The Power of 2%

Sometimes, the coach needs some coaching of her own.

During my training to become a ministry and leadership coach, I remember learning about 2% shifts—those small changes that can make a big difference down the road. It’s like prying open a stuck window, just an inch or two. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s enough to give you leverage to heave it open further. Plus, you get a peek of what’s on the other side, and sometimes that glimpse is vision enough to inspire you to deeper action. 

But it’s one thing to know something intellectually, and another thing to internalize it enough to do it.

Like many of you—and I know this is true because you tell me—I have felt utterly saturated with news, information, and commentary. The constant onslaught of 24-7 news, much of it negative, has left many of us feeling weary, depleted, maybe even helpless and despairing. As Bilbo laments in The Fellowship of the Ring, "I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” (Can I get an Amen?)

Meanwhile, with three children, a spouse, a calendar plump with speaking engagements, and a growing coaching practice, I’ve been gravitating to a spirituality of motion. Quiet, still spaces are in short supply; instead I try to be attentive to the flow of the Spirit amid my activity. It works, for the most part, but has felt insufficient of late. A trusted friend recently suggested 5 minutes of silence each day. I have to admit, I shrugged at the suggestion. It seemed way too small a practice to make any difference. What’s 5 minutes amid 1,440 daily minutes of perpetual motion? (OK, I do sleep for some of those 1,440 minutes. Still.)

But my friend rarely steers me wrong, so I downloaded the Insight Timer app, picked out a couple of chime sounds that I liked, set it for 5 minutes, and breathed. 

I skipped a couple of days after that, and then I did it again. And again the next day. And over the next couple of weeks, a few more times. I decided to sprinkle a few of Insight Timer’s guided meditations into my practice. In the spirit of #WorldsOkayest, I’ll admit I’m tending to these brief silences maybe 30% of my days. And I'm stuck in the 6-10 minute range; it's all I can manage.

And still, it has made a difference. I can’t explain it. Five minutes is so small, you see. But I feel ever-so-slightly more alive, more grounded. More alive means I’m awake to my life in a more satisfying way, though I have a long way to go. More grounded means I’m able to read the headlines of the day, however dismaying they may be, with greater peace, and a more abiding sense of defiant hope and faith that bad news will never the final news.

A 2% shift. A pried-open window.

As if on cue, a friend posted this short video of Mr. Rogers talking about the gift of a deep, quiet, unhurried breath. Perfect:

I wonder what 2% shift you are being called toward? I would love to hear about it. Maybe we can encourage one another!

Onward,
MaryAnn

This reflection was sent to my email newsletter; subscribe to receive articles such as this, twice a month, right in your inbox.

A Curriculum for Radicalization

A Curriculum for Radicalization “Radicalization” is the buzzword of the day.

We’re hearing that the couple who killed fourteen people San Bernardino were “radicalized” before they even met and married. Many are wondering what exactly makes someone become similarly radicalized. Others are anticipating that Donald Trump’s inflammatory proposals would not make us safer, but in fact give a great boost to ISIS’s effort to radicalize recruits to their cause.

Doubtless there’s a technical definition for radicalization in the literature on terrorism. But I wish they’d settled on a different word. Because the thing about fundamentalists and extremists—whether bomb-wearing terrorists, or a university president urging students to start packing heat, or a political candidate with fascist ideology—is not that they’re radical. It’s that they’re really not radical at all. They may dominate the news, and strike fear in our hearts, and inspire vehement denunciations on our part. But they are still playing by the rules of the world, and there’s nothing radical about that.

There’s nothing radical about using violence to make a point. There’s nothing radical about rank tribalism that pits people against one another. There’s nothing radical about whipping up fear and intimidation to get your way. Such has been the way of the world for a long, long time. It may not always be cloaked in the language of holy war, but “I’m right and you’re dead” is an all too familiar refrain in human history.

Such violent acts are better labeled not as radical, but as the antonym of radical, which is superficial. Shooting up a room full of defenseless people is a cheap and shallow attempt to advance an agenda. And demonizing an entire religion of people because of the actions of a minuscule few is similarly cheap.

I don’t know whether our generation’s challenges are tougher than those of past generations. But I know the next several decades will test us in profound ways. Right now it’s the demonization of Muslims in the United States, despite the fact that they’re better educated than the general public, are largely accepting of gender equality despite stereotypes to the contrary, and have rooted out more terror suspects than U.S. government investigations. (Read more here.) But pick your issue: wealth inequality, racism, a broken political system. Global climate change may be the most looming challenge, with ripple effects in the areas of health, ecology, justice, economics, and yes, security and terrorism.

What we need are people who are truly radicalized—who don’t accept the rules of the game we’ve been conditioned to play... who care more about doing right than being safe and comfortable. Who are ready for bold, maybe sacrificial action when the moment presents itself. (Radicals will not sit quietly by while a Muslim woman is spit on and abused on a city bus, for example.)

As a follower of Jesus, he’s the one I look to for inspiration and guidance, but there are many places people might turn for such inspiration. Regardless of our various religious or philosophical perspectives, people of good will need to suit up.

It’s good to be kind, to give to the food pantry, to pay for the Starbucks order of the person behind you. But those actions, too, are rather superficial—and remember, the opposite of radical is superficial. That's not the game-changer we're after. So what does it meant to be radical, right where we live and work and play and serve?

I’ve been pondering that question a lot. I'm thinking we need a curriculum for radicals, but I need your help. Here’s what I offer as the most basic starting point for such a curriculum. What should we add?

Learn how to say “peace be with you” in at least five languages. I suggest two of them be Arabic and Farsi. Use them when the situation arises.

Intentionally seek out places where you are in the minority. As tribal people, we are most comfortable with people who look, think and act like us, and when we’re not, our lizard brain can kick in and we can feel threatened. But as our society gets more and more diverse, we (especially those of us who are white) need to be able to seek out different voices and see diversity as a strength.

Find beauty even in terrible circumstances. Being a radical for goodness will be long, grueling work, with more defeats than victories. We need the vision to see beauty even amidst struggle.

Catechesis for radicals: What are the stories we need to be steeping in as radicals? I nominate Eyes on the Prize, the documentary about the civil rights movement. In high school, my government teacher arranged for us to watch it after school, and if we made it through all fourteen hours, he gave us two extra points on our final grade—not our grade on the final exam, our grade for the semester. That’s how important it is.

All right, fellow radicals—what am I missing?

~

Image: metro_radical by Frederick Dennstedt, creative commons license

Come Improvise with Us!

medium_8530232642 I've written and presented a good bit about the theology and practice of improvisation. To be precise, I've thought and read a lot about the theology of it, and am still a real amateur of the latter. Yet it's one of the best metaphors for life that this recovering control freak has stumbled upon.

Starting in February I'll be embarking on a major improvisation. I am leaving my post as pastor of Tiny Church in order to focus my vocational energies on writing, speaking to churches and groups, and doing some writing/editing consulting work for a non-profit or two. This is my attempt to say "yes-and" to this work I've been doing for the past couple of years--work that continues to deepen, widen, and beckon.

While there is great joy in this new endeavor, the path is not clear. I don't have a ten-year plan or even a ten-month plan. Yes, there will be lots of thought and intention going into this new chapter, but my hope is to be open and flexible to learnings and opportunities as they arise.

But I need practice in this. I need to hone my improvisational chops. And DC-area folk, you're invited! Here's an invitation from Ashley Goff, a friend and co-conspirator on this improvisational journey. From Facebook:

Church of the Pilgrims is hosting an all-day intensive on the practice of improv on January 20th from, roughly, 9:30-3pm. The intensive will be led by my improv-guru, Andrew Wassenich. Why an all-day intensive on improvisation? Life is improv. The work of Jesus was improv. The Holy Spirit is improv. The Church has a lot to learn about improv. We will spend the day engaging in improv games, Bible study using improv techniques, and group/personal reflection on what improv unlocks within us. Perfect for Epiphany. Cost is $50 and lunch is included. Space is limited. Connect with me via FB comment, FB message, or email.

Get in touch with me if you're interested; we'd love to have you.

And to read more of my writings about improv, here you go. Or join the Theology of Improv Facebook group.

~

photo credit: daintytime via photopin cc Ashley has worked with the talented Sherri Lynn, whose work is pictured.

Art to Inspire... Plus a Giveaway!

The Blue Room is undergoing a few changes. No, not this website---the actual blue room, our dining room-turned-office and craft space for which this website is named. The Blue Room is a symbol for the stuff in our lives that doesn't work that needs to be reimagined to embrace the way things are, not the way we think they should be. With three young children, we never used our formal dining room. But I did need a study at home. And the kids would benefit from a place where they could play around with glitter, paint, glue and stickers. Preferably a place without carpet...

So during Snowpocalypse of 2010, our Blue Room was transformed from a useless place to a space for life and creativity.

I realized recently that despite the symbolism of the Blue Room, the walls have been adorned with the same artwork I've had for a long time. I don't remember when I got this labyrinth poster (scroll down for the only image I can find online), but it was well before the 1999 gathering being advertised.

And Jane Evershed's First Supper has been with me for many years. As a former Baptist who grew up with a blond Jesus and very male-centric images of God and Jesus' closest followers, I love Evershed's table, with 12 multi-racial and beautifully adorned women raising their glasses into the air. (Which one is the host at the table? Which one is Jesus? None of them. All of them.)

But life moves on. And now I have one of these, a rendering of the cover of Boston Magazine from last spring:

o-BOSTON-MAGAZINE-570_original

Peace, love, and running.

Here's poster #2. Brain Pickings is one of my favorite sites, and Maria Popova recently published Seven Life Lessons from her work on the site. The folks Holstee Company came up with a beautiful graphical rendering of it. It arrived last week and is hanging on the nail I used for the Evershed poster. The placement isn't quite right in the room, but I love it. A closeup from their website:

holstee_7things5

Which brings me to the giveaway. The Holstee company initially sent me their manifesto poster by mistake. The corrected the order, and asked me to keep the poster. But I want to share the love. So comment here or on my Facebook page with a recent "Blue Room" experience: either something you've reconfigured to fit your life as it really is, or something you know you need to reconfigure. (Or a general "hi" is fine too.) Each comment will be entered once. Submissions are due by Friday August 22 at midnight EDT.

Here's Holstee's manifesto poster (actual size 18x24"). Good luck to everyone!

Holstee-scan

What's Your Pain Tolerance? Essential Questions for Leadership

I meet monthly with a group of pastors to talk about ministry, leadership, family systems stuff and more. (We also catch an occasional Nats game.) Today our facilitator shared this handout which inspired much discussion:

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 5.55.25 PM

The most effective leaders strive to be in quadrant B: high "pain tolerance" in self and in others. Pain tolerance in this case means willingness to experience discomfort in order to move a system forward, fostering growth and needed change.

I'd argue that quadrant C and D leaders are rare---if you have a low pain tolerance for yourself, you're not likely to want to attempt the work of leadership. But many of us probably cluster in quadrant A: willing to endure plenty of personal discomfort, but less willing to inflict it on others. We squirm when we have to hold people accountable and support them as they risk and grow.

Being a pastor undoubtedly compounds this quadrant A dynamic: we are tender-hearted types who want to comfort the afflicted. And news flash: everyone's afflicted. (Philo reminds us to be kind, for everyone is fighting a great battle.) So quadrant A leaders can come up with every excuse in the book for letting people off the hook.

And yet, for us Christians anyway, transformation is the name of the game, and that means some pain. Flannery O'Connor writes, "All human nature resists grace, because grace changes us and change is painful."

What do you think? And where do you see yourself in this diagram?

Source: Leadership in Healthy Congregations

~

By the way, are you signed up for my monthly-ish newsletter? Next week's edition will include a preview of my latest book in progress, Spirituality in the Smartphone Age. Sign up.

Ten Lessons on Stepping into Leadership... from Jimmy Fallon

I haven't seen The Tonight Show in years, and my main late-night indulgences are Colbert and Stewart. So I haven't watched much Jimmy Fallon. Except for "Barack Obama Slow-Jams the News," which still cracks me up two years later. (The Prezi of the United Stezi!) But I did catch Jimmy's inaugural monologue on The Tonight Show this week, which led me to seek out several other clips. Here's the monologue:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VFgiPXisu8#t=68

Jimmy Fallon is succeeding a giant of late-night television, and he's entering a crowded field. At 39 years old, he's taking a leap onto a larger stage and needs to prove himself in some ways. As I watched, I was struck by the smart stuff that was going on under the surface, whether calculated or not, and I started to relate Jimmy's debut to other situations leaders find themselves in.  (What can I say? It's what I do.)

Leaders sometimes find themselves following beloved leaders, some of whom are older, more experienced, and firmly entrenched in the culture. Or we may find ourselves having to step into a new role thanks to a promotion or other circumstance. How can these transitions succeed?

Here are just a few things that came to mind as I watched Jimmy take the helm. Might some of these relate to you as a leader, or in other roles you play? Some of these would apply not just to leadership, but any new creative endeavor:

jimmy-fallon-tonight-show-hed-20141. Locate yourself in history. Fallon made explicit mention of every Tonight Show host (and turned it into a joke by listing "Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, Jay Leno."). This was a reverent nod to the folks who'd occupied the chair before him, but also a clear statement: my name belongs on that list now.

2. Make the role your own, but don't go overboard. The set and format were very similar to the previous incarnation of the show, but with several small tweaks, and a few big ones. For example, Jimmy Fallon brought the show back to New York after many decades in L.A. (Carson started out there but moved the show to California ten years into his tenure.) You've got to find the right balance between continuity and novelty.

3. Mix self-deprecation with really knowing your stuff. As a young woman pastor wanting to be taken seriously, this was always my approach. It would do me no good to demand respect and get strident when I didn't get it. So my approach was to be completely disarming, even self-deprecating, while still projecting extreme competence. The former takes the wind out of the sails of your detractors; the latter ensures they don't write you off. Fallon achieved this balance with his characteristic aw-shucks modesty, coupled with running the show very well and taking his role seriously.

4. Make your family visible. This doesn't apply to every situation, but it was sweet the way Fallon mentioned his wife and daughter and cut to his parents in the audience. Many leaders I meet (especially younger ones) don't want a brick wall of separation between work and family. We want to be integrated. Having your family visible humanizes you. Also, knowing more about you makes people want to root for you.

5. Call in every favor you can. The sheer number of guests and cameos on the first show was dizzying! Check this out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ziwnphdoi-I

This isn't just great TV, it's great strategy. Don't go it alone. Calling in favors builds excitement and makes you feel more comfortable too.

6. Spend it all right away. This relates a bit to the previous point. Don't keep good ideas in reserve. Use them immediately, trusting that other ideas will come to take their place. I'm sure there will be other surprises for the rest of this week, and beyond. But taking the previous clip as an example, isn't there something so abundant about the way that parade of celebrities came on stage, one after another? Too fun.

Speaking of which:

7. Don't forget to enjoy the moment. Fallon sure looked like he was having a blast, didn't he? I watched the episode mainly for curiosity, but now I want to tune in just to see what he'll do next. (It's one reason why I prefer Colbert to Stewart these days. Nobody looks more tickled to be doing his job than Stephen Colbert.)

8. Keep your goals modest. As leaders, we sometimes have an overinflated sense of what we can accomplish. We have to remember that we're stepping into a system that existed before us and, we hope, will outlast us. Jimmy Fallon made his goals clear: to "take care of this show for a while" and to make his viewers laugh, to send them off to bed with a smile on their faces.

9. Be gracious with your "competition." I put this in quotes because not every leadership role involves competition. But you will notice that Stephen Colbert made an appearance in the clip above. Fallon and Colbert are slotted opposite one another. But having them together is a statement that there is room for both of them.

10. When in doubt, bring on U2. Enough said:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJmZNuXuUSQ

Did you watch The Tonight Show? What did you think of Jimmy's debut?

~

Thanks for reading! You may enjoy checking out my most popular posts, or subscribing to my newsletter, sent monthly-ish.

The Vietnam Memorial: A Parable for Leadership

medium_2634032379 The other day I heard Maya Lin talk about her design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC. I've visited the wall many times, and it's always crowded with people, many of them deeply moved by the v-shaped black granite gash in the earth.

The memorial seems brilliant, even inevitable now, as if the memorial couldn't have possibly looked any other way. But at the time, it was controversial, scandalous. Many Vietnam veterans fought it. They wanted something more traditional. A few concessions were made---a flag, a statue of a soldier---but through it all, Lin remained convicted and steadfast to her vision and her design.

The night before the memorial was dedicated, Lin was touring the space when a Vietnam veteran walked up to her. He was a big guy, an imposing guy, and he was livid at what he saw. He lit into her, practically pinning her to the wall with his rage, asking, How dare she do this?

As I listened to this story, I imagined what it would have been like to be Maya Lin, and to be the focus of such ire. Then I realized that of course, it has happened to me, though on a more modest scale. One time in the church I used to serve, we made a decision to change the way we served communion. It was the right decision, and we communicated our purposes the best we could. But a man left that day and made a beeline for me: How could you do this? How dare you do this? I received his rancor as non-anxiously as I could, but inside my heart sank and I was flooded with doubt.

I was expecting Lin to admit to similar feelings, but she responded differently. As she listened to the veteran, and heard all of that pain tumbling out, she thought to herself, It's working. The wall is doing exactly what I'd hoped it would do.

Pastors, leaders, and any of us in the transformation business: take heed. When you touch people emotionally, people may lash out. But that's not necessarily a sign to stop. It can be a sign to stand firm, or if you dare, to go deeper.

~

photo credit: fensterbme via photopin cc

Makin' Change

Lots of great nuggets of inspiration here at CREDO. Way too much (and to new) to blog, but here's one from a fellow participant that inspired a lot of us when it comes to dissatisfaction with the way things are:

You can be angry, you can be patient, or you can be creative.

Doesn't matter what the issue is... that is something I can work with.

What's inspiring you today?

Friday Link Love: No More Random Than Usual Edition

This post was originally "perhaps more random than usual" but I thought better of one of my links. *I* found it amusing, but it was off-color and had the potential to offend, so away it went. Onward:

~

Rest: Breathing Space and Sabbath Work -- Mihee Kim-Kort

Mihee is a fellow pastor and Chalice Press author. She was with the board of the Young Clergy Women last week and talked about how it was a Sabbath experience, even though she was working:

...a mixed-up experience of Sabbath from daily living, i.e. from the babies. It was a Sabbath-work. It was space to breathe, without being stifled and smothered by my extremely loving babies. It was a space to be, and be not only a mom but a pastor, a sister, a leader, a thinker, a writer. It was a space to receive, and give in a different way.

A space she found restful and Sabbath-y.

I love this. One of the things I do in the book is explore different ways of thinking about Sabbath other than simply "not working." For example, one section talks about Sabbath as a time to cultivate novelty. By moving into a different creative space, we are able to find rest and renewal.

She's also got a great link to a TED talk called "The Art of Possibility." How can you not lean in to that?

~

Lamp Made from Sawmill Waste and LEDs -- Colossal

A perfect illustration of that old preaching saw about how the cracks are important because that's where the light shines through:

Genius.

~

The Greatest Films of All Time -- Roger Ebert

And he would know, eh? The reasoning behind his choices is enjoyable to read, as is everything Ebert writes:

The two [new] candidates, for me, are Charlie Kaufman's "Synecdoche, New York" (2008) and Terrene Malick's "The Tree of Life" (2011). Like the Herzog, the Kubrick and the Coppola, they are films of almost foolhardy ambition. Like many of the films on my list, they were directed by the artist who wrote them. Like several of them, it attempts no less than to tell the story of an entire life.

In "Synecdoche," Kaufman does this with one of the most audacious sets ever constructed: An ever-expanding series of boxes or compartments within which the protagonist attempts to deal with the categories of his life. The film has the insight that we all deal with life in separate segments, defined by choice or compulsion, desire or fear, past or present. It is no less than a film about life.

In "The Tree of Life," Malick boldly begins with the Big Bang and ends in an unspecified state of attenuated consciousness after death. The central section is the story of birth and raising a family.

I could choose either film. I will choose "The Tree of Life" because it is more affirmative and hopeful. I realize that isn't a defensible reasons for choosing one film over the other, but it is my reason, and making this list is essentially impossible, anyway.

Have you seen Tree of Life? We've had it sitting on our coffee table from Netflix for oh, two months or so. I will watch it!

~

Panoramic Picture from Mars -- NASA

Click on the link above for a 360-degree view of the Red Planet. Stunning, although I do love our pretty blue one.

(Note that this is NOT from Curiosity. In fact this may not even be a new picture. But it was new to me---maybe it's new for you too.)

~

Why Great Ideas Get Rejected -- 99U

Creativity requires an element of novelty, but novelty provokes uncertainty:

We now know that regardless of how open-minded people are, or claim to be, they experience a subtle bias against creative ideas when faced with uncertain situations. This isn't merely a preference for the familiar or a desire to maintain the status quo. Most of us sincerely claim that we want the positive changes creativity provides. What the bias affects is our ability to recognize the creative ideas that we claim we desire. Thus, when you're pitching your creative idea, it may not be the idea itself that is being rejected. The more likely culprit could be the uncertainty your audience is feeling, which in turn is overriding their ability to recognize the idea as truly novel and useful.

If the implicit bias against creativity is triggered by uncertainty, then crafting your pitch to maximize certainty should improve the odds of the idea being accepted. You can do this in a variety of ways...

Members of the NEXT Church and other change agents: be advised.

~

Pride Parade in Uganda -- Advocate

This came across my Facebook feed last night. I don't care who you are or what you believe, that is some stunning bravery right there.

Gorgeous.

Go in peace. Live fearless.