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Doritos, and Veggie Trays

This week, I was invited to give the opening presentation at a three-day "Gathering of Leaders" conference for about 45 Episcopal clergy from around the country.

The conference theme was "Hope-filled, fear-less leadership for a missionary church."

My task was to set the tone: how can we counteract the prevailing wind of fear in our culture, and be people of hope instead?

My talk started out by observing that, even with all the possibilities and blessings and riches of our country, and of the Episcopal Church, there's a spirit of fear.

And that the antidote to fear is hope.

Not a vague hope, but hope in what God has done, is doing, and will do in our lives.

Part of what the conference (and the movement called Gathering of Leaders in general) is called to do is inspire and develop hopefulness. Hope-full-ness.

So that was the theme. That was my task.

"How to talk about it?" I wondered over the week or so before giving the talk.

And then it hit me: I remembered something I learned when I was a youth pastor, serving in my first church job right out of seminary.

I'll call it the "Doritos-verses-vegetable-tray" lesson.

Doritos vs Salad

It's based on something I stumbled upon while doing youth group events. If, at a middle school or high school youth event, I put out large bags of Doritos, the youth would devour them. They'd tear through bags and bags of 'em.

But then one day an adult sponsor of youth happened to bring a vegetable tray. Nothing fancy, just one of those pre-made sets you see at the grocery store. She set it out next to the bags of Doritos.

And guess what?

The kids still ate Doritos, but they ate less of them. A LOT less of them. I had four or five bags left over from the seven or eight I had bought, and normally I had none left.

Given a healthy alternative, they just didn't fill up as much on junk.

There! I had it! The image I wanted to share in my talk, and now pass on to you:

Instead of spending time -- any time -- criticizing or whining, offer a healthy alternative.

Instead of spending energy -- any energy -- on what my dad would call "bitchin' n' moanin'" about problems (your problems, your family's problems, the church's problems, the nation's problems), offer a hopeful alternative.

I'm far from perfect in carrying it out, but dear Lord, that's the kind of spiritual leader I seek to be: Instead of criticizing people for stuffing their faces with the varieties of empty spiritual calories our culture offers, spend time developing and setting before people an alternative, a delicious, nutrient-rich, deeply satisfying alternative. 

No, that's not all they'll eat. But wow, how much less junk they do eat, when given a choice.

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