Friday, December 25, 2009

The Christmas Cheer of Angels (A Christmas Poem in Five Tweets)

Suddenly, without warning, the silent starlit sheep-fields blazed bright with the awesome knee-bending glory of God. First, fear; then, JOY!

A solitary envoy angel booms the midnight news: "Emmanuel has come! Lord, King, Messiah, is fresh-born, swaddled in a trough! Go! Find him!"

Abruptly: a torrential host of heaven’s angelic armies appear intoning, "Glory to God in the highest; peace on earth among those He favors!"

Mary dozes as Joseph holds the promise of God in his hands, stained with birth-blood, a baby who awes angels, shepherds, wisemen, and kings.

The Christmas cheer of angels echoes evergreen through the ages. Emmanuel has come! This God/man/baby decorates receptive hearts with Truth.

-- First Tweeted on Twitter in five parts on 12/24/09; Edit 12/25/09; Each line is 140 characters including spaces. Also posted on Facebook:


This poem is included in this collection:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Introverts of the world: unite! Extroverts of the world: read this book!

I heard about this book in Feb. 2009 and have had it pre-ordered for months; it just came yesterday and I'm very impressed.

After stating, “Evangelicals talk a lot,” McHugh summarizes:
“To participate in the evangelical church is to join the conversation. Introverts, however, spare our words in unfamiliar contexts and often prefer to observe on the fringe rather than engage in the center.

“Our spirituality may be grounded in Scripture, yet it is quieter, slower, and more contemplative. In an upfront, talkative, active evangelical culture, we can be viewed as self-absorbed or standoffish, and we can feel like outsiders even when we have faithfully attended church for years.”
Yes! I know that feeling!

He also explains how in mainstream American culture, which includes business, that extroverts tend to be more valued, while introverts are viewed as “enigmatic, antisocial, and passive.” This is, in reality, a subtle and insidious form of discrimination.

Given that introverts are in the majority (50.7% of the population) it’s time this kind of bias was bashed.

After all, if you’ve read Good to Great you know introverts were behind the success of many of the great companies. In fact, in many situations, it may be the extroverts getting all of the attention, but it’s the introverts who are quietly and methodically getting the work done.

In reality, it’s not about which personality type is “better” (neither is, they’re just different), but rather recognizing the value all individuals bring to the table, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or personality type.

This should be especially true inside the church!

This is a wonderful book that discusses the challenges of being an introvert in an extrovert world, whether inside or outside the church.

If you are an introvert, the book will truly speak to your situation and provide useful guidance on how to embrace who/how God has crafted you.

If you are an extrovert, you will gain keen insight to the frustrations and challenges we introverts deal with daily, and hopefully gain awareness into the strengths our quieter ways can bring to the table.

The truth is that regardless of personality type or style, we ALL are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:20).

Are you an introvert? What challenges do you encounter on a daily basis? What about in church? Are you an extrovert? How patient are you with the introverts around you? Share in the comments!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mini-Post: Speed kills the shine

Failing to reflect dulls your ability to shine.

Taking time to think about something; to mull it over; weigh the pros and cons; examine the facets; consider the possibilities is essential to making good decisions.

Acting in haste just to be the "first one off the block" almost always means jumping the gun or shooting yourself in the foot.

Stop and think. Meditate. Reflect.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Mini-post: The first step to disaster...

The first step to sure disaster in just about any situation is acting when everyone is saying, "We have to do something! Now!"

In desperation, the something you tend to do is the first thing that comes to mind or that appears to be easiest to accomplish. Most often, this is exactly the wrong thing to do and only generates more chaos and confusion.

The antidote to disaster?

Wait until you don't have to do anything.

Then choose to do the right thing, the right way, at the right time, for the right reasons.

Thoughtful action trumps thoughtless reaction every time.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Naming names: Are you disrespecting colleagues and annoying customers?

A name is a very personal piece of our identity. How you treat another’s name can either endear or alienate them. Are you offending friends, colleagues, or customers?

Even if there are elements of the name our parents gave us we’re not particularly crazy about – for instance, my middle name, Ray, is the same as my father’s, but I don’t generally use it, preferring the initial “R” instead – we are still fond of our name; I am still Stephen Ray Clark. It is a part of who we are and, for most, there is only one way they wish to be addressed when you call their name.
Are you paying attention?

For some, there is pretty much only one way to pronounce, spell, or render their name. For instance, Mary is always Mary. Adam is always Adam. These are names that really don’t have a nickname, per se.

Other names, such as mine, Stephen, can be both nicked and variantly spelled: Steven, Steve, Stephan, Stefan, Esteban, Steverino, etc. When I worked at AT&T, there was a senior manager who, bafflingly, insisted on calling me “Stereophonic,” even after I asked him, more than once, not to. I did not care for the man.

Robert can be Rob or Bob or Bobby. John can be Jack (which I’ve never understood) or Johnny. Anastasia can be Ann or Anne or Ana or Anna or Stasia or Stacy.

I prefer to be called Stephen (with the “ph” pronounced as a “v”). In writing my full name, I prefer Stephen R. Clark.

Whenever I get a telemarketing call and they ask for “Stefan,” no matter how friendly and familiar the caller is trying to be, I know right away they are a telemarketer (although it always amazes that anyone would pronounce “Stephen” as “Stefan”).

But, what amazes – and annoys – me even more is when anyone who knows me persists in calling me “Steve.”

Today, I was at a conference full of business communicators; people who should pay attention and be aware of certain nuance; such as how someone introduces them self. Without exception, I always say, “I’m Stephen.” It is absolutely stunning to me when the person to whom I am speaking replies, “Hi, Steve!” That happened today a few times.

When the person is someone I most likely won’t ever see again, I’ll let it go, even though I don’t like it. But with those whom I work or have regular interaction, I’ll gently point out that I prefer “Stephen.” And a few continue to call me “Steve.” Huh?

One of the reasons I prefer Stephen is because my mother insisted that I go by Stephen, not Steve, or any other variant. Using Stephen is, in a sense, a small way I honor the memory of my mother.

To reinforce this, I introduce myself as Stephen, I sign documents with Stephen R. Clark, my email signature includes my first name, “Stephen,” and my full name, “Stephen R. Clark.” I never, never, never write Steve or introduce myself as Steve. Ever!

I pointed this out once to a vendor. He immediately and properly responded, “I really should pay more attention to how my customers refer to themselves!” And ever since, he refers to me as Stephen. That’s as it should be. I like this vendor!

I try to pay attention to how those around me refer to themselves, and, if I encounter an unusual name or spelling, I’ll ask them to clarify the pronunciation. Sometimes I need to ask more than once. They don’t mind.

They don’t mind because a name is very personal!

Making sure that I’m pronouncing a name correctly or using the variant an individual prefers demonstrates that I care about and respect that person. Persisting in mispronouncing a name or using a variant they do not like signals disrespect and disregard.

There are some who persist in calling me “Steve” who I know are just not paying attention; that’s annoying. There are others who seem to be intentionally (for reasons I cannot fathom) referring to me as Steve. Maybe it’s a power thing.

When dealing with customers, this can be costly. If someone goes to the trouble to point out to you that you are not pronouncing their name they way they prefer, you need to pay attention and make an effort to get their name right!

What’s in a name? Everything! The next time you meet someone new, LISTEN to how they introduce themselves, and SAY IT BACK THE SAME WAY! If someone overcomes the discomfort and awkwardness to correct you when you call them Sue and they prefer Susan, PAY ATTENTION!

Referring to a person the way they wish to be referred to shows that you care and respect them. Would you want to be treated any less?

A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but a person’s name is personal. Not acknowledging how a person prefers to be addressed makes you a thorn in their side.

“Hi! My name is Stephen. And you are?”


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A poem: Power Walking

I'm tired of all things extreme,
out of the box,
over the top,
getting in faces,
dazzling the razzle,
pushing the envelope,
grabbing for the gusto,
living on the cutting edge,
super biggie sized machismo and -ma,
pumping up,
pimping rides,
raising the roof,
living large,
shock and awe,
tossing the wind caution,
putting the pedal to the metal,
power lunching,
crackberry multi-tasking,
cheese chasing,
tripping the light fantastic,
shooting the moon,
dog eating dog,
life defining adventures,
roping the razorback,
wrestling the wraith,
jumping the shark,

All I want to do is walk.
On level ground.
Along straight paths.
In the right direction.
With Him.


This poem is included in this collection:

Monday, September 7, 2009

What if there were no air show, but there were still military jets?

This past Labor Day weekend, the annual air show was in Cleveland. It's based at the Burke Lakefront Airport just a few blocks from my apartment building. Beginning the Wednesday prior, jets buzzed the downtown area. It was actually pretty cool seeing and hearing the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds zipping and varooming through the end-of-summer skies. And even cooler watching the show up close on Saturday.

But then, on Sunday, as I watched from my apartment, it occurred to me that in some parts of the world, these amazing, loud, zooming machines did not represent entertainment. Instead, they were represented just a few of the many reminders of the conflict a country or region was enmeshed in.

What would it feel like, I wondered, if on any other day of the year, without warning, loud, fast-moving jets started buzzing the city and suburbs? If a bomb were dropped, a building strafed, and ground forces started moving into the streets?

What would it feel like to wake up and fall asleep to the sounds of jets and helicopters overhead or in the distance? What would it feel like driving to work, sitting in class, talking on the phone to client with the boom and rumble of flying battle-craft echoing down the streets, rattling the windows, always there?

I can only imagine that the novelty would wear off instantly. Any chills felt would not be from the thrill, but rather from the fear, the sounds would spark and fuel.

I'm grateful that, for the time being, the sound of a jet does nothing more than bring a giggle of glee from my inner little boy, and not a spasm of fear that the next bomb might fall on me or someone I know and love.

But, given the nature of our world, all that could change overnight. Couldn't it?

On 9/11/2001, the jets weren't military and carried no bombs or guns, but the impact they had was just as profound as if they were and did. For the most part, we can still look up at a jet trailing through the sky and feel wonder at the miracle of flight rather than wondering if it's friend or foe. Thank God. But let's not forget those who died on 9/11, and those who are dying in other parts of the world every time a jet careens through a beautiful blue end-of-summer sky, dropping a bomb or strafing their neighbors.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

I serve at the pleasure of ….. me!

I am an avid fan of The West Wing and own the series on DVD. I’m up to Season 2 (of 7) for about the fourth or fifth time. Among the things I love about the series is how it shows the development and value of relationships, and how personalities bump against each other within the context of doing the business of the nation. It’s a high pressure, fast moving environment packed with brilliant, driven A-type extraverts. Conflict and disagreements are givens.

Who do you serve?

A phrase that crops up regularly is, “I serve at the pleasure of the President.” What does this mean? It does not mean that these are “yes” people who merely execute like automatons whatever they are told to do without question. Not on your life! They have strong opinions, varying viewpoints, and hold nothing back. The President (played by Martin Sheen) encourages and invites his staff to share honestly and openly as he weighs decisions. He wants to hear all sides and he is open to criticism (respectfully given, of course). He weighs, values, and considers all opinions.

Then, he, the President, decides. The decisions are hard and the way to go not always clear or easy. But, he is the leader of the nation and knows there comes a time when he must do the hard stuff of taking action. This means he occasionally does things others aren’t happy with.

It’s at these times that you’ll hear the phrase, “I serve at the pleasure of the President.” Even those who strongly disagree with the President’s final choice now set aside differences and turn toward doing their jobs faithfully and with excellence. They respect and trust their leader and each other, and work together to achieve a positive result in line with the President’s direction.

It's a pleasure to serve

Within the context of the Christian walk, in those battles between the spirit and the flesh, conflict and disagreement are givens. And, of course, this flows over into life as expressed through our various personalities.

According to a personality assessment that classifies people as animals, I’m a beaver (2nd highest was golden retriever). One of the weaknesses of the beaver type is “critical of self and others.”

Yes, I am! That’s me to a T. The two inner voices I have to constantly tamp down are criticism and cynicism. To paraphrase Paul, I am chief among critics and cynics. I am truly and naturally gifted in these areas! Sadly, they don’t produce much fruit.

When these two get loud inside me, I try to counter them by thinking about who I am supposed to be serving in that moment. Of course, I’m always supposed to be “serving at the pleasure of Christ.” But what pleases Him in various contexts?

At work, it might be expressed as, “I serve at the pleasure of my employer (or manager, or co-workers).” In relationships as, “I serve at the pleasure of my friend (or spouse, or relatives).” In home groups as, “I serve at the pleasure of others in the group.” And in church, in any leadership or ministry role, “I serve at the pleasure of the head of this expression of the Body of Christ, the Pastor.”

Dying to self to serve Him and others

I am independent and headstrong. But I am trying to always be aware that there is a time for respectfully sharing differing viewpoints, and then there is a time to shut up and do what needs to be done and support those who I am serving, as well as those I’m working alongside of.

Alas, too often, when these two voices get loud inside me, they spill out through my words and actions. What’s left behind in their wake is scorched earth and ashes, metaphorically speaking. I think you know what I mean. When this happens, I am serving at the pleasure of myself to the joy of Satan.

Paul wrote, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and [voice] you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).

If you hear me being critical and cynical, you have my permission to call me on it and get in my face a little bit (lovingly, of course). Criticism and cynicism are two voices that defeat unity. I don’t want to be guilty of that. Especially not within the Kingdom.

At whose pleasure do you serve? Are their inner voices you need to tamp down that are interfering with your having a servant’s heart? You pray for me, and I’ll pray for you. Then, let’s stand and work together.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ode to the Typographical Error

The typographical error is a slippery thing and sly
You can hunt 'til you are dizzy, but it somehow will get by.
'Til the forms are off the presses, it is strange how still it keeps.
It shrinks down in a corner and it never stirs or peeps.
That typographical error, too small for human eyes.
'Til the ink is on the paper, when it grows to mountain size.
The boss, she stares with horror, then she pulls her hair and groans.
The copy-reader drops his head upon his hands and moans.
The remainder of the document may be clean as clean can be,
But the typographical error is the only thing that's seen.

This is not original and exists in many forms on the Web; it is what I've been dealing with for the last week or so as I and others have worked to purge typos from very important documents. We are very nearly done.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Two true Cleveland stories: Coffee & extra chickens

Extra Chickens

He looked quite normal, almost ordinary. Kempt, clean white T-shirt, jeans, sneakers, and a backpack. We passed as I was returning from the AT&T Store. "Got any extra chickens?" The question was aimed somewhere between me and the next person on the street. "I'm really excited about this. I'll buy all your extra chickens. Got any extra chickens?" I smiled, nodded slightly, and walked on without answering. I have no extra chickens.


The young woman's voice is loud, loud with life and uncertainty, tinged with a touch of Jersey, as she pontificates on the culture of coffee. The guy working with her has a voice as blank as vanilla, sounding a little bit dumb and nasal, he tries to interject what knowledge and experience he has, talking fast, hoping that at least some of the words in the story tripping from his lips will stick and impress. She talks him down every time without knowing she is and still he listens and looks on worshipfully as she unspools her coffee knowledge in a single unbroken, unending string ignoring everyone but herself. He works, listening, brewing bold.

What “true” stories can you share? Share them in the comments!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What's the buzz?: Bugged by purpose driven lawyers

A few years ago, I had this image posted at and people could purchase it on T-shirts, mugs, and such. Then the "purpose driven" lawyers came along and threatened CafePress with litigation and doom if they did not scrub the site of all such images. It seems the term "purpose driven" is a registered trademark.

Now, I'm all for protecting a trademark; I have a few and have taken steps to prevent others from using my TM'd names when they were being implemented as labels on competing products or services, or in similar venues (like the names of a newspaper, website, or blog).

If someone wants to lampoon me and in the process use one of my TM'd names, more power to them. I really can't and shouldn't try to shut them down, even if I'm bugged by what they're doing. After all, this is America and not Iran and we should know how to maintain a sense of humor and laugh at ourselves a little. (I have a feeling I may regret putting this idea out there.)

Frankly, I wasn't impressed with CafePress caving so easily. My image is satire/parody and is legal; even the Wittenburg Door took my side at the time. But, CafePress wouldn't listen, the "purpose driven" lawyers wouldn't reconsider, and the image was blocked. It was a sad day.

So, what do you think? Is the image truly a violation of trademark rights? Or is it fair use as satire/parody? I'm no lawyer so maybe I've got it wrong. Educate me if that's the case.

But, weigh in soon before those humorless lawyers come buzzing around again!


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Hello. My name is Stephen. I’m a bookaholic: Saying good-bye to John Updike

I have a problem. I love books. I mean I really, really love books.

For me, going into a bookstore is almost as dangerous as it is for a gambling addict to go into a casino. Maybe worse. I can walk in fully intending to buy only one specific book, and walk out with, well, a lot. Or, go online to order one and all of these other “suggestions” start popping up! Oooooo, the rush!

I own a lot of books, and I keep buying more. I can’t stop, I don’t want to, and you can’t make me.

Some of the books I own I’ve not read yet, but I will get around to reading them, eventually, maybe. Many are for reference which means I dip into them now and then for tidbits of information. The others nag me to open them and run my eyes over their lovely pages, letting the words penetrate my heart and mind. “Read me! Mark me up!” they cry out! (Yes, I like to underline and write in my books, and they like it when I do. Librarians, not so much.)

My love affair with books started very early. My parents were avid readers. What they read, like Reader’s Digest condensed stuff, held little interest for me, but they set an example. Mom especially as she would stay up all hours reading, eager to get to the end of one story after another. I loved being read to; Dr. Seuss and Charlotte’s Web were favorites. While I can’t recall exactly how old I was or what grade I was in, I can remember the moment when I knew I could actually read on my own; no more training wheels.

It was recess at Sunnyside Elementary in New Castle, Indiana. One side of the asphalt playground wrapped around the kindergarten room where books were always displayed face-out in the windows. As I walked by on that day one book trapped my attention. It was a kid’s book that I don’t believe is in print any longer. The title was Even Stephen.

Okay, sure, that’s my name and I should have been able to recognize it. But this was different. It was like a jolt of electricity zotted into my brain and I knew that I was reading the title, not just recognizing it. There was a new intimate comprehension of words that hadn’t been there before. From that moment on I was hooked.

I love the feel of books. I love the smell of a book, new or old. Mmmmmm, yes.... Oh, sorry.

Every trip to the school’s library became an adventure, although I hated that they forced us to choose books only from our “age appropriate” section (a practice that later contributed to my leaving libraries behind).

At recess, instead of running around “getting exercise” I’d sit leaning against the building and read, that is until the teachers monitoring the playground took my book away and made me go play! Aargh! First they work so hard to teach me how to read and then they deny me the privilege. Very frustrating. I think it left an emotional scar or two and probably explains why I don’t care for sports.

I went through reading phases, absorbing one category at a time. I would read only science fiction for months, then suddenly switch to detective/mystery/spy novels, or maybe war stories, or mythology, and of course all of Henry Gregor Felson’s car classics. Delicious!

Disappearing into an other world of a good novel is still way better than drugs; but then I never did drugs so I’m not sure how it compares; I just know that I like the I-can’t-hear-you-I’m-engrossed-in-a-good-book experience a lot. When pocket books were the rage and cheap I always had one in the hip pocket of my jeans. Any “down time” was an opportunity to read and fade away to another place and time. I liked poetry, too.

As my reading tastes became more sophisticated, I tossed Rod McKuen and Kahlil Gibran aside picking up real poetry, and was swept away by e. e. cummings, W. H. Auden, Robert Frost, T. S. Eliot, and more. In fiction, I moved on to John Steinbeck, John Knowles, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Cheever, Kurt Vonnegut, Ayn Rand.

Then, finally, in college, I discovered John Updike. I was smitten.

[Fair Warning: If you are an Uber-conservative up-tight Christian, you should probably avoid Updike. You have been warned.]

My first exposure was to his short story “A&P” in an English Lit. class. I was entranced and even wrote a poem based on a classroom discussion of the story. I recently discovered echoes of the story in the song “Queen of the Supermarket” on Bruce Springsteen’s album, Working on a Dream.

I headed to my favorite bookstore at Battlefield Mall in Springfield, Missouri and the first two novels I read were The Centaur and Of the Farm. Of all of Updike’s books (I have them all, many in hard cover first editions) my favorite is Couples. And of course, the Rabbit books, especially Rabbit, Run.

With Updike, his writing shines on the page as if the very words are imbued with diamonds. Just like in this opening from Toward the End of Time:
“First snow: it came this year late in November. Gloria and I awoke to see a fragile white inch on the oak branches outside the bathroom windows, and on the curving driveway below, and on the circle of lawn the driveway encloses—the leaves still unraked, the grass still green. I looked into myself for a trace of childhood exhilaration at the sight and found none, just a quickened awareness of being behind in my chores and an unfocused dread of time itself, time that churns the seasons and that had brought me this new offering, this heavy new radiant day like a fresh meal brightly served to a patient with a dwindling appetite.”

Even if you aren’t sold on the story line, the writing enthralls. I pray earnestly daily that I would be gifted to write even a third as well as he did. Or better.

Over the years other writers that I came to love have passed; most notably James Dickey and John Cheever. I knew it would eventually happen with Updike as well. While the little note about the author that appeared on the back pages of each of his books remained essentially the same (John Updike was born in 1932, in Shillington, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Harvard College in 1954…), his photo morphed as age made its creeping claim as it does to us all.

Another thing I liked about Updike’s books is that he always included a note about the type used with a little description of the typeface. I’ve heard he often had a hand in how his books were designed inside and out. He loved books and book making.

It amazes me that since that electrical moment on the playground distant decades ago, that beyond merely learning how to read books, I’ve had a hand in creating them, from writing to editing to designing. No bestsellers yet, but some pretty good books. It is both humbling and satisfying. I used to type out Updike’s stories, working to get inside his voice as I worked on finding mine. He’s had a hand in shaping me in more ways than one.

On Tuesday, January 27th, I was walking by the vending area at Chancellor University in Cleveland. A flat-screen TV mounted on the wall is always tuned to one of the news channels with the sound off. I noticed John Updike’s face on the screen in one of those little sidebars previewing upcoming stories. A sad chill spilled into my heart as I grasped why he was pictured. He’d died. America had lost one of its great voices.

I felt like crying. It was like losing an old friend. I needed to tell someone so tracked down the English profs, people who I knew would appreciate the news and my sadness, and we lamented briefly together. One even shared about his encounter with Updike. It helped to talk out the unexpected grief. I continued talking later with my cats and they purred empathy back.

And so today, the posthumous collection of stories by Updike, titled The Maples Stories, arrived from Amazon; I had pre-ordered it months ago. It’s now on top of the stack of books next to my bed, queued up for reading.

For years now whenever I’m in a bookstore I’ve always looked to see if there was something new from Updike that I’d missed hearing about. It’s sad knowing there won’t be from now on. But, there will always be new books by someone.

Solomon lamented, “of making many books there is no end.” Sorry Solomon, but there is if you’re the one making them. Still, there are always new writers and new books, just maybe not quite as good as Updike’s. I will be saying good-bye to him for a long time, and will keep buying new books from new writers.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are books clamoring for my attention.


The stack of books pictured are a combination of just a few of my recent book purchases, books that I’m currently reading (or, “reading in”) that are stacked beside my chair or bed, and those I’ve pulled out intending to read soon. I’ve got a few hundred more on shelves in my home office. Here are the titles of those pictured:

The Maples Stories - John UpdikeGrant Writing - Tremore & SmithFrom the Very Big Desk of... - Charles BarsottiThe Still Life Sketching Bible - David PoxonPublication Manual of the APA (6th Edition) The 3 Colors of Ministry - Christian Schwarz
The Writing Life
- Annie DillardSerendipity Bible for Groups, NIVThe Birds, Our Teachers - John Stott Travels with Charley - John Steinbeck Given: Poems- Wendell Berry The New Rules of Marketing and PR - David Meerman Scott Cleveland Trivia Quiz BookFear and Trembling - Soren KierkegaardTwitter Tips, Tricks, and Tweets - Paul McFedriesThe Twitter Book - O'Reilly & MilsteinNIV Study Bible: Updated EditionMy Father's Tears and Other Stories - John UpdikeCleveland on Foot - Patience HoskinsThe Long Tail - Chris Anderson Managing Up - Rosanne BadowskiOperating Instructions - Anne LamottBoundaries - Cloud & TownsendEndpoint and Other Poems - John UpdikeThe Rise of Evangelicalism - Mark Noll


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fake plants in real soil?

I once lived in an apartment complex where a neighbor placed artificial flowers in the ground around her patio. It could be quite disorienting to see bright blooming flowers “growing” up through the snow in winter. Every time I saw them (and I saw them every day) I thought of how my dad would react if he were alive.

My dad was a florist; a noted grower of real roses and other flowers. He was very picky about the quality of the flowers he would allow to be cut and passed along for sale. And he hated fake flowers. He could spot them a mile away. That is, until the technology changed and the fakes began looking more and more like the real thing. He hated that. Being faked out.

My mother preferred real flowers but was okay with the plastic ones. She felt they had their place. Dad usually bit his tongue on the topic around mom. He let her do her thing. But even she would not have “planted” fake flowers in the ground or even in pots with real soil. That would have been just too weird.

I agree. Some things just are not meant to be.

Yet, there are people who are like fake plants in real soil all around. They go to church, know the lingo and the liturgy, and have that dazzling – is that plastic, you wonder -- smile. At first, they seem okay, but then it snows and nothing shifts.

Fake plants blow away in a storm because they have no roots. When faced with constant sun light, they fade. In the glare of the sun they are exposed for what they are – fake.

Grounded Christians are like perennial plants. They may not bloom in the snow, but they’re alive and solidly rooted no matter what. Real people of real faith may wilt when the soil is dry or the weather is harsh. They’ll bend in the wind. They’ll loose their petals when whacked. They’ll turn brown if a dog pees on them. But they’ll also recover, straighten, re-green, and arch toward the Son when the storms pass. When the Son shines, they blossom.

“But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8, NIV).


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The marketing silver bullet!

How to solve an organization's marketing problems? Get all the customers it needs? Push sales/enrollments through the stratosphere?

Well, according to one self-proclaimed marketing guru,the solution is this: Brighten up the colors on the marketing materials. Period.

Problem solved.

True story.

Have you got some gems like these? If so, please share them!


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It takes over: Satan talks about the power of money

Something I'm learning about my money is that it's not my money. It's His. But I still wrestle with letting it go.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Brand Jesus?

“People who think they are religious but say things they should not say are just fooling themselves. Their 'religion' is worth nothing. Religion that God accepts as pure and without fault is this: caring for orphans or widows who need help, and keeping yourself free from the world’s evil influence." James 1:26-27 (New Century Version)

An article by Richard Tompkins titled "Christ replaces Coke as the focus of youthful longing" that appeared in the July 30, 2004 issue of the Financial Times caught my eye. The essence of the article is captured in this excerpt:

"Put simply, Christianity is cool. Or at least that is the way it is being marketed...Cool Christianity is the cult brand epitomized, making its customers feel part of a community and instilling a sense of ownership that verges on the fanatical. Old Christianity used to be about serving God in this world with the promise of uncertain rewards in the hereafter. Now, provided you can afford the merchandise, the rewards are up-front: loud music, multimedia entertainment, a cool image and a comforting sense of spirituality...Far from brands being the new religion, it seems to me that religion is the new brand."

It's both good and sad that this is the perception Tompkins has of the church. It touches on the truth but glances off into a gross misconception. We are brothers and sisters in an infinitely extended family. That Christians feel part of a community is accurate and a huge plus. And the rewards that we look forward to in the hereafter are far from uncertain.

But, Christians are not customers or consumers of religion. We are customers of stores and consumers of products. In our "religion," which is better defined as faith, we are adherents to God's laws, disciples of Christ's teachings and examples, and ministers to each other of His grace. Christian faith is about relationship, not retailing.

True, Christians enjoy the privilege of buying products that can both enhance our relationship with God and express to others our commitment and calling. But we also know that any pleasure we derive from purchased goods is temporal and not the "reward" or point of our faith. We know that real spirituality is not found in a cool image, but rather in a true relationship with Jesus that often makes us seem very uncool. Our faith is in a Person, not a brand.

As for the claim that Christianity is being marketed, I must concede that this is true, and it's something I'm not particularly comfortable with. My fear is that wrapping our faith too tightly in the practices and methods of Madison Avenue, instead of yielding new converts or a deeper faith, promulgates wrong perceptions such as that expressed by Tompkins in his article.

Old and now Christianity are both about serving God in this world. It isn't about marketing a cool brand of religion in order to entice a larger share of consumers into churches that are more like malls than places of worship. A marketed, hyped "faith" is nothing more than a transient disposable experience, another consumed cup of gourmet coffee.

Jesus didn't command His church to market His brand; He has called us to build His kingdom through truth, relationship, and service. He said: "… go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:16-20).

And religion? “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:24).

True faith is the true cool.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Flash fiction: What surprised Edward?

At an early age Edward discovered the uncanny ability to foresee certain aspects of the near future. The first time this happened he was sitting quietly listening to friends having a discussion and knew what each was going to say before they said it; kind of like an echo; he heard them first in his head and then just moments later speaking the exact words out loud.

The effect was fascinating and frightening, as well as a little annoying. It didn’t happen all of the time but came and went without warning. However, it never extended past the near, almost immediate, future.

For example, on his birthday he had to feign surprise as he opened his gifts since as he unwrapped them he knew exactly what each one was before he had the packages fully opened. Just an hour earlier he was totally clueless as to what he would be receiving.

Over time as he grew older he learned to somewhat manage the phenomenon. But he never really got used to it. Most of the time he wished he didn’t know what was about to happen. He had no concept of what it was like to experience a real surprise.

The last thing he ever foresaw was how he would die. Then he did. What happened next he never saw coming; it was a complete surprise.

What do you think surprised Edward in the end?

Terry Pluto: In dark times, it can be hard to trust in God: Faith and You

I've not met Terry Pluto, but I'd like to. He's a sports columnist for the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, and he also writes on faith from time to time. He's worth reading, so I thought I'd share his latest. Here are the opening lines; you'll need to click the link below to read the rest:
A friend for whom my wife and I had been praying was seemingly clear of breast cancer. The news had been good for a few years. She and her husband are in their 30s, and they have three children under the age of 10.

Answered prayers?

Just this week, our friend was told that the cancer had roared back with a vengeance to several parts of her body.

So often, we tell a person who's gotten such devastating news that we're so sorry to hear what happened. We may say something like, "Keep the faith."

"But there are times when keeping the faith is really, really hard," said the Rev. Bruce Riebe of St. Joseph Byzantine Catholic Church in Brecksville. "And I've said it myself to people whose faith was really shaking."
Click here to read the rest >>


Thursday, July 16, 2009

What if worship was like an NBA game?

Thanks to my friend Jon for pointing me to this video. It's a hoot! Don't you just love the PowerPoint projector malfunction? So true.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Strategies for getting the blue out of a bad day when you have to go to work

Bad days happen and they aren’t always rainy days and Mondays. Causes behind a bad day can range from the silly, such as forgetting to put a filter in the coffee pot and getting a cup full of grinds; to the tragic, such as hearing about the desperate misfortune of a good friend.

We are all susceptible to life-issues that will impact our moods and attitudes and can follow us to work. The challenge is not to let these issues have a negative impact on our job, colleagues, or customers.

When the blue’s on you…

When you are feeling blue, here are three simple tips to help yourself:

Be prepared. Take some time before going into work to process what’s going on. Plan to meet with a friend to talk away from work. Write down any actions you can take to deal with the issue. A simple plan helps alleviate a sense of being powerless.

Be aware. Acknowledge your feelings; stuffing or ignoring them won’t make them go away. Even talking out loud about the problem as you drive to work can help relieve stress and bring clarity.

Be happy. Worrying won’t make a problem go away or a dark day brighter. One you’re at work, it’s okay to ignore the issue and focus on your job. What often happens as you distract yourself from the issue is that emotions settle down, the mind clears, and solutions surface as if by magic.

When the blue’s on them…

When it’s a co-worker struggling, here are tips to help them:

Be sensitive. You know how far a little sensitivity can go. The tendency to counteract a perceived bad mood is often to try to inject humor. Humor is not always appropriate. Show empathy, listen, and learn what the issue is first.

Be tactful. Once you learn what’s going on, respond appropriately. If it is something silly, lightening the mood with humor can be exactly the right thing. If it’s something more serious, showing concern and understanding are best.

Be balanced. You’re not a therapist so don’t feel you have to be one. Don’t pry beyond what the person is willing to share. Listen a bit, maybe offer some gentle feedback, then let it go without being critical or judgmental. It’s okay to redirect the conversation or recommend they consider seeking out a counselor if the issue warrants.

Also, keep in mind, some people just need a little space and a second cup of coffee and they’ll come around on their own. Be patient and focus on your work in the meantime.

Showing the blues who’s boss

Managing your attitude while at work is important for at least two reasons:

• Your customers deserve your best. A bad mood or a negative attitude will impair your ability to give good customer service. No customer wants to hear about your bad day, nor should they.

• Your co-workers depend on your best. An obvious bad mood can create tension with co-workers and impact everyone’s productivity. To paraphrase a well known quote, to maintain a positive attitude when dealing with a life-issue: seek the serenity to accept what you cannot change; the courage to change what you can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Facing a life-issue with courage and maturity in public will help beat the blues and clear the way to a brighter day tomorrow.

In the meantime, when you’re home out of the public’s eye, it’s also perfectly okay to whine, pray, cry, be grumpy, sit quietly in a corner, stomp all over the house, stuff yourself with ice cream, let out a few screams, and do whatever it is you need to do to grapple with and work through whatever has blued your day. Just don’t hurt yourself or anyone else as you process. And know that it does get better.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Marvin Creps, the inside story

The "from my archive" items are quotes, clippings, cartoons, faxes, postcards, and other odds and ends that I've collected through the years. This one I've had for a couple of decades. I love it. I think there's a little "Marvin Creps" in everyone; we all have stories that want out. When are you going to write yours?

Have you got a story in you? Are you writing it?