Posts Tagged ‘accountable’

I spent much of my week shoveling dirt. It was mundane. It was also exhausting.

And it was spiritual.

There is a bias among some of the faithful that temple building doesn’t rank very high on the spirituality index. Prayer, study, mediation, teaching, bringing healing, worshipping  — these are often ranked higher that moving dirt.

But this is not so. Working is akin to praying, they both have a deep intrinsic spiritual value.

God’s people need a place, they always have  — a sanctuary, a shelter, a bit of ground reserved for quietness, a garden corner of beauty, a sacred space to come before God to connect, learn and worship.

This week, at the church site we are renewing, we will be spreading wood chips, moving top soil, gluing sprinkler system pipe, planting flowers. This is a sign. It is a sign of our spiritual health.

A bit worn out from all this, this morning I read Haggai.

Here is what God told his people in ancent times about temple remodeling projects.

Here’s what I want you to do:

Climb into the hills and cut some timber.

Bring it down and rebuild the Temple.

Do it just for me. Honor me.”

Haggai 1:8

When we rebuild temples, we are doing what the kind of thing that God likes, particularly when we do it to honor him.  Rebuilding is within the divine mandate to honor and care for God by honoring and caring for the earth. Earth matters. Dirt matters. Places matter. A solid place that has been given by God matters, and this much is true: A people in tune with God will restore and beautify the holy places God gives them.

Yes, get to work! For I am with you.’ God told his people in Haggai’s day! ‘Put into action the word I covenanted with you when you left Egypt. I’m living and breathing among you right now. Don’t be timid. Don’t hold back.’

Haggai 2:5

Years ago I had a dream that I had left my beautiful home in my master-planned community and bought an old, large, broken down house. In the dream I just kept thinking, why did I do this? I don’t want to fix up this huge, old, trashed home.

Then one day my dream came true. I was called to be the pastor of a fairly large church facility that had been neglected for years. When I took the job, I didn’t think much about the site, just the people, their need for me, my need to care for them, God’s invite.

Then one day, after being there a short while and seeing the needs of the site up close, I was suddenly struck  that my old nightmare had come true. I was reponsible for a large, ruined house.

Then God spoke to me, as he did to Haggai, “Get to work! For I am with you.”

His voice worked on me. I began to burn inside for the temple of God to be honored.

And so we have gotten to work. We put in new lights, bought new porch canopies, refinished old oak floors, refinihed the seating, remodeled the stage and we painted and we painted — everything! And there is more. We are just finishing a three year project, a new interior coutyard with a beautiful enclosing stucco wall, a large stage, pavered walkways, gardened edges, and both decorative and ambient lighting. It is about to be gorgeous!

And to celebrate all this newness we have renamed the place, We are now The REFINERY, because this is what we are. We are now a place where old things become new, and where good things become better.

And for me, has it been a bad dream? It has not. It has been a good dream, a beautiful dream, because when God tell us to renew something, then we ourselves are renewed in the process of doing that.

This is what God himself said to his people in Haggai’s day.

Think ahead from when the Temple rebuilding was launched. Has anything in your fields—vine, fig tree, pomegranate, olive tree—failed to flourish? From now on you can count on a blessing.’”

Haggai 2:19

Cool! Whe we rebuild according to God’s command, God rebuilds us.  Earth care, temple care, site care — God is all over it, and he rewards and takes care of those who do it.

Shoveling dirt — it’s spiritual.

Some memories flood us without being invited, especially the memories of difficulty, hurt, or loss.

Other memories must be sought after, spelunked from the earthy past, coaxed from memory’s sky. Those are the ones I’m interested in now.

There is a going back, a kind of search through childhood, that we can make, and with a specific memory focus and an intent we can encourage ourselves. Remembering, we can warm our minds up, sit by the fire of good times, have a chat with the past and drink up the sweetness of our lives.

I remember holding the head of my childhood dog Patches, and telling her some sorrow and being comforted by her friendship. I remember carrying my big, scroungy cat Red home with me —  a found cat  — and my mom letting me keep him. He became my fur buddy. I remember kittens born in my closet, the soft cries of the new presences, the surprise a few weeks later when their bright blue eyes popped open. I remember puppies born under the foundation of the nearby building, me crawling under there, bringing them out, so we could make sure they grew up safe, and tame and loved.

I remember baby jay birds, found on the ground, fallen from the nest. We fed one of the little guys dog food from the wrong end of a spoon and he survived and became our airy friend, even after he learned to fly. I remember going outside and him landing on my shoulder, to greet me. I was Saint Francis; he was my congregant; we had holy communion with each other, but I never preached to him.

These are good memories, my memories of my childhood animal friends. The house cats that live with me now — Megan and Shanaynay — are members of a long line of animals that have warmed and encougaged my life. I grew up with fur; I still like fur. Life is better, lived near a purr.

Perhaps God gave us the animals, to help us recover from the humans.

Memory — it’s fascinating. The memory scientists tells us that our memories are malleable; they change over time; often they aren’t very accurate, and yet they are reality’s storehouse from which we can constantly draw the wealth of our lives. Those furry friends from my past, they were real, and our friendships — they mattered to me.

I’m for it, for a gentle looking back, for remembering the good, for warming up our minds with all the safety, love, relationship, fun and wonder of the past. We have all experienced hard things, most certainly within memory there is pain — I easily remember the surprising treachery of a once close friend — but most certainly we all have had many good, healing things happen to us also.

There, waiting in the past, are sweet, good memories to be discovered again — and savored.

It’s 5:23 am. I’m alone, sitting in my chair with my coffee, thinking, the cats camping out on my lap and nearby.

Last night I went to my friend Tim’s retirement party. About 75 people were there. We qued up for pizza, pasta, and chicken fingers and told stories about various explosions and fires connected to Tim.  Tim confessed at one point,  in a moment of hilarious candor, after numerous fireworks and burning-engine and flaming-Christmas-tree stories,  “I love fire!”

Then he paced the floor thanking people and honoring others and making jokes and flailing his arm about like a puppet in the hands of a maniac,  as he is wont to do when he gets excited, which is always. Tim is no sleepy house cat. He is a wild cat, a man on fire. For a few years he was in the habit of taking 75 or so Christmas trees to the desert, roping them together and lighting them on fire.

This morning, sitting alone with my coffee, thinking about Tim, it comes to me that when life is social, warm, burning, it is best, and that it is always social.

Alone is a fiction. There is no being alone. In a sence I am never alone, because I know Tim.

Tim is one of my very best friends. I’ve known Tim for about 35 years. He was the best man in my wedding. We have a lifetime of talks and some crazy adventures and some rough times too.  I rely on Tim; he relies on me. If he were to do something out of character that brought shame to him, I would feel the shame too. If I were to do something wrong, something out of character, something out of alignment with the good reputation that I have in the community, something that disgraced me, Tim would be disgraced too. And in this way, we are accountable to each other, and not really alone in our behaviors and choices.

We have fed each others fire; we burn for some of the same causes; we have each others backs.

Sometimes we speak of privacy. I write this in a private moment. We have created places of privacy, homes and fenced yards and bathrooms, but we don’t see this thing of isolation even close to correctly. Even in those more hidden places, we are never alone.  Our friends are there, and there is something else there, and on this  I am finally getting my mind straight.

God is there, everywhere, always with me. Privacy is a myth.  The Bible, that best book on life and God and reality, says that God watches us, that he sees it all, that his eyes cast around to see who relies on him and he energizes those who do. Last night when I watched Tim lounging about the room, arms up and down, laughing and waving and yelling and creating warmth and love and kindness in the room, I saw a man filled with God, not alone, fueled up on the watching eyes of God.

And I get it more now, although not yet as I will get it when I finally begin to wake up to our utter and complete and irrevocable not-aloneness. God is omniscient. God sees, it all, and when we know that, and live in that, and live as if that is true, which hardly anyone I ever met does, then we are different. If there is no privacy, then my behavior changes, because there is perpetual accountability and endless energy to do the right thing.

Listen, someone else is always in the room! I am growing wisely paranoid. We are being watched! And we are always creating stories than can and will be told. There is no movement of our fingers that isn’t part of the plot that is being written for public consumption, that can’t be told and retold as we live and then retire from work and love and hate and life.

This begs, pleads for, falls down and cries for the question: How would we live if every moment were filmed and shown at every moment to everyone? It is! God sees every moment of our lives. He is consistently present. He even knows our every thought.  And so we must each one always ask ourselves, “Do I want to do this right now, think this right now, live this out right now, seeing that God is right now watching me and recording my story?”

It burns in me! Pile on more Christmas trees. It explodes. Set off more fireworks. It smolders in me and in you, the glowing ember of God. It flares up in every moment, and it makes me want to live smart, aware, different, as if the lights are never off, and they aren’t and we are never, ever, thankfully ever — alone.

We are living public stories. We are always living out what will be told at our retirement party. We are always fighting off fire, or letting it burn in us. We are irrevocably public, and we would do well to live as if the whole world and God were always watching.

It is.

He is.


It could be argued that sometimes we aren’t accountable enough to ourselves.

Students not doing their homework, moms not  taking care of their own needs, employees not doing their assignments, many of us not living out our vision for our  lives  – it’s common.

Recently, someone told me they would do something. They didn’t do it. Asked about it, they didn’t think it was a big deal. But it was important, from two angles. We missed a good opportunity to involve people we needed to involve, and they missed the responsibility to have integrity, to do what they said they would do.

 I said something to this person later, pointing out the missed opportunity. Oddly, they weren’t at all upset by their own omission. A casual, relaxed atmosphere of excuses and minimization reigned. I said what I thought anyway, “It isn’t loving or responsible to not do what you said you would.” As a result, they completed the task and followed through nicely on something else they had agreed to do.

Nothing new here. We’ve all seen this before.  I’ve worked with people who didn’t do their job well for years. It created a mess of missed opportunities and misunderstandings. 

Why don’t people own their work? It’s complicated. Each case might have a unique root cause — insecurity, weakness of character, laziness, sabotaging inclinations due to jealousy, cultural expectations, disabling neediness, perhaps a history of not being well-parented, incompetency. Often the roots of irresponsibility rest in fear. Fear is huge, the fear of making mistakes, the fear of negative feedback, the fear that we can’t be what the job expects us to be or has changed to be.  Fear creates inertia; fear disables.

But a responsible independence that  owns our issues is such a good alternative, so empowering. Recently, I spoke with someone who has failed his family. He admitted that he has made mistakes, that he has engaged in harmfully addictive behaviors, that he hasn’t valued his wife’s feelings, that he has caused a lot of pain. It was refreshing, and as a result of his honesty, he is now changing his behaviors.

An internal mode of self-assessment and self-correction is a mark of high maturity, but it doesn’t seem to be in the defining mode of many modern adults. Too often we operate with a culture of casual excuse; we don’t do what we say we are going to do and that seems to be okay.

It’s not. It’s not loving or mature or professional to be irresponsible.  

I have a friend in the military. He says irresponsibility has become a huge problem in his branch of the service. Many people don’t do their  jobs with high quality, and they won’t own their mistakes and fix the damage done by them. When things go wrong there is often a lot of excusing and blaming others and avoiding  responsibility. Someone he worked with spent money from someone else’s account. Once caught, the person excused the behavior and didn’t pay back what was taken.

But the alternatives to self-accountability aren’t attractive. They are punishment and being brought to task.  But standing over people to make them do their jobs, micromanaging each step they take, punishing them for not coming through, babysitting them on the job – when we reach this level of dependent functioning, something needs to dramatically change. We have a core motivational problem.

At this point, leadership must reassess their approach and find positive, proactive, not negative, ways to help people become independently responsible.  Motivation to work is best inspired, as well as required. Therapy, re-educating, creating win-win solutions, retraining, creating collaborative networks, helping people get excited about using their unique skills – this is the responsibility of a leadership facing inertia and incompetency and resistance. 

But the best solution to irresponsibility is when we each become accountable to ourselves. It is when we grow up and become independent in healthy ways. We can vastly improve our little corner of life by being self-accountable. This is maturity, to come to the point where we self-assess and self-correct when needed.

Here are some things that it would be so wise and loving to people around us to take responsibility for. To be operative they must become personal, our “I” statements of responsibility:

I am responsible to do what I say I am going to do.

I am responsible not to harm others. If I do, I am responsible to fix that the best I can.

I am responsible to do what I am assigned in my job to do, to do it efficiently, creatively and with a high degree of quality.

I am responsible to love the people I work with, live with and make a family with.

 I am responsible to identify my physical, spiritual and emotional needs and to figure out how to meet these in healthy ways that don’t harm me or others.

I am responsible to speak up when something is unfair or unjust and do what I can to change it.

I am responsible for all my actions, thoughts and feelings and the consequences that flow from them.

I am responsible for my spiritual health, to hear and know and act on what is true, good and right.

I am accountable to my own values and standards. If I say I believe something, then I should act on it.

I am responsible to know and defend my boundaries. I am responsible for what I let other people do to me.

I am responsible find solutions to my own problems or live wisely with the problems I can’t solve.

I am responsible to set my goals and priorities and then to move toward them the best I can.

There are more. I’m sure we can all think of more. All we have to do is remember when we failed someone or they failed us to add to this list. We should think about these things. Then we should get busy living them.

On a recent evening I asked one of my daughters if she had done something that she had agreed to do. She had. Peace reigned between us. Self-accountability, independent responsibilty – these are very good for relationships.