Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Newspaper columns, dreams, and reality...

Today being Wednesday, it's a good time to talk about the newspaper "Op-Ed/Commentary" column that pretty much launched my writing career; as of this month it looks like it's been deep-sixed by the Tampa Tribune - for good.

We all know newspapers are struggling. But I honestly believe the decision-makers are shooting themselves in the foot by dropping a popular column that's been around almost a decade - just to save $60 a week.

That's pretty much a car-payment for me and it stings. But my real disappointment is the loss of what has - essentially - become an ongoing conversation with tens of thousands of people about life, faith, and what it means to make a positive difference in this broken world.

The good news is my weekly column in North Florida survives, and I recently launched a monthly column in the Presbyterian Outlook, a weekly journal that puts me "in the loop" with Presbyterian leaders nationwide.

But my heart was (and still is) in my relationship with the people of Tampa. If you're interested, here's a little history:
  • It started back in Pensacola in the late 1980's. Rebekah and I taught a huge Sunday-school class for young families (because, then, we still qualified). I begun a regular five-minute devotional/meditation that was well-received. Eventually, people started saying "We need a newspaper column like that."
  • A decade later I finally put the idea to the test and landed the front page of the Tampa Tribune's Sunday Opinion Section with a piece titled "Let's Not Return to the Dark Ages".
  • The column generated a lot of buzz. I repeated on the Trib's main pages 6-12 times a year for the next few years.
  • Meanwhile the Brandon News offered me a weekly opinion column. It was soon picked up by other "zones", often running in the majority of the Tribune's local papers.
  • In 2001, the column won the Florida Press Association (FPA) award for "Best Serious Column." Two years later it won another FPA award.
  • After I quit teaching I picked up some regular feature work with a variety of the Tribune's local papers, sometimes publishing as many as four articles per week.
  • Over the past two-three years, however, more than10 different editors have handled my work, always getting re-assigned (or let go in another downsizing) just as soon as our working relationship was solid.
  • So now I run one, two, or zero weekly features... but have been happy to keep the column...
  • This year one of my columns won an "AMY" award. The Amy is a high-profile national journalism prize that recognizes writers who honor and communicate biblical truth in the secular media.
  • Until now, that is....
So, prayers are coveted. Please pray that: A) New opportunities surface B) The Tampa Tribune will re-instate my opinion column C) So many people read this blog and then pass it on that I'll get an offer from some syndicate group and "go nationwide"!

There's more, of course, but this is enough fornow. Below my signature you'll find the column I wrote for today. Enjoy! Grace and peace - DEREK

Clean up before trying to rebuild

I have to admit – it’s nice to be back in Brandon.

Our adventure in Europe was awesome. Three weeks of vacation; seeing our son; falling in love with some of the most inspirational places we’ve ever seen; stimulating the Italian economy. But it’s good to be home. There’s a continuity and a purpose to our lives here that my wife and I are both anxious to re-engage.

Thirty-six hours after our plane landed the crew showed up to demolish our kitchen. By lunch the cabinets were gone, next the appliances, then they went after the tile floor. By day two the room was reduced to a shell, a wall was history, and a new opening was framed in. Today it’s “goodbye” to the drop ceiling and then fun with wiring.

We’ve been in this house thirteen years, and we’ve “had a go” at the kitchen (as the British would say) a number of times. An appliance here, a sink there, counter tops, molding and paint; but the footprint of flooring and cabinets always remained. Hemmed in by the structures that defined what we believed possible, nothing ever changed beyond superficiality.

This time it’s different, and the reasons are 13 years in the making. There’s a sense in which – as the Bible suggests – everything old needs to pass away before anything significantly new can take its place. “The old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5).

The analogy may be a stretch, but this may be such a time for Florida. The old ways have been, in the words of the prophet Daniel, “Weighed on the scales and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27).

Patching up and painting over rot and mildew behind the bead-board does nothing to add real value. At some point we need to bite the bullet and come in with a sledgehammer so the problem is revealed.

Light it not only incisive – penetrating and razor sharp – light reveals decay so it can be removed before we attempt to move forward. I’m not going to describe what we found behind the kitchen cabinets yesterday - sufficient to say it bought to mind what’s happened to this economy over the past generation. Yes, the walls were that bad.

I believe that, here in Hillsborough County, we should see this crisis as an opportunity to reinvent ourselves. All of us: Individuals; institutions; business, government.

Right now we have a nice clean slab of concrete in our kitchen and some strong studs on the wall. It’s a great place to start.

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