We had our “moving-on” ceremony for the graduating high school seniors in our youth group last night. We dedicated part of the night to honoring them, looking back on their last seven years in student community, and tapping their brains for advice to the younger kids in the program. It was a bittersweet event as “moving-on” events always are.
I have been a student leader at my local church for almost 20 years now. That longevity gives me a great perspective and vantage point on the lives of the kids. Some of the kids who “moved-on” last night I have known to some extent since they were born, others since elementary school, others since jr high. When you are casually involved in the lives of other people’s kids, you get to see changes in bigger bunches. They grow 6 inches taller since last time you saw them, they can now dunk on you playing basketball and for many of them, they grow from immature kids into developing leaders.
Part of the service last night involved inviting each of the three graduating senior groups on stage to share one of their favorite moments from student community over the years, as well as to share some advice for the younger kids.
I remember meeting one of the graduating girls many years ago in jr high. I remember telling her that I do not recognize jr highers as legitimate people until they are freshman in high school. That’s one of my running gags that is partially having fun with the kids and partially serious 🙂
Every few months when I would see her around, she’d say something like, I’m going to be in 7th grade soon. Almost done with 7th grade, I’m going to be an 8th grader – one more year until you have to recognize me. Then, when she finally became a freshman, I was a man of my word and always acknowledged her by name and took time to catch up on what’s new in her life.
There she was, four years later, on stage, as the spokeswoman for her group. She was sharing happy memories and wise counsel on behalf of the group, while pictures of her with her friends and leaders over the last seven years flashed on the screen behind her. She has formed some great friendships and has made a big difference in the lives of so many people over the last seven years as a part of the student community. I am very proud of her, her friends, and her leaders.
One of the two guys groups shared their experiences. At the end of the sharing time, one of their leaders, a guy I have gotten to know well over the last couple years, thanked them for giving him “permission” to lead them. He thanked them for the influence they had in his life over the years, and encouraged them that growing spiritually is a lifelong endeavor – it doesn’t end when you go to college, it is just the beginning.
It’s cool to see the importance and fluidity of the “leader” role. You are an influencer, who should also be open to being influenced. Your role matters, but the relationships the kids develop with each other is more important. The investment you make, probably won’t be fully realized for many years, and probably never fully expressed. It is a difficult role with many ups and downs. Those that are willing and able to stay the course deal with some challenging moments, enjoy some good moments, and make investments for the benefits of others, primarily in the future.
The last group that went was the biggest and most rowdy group. Some of them had been together for the whole seven years of student community. Since this particular group really liked to have fun, the youth director was a little tentative when he gave them the mic and asked them to share their advice to the rest of the students – he even threw in a little insurance disclaimer right before they spoke.
What they shared turned out to be sage advice. They shared two “tips”. The first tip was, “show up”. In order to build relationships, you need to spend time with each other. In order to spend time together, you simply need to show up. Showing up is difficult – especially in the over-programmed western burbs of Chicago. There are plenty of activities that seem more important from academic work, to sports, to music, to just taking a break from the insanity of suburban high school life.
Those that actually make the effort to show up, not only benefit themselves, but the rest of the kids in their group benefit, and, over time, the entire community benefits. Showing up is great advice. It is the easiest and simultaneously the most difficult decision you can make for any long-term, relational activity.
The second tip was to “invite new people in”. Wow. That is some serious wisdom coming from high school senior guys. They remarked that while some of them have been together for many years, they also made it a high priority to invite new people, and to make sure that new people felt included in their group. It’s so easy to allow good friendships to be intimidating to “outsiders”. These guys admonished everyone to make the extra effort to invite AND by inclusive after you invite.
Inviting high school kids to a church group is intimidating enough – but making the effort and the space for them to feel included takes a great deal of intentionality and maturity. These guys knew how to make it work and are great examples to the younger groups in student community of how to invite, and how to include. The circle of this group includes older friendships and newer friendships – and the impact of those friendships is only beginning to be felt.
When I shared with my group of incoming sophomore guys after the senior groups shared on stage, we discussed those two tips in detail. I also added a third tip: “you get out what you put in.” If you do not feel like you are getting a lot out of a group – it is most likely because you are not putting enough into it. Showing up is a critical prerequisite to relationship building, but you must move beyond showing up to being invested and committed if you hope to maximize the relational impact you will have on others and experience yourself.
So, another group of young people have graduated high school and will be entering college over the next several days, and most of them will be spending 4-5 years at college more fully developing and growing into independent adults. It’s an amazing process – and I have been able to see it happen for my own kids, and many, many others. It’s a mixed bag of challenges and awesomeness. Creating time and space for kids to focus on relationships and building a spiritual foundation is well worth the effort. Sometimes it takes a while to see the full effect, and for some of it, maybe much of it, you will never get to see it all – but someone sees it. Someone feels the result of that investment down the road – and for them, it’s always worth it!
The Dream of Any Good Parent
If you are a parent, odds are one of your dreams is to see your child grow up and accomplish everything they are capable of accomplishing. As a follower of Jesus, I would word it as unleashing the masterpiece God created our children to be. The phrase Unleash the Masterpiece comes from Eph 2:10 – For we are God’s masterpiece, created anew in Jesus to do the good works God prepared in advance for us to do (my paraphrase).
No matter what religious traditions you follow, if any, that dream ends up being somewhat difficult to fully realize. Parenting is a long row to hoe, and along the way we have successes and failures as parents who desire for our kids to become all that they can and should be – all that they were meant to be.
My wife Vicky recently shared an article from Donald Miller’s Storyline blog that was an excerpt from his book, Father Fiction: Chapters for a Fatherless Generation. The direct quote I have been reflecting on is:
It all reminded me of a book I read a few years ago called At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends. It was written by Dwight D. Eisenhower, the World War II general who became president. I’ve always been curious about successful people, leaders, and what they know that the rest of us don’t. This book was entertaining because Eisenhower was a character, nearly getting himself kicked out of West Point, causing a lot of trouble. But always there was in him a sense of confidence, a sense he would become somebody important. And more than this, he believed the world needed him — that if he didn’t exist, things would fall apart. He believed he was called to be a great man. I wondered, as I read, where he got this confidence.
I found the reason for Eisenhower’s confidence early on in the book, in a chapter in which he discussed his childhood. Dwight Eisenhower said that from the beginning, his mother and father operated on an assumption that set the course for his life: that the world could be fixed of its problems if every child understood the necessity of their existence.
The Necessity of Their Existence
There it is. What a great way to say it. The world can be fixed of its problems if every child understood the necessity of their existence. This is so true. I believe this to the core of my being. Every single human being has been born a masterpiece – with good works prepared in advance for them to do. The world needs every person to be everything they were born to be. As author and speaker Erwin McManus once said, There has never been an ordinary child born on this planet, ever; as such, everyone has the potential to make extraordinary contributions to the world every single day.
The sooner you hear this, and the more often you hear this – especially as a child – the better. The unique, full expression of our lives is our preferred destiny. It is the preferred destiny of our children.
Actions Speak Louder than Words
Similar to the expression, faith without works is dead, we can say that, words without action are dead. Our belief in our children, our belief in anyone’s children we influence, and the words we use to communicate that belief, have to be actionable. We need to mentor – by example – what it looks like to unleash the unique masterpiece we were born to be.
That means, you can’t really fake it about yourself. In order to be effective at unleashing others – you, yourself, first,must be unleashing. One of my big regrets of parenting my own kids is that I did not believe enough in myself when they were younger. I wasn’t as good as a could have been at unleashing my own masterpiece in my daily life – and communicating it effectively.
Our kids, and the kids we are in proximity to on a regular basis, will be influenced to a much greater extent, by who we are what we do, than by what we say.
Believe it About Yourself First
Make sure you secure your own oxygen mask first, before helping your kids. There is profound truth wrapped up in that little cliche phrase that travelers here 1000s of times a day. In order to effectively communicate the necessity of our children’s existence, we have to believe that we are also a necessity for the world to get better; and, we need to act on that belief – daily.
I could have done better with my kids in this particular area (and in others), but I could have also done much worse. The past is the past. I need to be fully present in the here and now, with my sights set on fully unleashing myself, so I can effectively unleash those around me – especially any children I have some influence on!
The Tetris Effect
I read a recent article with the headline, Playing Tetris ‘can help stop cravings for food, drugs and other addictive behaviours’. Not only was the headline interesting, but I believe the thesis also supports some principles around what it takes to live a meaningful life and have an impact on the world around us.
A new study has revealed that playing the Russian computer game smash for as little as three minutes at a time can weaken cravings for drugs, food and even activities such as sex and sleeping by approximately one fifth.
Here is are the relevant direct quotes from the article:
Psychologists from Plymouth University and Queensland University of Technology, Australia, have revealed that playing Tetris interfered with desires not only for food, but also for drugs, including cigarettes, alcohol and coffee, and other activities
Professor Jackie Andrade, from the School of Psychology and the Cognition Institute at Plymouth University said,
“This is the first demonstration that cognitive interference can be used outside the lab to reduce cravings for substances and activities other than eating.
We think the Tetris effect happens because craving involves imagining the experience of consuming a particular substance or indulging in a particular activity.
Playing a visually interesting game like Tetris occupies the mental processes that support that imagery; it is hard to imagine something vividly and play Tetris at the same time.”
“As a support tool, Tetris could help people manage their cravings in their daily lives and over extended time periods,” added Professor Andrade.
Cravings and Substance Abuse
Anyone who has had or has known someone who has had an addiction problem knows what the word cravings means in a negative context. Merriam-Webster defines craving as – an intense, urgent and/or abnormal desire or longing.
In the context of substance abuse, someone who is trying to stay sober will have strong cravings daily – usual many times a day – for the particular substance or activity they are addicted to. All of these cravings can add to to create a relapse – when a person finally gives into the cravings.
The tetris effect is basically distracting your mind from your negative cravings by preoccupying your mind with something more neutral and innocuous – playing a video game. In the study, as soon as the craving started, the test subject would play a few minutes of tetris. This would distract their mind from the craving, and after a few minutes, the test subject was able to continue with their normal activities without the craving. Pretty cool.
Cravings WITHOUT Substance Abuse
Of course, those with substance abuse problems or sexually related addictions are not the only ones with negative cravings. We ALL experience negative cravings; and, believe it or not, those cravings are still caused by the process of addiction.
As I have become more introspective and have been pursuing accountability and blind spot identification the last few years, I have confronted with what I would term the common addiction that afflicts everyone – young/old, successful/broke, man/woman, religious/atheist/agnostic. This common addiction is negative thinking.
Neurochemistry and the Brain
How can negative thinking be a physical addiction you may ask? Well, the answer is related to neurochemistry. When we encounter a situation or a person, the real-life interaction that occurs can be called the real story. As you reflect on this real story – either in the moment or later on – your brain wants to fill in the gaps of the real story. The brain does this by developing an imagined story from the real story. The brain fills in the gaps as it were – things like motive, explanations for non-verbal cues, perceived attitudes, etc.
This imagined story can become quite elaborate. The more one dwells on the imagined story, the more detailed – and ingrained – it becomes. Why does the brain do this? Simple. When you develop the story further by filling in the gaps and create an imagined story, your brain gets flooded with dopamine. Dopamine is the same reward mechanism that gets triggered when you abuse substance or engage in other, negative addictive behavior like the various forms of sexual addictions. Now, the dopamine flood from imagined story creation is not nearly as intense as it would be if you did a hit of crack cocaine – but, the mechanism is exactly the same.
So, our brains, actually become addicted to making up stories in our heads – imagined stories – to augment and flesh out the details missing in the real story. This will create cravings to develop an imagined story – any time a real story is physically played out in our lives.
Guess what else about the brain plays against us here? Our brains do not know the difference between something imagined and something real. That’s why we can cry during a sad movie, get scared or jump during a scary movie, and get fired up during an adventure movie. Our brain reacts as if the story we are watching is real life – even when it is not. The playing of the imagined story like a movie in our heads – also causes a flood of dopamine to be released in our brains – deepening the addiction.
The Unhappy Happy Place
Here’s where it gets really messed up. Because of the dopamine released when we make up imagined stories and because more gets released when we play the imagined story like a movie in our heads, negative thinking can become a neurochemical happy place for us. As days turn into months which turn into years, we can become so hooked on negative thinking – about others and ourselves – that we are deep in this addictive rut without even realizing it.
More bad news? Yup. You CANNOT get rid of an addiction. I repeat. No one can remove an addiction from their lives. You have to REPLACE the addiction with another behavior that produces the SAME REWARD in your brain.
Believing the Best
So, what can we use to replace our negative thinking about ourselves and others? Well, you may have guessed it – positive thinking! Specifically though, it is thinking that requires us to believe the best – about ourselves, others, and the situations we find ourselves in.
We can actually create positive imagined stories in our minds that fill in the gaps with positive assumptions.
Example Real Story:
This person I know just walked right past me, looked and me, and didn’t smile or say hello.
Example Negative Imagined Story:
They must hate me. They must be mad about such-and-such that happened last week. They must have been talking about me with so-and-so who doesn’t like me.
Example Positive Imagined Story:
They must have had something else really important on their minds. They must not have seen me. They might have something serious going on in their lives that they are pre-occupied with. I’ll check in with them later and see how they are doing
That’s a relatively simple example, but it illustrates the process. With intentionality, deliberate will, discipline and accountability – similar to what a substance abuser might experience in a recovery meeting like AA – each of us can overcome these negative thought addictions in our brains. We need to admit we have a problem, we need to create a plan of action, and ask others to hold us accountable. Just as if we had a substance abuse or physical addiction.
Hello. I’m Bob. I can think very negatively about myself and others.
I’m not trying to be mocking when I say that. Negative thought patterns about ourselves, others in our lives, and the situations we find ourselves in, can greatly reduce or even destroy the masterpiece that God desires for our daily lives.
God’s Tetris Game
Where does the concept of believing the best come from? Straight from the mind of God. How cool is it that God gives us exactly what we need to create an addiction to positive thinking? God commands us to look to the needs of others as more important than our own. To love others as much as we love ourselves. To do unto others as we would like them to do unto us. Give to the poor, care for the orphans and widows, and bring justice to the oppressed.Those are not just sweet platitudes or higher principles of life – they are daily disciplines and practices. They are systems for developing healthy addictions – in other words – good habits.
God essentially gives us a much more effective, much more meaningful distraction from our negative thinking than Tetris can ever be. God gives us the ability to live our lives for others. To be kind, compassionate, generous and loving. That is the Tetris Effect in God’s economy. The good news (or bad news for video game junkies) is that God offers us the perfect solution for negative, addictive thinking and behavior – a renewed mind – that places servant-leadership and sacrificial love as the top pursuit for our daily living.
This has been the story of my journey in the last couple years. I am slowly breaking the bondage of 40+ years of negative thinking patterns using God’s Tetris Effect for unleashing the masterpiece he created me to be. I commit myself daily to being distracted by loving others, leading sacrificially and keeping the needs of the poor, orphans and the oppressed in my mind, heart and actions. Some days I do better at living out that commitment than others. It will be a lifelong journey of imperfection for me – but I can feel my negative habits of thought being replaced by positive ones – slowly, one day at a time. I never want to go back to the old patterns!
Sure enough, after a very long, emotionally draining day, I lost my cool with Vicky and got really angry – angry enough to yell and leave the house. That rarely happens to me – but it does happen, and it did happen.
In this particular case last night, I really was embarrassed at how I lost my cool. Almost all of my kids were there, two of my kids on their way out the door to go back to Chicago, Michael going up to bed, and of course, my oldest son Bobby is going to be married in a couple days. I normally do not embarrass myself. Others might be embarrassed for me some of the time, but it’s rare for me to be ashamed of the way I acted. Last night was one of the moments where I was in that kind of rare form.
So, I yell, storm out of the house, and drive away to … a gas station. I had to get gas anyway.
I have left the house angry only a couple times in the last 25 years…and same for Vicky. We have had many arguments, but few that would cause either of us to leave the house.
Arguments are a part of life. Those who are closest to us can make us the most upset. The better we know each other the easier it is to know exactly what buttons to push. As spouses we get to see each other at our absolute worst and most unlovable – most folks don’t get that privilege.
While I wish I would have kept my cool better last night, it is a great opportunity to talk about arguments and fighting in marriage. It’s gonna happen. In fact, if it does not, it may not be a sign of a healthy marriage.
Following are some arguing principles I have discovered over the years:
- You are going to argue. You are going to annoy the heck out of each other sometime. You are going to say and do hurtful things sometimes. It’s part of life
- Be aware of what things you do to annoy your spouse and try to reduce that behavior. Your spouse has to let you know (hopefully lovingly) what it is that annoys them. Trying to bury your annoyance at a bad habits or poor use of words, etc., is not love. It will eventually cause bigger problems.
- How you handle stressful situations is very important. You will have them. If you have kids – you will have more. Vicky and I have learned how to handle stress much better in our marriage as time has gone on. Our biggest issues are when we do not express stress in healthy ways that we end up in what I would call a secondary argument (see next principle)
- H.A.L.T. – If you are hungry (mostly the guys), angry (had a bad day outside of your context with your spouse), if you are lonely, or if you are tired – do not engage in serious discussions about anything. HALT! Hungry – Angry – Lonely – Tired. I so need to get better at this. When I am one of these four, it’s almost a guarantee I am going to pick a fight with someone I love – who wasn’t really looking for a fight.
- Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Great biblical principle. Vicky and I have never spent more than an hour or two alone after one of us has stormed out of the room/house. Don’t do it. It’s OK to have a cool down period – and sometimes necessary – but do not let it last more than an hour or two.
- Do not confuse the principle of don’t go to bed angry, with having to completely resolve all issues before bed. I am famous for this one. Serious issues need to be discussed when you are fresh and not tired (remember HALT?). Some of my finest moments are when I am able to tell Vicky I love her and that we can resolve the particular issue later – and go to bed snuggling – and – not wake up mad. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, but I am slowly getting little better at this!
- Be willing to apologize. I had to suck it up and apologize last night. There was no excuse for my behavior. I owned it. It may have taken about 50 mad texts back and forth from the gas station parking lot, but I eventually apologized for my part 🙂
Just for the record, for my Christian brothers and sisters out there, the idea or concept of biblical submission has NEVER come up, not even one time, in our 25 years of marriage. I believe the idea of wives submitting to their husbands is a cultural quirk mentioned in the Bible, and not how God intends it to be for life at its best. We have intelligent compromise and have never had an issue we could not resolve ourselves. Of course, that leads to the last principle.
- If you do hit an impasse, you need to bring in a neutral third-party who cares about both of you. Getting counseling is a sign that you value your marriage and relationship. Many times we need help outside of ourselves. No one goes into these things being an expert, and just because you are a follower of Jesus you are not exempt from needing help. God gives us good friends and access to marriage counselors because we may very well need it from time to time. If you do, if you even think you do, collaborate on it and get it done. Respect each other’s wishes in this.
Life is so short. I am going to a life celebration service later today for a friend of mine who passed after an 8 year battle with cancer. Life is precious. Our relationships are precious. Our marriages are precious. Let’s argue well, argue less, and learn from the mistakes and build stronger marriages in the process. You won’t regret it!
I remember meeting with an influential friend of mine a while back. He was a well-recognized minister to the high-capacity, influential people. I had been requesting some hangout time with him and it took months to finally get on his schedule. I was hoping he would see something in me that would move him to invest some more of his time in me on a regular basis. After the initial pleasantries, I recall him looking across the table from me and asking, “But what exactly is it that you do that makes you feel like you are giving God your best?”
I answered, “I consciously invite God into most moments of my day, and surrender to him. If I am thinking in a prideful, selfish, angry, negative or lazy way, I surrender that to him. If I am thinking negative about a co-worker, customer, my spouse, child, friend, etc., I surrender that to him. I seek direction for words and actions throughout the day, and when my head hits the pillow at night and I reflect on my day, I feel that for the most part, I have followed Jesus and that I have done what I was supposed to do that day. I feel, for the most part, that I am doing what God wants me to do in my everyday life.”
He flashed a smirk as I finished speaking. He looked at me and said, “Yeah, but, look at the scope of your influence. How many people do you really influence every day? I work with people who are speaking to hundreds and thousands. People who run companies worth tens and hundreds of millions of dollars. If I invest in those people, I get a huge return on my investment.” He went on to conclude that, because my business was small, and my influence was primarily family and close friends, I was kind of average in God’s eyes. Not worth the investment of a mentor to high-capacity people. It wasn’t done in a mean-spirited way. It was kind of an honest, “I don’t see a good fit here” moment. And, he was right. It wasn’t a good fit for either of us.
I walked away from that meeting with a strange sense of peace and confirmation. I have long pondered what the evidence for a “high-capacity” life looked like. Is it big numbers? Is it speaking on stage at conferences? Writing books? Leading large organizations, be it businesses, non-profits or churches? How will I know when I have arrived at high-capacity? I feel like God wants me to be “high-capacity” so I need to understand what the evidence of that would look like in my life, so that I can measure my progress towards that goal, get better, and finally make it one day.
Of course, when I go to God in prayer and ask for a “high-capacity” life, and meditate in his word, I am gently led away from such language. Jesus leads me to desire an “abundant life.” He talks about this in John 10:
- I have come so that they (Bob Clinkert) may have life, and have it more abundantly – (NKJV).
- My purpose is to give them (Bob Clinkert) a rich and satisfying life – (NLT).
- I have come that they (Bob Clinkert) may have life, and have it to the full – (NIV).
- I came so they (Bob Clinkert) can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they (Bob Clinkert) ever dreamed of – (MSG).
So, Jesus came for the purpose of me having an abundant life. Like when Jim Carey in Dumb and Dumber said to the waiter when he asked about the Soup Du Jour – “That sounds good. I’ll have that.” The abundant life sounds good. I’ll have that. But, how exactly do I get it, and just as important, how do I know when I have it so I can celebrate and stop looking for it? I have been pursuing those questions in my life for decades now. I’ve done in depth study of the Greek and Hebrew biblical text. I have studied science and the Bible. I have tried fasting and meditation. I have gotten heavily involved in leadership in my church, in the community, in local mission work, in global mission work, etc. I’ve invested a ton in being a good spouse and father. But, the abundant life has seemingly eluded me in all of that.
I am not alone in my exasperation with the desperate quest for the abundant life. Most everyone I know is on a similar quest – young and old, rich and poor, “high and low capacity,” religious and non-religious, etc. I remember praying one night and hearing the still small voice say, “What if you are searching for the wrong thing? Looking for the wrong evidence?” Huh. Is it possible that I have been wrong all along about the high-capacity thing? Is it possible that my definition of abundant and full life was the one given to me by the culture rather than the true definition given by God?
It’s seemed so obvious in that moment. The first will be last, the last will be first. The small are great and the great are small. The woman who gave two pennies gave much more money than those who gave millions. If you wish to be a leader become the servant of all. Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile. Most things in God’s kingdom run almost entirely opposite to the cultural definitions.
What if the high-capacity life wasn’t entirely about more of things the culture sees as valuable? What if it wasn’t about entirely about bigger crowds, bigger stages, bigger platforms? What if it wasn’t entirely about a stress free life full of happiness and devoid of pain and suffering? What if all of those things could be present, or could not be present, in the abundant life? What if those things were not the rock solid evidence of it? What if you took two mega stars with huge platforms and crowds, and one of them was living the abundant life, and one was not? How could you tell the difference?
One of the most profound “opposites” of Jesus is that you must become like a little child to enter the kingdom. I have come to discover that “becoming like a little child” means is continual surrender to God on a daily, hourly, moment to moment basis. Children are entirely controlled by the adults in their lives – and a big chunk of what they really want to do – eat too much candy, stay up late, skip school, not brush their teeth, play all day, have the toys they want – they do not get.
As I have been inviting Jesus’ control into every minute of my life, every thought, every word, every action, my life has begun to change tremendously on the inside. At the same time, I still think things I shouldn’t think, say things I shouldn’t say, and do things I shouldn’t do. I still experience some amount of frustration, sadness, depression, anger and feelings of worthlessness on a daily basis. I still feel defeated. I still have some significant issues I am struggling with in the lives of my kids and close friends. I still have issues in my business and with my partners, co-workers and customers.
In all of this, I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes, “Jesus didn’t come to make us safe. He came to make us brave.” The difference in my life, the major evidence of the abundance in my life, is the way in which I see my struggles – not the absence of them. I embrace my struggles. I am thankful for them. I want to do well in them. I no longer ask for removal of struggles. I pray that I may reflect the character of God in my struggles. I see my struggles and difficulties as proof of a full and abundant life.
Now, that is not to say that I do not have a lot of fun along the way. I thoroughly enjoy my life – in the midst of the ups AND downs. Only few people truly know all of my struggles and issues I deal with every day – but I am filled with a peace that surpasses all understanding deep within my core. I still panic at times – but it is short-lived, and does not go as deep as it once did.
I also have faith. Faith that I am also living a “high-capacity” life despite the evidence some of the high-capacity gurus out there might throw at me. God is responsible to bring fruit through my obedience. Period. When I try too hard to make the fruit myself – that is when I fail the biggest. And not only me, but every single “hero” and “high-capacity” person in the Bible. When they try to do the God-part in their lives they fail miserably – whether it’s Abraham trying to make the baby thing happen or Peter slashing an ear trying to make his version of the revolution happen.
My obedience, in the daily moments of my life, make a huge difference in God’s kingdom – even when I do not perceive them to. I am God’s Masterpiece – created anew in Christ Jesus to do the good works God has prepared in advance for me to do. I have come to discover that what I perceive to be good works, and what I perceive to be high-capacity, and what God sees as high-capacity, and good works, are often two completely different things – and, doesn’t that make sense that they would be? I am after all not God. His thoughts are not my thoughts. As high as the heavens are above the earth is how much higher God’s thoughts are than mine.
I am living a pretty cool story – but I have the confident faith that I only see a small portion of the story I am living. The story I do not see, the story I do not know about, would blow me away. Not because I am awesome, but because God takes my two fish and five loaves and multiplies it by the thousands. I am living the abundant life right now. If I die today, and I am never on the world stage, never make Oprah, and never get named Time’s person on the year, I have already lived an abundant life – because I have chosen childlike, humble obedience. It’s not the lack of, or the presence of a big platform. It’s the ongoing surrender of my life to God. On the world stage or in the obscurity of my family room. It’s the inside of the cup, not the outside, that makes it clean.
I am right where God wants me to be, living the abundant life of his Masterpiece – because I am surrendered to him in my daily thoughts, dreams, speech and actions. Not perfect, just surrendered. My struggles, depression, laughter and silliness are the evidence of my abundant life. I want the abundant masterpiece for the rest of my life, I want to spend my life helping those I influence realize the abundant masterpiece for their lives as well.
Last Sunday night, my 8th grader, Michael, comes to me and asks, “Hey Dad, Bobby (his 23 yr old brother) wants to take me out at midnight tonight to buy the new Call of Duty game so we can play it together. Can I go?” The rest of this post discusses how we make these kinds of decisions as a family, and why we make them. Why a seemingly preposterous question like that would even be asked and entertained in the first place.
Due to some undeserved genetic wiring formed in the womb, this role has always come super easy to me. The wild and crazy in me often manifests itself by creating some pretty unique and special memories.
Back when my two oldest kids had fun hanging out with just dad, and didn’t need any friends along, we used to do dollar bowling together. The only problem is, dollar bowling was during a school night, from like 10PM to midnight. So, I made a deal with my kids. If you get your homework done right after school, and take a 2-3 hour nap, and your grades and performance in school don’t suffer, we can do the midnight bowling every week. That ended up being a pretty great memory – and also made other people think we were crazy.
I remember driving my oldest daughter and her friends to school, and telling them that if they could name 10 current Bears players before we got to the school, I would try to convince their parents to give them a special day off. Sure enough, they were able to get ten players named, and I had to make some pretty awkward phone calls to parents I didn’t know. Fortunately, they all agreed and we had another awesome memory in the making.
The list goes on. Some of the memories are crazier and grander than others, but all of them have been so very important in creating a healthy perspective of life, family, work and play. Balance in life is so important. I have been a leader of students in many different capacities for the last decade and more. So many students have a myopic and unbalanced view of “success.”
Everyone deserves a break. Grades and school are important, but so often they become “gods” that are worshipped above all else – especially in the lives of conservative Christian parents. School., school, school. Grades, grades, grades, College, etc.
Of course, we take school very seriously. We expect maximum effort as a family. If you are capable of an A and you get a B, you are going to be in more trouble than if a C is the best you can do with maximum effort and you get a C. That’s just how it’s always been in our house. We value school and education. I have a Master’s degree and was a National Merit Scholar top 1/4% finisher, etc. I love education and knocked it out of the park. But we have to make sure we do not worship it. Creating memories is sometimes more important than the routine of school.
When Michael asked me about the Call of Duty release night idea, I asked a few important questions. How are your grades? All A’s and B’s. How many classes would you miss in the morning? OK, do you have any tests in those classes? Any projects due? No. OK. How late will you stay up? 2AM. OK Wake up at 10:00 leave for school at 10:30. We knew what classes he would miss, which ones he would make, and how/what he is doing in all of them.
Michael’s older brother Bobby is getting married next March, and will be moving out. What a great opportunity to make a special memory with his older brother before he is no longer around on a daily basis. This opportunity was too good for us to pass up. Michael is doing well in school, has a history of good grades, has a history of good leadership in school, athletics and church. Why not reward that behavior?
Rewarding good behavior in immediate, tangible, memorable ways is one great way to reinforce good behavior. Not all kids are academically gifted enough to be able to spontaneously miss days of school on a regular basis. Some of our kids were not. If the grades aren’t there, if the history isn’t there to recover from missed days of school, then we, as parents, worked out different ways to make memories – and/or we worked closely with the teachers to make sure the missed special day did not create a chain-reaction of pain later on.
I have done a couple all night movie marathons with Jon Woz. We have done a bunch of midnight movie showings as a family on school days. We’ve done short little day trips, etc. We’ve created some very unique memories in a responsible way – working with the grain – as it were – of each of our individual children.
The Call of Duty release night party was a smashing success. Both Bobby and Michael will remember it for the rest of their lives. Michael is caught up in school – no lingering effects of the day off. Bobby did fine at work the next day, and the routine of life continues. School, grades, academics, are very important and they always will be; but, people are more important than school, family is more important than grades.
Your kids will move out and leave the house one day. It will happen. Give them a great education and a foundation on which to build a successful life. Make sure that foundation has a little crazy fun built into as well. Make some memories. One of the most important roles you will play as a parent is Chief Memory Officer. Do it well!
I recently saw the movie “A Winter’s Tale” with my wife Vicky for a date night. I loved the movie and would highly recommend for many reasons. On the drive home, I was listening to a Christian radio station and sure enough, the movie review segment came on and it was a Christian review of “A Winter’s Tale.” The reviewer went on to complain about “new age themes”, “sex outside of marriage,” etc, etc., and because of those things, he couldn’t recommend it and gave it two stars.
Really? I mean, that is really what you see when you are reviewing a completely secular movie made by a secular producer who would not identify at all with so-called “Christian-values?” As a devoted follower of Jesus, that negative attitude really grieves me. I don’t see it that way at all.
I saw the unmistakable, indelible fingerprints of God all of the story in the movie. Since God is real, and his principles are real, it is impossible to make anything that has any value, that will not display the fingerprints of God. Take sex. Who invented sex? God did. Who invented the pleasure, and unique, intimate connection that comes along with sex? God did. In the movie the main character pledges his eternal love to the main female character. He promises to love her, and only her, forever. In fact, his single-hearted love for her and her alone is so strong that it enables him to escape death. That’s how I want to love my wife. Seeing the love scenes and how he talks about her reminds me so much of how I feel about Vicky. It moves me to see that depth of connection in a movie because that is what I experience in my marriage, and that is supposed to be an example of God’s great love. I’ll take that portrayal of sex and love from a secular movie any day of the week. There wasn’t even any nudity.
The movie goes on to say that no person ever born is any more important than anyone else. That we are all super important. In addition, every single one of us as an incredible important destiny and mission in life, “our miracle.” Everyone, great and small, rich and poor, famous and obscure. In fact, the demon character remarks that sometimes the greatest miracle is nothing that seems special on the outside, but it’s a life that is lived with such great love that is impacts everyone who sees it. Wow! My favorite verse in the whole bible is Ephesians 2:10 that talks about each and every one of us being created as a unique masterpiece of God, with good works that are designed for us, specifically for us, by God, before he laid the foundations of the world.
I don’t see many secular movies at all that get that. Most secular movies worship fame, fortune, the rich, the beautiful, etc. A Winter’s Tale reminds us of the intrinsic value of every human being and the importance of each of our unique missions in life. How the world is lacking if we do not become who we were born to be, and do the things that we were born to do. That’s awesome! Not only that, but when living out your mission gets hard, you get supernatural help. In the movie it is in the form of a fantasy horse but so what. Show some imagination.
This movie is written by a guy who is not a follower of Jesus, who is not trying to promote a Godly message, but, cannot help himself but do so.. Why? Because the story of God is a great story. It’s the greatest story ever told. If you want to tell a good story, you cannot do it without telling parts of God’s story. You cannot tell a good story without including the fingerprints of God all over it. So no one prayed the sinners prayer doing the movie, and no one waited until they were married to have sex. Big deal. It’s a secular movie. Get over it. We should be running out en masse to support movies like this. We should be inviting our secular friends and neighbors to see it with us. We should be having meaningful discussion about it after words, gently leading people to the fingerprints of God, and leaving them wanting more.
When I see A Winter’s Tale, I see the fingerprints of God all over it. I see elements of the greatest story ever told. I see the power of monogamous, intimate, romantic, unconditional love. I see Ephesians 2:10 value, masterpiece and mission all over the plot of the movie. I see a supernatural force that is not distant, but one the injects itself into the moment when needed most. I see God all over this movie, and we should be walking with the secular world and helping them to continue connecting those dots. Jesus says that from the abundance of the heart comes evil and good. If all we ever see in this world is evil, what does that say about our hearts?
From Seth Godin’s – Stop Stealing Dreams – http://www.sethgodin.com/sg/docs/stopstealingdreamsscreen.pdf
Schools for the Masses
The industrialized mass nature of school goes back to the very beginning, to the common school and the normal school and the idea of universal schooling. All of which were invented at precisely the same time we were perfecting mass production and interchangeable parts and then mass marketing.
Some quick background:
The common school (now called a public school) was a brand new concept, created shortly after the Civil War. “Common” because it was for everyone, for the kids of the farmer, the kids of the potter, and the kids of the local shopkeeper. Horace Mann is generally regarded as the father of the institution, but he didn’t have to fight nearly as hard as you would imagine—because industrialists were on his side. The two biggest challenges of a newly industrial economy were finding enough compliant workers and finding enough eager customers. The common school solved both problems.
The normal school (now called a teacher’s college) was developed to indoctrinate teachers into the system of the common school, ensuring that there would be a coherent approach to the processing of students. If this sounds parallel to the notion of factories producing items in bulk, of interchangeable parts, of the notion of measurement and quality, it’s not an accident.
For the Lower Orders
In 1914, a professor in Kansas, named Frederick J. Kelly invented the multiple-choice test. Yes, it’s less than a hundred years old.
There was an emergency on. World War I was ramping up, hundreds of thousands of new immigrants needed to be processed and educated, and factories were hungry for workers. The government had just made two years of high school mandatory, and we needed a temporary, high-efficiency way to sort students and quickly assign them to appropriate slots. In the words of Professor Kelly, “This is a test of lower order thinking for the lower orders.”
A few years later, as President of the University of Idaho, Kelly disowned the idea, pointing out that it was an appropriate method to test only a tiny portion of what is actually taught and should be abandoned. The industrialists and the mass educators revolted and he was fired.
The SAT, the single most important filtering device used to measure the effect of school on each individual, is based (almost without change) on Kelly’s lower order thinking test. Still. The reason is simple. Not because it works. No, we do it because it’s the easy and efficient way to keep the mass production of students moving forward.
More Fear, Less Passion
School’s industrial, scaled-up, measurable structure means that fear must be used to keep the masses in line. There’s no other way to get hundreds or thousands of kids to comply, to process that many bodies, en masse, without simultaneous coordination.
And the flip side of this fear and conformity must be that passion will be destroyed. There’s no room for someone who wants to go faster, or someone who wants to do something else, or someone who cares about a particular issue. Move on. Write it in your notes; there will be a test later. A multiple-choice test.
Do we need more fear?
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From Seth Godin’s – Stop Stealing Dreams – http://www.sethgodin.com/sg/docs/stopstealingdreamsscreen.pdf