if a saver marries a tosser, because the saver is continually asking, “Honey, where’s my _______.” The tosser has either a) thrown it out, b) thrown it out years ago, or c) sold it on eBay. I only speak from theory here, and what others say. I would never do something like that to my dear wife. I propose that from time to time we should purge our language of useless words and phrases that have piled up, and have a sort of verbal garage sale, so to speak. Here’s the first one I want to get rid of: Outside the box “Our folks think way outside the box…” “We are doing church outside the box…” “I encourage our people to push the limits and get outside the box…” What’s wrong with the box, and why are we desperate to get out of it? “Outside the box” has become a meaningless phrase today. Like a soda can after a few miles in the cup holder on a bumpy road, it’s lost its fizz. Originally coined to represent creativity and the pursuit of fresh ideas, it has slowly eroded into just another innocuous term to reflect the inner reality of one thing: insecurity. Insecure people are the ones who seem in constant need of reinvention. They change cars, clothes, styles, friends, jobs and even churches on a regular basis. This is not out of the box thinking, acting or living. Its only shows the lack of an inner core, a “box” if I may, where identity should reside. Insecure people tend to hide behind the moniker and brag that they are outside the box. But true out of the box thinking cannot exist without a box in which you are comfortable. We all need a place in which to come home and live and rest. I offer a new saying for our culture. I am thinking “inside the box” these days, which means I am learning who I am, what my real core identity is and what my core values are. If more people knew how to think inside the box, I would be willing to bet that our world would actually become a more creative place.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Job versus Work IV

I don’t know if this is a fair comparison or not, but ministry always felt a little like a position in sales for me. There is a Product (The Gospel) that must sell. Depending on the Company, there may also be regular quotas to meet. There are monthly performance reports to fill out, and when a group of your Salesmen colleagues get together, there might be a compulsion to tell a story or two about the latest deal you closed. You might even be inclined to stretch the truth a little, just to fit in. Forgive the crude association, but that was the nagging sense I always carried with me. I was raised in a Sales oriented culture, where those stories were highly valued. My leaders were Salesmen extraordinaire, at least back in their day. They had legendary tales of people just showing up to buy the Product. It was in their mind that people were dying to hear about the Product, and it was your job to tell them about it and register the transaction for the good of the Company. To them it was as easy as taking candy from a baby. So there I was, young new Salesman, trying desperately to fit into my Sales culture, and I couldn’t make a Sale. Everyone, I was told, was a potential customer, so whether or not I got on a plane or a ski lift or stood in a long line at the DMV, I was trained to think sell, sell, sell. Try as I may, I just couldn’t do it. I never once made a Sale. It’s ironic that I am now again in a position of sales. I am selling food. And once our restaurant opens, I will be selling ambience and a place to sit and enjoy it. But the contrast of the two could not be starker. No one ever wanted the previous Product. It didn’t matter that I believed in it. I could never convince someone else that they needed it. On the other hand, with my food, I now have people asking me about it. I get phone calls, emails, questions from people I don’t even know, wondering when our store will be open. It’s an incredible feeling, to be sought out like that. To have a product that basically sells itself is just short of amazing. This is why I say I’m working again. I finally quit my job of selling the Product and have started doing new work. Its work I feel good at, and good about. Its work that doesn’t feel like work. It’s just a whole lot of fun. The hardest part is that I had to walk away and disappoint a lot of people to get here. I fear being seen as the one who turned his back on the Product because he was ashamed of it, and now he is running a bar. A word of advice to those swimming against the current; learn to listen to the Wind. Its voice is your most imperative to hear. There will be countless ones in your head who sound like people you know, and theirs will undoubtedly be the loudest. I never know when the Wind will speak, but I find it’s usually when the air is the most still. It’s then I can hear the message that I think is all any of us really want to hear, “Well done.”

Friday, June 08, 2007

Job versus Work III

As I mentioned previously, I’ve quit my job and started working again. Let me explain that a little more. I believe the need to work is innate. It is in our nature to accomplish, to bring order, to design, create and ultimately leave something behind long after we are gone. This is why I separate the idea of work from the current understanding of having a job. Very few of us are lucky enough to have a job that includes an opportunity to do this kind of work. I saw this dilemma all the time in college students, especially as they got nearer to graduation. They all asked the same question, “What am I going to do with my life?” My starting point was always to start by finding out about desire. What made you choose this major? What did you picture yourself doing or becoming? But the direction inevitably shifted when we would get past the subject of getting a job and get down to what is at the core of that person’s heart. “If money was no object, what would you do with your life?” I’ve asked this question so many times, it almost feels cliché’ The answers revealed the tension between our need for a job and the yearning to find real Work. The engineering majors were the easiest. They seemed to know more about what they wanted to do than the English, Psychology or the Art History majors. Engineers have a tangible element to their work. Mom and Dad don’t worry as much about Johnny the Bridge Builder as they do with Johnny as the Starving Artist. Its harder to pay the rent with the canvas than the blueprint. I was fortunate to find a job right out of college that was in my major field, Exercise Science. My position at the Central YMCA in Oklahoma City gave me a chance to put my learning into practice everyday. I got paid to play basketball and workout with members. It was an easy gig, except when people asked me in conversation what my day was like. If they showed too much jealously, I would retort with “I guess it sucks to be you.” But everyday, despite the ease of the job, there was the pull on me to do something more. The YMCA was not where I wanted to be. I wanted to be back on campus, talking with students about matters of faith and such. This was my real work. So when the chance to throw myself into that work came along, I took it. I moved to California to attend seminary and work with university students. The inner tension subsided. My work and job were now one and the same. Fast forward to fifteen years later. Still working with university students, but the job and the work had drifted apart. What had changed? Why was I no longer passionate about my job? Or was it my work? The two did not feel the same as they once did. How could I get them to reunite? to be continued...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Job versus Work II

A group of us were celebrating a friend’s 40th birthday this weekend. As I was standing in the men’s room, taking care of business, a guy who had obviously had a little too much to drink walked up to use the stall next to me. He made a serious man-law violation; he asked me a question. “Sssslo whatsss do yooou do?” he boldly queried. In my mind I chided, “please, dude, not here in the toilet.” But I quickly remembered that I didn't have to give my standard clever answer to hide what I really did, and relief settled in when I knew I didn’t have to respond with, “Oh, I’m a minister.” This almost always adds an immediate chill to any conversation. But now that I think of it, maybe I should have said that to the drunk guy to get him to shut up so I could go back to going number one. It’s not the work of a pastor with which I wasn’t comfortable; it was the job “pastor” that made relating more difficult. You see, it was always hard for me to relate to normal people when my full time job was being a pastor. Building a bridge to find common ground to discuss anything was hard to find once the “pastor” flag was raised. Yet some guys seemed to thrive on these kinds of “single serving” interactions, because inevitably their sermons would always start out with telling the audience about the person they led to Christ on the plane on the way here. It never dawned on me that they never gave illustrations involving their golfing buddies or the neighbor across the back fence. It was always about the guy in the checkout line, or the homeless man, or the guy who came into the church office for help. These last two years have been a freeing revelation to learn that in spite my job change, my work stays the same. In seminary, and at many pastor’s conferences I’ve attended, they make a big, big deal about our role in equipping the saints to do the WORK of the ministry. But the system is not really set up to support this idea, because the guys with the JOB of the ministry have created it this way (of which I was one). The only way I see it changing is to give more leaders permission to quit their day job so they can become more effective at their work. To be continued…

Monday, June 04, 2007

Job versus Work

Are these different things? The reason I ask is that I’ve been thinking a lot about the two since my drastic life shift. Two years ago I changed jobs, or did I change my line of work? I’m not trying to split hairs here or play a semantics game. I want to know what Solomon meant when he said there is nothing better for a man than to eat, drink and enjoy his work. I get the first part of his proverb. Food is a common experience between all people, regardless of age, race, or economic status. It can be enjoyed in simple fare, or with great expense. Happiness can show up on a picnic blanket or a banquet table, in a humble sack lunch as well as in an eight course feast. It’s the work thing that is not so clear. God said in Genesis that humankind would be cursed to toil in work by the sweat of the brow, but then Solomon turns right around and says that the greatest gift from God in all of life is to eat, drink and enjoy that work that we were so graciously burdened with. Did I miss something? I think I missed the paradigm shift somewhere along the road when work became job. It seems we work differently today. Most jobs have tight definition, bounded mostly by time and location. Our jobs have set hours, mainly in the day time hours, and as a rule, spanning eight or so hours. The parameters may be sitting at a desk behind a computer screen or limited to an office space. And for how many of us, our jobs are a place we look forward most to leaving and going to do something else? And do we hate our jobs because they are just that; a job. Would we be better off if we were really able to quit our jobs and start working? I started counting the number of hours over the last two years that I have been putting in trying to start this restaurant and I was amazed, a bit stunned actually. Not by the amount of time I’ve been devoting to it, but rather by the fact that it doesn’t seem like a job. It’s a whole lot of fun. I get up earlier. I work more and have more energy. I do more and get more done. At the end of the day, I’m tired but not depressed. I look forward to getting up in the morning. I really think I quit my job and started working again. To be continued…