Grace on Earth

Keith Miller,our pastor at Missio Dei Fellowship, wanted to take a month off to work on his doctoral thesis and generally get a much needed break from preaching.  In order to afford him that break, January became, ‘guest speaker’ month; every Sunday either someone from either the church conference or the congregation delivered a sermon. The last Sunday in January was my turn, so I chose Grace.

Grace on Earth

The Performative Verb and Jesus

Four or five years ago when I was still considering seminary, I wrote on a few topics within Christianity for the heck of it. So I think it was a Wednesday night around 10:00 pm that I wrote this. About a year later I posted it on FaceBook in the “notes” section and then promptly forgot about it (with three or four others like it). This remains unedited; I just figure I might as well put it on the blog with all my other ramblings.
Read More

Politics and Religion: An Evangelical Libertarian’s View on Gay Marriage

I don’t blog much about my faith and I’ve never really talked about politics before. I am a born-again evangelical  — just about anyone who’s spent more than 20 minutes talking to me will figure that out. And though I enjoy talking about my faith and sharing my testimony with just about anyone who I’ve known longer than an hour, I avoid talking about politics.  That’s because many  devout, Bible-believing  Christians are also devout conservatives — and I am not. My political views are separate from my faith and they seldom ever meet — except when gay marriage becomes the topic of the day. So today, I’m inviting a flame-war by discussing why I do not oppose gay marriage. Read More

Office Politics: Take It or Lead it

A very wise man once told me to expect Office Politics anywhere. He actually didn’t need to tell me, because I kind of suspected it. But regardless, he reminded me that every business is crazy in their own special way; don’t expect crazy to just disappear.  I thought that I was okay with that axiom, but as it turns out — I’m not.  I accept the existence of Politics as a fundamental nature of humanity. But when it becomes harmful and dangerous to the business, I don’t think that it’s okay to just cough up the phrase, “that’s Office Politics for ya. Take it or leave it.”  If someone tells me just to take it, I think I’d rather lead it, than leave it.

The Grass Is Always Greener

Don’t ever get sucked into the illusion that the grass is greener on the other side of business. I was given that nugget of wisdom in an exit interview. I expected it, but hearing it from someone with more experience gave me a realistic expectation of my new employer.  When you’re new to the workforce, or just plain younger, you can get the idea in your head that all of your problems, like Office Politics, will go away with the new job.

It won’t.

It exists in every workplace, but when it’s a detriment to business, it’s time to stop taking it.

“That’s just Office Politics”

I hate hearing that.  Not just because the subject annoys me, but because the person saying it isn’t annoyed. You don’t let people apply that, “take it or leave it” attitude to other issues in the office, so why let it slide for Office Politics? Because the person telling you doesn’t have a solution, and she doesn’t really know the problem. When there’s a problem in the office, you don’t stop with just acknowledging the reason. You fix it.

Jesus Didn’t Observe and Report

I’m going to take a step back for a second. The best way for me to elucidate the Office Politics problem is to draw a parallel from my faith. I’m a Christian and have been for ten years now — so I have twice as much experience as a Christian than as an office worker. Forgive me for stepping into my comfort zone.

As a Christian I am sometimes asked how I can believe in a God when there is so much suffering in the world. Having read Genesis, my response is plain: We are a fallen race who lives in a fallen world, because we chose to know both good and evil.  If you read the first three chapters of Genesis you’ll figure it out this way: God makes man. God makes knowledge of good and evil. God gives man the option of knowing Him, or knowing Him and a really crappy world. Man decides to visit God on the weekends, and to know what it’s like to live a life that sucks like a Hoover in a wind tunnel.

If you, knowing nothing about the life of a Christian, asked me why life sucks, and my response were…”because it sucks,” you’d be pretty pissed  — because you already knew that.

That’s because, “because it sucks,” is only an observation of the problem.  It doesn’t work. You want the root cause, and you want a solution.

So as a Christian, my complete response to the question of life’s suckitude is, “We are a fallen race living in a fallen world because we chose to know both good and evil. But by God’s grace, we’re saved through faith — so we don’t have to depend on ourselves to stop sucking like a Dyson on the wing of a 747.”

My response is not just a statement of the state of affairs, but the root cause, and the solution as well. As a Christian, I’d be doing damage to God’s kingdom if my sole response to life’s suffering was only, “because we suffer.” Jesus didn’t just tell us we sucked, He told us why and then pulled the plug on the vacuum.

Back to Business

So why do I get so freakin’ annoyed when I find a serious problem that’s because of Office Politics?

Easy. You telling me that the cause is Office Politics has nothing to do with the solution or the problem. It’s a description of my present state-of-affairs.   Just as with Christianity — the solution to the suckiness of life starts when you tell me the state-of-affairs. You want a root-cause and a solution, too.  Telling me that the reason I can’t do my job is Office Politics does nothing to push me towards a solution.

Alpha, Beta, Caged

In my observation, there are two types of people who tell me, “That’s Office Politics.”

The first type of person is what I would call a ‘caged lion’. This is someone whose nature has been beaten out of her. She’s tried going directly to the manager, or talking to the VP, but through the years she’s been beaten into submission. She’s accepted that she can’t get ahead unless she says the right thing and does the wrong one. She tried honesty and learned that it didn’t work. She accepts Office Politics because she has no alternative.

If I were looking at this in the world of Christianity, this is a person who follows the pattern Sin, Repent, Repeat.

The second type of person is what I would call the ‘beta lion’. This is one who has recognized the political state of the office. He has no problem acknowledging that Office Politics are a detriment to business because he uses them to his advantage.

If I saw him in the world of Christianity, his modus operandi is sin or let sin.

Politicians are Just Managers

The alpha lion is the politician, in case you were counting. And a politician doesn’t change anything. Politicians never change anything – whether they’re office politicians or government politicians. All politicians do is manage the state of affairs so that they continue to suit their interests. In government, it’s the folks that voted for them, or the lobbyists that pay their bills. In the office, it’s the same thing. The Office Politician — that guy that constantly kisses butt, passes blame, and manipulates — isn’t trying to change anything. He wants to keep the office in a state where it benefits his interests, or the interests of a select few in the office. He doesn’t want to make any changes that threaten his power in the office. He only wants to maintain his Alpha Lion Status.

Politicians aren’t Leaders, but Leaders are Politicians

How’s that for a chiasmus? Let’s take a step back into the world of the Bible. Moses lead a bunch of slaves out of Egypt. He tried politicking. He tried to talk Pharoah into letting them go. But the point was, “we’re going.” There was no negotiation on that. The question was simply, “Is this going to be easy, or hard?”

Moses was a leader. The decision was made  and  he didn’t negotiate its success. That’s because when you negotiate success, you’re only managing failure. That’s what politicians do; they manage failure.  If you’ve  read Exodus, or seen Prince of Egypt, negotiating success didn’t work out too well for the Pharoah. Ultimately, it doesn’t work out for the Office Politicians.

If Moses tried to be a politician, the Jews would have gotten Sunday off. He tried to be a leader — and here’s how you can distinguish the Office Leader from the Office Politician:  Leaders  don’t stay put. Look At Moses, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Martin Luther. They weren’t managing failure, they were striving for success. Success meant improvement on the present state-of-affairs, not better management of the present problem.  Plain and simple.

Office Politics: Take it, or Lead it

I’m tired of being told that my problems in the office are just because I have problems in the office. I know there’s politics, that’s what happens in offices. But if it’s hurting my business, don’t tell me to accept the hurt. It didn’t work for Jews in Egypt, or sin on Earth. If there’s a problem with the Office Politics – be a leader first, politician second.  Lead the office out of the problem. Play nice if it can fix the problem. But make it your goal to fix the problem. Don’t burn bridges, but don’t die on hills, either. Just work through the problem with nepotism, favoritism, or narcissism. It’s not your problem, it’s his. It’s your problem if you don’t fix it.

Take it and lead it — or take it and leave it.

What a smiley face taught me about my career

Introducing Jerry

I’d like to introduce you to Jerry. You can see his picture here. To you Jerry looks like just a smiley face, but for me he’s a lot more.  I’ve taken Jerry to every desk I ever had, and now that I’m moving on to another company, he’s coming, too. You see, Jerry taught me more about business, myself, and God than anyone else ever could. I’d like to share his story.

Just a little over five years ago, I started my very first corporate job at a place called Mannatech.  I was hired as a temp in the call center taking  French calls.  Not too long after I started, the whole call center got “quality training”. We learned how to be pleasant on the phone, practiced etiquette, and were given a smiley face – to remind us that we always needed to smile when talking to the customers.

Smiley Faces Don’t Work on Me

Those who know me will tell you that I’m much too cynical for a smiley face. I thought it was a dumb idea to say the least. But, nonetheless, something told me to hold on to Jerry. So while the other representatives threw theirs away, I kept and named him. I just randomly picked Jerry – there’s no one in my life with that name; he just looked like a Jerry. So I wrote on the back of him, “My name is Jerry,” and just waited to figure out what he had to offer.

I don’t know exactly how to sum up my time at Mannatech – without writing a book. Emotionally it was a roller coaster. I had days, or months where it was miserable. There were other times that it was amazing and inspirational. Both the customers and the company were factors in my drift from one end of the spectrum to the other on any given day. Mannatech taught me a lot about how to learn.

So I could recount all the times that it was the company’s fault, or I could give you countless horror-stories with the customers. None of that really matters, though. It’s not about who hurts you, or how you’ve been hurt. It’s about how you choose to react to it. I didn’t need a smiley face to teach me how to talk to customers. I needed a smiley face to help me respond to life’s difficulties. Or better yet, to life.

One day, while I was dwelling on how to deal with a rough day, I wrote on the back of Jerry: “I’m smiling because…”

And now I need a reason. Any reason would do; with it being an exceptionally rough day I decided to start small: “I’m employed.”  That was good enough. I could deal with my troubles because I had that one reminder.  But let me tell you, every time, no matter how small or large – silly or serious, I wrote on Jerry when I was reminded of something good at my job.

Life is What Happens When You’re Making Other Plans

Mannatech was just filler in the recipe I had written for my life. Nonetheless, it filled up a lot of time over five years.  Here’s a snapshot of the five years I spent at Mannatech:

  • A no-refund policy for two and a half years and a million customers, many who wanted a refund
  • Expansion into nine new countries
  • Website redesign, launch of a new CRM, and launch of a new product line in the same day – and the 6 months of crisis mode thereafter
  • A product line being on recurring backorder for six months
  • Going to Australia and New Zealand to train customers and representatives – only to come back and be put on the phones
  • Mannatech being sued by the attorney general  and the customer response for six months after
  • Hurricane Katrina: Customers recounting the deaths of friends, losing their checks, their jobs, their livelihood
  • A nine-month web site redesign project
  • Launching a third website redesign

So yes, it was a very hard five years at Mannatech. But then there was what I had to deal with in my personal life:

  • Near bankruptcy
  • Three trees falling on my house
  • Two floods: one with the water main breaking, the other forcing us to remove all the carpet
  • Breaking my leg: two surgeries,  2 months in a wheelchair, 4 months with a cane, physical therapy
  • Breaking my arm
  • Rejection: by the FBI, 3 police agencies, the CIA, the US Air force, and seminary
  • Having my heart flipped completely after a 3-year struggle where I opposed ever having kids
  • A changed heart for children and then the pain of infertility

So who was Jerry to me?

Jerry was a reminder of the choices I made in my life. Not the big, life changing choices. Not the choices I made in my marriage. Jerry reminded me that I could choose to recognize the blessings in my life. His smile was simple; when he smiled, it meant something was still okay. Every time I had a difficult day, I wrote on his back a reason for him to be smiling. And then, every time I had a horrible day, I read it.

So, below are the reasons Jerry smiled at me. You’ll notice a few themes; God blessing me, the customers appreciating me, and the triumph over my life circumstances. I didn’t need a reminder of how to smile; I needed to know why to smile.

I didn’t start working at Mannatech to fulfill a life need. What I realized was that, by working at Mannatech, my life’s needs were fulfilled. I had spent a lot of time trying to leave Mannatech – I never realized that Mannatech wasn’t filler for my life, it was a crucial ingredient. Your job is not a stepping stone; it is a road – a highway for the rest of your life.

Sure, life sucked sometimes at Mannatech. But sometimes it didn’t.  So what did I do with a sometimes sucky job? Did I get angry, curse my coworkers and bosses? Yeah, regretfully I did.  Did I pray for them? Yeah, I did that, too. Did I recognize that no matter what the deal was, it was still okay? Yes – but not because I could, because Jerry helped.

Where’s Your Ridiculous Smiley Face?

So here’s the thing: do you have a Jerry? What do you have that keeps you going? Business is tough. Life is tougher.  What do you have that reminds you of the blessings your job has given? What do you have that gets you to the next day?

I have Jerry. I looked at him every time work hit a low point. I wrote on his back every time work took me to a high point. I’m still not in seminary. I never got into law enforcement. Five years later, Israel is just as far away as it was then. But I don’t care; I don’t focus on the job I want as much as I do on the job I have. Jerry taught me that I’m blessed today – not tomorrow or yesterday. After I got an amazing job at Children’s Medical Hospital, Jerry reminded me that I’ve always been blessed.

Did you know that you’ve always been blessed? I would forget. But every time I forgot, Jerry reminded me. Every single time. Jerry was my reason to keep working.  Sure, this is my handwriting – but understand this, it was the circumstance that made me write it.   Get yourself a Jerry to remind you how great your job really is.

In five years, here’s what I found written on the back of Jerry:

jerry-back.jpg

In case my handwriting is tough to read, here’s that list of why Jerry was smiling at me:

  • I’m employed
  • If I curse in French, only three people will understand
  • Someone believes in me
  • I’m not a hurricane victim
  • Because of Jerry
  • Cheezits
  • I can always hang up (from when I was still taking phone calls)
  • Life has a bright side
  • Voodoo may not work, but I can pretend
  • Miracles happen
  • The dumber they are, the more job security
  • God has always given me the opportunity
  • It’s not over
  • This isn’t it
  • Life is so much bigger than me
  • I really can go far
  • Some Associates do appreciate me
  • God really has sent me far

Is there a smiley face in your career?