Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday FAQ: What's The Highest Compliment You Could Receive?

Here's the inaugural version of the annual Friday FAQ on this blog. This week, I'll make it personal instead of professional.

The question: What is the highest compliment you can imagine receiving?

The answer...

(First, a disclaimer. I self-identify as a follower of Jesus Christ. So, the obvious answer is 'you remind me of Jesus in the way you navigate life'. That's a given for me. So, I'll keep going, knowing that many people who read this do not consider themselves to be particularly religious people.)

The highest compliment I can imagine receiving is 'You are a loyal friend, the kind of friend I know I can depend on no matter what. I can trust you no matter what'.

In earlier stretches of life my most coveted compliment might have had to do with success or status or skills. No longer.

The older you get the more you realize that at the end of the day what matters are relationships. All the other stuff goes away, or could go away or if it doesn't go away it fades dramatically in how much you care about it.

I'm an introvert and don't need a lot of friends. But I am intensely loyal to those I do have and I value that sort of loyalty more with each passing year.  It's a rare thing, man.

It would be a compliment beyond measure to be told: "Even if I were to fail in spectacular fashion I know you would be there for me - physically, relationally, spiritually. I know you would be there even if being there was costly to you. I know your friendship is not just in words, but in deeds".

That's the kind of friendship you can take to the bank, even when your bank account is empty.

You can't outsource or delegate that kind of friendship. It's not dependent on external factors and circumstances and sometimes it's not even logical.

It's rare and takes real commitment to pull off, but I want to be that kind of friend.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tuesday Teaching - Spit and Grace

No one likes anyone else's spit.

With two exceptions - your beloved, and your kids.

Everyone else's spit grosses you out, but not theirs, most of the time.

After all, one phrase for kissing is "swapping spit". It isn't a good kiss unless some measure of spit is involved.

And we don't mind our kids' spit too much either.

Think about it...

Your kid has a cookie and it's too big for them to eat. You don't think twice about sharing the cookie with them, even when they are toddlers and their eating involves some - well - sogginess. You'll eat a slightly spit-soaked cookie after one of your kids, no questions asked, no dry heaves restrained.

Now, picture your best friend's kid. You love this kid. This kid is a delight. You wouldn't think twice about giving this kid a bear hug, maybe even a kiss on the cheek.

But when this kid, child of your best friend whom you love dearly, hands you a soggy cookie, you're looking for the nearest trash can. Or potted plant.

Sharing spit connotes intimacy.

There's this scene in John 9 in the New Testament.

A guy approaches Jesus. The guy has been blind since birth. In that culture, such a disability carried moral implications. Maybe his parents did something 'wrong' and their punishment is a blind child. Maybe God knew that this guy would be a bad apple so He inflicted blindness on him as a warning to others.

Whatever the cause, blindness in this culture was a one way ticket to isolation, poverty, friendlessness, desperation.

So, this guy cashes in all of his chips and goes to Jesus. He has to get through Jesus' people first, the disciples.

The disciples are religious guys, for the most part, and when they see someone with a problem they are looking to cast blame. That's what religion does. Every time.  The good and well-behaved are in and the bad and ragged are out.

Religion looks to fix blame and isolate.

So, the disciples, looking to make a point, say to Jesus in front of a crowd: "Hey, Rabbi, check this guy out. Who sinned - he or his parents - to cause him to be born blind?"

The point was to point out this guy's wrongdoing, make an example of him, and then divert attention elsewhere. Nothing to see here after you've seen what there is to see - the sinner's guilt...move on.

Remember, religion equals public blame-casting and isolation. Gotta blame somebody.

Jesus (I imagine) rolls his eyes and sighs. He says a few words about darkness and light, night and day. He makes the radical and unexpected claim that it's not about wrongdoing or rightdoing, it's about God showing up and doing something that shows how great He is.

Then he does something downright weird.

He spits on the ground. Then he puts his finger in the wet dirt and makes a muddy paste. Then he takes the spit-soaked mud and he rubs it on the guy's eyes. Tells him to wash. Heals him right then and there.

Why the spit?

Scholars debate this question. I've read all the arguments and don't find any really convincing, though some are clever and even plausible. I think it's pretty simple.

Jesus - if he truly was a healer, as the Bible claims - didn't need to spit. He could have just said "See!" and the guy would have seen.

But he chose to use spit.

Earthy, intimate, messy, a little gross.

Like always with Jesus.

Religion is cut and dry - isolate the wrongdoing, pronounce sentence, let the consequences play out, move on. We don't want to think too much about it, especially when it involves someone else. We don't want to get too involved because we see too much of ourselves in the blind guy getting spit rubbed on his eyes.

And who the hell wants someone else rubbing spit on their eyes?

Jesus, I think, was saying this - it's not about what this guy or his folks or his neighbors have done, though well and truly they have all done bad things and good things alike just like the rest of us.

It's about what God is doing. Taking elemental things like spit and mud and creating beauty. Using something dirty and off-putting to show off His offer of forgiveness and grace and a fresh start. Saying that God is here, right now, in the most unrefined and basic of ways that you can touch and smell and see.

The Christian faith is not about pronouncements and laws and plans and spreadsheets and neatness and processes.

It's about God being born in an animal's mucking stall, and bread and wine and mud and blood and messiness and prostitutes and criminals with white collars and blue getting invited to Christmas dinner at the Biltmore House and being put at the head of the table, eyes blinking and mind spinning and stomach rumbling.

When it comes to the blindness of others are you more apt to spit on the ground or at the blind guy?

When it comes to your own blindness have you let mud be rubbed on your eyes today, or are you trying to clean up on your own?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Tuesday Teaching and Friday FAQs

There are all kinds of blogs for all kinds of people, but I have always gravitated towards the ones that I can count on for a certain kind of experience at a certain time.

Like the ones where the writer gives me the best videos from around the Internet every Tuesday or an update on the latest Scandinavian mysteries on Wednesday (I - seriously - have a Scandinavian mystery post coming later this week) or stock tips twice a week. I can overlook the origami still shots or the tips on horse-racing if I know what I am going to get at other times.

So, with that in mind, I am going to introduce two weekly features on this here blog:

-Tuesday Teaching


-Friday FAQs

Here's the plan. I have a great love both of teaching and the Bible. I particularly love teaching the Bible.

So every Tuesday, I am going to post a meditation - as short as I can - on a passage from the Bible. Please note that this post will be intended both for those who believe the Bible and those who don't. It won't be "Todd's Pious Thoughts",  for two reasons - I don't have many pious thoughts and, if I did, you would not find them interesting.

There's a lot more than piety in the Bible, including a fair measure of violence, sex, drama, intrigue, and rock and roll.

OK, not so much rock and roll.

In any event, I plan on looking at some intriguing and off-the-beaten path stuff in the Bible and trying to bring it to life.

For instance, my post tomorrow will be about spit.

Yep, spit.

Friday FAQs will be interesting, at least to me.

I've been given the opportunity to have a varied career path - professional ministry, writing, public speaking, small business ownership, executive coaching for Fortune 100 leaders, and consulting in both the public and private sectors. I've had the chance to meet a lot of interesting people and explore some interesting topics along the way and hopefully that sort of voyage is just beginning.

So, I am going to address some of the most interesting questions I have asked, received, or run into along the way - one per Friday.

Hope you'll hang around and have some fun with me...starting tomorrow, with the first installment of Tuesday Teaching.

Friday, November 22, 2013

All That You Can't Leave Behind

In 2000, the band U2 released an album called 'All That You Can't Leave Behind'.

I've always thought that was one of the best album titles ever,  because it can be taken in so many different directions.

By all accounts, the band was "reapplying" for the job of best band in the world and the title reflected their desire to bring together the best of their past with their continued development as artists. As the lyrics from the album revealed, there were other layers of meaning - especially as it related to the spiritual life. What are the things we need to be whole and human? And what do we NOT need? What can we safely leave behind?

As folks in the recovery community say: "You can never have enough of what you don't really want".

But we want it anyway.

And that's the question I pose to you today:

What can you leave behind?

What should you leave behind?

It's easy to walk through life dragging around a backpack full of stuff that hinders us:

-Memories we can't shake
-Grudges we can't let go
-Deferred or denied dreams we still cherish
-Relationships, once important, that have become toxic
-Habits that die hard, but suck the life out of us
-Regrets that keep us awake at night
-Things we've said we want to take back, but can't, and we don't know how to undo them

Here's the thing to remember: Leaving something behind does not necessarily mean that you get left behind.

Leaving something behind may be the key to freedom and joy and health in the future. Even though it feels hard and like a sort of death.

Think of it instead - this Fall - as a pruning. Old stuff that once served a purpose, being trimmed away so that new life can flourish.

So, is there something in your life that was never healthy that you need to cut away - a habit, a relationship, a misguided ambition?

So, is there something in your life that once served a good purpose, but whose time has passed for you - a job, a non-binding commitment, an organization?

If it's the first, cut it away today.

If it's the second, have the guts to hash out your hesitation, say goodbye, move on, embrace a different and ultimately better future.  But do it with hope and not despair, with gladness for what it once meant, not resentment for what it has come to mean.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the death of the great writer C.S. Lewis. Here's what he said about this:
"There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind"

You won't grow until you go.

If it's not healthy, and not good - if it's going nowhere fast - leave it behind.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Are You You (Or Who 'They' Want You To Be)?

I chose the head shot below for this blog mostly because my wife likes it.

But it makes a point too:

Here's the point...

The vast majority of people who know me laugh out loud when they see this photo. Mostly because they have never seen me wearing a suit. My day to day uniform tends to be a T-shirt and jeans.

But there are others who have never seen me any other way. Most notably, a consulting client in Oklahoma. This company's dress code is business wear and they require the same for their outside vendors. I have been honored to work with them for two years now and those folks have never seen me NOT wearing a suit.

So, which is the real me?

The guy in the pressed Nordstrom Traveler's Edition suit or the guy in the $6.99 T-shirt from Target worn over Levi's?

Same cat, different clothes.

We can wear our self like a change of clothes if we're not careful.

What's important for you is that you figure out who you are - who you are made to be - and be that person.

Who are you?

In many ways, it's the ultimate question.

Don't be an exaggerated or veiled version of you just to suit someone else.

Others expect stuff of you that they have no right to expect.

Disappoint them. On purpose.

A chunk of my career has been leading faith-based organizations, often as a church pastor.

And, man, you talk about a career path where people expect a person to be a certain way.

Give a guy or a girl a clerical collar or a microphone or a ministerial parking space at the hospital...and watch the expectations bloom.

I've always made a point of saying stuff like this to the folks I have been privileged to serve:

"I may be a 'professional religious person', but I am no different than you. I'm surely not a better person than you are. My job is no more or less important than that of a teacher, an insurance agent, a carpenter, a homemaker, or a corporate executive. Contrary to popular myth and a misinterpretation of James 3:1, I should not be either more honored or judged more harshly than you".

I've had the chance to operate professionally in a lot of different spheres, and each one comes with its own set of expectations.

The trick is to find YOUR true North, the person you were made to be, and act and live that way.

It doesn't mean you shirk your obligations or live a life that is all about self, but it does mean you refuse to color in the lines if you don't want to and if to do so is not true.

Resist every pressure from 'them'; purpose to be who you were made to be, not what 'they' (whomever 'they' are in your world) expect you to be. This includes parents, priests, bosses, even spouses and kids.

At the end of Shakespeare's King Lear, when the stage is littered with bloody corpses and all hope seems lost, Edgar says this:

'The weight of these sad times we must obey/
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say'

Hopefully, your life is more seashells, balloons, and ice cream than a stage full of bloody corpses.

Likely, it's somewhere in the middle.

Whichever it is, be you in the ins and outs, ups and downs of it. Find your voice and speak with it. 

Passionately and intentionally.

The rest of us need you to be you.

Monday, November 18, 2013

How To Choose and Fire Your Friends

The older I get, the fewer friends I have.

That sounds sad, but it's not.

I find that I have an ever-widening circle of acquaintances, and some of those are very important to me.

But friends - that's another matter. As we get older, I think our sense of what it means to be a friend ripens and deepens and becomes more valuable.

Instead of trying to define a friend with prose, I'd like to tell you two stories about real friends in my life.

The first we'll call Bob. I've known Bob for one fourth of a century.

Just typing that makes me feel old.

The thing about Bob and I is that both of us have enjoyed some measure of what people would call success.

And both of us have really screwed up at times - royally.

The one thing you could say about Bob and I is that our lives have not been boring.

Here's the thing...when I think of each of those screw-up moments, Bob was there. I mean physically there, even when we lived hours apart. And at his screw-up moments,  I was there too. It would never have occurred to either of us not to be.

We were totally on each other's side, even when we knew the other had screwed up.

It's like this. Say I slathered myself in peanut butter, and tried to scale the walls of the White House to launch a revolution and proclaim myself King of All I Survey.

I'd probably lose a few friends if that happened. But Bob would be there to try to bail me out (unsuccessfully, I grant you).

And here's what he would most likely say...

"Seriously, peanut butter?"

Let's call the second friend Owen. Owen is older and has been a big influence on a bunch of other friends my age.

Years ago, Owen was accused of doing something he didn't do, not really, and many of his friends abandoned him. Some of them outright abandoned him in ugly, blatant ways, and others did it in a really "Christian" way - subtly and with shaking heads and promises of, you know, prayers and stuff. Gossip under the guise of 'we really need to pray for Owen'...'can you believe that about Owen?'

("Well, have you talked to Owen to hear his take?" "No, I am sure Owen has people surrounding him. I'm just gonna pray for him").

The deal was that on the surface, things looked bad for Owen, depending on what part of the story you got.

I was talking with another of the young friends of Owen - a guy my age -  about how things looked and he stopped the conversation suddenly and said "So what?"

"So what, what?" I asked, intelligently.

"So what if he did it? He's still Owen. I mean, I'll tell him it was stupid if he did it, but he's Owen. He's always been there for us, defending us even at cost to himself. And we're loyal and we've got his back no matter what. We'll go to war with him even if he's in the wrong. We're Owen's guys. That's what friends are."

And, you know, these many years later and with a lot more life under my belt, I think that about sums it up.

Do you have friends like Bob or Owen? Tell them you love them today and never lose them.

Do you have people you consider friends but who would cut and run in ways either blatant or subtle if you ended up slathered in peanut butter outside the White House?

Fire them. Gently, but fire them.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Why 'Unforgotten Grace'? (1)


What's your very first memory?

Mine is of a trio of Vietnam-era fighter planes flying low over my family's backyard in Charlotte when I was very young. I still remember how loud they were, how the ground shook.

I remember a kindly neighbor across the street who used to bake these delectable chocolate chip cookies and pack them tight in a metal coffee can. To heft a metal Sanka can loaded with chewy chocolate goodness was bliss.

I remember the perfume of the first girl I ever danced with, the howl of the wind when I walked across the swinging bridge at Grandfather Mountain, NC as a terrified pre-adolescent, the musty smell of the lawyer's office the day my first marriage ended in divorce.

I also remember smelling each of my children in their first minutes of life (you know, that completely unique scent of newborn baby), seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time, the very first glimpse of the ocean from the road running parallel to the shoreline on every beach trip as a kid, the smell of the freshly cut grass outside the church building where Miranda and I got married on a warm May day when there was all at once great joy and the stabbing pain of one of our family lost and falling apart many miles away.

All memories carry a sensory imprint of some kind. We see, smell, feel, taste our memories.

My favorite writer is Frederick Buechner (get used to reading about him here, reader). One of his dominant themes is memory. He remembers and causes us to remember the suit his father put on before going out to the garage to end his life, the precise routine of his mother as she applied her makeup of a morning, the sound of his own halting and frightened voice as he tried to talk his teenage daughter out of an eating disorder. He writes:

"It is through memory that we are able to reclaim much of our lives that we have long since written off by finding that in everything that has happened over the years God was offering us new possibilities of life and healing..."

How about you? What memory, charged with hope or tinged with regret, do you need to own and savor? Where do you need to believe that there are new possibilities, the chance of life, the hope of healing?

There is so much about my own life I want to leave Unforgotten, much of it in the distant past and some of it in the very recent past.

Part of that is the way I have experienced Grace.....

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Hi, I'm Todd. Welcome to my new blog.

I hope Unforgotten Grace stuns you, causes you to think in new ways, makes you mad at times, causes you to marvel at beauty, entertains you, and leads you to love the things and people you love better than you love them today.

I've blogged for years, for organizations I have led or represented. I like to think I have found a blogging voice - short paragraphs, intentionally leading questions, 'reframes' - new ways of putting things we think we have figured out. I'll be writing about reframing a lot.

I'll reveal a lot of myself to you in these pages. In the past, I've blogged mostly on behalf of organizations - now, it's just me. 

I don't follow any party line and I don't owe nobody nuthin' except for love and respect.

You'll learn about what I value and care about, what makes me weep and pound the table and laugh and tear up.

You'll hear about my wife and the five boys we have between us.

You'll hear about the jobs I hold and have held in a lot of different realms of life - pastor, organizational consultant, writer, small business owner, professional speaker.

You'll read about books and writers I love and books I have written and am writing, music I care about, places and spaces I love, controversies that matter to me.

Yeah, there will be some controversy. Probably sooner rather than later.

But it won't be controversy for controversy's sake - it will all serve to bring truth to light and to create reframes for all of us.

I trust we'll have fun together. 

Maybe we'll be part of changing the world in some small way.

I'd love for you to follow me on Twitter and friend me on Facebook - you can do that over there to the right.

I'll get things rolling tomorrow by explaining why I named this blog Unforgotten Grace.

So, here we go....thanks for being here for the start.