Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Living into Mission

I chose the domain name of "Live the Story" for my blog because of the belief I hold that every single human being that has existed, presently exists or will exist in the future plays a role on an overarching story of the existence of humanity. Every single character in this story plays a part in its development (good or bad). The challenge we face in this emerging understanding of story landscape is discovering how our role fits into the grander story of humankind, and what we can do to help shape this story in the present and in the future.

For the sake of this post, I'd like to define the role that each human being plays within the context of this unfolding story as mission. Mission answers the question of why we exist. It gives us meaning, purpose, worth and orientation for the life what we live.

For some, mission is to kill, destroy, manipulate and harm for personal gain. Others may find meaning in devotion to faith, family, friends or vocation. 

In any case, every human being is living into their mission here on planet earth, whether they realize it or not. The challenge in shifting one's mission, or is creating a vocabulary for one's current mission is impacted by the following four elements:

1. Opportunity - Discovering mission begins with recognizing that every living being has been provided with the opportunity to not only exist, but to invest their life within the setting of the unfolding story of humanity. Opportunities come is all different shapes and sizes. Some are made available offline in one's neighbourhood, faith community, workplace or educational environment. Others occur online through social interaction, activity, study, research and the sharing of information.

Where mission is, opportunity has led us there. What are the opportunities available to you at this point in time? Find some people who can help point them out to you if you are having difficulty seeing them.

2. Proximity - Living into mission is most easily sustained by investing in the opportunities that are nearest to you. Proximity is both a physical location and an emotional engagement. Take for example the social justice issue of human trafficking. It may not be possible for someone to move into the middle of where this issue is most pressing, but the emotional connection that can result from awareness of the opportunity to get involved creates the nearness connection that is proximity.

3. Passion - Passion is most easily defined as suffering, believe it or not. Passion extends beyond a fleeting emotional connection, creating a determination and active engagement in an unfolding opportunity sustained by nearness (proximity).

4. Courage - Courage is the final element to the nucleus of what it means to live into mission. Opportunities are plentiful, created by nearness and sustain by passion...but it's courage that moves thought into action and value into activity. Will we face the fear of the unknown, embrace the concept of re-writing an unwritten script and live into the mission we were created for?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Team and Transformation

I'm a huge fan of team sports because I love studying how teams are put together. I listen to endless hours of debate and rhetoric about what drafted or acquired player might turn into an all-star or high-functioning leader for his team; and who might be a better fit in terms of role or character on which team. I'm intrigued by the phrase "intangible qualities" team officials use during interviews to justify the selection of a specific player ahead of another individual.

What I've discovered in all of my observation and involvement as a fan is that there are two major components of team building that exist in the world of professional sports: the draft (player development) and the sign or trade (the acquisition). Imitation is often the predominant pattern to sh a team. When one team wins a championship, other teams begin to adopt principles of the championship squad. Players are analyzed, graded, ranked and selected based on different sets of needs for each individual organization, and other emerging trends or patterns they see more successful teams demonstrating. I often wonder what makes one person more valuable to an organization than another? As teams are built, players are changed, elevated, developed or removed depending on their overall value to the team and the long term goals of the organization. Players become assets and commodities in environments like this.

Thankfully when it comes to the family of God we don't function like that...or do we?
In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul writes about the development of the church, speaking to both the unity and diversity that is found in a living and breathing organism such as the human body. He goes into great detail to highlight the value that every individual body part plays in the overall development of the entire body as a whole. In Paul’s understanding of the Christian community, while there are different roles to be played there are no favorites. We essentially function together as a team, working together towards the common goal of transformation.

Transformation is discipleship and discipleship is most easily defined as becoming who we were created to be. It takes time, effort, investment and intentionality. We leaders help to shape the culture of transformation in our community.  And although transformation should be the goal for every community or team, many communities give way to three most common temptations.

1. Spiritual development is the most important part of transformation.
Earlier we defined transformation in terms of holistic development or discipleship, referring to becoming who we were intended to be. There are four basic elements that define what a human being is: the spiritual self, the physical self, the emotional self and the intellectual self. Paul’s description of the human anatomy functioning in diverse unity shows how all four of these elements of an individual and/or entire community must work together in the transformative process.

If we fail to exercise one set of muscles and overuse another set, we will end up with a lopsided figure. There are seasons where we may elevate the development of one of these facets ahead of another, but unless there is a long term balanced approached to the transformative process between all four of these elements, the process itself will be stunted. Does our pursuit of transformation overemphasize spiritual development or appropriately emphasize spiritual transformation under the auspice of the holistic transformative process we know as discipleship? 

2. Transformation is exclusively individual.
Thinking back to our team analogy, no one individual is greater than the entire team. A culture of transformation is developed in a communal setting that benefits individuals. The greatest sports teams understand this principle. While individuals contribute to the over all goal of the community, they also reap individual benefits of communal growth.

Here in the western world, we are just beginning to rediscover the communal reality of the Christian faith. You may have heard before that it takes a village to raise a child. The same can be said for the process of transformation. We are relational beings designed for connection. Individuals void of a communal expression of faith will experience a stunted transformative process. A team requires a full compliment of players in order to compete effectively. Transformation requires a community of individuals to do the same. No single individual will rise above the development of the broader community alone. We need each other to survive, to grow and to find stability. How is your current community valuing holistic transformation that invites individuals into a long-term development process?

3. The loudest ones are the brightest stars.
It’s easy to assume that the squeaky wheel always needs the oil. If its true that every human being is created to function as a part of a broader living breathing organism known as the body of Christ as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12, and that no part is greater than the other, the parts that are louder aren’t necessarily better.
My Grandma used to tell me that the reason God created humans with two ears and only one mouth was so that we could learn there is greater value in disciplining ourselves to listen than creating the space the be heard.

The extroverted and naturally gifted teens and families are usually the easiest to notice and sometimes even get along with. But there may be thousands of diamonds in the rough among those who are less noticeable or desirable to be around. Do our communities make room for the so-called misfits? Do we value every part of the living community we represent, or are we some sort of genetically engineered nightmare growing a dozen limbs but missing a heart?

We grow together, we move together, we breathe together. How are you cultivating a team in the process of transformation?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

We are What We Value

"You are what you eat!"

I can remember watching late night infomercials while in college that were attempting to sell me some new high fibre crash-diet miracle fat burner. For only three easy payments of 59.95 you can create the body shape you've always wanted!! These commercials were mildly entertaining at 3am as you are working on some sort of study paper due the next morning.

What I learned from these infomercials is that we not only have an over-fascination with dieting, but we also crave instant gratification and change.

The truth about life (that no one wants to market) is that it can be difficult. Many people on our planet face an everyday struggle for survival. Those of us who are blessed enough to live in places where our challenges aren't as severe may think differently at times, but we too struggle with making the most of the time we've been given to live.

If life is a gift we've been given, how might we invest what we've been given? Here are 3 thoughts I'm discovering about life and values.

1. We are what we value. At my daughter's elementary school their theme for the year is identity. Their hope is to help their community discover who they are through scholastic education. Different activities, events, and teaching styles are being integrated throughout the year in order to help this theme take root as a value in the lives of their students.

It's one thing so that that we value something and another to live it. Over the years I've witnessed far too many examples of people who say good things but struggle to implement them in their daily lives. The truth about life and about values is that we are what we value. If you want to know what someone values in life, observe where they spend their time and their money. What you see and what they say can sometimes be two different things. It takes great courage to be honest about what we value based on how we are currently investing our lives. Find a community that will help you uncover your values.

2. The expression of our values can shift over time. One of my favourite activities to do with my kids is to have tickle fights. I love hearing their squeals of joy fill our house and leave my ears ringing. While this activity is meant to show them that I value our relationship, I realize that how I express the value of relationship will need to shift over time. Tickle fights work with young children, but are less effective and appropriate with teens or adults. As my children grow, my expression of relational value must also grow. I need to challenge myself and find the courage to admit that what I've always done in the way I've done things isn't going to last. The way I choose to express what I value has to change with the passing of time.

3. Values and character are interrelated. I've heard it said that a season of testing reveals character, but what I'm discovering is that the character we possess is directly correlated to the values that govern our lives. If we desire to be a trustworthy person, we will value honesty & integrity. Life's challenges can be used as mirrors, reflecting what sort of character is being developed in us while inviting us to great depth through what we value.