Value in Faith, Part 1

“Isn’t that God’s job?”

I forget who said it. But I do recall that I had just finished a rather detailed explanation about what I was going to do to handle a truly difficult matter.  The speaker then very kindly shared her thoughts about how God takes care of things.  “You can help,” she said. “You just need to wait on God for a while.”

I searched for an appropriate response.  I felt the need to explain that a quick response was necessary — there was no time to lose.  As I looked across the table, I realized that waiting on God was not a skill I had mastered.

I have an odd faith.  I have always believed in God.  I simply have no question about His presence and His power.  However, as I began to look at my personal values and His place in my life, I realized that, if faith was truly one of my core values, I would need to change to allow God to shape me through that faith.

As with each value I’m choosing to own, I fashioned realization statements for faith.  The first is simply this:

To realize the value I place on faith, I will acknowledge my complete dependence on God.

It seems simple.  As I look through all of my realization statements, I’m thinking that it’s the most difficult to attain.  It’s a daily, moment-by-moment, discipline made more difficult by God’s desire that we become as He is.  I want the supreme commander position, when God is really offering the better part — the unfathomable ability to love.

I do believe that God is control.  And to behave in accordance with that belief, I must ask for a source of power that bypasses my understanding of power from an earthly perspective.

God, grant me the ability to love as you love.  And forgive me when I forget to love.

[This is one in a number of notes about my personal journey to identify and enhance my values.  It’s personal.  It may not address where you are and may not align with your value system.  You may not agree with me at all.  That’s all right.  If I’m missing something or you’ve got some thoughts that would be helpful, please do.  Thanks for reading.]

What if we weren’t wrong . . .

I’m spending time with a group of individuals who are asking questions. Not the demanding, investigative-type of questions. More of the shades of wonder-type questions.

I’ve been in other groups (though not for very long) that have asked questions, too. Invariably, their questions center on the mistakes of the past. “Why didn’t we see that we were so wrong?” I’ve stood by in horror as these people, acting in typical mob fashion, have castigated their predecessors — and occasionally themselves.

The constant messages ring out . . .

“We have arrived . . . We have attained a level of wisdom never before seen . . . We have been lifted from our previous stupor of ignorance . . . We are begotten of fools and ignorant people.”

But what if, in those not too distant moments when we or others believed or thought or felt differently, we weren’t wrong? What if we or our parents or previous administrations were right for the moment? What if our state of being was a result of the best we could do or think or feel at that time?

The group I’m now in asks questions that have no room for blame. Only capacity for gain. What should we be doing? Where should we be going? How is the best way to get there? Who could come with us? When should we take our next step?

The conversation that follows moves quickly. By not having to tread and retread the slick pavement of fault, we gain traction in things of importance. We move more rapidly towards making a difference.

Wait, you say. What if you or your predecessors were wrong? What then? What if you were wrong. . .

Then, I have to believe that a power greater than

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us will influence the current decision. I’m convinced that life is not marked by right answers, only best answers for the moment. And, if that’s true, we can stop worrying about being wrong and invest instead in doing what we hope and pray is best.

Wisdom, in the final setting, is not about being right. Wisdom is being open to what is right.

On drawing lines

“I’ve just about had enough.”

A phrase most often coupled by parents with “Don’t make me come back there.”

Some how, some way, we all want to set boundaries on what we can live with.  And often, we want to back that up with some promise of force or other action if any one is so bold as to cross that line.  After all, don’t people need to know that invading boundaries invokes consequences?

I’m a boundary-loving person — but not big on consequences.  That’s not to say that I don’t impose consequences.  I’m just not thrilled about it.

Yet, consequences are a natural . . . well, uh . . . consequence of life.  Any action I take or word I speak holds tremendous potential for ripples.  And when the boundaries are the right ones, then the attendant, well-reasoned consequences serve a noble purpose — even if the consequences are difficult.

But what happens if my “line in the sand” is misplaced?

Perhaps because of my distaste for imposing consequences, I’m fairly even-handed in dealing them out.  My difficulty, it seems, comes in staking out the wrong boundaries or sometimes the right boundaries for the wrong reasons.  That’s not to say that the lines I draw aren’t close to the right vicinity.  However, if I can’t explain why they’re there, do I dare defend them?

William Ury in his book, The Power of a Positive No, addresses this problem with his concept of packaging a “No” as three answers.  The first answer is a “Yes!” to yourself and your own values.  The second is a firm “No.” to the person or persons making demands or asking you to shift your boundaries.  The final answer is a “Yes?” that can spur further conversation.

Even though I violated all sorts of writing styles in including them, the punctuation on those answers is important.  The exclamation point on the first “Yes!” shows the enthusiasm and positive energy we should feel in recognizing where our own interests are.  The period on the “No.” makes it a calm, flat statement.  A negative answer is often delivered with anxiety and in a way that provokes argument or, even worse, ends all conversation.  A healthy, well-meaning “No” leaves room for continued dialog.  The question mark on the final “Yes?” invites others into a discussion of what could be.  In other words, “Yes?” says, “Your position or request is outside of my current boundaries.  Could we talk about our common interests and see if there is some place we could agree?  Who knows?  Perhaps our boundaries could use adjustment.”

I’m not sure that my “first yes” in all situations bears that exclamation point.  I doubt whether I’ve always invested in discovering and testing those personal boundaries. Since it’s the first piece of a positive “no,” my work is cut out for me.

I’ll be taking drawing lessons in the near future.  Who would have thought that sketching an exclamation point could present such a challenge?


“What monster is this we’ve created?”

I find myself somewhat apprehensive about the coming hours. As polls begin to close on the eastern seaboard, the news media and prognosticators and the pundits will begin to mount their mound of predictions. And we will wait for what will seem like a span of time longer than even the presidential campaign to get the official results. Undoubtedly, those reports will come after accusations of wrong-doing and malfeasance and other election ugliness.

Yesterday, Senator Obama promised his audience that “change will begin occurring tomorrow.” Of course, in truth, change happens daily. But the change he talks about really won’t begin as the votes come in today. The serious change he has promised will come over long negotiations and perhaps bitter struggle over the next 4 years. He promises unity, but the potential for polarization looms pretty large.

And, Senator McCain told his followers that “the ‘Mac’ is back!” Obviously, that’s a literary reference to the Phoenix-like qualities of this Arizona statesman and a rallying cry that victory, even in the face of less than favored status in the polls, is close. Or possibly just a tie-in to an old fast-food commercial. He promises change as well. Yet, any shifts in policy he pursues will meet similar protracted battles and angry outcries.

Strange, this mandatory pursuit of change in politics. People want change, right? Yet we struggle in our personal lives to minimize change. And we minimize change because of our fear of what change may bring. “What we have, no matter how bad, could ever be as bad as what could be.”

So we’ll wake up tomorrow with a new leader. And if it’s my candidate or yours, we’ll all face the news with a little bit of dread. Because, in the game of politics, we require our players to wear masks. Unlike in civilized sports where masks are meant to prevent disfiguration and maiming of the participants, the face-piece in politics is designed to alter communication and block true meaning. And in such design crouches the potential of disfiguring and maiming us, the electorate. And that’s what we fear.

For none of us can be sure of the true nature of the one who will move into the White House in January. Two hundred years of free election have taught us to peer suspiciously behind the masks.

It’s too late now — maybe centuries too late. I just wish that once, the candidates would take off their masks and talk to each other as individuals who really want to bring about good for all people. Not a debate, but a conversation.

But the two-headed, masked monster is one of our creation. And one that is destined to frighten us until the game is changed. Oops, there’s that word again.

Positively Notorious

In a recent continuing legal education conference, I sat listening to a lecture that would impact my area of practice very little. I no longer work in the court room on a regular basis and the topic of cross-examination really held little interest for me.

Yet, I sat dutifully and listened. The presenter, a seasoned trial lawyer, was what I expected him to be. Smooth. Great communicator. An accomplished story teller. So, even though I told myself that I had little motivation for listening, I couldn’t help myself. Thinking of preparation and strategy in working with a witness, I found myself recapturing the excitement of law school and my few years as a commercial litigator. In practice, most of my work with witnesses were in depositions. But it was an exciting part of my job.

I also found myself thinking of great attorneys I’ve known and remembering things that I had learned from them. One particular person rose to the top of those memories. I couldn’t help but think about my association with him. I realized that I had never really seen him in the court room or in deposition. I did share office space with him — sort of. He flew into Abilene every Thursday night and occupied the office next to mine on Fridays (when he wasn’t in trial). Yet, I knew he was a great lawyer — by reputation and by the way he handled himself in daily life.

He was greatly feared by large insurance companies, railroads, and other major businesses — and their lawyers. Not because of his domineering style in the courtroom, but because of his intellect and the fact that he had a knack of getting everyone in a room to listen and, to some degree, like him.

I was startled from my memories as the presenter in this particular course summed up his points by telling the story of a famous cross-examination in the famous case of Exxon v. Lloyd’s of London. As he set the scene, I thought, “How interesting! The lawyer in the case was Don Bowen, my hero and friend.”

Suddenly, I became anxious. What if, I thought, Don’s performance in the cross-examination was an example of bad technique? Our presenter had just revealed one of Abraham Lincoln’s blunders on cross-examination. Would Don be similarly maligned?

As the story unfolded, the audience was swept into a wonderful dialog of how a kind, yet brilliant lawyer, gently led an opposing party through testimony that persuaded the jury.

Don Bowen passed away several years ago. I’m sure there were times he made mistakes. I’m aware of some of his personal struggles that occurred long before I came to know him. I remember a few times when he disagreed with me on some things. I don’t remember the details of those times, though. The details are blurred by the way he treated me. With respect.

Outstanding experience. To hear a stranger talk about a common friend. And to hear the same theme in his description of a man that I would use. That a person can be strong and commanding while treating those around him with respect.

We should all be so positively notorious.