Better Alternatives to Coldplay’s “Collective Consciousness”

As serendipity would have it I ended up at the Chicago stop of the 2016 Coldplay tour. Thanks to our son who had two extra tickets, my wife and I were able to tag along. It was a storm-tossed night, but in the end Coldplay entered Soldier Field and put on a phenomenal show. The set was cut short by a torrential downpour. But we got to see fireworks, colorful magic bands beating to the music, and a throng totally engaged with each song.

Band

I love lead singer Chris Martin. I really do. But there was one thing he said during the concert that disappointed me a bit. He was introducing a song that he wanted to dedicate it to all the victims of violence around the world. So he implored the crowd to join together in “community consciousness” and send “good vibes” to Nice, France, Baton Rouge, and Orlando.

I don’t expect Martin to completely get it. He was doing his best with what he knew how to do. But “community consciousness” and “good vibes” are going to have about as much affect on our world situation as a wet noodle.

With all due respect to Mr. Martin, here are some better alternatives to bring positive change to our world:

  1. God’s Law. God’s Law is meant to afflict those who are comfortable in their sin. Though it may not seem like love, it is love of the highest kind. When people are on a path to destruction they need to be reminded of the terror and eternal consequences of sin. Without it they will do what they have always done: remain comfortable in their sin.
  2. God’s Gospel. When people are afflicted and completely uncomfortable with their sin and its punishment, they need comfort. The only real comfort comes from the Gospel. The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus Christ paid the price for all sins. It is given completely as a gift of grace. It comes through faith in Him. It is delivered into lives by the Word of God in all of its forms.
  3. Jesus Christ, the God-Man. Jesus is the only One who can bring about real and lasting change in this world of violence. Until everyone recognizes Him as Savior and Lord there will be the problem of evil. That’s why we work to introduce Jesus to anyone and everyone. There will be no complete end to evil and suffering as long as this world lasts. So we pray, “Thy kingdom come.”

Until it does, we bring love to any and every situation in one of the above three ways. It would be wonderful for Chris Martin to start proclaiming this at Coldplay concerts. But even if he doesn’t, hundreds of people who attend those concerts can certainly do far more than come together in “collective consciousness” or send “good vibes.”

Jesus is the real and only solution.

Would you add anything else to a list of things to bring positive change to the world?

The Happy Sadness of Being Homesick

Driving north on I-94 I got my first glimpse of Milwaukee’s skyline. A wave of homesickness washed over me. I said to my wife, Tammy, “This is the city that really knows me.” When you live the majority of a lifetime in a place you take on its characteristics and identify with its traits. That’s why you feel homesick if you’ve been away for a while and then come back.

Milwaukee Art Museum

I was born and raised in Milwaukee. All but my post-graduate education was pursued there. I performed in college and community theatre. My youth was even sometimes occupied by being lead singer in various bands. Milwaukee saw me on stage, heard me speak at graduation ceremonies, and watched me play football. I can remember buying my first car there and securing our first apartment as a married couple.

We left for a while. When we came back to Milwaukee I served a church in the heart of the city for fifteen years. I taught at Concordia University – Wisconsin. For thirteen years I coached baseball. Our kids grew up in the city. I was privileged to be a part of a community organizing group called Common Ground. No matter where I went in town I was likely to bump into someone I knew. It was home.

There were connections I had. I knew upon whom I could call for certain projects. When I wanted to form a creativity club I knew the people that would jump at the chance. If I needed an actor, or a stop sign put on a certain corner, or a prof to answer a question, those people were a phone call away and very willing to help out. I guess I’m sometimes homesick as much for the people as I am for the city.

But now we live in Orlando, Florida. It’s a wonderful place with beaches, palm trees, and Disney. Only in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined I would live in such a warm and exotic place. I tell Tammy nearly every day: “I love living in Florida!” Our daughter, son-in-law, and soon to be grandchild also live there. We’ve made many wonderful friends and great connections during our relatively short time in Florida. But that doesn’t mean I can’t get homesick when I occasionally go “home.”

Orlando is now my “home.” But Milwaukee will always be home. It will take time, but I’m certain Orlando will one day know me in similar ways as does Milwaukee. In the mean time it’s up to me to get to know my new “home” and its wonderful people.

What causes you to be homesick?

Why Every Generation Might Be the Greatest Generation

The so-called “Greatest Generation” is losing members every day. Those wonderfully brave men and women were the ones who quickly and quietly went away (or stayed at home) to fight World War II. They are now a rare breed. It is my joy to get to know members of the Greatest Generation. I love hearing their stories. I respect them more than words can say. But they aren’t the only great ones. There are other great generations, too.

Tennis Shoes

Long before World War II this country fought other wars. One of them was the Civil War, or the War Between the States. It was ugly. It was deadly. It separated families. It tore apart our country. And it was waged on the backs of another great generation. Both sides sent men to war who hadn’t yet reached twenty years of age.

One such young man came from my wife’s lineage. Her father’s great uncle was David Wallace Proudfit. He was 19-years-old when he volunteered for the 40th Illinois Infantry. David was killed in the Civil War battle of Shiloh on April 6th, 1862.

It happened like this: He was shot through one arm, one shoulder and through the bowels in the afternoon of that day. Proudfit crawled a short distance to a little stream. He filled his canteen. Then he crawled back with water for his Captain, Bright Shirley, who was shot through the knee.

After he took the water to his captain, Proudfit took off one boot. He put it under his head for a pillow. He died right there in that spot before sundown. When Captain Shirley was carried off of the field, Proudfit was still alive. But when men came back for him he was dead.

Captain Shirley, while recruiting, visited the Proudfit home to relate details of the sad story. He was incredibly appreciative for the thoughtfulness provided him by a dying young man.

What I can’t get out of my mind was that he was nineteen-years-old. At that young age he gave his life in our nation’s ugly civil war.

Young people have always contributed significantly to our nation’s freedom and our nation’s greatness. Sometimes they don’t even have to give their lives. I am so very thankful for all those who so willingly serve us to support and defend our freedom.

I am also thankful for all the great young people who contribute to our nation in other ways. They are the ones who:

  • Start businesses
  • Labor in our factories
  • Serve us in hotels and restaurants
  • Excel in school
  • Make great art
  • Inspire us with thoughtful writing

I guess what I’m trying to say is that one need not be past the age of thirty to significantly contribute to society. I, for one, appreciate the younger generations. Over the course of our nation’s history some have given their young lives; others have used their lives to serve us in other ways.

I appreciate them so much that I wrote a book featuring their stories. This book called Fully and Creatively Alive: How to Live a More Joyfully Fulfilling Life, is in the final stages of design. I can’t wait for you to read how young people continue to make our nation great. I’m looking forward to them showing us how they can become another “greatest generation.”

How excellent would it be if wouldn’t have to sacrifice one more young life in the throes of war?

What great things have you seen young people do?

Why Pokemon Go Isn’t the Worst Thing in the World

If you haven’t yet heard of Pokemon Go you’ve been living in a cave. It’s a game you download to your phone by way of an app. It uses GPS technology and algorithms to send players on a mission. The mission is to capture, battle, and train virtual creatures who appear in the real world.

iPhone Kids

Pokemon Go was released in the U.S. on July 6th. Since then it has taken America (and other countries) by storm. We spent a day of our vacation in historic downtown Franklin, Tennessee, and were amazed that the majority (really!) of the people walking down the street that afternoon were playing the game. Rarely have we witnessed such a cultural phenomena. It was even featured on the network national news.

There is some negative publicity about the game revolving around accidents crime. But for the most part, considering the millions of players, the game is going well. I, for one, would say that this mostly harmless little game isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Here’s why:

  1. Some of the so-called “gyms” are at churches. It should come as no surprise to you that I think this is a good thing. The church I serve happens to be used as a “gym” (a place where Pokemon battles take place) for the game. Some churches have really taken advantage of this and have provided cold water for players, have had one-on-one conversations, and have used it as an opportunity to serve people.
  2. It gets people moving and interacting with their environment. In order to catch the little creatures you have to move. People are discovering their neighborhoods and seeing places they’ve never seen before. Granted, much of the time their face is in the screen of the phone, but they have to look up every once in a while to see where they’re going. It’s also getting people out for at least a little bit of exercise.
  3. It’s intergenerational. I’ve seen kids playing alongside their parents. Adults are playing and now have something in common with children. It’s bringing people together over an admittedly silly topic, but it’s bringing people together nonetheless.
  4. It’s fun. The world is a dark and serious place…especially lately. Why not use a popular game as a fun distraction from it all?
  5. It benefits local business. Museums, National Parks, and malls have seen an uptick in business. A little boost to the economy helps people keep jobs and businesses make profit.

Sure, there may be some negatives to this whole craze. But let’s just enjoy the fun for a little while. When Pokemon Go is played correctly and safely it can have a positive impact on people…maybe even a positive spiritual impact.

What do you think about Pokemon Go?

How to Build a Business in 3 Years

The other night I went to a birthday party. It wasn’t a party for a person. It was a 3rd birthday party for a business. Our future daughter-in-law, Emily, started the jewelry business three years ago with an idea and a web site. She threw such a beautiful party. I wish you could have been there. If you want to build a business you could do worse than follow the trajectory of this Nashville-based shop.

Jewelry

Even the birthday party itself was a savvy marketing tool. The first 25 people to come to the party received a free gift, including a tote bag and a ring. There was a steady stream of people coming through the shop. They checked out all the new products and sampled some snacks and drinks. People purchased jewelry and got a sneak preview of new lines that are coming soon.

Emily built a business that now has a large studio, a retail storefront, and even her own employees. Her jewelry is sold at retail outlets and by wholesale. She sells on her web site and at craft fairs all over the country. The proceeds from the business are enough to provide Emily’s only income.

As I’ve watched Emily from afar, I have observed her keys to building a successful business:

  1. She has a vision. From the very start Emily had in her mind a vision to build a business. You see it in the jewelry she made from the very beginning. Emily would go to the local flea market, find interesting pieces, and turn them into jewelry. Re-purposed pieces became her brand which then evolved into a very simply eclectic line today. The vision also included mercy and giving. Ten percent of the proceeds of the business go toward helping Honduran women start jewelry businesses of their own to support their families.
  2. She has persistence. Emily doesn’t give up. Even when their are unhappy customers or the setback of financial loss she fiercely moves forward and uses the difficult times as a lesson to build her business in the future. Her persistence has moved her from her home, to a primitive studio, and now to a beautiful space for making jewelry with a retail store in the front.
  3. She has foresight. Emily is always two steps ahead of the game. She knows enough to be planning lines of jewelry for the future. When she plans ahead it gives her team the opportunity to get ready for marketing, future orders, and opportunities for more creativity.
  4. She has a positive attitude. Don’t think for a minute that Emily hasn’t had setbacks. They have come from time to time. But what I love about Emily’s attitude is that she never seems to pessimistic or down when she encounters a cranky customer or makes a business mistake. She literally shrugs these things off and takes another step forward. There is always something to learn when you build a business…
  5. She has a hunger to learn. Emily listens to business podcasts and reads the books that feed her desire to learn. When you walk into her studio you will see a stack of books that any respectable business person should be reading. Emily knows that any business owner should never ever think they know it all. She should continue to be a student each and every day.

Want to build a business or any kind of organization? Follow these five steps and you will be well on your way to success. Before you know it you’ll be throwing your own birthday parties.

What would you add to this list?

How to Get Yourself Into a Creative Zone

A creative zone is a tricky thing to find. You sit at the blank computer, canvass, or craft table and find your brain whiter than the screen. I have gone through this same struggle as I carried out a writing assignment this summer for a publishing company. Sometimes The Resistance showed up as I sat down to write.

White Room

But I found that a simple little three-step process helped move me through that paralysis. Here’s what I do:

  1. Find a comfortable place. For me it’s in the middle of our open-concept front room. I have a large table where I can spread out books and paper to help with my research. There is a relatively comfortable chair. Finally, I have the comfort of the room and windows all around me letting in the great outdoors.
  2. Spend some time bringing your brain into focus. For me that involves a small amount of time poking around social media. It’s a way that I let others unknowingly help me brainstorm ideas. When I see what others are saying and posting it fuels my creative spirit.
  3. Set your mind to the topic at hand. Once I shut off the social media I find a way to condense my thoughts into a single, one sentence theme. While I literally stare at the blank screen I focus on that one sentence theme and come up with an opening sentence for whatever it is I’m writing. That opening sentence is usually enough for me to find myself completely in the creative zone. The typing starts and I find it hard to stop.

Distractions are sure to come. But when they do, a creative will sit back down and start the process all over again. Yes, it takes time. But time spent creating something is time well spent.

If I haven’t reminded you lately I’ll remind you again: The world needs the art you have inside of you. Please don’t hold it in. Be bold and share it with us today. We will be better for it.

How do you get yourself into the creative zone?

When a Place Gives the Gift of Grace

The first time we went to the place on the lake was before we were married. Tammy’s family made the trek to the primitive cottages from their Illinois home many times before. In fact, her dad visited the very same place as a boy. Now I was introduced into the family and thus had to be initiated into Eagle River lake life.

Lake House

The family rented a couple of cottages. The walls were paper thin with just enough insulation to keep out the chilly northern evening air. It was a magical place for a getaway. In those days you got there following directions like, “Turn left at the rock…turn right at the tree stump.” The roads were dirt and the little lake was filled with fish. Walk up to the owner’s house, get your fishing license, and you’re ready for the week. My Nikon camera was filled with film and ready to go.

It may have just been that I was in love, but that place and that lake immediately captured my fancy. The scent of pines, the clear water, the sound of the loons…I knew it was a place I would want to visit again and again.

And I have.

Since that visit in the early 1980’s, Tammy and I got married, had two children, and have lived in five different cities. But a return to the place on the lake is a reminder of God’s gift of grace. So we have returned many times. But even with the passage of time it seems that, like God himself, the lake never changes.

Sure, there are now asphalt roads and more commercialism in the little town of Eagle River. The rented cottages have been replaced with a gorgeous, year-round home on the other side of the lake. It was built by Tammy’s mom and dad the year our daughter, Ashlyn, was born. It has a wrap-around deck, a stone fireplace, and a wall of windows overlooking the lake.

But the lake itself has changed very little. There’s still the island in the middle. The bay on the far side still has nesting loons. The stars at night are still brighter than any you will ever see.

That same lake has welcomed members of my side of the family. It’s gentle waves have said hello to close friends. We’ve been there alone with only our family. I have spent time there with just one other friend. We’ve been there with maybe just a few too many of our kids high school friends. We’ve been there in the summer and the winter.

It has now been far too many years since either of our kids have been to the place on the lake. But that’s about to change when we meet Tammy’s mom and dad this summer at that beautiful place. We will soon drive down that driveway with a lake view, this time with Ashlyn’s husband and Ben’s fiancé, who have never seen the place.

They are about to know just what I mean when I say that the lake is a reminder of God’s gift of grace. Though things in life change, the passage of time is lightning fast, and asphalt roads replace the dirt, the lake welcomes our family and draws us together. It’s peace covers us like a warm blanket. It’s a gift that has been giving for generations and won’t stop even after we’re gone.

What place reminds you of the gift of God’s grace?

How to Renew Motivation at Mid-Year

Earlier this year I asked my readers to respond to a survey so that I could better serve you. One of the things you said you want is motivation to accomplish the things you’d like to do in life. Some of you even said so with a daring degree of desperation. It’s a fair request and something we all need from time to time. So now that we’re six months into the year, it’s time for some renewed motivation and encouragement to keep on keeping on. Read on for your mid-year motivation:

Bike Summer

I’m going to be brutally honest with you. At the beginning of the year I went through a goal setting process. The outcome became the nine goals that I set to accomplish by the end of 2016. For the first half of this year I looked at them frequently. I made progress on some. I have worked on all of them. But here’s the embarrassing part: I have not yet reached one of the goals I set. That’s right, not one of my nine goals has been accomplished.

The deadlines that I set for five of them have already passed. Does that mean I should abandon them? In no way! I am still motivated to work toward them. Those goals made me do things and make progress that I would not have made had I not set my goals.

Here’s an example: One of my goals was to release my book, Fully and Creatively Alive: How to Live a More Joyfully Fulfilling Life, by April 30th. Needless to say, that date has come and gone. But the whole process has helped me learn. I found two designers to help me with the design of the book cover and the design of the interior of the book. I now know things about the whole process of design that I did not know before. I’m learning about CreateSpace, a division of Amazon that helps writers publish books. It’s one lesson after another. My new goal is to release the book by September 1st.

So here are three ways to renew your motivation at mid-year:

  1. Revisit your goals. If you wrote some goals at the beginning of the year and haven’t looked at them for a while, dig them out again. You still have six months to go! If you haven’t written any this year, there’s no time like the present to write some down. You still have six months to go!
  2. Check on your progress. Take a look back to the beginning of the year and see how far you’ve come. The only comparison you need to make is to compare yourself to you yesterday. If you haven’t come as far as you’d like, use it as motivation to fire up the afterburners for the remainder of this year.
  3. Lean on others. Ask someone close to you to be your cheerleader and your accountability partner. My wife, Tammy, has done a fantastic job encouraging me when I need it, and yet gently reminding me that I need to keep going…even if I haven’t yet accomplished one of my goals.

Finally, don’t forget to reward yourself. Maybe now’s the time, mid-year, to take a bit of a break. Catch your breath. Rest for a day or two…or a week or two. While you do so, get yourself in the mindset to push hard and accomplish your goals by December 31st. You still have six months to go!

When you do accomplish a goal, make sure to celebrate. 

How do you motivate yourself mid-year to accomplish your goals?

How to Meet a Deadline and Enjoy It

There’s nothing I like more than beating a deadline. It wasn’t always that way. When I was in college I stayed up half the night to write a paper due the next day. Now I appreciate the joy of crossing the finish line early.

Writing 2

As I write this I’m in the middle of creating ten sermons. Creative Communications for the Parish contracted me to provide these homilies. They will be used for a 2017 sermon series based on quotes from Martin Luther. Pastors will use them to ease their burden as they work their way through the season. I signed the contract on May 19th and the sermons are due on August 1st.

The carrot dangling in front of me is the check I get when I turn it all in. The stick beating me from behind is the deadline looming on August 1st. More than that, next week we’re leaving on vacation. But there is a certain joy in the whole process. It’s certainly not easy to crank out ten sermons. But the opportunity to exercise real life creativity fires me up.

Here’s how to enjoy beating a deadline:

  1. Reward yourself with real rest. I’m looking forward to enjoying vacation without a project. It will be nice to have a real vacation away from the daily routine of work and an extra added task to complete. A summer sabbatical means refreshment for a new activity year starting in the fall. When you finish early you get extra rest and time for enjoying other things.
  2. Focus on the fun. With every task you take on there is a benefit. The fun for me with this project is honing my creativity and writing. This whole project benefits my daily ministry and work in countless ways. When I remember that it becomes for me an educational game.
  3. Take advantage of your competitive nature. You know you have it in you. I know I do. My competitive nature tells me I’ve got to turn in these ten sermons before the deadline, even if it’s just one day ahead. When I do it will be a major “win” for me. A win for me gives me more satisfaction than most anything else.

What’s your tactic for meeting deadlines?

10 Things to Love About America on July 4th

I love the United States of America. It doesn’t take much for a lump to come to my throat when I sing the Star Spangled Banner or see something patriotic. The American Adventure at EPCOT in Walt Disney World is a wonderful depiction of the history of our country. When I had the opportunity to stand at the base of Mount Rushmore I dropped my mouth open in awe. I’ve been blessed to see our great country from sea to shining sea.

Soldier

If you’re like me, you love this country, too. Here are ten great things to love:

  1. The vast variety of landscape. Driving this nation from one end to the other, as my friends Adam and Justin Fricke are right now, it will show you mountains and valleys, plains and rivers, lakes and land formations.
  2. The vast variety of culture. You will find Cajun culture in New Orleans, Cuban culture in Miami, and Native American culture in the north woods of Wisconsin. In fact, in New York City alone you will experience the cultures of varying nations and peoples in one day by taking the subway from one end of town to the other.
  3. The vast variety of food. Eat your way across America by sampling Tex-Mex in Texas, fish tacos in San Diego, and clam chowder in Boston.
  4. The vast variety of people. Our nation is filled with Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, blue collar and white collar workers, factory workers and entrepreneurs. And that’s a good thing. Variety is the spice of life.
  5. The vast variety entertainment. Every region has their sports teams to root on. The NFL, the NBA, MLB, college football and basketball, give us something to cheer about. Broadway and Hollywood, golf courses and bike paths give us much more than enough to do with our free time.
  6. The vast variety of roadways. Our interstate highway system is second to none. It’s a quick, easy, and relatively safe way to get most anywhere in our nation. But the alternative routes of two lane highways and city streets allow us the opportunity to see things an interstate would never show us.
  7. The vast variety of art and architecture. From Georgia O’Keefe to Andy Warhol, from Andrew Wyeth to Edward Hopper, our museums are filled with art that inspires. From the Empire State Building to the Transamerica Building, from the Space Needle to the Gateway Arch, our cities are filled with buildings that make life interesting.
  8. The vast variety of climate. If you want to you can live in a place with four (or more!) seasons…or just one.
  9. The vast variety of ways to make a living. Work in retail or in a restaurant. Work in ministry or government. Work for en employer or for yourself. There are countless ways to make an honest dollar in our great country.
  10. The vast variety of men and women who serve in our Armed Forces. Last, but not least, these people are the ones who have made our country great and made our country free. I salute all of you who have served or are serving us in such a significant way.

What do you love about America?