Monday, May 08, 2006

Sex, Money, and Power: What I'd like to say to the class of 2006

No one has invited me to speak at a graduation ceremony this year but if they did here’s what I’d say.

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2006, I skipped my two college graduation ceremonies because I had already spent enough time in class being bored. I assume you too have spent enough time listening to boring speakers so I’m going to address three attention-getting topics--sex, money, and power.

Only, I’m going to reverse the order and talk about sex last because I want to keep you and the administration on the edges of your seat.

Oh, yes, and as a bonus I’m going to talk about God too. I’m not sure what’s going to make the administration more nervous, me talking about sex or me talking about God.

But first money. Money is like water. You can only drink so much water in a day and you only need to spend so much money in a day. Drink 729 glasses of water in a day and you die. My basic attitude towards money is that the less you spend the less you have to earn which gives you more time for the important things in life like smiling at people.

Of course, if you stop drinking water you die too. So make a little, spend a little. That’s all you need to know about money.

All you need to know about power you can learn by becoming a parent. Give a newborn what she needs--warmth, food, touch, drink, and a clean diaper--and she grows. Now that’s power. But it’s usually not that simple. Often your new baby screams and you have no clue why. Here is your first lesson in power: people in power often do not know what to do. You turn to your husband or wife as your baby screams and you say, “What do we do now?” Here is your second lesson in power: people in power figure it out as they go.

Parents, be sure to thank your graduates. Not for making it through school but for the 729 lessons in good uses of power that they have given you.

Moving on to God. One day in 1956 when my Grandma was 53 she was reading the newspaper when she saw a story about a young mother in Grygla, the nearest town, who had died, leaving a husband, Elton Anderson, and two young girls, ages five and seven.

Grandma turned to Grandpa and said, “Oh, Emil, wouldn’t I just love to take care of those girls.”

A week later Grandpa, who was 20 years older than Grandma, had a stroke and died. A couple of weeks later Elton Anderson called Grandma and asked her to move to Grygla and take care of his two girls, Mayvonne and Donna. Many years later when Grandma told me this story she said, “God put those girls on my heart because he knew I was going to need something to do after Emil died.”

Graduates, a higher power has need of you.

Now, as promised, here’s what I have to say about sex. In the movie, Vanilla Sky, the Cameron Diaz character says to the Tom Cruise character, “Don't you know that when you sleep with someone, your body makes a promise whether you do or not?”

Graduates, get married and keep your promises.

Thank you very much, class of 2006, it’s been a pleasure.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Fixing people

Stop trying to fix them.

That was a subhead in Yona Lunken's e-letter that I received this morning. He went on to say, "As a culture we keep thinking that if we just point out someone’s weakness and then give them training for that weakness, they will be fixed. This just doesn’t happen."

As an undergraduate I studied social work and then earned a Master's degree in counseling. You could say I was interesated in fixing people. I didn't think training would fix people but I was focused on people's weaknesses and I thought counseling would fix people.

I'm not against counseling. People close to me have benefitted greatly from therapy.

Yet on my own journey I have begun to appreciate how each of us is a unique combination of strengths and weaknesses. I don't spend a lot of time trying to fix my body so that I can walk long distances. Instead I hop in my wheelchair (well, not exactly hop--smile) and get busy doing the things I'm good at.

As Yona says, "Rather than trying to fix someone, find a way to diminish or ameliorate the effects of their weakness so that their talents can shine."

That's the wonder of families and workplaces. In groups our strengths and weaknesses fit together to create a beautiful mosaic.

I'm not talking about adultery or theft--those are mloral failures, not weaknesses. When I talk about weaknesses and strengths I'm talking about things like I am a pretty good writer and pretty lousy at keeping my office in order.

Our weaknesses naturally create space for other people's strengths.

You can subscribe to Yona's free ''Thinking Skills Seminars Newsletter'' by e-mailing him at

(By the way, can anyone tell me how to create a link for an e-mail address in blogger so that the reader can click on the e-mail address and go directly to their e-mail program with the address inserted in the "To:" box?)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Living in a marketing world

Lately I've been meditating on Jesus of Nazareth's manifesto, aka the sermon on the mount. This morning a phrase caught my attention: "Where your treasure is, there your heart is also."

Where is my treasure?

Like most folks in the USA I live in a marketing world, a world that treasures things, experiences, security. etc. Looking around the room where I write this I can see well over 100 things that were made and marketed (lots of books).

At the moment I don't see what I treasure most--God and his people.

Yesterday after Plow Creek worship and our common lunch three little girls, Kora Behrens, Margret Moore, and Isa Newhouse climbed on me and my wheelchair and took a ride. I treasure the children of Plow Creek.

Lately I have been meeting with Bethany Davis, a young mother of three who moved to Plow Creek from Hawaii last August after her husband died. A stay-at-home Mom with a high school education, she is exploring where she fits in the world of work. I encouraged her to attend Evergreen Leaders recent workshop--The Listening Path--that helps people identify their talents.

During the Listening Path I ask particpants identify seven things there brain loves to do--recurring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior.

After the workshop I asked Bethany about her list of seven things her brain loves to do. Two themes emerged. Her brain loves facts and ideas and her brain loves to meet new people and to have new experiences. After we had talked a few minutes I asked her, "Have you ever considered doing marketing?" She was appalled at the idea. She saw marketing as equivalent to high pressure sales.

To give her a broader picture I gave her a couple of other examples of marketing. Kevin Behrens, a shy guy and the opposite of a high pressure, fast-talking salse person, does a great job of marketing Plow Creek Farm produce.

Kevin does everything from writing and producing the farm newsletter, taking photos, managing the farm website and during the growing season, he does the daily phone message updates. In the last couple years he has created a great relationship with Natural Direct, a new home delivery produce distributor in the western Chicago suburbs, making it possible for folks in the western suburbs to enjoy locally grown Plow Creek produce. He also creates the signs and the layout for our local self-service produce market.

Then I described to Bethany all the marketing I do for Evergreen Leaders, a nonprofit company I head that does leadership workshops and consulting to help nonprofits thrive in towns under 10,000.

As Bethany and I talked about the marketing I do for EGL Bethany kept coming up with ways to improve EGL's marketing.

"Bethany, you have a marketing brain," I said.

Last week Bethany committed to starting as a vounteer marketer for EGL. I've committed to spend time with her each week supplementing her raw talent for marketing with knowledge about how to market EGL. Also, she is going to take marketing classes at the local community college.

I treasure giving Bethany the opportunity to develop her marketing talent. One of the places I love to put my treasure is in helping people develop the talents God knit into them starting in the womb.