Friday, December 21, 2012

Waiting Room Advent

“Joyfully participate in the sorrows of life.”  -- Buddhist saying

We are in the season of Advent, a time for waiting.  I’m spending this first day of winter waiting in a hospital cafeteria.  My wife Kathleen is enduring her third medical test in the last week to determine if her cancer has returned and metastasized in her bones.   One out of four breast cancers move to the bones where it is, in Elizabeth Edwards’ words, “treatable not curable.”   Since Kathleen has had breast cancer twice in the last 18 years I am afraid to know her odds.

The first time Kathleen got cancer in 1994 I blurted out something cliched that was probably not the right thing to say at the time, but I believed to be true.  “This is going to be one of the best things that ever happened to us.”  My terrified wife didn’t yell at me or punch me out.  We held each other and in time discovered that much good can come from the fears of having a potentially terminal illness. 

I haven’t been inclined to say those words in the last week.  Waiting in hospitals and doctors’ offices for news about tests which will determine how your life will - or will not - unfold isn’t my idea of holiday fun.  It is hard to remember the hope, love, joy and peace that each Advent candle represents when thoughts and fears of cancer’s possible return fill one’s head.  And yet lighting a candle, or four, has a soothing effect on our spirit and soul.  There is some comfort in knowing we aren’t the first to wait for news we may or may not hear.  There is much comfort in knowing that others are lighting candles too - not only for our worries and fears but for those worries and fears even farther away.  

The Buddhist saying above is a mantra that I have tried to own as a motto for my life for many, many years.  They are words that are easier to say and live when happiness and joy are abundant; not so much when illness and death are in the air.  The sorrows of life are devastating at times.  They can seem overwhelming, but the waiting, the expectation of them, often worse.  Especially in a hospital waiting room where it is easy to forget the healing and life that is also in the air.

Light a candle and wait.  Sometimes that is all we can do.  Joyfully?  Maybe not.  But hope, love, joy and peace are always around.  Sorrow too.  It is the price we pay for life.  One of the best things that ever happened to us.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Life of Courage and Beauty

Summer Dale passes away

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” -- Kahlil Gibran

One of the greatest gifts and honors of being a minister is the privilege of planning and leading memorial services.  The chance to be with a family during their time of sorrow and grief and celebrating a life with tears and laughter is some of the most precious and sacred work I have ever done.  I say the words from Gibran at every memorial service I lead.  To remind myself, and more importantly those who have gathered, that the more we love, the more we grieve.   I believe these words with all my heart and yet sometimes they are so, so hard to hold onto.

On Sunday an amazing young woman, Summer Dale, lost her battle with cancer and passed away at the age of 16.  I met Summer, her twin brother Jordan, mom Lynne and dad Al, seven or eight years ago when they began attending the congregation I served in Atlanta.  I didn’t get to know her very well but her beauty and joy radiated everywhere she went.  When I left the congregation six years ago I took a little piece of Summer and her family with me.  A little over a year ago she was diagnosed with cancer.   A child facing cancer is a heartbreaking reality of life that is beyond comprehension.   It shouldn’t happen.  What do we do when it does?

Rage at God or life for many of us.  Summer chose to start Team Summer.  As the news video on the link above describes, she raised money to help other kids with cancer have a little happier life.  I suspect that’s not what most of us would have done.  It’s impossible to read about Summer’s life, or watch the video and see the smiles on those kids faces - and Summer’s too - and not be deeply moved and inspired.  How could someone so young be so courageous, so giving, so full of love and life?  The last few months I have been around the world visiting sacred sites of men and women who have changed the world.  I have interviewed people who are integrating spirituality and entrepreneurship.   I have created a word for those who have been called, inspired by a spark of divinity, to serve something greater than themselves and create something new that changes the world.

Summer Dale was a calltrepreneur.  She changed the world with her joy, her courage, her love.  She inspired those who knew her and those she never met.  Just like St. Francis and St. Clare and any great calltrepreneur.  Her life was far too short but the impact she made was greater than some who live four or five times as long.   

On Sunday I will be attending her memorial service and I will laugh and cry with those who knew her and knew of her as we celebrate her life.  I will try to remember Gibran’s words between our shared tears.  I will send all the love and prayers I can muster to her family and friends whose lives will never be the same because she is gone and even more so because she lived. 

 Summer told her family and friends that cancer was a blessing because it brought so many wonderful people and experiences into her world.   As death approached, she asked them to promise her they would let people know “I’m not scared of this.  I am not afraid.” Thank you Summer for your life, your example of how to live and die.   May we find the courage and grace that lived in Summer to face the comparatively small challenges we face in our lives and be not afraid to make a difference in the world. That was Summer's delight, let it be ours as well.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Birthplace of Innovation

"Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change." -  Brené Brown

I am probably late to the Brené Brown craze.  If you aren't familiar with Brown she became an "overnight" sensation in December 2010 when a Ted talk she gave on vulnerability went viral and millions of people saw it.  Since then she has written a new book and added another Ted talk on shame earlier this year.  Brown is a researcher/story teller who discovered that one of the secrets of people who live "wholehearted" lives is their willingess to be vulnerable and have the courage to be authentic.

In her new book, Daring Greatly, Brown writes:  "And the answer that appeared over and over in all of our efforts to better understand vulnerability?  Naked."  If I had any doubt about whether or not Brown is a calltrepreneur that sentence confirmed it.  She is.  If you have read any of my previous posts you know that one of the inspirations for calltreprenuership is the fresco in Assisi of St. Francis standing naked before God.  For me, the decision to follow one's calling is akin to standing naked before our beloved for the first time - both terrifying and exhilarating.  Or to say it another way, to be vulnerable - everyday.

Brown has found that vulnerability, the ability/willingness to risk being the first to say "I love you" or to try something new, is foundational to innovation, creativity and change.  It makes sense on so many levels and yet it isn't so easy to master.  I recommend Brown's books and videos to learn about her experiences and recommendations.  They have me wondering how to cultivate more authenticity in my life and in those around me.

As a recovering compulsive gambler I know about risk.  Even though I haven't made a bet in over 32 years my capacity for trying new things is still high.  But trying new things isn't always an act of vulnerability, especially if trying new things is something one does all the time.   To create, to connect with someone, to change ourselves and the world, often starts with stepping outside of our comfort zone. Especially when our deepest selves - inner wisdom, life and/or God - challenges and invites us to do so.

How do we do it?  Faith is one element.  Faith in that still small voice, in what we cannot control and faith that when we move towards our hopes and dreams good things will happen.  Hanging around people who practice vulnerabilty is another.  People who are willing to share themselves emotionally and creatively and who realize the goal isn't perfection but authenticity.  Getting help.  Many of us didn't grow up getting gold stars for being authentic.  I got them for getting straight A's and 100% on tests.  Therapists, spiritual directors, coaches, mentors, colleagues, friends and family have helped me learn and remember that being real is much more important than being perfect.  It is a lesson I suspect I'll never fully master but one that is important to keep studying and practicing.

Innovation, creativity and change.  These are the tools of calltrepreneurship.  If vulnerability is where these are born may we be born again and again.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Remembering the Sabbath

"And you - what of your rushed and useful life?  Imagine setting it all down - papers, plans, appointments, everything - leaving only a note:  "Gone to the fields to be lovely.  Be back when I'm through with blooming."  -- Lynn Ungar

I have an informal rule in my life.  Whenever two or more people tell me the same thing in a short time I need to pay attention and do something.  Sometimes it's a book or movie I need to read or see, sometimes it's a person I need to meet or talk with and sometimes it's something I need to start doing, or often, doing again.  In the last week two of my closest advisors - my spiritual director and my writing coach - have reminded me about honoring and celebrating the Sabbath.  Perhaps I have been working a bit too hard.  Perhaps.

The fourth of the ten commandments tells us "Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy."  Bill Gates once said about attending church (which is one way to honor the Sabbath): "Just in terms of time resources religion is not very efficient.  There's a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning."  Two quotes that crystalize the challenges of busy people like you and me every day.  Should we take a few hours, let alone a day, when we put aside our work and refresh our bodies, minds and spirits or should we work and work to more efficiently live our life and pursue our dreams?

My favorite definition for Sabbath comes from Wayne Mueller’s wonderful book, Sabbath:  Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight In Our Busy Lives.  Mueller writes: “In Sabbath time we remember to celebrate what is beautiful and sacred.  Sabbath is more than the absence of work, it is not just a day off, when we catch up on television or errands.  It is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing or true.  It is time consecrated with our attention, our mindfulness, honoring those quiet forces of grace or spirit that sustain and heal us.”  Mueller uses a word we don’t hear much – consecrate.  Consecrate simply means to make sacred.  When we honor and practice Sabbath we consecrate our most precious resource – our time – and declare it, as well as ourselves, to be sacred.

As a minister, I'm sensitive to practicing what I preach.  I've preached about the importance and wisdom of taking a Sabbath, of regularly nurturing our souls, on more than one occasion.  Unfortunately preaching about Sabbath has always been easier than practicing it.  Taking one day a week to unplug, to rest, to play, to sleep, to do what we want instead of what we must is a gift we give ourselves and those we love.  Some religious traditions have specific rituals and rules of what one can and cannot do on the Sabbath.  Those practices can be very powerful.  For others who don't have a religious tradition and/or whose tradition doesn't provide guidance, or maybe even encouragement, to honor the Sabbath, we need to be more creative.

 Sarah Ban Breathnach writes in her book Simple Abundance one of the best prescriptions for the Sabbath I know:  "This is what the Sabbath is for:  reverence, rest, renewal, rejuvenation, reassuring rituals, recreation, rejoicing, revelation, remembering how much you have to be grateful for, and saying “thank you.”  You can do this in a church, mosque, temple or synagogue, on a walk, while antiquing, sitting in bed propped up on pillows reading something wonderful with a breakfast tray, working the crossword puzzle before a roaring fire, attending a marvelous art exhibition or movie matinee, or listening to opera in the kitchen as you sip sherry and prepare a fabulous feast.  What matters is that you do something special that speaks to your soul and that you revel in whatever you do.” 

Find something that speaks to your soul and revel in it.  Go to the fields and be lovely.  Come back when you're through blooming.  This is the invitation and challenge in our busy lives.  Lives full of information overload, demanding jobs and commitments that keep us up late at night and rob of us sleep every day.  Calltrepreneurs remember, eventually, that we must take time for the ancient practices that nourish and feed our spirits, if we are to create, innovate and change the world.  Perhaps it was easier in the time of St. Francis than it is in the time of Steve Jobs but it's just as important.  Maybe even more so.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Blowin' in the Wind

"Everybody has a calling, don't they?  Some have a high calling, some have a low calling.  Everybody is called but few are chosen.  There's a lot of distraction for people, so you might not ever find the real you.  A lot of people don't."  -- Bob Dylan

The quote above comes from a recent interview Bob Dylan gave to Rolling Stone magazine.  I discovered the quote in one of the blogs I have found and fell in love with since I started researching and writing about calltrepreneurship.  The blog is titled "The Art of Non-Conformity Dispatch" written by Chris Guillebeau.  

Chris is a legend in the blogging world.  He writes:
  • I write about personal development and life planning, with the conviction that you don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to.
  • I write about entrepreneurship and other kinds of unconventional work, with the belief that the work we do should be both fun and meaningful.
  • I write about international travel, travel hacking in general, and my journeys to more than 25 countries every year.
The key theme that links each of these topics is non-conformity. I define non-conformity as “a lack of orthodoxy in thoughts or beliefs” or “the refusal to accept established customs, attitudes, or ideas.”

 If you haven't found Chris' blog and his work check it out.  Bob Dylan is an American icon who has embraced "non-conformity" and has lived a life doing his best to find and express his real self.
I especially like his observation, "There's a lot of distraction for people, so you might not find the real you."   Amen!  What are the distractions that get in your way from finding, and maybe even more importantly, being and sharing your real self?  I haven't posted for two weeks.  Hopefully, you've noticed.  I have been distracted by long days and nights of meetings on the road.  By playoff baseball games and too many hours reading blogs, news and junk on the Internet.

We live in a society where distraction is a multi-billion dollar industry.  Selling distraction seems to be more profitable than selling ways to find and express our real selves.  Fortunately we have artists and calltrepreneurs like Bob Dylan and Chris Guillebeau to remind us that there are many ways to find and live our callings.  Our job is to pay attention and not let the clues blow away in the wind.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Doing the Impossible

"“Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” -- St. Francis

Today is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi Day.  Francis is the patron saint of animals and the environment and is probably the most popular of all Christian saints.  This weekend many churches will be celebrating a blessing of the animals in honor of Francis.  It's ironic the day to honor one of the great people of history who ate very little would be named a feast day.  (I know there is a long Christian history of feast days to honor the saints; it just doesn't seem the right word for Francis.)

The sight of Francis' death - October 3, 1226

St. Francis died in the night of October 3, 1226 in a small hut outside the small church, Porziuncola, where his order began.  Today the hut and the Porziuncola are housed inside the massive Santa Maria degli Angeli church which is below Assisi.  I'm not sure what sacred power there is when we walk where the saints and icons of history were born and died, but when I was there in July I was deeply moved by the experience.  Perhaps the holiest moments of life are those when we are born and receive spirit, breath, and when we die and spirit, breath, leaves us.  This is true for everyone one of us.  But for some people the place where those events occurred become pilgrim sites to be inspired, to reflect, hopefully, to get in touch with something that universal.

I spent the last two days at a Franciscan retreat center in Hiawatha, Iowa.  As I walked the labyrinth I reflected on the impact of Francis' life on my life.  For the last nine months I have read about him, I have walked where he walked, I have visited the places where he was born and died.  He was one of the first religious entrepreneurs in the world who achieved amazing miracles and left behind a legacy that is still touching lives almost 800 years after he died.   He has become part of my life, someone who sits on my shoulder silently whispering counsel and wisdom whether or not I want to hear it.  (I'm still working out the whole give away all my possessions and live a life of poverty thing, for example.)  I realize that I know more about his life than I do about the lives of those who I love.  While I can blame that on not having any biographies to read about my grandmother or any other family or friend, it's interesting none the less.

How will I celebrate today?  I won't be feasting but I will sit in silence before the two postcards/pictures I have on my altar of his famous prayer and the fresco from his basilica of being "naked before God".  And I'll do some of these suggestions from one of my favorite websites,  I invite you to reflect on some part of Francis' life as well.  Perhaps a good place to start is with his words above.  What must you do that is necessary, then what is possible and then what will happen that is impossible?  I can't imagine much better advice to calltrepreneurs these.  "Suddenly you are doing the impossible."  Francis' life is testimony to this, may ours be as well.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Failure of Imagination...or Not

Opportunity.  God.  Overwhelm.  Beauty.  What do you see?
"Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled." -- Howard Stevenson

I recently discovered Howard Stevenson when talking with John Bates, one of his former students at the Harvard Business School.  John is an entrepreneur and fellow at the University of London Business School.  He's also a Unitarian I met when preaching at his congregation in London earlier this month who, like almost everyone I've talked to in the last few months, is intrigued by the possibilities and opportunities that integrating spirituality and business offers.

The Stevenson quote came from this article in Inc. magazine which explores what's different between entrepreneurs and people who work in corporations.  Although the article claims that some people have to read the quote out loud 50-100 times, I read it once and said out loud, "that's it!"  That is the difference between entrepreneurs, calltrepreneurs, from many of the people in the world.  We see opportunities first and then look for, maybe even create, the resources to make the vision, the opportunity to come true.

St. Francis sold and/or gave away all his resources before seeing the vision, the opportunity to serve God and his brothers and sisters differently.  He didn't think or say, "how much will the church give me to create an order of men and women devoted to poverty and service?"  Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, and so many others in business, religion, non-profits, didn't wait until they had all the resources they needed before creating their organization.  They started with ideas based on the opportunities they imagined and created.   In the religious world we sometimes say "money follows mission".  The same is true in just about every entrepreneurial organization I know.  People get excited about opportunities, possibilities and mission and it's our jobs to find/create the resources to make them come true.

I often preach and teach about abundance and what we need to do to become more aware of how present and possible it is in our lives.  I invite people to imagine a picture, like the one above, from the Hubble telescope and ask them "What do you see? Do you see a place of abundance, a place where anything is possible, where there are enough of the basic things that we need – food, love, shelter and competence for everyone? Or do you see a universe where goods are in short supply, a place where only a few can win, only a few can have what they really want and need?"

What do you see?  Ideas and opportunities that you are so passionate and clear about that you must make them a reality?  Or do you see obstacles such as not enough time, or people, or money to make them come true?

The Inc. article  claims that researchers at the Harvard Business School discovered that entrepreneurs  were much more likely to start out poor than rich. “They see an opportunity and don’t feel constrained from pursuing it because they lack resources,” says Stevenson. “They’re used to making do without resources.”

Making do without resources.  Pursuing opportunities without regard to resources.  The challenge of calltrepreneurship, of life, is to look at the world and see where the opportunities are for ourselves, our communities, our future.  It is easy to look at people who seem larger than life and say it came naturally to them.  But what of each of us?  Start with the most basic.  Our life.  We are born into different settings and places.  Some of us are surrounded with resources, some of us weren't so lucky.  
When I read the stories of successful peoples' lives I notice many, if not most, of them were not surrounded by obvious riches.  In fact sometimes they got in the way (i.e. St. Francis.)  

Would I have preferred to have been raised in a family wealthy enough so that I didn't have to get free lunches at school, start working at age nine or wait to my late thirties to get my college degree?  I'm not sure.  On some days I say yes but on most others  I can't imagine how different my life would be if I hadn't started shining shoes when I was nine, selling newspapers on the street corner when I was 11 or managing restaurants when I was 17.

How do we listen to the bad news of the world, with its true and/or perceived stories of dwindling resources, and find opportunity?  Hang out with people who dream on the stars and are opportunity/possibility people.  List all the reasons why there aren't enough resources to do something and then list all the reasons, passions and opportunities will make it so.  Look at pictures from the Hubble telescope and imagine, meditate, on what on what's possible instead of what's not.  Because looking at the pictures of the universe, the closest pictures I know of God, it's almost impossible to forget that the boundaries in what we can imagine and accomplish are infinite.  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

What's Right About Business?

"The ultimate purpose of business is not, or should not be, simply to make money.  Nor is it merely a system of making and selling things.  The promise of business is to increase the general well-being of humankind through service, a creative invention and ethical philosophy." -- Paul Hawken

 Paul Hawken is a charter member in the Calltrepreneurship Hall of Fame.  Amazon describes him as "an environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist and best-selling author of six previous books."  I first noticed his work in the early 80's. His Growing A Business was one of my first companions in learning and teaching about the possibilities and practicalities of starting small businesses.  He has inspired me over the years reminding me that businesses can do amazingly good things in the world.

I begin with Paul Hawken today because he is a "cool" guy in both the business and religion worlds.  He has built successful businesses, he's a tireless advocate for saving the planet and he's written about the shadow side of business ("There is no polite way to say business is destroying the earth.") and the hopeful side of business (see the quote above).  Hawken is someone who most of my "bottom line" business friends and "let's save the world" religious friends  - some people are both - can't argue much with.

But giving props to someone from the business world is a hard thing to do for many these days.  Business, like religion, is an easy target to bash.  Where do we start?  Enron, the greed and illegal acts of banks,  the outrageous salary gap between CEOs and average workers, the takeover of the American political system by millionaires and billionaires, the ridiculous ruling that business have the same rights as individuals, Apple's use of low-paid Chinese labor in questionable working conditions; the list is long.  If someone cares about the world and the people in it, especially those whose jobs include "comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable" - i.e. ministers - calling business out for what it sometimes does wrong is the right thing to do.

And yet.  Religious communities and ministers are fueled and paid by the money that is generated by businesses.  (How often I have had to remind congregations that money isn't the root of all evil, per the Bible, but the love of it is.)  Men and women in business, whether for profit or not, are changing the lives of millions of people for the good.  And they are doing it with integrity, compassion and even love. 

Think of all the products, creations and innovations that we use today which keep us healthier, more connected to those we love, more entertained, better educated than ever before.  Think about the work people are doing in science, in social entrepreneurship, in technology, sometimes even in finance, to take on the biggest challenges in our world - global warming, poverty, water inequities - and doing something to make the world better.  Check out what MBA students are being taught about ethics, spiritual principles and practices such as meditation and discernment.  Visit the companies that are bringing in speakers like Martin Luther King III and the Dalai Lama while creating work environments that nurture the body, mind and spirit.  And look around at the universities, museums, hospitals, and community centers that have been paid for by business people who wanted to make a positive difference in the world.

Business has its flaws.  So does religion.  Lots of them. (That's because they are created and led by human beings!)  They are also filled with creative, loving people who are doing their best to make the world a better place.  As someone who has lived my professional life in both worlds I know their strengths and weaknesses as well as anyone.  And I know that the distinctions and judgements we make about both limits our ability to learn and be inspired by the other.

In the last few months I have been interviewing people from business, academia and religion.  We've been talking about the intersection between business/entrepreneurship and spirituality/religion and the possibilities and obstacles.  The conversations have been inspiring, in part, because there seems to be a new appreciation of what the "other" has to teach.  How about you?  Are you someone who bemoans the real problems and shortfalls of business and/or religion, or are you someone who looks for what the other has to teach?  The issues of business and religion are complex.  But here is something easy.  If you are someone who thinks business is evil or more bad than good (maybe you are a minister), take an entrepreneur or businessperson out to lunch to learn how they look at the world and how your work/life might be better using some of their wisdom.  If you are someone who is in business and aren't involved in a religious community and/or consider yourself "a-spiritual", take someone out to lunch who looks at the world a bit differently.

There are a lot of challenges and uncertainties in the world around us.  People like Paul Hawken are utilizing every thing possible to find answers to those challenges while working with others "to increase through the general well-being of humankind through service, a creative invention and ethical philosophy."  It's hard to imagine a much better goal/motto for calltrepreneurs... or anyone!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What's Right About Religion?

"Are there flaws in the church?  Absolutely.  But is there great beauty in the church?  Absolutely." -- Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert is a charter member of the  Calltrepreneurship Hall of Fame (grand opening date and sight to be announced.)  Last weekend the New York Times reported on a conversation with Colbert and Cardinal Timothy Dolan about humor and the church.  The event was hosted by Father James Martin, a Jesuit Priest and author who received an MBA from Wharton before entering the priesthood.  Father Martin is a "friend of the blog", so to speak. He wrote an excellent article highlighting the similarities between Steve Jobs and the saints, and a book My Life With the Saints which was my companion throughout Italy last July.  His latest book, Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life, was the reason for the conversation and is on my to-read list. 

The article reminded me it was time to write about what is right about religion.  One of my main curiosities and goals with this blog is to look at the intersection of the best in business/entrepreneurship and the best in religion/spirituality.  My experience in the business world and in the religious world is that most of the time people look for the worst in each.  There are a lot of bad things about religion and business.  In the last week the riots and killings in the middle east provide an example of what can happen when one religious group offends another and believes their view of God and faith is truest. Corruption, dishonesty and criminal behavior have too often been the qualities of people leading religious institutions and communities.  Narrow interpretations of scripture have been the catalyst and rationale throughout human history for human rights violations, war, discrimination and hatred.

Whenever religious fanaticism rears its ugly head I am reminded of the sermon I preached the Sunday after September 11, 2001 titled Clinging to...Religion?  Like all preachers that weekend I was struggling with what to say that might offer a little comfort, some hope and reassurance during a hopeless and scary time.   I'm not sure how successful I was but if nothing else I reminded myself of what religion is truly about.   In the words of the Rev. Ray Baughn, religion is "our hunger for life, the need for meaning in our lives, for ultimacy, for intimacy and for community." Religion is not about God as much as it is about coming together with others to "re-bind"ourselves to that which makes us whole - a sense of the sacred, our deepest values, including love.

If someone wants to debate the value of religion I'm happy to do so.  For every atrocity that has been performed in its name I can mention an act of compassion, justice or love.  Our challenge as calltrepreneurs is to learn and practice the best age-old secrets religion offers us, i.e. creating and taking part in a community, looking inward for guidance in prayer, meditation and looking outward to help our brothers and sisters.  Gratitude and generosity, perhaps being the two most important lessons of all.  Why?  So that we can create businesses, ministries, lives that bring out the best - and not the worst - in ourselves and others.

On Sunday night Rosh Hashanah was celebrated and the 5773 year of the Jewish calendar began.   The Jewish High Holy Days are a time of reflection, recommitment and hope. Practices that are essential for people and businesses whether or not they consider themselves religious.   One of my favorite writers and teachers is Rabbi Harold Kushner.  He writes, "What religion offers me is not fellowship with God, but fellowship with other human beings who are looking for the same things I am. Loneliness is today's greatest spiritual problem.  Religion should offer us that sense of community, that sense of "Here are people who share something important with you. You don't come to church or temple to find God - you can find God on a mountaintop or in your bedroom. You come to church or temple to find a congregation, to find others who need the same things from life that you need. By coming together, you create the moment where God is present. This is the one indispensable thing that organized religion offers us, which our vague individual sense of spirituality cannot."

The role of the calltrepreneur, whether it be St. Francis, St. Clare, Steve Jobs, Stephen Colbert, Rabbi Kushner, you or me, is to bring people together, to look for possibilities that nobody sees and find ways to make them become a reality.  At its best religion does this and so much more.   At their best calltrepreneurs do the same.  Are their flaws in the church?  In the temple?  In the mosque?  In human beings?  Absolutely.  But is there great beauty?  Absolutely!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Three Prayers - Part 2

My altar in Assisi.  A place to say the three prayers every day.

I have been across the pond in England preaching and attending a minister’s conference and then down to Florida for more preaching and a meeting.  I have missed you!  I promised that I would have a part two on Anne Lamott’s three prayers - help, thanks and wow from the personal perspective of my pilgrimage to Assisi and Silicon Valley.  

Help - One year ago this month I was diagnosed as having clinical depression.  I have had occasional bouts with depression during my life but this was the first time I was diagnosed.  What a difference a year makes!  I am so grateful for my wife Kathleen, and friends and colleagues who have been there, especially when I didn’t want to own up to how low I was feeling.  I have had a team of people who have been in my corner the last year that helped me get in touch with my call to take this pilgrimage and start this blog -  Rob Ferguson, my therapist, Ted Purcell, my spiritual director, and Leslie Guttman, my writing coach.  With their help, some good drugs and rediscovering my passion my depression is a memory.  Knowing when to ask for help, personally and professionally, is a key skill for calltrepreneurs.  I forget sometimes, I bet you do too.  Don't!

Thanks - To all the people above, of course, but also to the amazing people I met and who have given their time to talk to me about spirituality and business.  Here’s a list of names and links for you to get to know more about who they are and what they do.  Rev. Scotty McLennan, Dan McLennanDave Evans, James Doty, James Koch, Andre Delbecq, Rev. Scott Scruggs, Dale Miller, David A. BrownRev. Lowell Brook, and Luna.  These men and women are calltrepreneuers who have inspired me with their life stories and how they are making a difference in the world.  I could add the names of the 1700+ members of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association I serve who inspire me with the commitment and dedication they bring to their lives and ministry.

I also want to say thanks for the men and woman I will never meet in person but who I have gotten to know very well the last few months - Steve Jobs, St. Francis and St. Clare.  I appreciate all the words that have been written about them but visiting the places they lived, worked and died has made me feel even closer to them. 

Wow - I’m looking out the window of a plane as I write this.  Puffy clouds are dancing outside the window; trees, green fields, lakes and houses are specks below.  When I think of the places I’ve been able to visit the last two months from Assisi, to Rome, to Silicon Valley, to San Francisco, to London I am overwhlemed with a sense of awe (and of course gratitude.)  I have (re)learned that wonder and appreciation for life and the world around us isn’t a matter of where we go or who we are with.  Being wowed by life is “simply” a matter of paying attention.  Take a breath and be awed by what created and sustains us.  Look at a tree and imagine how it got there.  Create something, step back and reflect on the reality that it is something new and unique that the world has never seen.   Help.  Thank you.  Wow.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

49 Years and Still Dreaming

"I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment I still have a dream." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is the 49th anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech at the March on Washington.  I was only 5 years old in 1963 but when I grew up I would read parts of his speech into the mirror hoping to have a little Martin Luther King, Jr. rub off on me.  Below is an excerpt of a "sermon" I gave in 2007 - actually it is a love letter to one of the greatest men in history, one of my mentors who I never met.

Dear Martin, 

Please forgive the informality of my salutation. I did not have the privilege of knowing you when you were alive. I was only 11 years old when you were killed. I lived in San Francisco, far away from the South where you were changing the course of history. Most people call you Dr. King today and as someone who people sometimes call Reverend, I understand the respect and dignity that is afforded such a title.

But you have become for me, and many others, someone who stands on the same sacred ground as Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi and Mohammed. Now I know of course you would bristle at such a suggestion, especially since Jesus and Gandhi were your mentors and inspiration, but your name, Martin, and your legacy stand in the prophetic Parthenon of history as deservedly as any person who has ever walked this earth.

Unfortunately there are other reasons to compare you with Jesus. You, like Jesus and so many other prophets, were killed because of your radical message. Your words, like those of Jesus, are selectively followed and misinterpreted by most of us. Too many people today pick and chose the words and the message you left us that best matches their political and religious beliefs.Some people tell us that if you lived today you would be an opponent to affirmative action and that you would swell in pride at the that so many of the dreams you challenged our country with on that hot August afternoon in Washington, DC over 43 years ago have been realized. Others, in their passionate and righteous concern for justice, have seemingly forgotten how important faith, nonviolence, and trust in a loving God were to creating a fair and just world. Your words about peace and love, forgiveness and service, poverty and the silence of those who prefer the status quo, are too challenging, too radical for most of us to heed.

Where would you stand on the issues of same gender marriage, the growing gap between the haves and the have nots, the role of religion in government, and global warming? How I wish you were here today to offer your prophetic voice to our struggles to live and do right. How I wish your example of non-violent protest and your unequivocal commitment to peace were on our television sets every night. How I wish your wisdom, your courage, your inspirational leadership and your words from the sixties could be translated for these fearful days of the early 21st century.

On a more personal note, I want to say thank you. Thank you for the life you lived and for the example you were for loving, forgiving, serving and giving one’s life to something bigger.  Thank you for showing me a way to deepen my relationship and commitment to justice, goodness, to hope, to love, to God.

I would not be a minister if it were not for your words, your challenges, to live and to die for something that makes a difference today, tomorrow and forevermore. Your words inspire me to love more deeply, forgive more often, practice peace more widely, and to speak, and more importantly, act for justice for those who society has forgotten, more passionately than I am wont do.

I sometimes imagine that you are sitting on my shoulder when I step into my pulpit whispering affirmation and love into my ear. You tell me to speak the truth with love, you challenge me to reach deeper into my soul so that I can articulate, in my own words, a vision of justice, of peace, of forgiveness, of love that those who hear me can live more fully. Most days I fall far short of what I wish I could say, most days I fall short of the love, the forgiveness, the peace that your words have taught me can be true. On those days when I realize my failings and how far my reality is from your vision, I find comfort and hope in your words once again, and I remember that the fight for peace and justice is a long battle with setbacks each and every day.

On the day you gave the eulogy for one of our Unitarian Universalist martyrs, the Rev. James Reeb, who was killed in Selma, Alabama when he answered your call to march for civil rights, you invoked these words from Romeo & Juliet to describe his short life, And if he should die, Take his body, and cut it into little stars. He will make the face of heaven so fine That all the world will be in love with night.

 I hope you know that the stars your life left behind have been lighting the sky and illuminating the darkness for millions each and every night since the day you died. You have made the face of heaven so fine that when I look at the “beautiful stars as they bedeck the heavens like swinging lanterns of eternity,” I find the comfort, inspiration and hope to live another day and to try again to make your dream come true.

We shall overcome. We shall be free. We shall live in peace. One day.

With thanks and love, Your faithful disciple and hopeful partner in peace, Don 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Three Prayers - Part 1

"It doesn't matter how you pray - with your head bowed in silence, or crying out in grief, or dancing.  Churches are good for prayer, but so are garages and cars and mountains and showers and dance floors." - Anne Lamott, Plan B Further Thoughts on Faith

I don't remember the first Anne Lamott book I read. It might have been Operating Instructions because I had two sons to raise, it might have been Bird by Bird because I had hopes and dreams of becoming a writer or it might have been Traveling Mercies because I wanted to laugh and cry about life.  I have been a fan for many years.  Anne is from the Bay Area like I am and she found God through recovery like I did.  But the main reason I love her is because she is a great writer who isn't afraid to share the most intimate fears, hopes and doubts in her life while making me feel I'm not alone and how good it feels to be alive.

She has long wrote that there are only two prayers someone needs - help and thank you.  Last month she announced her new book, coming out in November, titled Help. Thanks. Wow.  She has added another essential prayer.  I look forward to reading the book but I don't want to wait until November to share some perspective on the practical wisdom of these prayers and practices for calltrepreneurs everywhere.  Tomorrow I will to add my personal experiences through the lens of the pilgrimage I've been on the last few months.

Help  - For many of us this is the first prayer we ever learned.  Even if we didn't really believe in any type of God.  Get me a good grade.  Let me have that special toy.  How about a job, or extra money, or a mate?  Asking for help from God, from the Universe, from life, from people is an essential practice of anyone who wishes to be a calltrepreneur.   One of the mythologies of the American way of life is that entrepreneurs, ministers - anyone - makes it on their own.  Life is hard.  So is business and ministry.  Show me someone who has a cadre of friends, advisors, therapists, mentors and coaches and I'll show you someone who has a better than average chance at being successful in their life; someone who is making a difference.  Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness it is a sign of humility, it a trait that people admire, especially in their leaders.

Thanks - Gratitude is good for the spirit, the soul and our health.  And lots more.  This article in the Wall Street Journal tells it like it is:  "  Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those that do not, according to studies over the last decade.  They're also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics.  They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly and greater resistance to viral infections." How often do you say thank you?  Not only for the blessings and  beauty of this world but for the little things that others do to make a difference to you and others.  Long, long ago I had a boss who said thank you every night when I left the job.  It made a difference.  Life is hard.  So is business and ministry.  But imagine how hard it would be without the kindness and gifts of everyone who we come into contact with.  

Wow - I look forward to Anne Lamott's perspective on this prayer but for me it means never forgetting the awesomeness, the beauty, the surprises, the take your breath away moments that are part of life.  They are everywhere we look  - IF we remember to look.  They happen during a worship service when the congregations sings so beautifully tears come to your eyes.  They happen watching a kitten purring in a lap or a dog napping by the fire.  They happen in playgrounds when children are laughing and playing a game.  They happen when strangers help strangers during a crisis.  They happen in companies when teams of people create something they never could have done alone.

These three prayers, these three practices have the potential to change our lives.  If we pay attention every day and look.  Where and from whom can we ask for help?  How often can we say thank you to someone or for something that we had nothing to do with?  When can we step back from our life, open our mouths, and say wow?  The truth is we could do all three almost every minute of the day.  On our knees or on a mountain, in our backyard or in the middle of a crowd of people, when we wake or when we go to bed, anytime, anywhere, let us pray.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Church of Baseball

"I believe in the church of baseball." - Annie Savoy, Bull Durham

Today is the 47th anniversary of my first visit to a cathedral.  When I walked in and saw the green grass of Candlestick Park I thought I was in heaven.  It seemed make believe.  The opening hymn was the National Anthem.  The pews were called "Lower Reserved Seats" and the only offering that was passed were hot dogs and dollar bills to the next person down the row.  The liturgy lasted nine innings and God was everywhere.  Especially in the person of the man playing centerfield for the San Francisco Giants, Willie Mays.

I fell in love with baseball, Willie Mays and the San Francisco Giants in 1965.   Every day I would close the door to my room, turn on the radio and listen to Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons describe in deep, rich, baritone voices each pitch and swing of every  game. I would put on my official Giants plastic batting helmet, pretend I was Willie Mays,and swing at every pitch that flew through my radio. When the Giants were in the field I would put on my glove and I would run after every fly ball and dive for every ground ball pretending my bed was the field.

I did not realize it at the time but I have come to know that my baseball stadium bedroom was a sanctuary for me from the reality of my seven year old life. In the summer of 1965 my mother and father were fighting with increasing frequency and in September, as Willie Mays hit his 50th home run and the Giants fought the hated Los Angeles Dodgers for first place, my mom and dad divorced.  If one definition for God is a place to find comfort and joy, baseball and Willie Mays, was one of my first experiences with God.

We lived in a duplex and Mr. and Mrs. Shields lived in the front unit.  They invited me to play cards and watch the baseball game of the week with them on Saturday morning (my family wasn't much into baseball.)  Although they were Dodger fans, I forgave them for it, and looked forward to their company.  One day they asked me if I would like to see the Giants play the Dodgers at Candlestick Park.  Would I?!  My parents said yes and we took the hour long bus ride from San Jose to the closet thing I knew of the Promised Land.  

I remember most of that day, in part, because it was the best, most unbelievable game I have ever been to.  You can check out the box score here. (Box scores continue to be the only scripture I read every day.)  Sandy Koufax pitched against Juan Marichal.  The Giants and Dodgers really didn't like each other in those days and the Dodgers catcher John Roseboro threw a ball that nicked Marichal in the ear.  All hell broke loose.  Marichal hit Roseboro in the head with his bat, players streamed onto the field and I watched in awe.  Koufax got rattled, walked two batters, and Willie hit a three-run homer to win the game 3-2.  The Giants extended their lead over the Dodgers but when Marichal was suspended the Dodgers overtook them (again) and the Giants finished in second place.

What does any of this have to do with calltrepreneurship?  Willie Mays was a calltrepreneur.  He played with a passion and skill that few - if any - have ever shown.  He created new standards for baseball, some of which will never be met.  And he was a leader, a role model on the field. I didn't realize it on August 22, 1965 but Mays was more than a superstar player, he was a peacemaker as well.  The Boston Herald wrote after the game,  "Except for the majestic presence of Willie May, several players could have been maimed.  Willie was out of the dugout in a flash to help disarm Marichal...this could be the year Mays wins the MVP award and the Nobel Peace Prize, too."

Willie won the MVP award that year; he didn't win the Nobel Peace Prize.  But he did win a seven year old's heart, and maybe even helped saved his life along the way.  I believe in the church of baseball and the practice of calltrepreneurship wherever it may be found.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Secret To Success

A view of the Pacific Ocean from Jenner by the Sea

"Allow regular time for silent reflection.  Turn inward and digest what has happened.  Let the senses rest and grow still."  - John Heider, The Tao of Leadership

I have returned to the long to-do lists, endless emails, urgent phone calls, complicated projects and wired existence that make up most hours of my day. It's called work. The silent retreats in Assisi and Silicon Valley, the long walks through the streets and woods and waking up with nothing to do except meet amazing people, looking for spiritual and entrepreneurial wisdom are over.  Making time in my life to turn inward and digest what has happened takes more intentionality and much more effort.

I discovered meditation, the Tao Te Ching and John Heider's book when I was in my twenties.  They have been companions and guides ever since.  I've read hundreds of books and leadership in the last thirty years and Heider's book is still the one I turn to whenever I need to be reminded of what I want to be. When I was in the corporate world, I had a practice of giving The Tao of Leadership to every new boss I had.  Perhaps this was a bit risky in the Fortune 50 companies I worked at, but I was lucky and had good bosses and they enjoyed the gift every time.  We had rich discussions and sometimes we would even meditate together.

I have been thinking about the wisdom of the Tao a lot the last week.  I am immersed again in the work of leading a growing organization.  I am used to the multi-tasking and juggling that I have to do.  I am good at them.  But the doors I opened in Assisi and Silicon Valley and, more importantly, the questions, possibilities and challenges I discovered behind them, continue to whisper to me.

I - we - live in a world that goes faster and faster every day.  Some of us thrive on the energy and don't want and/or know how to stop.  But all the great religions of the world remind us of the same thing - take time to step away, to reflect, to pray, to meditate, to grow still and digest what has happened.

On my last day in California I met with a couple who are very active in philanthropy and spirituality.  One was a minister and the other a semi-retired business owner who has been meditating for decades.  As we sat in their living room with a spectacular view of the San Francisco Bay we passionately discussed business, religion, spirituality and social entrepreneurship.   The minister, not me!, invited us to stop, sit in shared silence for a few minutes and reflect on what was happening.  In my mind a lightbulb went off about a secret to success that I traveled around the world to be reminded of.  It all starts with silence.

The Tao of Leadership states in the section on The Leader's Teachers:  "They practiced meditation.  Meditation made them good at seeing how things happen.  Meditation grounded them in the infinite.  That is why they sometimes appeared deep and inscrutable, sometimes even great."

I met so many wonderful people in Italy and California who I plan on telling you more about.  But one similarity kept coming up with almost everyone I met.  They spent time in meditation and contemplation. For some people it was the transformational experience of their life.   In Assisi that did not surprise me, the rhythm of life invites it, but in Silicon Valley the energy and buzz...not so much.

The first step in being a calltrepreneur is stopping, letting our senses rest and listening.  Regularly.   Not only so we can discern the calling(s) of our life, but so we can digest what is happening and know what to do next.   When we are grounded in the infinite, the possibilities for our lives and serving others become infinite as well.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Similarities of Steve Jobs and St. Francis

Is there any doubt that St. Francis would have used a Mac?

"You will see that one day I will be adored by the whole world." - St. Francis
"I want to put a dent in the universe." - Steve Jobs

Last year a BBC documentary compared people who loved Apple products with people of faith.  Researches found that "Apple products are triggering the same bits of (the) brain as religious imagery triggers in a person of faith."  I suspect for some people of faith, especially my ministerial colleagues, that statement would be heretical.  Given that I am a Unitarian Universalist minister proud of our faith's heretical history, it's probably not surprising I don't find this research to be all that surprising or worrisome.  Do I have the same experience using my iPhone or iPad as I do when sitting in meditation in a redwood forrest, praying before a sacred icon or singing in a congregation?  I hope not and I don't think so. But if some of the purposes of religion and faith are to bring joy to our lives, invoke more spirit and creativity in our lives while and opening up possibilities for living in deeper community (and they are), well all that happens when I sit before my Apple icons.

All of this is preface to what some have told me is a heretical exercise - comparing the lives of St. Francis and Steve Jobs.  I met a delightful young woman in Assisi  who hails from Eastern Europe, has an MBA and works for one of the largest companies in the world, is a very devout member of her Eastern Orthodox congregation and a fan of Apple.  When I told her one of the purposes of my pilgrimage was to explore the similarities between St. Francis and Steve Jobs, she said, "but Steve Jobs was a psychopath."  Not knowing what her definition was of psychopath I said, "and so was St. Francis."  

One definition for psychopath is someone with "an anti-social personality disorder."  Steve Jobs and St. Francis, fortunately for us, were both anti-social in the sense that they saw a different way of living and being than anyone else.  And they devoted their lives to inviting the rest of us into their world.  Below is my beginning list of how their lives were similar.  Some are trivial, some are silly, some are profound and inspiring.  Please add to it!
  • Steve Jobs was born in San Francisco.  San Francisco was named after San Francesco - St. Francis in Italian.
  • Steve Jobs died on October 5.  St. Francis on October 4.
  • Both worked a lot in their bare feet and had very austere diets.  (Steve Jobs would go weeks only eating one type of food such as carrots.  Francis would go weeks while eating no or little food.)
  • They both were called to something bigger than themselves.  
  • Retreat and pilgrimage were important to their lives.  Jobs spent seven months in India before starting Apple and was an intense student of Zen.  Francis regularly would go away for prayer and meditation.
  • Both were adopted.  Jobs was adopted at birth and his biographers and friends say it was a critical part of his spiritual and business quests.  (As someone who was also adopted and born in San Francisco I admit a kinship with Jobs here.)  Francis was "adopted" by God when he renounced his father.   
  • Both started new enterprises, left them, and returned after seeing things change in ways they didn't like.  Jobs was fired from Apple, the company almost went under, and he came back much wiser and better equipped to lead the company.  Francis' left the leadership of his order and turned it over to another Brother who eased some of the original rules.  Francis regretted these changes in his later life.
  • Both were college dropouts.
  • Both were "hippies" who enjoyed having a good time partying before they became famous.
  • Both were charismatic and great salesmen.  Jobs was known for his dramatic presentations of new products and Francis was, according to one biographer, "a master of dramatic gestures and visual tableaux, and unsurprisingly representations of these played an important part in this cult."
  • Both had cultish followings.
  • Both died young and were driven by high standards that they demanded from others.  (See my last post for examples.)
  • Both had big visions and dreams for their lives (see the quotes above.)
  • Both wore unique and distinctive garb - Jobs a black turtleneck, Francis a brown robe with a rope tied around it.
  • Both were calltrepreneurs.  Men who listened to the divine whispers of life/God, followed their passion/calling and created and managed something new which made the world a better place.  
Steve Jobs and St. Francis changed the world.  Forever.  Everyone does to different degrees.  What can we learn from their lives to make ours, and others, a little bit better?