Character Association

Character Association

My first car was a red Volkswagen Beetle. My cousin and I co-owned it. The carburetor did not function correctly, and one of us had to sit in the back with the seat removed and work the choke. The engine was in the trunk. We drove the “under repair” vehicle in our backyard, round and round and round, until we were old enough to get a driver’s license. By the time we hit the road, the grass in our backyard had an Indy track dug into it. We had also repaired the carburetor, making a backseat accelerator unnecessary. The little VW was a tough, durable car. I still see them on the road today. And every time my wife sees one, I get punched.

The game was called Punch Buggy. Spotting a VW gave you permission to slug the arm of the person you were with. I much preferred the other VW spotting game—Perdiddle. In this game, if you saw a VW with only one working headlight, you had permission to kiss your date. A VW today can get you kissed or punched. You’re never quite sure which one to expect.

[Read more…]

Scripture Quoting

Scripture Quoting

Mr. Everett, my air-conditioning opponent, quoted from the Bible that was in his head: “The morning air of the Lord will cool the sanctuary.” In his mind, God had said it, he believed it, and that settled it.

Others use quotes from more authentic biblical versions as the authoritative word to settle issues. And I do not dismiss the authority of the Scriptures as necessary for holy conversation. The revelation of God in Scripture is second only to the revelation of God in flesh. The Word written and the Word enfleshed bear faithful witness to the ways of God.

But I do not believe that Scripture was meant to be used as a conversation stopper. God seems to invite our questions, our doubts, and our wonderings.

[Read more…]

Peace-Mongers and Spineless Leaders

Peace-Mongers and Spineless Leaders

Mega-churches explode in overnight growth, build big, borrow big, and explode big as they collapse. Compassionate non-profit ministries, rich in compassion, often drown in red ink. Christian colleges groan and die under the weight of complexity in a competitive world.

Why is it that people who intend such good through the creation of non-profit organizations often close the doors of the same organizations in embarrassed shame?

The Americanization of Christianity has shaped a religion that is, if anything, nice. Offense is intended toward no one. Being liked is the quest. Overlooking incompetency, arrogance, or laziness is easier than confronting it. And the result is that such organizations spiritualize their problems rather than confront them. They form a culture in which sabotage works. And given the human propensity toward evil, organizations eat the fruit of the culture they nourish.

Edwin Friedman writes in A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix:

In any type of institution whatsoever, when a self-directed, imaginative, energetic, or creative member is being consistently frustrated and sabotaged rather than encouraged and supported, what will turn out to be true one hundred percent of the time, regardless of whether the disrupters are supervisors, subordinates, or peers, is that the person at the very top of that institution is a peace-monger. By that I mean a highly anxious risk-avoider, someone who is more concerned with good feelings than with progress, someone whose life revolves around the axis of consensus, a middler, someone who is so incapable of taking well-defined stands that his disability seems to be genetic, someone who functions as if she had been filleted of backbone, someone who treats conflict or anxiety like mustard gas – one whiff, on goes the emotional gas mask, and he flits. Such leaders are often nice, if not charming (pages  13-14).

Serving as president of a Christian university, I can testify to the gravitational pull of the niceness. Rather than making hard choices, leaders are asked to make people feel good. “Forgive the person; he meant well.” “Love covers a multitude of sins.” “Don’t make waves.” “If you step out on a limb, the cost could be your job.” I’ve heard them all as excuses for not doing what is right for the organization.

The Americanized gospel has shaped us to expect the blessings we desire without any suffering en route. If we’re nice, we deserve to have it. A gospel that does not confront our selfishness, our narrowness, our incompetency, and our arrogance eventually forms us to be saboteurs of any leader who dares stand on conviction that disagrees with ours.

We have grown our own terrorists. Our institutions collapse, not from evil without, but from a cult of niceness within.

Grandstanding

Grandstanding

Grandstanding is a ploy that reminds people of their fear while reassuring them that the one using this tactic is their savior from this fear.

It makes speeches that appeal to the lowest common denominator in the crowd—our joint fear. It repeats time-tested clichés. It casts doubts about anything “new” because the “old” is always more dependable. It is closed to new viewpoints from the outside. It sweeps issues under the rug with generalizations. It seeks to appear conservative while actually being more in keeping with the ways of the world. It postures itself as the safe position. It even quotes Scripture.

This may be the bad yeast that has gotten into the pulpit of our day. If a pastor wants to solidify support, grandstanding is the surest route to popular acclaim. Just tell the congregation members exactly what they want to hear, relieve their fears, castigate all dissenting opinions, and secure them in a religious bubble. Salary increases will certainly follow.

[Read more…]

What Happens When Dating Dies

What Happens When Dating Dies

In my last post, I introduced you to what’s happening in today’s relationship culture among young adults. Dating is actually dead, and rampant attachment anxiety means that “hooking up” is the norm. Men and women are not burdened with commitment in their relationships.

So, what does this mean for the next generation? I think it’s some pretty scary stuff.

[Read more…]

If Dating Is Dead, What’s Next?

If Dating Is Dead, What’s Next?

My role on university campuses for the past 30 years has given me a front row seat for the movie titled Dating. Relationships between college students have become so nebulous that the defining question on campus is, “Is this a date?”

I owe my understanding of the cultural shift in dating to Dr. Scott Stanley. He visited Trevecca Nazarene University in the fall of 2014 and lectured on the topic “Sliding vs. Deciding.” Dr. Stanley is a research psychologist and professor at the University of Denver and is a recognized specialist on cohabitation (living together without being married). His assumption is that dating builds the necessary foundation skills for commitment in marriage and that the demise of dating has left us sliding into relationships rather than deciding about relationships.

[Read more…]

Sex Is Good

Sex Is Good

Sex is good. I agree. I agree wholeheartedly without reservation.

Some Christian studies have gone as far as statistical analysis on the matter of whether Christians have better sex than the rest of the world. These studies are cute, and maybe make a point, but I’m not sure they are useful to the Christian story. I’m not sure the game is won by the side that proves it has the best sex. Do we really want to compete at pure hedonism? And if we win, what have we proved?

Sex is good, but it is not the essence of life. Sex is wonderful, but it is not the most wonderful thing about being human. Sex is not the goal of relationships. Sex is not even a basic human need. It is a desire, a craving, a want. It is not a human need. Food, air, water—those are human needs. I have yet to do the funeral of anyone who died from a lack of sex or to see it as the cause of expiration on a death certificate.

[Read more…]

A People Of Lies

A People Of Lies

My wife and I enjoy Broadway musicals. Alongside favorites like Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables, we enjoy the musical story Wicked. This interesting prequel to the beloved Wizard of Oz puts a whole new twist on a well-known story. What if, as the musical Wicked suggests, the Wicked Witch was actually a good person who was trying to save Oz? And what if the fates that befell the Lion, the Tin Woodsman, and the Scarecrow were not curses by the Wicked Witch, but her attempt to keep them from being killed by a more sinister curse? And what if Glenda, the Good Witch, was actually a friend of the Wicked Witch and knew the wholesome truth about her but was not courageous enough to confront popular opinion? And what if the Wizard of Oz was actually a fraud, and the father of the Wicked Witch through an adulterous affair?

[Read more…]

Fighting Back

Fighting Back

Peter Drucker became my best friend the day he declared that one of the three toughest jobs was being the president of a small college. I selfishly agree. Leading a university challenges every natural instinct I have; for instance, the instinct to defend myself and fighting back. Thankfully, it has never come to fisticuffs. Most of the confrontations have been quite civil.

In the small university, everyone assumes that the president is the final authority on everything – grades, financial aid, hiring, firing, student discipline, and interpretation of any policy. Rather than calling those who specialize in these things, they call me directly. They have heard something they did not want to hear and they want me to overturn the decision. It has taken me 10 years to learn a few basic lessons about fighting back.

[Read more…]

The Cruel Art of Labeling

The Cruel Art of Labeling

Labeling can stop a conversation.

Like the old children’s game, Pin the Tail On the Donkey, once the donkey is properly pinned, the game is won. If the enemy can be properly labeled or mislabeled, the verdict for destruction is in place.

This is not new. They called Jesus a friend of sinners, a glutton, and a drunkard. They called him a blasphemer. They suggested that he was somehow a threat to Rome and that anyone who looked the other way would be “no friend of Caesar’s.” Few of these “labelers” ever had a sit-down face-to-face with Jesus. They just knew he was dangerous. They were right. If his understanding of the world were to prevail, it would turn the world as they knew it upside down.

[Read more…]