Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Offensive Words

The most famous nemesis of all time was Professor Moriarty. Star Trek had a Nemesis and so does over 62,000 books at Amazon.com. But do we really know what a nemesis is? I like words. More accurately is like to find the etymology of words: where did they come from? We most commonly use nemesis to mean “archenemy” or something like that but is that what it really means?

Nemesis is a Greek god. The god of divine retribution for the hubris of humanity, she is the implacable executrix of justice. In other words she will whoop on you if you think of yourself more highly than you aught. She is justice without mercy.

So, literally, when you claim to have a nemesis you are saying that you are being justly punished by someone. Not quite what you intended, I’m sure. Unfortunately we don’t think we EVER need divine retribution because we are just not bad enough to deserve it so whenever we feel the sword of Nemesis we consider that person our enemy, even ARCHenemy. I felt the sword of Nemesis in the form of my father’s belt growing up when I was unruly and disobedient. I also felt the sword of Nemesis in my mother’s tears over other childhood wrongs. They were not my enemies; they were loving parents who understood the sword of Nemesis was necessary to raise well-adjusted kids.

Another word that we continue to misuse or adapt to our meaning is the word “holocaust”. I have been studying Jewish Theology and have found that holocaust is an offensive word to most Jews. First, because it is a Greek word, not Hebrew, which means “whole” (holos) “burnt” (kaustos) or completely burnt. It was a Greek word used for sacrificing to pagan gods. It was first used in reference to Jews in 1190 when the fervor of the Crusades caused the mobs to turn against the Jews and massacre tens of thousands of them. Second, because it insinuates a “divine retribution” or a NEEDED sacrifice because of the sins of the people involved. You can see why an informed Jew would rather you call it the Shoah (Hebrew for calamity) rather than the Holocaust. Yet we believe it just means terrible tragedy.

I continue to learn how offensive I am by the words I choose to use. I appreciate more and more the patience and goodwill of those I offend. If we would all just keep learning, keep forgiving, and keep up the patience then we would have no Nemesis and prevent any Holocaust.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Find your Grail

On the internet news was the results from Rome of the World Swimming Championships. It was hyped up because it is the return of Michael Phelps after his suspension and it was hyped because of all the records that are being set because of the new kind of suits the swimmers were wearing. Chances are the records will stay for a long time because as of January 1, 2010 they will no longer be allowed to wear them. Because of the new swimwear “technology” the governing body for Olympic swimwear (whoever they are) decided to set standards in fabrics for swimwear and set standards in how much of the body they must cover. No more will you find swimmers completely covered in the body hugging high-tech Saran-wrap but they will be in Bermuda shorts and Bikini’s. (Okay not really)

Phelps’ nemesis in the 100 Fly is Milorad Cavic from the Czech Republic. They are separated by hundredths of a second in the 50 second race. Cavic told the media that the only way Phelps could beat him was with these new high-tech suits and once the rules were in place Phelps wouldn’t win gold medals anymore. This was the thing Phelps needed to hear for getting fired up in the 100 Fly and so he showed up in the “traditional” dinky speedo which shocked everyone at the pool. In the short races, the ones decided by fractions of a second, it was the suit that made the difference. Cavic was wearing his and so were the other 8 swimmers on the blocks; all but Phelps. You probably already know the outcome; Phelps not only won, he won convincingly AND in a world record.

Motivation made more motion than any technology could have. So often we complain that others have all the advantages: better parents, better schools, better technology, or better location. But the truth is: the REAL deciding factor is NOT parents, schools, tech, or location it is your MOTIVATION. How else to you explain how a “disadvantaged” kid from the inner-city rises to become a judge or owner of a major American corporation? All the disadvantages this world can throw at you can be overcome with the RIGHT motivation.

What is YOUR motivation? What gets you out of bed in the morning even though you don’t have to? What keeps you working longer hours than necessary? What makes you write on napkins with a borrowed pen while in a restaurant? What is your Grail?

In the Broadway musical “Spamalot” the motivation is the Holy Grail but the Holy Grail is defined as that which motivates you.

Life is really up to you, you must choose what to pursue
Set your mind on what to find and there’s nothing you can’t do
So keep right on to the end, you’ll find your goal my friend
You won’t fail – FIND YOUR GRAIL!

(Find your Grail from Spamalot)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

God’s Plan for your Life

It was 125 in the sun and 109 in the shade. Not the hottest day in Vegas but it was up there on anybody’s scale. Out in the sun we worked making sure to drink plenty of water and put on plenty of sun-screen. It was not easy work either and the sweat poured off our bodies almost as fast as we could down the Gatorade to counteract it. Some worked inside painting where it was never quite air conditioned. Others worked cleaning rooms where the homeless slept for a night sharing a bunk with all of their worldly possessions. Still others sat down and played games with homeless kids who lived in a dorm setting with their moms for the night and roamed the city in the heat looking for a job during the day.

It all was hard work, inconvenient traveling through traffic to get there, and a crazy drive to get home to take a shower afterwards. We had done our duty. We had fulfilled a mission. We had served others and gave them what they wanted. We had a new check mark on the omniscient’s score sheet. Now we could move on with our own lives concentrating on just our needs and wants.

But we were lying to ourselves. Serving is NOT for those who are being served; serving is for those who serve. It is a self-delusion to think that service is for the one served. NO ONE who serves others will NOT BE CHANGED in some small (or large) way. That is a double negative, so let me say it in a positive way. EVERYONE who serves others WILL BE CHANGED! You cannot avoid it, you cannot forget it.

Some will be changed in a small way where they, just for a time, get out of their selfish lives and feel what it is like to have a taste of God’s plan for their lives. Once back in their world they will fall back into the selfish ways they are used to but there will be a memory of God’s plan in the back room of their mind to be pulled off the shelf later. Some will understand what they did was not just for the people but it made them feel great afterwards and they will wonder why. They will seek that feeling again, again, and again and they will find their lives changed.

A few of us will truly understand. A few of us will realize that God’s plan for our lives is not a profession (you can serve no matter what your job); God’s plan is not a skill to acquire (you can serve if you are amazingly talented or if you have trouble tying your shoes); and God’s plan is not a destination you can arrive at. God’s plan for your life is a process and that process is activated/implemented by service.

You want to know God’s plan for your life? Start serving, keep serving, and then serve some more. You will not only find God’s plan for your life you will be smack-dab in the middle of it.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Life finds a Way

Dr. Malcolm in Jurassic Park warned of dinosaurs multiplying even though they were all “created” as male. He simply said “life finds a way.”

When the kids were young we lived in a town where it just wasn’t the right thing to do to have farm animals so we settled for fish and Gerbils. We had a wall full of fish, nine tanks, and in one tank we attempted to breed minnows or gold fish to feed a huge clown-fish we had in another tank. All of our attempts at causing an increase in the population of minnows didn’t work and we had to frequent the Pet Store to get our food supply. After a while the electrical cost of nine tanks, filters, heaters, lights, and bubblers got a little too much for me AND my budget. Life didn’t find a way with fish. But then again, that clown-fish never went hungry.

Our next attempt was with Gerbils. My kids and I looked at all the cool tunnels, rooms and exercise equipment in the Gerbil habitats and the engineer in us got the better of us. Fortunately the budget limited our Gerbil city to a few cages and tunnels to start out with but we were ready for the residents. We bought two Gerbils to populate our city and the Pet Shop attendant assured me that they were both male, after looking at their furry undersides. We cheerfully brought them home and watched them run from space to space, chewing up toilet paper rolls and building nests to sleep. One day, a few weeks later, one the kids said, “Um, dad, there’s baby Gerbil’s in the cage. How can they do that if both are males?” I successfully fended off the “birds and bees” question in favor of seeing how cool the 6 little Gerbils would be. We went to the Pet Store and bought a few more tunnels and rooms for our habitat and watched them grow. It wasn’t long, seemingly days, and we had a population problem in our habitat. Life was definitely finding a way! Before I could implement some population control measures the flurry of activity in the habitat produced a loose tunnel and they took over our basement. I had to do something before they took over the house and I did; at least I think I did, I wouldn’t be surprised if the new owners of our house still find them hiding in the old farm house basement. Life finds a way.

We humans deceive ourselves into believing that we are in control. Whether we are breeding dinosaurs or gerbils, we REALLY are not in control. Life finds a way. I pay hundreds of dollars a year for pest control around my house and yet my wife Frankie freaks out when she has to use the restroom at night because she found a small scorpion on the wall of our bedroom one morning.

We kill bugs one way and they develop a resistance so we kill them another way, then a new bug moves in because its enemy was just killed by you. Life finds a way. We are not in control. I am sure the Egyptians had their bug killers just like their snake handlers but it was soon proved they were not in control either. Life finds a way, just like the author of that life.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

I’m an Introvert

As I write this I am extremely content. I am closed into a cave of sorts, my office at home. The door is closed so I only need to air condition this one room and the rest of the house is up to 85 or so. I am surrounded by my carefully planned office equipment all within reach and allowing maximum efficiency. No one is home, I am alone. In front of me is a huge marker board where my latest thoughts and ideas are listed and I will stare at them and cogitate on them for a while, adding a word or phrase where needed and then glancing away again and back to my computer screen leaving further development for a later cogitation.

I’m an introvert not an extravert. This doesn’t mean I am shy vs. bold; this simply refers to how I charge my inner batteries. Introverts gain energy from internal contemplation, centering and quiet time. Extraverts gain energy from external people, places, and things. Introverts rarely say what they are thinking; they only say what they have thought. Introverts think to talk. Extraverts talk to think.

When I am facing a problem or issue I go into a quiet place, close the door from the outside world, play “mood music” on my iPod and begin my search for the answer. My wife, the ultimate extravert, will strike up a conversation with whoever she can find and start discussing the issue and with enough talk and brainstorming and idea or answer comes to her. Extraverts get their best ideas from conversations.

One of the worst things to happen to me is sitting next to an extravert on an airplane: being stuck next to someone verbally vomiting for hours at a time is painful for us introverts. I have a good friend who is a crazy extravert and would consider every flight a waste unless he got to know one more person while flying. While most extraverts consider us introverts socially retarded, we introverts think extraverts are socially pushy and noisy.

Surveys show there are more extraverts than introverts in the States. And our society is set up to serve and FOR extraverts (just imagine a car dealership for introverts, you can’t can you?) So can we live together? Of course. When my wife and I went to church early in our marriage she would stay until the last person left and help the janitor turn off the lights and lock the doors to get her extroverted fix. This I learned quickly and began taking a book to church so after I talked with a few friends and went to the car to wait I would have something to do for the extra hour after church waiting for her. When I would go to seminars or conferences my wife would ask “How was it? What did you learn? What did you do? What were you thinking?” My normal response would be “Fine, a few things, not much, and I don’t know.” Frustrating my extroverted spouse. So I took to writing down thoughts and ideas during the conference and then sitting with her to discuss then when I got home; she felt a part of it all and it helped me organize my thinking.

Extraverts: give introverts time and space and don’t bombard them with questions all the time about whatever they were thinking. Introverts: listen more than you think is necessary, maintain eye contact, nod your head, smile, and ask questions to probe deeper or make things clearer. I think part of what love means is keeping each other’s batteries charged.