Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Danger of Talent

Prevalent among churches and ministries is the insatiable desire to attract and retain talent. Talented singers, musicians, and worship leaders are highly regarded for their ability to raise the atmosphere of praise, with skill, and natural ability. Seldom raised is the caution flag against the dependence on talent. After all, it is counter-intuitive to view talent as a hindrance. In reality, talent is more often a distraction in the house of God than its absence.

Should musicians be gifted, talented players? Absolutely, but the greatest gift is the ability to skillfully bring your talent into submission.

There are times when the easiest note to play or sing is the note birthed out of our natural gifting or cultivated skill. These notes, whether simple or complex, often ring the loud bell of individualism, and consequently make the path of seeing Jesus and He alone, unclear. Ironically, less talented musicians sing and play out of their lack, which many times is in closer proximity to the tangible anointing of God. Worship leaders, singers, and musicians must always keep one thing in mind; the anointing will not compete with you, and will only show up when you are not there. More clearly stated, our absence is filled with the Holy Spirit, not our presence.

Less is not only more, it is required. For the singer who can riff fifteen notes in 2 seconds, or the player with a lexicon of licks, try minimalism and honor the melody. You may be surprised at the depth hidden inside such simplicity.

No matter how experienced we are, reducing ourselves is always an uncomfortable act. Much like prayer and fasting, there is discipline involved. Remember, Lucifer was and still is the Chief Musician. Think on that for a moment. Heaven has never replaced him, his former position remains vacant. He is now on earth with the same spirit of self, and the same talents he possessed before his fall. This is vital to keep in mind, because his primary gifting was, and still is music. It follows that he would have an edge in using this particular domain against God. I maintain that more than drugs or sexual promiscuity, music will cause more to miss heaven than anything else.

The enemy no longer has to draw attention away from God, he simply encourages us to. He doesn’t sit at the keys, or pick up a guitar at church, he has surrogates. Over the last two decades I’ve worked with some of the greatest musicians in the world. Their play can cause absolute amazement. I have witnessed phenomenal talent on every instrument, the kind of ability that causes the listener to question his own ears. Yet, the greatest soul-winning, life-changing sounds I have ever witnessed where through musicians and worshipers who trained their talent to follow the anointing, instead of leading it. They removed themselves.

Isn’t that the point? For us to point to Christ? For Him to be lifted up so that all men may see Him and He alone? It is the greatest of challenges to accomplish this. On one hand, we must practice, and be responsible with what the Lord has given us. We can never take for granted our gifting to the point of operating in a sloppy, unrehearsed manor, but ultimately we must cultivate our hearts more than our fingers, and the ears of our spirit more than our creative ears.

In this way, we will hear the quiet voice of the Lord softly requesting to have a note on our keyboard, and a verse in our song. When we allow Him to sing, no more singing is needed. It’s really that simple.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Excerpt from forthcoming book "10 Silver Dollars"

It was 2 a.m. and unusual I wasn't asleep by now. Maybe it was celebratory debris still in the air from a day of birthday events. To finally be 10 years old was monumental; things would probably change now, at least I thought they should. More responsibility, fewer rules, and yes more allowance. The type of allowance that would upgrade my hobby set to one more representative of a kid on the move.

I thought I’d begin the first day of my second decade by separating my tithe from my other money so I wouldn’t spend it. I looked all around the hotel room for a safe place to keep the 10 silver dollars my aunt sent for my birthday. We’d be home tomorrow so I just needed a place for the night away from my brother and sister’s view. I found the golden location. Behind the water faucets at the bottom rear of the toilet, no one can see it...I perfectly stacked my ten silver dollars there.

The dollars were hidden so well I thought I would forget them, maybe that’s why I was still up staring into the darkness. Surely I wouldn’t leave in the morning and forget to crawl down there and retrieve them. Seemingly just when my thoughts were finally turning towards sleep a figure moved in the room. At first I wasn’t sure whether it was my brother or sister getting up for a restroom trip, but something deep inside told me not to make a sound.

In an effort not to make a noise I kept my head still and starting watching only with the east to west movement of my eyes. I watched as the figure started to emerge out of the darkness of the unlit room. My eyes had been open for awhile and had taken hold of the moon rays. “Oh my God!” I uttered in my heart, “A man is in our hotel room.” He slowly moved from one piece of luggage to the next, then to my mothers’ purse removing her wallet, credit cards and identification. By this time fear had set in so firmly that I was unsure whether I could actually move if I wanted to. My body felt heavier than ever before as if I was in a straight jacket with an anchor on my chest.

The man, by this time I was sure it was a man, proceeded to rummage through my father’s pants leg pulling out the few dollars he had. It ran through my mind how this burglar must not know my dad is a minister. Does he understand you can’t steal from a pastor? Has no one told him this?

My fear partnered with frustration, and then anger as my ten-year-old mind attempted to process how my parents would feel once they found out we had been robbed. Lost on me was the tangible danger my family was actually in. I knew not if his plan was to kill all six of us, or harm us physically in any way.

I do know that as soon as he appeared he was gone and I would have credited my memory to a nightmare had it not been for the police sirens that stirred me awake the next morning. I got up repeatedly asking, “Dad what happened?” His only reply, "We’ve been robbed" he then turned back to the police officer and continued speaking.

As if flashcards where thrust in my face, I immediately recalled everything that happened the night before. With a shaking voice and sweaty hands I shouted with my eyes shut tight. “I saw the Man!” The policeman stopped writing. My father turned sharply with a look of disbelief and horror and slowly asked me, “You saw him? Yes, I replied…"I was up late because I couldn’t sleep and I saw this man walking in the room," I continued, “I didn’t want to wake anybody because I was scared to death. I wasn't sure what he would do.” I went on to explain how he went through my mothers' purse, took her wallet, identification and everything else she had and then left as quickly as he came…I heard my father murmur under his voice. “He took everything officer, he took all the money we had." I paused, pulled on my dad’s elbow and said, "Wait,
I hid my tithe.”

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hell is Hot and Gas is High

Two observations, only one of which is new. Gas is moving higher, Wall Street is moving lower, and jobs continue to move overseas. It seems as if the American public is caught in a terrible B movie. Unfortunately, neither congress, OPEC, nor anyone else in the energy complex is yelling “Cut!”

Now that we understand there is no concern for Joe Public or his ability to afford driving to work, many things will change. Many people are paying closer attention now more than ever before to what their senator, congressman, and even what the local county officials are doing. Gas, and its price, has had the unintended affect of causing Americans to wake up, sit up, and take names.

When a retired worker has to decide whether to buy gas, food, or medicine, she doesn’t forget the face on the evening news promising everything is just fine. For the sake of completeness, there are many who blame their current financial woes on gas, when in actuality, they were just as financially irresponsible when gas was $1.25. For the other half, who are hard working, skilled and educated, these prices will forever change the political landscape.

I, for one, do not believe in “punishing” the oil companies for making profit. There is, however, an authentic case to be made when the nature of your product is a necessity for a civil society to operate. Selling a $5000 Versace suit, acceptable. Selling a $5000 gallon of water, unacceptable.

The quality of deception that engulfs the average American concerning Wall Street is fascinating. This period of high energy prices has made one point with clarity; Wall Street is not your friend. The cold hard reality is that The Street is in the business of making money from your expense. You invest so they can trade. You buy so they can sell. You lock up your retirement funds in financial products so the managers can make pro forma projections to other investors. In other words, they garner copious now money on the basis of your future funds. That’s the game. Don’t hate, adjust.

Here’s the good news. Twenty years from now I predict the number of American billionaires will quadruple when compared to the previous twenty years. Why? Because the economy is squeezing the talented and the untalented alike. The result? Inventions will be made, products marketed, services conceived by many who are now unemployed, unfulfilled or both.

There are literally thousands of people who will, out of frustrated inspiration, create that new Apple or Google idea that can only be birthed out of economic pain. So in a sense, we should thank all forces involved with obscene gas prices. When all is said and done, this gas is fueling our future wealth.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Even the Buildings Sing

Great architecture is frozen music. A melody that stretches long into the sky returning each day for an encore. Architecture can fasten itself to the heart of the beholder. If great architecture is music, Tadao Ando is the master conductor. Born in Osaka, Japan on September 13, 1941, Ando was the first born of twin boys. He grew up spending his time making wooden models of ships and airplanes, skills he learned from a gracious carpenter that lived across the street from his family home. Ando has the “it” factor, that hard to define, intangible charisma.

Whether it is his physical similarity to The Beatles, (he looks amazingly like the 5th Beatle), or just the calm confidence he exudes. Whatever it is, he’s got “it.”

In his early twenties, Ando began to sense that architectural design was in his blood. Just to make sure, he tried his hand at several professions. He spent time as a truck driver and a boxer. His small stature and meek appearance may not have fit well within such physical occupations. Returning to his senses, Ando concentrated on architecture.

With little means, and no pedigree, he found himself without any practical tools to enter the industry. It was upon this realization that he made the decision that changed his life. Ando decided that if he couldn’t study in the great institutions, he would study the results of its students. His lack of education worked to twist fate in his favor. He knew intuitively that the work all around him was the result of architects, many of whom had been to the greatest learning centers. To study their work was to go to class.

First, he took a tour of Japan and studied the local temples, shrines, and tea houses. He then found his way to Europe, Africa and the United States. Ando learned about architecture by visiting great architecture, a rather simple philosophy. He credits great reading such as Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, and Alvar Aalto as having great impact on how he processed the works he physically visited.

Ironically, his skill has granted him invitation to teach in the same institutions he did not attend, including: Tokyo University, Yale, Harvard and Columbia. There is a greatness that can only be found in the work of an artist untouched by the institutionalized education process. Ando is the perfect example of this.

One of the most awe-inspiring pieces of work credited to Ando is The Church of The Light in Osaka, Japan. This house of worship is one of the most fascinating pieces work, religious or otherwise. Its genius is not in the grandeur of its size or intricacy of wall paintings, but the courage to allow nature to create is own surrounding without human intervention. The sanctuary sits such that the suns rays create an image of a cross that illuminates the entire room with its glow. Absolutely breathtaking.

Architectural awards granted to Ando are too numerous to number, the most notable are: French Academy of Architecture, Carlsberg Architectural Prize, Denmark, Japan Art Academy Prize, Pritzker Architecture Prize, Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France, Praemium Imperiale First “FRATE SOLE” Award in Architecture, Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France, Royal Gold Medal, Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), AIA Gold Medal, and the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

Notable projects that have met critical acclaim include: Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, Kobe, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Texas, Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester, UK, House in Shiga, Ōtsu, Shiga, Japan, Benesse House, Naoshima, Kagawa, Japan, and 21_21 Design Sight, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan.

Every once and awhile comes a designer who truly understands his proportion in the great scheme of nature, and consequently designs from a refreshing, uncluttered humility. Tadao Ando is such an architect. The New York Times architectural critic Paul Goldberger commenting on the work of Ando states, "Ando is right in the Japanese tradition: spareness has always been a part of Japanese architecture, at least since the 16th century; [and] it is not for nothing that Frank Lloyd Wright more freely admitted to the influences of Japanese architecture than of anything American.”

Tadao Ando is a true original, one who learns by sight and feel. When asked in a 2001 interview in Milan, Italy whether he reads architectural design magazines Ando responded, “I don’t read them, I just look at the pictures.”

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Emotions of Math - Part II

Stock options, while not stocks, cannot exist without their underlying parent. We are comfortable with this fact; the underlying has a direct influence on its derivative. Yet when it comes to statistics, math, etc…we treat these units of measurement as if they are not a derivative of the things, persons, or events they represent. This is a mistake. Math, in all its forms, is necessarily a derivative of the pre-existing events they seek to permanently quantify. Stats are the children of emotions, and can never be totally void of their direct ancestry.

Look at it this way-how many stock charts have you studied for IPO's coming to market in the near future? None, why? Because stats are results not causes, and can never cause results. Now there are tons of emotions in the halls of corporations preparing to go public. Founders have created product, marketed product or service, created strategic partnerships, sold product, reached critical mass in the private sector, and now prepare to go public where all owners will become very liquid, very quickly.

This truncated scenario is full of here comes the trader, the last one in line seeking to acquire a small mountain of money from looking at the result of a string of emotions that the company founders have had for years. Everything is emotionally driven, show me historical technical analysis on stocks that don't yet trade and then you'll be onto something.

The quicker one understands the role of emotions without becoming overly emotional about this fact, the better trade or investment decisions can be made.

Math existed before we discovered it. It then follows, there may be higher laws yet undiscovered that will trump or atleast dilute current math concepts.

Gravity did not come into existence when we agreed, it has always been. Simply put, truth welcomes believers, but doesn’t require any. This would suggest that 2+2 equals 4 not because the universe says so, but because those are the components of counting, man has created for our organized usage. Does 2 + 2 equal T7^ or Z1? Well, unless you know undiscovered languages, you wouldn't know. In other words, we define everything relative to our human frame.

If you view emotions as water, everyone has them. From water some get ice, some steam, some irrigation, some sanitation, some energy, etc…the question is then, are any of these derivatives “pure” or better said which of the water derivatives are absolutely, inherently void of water, or at minimum the influence of water? None.

How does this concept directly influence the trader or investor? Check back for the concluding Part III.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Emotions of Math - Part I

As trading becomes increasingly more statistical in nature one must acknowledge the birth of another question, what is the inherent nature of statistics? I am rapidly approaching an interesting conclusion…emotions.

The general belief that systematic, analytic models are less emotional than discretionary trading is fundamentally flawed. Statistics, in any discipline, are a 2nd mover, the 1st being the cumulative human actions that stats must, per se, be based upon. So then stats, probabilities, and the like, simply quantify the most ubiquitous element of human nature, emotions.

This suggests that equations, assessments, and even math itself is deeply rooted in emotions, for without such they cannot noticeably exist.

The math market, or stock market as many prefer to call it, is the finest example of mathematical emotions. Black boxes simply do a better job, at times, recognizing the patterns of past emotions without compounding trading decisions with the convolution of real-time emotions. The vacuum of code then is advantageous because it minimizes the indecision or delay one’s nervous system causes, even for the most robotic of traders.

An intentional embracing of emotions, for the trader, may result in more profitable trading than ignoring the same. The irony is while traders seek to be more “robotic” robots seek to become more human.

The stock market has no abstractions or haphazard components, only actions and re-actions that are perceived as such to the mechanically bent trader. Categorizing the discipline of one’s emotions as "trading psychology" does violence to market context. Traders wrongly buy into the assumption that stats, charts, spreadsheets, and the like, exist with a higher level of intellect, when in actuality they are simply a cleaner composite of dirty emotions.

Traders seeking net improvement in an increasingly systematic market have no choice but to re-evaluate the concept of emotions. What exactly are emotions? Can any strategy truly eliminate them? Elimination is a natural impossibility. Just as one cannot swim in a waterless ocean, one cannot trade a strategy not influenced by emotions. The deception that one can trade this way is ego-candy, and makes the trader feel superior. A quality that takes a lot of emotion to even notice.

For the student of language (connotation vs. denotation) the phrase "emotional mathematics" does not necessarily ring oxymoronic bells. Admittedly, it does take effort to move past the sudden intellectual shock the phrase causes.

In the end, all market participants enjoy a good ride on that pretty Ferris wheel called deception. It’s fun! Our computers are computing other computers; codes are written to recognize other codes, and consequently the support you noticed on your chart is now more a function of others noticing the same rather than actual support. We’ve convinced ourselves that the only way to win is to hire a programmer to program a static box of pure, unemotional market intelligence, not realizing there is no such thing.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Rem Koolhaas - Juvenile Genius

One can only imagine that as a child Rem Koolhaas must have spent a lot of time in time out. There is a pouting posture embedded in his rather refined comportment. When being interviewed, Koolhaas engages in a delayed satellite-type of dynamic before answering questions. It is as if he is processing the unadulterated folly of the pedestrian mind. While listening, and watching him speak one does not know whether his pseudo-defensive air is intentional or sub-conscious. This observation is in direct harmony with the polarizing, and arguably ingenuous architect born Remment Koolhas. Humility is not his strongest character trait, mysterious social and architectural commentary is.

Born in 1944 in Rotterdam, Netherlands, this Dutch architect is a dominant figure in today’s architecture circles. Critics have argued that Koolhaas ignores all consideration for beauty and taste. In essence, many wonder whether his designs are an outgrowth of his love for designing, or his hate for the same. Whether it be glass floors, figure eight stairs or translucent walls, the rub for many is that his personality is more confusing than his designs. In an interview with Charlie Rose in 2004, Koolhas admitted that he “detest” the current architectural system. This explains much.

Before any of his drawings were built, his writings and social commentary had established their own reputation. His firm, Office for Metropolitan architecture (OMA) birthed another entity, AMO, its philosophical, conceptual twin. Through AMO, Koolhaas has taken on diverse subjects such as changing the European flag. One of his flag renditions was a bar code.
He is Professor in Practice of Architecture and Urban Design at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University and is credited with authoring the campus center design at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. He also authored the very nice Prada Epicenter in Los Angeles. The scope of his projects is rather astounding from a 575,000m2 Asian based headquarters, studio, and cultural center for China’s national broadcaster, China Central Television, to the grand renovation of a Beijing bookstore, one of the largest in the world.

This eclectic existence has rendered a wide variety of awards and commendations, yet not without consequence. Some of his most notable recognitions include: Pritzker Prize (2000), Praemium Imperiale (2003) Royal Gold Medal (2004). Other projects that have been equally loved and hated include: The Casa da Música in Porto, The Seattle Central Library, and the Netherlands Embassy Berlin.

The Seattle Library is beyond description. Its abstract, seemingly unpredictable form, for many, has no visual or architectural logic. Yet, the library is praised for its internal design and the functionality it achieves. It is this stark contradiction within the same project that leads the variety of opinions about the man, his mind and his work. The Pritzer Prize Jury took the position that one must understand a Rem Koolhaas design is as much about the depth of idea as it is the building that results, a rather gracious commentary.

His 2004 published book “Content” is the rarest of products. For starters, the cover is covered with political and pop culture photos that one would expect more from a Mad Magazine than from a world-renowned architect, thinker. The book is self-described as, “an explosion in an idea factory, or a wild party thrown by a Pritzker Prize-winner.” The mood of “Content” is considerably more delirious than the Koolhas 1978 classic manifesto by the same name.

“Content” is designed as a disposable magazine with mysterious rants and seemingly on purpose abstracts. In one portion of the book a woman is depicted leaving her infrared heat signature on a tombstone. In another, Vermeer paintings are paired with scenes from TV's reality show Big Brother. Ironically, the book title serves as a reminder of what a book should actually have.

Other published writings include: Mutations (2001), Great Leap Forward (2002), The Harvard Guide to Shopping, (2002 published by the Harvard University Graduate School of Design), The Gulf, S, M, L, XL, and Ubiquitous China among others.

For many, the only lasting, logical impression of Koolhaas architecture does not emanate from his buildings but rather from his writings in the Delirious Manifesto. In it, he aggressively exposes the contradictions of architecture and urban design practices. He argues for the trapping nature of urban existence and the pivotal role modern architectural theory plays in the spiraling system called the city. Koolhaas writes in Delirious, "The City is an addictive machine from which there is no escape." The same can possibly be said of the man, his ideas, and his work.