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Farm Pond in NebraskaWhile casually chatting with some new friends, one looks up and glances toward the lake where our kids are exploring. He asks about a noise he heard. The other Dad listens. “That’s not a good yell!” He says – and takes off running.

I didn’t hear the commotion, but knowing my kids are about 600 yards away by the farm pond, I too took off running.

Since lunch wouldn’t be ready right away, the kids decided to go explore the farm. I didn’t think too much of it, but later when I heard they were out by the lake, a small voice urged me to go check on them. And yet, I ignored it.

Well, I didn’t actually ignore it, but I did argue with that little voice. As an older father with a long history in EMS, I tend to be a bit cautious. I want my kids to inherit my adventuresome spirit, but I’d like them to survive.

I never feared death until my kids were born. Now, I feel vulnerable to death. It would kill me to lose them, and I’d hate to abandon them through my own death. For someone who embraces adventure and dangerous activities, it’s a weird place to be.

So here I am, running through waist deep grass and weeds about 30 feet behind my friend. We still don’t know what’s going on, but we can hear panicked screams of terror from at least one child. But we can’t see them. I’m praying the whole way and preplanning resuscitation scenarios in my head. I’m also steeling myself, emotionally, to do CPR on one of my kids.

Suddenly the weeds get thick and we can’t run. The vines are wrapping around our ankles and the nettles are stinging our legs. The urgency is still there, but I feel like a turtle running through peanut butter. We’re really in deep weeds now.

I catch a sight of my Smiling Son’s white cowboy hat, and I can see he’s walking around – but he’s near the lake. I call our my Darling Daughter’s name – once, twice, and she finally answers. The screaming calms and the kids appear out of the deep weeds. Just then, I get dive bombed by bees.

As I continue to struggle through the vines and grass, I’m waving my arms trying to fend off the bees. The kids tell us that they were attacked by bees. Ah, now they tell me! ūüėČ

I get through the weeds and away from the offended nest. I have a million grass seeds in my socks and shoes, and few stings from the nettles, but I escaped the angry bees. The kids are fine, except for a few stings, but they are all scared and relieved to see us. I, on the other hand am out of breath and filled with the adrenaline rush of fear, panic, and genuine parental concern.

I take turns holding my kids and soothing their fear.

That’s one of the hard things about being a parent. It doesn’t matter what emotions are in your own heart, your kids’ needs come first. They feared bees, I feared something more tragic and scary. They feared the physical pain of stingers, I feared losing one or both of them. Clearly, my fears trump theirs – but that is irrelevant. I held them. Their fears are real, and deep, and tragic.

At their ages, they could never understand the depth of my love for them. My Smiling Son and I have a little bedtime ritual. He tries to one-up me on how much he loves me more than I love him. I love his confidence and enthusiasm as he tries to show me how much he loves me. It’s a form of worship really. But, without crushing his spirit, I can never let him win this game.

First, he doesn’t understand, really, the depth of love we are really talking about. Second, he can never love me more. And finally, the stakes are high – our kids have to know the depth of our love for them. They have to know that our love is a nearly bottomless pit.

As we walked back to the farm-house, the kids shared their stories of the “hundreds and millions of bees” that attacked them. We two Dads, just held them, listened, and thanked God for the opportunity to still hold our kids.

Several years ago, I accidentally watched an episode of Survivor. I’ve never been a fan of “reality” TV, and I’ve always been fairly selective of what I watch. That doesn’t mean I won’t watch a gritty crime series, or enjoy a good, hokie western now and then – but for the most part, I look for media that stimulates my mind. Anyway, I set the VCR to record one show, but apparently missed the cues and recorded Survivor instead.

A couple of days later, I sat down to watch the show I thought I recorded. Instead, the third episode of Survivor: Marquesas came on. I watched it and was amazed at the dynamics I saw being played out. (Try not to judge me, and listen to what I learned) I was immediately taken by one contestant, Hunter Ellis,¬†a former Naval aviator. In my ignorance at how this “game” is played, it seemed to me this is the guy you’d want on your team. If anyone knows anything about survival, it would be this military-trained pilot. But before I could say, sensationalism, Ellis was voted off the island.

Needless to say, I was hooked. I’ve always been a quiet student of human nature and political science. I was curious to figure this out. Why would a group of people vote off the most qualified person on the island. Over the course of the next 12 episodes, I developed a fairly strong theory.

  • First, Ellis was the biggest threat.
  • Second, he was good, but not stellar, when it came to interpersonal leadership skills.
  • and finally, because of the game, the others didn’t see him as a necessary resource.

The main reason I found this show so fascinating was because of the situation I found myself in at the time. Fresh from graduate school, my wife and I found ourselves pastoring two churches – both small, rural (blue collar), and very traditional. Neither of us are traditional, and though we come from blue-collar backgrounds, we are both well educated. In addition, small churches don’t fit well within our background. In fact, fresh from the seminary, and new to professional ministry, we were all set to change the world.

(As a side note, there may be many reasons to send new, young pastors to small, rural churches – but for the life of me, I don’t believe any of those ideas outweigh the damage this does to the individuals and the organization.)

But, back to my fascinating theory on what happened during this episode of Survivor.

Not only was Ellis smart, well educated, and proficient in survival/outdoor skills, but he was handsome and articulate. Unfortunately, the game is about wilderness survival, it is about political survival.  Knowing how to start a fire without matches, or building a shelter without tools, while nice skills to have, neither are the primary objective. Though those skills can be leveraged towards the primary objective, they are merely currency.

As a new pastor, coming into a church where the Head Elder has held his position since I was six years old, I was completely unprepared for the “game.” I (wrongly) believed the purpose of doing church was to help people know that God loves them. I somehow believe that my ideas, vision, and education would be welcomed with enthusiasm and affirmation. For some strange reason, I thought the people in the church were just waiting to be empowered an mobilized. I was so wrong.

I was so wrong.

Interestingly, we got out of that first situation with our lives relatively intact – just as Hunter Ellis went on to capitalize on his 15 minutes of fame. My entire professional career, I relied upon my expertise and skills to succeed. I was a good paramedic, a good instructor, and a good public speaker. I learned to be a good administrator and a good project manager. Somehow, naively, I was able to avoid the pitfalls of the political subcultures I found myself in. I expected a meritocracy, but after watching this one season of Survivor, I learned that merit is seldom the purpose of most organizations.

Relationships matter. One can use their skills and merit a return on investment, but in a political organization, skills, talent, and experience are merely the currency of membership. Without continuing to build the relationships, and the bartering of give and take, they will soon find themselves bankrupt and without merit.

Unfortunately for me, I tend to build relationships with the underdogs and the disempowered. My compassion and empathy tends to overlook the powerful – for I tend to think the powerful would automatically want to help those less fortunate then themselves. I’m not quite cynical enough to think this isn’t true, but I’m pretty close to believing that if one focuses on the underdogs, they will never have a future amongst the powerful.

According to Wikipedia, Ellis was voted one of the worst Survivor players ever. He was deemed to be too cocky and, ironically, not paying close enough attention to his own standing. As I review my previous political errors, this could be said of me also. I’ve often been labeled cocky, or arrogant. I’ll own that. I do think there is a certain amount of self-confidence involved in that – plus, INTJs struggle with this perception. But still, I’ll own that fact that I’m often perceived as too cocky.

I also own the idea that I don’t pay enough attention to my own political standing. I’m opposed to currying favor, bartering with compromise, and using political standing to gain traction. Of course, this has not gone well in many situations. More than once I’ve had a boss call me onto the carpet to let me know I just made him look bad, or wasn’t supporting his vision of how things should progress. And more than once I’ve explained that I will follow my conscience and do the “right” thing, regardless of what is best for the organization’s survival.

My motive is never the survival of the organization, and always what is best for the individuals affected. As a paramedic and EMS manager, I was motivated by quality patient care. As a pastor, my motivation was to serve the disadvantaged and disempowered. As a voter, I am motivated to support those who cannot support themselves – not myself, or those well above the poverty line.

This is what gets me in trouble. I suppose some would suggest I take a more passionate interest in my own career – but I can’t. It’s would be immoral for me to do so. I could never put my own career, or the standing of any organization above what’s right.

Ellis was good. As I said, he was bright, articulate, skilled, charismatic, and attractive. But not stellar. From my observations, he is a leader and he has good ideas, but not stellar leadership, and not superior ideas. The biggest lesson I learned from watching this season of Survivor is that being a mediocre leader is one of the surest paths to political demise.

If one cannot rise up and be¬†the¬†leader, it would probably be best to blend into the background. Unfortunately, this isn’t a skill I’ve mastered either. Coming into this small, rural, traditional church, with a¬†very established power structure, I thought my position, education, and enthusiasm would trump the inertia – it didn’t. In fact, all of my strengths were actually liabilities.

“I was too focused on doing the right thing.”

We were able to escape Rock Springs and serve in an area that was more akin to our passion and vision, but barely. If we had stayed much longer, we might have faced the same fate we experienced in Scappoose. Although I had an intellectual understanding of the dynamics, I never really applied them. Now, in retrospect, I realize this is what led to my demise in Scappoose and later at¬†AMR. I was too focused on doing the right thing (whether my perspective of the “right thing” is correct, or not, is irrelevant to this discussion).

In Scappoose, I was all about reclaiming the marginalized members, looking out for those who didn’t feel comfortable in traditional church settings, and building connections within the community. What I didn’t realize is that none of those tasks should have been at the top of my list of priorities. Oops.

At AMR, I was focused on better supporting the paramedics and EMTs – knowing this is the surest way to achieve quality, and compassionate, patient care. My focus was on patient care and caring for our employees. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that AMRs goal was profit.

Ellis appeared to focus on survival, but because of his superior skills he was deemed a threat. I now realize that some deemed me a threat also. Whether the threat was to their power and control, or to the status quo, it really doesn’t matter.

I wonder what would have happened had Ellis bartered his skillset for position and standing within the game. What would have happened if I had taken the time to establish my position and standing, rather than pursuing the vision within me?

Or here’s a better question: What if society valued ideas and creative vision, rather than pretentious political gaming?

“As you begin to interpret your failures correctly, you will take your first giant step toward maturity.” ~Chuck Swindoll

All morning long, I’ve had music going through my head. But it isn’t the music¬†that is important – it is the opportunities that music represents. Ideas, philosophies, creativity, and love – all of these make up a holistic approach to my forward trajectory. Individually, each is just a part of me, together they are a part of a whole, that is much greater than the sum.

As an¬†INTJ, I have many ideas. INTJs are known as the¬†architects, ordesigners. Our strength is creative ideas, our weakness is the administration of those ideas. A few years ago I worked with a fantastic team of people who loved to pull together great opportunities and turn them into realities. It was an awesome experience, and one that was very fulfilling. I remember one night, as we prepared for a great grand opening experience, 30 people, led by a smaller group of four, were busy getting ready for the next day’s event. As their leader, I did virtually nothing except walk around and encourage.

The beauty of that night was that everything that was coming together was exactly how I’d envisioned it. I wasn’t pushing, I wasn’t sweating, and I wasn’t stressed. It was incredible to see all this come together, just as I’d dreamed for the past six or seven years. And the grand opening event was even better than any of us had imagined. I could never have done it alone, and it was the collaboration of ideas and resources that made it better than I’d initially imagined.

As I’ve had some time to regroup over the past couple of weeks, some of those ideas are starting to fill my head again. Unfortunately, I have no outlet for those ideas. I’m more rested, more relaxed, and feeling more at peace than I have in months. Yes, I need more of this, and the resting isn’t over – however, I’m regaining some balance.

I realized today that I’m not afraid to give away my ideas. In fact, they aren’t really my ideas. Solomon once said, “there is nothing new under the Sun.” I believe that. Another great man once said, “All good things come from God.” I believe that too. So, indeed, these ideas in my head, they don’t belong to me. I cannot hoard them. In fact, I’ll never be able to implement even a few of them. If I could implement just one good idea, and carry it through to completion, I’d be satisfied for life.

That is the discouraging thing about having left Common Ground five years ago. It wasn’t finished. It’s still a good idea, and I want to keep doing it. I just got too involved in survival. I’ve been trying to make others happy, and failing. I’ve been trying to stay employed – and create passion in other peoples’ endeavors, but it isn’t working. I believe we can restart Common Ground – and maybe with a little more solid foundation and long-term trajectory.

I’m actually OK being employed, and I’m OK working for others. I just need to find employment that isn’t killing me and my family. Other than that – everything else is fine. I’m OK working 50+ hours a week. I’m OK furthering the profits of others. And I’m OK being subservient to a boss. I just need to have the time, to stay holistically healthy.

There is music inside of me.  I just want the space to set it free.

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