Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Things to Teach Grandchildren

Eloise is on vacation this week, and is fixing biscuits and gravy this morning -- a special treat we only allow ourselves during vacations. Otherwise it's oatmeal, which is also good, and which conventional wisdom says is healthier.

With a grandchild on the way, it sparked the idea that I need to start a list of things to teach grandchildren. Maybe I'll even start a separate blog to record all of these things. There are so many things I learned from grandparents that I need to get my ducks in a row or I might miss something important.

Like biscuits and gravy. Or peanut butter and syrup stirred up. Maybe even saucering coffee. And certainly the joy of toast and syrup for breakfast. Things that I don't do, at least often, but that I learned from grandparents, and that every grandchild should have a chance at.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

I'm glad that Memorial Day is not just about sales and picnics -- although I think both are great. It's good to have a day set aside that reminds us that others have made the ultimate sacrifice to provide the life we enjoy.

I read a story about a soldier from a small town in New York that gave his life about a year ago by falling on a grenade to save his buddies in Iraq. He's a great example of all the others, even those whose action may not seem as heroic. There have been those in Iraq whose deaths have been termed "accidental," -- vehicle accidents or whatever being the cause instead of enemy action. But the truth is, their death was the result of stepping up to the plate for the rest of us, and today I think of them too.

This war has its detractors, but that's not the point. Whether you think this war is a good thing, whether you think it's justified or not, the sacrifice that others are making for us are just as real. Just as it was for our friend Bill Reese and all the others who served and died in Viet Nam.

It's good to stop and remember their sacrifices, and to remember that all wars have a terrible price. And even to remember that Memorial Day originally was established to remember all who died during the Civil War.

So amid the shopping and picnics, spend a moment remembering both the sacrifice and terrible cost.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Capacity to Murder

"We all have the capacity to become murderers." This is a quote from "Think you're normal? Then you may be a killer." in the Houston Chronicle from today written by David M. Buss, Professor of Psychology at UT-Austin, and author of "The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind is Designed to Kill" (Los Angeles Times). Buss's research began when he saw a close friend suddenly become enranged and nearly kill his own wife. Buss says that his research indicates that evolutionary adaptation is responsible for this capacity, due to competition to survive and reproduce.

I don't know about the validity of Buss's theory, but I know God included a prohibition against murder in the law he gave to Moses, so obviously man's capacity to murder is real. Most of us believe, however, that we individually never could murder someone. We think that people in our society who do commit murder have some unusual fatal flaw. Maybe those of us who believe this way are mistaken.

Maybe that's part of what's behind Jesus' teaching that hating has the same effect as murder, and even calling someone a fool puts us in danger of hell's fire (Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7). Jesus is pointing out that when we allow contempt for another to develop in our hearts, we have gone over the line. He wants us to understand that anger and hatred are dangerous. It's not much of a step to physical murder.

So how's your battle with road rage going?

Saturday, May 28, 2005

What Ever Happened to Bailing Wire?

Some of you probably don't even know what bailing wire is. It's the wire that is wrapped around bales of hay -- the old fashioned hay bales, not the new round bales -- to hold them together. But it's fame came from being used to hold all kinds of other things, mostly mechanical, together. When something broke, you could just use a piece of bailing wire to hold it together to keep on going. Thus the saying, "Held together by bailing wire."

I was reminded of this because my nearly antique riding mower needed a piece of bailing wire recently. The mowing deck became unattached on one side due to age and rust, and I quickly saw that I could hold it together a little longer if I had a piece of bailing wire -- which I did not. But I did manage to get the job done with a coathanger, though not as well. I'll be ordering the replacement deck soon to fix the mower correctly, but the bailing wire-like patch is working just fine for now. (It's also amazing that parts are still readily available for a 20-something year old riding mower!)

Now that I think about it, it's interesting that I even know about bailing wire and its importance, because I never lived on a farm (except when I was less than three years old and we didn't have a hay bailer), and my experience with bailing hay was limited to a few days on a friend's farm when I was an early teen. I don't think I learned about bailing wire for repairs from that experience. But the adults who were influences in my life all grew up themselves on farms and around machinery. I suspect that's where it came from.

Anyway, it just seems like knowing how to use bailing wire is a passing thing with our increasingly urban living. And this morning that seems like a shame. Being able to make a quick fix and keep going is a valuable skill.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Time Doesn't Erase Memories

It's been 10 years today since J. W. Stapp, Eloise's dad, died. Although time has passed, his memory is still strong. He was remarkable in many ways. He continued his banking career into his late 70's. He always had a big garden where he grew all the important things -- tomatoes, okra, squash, and black-eyed peas. I think it was a way to stay close to his roots on the farm as much as it was for the good food. He loved sports, and would often listen to one game on his transitor radio while watching another on TV. He was a great dad and granddad, and loved it when the family was all together. He was a great role model for me, and I still find myself thinking about he would handle some situation or opportunity. My life has been blessed and influenced by so many, and I'm thankful.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

What Could You Do That Would Make a Difference?

Yesterday I attended the Get-Together -- a networking group I have written about before whose purpose is to use their social networks to provide "stuff" that several inner city ministries need. Barbara Elliott, who wrote the book Street Saints and leads The Center for Renewal talked about the good things that Christians are doing all over the country to make a difference. And she suggested that the next step in Houston may be to develop an effort that will place hard to employ individuals in jobs and provide mentoring and support to help them succeed. There are a number of good programs in place to prepare underemployed or unemployed individuals for employment in Houston, but none to help them take the next step.

We then heard from two ministries that have summer programs for inner city teens, efforts that have a track record of making a difference in their lives.

The thing that occured to me is that there is no shortage of needs to be met, or even of ideas for how to meet them. All that's missing is people and resources to step up and make it happen -- and connections between people to link the needs and the ideas and the resources.

We're all to one extent or another stuck in a paradigm that the church will take care of all this. And the church does to an extent. But our paradigm of church has become highly focused on taking care of the church, and reaching out to take care of our neighbor's needs is generally a peripheral effort. What if our paradigm shifted to individuals as church with individuals taking on efforts to meet their neighbors' needs? What if our paradigm shifted to churches focusing on meeting their neighbors' needs as the focus and taking care of their own needs as the peripheral effort?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Drawn2Jesus and Retire2Serve

Drawn2Jesus and Retire2Serve are Podcasts - my newest projects.

A podcast is an audio file that people can listen to on the internet and/or download onto their mp3 player (like iPods). There are directories on the internet where Podcasts are listed, and new ones can be found and subscribed to. If you subscribe, they can be automatically downloaded to your computer and/or mp3 player for you to listen to whenever you want.

Podcasting is a new thing, but growing fast. The attraction is that people can find content they are interested in and listen to it when they want. Thus audiences self-select around topics of interest. So I'm joining a number of people providing Christian content for people to discover and listen to.

It's one of those ventures I really enjoy -- turning on a light and see what kinds of creatures gather around it and what they do. Rather than pushing stuff at folks, you just put it out there and let them find it and react. So it'll be interesting to see what happens.

I'm still working to get comfortable with the whole thing. I invite you to listen to the podcasts and give me feedback.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

January 29, 2006

January 29, 2006 has suddenly become a big day for our family -- it's the predicted birth day of Mark and Kathy's first child (and our first grandchild)! Needless to say, there's major excitement everywhere.

It's difficult to tell who's more excited -- Mark and Kathy, the uncle and aunts to-be, or Nana Eloise. Mark was talking fast -- like he does on a Starbuck's caffeine high. Kathy was jumping up and down. John quit mowing the yard and talked to Mark for 30 minutes. Sara said "Shut up!" Eloise was crying. I mostly smiled a lot. And Mark's friend Brad quickly offered the use of his name.

We're all looking forward to the coming months passing quickly and to assuming our new roles!

Friday, May 20, 2005

Work and Boundaries

I was coaching a friend last night around work issues. In some ways it is a unique situation, in others similar to a lot of people today. He admits to working 60-70 hours/week. If he didn't work that much, the job wouldn't get done, and in fact the small company he works for possibly wouldn't survive.

He's struggling with how to increase his personal productivity, thinking that if he could just figure out how to be more productive his hours might not decrease, but at least things might smooth out.

There are a couple of things going on here that others of us might recognize in our own lives.

1. "Increase your productivity" is a phrase that was invented to ward off complaints when companies laid off part of the workforce but the amount of work didn't decrease. Workers are told to increase their productivity so that the company will survive and they will remain employed. While there are some things most of us can do to marginally improve our productivity, the reality is that to take up the slack left by departed workers and slim margins, improving productivity is a catch-phrase for working longer hours.

And it's an ever-increasing spiral, because as workers maintain or increase productivity, competition does the same, so to survive, there's another reduction in force and another call to increase productivity.

Somewhere you reach a point where this all stops working -- no matter how many hours you put in, you can't do what needs to be done. You, and the company as a whole, simply don't have the resources required to be viable. If my friend is not already in this position, he is close.

2. The further this situation goes, seemingly the more addictive it becomes for the worker. Although they recognize the damage working too many hours is doing to the rest of their life, they become addicted to the responsibility of keeping the company going. "If 60 hours won't get the job done, then maybe 70 hours will." " If I don't do it, it won't get done." "The company will fail if I don't succeed." People who never dreamed of being workaholics get sucked in.

So how could you avoid this trap -- or begin to work your way out if you're already snared?
  • Setting boundaries within the different aspects of your life is absolutely necessary for achieving life balance. A healthy lifestyle requires a balance of work, recreation, home life, and spiritual life. Work is the one we usually abuse, and when it gets out of whack, all of the others suffer. We have to set the boundaries ourselves -- draw a bold line we will not cross. Do you have a boundary set up for work? How about boundaries for minimums in the other areas?
  • In order to set boundaries for yourself, you probably need to spend some time focusing on your core values. What really matters to you? When you're honest with yourself about your core values, you won't have a problem with deciding what the boundaries should be.
  • If you're outside the boundaries already, then you will need to develop strategies to bring yourself back into alignment with your values. This is not necessarily easy, but it is necessary. You may need help to make it happen.
Just because it's the trend in the marketplace doesn't make work without boundaries a good thing!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Settling for Less

The contrast and its effect on me were totally unexpected.

We were driving back home on Highway 6 yesterday afternoon, and I found that I was feeling overwhelmed by the crush of traffic. I thought to myself, "There are as many cars sitting here waiting for that stoplight as there were total in the Padre Island National Seashore at lunchtime."

True, it's offseason at Padre Island. Still, there were probably only about 75 vehicles in the whole park. About a third were park workers, about a third were pickups with empty boat trailers behind them in the parking lot at the boat launch into the Laguna Madre, and the rest were those of us visiting. Peaceful is the best description.

Driving toward the park, I found myself smiling even before we reached the entrance. The large white sand dunes and the dense vegitation and the quiet and the solitude just seem to bring on a smile. And when you reach one of the locations where you can access the beach, the view of the white sand and the beautiful green water are incredible. Sitting there, taking it all in, was amazingly relaxing and refreshing.

Driving down Highway 6, by comaparison, felt crushing.

Now I drive on Highway 6 every day and usually think nothing of the traffic. Why yesterday?

Simply because I'd just experienced something that spoke more deeply to my soul, and when I returned to Highway 6, I recognized that I live in a way that insulates me from things that speak deeply to me, and that as long as I stay insulated, I don't even recognize it. So why do we choose to live that way?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

An Elevator with a Quirk

The elevator is one of two public elevators side by side at the Holiday Inn in Corpus Christi.

If you're on the third floor, which we are, and you walk up to the elevator bank and push the button to go down and the door to the elevator on the left opens with the arrow pointed down, you get an interesting ride. The elevator goes UP to the fifth floor, opens the door, closes the door, and then goes down to the first floor. Every time.

The first time this happens to you, you're surprised and try to decide if you got on an elevator that actually was in the process of going up. Maybe someone on the fifth floor pressed the call button. And you expect it to stop on three on its way down -- to pick you up -- but it doesn't.

The second time this happens, you're not as surprised. You have made sure to look at the direction the elevator arrows say you're going, but since you've taken this ride before, you're ready -- sort of.

By the third time, you think you have this all figured out. And sure enough, you're not disappointed. There's never anyone waiting on the fifth floor to get on. It's just what this particular elevator does.

Unless there is someone already on the elevator when you get on who is coming down from another floor. Then you just go down to the first floor.

So I've grown kind of fond of this elevator. When I push the down call button, I find myself hoping that the left elevator answers rather than the one on the right which just works like all other elevators. Finding an elevator with a quirk adds interest to what otherwise is routine.

Quirks -- the things that are unique and unexpected -- are one of the things that make people so interesting. If all of us just did everything the way everyone else does and the way everyone else always expects, our lives together would be awfully dull. Society does all it can to engineer the quirks out of people, but fortunately people don't engineer very well.

I'm sure someone will "fix" this elevator and take its quirk away. But wouldn't it be nice if we quit trying to "fix" each other and just enjoyed each other for who we are -- and especially for the quirks?

Monday, May 16, 2005

What You Can Do About Job Uncertainty

Many people today live with uncertainty in the workplace. Layoffs, downsizing, reorganization, or whatever you want to call it are business as usual in much of corporate America. Here are some strategies that I recommend following to both minimize the stress of living in today's uncertain workplace, and to make dealing with a layoff easier if it comes:
  • Build and nourish your network now, before you need it. Having a robust network is your most valuable asset when the time comes that you decide to change jobs. Statistically, most people find jobs through other people, not from the internet, sending out resumes, want ads, etc. Having this in place during times of uncertainty provides a great measure of comfort and assurance.
  • Have a great, up-to-date resume ready at all times. Going through the process of updating and preparing a resume that you are proud of not only is good preparation, it also helps provide self confidence and affirmation that you have something to offer. This has the benefit in uncertain times of taking some of the fear away.
  • Know what you're really good at and what you really enjoy. Sadly, most people I work with, when they hit a job crisis, don't really know what they're good at, or even what they really enjoy. God has gifted us and wired us each in unique ways. As a result, there are certain things that we each are really good at, and there are certain environments that we flourish in. Understanding these has a lot to do with both job satisfaction and job performance. I generally don't have clients do a lot of testing to develop this understanding, although any testing such as a Meyers-Briggs is useful. Instead, I use a few exercises that surface the same information. In my experience, this is not only less expensive, but more effective.
  • Understanding the job search process -- in case you get thrown into it -- ahead of time is valuable. There's a lot of misinformation out there, focus on the process and proven stategies.
  • Develop a plan for strengthening your value to your present employer, for strengthening your marketability should you choose to make a change or be forced to, and/or for making a pre-emptive career change to an area that may provide more security.
When you take charge and become proactive, you automatically stop being a victim. You have control of yourself and being prepared even if you don't have control of decisions regarding whether your job will continue with your present employer.

Feel free to email me for resources to help accomplish these items, or to have a discussion about a period of coaching to help you implement these strategies.

Friday, May 13, 2005

retire2serve -- A New Venture

I've been working on a new venture for the last week or so -- retire2serve. My goal is to further the vision of people who retire taking on part or full-time service to God and others in place of career -- retiring from career, but filling that gap with purpose and meaning.

The foundation of retire2serve will be using the internet to reach people and churches and faith-based organizations needed to help them be successful.

So there's a new website, retire2serve.com, that will serve as the home base. A centerpiece of the effort will be a podcast -- an internet "radio" broadcast -- providing information and encouragement for individuals, churches, and faith-based organizations. There's more information on the website, as well as an introductory podcast.

This is still in the formative stage, so feedback is welcome!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Serving His Purposes

For the last week, untold numbers of people have moved whatever was going on in their lives toward the back burner to make room for thinking about and praying about the Whaleys and baby Noah. Comments on the blog testify to the level of prayer and compassion flowing from people. Many talked about how this event has brought them closer to God and fueled their prayer lives. Others have talked about their faith growing because of seeing the faith of the Whaleys.

I'm part of this group who has been deeply touched by Noah and his family. My heart hurts for the whole family, especially Julie and Ethan. But I'm blessed by seeing faith in action, and by seeing people connect in community around this family.

It's hard to accept that God is not a respecter of people -- that in this life bad things do happen to good people, just as good things happen to bad people. But it's comforting to see proof that even when terrible things happen to good people, that these events serve the purpose of working for good -- for serving His purposes.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Passing of a Company and More

ChevronTexaco will now be known simply as Chevron.

The name change simply acknowledges what has been obvious since Chevron bought Texaco and closed the deal in 2001. Texaco ceased to exist except as a brand name for stations actually owned by Shell and through Chevron's right to increasingly use the brand.

It never really was ChevronTexaco. About 90% of Texaco's 16,000 employees lost their jobs in the merger. Most of those are no longer in the oil industry -- part of over one million workers who have left the industry during recent decades. I'm one of them.

I think Dave O'Reilly, the chairman and CEO of Chevron, really meant for it to be the merger of equals he espoused when it all happened. In fact, some folks got into serious trouble during transition team meetings for saying out loud, "Chevron bought Texaco." But bringing the two cultures together to create something new didn't happen. All were quickly introduced to "The Chevron Way," a set of principles governing how business was to be done. Rebranding them to "The ChevronTexaco Way" didn't hold much meaning. It quickly became obvious that they were simply "The Chevron Way" because Chevron did buy Texaco.

Everyone thought the merger would be easy because in so many ways the companies were very alike. It became obvious, however, that there were some major cultural differences. For example, in the Chevron culture, there was an attempt to avoid conflict by avoiding talking about it. Even when the elephant was in the room, it wasn't okay to acknowledge it -- thus you couldn't say "Chevron bought Texaco" and Chevron holds all the cards. In the Texaco culture, people would not only talk about the elephant, but were proud of talking about it.

It's not that any company that passes hasn't done things to deserve their fate. One of our leaders once said, "I'll drink all the oil found in Alaska!"

So, the Texas Company is no more, not even in the merger name. With all its flaws, I miss it, especially the community. A long time friend has passed, and as I still grieve the loss, I choose to remember the good in our friendship. And to see the name change simply as Chevron choosing to take back her maiden name after the death of her marriage partner.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


So, what do you believe?
  • Is the spirit world close enough that physical individuals who are sensitive enough can have interactions with those in the spiritual world? That's the basic premise of the TV show Medium.
  • Or is Medium just good drama, a ghost story that is fantasy and entertainment, but impossible in reality.
Seems to me that our answers may have some relationship to our beliefs about God. What do you believe about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit?
  • Are God, Jesus, and the Spirit close enough that people living in our physical world -- who are sensitive to them -- can have meaningful interactions? Can we have conversations with them -- hearing them as well as speaking to them?
  • Or is the Bible just good literature, fantasy and entertainment, but just impossible in reality.
Belief in the reality of the spirit world was very strong in Biblical times. The interactions with and the effects of spirits were real -- in fact Jesus had conversations with evil spirits and cast them out of people.

When mankind became so "smart" that we won't believe anything we cannot scientifically prove, we began dismissing the spirit world -- and with it much of what the Bible teaches.

If Post-Modernism, which basically rejects that everything can be explained by scientific logic and embraces mystery, helps us accept the spiritual realm as real in relation to God and his kingdom, it can be a very good thing. And maybe Medium can help us challenge our thinking about the spiritual.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Power of Community

Few would deny that community has suffered from our frenetic lifestyles of the last 25 years. We have convinced ourselves that working longer hours, spending more time in commuting, and having kids involved in multiple athletic and other after school activities are requisites for life. The result is that time in community life has been drastically reduced. You only have to look at schedules of church services and activities compared to 1980 to see the proof.

Yet it's encouraging to see that new and powerful ways of connecting in community are arising. For an example, see the blog centered around Noah Whaley. A now world-wide community has formed around Noah and his parents Julie and Ethan. It's amazing to see the level of true connection and ministry happening through cyberspace. High tech AND high touch.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Mother's Day 2005

What a day of experiencing so many different emotions I'm having.

About my Mom on the third Mother's Day since she went on ahead. The sadness from missing her presence, being able to talk to her, not sending the orchid she always loved. The thankfulness for having such great memories, for her unconditional love, for how special she treated my wife and each of our children. For the 60 plus year love affair with my Dad. Anger that she suffered and died prematurely. Gratitude for her strong faith in God that she passed on to me, and gratitude for the fact that she's beyond suffering and enjoying eternal joy.

About my wife, who I gave a card to this morning pointing out that she is my wife, lover, sweetheart, etc. but not my mother. A cute card, but one that says she is even more. And also a great mother to our three children. And I'm thankful.

At church, I was reminded that many friends' mothers have gone ahead as well. I feel special kinship with them on this day.

And finally, I've just hurt for the pain Julie is feeling for her son Noah. Like everyone else, I wish I could make the hurt go away.

Most important in all of this, I'm thankful for the reminder from God of how special this life is, even with its hurts. For the reminder that this life is just the short preparation period for eternity. For the reminder that God settles up on the other side.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Noah Whaley

Noah is the newborn son of Julie and Ethan, and he's struggling for life. Julie's brother Steve started a blog for Noah, and you can go there to read about his condition and to see notes written by Julie and Ethan.

Noah, Julie, Ethan and their families have been at the front of my thoughts and prayers since early this week when Noah was born. While my heart has been crushed by the hurt that they are encountering, at the same time my heart has been lifted by seeing the power of God alive and active within them. I am so thankful for the glimpse into their hearts that blogging is providing. My faith is stronger because of theirs.

Monday, May 02, 2005

What in the World is Podcasting?

Podcasting is a new internet technology that allows individuals to subscribe to audio content which they can listen to whenever they want on iPods or other mp3 players, or on their computer.

One major feature is timeshifting. It's similar in concept to TiVo. You select what you want to listen to, and internet technology delivers it to the device you want to listen on.

But what is probably more revolutionary is that anyone can produce podcasts, and do so quite inexpensively. So like blogs have become a door allowing virtually anyone to publish text and photos to which others can subscribe, podcasting allows virtually anyone to publish audio.

From a listener's standpoint, the technology is pretty simple. The first thing you need is a free piece of software called iPodder. iPodder allows you to subscribe to podcasts, and downloads the audio files for the podcasts you subscribe to. If you have an iPod, then you already have iTunes, and iPodder moves the downloaded podcasts into iTunes. When you sync up your iPod with iTunes, the podcasts are downloaded to the iPod. (If you have a different mp3 player, check your software instructions for how this works.) You can also choose to listen to the podcast on your computer using iTunes (which is also a free download if you don't have it).

There are currently about 3000 podcasts being produced. Some are pretty good -- some are awful. You might find the ones done by Godcast interesting to listen to as a sample of some of the better stuff. iPodder also has a catalog of podcasts from which to choose, and there are several other catalogs readily available.

This is a technology that has the potential to radically change the way we receive information in the future. There is even potential to provide not only audio to devices like mp3 players, but also text (including web links) and powerpoint information that is viewed in the iPod window.

Production of podcasts is a little more difficult, but I managed to produce a test podcast today that downloaded to my iPod flawlessly. I'll write about how I did that in a future article. And I expect to begin producing a podcast or two in the near future, as well as helping a few organizations get some of the audio (like sermons) available as podcasts.