Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Number 2 of 7 Musings on Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany


“I’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS!” We hear this sung-sentiment over and over at this season. It’s a lovely thought, whether home is where we live, where we grew up, or even the home of dear friends. To be “home” is to be some place welcoming with people who are familiar. Being home is cozy and comfortable.

Joseph’s hometown was Bethlehem; it possibly was not Mary’s. Even though there were most likely relatives and others Joseph knew, they didn’t welcome the couple into their homes. Where they ended up for the night, in a cave-stable, wasn’t particularly comfy.

For Mary, it was very foreign. No relatives were there to help her as she gave birth.

It was also very foreign for Jesus (God incarnate). He left the glory of heaven with all the comforts of the home of homes, and landed in a smelly stable to be bedded in the cattle‘s feeding trough. Ta da!

For such a lackluster appearance, His arrival has had a long-lasting impact. Are you prepared to let Him in this Christmas?

Advent runs for four weeks: 11/27, 12/4, 12/11, 12/18, and culminates on Christmas Eve 12/24.
Christmas Day is celebrated on 12/25, however the 12 days of Christmas extend through 1/6
Epiphany, the 12th day, marks the end of the Christmas season.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Number 1 of 7 Musings on Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany


ADVENT MEANS THE COMING OR ARRIVAL OF SOMEONE EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. Isn’t it interesting that the birth of he who is our Shepherd, the Lamb of God, was revealed first to shepherds? And what a revelation it was!

These sheep-herders were dutifully going about their thankless business, working the night shift, keeping sleeping flocks of sheep safe.

Over their heads, an angel – a real, live, floating in mid-air angel – materialized in a brilliant glow and scared the chill out of them. And then a bazillion more angels show up doing a heavenly song and dance number of celestial proportions. Bravo! Encore!

The shepherds listened; were shocked and awed; then with knees still trembling, somehow managed to repack their wits and find their way to see – a baby. Just a baby; yet no ordinary child. But what they saw was only a fraction of who He is.

How much of Jesus do you see? How much more do you really want to see of incarnate Deity? Open your eyes fully this Christmas!

Advent runs for four weeks: 11/27, 12/4, 12/11, 12/18, and culminates on Christmas Eve 12/24.
Christmas Day is celebrated on 12/25, however the 12 days of Christmas extend through 1/6
Epiphany, the 12th day, marks the end of the Christmas season.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Occupying ambiguity

For two months, groups of people across the country have been participating in what’s being called the OWS for Occupy Wall Street, or simply, the Occupy thingy. This alleged movement has its ardent detractors and its equally ardent supporters. I’m somewhat in the middle with a slight leaning toward detractionism.

Early on, for a few days, this scattered demonstration was even tied by the media to uprisings and protests around the world, attempting to give it the illusion of global reach.

Fortunately, the media and others have backed off this slant, and rightly so. This is the U.S., not Syria. We are not a police state. Many of the events happening overseas are totally unrelated and dissimilar to what’s happening within the borders of the U.S. Thank God.

But what is happening here? It’s not exactly clear.

After two months, no clear message, purpose, or actionable objectives are crystallizing from these encampments. Instead, they seem to be devolving into chaos and worse as anarchists and other opportunists worm into the groups. At the same time, while unions briefly made a big deal about aligning with the occupiers, their involvement seems to have waned or gone covert.

While the media generally tries to present a favorable view of the protesters, what’s coming across is not so pretty. It seems the only thing the protesters want to accomplish is confrontation with police to artificially foment conflict that is intended to manufacture a bloodied photo op.

And this is going to bring positive change how?

I’ve been trying to maintain an open attitude toward all that’s going on. However, I cringe when it’s compared to the protests of the 60s and 70s. While the anit-war and anti-establishment protests of those decades had their failings and troublemakers, there were also clear overarching messages being communicated. The loudest call was to end the draft and end the war in Vietnam.

In addition to much clearer messages and goals, the majority of those who engaged in civil disobedience then understood that they were breaking the law and risking being jailed. The fact that they were willing to accept the consequences of their actions made them all the more compelling.

Too many of the protesters in the Occupy bunch seem to be wimpy whiners who are surprised that trespassing, spitting on the police, and defecating in public can get them jailed. Many appear to be freeloaders taking advantage of handouts while others just want to sit around and bang their drums all day.

The media appear just as na├»ve. Nearly every reporter makes a point to state, as if it’s somehow out of the ordinary, that when police go out to deal with these mobs, they are wearing “riot gear.” What the police are wearing are their work clothes and what they are doing is their jobs.

So what the heck is this Occupy thing all about anyway? Yes we can, what?

I’ve been following the news and doing some reading and still am not clear. It’s all very ambiguous.

Below are nine quotes from nine people participating in Occupy events around the country. These were posted on CNN.com by iReporters, people who are not "official" journalists and in many ways are empathetic to the “movement.”
  • "It's time to stop taking care of the 1% who are perfectly fine the way they are and start taking care of the 99% -- the rest of us. And we're all in this together: you, me, the bus driver, everybody. It's not just a faceless mob, it's all of us."
  • "I lost my job a couple of months ago. The reason I'm out here is because I just feel there's a lot that needs to be changed in this country. It seems like the power has gone to the corporations and it feels like when I go out to vote that my say doesn't mean anything anymore."
  •  "I'm protesting because I am part of the 99% of the people who have been downsized by the government. People that have been waiting so long that have something to say about what's going on."
  •  "I am hoping that through all this that we can bring our country back to a place where there isn't rich-over-poor, where the economy is better balanced, where people can make a decent wage. We've let the money take over."
  •  "The reason why I'm here is to be part of this movement to get something done about the 1% that has all the money and the power. We are the 99% that is waiting around for this revolution to happen so something can be done."
  • "I don't have a job currently, but I just got laid off because, you know, the big businesses are workin' with the government. They take most of our taxes, and I understand that we have to pay taxes but it's not fair that we have to pay the most taxes and we're poor."
  •  "I'm just down here because I'm sick of big business and larger corporations working with the government to decide the policies that go on in our country. It really doesn't leave room for the 99% of the people that don't make a billion, two billion or 40 billion dollars a year, to speak their piece on what they think should be done." 
  • "The biggest reason I'm here is for the process. … What I'm really interested in about this movement is engaging in experimental democracy. There's something that is happening here that is totally unprecedented, in my opinion, except like maybe in a Grecian kind of world."
  • "I am protesting because this is what is right and things need to change. It just needs to be done. This is going to change things because it's happening all over the world. I'm here because I'm passionate about my future."
  • "I am protesting for numerous reasons. As we all know, the mass injustice done by the 1% and the way that the 99% of America are treated unfairly. We are going to take back democracy by using the ability of numbers because we don't have the ability of money or power."
From these statements, can you clearly discern the three top concerns of the Occupy movement?

Frankly, there’s nothing here but broad-brush generalities. There is nothing that could be formulated into an actionable plan. And most of the statements need to be bolstered with real facts and data, rather than emotionally-charged opinion.

So, how can the leaders, if they exist, bring some clarity to this movement so that it can actually gain traction and truly make a difference?

Here are a few suggestions:
  • Narrow the focus. One person stated, “I am protesting for numerous reasons.” Pick three! List the top three reasons people are protesting and state them clearly. Repeat them everywhere. Support them with facts and figures and stories! Keep lists of objectives and demands manageable.
  • Be specific. One protester stated, “There's something that is happening here that is totally unprecedented.” What is it that’s happening? How is it unprecedented? Why is it important that it is happening? How will it make a difference? Who will be impacted? Stop speaking in vague generalities. 
  • Support with facts and examples. One occupier claims, “I'm protesting because I am part of the 99% of the people who have been downsized by the government.” Who exactly have been downsized by whom and where? Provide concrete examples. Show data and statistics that prove your claims. Create a reasonable, convincing, and compelling argument. Use logic and facts.
  • Set clear attainable objectives. One activist stated, “We are the 99% that is waiting around for this revolution to happen so something can be done.” Seriously? I thought you were involved so that you could do something? But then, if there are no clear goals, of course nothing’s going to get done. Pick 3-5 attainable goals and state them clearly using proper grammar.
I could go on, but my point has been made.

Nothing good will come out of the Occupy movement until the “something” that needs to be accomplished is clearly defined and intelligently articulated. So far that is not happening.

And the whole world is watching, waiting, and listening.


Do you really know what’s on your website?

Are you aware of what your website says? Are you aware of the purchasing options given to customers? Does your website reflect recently updated prices, policies, and processes? Are you sure about that?

Yes, it’s tough keeping all the various information platforms updated when changes happen. But it’s not as tough as it used to be considering how much is now digital.

It’s far easier to update a website, app, or a PDF than a printed catalog or brochure. In fact, there’s really little excuse for not at least keeping your customer-facing website in synch with whatever changes you are implementing.

But yet, too often this isn’t happening.

Making a reservation for two

Just recently I booked a weekend getaway at an Ohio resort spot. The resort offers several packages on its website. With each package you can choose additional options. Then, when you complete your booking, all these are tallied for your final bill.

Resort hiccup number one

One option I chose required calling to confirm selections.

(By the way, I’m being a bit vague here because it’s a surprise for my wife. She knows about the weekend and where we’re going, but I’ve left out a few details.)

So, I was given a phone number with an extension to call to finalize my option order. When I called, the person on the other end knew nothing about this. However, another person, at a different extension, could help me.

Resort hiccup number two

My name and number were taken and I did receive a call from a pleasant woman who did a great job with my selections. But there was one more small issue.

The resort personnel were unaware that these options could be selected and paid for online!

Fortunately, I had my email confirmation and forwarded it to the woman who was helping me. She took care of it and all is well.

Test your own site regularly so you don’t lose business!

The simple solution to these problems is to assign someone to regularly visit your website and view it as a customer would. Or hire a “secret shopper” to do this for you. Don’t just click around, but actually complete the forms and make purchases. Do the things a customer would do, see what they see, and experience what they experience.

Another issue I discovered with the resort website is that they have offers, events, and packages scattered in different locations. Navigation isn’t intuitive and finding all the options is a tad challenging.

Because not every customer is going to take the time to burrow around through your website, you are going to lose business if you don't make it easy to find everything.

Gathering information from an association

But what if your site doesn’t sell anything? Well, you may not lose business but you can annoy your constituents plenty.

A few months ago, I was researching services offered by a professional association I belong to. To learn certain details I needed, I was directed to email a specific person.

Association hiccup number one

About 48 hours later, I received a response indicating that they had no clue as to what I needed, but had forwarded my email to another person who could take care of me.

Association hiccup number two

Another 48 hours or so later, that person emailed me the link on their website that would lead me to the information I needed.

I made sure that I pointed out to both people what their website said about who to contact. And I told them there was no clear navigation to the page I was finally directed to. It hadn’t even come up using their search tool on the site.

Pay attention to your users and fix what they show you is broken!

Today, months later, nothing has changed on the website. The wrong information is still posted and the page I was referred to remains buried and difficult to find.

If a user points out a problem with your website, fix it immediately!

You have no excuse for not. If you’re depending on an outside webmaster and they tell you it will take at least 24 hours to fix the issue, they’re probably lying to you. Get a new webmaster!

Not fixing these kinds of issues means your constituents and customers are wasting time trying to find the information they need. Or they’re just giving up in frustration.

This then costs you and your staff time because you will be responding to the same issue and queries over and over.

And to not fix something when it’s pointed out to you sends two messages to your website visitors: (1) That they are not important, and (2) that you don’t care about them.

All’s not always well even if things end well

In both examples, good customer service eventually resolved my issue. However, nothing has changed on either website. While I’m happy for now, if I need to book another getaway or glean information from the organization, I know I’m going to have extra work to do.

  • For the resort, to ensure I’m getting the best deal, I’ll have to burrow all through their website, take notes, and then probably call them to confirm the information on the site is up to date.
  • For the organization, it’ll be the same thing. Plus, I’m going to be suspicious of any information I find knowing it may not be the latest.

For both situations I’ll be required to invest more time than I should have to.

Are these the kinds of experiences you want visitors to your website to have? Then make sure your website is up to date and truly user-friendly.

Oh, one last thing. Don't wait 48 hours to respond to an inquiry. Just sayin'.