Shaul Magid, professor of Jewish studies and religious studies at Indiana University Bloomington, has written a new book, American Post-Judaism.

In this work, he probes some very interesting questions for both Jews and non-Jews alike. The University posted a press release in which it stated:

“Magid argues that we live in a ‘post-ethnic’ time in which traditional signifiers of identity no longer apply for many if not most American Jews. But he finds the seeds for a new paradigm of Jewishness in contemporary movements that draw on ideas from a variety of faith and philosophical traditions.”

Magid writes:

“(The) era of multiculturalism is ending and group identity is becoming fluid and flexible. For Jews, increasing intermarriage, religious conversion, adoption of children, multiracialism and globalization have made being Jewish a matter less of destiny than of choice.”

The phrase that he uses at the end of these statements captured my attention. “Being Jewish…a matter less of destiny than of choice.” I am challenged by this statement and am presently trying to wrap my head around it. What does he mean that Jewish-ness may be more a matter of choice than it is a destiny? For those of us who were raised on the biblical narrative, and the narratives of history regarding the Jewish people in general,  disassociating them from “destiny” almost seems incomprehensible.

Magid says his book, “explores a range of topics including Jewish engagement with Jesus, ‘post-monotheism’ in Jewish metaphysics and questions of leadership and authority.”

I believe these statements have long-term significance for those of us who find ourselves in conservative, evangelical churches. I believe there is abundant opportunity along with compelling reasons for establishing fresh, relevant understandings those under 30 in our congregations. The fluidity and flexibility of which Magid speaks is not unique to Jews.

In the Wesleyan-holiness community, the insignificance of our size could potentially communicate to adherents an ethos of cultural identity as well as theological conviction. If Magid is correct, and the end of multicuralism is upon us, then what significance will an era of of fluidity, flexibility, and an openness to, “draw on ideas from a variety of faith and philosophical traditions,” mean for our religious tradition?

 

 

Nautilus1

 

The time has come; this sensation of opening, becoming, and changing accompanied by inner restlessness. It’s as though the cocoon is cracking and the time-hardened shell, created by the accretions of time, duty, loyalties, and responsibility are giving way. Unseen, unknown, the new breaks forth with little more than hints and nods.

With each crack in the shell, there is both a twinge of fear, (what am I becoming) and a current of excitement (what is the nature of these new changes). It is to move from an old familiar space, grown restrictive and disinteresting, to follow after the beckoning of a palpable presence of wonder.

Not to start over…but to move to something even better, more in line with whom I am and have become over time. Not some discovery, but a deep realization that what I need to become is within my grasp.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. describes it beautifully in the poem The Chambered Nautilus:

This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,

   Sails the unshadowed main,—

   The venturous bark that flings

On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings

In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,

   And coral reefs lie bare,

Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.

 

Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;

   Wrecked is the ship of pearl!

   And every chambered cell,

Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,

As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,

   Before thee lies revealed,—

Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!

 

Year after year beheld the silent toil

   That spread his lustrous coil;

   Still, as the spiral grew,

He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,

Stole with soft step its shining archway through,

   Built up its idle door,

Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.

 

Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,

   Child of the wandering sea,

   Cast from her lap, forlorn!

From thy dead lips a clearer note is born

Than ever Triton blew from wreathèd horn!

   While on mine ear it rings,

Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:—

 

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,

   As the swift seasons roll!

   Leave thy low-vaulted past!

Let each new temple, nobler than the last,

Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,

   Till thou at length art free,

Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!

 

Brett

George Brett is probably the most famous Kansas City Royals baseball player of all time. I was living in the Kansas City area when the Royals defeated the St. Louis Cardinals for Baseball’s biggest trophy–the World Series in 19985. Brett was a hero. His red-hot bat combined with his Pete Rose-like work ethic to make him a star, not only of the series, but of the team and the American League.

Every year, Royals’ fan await the second-coming of the team. Spring training this year looked like the denouement of dreams coming true. Spirited bats, precision pitching, and a ‘hoover’ defense, put them on the top of the Cactus league landscape.

Reality struck, however, and all that precision, stunning displays of power, and opponent-disabling strategy came crashing down on home plate. Loss after loss began to mount. Long home stands of mindless losses took its toll on both team morale and fan interest.

The team manager, at a loss for fresh ideas, stumbled on the holy grail of Royals lore. In an instant, George Brett, long-retired hall of fame hero, was moved into the dugout to be the hitting coach for one month. Brett brought with him memories of his own experiences with a hitting coach, and the results that came when he entrusted his future, perhaps even his career to the mentoring, advice, and instruction of Charley Lau.

Brett summed up his new role with the team and the youngsters who are trying to play their way through an awful slump this way. He said he was going to be the ghost of Charley Lau in the Royals’ dugout.

If there is a lesson in all this, it’s probably not going to be about the Royals or even George Brett. For me the comment of Brett about being the ghost of Charley Lau in the dugout is the touchstone. Working with people young enough to be my grandchildren, I want to impact their lives in a fashion similar to Brett’s desire. I don’t want them to think I am the subject they should copy. I just hope that I can bring into their lives, the ghosts of all those people who mentored and showed me the way to fulfillment, significance, and meaning.

Good luck, George!

Dennis Prager, referring to the sad state of affairs in American politics and the present Administration said, “They live in a hermetically sealed environment.”

My father used to collect uncirculated coins called “proof sets.” The actual cost was the face value of the coins in the set. Their value was in their preservation in their hermetically sealed package.

Prager’s remark reminded me that for some individuals, the hermetically sealed environment preserves the fictions by which they live, and keeps them from having to face the realities of the real world as they live according to their own self-constructed values.

To get to the point, I believe the Justice Department and its effort to tap news reporters personal files and emails, and the effort of the IRS Department to challenge groups like the Tea Party and others with the word “Patriot” in their name, is wrong. It indicates their imprisonment in a hermetically sealed environment, free from the constraints of public morality, honesty, and integrity.

Justice will probably not prevail because of the power of those who spend their existence in hermetically sealed environments. The public will move on to other topics. The Press will finally cave in, and business will go on as usual. The Attorney General will get away with improper behavior and policy. The government will absolve its aberrant elements, covering them over in a deluge of verbiage and double-talk.

Ultimately, we know that life is not like the coin collector who preserves his or her collection by never opening the hermetic seal. My prayer is that somewhere, down the road, the truth will rise and confront the fictions by which people of power shield their actions, with a torrent of revelation and condemnation and bring them to accountability and judgment.

What is poverty? How would you define it? What causes poverty? Can it ever be eliminated?

Here is a definition of poverty that I thought was fairly inclusive:

“Poverty is the condition where people’s basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter are not being met. Poverty is generally of two types: (1) Absolute poverty is synonymous with destitution and occurs when people cannot obtain adequate resources (measured in terms of calories or nutrition) to support a minimum level of physical health. Absolute poverty means about the same everywhere, and can be eradicated as demonstrated by some countries. (2) Relative poverty occurs when people do not enjoy a certain minimum level of living standards as determined by a government (and enjoyed by the bulk of the population) that vary from country to country, sometimes within the same country. Relative poverty occurs everywhere, is said to be increasing, and may never be eradicated.”

(Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/poverty.html#ixzz2UVtPQgfq)

Jesus said in his introductory Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (St. Matthew 5:3) In his introduction to the Synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” (St. Luke 4:18)

I believe may Christians in the West and particularly here in North America, wrestle with the issues of poverty juxtaposed to our participation in unlimited abundance. For many years, evangelical, Wesleyan-holiness churches embodied a two-pronged message that challenged both physical and spiritual poverty. The initial origins of the Wesleyan-holiness churches in America emerged from an ethos of aggressive social action and revivalism. They built homes for unwed mothers. They took their message and their resources into the dens of iniquity in inner cities where brokenness was rampant. And they never neglected the nexus of biblical evangelism which is a personal call to a decision.

In the latter half of the 20th and into the 21st centuries, there has been a resurgence of such ministries under the aegis of “compassionate ministries.” Accompanying this resurgence has been a shift in theological emphasis that might have over-compensated a bit. Whether this is true, probably depends on the observer’s perspective.

Given the bifurcation of poverty into two categories, e.g., absolute and relative, the thorny issue of global poverty (and some would point out, right here in the USA) remains. Enormous pockets of absolute poverty persist, while strata of relative poverty seem to be increasing.

The cozy relationships between capitalism, free-enterprise systems, and the evangelical church have challenged all parties. Most evangelicals believe (myself included) that free-markets and an environment that nurtures free-enterprise offer citizens environments of opportunity.

The challenge for evangelical churches may well be our success. Or, perhaps I should say, the success inherent in the “lift” of the Gospel Message in the lives of our adherents.  We have enjoyed an environment of freedom, vast natural resources, and an economic system predicated on consumerist acquisition. This climate has favored the development of an environment of acquisition and the belief that we deserve such massive arrays of available content, things, and stuff.

Nelson Mandela once said,

“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”

The one exception I would take with Mandela’s statement is his assumption that “poverty is man-made.” I agree that to write poverty off as the sad, but inexorable problem of societies, cultures, and nations where the primary world-view is not informed by the Gospel is to slight the innocent and avoid any responsibility.

What would this perspective mean for the millions of evangelical Christians in the world who take seriously the potential for transformation of both the personal and corporate domains? Would it mean consuming less and giving more? Would it mean measuring every action against the command to love one’s neighbor as one’s self? Would it mean seeing one’s existence in community with the world rather than an isolated island?

I believe the recovery of the Wesleyan message of personal transformation through the power of Jesus Christ, and the partnership with others in the restoration of the image of Christ is the hallmark of Christian beliefs.

I believe the systems that create relative poverty can be challenged by Christians in the way we transact our purchases, business dealings, and the extent to which consumerism impacts our personal lives.

I believe the systemic issues of absolute poverty can only be dealt with through a change from non -biblical religions and associated world-view to a Christian world-view. Non-biblical religions cannot lift society out of the deleterious impulses of those structures of power that ignore humankind’s place in relationship to God and his Lordship.

Finally, the corruption of the free-enterprise systems of the West must be acknowledged. We all have a stake in these matters. The scope of our perspective must be changed. It must be widened to include those beyond the immediacy of the present. And, it must challenge conventional wisdom as it aligns with the compassion of Jesus and finds expression in our lives.

 

Pope

 

The Roman Catholic Pope, Francis, recently wrote:

“The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”.. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.

With one string of inputs from his computer, Pope Francis has undone centuries of Christian teaching, belief, and practices. There are so many things wrong with Francis’ remarks that it doesn’t take a theologian to see them. Consider:

  • Since the New Testament Apostles, the Christian Church has believed that the image of God in all mankind is marred and distorted by Original Sin, and therefore incapable of righteousness.
  • Even if our good works were accounted as worthy by humankind, God’s Word still says: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.” (Isaiah 64:6)
  • The Pope’s remarks widen what was becoming a narrowing gap between Protestants and Catholics regarding some of the basic tenets of the Gospel, by suggesting that salvation is by works alone.
  • The Pope diminishes the responsibility of humankind, opting instead for a theory of redemption based on creation rather than sacrifice and atonement, thus erasing normative Christian beliefs in a single paragraph.
  • The ringing words of the Gospels as well as the Epistles clearly contradict the message of the Pope as they admonish us to faith and belief in Jesus for our salvation.
  • The Pope ignores the biblical message that at the end of life, there is a judgment to which all will be summoned to receive notice of their eternal destiny. “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ So then, each of us will be accountable to God.” (Romans 14:10b-12)

This is a very serious matter. Jesus clearly noted in St. Matthew 7:15-23:

  • Only that which is good can bring forth good fruit; that evil or corruption brings forth its kind. Jeremiah the prophet reminds us that “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse–who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Goodness proceeds from good hearts; hearts that have been purified by faith (Acts 15:9).
  • Only that which He classifies as “good fruit”  is approved; anything else will be “hewn down, and cast into the fire.” (v.19)
  • Only those who do the will of God are approved. And what is God’s will? “This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.” (St. John 6:40)
  • Many will profess that their good works should earn them a place in the Kingdom of God. Jesus said, “Not so.” “On that day many will say to me,’Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.‘” (St. Matthew 7:22-23)

Friends, this is a serious breach and signals the presence of apostasy. Let us pray that this manifestation of the spirit of this age that denies the Lordship of our Savior and his sacrifice for our salvation and atonement does not creep into our churches. This blatant denial of our Lord’s provisions for eternal salvation will meet with its promised reward:

Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in Heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” (St. Matthew 10:32-33)

deadline1

 

I overhead a conversation between two people regarding an ongoing project that is tied to a deadline. It’s not a moving deadline, but one that is fixed and established on the calendar.

The project requires collaboration and cooperation between offices and people who accept these responsibilities and agree to provide their contribution.

But what happens when someone in this consortium, frequently fails to deliver on time?

At first, it’s merely a nuisance. The second occurrence is a bit irritating. Beyond the third occasion, such behavior can set off a slow, smoldering fire of resentment, even anger. Like the building steam in the tea kettle, by the time it blows its whistle, it’s too late. The damage has been done. Credibility has been lost. The fragile strands of teamwork are separated; no longer is it a rope of reciprocal performance. It has become a shredded cord no longer useful or even capable of bearing the load of project management.

So much of what we do is dependent on interactions with others. This can be exacerbated when parties are separated by distance or time zones and must conduct their business virtually. In fact, some businesses are recognizing the diminished return on investments as it regards virtual working settings and arrangements.

What can be done to increase one’s productivity, ensure predictable delivery of content or services, and avoid the pitfalls that can occur in virtual work settings?

  • Clarify
    • When a highly creative team, is segmented into responsibilities and separated by geography or time, make sure everyone understands work flow and responsibility.
    • The definitions with which we work vary greatly, even within a corporate culture that spreads over disparate locations. What is meant by a common term may take on coloring or shading based on cultural elements, previous experiences, and even the subtle pressures of personal preferences.
    • Not all elements of contribution to a team-based project are equal. It is critically important to establish a priority reference point so that all participants will understand variations in expectation of their element in the project.
  • Connect
    • In the example I referenced at the beginning, the collaborators are separated by three distinct geographical locations and one time zone.
    • It is essential that a regular means of connecting all members of the team be established for periodic reviews, updates, and the simple-yet-critical element of building community within the team.
    • Someone must assume responsibility for attending to,  nurturing, and facilitating community development between the disparate locations and groups. Emails may be speedy and may be perceived as efficient. There is, however, no substitute to face time or conferencing together either by video call or landline.
  • Evaluate
    • The “sunset law” is very useful when it comes to establishing specificity with regard to timelines and personnel when working with virtual, collaborative groups or teams.
    • Some members of the group will need change. Their comfort level must be considered so that maximum productivity and effective community relationships can be maintained.
    • Make changes before you are forced to do it. Staying ahead of the problems means attending to the issues that percolate upward over the course of the relationships.

The value-added benefits of collaborative teams far out-weigh the challenges sometimes incurred in their implementation. Be  prepared in advance, and you will capture the full benefit of their value.

As I sharpened my pruning shears and stretched out my tree trimmer, I began to think about the symbolism behind my actions as I worked on the Japanese Ornamental Maple in our courtyard.

tree

Every year, I grab my tools, stretching, straining, trying to keep the tree from taking over in the little courtyard leading to our front door. Every year, it’s a battle between the Redbud tree and the Ornamental Maple. Each one seems to stake out its claim for the right to cover the walk with low-hanging foliage. It’s that kind of foliage that when it touches your head, you immediately wonder if that was a spider that just dropped down for a visit!

After some well-chosen cuts and tweaks, I walked out to the street-side curb  and took a look. The symmetry was perfect. No low-hanging branches, covered with leaves, plus additional light from the sun for the courtyard flowers.

I wondered how much time one should spend in thinking about the symmetry of one’s life. There is so much to one’s self that one simply cannot see. Actions, habits, and patterns become ingrained, almost second nature to us, and we engage them without thinking. How do they impact our productivity, creativity, and the general quality of our relationships?

If we’re over-weight, out-of-shape, and generally out of condition, we find a personal trainer and a program that promises fitness and health. When we are transitioning in life, if the resources are available, we may engage the services of a life coach.

What if the resources for such luxuries simply do not exist? Are there any options for the rest of us? Clearly, there are.

  • Take time everyday for personal reflection. Yes, we’re all very busy, and connected 24/7. This is even more reason why we need time to reflect on who we are, what we are doing, why we doing it, and what or who we are becoming.
  • Check the integrity of the information you’re using. It is a current that flows into your being, bearing either propitious resources, or worse, the flotsam and jetsam of life.
  • Momentarily, detach your self from yourself. No, that’s not a play on words; simply being able to step back and watch and listen to yourself brings enormous rewards. Are you communicating the way you want to communicate? Are you listening? Are you playing a select number of scripts, adapting them to every scenario?

Trimming and pruning can have amazing effects. It’s not just for trees, you know!

 

p1aMany employees logon to their computers when they arrive each morning and check their email. Typically, in the array of emails awaiting their perusal, are requests for immediate response.

 

 

 

 

 

We typically weigh these five elements against an array of factors:

  • Who is making the request of my time and effort, and do they deserve or warrant it?
  • What level of importance would I ascribe to this project or demand?
  • Is this request from a peer or a superior?
  • Is there a payoff; a value-added element that will accrue to me?
  • Are there any repercussions that might ensue if I respond when I am ready to this request?

p1b

 

Stamp this on a memo or embed it in an email, and for some people, it’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull. The red ink arouses awareness of aggression…this is a demand or a threat. But to others it is like receiving a “past-due” notice from the bank.

Many of us of a ‘certain age’ will remember seeing the phrase hanging in offices or shops that read: DO IT NOW. For those of us challenged by the need to establish priorities, the desire to do this may be present, but the knowledge to perform the task may not be present.

Setting priorities can become a lifestyle that affords plenty of payoffs for those who are willing to step up to this challenge. The five questions posed earlier can be a starting point for anyone interested in increasing productivity.

  • First, know the source or person making the request, and move on to #2.
  • Second, place an estimate of the value or worth of the project. Consider both it’s source and merit (if possible).
  • Third, estimate the corresponding worth or value of your time, and whether you are capable of completing or even responding.
  • Fourth, estimate the potential for reward, or at least a “quid-pro-quo.” This can be tricky; personal reward is measured differently. Focus on the “return-on-your-investment” involved in completing this task.
  • Fifth, be sure you know and understand the consequences for avoiding, delaying, or ignoring the request, and are ready to accept them.

In today’s workplace environment, you will never have a clear desk or an empty in-box. You can, however, tame the beast by taking control of your time and managing to a sensible, informed set of priorities.

 

typewriter

When I began college, I bought a portable typewriter on which I dutifully cranked out theme papers, term papers, research paper and many other items. My typewriter was very important to me as it allowed me to produce reasonably good looking papers that for their time, were very acceptable. There were no cords, no networks, and it worked wherever I could find a flat surface on which to place it.

When typing papers, there was a trick to setting up the margins. You had to familiarize yourself with the process involved in inserting indentations, justifying columns, etc. And of course, there was the matter of typo’s. Too much white-out and you had a mess.

Thinking about margins got me to thinking about typewriters, and the very precise way in which one could establish them. Today, I click on “format” and set every margin, indentation, hanging line, etc., at the stroke of a key. In fact, I rarely give it a second thought.

From my perspective, it seems that one of the things many people need is increased margins; the margins of their lives have been invaded by all manner of time, energy, and resource-consuming elements. If their lives were sheets of paper shoved into a printer or a typewriter, the result would be a jumbled mess of incoherent style and format.

Setting margins is an intentional thing. If you don’t know what you’re going to do tomorrow, there is probably no way for you to know whether your life has sufficient margins. If one thing after another simply crowds into the finite space of your day, there is a good possibility you need to establish the margins within which you allow the demands of busy-ness and activity.

Here are some ideas:

  • Create lists — To-do lists or using the “tasks” feature on your tablet or computer can help. Often a simple 3×5 card can align responsibilities with accompanying resources so that you control the time and create much needed margins.
  • Establish priorities — Gordon MacDonald wrote the book, “Ordering Your Private World.” Even if you’ve never heard of the book, just consider the title as an invitation to establish priority over the demands that challenge your resources.
  • Work from your strengths — When we know what we’re to do, and we’ve established their priorities, a good practice is to align tasks with your key strengths, and work from there. There are some things at which we are very good, and our skills are capable of producing results in a reasonable amount of time.
  • End wellObviously, we all put off doing the chores we do not like. Here’s a suggestion: never let that list accumulate. Tackle it as soon as you can. You’ll feel better about finishing that task, and you can reward yourself for a job well done.

Of course there are many other ways to create margins in your life. The person without margins is not only harried and hurried, but depleting valuable reserves that contribute to personal satisfaction and happiness.

Good luck to you in following some simple steps to reintroduce margins back into your life!