the answer always reveals itself.

I give you these words with severe trepidation.  Herein is ego suicide.

My collar is a shade of blue these days.  It used to be white you know but I’ve discovered the blue mercifully hides tear stains better.

I used to work for a church, in an office of my own with hours of my making and self-defined goals to be met.  My labor was almost all mental or some mix of spiritual at least.  I spoke publicly and led teams of volunteers to visions of grandeur.  I would get up from my cushioned chair to adjust the thermostat.  I wrote emails and judged by subjective parameters of creativity.  Coworkers were friends and friends felt plentiful.

I felt known by others.

I have a new office now and it’s behind the wheel of a truck.  Vinyl lined seats seep the odorous sweat of foregone drivers and by the end of the heated day I contribute.  The alignment is a bit off but the first turn of the engine in the early morning still seems to wake my senses more than the coffee.  The air blows cold but rules require the engine’s death when not moving so I relish the last waft as I pull up to the first house.

An exchange begins.  I have arrived on time to rid this residence of it’s pests.

I’ve thought of every way possible to make exterminating sexy but I just can’t map it out.  It’s a goal founded in my insecurities anyways.

I crawl into the spaces under people’s homes but in reality I’m just crawling back into my self again, my soul.  I wave a flashlight around concerned about another pair of eyes staring back at me but I think rather I’m looking for some universal truth hidden in the crevices of this house’s old foundation.  The same voice whispers from the shadows beyond, ‘How did you end up here’?  I swallow hard and descend.

Axiom and aphorism are my companions in the deep and the silence. Emerging from each house a small piece of the answer always reveals itself.  I’m getting paid to find bugs, fungus, termites, water but in the meantime I’m finding pieces of myself.  I’m certainly not the man I was before going in.  Perhaps I’m not really inspecting these houses.  I think they are inspecting me instead.

Doctors and lawyers hang well deserved degrees in their home offices as I spray beneath.  I look at the framed papers and they sullenly look back at me.  Should I hang my masters degree from my rearview mirror?  I laugh as I ponder the image but of course this would be impractical so instead I’ll hang if from my heart, my hope and my shadowy dreams.

I don’t feel as known by others now.  I’m here for a service and therefore temporary relationships become rapidly commodified.  I want to be known as more than the ‘bug guy’ but it’s why I’m here so let’s just do this and do it well.

I laud my fellow sojourners.  I praise those among us with the bluest collars.  Here’s a toast to the exterminators, the janitors, the bus drivers, the factory workers, the grocery baggers and those who craft delicately with fingers ablaze.  I salute the caste entirely.  It’s the communal therapy we offer each other in the predawn hours that sharpens the afternoon haze.

Not all who wander are lost but those who are lost certainly do their fair share of wandering. Everyday my ego dies a new death and everyday I am resurrected a new, better man.  Maybe I look better with a blue-collar anyways.  I’ve heard it matches my eyes.

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political conventions and permission to doubt.

As I write these words, Ann Romney stands at the podium admonishing the nature of love in a Republican-Mormon family.  This week the Republican National Convention is taking place in Tampa, FL.  Next week, in my hometown of Charlotte, NC the Democratic National Convention will meet.  There will be political maneuvering behind the scenes, back-slapping and high-fives on both sides of the political aisle.  2016 is already in the sights of many ambitious politicians.

Name dropping is the vernacular.  You don’t actually talk to other people at the convention, you simply look at them and say a name.  They in turn say another name, you both nod and then walk away.

Seriously though, these types of events represent the pinnacle of American political idealism.  The real question is, “Who can be the most optimistic about America’s future?”  Which political party can paint the most vivid picture of a dream that we all want to be a part of?  Promises like “not failing and not being let down” get thrown around so lightly that they are almost believable.  Please don’t interpret my cynicism as opposition to a particular ideology.  Rather, read my cynicism as a set-up for a deeper truth…

The staff at Renovatus has recently read Lincoln’s Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk.  In it, he writes, “It is common sense that some situations call for pessimism, but as a culture Americans have strangely decided to endow optimism with unqualified favor.  Politicians today compete to be the most optimistic, and accuse their opponents of pessimism, as it if were a defect.

If optimism is seen as an asset to a political agenda then pessimism is a liability.  If joy and happiness are the obvious outcomes to voting one way, then depression and melancholy must be the outcomes of voting another.  What provokes my thoughts about these political conventions are questions like, ‘How much of a liability is it to be authentic’ or ‘What would happen to my political career if I was to doubt something?’  It seems to me that building a platform around having all the right answers is flawed from the beginning.

I don’t think the speechwriters will work in the phrase ‘I’m not sure what we should do about the budget deficit.’  If a candidate approached the podium and began their speech with, “This is a crazy world, I don’t have the answers and frankly I’m a little doubtful”, that candidate would lose their platform instantly.  While I’m not saying anyone should start a speech that way it will always be easier to start a political diatribe with the ‘answers’ rather than authentic questions or doubt.  As valuable as optimism is to the American ideal, so is quick access to solutions for all that ails us emotionally, physically, spiritually or mentally.

Shenk continues:

Over the past few decades, a stigma in politics against emotional health treatment has extended to any display of unscripted emotion…Somehow, anything short of constant cheer has come to be perceived as a violation of the American religion.  Even as we practically drown in the information about politicians’ predilections – from snack foods to underwear – a kind of supposition of infallibility keeps us from a real discussion of character, because the real things human beings actually experience are considered taboo.  We all know that our presidents, as Bob Dylan sang, “sometimes must have to stand naked.”  Yet anyone who dared to be nakedly emotional would face death by a thousand cuts.

I think there’s an alternative model to having all the answers often seen in politics.  Let’s take a quick look at man called John the Baptist.  John wasn’t running for political office.  If he was running for office he wouldn’t have publicly called out the local king, Herod, for taking his brother’s wife as his own.  It landed him in jail and it ultimately cost him his life.

While in prison, John heard of the miracles that Christ was doing and he sent two disciples to ask, “Are you the Messiah or should we be looking for someone else?”  This wouldn’t be so awkward if John himself hadn’t been the one to baptize Christ, subsequently watching the heavens open up and hearing a voice from heaven declare, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”  There’s not exactly a lot of ambiguity here.  It sounds like this might be the Son of God you baptized, John.

I don’t know why John doubted Christ while in prison.  Maybe it was prison that did it.  Regardless, when John’s disciples found Christ and asked Him that question, He didn’t get angry.  He didn’t rear back and declare, “Why, that no-good, ungrateful low down, dirty…”  He told the disciples to run back and tell John of all the miracles that were taking place.  He then turned to the gathered crowd and he declared, “Among those born of women, there has not been one greater than John the Baptist.”

Christ didn’t chastise John or his disciples…instead, He praised John.  Jesus didn’t get offended by John’s authentic doubt, he praised John as more than a prophet!  It sounds like Christ is comfortable enough in Himself to encourage an authentic answer over a religious answer.  It sounds like God honors authentic doubt when that doubt is fostered in an authentic search.

It’s hard to imagine what religious tradition would be,” says scholar Jennifer Michael Hecht, author of Doubt: A History, “if there weren’t people looking up and saying that they disagreed with what had come before.”  Maybe this is why John the Baptist felt so comfortable challenging the traditions of the Pharisees and religious teachers.

While American politics and civil religion may not lend themselves to doubt or authenticity, I find it encouraging to know that Christ values my authenticity and vulnerability far above my struggle to be eternally optimistic.  I would rather be in prison with John than in the throne room with Herod.  Christ praised the former over the latter and eventually elected to identify with death as well.  Like John, He knew what was worth dying for.  Perhaps a better understanding of reality would help us to know that truth as well.

I hope I’ve encouraged your doubting and your authenticity a little.  Thank you for reading this and as always, God bless you and God bless…wait, there’s a better ending to this speech.  How about, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”

5 social media schedulers and why you need one.

Small businesses, large corporations and now churches are engaging the world through social media.  If Facebook were a country it would be the world’s third largest country.  Social media has forever changed how you broadcast your message.  The question is no longer “if or why you should utilize social media” but “how most effectively and efficiently can you?”

Consider that from the combined 1 billion+ Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn users, a majority of your congregation, classroom, denomination or audience is jacked in.  This is where social media schedulers come in.

Continue reading

the quickest way to lose your influence.

If you are in any position of leadership, you are in a position of influence.  The longevity of your influence is a direct result of your gratefulness for those you influence.  Klout can’t measure this.  Whether your followers are continents away, hidden behind a computer screen or invited into your living room on a weekly basis, they need to know you’re grateful.

The quickest way to lose your influence is to be ungrateful.

I lead a team of volunteers every single week in the care of children for our faith community.  There’s absolutely no way I could ever watch 150 kids, aged 0-10, by myself.  I need a team to do it.  If I could give each of them a salary, I would.  What I can give them, however, is specific, heartfelt thanks. Continue reading

how to know when your employee is about to quit.

Frustration (was: threesixtyfive | day 244)

Image by Sybren A. Stüvel via Flickr

Working at and managing a department in a major retail store has it’s lessons.  One of those lessons is keeping an eye out for the folks who might be on the verge of quitting.  While turnover is high in occupations like ‘retail sales’ it doesn’t necessarily have to be.  In fact, I’m convinced that if you watch out for these ‘conversational’ red flags you might head off a potential break down on the sales floor or in the office.

Flag #1 – “No one cares but me”  When you hear someone say this, what they mean is “I feel alone.”  I know this may sound too Freudian but it’s true.  Most of the time a salesperson doesn’t care entirely too much about one specific product or aspect of the job.  What they thrive on is the sense of community that comes from others caring at the same time.  This flag usually shows up in random and unsolicited conversation.

Respond by asking why they feel that way and then just listen.  While this will always be an appropriate response, in this case, most people just want to be heard.  By giving them space to vent, they may realize that the world doesn’t revolve around them or what they are doing.  It’s always good to be reminded that we’re on a team, each person needing the other.

Flag #2 – “I won’t be here forever” This is often said by that high school student bagging groceries.  It’s justified and worthy of saying at this stage.  However, the 26-year-old with a degree should hopefully be saying, “I could see myself here a long time.”  This certainly isn’t the case always.  I’m not advocating that someone stick it out when a truly horrible work environment exists.  What I am saying is that one bad day won’t justify quitting.

Whenever you hear this on the sales floor or by the water cooler, ask the person, “Where do you see yourself in the next few years?”  It’s amazing how much intrinsic insight we have when we verbalize our thoughts.  Stepping stones to another job are not necessarily wrong.  Lagging performance due to frustration is.  Help the person find a niche in the company or help them find another company.

Flag #3 – “I hate my boss” No brainer, right?  Unfortunately, people stick it out in these situations despite having psychotic dreams of violence toward their superiors.  While not every relationship with a manager or leader is going to be peachy keen, it should be professional.  The number one reason most people leave their job positively is for higher pay somewhere else.  The number one reason most people leave their job negatively is because they couldn’t get along with their boss.

This is probably the trickiest red flag to navigate.  While “hating my boss” might not be the exact words, some derivation of it betrays a big problem.  A potential rescue does exist:  If the employee/volunteer is a tremendously talented asset to your organization AND they haven’t shared this with others, try negotiating new terms for work and communication.  Find out where the break down is.

Unfortunately though, if this venom is being spewed by the employee lockers and you’re getting it third hand, it’s time to cut the cord and move on no matter how talented the person is.

Flag #4 – “I don’t care”  This flag is at the opposite end of Flag #1.  When someone is truly invested in a company, an idea or a vision they usually have some form of opinion on almost everything.  Whether that’s what color the walls will be, what product will go up for sale next or who wins the “employee of the month” plaque.  Sure, it’s not normal to have an opinion on literally everything…you just don’t have time for it.  However, when not caring about anything becomes a motif, it’s time for change.

While you can never make someone care about something, you can always show care for someone.  A simple thank you card, some time off or a  new project are all ways to show that you care about someone.  Hopefully, that caring will be contagious.

These flags are just some things to listen out for but the real key is to always have your ear to the ground.  To be a good leader, you have to be a good listener.  The best is yet to come for most people, we just have to know how to look for it.  If you are thinking about quitting, quit well.  It’s not that a good leader doesn’t quit, it’s just that they know how and when to.


leadership mistake #2: holding resentment.

Walter Gramatte: "Confession" 1920

Image via Wikipedia

I just had a conversation today with someone I would consider a dear friend after a silence of 6 months.  This quiet period bred two things in me: a wandering mind and the idea of bitterness.  Without even realizing it, I was building a quiet cynicism towards this persons intentions and even their abilities.

Amazingly after talking, we both admitted to harboring almost the exact same resentment toward each other.  The context’s were slightly different but the theme remained the exact same: injustice.  Essentially, we felt that what happened to one of us should have happened to both of us.

It occurred to me that resentment typically comes from a sense of injustice.  The notion that fairness should be an overarching theme to my life has rapidly revealed itself to be an illusion.  Just like the illusion of control this myth of fairness seems to offer a system of false hope.  Real injustice breeds social change whereas perceived injustice potentially breeds resentment.

I know I’m being somewhat cryptic here regarding my own situation but would feel it a betrayal to reveal our conversation completely.  Still, he made an astoundingly discerning statement: “I guess resentment crept in because our relationship never got beyond the surface.”  This saddened me…I’ve known him for 10 years.

How could someone I’ve known for so long so easily resent me?  I think it’s because we didn’t practice that most difficult of tasks: accountability.  In our professional and personal lives we never held each other to a level of accountability that would sustain our relationship through the rough times.

The fact is, all long-term relationships have good times and bad times.  It’s in those bad times that we have to polish our ‘confessional’ skills.  It’s hard to bear resentment toward your brother and sister when we’re accountable enough to confess those seeds of indignation.

The irony is that I think God is capable of handling our resentments toward him, justified or not.  I don’t think you or I are capable of holding resentments toward each other though.  It’s like trying to breathe through a straw when you are around someone who causes a subtle anger in you.

What are some triggers for resentment?  Recurring thoughts of injustice, unfairness, failed expectations and frustrations.  What is the answer?  Confession.  I use ancient and liturgical terms but their remedy is no less effectual.  From the CEO to the cleaning crew, the executive to the cashier, find relief from resentment.  Find healing and hope in your honesty.

Maybe your expectations were wrong.  Maybe you got passed on the raise or the position.  Or maybe, just maybe, you did do everything right and everything you possibly could.

My hope for you?  Don’t be resentful, be free.