Banjos and glass-blowing

“What do you do?”

It’s a question asked to find out one’s occupation. But if it was answered accurately it would walk the one asking through the litany of details of activity making up a day and a life. Of course that’s NOT what is being asked for. But really, it’s the question that’s inaccurate and the answerer is called upon to interpret and answer what is meant, not what is said. There is an even more inaccurate form of the question:

“What are you?”

.. which goes deeper than just making you name one thing you do, but name the one thing you ARE. And what you ARE is what you do in that context.

Now I would strongly posit that these questions are loaded with cultural and professional context. Implicit in their wording and answering is a categorization of human beings into a small set of roles, positions and specialties. Even the correctly worded “What do you do for work?” implies that livelihood is the central determinant for meaningful “work” which is inaccurate in itself.

As the pun goes “Farmers are outstanding in their fields.” I have long been in awe of those whose utter focus makes them masters in their endeavors. But outstanding (or is it “out standing”) farmers can also play banjo, paint and blow glass, say, at a world class level. And even if they don’t do those secondary things at such a high level, they can do them proficiently enough to bless or elevate or ennoble other people. I’ll even say that those other people are poorer for the farmers’ lack of pursuing those secondary things.


At this point my personal life, I am looking for something to do that will leave behind my story and the story of Christ as it eclipses mine and thus will make and inspire disciples. Yes I have agenda, as do most, but it’s actually very wide in scope.

I do find the discouragement and impediments to that pursuit to be so strong as to threaten to rot my soul lately. Yes I know all the platitudes blaming me for that, replete with regimens and hands-off, formulaic advice. This morning I delight in calling them all hollow, cited by people who “do” and “are” something other than what I “do” and “am”.

I also know the advice to go higher, to define vision and mission. That also sells books and I intend to do that, but this blog post is about life on the street where vision can be worked out even as a long slog and still be active.

Here are the parameters of the struggle I’m working through:

  • Livelihood is required if one wants to eat, own clothing and be housed, but in itself does not define a person. I have worked so hard at something that was never my life pursuit that it has become my life pursuit. I need to unwind that, slowly (or quickly) firing my bosses and disengaging with my colleagues, many of whom look up to me as an elite software engineer. Yes, I said it, I am elite at something I did not set out to even do. The hardest part of the people part is that I love these people; indeed it’s love that gets me to and keeps me at work every day.
  • There is a new phase coming for me. It’s called “retirement” but I will not likely define it as a time to simply cease working. I will sleep later in the morning but then work at something else. My income will decrease. But time and energy, my most valuable resources, will increase. It’s important that I plan how to invest them, because just as they are invested by others in my current occupation, retired life will have incumbent pressures as well.
  • Having little experience in a new field can not bar pursuing work in that field. Or even play in that field. Knowing well the faults of the masters in engineering from their personal glitches to thick tribal arrogance that embraces wrong things as often as right ones (proven by history), the masters of any new field must not be seen as intimidating but merely having experience.
  • Finding a team is hard but vital. People want to be alone and have their vision and pursuit be theirs alone. But one of the principles I bring to the table is that teams are much more than the sum of their parts. Said on the negative side – loneliness has absolutely been the worst part of this process. Still, finding – or forming – my team is something I cannot give up on.
  • I cannot listen to ageism. People in all professions disqualify others by any means available so as to advance their own standing – even though it accomplishes quite the opposite. Disqualifying based upon someone being “over the hill” has always been silly, and particularly if an older person is nimble and can be quick to learn. Personally, I am qualified for anything I pursue by virtue of accumulated wisdom and principles alone. I have gifting I don’t even know about that practice will reveal.
  • At the same time, there are things I will never do. Surrendering to this truth – where it applies – is hard and requires bona fide grieving processes. I need to discern where and when this is true because once again there are advice-givers who would deny dreams by citing destiny they have no power to even know.

Maybe this post applies only to me; I hope not. And I don’t mean to be selfish in any of this, only a tad introspective and brutally honest.

Writing is one definitely of those “other” pursuits I will go after in larger measures going forward.

And also, I do “get” that I need do nothing for God’s grace to be active in my life, or else it wouldn’t be grace. Ann Voskamp’s brilliant exposition of “cruciform” speaks and echoes deeply. Maybe rest is all I need truly, but love has my heart beating to do as well.


Healing points

Acts 3:6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

Image result for peter john healing cripple

The story of the crippled beggar in Acts 3 is as historical as any we have from the era. There are those who deny the miraculous – usually until they need a miracle. And there are those assign such accounts to some hopefuls stuck in the first stage of grief – denial.  In other words, to them, the need for belief in miracle is a sign that one hasn’t accepted the reality of one’s suffering.

But that’s hardly the context of the story. There was no doubt that the man involved was crippled. He wasn’t expecting a miracle or asking for one, but only for money.  In a day when there was no social welfare, his disability relegated him to being a professional beggar for his subsistence. It was a low calling, and beggars were among the lowest caste in society. The same is largely true today.

So, when Peter and John told the man to walk and as he stood to his feet he was healed, it was more than a physical transformation to healthy legs. (As H. David Edwards once mused “he was asking for alms but received legs”). It was a raising of social standing, a redemption of soul and restoration of dignity to a human being long denigrated to shame.

When we encounter the crippled – and I widen the scope to include emotionally and mentally crippled – knowledge of the nature of transformation to health is vital if we are to use what we have been given to help. I hold as a given that miraculous healing powers are given in a similarly wide array of talents and gifts. That is to say, you who read this likely have gifts that perhaps you have never used. But that’s getting off subject.

I am by no means an expert healer. I don’t even know what that means. But I have learned that to really help people in all the ways this man was helped, there are some guidelines. Forewarning – some of this may sound unloving and uncaring. That’s because the ultimate health of someone is a strategic goal and tactics may in fact be confrontational and challenging:

  • Don’t decide to cripple yourself. Identifying with someone who is suffering establishes a connection to a degree. But adopting the attitudes and pathos of unhealth drags you down and leaves the person you want to help in the same straits where you found him/her. This is not a statement of considering yourself superior. Indeed, you will likely need help yourself if you haven’t already. But you must be true the goal of healing, not merely empathy.
  • Listen before you speak. It is an impersonal insult to classify someone by his/her maladies, even if they are easily categorized and treatment standardized to an extent. You are working with a human being who needs to be heard and understood. It’s required to establish trust.
  • RSVP “no thank you” to pity parties. A crippled person can become so attached to his/her role as victim that it is demanded that you buy into the lies they have told themselves about how they got to their current state. This tempers the “listen before you speak” directive just above. When someone tells their story, it is vital at some point to confront and correct their negativity. This may even cause them to shut down but that is better than letting the recitation of the reasons they got into and must remain in the broken state to define their very identity. Truly, self-pity is uniformly a trap to keep people down.
  • Silver and gold won’t often do anything but enable. To only throw material wealth into a life that is so broken only enables brokenness. Am I saying to not provide for someone’s needs? No. Only that someone who has never learned to balance a checkbook or understand priorities of where money should go is not going to learn by simply having money.
  • The healed should become healers. If there is restoration in a life, it is best to use that to invest in the lives of others. There is no better testimony to the cripple than “I have been there, done that, and here’s how I found my health”.

So yeah, all that. Peter and John saw instantaneous result from their action. That’s great when it happens. But you shouldn’t give up even though it takes time, prayer and sacrifice. You will see healing if you persist, even in your own life

The prison called “I can’t”

There are those reading this that don’t believe in God. And those who believe in God but are suspicious of anyone claiming a personal encounter or even communication with God. I acknowledge and grant you the right to believe what you will, but ask you to grant me the same. And to suspend your beliefs long enough to read this story because it might well be for you.

In the early 90s, God gave me a dream as I slept. I know it was God because of the nature of the dream and the communication afterwards.

It was an intense, vivid dream of a little boy. He was only 4 years old or so, just learning how to draw.

And he took all his best crayons, and with all the love and hope in his young heart, he drew a wonderful, beautiful picture of his house, his family and all the trees flowers all around. In the dream I wasn’t just watching him do this like someone looking over the shoulder of a child and saying “Isn’t that cute”.  No, I was feeling his emotions as he drew. And they were absolutely beautiful.

When he was done, he was so proud of it, and it was so much a part of his young creativity that he took it to his mother to show her.

He had no way of knowing, but it was bad timing and she was not in good health emotionally.

Out of her own pain and hurt, she took her son’s beautiful picture, ripped it up into little pieces and said “that’s a piece of garbage”

God let me enter his little heart to feel how it broke, absolutely devastated that something he thought was so beautiful could be cast off as ugly and shameful.

And I woke up in horror, devastated, and asked God – “Where is that boy now? You’ve GOT to tell me” Because it wasn’t just a dream. It was the story of someone’s life.

In my spirit, I heard God say “He’s in prison. A prison called “I can’t””

I told the dream to 2 groups of people shortly after that – at MCI Shirley to a group of inmates and at church. In both cases, multiple people came up later and said that little boy was them. If not verbatim, then thematically.

So I said 2 things to them:

  1. That drawing was VERY GOOD and you have vital gifts that you have put away in shame.
  2. You’ve been in a prison of lies but today you’re going free.


Of Tyrants and Thieves – Part 2

I need to pop Robin Hood’s balloon here. I like Little John and Friar Tuck. They’re great guys to have on your team.

And in the face of real oppression, the team is well-formed, -purposed and -led. But it’s only a story. Because

  1. Rich people can be very good people with vital talents. I mean they can be charitable and generous.  And if they lack those attributes then they are at least “good with money”.  Their profits are revenues that someone else once had, but so are monies that go to charity and welfare.  The thing is, they understand a good investment. And a bad one. They tend to be smart and creative. They are good strategists and tacticians.

  2. Poor people can be very bad people. Regardless of income, they can be just as greedy and oppressive as those “over them” in authority and resource. Despite romanticizing Robin Hood, thieves are generally not heroes. They are thieves. In practice, they steal from their own more than from the wealthy.

Now this is no defense or advocacy of leaving the poor impoverished. Poverty is a terrible problem; an ancient scourge on humanity. And its persistence across the generations humbles all who would hope to address it. As Jesus said, referring to the objection of some to a poor woman pouring expensive perfume over him:

Matthew 26:11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.

But the Robin Hood solution will not work. As I wrote above, it’s a lousy projection – the patterns are contrived.  Also, the poor in Nottingham remained poor even after Robin had returned their money. Because that’s often (not always) what happens when poor people – really almost any people – get one-time deposits of money.

So these are brief principles to move towards more effectively fixing things. They have implied action in public policy and yes .. political action. I won’t engage in the nasty banter of the latter here.  Just posit some ideas.

  • Help the wealthy own the problem. I did not say “Make” but “Help”. As in provide an incentive for. The opposite of greed is not deprivation but generosity. One thing we can “make” is to make generosity attractive and in vogue. That would help these best-in-the world problem solvers and investors find ways of developing the human potential of poor people. The trouble is that the rich are not trusted to do anything but make themselves richer. That’s a mistake and a misjudgment. Bill Gates is a good example. He will always be rich, and he stands to gain from some of his investments in human capital. But so what? The guy is trying to cure malaria. Let taxes be paid by hiring and training the jobless. And by investing in civic and human infrastructure in poor communities. Borrow from the Incan mita system, allowing taxes to be paid via service. It can be done; we just have to want to do it. And stop the worthless class warfare.

  • Change entitlements. I did not say “Eliminate”. The poor need help, but Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty made poverty worse, the jury is in. Avoid the right’s equation of all aid being handouts (= irresponsibility). But also the left’s sacred cow of assuaging guilt by spending money. Neither is helpful. Aid needs accountable focus.  The physical operation of the system is archaic.  Waste and fraud need elimination by doing away with paper transfers like stamps and physical vouchers. A single card could be used to provide benefits, say. Tracking and strongly encouraging/promoting life-progress should be a component of any benefit provided. People who can work must work. Slant towards making benefits conditional using the strategic like education and job-skill attainment. Of course there are people who do and can not progress, but that is a particular class of benefit. Clean up and streamline government agencies administering such benefits. Open up competition to such agencies in the private (or faith) sector, if necessary, to make them efficient and diligent where need be. Some of this has been and is being done; do it all the more.

  • Let Friar Tuck help. Bar none, the most efficient and effective charities are both faith-based and Christian. I make no apologies for the plug. And I advance the conviction that “faith-based” is neither a negative term nor one laden with any toxicity. The Salvation Army already receives government funding, for example and they preach the gospel. Values-based exclusion of the contribution of faith groups to helping the poor is ignorant. It shows the projection of other stories (than Robin Hood) onto the landscape. Inaccurate and unfair. And values are ALWAYS being advanced when aid is given; it’s only a matter of whose.  Indeed, Robin Hood was a friend of Friar Tuck for a reason – it even legitimized his work.

  • Involve the people. I mean all the people, not just those in “government”. Class-ism is as bad or worse a problem as poverty, since it destroys a nation. Anti-immigrant people need to know an immigrant family. Anti-poor need to know one that’s impoverished. Anti-rich need to have spend time with those who own yachts (plural) without money on the conversation agenda.

Sherwood Forest is pretty but not a good place to stay warm and dry. And though we may find evil tyrants and heroic thieves, there’s a whole lot more people who really care out there.

I don’t just believe that, I’ve seen it. Psalm 112 is recommended reading.

A Russian Christmas Pardon

True confession – I’ve made it a point to acquaint myself with the Russian all-female punk band Pussy Riot. Russian history and culture has fascinated me since childhood, when the USSR was the enemy that was about to annihilate us at any time. I remember feeling real terror during the Cuban missile crisis, mostly echoing the sentiments of my mother as I watched her react to the developing news. My Dad was away in Hawaii on business, which couldn’t have been foreseen, but had he been there I doubt the feelings would have been different had he been around. But Russia, the nemesis, was forged deep inside my little consciousness.

In college, I took Russian history from Dr. Gregory Freeze at Brandeis. I took the course pass/fail, since I knew my semester was already booked with some heavy work and this was going to be heavy work. The course covered the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and it was packed with information, most of which I do not recall. But (and this is by memory) I learned about the Zemstvo, the form of local governance that ruled in the nineteenth century, the later part of the Tsardom, the caste system, and all the turmoil that led up to the Bolshevik revolution. The latter, as I recall, was greeted as relief by the general populace after so much uncertainty and upheaval (I am reminded that the quashing of the 1989 Chinese demonstrations was also a relief for my friend Albert at the time).

So Pussy Riot has been pardoned. I have watched the act of protest for which they were imprisoned.  I don’t really care for the music, and they seem like some very angry, though determined young ladies.  I have discovered (hey, it takes me a while) there is a world-wide women’s movement called Femen whose topless protests are signature acts of defiance, often targeting orthodox churches or male-dominated institutions.  Reading their goals, they are at least as much against men as they are for anything.  Misandry over misogyny, which doesn’t seem much better by any measure.

There is little question that there is a varying level of quite real abuse and unequal rights for women in different places around the world.   And that’s not good.  I do think there’s a benefit to any nation and society that establishes equal rights for all.  Now, what “rights” are or are not can be debated, but the basic tenet holds.  In my book.  And His.

How one draws attention and resolves inequalities and injustices varies, but aside from open warfare there is little to be gained from outrageous behavior as communication.  Radical provocation will land you in jail; it sets your cause back, not forward.  And so we have Pussy Riot in jail.  And now, out of jail.

Contrast that to Nelson Mandela, post-prison.  Or Ghandi.  Or MLK.  They each established a legacy of change, not just during their lifetimes.  Civil disobedience was their MO, not storming churches with punk culture or bared breasts (Honestly, if Femen wants to overcome male dominance, they should learn about the effect of the naked female form on sight-oriented men.  Or strangely, maybe that’s what they hope to inflame, which is even more ignorant).

I’ve read what the now-free members of Pussy Riot have been saying.  Nothing is resolved; if anything it’s worse.  Post Olympics, I would look for these ladies to be back in prison.  Or worse.  They will call it victory; proof of their cause and the tactics of their enemy.  I’m no judge, but I remember why the people of Russia let the Bolsheviks in – to resolve unrest.  Perhaps they and Femen need to grow up, to grow wise and more strategic.  Reactions to their acts are not only negative, but surly and threatening.

But it’s Christmas, time for pardons, time for gifts.

There is rebellion.  And there is oppression.  And there is reconciliation.  I’ll take reconciliation.  And peace on earth.

Tuesday – strength on a weak day

I know, today it’s Wednesday.  Which means yesterday it was … Tuesday!  There probably was a time when I rejoiced at the knowledge of the weekdays – their names, which one followed the other, etc.

But they didn’t teach us much about weak days – those on which the weight of life would fall.  Or how devastating a long sequence of days like that would be.  I think they didn’t want to depress a bunch of first graders (or was it Kindergarten, I completely forget).

Yesterday was a cold, cloudy November day around here.  I think my friend Judy, who has amazing perspective and enduring joy ( and that, not of her own devise) would call it a “blurky” day.  I like “blurky”.  It really should be in the dictionary even if Judy is directly attributed in its etymology

Blurky – adj. from Judy \bler-key

:  overcast and depressing

:  gross and disgusting

But I had a pretty cool idea for a song on the way to work – I get those from time to time.  It’s one of the reasons I want a portable recorder for Christmas, so I can retain those ideas.  But I did retain this one, and managed to put down some basic tracks on my Cubase software last night.

The song idea was a biographical sketch of a suffering woman.  She had cancer.  It was Tuesday, and cloudy.  The beautiful thing was that her perspective was so transforming that the clouds turned into a warming blanket and her fatigue from the previous day’s chemo was comforting sleep.  She was fighting this thing with grace and with faith that goes deeper than the lesions that have invaded her body.

The song has a slow, jazzy style, starting with a major 9th chord, one of my favorite tonalities because of the delicious overtones.  And it’s doleful to start.  But joyful to end.  Kind of like a psalm.

I’ve been reading a lot of books about doing one’s art, following through and escaping the life owned by industry.  Seth Godin’s Icarus Deception is a really good book like that.  And I’m fighting to do that because I’ve been taught and encouraged and bludgeoned into burying my art.  Not to blame anyone else, but no one has this all going on quite like me.  But we can all say that and it’s no excuse.  Point well taken, Seth.  So .. in a way, the Tuesday song is for me, glaring into a blurky day with eyes that see over the clouds to what can be, WILL be, if I only persist and believe.

Hiding dysfunction; protecting the lie

I know someone who recently made a foray into an organization that is doomed.  When we spoke, it was clear that he meant the people,  There is a real and present danger to their gainful employment in their present jobs.  Several have already been laid off and it’s likely there are more to follow.

They had been hired to do a set of tasks that morphed into another and now they are morphing into another.  Many, many haven’t even made the first morph.  And they’re hiding it.

Now, progress has always forced the acquisition of new job skills.  The Industrial Revolution automated people right out of their manufacturing jobs – or into new ones if they could make the leap.

Not all could.

In this day of outsourcing and off-shoring, it has become increasingly more stressful to “look good” to management.  Like the Luddites of old, people will say and do all manner of manipulating, lying and nay-saying to preserve a world and a job that is passing away whether they like it or not.

As we have spoken, I have been convinced my friend has solid empathy for the people caught in the transition.  But, on the other hand, we are all caught in the transition and we need to figure out what to do and do it.  It’s heart-wrenching but it has to be done.

When I speak in church, I talk about progress in terms of the construction business because everyone (except me!) understands it and the analogies I try to bring.  If a construction company showed up outside of Pennsylvania Dutch country with only hand tools to frame a set of walls in 2013, that company should probably be sent packing.  Hydraulic hammers are twenty times more efficient to put nails into wood.  And they look like fun to use.

But imagine a new hydraulic hammer design that required its user to know algebra.  Those who had math skills could now be 500 times more productive than those using the old hydraulic hammers.  The implications of this development are profound:

  • Most framing carpenters would lose their jobs.
  • The algebra-mastering craftspeople would demand much higher wages, which employers could and would pay.
  • Builders would pocket more cash because their costs would decrease

Now, we can say that the profits of the builders and the new higher living conditions of the mathematician/carpenters were made at the expense of those laid off, but that implies defying progress and it makes us Luddites.

So what do we do?  My friend is asking the same question.  And the best he can come up with is what we don’t do.  We don’t

  • pretend progress hasn’t been made that obsolesces people’s job skills
  • run roughshod over people’s lives
  • protect the lie that things are working well for them in the new, more productive jobs
  • ignore the need to make a best effort to retrain people, knowing that some won’t make the leap
  • hide the fact that more layoffs will be coming.

So it’s rough and unpleasant for my friend.  He’s catching a lot of wrongly-directed ire; it’s a good thing we talk.