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Christian faith and the U.S. Presidential Election

Christian argument for trump

We’re at the height (and fortunately the end!) of a very divisive and contentious political campaign.  People who know me, likely know how I will vote. More about that later. 

Mr. Trump has sought the support of notable leaders of evangelical Christian institutions and organizations.  I’ve listened to Jerry Fallwell Jr.  I’ve read Wayne Gruden.  I have watched Ralph Reed and Kenneth Copeland. 

I am a Christian. I respect anyone’s decision as an individual to support and campaign for any candidate, including Mr. Trump. My only ask is this:

  • Campaign for Trump because you believe in his ability to execute sound economic policy.  Because you believe people need a tax brake and deregulation of Wall Street.
  • Campaign for Trump because you believe in his positions on social policy, on abortion and gay marriage, on building a wall, on education.
  • Campaign for Trump because you believe his views on environmental policy, on energy and fossil fuel, that climate change is a fraud.
  • Campaign for Trump because you believe in his ability to execute foreign policy, on dealing with ISIS and terrorism, on dealing with trade partners.
  • Campaign for Trump because you believe his character, professionalism, and leadership is best suited to unite and lead this country.

But for the sake of the Christian church and the faithful, I’d ask that you not suggest that it was Jesus, the Bible, or any tenants of Christian faith that led you or others to support Donald Trump. 

Personally, I cannot reconcile the scriptures and my Christian faith with candidate Trump or the Trump campaign.

  • I believe in a body of Christ that includes right and left, conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, white and black, majority and minority. 
  • I believe in a body of Christ that loves mercy, seeks justice, but most of all walks humbly with God.  It is a body of Christ that loves its neighbor as itself. 
  • I believe in a body of Christ that is oriented not toward the healthy, wealthy and well off, but to the ill, the poor, and the disadvantaged – the harlots, the lepers, and yes, even tax collectors.
  • I believe in a body of Christ that is humble, poor in spirit, and merciful.
  • I believe in a body of Christ that has no need for candidates or political parties, just the acceptance of grace and the dedication of service.
  • I believe in a body of Christ that flourishes when it transcends politics and is corrupted when it stoops to it.

Jesus didn’t campaign for candidates. Indeed, Jesus’ sharpest commentary was not for the Roman government or its bureaucrats. His most caustic rebukes weren’t even for his civilian executor Pontius Pilate.   Jesus’ most stinging commentary was for the leaders of the church at the time, most of whom were focused more on rules, laws and regulations and … yes, politics! … than they were of the material and spiritual needs of those they were meant to serve.

I’m a Christian.  Like all Christians, I’m deeply flawed but redeemed through Christ’s sacrifice and God’s grace. So for those of you who are Christians and are voting for Trump, I’m not here to tell or lecture you that this is or is not in line with our faith. A political choice is just that – a political choice.

I can’t reconcile the scriptures and Christian faith with candidate Trump.

I will vote for Hillary Clinton. I dont’ know Hillary Clinton, but I’m fortunate to know many people who do. To a person they have – while recognizing her flaws – say that she is a decent, earnest, hard-working, and faithful public servant. They describe her Christian faith as longstanding and unwavering.

But with that, I’m not going to suggest that my vote is God’s will. I’m not even going to suggest that God “needs” my vote for one candidate or the other.  My God is bigger than that.

My God’s Providence and Dominion will certainly prevail regardless of whether I show up or not on voting day.

But show up I will.

My best friend framed this properly.  He said it was a matter of identifying dependent and independent variables. Is my candidate a function of my faith values? Or do I chose my candidate based on my personal desires and then contort my religious convictions to support that choice?

In the words of President Lincoln, “my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

Christian Nationalism: A Cautionary Tale

Recent Supreme Court decisions have set a spark to simmering dry tinder surrounding the issue of separation of church and state. As for one of the Court’s most controversial decisions, some go as far as to suggest that the Court was guided more by religious doctrine than by the U.S. Constitution. But at a broader level, the conservative Court and its decisions have emboldened the evangelical right.

Commonly described as “Christian nationalists,” they suggest that the line between church as state – at least when it involves the Christian church and the state of the United States – should not be that clearly separated.

To those, a lesson from history. When the Roman state and Christian church first merged, it was government that gained and the nascent but growing Jesus movement that was the big loser.

In 313, Emperor Constantine formally enacted the Edict of Milan legalizing Christianity. Later that century, on February 27, 380, Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the imperial religion. Some Christian historians believe that these two acts were the worst thing to befall Christianity in its early history.

During its first two hundred or so years, the “Jesus movement” spread rapidly throughout the Roman empire. Operating outside the machinations of government even to the point of persecution, Christianity was a religion of choice, a religion of charity with a particular focus on caring for the poor, orphaned, widowed and otherwise vulnerable. Its attraction was not only in its unusual teachings – that the first will be last, that the poor are blessed and woe to the wealthy, a call for humility, to serve rather than be served, that God is love and that in Him we find forgiveness. Its attraction was also in its familial and communal network of care, kindness, and support.

Rome’s adoption of Christianity changed a lot of that and in many cases not for the better. Here are five to consider:

From familial to institutional and bureaucratic – Early Christians didn’t meet in churches; they met in each others’ homes. To be sure, much of that was because of persecution by various Roman emperors – from Nero to Trajan to Marcus Aurelius and finally Diocletian. But the move to legalize and later adopt Christianity as the imperial religion led to not just the allowance of public worship. It also led to created structures – both physical and social – that quickly eroded the original communal nature of Jesus followers. In many instances, Emperors seized infrastructure from other pagan faiths and “donated” them to the Christian church leaders. “Church” became a building, not a people. Church became a “dome” not a “home”.

From bottom up to top-down conversion – The establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the empire reversed the method of traditional Christian evangelism. In the early days, Christianity was a religion of choice, spread primarily among families and communities via personal appeals. As an imperial religion, that changed. Instead of being spread “bottom-up”, Christianity was spread from the top down. That is, newly conquered rulers were “convinced” by their new emperor to accept Christianity and those rulers, in turn, “convinced” their countrymen and women to do the same. Adoption of Christianity became more often a choice of politics and material gain rather than that of faith.

From diversity to rigid patriarchy – As suggested above, the early church was a loose affiliation of familial converts with widespread diversity and autonomy in the practice of their faith. To be sure, if these assemblies got out of line, they’d likely get a letter or two from Paul or other apostles and disciples. But even in their chiding, the apostles called for unity, not division. Again, association with the Roman government changed that. Over a short period of time during the 4th and 5th Centuries, four major patriarchies were established in Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople. Each developed their own doctrinal theory. Each competed for influence and dominance and worked to impose their doctrine on others. Bitter, vitriolic doctrinal schisms emerged over what some might consider arcane doctrinal issues including the Trinity and Christology. Bishops were ex-communicating each other right and left, East and West, North and South. Amidst all this, Roman emperors jockeyed amongst the various patriarchs not out of any attraction or personal belief but rather as a power grab, throwing their lot with whoever they thought would end up on top so they could preserve unity within the empire.

From apolitical to totally political – When responding to a question about taxes Jesus famously made the distinction between church and state. Jesus said “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s”. His meaning was clear – the two were very different. But with the Roman adoption of Christianity as the “preferred” and later the state religion, imperial and religious power became one and the same. During the late 4th and throughout the 5th and 6th centuries, rendering unto Caesar and rendering unto God became one in the same.

From Godly to worldly – From its origins, Christianity was “otherworldly.” In John’s account, Jesus tells his followers that the reason people are upset with them is because they are “not of the world.” Later, Paul admonishes Christians to not be “conformed to this world” but to be “transformed” in mind and body. As an imperial religion, Christianity went from Godly and spiritual to worldly and carnal. Christianity went from being “not ‘of’ this world” to being a servant or slave to the world – specifically, the world of the Roman empire. Christianity became less about serving the poor, widowed, and orphaned and more about serving the Roman empire and its search for political predictability and stability.

All this should be a cautionary tale – both for Christians and others. As Father Mickiewicz, pastor of St. Mary’s parish in Oneonta, New York wrote:

“Emperors Constantine and Theodosius did Christianity no favors. They were the catalyst that caused the edgy Gospel message to be diluted — and, we have to ask, at what price? The price of the soul of Christianity?”

So be careful. History has a way of repeating itself.



Photo credit: Alastair Rae Creative Commons 2.o

The Beauty of Doubt


Almost four years ago to the day, I wrote a piece titled “Truth takes a beating …” In it, I lamented the rise of “fake news” and the new category of “alternative facts.”

Not much has changed. If anything, things have gotten worse. Truth finds itself more under assault than ever before. That said, I still have faith that while truth “might lose a battle or two, it always wins the war.”

Over the years there has been another casualty. And that is the vilification of doubt: the belief that doubt is weakness, that doubt is unprincipled, that doubt is evil.

I believe in the beauty of doubt. I’ll go one better. I believe in a God that embraces and works through and with our doubt.

Consider this. In the book of Matthew, Jesus said that “among those born of women there is no one greater than John the Baptist.” Wow. That is a pretty high complement from the Son of God. Yet only a few pages later in Matthew’s same account, this same “no one greater than John” guy asks whether Jesus is “the one?” That is, he doubts.

He asks through his buddies “are you the One or should we be waiting for another?” This is John the Baptist – the same John who baptized Jesus in the River Jordan, the same John who heard God’s voice, the same John who saw the “Spirit descending like a dove.” Still, despite ALL that, John had doubts.

I wonder. Could John’s doubts have been one reason Jesus considered him so great?

I believe there is beauty in doubt. Doubt elicits the winsome qualities of humility, modesty, and open-mindedness. By contrast, the absence of doubt brings out ugly elements of cocksure self-righteousness.

I believe there is community in doubt. Doubt’s questioning, it’s hesitancy, encourages re-examination, inclusion, openness. Doubt’s absence invites isolation, segregation, and discrimination.

Finally, I believe there is wisdom in doubt. Doubt keeps our minds open, inquisitive, wondering. Without it, there is no exploration, no inquisitiveness, no investigation.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we not stand firm in our convictions – that we not stand up and speak out in defense of the beliefs, principles, and morals we hold dear. No. Not at all. Stand tall. Stand strong.

Rather, I’d say we follow St. Peter’s advice to “always be ready to give a logical defense” of our faith but to do so “courteously and respectfully.” Indeed, other Greek translations of that last phrase admonish us to do so “with meekness and fear.”

Not quite, doubt, but close.

A New Year

New Day

It is that time of year. That is, time for a new one. A new year.

New Year was never a big deal in my family. We had three holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. If you discern a Christian faith-based theme you’ve got it right. God’s love, God’s forgiveness, and thanks be to God. That was about all that merited big celebrations and brouhaha in our home.

Other annual celebrations – birthdays, anniversaries, a new year – well, they never quite made the cut.

Part of that was likely due to my parents midwestern and Depression-era roots. Another day was just another day. The sun will come up. There will be work to be done. There will be mouths to
feed, clothes to wash, bills to pay. Just like the day before.

That may seem curmudgeonly if not depressing to some, but there was a flip-side to this practical and seemingly unsentimental view of life that is both liberating and exciting.

One the one hand, every day is the same day. But on the other hand, every day is its own day. A new day, if you will perhaps even a new year.  The flip side of “another day is just another day” is this: “every day merits its own celebration.” No need to wait for a birthday to celebrate your life. No need for an anniversary to celebrate your marriage. No need for a new calendar to celebrate past accomplishments or to set new goals. You have the opportunity to do each one of those things every day! Why pack them all in one? What are you going to do with the other 364?

For Mom and Dad, this way of thinking was particularly applicable for resolutions, something we commonly associate with a New Year. If you want to do something – set a goal, accomplish a dream, make a change, quite a bad habit, start a good one – shoot, you can do that any day! You can do that today! Why wait for a “special day” to make that happen? Before there was a Nike, there was a Mom and Dad who would say that if you wanted to do something, well, “just do it!”

So it is in that spirit that I write to all those celebrating the New Year with their lists of goals and resolutions – good luck! I hope you achieve them all. But know this. There is a good chance that you’ll fall short in one or more (all?). But that’s ok. Because there is always tomorrow. And you can try again. And again. The sun will come up. There will be work to be done. There will be mouths to feed, clothes to wash, bills to pay. Just like the day before. But there’s no need to wait for another year to roll by. You can try it again tomorrow. And the next day.

Similarly, for those who have “given up” on New Year’s resolutions, take heart. Resolutions aren’t contingent on January 1 st . You can make that resolution any time. Today, in fact! Yes, you’ll likely fall short, just like those who woke up January 1 st clinging to their resolutions with an earnest intensity only to see them in tatters a month later. That’s ok too. You too, can try again tomorrow. Or the next day.

So Happy New Year. Because every day is a new day. Every day is a New Year.

Today I Prayed.

Church and faith

I went to church to worship today and I prayed.  I prayed for my family. Praying for my family is pretty much a given every day, not just on Sunday. I prayed for the nation. I do that a lot too but not nearly as often.  I prayed for many, many other people and things.

And yes, I prayed for the president-elect. It was an earnest prayer. It was a difficult prayer. It was an open prayer. It was as much about asking God what all this means as it was what I should do about it.

I prayed that the president-elect would not govern the same way he campaigned.

I prayed that, if God was willing, the president-elect would reconsider some of the actions he said he would pursue. Things like. Building the wall. Burning more coal. A travel ban on Muslims. Eliminating access to affordable health insurance. Increasing tax breaks for the affluent.

But most of all I prayed that everyone, particularly the young people out there, would, despite what they may have read and seen regarding Mr. Trump’s supporters, not confuse Republican policies with Jesus’ teachings.

I prayed that people would read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-8). I prayed that everyone would know that Jesus taught …

  • That we shouldn’t get all caught up on how much taxes we pay. That God wants us to deal with more important things.  That we should “render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar’s” and then focus on rendering unto God what is God’s.
  • That the love of money and material things are the thorns that stifle God’s word and choke out the work of the Holy Spirit.  That the love of money is the root of all types of evil. That we should not try to store up treasures on earth, but rather treasures in heaven.
  • That we should love our neighbors and that God wants us to define “neighbors” as Samaritan types (modern-day Muslims?) who worship a different God, believe different things, worship a different way, and are suspect and despised by society.
  • That our focus should be on doing whatever we can to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, minister to the sick (like healthcare), and care for the widows and orphans (even if they come from Syria).
  • That we should not only love our enemies but when folks ask for a shirt, we give them our coat.
  • That the people who are right before God are not the pious religious folks who wear their faith on their sleeves and show up on talk shows and news programs … rather they are the repentant sinners who sit in the back pew, often neglected, begging for God’s mercy. That the truly blessed are people who are humble, meek and poor in spirit.
  • That we should be wary of false prophets who show up saying that they speak in Jesus’ name. That we would know these false prophets by their fruits of their work … the mercy, grace, and sacrifice that they make for others.

Overall, I prayed that people judge Christian practice by the sayings of Jesus, and not the circumstances of an election.

I prayed that people would know that this is what he was talking about when he said that if we follow his commands, “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

And with that, I said “Amen.”

May God’s will be done.


Place of Worship


I go to one.

Church, that is.

I hear that going to church is becoming increasingly rare.  That’s according to the latest survey by Pew Research. They say the number of people going to church is dwindling.  Ok, they say it is dropping like a stone, actually.  The biggest drop off appears to be millennials, including millennials with young children.

I think that’s too bad.  I feel it is too bad mostly for reasons of faith and belief.  But there are practical reasons as well.

So for all the “nones” out there, even if you feel that church isn’t for you, I’d ask you to reconsider.

Let me give you three practical things you (and your children) can learn from going to church.  Or, for that matter, the mosque or synagogue.

First, at church you learn how to sit still for an hour.  This is an extremely practical skill.  It gets you ready for all those dreadful meetings and conference calls you will have to endure at work.  And for your children it is an absolute God send (pun intended). I teach a lot of kids and let me tell you, we’re losing the art of “sitting still.”

Sure, your kids are going to tell you that they are bored.  Hey, depending on what church you go to you might even be bored.  But haven’t you heard?  Being bored is a good thing.  In fact, all the latest studies show  that people’s besting thinking and creativity comes through boredom.

Go to church. Sit still. And yes, get bored. You’re best thinking depends on it.

Second, at church you learn the concept of giving and philanthropy.

In my faith we practice tithing or giving ten percent of our income.  This always leads to the question, “Is it ten percent of “gross” or ten percent of “net”? I don’t know the answer to that.  I do know that many boomers like me who were brought up in church saw Mom and Dad drop their envelop in the plate and were instructed at a very early age to do the same.

The idea of generosity, particularly for the poor and disenfranchised, is common across many faiths.  But church teaches you how to make this a habit, how to weave it into your lifestyle at an early age.

One of the many challenges charitable organizations face today is the decline of the institutional donor. The new generation of donors are “situational” donors.  That’s ok, but not great.  It is hard to imagine great organizations like Red Cross or American Cancer Society being built by situational donors. Church teaches you that you should give back and support causes even when there’s no earthquake in Haiti or drought in the Sudan.  That you should give all the time.  Regularly.  Dependably.  So that organizations that are doing good work can actually do good work.

Finally, church makes you think about big things.  At least it should. Mine does.

When I say big things, I mean really big things. Understanding good.  And bad.  Purpose. Meaning.  Destiny.  Love.  Sacrifice. Truth. Mortality.

Heady stuff.  Big stuff.  The most important stuff in life, really.

But if we’re honest with ourselves, most of us would admit these aren’t the things we spend most of our time thinking about.  We spend most of our time thinking about whether we left the iron on.  Or something like that.  And we think about stuff a lot.  At work we recently did a national study on what people think about most.  At number one was “friends and family.” That’s encouraging.  But at number two – by a wide margin – was “money.”  People think twice as much about money and finances as they do about life’s meaning and purpose.

I think that is too bad. Understandable, but too bad.

Church helps correct that.  Every Sunday here come all those really big things again.  Origin. Purpose. Meaning. Morality. Destiny. Good and Evil. Truth. Mortality.

It isn’t that church is the only place where a person can learn how to sit still, practice philanthropy and search for meaning.  But its track record is pretty good on all three fronts.  And you might even stumble over some of that faith and belief stuff.

So think about it.


Place of Worship via flickr under creative commons 2.0

The Gospel of Mom


The Gospel of Mom

I’ve told many stories and written many posts about my Dad. Folks who know me – particularly my family – have heard these stories many, many times.

I’ve rarely written or told stories about my Mom.

And that is just the way I think my Mom would like it.

Many people write about their Moms and Dads in saintly terms. But for those who were fortunate enough to know my Mom, few would argue that Joyce Johnson, daughter of Ola and Clarence, big sister to Dale and Beth, wife of “J. E.” Johnson, and mother of Steve, Janet, Jim and Jerry, was as close to the model of true Christian living as this world has ever seen.

My mother taught me many, many things. All were taught by example. She gave few lectures. When around her you watched, you marveled, and you began to understand what words “character”, “virtue”, and “love” meant.

Among other things, Mom showed me the way of:

Extreme humility. My mother’s humility was breathtaking. It was so vast and deep it is even now hard for me to capture into words. In every thing, in every aspect of daily life, she put herself last. The most horrifying thought for her was that she might be an inconvenience to others. For Mom, it was never about her. She always focused on “the other” whether that be family (most often) or anyone else that might be within her tender reach.

Constant service. My mother was constantly serving. The only time she sat down completely for a meal was at a restaurant. Whether at her home or someone else’s house, she’d sit long enough to be polite but soon slip quietly away to fill a glass, replenish a plate, wash a dish, prepare for the next course. There was a fascinating calmness to it all. Even in daily life, Mom’s movements were measured, efficient, and meaningful. She was constantly in motion, working in a simple, methodical and purposeful way.

Quiet resolve. Before there was “no drama Obama” there was my Mom. Underneath her generous, quiet and humble attitude was a rock-hard steeliness and resolve that defined indomitable. Once set, her direction never veered. She epitomized “endurance.” Nothing caused her to waver – neither the burden of physical pain nor the lure of physical comfort. Whether it was past the well-meaning entreaties of her children and family, or the challenges posed by new places and new faces, Mom’s course never faltered.

Understated bravery.  Mom was brave.  Not in the way that Hollywood likes to define it.  But in its truest sense. She dared to do things that frightened, intimidated and outright scared her.  From crossing the Pacific on a rusty military boat, alone with three children, two of whom were in diapers to moving to a new state, and a new community, alone, after losing her beloved husband of forty plus years.  She faced things she feared without fanfare, fuss, or complaining.

Universal kindness. In my fifty-eight years of living, I cannot remember or recall my Mom saying an unkind word about anyone. Ever. It is an incredible claim but amazingly true. To be sure, there were things people did that she disapproved of (and I know there were times when I fell into that category!). And occasionally she would let you know that. But even then, her words were so tempered, her manner so understanding, her objections so qualified and understated you had to search and be attentive just to realize that she felt something amiss.

Unshakable faith. Mom’s faith in Jesus was simple, direct and unshakable. It is said that there are five Christian gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the life of the Christian. People rarely read the first four. I was blessed with the fifth gospel. The Gospel of Mom. With Mom there was no need for complicated systematic theology. We are all equal, all created in God’s image. We are called “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” And the reconciliation of justice and mercy lie in the person of Jesus Christ.  A life of grace, forgiveness and sacrifice.

Unfathomable love. You can wrap all of the above up in a single word. Love. Never have I seen or experienced human love that rivaled that of my Mom. This was particularly true of the love between her and my Dad. Mom’s love was the perfect mixture of adoration, passion, respect, kindness and devotion.

Thousands of years ago God reached out and gave of himself to redeem humanity. In the form of Jesus, God gave us a real living breathing reflection of God’s true nature. So I believe it only appropriate and a fitting interpretation of God’s will, that Mom was called Home at the same time we celebrate God’s ultimate gift.

Mom left us yesterday, Christmas Eve 2014.

I spoke with her briefly that morning.  Amidst all the pain and difficulty of her final hours, Mom’s last words to me were “Merry Christmas!”

That said it all. Uplifting humility. Abiding faith. Enduring love.

“Merry Christmas,” Mom.

You were God’s greatest gift to so many of us.

We will miss you.

Mom on the couch


My dad

A story about my father on Father’s Day.

I was seventeen and wanted to buy a Fender Rhodes electric piano.  One problem.  I didn’t have the cash to buy it outright.  And since I wasn’t eighteen I’d need Dad to sign the papers so I could finance the purchase.

Know this.  I was a hard worker.  The day I turned 15 I started working as a stock boy in the linen department of the Maison Blanche just up the road from East Jefferson High School.  I took other jobs too.  Worked at a health club out at the lake front.  Worked as a greenskeeper at City Park Golf couse.  I was no slouch.  I was a hard worker.  At least I felt I was.

I remember making my case.  I forget whether it was at home or in the car.  That was where my Dad and I had a lot of our best conversations – either in the den of our house with Dad on the LazyBoy and me on the rattan couch or the two of us sitting (unbuckled) on the felt bench seat of a Ford Fairlane.

I laid it all out.  I had nearly one hundred dollars, good for well over twenty percent of the purchase price.  How I’d save money over the coming months and make the monthly payment.  How I’d finance the ongoing expenses.  How I’d save for this and spend for that.

I was thorough.  I was confident.  I had it all figured out.

I could tell Dad was genuinely interested in what I was saying.  He wasn’t much interested in the substance of it all but seemed fascinated in what I was trying to accomplish, and how I thought I could make it work.  But Dad, being Dad, couldn’t help but probe and test in a number of different areas.

Did I really think that spending all this for an electric piano was the best thing I could do with the money?  Were there any other alternatives?  Would I actually follow up and dedicate time to playing the piano and making it all pay off?  Did I really think there was any future or benefit in playing in a band?  Would I devote time and energy to make it successful?  And if I thought I could, how was I going to do that and still work, be a member of umpteen social organizations, stay on the high school golf team and meet the other obligations that I already was having a hard time meeting?

As usual, Dad was cutting to the heart of issues I was ill prepared for.

And the more Dad pushed, prodded and probed the more testy I became.  Finally, there seemed to be nothing left of the logic or practicality of my plan.  My beloved Fender Rhodes was quickly becoming an empty, silly, foolish exercise.  So I blurted out:

“Look, Dad, I’m paying for all this.  It is my money and it is what I want to do.  I’m paying for it.  I’m working for it.  I’m not asking you for a handout.  Besides, it is not going to cost you anything.”

Dad smiled.  Dad smiled a grin that at the same time expressed both admiration and pity.

I could tell that he was delighted by my drive and independence.  But I also knew from his face that he was disappointed that I was missing something very fundamental.  There was something I wasn’t getting.  Something very basic that Dad had hoped I would understand, but I didn’t.

Dad went quiet.

Then he smiled at me and said in a very deliberate but kind and loving tone.

“Son, let me explain something to you.  It is all my money. 

I’m not saying that to make you feel bad, or to make me feel good.  It is just the way it is.

You may think that you’d be paying for this.  That’s not quite right.  Whatever you spend, your Mom and I have to make up for somewhere else.  Whatever you spend on this is money that you don’t spend on something else … car insurance, school expenses, clothes … the list can get pretty long.

Now I want to help.   I admire that you want to work and earn and save money to make it happen.  But don’t ever think that when you spend money on something like this it isn’t costing other people money.  It is.  It always does.

One of the biggest mistakes is to think you are independent, that what you do doesn’t affect someone else.  It does.  Especially when it comes to family, time and money.  Because what you spend in one place, is something that you don’t spend in another place.  It’s all one. 

Of course Dad was right.  I wasn’t close to being self-sufficient.  And our family wasn’t wealthy.  I was a young, dependent child with the fantasy of making one transaction “independent” of everything else.  It doesn’t work that way.

My Dad’s line – it is ALL my money – taught me a lot about life.  It was a recognition that things are always more linked and related than people think.  People imagine being able to isolate or compartmentalize themselves and their actions.  Being “ownable” only to themselves.  It doesn’t work that way.  One action almost always impacts or influences something else.

Dad had the same view about family and faith.

Family is recognizing that everything you do affects the family members around you.  Everything.

And faith means that every day is a gift not a right; every action, a blessing not an achievement.

Thanks, Dad.



A cup of flour, half a stick of butter, two tablespoons of sugar …

5’ wide and 20’ long with a drop of 2’ for every 7’ in length …

An increase in top-line revenue of $10 million with profit margins of 20% by …


Every part of life seems to have them. From cooking, to business, to home improvement.

I’m a planner. This means I’m in the business of the research behind communications campaigns. When I talk to clients there is the inevitable question: “How are we going to measure success?”  To which I almost always answer, “Define for me what you think success looks like and I’ll tell you.”

The answers vary. Some see success as getting the right headline in the right publication. Others talk about changing people’s opinions about certain things. Others about generating business and increasing sales. Some even suggest that “no news” is indeed the “best news.”

What is success? And once defined, can that be measured?

People ask that a lot.  And it is more difficult than you think.  Take the matter of education.

Recently I came across two articles in the same issue of the New York Times.  One dealt with primary and secondary schools and the debate over something called the Common Core.  These proposed “standards” (a word that is inherently dependent on the concept of “measurement”) have been so controversial that they’ve united both far left and far right in opposition.  A second, was about President Obama’s suggestion that colleges and universities be “measured” for their success.  Not surprisingly, college administrators were aghast.

Education.  Why can’t we measure it? We measure everything else. What makes education so special?

One the one hand it is pretty simple. At the end of the day, can the person read, write, calculate, reason, think?  If they can’t, then they haven’t gotten an education. They might have gone to school and gotten a lot of other things – a good experience, healthy relationships, perhaps even a healthier, stronger body; but they haven’t gotten an education.

On the other hand there are those who say that simply relying on how well a student does in the “three Rs” is too narrow an interpretation of the idea of “education.” That all that other stuff matters too.  It is just harder to measure.

The dilemma in measuring education is that you end up having to measure people.  And that’s not easy.

Unlike cooking, construction, and accounting, measuring things that are inherently human are, as we see, controversial. Why?  Because while measures of human characteristics can suggest things – they can be indicators – they always fall short of what it really means to be a human being. Things you can measure are part, but only part, of the human recipe.

People are more than numbers.  But, that doesn’t mean that numbers don’t mean anything.

We often associate poverty with unhappiness. But, I know poor people who are exceedingly happy.

We often associate illness with misery. But, I know ill people who are joyous and upbeat.

We often associate illiteracy with being stupid. But, I know of people who aren’t very articulate or book smart and are quite wise.

None of this means that things like poverty, illness, and illiteracy – all things you can measure -don’t matter. They do. They matter a lot, actually. It is just that we’re more than that.

How do you measure faith, hope and love? Because those are the things that make us human.

It is the immeasurable that is the most meaningful.


Photo via flickr



proper apologies

Something is happening to apologies.  I don’t find them as much as I used to.

A report will be late.  Something won’t get done.  Or it will get done incorrectly.  Someone says something harmful.  Or takes an inappropriate action.  And more often than not when I raise this with a person what I’ll get is a blank stare and an “OK.”  Maybe a question to the effect of “So what do you want me to do?”

Nothing wrong with a blank stare.  Nothing wrong with asking what I’d like them to do about it.

But no apology.

Am I asking too much?  I’m not asking anyone to grovel.  No need to tear your clothing and douse yourself in ashes.  Just makes me feel a bit better and give me a sense that you understand that you messed up.  Just so I know that you know.

So why are apologies disappearing?  I’ve got some theories.

First, they increasingly aren’t received well.  Apologies used to be viewed as the path toward forgiveness.  And forgiveness was the path back to wholeness and community.  Today, apologies are viewed less as the first step toward reconciliation and more as weakness.  That is, nowadays people often use someone’s genuine confession as a club to whack them upside the head.

All quite sad, really. I remember a rather infamous event at a business meeting when I apologized to a client for running late on a small and somewhat inconsequential element of a project, promising that we’d do double duty to catch up.  What I saw as a small acknowledgement sparked a client explosion.  He harangued me with a series of screams along the lines of “how can you …?” “how could you …?” “explain to me why …?”  “I demand an answer …!”  If that client was the only measure, I’d likely never apologize again.  The broader point is this: if apologies are disappearing perhaps it is because society isn’t embracing the apology as it ought.

Second, the apologies we do see are pathetic.  What apologies am I talking about?  Lance Armstrong.  Tiger Woods.  Paula Dean.  Anthony Wiener.  Need I say more?  Not exactly role models, eh?  If those were the only examples I had of a person apologizing, then I would never apologize either!

Finally, there may be a link between the decline in apologies and that of religion.  Let me explain.  A generation ago in the United States, religion was mainstream.  And as most of that was Judeo-Christian religion, there was a very common practice that most people learned through their weekly trip to the synagogue or church:  asking for forgiveness.  It was an apology of sorts.  It was a weekly recognition that you messed up.  In the Anglican tradition it was framed as messing up in “thought, word, and deed.”  And you asked God for forgiveness.  Then things are better.  You do that throughout your growing up and it becomes a habit.  A lot of young people today don’t benefit from that practice.

Whatever the reason, I’d ask that we bring back authentic apologies.  Let’s celebrate them, embrace them, reward them.

And if you think I’m way off.  If I have offended you, your faith, or your generation in any way.

I apologize.