Monday, September 29, 2014

Like Sands Through the Hour Glass!

Each year about this time, many photos of class and family reunions find their way to the threads on FB and this year is certainly no exception.  Usually I will not even look at them but  over the last couple of days, I have looked at two class reunions from my hometown.  In one pack, a graduate of 1968 posted his class reunion photos at their 25th, their 35th  and their latest, the 45th.  Having graduated from the same high school in 1966 and played basketball with some of them as younger players, I recognized quite a few from their most recent photos; always great to see. But what was most striking was the changes from across the years with the number of people there reducing with each reunion. All that is quite normal I realize but  see that populational shift, the now white or no hair, the physical condition of the class; all caused me to take pause and reflect on my own life.  Seeing another packet of photos from another high school in my hometown practically none of whom I had ever known, I was again struck by the physical changes that happens, called aging, in the lines and faces of those attending. 
As I have processed the passage of time due to studying the photos, the mirror turned on my own life now approaching a 50th reunion in the not too distant future.  Let me insert here that I feel physically and mentally blessed and love living life to the fullest. I love all I get to do for I can still do it; a blessing.  In all of the introspective of this day, I realized that the measurement of life is far less about the number of days given you on this span but more importantly, in how you choose to invest in others including family.  The miracle of Christ kept coming to me this day in a most powerful way in that He knew His days on earth would be few but He came to this earth on a mission and sought each day and with each relationship to fulfill that mission.  
In teaching leadership to countless numbers of people in my span, I always begin with defining Mission for inset with that definition is the fuel for what drives this miracle called Life. Mission is defined as "one's reason to exist."  Once you determine what your reason to be on this earth for but a few years is, then focusing the energies and skills given you to accomplish you unique, individual Mission is energized.  Again, Christ's Mission was very clear and He sought to accomplish it with every breath He took until His last breath; then He went Home to be with His Father; our Father!
Many will look at spans of time through the prism of class or family reunions and get all depressed and worried about that time slipped or creep. There are others, I choose to be in that group, one that takes each day, each breath, each meeting to be the best I can be which is more and more for me measured by how best I can assist in making others' situation better.  Given the opportunity to teach, to sing, to meet, to minister, to be a husband, a father, a grandfather, a man that loves Christ; I honestly do not see how life on this earth can be more fulfilling.  The blessing of good health and energy and drive are the means by which my Mission can be achieved. I can say all of that with absolutely no ego-centric thoughts whatsoever.
See, I learned many years ago that you will never learn to lead anyone nor anything until you learn to Serve. So serving others in any and every way presented to you with those God will bring into your path physically, via things like FB, calls, email, etc, is not only a challenge but it is a Choice.  So even though the hair is more white than black now and not as much of it, sometimes bones make strange sounds when you get out of bed or you have routine check ups with doctors for body, eyes, teeth, I never lose sight of what is my Mission.  See, the Mission is the tether for all the events, challenges and desires of one's life.  Thus, for whatever number of days or reunions remain before me, I know that my life is full and fulfilling for it is rooted in God's Word I love to dig into each day.  My pastor, which is amazing, underscored that again in yesterday's sermon that if you want to know God Will, drill into God's Word.  That may sound trite to some but to some I will get some Amens for I believe you know when you are in God's Will if you choose to be; I choose to be!
So this particular blog is more personal than most for me for seeing the brevity of life and the impact of life on this body is eyeopening whether you know the person or not.  Realizing value of what you do on this journey here on earth is not the true measure of a man or a woman but rather the measure is what are you and I doing to cause people to seek to be saved from an eternal Hell; that is the measure, right?
Again at a very personal level, I think all of this I have written about above is part of this internal churn I am feeling about returning to teaching at the university level which means pulling back from some of the other things I am now invested in.  See, in the ten years of teaching, I became fundamentally aware that teaching young minds is more than an hour in a class room but more about this; if you truly care and invest yourself into that student, you are touching the future and the legacy of that student for two generations in what you say, how you conduct yourself, how you reflect God's touch on your life; how much you care!
In closing, can you articulate what really is your Mission for this journey of life?  Let me say that I know I am blessed. I know that I am getting to do what I believe is right and good in God's eyes; not mine but realizing alignment exists with His Will and what I get to do, makes the water cooler and the air cleaner.  See, the great news is that when this life is over, it just gets better for eternity.  Can I get a witness to that?
For those that have put up the reunion photos, thank you and thus see what you caused to happen within me? God is good; no, God is Great!!!!!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Growth versus Comfort -- Not Going To Happen!

Last evening I was watching an interview with a female executive and really was not paying much attention for I was also listening with my ear buds to music on YouTube; yes, it can be done!  Toward the end of her impassioned dialog, she made a comment that captured what I have realized, lived and believed during my entire life.  She said, "the reality is that Growth and Comfort cannot co-exist.  STOP!  What?  Let me amplify.
As humans we all want comfort which is closely linked to peace.  It, Comfort, provides a sense of stability, worth and can also breed laziness and detachment.  The Growth versus Comfort concept gelled for me in working my brain back through the decade of teaching university students in a high energy, competitive, team-driven, high expectation learning endeavor.  Even before I met the student, my fundamental assumption was that they were coming into my world as their professor to be stretched and not groomed, elevated to perform and not simply to listen, to be part of the course work and not a spectator.  Most of my students, as they will attest if they read this, was that the pressure to organize, plan, direct, execute and to develop work relationships with others in their assigned team began with a very personal choice that said, I Can Do This! Once that ICDT was internalized, a magical moment to witness or a painful journey for those that chose not to internalize for peer pressure can been horrid and disconcerting yet a powerful force of change, the real learning process was launched.
See, in that contextual paragraph, the genesis of today's blog is illustrated in that Growth and Comfort are incompatible forces in a competitive environment. Growth is a choice! I speak about and write much about the power of Choice for it is that powerful force that drives one forward or pushes one backward.  You then add that into the gin of team-based work and you have an amazing mechanism for Change which will lead to Growth thus requiring more Change as the fuel to energize or Growth.
There is a long standing and much debated economic theory, Creative Destruction, that postulates that economic performance is fueled and driven via the destruction or utilization of a blend of the Factors of Production, Land, Labor, Capital and Technology.  As the blend, the means, is consumed thus deconstructed and destroyed, the more creative ways of blending the Factors to need heights and needs will drive the economy. 
I absolutely believe that.  In that belief, back to my professorial experience using corporate leadership lessons learned in that classroom world, I saw ever increasing levels of utilization of the Factors in accomplishing the heavy load of course work within the framework of men and women working cohesively and productively to get the work done. My challenge as their professor or CEO of Jim, Inc, was to meter the progress in each team seeking as an Air Traffic Controllers to monitor all the teams / planes, from where they were to the right air strip at the right time and with the right landing info to the pilot / team leader. Magical to experience!!!!
For me, the words of the lady last night were a positive jolt again the in this world; we may seek Comfort and that is a noble venture but the means to getting to that state is through the energies and demands of Growth.  Some will read that and will totally disagree but in my lifetime and with the countless experiences in the military, career at Goodyear and some amazing leaders and even more amazing challenges, a decade of teaching young people, prison ministry, leading a singing quartet, raising a family, etc, etc, the fact is that Growth drives change in the strive for a state of Comfort.  This one paragraph is a beacon for leaders to lock onto for at the aggregate of my words is the real challenge for leaders. One of my fall back points about leading is that one will never learn to lead until they learn to serve.  Serving people's real needs, key word is REAL, is a bridge to the resource potential of those being led, right?
One of my great leaders taught me once that there is NO CHANGE until there is a MEASURABLE CHANGE IN BEHAVIOR and to that I say a resounding Amen this early morning.  Growth is not without consternation nor void of fear for growth means it is time to jump off the high dive into the dark waters of the night.  Once that courage is elevated to accomplish the leap, leading, then the waters begin to feel enveloping and spurs the elixir of Growth; but it did not come via the boulevard of Comfort; quite the contrary, did it?
It is my belief, hope, that this particular blog, more academic than most, will embrace many that will read it for I have written my heart; a heart crafted from many years of doing.  Seek the pathway of Growth in every endeavor and the fruits of the labor and choice will yield sweeter, cooler water to ease the pain of thirst. This requires levels of commitment and energy far too many just cannot and choose not to invest.  That group is what I called the Twenty Percent Club for it is they that choose that Club that will impede and impugn the performance of the 80% that are always in place, ready to perform, seeking the fuel of growth and you can depend on. 
NEVER BE A 20%er and yes, it is a choice!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"Another Vietnam ..."? Really?

As the bombing over Syria finally got underway last evening, I was looking forward to waking up  and reading scores of news in the international news feeds I like to read talking about the massive damage to this cancerous mob with much footage of bombed out headquarters buildings, American tanks burning in place, etc.  What I have awakened to are headlines that bombs fell, Egypt apparently has thrown in with the coalition, finally, but not proof positive of what damage was, in fact, delivered to these much deserving jihadists; maybe later today but we will see. The most troubling comment I read in the NY Times was by a Brit that indicated the war against ISIL "will be another Vietnam."
That term still carries a sense of doom and wrong and "quagmire" will be floated sometime today no doubt, another pearl of Vietnam era dialog and critique.  The whole Vietnam experience and the nearly 60,000 Americans that died there, some friends of mine, still echoes through the minds and the hearts of many when comparisons and parallels of this war on ISIL is already being compared to Vietnam; it sickens me, frankly.  Let me explain why from my perspective if I may.
Never lose sight of the fact that the American military won the Vietnam War tactically, on the ground in the two way firing range.  America had far superior weaponry, air assets and leadership.  That was the tactical component. That is very true today in this fight against ISIL.  Strategically, meaning the national leadership and the population, lost the war in Vietnam through micro-management, political sway, and the conflict simply went on too long for those very reasons because POTUS and his key advisers were calling tactical moves and bomb targets from Washington and not military commanders on the ground.  Already we see the exact same actions by Obama.
There is already open crevices between POTUS and his Joint Chiefs and the Chairman, GEN Dempsey had the unction to speak before a Senate committee just last week about and was chastised by the media immediately.   So some of the root structure of allegiances, politics, misinformation, etc already abounds and last night was Day 1 of the attack on ISIL at their Motel 6 in Syria so I must be assume this will get louder. I have intentionally not turned on the news this morning on TV for two reasons; Most importantly to not wake up my wife and secondly, I wanted my thoughts on this blog to not be tainted yet.
What was allowed to happen in Vietnam now historically was an abomination in my humble opinion. Do I feel Vietnam a "just cause" at that time in history for America to be fighting?  Given the times, the space and the rise of Communism in the Far East coming off Korea and the French debacle at Dien Bien Phu, I certainly do believe it.  But I will state here that the Colin Powell Doctrine of going to war with OVERWHELMING force stands as the clearest way to win a war I have witnessed in my lifetime.  This is all made clearer to me in watching the Ken Burns THE ROOSEVELTS episodes this week.  Do you know how we, America, defeated the forces of evil in Germany, Italy and Japan?  Simply, the whole of AMERICA went to war with them; not a relatively small handful of soldiers but the entire industrial / military / population complex went into the fight fully and wholly. We have, in this nation, not seen that corporate joining of forces with strategic intent since nor will we now I am convinced even with the evidence of 9/11 still clear in the minds of so many including mine.
See, we do not fight wars since WWII.  We send others to do it for us like hiring mercenaries. Remember this old television program, "Have Gun, Will Travel" and old Paladin, for enough money wearing his black outfit and black horse would slowly ride into the sun set to the next destination willing to pay his fee and thirty minutes later he would ride out to the next paying gig. Sadly, I find that a solid analogy for America's "war machine" logic since WWII and we can see the impact clearly.  In Persian Gulf 1, we put hundreds of fully equipped soldiers and machines in the desert to attack Hussein and literally scared the Iraqi Army into or out of existence. OVERWHELMING is the operative word I believe.  That word is powerful.
It reminds me of the first time I as a skinny 6 foot 4 basketball player that loved the heavy contact of the game came across this kid I had to defend that was 6 feet 11; talk about paradigm shift for me. I remember the night we played that team my assistant coach  stopped me after the head coach had given us the normal "let's beat 'em boys" speech before the game. The assistant grabbed me by the arm, got in my face pushing me against a lock and with finger almost in my nose, not too nicely said the following ..."boy (that would be me), the only way we can win this game is you (that would be me again" have got one responsibility which is to get that big kid out of the game. I don't care what you have to do but you have to get him out of the game, got it?" Yep, I got it for me, Paladin, took that floor with a vengeance against this tall kid and it was a battle royal from the tip off not to mention a blood letting, elbow burying experience.  I had the opportunity four minutes into the third quarter to be on offense and the tall guy was behind me reaching over me so I chose that moment to put my skinny elbow somewhere through his chest stopping close to his spine no doubt. He went down, fists began to fly, we were both ejected, we won. "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" my assistant coach told me when I took my place on the bench. I will never forget that night.
Why do I share that pearl from my life? I do for it portrays exactly where America has evolved to I believe.  You win by winning and win by using every single asset you have like the tip ofa spear. We lack that and have since 1945 with one exception, sort of, which was Persian Gulf 1.  So you can know, I do not agree with the all volunteer military for if you are going to live and enjoy the fruits of this nation, you should be mandated to serve this nation in some capacity with military being a valid option for two or three years.  I have floated this concept to thousands of college students in the last decade only to find that my position is totally out of the realm of reason for this young people. They want nothing to do with the military, feel they are above such duty to the nation and that I have lost my mind, basically.
You want to defeat ISIL and whatever come next and next?  The ENTIRE resources of the sane nations must bring to bear the full assets of the nation in war materiel, people, alliances ... ALL focused squarely every day on that end. But we will not for are too smart, too savvy, too well off, too ....  but we will pay our youth to go do it for us won't we?  Israel, to me, is the perfect example of how to staff a military which means every man and women is militarily trained and weaponed with  small contingent on active duty but the entire population up to a certain age on call for return to duty quickly.  As a consultant to businesses, I learned one thing which is that until the client has "skin in the game," your consulting will never get off the ground meanign listening and acting in accordance with your idea and recommendations. So how much skin in this ISIL game do you have, really?
ISIL is not the NVA nor Viet Cong; it is ideologically worse for the fanaticism "holy wars" elicit is at play. I know many Islamists that are all great people that want peace and to enjoy living with each other. What we see is that infamous 20% that thwarts the goodness of the 80%. But never lose sight of the fact that if you do not evaporate the existence of the 20%, it will have a cancerous impact on the 80% which is what we are witnessing. If we do not eradicate this cancer now, the ranks of ISIL will grow exponentially. America need so lead the way in absoluteness of destiny in this fight and not micro managing every missile strike or bomb target from POTUS office which is exactly how this is starting out apparently.
This is a just war but to win a just war, you must fight the war justly meaning fully, completely as Sun Tzu taught us in 500 BC.  If the enemy embeds itsel in civilian population areas, then civilians will be killed; sad but true but that is the cost of war. Take the fight to the enemy where he eats and sleeps.  Out gun him, out fight him, annihilate him; that is winning a war and a war worth winning. None of us want to live through another "Vietnam" nor its horrific decades of scars that we still see and get compared to. We are better than that but it begins with a Commander-in-Chief committed fully to defeating this whole enemy. I am looking for that is in CNC but have yet to witness the proof, frankly.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Dear Mr. Obama ... An Open Letter

This is a letter I would write to our POTUS if I were of a mind but this morning, so early, I doubt he would want to read it but let me put to words what I would want to convey to him ...
September 16, 2014
Canton, OH
0415 EST
Dear Mr Obama,
You are approaching the end of your tenure as POTUS; a once great nation for I have lived here for sixty-six years and love this country very, very much. I have seen the best and the worst of this nation from both inside our borders and many forays in many other countries thus getting to sense and see foreign reactions to American issues and actions. Through all of that, I have never lost faith in my country for we always find  way to do the best and to be the best not only for our own country but always with a view to the horizon of our global village. We have been the nation of choice to turn to when bad people begin to hurt other people. We have been the nation other nations longed to send their best to to get educated, build a life and career and to hope their children would appreciate the ethic and opportunity America provides.
But Sir, having lived through POTUS since Truman and observed in my older years the work and crafting of alliances, trade areas, creating bridges to prosperity and improved national safety, I dreadfully must admit that you and your Administration and approach to both foreign and domestic police is not only frightening but downright abysmal.  To watch an elected POTUS come into this hallowed Office with such silver tongued rhetoric and the great hope for a new generation of all colors, you, Sir seem to be a miserable failure.  
While I did not vote for you, not because you are black and not because you are Democrat but because I never felt a sense of peace and belief and credibility during my time watching you closely on CSPAN while you were a Congressman.  But when you were elected with such a powerful mandate fueled by the minority vote in the nation for you had campaigned hard for that block by tearing down your predecessor instead of giving We the People clarity of your strategies and dreams for our nation; still I prayed for you and hoped that through my personal doubts, you would elevate to the office.  Well, six years into this journey, I believe the world is seeing first hand that you are either amazingly naive or frighteningly cunning with an agenda to further incapacitate the energies and potential of this once great nation.
When I look back across the span of your tenure as POTUS, I find not a single nail I can hang my hat on to swell my chest and proudly state to anyone, this guy is doing a great job on X, Y or Z for there are not X, Y or Z's and please know, I look hard for the positives of this life and as an American.  Six years at POTUS of this once great nation and what do we see as proof:
  • inability to convince our "friends' anywhere in the world, to commit their "boots" thus their children and their future to this ISIS fight.  That is so very sad but so very real. Why one would ask? I believe it is fundamentally that our "friends" have seen you dither, politic and cater to factions in our nation that are disruptive to the productive forces and capabilities of this nation.
  • you apparent banner of success has been the Affordable Care Act that is seemingly a much predicted disaster that the state and federal courts are dismantling and we are seeing a tsunami of doctors and medical professionals leave the field because of the bureaucracy ACA has created while watching law houses across our land swell with new cases. It is my humble opinion that ACA was DOA before it left Washington and time is showing that to be the case. Yet you burned mountains of political capital to push this disaster into law. That is sad!
  • Every few weeks I have been receiving an email from your Valerie Jarrett on my nation's White House letterhead espousing the LGBT newsletter touting all the great strides of "equality" under your clouded leadership and each time I see it arrive, I find my belly souring. For, Sir, if you have read the Bible, which I firmly doubt you have nor will, the LGBT is founded solidly on wrongful acts throughout the Bible so why should I idly see my nation's leadership, you, embrace and force on the people of this nation such an abominable wrong? Well, the short answer is, I should not and will not.
  • Under your leadership, you have unilaterally moved our nation to an ideological crevice where every whelm and belief must be "tolerated" by everyone, everyone except those of us that claim Christ as our Savior and Lord; Christians we are called, oh, in the last couple of thousand years.  May I underscore a simple but very fervent reality, Sir?  Right is Right and Wrong is Wrong and no amount of Wrong WILL EVER make a Wrong, Right.  What you stand for from my vantage societaly is Wrong and you are either blind to that or you have clear agenda for this nation's backward march to a third world, socialistic, Big Government view of everything.  That, Sir, is un-American on a grand scale.
Mr. Obama, those four core elements listed above, and there are many others, formulate what I believe is a proof positive intent to change our nation, our way of life, our values, our beliefs and our hopes for better on the rocks of some ideology that most of us do not grasp but do not like.   The apparent stumbling with dealing with ISIS, Ebola, scandals like Benghazi, IRS, VA are all on your watch and your tab,
Sir.  I learned a very long time ago that what you see and hear on the news is usually at least a month after the fact.  I believe there are unexploded mines of "bad" that have been kept from the camera lights while the spin machine is running in overdrive to try and keep the "bad" from the view of the world. That, Sir, is sad for you campaigned on transparency but your record and thus your legacy is diametrically opposed to that state of transparency.  Sir, please know, I have come to a place where I have chosen to believe not a single syllable that exits your mouth nor your henchpersons you surround yourself with for advice. Sir, you are getting some very flawed, ill timed and wrong advice if you were not aware of it! I mean, how can something as large and as cancerous as ISIS apparently surprise you, right?
Sir, I will close by simply stating I have lost what little faith I mustered to have in you. I have not been overly critical of you but have watched closely. I have chosen to believe beyond belief but each time that choice is dashed on the rocks of reality. You, Sir, are beyond a failed President, you are an embarrassment to this once great nation and for that, there is no excuse, none mind you!
As a lame duck with an even lamer Congress, that bodes even worse for this once great nation. I am not one to lean toward conspiracy theories but I have to tell you you give us all the ammunition we need to begin to draw such sick assumptions about your intent, your approach and your latent desires.  This is all made more acidic in watching the apparent arrogancy and spending you and your family display not to mention using my airplane, you know, that big one called Air Force One, to leave the leadership chair via presence in Washington to campaign and fund raise and vacation on We the People's dime instead of We the People seeing evidence that you and this dysfunctional Congress seem to really care about about staying on the job, finding ways to get things done but you know, I have about decided that is all part of the plan! 
Sir. prove, I implore you, prove me wrong, PLEASE!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Dark Side of the Moon or Pale Moon Arising -- Which is it?

Good morning from cool, crisp NE Ohio and have awakened to a new busy day beginning work on a Christmas cantata in a little while with my church choir. I always enjoy that for it is is challenging but much rewarding process. So today will be a great day for I get to do, again, one of the things I love to do.  As well, I went to bed exhausted from having worked two church services in a county jail with a total of 45 male inmates; something else I get to do and last night the power of the Holy Spirit was so very evident.
Yesterday I found myself thinking about family, security, health, work, grand childrens' lives after I have left this earthly domain; things I believe we all at some time or other will realize our mind has taken us down the very special trail of memories and hopes. I have said this many times for I heard the great Cathedral Quartet's George Younce say that there comes a time in every one's life when you realize you have more years behind you than you do in front of you and on that day, that moment, the coloration and tone of life changes.  Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times I have shared that in prison chapel services for it is so very true.
This morning I have awoke with the context in mind that many of my readers are on the down slope of life's mountain. At sixty-six years old, I am blessed to state that I have never felt better, never enjoyed all I get to do more and the greater news is in knowing that when my final breath is taken, I will spent eternity in Heaven with Christ and I believe countless people God has allowed me access to via teaching, singing, speaking, interfacing with, family, friends and on and on.  But before I get to that great horizon, too many of us have this crawling sense of the reality of our world in which we reside today.
Some people have indicated to me that read my blogs, article commentaries, FB posts and these are people that know me to some degree, that my writing and comments have "darkened" and that I now tend more toward to "bad" things in our world instead of being the eternal optimist and "cheerleader" and encourager in my writings.  This has happened with only a few but feedback is something I process very deeply for content and context.  When holding up the mirror as this analysis to myself and my thought process that finds its way into my words and expressions, I will admit that some of the darkening is true.  Mind you, I have great love and hope in the people in this world and what some nations stand for and ideologies present but in complete honesty there are some very real seemingly ever present forces that are influencing my general thoughts and assessment of my global world.
The short list of influences me would be the national political leadership and legislative process.  Never have I been less impressed with this POTUS and his approach to leading.  While I did not vote for him,  I did have great hope for his leadership but what the world has seen is ineptitude, slick tongued rhetoric and unimaginable growth of taxpayer funded government.  As Commander-in-Chief I just have to scratch my head in wonderment.  Add to that disaster the division and lack of energy and focus in Congress and you have an equation of disorder well into the future.  Even with the ISIS threat which is global, Congress is about to leave Washington again for campaigning instead of pulling together, working 24/7 to craft bipartisan legislation to better our nation. Instead .. 1-8-0 approach to leading.
Never have I been sicker of the whole "race" issue that is being inflamed by media, distorted stories, "external agitators" I heard a Ferguson protester try to defend rock and bottle throwing at the police as they all attempted to close down an entire Interstate highway.  If you want to discuss the pitfalls of race, and there are many, then let's discuss them in civil, productive means and not this attempt to replicate the 1960s some of us lived during and through. The matter of political correctness is a minefield that has been made impossible to navigate by anyone.  Last night during one of the chapel services I heard three African American men calling each other the "N" term and just laughing like little monkeys.  Oh, wait, that sentence is no doubt racist isn't it?!  America is looking and acting like an old, tired, devolving into a second tier nation and this matter of race and how it is being  addressed is forcing backward direction more rapidly.  We are better than this ... I thought!
Those two very flagrant, blatant, disoriented forces come to confluence have affected my mindset greatly for what happens in America affects the rest of the world for many reasons and in many ways.  Let me say that I love my country. Let me further state that the pace and depth of depravity I see eating away at the fabric of this once, ONCE, great nation is disheartening for me. Abortions, drug abuse, physical abuse, suicides, atrocities, child molestation, divorce, same sex marriages, homosexuality ... and the list goes on,  touches and affects me deeply.  I live in a world of  prisoners most of which have lived and will die in the throws of this world described in the previous sentence.  It cannot help but rub off on me as I seek to minister the Gospel to these men and women but in the process get to know many of them, their horrific histories and depressed hopes as they look ahead. 
So yes, those three paragraphed forces have affected my heart so how could that not find its way to my keystrokes from my heart? I have great hope for this nation but this nation find the will to seek a hope for itself and that begins with leadership. If that is true, and it is very true, then our current national leadership is worthy of dismissal and imprisonment for failing to lead a nation!  It is simply ridiculous and disheartening. But I also realize that this is all part of God's plan for I believe with all that is within me that God has pulled away from the America we have known for we have turned so far from God is so many ways that He is allowing us to have our way and not His!
So yes, I guess my writing style has darkened and I do find myself concerned about the paleness of the moon as it rises no longer brightening up our world but dissolved into the bleakness of our self inflicted societal decay. This has not been an easy piece to write for it has required deep internal scalpel digging but these words from my heart amplify what I am feeling about our world as we watch the events of this world spiral into something is that is scary, worrisome and self induced. In other words, are getting exactly what we deserve!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

From Here to There ...!

Over the last few years, I have developed a number of papers that become a packet of papers I mail certain jail inmates I have met in my prison ministry that God has impressed me with something special about that person so I build a letter of encouragement, a flier from inviting them to my church and the pages of the papers on a specific topic that captured my heart a a moment in time I expanded into words from my heart.  Last night was especially an evening when emotions were touched deeply especially in seeing a man I know well but was unaware of his presence in the jail so the reunion was emotional and tearful for both of us. So for my blog today, I am sharing with you the paper that was impressed in me to build when I awoke about 4:30 am with last night heavy on my heart. I hope you will be encouraged by these words as well.

From Here to There … !

September 9, 2014

Jim Williams

I awoke early this morning with my brain filled with thoughts of our world, some of the men I met at Stark County Jail last evening and some introspection of my own life coming from one comment in a sermon last night. That comment, which we use frequently, seemed to take feet for me when the pastor said, “from here to there.” He then went on with his sermon. My mind immediately registered on the “there” and not the “here” in my own life.

Sitting in the Chapel surrounded by about thirty orange-suited men of varying ages, colors, histories, challenges and dimly lit futures, my heart was again moved by the plight of the thousands of those men and women I get to meet every year, week by week. As the folds of my brain began to look around at these men, I was moved by the decisions and choices that had been made that all of us to that central location in that jail room.  That reality is always made more real to me when I see an inmate reappear after many months or years since the last time I saw him or her or to see an inmate I know well from outside that has been located into the jail awaiting a set of lawyers, prosecutors and the weight of the judicial system with the gravity and heartache of not really know what resides ahead for that inmate and his or her family.

 I heard a most intriguing metaphor recently that said that we all lived under the same sky but we all have different horizons.  Wow, that is a potent and staggering reality check is it not?  In two chapel services last night I had the chance to have a couple of minutes face time with perhaps six of the inmates some new and some returning.  As I listened to their stories of wanting prayer for their families and for their fellow inmates, I was touched deeply by the degree of physical tears that was evidenced then counterbalanced by a couple of the men that are truly angry, bordering on rage at their circumstance.  It is really interesting to see the contrast of a broken, contrite heart with a heart that is cold and angry, isn’t it? 

 Most of us are “here” be it good or not from a series or whole sets of choices over the years. I believe not a single one of those men I met last night sought or desired to be in that jail environment.  Upon my entry last night within thirty feet of each other, I saw three red, not orange, jump suited men in hand cuffs and shackles. The red is for flight risk or suicide risk and normally for major felons as was the case last night or I had seen one of the young men in the newspaper convicted of murder last Friday.  As I walked past this young kid, nineteen years old, tattooed heavily, with his eyes turned to the floor to not look at me, I reached out and shook his hand as he looked up at me saying to him, “God is very good, rely on that, Sir.” His whole demeanor changed and I saw tears well as I moved toward the chapel.  I passed two more red suited, shackled young men within the next fifty feet; three young boys with their lives dashed on the rocks of poor choice facing many years, perhaps the rest of their lives behind prison bars, for doing wrong. So their “here” has altered their “there” forever not to mention the lives of those they have hurt or killed, the family of the young men and a wasted capability to be a light in a very dark world; just so very sad!

 So how is your “there” as you read this for you will never reach your “there” until you go through the tunnel of your “here.  Our “here” is the journey we choose to trod in our life decisions on friends, relationship, choices of friends, education, values; all choices. Having seen just a few hours ago men that will be facing perhaps death or many decades of incarceration seems but a waste of the creation God did for each of us doesn’t it?  As I tell the inmates, I do not see them for what they did but rather for what they can be in this world needing their skills, talents and passions but now pretty much dashed on the rocks of poor choice. I detest waste in any form but none more detestable to me than to see the capability of a person frittered away for all the wrong reasons.

 The book of Esther, for me, is one of the most profound books of the Bible for we can all quickly identify with its winding story of intrigue, loyalty and love.  “For such a time as this” are words uttered about the reality to Esther that her challenge to save her people from annihilation resided with the fact that she was who she was at the time when her people needed her most and she had a choice to approach the king and plead for mercy for her people or hide the fact that she herself was a Jew and to live the good life in the King’s court. But she was who and where she was for that time when her people needed her most; God’s Will for her life!

As you face the uncertainly of your “there” from the vantage of your “here” as bleak and as dismal as that vantage may be, you are here for “such a time as this” for I believe this is true for each of us.  I believe each time I am granted life and breath to go back into a large group of men and women that have wronged many people as well as themselves and their families and friends, I am reminded that I am there for “such a time as this” to be a representative of God in a world of darkness.  As you read this, be encouraged for you are where you are for, yes, “such a time as this.”

Friday, September 5, 2014

Either Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way...

As we daily watch the fires of discontent, fear, discouragement, worry, disappointment rage seemingly out of control,  the world is looking pantingly for something and someone to make it all go away so we can get back to the business of simply living.  In this cauldron that boils more caustically it seems with each passing day, each of us are feeling the creeping sense of un-fixablity climbing up our spine with some wanting to run, some wanting to fight, some bewildered and some lifting this whole mess to God for His guidance and direction. Greater and greater numbers of our world's village members are seeing clearly that America is no longer the beat cop, the fixer, the make-things-right instrument and the eraser of vile dictators.  That America, it is seeming more and more to much of the world, is gone and perhaps never to be seen again in our post WWII  world.
As the world watched the horror of Ferguson, that sense of helplessness and disdain regardless of which side you chose to take was incessant and escalating.  If you had a racially charged gene in your body, that gene was brought to a boil through that continuing struggle for it represented a fissure in our society that has been there for far too many decades but it is there; the cancer of racism. 
Suicide rates in our nation and in our world are appalling but they do not get the attention of the camera lights and politicians for it is a subject best kept out of view.  The greatest gift God gives is the gift of life and someone in the depths of despair too easily become only a statistic but for the families of those from whom the gift was taken.  There is a current article on CNN.COM that indicates that annually, 800,000 people take their own lives each year; nearly a million people --- let that soak it for  moment.  I know in my ten years of university teaching to roughly seven thousand students, I had to deal with ten students that faced that great wall of question as to why a parent, a sibling, a friend chose to kill themselves. The scars are never erased!
These last days have been very hectic for me but a primary focus has been in final preparations for a concert tomorrow evening. With so many details to be chased down and pulled into a plan, the information above kept roiling in my head. The increasing sense of helplessness and anger grows even in me personally for I a "fixer" which those that know me will too quickly agree and affirm.  In seeing the size and complexity of the world, God's Creation, corrupt and worsen via poor leadership, bad habits, societal decay and become more and more Godless in view, in thought and in deed, a video of a Gaither Homecoming blasted that away for me in a melt of tears three nights ago.  The link at the head of the blog was a spiritual catharsis for me as I watched and internalized the great message of, Burdens are Lifted at Calvary.  If you have not watched that link yet, please go up and watch and listen to the powerful message of that song wonderfully delivered to a lost and dying world.
That personal moment with God through an unstoppable flow of tears took me to a place too long I had not ventured which was to the amazing truth that with all the chaos Man can create, for the Christian, truly, every burden can and will be lifted through that shed blood of our Christ on that cross at Calvary. Since that time several hours ago, my approach to the concert tomorrow night shifted from logistics, music, details and hopes for a good crowd to the fundamental truth that where two or more are gathered together in Jesus' name, He will be there! Those are not my words, those are words from Scripture that in a moment became more real and rich to me personally.  So all the planning, order of service, flow was thrown out the window and the approach for the labor of tomorrow night changed, for me, to creating a worship experience for those God will lead to wanting to be a part of the worship experience. For me through the transition for tomorrow evening, that great old hymn became the spark plug for the change.  I will now lead the congregation God will gather in singing that great song which will hopefully create an umbrella of calm, peace and togetherness that night. So I know, now, the time in singing will not be singing but rather another means of worship and praise to our Creator.
When all of this was flowing through my brain via my heart, I found myself less tense, less intense and more focused on seeking God's direction on all the pieces and parts for the architecture for tomorrow evening. I cannot wait to get to be part of this time with many that I believe can and will create an atmosphere to trigger personal revival in those that will come and that will take that ember of revival to their homes, churches and lives to expand that ember into full scale returning to God and God alone.  Yes, I believe God has made some core things more crystal clear to me in my own life through this last 72 hour journey than ever before so how could I not be excited to see what God will do; and He will and I get to be a part of it! WOW!!!
So as the title of this blog indicates or questions, there is but one leader and that leader is not named Obama, Kasich or Williams; that leader is God and my prayer and my hope is that each of you that read this, that join us tomorrow evening for the concert, will choose to follow Christ is a more compelling way than ever before and therefore we will get our egos, or drives or hunger for more out of the way to allow God's Will for each of our lives to be so clear that we get up each morning with this unmistakable sense of awe and wonder!
And as that great old song ends, Jesus is very Near!
I believe this particular blog, for me, captures a place where my heart is in a most unique and glorifying way! And it feels great so join me at this cool stream of water that only God can create for Man can only muddy those waters.