The Noises We Make

My gym workouts aren’t as frequent as they were just a few months ago. Travel, distraction, and a bit of injury have cut into my routine. So I was pleased this morning to be back at my Abilene gym. I even checked-in there on Facebook to enter one of the constant contests underway. It was early and quiet. The noises I heard were limited to the music from my earbuds and the muted thudding of my trainers on the treadmill.


Photo credit: Bruno Nascimento/

And then, I heard it.  A sharp cry. And then again. Over time, the brief outbursts morphed into a grunting sound. The noises made as hernias are created.

I looked back for a moment to see a man half my age sitting on one of the nearby weight stack machines. In that instant I could tell he was new to the machine. His form was wrong, the seat was in a bad position, and, from the agony on his face, it appeared that he was attempting too much weight. And so the grunting continued, interrupting my music and my concentration.

I hear a lot of noises at the gym. Half-conversations from people on cell phones who somehow think we can’t listen in. Sounds of machines moving alongside human body parts. Weights dropped by those who believe that such behavior makes them somewhat akin to Conan, the Barbarian. Conversations among friends about sports and relationships and politics. One guy even talks to himself — constantly. He says those things a trainer might say to a client. “You can do it! Two more! DO YOU REALLY WANT THIS??!!” And then, there are those exertion noises like the ones I heard this morning.

I wonder what noises I make. Not just in the gym, but at the office, at home, and in my community. What are the noises that people hear when they think of me?

As we continue to seek a level of equillibrium following a rocky political campaign and as we move now into a period of a new normalcy in regard to our political leadership, I find myself being more and more aware of the noises people are making. We have seen protests. We have heard exasperation from those who don’t like the protests. We have seen individuals choose to fall quiet, to slip on the sneakers of self-preservation and steal away into the shadows.

I have heard good and bad noises during this time. Some are expected and even welcomed. A few are surprising, revealing underlying anxiety that had been previously hidden. And some are like those from the gym this morning — explosive outbursts indicating a lack of forethought and preparation . . . sure signs of pending internal and external damage.

Perhaps in life, as in exercise, attention to the noises we make can serve as a governor to our choices and our well-being — and to our influence as leaders and people of faith.

The Beautiful Side of Opposition

When I hit the “publish” button on my blog site a few days ago, it was with some fear and apprehension. In that moment I had chosen to not only signal my lack of support for Mr. Trump for president, but also to report that I had voted for Mrs. Clinton. I knew that many, if not most, of my friends on social media and in real life would be surprised. In fact, I assumed that some would be angry. I made that post expecting another migration of “friends” from my Facebook account. I underestimated the opposition.

I did have a few people express disappointment in me. One, a friend from my school days, was forthright in her statement that I was in favor of socialism. I get that. To her credit, she put that aside and remains connected to me. That story was just one of many, however, that let me hear disagreement and acceptance. That is the beautiful side of opposition. That is the miraculous side of difference.

[ASIDE: By the way, I’m not a socialist in the political sense. But in terms of my feelings toward others, I am a “socialist.” As I stated in the earlier post, I think we’re all better together. And I was simply calling for us all to stand up against “anti-socialism” — in the people sense. If you are struggling to find a pigeon hole for me, I’m a compassionate capitalist. I think our vocations can build prosperity for all of us through personal and community effort. I believe that the majority people are searching for a way to contribute and that, in some cases, we have largely failed in making those opportunities available.]


Some of the most special moments were in comments I received from those who voted differently, but who obviously read every word I had written. And then took time to respond. That’s conversation. Uncomfortable in some contexts, but ultimately life-giving. Often their direct statements of difference were packaged in expressions of love and friendship. Beautiful.

And then there was the affirmation of those who felt aligned with what I wrote. Thanks to those of you who also left your comfort zone to do that and those of you who have been my examples in sharing their thoughts and positions freely and without fear.

With a few exceptions, notes of encouragement from all perspectives refreshed me, reassured me, and restored me to my confidence in people. We have a lot of work to do as we witness the aftermath of a time in our country when we were made to believe that power could be captured only by being divisive and seeding conflict. Indeed, the destructive behavior we are witnessing post-election attests to the fact that the simple act of a choosing a leader does not quiet the storms evoked by real needs. Or the fears.

Fear still reigns in our country. It’s not enough to say, “Don’t be afraid.” Instead, we should attack fear by standing together.

Stand for justice. Stand for mercy. Stand for people.

The beautiful side of opposition emerges from the darkness when we do that.

Too Attached to the Election

but it doesn't mean that everything will 'be all right'

This is a political post. It was written after a lot of thought. There are a lot of words here and I already know that it might not be the best written work I’ve ever done. It might not ‘flow.’ And it may not seem logical to you. Or you just might disagree. But it’s the only way I can move on. I became too attached to the election.

I’m a conflict resolution guy. It’s what I do. Conflict resolution comes in many forms. When I was a full-time lawyer, we practiced conflict resolution through the courtroom. Most people I know practice conflict resolution by simply avoiding it. Once, while I was speaking to the command group at an air force base about conflict management, the base commander reminded me that his supersonic bomber crews and maintenance personnel were all in conflict resolution. My line of conflict resolution, while direct, has an ultimate goal of restoring relationships and building a better future. And that’s why I became too attached to the presidential election.

Everyone had their reasons for voting for Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton.

Some were substantive. You really studied and were in favor of one political platform over another.

Others were relational reasons. You come from a long line of Republicans or Democrats and you find comfort in supporting that continuity of direction and honoring your heritage or your close group of friends — even though we know that neither party has been overwhelmingly consistent through history AND that the collective judgment of most social groups is suspect.

Some of you voted one way or the other because of religious motivations. Many of you told me how one candidate was the devil while the other one was the instrument of God. I think that those of you who voted out of religious conscience, for the most part, did so because of your genuine desire to build a society on godly values. That is a good thing.

However, for some of you, it gave you license to act in ungodly, menacing ways. And it hurt me, it hurt others, and it hurt God’s cause when you decided that any means would justify the ends. Jesus’ consistent story line was that the means were the most important thing. In fact, his promise was that if we line up our lives to do good, to speak well, and to love all, the ends would be taken care of — by God’s mercy and love. At this intersection you can follow all sorts of side trails to topics like faith, hope, and love. I’m just leaving this here.

Some of you voted to satisfy symbolic interests. Mr. Trump is going to shake up the establishment. Mrs. Clinton is going to be the first woman President. Mr. Trump is going to show the rest of the world that the United States is a dominating force. Mrs. Clinton acts more presidential. Symbolic interests are important. However, they prove to be a destabilizing factor if there is no foundational support.

So, we all had our reasons for voting the way we did. And we voted. And our system allowed us to make a decision. The decision was made. Yes, Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote. More voters wanted her as President. But remember that’s happened before. Mr. Trump won the electoral votes needed to be President.

I’m not going to get into the arguments over the Electoral College. But go back and look at the history of that process. It highlights the voice of the people with the interests of the states in balancing power between high-population and low-population states. (We would be remiss in failing to recognize that one of the most prominent interests of the states at the time had to do with whether they were abolitionist or pro-slavery.) So if you want to move to direct election of a president by popular vote, there’s a process for that. Pursue it.

Some people know that I never supported Mr. Trump during the election. In fact, I never liked him as a celebrity. He is a bully who has made his fortune and set his reputation through meanness, deceit, and, in my opinion, illegal means. I fear that he will continue to act in the same manner, even as the “leader of the free world.”

On the other hand, I would never have thought that I would vote for Mrs. Clinton. While her list of qualifications for President is long and she has shown moments of greatness, her past is littered with the wreckage of scandal. I’m not talking here about the multitude of, often preposterous, conspiracy theories and email controversies. I’m talking about the way that she and former President Bill Clinton built a machine to trade influence for dollars. Their hands are dirty.

But I did vote for her, because I felt the need to keep Mr. Trump from soiling the White House and the reputation of our country. That didn’t work out. This portion of my post will most likely result in many people unsubscribing from my email list and unfriending me on social media. I really regret that. But therein lies my point. Please read to the end before you unsubscribe or unfriend me. And, if you have any sense of fairness, I listened to and read a lot of ill-conceived rhetoric that some of you wrote or passed on — and I didn’t unfriend you.

I accept that Mr. Trump is the President-Elect of the United States of America. I will continue to honor the office even when I disagree with the individual who holds that office. I’ve done that in the past and I will continue to do that.

However, the positions that Mr. Trump has taken in regard to women, minorities, immigrants, and anyone who differs with him are untenable and, in most cases, abhorrent. We should not simply say that ‘everything will be all right.’ When we demean people, rob them of their dignity, and make simplistic policy decisions that ignore the underlying interests — interests that are woven into the fabric of our Constitution and our society — it is not all right. We must speak up.

I have to confess that when past presidential elections have not reflected my vote, I have simply shrugged and said, “It will be all right. Four more years. We’ll survive.” I still believe that God has all of this. I still believe that we will survive.

I believe even more strongly that we cannot just shrug and remain silent. It’s not what peacemakers do. It’s not the appropriate way to resolve conflict and to build better relationships.

Washington is broken. The Democratic Party is broken. The Republican Party is broken. Let’s not mourn that. Let’s build something better. Mr. Trump’s rejection of the Washington machinery might play into that. But only if Mr. Trump sets his personal self-interest aside and truly desires to serve this country.

A Call to Personal Action

Something different has to start with some personal action. Here’s my list:

  1. I acknowledge that I could be wrong about some things.
  2. I will do my best to know the issues, to understand the issues, and to communicate my stance in a way that helps others understand where I stand.
  3. I will continue to listen and explore when others differ with me.
  4. I will never demean another person, even when I believe they are wrong, stubborn, and disrespectful to me.
  5. I will never stand by when others demean someone else. My voice will be heard.
  6. If I discover I’m wrong, I will change my position and make amends if necessary.
  7. I will pray for our leaders and for all people — both within and without the United States.
  8. I will pray specifically for Mr. Trump.
  9. I will not tolerate bullying by anyone. While I may have no other power or authority, I have a voice. I will firmly oppose those who seek to control others for their own gain.
  10. I will encourage and work for a system that seeks the common good of all people.

That’s what I’m going to do. It’s too little too late for this election. But it’s there for the future.

So, do whatever you will. I hope you will join me even if you don’t agree with my positions on all things. That’s the wonder of America. It was built to reflect the beauty of diversity. We are better together.


Voting Early

fear and relief in one action

People are rushing to the polls and voting early.  They’re driven by fear and seeking relief.

It’s not so much the same fear that has driven so much of this political season — the fear of others, the fear of loss to entitlement. It’s the fear that yet something else will be revealed about one or both of the major party candidates that will give the voters pause on their electoral decision. It’s a fear of being forced to wade back through the grit and the slime that has dominated this presidential race.

And it’s not really relief about the candidate they’ve chosen and the job he or she will do. There is that, of course. But it is a relief from doing what can be done and letting the rest of it go. It’s a relief to know that our personal role in this entire debacle is coming to a turn in the road.

Now that we’re done voting early, it’s time to take that turn on move on. There will be things to do. For one thing, we all have to come together to find a new source of leadership. This, what we have, has proven unworkable — regardless of how you vote or which party you claim.

Yes, your fear is subsiding and you feel some relief from voting early. But it’s time to get up and move toward something better. History repeats itself. People have been in worse spots before. And they have emerged, fearless and calm. Shall we ?

New Voices

dealing with change

This is a personal post. Turn back now if you don’t want to go there. However, I’m talking with many people — at all stages of life — who share my experience. Perhaps this will strike a chord. You see, I once had a plan for my life. Or should I say, my life has been a notebook full of plans. At each turn in my existence, I had a clear idea of what I would be and where I would go and when I would reach certain milestones. Now I’m hearing new voices.

new voices

(photo credit: Kalen Emsley/

My latest life plan, the one that is now stuffed in a back pocket of that notebook, was to finish out my career in place and continue to serve in those comfortable spots I had already found. By that I mean, I would just do what I’ve been doing for the past 16 years, slowing slightly, and then quietly exiting. But then I heard new voices in vocation.

Those new voices have planted a challenge to do exciting things with a renewed purpose, as well as the elements needed to make those things happen. The new voices I’m hearing about my vocation are strong, encouraging, and clear.

My life plan is missing, though.

There is a chilling quietness from the voices that speak to the rest of my life. I’m not lost. I’m not without direction. I just haven’t begun to listen for or hear the new voices — the voices about personal things and spiritual things. Because of the emerging plans at work, personal and spiritual life has been disrupted. Not shattered, but disrupted.

How about you? Do you long for new voices? Do you feel you’ve become mired in what has been and do you long for what will be? Are you drifting just a bit?

From some good mentors, I believe I am beginning to hear the whispers of what will be strong new voices. Let me share what they’re saying — just in case you’re straining to hear as I am.

  1. Spend most of your energy listening.
    Although I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked to be quiet over the past six decades, I’m confident that I have rarely taken that advice to heart. Be quiet. Experience the peace that comes when you watch the river calmly flow past.
  2. Dwell on good things . . . about people, about your position in life, about your future.
    There’s more than enough of these to keep you occupied and thankful.
  3. Fill your time with meaningful and valuable activities.
    Whenever possible, be with family and friends — listening and sharing. (For my fellow introverts, spend a little time scheduling your alone-times. There’s time enough for everything. We often use the excuse of our introversion to avoid what we may need the most.) Read good books. Watch worthwhile media. Sing along with uplifting songs. Take walks. Pray . . . a lot.
  4. Don’t despair over what you don’t know.
    Anxiety is simply the fear of what hasn’t happened yet. Let go. Find the next best step for you to take and joy in knowing it’s there.
  5. Be hesitant to give advice.
    (I hope you smile a bit as you think about the irony here.) Instead, ask questions. Not as cross-examination, but as a curious friend. What will you do next? How are feeling? Why do you think that (whatever “that” is) happened?
  6. Wait.
    Let time, let God, do what time and God do.

I am confident that a new life plan is emerging — both for me and for you. And I’m blessed that your life plan will make mine better.