Friday, October 20, 2017

Lina and The Big Scary Noise


How long has it been? I think close to five years. We had recently moved into our home and one of the first couples we asked for over dinner were Michael and Carol - it was really really great to see them.

Carol, Vickie, and I were in the family room; as Michael was walking down the hall to join us he inadvertently brushed up against a child gate Vickie and I had leaning up against an open passage to the downstairs and it fell onto the hardwood floor with a bang. The bang startled Lina, who was in the family room with us lying close to the hall, and she jumped up and ran to the far side of the room by the bookcases. After assuring Lina that the “mean gate wouldn’t hurt her” I stood the gate back up - thinking no more about it. The gate was there so that Lina and Lily wouldn’t venture downstairs, but rather than tighten the gate against the door jambs we learned it on the jambs to make it easier for us to go up and down the stairs.

I didn’t think anymore about the gate falling until it was time for Michael and Carol to go and we left the family room to see them out of our home and say goodnight. Lina remained behind in the family room. A short while later when it was time to take the dogs outside for their constitutional before going to bed Lina was still in the family room and didn’t come when we called her. When I went to see what was going on she was at the threshold of the family room and the hallway looking at the gate which had made the big scary noise - it was with difficulty that I coaxed her out of the family room, down the hall, to the front door.

Ever since then, for the past five years, Lina has been careful and tentative when passing by the gate that makes the big scary noise. Sometimes she will take a detour through another room to avoid the gate. Sadly, if she is lying in the hallway and we move the gate when we are going downstairs or coming from downstairs she will quickly jump up and leave the hallway lest the gate thunder threatening noises. No matter how often I say, “Lina stay, the gate is not going to hurt you,” she does not believe me. She has heard the big scary noise once and she is convinced it can only mean that the gate intends harm to her, perhaps it devours dogs who are unaware.

I write “sadly” because about a year ago Lina injured one of her hind legs, which will never be quite the same, and jumping up quickly does nothing to help it; furthermore, an injured leg is all the more reason we cannot allow her to go up and down steep stairs (we had a ramp built off our deck for Lina).

Lina is afraid of a noise from her past that affects her well-being; the gate has never been a real threat, but she thinks it is.

What about us? Are there great-big-scary noises from our past that remain with us today? Maybe the noises were associated with a true threat, maybe only with a perceived threat, but they remain with us today and they influence our lives.

Do we find ourselves taking detours in life to avoid the possibility of big scary noises? Do we replay the tapes of scary noises from long ago? Are threatening thunders part of the soundtrack of our lives? Do we live tentatively awaiting the return of crashing gates?

Jesus Christ came to deliver us from fear. The announcements surrounding the birth of Jesus were accompanied by the words “fear not” (Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:13, 30; 2:10). Paul writes to Timothy that God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7); he tells the Romans that we haven’t received the spirit of bondage  again to fear but the Spirit of sonship (Romans 8:15). John writes that there is no fear in love (1 John 4:18). Those who know Jesus don’t even need to fear death (Hebrews 2:15) for Jesus has freed them from that fear.

Lina will probably live the rest of her life in fear of the gate that made the big scary noise.

What about us?

Monday, October 16, 2017

Reflections on a Career – 7


Tomorrow morning will be my last meeting with my managers as a group – I write this on a Sunday. I didn’t want to schedule this meeting and I put it off, but finally with Lucy’s help it was scheduled and tomorrow it is here. I didn’t want to schedule the meeting because I don’t want to say “Goodbye” to them. I know it has to be done, and I know I’ll see them individually between now and October 31, and I may even see them as part of a larger group, but tomorrow will be the last time that it will be just them and me.

Each one of them has contributed in some measure to my life, some more than others – some have worked for me longer than others. I have seen wonderful personal and professional growth in them. There are those whom I have worked with who have moved on to other jobs; they won’t be there tomorrow but I will think of them, I would have them there if I could but life moves on, seasons change. As I write this I think of a few whom I have had to let go for various reasons; accountability is critical and there are times people just aren’t good fits for a position.

One of my former managers is gone because she stole. Another is gone because she didn’t take responsibility for her property but blamed problems on her staff and treated them harshly. Another only lasted a week or two, she wasn’t a good fit, didn’t know what she was doing (even though she had years of experience elsewhere) – at the level of property manager when you represent yourself as being able to operate a multi-million dollar property and you can’t do it there is no alternative but to move on; you can either play the piano at the concert level or you can’t. I guess her previous company wasn’t playing at the concert level either. I lost two managers when their properties were sold and they remained with the properties, working for the new owners – I still keep in touch with them. Then there was one other manager who I lost; it didn’t have to be that way but it happened, she made the decision; I might write about her at some point because it is an example of what happens when people aren’t held accountable and when they aren’t trained, challenged to grow, and mentored – in Christianity we call it “discipleship.” When we don’t train and challenge and mentor people we do them a disservice, we keep them in diapers – and when challenges come they aren’t prepared.

I’m going to talk to my group this morning and thank them for all they’ve done and do my best to encourage them, I’ve sketched out some points I want to make and I’ll likely follow them up in writing with a sentence of two.


 Put others first

Keep learning

Understand your property, your market, your business

Know who you are

Know your people

Train your people and hold them accountable

Build a ship for the storms, not the calm seas

Say what you mean (or write it!) and mean what you say

Tell the truth

If you have a problem seek a solution – think it out, give recommendations

Friendships and mentors

Know where you are going, where your people are going, and where your property is going. You are the captain of your ship.

You are the example; to be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, to be late is unacceptable.

Put others first – they may not always like you but hopefully they will trust you. 



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Reflections on a Career – 8


“Do you know why you are here?” I asked my two managers.

“No,” was the reply.

“Because your actions put yourselves before your people.”

They were silent and the words sank in.

“Throughout your careers, in whatever industry you work, you will work for one of two types of leaders; those who put themselves first and those who put their people first. Which kind do you want to work for?

“Which kind do you want to be?

“I brought you here so that you’d remember this moment. I care about you and I want to help you, that’s why you are here.”

One of the managers replied, “I will remember this because I don’t ever want to feel like this again.”

I looked at one of them, “Have you ever seen a football team get in the red zone again and again and never score?”

“Yes.”

“In leadership there are times when we have to endure pain and do what we naturally don’t want to do in order to get over the goal line; yes we’d like to go home, yes we’d like to call it a day, yes we’d like to deal with something another day – but when it comes to taking care of our people we’ve got to do what it takes to get the ball over the goal line.”

I didn’t keep these two managers in my office very long for the point was obvious to them, they had let their people down and their team would have some short-term pain as a result.

There are two types of leaders – those who put themselves first and those who put their people first…even to the detriment of themselves. While I am concerned about the productivity of my managers, for we are to be good stewards of our clients’ assets, I am more concerned about their character. Leaders of character who put others first are, I believe, more likely to produce sustainable long-term results than leaders focused on themselves; they are more likely to think long-term rather than seek instant gratification; they are more likely to work through challenges rather than seek the easy way out.


Servant-leadership is painful, no doubt about it – but my managers who learn the way of pain and putting others first will be able to take their people where others can’t go and will discover things within themselves and others that will serve them well throughout life. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Reflections on a Career – 6

I started the post below on October 1, but then there was Vegas so I changed my Monday post.

Today is October 1, though this will post on October 2. On October 31, the Lord willing, I will “retire.” Not retire from life, hardly that for I look forward to many people and to more time with Vickie and to more special time with the Trinity, but retire from my primary business career. As Reepicheep would say, “Let’s take the adventure that Aslan gives us!”

The words of the leaders of Israel to their people come to mind, “…you have not passed this way before” (Joshua 3:4). Just as the Israelites followed the Ark of the Covenant I hope that I will follow the Presence of God and His Word in this new season of life. Traveling to a new land (even if you’ve seen images of it and read accounts of it) has its particular experiences – nothing is quite like actually being there, walking there, taking in its sights and smells and sounds. While I, of course, know “retired” folks I have not lived in land. But first I must journey to the Jordan and that means traveling to the edge of the land I am in, and it means finishing well and being a blessing to those around me.

Once I cross the Jordan I will look back at those still in the work-land and we will visit no doubt and talk and perhaps share memories, but it will be different. Not that work will cease for me, I look forward to a focused time of creativity, I am excited about that.

I may have mentioned this somewhere in a previous post, but one of the changes in me that has occurred in this season of life is that I have come not to just care about, but to love the people who work for me. Does this mean that in times past I did not love others? I don’t mean to say that, but I do mean to say that. Perhaps it is the “quality” or “nature” of the love that is different. Perhaps it has just taken this long for the wine to mature in the cask.

While my love has deepened, so I think has my firmness in requiring accountability and my readiness to quickly hold the people I love (and others) accountable. I am less likely to take the long way around to get to the point on accountability. I have always been able to be direct, but I am direct more often. I think part of that is that for the past few years I’ve known that eventually October 31 would come (though I haven’t known the date) and that I’ve needed to do my best not to waste time in developing my folks.

One of my role models in all of this has been my friend Debby Eure. Debby will never know how much she has affected the inner workings of my heart when it comes to caring for people and loving them. Vickie and I are deeply thankful for our friendship with her. She is a model of constancy; constancy is a rare gem.

If you will permit me to move in another direction…

I have known for a while that one reason I have been able to serve my clients well is that I don’t care about how much money they have or what material things they have or about their social standing or other positions of authority – I am not impressed by it. I truly believe that if we are going to “glory” that we ought to “glory/boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31; Jeremiah 9:23). So while I have other “issues” in my life and character development, generally speaking envy is not one of them. 

My view of client relationships is pretty simple, I am serving Christ first in my position and my work is to be a form of worship (Colossians 4:22 – 25) and that I am a steward of whatever position of trust I hold – a steward first to God and then to others; I am called to be a blessing to those around me. This means, of course, that I am called to tell the truth – I think there are clients who are not used to that; some can work with it and others can’t; the same is true for people I have worked for.

Interestingly some of the toughest people I’ve worked for and some of my toughest clients have been able to work with the truth – telling the truth to them could be like a steel-cage wrestling match but when we were finished we seemed to come out fine. In reflection they tended to be people who had a fairly good sense of self-definition.

On the other hand there have been those who were offended. The representative of one financial institution got to the place where he didn’t want to communicate with me at all – I wasn’t telling him what he wanted to tell his superiors. Then there was the time I had a chat with the chairman of the board of a firm I worked for and suggested to him that he treat his daughter (who worked in my department) with more consideration, that a kind word now and again would go a long way…sadly he responded by telling me “Why I have never even thrown a ball with any of my children and I’m not going to start now.” Well, since you can only do what you can do you should do what you can do - I did what I could.

I am impressed by people who give to other people, who give themselves. I am also impressed by artists – not all of them, but many of them. Bach or Mozart – I am impressed. When I behold the painting of my friend David Zuck I am impressed. They are bringing beauty into the world, or capturing the beauty that is already here and passing it on; whether on canvass or in the music of the spheres. I am impressed when one of my managers thinks about her staff and helps develop them. I am impressed when my team works through problems together and comes out stronger and with a clearer sense of who they are.

This life doesn’t last forever. Now some people may read that and think that they have to grab everything they can now. But others of us know that we have eternity in Jesus Christ ahead of us and that the beauties that will unfold will amaze us and stagger us and be filled with indescribable joy and peace and friendship and love. I feel badly for folks who seek identity and security and recognition in possessions (I do not mean to indicate that I am not tempted with this, nor have never sought security in such things) thinking that “He who dies with the most toys wins.” What a sad and empty and fleeting way to live.

Things are just things…they really are.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures for yourselves in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19 – 21).


Where is our treasure today? My treasure? Your treasure?



Reepicheep, from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis


Reepaslanscountry

Monday, October 2, 2017

Madness


As madness grips our lands

As bullets fly and bombs explode

As drugs take life upon life

As our leaders major in minors

As hedonism reigns extreme

As material consumption becomes an orgy

As the church rides the beast.

Who will pray and intercede?

Who will carry the Cross?

Who will speak “peace” to a world gone mad?


Will I? Will you? Will we?

Friday, September 29, 2017

Reflections on a Career – 5


People; nice people, mean people, selfish people, insecure people, giving people…and then the occasional “different” person. I try to give the “different” folks the benefit of the doubt, sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. After all, I’m sure there are those who have looked at me as a bit “different” – an advantage I have (not of my own devices) over some other “different” folks is that I can generally provide a good return on investment for my employers and clients, it’s amazing what people will tolerate when you are creating cash flow for them. I write not of my own devices because it is all by the grace of God, I should be the posterchild for the idea that God looks after the simpleminded.

This evening I was reminded of Bessie. Bessie worked for me at a few different properties and my could she rent apartments. I think that if I collected a few dozen appliance boxes and stacked them one on top of another that she could rent those for a premium. Bessie and I were at some tough properties, properties in crime-infested areas; one was so tough we had armed security in the daytime. She was always pretty upbeat, except when she was downbeat, and when she was on a downer she could really draw it out and make everyone around her pay with her petulance, but she was normally chipper.

Bessie was one of the best conversationalists I’ve ever known, she would say something and listen, say something and listen – the only thing is that she was saying something to herself and then listening to herself and then responding to herself. As I said, folks will put up with “different” if the person who is different is making money for them, and as I also said Bessie could rent apartments – so what is the problem with someone talking to herself if she is also renting apartments? I didn’t see a problem. Her former regional manager didn’t see a problem; Bessie talked, she rented apartments, and we were all fairly happy.

The fact that Bessie talked to herself actually saved me from serious embarrassment one day. I stopped by the property she was working at, went into the rental office and didn’t see anyone around. No one came out from the back office to greet me. There was silence. Then, coming from the bathroom down the hall between the front office, where Bessie worked, and the back office where the manager worked, I heard a conversation going on, a discussion. I thought, “What are Bessie and Velda doing in the bathroom together? What are they talking about?”

I decided the best thing for me to do was to take a seat in the front office and wait for Bessie and Velda to come out in the hallway. I waited…the conversation continued. I waited some more…the conversation continued.

Then the toilet flushes, the faucet runs, and out into the hallway steps Bessie. She didn’t even have to open the bathroom door to get out because the door was wide open.

“Bessie,” I said in wonderment, “did you have the bathroom door open?”

“Yes I did Bob.”

“Why in the world would you do that Bessie?”

“Well, I had an appointment coming in to meet me about an apartment and I left the door open so I could hear them when they came in.”

“Did it occur to you to put the clock-sign on the door saying that you’d be back to open up in ten minutes?”

“No, I didn’t think about that. But it was okay because since the bathroom door was open I could hear them and tell them that I’d be out of the bathroom in a few minutes.”


All I could do was to be thankful that I hadn’t walked down the hall looking for people for I surely would have seen Bessie on the porcelain throne engaged in vigorous debate with herself. So you see, the fact that Bessie talked to herself saved the day for me.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Reflections on a Career - 4

People - All Kinds

The greatest thing about my career, indeed the greatest thing about the life God has given me, is the people I’ve met and the people I’ve known. I have been blessed in that I’ve known dirt-poor people and exceptionally wealthy people; I’ve known folks functionally illiterate and folks at the top of universities; I’ve known janitors and I’ve known chairmen and CEOs leading international companies. I’ve also known folks from just about every race and from many ethnic groups, I’ve been in many of their homes, I’ve eaten with them or had a cup of coffee with them, laughed with them and prayed with them. I was blessed to live in an African - American neighborhood and I was blessed to live in three Latino neighborhoods; I am a better man for it.

When I hear people talking about other classes of people, or about races or ethnic groups, in less than flattering ways, I often ask if they know any of those folks, whether they’ve been in their homes, eaten with them, or had them in their homes. Chances are the answer is “no”. It is disturbing to me that even if the answer is “no” that the people doing the criticizing don’t see the foolishness of acting like they know something they don’t; they don’t see the prejudice and bias - and if they are professing Christians it pains me that they don’t see how uncharitable their speech and thinking are.

One of the neat things about my career in property management is that on the same day I can be meeting with executives and people of wealth in a boardroom at 10:00 AM, and then at 1:00 PM I may be talking to a laborer who dropped out of school when he was in the tenth grade discussing how to deal with a sewer backup. I’ve learned not to judge the inside of an apartment by the outside of the building, just because the landlord doesn’t care about cleanliness doesn’t mean the folks in the apartments don’t - I’ve been in many an inner-city apartment that was clean and inviting and in which the folks were kind and hospitable - thankful for what they had...as opposed to many of the attitudes I’ve experienced in “upscale communities”. Some of the upscale places I’ve managed have had some of the most ungrateful and mean people living in them; you can have a big bank account but a little mind and heart; or a little bank account (or maybe no bank account) and have a insightful mind and a welcoming heart.

Right now I have people working from me from I don’t know how many ethnic groups and backgrounds and even nations; I try to learn from them all and I truly enjoy them all. Sometimes I look into the faces of my African - American staff members who are my age and older and I think about what they’ve been through; the younger African - Americans often don’t get it, they don’t understand. Then I talk to my Latino team members, from various countries and areas of the US, and do you know what I want them to know above everything else? That I am on their side, that I want the best for them, that they can trust me, that I care about them.

I live on this social, economic, educational, racial, and ethnic continuum. I once commented to my physician that seminary didn’t teach me to live on the life and death continuum, as a pastor the people I cared for were getting sick, dying, and giving birth - all at the same time. My doctor said that med school didn’t teach him how to do that either. I live on the sickness, life and death continuum on my job too; both with my residents and with my team members - especially with my team members with whom I have continual contact. I may have more significant contact with people in business that I did as a pastor, I may have more significant time with people than I did as a pastor; I may have more opportunities to work with people in the nitty gritty dynamics of life than I did as a pastor, and to pray with them and counsel them. I guess these things are hard to discern but it is nice not to be encumbered by religious trappings and with people thinking that they are supposed to act a certain way because they are in religious setting.

But still it seems as if I never have enough time to be with people to help them, and this is similar to when I’ve pastored.

Yes, people have been the greatest gift. What richness God has placed in humanity, what treasures surround us. Of course we are fallen, of course we aren’t perfect, of course there are evil people and people doing evil things - don’t kid yourself, there are evil people. But in the midst of the insanity and evil there is much treasure, if only we will take the time to listen, to seek to understand, to get to know each other.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Who?


Who can I serve today?
Who encourage?
Who pray for?
Who ask a caring question?

Who can I give to today?
Who a kind word?
Who a material gift?
Who a gentle touch?

Who will I be led to today?
Who will be led to me?
Who will I see?
Who will it be?

Oh Father do not let me miss,
Who you have today,
For me to serve,
For me to bless – in Your holy Name.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Reflections on a Career - 3



Whether in business or in the church-world I have found that most “leaders” and leadership groups fail to use one of the most valuable practices available, a practice which would involve others, encourage others, and lead to problem-solving, creativity, and personal, professional, and economic growth - and that practice is listening to others. I have seldom had a problem which my team could not solve, whether in business or in the church-world or in other organizations.

This phenomenon is usually without regard to economic or educational background. It is usually without regard to levels of verbal or written communication - people can be drawn out and their thoughts can be clarified.  I have mined many a treasure out of men and women on the lower rungs of organizational ladders. Or better yet, I have been the recipient of many a treasure those folks have brought to me from the depth of who they are and their experience and their desire to contribute. They have done the work, I’ve just asked questions and waited.

I recently heard the owner of a company describe an “Aha moment”; while I was thankful the person had the moment, I also thought that had the person listened to some of the lowest people in the organization that the “Aha moment” would not have been years in coming. And then there is the question as to whether the moment will continue to live, and whether it will live within the organization. One person cannot sustain a “moment” - and “moments” coming from the “top” are often not sustained - but a synergistic team, a group - who is allowed into the creative process, who are invited to participate in the ownership of the process - well now, then the “moment” might very well become a way of life, a way of thinking, a way of doing, a way of treating others.

But of course then leadership, those in “authority” must listen, must frankly shut-up, must not only lay aside egos and trappings of power, but must actually value and appreciate others, must actually believe and think that others have something to add - that they might even have an “Aha moment” to add, might even have something critical to add.

I have never understood why we need to pay “experts” thousands of dollars to tell us what people in organizations (including churches and seminaries) already know - sure there can be times when outsiders have valuable perspectives, but unless the DNA of an organization undergoes internal and organic change the money paid to the expert is wasted and the time spent expecting the expert to do the work of leadership is for nought. Could it be we use experts so we don’t have to listen to others within our organizations?

Listening takes time, and we have too many time-saving devices to take time. We are too focused on the “now” to take time for others. We plant annuals but don’t have time to plant perennials. We cannot envision a perennial garden. This is true of businesses, this is true of churches - this is true of society.

The people I have worked with who have most influenced me are those who have listened to me and drawn me out. Often I was too self-centered to know what they were doing, but I am thankful they took time - there were only a few of them, but they made more of a difference than they could imagine. It takes time and attention to grow a perennial garden, its take time to grow relationships, it takes time to grow a people. Maybe some of those folks in my life were intentional, maybe some were just naturally the way they were - it doesn’t matter - they made a difference.

As I said, over the years my teams have usually been able to solve any problem I’ve given them. And even if they haven’t always arrived at a perfect solution, they’ve grown individually and as a group and have been better positioned to creatively tackle the next problem, and the next, and to identify vision and opportunity.

If we would only learn to listen...

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Perfect Peace


“You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26:3.

This seems like a good verse to ponder at the beginning of a day…assuming it is read in context; for the context of Isaiah Chapter 26 includes repentance, judgement, warning, obedience to God who is righteous, and above all the exaltation and glorification of Yahweh. This is not some sort of positive thinking, it is not “name it and claim it,” it is not a technique to make it through tough times – it is a life lived in obedience to the Almighty, a mind fixed on the things of God, a man or woman trusting in God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength.

The judgment of God swirls around this chapter as a hurricane, and yet in the midst of God’s judgment those who trust in Him not only find peace, they find perfect peace; it is not something they do, it is what God does. Yes, we trust, but we do so by His grace; then He keeps us, He guards us, He protects us.


While peace may be taken from the earth (Luke 21:26; Revelation 6:4) the LORD our God keeps those who trust in Him, those who make Him their refuge, those whose minds are fixed on Him (Colossians 3:1-2).

Monday, September 18, 2017

But What About People?


The speaker styled himself a Futurist. He explained that futurists think about the future. I was naturally relieved when he clarified that question. Was anyone in his audience was wondering about it? Could it really be that someone thought that a futurist pondered the past, or the present? Oh well, let me move on.

For about an hour he presented us with graphs and statistics demonstrating that the world is changing and changing quickly. Then he was finished. That was it. I wonder how much he was paid for showing graphs and statistics? Most people applauded. I would like to think that they applauded because he was finished. I would not like to think that they applauded because they considered his presentation worth an hour of our collective time.

Let’s see; there were about 100 of us, that’s 100 hours – simple math. Was it worth 100 hours?

People are easily impressed. What does that say about our critical thinking?

Here’s the thing, the futurist apparently envisioned a future without people because he did not address how change affects people. He didn’t talk about stress, he didn’t talk about relationships, he didn’t talk about the quality of life, he didn’t talk about morals and ethics – he simply showed graphs and charts and statistics. I don’t know which was worse, the quality of the presentation or the fact that he was paid for the presentation.

I didn’t clap, I didn’t applaud, I didn’t whistle. Had there been a Q & A I was prepared to ask the first question, “What about people? How does all this affect people?” Alas, there was no Q & A in our futurist’s future nor that of his audience.

But then I wondered about the people who applauded – what were they thinking? Were they thinking? I don’t mean to be harsh, but I see this all the time – people accepting what they’re told without thinking about it. It’s like living in Flint, MI and trusting what you’re told about the drinking water.


We are the servants of technology, let us bow and worship lest we be thrown into the fiery furnace. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

No George


I finally made the call, I called George Will…but the number was not in service. It was the only number I had for him. Since it is not like George not to call me every few months the fact that the number is not in service may mean that he has gone to Narnia, in which case I’m sure Aslan has given him a warm reception and I have no doubt that George has put his arms around the Lion’s mane.

I tried to locate George’s son Arthur via the internet but so far with no success. I don’t know the married name of his daughter Debbie. I have been praying for Arthur and Debbie for decades; I’ve never met them or talked to them, but I’ve been praying for them. I also pray for their children and their children’s children. George would be around 80 years old right now, if he is in Narnia then I guess he probably doesn’t look 80.

I wonder if he died in the States or in Europe. He spent more time in Europe than the States. I doubt that George ever gave much thought to “cross-cultural communications,” he just used common sense and the love of Jesus to connect with people – no matter their color, no matter their language, no matter their education. We can get educated to the point we’re stupid, I really believe that. We can live so much in the head that we miss the heart, we can talk about theory so much that we forget to actually listen to people and understand them as human to human; everyone is a clinical specimen, everyone part of a demographic, this generation or that generation – what have we come to?

It bothered me that I couldn’t “connect” with George much over these past years and I am sorry that I didn’t see him but only spoke over the phone. I think it was around 1976 that I last saw him, that is 41 years, a long time. If George had changed much I couldn’t discern it, but I had changed and I think he may have always thought of me as the kid he met in 1966 or the young adult he last saw in 1976. There are times he’d say things that I would have agreed with 40 years ago but that I came to have a different perspective on and when I’d say something about those things…well… he didn’t understand – that made me feel bad, I didn’t want to cause him any angst. So I came to listen to him and not say too much if I thought what I’d say would bother him – after all, he was my elder and a significant influence on my life. I wanted to honor him whether or not we were always on the same page.

Sometimes you’re on stage with a fellow actor for a brief scene, sometimes through many acts of a play. Sometimes you reconnect on another stage and reprise your roles, sometimes you may assume new roles. Sometimes there can be a revival of a play you were in with each other years ago, but often you find you can’t go back and recapture the magic. Oh to be aware of the roles our Father has cast us in, to faithfully play our parts. To pay attention to those around us and not seek center stage for ourselves.


Well, if George has indeed left these shadowlands and gone to Narnia I’ll know where to find him when I get there, he’ll be as close to Aslan as he can possibly be; I know that for sure, for I know that George surely loved Jesus. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Prayer by Clement

We ask you, Master, be our helper and defender. Rescue those of our number in distress; raise up the fallen; assist the needy; heal the sick; turn back those of your people who stray; feed the hungry; release our captives; revive the weak; encourage those who lose heart. Let all the nations realize that you are the only God, that Jesus Christ is your Child, and that we are your people and the sheep of your pasture.
(1 Clement c. 96)


Monday, September 11, 2017

Hurricanes, Earthquakes, Fires, and False Security


Life is fragile. Of all the nations of the world there are few which live as far away from that knowledge as the citizens of the United States. Two oceans protect us. Economic and natural resources cushion life for many of us. We live in a cocoon – unless of course we live in poverty, but we don’t like to think about that segment of the population – too unpleasant.

Yes, to be sure, there is suffering at all economic levels; sickness, relational problems, and the death rate still remains at 100%; but we have learned to isolate those things and medicate ourselves so we don’t have to dwell on those unpleasantries too long. We are good at building emotional and psychological and spiritual firewalls. We are a rich enough country so that our dead no longer need to be laid out in the parlor at home, we can make appointments with them and see them during viewing hours. We no longer bare one another’s burdens, we pay someone with initials after his or her name to listen to our fears; we no longer need our neighbor, we can pay someone to be our neighbor for an hour a week…well…actually 50 minutes.

But then a hurricane comes, or a tornado, or a forest fire, or an earthquake – then we see the best and the worst of humanity; from neighbor helping neighbor to neighbor stealing from neighbor and running from neighbor. Then death can lie at our front door or even within our home. Then the fact that life is fragile may strike us for a moment, if not for 50 minutes.

We live with a sense of false security, satiated by pleasure and false values – we think “it” (whatever “it” is) will never happen to us. We are fools. We are like hogs being fed for slaughter. Make us fat with ourselves so we don’t think too much, entertain us, brainwash us with transient values, medicate us into oblivion and we will be a people living without eternal purpose, a people living as if we are gods, a people living without the knowledge that life is fragile and that today may be our last day.

Amid the ashes of the fires in the West, and amid the destruction of hurricanes in the South, various types of people will emerge. There will be those who trusted in Christ before these events and they will continue to find their refuge in Him, knowing that even should loved ones pass through the portal of death that death in Christ is indeed a portal into the deeper presence of God. There will be those who were merely “church folks” who will either come to faith in Christ or who may reject the notion all together because of their experience. There will be those who did not know Jesus beforehand who will come to know Him through the tragedy and who will come to understand that they are more than accidents looking for a place to happen. There will be those who curse God, a God they may not believe in. There will be those who take credit for their own survival – fools indeed they are (in the Biblical sense). But perhaps the most tragic group will be those who say that they have learned that material things are not everything but that family and other people mean more…but who nevertheless still do not live in a relationship with God; I say these may be the most tragic group because they are so close but so far away. Our goodness can be our greatest enemy for we can become self-satisfied with it and others can affirm us in it.

We will see the image of God in the goodness of humanity in these tragedies. We will also see the evil of fallen humanity in the tragedies. We will see predators and servants, lovers and haters, givers and thieves. We will see those who sacrifice themselves and those who sacrifice others.

If we think about it all long enough we may even hear the voice of God speaking to us about who we are, who we should be, why we were created, how much He loves us, and about how He desires a personal relationship with us through His Son Jesus Christ.

Perhaps it’s time to trade our false sense of security for the secure love of God in Jesus Christ.




Friday, September 8, 2017

Reflections on a Career - 2

While I am sure that there were probably more than three, there are three people I remember who worked for me and who stole from the company I worked for. I only remember the name of one, only the face of one, only the voice of one - that was the one that really hurt; I almost cried when I told my boss about it. The other two? They were just passing by, they came, they stole, they were caught, and they went.

One of them worked for me just a few weeks when I discovered irregularities in the funds she was handling. When the police were called I discovered that they already knew her - she had done the same thing at other firms but no firm would tell another what happened when asked for a reference.

The other one was a maintenance technician who decided on a Sunday morning to fill his van with new air conditioning units belonging to the apartment community where he worked. When a leasing agent saw him loading the units into his van she called the police and then called me. The idiot, or thief, or whatever you’d care to call him, told the police that he was worried that since the lock on the storage building where the units were stored was so flimsy that someone might break in and steal them; so he was going to take them home for safekeeping. I didn’t believe him, the police didn’t believe him, and strangely enough the Baltimore City judge didn’t believe him.

Ah, but the third one, when she stole money...that hurt, I’ll call her Susan. When I first met Susan she was a leasing agent at an apartment community that I’d assumed management of; she had been in her position three years before I arrived. After I’d had the property for a few months, during one of my visits the property manager told me that Susan would like to talk to me, so I invited Susan into the manager’s office to hear what she had to say. She told me that she’d really like to advance in her career, to be promoted, to become a property manager. We talked about what that would entail and I told her that I’d see what we could do.

I was impressed with the way Susan presented herself, with her outgoing positive attitude, and with her desire for advancement. We opened the door for Susan to take some educational courses and exposed her to higher-level aspects of the business. A few months later an opening came up for a property manager, the property looked like a good fit for Susan, a place that would challenge her to grow without overwhelming her. We offered her the position and she accepted it.

Susan did quite well in the new position. I was pleased and I was proud of her. I enjoyed watching her progress. I enjoyed visiting her property and training her, mentoring her. I had high hopes for Susan, very high hopes. One day I noticed that Susan had a new car, not just any new car, but a pretty expensive car. I usually don’t think much about these things, but knowing that Susan had children and a husband who wasn’t financially dependable, I did wonder about such an expensive car - but then didn’t give it much further thought. I knew that Susan was making more money that she had ever made before, a lot more money; I just hoped that she was being wise with it.

Susan’s property performed very well, the numbers were good; then a larger property opened up, a property that represented a major career move and that included a significant salary increase. I didn’t hesitate to offer Susan the job and she didn’t hesitate to take it.

After Susan’s transfer to her new property a review of tenant accounts at her old property indicated discrepancies. When I first saw it I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I knew what my eyes were looking at but my heart and mind couldn’t believe it. I asked my right-hand senior manager to please come to my office and review the accounts. She confirmed what I knew to be true but what I couldn’t believe. I was in denial - at least emotionally. I had given Susan everything I knew to give to open doors for her, I had spent time with her, I had encouraged her - as had others. Why was she doing this? Why was she doing this to her family?

When I went to my boss to tell him I was almost in tears, I didn’t cry but I easily could have. A day or two later my senior manager and I confronted Susan, she quickly admitted stealing and we terminated her. I later found out that she was involved in the “party scene” and had no doubt spent much of her stolen money on late nights, the expensive car, and other toys.

As I have said more than once to my managers, just because someone takes advantage of me doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop caring about people and giving to them - yes, there is pain when we give and care when people are ungrateful and take advantage of us, but if we can only touch a few lives that will learn and grow then it is worth it, we can hope that they in turn will touch others. Some “get it” and others don’t; some may not “get it” now but they may get it later.

I hope Susan has been changed by the grace of God, I hope that she is growing into a woman of integrity and character.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Ginger

Yesterday afternoon I saw that I had a voicemail on my personal cell phone; not recognizing the number I expected it to be a robo call or an actual person trying to sell me something that I don’t actually need.

I listened to the voice and the message, and as I listened I kept saying, “No, no. That can’t be, I can’t believe it.” Vickie was looking at me and saying, “What?”

It was Scotty telling me that his mother, and our friend, Ginger had died. I couldn’t believe it. She was misdiagnosed a couple of years ago, and then about a year ago the correct diagnosis came back - cancer...inoperable.

Learn from this...we hadn’t talked to Ginger for about four years. If you have a friend, a real friend, to whom you have not spoken for a long time - stop reading this and call - forget the email, forget the Facebook - actually call and talk and tell the friend how much he or she means to you. Don’t be where I am...be someplace better.

I had a deep impression to call Ginger about two weeks ago, she died on August 16; I can’t recall whether the impression was before or after her death. I didn’t call - learn from me.

That last time we saw Ginger was when we stopped at her home in Columbia, MD on our way back to Richmond from Baltimore around four years ago. She and her husband Walter were fostering more kids than I could count - I think as many as nine were either with them or had been with them. She told them all that Uncle Bob and Aunt Vickie were coming to visit. I think the kids were a bit surprised when they saw us because Uncle Bob and Aunt Vickie had white skin and Ginger and Walter had black skin - as did all the foster children. It was a bit humorous and I think Ginger had a good time with it.

I could write that Ginger taught me a lot about what it is to be African - American and in the minority, and that would be true. I could also write that Ginger taught me a lot about what is important in life...and that would be even more true. If anyone had any doubts about Ginger’s priorities all he or she would need to do would be to see her with her kids, with her husband, and with Scotty.

I have an idea that Ginger knew more about life and what matters than I ever will.

Learn from me...call a friend.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Harmony Hill - Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

This blog is titled Kaleidoscope for a reason, you never know what a twist of the kaleidoscope is going to produce. This is the first recipe I've posted in the few years I've been writing the blog. This morning Vickie told me that she'd be using about all of my crunchy peanut butter. I wasn't too thrilled at the idea at first because, after all, my peanut butter is my peanut butter. I don't know how it is in your house, but we have smooth and crunchy because Vickie likes smooth and I like crunchy. If there is only smooth I'll eat it, but if there is only crunchy she won't eat it - so usually my peanut butter is pretty safe, but not today.

Today is rainy and cold, hardly what we usually have in Richmond on September 2 (when I'm writing this). It's a good day for a hot mug of tea, and I just found out it is a good day for this recipe. Please be forewarned, there is a problem with the recipe - it is hard to only eat one or two of these cookies at a time, just ask my stomach.

Nota bene: don't miss the coconut in the recipe.

The recipe comes from Harmony Hill B & B in Arrington, VA (that's right, Arrington and not Arlington): http://www.harmony-hill.com/

and is found a Bed & Breakfast cookbook put together by Melissa Craven and published by 3D Press: https://www.bigearthpublishing.com/3d-press/

Makes 48 cookies

Here's a note from the Innkeeper: "These delicious cookies freeze well. For variety, try using half white chocolate chips."

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chunky peanut butter
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine oats, flour, baking powder and salt. 

In a large bowl, with a mixer at medium speed, beat together peanut butter, butter, brown sugar and white sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Gradually beat in oat mixture. Stir in chocolate chips and coconut by hand.

Drop dough by heaping tablespoonful, spaced about 1 inch apart, onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 15 - 18 minutes. Remove cookies to a wire rack to cool. 



Monday, September 4, 2017

Reflections on a Career - 1

It sure looked like I’d be in the homebuilding business as a career. I was advancing up “the ladder” and was enjoying my job. I worked for people who treated me well. I was given opportunity upon opportunity. I was learning about leadership, project management, budgeting, and I had a fair amount of authority to “make things happen”. My immediate boss trusted me and his boss trusted me - people knew they could count on me. I loved the pressure of building and delivering homes on schedule, I thrived on it. That is one thing I have always missed about homebuilding in my property management career - the thrill of making something out of nothing, the thrill of having a non-negotiable delivery date and doing what you needed to do to bring the house in on time and on budget. I have worked, along with others, late into the night and into the next morning to deliver homes on time - especially at the end of a quarter or the end of a year. Those times were exhilarating to me - pure challenge and pure fun. I think, at times, some of my property management colleagues and staff have thought me a bit strange in my push to get things done, not waiting, being proactive, and not taking “no” for an answer. My background in homebuilding has been a great help in my property management career (it may have hurt me as a pastor!).

But as well as I was treated there were things going on that I couldn’t live with. When my division president was made, I believe, a scapegoat during a national scandal in the industry, was fired, and shortly thereafter committed suicide, it greatly affected me. He was a wonderful man, gentle, kind, had once considered the Roman Catholic priesthood, a family man, and had a long history with the company and the founder of the company. He treated me with respect when I was just a “kid”, gave me the responsibility of negotiating the settlement of a significant lawsuit - he was humble and I will never forget him.

The man who took his place also treated me quite well and I learned a lot from him as well as from my immediate boss. I had no complaints about the way I was treated. But...the inequity in the way others were treated bothered me more and more. I saw hardworking project managers who were honest and did their jobs well treated differently from others who were not honest; I saw someone promoted to a position who had not been honest and who stole from the company and who also was involved in drugs. The questionable people had long work histories with each other that predated their employment with our firm - so in retrospect I can only guess that something in their shared history bound them together - my boss’s boss was a part of that group. Again, I was treated well, but the injustice of the environment became too much for me.

Even though my future, as far as one could tell, was secure; even though I was being given more and more responsibility; even though I was the “go to” person for more and more important projects - I was deeply troubled by what I saw, my soul was troubled.

One of my roles was working with homeowners’ associations; I was the developer’s representative on the boards of directors, I worked with our attorneys on drafting association governing documents, I was the in-house person who dealt with this aspect of the business. I enjoyed the legal and organizational aspects of this work.

One day I saw an ad for a property manager for homeowners’ and condominium associations. I took a business card and wrote on the back, “I can do it all” and mailed it. In a few days I got a call from the owner of the company, had an interview, received a job offer, accepted the offer, resigned from my position, and began my career in property management.

When my boss’s boss received my resignation and came into my office he asked me, “Why?”

I replied, “I can’t trust you anymore. I see too many things that shouldn’t be happening. You have always treated me well and I’ll never forget what I’ve learned, but I can’t stay.”

In light of the above it’s kind of ironic this man taught me one of the most valuable things I’ve ever learned - spend time with your people. I hope I’ve practiced that over the intervening decades. I’ve tried to instill this in my managers - there is nothing more important than spending time with your people. As a pastor I’ve tried to practice that, as a small group leader, and as a friend - there is no substitute for time spent with others.