Monthly Archives: October 2015

Where you lead . . . I don’t want to go!

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Admitting you are not a leader and have no aspirations to become a leader in the world of Christianity is like admitting you hog two parking spaces at the grocery store on senior citizen discount day . . . and you don’t care if they ARE handicap spaces. Apparently it’s considered bad mojo to follow rather than lead in church culture. But the attitude that every Christian should aspire to leadership belies one obvious flaw: Who will follow if everyone thinks they are a leader?

In my almost three score years on the planet, I’ve come to the profound conclusion that I am not a leader. Sure, I can manage people. A manager recruits people, writes schedules, assigns projects and keeps workers on task through a variety of practical mechanisms (think progressive discipline . . . or my favorite management technique of stomping your foot and throwing a tantrum when subordinates ignore you). A leader, on the other hand, must inspire people to make personal sacrifices and go above and beyond expectations. Few people possess the magic formula required for leadership (probably because personality is a large portion of the formula). If the leadership formula could be bottled and sold, it would fetch millions. Unfortunately, the world is full of people who think they are leaders, but they do not possess the complete formula. Faux leaders encounter much frustration because people do not cooperate under their leadership. This can lead to dissatisfaction, bitterness, anger and hurts felt by all parties involved.

You see, people with the gift of leadership possess the almost superhuman ability to demand high productivity from subordinates while at the same time caring deeply about their subordinates. In other words, people with innate leadership skills have the backs of their staff. They offer praise and reward abundantly, and criticize sparingly . . . and even then in a constructive way.

From my humble position as an armchair observer, quite a few people occupy leadership roles because they believe they don’t have it in their DNA to take orders from others. Newsflash: Just because a person loathes following the orders of other people does not necessarily mean they have the juice required for leadership. The corporate landscape is littered with the wreckage of failed businesses and ministries run into the ground by people who wanted to be the boss, but lacked the leadership mojo to make it work.

Here’s the thing: It’s okay to be something other than a leader. There are plenty of alternative roles in the church and in your community that are equally fulfilling, as long as we correctly identify our skills and gifts. The church, and American culture in general, idolizes leadership to the point of pathosis. Leaders, as much as we admire them, can’t do diddly squat without support from the rest of us using our God-given gifts. Don’t fear the un-leader within you.

Sweet and Sour Grapes: The dangers rationalization

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What happens when you break your own moral code? (No, you don’t become a Democrat or a Republican.) Answer: It depends on the strength of your defense mechanisms. We all build defense mechanisms to protect us from unpleasant psychological consequences (such as feelings of guilt and shame) when we do something wrong and even when we merely think we did something wrong. Unfortunately our defense mechanisms turn against us when we convince ourselves we did nothing wrong when in fact we did do something wrong. Confused?

It is easier to understand if we look at an example such as Aesop’s fable The Fox and the Grapes:

“One hot summer’s day a Fox was strolling through an orchard till he came to a bunch of Grapes just ripening on a vine which had been trained over a lofty branch. ‘Just the thing to quench my thirst’, quoth he. Drawing back a few paces, he took a run and a jump, and just missed the branch. Turning round with a One, Two, Three, he jumped up, but with no greater success. Again and again he tried after the tempting morsel, but at last had to give it up, and walked away with his nose in the air, saying: ‘I am sure they are sour.’”

Dr. Neel Burton says this of the fox in his Psychology Today article titled Self-Deception I: Rationalization:

“In the case of Aesop’s fox, the cognitive dissonance arises from the cognitions ‘I am an agile and nimble fox’ and ‘I can’t reach the grapes on the branch’, and the rationalization, which is a form of sour grapes, is ‘I am sure the grapes are sour.’”

We, like the fox, rationalize in order to construct a defense mechanism to protect our pride, our integrity, our reputation, our inflated sense of ability, or, in some cases, to shield us from the deep sense of shame and guilt when we behave poorly towards others or after we have violated our own moral code in some way. If a person has no shame or guilt after behaving poorly towards others, he or she may have elements of psychopathy in their personality. If most of my friends and family say I messed up and hurt people, but I can’t see it, the odds are something is wrong in my world. If the fox rationalizes that he did jump high enough to eat the grapes even though everyone watching saw him fail, the fox has a serious problem—he has become delusional.

Most Christians have heard that King David was a man close to God’s own heart. Even when David committed adultery and murder, he remained close to God’s heart. How can this be? There are many reasons why God had a special place in his heart for David, but I have a theory as to what made David different from most of us and why this trait endeared him to God. David did not construct elaborate self-defense mechanisms nor did he try to rationalize his actions when confronted with the truth. This is such a rare quality in the human race that David stood out in God’s eyes. You see, rationalizing is a form of lying. We lie to ourselves and we lie to others, we even blame others in a futile effort to keep our sacrosanct defense mechanism from crumbling. It started in The Garden when Eve rationalized her epic fail by saying “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Adam rationalized his cowardly fail by attempting to pass the buck when he said “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Apparently we have not changed since The Garden.

Here’s the thing: I believe with all my heart that God wants to help us break through our rationalizations and defense mechanisms so that we can experience the relief found in his healing and restoration, but we have to sincerely ask for his help. And the key word is “sincerely.” Of course this requires that we . . . (wait for it) . . . humble ourselves.

Remember For Today: Huh?

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Last summer Hollywood tapped into our love of nostalgia (yet again) by taking us Boomers down memory lane with movies like Mad Max: Fury Road, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. What’s next, Pac Man: Centipede Road? Don’t get me wrong, I love nostalgia. It often seems more appealing to go back in time to relive the magic than try to create magic today. A couple years ago my wife and I stumbled upon an old console game of Pac Man. You know what I mean—a glass-top Pac Man table where two opponents sit across from each other and manipulate joy sticks. Funny how a “joy” stick can cause intense aggravation. In those days it cost .25 cents a game, so we had a significant financial incentive to stretch out the play time as long as possible. I recall that I usually played better after a few beers, or perhaps I only played better in my pickled head. In any case, a strange thing happened when Cindy and I sat down a couple years ago to play Pac Man—I lost interest after one game. It was fun to reminisce about our past experiences hunkered over a Pac Man table with a Coors buzz swirling through our noggins, but the actual magic of playing the game when Cindy and I were first getting together as a couple had faded into the glorious past. And that’s the beauty of nostalgia—it gives us a warm, albeit short, feeling, but it can also inspire us to appreciate the magic in moments we would otherwise overlook today. Or at least it can if we pay attention and are not under a self-imposed tyranny of busyness.

Fall is, in my opinion, the best time of year. It’s not too hot and not too cold (which means I save money on my home energy expense). Perfect weather for spending more time outdoors. How many of you went outside a few nights ago to look at the blood moon and the eclipse? It was spectacular, and it didn’t cost anything for admission . . . not even .25 cents. Sometimes those moments that create fond memories just happen, and sometimes we have to get off our butts and make them happen before old age and Alzheimer’s overtakes us. Just sayin’.