Consider the Source

Here is another bit of advice that has carried me far: consider the source. This seems to take on much deeper meaning during this time of misinformation and disinformation. When considering information or input, take the time to evaluate from whom you are receiving the information. What is their agenda? What biases affect the giving or receiving of this information? Algorithms are accelerating information loops that read our responses and feed our biases for the purpose of marketing. We start thinking we are right, if we hear our own voice echoed often enough, regardless of its true connection with reality. Pausing may make a world of difference in not only information flow, but personal relationships. Start by considering the source.

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Let’s focus first on the relational level. Does a specific person giving you feedback actually care for you? Do they have your best interests in mind? My younger sister and I are separated in age by sixteen months. For most of our childhood, people thought we were twins. One of my favorite pictures of my sister and me was while traveling to North Carolina from Florida with our family. We were about five and six years old. There stood a tall, gray water fountain at a gas station that neither of us could conquer alone. We took turns getting on our hands and knees and stood on each other’s backs for the purpose of getting a drink of water.

This inspirational and symbolic moment is a snapshot of trust and cooperation. When someone has been willing to let you stand on their back for a drink of water, you are willing to trust them. Having the attitude of a servant is part of earning the right to be heard. As Teddy Roosevelt famously said, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”

Jesus in Luke 6:43-45

Now let’s see how this applies on a communal level. Some societies and ethnic groups are more tuned-in to contextual cues and referred to as high context cultures. I learned this concept from a workshop presenter named Milton Creagh. Members of these cultural groups pay attention to what is being said based on the context of who is saying the words. Accordingly, they might respond positively IF they accept the credibility of the messenger. In our English-influenced society, we tend to listen to professionals based on their credentials. But this is not necessarily true in high-context cultures. By the way, Generation Z (those 24 years old and younger) is reasonably considered a high-context culture. As a group, the do not tend to trust authority or logic, only relationships vetted by personal experience.

Much of the information tsunami in social media has nothing to do with truth but with “hits” or “views” or “likes” or “comments”, which ultimately results in money or power for someone. When we become obsessed with seeking the approval of others, we are giving up control over ourselves. Most of us want to be liked, but this can be a dangerous power to be put in the hands of others, some with the intention to harm us. Nefarious players are seducing wide swaths of our population by sowing seeds of untruth and chaos. Consider the source. These are dangerous influencers who can certainly lead many to violence, and already have.

So, whether we are talking about a relationship, neighborhood, classroom, or any other social construct, sometimes the crowd will love you, sometimes they will hate you. Best to get used to it. Best to keep our eyes fixed on the Savior who already walked this road ahead of us regardless of the response from the spectators.

Never be too enamored with their cheers. Never be too intimidated by their jeers. Palm Sunday and Good Friday are only five days apart.

Jesus was aware the source of the Sunday praise and the Friday cruelty was essentially the same. Both crowds wanted to use him for their own unsavory purposes. Those intentions were evil; each wanted to control the Son of God for some worldly gain. Sunday was an effort to thwart Roman control, Friday to avoid Roman retribution.

Why do we need the approval of others? Sometimes, we even seek sanction from those who mean us harm. Isn’t that odd? Be wise. Be discerning. Act don’t react. Pause and consider. Pray.

And importantly, always consider the source.

(Adapted from a chapter in Real-Life Wisdom: Stories for the Road by the author of this blog.)

QAnon – “Big Lies”

Gnosticism was the first heresy that confronted the early Christian Church. This movement was a cult built upon “hidden knowledge” known only to the initiated that distorted the essential beliefs of the Christian faith. Cults usually congregate in remote compounds or cloistered communities, but now a new one has emerged that spreads its beliefs online: QAnon.

A recent Wall Street Journal post describes the movement:

“QAnon followers are awaiting two major events: the Storm and the Great Awakening. The Storm is the mass arrest of people in high-power positions who will face a long-awaited reckoning. The Great Awakening involves a single event in which everyone will attain the epiphany that QAnon theory was accurate the whole time. This realization will allow society to enter an age of utopia.”

Wall Street Journal

According to a recent NPR/Ipsos poll of 1,115 U.S. adults, 17% believe and 37% are not sure whether “a group of Satan-worshipping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media” — a bizarre allegation of QAnon followers who actually believe these elites are cannibals. 39% of those polled believe there is a “deep state” working to undermine Donald Trump.

At first, I thought QAnon was similar to movements like the Tea-party or Moral Majority, but the more I research, the greater my concern has grown. QAnon has an extensive fictional narrative that is truly dangerous and predicts/incites violence. This “Storm” mentioned involves hundreds of thousands of executions worldwide.

So, what is the appeal of such “Big Lies” by QAnon? This expression, coined by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf describes a propaganda tool of promoting a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe they “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously”. In other words, “the story is so bizarre, it must be true”; a proven trick of skilled propagandists and cult leaders.

These false narratives are hidden from outsiders who might otherwise reject this insider information reserved for the “faithful”. I mentioned Gnosticism because of its patterns of using hidden codes and insider knowledge to which only “true believers” have access. The covertness of online communication systems has allowed this secret society to grow and invade our society and threaten our national security. Instead of a cult located in a specific geographic location with a visible leader, QAnon has a mysterious “patriot/prophet” leader with a worldwide audience. This should concern us all greatly.

My dear friends, many false prophets are in the world now. So don’t believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God.

1 John 4:1

This QAnon movement more closely resembles the Game of Thrones than the Suffering Savior from Nazareth who was crucified for the sins of the world. QAnon has little or nothing to do with Christianity even though it targets a specific religious audience interested in end-times prophesy. The “Big Lies” of QAnon seek to justify violence, harassment, and bullying which is seen as a way of reestablishing a distorted version of an earlier so-called “Christian Nation”.

Maybe not so ironically, the German letter “Q” (first letter of the German word “Quelle” which means Source) is well-known in higher-criticism theological studies as a reference for “Source Documents” for the New Testament. I suspect “Q” has a theological background and “QAnon” stands for “Anonymous Source”.

What is the solution to this impending cascade of evil? Changed hearts through friendship. The Church has a wonderful opportunity to preach, teach, and show by our actions the fundamentals of our Christian faith. Start by emphasizing the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Christians who have been swept up in this movement need caring friends to help them remember “who they are and whose they are” as followers of Jesus Christ. We serve a Sovereign God who requires us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Christianity looks like Jesus, not these symbols of hate, oppression, suspicion, distrust, and violence. Love your enemies. Pray for them. Gently encourage those moving out of this distortion of our Christian faith. Jesus promises us peace that passes understanding.

My dear children, you belong to God, so you have already defeated these false prophets. That’s because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. And they belong to the world, so what they say is from the world too. And the world listens to what they say. But we are from God. So the people who know God listen to us. But the people who are not from God don’t listen to us. This is how we know the Spirit that is true and the spirit that is false.

1 John 4:4-6

Love God. Love your Neighbor. Love One Another.



Never Pet a Wounded Dog

Laughter is often a survival skill for those in less-than-ideal environments. I grew up in a family with wonderful parents who were often better apart than together. Yet, amid persistent struggles, all of us including my parents, we maintained a great sense of humor. Laughter is a gift from God for encouragement to the weary and reward for their effort. For me, growing up at times was exhausting and I was glad to enjoy laughter as a colleague and comforter.

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One time when I was a boy, one of my older siblings was extremely upset about something–I cannot remember what–and was furious. Being the assigned peacemaker in the family, I felt it my duty to rush in and comfort him. I knew my role; I had to help. My efforts to console were met with a harsh rebuke, yelling at me: “Get out of here! Leave me the hell alone!” I was crushed. Tears welled in my eyes as my effort to help was rejected. He calmed down long enough to say something in humor that has served me well: “Never pet a wounded dog.”

My dad passed along another saying that was common lingo on the farm where he grew up: “You’ll draw back a nub!” (It took me years to figure out this one.) It simply means, if you are not careful around farm machinery, you might reach into something and pull back only a nub of what used to be your arm. It may dramatically change your life to stick your hand into potentially volatile situations.

Let see… “Never pet a wounded dog or you may draw back a nub.”

A compassionate heart and a quick reaction may combine for an impulsive response. Pause. Slow down. Do not just rush into every explosive situation. Pay attention for the right time to offer input. I am not talking about neglecting duties to visit those who are angry. Just consider your timing. Avoid becoming part of the emotional dynamics too quickly, even if well intentioned.

One time I was leading a ministry team that had a terrible tension developing between two leaders. I was immature, well-intentioned, and completely lost my leadership objectivity. My desire to fix the problem became part of an explosive situation that destroyed the unity of the team. More recently, with the benefit of age and experience, I faced a similar situation where I moved more intentionally. I reminded them to behave like Christian adults and they responded appropriately. It kept me out of the middle of a fight between two “wounded dogs”. They talked through the tension, set new patterns, and strengthened the team, a much better outcome.

When a leader—particularly in ministry—first gets involved with a life-changing mission, it is intoxicating. I chose this word intentionally. We can become like a drunk who jumps into every fight, with the adrenaline rush of helping others. Somehow, it stops being about their needs and becomes about ours, and becomes a toxic threat to the unity of the team. Notice the similarity between intoxicating and toxic. An obsessive need to be needed becomes an unhealthy pattern that is actually makes people worse; the very ones you are trying to help.

Give to others in a way that protects your spiritual and physical life, and the health of your family and calling. Sure, you will get hurt occasionally, even if you are very careful ministry involves sacrifice and risk. Ultimately, being more careful helps the other person in their recovery. They do not want to injure you. They do not want the guilt of having lashed out at someone trying to help. Sometimes, people just need some time. Let them know you care, but be careful as you become more personally involved.

You may get bitten.

And it hurts.

In more ways than one.

Love sharpens sensitivity. The more deeply we love, the more deeply we can be hurt and the more deeply we feel joy and satisfaction.

Charles W. Conn

(This is a revision of an excerpt from my book Real-Life Wisdom: Stories for the Road.)

Leading in a Pandemic: Five Key Leadership Traits (ASL & English)

Dr. Rick McClain and Dr. Bob Ayres of REA Leadership Resources first presented this content for a webinar hosted by Deaf Millennial Project. These two instructors are well-known in the Christian Deaf Community in the U.S. and co-authored “DEAFCHURCH 21: Vision for a New Generation” in 2019. Many leaders in ministry and non-profits have become uncertain of how to move forward during this pandemic. Drs. McClain and Ayres have practical advice with a Christ-centered approach to leading well through difficult times like the one we currently face.

The course is NOW available for FREE at Udemy online training: CLICK HERE

Best Bad Decision by Far

Many years ago, a friend and I were discussing the age-old questions about situational rightness and wrongness. I posed the question: “If someone breaks into your house and you have only two choices, kill this person or they will murder your family, is it wrong to kill the intruder?” I figured the killing would be justified by the situation.

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“No,” my friend said. “It’s still wrong to kill.”

“But the other option is even worse! In this situation, it must be okay to kill to save lives.” I countered.

Being the wiser of the two of us, he replied, “True, it might seem that way. The lesser of two evils is never a “good” choice. It may be the better choice, but that does not make it “right”. Taking a life is against God’s intentions for us regardless to what it is being compared.”

Even though I continued to push back in this conversation, over time this insight began to make a great deal of sense. I have seen practical implications applied in many experiences in life: the ending of irreparably broken marriages, painful parenting decisions, ethical choices at work, setting boundaries. When forced to make a choice that is wrong—though better than the other choice—still requires a certain level of personal heartbrokenness. Finding peace after making “the better of two bad choices” still requires repentance and forgiveness (of self and others). Making these painful decisions should not result in a hard heart but rather a tender, humbled spirit. Tears should eventually follow these moments, even if one would make the same decision again, if given the same circumstances. Recognition of this paradox ultimately leads to personal peace with making the better of two bad choices.

Sometimes you might have only two choices, and both are wrong, even the better one. When a life is taken, even a life that was dangerous, still there is need for pause and remorse. When a marriage is irreparably broken, there are no winners. When a loved one is taken off life support, there is a time to mourn. When a parent has to use “tough love”, it is never what was hoped for. No one would have wished tragedy on a person, their family, or the victims involved. Tragedy is tragedy and there is no need to portray it as something good. Even the worse of humanity is created in the image of God, and tragic situations require a recognition of God’s good creation being distorted.

Faith is like the roots of a tree, with knowledge as its branches. The greater and more luxuriant the branches become, the deeper the roots need to be; else, when the storms of doubt push against the branches, the tree will fall for lack of depth and strength.

Charles W. Conn

The oft-used adage “prevention is better than cure” does apply. Do everything you can to avoid being put in the situation of being left with only two bad choices. But sometimes in life you are stuck between two options, both wrong. Don’t try to self-justify or explain your actions away or simply make excuses; these things only delay the emotional journey to peace. Accept the reality of the situation and depend on the grace of God in Jesus Christ for restoration. Reformer Martin Luther wrote in 1521, “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides.” Sometimes the better choice, is still a terrible choice.

 confession… forgiveness… redemption… healing… hope…

There are some choices that are always right.

“Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides.”

Martin Luther, Reformer 1521

By the way, these comments have nothing to do with the election of our next President. Don’t look outward for the “lesser of two evils”. Look inward for the unresolved pain of wrong decisions that once were made. Look upward for the promise of forgiveness. Even God once had two bad choices to make, let his Son die on a cross for the forgiveness of humanity’s Sin or let humanity (you and me) die without eternal hope. But the “better bad choice” of the crucifixion of Jesus resulted in his bodily resurrection, which gives us the presence of the Holy Spirit and hope of eternal life. This is Grace. It cost God his Son. As a result, he overcame sin and death. And this is where we find the peace that passes understanding. This was, in fact, God’s “best bad decision by far”.

We’ll Try Anything Once

Sarah was a REALLY old lady at our church. I met her when I was a young man; in fact, I am still not her age. She had snow-white hair, lots of wrinkles, and walked slowly. Yet, if she is to be judged by what I heard her say following a church meeting once, I believe she had the heart of an eighteen-year-old.

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The church was struggling with how to reach more people for Christ in the neighborhood. We were in a part of town that was not exactly declining but was certainly not growing. Most of the neighborhood consisted of older people, transient renters, and a smattering of students attending the local university. The challenges for church growth were significant.

During a quarterly business meeting, different ideas were shared about new ministries to reach out to the community. Suggestions were floated and creativity was generally appreciated. No one knew exactly what to do but there was a general openness to new ideas. Leaving the meeting, I overheard Sarah say confidently to one of her friends about one of the ideas presented, “Let’s do it. We’ll try anything once.”

Quite shocking coming from an old lady.

Sarah expressed what all effective ministers know; what matters is attitude. She was old and wise enough to have seen the danger inherent in being afraid to try. She oozed wisdom and experience. She probably went to grade school with some of the Apostles. She knew the value of being willing to take a risk and she wasn’t afraid to try.

Her passion was for people to know God; this drives away all fear.

At the time, I was a youth minister at the church. I drove a motorcycle, wore jeans, a bandana, long hair and a beard–those things were actually cool back then. We took many risks with the program. We began a coffee house ministry on Friday nights as an outreach to local teens. I led a discipleship class for teenagers at six a.m. on Friday mornings (believe it or not, it was well attended). We programmed exciting events and camps. We were very intentional about building a team of committed adult leaders who took responsibility for relational ministry with teenagers. It was an exciting ministry.

ALL of these things are risky. We might fail. We might attract teenagers who didn’t know how to behave in church. Someone may get hurt. Teenagers may bring drugs or alcohol into the mix. But as Sarah knew, the greatest risk was to play it safe. It is much riskier NOT to take risks. We must be willing to try anything once–in our efforts to introduce people to the person of Jesus Christ.

Fear sees a possibility and mistakes it for a problem; faith sees a problem and recognizes it as an opportunity.

Charles W. Conn

Be willing to try new ideas to reach different groups of people. Insanity has been defined as trying the same old thing and expecting a different result. Be willing to re-package the product to attract a new audience but keep the content consistent.

New wine deserves new wineskins. “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:22)

Jesus said he came to give us life, and give it abundantly. Pour it over, splash it around, dripping, and enjoy that refreshing life that wells up inside your heart. It is the passion of Jesus poured into our earthly vessels. Embrace the thrill of a new challenge. God took the ultimate risk when he sent Jesus into the world. He knew we may reject him. Many did. Many still do. He was willing to take the risk because of His love.

Remember the parable of the talents recorded in Matthew 25:24-26. “Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!” The words of the Master become even harsher as the story continues. It is not a happy day for the servant who was afraid to try; afraid to risk, afraid to fail.

There is certainly a risk in taking risks; this is why it is called “risky”. It is easy to be fooled into believing something is right, just because it involves the thrill of risk-taking. Abundant life is fun and exciting and sometimes, risky. Sin provides a shadowy imitation of the thrill of abundant life. It is a deceptive mimic. That is the attraction of sin; taking risks is inherently exciting. We must avoid the trap of sin. Don’t take risks simply for the thrill of taking them; have a calculated reason for your decisions. Be wise.

I am proud to say that I have failed at more things than most people have even thought of trying. I could wallpaper my office with rejection letters. It is no fun to fail but occasionally, something I have attempted has continued, and even flourished. This sure makes it fun. Above all, following Christ is about faithfulness, not success.

Start with a vision of what God wants to do in a situation. Put together a plan. Build consensus among like-minded people. Generate excitement. Give it a go. Be willing to fail. Be prepared to succeed. Many times, you can solve an old problem with a new approach. If you fail, you will be in the same place you are now, no real loss… except, hopefully… you will have learned a thing or two.

My wife and I have applied every bit of creativity, problem-solving skills, and risk-taking imaginable to raise our children to become decent human beings. Some thought it risky for us to adopt older children; they come with baggage. From what I have seen, those who birth their own children share risks, as well. Children do not come with guarantees. We all make good and bad choices in life. The problem is people tend to be so human. It is risky business to start a family, yet God calls each generation to do so. We cannot be driven by fear. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

If you are not living on the edge of potential failure, you are not living the abundant life. Even really old followers of Jesus know the importance of a good adventure. Be willing to try anything once. Who knows, it just may work. And if not, you are still in good company.

Excerpt from Real-Life Wisdom: Stories for the Road, (Ayres, 2004)

God is with you through the darkness

Sandy (not her real name) and I were best friends in high school. We never dated but came together to write and play music. Neither of us understood a personal relationship with God at this point but the lyrics written reflected a quest for truth and meaning in life. There was a similar longing in our hearts for a connection with God. Sandy knew me at my loneliest time and her friendship gave me hope. We spent many hours together dreaming of Colorado and adventures in the world of performing music.

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During our senior year, Sandy and I stopped playing music together and drifted apart. I was busy with school and work and dating. We both moved on to other interests and lost touch. I began to follow Jesus and it changed my life. Through the obstacles of all my faults, still I was able to sense of God’s incredible grace. After high school, I became a volunteer leader with a local youth ministry. It was an exciting time of growing and learning each day what it means to follow Jesus Christ. I slept little and often carried on deep discussions with peers through the late night and into the early morning hours.

One time late in the evening, I was at a friend’s house for a party when I received a call from Sandy. We had not talked for almost two years. I stood in a noisy living room and closed my eyes to try and understand her quiet words over the phone.

“Are you busy?” She said.

“No,” I fibbed. “What’s up?”

“I just need to talk with someone. I didn’t know who to call. Can we meet somewhere?”

“Sure.” Of course, as an introvert I’m always glad to leave a party, so I excused myself and headed out. We picked a local 24-hour restaurant to meet and ordered a pot of coffee and chocolate dessert. I remember having a great conversation about several things but there seemed to be nothing specific on Sandy’s agenda. She knew I had accepted Christ and was interested in how this impacted me. A few hours later of friendly chatting, we hugged and went our separate ways. I quietly wondered why she phoned me so late at night for what appeared to be casual conversation.

I later learned it was a matter of life and death.

It was an extremely fragile time in her life that night and my name kept coming up in her mind. Honestly, I still do not know how she got the number for my friend’s house or even knew I was there. I am so glad she did. She later told me that her deal with God was, if you are real, let there be someone who shows that they care; if not, I will kill myself tonight. Completely clueless, I simply showed up.

The story is just getting started. We began getting together almost daily and she did accept Jesus into her life. Three weeks after becoming a Christian, Sandy was confronted with a terrible crisis: her father, step-mother, little sister, and their baby-sitter were all killed in a terrible car crash.

God will hear the cry of His children from afar, but we should live so close to Him that He can hear our faintest whisper of prayer.

Tears are the prisms that make rainbows in the soul.

Charles W. Conn

The news was an incredible shock. Sandy’s relationship with her father had been estranged, yet in the initial process of being rekindled. Suddenly, he was gone. They all we gone. As a brand-new Christian, she was slammed with the reality that horrific things happen to good people. Life can suddenly become unbelievably devastating.

Sandy could have totally rejected the God of the Universe for the tragedy that so closely followed her conversion, but instead she drew closer. She let the God who knows ultimate sorrow hold her while she grieved. There was no hint of trying to minimalize or explain away the shock and grief; no bad theology that turns God into the villain of the story. Sandy recognized that bad things can happen in life to anyone and eventually, to everyone. When those overwhelming moments come, we all make a choice to either face it alone, or lean our friends; to embrace comfort from the God who made us, and is always with us or walk through this valley without hope.

The night before he was to die on a cross, Jesus sat at the table with his closest friends and whispered these words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14:1) During their last meal together, Jesus comforted his disciples, “Peace, I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27). One cannot turn bad things into good things by simply attributing them to God. Bad things are bad things. However, God can use even bad experiences to bring about good things in life, but this does not change the reality of pain and loss. However, it does adjust our perspectives on them. We are people of hope.

People have different ways of trying to make sense out of tragedy. God calls us into viable relationships, not cold isolation. I believe the perspective of God as the perpetrator of evil events sets people up for an eventual crisis of faith. It plants the seeds of deep doubts as to the very goodness and or existence of God. I prefer to accept the reality of our broken world and recognize that God will never leave us or forsake us. The Holy Spirit is our Comforter who gives, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7). This is where we cling to the hope of the resurrection.

Sandy has been there and she knows.

Do not be afraid. Do not let your hearts be troubled.

God is with you through the darkness.

Revised from Real-Life Wisdom: Stories for the Road, (Ayres, 2004)

Show up, dressed, and ready to play

When fresh out of grad school and starting my first teaching job, a motivational speaker was brought in for the faculty at the beginning of the school year. The speaker reminded me of a used car salesman. I strolled in thinking, “Why in the world do I have to sit here and listen to this guy when I have so much work to do?” Oh, the pride of youth; As it turns out, this presentation impacted my life in ways I could not have imagined. In fact, last week I told this same story to a young man I coach/mentor, about how to succeed in his workplace.

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The presenter told the story of a conversation with a young man who once approached him after giving a motivational speech. The man asked him, “What do I need to do, to be successful?” He told of pausing a moment before giving his response: “Show up.”

Puzzled, the younger man said haltingly, “What do you mean?”

Smiling, he replied. “Just show up. That is all you need to do. You will have a delightful and successful life. People will appreciate you and acknowledge your contributions. I wish you well.”

“Okay…” the younger man nodded hesitantly. The motivational speaker continued, “Now, if you really want to get ahead, receive accolades, gain recognition, and have people talking about your traits and qualities then you might want to consider showing up, dressed.

“Dressed?”

“Yes, dressed. Not only clean and in pleasant attire, but with your mind dressed. Your attitude dressed. Give attention to the details of how you present yourself. How well you listen. Be attentive and ready to perform, as necessary. Be up to the task.”

The young man’s expression froze somewhere between incredulity and horror. These were not the answers he was looking for. Certainly, there had to be more to being successful. Finally, he said, “You mean… is that all there is to it?”

“Oh, no. There’s one more thing, particularly important.” He continued, “If you REALLY want to blow them away, take control of large companies, rise to the top of your field, maybe even have buildings named after you, find yourself in positions of influence and help change the world… then show up, dressed… and ready to play.

“Ready to play?”

“Yes… ready to play.”

Silence.

“Show up prepared. Study the issue before the meeting. Think of alternatives and solutions before you walk in the door. Do your research, talk to others, consider alternatives before you arrive, be ready to present your well-thought-out ideas. You might even have new insights on the topic. Maybe your handouts printed and the master plan in your mind. If you will do this simple thing, be ready to play, you will take the corporate world by storm. He paused and then said, “That is about all there is to it. Show up… show up dressed… and show up dressed and ready to play.

Real-Life Wisdom: Stories for the Road

There are times in life that the best you can do is show up. Anyone who has raised children understands this adage. Show up for doctor’s appointments. Show up for teacher conferences. Show up for housework. Show up for your spouse. Show up for dinner. Show up for conversations with your children. Show up and you will survive and actually succeed at this thing called parenting.

My career in ministry and community organization has often put me in situations that are simply unpleasant. I have visited friends in jail, walked into hospitals, confronted tough situations, and find myself repeating to myself, just show up. I have danced on the precipice of panic and remembered this adage: settle down, just show up. This is helped me to get up after being knocked down. It is amazing how important it is to just show up in during the difficult times in people’s lives. Do not let uncertainty paralyze you, just push forward and do something. Start by simply showing up.

Second, become aware of your non-verbal communication, how you come across to others. Show up, dressed. Intentionally maintain a positive attitude about the opportunity of helping other people. If you have experienced a relationally rich life, full of hope; share the emotional and spiritual encouragement with others. Meet people where they are and walk beside them. Be willing to adapt your appearance to fit the situation. Dressing is so much more than what you wear, it is how you dress your attitude; how you perceive others. Do you see them as God does? Dress yourself in a mindset that allow you to see others through God’s eyes, their Creator. Look people in the eye, and recognize their inner beauty, even if they make you uncomfortable. Adorn yourself with integrity and respect. Dress yourself with class. Show up, dressed.

Finally, show up, dressed and ready to play. It takes a tremendous amount of planning to make something look spontaneous and fresh. The mark of a professional is someone who can accomplish extremely difficult tasks and make them look easy. This only happens because the professional was preparing while others were watching television. Study each situation before entering it. Ask advice of others who have been there before. For me, prayer is a vital part of showing up ready to play. There is nothing magical about excellence; it is simply taking your responsibilities seriously enough to show up prepared. In Luke 14:28-29, Jesus spoke of the importance of estimating costs before beginning to build a tower… show up prepared. Show up ready to play.

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Do you want to be successful in life’s endeavors? Show up. Do you want your life to “make a difference in this world?” Show up dressed. Do you want to leave a lasting legacy for others to carry on?

Show up.

Show up, dressed.

Show up, dressed, and ready to play.

Revised from Real-Life Wisdom: Stories for the Road, (Ayres, 2004)

If we all switched chairs

If we all switched chairs, this conversation would be completely different.

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Tim Dobbins is the youth leader who first helped me connect to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Tim often brought laughter to the conversation when he would quip, “You know, if we all switched chairs, this conversation would be completely different.” I still smile when I think of this phrase. What in the world was he talking about? It took me awhile to make sense out of this. I thought Tim was just being funny. Actually, he was communicating an important truth that I would later discover for myself.

It makes me ask myself, “How do I interact in groups?” I notice that virtually every time I walk into a meeting, I check out the seating arrangement. I have become quite proficient at the skill of surveillance and strategy. I subtly decide on the best seat at the table to accomplish my personal goal. May seem odd… but sometimes, I intend to be an invisible member of the meeting. I simply want to stay beneath the radar screen, off the firing line. I want to avoid being stuck in the trenches. Carefully, I plot my words like an advisor to the general at military headquarters. I have prepared for battle and am running on stealth mode. Sounds like guerrilla warfare. Probably describes my state of mind in those meetings. Choose the seat least likely to draw attention to myself. My advantaged position is often silence… followed by carefully crafted words. Regardless of my agenda, I am almost always intentional about where I sit in a meeting. I do not want to be vulnerable. I want to operate from a perspective of control.

According to my father, who was a math professor, if you have five people in a meeting around a table, the potential number of combinations of where people are seated is a “Five factorial” or 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 120 different combinations. Each one would have its own distinct pattern of interaction. If you are in a meeting and things are not going well, ask everyone if they are willing to change the seating arrangement!

Somehow, the words of Jesus keep popping up in my head. He was keenly aware of where people sat at the table. He says we are to take the lesser seat; to avoid lording power over others. One time, Jesus confronted two brothers vying for positions of power. “Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:42-44)

What if we rearranged the seating at a table? Would the conversation be completely different? Do I apply this same principle to how I choose my clothing, what car I drive, who my friends are, where I live and work? Do I tend to put myself in an advantaged position? Does my being in an advantaged position put others in a disadvantaged position? Does my being an “insider” create “outsiders?”

If my position at the table was one of the uneducated working man, would I have a different perspective? If I were a woman at the table, would I find sexual innuendoes charming or cute? If a person of color, would I tolerate the tenseness in the room when I expressed a controversial opinion? The beginning of knowledge is recognizing that which we have not experienced–of knowing where we have not been or cannot go.

I have spent most of my adult life in ministry with people from whom I am different. Often referred to as “cross-cultural” ministry, this means I am an outsider in another culture. I am the one who is different. I am white, and have ministered with African-American youth. I am an adult and have entered the world of the adolescent. I worked on behalf of people with brain injury yet have not personally experienced this trauma. I am hard-of-hearing and minister within the Deaf community. Make no mistake about it; if you are ministering in another culture, you are always a visitor, regardless of where you sit at the table.

Real-Life Wisdom: Stories of the Road

The one thing we share across all cultures, is our incredible need for connection with God and each other. The ground really is level at the foot of the cross. We are equally in need of decency and right relationships. Gather with those different from yourself. Approach them as equals who have more to teach you, than you can teach them. Remember, you are the visitor when you cross cultures. Go with respect, humility, vulnerability; become more of the kind of person God can use, for the sake of others.

Excerpt from Real-Life Wisdom: Stories for the Road, (Bob Ayres, 2004)

Disunity, Respect, and Hope

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Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first presidential inaugural address on March 4, 1933 gave us a powerful imagery of strength and unity in the face of crisis. Here is short excerpt of the opening section:

“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Because of enemies abroad and some who are homegrown, we now experience a tsunami of digital disinformation and deception, intentionally designed to create enmity. These forces wishing to harm us, are fully aware of their inability to overcome us militarily, yet are savvy to our vulnerabilities of division and disunity. The over-abundance of information of social media is a two-edged sword that keeps our population much better informed, yet unfortunately, painfully misled at times by disreputable sources. I do not believe the mainstream media is the enemy of the people. Though every news source has a bias—including mainstream news—there is a built-in accountability for traditional sources of news and information that is often lacking in social media.

You may disagree. Honestly, that is fine with me. We can agree to disagree, without being disagreeable. Without a doubt, if we will apply the “Golden Rule”, we can weather these troubled times together and come out stronger. While we will always have differences on political issues, simple decency and mutual respect can restore productive debate and give us hope for stability. Because truly, the only thing we need to be worried about is the spread of suspicion and paranoia. Unreasonable fear is volatile, and can rapidly explode into violence.

While accepting the nomination of his party for the race to become the senator from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln popularized a statement made by Jesus: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand” (Matthew 12:25). I believe we are approaching a crisis point as we draw closer to the 2020 national elections. We are on track for doing what no outside force could accomplish militarily: destroy ourselves by losing faith and trust in the goodness of our neighbor. It is not too late to turn this discord around.

At some point, hateful words become violent actions. History is replete with infamous examples of evil furor degrading into bloodshed, murder, and genocide. We are better than this; let us remember our fundamental values that allow for dialogue and dissent, without fear of retribution.

America is headed for a crisis unless we remember who we are and whose we are, especially those of us who self-identify as Christians. We must actively avoid demonizing our fellow citizens who support the opposing political party. These are our associates, friends, and family members. Let us remember to “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for our anger does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).

Love God. Love our neighbor as ourselves. Make disciples of Jesus who reflect his character and priorities. The Church carries this responsibility, regardless of who wins elections. Let us remember that Christians are called to be “salt and light” in this world has little of either. Our actions can help rebuild unity and mutual respect across national and personal differences. Our attitudes can help bring calm in the middle of a cultural storm. We do this best by reflecting basic respect for all; even for those with whom we disagree. Respect for each other overcomes our disunity and gives us hope.