Can I Shine Your Shoes?

(Another installment of “Maybe I missed something here…”)

My son and I had just completed our visit to the World Aquarium, and were headed toward Dealey Plaza and an early supper. We were walking a side street in downtown Dallas, still in our Sunday church clothes, when Jeffery smiled and lifted a hesitant wave as we walked past. We returned the gesture as he quietly called from behind, “Excuse me.”

File Jan 24, 6 00 29 PMWe stopped, turned, and matched his few steps it took for us to be within handshaking distance. I extended my hand and said, “I’m Ken.” “Jeffery,” he replied, and turned to my son and shook his hand also, receiving his name as well. Jeffery continued, “I’m wondering if I could shine your shoes, or wash your car? Anything to earn a little money.” Over his shoulder was slung a red partially opened Jansport backpack perfect for schoolbooks. His black wool cap logo matched his sweatshirt, “(NS) Never Satisfied ~ We Trust“. He explained that these were a gift from someone handing them out on the street last night.

My brain, while trying to engage as a fellow human being, also revved up on the “What’s the most helpful way to respond in this situation?” question. A quarter century ago I was the founding director of a Saturday soup kitchen at First Methodist Church, Lubbock. Two decades ago I worked with homeless vets who were residents of an inpatient care and rehab domiciliary program at that Dallas VAMC. When I encounter homeless individuals, I’m wired to relate in a relational and strengths-focused way. I want to honor and respect the unique humanity of each person, and offer what I can to help a person move toward flourishing – in his or her life as she or he understands it.

I didn’t need my shoes shined, and only had $2 in my pocket which seemed insufficient for a shoe shine either way. And I didn’t want to stick around to have my car cleaned, whatever that might entail. I said we were headed to eat, and that he was welcome to join us. He nodded and I asked where he would like to go. “Well, there’s a Williams Chicken near by.” “Sounds fine,” I replied. “We’ve been to Poppies, but not Williams. Let’s go.” We talked along the 3 block journey. I mostly asked questions, though tried not to interview or interrogate him. (I may not have been successful.) We also shared some of our own life stories. Relational includes mutuality, after all. Even with strangers.

We got to the chicken place, 1/2 block from the West End Dart rail station and 1 block from the downtown Dart transfer station – an area with lots of foot traffic. Because the restrooms are only for paying customers, we had to request the key so that we could wash our hands. Time to order. Jeffery was thoughtful about not
assuming – asking before increasing his order beyond some williams chickeninternal threshold he’d determined. I nodded
both times, and then we ordered as well after studying the menu. When we received our food and I’d paid, we sat down, the three of us, and enjoyed our fried chicken and sides. We continued to talk about where we were from, what we’d been up to, and where life was heading. The food was good, and so was the conversation.

Jeffery is black. In fact we were the only non African American folks in the restaurant. While aware of this fact, it did not register that race was a significant factor in this encounter. I didn’t (and don’t) think that Jeffery selected us because we were white. I’m confident that I would not have related to him differently if he were other than African American. My son and I talked briefly about this on the way home, and he noted his awareness of how we had showed up in the midst of what seems like a stereotype.

And then I read on Sandhya Jha’s Pre-Post-Racial America: Spiritual Stories from the Front Lines  this repost from Steve Williams sharing this story told by Professor Steve Locke.

Now I’m not so sure. Did I completely miss something in our encounter with Jeffery? Was I so set on my own interpretation of the event that I didn’t pause long enough to wonder how he might be experiencing it in light of recent events. Was I living out #whiteprivilege?

I saw a homeless man, and I know from my own experience and others’ research that isolation and invisibility are common psychic challenges faced by individuals living in homelessness. Dining With someone is a way to counteract those forces. It is a way to say, “I see you, and respect you, and am happy to share table fellowship with you.” Sure, it was on my dime, so he wasn’t a totally free participant (#myprivilege). That much is clear. I’m not sure how to navigate around that except to say, “Here’s some money for dinner, and we’d love for you to join us.” Unfortunately 1) as already stated I didn’t have the cash for that, and 2) I’ve been around enough people hustling on the street to know better than to hand over cash. I do sometimes, but it’s rare. And he wasn’t working a hustle, he was actually hustling – trying to find work to earn money. In my mind (though not his experience perhaps) race is not a factor in my calculation of how to respond. Perhaps it should be, at least in my sensitivity toward the other and what they may be anticipating, experiencing, or thinking.

I also didn’t honor this man’s request to earn his own way. That much I knew at the outset, but didn’t see a good way around that, except to perhaps say, “All I have is $2. Why don’t you give me whatever level of shine you think that buys,” knowing all the time that would be a merely adequate tip on top of the charge for a decent shine.

So maybe in some way my wrestling, and this writing, help to make up the difference in whatever was lacking in my (our?) attempt to honor Jeffery and his humanity. I hope so. While I’m not color-blind, I also try to not let my vision be color-centric. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can all do better in situations like this. My heart longs for the day when such encounters don’t happen, because people like Jeffery are able to avoid finding themselves in such humbling situations to begin with. I hope my work and life, as expressions of my discipleship to Jesus, help bring about that day.



Gathering thoughts and voices

My external life and work reflect my inner heart and mind – multivocal. I almost always have at least 3 trains of thought going at any one time.

They may be bullet commuter trains, or workhorse engines, but they’re continually running, and not always in the same direction.


Sometimes the tracks go off in all sorts of crazy directions…..
….. or are they coming together from disparate places?
I’m not sure. Maybe both. Either way, this also describes the way I approach my work – bringing together multiple streams of thought, and then sending them off in far-flung directions.

My challenge is not so much holding all my trains of thought as it is communicating them in a way that makes sense to others, which they can retell, and into which they can find their own points of connection. This is one of my primary goals for the coming months – finding ways to clarify and articulate my own multivocal tracks into one meta-narrative or central story that holds it all together.

(At this point someone is saying, “Isn’t the unifying story The Gospel, the unifying character Jesus, or God?” Yes, but while true it is so broad and vague as to be next to useless for this exercise in particularity of vocational expression. The question is not “who is God?” but “who am I becoming because of God?” Jesus is God incarnate – telling us all that we need to know about God, or more accurately all we can know. How is my unique life to be an extension of that witness – how am I to incarnate God in the world?)

The primary trains of thought in my professional / work / ministry life right now are:

  • Vocation – “The voice with which our lives speak good things into existence in the world.” Research and teaching (writing and speaking) on how this understanding of vocation is essential to human life.
  • Multivocal – Discover how vocation is manifest through the six domains of human flourising, and how you can become more fully yourself, more fully whole, by discovering, developing and deploying your vocational identity in each part of your life.
  • Synchronous Life: Six Domains of Human Flourishing – developing, using and sharing this model for understanding human wholeness, and the place of vocation in it.
  • Coaching & Consulting – Leadership and Life Coaching, Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Care for leaders of ministries and nonprofits
  • Pastoral/Parish Ministry – serving as a leader in a particular Christian congregation, including preaching, teaching, worship leading, leadership development, pastoral counseling…
  • AltrCall – Gathering and Sharing Stories of Vocation. A gathering and exploration of stories of calling that include but go way beyond the norm and the expected. Clergy and Laity who are finding new ways to live out their call to ministry. Some will bear a family resemblance to things you already know. Others will be as if seeing ministry for the first time.
  • Entrepreneurship – supporting entrepreneurs in business, community nonprofits and ministries through coworking and other modalities that bring together leaders and innovators in collaborative relationships, experiences and spaces.

All of these make use of my skills in research, writing and speaking, strategic thinking and deep listening and connected yet differentiated relating. My great hope is that my work will enhance the lives of leaders across multiple sectors of society, with a special passion for those serving in congregational and community based ministries. I believe my greatest contribution and impact will be in helping these kinds of leaders to not only survive but to thrive personally and professionally – in every area of their lives. If this happens, then they will have the resilience, humility and humor to persevere in the midst of opposition and press on toward the goal of the high calling – “till justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” (Amos 5:24) Until from them flow forth streams of living water. (John 4)

Because I’m able to hold all of these in my heart, head and hands at one time, I’m unable to see simply and clearly where the center may be, the narrative thread that runs through and holds them all together so that others can make sense and use of them.

I’d love to hear from you. What do you see that communicates best (and worst) in all of this? Where are the gravitational centers? Where do you find most resonance with your own thoughts and the conversations you hear in your world?

Wake up and dream

These aren’t day dreams. These are life dreams.
These are kingdom dreams, God-sized dreams.

Sleeping dreams are weird – like a trip with Alice down the rabbit hole or through the looking glass. They are the result of a swirling mix of your subconscious mind, your anxieties, and whatever you had for dinner. Like I said, WEIRD. They may be scary, or fun, sad, heartwarming or erotic. More often than not, they seem completely detached from reality.

And yet how often do we let them control our reality? How often do we shy away from a challenge because of some nightmare of the danger or risks involved? How often do we pursue a path of unhealthy self-gratification or self-glorification that originated in a dream state? We consume stories in prose and poetry, songs, TV and movies – some of which create a very literal interpretation of these dreamlike experiences – I’m thinking of The Matrix series and Inception. You may know of others that like an MC Escher print fold dimensions inside each other as though each of us were a series of interlocking Mobius strips.

The 2013 holiday release of the new Kristen Wiig and Ben Stiller movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” – a remake of the 1947 film starring Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo – is based on the James Grover Thurber (1894-1961) story from The New Yorker magazine. Mitty is a character who lives in his imagination, with his real life bearing no resemblance to his dreams. Eventually he awakes to this situation, and makes a conscious decision to go and do something else, to Wake up and dream.

Thurber is reported to have said, “Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.” So many of our dreams have us looking in anger or fear.

God’s dreams for us begin with our waking to what is real, right here and now, in our very midst. God with us, Emmanuel. God here in the sorrow and struggle, the laughter and love. The prophet Jeremiah tells us that God’s thoughts toward God’s people are of blessing, and a future with hope. (Jer 29:11) God’s dream is to restore that which has been lost, or that which we only glimpse “as through a veil dimly.”  (1Cor 13:12)

The first and last scenes of the Bible are of a beautiful garden in which human beings are in harmony with one another, they undertake meaningful creative work caring for the world as a central feature of their blessed state, and they are in communion with God who dwells and walks among them. Their home is God’s home. This is the vision, the dream which God is continually dreaming for us and working with us to unfold in and through us.

“And they called him Emmanuel, God with us.”

Most often the Bible uses the word wake with reference to calling people to pay attention to what is happening around them, to shake off the stupor of their sinful and slothful ways. Shake off the haze of the culture which invites you to deny the reality of God and the spiritual world, and even your own spirit. Shake off the sleep that lulls you into believing either that you are the only thing that matters, or that you do not matter at all.

The sojourners from the east came, wise and wealthy – and thereby powerful – yet they humbled themselves before the child Jesus. Shepherds, the least and lowest, the most despised among Jewish society, found themselves with personal engraved invitations to the party of the ages. The “reality” in both situations would have told them to stay away – one because they were too good, and the other because they were not good enough. Yet through dreams and visions they all came to realize that the invitation was for them, and for everyone – “Peace on earth, good will to all.”

What will your dreams reveal, when you begin to let yourself dream them? What is God longing to show you? What is being prepared for you to be and do in the world so that others might experience Emmanuel? Whether you’re a shepherd, a wiseman, an innkeeper, a carpenter, or a young and innocent woman, you have a role to play in the unfolding drama of God’s dream. Will you open to it?

These reflections were written in preparation for a sermon on 12/29/2013, first Sunday after Christmas. The sermon scriptures were:
Isaiah 52:7-10  ~  Psalm 98  ~  Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12)  ~  John 1:1-14

Best Jobs and How to Decide

“What do I want to be when I grow up?”

Whether you’re trying to decide that as a high school or college student, during a midlife “there must be more” crisis, or after a layoff, divorce or other life upheaval, this is an important and difficult question.

One source of data for consideration comes from
Best Jobs in America

You’ll also want to ask yourself:
What do I want out of life?

What am I best at?

As you work through all of that, be sure to have conversation partners who can help you with reality check and creative thinking – both are important in the process and are enhanced through dialogue with other perspectives.

Let us know how we can help.


This is a useful acronym for a basic process of coaching. You can use this with yourself, in a group where you are a member, and in coaching others.

Goal – What is the desired future state toward which you wish to move?

Reality Check – What is currently going on? What are the feelings, thoughts, actions that brought you to this present, and are keeping you here? What strengths and deficits are part of that picture.

Options for steps forward – What can I/You/We do to move from our present reality to our preferred future? What else? And what else? This is the brainstorming session of the process, where there are no silly, dumb or bad ideas. The more we limit ourselves during this phase, the less our prospect of reaching our goal with success and significance.

Will – “What will I do?” This is the place where I choose a path forward, from all the options identified above. Between “Options” and “Will” critical evaluations and discernment will be made. We also recognize that trial and error, failure and trying again are critical to the process of development.