Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Get On With It

There is a fine line between being patient and being passive. I recently retweeted the following:

From @ThisInspiresUs: They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. - Andy Warhol
#LiveBetter #change

There is an interesting truth to this quote. Indeed, time does change things--not in and of its own accord. Change comes about because, as time passes, people are taking actions. Depending on the actions taken, things will change one way or another.  The more like the past that new actions might be, the less things will change. The more radically different new actions might be, the more things will change. It is not time alone that brings about change. Change comes as a result of changes made by people compounded over time.

Sitting back passively waiting for time to change things is ineffective. Surely, some things change slowly. Being patient while waiting for effort and actions to pay off is fine, but to fail to participate in bringing about change simply does not. Change will (or might) occur with time because others are directing it. In such a case, the outcome will be determined by the effort of someone else. The passive person will have no influence on what the new circumstances will look like. Their hope to see changes they desire will be squashed by the desires of someone else. To realize desired change, then, means not being passive.

The trick to bringing about desired change is to know what one wants and to work toward that. I cannot understate how important it is to "know what one wants"! Change to a vague, undefined image of something is frustrating at best, if not totally fruitless. Know what the desired change looks like, then get on with the work of bringing about that change.

There are two sides to such work. One side is like painting a picture. When you know what the desired outcome looks like, start adding things to the canvas that fits. For example, if people seek to change the dynamic of a relationship to something more fulfilling, then they need to add to the routine things that are part of a fulfilling relationship!

The other side to the work of change is like sculpture. Once the desired outcome is identified, chip away everything that does not fit.  Take away everything that does not look like, for instance, healthy eating, and what is left will be--well healthy eating.

Change, then, comes from the sum of the two processes--adding in things that fit the desired outcome and taking away anything that does not.

When a people take on the task of changing, they cannot sit back passively and wait for time to act alone. They should be patient--yes--but patient only in giving time to their efforts at making change for themselves.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Rich Is As Rich Thinks

Too many times, it seems to me, people tie the idea of being happy with the aquisition of stuff. This is unfortunate because so rarely does stuff actually bring about lasting satisfaction.
From @lNSPlRING: There are two ways of being rich. One is to have what you want, the other is to be satisfied with what you have.
Having what you want is a tricky proposition. How many times does a person see something they want, purchase it or otherwise obtain it, and then discover that it really does not bring to their life the expected pleasures? It is very easy to over estimate how much joy something will bring. Our wants often mislead us with promisies--vapid claims that if we just have that one more thing then...

Oh, to be sure, I have acquired some things that I am very fond of! The utility and convenience some things bring contribute to my sense of happiness.

I am writting this blog on my iPad, which I resisted purchasing for a long time. When Visible Music College asked me to relocate to the Chicago area to head up the opening of a new campus, I thought the functions of an iPad would be valuable, and I was right.

Does this device make me happy? Hmm... It does not make me happy inherently. Not sitting on a desk. I am happy with what I can accomplish as a result of having this wonderful piece of technology, not just because I have it.

Therein is the key. Happiness does not come from things. Happiness comes from our mind. How we think about the things we have results in happiness--the things themselves are incapable of producing ANY emotional response within us. Our reaction comes from the ideas, values, and beliefs we hold and how those internal predispositions interact with the things in our life.

I have a couple of pictures of my sons that probably cost me less than $20.00 total to have printed and framed. When I see them, my mind is connected to years of experiences and memories. I respond positively; I am happy as a result. The happiness does not come from the "things." If another person who did not know my sons had those pictures, they would NOT respond with the same happiness.

Being satisfied is a decision. Looking at what you have and, if it realistically performs as it should, deciding to be content disempowers the lies of our wants. Deciding to be content will lead to being happy with what you have.

If we define being rich, not as a measure of how much we have, but rather as a measure of how little we want, then it is far easier to be rich by wanting what we have and being satisfied than it is to be rich by acquiring more and more stuff.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Making a Difference

Day by day, we move in and out of the lives of other people: family members, friends, coworkers, store clerks, cashiers, passersby, etc. Inevitably, we interact with these people, touching their lives and being touched by them.

On any given day, the people we encounter may be in the midst of a wonderful day, or far too often, they may be plowing through challenges or even adversity. As a result, the way they treat us can vary. The cashier at the convenience store who is terse and seemingly disinterested in us might be, indeed, thoughtless and unmotivated. But on the other hand, they might be preoccupied by mentally planning household management issues for their children, feeling the sting of an earlier rude customer, or experiencing any number of other reactions to any number of life challengers.

For someone wishing to make the world better, someone wishing to live fully and richly, the cause of someone's moodiness is irrelevant. Our call is, according to Jesus, to be salt and light to the world, to offer hope and encouragement--to preserve and to illuminate in a sometimes tainted and dark world. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls this being the "visible community" of God to the world. At Visible Music College, we embrace this idea and attempt to infuse it into all our students who will graduate and go into "the real world" to serve.

Our response to this need not be complicated or involve grand initiatives. I recently quoted a tweet that quoted Aesop:
From @Inspire_Us:No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. -Aesop 
#LiveBetter Live so as to make the lives of others better.
Don't be discouraged by thinking it won't matter in the long run. It will matter immediately.

I have spent years being overtly friendly and pleasant to store clerks and cashiers. I have never done this and thought I had wasted my time. My prevailing memory is the look of pleased surprise to my simple "Hi, how are you doing today?" said with a smile and a look in their eyes. I cannot remember any cases ever of someone being unhappy with me for taking an extra few seconds to hold the door for them.

Kindness can be simple and easy. It can become something we do naturally without thinking. It should!

There is in theology a concept called human agency. In part, the idea is that God works in the world, now, through the acts and efforts of human beings empowered spiritually by God. If a good work is to be done in the world, it is to be done by the faithful. If kindness is to be shown, it will be shown by the faithful. 

While being the working agents of God's desires for the world need not involve grand initiatives, I would argue that the sum of an army of small gestures would have huge affect. If twenty people smile and offer a friendly greeting to a store clerk, the sum of those encounters would surely brighten the clerks mood.

Many people doing acts of kindness, no matter how small, will make a difference. The key is for each person to do something, knowing that whatever that something is, it is not wasted.

Friday, August 16, 2013

You Never Know

As I begin this reflection, I am sitting at McDonald's covered in plaster dust and other funk from the middle of the last century--everywhere except my hands, which took about five minutes of scrubbing to get off the sticky black goo that came off the wires of the light fixture I removed before I left the Visible Music College campus a few minutes ago. I am typing on my iPhone now, but will finish this blog from my computer, later. As I sit here, my thoughts have turned to how God calls on us to do the work that needs to be done, regardless of what we expect. People never know what will need to be done nor what events of the past will prepare them to do it.

I moved to the Eastern edge of Chicagoland on May 15, 2013 to head up Visible Music College's launch of a new campus. In the three months since coming here, a lot of things have happened. I have set up a new home, a very satisfactory apartment in northwest Indiana, just over the state line. I have made a special friend who brings great happiness to me. I have learned my way around between the few places I frequent on a regular basis.

However, attending to the demands of Visible's new venture has taken up most of my time and energy. (Just ask my WoW friends--they'll tell you!) Central to my work has been taking part in the renovation of the building that will become Visible-Chicago in the Village of Lansing. Arriving in May, little could be done regarding recruiting for enrollment, so focusing on the facilities naturally took center stage.

Actual renovation began the first week of July, about a month and a half after I moved up. Starting work was delayed... July saw uncounted volunteer hours poured into the Lansing facility as demolition and renovation raced along.

In the weeks that followed, I have turned to, not my seminary or graduate school studies, but to my half-century of life to take part in the rehabilitation of the campus--parts of which were built in at the end of the nineteenth century! Having owned a house in Memphis built in 1907 and another later, I have done my share of handyman projects, and almost everyone one of those projects has informed my efforts to be part of the remodel.

As I looked forward to moving to the Chicago area to take this position, I never would have guessed that my carpentry skills, refined by the building of my boys' play-fort, would be required in order to aline the building's readiness for drywall with the availability of the drywall installers. I never would have guessed rewiring that old house would develop skills that I would use in removing old (disconnected) wiring and to assist the electrician in running new circuits. How could I have known my gardening attempts would be useful?

In the course of the weeks, I have tore out walls, built walls, tore out ceilings, patched ceilings, and moved masses of debris. My Black and Decker saw bought in 1986 died, as did my Dremel that had barely been used. I have been covered in plaster dust and who knows what else. I have found chucks of not-sure-what in my eye and ruined two sets of contacts. I have relied on my iPhone for emails and Internet correspondences.  I have averaged ten hours a day for the last ten days participating in remodeling the building, sometimes working alone, sometimes with the amazing volunteers, and at times, alongside of the paid contractors. I am bruised, cut, and scrapped, and I smashed the edge of my finger with a hammer.

Yet, through it all, progress is made. People are enthusiastic and see the vision--the vision that drives me to press on and "get 'er done" starting most days at 7 a.m. and staying, some days, until the last volunteer leaves fourteen or fifteen hours later. The vision of Visible-Chicago is clear: an extension of the curriculum from the Memphis campus partnered with the Lansing community in a way that is dynamic, unique, and exciting. Visible-Chicago will be a bright spot among the revived Lansing business district.

Projects of this scope require great commitment and great people--people who are willing to take on challenges never knowing what all will be required of them. There are many. Too many to name in full, but a few that stand out. The contractor who has set aside his uncounted hours to organize and plan the work... The pastor who rallies the volunteers... The electrician who comes around after work in the evenings... The homemaker who spends hours and hours on site doing tedious detail work... The teens who take on the thankless task of sweeping up debris and carrying it to the trash.

These people never knew what would be required of them, nor how their life experiences would be used to build the Kingdom of God.

That's just the point. I never knew. They never knew. The people who are available are the ones who have to do what needs to be done. They may never know what experiences of the past will be called upon to meet the demands of a current situation.

Whatever It Takes

When we find ourselves with a clear reasonable goal before us, it would be nice if reaching the goal was simply a matter of following a prescribed, clear plan. It is wonderful when that is how things work out!

In the reality that is my life, however, rarely do things just unfold as planned. Whether in my personal life, in group computer gaming, or in conjunction with my work--most recently with Visible Music College-Chicago,  the normal course from point A to point B is impeded by the unplanned and unexpected.

People and organizations need to anticipate this and prepare. The vital step in preparation for such challenges is a mindset. Embracing an attitude of "whatever it takes" is vital for being ready to deal with unplanned challenges and difficulties.

Groups will suffer harshly if some of its members fail to adopt this approach. Antithetical points of view can stifle success. Espousing the notion that "it's not my job" will leave gaps in getting done those things that must be accomplished in order to see a project to its end or a goal to its fulfillment.

At the time I am writing this, Visible Music College-Chicago is in the process of renovating what will be our campus. In the course of this renovation, I have had to put down my graduate and seminary degrees and take up the tools of a carpenter, painter, trash remover, and many other tasks. At times, there are no volunteers around, and the hired tradesmen need certain things done in a time-sensitive manner. I have to do whatever it takes.

A friend of mine from the video game, Word of Warcraft, is in a team with me that is progressing through a series of "10-man" challenges (called raids). Though it is usually her duty on this team to play a particular role, on one challenge, we were stuck because those of us in a different role were unable to meet the needs of the encounter. This friend stepped up and changed her role--traded roles with another team member--so that we could be successful. She was willing to set aside what she did in the normal setting and was willing to do whatever it took for the team to succeed.  While she could have said, "well the problem is not because of me, and it is not my job, so too bad." But she didn't, and the team succeeded.

There is no end to the scenarios in which success depends on individuals stepping up and doing whatever it takes. The single parent doing whatever it takes to provide meaningful care for children... The athlete who puts in extra hours to hone skills... The student who foregoes social activities in order to pass difficult classes...

The road to success, even when clearly mapped in advance, is subject to surprises. When the unexpected occurs, someone (or some people) will need to embrace the "whatever it takes" attitude, or failure awaits.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Knowing is Not Enough. Do.

I frequently tweet ideas related to overcoming, to seeing things to their end even in the midst of trials and hardships. Recently, I (@BillSnodgrass) tweeted this:
From @Quote_Soup: There is a difference between knowing the path & walking the path. -Morpheus
I think people, too often, find themselves stuck in difficult situations, knowing they need to change. They know staying where they are will result in perpetuating the hardship or undesirable circumstances in which they find themselves. Sometimes, these people know exactly what they need to do in order to to overcome the problems or achieve their desired goals.

Yet, they do not take action. For any number of reasons, they remain where they are despite knowing the path they need to take. They know what to do, yet fail to act. Their inaction results in "unchange." Simply knowing what to do is not enough. Change comes only in doing.

Over the years, I have worked with many people who wanted to experience change in various areas. Some time ago, I worked with a man who wanted to lose weight, so he said.

He knew what to do. He knew he needed to change eating habits. He knew he needed to exercise. Nevertheless, he made no changes to his lifestyle. He continued being sedentary and eating far more than needed. Eventually, I confronted him.

"You don't really want to lose weight," I said. "You wish you wanted to lose weight, but you really don't want to change anything."

Many people wish they wanted to make a change, and what's more, they know the path they need to take in order for that change to be realized. They see themselves stuck in undesirable circumstances, and even know what they need to do to change.

But knowing is not enough.

Doing is required.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

And IT Begins...

It has been some time since I found myself in a position where I thought spending time writing ideas would be worthwhile. However, today, I looked up and realized I had quite a few Twitter followers. Since I so often, I feel like I need to talk more about my Tweets--to say more than the limited number of characters allow, I decided to explore options.

Long ago, I set up this blog, but never found a reason to use it. As I thought about my desire to share anecdotes, ideas, and encouragement with others, I decided to revive the old blogger account, blow off the dust, and begin to share.

I am not so vain to believe many people will take time to read what I write. Some will. My mom might... But, here, I will spend more than 140 characters on ideas and thoughts, mostly toward the theme of #LiveBetter, the direction toward which I push most of my Tweets.

Check out my Tweets and follow me:

Of course, then, there is Facebook:

See you around the Internet!