Friday, August 24, 2012

Investing in The Yes

Jesus presented a compelling connection: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). 
Hearts are shaped by the way we invest our dollars
            When I’ve heard that passage taught, preached, and commented on, usually—almost always—people declare, “Jesus is telling us that our internal world is the most important thing. When we care about things—when we have a heart for what matters—then we will give our money. Let’s be sure we change from the inside.”
            This thought may be comforting, or even challenging, in many ways. But it’s not what Jesus said. Notice the order: where our treasure is (first), their our heart will be also (second). It’s not “where your heart is, there will your treasure be also.” Our heart follows our dollars. Not the other way around.
            Our call in life is to say yes to what’s truly important. And what's one way to do that? The answer sounds slightly odd at first: By investing our money in it. (And I would be willing to add our time and our talents, but I’ll keep it focused for now.)
            It’s actually commonsense. If I buy a sweet bike (which I did), I’m going to take care of that bike—I’ll make sure it’s clean, that the derailleur is adjusted precisely, and that it’s appropriately locked at night and insured. That’s at least what I’m doing. Especially the latter… Because my bike was stolen out of my garage a year ago while I slept peacefully. But I digress….
            Whatever we invest our money in will be the place where our heart goes. Dollars lead the heart. And “heart” is the center of our lives—not just our emotions, but more so the will, the attitude, the way our lives are directed.
            In order to deepen our yeses, we have to invest money in what’s important. As I’ve written before, our yesese are where our passions meet God’s mission. That means that we put dollars into God’s mission, which Jesus defined as the poor, the marginal, the ones that society leaves aside because they are interesting and alluring. That requires giving to our local homeless mission, to overseas water projects, and to agencies that fight AIDS and waterborne diseases worldwide.
            As we’ve learned to define our yeses, we know even more where that money should go. If we’ve completed and know our Personal Branding Statement—or at least that’s one way to do it—we learn to invest in these things. Want to be a great percussionist? Buy a good drum set. Invest in lessons. Download music that you’ll practice with. It’s not a guarantee that you’ll get better. But when you pay those bills, when you see that drum kit, you’ll be reminded. When you start playing that beautiful new Yamaha recording custom set, you’ll sound better. And you’ll look cooler. And that will make you want to play more.
            And one hopes—at least I do for my life—that these yeses (even ones as innocuous as enjoying drums) may serve God’s mission (perhaps by leading worship, maybe by creating beautiful music). Or because I enjoy it, they may simply make me more of who God calls me to be. As the great Christian writer of old, Irenaeus, put it so well, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” When we invest our treasure so that our hearts follow—if we’ve done this in the right way—we become fully alive. And in that yes, God is glorified.
            There’s another component that lies close by—the “Yes friends” in our lives, those people who support our key yeses. I’ll get to that in the next post.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

An Exercise in Personal Branding

How do you know what to say yes to? I offer this exercise in Personal Branding that's found in my book Say Yes to No. This exercise is based on the guideline from the world of branding that a good brand must be described in three words. It applies this principle to our personal lives. 
Begin by brainstorming. Write our every adjective, verb, or noun you’d use to represent you or how others actually describe you. (I’m stretching the rules of branding that call only for how others portray you.) What are those words? Intelligent. Self-starter. Stubborn. Funny. Spiritual. Caring. Winsome. Dynamic. Energetic.
Then chart those on the top half with words that you’d like to describe you and on the bottom half with words others use. Take a moment to observe what you’ve written. What does this say about your aspirations for yourself? How do the two lists line up?
            I’m assuming you have about twenty to thirty words. So now comes the hard part. You start saying no. Remember that branding can only use three descriptors. Take a first whack at the list. Reduce your list to about ten words. Take time: Hang with those for a few minutes. Then let them sit, and come back to them later. Maybe even tomorrow. When you do, then prioritize them. Look not only for descriptors that apply today, but also for your preferred future. What you want to become. Let the priorities determine the remaining three. Now write out those three essential, goal-defining words.
Two pieces of advice: Use a pencil so you can revise and keep the entire first list. That way you can let yourself review and revise your list. Secondly, allow yourself to lament the descriptors you’re not going to concentrate on. It’s a hard truth that some dreams will in fact never be realized.
            Read those three finalists. Meditate on them. Go back in a day or a week. You may want to make some changes. How does that “brand identity” really fit you? What will you do to deepen those characteristics? Do you need to make changes? What nos need to be stated now in order to realize these three yeses? What are the big yeses that you will work on each day? At this point, I like to recall the saying, "Some dream of success. Others wake up and do something about it." See how this branding identity defines what you do each day.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Living the Yes: Finding the Beauty of Life

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.
Albert Schweitzer, the Nobel Prize winner and twentieth-century humanitarian and physician

            Beauty is found in doing what we are created to do. This implies that we are created for some activities (and not for some others). It implies that there’s a God who created us good. It implies, as I’ve been writing, that we find the right time for yes.
            First of all, let me be clear: beauty can be found in following what’s truly best for you and for human flourishing generally. And I don’t think that’s more toys.
            If materialism could do it, we’d all be happy in this culture. It was the newscaster, Peter Jennings, who noted almost two decades ago, in 1997: 
when I came back to my current job and began to wander around this country again, I was struck by how many Americans, in the midst of such plenty, were hungry for something more than our vaunted consumer society could provide for them.
            Over a millennium and a half before that, the great thinker Augustine began his autobiography with this prayer, a prayer of his own discovering that looking for fame and sex and even generalized spirituality left him unsatisfied. 
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.
            And then again there’s the French scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal, who realized in his famous “thoughts” (that’s what the French word means in its title, Pensées) that we all seek to be happy: “By nature, we all seek happiness.” But where do we seek it? “Some seek the good in authority, some in intellectual inquiry and knowledge, some in pleasure.” 
What else does this craving [for happiness], proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.
            So this journey of finding the time for yes leads us back to God. And when we get this right—when we say the right yeses in life (and therefore the right nos)—we find God right at the Center. That’s the Piece that brings this all together. “In Him all things hold together” as the early Christian leader, Paul, wrote to the believers at Colossae (Col. 1:17). That’s where I want my life to be found. Because there is joy, peace, power, happiness, excellence, success, and beauty. That’s life worth living.

Friday, August 03, 2012

C. S. Lewis on Being Formed by Scripture

[Here's one more installment from C. S. Lewis in Crisis.]

Maybe CSL is writing about writing
            “There is nothing in literature,” C. S. Lewis wrote in his first famous academic study, The Allegory of Love, “which does not, in some degree, percolate into life.”[1] If that is accurate for literature as a whole, how much more for Holy Scripture. When we read Scripture, we become what God wants for us. I return again to Lewis’s quote on Scripture from Reflections on the Psalms: The Bible
carries the Word of God; and we (under grace, with attention to tradition and to interpreters wiser than ourselves, and with the use of such intelligence and learning as we may have) receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopedia or encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone and temper and so learning its overall message.[2]
           “Steeping ourselves in its tone and temper”—we are required to read so that we truly grasp the full character of the Bible. We enter its “strange new world” to quote Karl Barth. This is not a mathematical table that we can memorize; it is a living document with a vibrant history. 
            And yet, C. S. Lewis is not willing to equate the exact words of the Bible with God’s very speech. As he writes in Reflections on the Psalms, it "carries the Word of God." Instead, “by steeping ourselves in the tone and temper” we make ourselves able to grasp the meaning of Scripture and “so learning its overall message.” Lewis here defends and promotes the reading of literature for what it says, not for some theory about it. (This emphasis parallels his longer treatment of reading books generally in An Experiment in Criticism.)
            Another angle on Lewis’s concerns about Scripture is that he wanted his readers to find “mere Christianity,” not finding himself convinced by the various attempts at the “historical Jesus” that emerged each.
            Lewis writes this: We must be careful of creating a new Jesus every year. This comment corresponds to his other arguments about reading any book. As he puts into the mouth of a demonic tempter, Screwtape[3]

In the last generation we promoted the construction of such a ‘historical Jesus’ on liberal and humanitarian lines; we are now putting forward a new ‘historical Jesus" on Marxian, catastrophic, and revolutionary lines.’ The advantages of these constructions, which we intend to change every thirty years or so, are manifold. In the first place they all tend to direct men's devotion to something which does not exist, for each "historical Jesus" is unhistorical.

The problem here is that we, as readers of the Bible, would learn to read about other people’s views of Jesus, not Jesus’s own words. So Screwtape continues, “The documents say what they say and cannot be added to; each new "historical Jesus" therefore has to be got out of them by suppression at one point and exaggeration at another, and by that sort of guessing (brilliant is the adjective we teach humans to apply to it)….”
            The aim is—and here we arrive at Lewis’s concern with our formation around Scripture “by these constructions, to destroy the devotional life. For the real presence of the Enemy, otherwise experienced by men in prayer and sacrament, we substitute a merely probable, remote, shadowy, and uncouth figure, one who spoke a strange language and died a long time ago. Such an object cannot in fact be worshipped.”
            Instead, Lewis encouraged us to focus on what actually took place in Christ, and to find that focus through the key documents, the New Testament. It is only when we are formed by the Bible, when we are steeped in Jesus’s teaching that our hearts with no “less fine mesh than love” that we “will hold the sacred Fish."

What do you think about all this?

[1] The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Literature, 130.
[2] Reflections on the Psalms, 112.
[3] These citations are in Screwtape Letters, letter 24.