A Good Gift

About two weeks ago, my aunt called.  We try hard to stay in touch.  My uncle passed away almost two years ago now.  He and my aunt have had a profound impact on my life.  I have such rich memories of the times spent on their farm in South East Pennsylvania.

My aunt and I talked for a while before she said, “I’ve been thinking about John’s old work truck and how I don’t really need it any more.  Would you want it?”  In a flash, memories washed over me…

  • I learned to drive a stick-shift on that truck  …I can still remember the farm-hands sitting on the tailgate snickering while my aunt patiently talked me through slipping the clutch as I continually bucked and revved until we finally took off down the gravel road.
  • I ran a read light in Maryland in that truck …it was heavy-laden with hay and we were headed to the auction after my uncle crushed his hand in a piece of machinery and was unable to drive for a season.  My aunt was with me at the time, and we shared laughs about the “red-light-run” to the auction for years afterward.
  • I used to shoot groundhogs out of that truck …my uncle would say, “Here’s the rifle and the truck keys.  Be careful.”  I would turn the key off and coast to a stop near the groundhog hole, crack the window and slide the rifle barrel out.  I have the distinct memory of firing a shot from the truck one afternoon.  When I relocated the groundhog in the scope, what I found was four little feet sticking up in the air above the meadow grass.  One down, 300 to go.
  • There is a picture of the large-mouth bass I caught at the Amish farmer’s pond all laid out across the tailgate of the truck.  My uncle and my father are in the background as I held up the biggest one.  They both have big smiles on their face.

The truck is a good gift.  I think it is part of God’s plan for my next stage of grieving the loss of my uncle …and the impending loss of my father.  I want to be careful to remember that it’s just an item, and in that sense I don’t want to get too attached to it.  However, it is a wonderful opportunity to ponder some of those old memories and to pay attention to the bigger story of what God is teaching me through them.

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Morning Breaks -an original poem

Morning breaks

crisp and hopeful

amidst the chirp of crickets

and leaves rustling in the breeze.

 

Morning breaks

my favorite coffee mug nearby

my favorite pen in hand

pages that tell my story lie before me.

 

Morning breaks

as does my soul

and the words pour out

my heart bleeding onto the paper

 

Morning breaks

and all things are mended new

for this day ahead,

this day you birthed

 

Morning breaks

hints of light illuminate the life

that is all around,

and the path before me.

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Visionary, Manager, or Technician…

At work, we’ve been reading this book called The E-Myth (E standing for “entrepreneurial”).  We’re trying to look harder at the model we’re using for developing business ventures to carry out the purposes of the organization.  The author of this book, Michael Gerber, talks about these three personalities that are necessary in every business:  A visionary, a manager, and a technician.  In extrordinary business-people, these three personality traits exist in balance.  In mediocre business-people, these traits exist but are out of balance.  In MOST business owners, there is a severe pull towards one of these traits (typically the technician or the manager), without much regard at all for the other two.

Gerber says some pretty harsh yet true things to the business owner who falls prey to the vacuum technicians get sucked into.  It has been good for me to ponder his words, as I find myself often bogged down in this role as I try to lead Roots & Shoots.

I find that I have a vision for Roots & Shoots, but it is sadly in my mind.  I do a poor job of sharing that vision with our community and our employees.  I’m thinking a lot about this disconnect that seems to exist for me, whereby I often am very visionary when it comes to business but not for very many things in my personal life.  It seems absolutely vital that whatever is plugging my visionary pipes gets cleaned out …not only for the sake of Roots & Shoots, but also for the sake of my family and my sanity.

 

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It’s That Time of Year!

I love Fall!  For the last two nights, we’ve managed to sleep with the windows open in the house.  I absolutely love waking to the peaceful sounds of crickets and cicadas.  Mind you, our house sits about a quarter mile and slightly elevated from six lanes of traffic on I-40 as it winds through downtown, so those peaceful sounds are occasionally punctuated by the sound of a semi or a car horn.  However, the peacefulness of the cool air and the relative calm that seem to shroud the city at 6am outweigh most disturbances.  After all, disturbances and weird noises are relative when there is an infant in the house.

I love rolling over during the night to the gentle breeze and the sound of a flapping window curtain.  I love that when it does storm, I feel like I’m in the middle of it minus being soaking wet.  I love that the house no longer feels sterile …and eerily silent when the hum of the air conditioning isn’t somewhere in the background.  This time of year makes me thankful for my senses …makes me realize how often I take them for granted.

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The Deafening Silence

Shouts fire back and forth across the room

like the tell tale whistle of a mortar

I feel these screams boil inside me

gradually building until they’re belched into existence.

Silence falls over the table

in direct accompaniment of my rear hitting the chair.

The stray glance from time to time

the words you withhold speaking volumes about your silence

And the tired feeling settles in

I would like to sit and wrestle with my passions

another day, another day

When I’m not so damned tired.

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Capitalism: Beyond the Bottom Line

I’ve continued to mull over my thoughts about businesses in America and have come up with a few additional points I’d like to communicate

  • Democracy (capitalism and free enterprise being key components) only works when a society is self governed.  American society gets all up in arms when the government steps in to regulate areas that it should not have to regulate …yet it does have to because American society is driven by a ferocious greed.  Yes, I believe in a smaller, less invasive government.  However, I don’t have any confidence in our society’s ability to self govern in a way that will be required if we’re to shrink the government’s wide arms of control.
  • What is a “fair profit”?  Is it OK for a company to pull down multi-billion dollar profits while it’s employees struggle to live above the poverty line? …while its places of business pollute the environment around them?  …while they receive multi-million dollar tax breaks at the same time small businesses around them receive little to no incentives to operate?  Again, greed prevails, and there is hardly a better place to see it for what it is than in our current form of capitalism in America.  In the name of “freedom” many American companies have stopped caring about anything beyond the bottom line of their profit and loss statements.  I believe if businessmen in America asked themselves, “What is a fair profit?,” we would be taking a step away from greed.  If companies invested in fair wages and benefits for their employees, if customers were treated like people and not just another $5 in the bank, yes, they would make less profit.  Mind you, they would still have plenty of money.  Their company would be not only financially strong; their workforce would also be strong and strongly committed to the success of that company.  That’s what I call sustainable business.
  • Please stop trying to sell me products and services offered by greedy corporations in the name of “free enterprise.”  Please, store full of made-in-China products, stop trying to feed me propaganda that America’s military is fighting for our freedom.  Hear me clearly.  I support men and women who serve our military.  I often see them in uniform and am torn inside.  I want to go and thank them for the sacrifices they make.  However, I don’t want that to be confused with a condoning of the actions of our military forces ….which seem to be guided by a leadership  structure that is as equally steeped in greed.  What kind of freedom are we fighting for?  Because if it is the freedom to be greedy, the freedom to step on “those below” in the name of capitalism and free enterprise, I’m not interested in it.
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My Thoughts About “Successful” Business

Lately, I’ve been spending considerable time pondering what it is that a “successful” business looks like.  Last spring, I helped launch a landscaping business for my employer.  It is not your typical company, to say the least.  Let me just tell you some of the non-traditional things we’re doing:

  • We are the only non-profit landscaping company I know of.
  • We are structured as a social business, looking to address the employment needs of refugees being resettled in our city.
  • We pay our employees approximately $2-3/hr. more than the national average for their line of work.
  • We pay our employees for the time they participate in company-led English classes.

 

Because I am daily wrestling with what success looks like for our business model, I am also acutely aware of other businesses I engage with.  Their definition of success is quite different from mine; not only on a this-is-my-job level, but also on a these-are-my-morals level.

 

I was in a well-known children’s store recently with my daughter.  The employees seemed genuinely glad to be there, parading lines of children from station to station within the store, gathering accessories for stuffed toys.  They made it a point to learn and use my daughter’s name in almost every interaction she had with them.  The company was selling a product but had created an experience that made it possible for them to sell their product at a considerably higher price point then they could have without the included experience.  That’s what I call smart business, successful business on a connecting-with-people level.  Now, granted, I admit to not knowing entirely where this company’s product comes from or how it is produced, so that is something I should research as someone who attempts to be a responsible consumer.

 

On the other hand, I have given up on patronizing another business, equally well-known, because of their lack of regard for where their products come from, how their customers and employees are treated, and how their company impacts the local economy.  I don’t know all the ins and outs of this multi-billion dollar company.  What I do know is that I remember when this company was just getting started.  They built the company on the framework of American-made products sold at a reasonable price.  Now, I think a customer would be hard pressed to find 100 American-made products in the entire store.

 

This company is repeatedly in the news because of legal battles and employment issues based mostly around how poorly hourly employees are treated and paid.  They are moving very, very slowly into exploring the use of alternative energy sources in their stores and taking a more environmentally friendly approach.  However, it seems like too little, too late if you ask me.  Why is it that this multi-billion dollar, multi-national corporation can’t accept a slightly lower profit margin in order to address these shortcomings and be truly successful?

 

Why is it that so many companies, big and small, view success only by looking at the bottom line?  I believe their needs to be a more holistic approach to “successful” business.  Let me leave you with the following thought by Wendell Berry:

 

Mr. Berry writes of a dream he had saying,

I visited the offices where for the sake of the objective the planners planned

at blank desks set in rows.  I visited the loud factories where the machines were made that would drive ever forward

toward the objective.  I saw the forest reduced to stumps and gullies;  I saw

the poisoned river, the mountain cast into the valley;  I came to the city that nobody recognized because it looked like every other city.

I saw the passages worn by the unnumbered footfalls of those whose eyes were fixed upon the objective

Their passing had obliterated the graves and monuments

of those who had died in pursuit of the objective

and who had long ago forever been forgotten, according to the inevitable rule that those who have forgotten forget that they have forgotten.  Men, women, and children now pursued the objective as if nobody ever had pursued it before.

-from A Timbered Choir

 

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