What Really Matters? (Part 2)

There are various views of maturation in the world. Some assume a sort of exterior astuteness: tucking in your shirt, waking up early, being decisive, having a rather serious demeanor. The word harbors a sort of stiff deliberateness.

But in the spiritual world, maturity may look a little backward. “He who loses his life for my sake finds it,” said Jesus. There is fundamentally the concept in spiritual formation of not being in control, confessing powerlessness to change many things.

The one thing needful, the one thing we can control, is our attitude, our outlook, what we chose to believe is true. That radically is given to the individual person to sovereignly steward. But do we “control” that? Is that the goal?

Mastery of your emotions sounds like a good thing, but it may run smack dab into the reality of our interdependences. We are people of context, and that context is not merely external. We are given an internal context we have to navigate.

That internal web of connections sheds great light on who we really are and what things really are “working.” So many things we can do hover around what we need to do. They are very closely related, but definitely not our sweet spot.

It is akin to being on a baseball team but in the wrong position. Even though what position we play defensively should not effect our batting (which is offensive), it does. Not until we get the one right does the other seem to gain its clarity.

So being on the right kind of team (baseball :-) is a start, but only the very beginning. Which team? Which position? Which spot in the batting order? So many other variables need to line up. Our internal context guides us through this.

Fortunately we just feel “off” when not in alignment. Not that our emotions are clairvoyant, but they certainly work to adjust our rudder. There is a sense in which we can trust them to help us finesse the wheel. They know something!

So we must learn the art of discernment, of honing in our intuition (which is beyond but including both our reason and emotion). We must learn to listen to our lives, to hear the sound of perfect harmony between our calling and the world’s need.

These intersections are seldom easy to navigate, but there is a compelling vibration of sort when we approach one. There is a sense of destiny, a feeling of the wind behind us. There is belief and a strange familiarity like we have been here before.

Those moments of clarity, though often short, are oxygen to intuiting our calling. They give us a deep sense of vindication that external circumstances can neither confirm nor deny. These vocational moments are worth their weight in gold.

The reality is that our calling is a set of very small footsteps in a very vague direction. We know basically what the end product looks like but we simply don’t know how to get there. We move forward in faith, and trust we will not be forsaken. 

What Really Matters? (Part 1)

Ride the waves of inevitability. If you have drive, if you have curiosity, if you passion for a project, you have life. You have a responsibility, you have a precious, rare gift. You have this unique moment to actually participate in the creative process.

Don’t think. Don’t get caught up in the how’s. Just feel. Feel the ideas flowing out of you. Feel the insights brewing. They are there a plenty if we will only put the pen to paper and get out of the way, we can experience this great joy.

What matters in 10 years? What matters in 20? What will be remembered at our eulogy? What things about us transcend us? What gifts can we leave to the next generations? What about our life will matter in the long run?

These sorts of questions get real focus in the mid-life. They also get crystal clear with a view of death in mind (threat of disease, near-fatal accident, close friend dying, etc). As death makes its way into our view, we are forced to consider.

Is what I’m spending my time on really what I “should” be spending my time on? Do my actions stand the test of time? Am I making decisions for the right reasons? If I were to find out I had only one year to live how would my life change?

Would we have more courage to risk? That is the question. Would we be more free to follow those hunches, the leanings we have intuitively but for fear or lack of focus do not pursue? Would we finally take the leap into a preferred future without a guarantee?

At some point there is an inevitable leap. Soren Kierkengaard spent most of his life fascinated by this point. Life ultimately is a risk. There is an essential existential crisis to being human. We have to make choices without knowing their consequences.

There is no way to we calculate the results of our actions today. Nor should we. Instead we are given the responsibility only to choose. Make a life by choosing it. God will not do it for you. God does not remove the burden of choosing our life.

We alone can choose. That incredible freedom is also the pivotal responsibility of life. What are we going to do with what we have? We will be held accountable. Every religion and every creed has some sense of a universal reckoning.

Even the most well-intentioned person can sincerely screw it up. In the end intentions can not justify us. It is our actions, our actions alone. What did we DO? What impact was made with what we did? How was the world left better as a result?

This is very different from the frenetic sort of approach to change-making, jumping head-first into every possible avenue that comes up. The novice is swallowed alive by the sheer force of good opportunities. Most don’t get out.

Many such bleeding hearts went in full till and did not really come out. Smart action requires the grace of active waiting. As we move forward and continue to strengthen our risk muscle, we pull back and we wait, giving time to contemplate.

We re-configure, assess, investigate, run inventory, pray through and receive input for our pursuits. We constantly offer them back to the places from which they came. We give the many seeds we planted a chance to catch up with us.

We also give the well-watered growing parts of our enterprise a chance to rest. Where some might say get another lap in, the pit crew here realizes the immensely important need to stop for new tires and a fill up. Do it now.

If we insist on activity and are happy with mere busyness, we will never quite get it. Our well-intentioned actions will lead to very little return. If, on the other hand, we are patient and deliberate, pushing and pulling with life, we may just find what we seek.


Facing the Dark Suffering of the World (Part 2)

Some will, with razor sharp intelligence and precision, associate suffering with poverty, and poverty with injustice. They will compelling point out how the wealthy few make decisions in their self-interest that negate the needs of the many.

They, in most cases, decry this phenomena as obscene and unnecessary. In so doing they will often either employ some faith roots (often Roman Catholicism) or point out the feebleness of piety-driven religions aimed mostly inward.

In both cases they are usually quite accurate. Still most themselves fall quite short when it comes to envisioning solutions that could actually work in the real world. Most are meant not to provide answers but to provoke passion about the problems.

Is there something to this almost prophetic approach? Let’s help the people feel the unfairness at a visceral level. Let’s let that anger and passion rouse a future-response that will be far more suited to long-term solutions and steps toward change.

God Himself tried to prohibit super-rich and super-poor in the Hebrew Scriptures. The year of Jubilee was set everything back, keep people from cyclical poverty or extreme wealth and acquisition. Did people find ways around the system?

Surely. But fundamental to it was the idea that it’s not about all that. No matter what was coming. Everything would be reset. Certainly that would effect the way people were driven. Would it be worth pursuing more in year 48?

Can we get to that point today, where somehow the rich are challenged to stop amassing? Or at least to give generously? Of course, those with the money can dictate to those without how the money will be used or shared.

Can the rich find ways toward innovation? Can we find ways to connect the rich (the money) to those doing innovative things to help the poor? Could we create a system or process that would accomplish that very thing?

We do not go blindly into compassion.  We cannot afford to be so emotional about things that are so complex.  If we do we end up hurting the very people we aim to help.

If we are so set on "fixing" a problem than likely we will go to any length to make it happen.  We can lose sight of the people.  We can lose sight of our humanity.

When we reduce humans to social problems with systematic issues we can clinically go into a situation aiming to help and simply replace one tyrant for another: ourselves.

Instead we need to listen to the people.  We have to work slow, and humbly.  There are no shortcuts. That's no excuse for being lazy.  We are deliberate, patient, watchful.

Facing the Dark Suffering of the World (Part 1)

Sooner or later we are confronted with abject horror in the world. It is everywhere, but particularly certain places. When discovered, it can totally wreck any ideologies built on hope that we have constructed. When found, everything else adjusts.

When one discovers that 1/3 of the world is so poor that selling their sons and daughters into slavery sounds like a good idea, it is overwhelming. How can this be? And why on earth do I have it so well? How can it be so unfair?

It’s been said 1/3 of the world is dying of causes related to starvation and 1/3 to overeating. Those kind of realities will fundamentally mess with who we think we are and what life is all about. We go from thinking one way to having to think another.

All the joy, beauty, and hope we find to be so binding and needful in our existence seems to deflect meaninglessly for these realties. There seems to be no intersection, or that the reality of our world can only remain in the ignorance of theirs.

Yet surrendering to suffering has a counter-intuitive effect. It does not bring us closer to caring for and serving the person in need. Ironically us being miserable does the world no good. We must internalize the suffering then transcend it.

I personally will never forget playing guitar music for a homeless shelter once. I was feeling the weight of their situations and what was coming out was darker blues music. A teenager rebuked me: “man this is a homeless shelter, we don’t need blues.”

What I thought was an attempt to connect was actually getting me the exact opposite. I was pushing away, and ultimately thinking very selfishly about the whole thing. I was feeling the blues, but that is not what was needed.

*Somehow it is incumbent upon the leader to look square in the face of the suffering but not be swallowed up by it. God is good. There is always hope. If some chose to find none there is nothing we can do. Find hope. We must find hope.

Where can hope be found? That is the only question. Where can we find hope in the places of such suffering? Where can we hear and see progress being made, despite what appears like only cyclical patterns of poverty?

That is where a new sort of hearing comes in. It is not the kind that hears and sees only what is there, but what could be. It starts with what is good, it sees potential, it harnesses the power of vision, it is the heart of a new generation.

It doesn’t have to stay the same. We can retain the essence of what is good without accepting the necessity of what is not. We can realize the mercy of God in the now and the power of God in the future. We can trust in transformative process.

But it will require suspending immediate belief. It will require not accepting what seems inevitable. It will challenge our sense of calling, our scope of responsibility. It will lay things at our feet we once thought had no business there. Are you ready?

Art as Entrepreneur (Part 5)

Art creates melodies that run through our minds when we wake up. It creates images that we dream about. It creates imaginary worlds that we see our own existence through. Art haunts our world with another.

That’s why it is so powerful. It gets beyond our rational defenses. It gets seeded deep into our imaginations. There is almost breeds without our permission. It clones and spreads and before we know it there is a mutiny.

Why is this melody stuck in my head? Why am I so drawn to this or that movie? What about this picture is so compelling? We don’t even know. Our rational mind can not figure it out. It’s because someone else is in charge for the moment.

That someone else is the imagination. The imagination, fueled with the great art, is given a certain power to take off and run with things. This may be scary, but we can trust the imagination, even though it does not seek our permission.

The imagination is our ability to dream about a world that could be. It helps us remove barriers that are not really there. It helps us to see an enduring world that actually is, somewhere, just not yet. Imagination inspires vision.

Without it we are restricted to what is. We are forced into a limitation that is self-imposed, but carries the weight of universal banishment. We see something as impossible. It is. We must strategically fight this false impulse.

Imagination always believes. It endures the insults expected for one who sees what others do not. It literally is that: seeing a world that is not yet. It is not science fiction as much as vision, or the ability to see into the future.

Ok, imagination is basically time travel to a preferred future. It is the catalyst to a road there that otherwise would not exist. We don’t create that road, we discover it, but only as we allow ourselves to see that future end. See it!

Of course it is possible that our imagination gets out of line, so out of touch with life that it becomes a distortion of reality. But that is not really imagination at that point, it is fantasy, specifically escapism. It is avoidance of reality.

True imagination is not the ignorance of reality, it is the full acceptance of it and through it. It is seeing a life possible within and without it. It is life fully realized, current reality fully redeemed. It is everything we think that life can become.

Some will certainly see it as wishful thinking. They would be wrong. That is something entirely different. At best, it is imagination that is completely lazy. More accurately it is the lack of thinking, or at least the lack of imagination.

Pure imagination is beautiful, a ride into the truest forms of reality. Real stuff. Stuff that has been created. It came from imagination. We came from imagination. Life has always come from imagination. It is a beautiful gift of God.  

Art as Social Entrepreneur (Part 3)

Art as Social Entrepreneur (Part 3)

Without art we lose beauty. Art is the ability to find and translate beauty. Beauty is hope. Beauty is always around but not always available. She can be quite elusive at times. Artist must follow her and remind us all that she is still alive. 

Art as Social Entrepreneur (Part 2)

This work requires we take the long view of things, and a humble one. It’s easy for the artist to inflate his importance to the world. Like any field, dominance in that field is quickly mistaken for dominance worldwide. We forget our niches. Even the greatest of songs will ultimately be relegated to the place of background music. Great art masterpieces will be used to dress up a living room. They will be forgotten, or at least under-utilized, or perhaps rightly utilized.

Think for a second of the shoe-maker (or cobbler). They make good, sturdy shoes that protect our feet and hopefully keep them comfortable. They provide humanity a great service, one that is completely taken for granted regularly. What if providing the world a great song or a great piece of visual art is really more like making a great shoe (not even so much in the fashion sense). Through artistry, integrity, and commitment we can provide great pieces that will be put in a closet. In other words however important a work may be at one time it will not remain that for long, especially in today’s world. The reality is that humans can only consume so much, and for so long. After we absorb something we have to move on.

The artist, fortunately, is the same. He or she must move on as well. He must find a new thing to say, a fresh reality to explore and articulate. Like the consumers, the artist can only live with and under a certain creation for so long before moving on.

Of course certain works make it into a category of “transcendent,” which means at its core that a work is timeless, or breaks normal cyclical rules about consumption. It has a sense of timelessness, or “staying power” - longevity in its connective power. But those are exceptions, and even those have cycles of use and re-use. The reality is that we are creating consumables, things enjoyed (consumed), and then forgotten, at least for the moment. Lasting impact, though, may have already happened.

That is the magic really of art (and all created things really): we will never totally know there intrinsic value. No matter our attempts to measure outcomes we will never accurately know how our pieces effected others, let alone ourselves.

How can we know the reality of a world without our works? Even the slightest influence of a background song my have changed the nature of reality for one big decision. Let’s be honest, it usually is the small things. Art may be one of those small things.

Ours is ultimately not to know the value of intangible things. Inner compelling may not be justification for some people, and certainly for some pieces, but it ultimately must play a part in the value of art, if not for the artist.

In our valuation of art we mustn't forget to measure its effect on the artist. What might life look like for the artist without his art? What would happen if an artist did not have a creative outlet? What would spoil and turn rotten within him?