FC Cincinnati, Stadia, and the Sunk Cost Fallacy

fcc stadium.jpg

The interwebs are full of hot takes, but I wanted to add one more concerning yesterday’s Hamilton County commissioners meeting. The commissioners, in deciding whether or not to contribute to infrastructure dollars to a potential FC Cincinnati stadium (likely to be built in Oakley), responded by a) suggesting Paul Brown Stadium as a preferred venue and b) offering to pay for one parking garage in Oakley, provided that it is guaranteed to pay for itself.

This led to a couple of polarizing reactions from the general public.

1. The perspective of most FCC fans
They’re flummoxed that the a certain commissioner is hellbent on suggesting our aging NFL stadium when the MLS has stated this won't work. The main reason the Detroit bid will fail (despite being one of the largest media markets in the U.S.) is that they recently tweaked their proposal to use Ford Field as their home. Even though the stadium of the NFL’s Detroit Lions is far superior to Paul Brown, the MLS will likely pass as they’ve continually reiterated that they want a soccer-specific stadium (primarily due to revenue control but also ambiance). All things considered, FCC could continue to thrive at Nippert if this was permitted but, according to the MLS expansion guidelines, this would doom the bid. Cincinnati isn’t competing against the MLS here, but against cities like Sacramento, Nashville, and Tampa willing to do what the league asks. 

An additional (and in my opinion, legitimate) source of consternation is that the Lindner ownership group is bringing so much money to the table. No other MLS expansion candidate has ownership willing to contribute so much to the stadium cost. Why would the county balk at a group offering so much private money? Well, it’s because . . . 

2. The perspective of most Hamilton County taxpayers
They were fooled once on this already before. The Bengals deal was one of the worst in U.S. history (yay us?) and rivals our failed subway system and as one of the greatest mistakes in Cincinnati history. While this perspective might have changed had the Bengals won a Super Bowl, the general public is so sickened by the misstep, it’s poisoned any future considerations. Add the fact that many taxpayers just don’t get/like soccer (despite its massive popularity among millennials) that there’s no way they’d forgive elected politicians for repeating past mistakes. 

SUNK COSTS
As with any issue, there are some nuances here that force broader perspectives. But what I really want to hone in on in this debate is why the county commissioners would double down on the Paul Brown Stadium issue here. In fact, invoking PBS at all makes it nearly impossible for the public to have an unemotional conversation about public money. And an aside: the most perplexing thing about yesterday’s press conference was that the Bengals, who by contract control nearly all revenue from the stadium, were never even consulted about the commissioners suggesting that FCC play there.

So why this irrational insistence on offering Paul Brown Stadium an option if it's untenable both from a revenue and MLS perspective?

The county commissioners, particularly Commissioner Portune, are struggling with the popular sunk cost fallacy. 

Working in finance, I continually observe people and institutions that are not rational with their money. In fact, none of us really are. Nearly all of our spending habits are emotionally driven, and this is often influenced by past mistakes. Nobel prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman outlines this well in his book Thinking Fast and Slow. If an individual or organization has already invested time/resources into a failing endeavor, they’ll most likely continue to invest additional time/resources in an attempt to rectify previous mistakes. Research has proven that this is rarely successful and often leads to further losses. Quite simply, once the mistake is made, you can’t spend your way out of it.

When listening to yesterday’s news conference, I couldn’t listen to Mr. Portune without hearing sunk costs. He referenced the fear (a legitimate one even) that the Bengals will leave Cincinnati in 2026 when their lease expires. His thinking, then, is why build another stadium now when we have a perfectly good one that could be empty in less than a decade? Portune and the other commissioners' thoughts on this current opportunity are being formed by a previous financial mistake that shares little similarity to the current opportunity. The inability to discern this opportunity apart from the boondoggle is driven by emotion. 

Don't misinterpret me: this isn’t to say that the county SHOULD allocate funds on stadium infrastructure. What I am saying, however, is that continually suggesting a non-solution like Paul Brown Stadium does not make a compelling case of sound fiscal strategy. A simple “no way” with no explanation would have made more rational sense.

MOVING FORWARD
While it’s anyone’s guess what will happen in the following weeks, I still predict they'll cut a deal. And, ironically, the concerns over Paul Brown Stadium might be what actually gets it done. FCC’s ownership group have massive investments along Cincinnati’s riverfront. If the Bengals do leave, we’d never get another NFL team again, so there’d be a limited pool of potential tenants. If America’s passion for soccer continues along its current trajectory, maybe FCC takes possession of Paul Brown Stadium in a decade or so. I’m not sure that alienating one of the few local entities that could afford such an expenditure is the best tact in salvaging that great mistake.

And while the [futbol] club has continually mentioned that they’re ready to go in Newport, the desire to keep the franchise in city limits—both by ownership and local politicians—will likely see them cut a deal. How taxpayers feel about it might come down to spin, and maybe yesterday’s press conference was step one in that process.

I’m just irked when an emotional position is framed as rational thought.

How I Manage My Digital Life

With all the opinions flying around the internets right now, I know you're not looking for another one. Oh, I have them. Trust me, I have plenty of them. 

Yet in this volatile political climate, I can't even find the benefit of posting an opinion. It's just not worth it. I keep diverse networks—from conservatives to progressives, from moderates to the apathetic. Chances are I'll offend someone regardless of how innocent my comments are. A few weeks ago, I made a joke post about Fiona the hippo (a.k.a. Cincinnati's Li'l Sebastian). Somehow that social media conversation turned into an abortion debate. 

So in this time of great tension, is it possible to be prophetic and speak boldly? I still say it is, but it's not as simple as most of us want it to be. More than ever, we're living out Warhol's fifteen minutes of fame concept and people want their voices to be heard (and a quick tweet or post scratches that itch). But in order to gain the right to be heard, it's important to first focus on three key practices.

1. Invest in relationships. The older I get, I've discovered that my list of discernible skills pales in comparison to the company I keep. If I want my opinions to be respected, it's important that people understand the heart behind them. My digital persona is defined by my real-world relationships. So if I commit to being a person of character in my day-to-day life, I'll earn some respect that will hedge the benefit of doubt if I offer an opinion that might be controversial. 

2. Listen more intently. At the beginning of our marriage, when my wife was wrapping up her college work, she took a listening course. It was painful as a newlywed (and a male) to be constantly reminded of how poor I listen; I tend to be more excited about crafting my response than truly hearing what other's say. I'm not fully reformed, but I'm a better listener today than I've ever been, and this permits more opportunities to observe the lay of the land. The better I listen, the less I offend. But perhaps most importantly . . .

3. Be positive. I hit on this in a recent vlog, but it bears repeating: it's not worth it to be known for what you're against. This doesn't mean that I shouldn't stand against atrocities, but the way I present these should motivate rather than decry. Before I hit "post" on a critique of an individual or organization, I ask myself if I'll be viewed as building up rather than tearing down. 

So I simply think twice before I post. While our country's diversity is finally being recognized, it's also exposing the fact that we've never fully dealt with our checkered past. We're still grappling with the sin of Babel—trying to share this world while speaking different languages. Applying a little patience to the process can do nothing but help. 

How are you managing?

Compassion Fatigue

There are times I get frustrated with our local newspaper, but every once in awhile they get something right. As much as we lament the heroin epidemic, my heart goes out to those whose very professions make it impossible to escape it. Here's the link to the Enquirer article about first responders and heroin.

I want to offer a few thoughts on what the article terms "compassion fatigue," as it’s very real. We’ve nearly completed 12 years living in the urban core, in addition to the first 22 years of my life spent in an urban church. With every passing year, my heart unfortunately hardens. I’ve neither lost faith in the gospel, nor have I abandoned the mission. Still, I’m increasingly disillusioned when ministering to the down-and-out (this applies to the up-and-out as well, but that’s a different topic altogether). 

Even the best among us can become jaded when constantly exposed to constant exaggeration and half-truths. 

  • I’ve witnessed a man briskly scale two flights of stairs only to be leaning on crutches while panhandling just hours later.
  • I interacted with a woman who invented a dead child in an attempt to scam our church for funeral expenses.
  • I had to kick a guy out of church who created a diversion and stole money from the offering plate. 

Ask urban workers about the lies they’ve been told and story-time will go on for hours. I’ve known dozens of vibrant servants who fully invested time to city ministry only to burn out years later. When you’re viewed only for your provision, it’s natural insulate yourself from that exposure.

Dwelling among those in need has the potential to negatively impact one’s walk in faith. When my Christian friend joined the Peace Corp, I encouraged him to use the opportunity to focus on spiritual growth. In the third world country in which he worked, however, he was unable to connect with any indigenous church there; whenever he visited a new church, they saw he was American and treated him less as a brother and more as a financial resource.

I struggle to bring up these negative issues as they can be used to defend our disconnect. Instead, we must view our compassion fatigue as yet another spiritual hurdle to be cleared. It's happened to me, friends. And if I don’t overcome it, it has the potential to lead me to sin.

Rather than offering three solutions to combating our cynicism (be slow to judge, be honest in your conversations with those in need, pray more), I want to lean into one that has helped me the most: surround yourselves with the hopeful. 

Right now, I’m incredibly thankful that our church has young leaders who are passionate about serving the least of these. Even though I want to gently dampen their passion with a dose of reality, I try to shut my mouth. I’m giving them space to try things that turned out poorly for me. I don’t want them to experience pain (although she is a good teacher), but I’m reminding myself that every situation is different. Just because someone I attempted to help lied to me doesn’t mean that everyone in need is pushing a scam. I’m letting this generation chart their own path while soaking up their enthusiasm. And then, years down the road, when they experience the fatigue I now feel, I’ll trust that the Lord provides them with the inspiration to persevere.

The apostle Paul wrote advised us, "as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12). He added no caveat here. I’m trying to live up to this.

Be compassionate. Encourage others to persevere as well.

Day One Ish

It's time to get back on the horse and aim my sights a second time on Boston qualifying. I rested the last three weeks after the Flying Pig marathon, ate virtually anything I wanted, and healed up from the leg injury that kept me from qualifying. I woke up this morning and headed out on my first training run.

It just wasn't easy. As I started out, I felt I was at a crawling pace. I had to constantly remind myself that it's difficult to pick up training again and that I'd feel differently by the end of the summer. Yet even though I felt like slow motion, my pace this morning was faster than anything I did in my first three weeks of training this year; and that was in the humidity of the summer. 

Not sure if I'll document this charge as much as my previous one, but I'm focused and ready to roll.

'Bout Dem Bengals

*In my effort to continue writing more, here's a post I wrote last fall but never published. For some closure, we are now FC Cincinnati season ticket holders.

I think I’m finally over the NFL. 

A four-decade Bengals fan, I have memories of watching Super Bowl XVI on television and crying when Joe Montana crushed our dreams in Super Bowl XXIII. I wasn’t just watching in the good times: I endured the Shula Era, a quarterback carousel, and our inability to select a first-round pick who wouldn’t get injured. 

I used to live and die with the Bengals, but I haven't watched an entire game this year; frankly, I didn’t even know the Bengals had a bye week until about 2pm on Sunday. And I’m not alone. Last week with friends that always talk football, we all said that we’re less engaged with the pro game. And since my Twitter feed is filled with NFL advertisements telling me how exciting the game is, I’m thinking it’s an epidemic. 

I know there’s a myriad of reasons that NFL viewership is down, from an overexposed product to traumatic head injuries. For me, however, I trace it all back to last year’s playoff game against Pittsburgh. It wasn’t just losing to the Steelers again, but it was HOW we lost. I could stomach Jeremy Hill’s fumble, but I found the penalty against Burfict, when earlier in the game Bernard was mauled without a flag, insulting. And when Joey Porter baited PacMan into a flag that clinched the game after a Steelers coach pulled Reggie’s hair, I surrendered. And I don’t think I’ve ever recovered. 

It wasn’t just losing but the feeling that the game just wasn't fair. It was the subjectivity. Referees make judgement calls nullifying the accomplishments of the athletes on the field. Football is a violent game and to hear the national media decree that the Bengals deserved to lose that playoff game because they couldn’t control themselves seemed disingenuous. In the end, if officials are merely going to make decisions instead of controlling the game, how can I trust the product?

With all the entertainment options at my disposal, and my home team seemingly so far away from success, why am I still watching this game?

Tomorrow I’m talking with the FC Cincinnati season ticket rep. I’m much more excited about that than anything the NFL is selling me now.

Failure

I was not successful in qualifying for the Boston Marathon. 

I had no idea whether I was even healthy enough to give it a go. Treating my soleus injury led me to rest, stretch, ice, and rub multiple lotions on my right leg. Even though it didn’t feel normal in the days before the race, I wasn’t going to conclude my strongest training season without at least trying to run. Additionally, the conditions for 2017's Flying Pig Marathon were likely the best there will ever be, so I sold myself that it was meant to be.

At the starting line, I worked my way to the front of my corral, beginning just seconds behind the leaders. I felt fine and quickly found my pace group. I’ve never stuck with a pace group for entire race but I decided this would be the best strategy to keep on track. A couple of miles in and the pace felt comfortable. My leg was tight, but not really painful. I was even handling the early hills with ease.

Then right at mile three I felt a stabbing pain. I quickly realized I wasn’t BQ’ing in this race.

Since I was still near the front of a 20,000 person pack, I pulled off onto the sidewalk and slowed down to a crawl. I didn’t walk, but there was shooting pain in nearly every step; I couldn’t imagine another 23 miles of this. I figured I could limp my way another five miles to my house and call it a day. 

After leaving downtown, I started up the infamous Gilbert Hill. At this point, the pain was less stabbing and more a consistent discomfort. “Maybe you can do the half marathon,” I told myself. "At least then you’d have something to show for it.” As I worked through my inner dialogue, something happened. I’m not sure what it was—if it was the hill stretching out my leg or my pure stubbornness—but at the top of Eden Park, I felt like I could finish this race. Even though the leg was still painful, and I couldn’t run at optimal speed, I knew I could finish. My brother-in-law was at our house with Kaelyn and my niece (my sister and her twins ran the half). I told them that I was hobbled but to look for me to finish around 4:30. Just up the street, as the half and the full routes split, I turned right to run my 26.2. 

I continued to tolerate the pain and even picked up speed over the next few miles. Again, I wasn’t running well, evidenced by the unusual blisters on my feet; I was striking the ground differently to compensate for the injury and my feet paid a toll. But I was still running it out. Just surviving helped me deal with the BQ depression. My adjusted goal was to finish well. And without noticing, I was making decent time.

Side note: There are always marathon moments that people don’t discuss—incidents that are not at all glamorous and quite disgusting. About sixteen miles in, my innards rebelled against me. I found a porto-potty and thought I was good until five minutes later. Not sure if it was a reaction to my pain or not. Regardless, despite bathing in hand wash, I always feel guilty when the kids want a high five. 

After mile twenty, my coping left me with tired legs, but I still had my fitness. I never walked during the race, partly because it’s my but mantra but mostly because it wouldn’t have solved the pain in my leg. And I know the course so well that I was able to maintain a solid mental state. I wasn’t even looking at my time. At mile 25, I finally realized that I would finish just under four hours. It was a nice little bonus, knowing that the pain was worth it. Without my intense training, I doubt I could’ve finished under five hours. 

At the finish line I just stopped without emotion. I took my medal. I found my family. 

It’s a day later and I’m in terrible shape. Thankfully I didn’t have to leave the house today (working at home has it’s privileges) because I’m not sure I could have walked more than ten yards at a time; I haven’t felt this bad after a marathon in years. I won’t be able to even think about running for a few weeks and recovery could take up to a month. 

You see, I didn’t know how I’d react to not qualifying. Because I was able to persevere yesterday, I’m OK with it because I know it still hasn’t gotten my best shot. At the very least, the past few months of training helped my discover what it will take for me to get there. And there are countless ways where I can improve: I can better monitor my fitness, work on my diet, and maybe even integrate some stretching to prevent injury. Even though I didn’t fail because of lack of preparation, I’m not going to become complacent.

Failure provides opportunities for reflection. And even though I’m tough on myself, I don’t regret anything I did. I could chalk this defeat up to the fact that I’m not athletic enough to BQ, but I just can’t admit that. I’m not going to give up. I’m going to try again.

This morning I signed up for my next marathon. 

Gutted

I’m always processing. While I mostly tend to do this verbally, I’ve discovered writing is another medium to do so. Since I’ve catalogued many aspects of my BQ journey here on this site, I might as well open up about my race week neuroses as well.

My leg injury has not improved at all. I rested and iced it well over the weekend. Monday afternoon, I volunteered to chaperone Kaelyn’s running club at school, figuring it would be a good opportunity to test it out. I started well, but just half a mile in, I felt emerging tightness and discomfort. Even though the pain increased, I continued on since I was supervising the children. It’s no fluke: this injury just isn't going away quickly.

At first, I was thinking it was an achilles, as I’ve had issues with it before in this leg. But yesterday I pinpointed it a little higher on the leg—the soleus muscle—which ties the achilles to the calf muscles. Of course, there’ s no easy fix for it. Time is usually the best medicine, but I have a mere five days to go until the marathon.

It’s demoralizing because I haven’t had a significant running injury in a few years. I’ve learned not to increase my mileage too dramatically and adopted a consistent posture and that’s kept me relatively free from injury. And my fitness is as high as it’s ever been; if I had run the marathon just three weeks ago, I probably could have BQ’d with time to spare. Now, I’m trying to keep from being depressed while contemplating race strategies. 

I’m not convinced that, even if I take a few Advil and use some heat ointment, that I could perform optimally at 26.2 miles on a less-than-optimal leg; I won’t really know until I start the race, and would have to readjust my goal on the course. If I can’t reach the BQ time, I’d still like to finish; I’ve never DNF’d a race so that’s looming in the back of my mind. But whereas years ago my goal was merely to finish marathons, it’s now all about peak performance. I could still take a shot at a BQ this fall in Indianapolis but, if I further injure myself on Sunday trying to finish the race, this goal could evaporate for another year.

I’m not right in the head, hence writing an entire post about it.

As I think about this injury, I get both extremely sad and angry. I continually start to utter the phrase, “this isn’t fair . . .” but I cut myself off in mid-sentence. One of the blessings of a career teaching people how to function in a universe that God created is that I know that “fair” is a deceptive concept; seeing wonderful people die far too early reminds me that this fallen world lacks the eternal perfection we’re longing to experience. This knowledge is countered by one of the curses of being a theologian: when you actually have to live out what you teach. 

While preaching this past Sunday, I highlighted a often forgotten phrase written by the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:18: “But what does it matter?” In the scheme of things, we take things in life that lack an eternal resonance far too seriously. This isn’t to say we can’t be frustrated at the little inconveniences of life. I mean, getting a leg injury just days before a race absolutely sucks. But then again, I also shouldn’t get too worked up about it. Some things are just outside of my control. There’s not anything I can imagine I could have done differently here (it’s why I’m an emotional head case right now). So I just need to keep a good perspective with this.

It’s yet another opportunity to see if I can actually live out the faith that I tell people I have.

Again, I didn't need to post this, but I felt compelled to do so. On Sunday afternoon, when the marathon is over, maybe these words will help me. Or maybe in a year from now, this post will remind me how my feelings in this moment were unnecessary. I have no idea. 

I’ll be patient. I’ll keep the faith. And I’ll trust it will all work out.

Last Push

For the sake of documentation, I needed one more post about the lead-up to my quest to Boston qualify. 

In the spring I learned that the wife and some friends were looking to run the Flying Pig marathon relay (splitting up the 26.2 between four runners). Since I love this race, I signed up to pace them. Sure, turning around two marathons in eight days would be a challenge, but at a slower pace I was sure I could do it. In the back of my head, I also knew I'd have a back-up race in case something happened at Louisville. 

So something happened at Louisville.

I had been monitoring the weather from two weeks out. Those forecasts are highly inconsistent, but at least it paints a good picture of what to expect. From that first forecast to the days before, everything pointed to marathon temperatures above 80 degrees. This isn't good at all for marathon runners. I ran a race in that kind of heat, and despite your best efforts, it's impossible to keep your body cool enough to get maximum results (it was the only race I ever had to walk through, and I'm still proud of finishing it). If those race day temps would hold, there was no way I could BQ. 

A few days before, with the radar also calling for thunderstorms, I had a choice to make. The forecast for the Flying Pig looked much better, with a high in the mid-sixties, so my meteorological data was compelling. Still, the reason so few attempt to BQ in Cincinnati is because of the challenging topography. I had to pick my poison: heat or hills.

I made the strategic decision to not run the Derby Festival Marathon. I'll try to conquer the Flying Pig Marathon and its hills this Sunday.

My decision was affirmed when I tracked the race day weather in Louisville: they had to delay the start of the race 90 minutes because of thunderstorms. Additionally, about half-an-hour after the start, it rained hard and soaked the runners. The heat wasn't quite as high as earlier predicted because of the cloud cover, but it still would've been highly difficult to nail my goal.

And it all might have been serendipitous as I picked up a minor injury. About nine days ago, I did some yard work involving some heavy shoveling. The repeated action of pressing into the soil with the shovel strained my calf (the same leg where I've suffered from achilles problems). My most recent run was so awkward that I stopped altogether. Obviously, this impacts the mind more than anything. I can chalk up my rest to a good taper, but I'm icing and treating this thing as best as possible. I'm feeling good that, with a few Advil and some heat rub, I can make it through just fine.

If there are lessons here, it's gotta be that you just have to be prepared for anything in this process. I have to trust that I did my training and that will carry me through. My attitude is fairly strong, even though the goal has become even more challenging. I think the home field advantage will serve me well. I'm not afraid of hills (it's a necessity of training where I live) but I'm hoping I have enough left in the tank for a strong finish.

Mind Games

I'm a mere ten days away from my Boston Qualifying attempt. There's been some peaks and valleys along the way (both literally and metaphorically), but I'm incredibly pleased with the training I've put in. Even though I had some doubts early on, I've slimmed down to my lowest weight since high school and my times have continued to decrease (despite my earlier concerns). I've put in more 18+ mile runs than any point in my training and have logged far more miles than I ever had in preparation for a race. I was even able to match part of the Boston Marathon on Monday to help cement a visual of what I'm working toward. 

But it's still doesn't mean that I'm without fear. I'm still afraid to fail.

This is somewhat silly because virtually everything I've accomplished in life has been the result of taking risk in the shadow of failure. Yet I'm coming to believe that this risk actually carries more weight than nearly all the others I've ever attempted.

That's a bold statement but hear me out: it's not that I believe that attempting to BQ is the most monumental task I've ever tried to accomplish. It's just that few have ever had such a defined measure of success or failure. Even more, fewer have rested on a particular moment as this one does

A couple of examples of previous risks I've taken to put this in context: first, undertaking my doctoral program. I invested a lot of time and money in that process. And I put forth an immense amount of effort to get the work done. But even if I hadn't met my original deadlines, I could have merely paid an extension and taken another stab at it the following semester. And I knew that, if I put in the effort, I had the aptitude to complete the program. 

A second example: starting Echo. We risked much when my pregnant wife and I moved to the city, me forgoing a consistent paycheck, to start our fellowship. I didn't see it that way at the time (maybe my arrogance hid the fears), but it wasn't quite as risky as I imagined. Even though I visualized this jump as one without a parachute, asserting our unwavering commitment to the cause, I knew I could always find work in some industry if it fell through. As long as I had a realistic view of success (the church still exists almost twelve years later), I knew we could win on this risk.

In contrast, attempting to Boston Qualify is a once (or at the most twice) a year deal. And it could be much less if some sort of injury comes my way. I've committed four solid months (in addition to the past nine years of running) to this goal. If I don't meet it this Saturday, then I'm back at square one. I'd have to put in the time again, still with no guarantee of success.

That's the source of my fear . . . or perhaps more accurately, my anxiousness. 

I'll still run in the following days, but my body is as prepped as can be; in fact, gains in running usually take six weeks to kick in, so any work I do now will have little affect on my performance (research tapering before a marathon, and you'll get a better idea of what I'm talking about). Over the next week and a half, it's about me getting right between my ears. I need to be confident that I've done the work and mentally prepared to give it all during the race. 

And, as I've occasionally considered throughout this time, I might need to grapple with failure to reach my ultimate goal. If that's the result, I'm sure I'll have gleaned numerous lessons throughout the process, but I'm still grateful that I'm taking the risk. And I'm thankful to have the space to articulate these fears so I can remember them after the fact. 

Until then, it's all about positive thinking.
 

United and You: Beyond the Meme

The internets were a wonderful place last week. With United Airlines staffers messing up in a grandiose way, true artists leaned in on the movie Airplane to create quality social media fodder. 

We're almost forced to laugh, aren't we? Dragging a paying customer off an airplane is so unbelievable that you'd question their ability to stay in business. You might be surprised, however, that the day after the story went viral, the stock actually traded at a one month high (yes, before dropping again). So even in this major PR crisis is don't bet against United. They're in an industry with limited (and highly regulated) competition, and even though people talk a big game, they're still going to choose price when it comes to air travel. United will promise changes, drop some fares, and weather the controversy just fine.

So if their corporation won't suffer long-term repercussions from this snafu, we might as well co-opt it as a teachable moment. Few of us have a job or a business as insulated as the airline industry. Instead of obsessing over holding a monolith accountable, maybe we should scrutinize how WE can be more un-United.

When those dudes drug that doctor off the plane, do you think they had any idea that it would define their professional careers and their lives? Of course not. In fact, they were just doing what they were told to do, ordered by other people who also had S.O.P.'s telling them what to do. In the end, everyone was just doing their job . . . or what they perceived was their job. 

And that's the problem for the majority of us: we misunderstand the foundational principle of our employment. Regardless of what your industry is, your job is people. Get this wrong and you may achieve some level of success, but eventually you'll fail. 

You're likely racking your brain right now, trying to think of a job that doesn't involve people but you'll be hard pressed to do so. Even the best veterinarian in the business needs to work on her human interaction to maximize success. In this era that keeps many of us toiling behind a keyboard for hours a day, we forget that our most precious work is interaction with human beings. Whether it's your customer or your colleague, you have to manage those relationships. 

There were many failings behind the United fiasco, the chief among them is an organizational culture views customers as mere numbers in an equation. So rather than rendering that Raging Bull meme, use the time to consider how you can treat those around you with the dignity they deserve.

Streakin'

A little bit of an update about my marathon training. Again, this is really just an opportunity for me to capture what I'm feeling through this process, so I apologize if it comes across as I'm too self-involved.

My training went really well in January and February. I'm charting my runs and there's a definitive trend of my gaining speed. The mild winter permitted me to get outside much more than I normally would. Even though I'm a workhorse on a treadmill, there is that point in March when you're about done with it so banking those early days outside helps your mentality.

My work travel schedule has been intense the past seven weeks or so, so maintaining my training schedule required deliberate planning: if I fly out in the morning, I need to allow treadmill time that night, or if I fly out late, I need to run early at home. Still, what was once laborious has now become a habit. I've never trained this hard for a race. Through this week, I had run every day, compiling a 72-day streak. 

On day 72, however, I started feeling ill. I just returned from a road trip and I picked up a cold. I'm trying to assume some of the blame as I neglected to take my regular dosage of Vitamin C. More likely, I'd say it was the combination of an intense schedule, being in confined spaces in the winter months, and disrupted sleep that made me susceptible to getting sick.

Then on Tuesday I faced a conundrum: do I press through while sick, keep the streak alive and put some mileage in on the treadmill or rest? As much as I wasn't feeling well, I was fighting visions of running every day in 2017 and basking in its glow on December 31st. I loved the idea of a year long streak. I even mentioned it multiple times to Kelly that day, as if maybe she would tell me to stop being a wimp and go for a run. She intelligently chose to listen and empathize instead.

The streak came to an end on Tuesday. In fact, I felt so bad that I didn't run the past three days. 

I was reading blogs and web-forums about people who run everyday and I stopped doing so on Tuesday; I don't feel worthy anymore. Even though I'm doing well and have developed this habit, I'm wrestling with feelings of failure. But I still chose not to run.

I think what made me comfortable with abandoning the streak was that it wasn't my true goal. As much as I enjoyed the feeling of running every day, I'm still laser focused on a specific finish time on April 29th. I always tell new marathoners that taking a few days off isn't a bad thing (it's why the most difficult thing dedicated runners do is taper). It was key that I keep the big picture in mind while pressing through those feels to swap out a goal at the last minute.

If you've read this far, you're either a runner looking for info (I see ya) or someone just peering into my soul. I don't want to have brought you this far without a lesson, so it's gotta be to steer clear from distractions, even when they're justified. Sure, I could have pressed through instead of resting, but I very easily could have prolonged that illness. I feel like I'm getting over it. The mind is a powerful thing and it will sometimes turn on you if you don't stay focused. That's really why I wanted to write this: to remind my own brain who's in charge.

I ran seven miles on the treadmill this morning. Felt good. New streak started.

Accumulating Patience

This is a series of posts surrounding my goal of focusing on patience in 2017, specifically my retreat day of patience on January 5th. To read more in the series, click on the "patience" tag at the bottom of this post.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’” Lamentations 3:22-24

On the day of my patience retreat, Cincinnati welcomed it’s first significant snowfall of the season. Even as I type that, I’m laughing at the word, “significant.” Years ago, this kind of snow would have been labeled a dusting. But in today’s world where people are more calculated, the city retreated to safety from the snow.

Of all days for a snowfall, it had to be this day. But I wonder if it was providential that it fell on a random date I picked over a month ago. It made me think how my thoughts on snow transformed over the years. While I loved snow as a kid, I’ve grown to hate it as an adult. When I was a child, snow meant no school and a lazy day bookended by sledding and hot chocolate. As an adult, snow means slow work and a complex day of managing to make up time.

This change of perspective can best explained with my experiences in my previous role working at a university. I was the guy responsible for publicizing when our school closed for inclement weather. I didn’t make the actual decision, mind you, but it was my job to get it communicated to the masses.

Quite a bit of thought goes into cancelling classes for snow days. On nights before a possible snowfall, school leaders would begin to exchange a flurry of emails about the potential accumulation, analyzing what each local meteorologist was be predicting. This lasted late into the night and then, hours before I’d normally wake up, the communication turned into texts and calls. When the decision was finally made, I had to really get working.  

I would send an email out to faculty, staff, and students; I accessed the text alert for all those who subscribed for the notice; I updated the website; I posted it on all our social media venues; I contacted the local media. All of this was completed by 6:00 in the morning. By the time I secured my day off, I was exhausted.

And it was a lot of work with nothing to show for it.

I place high value on time and planning. I want to know exactly what the day holds and what I need to accomplish. I fully invest in maximizing my daily impact. Snow renders plans useless. It creates obstacles, as simple transportation comes to a crawl, walking becomes treacherous, the easiest of tasks and errands become complex, and my productivity levels drop precipitously.

And maybe most notably, snow spawns the need for increased patience. Perhaps that’s why I hate it so.

I think of my daughter and how she reacts to snow. She cherishes it. While she loves school, a snow day means an unexpected pause when she can go outside, sled down the hill and build a snowman. She’s not yet chained by her expectations of accomplishments so she can just BE for a little while. She has no issues with pausing to watch the world go by.

I need to reclaim some of this. This is why I wonder if God gave us a little snow on my day of patience. One lesson I learned as I result it I must not to curse the snow, but to see it as an opportunity to slow down. I need to view it as a reminder that my existence is not completely determined by my work output.

Snow reminds me to be patient.

Where Resolutions Go To Die

Just three weeks into my quest to Boston Qualify, and I've hit that first seed of doubt. It's funny: I knew this was coming, but my mind was still susceptible to it.

You see, doing something for three weeks (or four weeks, depending on whom you ask) establishes a habit. In this goal, I've already witnessed that my mind is becoming wired to put in the running time; the other night, when a freezing rainstorm was rolling in, I put on my shoes and claimed my miles. A few years ago, even while marathon training, I would have stayed on the couch.

The issue, however, is the need for positive feedback. Although I'm "feeling" stronger, my running times aren't reflecting the work I've already put in. Again, I can deal with this cognitively: I took the month of December off, so I know I'm still getting back in shape. While I shouldn't be seeing the results yet, I secretly long for that affirmation to keep me going. 

And this is why people give up so early: they don't fully trust the strategy.

I'm obviously going to keep on running the plan and try not let it get in my head. But the lesson I've observed here is applicable across a spectrum of situations. Discipline takes time. You can't expect overnight results. Tortoise vs. Hare/Slow and steady. <Insert cliche here>

Come on people: it's a marathon, not a sprint.

My Pursuit of Patience

This is a series of posts surrounding my goal of focusing on patience in 2017, specifically my retreat day of patience on January 5th. To read more in the series, click on the "patience" tag at the bottom of this post.

For nearly all my professional career, I’ve worked for faith-based companies. One benefit of this is that they usually take a holistic approach to organizational success, uniting employment (secular) with the calling (sacred).

Last year, our company studied the Fruit of the Spirit. The nine-word list penned by the apostle Paul two thousand years ago in his letters to the Christians in Galatia could be easily memorized in one sitting; I remember doing so myself during VBS in 1984. But to truly master these fruit is something that few accomplish within the scope of a lifetime.

At the conclusion of last year, our president asked that my colleagues and I dedicate one day in early 2017 examining one of those fruit and its potential impact on our year. It was a fascinating assignment and I looked forward to making it my own. As I glanced at the list, there were plenty of places where I needed improvement, yet only one word screamed out to me to make it my own.

Patience.

I have always struggled with patience.

In his book, From God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas. 20th century theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer, teased out the fruit aspect of patience. He observed, “Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten. It wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot. But all too often the greedy eyes are only deceived; the fruit that seemed so precious is still green on the inside, and disrespected hands ungratefully toss aside what has so disappointed them.” I don’t buy the fruit in our household, so that metaphor isn’t quite as powerful to me as it could to be. Still, I resonate with Bonheoffer and admit that I am too impatient.

So how does one go about structuring a day to contemplate on patience?

While some wax romantically about spiritual retreats, they’re just not for me. My response would quickly resemble Jack Nicholson in The Shinning if I was holed away at a secluded cabin. I feed off the energy of being in public and do my best thinking when surrounded by others. And I highly doubt that patience is best developed in silence and solitude, but rather when dwelling among the masses That’s why I decided that, in order to grapple with patience, I needed to be in the company of humanity.

Since I dwell in the city where I’ve lived my entire life, I had endless locations from which to choose. And since choosing a singular location seemed limiting, I structured my day around a journey of reflection from my past. See, my entire adult life is connected by one long one road which stretches from the city center to our farthest suburbs; four of the five places where we’ve lived while married are located right next to state route 3.

I decided to take a drive, makes a few stops along the way, and go nowhere in particular. I’d blindly drive up the road of my life to see what I’ve learned about patience, and what’s left to discover. I wrote my reflections from that day down and the following posts will detail my thoughts and reflections about patience.

Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes

Today our church announced that we’re hiring a new minister. David Wheatley will preach his first sermon as lead minister of Echo Church this Sunday. 

If you’ve talked to me in the past couple of months, this isn’t a surprise. But since this is the first time it’s hit the digital realm, I thought I should explain how all of this came to fruition:

When we started Echo eleven years ago, I knew I was in for the long haul. It was my entrepreneurial spirit that led me to continually experiment in leading our little urban church. From the very beginning I was bi-vocational, working other jobs to supplement the small amount I was paid by the church; we kept a low overhead, and I kept other gigs so I didn’t have to go out and fundraise to finance the church. While I expanded my full-time responsibilities at Cincinnati Christian University, and the church had a couple of lower offering years, I declined being paid altogether. I took on the title of “teaching elder,” and we went without a lead minister. Functionally I filled the role in a volunteer capacity, and it worked OK.

Last year I finally realized that our church wasn’t maximizing our impact. Yes, Echo was doing some great things, but we had plateaued in attendance. Ultimately it was our leadership structure (specifically my role) that was one of the major roadblocks. While I still contend that not having a lead minister follows a biblical precedent, the American church tends to thrive when there is someone filling that position. Echo needed a lead minister. I also realized that it shouldn’t be me.

It’s not that I’m any less passionate about Echo or ministry. One of the things I learned about myself in recent years is that my ministry calling is complex. I still love the ministry. I love to preach and teach and disciple. But I’ve realized that my gifts are best used when I’m serving church leaders. My job allows me the opportunity to do just that, but it means that I’m out of town on some Sundays. It just doesn’t work with our church, who needs a consistent voice and presence. 

Throughout last year, I prayed about the whole situation and our other leaders affirmed the idea. I’d remain an elder and continue to preach from time to time, but my role would be to support our staff and shepherd our people. Echo would seek to hire a new lead minister. When we presented this to the church, everyone was positive. Now all we had to do was find the right person to lead.

I met David through a former student of mine. She insisted that the two of us had to meet. We hit it off right away, and I tried to help him secure a ministry job. Ironically each opportunity kept falling through. Finally I suggested that we talk about him joining the staff of Echo. The more we explored the idea, and the more our church got to know him, the more we all felt that this was God providing the ideal opportunity for everyone involved.

In some later blog posts, I’ll explore some of the church and leadership issues surrounding this transition; I’ve learned quite a few lessons from this experience that could benefit others. Until then, there’s one more thing you need to know: I am so thankful that the Lord called David to Echo Church. I always call Echo my second child; we started it right before Kaelyn was born. Of course it’s not easy to just hand that over to anyone, but David has a heart for the Lord and his church. This is the right thing for the church, for David, and for me. 

I really believe Echo’s best days are to come. 

BQ

I’m really not setting any goals for 2017, except one: to qualify for the Boston Marathon. 

This public declaration isn’t a boast; rather it’s laying out a very challenging goal publicly that I might not achieve. Too often I’ll set a personal goal for myself but I won’t tell others about it in case something goes wrong. This time, however, I’m naming it upfront so I’ll be able to return to it in May to see if I was successful. So bear with me as I breakdown what brought me to this point.

See, I never intended it, but I transformed myself into a marathoner. 

I’ve documented my running progress over the last eight years here on the blog, so you can read all about it if you’re interested. 

I went from never having run an actual 5K to running three marathons in 2016. I enjoy the 26.2 distance because it’s challenging and requires preparation. It’s become a January tradition for me to start logging miles in anticipation of a spring run. Early on, the consistent goal was the four hour marathon. Then I started running two marathons a year. In that time, I started shaving my time and run consistently in the 3:30 to 3:40 time slot. 

In marathon running, the Boston Marathon is the most prestigious race and it requires a qualifying time from an officially sanctioned marathon. After you turn 35, you get a little more time with which to BQ (the acronym of "Boston Qualify” is a key abbreviation in a runner’s life), but the pace is still somewhat blistering. In my current window, I’d have to run a 3:15, but actually it’s more like a 3:10, because they always shave off a little time depending on how many people qualify. To qualify, I’ll likely need a 3:12 or 3:13, but 3:10 would be safe. 

My fastest marathon time was 3:27. I ran that a couple of years ago, so in order to BQ, I need to run 15 minutes faster than my fastest marathon (taking about 35 seconds/mile on my fastest pace). That’s a pretty tall order. If I were just to wait another four years when my BQ time drops to 3:25, I know I could do it.  

So that’s the conundrum: if I want the BQ effort to truly mean something to me, I believe now is the time for me to do it.

There’s one other wrinkle.

My spring marathon of choice has been the Flying Pig Marathon. It goes past our house and I train on the course consistently. The problem is that it’s a rather hilly track and, even though I’ve gotten good at running hills, a flatter course yields better times. Until last year, I only ever ran the Flying Pig in the spring. But when a friends wedding conflicted with the Flying Pig date, I entered the Derby Marathon in Louisville. Even though I didn’t train well, I ran a really good time (my third best ever). It convinced me that while the hills of Cincinnati are wonderful, they’re not my friend when in it comes to BQ. Louisville will be my location.

Last week I signed up for the 2017 Derby Marathon. Because of a calendar quirk, the Flying Pig is 8 days later. I’m thinking of signing up for it as well so 1) I can fall back just in case the weather is horrible in Louisville and 2) maybe just to try to run it as I’ll be in pretty good shape then. I ran two marathons last fall just six weeks apart, so I know it can be done.

To prepare for this feat, I need to be disciplined in both my diet and training. I’ve started to run better since altering my diet a few years ago (cutting out fast food and sweets), but I’ve allowed myself some room to improve heading into the new year. The bigger change, however, will be adding miles to my training. Even though I always start running in January, I’ve never put in as many miles as I should. I’ll be following a running plan by Pete Pfitzinger from his book Advanced Marathoning. Even though he considers it a base level plan, I’ve never pushed 50 miles a week and I’ve never varied the type of training runs I’ve performed. In fact, I’ve never really followed a training plan before; I’ve just gone out and run. I recognize that in order to reach this goal, I’m going to have to do more than I’ve done in the past. For some reason, I feel like I’m ready.

It’s tough because there are so many variables at work here that I CAN'T control. So all I can do is be diligent with what I CAN control. I’m not sure if I’ll update my progress throughout the winter/spring, but at least this post will be here as a reminder of when I tried something challenging. 

Day one of training starts tomorrow.

Black Friday, Bright Sunday

A year ago I was laid off from a place that I loved.

While I was fortunate and eventually had a second act, my other colleagues who were laid off did not. Thankfully, nearly all of them have landed in better situations twelve months later. 

There’s so much I still want to clarify about how things went down, but that’s not my calling. Instead, I want to share what happened to me afterward. And it all starts with this picture:

I coach my daughter’s soccer team every year, but last fall was the most challenging season I've ever had. There were issues both on and off the field.

  • At the very beginning of the season, a child had a parent unexpectedly die
  • One of my assistant coaches was recovering from cancer
  • The other assistant lost their job right before the season started
  • We had a minimal roster, often playing with either one or no substitutes
  • We were in league where many of the schools also fielded their select-level players, so we got smashed nearly every game. 

But these kids never gave up. They had great attitudes. I was so proud of them.

I told Kelly that I wanted to do something special: I wanted to buy the girls custom shirts for the end of the season. Since it would be a small order, I couldn’t get a bulk discount so the shirts were a little pricey. Still, it seemed totally worth it. I got sizes and shirt numbers, and placed the order.

On October 22nd, I picked the shirts up. They were in my office that Friday afternoon when I walked in after getting fired. 

Those shirts were in the front seat of my car on the ride home from work. I felt like an idiot for having spent so much on shirts when I was going to have to worry about how to provide for my family. I kept assuring myself that we’d ultimately be OK; God had always provided for us, even when we couldn’t see the way out. But even though I felt I believed this, those shirts were staring back at me, a cruel symbol of my weak faith.

The next day was our final soccer game. I was still feeling down so I was thankful for something to take my mind off of things. When the girls showed up at the field, we handed out the shirts. They loved them. And they actually won that last game, playing better than they had in any game that season. I finally fully embraced peace. That night, I wrote the post that helped CCU weather that difficult time. And every time I see that shirt in my closet or put it on, it makes me happy. It's become a reminder of God's care and deliverance.

And that’s why the picture above is one of my favorite pictures. It captured almost the exact moment when I realized that God is truly in control and the everything would be alright. While the next months didn't bring full peace, I’m sitting here a year later thinking that it worked out better than I could ever have imagined. I have a ridiculously amazing job that I love and I know I'm still following his calling. Last October 23rd was the lowest of the lows. I can honestly say that I'm now experiencing the highest of the highs. I guess my Mt Nebo metaphor was flawed, because I'm now standing on the other bank of the Jordan River. 

With the leap year, this anniversary takes place on a Sunday, so I get to worship the Lord this morning. I'm so looking forward to this. My understanding of my place in his kingdom ultimately brought me through. So I don’t know where you’re at today. Maybe you’re facing a low moment yourself and need some encouragement. If so, remember this: even when you can’t see where things are heading, trust that God is working out all things for you. He loves you and he's looking out for you. Believe.

Oh, and I’m totally wearing that shirt today. 

Must Christians Denounce Trump?

As an urbanite, my context is fairly diverse. Daily I encounter people across every imaginable spectrum. Still, in this neck of the woods, progressive politics reign supreme; I have yet to see one Donald Trump yard sign within miles of my house.

That said, my job has me traveling in places where Donald Trump is quite popular, even among people of strong faith. I'm guessing this a major reason that a group of evangelical leaders created a petition on change.org denouncing Trump's candidacy. This is the latest of a movement questioning the mentality/morality of people who support the Republican presidential candidate. Whether it's on television or around the water cooler, the message is that if you do not repudiate Donald (or, in some instances, refuse to support Hillary Clinton as the alternative), then you align yourself with the very worst of him.

I only publicly chime in on political issues with it intersects with my area of study—issues of faith. I come neither to bury Trump, nor to praise him, but there is a question I feel called to address:

Do I, as a Christian, need to denounce Trump?

I answer no. Here's why.

UNDERSTANDING THE TENSION
It's easy to see what these pastors, teachers, and theologians who created this change.org petition are trying to do: they want to display a broader view of Christian values. While many conservative evangelical Christians support Trump because they believe he'll better secure Christian values for the future (for example, by shaping a more conservative direction of the Supreme Court), these progressive evangelicals want to address the candidate's lack of values, both in his political views and his previous life decisions.

This is something evangelical Trump supporters should contemplate. There is great value in recognizing the other side of an issue. 

My problem, however, is that nearly all the voices in this petition take it to the opposite end of the spectrum, suggesting that supporting Hillary Clinton is the right response to combating Trump's failings. While their petition states, "whether we support Mr. Trump's political opponent is not the question here," it is indeed the question; I quickly Googled the signers of the petition nearly all support Clinton. Obviously they have every right to do so, but the political bias makes a spiritual denunciation powerless.

A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE
What I wish these leaders would have done was to stake out an even bolder view than denunciation. Rather than addressing the diversity of evangelical values, they could have admitted that holding any political leader up against Christian values is an exercise in futility. When we attempt to establish biblical values as a voting rubric (whether we're politically conservative or progressive), we will always overemphasize certain ones while underemphasizing others. More critically, however, we give non-Christians the wrong perception of our faith.

As a Christian, for me to say that Donald Trump is a worse person than Hillary Clinton counters what the Scriptures teach. And the inverse statement is just as true.

What's worse is it misses the entire point of the gospel: we are all equally reprehensible when it comes to personal righteousness. It's what the apostle Paul addresses in the book of Romans when addressing a group of Christians who viewed the world in terms of good and bad people.

"None is righteous, not even one."

Friends, I'm as flawed (even more so) as Hillary Clinton.
I'm as flawed (yes, even more so) as Donald Trump. 


Our hope in Jesus (his perfection, death, and resurrection) is the only thing that makes me righteous. Any attempt to measure my goodness against someone else is absolutely useless.

THE DANGER OF DENUNCIATION
And this gets to the essence of why I cannot denounce Trump (or Clinton either). To denounce Trump from a faith perspective puts others in a peculiar place. It's a spiritual categorization that has potential hazardous consequences.

I am convinced that there are people out there who identify with Trump BECAUSE of his many flaws and that is precisely why they are planning on voting for them. The American voter is not nearly as complicated as we imagine and this is why some of my progressive/liberal friends are flummoxed as to why some people support him. In short, they identify with him.

  • They look in the mirror and acknowledge that they too have screwed up in life.
  • They recognize the critique against him because they've heard it about themselves.
  • They want him to win because, in some way, it validates their journey to redemption.

You might not buy it, but that's how I see it. And regardless of why people are voting for him, if I use my position as a faith leader to denounce Trump, how does that reflect on people who are embarrassed about their pasts? Will they see Christianity only as judgment? Will they believe that they're not good enough for God?

If I denounce Trump, I'm denouncing people who think they're just like him. 
For better or for worse, politics just isn't worth that risk to me.

BUT WHAT ABOUT WHEN HE SAYS THE DUMB STUFF?
Refusing to denounce the man doesn't mean that we must remain silent. Inevitably Trump or Clinton or another public figure will say something ridiculous and we can speak directly to the statement. But to denounce an individual, I can't buy that biblically. Defending our political preferences as biblical doctrines is asking for trouble.

If I've left you angry or confused, I apologize. I'm just calling for Christians to see the bigger picture. Life will go on after November 8th. Eternity will last forever.

The pragmatic question, then, is who do I vote for? I actually wrote an article for the Lookout Magazine that will be published the week of the election, so I'll link to that later. More important than the Christian vote, however, a healthy Christian perspective.

The only people that Jesus denounced were religious leaders. 

Interpreting the CCU/KCU Merger

ccumerger

Sometimes it’s best to keep quiet.

That’s the advice I heeded about discussing Cincinnati Christian University since leaving the staff this past spring. After investing a considerable portion of my life to the school, I needed some time and space to to ensure I didn’t say anything rashly that could harm my alma mater. 

But some advise is best understood in context. I’m not sure it’s best to keep quiet in every situation.

With today's news of the potential merger of my alma mater and Kentucky Christian University (and approaching the one year anniversary of one the darkest days in CCU's history) I’m feel released to talk. The following response is as objective as possible and rooted in love. My goal is to help CCU alumni and friends process all of this and, perhaps, develop a new perspective on things. 

It might be easiest to just approach this Q&A style, so I’ll jump right into this thing:

1. IS THIS MERGER A GOOD THING?
As with all things, it all depends. Most importantly, you have to look at the compatibility of the two institutions. I must admit, that I’ve told many a KCU joke over the years. The source of my prodding was my passion for CCU and the result of an intense athletic rivalry that we maintained with them; KCU have been our fiercest rival for decades and it’s those contests that I remember decades later (the finest athletic moment of my life took place on a November Saturday on a soccer field in Grayson, Kentucky; I still tell my child stories about it). That said, I have nothing but absolute respect for Kentucky Christian University. They have produced some amazing graduates and have impacted the eternal destination of countless souls through their alumni. I think KCU is a very natural partner to merge with CCU, so there's nothing about them that bothers me.

Do not be misled, though: this merger is all about finances, driven more so by CCU’s current condition. So if this move ensures the protection of the investment of current students and the long term viability of a CCU degree, it is a good thing. 

2. WHY IS THIS ANY DIFFERENT FROM THE JOHNSON UNIVERSITY MERGER?
I was opposed to a merger with Johnson University and can see a few key differences here. First, the JU merger would have been more one-sided; Johnson has a robust endowment and I’m not convinced that the cultural heritage of CCU would have survived that union. Second, the actual distance between the schools was greater. Not only do KCU and CCU share proximity, but they have overlapping recruiting markets that make strategic sense. The most important issue is timing. CCU is in a totally different position today than at the time of the Johnson merger. I still believe, as I said at the time, that CCU needed to explore internal strategies first before entering into a merger. At that time, we hadn't attempted to shift our model or approach to enrollment see if it could be financially viable without the merger. Years later, there is a need to merge. 

By the way, I had a new trustee tell me last fall that the biggest mistake that CCU ever made was not merging with Johnson. I still disagree. The failure to merge did not doom CCU; the last four years could have led to a massive turn around, but it never materialized.

3. IS THIS AN EQUAL MERGER?
I just can't believe so. I know that the language in the release is collaborative but, logically, there’s always a winner and a loser in business mergers. This isn’t to say that there can’t be kingdom benefits to these two school uniting but, using dancing as a metaphor, someone has to take the lead. One of the items that came out of campus interactions today is that KCU senior leadership that will be getting involved on the CCU campus in January. There was no reciprocal statement. I’m left to assume that KCU leadership will be the primary visionaries of this new school.

4. WHY COULDN'T CCU SURVIVE ON ITS OWN?
This is the key topic with which alumni should grapple, not just because it’s at the heart of this merger, but because of broader implications. There are many other Restoration Movement institutions that currently or will soon face similar decisions. There are lessons to be learned here that other Christian leaders must contemplate.

While this question must be applied to the four year period following the failed JU merger (and not only to the last twelve months), some of these issues can be traced back decades. While all of these issues could have been overcome, they are intertwined with CCU's DNA and, ultimately, were too difficult to conquer. While there are additional external issues that impacted CCU’s financial problems (problems across the higher education spectrum), I believe CCU had three key issues that brought us to this point.

a. Shifts in Congregational Staffing
A quarter of a century ago, when I was in college, the vast majority of students at CCU were studying for the ministry. This was a continued byproduct of the massive growth of the American church after the Second World War. The emphasis on the “call to ministry” was sustained over following decades, with church camps and youth conferences acting as a feeder to Bible colleges; this is why Come Alive (and even Ozark Bible College’s Impact Brass) could afford to travel around the country to recruit students who lived in different time zones. But in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the advent of the world wide web changed everything. As information/education became more accessible, the value of the Bible college education declined while costs increased. Ultimately, our churches (Restoration Movement congregations) did not place a high value on clergy education—CCU’s primary product. They hired ministers without degrees or with degrees from non-Christian Church colleges and, more importantly, stopped subsidizing the Bible colleges through their missions giving. I’m not saying that any of this is wrong, but it definitely affected the financial position of the university.

And before you suggest that other Bible colleges "maintained their values,” stayed ministry-focused, and achieved success, I’d challenge that you look at their academic catalog. Even those schools that are credited with remaining faithful have added degrees outside traditional ministry fields to ensure future viability. 

b. Inability to Adjust to the Market
CCU wasn’t able to adapt to this changing culture. We aren’t the only school in this position: other Bible colleges and Seminaries are struggling to survive and, in the next decade, we will see even more either fold or merge. Unfortunately, CCU's historical successes hindered those tasked with leading future successes. Was it possible to both respect the faithfulness of previous generations while meeting the needs of current and future students? Yes, but it needed to be done confidently, and swiftly. And even then, it would have taken a very special leader who could have united our alumni and churches to see it through to completion.

I’m going to stop here and say something that very much needs to be said: I thought Ken Tracy was that leader. I believe that CCU was on a trajectory to turn around under his leadership. He was a successful entrepreneur and business leader who had the right perspective to guide CCU through that change. And to speak to something that has never been acknowledged, he personally invested significant personal funds in the cause because he believed so strongly in the future of the school. Internally, there were those who disagreed with Ken’s vision, but it was predominantly those who believed they had the most to lose. I’m not saying that Ken's every decision was perfect, but he understood something that his predecessors did not: the need for a positive, persuasive culture. For those few months, I was finally proud of what CCU was becoming.

If given proper time and support, I really believe Ken would have led us toward a successful outcome. But again, there were those who wanted change according to their vision, a view focused more on individual preferences than on the greater needs of the institution. 

Those Bible colleges that reacted boldly to this ministry shift, diversifying their academic offerings, bought themselves some time. CCU didn’t. We did not adjust to the changing needs of our constituency and customer. The competition was no longer other Bible colleges, but with online ministry training, local colleges, and churches offering all-encompassing internship programs.

c. Faculty Influence on University Vision
This is the most controversial thing I will offer here, but as a quasi-academic, I think I’m qualified to speak about this. I’d ask that, before taking something I said out of context, the you read the entirety of my thoughts. When I say “faculty,” it doesn’t imply every professor at CCU any more than using “people” implies every person in the whole world.

The growth of CCU was directly connected to the growth of Restoration Movement churches. The voices of those churches were the ministers and those ministers studied under the faculty. More than any other Restoration Movement school, CCU was faculty-driven. Those familiar with higher education might see this as normal, but this kind of influence was very unique among our non-tenured Bible colleges. To understand how this happened at CCU, you need to go back to the 1920’s and the school’s founding. CCU was originally the result of a merger of two smaller schools, and both those institutions had two large personalities: Ralph Records and R.C. Foster. While Records became president, Foster’s position as a professor wasn’t necessarily subordinate because he also served as a trustee. Those who lived in this time (and even historical evidence) attests that the two didn’t get along well. In the 1940’s, their conflict nearly tore the school apart. Ultimately, for a myriad of reasons (some of which are scandalous), Foster prevailed. The faculty's influence on the governance of CCU traces back to his personality.*

This tension continually affected the relationship with administration. The late Earl Sims, a former Vice President of the faculty, wrote about this in a self-published book (if you can get your hands on a copy, you will see how this relationship impacted nearly every strategic decision in CCU’s history). In the past couple of years, decisions benefitting academic structure and preferences were made at the expense of overall market viability. Surely these pet projects in of themselves didn't create the entire financial situation, yet it muddled a clear path out of it. Again, no single leader or group of leaders were able to resolve this tension and CCU has finally paid the price.

Ironically, the issue of theological liberalism has been the primary critique toward CCU faculty over previous decades. Though professors have always been compared to the standard of the Fosters (or, more recently, of Jack Cottrell), CCU's undoing is more the result of poor strategy than poor theology. 

5. HOW SHOULD CCU ALUMNI RESPOND?
I’m not really sure myself. This thing could play out in many ways, but there’s one very truth that must prove foundational for those loyal CCU alumni like myself trying to process this:

Ours is the God who redeems.

I might not love the fact that my school will no longer be the school I once knew, but my God is bigger than my diploma. It’s hard for me to imagine what it might look like if there’s no longer a CCU. It was a concept that drove me to work harder than I ever have to ensure that it didn’t happen on my watch. But even if it finally goes away, or if it simply rolls into another work, it doesn’t change what the Lord was able to do through CCU or what he will be able to do through the work of those who graduated from there.

For so long I chased the ghosts of those greats who walked the halls of CCU before me. 

But just recently, I finally realized that I wasn’t created to preserve the memory of their work.

I was called to emulate their actions. 

To tell people about Jesus . . . 

. . . to love the lost as much as they did.

Bible colleges were created to meet a particular need at a given time. Perhaps its time has passed. Or perhaps the leadership of CCU and KCU are going to figure out how to fashion all of this into some new wineskins. 

You who are reading this: you are the legacy. So no matter what happens to the name of the school on your diploma, do something with all that God allowed you to experience at that place.

Make a difference in his kingdom. 

I’m praying for the leadership of both KCU and CCU in the days to come. You should do the same.

 

 

________________________

*The theological climate of those early decades had a massive impact as well; it’s influence on CCU cannot be understated. Churches throughout the United States were engaged in the conflict over theological liberalism. People like R.C. Foster and his son Lewis led the battle for the Bible, further endearing themselves to students and alumni alike. More than any Restoration Movement school, CCU became known for its Bible, Theology, and Ministry faculty. This influence still exists at CCU; I believe there are still more Biblical Studies professors than any other faculty discipline and the last two deans of the school taught New Testament.

 

 

 

 

1 Kings 12: A Sermon on White Privilege (Part Three)

Preface: This is a sermon I delivered at Echo Church on July 10, 2016 (you can listen to it here). I’m publishing my manuscript here as it could prove useful to Christians investigating this subject. I never intend my sermon notes for publication, so there is no citation of the research provided here. All of the factual claims here are the result of research and, to the best of my knowledge, all of this material can be easily cited; I haven’t yet taken the time to provide it here. Part One is available here and Part Two is here

Perhaps even the mention of white privilege offends you. I use the term purposely because I assert that it’s very real.

MY STORY
You may ask how I can so confidently state something as fact that is actually just a sociological theory. I could cite the work of scholars, but nearly all of them are secular, so it could be said that’s it’s not actually a Scriptural approach to the issue. Or I could list off a series of Bible verses, but there’s not one singular text that speaks to white privilege, so it would be a systematized approach that would be open to critique as well. Or maybe I should just list off my academic credentials and say I have pieces of paper that affirm my brilliance so you should suck it up and listen to me.

In short, I do not have an airtight defense of what I am about to say, and you might call me irresponsible. “Preacher, stick to the gospel,” one could say, but I am telling you that white privilege stands opposed to the gospel and therefore, I am obligated to say something. Church, all of this is born out of my experience from four decades living in a city fraught with racial tension. It’s woven into Cincinnati’s DNA. It’s our context. We must understand it.

In order to get there, can I tell you my family’s background? During the Great Depression, my grandparents brought their family to Cincinnati from deep Appalachia (southern Kentucky) when work in the coal mines dried up. The settled in Lower Price Hill, one of the white ghettos in Cincinnati, in the 1930’s and carved out a living there. CCU’s affiliation with BLOC Ministries permitted me to walk those same streets where my grandparents, father, aunts and uncles were raised, but I was a visitor to that neighborhood. You see, my dad’s family was able to get out of that neighborhood and move their economic status.

That transition is a birthright I share constantly. It’s easily packaged in the narrative of the Protestant work ethic. My father was raised in poverty but sought the American dream, and through hard work and persistence, they made it so that the grandson of Appalachian immigrants could become a member of the educated class.

But even though they were poor, they had something that many American poor today do not have—the pigmentation of power. White skin. My family’s key advantage was being born in a country where whites controlled the power. It provided them advantages in accessing capital, and acquiring real estate that a black family would never have had.

The American dream requires more than just overcoming poverty. An anecdote for you:

When I was nine years old, coming home from church work night, my dad and brothers were pulled over in Westwood on Harrison Avenue by the police. The officer shined a flashlight in our car, complained that I and my younger brother should really be in seatbelts (even though this was years before seat belt laws) and let us go. The next day, my father was reading the newspaper and exclaimed, “that’s why we got pulled over! Someone robbed a business in a red truck and they were checking if it was us.” Three decades later, I vividly remember that experience but you know what I don’t remember? Fear. Fear that something violently could happen to my father or even myself. But if I was black and my children were with me, this would be a legitimate fear.

OUR CITY'S AND NATION’S STORY
A key principal within Christian faith is the Imago Dei, that humanity is made in the image of God and this is what gives us worth. This is why we worship Jesus: because he died for all people regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, economic status, or even if they’re just horrible people. This is the gospel. Our country, however, has a long history of inequality toward most of these people groups, but especially toward blacks in the United States—from their legalized enslavement, to a section of our constitution counting them as three-fifths of a human being, to them not even being granted full civil rights until fifty years ago.

And this doesn’t even touch on the issues within our own city.

Even though we view Cincinnati as a northern city, separated from the institution of slavery by the Ohio River, this city was culpable. One historian noted that, “Cincinnati was a Southern city on free soil” and much of its growth in the years of the Civil War was a result of the work of slaves to the South. In the first decade of the nineteenth century, the state of Ohio passed a series of “black laws” requiring free blacks to post $500 bond to guarantee their freedom and good behavior. In the first half of the 1800’s, a series of race riots occurred, where whites angry at blacks would enter African American neighborhoods and burn them to the ground. One such riot took place in 1841 when the Cincinnati Enquirer printed an article suggesting that blacks were stealing the jobs of whites and it resulted in one of the worst riots in the city’s history as lynch mobs roamed the streets.

There is housing in this neighborhood that was built for poor blacks. Why are they unique? Jacob Schmidlaap installed indoor plumbing. This was 1911. Barely 100 years ago the consensus of white America was that blacks couldn’t properly use indoor plumbing.

And just last summer, about a mile away from here, Sam DuBose was tragically killed, the result of a traffic stop for a missing front license plate. I’ve been driving without one since someone on the street backed into me eight years ago and we haven’t ever put one on my wife’s new car.

I could go on and on and on, but I’ve either made my point or alienated you entirely. The point that we need to take is this: white privilege is still a reality in these United States. And it still has negative repercussions on an entire segment of our population.

DIVING INTO THE ISSUE
I’m going to use Proverbs 31:8 here, but I’ll do so with a postscript. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” My use of this text could be perceived as a message of superiority, and I do not use this to imply that blacks in our country are in the same place they were nearly 250 years ago. More so than ever, there have a voice today and, for the majority, are not destitute. And I will confidently offer that our country’s prejudices are shrinking. One example: the election of an African American president. Another is a conversation I had with my ten-year old daughter this week about race. She was interested but not fully comprehending because she is used to diversity. The coming generations will be less and less prejudice than those before.

But that doesn’t mean that white America is handling it well. You see, the privilege of the previous centuries has provided an existence that we view as normal. Again, we worship at the altar of the Protestant work ethic without truly considering if we are just fortunately to have been placed within this context. Whether you recognize it or not, there is an underlying guilt that creates a need within whites to justify this status. Claiming that racial issues are ancient history is just on of those constructs.

In social systems, the majority will always feel threatened by the minority. It’s basic psychology: people feel vulnerable if something has the potential to take away from their livelihood. It’s this concern that permits them to rationalize an existence that defends their justification, and it’s the minority group that experiences the negative repercussions.

You know, I cited psychology, but in reality, this is the lesson in this week’s Scripture text. Why was Jeroboam insecure about losing his kingdom? Because he did not trust in the promise the Lord hand made to him. Similarly all of us on this earth are faced with different challenges that bring on feelings of insecurity. Friends, it’s not necessarily bad for us to feel insecure. The promises of God are for our eternal security so maneuvering in the here and now is still an exercise of faith. While on earth—this fallen sphere—we’re still subject to tragedies and horrible experiences. God understands that we will wrestle with trust.

This insecurity made Jeroboam afraid. This same fear is what grips many whites today. It’s the history of our young country. Not to get too political, but it is why many people in this country are frightened of immigrants. Throughout our history, Americans have shown prejudices toward minorities out of the fear that they will usurp them from their status. Yes, church, this is the same emotion behind white privilege. Again, this is not necessarily sin. We can experience fear while still learning to trust the Lord, but we must not remain living in fear. The gospel is us entrusting our entire futures to the Lord. If our faith is in gun control, or law enforcement, or limited immigration, we’re putting our faith in humanity and not the Lord. Fear is a human emotion but it is not a biblical ideal.

For Jeroboam, fear drove him to sin. He led his people toward idolatry so he could retain power. The question for the privileged, then, is are we permitting our fear to lead us toward sin?

UNDERSTAND THIS: it’s not a sin to be white and middle class. But if we use that privilege to suppress the opportunities of those without a voice, then we are violating the words of the Scriptures and the very spirit of the gospel.

So with all the application for this week, we should I tell you? To pray for peace? To befriend a black person? To hug a police officer?  Let me make it extremely simple. I preach more about who God is and who Jesus is than I do about altering behavior. The reason why is that if you cannot grasp the essence of Christianity, your actions mean very little. The more you know about God, the more it changes your life. And this is my application for you today: own it. FOR THE MAJORITY OF US, JUST RECOGNIZE OUR PRIVILEGE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE. I'm asking you to see where it can take you. 

CONCLUSION
As I was praying how I’d conclude all of this, my prayer was answered when I received a letter from a pastor friend of mine. He knew I was preaching about this and thought I needed some help. As he challenged, I hope it speaks to you.

The times look dark and as the clouds grow thicker, the stupidity of the nation seems to increase. If the Lord didn’t still have Christians here, I would be apprehensive. But he loves his children; even as they are sighing and mourning before him, and I’m sure he hears their sighs, and sees their tears. I trust there’s mercy in store for us at the end of all this; but I expect there’s still more to go before we get into a right channel, before we’re humbled, and learn to give him the glory. 
The state of the nation and the state of the churches are both deplorable. Those who should be praying are fighting among themselves! How many Christian leaders are more concerned for the mistakes of government than for their own sins? When will these things end? 

Now, while I was sent this letter by a pastor friend, he took it from another pastor. And (with some minimum edits) it’s actually the words of a minister that were written in February 1778. The controversy of which he refers to is the Revolutionary War (and it was actually a British pastor that wrote this). I found his words especially comforting, because this minister actually helped contribute to the Christian community like no one else has over the past two centuries.

You see, just six years before he wrote this, John Newton wrote these lyrics:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.

You do know Newton’s story, don't you? He was a slave trader who became a pastor and then, in the latter years of his life, passionately fought for the abolishment of slavery. Newton's background makes the entire collection more profound. He was able to finally recognize his privilege, then spent his time undoing the damage he caused.

He moved from fear to freedom. We must do the same.

Deuteronomy 31:6
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”