Electile Dysfunction

31 Oct

They called it Operation Iraqi Freedom and in April 2003 it was all but over.

By any and all accounts, it was a complete and total ass-kicking. The vaunted Iraqi Republican Guard was obliterated in less than a month by the shock and awe of the US military.

The streets of Bagdad were flooded with ecstatic Iraqis celebrating the American’s triumphant march on the capital city.   Marines poured into the city and were greeted like heroes.  In an almost perfect metaphor, a giant statue of Sadaam was pulled to the ground, the impact serving as an exclamation point to mark the end of the war.

Sadaam Statue Falls

 

What was happening was clear to anyone watching. The Iraqis were embracing freedom.  They saw all the potential of liberty and a free society and were running with open arms toward independence.

Eleven years later the privilege of hindsight tells us, what we thought we saw was all a lie. Our interpretation of their reaction was just plain wrong. These people weren’t fired up about what they got; they were pumped about what they’d escaped.  A tough lesson we eventually learned on the backs of many lost lives.

Fast forward to 2014, and I’d warn you that the US is about to have our own Sadaam statue moment.

If you believe virtually any poll out there, Republicans are about to win and win big. They’ll take control of the Senate, increase their control of the House, and pick up many governor chairs.  Tune in to election coverage on Tuesday and you’ll see a lot of white men giving speeches to throngs of crazed supporters in cramped convention rooms filled with campaign signs and streamers.  They’ll be flanked by supportive wives and disinterested children, and they’ll all be enthusiastically telling you how everything is going to get better.

They’ll also be lying.

The truth is that while the names and parties on the ballot may change, nothing else ever does. Any victory gained on Tuesday will be just as hollow as the one we gained in Baghdad.  The sooner we all realize that politicians will never have our answers, the sooner we can solve them ourselves.  The truth is that the best we can hope for is that they stay out of our way while we do it.

America doesn’t need a change in the political sphere, we need a spiritual renewal. Such a renewal won’t be led by government; it can only be led family by family.   Hard work, service to others, and liberty aren’t political talking points, they are biblical mandates.  Your rights don’t come from men, or even the constitution, they come from God.

So if you choose to watch election coverage on Tuesday, I would encourage you to take the results with a giant bag of Morton’s System Saver pellets.

Today’s freshman is tomorrow’s incumbent.  We’ll be toppling their statue soon enough.

Anything I can do? Supporting the Grieving

28 Oct

“If there is anything at all I can do, call me.”

We’ve all said it.

Someone has just experienced a loss and we don’t know what to say. It’s our sincere attempt to help. We really would spring into action if they called.

But they won’t call.

Grief

The problem is that those words fall so very short. They fall short of expressing the feelings of the person who said them, and far short of offering real comfort for the one who is grieving. Yet, it’s sort of “what you do” when you hear of someone’s loss.

It turns out that what we’ve always done is not working. There is a better way.

First, a little background about me is in order, a little confession if you will. I try and serve others, I’m empathetic and helpful and I work hard to be a supportive friend.  Despite all of that, I have a massive hole in my game.

When a death occurs, I choke.

I find myself frozen in inaction when those around me need me most.  I fear saying the wrong thing, so I say nothing.  I fear doing the wrong thing, so I do as little as possible.  On some level I expect if the loss happened to me, I’d just want to be left alone, so that is what I offer.   On another level, I am paralyzed at the prospect of doing it wrong and increasing someone’s pain.  I am self-aware that I completely and totally suck at this and I’m frankly disappointed in myself.

So recently when I had to opportunity to attend a Saturday morning workshop to learn the basics about how to support the grieving, I was all over it. I simply have to get better at this, and I was glad to have a place to start.  The workshop offered the Cliff’s Notes version of a much larger discipline known as Stephen Ministry that equips people to serve others in grief.  It must be an awesome discipline because even the Cliff’s Notes provided extensive info I had never heard– info so important that it must be shared.

My biggest takeaway from the day is that I am not alone; most people (in fact) “suck at this”. So contained below are three actionable steps. Something you can do so that the next time you find yourself in this situation, you won’t ask if there is anything you can do, you’ll know of at least three.

Tip #1 Be Present

Spend time with the person who is grieving. Sit with them, cry with them and engage them.  Being present and supportive in and of itself is a gift, one that they desperately need.  Don’t attempt to address any solutions; just sharing time is invaluable.  Be with them, it doesn’t matter what you do, you very well may do nothing.  Just keep in mind what you say.

Be sure to leave your cliché’s at the door.

 

  • “he’s gone to a better place”
  • “she’s gone home”
  • “he led a long full life”
  • “she had a good run”
  • “…at least he’s not suffering anymore”

All of these come from good intentions, none of these are appropriate. The last thing someone in grief needs is to be “talked out of it”.  They need to process their feelings and discounting those feelings won’t help. Just be available.  Replace “call me if you need me” with “I’m going to be in the neighborhood… I’d like to stop by”.

Show up and shut up. You’ll get much better results.

Tip #2 Stick it Out

True friends play the long game, investing time over the course of months or years, not hours or days. Following a loss there is a natural outpouring of support for those in grief, but this often fades quickly.  The casseroles fly fast and furious the first week or so, but soon a widow or widower is left alone in an empty house while still in the throes of mourning.  This can degenerate into a bad scene.

Adjustment to the new normal will take a long time. Therefore you need to make sure you are there offering support long after the smoke has long cleared.  Each birthday, Christmas or seasonal change offers another chance to reflect on what is missing.  This is particularly true on the anniversary of the death.  Help fill these voids by marking time with your friend.

Be around to go for a walk or simply talk through memories.   And don’t be afraid to mention the dead by name.  While it may seem counterintuitive, it is actually a valuable and important thing.  Your friend doesn’t need to “get over it” by ignoring the deceased, they need to recalibrate.  It is an important distinction.

 Tip #3 Encourage Small Steps

Everyone grieves at their own pace, the timing of which is largely outside of your control. What is fully in your control is being supportive as they adjust to the new normal.  The Stephen’s Ministers frame the whole process as a transformation in thinking.  It is the transformation of a loved one from a “physical presence” to a “memorable presence”.  Be encouraging in helping the mourner rebuild and make that transformation in thinking.  You’ll know progress when you see it.  Encourage that progress.

There you have it; three key behaviors that can make all of the difference. There is no magic bullet or miracle cure, but there is a process.  Come alongside someone and become a part of their’s.

Next time when you think “If there is anything at all I can do, call me.”

Remember, to step up.  He already called you.

 

 

 

Note: the discipline around Stephen’s Ministry is much more involved and intensive than I’ve covered here. I am not an expert, I am informed just enough to be dangerous. Nonetheless I wanted to share the 100,000 foot view that I myself only recently gleaned.  If you have interest in being certified as a Stephen Minister, it takes around 50 hours of training, and classes are available at churches throughout the country.

 

Culture Wars: Engagement or Withdrawal?

24 Aug

My site is growing.  Slower than I’d like, but it is coming along.

Each time I post a new column to Ebeneez, I pick up some new followers. These are folks who found my column, presumably liked it, and want to receive an email when I put out a new post.  There is nothing more gratifying.  I am truly thankful for the interest.

That’s what makes this post especially hard to write.  You see last week I received the following

Untitled

GodInterest is now following me.

My immediate response was thankfulness for a new follower, but almost immediately my newest follower got me to thinking.

Do we really need a Christian version of Pinterest?

Don’t get me wrong, I suspect the good people over at GodInterest have an awesome site and do some great stuff in the name of our Lord, but I thought the Christian version of Pinterest was well, Pinterest.

Is this yet another example of Christians inventing new ways to segregate themselves, subtlety alienating non-believers in the process?  Are we building a subculture to the detriment of the broader culture?   Fiddling while Rome burns around us?

A popular discussion among Evangelicals I know revolves around what it means to live out the biblical concept of being “in this world, but not of this world”.

John 15:19
If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you

Romans 12:2
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

1 John 2:15-17
 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father[a] is not in them.

 

The biblical mandate is clear, the real-world application a lot tougher.  Because of this, people are all over the continuum.

For some it means honesty, monogamy and a biblically consistent moral life.  Others see it as important to sit out R-rated movies or avoid alcohol.  For others, it means homeschooling their kids, avoiding media, ending longtime friendships, or a million other things.  Presumably to Westboro Baptist it means something entirely different.

The reason this all gets so sticky is the Great Commission.

The reason this is important is the same.

The fact is that “Go” and “Make” are action words and both are tough to do while driving past non-believers, racing home to post on GodTube.

How can we engage without compromise?

Clearly the answer is to participate, but keep the culture at an arm’s length.  This means different things to different folks.  Let’s hear what that means to you.  How long are your arms?

 

Lesson 3- If you Get the Big Stuff Wrong, the Small Stuff Doesn’t Matter

17 Aug
German Grandma is celebrating

German Grandma is celebrating

 

Virtually everyone in Europe rides a bike and walks.  Their culture is built around an active lifestyle with a heavy public investment in the infrastructure to support it.  They combine this lifestyle with universal healthcare and moderate portions.

In short, people take care of themselves.

These are all big reasons why on a continent full of ridiculously awesome bakeries, you rarely see fat people. It’s funny to think about, because you know what else you rarely see?

An empty ashtray.

The place has fit and thin people, a rich history, and a blind spot to the number one cause of preventable death.  Cigarette machines litter every corner and everyone from teens to old women suck down heaters with reckless abandon.  The smoking infrastructure and enthusiasm in Europe is outrageous.

It makes me wonder what obvious thing I may be missing in my life.  What is my blind spot and how can I check it?  What would a tourist to my life say after two weeks with me?

Would they say I am consistently treating the things I say I care about, with care?
Would they know my focus or my morals?
Would they want to meet my God?

A good starting point to this type of self-reflection is to first monitor our time.  Even more so than money, where we spend our time reveals our true focus.  People love to talk about “quality time” with the kids, but it is a lie.  Your kids need quantity time.  That is the real goal.  Same with your wife and same with your God.

Spend some time this week thinking about your focus by monitoring your time.  I know I will.  Only through diligence self-reflection can we become our best selves and fulfill God’s plan for our lives.

 

Note: this column is part three of a series called “Clarity Purchased with Euros” that chronicles the life lessons the author picked up in two weeks in Switzerland, Germany and Austria.

Clarity Purchased with Euros:

Lesson 1 – Teamwork Trumps All
Lesson 2 – Your Past Doesn’t Have to Define Your Future

Lesson 2: Your Past Doesn’t Have to Define Your Future

1 Aug

Mozart

Europe sure loves its history.

This may be related to the fact that they’ve got a lot more of it than we do.   Or you could argue it is because their best days are behind them.  Regardless, with fourteenth century castles, old city centers and beautiful architecture dotting the countryside, it is no wonder history is so revered there.

While the entire continent operates this way, perhaps no one city is more obsessed with history than Salzburg, Austria.  This epicenter of nostalgia gets its very identity from three seminal events.

Salzburg is…

  1. The birthplace of Mozart
  2. Home to famous salt mines that fueled the Austrian Empire
  3. The location where The Sound of Music movie was filmed

Three things rooted in history that took place in the 1756, the early 1800s and the 1960s respectively.  These events starkly define not only Salzburg’s past, but very much it’s present.

In a city where you can’t get a glass of ice water without carbonation, you can easily buy Commemorative Mozart memorial chocolates  in  every store in town.  And those stores line streets that are packed with bus traffic alternatively schlepping tourists between the salt mines and the various points of interest related to the Von Trapp Family Singers.

The city is obsessed.  Case in point, the television in our Salzburg hotel room received a grand total of two channels in English.  BBC America was one, and the other was The Sound of Music playing on a continuous loop.  Yes, that’s 24 hours a day of curtain clothes, Rolf the dirty Nazi and vocal lessons from Mary Poppins.

A quick walk into the old town of Salzburg revealed scores of tourists madly snapping photos as they channeled their inner Liesl; dancing on artifacts from the film that were literally crumbling beneath them.

It was interesting, but at the same time sad.  Salzburg, a once-proud world power, has its identity firmly rooted in a decaying past and seemingly no real plan for the future.

The lesson for my own life hit hard. Do I want to be stuck in the past; clinging to my history, playing old tapes and reminiscing about the good things I’ve done while growing bitter about the bad?  Or do I want to be future-focused and driving toward a better destination?

The choice is too obvious to require enunciation.

But being obvious isn’t the same as being easy.  While we can easily recognize that regret is for suckers, avoiding a Salzburg mindset requires some serious work.

Put in the effort.  Get counseling, get on, and get over.  We’ve all experienced and done things good and bad that have impacted us.  We’re hopeless sinners who have done wrong and been wronged.  It can’t be changed but it can’t continue to haunt us.

Assess the mistakes you made and how you can adapt for the future.  Enjoy your accomplishments, but go out and add some more.  We need to be diligent about focusing on growth, learning, forgiveness and healing.  God can’t drive a parked car, move forward!

Twenty years from now you don’t want to be dwelling on your wasted today.  To make sure you aren’t, you need to make a break from your history– So long, farewell, alvederzane, goodbye

Clarity; Purchased with Euros. Lesson 1- Teamwork

23 Jul

Geramnu4

There is nothing quite like a vacation and some downtime to give you a chance to take a step back and think big picture.

Am I were I need to be?
Am I focused on the right things?
Doing them the right way?

I recently had the good fortune to spend two weeks in Europe with the love of my life.  I embarked on the trip seeking a chance to recharge the batteries and re-connect with my wife, not out of a desperate need for any soul-searching.

That’s the thing about vacation though; if you are doing it right your soul-searching tends to find you.  This is the first of several posts – Five Life Lessons my EuroTrip Taught Me

Lesson 1- Teamwork Trumps All

Who knew that a bunch of flopping European soccer players had anything to teach me?  Yet there I was in a beer garden in Munich for a public viewing of the World Cup Final.  I have never cared for soccer, in my opinion it is fun to play but brutal to watch.  Yet on this night I found myself intoxicated, not by the beer, but by the local’s love of their team.  Shockingly, a 0-0 tie after regulation not only maintained my interest, but actually drew me in.  Big time players in a big time moment, dripping with drama as we headed for extra time.

I figured overtime was a trap, the entry point to an inevitable Vikings moment for the Deutsch.  I hoped I was wrong but it seemed I was getting emotionally invested just moments before a figurative kick to the groin.  After all, Germany’s team was devoid of any stars and facing the greatest player in the world in Lionel Messi of Argentina.  Surely that dude would find a way to will his team to victory.   I half expected Gary Anderson or Naufahu Tahi to trot on to the pitch.

(What is happening  to me, did I just say pitch?)

Well there is really no Paul Harvey needed in this story, because you already know the rest of it.  Despite injuries and substitutions an unlikely scene unfolded.

A bit player came up huge, scored an improbable goal, and led the Rhinelanders to the cup, and a night of partying and nationalism for a country that’s great at the former and uncomfortable with the latter.  It truly was a site to behold– and in some small way to share.

It was great because even though I was thousands of miles from home, I got to see a universal truth validated.  One that is as true in Brazil as it is in Bavaria or Bemidji;  Teamwork Trumps All.

It made me hearken back to 1999.

Thinking back 15 years, I’ve certainly come a long way.  I’ve grown, I’ve adapted,  I’ve balded, and maybe I have even matured, but I’ve definitely changed.  If I am honest, I’m not sure I’d have a heckuva lot in common with my 1999 self.

Yet I thank that simple SOB every single day for assembling the most important team of all, my marriage.   Two weeks in Europe were just the latest validation of that decision almost 15 years later.  The rare decision I have never doubted for a second.

How many decisions that you made 15 years ago still stand the test of time?   I can’t think of too many more for me, but that one stands out.  It turns out every once in a while the Mize man comes through, it’s too bad it took sitting through a soccer game to remind me.

 

Ditch those Clogs; Four Steps to a Spiritual Legacy

26 May

The Scots have a saying, “there’s nobbut three generations atween a clog and clog.  The father buys, the son builds, the grandchild sells, and his son begs”

Italians similarly say “dalle stalle alle stelle alle stalle” “from stalls to stars to stalls”

The Spanish version is, “quien no lo tiene, lo hance; y quien lo tiene, lo deshance” “who doesn’t have it, does it, and who has it, misuses it”.

To Americans it’s “From shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.”

Clogs, stalls, and shirtsleeves; the analogies are varied by geography but human nature remains consistent.  All describe a familiar pattern charting the demise of wealth that is as well known in financial circles as it is culturally universal.

The first generation builds the wealth, the following generation successfully transitions the wealth and the third generation dissipates the wealth.

But why?  In four words, “Easy come, easy go”.

Generation one worked hard to earn the money.  This likely involved tremendous sacrifice to build a small business or excel at a vocation, no doubt fueled by a desire to build a better life and pass it on.

In so doing, hard work was modeled to generation number two who maybe dealt with a parent frequently gone, or one who struggled to find balance between business and family life.  Having experienced this, generation two sees the value and feels the responsibility to honor that sacrifice.

To generation three the money was just there.  It was never earned, and likely not respected.  What develops in that third generation is at best a spendthrift nature, at worst a drug habit or death.  Easy come meets easy go, as a generation that never had to work for any of it seeks meaning in “external pursuits”.

Interestingly enough, there is an exception to the shirtsleeve saga. Families that share a strong purpose across generations can consistently buck the trend and transition wealth generation over generation.  Philanthropic engagement, a family foundation or strong participation in a family business, can all help build accountability and ownership and construct a lasting legacy.

Your spiritual legacy is much more valuable than money.  How much effort have you put into passing it along?  Enough to span three generations?

Do you pray with your children?  Discuss the bible?  Model a Life consistent with the teachings of Christ?

If you aren’t, if you think dropping them off at church one or two nights a week for a few hours to hear the good news from someone else is enough, you could be dooming your children or grandchildren to spiritual shirtsleeves.

The book Raising Your Kids to Love The Lord lays out several key steps to instill spiritual discipline that can reach across generations.  Many of which you may likely be doing, all of which should be deliberate.

1. Consistent Living- your example in victories and challenges, forgiveness and accountability, successes and struggles should model your faith.

2.Prayer-  Take ownership of modeling prayer for your kids; praying with them and for them. Prayer shouldn’t be a last resort in desperate times, or a pathetic substitute for action.  Prayer should be a conscious habit built over time.

3.  Give spiritual direction to your family.  Statistical analysis indicates a father is the single biggest influence on the spiritual life of his children.  If a mother is the first in a home to become Christian, there is a 17% chance the rest of the household will follow.  If a dad is, it jumps to 93%.  Moms are incredibly important, but dads need to take ownership and accountability on this.  Get active. Sleep in on Saturday.  Golf after church.

4. Service- writing checks to nonprofits is great, but the act is largely lost on our kids.  Packing food for the third world, serving the homeless or doing other activities WITH your kids is the opposite.  Modeling service speaks volumes to where your priorities lie.  A heart for service isn’t inherent, it needs to be built, modeled, and nurtured.

Dave Stone’s book contains additional nuggets of wisdom, too numerous to chronicle in this forum.  I encourage you to pick it up.  It is a quick read and can offer a guidebook to leaving a spiritual legacy that will resonate for generations to come.

You want your kids and grandkids to know God?
Introduce them.

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