Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Accountability: A Missing Ingredient?

Recently a friend spoke to some younger business people about accountability. One individual asked how he would rank accountability, compared with other professional traits and skills.

The question was asked because accountability apparently is alien to many emerging leaders. Certainly nothing they have studied in college or business school.

With this vacuum of personal and professional accountability, the surge of scandals in the workplace is hardly surprising: Serious ethical transgressions performed without remorse; top executives skimming exorbitant bonuses while their companies suffer unprecedented losses; headline-making moral failures. When no one holds you accountable, having permission to ask hard questions, it’s easy, as the Bible puts it, to “do what is right in your own eyes.”

This applies to workplace responsibilities, home life, even leisure activities and financial decisions. As poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” We think our ethical and moral decisions are independent, of no consequence to others. But in fact, their effect is profound – good or bad – on our families, friends, coworkers and companies.

In reality, we can only be as accountable as we’re willing to be. Some people are readily accountable in some respects, but unwilling to give access to other areas they don’t want to have scrutinized. So we continue to see leaders tumble into cataclysmic ethical and moral failures, even while appearing open and honest. That can happen when they reveal only what they were willing to have examined and questioned.

James 5:16 exhorts us to “confess your faults to each other and pray for each other.” It’s not a matter of having people “check up” on us, but rather communicating our willingness to be totally vulnerable - to safeguard our integrity and, ultimately, our standing and effectiveness as ambassadors for God.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Where Is Your Faith?

There seems to be much discussion about faith these days, pro and con. Facing economic travail, many declare their faith in the United States remains firm. Some still retain faith in the stock market. Many people say they have faith in Barack Obama, convinced the President can restore our nation to brighter, more prosperous days.

Then there are the naysayers, those who have no faith or confidence in anything they cannot see or grasp. There is a small but militant, and very vocal, army of atheists who rail against all who entrust their faith in a God that cannot be seen or touched. Faith, these supposed intellects would argue, is utter foolishness.

But think about it: The simple act of living is impossible without faith. When you board a jet, you entrust your life – a true act of faith – in the integrity of the aircraft and the skill and expertise of the crew. You would not dare to drive down a road without having faith that oncoming drivers will stay on the proper side of the center line. When you are hired for a new job in a different part of the country, you relocate as an act of faith – trusting that the job will await you when you arrive.

I have devoted much of my professional life to writing about the necessary intersection of faith and practice, whether in the workplace, the home, or the community. While I respect those who disagree, I also humbly assert they are dead wrong.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Good News...and Bad News of Change

Most days one of my first acts is to retrieve the morning newspaper. With two journalism degrees and having spent the first decade of my professional career as a newspaper editor, newspapers have been part of my life for many years. But I know I’m a member of a dying breed.

Recently, a friend and I were commiserating on the uncertain future of newspapers. Across the country, most have seen significant circulation drops; with the economy, many are drastically reducing staff. With the immediacy of cable news and the Internet, the efficiency of current events on newsprint has diminished. That’s bad news – and good news.

Online is the future of newspapers – probably exclusively one day. We live in a high-tech world, and content of a printed newspaper often seems like yesterday's news -- even the day it's printed.

Things change: In the early ‘80s I marveled upon learning about USA Today using satellite technology to link regional presses and become a national newspaper. And was amazed to discover desktop publishing; the old cut-and-paste method now seems ancient.

Two years ago I purchased my first digital camera in preparation for my youngest daughter's wedding, and have not removed my old SLR from its bag since. When I got my first computer (a Macintosh 512K) in the mid-80s, after two days I permanently parted with my ole trusty electric typewriter. Compared to the computer, as slow as it was back then, the typewriter seemed like writing in stone.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” It’s true that fundamental requirements of society – transportation, commerce, recreation, communication, etc. – remain constant. But ways of meeting those needs do change, taking different forms. And that’s not all bad.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Glory of Grandparenting

More than 20 years ago I first heard someone say, “If I had known grandchildren were so much fun, I would have had them first!” Now, having my own grandkids, I resemble that remark.

The other day, our oldest granddaughter here in town spent the night with us. She loves to watch videos, so I suggested a DVD that I had bought for $1, containing several episodes from the “Howdy Doody” children’s show filmed in the late ‘50s. I wondered how Buffalo Bob Smith, Howdy, Phineas T. Bluster, Clarabell, Dilly Dally, and the Peanut Gallery would connect with the mind of a 21st century child.

To my delight, as grainy black-and-white images took me down Memory Lane to around 1957, Avery loved it. Strings clearly holding up Howdy Doody, Mr. Bluster and friends did not faze her at all, nor the silly slapstick comedy conducted by Buffalo Bob.

But what I had forgotten was how they cleverly interwove commercials into the context of the show. There were Buffalo Bob and Howdy extolling the virtues of Wonder Bread (and its “red, yellow and blue balloons”), Hostess cupcakes, and Tootsie Rolls. It’s no surprise I grew up consuming those products: Who wouldn’t trust good ole Buffalo Bob?

The next morning we went to buy some items for lunch. In the parking lot, in all its red, yellow and blue glory, was a Hostess Bakery truck. Avery spotted it right away, as well as the loaves of Wonder Bread and Hostess cupcakes in the baked goods aisle inside the store.

Our nation may be facing a monumental struggle right now, but we still have vintage Howdy Doody; Wonder Bread – and grandchildren. Things could be worse!

“Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children” (Proverbs 17:6).

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Rest of the Story

America lost an icon last week with the passing of Paul Harvey. His distinctive voice, unique slants on the day’s news, and most of all, “The Rest of the Story,” were legendary.

Every day listeners were treated to intriguing, little-known stories about people, both "Who's Who" and "Who's He?" types. We listened intently to hear the unexpected twist at the end of each account. These narratives will be missed – as will his signature close, “Paul Harvey…Good day!”

As a follower of Jesus Christ, my studies and meditations have shown me that in a similar way, Christianity also offers a “rest of the story.”

Those who call themselves Christians understand Jesus by His crucifixion and resurrection offers forgiveness and salvation, promising life after death. I think equally important, but too often overlooked, is the life He offers BEFORE death.

Trying to fulfill the standards God presents in the Scriptures seems like “mission: impossible.” Humanly speaking, it is. Again and again, however, the Bible asserts God does not expect us to do it on our own.

For instance, we are told, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 2:5:17). Similarly, every believer is assured, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

Jesus told His followers, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). At the same time we are told, “I can do all things through Christ” (Philippians 4:13). Many other passages make similar assertions.

This underlies the essential difference between Christianity and the world’s religions: As someone much wiser than me has said, religion is mankind’s best effort to reach God; Christianity is God’s best effort to reach mankind.

When God commands, “be holy as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16), He does not ask the impossible. As we appropriate the life and power of Christ available to every believer through His Spirit, we can become transformed and experience the reality of walking “in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

And THAT’S the rest of the story!