The Question Matters

Why I’m OK with Questioning God


The title card for the musical comedy series G...

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I’m a Gleek.  I’m sappy enough to enjoy the poignant moments.  I’ve been around high school students enough to appreciate the roller coaster ride with its high highs and low lows.  Musically, I dig harmony and Glee has great harmonies and music.

And this show doesn’t mess around.  It has tackled homosexuality, blended families, discrimination against women and minorities, and the sports vs. arts debate in schools, just to name a few.  This week’s episode was, for me, the high point of Glee’s audacity.  They tackled prayer in school.  And forgive my mixed sports metaphors, but they hit a home run.  They didn’t just have a friendly conversation in the principal’s office about it.  In a 60 minute show, I found one question coming up over and over again in the show: Who are we to weaponize our beliefs? By “we,” I mean humanity in general and certainly Americans.  When have we done this, you ask?  Tuesday night’s show provided many pointed observations.

Mercedes and several other friends prayed with Kurt‘s dad against Kurt’s wishes.  They weaponized their faith in prayer.  Yet Kurt was similarly guilty when he refused to accept those prayers as genuine concern for him and his father.  He weaponized his belief that there is no God.

Kurt summed up his disgust with God and those who believe in Him–that many Christians believe he (Kurt) made a choice and should be punished for that choice.  He sees that he was made that way and that others are punishing him for being who he is.  We–I– have weaponized our beliefs about homosexuality.

Kurt was a victim again in this show–when Sue Sylvester attempted to use his disgust towards his friends in Glee to prosecute Will Schuster for allowing his students to sing about their faith.  She weaponized her faith in the government to regulate religious practice.

And then there was Finn and Grilled Cheezus.  When Finn saw an image of Jesus in a grilled cheese sandwich he made, he took that sign to mean that he had a direct connection to God to ask whatever he wanted.  He weaponized his spiritual awakening for his own benefit, praying for the chance to take the next step sexually with Rachel and to win the quarterback’s job over the new kid in school.

In the end, Kurt was touched by his church experience with Mercedes, yet still skeptical at best.  Finn was confused, hurt, and doubting God more now than ever before.  Kurt’s dad showed the faintest sign of recovery from his heart attack.  How did it happen?  Was prayer involved?  Was it his deeply powerful connection with his son?

In the spirit of the best writing, the writers of this show declined to answer, leaving that for their viewers to decide.  The writers of the show openly questioned God and our beliefs about him, however devoted or skeptical we may be.  Yes, I’m OK with questioning God, especially if it comes at the expense of our easy answers, answers that we too often weaponize against those who see the world through different lenses.


Handshakes are Making a Comeback

Red Chuck Taylor All Star basketball shoe.

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Retro is what’s next.  When my parents saw me wearing tight jeans in middle school, asking for Converse high tops, and listening to the Beach Boys sing “Kokomo,” their comment was predictable:  “Everything comes back in style eventually.”  Sure, Mom and Dad.

Not long ago, my five-year-old son asked for his first Transformer.  I caught myself wondering why I didn’t save the 50 or so Transformers I had when I was in elementary school.  Then, as if my parents had pre-programmed me to say it, out came, “Everything comes back in style, eventually.”

In a previous post, I introduced you to James Townsend who works in the Admissions office of LeTourneau University in Longview, TX.  In my conversation with JT,  I was struck by a comment he made regarding effective recruitment of Millennials.  Part one didn’t surprise me:

Ten years ago the students thought sending email was cool and chatted with one another via instant messenger.  They still enjoyed visiting with college admissions counselors by phone and receiving college brochures in the mail.  Over the past ten years that changed dramatically – email is only for business type communication, few of them use instant messaging – preferring to text or chat and post on Facebook instead.  Most of the college material received in the mail still went in a big box under the bed and [they questioned] why the college would waste so much money and kill so many trees to send so much unsolicited mail out.

Makes sense.  But JT makes an observation that surprised me.  Perhaps it will surprise you, too:

The trend we are noticing for 2011 is that students are coming full circle and now want personalized communications – actual phone calls, handwritten notes, and actual signatures on letters.

Sounds like the paper and pen factories better not close up shop just yet.  To what can we attribute this appetite for an “old school” approach to communication?  Here’s a few suggestions.  I’d like to hear yours in the comment section.

  • Face to face communication and note writing never really left.  They were drowned out by the never-ending buzz of social media.
  • High school students want you to bend over backwards for them, and they’ll test you to find out how far you’ll bend.
  • It’s about standing out among the noise.  10 years ago, standing out meant going with social media.  Now that everyone’s caught up there, it’s face to face communication and hand-written notes that make you stand out
  • Millennials value community much more than their parents do.

Let me read your suggestions.  And while you’re at it, here’s your coaching assignment.  Ask a 20-something, “What kind of impression does it make on you when someone takes the time to write a note or meet you in person?”

College Administrator: Millennials Believe There’s Something Bigger and Better

Recently, you’ve read my interviews with a college career coach at Abilene Christian University and a professor at Texas Women’s University who specializes in first year students.  I have to say that my conversations with higher learning administrators and professors is fast becoming on my favorite pastimes in blogging. Here’s interview #3.

James Townsend and I knew one another at Abilene Christian University, where I was a student and he was a recruiter and administrator.  A great guy and a good friend, I’m grateful for the time he’s given me via Skype and by email.  Our conversations touched on the spirituality of college students, how well they’re prepared for college life and learning, and what they can expect as they leave college life for their careers.  Here’s a quick bio of James:

[Even before] graduating from Abilene Christian University in 1989, I began a 24 year professional journey in Christian higher education as an administrator, consultant, and first year experience instructor.  Most of my professional life has included visiting with high school students and parents about the college admissions and financial aid process and the best ways to transition to the collegiate environment. I completed my MBA at LeTourneau University in 2006 and am currently working towards a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership in Higher Education through Grand Canyon University in Arizona.  I’m currently the director of admissions for LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas.

I asked James the following questions.  I look forward to sharing his responses with you in the coming days:

  • Compare graduating high school seniors now to graduating seniors ten years ago when you started at LeTourneau.  What changes have you noticed?
  • How well prepared are students for college?  Where are they well prepared?  Where are they lacking?
  • Share a couple of stories about students who’ve really impressed you.
  • What can this generation bring to any arena of life (work, home, whatever) that’s unique and needed?
  • What are the biggest challenges this generation will face?  Specifically, how are they going to have to grow?

I know James as “JT,” and of everything he told me, one phrase stood out.  This generation has the numbers, the relative youth, and the resources to maybe just maybe be right about this:

This generation always believes there is something bigger and better around the corner.

Trey Finley, Gleek Extraordinaire

I’m hooked. I’m a Gleek.

“Glee” performs the music of my generation.  For some in Generation X, it’s the music of their high school and college years.  For me, it’s the music of my elementary and junior high years.  Either way, it’s a blast from the past.

The cast of Glee is good.  Really good.  I get chills when I hear Rachel Berry and her mom (played by Idina Menzel, who was part of the original cast of Wicked) sing together.  It blows me away that Cory Monteith–the actor who plays lead singer Finn Hudson–is singing for just about the first time in his life.  Sue Sylvester, the coach of the cheerleader team, has to be the funniest character on TV.  I’d tune in just to watch her banter with Mr. Shuester.

Lest you think the show is pure cheese, there’s a character who’s gay and struggling to relate to his father.  There’s the teacher with a Downs’ Syndrome sister who spends her free time caring for her.  There’s a paraplegic who performs on stage with the other students, but dreams to be free of the wheelchair.  There’s a character who gets pregnant and a character who says “no” when pressured to have sex.  And there’s the glee club diva turned cheerleader (then back to glee club diva) who struggles with her self-image, especially her weight.

Glee, like Generation X, dares you to accuse it of being shallow.  In a recent review of the show by the Los Angeles Times, their TV critic had this to say:

“Glee” is, in many ways, a very modern show, addressing topics usually reserved for serious drama — teen pregnancy, a father coming to terms with his gay son — in what is essentially a musical comedy that more than occasionally borders on camp. Over and over again, the message is: Don’t judge.

The Land of If Only

Posted in Change,Family,Generation X,Leadership,People Watching by treyfinley1008 on April 29, 2010
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A transparent and authentic post from a blog I read today.  Wise words for those of you out there hearing regret’s footsteps close behind…

Are YOU The Source Of Our Nation’s Growing Intolerance?

Posted in Change,Coaching,People Watching by treyfinley1008 on April 21, 2010
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Given that the Huffington Post isn’t exactly the New York Times, I found this article very insightful.  And, of course, the comment thread at the bottom of the article simply served to prove his point.

With politics as his example, the author (a life coach and management consultant) decries the lack of empathy and in his words, the general “it sucks to be you” attitude he observes in the United States.  While politics is a loaded gun when it comes to, ahem, discussion, the author has a valid argument–empathy and a willingness to listen seem to be rarer qualities than they once were.

They say success in business is all about finding a niche.  If this author is correct, then I’d say coaching–a field where listening is the first value–has a nice big niche in the United States.

Here’s the gist from a couple of quotes, and they are questions worth asking.

“So, if intolerance really is on the rise, whether it is increasingly present or simply increasingly more visible, who’s spreading the intolerance? Could it be you? Could it be me? Could it be some of us? Most of us?…

Would you like to experience a change? If so, what are you willing to do to become that change?”

Russell Bishop: Are YOU The Source Of Our Nation’s Growing Intolerance?.

It’s Complicated

First, a disclaimer: I never ever saw It’s Complicated.  Probably won’t.  The trailers give the impression that the movie sensationalizes divorce, and I just can’t get excited about dropping $4 at the movie store to see it.  I’d rather rent Sherlock Holmes again.

Anyway, on to coaching. It’s Complicated is a response I’m beginning to hear more and more as I continue coaching.  (Maybe I could blog on phrases that should alert you when coaching is needed.  This is definitely one of them.)  Work is complicated. Life is complicated. My problem is complicated. As coaches, we’re taught to drill down almost immediately when we hear broad sweeping statements like this.  Questions such as, “If work were simple instead, what would be different” can begin chiseling away at the surface complications and get down to the deeper language that’s making life seem…complicated.

Let’s not belittle complexity, though.  It’s a complex world.  Your generation lives among four othersThe World is Flat, says Thomas Friedman.  He’s right.  Generation X knows complexity: empty homes after school, high divorce rates, workplace ceilings.  Gen Y knows complexity through social media, the 24-hour news cycle, and broad exposure to culture, ideas, and religion.  It is an increasingly complex world.

Simplistic answers from one person will not suffice in our complex world.  Complexity demands a sophisticated response.  Sophisticated responses require multiple voices.  Having multiple voices in the room makes trust a non-negotiable.  What are you doing to engender trust among colleagues?  Who must you learn to trust in order to wade through your complicated life?

A Picture of Strength

Posted in Coaching,Family,People Watching by treyfinley1008 on March 9, 2010

I’m fortunate I didn’t inherit my father’s eyesight.  My father was legally blind and color blind, though he could wear glasses that allowed him to see well enough.  Those large thick glasses were heavy in my childhood hands.  In some ways, they dominated his facial features.  Aside from his smile and his laugh, his face simply could not overcome the large thick glasses that gave him what eyesight he had. To read this blog, the lettering would have to be


Now, as I look at my children and see the picture of my dad’s thick glasses on his face in a picture on my bookshelf, I know that he would have done anything to see his children and experience life with them, including wearing Coke bottles.  I would, too.  Those eyeglasses gave him the gift of seeing his family each day.

Like those eyeglasses, our strengths clarify our otherwise clouded vision.  They allow us to enjoy our lives in bolder colors; they focus our vision on the little things that give joy.   I prefer those bolder colors and significant details to the fuzzy images of life I squint to see through my weaknesses.  When I live in my strengths rather than our weaknesses, I receive:

  1. Greater clarity. Life seen through the lenses of strength will come with a clearer sense of purpose.  Because I know what I was made to be, I can quickly identify if a job or a friendship or a pastime fits.  I will invest my time enjoying my strengths rather than compensating for my weaknesses.
  2. Farther sight. In part because I’m comfortable in the present, I can take a moment to look into the distance at what may come.  And because I’ve got strong vision, I can see farther than someone who sees the future only through their weakness.  Even so, I don’t want to look there too often because…
  3. Deeper appreciation. I don’t want to miss beauty right around me.  There’s too much joy in it.  I’ll live in the present with my eyes looking up, not staring at my feet hoping I don’t stumble and fall on something I couldn’t see.  Looking up also means that I’ll see others rather than just myself.

Community Lost

Posted in Change,Family,Generation X,Next Generation Leaders,People Watching by treyfinley1008 on February 25, 2010

Every generation mourns that which they’re given by their elders.  (If you don’t believe me, believe Howe and Strauss, analysts and prophets in how generations relate to one another.)  We have a choice, both individually as well as generationally, to either live under the curse which we’ve been handed, or to radically transform it.  Some elements of our story may already be written for us, I suppose, but how we react and respond to those elements defines our generation.

I mourn the loss of authentic community given us by our parents and grandparents.  All but the best businesses are work first, relate second.  So many small groups at churches are overgrown underdeveloped social clubs hidden behind a veneer of Bible study.  Institutions which should be designed to build and protect community–law, politics, news, religion–have instead torn apart community through their own unique contributions to our current culture.

I have an unapologetic passion for churches.  It grieves me to see what God designed to be a tight-knit community with a common belief has devolved into a fractured institution.  So when a person believes with all their heart that God’s people can once again be united, that belief must be celebrated, announced, and never quieted.

I didn’t know Jenny Bizaillion personally.  I consider her younger brother Josh a distant friend, who I prayed with and went to small group with for two years while in graduate school.  When her family says that she had a belief in the reunification of all Jesus-followers, I believe them.  Today, Jenny Bizaillion’s life will be celebrated and mourned in her memorial service. I cry for her husband, her nine-year-old daughter, her parents, and her siblings.  I cry because in her death, something has been ripped that cannot be resown.

But in that severing, I find hope.  Hope that she will see her family again.  Hope that all things are possible with God.  Hope that the intense and unjustified suffering of a wife and mother just entering the prime of life will somehow be redeemed.  Hope that if one person’s illness could unite thousands of people across every continent, then perhaps her life will contribute a pebble to the construction of bridges among the fractured protectors of my faith.

Generation X has been accused of being loners and skeptics and of subverting community.  That’s a load of…well, it’s crazy.  My generation knows better than those that preceded it what authentic, messy, chaotic community looks like, and we embrace that messiness.  I invite you today to embrace a person and her family, a family that stood at the center of this messy community and the whirlwind of prayer, concern, and heartache offered up in their behalf.  I invite you to believe in that which is unseen.  Jenny did.

Blessed be your name in a land that is plentiful, where the streams of abundance flow

Blessed be your name

Blessed be Your name on a road marked with suffering, when there’s pain in the offering

Blessed be your name.

Every blessing you pour out I turn back to praise

When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord, blessed be Your name

You give and take away, You give and take away

My heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be Your name

It is Well

Posted in Change,People Watching by treyfinley1008 on February 22, 2010

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say
It is Well with My Soul.

And Lord haste the day when the faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend
Even so, It is Well with My Soul.

Adding my tears, prayers, and questions to the thousands who stood alongside Jenny Bizaillion and her family; I proclaim His promises of being reunited with those we love. Maranatha…Lord Come Quickly

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