Sunday, June 14, 2009

Blog "On A Break" until early July

Today - Monday - Rebekah and I are hopping a plane and headed to Europe! Tampa-London, then London-Pisa. There we will enjoy a remarkable two and a half weeks with our son, Andrew, in Tuscany, Rome and Milan.

Odds are I will not be blogging until I come back to the States. Too much computer time is anti-relational... and Rebekah and I want to enjoy one another on vacation without me disappearing into blog-posting!

So, if you're any kind of an "A Life Examined" reader, then please be patient. This blog is on vacation!

Back at our house, we have people staying every day and every night we're gone. They'll be taking care of things, having their friends over, mowing the yard, doing whatever. The dog and the cat will be happy and in good company.

So watch this space, especially when I start posting some great stories and amazing pictures from Italy.

Meanwhile, live as if you mean it! Life is exceedingly good.
Love and blessings - DEREK

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Good conversation and a benediction

A lot of good dialogue was generated by yesterday's blog. (The "I'm really irritated" post). People responded via Facebook and email, sharing a good assortment of insight and wisdom.

Some people expressed surprise that I even get irritated! But I decided right at the beginning that this blog - if it really is "A Life Examined" would always reflect honestly what's going on in my heart and mind.

Generally, and I think this is fairly obvious, I really do own a positive spirit. It's not Pollyanna (as one newspaper reader once suggested) so much as it is the way I naturally tend to relate to the world. It also helps that Rebekah and I love and enjoy each other, are empty-nesters, are passionate about the work we do for a living, live out our lives in the context of an amazingly positive faith community, and seem to be making ends meet without too much of a struggle.

My irritation yesterday (compiled from several instances over the past week or so), may be partially reflective of my impatience with people who refuse to enjoy this amazing gift that life can be. I honestly believe that each one of us was created with the potentiality of a full and meaningful life...

... Not necessarily an easy and convenient life, struggle free. That's something else entirely. But I do feel that meaning, peace, and joy is always on the table. So if bothers me when I see people who are ruled by negativity, bitterness, cynicism or disillusion. Even more so when they try to export that point of view to others!

Anyway, today I spent four hours in the heat doing yard work. Always good for me; always helpful for the perspective. So I'm offering this benediction for those who are weary of heart:
  • Today, select peace as the primary option for your soul. Engage the deep work of reconciliation creation offers to those who play in the dirt and appreciate the life bound up in soil and plant. Then, if you are able, lift your face to the heavens and give thanks. Life is good.
Love and blessings - DEREK

Friday, June 12, 2009

We're all wrong at least some of the time...

I may be smiling in the photograph; but I'm really irritated!....

Today I'm irritated about people who misrepresent the truth or who misquote what other people have said in order to gain ground for their own point of view.

I'm irritated with people who cannot tolerate differing viewpoints, as if it's not possible for two or more people to disagree yet still work together toward what we have in common.

I'm irritated that people don't even listen to the other side of a conversation if they suspect the other person may not parrot their own exact views.

I'm especially irritated when these people assume they know what the other person is thinking, and make statements regarding those assumptions that the person they are misrepresenting is then not allowed to clarify! And so they are unable to even hear that person speak, consequently missing any opportunity to come together....

I've never understood this approach. Because, if you're wrong about something, wouldn't you want to amend your position and be glad to align yourself with the truth? And, if you honestly disagree with someone, wouldn't you want to understand the other position out of respect for the relationship, even if the disagreement remains?

I really don't understand what possible good is served when people come into conversations (about politics, or economics, or social policy, or church, or ideals, or plans for the future, or anything where differing points of view exist) with pre-drawn or pre-emptive conclusions - where the criteria for "correct" is "You agree with me..." and the definition of "wrong" is "You disagree with me...."

Then there is no discussion, there is simply bombast. Facts are ignored if they reveal truth that is inconvenient.

When being right is more important than making progress, it's next to impossible to accomplish anything at all.

I express pointed opinion in the newspaper all the time (I am, after all, an "opinion" columnist). People often disagree with me. But I'm not always right. I even disagree with myself sometimes! Even if the disagreement is not resolved in terms of one of us changing our minds, I welcome the discussion. It's not a problem that we have differing points of view - there's always something to learn.

That's what irritates me so much when I run into people who need to be right so desperately that they will make up stuff to support their position, misrepresent other people's positions to make them sound weaker, and refuse to listen to anything that might fail to support the conclusions they have already made.

Grrrr! How frustrating. I'm irritated!!!


Thursday, June 11, 2009

By "Free Press" we don't mean it shouldn't cost anything...

One of my favorite morning routines involves coffee and the newspaper. Typically, just before I set out to walk Scout Labradoodle, I set up the coffee maker and set the timer so the brewing cycle will have just completed when we return. Forty-five minutes later I pour two mugs, tuck the newspaper under my arm, and head back to wake Rebekah.

We spend the next 30 minutes or so reading up on the news, planning our day, and sipping hot java - this morning it was Sumatran. It's a good way to get going together.

I can't help but think about what we will have all lost the day the newspapers finally close up shop. There are many reasons so many are going belly-up, one regional market at a time. But I believe the primary culprit is our lack of understanding as to the critical importance of good reporting, incisive commentary and a consistent community forum.

It's the FREE PRESS, people, it's foundational to our liberty, and it's about a lot more than selling enough advertising to support the editorial content.

Take my newspaper columns, for example. I often reference current events and include a lot of social commentary... but I piggy-back on the irreplaceable work of reporters who track down fact, ferret out murky stories, push at the halls of power until they get to the bottom of the truth, and variously do what it takes to hold feet to the fire (that's a heinous expression, by the way) in the cause of keeping information flowing freely, out in the open, and accessible for public review.

When I do get out there and do some actual legwork myself, it always amazes me how much in the way of hours, phone calls, research, interviews, document searches etc. it takes to generate one 800 word article. You can't get in-depth reporting for free on the Internet, just because some writer has a blog. It takes salaries and professional training and standards and editors and news bureaus and overseas correspondents - Stuff, like it or not, that does not pay for itself.

If we allow traditional news organizations to die because we, as a people, don't want to ante-up anymore for our morning newspaper, we'll be shooting ourselves in the foot. The eventual cost of such disinterest is going to be possibly more than we can bear... or more than democracy can afford to be without... or maybe we'll remember our history, and our values, and our forefathers/mothers, and the constitution, and something of the cost....

I'm just saying.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Direction for my path

"In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." (Proverbs 3:6 KJV)

Pretty-much every day (at approximately 95% consistency) I begin by reading the short Upper Room Meditation, available on line - click here. It serves as a great jumping-off place for the ongoing formative conversations with God that help keep me dialed in as I think, imagine, vision and write.

Today's scripture caught my attention for two reasons.
  1. It speaks to me clearly, especially in terms of my "Life Examined" credo.
  2. My son, Andrew, has adopted the reference as his "signature" text. Every time I read an email from him, or check his facebook page, "In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths" stares right back from the page. If that's not encouraging for a father, then I don't know what is!
So this particular morning I've been challenging myself vis-a-vis using the Bible as such a foundational reference point in examining my life. Don't worry, it doesn't mean I'm flunking faith - quite the opposite. It means my faith is both robust enough to stand up to some critical self-examination and real enough to benefit from the kind of inner dialog that challenges my natural tendency to sit back and coast.

Coasting always follows gravity. Faith requires a little horsepower to move forward and up. Jesus always welcomed challenging questions... although if we're looking for trite or tidy answers, the Great Teacher did not - will not - compromise the truth in order to play that particular game. (such sophistry is more typically served, pre-wrapped and luke-warm, by televangelists and prosperity gospel pushers)

As I think about it, the Bible has earned my trust because it is such a critical element in my ongoing exploration of this adventure called "walking with God." Truth that works is at once both instructive and incisive. This is always the case with scripture. God's Word thrusts deep.

Reading the Bible opens up new vistas of understanding for me - and at the same time breaks open new questions. It's kind of a Hubble Telescope in that regard. Typically, rather than causing doubt, these new questions lead me to new insights... although it is often a bumpy road.

But that is enough for today. I plan to continue opening this particular window into my muddled thinking.

In the meanwhile... "In all thy ways acknowledge [God], and [God] shall direct [all of our] paths." (Proverbs 3:6 - paraphrased)

Peace - DEREK

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

More about the light

One of my regular columns for the Tampa Tribune gives me a chance to talk with pastors and other spiritual leaders over in Plant City. Those stories - plus scores in Brandon, dozens in West Tampa, and several in Temple Terrace and South Tampa - have added up to well over 300 in-depth interviews with ministers over the past few years.

One story I've been following involves the death and resurrection of a struggling faith community that had been unable to maintain a viable ministry in a changing neighborhood. Eventually, after many years of decline, the Methodist Conference decided it was time to close the doors at "Sunset Heights UMC".

That's where my friend Rev. Gary Brady stepped in. Gary is the pastor of the nearby Trinity UMC. His congregation had been praying about outreach opportunities and a plan was hatched to turn Sunset Heights into an extension campus for Trinity. However, instead of propping up a dying church, this venture is designed to specifically address the needs of the changing community.

So, last week, "Sunset Heights Worship & Ministry Center" opened as a campus of Trinity UMC. The ribbon cutting included an "A-list" of movers and shakers from the community. Folk such as the city manager, the state representative, several school district dignitaries, and the district superintendent for the United Methodist Church.

The school district is partnering with the church to provide ESOL( English As a Second Language) classes, adult GED classes, literacy programs and other community-specific needs. The church parish nurse is setting up a clinic, music lessons are being offered - tapping the skills of older residents to share with the younger, and the future looks to involve recreation programs, a clothes closet and other creative ideas.

Additionally, Sunday morning worship will be offered. But it's not the "same-old same-old", nor is it simply an alternate location for Trinity's parishioners. Instead it's being designed to address the cultural tone of the neighborhood. The sanctuary will also be used to offer special programs at times other than Sunday mornings.

What "floats my boat" about this effort is the idea that the church witnessed itself fading away and chose to do something about it. They believe the Gospel never becomes irrelevant and consequently made a HUGE effort at course correction. They have stopped running away from the neighborhood simply because it threatened the congregational status quo - that's what had been happening for years: instead, the church is changing (emerging) and asking what they can do to serve.

The whole "separation of church and state" mumbo-jumbo takes a back seat when all the church wants to do is to serve... and all the local school district want to do is serve... when it's not about politics but about simply being the presence of Christ in a given situation.

Kudos to Trinity for reaching out; kudos to Sunset Heights for dying with dignity; kudos to the school district for putting people first; kudos for all the local dignitaries for supporting this vision...

Words of encouragement - from me to you - DEREK

Monday, June 8, 2009

What makes for a great church?

Another good Sunday at church this weekend has set up some reflective thought about what exactly makes great community of faith: How can some churches be flat and uninspiring - and then the simple fact of walking into other houses of worship produces a tingle of anticipation or the unmistakable warmth of coming home?

There's an unmistakable electricity in the air at my church; it's as if people can sense the presence of God, even when walking in before the service starts. What exactly explains that?

Believe it or not, I have a theory. Here goes:
  • First and foremost, it's about Jesus, not us. People at our church are Jesus-followers before they are anything else. It shows.
  • It's not the great preaching - although I don't think I've ever heard more consistent sermons or better teaching or entertaining messages than we enjoy every week from Rebekah and Tim...
  • It's not the music - even though I believe our Praise Band is phenomenal and the choir at 11:00 is excellent. Mark and Brad do a phenomenal job leading worship.
  • It's not the people - but I do have to say there's a genuineness and a welcoming spirit it would be hard to replicate anywhere else.
  • And it's not because we're a packed-out house or there's energy from a huge crowd - Attendance is good but it could be better.
So what is it that makes the difference? Presbyterian pastor and author Graham Standish (click his name to read more) talks about the idea of "Blessed Community" in one of his books. He argues that every congregation, even the smallest, has a key group of folk (sometimes maybe only 2-3 people) who pray for the church on a regular basis. That core is the "blessed community."...

... My theory about First Presbyterian of Brandon (click the photo for the church web-site) is that we have an absolutely HUGE blessed community. It starts with the elders - who work together as a ministry team before they are administrators. Then, any given week, between ten and thirty small groups meet, each with anywhere from five to twenty people who pray with and for one another, study the Bible, care for one another, do mission, and pray fervently for the whole church.

... Additionally, a high percentage of church members take plart in mission, outreach, service and other projects every day of the week. Serving meals to the homeless, tutoring children, visiting the sick - reaching out all the time and in scores of different ways.

Consequently, by the time the community gathers together for worship on Sunday morning, the Spirit has been active and engaged all week long! That's why the electric spirit present in worship has very little to do with the quality of the preaching or the music or anything else. It has everything to do with what happens Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The "blessed community" drives our life as a faithful congregation.

That's why, even though we'd like to see an increase in attendance, around 70-80% of the church is in worship together any given Sunday (the average for churches our size is 35-40%). We have membership a little over 500 but weekly attendance around 400.

I firmly believe that the membership statistics for a church are maybe the least important number when it comes to understanding the health of a given church. The real question is how deeply do members love Jesus? And how does that love translate into service?

If church members are living authentic lives of self-giving faith, following Jesus as active and faithful Twenty-first Century disciples - then everything else that matters will fall into place.

Then - when anyone walks into church on a Sunday morning - the presence of God will be obvious. God's people, being the people of God and doing the work of God - because we love Jesus.

Love and blessings - DEREK

Sunday, June 7, 2009

All over the world

Just a brief post - or I'll be late for Praise Band rehearsal at the ungodly hour of 7:15!

I received an interesting email from India recently. No, it wasn't the son of a son of a sultan, needing me to hold on to $10 million for safe-keeping. This was a manufacturer, somewhere in the south of the sub-continent. He owns a factory, employs over a thousand people, and was looking for permission to re-print some of my newspaper columns in his company newsletter.

"I like what you have to say about family," he wrote. "Very few of my employees understand these values and your faith perspective means so much to me...."

The letter went on, but - in a nutshell - this Hindu businessman wants his workers to read about family values as expressed from a Christian world-view.

It's always thrilling when I get to track the trajectory of what God has put on my heart. Most of the time we don't get to see the results of our words and actions. But it doesn't mean there is no effect. The experience gave me pause. What truth, I'm wondering, is my life illustrating at the moment - What I say, what I do, and how I interact with my job and my family and my community?

Have a great Sunday - DEREK

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Lighter fare - "Shoe-Chauvinism" in America :-)

Three sets of pictures - three short posts:

1. I am not believing the hard time we've had trying to find Rebekah a pair of good walking/hiking shoes for the trip to Europe! Walk in any shoe store (each mall or plaza sports an average of ten shoe vendors per 100 yards of shopping) and there you'll see it, shoe-chauvinism in action!

Look to the men's side first. You'll find every imaginable shoe variation under the sun. Dress, casual, walking, running, tennis, sandals, flip-flops, work, every task and every activity imaginable. At Rack-Room there were close 20 options in hiking alone....

Now check out the shoes for women: Pretty, colorful, impractical, high-heeled, decorative... then usually all kinds of pseudo-athletic shoes in a variety of "high-fashion" styles sporting no end of bling. The sporting stores did offer running and work-out shoes, but the hiking selections simply do not exist.

"So do you expect women to wait in the car - or stay home - while the men hike?" I asked one store manager.... "Or is it asking too much to sell footware my wife can actually ambulate in rather than simply stand still and look pretty?"

The best exchange came at a store in the Westfield Mall (Brandon) - the site map lists 25 shoe stores. The store in question is called "The Walking Company."

"This has got to be the right place," I said when I entered the store. Incidentally, the place was empty of customers. "Good evening. We'd like to see your women's hiking shoes."

"We don't carry hiking shoes for women," the guy said.

"But this is 'The Walking Company,'" I retorted, looking around incredulously.

"It's not the right season. Hiking is fall and winter," he explained, beginning to sound all prissy and fashionistic. "We don't sell women's hiking shoes in the Spring and Summer."

"But people go on vacation in the summer," I offered. "That's when they walk the most."

I knew the conversation was over when he rolled his eyes with an air of, You have no fashion sense and consequently you shouldn't be in my store.

So we left, and I said "Thanks for your advice" with the air of You have no customers, good luck meeting the rent this month.

Fortunately they built this huge "Big-Box" store in the mall. "Dicks Sporting Goods." It was possibly the 30th shoe store we had visited in two weeks and the first to stock women's hiking shoes. The selection was good, but we had to pay over $100 for appropriate footwear to traipse around Italy next month.

2. This next picture was taken late at night, right after another good rain. We have this unsightly vine running down the side of an oak tree. But once in a while - always late at night - it offers the most spectacular bloom. The flower only lasts a few hours, and it makes me wonder about the purposes of a Creator who puts that much careful design into something that is not even seen unless by accident. I wonder a lot. In fact, I wonder much more than I manage to draw any useful conclusions.

3. Scout's favorite after breakfast activity is a ten-minute game of "tug." This is her just a few minutes ago. If I forget (or try to sneak into my study without playing) she will find me, shove her soggy rope into my hand, and start to pull. She's very good at this game, and has the strength to pull me pretty-much anywhere. Only she lets me win sometimes - just often enough to keep the game going.

I'm sharing these un-profound posts because I'm trying hard to be more balanced in my life. It's great to have and to share spiritual insight... But sometimes the best spiritual insight is to simply live. I've been doing a lot of living this week, and enjoying it immensely.

Love and blessings - DEREK

Friday, June 5, 2009

Rainy Days and Renewed Life

Experiencing the Serenity Life:

I woke up to another cloudy morning today. When we set out on our walk it was tough to tell if the thunderclouds were moving away or getting closer. Lots of rumbles but nothing directly overhead, so Scout Labradoodle and I launched out on our normal route - until the skies opened up and we got another one of those sudden soakings Florida hands out so well!

Scout loves splashing in the puddles, but is less enthusiastic about a heavy rain, so we made our way home early and I set out to the grocery store for coffee so I could have a fresh pot brewed when Rebekah woke up.

I rather enjoy rainy mornings. Especially days like today when there's no rush to be anywhere too early. We're three weeks into a sustained wet spell here around Tampa, and our whole world is a damp green. If you bend close to the ground you can almost hear the grass grow.

Prayer came more naturally this morning. I'm not sure if it's a signal that I'm more spiritually disciplined or simply a natural response to the serenity that's in the air.

Yesterday a non-believing friend took me to task for posting a prayer-request on facebook (I'm putting together an important book proposal). He suggested I eschew prayer in favor of self confidence. "Pray? Nah, you can do it on your own," he said. "Self-confidence is an amazing quality."

But what he doesn't understand is that prayer explores our relationship to the dynamic power that authored and sustains creation. What makes prayer so helpful in my personal creative process is the awesome truth that God believes in me! Trusting God doesn't imply a lack of self-confidence; quite the opposite: Faith affirms me and builds me up. God and I are partners in this ongoing work of creation.

So let it rain. No gloominess this morning, just an affirmation of renewed life. It's growing all over the place out there; water and life; re-creation. Like my baptism; like my creative spirit bolstered and amplified by God's belief in me.

Grace and peace - DEREK

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Terror in America

I've been thinking about the latest episode of violence in the ongoing tragedy of abortion in North America. A doctor was shot to death this past Sunday while ushering at the church he attended in Kansas.

Years ago, when Rebekah and I lived in Pensacola, we witnessed a series of similar crimes. The first, the infamous "Christmas Day Bombings," featured explosions at a clinic not far from our home. Later, a young man shot and killed an abortion doctor outside the clinic.

The administrator of the abortion center in question attended our church. The man who killed the doctor was the son of my dentist - also a member of our church. The lawyer who defended him was also part of our faith community.

Some time later, in one more horrific episode, a man with a shotgun killed both a doctor and his escort in the parking lot of another Pensacola clinic, again in our section of the community. The perpetrator was a minister from another state, credentialed in the "Orthodox Presbyterian Church" - a denomination so far "right" on the Presbyterian spectrum as to be out of sight.

Unfortunately, although the terrorist's congregation was of another denomination and from the state of Mississippi, the murderous minister was identified in news reports as pastor of "Trinity Presbyterian Church" - the same name as our church, Trinity Presbyterian (PCUSA) of Pensacola. You can well imagine the phone calls we fielded.

Rebekah was even interviewed by National Public Radio, who were bitterly disappointed to learn that we were reasonable, peace-loving, socially active moderates.

Pensacola, however, is a town with a large, hard-core cadre of reactionary religious extremists. These folk routinely wave placards, yell at motorists on street corners, gather outside downtown watering holes to obnoxiously condemn patrons to hell, and cruise grocery-store parking lots on Saturday afternoons, standing in the back of pick-up trucks with bull-horns, loudly proclaiming either the end of the world or the ruinous end of all hope for the perdition-bound shoppers who don't attend the particular church of the favored few...

So, after the double murders by a self-proclaimed minister of the gospel, you could cut the tension in the town with a knife.

Leaders in Pensacola quickly got together and organized an inter-faith prayer-service of peace and unity, to be held at one of the large down-town churches. So we gathered on a Sunday afternoon, crowding out the sanctuary until people spilled over onto the steps. There were four speakers, representing the broad spectrum of Christian witness. Rebekah was privileged to fill one of the slots and a segment of her poignant message made the feed to national prime-time news.

After the service we were all scheduled to march down the main thoroughfare in a mass demonstration of unity. But the clouds rolled in and the skies opened up to one of those hour long torrential downpours.

However, and in a scene I'll never forget, it seemed like 100% of the participants followed those of us from the stage as we sloshed our way along the street regardless of the pouring rain. It was my one good suit; they were my best Sunday shoes - ruined beyond repair! But it was Okay, because the world was able to witness the truth about living faith. We may disagree on so many details, and we may have political convictions that cover every conceivable variable...

...but there is absolutely nothing about following Jesus that supports or condones violence or terror tactics in any possible way. Not violence against the misguided; not violence against the violent; not violence against the not-yet-born; not violence against those we disagree with...

Like I said, I believe that abortion is an ongoing American tragedy. On balance I tend to align myself with Bill Clinton's remarks, "Keep abortion safe, legal and rare..."

Not my usual blog direction - but the subject has been on my mind.
Peace - DEREK

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

To do anything less than be a pilgrim is to miss each day's opportunity

I captured this "impressionistic" image adjacent to the 7th tee on my morning walk with Scout. There was just enough light to reveal the pathway and I took the rough cell-phone picture posted here.

I thought about what had compelled me to take the picture. It's an ordinary enough scene - but I am drawn to roads, pathways, tracks and lanes. I like it when they meander into the distance in a series of distinct curves. I especially enjoy views where the road disappears, then reappears a little further along.

Then I thought about my first book. "GET REAL: a spiritual journey...". It's all about the path.

And the second volume is a guide-book for the road that leads to Christmas: "In My Heart I Carry A Star".... The star provided direction to the magi on their quest to find Jesus; constellations have been used for navigation since ancient history.

Now my new book, "The Unmaking of a Part Time Christian" originally used the sub-title "Pilgrim in Progress". The sub-title has gone, but the idea of pilgrimage remains and the phrase comes up again and again in the text.

This is evidently a theme that runs deep with me. It's the conviction behind my facebook status post this morning, "Today could be amazing." Because each time I wake up a new panorama of possibilities unfolds.

I remember hiking the Appalachian Trail (I walked the length of Virgina plus some over two months in 1976). Once in a while there would be a break in the trees and some stunning vista would emerge. Sometimes the view would be that of the pathway, winding into the woods. Other times it would involve a meadow, or a solid quarter-mile of rhododendrons in full bloom, or a lake, of maybe a panoramic sweep of the Shenandoah Valley.

Always, the outlook would be fresh, even if it was merely the few steps ahead before the trail made another turn.

Standing still? Not an option. Resting on my laurels? Not a great idea. Taking the freeway and bypassing all that struggle and challenge and satisfaction? Not on your life.

This is the "Life Examined". Sometimes there is time to pull out a camera and record the view; sometimes there are folk along the way who help me interpret the journey. When it is dark there are stars to point the way. "Shine like stars in the world. Hold fast to the word of life..." (Philippians 2:15-16)

But always, always, the journey offers the opportunity for progress and refreshment. It is our nature.

To do anything less than be a pilgrim is to miss each day's opportunity.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Reveling in the Grace

"Head back, face up, arms outstretched - reveling in the grace..."

Picture: anonymous child in Portland, reveling

I'm not sure how kosher it is to quote myself, but this was yesterday afternoon's facebook status update, just before Rebekah and I drove down to Sarasota for dinner with my brother and my cousin Marion. Marion is over for a couple of weeks, visiting from England.

"Reveling" is a fairly strong word, and any time I use a word that evocative I have to think about it evaluatively - one of those "A Life Examined" moments. I have to make sure I'm not guilty of using inflationary language. Writers like words, and there's always a danger of employing words we like instead of the correct word. Then, having elevated an experience to the level of a high-value word, the reporting loses credibility.

But, on further evaluation, "reveling in the grace" was an accurate description of my disposition yesterday afternoon. Life, in the ebb and flow that characterizes our experience, is extremely positive right now. My work is enjoyable, my family is happy, our church is in a great place - even the garden looks pretty good.

I don't attribute any of these factors to my skill or merit, to God's special favor focused on me, or to any possible variable that points to my life having any more value at this particular moment than any other moment (including the terribly difficult moments)....

... Instead, I just received what is with "head back, face up, arms outstretched". All I can do sometimes is to simply revel in the grace, say "Thank You", and then continue to live in such a fashion that I am - hopefully - a conduit of such graces to this world.

I don't begin to understand, although I suspect there is more grace available than we typically engage because we do so much and think so much and believe so much that blocks the flow.

Sometimes I get the feeling that I am just beginning to scratch the surface of what is possible when it comes to appreciating this life to its fullest extent. And it's not a matter of figuring out God so that we can "tap" the divine resource and "get" all the blessings we can. I'm inclined to believe the secret goes the other way, inasmuch as we learn to allow God to "tap" us; inasmuch as we are more open to be a blessing to others; inasmuch as we wear the mantle of servant.

The same mantle Jesus wore.
"Jesus then told the crowd and the disciples to come closer, and he said: 'If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me'."

Monday, June 1, 2009

Looking into the future

Big day at First Presbyterian Church yesterday. We voted - overwhelmingly (at around 98% in the affirmative) - to move forward into our future with a "site development" concept that's truly awesome in its implications.

What's cool about the plan is that it is the brainchild of a "visioning team" that has spent three years and invested literally hundreds of hours in the discernment process.

The team started their task in prayer and Bible study, before they even considered anything else. Then they looked at our mission and ministry. In other words, any building that we do is going to be driven by the mission and ministry of the church, not the other way around.

What happened in church yesterday really got its start six years ago, when the congregation shot down a proposal to build. It was the right decision - although it seemed difficult at the time - and the meeting set some good things in motion. At that point our church was carrying debt, landlocked and understaffed. So, instead of forging ahead, the "Foundation for the Future" was launched in order to put us in a position of strength moving forward. What has been achieved has been amazing.
  1. Tim Black was called as associate pastor. He (and his growing family) has been an unqualified success).
  2. The debt has been paid off 100%.
  3. We've acquired several surrounding properties, demolished some of them to expand parking, and almost doubled the acreage surrounding the church.
  4. We have - to date - almost $250,000 set aside to begin the next phase. We're adding to that total every month.
  5. Updates and improvements to the existing facility have made our campus a truly beautiful place for the first time in decades.
So we were nervous going in to yesterday's meeting. This is not an easy economy and change can be unsettling It's tempting to rest on your laurels, enjoy what you have, and simply be a strong church that's happy with the way things are...

But First Presbyterian of Brandon understands one of the fundamental principles of life. Life necessarily involves movement and growth. Standing still is not an option. Organisms either grow or they have stopped living.

We plan to live abundantly as a community of faith, to move into the future with vision, and to serve God in this place with eloquence and generosity and renewed faithfulness. That's a great thought to start the new week on!
Love and blessings - DEREK