Monday, February 28, 2011

Heck of a Blind Spot

"Three outstanding attitudes -- obliviousness to the growing disaffection of constituents, primacy of self-aggrandizement, [and the] illusion of invulnerable status -- are persistent aspects of folly."
(Barbara Tuchman, The March of Folly)

These three attitudes actually sum up what is far too prevalent in leadership circles today. Sadly, Christian leaders aren't immune to this, either.

(A) Oblivious to the growing disaffection

It's not that these leaders don't care that people are disaffected and at times even resentful, it's that they don't notice. They've been running on a practiced route for so long, and getting the results that give them rewards (see Snakes in Suits as background reading), that they never notice the cost in human resources.

(B) Primacy of self-aggrandizement

Getting "ahead" in leadership, whatever it takes, is such a driving force that in effect, it's like putting blinders on a horse -- there's no distractions that can deter them from reaching their goal. Not even the crunching sound of the spirits of those they trample on in the process.

(C) Illusion of invulnerable status

The blinders also contribute to the fantasy that they are above the rules, above the consequences, and above being betrayed and cast out by the same system they've invested themselves in (usually by younger upstarts who were mentored too thoroughly in the same worldview).
This is, frankly, why some leaders in Christian circles can go for years acting in ways that destroy people around them, embitter those who choose to stay and endure, and yet honestly consider themselves humble servants of God.

And the most bizarre twist of all:
When they first started in ministry, they had no intention of ever becoming "one of those leaders". And yet, between human frailty, rewards of the system, and faulty examples/exhortations from popular church leadership gurus...
You gotta admit: it's one heck of a blind spot. And yet, we are on dangerous ground to automatically assume that only "they" are capable of blind spots. To quote Pastor Bob Wilson, whom I had the privilege of hearing preach on a weekly basis during my years with George Mercado:
"If you think it can't happen to you, you're half-way there already."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Deeply Ingrained

Some things seem apparently to be deeply ingrained. Bred in the bone, so to speak.
Once upon a time, in the far-off land of Southern Ontario, a young 20-year-old musician left the "secular" band he had been playing with, and was -- within a couple of days -- recruited into a "Christian" band. There were promises of being the opening act (and possible touring) with another up-and-coming local Christian band, which for me felt like a confirmation that I'd made the right decision.

After a whirl-wind month of rehearsals -- including the dramatic adrenaline rush of feeling, just days before the Big Gig, that there was no way we'd be ready in time -- we had the kind of incredible debut that is the stuff of movies.

On Saturday, we giddily threw a party to celebrate the success of the previous night's debut concert. But when I arrived, things went quickly into some unexpected directions.

The keyboard player showed up with a trunk full of beer. Now, I enjoy a pint of good ale, but this was a behemoth-sized land yacht with a trunk completely crammed with beer. We were all of "legal age", but it was clear that getting totally (insert your favourite regional colloquialism to denote complete and total intoxication here) was the intent.

When I made my reservations known about a Christian band getting "hammered" (the trendy phrase of my prehistoric day) to celebrate our first concert, I wasn't prepared for the kind of response I got -- or the intensity, either.

Feeling pretty disturbed, I went to find the guitarist who had recruited me into the band to express my concerns, but he was busy in the basement, trying to get to "second base" with our female sound tech.

Having just finished a season playing with a "secular" band -- playing "worldly" music in "worldly" places -- I wasn't very happy to see these kind of dynamics in a Christian band. Frankly, my previous band had higher standards.

At our next rehearsal, I again made my concerns known, and was again met with hostile "who-do-you-think-you-are?" defensiveness. And so ended my first foray into Christian music.

Fast forward one week, to a truly comical cluster of phone calls (proving yet again that God is not only faithful, but has a great sense of humour, as well):

While in the midst of explaining to my sister why I'd quit the band, I received a phone call from another Christian band -- they'd heard of my earlier band, heard about my reasons for quitting, and wanted me to audition for them -- tonight.

"Do you know a good singer?" they asked. Well, yes, but she was in the band I'd just left...

Hanging up, I had barely begun sharing with my incredulous sister what had just happened, when the phone rang again. It was the afore-mentioned singer.

"I've been thinking alot about what you said last week, and I quit the band tonight. If you ever hear of another opportunity, I'd love to work with you again."

"We've got an audition in 30 minutes," I replied. "I'll pick you up in 10."

We passed the audition, and the third phone call came two weeks later -- from the band we had hoped to be opening for. They had heard about me quitting the other band, and my reasons why, and wanted to adopt my newest band as their opening act.

A few lessons/observations:
  1. My tendency to dig my heels in and stand my ground about my convictions goes back a long way. And it can (often) be contrary to popular opinion, even among Christians.
  2. You often pay a price for having convictions and standing by them.
  3. While not every situation has a happy ending (like the band saga), you realize that you take these stands, regardless of what it costs you, because it's the right thing to do.
  4. God sees. And it's His opinion that really matters.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Shift Happens

We're home in Canada. Which means we can no longer just hop into our car and zip down the road to our favorite taqueria (see above) for a proper quesadilla al pastor (pork) and a tasty taco de pescado (fish), washed down with a bottle of Manzanita (apple soda).

But with the discovery of a small international food store here in Kelowna, we can have some of our favourite flavours from Baja California Norte: mole (sauce made from chocolate, peanuts, and chilis), tajin (fruit & chilis seasoning), & Valentina Salsa Picante. Because -- perhaps not surprisingly -- after three years in Mexico, our taste buds have graduated from adjusting to enjoying to craving spicy food.

Don't get me wrong -- there are some things that I absolutely do NOT miss about living in Tijuana. I don't miss the long border waits (both ways) between Tijuana & San Diego, or the power outages whenever we had lots of rain and/or high winds. Nor some of the local vermin, be it tarantulas, niños de la tierra (potato bugs), and particularly the ill-tempered fellows pictured at right. (Discovery: chlorine bleach in a spray bottle renders them loopy enough to safely scoop into your toilet for baptismal rites.)

While I never had any personal run-ins with these guys,
I don't miss the adrenaline rush of having them careening past
in their heavily-armed convoys.

And adjusting back to Canadian winters mid-January has been a little slower than we expected. While we loved living in Winnipeg back in the day, we're really grateful we didn't drop ourselves into their -40C freezer. But DANG -- things like food, gasoline ($4.50 a gallon), and even going to the movies are freakin' expensive in Canada!
Goofy reality of returning: it does seem a wee bit odd to tell people that we've just returned from Tijuana, and having them respond with "You mean Ti-A-juana, right?", as if pronouncing the name of our city accurately had somehow escaped us for three years. :)

But when all is said and done, it's the people that made the difference for us, whether in Tijuana or now back here in Canada. And so even as we adjust to not being around our Mexican circle of friends, we are grateful for the welcome and embrace from friends of old in Canada.

And it will get warmer here, eventually. :)