All posts by Derek

How much does your God need “your help?” (A letter to my younger self)

I’ve struggled for some time on how to speak to this topic, without offending a few people I know and millions of people I have yet to meet, so I’ll just write it to myself, 20 years ago…

—Hey there.  Hope this note finds you with a smile on your face.  You are probably in your late teens as you read this.  I remember a few things about you.  You were such a serious young man, so intense and focused.  Being spiritual and as close to righteous as you thought possible was always important to you.

I want to ask you to ponder one question over the next phase of your life, as you struggle to find your way and make the big choices that lie ahead.  “How much does your God need your help?”

Before you answer with something deep and poetic, really think about the question.  It’s a question that will impact how you pray, how you interact with other people, and even how you see yourself.

At this moment, you think God needs your help as much as you need your next breath.  You often think that without your involvement, the very plans of God will somehow fall apart.  I’m not going to argue theology; this is just a conversation between you and me.  Remember, I have another 20 years of joy, pain, and exposure informing my point of view, so bear with me.

I’m not saying that you should not pursue righteousness, honor, and deep spirituality.  I only ask that you explore the why more than the what.

Everything doesn’t have to have some huge destiny changing meaning.  Stealing that 2 cent candy just meant you were a mischievous 7 year old, curious to test your boundaries, not that the heavens would disown you.  Or, at that 7th grade dance…  feeling the sensation of your first contact with a girl was as natural as any other first.  The judgement you carried with each “sinful” moment was unwarranted.  In each, your humanity was affirmed, so take a load off.  You are not one “mistake” away from ruining God’s plan for your life.

When you did kind things for friends, foes, and strangers alike, understand that you were not always doing God’s work.  Sometimes, your deeds came from a place of insecurity.  You needed to be liked, accepted, and even wanted.  Again, nothing wrong with that.  Just don’t embellish the memory into making yourself a saint.

When you are at the height of your “hunger for God,” be careful not to make everything in the world fit your narrative.  I’ve learned that a lot of life happens that we will never know about.  A lot of good people and even nature itself doing amazing things that may never receive acknowledgment from you or in your definition of a future heaven.  All this life continues on with or without you, so breathe…  make a few mistakes, meet some strangers, explore some new places, faiths, ideas.  Be uncomfortable; challenge what you’ve heard your whole life; dine with your enemy. LIVE!  It’s not going to kill you.

Oh yeah, a little alcohol will not turn your into a drunk.  Drink a little…  In the future, you’ll find out that a glass of wine a day is actually good for you!  No wonder Jesus turned water to wine.   Oh, and as for marijuana, well let’s just say its medical benefits and eventual legality, might just blow your mind!

The day I stopped looking for beauty

We’ve all had that moment when you were looking so hard for something, only to find it was right under your nose.  Recently, I picked up the hobby of amateur photography.  I invested in a nice camera, and started making an effort to visit interesting places and look for compelling people and artifacts to memorialize.  This blog features some of my favorite pictures so far from around the world.

I found myself looking for traits in things that would make for a beautiful picture, as if there was a formula.

Then it happened.

As I drove home on a rainy day, the clouds began to give way to the setting sun, and it was as if time stood still.  As if I was all alone in the world, seeing and feeling something that no one else in the world could know.  I pulled over right where I was.  I ignored the cars behind me and I pulled out my cheap cell phone and captured the image found attached to this blog entry.

It was as if I was experiencing beauty, not just seeing it.  I wasn’t on an exotic beach, or in an ancient city, or looking at one of the 7 wonders of the world.  I was less than a mile from my house in the suburbs of Atlanta, and I was gifted a truly indescribable moment of perfect beauty.

That moment has stayed with me. A friend commented that she was glad that i was still enough to not miss that moment.  Since then, I’ve made a conscious effort not to prescribe what beauty is.

Whether you are in a museum, looking at your mate, or in the market for a new one… slow your mind, slow your eyes and explore what you are experiencing as a whole.  What are you feeling?  How is your body responding to the moment?

I have traveled to many interesting parts of the world and often asked myself if my size, complexion, eyes, hair (or lack there of), makes me attractive to different people.  Naively thinking there is some calculus for attraction.  Yet, there are moments I can now recall, when the eyes of a stranger spoke and I missed it.  When my own involuntary smile conveyed my unconscious approval, and I ignored it.

My conclusion.  You don’t really know what experiences await you tomorrow, next week, or next year, but give yourself a chance to have these moments.  Forsake your artificial bias towards defined norms of beauty, and allow yourself to be overtaken by what only you can know as beautiful.

Rethinking poverty

I have attempted to write this post several times, hoping to reveal some life-changing secret, but tonight, as I reflect on the passing of a friend to cancer, I am reminded of the precious nature of every fleeting moment, every imperfect thought, every … you get the point.  Hear me out, and apply/share as you see fit.

What is at the key to breaking the poverty cycle?  Is it effort, discipline, education, charity?

My less than academic survey of human history finds that poverty and lack of contextual knowledge are closely aligned.  I am careful to assert context is critical.  I think there are many “smart” people who ignore the prevailing winds of their ecosystem, and struggle, simply because the knowledge they have isn’t relevant.

Disclaimer…  I’m not saying being poor is a bad thing.   If however, you are interested in leveraging financial resources to amplify your positive impact on your community and the world, read on…

Because of where you were born/live, you are subject to economic and political systems that support and drive the nation you live in.  The more you know about and are positioned to contribute to the engines of that system, the harder it is to be poor.   You may not like or agree with that system, but it chugs along, with or without you, so learn and engage.

Enough rambling.  Context-aware observations found below:

1.  The most effective way to consistently make money is being involved in the process of helping others make money.  Check out recent data on where money is made in the U.S.

http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2014/04/25/five-takeaways-from-new-gdp-by-industry-report/

I have a longer list, but I am going to stop myself because this one concept is so loaded with power, it needs to resonate.  Maybe we need a slogan.  “I make money by helping you make money.”

Too often, the mass media magnifies the power of celebrity through sports and entertainment.  Notice how that is approximately 4% of the GDP.   I highlight this single example to show what I mean by contextual awareness.   Think about it 96% of the money made in America does not come from Arts and Entertainment.

If half the money in the U.S. flows through finance, government, manufacturing, and business services, at least half our efforts should be related to equipping those we aspire to help enter those spaces.  We may not be able to open a major bank in every community tomorrow, but we can start scaled, responsible micro-lending institutions.  We may not be able to open another automative manufacturing plant tomorrow, but as the U.S. has become more competitive with China recently, small focused manufacturers can emerge and employ people in communities were manufacturing once thrived.

I should have some clean tidy conclusion right about now, but I don’t.  I’m starting a conversation, hoping to challenge us to inform people who have not always known how large the pie really is to broaden their view and stop fighting over scraps.  There is a better way.

This post is going way longer than I planned…  I’m going to make myself stop.  I will likely revisit this one and revise it soon, but for now, I post.

Why “they” don’t care, nor do they have to… yet

There is something peculiar that people disadvantaged people struggle with.  it’s the idea of fairness, equity, and even justice.  It’s not that they don’t understand what those terms mean.  I have no doubt the terms are fully comprehended.

The problem is with processing what fairness looks like from the other side of advantage.  If you had every financial, legal, and structural controlling interest, would you really feel obligated to “be fair,” simply because it’s the right thing to do?  Even when it potentially undermines one’s position of strength.  Perhaps, but history teaches that isolated themes of justice  will endure relentless prevailing opposition.

Ultimately, the challenge for any disadvantaged group is to figure out how to motivate those in the position of power to appreciate any possible areas of mutual interest.  Charity is nice, but unfortunately, it doesn’t scale.  It is no longer acceptable to wait on the kindness of the one in the lead.

Unity of purpose is the strongest vehicle the underdog has.  How can such a group maintain a noticeable and sustainable impact on the status quo?  Can they pool resources and introduce change politically?  Can they, with discipline and intentionality alter spending habits to make economic waves?   More than ever, the answer is yes.  The tools are available, the passion to fuel the struggle has been rekindled.  So, what’s missing?

Just as a ship can withstand an onslaught of icicles, but can be sunk by a well placed, anchored, and large iceberg, such a force can emerge to change the course of those, who otherwise are not motivated to do anything but stay their current course.

If you want “them” to care about you and your interests, learn what they already care about, and demonstrate how with attention, scale, and coordination, you can grow icebergs that cannot be ignored.   A choice will have to be made to sink or alter the course, either way, a choice will be made…

The Nile River
The Nile River

Searching for rejection (The 100 No Challenge)

What if instead of avoiding rejection, you made a focused effort to seek it out?

For some people, getting what they want is a way of life.  They confidently move through each day with a sense of entitlement and certainty that the rest of us often wish we could emulate.

I found myself at a strange crossroads recently.  It may sound crazy, but I realized that I really could do anything that I wanted to do, but for some strange reason, I had a tendency to stop myself.  Perhaps I was afraid of rejection, or was it success?  Either way, a pattern of stopping myself before anyone else could had become the norm.

Enter a crazy thought…

How can I stretch my own view of what’s possible and experience an even richer and more exhilarating life?  What if I intentionally sought out things that I previously believed were out of reach.  Hence the “100 No Challenge.”  For the month of October, I was going to do everything I could to hear “NO” from as many different people as possible.

As the month comes to an end, I would have to give myself a failing grade, or maybe not…  I’ve only heard about 20 NO’s, but I’ve really been trying.  People keep saying yes!  To my surprise, people don’t really want to tell me “no”, nearly as much as I expected.  If anything, my boldness was a pleasant surprise to those who knew me and was often received with an enthusiastic “yes.”  Everything from work, family, and my social life has taken on a new dimension.  More than anything, I see myself differently, and my fear of rejection has dramatically reduced and in some ways totally lost it’s grip.

It’s been fun.  If you find yourself in a similar mental space, I encourage you to try something similar.  The mind is this incredible force of nature, that is actually malleable.    See what you can do with yours…

The problem with Innocence

“I didn’t do it!”  “It wasn’t me!”

His cries fall on deaf ears

“Why won’t you listen to me?  I’m innocent!”

These are not only the words of some nameless suspect; they are the exclamations of someone you probably know very well.

It’s the voice of my child as we struggle to stay connected after divorce and visitation introduces new barriers.  It’s the voice of an indigenous people bewildered as they are forced from their native land.  The cries of children born in Palestine, trapped by a history that controls their present and future.  The student, who’s only mistake was not knowing he had any reason to defend himself when met by an authority figure.  The voices of so many whose innocence is neither recognized or valued…

In striving for achievement and mastery of our personal and societal goals, it is easy to lose awareness of how our human connectedness erodes.  It quickly becomes impractical to invest the time required to develop empathetic bonds and personal relationships.

Over time, experiential knowledge is replaced with assertions of tendencies, which are supported by selective memories, comfortably reinforcing stereotypes, that ultimately recast individuals into more convenient groupings, with “predictable” norms and behaviors.

“I was your age once, I know what is going on in your mind…” 

“I know what people like you are like…”

The problem with innocence is it’s relevance is unknowingly tied to the nature of the relationships involved.  Unfortunately, being innocent is not enough.  When the blameless are surrounded by family, peers, and a society that are not willing to invest in building meaningful relationships, innocence inevitably will be betrayed.

So, what to do? 

You and I must commit ourselves to investing the time and attention to the relating part of relationships.  Teachers, administrators, police officers, and authorities of all types, our policies and practices must emphasize the value of attentiveness, so we can recognize innocence and protect it, instead of expecting it to protect itself.

Best interests can be aligned and shared perspective gained, when people are treated as individuals.  In the moments of the most extreme stress, what if we took that extra effort to connect, to actually meet the individual before us. 

Am I naive enough to believe that everyone who claims to be innocence is as they say?  Of course not.  But if you were the innocent, wouldn’t you want your cries heard?

The case for inspiration

On one side of the scale sits the weight of logic.  It serves us well and helps us reason through many of life’s most difficult challenges.  It recognizes patterns and helps predict and even create future realities. It rewards those diligent enough to study historical truths, giving them tools to outwit the naïve and simple.

The other side is loaded with the mass of inspiration and matters of the spirit.  Those things that are unseen, unpredictable, hard to explain.  Without delving into the nuances of religions, man consistently shows that faith impacts outcomes.  Underdogs inspire us because they defy logic and find ways to thrive.  They show up and achieve success, in spite of what the odds may dictate.

One without the other is a life out of balance.  Ask the depressed wealthy person to logically escape the spiral of darkness they find themselves in.  Intellectually, they know they have the means to solve or manage most problems that may come.  Yet, they remain paralyzed.  Yet, when that person goes to visit a much poorer or unhealthy individual, whose joy and happiness are unbounded, the former psychological vice begins to lose it’s grip.

Conversely, take the most spiritual student, who has taken a vow of poverty and place him in a field of riches.   While he continues to pray for a spiritual answer to world hunger, might he be missing the opportunity to use the wealth before him to invest in farms, tools for irrigation, and training to teach an entire village how to sustainably support themselves.

Be wise, be inspired, be balanced, and be truly alive!

Baihia Inspiration

Expectation violations

Whether you know it or not, you have some expectations of the people “out there” in the world.  Your environment reinforces and defines new expectations every day.  It’s not till someone violates the norm that we are we even aware of our state of mind.  Most men can probably remember the first woman they met that was clearly physically stronger than them.  Or as a woman, did the first deeply sensitive and intuitive man you met stick out in your mind?

Prejudice carries such a heavy legacy of pain, but maybe it’s the path of least resistance of our human condition, without some type of purposeful interruptions.  Without exposure to “anomalies” and variety, all we can do is expect what we have always seen and known to be true. 

So, what to do…  TRAVEL!

Before the excuses begin, this isn’t a call to leave your country, although that works too.  For many of us, a simple drive or bus ride to a neighboring city or town, where you know nobody. where you assume you know how the people are, and where you think  stand out a little.  Your goal is to find at least one expectation violation, then another, then another, then smile.  While there, you might as well taste some of the local cuisine.   Nothing too fancy; eat, drink, and explore.

At first, all your stereotypes will appear validated, but be patient.  As you open your mind to seeking out the exceptions, he or she will appear.  Their speech, their appearance, their spirit, their willingness to accept you will emerge as you relax, as you melt into the scene.

Good luck!  Our growth as a human race depends on you to not only seek such violations, but for you to be out and about, so you can dismantle a few expectations too!  Please do it often and with vigor!

I can’t wait to meet you and also be surprised by what I find out…

Judging you, judging me…

Good – bad                       Dumb – Smart                      Skinny – Fat

Ugly – Beautiful             Happy – Sad                           Right – Wrong

Would it be possible to live through life with no judgement of yourself or another?  Before your mind dismisses the thought as pointless, exercise your soul with me.  In the mirror, you can find your first experiment.

In the glass before you is a peculiar creature.  One whose identity you have likely defined based on the views of others.  The parent who told gave you that first measure of beauty that has persevered.  The childhood enemy who made you wonder if you would ever fit it.  The religious figure who boxed you in a saint or sinner.   For you, maybe it was a teacher whose assessment of your intelligence you default to in times of stress.

What would you see, if all those historical judgements faded to a faint mist?  Could you silence the current voices too…  family, work, friends… they are all constantly defining you, often with no ill-intent, but you hear what they say, what they infer, what they feel.

Shhh…

Bring a hush to the chorus of the masses.  What is left?  Can you smile back when your reflection smiles at you?   It is hard not to smile, when you are left with just you and your un-judged thoughts.   When no mental speculation is too dirty, too conservative, when your smile is just your smile, your body is your contribution the diversity of humanity.

Keep looking into those eyes before you.  See the soul behind your pupils.  It’s you.  The real you is looking for a way out.  Make time to see yourself each day.  No magic.  No special prayer.   Just you seeing you for a moment or two.  A little private peep show …  enjoy!

Wait, we never talked about judging others.   Perhaps, as we learn to stop giving the judgements of others sway in our lives, we in turn find less need to judge.  Perhaps…

Like image

Stranger stranger

As you see me from a distance for the first time, what do you see?  In those few seconds before our eyes can meet, how many pre-recorded tapes can your mind process.  Am I a

RISK or OPPORTUNITY

Everything about me helps you decide.  Does my gender, size, dress inform what you will do next.  Yet, i wonder if any of those things are objective or their impact stems from what you see in…

YOURSELF

When you look in the mirror, do you see a familiar face, do you see a person who is empowered and able to shape the world they live in.  Has life led you to a place where everything but you decides what you think?  Is your subconscious mind permanently on

AUTO-PILOT

Taking control of your mind.  It only requires a deviance from the routine.  Perhaps you stop to say hello to me, instead of walking by.  Maybe you pose a question the doesn’t allow for a yes or no answer.  Greet me in a foreign tongue.  Shake my hand.  Hug me.

SEE ME

I am not my gender alone, I am not my race alone, i am not a social class, or a shallow appearance.  I am a complex combination of all of that, plus thoughts that are unseen, intuition that is not easily expressed.  The simple unification of our paths alone represents potential that neither of us could have imagined alone.

EXPECT

that i will be doing everything I describe to you too.  I am excited to know more about this amazing form that is approaching me.  I have shut down my presumptions.  I will educate myself so I can speak in multiple languages, sign language, body language, because meeting you is a tremendous opportunity for me.  I count it an honor to no longer be a

STRANGER