Autobiographies of Ordinary People

I’m still thinking about “being GREAT” and the intense focus on the “great” men and women of history or of today. Like me, you may read their biographies and autobiographies looking for insight – What can I learn from his life? How did they get to be great? What are their habits? How can I be like them? That’s okay I guess, but it’s not that simple. Great people seem to develop from some combination of circumstances, character and abilities that doesn’t seem easily replicable by most of us.

I’ve figured out that I’m not going to be great by society’s measures. And it’s also the case that many great men have terrible flaws – obsessiveness, arrogance, cruelty, greed, and the like – which may even have helped propel them to fame and fortune. I don’t want to be like that. Greatness at any price is not worth the cost. No, my challenge is to be great at living an ordinary life. How can I be a great husband and dad, a great employee, a great friend? Whose biographies do I read? Whose lives do I study?

Even reading the Bible, I’m tempted to identify myself with Paul, Peter, David, Joseph or some other prominent person. But these guys are amazingly great men of God. All of us simply can’t be like them. Perhaps it would be more realistic for me to identify with someone in the “multitude,” or “crowd,” or among “…the three thousand that were added…” Unfortunately it seems that most anyone in the Bible that gets much ink isn’t very ordinary.

It got me thinking that maybe I should start reading biographies of ordinary people with extraordinary character. Do they exist? I don’t know, but I do know that I’m learning a lot about life from trusted friends. We meet weekly to encourage and guide each other through life’s up and downs as we follow Jesus. We share our stories along with our hopes, dreams and fears. Last week it struck me that I’m hearing their autobiographies – as told by the authors – and they’re hearing mine. And we’re helping one another plan the next installment. Sort of an “autobiography writer’s group” as it were. Cool!

Autobiographies of ordinary people – they do exist. And they’re powerful. Hear a few from people you trust and find some friends to help you write yours. You’ll be glad you did.

Pete

 

Escaping the Pressure Cooker

Generations ago, and in some places still, people’s main source of pressure was survival. Find food. Secure shelter. Avoid predators. Make it to tomorrow. Not so much of that in America today. But even here, modern life has its pressures. Pressure to be “successful,” to be liked, admired, to be beautiful, to fit in, to be accepted, to live a lifestyle. Life is full of such pressure. For many people, perhaps even most, life can be a virtual pressure cooker.

The media, and especially social media, are part of the problem. For professional reasons, I’ve been on LinkedIn more than usual lately and it’s bringing me down. Half the posts in my feed promise to reveal the secrets to being a “GREAT™ _________” (leader, CEO, operator, etc.) and the other half seem to be people revealing to everyone else just how GREAT of a ________ they are. Apparently they’re not too many ordinary people allowed out there anymore. We’ve all got to be Richard Branson or some other version of “GREAT!”

Of course not everyone can be great in the eyes of the world. Very few of us really. I don’t know about you, but I’ve figured out that I’m not going to be one of them. I’m not going to be awarded the Nobel Prize or the Congressional Medal of Freedom. Not going to be on “the 50 most influential people of ______” list. My books are not going to be bestsellers. No one will ever write my biography. Heck, I’ll probably never even have a Wikipedia entry (an essential step on the way to GREAT).

Fortunately the pressure is off. Not because I’ve given up the pursuit of excellence, I’m all for excellence. Life is serious. Results do matter.

The good news is that God does not call me to be GREAT but rather to be faithful. Having been fully accepted by God through faith and by the work of Jesus, I am relieved of the world’s performance pressures, while at the same time God’s Holy Spirit works through me to achieve his results. And he is not about mediocrity. All I’ve got to do is cooperate! (Yes, cooperating with God has to be worked at too but it’s way more pleasant than trying to be GREAT.)

I think that’s a very short version of the gospel of God, which is God’s good news to all of humanity. If you’re feeling the pressure, there is a way out. Jesus is the way. I can’t say why but he chose me; maybe he will choose you too. I hope he does!

Blessings,

Pete

When you KNOW

I worked out this morning, as I’ve done pretty regularly for 15 years. I say I enjoy it, and I do, but I also don’t. It’s hard, it’s strenuous. Pretty often, in the midst of it, I find myself thinking, Why am I doing this? Why don’t I just relax, sleep in, linger at breakfast? Is exercise really so important? No one will judge me if I let go a bit, relax, gain some weight, live how most people live. But then I think, No, I know what I have to do.

It’s the same with eating. Controlling your waistline is quite difficult, as we see from this morning’s CNN report – Obesity among all US adults reaches all-time high. I’m not heavy, but I’m newly refocused on my eating and drinking habits because of a troublesome case of ocular rosacea. I’ve begun supplementing with Omega-3 fatty acids, which adds considerable calories to my daily intake, and cutting back on snacks and other less healthy fats. It’s not that easy but, once again, I know what I have to do.

Yet we all recognize that knowing isn’t doing. Most people are aware of all sorts of potentially beneficial behavior changes that they find themselves unable to implement. It’s just too hard. Hence the obesity epidemic. Don’t feel bad if this is you. Hey, I’ve been there myself. And of course I’m still there now for some things in my life.

Behavior change is more of a process than an event. Somewhere in this process a transition from simple knowing, or awareness, to a deep KNOWING, a conviction of what we must do, occurs, and that compels us to action. That kind of KNOWING seems to be what I have. I hope you get it too. But where does it come from? How does it happen? Is it just a matter of time?

Honestly, I’m not sure. We’re all different, but it’s not simply a matter of time otherwise everyone would be getting well. I’m giving credit to the Holy Spirit. God removes my shame. He convicts me of what is good and right, and he provides me with the power to act on that conviction. May he do the same for you.

Pete

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At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?”

Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we KNOW [emphasis mine] you are the Holy One of God.

– John 6:66-69 NLT

Finding the Safe Space

I’m not a big believer in the concept of “safe spaces,” at least not as it’s being advanced by those (mostly but not exclusively young) people who seem endlessly offended by thoughts, ideas and words which conflict with their thoughts, ideas and visions for the world. On the other hand, full intellectual engagement with the media, social media, friends and associates on the topics of the day is certainly draining. So it’s reasonable to seek to protect oneself, to create one’s own “safe space” for rest, recovery and renewal. That’s what I’m trying to do.

I’ve been withdrawing a bit from the media and social media, skipping newspaper articles and Facebook posts that I would ordinarily read. Too stressful to engage. And really, what’s the point? Does anyone care what I think? What concrete actions would I take in response? Why inflame or depress myself if there is nothing for me to do about things?

At the same time, I feel the need to work on my character and draw closer to God. Wouldn’t it be great to have more peace and equanimity regardless of the actions of others and the stories of the day? Sure it would. And God promises that, but we have to do the work. To that end, I’ll be participating in a new men’s discipleship program on the spiritual disciples (source text here) beginning next week. I’m pretty excited. It’s just what I need! I wonder, did my church leaders create it just for me? Seems like it. Maybe they did. Who knows how God is working in this?

Praise God! Although he’s mysterious, we do know that he is working in all things for the good of those who love him. All things. Each of us will experience at least some very distressing things in our lives. This world can be a cruel place, and no amount of social engineering is going to cure oppression, poverty, sickness and death. Shit happens, and it happens to the weak and the powerful alike. Yet, God is here and he is good.

Hence Jesus. Has not Jesus reconciled us to God and overcome the world? Is not Jesus the safe space? I think he is. Find him. Follow him. And, as always, let me know if I can help.

Stay safe,

Pete

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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.
In this world you will have trouble.

But take heart! I have overcome the world.

– Jesus (John 16:33 NIV)

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…And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose…

…If God is for us, who can be against us?…

…For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– The Apostle Paul (Romans 8:28;31;38-39 NIV)

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A Vacation Reset

Sharon, the kids (adult kids) and I just returned from a weeklong vacation in northern California, Santa Rosa and San Francisco to be specific. We spent time connecting and reconnecting with various branches of our extended family and seeing the sights. It was a relaxing and restful time. Now that we’re home, I’m reflecting on my experience, and here are some of my takeaways.

I worry too much. The trip took my attention away from all of my usual responsibilities. No thinking about home or work issues, just staying “in the now” as they say. I enjoyed visiting people and places, and he most critical daily issue usually was “what are we doing for lunch?” Life got simple and immediate. It was nice. How can I bring this simplicity and immediacy back home with me? I’m resolving to be more attuned to the present and spend less mental energy on the future.

My family is worth my time. Not just my immediate family but also the extended family. People are relational creatures,designed to be in community with one another, and that starts with our families. If all we do is “see the family” that alone is worth the trip. Seeing the sights is not as important as seeing the people. I’ve got to remember that.

Disconnecting from the media is a good idea. While gone, I didn’t read the morning newspapers and didn’t miss them. I didn’t watch the news, and I didn’t engage in much social media. Although, we remained aware of breaking news and current events through the internet, we didn’t put much energy into analysis or discussion of the latest “crisis.” That was refreshing.

I was still thinking about our media-driven, feverish culture on the way home. During a three-hour layover in DFW, watching many hundreds of people (of all shapes, sizes and colors) go by, I got to thinking about them. About how each one of them, like me, had a life to live, and perhaps a family to care for. And about how each of them needed to think about getting home, eating lunch, and also the larger issues in their lives. And finally, about how little that most of the “crisis news” has to do with that.

The well-lived life is mostly an internal affair. I need to keep working on myself. And, with God’s help, I shall.

Pete

 

More Compassion, Less Piling On

compassionnoun
sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others

Sharon was out of town last weekend, and I thought I’d relax and watch a late night movie. Perusing our small DVD collection I ran across MASH, a film I’ve preciously enjoyed, and thought “that’ll do.” Sometimes it’s nice to just go mindless for a while with a movie that I know already. So I hit the play button and settled in for the evening.

Twenty minutes later I was unsettled. The film wasn’t sitting well with me. The lead characters are arrogant and mean, and their meanness bothered me. I’ve seen MASH before, many times, but this time was different. I was uncomfortable trying to enjoy it. It didn’t seem like something that I should enjoy. Eventually I hit eject and went to bed.

Although this seems to mark some sort of internal shift for me, I have been thinking about meanness versus compassion for the last few months. My social media feeds have way too many mean spirited posts and comments about people suffering the consequences of drug addiction, criminal behavior, or just plain bad judgment. Some comments are shocking in their nastiness. Do the posters truly think that the foolish young man deserved to die (probably after torture) at the hands of North Korean officials? God help them.

In healthcare, and in life, we all see a lot of undeserved suffering. Disease and misfortune befall people for no reason other than “bad luck.” Knowing that we too are vulnerable, we can be moved to compassion. But just as often, or maybe more, people create their own mess. Smokers get lung cancer. The texting driver crashes and dies. Shall we be indifferent to their suffering, or even cruel, piling on with hurtful commentary? Apparently a lot of people believe we should.

I don’t think Jesus would agree with that. We are to be compassionate, and we should be able to see that “there, but for the grace of God go I.” That doesn’t mean endorsing bad or foolish behavior. Some things are simply wrong. Nor are we compelled to fix everything (even if we could) for those suffering harsh consequences of their behavior.  But we can be compassionate.

I don’t know if  anyone can summon compassion in every circumstance; some behavior is truly heinous, but ending the piling on in social media seems like a good place to start. God help all of us.

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“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” – Jesus, (Matthew 7:12 NLT)

One Day You’re an Expert

I’ve been experiencing a great deal of change recently, and another big one is right around the corner. In two weeks I’ll be leaving my current employer to become an independent consultant in the healthcare industry. It’s pretty exciting. I guess it could also be scary, but I’m trusting God and I’m ready for this particular change.

Having dinner with a younger colleague last week, and discussing my plans, the more general topic of career progression came up. After I explained my career journey, he had a couple of questions. “So, how does one get to be ‘an expert,’ to arrive in a position where others seek you as a consultant? Any advice to pass along?”

I don’t know that I had too much smart to say. Most of my thoughts on the topic are pretty basic, and my answer was something like this: Do your best at your current job. Keep learning. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. Research what others are doing. Go to conferences and meetings. Read. Talk with colleagues. Eventually one day, perhaps after many years, something will happen to cause you to recognize your own knowledge and ability and you’ll realize that you’re an expert. At least that’s what happened to me.

Something similar seems to have happened with my emotional wellbeing. I’ve thought about this kind of career move before, but it seemed too scary, too distant. Now it seems at hand. I’m finding myself to be calm and at peace with this major change. Also as you’d expect, I’m trusting God. It feels good, surprisingly good. It’s surprising enough for me to ask myself, “Wait a minute! Why am I not more worried about this? How and when did I become a calm, peaceful person? When did I get this faith?”

I think the answers are a lot like those involving my career. Do the best you can at following Jesus. Pray. Listen. Talk with others of like mind. Pay attention to your emotions. Have whatever faith you can muster. Read the Bible. Work through your emotions as best you can. Eventually one day, perhaps after many years, something will happen to cause you to recognize your own inner state and you’ll realize that you’re a calm and peaceful person of faith. At least that’s what happened to me.

Praise God.

Peace,

Pete