Love

Love is simple

Relationships are complex

Marriage is for life, even if you

divorce you will always have an ex

Family is as strong as its root system,

weak as the rottenest branch,

Wild as a pack of wolves,

or Cultivated as the roses of a manor,

depending on how they’ve established a culture.

But Children are always the future.

Children are always the future.

That’s because

Children remind us that

love is simple.

 

 

 

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Questioning Authority

Here’s a question my brother Aaron asked via social media today.

“I’d suggest that rather than questioning authority we might do better to think about authority. Where does it come from? What is it for? Do you know anyone who wields it productively? What are the limits of obedience to authority? Why? What is the difference between authority and power? But don’t take my word for it…ask a question of your own!”

Aaron, great job starting a discussion on a very interesting topic.

I called him and we talked about it together particularly in light of my March 15 blog titled Family Values in which, as I told Aaron, “I excommunicated roughly half of the North American church.”

“Really? You did?” He said. “Under what authority?”

“Are you questioning my authority?” I said.

“No, I’m just asking a question,” he said. Ha ha, we laughed.

I explained the core concept of the blog to Aaron in a little more depth and then posed the question back to him, “where do you think I got the authority?” To which he replied, “your authority came from a revelation from God.”

Well, that means it is prophecy. As I begin now to exercise a prophetic voice more often, I was asking myself these questions, too.

I’d like to start out the discussion by saying I’m not an expert on authority, but my basic observation is that authority, in general (I’m not talking about spiritual authority) comes in one of two basic ways: via a vetting process or via a personality cult. In the above conversation with Aaron, there’s a particular vetting happening when someone else verifies “your revelation came from God.” Vetting is a HUGE part of the process of becoming an authority on something.

Aaron said, “Well, all those vying for president right now haven’t been vetted,” and I said, “No, they don’t have any authority yet. Authority goes in stages, from one stage to the next you’re vetted. For example, Kasich has the authority of the Governor of Ohio, so hes asking us as a nation to vet him to the next level.”

For another example, my authority in the field of life coaching was vetted from a third-party perspective at CCNI and they decided that the quality of my work deserves the credential (authority) at the CPCC level. This was a more stringent vetting process than simply earning a certificate from a training school. It took me seven years to get from the certificate to the credential. The next credential (Master Coach) might take another 10 years.

The flip side of vetting is the WRONG way to get authority. These guys are the political demagogues and personality-driven church leaders. Typically (if they attain any amount of authority that puts them in the public eye) they have a certain and very rare personal charisma. They can stay small and out of the public eye, leading a group of just a few hundred people, and yet even then when their downfall comes about often times the leader of even a group of only a dozen will end up in the public eye as their abuses come to light. When the authority comes from personal charisma, nobody’s holding you accountable to integrity.

Think about how Donald Trump got where he is today, asking the country to vet him in the election process. What political authority has he had before? None. His vetting process up to this point has been based on a personality cult he’s carefully constructed with a great deal of personal charisma and it has no particular basis in terms of integrity; based on all that, he’s very close now to getting a nomination (which still isn’t the authority of the Presidency). Kasich is pretty disgusted with this whole thing; he’s the governor of Ohio, he’s the candidate on the GOP side who’s held the most authority in a position similar to President. Why isn’t he the obvious next candidate for authority on the GOP side? An entertainment-driven society has deceived people into thinking that personal charisma is a reasonable way to become authoritative.

You see the same thing with Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side. Like his message or not, it’s been the same for 30 years and that means he’s speaking with integrity. When Hillary Clinton says “Where was he in 1993?” His campaign retorts “He was literally right behind you.” Clinton doesn’t look good when she tries attacking Sanders on issues of integrity. Let’s leave politics behind. I’m not an authority on politics. Ha ha.

What is the key characteristic that typically motivates those in authority over others to vet them up to the same level? I submit that it’s integrity. Promises fulfilled. When you’re given a certain level of authority and you fulfill your commitments and live a life of quiet integrity, people see there’s authority in that and they elevate you to the next level.

In a sense, it’s not terribly different from power, in the sense that Margaret Thatcher famously said, “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell someone that you are, you probably aren’t.” But there are differences, too.

So, where your authority comes from is not how you lead into a discussion. You state what you have to say. Jesus did this. “He spoke as one with authority.” Then, if people ask “where did you get your authority” (and they will) you can tell them. I don’t start a coaching pitch by saying, “I’ve got a CPCC with CCNI” partly because people are going to say “so what” (not because CCNI isn’t an authoritative body, but because they may not have ever heard of it). That won’t work partly because that’s a weak opening statement compared with, say, for example, asking a great coaching question that shows I’m a lady … um, wait, I mean, shows I know what I’m doing as a coach. A powerful use of authority assumes you have it.

The thing about questioning authority, then, is really asking “Does this authority have the integrity needed to maintain their authority?” and sometimes the answer is NO!

Should we question authority? Sure, we should. Aaron did it to me. He said he wasn’t, but really in his question “what authority do you have to excommunicate half the church?” is implied that we need to know where the authority comes from, we want to know if you have the integrity to carry that authority, and we want to keep checking in on that from time to time.

A really good leader doesn’t need to be questioned too often. Follow 90% and question 10% seems to be a rule of thumb that comes to my head. The whole political discussion isn’t to pick sides here, it’s really to illustrate what needs to happen in our churches (that’s the realm I have a lot more authority to speak to) which is this: once we’ve decided to put someone in a position of authority, we need to follow them. We get to expect that they are accountable, and we do not have to be their accountability partner, coach or mentor or overseer. In fact, it is best if we are not functioning in that role if they are also our pastor.

Does that mean we should never question their decisions? Or their integrity? Or their authority? Of course not. But why would we put someone in a position of authority if we didn’t vet them for a measure of integrity in the first place?

 

 

Thailand Poem, #5: A 3CK Abides

“Whenever possible,” said Chase,

“zoom with your feet.”

It was tempting to only go as close

as the airport lounge could get you,

drinking wine coolers like a Spy.

But you can’t abide there

in Abu Dhabi or Seoul,

You have to go through customs,

To speak the language,

“Sawasdee krub,”

to dwell, like the Word,

among them in the flesh,

Because after all, you can’t live

duty-free.

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More on “sonder”

Here’s part of an e-mail which arrived as I was heading off to Thailand from my good friend and alert reader Jason P.:
I just wanted to drop a note to say I really liked your chapter on “Sonder” in your book.  I’m apart of a small monthly group at Faith Mennonite and we reflected on another new term for me called “the loving eye gaze” which would basically describe as seeing God in nature and others.  I immediately related this term to Sonder which you introduced me to and told the group about your book and the term Sonder. 

A thought that I had was that practicing Sonder is done in living one’s usual “mundane” life, but you almost need extra ordinary events (like the trip your taking now) to give us out side perspective and to realize the importance of the “other” the “different.”  It takes a shake up of our routine to notice things outside what becomes regular to us.  A shake up to realize that others are just as complex and interesting as ourselves.   

As a response to your Sonder chapter I was wondering if you could give more examples of how Jesus showed sonder.  I don’t have the book in front of me now, but I remember you do refer to Jesus showing sonder in how he wanted us to live abundant lives and how he illustrated it by dying on the cross (being our “supernova” or some such verbage you used).  This all sounds well and good, but still seems a little abstract for me.  I was wondering if you could provide a few scriptural examples of Jesus showing Sonder, perhaps in a follow up blog?  Or perhaps your wanting me as the dear reader to do that in my own brain, which I think I can do.  I thoroughly enjoyed your Sonder chapter, but I was left at the end feeling like I wanted more examples from Jesus showing Sonder. 

Jason, thanks for the great questions. Sonder is a concept from an artist named John Koenig and I highly recommend checking out his other coined terms and the videos that go with them. If you see a good one mention it in the comments! In preparing my response I had to go back again and look at his original definition to see if sonder is something which can be “showed”. It’s defined as a particular awareness, and so I do think it can be, in the sense that your actions reveal what you are and are not aware of. For example, my children do not seem to be aware that leaving the door open in our entryway which doubles as a laundry room, during winter, jeopardizes our washing machine; lines freeze, washer breaks, repair bill ensues. Their careless action reveals their general lack of awareness. The awareness that people have lives which are equally intricate as our own is something that mature people who are not constantly focused on their own needs and desires exhibit often. As I thought about this today I was travelling; I noticed the hotel pool was lifeguarded by a man I’d bet is from India or Pakistan. Somewhere he has a family, whom he likely sends money, he sits around all day caring for this rooftop pool and what else? Who knows?

So, then, Jesus fits that mold too. How about the time when Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman at the well. “You’ve had five husbands,” he says. Not as an accusation, but demonstrating that he sees her life not as a passerby but in some sort of beyond-sonder intimate detail. I talked with my dad about that and he said, “yes, it must be a word of knowledge because it would drive you crazy to know everyone’s story in that much detail as you walk around.” I think that’s true. There are other times when someone might have gone unnoticed but for the fact that she dared to reach out and touch the hem of his robe. “Who  touched me?” The awareness is always there that people are walking around as shadows, perhaps appearing only once in his story, as perhaps he did in theirs. but the engagement wasn’t, at least so long as he walked in human form.
But he is always ready to default to the premise that they have great value. Greater than anyone sees on the surface. This lifeguard in Abu Dabhi may only make a few dollars a day, but the money he sends home may feed eight, or sixteen, mouths. He’s very valuable to someone, and that’s just economically speaking! The value Jesus saw in others, whether he knew how many husbands they’d had or not, goes far beyond their earning power. It’s the value of someone uniquely designed.

I’d love to hear other thoughts on how Jesus showed this awareness of others’ complex lives. I think there are lots of them, and lessons to be learned from each. One last comment: I agree that travel, and the arts, and other things, can really help us be more aware, notice others in new ways.  That’s an excellent point you made!

Thailand visuals Saturday (#2)

Clockwise from upper left: 1) sunrise. 2) Jerimae and Ben, Christa’s art. 3) Anneke working. 4) An Asian tourist holds up the fisherman’s creel as if she caught the fish. Cracks me up. 5) Sitting with Kirti and Luke. 6) Glen and Christine hang Christa’s work, Karen works on the next iteration of the same piece.

Visuals, Thailand #2

Clockwise from Upper left: 1) Eric Good and Ben Metz discuss setlist. 2) Ben Metz and Megan Fleming analyzing the installation. 3) Sunrise at Cha-Am. 4) Jonathan Reuel’s piece assembled. 5) Megan Fleming assembles work from Christa Reuel. 6) Megan Fleming looking great with a frangipani flower in her hair. 7) Fisherman at dawn.

Recognition. Cha-Am, Thailand Blog #1

Recognition. Cha-Am, Thailand, blog #1.

The beginning of relationship is recognition of the other.

There is a sense, when we have heard of someone else through a friend, of anticipation, so that when meeting that person in real life, we find an element of joy in recognizing someone.

I have seen this happen twice in the past 24 hours. First, M____ S_____ was introduced to me, and he said, “OH! You’re THE Adam Fleming!”

“The one and only,” I replied, feeling quite like Winnie the Pooh when Christopher Robin recognizes his endeavors. It’s a good feeling to be recognized.

This morning, I introduced my wife to an artist who hosted me in her home during my trip to Thailand last year. Megan gave her the same royal treatment. “Oh! You’re A____ P____! Can I give you a hug?”

It occurs to me now that there are various levels of recognition. I’ve blogged about artist John Koenig’s work on the concept of sonder recently, which is the experience of recognizing that each passerby has a life as intricate and complex as our own. Sonder brings us only to the beginning of recognition. Sonder is to notice those around you in a new way. Noticing is okay.

The desire for Recognition is one of sixteen core desires that Tony Stoltzfus identifies as key elements God has baked into each of us. But there are many different levels on which we can be recognized.

Sonder is the beginning, and the next level I’ll call “lineup recognition”. On the plane to Thailand I watched a mobster movie. At one point the loose cannon character walks into a bar and shoots someone in the head. Later, he’s in a police lineup and the barmaid is brought in to identify him. She’s been intimidated, however, and tells the police, “no, none of these guys is the one.” The lineup is one aspect of recognition. We either acknowledge or deny we can attach a face to a name, or a face (in the mobster’s case) to an action.

Another place I see this in action is at my local coffee shop. One of the regulars, a man who was my landlord for a few months back in my college days, his name is Joe, came up to me a few weeks ago and said “are you Frank, the guy from Plymouth?” He was meeting someone he’d never met before. I said, “No…” and then Joe looked at me closer. “Oh, yeah, I know you,” he said, disinterest washing over his face. Yes, he recognized my face, we’re both in that coffee shop all the time. I don’t know if Joe even remembers my name, but once he looked closer he knew I couldn’t be Frank.

When we hunger for recognition, this is not the sort of encounter we hope for.

We’re much more attuned to the definition of recognition that means a celebration. This form of recognition says “Well done, good and faithful servant,” or just, “well done.” Some of us are attracted to trophies (If we as humans in general weren’t, we wouldn’t bother to make and award them to each other). Others of us would just as soon have a bonus, usually at work this is how we reward value, and trophies can ring hollow. Then there’s the recognition we are given when we don’t really deserve it. That can also ring hollow. So what about recognition from God? Do we ever really deserve it? Like children who draw drawings to be hung upon the fridge, we all (some of us more, and some less) hope that we will be rewarded with a recognition particularly when we’ve put heart and soul into a project.

Here we prepare art for a conference today. I assembled sixteen drawings on a 4×8 board for Jonathan Reuel, who drew them but was not able to come. Ben, who is leading the arts team, said to me, “good work,” when I finished, and I said, “No problem, it was easy.” Jonathan did the hard work of making all the drawings, and on top of that he had to include careful instructions for how to assemble his work, but all I really did was tape drawings to a plywood board. It’s funny, when Ben said “good job” to me, I still felt kinda good about it.

IMG_2786

(Photo above: Jonathan Reuel’s work assembled in foreground as Ann Metz works in mixed media.)

So as we begin this conference, we begin by recognizing each other: the names we’ve only associated through pictures, or friends, or the internet, people we’re excited to finally meet as well as the recognition of old friends walking through the door. Soon our friends Jerimae and Karen will arrive, and I’m excited to see them. But I also was welcomed by the leader of the organization which hosts this conference this morning. “Adam and Megan Fleming,” he said, “I’m so glad you could come. I’m sure we’ll talk more later, but I just wanted to tell you I’m glad you’re here.” That would have been so easy for him NOT to do. But this is a key leadership principle: you have to recognize people. You have to acknowledge sonder, you have to pick people out of a lineup, you have to rejoice in meeting people you’ve only heard tell of, you have to even more rejoice in the successes of others around you. Do this, and you’re on the way to leading.

This isn’t to say that you’ll ever fill the desire for recognition the way Jesus does, but you can stand in for Him when the chips are down.

We have asked our children to look for a few things as we’re gone. In a way, this gives them something to tell us about their day other than “fine” but it also gives us something to notice, recognize and celebrate. We’ve asked them to collect Sayings and Successes. We told them they can notice them about each other and remind each other about them when they Skype with us.

The ascending beatitudes of Recognition: Notice, and you will be noticed. Recognize, and you shall be recognized. Celebrate, and you will be celebrated.

The Boatswain and the Stranger, Part 5.

The Ocean

One day the waters shall all come into one place, and we shall all sail it together; my brothers, my neighbors, my tribesmen, the villagers along the shore, the farmers, the dusty strangers like yourself who come from afar, those who journey into the desert to deliver small drinks of water, even some of my cousins who come from the other side of the hills, beyond the canals, people you would not expect. We will see people who lived in the hills and canyons, living with us there on the ocean. We will understand the mystery of the rapids together. We will drink the waters of the ocean and find they are fresh water – not salty and unpalatable at all.

Each one will dip his cup into the water and drink, tasting the flavors he or she needs and desires the most in that moment. The ocean will fill us, surround us, complete us.

It will be a reunion unlike any we’ve ever seen, and the music! Oh! The waves themselves will splash against the boats with the heartbeat of the ocean. The gulls overhead will cry and wail. All manner of fish will leap, the dogs on our decks will bark, even the stowaway rats will squeal with joy, a cacophony of love.

I hope for this day.

I have faith for this day.

I will take joy in this day.

You will be there, too.

You will drink whenever you want though you’ll always be satisfied.

The water will be alive. The water will be free.

We will not have to travel anymore to scoop water from here and there, to mix them; along the shores mangroves will spring up,

Islands will form where we’ll dance,

And the songs will become one mighty note.

The paintings will fill the sky.

What is written in solitude will become a communal shout.

Everyone will have a place in our tribe, for each one will find that they’ve some of our nomadic blood, and they’ll join in creating all that happens upon the ocean.

That will be the day … the day that never ends. No dreaming will be needed to see another place. The light will show all there is to all who are present.

 

Selah

For the moment we drink this water together, she thought, as he poured from his vials and vessels. There was water from the spring and canyon, the canal and the well and the delta.

Finally, he dipped a large jar into the dark water beside their boat.

It is the freshest water we have, this water where we live.

She nods. She drinks.

They sing together, and now she knows the song by heart. She drank their water, sang their songs. She is one of them.

She goes on her way as the sun rises high. The dust quickly rises from her toes to her knees, fills her hair, and it cakes even her eyelids.

She has forgotten her heavy bag. Whatever was in it, the children can toss into the river, for all she cares. It had seemed that something in it served to protect her from getting too dirty along the way, or from getting lost, perhaps, but it only made her more tired. She cannot remember what exactly was in it or why she bothered. Instead she now carries a canteen.

She is not afraid of being dusty anymore. She knows that all the water flows towards the fresh sea, and she will be back again to drink.

The boatswain and his family will be sailing upon the ocean to welcome her.

 

The Houseboat-warming Gift

It is noon. The eldest daughter on the houseboat notices something.

Father, the Stranger forgot her bag, she says.

Open the bag, he says, tell me what it contains.

Father, they are nothing but rocks. She holds them up to the light. They give off a dull glow, as of polished obsidian. Are they diamonds? Or coal?

They are something in between, my little moth, harder than coal, but still flammable. Softer than diamond, yet glowing with an inner light, he says. Water cannot soak them beyond usefulness. They will burn for a year without ceasing.

Must I chase her into the desert to catch her and return them? They sound precious!

No, my tadpole, they are a gift to us. She has no need of them; for her they are plentiful. But for us they are wealth beyond counting. She does not know it, but she has given us the better end of the deal in exchange for our hospitality.

The next evening, as he prepares bread for his children, the regular coals in the man’s brazier die out. He sends a boy to look in the hold for more coal, but the boy returns empty handed, tears running down his cheeks.

Father, the charcoal is gone! Mama says we don’t have money for more. What will we do?

The man smiles. Open the bag, here, my little turtle: the satchel I would not allow you to poke last night. I will show you something new. It is a more excellent way. Perhaps someday you or your sister will wander into the desert to find this, too, for the ways of the stranger and the wanderer are sacred.      

The End

This has been published via the Dandelion Seed Company. If you’d like to purchase a paper copy, complete with artwork, an explanation, and many other cool features, please message me.