Monthly Archives: June 2017

The Problem with Stars

Every team has its “star.” The naturally gifted athlete. The incredibly imaginative artist. The achingly effortless musician. The amazingly smart student.

One of the challenges for any leader is what to do with a star.

In many sports, they build teams around them. The Angels and Mike Trout. The New England Patriots and Tom Brady. The LA Lakers and Magic Johnson.

But still, on a day to day basis, what do you do with a star? Do you encourage them “be a good team member” (often meaning, share the time, resources, attention with everyone else)? Do you just let the star be the star?

When I was in high school, my best friend’s twin brother played basketball, so when the season ended and post-season, championship play began, we went to the games. His team won the Catholic league championship which was the ticket to the state finals against East Lansing High School.

During warm-ups, we noticed something sort of odd. This sort of short East Lansing player (like maybe 5’2″ or 5’3″) never took a shot. All he did was pass the ball to this other, much taller player whose every shot dropped perfectly through the hoop.

When the game got under way, it was clear that the short East Lansing player was running the show. With different numbered fingers in the air, he set up and ran the play. The odd thing was that during almost every play, the ball ended up in that same tall player’s hands — and in the basket.

By halftime, we sat their amazed, jaws dropping, eyes pealed, categorically amazed. During the break, we asked who that player was, and her older brother said, “Earvin Johnson.”

By the end of the game, Earvin “Magic” Johnson had scored 44 points (I recall) and single-handedly beat their opponent.

By the end of the game, I learned something about how to handle a star. Let them be one when the situation dictates it. For his high school team, the state championship led to college careers that some of their probably had never dreamed were possible. And they had ridden to the championship on his abilities.

When Magic became a pro (and I actually watched pro basketball because I was living in Chicago during the Michael Jordan years), I learned something else about how to handle a star. When you surround them with gifted players, those stars who have learned to be humble about who and what they are will play well with others and share the ball, sacrifice the body, make the other look better than they think they are.

Ministry stars are much the same. Sometimes you give them the stage and let them lead 20,000+ people in prayer, song, and praise (thank you, Jesse Manibusan.) Sometimes you give them silence and a piano, and let them inspire (thanks, Sarah Hart.) And sometimes you give them an idea and just let them go (thank you, Meredith and Mark.)

Other times, you surround them with other faith-filled leaders, and let them struggle to serve those who hunger for peace, justice, compassion, and knowledge.

The problem with stars isn’t that that they are stars. It’s that we sometimes don’t know how to direct their light and shine it on others as well as on them. That’s what Jesus did for us, now it’s our turn to do it for others.

 

When You Are the Face of the Ministry

Living “inside the beltway” (if not literally, at least figuratively speaking), the same leadership issues seem to get hammer at ceaselessly. No one on the hill can work in a bipartisan way. Where is the new “gang of …” who will stand up and work on real issues. You get the gist.

Out here on the west coast, however, I’ve been listening to leadership issues in the world of NBA basketball.

Apparently, the first round draft pick for the LA Lakers did a sort of un-leader-like thing. He and his family appeared on WWE, and in the midst of this appearance, his 15-year-old brother repeatedly used the “n” word on TV–multiple times. Big brother did nothing. Said nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Said first-round-draft choice is apparently supposed to be the new “face of the LA Lakers” much like Magic Johnson was for so many years, the one to build the franchise on.

My guess is that he’s going to have to learn the long, hard lessons that many of us have mastered over the years. Like . . .

  1. “Be careful what you say. Someone is always listening.” Remember the last time you were in a group, talking to someone you know very well in the same room with parents, students, or leaders in your ministry, and you said something that was honest and true, but only meant for that one person to hear? And someone else heard it too, and you didn’t want her to hear that. Some call it self-censureship. I call it picking my words–and audience–wisely.
  2. “Practice what you preach.” Or your words and actions will come back to haunt you. Nothing worse than leading a group of teens through methods for conflict resolution only to run into a few of them accidentally as you are losing your cool with your spouse or friend.
  3. “Always be genuine, even if it means not being perfect.” Children and teens have particularly good radar for assessing that all-essential quality of genuineness.

Knowing you are the face of your ministry, what lesson would you teach someone who is new to ministry?

Discuss.

 

What’s It All About, Alfie?

As far back as I can remember, my father has sung the same line in the same way — and stopped. Whether we were in the car, in an elevator, or at the dinner table, it was always the same thing. “What’s is all about, Alfie” . . . then nothing.

No second line. Nothing.

As a kid, it made me laugh even though I knew the “joke.” It took until I was about 13, and I was playing my way through a book of popular songs on the piano, when lo and behold, there was the theme song from the movie, “Alfie.”

Well, gosh darn it. I didn’t know there was a movie called “Alfie.” And even more surprising, I didn’t know that there were more lyrics. Even a second verse!

One day, after my dad sung his one line, I asked him, “Do you know the next line in the song?” He just looked at me, and said, “No.”

Funny thing is that the joke got even funnier (to me, at least) once I learned that he didn’t know the next line, let alone the rest of the song. The joke wasn’t the song. The joke was the fact that he sang it for no reason, at no particular time, whenever the urge came over him.

I do the same thing–one lyric, no more, without warning. But I do have a reason.

The old adage says that humor soothes the savage beast–basically, it helps to reduce tension and relieve pressure when tempers rise.

Nonsensical actions like singing one line of a song and stopping can serve the same purpose. They can change the trajectory of a discussion in moments, turning a debate into a conversation, or a heated controversy into a creative opportunity.

When dealing with group dynamics, especially conflict, look for the nonsensical action or element. It has the potential and power to lead you forward when the path you are taking may seem to have narrowed or been foreshortened.

 

What Inspires You?

One of our members, World Library Publications, is issuing 3 new recordings on vinyl this year. So, when I got word of these new recordings–one is Bing Crosby and the Christmas story–I got jazzed.

See, tucked away in a cabinet in our library is my stack of records ranging from “The Carpenters” to “Pebbles and Bam-Bam’s Christmas” (yes, really!), and a collection of 78s from the Big Band era.

Records were the soundtrack of my life growing up. They accompanied me in my low moments, sang me out of my doldrums, and celebrated the mountain experiences. Because I would listen to them from start to finish (never just one song), I lived through a whole range of emotions and experiences by the time the last song ended. My faith was formed by Ray Repp, “Joy Is Like the Rain,” and Followers of the Way.

Most people would say that music inspires them. Some music, somewhere. At least once in a lifetime.

What music inspires you?

Why?

I learned that I could be whatever and whoever I wanted to be (“Free to Be You and Me.”) This special and album spearheaded by Marlo Thomas inspired me to look beyond societal boundaries. It helped me believe that I was as capable as the next equally talented and skilled person in the room.

I learned to observe and experience with all of my senses through Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and then Ravel’s orchestration of it. It started as a college “Symphonic Appreciation” assignment, but it captivated my already-nerdy inclination toward museums. The original piano piece added an aural dimension to the visual that has never let me go. It challenges me look at decisions from different points of view, and stop and engage when something doesn’t immediately grab me.

I also learned how to be present in prayer before God. When I was about middle school age, a group of young adults recorded 2 albums as the Followers of the Way. I spent a lot of time listening to, singing with, and dancing to these songs. As I was growing into my faith, they helped me find God in the world, in my family, and in myself.

So, what 3 songs (or albums) have contributed to the score of your life and ministry, and why? How do you still see and hear them resonating in your work and ministry?

2017’s Best Catholic Reads

Here are the 11 best Catholic titles as honored by the Association of Catholic Publishers. Some are wonderful summer reads (The Lion of Munster, One Ordinary Sunday or Remembering God’s Mercy). Others are terrific gifts especially for First Communion or Confirmation (hint, hint — Dear Pope Francis, the Book of the Year, too!) And the remaining ones belong in your hands, on your desk, or on your shelf (once read, of course!)

Here are the best of the best Catholic books with comments from the judges.

Biography: The Lion of Munster: The Bishop Who Roared Against the Nazis by Fr. Daniel Utrecht (Saint Benedict Press) “Well-researched biography of contemporary figure.”

Children: Dear Pope Francis: The Pope Answers Letters from Children Around the World by Pope Francis (Loyola Press) “The questions are both thought-provoking and interesting, and Pope Francis illustrates his respect and care for children in his answers.” “Very fabulous in overall packaging, writing. Clearly an extraordinary book.”

General Interest: One Ordinary Sunday by Paula Huston (Ave Maria Press) “A well-researched and winsomely presented explanation of what happens during Mass. Huston interweaves her personal struggles with the various parts of the Mass one summer Sunday in ordinary time. Written with the zeal of a convert (which Huston is), it’s an important book given the lack of theological education among so many lay Catholics, and it’s a pleasure to read.”

Inspirational: Remembering God’s Mercy by Dawn Eden (Ave Maria Press) “This book is rich in food for thought. The author draws on the teachings and lives of St. Ignatius and his son Pope Francis and adds her personal stories and references to an array of noted people. Not only will people suffering from PTSD find this book helpful, but anyone seeking to grow spiritually.”

Prayer and Spirituality: Faith: Practices, Models and Sources of the Spirit by Walter Kasper (Paulist Press) “The text is highly readable with excellent homiletic type points with the capacity to touch the heart as well as expand thought.  Its view of essential aspects of faith and stages of life, as well as insight into prayer and models of faith, are well gathered.  There is much on which to chew and to bring to prayer and to discussion with others.  Incisive, inviting, rooted in real life, focused on Christ – this, with Kasper’s previous work on mercy, deserves a place on the shelf for consult and ongoing reflection.”

Resources for Liturgy: Three Great Days by Jeremy Helmes (Liturgical Press) “Jeremy’s book helps parish liturgists make practical plans for celebrating the Paschal Triduum well. . .  The book contains 5 Appendices that will be very helpful for all who prepare the liturgies of the three days!”

Resources for Ministry: When We Visit Jesus in Prison by Chaplain Dale S. Recinella (ACTA Publications) “I found this book captivating all the way through.  He offers much statistical information and clearly provides helpful guidelines for working in prisons. His experience comes through, and he makes a strong case for the Christian teaching that we meet Christ in the people who populate our prisons. This is a helpful and thoughtful book about a form of ministry that can get overlooked. Pope Francis didn’t overlook this population by visiting with prisoners when he came to Philadelphia last year. This book does justice to what the pope wants all Christians to be concerned about.”

Resources for Ministry-Programs: Doors of Mercy: Exploring God’s Covenant with You by Fr. Jeffrey Kirby, STD (Saint Benedict Press) “Excellent content in both book and video.”

Scripture: Bringing the Gospel of John to Life by George Martin (Our Sunday Visitor) “I gave this book the most excellent rating because of its thorough scholarship of the biblical text (including the Greek), but also how highly readable it is. The pauses for reflection are at most appropriate times. I love reading and meditating with this book.”

Spanish: Querido Papa Francisco: El Papa responde a las cartas de niños de todo el mundo by Pope Francis (Loyola Press) “Querido Papa Francisco is a wonderful window into Pope Francis’ thought and teaching, through simple but deep insights in response to children’s inquiries from around the world. A great idea beautifully executed by the publisher!”

Theology: The Strength of Her Witness by Elizabeth A. Johnson (Orbis Books) “Johnson’s book is a really good collection of essays that is both diverse globally and features some of the major scholarly figures. Most are brief, but thoughtful, and generally presume some moderately advanced knowledge of theological discourse (e.g., biblical Greek, feminist categories and terminology).”