Monday, August 31, 2009

Monday, Monday...

Good Morning!

I've got to be honest. I've never been able to identify with the Garfield-esque "I hate Mondays" theme that seems to be kicked around so much this time of the week. Maybe it's because my Sundays are so consistently redemptive....

But, on closer examination, I'm not sure that it's even the Sunday thing. Sure, an awesome day with a vital community of faith is a huge part of the equation, but Sunday is only one day of the week. I'm not quite hanging with the "Make sure Sunday packs enough of a punch to last the whole week and we'll be Okay" theory.

It typically goes something like this:
  • Get tanked up on Jesus;
  • hooked into enough juice;
  • a big enough kick in the pants;
  • an adequate dose of motivation;
  • an extra big charge to our spiritual batteries;
  • a transcendent experience to help us float through the rest of the week;
  • a "top-up" so we can make it a few more days...
Sometimes I'm inclined to believe such an approach feeds into the fundamental malfunction.

For me, the main reason Mondays tend not to be a problem is this. Rather than being a big, nothing to do with my real life, "Sunday-Palooza" event, my day at church yesterday was - instead - a natural extension of what's been going on the other six days.

Here's my theory. I believe we program too much inconsistency into our lives. If Sunday is the only time we experience balance, community, the presence of God, prayer, encouragement, refreshment, peace of mind, family harmony - you name it - then it's no surprise that Monday morning is typically such a let down, a crash from the high of the previous day.

But if, alternatively, we allow our lives of faith and our investment in relationships a little more room in the day-to-day... then waking up Monday morning becomes simply another opportunity to incorporate everything we really value into this particular context.

The idea of following Jesus has no chance of making any sense if we "use" our faith as a topical intervention rather than a systemic application.

Discipleship is a game-changer.
Every day of the week.
Monday included.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Weekend Update - Night Launch

(Stock image from the Internet)

Yesterday evening Rebekah and I stayed up late (Nowadays, 11:59 meets every definition of "late" for us!) so we could watch the latest Space Shuttle night launch. We were not disappointed.

It was a clear night for Florida. Meaning there were absolutely no clouds and the humidity was a paltry 82%.

Consequently we were able to watch ignition and the initial launch sequence on television, and then walk outside to witness 490,850 pounds of thrust emerge over the horizon from our vantage point on the 7th green. Spectacular. Awesome. A few minutes later - at around 12:10 - the low extended rumble of the sonic boom reached our side of the state.

We watched the various stages drop off as the space-craft made it's way "up" and east as it accelerated to a speed of around 28,000 miles per hour. "Up", of course, is a relative term.

I looked into the night sky for several minutes, overwhelmed with the beauty and the depth and the sheer vastness of it all, and I couldn't help but think about a great conversation I enjoyed with a scientist at a recent wedding.

He was a young man in his late twenties, with a PhD in some multi-disciplinary field related to brain science. His work involved, he told me, exploring how an organism such as the human brain could develop self-awareness - "Given the fact that God does not exist".

We enjoyed a broad-ranging conversation. At one point I asked him why he had categorically ruled out the idea of a creator.

"We know so much now," he said. "And the more we can explain rationally, the less we need supernatural of mythological explanations."

He paused, and shook his head knowingly. "The god idea is rooted in ignorance, fear, and superstition. We don't need that outmoded construct any more."

It was one of those wedding receptions where everything is delayed by at least an hour, so we had a good amount of time to chat. He was brilliant, involved in fascinating research, engaging, and a lot of fun to talk with. So I delved a little deeper.

"I'm interested in the 'We know enough now to rule out God' postulate," I said. "Do you remember what the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin said when he came back from space? He said 'I didn't see God...' Well today we have the Hubble Telescope and it's revealing huge new slices of the universe."

"It's answering a lot of questions," he said. "A lot of stuff religion likes to attribute to God."

"Here's the thing," I said. "The cosmos is like a three-dimensional pie. The further out you go the more there is - it's more than an exponential progression. For every ten questions the Hubble helps us to answer it opens up about a thousand new questions we hadn't even considered. So here's my question: Do we know more, or do we know less?"

"What's your point?" he asked.

"My point is that maybe God isn't sitting on a star waiting for some astronaut to take a picture so someone can say 'I'm right and you're wrong.' Maybe God isn't even in the answers. Maybe God is in the questions we haven't even thought to ask yet, the experiences we don't yet have the capacity to imagine, or the yearnings of a soul we have only partially begun to understand? I know my experience of God is often surprising and seldom easy to explain."

We talked some more, and when I went home I realized that he could have talked circles round me with his intellect. But he wasn't interested in proving an argument... he was actually much more interested in discovering truth.

There is a lot of freedom resident in the honest interest in truth. God, I believe, talks to each one of us in the language we understand. But the question remains, are we interested in listening? Or is our primary concern simply in being right?

Love and blessings - DEREK

Friday, August 28, 2009

Is the world evil... or is it good?

Here's an interesting question: Is this world fundamentally evil, or is it fundamentally good?

Yesterday evening, well overdue for a couple of hours spent curled up on the sofa while watching television and eating popcorn, Rebekah and I did a lot of channel surfing and took in a whole lot of ten-minute segments from the entire spectrum of channel selections.

It there was an umbrella theme for Thursday night's programing then it was this. Abuse, death, mayhem, torture, deception, greed, murder, assault.... Several of the shows were documentary productions featuring interviews and "dramatic representations" of actual events. The cumulative emphasis was sickening.

We also stumbled on a slew of commercials, promoting the latest batch of horror and slasher movies being released in time for Halloween. It's disturbing, to say the least, to think that anyone could find entertainment value in realistic renderings of mutilation, torture, brutality, excruciating agony and fear.

One segment on "Aryan Brotherhood" violence and killings inside the prison system turned my blood cold. Then, all over the news this morning, the story of a kidnapped 11 year old enduring 18 years of brutal treatment at the hands of her captors - right here in suburban USA.

So back to the question. Is this world fundamentally evil, or is it fundamentally good? How we answer that question has a lot to do with how we live our lives of faith if we are people who profess to believe.

I reject the idea from the song that says: "This world is not my home, I'm just a passing through." This world is my home; it's a beautiful place. God created it to be our home, and my God is in the redemption business!

Is our theology an escape system (looking for rapture, or apocalypse, some kind of termination of history in order to eventually overcome...) or is our theological posture primarily redemptive (how can we be the presence of Christ in this world and work toward restoration...)?

In my new book, "The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian" I talk a lot about what I call "moving forward, back to the Garden." You see, God created this world, and if you read the beginning of the story in Genesis it's evident that God created something good. "God saw that it was good."

Our story begins in a world created by God and designed to be a place where the creation could enjoy relationship with the Creator. If this pilgrim journey is leading anywhere, then it is a journey forward, back to the garden.

I believe this world is fundamentally good. I don't want to hide; I don't want to escape; I don't want to have this posture that it's all going to hell and that destruction is God's ultimate solution. I want to be an agent of positive change.

I want to be, as one chapter heading suggests, "Subversive for Jesus." I believe this is a world worth saving.

Something to think about - DEREK

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Complex World - Simple Truth

I've been thinking a bit this morning about the power of simple things to pull us back toward contentment - especially when the world crowds in and life can be oppressive and overwhelming.

Sometimes there are so many details pressing in that it's difficult to check our bearings and make sure we have our feet firmly planted on the ground. Cleaning, bills, children, work, commitments, projects, deadlines, responsibilities, obligations, people, committees, projects... it's a list that seldom backs down.

This morning, for example, I woke up feeling a little heavy. Not depressed so much as burdened, and it was difficult to shake. I tried talking to God but my prayers seemed to drop like lead balloons on the ground in front of me; messages launched into the spiritual cosmos, yet unable to escape the gravitational pull of my inward focus.

It turned out to be my long walk that lightened me. Not talking to God so much as stepping out into God's world with the possibility of the transcendent in mind. Connecting with the physical Earth can be a kind of listening, conversation deeper than my prattling - more meaningful, sometimes, than the noise my verbalized prayers create inside my head.

The trick of course is to ground the listening experience in an openness to actually hear, perceive, apprehend - so my mind and my spirit are both open and accessible. Sometimes we push God with our hurried need for peace; as if we can save a little time and get back to the insanity that so often hovers around the periphery and - in truth - commands too much of our allegiance.

So much of spiritual experience lives outside the confines of measurable time, yet I am very often anxious for resolution within seconds, or minutes at best. So this morning I learned a little more about kairos - God's time - the acceptable time - the right time... and I set aside my demand for peace in favor of my need for perspective.

My issue, it turns out, is not that of doubt, or overwhelming difficulty, or even distance from God. My issue is that of still trying to force God to occupy the particular space I have designed for God in terms of my convenience. My issue not a lack of belief so much as a lack of tenacity, of malleability, and of trust.

This is Derek, east of Tampa and an even longer way east of Eden - thinking out loud as we all make our way back to the Garden.

- Peace

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How to be "Not Boring" and still show vacation slides!

I'm finally beginning to wrap up the "picture sorting" from our Italy trip.

I've never before in my life had such a spectacular set of photographs at my disposal! However, attention-grabbing or not, the key to a set of pictures is not how impressive they look so much as it is what kind of story they tell. Outside of the story, they're just another collection of images. Stunning photographs are a dime-a-dozen on line; what counts is the story.

Listening for story has become one of the main interests in my life. I told a group of people recently that my job is to gather stories, re-tell stories, and most importantly to understand where our stories - yours and mine - fit in the context of The Greatest Story Ever Told.

Out trip to Italy was wonderful and the pictures are beautiful. But it means very little outside of the context of the ongoing story we are living and the story we are living into....

I'm handling the photographs in a number of ways:
  • First, I've dropped a few in the occasional blog. There'll be some more today.
  • Next, I'm sharing a photo here and there with facebook posts.
  • Third - and most expensively - I've made three photo books with that have turned out to be amazing. The first was a small softcover titled "Cappuccino 2009: Rebekah Maul discovers Italian froth". It featured nearly 40 pictures of Rebekah sipping coffee in every conceivable location! The other two are hardcover books with slip-covers. One documents our first week (Pisa, Lucca, Volterra, Siena, Cinque Terre); then the other concentrates on Florence, Milan, Lake Como, and Rome.
  • Finally, I'm assembling a PowerPoint-based slide presentation.
If I knew how to post the myupublisher albums on-line I would. But so far the technology of it has eluded me.

Today my big task is to write the script for my "Italy 2009" PowerPoint presentation for church this evening. We started with 3,000 excellent pictures and I've reduced it to 411 slides that tell the story. The trick to slide shows is having a script that's interesting, informative, and keeps the program moving. Mine will take 45 minutes, tops.

So today I'm counting my blessings. Rebekah and I are - qualitatively - different people because we took the Renaissance trip to Italy.

But every experience, every day, has the potentiality to shape us. That applies to wonderful expeditions like Italy... average weeks where nothing dramatic happens... and downer days where the car breaks down, the toilet backs up, and our kids get in trouble at school. Life is fluid, dynamic, and always new. Our big decision is how we will move forward and in what direction?

That's why it makes so much sense to begin - always - in the context of devotion and prayer.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

First Day of School

This morning, toward the end of my walk with Scout, I turned the corner to witness a five-year old standing on his front driveway underneath one of those 50-gallon backpacks. His mother was taking photographs and crying all at the same time.

"Are you excited about school? I asked.

"Yes, we are," his mother replied.

"How about you?" I squatted down at eye-level with the brand-new Kindergartener.

He looked right past me, more interested in the huge fur-ball on the end of the leash beating a hole in the concrete with her tail. "I want to play with the puppy," he said.

I can vividly remember "first day" for both Andrew and Naomi - walking up the street like giant turtles - a tousle of hair at the top, shiny new sneakers at the bottom, and giant back-packs in-between. We were fortunate enough to live about 400 yards from Cordova Park Elementary and they didn't have to ride a bus.

School buses are like huge yellow soda cans. They shake up the children for anything from 20-minutes to over an hour and they arrive at school completely carbonated, spilling out like agitated froth when the lid is pried off.

When I taught emotionally disturbed children I always lobbied hard for shorter bus routes. I got in trouble with my principal for (among other things!) inviting parents to watch the buses load or unload so they could make an informed decision about transportation.

"It's not good policy to expose the parents to the other children in this setting," I was told. As if our lives would be easier if we kept families in the dark.

Yet we still insist on packing large numbers of children into small spaces with limited supervision... Buses, locker rooms, bathrooms, hallways... and then we act surprised at the results when things go wrong.

I'm concerned about this new school year. We talk a lot about education - especially vis-a-vis politics - but it seems that children are still a low priority as a bottom line.

And I'm not talking about money. I'm talking about the investment of ourselves, the way we live, the way we order things.... More about this in another post.

Meanwhile; let's pray for parents, teachers, schools, children... and make sure we're creating the kind of world we want them to grow up in.

Peace - DEREK

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Redemptive Sunday

It's great to have my parents back in the States. They just returned after a twenty-three week visit to England. We talk on the phone etc., but the other side of the Big Pond is just too far removed in so many ways.

So they came to church with us Sunday, took us out to lunch, then came home for a cup of tea and to ogle the new kitchen. It doesn't matter that I'm 53 now; they're still my mum and dad and I'm still their youngest child. There's a kind of security in that understanding that is unique and reassuring. It's a blessing to still have my parents here in this life with me; I hope that sense of thankfulness shows.

I'm also blessed beyond measure to be a part of a church family where we nurture and encourage one another ways that overlaps with the family dynamic but also stakes out ground that requires the family of God to meaningfully activate...

Yesterday I showed up at church less than my usual enthusiastic self. I was bummed about some aspects of my work and indulging in a measure of inwardly focused self-pity. But... the experience of being with my brothers and sisters was at once powerful and redemptive.
  • The worship was authentic;
  • the preaching was inspirational;
  • the proximity of 400 kindred spirits put me in touch with a collective energy that lifted my spirits;
  • watching Rebekah place the word of God in the hands of eleven rising second graders - and watching their expressions as she took time to share a personal word with each one - touched my heart at the deepest levels.
There is so much more. But it was in the evening, hosting our small-group (16 friends with young adult children), where I realized how redemptive the experience of family can be. "We moved far away from home when we came here (last year)," one couple said, "after living decades in the same community. This church is our family."

I can't say it any clearer that this. If you are not hooked into a church community where you can experience the kind of relationship with God and with other people that is at the core of our purpose and identity as beings created in the image of God - then think seriously about making such a faithful commitment. I know without a doubt that your life will never be the same.

Love and blessings - DEREK

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Needing to listen to my own words...

Truth be told I'm a little discouraged today. I traveled all the way to Dunedin this morning to teach two workshops; I was away from my house for 8 hours. Three people showed up for the first class, then I had six at the second. Two of the six had already attended the exact same class when it was offered in the Spring. So that's two and a half hours of lecture material to reach 7 new people!

Then I'm just not really feeling any "buzz" on or about my new book. So far there's no real indication of any interest, and it doesn't seem to be moving at all - either at Amazon or at my publisher's on-line store. The interactive blog attached to the book at isn't generating any traffic at all.

So I'm not sure what to make of all this. I'm still excited about my writing, and I honestly believe that what I'm saying is exactly the correct message for this time...
  • But what good is a spot-on message if no-one is listening?
  • What if the hundreds of thousands of Christians out there who I feel compelled to reach simply aren't interested?
  • What if church people really don't want anything beyond a part-time faith?
  • What if the words I have so carefully chosen simply fail to resonate?
  • What it America is Okay with misinformation about God, and content to remain mediocre when it comes to following Jesus - just like we're content to be mediocre about so much else?
I'm not writing this post as a deliberate downer... but this is supposed to be an honest look inside my mind and my spirit, and I need to feel free about laying out my concerns in this space right alongside my triumphs and my assurances. Life is wonderful - I'm not backing off from that affirmation one iota. But I am worried (yes, I know Jesus says not to!) about my work. Am I investing myself in the right cause? Is this a conversation anyone really cares to have?

If you're reading this, I'd appreciate prayer on behalf of the work I'm involved in.

"Live as if we mean it - because God most certainly does..." It's a phrase I use more than once in my new book. Right now I'd appreciate some affirmation and some confirmation regarding my own words.

Love and blessings - DEREK

Friday, August 21, 2009

New Every Morning - Wake up and Create Something

Today most of my time is going to be devoted to preparing to teach tomorrow. I've been asked to lead a couple of classes at the "Super-Saturday" event for the Presbytery of Tampa Bay and I always like to make sure I'm really ready.

It's material I've presented before, so it's important that I guard against the dreaded "stale" or "perfunctory." If people are making the effort to show up to my class then the least I can do is make sure the material is fresh.

I remember one professor in college who lectured from notes so old that the paper was yellow-brown and brittle.

His presentation was as musty as his material, and his chief teaching gift was that of elevating simple boredom to a fine art-form.

I took a look at the lectern one day when he left the lecture hall for a few minutes. I noticed that there were no line-outs, no additions scribbled in the margins, no arrows to an amended page; nothing to suggest that his presentation had been finessed at all over the years.

So I asked him how long he'd been using his outline. "Thirty-two years," he said. "And it's not an outline. This is exactly what I always teach, word for word."

I've heard preachers do the same thing with recycled sermons, taking God's life-giving Word and reducing it to something hackneyed and irrelevant - even using illustrations that were already tired when they first used them twenty years ago.

Yesterday evening I took a few photographs of the sky at around 7:00. I've looked at that view now for almost 13 years. But, once again, it was fresh and creative, presented with inventiveness and imagination, offered as a testimony to the truth that absolutely everything the hand of the Creator touches is new every day.

That's my inspiration when I write, when I teach, when I publish a new book, and when I wake up to interact with a brand-new opportunity to live creatively as God's child in an amazing world.

So tomorrow I'm teaching "Designing a Men’s Group for the 21st Century" in the morning. And "Making it Through December with our Faith Intact" in the afternoon.

I sure hope somebody shows up!


Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Future With Hope...

This morning, as is my habit, I read a short passage of scripture before my 45 minute walk with Scout Labradoodle. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me. - Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NRSV)

So I'm walking the dog, in the dark, enjoying the sensation of temperature less than 95 degrees for the few moments it lasts - and can't help but think about my life back as an 18 year old, when I had no idea about my future other than the fact that I had royally failed school... yet God had this amazing plan in mind for me.

This line of contemplation was brought on by two things. 1) The sheer poetry and beauty of my life right now; I am inordinately blessed... and 2) the arrival yesterday of the alumni magazine from my high school in Folkestone, Kent. In England, however, it's not "Alumni", but "Old Boys"; the magazine is The Old Harveians' Newsletter, produced by The Old Harveians' Association.

So I was thumbing through, and I came across the association's website address. I took a quick look and there, lo and behold, among 8-10 old photographs posted with "Who are these students" as a heading, I found this image from the fall (or, should I say, autumn) of 1973.

No prizes for guessing which long-haired teenager is me! That was a darned good soccer team (or, should I say, football team). We made it all the way to the Kent schools championship match, where we were handed a drubbing by a huge South London school with - I swear - at least a half dozen 21-year-olds on the team!

I played striker for the team, and tended to score a lot of goals. Almost directly in front of me - to the immediate right of the guy holding the ball (our left), is one of my best friends, Geoff Furneaux (Geoff died in a terrible car accident along with three others in the Spring of 1975). Alan Philpot, the P.E. teacher on the back row, was a consistent encouragement when my other teachers were ready to throw in the towel.

So here's the point of today's post. We all have a future with hope - even though we live in this world that is neck deep in greed, and pain, and disappointment, and disillusionment, and all manner of brokenness. Most of the misery is caused by people, determined to advance their own interests over that of their neighbor (that's a simplistic assessment, but it holds up surprisingly well)...

...Yet, I believe with all my heart that God created each one of us to know peace and fulfillment and love and joy. And I trust God's promises, like the one in Jeremiah: For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

Add all that together and I sense this huge responsibility to do two things
  • 1) Live in the truth of what I believe.
  • 2) Accept God's mandate that I live this truth in a way that effects positive change in this broken world.
Or, as attributed to Francis of Assisi, "Live the Gospel daily; if necessary, use words."

Peace - and I mean that - DEREK

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Café - coffee - Joe - java - brew -

This morning I'm having a hard time getting going. It's like my brain is running at half speed. My cache - to borrow from the computing lexicon - is compromised. (a cache is a temporary storage area where frequently accessed data can be stored for rapid access). Mine's on the fritz.

Maybe it's the coffee. Maybe I need to start making a stronger brew. Our recent trip to Italy helped me become even more of a coffee snob than when we returned from the Pacific North West. They don't mess around in Italy.

But I do believe we're improving. I think our collective U.S. coffee consciousness is on the rise. Most Americans won't settle for mud anymore and even the fast-food chains are getting on board.

McDonalds has "premium roast" now, and when Burger king rolled out their "BK Joe", C.E.O. Gregory Brenneman told the press it was the real deal: "It's not that frou-frou stuff," he said.

It’s a smart move. Personally, I’m all about full-bodied rich coffee; I've endured too many years of weak insipid java in a variety of eateries and homes. If the brew is too strong then it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to add hot water. Weak Joe, on the other hand, is by definition beyond the reach of redemption.

I enjoy many regional flavors – Costa Rican and Jamaican are my current favorites - but I abhor the practice of spoiling an otherwise good blend by adding vanilla, almond, raspberry or some other aberration best left to ice-cream served on the side.

Coffee, I have often said, is my one true vice. And that’s really not too bad when you consider the alternatives.

Back when I was a teacher I gave up on "the community coffee pot" after my fourth consecutive week of being the only one making it, cleaning the burnt pot, and buying supplies (plus the pot was always empty when I wanted some). So I parked a pot of fresh good-to-the-last-drop right on my desk. My colleagues knew where they could find an infusion in an emergency, and the good will generated was more than worth the price of a few extra cans.

I worked with children exhibiting extreme behavioral problems, so sometimes school administrators would get nervous about my fragile glass container of scalding hot liquid. Believe me, it was never a problem. Even the most difficult kids in the community understand there are some things better left well enough alone.

Remember Jim Croce? “You don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit in the wind, you don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger and you don't mess around with Jim.” Well in my classroom it was “Joe.” Nobody messed around with Joe.

Students were often confused when it came to rules such as “No fighting,” “No throwing of furniture,” “No attacking the teacher’s aid,” “No weapons,” or “No tantrums.” But one thing was perfectly clear, some rules are sacrosanct. “Do not, under any circumstance, even think about touching Mr. Maul’s coffee.” Believe me, in almost 20 years, no child ever came close.

I remember the day two large 7th graders got in a fierce fight. Books flew, chairs scattered, desks were overturned. Before I had a chance to intervene both kids tumbled across the front row and landed in a pile in front of my desk.

Suddenly the mêlée stopped as the brawling students became aware of their surroundings. "Chris" glanced around and nodded to his adversary. “Watch out,” he said, “we’re too close to Mr. Maul’s coffee pot.” With that they carefully moved toward another corner of the room and resumed their fight.

Our vacation to Washington and Oregon reminded me that some communities take their coffee more seriously than others. You can certainly find some great café con leche in West Tampa and Ybor City, but in Seattle and Portland each intersection boasts at least two serious coffee shops, sometimes three.

One week, attending worship services in the city of Olympia, we discovered a cappuccino bar in the church lobby. I thought I might have died and gone to heaven. Sure, someone usually remembers to plug in the big pot of sludge at our church every Sunday. But people, come on, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I’m living on the wrong coast.

“A Chicken in Every Pot and a Car in Every Garage,” Herbert Hoover promised in 1928. To that I’d like to add, “And a decent cup of coffee for every American.”

Love and blessings - DEREK

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Derek & Rebekah Celebrate 30!

Today, Rebekah and I are celebrating 30 years of being married. Our wedding took place on a hot Saturday afternoon in Leesburg, Florida, at the First Presbyterian Church. Rebekah's dad, Rev Bob Alexander, did the honors, and her brother, Joe, escorted her down the aisle. It was a great day.

Rebekah has always liked words, and she's especially fond of mine; so my BIG gift for her today was a carefully crafted letter that I poured my heart into.

Then I realized a lot of the content might be helpful to other married people, so I'm going to sample and reword some of it for a more general audience as today's posting.

When I asked Rebekah to marry me (October 7, 1978) it meant that I knew I wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. But I didn’t – we didn’t – have the vaguest notion of exactly what that kind of commitment would look like. Not five years down the road; certainly not thirty.

Between then and now – Tuesday, August 18, 2009 – we have managed to raise two amazing children, send them on their way with joy and blessings, and re-invent what it looks like to be in this kind of long-term covenant relationship as husband and wife. But we never lost sight of the heart of our relationship along the way, even when it was difficult.

In fact, we learned a lot about effectiveness by being ineffective, naïve, overwhelmed and out of our depth - right along with being faithful, deeply in love, well-resourced by God, and living the adventure together - often just a day or so at a time.

So, today - thirty years along, Rebekah and I are in one of the best “places” ever. It’s a better view from here than the view we have when we’re struggling – but the struggles are very much a key element of what it means to be authentic. The struggles have built a lot of the steps that we eventually used – and still use - to climb back out.

Consequently this marriage is (by definition) a positive life-giving struggle with and on behalf of, itself.

Because – as Jacob found out when he met God at a place in the desert called Piniel (Genesis 32) – you’ve got to wrestle with someone in order to be intimate enough to grow together. And, just like Jacob, we both steadfastly refuse – ever - to let go. And, possibly even more than Jacob, we are blessed.
  • So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."
Our recent excursion to Italy - our official anniversary trip - made for the best possible mutual gift, because Italy is by definition a Renaissance country, and Tuscany is the quintessential Renaissance region. Every good marriage should enjoy more than a little of renaissance; celebrating the discovery and rediscovery, the art, and the beauty, the enlightenment, and the architecture of a great marriage.

Reinvention is one of my favorite elements to our life together. The 50’s have – thus far – been a most amazing decade, defined by new beginnings, revitalization, and reformation. I’m looking forward to journeying into our future together.

What a gift! The gift of a creative, reflective, purposeful, fun-loving relationship with the most beautiful woman I have ever known.

All my love – and all the love I have yet to learn - DEREK

Monday, August 17, 2009

When the Good Keeps Us From the Best

Coming off a great Sunday, it's always useful to reflect on what difference - if any - participating in church makes to the every-day reality of Monday-through-Saturday. In fact it's the question that drives the content and discussion in my Sunday-school class (shortly to be re-named) "Practical Christianity."

However, rather than focus on Sunday-school, I'm going to steal from Rebekah's sermon for today's post.

I've probably said this before, but my wife is hands-down the most consistently interesting, engaging, articulate, fun to listen to preacher I've ever heard in 50-plus years of a broad variety of church experiences! Not only that but she packs in a dynamite message at the same time.

This Sunday she talked about the Great Banquet, that parable in Luke 14 where Jesus tells a story about the invitation to show up and enjoy the best party ever. Good stories; spot-on illustrations; passion; enthusiasm - the usual. But then she made the following statement (I'm paraphrasing, because I don't have a transcript of the message):
  • "All those excuses people had for not showing up at the banquet turned out to be good excuses. If I'd been the host I'd have accepted all of them as reasonable reasons for skipping out on a party. They weren't bad excuses at all - and that's the real point of this message. Quite often we allow ourselves to let what is good keep us from experiencing the best... Sometimes the good can be the enemy of the best... It's too easy to settle...."
Brilliant! I can't help but think about this culture, where we live out our day-to-day in between Sundays. We have things fairly easy here in North America, and the "pursuit of happiness" has pretty much taken over from life and liberty as the primary emphasis we take from our Declaration of Independence. I don't know about the rest of you, but I like to be comfortable; I like to be surrounded by stuff that makes my life easier; I like my world to be predictable and easy to manage.

So now I'm thinking about how much of the "good" in my life effectively keeps me from engaging God's best.

Hey, it's Monday morning. So I'll put a lid on it right here. I think that's probably quite enough to chew on for now.

Yeah, Sunday does have that tendency to intrude on the rest of our lives... But only with our permission.

Blessings - DEREK

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Onward back to the Garden

Today's post is simply going to let the pictures speak for themselves. In my new book I talk about humankind being "A long way east of Eden." But sometimes, after several hours hard work outside, relaxing with a tall glass of iced-tea with Rebekah, taking it all in... I get the feeling that - in our small corner of the Earth - we've made some progress back. Or, as the chapter continues, "[I'm] finding my way full circle; onward back to the garden." (The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian, p.142)

Friday, August 14, 2009

What does it mean to be deserving...?

Picture: cell-phone sunrise image while walking the dog

Self awareness is a very useful commodity. Especially the ability to stand outside of ourselves and observe. Sometimes it's a difficult process because self awareness tends to lead to self-evaluation and consequently having to confront the need for change.

So there I was, yesterday, basking in the enjoyment of some good stuff that's come along lately. I sat in one of the old rockers in the old dinning room - now the "tea room", sipping a cup of coffee and simply enjoying the moment...
  • I thought about the fact that both our children are happy, moving forward in their lives in all the right ways, self-sufficient and accomplished.
  • Then I considered my own situation. Rebekah and I are in a deeply satisfying place in our marriage; we both love our church family and we have so many amazing, faithful friends; we're both challenged and comfortable at the same time.
  • I reflected on how much I enjoy my work, the fact that my latest book has just been published and that it's getting some positive reviews.
  • And I thought about our beautiful home, everything we could ever desire and more, all the new work just completed and presenting like a series of photographs from a designer magazine; too amazing to have imagined just a few years ago...
Then Scout Labradoodle ambled over from her previous location, placed her face on my knee, sighed deeply, and flopped in a heap on the floor at my feet.

"Dang..." I thought. "It doesn't get any better than this."

So I was on the phone with one of my best friends a little later. "It's almost too much," I said. "I'm looking around and I think that what we have is just - I don't know - maybe too nice..."

"Not at all," he assured me. "You guys deserve it."

And there it was - BOOM! - out in the open. And I was so pleased to hear myself immediately counter the suggestion.

"No way," I said. "I'm Okay with enjoying it. But the moment I believe we deserve nice stuff then I've lost all perspective."

Now I'm not knocking my friend. I knew what he meant. He wasn't staking out a philosophical or a theological position, and I appreciated the love and the good wishes behind the statement. But I want to fight hard to remember and live on the correct side of the line on this one, and I'm thankful that he articulated what it is all too easy to think.

God has filled the Earth with good things. It's a wonderful experience to enjoy them from time to time. But all I actually deserve is the opportunity to live a full and challenging life. People deserve justice; they deserve opportunity; they deserve respect; they deserve a chance.

I have all those things and more simply by living in a free country.

Thanks for making me think - DEREK

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Teach Your Children Well" (Crosby Stills & Nash)

This morning I want to loan some of my blog space to my son, Andrew. The base chaplain asked him to speak in church this past Sunday and he sent me a transcript of his testimony. Andrew doesn't blog much, but he used it as his post this week. I've got to tell you, my son both gives and lives a powerful message.

Andrew calls his blog: "Maul's Blog: the life and times of me for those of you who care." You can access the entire message by clicking on the link.

But I wanted to share two paragraphs in particular, and I'll explain why after the quote in the following bullets:
  • It probably wasn't until I was in college (when I actually started caring), that I looked back and was shocked and amazed I had actually made it through high school. My family never had any doubts that I was capable of "getting it", but as I began to notice more and more God's guiding influence on my life, certain parts of my path began to show themselves way more clearly, and it became an exciting path to follow, one that ultimately led me to where I am today.
  • Quickly I realized it’s not about "me" by any means. I began to become aware of the fact that I was being presented with opportunity after opportunity to SERVE.
Remember all those parenting books and tapes and classes and videos? We all buy them during that frenzy of desperation, somewhere in the first decade of marriage, back when life as it was originally envisioned begins to cave in and you literally suffocate in the overwhelm of it all.

There was some useful stuff mixed in with all the baloney, but I believe the most crucial element we can bring to the table (and that should be the dining room table, where we eat and talk and learn together as growing families at least four nights a week....) - the most crucial element is belief. Not only belief we own personally, but communicating that belief to our children. Andrew understood in some way that his family "never had any doubts that [he] was capable of 'getting it.'" That is an astounding statement to me.

Somehow, in the middle of all those two decades of raising children in our home, Rebekah and I managed to demonstrate to Andrew that we believed in him. Not only in him, but in the truth of God's promises and the power of redemption and grace.

The other element Andrew evidently understood was that purpose typically finds it genesis in service. You'll have to read his entire testimony to see how far that went for him, but the second bullet point above sets it out very clearly.

So I would encourage all of us to believe, to live as if our belief has substance, and then to bring our children in on the conversation.

I am blessed beyond measure. Grace and peace - DEREK

Read Andrew's blog at

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Thinking Differently - it's a God thing

God said - "This is my servant Caleb; he thinks differently...." (Numbers 14)

The photographs that go with today's post are not taken from the typical perspective. Early yesterday evening we'd just finished getting ready for a dinner party and I wanted to take another picture of the new kitchen. But I was tired of snapping the same old view. Consequently, I played around with perspective and orientation. I kind of like the result.

It made me think about one of my favorite Bible references: "This is my servant Caleb;" God said, "he thinks differently...." (Numbers 14)

Compliments from God -
There are a lot of ways we can receive compliments, and it's always nice to get a pat on the back. Some of us need to hear it more than others, and some get embarrassed by the attention, but we all appreciate the occasional "at-a-boy!". Once in a while, if we read the Bible carefully, we'll see those times like the Numbers passage - when God Almighty takes special note and gives someone a rare public "thumbs up".

I talk to a lot of people about their lives, and many conscientious pilgrims have told me they'd like to hear a "Well done, good and faithful servant" when their life is over, or "You kept the commandments", or "You never wavered from the course". The idea - for me - conjures an image of following the rules, coloring inside the lines, doing everything right, and making it to the end without straying the well-beaten path.

That's a laudable goal; God's Word is a peerless guide. But I'm not sure that the Bible is that much about conformity - at least not in the way that we tend to define it. I think the reason I like the Numbers passage so much is its reference to someone who is right there in the mix of things, living life at full tilt, who loves God with heart mind and soul - yet who stands out precisely because he didn't conform to the status quo.

"Check out my man Caleb," God says; "This dude is a bona fide individual; he doesn't follow along with the crowd; he thinks differently. Caleb actually gets it."


That's what I'm talking about!
Blessings and Peace - DEREK

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Adventure Continues...

Well, it's official. Our house will never ever be finished! MaulHall, much like the Golden Gate Bridge, will in all likelihood be ready for the start of it's next project round about the time the latest one is completed.

Yesterday, just when I was finishing a heroic save and patching the hole in the living room so we could hang the last curtain (not, ever - Oh, the irony - the "final" curtain), Rebekah got busy and demolished the guest bath. The pile of debris I photographed by the road is just a taste.

However, and before we went to bed last night/this morning (well past midnight), the new floor was installed, the new molding was nailed in place, and fresh paint had been applied. The guest bath is essentially ready for the new cabinetry stowed in the garage. The whole thing could well be done in a couple more days. We needed professional help with the kitchen - but this one we're doing ourselves.

But that won't stop twenty-some people coming to our house for dinner tonight.

A normal work routine is all I'm asking for right now. Just a few consecutive days when I can write and do pretty much nothing else. But, and this is the "Life Examined" hook, I won't ever have anything of substance to write about if I'm not engaged in some bona fide life along the way.

There's always something that needs attention (I'm talking about soul care now as well as the house) and if I neglect to address the opportunities that continue to present themselves, then I am - as Paul writes in Corinthians - little more than an empty gong and a clanging symbol. Or, as the bard put it, much ado about nothing....

That said. I really would like to see some break in the proceedings; some time off from paint and drills and drywall; some end to the mess. I'm just saying...

Grace and peace - DEREK

Monday, August 10, 2009

Creativity and Worship

Yesterday morning at church I sang a Beatles tune during our contemporary worship service. There's so much great music out there, and one of the things I enjoy doing is tweaking great songs so they work with the Praise Band.

So I sang "In My Life", a simple arrangement with two guitars and drums. It seemed to communicate pretty well and my re-write went like this:

There are places I'll remember, all my life, though some have changed. There are gifts that I've been given, some are gone but love remains. All these places had their moments, with lessons and prayers I still can recall; some are gone and some are living, In my faith God loves them all.

But of all these gifts and graces, there is no one compares with You.
And while memories lose their meaning, I still see God's love as something new. Though I know I'll never lose affection for people and things that went before, I know I'll often stop and think about them, But God's love is always more.

Though I know I'll never lose affection for people and things that went before, I know I'll often stop and think about them, But God's love is always more.

I'm guessing Lennon/McCartney would frown on such liberties being taken with their work. But here's my theory, as I told the congregation in church yesterday. I believe that all creativity comes from God, and that songwriters are expressing an important element of what it means to be created in God's image - whether they chose to acknowledge it or not...

I'm praying for a day filled with creativity and peace and satisfaction, for all of you - DEREK