Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Thing No One is Talking About

We all know something is wrong in our country. The list is probably long, in fact. Where to start?

I've heard the phrase "Christian Nation" my whole life. In recent months it seems I've heard it more, often in the context of doing things in the name of "protecting our Christian Nation."

Often these attempts to protect are done in less than polite ways. Often absent are Christian hallmarks like love, respect, inclusivity, building relational bridges, putting others first and the like.

And the heart of the faith that Jesus died for is grace. That's not a cultural term, so allow me to define it.

Grace is relational things like: offering people what they don't deserve, the absence of judgment, no-strings-attached forgiveness, seeking to understand and above all else, love.

But those grace descriptors are not the images in our headlines. We are not offering these things to Kaepernick, kneelers, owners, Trump supporters, Trump detractors, Trump himself, protesters of all kinds.

Here's what's going on:

We're functioning as if patriotism, politics and the Way of Jesus (Christianity) are interlocking puzzle pieces--all on equal footing. In fact, in many cases, we're elevating our patriotism and politics above the Way of Jesus.

By example, when we hate, wish ill, disparage Kaepernick because of his behavior, we elevate patriotism over the Way of Jesus. We say in essence,

"It's ok if I take a pass on loving my neighbor (the greatest commandment) when he/she doesn't honor our flag the way I think they should."

Whenever we put Jesus on the same level or below things like politics and patriotism--guess what? We're not behaving as a Christian Nation. We're not following Jesus.

The essence of identifying one's self with Jesus (eg "I'm a Christian, we're a Christian Nation, etc.") hinges on the fact that you've made one thing the most important Thing in your life: Jesus.

Not politics.
Not patriotism.
Not your spouse.
Not your kid(s).
Not your boy/girl friend.
Not your dog.
Not your desire for safety.
Not your desire for comfort.
Not your desire for a world that fits your paradigm.
Not your desire for a cell phone company that's both amazing & affordable ;-)

If you self identify as a Christian, a follower of Jesus, this is what that looks like:

(Yes, I know. These drawings are amazing--Banksy is so jealous)

The good news is that as a Christ follower, you can still love things like politics and patriotism; there's just one catch:

If you can't love in the midst of whatever you're doing or thinking, even if what you're doing is amazing, God says you're just a noisy, annoying, rusty gate.

I'll be candid. I hated it when Kaepernick started the kneeling thing. My dad fought in Europe in the late part of WWII. He made sure we always stood whenever the color guard appeared in a parade. We flew the flag at our house then and we do now.

But when I started seeing us as a country turn on this QB. When I heard the person in highest office calling on NFL owners to fire players and we all jeered along. When we as a country were hoping for, calling for, misfortune for people because of their beliefs.

It hit me: that's not the response of a Christian Nation.
That's neither the response of grace nor love.

That's the response of a legalistic patriotic nation, where Jesus doesn't rule -- He's just one of the puzzle pieces.

Whenever we elevate anything in our life over Jesus, we are saying,

"Jesus, you are not the leader of my life. I love you. I appreciate you saving me. But, you're not the most important thing in my life. How I feel about this issue or this person or these people, or this cause--this is more important than You are in my life right now."

"Ok Morgan--can I put Jesus first in my life and still not like Kaepernick or whoever kneeling?"

Yes. As long as you can love the kneeler. If you can't, you don't have a kneeling problem, you have a you problem.

For me, I go after issues like this in prayer:

"God, I love our country but I love You, more. I don't like what Kaepernick is doing and I'm pulled toward anger to him. Help me die to myself in this, Lord, and help me love him. Right now, Lord, I want to pray for him, for his best, for his career, for his family..."

(Lifehack: I've found it hard to dislike or wish ill for someone when I'm praying to God on their behalf.)

And again, here's the cool part:

You can be liberal, moderate, conservative, a-political; you can love guns, hate guns, love, loathe or be indifferent about patriotism, have opinions on God-knows-what.

But it all has to be subjected to Jesus and His ways.
Jesus first.
Jesus above all else.
Jesus isn't a puzzle piece.
Jesus is the umbrella over all the puzzle pieces in your life.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Life After a Smoking Ban

We are all susceptible to a silly myth:

Things will always stay the same.

We see this in moments when:

Our spouse does something unpredictable.
Our child makes a jarring decision.
Someone gets elected we never thought would.
A beloved business closes-up.
Gas prices shoot up. Again.

Or when a city like Kokomo, that’s always had a healthy number of blue-collar smokers, passes a smoking ban.

I’m writing this specifically with the local bar owners in mind. But, let me refer to them as they really are: entrepreneurs.

Every business owner is an entrepreneur, a person risking the comfort of working for someone else in exchange for being his or her own “man.”

And so here’s the reality for every entrepreneur:


If there ever was a mantra to put on a plaque in your office, this may be it. It’s the one constant for every business owner. You may be lucky and your segment of the market hasn’t changed in years or even decades, but change is always coming. It’s just a matter of when.

Minimum wage goes up. 
Utility costs spike. 
Gas prices skyrocket. 
Big banks make hideous decisions that result in a recession. 
A huge chain comes to town. 
Road construction pulls into your neighborhood and stays way too long. 
Your competitors start manufacturing where labor’s cheaper. 
Electric cars start becoming viable. 
People become more health-conscious. 
Sin, sugar taxes become law. 
Or a smoking ban becomes the new reality.

The market always changes.

Maybe it’s someone’s fault. Maybe there were people driving it. But that doesn’t really matter. It happened. The market changed, just like it has for business owners before you. And so at this point, you have one of two options:

Get out or figure it out.

Get out because you don’t like the new reality. You don’t like how the market has changed.

Or figure it out; how can you change your strategy—how can you change how you do what you do to be successful in this new reality?

The worst thing you can do when the market changes, is complain about it. Play the victim card. Blame it on someone or some group of people. 

It’s not helpful. And the more you fight it and just complain to your friends and Facebook, the more you buy in to the myth:  Things will always stay the same

Getting Personal

Right now, if you’re one of the little neighborhood bars that’s being affected by the smoking ban, you’re probably saying to yourself,

Yeah, easy for you to say, mister; try living in my shoes. It’s not that easy.”

You’re right. It’s not that easy. It rarely is. When the market changes and affects our business, it’s almost always gut check time, a time to see what we’re made of. A time to see if we’re really ready to make some tough, hard and even risky decisions.

I changed to pronouns in that last paragraph like we and our because I have been there.
When the market changes, it does feel personal and it has been some of the hardest seasons of my careers.

At one point I was the local store manager of a regional fast food chain when a substantial national minimum wage hike became law. The kind of wage hike that seriously jeopardized profitability, since the restaurant business always runs on thin margins. 

It wasn’t fun categorizing the employees into “who you could lose” and “who you need to keep” because there weren’t enough raises to go around. It was personal. It wasn’t fun. I didn’t want to do it.

And in recent years there was the great recession. I am part of a senior leadership team of a large local church. The recession affected the market. Greatly. Staff salaries was one of our biggest line items.

Congregants suddenly had less money, some lost jobs. Those people represented the church’s income. Therefore, because of reduced cash flow, our operating budget was in trouble.

Complaining about the recession, the market, would have been useless and fruitless.

We had to make drastic staffing decisions. We had to re-envision how we could get things done. We had to deliver the same high standards “product,” even though we had less money to do it. 

We got creative. We basically changed our paradigm of how our church would function. We wrestled with gut-wrenching decisions. We took pay cuts.

And we realized these changes probably weren’t just for a season; this was the new reality for how our church (and churches in general) would function going forward.

It wasn’t fun. It was hard. It affected employees’ lives. Let me re-phrase: it affected me and my friends’ lives. But we had two options: get out or figure it out.

Today, our church is functioning healthily in ways it hadn’t in the past. And our “product” never suffered in the process.

“That’s cool, but I own a bar that’s now non-smoking.”

Recently, a good friend gave me a stern encouragement by way of a social media post, “Ok, all you non-smokers who said you’d now support these bars, where are you?

Even though I was never on record for saying that, I was indeed for the ban and felt my friend’s chiding. So I’ve been to The Elbow Room twice in recent weeks. (And heading there as soon as I post this.)

First of all, the place was incredibly clean, the food was good, made-to-order and ridiculously affordable. In short, this is what I saw: opportunity.

The Elbow Room is a half mile, a handful of blocks, 2-3 minutes from hundreds of downtown Mon-Fri consumers.

The opportunity is to target that downtown consumer market who never before would’ve considered the Elbow Room as a lunchtime option. My hunch is they have the opportunity to do more Mon-Fri lunch business than they’ve ever done before. Opportunity.

Time to Reassess

What it took to start your business was entrepreneurial spirit: showing people that you could indeed, do it. Sometimes after a while, we unintentionally swap out our entrepreneurial hat for a maintenance hat. We’re just managing, just maintaining; we've stopped gaining ground.

When the market shifts, it can awaken the entrepreneurial spirit that got you in the game in the first place; it can re-envision you. 

Or it can be a wake-up call that it’s time to get out.

And guess what: it’s ok to transition out of your business. Life is made up of seasons. Seasons of raising children. Seasons of running a business. No business lasts forever. (Ok, so these are close.) Businesses have seasons too. If you’re not up to figuring out how to readjust to the ever-changing market, that’s ok.

Parting shot

If you’re struggling as a business owner, I am sorry. My wife and I own Main Street Cafe and it hasn’t been easy nor without struggle and sacrifice. Buy my wife, Sandra, a drink in your bar and she’ll be glad to commiserate.

But, I wrote this with you in mind because I want you to be encouraged

If this is still your season to own a bar, there are ways to re-envision it and go after new ways of doing what you do. Kokomo is full of successful business people who are happy to give advice, share best practices and help you figure it out. One of the best assets of Kokomo is its great people who love to help each other succeed.

So if you’re bitter, consider trading your bitterness for optimism and the willingness to seek help. Because if you keep doing what you’re doing, you will keep getting what you’re getting (Stephen Covey).

And remember those prophetic words from the late Sonny Bono, “The beat goes on.” And you can too.

Peace and profits, my friend!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Jesus is Offensive

So, a lot of people who profess Christianity are behaving in ways where we're elevating our politics and patriotism over the way of Jesus. So if you'd say you're a Christian, this is for you. 

If you wouldn't call yourself one, I'd hope that maybe, some of the values below would seem attractive to you. If on the whole, we haven't modeled them for you in the culture, I'm so sorry. This little post is my small attempt to help us do better. If you click on the links it will take you to some specific Bible verses. Peace.

Jesus is offensive to people who want to marginalize others.

Jesus is offensive to people who want to divide people into groups.

Jesus is offensive to people who don’t want to care for the poor.

Jesus is offensive to people who just want to acquire more stuff for themselves.

Jesus is offensive to people who dislike people who don’t share their values.

Jesus is offensive to people who don’t value diversity.

Jesus is offensive to people who can’t value people in the other political party.

Jesus is offensive to people who put walls above bridges.

Jesus is offensive to people who want to speak their mind more than they want to listen.

Jesus is offensive to people who think God loves the US more than other nations.

Jesus is offensive to people who don’t want to help people they dislike.

Jesus is offensive to people who think that writing their convictions on social media is enough.

Jesus is offensive to any of us when we elevate anything in our life over Jesus.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

The 500 and Me

Memorial Weekend Sunday

I live an hour from Indianapolis. That means since as long as I can remember, I’ve listened to the Indy 500 on the radio. When I was young, it was WIBC AM radio. Now it’s a Bluetooth speaker that looks something like a lime green grenade via my cell phone and WIBC online.
We’re currently under caution that followed an extensive red due to a crash featuring Scott Dixon among others.
I’ve just enjoyed some grilled brats, hotdogs, some quac and a delightful Spanish-influenced salad. And I’ve just cracked my third lo-cal longneck.
I’m on the front porch, a cool breeze lingering; Sandra is catering and Alyssa & Slater are inside finally delving into The Godfather. That leaves me alone. With my thoughts. And the 500.
No one gets excited like the radio crew at the Indy 500. They’re yelling. It’s exciting. And also, as anyone knows who’s seen the Greatest Spectacle live, it’s flippin’ loud!
Rossi still in the lead, now to turn four!!
I’m at the 500 but I’m also in the world of 500’s past. I can’t help but think of my parents cranking it up on our hi-fi in the living room on Washington St circa 1972. Even then it was the television era, but not on Memorial Day Sunday. We all dialed it in and listened to the radio much like (I can only imagine) people did before the 1950s ushered in the TV.
And so my mind is in the past now. I don’t remember my parents grilling, seemingly like every Hoosier feels obliged to do during the race. But the soundtrack in our house on that day in the ‘70s was never anything but the race.
Then later, just out of high school, I was never too far away from my friend, Eric Foust and if you were close to Eric, that meant you were close to his incredible parent, Jack & Carmen. Both of them are now passed, but their memories remain.
The race is back under green and those AM radio-sounding DJs are yelling at us through every corner. And if I close my eyes, I’m in Jack & Carmen’s backyard.
Carmen always cooked up a storm (she was the kind of grandma everyone would long for) and Jack would man the grill. Oh, and there was always ample amounts of ice cold cans of domestic beer either in an icy cooler or the garage fridge.
Carmen would be keeping score: Who’s out, who’s leading, what’s happening. And even though I’d never call Carmen a race fan any other weekend of the year, she seemed so sincerely concerned.
Even though they lived in the middle of the city, “THEY GO THREE WIDE INTO THE TURN!!
Even though they lived in the middle of the city, their garage was in essence, a barn. The huge door facing the house, slid open. Some years we stood inside the garage watching the drizzle enjoy food and brew. Other years, we were in hiding from the sun. But the food was always inside under cute little bug screen food covers. And Carmen always delivered.
The best thing about the race at Jack & Carmen’s was that you felt loved just for being there. Carmen & Jack had a way of making you feel so welcomed. They did everything short of thanking you for eating their food and drinking their beer.
I wonder how many 20-somethings would want to have had their own hang-out; they’d want to create their own thing, apart from their parents. But Jack & Carmen’s was always the best picture of two generations doing life together. They loved us and we knew it. We felt it. And we liked it.
What a great word for me know, as I creep up in age. If more than anything, my kids and their friends knew that I loved them. More than my so-called wisdom or experience, these younger people crave my love. Love trumps everything and love paves the way for anything else I could ever hope to pass along.
Simon Pagenaud comes into pit road!
I love the Indy 500 and I suspect I always will, for the backdrop of one’s youth is always sacred. And people like Jack & Carmen and the crew I ran with then, Eric, George & Lisa and so many others, are part of a golden time.
Now back to the race.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Sky Isn't Falling (Thoughts on Retail Closings in America)

Sears recently closed in Kokomo. So did MC Sports. JC Penney has announced more store closings in recent days. And now the negative chatter about America's retail economy escalates. According to who you've overheard or whose posts you've read, "The sky is falling."

For the record, when stores close, it isn't always the economy's fault.

Take Sears for instance. They've been Sears (or Sears & Roebuck) since 1893! They were the original one-stop shop for everything, including: mail order houses, tombstones, minibikes, live chickens, clothing, tools and about anything you can name that we use in and around a home.

If the economy is guilty of killing Sears then the accomplice is Sears itself. You see, the culture keeps changing; it's a moving target. And business models that don't figure out how to adapt to the economy, I suppose, succumb to it.

Sears' business model of being the place for everything hardly fits into a culture that goes to Lowes/HomeDepot for tools, (insert clothing store of your choice) for clothes, Best Buy for appliances and to a Carnival for shoes.

A while back I noticed old-timers saying, "Craftsman tools ain't what they used to be." And at the same time I noticed Lowes lifetime warranty on their Kobalt Tools. At that point, I knew the jig was up for Sears. When you're no longer the industry standard in a market you owned, you're in trouble.

The economy didn't kill Sears. Sears closed because it failed to remain attractive to the market.

And MC Sports...When they rolled into town, was I the only one who wondered why we needed two 10,000+ sq ft sporting goods retailers in Kokomo? Sometimes the economy is fine, but we cut the pie into too many pieces. Sometimes, two big dogs is one too many.

And you'd better sit down: Malls. Are. Dying.

2006 was the last time an indoor shopping mall was built in America. Do you know why? Culture changes and the economy goes along for the ride.

In the 1960s the culture shifted. People started to move away from the center of towns, toward the periphery and to the suburbs. Downtown businesses across America started slowly closing up. Why?

Because they could drive to this super-cool new mall, have boat-loads of parking and shop at scads of stores all under one roof! No more trying to find street parking downtown and feeding the parking meter. No more getting wet, chilled or sweaty going from store to store. The mall was the answer. And it was cool.

And the mall will have had a 60+ year run in America, which is pretty amazing! But people are tired of the mall, which is normal, because the culture naturally and seemingly autonomously, seeks change. And this change has been slowly happening--it's just starting to become painfully obvious.

Pardon my cheesy metaphor: Change often comes from deep below the surface of the water, slowly ascending, often taking years. But then one day, it breaches the surface and we're all aghast, "My word, where did this come from?" Change comes slowly over time, yet there comes a moment when we actually see it.

Have you been to Clay Terrace? They basically built a "mall" that looks like what? A downtown!

Guess where millennials are seeking to live in record numbers: downtown. They're migrating from the burbs to the center of the city. And cities like Kokomo are trying to lure businesses downtown because that's the latest cultural trend.

"But Morgan, we'll never have enough businesses downtown to satisfy everyone's demands!"

Since you and I are buying so much of everything-we-need online these days, a downtown doesn't need every kind of store to be a great downtown. Because we don't buy everything from brick and mortar stores any more, a downtown needs some cool shops, a great coffee shop, some cool restaurants--it needs cool spaces that people can connect in. And the reason the spaces need to be cool is because the culture has always liked what's cool. And the downtown needs housing, which isn't available at the mall that people are tiring of trekking to.

The sky isn't falling; the culture is changing. And as culture changes, how retail looks and functions will change along with it. Sometimes a closing is a sign of change. It's a sign that there are new paradigms afoot and new ways of doing things. When we look back at these moments, we call this progress. In real time, it can feel more like growing pains.

One last word to my friends who are in the last half of their life: When we become tired of change, we become old. When we want things to stay just the way they are, we become grumpy, because things are always changing. Young people love and welcome change--the same way that we did. As mentors and elders, we best serve younger people when we help navigate change rather than complain about it.

Peace, my friends.

(editor's note: To those who have lost jobs as stores have closed, my heart goes out to you, and I hope you are able to find gainful employment. As I wrote about business and cultural change, I never wanted you to feel slighted or disrespected. The American worker is the backbone of so much that is great in America. All my respect and best wishes to you.)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

How not to be "That Guy/Girl" in a Coffee Shop

DISCLAIMER: I own a coffee shop, but way before that, I used to hang out in Starbucks. Much of this is about what I've observed from good, well-intentioned people. This isn't written to hand-slap, just to help.

We're very much in the age of public meetings: business meeting, non-profit meetings, personal meetings--we're Americans and we meet ;-)

We meet in coffee shops and places like Panera more than ever before. And honestly, I love to meet in these kinds of places. It's good to get out, have food and drink options and run into people you know. But...

There are times when we're not doing this as well as we could. So as a patron and as a bistro owner, here are some well-intentioned tips:

  • Buy Something

Everyone who's in a seat in a business should have something purchased at that business. This is a pure and simple respect move. The owner (corporate or mom & pop) put that seat there specifically with the intent of generating revenue so that (most people miss this) that seat can continue to be there.
Oh, and don't bring a drink into Panera from Starbucks because you like their frappucino better; it's disrespectful. And it's not like you need to buy a bunch of stuff you don't want. There have been times when I simply ordered a drink I wasn't really in the mood for. Why? Think of it as the most inexpensive rent you'll ever pay for a nice meeting space.

  • It's a Cell Phone Not a Yell Phone

I get it. Sometimes we have to speak up when that call comes in. But, here's your script:
"Maude, please hold on just a second while I step outside."

When we speak up to take our business call, we turn the whole restaurant into our office and that's not cool. I've lost my religion so many times when I was startled in Starbucks by,
I wanted to run his phone down his throat ;-) Again, this is a pure and simple respect move -- respecting others in a shared space.

  • Know When to Say Goodbye

Every eatery has peak business times, typically lunch and dinner. These are the times when the proprietor counts on filling and turning tables. This is usually when they generate 80% (or more) of their sales for the day. When you start to notice seats filling up, it's time to move on. Or...order lunch like a normal person and take a break.
As a coffee shop owner we welcome and love to have people hanging out individually or having meetings in our off-peak times, seriously--we love people hanging out--just not when it's lunch time when every seat counts. Have I mentioned this is all pure and simple a respect move?

We Love to Have People Hang Out ;-)

Again, places like our Main Street Cafe love, love, love having people hang out and meet in our place--it's part of our design and we love people! And the places I've mentioned in this post probably feel the same. On behalf of bistros everywhere, we just ask and remind you to be like Aretha: R-e-s-p-e-c-t ;-)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Absence of this Word is Eroding our Culture

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a bumper sticker on a car that read bitch.

What?! Why would that woman…?! She put that on her own car?!

I couldn’t understand why a woman would take a colossal slur and turn it into a trophy. And just so we’re clear, the only people who think the term bitch is positive are other women with the same bumper sticker. I’ll show you:

“Hey, why don’t you come over tonight? I’m grilling and I’ve got some new micro brews and a couple women from my office will be there; they’re real bitches.”

“Uh, no. No thanks, I think I’ll pass.”

Something started happening a few years ago. We started settling. We masked it in proclaiming that we’re tired of being politically correct. But somewhere along the way, instead of seeing opportunities to grow, instead of working on our temper and social skills, we decided to camp out on our less-than-positive traits and even proudly proclaimed them.

And it’s easy to see why: It’s easier to put a bitch sticker on one’s car than it is to learn how to turn a mean-spirited, volatile temper into something kinder and more respectful of others.

And bump stickers like My kid beat up your honor student are funny, but it’s easier to make excuses or defend our child than it is to walk with them through the quagmire of wise decisions, humility, work ethic, respect and the like.

When I was growing up through my teens and early twenties, I was so cocky, so full of myself, trying to compensate for an upbringing that wasn’t up to my snuff. I was full of pride and full of me, at the expense of you.

And somehow, mysteriously or spiritually or both, I began to see my arrogance as the character flaw that it was. And so I aspired to be a person who was more humble than arrogant.

The truth is, it would have been easier to put a Cocky SOB bumper sticker on my car. It would have been easier to settle into a lesser version of myself.

Listen, it’s always harder to aspire than it is to settle. (And for the record, it’s not like I’m arrogance-free at this point. It’s still an aspiration.)

I’m concerned that we are much less of an ASPIRE culture and much more of a Popeye culture: “I am what I am!”

The word ASPIRE is desperately missing from our culture.

History has been forged by people who aspired for better and many of those people shaped our lives. 

We don’t know any of the Popeye people by name. People who settled didn’t move themselves or anyone else forward.

But history is full of people who aspired. Our lives reap the benefit of people who aspired:

Joan of Arc, even though an illiterate peasant girl, aspired to make a difference beyond her station in life.

Beethoven aspired to compose music even through the challenge of deafness.

Nelson Mandela aspired to be a lawyer amid the South African apartheid system.

Rosa Parks aspired to do something as simple and profound as sit in the white part of a bus in the racial segregation of the deep south.

People pushing, grinding, aspiring for better, is what has made people and countries great.

And please get this: this happens at the micro level—this happens when arrogant guys like me aspire for something better. It happens when you decide to not be a Popeye person, “Well, I am what I am!

It happens when women take the energy and strength of their bitchiness and channel it into civility and lead and influence in ways that move things forward instead of just tearing people down.

So many times our character flaw is just the bad expression of a positive trait.

My positive trait is that I can take a hill, take people with me and help them grow in the process. 

The same fire that fuels that, is the same fire that can make me arrogant and pushy on a bad day or when I’m tired.

So, what about you?

In what area, in what way do you need to aspire to something more or something better?

Greatness happens when you and I aspire to be the best with whatever was given to us.
All of us have been given a toolbox of heredity, abilities, personality, natural wirings and physical capacity.

Given what you have and what’s going on in your neck of the world, what do you need to aspire to?

A marriage gets better, when I aspire for more and I get better.

A family gets better when a member aspires to bring more healthy interaction to the table.

A city gets better every time a person aspires to figure out how they can make even a small difference.

And a country gets better every time one of us aspires to maximize whatever’s been given to us in our toolbox.

So, tell me: What are your aspirations?