Thursday, October 30, 2008

Another Lousy Night for Atheism?

When reliever Brad Lidge declared his gratitude to God and Jesus Christ for his game saving performance in the final game of the 2008 World Series, I thought, "Here we go again!"

Bringing a Championship glow to the hard living city of Philadelphia, he was just being sincere. The right hander is all the way back from that fateful blast off the bat of Albert Puholz in the post season of a few years ago. But this victory was about this city and this team, he said. Still, it's a remarkable story of recovery.

I am happy for Brad, former Astro, and also to Charlie Manuel, former Indians manager and the one who taught Manny and Thome alot about hitting. Anyway, it's great to see that both Brad and Charlie made good on the opportunities and the second chances the Phillies gave them. Both men had the courage to face their fears. Good for them and the Phillies!

Transcendence, or the ability to see the big picture, is one of the virtues listed by Seligman in the article on "The State of Positive Psychology" on this blog. I recommend it whatever your persuasion. Under "transcendence," there are several character traits: among them are hope, appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, meaning or purpose (religiousness), and humor.

My thought is that Brad's expression of gratitude is beautiful; if he had been ungrateful, it would have been ugly. Having no one to thank is a terribly lonely stance toward life. Which is why I think that for every Atheist, there is a story. Often it's not at first about cogent logic as much as being wounded or abused by others, among them Christians.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Dip for Clergy

Nurturing the Old vs. Birthing the New is a great topic for ministry because no matter what you are doing, there are always some things that need to die so that you can give your energy to birthing something worthy of your time and energy.

I like the idea of the Dip as set forth by Seth Godin. When to quit and when to stick is the book's theme. Sometimes clergy mistake rigidity for faithfulness. I've seen some folks have a success or two and figure that those successes can be transplanted to every other church they will ever serve. Many pastors stay too long, waiting out the last few years until retirement and very content to ride whatever wave is left.

But whether you stay with it and work through the dip or decide to quit at the right time, dips do exist. Learning how to face them honestly and ask the right questions is probably most important. It's in the long term where most of the rewards are.

Here are some questions on which to reflect regarding the dip:

1. Are you currently approaching, in, or beyond the dip in your setting? Why or why not? For Godin, the dip just starts shortly after what we would call the honeymoon as pastors.
2. What currently sets you apart from others in your field?
3. How can you narrow your focus instead of widening it?
4. How can you become, or are you already, one of a few instead of one of many?

Godin suggests that the smaller supply favors the one who has greater focus. The dip is an interesting concept for second half clergy and makes one wonder if the learning and experiences for them are in part, the uniqueness they have to offer. After all, wisdom always seems to be in short supply.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Last Campaign - a Great Read!

Thurston Clarke's The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days that Inspired America is a riveting account of the 1968 Democratic Primary campaign of Senator Bobby Kennedy. For many reasons, this book is a worthy read regardless of your persuasion.

One, for anyone attracted to idealism, it's a lesson in the costs of those ideals. This is the story of how, in the national turbulence that was 1968, R.F.K. became more and more his own man. In a very short time, an 82 day campaign, the national soul was touched and lifted. Most would say to this day that Kennedy's life and mission was left unfinished- so much died with him the night he was shot in June, 1968. At the same time, one cannot help but appreciate what was accomplished in the space of a few days. Clarke attempts to answer how Robert Kennedy touched our national character by beginning his narrative with the funeral train route, and the crowds that gathered along those tracks to say good-bye. The rest of the book is the story of how our nation's politics were changed in this campaign- and WHY those crowds gathered around that funeral train route.

The book's relevance is unmistakable. Was Kennedy's campaign also the last campaign to inspire and lift us with what we share, what connects us as Americans and as citizens of the world? Was this the last campaign to call us to unite rather than divide? The year, 1968, was one of inner-city violence, assassinations of leaders, war protests, and ugliness of domestic poverty. Kennedy's dual message was consistent and clear: violence is not the answer (respect others and obey the law) and justice was needed. In the cauldron of 1968, both were urgently needed, and RFK was the lone voice in the primaries holding white and black America to the same standard.

Kennedy, according to Clarke, was an authentic witness for non-violence AND law and order because of his personal experience with violence, his older brother's assassination in 1963. He could also stand for social justice because of the time he spent with the sharecroppers of the Mississippi Delta, native Americans in South Dakota, farm workers in California, and his own work with a New York anti-poverty foundation. The time he spent with the poorest Americans was of course questioned by some staffers because, of course, there's no political advantage in being with people who don't vote.

In reading The Last Campaign, I learned more about my country and a hero that I had only idealized since I was ten years old. Although the end of this story is always depressing, the gift of time continues to clarify Kennedy's contribution. In a way, he accomplished more in the space of those 82 days than some of us do over the course of our lives. His campaign touched our national soul and psyche in a way that was and continues to be irrefutable. We can do amazing things with the gift of our lives in a short amount of time, and we can make our significant contribution in whatever time we have left. That's a great learning from this book. And that's inspiring!

Oldies but Goodies