One Team, One Nation, Under God

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

I’m grateful we still say this pledge before every school board meeting in my local school district. I serve on the board of directors and also as our treasurer. As I recited it this past Monday evening, something triggered a deeper reflection upon its words.

Is the United States of America a perfect country? Far from it. In fact, we have been imperfect since inception. And throughout our history, we’ve proven time and time again that we are flawed.

Yet, the fact we are “one nation under God” means we are one team. And as with any good, cohesive team, we have a foundation of trust in God. It’s in our DNA. Just look at the back of a $1 bill.

When foundational trust is established, then that means we can have healthy constructive discourse about important matters pertaining to liberty and justice for all. That doesn’t mean we always get it right. We are after all humans, and we’re far from perfect too.

Yet, I keep going back to the phrase “under God”. As long as we’re under God, then He will ensure good will result from all of the mess we create. He can use imperfect people, and our imperfect country, for the good. He has proven good works done with improper motives can still have a positive impact, as long as we are under Him. The only way that works is if we’re willing to acquire a posture of humility.

Humility, a human virtue, requires the willingness to be subordinate to Him. It’s a posture of soul and body and life that acknowledges and embraces the goodness of God and the humanness of self. To the extent our great republic is willing to recognize that, then we will not only survive, but thrive. When we are humble, we can focus on prioritizing our similarities over our differences. When we are humble, we can place the benefit of others over our own. When we are humble, we are aligned with the same foundation, under God.

I pray that each of us may receive the gift of humility so that this great country may continue to pursue liberty and justice for all. Healthy conflict is good conflict. It’s a requirement for the commitment, accountability and results of a cohesive team.

We are one team, one nation, under God.

The Business of Busyness

It seems like an oft asked question at the start of business conversations is, “How are you?” A typical response is, “Busy.” I can’t help to wonder why so many people say that and what it really means. Is it a good busy or bad busy? I know many people who profess to be busy, but aren’t productive. That’s how I define “bad busy”. I also know productive people who never complain about being busy. That’s a “good busy”. Unfortunately, the “bad” seem to out number the “good”. It is apropos that the origin of the word business is taken from the Old English language combination of busy + ness.

As I reflect on this, I can’t help to wonder if we’ve become too busy to be neighborly. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” sounds like a worthy aim, however many of us don’t have the awareness to put it into practice. In the midst of our busyness, a friend in need texts, “Can you talk?” A neighbor asks for help to move a couch. A teammate at work asks for feedback on a project. The driven among us find such “neighborly love” disrupting to our schedules, overturning of our plans, and interrupting to our productivity. It leaves to-do lists unfinished. “Love your neighbor” feels like a frustratingly inconvenient ask, and therefore, excuses are abundant:

  • I’m just too busy
  • I helped last time
  • My work is too pressing
  • They reach out too often

While these defenses may be legitimate, they reveal that we take ourselves and our work too seriously. The only way to interrupt our self-centered natures is to center ourselves on God’s love. Loving God first enables the awareness to subordinate our selfishness, thereby equipping us to offer our time and love to others in the moment. We see them as humans, just like we are, with needs, wants and hurts in need of a balm, a ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, a mind for counsel. I must admit, despite my best efforts, I’m guilty of prioritizing tasks over people and seeing my real work as the kind that can be checked off a list. Such mistakes make me want to lean into God’s love even more so that I can get better at loving others.

That said, there are times when saying “no” is appropriate. However, we must be able to discern the difference between a hasty “not now” and an appropriate “no”. With so many demands and requests, and so much important work to be done, how do we know when to embrace the unexpected and when to stay focused?

The answer is in this rule of thumb:

  1. Lean in to small interruptions and little requests
  2. Lean away from large or ongoing responsibilities by pausing to consider the opportunity costs first

In other words, larger time commitments and responsibilities are worthy of strategic thoughtfulness and prayerfulness. You want to be sure they are part of God’s will for your life and core to your calling before acting. Conversely, small acts of service should be viewed and treated not as interruptions to your calling, but integral to it.

This is how we all can place the business of busyness in the proper context. They next time you’re asked, “Can you talk?” or “Can you help?” or “Do you mind?,” kindly lean in to the minor interruption and prioritize the other person over yourself.

Neighborly Love Podcast, Episode 1 – Deb Balukas

Ordinary People. Extraordinary Conversations.

If “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” and “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” collided at an intersection, then the Neighborly Love podcast would be the result. It features casual conversations over coffee in a “virtual coffee shop” that lean into the power of empathy. It’s about feeling heard, valued and understood. It’s about serving others. It’s about depositing money in our relational banks.

Neighborly Love is an original podcast by MindWolves. Host Marc Casciani, author of Craft Your Calling and Neighborly Love, interviews ordinary people about their heart for God and serving other people for the greater good.

Episode 1 – Deb Balukas

Marc interviews friend and colleague, Deb Balukas and asks three thought provoking questions: (1) What would you do for a living if money weren’t and issue?, (2) Tell me about a time when you did something nice for someone?, and (3) Do you have a dream that involves serving others? Deb’s answers are amazing and inspiring.

Neighborly Love, Episode 1 – Deb Balukas (10-13-20)

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Endeared to Lead

What makes a person go all out for someone else? What is it about a person that endears him or her to others, so much so they are willing to follow him or her wherever they lead? There are two common characteristics these types of leaders possess:

The Servant-Minded Brain
  1. Empathy – they have compassion for others, are able to feel what others feel and express concern for others sufferings and misfortunes.
  2. Courage – they display integrity and uphold truth at the point of trial.

In other words, if someone feels you genuinely care about them AND witnesses your standing up for what is right to defend them in the middle of adversity, then you will be a person they want to follow. Sure, there are other leadership styles, however this is the only style that is endearing. This is a true servant-minded leader.

I’ve witnessed this type of leadership on all sorts of teams, including families, companies, communities, sports teams, armed forces and organizations of all shapes and sizes. Now, let’s focus on leading a business and the pursuit of excellence in serving customers.

A servant-minded leader treats employees as internal customers and believes when they serve employees well, employees in turn serve external customers well. Servant-minded leaders nurture people and give them tools and training. They understand when you don’t do this and expect people to deliver results, then you’re not running a company, you’re running a slave camp.

People are to be nurtured, not used. Servant-minded leaders help employees realize their full potential as humans because they know employees help drive the business to its full potential. Servant-minded leaders train for skill and character because purpose is found in character.

Servant-minded leaders are endeared to people who want to follow them because they exhibit empathy and courage. They believe that excellence is not achieved by random happenstance, for if it is to be achieved at all, it must be a deliberate pursuit. The standard of excellence must be set for the output and conduct of everyone, including the leader. Employees who are nurtured to develop their competence and character within the context of clear a performance measurement framework willingly adhere to and are motivated to exceed the standard.

Servant-minded leaders know it’s not about them, but it starts with them. They are leaders people want to follow because they care and can be trusted.

The First Domino

To live a full life, we need to properly position the first domino. If we do, then all other subsequent dominoes fall into place. That first domino must be about love, God’s love to be exact. Love God first, others second. The later is not possible without the first.

In conversations, words without love are just noise. If you don’t speak in love, then it doesn’t matter what you say. You can be the most charismatic and articulate conversationalist, but you’ll have wasted your breath.

Empathy is a powerful tool for showing love in a conversation. Empathy has three main parts:

  1. Use your eyes to start the conversation. Look at the other person intently. Give them your full attention. By doing so, you’re saying you love them because attention is love.
  2. Listen to understand how the other person is feeling. This requires being silent. If you’re talking, then you’re not listening because you can’t do both at the same time.
  3. When you do speak, speak in a soft, calm, inquisitive tone. This requires humility.

The key attribute in mastering empathy is subordination. Subordination of self-love to God’s love so that you may understand how to properly love others. Let’s call this a Kingdom-first policy. That’s the properly positioned “first domino.”

If we approach everything this way, He guarantees that the things we need will come as a natural by-product of seeking His love first. Taking a Kingdom-first approach guarantees relational harmony with others. Taking a relational harmony-first approach does not guarantee God’s love will be thrown in. In fact, it significantly raises the risk that self-love will trump the love of others, thereby defeating the purpose of making an attempt at a relationship or conversation.

What’s the number one measure of success for your life? Is it money? Is it status? It is material things? Is it God’s love?

It’s a fair question to ask because no one can serve two masters. You will either hate one and love the other, or you’ll stand by and be devoted to one and and despise and be against the other.

What’s your first domino?

Mind Over Emotions

What is the foundation upon which you live your life? Does your mind rule your emotions or do your emotions rule your mind? Do your daily decisions flow from how you feel, or do they flow from a posture of your heart that is properly aligned with who God says you are and what He wants for and from you?

If you and I were to spend any meaningful time together, you would know my faith guides and drives me. It demands with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind and with all my strength that my love for God and love for other people are at the forefront. This is my #1 personal value to strive toward. It means every second of every minute of every day is spent working for that end. Even though I often fall short, that’s my goal.

Some days are harder than others. Why? Because it seems like I’m swimming against the cultural current. Dominant culture suggests feelings should chart our course. A new religion has been formed centered around us, ourselves and our feelings. That religion is very attractive because it caters to our emotions and egos. It wants to give us full reign to our natural expressions, our authentic selves, to be who we are without constraints or consideration that we are born of God.

Such raw passion, as evidenced as of late, is never so useful as in groups. It turns herds into stampedes used for destruction. When feelings, not thoughts – when our spirits, not His – drives us, mobs soon become monstrous.

Here are some carefully crafted half-truths this new religion uses to stir and incite:

  • Feelings define us. Who we are is how we feel, not what we believe or who we belong to.
  • Emotions happen. Emotions are what happens to us and we cannot actually fight them or train them.
  • Emotions interpret reality. Emotions are the lens through which reality is seen, never vise versa. Therefore, reality is relative to our emotional state.
  • Love is a label. Love is the crown jewel of all feelings and a label to be stamped on what was once highly objectionable.

Living as a contrarian is not easy. Fighting conformity to the pattern of this world feels like running the back half of a marathon in the heat of summer. Nonetheless, I am committed to keep running. I am committed to training my mind to receive my God-given gifts and hopefully influence others to do likewise. It’s all very possible when we intentionally love God first, others second and ourselves third. The order is of the utmost importance, which is why our minds must rule our emotions.

The Three Most Important Values in Your Life

Can you name the three most important values in your life right now? If you can’t, then you certainly can’t live by them. Why is this so important? Because if you don’t decide what’s most important in your life, other people are going to decide for you. They’re going to push you into their mold, and you’ll live your life by their values, not yours.

A picture of the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, Arizona near sunset. The chapel appears to rise out of the rock formations characteristic of the area. Picture take by Matthew P. Del Buono (source Wikipedia)

Here are my mine:

  1. Servant Leadership: Always be looking for opportunities to meet the needs of others.
  2. Equip for Excellence: Always be learning, growing, improving with God’s standard as my standard.
  3. Positivity: Always believe the best. Always look for the silver lining when bad things happen. Trust that in all things God works for the good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

These are my core values. I live by them day-in, day-out. They are constant reminders and pointers.

They are reminders for the moments when I ask, “Where did the time go?” They keep my eye on what’s important.

They are pointers to the humbling reality that I must learn to number my days so that I may get a heart of wisdom. And with that wisdom, I must love God first, other people second and myself third, in that order.

What are the three most important values in your life right now? Write them down. Reflect on them. Refine them. Live them.

If you’d like to share them with me, then I’d love to hear from you. Email me at marc@mindwolves.com.

Thank you for reading this. Thank you for who you are. Thank you for allowing me to serve you. I am grateful.

Busy, Not Hurried

Whether you realize it or not, there is a spiritual war over your mind. It’s the classic good versus evil match-up. Who wins is determined by you. Your mind doesn’t care who wins, but it reveals who wins.

Good vs. Evil

Every day is a new battle in the war. Your incremental preparation, training and execution determines the daily outcome. There will be an ebb and flow. The enemy is a formidable opponent and you’re human, so mistakes will be made. You won’t win every battle, however you must win more than you lose to make progress in the war.

So the question is, how can you ensure that happens? There is only one way. It involves establishing a work ethic proven effective against the enemy.

To go any further, we must establish what is meant by the word work. Work implies purpose. It entails the mental and physical effort done to achieve that purpose. In the end, our whole life is actually a single work, i.e. a life’s work. Awareness of that gives us a calling. Therefore, in this context, work and calling are synonymous. Our work ethic embodies the meaning of success, which is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal. This work ethic also implies life is more than work and allows for periods of rest, retreat and sleep.

To ensure the likelihood of success for the battle of your mind, your work ethic must serve to get to know and love God. When you establish the rhythms, patterns and habits to know the mind of God, then your career transforms into a ministry, which is simply any career whereby you’re serving others in God’s name. Ministries come in all shapes, sizes and flavors, both for-profit and not-for-profit, but their common denominator is helping others to glorify God.

When employing this work ethic, your ministry will be one of energy and industry, not laziness and lethargy. You won’t think of your work as your own, but of your Father’s. You’ll expend energy God gives you, day in and day out, to carry out your calling. You’ll be in great demand. Your days will be long, but you’ll never feel anxious or frenzied. Your life will be busy, but not hurried. You will know your calling and be “all in,” but not without sleep or leisure. You’ll live in a calm, assertive, empathetic manner.

There’s a lot at stake in the spiritual war over our minds. By winning more daily battles than we lose, we’re called to expend energy and effort for the good of others. This is what makes our life’s work good: that it is good for others, not just ourselves. We work for this good because God is at work in us.

Strengthen Your Empathy Muscle

Since I was 12-years old, I’ve lifted weights. It’s still a habit of mine 38-years later. Over the years, my objectives have shifted. Early on, I was focused on core strength for playing football. After college, I was more interested in muscle mass and density and contemplated body-building. As a husband, father and professional, I balance maintaining and preserving muscle with long-term health and fitness.

This me in 1987 as a Freshman working out at Rec Hall at Penn State University.

In addition to my physical workouts this week, I also worked out in my mind gym. My mind gym is where I spend the first fifteen minutes and last fifteen minutes of my day, every day. It’s also where I go when needed throughout the day to clear and calm my mind to think about something important.

One of the muscles strengthened in my mind gym is my empathy muscle. Frankly, it’s the most important muscle these days, and I wish I would have started training it when I was 12. Hey, better late than never.

Why do I assert it’s the most important muscle? Because it helps me bring about unity with other people, no matter what. It helps me to prioritize what I have in common with them, thereby prioritizing our likenesses over our differences. I feel an extreme sense of ownership to that end. The burden is on me to:

  • Seek to stand in their shoes by understanding their experiences
  • Aim to get in their mind by understanding their viewpoint
  • Strive to put myself in their place by imaging what they are feeling

When I can do this, we’re able to form unity in our minds. We can still be unique, but have an eye towards the big picture by sharing a vision. That’s what being like-minded is about.

When I can do this, how we treat and respond to each other changes. We see each other as a person and not just someone we want to argue with. Our convictions and beliefs don’t change with the conversation, however we start to see the other person in a new light and maybe grasp why they feel and believe what they do.

Seeking, aiming and striving to understand someone’s viewpoint doesn’t mean we’re weak-minded. It actually reveals the strength of our empathy muscle. What would our world be like if a critical-mass of people had strong empathy muscles? I pray for the day when we reach that tipping point.

You Go First

Empathy is transformational in relationships. Like any other skill, it can be mastered with practice and patience. Empathy requires figuring out what the other person is thinking and saying before you seek to be understood. Too many people are consumed by speaking first to make their point heard. The irony is that their point will fall on deaf ears unless they are willing to understand others first. We are often so busy trying to get people to see it our way that we don’t stop to listen to what they are saying.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825–1905) (Public domain in the U.S. because it was published before 1925.)

Transformational empathy starts with this statement, “You go first.” Then, all you have to do is shut up and listen.

After they’ve shared, you say, “It sounds like … (repeat to them what you understood they were communicating to you).” Then they will either say, “that’s right,” or they will correct you and tell you what they really meant. Either way, you get to understand and also make them feel respected and understood. It’s a genuine win-win.

Try it. It’s a simple four step system.

  1. Say, “You go first.
  2. Stop talking and listen.
  3. Say, “It sounds like … (repeat what you think they meant).”
  4. Stop talking and let them affirm or correct you.

Repeat as often as necessary. You can replace “It sounds like …” with “It seems like …” or “It feels like …” for variety.

To master transformational empathy, challenge yourself to use it with everyone in your life. Not only will you acquire the skill, but you will also enhance your relationships and influence.

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