Thursday, October 30, 2014

What's Going on in My Life

            Over the past few months I’ve really gained focus in my life. I want to be a writer. I’m just not sure how to turn this into a career. I’ve been working with a writer’s group and recently met an online marketing group. One of the fascinating things is how much people are willing to help another to help reach their dreams.
            I recently finished a play entitled, I Hate My Job. I am working on a short story for Escape Pod. They accept submissions for science fiction short stories. It should be a challenge, but probably not as big a challenge as the horror story I wrote. It was a first person perspective of a serial killer. I’m not sure how much I’ll write in that genre. I just don’t want to become too in tune with that part of my personality. It’s a little scary.
            I currently made the decision to close down my blog for children. I never write for that blog, so what’s the point. I need to start narrowing my focus while at the same time broadening my network. I hope all my readers will come along for the ride.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Neophyte

            The Neophyte sat in the chair looking across the desk at the Bishop. The chair was well padded, but had one spring poking the Neophyte in the left buttock. The Neophyte didn’t give it a second thought, but the chair was trying his best to give him a warning. “Beware of the Bishop. He’ll bite you in the ass.”
            The Neophyte scanned the large, cedar desk. On one corner were a mouse, keyboard and monitor. On the other corner was a large Bible. It was nearly 6 inches thick and was covered in red leather. It sat upon a small pile of handwritten notes. The heft seemed the sole justification for the imposing pulpit sitting a few hundred yards away in the sanctuary.
            Behind the desk was shelving containing several thousand books. The books knew it was just a sham. The Bishop wasn’t a man of letters. When he did occasionally consume a book, it wasn’t for knowledge. He was merely analyzing its form for techniques to use to communicate his messages, which were more showmanship than substance.
            Behind the imposing desk sat the Bishop, rocking back and forth in his black leather chair. The Neophyte casually glanced at the Bishop’s stern face and gold glasses, but then his eyes were fixed for several seconds on the Bishop’s suit. The sheen of the fine silk glimmered in the light beaming through the office window. The light hit the Bishop’s ring—solid gold with diamonds surrounding a ruby.
            The ring emanated a rainbow. The Neophyte was beguiled by its gaze. He peered at the ring and the ring appeared to stare back.
            The Neophyte’s concentration was broken by the booming voice of the Bishop. “So, you’re the one.”
            “Um, . . . ah, I-I-I don’t know.” The Neophyte felt sure the tremors in his stomach were a moving of the Holy Spirit. After watching the Bishop for years from a distance, the Neophyte was sure every aspect of the Bishop’s ministry emanated from the Holy Spirit.
            The Bishop sat up in his chair and proclaimed in a slightly louder voice, “So, you’re the one.”
            “I’m, . . . n-not sure what you mean by that.”
            “The Elders have told me about you. You’re quite a charismatic young men.”
            “Well, thanks.”
            “Yes, yes. You have the look. You have the voice. You have the strut. You have what it takes to increase my ministry.”
            The Neophyte wasn’t sure what to say. He sat frozen.
            “Do you know what I’m offering you?”
            “I’m not sure.”
            “You’ll be my anointed. You’ll help to shepherd the flock. With you in my stable, we will build the fold—bigger and grander. You’ll be my right hand man.”
            The Neophyte wasn’t sure what to say. He stared at the Bishop.
            The Bishop stared back. “Are you in?”
            “Huh? I’m, . . . um, . . .”
            “Take a breath young man and listen.” The Bishop stared him in the eyes. “I’m offering you the role of being my right hand man. Are you in?”
            “I, I, I guess so.”
            “No guessing. I need a firm commitment. Are you in?”
            The Neophyte sat up in his chair. The chair tried its best to give one last warning, digging deep into his backside. By this time the Neophyte was too beguiled to even notice. He stiffened his spine, looked the Bishop straight in the eyes and forcefully said, “Yes!”
            “Good, good. Now, before we go any further, I have to tell you a secret.”
            The Neophyte felt God’s hand must be moving. “A secret from the Bishop”, he thought. “It must be a message from God.”
            “I want you to listen closely. Everything you see, I mean everything, is an illusion. My preaching, my ministry, the miracles are all an illusion.”
            The Neophyte was stunned. He sat listening in silence.
            “It’s all about control and power. It’s made me a wealthy man.”
            “I, I-I’m, . . . not sure.”
            The Bishop reached his burly paw across the desk and grabbed the Neophyte by the collar. “You tell this secret and you’ll be ostracized. If I disown you, your family and friends will disown you. You will be all alone—no connection, no help and no guidance in this world.”
            The Neophyte grimaced as the Bishop’s paw tightened his collar. The Bishop let go and sat back in his chair. The two stared at each other for several minutes, like two prizefighters measuring up their opponent.
            The Bishop broke the silence. “I know what you’re thinking. How could this all be a lie? Well, it’s not a lie. It’s a reality that I’ve created. There’s nothing like power, son. Nothing!”
            The Neophyte was again beguiled by the Bishop’s ring.
            “That’s twenty-four karat. And, the ruby is real. Feel it.” The Bishop took off the ring and handed it to the Neophyte.
            The Neophyte was shocked by the heft of the ring. The ring glimmered—a prize to be had, an object to be coveted.
            The Bishop chuckled. “Oh, there’s more. There’s so much more to power than just things. Power is erotic.”
            The Neophyte sat in silent contemplation.
            The Bishop leaned back in his chair. He cocked his head and peered quizzically at the Neophyte for several minutes. He was measuring him up.
            The Neophyte was bewildered. “Could this all be a lie?” he thought to himself. “I couldn’t be that easily deceived.”
            The Bishop broke the silence. “I know what you’re thinking. I couldn’t possibly be that deceived!”
            The Neophyte was shocked and a little scared. Could the Bishop read his mind? He continued to sit there, motionless and in utter silence.
            The Bishop again broke the silence. “That’s the secret of control. Yes, yes. The secret is people won’t admit they’re deceived.”
            That last statement was so shocking, it broke the Neophyte’s silent contemplation. He had to engage the Bishop at this point. Curiosity was pushing him to find his voice. “No? How can that be?”
            The Bishop chuckled. “Son, you need to understand human nature if you want to control them. It’s really quite simple. People are prideful. And, people are self-serving slackers. But, people don’t want to admit to those things. So, it allows one to control others. You just have to learn a few techniques.”
            The Neophyte forcefully responded. “So, you’re just, . . . a performer!”
            “Well, that’s one way to look at it. Let me just begin with the statement that people won’t admit they’re wrong. What’s at the root of that?”
            “Um, . . Pride? Pride is the root of that.”
            “Right. And, what does the Bible say about pride?”
            “Pride comes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
            “Exactly. And, what do they fall for?”
            “Well, I don’t know.”
            “I’ll give you a hint. You’re holding it.”
            The Neophyte had completely forgotten the ring in his hand. He held up the ring and looked at it. The ring, in the most beguiling way, looked back at him chuckling.
            “It’s all about the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.”
            The Neophyte was confused. “But, all those things are in the Bible.”
            The Bishop peered at him for a few seconds. “Yes, it’s all in the Bible. Why does that surprise you?”
            “Aren’t we supposed to use the Bible for good? To help people? It’s not a manual about how to manipulate others!”
            “Well, it depends on your perspective, now doesn’t it? There are all kinds of commands for people to do good. And, you can use that to control people as well.”
            “That’s not my point. The Bible isn’t about controlling others. It’s about loving our neighbors.”
            The Bishop stared the Neophyte in the eyes for a few moments. It was the beguiling gaze of a serpent before it delivers its deathblow. “You don’t understand young man. The Bible is both. It can be used either way. It can be used to serve others. There are many that do that. Just look at all the small churches in the area. Lesser men with lesser ministries may use it that way. But, the Bible teaches us about human nature. And, when you understand the nature of man, you can control him. You can harness him, just like a farmer harnesses a mule. Or, a jockey harnesses a horse. Or, a butcher leads cattle to slaughter. You can turn him left or right. And, you can do it all for your own glory.”
            “But, that’s not right!”
            “Put on the ring!”
            The Neophyte stared back at the Bishop incredulously.
            The Bishop rose, slamming both hands forcefully on his desk and uttered in a shattering voice, “PUT ON THE RING!”
            The Neophyte put on the ring and stared at it. The ring gleamed back, smiling like a beguiling serpent. The cool metal caressed his skin. The heft spoke of power. The Neophyte was intoxicated.
            “You may keep the ring.”
            The Neophyte was taken by surprise. “Oh, no, . . . I-I-I couldn’t possibly . . .”
            “Keep the ring!” The Bishop sat back down and watched the Neophyte stare at the ring. “Can you see why I call power erotic?”
            “This is a nice ring!”
            “Now, see that picture on my wall?” The Bishop pointed at a picture of the Politician.
            “Yeah, I see it. What about it?”
            “Do you know who that is?”
            “Well, sure, that’s the Politician.”
            “What do you think of his policies?”
            “Well, I don’t know. Good and bad I guess?”
            “Good and bad.” The Bishop chuckled. “Okay, are you happy about the war the Politician started.”
            “Well, no, not really. It all seems to be about oil and power.”
            “Are you happy the Politician gave all that money to the banks.”
            “Well, no. I mean, we really needed that money and he gave it to the rich.”
            “Are you happy about the scandal?”
            The Neophyte was a little confused. “Which one?”
            “How about the one where he gave arms to the Terrorist.”
            “Well, no. Those people want to kill us.”
            “How about the one where the Corporate Head poured toxins in the river?”
            “Well, no. People drink that water.”
            “What about the one where they lost all those files on the government computers?”
            “Well, no. That was a huge security breach.”
            “So, what has he done that you’ve liked?”
            The Neophyte sat silent for several seconds. He then boldly proclaimed, “Yeah, but he’s still better than the other guy!”
            The Bishop laughed maniacally.
            “What’s so funny?”
            “You voted for the Politicians, didn’t you?”
            “Of course I did. We all voted for the Politician.”
            “So, why did you vote for him?”
            “I told you. He was better than the other guy?”
            “Why? I don’t know. The other guy was an idiot.”
            “See, see, here’s my point. The Politician has done nothing but evil. Yet, you still defend him. Why don’t you just admit you were duped?”
            “I wasn’t duped!”
            “You weren’t?”
            “And that, my young friend, is a huge part of controlling people. You won’t admit you were duped. You were, but you won’t admit it. You’re too prideful.” The Bishop rocked back and forth in his chair for several seconds and smiled at the Neophyte. “So, how did he dupe you?”
            “I wasn’t duped!”
            “Okay, okay. You weren’t duped. So, how did he dupe all those other people?”
            “Well, he told lies.”
            “Okay, he told lies. But, what kind of lies?”
            “I’m not sure what you’re getting at. What do you mean what kind of lies?”
            “What exact lies did the Politicians tell?”
            “Well, he promised us jobs.”
            “And, he promised us wealth.”
            “Good, good. What else did he promise?”
            “Healthcare. And, um, . . . a return to national pride?”
            “Anything else?”
            “Safety from our enemies.”
            “Anything else?”
            “I’m sure there’s more, but that’s all I can remember right now.”
            “Okay, think about that list: jobs, wealth, health, national pride and safety. Does that sound a lot like the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life?”
            “I guess so. What are you getting at?”
            “He told lies, but not just any lies. He told the lies everyone wanted to hear. That’s where the self-serving part comes in. Promise people what they want and you’ll hook them. You don’t have to hook them for long. So many people out there are just like you. They won’t admit they were duped, but they were. And, the only real commitment they made to the Politician was one or two votes. Just a few seconds in a voter’s both and that commitment is enough to make them defend the man.”
            “That can’t be true!”
            “Oh, it is. Get people to believe a lie they already want to believe in. Once they make the smallest of commitments, their pride stops them from admitting they were duped. Pride and self-centeredness work in tandem. You work one side, you’ll fail. But, when you work them both you can lead people around by the nose. That’s what the Politician did.”
            “This all seems so unreal.”
            “Yes, but there’s another part to it.”
            “So, it is more complex.”
            “Well, yes and no. This next part really isn’t all that complex. Remember what I told you about people?”
            “Um, . . . which part?”
            “Well, they aren’t just self-serving, but they are self-serving . . . ?”
            “They’re self-serving slackers.”
            “Right. People are slackers. They’re lazy. They don’t want to be responsible for their own actions. They want the easy way out.”
            “What’s that got to do with power?”
            “People hand over the reins?”
            “I’m not sure I get you. Hand over the reins?”
            “Okay, let’s say we were to drive across the entire country—from New York to Los Angeles.”
            “That’s a long drive.”
            The Bishop chuckled. “Sure is. So, if you had the choice between doing the driving or kicking back as a passenger, which would you choose?”
            “I suppose I’d be a passenger. That driving is a lotta work.”
            “Right. There you have it.”
            “Have what?”
            “Driving is a lotta work.”
            “What? I’m not following. How does this apply to controlling people?”
            “People don’t want to be behind the wheel. They want someone else to do the driving.”
            “You mean, they hand over control of their lives, because being in charge is too much work?”
            The Bishop glimmered at the Neophyte. “Now, you got it.”
            “So, wait, it’s all about manipulating pride, self-centeredness and laziness.”
            “Those three are the trinity of control. And, here’s another dirty little secret.”
            The Neophyte leaned in close to hear.
            The Bishop whispered. “Deep down, people know they are being prideful. They know they are being self-serving. They know they are lazy. And, all those things make them feel guilt. And, guilty people are far easier to neuter.”
            The Neophyte sat in silent contemplation.
            The Bishop gave him several minutes to let the truth sink in. “Okay, here’s the biggest lie.” The Bishop took a long pause.
            The Neophyte held his breathe, waiting to here this.
            “I’m the biggest lie.”
            “I’m the biggest lie.”
            “You like that ring, don’t you.”
            The Neophyte stared at the beguiling serpent caressing his finger. “Yes!”
            “People look at me and they see the ring. They see the suit. They see the Mercedes. They see my lovely wife. Hell, that damn woman doesn’t even love me, but she’s a great piece of eye candy. And, they want what I got. It’s as simple as that. I can take what they have, because they want what I got. I control them through this lie I’ve created.”
            The Neophyte continued to stare at the beguiling serpent.
            “Do you know what that ring is worth?”
            “Um, . . . ah, . . . I have no idea.”
            “Easily fifty or sixty grand.”
            “Now, young man, you have a choice to make. We’ll meet again in a week—same time, same office. If you take my offer, the ring is your. You can sell it, pawn it, wear it, it’s yours to do with whatever you want. That ring is a new car. That ring is a beautiful woman. That ring is fine clothes. That ring can be yours. Or, in a week you can reject my offer and return the ring.”
            “Wait, so if I keep the ring then I’ll be your assistant.”
            “Not just assistant. You’ll be my anointed. You’ll share in all my wealth, all my power, all my influence. Everything the world has to offer will be yours.”
            “And, if I give back the ring I reject your offer.”
            “That’s right. If you reject the ring, you may be that do-gooder you see in the Bible. You can serve your fellow man. You can make the world a better place. You can feed the hungry and clothe the homeless. That’s the choice the Bible leaves you with. You can either serve God and your fellow man; or, you can use it as a tool to control others. You have a week to decide.”
            The Neophyte continued to stare at the beguiling serpent. He felt the Bishop’s large paw grasping his elbow and lifting him from his seat. He is escorted towards the door.
            As the door closed, the Bishop’s booming voice is heard. “One week. You decide.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Why the Church is Declining

            The question isn’t if the church is in decline, but why? In order for the church to thrive, it will need to go through a radical transformation. In so doing, it won’t become something new. It will become something old—something that more resembles the first century church. I see three areas that will require transformation: 1) The church needs to move from a monologue approach to a discipleship approach. 2) The church needs to move away from its focus on buildings. 3) The church needs to reconnect to Israel.
            Realize when I am talking about church, I am not talking about a building. I am not talking about a weekly meeting. I am not talking about any program or organizational structure. By church, I am talking about all true believers in Jesus Christ. While there are local expressions of this larger body, a change in a few local expressions won’t revive the church. The church as a whole must change its course.


            Go to any church and what is the focus? For the most part it’s some weekly service that revolves around a sermon. And, what is a sermon? It’s nothing more than a lecture. So, most local churches center their life around a weekly lecture.
            Is this Scriptural? Those that support this model will bring up all kinds of Scriptural references about preaching and teaching the Word. An in-depth study of those passages (particularly if one looks at the original languages) forces one to come to some conclusions. 1) God considers teaching and preaching of primary importance. So, we must take it seriously. 2) Preaching has the idea of proclaiming the truth. 3) Teaching has the idea of discipleship—a mentoring, hands-on type approach. 4) These commands apply to all believers, not just to a specialized class of clergy.
            Taking teaching and preaching seriously, let’s look at how it should be done. We must conclude the best teacher and preacher was Jesus. Read the gospels and you will find that his go-to method was a discipleship approach. Much of his teaching was done in dialogue. So, he didn’t just talk while people passively sat. He was talking with people—reacting, responding and leading the dialogue. He was also extremely hands-on. He chose twelve and poured his life into them. There was little sermonizing. His style was relational as opposed to stage oriented.
            So, a discipleship style of preaching involves dialogue and hands-on within the context of relationship. This also agrees with what the Bible shares about teaching—where parents teach their children, elders teach less mature believers and how the apostles nurtured the early church. It’s pretty simple—A Biblical model of teaching and preaching isn’t monologue; it’s discipleship—dialogue and hands-on within relationship. This isn’t what I’ve seen in any local congregation I’ve been in—at least not as a primary focus.
            Now, I know someone will be thinking, “Yes, he has a point. But, why not do both? Why not have our weekly worship service and sermon; and, supplement it with dialogue and hands-on?” It’s pretty simple why not. You can’t serve two masters. One will win out. I’ve been in some groups at various congregations that have some wonderful dialogue and hands-on training. But, as long as they have a weekly sermon and worship service, the bulk of the energy goes there. Which means the bulk of the energy goes to a teaching and preaching style that isn’t Biblical.
            There’s only one way to cut this—as long as people are spending time preparing sermons and working on the Big Show, they aren’t spending time in the true task of discipleship. The church has taken on a Big Show, monologue model—a model that has proven its shortcomings in our secular education systems. That model must be abandoned and replaced with a Biblical model. That will completely change how everything is done with church.


            The early church met from house to house. This is pretty clear if one reads the book of Acts. However, today most local congregations meet in some building. Why? Just imagine the current Big Show model of church working in a house. There wouldn’t be enough seats. A large auditorium is required. Ninety-plus percent of the time that large auditorium sits idle, but it still must be maintained throughout the week. And, the only reason for that huge auditorium is to support the Big Show model, which isn’t Scriptural to begin with! We’re spending huge money for something that isn’t even helping us fulfill our mission.
            The message of the gospel isn’t inward (how we meet our needs), but outward—loving the Lord and helping our neighbor. It involves things like feeding the poor, visiting those in prison, helping the widow, caring for children and the like. If one buys, builds or leases a building for those purposes, then one could make a Scriptural case. There’s nothing wrong with having and using resources, but those resources must be focused on our purpose. In all honesty, most of our focus on buildings is so we can have a big Christian country club—a place for us to meet, greet and have a little dose of Christian entertainment. This falls way short of the gospel mandate!
            For the sake of argument, let’s consider the church from a business perspective. In the business world everything has a benefit and a cost. The cost-benefit ratio determines whether something is even worth the effort. What would an accountant say about resources with great cost, but they’re only used a small percentage of the time? Such a resource would quickly be liquidated to free up money for more useful endeavors. Who is a local congregation serving when they have a big mortgage? Scripture proclaims that the borrower is servant to the lender. So, a church with a mortgage is serving the bank? What if the building is paid for, but under-utilized? Then, they are serving the utility company, the insurance company and those congregants that have an I-want-the-feeling-of-ownership mentality.
            I don’t believe having a building, a piece of land or resources is always wrong. But, the true mission of the church (which focuses on helping others) is already resource intensive. Let’s not waste resources on unnecessary overhead. Debt, building maintenance and bills can be severe hindrances and too many local congregations are overwhelmed or under-utilized because of them.


            I must be honest. There have been times I have doubted God. It seems at times he hasn’t been active in my life. At times I’ve wanted some sort of sign. I’ve wanted to touch the wonderment of the spiritual, but I’m stuck in the day-in, day-out mundane things of life. I’m stuck in a world of bills, problems at work, illness, family issues and God doesn’t seem to hear my cries.
            Recently I’ve been struggling at work. My workplace is a place of turmoil and I’m looking to move on to better things. But, no job has opened—after sending out hundreds of resumes over years of time. It seems I’ve held up my end of the bargain, but God has not upheld his!
            Recently my uncle died and my dad has been going through treatment for cancer. This past winter, my parents needed me. Since my job was close to them and I was only working part-time, I’ve had the time to give them the help they’ve needed. As I look at the situation, God didn’t answer my prayers. It wasn’t because he didn’t care. It was because he saw the whole picture. It wasn’t all about me, but he was caring for others as well. If one could only see the big picture, I think one would better understand God and those moments where he seems silent.
            The big picture involves a battle between good and evil. A huge part of that battle centers around the land of Israel and the Jewish people. As one studies Scripture, this is quite apparent. As I watch the news, I am seeing prophecy unfold before my eyes. I am seeing the same spiritual battles unfold that I see throughout the Old Testament. Even when God seems silent in my life, Israel is a blaring example that God is true. What happened back in ancient times is happening today. What the prophets spoke of is coming to pass.
            Certainly the miracle of the rebirth of Israel has spiritual roots. But, at times, it’s hard to see the spiritual. It’s not hard to see a piece of land, a group of people, battles and politics. The mind can grasp that piece of dirt known as the Promised Land. It’s earthy, but at the same time is a physical representation of the spiritual.
            How many churches focus primarily on the New Testament? How many operate with a focus on the Christian life, but overlook a focus on the land, people and blessings that began with Abram and continue to this day? How many have any kind of missions outreach to Israel?
            Israel gives us a focus on the big picture. Israel makes the Bible alive—it’s not just ancient stories, but it’s prophecy unfolding before our eyes. Israel gives us the earthy to ground the spiritual. As the Apostle Paul proclaims in Hebrews 11, we are wild olive branches grafted into what God started with Israel. If we don’t consider Israel, at times our faith seems unsubstantiated. When we consider Israel, our faith is grounded in something tangible.


            As I consider these three points of transformation, I have to think about those who aren’t in church. Walk into the local church and look around. You’ll see a bunch of women—far more than men. You’ll see a huge gap between high school and middle age. Likely you’ll see a lot of grey hair. I’m not opposed to women, children and the elderly. But, can you build something vibrant without young people and without men?
            So, why don’t young people go to church? I’ve spent over a decade teaching college. I have some insight into young people. First, young people hate lecture. They want their voices to be heard. They want to have input. They long for relationships. I fully believe if they are given a genuine, Christian experience where discipleship is vibrant, they’ll be attracted to it. They see right through to the core of the Big Show approach and they don’t want it. They’ve already been fed that diet in our education system and they find it repugnant. Only a genuine return to first-century principles will work.
            So, why don’t men go to church? Quite frankly, men find passivity boring. They don’t want to sit in a pew and watch some guy talk. They want to do something and feel like they’ve accomplished something. You give them an action guy like Jesus, who proclaims, “Come and follow me” and they’ll follow him. You give them a sermon and a song and they’ll walk out the door.
            The first century church had danger and a mission. The warrior inside a man says, “Yes! I’m up to a challenge!” The modern church gives them a lecture and a group hug.


            Where is the church in a decade or two if we don’t attract young people? Quite simply, we’re dead. How do we attract those young people? We must go through a radical transformation and return to our roots.
            Where are churches unless they attract more men? Men are the warriors and visionaries. I’m not saying women can’t have those qualities, but men have those qualities in abundance. When men have a mission things get done. Lives are changed. The world is transformed. The church needs both the strengths of men and women to survive. Right now, it’s lacking the masculine.
            The church is currently on the edge of a cliff and the enemy is looking to push us over. We need to change our ways and do it quickly.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Learning Factory

A Sample Chapter in my book: Learning is Fun, But Education Stinks
available at--

            Teaching methods ought to be based on the way people learn. That statement seems so obvious I almost feel ludicrous stating it, but it has to be stated. So much of what is done in the education system is completely contrary to this simple idea. So, as a starting point let me describe to you how the brain functions.
            The brain is like a giant computer connected to the body. Just like a computer, it has inputs devices. These input devices are our senses: touch, taste, sight, sound and smell. Sensory information is inputted to the brain. The brain processes that information. Then, the brain outputs what it has processed to the body. This simple cycle of input-process-output is the learning process in a nutshell.
            Let’s consider the brain as a learning factory. Just like a factory it has shipping and receiving. In an actual factory, the receiving department takes in raw materials. These raw materials will later be turned into a product. That product will then be sent to the customers by the shipping department. In many companies shipping and receiving are combined together into one department. In the brain it isn’t quite so simple, but these two departments are closely linked. Both are found at the point the brain intersects with the body and both deal with electrochemical impulses being sent through a great network of nerves.
            Obviously, I’m simplifying the function of the brain. No one fully understands how it operates. But, the shipping and receiving analogy is an accurate one and helps illuminate the learning process.
            In any factory, much occurs between when raw materials are taken in and when completed products are shipping out. I’m going to use common functions seen within a factory to explain what goes on between input and output.
            Our survival depends on our brain making sense of its environment. After it makes sense of things it has to figure out what to do with this sense-making. So, it has functions similar to research and development. This research and development could be broken down into two distinct phases: 1) Figuring out what the inputs mean—a making-sense-of-things function, and 2) Figuring out what to do with that meaning—a what-do-I-do-with-the-meaning function.
            At this point our factory has done three things: 1) Received inputs (a receiving function), 2) Made sense of the inputs (a research and development function) and 3) Figured out what to do with the meaning (another research and development function). So, our brain now has a blueprint or game plan on how to proceed.
            In a factory, would a blueprint be sufficient? Obviously not! Research and development could produce all kinds of blueprints, but until those blue prints are turned into a product no real production has occurred.
            In the brain the products being produced are ideas. An idea is a mental road map. It explains how the various roads (inputs) are connected. It also gives someone a useful guide of how to apply information.
            Having a roadmap is meaningless unless one takes a journey. The ideas in the brain need to be applied—which means that the production and shipping functions are closely connected. In order for deep learning to occur, ideas must be translated into experiences. As I write this, I am translating my ideas into an experience: writing my ideas down for the world to see.
            What we output also becomes an input. I see the words on my screen. So, our shipping and receiving functions are closely connected—they are both experientially oriented. We could view learning as a circle of: 1) experiences, 2) processing meaning to those experiences, 3) figuring out how to apply that meaning, and 4) creating new experiences, which loops back to number 1.
            Is day dreaming an output? I mentioned the receiving and shipping parts of the learning factory is experiential. This often means receiving sensing from the body and sending commands to the body. However, consider what experiential means from the brain’s perspective. It means sensory-oriented. When daydreaming the brain is creating an experience for the brain. The brain can create things the brain hears, sees, touches, tastes and smells without receiving those raw materials from the body or outputting anything to the body. Does this mean when the brain is daydreaming that it is engaged in the learning process? Consider Albert Einstein. He loved imagination and it was a big part of his process for investigating physics. Many of the things he was dealing with could not be directly sensed and yet he figured them out. He did this using his imagination. He demonstrated an extremely creative form of learning. Olympic athletes will often visualize the event before they perform the event. Why would they do this unless this active imagining was somehow helping them perform better? And, couldn’t better performance be viewed as learning? Daydreaming is the learning factory churning away.
            What does our system do with daydreamers? “Suzie! Suzie! SUZIE! Quit staring out the window and pay attention!” We squash daydreaming, but daydreaming is learning. Students daydream when their brains are longing for learning and they aren’t getting it from the classroom!
            There are a few key things to take from this: 1) Learning is output-oriented. What I mean by that is learning does not occur until the process has come full circle. Simply inputting information is not enough. The brain must make sense of that information and produce a product. 2) Creativity is a key component of deep learning. We could view creativity as a function of research, development and production. In a factory, raw materials received must be transformed into something interesting or useful. Creativity is the process of the mind transforming raw materials (inputs) into something interesting or useful. The deeper the transformation—the deeper the learning!
            One key problem with our education system is that the focus is primarily on the receiving end of learning. Students are often treated as empty receptacles to be filled. In many cases a great deal of raw materials are stacked on the receiving docks, but those raw materials don’t go through a radical transformation. In many cases those raw materials are later shipped out, but they are shipped out in the exact same form as they were received. The education system drops off a load of intellectual wood and then later comes back and receives the same load of intellectual wood. It’s a passive handoff of information. It looks more like a game of catch than an intellectual idea factory.
            What schools often give students is a pattern to duplicate or a set of procedures to follow. When this happens there is a small degree of production between shipping and receiving. The intellectual planks received have been unpacked and organized into neat little piles. This did require some effort by the mental factory workers and a small degree of learning has occurred. But, this is far different than someone taking the planks and transforming them into something new. What I often see in college freshmen is an inability to think. They can collect and organize the mental planks of other people, but they cannot come up with their own planks. They are not able to analyze ideas and create. They are following some paint-by-numbers approach. Their research and development department has received little challenge and training. Their production department has been trained to answer questions as opposed to asking them.
            Imagine for a moment working in a factory. Say your job only involved collecting wood and organizing it into neat piles. Would you find that job fulfilling? Obviously not! You would just be going through the motions, emotionally detached and filled with apathy. Because our education system put little emphasis on creativity, students are bored, passive and apathetic.
            Let’s say for a moment in this factory you were paid $100/hour. Would you miss work? Would you neglect to do one single function of your job? Obviously you would do exactly what is asked of you. But, does this mean your heart would be involved? No! You would still be going through the motions, but you would be doing it in a highly compliant fashion, because you desire that fat paycheck. External systems of rewards may make people compliant, but that doesn’t make them excited about what they are doing. In fact, in such a system you would be less likely to ask questions or challenge the system. You would quietly and compliantly do what is told even if it meant nothing to you. Do you think having workers simply meandering around compliantly following orders translate into the factory producing a high quality product? Obviously the answer is no. A creative, energetic pursuit of an exceptional product comes from a person following their passions, asking questions and being fully engaged in the process. Later I will show how specific tools of the system (like grades, tests, textbooks and a whole host of other excrement) actually work against the brain producing an exceptional product. Our system is based on external rewards that condition people to compliance as opposed to tapping into their internal motivations that produce creative output.
            For a moment, compare a five-year old to a high school graduate. The five-year old will be filled with questions. Give them a blank sheet of paper and a box of crayons and they will create art! Their minds are active explorers. Then that poor kid enters kindergarten and the slow, deadly process of socialization begins. He is taught what to think instead of how to think. A high emphasis is placed on putting mental planks on the docks and later having him give back those planks. A low emphasis is placed on the research, development and production components of his learning factory. Even when those components receive some attention it’s done through bureaucratic procedure as opposed to artistic exploration. At five, the kid was bright, energetic, asking questions, creating art and passionately involved in the natural, wonderful process of learning. By the time that kid leaves high school he is an uninspired slacker who wants to know the answer to only one question from his teacher, “What do you want me to say and how do you want me to say it?” The fault is not the kid. He’s been conditioned to think that way!
            While you wouldn’t know it from our education system, learning is fun. Consider a kid playing. Perhaps the child is making a fort, playing house or drawing with crayons. In all those cases the brain is receiving information from the environment, processing that information (the research and develop—making sense of things—as well as the production—translating that meaning into blueprints) and translating that into an output (where production meets shipping—experiential based: building a fort, having tea or drawing a dinosaur). A child at play is the learning factory in action. When children are engaged in this fashion they are squealing, laughing and fully engrossed in the process. It is a natural, pleasurable experience.
            Children are naturally wired to test their environment. The whole learning process of play I just described is really just a child poking, prodding and exploring the world around them. Often children labeled as having a learning disability are doubly wired to test their environment. Consider a child labeled with ADHD. Such a child will: eat dirt to see what it tastes like, throw the cat in the pool to see if it likes water or take apart the lawn mower to see how it works. A child with ADHD does not have a learning disability. Our system has a teaching disability! Consider—these children are most disruptive to the education system when they are most engaged in the process of learning (testing their environment).
            There are genuine learning disabilities. Sometimes the learning factory does not function as it should. Such students need appropriate help. What often happens is a student is smart and has a well functioning brain. They are just having problems fitting into the system. Is it naturally for young children to sit and quietly listen to lectures for six to eight hours a day? No! Adults have a hard time doing it and for the most part survive the ordeal because they’ve learned how to daydream. For a child or adult not fitting into a dysfunctional system is not a disability, but I’m afraid often one is labeled as disabled when there is nothing wrong with their learning factory. Such a label carries a stigma that can be damaging. A student can think something is wrong with them. Or, they can use that as an excuse for improper behavior later in life—“I can’t do such and such, because I have ADHD.”
            Consider an adult taking up a hobby. Say they are learning to play trombone. They receive information from their instructor or trombone lesson book. Their brain needs to figure out what that information means, how to apply that meaning and then put that meaning into actual production. You can’t learn to play trombone merely by reading a book or listening to a teacher. Your learning must become experiential—you need to play the trombone. When an adult plays, we call it a hobby, but the same learning factory is churning as a child at play. All the various functions of the mental learning factory are in full gear. Hobbies bring us joy, make us laugh and enthrall us. Hobbies are learning!
            Learning is a highly pleasurable experience. If one is bored in school, they aren’t bored with learning. They are bored because little learning is occurring.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

To Grow Go Nuclear

            I’m about to drop a bomb on your company, organization or ministry. In order to grow you may have to go nuclear. So, let’s begin by looking at how a nuclear bomb works. Hard to believe, isn’t it? That the secret to growth may be found in the Manhattan Project!
            A nuclear bomb is a device that causes an implosion. I know what you’re thinking. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, Mr. I’m-about-to-drop-a-bomb! I’ve seen the films. A nuclear bomb causes a massive EXplosion NOT IMplosion!” What you’re seeing is the final phase. The bomb itself begins with an implosion. The fuel of the bomb is compressed. Once the density becomes high enough an intense amount of energy is released. So, the whole process begins with compression and only works if enough density is achieved.
            This same principle of compression works in a business, organization or ministry. In order to become explosive one must compress effort. By that, I mean they do less, but with more vigor. By doing less, I'm not talking about less effort. I'm talking about setting priorities and only focusing on those few things that are important. So, there is compression as the same amount of effort goes into less tasks. All their intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual “mass” is compressed into less “space”—density increases! Only when there is high enough density does an explosion take place.
            I’ve worked for two dying for-profit colleges. In the first one I was unaware it was dying. In the second one I knew it was doomed as soon as it started implementing certain policies. One crippling policy was a compression of the academic term. I know what you’re thinking, “Um, didn’t Mr. I’m-about-to-drop-a-bomb just say compression was good?” This is a different type of compression than previously mentioned. Both students and faculty weren’t doing less, but with more vigor. They were doing more, but with less vigor. Both colleges went to five ten-week academic terms a year. So, a stretch of six months without any break from class was common. Both schools also had a large population of students who were working full-time, raising families as well as going to school. All their energy was as diluted as a drop of food coloring in the ocean.
            The fatheaded corporate suits, which had little understanding of education (or management for that matter), started to heap more and more responsibility on faculty. Their view of faculty was as a liability on a profit and loss statement, so they did what they were trained to do: cut liabilities when crisis hit. They were able to eek out short-term profits, but long-term the burnout of both students and faculty began to take its toll. The school became a revolving door of faculty and students. What they needed to do was hire more faculty while raising salaries and benefits. They also needed to do less academic terms, allowing students enough time to breathe in between semesters. In the short term this would hurt profits, but in the long term each faculty member would be able to teach less classes, but with more vigor. But, and this is a HUGE but, this strategy will only work if the compression is high enough to bring about an explosion—of energy, talent and creative vision in the classroom. Once that explosion happens the reputation of the school explodes and students are drawn towards a quality education delivered with the explosive dynamic of fervent instructors.
            There are several glitches that happen that hinder growth. First, there is growth to a certain point. So, there is a prevailing belief that if it’s worked in the past it should work in the present and future. Usually this initial growth is centered around someone with vision and passion. This person attracts the human fuel to cause the explosion, but rather than compressing that fuel, continues what in the past has gathered fuel. It becomes a revolving door, because people want to see the explosion. They wait, wait, wait and then leave out of frustration.
            Sometimes a highly toxic question is asked, “What do we need to do to grow?” I know what you’re thinking. “That doesn’t sound highly toxic! Why is a concern for growth toxic?” It’s how people interpret the question that is toxic. What people often hear is, “What ELSE do we need to do to grow?” Instead of compression this leads to dilution. People are doing more, but with less vigor. This interpretation also leads to a lack of examining what is currently being done. If the interpretation is, “what ELSE”, then the underlying assumption is that the things we’re doing are fine. After all, they’ve got us this far!
            Things begin to stagnate. The leader, because of their vision and passion, draws new people. But, people eventually leave when they don’t see the leader’s vision explode. The organization gains a few, but then loses a few. There are periods of growth, but no explosion to take things to the next level. New programs and efforts are tried, fade and are replaced by a different set of programs and efforts. A business, organization or ministry can exist in this cycle for years or even decades. But, without the explosion things will eventually die.
            If you’re a leader, this is where you need to consider a serious question concerning your business, organization or ministry. Do you always seem on the verge of an explosion, but it never seems to happen? If so, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is you’re a poor leader. You’re giving people hopes and dreams that are never fulfilled. You’re wasting people’s time and energy. You’re a key contributor to burnout and likely you aren’t even aware of it.
            Here’s some more bad news. In order for you to do less, you’re going to have to allow other people to take over things you’re holding on to. You’re ego is going to have to take a bruising as you accept that in many areas, even areas where you have talent, there are those who can do it better. The good news is if you give it to them (not hover over them and try to control things) they often WILL do it better. You’re going to have to give up control in exchange for influence. It’s reciprocal—if you trust others, they are more likely to trust you. If you try to control everything, people around you are more likely to be controlling. A little more good news—influence is far more powerful than control!
            The best news is there is a solution! For both yourself and your team you need to do less. Isn’t that a relief! You’re doing a hundred things when in reality you only need to do three. Isn’t that liberating! Of course, you’re going to have to figure out those few things you need to focus on. If you don’t know, just ask wise counsel. More than likely others see what you’re good at as well as the things you’re doing that are a waste of time. Be sure to ask those who have the spine to tell you the things you don’t want to hear! It’s time for you to do a few things, but to do them extremely well. Commit yourself to that task. If you don’t see the explosion, you’re still doing too much. Eventually, with enough compression, the explosion will occur.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fundamentals of Teaching in 20 Minutes

            Imagine a computer. A computer has input and output devices: a keyboard, a monitor and a printer. To use a computer you have to communicate through these devices.
            Imagine your brain as a computer. Your brain has input and output devices: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. If you’re going to teach a person, you have to communicate through these input devices. So, teaching must be sensory—through sight, sound, touch, taste and smell.
            A computer needs to be plugged into a wall socket. That electricity comes from a power plant. Without the wall socket and the power plant, the computer doesn’t function.
            The brain needs to be plugged into emotions. If you love something, you can’t stop thinking about it. The same is true of hate, joy or laughter. Whatever moves us emotionally fuels the brain. Strong emotions come from relationships. So, teaching must involve emotions and relationships.
            Teaching must be sensory, emotional and involve relationship.
            Are all emotions conducive to learning? Imagine Little Johnny taking an algebra test. He encounters the dreaded word problem. A train leaves Chicago traveling 40 miles an hour. Another train leaves Los Angeles traveling 75 miles an hour. Oh no! Little Johnny hates word problems. He becomes afraid and his brain becomes derailed. When afraid the brain has plenty of emotional fuel, but it’s like a revving car stuck in park—burning fuel, but not getting anywhere.
            Now, imagine Suzy Sunshine is in a comedy club. Mister Funny Man tells a story about helping his grandma put on panty hose. He described it in such vivid detail. Even a year later Suzy still remembers the story. Interesting—when stress was removed her brain became more adept at learning.
            So, the fear response hinders learning; the cheer response heightens learning. No wonder the American education system is in the dumps. It’s all stress, stress and stress!
            Imagine for a moment a young college instructor is called down to his boss’s office. He jokes with his students and has become friends with them. He is severely scolded. “You can’t become friends with your students! You need to maintain professional distance!” He sulks away wounded and starts to distance himself from his students. Does this help or hinder the learning process? Who produces more positive emotions—a friendly teacher or a teacher that is distant? The friendly teacher! Unfortunately, the above scenario is based on an actual event. Isn’t professional distance nothing more than removing the brain’s emotional plug to positive relationships? So many textbooks and educators try to make a head-to-head connection with students. But, emotions are the fuel of the mind. Vivid education begins with a heart-to-heart connection. If you grab the heart, you’ll grab the mind, because the heart fuels the mind!
            So, let’s review:
            1) Teaching must be sensory in nature.
            2) Teaching must evoke the cheer response—joy, laughter and fun.
            3) Teaching must happen within the safety of loving relationships.
            Let’s consider language for a moment. Language is simply a way for one person to communicate ideas to another person. We do that in sentences. A sentence represents an idea. But, what’s an idea? Somewhat hard to grasp, isn’t it?
            Let’s remember that the brain is a sensory computer. So, ideas are little chunks of sensory information. There are three basic types of sentences. One type is an action sentence. John hit the ball. The sentence creates a little movie in the mind. Another type is a still picture. John is handsome. It creates a picture in your mind. A third type is an experience. John feels queasy. When you hear that, can you feel a sour stomach? In all cases, these basic types of sentences communicate through sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.
            However, not all things are this simple. Some things are conceptual in nature. Does your mind have a hard time forming a movie, picture or experience for this sentence? Why? Why is it so hard?
            Let’s consider a concept like freedom. When I say freedom, what do you think about? You might see a picture of our Founding Fathers writing the Declaration of Independence. You might see a little movie of a soldier defending a hill. Or, you might actually feel yourself pulling a lever at a voter’s booth. Is freedom just one of these things or all of these things? You might conclude that freedom is all of these things. So, freedom is like a file folder—it helps to organize a collection of mental movies, photos and experiences into a category. So, concepts are mental file folders.
            When two people are trying to communicate, concepts present problems. If I talk about freedom, your mind has to access the sensory experiences in your little mental folder. That accessing takes time. Because of this, the mind has a harder time processing a sentence like, “freedom is a splendid thing” than it does processing “Johnny hit the ball.” The first one requires you to access various things in a mental folder. The second one gives you a mental picture or little movie.
            There is another problem. When I say something conceptual, like “freedom” the experiences in my mental folder might be much different than the experiences in your mental folder. Freedom may mean different things to different people. If I say something sensory, like “Johnny hit the ball”, each person may interpret it a little differently, but there is a great deal of similarity between the little movies and pictures in each of our heads.
            So, let’s compare conceptual to sensory:
            Sensory requires less processing—so, it’s more efficient.
            Sensory requires less processing—so, it’s easier to understand.
            Sensory creates more similarities between the mental pictures, movies and experiences in people’s brains—so, there’s less possibility of misunderstanding.
            In summary—sensory is a far better way to communicate!
            Now, someone out there is raising their hand. “Teacher, teacher! Oh, oh! Me, over here! Teacher, how does someone teach in a sensory fashion?”
            That’s a good question. Imagine you are sitting in the average college or high school classroom in America. How is much of the teaching done? It is done through lists of names, dates and definitions. Our system takes information and puts it into categories. Hmmm, categories? That sounds a lot like file folders. Our education system is conceptual in nature. No wonder our system is failing!
            Consider what I’ve done? I used the analogy of a computer to talk about the brain. Can your brain see and touch a computer? I used the analogy of a file folder to explain a concept. What I am doing is using mental pictures your brain is familiar with to explain things it’s not familiar with. That’s called an analogy—using a little mental movie, picture or experience to explain things. Analogies are a key component of learning—because, analogies are based on mental movies, pictures and experiences.
            I’ve also told stories—like the one about a young college instructor called down to his boss’s office—oh, that evil hag! When you tell a story, you’re giving the audience a little mental movie. Stories are sensory in nature. Tell a good story and people will experience the story along with you.
            Stories and analogies are two of the most powerful ways to communicate. In order for me to develop them I have to tap into my personal experiences. What happens when someone shares their personal experiences with you? It connects to you emotionally! It plugs you into the fuel source for your brain.
            So, I’m teaching you how to teach. I’m inputting information into your brain. Have you learned how to teach? Nope! In order for you to learn to teach, you have to go out and teach.
            Let’s imagine for a moment your brain is a learning factory. At one end of the brain raw materials are taken in. The materials are processed. Then an output is produced. Now, what if you didn’t create anything new with those raw materials? Would the factory be producing anything useful? Think about our education system for a moment. How much of it involves simply dropping off raw materials and later receiving that information back in the exact same form—on some brain dead test, quiz or paper. It might be a weak form of learning, but deep learning has not occurred.
            A factory must take in raw materials, make something new with those raw materials and then ship them out. The brain needs to do the same thing—taking in ideas, processing those ideas and then applying those ideas in creative ways. You can’t learn how to teach from listening to a teacher. It might be a useful way to take in ideas, but those ideas need to be processed and creatively applied.
            The end of the learning loop is hands-on experience. Think about hands-on. It is sensory in nature. Hands-on is also a valid means to input information. Since our brain is sensory, both the input and output is sensory in nature—involving touch, taste, sight, sound and smell. So much of our education system is just boring lecture, sitting in some classroom detached from reality. No wonder our system is failing!
            So, let’s review:
            1) Teaching must be sensory (sight, sound, touch, taste and smell) in nature—meaning it includes stories, analogies and hands-on application.
            2) Teaching must evoke the cheer response (laughter, joy and fun) as opposed to the fear response (stress, stress and stress).
            3) Teaching must be conducted within the safety of loving relationships as opposed to the idiocy of professional detachment.