shortbread

short, sweet, and to-the-point — by Keith Elder

Archive for the tag “Organization”

“Einstein’s Desk…Burns…and an Organizing Principle”

Einstein's face

My first job after college was that of “Youth Director” at Huffman United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. My supervisor was Director of Christian Education, Burns Nesbitt. Burns was a 50-something, retired Air Force chaplain with way too much life and knowledge to spend it golfing away the golden years, so, Burns took on the challenge of cultivating the educational ministries of a 1500-member congregation.

How to describe Burns?

Burns was a dreamer/planner/world-thinker/justice-seeker/teacher/trainer/ uproarious laugh-er/theologian/connoisseur of life’s simple gifts—not to mention, husband to Mary Alice (delightful, strong, and refreshingly honest), and father to Phil, Jaye, and Chris. All this said, Burns tried his best to bring it all together and live a life of integrity.

My first visit to Burns’ office was unsettling. How do I describe that 8’ x 12’ish space? Overstuffed bookshelves reaching floor-to-ceiling… institutional, gray-green metal desk…a couple of mismatched chairs—all upstaged by two-foot-high stacks of file folders, open reference books, periodicals, and do-dad keepsakes from people and places past. There were 2’ x 3’ sheets of white newsprint masking-taped around the walls with barely legible, color-coded, Magic Marker scribbles from recent meetings. There was a flip chart in the corner on a flimsey aluminum easel, and a fire hazard of a desktop strewn with loose papers, sticky notes and cheap pens. The words “tsunami” and “tetanus shot” come to mind. John Wesley, father of our Methodist OCD-ness would not have seen eye-to-eye with Burns—and not just because Burns was a foot taller. 

In time, I came to understand that Burns was perfectly comfortable in his little disaster area. The disorder was his order—and Burns could put his hand on anything he needed at a moment’s notice. He knew exactly where the red Magic Marker was, and the children’s Sunday School material, and the book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Question: Have you ever seen a photo of Einstein’s desk?…or Mark Twain’s?… or Steve Jobs? Take a look….

Desk-Einstein

Desk-Mark Twain

Desk-Steve Jobs

My point?   Different people have different ways of making sense of their world—that is, different organizing principles.  Maybe it’s do-lists, PDA’s, calendars, personal assistants, executive secretaries.  For some, it’s mentors, managers, coaches, or trainers.  Maybe it’s a favorite philosopher or theologian.

What’s important is that you find something that works for you—a simple truth or system that helps you figure out the specifics of your life…that helps you make sense of a discombobulated world, and make a little hay while your mortal sun shines.

Now, Burns was no Einstein—though he had his occasional bursts of brilliance—but Burns had found a system that worked for him….

Amazing that he could find it in that office!

Keith Elder

2-3-2015

http://keithelder.com/

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“Scattered, Smothered, and Covered?”

Waffle House

I confess. I love Waffle House.

Call me a health foodie, but I love stopping at Waffle House for an occasional cheese steak omelet with extra grilled onions. Oh, I know—if I had a cholesterol meter on my arm, the little needle could double as a fan as I enjoy this unapologetically tasty treat. But life is short… carpe omeletum!

“Sides?…” the waitress asks.

“I’ll take hash browns.”

“Do you want anything on those hash browns?…onions?…cheese?…  Want them scattered, smothered and covered?”

“I just want them brown, but not burnt.” (It’s my Waffle House version of, “Shaken…not stirred.”) “Oh,…and I’ll have wheat toast with that.  I’m trying to cut back.”

“Scattered, smothered, and covered.” It’s the Cadillac of hash browns. I mean, if you are hash brown potatoes, it just doesn’t get any better this. It’s Hash Brown Harvard.

But, then, it’s also the story of my life!

Scattered… by a billion bits of data and day-to-day responsibility. And since, in truth, we can only focus on one thing at a time, “multi-tasking” means that everything suffers. Scattered!—it’s the story of my life.

Smothered… again, by the sheer deluge of stuff.  Like it or not, I am mortal…“on the clock.” So I get smothered as I try to handle this “more than I was ever meant to handle.”

And covered…. This takes the problem one dangerous step further. When I am covered, I disappear—like when I pull a blanket over my head. You can’t see me. The me that I was meant to be is lost in the noise and confusion.

All that said, I got a glimmer of hope this morning…Jeremiah 29:10-14.

The word came at a time when the Jews were in exile… far from home…separated from family and friends… under the thumb of foreign rule. Dare I say, they were “scattered, smothered and covered!” But out of the disorder and darkness, God spoke through the prophet:

“When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. … I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you, and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

“Scattered, smothered and covered?”

There’s hope.

Gotta go… the waitress is here with my breakfast.

Keith Elder

1-31-2015

http://keithelder.com/

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