Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Three Harrys: Part 2

I met Harry Heintz when I was at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Harry was pastor at Brunswick Presbyterian Church in Troy, NY and was involved in the Mockler Center for Faith and Ethics at the seminary. Harry spent 38 years at Brunswick Church – amazing!

Harry was (and I imagine still is!) intense, high energy, passionate, thoughtful, and deeply committed to Jesus Christ. Even though his bio on the church website says that he is a Red Sox fan, I also know that he is a St. Louis Cardinals fan. This was a delight to discover and I remember talking to him about the great 1964 Cardinals team which caught the Phillies late in the season and went on to defeat the Yankees in a seven-game World Series.  

Harry is passionate about honoring the vocational work that God’s people do Monday – Friday, about affirming the workplace, about honoring vocations, and about breaking down the clergy – laity dichotomy and the sacred – secular dichotomy. Harry actually believes what he says about these things, he lives it, and he pastors like he means it. Here is a man who pastored the same church for 38 years (which by the way thrived), and who didn’t see himself as any more special that the business person or the mechanic or the teacher or the dry cleaner in his congregation. He didn’t have the separatist attitude that so many clergy have toward folks who work Monday – Friday. His preaching and teaching incorporated workplace elements into it – that was critical for him and his staff.

The word “laity” as it is normally used was not in Harry’s vocabulary.

Harry worked hard to try to convince professors at the seminary to incorporate the workplace and vocation into their courses – how does the Biblical text relate to the work that most people do five or six days a week? He worked hard to get professors and students and the seminary administration to think about the restoration of the priesthood of the believer into congregational life. His passion was amazing. I think he may have frightened some of the professors and administration with his enthusiasm and his refusal to give up on his vision.

He treated his pastoral staff as true colleagues and not as functionaries whose purpose was to support him, the senior pastor, and make him look good. I saw this when I met the staff and then later when I did phone interviews with the staff for a book project. Sadly I’ve seen situations where the senior pastor had little or no relationship with staff and associate pastors – this was not the case with Harry Heintz.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen or talked to Harry, but I see from the internet that he is still engaged in the Kingdom. His passion and faithfulness is something that remains an inspiration to me. When I hear clergy use language that builds walls between the people of God; the clergy – laity and the sacred – secular dichotomies; I can think of Harry Heintz and know that there is at least one pastor committed to the whole people of God, who knows that ministry and worship occurs Monday – Friday as well as on Sunday morning.

Monday, January 30, 2017

You Know You’re Sleepy


You know you’re sleepy if, when grabbing the toothpaste with one hand you grab the razor with the other hand. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Truth Is Short – Lies Are Long

It has occurred to me that when I ask a question and someone gives me a short reply that they are usually telling the truth, but when the reply to my question goes on and on that I am usually not hearing the truth. When someone doesn’t want to give me a direct answer they try to evade the question with a storyline to divert my attention from the question – they think I won’t realize that I’m not getting a direct answer.

I’ve seen this at work a lot, but I’ve also seen it in other relationships. I sometimes wonder if the other person isn’t trying to convince himself that the story he is giving me is the truth.

Sadly, there are enough “role models” in positions of authority to teach others how to avoid the truth, and perhaps how to convince themselves and others that a lie is the truth. It has become the norm.

It doesn’t take that long to tell the truth – the truth is direct and straightforward. When we live in the light we can move freely; but when we spin tales of deceit we have to carefully walk in darkness and shades and that often requires a lot of words. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Three Harrys – Haslam, Heintz, and Hanger: Part 1

I’ve known three Harrys with last names beginning with H; there isn’t anything significant about this other than there are times when I think about them together. Perhaps you’ve known three Franks whose last names begin with F, or three Susans whose last names begin with S, or maybe you’ve known three dogs named Prince whose owners’ last names begin with P.

When I think about them together I think about the season of life I was in when I met each one; I was in my late 20s when I met Harry Haslam and in the residential construction industry; I was in my late 40s when I met Harry Heintz and was at theological seminary, and I was nearing my 60th birthday when I met Harry Hanger and was in a time of challenging transition from pastoral ministry back into business.

Harry Haslam was my boss at US Home Corporation, at the time one of the largest residential home builders in the United States. I went to work for Harry as the construction coordinator of the townhouse project he was building. I scheduled contractors, ordered materials, authorized the payment of invoices, and helped supervise the job. Harry was the superintendent and he was a nice guy. In a business with lots of gruff and aggressive people Harry Haslam was a nice guy. He treated me well, his disposition was professional, he was considerate, and whether you were in management or were a laborer he gave you his respectful attention.

This particular Harry was a bit too easy going and trusting at times; I recall that when I first arrived at the job that there was a group of laborers who were lazy. They pretty much did what they wanted and I guess Harry was so busy with higher-end matters that he didn’t notice that he wasn’t getting what he was paying for. It could also be that Harry didn’t want to deal with confrontation – for he was a nice guy and laid back. This isn’t to say that Harry didn’t know what confrontation was for he had been in the midst of life and death confrontation in Vietnam...more on that in a moment. I was blessed that Harry was trusting in that he trusted me, he gave me room to do my job and to grow.

After being at the project a short time and observing the situation with the laborers I suggested to Harry that we needed to make a personnel change, and with his authorization we did, freeing the laborers up to seek employment elsewhere – no doubt they sought jobs that did not require punctuality or actual work, having grown accustomed to doing what they wanted when they wanted. Looking back on this with the perspective of decades I see that my suggestion to Harry fits the pattern of my career – identifying incongruous situations and doing something about it – a trait not always appreciated or tolerated. In business this is why I have worked better with entrepreneurs than in rigid corporate environments, in vocational ministry this is why para-church ministries are often more comfortable with me than churches.

As I mentioned Harry was in Vietnam, this was not the Vietnam of today that is open to tourists from the United States, it was war and Harry was a part of that war. I remember Harry telling me that his unit was once sent into a neighboring country (I can’t recall if it was Laos or Cambodia) on a mission and told that if they ran into trouble that they were on their own. I know these things happen, sending people into places where “we” aren’t supposed to be, I guess that’s part of running the government – you can’t tell everyone everything.

I was thinking about Vietnam the other day and about the college deferment provision in the draft. I’ve read that the average US soldier in Vietnam was 19 years old, from a poor or working-class family, who had not attended college. It is said that only about twenty percent of the soldiers were middle class men, with few upper middle class soldiers. Imagine, if you were in college you had a draft deferral, but if you lived in an urban ghetto or were dirt poor living in a hollow in the Blue Ridge Mountains then you’d better get your living done as soon as possible because you just didn’t know when the notice would come in the mail telling you that your uncle required your presence.

But back to Harry Haslam; he was a really nice guy. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Dove in a World Full Serpents

I’m not sure there is much worse than when religious people are in power. They often use ugly means to ascend to power and they often continue to use those means to remain in power. While there are exceptions, the exceptions tend to lie with an individual here or there rather than with the masses. People don’t realize that waves rise and fall and they live in the delusion that they will reside at the crest of the wave forever.

When religious people gain power they attribute it to God and think that God has made them gods…or more frankly they think God has taken a vacation and left them in charge. I wonder if they send God a letter telling Him that there is no need to return to work.

When masses of Christians seek and gain political power the Cross and the Gospel are the first to go – the Bible becomes a pragmatic tool to motivate the masses and to justify the policies of those in office; Scriptures are ripped from their context and placed in slavish service to political masters. The Church loses its voice and the Bride loses her monogamous relationship to Jesus Christ – we replace the worship hymn Holy, Holy, Holy with the show tune Anything Goes.

If I think I am not susceptible to the milieu in which I live I should think again. Better yet I should pray this prayer of Henri Nouwen’s:

“Do not allow evil powers to seduce me with the complexities of the world’s problems, but give me strength to think clearly, speak freely, and act boldly in Your service. Give me the courage to show the dove in a world full of serpents.”

Monday, January 23, 2017

Reasoned and Seasoned

“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to every person,” (Colossians 4:6).

When our talk is primarily heat, we obscure the light. Salt draws flavor out, grace blesses. Our witness is to be winsomely flavorful; the aim of witness is to reveal Jesus Christ and bless others.

Winning an argument is not our goal, winning hearts to Jesus is – are we willing to lose in order to win? Are we willing to put ourselves last so that Jesus can be first?

We forget that what we see is simply the product of the world, of what people have been taught. We also forget that we were once dead in our own trespasses and sins. Oh how we forget who we once were; how self-righteous we are – how pompous. What is the point in winning an argument but losing a soul?

If Christ Jesus does not define us, if He is not our identity, if anything or anyone else takes His place…then not only do we fall short of our calling…but others will look at the caricature of Jesus and Christianity in our warped thinking and actions and think, “I want no part of that.”

Our speech should be both reasoned and seasoned. 

Beware of Placing the End before the Means

“Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” Matthew 4:8 – 10.

One day it will be manifest that all the kingdoms of the world belong to Jesus Christ, for He is King of kings and Lord of lords. But between the high mountain of Matthew 4:8 and Revelation Chapters 21 and 22 there is the Cross. Later in Matthew’s Gospel Peter will want to spare Jesus the Cross (Matthew 16:21 – 23) and Jesus will respond by saying, “Get behind Me, Satan...You are not setting your mind on God’s interests but on man’s.”

How foolish are Christians who excuse harshness and vitriol because they think they will get what they want. How foolish are we when we adopt the ways of the world and buy into devilish methods, thinking that the end will justify the means. Jesus would not accept the kingdoms of the world from the enemy of God. Why should we? Why should anyone or anything or anyway take the place of the True and Living God and His Son Jesus Christ?

“Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways.” Proverbs 3:31.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Annual Reviews – On The Other Hand

Lest you should misunderstand my last post on Annual Reviews, this has been a good week for me in sharing annual reviews with my managers. It has been a week of celebration and challenge and self-awareness. When Annual Reviews are Ongoing Reviews, when they are living documents that are used for conversation and reference throughout the year they have great value – they set expectations, they provide the framework for planning and performance, and they create ongoing accountability.

Sadly, most annual reviews are “one and done” and are perfunctory – and hence not only are they a waste of time, they can be demoralizing and foster a culture of disconnection, laziness, and untruth. When we simply go through the process of filling out review forms, which are often mindless, what does that say about our investment in our people? When we are not honest with others in terms of their performance, what does that say about how much they really matter to us? And when we simply send the forms into HR and then file them away, never to be seen again, what does that say about the charade we’ve just participated in?

When I meet with my folks we both bring last year’s reviews, which have last year’s goals. While these often have financial-performance goals (how their assets have performed), their focus is on personal/professional growth goals – because if they don’t grow personally and professionally their assets and careers will suffer. In other words, we all need to learn and grow so that we can help our teams and residents living in our apartment communities – this will translate into growing financial performance for our clients. I try to give my folks incremental larger aquariums to swim in every year.

This past year saw some wonderful growth in my direct reports. Yes, there were challenges; some of the challenges were recognized by the individuals who needed to recognize them, and some weren’t – most were. Overall we had a lot to celebrate.

A challenge for me is to teach my folks how to be honest with their folks – people just don’t like to tell the truth when it comes to performance. I imagine this is because we live in a culture in which “spin” is the name of the game and we go along to get along and that people’s “feelings” are more important than telling them the truth. Of course it isn’t really their feelings we are concerned about, it is our own, we don’t want to feel bad about them feeling bad – I guess we’d rather them underperform and maybe lose their jobs than help them by telling them the truth. Well, people actually need to feel bad when they aren’t doing their jobs and they ought to feel bad if they aren’t growing – but hopefully they ought to feel good that someone cares enough about them to tell them the truth and to try to help them. I’ve had employees who have been with a company 20 years but only have 3 years of experience – because they’ve never been challenged to grow. They get frozen in time and then they get frozen out of a job. That is not caring about people.

So yes, in many situations performance reviews are a waste of time and do more harm than good in that they foster a perfunctory approach to people – this shouldn’t be, but it is. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. When we engage with people as a way of life, as a way of doing our jobs, reviews can be a living relational conversation.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Review Time and Underwear

It’s annual review time at work. This is pretty much a waste of time because most people put more thought into what they’ll have for dinner than the content of annual reviews. It’s like going to the dentist – the great goal is to get it over with, with a minimum of pain.

It’s also a waste of time because once the review is over the written document is quickly hidden away like soiled underwear. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Fidelity - by Wordsworth

By William Wordsworth (1770–1850)

A BARKING sound the shepherd hears,
A cry as of a dog or fox;
He halts, and searches with his eyes
Among the scattered rocks:
And now at distance can discern
A stirring in a brake of fern;
And instantly a dog is seen
Glancing from that covert green.

The dog is not of mountain breed;
Its motions, too, are wild and shy;
With something, as the shepherd thinks,
Unusual in its cry:
Nor is there any one in sight
All round, in hollow or on height;
Nor shout, nor whistle strikes his ear:
What is the creature doing here?

It was a cove, a huge recess,
That keeps till June December’s snow;
A lofty precipice in front,
A silent tarn below!
Far in the bosom of Helvellyn,
Remote from public road or dwelling,
Pathway, or cultivated land,
From trace of human foot or hand.

There sometimes doth a leaping fish
Send through the tarn a lonely cheer;
The crags repeat the ravens’ croak
In symphony austere;
Thither the rainbow comes—the cloud—
And mists that spread the flying shroud;
And sunbeams: and the sounding blast,
That, if it could, would hurry past,
But that enormous barrier binds it fast.

Not free from boding thoughts, a while
The shepherd stood; then makes his way
Towards the dog, o’er rocks and stones,
As quickly as he may;
Nor far had gone before he found
A human skeleton on the ground:
The appalled discoverer with a sigh
Looks round, to learn the history.

From those abrupt and perilous rocks
The man had fallen, that place of fear!
At length upon the shepherd’s mind
It breaks, and all is clear:
He instantly recalled the name,
And who he was, and whence he came;
Remembered, too, the very day
On which the traveller passed this way.

But hear a wonder, for whose sake
This lamentable tale I tell!
A lasting monument of words
This wonder merits well.
The dog, which still was hovering nigh,
Repeating the same timid cry,
This dog had been through three months’ space
A dweller in that savage place.

Yes, proof was plain that since the day
On which the traveller thus had died
The dog had watched about the spot,
Or by his master’s side:
How nourished here through such long time
He knows, who gave that love sublime,
And gave that strength of feeling, great
Above all human estimate.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Cheap Words, Cheap Life

When words are cheap then thoughts are cheap; when thoughts are cheap then words are cheap. When thoughts and words are cheap then truth is cheap. When truth is cheap then life is cheap.

How can anything have meaning, including life, if everything can mean whatever we want it to mean?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Living In Him

“Thou has shown me that because thou art mine I can live by thy life, be strong in thy strength, be guided by thy wisdom; and so I can pitch my thoughts and heart in thee.” (The Valley of Vision, Arthur Bennett, editor; The Banner of Truth Trust, page 304).

Today, as every day, those who know Jesus are called to live by His life, not their own (Galatians 2:20). He is the Vine and we are the branches (John Chapter 15). He is our wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:26 – 31; Colossians 2:1-3). We are to center our thoughts in Him (Romans 12:1-2; Philippians 4:8-9).

This is a good day to tend the Garden that He has given us. Shall we nurture weeds and poisonous plants? Or shall we cultivate fruit that will feed those around us (Galatians 5:22-23; 2 Peter 1:5 – 8)?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Is It Rude?

Lemuel has a situation.

He has a friend who only calls him when the friend has a few minutes in the car. The friend usually calls with a problem and once Lemuel has shared some thoughts the friend has arrived at his destination and terminates the conversation. This has been going on for a few years now. The friend and Lemuel live hundreds of miles apart so they don’t see each other. Lemuel said to me, “Bob, I know this sounds like complaining, but this bothers me. If we are friends doesn’t it make sense that we should make time for each other and have actual conversations that don’t revolve around a problem?”

Lemuel asked, “Would it be rude if the next time he calls I say, ‘Frank, it’s really good to hear from you. Do you have time to talk right now? If you are in a hurry, and if your time is limited, I’d really like us to schedule another time to talk so that we can really connect.’” 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Please Don’t Answer the Phone

Lemuel wants to know why people answer their phones when they are having lunch with others. He observed, and overheard, one parent answer numerous calls from adolescent children during lunch. Lemuel asked me, “Bob, who is training who in this behavior? Can we not learn to wait, does everything have to be NOW?”

Lemuel’s question made me wonder if phone and texting addiction isn’t contributing to other addictions. For sure it is contributing to the absence of peace in our society. We are a nation of addicts in one form or another. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

A New Year Is Like A New Car

I imagine that most of us, when we purchase a new car, try to keep it scratch free as long as we can. We know the inevitable is coming, whether we accidently scratch it with a key or someone who parks next to us scratches it when they open their door. We know the scratch is coming, but it would be nice to go a long time without a scratch.

A new year is like a new car. Wouldn’t it be nice to go deep into the year before we scratch ourselves and others? Wouldn’t it be nice to be nice? Wouldn’t it be nice not to say the stupid unkind self-centered word? Wouldn’t it be nice not to have the selfish feeling or thought? Wouldn’t it be nice to go deep into the year without acting like a fool? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be perfect!

Alas, it is not to be, at least for me. I can’t even drive the car off the lot without scratching it.