Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Visit to ‘The Shack’

For a Robert, I’m really a Johnny-come-lately: usually trailing the curve in technology advances like computers, camera and cell phones. Sometimes I also lag behind in reading books many people are talking about.

That was my situation in reading The Shack by William P. Young. For more than a year I have been hearing about this book, alternately described as “awesome,” “theologically spurious,” “compelling,” even “heretical.” Finally I decided to “Shack-up” (in a way of speaking) and see for myself.

I found it thought-provoking, imaginative, inspiring, even worth reading again. Some of Young’s theology can be debated, but I don’t think he’s making dogmatic statements on biblical interpretation. If anything, he asks readers to relax religious paradigms, suspend their disbelief (as with any work that involves fantasy), and allow themselves to take a fresh look at God and their preconceptions about Him (or, ahem, Her).

Initially, after discovering the story centers around a little girl abducted by a serial killer, I hesitated. Not exactly light summer reading. But I proceeded and found the author – who has experienced great tragedy of his own – seeking to address with honesty and compassion the paradox of a good God that oversees a world of evil, pain and suffering.

Young is audacious enough to put words into God’s mouth and takes certain liberties that those who recoil at even the suggestion of extra-biblical revelation will find troubling. But considering the Word of God was written for finite minds struggling in vain to understand the infinite and divine, I suspect Young’s exercise of literary license doesn’t unsettle the Lord all that much.

In Isaiah 55:8 God declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” In The Shack, Young strives to explore those words through narrative. I’m grateful that he does.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Joy of Doing What You Love to Do

It’s said if you love what you do, you’ll never go to work another day in your life. I agree for the most part, except for the reality even the best job has aspects you would like to eliminate or change.

But it’s true work become less like drudgery and more like play if you enjoy what you’re doing. For me, it’s writing, editing and photography – all of which I utilize in producing this blog. There’s nothing more fascinating to me than expressing thoughts in written form, trying to connect those ideas to unseen readers, supplemented when possible with photos or graphics.

This doesn’t apply to everyone, obviously. Many people would rather eat bugs than write. I feel the same way about other types of work – particularly the manual variety. I have great admiration for people that can work with wood, bricks and mortar, electrical wiring or other mechanical pursuits. Asking me to do such things, however, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

That’s why in Leaders Legacy, the organization I work with, uses The Birkman Method, a motivational assessment tool to help people identify strengths and interests and try to align those with their vocations, if possible. If you match people with jobs according to how they’re naturally wired, work can become a joy, not a necessary evil.

A large majority of people go to work because they have to – just to pay the bills – not because they want to be there. They greet each new day with, “Good Lord, morning!” rather than a cheery, optimistic, “Good morning, Lord!”

The Bible says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23). Easier said than done, but when you love what you do, it’s not just possible; it’s probable.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Scanning the Headlines

Fast cash for fast cars. Porsche plans to produce a 918 Spyder hybrid supercar and make it available to consumers for a mere $630,000. For those who think that sounds a bit pricey, consider it will have a 500-horsepower engine, get 78 miles per gallon, and accelerate to 60 miles per hour in a mere 3.2 seconds.

I doubt I’ll shop for this particular model anytime soon. Not that it costs too much – one could save that much with excellent gas mileage, couldn’t one? No, I just don’t need a car that hits 60 mph in 3.2 seconds. It takes me that long to back out of my garage – and I don’t want to do it at 60 miles per hour!

And I don’t get many invitations to take a spin on the Daytona International Speedway or Talladega Superspeedway, so 500 horsepower under the hood wouldn’t be very practical. I could drive to Atlanta really fast, but why hurry to idle that many horses in a traffic jam once I get into the city? No, I’ll stick with your basic Toyota or Honda – and save a few shekels in the process, even if the gas mileage isn’t quite as good.

Typical date settings? As mentioned previously, I view “The Bachelor/Bachelorette” concept as ridiculous as any of the reality shows. But being a glutton for punishment, I sat with my wife to see how the most recent “Bachelorette” is winding down.

As I understand it, so far Ali and her testosterone-overloaded hunks have toured Turkey, Iceland, Tahiti, and now are wrapping up in Bora Bora. Yup, pretty much the same places I used to take my dates during my years as a single guy. Didn’t we all?

Poor Ali. Even though she had two very promising hunks falling all over themselves to win her affections, she had her heart broken. Surviving hubby candidate Frank stopped by the Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa (remember the last time you were there?) for a few minutes to dump Ali in favor of an old girlfriend. Don’t you just hate when that happens – especially in Tahiti?

Anyway, the other guys – I think their names were Barney and Fred – had already pledged their eternal love, but being ditched by Frank was like a kick in the gut. Ali apparently was thinking, “I don’t want to be loved by some guys. I want to be loved by all of them!” Understandable, right?

Well, I won’t tune in to see the grand finale. I can’t take so much pain and angst – I might visit my dentist instead. And rumor has it that in the end, rather than choosing between Door #1 and Door #2, Ali decides it’s best to show them both the door.

The Scriptures tell us that love is patient and kind (1 Corinthians 13), but when it comes to lust – what “Bachelor/Bachelorette” are really all about – it doesn’t have to be either.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Saying So Long to ‘Boss’ Yankee

George Steinbrenner, the flamboyant, controversial and oft-vilified owner of the New York Yankees, has passed away at the age of 80. I met him in the mid-70s while a a young community newspaper editor in Ohio. Being a lifelong Yankee fan, meeting the man known as “The Boss” was a unique experience.

Steinbrenner, of course, was the pioneer in capitalizing on professional free agency, offering megabucks to players like Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson while his peers were still in their counting houses, squeezing out shekels for their players. In so doing, he restored the once-proud Yankees to their former glory. In more than 3½ decades as owner, Steinbrenner propelled his well-paid Yanks to seven of their 27 World Series championships, 11 American League pennants and 16 AL East titles.

“He ruined the sport!” some people might say, blaming him for starting the stampede to pay outrageous sums to grown men for playing a silly game. There’s some truth to that, but one thing I particularly credit Steinbrenner for was the determination and zeal for making his team the best.

By all accounts his management style made Donald “You’re Fired” Trump seem a wimp, a mere marshmallow by comparison. I doubt I would have enjoyed working for Steinbrenner, but he was committed, clear on his mission, dedicated to excellence and attaining the standard by which all other teams would be measured.

Ecclesiastes 9:10 tells us, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” I don’t know how pure George Steinbrenner’s motives were, but in terms of pursuing his goal with all his might, he certainly succeeded in doing that. In that respect, we need more people like him.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Encountering an ‘Endangered Species’

Occasionally we hear about endangered species -- birds or mollusks on the brink of extinction. Advocates plea for the species, fearing its loss to nature and subsequent impact on the ecosystem.

Recently I encountered an endangered species – at a cell phone store. Having just purchased a new phone online, I wanted phone contacts and photos transferred from my old phone. The customer service rep not only greeted and signed me in, but also walked me through the steps to get my phone set up for immediate use.

She readily answered my questions and, perhaps sensing my extremely low-tech capabilities, explained nuances of my new phone and helped download new ringtones. All without making me feel like an annoyance or imposition on her time.

What this affable young woman was displaying has become an endangered species in the world of retail: Customer service!

At stores across America, in the name of cost-savings, customer service has been minimized, if not eliminated. I never liked salespeople that hovered over you, but it would be nice being able to find one when you need one.

So it was pleasantly surprising to find an indulgent cell phone salesperson – especially since I already had my phone and simply wanted it operational.

Essentially this person was manifesting the so-called “Golden Rule,” what also has been termed the “ethic of reciprocity”: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). I suspect if roles were switched, she would appreciate similar treatment.

With many stores bemoaning subpar sales, perhaps they should restore good customer service – even if it requires hiring additional staff. A business adage is sometimes you have to spend money to make money. Wouldn’t it be revolutionary if retailers did that again?

They might save a “species” from extinction – even revitalize the retail ecosystem!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Happy Independence Day!

Sunday marks the 61st anniversary of my first birthday party. (You do the math.) Even though Giessen, Germany was my birthplace – Dad was stationed there, Mom was there with him, and I wanted to be close to her at the time – I’m a Yankee doodle dandy, a real live, bonafide nephew of my uncle Sam. (My grandfather’s name also was “Sam” – Samuel.)

I’m a flag waver, a proud American, even though there is much in and about America we can’t be proud of. But that’s true of any nation. If there were such a thing as a perfect nation – like a perfect church – they wouldn’t let us in.

Some of the greatest music I’ve ever heard includes “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Stars and Stripes Forever” and, yes, “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Thank God for John Philip Souza and George M. Cohan.

Since its birth, freedom has been the byword of the United States. At times it seems “freedom” and “liberty” are interpreted to mean “license,” even “licentiousness,” but a hallmark of our country has always been allowing people to say and do – within the limits of the law – whatever they choose, even when we don’t agree.

Although some would disagree, I believe the values and principles that shaped the USA are inescapably rooted in biblical truth. In fact, the Bible speaks much about freedom: Moses led the captive Israelites out of Egypt so one day they could arrive at the Promised Land. Jesus died on the cross, freeing humankind from the tyranny of sin, and was resurrected to offer us new life. As Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ set us free” – free to become all He desires for us to be.

So as I celebrate our free nation, I appreciate the freedom available through another Kingdom even more.