Sunday, November 28, 2010

An Advent Prayer of Hope

Dear God,

We have come into your house with gladness, may you hear the praises of our hearts.  We give you thanks for all that we have enjoyed this week, time off from work, more and better food than usual, and the company of family and friends.  While we are thankful for all of this may we also know that our joy doesn’t come from holiday, our joy comes from you.  The sounds of this week turn our minds to Christmas, whether we like it or not, the songs, the colors, the symbols and the sales are upon us.  We pray that in the midst of our cultural expressions you would give us a keen focus on our spiritual expressions of hope for the coming messiah.

As we enter this season of advent, we come with hope.  I’m not sure about everyone God, but when I look at the world I only see glimpses of hopefulness.  It is troubling to see people in other countries oppressed because of their beliefs, not allowed to speak out against their leaders.  It doesn’t make sense to see poverty and its results homelessness, hunger, and poor health.  It hurts to see death at the hands of each other through wars whether between nations, ideologies, or individuals who can’t get along.  I worry that I am aware of all of this because I have been blessed with much privilege.  Too often the privilege I exercise is the privilege to do nothing.

I have hope for what you can do in the world.  I have hope for what you can do in me.  I have hope for what you can do in us.  You came into this world to change it, to redeem it.  May we open our hearts to this change.  When we sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel, may we express the hope of our heart that you would enter our lives as you entered the world and reconcile us to you.  In doing so God, may we stop looking into our world for glimpses of hope and look to your kingdom coming down on us daily bringing hope and redemption to our broken world through people just like us, your children, your own.

May we give our lives to you God.  May you take every minute we give to you, every thought that centers on you, every action taken in your name, and every cent that is offered to you and bless it as hope, eternal hope which comes through your son, our savior, Jesus.  O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Amen.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


If this is your first visit to the A Pot of Stew, this post is part two of a look at Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose-- I haven't read his book yet, but according to several internet videos featuring Dan Pink, these three motivators drive innovation in the 21st century.

Of course I can't just leave it at that, I've got to connect it to my faith somehow.  My last post was about Autonomy, so now it's on to Mastery.

Jesus says in John 10:10 that he came so that we may have LIFE, and depending on the translation that we may have abundant life or life to the fullest.  We will have Mastery of our lives.  This can lead us to dangerous ground, and I am not a proponent of "prosperity theology," so what does it mean to master our lives to get the most out of them.

For most of my life I've appreciated analogies that compare life to sailing or surfing.  Sometimes the right opportunities come our way and we position ourselves to take advantage of them.  Sometimes the situation is tough and we find a way to make the most of it.  But still, sometimes we realize we are at the mercy of the winds and tides so we hunker down and simply get through it.  This I believe is the full life.  Learning to appreciate the ups and downs, the thrills and spills and taking control where we can but recognizing that the ultimate control is not in our hands.

Mastery is different than manipulation and some people try to manipulate life.  They have the illusion that it is completely under their control and this false assumption is bound to destroy their sense of mastery.  Mastery is different than control.  Every system that is under "control" is a potential disaster when things go wrong.  Mastery is different than authority.  Too often authority is based on a precarious balance of power and submission.

My best understanding of mastery in life could be expressed in the prayer of St. Francis:
"Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can, and
the wisdom to know the difference." 

Sunday, November 21, 2010


It's been over a week since I promised a little insight on the Dan Pink video that I posted. I thought I would give a little time to folks to watch it and come up with your own thoughts. (Do you really believe that?)

I narrowed in on Pink's view that traditional theories of motivation-- carrot and stick-- aren't as strong as we'd think. To really motivate people to complex and innovative tasks requires autonomy, mastery, and purpose. This works well when we work for people who give us this triad, but I think we can all find these elements in our lives.

Autonomy is the freedom to direct your own actions, to control your own destiny. Most of us think we are in short supply of this. When I think of autonomy, I get a picture of Jesus, sitting in front of Pilate:
 2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.
   “You have said so,” Jesus replied.
 3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”
 5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.   (Mark 15)
Jesus sat on trial in front of the governor of Judea.  Pilate didn't seem too interested in this "Jesus" case and I think he was just looking for a reason to dismiss it.  Jesus found himself in a position in which most of us would be compelled to provide a defense, and then reframe it when it didn't work.  This is true autonomy, to recognize that nothing of this world demands a response in the face of God's kingdom.

When I think of autonomy, I think of the Apostle Paul writing from jail urging people to bear patiently with one another, addressing his audience with Grace and Peace.  He writes some of the most encouraging words of hopes while suffering unto death in chains.  That is autonomy, the ability to live the freedom of the Kingdom even in the face of imprisonment in this world.

The ways of the world take our autonomy away-- we are bound to acquire more, driven to the next best thing, forced into retaliation, backed into deception, oppressed into misery, and pushed into anger.  We only have one ultimate source of accountability and that is to our God.  Jesus promised abundant life, and this is how we take it, by claiming the autonomy and freedom in this world that comes from giving it away for the sake of the next.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

I haven't posted in a while, and just embedding a video seems a little like cheating, but this one is changing the way I think about life just a bit.  Among other things, what would otherwise just be another lecture becomes quite engaging with the animation.  I've used this video in a leadership class that I teach and I've been thinking about how the lesson intersects with my own life.  It is around ten minutes long, but worth the watch.  I'll give you my thoughts under the video.

My take-away from this is that traditional ideas on "carrot and stick" motivation is a bit over-rated. The trio of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose motivates us to excellence. Believe it or not, I think this applies to our faith as well. I plan to think about this some over the next few days and offer some thoughts about how these understandings reflect what we may already know about our faith.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Pope Makes Forbes Top 68

"There are 6.8 billion people in the world.  Here are the 68 that matter." 

This is how the list begins as Forbes rank the top 68 people who are making a difference in the world.  Of all sixty-eight, only two would be recognized and counted because of their faith-- The Pope and the Dalai Lama (I won't count Osama bin Laden, lots of reasons).  Most of the top sixty-eight are political leaders or those who deal in money.  But I do think that while the Tim Geithners and Ben Bernanke mix politics and money, several of the top sixty eight deal in money because of their abilities to innovate and fill social needs in our society-- Walmart, Facebook, Apple.

But every Sunday, how many millions of Christians pray "Thy will be done, Thy Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven."  If so many of us are offering those words, then why aren't more of the 68 people in the world who matter making a difference for God?  Perhaps they are but we can't see it.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Prediction: Obama Re-Elected in 2012

I've tried to avoid the political, but I'm afraid this time I can't.  Living in Virginia's 5th District, I have seen quite a bit of Venom lately-- from the politicians and from the citizens.  Our lame duck representative seemed to seal his fate by voting in favor of the Obama health care plan.  Across the country, the people voiced disapproval of the current Democratic leadership in Washington.  Let's face it, things aren't going very well right now.

I found out that on average, the President's party loses 3 Senate seats and 34 House seats in mid-term elections.  Of course, there have been some real outliers to skew this average, but I'm young enough to remember big losses for both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.  Already we have a President posturing for cooperation and an opposing party, claiming the mandate of voters, expecting to turn back the policy of the last two years.  Sounds like 1994 all over again, and just like 1994, the President will weather the storm.  If the incoming party succeeds in bringing change, the voters will resist and if they fail to make progress, the voters will voice frustration with more of the same.

We continue to have faith in a system that is flawed.  I don't think that we should give up on it, but I think that we need to be careful that we don't let ourselves become flawed by the system.  We provoke each other to anger and attack individuals, neglecting their humanity.  We expect too much from our leaders and in turn suffer from frustration.  Obama did not create the ills that we face today, and he did not even make them worse.  The new Congress will not make them any better. 

I will continue to make my voice heard, and encourage all to do the same.  I even engage in political discussion (some may call it debate), but please understand that as long as our choice is Democrat and Republican we are essentially arguing the same position.  The sun will rise, the sun will set. 

Monday, November 01, 2010

What it Means to be American- Election Day 2010

I am an American.  I'm reluctant to call myself proud, but I will always recognized that I am blessed.  I'm reluctant to use the word proud because I did not do anything to earn the right to be an American, I just happened to be born in the right time at the right place.  I will own all of the baggage that comes with being American, from treatment of Natives to wars that I disagree with because I also own all of the prosperity that living in this land has afforded me.  I cannot say that I am always proud, but I am always American, and always blessed.

America is not a shining city on a hill, or the last great hope for the world, but she has become a land where good men and women can become those things if they take the responsibility of blessing and do not mistake it for right or privilege.  We have the freedom to live, almost as freely as we would choose, I pray that we would choose to live in order to make this world better for having been a part of it.

I would pray that freedom of speech would be used to check our government and demand the common good and not to exploit and demean in the name of entertainment.  I would pray that the freedom of religion would be used to draw us closer to God and not to generate wealth.  I pray that freedom of assembly would be used to gather as like-minded individuals to provoke change for the better and not to rally fear and hatred.  I pray that our right to petition would be used to promote change and progress rather than to demand our entitlements and voice discontent without real desire to change.

On the eve of this election, I pray that every American would exercise a right to vote.  Even if it means going to the polls and casting a blank ballot in protest of a flawed system.  I will exercise my right to vote because pride or blessing, every dollar spent, every criminal imprisoned, every bullet fired, every mother helped, every hurricane victim housed, every bill that becomes a law, and every law that changes lives rests not only on the shoulders of the decision-makers, but squarely on the shoulders of this decision-maker whose responsibility it is to make a decision tomorrow.