Monday, April 29, 2013

It's a simple choice ... Lead, or be led!

When you "Save your drama for your Mama" you don't take it past the front door of your workplace. Charlie Sheppard has written a great book on the two triangles that leaders can find themselves in - the Drama Triangle and the Leadership Triangle. "By being determined, by being a leader, you stay out of the world of the Drama Triangle. When you are out of drama, so is the world around you. When you are in the Leadership Triangle, you can be a leader, and create more leaders, directly impacting the world around you." Sheppard discusses the various roles we play - the Rescuer, the Victim, the Coach, the Visionary. No doubt it's pretty obvious where you want to be just from reading the classifications. But Sheppard makes the point that our choices are reflected in our behaviors from the roles we adopt in life. He writes "When you fully embrace a role, you embrace its power - or its lack of power. You embrace its potential - or its limitation. You eventually embody the role." He goes into great detail about our motivations - are they internal or external (locus of control)? One of the most important points is that leaders make choices. Leaders don't lead because they have to, but because they want to, they choose to and they are constantly developing themselves over the years. Leaders have vision which makes them catalysts for change, for progress, and are constantly coaching others to become leaders too. There is so much wisdom, common sense and information that hits home in this work that it is worth reading again; it should even be required. Sheppard presents concepts in his work which are seeds to be planted in our life, teams and community and "stored within these ideas is vast potential." You won't be able to read this book without getting at least one great idea or thought you can implement to make yourself a better leader.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

My Come To Jesus Meeting


I first learned that Jesus was coming to Lynchburg, VA in February while attending a Dunbar Middle School theatre performance of “Rally Round the Flag, Boys”.  The Dunbar program is the best in Virginia, has received national attention and even participated in international competition.  What makes it even more special is that Albert and Lori Carter, who head up the program, are dear friends from Liberty University ‘back in the day’.  The added connection is that our nephew attends Dunbar currently and our son will next year.  It’s a school that many students hope to be able to attend by acceptance via application, but we are fortunate enough to reside in the area zoned for Dunbar, so we’re in automatically and are looking forward to those years, the next five.   Seems like our eyes veered away from Jesus here for a moment, but the school's connection was important enough to lay as a foundation.  So now… back to the announcement of the coming of Jesus. 

Ted Neeley, who portrayed Jesus, both on Broadway’s version and in the film “Jesus Christ Superstar” would be gracing the local stage to kick off his tour with The Little Big Band, which was also in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the film’s release.  Making the night even more remarkable was that Ted himself wanted the tour-kick-off-event to happen in Lynchburg at Dunbar because of his close ties and friendship with Carl Anderson, who played the role of Judas opposite Neeley and grew up in Lynchburg, VA.  The very auditorium that Ted wanted to rehearse and perform on is named in tribute to Carl, the Carl Anderson Auditorium.

Growing up in a conservative Christian family and attending a conservative Christian school, I’ve got to be honest and say I’ve never seen the movie all the way through and was a bit self-conscious to have to admit that a couple nights ago to Ted when I met him since I never really took the time or had the opportunity to explain why.  Readers should know that it is on my list of things to do first chance I get.  I’m very relieved that it can be streamed on Netflix.   As I’ve matured in years and in the faith, I have come to realize it is important to make our own assessments and decisions and not automatically allow someone else’s to become ours.  To protest anything without knowing what we are protesting personally is not the wisest approach.  A blog I’ve recently found, authored locally last year, delves into that controversy over the film and theological matters much better than I can here, so I provide this link before I move on, http://www.theruthlessmonk.com/why-ill-spend-easter-watching-jesus-christ-superstar/.  Maybe Easter is when I’ll find myself watching it as well, but in a brand new light.

Ted and his band were in town the entire week and I was able to somewhat experience their local town discoveries, their new friendships and their rehearsals albeit vicariously through Facebook posts, photos, videos from my friend Lori.  Albert was there too, but it only takes one minute to realize he’s the more reserved one.   She can make anything or anything feel great about themselves and so loved.  In fact, if Albert hadn’t been by her side and part of the 2-member southern hospitality and visitation committee, I doubt he would have seen his wife at all until days after Neeley and band left town.  I’m convinced Lori denied herself of the right to sleep to complete her costume transformation into Miss Congeniality, Miss Hospitality, Miss Love and well, all around supportive, encouraging, scolding, rock and roll band mother.  I hope she can catch up soon and that Albert can get her back for himself … well, he, as well as the school full of kids they love so much!

Any reader who knows me already knows that I have an addictive passion for vinyl and the hunt to always add to my growing collection.  I have collected records since dorm days at Liberty (then Baptist College) University began 34 years ago… I have more records than I have space to display so they bleed over into boxes and other rooms but that doesn’t stop me!  Knowing however that Ted was in town, I knew I had a couple of records with his name on them… two copies of the “Jesus Christ Superstar” movie soundtrack, circa 1973 …one of which I had only owned for about a week, having located at the local Goodwill in anticipation of the concert event.  I contacted Lori about whether Ted would be available to sign them.  In more ways than one it can quite the disappointment to carry the extra luggage of vinyl to a concert, keep them safe at my seat, and then not have the opportunity to get the desired autograph.  I reached out to Lori because I needed to know it was worth the effort.  She contacted me immediately … during one of the band’s late rehearsals … and said she could do even better if I would contact her the next evening, and then took the phone up on stage for my own private listening party.

I got the call from Lori the next night at about 9p to inform me “we are leaving the school now”.  Laura, Lily and I arrived at the revealed location for the late dinner shortly before 10p.  After formal introductions, we launched immediately into a warm, open, give and take conversation with one of the most kind, caring, generous, thoughtful men I’ve ever met.  Ted invited us to join them for dinner and we talked about music, movies, pets, family, theater, regrets, living your dreams, and heard stories about the making of the film in 1972.  Ted was delighted to sign my albums and did so in a very personal way, thoughtfully crafting what he would say and whom he should address including Lily.  As he opened the vinyl fold and paged through the photo insert, he told us stories of his first trip to Israel, the challenge of being there to portray Jesus, how he met his wife on set, how they had to grow grass for one scene, chase off sheep for another, and credited Golda Meir for their ability to get out of the country safely.   More than once he mentioned how remarkable it was to be in Israel and be there to play Jesus, like he still couldn’t fathom it.  He said while there he was able to walk the Stations of the Cross.  We did not ask Ted for a photo together since it was quite late, the restaurant was cleaning up and closing and we knew Ted and band needed rest for the show the next night plus we needed to get Lily home for some rest with school the next day.  We knew we could get the photo opportunity after the show.  Ted hugged each of us, like he had known us much longer than simply the last 75 minutes.

Fast-forward to the concert… great time for all who were there, including Carl’s family.  For their sake and for the sake of the theatre program, I wish the place would have been packed out.  Ted and band, an incredibly gifted bunch of musicians who had only been together for two weeks and no one could tell, opened with the “Tommy” classic “Pinball Wizard” and rocked it!  Neeley played the original Tommy so he nailed it and kicked off the night perfectly.  One of many special moments happened when the middle school’s show choir accompanied a recording of Carl singing “God’s Gift to the World”.   They later returned to join Ted and band with “Let the SunShine In” from Hair and remained up front for the closing Beatles medley … a night these young actors, singers and dreamers will never forget.  Ted and band performed nearly every song from his new CD, of which a shipment had just arrived that afternoon, so it was being sold for the first time.  Ted also played a clip of Carl Anderson performing “Superstar” on The Tonight Show many years ago.  This was so poignant as Carl had returned to the very stage on which he started.   Not every eye remained dry, I’m sure.  For those who do not know, Carl passed away in 2004 after a battle with leukemia.   After that video played, Ted performed “Gethsemane” from JC Superstar.  It was chilling to hear as Ted, now 68, still nailed those high notes, but more importantly how he performed in character, dropping to his knees and looking heavenward as the song reached its emotional end filled with surrender and energy spent.  Ted sprinkled acting and audition stories between songs and, other than when the band members were rocking the tunes so flawlessly, even with a broken string during “White Buffalo”, it felt more like Ted was sitting with you in your living room as a friend than a performer of Broadway, film and stage for the last 40 years.  Even his comments like “be patient with us”, and “I hope we get it right” could not distract from the cohesiveness the band displayed.  Ted is clearly still learning some of the new songs and hopefully as he becomes more comfortable with them, can step away from his notebook of lyrics so he can even better connect and showcase the new material, but his humility shined through.

After the show Ted held a meet and greet in the hallway outside the auditorium.  There were probably 25-30 people who waited in line with the last autographed signed 3 hours later, at 1:30am.  Ted clearly is energized by meeting people and would take personal time with each one.  Ted, of course, appreciated that we came back to the show, and were willing to wait to greet him again, seemed genuinely happy to see us, appreciating our feedback and praise for his performance and the band’s expertise.  He took time to sign our CD and poster and pose for a few photos.  Lily had fallen asleep while waiting and he wanted us to tell her he was sorry it took so long and that he missed seeing her.

As we waited … and waited … to see Jesus, we wondered what it would have been like to be waiting with the large crowds to see the real Jesus a little over 2,000 years ago.  Would we have waited, or would we have grown tired and walked away prematurely?  Maybe we would have been a skeptic, perhaps one of the religious zealots?  If we were in the line waiting to meet the Messiah, when would the wait have become too long?  Would we have been selfish, impatient, pushed to the front or just been content to wait our turn?  Would we have even slightly realized the historical impact of this moment, this man?  Actually, I feel the answer lies in how much faith we would have had that Jesus possessed exactly what we needed, and that He was willing to give it to us upon our first meeting.  How badly would we want it?  Today, are we willing to wait?  Do we sacrifice time in order to meet with Him?  Convicting questions for myself, and I expect, for you the reader.  One lady in the Bible didn’t even need to meet Him personally; she just wanted to touch His clothing, which takes pressure off about what to say once you do meet face to face.  The great thing about having met the other Jesus – Ted Neeley – is the believability and confirmation in my heart, that Jesus receives us in a similar way, with arms open.   I did meet the real Jesus in 1976 and have tried to follow Him for these 37 years since, but as a visually influenced person, this weekend was as close to an epiphany as it gets, and it has a lot to do with branding of sorts.  If Ted Neeley had played Jesus on stage and film but had turned out to be rude, arrogant, apathetic, and ungrateful, it could taint the name of Jesus to a searching soul who may doubt His claims.  Now, I know that my God and my Jesus are big enough to take care of themselves and rise above that, but the opposite is also true.   Ted Neeley showed love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, generosity … and though I didn’t have enough time or opportunity to speak with him about deeper spiritual things and find out what he thinks about the real Jesus and whether he has met Him, those attributes Neeley genuinely displays are without question, according to Paul in the scriptures, fruits of the Spirit. 

Meeting Ted this weekend, gave a face to Jesus and not in a sacrilegious way but in a relational way.   You see, Jesus really did come to Lynchburg this week, Jesus really did spend time with us, and Jesus did love on us, showing us that each has worth and should aspire towards what He has placed in our hearts as our purpose and calling … and He did this through Ted Neeley, His wonderfully made creation and gift. 

Monday, March 04, 2013

Real People in Black Robes


A book about the highest court of the land, written by the long-tenured first woman to serve, may sound a bit clinical, stodgy and reminiscent of a history textbook but is anything but.  Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court is a delightful, fun, and very informatively entertaining read in both content and style.   Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has organized a collection of captivating stories about "real people, with real emotions, real foibles, and a very real - if sometimes conflicting - commitment to doing what is right."  She may have been the first woman on the court, but she delves into many other Supreme Court firsts as well as discussing the most iconic justices, the history of how the court began, how it moved between several locations until its current home in its own building, and even how circuit riding greatly tired out early justices as they served their jurisdictions.  Did you know the nation's highest court has a court above them?  A basketball court.  "Serious and stressful though the job can be, it has always been important to the Justices that the law clerks enjoy a social and collegial environment" like letting loose at weekly basketball games.  Mainly used for the clerks, there have been a couple justices who have played the game upstairs themselves.  One justice on the court was a former NFL rookie star leading the league in rushing, another played semi-professional baseball and beyond athleticism, many have an incredible sense of humor largely unknown by the public.  O'Connor believes this comic relief is "a valuable commodity in any occupation, and it certainly is appreciated in the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court of the United States."  Did you know that a former President served as Chief Justice - the only one to do so?  William Howard Taft was both the 27th President of the United Sates and the 10th Chief Justice of the United States.  So, that’s enough for the spoilers.  O'Connor's book will help you appreciate the history and the current role of the highest court as well the passion with which these men and women now serve, while at the same time making them human beings with quirks and personalities just like the reader.  O'Connor closes her work by including in entirety the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, which she also carries with her always.  It’s a great reminder of how we can agree to disagree in America, while all trying to do the right thing, and a reminder of why we do what we do and how blessed we are to be an American.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Little-g gods and the big-g God


Our gods (little g) are not little cows made of gold, but they are just as strange… sometimes they can fit in the palm of our hand and have touch screens, sometimes they are rectangular and green, sometimes they can be the very things that are supposed to be good for us in religion and family.   Elizabeth Scalia authors a regularly updated blog at www.patheos.com and has written this book Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life.  The front cover will catch your attention immediately as a church’s stained glass window is created by very recognizable app icons … point is, you may indeed identify what could be your strange god before even cracking the book open.   She writes “Idols are not like opinions or even convictions.  They don’t ask for consensus or even strong advocacy – they demand worshipers.”  This book is not written in a preach-in- your-face style, as Scalia realizes we all struggle with gods that end up taking the place of the one true God and writes from a place of personal experience.   She covers just a few of the gods we’ve made … Idols of I, the Idea, Prosperity, Technology, Coolness and Sex, Plans, Super Idols and more.   Recognizing her own frailty in this area, she admits the chapter on the idol of technology was inspired by her own awareness that she had put the “very strange god of Internet infotainment before God Almighty – and too often before my God-given family or commitments” succumbing to the distracting and destructive power of seeing her own ideas looking right back at her. Scalia’s purpose in this work is that we are able to identify our idols for what they are, and begin to remove them “from the high places we have allowed them to be enshrined – before our eyes, in our hearts, between each other, and between God and us.”  We need to understand that the roots of all sin, including idolatry are “seeded within the mind”.  If Scalia is successful with this easily read, but not necessarily easy to read book, then the reader will be left with the challenge to identify their own strange gods and launching a mission to destroy them and instead exalt God (big G). 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Understanding Israel's Place in Prophecy - the Seed Promise


Even if you know nothing about Bible prophecies for the last days or how from the start God chose a specific nation to be His special people, you've heard much political attention given to Israel.  In his book, Rabbi Jonathan Bernis would argue this is because Israel has been and will be important in practically all events that fall on history's timeline from Genesis through Revelation.  Bernis, a Jew who has come to accept the Jesus of Nazareth as the Jewish Messiah, contends that everything about Israel's part in biblical events is traced back to Genesis 3:15, the Seed Promise.   In that verse, "God decreed the seed of the woman would ultimately crush Satan's head and bring about his destruction".  That promise depended on Abraham's seed, the line through which the Redeemer would eventually appear.  Satan's mission was to stop it before it happened.   Bernis believes that Satan's number one priority is to destroy that seed, even to this day and this is the basis and rationale of all anti-Semitism.   In the book, he explains why this promise is yet to be fully fulfilled.  He believes that Calvary was a "down payment", the "first installment" since the domain of Satan has not yet been brought to completion.  The promise will ultimately be fulfilled when Jesus returns as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah in victory.  This two-part fulfillment is why Satan has worked so hard to destroy the Jewish people, even at times in the name of Christianity.   Bernis goes into detail, outlining specific prophecies and what is happening in Israel today that convinces him the end days are at hand as he sees these in fulfillment.  He spends the latter sections of the book encouraging the reader to reach out to their Jewish friends.  To do so, we must love them and make them jealous of the goodness of our God through our lives and personal stories.   If you understand the verse about blessings coming to those who bless Israel and curses to those who curse Israel, then it is easy to grasp how we should treat our Jewish friends with kindness and a love for them that cares about where they will spend eternity.  We will also want to pray for the nation and its people.  Bernis shares how we can do that.   Knowing that the people of Israel are not loved by God any more than you or I are but are uniquely special to Him, you'll want to learn more about their struggle, their pain, their abuse in history, and their place in prophecy.  I highly recommend this book for that reason alone.   The book was released on Jan 15, 2013 but my copy was a free advance courtesy of the publisher for review through www.netgalley.com.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Case for the Truth (a book review)

As a fan of television shows such as Bones, Cold Case and CSI I was quickly drawn in by the title of J. Warner Wallace’s new book "Cold-Case Christianity" and was certainly not disappointed.   Years from now, I expect this book to be referred to with the likes of Josh McDowell’s “Evidence That Demands A Verdict”, Francis Shaeffer’s ”The God who is There” or C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity”.

Wallace’s journey parallels Lewis’s in that he was once an avowed atheist arguing against the existence of the God they both would come to believe in and defend.  What makes Wallace’s perspective unique is his profession as detective, investigating cold cases and his experience in the courtroom.

Early in the book Wallace writes “even before examining the Gospels with the rigor we are going to apply…I recognized that they were consistent with what I would expect to see, given my experience as a detective.”  Wallace uses his investigative and courtroom experiences as examples and analogies in his arguments in defense of the authenticity of the Bible.  He counters opposing claims to biblical errors by citing historical (non-Christian) writers of the day, archeological finds and addresses the courtroom parallel of chain of custody and circumstantial evidence as convincing perspective.

About the claim from skeptics that the Gospels were written after the life of Christ as part of a conspiracy,  Wallace says the best way to counter this is to retrace the chain of custody to look for a mishandling of the evidence from point of ‘crime scene’ to first appearance in the ‘courtroom’.  After much meticulous detail, he could find none. 

Wallace contends that just as a defendant should be considered innocent until proven guilty, skeptics get it wrong when they claim that the burden for the proof of the Christian worldview belongs to Christians, adding that naturalism is the default position that need not be proved.   Wallace believes that if a declaration is being made which cannot be supported by evidence, it is only an attempt to destroy or distract, which if those same tactics used to try to disqualify the Gospels were used on other writings they would also disqualify non-biblical historical texts. 

After a fascinating read, Wallace’s passion which led him to write the book is clear.  His hope is that his skeptical friends would lay aside presuppositions long enough to consider the possibility of a substantive circumstantial case supporting the reliability of the gospel writers.  He also hopes that Christians will be more ready and able to make “a case for the truth.”  ...and that, I am.

Friday, January 18, 2013

video
Yep, that's me ... with the opportunity to speak at the local Weight Watchers and share my journey of losing 50 pounds.