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.

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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

Dr. Freireich

I remember growing up and hearing about childhood leukemia as a death sentence. The disease was so horrible that collections like the Jimmy Fund in Boston were founded to fight it (and other childhood cancers). I don’t remember when things changed, but over the years it has gone from being nearly 100% deadly to a very serious yet treatable disease.

I am reading Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath book. Though it cites the biblical story – and there are those who really should know that story – its focus is on debunking and countering well-founded associations people have formed between environmental factors and outcomes. It’s not just fascinating, it’s seminal reading. As an example, Gladwell tells the story that follows.

DrFreireich

Emil J. (Jay) Freireich (also called Emil Frei III) was a kid who grew up in St. Louis. His father passed away when he was very young. He entered Colgate college with $25 in his pocket. He worked hard and earned his medical degree from Yale. He was not an agreeable person, with arguably horrible bedside manner and even worse relational skills with coworkers. But he was relentless.

When he began work at MD Anderson Hospital in Houston, leukemia-ridden children would typically bleed to death. There was no stopping it; their blood was so diseased. Freireich studied the problem and started transfusing massively to restore platelets. Problem solved, bug fixed.

Treatment for the underlying condition was the choice of three drugs. Success rate was low. Against biting criticism and open opposition, Freireich experimented with combinations of all three. Then he found a fourth and added it also. The kids he treated would die differently but would die nonetheless. And quickly. But he kept on, until he got the combination right. Kids starting surviving, and then the cancer started going into remission.

Because of his persistent effort, childhood leukemia is treatable 90% of the time today.

Not too shabby, Dr. Freireich.

And a lesson to those who are holding back because of criticism and opposition – which are actually fear and envy. Push through. We all need you to.

And yeah, I pray for people like Jay Freireich.  Because I don’t care whose hands are used to heal people.

God and the geek – part 793 – The Facet Value Vector

I’m working on a very cool project – which in itself is a story of redemption for which there’s no room here to tell.

The first part of software work is to design. And that’s where the work is at. I am the lone designer though I’m bringing in lots of people to help give opinions and information. You don’t do this alone.

But I hit a snag. There was a nasty design problem that just wasn’t yielding to my efforts. All solutions I came up with were either too slow or just incomplete. It’s a tough one.

If you are non-spiritual please bear with me here; it’s part of the story I promise.

One of the ways I pray I call “passive prayer” – I believe it’s a form of praying without ceasing that St. Paul encouraged. When I do it, I think and do stuff and then ask God what He thinks. Or, I can just stop if I’m stumped and ask for help. Because God is an engineer too! 🙂

It was in such a spiritual atmosphere – on the airplane to our annual conference actually – that my mind realigned to think about the problem at hand. It was a classic “you’re going about this all wrong” revelation.

I recorded the new approach and between talking to customers at the conference I prototyped it, writing some Java code to check out the idea with real data.

The results were amAZing. Not only did it solve the complete problem, it did so 100 times faster. That’s a big number when you’re trying to speed things up in the software business.

I explained the idea to some friends who are close to the project. One of them said I should patent the idea. Maybe I’ll try to do that, but his comments were testament to its originality and effectiveness.

Soli Deo gloria – all glory to God here – there are serious annual revenues riding on the success of this work.

But that pales compared to the value in letting you – and everyone – know that God is there for the seemingly mundane stuff. Like the Facet Value Vector.

Now, I know that engineering scares a lot of people. It scares ME sometimes. But if I revere minds that think technically advanced things, how much more will I revere the mind of One who can inform them.

But whatever problems you are faced with – and we ALL face problems – I invite you to pray and find God there to answer. Not a huge, formal thing, just a breathe asking for help. Because it’s there for the asking.

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.

 

Be it known – cops are heroes

First, read this – http://newsninja2012.com/exclusive-nypd-police-officer-speaks-out/

He’s connected some dots – and he’s not the only one – that aren’t as connected as he thinks.

So you know, I’m not a protester. My feelings on the Martin/Brown/Garner cases are that they all involved a fight and someone died. The person happened to be black in each case and the one(s) who survived were not black. Because of the struggles – with weapons at had to be used by either party – they make lousy examples of bias on the part of the police. If the race of anyone in those cases had been different, we would have heard very little about them.

Only in the Garner case did I think there was adequate proof that the cops probably should have acted differently. That is, I think if someone says “I can’t breathe” when you have a choke hold on, even if there’s a 99% chance he’s faking, you let up.

That said, I do believe there is still anti-black bias in America today. It’s not as it had been (I was going to post this picture but due to its graphic nature, I’ll leave it up to you to follow the link – http://abhmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/7-Beitler-photo-best.jpg – the look on the white people’s faces is vicious and satanic). Truly we have progressed. But we’re not done.

And there’s a part that black people play as well – because sadly the ones who thinks that black lives matter the least are themselves black. I believe the church is the place where this has to be remedied. The gospel, when believed and acted upon, infuses equality and hope.  And I do not mean only the church among the poor, but the church at large.  Segregation and prejudice has no place in the church that Jesus builds.  When those are present; it’s a good church to change.  Or leave.

Over all, America’s race problem has to be fixed. But honestly the fix has been progressing and already it’s taken generations to get to where we are now, from forced slavery to having a black man in the White House. Whatever political stance you make, that demographic is significant as is the long-term perspective. We’re just impatient and for good reason – people are suffering.

Understand I am NOT part of the protest movement. I do know people who are or who sympathize, but I do NOT.

Now, going back to what the NYPD cop said, here are the places I think he jumps to conclusions:

  1. That people see the cops as the enemy. First of all, it’s only a small part of the populace that has protested in recent days. Secondly, it’s not clear how many of them think cops are the “enemy”. No doubt some do. But it’s a stretch to say all.
  2. That Ismaaiyl Brinsley acted as part of the protest movement. He could say whatever he wanted, but the protests were at most disruptive. No one was killed and if there were injuries they were accidental. Put another way, if the protesters started carrying and waving (and shooting) guns then they would become an armed militia and enemies of the state, to be put down by quick and violent means.
  3. That no one thinks cops are heroes. This is the one that breaks my heart because TONS of people are grateful for every day that every person wears that uniform. They need to say so and get out there publicly. Maybe that’s me. Maybe I personally need to do more like that, just because there are cops who really feel this way.

The coward and madman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, is dead. His mother said he was a very sick person; and he used the climate and movement of the day to capitalize on his murderous intents. Think of it, without the protests, what would his crime have been? An isolated incident, no more.

People, inspired by the media, are marching to beats fueled by anger and frustration. Without stereotypes, the march would lose its beat and healing might occur. But that doesn’t sell newspapers or get people elected. The cultural divides are hundreds of years old and though some mending has occurred, it’s not happening through this movement.

Black neighborhoods need MORE police to enforce the law and keep people safe. Instead, those neighborhoods are ruled by gangs who label and duly punish any “rats” who inform the police about them. It would be an interesting study in analogy to compare such “rats” to another species. Would that other species be snakes? Or predatory cats of some kind? Anyway, such a “rat” is a noble person; one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness. Or just justice.

But even the snakes are candidates for grace; that’s the gospel. And that’s where my money is, and my prayers.

I note that Rafael Ramos, one of the slain officers, was training to become a chaplain.

Hatchet man to the over-employed

Aging has its challenges.  The physical ones we’ve all heard about are well documented.  And though not all conquered, they are at least, by-and-large understood.

There’s a tragedy I’ve had a front row seat to recently.  I’ve written about it some and it’s also fairly well known.  Well .. I guess I’d say it’s well known from a distance.  By that I mean that the emotional and tactical movements associated with it are not easily discerned.  We see numbers.  We hear about trends.  But I deal with people.

It has to do with the obsolescence of job- and life-skills.  I’ll say it in personal terms, as I process the new stuff:

While I know I work in a technical area where things move fast, I also know that if I sit on the bleeding edge of the latest technical development, I will 1) bleed and 2)  wastefully invest about 60-75% of my energy in things that never “pan out” in the marketplace, and thus, the work place.

But, if I go to the other extreme and ignore all new developments, I will miss the 25-40% of those which will radically change the job I do and will do.

There is also a raw skill gap.  I don’t necessarily have the ability to lean, adapt and acquire.  It’s often a question about how much time and energy I can and will give to learning.  I may sink into the false conclusion that I cannot learn.  I’m thankful to not ever live in that state very long.

Every field has developments.  As I’ve written before, if you drive nails, you likely have a pneumatic nail gun at this writing.  If not, you better be doing finish carpentry or something specialized, because you are outgunned.

I’m writing again about some people I know some people who never picked up a nail gun.  They never thought it necessary, or couldn’t or just won’t.  The details about why it hasn’t happened and isn’t happening really don’t matter.

It hasn’t.  They are now over-employed; paid too much for the work they do and are without a strategy to get to a better place.  And as far as their work is concerned, they are spectators and commentators.

And they’re angry with the reluctant hatchet man whose job it is to report on their unproductive and inefficient work.  No one likes that job, but as they say, someone has to do it.

It’s that person’s job to fundamentally change their work world and … They. do. not. like. it.

It’s a scripted drama really, and there will eventually be some third party intervention.

Now there are those who’ve decided to learn and acquire.  They are a joy to watch.

Thing is, I love these people.  All of them.  It’s devastating to watch and I’m glad it is.  Woe to me if it wasn’t.

And it won’t last forever like this; it’s not sustainable.

So I’d offer advice to any generation to comet because a chunk of my generation either never had it or never heeded it:

Never stop acquiring life skills.

Never get comfortable with what you think is important to know or to do.

If you even think you see a dead-end ahead, take the steps, side-steps, back-steps, over-steps, whatever .. to avoid it.  Because a real dead-end is hard.

Proverbs 22:29 Do you see a man skilled in his work?  He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.

I’ve read that many times and I know that skill is not static.  It is the result of an ongoing pursuit of one’s craft as it applies to the world, which changes all the time.  If that’s hard to hear, I will say what I say to myself – get over it, and get used to it.