Walton Communities Presentation
Ken Boa delivered the above presentation on January 25, 2019, at the invitation of Walton Communities. He tied principles of a Christian worldview to the values that have driven Walton Communities for years, expounding on their importance and meaning. The teaching in the presentation has great relevance to any corporate culture and business environment as well as individual lives of believers.
Dr. Ken Boa speaking on January 25, 2019, for Walton Communities (Marietta, GA).
On Asking “Why?”
I’m from New Jersey, and I think I’ve lost most of my accent, but that said, I don’t miss the winters there one bit. But I used to go to the city a great deal when I was attending New York University there, and I’d have to take a subway to get from one place to another. How many of you have been on the New York City subways, just out of curiosity? A pretty fair number of you? Some of those trains have been in service since about 1914, I’m pretty sure, because they look like it. And they don’t just go forward and backwards, do they? They go side to side, and they make horrible sounds and smells.
There was a fellow who was struggling with this because he suffered from motion sickness, and to make matters worse, he was having indigestion over a pretty heavy lunch. So this was really the worst possible time—5:00 P.M. And he finds himself in this human fluid—all these people going down to the bowels of the Earth there. He’s the last person who gets packed in like a sardine into the train before the door closes right in front of him. And the train moves on, and it goes from side to side, and you see the sights, the colors, and hear all this noise. He’s now really beginning to feel his lunch, and he’s really beginning to feel pretty ill. And the scraping and the screeching … The door comes up to the next station, and it opens up, and there’s a wall of people. Nobody can get on. Nobody can get off. After a while, the door closes, and the train moves on. It goes from side to side. He hears the sounds. He sees the lights, smells the smells, and the train pulls up to the next station. The door opens up. Another wall of people. Up comes his lunch, right on the person in front of him. The door closes, and the train moves on, leaving the fellow on the train to ask one of life’s most fundamental questions: “Why me?”
Do you ever ask that question? “Why me?” It’s the “why of grumbling.” There are four different kinds of whys. We have a perspective. And if we’re defined by our complaints, by why things aren’t going so well, we might as well ask, “Why not me?” But the issue here is that the “why of grumbling” is never helpful, is it? At the end of the day, you’re just complaining.
But there’s a more profound why. It’s not the “why of grumbling” but the “why of grief.” There are times when people go through adversity and struggles and the “why of grief” becomes very appropriate. They’re complaining to God, and they’re saying “why,” like the psalmists do, as they lament. But then often what they’ll do is reflect on the past and then the future, and that can be a constructive way of seeing their situation.
There’s a third why, not just the “why of grumbling” and the “why of grief,” but the “why of guidance.” I think this is more helpful. The “why of guidance” moves from, “Why is this happening?” to “What can I learn from it? How can I leverage this adversity for gain?” Because I have discovered over the years that people do not develop much by way of character except through the crucible of adversity.
Character & Integrity
Consider this thought experiment. Who are the people who, in your mind’s eye, you imagine as being the most heroic men and women you can think of? Now ask yourself about those heroic men and women. What qualities do they possess? What makes them so admirable? Give me some suggestions of what would come to your mind of a person that’s heroic. It can be any era, any time. There are uniform qualities that seem to be admired about character. What would be one of those?
[Member of the Audience] Abraham Lincoln.
[Ken Boa] Okay. A great man, but what character do you admire about Lincoln? Why would he be on a list of heroes? What one quality might come to your mind?
[Member of the Audience] His strength not to react.
[Ken Boa] So there was a self-control. There was a patience, and he would not simply give in to his emotions, and that was [an admirable] quality. It was a kind of a patience that you saw. What else would you see?
[Member of the Audience] Self-sacrificing.
[Ken Boa] Self-sacrifice? Was that the one? What other qualities do we admire in such people?
[Member of the Audience] Courage.
[Ken Boa] Courage is always going to be on the list. Courage. How about patience? How about humility? How about integrity?
We all have ethical standards. It’s an interesting thing with integrity. This is worth taking a look at, because when I think about integrity, I think about the difference between our defined standards of behavior and our lived standards. So your ethics—that’s your defined standard of behavior. This is how you believe things are right and wrong or true and false. Your morality— that’s your lived standard. So one is your defined standard. Ethics tells you what you think should be right and wrong. Your morality actually has to do with how you live. You see the concept there?
Integrity has to do with a degree of overlap between the two so that what you claim to do and what you actually do begins to overlap. And in fact, one way of seeing it in this manner is to see the degree to which they overlap. That overlapping area ought to continue to become more and more so that my ethics and my morality begin to become more uniform. You’ll never perfectly arrive, but integrity is the degree to which there’s an overlap.
Oddly enough, there is, in fact, a perverse form of integrity that some people can have where they have very low ethical standards of morality and their lived standards are pretty consistent with that. So the Godfather, Don Vito Corleone, has a great deal of integrity, technically speaking, because he is pretty consistent with what he claims— an interesting thought. And he may have more integrity than many pastors of churches. It’s a strange thought indeed.
But the reality is that what you are when no one’s looking is your real character. Who are you when people aren’t looking? Now let me submit to you these qualities we’ve just looked at. Patience. Courage. Perseverance. Integrity. Humility. Things of this sort. Ask yourself this question: “Are those ever forged in times of ease?” Do you forge character and courage in times of ease? Just ask the question so as to answer it. These are forged in the crucible of adversity, and if we are wise, we won’t waste our pain. Instead, we’ll learn from it, gain perspective, and actually begin to realize that when we go through this process.
And so the “why of grumbling” is certainly not helpful at all, as we said before. Grumbling is one thing, and “Why me?” will never be profitable. But the second why, as I said, was the “why of grief,” where you’re not arguing with God or complaining about things, but rather, you’re just expressing your pain, and that has its place. But the “why of guidance,” as I said, is a very powerful thing. “What can I learn from it?” Not, “Why is it happening?” but, “What can I learn from this adversity, so I don’t waste my pain, but [instead] become a better person as a consequence of that, that there’s a redemptive quality?”
My view as a follower of Jesus is that God always redeems what He allows. He always redeems what He allows, and nothing is wasted. I believe that the Divine Architect of the cosmos never builds a stairway that leads nowhere. But I have to suspend judgment. I’m not sure where it’s going to go.
Let me give you a fourth why. This is the least frequently asked, but I think it’s the most profitable. Gratitude, the “why of gratitude.” How often do we ask, “Why have I been given so much?” “Why was I born where I was born, given what I was given, [why do I] have these abilities?” Rarely do we ask this, but it’s a good thing to do. We need to cultivate a mindset of gratitude and realize that really, it’s gift and grace.
Corporate Culture & Values
So these are fundamental principles that mean so much to me, and there are others of this sort. But what I was struck with is what we’re seeing right here. Now you’ve been at it for 30 years as a collective. What I wanted to do was to review your corporate values and to walk through them maybe from a different point of view, modeling the Golden Rule, for example, zooming into this, and just a quick talk about some of these qualities.
I’m reminded, when I think of this corporate culture that you’ve developed and that you’re developing, that you want to have a culture in which each person has a role to play and treasures the value of each player in such a way that they are esteemed not just because of their position but because of their character, because of their value as a person. This reminds me of a little thing I carry with me, and it’s a little thing from the Capella Hotel Group. My friend, Horst Schulze, was the person who was involved in creating the culture of Ritz-Carlton, before it was later sold. And remember, he’s the fellow who came up with this idea of ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. He’s recently come out with a book [about this].1 I love this little piece because in this … little thing [holds up a pamphlet], he has 24 corporate principles. And every day around the world his new hotel company, called the Capella [Hotel] Group, reviews one corporate principle. It’s a very interesting idea. How can we develop a corporate culture?
You’ve done the same thing, and it’s good for us to go back to the basics and to see it through other eyes and another lens. So let’s just do that in a few minutes together.
Modeling the Golden Rule
We talk about the Golden Rule and your application of that principle: Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself. And the Silver Rule is, “Don’t do to others what you don’t want [done to you],” but the Golden Rule is more positive. It’s, “Do to others what you would want them to do for you.” And so you have this concept of, again, the idea of being other-centered. It’s part of your corporate culture.
You want to create a culture where you mutually enhance one another, where you thrive together. Strive but also thrive, encouraging one another, stimulating other people to higher standards than we might otherwise have embraced on our own. This idea of consistently showing self-control and kindness and professionalism, humility and fairness. These are values. These are character qualities that are absolutely essential, because when I think of these kinds of qualities, what I really most admire within these qualities is that there are people where we realize it’s not really what’s visible but it’s what’s below the waterline.
So when you’re thinking about a tree, it’s not just the tree going up like this and having the branches and so forth, but it’s what’s underneath the tree. It’s not visible, just as the foundation of a building is the most important element, but it’s not visible. Your character is your most important element. Yet, at the same time, it’s not overt. It’s not obvious. It’s not entirely clear. This is why I say we want to live out of the heart, and I love this idea. [In] the deepest wellsprings … there’s integrity; there’s an overlap where, even when people aren’t looking, you’re the same person.
And you see that there’s a reciprocal relationship between the heart and the head—because you see one reinforces another—and also between the head and the hands. The hands, for example, would be your actions. Your head would be your attitudes. Have you noticed that attitudes affect your actions? But similarly, actions shape your attitudes. There’s a reciprocal relationship. Belief affects behavior, but behavior affects belief. I’m a very big believer in integrating being, knowing, and doing. That is to say, what you are at the core of your being is the most essential thing. This is what we need to embrace, and I’m teaching people [that] as well. I seek to encourage people, “How do I become a person who loves well, who learns well, and who lives well?” It’s the same idea.
It’s the inside-out dynamic which produces that quality of character and integrity so that the more you are the person inside that you’re intended to be, the more you become a person who gives to other people. It becomes something that flows out. It becomes natural … like an artesian well that springs up, as it were, to a quality of life that’s remarkable. If I think about this, I’m thinking about, for example, this experience that I had when I went down to Oak Alley, which is between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, to a plantation there. And I’m struck by these oaks, these live oak trees that have been there for a long time. [Referring to tree image on the screen.]
Look at the quality. This has seven trees in one. I go to New Orleans every year, and when I was there in 2004, it was about a month after Hurricane Katrina. Words can’t describe the devastation that I observed, but what was astonishing was when I went to City Park and I saw these kinds of trees, hundreds of years old. In this instance, these were planted in 1837, 14 on one side, 14 on the other. That’s called planning, and they were small, but now they’re impressive.
But when I look at these marvels of structure and design, I look at the root systems that keep them stable because in spite of all that devastation in New Orleans, these live oak trees in City Park were doing just fine. They had done this before. Why? Because the root system, as you can see here, is so rich and well established. They are so embedded in the soil that they will withstand the tumult and turmoil of life, and they can overcome it.
Here is [referring to image on screen of a tree fallen in front of a house], by contrast, my friend Frank Bartholomew’s white oak tree that fell over last year.
Now, you’ll notice the root system is not impressive. But the tree looked pretty good, so if you just saw [that] part of the tree, you’d say, “What’s wrong?”
This is the issue of integrity. The most important part of you is what is not obvious to other people. So you see this concept then of living out of the center and having a vitality in that respect.
Going back to our understanding of this little chart then, we have this quality of inner depth, maturity, and, indeed, other-centeredness. Because the more you become a person of integrity, humility, character, patience, perseverance, gratitude, etc., the more you’re able to really bring something to the table that wasn’t there before. That, to me, is a very critical understanding of what life is about.
So we just talked about integrity, being consistent and living a life of integrity … inside and outside the workplace [even when no one is looking]. And by the way, I’m a very big believer that you must never see your work as just a sidebar. It’s really the center. It’s like your pulpit. It’s like an arena of influence that you have been sovereignly given so that you can be an agent of flourishing in this world. You can be a flourishing and fruitful presence and be an agent who then, as a consequence of your own life quality and development of character, becomes a person whose honesty, whose trustworthiness, whose reliability, becomes such that you have a reputation.
Have you observed how easy it is to destroy a reputation and how hard it is to build one? So there’s a long obedience for you, a long direction, that we have to do that protects your reputation, so that even when things don’t look good, there is a quality where we know I’m going to believe in you in spite of that. It doesn’t look good, but it really turns out. Have you noticed that adversity reveals your true friends? And so it turns out that when things weren’t looking good, I said, “No, this isn’t true. This is why.” And then when you’re vindicated, guess what? They’ll say, “I always believed you.” No, you know who didn’t believe you and who did, and that really tests a relationship.
But you see, if you are a person who pursues these ideas, “Is this the right and honorable thing to do?” you will not go far astray. And we need other people to encourage us to walk in that kind of a manner, to be people who live with courage and care, and people who actually enhance the environment rather than diminish it.2
Being a Positive Influence
It’s interesting that, for many people, there is an idea of a purpose. And we’re going to be talking about that in just a moment, but we have a purpose statement for our business and rarely do we have purpose statements for our lives. And you’d do well to think that through because we need that process. You don’t want to just go unthinkingly through life. So we reflect on, “How can I be an agent of grace, of change, of a positive flavor, as it were, a fragrance that encourages other people,” looking, indeed, for the whole area of what’s good and right and what’s honorable.
There’s a text in Philippians where Paul discusses this very idea, when he says in Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing but in everything …” Note the contrast couldn’t be greater. Be anxious for a few things? No, “for nothing”; [and he goes on], “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus.” Interesting image, isn’t it? If I had a machine where it was anxiety out and peace in, I’d be a billionaire. There is such a device. It’s called prayer. It’s called offering it up and letting that go and not being anxious and not holding onto those burdens but releasing those, and instead being thankful. So in everything, by prayer, supplication, with thanksgiving, even in the hard times—that’s what I call the hard thanksgiving: to be grateful not because of the situation itself but for what it’s going to bring about. So we anticipate that.
My view, by the way, is these values are built upon a worldview that tells us we are not an accidental byproduct of some collocation of impersonal forces like time and chance, but rather, there’s much more than that. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, and you are a bearer of the imago dei, of the image of God, so you are a relational being, a spiritual being, a moral being, an aesthetic being, a creative being, a nurturing being, a person who has the capacity to bring into being something that did not exist before. And so you are called to this mindset then of dwelling on those things which are true and right and good and proper.
And this is where he goes on to say, “The things that are pure and honorable and right and of good repute, of excellence, anything worthy of praise …” (Philippians 4:8). What does he say to us to do in the next verse? “Dwell on those things.” Chew on them. “[This verse], by the way, is precisely the opposite of the news. If you want to take Philippians 4:8 and turn it on its head, then you have a pretty good idea of what the news will be about. The old phrase, “If it bleeds, it leads. If it’s good news, it’s no news.” It’s the idea of realizing, “I get to choose where my mind dwells.” You have the power to choose how your thought life will be, and many people tolerate a sloppy thought life. But you’re going to be a product of what you really expose yourself to, what you think about.
What do you read? What do you focus on? I tell people, “Your blood pressure will lower consistently if you stop watching television news.” That said, the reality is that it’s a narrative. I’m not saying to be abysmally ignorant, but otherwise you’re just going to become completely frustrated. Where do you dwell? If you begin your day with the news and end with the news, there is little wonder, then, in the course of your night that you’re trying to escape from these creatures that are catching up to you. You’re always trying to escape from some horror. Your first and last moments of the day are the most critical moments. If I can begin this day with an affirmation of love and gratitude and end this day in the same, I’m bookending it well.
So we must look for the goodness in life, while also engaging and connecting with others. We are relational beings. What is the most fundamental thing … what is the Great Commandment in the law? Jesus summarized it. Remember, He was asked, “Teacher, what is the great commandment?” And there was a controversy on that issue, but Jesus gave them two answers. “Ye shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and that’s an inside-out process, “and the second is like unto it. You shall love … your neighbor as yourself.” Now, that’s an interesting concept because, you see, if I have self-loathing, I will not be able to love my neighbor.
So I like to put it in this way, then. What, for me, is critical? And I think a worldview behind these values, these shared ideas, and what animates, energizes, and provides a basis for it then, is this concept. So as I see it, then, there’s this whole idea, what I call loving God completely. And what I mean by that is [loving Him] with your heart, soul, mind, and strength— the whole being—which empowers us to love ourselves correctly. What do I mean by loving yourself correctly? You see, it says, “You shall love your neighbor …” how?
[Member of the Audience] As yourself.
[Ken Boa] What if you loathe yourself? Can you properly love your neighbor? So loving yourself correctly I define as choosing to allow the Truth to define you rather than the world around you. See? Because otherwise, the world has a way of saying, “What have you done for me lately?” But you discover that the Word of God says instead that it’s not what you do that determines who you are, but it’s who you are that should shape what you do. Then you have stability, security, and significance. And the more secure you are, the more you’re able to love others compassionately. So you’re capable. You’re secure enough to serve.
I believe that this is a process. I think this is the dynamic, the thought process, behind a worldview that asks the fundamental questions, “Where did we come from?”, “Why are we here?”, “Where are we going?”, “What’s the purpose in life?” And everybody has a worldview. Although very many people cannot well articulate that view, everybody has one. It’s wise for us to think through, “What are the implications of what I claim, and does my life fit with them?” So I’m suggesting a narrative that underlies and indeed empowers these affirmations, redirecting the negative to create a positive. So these, to me, are helpful concepts for being a positive influence.
I think of serving with passion as well, and so once again, what empowers me to be other-centered? If it’s just a dog-eats-dog mindset, it’s another matter entirely. In fact, this reminds me of a thing. This [referring to the screen] is a skunk. You need to understand. It’s not a dog. It’s a skunk, and here’s a dog that’s doing something. What’s he doing? He’s waiting. Why? He’s got patience and wisdom. Two of the greatest qualities of life are patience and wisdom. It’s as if the dog is thinking, “Let the skunk have what he wants, and then I’ll be wise enough to not disturb him, and I’ll enjoy that treat later on.”
There are certain things, philosophies, that underlie our thought process, and it’s good for us to think that through so we can live in a way that’s consistent. So if I am called to be a servant of other people, I can find that to be a powerful agency. We’re not going to just come up with this on our own but, rather, this is more than survival. This is thriving. You’re trying to create a corporate culture where everyone benefits each other so that the total is greater than the sum of the parts. You’re trying to create a mutuality where your work becomes an arena for agency, for effective communication, connection, and relationships with people. I agree with C. S. Lewis, who said, “You never met a mere mortal.” People we laugh with, play with, “marry, snub, and exploit” are not mortal, but they’re going to continue on.3 And so the value of one person is intense, and with the people that we touch and affect, there can be, I believe, eternal consequences for what we do in our brief, earthbound sojourn. A perspective.
We want to embody commitment toward the residents and toward team members participating in programs and events, and where your passion is, your heart is. And so this is an idea. Passion. Why do I get up out of bed in the morning? What makes me do what I do? We’d do well to live a thoughtful life, an examined life. We’ve all heard the Socratic idea, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And so my belief is that we want to live consistently with a vision of what it is to have a flourishing life.
So these are the first four, and again, it’s familiar territory. But you have something going here that I think is worth reviewing together collectively, reviewing together, asking ourselves, “How can we become more conformed to this direction?” Because you don’t want to accept mediocrity, but you want to strive toward excellence. And my view is that God has equipped you and called you to do something with excellence, something that you can do. And we’ve all be given gifts and capacities, an arena of influence, as well as certain understandings, an education, a personality, a sphere of influence such that we can leverage that for gain by enhancing the lives of others. There’s a reciprocity that goes on.
I believe in this [idea], and I began with this idea, the “why of gratitude.” It relates to generosity— so being not only grateful, but also being a person who is generous. So again, selfless. What’s the key to selflessness—to being other-centered? I believe we have the capacity to love because we were loved. And if we embrace that love, although there are many people who need to be re-parented by the One who made us because they’ve never heard that. They grew up with conditional, performance-based love and acceptance. I believe that every one of us needs to hear the affirming words, what I call the blessing— that blessing that empowers us to be a blessing to others.
I relate to three components. Every child needs to have eye contact, physical contact, and this blessing. And I’ve been telling this to some people, and now they do it on their children’s birthdays. Suppose your child’s name is Michael. On his birthday, you look him square in the eye, look him full in the face, in the eyes. You hold him, and you tell him, “Michael, you are my beloved child, and I’m pleased with you.” Notice I didn’t say proud. Pride has to do with achievements. Pleasure—“I’m pleased with you”—has to do with being. He has nothing to prove and no one to impress. That is the blessing that few, few people receive. I believe, though, that the earthbound father is supposed to be a picture of our true heavenly Father, but sometimes we need to be re-parented because people can believe these lies that, “I’ll never amount to anything,” and those narratives stick, and they live out false scripts as a consequence.
Having a bigger, larger vision, then, we become agents who are able to actually take that vision, incarnate it, and then become an agent of grace, an agent of other-centeredness, an agent of service so there’s a reciprocal relationship. And when one’s down, another lifts him up and it goes both ways. And that’s why friendships are so critical to this process. So going out of your way to do more for others, you will never regret those kinds of actions of giving with gratitude, without expectations. No longer do you need to be bound by people’s expectations and opinions, but, rather, now, if you are playing to an invisible audience of One, then you have integrity when you play to a visible audience of people.
Again, my view is that these are the concepts underlying this corporate culture that makes you different. There’s a vision, a blessing of giving, which is the reward itself. And then there is the idea of replacing yourself with a better you. So here again, we have a concept of making your work, your agency, your ministry, your effect, your platform, etc., become your sphere of influence, where you are an agent of grace and of goodness, of love and truth and beauty and goodness. And as we manifest those values together, we stimulate and encourage one another to love and to good deeds. Being open and accepting others’ input is a hard thing. Have you ever had this moment when you realize you’re about to be rebuked? I hate that. Somebody’s going to meet with me, and I’ve just suddenly realized what this is going to be. I hate the feeling because I know what’s coming, and my temptation is going to be to lash out.
But what about you? You see, instead, wisdom invites me to humble myself and receive. And even if they’re not entirely right, there’s going to be a kernel of truth in there, and I do well and walk in wisdom when I hear that truth. One of the proverbs, which is so rich, says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6). Sometimes your enemy can manipulate you and speak well of you, but you need to be careful. It’ll be the one who truly loves you who may take the risk of honesty, openness, and transparency, who loves you enough to give you the faithful wound of a friend, who tells you the truth even at risk of hurting the relationship because they care for you that much.
And so I’ve had people like that in my life, and I have to restrain myself and listen to the kernel of truth and being willing to hear that, so that I can be an agent who does the same in the lives of other people as well. So there is this concept of recognizing that I have been given this, and the more I develop skills, the more I have to give away. And so we have a mutuality of sharing knowledge, pouring into others, and making opportunities. Again, this is an other-centered matter. The stuff of heaven is other-centeredness. The stuff of hell is self-centeredness.
I think C.S. Lewis was right when he said, “The gates of hell are locked on the inside.”4 There are two kinds of people, those who seek to know God and those who seek to avoid Him, and both will succeed in the end. Strange thought, but those who ask will be given. Those who seek will find. Those who knock, it’ll be opened. So you become in the end what your aspirations make you, your desires, your intention. What do you seek in life? What do you want? And asking yourself, “What’s the one thing most needful? What’s the pearl of great price? What’s the treasure hidden in the field? What is the best part?” And to ask this question, “What is it that I want?” because, “The worth and excellency of a soul,” as Henry Scougal wrote in 1633, “is to be measured by the object of its love.” So if you love well, your soul expands. But you can, instead, be focused down into the black hole of the self.
I was an astronomy major at Case Institute of Technology [now known as Case Western Reserve], and I found that a black hole is probably the best analogy I can think of for a world in which a person gets so wrapped up by the gravity of themselves that there’s not even enough capacity for light to escape the event horizon because the gravity is so constantly pulling in, pulling in. It’s centripetal—it’s pulling in, rather than centrifugal, which gives out. And our call is to be people who give it away because, in this case, love and joy and peace are not limited commodities, but they actually grow with the giving. The more you give it away, the more you actually have. At the end of the day, you become the sum total of what you’ve invested in the lives of other people.
Why succumb to the temptation for mediocrity? You see? Instead, you’re striving for something. You have a vision. You form a plan, as you ask yourself, “How can I create this situation and give it a flourishing context?” And then when two people are trying to do that, the total, again, is reciprocal, greater than the sum of the parts. We remain curious by asking for and being open to feedback, and we’d do well to get insights and new points of view.
I was just speaking on marriage this morning. I have a Friday morning men’s study at First Redeemer Church up in Cumming [Georgia], and we’re doing a series, right now, on relationships and one on marriage. And I realized I’ve been at this a long time. In fact, I’ve discovered that the first 30 years are the toughest and then it gets better. I’m kidding.
I’m an old guy. I’ve been married now for 51 years … and this is the best year yet. Yeah. I was three, and she was two when we got married, so we like to deceive ourselves. You look back. Where did it all go? But one of the many things I’ve realized is I’m married to a mystery. You’re never going to understand the mystery that you’re married to. But the fact is, you come to treasure the person. And when you go through those things and you see value, the truth, I’ve discovered, is almost always somewhere in between the two of us, [and] that the total is greater than the sum of the parts. There is a complementary, rather than a contradictory, dynamic where she has a different point of view than I have, but if we merge them together and are open to listening, we both prosper and flourish. I think that’s the way we want our relationships to be. And that’s where you need feedback from other people in that life journey.
Does anyone ever bring a rental car to a car wash? You get the picture. But when you own it, when you have skin in the game, when you have partnership, you have a sense then, “This is me. This is mine, and I want it to be right.” And then again, what happens? You don’t just benefit. Everybody benefits because there’s a total greater than the sum of the parts. So don’t settle for mediocrity. The good is the enemy of the best. There are only a few best things. There are many good things. If you’re not careful, the good things can be the enemy of the best if you’re doing those but not focusing on the best things. There’s only so much time, so much opportunity that you have in this world, and we’d do well to reflect upon that.
Finally, good stewardship. And my own view of stewardship, by the way, it’s not just the usual time, talent, and treasure, which we often hear about, but I believe truth is a stewardship, and also relationships are a stewardship. And to whom much has been given, much will be required (Luke 12:48). So you have a reputation that you’re a steward of. Here are people that you’re stewarding. And so you’re building this legacy, protecting your assets and your culture because we all benefit from that, and using your time and honoring other people’s time and being resourceful.
So here now you become an agent of change. You have a sense of passion, a sense of purpose, a sense of what’s called telos. It’s a Greek word meaning that you have an end, a direction. You live with the end in view. So rather than just being people who just move through life, we want to be people who live with the end in view, who see that direction and allow that to influence—in fact, to recalibrate—our direction. And this becomes very critical for me.
I’m thinking about something, a place that I was speaking in. It was this church here [referring to an image on the screen]. This is up in Wethersfield, Connecticut. This is an old church. It’s the First Church of Christ, and I was preaching in this pulpit one time. And I I noticed they have two objects here that I’ll bet those people think are decorations—a candlestick and an hourglass. I know that those represent memento mori, a Latin phrase meaning “remember you’re going to die.” Those are not just objects. So I said, “The next time I have a chance to preach there, I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to do Psalm 90, which is Moses’s reflection on the eternality of God and the brevity of the earthbound human condition on this planet.” And then the pinnacle comes in Psalm 90:12: “Therefore, teach us to number our days that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.” Live with the end in view. Have two days on your calendar, this day [and that day], and live [this day] in light of that day, when one then has the ultimate encounter. So I said, “Next time, I do it.”
So I prepared, and I made sure that you could light this thing [the candle]. I had some matches all prepared beforehand, and then I made sure that the hourglass wasn’t just glued to the table. Having prepared my props, you see, I then went up … you see the stairs here? You’re way up there in the top, and you’ve got this sacred canopy, but you don’t want that thing to fall on you. You’d be literally snuffed out. Here’s [referring to image on screen] another image of that pulpit.
And here’s what I did. I walked up the steps and looked down. It gives you a sense of power, looking down … but I walked up the steps, and I then pulled out a match and I lit the candle on my right. And then I reached to the left and I turned the hourglass over. And then I started my message and didn’t say why I did it. There were little noises from the audience wondering what’s going on. But then when I hit that verse [Psalm 90:12], I told them why I did it.
This [referring to an image on the screen] is from their own graveyard. They call it the ancient burying ground, and here’s a fellow who died in 1744. Interesting oddities, some of these images that you see here [refers to more images on the screen]. This one’s kind of brutal. I don’t know what they were thinking putting that kind of thing in there, but that’s what they did in these times. Here lie the bones of Deacon Jonathan Belding, who died in 1734 [see image for exact wording]. So this graveyard goes way back, and it’s right outside the window of this church, which was interesting to behold then, just to see what that looked like.
And so I showed them some other graves and so forth, and then I showed them this painting, and this painting is intriguing. It’s by Hans Holbein, and it’s of The Ambassadors. It speaks about these two men at the prime of their life, having just achieved some greatness, and it’s rich in symbolism of their knowledge and attainments and achievements. But what’s this odd object that’s below? What is this thing that we see here at the bottom of the painting? This is in the National Gallery of Art in London. If you go up the stairs, if you see the painting at a certain angle, this is an anamorphic painting because it turns out that’s what it is [referring to the image of a skull on the screen]. And you [addressing audience] went, “Ooh, why would you have that? That’s brutal and depressing.” Why is it [the skull] there? “Teach us to number our days” (Psalm 90:12) and remember that all triumphs are fleeting. Live in light of eternity.
And that, to me, was critical. So when I was done with my sermon, after discussing all these matters, I then reached over and I blew out the candle and I took the hourglass and put it on its side. Time out. I don’t think they’ll ever forget why those two objects are there now in the future. They’re not decorations. We’d do well to live with the end in view, with wisdom, perspective, and to let the destination shape and define the journey and recalibrate from time to time. What is it that I really seek, and how can I recalibrate my journey so that I move in that direction?
Often, we need to review our past, consider the future, and then recalibrate in our present. And to do that, we want to be men and women of care, character, integrity, hope, purpose, faith, and love. And so that’s what I desire for us all, for us to be people of integrity, of character, who build into one another and serve each other with eternal values at heart. Thank you.
- The book, coauthored with Dean Merrill, is Excellence Wins: A No-Nonsense Guide to Becoming the Best in a World of Compromise (Zondervan, 2019).
- Here a discussion ensues with the audience about the origins of their corporate values. This part is omitted from the transcript.
- From Lewis’s essay The Weight of Glory.
- From Lewis’s book The Problem of Pain.
Walton Communities Presentation
Originally written in 2002. My father always hoped that one day, his “ship would come in.” Although he was a bus driver, he spent a lot of time and effort on the side, going from one venture to another in quest of the elusive cash cow. He never nabbed one, but I was able to […]