Does Your Family Make You Anxious? (And Why It Matters for Leadership)

Photo (Public Domain) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons-

I was once at a meeting of mostly clergy colleagues. There were eight of us sitting around a table. It was August and the leader asked everyone to share about what they had done that summer. As we went around the table, the answers were pretty consistent.

“I just got back from a week of vacation with my family, Ugh!”

“I vacationed with my family and I survived.”

“Our family got together and it was pretty good for a few days, but then it got ugly.”

Actually, only about half of the responses were along these lines, but it was startling to me. I never realized vacationing with family was such a problem. Since we’ve been married, that’s pretty much all we do. We vacation every year in Cape Hatteras with my wife’s family and we get together at least every other year with my family, including my mom’s sisters and my cousins.

In fact, when one of my kids was young I was asked, “Dad, when I grow up and get married, will my (spouse) be a part of the family?”

“Of course,” I said.

“No. I mean, will they be able to come to Hatteras with us?”

For my children, being family meant vacationing together, in a good way. I’m not saying we’re perfect. Like any family, we have our issues. Vacationing together is not one of them. So, I was surprised by the responses at the meeting.

So here’s the question: Does your family make you anxious?

I’m not talking about just your immediate family. I’m also talking extended family. This is what family systems theory calls your family of origin. Parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.

I would say that if there isn’t something about your family of origin that makes you anxious, then you are unconscious or in denial.

The primary factor in this kind of family induced anxiety is surrounding togetherness pressure. This is the pressure to conform to existing, mostly unspoken, family norms. These surrounding togetherness pressures show up in things as basic as how you celebrate holidays and birthdays and how you do vacations. They extend to how children are raised, how money is handled and how you deal with conflict (or not). Anytime you feel the pressure to conform in your family of origin, you are feeling a surrounding togetherness pressure.

Here’s the thing. The problem is with you.

If you are feeling anxious about pressure to conform, that’s not anybody else’s fault. That’s how your family rolls. If you don’t like it, then it’s up to you to do something about it. In family systems, we call this taking an emotional stand. There are two components to this.

First, own your own position without blaming others. Say, “This is how I feel. This is what I believe. This is what I would like to see.” If you are blaming others for the way you feel, that’s not taking an emotional stand, that’s being childish. The key here is to be able to state your position while giving others the freedom to have their own position, as well.

Second, stay connected emotionally in a non-anxious way. This is called being a non-anxious presence. Taking an emotional stand is meaningless, even harmful, if you withdraw from those in your family. It’s not really taking responsibility for your own condition, it’s running away. Conversely, staying connected while you spew your anxiety over everyone around you is not helpful either.

So how do you do this?

Do your own work. Reflect on your family of origin and start to unpack the unwritten rules that make you tick. Anytime you feel anxious, ask the question, “Where is this coming from?” This is especially true if you are anxious and you don’t handle it well. If you spew anxiety at others and blame them (reactivity), if you get passive aggressive or if you just stuff it and get resentful (adaptivity), then you are not taking an emotional stand.

It’s likely that if you are anxious, there is an unresolved issue with someone in your family of origin. There is someone with whom you have never been able to take an emotional stand. Or someone has hurt you and you haven’t been able to forgive them. Or a host of other possibilities. This is not easy work. It may even require a therapist.

Why does this matter for leadership?

Because any time you feel anxious in a given situation, whether in your family, church or organization, the anxiety is your issue, not anybody else’s. More importantly, the source of the anxiety is not the situation you are in, but your inability to deal with it. And that goes back to your own family of origin. If you want to be better able to handle your anxiety in ANY situation, you need to do your own work in your family of origin. Deal with the unresolved issues. This is especially important if you know your anxiety creates problems because you get reactive, passive aggressive or adaptive.

Effective leaders are able to take emotional stands in non-anxious ways. This does not mean that they don’t listen to others. It means they are able to say what they believe and own it, while giving others the freedom to do the same. Effective leaders deal with surrounding togetherness pressures in their family, church and organization in helpful, healthy ways.

You will get anxious. We all do. I get anxious all the time. But I work on how to deal with it. I’m conscious of it. I work to be a more healthy member of my own family of origin, as well as my church and the ministry I serve. Some days I’m better at it than others. But I try to be aware of my anxiety and deal with it appropriately. That’s all we can do.

Questions for Reflection:

What makes you anxious?

How do you deal with it?

What would help you to take non-anxious, emotional stands with others?

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Three Leadership Lessons I Learned from Mary and Mary

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8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Matthew 28:8-10 NRSV

The two Mary’s have something to teach us about fear. In Matthew’s resurrection account, not only are they the first to see the risen Jesus, but they are commissioned by an angel and Jesus to go to Galilee and tell the others that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Here are three leadership lessons that I learned from them.

Just show up.

Woody Allen was famously quoted by his Annie Hall co-writer, Marshall Brickman, in this 1977 New York Times article, “As Woody says, ‘Showing up is 80% of life.’ Sometimes it’s easier to hide home in bed, I’ve done both.”

Mary and Mary just showed up. They had no real reason to go to the tomb. Joseph of Arimathea had prepared the body when Jesus was placed in the tomb. Besides, there were Roman guards standing watch. But something compelled them to “go see the tomb.”

When God nudges you, when the Holy Spirit draws you, what do you do? Do you go? Or do you ignore God’s prompting and stay home in bed.

Being a Christian leader is about believing that God will direct your path. Will lead you and guide you. But there is an element of faith. You have to be willing to go without knowing exactly what’s in store. Mary and Mary just showed up and they saw an angel and the risen Jesus.

Do not be afraid.

The Mary’s are told by the angel to not be afraid. Then we’re told that they “…they left the tomb with fear and great joy and ran to tell the disciples (MT 28:8).” The word that is used for fear in the text is often translated “awe or reverence,” as in the fear of the Lord. But the classical meaning is to withdraw, flee or separate because of dread or feeling inadequate. It is often used in the scripture to describe withdrawing from God’s will.

Which raises the question: How often do you know God is calling you to do something, but you feel inadequate?

Mary and Mary are described as having felt this way. But they went anyway.

I would say that more often than not, when I believe God is calling me to do something, I don’t feel adequate. Yet, there is this weird combination of fear, excitement and joy, just like the Mary’s experienced, because I know God is up to something. And when God does it, I know God deserves the credit.

So, when Jesus tells you to go do something. Just go.

Which leads to the third lesson.

Jesus IS with us.

The angel told Mary and Mary to go to Galilee and spread the word. He promised that Jesus would meet them there. So they went, even though they felt inadequate and afraid. As soon they did, Jesus showed up. And he reminded them once more, not to be afraid.

The faith journey is filled with uncertainty. When God is calling us to lead, we may have a glimpse of what the destination looks like. But nothing happens unless we make a move. Take a step. Move in the right direction. When we do, Jesus will remind us that he is with us. That we are not alone and we don’t need to fear.

Just show up. Do not be afraid. Jesus is with us.

How much could you accomplish for God if you remember these three things?

Questions for Reflection:

Where is God calling you to show up?

What are you afraid of?

What will it take to make a move in that direction?

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Two Addictions I Kicked (or Clarity Happens)

Photo By Frédéric DE GOMBERT (alias Carnby) Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.5

I have an addictive personality.

I always knew this. But, when I was in seminary I took a family systems course and did my genogram. A genogram is a family tree that focuses on emotional process and how things are passed from generation to generation. My own genogram showed me that addictive personalities were common, especially among the males, in my family of origin.

How this translated into my own life is that it is hard for me to do something half-heartedly. For the things I choose to do, I’m either all in or checked out.

One of my addictions was video games. This started right around the time that I finished seminary. We had gotten the original Nintendo game console for our kids, but I was the one who got hooked. I grew up loving pinball, then arcade video games, so this was no surprise.

My game was Super Mario Cart.

It’s a silly go-kart racing game that consumed me. I would play at night after everyone went to bed so that it didn’t interfere with my work life or family life. And I killed it. First I mastered the 50cc level. Then the 100cc level, which I thought meant I mastered the game. But as soon as I completed that, a whole new level, 150cc, magically appeared. I was sad when I mastered 150cc and nothing new appeared.

Then it was on to Mario Andretti racing. I always liked Indy cars, so this was cool. I got to race on tracks I had seen on TV, which made it even more realistic. It was around this time that my family got me a steering wheel, gas/brake pedal, gear-shift attachment. Big mistake. No more thumbs for me, I was really driving.

But something happens in an addiction. It’s no longer fun.

I got to the point that the only thing that mattered was winning every race. If I crashed or didn’t finish first it was a failure. And even winning didn’t feel good. I just checked it off and moved on. Worse yet, it started affecting my life. I would stay up later and later. Just one more race. Just one more race. If you’ve ever binge-watched a TV show, you know the feeling. I would stay up way too late and go to bed feeling unfulfilled. Not good.

My other addiction was the football team I grew up loving. I recently wrote about why I’m giving up my season tickets, but I have not been addicted for a long time. Oh, I love watching and rooting, but it wasn’t an addiction.

You see, when I was addicted, my life revolved around the team. The worst part was how I felt when they lost. It ruined my day. Made me grumpy. It often carried over into the next day. I would wake up and think about the game with regret. And they lost a lot. Not good.

So how did I kick these addictions? Clarity.

There were two separate but related incidents that occurred very close to each other in time. One when I was playing video games on a weekend day (my addiction had gotten out of hand). The other when I was watching my team lose.

In each of these incidents, one of my kids came up and asked me to do something with them. In each case, I snapped back that I was busy and they went away sad. It still makes me sad to think about it. I hope they forgive me.

Nobody had to tell me what was going on. I felt it deep down. You might say it was God getting through to me. But I stopped playing video games. And even though I kept rooting for my team it was different. If they lost, I reminded myself that it was just a game.

In fact, they lost so much for so long that my wife asked me, “Why do you still watch them?”

I would say, “It’s entertainment. You pay to go to sad movies don’t you (actually, she doesn’t)?”

Why do I share this?

Because every once in a while God gives us a moment of clarity where we understand what really matters.

These are life-changing, if we pay attention. And then do something about it. That’s what I learned.

I’m not suggesting that every addiction is so easy to kick. There are many that are devastating and seemingly impossible to be free from. But I am saying that doing my own family systems work helped me. It helped me to better understand who I am and what drives me. So when that moment of clarity came, I knew what I had to do.

I still have an addictive personality. But, I’m learning to focus it on positive things. I’ve been running regularly (some might say obsessively) since 2009. And for the last six months, I have been writing regularly. And in all of this, perhaps even because of this, I trust that there will be other moments of clarity. That’s how God works.

Questions for Reflection:

What consumes you? Is it a good thing or a bad thing?

How does God get through to you?

What do you do about it?

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How to Nurture a Disciple of Jesus

Jerusalem Cross by the North Carolina Annual Conference

This is a follow-up to the last post on what a Disciple of Jesus looks like. It came out of a discussion in a clergy study group where a colleague asked these two questions in tandem:

  • What does a disciple of Jesus look like?
  • How do you nurture this?

It was a great discussion and it got me to thinking. A lot. I think my friend is getting to the essence of the Christian journey. As a pastor of a church, he wants to be able to cast a vision so that people can see themselves growing as disciples, can know when they are on the correct path AND can have an idea of how to get there.

I’ve been thinking about this for several weeks and here is my answer to the second question: The means of grace.

I’m not being flippant. I believe that growing as a disciple of Jesus is simple. Avail one’s self of the means of grace. I’m not saying it’s easy to do. But it’s not rocket science.

Before we go there, let’s define GRACE. This is my favorite word in all of theology. To me, it’s the key to everything. Grace is God’s unmerited favor for us. It is God’s unconditional love. It’s God loving us even though we don’t deserve it. It’s God loving us even though we can’t earn it.

To me, grace IS the power of God in our lives. When I experience God’s grace, I am more likely to be grateful, to be less selfish, to be more outwardly focused and to be more centered on God. To me, grace is a very real experience that brings us to God, reconciles us to God and molds us in the image of God. It is about nothing that we do and everything that God does. So we can’t take credit for it. We can only give thinks in awe and wonder.

When we pray for, love and forgive our enemies, that is God’s grace working in us. When we love others unconditionally, the way God loves us, that is grace working in us. When we are caring for the least, the last and the lost, that is grace working in us. So, going back to the last post, when we recognize a disciple of Jesus by her actions and her character, what we are recognizing is God’s grace working in her.

This is all nice, theological, theoretical stuff. But how does it work?

The means of grace.

This is why I’m such a United Methodist geek. Our Wesleyan tradition is built on this understanding and it continues to be relevant today. Let’s unpack it.

The means of grace are not grace. They are ways that grace is experienced. They are time-tested practices and rituals that Christians throughout the centuries have found to result in an experience of grace.

Here’s how the means of Grace break down in our Wesleyan tradition.

Works of Piety

These are inwardly focused practices intended to help us grow in our relationship with God. We can do these individually (private) or communally (public).

Acts of Devotion: Individual works of Piety include studying scripture, prayer and meditation, fasting, healthy living and sharing our faith with others.

Acts of Worship: Communal works of Piety include congregational worship, sharing in the sacraments (Baptism and Communion), Christian conferencing, which holds us accountable to others, and group Bible Study.

The individual works are self-explanatory. You might find a few thoughts on the communal works helpful.

In Communion, we experience the real presence of Jesus. Part of that experience is that we are doing this together with others and God is present in our midst. This is grace upon grace.

Why is Baptism a means of grace? My own experience has been that the longer I have journeyed with Jesus, the more my blessings have come from seeing how God is working in someone else’s life, not my own. When we do a Baptism in church, I am filled with joy and what God has done in the life of the person before us. That is grace.

Finally, Christian conferencing is a fancy way to say that we cannot journey alone. According to John Wesley, support without accountability promotes moral weakness. Accountability without support is a form of cruelty. Christian conferencing provides both support and accountability. In Wesley’s day, the primary way this was done was the class meeting. The modern day equivalent would be an effective small group.

Works of Mercy

These means of grace are outwardly focused and help us to grow in our relationship with others, as well as God.

Acts of Compassion: Individual works of Mercy include doing good works, visiting the sick and those in prison, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and giving sacrificially.

Acts of Justice: Communal works of Mercy aim to end the systemic causes of injustice and oppression that cause the need for our individual works of Mercy in the first place. Working to end poverty, homelessness and discrimination of any kind are communal works of Mercy.

If you are a United Methodist geek, you may recognize that this format is used in Covenant Discipleship (CD) groups. CD groups are specifically focused on the means of grace in the Wesleyan tradition. I have participated in CD groups and can testify to their value. Although, I will say that any small group that is well-designed and well-led can help you to avail yourself of the means of grace.

Back to my friend’s question. How do you nurture mature disciples of Jesus?

The means of grace.

Here is the caveat. It’s difficult to nurture the means of grace in another. You can definitely have an impact on others when journeying together. But you can’t give them the desire for grace. That’s between each person and God.

You can lead a person to the well, but you can’t make them drink the living water.

As a church, we can share what a mature disciple of Jesus looks like. We can teach people about the means of grace. We can encourage people to grow in grace. Ultimately, the best thing each of us can do is grow in grace ourselves.

Questions for Reflection:

How are you growing in grace?

What individual practices would you like to start?

What communal practices would you like to start?

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What Does a Mature Disciple of Jesus Look Like?

Photo by Mike DuBose UMNS

I am in a clergy study group. This month, a colleague was leading devotions and he asked, “What does a mature disciple of Jesus look like?”

This is a great question. If you are a leader in the church it is essential. If the church is about making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, then we need to know what that looks like. As Stephen Covey said, begin with the end in mind. Here is what I came up with.

A mature disciple loves God and neighbor.

That’s a broad statement, so let me unpack it. I’ve had the privilege of meeting people that Bill Easum calls Spiritual Redwoods. They are so spiritually mature that you know they have a deep relationship with God. Here are some of their characteristics.

They worship God, to worship God. Not to be “fed” spiritually or to be inspired, but to give their hearts to God. They may have a worship preference, but they don’t hold that out as the only way, because it’s ultimately not about style. It’s about giving themselves over to God.

They are non-judgmental. This is the loving neighbor part. Mature disciples know that they have been made whole by the grace of God. They know they don’t deserve it, but God’s unconditional love is just that, unconditional. They know they are not judged, so they don’t judge others.

They are constantly seeking God’s will. The lay leader in the last church I served was the late Bud McKee. I used to call Bud the Anti-BS. When people used to start to act up and get out of sorts, Bud used to say, “What do you think God would want us to do?” Bud was a spiritual redwood. When he would say this, people would settle down and focus on God.

It’s not about them. It’s about God and neighbor. This is something that is pretty easy to see in people. You can tell who is about themselves and who is about God and others. For the latter, mature disciples, this translates into a spiritual presence that is attractive and powerful.

They are intentional about connecting with the least among us. People are called to different ministries, but mature disciples are doing something that brings them face to face with Jesus in the least of these (MT 25:31-46). It might be the homeless, poor, sick, imprisoned, hurting or disenfranchised, but they get in the trenches in some way to connect with someone who is in great need.

They are generous with their time, talent and treasure. Mature disciples always seem to have time for others. They use what they do well for the sake of others. And they give of their resources to help others.

They push the church to be outward looking. In all of these characteristics, mature disciples remind the church that it is organized for the benefit of its non-members. They are concerned about the visitor and the newer attenders, wanting to ensure that they not only feel welcome, but that the programs of the church are meaningful and accessible. They favor making the building available for use by the community. They are willing to challenge church members who are only thinking of themselves or about what’s good for the congregation.

What would your church look like if it were full of people like this?

What am I missing?

The next post will answer my colleague’s follow-up question: “How do we nurture mature disciples?”

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Why The United Methodist Church Should NOT Split

Photo by Mike DuBose-United Methodist News Service

“43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,[a] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Matthew 5:43-48 (NRSV)

My friend in seminary, The Rev. John Plummer, used to call me a “fence sitter.” John was more conservative theologically and I was more liberal. But, I rarely expressed my views strongly. And often, I would try to find what I could live with in opposing views. John used to say to me, “Sometime, Shitama, you’re going to have to take a stand.”

I know The Rev. Plummer is correct.

But, I’ve also learned that there is something about being in the middle that is valuable.

Don’t get me wrong. I have VERY strong opinions. And they are seldom middle of the road. Ask my family or the people that work with me.

I have strong opinions on the big issues of the day, especially the ones that divide us. I don’t usually express myself on those. It’s partly to avoid conflict, but it’s mostly to try to find the spark.

What do I mean by that?

In Paul Scott Wilson’s book, Imagination of the Heart, he shows that the power of the sermon is in finding the spark between opposites. He likens it to electricity where you have two opposite poles, positive and negative. If you hold two oppositely charged wires close enough to each other, but not touching, there is a spark created in the gap. He says that’s the power in preaching.

Wilson says that there are two pairs of opposites that are the foundation of scripture: Law & Gospel and Judgment & Grace. Law and judgment are similar, as are gospel and grace.

If you have one side of the pair there is no spark.

If all you ever talk about is law and judgment, you are beating people over the head with the Bible and just making them feel bad.

If all you ever talk about is gospel and grace, you are making people feel good, but not calling them to accountability to any standard.

Wilson’s genius is in understanding that you need both poles to create the spark. It’s in the tension that energy is created.

For example, when the standard is to love your enemies (law), it feels nearly impossible to achieve. In fact, Matthew 5:48 tells us to be perfect as God is perfect. Who can do that? If that’s all there is, I feel like I’m just letting God down. But when I couple that with the grace of God, which can enable me to love my enemy, there is a spark of inspiration. When, by the grace of God, it actually happens in my life, the spark ignites a fire in my soul.

So, I’m going to jump down off the fence for a minute.

I believe my denomination, The United Methodist Church, should change its stance to allow the ordination of LGBTQ persons and to allow all marriages to be celebrated in our churches.

That being said, since I am ordained, I have covenanted to uphold current church law, which I will do. If I decide to disobey church law I will do so on principle and will be prepared to turn in my ordination orders, if required. I’m not saying this is what I will do. I’m just saying that from an integrity standpoint, I either agree to uphold the covenant of my ordination or I must be willing to give that ordination up.

Now, I’ll start climbing back up the fence.

I believe The United Methodist Church must find a way for us to live together, allowing each annual conference to determine how it will handle ordination and each church to determine how it will handle weddings.

This would make a lot of people unhappy. But I believe this issue is bigger than human sexuality, justice, holiness and our own denomination.

I believe it is an opportunity to make a statement about the power of God to unite us as Christians, despite our differences.

Some of my closest friends are at the opposite end of the political and theological spectrum than I am. I have many clergy colleagues who also fit this category. Yet, we show respect and yes, Christian love, for each other. We put our differences aside because our common bond as Jesus followers is stronger than any of our differences. That bond enables us to do ministry together. To reach out to the least, the last and the lost. We pray together and serve together.

The United Methodist Church does that right now.

The impact of ministries such as Volunteers in Mission, the United Methodist Committee on Relief and Imagine No Malaria are significant because we work together. What we call in UM speak, our connectional nature, enables us to do more together than we could apart.

These are just a few examples. Another is the ministry I serve. We have nearly 200 UM camps and retreats across the US because of our work together. Another example is Africa University. Founded by The UMC, it has produced over 4000 graduates who are addressing needs such as sustainable agriculture, disease prevention and ethical governance. The examples of our connectional work are too numerous to list all of them here. I think you get the point.

If The UMC splits, as many predict, our common work will suffer. Many would say that the two or more resulting denominations can still support these same ministries. But, do you believe they can do so as effectively when each has its own administrative structure? I don’t.

More importantly, if our denomination splits, it will be a spiritual failure.

We will have let our human condition get in the way of the power of God to unite. We will be just one more casualty in the culture wars and one more schism in the history of the church. And each side can stand tall, knowing that they stuck to their principles.

To me, this does not feel like God’s way.

You see, I believe that somewhere between the principled stands of each side is a place to live together that is grounded in the love and grace of Jesus.

It enables us to see that living and serving together, despite our differences, is the biggest witness to the power of God in this world. To me, that is the spark that can ignite the flame of God’s spirit in our lives and in our United Methodist Church. I am praying we can find a “way forward.”

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Why I Am Giving Up My Season Tickets to the Team I Love

Photo by flickr user dbking [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A letter to Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington NFL Franchise:

Dear Mr. Snyder,

The year I was born, my father paid two 16 year-olds to camp out overnight to buy two season tickets to the team you and I both love. Those tickets have been in my family ever since. I am writing to you now to let you know why I feel compelled to give them up. But first, some history.

My first game was a pre-season game against the Chicago Bears when I was five. I have loved the team ever since. I attended nearly every game in my early childhood because the ticket takers allowed me to duck under the turnstile and the ushers let me sit the small gap between my father’s two seats in Section 320 without having a ticket. I rooted for Sonny Jurgensen, Charlie Taylor, Bobby Mitchell, Jerry Smith and the like with everything I had, even though we lost more than we won.

I was hopeful when Vince Lombardi came to coach and was saddened when he died on the verge of what seemed like inevitable success. When George Allen came and revived the franchise, I was able to attend my first playoff game, a 16-3 victory over Green Bay in 1971. Even though we lost Super Bowl VII that season, I knew that this would be my team forever.

I am 7-0, all-time, attending home playoff games. I went to our playoff games in the 1971, 1981, 1987 and 1991 seasons. Three of my children were born in the latter three seasons, in which we won the Super Bowl. If I could have had more children, just to win more Super Bowls, I might have done so. My brother attended Super Bowl XVIII against the Raiders and my sister attended the 2013 playoff game against the Seahawks and we both know how they ended. So, you see, this franchise and I have history.

When I was young I told my parents that there were only two things I wanted when they died. One was the franchise season tickets and the other was a 1493 Samurai sword that my father was given as a U.S. GI of Japanese heritage while serving in Japan after World War II. Before my father died, our family agreed to transfer the season ticket rights to me.

But, I feel like this franchise has been dysfunctional since the day Jack Kent Cooke died and didn’t leave the team to his son. Looking back, that was the beginning of the end. You have the right to run this team as you see fit. It’s your team. But it’s been my team, too. And the only right I have is to vote with my wallet. That is what I’m doing now.

I hailed (yes that’s the term) the arrival of Bruce Allen in December 2009. He had football credentials and was the son of a franchise icon to boot. I even dismissed the criticisms that he was in charge of publicity events and uniforms. I was even happier when Scot McCloughan was hired because I knew that he knew how to build a winning franchise. I could only hope that you would let him do that. Now, Mr. McCloughan is gone and it’s pushed me over the edge.

You see, I’ve known since my time in seminary in the early 90’s that our team’s name needed to change. As the son of a man who was interned during WWII and who was called “Jap” for much of his life, the name didn’t feel right to me. Yet, life is filled with ambiguity and I let my love of the franchise and its winning tradition outweigh what I knew in my heart was the right thing to do. A friend from seminary used to call me a fence-sitter. He would say, “One day, Shitama, you’re going to have to take a stand.” In my own small way, that’s what I’m doing now. I publicly apologize to my Native American friends for not doing the right thing sooner. Maybe if you had changed the name, I wouldn’t be taking this action now.

My biggest regret is that I waited this long. I thought Norv Turner was on the right track and he was fired. Same for Marty Schottenheimer. I believed Joe Gibbs II would turn things around, but I realize now that he tired of fighting the dysfunction. I can’t even count the number of stars who came here and failed and the number of players that left and became stars. My hope was revived when the Shanahans came and when RGIII was drafted. The 2012 season made me a believer. But that vanished into thin air as we screwed it up in more ways than I can count.

The combination of Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and Kirk Cousins finally felt like the ticket. The real deal. Maybe the reports of Mr. McCloughan’s alcohol problems are true. If so, I could only hope that you would have found a different way to handle this. You hired him, knowing his background, yet didn’t give him the tools or the power to succeed, let alone the support that someone like him would need. I’m not excusing him, but the buck stops with you and the results speak for themselves. Let’s face it, since you took over, this franchise has ruined more careers than it has made. More than anything, this feels like a power struggle between Mr. Allen and Mr. McCloughan and now we know who won. I may be wrong, but my sense of foreboding is now so overwhelming that I am cancelling the season tickets that have been in my family since 1961.

The sword that I mentioned was given to my father when the order was given to destroy all weapons in post WWII Japan. The mayor of the town in which my dad was serving asked him to take it because it was too much of a treasure to be destroyed. Two decades ago, my father and mother travelled to Japan to return the sword to its original family. My dad knew he could never possess something that never really belonged to him. His action epitomized the word “Honor.”

You own this team, Mr. Snyder. You can refuse to change the name. You can choose Bruce Allen over Scot McCloughan, rather than finding a way to help a talented professional do his best work for you. You can, once again, turn your back on building a winning franchise. If you change the name AND build a winner in the way that the Patriots, Steeler and Packers have proven, then I will definitely be back. I might even come back if you did just the former. I am not holding my breath. You can run your team, our team, the way you want. My right is to refuse to support it financially in any way. So that is what I will do. The irony is that I will have neither the Samurai sword nor the season tickets. But I will have my honor. Better late than never.

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In Defense of Millennials (and Three Things I Learned Working with Them)

Two years ago, Millennials became the largest segment of America’s workforce. It will be that way for a long time. You’ve likely heard the complaints: Millennials are lazy, entitled, demanding, impatient and need to be coddled. I find the complaints annoying.

I attended a workshop about how to deal with different generations in the workforce. The presenter was really condescending toward Millennials. The crowd was eating it up. At least most of them. Not me. And not the Millennials. At one point the presenter said, “Millennials do not trust our institutions.” I thought to myself, “Who does?”

Then one of the Millennials in the audience said, “Yes! And we’re going to dismantle those institutions and rebuild them to be better than before.” I did a fist pump in my mind.

The Millennials are the next Great Generation.

According to the methodology developed by Neil Howe and William Strauss in their book, Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069, there are four generational types that cycle through history in order. Howe and Strauss are often given credit for coining the term Millennials to describe those born between 1982 and 2004. In their book, they identify Millennials as a “Civic Generation,” the same as the GI Generation that grew up in the depression, came of age in World War II and put a man on the moon.

I believe the Millennial generation will have a similar impact.

Simon Sinek’s interview on “Insight Today,” has gotten over six million views on various platforms. He details the forces that have shaped Millennials, including parenting, technology, social media and the fact that they came of age in the worst economy since the great depression.

Where I agree with him most is he says a lack of leadership is failing Millennials in the workforce. But he doesn’t share what to do about it. Here is what I’ve learned and why I think it’s great to work with Millennials.

Millennials need their work to have purpose.

It’s ironic that Simon Sinek wrote the book, Start with Why. He says people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. It’s the same in the workplace. When you are able to articulate vision, where you are headed and why you are doing it, Millennials respond with passion and commitment.

Actually, I’ve found this to be true for most people. It’s just many in previous generations would put their heads down and grind without complaining. That may be admirable, but as a leader that doesn’t get you off the hook. Just because somebody will work without purpose doesn’t mean you don’t need to articulate it. Regardless of the generational make up of your team, you will get better results if you can explain why you want them to do what you are asking.

Millennials need to make a difference.

Everybody wants to have an impact. This goes beyond explaining why you want them to do something. It also includes providing feedback to show the difference their work is making. Are people better off? Are you solving a problem, avoiding a disaster or perhaps just doing things a bit more efficiently? Whatever it is, say it. Connect the work to the difference it makes.

Again, I don’t think Millennials are any different than other generations in this respect. We all get more satisfaction out of our work when we are making a difference. Bu tor Millennials, it’s essential. They are less likely to respond if they don’t think it makes a difference. Regardless, you should be helping everyone you work with to see their impact. It’s good leadership.

Millennials need to see continual improvement.

The knock on Millennials is they are impatient. They want it now. Actually, we all want it now. If I can’t order something online and get it in two days, WITH free shipping, I don’t want it. We are an instant gratification society, so don’t put this on Millennials.

My experience is that Millennials don’t expect to be made CEO right away, as some suggest. They are willing to work and willing to wait. But they need to see continual improvement, especially with their own skill set.

Sinek maintains that we need to be teaching patience to Millennials. I would say we need to be teaching Millennials. If you invest your time to help someone else improve their abilities, no matter their age, they will be more engaged and more capable. It’s no different for Millennials.

They are doing it on their own anyway. They are constantly learning new things, trying to get better. This is the positive side of the internet, in general, and Google, in particular. Wouldn’t it be nice if they had a boss who helped them along the way?

So, if you’re a Boomer or an X’er, there’s no need to complain about Millennials. Just be a leader. Everybody you work with will appreciate it.

If you’re a Millennial, go change the world, with or without us.

Questions for Reflection:

How often do you articulate purpose to those you work with? How can you do it better?

How can you show your team the difference their work makes?

Are you investing in making someone else better? If not, how can you start?

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The Three Most Important Things in Life

I’m going to share what I have found to be the three most important things in life. It may be different for you, but this is my experience. What you won’t find on the list is work. Stephen Covey famously said that nobody, at the end of their life, wishes they spent more time at the office.

It’s not that work is unimportant. The ministry I serve is important to me. When I do focus on the most important things, it has a positive impact on my work.

The most important thing in my life is my relationships.

As a Jesus follower, that starts with God. The deeper my relationship with God the more I want to give myself to others to make their lives better. This includes family, friends, my church community, the people I work with and people in the community, including the least among us.

The more I seek to make the lives of others better, the more meaning and joy I have in my life. I think this is how we are created. And, as Jesus says in Matthew 25, when we do this for the least among us, we meet him face-to-face

Next, there is my health-spiritual, emotional, physical.

The first two are directly connected to my relationships. Making my relationships the top priority greatly improves my spiritual and emotional well-being.

My physical health is something I took for granted for most of my life. When I turned 37, my brother, who is 11 years older, said age 37 was his physical peak. After that, things didn’t heal as quickly and aches and pains started showing up without provocation. He was right.

There are many things we can do to keep healthy. Good nutrition, exercise and sufficient sleep are essential.  Even so, illness or injury can impact our lives. Regardless, the rest of life is much more difficult if you don’t have your health.

Finally, there is time.

Everybody gets the same amount of time each day. The use of time is integral to relationships and health. How we use it has the biggest impact on our quality of life.

In his book First Things First, Stephen Covey writes about the law of the farm. He uses the experience of a farmer as a metaphor for quality of life. The farmer tills, sows, waters and waits. There are factors beyond his control that will affect the quality of the harvest. But one thing is certain, if the farmer doesn’t invest his time, he won’t have a harvest. And the farmer can’t cram all of these activities into a single week, like a student studying for finals, and expect to have a harvest. He has to invest the time and do so over the course of time.

If you don’t invest time in your relationships on an ongoing basis, you won’t have any to speak of. Even worse, you’ll have a crisis or conflict that can drag you down.

If you don’t invest time in your health on an ongoing basis, your body will drag you down and you won’t be able to accomplish the things God has in store for you.

So what can you do to re-order your life to focus on deeper more meaningful relationships and better health?

How can you be more intentional about the use of your time so you can invest in these things?

And what can you do so that God can make you all that you were created to be?

Go with God. And be with God.

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