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9 lessons from 3-foot grass


I dislike gardening. I don’t even really enjoy having a garden. Somehow, we left our garden fairly (read: completely) unattended. The grass was about hip high a few weeks ago; when we finally got around to doing something about it. But the grass was too tall to use a mower on, and too wet to use a strimmer on (not that we have one anyway). So I went at it with shears and a rake. It was slow, not very pleasant, but little by little, the garden looked nicer. Yesterday, after a dry spell (finally!), the landlords came with strimmers and finished the job. Here’s what I got from the whole experience:

Picture of tall grass

1. You can’t do anything without tools. If you don’t have anything sharp (ish), there is no way you can do anything. Equip yourself: read, listen, seek wisdom. But don’t do it on your own, because you won’t be able to be discerning enough. Without tools, all you’ll do is uproot handfuls of grass and end up with a patchy garden. Without spiritual tools, you’ll end up with disconnected islets of knowledge which won’t help you and quite frankly don’t look good at all.

2. There is no magic tool. I had never used a strimmer myself, but somehow, I imagined that it was just a matter of quickly moving the tool over the grass, and that it would be done in next to no time with strimmers. The landlords took over a full day to do it. Surrounding yourself with books that just sit on the shelves is useless. Reading a ton of blogs (this one included) without allowing them to affect you is useless. Butterflying between leaders is useless. Going to three different churches (something I used to do) is not helpful if you’re just listening. When you decide to use a tool, you need to know that you’re going to commit to it, and allow it to affect you.

3. “Not having the right tool” can be an excuse; as can the specific circumstances. Oh yes, it was too wet, and we did not have a strimmer. But that never meant we couldn’t use shears. I may not find myself in a place with the most helpful structures around me… but it does not mean that it allows me to just sit on my arse and do nothing. Wherever you are, make sure you’re not using lack of ressources as an excuse. Don’t even do it to talk about your past, lest you give people the impression that your excuses are valid excuses and use them themselves.

4. Tasks generally look daunting until you put yourself to them. This has been repeatedly true: when I started cutting the grass with the shears, it looked better, and a lot of groundwork could be achieved quickly. It was slow, yes, but I could see the progress, square foot by square foot. When I had to write a disseration, I did not know where to start and had empty page syndrome for a long time… until I just decided to give a go at writing. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but little by little, the word count was reached, and then improvements were made upon what was there. So when you have a vision but do not feel it’s possible – still, give it a try. Little by little, you will get there.

5. If your work is not perfect, it can still be useful. Using shears to cut grass will never get it to a perfect green, but it did allow the landlords to use the mower directly onto this patch rather than using the strimmer. We live in communities. What you do will generally benefit someone – but you have to let other people pick it up. When you’re growing spiritually, you’re also helping others bounce off your growth. So keep on growing!

6. It wouldn’t have got to that stage if I had taken more care of it throughout the “summer” months (inverted commas necessary: this is, after all, England). Discipline is important as a frequent practice. Depending on the activity, different frequences are appropriate: I wouldn’t expect to mow the lawn daily; but finding the appropriate rhythm is key. For this blog, I’ve settled on weekly updates – and it does make writing easier to tackle. Reading the Bible can be a daily or a weekly activity – but once you found your rhythm, don’t slack, or you will find it harder to get back to it.

7. Cutting clutter allows more light to come through. Or maybe that’s just the sun that’s finally come out. But our living room is brighter. Similarly, with spiritual growth: you can’t just keep everything you believe.

8. Sometimes, the inspiration comes where you least expect it. I had the idea to use the shears whilst biking past people who were doing that to their own front lawn. Blog ideas can come from snippets of everyday life, as can spiritual growth. The important part is not to let that inspiration go unattended.

9. Boy, grass does grow quickly when there’s lots of rain and lots of sun! I could probably wrangle a way to tie that in with spiritual growth, but I’ll leave that to you: comment away!

The Piano and the Rule


I tend to spend a lot of time in a place which, incidentally, has a piano freely accessible. A few students work there and enjoy each other’s fellowship. Sometimes, people come in just to play the piano. At times, of course, this can be an annoyance and distraction from work (especially scales. Minor key renditions of pop songs are always welcome). For many years, though, this did not cause an issue: cohabitation between piano players and other users was friendly; there even was a decent overlap between the two groups. At one point, a small group started using the piano extensively, to the point that it interfered both with casual piano players and those wishing to study. So a logical solution was implemented by the powers that be: rules governing piano use were put into place. They stated that people should not use the piano for longer than 30 minutes; and no more than twice a day (to get ahead of those who would have 5 minute gaps between those 30 minute intervals).

Problem solved. That compromise was fair to everyone, and there has been nothing to complain about since.

Photo of a piano, with The Rule written on it

Photo credit: mararie, reused under CC license


My attitude changed when the rules got introduced, so perniciously that I didn’t realise it until recently – two years on!

If I was working, before the introduction of the rules, I would just deal with it. I’d be annoyed, potentially, and if I really wanted to do work (which is a rare occasion), and if nowhere else was available,  I would go and ask whoever was playing whether they could play less loudly, or how long they would be, or something to that effect. If I wasn’t working, then unless all the people were doing was scales, I’d happily welcome the music.

After the introduction of the rules, regardless of whether I was working or not, I would find myself checking the time as soon as the people started. I would wait the half hour and “graciously” grant them somewhere along the line of 10 minutes before going to speak to them. Worse, some times, I would be outraged that they would  dare to keep on playing over their allotted time, even engage in comments with other students about how the piano players were annoying; but would not go and ask them to stop.

The difference? I was entitled to tell them off. Not simply after the half hour, but also while they were playing – in anticipation. Similarly, they were entitled to play for that half hour. Between us stood the screen of the Rule. Rather than leading to harmony, the Rule led to the creation of two distinct groups and made any interaction more difficult.


Why did it get to this? Because:

  • the mindset that led to the creation of the Rule was one of solving problems, not dealing with people. By going for the compromise – the “line of least resistance”, the people were treated as commodities. Amusingly, this half-arsed compromising attitude is what the Church of England is blaming the goverment of doing with same-sex marriage (point 23); but could be accused of doing with the issue of women bishops and the famous amendment (clause 5.1.c).
  • the compromise was fair, and therefore accepted by all. There was no need for interaction without reference to and acceptance of the Rule.
  • once the problem was “solved”, it was out of sight, and even when the circumstances that led to the creation of the Rule had changed and the culprits were long gone, the Rule stood without being reviewed.

Leaders: how do you approach conflictual situations? How do you get out of the “problem-solving” mindset?

Lesson from The Shawshank Redemption

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The Shawshank Redemption is one of the greatest films made.


Image: Donald Tetto, reused under CC license

What makes it special is that we’re not looking at the story of Dufresne. That story, itself, is incidental – what matters is the way the lives of those around him are affected, culminating with Red’s change of attitude towards the parole board.

Here’s what Dufresne is:

1. Relentless and determined, even when everything goes against him
2. Caring and selfless 
3. Constant – no matter what hardships come his way, he’s not getting angry or changing identities.

That’s what allows him to effect such a profound change in those he meets. And it’s those changes that are important.

The question is:

Whose life are you changing? And how?

You can trespass on my turf

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Image credit: Alex J White, reused under CC license

There is no such thing as a decision by committee. As the workload grows, however, there will be more than one person involved in running your organisation. Job descriptions will be drafted, and “territories” created. As they grow, people sometimes restrict themselves to their territories, for fear of not doing what they ought; or for fear of hurting the feelings of others; or simply, out of plain laziness.

If you are working in a team,

  • firstly, do the task you were assigned. If nobody does, then some jobs just won’t get done!
  • take initiative.
  • if you feel it is someone else’s role, let them know about your initiative. If it is something that can’t be cancelled, give them some time to veto it.
  • if it is an unassigned job, get started. Try and involve as many people from your team in this, but do not wait too long because you can’t arrange a meeting.
  • be humble. Just because you can go over someone else’s territory, it doesn’t give you authority over it. You can lead people there, but will always have to submit to the person who was in charge of it.
  • be loving. Do overstep your boundaries to lighten your friends’ loads. Let that be your motivation – not a desire to take their place permanently. Do not try to outshine them.
  • be welcoming. Allow others to come onto your turf too. Invite them, even, when you feel you need to.

Are you comfortable going over other people’s turfs?

What do you do to make sure the people you lead feel comfortable stepping on other people’s turfs?


A culture of consequences

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Many times, I’ve heard people in a position of authority incentivise obedience by explaining what would happen if rules weren’t followed.
Many times, I’ve seen adverts against fraud (either on trains, or tax fraud) focus on the risks that are taken.
A few times, I’ve talked to deliberate fare dodgers who told me that, given the frequency of inspections, they were better off paying the fine when they got caught than if they always paid their fare.

Deal with the consequences?

Image credit: psgreen01 reused under CC license

Living with the consequences of our actions is something we are all taught from a very young age.
Recompenses are built into a societal model where one gets what they deserve, and where that’s what’s right.
The Bible does not speak of right, or of entitlements. It only speaks of duties and of facts.
Receiving the love of God is not conditional on following a set of rules.

No, we did not deserve grace; nor do we deserve salvation, but by keeping on pointing this out, we are perpetuating a culture of deserving rather than one that puts love and duties first without thinking of the recompense.

We need to decouple rights and duties, in order to move away from a model where duties are only filled in order to guarantee those rights.
We need to make sure love comes first.

How do you deal with wrongdoings?
How can we teach what’s right without associating it with the consequences of disobedience? Should we?

Can we still marvel at grace in the same way if we lose sight of our own undeserving nature?