Monday, December 31, 2007

The Hope Dilemma

I'm not much of a telly addict but there are some shows that hook my attention. Top Gear obviously. Heroes has been the recent fave. And a little while ago, Lost, until it moved to Sky. But wahey, my sister bought us the complete Season 3 box set for Chrimbo so now every night Grace and I can get our fix. Last night we watched two in a row (very nearly three!) the second of which had a really fascinating bit of dialogue. Hard-man Sawyer was trying to talk his love interest Kate out of escaping from the cages they're being held in. Kate couldn't understand why he had suddenly become so resigned to his fate.

KATE: Go! Get out of here, run!
: You're out of your cage. Why don't you run?! Because me? I ain't running, 'cause there ain't no place to go.
: What are you talking about?
: We ain't on our island. We're on another island, like Alcatraz, couple miles off shore. So unless you're a mermaid, or you got a boat, there ain't no point.
: When were you planning on telling me this?
: Never.
: Why not?! Why wouldn't you?!
: 'Cause I wanted you to believe we had a goddamn chance.

This stood out to me because I've had similar thoughts myself. The circumstances of life can make us feel caged. We yearn for escape and form both personal and collective beliefs about when and how we will get out to a better place. But what if one person finds something out that has serious implications for the hope held onto by another one or many? Should that person share it and shatter the hope, or keep quiet, allowing the fragile but life-giving hope to live on?

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Insurgency of Love

"When a nation is conquered and occupied by another nation, insurgent movements seek to expel the occupiers. The insurgents see themselves not as criminals or rebels fighting a legitimate authority, but rather as a resistance movement fighting occupiers of injustice. They are freedom fighters seeking liberation from tyranny; they are a legitimate power seeking to expel an illegitimate one...
...everyone is caught up in the ultimate vicious cycle of terror and counterterror, violence and counterviolence, hate and counterhate. We can only escape by defecting from this whole vicious, suicidal system... walking away from the king in Rome, walking away from the armed rebels who dream of overthrowing him, and following a weaponless prophet in Galilee...
...seemingly disparate people defect and band together in the way of Jesus... they secretly plot detonations of hope. They quietly conspire to set off explosions of kindness. The plan gentle coup d'etats to replace regimes of domination and oppression with movements of empowerment and service. In a complete overthrow of violent terrorism, they fly planes of generosity into towers of need and plant improvised encouragement devices by roadsides in neighborhoods everywhere..."

from Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope by Brian McLaren

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Christmas Dream

One of the favourite books I own is 'A Testament of Hope', an anthology of the speeches and writings of Martin Luther King Jr. When I need a moment of inspiration I'll often dwell for a few minutes on those great words. Probably the most famous speech King made was I Have A Dream, delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC in August 1963. It slowly builds by describing 100 years of frustration since the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and then turns to face the outstanding injustice of the day with visionary fervour:
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
And it's these words that are echoing in my heart as another year draws to a close. I'm wondering what kind of society we would live in if the same energy that has been directed at ensuring racial equality amongst our children were also to be directed at forming character in them.
As a parent I must confess that I do have some apprehension about the way my little boy will cope with the voices and the forces vying for influence over him. Will he come to see the sleaze and dysfunction as normality? Will he assimilate the inverted values of the world around him that heckles heroes and celebrates cynics? Or will we, his family, be successful in helping him grow the individual content of character that Martin Luther King foresaw as the essential building block of a just world. My Christmas prayer is that it will be the latter.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Secret of Happiness

For a while now I've resisted making reference to Facebook in my blog posts. Today however I need to succumb. You see during a dull moment I clicked on the little application that compares you to other people. 'Friends' basically answer questions about other 'friends'. All the answers then feed into a big league table. Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to take a look at the table. Sadly I discovered that people don't consider me to be particularly sexy. Neither do they think I’m the slightest bit funny. Bizarrely though people do seem to think I come across as someone who is happy. I sat back and began to take it in. The experience was like smelling salts waking me up from unconsciousness. I realised I'm probably a lot happier than I generally give myself credit for.
So why am I happy? Well there's lots of big stuff I’m really grateful for - my marriage, my little boy, my health and all that stuff. But there’s definitely something else too that I would say adds to my happiness and I think that I’d describe it as ‘enjoying the little things’. For me the potential for happiness exists in every moment. God has given us a range of senses that, if we are paying attention, can give us pleasure every minute of every day. So here’s my 10 ways to find happiness in the ordinary:
1. Look for visual treats - enjoy the twinkle in someone’s eye
2. Chuckle at things - a silly typo in a newspaper
3. Taste the tang of life – always keep a crunchy apple nearby
4. Release some emotion - pray for an impossible situation
5. Give something away - make someone a brew
6. Aural enjoyment - soften the din of the day with an ambient soundtrack
7. Breathe deeply - open your car window and enjoy the breeze
8. Create something special - craft that boring email reply with pointless panache
9. Live grace - so what if you're right, just because you are it doesn't make them wrong
10. Keep learning – even when it goes tits-up you can find out something new

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Shades of Grey

The other night, after a church meeting, I found myself on the receiving end of some 'observations' about my leadership. Feedback is something that I really value and so I was all ears. However, it seemed that on this occasion I was being subjected to a somewhat binary assessment of my leadership style. My own experience of controlling leadership has made me extremely keen to resist this approach myself, and yet that was exactly what was being suggested.
After struggling for a while to grasp how this interpretation might have been arrived at it dawned on me that I was in a no win argument. You may have been in one of these conversations yourself, when you find yourself being drawn into a debate which is based on the false assumption that there are only 2 polar opposite positions to adopt, the issue is either black or it's white. But anyone who exists in the world of real human beings knows that things are rarely black and white, rather we are constantly dealing with shades of grey (with the occasional spalsh of colour if we're having a good day).
This particular conversation centred on the power dynamics of leadership, with the suggestion that if the situation is not one of utopian democracy then by default autocracy prevails. Of course the reality of leadership is, in the language of Blanchard, 'situational'. If the building is burning down the office don't sit down to discuss the best way of evacuating - somebody dictates orders. But if a bunch of highly gifted jazz musicians are jamming together it may be difficult for someone in the audience to work out who the leader is. This is perhaps best expressed in the continuum offered by Tannenbaum and Schmidt (left). In the context of church there are very few scenarios that would excuse a leader operating at the autocratic end of the scale but that doesn't mean that the body therefore is as liberty to function entirely in the zone of self-definition. I really do hope that at every opportunity I afford the maximum possible freedom to those God has privileged me to serve with leadership.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Brand vs Dawkins

In so many ways this clip from Russell Brand's Radio 2 show last Saturday night is so much more than a comedian talking to a scientist, it illustrates the great paradigm shift of our times - from modernism to postmodernism. I'd love to know what you think of it - leave me a comment.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Beehives and the Church

It was Albert Einstein who famously said "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man." Of course Einstein wasn't a biologist but the point he was making is of huge significance across all disciplines be they scientific or philosophical. He was speaking (against the reductionist paradigm of his age) of the connectedness of all life - the complex and collaborative nature of life on Planet Earth.
The Beehive is a truly amazing thing, a special community with special relationship to the world around it. I do find myself thinking that there's something strangely ecclesial about it - even perhaps monastic. As the bees live out their rhythm of life the ecosystem around them is given life. Surely that's a picture of the church. And if we follow it to its natural conclusion we wouldn't want to turn the whole world into a hive would we? No, we would simply ensure that we are true to our vocation as those with a unique role in releasing the life-potential of the world around us.
So if the church disappeared off the surface of the globe how long would humankind have left?

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Sunday, December 02, 2007


I promise that my next blog post will contain some original thought before I do that there's another book quotation I really want to put up here:
'Most leaders are to some extent idealists. They have a desire for things to be different, to be better. Thus, the leader lives all the time with a discrepancy between the world that she wants (and others want) to inhabit and the world she (and others) actually do inhabit. Psychologists call this condition 'cognitive dissonance' - there is a discord between the reality and the ideal. Now, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this discord produces a certain mental and emotional strain in people. This can be constructive, generating passion, drive and energy; but it can also be destructive, producing frustration, disappointment and confusion. Accordingly, one of the mind's strategies to deal with it is denial and repression. Most people deal with cognitive dissonance fairly effectively simply by choosing to look away from the ideal. They come to tolerate the reality by avoiding the evidence, by filtering the data they receive. They fabricate a world in which the discrepancy is less.
The leader, however, is motivated by a desire to hold on to the ideal - indeed it is the ideal that drives her. Accordingly she commits herself to a journey that will inevitably lead her into a dissonance between the reality and the ideal, a tension that she refuses, until she gives up leading, to deny or suppress. Unfortunately, most other people don't want to know about this tension: they are in the business of denial and they don't want to be reminded of how bad the reality is or how much better the ideal is. They prefer blissful ignorance - and the leader, in all the evangelical fervour of her vision, is a fly in the ointment. And so the leader finds herself pursuing the lonely path that all prophets and visionaries down the ages have followed - of being isolated, being a voice crying in the wilderness, travelling alone, ahead of the crowd, on the margins, in a distant land - feeling a sense of belonging but also a sense of alienation.'
From Leading Out of Who You are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership
by Simon Walker

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