Monday, August 07, 2017


[What follows is a chapter from my new book set for publication in 2018, House Rules:  Considerations for Leaders.  Recent criticism prompts this post.  I really do love my critics, especially the honest ones.]

“I like criticism. It makes you strong.” LeBron James 

“Few people have the wisdom to prefer the criticism that would do them good, to the praise that deceives them.” Francois de La Rochefoucauld 

"You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.” 
 John Wooden 

“The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without out resentment.” 
Elbert Hubbard 

“A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with 
the bricks that others throw at him.” 
David Brinkley


Chapter 12 

 Pay Attention to Critics 


Few of us like to hear it directed at us. In fact, most of us don’t even enjoy it when leveled against another person, do we?

I know that I don’t like it at all. It is somewhat amusing to consider the lengths to which I often go to sidestep criticism. I find all sorts of creative ways to justify my actions in the face of the critic.

You know what I mean:

“Well, that’s not what I really intended!”

“You’ve got to understand me here. I had no choice but to defend myself.”

“The fact is no one really understands me. If they did, they wouldn’t criticize me for this.”

“If you were in my shoes, you’d react just like me!”

“No way was I going to let him get away with that sort of thing!”

“If you knew all the facts, you wouldn’t be so quick to criticize me.”

“I saw the red light. You started yelling at me a hundred yards away from it!”

“I intended to pick up the office, but I just go too busy. Give me a break, already!”

“I did the best I could. Obviously, that’s not good enough for you!”

“No one cares if I go ahead without asking. Why would they?”

My lists of reactions can go on and on! I become a master excuse-maker when faced with even an honest critic.

Sadly, at times, it doesn’t stop with my rationalizing to critics or to innocent by-standers. What comes next is even uglier. I begin a conversation with myself! I actually carry on an argument internally, a debate within my own mind and heart! Somehow it’s just important for me to establish to myself that I am not deserving of the criticism that I’ve received.

Often this internal argument gives way to external arguments with both my critics and my allies. How easy to divide people up into groups along the fault line of an honest, but negative piece of feedback!

So, note the progression.

Criticism heard and “received,” sort of.

Excuse making and the initial explanation and rationalization.


More detailed and articulate (sometimes, at least!) rationale explained.

Gathering allies to hear and bolster my case.

Development of a more comprehensive list as to why and how I am right and my critic or critics are wrong.

Shameless attempts to explain away a mistake or a failure or a weakness. Blood pressure may rise at some point along this continuum. Or, I may “stuff” all of the emotions generated by my critic so that it emerges sort of sideways at some strategic point in the future—immediate or distant, depending on my memory.

Depending on where and why this escalation of defensiveness occurs, other people may be brought into the fray. At the extreme, I create a situation where I and others expend and waste a lot of energy that could be directed toward mission and purpose, all because I don’t want to honestly accept and evaluate a word of criticism from someone near me.

If this repeats itself as my normal response to criticism, I can expect really sub-par results no matter what I tackle.

Every effort worth your time and energy likely will spawn some negative reactions, evaluations and appraisals. It’s just a fact that of work and of life I’ve had to face. The truth is, any honest critic who is moved by a desire to see things improve is worthy of my attention. The honest critic should be regarded as a very important and necessary alley. Critics who care about what you care about will tell you the truth almost all of the time, and they should be given an honest, open hearing.

We all need the honest critic. And, I must learn to respect, appreciate and listen to the voices and opinions of such people. Critics, rather than enemies, should be considered highly regarded assets. 

Any critic just “out to get you,” your project or your team should be treated with respect, given a hearing and then dismissed. That assignment is actually very manageable after a while.

Not long ago, I ran into a vociferous critic who attacked my organization, my personal philosophy concerning a central portion of our work product and my basic motivation for championing a particular approach to a difficult, but not impossible social challenge.

I reached out to him, attempting to establish meaningful conversation about the issue, as well as our differences. He seemed very open to a meeting, which I arranged. We met at his place of business, a very interesting place. We had a long and spirited discussion. I took him a book that I had found very instructive in regard to our point of contention. We talked for about an hour. I left feeling that we made progress and that, even though we still disagreed on several things, we could work together.

I was wrong. At the next large, public gathering of our work group he stepped up his attack on our solution to the vexing problem we met to address. At that point, I simply checked him off of my “helpful to engage” list.

No disrespect.

No elevated blood pressure.

No arguments or attempts to defend, justify or persuade.

He had staked out a clear position. I knew what I believed and I knew what worked in my hometown and across the nation. No reason for further argument with his gentleman.

I was kind.

I was honest.

I tried.

I respected him. I heard his critique.

I evaluated it.

I rejected it.

There are just times when that is the best option.

Notice, I did not reject the messenger. I rejected the message.

If that same person raises another criticism about another subject unrelated to our first engagement, I feel it is important that I hear him out again. I have found that I take care of myself by going the extra mile and by not prejudging or stereotyping based on past experiences. Besides that, I’m looking for the truth about what works, what is effective and what will make us all successful. Once a rejected critic does not mean always a rejected critic!

Don’t hear me saying that this will be automatic or easy. Responding with respect to those who challenge you, especially publicly, is not an easy assignment. But, taking the high road in search of objectivity is always the good road, even when you discover your critic was correct.

Honest, openness to other points of view endears me to observers.

In my former life I served as a pastor in four congregations over a span of almost twenty-five years. Along the way, I attracted a nice group of critics. Nothing all that bad, but just the normal experiences with those who found me lacking in one area or another, and believe me there was a lot lacking to point out!

Most of the critics were kind. Many wanted to help me out, and they did. Anyone who stands up every week and has to say something, no matter if they have anything to say or not, is a set up for critics! I’ve made so many awful gaffs while preaching. Most are really funny. Some mistakes had to be ironed out the following Sunday morning after a week of stewing on my own stupidity.

After a while, I came to realize that most folks who point out the mistakes are really good friends who want to see you grow and do better. The critics with the more substantive issues, they are the ones who cause the heart burn and headache. These are the good people, almost all honest, who simply believe that you are wrong, possibly heretical and maybe just evil. These folks are much harder to manage because their concerns often come down to a win/lose struggle, with the loser going away.

I had such a critic at my last church where I served for over 14 years. He determined that my view of the Bible was anything but Evangelical. He regarded me as neo-orthodox, and possibly downright liberal. He picked that up from my preaching, from the sources I read and studied and from my community agenda in the church. So incensed was he that finally, he wrote a personal letter to every member of the church in which he called me out for heresy, literally. He had not given me any advance notice, nor had he shared his letter with me before it showed up in my mailbox at about the same time it arrived at the home of every other member of our church.

I can remember vividly crafting a letter of response to everyone in my church. The uproar necessitated the response. I remember speaking to his charges while doing my best to respect him as my critic.

I confess: the situation was very hard.

I was supported by the church’s leadership board. The critic and his family left the church, as did several others. It was a painful time.

Ironically, it was a time of growth as well, both personally and as a church. My critic was honest and good. He did what he felt he had to do. Somehow, I came to that conclusion rather quickly. I realized that the criticism, though its delivery rather dramatic and a real blindside, made me stronger and our group closer and more effective.

And, all these years later, I’ll tell you what I told those who stayed with us, in part my critic was exactly right. I am not an Evangelical in my approach to the Bible. Things just aren’t that simple. And, I’m more of a Liberal than even he or I discerned at the time. By embracing the truth about myself as defined by a harsh critic, I experienced personal growth and genuine inner peace. I know I found it easier to pray! And, the struggle made me stronger in faith and in perseverance.

There are situations and circumstances guaranteeing criticism will arise.

At one point in our housing development for homeless persons, we attempted to gain control of an old hotel property at the corner of Akard Street and I-30 on the south side of Downtown Dallas. I recall attending a number of meetings with the local neighborhood association to discuss the project. 

We hosted a design charrette. We briefed everyone on numerous occasions. We answered questions again and again. Finally, the neighbors banned together and threw us, the mayor at the time and the council member form the district out on our ear, almost literally.

Nothing personal you understand. Just not in our back yard! Not here, not now, not ever!

This one made me fighting mad, until I calmed down and realized that people often want different things. In this case our critics were property owners. They had the support of elected officials, whom they elected and re-elected. We were beat before we even showed up. And, it wasn’t our fault. We arrived well prepared, but preparation made it worse because it seemed that we might prevail. We had done our homework.

At the end we were defeated by an organized group of democracy-exploiters. The well-presented self-interests of the property owners prevailed over the pressing needs of the voiceless homeless.

We had to gather up our maps, our renderings and our big plans and hightail it back to where we came from!

What a valuable lesson.

 Critics can be fact tellers.

They warned us. We didn’t listen carefully enough. There may have been a way to win them over, but I really don’t think so. Our critics won. Game over. Respect maintained. We’ll do battle elsewhere another day.

Ironically, years later our housing company (CitySquare Housing) entered a partnership with a for-profit developer, helped capture the same old hotel property and redeveloped it as a convention hotel with a mid-range nightly price point. This time our plan worked, and we got paid for it. We put the funds earned back into our community development corporation to be used in building more affordable housing in Dallas. So, our critics didn’t stop us. They just diverted us toward a new, practical approach around a real opportunity.

Guess who some of our loudest cheerleaders for the project are today?

You guessed it, the same group that opposed our original plan.

It just works this way if you take the long view on the high road, while working hard to respect your critics, no matter what.

One final note.

Determine to be a positive, constructive critic yourself.

People who are determined to get things done will take seriously the challenge of growing into the kind of critic that others appreciate and seek out. Some of your best work likely will involve you in assisting allies and new friends by offering an honest, concerned word of critique in a manner in which it can be received more easily by those to whom you offer it.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Lenten Poem 2: Father Michel Quoist

Another poem from a good friend from Father Michel Quoist. 

The Subway
The last ones squeeze in,
The door rolls shut.
The subway rumbles off,
I can't move.
I am no longer an individual but a crowd,
A crowd that moves in one piece like jellied soup in its can.

A nameless and indifferent crowd, probably far from you, Lord.
I am one with the crowd, and I see why it's sometimes hard for me to rise higher.
The crowd is heavy-leaden soles on my feet, my slow feet-a crowd too large for my overburdened skiff.

Yet, Lord, I have no right to overlook these people; they are my brothers,
And I cannot save myself, alone.

Lord, since you wish it, I shall head for heaven "in the subway."

Friday, March 24, 2017

Lenten poem 1: Father Michel Quoist

A good friend sent me this poem from Father Michel Quoist.  It moved me as I think about the City and faith.

The Wire Fence  
The wires are holding hands around the holes;
To avoid breaking the ring, they hold tight the neighboring wrist, 
And it's thus that with holes they make a fence.

Lord, there are lots of holes in my life.
There are some in the lives of my neighbors.
But if you wish, we shall hold hands,
We shall hold very tight,
And together we shall make a fine roll of fence to adorn Paradise.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Racism, location and enduring poverty

Living in a poor neighborhood changes everything about your life

In 1940, a white developer wanted to build a neighborhood in Detroit.
So he asked the US Federal Housing Administration to back a loan. The FHA, which was created just six years earlier to help middle-class families buy homes, said no because the development was too close to an "inharmonious" racial group.

Meaning black people.

Read and view more  here.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Holy Unrest

   Divine Dissatisfaction

Let us go out with a divine dissatisfaction.
Let us be dissatisfied
until America will no longer have
a high blood pressure of creeds
and an anemia of deeds.
Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls
that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort
and the inner city of poverty and despair
shall be crushed by the battering rams
of the forces of justice. Let us be dissatisfied
until those that live on the outskirts of hope
are brought into the metropolis of daily security.
Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast
into the junk heaps of history,
and every family is living
in a decent sanitary home.
Let us be dissatisfied
until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools
will be transformed into bright tomorrows
of quality, integrated education.
Let us be dissatisfied until integration
is not seen as a problem
but as an opportunity to participate
in the beauty of diversity.
Let us be dissatisfied until men and women,
however black they may be, will be judged
on the basis of the content of their character
and not on the basis of the color of their skin.
Let us be dissatisfied.

Let us be dissatisfied until every state capitol
houses a governor who will do justly, who will love
mercy and who will walk humbly with his God.
Let us be dissatisfied until from every city hall,
justice will roll down like waters and righteousness
like a mighty stream. Let us be dissatisfied
until that day when the lion and the lamb
shall lie down together, and every man
will sit under his own vine and fig tree
and none shall be afraid. Let us be dissatisfied.

Let us be dissatisfied until that day
when nobody will shout White Power!
—when nobody will shout Black Power!—
but everybody will talk about
God’s power and human power.

The road ahead will not always be smooth.
There will be still rocky places of frustration
and meandering points of bewilderment.
There will be inevitable setbacks here and there.
There will be those moments
when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed
into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams
will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted.
The road ahead will not always be smooth.
There will be still rocky places of frustration
and meandering points of bewilderment.
There will be inevitable setbacks here and there.
There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope
will be transformed into the fatigue of despair.
Our dreams will sometimes be shattered
and our ethereal hopes blasted.

Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on
in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Change makers

Here’s to the Crazy Ones

Here’s to the crazy ones.
The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.

You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them,
disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.
They invent. They imagine.
They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire.
They push the human race forward.
Maybe they have to be crazy.

How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?
Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written?
Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?
While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.

Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world,
are the ones who do.

Jack Kerouac

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Prophetic Communities

The Church’s Role

The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause men everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will. But if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace. Men far and near will know the church as a great fellowship of love that provides light and bread for lonely travelers at midnight.

Friday, January 13, 2017

My friend Terry, the entrepreneur

After weeks of above average temperatures in Dallas, the cold snap whipped us hard last Tuesday night.  I mean, from over 70 to below 40, that's a real snap!

Upon arriving at my office Wednesday morning, I found this note taped to my door.

Terry and I have been friends for a few years.  We met on the street when he approached me offering to do a couple of card tricks.  I obliged with a $5 tip.  He wowed me and others who gathered with his 1/2 magic, 1/2 stand up routine.

He's never been much of a beggar or panhandler with me.  Too proud and independent.  Only when really pressed to the edges does he ask for help of any kind.  Last Tuesday evening at the end of the day, he stopped to see me to ask for special assistance as the note reflects.

I was busy when he came in, and he was gone when I got free.

This note shook me a bit, as I thought through what the night must have been like for him outside.  I had seen him the day before, and finally convinced him to make an appointment to see our staff who could really help him head in a new direction.  We talked several times that day, actually to the point of distraction.

As I worried about him on Wednesday morning, he showed up for a cup of coffee!  It was a relief to see him.

I asked him if he had made the arrangement with his friend to stay in out of the weather.  He told me that he had solved the problem himself.  He then went on to tell me how he had found shelter back of a restaurant dumpster.  He went into great detail about how he used scrap lumber and tin siding to construct a warm little home that blocked the wind that forced him to bed down around 9 p.m.

"That little house made me happy," he told me.  "It was just too cold to stay up, so I went to bed when I finished building it.  I got a good night's sleep, Larry!" he exclaimed.

When I commented about my amazement at his creativity and toughness, he simply replied, "Well, Larry, you know me; I'm an entrepreneur at heart."   

Well, Terry, that's one way to look at it for sure.

Just one snapshot from a guy I count as a friend. . .and, we're working on finding real housing for him. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Dear Mr. President-Elect

Rev. Paul Rasmssen, Senior Minister at the Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas, delivered this message to the church on the Sunday following the 2016 national election.

 You'll want to listen, I can assure you.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Mistakes We Make When Giving

The Wall Street Journal published a very helpful article on the mistakes we make when we give or think about giving with the most impact. 

Read this provocative essay here

Pop Quiz:  True or False  "It is best to give money if the goal is highest impact." 

Monday, December 19, 2016

I see the Christmas story every day, all year long at CitySquare:

. . .the young women who discover they are pregnant before they are married.

. . .the poor fathers who lapse into homelessness at crucial moments.

. . .the kinfolks who believe with every new born child that the family is poised for better days.

. . .the ordinary, common, working people who show up to see hope, sort of like the shepherds.

. . .the immigrants who live on the run because of unjust public policy and cruel leaders.

. . .the political officials who go home another way to keep from confronting the oppressors who    threaten the poor and their children.

. . .the arrival of babies and the spread of joy and longing for better days and better options.

. . .the angels, ah, the angels who clearly visit us in strange disguise, but clearly other worldly.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Run, Mary Run

This is from The Brilliance. 

Some may find it offensive, but the story of the birth and childhood of of Jesus was anything but peaceful.  It would be easy to write additional verses to this song, lyrics dealing with hunger, homelessness, and exclusion.  The ability to hear the contemporary truth of scripture through careful and faithful contextualization--ancient and modern--transforms people and systems. 

May we have ears to hear. 

Like far too many children today, violence, discrimination, fear, poverty and life "on the run" characterized the earliest experiences of this special baby.

As we worship the Christ child, may we really see him in the children who suffer today, near and far.

Friday, December 09, 2016

"What am I worth to you?"

My friend, Joe is dying.  Joe has advanced stage cancer. 

I've known him for about three years.  I met him on a street corner.  Almost all of that time Joe has been homeless and on the street. 

Thanks to a public health benefit, Joe's health care as he reaches the end of his life has been really excellent. Ironically, Joe's had the best living situation of his life during his time in a couple of local hospitals and a rehabilitation center. 

Joe and I have stayed in touch by phone, and I've visited him in the care centers where he's been receiving treatment. 

Earlier this week I visited him in the hospital.  He is weak, battling pneumonia and the cancer.  As always, he was glad to see me.  We visited for a while, and then, I had to go to get to another appointment. 

As I prepared to leave, Joe asked me. "Larry, can I get a $20 bill from you?"

I said, "Sure, Joe, that's an easy one," as I lifted the bank note from my wallet. 

"Here you go!  Are you going to buy you something better to eat," I asked and motioned to his untouched, cold meal the nurses had set before him. 

"Yeah, man, I'm going to find me a great buffet," he exclaimed, flashing his broad smile.

As I turned to leave, he called out, "Larry, how long's it been since I asked you for a $20?" 

"Long time, Joe, long time," I answered. 

"I love you man," I told him.  "I'll be back by."

"I love you, too, Larry," he replied.

As I walked to my car, I remembered our street routine, repeated so many times.  Joe would ask me for money.  Usually, I gave him $20 at a time for something to eat. He needed a little help because he hated the shelters and preferred the freedom of the street, as cruel and unforgiving as it was.  At least with the street, he could deal on his own terms. 

As I recalled those times, it hit me.  Joe didn't really need my $20.  He wasn't going to any buffet.  He's headed to hospice. 

What Joe needed was to know that I'd still honor his reqeust. Joe needed to know that he was worth something to me, that he was special, that we were, after all, friends. 

As I pondered in my flashback mode, I realized that is all Joe ever needed from me.  The money possessed varying degrees of value to him, depending on his circumstance.  But being able to approach a friend and have a request honored, there was what he really sought. It all translated to his own sense of worth.

My, my. 

Joe, old pal, you're worth so much more than you understand, so much more. 

Monday, December 05, 2016

Advent Conflict

Advent tensions. . . reading the Gospels

A "virgin birth"                                       A teenage mom

Emmanuel (God with us)                        A very poor child     

A father's dreams                                    Harsh reality facing fathers

A political tyrant                                     Suffering people

Oppression and lies                                 Dishonesty with the poor

Refugee family                                        Immigrants systematically excluded

Children murdered                                  Children in toxic stress

A special child                                         Syrian children

Surprised by joy!                                     Tables turned upside down

Birth                                                         All people included

Waiting ended                                          Celebration of jutice realized

Wise men & shepherds                             Classless community

Advent                                                      Advent