Soar or Sour

When something sours, like milk, it takes on an acidic taste and curdles into chunks. It’s pretty yucky. Take a chug of that milk and you’ll likely spit it out immediately through a grimacing face. And, you’ll likely be just a bit more vigilant about checking “best-before” dates for a while.

This morning I was writing about one of the dreams I had last night. For the last seven years or so now I’ve been using a five step process that I created of working with my dreams. I was on step five, writing out a few assignments to pay attention to during the day, informed by my dream. I meant to type the word “soar,” but my computer autocorrected to “sour.” I laughed. Slightly different direction.

Sour does have it’s place, however. I think of fermented cabbage, Korean kimchi, that keeps for a very long time. Kimchi is for many, an acquired taste that I got in 1984 and 1985 when I lived as a missionary in Korea. I had my initial yucky face grimace with kimchi, but really grew to love and crave the taste. Still do. Nonetheless, “sour” often has a negative connotation. It’s not quite like the “sweet” of chocolate, is it. Few people dispute the goodness of chocolate. But “sour” — sour often gets a bad rub.

Somewhere in this dream-working process and the laughter of auto-correct, I began thinking about another experience in my Korean language days. I had an instructor back then who challenged myself and my fellow missionaries to set goals on how much language we could learn. Back then it was relatively simple and helpful — another ten vocabulary words in the next ten minutes. It helped. Without question. I also remember however, that I was a bit resistant. Even then I had some default in me that leaned to more process-oriented “goals.” I remember thinking that “I’ll do my best.” It was a process goal that I was convinced might yield more than ten vocabulary words, but also sometimes less. I also remember that I didn’t want to be doubted in these goals; I wanted to be trusted.

The value of goal-setting is about as hard to argue as the value of chocolate. Indisputable. You’re nuts if you don’t think it is valuable. I share this perspective, definitely. However, like most “indisputable” claims, a problem arises when alternatives are completely dismissed as invalid. Sour has it’s place, by choice. Process has it’s place, by choice.

In the last thirty-five years I’ve met and been with plenty of people that adhere religiously to goals. Stretch goals tend to produce whether applied to sit-ups, vocabulary words, or setting a direction for a team. But please, no really, PLEASE, could we create just a little more space for process commitments. This is the likes of values that inspire and principles that give meaning to all of the production and doing that is such a part of most of our lives. Goals have a lot to do with management. Good, keep that up. However, process has a lot to do with leadership — engaging people as a group and system to unfold itself into more capacity and potential (it’s hard not to say, “accomplish more goals” here, but therein lays some of the trick of using language).

Process seems to have an inherent trust in it — hmmm? Less coercion — hmmm? Less belief that “unless I make you do it, you won’t” — hmmm? These sound a bit familiar for any of us with kids — the garbage isn’t going out if I don’t offer a reminder or two. But then again, perhaps this is the developmental marker — at some point we are not kids and teenagers, and need to evolve from the manipulation of each other into the sweetness of matured choices together. Of brains more fully thinking. Of hearts more fully engaging. Of imaginations more fully creating.

The times call for this thinking, engaging, and creating, right? This kind of challenging how we do; not just insisting on goals of more — twice as much in half the time with half the resources. It’s time to look beyond the obvious and the patterned immediateness so apparent in contemporary society. Soar, yes. Put perhaps with a bit of deliberate sour mixed in.




Toxic Charity

A few years ago, my good friend and colleague Kathleen Masters gave me a book, Toxic Charity, by Robert Lupton. It’s a book written about the good desires of churches and missions trying to help, but creating unintended consequences of more hurt for those they are trying to help. It doesn’t just apply to churches.

In revisiting this book lately, I remembered the clear example of toxicity shared by the author. It was of a U.S. mission team rushing to Honduras to rebuild homes destroyed by a hurricane. The cost was $30,000 per home. The cost for locals to do it would have been $3,000 per home.

Or this example, a mission trip to repaint an orphanage equal in total cost to what would be needed to hire two local painters and two new full-time teachers, and purchase new uniforms for every student in the school.

Yikes, right.

Now let’s be clear. Mission trips aren’t just about a financial transaction. There are many unseen qualities that can’t be priced. Relationships that change who we are. Stories that we carry for forty years into the future. Being cracked open to sorrow and joy in others and in ourselves. All of that matters. A lot.

And, there is something to be said for reevaluating the values of our giving so as to create more sustainability. Yes, there is the old story of teaching a person to fish rather than giving the person a fish each day.

Lupton offers a compelling “Oath for Compassionate Service” that feels well worth remembering.

  • Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.
  • Limit one-way giving to emergency situations.
  • Strive to empower through employment, lending, and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.
  • Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served.
  • Listen closely to those you seek to help.

What I appreciate most in Lupton’s words are that he is helping to evolve an orientation. From the well-intended “give, give, give” to a message of “empower.” It’s an evolution from “doing to” to “doing with.” Even good things can turn out to be toxic — thanks Robert Lupton for helping shed some light on this evolution of charity.