Archive | September, 2015

Sharing Joy Should be More than Passing the Dish Soap

21 Sep

I was sitting in church having taken part in some uplifting music and now, with a thought-provoking, spirit-challenging sermon in my head and gut, we get to the time in the service when we share Joys & Concerns.

(In summary)

” Paul will be leaving for school.”
” Alison has a job and found a roommate.”
“Eva passed away this week.”
“My sister has pancreatic cancer.”
“My wife’s treatments are continuing.”
“Jim will be leaving for another tour in Afghanistan.”
(followed by more concerns. . .)

Typically during this part of the service I am struck by three thoughts:
1. There are many more Concerns than Joys, and often no Joys whatsoever.
2. If you want to share a Joy, you’d better do it at the front end because, I don’t know about you, but I’m reluctant to share a Joy after hearing many of the Concerns.
3. There should be three question marks after the word Joys in the bulletin (Joys??? & Concerns).

I’m left with one question: “Why are we reluctant to share Joys?” When I say we, perhaps I should reference Presbyterians (I used to be Roman Catholic). Or, perhaps, I should put it in the context of Scandinavian culture in Minnesota (I was born and raised in Massachusetts, to immigrant Azorean Portuguese). Perhaps it is a broader phenomenon that crosses faith traditions and cultural heritage. Or maybe I am living in space between the formality and privacy of the “Frozen Chosen” (Presbyterians), and the passive-aggression & self-deprecation of so-called Minnesota Nice. In any case, I feel there is supposed to be more.

Admittedly, it can be hard to mention good things in the face of other people’s struggles and tragedies. It doesn’t seem in good taste. There you are with a husband dying of cancer and I shove the Joy of my son’s new joy right in your face.

In northern Minnesota in particular, it seems people tend to refrain from talking about themselves, about achievement, good stuff in their family or about their kids; it can easily be seen as bragging, or at least we think it will be seen as such. I can just hear Garrison Keillor telling news from Lake Wobegon, imitating Sven Carlsen sharing his opinion with wife Ingrid after hearing someone at church coffee time going on about their son who’s moved to Minneapolis : “I t’ink he’s maybe a little bit full of himself d’ere. Yah, he might be a little too proud of his kid, ya’ know?”

Life can be challenging, even brutal. Work demands, schedule pressures, financial challenges, family turmoil, injury, illness, death. Facing these things, we can get pretty stressed, negative, beat up, despairing. We can even lose faith of whatever sort we have. I know that I can get pretty focused on the negative and let challenges, or even worries, pretty easily overcome me. I also know that even when I am thinking most bleakly, seeing a picture of a friend’s new grandson can really lift me up and think about all of the positive, uplifting wonders in life.

In the midst of all this, I think we need to share and celebrate Joys. Faith traditions tell us we should celebrate our gifts, that we should find the hope in challenge and defeat, and that we are made to enjoy life and be happy. Secular authors have written words that ring true about gratitude, joy, and hope. Social media abounds with positive and supportive memes. In the midst of fog and dark, we are meant to shine light, both for ourselves and others. Perhaps while in fear and dark over a spouse’s cancer prognosis, one can find light in another’s joy. Perhaps it can become like passing on a candle flame. When we have a basket full of rotten, stinking apples, it’s OK if someone holds out to us one of their crisp Golden Delicious and lets us sample a bite or two, or maybe eat the whole thing.

If there is any fault in this sharing Joy business, perhaps it is in not asking others to share theirs. Before offering up your own latest-greatest, a good habit might be to ask others what good things are happening in their life (judiciously, maybe, depending on struggles they are facing). This habit can perhaps lead us to a larger orientation of listening, appreciating and understanding others. Share in their Joy and they will naturally want to share in yours.

What might it do to a congregation to share and celebrate all of the plusses in people’s lives? What can it mean to a family to readily see, share and affirm the positive in their experience together? What would it mean to a workplace where the focus is on uplifting people and encouraging them bring their good things to their common time together? Yes, support and care for each other as we face challenges, but show and share the light in the gloom. Light does overcome darkness.

Joys and Concerns? I do think those are listed in the right order. I think I’ve just got to read more carefully. And, believe it or not, I do have the right blood type: B-Positive!




The More Things Change, The More They Should Change.

2 Sep

“Chris, the speed limit is 50 here.”
(I speed up from the leisurely 39 I’d been going.)

(Exclaimed as she leaned away from the direction of the car approaching the stop sign on her side of the car.)

“The speed limit’s only 55 here.”
(I slow down from the 64 I’d been going.)

“What are you slowing down for?”
(As I survey a quickly-decelerating vehicle in front of us.)

“Do you know where we’re going?”
(No, but I know it bugs you!)

I’m not saying that I’m never in need of “absent-minded speed correction.” But, my extraordinarily gracious and loving wife is, shall we say, an extremely participative passenger. Deserved at times, much more often not, my vindication in this driver-passenger input melodrama is the time my mother-in-law — her mother — told her , “Gawd, Bonnie, just let the poor man drive.”


In our vehicular dynamic, it seems that whenever I drive extra cautiously, I get questioned if something is wrong. When I drive normally, I get admonished for not attending to the myriad of imminent dangers. When I am accelerating and zipping along, I am supposed to slow down; when I take it easy, I am encouraged to get a move on. From my wife’s perspective, I am either too much oriented to safety and security or too bold and reckless. I am either stomping on the gas when I shouldn’t be or riding the break unnecessarily.

It’s just like the martial arts.


I practice what most would regard as a traditional martial art. By traditional, I mean that we generally have a pretty strong regard for traditions: demonstrated manners, particular protocols, certain practices, whether ceremonial actions or techniques introduced by founders or senior instructors.

More progressive practitioners of the arts would consider us to be stodgy at best. Yet, some practitioners of other traditional arts, upon observing us, might consider us to have bastardized or compromised the arts. (What? You can’t use a tea bag in the tea ceremony? Kidding. How about practicing sword cutting on pool noodles rather than bundles of straw? Not kidding.) What about allowing students to regard us too casually? (Define THAT for me.)

I find myself liking to hang onto tradition in some good measure.  I do so because I appreciate some of the best elements of what tradition offers, what it teaches, the appreciation and attentiveness it fosters. I try to find the hidden benefits of particular practices. However, I often also find myself critically reviewing what is really accomplished in maintaining certain traditions or approaches. Sometimes I wonder if I am truly more of a progressive than a traditionalist. Can I possibly be both? I even find myself thinking that change should happen simply to shake things up and move things along to the needed next places. Revolution as well as evolution.

Martial arts, particularly those coming from far-east traditions, have developed as a conglomeration of a whole bunch of things: military training and protocols, religious and philosophical perspectives and practices, cultural norms, and founder/elder/top-dog preferences and egos. It can be tough to separate the wheat from the chaff (or the meat from the hummus).

Much of martial arts and eastern philosophy draws upon metaphor or analogy that flows from nature. In nature, if something isn’t changing, it’s dying. That happens on a long-term evolutionary scale of course, but it also happens on much shorter timeframes, as in the life cycle of annual flowers. I think age 30 is about when humans supposedly begin the physical process of dying, as in breaking down rather than building up. Thirty? Sheesh. Epigenetic changes can actually happen in our own bodies, particularly due to trauma, and be passed on to our children; we’re talking DNA change in our own lifetimes!

Flowing water is fresh and powerful; stagnant water is stale and weak.

Everything is in constant change whether we know it — or admit it — or not. Nothing is the same in this very instant as it was an instant ago: no tree, no person, no frog, no stone, no building, no system, no organization. Ignore it, avoid it, or fear it, change is a given and, I think, the greater complexity of circumstances today demands that we actively pursue change in order to best adapt and stay ahead of the curve. Or the enemy.

Even in the United States military, a formal and traditional institution, change in structures and relationships has happened in order to better meet the challenges of evolving threats. Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by General Stanley McChrystal presents an engaging discussion of this dynamic.

Some of the greatest companies in the world, companies that helped change the world in big ways (can you say Eastman Kodak?) died off or diminished because they did not reinvent themselves to adapt to that very world which they helped create. I found it quite insightful to Google search for articles about companies and brands that disappeared or faltered due to a failure to adapt or innovate. Both the popular and academic literature are rife with examples and analyses.

People, leaders, fear change or don’t pursue change for a variety of reasons, some practical (such as resources), some strategic (just the wrong decision), but much more often than not change is avoided or a poor strategy is decided because of hubris. Ego, arrogance, and pride often are the reason that a particular tack is maintained. As much as some may fear losing Profit,  more often the fear that seems to drive action or inaction in many areas of life is fear of losing Position, Power or Prestige of some sort. It’s Personal. Communication and input, particularly disagreement or divergent thinking, are squelched. Role, rank and tradition are maintained but prove inadequate to meet changing circumstances. Much more often than not, institutions that best adapt and innovate to meet new demands and needs — both external and internal — involve a diversity of people in different roles and with different perspectives in sharing information and making decisions, if not even sharing authority. Yes-men need not apply.

Whether in one’s personal life or in the institution with which one is engaged or leads, perhaps we can take a lesson from my driving experience with my wife. Yes, when I find myself rather unthinkingly hitting the accelerator, perhaps I should consider my speed. Usually in my case, however, I need to pay attention and think about how I might actually stomp on that gas, to speed up, to best fit into the circumstances of what’s happening around me. And when I am unsure of where I am or where I might be going, perhaps I should actually ask for input and help.

Every good leader needs a chorus of backseat drivers and needs to be willing to actually listen and adjust accordingly.

“Chris! . . .”
Thank you, Bonnie.

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