Month: July 2021


Most Saturdays, Joe and I have a Facetime conversation about the week’s meditations from Richard Rohr. Joe didn’t have time for me today. He was born on July 31, 1931. As part of his 90th birthday celebration, Joe’s having a pedicure with his daughters and granddaughters. He made them promise “No pictures,” but he didn’t tell me not to mention it.

Joe begins his mornings with coffee at a nearby fast-food restaurant. It’s not a group thing. It’s just Joe. Some days he drinks his coffee alone. Some days he sits with one of his many friends there. He speaks to everyone. He talks to anyone–customers and staff, reminding me of Nick Herman’s “unusual and practical ability to focus himself….”

Joe was my boss from 1973-1976 when he was a superintendent and I was a pastor in seminary, and from 1991-1994, when he was a senior pastor and I was a staff member. For several years, I was Joe’s “boss” when he served as pastor emeritus. He is more consistent about what is right than anyone I know. He has grown more than anyone I know.

Joe is a mover and shaker, a barrier-breaker, a prophetic voice of conscience, a pastor who cries and laughs with you, and a visionary about what really matters and why. With a quiet, gentle, engaging, contagious, unassuming clarity of purpose, Joe lives daily into his life’s major themes: Grace and Love,

Detail of Michelangelo’s famous statue of an apparently non-pedicured Moses, from Sirin Caliskan’s blog, Sabanci University

Nicholas Herman

You know him as Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, the name he took when he entered a Carmelite monastery in Paris. He was born Nicholas Herman in the early 1600s. Poverty motivated him to join the army, which provided meals and a small stipend. He left the army due to an injury, perhaps the cause of a limp that remained with him the rest of his life. From Ellyn Sanna’s Brother Lawrence: A Christian Zen Master:

“The winter I was eighteen, I stood looking at the bare branches of a tree. I realized that in time the leaves would grow again, and then flowers would bloom on the branches, followed by fruit. My awareness was suddenly opened, so that I saw God’s great strength and care. That realization has never since been erased from my mind.”

Sanna wrote: “The world of the intellect had little interest for him, and he was not much concerned with theology or doctrine. Brother Lawrence worked in the monastery’s kitchen (where) he developed an unusual and practical ability to focus himself on the presence of God. … he lived a life of such serenity and joy that others wanted to know his secret.” A church official interviewed him and recorded Brother Lawrence’s answers to his questions.

“This record, a few notes referred to as maxims, and a handful of letters were all Brother Lawrence left behind when he died at the age of eighty.”

From “Practicing the Presence of God,” from Zen Awakened

When leaders fail

I’ve observed leadership failures, up close and far away. It’s a universal human experience. Honesty about leaders’ failures make us appreciate the role of leadership even more. It’s not easy to lead. From my experience as a leader, two helpful resources are honest friends and a good mirror.

Groups usually survive a leader’s failure. If so, they are stronger for working through failure, determined to not let it happen again–at least for awhile. They may overreact and install unrealistic guardrails to prevent future failures, but an honest review is ultimately healing.

A thorough, no-spin review can result in new life springing forth in the form of leaders who are more committed to the original vision and who are honest about their own shortcomings. Communities flourish when there are fewer illusions about themselves and others.

Failure farther away is easier to spot, such as Rehoboam listening to his young advisers rather than his older ones. Failure up close is harder to admit and easier to ignore or obfuscate. Washington is in one of those “sorting out” times that would be humorous if it weren’t so serious.

See Cheney’s reaction after GOP leader blames Pelosi for insurrection,” Paul LeBlanc, CNN via KESQ News, July 27, 2021 (photos, Getty Images/AP, Rep. Liz Cheney)

Moses, listening to pain

Few people had listening ears like Moses. He heard God’s voice in a burning bush. Sometimes he chiseled in stone what he heard, even when it required a “do-over.” A profound message within the stone-carving story is that human treachery leaves a long trail, with implications that can last generations. Grace (an expression of God’s undeserved love) vastly outweighs the lingering residue of wrong choices, but we live with lasting societal pain.

Moses heard this lingering pain as “punishment” from God for “the children and their children for the sin of the parents.” Whether it was God inflicting punishment, or the natural consequence of human wrong-doing, the point is that post traumatic shock can last for generations. Yesterday, I read a quote from Barbara Holmes’ book Crisis Contemplation: “The wounds that we don’t know about or don’t remember are the deepest.”

Many years ago, I helped a friend “unpack” a painful memory of child abuse that had been buried for many decades. The memory surfaced in older adulthood. It had been there all along in the unconscious, where it lingered for a long time before breaking into consciousness.

Sometimes, the things we “just don’t talk about” are precisely the things we need to talk about.

From Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Wounded Village, by Barbara Holmes

The value & arrogance of me

“…all … are created equal … endowed … with certain unalienable Rights….”

These words from the Declaration of Independence convey a revolutionary idea: the value of the individual, including the right to speak freely when one disagrees with the way things are. For our Founders, it was was both a revolutionary idea and a self-evident truth woven into the Universe.

Alongside the radical value of the individual stands a companion truth, the common good, including peaceful assembly to redress grievances. The American Civil Rights movement gave an enduring gift to humanity: peaceful, non-violent resistance. Wherever there is injustice, there are people quietly studying the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis and others.

The enduring challenge is to affirm and express my value, the value of me, while respecting your value, the value of you. If I fail to value you, the common good, or the community, I risk arrogance, the arrogance of me. Liberty requires healthy, self-imposed boundaries, exercised in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Boundary work is among our most important tasks. Healthy, self-imposed boundaries affirm value and restrain arrogance.

From “Examples of Showing Respect to Others & Why it’s Important,” by Saad Ali Khan, Legacy Business Cultures

Dianne Odell

Dianne Odell (1947-2008) was one of the most amazing, faithful, courageous people I’ve ever met. She endured polio and spent much of her life in an iron lung. Some of her friends threw a big 60th birthday party for her at the New Southern Hotel in downtown Jackson in February, 2007.

Dianne was transported in her iron lung from her home to the hotel. She lived with dignity and an abiding, contagious joy. I spoke with her briefly at the party and wished her a very happy birthday. All she could talk about was how blessed she had been all her life and how thankful she was.

The party was intended to cheer up a member of the community who had lived for many years with great adversity. Instead, it was an opportunity for her to cheer up an entire city. I left that party with admiration for Dianne and a fresh lesson about the meaning of gratitude.

When I hear about otherwise healthy persons choosing not to receive a free COVID-19 vaccine, I think about Dianne. I think about Jonas Salk (1914-1995) and my mom’s relief when I received a polio vaccine shot as a small child. I think about UAB and other hospitals now overloaded with COVID patients.

From “Dead at 61 after life in iron lung,” by Woody Baird, Associated Press, via The Seattle Times, May 29, 2008

Independence, peer pressure

America’s spirit of independence is, on balance, a good thing. The nation was born in skepticism about big government, thanks to Britain’s first kings named George.

Peer pressure can be, on balance, either good or bad, depending on the health of the peer group (or society). Yesteryear’s sources of peer pressure had plenty of faults, but fewer spoons stirring the pot meant less velocity of change. Today’s peer pressure sources are myriad, swirling in a caldron of fast-moving social media and mass media.

Old homogeneous sources of peer pressure (religion, homogeneous public schools, newspapers, two or three news networks with limited visibility) have become mass enterprises. Facebook now has a market value of $1 trillion.

Authoritarian forces, both imported and home grown, are rampant on social media, leading to “group think” tribalism and some bizarre government decisions. Independent people like you can resist destructive peer pressure.

From “TikTok videos pushing QAnon, COVID vaccine conspiracies surging despite crackdown, report says,” by Jessica Guynn, USA Today, April 2, 2021

Help from around the edges

I find hope in corporate leaders who think more pragmatically and less politically and more about solving problems than supplicating their “base.” I find hope in leaders of the investment community who advocate constructive policies and actions for the sake of society and the economy.

On Thursday in a Bloomberg interview, investment professional Barry Ritholtz was befuddled by vaccine opponents. He urged people to get the COVID vaccine to protect their health and our common good. I searched for a transcript, but found something better: “The Economic Risks from Anti-Vaxxers,” his July 15 article in The Big Picture section of his website.

Friday morning, I read an encouraging New York Times article, “Boosting Vaccinations,” by David Leonhardt and Ian Prasad Philbrick. Schools and businesses are working around political paralysis with practical solutions to keep schools open, hospitals functioning and businesses profitable, as we did with polio, smallpox, MMR and other vaccines.

On Thursday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey found her strong voice in support of vaccination. If my mom were here she would say, “Well, raise the flag!”

From “Alabama governor says ‘it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks’ as pandemic worsens,” by Quint Forgey, Politico, July 23, 2021

The “T” in SWOT

About once a week I write a brief “SWOT” article about a dividend-paying company for a friend in Milwaukee, a happy Bucks fan, who’s a RIA (Registered Investment Adviser). A few days afterward, I submit the article to Seeking Alpha, for circulation to a wider audience of investors. These articles generate a little income and they keep my mind active. The best part is what I learn from interaction with readers in the “comment” section that follows each article.

“SWOT” stands for the four parts of the article, which highlight a company’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Some of what I learned about Illinois Tool Works made it into a recent blog post, “The 80/20 Rule.”

When I consider threats faced by companies, some themes emerge, such as the destructive impact of climate change and threats from terrorism, cyberattacks and geopolitical instability. These risks take different forms for different companies, of course, but they are huge threats to our well-being.

I plan to write a SWOT article about the economy and/or the stock market as a whole. The SWOT outline can be applied to any endeavor. A quick Internet search revealed many SWOTs, such as “SWOT Analysis: An In-Depth Analysis of Regional Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats,” by the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Tomorrow: The economic risks from anti-vaxxers.

From OliverWyman, published by the World Economic Forum

Intention + Conscience

William Law deserved more of my attention when I studied theology. A Serious Call (pdf here) was helpful, particularly Chapter 2’s theme: Intention. I knew he influenced John Wesley but I didn’t realize that he tutored John and Charles. I didn’t know William Law gave up his appointment as a Cambridge Fellow and the parish priesthood as an act of conscience.

A national struggle began in 1534 when Parliament supported Henry VIII’s split with the Pope, siding Great Britain with the new Protestant movement. The struggle lasted 150+ years until the last Roman Catholic monarch, James II, was deposed in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. (That’s a too-simple, two-sentence account of a complex and painful era of British history.)

William Law refused to pledge loyalty to King George I. As a “nonjuror,” he was removed from academic and clergy leadership. He became a free-lance theologian but never left the Church of England. It takes courage to stand for one’s convictions when there’s a personal, political or financial price to pay. Law demonstrated intention, conscience–and consistency.

Republicans face a similar loyalty test. Liz Cheney lost a leadership position by not showing fealty to the former president. Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy and Lindsey Graham chose a road more traveled by recanting their criticism of the former president. This is a “1714 moment,” dividing families, friends, churches, parties–and a nation. William Law inspires me.

From “1714, A Glimpse of Secularity: The Church and the Hanoverian Succession,” by Brent Sirota, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, July 30, 2014