Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Purpose of Contentment, A Thought...

Last week I was preaching on "Spend Less" as part of our "advent conspiracy" series. The key biblical verse came out of 1 Timothy 6: "But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that" (v. 8). Here's the problem: as soon as I landed on contentment, I didn't stay there, but I moved into generosity. 

That bothered me (and also made finding space for this Sunday's theme, "Give More" a bit more difficult). I've been wondering, Couldn't I just be content with contentment? 

Well, yes. I've written numerous pages and taught or preached countless times on the importance of gratitude and how it leads us to contentment and happiness. I could have certainly camped out in a familiar wood.

But I also realized that I'm particularly concerned at Christmas, that we would be self-centered even in our contentment, that it would become something about soothing my soul, finding my inner peace. And so I, following 1 Timothy 6, I inadvertently moved on to directing those with money "to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share" (v. 18). 

So I missed my target last Sunday and ended up shooting at another bullseye. But as long as I'm there, I'll say this: I hope that, this Christmas, we find both contentment with what we have and generosity toward those who don't have much at all. The amazing truth is that there we will discover deep peace and happiness because I'm sure that's where Jesus will be right there with us.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Who or What Do We Worship this Season?

This Christmas season our church has joined with the Advent Conspiracy, in which many congregations throughout the US are moving away from the consumerism of this season, "Xmas," and come back to Jesus. There are four simple emphases: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All. My hope is that this will bring us back to what Christmas is really about.

The book of Matthew describes the coming of the "wise men" from the East so simply, "On coming to the house, [the wise men] saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh" (2:10-11, I added the bold). 

I don't know if the point comes across as directly as it does to me, but the gifts the wise men brought gifts to Jesus. They didn't give things to one another. Nonetheless, that's not what Xmas has become: we are consumed so often with what we want and what others want. Who's going to get the new iPod, or the robotic hamster, the soft leather shoes, or the Hugo Boss tie? What if we stopped and asked, "What does Jesus want me to give this Christmas to him?"

In a world, where over a billion people live on less than a dollar a day and where the United States spends $450 billion dollars a year on Christmas gifts, I think giving to Jesus means spending less on ourselves and more on helping the poor and the oppressed.  

So I'm interested: Do you have any suggestions for how to give to what Jesus cares about this Christmas?

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Reflection or Two From Jerusalem

I've been in Israel on a study tour with some members from Bidwell Presbyterian Church for the past few days and thought I'd log in just two brief reflections.

First visiting the Galilee (in northern Israel) was amazing for setting the Bible in context, and giving my biblical interpretations dimensionality. I would not have known what it meant that King Rehoboam made a “two golden calves” one of which he set up “in Dan” (1 Kings 12:28-29) not visited the site way up in northern Israel. I can now imagine the setting for Jesus’s healing the centurion’s servant at Capernaum (Luke 7:1-9) having visited the synagogue there. (The picture on the right shows the 3rd century version of that synagogue.)

The Wailing Wall was powerful, especially with all the bar mitzvahs in process—adolescent boys carrying the Torah scroll back and forth with obvious pride, while the women watched from over the partition. Most threw semi-chewy candy when it was all done. With the paper yarmulkes, the Israeli police with M-19s, and the video cams, it was a bit of a circus. But within that circus, I felt I could hear the yearnings of the Jews crying out to God. This active faith through the centuries that still resonated at the wall moved me.

More to come in future posts I hope....

Thursday, October 29, 2009

David Was Prepped

I know the main emphasis in the story of David and Goliath is about the little guy defeating the behemoth. It's even become part of our common language--when a start up takes on an established megalith corporation, the New York Times calls it a "David and Goliath." Nothing wrong with that, but it's better to add back into the mix that God fought for David in 1 Samuel 17.

But something else has hit me as I've been reading the story of David and Goliath: I've been struck by the way that David's life had prepared him for the big battle. He'd been prepped. First of all, he was an armor-bearer for Saul the king (so he knew battle), and secondly, he had fought bears and lions already. As David remarks to Saul just before battle (1 Samuel 17: 36):
Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.
I take something from this: God doesn't let us face the big moments in life usually without some preparation. A lot of times it's probably not all related to the later event--what do shepherding and fighting a gargantuan Philistine have in common? Still we're given the means now for what's coming tomorrow. The key is to learn today. Then we're prepped for the big moments to come.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Becoming God's Providence

But Ruth replied to Naomi, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me. (Ruth 1:16-17, TNIV)

One of the amazing themes of the Old Testament--and my last few posts--has been the provident care of God through all the bad times—through the trials of Joseph whose brothers threw him down a pit to kill him, through this young queen Esther who was placed at the heart of the powerful Persian empire when the Jews were about to be killed, and here through, a foreign, Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, as she cares for her Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi, and then in response, when Boaz demonstrated care for Ruth beyond what was expected (thus the picture to the right illustrating that last scene in the book of Ruth).
Through human actions, God has provided for his people. And so the book of Ruth brings us to the doctrine of providence. What is it? (By the way, a majority of this next material comes out of my book, Creation and Last Things. You can get more info by checking out the weblink to the right.)

The word providence derives from two Latin roots (pro-videre) that mean to “fore-see,” which also includes the concept of looking ahead so as to “provide.” Webster’s definition is rather concise: “divine guidance or care.” From this foundation, Christian theologians have sorted out three related components to providence:
  1. Preservation: God sustains all creatures in their distinctive natures and powers
  2. Cooperation: God not only sustains but actively concurs in these creatures’ action in such an intimate way that every action of these beings can be ultimately explained only by reference to both their and God’s actions
  3. Government: God fulfills the purpose of all creatures by guiding them
The Drew Seminary theologian, Thomas Oden, who has worked tirelessly and effectively to rejuvenate classical insights, summarizes providence this way: “Three affirmations summarize the Christian teaching of providence: God is preserving the creation in being. God is cooperating to enable creatures to act. God is guiding all creatures, inorganic and organic, animal and rational creation, toward a purposeful end that exceeds the understanding of those being provided for.”
So what is the bottom line? God continues to care for us and for all creation. The amazing insight from Ruth is this: God uses ordinary human beings--you and me--to enact his providence with our friends, our family, our city, our nation, and our world. Amazing, almost blasphemous as this sounds, God's provident care was demonstrated through the faithful actions of Esther, Joseph, and Ruth.

(Can I just say it? Wow!)

The question comes then to you and me: In a nation rocked by the Great Recession, in a time (at least locally) where public schools and universities have been hit with unexpected (and in my view) unwarranted cuts, where hope may be gradually leaching out of those around us, how are we being called to be God's hands and feet to those around us? Will we say yes when we are called to become God's providence? Boaz, Ruth, Joseph, and Esther did and became part of God's solution. The best way to answer that question is through the yes of action. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Peanut Butter Manifesto

I will begin by simply reporting what my recent New Yorker recorded. The topic was whether Google was becoming too diffuse, spreading itself too thin. Ken Auletta drew on an apparently well-discussed 2006 memo from a Yahoo senior vice-president, which has become known as the Peanut Butter Manifesto. It reads:

We lack a focused, cohesive vision for our company. We want to do everything and be everything--to everyone.... I've heard our strategy described as spreading peanut butter across myriad opportunities that continue to evolve in the online world. The result: a thin layer of investment spread across everything we do and thus we focus on nothing in particular.
Now you know I'm going to ring some changes on saying yes and no here. If Yahoo specifically, and Silicon Valley generally, have found that saying too many yeses is a bad practice that leads to nothing and nowhere in particular, we might also have something to learn. Although I love peanut butter, it seems to me that the reason this memo became famous (or infamous) is that it resonates. In organizations trying to compete in a wildly diversified market, it's become increasingly clear that we have to do a few things well rather than a number of things badly.

I'm working on my class tonight, "Getting Closer to God through Simplicity," and this Peanut Butter Manifesto probably needs to be applied to our spiritual lives as well. We spread ourselves too thin, running around from one task to the next, and find little room for our spiritual Center. Or at least I too often do.... My task tonight is to remind us that, in order to renovate our lives--and now to change the metaphor--we have to "edit what we have," as the famous designer John Wheatman wrote. (That brown vinyl lamp may need to find its way to the Salvation Army before the living room remolded can start.) Once we make some room in our lives, we find that God has been there all along.

It's a good topic. Maybe I'll bring peanut butter and invite some Yahoo executives....

Friday, October 09, 2009

No Compromise (Daniel 1)

I've been reflecting on the first chapter of Daniel and the topic of "No Compromise." My mind keeps flashing back to the gospel singer Keith Green and his powerful 1978 album of the same name:
Make my life a prayer to You
I wanna do what you want me to
No empty words and no white lies
No token prayers no compromise

(The album cover by the way actually reflects the life of Haman, who refused to bow down before the king in the book of Esther. But it's the same message....)

What gripped me about this slogan then, and still does, is the decisive nature of Christian faith and that it sometimes has to stand quite definitively against the grain. It's what God says to Moses on Leviticus 19:2, "Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy." Or what Jesus stated quite succinctly in Matthew 6:8, "Do not be like them." Christ sometimes stands "against culture" as the 20th century theologian H. Richard Niebuhr put it.

The amazing thing about Daniel and his three friends, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego, is that even when they stood against the culture of the Babylonians, God didn't diminish their influence, he increased it. I've seen that happen--to the degree that I've lived for what God wants in my life, I deepen in integrity and character in ways that make me more effective in the world. As Keith Green wrote, that's a prayer worth living out.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Forgiveness Involves Remembering--Ask Joseph

Joseph's amazing statement in Genesis 50 to his brothers--the ones who tried to kill him by leaving him in a ditch in the desert, those guys--is resounding in my ears. How do we forgive and really mean it? How do we actually go beyond forgiveness and move to reconciliation?

The key verses happen at the end of Genesis when Joseph, now become upwardly mobile in Egypt, is heading up the food distribution and his brothers, who are starving because of famine, have come asking for some food. Just to repeat: these are the brothers who tried to kill Joseph. Using a translation suggested by the Jewish Study Bible, here are verses 19 and 20:

But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I a substitute for God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
I've been pondering this response. I think the turning point for Joseph was that he remembered his God and specifically that God is working for good even when human beings are working for evil. One point I don't want to miss is that Joseph doesn't call his brothers' actions good just because good ultimately happened. How many times have I heard this--"Don't worry about what they did. It's fine. I all came out ok in the end, didn't it?" To be frank, duh! That's what a good God does--God brings good out of evil. But we should never call evil good.

More importantly, Joseph remembers that he can forgive and even reconcile with his brothers because of God's guiding hand. It's not that different from what Paul several hundred years later, "We know that God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

Good for Paul. It's also good for Joseph--a trickster, not always a honorable in his actions--but someone who finished his life well. (The next verses in Genesis 50 narrate his death.) He reconciled with is family. Ah, but can we remember that fact when we've been hurt? That's the big question.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Calling > Blessing

God’s call is about how we are going to bless others. I realized this when I read the call of Abram in Genesis 12. Abram, who later became “Abraham,” heard God declare this:

I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

The problem for us is that we, or at least I, think that when God calls, something really big is going to happen… for me. But God calls us in order to bless—to improve the life of—not me, but those around me.

Rick Warren, who sold about 40 million of The Purpose-Driven Life, thankfully has some good things to say. He writes in his characteristic direct fashion:
God shaped you for service, not for self-centeredness.
Rick Warren means in this that our S H A P E (Our spiritual gifts, heart/passion, aptitudes, personality, and experience) are unique to us, they are something that God has formed in us, and they are for the benefit of others.

When Abraham heard God’s calling and found what God had shaped him to do, it ultimately meant service and blessing for others. That's something worth hearing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Difficulty of Writing in the Vernacular, Henri Nouwen, comments, & Say Yes to No

This entry is a bit of a miscellany (as you can tell from the title)....

I've been pondering an comment on Say Yes to No, primarily because I wrote the book as a way to connect with those outside the church. It appears that, at least for one reader, I failed. Listen to what Christy Pinhero offered:
The review is only two stars because, in it's [sic] description, this book is portrayed more as a book that will help you arrange your priorities. We are told that the author was a pastor, but nothing more. The publisher should have been more honest and revealed that this is Christian non-fiction. God is mentioned on every page, every story has a moral message. While I don't think this is necessarily a problem, I DO think that someone who is looking for something like, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" is going to be sorely disappointed. I was really expecting this to be a non-fiction book on time management, but this book has a clear religious bent that would render it unreadable to many. 
Mainly, I want to take in the difficulty of writing for those outside the church, or in the vernacular of everyday culture. I simply attempted to talk about work life balance and time management as a Christian without assuming my reader was spiritually identified. (I would note that Stephen Covey, whom she presents as a contrast and who wrote "Seven Habits," is Mormon.) There honestly aren't references to God on "every page" (as she asserts) of Say Yes to No--she admits to reading just the first three chapters--but still there are too many for her. And that only underlines the challenge.

I've also been pondering it because I'm teaching tonight on the great 20th century spiritual writer Henri Nouwen and the amazing accessibility of his writing. Nouwen once wrote a book for his secular friend, Fred. When the book was completed, Fred declared the book a failure, at least from the perspective of reaching those outside the church. Life of the Beloved left open some fundamental questions, Fred said, such as
Who is God? Who am I? Why am I here? How can I give my life meaning? How do I get faith?
I suppose the consolation is that, if someone of the stature of Henri Nouwen had difficulty, writing from a Christian commitment to those who don't share it, is in fact difficult. I do note, however, that others who commented on did not share this conclusion.

What do you think? Is it possible for someone with strong convictions--in my case religious ones--to speak to those who don't share them? How do you do it?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Kind that God Uses (and a Bit about Reformed Theology)

In order to keep continuity between the morning worship services (targeted to all ages) and the evening service, the 545 (especially for college students and 20somethings), Bidwell Presbyterian Church uses the same text throughout the day, but not usually the same preacher. As a result, we're taking on the book of Esther this Sunday (September 20th).

To be honest, it's not a story I'm entirely ready to addresss. The book of Esther strikes me as two parts exciting, one part weird, and three parts confusing. The primary plot is that Xerxes the powerful Persian (which we would now call Iranian) king is unhappy with his wife, Vashti. So, being despot and all, he choses another to join his harem, based on her astounding beauty. Enter Esther. The unknown quality about Esther is that she's Jewish--which was not a good thing in that day, around 500 BC. When another court official, Haman, gets into a tirade about the Jews and wants to annihilate them, including an adversary in the royal court, Mordecai, Esther takes action. She parades her hot-ness and finds favor with the king. The result? The Jews--all the Jews in the Persian Empire--are saved.

Did that retelling make sense? (And for those Esther scholars, did I miss anything?) The issue for me is that imbedded in all this is the rank use of power by Esther and Mordecai (the "good guys"), not to mention to Xerxes and Haman. Sexuality used to manipulate and some brutal killing find their way into these 10 chapters in Esther. From a moral point, of view, everything is frankly more than pretty gray.

So what do I do with this and what does Reformed Theology (the kind that I subscribe to) have to say? Well, I return to that amazing teaching of providence--that God will use even really mixed motives to accomplish what he wants. Providence put another way is dual causation--that we can describe any event from below (what did the natural or human actors do) and from above (how is God involved in this).

It's a little disturbing, at least if you're given over to pristine characters. But it does answer the question of what kind of person does God use? Yes. God can use just about anyone.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Yes and the Difficulty of Writing Well

I'm doing some work right now on the next book, the one to follow Say Yes to No. What's my theme? Yes. (How obvious was that?) It seems to me that when we learn the right yeses, we discover a life of beauty, excellence, and joy. (I'm not even going to mention here what happens when we get those yeses wrong.)

Why? I've discovered that, when I discussed the power of no with various readers, many would ask me, "Greg, I think I understand about no. What about saying yes?" So I began to ponder the other side of the ledger as it were, the yes that's surrounded by strategic nos. The next book answers that question with three yeses in three areas: personal life, work, and relationships. (That's a total of nine yeses.)

But here's the thing that struck me right between the eyes: When I say "yes" to writing, writing doesn't always nicely say "yes" back to me. I wish I could say that fairies whispered the right words in my ears as I joyfully typed on my PowerBook. I wish I could say that each sentence emerges full-formed and beautiful from my fingers.

But I'm not gonna lie. It doesn't happen that way. On any number of days, composing the next book can be tough going, slogging through mud on the way to my destination. I sometimes find comfort in remembering that Flaubert would work a whole day on one sentence. I just hope at some point, after all the detours, sore feet, and breaks along the way, I find I've created something beautiful, or at least as beautiful as I can create.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Beautiful Calling

I've begun to turn the corner from focusing on my last book, Say Yes to No, and now I'm moving into the next project on saying yes to our call and when we do it's a beautiful life. You might say I'm now on the yes side of the equation. This reflection isn't just going to issue into the next book (given the somewhat uncertain requirement that it will be published), but also it will be the basis for this Sunday's sermon ("Yes to the Best"), for a class I'm teaching in the winter (title uncertain, but theme is saying yes to God's call) and for an academic piece I've written (beauty as a motivation for theologians and scientists), to name just a few.

I can't remember if I've posted this before (and I'm a bit too lazy to review the archives), but I've continued to return to a quote by the writer, Frederick Buechner:
The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done…. Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

I love that, and I'd love to put it in the next book. (The only problem is that, right now, the citation is over 50 words. And last time I used a citation of over 50 words--57 words to be exact--from a Martin Luther King, Jr. sermon, it cost me $500 for copyright release. That fact means I really paid about $70/word for those last seven. But I digress....) What Buechner leads me to is the amazing realization that God has created us well and that we find beauty, joy, and excellence when we do what we are created to do. That last statement in itself hardly represents anything novel, and so I'd better work a little harder before I unleash my insights on the world, n'est-ce pas?

One other thought: I've had some questions and comments about my Today show experience and the ├╝ber-chatty co-contributors at the roundtable. Sure, I would have loved to be able to breathe after I spoke and not be interrupted, and I had more to say. But as I've reflected on the experience, I realize that, most importantly, I did get an opportunity to put out at least a few of my ideas on national TV. And, honestly, I liked the bits I did say. (For what it's worth, I prefer the interview I did the night before on Business News Nightly. You can find it through Sympatico/MSN video.)

So, like much else in life, the glamour was highly mitigated by the reality of the grind and complexity that happens around and in such an event. After starting the day of the roundtable at 7am (4am California time), then of course doing the interview, the day ended by flying home that night on my Jet Blue flight, arriving at the Sacramento airport around 10:30pm and then making the 90 mile drive back to Chico. (The next day continued the fun as it found me moving my stuff to a new office.) While in the plane somewhere over Idaho, I suddenly was struck by a realization that this is one back-breaking, butt-load of work (not sure how those go together exactly). It's only worthwhile if there's a call--if you're not called to do it, then it's simply an enormous, overwhelming burden. I'm thankful I like to communicate, whether through writing, speaking, or teaching. That indeed is my calling. When I do it with the right end in mind--fulfilling the way God has created me--then it is a beautiful calling indeed.

And so I end where I began.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Today and BNN Last Week

Exactly, a week ago, I made my first forays into TV interviews. The first was on a Canadian station, Business News Nightly. I offered my comments on work/live balance from a reasonably isolated booth on Times Square. Honestly, it was challenging because I couldn't fully hear the questions through the single iPod-like earpiece. But I'm thankful for the opportunity nonetheless. The next event was a roundtable discussion of "the power of no" on the Today show. Click here for link. There were five of us, five minutes to talk, and so the event was chaotic but also engaging. You'll see from the video that I had some pretty talkative co-roundtablists!

As I look back now a week later, I realize that all this media work takes amazing time and energy. Now when I watch commentators on various news programs, I do so in a new light--perhaps one that takes the sheen off a little bit, but also that increases my appreciation for those who can take serious ideas and present them in "tv time."

Monday, July 06, 2009

Summer Reading

In articles spun off by Say Yes to No, I've been surprised to find myself engaging with business publications, like BusinessWeek, CNBC, American Management's MWorld, and with publications that apply business concepts to church, such as Church Solutions. (You can find links to some of the pieces that have been published to your right.)

I've been taking some time recently to move forward with reading, especially business literature. One of the easiest for me to bring to church work is a book by the professor of psychologist and management, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Csikszentmihalyi's (pronounced something like "Chick Sent Me High--ee") key idea is that at various points throughout the week, we find ourselves in “flow,” where we experience deep enjoyment, challenge matched by our skills, creativity, and sense that time is moving in a different, and fuller way. I believe that "flow" pretty much describes human flourishing, which I think is God's deep intention for our lives. Csikszentmihalyi’s research adds one surprise for many in the U.S.: that human beings more often experience flow when they are working than when they are at leisure.

Here's my takeaway: Goal-setting, striving for excellence, and clear guidelines are critical to work enjoyment and to life. In fact, even though I'm on vacation, I may be happier when I return to work.... Hmmm, I'll have to think about that one

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson and the Beauty of Life

When I use the words "the beauty of life," I mean happiness. I mean that wherever we find beauty, we find life as its quintessence. And there we find human flourishing. Thus beauty and happiness--at least in my vocabulary--are seriously inter-related, if not almost coterminous.

Like so many around the globe in the last 24 hours, I've been taking in the death of the pop superstar, Michael Jackson. I'm not usually given over to this type of activity, but I watched the news shows the night of his death. They reviewed this young phenomenon who appeared on stage, flanked by his brothers in the Jackson Five and who later made an even bigger splash with "Off The Wall" and then the unprecedented, and never surpassed, sales of "Thriller." I've heard estimates of 50 to 100 million in sales of that record alone. They also noted his last decades where his artistry was overshadowed by scandalous and erratic behavior. The news reports reminded me that, after his peak at just about the midpoint in his 50 years, his fame markedly diminished.

I figured here, in this life, with all the resources of money, fame, and talent at its disposal, I'd find beauty. And, yes, beauty did play a role in MJ's life--I find his signature Moonwalk a stunning, beautiful choreographic event. Almost every one of his party anthems possess a beauty of rhythm, of energy. (And here I have to give props to his producer, Quincy Jones, who has no equal.)

But as I heard various interviews with the King of Pop, I didn't see ultimate beauty in these years of life and fame. I heard of someone whose tender years were ripped away by ceaseless performing and who had to create his private Neverland in his adulthood, who apparently cuddled young boys in order to recover a childhood he never had. I heard of someone dogged by the press, but more so, who simultaneously needed the press (and fans) to stoke his incessant desire for fame.

In the end, it's the lack of beauty in Michael Jackson's life that gives me the greatest pause. Perhaps now, that the striving in this life has ceased, he can rest in peace. May we learn how much sooner to say yes to what truly matters and there find the beauty of life.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Particular Beauty

As is my habit, I've been reading Karl Barth, the great 20th century Swiss theologian. Among other things (and Barth did write a number of other things), he once remarked that theology is a "particularly beautiful science." As far as I understand his sense, Barth meant that there is an excellence, a beauty, in studiously pursuing the heart and depth of all reality, namely God. And, as someone who has done theological work, I find myself nodding my head. As I have sought to grasp a bit of what God is--trying to paint a "bird in flight," as Barth himself once wrote--there are, at points, where I catch a glimpse of getting things right, and thus of beauty. But I suppose I'd want to go just a bit further and propose that anyone who does what they are created to do engages in a particular beauty. Moreover, Barth leads me to believe that when we find our particularly beautiful science, that pursuit creates a life worth living.

At least that's how I see it....

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Don't Debt Finance Your Schedule

I'm on to something, but it's not fully brewed yet. Maybe I've been spurred on our economy's demise, based to a large extent on the limits of debt financing. Maybe it's that I just read the New York Times Magazine article on Suze Orman, who has a strong aversion to personal debt and continually poses that simple question to inquiring listeners, "But can you afford it?" Or maybe it's that Advanta just unilaterally froze our business credit cards this weekend.

I don't know, but I realize this: not only do we debt finance our purchases, but we also debt finance our schedules. We add more and more liabilities to our days--and this can be as simple as watching that extra NBA playoff, or saying Yes to one more appointment, or even texting more than any human being needs to--and we simply don't have enough hours to make good on all our commitments. Or we short ourselves. We lose sleep or work faster. What if we asked ourselves, "Can I afford to take this on?"

Nothing too profound (yet), but I'm telling myself, "Don't debt finance your schedule." Let's see where it gets me....

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Postmodern Publishing Moment

This has been an exciting week for me in publishing and even as publishing reports on publishing. A post, which I wrote about two months ago, finally made it to CNBC's blog Click here for link. Moreover, Chico's daily newspaper, The Enterprise-Record, has interviewed me as a lead-up to being published by USA Today's Weekend, in which I comment (as their "insider") about Jim Carrey's move, "Yes Man." An interview with a newspaper that has a national circulation of 43 million is hometown news. (The ER piece comes out in the next few days; the USA Weekend one on May 10th.)

It's fabulous, and I'm excited, but my mind being what it is, it went to postmodernity, where metanarratives pile on top of narratives, commentary starts supplanting the original text, and the whole shebang begins to become a series of Chinese boxes. If you're wondering why I posted a picture of "The Matrix," there are two reasons: first of all, it makes my blog look cool, and secondly the film was based on the postmodern philosophy of Jean Baudrillard (his book, Simulacra and Simulation, appears in one of its opening scenes where Neo hides his contraband computer programs). Baudrillard emphasized that we live in a hyper-reality, in which our experience is based on other's commentaries and presentations of it more than on the direct experience itself. We drink Coke not necessarily because we like it, but because advertising tells us why we desire it.

Thus the philosophy behind "The Matrix" and my week in publishing about publishing are coinciding.

I'm not against hoping that people will pick up Say Yes to No because of these publications. But even more, I hope they will read it and find that the book is worthwhile because, yes, nos really do lead to greater yeses.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Sometimes You Just Can't Help But be Thankful

I was looking over some material related to my book, and I came again across this quote from the noted management guru, Ken Blanchard:
If you feel overwhelmed and overcommitted, Say Yes to No will help you shake up your priorities on the job and at home. Greg Cootsona shows how finding the proper balance of work and rest—‘the rhythm of No’—can lead to a more relaxed and rewarding life. In our busy, busy world, everyone needs to read this book.

First of all, he gets the book and summarizes it expertly. So that's cool. Secondly, it's fabulous that someone of his stature would decide to lend an hand, through an endorsement, to a lesser-known author. When I re-read the quote, I just found myself thankful at that fact.... And spurred on to do likewise when the opportunity arises.

I'd like to be more profound (and I presume, verbose), but sometimes gratitude is rather concise.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

After Three Weeks...

I certainly knew that there would be no front-page story in the New York Times or parade through the streets of Chico when my book, Say Yes to No, came out three weeks ago. I knew that the most important response would be the personal—emails, Facebook messages, gifts of wine and champagne (keep those coming!). Say Yes to No hasn’t set the world on fire, I haven’t become a millionaire—or even a thousanaire—but I'm thankful that it’s already touched some lives in the first three weeks.

Since the book is finally out, I became to reflect on what I learned over the past seven or eight years since I began jotting notes on the importance of saying no, then an actual sermon called “A Time for No” and then chapters on the book. I learned—well, I really heard from God, to be honest—that I have a vocation to write. And that process is exactly that—the process of responding to a call. It’s the ongoing response not only to God directly, but to those authors (C.S. Lewis, Anne Lamott, Marilynne Robinson, John Updike, William Shakespeare, Blaise Pascal, to name a few) who really move me with their words. They penned books where I can recall the place, date, weather, and beverage in which I first encountered specific passages. As a result, I want someone else to read my words and feel the same way. (At least Ican hope…)

All this means that the response has been the right kind. Hoopla is not really the response to vocation—things much more subtle, nuanced, and meaningful are. Interestingly, in the midst of writing this post, I got a call from a reporter with USA Weekend, who is going to interview me and ask my opinion (as the author of why we need to say no) on Jim Carrey’s movie, Yes Man. Now, with 48 million readers, USA Weekend is pretty good hoopla. So that brings good fodder for another post...

For now, let me wrap this up by saying that whether there’s buzz or not, writing is something you do because God calls. And that’s reason is certainly good enough yes for me.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Affirming Life, Saying Yes to God

My good friend and colleague at the church, Jim, had surgery on Tuesday for colon cancer. It struck me as entirely ill-timed for a healthy man who’s thirty-nine years old and father of three. Besides that, I was just sad because he's a close friend. Thankfully, the surgery was successful, the tumor is out, and Jim’s future is looking much brighter (though with the possibility of some chemo).

In the preparation for the surgery and even in the midst of it, I’ve been reminded of the need to affirm life. To say yes to God's gifts. Affirm life—by that I mean to seek the good things that give us joy, to realize that the present moment is a gift, to thank God for what we are receiving.

So, in the past few days, I've been texting and telling Jim, “I affirm life with you.” I was a little worried that Jim might consider this too cute and glib, but it seemed to resonate. He and I both realized whatever happens--whether it's facing colon cancer or a day that seems entirely plug and play--life has its mixture of struggle and glory, of death and of life. As for me and my buddy Jim, we're going to choose to affirm life and say Yes to God.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Work/Life Balance or Work/Life Rhythm

I've been thinking recently about the theme of "work/life balance." Maybe a better term is "work/life rhythm." You see, I'm found that the key to a productive and beautiful life is a work/life rhythm of rest and labor in which the two play off each other. This comes from being a drummer: having spent countless hours in the past few decades on a drum set in search of scintillating rhythms, I know the key to great rhythms is the artful combining of both sounds and spaces.

In order to find the right work/life rhythm, there is at least one key practice: restrict technology’s reach. Unplug often enough from techie devices, so you can catch the rhythms of your heart.

So here's one way to get there: detach yourself from the email leash. Despite the ongoing example of our President and his omnipresent Blackberrys—and despite the fact that I’m drawn to email like a moth to flame—my iPhone and its alluring email are sufficiently far from my grasp, my hearing, and my vision while I type out these reflections. Why? Emails relentless knock at the door of my consciousness, and that is not good for my brain’s ability to go deep. It’s at the depths that we find creativity and innovation. If you want a new insight on the pitch you’re about to make, the book you want to write, and or how to manage that challenging employee, you need to move into the deeper functions of my brain. I will condense an enormous body of research from the incredible insights of brain science with this: to become creative and productive, our brain needs to engage its deeper functions. When we are constantly interrupted by urgencies, it is simply impossible.

And here's the bigger payoff. When you begin to detach in order to find a healthy work/life rhythm, you start to hear the rhythm of your heart. There you can begin to hear the rhythm of God.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Getting This Rocket Launched!

Advanced anniversaries are curious to me. What makes one month before an event another event in itself? Why not 19 days, for example?

For whatever reason, the coming advent of my book, Say Yes to No, in exactly one month has me partly nervous, partly beaming. The nerves arise from that age-old question: What if you invite people to a party and no one comes? More specifically, what if, on March 3rd, the book doesn't get grabbed by eager hands and sits there on bookstore shelves and the warehouses of The other side of my dual emotions is simply the pent-up excitement of having started this project over seven years ago. And now I stand--almost with disbelief--before the day when the final version of my reflections and labor will be tangibly present.

It's probably just a heightened version of the mixed bag we face every day. At any point, there are things, experiences, and people that can disappoint us or that can exhilarate us. The only real variation is that, given the day, the challenging and the motivating present themselves to us in varying proportions. And the opportunity to choose anxiety and fear or gratitude and hope in God's future lies ever before me.

On this day, one month before Say Yes to No appears, I think I'll say No to anxious fear and Yes to grateful faith. (And, by the way, you can help that process: the book is available for pre-order.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Martin Luther King, Jr. on Saying Yes to a Life of Serving Others

On this profound and historic week, we celebrated the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. and saw some of his dream for our country realized in the inauguration of the first African-American U.S. President, Barack Obama.

I'll let King's words speak for themselves. In his famous sermon, "The Drum Major Instinct," he calls all of us not to take the first position in the parade, where the drum major can be found. Instead he calls us to the life of service to which Jesus directed us:
Everyone can be great because anyone can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. . . . you only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.

Do I hear an Amen?