Monday, December 1, 2014

Conversation. Serendipity. Inspiration.

To say the last few hours have been interesting would be to somehow shortchange the experience.

It started over lunch and conversation with a new friend. Proceeded to a sidewalk conversation with someone I didn't know from Eve. And concluded with a passing hallway conversation with a wise, old colleague. What's been most interesting, at least to me, is how conversation after conversation today, each with different people and each initiated by the other (not me), has revolved around a similar topic. It's as if each person was playing some scripted role in a play, a play in which I am participating but was unaware I was an actor. I almost feel like I'm walking through a dream or a movie. It's an odd feeling. I wonder if this is how Harold Crick felt in Stranger Than Fiction.
IMDB link here:
So strange, in fact, that I could not help but reflect on them right after they happened. Which is rather ironic considering each of the conversations was about discipline in the practice of reflecting. This whole situation is made even more interesting to me in that I've been giving 'reflection' a fair bit of thought over the last few months. It feels rather like...serendipity.

The first conversation had me thinking about spiritual reflection and personal growth. The second had me thinking about philosophical reasons for reflection. The third had me thinking about the importance of reflection in academics and for learning.

Why reflection? Beyond appreciation, compassion and community? Well, one of the key pieces of the scientific method includes reflection. Philosophers spend careers reflecting on reflecting. Some of the most influential thinkers of all time - Socrates, Plato (Aristocles) and Aristotle - advocated for reflection. And the seminal writings in nearly every world religion give considerable credence to reflection. Yet for all this, it seems too few of us in this fast-paced modern world of ours are truly good at taking time to reflect, instead too plugged in to technology we often forget to be present in the moment. So I've been disciplining myself to regularly unplug and just spend time both in the moment and reflecting on previous moments, if even just for 20 minutes each day.

It is (and I am) a work in progress. But I'm now finding it easier to see how the events and situations and people and things around me connect to each other and to my own life. And it's helping me become more aware of how it all shapes my own thinking and worldview. To me, reflection feels inspiring...and I love feeling inspired. What inspires you?

Friday, November 21, 2014

The lady on the bus, and why I routinely unplug

On a recent morning on my trek to work, I decided to ride the bus. I've been doing that lately to get familiar with the bus system in the area, an area we recently moved to. And the weather's been dropping snow and leaving freezing ice patches on long stretches of the bike paths. So why not?

This morning, the bus was about half full with one person sitting in each two-person seat. They were all perfectly spaced apart, even along the ambulance style benches, like some invisible force was keeping them a few feet from each other. Turns out, that 'force' is called personal space and the preferred distance - at least in the United States - is about four feet apart.

But I digress.

I sat down - without 'noticing' the person lest I respond to some subconscious bias or prejudice and shy away or gravitate toward them; I like to put myself into different situations - and found myself sitting next to an elderly woman. After a few seconds of quiet she says to me, "I like your green coat." I thanked her and smiled warmly, briefly mentioning that a friend had given it to me and I was grateful for the warmth it was providing and that it was rather hip nowadays to have highlighter bright clothing.

Without missing a beat, she launched into a story about her late husband (who I surmised had been dead a great many years) who, clear back in the 1960s and 70's would sew extremely bright patches onto all his clothing. It was one of the things she found odd but also attractive about him - that he felt comfortable enough to stand out in a crowd. And he was always very noticeable skiing down the slopes. How she noticed that in Europe, people seemed to think all grey outfits were the hip thing at some point in time and how she liked all grey outfits as she thought they made her look royal.

I mentioned how I had noticed in the UK some 10 years back that men seemed to favor salmon and pink and purple shirts and ties and such, very different than what was popular in America at the time.

Again, without missing a beat, she ran with the conversation mentioning that she once saw Wes Welker wearing a salmon-colored jacket (or was it a pink shirt?) and how those around him teased him for wearing pink and how he was such a nice young boy and how "the thugs" on the NFL's New England Patriots protected him when he was on their team but how they'd ganged up on him and tried to hit him hard now that we was on the Denver Broncos team and how unfortunate it was that just because he wore a salmon-colored jacket that "the thugs, the worst of them being their head thug Bill Belichick" were now targeting him. And wasn't it too bad that he got another concussion and that he seemed to be getting old for wide receivers in the NFL and she hoped he retired after this year but wondered what he might do with his life after retirement and she would bet his wife would feed him almonds and he was such a nice and friendly and good kid and how she didn't really follow anything in the NFL and how strange it was that she knew all this stuff about the NFL and Wes Welker but he's such a nice kid, dontchaknow.
Denver Bronco's wide receiver Wes Welker in his salmon-colored jacket.
I guess she had a lot of conversation stored up. That was fine by me. She obviously was craving interaction with others. And I was happy to listen and interact.

We exchanged a bit more conversation before I reached my bus stop. I wished her a blessed day and she said she was glad for the conversation. She bid me adieu and called me Mr. Green. I bid her adieu and called her Ms. Grey.

I'm pretty sure none of this lovely interaction would have happened if I had had my bright red earbuds stuck in my ears listening to the news like I usually do on my way to work. But an interaction with my beloved bride this morning had me thinking and I thought it best to leave my phone in my pocket and just reflect (which is my typical evening habit on my way home from work). I'm sure glad I had that conversation with my wife this morning, listened to my intuition and unplugged from my routine. I don't want to become another zombie. Or lose my ability to interact with others. Face to face. Plugged in but alone. Worse yet, I don't want to get in the habit of fleeing from conversations with strangers.

I'm glad I unplugged. It was a remarkable thing. Because life, at its best and for all its shortcomings, is happening right in front of me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Moving, Comcast, customer service and reading books

Where did we get all this stuff? And how do we move it all? (find this image)
Moving is hard. Really hard. Especially for kids. All things considered, we thought we were doing pretty well. But Comcast's customer service made our experience even harder.

At least we got a good chuckle out of it.

I recently moved to Boulder, Colorado from Corvallis, Oregon and was surprised at how much 'stuff' I'd accumulated in my nearly 20 years of marriage. Having lived in the same town for the last 15 years, I was relatively unfamiliar with and unprepared for how much it would take to to pull it off. Despite our best efforts to prepare for and make the move and transition as smooth as possible, I was taken aback at how difficult it was to do this one little thing - cancel our cable television. Maybe The Cable Guy should have prepared me.
Jim Carrey in The Cable Guy

All we had for cable was the most basic of the basic packages. Thirteen bucks a month. That's it. Nothing at all bundled with it. No internet. No cell service. No fancy-dancy channels. No frills. Just the most basic package - the package they don't even list anywhere on the web - the package you have to ask for but doesn't have any name and they hassle you and hassle you and hassle you to get something with more options and more bells and whistles. The most basic of the basic cable.

But we didn't want it anymore. Partly because we were further simplifying our life and budget as we prepared to live in a very expensive town. Partly because we found we simply didn't watch much television. Partly because it was an extravagance we realized we simply didn't need.

But it could NOT have been more difficult to disconnect. We couldn't do it over the internet. We couldn't do it by simply writing CANCEL on our bill. We had to call and talk to somebody. Ok. I like talking to people. Sure. Why not. all the busyness of moving, it fell through the cracks so my beautiful, beloved bride took it upon herself to ring them to cancel our service. I'm sure she's regretting that decision. Here's why.

You'd think it would be a simple thing, calling to cancel service. One click (maybe two) and you can unsubscribe from unwanted email lists. Writing 'cancel' on magazine subscriptions does the trick. So just asking someone to cancel should be easy, right? Not so much.

First you have to wade through the automated, voice command menus that never seem to correctly interpret what you're saying. Then the lengthy wait for a real person to talk to you (unless you call Apple). After a real person finally does get on the line, you can't simply request for your service to be turned off. You have to listen through an interminable litany of reasons their customer service agent thinks you should keep their service. No thank you. Then you have to listen to all the 'perks' they'll add to your package if you just keep it. We appreciate that, but still no thanks.

Then you have to listen through all the reasons they think it's silly for you to cancel. It's insulting you think trying to make us feel stupid is an acceptable marketing or customer service strategy. No, we're certainly not more inclined now that you've tried insulting and badgering us. Whats that?! What's that?! *sarcasm* Oh NOW you're willing to hear our reasons why we no longer want cable?

At this point - nearly 20 minutes into this call - my usually patient and understanding spouse is starting to get a little miffed and no longer expecting a pleasant nor expedient conversation. But she pulls deep for a little more patience and explains that we simply don't watch much television, that we'd rather spend our time doing other things. The customer service agent, in a pleading and nearly incredulous tone, asks "but what in the world we're going to do in the evenings without television?!"

My sweet spouse's measured response?

"Read books to our children." Silence on the other end of the line. Then she hung up.

That. Was. Awesome!

So is this.

Solidarity, brother. Solidarity.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Secret Fishing Holes and Hunting Spots

Where were you fishing? I promise I won't tell anyone. *Very. Next.Day.*

Ever had one of these experiences?

While this is obviously a bit of an exaggeration, I have had similar experiences where a particular spot I thought was relatively secluded ended up not being so. As a life-time fisherman, hunter, camper, backpacker, and all-around outdoorsman, I tend to keep rather mum on a few of my most cherished places to go. And while I am judicious about telling people ALL the good fishing/hunting/hiking spots, I usually tell them at least a few good places to go.

Why? Because I want more people developing a sense of place and making strong connections to the rest of the natural world (of which we are a part of). Why? Because making a connection often results in shared respect. Respect often leads to caring. And, while there's been little research in this arena (see Joanne Vining's piece in Research in Human Ecology), caring may wind up making the difference in how things end up being managed.

So please, please, if you care about a particular place or species or habitat, don't keep mum about it. Sure, keep a few of your most special places on the hush...but tell people about other great places to go, get them outside, show them why connecting to the rest of the natural world is so marvelous! Doing so may just help help save your favorite place.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Is this the right path for me? - knowing and walking in it

For more than 20 years I have rebuffed various calls from leadership in churches I've attended to give - as laity - faith teachings. Lead small group discussions? No problem. One-on-one discussions? You bet! Talk in front of everybody on Sunday? Nope. No thanks. Not gonna do it. Didn't matter what my heart was telling me. Didn't matter that I had, at various times, felt compelled to deliver a particular message. My answer was basically always no.

Until this last January.

My family and I have been attending Corvallis Mennonite Fellowship for several years now. There is no senior pastor, only a pastoral team responsible for setting up weekly teachings. Thus, we rely on visiting pastors and teaching from attendees of the congregation. And I got the tap on the shoulder. The subject material could NOT have been more appropriate and timely in my life - how do I know the will of God?

Wow. Are you kidding me?! My family and I were facing one of the toughest decisions we had yet faced – if, when, and where to go to graduate school. You see, I’ve long felt compelled to teach. This desire had been recently re-affirmed – on several occasions and quite strongly – during quiet reflecting time while attending a couple of transformative Bootcamp Northwest events and a Gary Barkalow “It’s Your Call” weekend. Getting a PhD (piled higher and deeper?) seemed like the next logical step. But was I just being crazy? Or selfish? I mean, I already had a few degrees from Oregon State University and after nearly 15 years in Corvallis had developed quite the community! Was this potential move a good idea? Was it part of “the plan”? Reflecting on discerning God's will seemed like a pretty worthwhile endeavor, given we were contemplating moving away from the well-connected life we'd built in the area. On the other hand, it felt presumptuous to think I could even 'know' something like God's will. Regardless, despite this and my history of substantial reservations, I said yes. Emphatically, even.

Mysterious ways, indeed!

And what a remarkable experience it was. Not necessarily the actual Sunday teaching, which was good for me...but the time I spent reflecting on discerning God's will. Tuning out the distractions and listening, truly listening, was a good reminder that our minds are typically too crowded with...things, to regularly hear God talking to us. It was time for me to 'check out' from all of life's busyness for a bit, and ratchet up the quiet, reflecting time.

And the messages flowed. Freely. What follows are my responses to the questions the pastoral team asked me to consider responding to. In a nutshell, I came up with six ways in which you and I can discern God's will. 

But regardless of whether you believe in God, I think you'll find many of the following can serve as good indicators if you're following the path that's right for you.

Are there others I missed? Please do let me know your thoughts!



We cannot presume to know how God's will will play out in our lives...but we DO have a number of clues that can help us discern God's will in the present moment. And in the larger picture.

Read and reflect on Romans 12

How have you experienced the gladness of knowing you have chosen God’s good, pleasing and perfect will?

I can only describe it as 'Living in The Sweet Spot'

I can sometimes hear God's voice. Clearly. For me, it's often conversational. And intoxicating.

Take a deep breath, and get real high. Sense of euphoria.

Seeing the glorification of God.

How have your seen God work good things out of bad or evil circumstances?

What strikes me first is the West Nickel Mines Amish School shooting and the incredible story of forgiveness. Like a ripple in a pond, we’ll never know just how far God’s message reached but it sure made a lot of people take pause and reflect on God and Christianity (spirituality in general) and the remarkable healing power of forgiveness

I recently watched a moving film about Lonnie FrisbeeThe Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher. Lonnie was one of the most influential and charismatic figures of the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. He helped spark/found the Calvary Chapel and Vineyard Movement Churches, two of the largest evangelical denominations to emerge in recent decades, from which countless people have been helped and heard the Good News. But, by his own admission and words, he struggled with "an affliction" (homosexuality) throughout his life, eventually dying in 1993 from AIDS. He was essentially written out of the history books of both denominations and ostracized from the church, but – on his deathbed – he forgave those who had wronged him. What struck me the most from the film about his life, the message I heard loud and clear, was that despite what we may view as our inherent shortcoming and failings - our brokenness - God can use us for remarkable good! 

The big question (at least for me) -- How do you/I know the will of God? 

I came up with six ways (though there are likely others):

1. Is your will or desire Biblical? Can you find mention of it in the Scriptures? Dig into them…

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for ruin, to give you a future, and hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Test it out. Be not conformed to this world. (Romans 12:2 and again in I John 2:15-17)

Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8)

Love one another. (John 15:12)

Pray for others. (Romans 15:30-33)

Abstain from immorality. (I Thessalonians 4:1-8)

Be wise, not foolish. (Ephesians 5:15-17)

Live in His grace. (Ephesians 5:1-20)

Word of God (Scriptures) should abide in us (John 15:5-8)

Seek the kingdom of God first. And His righteousness. (Matthew 6:33)

Does evil lie close at hand when you do what you believe is right? (Romans 7:18-24)

Give thanks. In all circumstances. REJOICE! (I Thessalonians 5:18)

Be vigilant against temptation (watch, pray; Mark 14:38; Matthew 26:41)

Do not be deceived. (I Corinthians 6:9-11)

Pray earnestly (Luke 10)

Slow to anger. Abounding in steadfast love. Forgiving iniquity and transgression. (Numbers 14:18)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not lean on your own understanding. In everything acknowledge Him. And He will make your path straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Ask it of God. (James 1:5)

And so many others...

2. Is it a desire of our heart? Do you feel compelled toward some end?

Search your heart and you will know what the mind of the Spirit is (Romans 8:27)

God is producing in you, both the desire, and the ability to do what pleases Him (Philippians 2:13)

BUT…the desires of the heart can be deceitful (Matthew 15:19) so be vigilant against temptations of the flesh.

Is there an earthly (and Godly) need your desire fills?

3. Does it seem to be within your gifts and/or abilities?

Are you working within your gifts of the Spirit? Within your abilities?

If you are unsure of what your gifts or abilities are, ask others. Reflect on what makes you tick… 

4. Do opportunities and/or situations keep cropping up?

Are there recurring themes in your life? Does something keep presenting itself?

Do doors keep opening? Or closing? Probably a good indication...

5. Is your initiative magnified (in one direction or the other)?

If you take the initiative – that first step – what happens?

Did that effort get magnified, in one direction or the other?

Your ears will hear a word from behind you saying “This is the way. Walk in it.” Whether you turn to the right or the left. (Isaiah 30:21)

When you make a decision and have a thought about something, does doubt immediately creep in? Are you immediately met with that little voice in your other ear sowing discontent, self-doubt, spite? (Passage from A River Runs Through It, pp. 19-20, where Paul is describing whether or how to approach a particular run on the river where he's watching a big fish rising [or is he?])

6. Seek the Opinion and counsel of others. How do they see this desire fitting you?

You have a circle of friends and colleagues – peers – that know you. Even if only from an outsider’s perspective. Talk with them about what they see in and about you.

Seek the counsel of others. They can be your peers, those with plenty of experience, those with little, or even those that have only known you briefly – each will have valuable insights. But be careful – don’t “stack the deck” of those you ask, picking those you think will give you the answer you want to hear.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Mediators Beyond Borders - skills mini workshop

I recently attended an EXCELLENT mediation skill-building mini-workshop hosted by the Oregon State University Chapter of Mediators Beyond Borders. I've been meaning...FOR YEARS! join this group. This skills workshop was the catalyst for me, just the prod I needed. My notes from the workshop are below.


Mediators Beyond Borders, Twitter and online

Oregon State University’s MediatorsBB chapter blog and Facebook page

Aaron Wolf, presenter

What topic fires you up, gets you riled? Nothing that is personally injurious...just something that you get animated about.

Speaker argues against the listener’s position (2min)

Listener listens. That’s it. And keeps track of his/her emotions and reactions.

Then reverse the sequence (speaker listens, listener speaks, attentiveness, etc.)

Listeners, what did you notice about just listening to something that fires you up?

1st level of reaction (typically): First reactions are typically physical: stress, anxiety, fight-or-flight.

Powerful stuff.

2nd level: repression of emotions. Emotional response. Starts around the stomach area.

3rd level: intellectual curiosity. Has a place in your body, too. Where? Usually the back of the head (often associated with the basal ganglia/lower brain function systems).

Jeremiah’s side note: Amygdala, cerebellum, etc. Think “lizard brain”. Reminded of Seth Godin’s stuff on this...

4th level (sometimes): spiritual connections with the person. Opportunity to learn something.

Anger is a shield protecting vulnerability.

If we can move ourselves past these first 2-3 levels (physical/emotional), train ourselves to go to the “What can I learn from this experience?” place (think of it as an opportunity), we’ll often have much more productive conversations/discussions/negotiations.

When you feel agitated, stop, breathe. And listen.

When someone comes at you with anger, they are often masking vulnerability. What’s the first response, typically? Meet it with anger. But if you meet it with empathy, anger has no fuel.

What do these four levels of responses sound like? Do they sound familiar? Yep. Four needs are Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Buddhism’s 4 foundations of mindfulness (Satipatthana), some of the tenets of Christianity and other world religions, etc., etc., etc. They are universal...

Anger first comes up (typically) when people take position (for/against). People take a position because they have an interest. Under interests are values. If you can lead with shared values, you’ll often find some common ground, unity.

Position -> Interests -> Needs/Values -> Unity

If you can lead a conversation with shared values, the conversation will be much more productive.

Take home message:

In any discussion, but especially discussions that have the potential to rile one party or the other, it is most productive to STOP, BREATHE, AND LISTEN. That will allow you to make a personal connection with the “other side”, find a common ground upon which to build.