The Whatever Project

My name is Joey . . . and I have a problem.

I have a tendency to be cranky.

I believe that I cover it pretty well. Only a select few of you out there know that I’ve been battling this affliction most of my life. But those of you who know I have it truly wish that you weren’t one of the selected. Please forgive me.

I am not plagued with indiscriminate crankiness. No, my crankiness is finely tuned on the acts and attitudes of other people. You see, I’m judgmental.

Now, most people are judgmental to some extent. If you don’t believe that’s true, I would guess that you haven’t watched the news, read a paper, browsed the net, or had coffee with a friend . . . ever.

I find it ironic that I absolutely detest it when others are judgmental. I have banned certain television channels at our office and I refuse to read the comments on certain blogs. I don’t think that I would even tolerate judgmental talk from other individuals . . . except, I often walk away from those conversations with the sinking feeling that I was leading the cranky parade.

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time driving through West Texas. On one of those journeys, alone in my car, I had an immense bout of crankiness about one certain individual. I was beside myself with thoughts of his stupidity, laziness, disregard for human kind, and, even though I knew it to be false, his total lack of affection for puppies.

As I felt my negativity levels soar, I suddenly thought, “I don’t want to do this.”

At the next truck stop, I pulled off and rifled through my back pack. With Bible in hand, I went to Philippians 4 and to the “whatevers.”

The answer to my crankiness was right there. I started thinking that whenever I begin to get cranky towards someone, I needed to start building a “whatever” list for that person. Further, I realized that, in order to prevent crankiness, I could inoculate everyone I know by saving up “whatevers” for them.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. (Philippians 4:8, NIV)

This is my Whatever Project. I hope it makes life better for all of you. I know it will for me.

“Whatever.”

Crawfish, It’s Not What’s for Dinner

A beautiful West Texas morning was in the offing. As I pulled into my regular spot I noticed them.

Ten, fifteen, maybe twenty reddish somethings were scattered around the parking lot. With the winds of spring, my first thought was that some flowering plant had been forced to give up its blossoms and that this was the location they were to be deposited.

But as I opened my door, I noticed that these objects weren’t from flora origins. Indeed these were freshwater crustaceans and cousins to the red lobster — crawfish.  And, at least at first glance, they appeared to be recently deceased crawfish.

I made my way into the office, pondering the oddity of crayfish suddenly appearing in semi-arid West Texas. And then I remembered — local social clubs pride themselves on their annual crawfish boils. I became confident that this morning’s sighting was the byproduct of one of those grand events .  .  . and that our commercial dumpster had been the disposal location of choice for the clean-up crew.

We were expecting visitors that day. So I grabbed a broom and a dust pan, gained the help of Dr. Jerry Strader, and headed back outside to dispose of those tiny beings that had not, for some reason, made it into the dumpster.

The clean-up on the pavement was easy. But then we noticed that an unusually large number had been deposited in the middle of the lawn. A rather confused flock of grackles were strolling around through the heaps, wondering what, if anything, they should do. As Jerry and I began our pick-up operation, it became apparent that those that weren’t in the dumpster had not been boiled. In fact a good number of those still in the lawn were alive and, shall we say, snapping.

We completed our clean-up — including scooping up a couple that had ventured over 100 yards in the direction of the boulevard. I suppose that their homing instincts had directed them toward the nearest bus stop. Before our venture was over, more than 100 crawfish had been recaptured.

Close to mid-morning, our dumpster was already attracting flies and the smell was a bit fishy. I contacted the city and asked if we could get an early visit from the garbage truck. Temperatures were expected to reach over 100 degrees that afternoon. I was assured that they would do the best they could.

By noon, the stench had increased and the fly population was ever larger. Then, in mid-afternoon, the city’s environmental crimes officer was on site.

“You know,” he said, “this is a violation of about three city ordinances. Do you know who the perpetrators are?”

I assured him I didn’t know specifically and he decided not to try to investigate. But he immediately called for a garbage truck.

“Smells like dead fish,” he said.

“Actually, more like dead shellfish,” I corrected. When it became obvious that specificity was not needed for his report, I relented. And he was off to investigate his next environmental crime.

Eventually we learned which social clubs were involved. Nice apologies were received. And, our acceptance of those apologies were returned. In addition, each club offered to come for a service project of our choosing in an effort to compensate us for our time and effort.

“No,” I insisted, “there is no need for you to do anything for us. Just do a better job of clean-up next time — and perhaps pick a different dumpster.”

Yet, one of our social club contacts wrote back again. “Please let us do something for you.”

She had already fulfilled her social contract. She had apologized and had offered to make amends. And even after I had gently refused, she persevered.

I felt her genuineness. I was touched by her tenacity. I was total in my forgiveness. I was blessed to be part of a university community where students own their consequences and are concerned when their actions impact others negatively. It made my day.

This was an “extra mile” moment. And a reminder that extra-mile-paths sometimes traverse tough surroundings. But their final destination is always a place of sweet peace.

Go an extra mile today. Be tenacious in your apologies. Be genuine in your concern. Make someone’s day.

And don’t offer me any crawfish for dinner any time soon.

Spring Clean

Just as Mother Nature uses the spring season to renew and reset, we all need a season to lose the clutter in our lives. My office at work and my closet at home are physical reminders of this personal need. But it’s the clutter of the heart that truly pulls us down. Let go. Forgive. Move forward.

Shame as a place of beginning

My son, Justin, gave me a book a couple of years ago.  Reverence, by Paul Woodruff, has been forming my life in some incredible ways.  Professor Woodruff’s basic thought is that reverence is one of humanity’s virtues.  And although he acknowledges that reverence can be focused through one’s view of God, he insists that all of us would be better people, whether or not we believe and trust in God, if we will draw three elements into our daily living.

Those three elements, Awe, Respect, and Shame, are interrelated and truly do create an aura of “remarkability.”  Awe for a power that is greater than us.  Respect for others in the context of our awe.  And Shame as a constant check on who we are.

I’ve shared the book with students as a guest in one of their graduate courses.  Twice a year, I sit with a dozen or so of them and we talk about the way that reverence plays in our lives through these three elements.

Shame is the element that draws the most criticism in these discussions.  I suppose the reason is that Shame is pictured as a burden.  Because of that, it does seem to be ill-fitted to make up our virtue of reverence.  Although I have spoken strongly in favor of its inclusion, I think I have too quickly slid into a comfortable spot of thinking that I should start with Awe as I pursue reverence.  (By the way, despite Dr. Woodruff’s assertion that this doesn’t have to be about God, for me, it’s all about God.)

And so, for a few years, I have been caught up with the notion that I must  establish Awe as the cornerstone.  In truth, it is the cornerstone.  Yet, I battle with myself constantly.

I missed the importance of confronting my Shame.

The beauty of the life that God has given us is His unfaltering willingness to forgive me for my failings.  He doesn’t want me to fail.  And I certainly don’t want to.  Yet, what I have missed is the mystical power that accompanies my ability to recognize where I don’t measure up and then to bask in the glory of a Creator who loves me anyway.

That’s why I can hold him in Awe.  That’s how I can come to recognize His true power.  That’s the only way that I can even begin to understand His love.

So today, I’ve concentrated on my Shame.  With a renewed desire and energy to do better tomorrow, I am beginning my path to reverence.  And as with everything God has given us, the path is filled with the fullness of Him.  My view of my Shame gives me hope.

Awe and Respect will happen.  Shame forms us.  Thankfully, with God our Shame doesn’t have to overpower us with guilt.  He holds something better for us.  Shame is my opportunity.  Shame is a place where I begin.

God offers us continual reconciliation.  Through Shame, we gain the wisdom and the motivation to reach out and grasp what He offers.

Value in Faith, Part 3

Having recently posted something that drew the criticism of some of my readers — all of whom responded with great civility by reply and by private email, I might add — I recalled that some time late last year, I promised to share my thoughts on my faith.

I had this recollection because I remembered the value statement occupying the third spot on my list:

In order to realize the value I place on faith, I will listen to others and act with discernment with their thoughts in regard to God.

Now, I don’t like having people disagree with me any more than the next guy.  Yet, I am learning that God hasn’t given me the talent of always being right.

So I listen to other people.  Even when their ideas don’t match mine.  And especially when those ideas are about what God is calling them to do.  I appreciate them for voicing their concerns and challenging what I say.  I have discovered that I have much to learn.

Discernment is such a difficult exercise.  In my view (and I’m sure there will be those who disagree), discernment is a process that combines listening, thinking, sorting, inquiring, and ultimately feeling.  Discernment is making the best decision you can in a given moment and feeling good about the effort and the outcome.  Discernment, like all human endeavors, is an imperfect activity.

The beauty of my faith is that my God is too big to be dethroned by my mistake in judgment.  The beauty of my faith is the depth added to my relationship when I know that what I’ve discerned is enough for the moment.  If I was wrong, God will bring me back on target.  And I will always be trying to get it right.

I truly believe that God will deliver me from myself.  And my faith says that he will deliver you, too.  That’s the real message, isn’t it?