just one zambia story
Monday June 27th 2005, 4:17 pm
Filed under: personal

i have so many to write about (and must, for my own reflection), but only have 6 minutes left on my time in the business center of the hotel, here in lusaka, zambia.

today, the 7 youth workers and i traveled to the kapalulwe ADP to visit a variety of ways one life revolution money has been spent. here’s one story:

we went to a small village, and when we pulled up, the old men and women of the village were waiting for us, singing and dancing. they lead us (still singing and dancing) to a house built with OLR money for a widow with 12 kids (not all hers). then we followed them for a long walk (with LOTS more people joining us along the way) to their new clean-water well, which was built with OLR money. they had decorated the well with flowers, and little strips of a cassette tape (which looked kind of like garland, or “icicles” on a christmas tree). there was a fence around it, and the opening had a ribbon across it with flowers on it. next to the actual pump was a monument, covered in cloth. after several formalities, they had me come up and join the village “elder” (who talked about drinking clean water for the first time in his life from this well), who handed me scissors to cut the ribbon. i asked if he would do it with me, and we held the scissors together (later, we heard they were “the village scissors”), and cut the ribbon, to much cheering. then, we went in and removed the cloth, which was covering a very nice plaque that said “donated by One Life Revolution, USA” or something like that. the old guy and i ceremonially pumped the well together (more cheers), then our whole team took turns. it turned into a big party, with the women teaching our women how to carry water jugs on their heads (more cheers, lots of laughter). it really was a highlight of the day. but there were three other stops, and they were all wonderful too!

beautiful quotes
Wednesday June 22nd 2005, 4:19 pm
Filed under: faith, personal

tonite in lusaka (yes, our hotel has a business center, and i’ll be back in this hotel sunday and monday nights also), we had dinner with a half dozen of the world vision zambia staff. i was once again blown away by their humility and graciousness (two things we americans just completely SUCK at). the assistant director of operations — basically, the guy in charge of the 7 communities that receive funding from the US — asked me, “how can be help you better?” i felt like a gnat.

a tall brilliant man named Sikapale (seek-a-pahl-eh), the director of operations for all of WV zambia, talked to our little group for a bit. he said two particular quotes that i had to get down here:

we have a saying in africa that you can’t pick lice with one finger. we need you to help us, to partner with us.

and, in reference to the difference of building schools (something we’ve done with one life revolution funds), which make it possible for girls to go to school (boys too, but girls are the first to get cut, since families won’t normally go to the trouble of sending a girl to a more distant school):

when you educate a woman, you educate a nation.

mmm. good stuff.

books i’m taking
Saturday June 18th 2005, 12:39 am
Filed under: books

for my trip to africa (and these might spill into singapore), i’m taking the following books (thanks to bob c for the idea of sharing these):

, by Kenda Dean. i read the first 2/3 a month or 6 weeks ago, and thought it was the best 2/3 of a youth ministry book i’d ever read. now, i should really finish the thing.

, by Brian Greene. i’m 25 pages into this one. it’s about time i learned more about quantum physics and string theory.

, by Margane Satrapi. this is an illustrated book, a sequel (gee, could you tell?), and i loved the first one (which was the author’s autobiographical story of growing up in iran during the revolution).

, by Anne Lamott. yup, she’s been one of my favorite writers for years now. and pretty much all my friends who love her writing were disappointed with this book. but i have to read it anyhow.

, by Gerald N. Callahan. what can i say? a good friend told me this was a great book and that he knew i would love it.

the yaconelli tree
Friday June 17th 2005, 7:48 pm
Filed under: personal

this is just like something yaconelli would have done.

in the late fall of 04, shortly after mike’s death, my parents and two sisters and bros-in-law gave me a very sweet gift: a tree, in mike’s honor. my parents were in town, and we went to a nursery and picked out a non-fruit-bearing plum tree. and, eventually, i got it planted in my backyard, just behind our gas firepit, where i like to sit with friends on a fairly regular basis. we call it “the yaconelli tree”. and it makes me smile.

well, the frickin’ thing pulled a yac on us: it has little plums on it. they’re tiny, about the size of a large marble; maybe an inch across. and they’re really sweet, but with a big-time tart skin. they’re silly, really — almost like the tree is playing a practical joke on us.

well, you get the picture (especially if you knew yac).

stay hungry. stay foolish.
Friday June 17th 2005, 12:20 pm
Filed under: thinking...

thanks to bob carlton for tipping me to this wonderful commencement address by steve jobs.

curiosity is the serum for judgmentalism
Thursday June 16th 2005, 11:03 am
Filed under: faith, thinking...

a week or two ago i wrote about the hipness of judgmentalism. and, as seems to be shaping up as the norm for me, what i post about rattles around in my brain and heart and soul for another day or two or week or two.

and i’ve been connecting some dots.

here’s the first dot:
i’m not sure i agree with andrew that the mud-slinging is over. i hope he’s prophetic and correct.

judgmentalism and questioning (or assuming) motives and distancing seem — to me — to be a finely honed skill of the 21st century church. but i agree with the spirit of what andrew’s suggesting: if we continue on this path, it will destroy us. maybe it already has. just yesterday, i was speaking with a ministry leader from another org about a 3rd organization that is consistantly arrogant (the organization, not necessarily it’s people). and i said something like: i’m all for them being passionate about, and proud of, their distinctives. i just wish they didn’t have to constantly communicate how their distinctives are better than everyone else’s. we — MOST OF US IN THE CHURCH — spend so much of our time and energy drawing lines in the sand, defining the boxes we’re in and you’re not, telling others where they’re going astray (all in the spirit of truth, of course!). and, even as you’re reading this (and i’m writing this), our first inclination is to think about those people (whoever they are in your universe-of-the-moment) who fit this.

here’s the second dot:
my wife shared a fantastic quote with me the other day, in response to my post about my own judgmentalism. it’s a quote about gandhi (not by gandhi), from the book “the root of this longing: reconciling a spiritual hunger with a feminist thirst”…

gandhi always brings you back to yourself–the beam in your own eye, the discrepancy b/w your own actions and the ideals you profess. he insists that you look beyond the headlines for the root causes of each new horror, and always the trail leads back to forces in consciousness, like envy and fear and the lust for power, and always you have to recognize those same forces in yourself.

here’s the third dot:
[a true story]
one year ago, the exec team of ys was sitting in the living room of a beach house in leucadia, california, on retreat. and we were gettin’ worked. our consultant, mark dowds, was in the process of inverting all the dimensions of reality as we knew it. at one point, during discussion, i noticed tic long getting defensive. he’s pretty transparent when this happens, so it’s not that i was being perceptive: his body tenses up and he fidgets like crazy, and his voice raises a half-octave, and his answers become a series of “uh-huh’s”.

in the spirit of the truthfulness we were trying to foster, i decided it should be called out — “for the good of the team.” i did, at least attempt to speak with gentleness, even though i was calling tic out. i said, “tic, can i interrupt? you’ve suddenly gotten really defensive.” and here’s where i really blew it: in the insecurity of that moment (thinking i was doing a good thing), i turned to the rest of the room to back me up, “am i alone in this? do the rest of you see this?”

before tic could respond, mark turned to me, and with uncharacteristic directness and push-back, completely unveiled what i had just done: that i had attempted to gang up on tic; that i had tried to manipulate everyone in the room to my opinion in order to corner tic. just as the tingly nature of be publicly exposed and realizing he was right started to set in, mark re-directed again. he said something like: i’m calling this out for a very specific reason. if you five are going to be effective, you have the learn the skill of being curious.

he used the situation that had just been unveiled as a case-study: if i notice that tic seems to be getting defensive, and if i really want the best for him as a human being, as an image-of-god brother of mine, than i should be more interested in what tic’s “positive intent” is (what’s driving the defensiveness, in this case), than in embarassing him or making myself look like the hero of group dynamics and herald of truth. in doing so, i needed to interupt, yes, but calmy ask tic, in love: hey, what are you feeling right now? what are you thinking? if it’s clear (at the moment, and from historical experience) that the space is safe, tic will likely realize his own defensiveness, name it, and provide us ALL an opportunity to look at real issues that drove the reaction, rather than just the emotionality.

this concept of “being curious” has profoundly shaped our exec team in the past year. we exercise it all the time with each other, and it — more than anything else, i think — has changed the tone of our meetings. and i’m finding the concept spilling over into other areas of my life.

connecting the dots, maybe?
so. if judgmentalism is the venom currently coursing it’s way through the veins of the church, i’m thinking the anti-venum, the serum, isn’t what we’ve thought it to be. it’s not more truth or more clearly defining what we mean or retreating, or, even, a rodney-king-like “can’t we all just get along?”

Curiosity. loving, “i want the best for you” curiosity. i think that’s the serum.

to the person who flames my friend tony jones for his appointment to director/coordinator of emergent, i ask, gently: tell us your concerns. and, how have you been burned by institutionalism that would bring that strong a reaction? what can you teach us?

to the person who consistantly questions the motives of ys, saying we’re only about making money and manipulating people with language about how we actually care about youth workers, i ask, gently: how can i serve you? what’s behind your questions and statements? can you help me see where you think we’re off track?

to my dear friends in the story on my original post about judgmentalism, i ask, gently: what are your fears? what are you feeling, and what’s driving those feelings?

to other youth ministry orgs and leaders i have previously written off as clueless or wrong-headed, i ask (at least to myself, if not to them): what has shaped his life that is bringing about that perspective?

and — is this possible? — to me, when i catch myself in the midst of judgmentalism, i ask, gently: wait, marko, what’s going on here? what’s driving this judgment or attitude? what’s the positive intent behind this — how are you hoping to benefit from this? what’s another way to think about this?

reboot day #2 — ys re-opens
Wednesday June 15th 2005, 2:38 pm
Filed under: youth specialties

about a year ago, we at ys had what we called our “reboot day” — a day-long off-site meeting for our whole staff, where we launched off the shore of who we’d been into the deep and rough waters of change. i recapped what’s happened in the last year here.

then, we sensed that we were at a critical spot a few weeks back — lots of great opportunity in our faces, and a general weariness of our staff. so we shut down for a week of sabbath (see here and here).

this morning we all came back. we met for 90 minutes — first sharing “what i did on my summer vacation”. it was wonderful to hear how people experienced rest. then, i talked about growing up. i believe one of the most absurd modern myths in america is that one’s high school years are the best years of her life. rubbish. the only adults i meet who believe this are sad and immature, and have never, really, grown up. like Uncle Rico. and, the reason life as a maturing adult can be so much better is because we (get the opportunity to) step more fully into our identity and calling.

it’s time for ys to do that. we’ve been a wonderfully adolescent organization for 35 years. 35 glorious years. this isn’t to take anything away from the impact of those years. and, this is not to suggest ys will become stodgy or grumpy or button-down. geez, i’m an adult, and i hope i’m not those things. but it’s time for us to step more fully into our identity and calling.

here’s what i’m suggesting as our identity and calling:

To serve the church, though youth ministry.
To resource and train and encourage every youth worker on the planet. (w/ primary focus on the Americas)
To impact the lives of teenagers around the globe.

then, we spent some time talking about “the far shore” (remember, we’re in the middle of the waters of change). these are “the trees” i can see taking shape in the distance…

Continue and strengthen our legacy of the best youth ministry training events (NYWC and CORE) and ministry resources (YS and Invert)

Run hard at our new values:
Interdepartmental Unity
Integrated Marketing
Value Risk
Systems that serve us (rather than the other way around)
Youth ministry change-agent
Deep satisfaction and sense of contribution for staff
Divested Power

Freedom with Accountability, leading to financial stability and new abilities to risk

New growth (we talked about “new growth” in the way of the green-stuff in forests)

Then we identified what will be required of us as staff in order to reach that vision:

Trust, curiosity (we’re going to step on each others’ toes)
Submission to mutual accountability
Hope, expectation
Prayer / God’s continued blessing

we all stood together and assumed a prayer posture (hands open, one foot forward) of “stepping into our identity”, and spent some time praying together.

it’s good to be back! i love these people, and i’m so excited about where we’re headed, together.

a ys first
Wednesday June 15th 2005, 2:37 pm
Filed under: youth specialties, personal

two of our youth specialties staff got engaged last night — will leingang and rose maddox. will is our programmer, and rose is our CORE manager. they are both fantastic people — loving, open, giving, uncontented with staying the same — and i could not be happier for them.

daily ys staff meditations — tuesday
Tuesday June 14th 2005, 1:47 pm
Filed under: faith, youth specialties


when two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it,
my father in heaven goes into action.

and when two or three of you are together because of me,
you can be sure that I’ll be there.
Matthew 18:19

As much as we need to be alone, we need each other. As Bonhoeffer says,
“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community.”
“Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.”

Hang out with people who are important to you today. Find the people who bring you life, the ones who remind you of the things you want to be reminded of.

Call one person who has meant something to you and catch up.

Look around you and notice the people in your life whom you are thankful for.
Think of something fun to do with other people.
Think about the community at YS.
Think about who brings you life there.
Think about ways you can connect with that person at work.

We need each other.

am i limping?
Monday June 13th 2005, 11:04 pm
Filed under: faith, personal

i’ve been soaking in this unlocking of emotions that i wrote about here. it hasn’t stopped at all — i cry all the time, not for no reason, but for things that, for the most part, i’m glad to be emotional about. and i feel so much more than i ever have, including other peoples’ emotive stuff, or hardship.

the other day, a close friend wrote this to me in an email

You’ve been touched in a way, like Jacob, and I hope and pray that you walk with this “limp” of compassion, empathy and emotion for a long time to come. You wear it well.

it slayed me. in a good way.

i remember the day i made three women cry in my office in one day (uh, three different meetings, that is), because i was “telling the truth”. (this was about 10 years ago now.) it was that day that i realized — for the very first time — that my lack of mercy and compassion was actually a weakness. i’d always seen it as a strength (and had been told by other dysfunctional leaders that this was true). i asked two guys to mentor me — one was a very strong leader who still seemed to have a gentle side; the other a pastor i respected who’s life was marked by his heart for people. i had small discoveries along the way. i blew it with people again and again. i was called cocky and arrogant (i didn’t make the CORE team at YS the first time i was asked to try out for it because mike yaconelli and doug fields — the two i tested with — both thought i was arrogant!). but all that stuff continued to “work for me” also — and i got promotion and opportunity after promotion and opportunity. weird.

anyhow. i remember another day very clearly. it was my last week at Lake Avenue Church (my last church before coming to YS). i had breakfast with one of my mentors, and while praying for me, he thanked god for my “gentle spirit”. i almost started laughing out loud. i was baffled. i hadn’t seen any change in me at all. then, later that day, at a going-away lunch for me with the whole church staff, one of the secretaries pulled me aside to tell me a bunch of them were talking the other day, and they’d decided i was a “gentle bulldozer”. wow — that was progress!

now, years later, i’m told i’m walking with a limp, ala Jacob.

our consultant, who’s been so instrumental in helping those of us at ys understand ourselves, tells me that i’ve shifted from 4/5 one personality type and 1/5 another, to the exact opposite distrubution of those, in the past year. he says he expects i will shift back, but i’ll never be what i was.

i like the sound of that. i hope and pray i’ll never be what i was — whatever that might have been! i don’t want to lose this limp.