Archives For Reflection

We live in a reactionary culture; in church, politics, sports, and just about everything in-between. The firing of ESPN’s headline writer Anthony Federico is the latest example of this.

I am the problem.  Here is why.

After New York Knicks’ Jeremy Lin’s first loss as a starter, Federico wrote that there was a “Chink in the chain”.  Jeremy Lin is of Taiwanese descent so to me and many others, the headline was cutesy racism that went overboard and it just made me mad. Here was my reaction on twitter the morning after reading (from other media sources) about the ESPN headline issue:

ESPN getting racist on Jeremy Lin last night. Their lesson? Don’t let drunk frat interns update web content.

This was my reaction.  Instead it was just a “reaction to a reaction” because all I did was pay attention to what everyone else was saying, especially the media, civil rights groups, etc. I joined an online mob.

The ESPN headline writer was fired soon that day.  I learned that Headline writers like Frederico have to come up with quick headlines every few minutes.  Federico claimed that it was an “honest mistake”.  Saturday Night Live did a great job with their sketch highlighting the hypocrisy of who can say what about races and get away with it.

Messages like mine are what puts ESPN in a position to fire someone without learning more and listening to all sides about why this happened. ESPN acted in cowardly fear. They were wrong and I was wrong. Who gets hurt? A promising young career is knocked down in the form of Anthony Federico, the 26-year-old who posted this headline.  Anthony Federico issued this incredible apology after he was fired by ESPN. Read it here. I was impressed with his candor, thoughtfulness, regret, but also a helpful explanation about how it happened.  He happens to be a Christian, which is relevant because I understand more about why he did this.  Jeremy Lin is also a prominent Christian, which makes the media firestorm even worse.

After reading Anthony Federico’s response, it caused me to look deep in the mirror. I failed. I reacted. I was lazy and didn’t take the time to understand all sides of this story. I can think of dozens and dozens of instances where I have jumped to conclusion too quickly and people got hurt. Most of the time I was wrong and should know better. What I learned today is that I should have more of the character of Anthony Federico. I’ll leave you with his words:

My solace in this is that ‘all things work together for good for those who love the Lord.’ I praise God equally in the good times and the bad times.

Anthony, I am sorry. You don’t deserve this. We all owe you this apology. Please forgive us all.

Follow Anthony on twitter, he seems like a great guy. @antfeds

The Big Fish Irrational Life

February 23, 2012 — 2 Comments

Recently my friend Nathan Martin shared with me an obituary article about the man John Fairfax. Fairfax lived an extraordinary yet insane life filled with adventures rowing boats across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, being a pirate (yes a pirate), living in the Amazon, and playing professional baccarat like James Bond. The article’s writer said it best, “He crossed the Atlantic because it was there, and the Pacific because it was also there.”  Read his amazing obituary here.  Fairfax seemed like quite a lost person but his sense of adventure and imagination is what inspires me most.  If he were alive today, Mark Burnett or another reality show producer would be begging to follow and record his life.

So why do these crazy things?

Fairfax describes why in context of his rowing adventures.

“I’m after a battle with nature, primitive and raw.”

Fairfax reminds me of the movie Big Fish, one of my top 5 inspirational movies.  It has so many lessons in it and the main character Edward Bloom is probably related somehow to John Fairfax.

Edward Bloom’s son shares about his father’s immortal life,

In telling the story of my father’s life, it’s impossible to separate fact from fiction, the man from the myth. The best I can do is to tell it the way he told me. It doesn’t always make sense and most of it never happened… but that’s what kind of story this is.

It’s easy to dismiss a life like Edward Bloom’s in Big Fish. Edward learned early about his purpose.

It occurred to me then, that perhaps the reason for my growth was I was intended for larger things. After all, a giant man can’t have an ordinary-sized life.

The movie is a reminder that we are all meant for big things in God’s eyes.  I want to be remembered for having taken risks and gone on great adventures like John Fairfax or Edward Bloom. Perhaps I yearn for these adventures with a little more purpose to them and do them in a way to help others. Maybe at the end of life, those irrational experiences will actually be my reality, which is in God’s hands. My practical challenge to you is to start with a bucket list and write out 100 amazing things you want to do/experience before you die. I did this when I was 20 and have been keeping track of it since. Go one step further to describe why you will do each item and what the achievement will mean to you and others.

Have you ever imagined your funeral and what would be written in your obituary?

What would they say?

What stories would they tell?

Lately, our company has been going through the best-selling business leadership book, Good to Great by Jim Collins.  Featured in the book is the “Hedgehog Concept”, which serves as an illustration of why we should master one simple thing.  In the Hedgehog’s case, he has an amazing simple defense with is his spiky needle-hair and ability to roll up in a ball. Foxes and other animals may try to be sly to take him down but he does this one simple thing really well and succeeds.

It got me thinking about other ferocious little animals we can learn from today.

Apparently 37 million people on YouTube agree that the Honey Badger is a hero to all nations.  I kind of feel like this blog would be best  if I could do a video post and imitate the narrator of the popular video. But I don’t because it would be terrible in my voice so here is my attempt to make further use of Honey Badger. As an homage to Honey Badger and “Randall”, the voice behind the narration, here are five life lessons from Honey Badger.

1. He is patient.  Honey Badger always takes his time and goes at his pace. When attacked by other animals, he simply waits them out because his endurance is better than theirs.  Does he set goals? Probably not but in his head he just knows what he needs to do and does it well because of his patience.

2. He is not a people pleaser. Honey Badger doesn’t care what other animals are doing or what they think about his activities.  This behavior is incredibly intriguing because I fall into this trap of pleasing too many people.

3. He is resilient and focused. Honey Badger gets knocked down and gets back up and keeps going. When Cobra takes Honey Badger down with venom, he accepts the short loss but then quickly gets back up  and is on to his original task. We all experience failure like Honey Badger. But we like Honey Badger need to recognize that this is only a short setback and we need to get back up and eat Cobra. When he’s being attacked by a swarm of bees and other animals are trying to snatch his food that he caught, Honey Badger stays focused on his prize.

4.  He knows how to use the right tools:  Honey Badger is known to adapt tools in his environment to dig holes and move objects when his claws won’t do.

5. He focuses on his strengths.  Honey Badger doesn’t try to fly. Honey Badger doesn’t try to juggle too many rats. What is his Good to Great “Hedgehog Concept”? He probably eats Hedgehogs of course.

All this being said, the only weakness I can find in Honey Badger is that he is a bit of a lone ranger and doesn’t seem to work well with other Honey Badgers.  Then again Honey Badger would simply say to me, “I don’t give a $#!&.”  So be it, Honey Badger.

What else can we learn from Honey Badger? 

I hate clowns.  Perhaps you should too.

This weekend Brooke and I will go on our annual pilgrimage with the kids downtown Nashville to see The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Yes, this is our third year of the madness. The kids absolutely love the animals and acrobats making death-defying flips in the air.  But every year we see those ridiculous clowns. We break out in a cold sweat when they approach us. I try to avoid hating anything but for some reason I am haunted by these crazies. For crying out loud there is a dedicated website dedicated to “clown hatred.”  It explains the rationale about clowns (my emphasis added):

They scare little kids (mine), they cause neurosis in some adults (me), they have big floppy feet (I have big feet, are they making fun of me?), they try to fit too many of their kind in a car, I could go on and on.

It was the movie Poltergeist (1982) that ruined me.  The scene where the clown disappears from the chair across from the boy and then attacks him is a recurring nightmare. I think after I saw that movie, I threw every stuffed animal clown I had in the house and quickly gave up watching Bozo the Clown.  Then Stephen King had to rub it in my face with the book/movie, IT.  Good grief.

I simply hate clowns. Sorry, it’s personal. There was a period of time as a kid when I was playing with my G.I. Joes and I would find unique ways to kill my stuffed animal clowns. I am sure some of them are nice and do some good things like attempt to cheer up children in hospitals. But I don’t buy it.

Truth is, I am a clown. I wear the mask of a clown too often. I make all sorts of facial expressions to make you think better of me. I try to entertain and show a lot of color but ultimately look just like every other clown out there. I hide behind the makeup. I try to be someone or something else.

The beautiful yet creepy song “John Wayne Gacy” written by Sufjan Stevens has a haunting line that always makes the hair on my arms stand up.  The notorious Chicago area serial killer John Wayne Gacy often dressed up as a clown to lure his victims. Sufjan saw something deeper at heart and expressed it in this line,

And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floor boards
For the secrets I have hid

So I may not be a serial killer but what do I hide? As a culture, I think we spend a lot of time and energy analyzing the sin of everyone else. I am incredibly guilty of that.  The song is a reminder that this mask I put on each day represents the sin of my life. Until I take off this mask and makeup, I cannot truly be the person God wants me to be. I am just a floppy-shoed fraud until then.

I take splice in 1 Samuel 16:7

Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

I pray every day for an honest heart that shows compassion, love and the ‘real’ me God wants in this world.  May you as well. 

What about you?  Any clown stories you need to get off your chest?  

It is comforting to know where we’re going.  It’s comforting to have clarity.  It’s comforting to know that there are signs out there to guide us.

Before becoming a Christian, I always knew there were signs out there telling me what to do.  Things like this would happen:

  • That must be a sign the girl likes me (or not like me).
  • That must be a sign that my golf round is supposed to turn around since my errant show hit the tree and bounced back into the fairway.
  • That must be a sign that I got a C in Chemistry so maybe I’m not supposed to be a doctor.

It didn’t take me long in life to recognize that there are no coincidences.  Is that rational?  Not really, right?  It takes faith to recognize that there is probably something bigger behind something that is simply deemed a coincidence.  But sometimes God gives us crystal clear signs and if we aren’t paying close attention, they will simply fade into the being part life’s daily happenings.

In the movie Signs (2002), this issue is dealt with directly. Some signs were given to the main characters years in advance. But none of them made sense until the characters were fully aware that they had a purpose at the present moment.  The characters may have missed them but they paid close attention and when the time was right, it all became clear on the meaning.

One of the main characters played by Mel Gibson, Graham Hess, asks his brother Merrill,

See what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences?

This past year I feel like the signs have been very clear.  I have worked in publishing for the past 6 years and never felt so bombarded with the message of “become a better father to your daughters” than this year.  My two girls are 2 and 3 respectively and I know this is the time to develop and grow with them.  The signs looked like this in 2011.

This past father’s day, I worked on a book called Daddy Dates by Greg Wright.  It is a personal story of Greg Wright learning how to raise four daughters but also offers very practical ways on fun “Daddy Dates.”

Before leaving Thomas Nelson, I was able to work on initial planning a very practical and helpful father’s book called All Pro Dad by Mark Merrill. I am eager to see it have a strong impact on dads when it releases in May, 2012.

The first day of my new job at The A Group, I discovered that I would be working on some pieces of curriculum for the bestselling book,  Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters by Meg Meeker, PhD.

God apparently wants to use a megaphone this year to tell me that I need to focus on being a better father. Who doesn’t want to become a better father (or a mother)?  But for me I really needed this “push” to be intentional in developing.  I could have gone about my days and completely missed this.  This next year and beyond I’ll update you on this journey of learning, listening, praying, and engaging with my daughters.

Be intentional about praying for God to show you signs.  The signs may be subtle hints and feel like whispers from God.  Pray for God to bring you clarity and take steps to understanding what these things mean.  Pray for patience as these signs may be most helpful years down the road when need them most.

What about you?

Do you feel like you are being shown signs in your life?  

What are these signs telling you? 

You know a good speaker when you see one.

But are you one?

Do you ever wonder exactly why a speech can be so good? It can bring shivers down your back. It can inspire you to change the world.  Sometimes it can be as simple as provoking the feeling that you aren’t alone.  Everyday I have the opportunity to speak in public or watch someone else do it.  I am fascinated by those who do this so well so I try to study and emulate them.

More people fear public speaking over death for example.  It is frequently ranked as the #1 fear for people as a matter of fact.   With so much fear attached to public speaking, often people shy away from trying to better themselves at it.  As Flannery O’Connor put it, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” As it a good speech. I have a long way to become a good orator.

Winston Churchill noted that in each speech,

“There must be character, personality, delivery and occasion,…”

As in all things in life, Sir Winston. Thank you.

I like keeping things simple in life so there are two attributes that can be applied to about anything in life, especially speech:  Planning and Delivery.

Let us study two of my heroes of speech and rhetoric.

PLANNING: Churchill’s “Our Finest Hour” Speech

Churchill grew up with a lisp and had to overcome incredible odds to become the speaker we know him as today.  He was known early on in his political career as a rambler but over the decades, he transformed into a master of public speaking. How did he do it?  Churchill would often say that for every minute in a speech one should prepare an hour.  His work ethic was untouchable and it helped eventually him do best what was needed in the moment.  In Churchill’s preparation, he knew that his pause was his secret weapon.  By intense planning, he knew when to best use the pause.  Churchill has given thousands of speeches that you will neither hear nor read in life but if you could only read one, read his amazing “Our Finest Hour” speech.  Whenever you feel down and frustrated by life’s circumstances, it will uplift your spirit.  If you are in that Dunkirk point of life in retreat as the Allies were; learn from the Brits and regroup, reassess, and get back in the game.  You can read the full speech here.

“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.'”

DELIVERY: FDR’s Message to Congress after Pearl Harbor

Draft #1: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in ‘world history’….”

Following the sudden and deliberate attack on the United States, FDR knew this was a moment to capture emotion and reason so in his final draft he changed ‘world history’ to ‘infamy.’  Read the original version a few times and you realize that it doesn’t fully embrace the magnitude of what happened at Pearl Harbor.  It is now one of the most famous opening speech lines ever.  Can you imagine trying to describe the emotion of a nation on the fly like FDR?  He mastered the moment and a nation became united and galvanized for war.

What does this mean to you?  

Part of your planning must be to anticipate the moments that could come.  You must plan for the moment in the same way that you planned how to get there.  Over my years as a history student, I studied Churchill and FDR extensively.  Today, I become discouraged occasionally and think, “I can’t do it like them.  I am not even in a position of ultimate leadership that would require this sort of planning and skill.”  But I then realize that I am wrong.  My team, which includes my family, look to me daily to master these skills of planning and mastering the moment.

Remember that yes you can do it.

Keep it simple. Plan, and plan for the moment.

I’ve never been a car junkie. Don’t get me wrong, I completely appreciate a beautiful automobile that can accelerate like an F-16.  I have always been amused by the reasons someone buys their car. Ask a financial expert and they will tell you that what you drive tells a lot about how you view your personal finances.

I often wonder how much a pastor thinks about what he drives.  If I were a pastor, I would probably be incredibly insecure about how people viewed my ride.  What does it say about their heart?  When a pastor asks people to give to the church, do they question where the money “really” is going?  If they preach about giving to the poor, are they doing the same?  If their church has exceeded 2000 attendance, can they get that suped-up sports car?  Or is their car too sissy?  Too bold?  Even worse, are they driving their wife’s Mary Kay pink Cadillac?  If you are a pastor reading this, I can only imagine how many things you are judged upon.

Not long ago I saw a pastor driving around in this amazing 330 BMW.  I’m not even sure what my pastor drives to be honest.  I’d like to think that he drives something modest but should I even care?  Whether you are pastor or not, the class-warfarist in me thinks that when faced with the choice in traffic whether to let a Ford Fusion or a Mercedes into my lane, sorry Heir Mercedes, you are going to have to wait.

For me I ask if I should purposefully drive a Yugo, a beat up old sedan, or a pickup truck?  A pickup truck might annoy my more liberal friends saying I was wasting gas and not using it to haul stuff on a regular basis. If I had an SUV, well…how American.  You suburban gas guzzling yuppie pastor.  So here I am…my wife and I have a minivan, which we love and loathe.  I don’t need to explain why.  If you have kids, you get it.

I read a few years ago about Kurt Warner after he received his big contract from the St. Louis Rams, he didn’t really upgrade his car, he just made sure he had a safe SUV since he had a bunch of kids.  I’m pretty practical like that but then again I bought a lottery ticket the other day and I couldn’t help but think what car I would purchase if I actually won.  The act of buying a lottery ticket says a lot about my heart I suppose.

I drive a 2008 Honda Accord, which I bought for its practicality and reliability.  My grandfather Papa Jack worked for General Motors for forty years and I recently.  I felt like a complete family letdown for buying a Japanese car but the truth is and we all know that our American manufacturers haven’t necessarily had their act together the past few years.  I’m starting to see a turnaround from them so when I need another car, I’ll definitely consider “Made in the USA.”  Recently my grandmother said that Papa Jack said he secretly always wanted to have a Volkswagen. That made me smile.

I work in publishing with that comes a lot of  interaction with pastors.  Many of these pastors are some amazing people.  Some of them do sacrificial things like not taking a church salary and only utilizing their book royalties.  I’ve seen every type of car driven by them but have never been bold enough to ask.  So if you are clergy, beware, I’ll be asking you what you drive this week.

So, what is your pastor driving?  Ever asked him (or her) why?  

What about you?  What do you drive and why?