Dec. 10 – Christmas Time is Here?

I can relate to the opening scene from Charlie Brown Christmas. (If you want to remind yourself of the opening, click on the link below.) Today, I don’t feel much in the mood for Christmas. The past few days have been a bit melancholy and yesterday tipped the scales as I read a friend’s first CaringBridge post. At work, at church and in the community…are people for whom this will be their first Christmas without their loved one. Some of the grief is fresh, for others it’s almost a year into the process. Regardless, this year will be the first. Their wounds may not be visible, but their pain is real. Having experienced a brother’s death just before Christmas, I can’t overlook these moments in life.

But hope, the hope Christmas proclaims, was meant for times like this. Yes, even for Charlie Brown who can’t quite figure it out. Today this hope came alive for me in a reading from Isaiah, a preacher speaking hope out of a raw sense of loss and in singing a familiar Christmas carol rewritten. Let the words of this song, adapted from the words of Isaiah, speak to you this day.

O come, O come Immanuel/And bless each place your people dwell/Melt every weapon crafted for war/Bring peace upon the earth forever more.

O come, green shoot of Jesse, free/Your people from despair and apathy/Forge justice for the poor and the meek/Grant safety for the young ones and the weak.

O come now, living water, pour your grace/And bring new life to every withered place/Speak comfort to each trembling heart/Be strong, fear not, for I will ne’er depart.

O come, dear child of Mary come/God’s Word made flesh within our earthly home/Lord story within the womb of night/Revenge and hatred put to flight.

Refrain: Rejoice, Rejoice! Take heart and do not fear. God’s chosen one, Immanuel draws near.


Dec. 9 – the music of the season

Everywhere I turned these days, there it is. Music. And more specifically, Christmas music. Yesterday in worship the children told a version of the Christmas story in song. Working out at the Y, I overhead people talking about how they love listening to Christmas music on the radio. And Facebook has been filled with creative versions of traditional Christmas songs.

Growing up, singing Christmas carols was one of our holiday traditions. No, we weren’t that good …no four-part harmony or anything … but singing was one way our lives found themselves in the Christmas story. Different songs held different meaning and each of us had our favorites. For example, ‘I am so Glad each Christmas Eve’ was Grandpa Olga’s favorite and she taught it to all the grandkids in Swedish. To this day I can’t sing it without remembering her and her strong faith.

What if music was taken out of the holidays? What if the radio stations stopped playing carols? What if children didn’t sing the Christmas story in worship? What if people stopped gathering around pianos in living rooms debating which Christmas song was the best? I’ve got two challenges for you. First, try going a day without listening to Christmas music. Then reflect on what that was like. Second on another day seek out some special Christmas music and listen, really listen. I can’t help you with the first, but I can offer a couple of options on the second.



Dec 6 – Paint with Your Soul

Growing up it wasn’t Christmas unless I’d made several gifts. As a child, the homemade gifts were simple, certainly not masterpieces. Although simple in nature, the ‘spirit’ of the gifts was priceless. As a child I didn’t think about the quality or worth of the gift. All that mattered was I had created it! As I got older, I was less carefree and more concerned with the quality of the gift. And my imagination narrowed. Today, as an adult I still make some gifts, but the carefree spirit I had as a child is gone. What would it take to get some of that back?

A few weeks ago I came across this video and it challenged me to lighten up and try to recapture some of my childhood creativity. Watch it and see what you think.

Immersed in Change


My life has been immersed in change. I know, I know…I’m not alone. But jump in with me in reflecting on these moments, and let’s see if any leadership lessons on leading change emerge.

First work. A few weeks ago I was chatting with a new student about last fall semester and it suddenly occurred to me, last fall was a lifetime ago. We, Luther Seminary, are living through a series of one year anniversaries – dates on the calendar which remind us our course for the future has changed. In October our board had their regular fall meeting – and we remembered it was last October when the board discovered some financial concerns. In early November we quietly moved past the one year anniversary of the resignation of our CFO. And coming at the end of this semester will be the one year anniversary of our president’s resignation. I remember how tired I was in January and into the spring, but I had forgotten now much territory we had covered since December 2012. Talking with students who were not around last fall was a bit surreal. I remember living that life, but it seems like a distant memory now. Lesson: Huge, disruptive change disorients people and plays with their sense of time. Leadership Questions: After the “crisis” has passed, how do organizations regain a healthy sense of time? And how important is it to help people gain some perspective? What is the role of noting one year anniversary’s of significant moments in an organization’s history?

Second church. On Reformation Sunday our congregation concluded a year of celebrating our 50th anniversary. The past twelve months we had noted different memories of the past, different moments in history which marked key parts of our congregation’s story. And it all came to a head with a grand worship experience and some gatherings on the last Sunday in October. Facing my 50th birthday this summer, I realize the importance of reflecting on the past and taking account of the twists and turns of one’s story – personally and collectively. During the celebration I had the chance to share stories and catch up with many people, some I had not seen in awhile and others who I see but haven’t shared this deeply in some time. As the weekend ended and we started the next 50 years, two things crossed my mind: we don’t do this often enough and it matters what story we tell. As much as I treasured many aspects of the celebration, I also noted the key parts of the story which were not told – parts that were important to my almost 30 year experience there. Lesson: What story we tell matters. Leadership Questions: Who decides which story of an organization will be told? How do we tell the breadth and the depth? How do we share the joys and the challenges? How do we tell the story of the “old timers” and the “newbies”?

Third home. Our family has two seniors, one a senior in high school and the other a senior in college. And being a senior is a year full of change. There are celebratory endings – or series of “lasts” – and imagination about the future. There are moments which force you to appreciate the current chapter and moments which force decision about a future direction. There are anxieties and honoring. There’s community to journey with and there are moments when “no one understands.” Yes, all of those things are true, and often they are paradoxical. Being a senior has its good days and stressful days. And living with, trying to parent and support, two seniors has its own ups and downs. Yes I’ve been there, but this isn’t my journey. Yes I have experiences, but I can’t make other people’s decisions. Yes I know some things, but it’s not wise to let learning moment go unattended. Being the parent means I have to roll with the changes, but not get too drawn into them. Lesson: Leading people in change requires staying relationally connected while also not doing other people’s work. Leadership Questions: How are we balancing being relationally connected and only doing the work that is ours? Do we know our role? Do we know what the work is and who’s it is?

As I continue to live in the midst of change, I’m noticing I need moments to rest and to reflect. But I also need moments to grieve and let go. I’m trying to find a healthy way through all three of these scenarios. I know you have your own set of scenarios, and I hope these lessons and questions might help you discover both an accompaniment partner and some fruitful lessons for the journey.


Everyday Leadership

Are you wondering if you are a leader? Are you concerned that people in the congregation you serve don’t see themselves as a leader? What happens when leaders are “them” and not “us”? These are not only great questions, but fundamental to understanding how to empower others and inviting them into making a difference in the world.

Recently I stumble across this great TedTalk on Everyday Leadership. It’s funny, but it’s also challenging all of us to rethinking leadership. Check it out.


How might you be brave today?

So much of our life is about playing it safe. Be it in relationships, leadership, or living our faith, playing it safe is easy but usually comes up short. Think about it. If we played it safe, would we risk being the first to say ‘I love you’ or learn something new? If we played it safe, would we go on adventures or make new friends? If we played it safe, would we share our faith with a stranger or serve at a homeless shelter?

Living brave takes many forms. It can be following a dream, revealing your true self in public, or telling someone your opinions. Whatever the form, being brave awakens us and reminds us of the power we have to live fully, both for ourselves and others. And living brave can be contagious.

Fear is just one of the many obstacles to living brave. Convenience, practicality, and lack of imagination might be others. Pushing past these obstacles is half the battle to being brave.

As a person of faith, I want to live brave. Each day this week, I’m going to find a way I can live brave. Will you join me? (If we need some inspiration see this Sara Bareilles’ video.)


An experiment in Gratitude

These past few days have been filled with the sad reminder of how precious life is. Learning three siblings from our church were in a car accident where the oldest sister (19) died and the other two (both in high school) sustained serious injuries has made me more attentive to the people in my life. People are what make my life meaningful, joyous, and rich.

And this incident is just the tip of the iceberg. Read the paper, watch the news, or follow the latest happenings on Twitter…and there are many reminders of how quickly life can change. I’m not sure what’s happening in your life, but I bet you might appreciate more gratitude. A group of folks went after that idea. Their experiment of gratitude is worth watching, and might even touch your heart. Check it out! (And thanks Soul Pancake for another great video.)