Helping Build a Smarter Planet

IBM has a great catch phrase: Helping Build a Smarter Planet. I recently watched a video about the past 100 years of IBM and was really impressed by the many ways that they have innovated and contributed to the progression of, not only technology, but society as a whole over the last century.

I recently saw an ad that they put up about Smarter Marketing and ended up watching this  online:


It’s a great ad and really clever (especially how the guys with the bags pull off the suits of the guys in front of them with a cord coming out of the bag). It does a good job telling the story of how companies have come to view people as a demographic and not as individuals, yet how their company can help businesses regain relational connection.

I was thinking as I watched this: It’s not only big multi-nationals or even small local chains that put people in boxes and categories. We as individuals do this to one another and non-profits may even do this with a donor base. We are all guilty of stereotyping in order to make quicker judgements and decisions.

This got me thinking: When did this all change? How did we get here? How did the world of business become so backwards relationally?

Here are some random-ish guesses:

Back in the day, a blacksmith would make a sword (or other tool) for a specific person. That person could say how they wanted it done and the blacksmith made it. It was a face-to-face interaction. At other points in history shoes, gloves, clothes, or some other artisan type of product were made on a small, individual, relational basis. As times changed and things began to be mass produced clients no longer told businesses how they wanted it. Businesses told clients how they were going to get a given product. It reminds me of what Henry Ford said about the Model T, “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.” Apple (Steve Jobs) was also known as a keeping an extremely high level of control on user experience as well. Although they do a good job of hiding this fact from most users (have you tried opening an iPhone lately?).

All this to say, companies both big and small are now trying to figure out a way to continue increasing profit but also want to regain the ‘relationship’ that artisans had with their clients in history past. Starbucks caught onto this idea a while ago. If a person has a local Starbucks that they go to faithfully, there is a good chance that the ‘barista’ knows their order or preferences. But the beans that they are using are often mass produced and the client gets to choose from a few selected pre-chosen roasts (that probably were market tested and fit certain ranges of tastes). So Starbucks makes huge quantities, but tries to have a relational face (or facade).

Is hearing from the customer really innovation or is it an attempt to go back in time? Do we want to have the relational benefit of a local culture, while at the same time scoop up bigger profits?

Yes.

Many companies are trying to do this because people are waking up to the reality that they don’t like being a demographic or a number. We as consumers are also becoming aware of how this has dehumanized both us and the workers who make the things we use. The global human rights movement actually makes us care about this as well (which is a great thing).

But is it all smoke and mirrors and just a way for companies to create a culture that just feels more relational? Do companies really care and want to become better global citizens? The good ones do.

Yet, we don’t live in a world run by the decisions of the businesses around us. We live in a society that is shaped by the choices of many individuals!

Here’s where I’m trying to go with this: If we really want to ‘Build a Smarter Planet’ (or smarter neighborhood, church, business, family) then we need to be willing to relationally engage in all areas of life that we can control. We need not sit back and wait for corporations or others to declare “We’re ready for relationships to matter again!” We need to take the initiative to value the people that are right in front of us!

Despite my critique of businesses…I do respect and appreciate those that are acknowledging there is a problem in our world (that isn’t fueled by a fear of losing profits). It’s good that there are people forward-thinking enough to see how our world needs to change for the better…and have the courage to look within.

So back to the video above: Are we all willing to rip off the labels or demographic that we carry and put on others? Are we as leaders willing to embrace and learn from people who don’t fit within the status quo? It is this connection and process of learning and growing that makes all of us more ‘emotionally intelligent’ and I think that growing in these ways we’ll truly build a smarter (more just, whole, connected, authentic, understanding) planet.

 

Foundations

Seasons of life come and go…some are easy and some are tough. And what makes them easy or hard is completely subjective. These hard seasons, times when the rain is really falling, test and reveal what the real foundations of our lives are.

A few years ago when we first moved to Barcelona I experienced what was to date the most significant testing of what I thought was the foundation of my life. In that time, I was hoping that I would have clearly seen that I drew my hope, strength, and peace from knowing I was loved by God and connected to his Spirit through following and trusting in Jesus. I didn’t. I realized that I drew my strength from me and my illusions of control.

Why am I writing about this 3 years later?

In part because I’ve just come to grips with it and can articulate it. But also because I’m feeling drops of rain falling a bit harder than usual again…and these figurative drops are reminders of what happened in my life those years ago. They are beginning to ask the question: Is my foundation what I say it is? Is it my control of situations and foreseeable comfort in the future? Or is it living in Jesus and the love of God?

This morning I woke up with a familiar pit in my stomach. The one that shows up when I feel out of control and a bit overwhelmed. The one that says that there is something wrong with what my true foundation is. I hate it…yet I love it because it shows me how things really are. Thanks to the storm a few years ago I (hopefully) have the experience and tools to know how to quickly deconstruct the fake foundations and stand on true solid ground….before I fall through the floor.

 

Serving and Power

Yesterday I was a part of the first Serve the City day in Barcelona. We had many volunteers come out and help us do 4 great service projects in the neighborhood! There was a lot going on and gave me a lot to think about.

First off, it was great to join my friends in trying to do something good in our neighborhood. We’ve lived here for nearly 3 years now, and it was a joy for us to do something that had a more ‘public’ expression of our love for this city. I see the day as a great first step towards discovering how to best make our unique contribution to the fabric of Barcelona and our neighborhood.

El Forat de Vergonya

El Forat de Vergonya

One of the interesting things that happened was when we were setting up fubol in a local square called ‘El Forat de Vergonya’. Which means ‘Hole of Shame’. This square has a very interesting story and the locals see it as an expression of their struggle against the government trying to change the fabric of the neighborhood: displacing the poor, trying to make an area into a place only good for business (tourists) and not for locals. I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 3 years, but yesterday I learned a lot from a guy who passionately expressed his skepticism about a group of internationals doing something in his neighborhood. I realize that even though I know the history of the square, I have much to learn about the spirit of the people who protect it from commercialism. For this, I am grateful for the guy who took his to speak with us.

Me and the local guy part ways at a significant place. He told me that people have two options: submit to the government and let them do what they want or to fight ‘a war’ against the government. I asked him if there was a third way. I said that the ‘agenda’ of Serve the City is to serve people in the neighborhood…could it be that serving is a third way? His response, “Your third way is death. It won’t work.” While all of this may sound a little dramatic, it is a pretty big deal to this guy.***

At this point, I think that I could have a number of responses. One would be to say…let’s bag this service idea and fight in the same way against the ‘powers that be’ who are perceived to pulling the strings.

The other would be to take his response as a challenge. As followers of Jesus, we are taught and modeled to serve. Even when it costs us a lot and isn’t the popular choice. Even if serving leads to ‘death’. We have learned throughout history that fighting power with power is a cycle that is only broken when somebody loses in a devastating fashion. When we choose to serve, we choose to break a power cycle and choose a different way. A way that changes us internally.

I understand what the local guy was (is) saying, and I respect his passion, his cause, and his desire to protect his neighborhood. He will continue to fight his war and I will encourage him to do it when we cross paths. I believe that he cares deeply about the very real and tangible issues facing the people who have called that place home for many years.

I am choosing to enter into the fabric of the neighborhood in a different way. I’m not looking for control, power, nor do I have political agenda. I can’t fight for those things in part because I’m ‘just a foreigner’ (as the local guy said), but also because I don’t think those things are a solution to the issues. When Jesus was tempted with power he rejected it and instead lived a life of service. It was through serving that he lifted up others, revealed power corruption for what it was, and revealed love.

I’m still processing the conversation from yesterday. Most of all I’m celebrating that we had over 20 volunteers, equipped kids to make over 20 thank you cards for city workers, played futbol with neighborhood kids big and small, connected with families through free family portraits, helped kids express their creativity through self portraits, and had a really good time doing it!

Maybe there are only two ways war or submission….maybe I’m choosing both by fighting a different war with simple acts of submission. And maybe I’m ok with that.

***And I have a worldview that believes that death leads to resurrection anyway…so I was almost encouraged by this in a weird way.

 

 

Mr. Irrelevant

Chandler Harnish Final Pick ’12 Draft

The Draft is alive and well…not the draft for the military, but for the NFL, NBA, MLB, or MLS. This past week in the NFL there were 253 players ‘drafted’ by the 32 teams. My favorite team, the Indianapolis Colts, had both the first and the last picks of this draft.

As sort of an ‘honor’ the last player picked of the 253 picks is dubbed ‘Mr. Irrelevant’. How much impact is this player really supposed to have in the NFL? If they were really wildly successful in college, they would have been picked higher. This year the Indianapolis Colts picked Chandler Harnish, a quarterback from Northern Illinois, with their last pick…Chandler Harnish is Mr Irrelevant.

But he gets to go to Disneyland. He gets a parade in his honor. He still gets to play in the NFL. He gets to play a game for his job. He was good enough to be picked. The Colts saw something in him that made it worth their pick, even their last pick, on this guy. In reality, if the Colts’ first pick Andrew Luck gets hurt, we could have Mr. Irrelevant as our starting QB. He has the chance to make a difference as some level. And he’s elated to have been picked at all. (You can read for yourself in the above linked article)

This post has the potential to turn into a sports post…which isn’t my aim here.

As I was reading the above article from ESPN.com I was hit with this reality: In the Christian world, there are far more ‘Mr/Ms/Mrs Irrelevants’ than there are ‘#1 picks’. There are a lot of people writing books, speaking, blogging, or whatever that some would say are the all stars, or the super-Christians. But there are far more ‘normal’ Christians out there than those who gain notoriety for their thoughts about Christianity, Church, Mission, or whatever faddish topic is trending.

What I’m getting at is this: This world won’t get any better, won’t ever change, won’t ever become the creation or place God intended it to be, if ‘irrelevant’ Christians don’t get in the game somehow. Often times they/we are too content to just read about topics or listen to sermons instead of live them. Or we think our voice doesn’t matter because it’s not being published. But it’s just not true. While we may think that our voice is irrelevant, or that our actions don’t matter, or that our decisions don’t make an impact on our world, or that we would really make a difference if we wrote a book…we’re just wrong.

Truth is, we live in the neighborhoods we live in, have the friends we have, make the connections we make, all for a reason…for real relationship. Podcasts don’t have friends. Books don’t have ‘besties’ (I can’t believe I had that word even in my head). Often times even speakers on stages feel out of touch with people and live outside of real relationship. There is unspeakable power in the ‘irrelevant’ lives of Christians living out the love of God in tangible flesh and bone.

You or I may never record a podcast. Give a sermon. Write a book. But your voice and life matter. Your voice, my voice, may be the closest thing to the voice of God our neighbors ever hear. God may have something beyond what we could ever ask for, or imagine, planned for us. But if we only ‘leave it to the pro’s’ the ‘#1 picks’, then we’ll never know.

 

A Place for Simplicity

I sat down to write something…I wanted to write something profound about Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus, trust, mission, or something…something profound. I’ve rarely been writing these days, so I wanted it to be something good. But, I just don’t have it in me this morning. But nonetheless, I wanted to post something here to clear the cobwebs from my corner of the digital world.

But this brings up something that I have been thinking about. Do we always need to be profound? Do we need to try and be profound most of the time? Is there any space for being simple?

Does God only speak to us in deeply profound ways? Or does God also speak to us in simple ways? When reading through the account of Jesus’ life in the Scriptures, we see that Jesus actually spoke about the Kingdom of God in really simple ways: a net, a treasure, a lost coin, a fig tree, a banquet…

These times for me don’t necessarily represent times where I need many complex words or thoughts…it’s more of a season of simply living, listening, trying to love well, and learning to trust more deeply in God’s goodness towards me (us).

The Void

We just returned to Barcelona from just outside of London where we had our annual leadership gathering for Christian Associates…the organization/family/group we are a part of. Last night our president, Rob, shared about his vision for the future…I can easily say that I’m as happy as ever to be a part of what CA is doing and I believe our future is bright.

At one point during Rob’s talk, he asked us to discuss a question: What are the biggest inhibiting factors to greater mission impact in the Western world? (or something like that)

This question really stirred something in me…a fire in my belly, so to speak…and I’m going to attempt to put into type what was on my mind in and in my heart. (And it should be clear that this post is just as much towards me as it written by me.)

One of the resounding answers to this question from our group was a lack of leaders who are willing to give up the comforts of their known lives to jump into to something risky (complacency). I see this as the first issue. It’s not easy or safe to leave behind ministry roles where one is clearly using their gifts, has consistent pay, a crowd to influence, access to resources, clear ‘success’ metrics, etc. Why would one want to do that?

The second layer of this issue is that it’s also not easy for a person who is not in a ‘professional ministry’ role (I hate that wordage by the way), to imagine themselves as a leader within the Church when they don’t have the experience or credentials that one may imagine would be necessary. (side note: in all of Scripture, it never says that formal education is required for leaders…it’s about faithfulness, love, and obedience. Education is often to augment these things…not replace them.) We’ve come to a place where many people within and without of the Church think that leadership comes with a stage and a microphone….there were many leaders in the first century Church that we don’t know about from Scripture who never got any ‘press’, but who were essential in how the Church came to be.

A second issue is that there may not be enough churches developing leaders from within their communities to send out of their communities. The prevailing system in the western Church is basically one where a handful of professional clergy lead the many. Things have been like this for a long time and people have clearly defined roles in the structure. There are people who prepare talks, music, ministries, and other church services; and then there are the people who listen, receive (maybe consume would be an appropriate word), enjoy what the other set of people are providing. It’s been long observed in churches that often 20% of the people do 80% of the work. The issue is that our current leaders are often so spent just doing what they are required to do for their community’s needs, that getting around to training leaders to be sent out is often left by the wayside. A second level to this is that many leaders don’t want to send out their most influential leaders because they may be difficult to replace. I would argue that creating voids in leadership requires new leaders to arise and while at the same also keeps us on our toes in regards to continually developing leaders.

The third issue I see is that many people see themselves as ‘normal Christians’ i.e: not leaders and aren’t given a greater vision for their lives in the Church. People only learn what they are being given. When the only vision that people have for their spirituality/faith/religion is that they receive services, then it’s not hard to figure out why more people aren’t growing into leadership: they aren’t taught that they should be. I could name 10 incredibly gifted friends of mine that have leadership potential but don’t step into it because their pastor doesn’t tell them they should. Beyond active leadership training in church communities, another issue I’ve experienced is that character development, lifelong discipleship and learning, and internal disciplines are not actively taught. When our ideas of discipleship only treat symptoms, we still leave the root sickness in there somewhere. Our practices of discipleship must go deeper to treating the inner-life so that when we do end up leadership positions we have the character to sustain ourselves there.

The fourth thing I see is that people think that ‘they could never do what we are doing.’ I’ve heard this so many times over the 8 years that we’ve been a part of church-planting work. “I wish I could just up and move overseas, but I can’t because…” The truth is (and this isn’t any attempt to sugar coat it) they really don’t wish that they could do what we do. If they did, they would make it happen just like many of my colleagues in CA. Many of my friends in Christian Associates not only left pastor-type jobs, but they also left the corporate world as well. They made a decision, accepted the challenge, took the step of faith, that building God’s Church around the world was worth the sacrifice and effort. If you are reading this and you’ve ever had the thought, “I wish we could move overseas to help build the Church but ______”, then I would challenge you to look at all of the obstacles God’s people faced in Scripture. Do we really believe that God is not able to remove obstacles when we choose to sacrifice for Him? Why do we so easily accept that suffering, trials, challenges were a clear part of Jesus’ ministry, then us want nothing to do with those things? And what’s worse…some of us even think that we’re doing a better job of following Jesus when we don’t experience suffering, trials, and challenges.

So we have a void…a huge need for leaders who embrace courage, risk, creativity and have a love for the Church, while our pervasive culture points us to safety, predictability, and passivity.

I guess the reason that I’m writing is because I have hope that there are people out there that are willing to step in the void. Maybe it’s you…Maybe you’ve been feeling like there is something different out there for your pursuit of God, your learning from Jesus, your place in serving the Church. I would hope that there maybe a few of my list of friends that would read this recognize their potential to do something great for the Church, the earthly presence of King Jesus.

I am also writing this because I have hope for the Church. I believe that God’s spirit is actively moving in our world and in the Church and that there is great potential in our times. While I’ve been a bit on the hard-nose side of things in this post, the reality is that I can also think of examples of church communities who are sending leaders out to harvest beyond their walls.

To end this…I hope the void disappears. We can do it. God can do it.

The lone woman waging war on Barcelonas pickpockets | World news | The Guardian

The lone woman waging war on Barcelonas pickpockets | World news | The Guardian.

This a cool article on a woman in Barcelona that is trying to make a difference in the culture of a city. Maybe we’ll start handing out whistles with her? It’s also yet another glimpse into how the city of Barcelona is only taking baby steps to fix an issue that really needs long strides.

I’d love to meet this woman…maybe if I travel around and try to steal something she’ll fine me:) (That’s a joke)