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Monday, May 25, 2015

Please Don’t Call It “Happy”

On this Memorial Day, my wife Rhonda and I find two recurring aspects of people’s awareness of this annual holiday a bit irritating. First, it is not a day to honor our military service members past and present. That is why we have Veterans Day. It’s commonly misunderstood, even by people who should know better.

The second “irritation” we found on a billboard near downtown Plainfield. It also is a common misunderstanding. Happy Memorial Day! Uh…don’t think so.

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. It arrived with the pains of our nation burying more than 500,000 Americans in the Civil War. Hardly a “happy occasion.” Only recently did the number of Americans who have died in the totality of foreign wars eclipse those who died in the Civil War.

And so today, millions of Americans place flowers on the graves of those who have given a bitter contribution to freedom: life. What amazes me most about the commitment of many soldiers — I’d even say most soldiers — is that they do this willingly. Yielding up the greatest sacrifice we have as humans out of a love for country and fellow countrymen requires immense courage. And commitment.

One man who sees the enduring pain associated with this commitment is Darrell Stafford. For 32 years, Darrell has served as interment supervisor at Arlington National Cemetery. This means he oversees proper burials of both coffins and cremated remains of military veterans. Stringent requirements exist for below ground burial at Arlington.

In the New York Times story about Mr. Stafford, I learned that Memorial Day is among the busiest, most solemn of times at Arlington. Over the weekend, about 150,000 people were expected to visit the graves of their loved ones. There is a team of twenty caretakers along with Mr. Stafford “who conduct the burials of both coffins and cremated remains.” (

Services at Arlington’s 624 acres are highly detailed. This requires an abundance of preparation. According to the Times, “Since 1864, more than 400,000 people have been laid to rest here, with additional burials every weekday. That number includes presidents, active and former military personnel, spouses, and their dependents.”

Among the most solemn elements of the ceremony is the playing of taps and the gun salutes. Those bugle notes are always eerie to me. The gun firings offer a jarring reminder of the not-so-fond farewell.

Thank God today for those who have sacrificed so much for you and for me. Jesus of Nazareth clearly communicated the value of their dedication when he said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13/NLT) No greater love. No greater sacrifice.

All the tears in the world cannot bring back the men and women who died in service to their country. Among the things we can do, is to recognize that Memorial Day honors those who died in service to America. And to realize that for those who continue to grieve their loss, this holiday is anything but happy.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Aretha Delivered the Message

Today’s blog is a sequel to my blog of two weeks ago. I find that traditional labels of “blue collar” and “white collar” in the workplace often create misperceptions. The current season of the popular television show Survivor helps prove this point. (See my earlier blog for details.)

In any working environment, relationship success is built on a true sense of respect. Blue collar types who resent management for perks or privileged conditions have a respect issue. White collars who see their blue collar counterparts as less educated, talented, or essential to an operation have a respect problem. When authentic respect is shown and rewarded, true teamwork is built and motivation moves up. That is a seminar in itself.

Few leaders have found a more effective way to overcome this than did Wayne Alderson. His story was widely known when I arrived in Pittsburgh in the fall of 1991. Through the middle of the twentieth century, Pittsburgh was truly a Steel City, as a significant majority of jobs in the region were all connected in some way to the manufacturing of steel.

The separation of blue collar and white collar came to heads in the labor/management fights over renewed contracts. Those battles were as intense as any on the Steeler football field. Bitterness often ruled. Shutting down a mill was costly to all parties.

And then comes Wayne Alderson and the Pittron Steel story. As he described it, “Working conditions were bad, productivity was at an all time low and employee morale was very bad.” Worse yet, the company was losing millions.

Wayne understood blue collar. He was a coal miner's son. But now his white collar corporate executive role could easily put him at odds. Wayne applied what became known as Theory R Leadership principles, later to be incorporated into his Value of the Person training.

Theory R and Value of the Person workshops teach how to build relationships. Out of healthy relationships comes trust. To make the process work, it takes respect. Aretha Franklin to the rescue.

Wayne Alderson became a peacemaker. His Christian faith was the underpinning to treating others the way he would want to be treated. Lives were changed. Profits returned. He continued this legacy of work until his passing in 2013. Dr. R.C. Sproul wrote this story years ago in a book titled, Stronger than Steel.

Within all true achievers, there is a tendency to lose sight of the value of certain team members. Success has a spoil factor. The achiever wants the recognition but often fails to praise the team that made it possible.

One of the many ways that Jesus of Nazareth was so remarkable in his day, was his treatment of people. His disciples considered children an annoyance. Jesus saw them as prized creations willing to accept truth by faith.

In Jesus’s time, women were often considered second class. Jesus showed them respect. Lepers were to be avoided. Jesus reached out and touched them. Sinners were condemned and ridiculed. Jesus gave them time and attention.

When challenged on his associations with those of the “lesser class,” Jesus had this interesting exchange: “But when some of the Jewish religious leaders saw him eating with these men of ill repute, they said to his disciples, ‘How can he stand it, to eat with such scum?’ When Jesus heard what they were saying, he told them, ‘Sick people need the doctor, not healthy ones! I haven’t come to tell good people to repent, but the bad ones.’” (Mark 2:16-17 / TLB)

I have many friends today who are in the professional “peacemaking” business. Their work transcends the typical boundaries that keep people apart. They move into cultures and among political leaders who are often at odds. Sometimes bitter enemies. And these friends do this because of Jesus.

There is no professional religious “collar” needed to embrace the value of a person. Respect must be shown to all collars and all stripes if one hopes for a positive working relationship.

So one more time, Aretha, sing it loud and proud: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

(For more information, read here

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Too Good to be True

There are some deals in life that are simply too good to be true. Unfortunately, I’ve been the victim of a few. Like…a timeshare. I’ll spare you the morbid details.

The “deals” I enjoy most are the TV pitches where the add ons keep getting better and better. If you actually get to the point of determining you can’t live without a cleaning device for between your car seats, the announcer chimes in with the legendary, “But wait!” As it turns out, if you buy now, they’ll give you a second item FREE. And as you reach for the phone…“there’s STILL more!” Oh my.

This week on my talk show, we will have two days devoted to asking for donations to help families in Guatemala and Haiti. The specific request is for $50 as a one-time gift to provide a child with food for a year and clean water for a lifetime. I know, it sounds too good to be true. The ministry is Food for the Poor. (FFTP)

Having traveled with a team of folks from FFTP to Guatemala a few months back, I was able to see the programs they have implemented. I observed a number of women who have devoted their lives to restoring the health of malnourished children. I witnessed school programs where lunch is provided and smiling grade schoolers run around with energy and hope.

The hardest part of the visit was being on site where multiple families live just a few miles from Guatemala City. Getting to their remote location was a challenge in itself. Hearing (through interpreters) how these families manage to survive will soften any hardened heart.

The water problem was too much to take in. That’s because there IS NO running water. Fifty gallon drums of non potable water are filled once a week IF a truck from the city can make it to these remote locations. This water must then be boiled to use for cooking and drinking. The food crisis is equally as challenging. And so along comes Food for the Poor.

Standing in the midst of these families who live in non-climate controlled shacks with corrugated metal roofs, it’s easy to say, “I can make a difference for these people.” We live in a place on this planet where we let clean water run just to get it warm. We water lawns. We often waste clean water in ways we don’t even consider. Thus, the idea of clean water for a child for a lifetime for $50 seems like an offer too good to be true. Oh…let’s not forget this also feeds the child for a year.

The men and women in these countries who aid these very poor do not live in comfort themselves. Their daily work is only to serve. As the director of a nutritional clinic told me through her tears, “Each face I see reminds me of Jesus.”

It makes sense. Jesus said it this way: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40/ The Message)

This week my assignment is to to help raise support for 200 children. It’s not a big “ask.” Feed a child for a year. Provide that child clean water for a lifetime. Just a $50 one-time gift.

But wait! There’s more! Also included is a change from hopelessness to hope. From fear to encouragement. From sickness to health. If you’re interested in helping the cause, visit You’ll find a banner to click on that says “Give Life.” Pretty simple, huh?

The face of Jesus is waiting.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Ring Around the Collar

The current season of the popular television show Survivor developed a new team theme. Cast members were recruited and divided up into the categories to match their “fit” in the workplace. The so-called white collars were used to giving the orders, blue collars taking the orders, and “no collars” claimed to be carefree spirits not fitting in with either group.

As a television show, audience had the stereotypes reinforced in the earliest episodes. The blue collar team perceived themselves as hard workers and “grunts on the ground,” willing to do whatever was necessary in the wild. The white collar team couldn’t manage to get a fire going, an essential for cleaning, cooking, and so forth. The carefree group wasn’t worried about who was in charge or when things got done. With their fire started, they preferred to take it easy. You get the picture.

Just in as in real life, misconceptions abound. White collars proved quite capable in physical challenges. Blue collars had to make hard decisions and think ahead. And the carefree world of no collars found tension and emotional baggage in struggling to play the game.

Survivor is about winning a million dollars. Strategy, power, and politics play out everywhere. As people are voted off and teams merge, new social maneuvers must be developed and new alliances created.

So what are the real differences between white collar and blue collar and no collar types? I believe much of it is centered in the power to make decisions and live a lifestyle of your preference. Thus, the real color of your collar may have a green tint: money.

As it’s commonly known, when management wants you to perform, it comes down to two things: more money and/or more power. Remove those, and you diminish perceived “collar” value as well.

Two events in sports over the past weekend provide an interesting illustration.

The NFL Draft was held in Chicago. Our city became Draft Town. In a period of three days, a large group of hard working, dirt churning, sweat generating muscle men transitioned from “blue collar” life into millionaires. While they will remain “under the thumb” of coaches and management, control over their lives made a huge leap.

The second event was the highly promoted boxing match of welterweights on Saturday night. A 38-year-old fighter, Floyd Mayweather Jr, defeated the 36-year-old Manny Pacquiao. The decision was unanimous.

Boxing is hard work. I mean REALLY hard work. The training would kill most of us. The actual fight would kill the rest. So you have to have a LOT of blue collar work ethic to win. And you have to be really good…to make a living.

The fight brought in an estimated $300 million. The Mayweather contract required him to receive 60 percent, win or lose. Let’s just say he won’t have to worry about the price of Jelly Bellies in the days ahead.

So as Mayweather takes the gloves off, do any labels come off? Is he a blue collar guy, or is he now white collar? Or no collar? He could buy his own franchise or start a thousand companies where he’s the boss. In the case of both fighters, money has given them leverage over life.

For these new NFL draftees and those boxing professionals, their success came after hard work and listening to tough taskmasters. All true athletes know success requires regimen and training, discipline and following orders. So do military men and women.

There is more to say on this topic, which I will address in my blog two weeks from now, Lord willing.

In the meantime, here is another tip from a “spiritual leadership consultant” known as Peter. He writes, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” (1 Peter 2:18, ESV)

Ruminate on that for a while. And then we’ll get back together for Round 2 in a couple of weeks.

Ding! There goes the bell.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.