Author: Random Handyman

With our Lord Jesus as the Savior Carpenter, then I am merely a random handyman, following along after Him; learning to use a small set of tools He's given me; helping Him build His Kingdom on Earth.

On Becoming A Renaissance Man: The Book of the Life My Dad Lived

Wood block with pencil self portrait ready for woodcut

A Self Portrait of the Artist

My Dad, Georges B. Bishop, died Dec. 20, 2013, at 74 years of age.  Unassuming and sometimes curmudgeonly, he was also a noble gentleman and a scholar who was loved and admired by his family, friends and all who met him.  These sentiments are overdue for sharing, and are offered with love and admiration, in honor of his memory and of his life.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” my Dad would ask me.  I don’t know for sure which of the two of us was so interested in the topic, but for as many times as we talked about it, at least one of us was.

“I dunno,” came my typical kid answer, as I twirled a wood pencil in my hands, trying to think of something cool to draw.  “Maybe a comic book artist?” I offered.  I started to draw something that might have looked like Spider Man.

“That sounds neat,”  he said, taking a draw from a Kent III cigarette.

At that point, my pencil went in its own direction, and Spider Man suddenly had a horn on his head.  In my anger, the drawing became another paper wad, flung hard to the floor with the others sent there earlier.  I thought about breaking my pencil, too, but I knew there’d be other drawings to make later.  So I just threw it to the floor, too, crossed my arms, and turned away.  I’d never be a comic book artist.  I’d never be any kind of artist.  Not like my Dad.

I sat and pouted, but no one bit.  So my mind wandered.

“I think I want to be a pilot,” I said.  I’m certain that I’d seen Top Gun recently.

“That sounds cool,” Dad said.  “You have to be pretty good at math, though,” he added.

“Maybe an architect?” I said.  That trip to our cousins’ in Chicago had made an impression on me.

Dad chuckled and exhaled smoke through his nostrils.

“You have to be good at math to be an architect, too,” he said.  “You want to be a lot of different things, don’t you?”

And then he passed on a tiny pearl of wisdom, borne of inspiration and experience.

“I think what you want to be is a Renaissance Man.”

Indeed, as he explained what a Renaissance Man was, I knew two things: First, that my Dad was already one.  And second: that I wanted to be one, too.

~

A Renaissance Man is someone who has mastered — and who effortlessly employs — a wide variety of skills,  This was the ideal person of the Renaissance period, which spawned “universities” to train all of its students to this standard: to have “universal” qualifications across many different areas of knowledge.

If Dad, who passed away in December, had written an account of his life, the book could have the same title as this essay: On Becoming a Renaissance Man.  He’d recount many of his life’s accomplishments, if not also a few adventures, and in doing so, he’d spell out the how-to-do-it that he did.  With only the lessons that he passed on by example, here’s the rough outline of the lessons of his life:

1) Be curious.  That’s how you get started down any given path — you are intrigued by it.  You look into it.  You ask questions about it.  You try it.  You get stuck.  You keep trying it.  You ask for help.  Then you do it.  You’re doing it.  You’ve mastered it.  You are it.  But it all started by FIRST being curious about it.  Dad had an insatiable curiosity, and you knew he was interested in something when he’d say, “Hey, that’s really neat.”

2) Be a lifelong learner.    When I left for college, Dad was at the age where he could get free cups of coffee at McDonalds.  I was the learner, he was the learned, defined as one who has already learned all that he needed to know.

That’s when he took a night class on wood carving offered by the park board.  To my knowledge, all he ever carved was his little version of the Travelocity Gnome.  But while he was there, he found out about a clock repair class.   Look around his home 20 years later, and you know where that took him.  A six week class to learn to carve in the round put him onto a path that arguably led to one of his greatest passions — and areas of expertise.  One curiosity led to another, and learning was the means of satisfying that interest.

3) Be somewhat OCD.  In the trades, they call it craftsmanship.  In manufacturing they call it quality.  In mental health, they call it OCD.  That’s what we called Dad, too.  But I don’t think you can be a bona fide Renaissance Man without mastering the various crafts you choose — indeed, after accomplishing one’s universal education, a medieval student would attend additional schooling where he’d “master” a specific skill — and thus, today’s master’s degree programs.

To be a master requires dedication and focus and continuous improvement.  You must maintain very high standards for yourself and your work and your finished products.  Clambering 25 feet in the air on a rickety aluminum scaffolding in the blistering summer sun, Dad used a heat gun and a putty knife to remove 120 years of layered, accumulated paint from every 2-inch board of siding.  He set and countersunk every nail.  He putty-filled thousands of nail holes.  He used the best quality oil-based primer and paint he could get.  Take a look at his masterpiece 15 years later, and it’s still held up to time.  His own minor Mona Lisa.  For Dad, call it OCD, but there was only one way to do things: the right way.  Which, as he’d tell you, was also his way.

4) Pace yourself.  You can do it all.  But even if you lean in, you simply can’t do it all at once.  Prioritize what you want to do.  Sequence things so you are building on other skills and accomplishments.  And as Dad sought to do, work to get some commercial wins to provide time-and-money capital for other less remunerative pursuits.

Looking back on my life thus far, and comparing it to his — there’s a list of skills, roles and jobs Dad performed at the bottom of this essay — clearly I’m no Renaissance Man like my Dad was.  But the lessons he left are widely applicable to all, whether you aspire to that standard or not.

There’s a final lesson from Dad, which I learned from his life post humously, that is necessary to any who would aspire to follow in his footsteps.  It’s this:

5) Get on with it, now!  While Dad lived a long life, and did some incredible things — created amazing works — there were still so many things he wanted to do.  He told of wanting to finish a few new projects.  At the end of his years, he selflessly cared for others, which was also one of his beloved Renaissance Man roles.  But his cataracts stole his sight, age took the steadiness from his grip, and cancer sapped his strength.  He had some unfinished business that tragically remains unfinished.

The lesson for each of us is clear: sharpen your pencil, get a new piece of paper, and get busy.  There’s a lot of life to live, but if you want to give it all your very best, and if you want to get everything you can out of it, then you’ve got to get on with living it.

Just like Dad did.

A List of Dad’s (Known) Vocations and Avocations:

– Veterinary assistant
– Chicken slaughterer
– Air Force Airman / Korea
— Computer system repairman
— Blackjack dealer
– Fine artist
— Wood block prints
— Watercolors
— Airbrush
— Silversmithing
— Enameling
– Entrepreneur
– Graphic Artist
– Framer
– Salesman
– Teacher
– Cubmaster
– Handyman — plumber, electrician, carpenter, painter, roofer, etc
– Shadetree mechanic
– Wood carver
– Clock repairer
– Collector
– Historian
– Husband and caregiver

And of course:
– Father

THE END
Copyright 2014

Other essays in honor of the memory of my Mom, Dorothy M. Bishop, and of my father-in-law, Jack G. Shannon, can be found at the links.

~

Deep Thoughts From the Shallow End of the Pool features essays from PR, business, and life — which means they might be as random as any of the rest of the content on this site!

Thankful to Those Who Would Stop to Thank a Uniform

I’m proud to serve as a public affairs officer in the Missouri Air National Guard, and experienced the following during my recent annual tour of duty in 2014.

It’s 6:15 p.m. at the Wal-Mart in the small central Missouri town of Warrensburg. Aisle 17, Health and Beauty. A woman pushes her cart toward me; in the seat, a young child – perhaps her grandson – squirms; he’s had his fill of shopping. The woman tries to catch my eye. When she does, she smiles and says, “Thank you. Thank you for serving our country, Soldier.”

I smile back, a bit embarrassed and maybe a little ashamed, before replying with an obligatory, “You’re welcome.”

You see, she doesn’t know that I’m a new Guardsman; I’ve only been back in the uniform for about a year. I’ve never deployed in it, haven’t yet pulled state emergency duty in it. I drive across the state, train and go home. I work hard, but most of the time it doesn’t feel like I’m serving my country or my state.

Being in the Guard, the minimum standard calls us to wear the uniform one weekend per month, and two weeks per year. My identity, therefore, is more often associated with my day-to-day job than it is with this part-time job.

And right now, my co-workers back home are carrying my load while I serve.
And of course I’m not a Soldier, I’m an Airman, but that doesn’t matter – camouflage makes everyone look like a Soldier. I’ve learned that Soldier is simply short-hand for Servicemember.

These are the thoughts that cross my mind as I accept what feels like unwarranted gratitude. She doesn’t see that I don’t necessarily feel like the well-starched, “capital-A” Airman that she sees before her in Aisle 17.

But maybe she does. Maybe she correctly sees me as I am.

Maybe she has a nephew or a daughter serving in uniform. Maybe right now, while talking to me in the Wal-Mart, she’s worried about a husband deployed to Afghanistan, doing a job that I might find myself doing in only a few months.

Maybe her home was once spared from a flood by thousands of sandbags stacked by others who also wear my uniform.

Or maybe she has a more abstract understanding of that uniform; an abstract appreciation for the value the uniform represents. Maybe for her it represents security and freedom – rights that Americans enjoy and that we strive to provide to others around the world.

I honestly don’t know why she stopped to say thank you. That probably doesn’t matter, though. I would do my job with integrity, excellence and service, with or without a thank you in Aisle 17. To do so is simply my duty as an American Airman serving in uniform in the Air National Guard. It’s the standard we all keep.

But the thank you is rejuvenating, like a big bottle of SportzAid on Aisle 12. It’s a fuel booster in my tank from the Automotive Department. It will help propel me forward, and will help me to do it with good cheer.

Ma’am, wherever you are right now, you are quite welcome. And in turn, to you and to all American citizens, co-workers and community members who loyally and unflinchingly support our nation’s Citizen Airmen and Soldiers serving in uniform at home and abroad:

“Thank you.”

THE END
Copyright 2014

~

Deep Thoughts From the Shallow End of the Pool features essays from PR, business, and life — which means they might be as random as any of the rest of the content on this site!

‘Been Couraged’

BEEN COURAGED

I might have misunderstood the assignment …

Our associate pastor recently said for many of us what we’d all been thinking and feeling: the rancor and overexposure and pettiness of social media — heavier than ever, and as often from Christ followers as from others — was getting him down.  The message certainly resonated with me, as I’d been sucked into exchanges with friends, family members and distant associates alike over the recent Supreme Court decision for Hobby Lobby.  Confused, bitter and hurt, I wanted to withdraw, lick my wounds and perhaps never return …

Also tempted to quit, Rev. Troy instead challenged himself, and the congregation, to turn up the dimmer switch on our lights instead of retreating from the darkness.  The rules of his challenge are simple: At least once a day, use a social network to be humorous-but-tactful; to encourage others; to share scripture about God’s goodness; or to share the Gospel.

So at risk of explaining the joke, here’s a go at what tickled me as funny that will maybe encourage you: when I first read the instruction to mark each post with the hashtag #cc-beencouraged, I read it as “been couraged”” instead of “be encouraged!”  On reflection, though, I think there’s every bit as powerful a Gospel message in the mis-read as there is in the original.  My faith has driven fear far away, replacing it with courage that comes from the confidence of being in His eternal care.

While I’ll have to work harder on being encouraged this summer, I’m pretty blitzed to simply have been couraged right now.

Watch for the hashtag #cc-beencouraged for more, and feel free to give the challenge a try yourself!

THE END
Copyright 2014

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The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

Becoming a Random Handyman: A Testimonial

As a kid, I thought Jesus had abandoned me. Left me to my poverty and to my insecurities and to my unrequited desires.

We were less than “Christmas-Easter” Christians; the faith of my elders — in our home — was more of the “Shut up while your Grandpa says Grace!” type.

Because we’d never really been introduced, we were strangers, Jesus and I. But I had an innate yearning to find Him and know Him.

I was on my paper route under overcast skies one day; I might have been 10. I stopped dragging my paper-laden wagon and looked to Heaven.

“God, if you’re real, send down a bolt of lightning over there!” I directed. I waited. Of course I waited. I’m not the boss of God, and as much as I believe that He, too, wanted to know me, it would never be on my terms like that.

Being a good person, I decided to give Him another chance. I wrote Him a letter. I took it to the backyard and buried it. I waited. Nothing happened. Again.

Of course nothing happened. I can’t remember what I wrote or what was supposed to happen. I don’t know why I thought that the wretched dirt of our urban garden was a supernatural post office (we didn’t know about owls back then). Kids have funny ideas anyway, but I had no basis of faith to compare my ideas to.

Fast forward a few years — to high school — to find a kid who was too open-minded for God, too good for God, too rotten for God and too smart for God. I did what, to a 16-year-old, felt like an “in-depth and thorough critical inquiry,” into the faith of my nation. But really, it was just superficial rock throwing at the edifice of Christianity:

“How can god be if he’d let the world be so rotten? Why do god’s people rape and pillage and kill in his name? And why is the bible any more legit than any other religious or scientific answer to who and what and why?” I supplied the questions, with a cynical sneer, and then I applied a 16-year-old’s answers. With the process done to my own satisfaction, I made up my mind: there would be no more proof tests, no more letters, no more questioning. I decided, and I got on with living.

Sometimes, meeting Jesus for the first time takes on the feel of a multilevel marketing pitch.

Though I gave up on Him, Jesus never gave up on me. Eventually, I got another chance to meet Him. Sometimes, meeting Jesus for the first time takes on the feel of a multilevel marketing pitch. A friend or acquaintance gets sucked in and gets excited, and she wants to build her network — at your expense. That’s kinda how it was with Tina, my college girlfriend, and I:

“Hey Jeff, get over here!” I want you to meet a great guy. His name’s Jesus! I’m in this great program with Him, and He wants you to get in on it, too!” You approach warily, afraid that by the end of the evening, you’ll have a new water softener, $1,500 less in your account, and a commitment to sell additional units to at least five other suckers in your circle of friends and family.

I remained skeptical, even after she introduced us. But I was into her, so I asked her questions. We went to movies and dinners, and I went with her to church. We debated our different takes on ancient history and interpretations of her faith experiences. But the more time that we spent time together — the three of us — the more I kinda liked having The Guy around.

As things between us — the two of us now — got more serious, they got a little eerie, too. In a good way, of course. As we got to know one another better, we discovered odd coincidences. Or signs. You decide:

– We each came from large families of similar make-up. She has four sisters and two brothers. I have four brothers and a sister

– My siblings and I have identical initials: JMB. Same with (Chris)Tina and her sisters: CLS

– Both our fathers were in the Korean War. And had no other service

There were other eerie commonalities not worth sharing, but beyond a dozen or so supernatural coinkydinks, there was plenty more to our deepening relationship to convince me that Tina and I were meant to be together. They didn’t convince me about Him, though. Not then, anyway.

In respect to the spark that started this fire, I never had that flash-bang-bolt-of-lightning, blinding-flash-of-the-obvious conversion. That Damascus Road experience. That 180-degree U-turn in life. That Holy Spirit fire.

Nope. I simply just found myself more open to faith and truth and history and reality every day. So unlike other testifying Christians, I don’t really know at what point I “became” a Christian; I have no birth certificate for the specific day that I was born again. All that I know is that when I dropped out of college early to head off to Air Force Basic Training, the new dog tags dangling around my neck were stamped:

Jeffrey M. Bishop
O Neg
Christian

In turn and in time, Tina and I were married, and we’ve grown our family, our love, and our relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ every day since.

Today, I’m proud to witness as a fearfully and wonderfully made Random Handyman, simply striving to follow after the Master Carpenter and to build well in His name with the tools and time that I’ve been given.

THE END
Copyright 2014

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The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

These Kinds of People Attend Church

20140618-222212-80532604.jpg

Categorically, you’ll often find that it’s these kinds of people that attend church with you:

1) Atheists. Atheists usually attend church to make a mockery of it. If this is you, and if you manage to slip out before the offering is taken, then this might be the cheapest form of good entertainment available to you. At best to your purposes, you can find a poor excuse of a church that will confirm all of your biases and notions about Christianity and about Christians. At worst to your aims, you’ll learn something that will rock your worldview anew. You’ve been warned.

2) Seekers. This word describes people who have niggling doubts about their atheism/agnosticism, and who have started the formal process of clearing things up once and for all. Given that this process is usually prompted by the Holy Spirit, the conclusion is forgone. For you, dear soul, resistance is futile — at this point, whether you know it or not, you’re actually church shopping.

3) The Unchurched. This class of attendees can also be described as “Christmas-Easter” Christians. They believe, but they are habitually out of the habit of attending church. You’ll recognize them because even though they move furtively in and out of the building, dodging eyes and trying to pass through unnoticed, they nonetheless know almost everyone, and almost everyone knows them from their years of intermittent attendance. Accordingly, they must suffer exactly what they are trying to avoid: well-intentioned greetings and appeals that they attend more often and return next week.

4) (Just) Born Again. These are brand-new Christians, and they are on fire! There aren’t enough services in the week for these folks, who are looking to learn, serve and steep themselves in all things Jesus.

This is somewhat ironic, because contrary to popular wisdom, precious few souls are actually saved within the walls of a church. That work usually happens, with great mystery, elsewhere – in “the mission field;” by parachurch organizations; and in relationships at work, in social clubs and within families. Of course the people doing the saving outside of church are church people, but that’s not the point.

Once saved, the Holy Spirit stimulates a hunger in a soul: to learn, to worship, to fellowship and to serve – these are the things that the church is really good for; not saving people.

5) Backsliders. This Christianese lingo is an oldie but a goodie. Backsliders are the faithful who have sinned egregiously. They usually stay away from church while stained with the consequences of their sins, so they are often also a part of the Unchurched cohort. Like prodigal sons, they return when they are ready to repent, and usually take on a renewed rigor that makes them behave like Born Agains, again.

6) Seasoned Churchgoers. The “seeker-sensitive” church operates at a Christianity 101 level. Nonetheless, it somehow remains well-stocked with elder statesmen who manage to eke out some new wisdom from the 47th telling of the Jonah story or the 6th Head Pastor to unpack the Sermon on the Mount.

It’s certain that they receive spiritual sustenance elsewhere — probably metaphysically, as they’ve read through the Bible multiple times; have memorized enough verses to give blind Eli a run for his money; they know all the hymns by heart; and have served on every committee in the church (and have both started and shut down a couple-few as well). Nonetheless, for these, the church continues to hold great appeal: it is the entirety of one’s social circle for these “parishioners emeritus.” In the sunset of their lives, it is their time to serve; to give back; to invest in future generations of church members who will follow in their footsteps.

7) The Dead. Final stop between here and eternity. The faithful are ushered out the door by their spiritual leaders, surrounded by loved ones, along with the necro-curious — people mystified or enamored by death and its rituals — and frankly, also the theo-curious: people compelled by the proximity of death to them that they seek to better understand life — and options for eternal life — through church funeral services. Many a conversion has taken place amidst black crepe and sobs of loneliness and despair.

THE END
Copyright 2014

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The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

(We Are) The Body of Christ

Jesus opens robe to show the Body of Christ wear his torso would be

“I work out!”

Define the following Christianese term:

(The) Body (baw – dee):

a. Sadly, what was found in the woods to end the missing person search
b. What wasn’t found in Jesus’ tomb on the first Easter
c. What milk does good
d. Fellowship of Christians who comprise The Church
e.  A dish served at The Last Supper

Correct answers: d and e.

Correct answer: d. The term “the body” has a similar Christianese meaning as the secular term, which describes a group of members, e.g., “The entire school body will be released early Tuesday for a teacher in-service.” Indeed, it might be that The Body as originally used in the Bible is the etymological root of the commonplace term we use today. The Body is a metaphor used in the Bible to describe how the many people of The Church comprise the Body of Christ (with Christ as the Head). The metaphor is particularly useful in that, as Paul unpacks it in 1 Corinthians 12:15-27, he illustrates how each member of the body has specific roles based on how they’ve been endowed by the Creator; that each gift is necessary and valued; and that no gift — and thus no part of the body — is more valued more highly than any other.

Example in use:

“The body should be united in prayer for our nation and her leaders.”

Correct answer: e.  There is a second Christianese definition for “The Body” which for some in The Church is more literal than metaphorical; it refers to the bread that Jesus broke at the Last Supper, which, in Luke 22:19,  he ascribed, saying, “This is my Body given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me,” (New International Version).  There are many in The Church who understand that the Bread that they consume during Eucharist (Holy Communion) sacrament services is the literal Body of Christ.

Example in use:

“Strangely, my gluten intolerance didn’t affect me when I consumed the Body of Christ at Communion this morning!”

THE END
Copyright 2014

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The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

 

Do Church People Baptize Their Dogs?

Dog splashing around in a swimming pool

AMEN!

Well, not really. But that IS a funny idea!

Our “infant” Sadie, a 5-month-old Brittany, took to the water with grace and good cheer, which is normally not the case when a human infant is dropped in the church dunk tank (or sprinkled) in front of a few hundred strangers!

Brittany dog in life vest on deck

Being her first time in the pool, it was a baptism, if in the secular, not spiritual sense.  Beyond a mere style statement, the life jacket is to preserve her mortal being, not her immortal soul.

Maybe if we’d blessed the water first?

THE END
Copyright 2014

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The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

 

Rocks Alive!

Imagining God literally stopping a boulder from smashing a church

In the news recently is the story of a church that was almost bowled over by a large rock that was blasted loose and rolled down a hill toward the building.  Apparently, construction workers on an adjacent site sent the rock tumbling straight toward the church. Incredibly, the 20-ton rock stopped a mere foot away from the wall of the church, preventing certain destruction of the building.

The minister of the church, of course, credits God with saving his building – and with it, the church’s mission as a food pantry for hundreds in the local Saugus, Massachusetts, community. Reading the comments added to the article online, the trolls would have us believe that it was mere physics that stopped the rock. Which one is it?

Nevermind the attestations of faith from those on the video (“Holy sh!t” and “Oh my Lord!”), the theological answer puts the debate to rest immediately. Whether from the hand of God or not, He is always in control.  Our God is sovereign, He made the universe and everything in it. He also dictated the rules by which the universe operates, including gravity, momentum and conservation of energy. He is omniscient, which means he’s all-knowing, all the time. He’s omnipotent, which means he’s all powerful – to cause things, or in this case, to prevent things, according to His will.

Is ours a capricious god who deals with our fate and fortunes in a haphazard, willy-nilly fashion?  Does He prey upon people and cause them injury according to his whims, as the skeptics would suggest?  Not at all!  Rather, in the beginning God created a perfect, peaceful world, free of sin but with the potential for it because of the free will He endowed each of us with.  We all know how Adam regarded that gift (and lest any of us feign self-righteousness, not one among us would have acted differently!).  Fast forward a few millenia, and in today’s chaos-choked, fallen world, bad things happen too often, and often to the most innocent among us.

God didn’t make sin nor it’s consequences — his culpability stops at creating the conditions that allowed us to first choose to bring sin into His creation (the same conditions necessary to allow us to freely choose to worship Him as our Lord and Savior, as opposed to being helplessly compelled to do so).

“Sometimes rocks befall churches; sometimes they don’t.”

Nonetheless, we understand that God can derive the benefit of all things that happen, both good and bad, for his purposes, and can use them to bring Him glory. There was a larger rock slide in Oso, Washington, that swallowed up dozens of homes and buried an unknown large number of people in its muddy, mucky mess.  God didn’t cause this, but in His omnipotence, He let it happen.  Any of us with mortal consciousness will struggle to understand why, beyond simple physics of the situation: a cause (fallen world) and its effect (pain, suffering and strife).  Sometimes God intercedes, and sometimes he doesn’t.

On this side of eternity, we will rarely understand why sometimes bad befalls the good and why sometimes good befalls the bad. Sometimes rocks befall churches; sometimes they don’t.  In all things, God is sovereign and God is good!

“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” — Matthew 5:45, New International Version

THE END
Copyright 2014

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The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

The Big C and the Little C Church

Graphic comparing "church" to "The Church" As a junior newspaper editor in the mid-1990s, I remember editing articles about war crimes trials taking place in Europe. I noticed that I was always having to edit out the word “The” from “The Hague.” Some dingbat journalist clearly was pranking all the hard-working editors in the world. And my boss was in on it, because for every “The” that I removed from “Hague,” he put one back! Soon enough, I figured out that the name of the place is in fact The Hague, which on consideration makes perfect sense. As does “The Wichita” and “The Scranton.”

So if you’re like me, you might think that the only difference between “The Church” and “church” is the first guy’s desire to get rid of extra Scrabble letters. Not so, as I’ve learned. Here’s how I understand the difference:

· The Church is the collective body, across eternal time, of all mankind’s followers of this Guy named Jesus, who earned for us the title Christ. The faithful followers, therefore, are Christ-ians.

· Church, as distinguished from The Church, is the building where church-going Christians get plugged in with each other in order to carry out their faith, as actors of the mission and vision of God.

To unpack it further, and at great risk of muddying what may now be coming clear: Christians are, by definition, elements of The Church. Even those supposed heathens who don’t bring their faith into their neighborhood building with any regularity. To take back an idea that the tech sector borrowed from Christianity: church is the brick-and-mortar outlet of faith, while The Church is in the cloud.

“To take back an idea that the tech sector borrowed from Christianity: church is the brick-and-mortar outlet of faith, while The Church is in the cloud.”

Like football and couch-naps, church happens on Sundays; also like football, it increasingly takes place on other days of the week than just Sunday. Soas to not compete with this other American religion, Christian churches are content with Wednesday and Saturday nights and Sunday mornings and evenings, thus preserving Sunday afternoons and Monday and Thursday nights for the gridiron faithful.

Unfortunately, lots of people have made value judgments about church — about what takes place there and about the types of people who make up the body. To the extent that these value judgments are flawed and negative, likely reflects a lack of first-hand experience in church — although you might be surprised at how many regulars also have a poor opinion.

Our churches, like Solyent Green, are made of people — normal people like you and, ahem, me.  People who are for the most part simply trying to know their Savior better, and to let His Spirit work through them.  As a stiff-necked people, too often we don’t let Him into us, nor into our buildings, but most of the time we’re doing our best.

When it works as planned — when Christians get together with the Holy Spirit in a big building to worship and celebrate — we/they create an otherworldly place: a mystical place with its own customs, music, hierarchies, roles, language and practices. Divinely guided and rooted in thousands of years of tradition and ritual, today’s church – even in its most modern, progressive forms – can present as both Holy and mystical, and wholly mystifying, to those who don’t have experience with church culture.

If you’re intrigued or even just mildly curious about where this all is going, stick around for a few more posts. Try to understand why so many of your friends and neighbors — the ones you thought were rotten and the ones you thought were normal — skip the snooze button or the links in order to spiff up and head to their local church for a couple hours each week. They might just be onto something. Something that you’d like to be a part of, too.

THE END
Copyright 2014

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The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

Lessons for the Workplace Learned From Summer Camp

Gearing up for Summer Camp 2014 in a few weeks. Wondering what new lessons I’ll pick up this year? 

Each of us has a number of roles – and titles that go with them – beyond the one listed for us in the global address book / outside our offices / in our signature blocks. One of my alter egos is that of the Scouter, a term which means that I am an active and enthusiastically involved leader to Cub Scouts and to Boy Scouts.

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I get to be a Scouter one or two evenings per week and on at least one weekend per month. Additionally, each year, I’m also a Scouter at summer camp. During these activities, I feel a keen sense of honor as I invest in the lives of more than 100 boys – really, they are men-in-the-making – including my two sons, 13 and 10.

Reflecting on our most recent camping excursion, I certainly remember the heat of the 108-degree days and the ever-present stink of the bug repellent. I also recall the lessons that I gleaned from observing our boys growing up a little bit, right before our eyes. There are three in particular worth sharing, as they are just as applicable in our offices as they are in the woods:

1) Rely on the patrol method. The patrol method is designed such that the Boy Scout Troop is adult-guided but boy-led. Each Troop has a Senior Patrol Leader, along with a small number of subordinate Patrol Leaders who have a discrete span of control within the camp. If adults are running things, then they are working too hard; worse yet, the boys are not able to get from the experience what they need to get from it to develop into tomorrow’s leaders.

Organizations that operate well employ a similar model; in the military, it’s referred to as “centralized command, decentralized execution.” In an organization like mine, it means that I receive my mission, vision and top-level direction from my senior leadership, but I am empowered at a lower functional (or geographic) leadership level to carry out the mission day-to-day. Assuming that I and the people that I work with are well trained and qualified in our roles – and in most organizations, we are – then the organization runs extremely efficiently and effectively. Maximizing the patrol method model at all levels of your organization will enhance performance, morale and staff development.

2) Be Prepared. Abiding by these two words – the Boy Scouts Motto – is like having a Swiss Army Knife in your pocket. It’s helpful to anticipate what you might need in advance, and then do what you can to prepare for that – be it via having the necessary information, coordination, resources, tools or training for the task.

A Scout won’t hit set out on a hike without a buddy, a plan, a trail map, appropriate clothing, light nourishments and a first-aid kit. Don’t enter a business situation – be it a client meeting, a presentation, a conversation with your boss or any other daily work responsibility – without being similarly prepared.

3) Follow your Compass. By this I don’t mean a literal compass – for the most part, today’s Scouts navigate by GPS anyway. But rather, ensure your daily practices align with your values.

Every quality organization has a set of waypoints that highlight the values that show its members the way through all situations. Similarly, any military Veteran that you encounter will surely remember – and will still follow – the credo and values of his or her service (Air Force Core Values: “Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do”).

The Scouts have a number of guideposts, including the Boy Scouts Motto, but also the Cub Scouts motto (“Do Your Best,”) and the Boy Scouts Slogan (“Do a Good Turn Daily”). In addition to those noted above, the Boy Scouts also have twelve points, called the Scout Law, which exist to guide boys through their Scouting careers and beyond:

A Scout is
• Trustworthy
• Loyal
• Helpful
• Friendly
• Courteous
• Kind
• Obedient
• Cheerful
• Thrifty
• Brave
• Clean and
• Reverent

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Regardless the source, be they from Scouts, the military, your own organization or from one’s faith – the concept of values – a compass to show the way – is not too deep a concept for young boys to learn and to follow. And just as they are for young Scouts, they are timeless to provide a waypoint throughout one’s career, be it in Scouting or in the broader world of work.

What other lessons for the workplace can be gleaned from the Scouting experience? In what way would your organization improve if the principles and values of the Cub Scouts / Boy Scouts were at work, well, at work?

THE END
Copyright 2012

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Deep Thoughts From the Shallow End of the Pool features essays from PR, business, and life — which means they might be as random as any of the rest of the content on this site!