Hear All Sides

28 07 2012

I served as a pastor in three different church staff positions over the course of about sixteen years.  One learns many different things in the pastoral role.  How to wear many hats.  How to multi-task.  How to inspire a volunteer work pool to assist the community of faith.

Frequently, as any pastor knows, you are called upon to mediate conflicts in one form or an other.  A lot of these are marital; some are between estranged friends; others involve attempts to resolve some dispute as peacefully and equitably as possible.

One core value you learn rapidly is this: There are always two sides to any story.  And it is part of fallen human nature to paint our own side of a matter in the rosiest hues possible.  We all have blind spots.  Knowing this reality and acting on it will save you lots of headache and frustration.

There’s a proverb in the Bible that goes like this: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17)  There is a reason why cross-examination is foundational to our legal system, why rebuttal is a cornerstone of debate.  It’s simply this: Words are powerful and through their skillful or crafty use, you can make a logical case for lots of things—even reprehensible things.

St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, had a method for dealing with theological  propositions.  He’d state a thesis first.  Then he would amass every conceivable argument against the thesis he sought to prove.  Finally, he’d deliver his arguments in support of the thesis.

We face things daily that require the hard work of thinking thoroughly and soberly in order to come to the truth.  One of the most healthy things you can do is subject your cherished beliefs and convictions to the “devil’s advocate” test.  Are you bold enough to look at the arguments of the other side in order to see things differently?

Here’s a couple of teasers to think through:

  • How much do you really know about the Trayvon Williams shooting? Facts, not protests.
  • Compare the behavior of the Occupy Wall Street protesters versus that of the Tea Party protesters.  Which group came down as more civil and law-abiding?
  • Compare the behavior of media personalities Lawrence O’Donnell, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow with that of Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck.  Any similarities? (Disclosure: I am not a fan of any of these people. Not even a little.)
  • Has the reporting of popular media outlets been equally balanced in the matters of the foul-mouthed controversial utterances of Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher toward Susan Fluke and Sarah Palin?
  • If executive competence were a prerequisite for the Presidency, of these three, who best met the requirement–Barack Obama, George W. Bush or Bill Clinton?

I’ve not given my own opinion on the above questions because the purpose of this post is to make you think.  (Don’t bother guessing where I’m at on these—you might be surprised!)

It takes hard work and brutal honesty to really come to a balanced understanding of so much that goes on in our world.  If you are lazy and want to believe a) mainstream news media outlets from MSNBC to FoxNews or b) your own untested and unexamined prior commitments, you will be in for a rough ride.  Simplistic thinking hurts you.  It just does.

A caveat:  Before you come down on one side or the other of some issue, take the advice of Chuck Missler.

Do your homework.

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Rainy Days

26 07 2012

“I went to bed and woke in the middle of the night thinking I heard someone cry, thinking I myself was weeping, and I felt my face and it was dry.

Then I looked at the window and thought: Why, yes, it’s just the rain, the rain, always the rain, and turned over, sadder still, and fumbled about for my dripping sleep and tried to slip it back on.”

–Ray Bradbury

It finally rained today.  After about a month and a half.  Not a drizzle or a teaser.  But a slow, lingering, chronic, soaking rain.  The kind that gives the ground a drink and the bees the day off.

Rainy days undoubtedly give off a different ambiance.  One of shade, reflection and slowing of pace.  Rainy days are fine days for thinking, reading, slowing down and soaking in—just like the ground.

Sometimes it takes a drought for us to appreciate the importance of rainfall.  Or, for that matter, a generous amount of snowfall in winter.  It all helps the vegetation and the water table.  And water is a necessity, not a luxury.

So here’s to rainy days.  They don’t necessarily have to get you down.

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Chapters

24 07 2012

Today is a bittersweet one for our family.  A new chapter looms before my wife and I.  For me, it will involve a return to two familiar places—graduate school to finish my Master’s degree and the pastorate.  For my wife, continued growth—including college—in her varied artistic pursuits.

This new chapter also involves a move about 90 miles south of our home in the historic Thousand Islands region of northern New York.  And so, fittingly, we’ve worked very hard this summer and today put our house on the market.

It is a poignant and difficult thing.  Our girls grew up in this home which we bought right after the Twin Towers fell in New York City.  It is a place stained with memories both joyful and sorrowful.  As we returned home from town this evening, we were met with the tearful embrace of our eldest daughter as she realized our home will soon become home to another family.  Sigh.

It is a solid old Victorian farm house in a small country hamlet.  It was built in 1914, the year the Great War commenced.  One learns that it is the people and the love they share that make a house a home.  Ours is no exception.

We would appreciate your prayers for us as we launch into this next phase of our lives.  Prayers for the sale of the house.  Prayers for effectiveness and growth as we journey on to new vistas, new experiences, and new friends.  Prayers for the emotional ebb and flow that accompanies such a big step.

We are excited for these new “lines in the book of our lives” (apologies to Dan Fogelberg) that are, even now, being written.

And yet….bittersweet.

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Fight!

21 07 2012

Life is many things to all of us.  Adventure.  Journey.  Wonder.

And battle.

One key to winning in life is to remind oneself that for every human being, life is often a great battlefield.  For America’s finest, it is the War on Terror.  For others, perhaps a conflict for something good and noble in the face of evil and tyranny.  For some of us, the war for ideas in the political, economic or ecclesiastical arenas.  And all of us, in one way or another, must fight daily for our hearts.

Discouragement is not the only foe that seeks to silence the heart of man.  Mediocrity ranks up there as well, as does failure.

Remember this: A Hall of Fame baseball player does well at bat only 35% of the time.  Failure is never fatal unless you agree to let it be.  Thomas Edison had hundreds of such failures before he perfected the incandescent light bulb.  President Abraham Lincoln suffered numerous defeats before ascending the halls of power in Congress and, ultimately, the White House.

You may have lost the skirmish but the war is not over.  Far from it.  Pick yourself up, dust your uniform and plunge into the battle once again.  These timeless words of Shakespeare will give you pluck and resolve.

KING HENRY V:
”Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’”

Keep fighting, soldier.  People are depending on you.

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The Steve Vai Method

19 07 2012

In a week I will be playing guitars in the pit band for a local production of “River” themes on the St. Lawrence River.  We will be playing everything from Henry Mancini (“Moon River”) to Adele (“Rolling In The Deep”) to James Taylor (“The Water Is Wide”).  There is a wide and varied palette ahead for this show.  It should be a lot of fun

Playing in these shows is always a challenge.  I read music and that has helped me get these roles, which are a privilege.  I get to work with outstanding musicians.

This past month I’ve spent hours going through the scores—a piano reduction and guitar lead sheets, learning parts and rhythms.  It puts one through the paces to be sure.

This music is challenging and multi-faceted.   Most Broadway music–which comprises the bulk of the show–is.  It calls for focus and discipline, something I have to work at every day.  As I finished practiced tonight, I was again reminded of Steve Vai and his unbelievable work ethic regarding his art.

Steve used to divide his days up into twelve hours for guitar practice.  He may still be doing so.  Three hours for scales and modes, three hours for other things, and so forth.  If you’ve ever seen or heard Steve play, he is an extreme guitarist.  He does things most guitarists wouldn’t dare attempt.  His chops are precise, fluid and varied.  His execution of musical passages flawless.  His tones exotic, to say the least.

Vai’s genius, like Mozart and Tiger Woods, is rooted in deliberate practice.  Focus.  Distractions eliminated strategically.

He’s a graduate of the Berklee School of Music, so he knows music.  When he was breaking into the business over thirty years ago, he would transcribe the music and guitar solos of Frank Zappa—a musical genius in his own right.  And these transcriptions, of all parts in the songs, were written not as tablature (tabs) but as music proper.  That is an incredible feat in itself.  He eventually gave them to Zappa and worked with him.  The video below shows Steve playing and sharing about focus and practice.

Once again we are reminded that the key to mastery of any thing to which we aspire is time, focus and discipline.  Christopher Parkening, classical guitar virtuoso, once said, “You will always pay the full price for excellence.  It is never discounted.”

What things are you good and gifted at?  What kinds of changes can you make in their practice to take your skills to the level of virtuosity?  Are you up to the challenge?

I bet you are.

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High Self Confidence Is A Curse? Yep….

17 07 2012

My friend David Kanigan shared this fascinating post on his site today. Takes another look at the high versus low self-confidence debate. Really puts things in perspective. Enjoy!

Live & Learn

atelophobia

Yes, the old saw is at it again.  New research is turning over on its back yet more conventional wisdom.  Many of my emotional shortcomings (short fuse/anger), phobias, indulgences (salt) are proving to be either normal or critical to success – I knew I just had to wait it out…

This time it’s Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, an international authority in personality profiling and psychometric testing who posts “Less Confident People Are More Successful” in the HBR Blog Network.  (Important Disclosure: HBR could post just about anything…unicorns, Sasquatch, Ogo Pogo, mermaids – – and I’m a buyer.) Here’s some excerpts from his post:

“…There is no bigger cliché in business psychology than the idea that high self-confidence is key to career success. It is time to debunk this myth. In fact, low self-confidence is more likely to make you successful…”

“…After many…

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Mastery

15 07 2012

I watched an interview several months ago with legendary recording engineer and producer Andy Johns (shown in the above photo).  He sat behind the mixing desk for a lot very famous rock and roll albums.  Seminal Led Zeppelin albums (II, III, IV, Physical Graffiti). Rolling Stones (Exile on Main Street, Sticky Fingers, and others).  Plus a host of great artists.  Rod Stewart, Eddie Money, Blind Faith, Joe Cocker.  The list is endless.

In the course of the interview, Andy discussed microphone placement on drums and guitar amps.  I’ve spent a very modest amount of time in recording studios over the past 31 years, not least with the inimitable Peter Hopper, veteran who has engineered over 6000 recordings and worked with the best in the music business.  I must tell you I’ve been highly privileged to see that skilled engineers are a breed apart.

Garage Band® and Pro Tools® can give musicians an incredible palette with which to create.  What these and other technological marvels cannot give is expertise–the knowledge gained by spending years and years behind a recording console.  Knowing which mics to use and exactly how to place them.  It makes all the difference in the world.   Great engineers and producers know these and a thousand other things.  Read Making Records: The Scenes Behind the Music (Phil Ramone & Charles Granata) for a lot more.

What is their secret?  Mastery

We have a cliché we use about people who dabble in all sorts of things: “He’s a jack-of-all-trades, master of none.”  It’s not very complimentary.  There is something majestic and profoundly inspiring when you are in the presence of a master.  Someone who knows his craft cold.  Can answer any question.

To become a master, a journeyman in any discipline takes long years of diligent effort.  You’ve got to love what you do.  As a friend of mine has said many times, “If you love something, it will show you its secrets.”

Here are some things to ponder:

  • What do you love so much that you’d do it without pay?  Remember it was Babe Ruth who was overwhelmed by the fact he was getting a salary to play baseball.  A master who made history.  Pay attention to what you do in your free time.  It is a clue.
  • Go to those who know.  To learn from the best is both fruitful and incredibly efficient.  To reinvent the wheel is foolish and a waste of time.  Study at the feet of the masters.  I’ve learned guitar from Jimmy Page, Phil Keaggy, Julian Bream and Wes Montgomery.  I’ve studied Bible with Arthur W. Pink, Adam Clarke and Scott Hahn.  I’ve honed my writing with the aid of Strunk & White, Sol Stein, George Will and Chaim Potok.
  • Work very hard and never, ever lose your hunger.  Complacency will neuter you.  Coasting will set you back.  Resting on your laurels will make you a has-been.  Seek to learn something new every single day.

Excellence and expertise come at a price.  It costs one’s life but is a sound investment!

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