Tuesday, March 25, 2014

5 Minute Reflection #14.10: Jargon, Brand Names And The Obfuscation of The Important

The letters and words of our language can be arranged in countless combinations. In spite of that theoretical possibility, sometimes words are re-used in surprising ways and abbreviations and acronyms mean different things in different contexts. Sometimes, in our Orwellian technologically immersive culture, we approach the limits of language to say what we mean without extra effort to establish context, especially where technical jargon, brand names and other usage patterns reinvent words and reshape their meanings.

Case in point: Microsoft Office - Project. While having lunch, I noticed something about MS-Project on the TV in the restaurant. Really? Microsoft is running a commercial for their project management software? That seems awfully expensive for a niche title. They rarely run commercials for the common MS-Office titles like MS-Word or MS-Excel

I looked more closely. The graphic on the TV referred to The MS Project, not MS-Project. The MS Project is a collection of things created to raise awareness about something really important - Multiple Sclerosis. Consisting of a book, a website, apparel, and an iPhone app these elements are bringing renewed attention to this serious disease, educating people, and creating community among its sufferers, their families and others. 

How inconsequential does MS-Project seem by comparison to The MS-Project? For more information visit, The MS Project on the web. (http://themsproject.com) In the meantime, I'll try to be more careful and not let important things elude my attention just because they sound like something else.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

When #tech makes it easy peasy lemon squeezy

If you're immersed in technology as many of us are, with smartphones, smart TVs, smart meters, tablets, laptops, desktops, fitness bracelets and ubiquitous connectivity, you probably have days when none of it seems to work as it should. The effort required to get it to work as you need it to seems like a very poor investment. You just want to through it all in the street and drive over it repeatedly with your pickup truck.

On the other hand, there are days when all of this works harmoniously in a symphony of orchestrated people, processes and technologies to accomplish tasks large and small. The other evening I was finishing a client presentation and printed a few paper copies to bring to the meeting the next day. From my laptop somewhere downstairs, I sent the job to my printer somewhere upstairs. While the printer was doing what printers do, it sent an alert to my laptop that the yellow ink was low - not empty, just low. It even sent me a link to the manufacturer's web site where I could order more yellow ink. I followed the link and checked the price. Then, with a quick copy and paste of the part number, I checked the price for the same item on Amazon.com where it was offered for about 10% less. Thanks to my Amazon Prime membership, two-day shipping was free. I hit the "Buy Now with 1-click" button and that was that, in less than a minute.

Two days later, my yellow ink cartridge arrived at the front door. That's how all of this stuff is supposed to work. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

5 Minute Reflection #14.09: Blessed Are The Cool Kids

The cool kids at NBC Chicago Channel 5 TV
Who are the "cool kids"?

The Cool Kids is an alternative hip hop duo, composed of rappers Antoine "Sir Michael Rocks" Reed and Evan "Chuck Inglish" Ingersoll. 

In high school, the cool kids are the leading athletes, the leading scholars (sometimes) , the prom king and queen and their entourages. They have the teacher's ear. At work, the cool kids have the boss's ear. At church, the cool kids have the pastor's ear. 

The cool kids are the movie stars, the professional athletes, the TV personalities and the hot shot entrepreneurs.

The cool kids are also the teenager who delivers your pizza, the mother of three working the midnight shift at the oatmeal factory, the fellow who dries your windows at the car wash, the soldier, the sailor, the police officer and the flight attendant.The cool kids are everywhere. They serve their country, their families, and you. The cool kids are also the woman at the well, the widow with only pennies to her name, the men on the bridges over the Chicago River, dependent on the generosity of strangers. 

The cool kids are those who serve, those who have served but can no longer serve and those who never could but wanted to.

If we could ask Jesus, "Who are the cool kids"" he might say,
The cool kids are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
The cool kids are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 
The cool kids are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 
The cool kids are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 
The cool kids are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 
The cool kids are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 
The cool kids are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God. 
The cool kids are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
The cool kids are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

5 Minute Reflection #14.08: Change a life in 5 minutes or less

Has a friend or family member ever passed away or left your life permanently in some other way before you had the opportunity or the courage to say something important - something that you now wish you would have said? It happens to all of us. 

I'm not talking about things you think you should have said to make yourself feel better, to vent some anger, or for other negative or self-serving purpose. I'm talking about the short, affirming conversations that can positively change another person's perspective, maybe even alter the trajectory of their life. 

I will be forever grateful for a friend who in about fifteen words and less than ten seconds changed the way I think about my voice, my right to speak up and my self-confidence.

Is there anything like that remaining unsaid between you and a friend, a family member, or anybody else who values your opinion? Think about it. There's probably somebody you should call tomorrow. Maybe there's more than one. Maybe you have a whole list. Spend five minutes right now thinking about it. Then make an appointment with yourself to initiate that conversation. Your investment of five minutes might change a life. Do not delay.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

5 Minute Reflection #14.07: Faith, unmasked

Every day for the last few months I have posted an affirmation of faith via Facebook and Twitter. For the first several weeks it read like, "This day is a gift from God. Let me live like I believe it." In more recent weeks the affirmation contains a tiny but significant difference, "This day is a gift from God. Let me love like I believe it." This shift is simply an acknowledgement of the first and greatest commandments, "Love God. Love Others."

You might ask, how sincere can these affirmations be? Is it really possible to live and love consistently and with such a spirit of gratitude day in and day out? Could these sayings be a sort of mask? Could I be hiding my doubts and uncertainties?

Here's how this works. Of course I have doubts and uncertainties from time to time. No thinking person of faith has no doubts. No honest, thinking person of faith should claim to have no doubts. That would be a mask. Billy Graham has said, "“Doubts are a normal part of life. We doubt things on earth, so its easy to doubt things of God.” In fact, doubts are necessary to the definition of faith. Logically, if we can prove something beyond all doubt, faith is unnecessary. So faith is a choice, a decision that what is believed and hoped for is more compelling and of greater value than the alternative presented by doubt.

Lee Strobel says, “For many Christians, merely having doubts of any kind can be scary. They wonder whether their questions disqualify them being a follower of Christ. They feel insecure because they’re not sure whether it’s permissible to express uncertainty about God, Jesus, or the Bible." What happens when we give in to that fear and put on the "no doubts" mask? Strobel says, "they keep their questions to themselves and inside, unanswered." Their unanswered questions "grow and fester . . . until they eventually succeed in choking out their faith.”

There it is. No masks. No pretending that I never, ever have any doubts. Even so, I choose faith and I choose to affirm it every day.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1 NIV)

A useful although relatively inactive site about dealing with doubt is here: Dealing With Doubt
"This day is a gift from God. Let me live like I believe it."  is borrowed from Mark Elfstrand, former host of The Morning Ride on WMBI-FM. Mark used to sign off every morning saying ""This day is a gift from God. Let's live like we believe it." You can find Mark's blog here: The Way WE Work

Monday, March 10, 2014

5 Minute Reflection #14.06: Do you think God sits in a box seat?

All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone. - Blaise Pascal

“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace." (Matthew 6:5-6 The Message)

 What if you spent some time alone with God today?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

5 Minute Reflection #14.05: Every great dream begins with a dreamer.

Harriet Tubman passed away 101 years ago today. We know that she was born between 1819 and 1825, but we don't know exactly when. Tubman herself didn't know. Having been born into slavery, she was a nobody. Of her own origins she said, "I grew up like a neglected weed - ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it."

Tubman escaped slavery and made at least nineteen missions to rescue more than 300 slaves through the network of abolitionists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. She helped John Brown recruit men for the raid on Harpers Ferry.

During the American Civil War, Tubman was a cook and nurse for the Union Army, and later an armed scout and spy. She was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war, guiding the Combahee River Raid, which liberated more than 700 slaves in South Carolina. 

In the post-war era Tubman worked with Susan B. Anthony in the struggle for women's suffrage. A lifelong Christian, Tubman was heavily involved with the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Although she spent most of her life in poverty, going mostly unpaid for her service to others and with no meaningful compensation for her service to the Union Army, she eventually owned a parcel of land which she gave to the church in 1903 for a home for "aged and indigent colored people."

By the time of her death in 1913, she had become recognized as one of the greatest civilian leaders in American history with stature equal to names like Paul Revere and Betsy Ross. She was buried with full military honors in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York.

"Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world."

"I'm going to hold steady on you and you've got to see me through." - Harriet Tubman's Prayer

Saturday, March 8, 2014

5 Minute Reflection #14.04: Messages To A Time We Will Not See

This post is a little different than most of mine. It's not like an essay with a beginning, middle and end. Instead it is a collection of thoughts and images about children. In some cases the ideas are familiar. In some cases, the contrast between one image and another is jarring. Most who read this are in a position to make a difference in the life of at least one child. Draw your own conclusions about what that means.

"Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see." John W. Whitehead
"Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you." - Khalil Gibran
Children are the future of civilization, or humanity, or whatever you want to call it. Without a future, civilization is without purpose. 
"It is more than existence and reproduction - it is about living - there is a joy to existence and children enrich the experience - we are all social beings and gather and interact well beyond the exigencies of existence - there is a nurturing side to us that relishes sharing our inner selves." - D. R. Guzmán

Mumbai (The Guardian)
"God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them." - Bono

"A person's a person, no matter how small." - Dr. Seuss

"How is it that something so simple as a baby's smile can just make my heart want to burst?" - Tamara Ahmed

More than a million Syrian children are refugees.
Photograph: Nabil Mounzer/EPA via The Guardian
"The Syrian children refugee crisis is an embarrassment to humanity."- Harry Tucker

"One father in Zaatari (Lebanon) refugee camp was so worried about the safety of his daughters he made them stay in their tent for the entire month they lived in the camp. Noor, 13, and her sister passed the time playing with rocks." - The Guardian

Photo courtesy Tamara Ahmed
What do we see when we look at a sleeping baby? A totally dependent, totally trusting human being, a reflection of the position of every one of us enjoys before God when we acknowledge Him.

"People brought babies to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. When the disciples saw it, they shooed them off. Jesus called them back. “Let these children alone. Don’t get between them and me. These children are the kingdom’s pride and joy. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” (Luke 18:15-17 The Message)

The difference that you make in the life of a child today is the message that you send to the future.

Friday, March 7, 2014

5 Minute Reflection #14.03: Why You Are Here

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,  

Salt and Light

Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. 

A City On A Hill

Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16, The Message) 

  • Be salt and light. Let your light shine.
  • Share the good news. Don't hide it like a secret.
  • Be open and generous with your lives.

That's why you are here.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

5 Minute Reflection #14.02: If You See Something, Say Something

"If you see something, say something." We hear that continuously in airports, train stations and other public places. It's about fighting terrorism. It's about trusting no person, no parcel, no behavior that appears out of place. It's also about resisting the temptation to look the other way, the temptation to avoid involvement. 

Today is the 30th anniversary of the death of Martin Niemöller, a German Lutheran pastor known for his outspoken pacifism. Ironically, Niemöller was a successful and decorated U-Boat commander in World War I. After the war, following in his father's footsteps, he took a sharp turn and was ordained a Lutheran Minister in 1924. Niemöller wrote about this journey in a book called, Vom U-Boot zur Kanzel (From U-boat to Pulpit). 

First a supporter of Hitler and the Third Reich, he took another sharp turn and became an outspoken opponent. Niemöller was arrested several times and spent eight years in concentration camps until the liberation of Dachau in 1945. He was a contemporary and colleague of theologians Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the Confessional Church and the Pastors' Emergency League, respectively. For his anti-Nazi activities, Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging in the Flossenbürg concentration camp at dawn on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before the camp's liberation. 

Niemöller has been criticized for early alignment with Hitler and for various apparently anti-Semitic statements. However, former cellmate Leo Stein having escaped to America, wrote a 1941 article about Niemöller for The National Jewish Monthly. Stein's article suggests that Niemöller's repudiation of the Nazi Regime and all of its policies was ultimately complete and unequivocal. Nevertheless, Niemöller himself never denied his own guilt during the early years of the Nazi regime. In 1959, asked about his former attitudes by Alfred Wiener, a Jewish researcher into racism and war crimes, Niemöller stated that his eight-year imprisonment by the Nazis became the sharp turning point in his life, after which he viewed things differently.

Today, Niemöller is remembered for the following saying:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out — 
because I was not a communist;

Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — 

because I was not a socialist;

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — 

because I was not a trade unionist;

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — 

because I was not a Jew;

Then they came for me — 

and there was no one left to speak out for me.
May I suggest two points of reflection?

  1. Never be afraid to take a sharp turn in your point of view. It would be a shame to require seven years in a concentration camp to rise above the fog.
  2. If you see something, say something.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

5 Minute Reflection #14.01: A Perfect Day For A Funeral

Every once in a while the distinctions blur between symbols and the things they represent. Metaphors materialize and ordinary events take on transcendent meaning. I attended a funeral this morning. It was a perfect day for it - heavy snow showers, a blustery wind and bitter cold. Colorless buildings, roads, cars, and pedestrians were dimly seen through the falling snow under a canvas painted in shades of white and gray stretched from horizon to horizon. It was the kind of day that makes mourning easy. It was also Ash Wednesday, for Christians an observance and reminder of human mortality - ashes to ashes and dust to dust.
By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken;for dust you are and to dust you will return. (Genesis 3:19 NIV)
Yet, we believe that this is not the end of the story. Although we live in the shadow of the winter and death, we look ahead with hope to the of end of winter, to the Resurrection and ultimately to a "new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade." (1 Peter 1:3-4)