Tuesday, November 26, 2013


At work everyone is tired of me telling them to create a Twitter account and connect it to professional social media pages. They have been slow to adopt the technology as a means of professional connection and education while I am regularly commenting on the different things I read in articles shared by my personal learning network. Their usual response is, “that’s great for you and thanks for passing it on to us.”

I have my elevator speech down for the benefits of using different social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ in particular) for curating high quality connections to resources. Beyond having a stream of useful material at my fingertips, I develop relationships with other highly-motivated professionals. Exchanges can be a highlight of my day.

Personally, I have social networks mostly for fun. I keep up with headline news because it is more efficient that going to the news websites and some people just because the are funny.

Monday I noticed that, without intending to, I had started following a number of Twitter accounts that regularly post uplifting / motivational / inspirational quotes. Monday night I found myself going to the various profiles and reading the streams of messages because I needed a little pick-me-up after dealing with some issues from various friends in the previous days.

After this experience I have added yet another reason I appreciate social media: inspiration.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Inspired NOT Stressed

One of the most eye-opening discoveries in my graduate school counseling preparation was that everything is stressful and has been assigned a point value by Holmes and Rahe  on their stress scale. Even events people regarded as positives in life carry degrees of stress based on the amount of adaptation a person has to do in their life routine to adjust to the event. They connected the measure of stress to a likelihood of physical ailment based on the number of “points” accumulated in a year’s time.

Since the mid-sixties when Holmes and Rahe’s research was published, stress has become the catch-all boogey-man for any type of inconvenience we have (such as performance expectations at work). It becomes the reason for mistakes and the low-quality work. These interpretations of Holmes and Rahe’s work completely misrepresent what they believed about stress: it is necessary for life. Our reactions to the stressor are where the harm lies. Some current research reminds us of that understanding.

McGonigal cites a study that reported on the effects of the view of stress and health consequences, not the stressor itself. They re-discovered that our response to stress determines the likelihood of illness and even death. Holmes and Rahe assigned the points on their scale based on the general reaction people have to the event - not the event itself. That is why the birth of a child merited fewer points than the death of a loved one. Likewise, a promotion at work scores lower than losing a job. We generally experience less disruption to life with the first examples than the second.

Since discovering the work of Holmes and Rahe in graduate school, I have considered situations differently. I work in a stressful field - education. The challenges differ from school to school and some of them are entrenched and cultural. As long as they are challenges, I have the power to seek and implement solutions that may make them less challenging. When I call them stressors, I have given up seeking solutions.

I am glad that some are beginning to reframe the conversation around stress. For so many years so much misinformation spread so widely that if the number of times a lie was repeated changed it to the truth, then stress would be the villain. Replacing the false understanding of stress with a correct one faces an uphill battle at the start, but I believe it will be readily received: the old news about stress was a tale of weakness, but the new understanding is one of power! Shifting the conversation to our response to stress rather than the stress itself puts control over it within our grasp: we control how we react. We control the effects of stress.

We control our lives. There is no longer a reason to use stress as an excuse.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

From Welcoming to Winning to Welcoming

Recently I participated in a discussion with a group of theologians who participated in an event hosted by an organization that works for full inclusion of all people in all churches. One person made a comment, meant to be encouraging at the time, that with changes in society and stories in the press, we had won. The idea, and language, of “winning church” stuck with me for the rest of the day as it bulldozed its way through my thinking and most of my individual conversations the rest of the day.

Wouldn’t we all be very happy if everyone else’s theology came into perfect alignment with our own? I have never met anyone who did not like the idea of winning, and “winning church” probably ranks as the biggest.

Deep inside, I think we all desire an end to conflict between the faiths so that the most contentious argument in Church is whether to serve regular, whole-wheat, or gluten-free communion wafers. Sadly, within major religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam most of the divisions, denominations, or sects agree on the big concepts of the religion. The minutia and practice around those concepts, though create schisms large enough to dwarf the Grand Canyon. To cement the “rightness” of each point, they become so enshrined in ritual across generations that if the Torah/Bible/Koran did not say it, it should have.

Truthfully, though, I do not want another denomination or, for that matter, another individual to come into sync with my personal theology: it would diminish my personal, individual, relationship with God. I came to where I am in faith through my life experiences and my encounters with God. They are uniquely mine and have shaped nuances of faith no one else can have. The big ideas align to my faith tradition but have been buffed and polished by my experiences with God. The biggest idea in Christianity is having a personal relationship with God.

Similarly, congregational experience grows the same way through corporate worship and shared experiences. Each congregation develops its its history and tradition around those experiences. Some use the history as a guide for future work. Some get stuck in the history.

While it the idea of winning sounds nice, it does not support the value of welcoming all in the church. For someone to win, someone else loses - becoming disenfranchised and feeling unwelcome in the church. The welcoming and affirming movements within the different denominations have to recognize that we have not been successful until every child of God is welcome in every congregation. As more congregations and religious organizations adjust rules and statements of faith the more we will encounter individuals and groups who opposed those changes. They are as worthy or our love and gracious welcome as the previously excluded populations.

Welcoming is not a value extended only toward historically marginalized individuals and groups. Welcoming is a value extended to everyone. Christ left no ambiguity about who could be his follower. He traveled amongst the sinners and unclean while engaging the religious elite. He welcomed everyone.

Society may proclaim winners and losers on various issues, but we who seek justice for all cannot let ourselves adapt this kind of thinking. We have long worked to develop a kingdom view of people that welcomes everyone and affirms their value.

I admit that I am encouraged by the increase in congregations and organizations who are recognizing that Christ welcomed and affirmed all people and are seeking to become more Christlike by following his example. Meanwhile other congregations reinforce their theology that defines who can worship with them. As long as the dichotomy exists there are no winners. The best we can do is to practice grace and demonstrate the love of God.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Queso Freak

I do not know when it first came about, but a few years ago my reward for a week of eating well was a Friday night trip to one of several Tex-Mex restaurants in Austin that served what I considered to be good queso. Queso, chips, and salsa became my Friday night fix.

I could have a worse fix than queso.

At various points across the years I have had an entourage who joined me on a regular basis. We would get into such a routine that the staff knew what to bring me when I walked into the establishment. For the last year, I have mostly had my queso fix alone because my regular friends moved away or our schedules no longer align.

Does eating queso alone make me an addict?

I am somewhat picky about the queso. Heated Velveeta does not do it for me. It actually has to be some kind of cheese sauce. I also prefer the queso compuesto which means it comes with pico and meat and sometimes guacamole. I mix everything except any included guacamole into the cheese. I do not care for the avocado taste in the cheese, but I leave the guacamole floating in the hot cheese because warm guacamole actually tastes really good.

Recently I have been mastering the process of making my own queso from scratch. Getting a smooth sauce is not as difficult as I long imagined. I just had never done it right. Simply melting cheese does not a queso make.

I firmly believe that, much like bacon, cheese sauce makes almost anything better. Mastering the base for a cheese sauce allows for so many variations. One of my favorite variations involves making a smoky cheese sauce. When mixed with the right meats and pasta, it gives a sense of the grill. Properly incorporating fresh peppers into the base makes a very spicy sauce without the lumpy nature that sometimes happens when going for spicy. Using a variety of cheeses creates sauces as varied as the variety of cheeses in the fromagerie.

As much as I look forward to the queso itself on Friday nights, the real enjoyment of it comes from the company with friends and lively atmosphere in the restaurants. By going to the same ones so regularly, I recognize, and even know some of the regulars now. Despite my naturally introverted nature, I am comfortable enough in these places to relax and enjoy the company of others. Queso is just the bait to get me there.

Friday, November 22, 2013


Last night as I prepared for bed, I sent out a tweet saying, “I need the AC to go to sleep tonight and the heater to wake up in the morning. #Texasweather.” The weather proved me correct. I struggled early in the morning to bring myself to climb from under the warm blanket with my even warmer dog cuddled against my back into the cool air of the house and switch the unit from cool to heat in time for some of the chill to come out of the air before I had to get up for the more serious business of brushing my teeth, shaving, and showering.

The rapid change in temperature commonly happens this time of year. Yesterday had a high of 82 degrees and a low of 68 degrees. Today’s high temperature was about 70 degrees at midnight and began a steady drop through the entire day as the front blew in with its frigid chilly air.
The arrival of cooler temperatures is one of my favorite times of the the year. I am a life-long Texan, but I have never adapted to the heat. I prefer sweater-weather. The highs and lows of the weekend all remaining in the mid-thirties to mid-forties range have me excited about the prospect of an active weekend cooking and wearing my cozy sweatpants.

While at work today, I sat almost giddy at the prospects for the weekend. While others were bemoaning the fact that they restricted to in-house activities, I could not wait for the time I could spend doing things in the house. This is also the time I start planning my garden for the coming year and begin to prepare the beds. As I have made some major changes in my landscaping this year I may also take the time to plant some winter vegetables.

The end of the work day could not come fast enough. My bags were packed and I was pushing people out the door so I could get my normal Friday night fare (chips and queso) and then home to enjoy the temperatures. Others may be unhappy, but I am thrilled about the cold snap.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Less than a day after Oxford announced that “selfie” was its word of the year, the Internet was ablaze with articles about the new preposition in the English language. As annoying as it is to have such a narcissistic term become the word of the year, accepting the change in usage of “because” is accepting one of the seven deadly sins into language. Using “because” as a preposition represents linguistic sloth at an unforgivable level.

Making  “because” a preposition usually serves to state something already obvious that could go without saying or it leaves the reader scratching their head.

“I tripped and almost fell today because clumsy.” We kind of figured that out at tripped. And you are telling us this because overshare.

“I cut the waiter’s tip in half because garnish.” So...not enough or too much parsley? The truth be told, you cut the tip in half because jerk.

I enjoy the changes in our language and that we have the ability to take certain liberties with it. I certainly do on a regular basis. Communicating the point we wish to make sometimes does not fit neatly into a grammatical box; stepping outside the traditional box draws attention to the statement being made as the reader/listener notices something unusual about it. Any adjustment to the traditional use of language should have purpose.

That would be the way I approach profanity. I rarely use it due to my belief that it carries great weight when used sparingly and under the right circumstance.

With the advent of text-spelling and Internet grammar, I expect there will be many more changes in the coming years as communication becomes more and more ubiquitous and compressed. Those of us who matured (relative term) prior to the wwwing of content find some of the rapid changes disconcerting.

Nevertheless, the changes will keep coming because creativity.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

And Your Word Is...

This time of year organizations start to come up with their  “________ of the year list.” In my opinion, coming out with the lists are premature with over 1/12 of the year remaining. Each list provides interesting insight into what the organization judged as important, influential, or lasting. As a word-person, I am most fascinated with the word lists that come out and have commented on new words for years.

Oxford released their word of the year and I am guilty. Their word choice for 2013 is “selfie.” Who owns a cell phone with a camera and has not taken a picture of him/herself somewhere?

I hoped the word would be Twerk so I would not be guilty - I am too old and it would destroy my back.

The prevalence of selfies from celebrities and individuals have become so prevalent media sites actually track the worst or most unfortunate selfies. Most of them make the list because the photographer was so concerned with the “self” part of the picture, the background was ignored. Still, our, “self” motivates us to continue.

Maybe now that the word has been blessed, the cool-factor will diminish and we will start hearing a little less about them though I doubt it will slow us seeing them so much.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Things I Didn't Say - Yet

I have several compositions that have been on-hold in my draft file for months. Each time I open the folder, the working titles catch my attention like that flashing light on my phone reminding me that something needs attention. I check on them from time to time and yes, they are still there.

Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writer’s writers, frequently refers to messy first drafts (in sometimes much stronger language). I am all for those. But those times when they hang on to become equally messy second and third drafts proves more frustrating. The documents that hang around in my draft folder are those frustrating ones.

The frustration stemming from each of these drafts originates in that the topic of each draft expresses something about a belief I hold deeply. Because they represent something I hold passionately, I want to express those beliefs using the clearest possible words. As a result the documents stay in draft revision after revision.

Most of the things I publish that barely go beyond the messy first draft.

In the nine years I have been publishing to the blog there have been no topic I have not been willing to cover, but with some, I have wanted to be much more careful about the words I use to ensure my ideas come across in just the way I want. There is nothing I have not said just some things I have not said yet.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Too Many Editors

In the last few weeks I have been working on some projects that actually required me to work collaboratively with others. Documents have passed from person to person with everyone making their edits. That is the nature of collaboration.

Collaboration is supposed to result in a better product with the skills and talents of the entire group combined. As I work to combine the various contributions into the final document I am reminded of the Demotivators definition of meetings: None of us is as dumb as all of us. Everyone has a favorite font, text size, border preference on tables and text boxes.

I have my favorites, too.

And I have the document last.

The challenge, though comes with the proofreading to make certain I successfully converted the disparate styles into one cohesive document. The next time I am the final editor, there will be rules. Collaboration can be beneficial to the work, but too many editors ruin the document.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Mission of the Seventy Today

Each week as I do my personal devotional using the weekly lectionary texts as a guide, I find a theme and write a reflection. Sometimes one of the passages does not fit the theme and so I mention it only in passing or not at all. One passage from a few months ago completely stood apart from the other passages, and while it did not fit the theme I pulled from the rest of the passages, it is the passage that has stayed on my mind since then and I continue revisiting it as event after event reminds me how relevant the passage is today.

The first verses of Luke 10 marks the first time Jesus sends his followers out to do ministry work on their own. The seventy Jesus sent may actually be a symbolic rather than an actual number, but it clearly indicates the ministry extends beyond the twelve apostles. He gave them very specific directions as to their conduct and their mission. Those same directions are ones we Christians could well heed today as we continue the mission into the world.

The first direction Jesus gave the seventy as he prepared for them to go out in pairs was to take nothing but the clothes on their backs. They were wholly at the mercy of acceptance in the towns they approached. They only carried with them the Peace of the Lord (pre-cross message of Jesus). They went out with humility before those they encountered.

His second command was “to greet no one on the road,” meaning, go with urgency and do not get delayed by distractions. They had a purpose to their journey and Jesus did not want them getting sidetracked from that purpose.

The third direction was that if they were welcomed into a house, then they were to stay there, not hop from place to place and they were to accept whatever was offered to them in the way of food and lodging. They were expected to be as good as guests as the hosts were generous in hosting. Moving from home to home projected the image that they were seeking something better than the current host offered which could shift the message from the blessings they could bestow to an implication of desiring comfort.

The fourth guideline dealt with acceptance and rejection. If the town accepted them, then they stayed, shared the message, and performed miracles as they had been given power by Jesus to do. For these towns, the message that the kingdom of God has come near was a blessing of salvation. Likewise, if a town rejected them, they went out, wiped the dust off their feet, and delivered the same message, but instead it was a notice of loss.

The directions Christ gave apply to us today - maybe even more than to those seventy disciples he sent to the towns ahead of him. We need to have that same humility in the world that the seventy took. Being Christian does not grant us any power or status to hold over those we encounter in the world. Instead, our service in the world becomes the beacon that draws people to Christ. Christianity is a religion to which one is drawn, not driven.

Jesus recognized that we need to have a sense of purpose in the work we are doing. Today, even more than in the time Jesus was on earth, we are surrounded by distractions. Work, media, family, social events - the list is lengthy. When Christ sends us on a mission, though, our entire focus is that mission.

Accepting people where they are and as they are remains one of the greatest challenges of the Christian church. The Gospel is clear that no one can become perfect to get into the kingdom of God, but after accepting Christ we have the best chance we are going to have. Unfortunately, I have heard too many messages in the media and from pulpits that affirm the message of “if you are not like us, you are not welcome.” Change your ways and then you can approach will lead to very few approaching. As the seventy sent by Christ illustrate, we should do the approaching, not waiting for those to come.

The final instruction, though, may be the hardest to follow. When the disciples were rejected, they went on their way and did not look back. There were no angry confrontations. There were no pleas to change the minds. They simply did as Jesus instructed and went on their way, wiping the dust off their feet. It is only natural that we want everyone to experience the joy, peace, and hope we have as Christians. Unfortunately, being confrontational shows none of that.

The same caution applies to any religion in the public sphere. Whether through broadcast religious-based talk and news shows or worship services, the humility, purpose, and acceptance are essential parts of the message. Sadly, as religious organizations have played a more prominent role in the political system over the last thirty years those tones have continually diminished as the leadership has been more vocal. Anyone who disagrees is in for a confrontation and stands to be attacked, especially if they have a different understanding of the scripture: believe my way or else.

Amazingly, it is exactly the same kind of legalistic, theocratic posturing Jesus fought within the Jewish establishment of his time. Most of his interactions with the Jewish leadership could be summarized with, “you have it memorized to the letter, but you are completely missing the point.” Legislating Biblical principles is exactly the opposite of what Jesus would have done.

Christianity is a religion to which people are drawn, not driven.

Legislating one sect’s beliefs guarantees a backlash against the faith as a whole. That is already being seen in the churches shuttering their doors and the empty pews of the ones hanging on. Even Christian groups that do not support the actions of the vocal minority are being harmed by the vociferous “spokesmen” for the faith. People hear a reference to faith and these are the voices they remember.

Jesus closed the experience with the seventy after their return to him by reminding them not to take any pride in the power they had in his name, but to rejoice that they were saved. He sent them out with humility and brought them back to humility. It is time the whole church revisited Jesus directions to the seventy and consider its next steps.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Lady Gaga on Repeat

Lady Gaga’s latest collection dropped this week following a slow rollout of individual songs and videos. The initial songs struck me much like previous songs of hers, I was not immediately blown away, but they grew on me the more I heard them. After listening to ARTPOP straight through a few times, I felt the same way. The songs grew on me.

Now that the album is fully released, I look forward to seeing how it is performed in the coming months through videos, television appearances, and in concert. Lady Gaga’s music can stand alone, but it is not fully complete without the performance pieces included. She is a performance artist like we have not seen in a generation. Each performance (essentially every time she is seen in public) for the next months will be completing the story of ARTPOP.

Better than any of her previous albums, ARTPOP tells a story. The songs stand alone, but they also stand together. So far I have not heard any individual songs that strike me as a “Poker Face,” “Bad Romance,” or “Edge of Glory,” which are songs I could put on repeat just for themselves. Then again, I did not pick any of them initially when listening to The Fame or Born This Way.

Despite not finding a go-to song on the initial listen, I am certain I will find songs that will grow on me and that I will return to from time to time just as I did with the previous albums. Much of that connection will come in the following months as the ARTPOP performance plays itself out. The first week has not made me fall in love with the album, but I am at the same place I was with Gaga’s previous releases and they are still among my most played collections even after a few years. As happy as I am that she has released a new cd, I am even happier that there will be another year of Lady Gaga in performance.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Odd Hours

In the multiple years I have participated in NaBloPoMo, I have never used one of the daily prompts; however, the prompt for Nov. 14 this year struck me. I have always been one of the people at work who has been one of the first to arrive and one of the last to leave. People who arrive early always assume I am a morning person. People who stay late assume I am a night owl. The truth is I am both.

People have a hard time believing it, but I truly am a night owl and a morning person. As I have written before, I am just NOT a mid-day person at all. Give me my siesta time every day. No matter the day of the week, I wake up at the alarm-clock time whether the alarm is set or not.

Mornings are great. There is a quiet, calm nature about those first hours. Waking up early enough on a work day, or even the weekend, allows plenty of time to ease into the day without having the frantic start that, for me, makes the entire day seem frantic.

Likewise, the night is another quiet time. After the day, no matter how stressful, the night offers a time of peace. The knowledge of the day, while fresh and after having some reflection, can be well used in the night hours to efficiently accomplish much work.

In both the morning and late night I am wide awake and fully functional. My brain, and body, notably sag in the middle of the day. One of these days I will find the job that does not require me to work from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. That I like both sounds odd to most people who are only morning or night driven. That I dread the afternoon hours sounds equally odd to my 9-5 friends. My preferred hours definitely do not coincide with the work culture of the United States; however, many other countries embrace a break in the middle of the day. I for one think we should give it a shot.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

In a Difficult Spot

Each day on my drive to and from work I listen to the news on the radio. It catches me up with events of the day and in the evening helps me shift my mind from work to other topics. Yesterday a lengthy story discussed the process of laws in Congress. In particular they focused on legislation that came out of party ideology that has no real chance of passing. Everyone knows it when it is introduced; it provides a vehicle for a message.

One phrase kept coming up that troubled me. Several of the bills discussed were brought up to put politicians in the other party “in a difficult spot” of voting against the bill. I could not help but ask the question: if it puts them in such a difficult spot, then maybe the bill is worth considering and voting for. Junk legislation would not put anyone in a difficult position.

The bills mentioned all address important issues facing the nation and carry broad public support, but because one party or the other has seized the issue, the other refuses to consider it.

These politicians who only follow the party line deserve to be put in a difficult spot - they deserve to be put in the unemployment line. While reciting quotes from their favorite founding father, they profane the system they idealize. Contrary to popular belief, we are not a democracy; we are a representative democracy. We elect representatives to make the decisions. It was and is expected that they as the leaders have access to more information than the citizens in their district. Using the information, they were expected to vote in the way that best supported their constituents.

Instead, the expectation now is that everyone vote the party line. To actually vote independently considering your district labels one unreliable and reduces chances at influential appointments and even more importantly at campaign contributions while increasing the chance that your diminished campaign funds will be spent in a primary instead of the general election as had been anticipated.

The last decade with the explosion of social media has made far more knowledge available to everyone almost instantaneously. Constituents have almost constant access to elected officials. There is no reason those politicians who find themselves in the difficult spot should not know how difficult it could be for them if they vote against the interests of the constituents. Until the constituents start making these show votes have consequences on their officials, that is all these votes will be.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Lost - or Gained - in Translation

Last week as the anniversary of the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran approached, some groups in Iran were marking the day with celebrations, calling it a “Great Day of Death to America.” The political me wants to get mad at them and be insulted, but the linguistic me thinks it just sounds like too much fun! They have the naming business down!

I want to go! Where can I get tickets for this “great day”?

I cannot even say it without my voice naturally taking an optimistic lilt. Maybe something was gained in translation. I could not help but think about each time I heard some news report mentioning the activities of the day: it sounds so great.

“Death to America” has been a standard translation for anti-American sentiments since the uprising in Iran surrounding the takeover of the embassy and holding the staff hostage for 444 days. It was one of the first great slogans I heard in my life.

Sadly, our politicians learned from the effective sloganeering. Now so much of what we hear is the message condensed to a soundbite - a news show teaser version of Twitter: lacking content, but catchy. The more media fragmentation allows everyone to selectively gather news, the better messengers have been able to shape their content. All manner of hatred has been couched in the most benign phrases.

Bigotry disguised by wholesome language is still bigotry. Labeling of the “others” separates. Demonizing anyone who disagrees becomes easy when hidden behind the latest motivational phrase. Name calling at the SAT level.

All sides are equally adept at manipulating language for their cause. If they were not, at this point, they would not be a side.

As strongly as I feel about certain issues, I intentionally follow sources who feel differently so I can maintain some perspective on the issue. When I feel strongly about an idea, it is because I have information and experience to support those beliefs and drive my actions accordingly. Others have different experiences that alter the way they react to the issue. As long as they have some kind of legitimate knowledge base and experiential case for their beliefs, we can discuss the issue somewhat rationally. When they have no legitimate knowledge base or experience to support their belief and are only relying on what a few talking head thought leaders are saying, there is no way to have a discussion.

Logic cannot debate emotion because emotion does not understand reason. Both are powerful tools at motivating people on issues, but logically approaching an emotional argument will not affect the position of the other any more than an emotional argument will not sway someone guided by logic. Both parties leave the encounter feeling the other as even more utterly wrong than upon entering the encounter.

As a word person, I find myself frustrated at each side’s use of generally innocuous phrases to convey a divisive idea. Whenever challenged about the idea motivating the phrase, the user immediately Shirley Temples some, “golly! How could you ever think that from what I said?” Meanwhile, racism, sexism, and religious bigotry exist openly more freely than in the last several decades.

Until we, in mass, stop letting a handful of “thought leaders” from each political spectrum dictate policy stances, we will continue function from the poles. Fortunately we always have the government we deserve. Despite the rhetoric, I continue to believe we are better than we have acted in the last decade and we deserve a government that is better than we have now.