Let your people grieve

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Leaders and employers, I’d encourage you to do your best to treat those you lead as grieving people.

They are.

While I understand that the business must go on, it’s also critical that you realize that this is not business as usual (albeit from a different location).

Be careful–at least in these earliest of days–to do all you can to avoid adding to the stress and grief they’re already experiencing. This investment in the near term will pay off in the long term.

Read more from Harvard Business Review.

Be still

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Our economy is built on distraction. Built as it is on services, it relies on a widespread sense of busyness–a feeling that there is too much to do and not time enough to do it.

When we take this presupposition as true there follows a line of successive consequences.

We begin to calculate the cost of our time against the cost of our tasks to be done.

Once this is habit takes root we struggle with a perpetual calculus over whether we are engaged in the right task. And we find ourselves tempted put aside things that seem to not measure up.

Our economy offers us services that will help us overcome the limits of time and effortlessly get things done.

A yard service.

A maid.

A meal service.

Dry-cleaning and laundry services.

A handyman.

There’s nothing wrong with engaging the services of any or all of these.

At the same time, there is something degrading in the belief that moving the yard, cleaning the toilet, preparing a meal, ironing a shirt, or painting a door is somehow either a poor use of time or, worse, beneath us.

When we believe that the only memories or moments that count are those experienced on a scenic shore on the far side of the world, we believe a lie.

When we believe that anything short of effortless perfection–in keeping house, in raising kids, in tending to our health–is the only sign of a good life, we believe a lie.

Our culture lauds the big, the loud, the flashy, and the extreme. The Kingdom of Heaven is rarely made of such things.

Let’s resolve to look search for the good in ordinary things and ordinary people. Let’s find God in the ordinary things of life. And let’s live life to its fullest.

In search of a simple life

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I have loved The Lord of the Rings since I was a tween (a word that didn’t exist then). I was introduced to The Hobbit when I was around ten.

By eleven a friend and I had read and discussed The Lord of the Rings over the span of a school year.

On average I reread it every other year. In other words, I’ve read it at least twenty times.

The formative power of Tolkien

To say that Tolkien has had a strong formative influence on me would be an understatement.

Apart from the brief period of time in which I worried that “fantasy literature” was somehow antithetical to the Christian faith (a phase that mercifully ended quickly), Middle Earth has been a constant influence.

I was recently chatting with a friend about our favorite volumes in the book. I have always gravitated to the first volume The Fellowship of the Ring–ever since I first read it.

For some reason, I assumed that the rest of the world probably liked it the least.

To my surprise, my friend agreed with me. He named for me some things that hitherto had lain beneath my conscious mind.

In praise of the ordinary

The Fellowship of the Ring, he noted, is the most ordinary of the three volumes of LOTR.

With The Two Towers, the narrative begins to pick up speed. It also picks up an epic tone.

The language becomes more lofty, more indicative of the epic nature of this final battle between the free world and the power of the Ring.

That’s not true in the first book.

Instead, we encounter the tale of simple people whose life is interrupted by an adventure they never anticipated and they only partially understand.

That’s me. I’m no wizard, monarch, or even warlord. I’m more a peasant.


I celebrate that my forefathers worked the Suffolk landscape.

I celebrate that they made their living harvesting apples and other soft fruit.

That the sweat of their brow and the ache of their back brought food to the table and shelter for their families.

My lineage includes soldiers, brewers, laborers, and gamekeepers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m immensely grateful that I am literate and well-educated.

At the same time, I’m ordinary and I’m growing to be fine with that.

The little folk of the Shire are right. The finest things in life are simple pleasures.

Review – A Most Wanted Man

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John Le Carré, A Most Wanted Man (2008)

Image result for a most wanted man

John Le Carré is a master storyteller. His prose is detailed, melodic, and, most of the time, gripping. He’s best known for the masterful Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy which brings the reader into the decades-long chess match between British intelligence and the KGB.

A Most Wanted Man is Le Carré’s first step in writing a novel for a world shaped by the war on terror rather than the Cold War.

It is, in many respects, a dystopian tale in which none of the characters emerges uncompromised or pristine.

In his Guardian review, Hari Kunzu notes that Le Carré: “depict[s] a bleak world in which the clarity of ideology, morality, patriotism, professional duty and personal loyalty [dissolve] into a fog in which his characters flounder, groping for some sort of basis on which to live and act.” In this respect, it much like his other books where, even the venerable Smiley, is marked by a moral stain in the form of his indifference to the depredations of his wife. The story centers on the fate of a young, physically and psychologically damaged Russian by the name of Issa. He comes to the attention of a young German lawyer, Annabel Richter. Richter represents undocumented aliens and helping them to claim asylum and find a new life in Germany. Young and idealistic her vigorous professional concern is fueled by the pain of her recent failure with another client, one returned to almost certain death in a land he escaped. Issa has arrived in Germany by an illegal and circuitous route. Claiming to be a devout Muslim, he has come to Germany in possession of a name and an account number and key that he claims will enable him to have the financial resources both to give generously to Muslim charities and study to become a doctor. Enter jaded ex-pat banker Tommy Brue. Brue is the head of a family bank that has a closet full of questionable accounts. These “Lipinzaners”–named for the famous horses–are full of dirty money with origins in the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of gangland capitalism. One of these accounts exists for the benefit of a Russian officer whose affair with a Chechnyan woman has Issa as the issue. Even as Issa attempts to secure his status in Germany and to fund his education, a new set of characters is watching from afar. Gunther Bachmann and his colaborers in German intelligence are hunting for Issa whom they believe to be a radical Muslim and a national security threat. Issa makes an unconvincing radical. As I read I found myself thinking of Prince Myshkin from Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. Indeed, like Myshkin, he is a character both puzzling and filled with inconsistencies. He is passionate in his vocal allegiance to Islam yet his belief is simple, lacking even the most rudimentary doctrinal knowledge. He loathes the west but loves classical music. As Kunzu notes,  “At [times Issa] is little more than a cipher, a faint echo of Prince Myshkin in The Idiot, a “monk with coal-dark eyes” who speaks in a wildly uneven linguistic register, sometimes childlike, sometimes incongruously using words such as “malodorous”.”  He continues, “Issa is another incarnation of a familiar Le Carré type, the loose cannon, someone whose psychological precariousness and social disconnection make them disruptive of the established order – and useful to the puppeteers of the human soul who run the intelligence services.” In reading A Most Wanted Man we enter a world that is morally gray. Black and white have blended into one another and all that remains is differing shades of a single color. Le Carré does a masterful job of bringing to life the strange experience that befalls a person when he somehow, intentionally or otherwise, enters into the parallel universe of espionage and counter-espionage. Strongly recommended. Sources: Hari Kunzu, “Trapdoor to the Secret World,” The Guardian (26 Sep 2008).  

Come to Me, a poem

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When Jesus said to ‘come to me,’
he didn’t mean present a list of merits,
or achievements, or a chronicle of good things
done well, as though by them
we might commend ourselves to him
who is good beyond good.

No. Those bidding words were offered as a wine-
soaked sponge to those dying slowly on the cross
of self, where they go who seek to prove
themselves in the court of good opinion and
public morals, the theatre of the law.

To those alone, who say ‘kyrie eleison,’ does the
medicine of gospel grace do its work–moving
from palate to throat to heart
where it settles in, breaks down the walls
of calcified self-righteousness that hinders our
fully knowing the savior’s love–his fathomless
grace that unmakes sin till it is no more.

In bread and wine we drink this draught
of grace and in it find life anew–
deeper than we dared to dream.

Maundy Thursday 2016