The Winston School of Leadership

A couple of weeks ago I finished up a 2 part series on what the Bible has to say about handling money. I likened money to having a dog. Why a dog, you ask? Well, dogs are pack animals, meaning, they live in a pack. And of course every pack HAS a leader. Problem is, when dogs are brought into a human home as a pet, as far as they are concerned, this is their new pack and they are looking for the leader. If no one becomes that dog’s leader, the dog will assume that role. When that happens, it makes for a frustrating experience – both for the dog and the family.

I know this, because my family has such a dog. His name is Winston.

Winston is a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. We bought Winston six years ago as a puppy…a very cute puppy I might add. Now don’t get me wrong…we are not newbies when it comes to dogs. I had one as a kid. Before Winston, we owned three other dogs, and the one before him was also a Corgi. So it’s not like we were the uninitiated – far from it!

A few months after purchasing him from the breeder, we brought him into our home and it became clear that he was not familiar with the word ‘compliant’. Words like ‘strong-willed’, ‘stubborn’, ‘just-plain-bad’ all come to mind. So with that we headed to a well known dog training facility for ten weeks of learning the basics. Every week was a mountain of stress for Winston and for me, but in the end, I passed!

In the weeks following up to this I soon discovered that I had mastered leading him, but April and our three children…well, let’s just say that Winston drew the line on who he was going to allow lead him.

Enter The Dog Whisperer. For those who are familiar with this television show, Cesar Milan (aka The Dog Whisperer) allows viewers to go with him into homes with ‘problem dogs’ – okay, problem owners. Seriously, there are dogs that he comes up against that I wouldn’t touch with a coat of armour on me. But he does it! Within the span of a few minutes, he has communicated by voice and body language that he is leader of the pack in that house. Now granted, there have been instances where the dog has sunk teeth into Cesar’s skin, but even those dogs eventually succumb to the leadership of Cesar.

So what does this have to do with the price of tea in China, you ask? Well…maybe nothing about tea, but everything about some of the qualities that must be found in a leader. Qualities like calmness, confidence, presence, gentleness, understanding and direction, are just some of what dogs look for in a leader. Come to think of it, those are similar to the qualities I look for in those who lead me. When leaders exhibit those attributes, I want to follow.

There are many times where Winston is just a pain in the butt.  But as I look back over these years with Winston as part of our family, I try to see him as my personal school of leadership training…well, sort of.  The one thing I do know is, as I learn to lead and Winston learns to follow, we seem to get along just fine!

Welcome to my Winston School of Leadership.

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Nothing Really Changes

Larry Norman, in his song, Nothing Really Changes, writes: nothing really changes / everything remains the same / we are what we are till the day that we die. How true is that! This week I had a nice little reminder that what I experience (and no doubt, you as well) in life is nothing new. Let me tell you what happened.

I came across a ‘promo blog’ for the complete set of John Wesley’s writings. In the blog the author shares ten of his favourite quotes by John Wesley. I’m doing a quick read of them and then come across this one:

“When I was young I was sure of everything. In a few years, having been mistaken a thousand times, I was not half so sure of most things as I was before. At present, I am hardly sure of anything but what God has revealed to me.”

It pleasantly surprised me because I could have written that quote! I don’t know how many times this past year I have said to a number of people that the only thing I’m really sure about is that there is a God, humanity is infected and affected by sin, God sent his son Jesus to pay the price of sin, and we have the Holy Spirit who like God, is always with us (Immanuel). Oh yeh…I trust what Jesus has said: to live life with him, to live life for him, to trust him with my life. And that’s about it. All the other doctrines and beliefs, well they are sort of open for discussion.

At times this year I thought I was either having a mid-faith crisis or slipping down that slippery, heretical slope. Sometimeswhen I would say this to people I would get those sideways glances. I don’t blame them because we North American Christians sometimes have this silly notion that the pastor should have all the answers, and here I am going the other way – answer-less!

So what a breath of fresh air to realize that here was a major dude in the post-resurrection Christian era, two hundred and fifty years ago, not sure of very much! Yay! I have company.

But then the thought came to me. Believing that I’m the only one who hits mid-life and discovers that I’m only sure of the basics…well, it smells a bit like pride to me. My gut is that depending on what age you’re at, you, like me are realizing just how little you do know and are finding that you are left with the basics.

And there’s nothing wrong with that!

Resolutions?? Fuhgeddaboutit!

Happy New Year! Yes, 2012 has arrived, and as I read the news, 2011 has not been all that bad for us, especially here in Canada. According to MacLeans magazine Canadians feel like they live in the best country and are just downright the envy of the world! Now I am not completely gullible either. I realize that for some, 2011 has been a tough year – one wrought with continue struggles and chronic challenges. It’s all a matter of perspective.

For myself, 2011 has had more than it’s fair share of challenges and tough circumstances (many of them related to church life). In some ways, 2011 could be compared (at least emotionally) to riding the Behemoth roller coaster. Extreme highs immediately followed by death-defying lows. Ask those who have to work with me or live with me and you will soon discover that I’m not the easiest guy to be around…at times.

God has been leaning hard into me over the past…oh, two weeks or so. Not hard in a bad way, but just that he won’t leave this alone: “How about changing your approach in 2012?” I know what he’s talking about. It’s how I approach my situations and circumstances that I find myself in.

He’s adamant that I cannot change people or circumstances – they are not going to change just because I want or need them to change. I need to fuhgeddaboutit! God is asking me to stop praying or asking him to change my circumstances, and instead to ask him to change me.

When you think of Jesus’ teachings, it makes sense. Jesus never promised that he was the ‘saviour’ of our circumstances, but of people. He’s the Saviour of my heart – I should pray for my heart. That’s probably what it means to pray according to his will.

Right now I am seeing the faces of the people that intersect my life on a daily basis – those that are closest to me. As I think about them in the light of asking God to change me, it’s wild how I think of them almost instantly changes! (Try it)

I’m not one to make resolutions at the beginning of a new year – mostly because I end up not following through. However, if there is one resolution that I can make, it’s to pray for God to change me and not my situations.

This past Sunday I led those who had gathered for worship through the prayer of St. Francis. I had read this many times before, but this Sunday for the first time I meant it.

I dare you to take the challenge!

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen.