One Bite at a Time

It’s been a year since I graduated from Iliff. And what a year it has been. I moved from Colorado back to Arkansas, was commissioned as a provisional deacon, worked as an aide in a preschool classroom, and took a job and moved to Jonesboro. That’s just June to August. The amount of “stuff” I’ve learned (for lack of a better term) this year is unbelievable. My education definitely did not end when I left an academic institution. I admittedly would love to be back where I could have weekly meetings with individuals reading and learning about the same things I am, but I get the best of both worlds right now. I get to learn about things I am interested in and try to put them into practice in my ministry setting.

The “stuff” I’ve learned this year would not have been possible without my senior pastor/boss/friend. 10403989_10203805337199714_559624812232680486_oHe’s taught me practical things like floor installation and changing a bike flat. I’ve learned from him about the dynamics of churches and their relationships to one another as well as the Annual Conference. I’ve learned about campus activities and the yearly cycle of campus ministry. We’ve discussed ideas for the direction of the ministry at ASU, the possible solutions for the various UM crises, and even providing fair wages to Wal-Mart workers. It seems like I am constantly learning new things about ministry, life, and work from him.

At the end of the month (more accurately by the end of today) I am expected to follow in the footsteps of this friend who is leaving to take a new appointment. Boy, am I worried. I’ve gotten to sit back and learn from someone who has made an impact on countless students lives and experiences at Arkansas State. Now, it’s my turn. On good days, I am nervous about knowing where the key is to that closet we keep that stuff we only use once a year in. On bad days, I convince myself that the building itself will collapse due to my sheer lack of experience.

Last weekend, a family member reminded me of an old saying. “Do you know how to eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” I am so blessed to have had a year to learn under this capable and willing director. As I look toward all that I hope to accomplish in the year to come, I just have to remember to take it one bite at a time. I must continue to learn and to apply the lessons that I have learned. I know that I will make mistakes and that I will inevitably screw something up, but I also know that I had a great teacher who helped me to learn from my mistakes and move into this role with as much grace as I could. For that, I am very, very grateful!

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The Problem with Complaining

A few years ago I jumped on this movement called a Complaint Free World. Oprah and some other celebrities were plugging it, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. They would send you one of those rubbery bracelets ala LiveStrong. Each time you complained about something you were to change the bracelet to the other wrist. The goal was to go like a month without complaining. Let me tell you, trying not to complain for a month is darn near impossible. Trying not to complain for a week was about all I could even attempt. After realizing how much I really complained about silly insignificant things, I saw how utterly impossible it was to give up complaining all together.

Here’s the deal with complaining it’s innately negative. Complaining offers a way to vent our concerns, but does not offer a solution to the problem. If I complain about the leaky roof, but do nothing to fix it, it is still going to leak. If I complain about the person who is keeping me from completing my mission, but I don’t seek a compromise or resolution, I haven’t done anything to address the problem. Complaining, all by its lonesome, fails to accomplish anything. In fact, it tends to cause arguments, disagreements, and foster bitterness.

Even then, I don’t advocate for people to give up complaining. Complaining serves an important role in society. When enough people complain, things start to change. Complaining points to issues with the current system. In the Bible the Israelites complained to God about wandering in the dessert with Aaron and Moses and God gave them manna from heaven to sustain them. When people are unhappy, it seems that others try to work to address the changes needed.

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The design of the paperclip hasn’t changed since 1899

Imagine what life was like before a necessary, but seemingly unimportant little tool like the paper clip. All fasteners before it damaged papers by poking through them. Even the early clips had sharp edges that tended to scratch the paper. The modern paperclip was the results of people complaining about the current state of paper fasteners in this country! So many innovations and inventions have similar stories where some person decided on a way to make life easier for all of us in this case by manipulating a thin piece of steel wire into a double-oval shape. No one has come up with a better system in over 100 years!

The problem with complaining is that for most of us we stop with the complaint. We grumble over some inconvenience, but don’t do anything to address it. We have to be able to address not only our own complaints, but the complaints of others. Complaining can serve a positive purpose when we don’t let it stop at grumbling. When we act and begin to change our actions, that’s when complaining can bring about the biggest difference. So complain away! But don’t stop there, work for change and strive for innovation. You never know what kind of change some grumbling can ignite.