Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Car Radios and Conflict

Culture Conflict -- one of the things that get my motor going. Groups of people work most effectively when unified. This is true of corporations, volunteer groups, churches, and any other “organization” I could list.

During the early church explosion in the book of Acts, the believers are described as being “in one accord” (Acts 2:1). Pastors will joke and clarify that the passage means that the believers were unified in spirit and purpose, not that they were all crammed into a single Honda Accord. However, the analogy of a group of people in a car is a good one when talking about organizational goals and effectiveness.

In addition to people, the basic components of a good road trip are: a working vehicle (structure), gas (propellant), a destination (goal), a map (plan), and a radio (culture). The vehicle should be large enough to fit all the passengers going on the trip. It also be functional and should work well enough to make it successfully to the destination. In the same way, organizational structure needs to be able to support the number of people and their needs. It should also be functional and “strong” enough to support an organization as it produces its outcomes—whether those outcomes are products or services. The gas propelling an organization forward is the motivation of its people. “Leaders get the best from others not by building fires under people but by building the fire within them.” What makes people want to participate? It is an understanding of “why” their part is important and “how” what they do makes a difference both in their organization and in their community. It also does no good to have a working car and a full tank of gas if there is no destination to go to. Similarly, organizations are useless without a goal and a plan (map) to get there. With a map, it is possible to detect if the car is headed in the right direction and whether or not the group is “making good time.”

But what makes road trips fun (and interesting) is the radio. What kind of music to the passengers prefer? Do they channel surf? Do they play a CD? Which one? Do they listen to music or to an audio book? Are they more likely to tune into a rock station or into National Public Radio? No two people are the same. They come from different backgrounds. They have different life experiences. They have wildly diverse personalities. They also come from completely different cultures. Nothing brings out the different “cultures” in the car better than the radio. And even if every other component of a road trip is in perfect harmony and working order, a fight over the radio (a culture clash) can change everything. It can affect morale and motivation. Passengers may want to bail on the trip and go back home. A fight can cause the navigator to miss a turn and in turn cause the car to be off course. In the same way, a culture clash can cause unnecessary organizational tension and cause things to go off course.

In the book of Acts, road trips took the form of missionary journeys. For a long time, Paul traveled with Barnabas and Mark (Acts 12:24). For some reason Mark did not travel with the other two on the missionary trip to Pamphylia. When they asked him to rejoin their traveling team, scripture states, “There occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus” (Acts 15:39). All the men shared a passion for the gospel—they had the same goals and the same vision. There was no radio to fight over, but there was some personality or style conflict that caused the ancient “road trippers” to part ways.

The problem does not lie in one particular culture being better or worse than the other. Rather, the problem lies in a lack of proper perspective and compromise. Good leadership is not about getting one’s own way; it is about helping one’s team to make a shared vision into reality. Organizations do not exist for people to have their own way. They exist to make a product or to provide a service in the best way possible.

Greatest Strength in Compromise

When two points of view differ, the one with more authority or power usually gets its way. Therefore, members of this culture have fulfilled expectations. And it follows that with every situation/decision that favors one way of thinking, members of another “culture” have unfulfilled expectations. These unfulfilled expectations lead to dissatisfaction, decreased participation and ultimately departure from the organization altogether.

As with any clash, the best solution is compromise. For example, the church is an institution that experiences a clash of cultures, the most obvious of which is a clash between older “traditional” style worshippers and younger “contemporary” worshippers. Both believe that their way is the best way, and very seldom is either side open to debate on the subject. The church’s solution to this clash is to separate the two groups and allow them to have separate worship services. However, this is not really a solution, it just places distance on the conflict. The best way to solve the clash is for both sides to become a little less self-focused and find ways to compromise. In the case of the church, each culture needs to remember that the goal of the church is to be culturally relevant. Paul wrote, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (I Cor 9:22). When members of each culture focus on the goal of the institution as whole—reaching unbelievers—instead of their goals as individual cultures—having church “my way”—the whole institution becomes more effective.

Wrapping up

Coming back to the analogy of the road trip, it is possible to find peace in the car even after a fight over the radio. Everyone can agree to have a turn controlling the radio. And if there is a common crisis (e.g. bad traffic, extreme weather), the entire group can agree to put aside individual preferences and listen to a local news station. From the earlier scripture example, Mark and Paul reconciled and forgave each other after their disagreement (Col 4:10). While scripture does not mention them traveling together again, Mark is referred to with fondness several times in Paul’s letters. This same Paul admonished the church to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace…speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph 4:3, 15-16). Each organizational member—regardless of their cultural background—has something to contribute to the organization as a whole.

At the end of the day, leaders must help their organizations to win (to be effective). Effective leadership is the product of good relationships, and so is an effective organization. If each member of the organization can be a little more selfless and focus on creating the best products and services possible rather than always doing things their own way, the quality of relationships and overall effectiveness of the organization will be improved. The sky is the limit.

Bottom line: If listening to a different radio station for a few minutes would restore the adventurous atmosphere of a road trip, who would refuse?

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1-3).

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Flower Power

A little while ago, I decided that I wanted to try my hand at writing a sonnet. I had a bit of poetry phase going, and I thought it would be challenging to put some form to my flowing thoughts. Alas, the sonnet still eludes me, but the ramble is still knocking around in my head so I thought it may be time to temporarily vent.

Flowers are pretty amazing little things. They can grow almost anywhere.

Surrounded by rocks

Out of stagnant muck

On a volcano

In the desert

In a garden

It really doesn’t matter to them. They take nutrients from wherever they are, and bloom. What I love about them is that smell so good. It’s the first thing you do when you see a flower right? See what it smells like?

Here’s my deep thought for the day: Flowers change the atmosphere that surrounds them just by being what they were created to be.

I want to do that. To take something from whatever place I happen to be planted in, and change the atmosphere. Whether things are a little rocky, a little heated, or a little crappy…whether things seem stagnant, or dry, or perfect… to take it, work with it, and bloom where I’m planted…and make the world smell a bit better in the process.

I think that idea will make a great sonnet one day.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Simple Pleasures

* Eating salad at Cheesecake Factory
* Workplace art
* Slavonic Dance #8
* Dancing to ring tones
* An ending jam at a contra dance
* Late night phone calls
* Tin Hat moments
* The “just finished a book” feeling
* Goat cheese on home-grown sliced tomatoes
* Driving past the NRA and breaking out into Eddie Izzard improv
* Hugs that touch the heart
* Gummy bear butts
* Waking up before the alarm
* Strawberry Pretzel Salad
* Being an undercover metal head who freaks out about finding DreamTheater on sale
* Having a dog who believes in naps as much as you do
* Chain-mail earrings
* Snorting
* Finding what you were looking for in your purse without having to empty the entire thing
* Cooperative hair
* Reunions
* The word "skadoosh"

* Looking forward with pleasure, and backward without remorse.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


“Intercession” is a word you hear a lot growing up in church. Usually when I heard it I would think about praying (or trying to pray) for long periods of time…most of the time with a super laundry list of prayer requests.

But then I grew up a little and someone actually explained that a truer meaning of “intercession” is to “ask on someone’s behalf” or “mediate.” Hmmm….well, that makes a bit more sense and opens up a world of other activity options than trying to keep up with a laundry list. I remember the first time I experienced intercessory worship. Whoa…talk about a life changing night. We praised and worshipped on behalf of the people in our lives who didn’t have a personal relationship with God or who were in a place in their life when they couldn’t praise. I don’t know that I can fully articulate in words what transpired for us that night…but it will stay with me for the rest of my life…

Back to the ramble: I got a text message today telling me about a long-time friend who is back in a bad place in their life and who is contemplating suicide. And it made me think about intercession. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could transfer some of our peace and joy to people who needed it? I’ve been told before that I have the curse of the silver lining. Maybe that’s true. But I wish I could share it.

But have you ever talked to someone who is truly depressed…or angry…or hurt….or at a loss? Words stink. And they don’t want to hear about changing perspective or trying to find any hint of lining, silver or otherwise. It's hard enough to find the right words just to be supportive. (And we all know that sometimes just being there is the best thing to words at all.)

I want to believe that I can intercede for them. That somehow I can stand in the gap and pray for things they may not be able to pray for themselves. Part of me always wonders at the effectiveness of prayers like that. And I suppose that’s where faith takes over. But just the same, I wish there was an easy way to take the excess from my life and give it to my loved ones who need it.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Don’t you love those moments when you read a story you’ve read a million times and suddenly something completely new jumps out to you? Well, something struck me recently about the story when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on an altar. It’s a crazy story of faith and obedience…and yes, God provided the ram…but not until Abraham’s hand was raised and ready to strike. What struck me is that it wasn’t just a picture of faith. It was also a picture of commitment. Let me explain all the thoughts that zoomed through my mind in about a split second.

God promised Abraham: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you” (Gen 12:2). Abraham was like us and had trouble being patient, and he tried to make that promise come about his own way. (*cough* Hagar and Ishmael *cough*). But God didn’t change his mind or give up on Abraham. He said: “I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers” (Gen 17:2). It was after this that Sarah became pregnant way past her child-bearing years and gave birth to Isaac. And here on the mountaintop Abraham is standing at another crossroads. He’s staring at a legitimate miracle baby and he’s got his arm raised ready to sacrifice his miracle on the altar. His faith wasn’t an intangible thing. It was seen by his raised arm. And it’s in that moment, when Abraham is certainly in a place of great confusion, that he shows astonishing commitment. It’s then that the angel of the Lord stays Abraham’s hand and the ram is found in a nearby thicket. After all that, I wondered….do I have commitment like that?

A split second later, I thought about one of the literary characters I adore for his steadfastness and commitment. His name is Joscelin and one of his trademark statements is: “Every day I stand at the crossroads and choose.”

After those quick -- though very full -- seconds, I wanted to take a line from another man who showed incredible faith: “Lord, I believe (I’m committed) help my unbelief” (help me stand through moments when I waver).

I hope that every day I too can stand at the crossroads and choose.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Don't be Flexible. Be Fluid.

Whenever I enter a period when I feel like I’m juggling more things than normal…or that life is more of a blur…or that my nice, orderly chaos is getting a bit unruly…heck, whenever the proverbial wrench gets thrown into the system…I think back to one of my Regina-ism’s… “Don’t be flexible. Be fluid.”

Usually you’ll hear a nice motivating speech about being flexible. The only problem with this analogy is that no matter how flexible something is, it will always reach a breaking point. Being fluid is a little different. It’s about going with the flow. When I was first introduced to this mindset I was told to picture a river. No matter what gets thrown in a river’s path, it will find a way around it. It finds the path of least resistance and goes with the flow. Being fluid is also about adapting. Liquid has this amazing ability to immediately conform to and fill the container in which it is placed. That’s more than just being flexible!

If I was in super snarky mode, I’d point out that even if something is flexible, it will ultimately return to its starting position. In contrast, being fluid implies moving forward…constant change…continuous improvement. And a river is a change agent and great source of power in its own right.

Ready for the geeky side track? Brace yourself and don’t say I didn’t warn you. Eru (“The One”) or Iluvatar (“Father of All”) created Middle Earth—the world of the Lord of the Rings saga. The cool thing is that he created through music. His song brought things into being. The first beings he created (the rough equivalent to angels) were called Ainur and were invited to join in the music and help Eru with the whole creation process. Of course one of them (Melkor) was a nasty fellow, and kept adding dissonant notes into the otherwise lovely chords. But instead of marring or de-railing the song, Eru kept finding ways to take the dissonance and turn it into something harmonious. This of course frustrated Melkor, but it takes me back to the idea of being adaptive…being fluid…and not letting one “wrong” note ruin something beautiful. In fact, I find that some of the most beautiful moments in music are resolved out of some kind of dissonance.

Anyway, the next time you feel like you’re bending under pressure, that your camel can’t take any more straws, or you experience the wonderful surprise of an unexpected obstacle or addition into your regularly scheduled program.... change your mental picture.

Don’t be flexible. Be fluid.

You might just end up with something beautiful.

Monday, July 7, 2008


I was listening to NPR and they were doing the headline of an upcoming talk. The first part of the sentence: “People who want to make the world in their own image.” I thought to myself, ‘Sounds great!’ I mean, I subscribe to Paul’s mindset of “Follow me as I follow Christ.” And honestly, if I didn’t think this was a good way to live and worthy of being passed on…why would I be so passionate about it? Just sayin.’

But the NPR guy didn’t stop there. The second part of the sentence: “Unwilling to dialogue with different points of view.” And I thought to myself. ‘That breaks my heart.’ Because isn’t dialogue the whole point? If I really believe in the “hope that lies within me” how am I supposed to spread it about if I don’t engage other people in some sort of conversation?

No one has it perfect, and no one has all the answers. We’ve all got learning and growing to do. I wonder how much more we would learn about life, the universe, and everything if we took the time to listen to another point of view. Just because it doesn’t look just like our own doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some truth in it. But how are we ever going to find common ground if we don’t even look at the terrain?

Part of following in the footsteps of Christ is being a witness. A witness is a person who was there…who has first hand knowledge. In a courtroom they sit there and answer questions they are asked by both the prosecution and the defense. Wouldn’t it be nice if we lived a life that caused people to ask questions? It would be a great way to start a dialogue…

“I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “that I am God.” Isaiah 43:11-12

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

God must be busy

We hear bad news all the time. Most of the bad news is distant and just part of the world we live in, but this past week some news touched me personally. On Saturday, a little girl named Hope was killed while riding her bike. On Sunday, I found out a childhood friend of mine had overdosed on drugs. Both funerals are this week.

I am not going to try and figure out why things like that happen, but I have been pondering the question: “Where is God in all of this?”

There’s a song on the radio by Brooks and Dunn. The chorus goes: “I know in the big picture I'm just a speck of sand and God's got better things to do than look out for one man. I know he's heard my prayers cause he hears everything, he just ain't answered back or he'd bring you back to me. God must be busy.”

I think God is busy, but it’s not because he’s off somewhere else. I think he’s constantly at work through the relationships that we have with each other. I mean, God only cares about three things right? (Thank you PB.) I think he’s in the embrace between two people. He’s in the phone calls that alert an entire network of people in just a few hours. He’s in the loving, angry, raw, honest letter written from a mother to her son that is read at his funeral. He’s in the simple fact that people who live busy separate lives will band together when something happens. If you want to find God, just look for his body.

“In Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:5)

This is true outside of tragic events as well. You know that feeling you get telling you to call that person…to buy that gift…to make time for that dinner…to help your friend fix that broken thing…or even to confront an issue that needs attention? … I think that’s part of God keeping busy.

Not that he needs us to do his job. God can certainly show his presence in other ways. But I can certainly attest to feeling God’s presence through the support of other people when I need them most. And I know that as I’m grieving with my friends this week, God is grieving too, and is giving me a chance to be his hands extended in their lives.

P.S. - On a completely different note….death is part of what makes life so precious and valuable. So embrace it. Love people while you can. And live the depth of your life as well as the breadth of it.