Turn Signals

When I moved to the South from Connecticut more than nine years ago, there were a number of things that I needed to get used to.  I grew up on sweet tea (because that’s just what my mom used to make), so that was no big deal.  Okra was not even on my radar screen before I ventured below the Mason-Dixon Line, so I had to figure out this new, green, and slimy vegetable.  Everything was fried, even Oreos, and they even have chicken fried steak and chicken fried chicken.  I had to learn not be so suspicious about people at the grocery store or WalMart who would greet me with a smile and a hearty “Hello,” after all, I was used to people not even feigning politeness as they asked, “What do you want?”turn signals

But all of these things paled in comparison to the shock that would overcome me when I ventured out onto the highways and byways of the South.  As I drove to work or the grocery store or my house, I discovered that there was a fatal flaw in some of the motor vehicles that people were driving.  Believe it or not, some of the cars didn’t have turns signals.  Sure, there were some equipped with this new invention, but I began to realize that it must have been an option that needed to be added at the time of purchase.  I’ve never had the privilege of buying a brand new car, so I never had the opportunity to choose or decline this wonderful feature.

The turn signal is a little lever on the side of the steering wheel of a motor vehicle that allows the operator of said vehicle to signal in advance when making a turn or changing lanes.  This feature gives those other motor vehicle operators on the road the fair warning that you will be slowing down to turn or change lanes.  It indicates in advance any premeditated movements so as not to startle those other motor vehicle operators who may be lingering a little too close to your bumper.  As per the Virginia Driver’s Manual, “When you plan to turn, signal three or four seconds, 100 feet, ahead of your turn.”  There was nothing in there about what happens when you don’t purchase the turn signal option, but at least they give proper instruction when the feature has been installed on a motor vehicle.

Unfortunately, while there may or may not have been an option for these people to purchase a turn signal with their new vehicle, I must have missed the memo that gave me the option to include mind-reading as a feature of my brain.  Slowing down with no turn signal cannot always be interpreted as intent to turn, nor can veering to the right or to the left.  In fact, there are some who not only have not exercised the turn signal option on their cars, but they also have found that it works best for them if they veer right in order to turn left or veer left in order to turn right.  That paired with a lack of a turn signal has a way of injecting some real excitement into driving.

Yes, the South has a lot of things that I love: Magnolia trees, sweet tea, Richmond, Atlanta, Disney World, Cheerwine, nice people, and so much more, I guess I’ll have to let all of those good things outweigh the fact that their cars were mysteriously purchased without turn signals.

What Matters Most

2013-08-24 16.29.00As my brother and I have had to go through my parents’ stuff, we’ve had to determine what’s most important to us among all of their possessions.  My parents were very simple people, not into anything fancy.  They never really had a lot of expensive stuff around their house.  In fact, my mom always prided herself in seeing how long she could make something last.  Being a child of the depression, she would take such good care of things that those things would last significantly longer than they would for other people.

As I looked through a box that I had taken home with me the other night, I found some “treasures” that I had shared with my wife.  As we sat at the kitchen table, she said to me, “It’s kind of funny the things that you value the most.”  What she meant by that was that I wasn’t clinging to anything like money or expensive possessions, but instead the things that give a pretty clear picture of the character of my parents.

My father was a pastor for over 40 years, 36 of those years were spent in the same place, which is a feat in and of itself.  There are three things that I have found myself drawn to out of everything that I have found.  The first is a record of every wedding that my dad ever did.  He wrote down the date, the place, and the names of the bride and groom in a little notebook.  It’s kind of crazy to see my own name in there as well as the name of so many people who I have known over the years.  As the piano player for my dad’s church for many years, I actually took part in many of those weddings over the years.

Another thing that I found was a legacy book in which he answered many questions about his childhood, his upbringing, his schooling, his pastimes, his marriage, and other questions that I would have loved to have asked him in person.  I’m not exactly sure when he started answering all the questions, but I can tell you that it probably took him a good deal of time to fill out the whole book.  All of the information in there is fascinating and helpful for me and I expect that my kids will appreciate a lot of it too.

The third thing that I found which will take me a long time to go through is my father’s devotional journals for about a decade.  He logged the passage of Scripture that he read and jotted down a few thoughts of that passage.  Interspersed through those journals were prayer lists and even some of the actual prayers that he prayed for people.

These are the things that have been the most valuable to me as I cope with the loss of my parents.  These are the things that will help me to remember them for years to come.  These are the things that give me (and anyone else who sees them) a clear picture of who my parents were and what kind of character they possessed.  No, you can’t take it with you, but you’ve got to ask yourself, “What am I leaving behind?”

Dreams

martin-luther-king-jr50 years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech (read King’s speech here) on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. during the March on Washington.  A little less than 10 years later, I was born.  Although I was born in Brooklyn, New York, it wasn’t long after that my family moved into the suburbs of Connecticut into a fairly affluent, bedroom community of New York City.  We lived in a house owned by the church where my father was the pastor, otherwise, we would have never been able to afford to live in such a town.

But I did not experience poverty.  I did not experience prejudice.  I did not experience racism.  I did not even have a taste of what King and so many other African Americans have tasted and experienced.  I never drove my car at night with fear of being pulled over, beaten, and arrested, or worse yet, strung up.  I was never passed over for a job because of the color of my skin.  Instead of poverty and prejudice, I knew privilege.

King had a dream, a vision, about what our country could be.  King had a dream that equality could happen.  In the wake of the Trayvon Martin verdict and the senseless murder of an Australian college student, I wonder how much of King’s dream we have realized.  What would he say if he were here today?  Would he feel like we have made strides in the half a century since he stood on those steps and spoke to the masses?

One of the most important lessons for me to learn and remember is the price of freedom.  I often wonder if we think about it as much as we should.  Thousands have fought and died in order to preserve the freedoms in our country.  What is our response when we think about that sacrifice?  Many have given their lives, whether just with time or with their blood as well, in order that we might experience the freedom of equality in this country.  Have we stopped to think about those sacrifices?  If we have not ever benefited from those sacrifices, how do we respond to those who need to realize those benefits?  There is a price paid for us to experience salvation, and that price was paid by Jesus Christ.  What is our response to that sacrifice?

Freedom isn’t free, it always comes at a price.  Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life in order that his fellow African Americans might experience the privileges that so many others in this country have experienced.  I wonder what he would think about the progress we have made.  In some ways, and to some perspectives, it might seem as if we’ve made some strides.  To others, it probably feels more like three steps forward and two steps back.  What do you think?

Passed Over

(There was room for misunderstanding in my post yesterday and so I want to follow up yesterday’s post with what I hope to be a clarifying post)starving musician

I am an artist.  I have created through hours of toil and struggle.  I have worn my heart on my sleeve to let others see what lies  within my heart.  I have stood emotionally “naked” on a stage as I share the art that was created within me.  I have played to hundreds of people who were intent upon my words and I have played to dozens of people who felt the need to talk over me.  I have known loss and hurt and extreme emotions that I have tried to articulate in artistic form only to be ignored.

That’s the plight of the artist.  I am not sure what the statistics are for success in the world of art, be it aural or visual or whatever, but I am sure that for every “successful” artist there is a wake of struggling artists simply longing for the bread scraps from the table of those who have been more successful.  That’s why I struggle so deeply with Miley Cyrus and other seemingly no-talent hacks who can bask in their millions of dollars.

I have seen the struggling artists and I have been the struggling artist.  I have spent hours listening to people whose talent far exceeds my own and even that of the people who line our Top 40 charts.  I’ve been bewildered at the lopsidedness of the system.  I’ve wondered how to find ways to get these artists out there and recognized while those who ride the waves of privilege seemingly get everything handed to them and continue to sell millions to the mindless masses.

Am I bitter about this?  Maybe.  It has nothing to do with me and everything to do with what I would consider to be good taste.  Yes, Miley Cyrus was lewd and crude in her performance (if I can use the term so loosely) on the Video Music Awards, but part of the shame lies with those of us who continue to fund artists like her while overlooking artists whose talent has been forged through good, old fashioned hard work.  I have never had to rely on my craft, creativity, or artistry alone to make a living for myself.

I think about a guy named Billy McLaughlin who is an incredible fingerstyle guitar player.  I was introduced to him in college and found out many years later that he lost the intricate use of his left hand, forcing him to relearn the guitar with his right hand instead.  He has not been on any awards shows (to the best of my knowledge) nor has he sold millions of albums, but his music is artistic and creative.

I think about a guy named Andrew Peterson.  His way with words is crafty and poignant.  His music makes you think and does not simply entertain.  He never plays for fanfare or accolades, he plays because that is what he was created to do.  While he is certainly not hurting in his finances, I am sure that there are people who have never been touched by his artistic ability.

The list could go on and on and on…..

As I mentioned yesterday, we live in an age that enables us to discover new and talented artists all the time.  There are things like Spotify that allow us to listen to music and get a feel for an artist before purchasing their music.  We can join Noisetrade and get free music.  If we like it, we can donate to the artist who made that music.  Creative and talented musicians are everywhere to be found, are we looking for them?

Or, we can choose to continue to allow ourselves to be lulled to sleep by mindless drivel.  We can continue to support “artists” whose talent has run out and who bank on gimmicks and their shock value to continue to sell their music.

What will we choose?

Wasted Talent?

miley-cyrus-we-cant-stopAs much as I love music, I don’t spend a lot of time following or listening to the music that’s on the radio.  In this day and age of the internet, independent record labels, and self-produced albums, it’s easier than ever to find good music without ever having to turn on Top 40 radio.

So, I had to rely on social media to have any clue about what Miley Cyrus’ latest indiscretion was all about on the MTV Video Music Awards.  Thankfully (or not so much, considering what I saw) there were postings on the internet to see what had appalled everyone on Facebook.  When I got a glimpse for myself, I understood.

I’m not even going to go into what it was that she did because that’s kind of inconsequential in the grand scheme of things (and you can look it up yourself.  Hint: it was a duet with Robin Thicke).  The bigger issue for me is what happens when someone feels that they have exhausted their creativity and talent to the point that they begin to rely on gimmicks such as lewd and lascivious behavior to gain attention rather than raw talent and ability.  It seems to happen more and more these days, and I can’t always understand it.

I remember not too long ago when I saw a video of Lady Gaga before she really became famous.  She was sitting at a piano, playing and singing, and I thought to myself, she actually sounds pretty good.  Behind all the glitz and glam is a fairly talented woman.  Why does she have to hide behind all that other stuff?

Miley Cyrus is another story.  Is she talented?  She got to where she is somehow, some might claim it’s talent, others might just say it was the right connections.  She’s not horrible, but I wouldn’t say that she’s the greatest thing since sliced bread either.  She’s got some abilities and talents, but there are certainly far more talented people out there.

Maybe it’s the image that she’s trying to shake.  She played Hannah Montana for years and we’ve seen a similar pattern from those Disney girls.  The path has been paved by the likes of Britney Spears, Christina Aquilera (who I would argue has some talent), and Lindsay Lohan, just to name a few.  When you’ve had a squeaky clean image, it seems that there’s a need within to break that by swinging pretty far the opposite way, from girl next door to pole dancer in 7 steps or less.

What boggles my mind is that some of these people, like Lady Gaga, actually have talent.  Why do they feel the need to use their looks when their talents could easily stand up for themselves?  Why hide behind something that is so fleeting when you have something else that’s harder to come by?

It’s kind of hard to believe that corporations like MTV and VH1 can still have as strong of a presence as they do.  Of course, people don’t listen to music because it’s art, they listen to it because they want to be entertained, and they are often more visually entertained than aurally entertained.  Whatever sells is going to win the day, and unfortunately, sex sells.

I just think it’s a shame when people with real talent can go overlooked in order that some others who are simply flaunting themselves can somehow rise to the top.  Maybe I’m an old prude or completely out of line, but it really would be nice to just let talent speak for itself.  If you’ve got to rely on anything else, maybe you’re in the wrong business…..or not.

The Day I Almost Became A Girl

firecrackersMy dad went to college in Columbia, South Carolina.  A Brooklyn boy in the middle of the Deep South, now there’s a sight that many people would probably have liked to have seen.  He seemed to fit in pretty well, and I think people finally forgave him for continually stringing them along into thinking that he was actually in a gang up in Brooklyn.

While singing in the choir in college, he would travel around and sing at churches here and there throughout South Carolina.  On his travels to Lancaster, South Carolina, he met a couple who he adopted (and who adopted him).  The relationship that he built with them lasted for the rest of his life.  In fact, growing up, we would often vacation down there with them and we affectionately called them “Grandma” and “Grandpa.”

My “grandfather” was an avid fisherman.  He loved to fish and so, that was among the major activities that we would take part in while spending our weeks down there during the summertime.  While I have lots of memories of that, one of the most memorable things happened to me not while I was fishing.  As New England boys, for my brother and me, we couldn’t wait to get our hands on some fireworks.  My parents reluctantly consented…..until one day.

We all probably know or have an inkling of how young boys can be, they never want anyone to think that they don’t know what they’re doing, especially when it comes to something dangerous which they’ve never handled before, like fireworks.  Well, that was certainly the case with my brother and me.  Since my brother is older than me, it seemed almost natural for him to get the first crack at the fireworks.  If my parents had known then what they found out later in life, I wonder if they would have thought things through better and let them play out much differently.

We didn’t go crazy with anything really fancy when we went to buy the fireworks.  We had heard the stories before and we didn’t want to end up as statistics.  So, we settled on some simple fireworks, you know, light the wick, let it burn, toss them quickly, and hear the big BANG!

To say that my brother was a little reckless might be the understatement of the century.  I’m really not sure what was going through his head that day.  Whatever it was, his head was on lighting the firecracker and throwing it…..or just getting rid of it, which is where our problem began.

Now, my parents were no dummies, safety was always an issue for them.  I think that they had both experienced enough as children to make them reconsider safety at every turn.  “Stand back” was certainly one of the phrases that they repeatedly uttered as the fireworks flew all around us.  And sure enough, that’s what I did, I stood back.  I didn’t want to lose an eye, a finger, an ear, or anything else for that matter.  Well, turns out, my fear of loss was too high….literally.  In other words, I needed to be thinking lower.

It was probably just a split second, but if you’ve ever been in a situation like this, you know how a second can seem like a thousand years.  It plays out in your mind as if it’s going in slow motion, but no matter how slow it might seem to be going, you just can’t get it to change.  One moment, my brother was holding the firecracker, the next moment, it was flying through the air straight towards me.

The feeling of shock and disbelief had so overwhelmed me that I froze.  What on earth had my brother been thinking?  Why would he throw a firecracker straight towards me?  Whatever motivated him (other than brotherly rivalry), I was doomed.  Before I knew it, I felt a sting on my leg.

I can almost see the look on my mom’s face at that moment.  I was her baby, so she was always fairly protective of me.  She ran to me to check me over.  I can’t remember whether or not I was crying, I imagine that I was.  An exploding firecracker on the leg is not the most enjoyable of feelings.

Once the dust settled and my parents finished yelling at my brother, everyone examined me more.  I was wearing a new pair of shorts that we had gotten while on vacation.  As we looked down at them, we noticed a hole on the front left side on the inner part of the shorts.  I’m not sure who finally said it, I imagine it was my grandfather since he had a quick wit about him, but someone said, “Wow!  A few inches and you’d have had some serious problems.”  Yup, a few more inches and I would have been a goner.

Well, I was able to have three children with my wife, so the impact of that little firecracker was not as far-reaching as it could have been.  I guess the only thing that really stuck was a rivalry between my brother and I as well as a love for fire and blowing things up.  I imagine that’s nothing new for any boy, but I get the strange sense that my daughter may have it worse than her older brothers.  I guess when I stop and look at them today, I can be thankful for a few measly inches…..if not for them, my kids probably wouldn’t be here today.

The Day I Saw My Dad Cry

gladys and clarence - tony and irene weddingWhen I was a freshman in college, my dad’s mom died.  The timing of it was a little crazy as it fell during spring break.  Friends had been trying to get me to go on a missions trip to Florida during that week all during the late Fall and early Winter semesters, but I just didn’t feel right about going.  I’m not sure what was irking me at the time, but I just had a sense that I needed to stick around at home.  Turns out the Holy Spirit was guiding me.

My grandmother lived only about an hour or so from us in Astoria, New York.  My dad could easily get down there if he needed to (if anyone can easily get to New York, that is).  He would talk to her every few days and she would come to visit every so often.  She wasn’t always the most amiable person, at least not to me, so she never stayed with us for extensive periods of time.

She had a tough life.  She raised 2 boys in New York City by herself after her alcoholic husband left.  Her building did not have an elevator in it and she walked up the steps to her apartment right up until the time she went into the hospital at the end.  My dad had actually tried to contact her and was getting worried, so he drove down to her apartment.  He had to break through the deadbolts as she had fallen and was on the floor, unable to get up and let him in.

I wish that I had taken better mental notes of those days.  I know that my dad was trying to be strong, but I am sure that it was a hard time for him.  He seemed strong at the funeral, although I don’t completely remember the whole thing.  I know that it was the first time that I had ever seen a dead body before, not something that I had prepared myself for.  I think it was hard for my dad to watch his mom in those final days, especially because it stuck with him and hit him a few years later.

Around my junior year of college, my mom’s mother’s health had started to deteriorate.  She was living in a retirement community in upstate Connecticut and we would get to see her fairly often.  She was one of the sweetest people that I knew.  She was always smiling with such warmth that it was hard not to smile back.  Despite the difficulties that she had during her life, she always had such an incredible outlook.

I remember going to the hospital with my mom towards the end.  My grandma was unresponsive and it was hard to see.  I know that my mom was struggling, but my mom had gained her own compassion and sweetness from her mother, something that I think she passed on to me.  That may have been the last time that I saw my grandma alive.

Within those last days, I remember waking up one morning to a noise that I hadn’t heard before.  As I sat up in bed and listened more closely, I realized that it was the sound of my father sobbing.  I wasn’t sure what had happened, so I threw on some clothes and went to the kitchen where I found my mom and dad.  Dad was sitting in a chair with his head in his arm as he sobbed.  Mom just stood there with her hand on his shoulders, trying her best to comfort him.

I wasn’t sure what was up.  I asked my mom if he was okay and she told me that seeing my grandma in the state that she was in reminded him of his own mother and all that she had been through.  I think the sheer emotion of the moments had weighed him down and he just broke.

As I think about the top memories that I have of my father, that certainly ranks up there.  When I let my mind go back to that day and think about it, it’s almost as if I am there, watching it happen all over again.  What my dad expressed in those moments was so important to me.  He gave me permission to cry.  He gave me permission to express my feelings outwardly, not something that many guys can say about their fathers.  He showed me deep down what it means to be a pastor, to share in someone else’s pain, to weep with those who weep.

My grandma eventually passed away, but I haven’t forgotten her or the impact that she had on my dad.  My dad felt so loved and accepted by my mom’s family.  They always loved him and cared for him, something which probably helped to ease the pain of losing his dad so many years earlier.

I’ve never forgotten that day.  When I lost both of my parents, I did my best to make sure that my kids saw that it was okay to grieve and to cry.  It’s such an incredible lesson that I learned from my dad that day, every moment that I reflect on it, it seems to mean that much more to me.  I miss him so much, but what a better man I am because of all of the things that he taught me.

The Rise of Violence

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it would be hard to deny the rise in violent deaths that have been publicized to the world over the last decade or two.  In 1999, the country was shocked by two boys who had exhibited dark behavior in the past and who had entered their school to senselessly murder classmates, fellow students, and faculty.  Most recently, we are still holding our young children tightly as we think about the devastating consequences of a young man’s shooting spree in an elementary school up in Newtown, Connecticut.  Having grown up not far from Newtown, this seemed to have had a greater impact on me and my family.Violence-Title

Now, we hear about 3 teenage boys in Oklahoma who were bored and decided to allegedly victimize at random a college baseball player.  The further troubling information, according to NBC, is that there has been a rise in violence among kids under the age of 18 in this area specifically.  Within the same jail that these 3 alleged criminals are being held is a juvenile accused of shooting his girlfriend as well as another one who is accused of killing a store attendant.

When tragedy strikes, we become so judicious and seek blame as expeditiously as we possibly can.  Yet, I wonder if the blame may lie closer to home than we might think.  We want to find out what was behind someone’s behavior but I wonder if we really dig deep enough, and if we do, are we willing to acknowledge what it is that we find if it seem self-indicting?

As the summer comes to an end, I have been somewhat frustrated with my boys and their behavior.  They aren’t behaving the way that I would like for them to behave, so I’m asking myself where have I gone wrong.  What have we done to make them think that this behavior is acceptable?  While I might look to TV shows, games, or websites that they have been looking at, who has allowed them to look at these things?  I have.  I can blame outside sources, but who controls the inflow of those outside sources?  I do.

We have become so busy in our society that powerful tools have become babysitters for our children.  While television once may have held innocent and innocuous shows that were more educational than entertaining, the times have changed.  We can no longer mindlessly allow our children to sit down and ingest hours of television, movies, and internet without some kind of careful observation and discernment.  If we think that these things are harmless, than we shouldn’t be surprised if we find our children exhibiting behavior that stands in contrast to the values that we embrace.  After all, it’s a rare occurrence that I completely agree with all of the values touted by TV shows, movies, or websites.

A young man is dead.  His life has been extinguished because a few teenagers were “bored.”  Really?  Is this what we have come to?  What are we doing with this next generation?  What are we allowing them to become?  We cannot shift the blame on others or on television, movies, or media.  We cannot continue to call for stricter gun laws when it’s not the guns that pull the triggers by themselves, it’s the people behind them that pull those triggers and point them at other people.  Guns are not the problem, people are the problem, and until we begin working on the heart of the issue and the heart of those people, we will continue to hang our heads in despair as we experience senseless behavior like this.

I am responsible for those with whom I have an influence, and right now, that is mostly my family.  What am I doing to make sure that my kids understand that this kind of behavior is wrong?  What am I doing to discourage boredom when TV, internet, and video games are not an option?  What am I doing to instill a sense of creativity and imagination within my children so that when given a simple piece of paper and pencil they can find themselves occupied for ours within a world that was created in their own minds?

Stronger laws and regulations will not solve our problems nor will these problems be solved overnight.  We did not get to this place in time overnight, therefore we will not be rescued immediately from it.  We can slowly make our way out of it one step at a time, one life at a time, but it will take work.  I need to ask myself if I am ready to take on that kind of workload, and so do you?  If we’re not, then we shouldn’t be surprised when we find ourselves devastated again by senseless acts of bored children in whom we’ve neglected to instill values and beliefs.

Simplify

SimplifyLife is pretty complicated and it doesn’t show any signs of simplification.  The ironic part about it is that in our efforts to simplify, I wonder if we have really ended up doing more harm than good.  By that I mean that our efforts to simplify may have actually complicated things more, but maybe not in the way that you would think.

I was walking around in my yard the other day and wondering how people lived hundreds of years ago.  I couldn’t imagine that some of the things that seemed so complicated to me could have even been on the radar screen of people hundreds of years ago.  Retirement.  Health insurance.  Mortgage.  College payments.  Our lives have become increasingly more complicated.

I’m not saying that these things are the problem or that they have been the things to complicate our potentially simple lives.  I think that most of these things are good.  What would happen to us once we are not fit for a job or once we’re ready to relax a little bit more if we did not have retirement.  Could we afford all of the latest advances in medical technology if it weren’t for medical insurance.  How long would it take us to save enough to buy a house outright if we aren’t working the Fortune 500 world?  In the 20 years since I was in college, tuition has near doubled.  How does one afford that?

But, like I said, there is an irony in the complications of life.  Technology is generally seen as a positive thing.  Now, we can make phone calls from wherever we are and even check in on our homes from the same place.  We can have up to date information and speedy communication.  News travels fast and the lines of communication have allowed for our world to grow increasingly smaller….at least on the screen.

Technology is supposed to simplify the process, make things happen faster, but for what purpose?  What happens when we simplify a process?  What do we do with the time that we gain from the process that has been magically sped up?

I fear that what we have done is not spend more time with our family or solving the more important issues in the world.  I fear that we have just found other things to fill that newly acquired time with, things that are not quite as consequential as world peace and world hunger.  I fear that we have simply seen it as an opportunity to get more done.

Don’t get me wrong, efficiency is a good thing, but I think there is such thing as over-efficiency.  I think that it is possible that we become so efficient that we start moving backwards (so to speak).  What have we done with what we’ve gotten back?

I am reminded of Paul’s word in Ephesians 5, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”  At the end of our days, I’m not sure if we’re going to wish we were more efficient in our work lives.  I think we will be asking ourselves how well we loved and cared for others and that will easily be measured by how others love and care for us.  I think what seemed wise once upon a time may look very different when we’re looking at it from a different perspective.

Technology is a great thing, but like most things in life, it has a shadow side, a side of it that can be dark regardless of how we intended it to work.  We need to be aware of it and then ask ourselves what we’re doing with the time we gain back from the simplification of our processes in life.  If we are simplifying things in order to complicate them again, I kind of think we might be missing the point.

Anonymous

bagheadI am sure that every profession has its rules.  I worked in the field of engineering for nearly a decade and I learned some of the valuable rules within the trade.  Knowing friends and acquaintances in other fields, I know that there are certain rules that can be applied.  As a pastor, there is no exception to this; there are certain rules to be followed.

Most of the rules are passed on by other more experienced pastors.  They pass on what they have experienced, some helpful hints along the way.  It’s important not to trust them all, 20 years of experience doesn’t necessarily mean what they think it means.  It’s possible that those 20 years were spent doing the same thing over and over again and very little growth happened.  But, you learn who you can trust and you learn who deserves respect.

One rule that was passed on to me, especially by those pastors who had brought their churches through some difficult situations or transitions is this: NEVER respond to anonymous criticism.  If someone has something to bring to you, hiding behind anonymity is not helpful.  Matthew 18 gives us a clear picture of what we are to do when we have something to bring to someone else.  The key in the confrontation is relationship, and when we come at things anonymously, we completely disregard relationship.

What is the benefit of anonymity when it comes to something as important as offering feedback?  Most of the feedback within the church has to do with preferences.  I think this or that and I think that you should think it too.  Here’s my preference and let me tell you all of the reasons why my preference is better than yours.

True, there is legitimate feedback in the church, but in my experience, the legitimate feedback comes from reliable sources who have no qualms about sharing their identity.  Why hide behind a mask when you are bringing legitimate feedback?  I am sure that there are some exceptions to the rule of anonymous legitimate feedback, but they are exceptions which don’t occur very frequently.

So, if what you have to offer is legitimate and helpful, what is the purpose of sharing it anonymously?  Will your identity change the way that the feedback is received?  Is there a fear that somehow identity will somehow diminish the feedback?

I think that it has to do with relationship and investment.  Have you built up your relationships enough that you can offer constructive criticism and legitimate feedback?  Have you invested in whatever it is that you are criticizing enough to have earned the right to be heard?  We receive criticism and feedback from those whom we trust and with whom we have strong relationships.  There are people who are able to say much harder things to me because of their investment and the relationship that they have with me.

The big question in the midst of this, at least to me, is what happens if your relationships and investments don’t amount to enough to feel that you can share your criticism?  I guess it depends on the nature of the criticism.  Is it important enough that it needs to be shared immediately?  Again, I think there are exceptions to the rule and this may be one of them.  If it’s that much of a concern that it should be immediately shared, I would venture to think that most people would receive it, especially if it was shared with love, concern, and intent for growth.  Otherwise, if it’s something that can wait, go ahead and build relationships, make investments, and earn the right to let your voice be heard.

I feel like I play one “song” over and over again, and that “song” is about relationships.  But it’s an important song, and one that we can too easily allow to be background music if we aren’t careful.  It’s a song that can easily be pushed aside because of the busyness of our lives, but we can’t well afford to do that.  When we fail in the area of relationships, we can easily make excuses for the other areas in our lives that will suffer, and I think the area of feedback is no exception.

The bottom line is this: if you have the urge to offer feedback anonymously, think long and hard before you do it.  Why is it necessary to remain anonymous?  Have you done everything to allow for your feedback to be well received if your name is behind it?  Will it be helpful and received if you offer it anonymously.

There are many pastors and leaders out there whose rule of thumb is to never respond to anonymous feedback.  I know that I’ve received my fair share in 9 years of ministry, but I’ve not given it much credence.  Those who care for me and have invested in me will tell me and I have enough close relationships with people who I can ask when I am in doubt.  My skin is thick and I can take a lot, but of course it’s much easier when I know someone loves me and has my best interest in mind.

Anonymity is not helpful when it comes to valuable feedback.  Before you decide to stay anonymous, you might want to ask how important your feedback is.  If it’s not that important, stay anonymous because it most likely won’t be heard.  If it’s important, share your heart in why it’s important, I can assure you that it will go a long way.