Monthly Archives: January 2011

The Human Stain

I have just finished reading an excellent novel by Philip Roth called The Human Stain, a novel  I had never heard of, written in late 90s, set in 1998 during the Clinton scandals.  The Human Stain is an exploration into the nature of humans.  The book is mostly ‘dark’ but revealing about the dark side of our humanity. There is the occasional bright spot, but mostly the book fulfills the title’s purpose–the human stain.

Although we like to think, at least I do, that I am a pretty good person, this novel helps peel back the onion to show how truly ‘wicked’ I am, as well as my fellow human beings, and this wickedness isn’t always brazen, in your face, sin.

Sin is a desire to throw other people under the bus, to feel superior to people, to blame others, and not take ownership for your own wrongs.  We see this in the biblical story when God calls on Adam to explain his actions, he says, “the woman made me to do it’. She’s to blame for everything, according to Adam.  And whether you believe that story or not, you have to believe that it is true that we often practice sin by justifying ourselves at the expense of other people.

In order to have a decent self image I have to exploit other people and crush them, or minimize them, so I can feel better about myself.  I have experienced this. I have put others down to put myself up.  And I have felt this done to me as well.

“The Human Stain”,  is Philip Roth’s metaphor for evil and sin.  The novel is about a man, Coleman Silk, who starts to do very well in life, but everyone around him in the college he teaches at set out to bring him down, to find something wrong with him, to ruin his career.

Plus he himself is ‘stained’ with his own secret. But that’s another story.

Roth has one of his characters talk about this ‘human stain’ which is this proneness to evil in the heart, which is deeper than behavioural actions.  It’s this need to pull people down, this need to justify yourself at the expense of others.

At one point in novel, one of his characters says, “It’s(the human stain) in everyone, indwelling, inherent, defining. The stain that precedes your acts of disobedience, it encompasses disobedience, and perplexes all understanding and explanations.  It’s why all talk of cleansing your heart is a joke.  The fantasy of purity is appalling for what is the quest to purify but more impurity.  The stain is inescapable.”

What does she mean by that?  The more you try to purify your heart, it just brings more impurity.  Why is that?  Because at the core of the human stain is self righteousness. The stain is that I justify myself by pulling others around me down, by making myself superior to others.

For anyone who has ever thought that humans are generally good,   this novel will make you think otherwise, and cause you, hopefully to look elsewhere for strength to pursue the true Good in yourself and others.

If interested you can also check out the movie The Human Stain starring Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman.

Leadership equation from Al Pacino

I have enjoyed working through the D.R.I.V.E acronym this month- whether you are a leader or human being who wants to optimize your God given potentiality, we need to be devoted to something or someone, have a readiness for learning, invest in people, and have a clarifying vision for our lives.  So much has already said about the E, which is Exercise that includes healthy eating and fitness to sustain momentum.

I have also been enjoying reviewing some classic movies. This week I came across an old movie, starring Al Pacino, called The Scent of a Woman.  The title can be misleading but there is a closing scene where Al Pacino ‘sticks’ up for a student and lays out his ‘formula’ for leadership.  He basically says,
Integrity + Courage -> makes a good leader

The language in this scene is graphic and harsh, but I am totally inspired to come alongside young adults who are seeking to D.R.I.V.E their way through this harsh but exciting life.

Momentum for Life—Visioning a fresh future

Over the last few posts we have looked at the D.R.I.V.E acronym.  I need to practice five habits every day if I am to keep gaining momentum day by day.

First, I need daily devotion where I center myself on God.  I often do this by reading Day by Day with Augustine


Then I need to invest some time in what I called readiness for learning–Every day I need to read something that helps me in life or with my work.  Presently I am reading The Human Stain by Philip Roth, as well as Vincent Donovan’s Christianity Rediscovered.

I stands for investing in others. Just this evening I invested some time in developing young emerging leaders, helping them gain a vision for their own lives, and helping them to see that God desires for them to have a personal ministry.

Which brings me to one of the more challenging but exciting aspects of gaining momentum—having a vision for life.  A vision is a picture of a preferred future that energizes my life today towards noble thoughts and noble actions.

Pastor Bill Hybels has done a fabulous job of explaining the importance of having a vision for life, as well as committing to what he calls your one thing.

Take a look at these two helpful clips.

The first one answers what births a vision?

And this one talks about finding your one thing.

Momentum for Life: Investing in others

Thanks to Mike Slaughter’s book “Momentum for Life” we have been exploring the D.R.I.V.E acronym.  Our first post dealt with D for Devotion.   People try to get momentum for life through many areas of ‘devotion’, but for a follower of Jesus, the words of St. Paul “For me to live is Christ” express the language of devotion.

Then we saw that a devoted follower of Jesus has a continuous thirst for learning.  In fact, the word for disciple is mathetes, which means ‘pupil or learner’.

Momentum for life is also gained by investing ourselves significantly in others. When I was in my early 20s, I was challenged by my mentors that there are two things you can do with money—you either it invest it or spend it. The money you spend you never see it again, the money you invest wisely will most likely come back to you.  The same is true of life–the life you spend you will not see again, the life you invest well, you will see back again in the form of ‘more life’, but not so much quantitative in years, but more the joy of seeing people impacted by your investment in them.

Investing in others is a theme that runs throughout the Scriptures–Moses and Joshua, Mordecai and Esther, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus and the 12, Paul and Timothy, and many others.

In life we also see the power of investment. In the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus we have a story of a teacher who gives his life to students, and one day while packing up and closing shop on his class permanently he walks out into the halls and hears some music.  The following two clips from that movie provide much momentum for investing in others over the long haul.  As you watch this, ask yourself,

Who is that invisible line of people standing behind you? Teachers, coaches, scout leaders, church leaders, campus ministers, professors, or businesspeople?  Who has encouraged you, given you a break, or even supported you financially?  Whose investment in your life allows you to stand where you are standing today? Who stands behind you?

And who are you standing behind? Who are you parenting, mentoring, coaching, encouraging, managing, or leading? Who is receiving the intentional, strategic time in your schedule for relationship building?

The investment you are making in people today is the only one that will live beyond your lifetime, so invest wisely, reminding others to be faithful and finish well.

In this first scene, Mr. Holland hears ‘noise’ coming from auditorium, and he looks in. Check it out.

And then he gets to hear his ‘kids’ speak of his impact on their lives and how it has impacted them even into their adult years. This absolutely amazing and ‘life giving’.  Celebrate the theme of investing in others as you watch this.

Momentum for Life–Readiness for Lifelong learning

As we continue our discussion about the D.R.I.V.E acronym, we come to the R which stands for readiness for lifelong learning. One of my favourite all time inspirational posters is called Sharpen the Saw–Renew and Enhance the greatest asset you have–YOU!!! In case you want to purchase the poster it looks like the following image.

I am 57 years old and have acquired a lot of formal learning—a BA, Bed, and Masters.  But although my formal learning may be over, I continue to learn.  I read on average a book a week, not to mention periodicals and other content.  I also learn a lot from good movies.  In the last few years, I have added to my list of subscriptions where I can actually learn by listening to books, as well as reading them.

There’s no question that we gain momentum in life when we apply ourselves to learning.  Individuals and leaders can read themselves out of a rut. I know. It’s happened to me many times when I have hit a slump. Leaders are learners and learners are leaders.  As one of my mentors used to say, “I’d rather have my students drink from a running stream than from a stagnant pool.”  Pretty good idea.

Jesus calls us to ‘learn of Him’ (Matthew 11:28-30) and the ancient book of wisdom called Proverbs urges us to apply ourselves to learning, a wise person will hear and increase their learning, and a righteous person will pursue learning, and even buy it.

The first daily practice of my life is the practice of devotion. It’s the first act of my day.  I practice devotion through reading the Scriptures, meditating, journaling and prayer, for in the great commandment Jesus says, to love the Lord your God with all your heart.” The first discipline of most of my days is a heart discipline.  Heart is character.  It is who I am; It’s the offering I have.  My greatest offering is to give myself back to God every day.

The second part of the commandment is to love the Lord your God with your entire mind.” The second discipline of my day is the exercise of my mind. After an hour or so of devotion, I also invest a half hour to an hour of reading strategically.  I need this time to stretch my mind but also to acquire knowledge that I can use for my life and work.  This is the practice of lifelong learning.

To simplify my thought on lifelong learning, I do three things,

1.  Read

2. Observe

3. Do

I am always reading something. I have just finished over several months two 1000 page novels by Ken Follett. I found this exercise not only entertaining, but stimulating to my understanding of history and the construction of cathedrals.

Observing includes watching people who can be examples to me in a variety of areas.  I love to observe other coaches and people builders, and how they go about inspiring people to be their best for God.

I also learn best through doing. For example. Blogging. I  never thought I would be able to be a ‘blogger’ and with a bit of coaching from my sons I have been able to begin a blog.

Who knows what else I’ll learn this year? And how about you? What are you planning to learn in 2011 to continue your momentum for life?

Momentum for Life–DRIVE

Quite a few years ago now I read a book that included an acronym with the word DRIVE.  The acronym was cute but also useful to me in determining my priorities for a new year, plus helping me to keep a balance between my spiritual, physical, spiritual, social and intellectual goals.

Over the next week or so, I would like to ‘jog’ my way through the acronym.    Today people may have an aversion to the word ‘drive’ because it implies someone who may be ‘driven’, but honestly, I don’t think being driven is such a bad thing, especially if by ‘driven’ we mean one who is passionate about life and about a cause that is valuable.

Think of this acronym DRIVE as five daily practices that give us momentum for life.   Here are two truths worth pondering:  God can’t steer a parked car, and God does not will greater things for some than others. God seems to work with those people who release the brake and put their life in drive.  This acronym DRIVE, stands for five daily activities I train myself to practice every day.  If I am going to make positive progress in life with God and people, and myself, I need to be relentless about these five practices.

We’ll begin today with the D in DRIVE.

D is the daily practice of Devotion. The daily practice of devotion is a lot more than sitting down for ten minutes and doing bible study or following a ‘devotional’ of some kind.

Devotion is the practice of being fully aware of God’s presence and being fully present to God. It is one thing to do little religious activities, but Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in your midst.”  God is always speaking, always present,  but most of the time because of busyness, distractions, and temptations, I miss him.

A couple of scriptures inform this practice of devotion.

In Jeremiah 30:21 for who is he who will devote himself
to be close to me?’
declares the LORD.

And the psalmist David said in Psalm 27:4, I’m asking God for one thing,
only one thing:
To live with him in his house
my whole life long.
I’ll contemplate his beauty;
I’ll study at his feet.

And if this post stirs you to ‘devote yourself to get closer to God use the following song “Mighty to Save” to express your devotion.

Resolutions are a Good Idea!

So ‘what’s your new year resolutions for this year?’ is probably the most often asked question within 48 hours of New Year’s Eve,  and then it’s mostly true, that most resolutions are abandoned within a week.

Even though resolutions are abandoned I still think they are powerful to help kick start some real, incremental change in our lives.

Sometime between 1722 and 1723 Jonathon Edwards, former president of Princeton University, crafted 70 resolutions.  These resolutions are available to see.  They are fascintating.

Resolutions are spoken of in the scriptures.  I believe resolutions are a key to ongoing growth.   As someone has said, “No one coasts into Christlikeness’.

Here’s a few descriptions of biblical resolutions.

1 Corinthians 2:2 “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Psalm 17:3 “Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you find nothing; I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.”

Daniel 1:8 “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not defile himself this way.”

2 Chronicles 20:3-4 “Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord.”

So from God’s point of view, resolutions may not be so bad an idea.

My favourite story about resolutions is the one about William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army.  One day his daughter Catherine was asked what she remembered about her dad.  Among other things, she said, “My father not only made vows (read ‘resolutions’), but he kept them.”  That’s huge.  Don’t only make resolutions in 2011 but keep them.

Here’s a few  of mine for 2011

I resolve to pray more and to read Scriptures more slowly and meditatively.

I resolve to prioritize my marriage and my relationship with my adult sons and their wives.

I resolve to care for myself spiritually.

I resolve to confront destructive patterns of sin in my own life and in the lives of others when necessary.

I resolve to love people, and not crowds.

I resolve to invest myself in a few people and help them become insiders in their spheres of influence.

I resolve to be open to change, especially as I get older.

I resolve to  workout at least 5 days a week, and to eat according to Rosetta’s pattern.

I resolve to be more generous and strategic in the use of my time, talents and resources, and to be open to meet the needs of the poor in my span of care.

I resolve to enjoy life more and visit more places with my wife in our 35th year of marriage.

If you found this interesting, check out this short piece on ‘sticking to your new year’s resolutions.” It’s pretty good but a little corny.

Surefire Ways to Waste time in 2011 and a Abba new year greeting

With the dawning of a new year comes a deluge of resolutions, reminders, and challenges.  They all follow similar how-to themes – how to increase my efficiency, how to make every moment count, how to invest my time wisely and productively.

Well, just for some tongue-in-cheek fun, I’d like to take the opposite tack.  I was thinking about how I could waste my time. That’s right, if I follow this advice, I will make absolutely no progress this year. Guaranteed!  I will rephrase these ‘tips’ in the first person.  I am indebted to a devotional I read some time ago by Pastor Chuck Swindoll on this theme.

First, I will worry a lot. I will start worrying earlier in the morning and intensify my anxiety energy as the day passes.   If I am short on a supply of things to worry about I will check the newspaper, television, or Internet.  There I will find enough bad news, doomsday reports, human tragedies, and late-breaking calamities to keep my heart and mind churning all through the night.

Something I have found helpful in my own worry world is to do a lot of reflecting on my failures and mistakes.  I’ve done quite a bit of this lately. I have great kids, love every one of them, but that doesn’t mean I don’t indulge in some navel gazing. As a parent of three adult sons, I will think long and hard about what I should or could have done for my children. That will give my guilt the green light it’s been waiting for. To add a touch of variety, I might also call to mind some things I should not have done. Regret fuels worry in many creative ways.

Are there any other categories I can camp on? The things I don’t like about my marriage or my job. The possibility of a leaky roof, car trouble, and aging. Hanging around negative people is a sure way to worry. If I plan all this right, I’ll be loaded with a full pack of worries long before February comes. Start now! Those potential ulcers need fresh acid.

Second,  I will make hard-and-fast predictions. Why not? A whole new year is in front of me.  My date book is empty and ready to fill with detailed plans. Of course, I’ll need to ignore that little throwaway line in the fourth chapter of James:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a
city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet
you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow
. (13-14, emphasis added)

Forget this verse, and chisel my expectations in stone, convinced that things will turn out just like I plan.

Third, I will compare myself with others. Here’s another surefire time-waster. Not only will I ricochet between the extremes of arrogance and discouragement, I will spend another year not knowing who I am.

Fourth, I will lengthen my list of enemies. Playing the Blame Game will keep my wheels spinning more than any other activity. My skill at this game should improve with age because the longer I live the more ammunition I have. With a full arsenal of suspicion, paranoia, and resentment, I can waste endless evenings rehearsing your feelings of hate as I stew over those folks who have made my life miserable.

There you have it, five proven time-wasters. Put these suggestions into motion, and my  new year could set records in wasting valuable time.

But on the other hand, do I really want to do that.  I don’t want to run in circles – it just happens. So, instead in 20100, I plan to beware of the time-wasters! Instead,  I willl pray more than worry. I will be flexible.  I will give more.  I will be content with the way God made me but improve those areas of my life that could use some fixin’. And I will let the oil of forgiveness loosen my grip on any grudges I may harbour. In other words, I will, by the grace of God, make this year my most productive and happy ever.

And since it is a new year, enjoy this Abba Happy New year 2011