Sunday, August 29, 2010

Tough but Tender Men

Is it just me or are we becoming--on a mental, physical and moral level--soft and pudgy? I wonder what degree of fortitude we possess. Let's face it; most of us have it pretty cushy. I don't have to walk anywhere. I seldom have to lift anything heavy; the last thing I raised was my rabbits when I was seven years old. If I were to undergo persecution or some level of ongoing attack I question how much physical stamina I have to draw upon. Am I turning into the Pillsbury Doughboy version of mental toughness? As a society I feel we've got the espirit de corps of a colony of tree sloths.

I need to become tough without getting hardened. I need to develop internal toughness/fortitude without being a bad ass. I want to be like Rambo or The Rock or Steven Seagal in toughness but like Jesus in character. Jesus was mentally tough but loving and compassionate; Rambo and the boys are just tough. Jesus was the personification of love yet, like the t-shirt says, he "didn't tap out."

I see a lot of boys becoming men who are one of two extremes. A lot of men have embraced their "sensitive" side and display gentleness and compassion, but I get the sense they'd choke under any sustained pressure. And then there are the bad boys who'd loved to choke you with sustained pressure.

Does it have to be either/or? I refuse to believe so. I still hope to cultivate fortitude while nurturing a compassionate heart. Physical stamina, mental toughness, and a tender heart. That's a picture that inspires me.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What's YOUR caption?

I'll suggest a couple:
Publish Post

* Just Another Day of Window-Shopping
* The Dream of Every 18 Year Old Male: Angels Watching Over Me

Send me yours (your suggestions, not your angels),
s'il vous plait.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

You Matter: God's Unique Love

You are unique. . . just like everybody else.

Sometimes the uniqueness thing escapes me. There are times when I wonder about God's specific, unique love for me as an individual. On a good day, I can grasp his love for mankind in general and I constitute 1 of 6,700,000,000 mankind units; consequently, God loves me, too. That's the good news. The bad news is; it feels like he loves me just like he loves everybody else. We're globs of walking hemoglobin and God loves the whole mess. Not exactly inspiring.

I had an "aha" moment. Insight can come through a simple story. John Ortberg in
God is Closer Than you Think tells this about his grandmother.

"When anyone asked her which of her six children she loved the most, she said love for your children doesn't work that way. She said it's as if when each child is born, another little room gets added to your heart. And no one else occupies that room. It doesn't have to be bigger or better than any other room. It's just

I get it! This helps me understand how God can have a unique, unequaled regard for me--that I, Steve Harris, matter to him.

A simple story conveying a profound truth. I hope it encourages you, too.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Business as Unusual: A Christian Philosophy of Doing Business

I've begun reading The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium, by Walter Wink. He makes a statement about the nature of American business and contrasts it with a biblical understanding of business. I've got to tell you--a Christian philosophy of business is absolutely revolutionary. Here's what he says:

"It has become stylish to develop mission statements for institutions. But a sense of mission implies a sender, just as a vocation ("calling") implies one who calls. The biblical understanding is that no institution sexists as an end in itself, but only to serve the common good. The principalities and powers themselves are created in and through and for Christ, according to Colossians 1:16, which means that they exist only on behalf of the humanizing purposes of God revealed by Jesus. . .
Many business and corporation executives ignore God's humanizing purposes, and speak of profit as the "bottom line." But this is a capitalist heresy. According to the eighteenth-century philosopher of capitalism, Adam Smith, businesses exist to serve the general welfare. Profit is the means, not the end. It is the reward a business receives for serving the general welfare. When a business fails to serve the general welfare, Smith insisted, it forfeits its right to exist. It is part of the church's task to remind corporations and businesses that profit is not the "bottom line," that as creatures of God they have as their divine vocation the achievement of well-being (Eph. 3:10). They do not exist for themselves. They were bought with a price (Col. 1:20). They belong to God who ordains sufficiency for all."

Can you picture the reaction if that were suggested at the next board meeting of IBM or CAT or you fill in the blank? Do you see how counter-cultural an authentic Christianity truly is? I can only wonder what our country would look like if the "general welfare" of the citizens and those outside our borders was the bottom line for businesses and corporations throughout America.

Stand up and suggest the above philosophy at the next business strategy meeting and you'd be a prophet without profit; you'd be fired.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Burning Bridges: The Art of Razing a Family

Here is a random cyberspace frustration posted by someone I know of, but don't know.

So aparently my father went in for an emergency surgery last night, and no one in his family had the Common decency to tell me, HIS SON, that this was happening, is he allright? I wouldnt know that either because no one can be bothered to pick up a telephone. This is the most disrepected by a family member I have been ...and one of the rudest things that has ever happened to me. Feel better dad, hope your allright?

I know very little about this individual (I will call him "Bill") and even less about the family dynamics. The scenario I'm about to create has nothing to do with Bill, in particular. I am hoping that if you are a bridge-burner this post will at least cause you to stop and think.

My impression is that the male gender in the U.S. is often groomed and socialized not to work through and process relationships but to simply cut our losses. Typically, many men don't salvage; we sever. I'm not suggesting that there aren't women who do the same, but if there is a rift in a significant relationship most women attempt to "talk it out," whereas many men matter-of-factly "walk it out"--right out the door, never looking back.

I'm hoping Bill isn't one of those who years ago began distancing himself from those who love him. A long time ago his wife or his family noticed he was slowly withdrawing. He'd bow out of a family function. He'd have an excuse not to attend a family gathering. He'd get invitations and he'd attend once in a while just to keep everybody off his back. They would give; he would take. Slowly, his brother quit asking. His wife, after countless occasions of being spurned, couldn't handle the disappointment and she, month-by-month, didn't include him because she knew he had his priorities and she wasn't one of them.

He was burning his bridges.

In light of his disinterest his siblings, one-by-one, adjusted to the fact that he wasn't going to reciprocate in these relationships, that their efforts to connect were being ignored. His parents were heart-broken over his removing himself from the family circle. They would reminisce about how caring and loving he used to be. Now they wonder where they went wrong, where he went wrong, and if it will ever be made right. And they, too, no longer initiate contact nearly as much they did. The hurt outweighs the hope.

He's burning his bridges.

If he insists and persists on his course there could come a day when he will have sufficiently burnt his bridges that a family member will undergo a grave crisis or tragedy and the family circle from which he removed himself will draw close together for comfort and strength, while he is out of the loop by his own choice. He will be angry and offended that no one called. He will be hurt by, in his eyes, their lack of inclusion when, actually, a long time ago he excluded them.
He will blame them now for their insensitivity. He can rant and rave all he wants, but the damage has been done.

He burnt his bridges. And now he's living in the smoldering ashes of what could have been.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

What's Your Label? Conservative? Liberal? Ambidextrous?

A label serves a purpose and so does a rope. A rope can be tossed to you and save you; it can be tossed around your neck and hang you. So let's not "hang" too much importance on the label.

The labels "conservative" and "liberal" are rampant. If you were to ask me if I am a conservative I would answer "yes. . . and no." As to being a liberal I am and I am not. If you're confused, imagine my own perplexity. (This is where you're probably thinking I'd be a great politician in that I apparently don't stand for anything.) Let me explain.

The definition of "conservative" is:
1. opposed to change
2. moderate, not extreme; marked by moderation or caution
3. protecting from loss, waste, or injury
4. tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions

So, am I a conservative? Yes, I'm a conservative in that I value the conserving of our natural resources and want to protect people and the planet from loss, waste, or injury. All people bear the
imago dei--the image of God-- and therefore I desire their well-being. All people have intrinsic value and must be treated accordingly. No, I'm not a conservative in that I am not opposed to change; in fact, I think the status quo can be deadly. Jesus was not about preservation of the existing zeitgeist--the general cultural, intellectual, spiritual and/or political climate of the times; he was about a revolutionary way of thinking and living. In the Sermon on the Mount he often would begin a teaching, "You have heard it said (i.e. the conventional wisdom of the day), but I say to you. . . "

The definition of "liberal" is:
1. marked by generosity, openhanded
2. broad-minded, especially not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or traditional forms
3. free, not literal; loose e.g. " a free or loose interpretation of what she had been told"

So, am I a liberal? Yes, I'm a liberal in that my intent is to be characterized by a generous spirit. I desire to be openhanded rather than closed-fisted in my relationships. I'm a liberal in that I strive to be broad-minded and tolerant of differences. No, I am not a liberal in that I am, indeed, bound or governed by authoritarianism in the sense that I govern my life by the example and teachings of Christ who declared himself to be "the way, the truth, and the life." I regard myself governed or directed by authoritarianism in the sense that there is a certain "orthodoxy" contained in the ancient paths of wisdom. There is a body or deposit of truth that has been handed down for centuries and to categorically discard all of that merely because "I'm all about change" would be tantamount to being liberal in stupidity.

I hope this has provided substantial clarification as to the label I wear. Yeh, right. It's not a simple matter, is it. Maybe the bottom line is this:
A label describes; it does not define.

In the meantime, I can't decide whether to call myself a "consiberal" or a "libervative." What do you think??


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Customer Service: Once a Joy, Now a Joke

FOR SALE: 7,000 lbs. of Crap Evenly Distributed Above Four Wheels.

That is how car dealerships should advertise their used trucks. I know I'm cheap, but I had the impression that for $5,000 a decent, sound, reliable truck could be purchased. I realize $5,000 is a drop in the bucket compared to the price of a new vehicle; on the other hand, $5,000 is hard-earned and, for me, not discretionary income that I can toss away because I have so much more where that came from. Here's what $5-6,000 will get you:

** It will get you ignored. I guess Car Huckstering 101 has changed. Back in the day, as soon as you drove onto the lot of a dealership you had a salesman pounce on you and shake your hand before you turned off the ignition. Now, apparently the philosphy is to give the customer his space and time--like three hours before they acknowledge your existence. I went to one dealership, walked into the building and stood there, rolled my eyes, stood there some more, and finally in order to get someone's attention I cleared my throat in such a guttural manner that mothers whisked their children away. No luck. I was on the verge of walking out when apparently by random chance a salesman approached me. By now I was disgusted and momentarily shed my therapeutic empathy as well as my Christian hospitality and asked him, "So, are you this busy or this disorganized?" He assured me they were that busy. If you're too busy for the customer, you're too busy. See ya.

**It will get you a gas gauge on EMPTY. Not a single vehicle we test-drove had any gas in it. Invariably, the gas gauge needle indicated about enough gas to test-drive the truck around the dealership parking lot. If I had decided to take it out on the Interstate I'd still be walking back into town.

**It will get you stuck. My beloved wife, for some odd reason I have yet to figure, hates to go vehicle-shopping with me. Nonetheless, she hiked up the wading boots and accompanied me to another dealership. A salesman showed us a beautiful truck in the $6,000 range. Though above our budget it so attracted us that we decided to test-drive it. We hopped into the truck and as is customary the gas gauge was below the E. I informed the salesman who acted shocked that they would allow such a travesty to take place. In the spirit of excellent salesmanship and service he apologized and said, "If you good folks can wait just a minute I'll have a technician put some gas in it for you. Could I get you something to drink while you wait?" NOT!!! In my dreams he said that. In actual time and space he said, "I'll get you a $10 certificate and YOU can drive it a a few blocks down to the Shell station and YOU can put gas in it and YOU can take care of that for us."
I thanked him for the privilege and before I could say or do anything to him my beloved wife--the one who for some odd reason hates to go vehicle-shopping with me--restrained me, smiled at him, and we drove to the Shell station. I put 10 bucks in, hopped in the truck, turned the ignition and click click. Nothing. After a number of attempts resulting only in further click clicks I raised the hood and attempted to assess the problem. I figured that if the dealer wasn't going to take it upon himself to put 10 bucks of gas in the truck he certainly wasn't going to repair it. I solved the starting problem--loose battery cable. But once it started, the truck wouldn't run; it would die, which, at that point, is what I wanted the salesman to do, as well. I called the dealer, the salesman showed up, got the 6 you've-got-to-be kidding-thousand dollar truck running, and I returned the truck and, after profusely thanking them for a wonderful time, left the premises. For six grand THIS is what you get?

**It will get your blood pressure checked in the ER. My wife and I went to yet another dealer; this time she had a paper bag over her head. ( I'd have put a plastic bag over the previous salesman's head, but my sensitive wife informed me there is some obscure law prohibiting that. Go figure.) We test-drove yet another very nice-looking truck. I'm not exaggerating--thirty seconds out of the dealership parking lot I'm driving along, my foot is on the gas pedal and the engine rpm's are revving up but the speed of the truck is not correspondingly increasing. Vroom!! Vroom!! The blood vessels in my neck are the size of pulsating celery stalks. I turned the truck around, went back to the dealership and informed the salesman what the truck was doing and tactfully expressed my curiosity as to why he would send us out in a piece of crap like that to begin with. At this point, my wife is over-heating inside the paper-bag, but at least has maintained her anonymity. He apologized and since it was late in the day he would not be able to have their mechanic check it out, but would do so the next day and would call me with a diagnosis and resolution of the problem. Yeh, right. To be fair, he did call me. And to be fair again, he offered me no diagnosis, no resolution. He explained, "Our mechanic told me a number of trucks run like that; it's just the nature of that truck. He had a Chevy S10 pickup that did the same thing." I kindly informed him that I would not own a truck of that nature even if hemgave it to me, much less attempted to sell it to me for $5,000. By now I'm so worked up I'm hyper-ventilating and I rip the bag off my wife's head and gasp into it before I go postal and reduce the dealer's sales crew by one. We hurried out of the dealership; she's embarrassed to death and I'm hyperventilating--I'm convinced--to death. Another fairy tale ending.

I have now sworn off and at all car dealerships. "Customer service" may be part of their advertising but they don't have a clue about providing it. If I owned a car dealership I'd be absolutely embarrassed to offer to the public the crap on wheels they display.

But then embarrassment implies a conscience. Silly me.