January 17, 2020


The Mercury / Wednesday

The Genius of Powerful Leadership

• Is not that you, the leader, get your way. It is that those whom you lead discover their own skills, talents, and beauty and, as a result of your style, they are willing to apply their cache of potential to your mutually declared goals.

• Is not that you, the leader, are recognized. It is that those whom you lead are empowered and sufficiently “free” to make their own mark on your mutually declared goals and are positioned to receive appropriate credit.

• Is not that you, the leader, are the one with all the brilliant ideas. It is that you have created a context where the development and exchange of ideas is a way of life and your shared brilliance becomes difficult to pin on one lone genius or a singular heroic leader.

• Is not that you, the appointed or official leader, lead at everything. You understand that your ability to lead meshes with your ability to follow. You get out of the way, you assist, you encourage those who are better equipped at any task to assume the awe-filled position of leader when it is necessary.

• It is that you, the leader, know that how you handle yourself is pivotal, and far more important to your success than how you handle your charges.

January 26, 2018

A message for my sons…..

Written rather rapidly but written by request….

Five things to say to my children… (well, according to age, of course)….

1. I like to think that nothing you do or don’t do will ever diminish my love for you – but – given that I am human, tainted, and “fallen,” it’s not impossible. This cuts both ways. While I hope you will always love me, I understand that our mutual imperfections may get in the way. Nonetheless: I love you. I will seek your highest good as much as I am able. When my love for you is challenged, I will try to always give you the benefit of the doubt.

2. We are separate people. You are responsible for you. I am responsible for me. I try to give you the most advantageous position as far as I am able, and according to our (limited) resources, but ultimately making your life successful is your responsibility. I will support you. I will encourage you, but essentially who you are and what you become is firmly in your hands and will live and grow within your unique dance with God, your community, your skills, talents, dreams, and desires.

3. I will never measure your success by wealth or possessions or fame or any one of measures commonly associated with success. For me it will always be measured in the manner in which you treat people, all people, people who are weaker, stronger, richer, poorer, people who are different from you, people who love you and those who don’t. If you hobnob kings but you cannot treat those who serve you as if they themselves were royalty, I’ll see you as having a lot of growing to do. This, too, by the way, cuts both ways.

4. Life has an odd and gracious ways of giving us (you and me) second, third, fifth, even sixth chances. Take them. Screwing up here and there is expected and human – but at least have the wisdom, unlike me, to learn from your mistakes. I’ve learned from a lot of mine (apparently not all) but my deepest regrets are attached to the fact that it usually took me such a very long time to do so. Do better than I have done at this – please.

5. While it is convenient, resist making decisions about what kind of Person Jesus is and what kind of Being God is from what you see in the church. It’s a travesty, really, that God and Jesus and the Beautiful Holy Spirit have been reduced to the Sunday Hymn sandwich or the antics of a “modern” worship leader prancing with a guitar, or a cool pastor who has mastered the pulpit and PowerPoint. None of that, none of the best of all of that, ever comes close, even nears (and I don’t care where you are told it is all happening) the Creative and the Dangerous and the Enthusiastic Nature of the All Powerful God and the Humble and Edgy, Inclusive Person of Jesus and their Playful and Powerful and Unsettling Representative in the form of the Holy Spirit. Together, and separately, They are ALL nicer and more and more and more than I have ever known any church anywhere to be able and brave enough to portray. This said, find a community (church or not) – serve it, be a part of it, and play your part. You’ll never become fully who you are unless you are committed to a group of people whom you can love and will love you in return.

July 24, 2015

Please don’t shoot

If you see my (black) son

any time of the day

or in the early evening

riding his (red) bike

please don’t shoot him.

He’s as free as the wind

and loves his (diverse) neighborhood

and knows it block-by-block

and so if you glimpse him whizzing by

on his bike

or weaving side-to-side

on his roller-blades

– which are the only things he really wanted

for his thirteenth birthday –

please, don’t shoot.

He’s really good at both

– bikes and roller-blades –

and I assure you he’s not trying

to get away and nor is he coming at you

and he’s definitely not dangerous.

Even though he’s

moving very quickly

and even though he’s black

he’s just making his way home

and enjoying the last few weeks of

his summer break from school.

Please don’t shoot.

Tags: ,
July 22, 2012

Making happy children

“I see my first responsibility, as a parent, is to make my children have a happy childhood so they can have a happy life. Please comment.”

Good luck. While it is a nice ideal you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

Your children’s happiness is ultimately their responsibility and not yours. The sooner they assume it the better.

If you, the parent, work hard at your own life and make the very best of your skills and talents it is more likely that you will have children who will do the same.

If you focus all of your attention on your children and on trying to make them happy it is likely you will create insatiable, demanding, and entitled men and women who are more than a challenge to all who know them.

Of course I am not suggesting parents ought to intentionally create tough lives in order to amplify challenge – this would be ridiculous.

I’d suggest you focus on providing a loving and challenging platform for your children to achieve well in all areas of their lives and get out of their way as much as possible.

Success, and reaching for success, is what results in fulfillment. I’d take “fulfillment” or “useful” or “purposeful” over the illusive state called “happiness” anytime.

July 8, 2012

What my son of 10 has taught me (and I am a slow learner)!

Things I have learned from my ten-year-old son…

  1. Swimming is the same as having a bath or taking a shower.
  2. Taking a real bath or shower using actual soap and shampoo makes you clean for four days.
  3. Licking your fingers is the same as washing your hands.
  4. Turning your clothing inside out it is the same as putting on clean clothes.
  5. Eating an apple is the same as brushing your teeth.
  6. Putting on a shirt by pulling it over your head combs your hair.
  7. Making your bed wastes playing time because you get into it at night.
  8. Eating potato chips gives you all the vegetables you need.
  9. Tidying a bedroom is ridiculous if you can already see any part of the floor or carpet.
  10. Sleeping wastes play time except on school days.
  11. You can climb and throw anything if you really want to.
  12. Flossing and flushing should be avoided.
  13. All bodies of water must be disturbed, no matter how peaceful or beautiful, you must throw something into it.
  14. Lit candles anywhere, like on a birthday cake or on a table in a restaurant must be disturbed; they must NEVER be left alone.
April 21, 2011

Affirmations for Thulani can make a parent’s day

Hi Rod,

I haven’t run into you and they boys in a while. I hope you are all well. I heard some nice things about Thulani today and I thought I would share with you.

Some of my 7th grade students were working on their art projects at lunch today. They were chatting about how they both used to go to at St. R’s.

Another teacher who was in the room asked them how their time was, she used to teach there. The boy said it was really rough that the kids were mean to him and he didn’t like it at all. Except the one kid Thulani. He was so nice to everybody. He was the coolest guy and my only friend. The girl also agreed that he was a really nice guy. “And the another cool thing about him is that some of his fingers were webbed and I always asked him to show me because it was so cool.”

You’ve got some great boys there!
Take care,

March 28, 2011

“April Fool” baby is no fool……..


Thulani will be 13 on Friday.

This is hard for me to imagine.

I’ve gone from labor coach, where I held his mother’s hand as he entered the world, to seeing her look on eight days later, as we went away from her to our life together.

He’s gone from formula to solids, size 1 diapers to mastering bowel, bladder and countless other tasks.

He crawled. Walked. Then, ran. All on schedule.

We’ve been through the night-scares, nightmares, colds, sniffs, and stiff necks. We’ve spent one dreadful night in the hospital.

We’ve fought over brushing teeth, showering, picking up clothes, and changing sheets – and who gets the laptop and when.

We’ve come close to blows over homework, lost books, lost bags, lost assignments, lost grades, and lost tempers.

My son is now a young adult!

Thulani gets anxious when he thinks of me dying – says he’s not ready for me to die yet. When I tell him that one day I will die and that is unlikely to be today he settles down. Immediately.

He loves our house but wishes it had carpets. He wishes we were richer and cannot understand that I don’t.

He’s done several hundred thousand miles on United and Delta visiting a list of about 25 countries. He has had birthdays in South Africa, Switzerland, Romania, Canada, and Hawaii – but now, given the opportunity to travel, he chooses to stay home.

He loves the dog, his room (although he wishes he’d chosen the larger one!), his dad, his brother, his skateboard and bike almost in that order. He loves his school and his school friends and he lights up like a Christmas Tree when friends want him to have sleepovers.

He’s a people person with a charming personality – and can conduct a conversation with any adult who is up for it.

He’s cried over a mother he doesn’t know. He’s wept freely over a girl who told him they were no longer girlfriend and boyfriend.

I’ve cried a lot, too – over many things and over many precious moments. One outstanding memory of my own tears was when I listened as he read an essay he wrote in the fifth grade about his life in America. He read it to a gym full of adults who hung onto his every word. His essay, which was a gripping list of all of what he is grateful for, included his knowledge that his mother had given up much so he could have much more.

Yes. My April Fool’s baby is no fool.

He’s bright, aware, and caring.

Happy Birthday, my son. It’s been a joy to be your dad, every day of every one of the thirteen years we’ve had together.

Thanks. I have loved it. You are all the son any dad anywhere could ever want and I am so very proud of you.

March 16, 2011

Applauding every bowel movement

The boys (12 and 8) are wild right now. They’re growing wings. Crashing, burning in some friendships; discovering things about us that they were blind to, or things we were at least able to ignore, when they were younger.

And, I love it. Most of it.

I love the tension. The push-pull energizes me as does the edgy atmosphere that sometimes pervades the house, the street, gosh, our very universe.

I was never one to affirm everything – “ah, honey, you walk (and cough, and sneeze, and draw, and … on and on and on it goes absurdly on with some parents) so beautifully” – but have tried to affirm my children when affirmation is appropriate and even earned.

I affirm when it I think it is appropriate. I try to affirm when I feel it necessary. And so I don’t think they feel short-changed when their experience pegs them a little lower than some of their peers at a variety of activities.

When Thulani doesn’t do as well at something Thulani doesn’t have to try to make sense of what ever it is against the backdrop of a dad who has lavished praise for menial or expected or routine or poorly accomplished tasks. When Nate struggles at a Math problem he knows well that I do, too – and so his battle is (I hope) meaningfully contextualized, somewhat even expected.

I think things might be a little different for all three of us if, like some parents I know, I’d applauded their every bowel movement.

Yet, my children are experts in certain areas and experts to a greater degree than I ever anticipated.

Thulani is a seasoned, charming, diplomat. He’s just as comfortable meeting boys and girls his own age as I have seen him embrace and encounter dignitaries. Thulani is charm. He has a natural ease with adults. The boy could run seminars on friendliness and hospitality and teach many hard-nosed adults whom I have met a thing or two about grace and good manners. Thulani gets people.

Nathanael is a natural athlete. There’s not a ball-game I don’t think he could master and his ease on ice-skates is something to behold. Nate’s body is his instrument and he plays it like a maestro. Athletics aside, his attraction to dogs and his way with them moves me every time I see him in action. Then, athletics and animals aside, give the boy a service task and he’s (usually) on it. He’ll cook with me. He’ll serve his brother food. He’ll mop the floors. He’ll offer me tender loving care if I am feeling under the weather.

Yes. The boys are wild right now. We fight over stuff.

They’ve discovered we are not as wealthy as most of their friends. They accommodate a dad who is older, a house that is older, and, hopefully, they have discovered they live in an environment where it is safe (usually) to live without pretending to be something they are not. There, – now that is, I believe, something worthy of both affirmation and applause.

March 11, 2011

The meaning of children

Children can teach adults about God. They can help an adult know and see God. They can even put an adult in touch with God. Sometimes I think this happens to me when I look into the eyes of a baby I know, and ask the question: What do children mean? I begin to see how children reflect God’s Wildness and Freedom and Courage and Authenticity.

Many children are sweet and pleasant and fit every stereotype of childhood. It is easy to see these children as gifts from God. I think such children reflect little of God because of their innocence. Even at their worst, in their grumpiest moods or when they whine and manipulate and lie, and when every cliché about the innocence of children is furthest from the truth, the child before you is showing you God.

Even the street-wise child you hear about in other cities – the child-thief who stands wide-eyed and “innocent” or trapped and angry – is God’s gift to us, and he also reflects God. It is in the willfulness and wildness of childhood that children reflect the divine, and not in their innocence.

God is not innocent.

I do not mean that God is guilty, but God is not innocent.

Can you look at everything around you – the complexities, the extremes, and the passions, the beauty and wildness – and then call God innocent? Can you feel the pain and anguish of your own love? Can you tolerate your own blessings and disappointments and then say God is innocent? I do not believe so.

And all children reflect God – not just the children’s choirs with their matching robes, forgotten words, and unsure harmonies – but also children who are criminals, or who, for whatever sociological reasons, are more like wild animals than they are human. Lost children reflect God as much as so called found children. Sometimes I think it is the lost children who are found, and the cherubs in our churches (the “found” children) who are the ones to be pitied.

It is children in churches who have so much to lose at the hands of people who can talk about God, but would typically fail to recognize God, if God surfaced in their morning tea. It is these children who stand to have God’s excitement deleted and replaced with a set of be nices parading as faith.

Children embody the wildness and the passion and the joys and the pain of God’s Godness. When they sleep and dream, or suckle and feed and search for warmth and comfort – be it at home in western wealth with a loving parent, or homeless on the streets of eastern Europe – God’s determination is reflected.

God lives in every suffering child, and hungers with every cramped stomach. God is in the children who are down and out as well as with the “churched” children who are thought of as saved.

Thank you, cherubs, in church choirs for your squirmy, untamed movements and your loud and predictable answers to the pastors’ questions. May you have the courage of your nature and press close to God’s Wild Heart. Resist the prison of meaningless tradition awaiting you. Its door beckons every time a condition is placed on God’s Love, or every time you are told there is more to do to make God love you. Every time you are told that somehow God’s love for you is your responsibility or that you can do something to make God love you more than God already does, run from such lies.

Thank you, street children, for your wildness, your lostness and your search for love. The lakes and the city fountains are yours in summer with the ice and the snow and the bite, also yours, following quickly behind.

Thank you to the baby I know, for your peace and sure gaze when you look at me, eye-to-eye, as certain as one man can ever look into the face of another. Thank you for falling asleep so readily upon my shoulder, your chest against my heart, somehow reviving me, connecting me to the place you so recently left.

March 10, 2011

Tag – when Thulani was 4 and Nate was a newborn

It’s been a tag free-for-all in my house tonight. Not the traditional run-hide-and-find kind but the keep-dad-awake version.

One child goes off to sleep; the other turns his head a fraction off the pillow to say he is “starving.” I think immediately how little we know in a land of plenty about starvation, but decide not to enter dialogue with a 4-year-old about this important matter, especially when my bedside clock says 3:16 a.m.

Next thing, I am downstairs. I know I shouldn’t be but here I am, semi-comatose, boiling the kettle, throwing a bag of instant oatmeal into a bowl while my mother’s words from a quarter-century ago about no child ever needing to go to bed hungry reverberate in my head.

Oatmeal and a spoon in one hand, a filled baby’s bottle in the other, I reach the landing, and Mr. I’m Starving is fast asleep. I can eat the oatmeal or watch it coagulate like wallpaper glue since starvation got the better of him. He is sleeping so deeply I could swing him by his feet and he’d not waken. Not that I want to swing him by his feet, even though we’ve been through this routine a time or two before. I should be able to detect that “Dad, I am starving” might just as well have read, “Tag. You’re it.”

Now I lay me down to sleep and all I can see in the darkened room is the clock’s obnoxious florescent glow on the baby’s white bottle. It is ready and waiting for his next eruption of hunger. Have you noticed? Very young babies are never just a little hungry. It is never minor progression along a gentle continuum. It is never, “Oh. I think I will awaken now. I am feeling a little peckish.”

Babies do not do hungry like that. Babies erupt when they are hungry. It is a full-volume announcement, a blast, an emergency directive in a train station or sports arena. It’s fire-alarm urgency satisfied only with a full gob of rubber and the slow release of Simulac With Iron.

I feel myself drifting off to sleep when Rhino the dog, with full knowledge of my condition, bumps the side of my bed. He smiles, tail wagging, to announce his need of a bio-break an hour earlier than usual. The clock is self-righteously announcing that it is 3:46 a.m. I prepare myself to stand in the yard watching Rhino do his thing in order to prevent his taking the opportunity to climb through the hole in the back of the fence, and visit a long list of neighborhood pals he befriended, when I have been more tired, less vigilant.

Man and dog enter the house together. I am relieved no neighbors were out at this hour walking their dogs. I did not have to run for cover lest I be seen appearing on my lawn in boxer shorts. Rhino bounds up the stairs and I go to the crib’s edge knowing that any minute the baby will awaken.

Nathanael is not stirring – not yet, anyway. So I tiptoe over the wooden floors, for the creaking has been known to awaken big brother, and ease myself into bed. I turn my head from the clock and its glib 4:06 a.m. and wonder what it is with the sixes tonight. Grace has come and I will finally sleep.

The baby, sensing the imminent presence of Mr. Sandman, reacts and now I am cuddling an infant who drinks deeply of the bottle while nestling against my chest. He searches for something in my eyes I hope he finds. At the very first burp, he has forgotten he’s hungry and drifted to sleep when big brother walks in, trailed by the dog. He asks, as he sees the baby asleep against my chest and climbs onto my lap, if we can have a “group hug.”

As we hug, sleeping children draped over me like throw rugs, I thank God for women, two birth mothers, who in the great and heavenly game of tag, unselfishly and unreservedly declared me “it.”