Thursday, December 13, 2012

Two Kinds of Critical (part 1)

I saw an interesting bumper sticker last week.  It read: “Critical Thinking—the other national deficit.” I laughed to myself, and thought, “how true.” Yesterday, I was thinking about critical thinking and its evil twin: critical spirit.  I’m going to do my best to distinguish between the two.

Critical thinking is a cognitive skill that is found in most three and four-year-old children. It is nurtured through an often undervalued trait called curiosity.  As curiosity does its thing, the brain searches for ways to satisfy the desire.  In modern education circles, this is when the individual begins climbing the rungs of Bloom’s taxonomy past comprehension and upward to application, analysis, evaluation, and synthesis.  In Classical education, this is a move into the upper parts of the trivium—beyond the grammar to dialectic and rhetoric.

Whatever we call it, critical thinking is the ability to observe an event, knowledge or information and process it as if one were dismantling the parts of an object.  During the process, a person may find a more creative way to present information, she may find something about the process that needs tweaking, or he may decide that it could not be done any better.  We often call this process: critique.
More on this in my next post…

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Yearling (A Book Review)

Like many people my age, I have been familiar with The Yearling for most of my life; however, I had never taken the time to read it.  A few months ago, I heard Andrew Peterson make mention of the novel in several of the songs on his new album, so I decided to give it a try.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ classic work is often thought of as a children’s book or even adolescent literature.  While it is something that will appeal to a child or young adult, the overarching themes of the book are certainly most appreciated by adults.  There are some exciting hunts and humorous scenes that will be enjoyed by all ages, but these are mere brush strokes of the artist, painting a larger portrait.  The portrait is complete at the end of the novel when we listen in on a man-to-man talk between the father, Penny Baxter, and the son, Jody.  We hear explicit statements about the hard life that Rawlings has illustrated so well throughout the novel.

We further see the struggle of parenthood—of knowing how much to shelter a child and how much to push him toward adulthood.  Jody Baxter has been sheltered by his father, and perhaps, this has made the passage so difficult.

Rawlings presents in a very subtle way, a parallel to the return of the prodigal son parable.  She gives us the emotions and thoughts of a young man struggling with his place and his role in life.  She gives us the most simple, yet profound, sentence in the novel:  “He was wanted.”  This sweet realization stands equal with the ring, the robe and the fatted calf of the biblical story.

I sense that many of my generation are wrestling with the disappointing truth that the vast majority of us have been raised as consumers, without much training in productivity or self-sufficiency.  Getting a glimpse into the world of the Baxters makes me aware of how easy our everyday lives are compared to that of our ancestors. Theirs was a simpler life, but more difficult than we can imagine.  It was a life that demanded wisdom, prudence, strength, and trust—a life from which we can learn much.       

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Trust Formula

Credibility + Reliability + Honesty


Several years ago, Duke University came up with a "Trust Formula." This is something every leader should consider.  

The denominator indicates that the more one is focused on himself, the less others will trust him.      
                                           (Thanks to Dr. Jim Knight for sharing this formula.)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Why Should I Ask For Forgiveness?

Some time ago, we instituted a change in our home.  When one of us hurt another member of the family, we would not allow that offender to say "I'm sorry."  We required instead that the one at fault ask the other, "will you forgive me?"  

I had no idea what a powerful difference this would make. It's remarkable that a child (or an adult for that matter) can learn to mouth the words "I'm sorry" like a memorized line in a stage play without ever engaging his or her heart.

The difference in these two phrases goes beyond the words. The difference is actually a shift from a monologue to a dialogue. I can throw the words out and never know (or care) if the apology is received in the heart-disengaged monologue. If, however, I look the offended person in the eye and ask for forgiveness, I must wait to receive his or her response.  And as I have found, it's nearly impossible to "fake" asking for forgiveness.

Monday, May 28, 2012

"Land of the Living" by Matthew Perryman Jones

Matthew Perryman Jones is scheduled to release a new album tomorrow.  I was fortunate enough to get a pre-release download about five weeks ago, and it has been in heavy rotation on my player.  You, too can get a download of you make a donation to Blood:Water Mission.

You can also check MPJ website for the official release on or after May 29, 2012.

Here are my thoughts on the pre-release:

This was my introduction to MPJ's work, and I am impressed.  His vocals are strong and controlled.  His lyrics are thoughtful and clever.  His music is layered and melodic with a gritty rawness.

Basically, if you like U2, the Call or Michael Been, you'll want to give this a listen.

The entire effort is strong and well presented.  A few tracks worth mentioning are  the infectious "I Won't Let You Down Again", the haunting "O Theo" [thumbs up to any musical artist who can pull off a song about Vincent Van Gogh-- this is a fine song from the artist's perspective], "Waking Up the Dead" is a rocker, and the title track "Land of the Living" is a passionate, driving capstone of hope.

Here is the link to get the album. Give it a listen, and let me know what you think.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Lesson from Running

I have been training at a local park for an upcoming 5k race.  I'm far from an expert on running, but I would say that 3.1 miles is about the shortest distance that can be considered "distance" running.  I would also suggest that pace is the key to distance running.

I realized yesterday that I do better on my pace (and time) when there are more people walking or running on the track.  If I am going around someone or if there is someone ahead of me, my eyes stay focused and my strides exhibit a sense of purpose or urgency.  If, however, there is no one else on the running path, I take short, choppy strides and my mind and eyes tend to wander from directly in front of me to things on the periphery.

It hit me yesterday that this is a picture of the spiritual walk for many of us.  When we have people around us, we are more deliberate about our actions, but when we are alone, we are sometimes prone to wander.  That really frames this commonly shared definition: Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one else is around.

As a man, I like to perform in sight of others.  It's part of the way we guys are wired.  What football team would work as hard as they do to play in an empty stadium?  We love to perform in front of others.  The challenge with integrity is to practice it not just when others are around, but when you think you are all alone.  Here's the catch:  you are never all alone.  Your all-seeing, all-knowing Creator is around all the time.  He's not waiting to swat you when you make a mistake.  He's there for you to enjoy.  So the next time you are running alone, run with all you've got for His glory.  And perhaps, like the Olympic medalist Eric Liddell, you can feel His pleasure.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Unexpected Layoff (pt. 5): A Question of Faith

Everyone has faith.  Faith that the bed will hold me when I fall into it at night.  Faith that the car will get me across the intersection in front of the oncoming traffic.  Faith that my pharmacist gave me the right dosage. And the list goes on.

The question for each one of us is not do we have faith?, rather in whom (or what) do I place my faith?

It's all too easy to place your faith in a job or career.  I've been reminded of that with the recent layoff.  I had a "permanent" job in education with a state agency.  How much more secure could a job be?  (Laughter here)  The truth is that nothing in this world is secure in and of itself.  Our idea of "job security" is a mirage.  I don't say this in order to bring anxious thoughts, but to help put things in perspective.  We should work hard, we should always do our best, and we should place our faith in Jesus Christ, who is the only unfailing, unchanging rock of salvation.  Trust Him.  He alone is worthy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Pixie Stix for the Low of Energy

Do you remember the tart powder that came in paper straws?  They were called Pixie Stix.  I used to love them!  Now I need something with a little more kick. 

Please don't try this at home.  I'm only joking.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

An Important Restaurant Theory

Do you ever go to a new restaurant, wonder about the quality of their iced tea, try it, then regret your decision?

Nearly twenty years ago, I developed a hypothesis:  I noticed that the restaurants that offered captain's wafer crackers, rather than the run of the mill (square) saltine crackers had a better tasting iced tea.

I don't have the hard numeric data to quantify the study, but I will tell you that almost without fail, the hypothesis stands. Therefore, I declare the Captain's Wafer Theory.

Let me know if you find the same results.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Unexpected Layoff (pt. 4): Figure Out How You Are Wired

We all become creatures of habit, and as a result, we sometimes forget our own dreams, ambitions, and strengths in the trenches of the day-to-day. One good thing about a layoff is it forces us to stop and examine ourselves.  In some cases, someone may already know what he enjoys and is good at. In that case, it's just a matter of finding a position in the same field of work.  In other cases, we need to get some fairly objective feedback on our strengths, weaknesses and other personality traits before we can embark on a new direction.

One such profile that was a benefit to me is called Your Unique Design .  This is a very thorough profile that costs $35 and requires a bit of effort to complete. The results, though, are well worth it.

The other day, I pulled out a part of the report that it provided.  I was reminded of my three areas of strength as they relate to work.  I am most satisfied with my work when I am 1) initiating 2) influencing and 3) teaching.  As I continue to assess opportunities and ponder the next step, I plan to keep these three abilities in mind.  

If you don't have a good idea of how you are wired, perhaps a tool like Your Unique Design would help.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Unexpected Layoff (part 1) the Sequel: Trying to Avoid the Lloyd Dobler Effect

It seems that very few 18-year-olds really know what career they want to pursue.  That's expected.  When you're over forty; however, people think you should have it all figured out.  Granted, some people have found a great match between what they enjoy and how to earn a living doing it.  Others haven't.  It's very important not to lose sight of the fact that life is a journey, not an event.  Sure, there are events along the way, but they just lead to other events, as well as times of struggle and transitional periods.

One of the craziest paradoxes in life is our struggle against ourselves, primarily our pride.  My pride thinks it must be all together, all the time.  It tells me I must have all the answers to any questions; that I must be ahead of the curve in anything "cool" or "hip."   While our pride promises to protect us, the truth is that it becomes a shackle.  It becomes a facade that shields the real person inside.

So, the next time you find yourself getting the career question-- and you're not quite sure of what most people would consider an acceptable answer; don't try to fight the Lloyd Dobler Effect-- fearing what others might think.  Be like Lloyd.  Be real.  Be authentic.  Tell your pride to take a seat because the only way you will figure out a "good fit" is to be yourself.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Gift from Garrels

Yesterday, I received a wonderful surprise in the mail.  Almost a year ago, I came across an album called "Love & War & The Sea In Between" by Josh Garrels.  I had never heard of this artist, but I decided to download the digital album.  Why?  Easy.  It was free.  What did I have to lose beyond some space on my hard drive.

After about three times through the 18-track work, I was hooked.  So, I made a meager donation on his noisetrade site. (By the way, you can also find it on a bandcamp site now.)  My donation (or tip) was a small way of saying "thank you" for the music.

So, yesterday when I opened a package from Portland, Oregon, I found a shrink-wrapped, beautifully packaged cd release of the album and this wonderful signed note from Josh:

Today, I will confidently tell you that the Josh Garrels' release was my favorite album in 2011, and it's still in the top three albums for my current, regular listening.

I am truly blown away by his generous spirit.  I am moved by his desire to bless people with his music in such a sacrificial way.  Josh, thank you for the gift of your music!


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Unexpected Layoff (pt. 3)

Back to the question: So what do you want to do?
Quite often I find it is easier to define something by what it is not.
One of the things I must do is eliminate what could be the next step.

So, I have been praying for wisdom and seeking counsel from others.
Today, thanks to a couple of friends, I was able to dismiss something that I had held as a possibility.

Wisdom has spoken, and I no longer consider owning a coffee shop a viable option.

Give me a little while longer on the question.  I'm working on it.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Unexpected Layoff (pt. 2)

About three weeks ago, I decided to run in a 5k Memorial Day weekend.  Little did I know then that I would be facing a season of transition and a time of processing through a variety of emotions.  It hit me just a couple of days ago that training for a race at this time could be one of the best possible things to do.  The exercise will only help with my mental state, and the challenge of the race itself is something to look forward to.

So, if you're going through a similar season of transition, find an event that will nurture you or at lease give you a positive outlet on which to focus.  This is the race I'll be running in:

Plus, it's for a good cause.

God is good!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Unexpected Layoff (pt. 1)

When you've been in a "permanent" position with a state agency for 6 years, and your job performance consistently receives a high rating, receiving a layoff notice is quite a surprise.  I received a layoff notice about a week ago, and I thought it might be helpful to blog about it.

So far, I have found the big struggle is focused around two recurring things.  First, it's hard to shake the idea of personal worth and importance.  We all think that we make a difference, even in a bureaucracy.  And the truth is, we do make a difference-- every single one of us.  There is no single person on the face of the planet that has the skill set and unique abilities that you and I possess. We are truly one-of-a-kind.  Beautifully and wonderfully made.  That's the truth.  But when the notice arrives, the doubts are not far behind.  This is a mental, emotional and (at times) spiritual battle that must be won through renewing our minds with truth.

The second thing is a question that so many loving, well-meaning friends and acquaintances ask. You know the question:  "So, have you lined up something else?" or "So, what do you want to do?"  I truly think this is the question that 90% of Americans in the workforce don't want to answer honestly.  And, I guess the best thing about having a job is that only a really close friend will ask that.  But, when you get the notice, the question is not far behind.

So, before I answer the question, let me throw it back to you:  Do you know what you want to do?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Onion's Dark Core

I recently read The Onion's Dark Core: A Little Book of Poetry Talk. This is a book of essays and interviews by one of my favorites: Georgia poet David Bottoms. Reading the essays and interviews was much akin to getting a behind-the-scenes tour.

For many years, I have regarded Bottoms as a contemporary master of metaphor and imagery.  His poems are what I consider the epitome of strong poetry.  Bottoms says, "poetry is the art of metaphor, which is the art of making connections, the art of discovering bridges" (p. 61). You only have to read his poem "Sign For My Father Who Stressed the Bunt" to get an idea of how well he handles the metaphor. You can view a video of him reading the poem here.  

Another highlight of The Onion's Dark Core was Bottoms' discussion of the creative process mentioned in Seamus Heaney's essay "Feeling into Words."  It talks of the first stage of inspiration, and the second stage of the craft of writing.  While writers know the work that goes into the craft of revision, Bottoms seems to focus more on the first stage.  He notes, "the first the real creative act, [and] is slightly more mysterious. There really doesn't seem to be very much you can teach anyone about that.  Either it happens or it doesn't" (p. 110).  He goes on elsewhere to express that this mysterious first stage is not anything for which the poet can claim credit. It is a gift.

So, also, is the poetry of David Bottoms a gift.       

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ticked Off Tuesday

It's not good to complain all the time, but once in awhile we all have to vent a little frustration. Here's a forum for that: "Ticked Off Tuesday."

Do you know what ticks me off?  The term HUMAN CAPITAL.  There's something so dehumanizing about the term...not to mention the fact that it is (historically) Marxist/Socialist ideology.

What ticks you off?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Stark Contrast

Because I hear so many people use the word evolve in everyday usage, I decided to "look up" the definition.
First, let me say that almost every time people use the word evolve, they really should use the word develop. Evolve indicates that something changes on its own over time to adapt or adjust to its environment.  I don't know of any processes or systems that just happen to get better on their own. Do you?  It takes the work, direction, and revision of people to bring about this positive change.  So, we should not hear about how a process has evolved into... Instead, we should hear about the way a team or individual has developed the process.

One last word:  one of the antonyms of evolution listed in is Changelessness. How many things or persons do you know that do not ever change?  I can only think of one.  He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He is the One true and living God--  the Creator of all that we know.

Friday, March 9, 2012

2 Boxes Done

It's such a blessing to see my daughters maturing in many ways.  They worked hard a couple of evenings ago to get the boxes mixed and filled.  One of them has been planted.  One is awaiting some veggies.  Good job girls!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Suburban Farmer

You knew a Buick could hold a bunch of golf bags in the trunk, but did you realize how easily it holds peat moss, composted cow manure, and mushroom compost?  Time to get the garden boxes planted!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mission Accomplished

I have been inspired and challenged by my friend Bobby's recent accomplishment.
Yesterday, he completed his first marathon, the New Orleans Rock 'n' Roll Marathon.  His consistent training routine and persistence in the run is admirable.
Good job, Bobby!

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Today, my oldest turned 15.  That's her on the right.  I am very blessed to be her father and quite proud of the young woman she is becoming.  Happy birthday "D. girl."   I love you.   -Dad

Saturday, February 25, 2012

25 Posts

My wife challenged me to set a goal for my blog.  So here it is:
I am going to try for 25 blog posts in the month of March.  Expecting this will be tougher than it seems.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Things We Despise In Others...

Have you ever noticed that the things we despise in others are almost always the things we struggle with ourselves?  This segment of a Donald Trump interview may be the best illustration of this concept that I've ever scene.  Check it out and then be aware of the same phenomenon in your own life.