Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Seeking Balance

Note: This is a recycled post from November 2004 when I first started blogging. We shared this story with a friend of ours this week who was feeling overwhelmed. As a result, I felt prompted to share this again.

A few years ago, I subscribed to a wonderful magazine (now defunct, unfortunately) called Life@Work Journal. The magazine was a Christian publication geared towards believers in the marketplace. Each issue would focus on a particular subject. One of the most memorable issues was the issue on balance.

In an article entitled "Juggling Life" (Life@Work Journal, November/December 2000), authors Thomas Addington and Steven Graves contend that we operate on an incorrect definition of balance based on ranking priorities of God, family, church, work and leisure. They contend that "balance is the ability to continually recognize and juggle the multidimensional assignments and opportunities of life". When we feel overwhelmed or stressed out because there isn't enough time to do everything on our "to do list" it's because our life is out of balance.

They go on to explain that balance is not a static issue. In other words, it is something we have to constantly strive towards. We also cannot do it alone as we each have blind spots that prevent us from seeing the total picture. As a result, we need accountability from family, friends, business associates, fellow church members, and others to help us see where we are out of balance.

They also contend that each individual has five multidimensions of life: family, community, church, work, and self. Each of these dimensions competes for our attention and energy. These are the balls that we have to juggle. Within each of these dimensions are assignments and opportunities.An assignment is "something that we have no control over or that we cannot say no to without violating a Scriptural command or principle". For example, I am a father and husband. I'm also the breadwinner for my family. As a believer, I also must be involved in a church. These are all assignments that I have been given. Assignments are not necessarily the same for every person.

Opportunities, on the other hand, are optional items. They are things that I can choose to do or not to do. Sometimes an opportunity can help someone fufill an assignment. For example, if I go to a parenting conference it should help me be a better father. However, an opportunity can become a problem if it interferes with my ability to fufill my assignments. A good example would be spending so much time watching football on television that it takes away time I should be spending with my family. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons I don't spend much time watching sports anymore is because it takes too much time away from my wife and children.

When my wife and I were first married we moved to suburban Chicago. While we were there I got involved in a golf league with some of the guys at work. At least every other Saturday (and sometimes more often) I would be off playing golf with the guys at work and leaving my wife at home alone. Although it was a great opportunity, my marriage suffered because I was not devoting time to my wife and our marriage the way that I should have.

Juggling assignments and opportunities is not easy. It requires constantly evaluating where time and energy are being spent. It also takes a willingness to sacrifice my own desires in order to meet the needs of my family.

My wife once did this in a very practical way by taking Post-It notes and putting up on the closet doors everything she was doing. She started by putting every one of those notes on the left side of the doors. Then she would move the notes over to the right that represented the opportunities she was involved in. Once she was finished she realized she was involved in far too many opportunities and it was interfering with her assignments as a wife and mother. After praying over those opportunities for a number of days she decided to make some changes.

The bottom line is this: in order to keep our lives in balance we must first grasp what assignments God has given us. Then each activity we are involved in needs to be examined closely. We should be asking ourselves whether the opportunities we are pursuing are interfering with our assignments. If an opportunity is keeping us from completing our assignments then it's an opportunity we don't need to pursue.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Bringing the Church into Politics

Democratic candidate Harold Ford, Jr. has employed an unusual tactic in his latest senatorial campaign ad: he filmed the commercial in a church sanctuary:

With a stained-glass window behind him, candidate Harold Ford Jr. strolls through the Memphis church where he was baptized to tell voters this is the place where he learned right from wrong.

Using a church sanctuary as the backdrop in his newest campaign commercial, the Democrat running for the U.S. Senate has picked an unusual setting. One expert on religion and politics said it was the first political ad he'd heard of actually filmed inside a sanctuary.

The pastor of the church didn't seem to have a problem with allowing his sanctuary to become the backdrop for a political ad:

"I think people would like to learn about a person's values, and if it was through a church setting, they'd like to know that," said its pastor, Melvin Charles Smith, who says Ford attends services whenever he is town. The name of the church does not appear in the commercial.

The commercial in question is available (at least as of this writing) on the Ford campaign's website.

Whether someone is a Christian should not only be evident by their words but their actions. In fact, their actions should speak louder than their words.

Candidates should know, too, that simply talking about faith is not going to be enough to persuade religious voters to support them. The question is whether the positions the candidates take on issues will be consistent with these "values voters" that made a difference in the last election. Given the current Democratic party planks on abortion, gay rights, and other "values" issues it's hard to see how they are going to be able to appeal to many religious voters no matter how far they go in trying to appeal to them.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Another Great Awakening?

In a meeting with conservative journalists yesterday, President Bush remarked that we were experiencing a Third Great Awakening:

President Bush said yesterday that he senses a "Third Awakening" of religious devotion in the United States that has coincided with the nation's struggle with international terrorists, a war that he depicted as "a confrontation between good and evil."

Bush told a group of conservative journalists that he notices more open expressions of faith among people he meets during his travels, and he suggested that might signal a broader revival similar to other religious movements in history. Bush noted that some of Abraham Lincoln's strongest supporters were religious people "who saw life in terms of good and evil" and who believed that slavery was evil. Many of his own supporters, he said, see the current conflict in similar terms.

"A lot of people in America see this as a confrontation between good and evil, including me," Bush said during a 1 1/2 -hour Oval Office conversation on cultural changes and a battle with terrorists that he sees lasting decades. "There was a stark change between the culture of the '50s and the '60s -- boom-- and I think there's change happening here," he added. "It seems to me that there's a Third Awakening."

While I'm not entirely sure I would go so far as to say I agree this is another Great Awakening, it is fair to say that religious expression has become more common in the aftermath of 9/11. It's perfectly understandable that religious expression would become more prevalent in a time of crisis.

Eutychus' Window seems equally skeptical but makes a good point about the religious divide in this country:

It's been my conviction for some time that the great divide in our nation
isn't simply a political divide, or a divide between ideologies, or a cultural divide alone. The chasm that divides the nation is primarily a spiritual one. The major divide in America is between people of faith and radical secularists. The divide is between those who look to God and who incorporate their convictions into their opinions and their lives, and those who consider that the material world is all there is. The secularists rage over the influence (which appears to be growing) of faith and religious convictions in our national life. Secularists accuse the "religious right" of wanting to set up a theocracy as oppressive as the Taliban.

Secular materialism, on the other hand -- a worldview that rejects God and religious teachings in general -- has a poor track record when it comes to the affairs of men and nations. While the secularists appeal to what they view as "enlightment," to the elevation of reason, knowledge, and tolerance, history has shown that when the reality of God is dispensed with, and the belief that life has no special origin and no special purpose, and that man is accountable to no one but himself, mankind spirals down into chaos and unimaginable inhumanity and brutality. While secularism claims for itself enlightenment and tolerance, secularists are appallingly ignorant of religious conviction and are intolerant of people of faith.

Something has to give in this struggle between faith and secularism, and if I understand the signs of our times correctly, faith has the momentum at the moment, because what the secularists have to offer isn't enlightenment and tolerance, but nihilism. And the "weapons" of our struggle, because it's a spiritual struggle, are the resources of the Spirit -- praise, worship, prayer, and revealed truth. This struggle certainly shows up in the battles of the "culture war," and within our political contests, but the struggle is, primarily, spiritual in nature. And it's still unclear which viewpoint will emerge as the dominant one.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Road Less Traveled

When I have to travel for my job, the trip usually takes me places that are within a day's drive of where I live. Because we homeschool our kids, my family often will travel with me. This has provided us with some great opportunities to see different parts of the country.

Our road trips have taken us across numerous interstate highways. Although they usually provide the fastest way to get from one place to another, they don't always provide the most exciting journeys. In fact, I often find interstates to be tedious and boring. Most of the time, you'll see the same restaurants, the same gas stations, the same truck stops, etc. along the side of the road. Time after time it's the same boring drive.

On a recent road trip, we decided to do something different. We decided to get off the interstate and come home by the back roads: the U.S. highways that don't see much traffic anymore.

We happened to be driving through Kentucky and Tennessee and I'd be willing to bet we got to see more beautiful country in those two states than we would have ever seen if we had driven on the interstate.

We even managed to stumble on a place that makes some of the best fudge we had ever tasted and met some of the friendliest people you could ever hope to meet.

If we had stayed on the interstate we would have missed all that and much more.
Next time we take a road trip we may get off the interstate again and start travelling those back roads. Who knows what treasures we will discover along the way.

9/11 Five Years Later - A Personal Reflection

I will never forget 9/11. No matter how hard I try, I can't block out the memories of that day. They will be forever burned in my memory.

I was supposed to be attending a meeting in Bala Cynwyd (just outside of Philadelphia) on 9/11. My wife and two daughters (ages 4 and 5) went up a few days early to explore the Amish country as well as downtown Philadelphia. We had had a great time visiting an area that we had never visited before. But that Tuesday morning everything would change - in ways far greater than we could have ever imagined.

The day started normally enough. My meeting was supposed to start at 9:00 so I headed downstairs to the hotel restaurant early to eat breakfast. My wife and daughters were a little later getting ready.

Our meeting started on time and was underway for about an hour before taking our first break of the morning. Many of the folks in this meeting were from New York. While we were on the break, several guys tried to call the office but couldn't get through. One of them finally decided to call the operator and see what was wrong with the telephone lines. He would be the first one to share the news with us: the World Trade Center had been hit. Another person came in and said it was the Pentagon. It would be a few minutes before we realized that it was both.

By the time we managed to get a TV brought into the conference room we were able to see the replay of the South tower being hit. Moments later it collapsed. It took all of us only a split second to decide we needed to go home. The fourth airliner, United flight 93, would crash in Western Pennsylvania within the next few minutes.

My wife had taken the kids next door to Denny's to eat breakfast. A waitress told her that the Pentagon had been hit. Her sister's husband often worked at the Pentagon. Was he there? Frantically, she was calling her unable to get through. It would be much, much later before we found out he wasn't there and was completely safe.

My wife came back to the hotel not knowing how to find me. At the time, I didn't carry a cellphone (I have ever since). She was in the lobby trying to call her sister when I finally came upstairs. I looked at her and said "We're going home".

At the time we lived in Richmond, VA, almost directly due south along Interstate 95 from Philadelphia. Under normal circumstances, it would have taken about five hours to drive home. But Washington, DC is directly on Interstate 95. Due to the attack at the Pentagon, Washington was completely locked down. Our only choice was to head west and then south in a long circle along interstates through Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virgina. It was a long drive home.

As we were leaving the hotel we turned on the local news on our radio. The mayor of Philadelphia was holding a press conference announcing the evacuation of the city. Everyone was being ordered home since at that time we didn't know where the hijackers intended to fly United 93. It was reasonable to assume that Philadelphia was a target.

One thing was clear: we were at war. We weren't sure yet who was responsible but we knew we had been attacked. The peaceful setting of Lancaster County was strangely appealing. Surely whoever this was wouldn't attack the Amish. We would be safe there, wouldn't we?

As we drove on there was this eerie feeling of not knowing what to expect next. Would there be further attacks? Who was responsible? Why had they attacked us?

Our daughters tahnkfully were oblivious to what was happening. At least until the announcement was made that Walt Disney World had closed (we had made our first visit as a family the previous year). Then it registered with them that something was wrong.

Everywhere we stopped along the way home people seemed to be trying to carry on with life as normal even though they all knew that life would never be normal again. Everything had changed.

By late afternoon we had made it to Harrisonburg, VA (about 3 1/2 hours from home). At first we thought we would just find a hotel room and spend the night but there were none to be found. Greyhound had ordered all their buses to stop wherever they were and as a result people had to find hotel rooms. Everything was closing down: restaurants, stores, shopping malls were all closed. We managed to find a gas station that was still open. When I went in to pay there was the extra edition of the local paper with the photo of the burning towers above the fold. This was not just a bad dream. This was real.

As we left Harrisonburg and headed towards home I can remember the eerie sight of a single jet plane crossing the sky. I knew it was a military plane since all civilian aircraft had been grounded much earlier in the day. This is what it felt like to be at war.

We eventually made it home safely that evening. But we knew that everything had changed. A couple days later we got another grim reminder of just how serious things were.

Where we lived, we never saw military traffic. But around 9:00 one evening just a few days after the attacks we were buzzed twice in the span of a couple of minutes by a pair of F-14 fighter jets. It was yet another reminder that we were truly at war.

There would be other reminders, as well. I went to Las Vegas for a meeting a couple of months later (a meeting that was originally supposed to take place the week after 9/11). The sight of armed soldiers patrolling the airport was a clear sign that things had changed.

While I was in Las Vegas I stayed at the New York, New York Hotel and Casino. As the name suggests, the hotel is supposed to remind one of the New York skyline. Even three months after 9/11, there was a memorial of flowers, posters, and messages of support for the police, firefighters, and people of New York City. I couldn't help but be struck by the sight.

Driving by the Pentagon several months after 9/11 and getting to see firsthand the devastation caused by the terrorists would be yet another grim reminder of the war we had been dragged into by our attackers.

I can't forget no matter how hard I try. We should never forget for this is why we fight.