Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bubba's Birthday List: First Update

Purchased (Sorry if you bought it already)
tires (had tire problems because they were so bald and getting flat)
Dark Crystal (impulse buy)

Kodak Easy Share Camera (so I can take pictures with Jen)
New bigger, better ipod
dumbells pairs of 35 pound, 4o pound, and 45 pound

Hawaiian Shirts from Casual Male (5xlt)
Tie Die Shirt
Black and White t-shirts from Casual Male
Tennis Shoes--Size 15 (need to be wider shoe)
Oregon Ducks, Seattle Seahawks, and Portland Trailblazers hats with "flex fit"
Chuck Taylor Hi-Tops (size 15)
Seattle Seahawks Jersey
Troy Palamaou Jersey (king size catalog)

Twilight Zone Episodes
The Never Ending Story

2 tires for my car
benches for back yard

Gift Certificates
Casual Male XL gift card
King Size Catolog Gift Card
Best Buy
Home Depot

Monday, July 21, 2008

Regrettfully Recommended "All Summer Long

Is Kid Rock a total pig at times? Yes.

Does this song have morals I would recommend to the teens I used to lead? No. Not really.

Is it a great video?

Yes! It is a great song and a great video. Good samples. Good hooks. Appropriate video. Makes me wish I was out on the lake myself.

Sway: Loss Aversion

Definition: Loss Aversion is our tendency to go to great lengths to avoid possible losses.
In the book, Sway, the Brafman brothers first bring our attention to loss aversion. None of us are strangers to bouts with this form of irrational thinking. Put simply, fear of losses lead us to make decisions that often do not make sense. Furthermore, fear of losses leaves us investing a lot of time and energy in things that are not worthy of our investment.
One example of this has to do with chasing losses. For instance, the person who does not want to sell their declining stock because they want to get back to even, or to some arbitrary goal, before they sell their stock. The book used examples of people in the technology industry that were advised to sell overpriced stocks, and ended up losing most of their money on tech stocks. Not only did they lose a lot when the bubble first burst, but they lost even more as the held on hoping to recover their losses. Gamblers often chase loses as well, believing that they will be able to recoup their loses if they just gamble a little longer. Loss aversion can be a trap.
Max Bazerman illustrates this in his negotiation class, as a Hamilton, Ontario paper describes:
Harvard Business School prof Max Bazerman runs the $20 auction in his negotiations class. The auction has two rules

Bids must be made in $1 increments. And the runner-up must honour her bid while getting nothing in return. Bidding starts fast and furious. Everyone wants to make an easy buck. Most students see where the train's headed and stop bidding at the $12 to $16 mark.

Yet without fail, the two highest bidders lock themselves in. Bidding passes the $20 mark, hitting $50, $100 and the record-setting $204. "Now, neither one wants to be the sucker who paid good money for nothing," explains the Brafmans about otherwise smart students behaving irrationally. "They become committed to the strategy of playing not to lose."

In all the years Bazerman's run his auction, he's never lost a dime (he donates all proceeds to charity). "Regardless of who the bidders have been, they are always swayed. The deeper the hole they dig themselves into, the more they continue to dig."
In church organizations I have thought a lot about this concept since I was first acquainted with it in the book Good to Great.
So often, churches look back on the way things used to be, and they invest a lot of energy in recreating a past that is impossible to recover. They also invest a lot of money in declining programs and paradigms of what their church should be like.
My last job was a lot like this. Over and over again they tried to hire staff to resurrect programs that were on the decline, yet the congregation as a whole was not invested in doing what needed to happen to make them sucessful.
Another way this shows up in churches is in how we treat and pay attention to certain people. In churches there are always people that are leaving and/or have left, and churches spend an inordinate amount of time striving to get these people to come back when they are already gone. Or grieving their loss. Or being angry at them for leaving. Instead of moving forward in future relationships and with future leadership, they spend even more time trying to get those same people to be reinvested. In some churches, people are pining away for people who have not attended church in 5 or 10 years.

Sway: Mini-Review

Last year I reviewed a book on this blog called The Starfish and the Spider. It was an excellent book that should be read by any leader anywhere in the country, regardless of background. The principles in the book are helpful in changes throughout our culture. It specifically focused on the power of decentralized, web-like leadership in the world, and how over and over again in our rapidly changing world organizations that can decentralize can be much more effective.

This year, when the new book by the Brafman brothers came out, I got sent a complimentary copy to read and review on this blog (I love it when that happens).

The new book by Ori and Rom Brafman is called Sway, and it is about the pull of irrational behavior on individuals and groups of people. In many ways, this study builds off of the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. Strangely though, it builds off of it as a counterpoint to Blink. Whereas Blink was about the intelligence and functionality of behavior and thought patterns we do not think about, Sway is about how some of those ways of thinking can lead you in the wrong direction.

Included in irrational thinking patterns are:
Loss Aversion
Value Attribution
Diagnosis Bias
Fairness (this need can often lead us astray, even in pursuit of justice).

In future posts, I will examine each one of these phenomena in depth, and discuss what they mean in my vocational setting.

Sway is an excellent book. No matter what kind of human organization you belong to, you can gain a lot by reading this book. It will help you think differently about everything from managing money to listening to music, and everything in between.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Why haven't I seen it until now

I discovered today that A Mighty Fortress Is Our God is really a theological statement about what Martin Luther believed about spiritual warfare. How could I have missed this central theme of the song? So, I started to re-read the song and see new meaning.

I am going to post the lyrics here, with my thoughts and commentary on the song in italics

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Interesting here is the image of the flood in relation to spiritual warfare. That it feels that when we are tempted we are at best floating and at worst about to drown underneath the current of sin. Sin drowns us. Makes it so we cannot even breathe.

Also, it is important to note that "on earth is not his equal'" is talking about Satan. It does us no good to deny the power of the evil one. He is smarter and more powerful than any one of us in our human power. We must know the enemy is stronger than we give him credit for.

Note the dramatic tension as Luther paints the picture of the situation in this first verse.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

We cannot contend alone against the evil one and expect to win a victory. If we fight against spiritual powers on our own strength we will be overcome.

Thankfully, we have Jesus. As the last verse contends, it is only HE--THE LORD that can win the battle against the evil one.

Interesting to note as well is the name he gives to Jesus--Lord Sabboath. The verse starts with striving, but ends in resting. In giving up the task of overcoming evil to Jesus. It is he that needs to win the battle. We need to learn to trust in Jesus' grace and truth.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:

The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,

One little word shall fell him.

God wants to triumph through us. One little word can fell the enemy, when spoken in faith.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;

The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:

Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;

The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,

His kingdom is forever.

God has given us the strengths and gifts to overcome the enemy. But in order to be ready to make our stand with Jesus, we need to place Jesus higher than our need for financial or relational security. It may even mean our death, but God will use the faithful fight in the battle to build his kingdom.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pastoring Without Fear (A Book Review)

One of the books that I recently finished was Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times. It is a book written by Peter Steinke, who also wrote Healthy Congregations, a seminal book on organic church development.

Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times was written to encourage pastors to be steady and courageous in the face of stress in ministry, and it does an excellent job in encouraging and explaining this process.

In the first section, I was struck by the world pictures for anxiety. In Greek, the root work for anxiety is tied with an image for slavery. Particularly, the image is of rings around the necks of slaves that choke them and keep them under control. Anxiety is very close to the Latin work for choke or strangle. The point is clear. Fear suffocates. Fear also enslaves. When a leader of a church bases their ministry upon worry and fear, they end up enslaving themselves and suffocating the church with their worries.

How do we overcome anxiety in churches? One answer Steinke gives is to be a non-anxious presence.

He begins by discussing how a pastor can become a non-anxious presence. One answer Steinke gives is to differentiate from the problem and the congregation as a leader. It is easy to assume that any difficult issue a pastor faces is a problem having to do with the pastor’s leadership. A centered leader needs to see themselves as part of a system, not as the system or the center of a system.

When someone can differentiate from the ministry they are a part of, they are able to reengage without being reactive. When a pastor gets reactive, they tend to make decisions based upon their “reptilian brain”. This fight or flight reaction leads to more anxiety instead of helping a congregation grow and heal. When a pastor differentiates, they are able to look at themselves and their churches in a balance of relatedness and autonomy from one another.

Perhaps to understand this, it is helpful to look at family relationships. In a family, it becomes easy for people in that family system to get trapped in reactive chaos. For instance, a parent (similar to a pastor in this case) sees their children (similar to a congregations in this case) as a reflection of themselves. The child is in chaos. The parents then get anxious and reactive, making panicked decisions about their family and child that the regret later. The parents at the same time are frustrated with their children, blame themselves for their children’s problem, and are defensive about being blamed by others for their child’s problems. They may even blame other caregivers. This leads to more anxiety, because the parent and child have a hard time taking time differentiating themselves from the situation for long enough to be able to look at the situation outside of the stress that they feel. The family finds themselves in greater and greater chaos.

Churches are the same way. Pastors, in order to lead through anxiety in their congregation, need to step away enough from the situation to differentiate themselves from the congregation that they serve. They need to be clear on who they are, and what their role is in addressing the anxiety in their congregation and what is outside of their control. They need to stay connected to the congregation instead of running away from the problem or freezing in the face of it. Finally, pastors need to find ways to use this time of anxiety and stress to be proactive in challenging their congregations to grow through the issue instead of avoid and hide from it.

Much of the rest of the book is how to best manage yourself as a pastor and a congregation in this manner, and a discussion of the value of being this non-anxious presence in church systems. Whatever the stressor, churches are going to face anxiety producing problems. A leader that is enmeshed or avoiding (or in some cases alternately both) will not be able to lead a congregation through anxious situations. They will often make things worse. A leader who is able to address a congregational challenge with courage and calm will be able to help the congregation learn how to grow up and deal effectively with the current issue as well as the issues ahead. A strongly recommended read for pastors and non-ordained leadership in churches.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Our New Dog

Jennifer and I got a new dog this week. I picked him up Wednesday afternoon. This is a picture of him in the back of my car with the back seats folded up.

The second picture is also a picture with Jake is the back seat as I took him home. As we drove, he kept trying to fight to get in the front seat. We are working hard on communicating to Jake that he is not the Alpha dog of our family, but it is taking work!

This is not a good picture, but a picture of what Jake looks like when he smiles. He actually does smile. Sorry it is so blurry.

This is Jake's mug shot when he was in the pokey. He has the "James Walker" pose going, meaning that both Jake and Dad like to look serious when they know that there picture is about to be taken.

Jake likes to lay down in between Jen and I's feet on the couch.

Think about it

Posted by Picasa

I saw this young boy this morning coming out of the carnival, and I turned to my wife and said, "That is just wrong on so many levels." She agreed. We also agreed I must write about what is so messed up about this image soon.

Let us start with the most obvious. There is an image of a boy with a balloon in the shape of a gun, with an American flag decorating the gun. This communicates to a very young child that being a happy and good American means that you are willing to go and kill others. That should be an adult decision made with much fear and trepidation. It communicates from the beginning that carnivals and fairs, funnell cakes and moving into Iraq in a blatant act of millitary aggression without real cause are all a part of the same thing. How sad.

Second, you need to note that the gun is in the shape of a machine gun. It would be different if the gun was a little rifle or something. No, instead it is in the shape of an AK-47. Really, what we are giving this child is training wheels so by the time he is 18 he will already be programmed to jump right into military service.

Third, you cannot see this from this picture, but the gun's hole for the trigger is in the shape of a heart. What this communicates is when we shoot others in the military, what we are really doing is an act of love for those we are going to kill.

Then there is the fact that the pretend gun is really a baloon. A balloon? This communicates harmlessness. Like a gun is something you want to hug. Most of the people I grew up with are hunters. I did not learn much about guns from them, but one thing I did learn was a gun was something that you treated with caution and respect.

All boys play with guns, and even play guns and war. I know this. I did, most of my friends did, even the child of pacifist hippies I knew that homeschooled their kid and forbid him to ever play with guns picked up sticks and made them into guns. I dont think there is anything wrong with playing cops and robbers, laser tag, or anything like that. I have shot guns, and I hope to go hunting someday. Guns are a gift from God, and a useful tool. But I still look at this picture, and say, this is wrong on so many levels, because it ties so many powerful symbols together to communicate a frightening message.

No wonder Obama did not want to wear a flag pin on his lapel.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Boundaries and Assertiveness

A couple of weeks ago I met with a number of ministers. As we shared prayer request, I asked for prayer on knowing when to be courageous and when not to be as a pastor. All the pastors spoke up with advice. This made me angry because I was not seeking their advice but God's guidance. Their answers made it apparent to me (although not to them), that these kinds of questions were not an issue for them at all in their life. They did not struggle with the courage question. As I thought about it more, I realized that many of them already had an internal sense of how to establish themselves in such a way that they communicated love to their congregations and had enough boundaries and forthrightness to speak up when necessary. And, they had this comptency in every area of their lives. I, on the other hand, have spent a lot of my life trying to be good, make people happy, and do the right thing, often putting myself and my needs as last in consideration. After all, isnt that what we are taught as kids in Sunday School. Jesus comes first. Then others have the next priority. Then I am supposed to take last place.

The last couple of weeks I have been thinking a little bit about my boundaries. Specifically, I was thinking about them in relationship to the church. When do I speak up? When do I keep my mouth shut? When am I better of waiting to move forward? How fast do I move this little church forward? What things do I insist on change? What things is God trying to get me to change with as I adapt here instead of asking the church to change? How do my choices now effect my relationship with the congregation long term (I have especially thought about that one)

Mostly though, I think about when to be assertive and when not to be. Being an associate pastor for the last 10 years in one form or another, I knew that part of my boundaries were to support the direction of the senior pastor. Now I am a solo pastor in a strange new place.

One place I struggle is dealing with financial support. We are a small church. The finance person uses a spiral bound notebook for her ledger. Should I ask for clarification on questions about my financial support since I don't have a check stub? Are they going to think I am a money grubber if I do?

Another place has to do with privacy in the parsonage. Some folks walk in to the parsonage when we are gone without even asking us for permission to do so. One wanted to see what our newly remodled bathroom looked like. Another wanted to drop off a joke. Others had other reasons. But, it makes us both (but especially my wife) a little anxious that people are entering our home and spending time in it with us gone without permission.

As I started thinking through these issues, I began to realize that my assertiveness boundaries are not just something I struggle with at work, they are something I struggle with everywhere. As I young child I was strong-willed, and often asserted myself without regard for others. As I grew, I was taught this was innappropriate. In certain facets of my life, I wonder if I have over corrected. I also at times have had a bad temper. To deal with my bad temper, I learned to control my temper by forcing myself to take time to respond to issues. This in turn led to delayed anger, where I am ok with things in the moment, and then get more upset about them as time goes on. By the time I am ready to deal with a small thing that has grown big in my mind, the time has passed to address it.

Some ways I do well with appropriate boundries and assertiveness. Leading and participating in meetings. Standing my ground on theological convictions. Other times I gulp down and do not assert myself out of fear that I am being too selfish and petty. Sometimes this is good. Sometimes I let this fester in my family, my church, and with my friends as well.

The fact that this is not simply a work problem, but a personal problem in finding a comfort zone with this issue.

Anyway...something I am working on...

Monday, July 07, 2008

Speed Dating DoggieEdition

Jen and I have been considering getting a dog. We have talked about it off and on for a little while, but have become more serious lately. Jen is more eager to have a dog, yet I fear that once we have pets I will be the one to be more emotionally attached to the pet.

Last Saturday we almost adopted two female dogs named Annie and Betty Boop (Jen does not like the name Betty Boop). They were strays that are very close friends. They snuggle when they sleep, and they share the same pen at the animal shelter. We were very close to adopting both of them, until I started calculating how much work we were going to have to do to get the home ready for the dogs, how much it was going to cost to adopt two dogs, and set up the home for two dogs, and buy all the stuff we were going to need to make a home for them. Also, the dogs were most likely not housetrained.

Today I had to run an errand in Pueblo, and stopped by the shelter and visited another dog while we were there. His name is Jake. Jake is a mix between and English Springer Spaniel and a Great Pyranees. He is a little high energy, but I like him. He is supposed to be neutred, housetrained, and good with people. I was tempted to get him this afternoon, but thought it best that Jen and I take our time.

Political and Pastoral

There is this man in my church. His name is John. John is a tall cowboy from about 9 miles north of us. He works in a shop doing mechanical and maybe some construction work.

John has been talking to me a lot about the Pinon Canyon Expansion. He wants me to put a bumper sticker in my car saying I am against the Pinon Canyon Expansion. This has put me in quite a quandry.

On one hand, I agree pretty strongly with the ranchers, indians and environmentalists as they stand against the encroachment of Fort Carson into much of Southeastern Colorado. There is a lot of talk about the Federal Government using imminent domain to force thousands of farmers of their tens of thousands of acres.

On the other hand, as a pastor, I think I set a pretty dangerous precident, especially this early in my ministry, if I begin to identify myself with political causes and poltical action groups. Even if I passionately agree with them.

So I am a little stuck in a quandry. And, I don't know how I am going to deal with it quite yet.