Monthly Archives: November 2011

A Glass of Water

Many years ago, I saw a gifted pastor do something remarkable. At the time, Cindy and I were going to a large church that was in the process of searching for a new senior pastor. The interim pastor, Dan (not his real name), was a middle age man who had decades of experience in the clergy. He was also a spellbinding preacher; one of those public speakers who could enchant his audience and have them hanging on every word. We didn’t understand why Pastor Dan wasn’t offered, or didn’t accept, the senior pastor’s vacant job. The congregation loved him and he seemed like a perfect fit for the position.

One Sunday Pastor Dan marched to the stage and placed a clear glass of water on a stool beside him. During the sermon he would occasionally stand back and gaze at the half-full glass of water. Near the end of the sermon, it dawned on me that he was saying goodbye. At the conclusion of his sermon, he said no matter how hard he looked at that glass of water he saw a half-empty glass. He said he was going to take a hiatus from preaching and working in the church. I never heard him preach after that sermon. In fact, he seemed to drop completely out of church life.

At first, I was indignant. I thought Pastor Dan was being selfish or spiteful. We wondered if the church governing board had treated Pastor Dan poorly or if there was some unsavory power struggle going on behind the scenes. But now, with the benefit of years of hindsight, I realize that Pastor Dan had done us a kindness. You see, preaching and being a pastor is no different, in some regards, than any other job: pastors can burn out. They might still be able to dazzle the congregation with their preaching or teaching, but their internal passion is not immune from hitting the wall of burnout.

Pastor Dan could have stayed on as the church’s pastor, but he was wise enough to know that it eventually wouldn’t end well. His personal negativity and malaise would have led to letting his responsibilities slide. Eventually, church leaders or the denomination would have been forced to ask him to leave, and that would have caused many in the congregation to leave the church out of anger with church leadership.

I still marvel at Pastor Dan’s understanding of human nature and his selfless desire for the congregation to have the best Sheppard possible. That’s remarkable!

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Lions and Tigers and Politicians, Oh My

For those of you who don’t follow politics, I’d like to offer a crash course you might find helpful as we enter the political season. For those of you who don’t care about politics, you will because politics will impact your life, and not always in a positive way. In the interest of full-disclosure, I used to be a Republican zealot. I am currently registered as “decline to state,” which is sort of like living without a Facebook page; it’s a non-identity identity.

Basically there are two dominant political ideologies in America: conservatism and liberalism. Conservatism says the most people benefit in society when free-markets are allowed to flourish with limited government interference. Conservatives often believe our government is the source of a society’s woes through excessive regulation and taxation.

The weakness of conservatism is the tendency of human beings to slip from ambitious, hardworking, innovative and visionary to avarice. Eventually avarice gets out of control as people become more willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead, even if it means gaming the system, breaking the law or exploiting others.

Now let’s look at liberalism (or “progressives” if you prefer the current politically correct euphemism). Liberalism believes a civilized and more equitable society is achieved through centralized government. It believes the government is the necessary, if not primary, redistributor of wealth, usually through taxation and government services. It believes the government is the go-to entity to ensure fairness. Liberals often believe the society’s woes are the fault of greedy corporations and the wealthy who take advantage of the little guy.

The weakness of liberalism is the tendency of people to become sloth and rely more on the government, thus overburdening taxpayers. With good intentions, it tends to give dangerous amounts of power to the government.

I now understand that too many leaders (generally speaking) at the top these two political ideologies are in bed together (figuratively, I hope), and both sides are plundering the government and exploiting their access to financial markets. For instance, Newt Gingrich, a staunch conservative and decrier of big government, was recently discovered to have received generous fees from Freddie Mac (a quasi-governmental mortgage lender) for consulting services. Nancy Pelosi, a liberal decrier of greedy corporations, recently came under fire for allegedly taking advantage of an insider trading exemption available to members of Congress so that she could use information gleaned on the job to increase her investment earnings. In other words, both of these “ideologue’s” have been accused of using elements of the system they loath for personal gain. These two incidents of double standards were not the sole reason for my epiphany that our political and economic woes can’t be solved by a political ideology alone. I came to that conclusion gradually and as a result of reading books and articles about contemporary politics in America. Every American, despite his or her political ideology, needs to understand things like patronage, no-bid contracts, cronyism, pay for play, malfeasance, special favors and the like. And every American needs to be willing to confront these evil things even when it is someone in your preferred political party engaging in these unsavory practices. We can no longer allow myside bias to blind us.

I still believe some form of capitalism holds the greatest potential to benefit the most people in our society. But our problems, currently, cannot be solved by the policies of a political ideology alone. Here is why:

Proverbs 28:2 (NLT) says, “When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily. But wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability.”

Before you nod in agreement I’d like you to consider the possibility that this passage might not be focusing just on the moral rot we usually think of, such as: hyper and debase expressions of sexuality, divorce, illegal drugs, f-bombs in discourse, vulgar movies and substance abuse. These are bad and hurt our humanity, yes. But when I read through the book of Proverbs, I see quite a few passages like this:

Proverbs 20:23 (NLT) says, “The Lord detests double standards; he is not pleased by dishonest scales.”

Dishonest scales are a symbol of the way we do business with others. It might also include simple friendships where one person constantly gets more than he or she gives. The moral rot will continue to worsen in America until people have the epiphany that our fiscal health is not related to political policies as much as it is related to our morality.

For more information on the subject of “myside bias” read “I Was Wrong, and So Are You” at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/12/i-was-wrong-and-so-are-you/8713/

 

Penn State Statement

Something went wrong at Penn State (I know, duh!). If you don’t know what happened, Google “Penn State Scandal” for an update. Warning! It is not family friendly reading. Anyhow, I’m not excusing the leadership at Penn State, but most managers, supervisors, executives and human resources professionals simply do not deal very often with criminal issues, with the exception of the occasional case of substance abuse on the job or embezzlement. If someone had walked onto the Penn State campus carrying a rifle, somebody would have called the police. I wonder if our culture thinks of the police as the option we only go to when things get deadly violent, requiring a response from an authority-figure with a badge and gun. I doubt it. I hope most people understand the police handle a variety of criminal issues. So why did Penn State leaders apparently try to handle the scandal within?

If you read the Grand Jury report (and it’s extremely difficult to read because of the graphic depictions of the alleged criminal acts with children) it appears that the leadership at Penn State either didn’t grasp the gravity of the situation or were minimizing it to protect the University’s esteemed brand. Or there may have been some presently unknown reason that kept them from escalating their response to the police.

I know it’s easy to arm-chair quarterback. Still, one thing kept jumping out at me in some of the news reports on this incident: Penn State is located in, or part of, a close-knit community. The community around Penn State, the Borough of State College, is small, with a population of about 42,000. In my past experience living in a small close-knit community, you bump into friends, relatives, co-workers and your boss in the supermarket, at restaurants, at the movies and in church. How would you react if you witnessed one of these people you know doing something that looked like sexual abuse of a child? Would you be too shocked to react? I hope most people would intervene or at least call the police. But after the Catholic Church scandal and now Penn State, I’m not so sure. Something evil is at work corroding our once venerable old institutions. I think it likely an entire generation will grow up with little faith that leaders of our institutions have our best interest at heart. This could be devastating for our society.

It’s possible child predators are becoming aware that workers in organizations that serve children (such as elementary schools, child care centers, and youth programs) are keenly aware of what constitutes inappropriate behavior and mandatory reporting responsibilities. But what about businesses and organizations where children are not present that often? If you are the leader of an organization where it is possible your employees and volunteers might come into contact with children, you must understand that the children and your organization could likely be at risk. Here are some basic things to consider that your organization can do to protect children and avoid a Penn State fiasco: finger-printing and criminal background checks on employees and volunteers who have contact with children on the job; training all employees and volunteers on child sexual abuse prevention and mandatory reporting procedures; train employees and volunteers that if they witness an incident or become aware of an allegation of child sexual abuse, it becomes the priority and reporting it to a supervisor cannot be postponed, even if it’s late a night; designate a point-person with training in procedures dealing with child sexual abuse prevention and reporting (this should be someone with authority to notify the police); establish a policy prohibiting nepotism (employees and volunteers should not be in positions where a family member is their supervisor).

Of course these are just a few ideas and counsel from a professional who understands the law and child sexual abuse issues must be consulted before implementation. Here’s a source of more information on the subject: http://www.reducingtherisk.com/

(I am not connected to reducingtherisk.com, I found them on Christianitytoday.com.)

Yesterday I heard a Penn State alumni say that many alumni plan to increase their giving to get the football program back to normal as soon as possible. The reality is that the lawsuits this scandal could spawn will drag on for years and the cost will be . . . extensive and crippling. Aside from that, many people associated with Penn State and the local community will be licking their wounds for years, possibly decades. Bitterness, resentment and anger will linger indefinitely.

In Proverbs 31:8-9 (NLT) King Lemuel says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”

Haunting words! And yet King Lemuel says nothing about the cost of speaking up for the helpless. Yes, there is often a cost. It might cost a job or a friendship or draw scorn and ridicule. Nobody really knows how they will respond until the moment is upon them. It helps if we live by the rule that those with power are not given that power to be self-serving or fearful; they are given that power by God to speak up for those without a voice. And that’s more important than any football program on the planet.

Cained

Let’s talk about something taboo, dirty, nasty, R-rated, inappropriate for some (or all) viewers—politics. If you’ve been watching the news lately, you’ve likely heard about the controversy surrounding Herman Cain’s presidential campaign. Mr. Cain is attempting to fend off allegations by two, possibly three, women who claim Mr. Cain engaged in inappropriate behavior with them almost fifteen years ago. I’m not here to defend Mr. Cain or cast aspersions at him. What upset me most was a cavalier statement by someone in the media who said the Cain allegations were likely the result of a political opponent’s opposition research. Opposition research is the data politicians, or their lackeys, dig up and store on their opponents to be used at just the right time for maximum damage. In other words, ladies and gentlemen, you and I are being manipulated for our votes way more than we know. Today, opposition research teams dig for dirt in tax records, criminal records, education records, medical records, family problems, hiring practices and even church affiliations and beliefs.

Great ideas and dynamic ethical leadership are has-been notions these days. Winning means bloodying your opponent with so much scandal he or she can’t recover. And the most horrifying thing about this sorry state of affairs is that we the people lap it up. I wonder if we have become so intellectually lazy that we now prefer to make our voting decisions based on which candidate does the best job smearing the opposition. In other words, we vote for the candidate who is able to scheme the system and come off appearing like they have the least amount of dirty baggage, when in fact their opposition was just not as effective at uncovering the dirt. The winning number of votes goes to the candidate with the best opposition research team. Shudder!

How many journalists, I wonder, will take the tough road and dig up which candidate’s opposition research team uncovered the Cain scandal. Journalists, and the public, don’t get it—the real scandal is that opposition research is an accepted industry practice in modern politics. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s very important to vet our candidates thoroughly. But that’s a job for a legitimate news media, not an opposition research team.

Not long ago I read an article about how some Christian universities were strategically educating Christian young people for careers in law, medicine, education and whatnot so as to cause a positive change in our culture. Apparently they overlooked politics.