How to Take an Emotional Stand-Part 2

Photo by andresumida CCA 2.0


In Part 1
, I shared what I have learned about taking an emotional stand. I defined taking an emotional stand as being able to say what I feel and what I believe in a non-anxious way. That post was mostly about technique: using “I” statements, not blaming, giving others the freedom to disagree and keeping anxiety in check.

This post goes deeper.

According to family systems theory, if you find it difficult to take an emotional stand, it has its roots in your family of origin. Ask yourself, is there a relationship that makes you anxious? If so, it’s very likely that if you learn to take an emotional stand in that relationship, you will be able to do it in other situations.

Here’s my story.

I encountered family systems theory in seminary when I was 30. As I reflected on my family of origin, I realized that growing up I had difficulty taking an emotional stand with my mother. My mother is an amazing woman. She wasn’t mean or demanding. She was, and is, a strong, determined woman. If she asked or told me to do something, I would just go along, even if I disagreed or didn’t want to. Kids are supposed to listen to their parents. But not every kid just goes along without saying a word.

Recall that in the last post I shared that I had trouble expressing my feelings elsewhere, as well. I avoided conflict. I stuffed my feelings. I was unable to take an emotional stand. As I looked back on my childhood, I realized that this was not just related to my inability to take an emotional stand with my mother. It was because of it.

Here is what is important. It was MY problem. Not my mother’s. It wasn’t her fault that I couldn’t take an emotional stand with her. The problem was in me.

That changed in 1991. I sensed my call to ministry in 1989 and by 1990 I had made the decision to enter the pastorate. I delayed telling my mother until it looked pretty certain that I would receive an appointment to pastor a small church while I went to seminary. I could no longer delay the inevitable.

I called my mother to tell her that I felt called to the pastoral ministry and that I would likely begin serving a church, as well as attending seminary, that year. She didn’t yell. She didn’t scream. But she WAS concerned. And I could tell that she didn’t want me to do it.

We had several conversations over the course of the following month. She asked me about my beliefs, whether it was the right financial decision and whether it was the right decision for our family. It felt like a full-court press.

If this was any other topic, I would have folded on the first conversation. Instead, I remained calm and was able to remain firm in my conviction. I believe this came from outside of me. It came from God because I was being called to ministry. It’s only because of this, that I was able to remain firm in my emotional stand.

At the end of that month of conversations, she wrote me a letter. She said that if I really believed this was the right decision, she and my dad would support me fully. She eventually made me a quilted wall hanging with the nativity. That meant the world to me.

You see, my mom is not a Christian. But she kept her word. She has been supportive in everything that I have done in ministry. She told me a few years ago that she feels closer to God because of me. I’m so grateful for my mother.

Over the years I have gotten better at taking emotional stands. I believe this is because I learned to take an emotional stand with my mom. It’s also taken a lot of work over the years understanding myself and my relationships better. But it started with the emotional stand I took in 1991.

Questions for Reflection:

In what relationship in your family of origin is it most difficult to take an emotional stand?

What would it take for you to rework it?

What’s stopping you?

The Spiritual Foundation for Leadership

I mentioned a blog post in the video about developing habits. Here’s the link.

So I’m doing more video, but I realize that some of you may prefer to read the post. So here is the transcript. Please keep in mind that it is verbatim, so it won’t read like a term paper. Thanks!

Hey, it’s Jack Shitama. Today I want to talk to you about the spiritual foundation for leadership. I’m going to read to you from Luke, Chapter 5 verses 15-16.

“But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad. Many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases but he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.”

So here is Jesus, his ministry is expanding, people are flocking to him to hear him preach and to be healed. And what does he do? He takes off to pray. So if Jesus decides that he’s not going to try to do it all, what makes us think that we should? What makes us think that we can do it all? If we’re honest with ourselves we can’t. When you get up in the morning and your feet hit the floor are you go, go, go, go, go because there is so much to do and you’re trying to get it all done? Well that’s a natural feeling that we just have to move faster to accomplish everything.

Martin Luther, the reformer, famously said “I’m so busy that I’m going to have to pray for three hours to get it all accomplished.” See prayer is counter-intuitive. Stopping and connecting with God doesn’t make sense to us because we have so much to do. So when we get up in the morning we’re just drawn to get going, when really we should be stopping to connect with God.

I want to talk to you about two specific kinds of prayer today that I believe are the foundation for spiritual leadership. The first is intercessory prayer. Now most of us pray and when we pray we often are asking for things for ourselves. And that’s okay, but intercessory prayer is lifting others up, is asking on behalf of others, it’s interceding for others.

Picture Jesus when he’s gone off to pray. Do you think he’s saying, “Lord please take these people away from me, I just can’t handle it.” Or is he saying, “Lord, I feel for these people who are hurting and broken?” You see that’s what intercessory prayer does. When we lift others up, it gives us the heart of God. It takes us outside of ourselves and makes us less absorbed. It makes us more grateful for the people in our lives and puts our own situations in perspective. Intercessory prayer gives us the heart of God.

Another form of prayer that I think is practiced less by Christians is meditation. And if intercessory prayer gives us the heart of God, meditation gives us the mind of God. There are many different ways to do meditation but essentially meditation is about listening to God. It’s about opening ourselves up and allowing the Holy Spirit to overtake us, to work in us and to guide us. So that we know, we can discern what we should be doing, what God what’s us to do.

Podcaster Tim Ferriss’ most recent book is Tools of Titans and over the last couple years he’s interviewed over 200 top performers from all over the world. And what he says is that almost without exception each of these top performers meditates daily. The Harvard Business Review has an article that helps us to understand actually what goes on within us and how meditation can actually help us. This article tells us that meditation reduces anxiety and increases our ability to handle stressful situations. It increases our ability to control our own emotions, so that when something frustrates us or angers us we are better able to cope and instead of responding with our own anxiety and anger we can respond with grace and with love. Meditation actually encourage what’s called divergent thinking, where we are considering multiple opportunities, multiple possibilities and it opens up the possibility for the, “Aha!” moment. And meditation increase our ability to focus, so that during the rest of the day when we’re actually trying to accomplish task we’re actually more effective, we’re more focused. And most importantly when we meditate daily, because we’re more able to focus, we’re better able to be present in our relationships.

You see, I believe that God created us in this way. God created us so that when we stop and take time to connect with God we get the heart and the mind of God. And if these top performers, many who are not Christians, have figured out this spiritual practice shouldn’t we who are Christian leaders be doing the same?

So if you are interested in figuring out how to incorporate these practices into your daily routine you’ll find a link in this blog post, about a blog that I did, on developing habits and incorporating them so that you can be more consistent.

And if you want to know more about actually how to do it, how to pray or how to meditate leave me a comment in this post and I’ll do something in a later blog post.

Thanks a lot. And go with God. And be with God.

Finding a Path without Anxiety or Blame

This is my take on where we are as country at the beginning of the Trump Administration.

Here is the video transcript. Please remember that it will read like a conversation, not a term paper (maybe that’s a good thing).

Hey there, Jack Shitama. Today is January 21st 2017, the day after inauguration day. That means the Obama administration is over. No cheering. And that means the Trump administration has begun. No booing. And for the most part we’ve had a peaceful transition of power, something that’s a hallmark with our country.

I want to share with you that I love Barack Obama. I loved what he did and stood for as a president. I love his family. I love how he carried himself in the office and so I’m sad to see him go. Before you start yelling at me I need to share with you that I do not make decisions about my values rationally. They come from a place in me that’s deep and not logical and I don’t really understand. I am biased. I make my decisions about my values and then I rationalize it.

Now here is something you need to understand. You’re not rational either. None of us makes rational decisions about deeply held things or even economic decisions. If you don’t believe me Google “behavioral economics.” There’s all kinds of research that shows how we don’t make decisions based on logic. We make them based on something else and then we rationalize them.

So here we are on January 21st, 2017 and we have people who are happy about the new Trump administration. We have people who are angry. We have people who are fearful. We have people who are troubled. All of these people disagree but that doesn’t necessarily make any of them bad people.

I think we have a problem in this country. Clearly, we’re divided but it’s not even the division of belief that’s the problem. It is that we demonize those with whom we disagree. We make them into the enemy and I believe that that comes from a deep rooted anxiety in our country. I don’t know if he originated this statement but, Seth Godin says that anxiety is experiencing failure in advance. And there is something about the way our country is right now that people are anxious about the future and they are experiencing the demise of our country even before it happens.

I read a book this fall by Edwin Friedman, who wrote Generation to Generation about family systems theory. The book is called A Failure of Nerve and in it he says that we live in a chronically anxious society. And this anxiety makes it hard for people to function. It makes it hard for leaders to innovate. It makes it hard for communities and for states and nations to see a path into the future, where they can feel hopeful.

One of the symptoms of this chronic anxiety is blame. Friedman calls it “blame displacement.” What happens in a chronically anxious family, in a chronically anxious system of any kind, a chronically anxious country, is people blame other people for their own problems.

Let me try to make everybody mad here. Just think about this. How many people are blaming blacks or whites, the rich or the poor, manufacturers or Mexicans, police or Planned Parenthood, corporations or congress. Well, everybody is blaming congress. Even that’s not fair because congress or legislators are our representatives. They are a reflection of who we are in our divided country. Our country is designed so that when things are divided in this way things don’t happen very quickly. So give your legislator a break, they are doing the best they can.

Getting back to this blame displacement, when we start to blame others for our own condition, what it means is we are not taking responsibility for our own feelings, for our own beliefs, for our own situation. When we don’t do that it is nearly impossible to find a path into the future. So what do we do about it?

Viktor Frankl was a survivor of one of the Nazi death camps in Auschwitz. After he survived, he wanted to see what it was that contributed to those who survived versus those who didn’t. One of the things he found, he shared in his book Man’s Search for Meaning.  According to Frankl, the most important factor in survival was the ability for someone to have a vision of the future that included hope. Even in the situation where one is in a concentration camp and likely to die, those who survived could envision getting out. They could envision a future where they were living a productive and decent life again. They could envision a future that didn’t include the death camp, a future that included hope.

Here is what Frankl says about our human condition. “Everything can be taken from a person but one thing, the last of the human freedoms. To choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. To choose one’s own way. When we are no longer able to change the situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. Between stimulus and response there is a space, in that space is our power to choose our response, in our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

So whether you are hopeful or nor right now about the direction of our country, the question is, how are you going to respond to people who disagree with you? How are you going to respond to those who don’t believe what you believe? I think we can choose to show respect. I think we can choose to value another even if they disagree with us. I think it’s critically important if we’re going to make any kind of progress in our society.

Now that doesn’t mean that you don’t work for what you believe in. You can work to change laws, you can work to change policy, you can work to make a difference in the world but just because somebody disagrees with you doesn’t make them evil. They are another person and they are worthy of our respect.

In that space between when we’re stimulated by somebody that we don’t agree with, we can choose to respond with anger, with blame, or we can choose to respond with respect. More importantly I believe as a Christian we can choose to respond with love.

Less than a week ago we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. Dr. King was an ordained minister and his movement of non-violent change was based on his following of Jesus. Because Jesus was the one who showed us how to love others, even those who persecuted us, even those whom we think are evil, even those with whom we disagree.

Here is what Dr. King said “We must live together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fools. Hatred polarizes life, love releases it. Hatred confuses life, love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life, love illuminates it. Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend”.

Now there ARE evil people in this world. There are people who do things that are clearly evil. But Dr. King reminds us that even in that case, we are to hate the evil but love the person. And I want to suggest that most people aren’t evil they are just different. They are not any more rational than we are and they have beliefs that are deeply held.

I learned a few years ago that people don’t change their deeply held values. So rather than trying to convince them to change their minds, can we own our own feelings? Can we say this is what I believe, this is what I stand for but also love and respect the other? I think if we’re able to do that, we’re able to change the dynamic. We won’t get the other to agree with us but perhaps we can live with the other differently, with love and respect.

This is not easy, it means that we need to look inside of ourselves and ask ourselves the question, what is it in me that’s making me angry? What is it in me that makes me want to blame? And then ask God to fill us, to take that away from us and to fill us with love and with grace so that we can show care and respect even those with whom we disagree and those that seem hateful to us.

This is not easy. It’s hard work. Leadership is hard work. And if we are going to be leaders who help change the world, if we are going to be people that help show others that there is a way of hope, then I think that’s our responsibility.

That’s our challenge for today. To be the kind of leader that is able to show love and grace to everyone, especially to those that we want to despise. If we can do that we can change our culture. It’s not going to be easy.

Brene Brown has done a lot of work on vulnerability. I was listening to her on a podcast recently and she said, “One of the things I’ve learned is to choose courage over comfort.” To show love and respect and grace is not easy, it makes us vulnerable. But can we choose courage over comfort? I believe that if we can, we can change our world and we can find a way together, even with those with whom we disagree.

 

Looking for Bright Spots: How Small Things Lead to Big Change

31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches

Matthew 13:31-32

Thinking about big change is overwhelming. Especially if it involves other people and organizations. We may know where we need to get, but getting there is a monumental task. Planning the steps, convincing people to change and then executing the tasks can seem impossible.

And, if it seems big to you, it’s almost unthinkable to others. They haven’t put near the amount of thought into it that you have. A wise pastor once told me that we need to allow others three hours of process time for every hour we’ve put into developing a plan. So if you’ve spent 20 hours obsessing over the big change you want to see, as well as developing the rationale and action plan, you need to allow 60 hours for others to get it. That’s a lot of discussions, Q&A and receiving feedback.

There is a different approach.

In 1990, Jerry and Monique Sternin went to Vietnam to try to fight severe child malnutrition for the Non-Governmental Organization, Save the Children. Analysts had determined the causes were many: poverty, poor sanitation, lack of education, etc. Sternin called this information “TBU,” true but useless. Instead, he went looking for what might already be working. He asked the question, “Are there children from poor families who are much healthier than the norm?”

Once identified, Sternin discovered that the mothers of these children were doing little things that made a big difference. They were feeding their children four times a day instead of two, using the same amount of food in smaller portions. They used brine shrimp from the rice paddies and sweet potato greens in their children’s diet, even though they were considered “low-class” foods. Sternin described these situations as “positive deviance,” an idea first posited by Marian Seitlin. These are situations that deviated from the norm in a positive way.

The Sternins were then able to replicate these bright spots to teach other mothers these simple changes in food preparation. In six months, 65% of the children in the villages Sternin served were better nourished. The method ultimately reached 2.2 million children across Vietnam.

Out of this came the Positive Deviance Initiative, that has improved childhood nutrition in 41 countries around the world. That’s BIG change.

But it started with a small bright spot.

When we are following God, the entire path is seldom, if ever, revealed to us. If it were, it wouldn’t really be faith. It starts with small steps. Like a mustard seed. As Stephen Covey says, you can begin with the end in mind. But the path from here to there is not always clear. That’s OK.

Dan and Chip Heath put this in perspective in their book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. I found this book helpful because it shows how change is possible without power or resources. Like Jerry Sternin in Vietnam. It deconstructs the change process into understandable components that can be replicated in a variety of situations.

They help us to understand that our rational side has a weakness. It loves to solve problems and it tends to focus more on the problem than the solution. We love to analyze and go deeper down the rabbit hole of why a problem is a problem. It is the wheel-spinning of the paralysis of analysis. Bright spots get our rational side thinking positively instead of negatively. Plus, they motivate our emotional side.

The book is predicated on a metaphor originally developed by psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his book The Happiness Hypothesis. The model argues that humans have two sides:

  • An emotional/irrational side called the elephant.
  • An analytical/rational side called the rider.

According to Haidt, the rider is rational and can plan ahead, while the elephant is irrational and driven by emotion and instinct.  The Heath brothers put it this way:

“Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader.  But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant.  Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to loseHe’s completely overmatched. 

If you convince the rider, you’ll have direction but no motivation. If you convince the elephant you’ll have motivation with no direction. That’s why bright spots are so critical. They motivate the elephant and focus the rider on what’s possible.

Bright spots give us hope. And hope gives us the faith and energy to take a step. And then another. Then another. To start with the small change that leads to the big change.

Like a mustard seed.

Questions for Reflection?

What is the big change you are seeking as a leader?

What are the bright spots, the positive deviance, that show that the change is possible?

How can you communicate those bright spots to others?

Three Leadership Lessons from the Japanese Rail System

The Bullet Train © Ben Salter from Wales-cc-by-2-0
The Bullet Train © Ben Salter from Wales-cc-by-2-0

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Matthew 5:13-16 (NRSV)

I experienced something amazing in Japan. The trains run on time. I mean EXACTLY on time. I think I had heard this before, but to actually witness it was almost life-changing.

We were in Japan for 10 days and used the rail system six of those days. Most times we had at least one connection. I recall standing at one track and looking at the schedule. It had two trains scheduled to arrive TWO minutes apart. Sure enough, one trained arrived on-time. Took one minute to load, then left. The next minute, another train arrived.

I say this was almost life-changing because I kept asking myself, “How is this possible?” And if it is, “Why can’t we do this?”

So I figured there are some leadership lessons here. The Discovery Channel has a great three-minute video that explains how they do it. It’s not rocket science, but it IS instructive.

Here’s what I learned.

Experience Matters

The Japanese take this to the extreme. Train drivers spend their working life on one line. ONE line. They get to know their route so well that they can arrive on time without using a speedometer. When they are tested, they’re measured to the hundredth of a second.

I know that experience matters. The accumulation of knowledge and experience not only enables us to solve problems quickly, but it also forms the foundation upon which innovation occurs.

How does this apply to the church?

First, longer pastorates are important. How can a church get anywhere if the pastoral leader changes frequently? Certainly a seasoned pastor can bring experience into a particular church, but there is also value in having experience in that particular setting.

Second, experienced lay leadership matters. This is not the same as stuck lay leadership and does not mean that new leadership is not developed on an ongoing basis. What it does mean is there is institutional memory that avoids repeating the same mistakes and provides a basis for new initiatives.

Lifelong Learning is Essential

Japanese train drivers use simulators, just as pilots use flight simulators. Trains are not nearly as complicated as aircraft. Yet, drivers train on simulators periodically to prepare for emergencies and unforeseen circumstances.

There is no church simulator. But the idea is this: none of us ever “arrives” as a leader. We can always get better. There is always something to learn. Experience matters. But experience without ongoing learning is how we get stuck.

One of my favorite authors, Seth Godin, puts it this way: none of us is fully baked.

Pay Attention to Detail

Preventive maintenance is essential to maintaining a rail system. Watch the video to see the attention to detail. Tracks are kept level using a robot-like machine that can level 200 meters of track in 30 minutes.

Every four years, the train truck, or bogie (essentially the chassis), is cleaned, completely disassembled and inspected. Parts are replaced, if necessary, and the bogie is reassembled.

Attention to detail is the difference between average or mediocre and excellent.

We were recently complimented on a Pecometh event. “You all always do things with such excellence.”

I like to think we do things that way, but the reality is that’s not always the case. I honestly feel like most of the time we are flying by the seats of our pants. That’s partly due to trying to do too much.

But we do strive for excellence. So I responded, “We are doing it for God. We ought to be excellent.”

The response: “It’s not always that way in the church.”

It’s a sad truth.

It seems that sometimes people think that because we are Christians or that we have good intentions that it doesn’t matter if we’re mediocre.

We know the opposite is true. If we believe in the goodness of God, then we ought to do the very best work possible in everything we do because it’s a reflection of God.

Whether it’s worship, outreach, small groups, stewardship or any other aspect of the church, attention to detail matters.

The point is that everything we do is supposed to reflect the glory of God. The church does not exist for its own benefit. If it does, it’s no longer salt. If it doesn’t strive for excellence, it’s no longer light.

My experience with the Japanese rail system was almost life-changing because it has inspired me to do better. To be salt and light. We’ll see how life-changing it really is.

Questions for reflection:

What experience do you have as a Christian leader that could add value in your ministry setting?

What experience or learning do you lack that could add increased value?

Where could attention to detail move your ministry from mediocre to good or even from good to great?

Christian Leaders Embrace the Adaptive Challenge

The biggest challenge for the church today may be figuring out how to adapt to a changing society. Some will say, “The gospel is the same now and as it always was.” Yes…but Paul also said, “I will be all things to all people so that I can save some.” (1 Cor 9:22)

Adapting to changing circumstances is not giving up your principles. It’s not selling out. It’s acknowledging that the situation has changed and so must our approach. Continue reading Christian Leaders Embrace the Adaptive Challenge