Monthly Archives: January 2013

Why we do what we do.

Yesterday, while checking Facebook, this picture was posted to my timeline:


Under it, the caption: “Hands down the best coach I’ve had in my entire life. Big thanks to him for everything he’s ever done for me.”

I think about all the young men I’ve come across in my time as a coach – from my last semester at the Naval Academy, up and down the East Coast (from Maine to South Carolina), and here now at Augsburg College. Along the way, I’ve had a lot of fun, learned a lot, and have had the honor to coach some great people, who are doing some great things.

– A set of twins I coached are Officers in the U.S. Marine Corps.
– A bunch of them are starting and running their own businesses.
– One is making his debut fight with Bellator, a major MMA company.
– Many have gone onto and graduated college, and gotten married and have started families.
(Yikes, I’m getting old!)

This is just a short list…there are so many others I’m probably leaving out. My point is that well, reminders like this remind me why I do what I do with my life. I’m reminded that God is indeed using me to be a life-giving agent in the world, in my own unique way. It reminds me that every person I come across in my wrestling coaching, my ministry at my internship congregation, and even in this coffee shop I’m writing in right now, I am not only sharing the gospel and my faith through my own unique witness, but I am also seeing more fully and clearly the ways God is working in the world right now. And that gives me tons of hope, joy, peace….a lot of good things, really.

Leaders, coaches, pastors, youth directors, teachers, nurses….all of you who lead through service to others, I hope you receive those little reminders, of why you do what you do with your life. It’s especially important in this time I call the “January/February grind.” It’s that time we all wait for spring & warmer weather; for wrestling coaches, it’s the hardest part of the season usually.

Back to reminders…take this blog post as one of them. What you do is so important – God is working in and through you, inspiring people through your work and witness. I’m energized by the ways you’re impacting lives & pointing to the hope God has for us right now – you’re an inspiration to me!


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January 25, 2013 · 8:43 am

Observing MLK Day: A Different Approach

Today is MLK Day. It’s a day to remember this great man who led the African-American Civil Rights movement, and stood for so much more. I’m sure there’s lots of people who will offer reflections on MLK Jr – his life, his work, his faith, etc. But perhaps there’s a different way, and that’s to listen to the actual words of the man himself, and what they inspire and invoke in us today. Perhaps that’t the real significance of Martin Luther King Jr and his life – what he inspired a whole nation to in the 1960’s, and what he inspires us to today.

So if you can spare 20 minutes today, watch this video. Trust me, it’s worth your time.


Filed under Culture & Social Issues/Ethics

On the Mat & In the Church: Gauging Tradition

This past weekend, our wrestling team participated in the annual NWCA National Duals. Since its start in 2002, the program has placed 3rd or better every year, having won the tournament 5 times in that span. If you’ve been following this blog (or you can check it out in my About Me section), you have an idea that the Augsburg College wrestling program is used to success. There is a rich tradition of winning and excelling, something the program takes great pride in.

This past weekend, however, the team went 1-2 and was eliminated on the first day of the two-day tournament. The reaction from the team, and us as coaches was shock. There was a loss for words, for adequate explanations, because it was uncharted territory for the program. Never before had they been in this position, and the reality of our performance that weekend left a lot of questions and doubts.

Needless to say, as a coach, I’m searching for answers as well. And I’m finding there are some technical fixes to make, but the biggest changes are in our approach and culture – adaptive changes. As I reflect on the weekend a bit more, the question that comes up for me is, “What role should tradition play in programs and institutions?” I’m wondering that not only for our wrestling program at Augsburg, but also for the Church today, and the issues it faces.

Let me first start off by saying tradition isn’t a bad thing. Post-modern critique often holds that institutions are to be mistrusted precisely on the grounds that hold to rigid tradition. Tradition serves as a benchmark, a standard that efforts can be put toward – in short, tradition provides a vision for carrying out mission. Tradition is benefical because it helps communicate what we value and believe, and invites people into participating in that vision. It’s true for Augsburg College wrestling, and honestly, it’s true for the Church as well.  I would even argue that tradition is necessary for long-term sustainability.

But it seems there’s a point where tradition doesn’t serve the program or institution well, and that’s when tradition is actually mistaken for nostalgia. Peter Ward writes in his book, Liquid Church, about “nostalgic communities,”

“…this mutation [of the church] relates to the conception of itself rather than its reality.”

Nostalgia, in simpler terms, is being stuck in the past. It’s romantizing, lifting up, or emphasizing past accomplishments over the present, and taking a step further: this past is actually viewed as what is currently the present state of things.
And well, that can be dangerous. Dangerous in that innovation is shunned, new ideas are immediately rejected, work and effort are avoided in favor of relying on the “tradition,” critical reflection is avoided, unrealistic visions and goals are held on to, and a whole other host of things. When tradition becomes nostalgia, and it goes unchecked for a long period of time, the results can be disasterous and tragic for programs and institutions.

That said, I don’t think its that dire – it certainly isn’t at Augsburg College, and I think the Church isn’t on the brink of extinction as some people think it is. But, perhaps moments like this past weekend for our wrestling program, and the present-day realities facing the church serve as “wake-up calls.” And, to be honest, what I’m presenting here isn’t anything new. But those “wake up calls” serve as good reminders that gauging tradition is something we need to be doing on a more regular basis, and not simply when we get the wake up. I think that’s the first step: constant recognition. How to address it as a leader? Here’s some thoughts:

Integrity & Maturity of the Leader:  The first place to start?  Yourself as a leader.  Are you sound enough personally to take a good hard look at yourself and what you’re leading?  Do you have the courage to not only identify and say the hard things?  Do you have the kind of character where people receive your words as genuine – in other words, are you trustworthy?

Lead from the Front:  In short, lead by example, and be willing to work just as hard, get just as dirty as those you’re leading.  You can talk until you’re blue in the face, but if people percieve you aren’t willing to sacrifice and put in the time you’re asking them to, forget it.

External Voices: Do you have good external voices that can help you assess things?  I know for me, I’m always calling coaching collegues, talking to other pastors and leaders outside the organizations and congregations I’m a part of for advice and feedback.  Because they’re not emotionally invested, they can offer “nostalgia-free” opinions and assessments.

Come up with your own “tripwires”: When I served as a Navy Submariner, we had these things called “tripwires,” which were markers that we were entering into dangerous situations or environments.  For example, if we saw a contact at 10,000 yards, it raised a certain awareness and concern; at 2,000 yards, the situation was dire, and immedate action was required.  Develop your own “tripwires,” perhaps a set of questions or things that help you constantly assess.  They shouldn’t be large or time-consuming either – over assessment is a bad thing too. 

What other things would you include on this list? Perhaps you disagree altogether? I would love to hear ideas from other leaders – whether coaches or church leaders.  Thanks for what you do: leadership is so vital, so key in our world today….and good leaders are sorely needed in all parts of life today.


Filed under Missional Thinking & The Church, Wrestling Devotions & Reflections

Wisdom from the Wrestling Mat: The “Dark Place”

When I was competing as a wrestler in college, I had a name for when you hit an extreme low point in the sport. I think it came from one of my coaches, but I knew it as the “dark place.” It was that point when everything I did was a struggle, a seemingly neverending stream of failures, one right after the other. I couldn’t score a single point, much less win a match. Even in practice, I seemed to get beat by everyone in the wrestling room – even the worst guys.

The “dark place” was this place of hopelessness and helplessness. Hopeless because there didn’t seem to be any end in sight and helpless because it seemed like nothing I did or could do could get me out of it. Everything seemed out of control, and every failure would drive me to despair. Because I wasn’t performing well, I’d make these huge changes in my wrestling approach and technique, thinking there was a major fix that needed to happen somewhere. Yet, my wrestling would continue to regress. With every failure, I would begin to think my coaches and teammates hated me, and even would begin to irrationally think my family didn’t believe in me, and that truly, I was not only worthless as a wrestler, but also as a human being. It was just this big snowball effect. And I felt so isolated, so alone in it.

I remember one day, sensing my frustration, one of my coaches said to me: “Just keep moving; keep handfighting.” That’s it. Just keep pushing forward, trying to escape. Just keep handfighting – just try to gain some sort of advantage in my ties and setups, win a small victory in the battle for position.

My competitive days in wrestling are long gone now, but those moments where I find myself in the “dark place” still happen. Whether it’s my work, my relationships, my wonderings about my future, I still have those moments where I feel so hopeless and so helpless. And the “dark place” looms so large in my life that nothing, no words of affirmation or assurance from others, and not even my faith in God, seem to be able to get me out of it. While I know in my head that there people who love and support me, and that God is always faithful and gracious with me, it’s not enough to bring me out of the “dark place.”

That’s when I hear my coach’s words: “Just keep moving; keep handfighting.” And you know what, I still have that mindset today. Just keep pushing, keep fighting. Even when I have so little faith in myself; when I feel so alone and isolated; and when my failures and feeling of worthlessness seem to snowball out of control. I guess I approach life like a wrestling match. The battle I can win, and perhaps the most important one of all, is that I can find the courage to step on the line, shake hands, and try to win some of those small battles, one at a time. While things don’t seem to be on a positive trend right now, life is still worth living in all its ebbs and flows. And while I can’t believe in anything or myself, I do hold in front of me the knowledge that those things and people are faithful and deal graciously with me anyway.

I wonder, and perhaps you are, “why am I writing this?” Well, I guess it’s because I’m feeling this way right now, and so I need these words for myself. But, I write them because I sense, if I’m feeling this way, there are quite a few others who are feeling the same way too. There are probably others who feel they’re in the “dark place” right now. My advice to you (if that’s you): Even if you can’t muster faith in anything or be gracious with yourself, know that doesn’t stop others or God from being faithful to you and dealing graciously with you. “Just keep moving; keep fighting.” Muster whatever courage you can for the day, and keep pushing in those small battles. It’s that simple action, perhaps you’ll get a glimpse of a small victory for the day, and that can be the start of something hopeful, something new.

And I think, whether your mind is athletically-inclined like mine is, or you’re a person who’s feeling especially helpless or hopeless right now, perhaps this will be a word of encouragement for you today. Keep pushing; never give in; never stop fighting.

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Filed under Wrestling Devotions & Reflections

Getting from “Good” to “Great” – Lessons from the wrestling mat

Last week, I just finished putting one of my wrestlers through a workout, and the question came up, “How does one go from being good to being great?”  That’s where we are as a team right now; lots of good efforts, lots of good wrestlers having success.  But if you ask everyone one of the guys on our team, they wanna be “great.”  Their goals are national titles for themselves and the team, all-america status on the mat and in the classroom. 

But how do you get there?  That’s a difficult question to answer, because there is no one universal roadmap to get there.  But nonetheless, it’s hard, and here’s why:  Getting from average/ mediocre to good is easy  – especially in our culture today.  The minimal acceptable effort that most people consider as average is effortless – simply exist.  Simply show up, punch the clock, and be a body in the room.  That’s average.  Do a bit more than that, you’re good.  Don’t make mistakes, go through the motions, don’t rock the boat, and if you do, certainly do it at little risk and cost to you – that’s being good at something.  Stay the course, play it safe and stay comfortable – and you’ll be successful simply becuase you outlasted everyone else, because they’ll give up or make a fatal mistake. 

But I don’t know about you, that’s depressing.  It’s depressing in the way that people will actually sell themselves that short and actually think that going through the motions, avoiding the things and moments of challenge that actually bring real growth to one’s character – is all their capable of. 

So, back to greatness….it’s hard thing to achieve because it requires a lot of effort and discipline to get there.  But you don’t actually have to make big, sweeping changes or risks.  Greatness often comes about by tending to those seemingly mundane and routine details of life.  The simple things really; minor tweaks.  But it requires a HUGE effort in committing to constantly tend to those things. It’s not getting complacent and staying disciplined when everyone and everything else (even yourself) tells you to back off.

 With that said, here are a few points to chew on, reflecting on what it takes to get from “good” to “great.”

Make your world “small,” and be fully present in it.  Lately, a lot of my athletes throw themselves into a state of panic that seems to come out of nowhere.  What I find is they’re trying to deal with everything at once in their lives. To the first point: life is never simple; it’s often complex.  For my wrestlers, it’s school, cutting weight, practice, competition, social life, friend and family relationships.  That’s a lot; to take it all on at once is almost impossible.  I tell my athletes to “shink” their worlds – when they’re on the wrestling mat, focus on that task.  When they’re in the classroom, focus their concentration efforts there.  When they’re on the phone with friends or family, focus their attention fully in that conversation.  “Shrink” the world into what’s right in front of you and give it your maximum time and effort.  You’ll find you’re much better doing one thing at a time rather than trying to address it all at once.  Don’t try to address everything at once – what you find is you get a minimal effort in all things.

I tell my athletes that my life is a lot like that now – coaching them, ministering to people at my church, spending time with my wife and friends.  One of the hardest things to do is give my 100% attention, to be fully present when I’m in that particular role during the day.  But, when I’m giving my full attention to my wife when we’re together, to my wrestlers when coaching, and to people as I minister to them – people get my best, and that’s important, because they deserve that.

Control what is within your control. People like to spend a lot of time worrying about things they simply cannot control.  It’s a waste of time.  Spend your time on the things under your own control.  It seems simple enough, but it’s really hard, because we’re conditioned in many ways to control everything, and especially the things outside our control.  I think we do it because we fear failure so much, when we do fail, we have somewhere to place the blame.  “I would’ve been fine, but my boss screwed me.” “I won that match, but the referee screwed me.” “If it wasn’t for that injury, I would’ve succeeded.”  You get the point.  Put maximum effort into the things within your own power, into things right in front of you.

Goals are important, although not so much the expected result.  Goals that are challenging and a bit out of reach are important.  They set up everything we do in pursuit of them, and establish our commitment to discipline in working towards them.  But here’s the deal: greatness isn’t necessarily achieved solely based on whether we’re successful in achieving our goals or not.  As I pointed out above, there is only so much within our control.  Things and circumstances change, and thus results change, things are taken away from us.  We can’t plan a blown call by a referee, a better effort from an opponent, news of a major injury or illness.  Think about it: someone who puts maximum effort and time into a goal, but doesn’t achieve it – are they not somehow changed?  Did they not learn something about themselves in the process? 

And I think, when we free ourselves from trying to control things outside our control, and from thinking of greatness strictly in terms of achievment of goals – it frees us from that life of regret and blame if things don’t turn out the way we planned.  We’re a bit more resilient as athletes and people because of it.

Seize opportunities when they come up – always.   You know what I think really separates great people from all others?  They ability to recognize opportunities, and to sieze them even though they don’t know what the result will be.  They do it because the potential far outweighs the risk.  The worst thing that will happen is they sieze the opportunity, and they don’t make it or someone says no.  It’s back to that “control what you can control” issue.  But for most of one’s life, great opportunities don’t come up very often – they’re privileges really.  Perhaps the risk is worth it.  It’s far better than sitting idle and letting them pass you by all because you were afraid of the effort or change it would bring.

Open, honest communication is a must.  That means telling someone the hard truth about things.  Right now, some of my athletes aren’t doing the things they need to in order to put themselves in a position to be successful at the end of the wrestling season – the National Tournament.  And so I have to say things from my perspective.  And I’m ok with the fact they don’t accept it or disagree right away, but they are receptive to it, willing to talk it through with me – because the lines of communication are open and honest.

Being open and honest with others is pretty obvious in theory – listen and accept feedback from others, be honest about what you’re feeling and how you are taking someone’s words.  It’s really difficult though in reality.  I think it’s that way because you give up some personal power and control in order to achieve honesty.  But, it’s through such honesty that growth can happen.  Those things you need to tend to, but have become blind spots get tended to because there are people who care about you, and are open and honest with you enough to tell you, because they care about your well-being. 

Believe in something.  What you believe in is what shapes and defines you as a person; it’s what shapes and defines your life.  I don’t care what that thing is – Yourself, God, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny –  but it’s important because it separates who you are from what you do.  There has to be something outside the work/tasks/activities you do that define who you are as a person.  If not, you tend to define yourself by either your successes or failures.  And that can be really detrimental to your relationships and to your own sense of self.

So this is my “short” list…..there are a few others I’m sure, but I’d rather hear from all of you: What do you think it takes to get from simply being “good” to being “great?”

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Filed under Leadership

Cancer: The Real Heroes & Their Stories

Cancer seems to be affecting people I know well lately, and now that extends into the world of sports. Thursday, 2x National Champion in Track & Cross-Country, Johanna Olson passed away after a 12-year battle with brain cancer.

I guess why this strikes me isn’t so much that I knew Johanna well…because I didn’t. She grew up in Wadena, Minnesota next to my hometown. We graduated high school the same year. But everyone knew who she was, because she was one of the best running talents to ever come out of the area. We probably talked a few times over those years, and I’ve followed her blog, where she’s documented her trials fighting her cancer and at the same time, living life.

And in reading people’s tributes to Johanna, I came across this story – runner Gabrielle Anderson, who ran cross-country for my cousin’s high school team in Perham, MN, also battled cancer. She was able to triumph over it, and do some pretty amazing things.

I’m not going to say much more. I encourage you to click on the links and learn a bit more about their stories, because they’re really powerful. They’re the real heroes, like so many who battle cancer courageously and choose to live life in the midst of it…real, authentic people. I find it very ironic because yesterday I also came across this story – the latest on Lance Armstrong.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all who battle cancer, and my hopes that one day we find a cure for this disease…..

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Filed under Church Devotions (Advent/Lent, etc), Culture & Social Issues/Ethics