Friday, October 30, 2015

Facing the Bullies

Good morning. I have just watched a Charlie Rose interview with Admiral McKernan, retired Navy Special Operations Commander.  Rarely am I moved as I watched with swelling pride renewing my pride in our nation's military as I watched this highly decorated Navy Seal answer Rose's questions with fervor, frankness and absolute clarity.  I realized how much I miss briefings and straight forwardness that is the military for it cuts through the politics and smoke and the misdirection or pitfalls of poor communication.  This man was the key military head of the Bin Laden raid so his credibility is beyond reproach. He had thirty-seven years in the Navy and is now a Chancellor at the University of Texas. Enough on his stripes but there were two areas of the hour that resonated with me deeply both of which I absolutely concur and always have.

How do you stop a bully?  "To stop a bully you have to stand up and push back and push back hard."

Is Leadership hard?  "There is no endeavor more difficult and challenging than that of leadership."

Let me expand on both these boulevards of success for a few minutes:  How do you stop a bully?  "To stop a bully you have to stand up and push back and push back hard."  There are very few reading this that have made it to this stage of the journey and not have faced the sting and stench of being bullied.  My first real experience that is still vivid was in the ninth grade and a senior guy began to say terrible things to me, threaten me and demand my lunch money. I yielded and gave up my lunch money thus going without lunch for nearly a year which nobody ever knew. This began against when I hit the tenth grade the this same guy was still there. He was large, scary, rude and frankly, I was afraid of him.  About the third week of my tenth grade year, he confronted me yet again but something had happened that summer within me. He poked me hard in the chest, demanded my lunch money and as I fell backwards almost falling down a set of bleachers in the gym, I took a hard swing with my fist as he was sitting and hit him in the left side of his head. He was as shocked as I as I remember. But something immediately happened inside me which was that I had a gut full of this sense of being a wimp and with that, as he stood to kill me, I am sure, I hit him again in the same place harder. He fell backward, he jumped up and walked away and that never happened again. LESSON LEARNED; I hated being bullied and detest a bully to this day!

Bullies exist and feed off of the weak. As I watched this Admiral expound on America today as viewed by the world, he iterated Russia, ISIL, Syria are bullies and they are bullying America. As along as America, like my bully, is allowed to keep pushing and scaring, they, the bully, will only feel more empowered; so very true.  

I believe the Obama Doctrine when assessed and viewed through the lens of historians, will clearly carry the taint of a weak, isolationist, dovish President as our standing as The Global Power Broker imploded around him. I sincerely believe that is what we are all witnessing day-to-day but with no Title affixed. History will affix that title! So in the mean time, Putin will have his way in reconstructing Mother Russia, he will augment that with his Middle Eastern influence he now musters via massive arms sales to these ME States. 

The Iran Nuclear Deal is another example, at this stage at least, of the US being bullied by assuming the position of weakness and pleading instead of a position of strength, fear of retaliation and force structure and projection. 

America is being bullied at home by the race-baiters and the fissures of that will likely lead to domestic warfare as the police are now the enemy. That, personally, concerns me more than ISIL, Russia, etc. And for me, this President and his policies and rhetoric has fueled this widening gap within our nation.  

My freshman year of college at a tough basketball practice one evening, a senior player was guarding me and with each rebound he was intentionally pushing me around, elbowing and being profane.  This went on for several minutes until I popped him with my elbow in the ribs, legally I wish to add, and he went down no doubt feeling embarrassed in front of the rest of the team. A minute later I received a pass about twelve feet from the goal and was about to drive to my right for the basket and as I did he hit me in the fast  hard with a fist that sent me to the floor. I was dazed for a minute or so, felt really terrible and looked up and he was smiling at his accomplishment. The other guys, I realized were waiting to see what this freshman was going to do about this as was the coach I realized as well. Knowing I would be killed, I felt this sense of "who cares" wash over me and as I came up I returned the favor I had received sending him reeling. I heard this applause and then realizing I had passed some unwritten test.  I have never forgotten that night for many reasons.

I hate bullies!

Is Leadership hard?  "There is no endeavor more difficult and challenging than that of leadership."  I love watching, studying, assessing, coaching leadership perhaps more than any other field of endeavor.  For some leading comes seemingly ease and for some it seems unlearnable. I have been privileged to work with some amazing leaders and as well to try and work for some simply horrific leaders for they themselves were never comfortable in their own skin.  

Respect, Calm, Directness, Clarity and Can-Do assemble the traits of effective leaders. There is no leadership until the leader fails and decides to get up and learn from the knock down or choose to reside in the prone position. I have experienced both with so many others and within myself.  If the leader does not feel the work or the job can get done, it will not and so many lessons for those being led will have been lost forever.  

People want to be led. People want to cool in the shade of leadership. People crave effective leadership.  After all is said and done, that is my summation comments on the topic. 

The Admiral was the best example I have seen in a long time of exhibiting leadership as a science and an art. But understand, when it comes to leadership, you must learn the science before crafting into the art.  Those being led will see the lack of depth if the art is sought too quickly meaning a leader must earn the right of those being led to lead.

I highly recommend watching the Rose interview at his website.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Like Sands Through the Hourglass, So are the Days of Our Lives

Yes, I made that title up, not sure where it came from, ahhhhhhhh, I hope there is no TV show that uses the metaphor so it is MINE to use this rainy Saturday morning. It has been two weeks since my last blog and there is so much unfolding in our world that it is not a matter of what to expound upon but the challenge is selecting which from the mass.

This week we see the GOP continue with its circular firing squad approach to the POTUS elections.  I still smile when I read or watch Trump's name come up, as it so often does, and there is this cynical, sarcastic smirk that accompanies any comment about Trump so the pundits want so badly to see him crash and burn; but he keeps on chugging.  

This week we saw Mrs. Clinton probably ascend the throne to the POTUS but the tactical partisan Benghazi hearings, frankly for me, were blatantly partisan to the point that the killings in Libya were a sideshow. Clinton, short of a disaster or an unexploded IED, will surely be her entry cadence. Why? option 2 is what in either party? 

So sad but at this stage so blatantly correct. So another eight years of Obama legacy is something I cannot fathom but I will be seventy-six by the end of her reign so it probably won't matter much, will it? Enough on POTUS politics for it truly sickens me for my children and grandchildren but the ball is rolling and it is apparently unstoppable from this vantage.

I choose this day to remain hopeful and believing that God is absolutely in control of all this noise for that is what it becomes is white noise.  Legalization of drugs is the new norm.  Ms Jenner is the Woman of the Year; how sick is that but hey, this is our new norm it would appear.  Putin is doing what he wishes while our POTUS strategy stated is that he will mire himself down and he will just pack up and go back to Moscow. Yes, and pigs fly is my thought on that gutless doctrine! 

Did I mention the Middle East is at a state of absolute collapse which I am thinking is inevitable and perhaps good in long term for the boundaries the British drew in 1917 are being erased in blood and will be redrawn by ethnic boundary markers I would envision.  But there will be much blood yet to be spilled as the erasing goes forward and as Iran and Russia and I believe China will dictate the pace and terms of this monumental transformation. The U.S. will be fundamentally a zero-based force in the redrawing. So enjoy the cheap gasoline while you can!

Here is what I know! I am happy. I love what I get to do. I hear often I do too much of it but that is me if you know me. My family is healthy and happy.  My amazing ministries in both prison ministry and singing in assisted and nursing homes continue to bless and amaze so it is worth the abundant effort and time and energy invested. I love getting to do that and never could I have imagined my life would have evolved to that.  I could not be more proud of my five grandchildren as they are excelling in their strengths be it athletics, music, academics; such a blessing!

This lyric keeps circling through my mind; 

I serve a risen Savior, He's in the world today. I know that He is living whatever men may say. I see His Hand of mercy, I heard His Voice of cheer. And just the time I need Him, HE's ALWAYS NEAR. So I will just lean on that fact in my life!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Let's eat!

It is early afternoon on a beautiful, cool, Fall day and am just in from an amazing Bible study.  That is important to know but the precursor of importance to my blog today must go back to last night after being part of two county jail chapel services.  

In the two services we had over fifty men of varying ages, races, ethnicity, crimes, family situations; yes, a metaphor for life on this journey I have come to realize. For almost thirteen years I have been more and more heavily involved in prison ministry now numbering nearly 300,000 men and women. With each church service I find myself feeling blessed, warmed at the fire, seeking ways to be more effective but still with the question: what is it that keeps that ministry work vital, always a blessing and grasping bigger bites of involvement each year to me. I am a man of passion as many of you know and if I get impassioned about cause, my drive triggers to accomplish more and more. But the prison work still maintains a deeply rooted question as to why this ministry is so important to me.

Most people I know would never understand the blessing that comes from this work.  Getting to do this work with an array of preachers, speakers, volunteers that are there just to be there and to encourage; I find myself blessed by the equation God fulfills in bringing such an eclectic band of brothers and sisters all pointed at bringing the matter of Salvation to the surface in these men and women society would generally like to just assume do not exist which extends to their families as well. 

The services last evening were unique in the sense of connectivity established and the level of respect, intensity of listening, the spirit of the Lord being shown in raised hands, clapping, praising God intently; WOW!  In this Bible study this morning we drilled into the story of Jesus and Levi (Matthew the tax collector) and the answer to the burning question for me and the why of the prison work came bursting to the light of day.  Jesus intentionally put Himself in places and with people "normal" people did not and would not associate with.  
Read these verses from Mark: 

Jesus Calls Levi and Eats With Sinners
13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

"It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick" ...  Insert prisoners for the "sick" and voila, that is exactly the why!  In the hundreds of services I have conducted and been part of and the innumerable songs I have sung and the many times I have had to get rather "stringent" to quiet and stop anything as to behaviors that would interrupt the work church service, I have never felt fearful nor threatened.  The relationships developed with the corrections officers and deputies is part of the blessing for I get to minister to them as well and realize my personal behavior and demeanor given that environment is satisfying to those men and women in uniform doing potentially dangerous and ever changing events inside the bars.

Verse seventeen shown above, for me, was like watching a shooting star as so many questions I have had were answered. Jesus I certainly am not. But this work has created an inexplicable empathy for these men and women that have made many terrible choices and they are paying the consequence. 

Never have I excused the act that put them into the prison for it is all part of the process they chose to embark upon.  I have yet to have a prisoner tell me they were in prison for no reason and believe me, I have had thousands of conversations hearing stories that most would think were from a television program. Broken homes, drug addiction, alcoholism, violence, hate, anger, discouragement, suicide, murder; that is my world in which I feel this amazing sense of joy and worth. It still simply takes my breath away even when tired, frustrated and discouraged.

A bonus to all of this is in getting to work with some amazing volunteers and pastors that take time from their busy lives to invest in these downtrodden and many times forgotten men and women.  I learn from each sermon, each testimony, each quiet private conversation with an inmate. I am blessed!

To close, each of us if we are like most Christians, have many friends that are Christians. It feels right and good and warm to be with other Christians. But here is the challenge for Christians I realize more strongly than ever before: how many non-Christians do you know and choose to associate with? Think about that for a moment! 

My answer is in the thousands of non-Christians I am with each year and realize more clearly with each passing year that God has opened this door to me for exactly what the verse 17 says and the example Jesus gave us all.  He did not linger or warm up to those that are on easy street and going well. No, He went to the tired, the poor, the dead so why on earth should we not follow that example?

So, how many non-Christians do you choose to be an example to in your words and deeds and actions?  Please, ponder that. I am re-energized in these last twelve hours as I guess and hope you can tell!