Sunday, September 30, 2007

Letters

Envelope One of the requests the teens heading off to college was that more than anything they'd like letters.  They want simple notes in their snail mailbox reminding them that people are thinking about them.  So, I figured I'd put something together for those which I have addresses.

Here's the problem though.  With Facebook, blogs, blog comments and bi-weekly phone calls, they all know everything that's going on in my life and  I generally know what they're up to as well. So, what do you write about to someone you already contact semi-regularly?

When I was in high school a girlfriend of mine went off to camp for most of the Summer.  We wrote letters every few days to each-other.  I keep wondering what in the world we talked about.  Couldn't have been anything incredibly deep, right?

So, I'm thinking it's time to remember what it was like to be in high school.  Chat about the minutia of life and any little thing that pops into my head.

Oddly, after writing a letter like that, I think it came out pretty well.

How about you, if you had to write a snail mail letter who would it be to and what would you say?

Peace,
+Tom

Thursday, September 27, 2007

AutoTithe

I was reading the blog of my friend David about Direct Deposit Tithing.  He commented on the prevalence of churches allowing people to auto pay the money to the church (tithe) instead of making them bring a check or cash in an envelope.

Automatic Tithing Machine Before his posts on this I also came across an article about how some churches are installing ATM like machines in the lobby to make giving easier.  That horrified me at first, now I just find it kind of disgusting and annoying.

In any case, at St. Matthew's our contemporary service doesn't take a collection.  Instead we do simply leave an offering plate at the back of the church.  We have also considered a way to directly withdraw from someone's account, though the companies we've seen add on some fees which don't really make much sense.  In many cases people who prefer to pay electronically have their banks automatically send a check.

As a family we still drop a check in the plate after church.  At the same time though, this is the only time during the month that we use cash or checks.  Everything else is directly deposited or checks are sent from the back.  If it were up to me, we'd be tithing to the church in the same way, but for some reason my wife prefers giving this way.  She and I both agree though that giving envelopes are a waste of paper and a horrible treatment of this ecosystem God gave us.

Where I have concerns come partly in the blessing of the money.  I'm not as concerned about that though, since the purpose to which the money is being used is supported by the church and furthers God's mission.  Essentially it's been blessed going out, so it doesn't need to be blessed coming in.  I also sometimes struggle with public blessings of offerings since it could be construed as us focusing on the money instead of the sacrifice.

More than that, I'm concerned that this does offer the opportunity for people to tithe dangerously.  People could begin paying for their tithe using their credit cards so they get more "points" or whatever.  This can easily lead to a credit card not paid off in time or tithing being seen as just another debt to incur.

Overall though, I'm a fan of direct paying.  You know the money is received successfully and no one needs to know if I give weekly, monthly or annually.

As the scripture points out, my tithe is my sacrifice for God.  No one else needs to know about it.

Peace,
+Tom

Friday, September 21, 2007

Feedback Advice

Give Us Some Feedback In my years at work I have given feedback on many, many different people during their annual assessments (reviews).  I've performed assessments myself and simply given feedback on someone I've worked with.  If I had any one piece of advice for someone giving feedback on a person it would be this:

Give me an example

For every feedback item I try and give at least one concrete example.

A general statement such as, "He leads a team well, but could be better at giving out task assignments" is ok.  But a better statement is, "He leads a team well, but could be better at giving out task assignments.  When I was working with him on XYZ he gave a great picture of what was necessary for the client to consider success.  At the same time I had to go to him and ask what I should be doing or give him suggestions on work I should do based on my understanding of the deliverable."

Even if I miss 2 things that the person should improve on, having one concrete example gives the person being reviewed an understanding of where it came from and often insight into himself and ways he can improve.  It also could be a misunderstanding on my part, which helps him see it's not really a problem.

Obviously this is true outside the workplace.

Every time I talk to my friend Rob about a problem or something I've seen that he could improve on, his first question is "Really? what happened?"  Without the concrete example of what went wrong or what went right, the feedback doesn't feel like it applies.  So it becomes easier to shrug off as not "my" problem.

If you can't find an example, don't give the feedback.

Peace,
+Tom

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Proposal Perspective

I came across this proposal video today.  Give it a look, it's worth the 4 minutes (and I hate watching videos from blog posts).

I'm incredibly impressed with his commitment to making the most creative, memorable and appropriate wedding proposal.  Looking at the time frames this took weeks.  I thought about my proposal for months, but when all was said and done I think I only really committed a couple of days to making it happen.

More than anything though I'm impressed with the thought and perspective needed to make this a reality.  When you look from almost any angle you see something like this:

Proposal side view

But when you look straight on you see:

Proposal2

Sometimes turning around changes everything.

Peace,
+Tom

Welcome To My World

No sooner did I begin crafting this post about Bullied student tickled pink by schoolmates' T-shirt campaign than my friend Mark Riddle mentioned it.  Stupid people stealing my thoughts. Thankfully what strikes me is different from what struck Mark.

The story is essentially about a kid w ho got bullied for wearing a pink shirt the first day of school.  Two other seniors somehow found out about it and bought 50 pink shirts (tank tops included) to wear to school the next day.  Then they e-mailed their friends to let them know.

The next day almost the entire school is in pink.  Either from shirts they bought or some wearing their own pink clothes (from shirts down to shoes).  The principal said:

"Definitely it looked like there was a big weight lifted off his shoulders. He went from looking right depressed to being as happy as can be," said Shepherd.

It's a heartwarming story and certainly gives you the warm fuzzies.  Here's what really struck me though.

This was the kids first day in high school.  He was an incoming freshman and the people who noticed were seniors.  That pretty much means that these seniors almost definitely didn't know the person bullied since they were 4 years apart in age.

I'm also struck by how incredibly quickly they acted.  They heard about the problem and immediately acted so that the next day the hurt soul would be surprised and feel welcomed immediately.  The kid didn't go a few days hurting, and the seniors didn't simply express their distaste for what the bully did.  The spent their own money in no time flat to change the outlook of one person.

I wonder if I'd be willing to put forth a bunch of money and time this afternoon to help someone I know nothing about.

Peace,
+Tom

Friday, September 14, 2007

Attentiveness

I'm currently taking a class at the local seminary about how to teach.  Our teacher made the following comment.

The more a child feels comfortable with the teacher, the more they are going to act out.

I guess that's why the older Rachel gets the more she talks back to me.

Seriously though, while I'd never heard this before it makes a ton of sense.

As I got closer to the teens in youth group, they really began to feel comfortable with me and each-other.  As the new teens come in they are incredibly attentive.  Over time they too sometimes stray off into their own conversations.

A lot of this comes from individual maturity.  The older these guys get the more willing they are to sit still and let each-other talk.

In any case it has some real repercussions, since I tend to try to connect at a personal level with people.  How do you keep that connection while also commanding respect?

I guess that's a question for next class.

Peace,
+Tom

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Random Requests for Community

Apple Seeds in Palm Ever since I started taking classes at VTS (the seminary in the area), I've been joking that I get more random e-mail requests than I've ever seen.  Here's one that came last night.

I need lots and lots of apple seeds (about 200 in all) for a Christian ed project that will be coming due in a couple of weeks. If you are an apple eater and can save a few seeds for me I would be very, very grateful.

 

As much as these requests are kind of random, all of them make me smile.  They all make very clear that I'm now part of a deeply knit community which cares for each-other.

More than apple seed requests, I've also gotten impromptu Ultimate Frisbee and football games on the quad that afternoon.  There are also requests for rides some place, parties or even personal updates when a family member of a student or teach is sick or passes away.  All of these requests go to everyone in the school, from the new student up to the administration.

While it can sometimes be annoying, since I don't know anyone, it's been one of the biggest things which has made me feel like I'm a part of this community, since I'm not there full-time and don't live close enough to take part.

Many organizations would take these e-mails and move them off to separate mailing lists.  Then you subscribe to the list of information you want to hear about, and subsequently causing no one to subscribe.  Here people do great at not replying all (something that is STILL a problem at the IT company I work with) to the e-mails, and there's such a great informality to it all.  VTS really does get community right.

Since we just picked a bunch of apples on our trip to New Hampshire, I'm eating away and will make an apple pie for a get-together this weekend.  Want me to make an extra pie for you?

Peace,
+Tom

Evolution

I was talking to one of our teens whose recently gone off to college.  He asked how the current youth program was going and made the following comment:

I'll be interested to see how its going when I get back, it seems like a very evolutionary process currently.

He's right, it's incredibly evolutionary.  That got me thinking about life in general.  I essentially responded that these evolutionary processes are life.

It's all just one messed up thing after anther finally leads us to...  another messed up thing that more people like...  Which just goes on and on and on.  Eventually though, some day, you make one person happy or get one person to find Christ, and then it's all good.

So, enjoy this messed up moment of your life.  Eventually it will be long gone, replaced by some other messed up moment.  All leading you to your final life goal...  as messed up as it may be.

Peace,
+Tom

Monday, September 10, 2007

Indecision

I was putting some dirty dishes into the dish washer this evening and all I could think to myself while I was doing it was "I hope the few dishes in the washer now are dirty."  Because if they were clean then Erin would come home and ask "Why did you put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher?" with that gently curious, yet slightly accusatory tone.  You know, the one which says, "What were you thinking‽"

While I was thinking about this I also realized just how easy it is to question yourself into stagnation.  I could easily have thrown up my hands and decided to just leave the dishes alone.  I'll ask Erin later or, better yet, simply let her take care of it.

I'm finding that people are so worried about offending someone that they quickly decide not to do anything.  Instead of telling Erin that she's irritated me (this is simply an example, she hasn't ever irritated me of course) I would let it go and ignore the problem.  Of course, it will just irritate me more the next time.

This certainly spills over into my church life.

When planning our WATCH program where I'm co-teaching a bible study to teens, I continue to say "whatever you'd prefer" to the person I'm teaching with.  I'm trying to let her really make her own decisions and make the experience her own.

Beyond those platitudes though, the reality is that I'm also trying to make her happy.  I'm trying to let the co-leader make the decisions so that I don't need to. It's always easier to blame the decision maker, and I sure don't want that person to be me.

Those who know me though, know that isn't entirely true.  I will accept blame even when it isn't my fault.  I also feel quite free with almost anyone at church to tell them what I'm thinking when asked.

My point though, is that it's very easy to stop making decisions for fear of upsetting someone impacted by the decision.

The bigger problem though is that by not making decisions we quickly fall into a stupor and never accomplish anything in life beyond watching the latest episode of Doctor Who.

Peace,
+Tom

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Unexpected Kindnesses

Right now our family and a friends' family are on the road to  New Hampshire.  While we were leaving lunch I hard this great story.

While in the bathroom one woman noticed another one with a breast pump, frustratingly trying to find an outlet to plug into.  For those without kids, a breast pump is this odd contraption women strap to their chests to understand what a milk cow feels like. 

The hard part is that if a nursing mother doesn't feed their child or use their pump things get, shall we say, clogged up.  So husbands need to happily provide a way for our wives to pump every two or three hours so we avoid avoid pain and suffering.  Thankfully you can buy plugs for both the wall and the car, for use during long trips.

Turns out the woman in the restroom either lost or didn't have a car plug for her pump.  This other woman saw the pump and quickly understood the issue.

What's pretty neat about the story though is that the woman overhearing the problem had the same pump.  She quickly went out to her car and got the car plug she uses for her pump and loaned it to this other woman for the rest of their trip, simply offering the plug and address to return the plug sometime later.

That's it.  Two travelers crossing in a Friendly's in Connecticut.  Miles from home and heading in random directions.  One recognized anothers' problem and gave something of their own to help.

I swear, the best thing about road trips are the opportunities to we have to see different things and really sacrifice for a stranger.  How often do I really offer more than condolences and understanding of someone else's problem?

The neatest part of the story?  My wife is the one to give up her car plug for her pump.  I always said I married well.

Peace,
+Tom