Olympics Withdrawal and the Agony

OlympicsI must confess–I’m in withdrawal . . . from the Olympics. I become completely immersed in the hope that the Olympics represent and generate. So much so that when I was in high school, I did a report on Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympiad because I admired his philosophy when it came to sport:

The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.

While NBC insisted on packaging so many of the events to feature the American athletes, many in their moments of expected or anticipated triumph, I missed the lesser important events with the unknown men and women whose stories of bravery and perseverance brought them to the international stage.

Fortunately, the cameras caught a few of those moments. The collision of the American and New Zealand women during the 5,000 meter race, the one lifting the other up and finishing the race. The 41-year-old gymnast who was the team representing Uzbekistan. The entire refugee team competing under the Olympic flag.

While I applauded Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, and the Final Five, I missed the “agony of defeat” as ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” used to say in its show’s introduction.

During Sunday’s homily, our pastor reminded us that “agony” in Greek also means “strive.” It’s that sense of the word that seemed appropriate these last two weeks. The striving, the struggling to be a little faster, a little farther, a little stronger. I hope that that is the lesson that so many of us and our young people take home from these Olympic games.

 

Pizza and Flowers–Or What Do You Really Mean (Rule #3)

pizzaMy brother-in-law has a very dry sense of humor which sometimes gets mistaken for plain grumpiness.

He spent some time in the hospital recently. When he woke up and regained some semblance of lucidity, he asked for pizza. Everyone said, “No.” Then he asked us to order five pepperoni pizzas. Again, the answer was no. We knew he was hungry, but pizza wasn’t on the physician-prescribed diet yet. And there was no way a pizza delivery person was getting onto that floor!

Seemingly cowed by the force of our explanations, he quieted down for a while. Then he asked us to order five flower boxes from the local florist. Initially, we thought maybe he had slipped into that sleepy, confused state he had been slowly coming out of. But he insisted, grumpily. He wanted five flower boxes.

It look a while, but then it hit us.

Buy 5 pizzas. Put them in 5 flower boxes. It’s a hospital!! Who is going to turn away a delivery!

Rule #3. Explain your reasoning and what your intent is.

Just because you say you want something and you want it a certain way doesn’t mean anyone other than you understands what you are talking about. My brother-in-law’s intent? Sneak pizza into the hospital. His reasons? He was hungry, and the solution called for a cover story–flowers.

I have to admit that this one is sort of personal. In grad school, there were many times when I raised my hand, got called on, and made a comment only to be met with absolute silence — then the conversation picked up someplace else.

Why? I did a poor job of explaining the point that I was trying to communicate. My reasoning might have been hard to follow. And the intention behind what I was trying to say was unclear.

Think of the “let’s do it this way” conversations you have had — and which ones have turned into heated discussions. They can quickly and easily turn into “push-me, pull-you” arguments that include a lot of “no’s'” and “but’s” in them.

Instead, replay the last one you can remember. Rewrite the discussion by changing your lines so that you start by saying “this is what I hope we can accomplish” (the intent) and explaining the reasons why your proposal could be effective.

Notice, there is nothing in here about which person is right. Because “right” isn’t the issue. As leaders, the only “right” thing is identifying the right problem. Problems have many solutions, and being able to discuss calmly and rationally multiple good and potentially effective solutions is what leaders are called to do.

 

The Secret to Achieving the Awesome

By guest blogger, Terry Modica, Good News Ministries, gnm.org

BikeWhat’s the gold you’re pursuing? What treasure? What awesome goal? What new spiritual height? What overcoming of wounds or sin?

My husband and I recently began riding our bikes every morning. The gold we seek is weight loss and stronger knees and backs. For weeks we rode merrily around our neighborhood with only minor results.

Then I watched the Olympics. I listened to the interviews of winners. And one important message came through: True athletes don’t practice their skill so much that gradually their body improves enough to run farther or jump higher or swim faster than the competition. They don’t wait for that. I had been waiting on my legs muscles to improve enough to bike farther and faster. That’s a mistake. I was slowing down whenever my muscles cried out, “That’s enough pushing for now! You’ve reached the pain threshold.”

True progress is made only by reaching the pain threshold and pushing through it.

Keep going when it hurts; push harder — this is when you begin to make a difference.

Pain while exerting muscles comes from a buildup of lactic acid. If we choose not to focus on the pain but on the goal instead, and if we remain motivated by our passionate desire to reach that goal, lactic acid won’t stop us. Lactic acid is just a reminder that we’re succeeding: We’re getting closer to the gold. Hooray!

What’s the lactic acid that’s been keeping you from being all that you’re called by God to be? What do you wish you could accomplish but you’ve reached the threshold of pain and this has kept you from moving forward?

I’ve changed how I ride my bike for exercise. It’s no longer a question of, “How much longer can I ride today because I’ve built up my muscle strength?” Now it’s, “Go faster! Push harder! No pain, no gain.” My bike ride takes less time, but now I return home panting and aching and feeling awesome about the new, improved results.

The pain isn’t as noticeable when we keep our eyes on the goal. If I focus on the top of the hill, I get up the hill faster, because the lactic acid in my legs is not the center of my attention.

What’s the gold beyond your own pain threshold? Trust Jesus, work those faith muscles till they hurt, and keep your focus on the gold that God wants to give to you. This will make you a winner every time!

How Firmly Rooted Are Your Feet? (Rule #8)

yogaIf you have trouble with resolving conflict, this is the rule for you.

One of the things that I love about practicing yoga is what the focus is–practice.

I find balancing poses–tree pose, dancer’s pose, Warrior III–to be very challenging. When I first started yoga, I thought the focus was supposed to be on doing the position perfectly, and it started with the feet. I learned–after many unattractive, acrobatic flourishes–that it has nothing to do with the position, and everything to do with core.

Rule #8, focus on interests, not positions. In yoga, the focus is on the core, those all-important muscles that keep everything else in alignment, not the position. I’ve found this to be true in groups, relationships, and pretty much every other aspect of work and life.

When we focus on the position, we become adversarial. In tree pose, I used to get mad at my arms because they were fighting what my legs and the rest of me wanted to do. In relationships, we get rooted to a spot, and often there is no bridge to a place where we can join minds, hearts, and heads.

When we focus on interests, the starting point is very different. I read many years ago that the best negotiators started conversations with the simplest of decisions–where and when to meet, how many people would be invited, what language would be used. The best of the best knew that each of these little decisions created a base upon which more challenging interests could be addressed, and ultimately the questions that were at the core of the positions the parties held could be answered.

I think about really big international conflicts that have been addressed in my lifetime–the peace settlement in the Mid-East (not permanent, but it was a step), detente and ultimately the breaking down of the walls between East and West, the opening of dialogue with China. Each of these negotiations started with questions like, “Where do we meet? Who should we invite? What are the rules for dialogue?” And which smaller partners were these negotiations tested with, practiced on?

When faced with conflict, how tightly do you hold onto your position? Think of the most recent experience you had, at the heart of it, what were you interested in accomplishing? What was the other person interested in accomplishing? Where did your interests potentially overlap? And how could you go from there?

Discipleship Is about Making a Decision

NormanEvangelist Luke and Olympian Peter Norman understood the cost of discipleship. And we should pay attention.

Peter Norman was the unknown and unremembered white man on the podium for the 200-meter sprint at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. He stood beside the two African-American medalists, Tommy Smith and John Carlos, who famously stood in bare feet, and raised their arms in the Black Power salute to show their support for the Olympic Project for Human Rights.

In yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus preaches division, not for division’s sake, but to challenge his listeners, to help them understand that following him was a conscious decision, a decision with consequences, even death.

In choosing to stand with Smith and Carlos, Norman understood the consequences and did not falter. He would have worn a black glove and saluted like Smith and Carlos, had there been a third one. So instead, he wore the same badge that they wore, declaring his support for the cause.

After the Olympics, he returned to a racially divided and deeply segregated Australia. There he was ostracized from sports and life (he struggled just to find employment because of his stance) and marginalized for the rest of his life. He was asked to condemn the other medalists in exchange for a pardon, but he refused.

In the long-run, Smith and Carlos were acknowledged for being on the right side of the civil rights issue. The government’s pardon came too late for Peter when he died in 2006.

“Peter was a lone soldier. He consciously chose to be a sacrificial lamb in the name of human rights. There’s no one more than him that Australia should honor, recognize and appreciate,” John Carlos said.

“He paid the price with his choice,” explained Tommie Smith. “It wasn’t just a simple gesture to help us, it was HIS fight. He was a white man, a white Australian man among two men of color, standing up in the moment of victory, all in the name of the same thing.”

What is the cost of discipleship for you?

Words and the Word

words“Ich bin ein Berliner.” “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” “I have a dream . . . ” “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Words have meaning. Kennedy’s brief German phrase showed his sympathy for those who lived within Berlin’s walls. Gandhi’s invitation challenged us to choose a path of virtue and for the common good.

King dispelled the darkness of day with the clarity and light of his dream for all. Roosevelt called us to rise above that which might have held us paralyzed and work together.

The Word of God brought a simple, yet profound message of love, repentance, and salvation that we still seek to unpack each and every day.

Words–and the Word–have meaning. We can’t ignore that. And listeners go where the words lead. That path may be intended or not, clear or ambiguous, but listeners go where the words lead. And that responsibility is with the creator and speaker of the words.

Yesterday, one of the news shows shared an anecdote from one of our past presidential administrations. While the interview with him was over, his microphone was still open, and the president jokingly made the statement that the U.S. was preparing to bomb the Soviets. Upon hearing this, the Soviets prepared for war, going so far as to make their intentions public in the press. Eventually, it came to light that the president’s words were only a joke and no harm was intended. But what if . . .

Most leaders know this. We know that our words have meaning, and that we want to communicate our thoughts and ideas as clearly as possible. With the speed of social media, we know how quickly words can do harm. But we also know how quickly they can bring healing–see the responses to the many human and natural disasters in the last few years, even weeks.

We tell children to use their words. We’re missing one word–“well.”

Handling Success

humilityShortly after my very exhausted husband walked through the door yesterday, he told me about a conversation that he had with his peer leaders at the high school about humility and leadership.

He’d been struck by how the USA swimmers who medaled in the first few days responded to questions about their success–thanking their families, their coaches, the team–recognizing that the end result could have been something very different if they hadn’t given it their best.

Within the last few days, we’ve seen the value of humility illustrated on many stages. Katie Ledecky, proud of her medals, but oozing gratitude to her family and friends. As opposed to Chad de Clos, strutting in front of Michael Phelps, trying to psych him out before their semi-final. (Yes, he was indeed strutting!)

Daniel Boudia and Steele Johnson thanked Jesus Christ for inspiring them to work so hard that they were able to win silver in men’s synchronized diving.

And Ichiro Suzuki reaching 3,000 hits without the fanfare and over-analyzed attention of the Alex Rodriquez retirement press conference.

What we have seen and heard is that humility does not ask for attention. It proves its value by actions we take. It recognizes that “I” am always part of the “we” that is bigger and greater than me.

In what other realms have you heard or seen humility at work recently? How do you strive to imitate Christ’s humility in your daily work?

Reason and Wonder

wonderReason and wonder are the two sides of a coin like the one that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel.

Good leaders have the ability to use both reason and wonder to inspire and motivate themselves and others to embrace the Good News, evangelize, and nourish those they encounter.

Today’s first reading from Ezekiel illustrates this. It begins with an ordered account of the when, rooting us in a specific time and place . . .

On the fifth day of the fourth month of the fifth year,
that is, of King Jehoiachin’s exile . . .
–Ezekiel 1:2

Then unfolds the mysterious, awesome, and wonderous vision of the glory of God.

Jesus recognizes this too in today’s Gospel. He puts the question to Peter about paying the temple tax, then instructs Peter to go fishing. In the mouth of the fish Peter catches, there is a coin with which they pay the tax. Practical yet wonder-filled.

I’ve often thought about how much of my day, week, month is spent focused on the quotidian efforts of answering the questions of who, what, where, and when, and limited time spent reflecting on the vision of the glory of God and what that might mean in my work and ministry.

I know I need the reasoned side of the coin, but do I forget the wonder side?

Where do I see wonder and want only to express it in praise?

 

 

 

Thwack! (Rule #6)

doorThat’s the sound of the door closing your mind when faced with someone who disagrees with you.

Here’s the key. At least don’t lock the proverbial door.

When we let ourselves maintain a closed mind, we fall into the “we’ve always done it this way” trap. And that trap is particularly dangerous in our amazingly fast changing world and culture.

A few ways to keep yourself open to different perspectives.

  • Surround yourself with people who approach problems and situations differently than you do. It’s the “Abraham Lincoln” approach–keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer (replace “enemies” with anything that refers to people who see the world differently.)
  • Keep a journal where you start with your perspective, and breakdown why others around you are taking a different approach. This approach encourages sympathy which can help breach the gap between differences.
  • Ask yourself what are the potential positive outcomes of a differing perspective.

If you have other ideas, please share them. Staying open takes energy, and it’s a lot easier when we are surrounded by others who are doing the same.

Vatican Announces Commission on Women Deacons

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In a press release issued this morning, the Vatican announced that “after intense prayer and mature reflection,” Pope Francis has established a “Commission of Study on the Diaconate of Women” and named twelve members to it, six of them women, including one American—Professor Phyllis Zagano, who teaches at Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y.

Professor Zagano is a widely published author on the subject of women deacons whose writings who have appeared in America.

— Tim Reidy, Gerard O’Connell, August 2, 2016

Read the complete article in America Magazine