Matt: The World’s Greatest Diplomat

Matt Harding at Dizengoff, Tel-Aviv

You may have seen him – He’s pretty average looking — not too tall, nor too short, average build, brown hair. Evidently he didn’t get great grades in high school and now he lives in Seattle. To my knowledge he didn’t take the Foreign Service Exam – he may not even know what it is. In fact, he reports that he’s not even that great a dancer. But he is, without doubt, the world’s greatest diplomat and we need more like him.

He’s Matt – the guy that goes around the world and dances. From Damascus to North Korea, Puerto Rico to Karachi, he brings his rhythm and charm, dancing with as few as two and as many as hundreds.  At first glance it looks simple, but look farther and you will see the choreography, the planning, and the attention to detail.

My sister-in-law, Terry, once told me that the best marriage counseling takes place on the dance floor. It’s about leading and following; negotiating and creating; communicating and working together. What is true for marriages is true for diplomacy. In dancing around the world Matt demonstrates a multitude of skills needed in diplomacy. He communicates, negotiates, leads, teaches, strategizes, creates, encourages, and convinces.

His dancing communicates across boundaries in a way that my words never will, and so today I bring you: Where the Hell is Matt? 2012

If you’re sick of politics and misunderstandings, anger and miscommunication, I urge you to stop what you’re doing now and watch this video. It will be four and a half of the best spent minutes of your day – I guarantee it.

I can’t help but think this is a little what Heaven will be like – only it will be Jesus front and center. Thanks for reading and watching and please let me know what you think!

And spread the fun! Share Matt with others.

Fish Throwing in Seattle

And I caught it!

Throwing fish in Seattle was never on my ‘bucket’ list….but I think it should be on yours! Let me explain…

For years I have used a video called “Fish” to facilitate a discussion on team work and having fun in a workplace setting – having fun while getting the job done and done well. The video is based on a world-famous fish market at the front of Pike’s Place Market in Seattle.  Their work is not easy. The shift hours are long and it’s hard physical labor. It’s smelly. It’s slimy. It’s fish. Yet these famous “Fish Throwers of Seattle” are a model team; fully present, good at what they do, and they have fun while doing it. Really. They have fun.

On Saturday in Seattle I got to be one of them!

“What time is the show?” said my friend Nancy. “The show?” said the man at the fish market. “Yes, my friend is from Boston and knows the video and wants to see the show”. He laughed. “There is no show! This is just what we do. Do you want to buy fish? It’s a good idea to serve your guests fish!”

No  – we didn’t want fish. We wanted to see them throw the fish. Just like the video. The next thing I knew he had me putting down my bag, going around the counter and taking off my coat.

“Roll up your sleeves” he said. “Now, let’s teach you how to catch these fish!” He explained that the fish was going to fly sideways into my arms. I was to place my arms, stretched out slightly in front of me with my hands cupped. He used his arm as a guide to show me how I was to grab the fish. “No – that’s not tight enough – you’ll wear the fish!” he admonished on my first couple tries.

And then I was ready. A crowd had gathered, digital and phone cameras ready. The man on the other side of the counter was about 10 feet away; ice, fish, and people in between. And the “show” began.

“Ready?” the man on the other side of the counter yelled? Yup. And the fish came flying through the air, a slippery, cold, dead fish. It flew right to me and … I caught it! Firmly and securely I grasped that fish. I grabbed that trout salmon – that slippery 24 inch trout salmon with my bare hands. But I somehow got the instructions wrong. I thought I was supposed to pass it on to the next guy, sort of like hot potato only with a slippery fish – so I turned and threw it at him. Surprised he threw it back and then I guess I still thought I was to keep the game going…I threw it back over the counter to the first guy and it didn’t make it. It landed smack on the floor in front of the hundreds who had gathered around to see what had become “the show”.

But initially – I did it! I caught that fish. I was a part of this team of people, known for their team work, fun and skill. I was a “fish thrower in Seattle”. And I saw why they were featured as a group that “unleashes potential.”  I was not just a potential customer but someone who they brought on board just for the fun of it. I watched as they went immediately back to work, talking to customers, laughing with customers and selling fish. And I thought – I need to take some of this back to my government grey cubicle and throw a few fish around.

I rarely use the “you only live once!” phrase because it is often used to justify my bad decisions. But with fish throwing? Well, you only live once so put fish throwing on your bucket list. And today – whatever you do it’s probably not as stinky as throwing fish, but have fun if you can. Life’s way too short to not have fun while you’re working.

Pike Place Fish Market
Surprised by Fish!

A Bronze Pig and the Mystery of Grace

Pike Place Market

In front of the Public Market on Pike Street in Seattle, Washington is a large, bronze pig. It is a landmark and adorns the area well, providing photo ops for both visitors and natives alike.

On my recent trip to Seattle the bronze pig served as a meeting place for a thirty-plus year reunion with a dear friend.  As we made arrangements through a Facebook message, she guaranteed the meeting place would be successful. “Just ask anyone” she said, “They all know the pig!”. And they did. I was easily directed to the meeting spot and there was Nancy.

Over thirty years of life lived since I last saw my friend.

What do you say after thirty years? Life holds so much. So much joy, and so much pain. And when you have lived between two worlds in your formative years, a good part of your growing up is about figuring out how those two worlds can be reconciled. You want to live in peace, not contradiction and conflict, but there are times when you feel like your whole life is one big contradiction.

It was like we had never been apart. Laughter, earnest conversation, gossip, and memories flowed out of our mouths and hearts. Most of all I felt the sense of being understood, of not having to explain what it was like to feel insecure and try to find my place, of feeling like an impostor who would be found out and tried for treason. Here was someone who knew what it was like to flounder and not know who you are, to go through years of struggle, and wrestle with feelings and faith.

It was Nancy who first used the words, and ever since I have had them on my mind. For both of us, raised in a boarding school with a code of behavior that, if not modeled well, had the potential to interfere with true faith, we marvel at the mystery of grace. Unexplainable, difficult to define, grace. There when you least expect it but most need it. The Mystery of Grace. It defies words but just as we have felt it in the past, we felt it that night.

Note the Bronze Pig in the background!

Where or when have you experienced the unexplainable mystery of grace? Join the conversation through comments!