Saturday, May 30, 2009

Fun with fiber-optics!

Here's a trivia question: What happens when you give a fiber-optic cable a really good whack with a shovel?
a) The Internet goes out.
b) The television goes bye-bye.
c) The phone looses its dial-tone.
d) a, b & c, above.

If you selected answer "d", then you have obviously participated in gardening practices that confuse roots (that need to be struck firmly with the pointy end of the shovel while jumping on the shovel and yelling "Die, root, die...") with fiber-optic cables (these need to be worked around gently, handled with kid gloves, and flagged for future reference).

The good news is the Verizon guy managed to come early afternoon, and we were only incommunicado with the world for a matter of 5 hours. Plus, Rebekah's work on the flower bed that houses the aforementioned fiber-optic cable moved forward with great success. The area has been neglected for a long time, and has been "on deck" for some serious work for the best part of a year.

After dinner there was a gentle breeze and the evening air had a hint of freshness about it. I thought about how much more enjoyable the garden is after a day of hard, physical work. It's not so much pride in achievement as it is a sense of partnership with the ongoing process of creation.

This is a world that's constantly being formed and re-formed. The idea that God created it all four or five thousand years ago - exactly as is, without finessing the product via the work of eons, upheavals, weathering and a million other variables - is not only absurd it is an insult to the intention of God in creation. All you have to do is stand within rumbling distance of Mount St. Helens and watch the new dome grow out of the vast crater from the 1980 explosion - it's an awesome and humbling experience. (photograph taken - by me - from the Johnson Ridge observatory in 2006) We are invited to be co-authors in this creation, working the soil and tending the gardens. When we do this I think it calls to deep places in our spirits and we are satisfied...

I'm also glad that Saturday comes before Sunday, because there's nothing like a day of labor in the garden to prepare my heart for a morning at church, where I continue the worship I enjoyed today in the context of community.

I do so enjoy this life - DEREK
"The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good." - Genesis 1:12

Friday, May 29, 2009

"Benedictine" Marriage

Heading out to The Brunchery for a breakfast date with Rebekah. I'll just have to blog about the Eggs Benedict (or whatever) later! I have my priorities, you know!


10:30 AM - Now that was a good breakfast! And, yes, we both had the Benedict. Oh yeah - calories and great coffee - that's what I'm talking about!

The meal was perfect, of course, because I shared it with great company - and with excellent conversation. We looked out of the big windows and watched a heavy morning rain come down. It was beautiful; life is beautiful; we are beautiful together!

Sometimes I wonder about what people in adjacent tables might make of our dialogue. We covered topics such as our own personal faith, what we're doing to connect other people to authentic spiritual experiences, where Rebekah is planning to go with her sermon this weekend, and the new book I'm currently imagining. Fact is, we talk easily about these deep issues because they are real in our lives, and we are faithful to the discipline of staying in touch with one another on every level.

It's what makes this a Great Marriage. Marriage is about honestly dealing with the reality of life that is - by definition - challenging and wonderful and difficult and amazing... It is struggle - sometimes - but it is struggle... together. Right now there is much less struggle and much more whoop-it-up joy; but it's the commitment that makes it good, and the faithfulness to the ideal that we are in this together, two flawed people constantly engaging the process.

I'm glad I work out of our home, so we can do things like wake up and say, "Let's go to The Brunchery for breakfast." But I'm most glad that we enjoy one another enough to still be excited at the prospect!

Thirty years this summer! I had no idea being married would be anything like this wonderful, this difficult, this great, this complex, this important... - DEREK

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Everything is possible...

In yesterday's newspaper column, I imagined what I might say if I was given the opportunity to speak at a graduation. My foundational idea was this thought from Jesus: "Everything is possible for the person who believes!" (Mark 9:23)

I think that truth is caught up in my decision to begin each work day with personal time in the presence of God. Because if I place deliberate believing at the front end of my day, then the spectrum of what might be is no longer limited by the narrow parameters of what too often is. Obstacles such as past experience, present mood, pressure, disappointments, other people's expectations, criticism, another round of editors "let go" by my newspaper... and a host of other reasons not to expect God's absolute best.

So I don't think it's a coincidence, this week, that I interviewed a woman who was so badly broken in a car accident the doctors told her family she would "never talk, reason, walk, or live independently." But she never quit trying, never conceded defeat, never stopped believing. She had to hire a lawyer to win her independence, she had to crawl up 102 steps to argue her point in court, and she has to continue to fight hard every single day to convince her body and her mind that, yes, she is still learning and growing and contributing.

I'd argue that we all too willingly cripple ourselves routinely, in terms of negative expectations and a failure to live into what is possible in terms of our identity as beloved children of the living God.

Rebekah spoke eloquently in church a couple of weeks ago about the concept of "predestination." She did a great job of explaining how the idea has nothing to do with pre-determinism and everything to do with owning our role as partners with God in all that is possible. She then talked about the opportunity we all have to "live into" God's plan for our lives. God's purpose, our choice to participate. Everything is possible for the person who believes!"

Later today I'll try to link Rebekah's message through this page.
Click on this picture of Rebekah and you should get the message.
Love and blessings - DEREK

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Keeping the "free" in freelance writing

Everybody always laughs uproariously when I say this, but it's true. "I am a free lance writer, with an accent on the word FREE."

The origins of the word "freelance", author Philip Yancey told me earlier this month, come from the Middle Ages. Some knights were attached to dukes, earls, lords or whatever... and some were self-employed and available to be hired by whoever needed a knight for a day or a week or a campaign of some sort. Their "lances" were "free".

I get paid per item - usually a set amount for a column or a feature, plus a few $$ for the photographs, and I'm always scrambling to make sure I'm doing enough paid work to make ends meet (or even justify the gas to drive to the interview!).

I have enough regular work with the Tampa Tribune to predict a "ball-park number" of dollars coming in each month, although the newspaper has significantly cut back both on the amount of work they give me and the rate at which I am paid. Then everything else is pretty much about submit.. reject; submit... reject; submit... reject; submit... ... ... ... bingo!

My best estimate is that, still, a good 50% of my work is either rejected, published without any payment, or simply ignored.

This week, however, I have a new challenge: I'm wrestling with more work than time. I accepted an ongoing assignment with a magazine - but I'm just not getting the research done, the people contacted, and the writing completed in a timely fashion. So today I'll actually be negotiating for less work. It's hardly an ideal solution, but if I fall on my face it's one closed door I'll never see opened again.

Then, just yesterday, my publisher asked for a formal proposal regarding my next book! Not the one coming in September but a volume slated for the fall of 2011. So now, on top of everything, I have a fairly dense 30 page document to complete over the next eight days.

But that is, in a nutshell, the writing life. It's feast or famine - mostly famine - but when opportunity comes along the commitment needs to be 100%.

And I'll add that I love what I do. I feel blessed beyond measure to be in this position, married to someone who is completely supportive of my muse, beginning each day with a new opportunity to bring truth and clarity to the world via a few carefully chosen words.
  • May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. - psalm 19:14

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Cap'n Jack Russell" and other teachers

Sometimes I think that God gave us pets simply to help keep things in perspective. It's not just that they make us laugh - and they certainly do - it's more that the furry animals in our homes provide much needed social commentary, a kind of divine tutorial. "Just look at things from my point of view..." they seem to be saying; "get over yourselves."

That's why my lead photo is of our friends' Jack Russell (David and Karin Dale). The dog's chief joy in life, especially when there are people around to impress, is to take a running jump onto one of the "floaties" in their pool, then sail around while standing high on the prow like "Capt'n Jack Sparrow" - which makes him, I guess, Capt'n Jack Russell.

Then our dog, Scout (80 pounds of hairy Labradoodle), is a constant, unremitting, hoot. Recently Rebekah fell off a stepladder while demolishing something in the kitchen. I wasn't home so she lay still for a few moments, making sure nothing was badly damaged. Scout was concerned and came in to check out all the commotion. She looked at Rebekah, sniffed, then - unsure of how to help - did the only thing that came to mind... She sat on Rebekah's head!

And Darth the cool black cat has life completely figured out. What's not to understand about rotating between five or six favorite comfort spots in the yard and around the house? But it's his attitude that so completely rocks. Doesn't matter if he's healthy, sick, beat up by some neighborhood animal, or even being poked and prodded by the vet... he is gracious, grateful for the love, and as even tempered an animal as I've ever seen.

Maybe the cat is so good natured because he vaguely remembers the situation we rescued him from? Maybe the dog is such a hoot because she has been loved so rigorously from day one...?

I believe we all have much to learn as a so-called "higher species". The original sin in The Garden was that not-so-subtle shift in thinking, a choice that internalized the deadly idea that "It's all about me." The companion tragedy was avoiding the presence of God, becoming dishonest, and choosing not to be in relationship with the Creator.

Sometimes I'm convinced that all of nature is conspiring to help human beings get a grip on reality. Reality that we bury under needless worry and acquisition and false priorities and - most of all - arrogance.

Just listen...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Gratitude

It's a quiet, peaceful morning today. When I walked Scout there was almost no traffic on the roads. Most of us are waking up slowly into this holiday Monday with the practiced ease of people who inherited our freedom rather than earned it ourselves.

The men and women who earned it for us are the reason we have a Memorial Day. I pray we never forget.

Just yesterday evening I had a kind of epiphany, and I realized the extent of what we have and how amazing it is to live this life that we enjoy. Sixteen of us were gathered at David and Karin Dale's house for an informal version of our small group for "POGs" (Parents Of Grads). Our friends are great - such a diverse amalgam of life and personality and experience, and we love one another deeply. We laugh; we cry; we share deep needs and huge joys; we talk about our children; we rant about some of the stuff we deal with from day to day; we hold one another accountable; we pray.

But this particular evening, as I watched the interactions and listened to the conversations, I had this profound sense of gratitude for all the people who have sacrificed so much over the years to guarantee us this freedom. We can enjoy one another without even the faintest flickering of an inkling of fear, or doubt, or holding back, or concern that anything we do or say or joke about is under any scrutiny at all.

Rebekah and I had dinner recently with a Christian from a former Soviet Bloc country in Easter Europe. Even today, many years into his country's journey into political freedom, the suspicions and defenses of the past have a vise-grip on the ability of people - even people in church together - to relate without fear.

In a community where neighbors routinely informed on one another, where teachers took what they learned about families from the children to the authorities, and where it was impossible to be honest or unguarded anywhere, anytime - the fear lingers to this day.

Small groups where friends honestly share their struggles and joys? Not really possible. Gatherings of friends where everything on my mind or yours could be spilled on the table? Not in that culture. Not for at least a generation or so into the future...

And here we sit, free beyond most of the world's imagination, and we abuse it and take if for granted and - worse - voluntarily give liberty up in favor of oppressors like debt, ignorance, bad religion, and an unwillingness to participate by voting, thinking, questioning etc...

So, HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY. Let's live as if it really does mean something.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Taking care of creation

I can't believe how nice our garden looks after this week of rain. Well I can, actually, because Rebekah and I have been preaching low impact natural "let nature take its course" landscaping for the past decade or so.

But the recovery really has been spectacular; a transformation from dry, brown, brittle and dead - to lush, green, verdant and full of promise.

Funny thing when we moved into this house. The golf course behind our garden (the 7th green comes up to our yard) had some poorly adjusted sprinkler heads. Consequently, they watered a pie-shaped section of our garden - around 2,000 square feet or s0 - several times a week.

The grass there was so nice. Strong, bright green, thick. The upshot was I wanted to water the whole yard, get it all looking that nice. Reason prevailed, however, and - while we did install a sprinkler system - we simply couldn't conscience putting thousands of gallons of good drinking water all over our yard, especially once the strain on the local water supply started to become an issue.

So we have designed our yard to work with the ambient environment. Interestingly, around five years ago, the golf course reworked their irrigation system. We lost our free soaking and - within a few months, that section of the garden looked miserable. The grass there had been well trained to receive water on a regular basis, and developed shallow roots accordingly.

The rest of our garden looks great. It maintains deep, penetrating roots, it's used to periodic deprivation, and it doesn't rely on artificial supplies of H2O.

The lesson here is that, given water restrictions, yards like ours will always handle the stress much better than those used to pampering. There's absolutely no justification for waste, for over-watering, for taxing the water supply to extremity just to maintain a lush lawn.

I really enjoy living in this part of Florida. But it's important to remember that this is Florida, not New England! Florida has certain native plantings that were designed to thrive here - and it's arrogance and foolishness to try make our gardens something artificial. Give it up, people.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Gotta love the Internet!

Dear Andrew... "I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart..." - Philippians 1: 3-7

There's lots to love about the Internet. Accessibility, connectivity, productivity, flexibility... But my absolute favorite is still the serendipity; those unexpected, pleasant surprises that touch your heart strings in just the right way.

So yesterday, when the networking protocols of facebook threw a photograph of our son, Andrew, my way, it was serendipity in all its definitions. The people who took the photo are not connected to me in any remote way. But, they "tagged" Andrew in the picture when they posted it on their facebook page. So, because Andrew is one of my "friends", the mysterious powers that make things happen on the networking site threw a copy of group on my homepage. How cool is that!

It's also a great picture because that's exactly where we are going to be in less than one month! Rebekah has been doing her inimitable exhaustive research and there are piles of books on Tuscany and Rome all over the house, with yellow sticky notes on the covers and tags on various pages. This pic of the leaning tower simply revved up the anticipation.

Then there's the more subtle message in the photo - in both the photos: the fact that our son is surrounded by people who love life, share his spirit of adventure, and are committed followers of Jesus. Andrew was hosting some out-of-town missionary/youth worker, using the gift of hospitality he learned so well at home. He was showing them around Tuscany for the weekend, along with his friends. These are motivated, on the ball young adults with the world at their feet - and they see it all in terms of how they can serve God.

Wow! That's a lot from one photo. But there's a lot going on, and I feel so privileged to be in the middle of this great adventure that is life, and to be witness to our son getting caught up in all of the possibilities.

Life is good. God is Great. The Internet is awesome.
Love and blessings - DEREK

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Stir-fry and sweet, sweet rain...

I was cooking supper yesterday, in a hurry, when the weirdest thing happened. Ten minutes before it was time to serve I preheated my wok and got out a bag of frozen stir-fry veggies. I said something to Rebekah, turned around, and my veggies were nowhere to be seen....

... So I searched, everywhere. The refrigerator, the freezer, the sink, the pantry, the dishwasher, the bathroom, every room in the house, under the pile of dishes in the sink - I looked absolutely everywhere but with no success. So we ate lasagna without veggies. Later, doing the dishes, while emptying the dishwasher, I opened the knife drawer to put away my tools. There they were! One bag of vegetables; done for; soggy and limp. Go figure!

RAIN!!!! This rain has been a huge refreshment for the Tampa Bay area. Plants, people, flower-beds - we're all enjoying the treat.

The best assessments say we've been in an extended drought for three to four years. This year - up until last week - we were well below 50% of expected rainfall, and the grass was literally crunchy underfoot.

Florida, of course, is so dense with vegetation (vegetation that expects a good dose of rain on a regular basis) that the effect of no rainfall to speak of, all year, has been devastating.

The past week and a half has witnessed a long series of deluges. It's rained somewhere in the area every single day. Here in Brandon/Valrico we've enjoyed heavy rainfall on six days and then a couple of days like Tuesday - overcast, breezy, 70 degree temperatures, and British-like misty rain off and on all day long. Now that's some refreshment.

So I tried to capture a little of the freshness on film. It's amazing how quickly the garden is prepared to perk up - one more reason our general xeriscape approach looks like the best plan for the future.

Here's an idea: If certain vegetation is not designed to grow in sandy soil with unpredictable rainfall, let's not plant it. Why waste millions of gallons of precious water on grass that was not supposed to grow here in the first place? I'm just saying.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bullying won't go away by itself

Typically I don't post my newspaper column in this space. But I'm hugely concerned about bullying in our schools, and I want as many people as possible to think seriously about the issue. The precipitating event for this column was a brutal rape at a Tampa Middle School. It was a case of ongoing bullying simply escalating. My judgment is that we don't know but a small percentage of what's going on.


Bullying Won't Go Away By Itself
The Tampa Tribune, May 20, 2009

I didn't end last week's column intending a "part-two" discussion, but today's thoughts are very much connected to my concerns about our community's moral compass.

I'm neither surprised nor impressed by the Hillsborough County School District's sudden interest in bullying. The county's directive has all the trappings of a "Look busy until the excitement dies down" rejoinder.

Something big happens, the story gets splashed all over the news, administrators walk through locker rooms in a show of concern, then everything goes back to normal until the next problem hits the fan.

Here's the sad truth. Bullying, even the extreme example at Walker Middle School in April, in which investigators say four boys assaulted another in a locker room, is endemic to middle and high school culture. Such widespread character pathology can only be addressed via systemic interventions that necessarily involve each one of us.

Like so many examples of social breakdown, we try to pin it all on the schools, as if the parents are free and clear. I'm sorry, but when your children engage in methodical mental harassment, physical abuse, imprisonment and torture, responsibility neither begins nor ends at the principal's office.

I'm concerned that, while the idea of character education is routinely kicked around, moral values are seldom adequately addressed in the long term.

Then there's this elephant in the room I can't help but point out.

There's a resistance to change built around a litany of fundamental falsehoods regarding what it means to be male in this culture.

Expressions such as "boys will be boys," "it's just horseplay," "take it like a man" and "it's time the kid learned to man up" are used by grown-ups, not kids. These mantras reveal much about the adults who influence bullies - albeit without malicious intent - and help make possible the undercurrent of fear that facilitates such acts of oppression.

Simply put, we cannot hope to rid our schools of bullying unless we all begin to do the following:
  • Commit to raising our children with more deliberate care and guidance.
  • Treat all people with kindness and respect, without exception.
  • Quit dodging responsibility for ourselves and our actions.
  • Work to abolish all forms of abuse, oppression, injustice and human trafficking in this community.
  • And give our schools the support they need to do the job we ask.
One more thing I learned teaching exceptional education: There should be no such thing as an unsupervised child. And middle-schoolers are as exceptional as they come.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Expiration Date On Liberty

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the HBO movie "John Adams". We've been watching the seven episode treatment of David McCullough's excellent book. Yesterday evening, after a long stretch with no time available to view much of anything, we stayed home for our "date night", cooked steaks, and double-featured the last three hours of the series.

Once again I was struck by how comfortable my life is in 21st Century America. There we sat on our over-sized sofa, eating fillet-mignon with fresh asparagus and garnished baked potatoes that I'd prepared in the modern kitchen we're shortly going to tear out and replace, enjoying air-conditioned comfort in complete security.

As president and first lady, John and Abigail moved into an official residence that was in deplorable condition. They occupied the White House before it was anywhere near completion in the middle of the vast construction site that was to become "Washington City." Transportation involved mud and discomfort and all manner of inconvenience.

Communications were haphazard; there was no national infrastructure to speak of; medical interventions were inexact and frequently brutal; misfortune had no accompanying parachute of insurance or unemployment benefit or welfare.

In short, this nation was carved out of a vast, unmanageable amalgam of disconnected people, doing their best to engineer some kind of connectional republic from a morass of loosely organized farms, villages, cities and states.

The Great Experiment worked, for the most part, because a love for the ideal of liberty drove the founders to work their fingers to the bone, compromise, tolerate, sacrifice, believe... and place the good of the emerging nation ahead of any desire for personal gain.

My fear on May 19, 2009, is that the most compelling ideal driving far too many Americans is the ideal of prosperity, not liberty. And that far too many of us willingly give away our freedom in exchange for consumer goods with an expiration date of just a few months.

There is an expiration date on liberty. It's the day we don't value freedom enough - either for ourselves or for our children - to be willing any more to sacrifice in order to keep it.

Monday, May 18, 2009

"Tut-tut - looks like rain"

One of the great benefits to working for myself is sleeping in when it's an overcast "tut-tut, looks like rain" kind of a Monday morning. Consequently I didn't emerge from under the covers until 7:30 - much to Scout's consternation. "Woof; what do you mean we're not hitting the sidewalks at 6:00?"

Slow starts, however, do not diminish the work load once it all begins. That's why I'm beginning in a devotional context - I always do. Aligning my day up with the impulse of the Author of Creativity is the only sane way for me to approach any consequential task.

After reading today's Upper Room Daily Devotion I stepped outside for a moment, filled my lungs with, fresh air, and received the full impact of creation at it's most compelling. Fortunately, I knew exactly where my telephoto lens was hiding (I tend to lose such things routinely!) and was able to shoot the series of photos I've included in this post.

I'm not a well informed bird-spotter, but I know a beautiful woodpecker when I see one. So - and with a severe thunderstorm threatening to kill my power - I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Love and blessings - always - Derek

May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works . . . I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

-Psalm 104:31, 33 (NIV)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I Need My Own "Restaurant Name"

Random ramblings:
First off, I'm thinking about adopting my very own "restaurant name". You know, something distinctive yet not a stretch to pronounce - easy to handle, even for self-absorbed and distracted hostesses who are preoccupied with their cell-phones or giggling with the gaggle of wait-staff who hang around the front desk, hiding from their tables.

Here's the scenario: I walk in and ask for a table; Bambi hands me one of those paging devices; I tell them my name.
  • "Garret?"
  • "No, Derek."
  • "So that's table for two; David."
  • "No, table for two, Derek."
  • "Okay; was that Gary or Darrell?"
  • "No, Derek, D.e.r.e.k., Derek."
  • "Right, whatever, Eric."
  • "You're getting closer, and it might help if you were looking at me instead of the text message you're writing. One more time: my name is Fred; F.r.e.d., Fred."
I'm open to suggestions.

That reminds me of Valentines Day. A last minute change of plans had us scrambling for a restaurant. Our favorite place had people waiting out in the parking lot, and they said they'd been out there over an hour. As I walked to the desk to put in our name a guy stumbled into me from the bar.
  • "'Excuse me," he said. "You just get here?"
  • "That's right," I replied.
  • "Party of two."
  • "Uh huh."
  • "We're leaving," he said. "Been here 90 minutes. Take this pager. Remember, your name is George." And off he went.
Before I had a chance to reach the hostess the pager he handed me went off in my hand. She looked at me and I raised one eyebrow. "George?" she asked. "Please follow me."

This is a two-wedding weekend. Wedding # 1 was 1:00 in the afternoon, on a Friday. It was two of the young-adults in our congregation, and they simply wanted an intimate, family occasion. It's one of the great privileges of being married to the pastor that I'm always an insider, even with the most close-knit groups. I've included a rough cell-phone picture of the nieces and nephews.

The afternoon wedding reception pretty much ran into the rehearsal for the Saturday event, a much bigger, more traditional affair. Again, and not the norm, both young people are from our church. They play in the praise-band together, part of our very dynamic brass ensemble.

More people should attend weddings. Not only to support and encourage the newlyweds, but because good weddings are wonderful reminders and inspirations, especially for those who are struggling. A marriage that works is a great work of art.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Write well and prosper...

(Photo: me talking; people listening - go figure!)

Friday morning. 9:00 AM; and it looks like another beautiful day. Pontifications aside (and
you know how I love to pontificate!), I remember that - earlier this week - I promised to post a list of guiding principles when it comes to taking writing seriously.

I first offered these to students at Durant High School. Then I finessed them a little for the Bloomingdale Writers Connection workshop I taught. So here goes:
  1. Never, never, never, never, never give up. We all know the Churchill story, the speech he gave at his former school where he had been bludgeoned with discouragement. But the idea never grows old. Good writing is as much a product of tenacity as it is talent.
  2. Good writing will improve pretty much everything about your professional life – not matter what your profession. If you think this technical age of digital everything reduces the need for written communication skills then you're dead wrong. There's more text to read, digest, summarize and disseminate than ever before. If you can write in a manner that's even a little engaging... then you're that far ahead of the crowd.
  3. Don’t work to earn money – earn money so you can be free to do the work you’re called to do. This could be an entire post by itself. So it will be... Stay tuned!
  4. Always write the truth... but truth is always far more than a mere collection of facts. I showed a series of slides at the writers workshop. One example was a picture of London after an air-raid during WW2. "The fact," I said, "is that my mother's house was blown up on a certain date in 1944. But now let me tell you the story behind the fact." Another was a photo of my immediate family in front of a Holland America cruise ship. "The facts are simple. May 4, 2006, 11 people boarded this cruise ship in Seattle. The Alaska cruise lasted 7 days. Now let me tell you the story...."
  5. There is a market for good news! The same news industry that insists on selling the darkest collection possible of tragedy, scandal, violence and bad news in general... is slowly but surely going out of business. No, the answer isn't this simple; but the truth is, people do enjoy reading positive news and stories of redemption.
  6. The Socratic maxim – “The unexamined life is not worth living”. My blog (this blog) “A Life Examined” is dedicated to the notion that self-examination is at the root of personal growth. Writing that fails to include this element is, ultimately, dishonest and hollow.
  7. Accountability – be a part of some kind of group where you ask one-another hard questions as well as give encouragement and support. Not just a criticism group or a group that reads one-another's writing, but a group that offers support and encouragement for life in general. This is where my men's small group and my parents of grads Bible-study step up as real life changers.
Just scratching the surface, but - in my experience - these are seven principles pretty much guaranteed to get novice writers over the hump.

Love and blessings - always - DEREK

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Clear Thinking via Faith

I really enjoy the interactive quality of my newspaper column. Sometimes I'll hear from tons of people; other times from next to nobody. Once in a while everyone agrees with what I say; on other occasions it's hate-mail with a vengeance. Then there are the columns that generate views that are all over the map.

I've been labeled conservative and liberal for the same piece of writing! Once I received an angry email complaining that Christians should keep their mouths shut "because of the separation of church and state" - not exactly an intelligent or well researched response.

My most popular column to date remains the piece I wrote after my faithful dog, Mozart, died in 2005. I still get requests for copies.

Yesterday's column (about violence against children) was well-received by most readers, and served to remind me that my role as a writer is not simply that of asking good questions. It's Okay to point people toward potential answers too. The secret is not to bludgeon the public with my opinion so much as to offer a reasonable perspective and invite further reflection.

My experience is always that a faith-perspective offers more clarity. Why? Because - as Jesus said - "You will know the truth and the truth will make you free." There is great freedom in the spiritual journey. Those who say otherwise have encountered nothing more than religion.

Worth thinking about - DEREK

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Love Like You Mean It!

"Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:19-21)

Today I'm praying extra hard for all the people I know who are at odds with one another in their marriages. Too many of us live as if the initial rush of passion and a few well-parsed wedding vows should be enough to carry us through the next fifty years or so, with no further maintenance required. But that's lunacy!

The variety and the intensity of the variables that come into play (almost immediately) is mind-boggling. Here are just a few:

Mortgages; your entire life prior to the marriage; children; work commitments; car-payments; personal tastes; perceived needs; previous friends/relationships; credit problems; education; dreams; mismatched priorities; children; short-term goals; health issues; politics; leisure time choices; long-term goals; mental health; children; scheduling; in-laws; family in general; unemployment; alcohol; children.... And that's just the beginning.

All this, and more... and the standard responses coming from so many married people run something like this:
  • "Things will work out by themselves..."
  • "She should know I love her; why should I have to keep saying it?"
  • "It's really more about the children right now..."
  • "If he really loved me he wouldn't have to ask what's wrong..."
  • "We don't have the time to date - we'll take care of it later..."
  • "If we spend $500 on five counseling sessions we won't be able to get that new TV..."
  • "I hadn't counted on it being this hard..."
  • "It shouldn't have to be this much work..."
It shouldn't be this much work? Why on earth not? It's only the most important element of your entire life! It's only something a functioning and stable culture depends on....

So we'll dedicate an entire weekend to yard work... but leave the most important part of our lives untended. Or fail to be honest with our spouse when they hurt us... then talk about it incessantly with our co-workers the next day. How about this - We bend over backwards to get our vehicles in for various check-ups, change the oil, rotate the tires... but look back at a marriage after 12 years of neglect and say, "What happened? I can't understand how we drifted apart?"


There's an important chapter in my book, GET REAL, where I talk openly about my own culpability in that regard. The chapter title is "Honest to God", and - while I only scratch the surface of my personal issues - it's very much a "half-shell" level revelation. I recommend it, for both women and men.

Meanwhile, learn more about serving tea. It's in another chapter, but I might just paste some of the content in this space later this week.

Ultimately I'm talking about mutual submission here. Come on, people, live like Jesus; be the presence of Christ to and for one another. Love like you mean it.
Peace - and I mean that - DEREK