Thursday, December 29, 2011

Some Basics for making New Year's Resolutions

     Once more in the passing of time we find ourselves at the shift from one year to another.  2011 is about to drift into 2012 and a flood of New Year Resolutions are being pondered or acclaimed to those who ask and perhaps to those who didn't ask.  Resolutions however simple, complex or multiple, come with well meaning intent and seem to fail or pass away from our resolve and memories by the end of the month of January.

      I offer three basics when it comes to forming and discerning New Year Resolutions:

     1.  You will achieve more by doing less!  The temptation is to make an extended grocery list of "will do's"  or "will not do's".  We actually immediately sabotage ourselves with sheer information/intent overload.  A basic theory used in statistical analysis is the Pareto Principle or as most people know it as the "80/20 Rule".  In one form, it is understood as the rule of the distribution of resources and goods in the world.  80% of stuff comes from 20% of people and their processes such as 80% of the world's wealth is held by 20% of the world's population.
          A secondary application is that by applying 80% of your energy and resources on the top 20% of a prioritized list, you actually will accomplish 80-90% of the list.  So, if you have made an exhaustive list of resolutions, prioritize it with the most important items at the top, tapering off to the lesser important ones towards the bottom of the list.  Now, count down from the top 20% of the total topics and draw a line or just cut the bottom items off and then focus on just the top 20% of the listed ideas.  You actually will accomplish them more readily than if you tried to tackle the entire list of "I want's, I need to do's or I want to quit's!"

     2.  In somewhat of a related philosophy, Stephen Covey in his work entitled, "The Eighth Habit"  offers his "90/10 Principle."  In short, he states that only 10% of what happens in our lives is out of our control.  Acts by others, nature or pure chance that we can do nothing to avoid or deter.  We can however be empowered as to what we will think, say, perceive, feel or how we decide to act 90% of the time.  This is important to remember in that we are empowered 90% of the time with choices we can make to only the meager 10% of chance or the actions of others that intrudes upon our life!

     3,  One final idea that I have also gleaned from Stephen Covey's work, is, "4 Basic Assumptions for Life"  I actually feel that these four basic assumptions are to be for me my top 20% of how I am going to respond 90% of the time to the 10% that I have no control over in my life,  They are:

    A. For the Body: Assume you had a heart attack; Now live accordingly! (Discipline)

    B. For the Heart: Assume everything you say about another person, they can overhear;
         Now speak accordingly!  (Passion)

    C. For the Mind: Assume the half life of your profession is two years; Now plan accordingly!

    D. For the Spirit: Assume you have a 1-on-1 conversation with your Creator;  Now live
        accordingly!  (Conscience)

      May each and everyone of you have a Blessed New Year!

      In Christ,


Friday, December 23, 2011

Silent Night, Holy Night ; Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All Humankind !

     I remember my first Christmas Eve Service as a Priest at St. John's Episcopal Church in Florence, South Carolina.  I read the Gospel account of Luke's story of the Nativity flawlessly and then moved to the pulpit, filled with awe and wonder and started into asking the congregation to be still, quiet for a pause and to listen to the silence.  It lasted for about 5 seconds when a car passing by hit their musical horn and "dah ta ta dah, dah ta ta dah" blared an air horn version of Silent Night as if on que!  So much for the ascetics of silence, awe and wonder for that year! To top off the night, I read the Luke Nativity Account once again flawlessly at the Midnight Mass prior to the rector's sermon and sat down with a sense of pride and fulfillment.  He leaned over and said, "You read that well, I'm preaching on the Gospel of John!"  At which point, I looked back at him and said fearlessly, "Good Luck!"

     I have returned to this theme of Silent Night, Holy Night; Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All Humankind with a hope and expectation that some year I and the World will get it Right for Christmas Eve, but to no avail!  Either I have been the one out of sorts or the world has had a varied pallet of conflicts, disasters, wars, economic downturns, rising unemployment, terrorist attacks and overall an attitude of "Not Playing Well with Others!"  In many ways, most adults wouldn't stand a chance of being on Santa's "Good List" if we are truly honest about it!  Yet a change in perspective has alleviated my longing for a perfect year and perfect entry into the Christmas Eve venue.

     About 3-5 years ago, I came to see that there will never be a "Contracted Peace" on earth between People of such breadth and diversity that will appease the expectations, desires, and needs of a global human community.  I could use up every Christmas Eve of my natural days here on this planet waiting and never seeing that come to a reality!  I however can still do something about that challenge.

     The Peace that I seek and desire in my lifetime will have to come from within me instead of from outside of me.  If I calm my spirit, mind and body long enough to listen to what I am seeing, hearing, feeling and sensing, I can feel a peace shower over me.  It is the Spiritual Inner Peace that comes from a resonance of my Spirit with a Holy Spirit that pervades a Hope and Grace that allows me to move among the people and venues of my world and manifest a calmness towards others in the manner of my chosen words, my deeds, my expressions and the overall way that I enter into the world and relationships of my life.  I choose Peace, and Goodwill towards others that I see, meet, talk to, and interact with.  I Choose to find a Silent Place to "Listen" to the Awe and Wonder of the Season as I watch children visit Santa, people scurry to buy presents, parking lots fill with gridlock, or as I sit still in the pew of an empty church or just outside staring at a star-filled sky!  I Choose, and I don't have to wait for the world to provide of succumb to my willfulness or expectations.  I could wait for ever if I do not choose to act and initiate the Peace and Silence that I seek this time of season.

     It was hectic to do a two show gig at the local nursing home with a local choir and to accompany a fellow parish member on my guitar! But I wouldn't change a thing when I saw the elderly man in a wheelchair alone in a part of the assembled crowd, singing his heart out with each and every song or carol that was offered! His very image enabled me to sit in traffic that was backed up for miles as I left that venue on my way to gather yet another gift for someone I wanted to surprise! That in turn brought me to help a parish member pick out just the right guitar as a gift for their grandchild!  A Grace-Chain Reaction of Events started from on choice of Grace and desire to share Goodwill with some seniors that gathered in their commons area for a little, "Christmas Cheer and Music!"

     It was extra trips in the shopping venues around town to gather items for present lists these past weeks!  Yet, I wouldn't have traded the hug I received from the older lady ringing the Salvation Army Bell as she wished me a safe trip home for Christmas!  ( I passed by her multiple times and each pass equaled a bit of change for the Red Kettle)

     It's going to be a 12 hour drive starting at 7 PM Christmas Evening after I give Santa his Christmas Communion for the 25th consecutive year, to get to my home and family in Georgetown, Texas at 7 AM Christmas Morning!  But I wouldn't miss Mary's great cooking, a smile, a hug, a big kiss and the pandemonium that will lovingly ensue once Peter, Molly and Mary's twin brother, Peter dive into hot chocolate, cinnamon rolls and presents under the tree! Alex and Liz join us later near New Years Day.

     I guess if each person was able to focus on their ability to sense and provide "Peace and Goodwill" in their own spirit and life, then perhaps shared Hope and Grace my overflow into the world at a rate able to overcome the critical mass needed to fill the world.  It had to start somewhere!  What a better place than in a small cave with a newlywed young couple experiencing the birth of a child sent from God to initiate by life example a Grace and Hope that offers the capacity for Humankind to Silence their activity, just long enough for them to receive a gift that can't be tied up with ribbons, bows or confined in a box, but that has every ability to calm a soul, and instill a Hope that can transform one's life!

     Merry Christmas Everyone!  May you experience a Silent Night -- A Holy Night -- and may you infuse Peace and Goodwill to All You Meet and Love this Christmas Season!  May God Bless Us Everyone as we Endeavor to Do this to His Glory, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Our Lord God, Emmanuel!


Monday, December 12, 2011

What do you want to be when you grow up?!

I remember my first time answering this question of life sometime before I reached the first grade.  I wanted to be a garbage man!  The thought of being able to ride around all day hanging on the back of a moving truck enamored me.  I don't remember interim choices until high school and my connection with mechanical drawing and being able to read and create engineering/architectural drawings.  So, the natural draw was to build things and thus become an architect!  Worked for me!  Until an elevator accident the summer between my junior and senior years.  The out-of-body-death experience changed all the rules and perceptions.  I was to become a Priest in the Episcopal Church. 

Thirty one years ago tonight, that became a reality at the hands of The Rt. Rev. Gray Temple in St. John's Episcopal Church in Florence, South Carolina.  It's interesting pondering that fact today because all that I had thought would be in that role, has changed so dramatically over those 31 years!  The first five years was just the excitement to learn and apply what had been taught or not taught in seminary classes.  I was learning to be a new husband, a new father and be a priest all at the same exciting time.

Instead of just staying in one place and following a per-determined path, I became a Mission Planter, a builder of sorts and struck out on two ventures to start new worshiping communities, one in Tabb, Virginia and another in the Canton Township (Greater Detroit, Michigan) area.  So the logic was that architectural skills and interests were to be part of my priesthood in building church buildings and supporting campus amenities.

The fact was that by the time I reached my second decade as a priest, I was learning that building buildings was not on the pallet.  My time in Trussville, Alabama and Holy Cross taught me that!  It was with the persistent encouragement of my wife that opened discerned means to study for my doctorate and possible other applications of my interest, skills and time.  I have learned from some of the best!  Arlin Rothauge, Peter Steinke, Ed Freedman, Lyman Coleman, Paul Wagner, Carl George, Edward Deming, John Maxwell, and a list of others.  Maybe the bricks and mortar was to actually be people instead of buildings?!

So, along with continuing education from my wife as to how to become a better spouse, my three brilliant children as to how to keep up and become an engaged father, I also worked at becoming aware of people and the dynamics that come with motivating them, responding to their needs and the challenging role of leadership!  No leader worth their salt want to be only taking a walk, but instead, wants to walk with the people that have entrusted their leader with their trust.  It's not an easy balancing job, but it is exciting!
I learned even more lessons while expanding Grace, Georgetown, to larger numbers of people and the need to expand to two concurrent locations.  Leadership is not always easy nor assured that it will be always understood.

What I realize today is that answering "What do you want to be when you grow up?" is not as easy as it seems!  I do believe in vision, dreams, and goals, thus the question is important in development if not only to motivate and inspire people to look with hope and aspirations to a worthy goal and purpose in life.  The recent movie, "Hugo"  is a great story to point out the need for people to have and know a purpose in their life, and to not know or claim it, they flounder and are easily despaired.  I have been one of the lucky ones!

I also realize that there is no end or diploma of completion when you get there, but that like life, the journey and exploration continues!  I visited this morning with a good friend and retiree that said, " You know that I am retired and have absolutely no free time!"  It can believe that with no doubt.  The quest may start in a chosen or called direction but is constantly undergoing tweaks, and twists, and turns, or even reversals.  Once again I find that it's not so much about the "doing" as it is about "being"! 

I am happy for the 31 years I've invested in my vocation as a priest!  I am sorry for the bumps, the bruises, the falls, the knocks, but I wouldn't trade the years for the births I've witnessed, the weddings I've officiated, the tender moments shared with those who trusted me with deep personal time and feelings, the ability to comfort those who have lost loved ones, and the joy of celebrations of the seasons of the church.  The added benefit is that I have gotten to play with architectural dynamics in building buildings and clearing land, I've had the fun of abundant friendships and relationships that span this country and the world!  I have learned to not hold on tight to some things, and to hold on dearly to relationships of ones that are dear to me. 

What do I want to be when I grow up?  I want to be happy, loved and feel like I have offered my best.  However I don't know if I'll ever grow up, God isn't through with me yet!  As a reader that has endured to this point, I invite you to take the time and ask yourself the question of "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and let your memories, experiences and creative license take you where you have been and where you are going, but more importantly, who are you, and who's are you?  That is what really makes the passing of time and scenarios special and precious, or able to be let go to the ages.  Maybe the question is better asked, "Who do you want to become if someday you feel grown up?!" It's the journey within that sets the stage for the successful journey outside in life!

Monday, December 5, 2011

St. Nicholas in Our Modern Time

Most of the world will be caught up in the dwindling number of shopping days until Christmas, or distracted by the harm or peril befallen someone on the news, or the teeter-totter pitch of the economy, and will have no idea of the passing of St. Nicholas Day tomorrow!  I find it a paradox that we quickly curse the secularization of the season, the loss of divine and holy awe, the glare of glitz and bling, and the self defined need for certain presents just for ourselves, and at the same time, have no connected idea as to what some of our actions are based upon.

Nicholas, born around 270 AD, lived in a world that was crumbling.  The Roman Empire was in corrupt decline, life was not a certain journey and could end abruptly at any turn of the days events.  His parents were blessed with wealth, perhaps due to his fathers merchant trade.  He was the by product of devout prayer by his parents who longed for a child.  The promise was made that the child would be dedicated to God if the blessing would become manifest.  Nicholas, (meaning - "People's Victor") was that prayer answering blessing.  It was not long however that both parents were taken by a massive plague that took nearly half of the population. He was taken into the care of his uncle, the Bishop of Myra, an influential region of the Early Christian Church.  Living among the monastic monks, Nicholas discerned his use of his families acquired wealth to aid and assist those in need.  It was under his uncle's tutelage that Nicholas was ordained Deacon and then Priest at an early age.

The story is well known of Nicholas leaving bags of gold coins to serve as the dowry for a family that had fallen upon hard times and his actions not only saved the oldest daughter from being sold into slavery or prostitution, but he did it three times for each of the merchant's three daughters.  The father stood vigil to find out who the benefactor was and caught Nicholas after the third delivery.  Nicholas directed his "thanks" to God alone, and then sternly charged him to tell nobody, but that he was therefore charged to go and do likewise for others!  Thus the pattern of "giving in secret".  It is also the basis that "helpers" grow in number as children mature and come into knowing just how Nicholas can make the world-wide rounds in one lone night.

The story that is not well known is that Nicholas was called back to Myra from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to find that his uncle had died.  It was a dream that led the head bishop of the replacement conclave to stand vigil in the early morning to meet the new candidate for bishop.  The vision said to anoint the first young man that entered the cathedral who's name was Nicholas.  And thus it happened as foretold!

It wasn't long afterwards till Diocletian began one of the most severe persecutions of the Christian Church.  Nicholas was one of those imprisoned for nearly 8 years.  Upon release, he was still young of age, but wore an older man's presence.  He quickly regained his popular status as a devout, caring and humble servant of the Lord.  Like most things that become less tested the Church itself started to show cracks in the perception of the Faith.  Nicholas was invited to be one of the over 300 bishops to attend a conclave that was called by the Emperor Constantine himself, to be held in the city of Nicaea during the Spring and Summer of 325AD.

To deal with the Arian Heresy, a movement to define Jesus as a "first creation" of God and yet not equal to the status of God, Constantine assemble 159 bishops to his left and 159 bishops on his right.  When the floor was given to Arius, the proponent of  "Arian Thought",  it was too much for Nicholas, who got up from his seat, strode to Arius and slapped him.  This was taboo to show any violence in front of the Emperor and was taken to a cell, stripped of his vestments and left in exile from the conclave.  It was a visitation by Jesus and His mother Mary that reinstated him and released him to regain his rightful seat at the Council.  Nicholas was a part of forming what many of us use today in our worship when we say the Nicene Creed!

It is only after the death of Nicholas that stories of him exploded worldwide.  The melding of St. Nicholas into Sintre Claus by the Dutch/Germans who later colonized the Pennsylvania/New York region of the United States that gives us the basis for Santa Clause today.  It is also the story of his generosity in secret to the dower-less maidens that we get the practice of filling shoes, stockings, or gifts under the tree.

I know it is a long background for a blog posting, however, if we understood the nature of the first real Santa Clause (St. Nicholas) perhaps it would be easier to catch an insight to the real meaning of Christmas Traditions and Celebrations.

Hopefully we can be as committed to defend our Faith in Jesus, be humble in accepting the many challenges and changes that come into our lives and to deal with them with as much Faith and Grace as He did in losing parents, relatives, wealth, health, freedom, and challenges to character and the ability to worship in a peace of mind and soul.  To move from the temptation of becoming bitter and numb to the pain or need of those in the world, and to move out instead with a generosity and love for our fellow man, and to kick it up even another notch to go and do something about it, in secret! 

I pray to capture a bit of the Spirit of St. Nicholas every year as his patron day comes by (December 6th) and make it an action to smile, greet others with Merry Christmas, to be patient when store clerks are frazzled and up tight. I'm going to be the one that affords Grace to the tensions that abound.  I want to be the one that leave a little bit more as a tip for the frenzied waitress.  I want to be the one that lives as if St. Nicholas has taken over my manifested presence and do my best to enable Peace on Earth, and Good Will to All Humankind.  Perhaps if enough of us would take on this mantle, maybe someday in our life time we will see it become a realty and not just a Hope that seems trampled by our blindness or rush to serve ourselves. 

Happy St. Nicholas Day to all of you elves out there that are doing the Lords work in a Frenzied World!