The Foreigner

Another theatre project. This time, I'm directing Larry Shue's The Foreigner for Gulfport Little Theatre. I love project like this because you can do a little bit of everything. Here's my poster for the show: Below is the "before and after" shot of the set. The top image is my original concept design made in Sketchup. The bottom is the finished set. I'm very pleased with the result. I had lots of help with both the construction and the decorating, but I love seeing something from my brain brought to life. Lastly, the local TV stations are pretty good about supporting the Arts. Here's some coverage we got on one of the local news shows:

I Like My Echo Chamber

We've heard a lot lately about how we have filtered our social media feeds to hear only what we want to hear. We have created echo chambers for ourselves and that's bad. I say not so fast. That depends on your echo. My criteria is simple - is this person a jerk? Do they substitute snark and sarcasm for intelligent thought? Do they view cruelty as just another brand of humor? If their public discourse generally belittles others, then I try to have minimal contact with them. I've spent a considerable amount of time cultivating my Facebook feed and social media contacts. I'm long past accepting every friend request that comes my way just because we come from the same home town or spent a few hours together on a project. I've unfriended many folks, both Christian and atheist, conservative and liberal. I have "unfollowed" a great many more, mostly because the social cost of unfriending them is too high (as in, "You may be family, but I still don't have to listen to your crap."). There are several more that deserve to get the boot and probably will the next time I'm feeling feisty and motivated. Along with many other people today, I grieve an election that didn't go the way I would have liked. In fact, it probably went sideways for me months ago when civil discourse was replaced with anger and fear. HOWEVER, my social media feed remains largely respectful, kind, and in many ways still hopeful. Almost no one is gloating. Many people are expressing deep, raw feelings of hurt, but I mostly see people reaching out to comfort and support them. Why? Because that's what I have created. This is the kind of echo chamber I want for myself. I like what these people have to say and surrounding myself with them makes me a better person. My echo chamber tends to support the Gospel over Christian politics, integrity over winning, discourse over hyperbole, patriotism over nationalism, and compassion over fear and anger. If I have to give those things up in order to experience "diversity," then no thanks. So, here's what I have to say to my echo chamber:
  • The most frequent command in the Bible? "Fear not." I don't know how this will turn out, but I know how it will end.
  • If one of my friends needs someone to do their wedding, regardless of who they want to marry, then I'm open to being asked.
  • If you need a Christian community that will accept you for who you are and yet genuinely seeks to wrestle with and understand what it means to follow Christ, then I know such a place.
  • If you need someone to go to the bathroom with you, walk with you, or generally help you feel less afraid, feel free to ask me.
  • There is a shortage of racial and religious diversity in my life. This has less to do with my echo chamber and more to do with the fact that I'm an introverted homebody.
  • I'm human, which means I'm mostly a self-absorbed screw-up. If you have the same view of yourself, then we have something in common from which a dialogue can grow, regardless of the topic.
  • I love my country, but I'm not always proud of my country.
  • I like to be relaxed and frequently irreverent, but I want to continually call myself to a higher standard of compassion and respect for others. This becomes particularly difficult at Walmart sometimes.
Through it all, I'm glad I have my echo chamber. You're good people. (And for those who remain asshats but I have not yet unfollowed, that day may still come.)

Who’s Your Scrum Master?

Originally Posted at the Center For Healthy Churches Blog: The game of rugby uses an iconic formation called a Scrum, players with arms linked around one another in a tight formation, working in concert to move the ball a few feet forward against an opposing group from the other team. From a spectator’s view, it looks like an unruly knot of violent pushing and shoving with no real goal. In reality, the actions of the scrum are governed by strict rules of conduct and the participants are specially trained players with specific roles. Those requirements not only maintain the competitive fairness of the situation, but protect the players from serious injury. While we see only their hunched forms in a large tangle of bodies, the players are doing what they do best – responding to an ever-moving ball in a tightly controlled situation with a very specific goal in mind. Similarly, the field of software development adopted the use of the word scrum to describe project development teams and their methods. A project scrum focuses a team of highly skilled professionals on a goal-oriented outcome which may continue to change and shift as the project develops. This is a relatively new method of project management. Traditional project management principles center on the development of a long-range plan which includes a detailed, clearly defined finished product, and which attempted to identify every change and pitfall that could occur along the way. That sort of plan usually leads to confusion and frustration, as project goals and external circumstances begin to shift as soon as the project begins. By contrast, a scrum attempts to remain nimble, responding to new goals and requirements as they come in, and focusing on specific short-term goals to move the project along towards the finished project. There are many roles involved in a scrum project, but one of the most challenging and nuanced is the role of the scrum master. In a role that falls into the “more art than science” category, the scrum master takes on the gentle but firm role of servant leadership and communicator-in-chief.  A scrum master does not set the requirements of the finished product and they do not lead the team in the details of implementation. Instead, the scrum master is tasked with maintaining the broad vision for the future while removing the impediments that might threaten the work of the development team. When I was more active in professional project management, I used to say that I stood in the gap between those that knew what they wanted and those that could get it done. The best gift I could give to a development team was to say “Tell me what you need to make this happen and I’ll get it and then get out of your way.” On the other end of the project, I could go to the primary stakeholder or client and say “Here’s what you need to know in straightforward, non-technical language. How does that match your vision and what has changed?” It’s a soft skillset, not necessarily rigid with lists and tasks, but nimble and responsive, able to find solutions with more finesse and positive results. That kind of leadership deals with people and relationships over schedules and tools. Does your church have a five year plan? A ten year plan? What good is it? Most plans like that are created to satisfy an underlying fear that “we need to be doing something.” They are developed, filed, and promptly forgotten or overrun by circumstances. Do you know what your ministry setting will look like in one year, much less five or ten? Can you predict the disruptions of a loss in personnel, a change in the community, shifts in political climate, or natural disasters? Instead, ask yourself – who do you want to be? Skip the juvenile and overly simplistic answers and do the really hard work of discovering what God is dreaming about the future of your church. Create a vision of the future that has passion. People want to be a part of something passionate and meaningful. Then, allow your church to organize itself around that vision. Let people bring their own gifts that can move you step by step towards that future. We are not following a map, but a compass. We can rarely see beyond the next few steps of our journey, so it doesn’t make sense to plan further than that. Instead, we have a general direction pointing us like a compass needle. Rely on those leaders among you who can function as scrum masters. Allow them to stand in the gap, continually pointing us towards our future and communicating. Let them remove the challenges that stand between the people that know how to get things done and their immediate goals. Finally, let them continue to keep us nimble, responding to the shifting landscapes in which we worship and serve. Who’s your scrum master? If you need guidance along the journey, call us at The Center for Healthy Churches. We’ve got a host of scrum masters waiting to help you.

All The World Is a Stage

jay_doorNot really. In this case, my whole world was a stage for about 3 months. Particularly, Gulfport Little Theatre's stage and its production of Mel Brook's The Producers. An awesome opportunity for me in my community theater life, I got to play Max Bialystock, one of the title roles. I even went so far as to shave my face, grow my hair out into a combover, and dye it black. I'm glad to be starting to look like myself again. IMG_7802 IMG_7719 IMG_7626  

Latest Crackpot Scheme – Learn By Going

I've had the idea for immersive learning experiences for a while now, birthed mainly from my frustration that all of the cool internships, alternative spring breaks, and similar learning experiences seem to go to college students. There's some faulty logic out there where people think that you should stop learning or trying new things after a certain age. Poppycock, I say. Luckily, I'm at a place where I can give this a try, and my church is willing to give me enough rope to hang myself. Learn By Going

Because There Aren’t Enough Opinions Out There Already

So, from Friday on, I was pretty much "off the grid" and all the headlines blew up. It's been interesting catching up. Usually, I like flying under the radar and being inconspicuous. I don't do bumper stickers, yard signs, tattoos, or green / blue / red / rainbow Facebook profile pics. Now that I am once again serving in professional ministry, I sometimes feel pressure (from myself) to have an "official opinion" about stuff. So, here's mine: I decided a long time ago that God does not call me to be the morality police to this world. I think we are specifically called to (1) love God, (2) Love our neighbor as ourselves, (3) make disciples, and (4) announce the presence of God with those who need to hear it. We were never given the job of being prophets, proclaiming the ways in which we think others violate our understanding of God's laws. That's hubris. Plain and simple.
Instead, I am called to do things like love others and seek mercy and justice. That kind of sucks, because that's a lot harder to do than telling other people that I think they are full of crap. I choose to try to give others my love and respect to my fullest potential. I choose not to seek ways in which I tell others how they are violating God's laws when I fail to meet God's standards of excellence on a regular basis by merely existing. I choose Love. I choose Love no matter whom you choose to marry. I choose Love because Love was given to me unconditionally and I have no choice but to respond accordingly (Which again, kind of sucks, because I'm not that good at it). One day, I will have to face the creator of the universe and answer for the way I have conducted my life. It won't be pretty. Like Job, I may have to face the crushing power of the infinite and declare that "I have uttered what I did not understand." But also like Job, I hope that I will be affirmed for questioning things that seemed unjust and unfair in this life. Because if God looks at me in the end and says "I didn't want you to choose Love. I wanted you to judge the world and hold it accountable to rigid legalism and poorly understood ancient writings," then I'm going to have to say "Well, that's some bullcrap, right there."

About The Mississippi Flag

  Today, I added my name to the following letter regarding the Mississippi state flag.

To: The Clarion-Ledger Editorial Board Date: June 24, 2015

We are each Baptist pastors in Mississippi. We recognize all forms of racism as sin, and we acknowledge the sin of racism in our own hearts, in our Baptist churches, and in the people of this good but wounded state. We lament the violence and the bloodshed and also the everyday dehumanization that are the result of this vicious sin, and as the prophet Jeremiah said of Rachel, we “refuse to be consoled” so long as our brothers and sisters face any degradation.

As we seek the peace and the well-being of this good, but fractured state, we call upon Governor Phil Bryant and the Mississippi legislature to act immediately to change our state flag.

The current flag contains a powerful symbolic reminder of a war, waged by our own ancestors to maintain a system of chattel slavery. It evokes a history of Jim Crow subjugation of black people. It has been flown as a sign of defiance of integration, and we believe that such defiance is sinful.

In our own baptisms we promised to turn from sin and renounce evil, so as pastors we also call upon all believing Christians in Mississippi to make their voices heard and to stand up to evil. We all know that we inherit a legacy of looking away while evil has been perpetuated in our midst. Now is the time to turn away from this symbol, to open our eyes and mouths, and to speak up for what is right and true.

May our words and deeds unite with our most important state symbols to express the hospitality of our good state, creating a place of welcome for all people.

Rusty Edwards, Pastor of University Baptist Church in Hattiesburg Jay Lynn, Pastor of St. Martin Baptist Fellowship in Gulfport Bert Montgomery, Pastor of University Baptist Church in Starkville Chuck Strong, Pastor of Olive Branch Fellowship in Olive Branch Gabe Swann, Pastor of Church Arise in Decatur Stan Wilson, Pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Clinton

When given the opportunity to add my name, I didn’t hesitate, but it was not a decision made in haste and without thought. Beyond incorporating a time of recognition and remembrance of the massacre in Charleston in our Sunday worship, I was hoping for an authentic and appropriate opportunity to express my thoughts. I felt as though there was little I could add to the noise already surrounding the issue. Having taken a public stand in my capacity as a pastor, it became appropriate for me to explain my thoughts on the issue. I’m not a huge fan of political correctness in its extreme. The hubris of the internet age has allowed all of us to become indignant with a hair trigger over any perceived slight. I recently ran afoul of someone who took offense at my use of the word “unchurched” to describe those who had no long-term relationship with a faith community. That struck me as a ridiculous argument, especially after I stated that I would be happy to use a different word if they could supply one. They didn’t. All language has limitations, and we can’t walk on eggshells, constantly worried that any small group of individuals may take offense at what we say. That’s not what this is about. This is about a flag that should represent the entire population of a state and yet contains a symbol that has been used to intimidate and belittle nearly half of that same population.

“But that flag has nothing to do with slavery.” “This is about honoring history and the sacrifice of confederate soldiers.” “If anyone used this flag for hateful acts, then they stole it and twisted its purpose.”

It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because the confederate battle flag has come to be associated with hate and oppression and, like it or not, you can’t reclaim it. You may be proud of your Southern heritage and see nothing objectionable in that flag, but that symbol has been taken from you. Without your consent, that symbol has been adopted by an entire segment of society that actively hates people different from themselves. This cannot be undone. Symbols change. Do you think early Christians looked at a Roman torture device like the cross and said, “Hey, that looks cool. Let’s use that for our symbol.” Time has turned that symbol of torture into one of Grace and Hope. It’s now something else entirely. The swastika was a positive symbol denoting luck and well-being for thousands of years until it became associated with Nazism. Now, it is illegal to display a swastika in many countries because of its association with hatred and destruction. It doesn’t matter what it originally represented. That meaning is lost for most of us in the Western World. Let the confederate flag fly over Civil War memorials. We should honor anyone who gives their life in defense of others and their ideals. We should not seek to gloss over history, regardless of who “won.” I don’t care if Amazon continues to sell products designed with that flag. People should have the right to decorate their lives however they wish. If that symbol has a different meaning to them and they are willing to allow others to make assumptions about their character as a result, then that’s their issue. However, I do care very much that a state government that represents its residents should strive to actually represent all of those citizens. It doesn’t matter what the confederate flag means to you. What matters is that, for a significant number of people in this state, it represents hatred and discrimination. When a symbol ceases to represent all of its constituents, it’s time to look for a new symbol. Mississippi needs a new flag.

Are You Ready for a Change?

What would it take to…? Whenever I started a sentence like that, my business partner at our small marketing firm would just roll his eyes and laugh. He knew that I was nurturing the seed of some new idea – something probably odd and impractical that could easily make money or flame out in spectacular glory. It was a regular enough occurrence that it ceased to be a surprise. We would just move to the conference room where he would graciously hear me out. We would walk through the pros and cons of the idea and then map out what it would take to become a reality. It was a simple but effective exercise and it started with a simple question – “What would it take to…?” The world is full of good ideas, but I learned a long time ago that ideas are worthless without the planning and ability to make them a reality. (Remind me to tell you the story of how I pitched an idea for motion capture technology to Jim Henson’s Creature Studio way back in 1996. Needless to say, it went nowhere.) It’s not enough to be the “idea person.” You have to be willing to get your hands dirty to make your dreams a reality. Too often, when someone announces that we should do this or that, they really mean that they would really like it if someone else would make that happen. They want to be responsible for ideas and decisions without any of the work necessary to see it through. This is natural. It’s a part of the creative process. Most people are not being lazy or manipulative. It’s just fun and easy to generate ideas, but that’s all they are – ideas. Turning good ideas into a reality requires discipline and commitment. We have to train ourselves to take ownership of our ideas as well as their outcomes. In places where I lead, if someone enthusiastically suggests that “we should…,” I try to get them to complete that thought with “and I will…” I’m currently leading our small church / non-profit charity through some “what would it take to…” discussions. We need to decide what sort of organization we want to be, cast a vision for the future, and make specific plans for moving towards that vision. Asking those kinds of questions means starting with what we are willing to put forth. In essence, what are we willing to risk? Everything has a cost. It may be a financial expense or the use of some other kind of resource. It is important to understand your “budget” before you even begin to move forward. Your situation may be different, but these are the kinds of things you need to assess:
How much are you willing to spend, literally? Are you totally strapped for cash and unwilling / unable to put more cash on the table? If you can’t afford it, are you willing to borrow money from other people and take responsibility for returning the money? Most changes involve some kind of expense. If the money is not there, you’re done before you get started.
If you don’t have the cash, do you have the extra time to spend on a new project? Sometimes, time can be an adequate substitute for cash. Other people might be able to put cash into an idea if you take on more of the actual work. Additionally, do you have enough time to survive? If your change is dependent on some kind of growth in order to succeed, what happens if the growth doesn’t occur, or happens too slowly?
People / Relationships
Are you willing to sacrifice someone for your dreams? This is not as brutal as it sounds. Imagine that your new project will require moving to a new location which will make it impossible for some people to participate. Or, imagine that you will be making some policy changes which some people will absolutely oppose. Are you prepared to lose those individuals in order to make the necessary changes?
Identity / Reputation
If your new plan will move you in a direction which will change how others see you, are you prepared for the consequences? If you decide to take a stand on a certain controversial or unpopular issue, are you prepared for changes in the ways people will perceive you? This is all about your tolerance for risk. What are you willing to give or sacrifice in order to turn your ideas into a reality? It’s fun to generate ideas and dream big, but it’s equally important to create a concrete plan for getting from here to there. Do you really have what it takes? What will it take to…? If you look through all of the costs and are unable (or unwilling) to make the necessary sacrifices, then all you have is an idea, and that’s not enough.

Blowing off the dust

It’s been nearly a year and a half since I wrote anything here. I feel like I owe some kind of apology, but why? One of the best things I have ever done for myself is to give myself permission to do what I need to do when the time is right. I have enough guilt out there for the things I “should” do that I don’t need to create more over nothing. Life happens and sometimes I find that I don’t have the emotional energy to write things that I think are worth reading. Since my last post, I took a half-time job, left that job, got another full-time job, moved 800 miles away, sold a house, bought a house, and had similar changes for the rest of the family – a new job for my wife, new schools for the kids, and so on. I spent most of the Fall wondering what had happened. Recently, I have felt the urge to write.  Who knows? Maybe, I’ll even get some more fiction done.