Friday, August 16, 2013

Three Invitations Boredom Brings

I have three young children at home (1 girl, 2 boys). My daughter just started grade 1 this week, and she loves having to take a bus to get to her school. Five days a week we wake up before the sun, ingest some sort of breakfast food, and make the trek out to meet the bus. Four days a week, we pick her up around 3pm. But Friday is a half day, meaning that she needs to be picked up at noon.

This is our schedule and routine. Mix in friends coming over for dinner, extra-curricular activities and family time and it becomes a full experience. There is seemingly little room for boredom, but without fail, one of the kids will vocalize with great conviction that they are bored if they don't have something to do or are asked to spend some downtime each day. Their response to moments of boredom makes me chuckle, cause I remember saying something similar to my parents when I was younger. In fact, I even thought that being bored might actually kill me one day. But guess what? It hasn't.

The question that I've been left to ponder is this: So if boredom doesn't kill you, is it really an ally?

While it's true that boredom doesn't actually kill you, it's always been difficult for me to identify a sense of value that comes with it. How can you measure something that is usually unwanted and find some sort of use or appeal for it? I'm just now beginning to see that boredom actually invites us into one of three spaces.

1. Creative Space.
Boredom is an invitation to be creative. I can remember some of the most enjoyable moments I had as a child were when I was forced to utilize my imagination through play, work and even school. Faced with an opening in my schedule I had a choice, I could make the most of the free time that I had, or I could fret about not knowing what to do. Have you ever watched kids on the playground at recess? Their imaginations are running wild, creating new games, points of connection and experiences with their classmates. 

As a parent, I now understand the challenge between saturating the schedule and leaving room for creativity. We extinguish the ability to be creative when we don't allow those under our leadership influence to taste boredom. So what if someone says that they might be bored, maybe they are simply asking for help in kick-starting their dormant imagination.

2. Spontaneous Space. 
Boredom invites us into spontaneity. Sometimes being spontaneous has got me into trouble, but it has always provided me with a memorable experience. One of the greatest values I hope to pass along to my children is that we control our schedule, our schedule does not control us. We choose whatever rhythm of life we live into. It's true that external factors do have an affect on a life rhythm, but we still must choose how these factors will shape us.

Haven't you ever dreamed of doing something? What's stopping you? Time, or money? We can allow these external factors to continue to drive our routine, or we can rise about these temporary realities and allow whatever values we've adopted as our own to be the filter through which we experience the life we've been given. Spontaneity reminds us that life is a gift and not a chore. Do you embrace the invitation to be spontaneous that boredom has to offer?

3. Restful Space.
Boredom invites us to find rest. North American culture is built upon results and schedules. Our modus operandi often seems to orbit the death-stars of efficiency and effectiveness. Having 3 young kids I have experienced first hand that not having enough rest has a negative impact on my ability to parent, to lead and to live. Sometimes the gaps in our lives are intentional invitations to restoration through the practice of rest. Do you allow yourself and others to experience downtime for this purpose? Or are you completely fixated with the bottom line as dictated by efficiency and effectiveness?

The Bible contains many different stories about the human experience here on planet earth. One such story speaks of the concept of a drink offering. The practice existed where followers of God would offer a drink offering in His honour. These offerings were meant as gifts; signs of one's gratitude and thankfulness for the gift of life they had been given. These offerings were poured out onto the ground or other sacred space in ceremonial fashion as an act of worship. If you've ever poured liquid from one container to another, you know that you can adjust your pour rate in order to increase or decrease the speed the receiving container is filled and the pouring container is emptied. A good friend of mine once told me that our lives function in a similar way. Despite our best efforts, life here on planet earth will not last forever. Each life on earth symbolizes this concept of a drink offering. All of us have been given the gift of life, which equates to a certain amount of time that we will exist on this planet. It's our responsibility to control the rate of pour so to speak. We can empty ourselves in a splash, or in a slow steady stream. Boredom can be an ally in this experience; one that reminds us of who we are, what's important and how we are choosing to invest the time we've been given. Boredom doesn't kill you, but being foolish certainly will. How are you investing the time you've been given?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Great Consumer

I recently read a claim made by Alan Hirsch that 95% of churches in North America are attempting to reach the same 40% of the population. While in some cases this might seem like an exaggeration, the North American propensity towards consumerism might actually confirm such an analysis.

Our predominant culture is built upon individualism and consumption. We create to consume, we consume to create, and this endless cycle repeats itself. As a parent, pastor, friend and leader, I often spend my time thinking about how I am inspiring others and what sort of life I'm inspiring them towards. The cyclical nature of the above-described cultural reality seems more like a life-sucking vortex than an inspirational fountain.

Consumerism isn't entirely evil, but when left imbalanced, it can become the millstone that sinks the ship so to speak. Here are three tendencies this imbalance brings.

1. Loss of the ability to create. At the dawn of the human age, humanity was given two great responsibilities: take care of the environment and procreate. The care of the environment is another subject for another time. It's the procreate part of this dualistic enterprise I'd like to focus on for a few moments. Procreation in its' most basic form is about multiplication. Procreation literally means "for creation." If humankind exists to create and consumerism is void of creativity in its most innocent form, then a consumer-driven culture will inevitably create a non-innovative environment. 

Consumerism ironically creates more of the same thing, while creativity creates more new things. When we allow ourselves to become submerged in and driven by a consumer-oriented culture, all we are left with is an appetite for what we know. 

When I read about Jesus invitation of experiencing a full life, I don't believe He was referring to life that is simply full of the same thing; I think He was referring to a life that blossoms with creativity.

When we choose to consume, we give up the invitation to create. How can we hold these two powerful allies in balance so that we can experience a life inspired by hope?

2. Expectation trumps invitation. A consumer driven culture elevates expectation over invitation. We humans are interesting folk. When we clothe ourselves with pure consumerism, we allow expectation to grow and invitation to diminish. Our primary concern becomes having our own needs met and our expectations fulfilled. Life becomes about us, the individual, more than about the common good for all of humanity. We resist the opportunity to invite others into our experiences and remain numb to the development and maturity of those we share affinity with.

What if we could fight the tendency toward our individualistic pursuits through the simple discipline of inviting people to share in life with us? Imagine how our perceptions and perspectives might change as we walk alongside of others instead of walking alone.

3. Commitment is a curse. When life is all about the needs of the individual consumer, both experiences and relationships become disposable. It takes commitment to make relationships work. For the pure consumer, loyalty is a weakness, a curse. There is no room for commitment in the world of the pure consumer. Multiple community connections become the new normal as communities are viewed as things to consume and not places to belong. We wonder why families fall apart and neighbours harbour disdain for one another, could it be because we've allowed ourselves to view the world through the lens of consumption rather than creation?

Our consumer culture won't disappear over night, and I'm not certain that it should ever cease to exist. What I do know is that if we adopt one extreme worldview or the other life on our planet doesn't make sense. There is a balance to be struck between consumption and creation. Who will lead us in the pursuit of equality between them?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

To Shame or To Inspire

Our family recently watched The Croods. Our kids loved different elements of the show, and as with all movies in a household containing pre-school aged children...our kids have enjoyed mimicking different phrases and scenes from their newest favourite movie.

I've always been fascinated by different forms of communication and the motivations that drive our need to communicate.

There are two characters in this film that personify the classic tension found in shame or to inspire. Grugg is the prototypical father figure. His desire is to keep his family safe, and he uses fear to keep his community in line. Guy, on the other hand, while desiring to see everyone remain safe, chooses to inspire the community through his communication style.

Watching these two individuals try to lead their community made me think. As parents and leaders we face the decision to shame or to inspire on a daily basis. These are the two primary voices of leadership that are at our disposal. The trouble is, the voice of shame has an extremely limited shelf life, but yet it seems to be the "default setting" for most leaders or parents.

Here are two questions that I'm using to help me evaluate which voice I'm leaning into.

Do I speak more about our disappointments? When I talk to my kids, other leaders, my wife or others, what do they hear from me? Do they hear more about where they might be failing or what is going wrong, or do they hear affirmation as well? While it is important to talk about where things could be improved or corrected, there has to be a healthy balance between affirmation and disappointment. Where there is a void of affirmation, things like ownership, internal motivation and hope will be lacking. You cannot expect someone to grasp a concept, idea or character quality that has never been demonstrated to them though a verbal & visual witness. Be the kind of person you want others to follow. Show them what a life filled with joy and hope looks like. Be a person of affirmation instead of a person of disappointment.

Am I trying to conform or transform? I have 3 young children at home. The temptation to want them to do what I want them to do is overwhelming at times. I will admit that there are seasons when all I'm looking for from them is to do what they are told in the way they are told to do it. This style of leading begs the question of whether or not I value conformity ahead of transformation. If we agree together that every human being is a unique creation, then conformity isn't possible. The best possible hope we could ever long for is transformation. Transformation speaks to the shared values and principles of human life, and not as much to practices (which are driven by values). If we want those under our care and influence to become who they were created to be, we have to be okay with tossing conformity out the window. The greatest compliment here on earth might just be when someone desires to pattern their way of life after yours. They will never be like you, but when they want to live like you live, they are really stating that they would like to adopt the values and principles that drive your life to be their own. Stop pursuing conformity and embrace the freedom found in transformation.

The next time you find yourself in a leadership role, ask yourself these two questions. You might be shocked at the answers you discover, and perhaps you'll need to make an adjustment to the way you lead.