Seeing Others As Zeros (Luke 19:8)

Years ago, there was a certain band-director who was known for building a winning program, no matter what it took. One tactic he used was to take coat hangers and shape them into a circle, with the hangar part made into a handle. If you messed up the marching drill, you had to put down your instrument and carry one of these coat-hangars, while the other members of the band chanted a little ditty that called you a Zero.

I’m sure that at this moment, many of you are thinking “what a horrible thing to do to a young person!” And yes, it’s certainly not an example from the John Wooden school of leadership.

I submit, though, that every one of us is guilty of the same thing. We see others as “zeros” in at least two ways. Make the jump to see where you fit.

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The Muse Bank

I have long had an on-again, off-again relationship with Morning Pages (MP). Even though I am a big, big fan of Julia Cameron and The Artist’s Way, as someone who works a regular job for a living and writes on the side, there have been long stretches of my life when I have blown off MP as just another drain on time that I could be writing for real.

Recently, even though I still have a full-time job, direct the orchestra at church, serve on the board of a local political/activist club, and have agreed to chair one committee and serve on two more at church — even given all that, I have expanded my writing world to four blogs, three Facebook pages, three Twitter accounts, and a few books. In other words, I’ve had to become a damn colony of rabbits when it comes to word fecundity.

And yet, I have struggled. Normally, I don’t have too much trouble finding words to write — it’s the time that eludes me. But over the past few weeks, I have actually sat and stared at a blank computer screen, more than once, and wondered why my usually reliable Muse had disappeared.

So, a week ago, I pulled out my trusty journal portfolio and started doing MP again. I sat in the coffee shop and didn’t go on to work until I had written at least a page into my journal. (Yes, yes, I know it’s supposed to be three pages; baby steps, baby steps.)

And, exactly what was supposed to happen, happened. Continue reading

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Stop Being So Damn Needy!

(a Lection Reflection on Luke 14)

There’s a great scene in Stephen King’s memoir On Writing where he describes an incident between himself and his wife Tabitha, who is also an accomplished author in her own right. They were taking a trip, and Stephen was driving. He had asked Tabitha to read over some of his latest work, and … well, let’s King himself tell what happened next:

There are some funny parts in it — at least I thought so — and I kept peeking over at her to see if she was chuckling (or at least smiling). I didn’t think she’d notice, but of course she did. On my eighth or ninth peek (I guess it could have been my fifteenth), she looked up and snapped: “Pay attention to your driving before you crack us up, will you. Stop being so ___ needy!”

What makes this so great is that it’s universal. Even though we may not be writing the next best-seller, there are still areas of our lives where we are needy. And, if we’re lucky, we have someone like Tabitha to point out when our neediness is driving our actions. What does this have to do with Jesus’s teaching about the wedding banquet? Just this: People who live out of their neediness do things like Jesus describes. Let’s take a look. Continue reading

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Are We Part of the Oppression?

OK, let’s cut to the chase.

This week’s lections have two readings that present an easy-peasy contrast: Isaiah 58 and Luke 13. The Isaiah passage addresses religious people who act out the stage play of their religion (holding fasts), but then fail to act out their religion in their everyday lives. The Luke passage highlights a religious person who is so focused on the stage play of his religious rules that he cannot see or understand real religion (healing) taking place right in front of him.

In both cases the religious people are the oppressors. Obviously, for anyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear, all one needs to do is read both passages back to back, then say “Don’t be like them, amen,” and sit down. The End.

And if that’s enough for you, or your congregation, or whatever reason you are reading this piece, then great. Go forth and lay it on ‘em.

But for me, it doesn’t end there. I keep coming back to one phrase in the Isaiah passage:

“… if you loose the yoke of oppression …”

I’m stuck there. In fact, the phrase has haunted me ever since I read it. And I keep asking myself two questions:

Are we part of the yoke of oppression?

And if so, what are we going to do about it? Continue reading

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Can We Get a Grown-Up View of Faith?

(A Lection Reflection on Hebrews 11)

Years ago, I read a book that immediately went onto my “key books” bookshelf: Good to Great by Jim Collins. The author and his team of researchers looked at pairs of companies in the same industries that at one time had been fairly similar, but where one company had gone from “good to great” while the other had been left behind. The goal, of course, was to try to isolate those principles or practices that made the difference.

One of those principles came to be known as the Stockdale Paradox. It was named for Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. Collins had interviewed Stockdale at one time and asked him how he was able to live through such a horrible experience, while others seemingly younger and more fit wound up dying in the prison. Stockdale noted that the prisoners who were either complete optimists or complete pessimists had the most trouble surviving. It was the ones like himself that combined realism with a long view that finally made it out.

In his book, Collins notes that great companies approach their world in a way that is very similar to how Stockdale approached being a POW. Collins names the principle the Stockdale Paradox, and outlines it thusly: Continue reading

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