She Burns My Ears!

Some time ago I encountered an elderly Amish man in our local coffee shop. He was eager to talk to strangers, which is rare for an Amish man, and I struck up a conversation. I sat and listened.

I learned that his two children were grown and had left the state; people don’t realize how much the Amish are on the move, taking rocky ground in Missouri and upstate New York and making something of it, starting new communities. But they do use Amtrak and hire vans so they can visit each other. I discovered that this man’s children didn’t come visit often and there was some estrangement, learned that his first wife had died, and that he’d remarried against the advice of his community. His second wife was a long-time bachelorette, and he was her first husband. Therefore she was a good deal more independent than a normal Amish wife, and even though “they warned me,” he said, “She burns my ears.” Suddenly, I understood why he was talking to strangers.

My father-in-law sold agricultural products, fertilizers, etc., in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, (densest concentration of Amish in the world) all his life. He’s 78 years old, and he’s never heard an Amish man talk like this. He was never an insider, as far as the Amish are concerned, but he wasn’t enough of an outsider for them to open up that way. After all, he knew them and knew their neighbors. He might have kept a secret if asked, but he wasn’t to be trusted. He was “English.”

What allowed this to happen? I wasn’t too busy to listen. That’s the first piece. You have to slow down if you want these sort of encounters. The second remarkable thing here is that the man lived in a “we-told-you-so” community where there was not a single empathetic ear for his problems with his second wife, so he took it outside the community. I was far enough outside his community that word couldn’t travel back. I asked his name at one point, and he wouldn’t give it.

If you want to develop authentic community, you have to refrain from creating a “We-told-you-so” culture. When people take their problems away somewhere, going “off to town” to find an outlet, it makes restoration and reconciliation difficult. For an Amish man to share his story with me seems rather harmless, but there’s potential for a much darker side to this phenomenon.

The Pileated Woodpecker

Whatever catches my client’s attention is a jumping off point for a line of questions, an analogy to their situation.

Today my client turned and looked out the window. “There’s a pileated woodpecker outside,” he said. “I haven’t seen one for many years.”

I don’t want to over-spiritualize the idea of getting “a sign” but it’s a place to be creative and play. We began to relate the pileated woodpecker to his situation.

Where’s the Pileated Woodpecker in your context?

He recognized an item he hadn’t been working on for a long time but had been an aspect of his organization’s past that he was thinking needed to be brought to the forefront again.

What makes a Pileated different from other woodpeckers, the normal ones?

–They’re bigger. More rare. Something seen before but very distinctive.

What is the distinctive thing your organization needs right now? He identified a certain type of person who could help his organization.

The client developed some things he thought related. In fact, his energy level increased as we spoke. Finally, I said, “What are your binoculars for keeping a lookout for someone like this who could help you?”

He spoke for a while and eventually said “I need to share about the Pileated Woodpecker with my team.”

“So, the team is your binoculars? They help you see a depth of field that you couldn’t otherwise?”

–YES!

I like to play off my client’s surroundings, especially things they take special note of. Use them as creative places to ask weird, off the wall questions. See what happens, and trust the process.

 

Listening and Swords

Just woke up thinking more about the concept of anointed listening and all the times that Jesus said let those who have ears to hear, hear.

It struck me that when Peter cut off a servant’s ear in the Garden of Gethsemane, there’s a very poignant symbolism happening.

When we draw our swords and attack — when we use physical force — we separate people from their ability to hear any message we might otherwise have been able to share with them. Using force cuts off their hearing ability.

I believe this was a sign. The reason I believe it was a sign is that I think it would be very difficult to cut off an ear without damaging the head, shoulder, or neck. Sort of like when you throw a ball or wad of paper at something from quite a distance, and it hits something odd, lands in someone’s cup or whatever, and you say “Ha, ha, I couldn’t do that again if I tried a hundred times.” When you swing a sword at someone, it’s much easier to hack off a hand or foot or even to gouge an eye. No doubt the victim tried to duck the blow, but the point is, it’s no accident (when the event is taken as a spiritual lesson) that it was specifically an EAR. Use of the sword damages the world’s ability to hear a message of love.

This is the one of the strongest Biblical passages in favor of pacifism. If we want the world to be able to hear the message of Jesus, we need to put away our sword and work for healing of those ears.

Eat Your Sundaes on Saturday

What does it mean to live in the present, to hear each other in the present, to be known in the present, to be present with one another?

A few weeks after I returned from a trip to Asia, the family gathered on a Saturday night, and my in-laws were in town from out of state. Grandpa John brought a lot of ice cream and the kids were enjoying sundaes.

I turned to my son Benjamin, almost seven years old now, and asked him, “How is it that we’re having sundaes but it’s only Saturday? Can you explain this?”

Without missing a beat, he said, “It’s already Sunday, in Thailand.”

When I think about the paradox that the Kingdom is coming and the Kingdom is now, I realize that this time-zone phenomenon is part of our everyday reality, and it’s a perfect example of living in the present while the future is already here.

In the broadest sense, this is the “present” we live in. Why not party now?

Do you drink the Kool-aid?

I’m a pretty trusting guy. I grew up in a community called Plow Creek Fellowship, an intentional community church that was featured in Newsweek the same week they featured the Jonestown mass suicide, when a whole ton of people committed suicide together by drinking poison-spiked fruit punch of some kind. The implication: is Plow Creek another cult? (No, I don’t believe it was or is.)

Because of my background in communal living, I think twice when I hear people talking about ‘drinking the Kool-Aid.’

It came up in some sales training I took a couple years ago. The idea was this: we have the best way to sell and if you buy in now and learn our process, you will be the better for it (rich). So buy-in immediately, don’t bother with your skepticism if it seems ‘weird.’ Several times the trainers used the phrase “Drink the Kool-Aid.”

That’s when our natural skepticism ought to rise up like bile within our throats and say “Hold on a sec.”

Why?

Because effective techniques (whether you’re being trained in sales, leadership, coaching, ministry, business or being taught whatever else) ought to be self-evident to intelligent observers.

If you see something that doesn’t look like it would work on you, it probably won’t work on other people either. (Problem is, it’s being used ON people).

On the other hand, when you see something that makes sense, just good ol’ common sense, something you’d find attractive, a way you’d like to be treated, there’s no Kool-Aid to drink; you’re just in. We’re not all killing ourselves for this thing. Dying to yourself isn’t the same as drinking Kool-Aid, which has an implication of throwing common sense out the window and following a crazy leader into the abyss.

Dying to yourself doesn’t mean throwing your life away in foolish pursuits.

From DSC Weekend

This is a transcript of on-the-spot poetry I delivered at the Dandelion Seed Conference, Sunday AM on May 3, 2015, unedited to retain the feeling of a moment we had together:

Why do you shy away from the trip your own imagination can take without alteration from an additional numbing agent? Without opiates?

Who comes along your side to say all is well, and all things are well, and all worlds are well, and all creatures are well, and all is well?

Who comes from beyond, where do they take you within? Who shares your visions of giants on fire? Who can abide the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?

What haunts the farthest edge of your realm, what shy and humble creatures carry packages of cheese and bread and olives and smaller parcels of gold and frankincense and myrrh? Whom shall they feed, whose water will they draw and pour? Whom shall they bury– whom shall they embalm?

When the jabberwocky grinds his way out of granite, his stomach growling, what bear of little brain will fearlessly defeat him with his own misunderstanding?

What Jesus on what road on what backwoods planet will boldly go where no man has gone before?

What redemption will you find, and what grace will you offer in return? What courage will you be known for, and what bravery will you applaud? When avengers crush the buildings and scorch the skies will you run, or stand: will you endure? Who may abide the day of his coming and who shall stand when he appears?

What are you afraid to see: A ship sailing the prairies? A fish swimming the void of cosmos? A friend brought home from wandering? But who — who could possibly

Abide?

Who can stand

When he comes?

It’s Me.

I have this love/hate relationship with marketing myself.

On the one hand, a [probably false] sense of humility pushes me away from building a personal brand. I don’t want to be about myself, I don’t want to be the big-shot (or rather, I have a temptation to want to become the big shot, but at the same time I know I’m no Jon Bon Jovi). Afraid of becoming the head of a personality cult (unlikely as we all know that is) I sabotage my own potential. I shy away from sharing all of myself with everyone. I worry about this: Do businessmen who want training in coaching care that I’ve written a novel? Do artists want to donate toward the mission causes I serve? Will my readers care what I think enough to engage with me personally as a coach? Maybe they don’t, or won’t, but maybe they should. Because I’m afraid, I compartmentalize in an unhealthy way. That means for the past few years, I’ve scattered blog posts over six or eight different blog sites rather than having one blog that’s just me. I haven’t built a personal brand very well because of this. I’m hurting you, my readers, by holding back; and I’m hurting myself.

My favorite Super Bowl commercial from 2015 was the Locktite glue spot, with very ordinary (i.e. not-Hollywood-beautiful) people singing and dancing about how Locktite saved their lives/marriages. The first words of the commercial, sung by a very much unknown actor, were “It’s me:” And the song continues: If you make a thing or break a thing, it’s no problem.

I found the “It’s me” to be hilariously understated irony. Who is “me”? Everyman? Who is this guy? The purpose of a lot of art is to say “It’s me” but then to expound upon that concept in a way designed to impress.

But the people in the ad were so genuinely abandoned to the party for their love for this glue, that I wanted some glue. I mean, I wanted that glue bad. Because it was funny and I LOVE funny. These guys were ME. I wanted to be part of them. Watch it here.

The other lesson from the ad was that the company itself went all in. I like that. I respect it. It’s gutsy, American to the core. They spent their entire ad budget for the YEAR on this 30 second spot: $4.5 MILLION. No compartmentalization. No little billboard over here for one type of industrial glue, little magazine ad over there for a glue for home use. Just a hard-core, one-shot branding exercise. I don’t have stats, but I suspect it’s working. Look: I’m still talking about it!

I feel confident that God is going to bring the work, the funds, and the readers that I need to survive and thrive. He will bring the team around me I need to really dance, a team I can gel with, even be glued to. The donors for my nonprofit work, the clients for my for-profit work, the readers for my quirky stories. There’s something about building a personal brand that has always felt very self-serving. But if God is going to do some work in and through me, I have to do my part in developing a personal brand, so my unique design (with which I serve Him) can be seen for what it is, and supported, not so much for who I am as some great personality, but for the whole picture of whom God shows Himself to be, through me. That’s why I’m ditching all the offshoot blogs in favor of just one blog.

It’s me. Not to impress, but to be known as a whole, to provide a unique perspective on creation and the Creator.

So join my journey. It’s still hard for me to say: Follow me on Twitter @adamgfleming or subscribe to my newly-transparent blog at www.adamgfleming.com.