Sunday, April 25, 2010

How clean is clean?

Today was not supposed to be about cleaning my house. We went to Home Depot to get some seeds for our garden. Hubby decided it was also time to get a new toilet. Now, you have to understand- I've been wanting a new toilet for the main bathroom for a while now. Our current toilet is one of those low flow environmentally friendly pieces o' crap. Don't get me wrong, I'm all about being environmentally friendly. But the makers of these toilets forgot to look at one thing in making these toilets- little butts. When my tiny butted 5yo sits on the potty and poops, the poop does not land in the middle, as the toilet assumes. Nope. It lands directly on the spot that only gets a tiny little swish of water. The result: every time my 5yo poops, it remains stuck on the side of the toilet. She flushes and flushes and flushes, but it never gets rid of all the poop. So guess who has to clean the toilet?

As hubby led me to the toilet aisle (and really, how often do we get to say that one?), we passed the paint aisle. When we bought our house, the house was in desperate need of interior paint. So far, the only rooms we painted have been bedrooms and my office. Our Christmas present from my mom last year was paint for the living room and dining room- we just needed to pick the colors. Which we haven't done yet. But I recently got a coupon for free paint samples, so I thought I'd pick up some samples and finally figure it out. We decided we want to do one of those cool painting techniques. So as I passed the paint aisle on the way to the toilet aisle, I thought it'd be great to test the new technique on the bathroom. If we paint while the old toilet is out, it'd be so much easier to paint the bathroom.

I arrived home, armed with new toilet and paint chips so I could decide which colors I wanted to sample. When I entered the bathroom, the first thing I saw was... poop. Yep. The whole reason for the new toilet. So I did what I do. I started scrubbing. Which led me to think that I hadn't scrubbed the other three toilets in the house in a while, so I did my usual toilet scrubbing routine. Which led to the upstairs bathroom and realizing how gross it was. Hubby had just re-grouted the tub, but for some reason, it split and was already falling out. For some reason, that really bugged me today. So I decided to take out the yucky grout and clean the tub. As I felt the satisfaction of getting out the yucky grout, I realized the rest of the grout was dirty. So I got out the bleach pen and toothbrush and cleaned that grout too.

Cleaning the grout, however, made me realize how disgusting the baseboards in the bathroom were. So I took the toothbrush to the baseboards. Which led to me realizing how disgusting the floor was. It's that yucky pitted linoleum that never seems to get clean. Since I had the toothbrush, I decided, hey, why not deep clean the floor too? So I grabbed a scrubber and I got down and scrubbed the floor.

Which led to cleaning another bathroom. For everything I cleaned, I noticed one more dirty thing. I hit a point where I knew I should quit because if I didn't, my body was going to be sore. But the newfound cleanliness was addictive. I craved more clean. So I kept going.

Somewhere between scrubbing the ring around the toilet with a toothbrush and taking that same toothbrush to the space between the baseboards and the tile, it hit me. This is a lot like the sin in our lives.

It starts with noticing one place to improve. Which leads to finding more dirty spots. And more and more and more and more... However, sin is a lot like my dirty house. No matter how hard I scrub, no matter where I scrub, the kids or the dog or the man is going to run through the house with dirty feet, and I'm going to have to scrub again.

How often do we scrub at the sin in our lives, cleaning one place only to find that it doesn't stay clean very long. Even if we slap a coat of paint on it or do a major remodel, our human bodies are just human bodies. We can never make ourselves perfect, just like our homes will never be perfectly clean.

But we sure try to make it that way, don't we?

Some days, my greatest wish is to have a magic button that would get my house in order. I may not be able to push a button and get the Jetsons maid, but at least with my spiritual life, I have a God who does just that. I can't scrub my life clean, but God gives me a clean slate. If I just trust Him to give it to me.

Who's cleaning your house?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Real World Parents: Christian Parenting for Families Living in the Real World by Mark Matlock

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Real World Parents: Christian Parenting for Families Living in the Real World

Zondervan/Youth Specialties (February 23, 2010)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

MY REVIEW:

This is a great and much-needed book. I really like the practical perspective of the book- it's not a parenting how-to, so much as it is a way to look at our parenting. I didn't want to put it down, except that I needed to take the time to savor this book. This would be a great book for a parent discussion group. I can definitely see this in a MOPS group or something. I love the reassurance this book gives about how being a parent isn't all about following rules and checklists- your kids are still going to turn out just fine.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Mark Matlock has been working with youth pastors, students, and parents for two decades. He speaks to hundreds of thousands of students around the world each year, and presents biblical truths in ways that motivate people to change. Mark is the vice president of event content at Youth Specialties and the founder of WisdomWorks Ministries and PlanetWisdom. He’s the author of several books including The Wisdom On - series, Living a Life That Matters, Don’t Buy The Lie, Freshman, and Smart Faith. Mark lives in Texas with his wife Jade and their two children.


Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Zondervan/Youth Specialties (February 23, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310669367
ISBN-13: 978-0310669364

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


What Are Real World Parents?

I have a vivid memory of being a teenager and sitting at the dinner table with my family, rolling my eyes and pretending to gag behind my dad's back.

Why?

He was trying to do family devotions with us. But my three younger brothers and I just weren't buying it.

Every four or five months my dad would hear some program on Christian radio about family devotions, and he'd come home with another new idea for making it work with our family. After all, that's what Christian families are supposed to do, right? But it just never worked in our house. It felt completely forced and unnatural.

Still, somehow all four of us Matlock boys ended up in ministry. My youngest brother, Jonathan, helped me start WisdomWorks Ministries, and now we both do pretty much the same kind of youth ministry and youth minister support through Youth Specialties. Our brother Josh is a senior pastor in Southern California, and our brother Jeremy is a missionary in Russia. And still to this day, whenever Dad tries to bring us together for Òfamily devotionsÓ during the holidays, we mock him a little. It's become a kind of tradition because it isn't genuine for who we are as a family.

Now, I'm not saying that having kids who serve in some area of ministry means you're a successful parent. The point I'm making is that all four of my dad's sons grew into men with a real passion and appreciation for God's Word--even though he couldn't get us to sit still and take the reading of the Word seriously during repeated failed attempts at family devotions.

Why? Because we knew he had a real passion and appreciation for God's Word. We saw Dad reading the Bible. We saw him struggle to apply it to his life. We saw both of our parents base their decisions on their understanding of what the Bible teaches.

Ultimately we were convinced of the worldview contained in the pages of Scripture because we saw our parents openly endorsing it, talking about it, learning from it, and living it out day after day, year after year. That was enough for us--despite the failed attempts at family devotions.

That's what this book is about. We're not interested in presenting more artificial techniques and methodology to ÒfixÓ our kids or do what Christian families are Òsupposed to do.Ó Rather we want to help you discover how to live for God in a real way, right in front of your kids, so they can't help but catch the big picture that God and his Word mean the world to us and that living for Jesus really works in the Real World.

Don't get me wrong. Not all families are built to the same specifications. We each have our own family DNA. So if family devotions fit who you are, more power to you! Organized, structured, traditional family devotions are a great tool for some families. Now that my wife, Jade, and I have two kids of our own--our son Dax is in middle school, and our daughter Skye is 10--we've tried to have a family Bible hour around the table. It kind of worked off and on when the kids were younger, but we eventually realized it wasn't a good fit for the natural rhythm of our lives. It's not who we are right now. So instead we've found ways to talk about God's Word that are a better fit for us.

As we work together through the concepts in this book, one thing we'll discover is that Real World Parents are real in the sense that they do what best fits their families, and they genuinely adjust their own lives to fit into God's story.

Is God Happy with My Family?

In the church today, there's some really good teaching on parenting. My wife and I have benefited from writers, conference speakers, and pastors who've opened God's Word and helped us connect with what it means to raise up our children in the way they should go, how to provide godly discipline, and ideas for reinforcing good behavior. But again, that's not what this book is about.

And, honestly, over the years I've been frustrated with some teaching on parenting that's built around making parents feel guilty. These teachers, authors, books, and programs build parenting models based on our common fear that we're going to mess up our kids--or that we've already messed up our kids. That's an easy road that plays on our fears and our guilt over the areas in which we struggle as parents. Then they suggest that their programs or perspectives are our final hope to Òget it rightÓ or, worse, to do it the only way God wants it done.

That's not what this book is about, either. I promise not to use your parenting fears and anxieties against you. And we all have those feelings. I know I have them. If you could spend a little time with my family, you'd quickly see that we have issues, too. Those prone to critiquing parents would have no trouble criticizing my wife and me. So, no, I'm not interested in beating up other parents in order to somehow make them feel better or more motivated in their parenting.

In fact, I'd like to communicate exactly the opposite.

In our Real World Parent seminars, held around the United States, our teachers use a self-diagnostic tool to help attendees identify what they believe God thinks of their families.

It goes something like this:

What do you think God sees when he looks at your family? Do you think God grins or grimaces? (Place an X on the line.)


God Grins God Grimaces

This can be a challenging question if you take it seriously. On one hand, those of us who've grown up in Christian churches understand the idea of God's grace. We understand that our relationship with God isn't based on our performance. God sacrificed his only Son--the Son whom God loves so deeply--to pay for our sins on a cross. And God did this long before we even knew we wanted that gift from God. Thus, we'd always check the box that says God's love is unconditional for those of us in Christ.

Still, we have trouble carrying the idea of God's grace into our parenting. We can talk ourselves into believing that failing our kids is an unforgivable sin, that God could never be pleased with us if we've been guilty of sloppy or harsh or inconsistent or selfish or fearful or overprotective or neglectful parenting.

We may wonder how God could ever look at our families and grin. And the problem is that, as parents, we sometimes forget that we're also children--that our God is our Father, and that God is more lovingly inclined to smile at us than we are to smile at our own kids. Our Father loves us, and he forgives our parenting shortcomings and our family failings.

I will say this more than once: Nothing you read in this book will make God the Father love you and your family any more than he does right now, no matter what's going on with your family today.

I made this statement at one of our Real World Parent seminars, and I noticed that one of the women began to cry. She came up to me later and explained how inferior she's felt as a mother in her local church. Her husband isn't a believer, her kids get into trouble, and she just felt like such a failure--like a second-class parent in a church where most of the other parents were both Christians, still married, and raising such ÒniceÓ children.

I tried to assure her that God's grace applies to us as parents, and that in Christ she is forgiven and fully accepted as a beloved daughter (and mom!). The idea that God loved her family right now--in its present condition--was a reality she wasn't living in. She felt she was ÒunderperformingÓ as a parent and couldn't keep up. So she said the idea that she's forgiven, accepted, and loved as a parent gave her immense comfort.

Ernest Hemingway's short story called ÒThe Capital of the WorldÓ begins with an anecdote about a man in Madrid who put an ad in the newspaper to contact his estranged son. The ad read, PACO, MEET ME AT HOTEL MONTANA NOON TUESDAY. ALL IS FORGIVEN. PAPA. The story then describes how at noon on Tuesday, 800 young men arrived at the hotel to make peace with their fathers.

The joke was that there are lots of guys in Spain named Paco. But the other message is that wanting our dads' approval, specifically, is a universal human experience. Taking nothing away from the indispensable role of our mothers, we all long to have our fathers sign off on who we are and what we're doing.

It's what psychologists call Òfather hunger.Ó

As Christians, followers of Jesus, we have that hunger even in our roles as parents, even if we've made mistakes along the way. Our Father has forgiven us. We live in God's grace. God approves of us in Christ. And, yes, God loves us.

I want to make it perfectly clear--again--that you'll find no directives in this book that will make God love you or your family even a little bit more than he already does. God's unconditional love for your family was established long ago. It is full. It cannot grow. Romans 8:1 declares, ÒTherefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.Ó And that includes Christian parents.

I hope you've heard that. But I also hope you aren't satisfied to leave your family where it is today. Because while I'm convinced that God will never love or accept you any more than he does right now, I'm also convinced that God loves you so much that he won't leave you where you are right now, either.

No matter how good or bad you believe your family is, God has plans for you that will unfold in the Real World. God will continue to move your family along in the journey he has in store for you. Which is why this book is designed to help Real World Parents understand that journey--or story--and communicate it to our kids.

ÒHow Will This Book Fix My Kids?Ó 

As long as we're talking about things this book isn't, I should mention again that in the following pages you won't find any tips or tricks or techniques to fix your children's bad behavior. (We'd probably sell more copies if that's what we were promising, but we're not.)

In my experience, books full of tips, techniques, and tricks succeed at making readers feel good for a while. They make us feel hopeful. They make us feel as though we're doing something about the problem. But they often fail in the long run because we just can't keep it up. We can't change the personalities of our families to fit the models of the new programs on an ongoing basis.

When my kids came along, though, and I started making my way through all the different kinds of Christian parenting books, I noticed that a lot of them focused on helping me raise well-behaved, well-mannered kids. And while that's an important element, there wasn't much focus on raising kids to have hearts that seek after Christ. Of course we can't force that kind of spiritual openness and connectedness with God onto our kids--but in our Real World homes, we can create environments that promote such growth.

In a sense we become gardeners tending the spiritual development of our kids. God places the spark of life in the seed. We can't control that or how the plant eventually matures. But we can make sure the soil is rich, the ground is generously watered, the weeds are kept at bay, and the opportunity for sunlight is freely available. We can raise our children in environments where having a heart for God is the norm and not the exception.

What we don't want to generate are well-behaved kids who mindlessly follow our directions without ever willfully owning the faith in Jesus that they see in us. In the long run, the goal of parenting isn't for our kids to be known for how well-behaved they are, but for how well they know and respond to God.

Part of our challenge is to communicate to our kids a worldview that supports right actions. It's true that we (and they) will be held accountable for our behavior based on God's instructions to us. But whether or not we obey those instructions has a lot to do with whether or not we really believe God's story--a biblical worldview--and whether or not we walk in God's power.

In that way, our children's behavior is kind of like the tip of an iceberg. From countless illustrations we all know that the part of the iceberg that rises above the waterline is just a fraction of its total size. As such, you could conceivably make all kinds of alterations to the exposed part of the iceberg--in other words, the outward stuff (behaviors)--without significantly altering the iceberg itself.


What we've got to get at--in our own lives and in the lives of our kids--is the 80 percent of the berg that's under the waterline. In our illustration that represents one's worldview. We believe our behavior is ultimately driven by our understanding of the way the world works, of what we believe to be true and false about the universe, of our perception of reality.

And that's what we want to focus on as Real World Parents. How can we communicate God's worldview to our kids? What story are we telling them about the universe, both intentionally and--more importantly--in the way we live with and for God over time?

Before you move on to the next chapter, ask yourself these questions: 

1. When you imagine God looking at your family, what do you think God sees? What do you believe God's desire for your family is?



2. When you look at the world your children are living in, do you believe it's better or worse compared to when you were growing up? Why?



3. Which matters more to you--that your children demonstrate good behavior, or that your children understand and believe in a biblical worldview? Why?



4. In your own life, what has mattered more in the long run--your behavior on any given day or your foundational beliefs about God and the world?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Longview: Lasting Strategies for Rising Leaders by Roger Parrott

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


The Longview: Lasting Strategies for Rising Leaders

David C. Cook; New edition (October 1, 2009)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


At age thirty-four Roger Parrott became one of the America’s youngest college presidents. Parrott is currently the president of Belhaven College, an innovative liberal arts institution recognized as the leading evangelical college in the Arts. He earned a PhD in higher education administration from the University of Maryland. Parrott serves in leadership of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, Mission America Coalition, and Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He has advised a wide variety of ministries in the US and internationally.

Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $16.99
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (October 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434767493
ISBN-13: 978-1434767493


MY REVIEW:
This was an insightful look into leadership and how we view leadership roles. I liked the way he talked about planning and how we need to differentiate the types of planning. So often, we're taught to plan, plan, plan, but I thought there was an interesting distinction going on- taking the longview of whatever we're doing and really examining the long term impact, yet planning for the flexibility of new opportunities. There were a lot of great practical tips that I think will help people in leadership roles guide their organization to the future, not just handle moment to moment issues.



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Lead As If You’ll Be There Forever


The heart of the longview does not begin with actions as much as attitude. Imagine that the organization and position you are in right now is what God wants you to do for the rest of your professional life. For many, it might be discouraging to truly feel “locked in” to your job. But contrary to the mantras of popular career gurus, this is one of the best things that could ever happen to you and your ministry, because only from that immobile position will your outlook on leadership be revolutionized.

To live without professional advancement opportunities would, of course, be demotivating and create an unhealthy situation for both you and your ministry. But to lead as if you must remain in that same position forever—and live with the long-term consequences of every decision—will shift your perspective, align your priorities, and build lasting strength in your organization, rather than allowing you to settle for the comfort and accolades of immediate results.

When a leader is thinking, living, and acting in terms of only the short-range, everyone around him suffers and may be handicapped for years to come because the decisions of today will either expand or narrow subsequent options and opportunities. The compounding weight of each shortsighted decision speeds the deterioration of the ministry’s foundation, while a long-term perspective strengthens that substructure for a higher reach in the future.


Longview Decision Making

When President Jimmy Carter held a thirteen-day summit at Camp David in 1978 with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, a formal state of war still existed between the two countries, with Egypt determined to reclaim the Sinai territory seized by the Israelis twenty-two years previously. In the woods of Maryland, these long-hoped-for negotiations came to multiple stalemates. But each time Carter found a way to keep the discussion alive, even though deep-seated mistrust between the two Middle Eastern leaders kept them from talking directly to each other, causing the U. S. President to shuttle between their private cabins, triangulating the dialog.

On the morning of the eleventh day, the arduous process appeared to disintegrate when Prime Minister Begin decided to leave the meetings over the wording of a side letter on the status of Jerusalem. He wouldn’t have his mind changed by the immediate needs of securing the peace in the Middle East and freeing his country from the relentless cycle of violence. But with brilliant insight, President Carter shifted the perspective from the immediate results to the long-term implications: as Prime Minister Begin was packing his bags to leave, President Carter brought to him eight personalized autographed pictures of the three leaders working together, and told the Prime Minister they were for him to take home to his eight grandchildren so they would always remember what the three men had tried to accomplish together. With a new long-term perspective, Begin unpacked and days later signed the Camp David Accords.

Now, while it is certainly true that a decision regarding what is best for the immediate may often be the same as the choice that is best for the future, it is essential that leaders get into the groove of thinking beyond the near horizon. Otherwise, they lose the proper perspective that allows them to consider long-term issues and ramifications.

It is fairly easy to bring about positive short-run change in most organizations. Wise leaders are aware there is always low-hanging fruit for change, and they know how to harvest it to get off to a fast start when beginning in a new position. But when short-term triumphs take precedent over long-term success, those same aggressive leadership skills can deteriorate into selfish decisions, fearful management, and self-deceiving evaluation. And the longer a leader continues in this pattern, the more troublesome the consequences and limiting the solution options. Eventually, a leader can become entrapped in a cycle that demands ignoring the mounting crisis of the future, in order to sustain the appearance of current success.


Measuring Long-Term Ministry Leadership


Relieving your immediate stress cannot guide a decision when the consequences are yours to shoulder long after the applause dies down.
Tough personnel issues are unavoidable if you must live with these people for the rest of your career.
Taking shortcuts to clean up a problem is unacceptable because your challenges will be even tougher in the future if you don’t do it right the first time.
Good stewards of God’s house don’t sweep problems under the rug.


The Short Run Never Works for Long

Here is a vivid way to grasp the problem that short-term perspective brings into your ministry. Think back to that time when you had a great employee who, because of family or career issues, began to seek a new position. The search was not far enough along for you to be brought into the discussion but, mentally, the employee had already moved on—and you knew it.

Even if the job-searching employee was one of your key players, that individual had already been demoted, in your view, from the person around whom you were building a future to one whose contribution was suspect at best.

In that rapid transformation, the only attribute that had changed about the employee was his perspective. He still came to work with the same skill set, same hours, same types of ideas, and same energy. But because his viewpoint was now focused only on the short run, you could not count on him to make decisions that were in the long-term best interest of the ministry. Now multiply that scenario into the life of a CEO or other top leader—not just a rising employee—and consider the potential damage.

A short-term leadership perspective is devastating in ministry, but the impact can be illustrated best in the corporate world, where results are totaled on the bottom line. “As goes General Motors, so goes the country” has been part of the American psyche for generations, and GM was always the most progressive in their innovation for the coming model year and in producing quarterly earnings that impressed Wall Street. But the Japanese automaker Toyota did what the captains of industry once considered impossible—it surpassed the century-long domination of General Motors as the leading automaker.

Could it be that a major factor in the growth of Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mazda, Subaru, and Mitsubishi is that Japanese leadership expected they would remain with the same company a lifetime? Fifty years ago Toyota’s board and top management implemented a comprehensive plan to accomplish what is being realized today. In contrast, GM’s leadership remained primarily focused on their latest quarterly earnings projections during those same years.

The best leaders understand they should always be held accountable for the long-term before they are rewarded for their immediate results. The pastor who envisions reaching his whole city, will always be more effective than the one who is concerned about making a glowing report at the next conference gathering. A fund-raising professional who desires to build relationships matching donors with their passions will always raise more money than one striving to meet an urgent campaign goal. Over time, even the school administrator who fixes the nagging plumbing problem will be appreciated more than the one who spends that same money to install new carpeting.

In the Harvard Business Review analysis “If Brands Are Built over Years, Why Are They Managed over Quarters?” Leonard M. Lodish and Carl F. Mela explore why short-term thinking dominates business marketing today even though branding is an extremely long-term process. They determined that companies have shifted their focus to quarterly outcomes over long-term success because of three factors. First, there is an abundance of real-time immediate data that allows corporate leaders to measure results in great detail in ways we could not in the past. Second, at the same time, long-term results have become even more difficult to measure, thus pushing the focus to a short-run agenda. And third, the tenure of managers is continually becoming shorter as they see their future linked to demonstrating immediate results.1


Endemic Nearsightedness

It is critical to understand that the root of this pattern does not rest only at the feet of self-serving or short-sighted leaders, because boards and constituencies have allowed organizational success to become measured by quarterly results rather than long-term success. Unfortunately, our culture rewards leaders for such shortsighted decision making. The New Republic reported examples of “Kenneth Lay of Enron pocketing an extra $101 million in the months before Enron’s collapse wiped out shareholders; Bernard Ebbers of WorldCom ‘loaning’ himself $366 million in the months before his cooked books wiped out shareholders; L. Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco paying himself $426 million, from 1998 to 2002, even as his self-serving decisions were wiping out shareholders and driving the company into the ground.”2 Ken Lay, Bernie Ebbers, and Dennis Kozlowski, along with a horde of leaders who never got their name in the paper, were focused on their own short-term accolades instead of the organization’s long-term needs.

The most public firings of CEOs seem to nearly always reflect a pattern of cheers for that leader through a relatively short period of repeated quarterly reports and then a startling discovery by the board of serious foundational issues gone awry. But these same boards have demanded, rewarded, and praised immediate success at all costs. The real irony is that these boards have also learned to solve their crisis with a short-term solution of firing the CEO, rather than doing the hard work needed to correct the foundational issues—and the cycle is likely to repeat down the road.

And then there are the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately employees or constituents that press leaders for decisions that feed the hunger of instant gratification instead of long-term results. From outside the corner office, pressure has mounted for leaders to make decisions only in light of short-run objectives if those choices will boost today’s benefits. The challenge of leadership is balancing the scales to assure ongoing organizational stability while also providing fulfilling opportunities for the stakeholders today.

By ignoring the long-term ramifications of decisions in order to solve the immediate challenge, organizations stockpile future problems and gloss over the most difficult issues. The foundational erosion caused by decisions guided only by short-term vision will eventually undermine or destroy all the good that has been achieved, because the damage will eventually be discovered and will be difficult and costly to repair.

This same pattern holds true in ministry:

We have become focused on measuring the short-term results of our work, i.e. the proposals we write to foundations promise immediate outcomes.

The transformation of lives for the long term is only measured in eternity, and thus it is nearly impossible for us to track the impact of our most significant work.

Boards and CEOs want to hire people who have demonstrated measureable results. But when we overvalue the short-term results that are more easily measured, we in turn reward leaders who produce immediate advances over long-term ministry significance. Accordingly, the most “productive” people are always being tempted to move to a new place of service.

Instead, the commitment to lead with a longview will transform how you approach leadership more so than any other shift you could make. No matter what your tenure horizon may be—whether you are just starting a new job, considering a change, or fast approaching retirement—if you make decisions as if you are will remain in your current position forever, you’ll make dramatically better choices and make them for the right reasons.


Fast Wins Eventually Lose

One of my especially fun projects was starting a football team at Belhaven College several years ago, and building on our successful model, I had a number of college-president friends also launch football programs. One of my peers, who wanted to get started right at his University, hired a coaching staff who were strong Christians, well known in the football world, and wonderfully experienced—they knew their Xs & Os. They recruited talented players, created an intense football atmosphere for the team, generated lots of press coverage, and won football games. What the president didn’t realize at the time was his coaches were focused on gaining attention-grabbing success in order to move on to the big leagues of coaching.

The University discovered over time that the scholarships were overspent, the drop-out rate among players was astronomical, and many of the recruited athletes did not care about the benchmarks of character that were important in attracting students to a Christian school. The president finally overturned a rock exposing how bad it had become when a conference official told him about a horrible intrasquad brawl the coaches were trying to keep under wraps. His “go to” coaches became his “be gone” coaches in a hurry, and the school spent several years sweeping up the mess to build integrity into the program, balance out the money, and quiet the sports bloggers. Interestingly, none of those coaches ever made it in Division I football.

The consequences of not making decisions as if you’ll be there forever will create an unseen and quietly eroding process that always has the same predictable outcome—it is expensive and time consuming to fix. The harm created by near-focused leaders may be imperceptible at first and the impact not be seen for years or sometimes decades to come—but the problems created when leaders are not guarding the long-term future will be complex to solve and will limit the opportunities for sustained success.


What's Your View?

To protect against this crippling pattern, a bit of periodic self-evaluation will reveal your current longitudinal view in leadership responsibilities:


If you knew you could never have a different job, which decisions over the past year might you have made differently?

Do you find yourself putting off a difficult personnel issue or a hard decision in hopes that someone else in the future will have to deal with it instead?

Which of your recent decisions made you feel most proud? Were they made in light of the long-term implications or the short-term impact?

Have you purposefully made decisions recently that were best for the long run, even though another choice would have made you look good in the short term?

What will your legacy with your ministry look like twenty-five years after you are gone?


As you attempt to answer these questions yourself, consider that every leader’s responsibility is to fulfill a calling rather than gratify immediate desires. Jesus taught us the ultimate example of never wavering from a long-term view when we have been called to a purpose. In the garden of Gethsemane He prays, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.… If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me” (Matt. 26:38–39). Although fully God, Jesus was also fully man, and that is the cry of an anguished leader at the crossroads, one longing to give into the short-term options rather than the long-term objective. Had Jesus taken the immediate view and revealed His power, the mockers would have been silenced, His followers’ political dreams would have been accomplished, and the whole world would have been left amazed. But instead, He made a decision from the perspective of forever and prayed, “Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matt. 26:39). And like Jesus, a Christian leader’s proper long-range view must extend all the way into eternity.

Learning to make decisions with the mindset of remaining in your current position forever will change your perspective on all actions and will mandate that integrity, service, and lasting quality are the guiding forces behind your leadership. Along with a determined godly focus of your attitude, one tool to assure you maintain proper perspective is to listen to the people in your organization who have a long-term perspective in their DNA because they never expect to go anywhere else. Becoming a college president at age thirty-four, I didn’t assume my first school in rural Kansas would be my last. But to assure I was always protecting the long-term interests of the institution, I met regularly with a group I privately called “those who will be buried in the local cemetery.” I wanted to be sure that the perspectives of the long-term faculty, who would be part of the school long after I left, were always considered when I made decisions.

The day a leader begins to look at his or her responsibility in terms of a limited future is the day leadership effectiveness begins to spiral downward. This is part of the reason why freshly appointed leaders always discover previously unseen issues that need attention—they know they have to live with the problems if they don’t fix them now. In contrast, leaders who become complacent in a position will tend to make decisions in terms of how the results will shape what they expect their current tenure to be.


Eternal Results

During the modern missions movement God built His church through people who committed themselves to a long-term outlook.

William Carey, the first missionary to India, worked for seven years before he had his first convert.

Adoniram Judson worked for nearly the same amount of time in Burma before he saw his first convert.

Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary to China, labored for a quarter century and had fewer than a dozen converts.

The missionaries to East Africa in the early 1800s shipped their goods to their new home in coffins because they didn’t expect to return any other way.

These leaders, and thousands whose stories are not remembered, valued the longview significance of ministry over short-run measurable “success.” By tilling the soil for future returns, their results are recorded in eternity.

In an age of mobility and global connectedness, God is not likely to call you to only one place of service during your career. But no matter where He calls you, you need to think, work, live, and commit as if it is the only future God has entrusted to you.

Leaders who base decisions on a long-term perspective may not be as flashy in their immediate results, but they hire better people, build foundations of constituency strength, preserve organizational infrastructure, and leave a legacy that tells the full story of their success.

Great leaders will make decisions on their last day before retirement as if they were going to be in the leadership chair another quarter century


©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. The Longview by Roger Parrott. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My super happy day!!


A while back, I signed a contract for a little devotional I wrote while hanging out in a gorgeous cabin in the mountains with some of my critique partners. The only thing about signing a contract for a lot of these devotional books is that they often tell you that yours might get pulled at the last minute. So while it's exciting, there's this part of you that wonders, "what if mine doesn't make it?"

Today, my doorbell rang. My dog went crazy, so I sent him to his room, and for once he listened. The mailman had FOUR boxes for me. One was a box of books I'd ordered, another was a box of books for me to judge, another was a pressie from my boss, and the last was... The compilation book with my devotional in it!!

Color me super happy.

Part of why this is so special is that lately, I've been doubting my calling as a writer. It just seems like I've hit wall after wall. I mentioned in a previous blog about how getting a contract for two other devotions gave me a much-needed boost. Seeing my name in print in a real book- well, that definitely helps even more. Not that it's about the success or publication, but sometimes it's good to have the validation of knowing that I'm on the right path. And that all the struggles are for a good purpose. The devotional in this book is about God bringing me through one of my difficult struggles. Funny how I blogged about that recently too.

I think this is God's little way of saying, "Dear Dummy, it'll work out. I promise." Which is what He's been saying all along, so at some point, I need to stop worrying so much and not let the rough stuff get me down.

You can find details on the book series here. Keep in mind that it's a series of books, and you'll have to check with Guideposts if you want to buy just the book my story is in. I don't get anything out of anyone buying the books, but there are some good stories other than mine in there as well.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Church of Facebook by Jesse Rice

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


The Church of Facebook

David C. Cook; New edition (October 1, 2009)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Jesse Rice is a writer and musician and served for eight years as the Contemporary Worship Arts Director at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, a large and thriving congregation in the heart of Silicon Valley. Jesse has a Master’s in Counseling Psychology and is an authority on the search for meaning in a fast-paced, hyper-connected world. He is a sought-after worship leader and speaker with more than fifteen years of experience working with college students and young adults. Jesse and his wife, Katie, live in Palo Alto, California.

Visit the author's hilarious website.


The Church of Facebook, by Jesse Rice from David C. Cook on Vimeo.



Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (October 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434765342
ISBN-13: 978-1434765345


MY REVIEW:

First off, my deepest apologies for not getting this out when the rest of the FIRST folks did this tour. I was so excited about this book- as an avid Facebooker (aka, I spend more time on there than I probably should), I wanted to know what this book was all about. How does Facebook impact our church structure?

I thought all the research Jesse did on social structure and our needs was very interesting. I couldn't put the book down because it was so fascinating.

As I got to the end of the book, where he specifically talks about the impact on our lives, it really made me think about my own Facebook usage. I'd love to do a Facebook fast and stay off of it for a while, but since I actually do use it for my job, that'd be a little hard for me. However, it did make me rethink some of my interactions. I realized that a lot of time, when I log in, I'm doing so without intention- just passing the time because I'm bored or I have an unpleasant task ahead of me and I'm procrastinating. So I'm redirecting my Facebook time and making the time I do spend there more meaningful. And I hope, making my relationships on Facebook more meaningful.


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


CONNECTION


Akumal, Mexico, is just over an hour south of Cancun on the Mexican Riviera, a quaint resort community surrounded by white sandy beaches and lush jungle palms. Its miniscule “downtown” is composed of two small grocery stores, half a dozen restaurants, and a scuba-diving shop. It is positioned on a long stretch of beach regarded for its snorkeling and giant sea turtles. It is a tourist trap but few tourists know of it, keeping life in Akumal consistently vibrating at little more than a soothing hum. In other words, it is paradise.


On New Years Day 1998, three particularly pasty psychologists found themselves luxuriating in Akumal while discussing the topic, “What makes people happy?” As soft, eighty-degree breezes swept over the tops of their little tropical drinks sporting little tropical umbrellas, it was difficult to imagine discussing anything else.


Renown psychologist Martin Seligman was one of the three. His round, clean-shaven face and mostly bald head framed an easy smile, making him look like a beardless Santa Claus with a badly sunburned nose. Together with Ray Fowler and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (yes, that’s a lot of consonants but it’s easily pronounced: “cheeks-sent-me-high”), he was celebrating his very first day as president of the American Psychological Association. Seligman was known around the world for his work studying learned helplessness, depression, and, conversely, for his founding contributions to the emerging field of positive psychology. Each incoming APA president is asked to choose a theme for their yearlong term of office. Seligman, frustrated that so much of his field seemed entirely focused on the broken parts of humanity, wanted to steer things in a more optimistic direction. Thus the quiet beach resort, thus the tropical drinks, and thus the question, “What makes people happy?”


One year after that very conversation, Seligman and company—plus a group of young talent being groomed to lead the charge for a more optimistic approach in their field—returned to Akumal as part of a first annual conference on “positive psychology.” The tiny beach community had never seen so much pale skin. Not that psychology had always turned a blind eye to optimism. Throughout the decades there had always been a few rogues willing to brave their fellow researchers’ suspicious looks and folded arms in order to promote a more positive approach to well-being. But here was the beginning of a movement to reorient the entire field, to mainstream what had until then seemed little more than a fringe curiosity.


In the years following the conference, the evidence for what makes people happy began to roll in like a gentle wave in Akumal. What did researchers find? You may be surprised.


More money doesn’t make you happy. Yes, we’ve all been told that “money can’t buy happiness,” but here for the first time was actual scientific research that showed, once our basic material needs are met, additional income does almost nothing to raise our sense of satisfaction with life. (Wouldn’t we all love the chance to prove the exception to the rule?) How about education? Would another degree at a better institution make me happy? Again, research showed that more or better education or even a higher IQ did not equate to happiness. How about the quest to remain eternally young? In a culture that has elevated adolescence into an art form, surely perpetual youth would make us happy? Not so fast. Older people, studies revealed, were consistently happier than younger people. They were also less prone to bouts of depression. What about sunny weather? Be honest: Aren’t Californians happier than Michiganders? Research suggested that while those surveyed in the Midwest assumed Californians were a happier bunch thanks to their extra dose of vitamin D, it turns out there is no correlation between balmy weather and consistent feelings of well-being (though after a long Portland, Oregon, winter, my in-laws usually beg to differ).



So what does cause happiness? Dr. Edward Diener—known to his associates as “Dr. Happiness”—conducted a 2002 study along with Martin Seligman at the University of Illinois. That particular study summed up much of positive psychology’s overall findings. Students who tested with the highest levels of happiness and the fewest signs of depression all had one foundational thing in common: significant social ties to friends and family.


In other words, connection is the key to happiness.


~~~~~~~~~~


“Authentic connection,” writes psychologist Janet L. Surrey, “is described as the core of psychological wellbeing and is the essential quality of growth-fostering and healing relationships. In moments of deep connection in relationship, we break out of isolation and contraction into a more whole and spacious state

of mind and heart.”


At the root of human existence is our great need for connection: connection with one another, with our own hearts and minds, and with a loving God who intended intimate connection with us from the beginning. Connection is the very core of what makes us human and the very means by which we express our humanity. As Surrey notes, there are no “growth-fostering” or “healing” relationships without connection. Apart from its presence the human heart becomes isolated and fragmented. Let’s look more closely at the power of connection through the lens of two compelling stories.

~~~~~~~~~~


Harry Frederick Harlow was born October 31,1905. His parents were Mabel Rock and Alonzo Harlow Israel. Harry Harlow was not Jewish, but as an adult he changed his original surname from “Israel” to “Harlow” because he feared the prejudice he likely would have encountered in academic circles of the 1940s and ’50s. In grade school and throughout high school, Harlow demonstrated great proficiency in English, so when he headed off to university, he naturally chose English as his major. Harlow spent his first year studying at Reed College in Oregon and then transferred to Stanford University. At Stanford, Harlow continued his studies, but to his surprise, began doing very poorly in his English courses. Partly to avoid flunking out of Stanford and partly due to a growing interest in human behavior, Harlow switched his studies to psychology. Small decisions can make a big difference. Harlow’s decision to switch majors would eventually revolutionize the entire field of psychology.


Harlow completed both his undergraduate and doctoral degrees at Stanford, taking a professorship at the University of Wisconsin almost as soon as he removed his graduation gown. It was at Wisconsin that Harlow would make a name for himself in a series of cleverly designed experiments that involved a seemingly endless supply of rhesus monkeys.


Harlow, who looked exactly like what you’d expect from a research scientist in the 1950s—white lab coat, horn-rimmed glasses, grease-slicked black hair—was interested in love. In fact his name eventually became synonymous with the “science of affection,” and his best-known paper was titled, “The Nature of Love.” Harlow’s fellow researchers often heckled him and dismissed his fascination with affection for not being “scientific enough.” But he wasn’t deterred. Love was on Harlow’s mind and he knew it was on most other minds as well.


Interestingly, Harlow’s own romantic life would itself become a laboratory of love. He met his first wife, Clara, while she was a subject in a famous IQ study that Harlow just happened to be helping to administer. Clara posted a whopping 150 on the IQ test—well into the “genius” category. They were married in 1932 and had two children, Robert and Richard. Harlow and Clara later divorced in 1946. One

year later Harlow remarried. His new wife, Margaret, was herself a bright psychologist. Together, they had two more children, Pamela and Jonathan. Sadly, Margaret died in 1970 after a long battle with cancer. Again just a single year passed before Harlow was married once more. What kind of brilliant mind did he choose to wed this time? To everyone’s surprise Harlow remarried his first wife, Clara. They lived out the rest of their days together until 1981 when Harlow passed away. Hollywood screenwriters have written less interesting love stories.


But all of that lay in the future. For now, as a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Harlow’s primary “romantic interest” was in primates. One experiment in particular put Harlow on the map. Curious how infant rhesus monkeys would behave in an artificial environment, Harlow and his team built two artificial monkey “mothers.” The first was constructed of simple wire mesh and had a blank-faced head screwed on the top with a tube running out from its neck that could deliver milk to the infant monkey. It resembled he kind of demonic stick figure that people typically ignite at the end of the annual Burning Man festival. The second “mother” was identical except that its “face” was more monkeylike, and its wire mesh frame was covered with soft, warm terrycloth. It looked like an elongated furry snowman that would like to be everyone’s friend. There was one more key distinction between the two mothers: The cloth-covered contraption did not have a feeding tube. It was incapable of providing the infant monkey with food.


The black-and-white film from Harlow’s experiment is both hilarious and heartbreaking to watch. As the tiny elflike monkeys stumble around their cages just a few days after birth, they quickly climb up and take a sip from the wire mother but then scramble immediately back to the cloth mother, where they spend the vast majority of their day. If any element of fear was introduced into the environment, as was the case when researchers placed a drum-playing toy bear into their cage (and who wouldn’t find such a thing troubling?), the little monkeys always ran to the cloth mother for comfort instead of the fooddispensing

wire mother, clinging to her with all their strength until the fear passed.


Harlow and his team had expected the infant monkeys to create some kind of “bond” between mother and child immediately following birth. What they did not anticipate was, if forced to choose, the monkeys would select the nonfeeding cloth mother over the food-delivering wire mother every time. Their need for comforting connection, it seemed, was even greater than their need for food!


But there was more. Following his initial discoveries, Harlow introduced a series of modifications to his experiment. In one case he took away the choice between monkey mothers by separating the infants into two different environments: one with only a wire mother and one with only a cloth mother (a tube was added to the cloth mother to support feeding). Harlow found that monkeys from either environment developed physically at the same rate. It appeared there was little or no difference in the “connective effects” of cloth or wire. This seemed to imply that what the monkeys were connected to did not really matter. The only important thing was that they had some kind of connection.


But the scary drum-playing toy bear changed all of that. When the mechanical bear was placed in the “cloth” cages, the frightened monkeys would scramble on to the cloth mother, cuddling and rubbing against her until they were at last able to calm themselves. At that point, the monkeys would relax and

even become curious and playful about sharing a cage with a toy bear, venturing away from the cloth mother in brief excursions to sniff and paw at it.


The monkeys in the “wire” cages, however, could not have responded more differently. When the menacing toy bear was introduced into the wire cages, the little monkeys fell to pieces. They threw themselves on the floor, and rocked back and forth. They screamed in terror. The effect is so dramatic

that footage from the experiment can be quite disturbing to watch.


What Harlow concluded was that the monkeys in the “cloth” cages must have had access to some kind of psychological resource—what he later called emotional attachment—to help them deal with challenges in their environment, especially the introduction of fear. The monkeys in the “wire” cages had no such resources and fell apart at the first sign of danger. This, Harlow began to see, was evidence that there was in fact a certain kind of connection important not only to healthy development but also to serve in adequately facing challenges that might appear.


Harlow found that there are indeed different types of connection that make for different types of responses. There are some types of connection that enable adaptation and resiliency. There are other connections that create psychological breakdown. The monkeys from either cage developed physically at

normally expected rates. They appeared to be identically healthy and normal from the outside. And they behaved as you would expect healthy monkeys to behave. But those similarities vanished the moment some change—especially some threat—was introduced into their environment. When that happened, the difference in their “inner” realities became obvious. One kind of connection had led to the inner strength necessary to cope with and even overcome environmental changes. The other had led to inner chaos and a radically diminished capacity to cope with anything at all.


Harlow’s findings reflect what we now know to be true for human babies, as well. Bonding, the psychological process by which a mother creates a safe and nurturing environment for the child to develop, lays the groundwork for the baby’s ability to grow into a healthy and well-adapted adult. That is why, as soon as is possible, the new mother is handed her fresh-out-of-the womb baby to physically bond with. If a physical connection is not possible—for example, a health issue that requires the baby to initially be kept in an incubator—mothers are encouraged to speak tenderly to their child, connecting and intimately bonding through the soothing tones of their own voice. Studies have shown that, just like the little rhesus monkeys, a human baby’s need to bond with its parent may be even more important than

its need for food.


Harlow’s findings revolutionized the way psychologists thought about human relationships. Until then it was unlikely any scientist in his right mind would have claimed that some kind of emotional connection was more important to a growing infant than the most basic of all needs, food. But what Harlow demonstrated so vividly with infant monkeys, and what study after study has shown to be all the more true in human beings, is that connection is not just “what causes happiness.” It is also our most basic need.

~~~~~~~~~~


The reality of our innate need for connection is often most clearly revealed in the experience of dis-connection. Dropped cell phone calls, the loss of a job or career opportunity, a romantic breakup, the death of a loved one—each kind of disconnection alerts us to the fact that we were meant to connect. The feelings that result from a broken connection can run the gamut from simple frustration to complete personal devastation. But we need not explore something as painful as death in order to further illustrate the effects of disconnection. We can do something as simple as turning on the “telly.”


The BBC, the United Kingdom’s mammoth media empire, produces some of the most clever and thought provoking programming that often tickles the funny bone while stretching the intellect. And no, I’m not talking about The Office. In 2006 a BBC television series called Horizon invited six people to take part in a compelling experiment. Adam, Claire, Rickey, Judy, Barney, and Bill agreed to subject themselves to forty-eight hours of sensory deprivation. They signed up to be “disconnected” in every way in order to see what would happen.


Adam is a stand-up comedian in his late twenties. He has a significantly receding hairline, a slight paunch in his belly, and eyes that appear slightly crossed. He’s the most extroverted of the six, a person who—like most extroverts—requires a great deal of sensory stimulation to make sense of the world. He jokes self-effacingly as he imagines the toll the next two days will take on him. “I’m afraid I’ll go mad. What if I start smashing things up?”


Claire is also in her late twenties with short dark hair and a pretty smile. She says she likes a challenge. “I do try to push myself.” As a doctoral student in psychology, she seems ideally suited to thrive in an experiment where her mind will be put to the test.


Bill looks lean and strong and is a former ad executive. He is the oldest in the bunch. He plans to cope with the forty-eight hour experiment by using his skills in meditation. “Every day I like to spend time on my own. I sometimes fantasize about being a hermit, about living up in the mountains and coming down to buy a few supplies in town, then going back to my cabin.” If anyone is going to be fine after two days without human connection, it seems to be Bill.


Rickey is a thirtysomething postal worker whose primary hobby is running one-hundred-mile ultramarathons. Yes, you read that correctly—one hundred miles. He plans to think of the experiment as just another test of his endurance.Barney is a film archivist who imagines quietly that he will probably have a hard time over the next two days. Judy is a copywriter for a toy manufacturer. “I’m very excited to get started,” Judy says, not sounding too excited at all. “I don’t know how I’m going to last, but I guess I’ll just keep going.”


As you can see, the “Horizon Six” were not extraordinary people, at least not any more extraordinary than the rest of us.3 They all had their own ideas of how to best handle a situation like this and their own concerns about whether those techniques would actually work. They were average folks who simply wanted to put themselves to the test, to see what would happen when they were disconnected from life as they normally experienced it.


The experiment took place in an abandoned nuclear bunker, the kind of dark and creepy place straight out of a Hollywood horror film. Walking down the stairs and into the long, dimly lit halls of the concrete structure, one might expect to stumble upon a cast of overly attractive twentysomethings being systematically stalked and hacked to death by some very disturbed but strangely likeable assailant.


The six subjects were given a battery of tests to use for before-and-after comparisons. In the first test, they were given a letter—F, for example—then asked to think of as many words as possible in one minute that began with that letter. Classic Adam: “Fake, farting, football …” For the most part, each of the six breezes through, listing dozens of words that begin with F, though no one else seems to come up with anything as creative as a “fake, farting, football.” The next test is presented to them. In this one the subjects are handed a sheet of paper. On the paper are the names of colors printed in columns: black, red, green, etc. But here’s the catch: The names of the colors do not match the actual color of the ink with which they were printed. For example, the word “black” was actually printed in green ink, the word “red” was printed in black ink, and so on.


The subjects are then asked to name the color of ink with which each color’s name was printed. It’s trickier than you think. Our brains typically register a printed word before we register the color of the printed word. But with a little bit of thought, each subject does quite well. They moved on to the final test. While the researchers were curious how the subjects would perform on the first two tests—any drops in performance would be easy to measure when everything was over—they were secretly interested in something quite different.


The last test, the one the researchers were most interested in, measured “levels of suggestibility.” What they wanted to find out was just how vulnerable someone might become to the power of suggestion when they are cut off from connection, disconnected from their social and sensory worlds. Would they fall for a lie? Would they give in to someone else’s point of view even if it were clearly “wrong”? To test for suggestibility, the researchers read their subjects a story with lots of intricate details, then quizzed them. “Was the assailant hit with a fist or a handbag?” Claire is asked. She looks at the researcher with a furrowed brow. “Well, neither.” Claire gets it right. They were trying to pull one over on her, but she was alert for the details. In fact all of the men and women in the group tested fairly well in the first round. In other words, they had very low levels of suggestibility and could not be talked into believing something

that wasn’t true.


With the testing behind them, the Horizon Six were placed into tiny individual concrete rooms with nothing but a lonely bed for furniture. The rooms looked very much like prison cells without toilets. Three of the subjects were placed in rooms completely sealed off from any light source; they could not see their hands in front of their faces. The other three were placed in well-lit rooms, but it came with a catch. They were stuffed into large, padded gloves and socks to disrupt their sense of touch, frosted goggles to completely hinder their vision, and headphones that played nothing but white noise to thwart their hearing. (The gloves were later removed when the subjects complained of painful rashes.)


As the experiment finally got under way, Claire was immediately overwhelmed by the inky blackness of her cell. She anxiously relayed to her observers that her bed sheets were cold and wet and that something should be done immediately to remedy the situation. Intending to remain silent so as not to influence any outcomes, her observers acquiesced to her concern and assured her via intercom that she was mistaken. The sheets were not wet, they said. She was just imagining things. “I don’t think you’re taking my concerns about the blankets very seriously,” Claire lamented. “No one should have to sleep in wet sheets.” After a short time Claire gave up trying to convince them and climbed into a fetal position on her bed.


After just nine hours the subjects were showing signs of wear. “I’m finding this grossly boring,” said Barney. Adam echoed Barney’s thoughts: “It’s unbearable. I can feel my brain not wanting to do anything.” Adam’s statement may not be far from what actually happens during solitary confinement and sensory deprivation. Just as new neural pathways form in our brain as a result of stimulation, there is now research to show that the opposite may also true. If the brain does not get the stimulation it needs, it begins to turn to mush. Bill, who seemed so keen to spend time by himself in the beginning, now complained, “I don’t really want to be here. It’s starting to get on my nerves. I feel like a … helpless lab rat.” Claire was found in her “cell” counting to herself. Barney had taken up singing. Judy, in the meantime, had simply fallen asleep.


After twenty-four hours (or the time it takes Jack Bauer to save Los Angeles from imminent destruction), the subjects began to exhibit truly bizarre behavior. They raised their voices in angry complaint to the walls. They wept uncontrollably. Many experienced vivid hallucinations. Adam reported, “I thought I could see a pile of oyster shells, empty, to represent all the nice food I could have eaten inside here.” Poor Claire was suffering similar effects. “There’s a snake there,” she said, pointing to the floor. In another strange visual display of the effects of disconnection, almost all the subjects began to pace their tiny rooms back and forth, their brains working to selfgenerate some kind of stimulation in order to keep them going. Not Judy, of course. Judy was still asleep. Judy’s eternal sleep, it turned out, was simply her body and mind’s way of dealing with the overwhelming lack of connection, just another form of a coping mechanism.


After forty hours Adam was in tears. “This is close to insanity.” The subjects seemed to have plummeted in both cognitive and behavioral functioning. Barney was singing again—poorly. Most had begun “hearing things,” and claimed that “someone seemed to be in the room” with them. Judy was—you guessed it—still sleeping.


Finally, the experiment came to a close. A researcher’s voice broke through the inky silence in each of their cells, causing them all a fright. “The forty-eight hours are over.” Adam cried out for relief: “I just want to kiss the person who’s letting me out!” Bill was similarly thrilled and laughed to himself. Claire

was visibly relieved. Judy mumbled sleepily, “Oh. Excellent.”


But before they could be reconnected to the outside world, the subjects were readministered the same battery of tests they were given at the beginning in order to reveal any cognitive changes resulting from their two days as lab rats. Of course, almost without exception, everyone performed poorly, further

proving the disabling effects of isolation (as if anyone needed more evidence than the video footage captured in each subject’s room5). Finally, the camera followed each of the six as they walked back through long, dark halls, up the tall steel stairs, and finally out into the sunshine. Adam, Claire, Rickey, Judy, Barney, and Bill were elated to be set free into a world brimming with connection. “My senses are overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and smells,” said Adam. “You have no idea how good this feels.”


BBC’s Horizon experiment revealed two natural results of disconnection that illustrate our human need to connect. The first result: Cut off from connection, our ability to make sense of the world begins to break down. We begin to see things that aren’t there, to buy into a reality that is wholly skewed. There were no snakes slithering on Claire’s floor. Neither were her sheets wet and cold. They were dry and room temperature, the same as everyone else’s. And Adam did not really have a large pile of seashells growing at the foot of his bed. His room was as empty as the rest. In the real world—the world of connection—Claire and Adam were normally adjusted human beings. In the experimental world—the world of disconnection—they became hallucinating paranoids.


The second result demonstrated by the Horizon experiment was that, cut off from connection, our ability to cope with reality quickly dissolves. In just one day of sensory deprivation and social isolation, each subject was reduced to infantile and even animalistic behavior. They cried uncontrollably and talked to

themselves out loud. They rolled up into fetal positions and huddled on their beds. They yelled at the unsympathetic walls of their room. They even paced their constricting cages like jungle animals, waiting for the moment to attack and escape. Apparently baby rhesus monkeys aren’t the only mammals that

fall apart without the proper connection.


Obviously, the six subjects in the Horizon experiment were placed in extraordinary circumstances. Not many of us (hopefully) live in tiny concrete rooms dominated by an absence of sight, sound, and touch. But the experiment proved what Martin Seligman and his associates began to uncover on the beaches of Akumal, demonstrating its truth by revealing its opposite: If connection can make us happy, then disconnection can make us unhappy. No matter how it was tested, though, connectedness mattered.

~~~~~~~~~~


Two stories, one common thread woven throughout: the inestimable power of connection. As we saw with Harlow and his monkeys, connection lays the groundwork for growth. In connection we find comfort and safety. We find a nurturing space that allows us to develop as a whole person, maturing inwardly even as we develop outwardly. Without it we might fall apart in the face of terrifying teddy bears. But in the presence of connection, the same toy bear—or whatever real-world challenge we might face—can become a mere curiosity, something we simply adapt to and overcome, growing stronger as we do.


The Horizon Six echoed Harlow’s research: Apart from connection we fall to pieces. Our physical, emotional, and cognitive powers weaken significantly. We become vulnerable to suggestion, and can be easily led to believe things that aren’t true. Our decision-making ability gets cloudy. Our way of viewing the world becomes skewed. We question our ability to cope: Are we going crazy? Will we be able to make it? Am I truly alone? Disconnection seems to leave us locked in little rooms with no light source and no sense of when the madness will end. But it also reminds us of how precious connection truly is. Remember how the subjects responded when finally released from captivity, when they were finally reconnected to their natural environment? Adam, the highly extroverted stand-up comedian, said it best: “You have no idea how good this feels.” Connection, it seems, makes all the difference.


~~~~~~~~~~


Of course, we are talking about a certain quality of connection, aren’t we? Not just any connection can keep someone from falling to pieces. The average television satellite dish connects us to two hundred-plus channels, each with its own endless number of programs. But not many of us can claim that such a wide variety of connections has revolutionized our lives. Clearly not just any connection will do.


We can look to our own life experience as evidence in the case for quality versus quantity. There are certain people whose emails and phone calls we answer right away, and certain other people whose emails and phone calls we don’t answer at all. If we are having a particularly difficult day, questioning our own worth, wondering what is the point in going on with life, we tend to share this with a certain kind of person and not necessarily the young man behind the counter of our nearest gas station.6 Similarly, if we have good news to share—if a wedding is proposed or a baby is on its way—celebration is usually all the more rich when communicated to certain favorite people.


If we are to make sense of why certain kinds of connection are beneficial and certain others aren’t, we must be more precise in our definition of “connection.” We have to get clear on what kind of connection has the power to secure, grow, free, and transform us. Toward the beginning of this chapter, I quoted psychologist Janet L. Surrey. Here she is again.


Authentic connection is described as the core of psychological wellbeing and is the essential quality

of growth-fostering and healing relationships. In moments of deep connection in relationship, we

break out of isolation and contraction into a more whole and spacious state of mind and heart.


Surrey uses words like “authentic” and “deep” to convey the type of connection that is powerful enough to break us out of “isolation and contraction into a more whole and spacious state of mind and heart.” Even though “authentic” and “deep” are still fairly ambiguous terms, they’re a good place to start. Let’s

build on Surrey’s ideas.


Henri Nouwen, the great spiritual writer of the last century, was a man constantly in search of connection, and his many books represented that search. He wrestled with feeling loved even as he wrote about being the beloved (Life of the Beloved ). He wrestled with hope as he spiraled down into the inky depths of depression (The Inner Voice of Love). He reflected on life in the face of his own mother’s death (A Letter of Consolation). And even though he was a Dutch Catholic priest, his largest audience, by far, was American Protestant evangelicals. The paradox of Nouwen’s life and his message brought hope and healing to millions of readers around the world. His popularity revealed just how well he understood the human condition. He described it this way in his book Lifesigns:


Probably no better word summarizes the suffering of our time than the word, “homeless.” It reveals

one of our deepest and most painful conditions, the condition of not having a sense of belonging, of not having a place where we can feel safe, cared for, protected, and loved.


Nouwen claimed that human suffering was the experience of “not having a place where we can feel loved, safe, cared for, and protected.” He explained that this is what it means to be “homeless.” We can use the inverse of Nouwen’s definition of suffering to help us find a more clear definition of connection: The kind of connection we’re longing for—whether consciously or unconsciously—is the kind that creates a sense of belonging within us, a sense that we are “safe, cared for, protected, and loved.” In other words, we feel most at home—most ourselves—around people with whom we experience that deep and authentic connection that Janet Surrey talked about. As such, we know that, whatever else connection means, it has to include the qualities that most make us feel “at home” in the world.


Finally, listen to this simple dictionary definition, one of several found for the word connection:


A friend, relative, or associate who either has or has access to influence or power.


This is the definition we use when describing someone who got where they are in life because they had “great connections.” But it’s also a description of the kind of connection that matters. We might say, then, that the recipe for the kind of connection we’re trying to define is one that includes authenticity and depth. It is sprinkled with protective safety and dignifying freedom. It contains heaping portions of loving concern for our becoming a better, more whole person. It is seasoned with access to transformative power.


When used in its very best sense, the word home summarizes this definition perfectly. Most of us come from homes that have been fractured in some ways. Many have not been safe, nurturing places. We haven’t always gotten the support and protection we needed. But ideally home was meant to be all of those things—a safe, nurturing, transformative environment where who we are—just as we are—was always celebrated. A place where our highest potential was encouraged and sought after. When we go looking for a best friend, we go looking for home. When we go looking for a spouse, we go looking for home. When we turn our attention to the divine, to spirituality of all kinds, to God Himself, we are looking for home.


There is a truth about our longing for home—our search for community—that emerges from the beginning of the Bible in the second chapter of Genesis: “It is not good for the man to be alone.” God makes this profound observation immediately after breathing His Spirit into Adam. God has just created something that appears to be incomplete; it’s missing something. Has He made a mistake? What does God do in light of his conclusion that “it is not good for the man to be alone”? The answer seems to emphasize the need for a certain quality of connection. God’s response to incomplete Adam: “I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18). To be clear, God was not making a statement about gender roles, assigning women the collective position of “administrative assistant.” Nor was He making an isolated statement about the preeminence of marriage (though marriage, with its qualities of mutual submission, self-sacrifice, and unconditional love, has always been a biblical archetype for every kind of community). Rather, God was clarifying that the fullness of our humanity could only be truly expressed through relationship with a suitable other.


The key word here is suitable. What kind of connection would best “suit” Adam? What quality of relationship would not only meet his basic needs for “home,” but also help him grow and flourish? Badgers, despite their sassy attitude and rugged good looks, did not “suit” Adam. Could he find this quality of connection with a giraffe? Could he teach a parrot enough words to connect in conversation? Adam found himself in what was likely the most beautiful garden ever imagined—couldn’t it have been enough for him simply to connect with nature? While Adam’s ability to care for and relate in healthy ways to his environment was vitally important (as it is for us today), his greatest need for connection was with one of his own. The quality of connection capable of meeting Adam’s need for home was to be found in intimate relationship with another human being. He needed one of his own and that’s what he got—perfectly matched Eve (for whom Adam was also a suitable helper). Remember, Adam was surrounded by creatures. He lived in a world saturated with life; there seemed no end to his connections.

But by intentionally creating both Adam and Eve (and every man and woman since) “in His image” and placing them in unique relationship with one another and with Himself, God demonstrated that the quality of a connection clearly matters.


~~~~~~~~~~


Think back now to the book’s introduction. When the ribbon was cut and hundreds of people began to make their way across the Millennium Bridge, their individual footsteps generated energy. At first this energy was random, firing all over the place. But very quickly the energy became “synchronized.” It began taking on a life of its own as it passed through various points in the bridge’s structure. That new synchrony, or new “order,” forced the pedestrians to begin walking in step with one another, waddling en masse in a “skating gait.” The event pointed toward the first “reality” we discovered in the case of London’s Millennium Bridge. Here it is again:


1. There is a force that is capable of synchronizing a large population in very little time, thereby creating spontaneous order.


Now consider this: In the first quarter of 2009, five million people joined Facebook every week. In addition, Facebook’s membership doubled from one hundred million to two hundred million people from August 2008 to March 2009. Perhaps most incredible, the vast majority of its members—140 million, in

fact—have only been on the rolls since February 2007. That’s 140 million new users in just over two years. Facebook isn’t just a white-hot social-networking platform. It is a radical example of Steven Strogatz’s spontaneous order.


In a very short period of time (five years), a very large population (several hundred million and counting) has been synchronized (pulled into the orbit of a single Web platform called Facebook). And what kind of gravity is capable of accomplishing such a feat?


The human need for home.


It might sound a bit ridiculous. After all, who would claim to be looking for home in a social-networking site like Facebook? We’re there to keep in touch with friends and family, to make some new friendly connections or reconnections, to share small slices of our personal worlds through pictures and status updates and playful games of Mob Wars. We just want a little mindless entertainment, for heaven’s sake. But as we’ll begin to see in the next few chapters, home is exactly the kind of connection that Facebook is offering. For now it is enough to say that the human need for home is plenty powerful enough to create a spontaneous order all its own. Not even Steve Strogatz saw this one coming.


But what is the nature of this new “order” and how does it help us make sense of this tendency to seek out home wherever we can find it? That’s what we’re going to explore next. And while we began this chapter on the warm, white sand beaches of Akumal, Mexico, I’m afraid we’ll need to venture to a slightly less exotic locale to facilitate our exploration in the next one. I’m referring, of course, to the tiny community of Angola, New York.


©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. The Church of Facebook by Jesse Rice. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Finding redemption for the hard places in unexpected ways

It's been a rough few days. I feel like everything in me has been pulled every which way and I've been begging God for just a little break. Tonight, I feel like He's given me one- not from all the things plaguing me, but a change in my perspective that's strengthened my resolve to push through it.

I spent most of the day at the hospital with my friend I blogged about two weeks ago. Unfortunately, the issue that landed her in the hospital two weeks ago was not resolved and she had to go in for another procedure. So of course, I went to be there with her.

It's interesting how things that hurt in your past can be used to help someone in the present. My friend had never gone under anesthesia and was terrified of what that would look like- I'd felt the same when I'd had to go under a couple of years ago. Only for me, I'd done it alone, tried to be brave, and had no one holding my hand. It felt good to be able to redeem my own bad experience by being there for her. I know it comforted her to be told she wasn't crazy for feeling the way she felt, and to be told that her feelings were okay. She didn't have to be be brave. She had someone to turn to afterward and be weepy, silly, and joyful all in the same breath without worrying that she'd be told to pull herself together or other nonsense. She came out smiling, with the joyful statement, "I am articulate again," and someone was there to smile with her.

One of the biggest blessings for me was how this helped me realize the blessing in my own struggles. Today is April 15th. Tax Day. A year ago, I wouldn't have been able to be there for my friend. I would've had to have told her that I was very sorry there was no way I could get the day off, but I'd pray for her. I would have missed that joyful celebration of her ability to articulate. No one would have told her that it was okay to feel the way she felt. She would've sat alone in that hospital bed, dealing with something no one should have to walk through alone. But I got to be there.

And see, as much as I celebrate not having my tax job, you need to know it hasn't been easy. I miss the work. I miss my friends. I miss my clients. And, to be really honest, I really miss the money. When God asked me to quit the job, I guess I expected that there would be a reward for my obedience. Not this horrible financial struggle that has me praying for every penny to balance things at the end of the month. I quit my job, and life got harder.

So here it was... the payoff. Materially, I am no better off. All the things I thought would happen because I obeyed God and quit my job did not happen. But wow... God gave me something even more special. He gave me the ability to let someone I love dearly, who is in the midst of really hard times, know that she is precious. I have to believe that giving this gift to my friend is far more valuable than any of the things I thought were important.

God hasn't given me a break in any of the stuff I'm going through right now. Yet today taught me that the stuff I went through a couple of years ago, hard stuff that made me wonder if I'd survive it all, is being used today to help someone else. I have to believe that my struggles of today will be used for good tomorrow.

On the way home from the hospital, my friend said something that made me think even deeper about this. Yesterday had been one of the worst days of her life. Then she started comparing it to all the other things that could have happened, how it could have been so much worse, and she realized that if yesterday was the worst her life had gotten, her life was pretty darn good!

It made me feel selfish for all the petty whines I've brought before God lately. I continued to process it all through the evening, and when I finally got her settled in bed and I was able to leave, I started to think about all the tiny prayers I'd uttered throughout the day, and realized how faithful God has been. Many of them were quick "God, I don't know what to do about this" prayers. As I drove home, God showed me all the ways He took care of them. It occurred to me that had He not pointed them out, I'd have never made the connection that God had arranged it all so perfectly. I wonder how many times we don't think God has answered our prayers because we're not paying enough attention to make the connection between the prayer and the resolution to our problems.

So tonight I am thankful. Thankful that God cared about me enough to perfectly fit together all the details of today that worried me. Thankful that God brought my friend through her procedure and everything is going to be fine. Thankful that God allowed me to see how He'd worked out so many things I'd never even considered.

Do I still want a break? Absolutely. I can't tell you how done I am with all of this junk I'm dealing with right now. But knowing that my hard junk from the past found redemption in my ability to help my friend makes today's junk a little easier to endure. I don't know how any of what I'm going through now will help anyone else. I choose to believe, though, that someday, there will be a payoff. It probably won't look anything like what I hope for, but God will use it for something better. If I'm willing to look for it.