Tag Archives: Accountability

Proven Character

Proven Character (CaD Ruth 3) Wayfarer

“And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.”
Ruth 3:11 (NIV)

At the suggestion of a friend, Wendy and I have been listening to the podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill which chronicles the story of a megachurch in Seattle that became one of the largest and most influential churches in America, and then disappeared almost over night. In telling the story of Mars Hill, the podcast also shares a larger story about the history of megachurches in America and their pastors, including Willowcreek in Chicago, where I attended regularly during my college years.

One of the most fascinating common themes of these stories is that of the talented, charismatic pastors who rose to positions of incredible prominence and celebrity status, then had their own very personal and public descent into scandal. The stories reveal a pattern. Very talented and charismatic young men who rocketed into positions of power and leadership in their 20s and 30s, arguably before their characters were fully formed through the process of experience. And, these were churches they themselves started, so the systems that grew up around them protected them and allowed them to fire, threaten, minimize, harass, shame, or marginalize anyone within the system who they didn’t trust or deemed personally disloyal. One said it plainly : “We value loyalty over honesty.”

In today’s chapter, we find Ruth, the widowed foreigner, boldly taking the initiative with Boaz. With suggestions and instructions from her mother-in-law Naomi, Ruth dresses herself up in her best outfit and puts on her best perfume. After Boaz has feasted and made merry with this servants in celebration of the harvest, he goes with the other men to sleep by the grain pile to protect it from robbers. Ruth uncovers the feet of Boaz and lies next to him. When he wakes up and asks who is lying there, Ruth asks him to “spread your garment over me” which was a request for Boaz to marry her in fulfillment of his obligation as a guardian-redeemer. Similar customs are still practiced in some middle east cultures today.

Boaz, whom the author has already established as a man of faith and good character, then observes that Ruth has proven herself to be a woman of “noble character” and everyone in the community knows it. What’s interesting is that the Hebrew word for “noble character” is the same that is used in the famous passage of Proverbs 31 which describes an ideal, godly woman. The phrase is the only used three times in the Old Testament: Ruth 3:11, Proverbs 31:10, and Proverbs 12:4.

Boaz then tells Ruth that there is a potential glitch in the matrix. There is an unnamed kinsman-redeemer who is closer in relation. Boaz must defer if the closer relative wishes to redeem Ruth and marry her. He vows to settle the issue immediately, and sends Ruth back to Naomi with a gift of more grain.

One of the themes of this tender story is that each of the main characters behave with proven character. Naomi, in her emptiness tries to do right by her daugthers-in-law. Ruth does right by Naomi and behaves honorably so that an entire community sees her as a woman of “noble character” despite being a foreigner and a widow. Boaz is a man of faith, kindness, generosity, and handles Ruth’s bold request honestly and honorably.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the believers in Rome who were facing persecution:

…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

There is a spiritual maturation process that happens in facing trials, difficulties, and suffering in life. Character is not a spiritual gift, nor is it cheaply acquired. Character is developed by walking through the valleys on this life journey, persevering, pressing on, and learning the harsh lessons experience. Boaz is not a young man. Neither is Naomi. Naomi and Ruth are walking through a long, dark valley on life’s road. Each of them is a person of genuine character.

Which brings me back to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, and the observation it makes regarding the character issues of young pastors who found themselves in positions of prominence and power relatively early in their life journeys before experience, trial, perseverance, and wisdom could fully develop character which led to tragic ends. I confess that as a young man I admired and was envious of some of these individuals and their success. Looking back from my current waypoint on life’s road, there is no doubt in my mind that had I been in their shoes I would have met a similar, scandalous crash-and-burn. Believe me, I had to experience my own character-honing failures, mistakes, and tragedies in those years. I just didn’t have millions of people watching. And for that, I’m grateful.

“There, but for the grace of God…”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“Just the Way it Works”

"Just the Way it Works" (CaD Ps 94) Wayfarer

They slay the widow and the foreigner;
    they murder the fatherless.

When anxiety was great within me,
    your consolation brought me joy.

Psalm 94:6, 19 (NIV)

While a college student, I took a semester off of classes and worked as an abstractor. My job was to take the abstract of a property that was being bought or sold and search the county records for the property, the buyers, and the sellers with regard to most recent taxes, liens, contracts, or transactions. While I worked for an abstract company with an office in the county office building, most of my day was spent visiting various county offices.

The county I worked in had long been under the tight control of a political machine, and my daily observations were a harsh life lesson. There was a law against smoking in public buildings, but some county employees continued to smoke at their desks as much as they wanted without consequence. I remember one office in which a county employee told me she wasn’t going to help me simply because she didn’t want to do so that day. I was told by my employer that there was nothing that could be done about it. “That’s just the way it works,” he said. Then there were the employees who sat in offices and pretty much did nothing all day knowing that they were “untouchable.”

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that corruption exists everywhere. It exists in governments, business, education, healthcare, and religion. Wherever you find a human system you will find individuals who will rig that system for personal power and gain. There is no perfect system because there are no perfect people. I’ve come to believe that the best we can do is to have systemic accountability through checks and balances.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 94, is a song of lament from of one who sees a corrupt system, and those who suffer because of it. In particular, the songwriter calls out the three most vulnerable groups in the Hebrew society of that day: widows, orphans, and foreigners. What is both fascinating and depressing is that the Law of Moses clearly instructed the Hebrews to take care of these three vulnerable groups. The writer of Psalm 94 laments that the system isn’t working.

From my own experience, it’s a helpless, hopeless feeling.

“That’s just the way it works.”

The song shifts in verse 12, and the songwriter places his hope and trust in God being the eternal “Avenger” who will ultimately bring justice to a corrupt world. In placing faith in God’s ultimate plan, the psalmist’s anxiety gives way to joy.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself grateful that I live in a representative republic in which individuals have some opportunity to address systemic corruption through the voting booth, the courts, speech, protest, and press. At the same time, I recognize that there are some places, even in the best of human systems, in which corruption is “just the way it works.”

This leaves me responsible to do what I can, within the systems I’m in, for those who are most vulnerable. That’s what Jesus calls me to. It also leaves me trusting Him who was crucified at the hands of a corrupt human system, to fulfill His promise of ultimately bringing justice and redemption at the conclusion of the Great Story. Joy, like that the psalmist expressed in the lyrics of today’s chapter, is experienced not in the absence of negative circumstances and human corruption, but in the midst of them.

(WW) Companions for the Journey Part 2

[WW] Companions on the Journey Part 2 Wayfarer

Enjoying a stogie at “The Cigar House” in San Juan. They have a great humidor along with great environment and service.

This week it’s Part 2 of “Companions on the Journey.” My conversation with Kevin Roose about friendship, accountability, the Enneagram, and what our chapter-a-day journey has practically meant in our life journeys.

More Than Words

Servants cannot be corrected by mere words;
    though they understand, they will not respond.

Proverbs 29:19 (NIV)

A while back my company performed a “pilot” assessment of a client’s Customer Service team. We assessed a couple hundred phone calls between the Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) and their customers over a four week period of time. As with most of our initial assessments, data revealed the team to be pretty good. There was certainly inconsistency across the team. Some team members were naturally better than others. There was also a tremendous opportunity for improvement. Even the best CSR on the team had room to grow.

When that assessment was complete, we presented the results to the team, and targeted five key service skills for improvement. We trained them how to demonstrate these skills, provided examples, and gave them tactics of how to begin demonstrating these skills into their conversations with customers.

The plan had been for us to immediately begin an on-going assessment of calls for the team, so we could track the individual CSR’s progress, provide data on their individual development, and coach each one towards improvement. The client, however, implemented a change in their telephone system which meant we could not access recordings of the team’s calls for three months. By the time we finally had access to the team’s calls, four months had passed since our initial assessment.

So, how had the CSR done with the information and training we’d provided four months earlier?

Of the twelve CSRs on the team two of them did a bit better, two of them did a bit worse and eight of them were statistically the same. It was a perfect bell curve. Customers had not experienced any meaningful improvement in service.

In today’s chapter, the ancient Sage says that you can’t correct a person “with mere words.” A person may get what you’re saying, but they’re not motivated to actually change their behavior. That is going to require more than mere words and information.

Once our team was able to begin on-going assessments, CSRs were able to see how their service compared to their team each month. They were held accountable for their performance, and given the opportunities to receive cash bonuses if they performed at a high level. Suddenly, change began to happen. I’m happy to say that the team eventually became top-notch in providing service to their customers.

There’s a tremendous life lesson in this for me. Being complacent is the norm. Living each day simply driven by my appetites, habits, instincts, and emotions is really easy. Being disciplined, transforming old, unhealthy habits into healthy new ones, and learning to respond in wisdom rather than emotion are things that require intention, attention, and accountability. The Sage is right. I can read every self-help manual on Amazon and listen to every motivational podcast on the planet, but it’s another thing to actually make a change.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself in self-evaluation mode. How am I doing with the things I wanted to accomplish? Have I been able to actually change my behavior in order to progress towards the internal goals I’ve set for myself this week, this month, this year, in life? Honestly, it’s a mixed bag. I’ve progressed well in some things and haven’t moved an inch in others.

In this season of stay-at-home quarantine, I have the time and opportunity to review, recalibrate, and renew my efforts. My Enneagram Type Four temperament risks letting Resistance drag me into shame for all the things I haven’t done, then sic pessimism on me to convince me I’ll never actually do it. But, I know from previous experience on this earthly journey that shame and pessimism are wasted emotions. I can’t do anything about the past.

I do, however, have today lying before me…

“Ten Bucks”

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial.“I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.
1 Corinthians 10:23 (NIV)

About 20 years ago there was a television show called Ed. It was a rom-com series about a young man who moves back to the small town where he was raised after his life falls apart. He reconnects with old friends and tries to get his life back together. It was an endearing show and ran for four seasons.

There’s a running gag in the show in which Ed and his best friend Mike have an on-going series of dares that they compete to win “ten bucks.” These guys do the craziest things to win “ten bucks” from each other. I still can’t hear the term “ten bucks” without thinking of Ed and Mike (kind of like I can’t hear “two dollars” without thinking of the paperboy in Better Off Dead).

I never enter pools. It doesn’t matter if it’s March Madness or when the ice will melt off the local pond and dump the old clunker to a watery grave. I don’t have anything against pools and lottery type games. I think I’m just a pessimist at heart and assume I’m going to lose my money. I just never do it. It is, therefore, somewhat strange that before the holidays began I entered a simple pool at my local CrossFit box.  You put in $10 and weigh in. After New Year’s there is another weigh in and those who maintained or lost weight during the holidays get their $10 back and split the money of all those who gained weight.

It’s been interesting as we’ve journeyed through the holidays that I can’t get that “ten bucks” out of my head. At every meal, at every Christmas gathering, and when I’m reaching for that second piece of Wendy’s peanut butter chocolate chunk cheesecake I keep thinking about my “ten bucks” hanging out there in the balance.

Along my journey I’ve come to realize that a lot of individual life problems I see in myself and those all around me boil down to some type of appetite indulgence. We indulge our appetites for all sorts of things like power, control, greed, rest, food, sex, adrenaline, vanity, accomplishment, applause, “Likes,” and pleasure. We indulge these normal appetites for all sorts of insidious reasons and the results of our out-of-control indulgence are generally not healthy.

The holidays are a great excuse for most everyone to indulge our appetites. Enjoying good food, good drink, rest, and relaxation with family and friends is a good thing. At the same time, too much of a good thing easily becomes an unhealthy thing. There’s a reason why New Year’s resolutions come annually after five weeks of holiday indulgence.

In Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul continues to address a simmering conflict between two factions. Some on the legalistic killjoy end of the spectrum were against eating any meat that had been sacrificed at a pagan temple. Those on the open-minded, permissive end of the spectrum saw no issue with the practice. The latter were quick to say “I am free to eat whatever I want!

Paul’s response is a great example of choosing the “both, and” rather than the “either, or.” He makes the point that while everything may “permissible”  (i.e. a little holiday indulgence), not all things are “beneficial” (i.e. I gained so much weight I need to make a New Year’s resolution). In the case of the bickering factions in Corinth, Paul reminds them that the beneficial thing for the good of the community is to consider your friend’s conscience a higher priority than either my personal freedom or my personal convictions.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about my own appetites. I’m thinking about the holidays (still at least four gatherings to go), and I’m thinking about how a silly “ten bucks” has changed my thinking and behavior this holiday season. The question I’m asking myself this morning is: Is a friend’s conscience worth more to me than ten bucks?

Mine, Yours, Ours

As for you….”
2 Chronicles 7:17 (NIV)

Many years ago my friend, a marriage and family therapist, introduced me to three simple questions to ask whenever I am seeking definition of personal responsibility and boundaries in a relationship:

  1. What’s mine?
  2. What’s yours?
  3. What’s ours?

It’s amazing how some of the most profound things in life can be so simple. Time and time again I’ve returned to these questions. I’ve asked these questions in my marriage. I’ve asked them with regard to parenting my children. I’ve asked them with regard to my company and team members. I’ve asked them with regard to clients. I’ve asked them about personal relationships with friends, with organizations, and with acquaintances expecting something of me.

At the heart of these questions is the understanding that individuals and groups of individuals have responsibilities within any human system. When individuals have well-defined responsibilities and an understanding of those responsibilities the system functions in a healthy way. When relationships and human systems break down, it is often because of lack of definition, misunderstanding, and/or the boundaries have been breached.

  • I think this is your responsibility but you seem to expect it of me.
  • I want this to be ours together, but you appear to want to control it as yours.
  • This is an area where I have gifts and abilities and would like to handle it, but you keep trying to insert yourself in the process.

In today’s chapter, Solomon finishes his dedication of the Temple and God shows up in an amazing display of spiritual pyrotechnics. King Solomon, the priests, the worship band, and the congregation are all blown away. Everyone is on a spiritual high. A subtle repetition of phrasing used by the Chronicler is “the king and all the people” (vss 4 and 5) and “all Israel” or “all the Israelites” (vss 3, 6, and 8).

At some point after the successful dedication, God appears to Solomon at night for a heart-to-heart. In his conversation, God defines separate responsibilities for “my people” (vss 13-16) and for Solomon as King (vss 16-22). In other words, “Solomon, you can consider these certain responsibilities ‘ours’ to own as a nation and a people. These other things are ‘yours’ to own and be responsible for as King and leader of the people. And, these other things are ‘mine’ to own conditional to everyone owning the things for which each is responsible. If everyone owns their part then the system will work really well. If not, well the results will not be so good.”

Having just journeyed through the prophetic works of Jeremiah, I know that the kings eventually failed to own the responsibility that was theirs. The people failed to own their responsibilities. The system broke down, and what God warned would happen is exactly what happened.

This morning I’m thinking about my marriage, my family relationships, friend relationships, my work, and the organizations in which I’m involved. I’m doing a little inventory. Where are things working well? Where are things strained and struggling? Where have things broken down?

Okay, so…

Am I doing those things that are mine to own?
Am I allowing others to be responsible for what is theirs, and maintaining a balance of support, encouragement and accountability?
Am I working well with others and being a good team member in accomplishing those things for which we, together, are responsible?

Not a bad personal inventory to repeat regularly.

The Problem of Power

source: allen brewer via flickr
source: allen brewer via flickr

Her leaders judge for a bribe,
    her priests teach for a price,
    and her prophets tell fortunes for money.
Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say,
    “Is not the Lord among us?
    No disaster will come upon us.”
Micah 3:11 (NIV)

As I write this the next Presidential election here in the States is 16 months off, but already the candidates are queueing up and the political machinations have begun. We had a family gathering at Wendy’s folks yesterday afternoon and casual conversation has already turned to be all about elections. It’s going to be a long one, I’m afraid. It’s times like this that I wish life had a fast forward button.

I am glad I live in a land with free elections and representative republic. As a lover of history, however, I’m constantly reminded that political power is a corrupting force. As Lord Acton observed, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Even in a system with checks and balances, I’ve observed that political offices (both elected and appointed) become places from which individuals and parties make rules to entrench their position and take advantage for themselves and their friends.

In the days of the prophet Micah, the situation was no different, as Micah observes in today’s chapter. God’s Message teaches that we live in a fallen world. Our sin leads us, despite our best altruistic efforts to the contrary, to make self-centric decisions for ourselves and our own. The more powerful and influential position we yield the more difficult it becomes to succumb.

Today, I’m feeling a bit cynical, but I’ve got plenty of evidence from events past and present to justify my cynicism. Perhaps that is why God’s Message exhorts us so directly to pray for our leaders and those in power. At the same time that I’m pointing the finger at politicians, I’m also mindful that power’s corrupting force is present in any human system from families to churches to companies to neighborhoods and service organizations. In my admittedly meager positions of influence I am aware of the negative affects power can have on me if I am not aggressively mindful, humble and accountable.

Parental Observation from a Child’s Perspective

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But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this.
Daniel 5:22 (NIV)

As a parent, there is a big difference between a child who acts (or omits) out of ignorance and the child who acts (or omits) with the full knowledge that they are doing what they should not do, or not doing what they should do. Ignorance can be understood and the offense can be chalked up to a lesson that needed to be learned. When a child acts with the full knowledge that what they are doing is improper it is a very different situation. The action, or refusal to act, becomes a willing act of disobedience.

Today’s chapter fast forwards in Daniel’s story. Nebuchadnezzar is dead and Belshazzar has taken the throne. Belshazzar had witnessed all that his predecessor had gone through with the statute, his dreams, and his madness. He had heard Nebuchadnezzar acknowledge God and humble himself. Now that he is on the throne, Belshazzar throws an drunken feast and brings in the stolen gold cups from Solomon’s temple to drink from. If dishonoring the temple vessels wasn’t enough, B-Shaz and his homeys begin to honor the idols of gold, silver and wood. The lesson is clear, B-Shaz had witnessed all that Nebuchadnezzar had experienced and learned, but he didn’t learn the lesson himself.

This morning, to be honest, my heart is sober. As a parent it is easy for me to see and apply these simple lines of behavioral delineation, but then I think of myself as a child of God. I think of lessons I have learned along the journey that still have not translated into life change. There are things I know I shouldn’t do that I do, and things I should do that I don’t. Like a child caught red-handed, I am in continuous need of my Father’s grace and mercy.

[Side note: I love when I realize, discover, or rediscover the source of a common phrase. We forget how many every day sayings come from Shakespeare and from the Bible. “Weighed on the scales and found wanting” is a phrase I’ve heard referenced in books, plays, movies and conversation my entire life. Its source is today’s chapter!]

Carte Blanche Companions

 

Joab confronts the grieving King David
Joab confronts the grieving King David

Then Joab went into the house to the king and said, “Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come on you from your youth till now.” 2 Samuel 19:5-7 (NIV)

One of the most fascinating aspects of my day job is the opportunity I have to work with many different companies and to interact with people at diverse levels of the organization from the front-line to the executive suite. Long ago I realized that the culture of a company is a trickle-down affair that begins with the man or woman at the very top. I remember one client whose CEO ran the company by fear and intimidation. No one would stand up to him, even when he is clearly mistaken or making a wrong move, for fear of losing their proverbial heads in a board meeting (and, perhaps, their jobs). The result was a highly dysfunctional organization which mirrored the CEO. The entire corporate culture was one of intimidation, fear, and c.y.a. which permeated virtually every level of the operation.

One of the things I’ve observed about David as we’ve been reading his story the past few months is the fact that David had a select group of men in his life who could get in his face and call him to account even if they had to be careful about how they did it. In today’s chapter, David’s general and right-hand man Joab confronts David about the grave danger he’s putting himself in by allowing his grief for Absalom overshadow his duty as king. The kingdom was in a precarious political situation and David was close to losing it all. Joab lost no time in getting in David’s face and speaking the truth to him. To his credit, David listened to his long-time trusted general and advisor.

I have a handful of people in my life, people with whom I have intentionally surrounded myself, who have carte blanche to get in my face whenever necessary. These are people with whom I talk about and share life with on a regular basis. We talk about business, church, family, friendships, finances, and relationships. If they think I’m screwing something up, then they have permission to question me or call me out, and they would expect the same from me.

This journey through life can be a long hike. The first rule any child learns about hiking in the wilderness is “buddy up.” To go it alone is to put yourself in danger. Ironically, our greatest danger often resides within ourselves. Without faithful companions who can catch it and call us out, we may not realize it until it’s too late.

Today, I’m thankful for my faithful companions on this life journey.

 

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Much Ado About Something

Dante's Vision of Rachel and Leah Dante Gabrie...
Dante’s Vision of Rachel and Leah Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1899 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 29

 

But when Jacob woke up in the morning—it was Leah! “What have you done to me?” Jacob raged at Laban. “I worked seven years for Rachel! Why have you tricked me?” Genesis 29:25 (NLT)

 

Wendy and I have recently been enjoying the Great Performances series on PBS called Shakespeare Uncovered. In each episode a famous actor delves deep into the story line of one of Shakespeare’s plays. It’s a wonderful primer for those who have an interest in learning more about Shakespeare’s stories and the literary genius he was.

 

Perhaps that is why I couldn’t help noticing that there is a Shakespearian quality to the story of Jacob and his uncle Laban. Jacob the deceiver, born from Abraham and Isaac who were also deceivers, receives a does of his own medicine when he is deceived by his Uncle. Add to that plot line the tale of two sisters, one homely and the other one hot. The hot one is seemingly barren while the homely one appears to be a baby making factory. Jacob is in love with the latter but is tricked into marrying the former. The sibling rivalry and Leah’s desperate desire to win the love and affection of her husband leads to a fertile fury of son making. Truth is sometimes as compelling as a Bard’s tale.

 

One of Shakespeare’s greatest qualities as a playwright was his development of characters whose tragic flaws led to tragic consequences. In this, he really is just developing what is true of human nature. We all have tragic flaws. We all have blind spots and weaknesses. We will all look back and realize that along the journey our own shortcomings led to negative consequences. The question is: What will we do about them?

We do not have to remain blind and ignorant. Through introspection, conversation, transparent relationship, and accountability we can become aware of our blind spots. We can actually learn from our shortcomings and choose to modify our patterns of behavior before they wreak too much havoc on our lives and the lives of those in our circles of influence.

 

Today, I’m thinking about my own weaknesses. I am aware of areas of my life that have been blind spots for me. I do not want to live passively. I’m actively working on modifying my thought patterns and behaviors. I don’t know that I will ever eliminate the negative consequences of my flaws, but I can certainly diminish them and that’s something.