Newsletter 604 – When There’s Nothing to Say

MAN WALKING 1Obviously this image of somebody walking away is not a photo of me, but did anyone wonder if I’d walked away from this newsletter for the past few days? There was no crisis or decision to quit writing. I simply got swamped with other things and decided to let this go for a couple of weeks.

At the beginning I named this a newsletter, determined to give weekly updates on issues that were recent, fresh, and relevant to anyone who might read what I would write. Usually the material for these posts comes from the diversity of things that I read or from the interesting people with whom I interact. But sometimes other things get in the way of this goal, usually the result of one or two obstacles. Probably you encounter these as well.

First obstacle is too much material. This is the information overload problem of being inundated with magazines, newsletters, books, blogs, audio or printed newspapers and floods of media material that we want to read. Wall Street Journal (March 11) reported that three in four surveyed people felt overwhelmed much of the time because of too much information. These people feel they will never catch up despite using various methods for learning “faster and smarter,” including an underwater device that permits listening and swimming at the same time.

Second obstacle is not having anything to say or lacking the time to find something fresh. That was me last week. Why write a newsletter when I did not have any news to share? (What do columnists or pastors do when they have deadlines but nothing worthwhile to communicate?) Often this dearth comes because we stop reading or connecting with people. Take in nothing and there is nothing to give out. Without external input we dry up.

Of course we’re speechless at times because we encounter a disaster or seemingly impossible problem. More often we struggle with unrealistic expectations. It is difficult to apply the principle that no one person can know, learn, read, or develop expertise in every area that seems interesting. Harder is accepting the fact that God never calls one person to do everything or help everybody. We need to set realistic priorities, discern God’s calling and responsibilities for our lives, and sometimes walk away from things that we can leave for a time. Do you agree? Please leave a comment.

Newsletter 603 – The Mindfulness Explosion

Homepage_RotatorI read a number of magazines that expose me to information and trends that may be unfamiliar but that also can have relevance to my interests in counseling, coaching, leadership, ministry and futuristic issues. Psychotherapy Networker is one such publication. The current (January/February, 2015)  issue on mindfulness stretched and disturbed me but the best article is Mary Sykes Wylie’s lengthy overview on the popularity and perils of mindfulness. 

Wylie describes mindfulness as a “kind of stealth Buddhism,” popularized, westernized, and mass-marketed without the “bells, chants, prayers, and terms like dharma and karma.” From modest beginnings, interest in the mindfulness movement has exploded, making extravagant claims about its effectiveness. It permeates the health-care and mental health professions, the US military, numerous corporations, university courses, sports, and even churches. It has captivated and impacted “regular people—teachers, truck drivers, carpenters, business executives, stay-at-home mothers—trying to find the inner stillness beneath the turmoil of their lives.” Mindfulness is relentlessly marketed as a form of personal stress reduction, even though there is no accepted definition of what it is or how it is done.

 One leader defines mindfulness as a form of meditation that involves “paying attention on purpose in the present moment nonjudgmentally.” Thousands of scientific articles have studied mindfulness but one massive review concluded that the research is not very rigorous and gives limited evidence of its effectiveness. And as mindfulness has become a huge business and fad it also has produced a backlash of critics.

 What does this mean for you or me?

Be cautious. Mindfulness is Buddhist based and promotes techniques that may be inconsistent with many elements of Christianity and other non-Eastern ways of thinking. From her secular perspective Wylie writes, ”Mindfulness is an entire worldview and religion… entirely subjective and inherently unfriendly to the necessarily objective methods of empirical science….While it has been acclaimed and sold as a quick, no-risk, easily-mastered technique to achieve just about any desired goal….in fact it is a far-deeper…and less well-understood process than many people realize.”

·      Be open. Many practices are valuable, despite their origins, and consistent with our Christian and professional beliefs. Meditation, for example, is a biblical concept but with a focus that differs from mindfulness meditation.

Wylie’s article is worth reading. What do you think? Please comment.

Newsletter 602 – Decluttering Your Life

clutter 8Over a year ago my wife and I started the process of downsizing, selling our house, and moving to a condominium. We knew this would be stressful but it’s almost over. One of the most difficult tasks was decluttering the house and getting rid of our accumulated stuff. (Does anyone agree with my daughter who says that books do not count as stuff? Sounds good to me!)

With this background I had a special interest in the theme of Leadership Journal (Winter, 2015): “Declutter: Straightening the mess of ministry.” The articles extend beyond ministry and apply to our cluttered lives, schedules and careers. Here are some highlights including a few observations of my own:

  • David Kinnaman cites research about our hyperlinked lives, distracting addictions to cell phones, and compulsions to keep up with everything that comes to our devices.
  • An article on the collapse of Mars Hill Church points to the values and behaviors of people who are driven to make an impact, change the world, grow bigger, become known, or develop impressive resumés. It is easy to forget God in all of this and buckle under the anxiety and overcrowded to-do lists.
  • Drawing on his new book Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul, Bill Hybels writes about making tough choices to strategically neglect things we aren’t called to do. Hybels states, “if you try to do everything and sustain unsafe levels of speed [or activity] long enough, something terrible is going to happen.” Hybels sits down regularly “with a calendar and a submitted spirit” to determine what he can and cannot or should not do. It’s the old idea of having “don’t-do” lists as well as “to-do” lists.
  • God does not call us to do everything. Decluttering your life of valued activities can be even harder than getting rid of stuff.
  • Of course there are things in life that you can’t dump. But be aware of your calling, passions, gifts and abilities. Try to focus on these. If you don’t know what these are, ask the people who know you best.
  • Schedule time to rest and rejuvenate with whatever brings you replenishment. Don’t pretend that your work or ministry is so important that you can’t pause periodically. Keep pushing and sometimes your body forces you to slow down or declutter.


I see myself in much of this. Do you relate? How do you declutter? Please comment.

Newsletter 601 – Six Hundred Newsletters

blog 3About 13 years ago I wrote a newsletter about coaching and counseling trends and sent it to people with email addresses in my inbox. It never was my intention to continue this for years and neither did I plan to comment when we reached newsletter number 600 last week. But a friend urged me to share some of what I’ve learned about writing newsletter/blogs for so long. So here goes: 

  • Getting started. When this began I was no longer teaching or heading a counseling organization but I wanted a platform to let a few friends share what I was learning. Sometimes lasting things begin for no great reasons.
  • Setting parameters. Most blogs show the writer’s values. I wanted to be practical, relevant, up-to-date, culturally sensitive, and futuristic. These posts are not about self-promotion, selling my books, or (apart from this week) sharing what I’ve learned from a long career. I build on Christian values but try using a tone that is low-key, never preachy nor manipulative.
  • Purpose. These posts share observations about helping and building people, drawn most weeks from contemporary publications in business, education, ministry, coaching, therapy, or leadership.
  • Finding readers. This is mostly by word of mouth. Our audience is relatively small, multinational, older, and people involved in helping others. Many are long-time friends. In addition to these, I’d like to have more academics, students, and emerging professional care-givers and leaders. Probably I should be more focused.
  • Motivation. Why do I keep going? Who am I writing for? This answer is not very noble or spiritual but mostly I write for myself. Producing this newsletter forces me to keep learning, keep relevant, and keep synthesizing what I am learning in 400 words or less. One goal is to keep this engaging and interesting.
  • Coming up with new materials. I never stop looking for new ideas or perspectives so this weekly post shares what I’m learning. If anyone reads, reflects or takes in a lot, fresh ideas rarely are lacking.
  • Quitting. This will happen when I get bored or unable to keep going. Maybe we can reach newsletter 1000. That would come around in-mid 2023. Are any of you planning you to stick with me?

Would fellow-bloggers or blog readers add anything that may be helpful to others? Please share your comments.

Newsletter 600 – Why Aren’t You an Innovator?

innovationbulb Have you ever thought about writing a book, starting a business, planting a church, or quitting your day job to try something different? What’s holding you back? Inc magazine (February 2015) notes that “the default state of the human psyche is doubt, fear of failure, and avoidance of regret. For some reason entrepreneurs aren’t wired that way.” But more of us “see risk around every corner.” Fear holds us back so we dream about what might be but we never take action to make things happen. How do we overcome that fear? One Inc columnist writes that the answer is to plan.

That’s way too simplistic. There is no one answer. Planning is valuable. So is goal-setting. But consider these other issues that have a bearing on our ability to overcome fear and do something new or innovative:

  • Personality. Do you have a risk-taker mentality or orientation? Some people will resist stepping out regardless of the plan, goal, or potential. Forcing these people (including ourselves) to take risks rarely works.
  • People. Some innovators work well alone, but innovation or goal-accomplishment is more likely in those who work with others, have support, or connect with coaches and mentors who give encouragement, and guidance. Have you ever kept going because somebody believed in you?
  • Patience and persistence. Inventions and innovative ideas can be slow to develop. Good books, academic theses and doctoral dissertations usually take a long time to write. It takes years to master a musical instrument, acquire a new language, or develop top proficiency in a sport.
  • Possibilities. This week I read a book chapter about the role of luck in innovations and success. Malcolm Gladwell, Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates all attribute some of their successes to luck. Whether or not you believe in luck (I don’t) it is clear that some success comes from opportunities that arise, the education or environments that we experience, the innate abilities that we inherit, or from being in the right place at the right time. Christians are likely to see the hand of God in all this.
  • Prayer. Never underestimate the power of God to guide or provide what we need to innovate.

Business magazines place a high value on innovation. Maybe too high. What if we never innovate or reach goals, but dutifully use what we’ve got to improve the world around us? Is that failure? Please comment.

Newsletter 599 – Making an Impact By the Life You Live

Be the Message 2If you want to know what another person really believes and values then look at his or her actions. There is nothing profound about that statement. It’s a variation of the old cliché that actions speak louder than words. I wondered if I’d get a similar message from Kerry and Chris Shook’s recent book Be the Message: Taking Your Life Beyond Words to a Life of Action. But the reviews nudged me to read this book, written by a pastoral couple who are tired of sermons and a Christianity that is mostly about talking.

This book is a personal reflection written from a Christian perspective but with practical ideas that extend far beyond churchgoers. Consider three examples:

  • Holy Disturbance sounds more theological than it is. This is something that “bothers you enough to make you consider moving out of your comfort zone to become part of the solution.” It’s an area so disturbing and persistent that we are compelled to act. We find this by looking at our life experiences, the people or events around us, and the injustices or areas of ignorance we see and want to change. Often a holy disturbance emerges when we take time to reflect and listen for God’s nudges or for the observations of friends. Sometimes we know what we need to be doing but resist because of fear or lethargy.
  • The Valley of the Overwhelmed. This involves trying to do more than we can handle, sometimes because we see no alternative. Many people have big dreams to change the world. Nothing wrong with that. But “you can’t change the world by stepping over the people closest to you.” What small steps can you take, starting in your own home or neighborhood? Sometimes those small steps make the most lasting difference.
  • Being the Message. That is the theme of the book. Sometimes doors of opportunity open that impact huge numbers of people. More often we impact the world through the lives we live, “being real and authentic, uniquely reflecting the message of Jesus to people who cross our paths every day.” We impact the world by who we are, how we respond in times of crises, react to the needs around us, or follow our areas of holy disturbance.

Is this too simple? Maybe. But there are times when we need to go back to the basics. Please share your experiences or comments.

Newsletter 598 – Depression and the Fear of Terrorism

PARIS EST CHARLIE 2One of my closest friends is Parisian. He has lived in Paris for most of his life and was there last week. Following the terrorist attacks he sent me an email message stating, in part: I’ve experienced the waves of terrorism in 1986 and 1995 in Paris. I’ve also experienced 9/11 in NYC. I know how to “protect” myself from these tragedies: I usually turn off the TV and limit my access to the media – non-stop media updates tend to format people’s minds and make them more anxious. I do not cut myself off but I deliberately watch less TV and listen more to the radio (to avoid the impact of images.) I listen a couple of times throughout the day – but do not keep the radio on all day long. The more we dwell on negative issues, the worse they get in our thinking and the more entrenched in our brains.

I thought of this when I read the November-December 2014 issue of Psychotherapy Networker magazine focusing on depression. The authors write that despite diverse therapeutic treatments and anti-depressant medications (most of which work about equally well,) depression is increasing and becoming “the most important public health issue in the world.”

Even so, the “entire mental health establishment still regards the condition as an individual problem, confined within an individual skull.” Without criticizing individual therapies and medications, the PT writers note the massive evidence showing that individual depression is in reality “a vast and cultural problem inextricably linked to the basic habits, mores and expectation of our era.” These include our relentless competition, determination to attain unrealistic goals, and “unflagging desire for more–more money, more status, more power, more stuff and more happiness–all of which can create conditions for chronic low mood.”

Just as an unending (media or other) focus on terrorism can train the brain to be fearful, so too can brains be influenced and depression worsened by therapies that dwell on reciting symptoms or telling affected people that they have a solely genetic or brain disorder that is likely to persist. Maybe we need to get beyond the defect model, honor the strengths of depressed people, and help them learn how to get clear of the mood lowering impact of our changing social values and expectations.

It’s a paradigm change to view depression as a social as well as an individual and spiritual issue. What do you think? Please comment.


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