Lasagne Lessons

If you were in our home last evening, I’m not asking you to send me an email or text or Facebook message, telling me how flavorful pasta can be without enough sauce to call it lasagne. It’s okay. Really. You didn’t fail me by not praising my attempt at dinner.

However, the truth is this: I still want approval. About my cooking, about my training, about my appearance, about my life. I still want the satisfaction and accolades that come from performing.…

Room at the Table

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I think I’ve always grown up hearing that people matter. At least most people. 

I’m pretty sure the people I attended church with, the leaders and pastors in my life wouldn’t say “most people.” They’d say all people matter. It’s just that the language I heard (and I used) and the approaches I watched (and I participated in) didn’t always reflect that every person matters to God…and to us.

When I was a kid, what I heard went something like this…

  • “They practice a false faith.”
  • “Their doctrinal system is wrong.”
  • “They are sinful.”
  • “They are lost.”
  • “They are hell-bound.”
  • “They. They. They.”

It was always “they.” And we were “us.” Us and them. Higher and lower. In and out

There were lists of taboo “sins” that separated them from us. These “sins” were apparently rotten, stinking “fruit,” that allowed us to judge whether someone was in or out. 

  • Their filthy language.
  • Their gay lifestyle.
  • Their smoking, drinking and chewing and going with girls who do.
  • Their lack of church service attendance.
  • Their movie or TV choices.
  • The list goes on...

I don’t think anyone in my church experience would ever have said that “they” don’t matter. But the focus was too often on what separated them from us. Their choices, their lifestyles, their language, their sexual orientation, their appearance… all the stuff that was used to judge whether they were in or out. 

So, they were out.

For a good number of years now, I've been journeying through this challenge of "us" and "them." And I’ve been confronting my “us-isms;" the subtle, but profoundly disrespecting and devaluing ways I've "othered" people who I saw as different from me. It's been one thing to acknowledge that "people matter;" quite another to celebrate that every human being bears the image of the Divine. And they do. It's the opening declaration in the human story and all of scripture echoes it.

People matter because they bear the image of the Divine

Every person. Every. Person.

  • Every ethnicity. 
  • Every sexual orientation.
  • Every economic class.
  • Every neighbor.
  • Every person without a home.
  • Every person struggling with a mental illness.
  • Every person whose lifestyle, choices, behaviors, language and relationships are different than mine, than yours. 

Every person bears the image of the Divine. And that’s why they matter. 

Notice the two lists above. One list places LGBTQ on a "sin" list. The latter list recognizes characteristics about human beings. The first list makes it easy to judge people and justify their exclusion based on behavior. The second list acknowledges that every person is an image-bearer of God.

I have dear LGBTQ friends who have been rejected by their parents, pastors and churches. Over and over and over. They've not been merely misunderstood; they've been mistreated. They've not been merely questioned; they've been sequestered. They've not been merely dismissed; but dehumanized. I've wept and ached with my friends. I've apologized on behalf of any Christian - or any person - who has disrespected and denied their dignity. 

These friends help me follow Jesus because of his image in them, his likeness in the way they love others, forgive others, sacrifice their time and energy, and give themselves to the transformative work of LOVE, of Jesus in our world. They are beautiful souls. Amazing friends. 

In his inaugural synagogue reading of the Old Testament (Luke 4), Jesus pointedly announces himself as the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy regarding the One who would come "to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." And then he follows this "good news" with stories from their history, stories of their revered prophets who crossed religious boundaries, defied sacred practices by including tribes long rejected by his audience. Because... all people matter to God; all people are created in God's image.

Through his life on earth, Jesus shows us what it looks like to live and love as image-bearers: beautiful, fully human beings. Jesus’ invitation calls us to awaken to what is already most true about us - all of us. His call is to live into our already core identity as image-bearers. 

Here's another challenge in understanding Jesus' life and message. As we read the Bible to understand his kingdom, we each come to the scriptures with biases and approaches that are used - in part - to substantiate the biases we already hold. But the more I read the Bible, the more I’m challenged that I’ve missed the point way too often. Over too many years I had ignored context. I had dismissed cultural realities. I had not always done the work to try to understand this ancient text. And because of this, I had missed Jesus’ radical, all-inclusive invitation - not to a church or a religion or a doctrinal system - but to his Table of belonging as family. 

Over the past several years I’ve had to wrestle with honest questions like…

  • Is doing the next “right” thing always the most “loving” thing?
  • Are there times when the traditional understanding of “right” should be challenged, even overturned?
  • Have I talked about how much people matter, but used a lens of “othering” to differentiate myself as somehow better?
  • Have I accurately understood biblical context and language and intent regarding homosexuality and marriage?
  • Can I read science and scripture side by side without setting aside my faith - regardless how the creation of the universe happened (and is still happening)?
  • How do I surrender to the Mystery and Grace of God?
  • How do I practice the kind of message and lifestyle I see in Jesus?
  • What do I do with Jesus’ declaration that there are people we’ve rejected from our "tribe" - and it’s counter to his kingdom?

Maybe you're asking similar questions. Maybe you're wrestling with what it means to be part of a kingdom that is inclusive. Maybe you're wondering...As we learn to follow Jesus together - rich, poor, straight, LGBTQ, believers, doubters, young, old, steeped in religion, no religion at all - how will we not only put out a “welcome” mat, but how will we offer a chair of belonging at the Table. How will we lead and serve and love...together? 

This past weekend my friend and pastor, Jason Miller, spoke eloquently and bravely about sexuality and scripture and our practice. He challenged our faith community with this: As we differ in our understanding of a historical, traditional view of marriage or a progressive view of marriage... how will we experience and practice unity? How will we allow Jesus to be the basis and center of our faith and community? 

This three-word phrase: Because People Matter is actually a complete sentence. There’s a period at the end, not a comma.

Let's love, Because People Matter.

Period.

(Check out the Sacred Conversation: Sexuality message here)

What's the Big Deal about a Day Off? Really.

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It’s easy for many of us to just go, go, go. After all, this is the one and only life we have. Once we discover how we’re wired, what our talents are and what our purpose is, it’s time to "get to it," right? Maybe. But we often burn up the wonder of discovering why we exist because we don’t know how to exist without working every day of the week.

Why is it so difficult for us to unplug? To take a “day off?”

Here are five reasons we often lean in to our own demise.

*Note: if your work is in a church, feel free to replace “work” with “ministry” if that helps you.

1.     We are unaware of the energy we expend. 

My wife, Laura, chides me about my notion that I can always “get just one more thing done.” When I’m in that mode, I’m not thinking about how I feel or what may be required of me after this “one more thing.” I think I can do it all.

Many of us believe we have a limitless supply of energy. We don't know we believe it, but our behavior reveals the truth. Just one more phone call. One more conversation. A few more minutes of research. Then, although we had an unlimited sense of energy for “work,” we’re too tired to engage meaningful conversation with our spouse, visit with a friend or focus on our family.

Worse yet, a moment here, an hour there – it all adds up. And the cumulative result is sheer, life-sucking exhaustion. But until we crash and burn, we keep going. And going. And going. We keep spending energy. We’re okay, we tell ourselves, this just has to be done. ‘Til we are done.

2.     We confuse the words STOP and QUIT.

I remember an evening years ago, meeting an associate in the hallway who (ironically) asked me what I was still doing at the office. This wasn’t my first day working into the evening; it was my third or forth that week. I suppose with a tone of both pride and martyrdom, I remarked about having so much to do; it was "such a busy season."

She looked at me and said, “There’ll always be another season. After this one will be another one, and another after that. You’ll have to learn it’s okay to stop for the day.”

But to me, stopping meant quitting. It meant being irresponsible. And it certainly meant I wouldn’t be perceived as hard-working. Maybe that was it – as a perpetual people-pleaser, I wanted others to see me “not quitting.”

Regardless the reason, I’d twisted up these two words together: stop and quit. I believed they were synonymous. But, I slowly learned that I could stop and not quit. The work can always be picked up again. But, I needed desperately to STOP. To take a break. To be done for the day.

3.     We don’t know what to do with “time off.”

Most of what we read and hear about leadership is geared toward how we lead in our business, in our church or non-profit – whatever and wherever is our workplace. We don’t lack for resources related to our work: leading, building, growing, solving, innovating, processing, analyzing, reporting, succeeding. Don’t misunderstand. I want to lead better, build people, grow and develop, solve problems, innovate ideas, process challenges, analyze trends, report and succeed.

But. We know far less about what to do with “time off” from all the above. The risk is that we ONLY know how to lead, innovate and succeed. What else is there?

How do we relax? What does it mean to engage a relationship with no agenda or expected outcome? What does it look like to just walk? How do we nap with a deep sense of peace? Can we simply watch a great movie, take in a play or listen to a concert? How do we STOP and simply “BE?”

4.     We don’t know how to listen without thinking about how we’ll talk about it.

Another challenge with “time off” is that if we actually stop work and everything related to work (email, social media, reading about work), we easily fill the space with other things. Good things, things that are healthy to engage for replenishment: an inspiring movie, reading a novel, sports, travel or time with friends and family. All good. All important to refueling.

But, there is another option for that space: quiet. Blocking time to listen to the Voice within us, to nature, to God. I’ll make this personal for me. Too often my reflective journaling has a subtle but distinct second thought aside from the content: “this will be good to share with my team.” My deep soul work can become a talk tomorrow. The picture of the sunrise during my quiet morning can be taken for my next social media post. Suddenly, I'm not practicing quiet. I'm not reflecting for my soul's sake. I'm leading. I'm planning. I'm working.

Everything easily gets turned into an illustration, a story, a lesson, a piece of encouragement for someone else. Someone else we lead or feel responsible to in some way. What if we simply listened. Soaked. Dug. Felt. And that’s it. What if our gain in the quiet is lived out rather than talked out? What if our insight is for our own growth and not the next piece of wisdom that makes us a better leader?

5.     We want everyone around us to model our hard-working lifestyle.

Again, with a focus on productivity, high expectations for effectiveness and ultimate success, we demonstrate our priorities for our team. I have to talk about how busy I am, so they are encouraged to work just as hard. I need to set a pace of sacrifice so they understand the stakes are high.

And in doing so, we most certainly convey our priorities. We communicate that work is more important than marriage; productivity is valued above relationship; and the work of our hands trumps the sacredness of our soul.

What myth have you bought into?

Will you…

  • schedule time away from work?
  • honor that time?
  • give yourself to a full 24-hour period away from all work-related efforts?
  • experiment and discover what gives you rest and refuels you?

What else prevents you from taking time for YOU?

Getting to Answers Without Questions. Really?

Are questions better than statements?

Of course, the “right” answer is “yes.” Which is precisely the challenge of asking questions: We think we already know the answer. I admit it. I often do.

When I do, my arrogance spews observations as judgements (This can be especially true with family or others close to me. Ugh.). My narrow-mindedness is expressed as nothing more than biting accusation dressed up as "truth-telling." And my claim to “truth” leads me to directives and corrections with little room for push-back or open human-to-human dialog. This confession is no fun.

Surely I'm not alone in this. 

Look at your own relationships and interactions. In how many conversations - in your workplace, on your team, in your church, in your home - do you actually ask questions? Meaningful questions. Too often our dialogs are a back-and-forth exchange of statements we already share with each other. We craft questions to draw out…

Discipleship as Story: A Shared Journey of What It Is to Be Fully Human

I’ve been to India twice now. On both occasions I took in a trip to Agra to visit the Red Fort and the famed Taj Mahal. I was traveling with my family on the second tour and wanted them to experience all I had in my first Eastern adventure. 

You see, my first tour was with a native travel guide who completely immersed herself in the history and legacy of her country. She told stories about the people and events that had inhabited the sites as though she had experienced them herself. She was connected with the story. She told it as if it was her own. I listened with keen interest, hung on every word. I was invited into her world, her history, her life. I not felt I knew her country and her heritage; I believed I knew her. 

Eager for my wife and daughter to experience the same riveting interaction, we embarked on the two-hour ride to Agra from New Deli. My eagerness waned as…

Your Team Wants You to Ask Yourself These 10 Questions about Trust

The more conversations I have with clients, family and friends, the more I’m thinking about trust these days. Seems there’s precious little trust actually being experienced in work places and homes. Let’s start by defining trust.

My online dictionary states that trust as a verb means: to believe in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of something or someone.

Conversely, the same dictionary defines distrust this way: to doubt the honesty or reliability of; regard with suspicion.

My experience confirms that people know quickly whether they are trusted or distrusted; whether their supervisor believes in their strengths or regards them with suspicion. People know when their leader hovers, limits, takes back a responsibility or removes authority.

I Don't Want to Press 3 for Service

It seems that when an organization is faced with staffing challenges, the need to operate more efficiently, or simply to address a potential problem, the tendency is to create as little change or hassle as possible for the organization. So, the change, and often the hassle, is passed on to the end user: the customer, the guest, the human on the other end of this would-be relationship.

What is the current challenge for your church or organization? 

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    This Easter we will all expect new guests, many of them returning to church - any church - for the first time in years. There will be people who appear “new,” but who gather with our faith communities twice a year: Easter and Christmas. Most of us will see more people attend our Easter services than on a “normal” weekend. Because of this, it’s not unusual

    It’s in You. And Your Team. Let’s Access It.

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    I only have a few spots left

    What Story Will You Tell in Your Next Chapter?

    It’s amazing how many stories revolve around the main character striving to live in the present, while mired in the circumstances of their past. Batman - The Dark Knight Rises; Marty McFly - Back to the Future; Dom Cobb - Inception. The list goes on. 

    It doesn’t just happen in the movies. It happens in our lives, too. Maybe you’ve lived this plot line. Yesterday’s storyline threatens to define tomorrow’s reality. You hear voices, telling you…

    Let's Work Together

    Everyone has a story. And every story matters. In fact, I've been seeking to understand my own story more clearly. 

    For 35 years I’ve invested in people. I’ve led teams in local churches, non-profits and retail environments. I’ve honed my skills in executive leadership, customer / guest services, coaching and life planning. Today, I’m still serving as a pastor with Granger Community Church, but I’ve gotten clarity about how my passion for people gets played out in my next chapter. 

    With the blessing and support of my lead pastor, Mark Beeson, I’ve launched a new effort to leverage my love and care for people - people like

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