Monday, May 31, 2010

Never lose the stories - Memorial Day

Memorial Day: This image (from the Internet) is powerful because the crosses recede into the mist - as if becoming lost in the fading memories of the pushed into the distance past. We must not let that happen - we must never forget the stories!

Rebekah made a helpful distinction in church yesterday. She said it's important to understand that celebration is not the same as commemoration, and that the point of Memorial Day is to remember, with gratitude, the ultimate sacrifice that has been made by so many. The kind of sacrifice that has secured the freedom we were enjoying, right there in the sanctuary, to practice faith and to live without fear.

Sunday evening, our small group met at Gerard and Peggie's home, and we shared some stories from our own family histories. I wanted the meaning of today to be experienced more personally, because every single person who gave up their life was loved and missed by someone.

I told the story about my great-uncle who died in the trenches in WWI - he was just 17, and the continuation of the horror in WW2 when so much of my mother's East London neighborhood was ravaged by bombs, and the amazing response of her church, where people reached out with love and compassion to the German POWs.

Then Rebekah shared the WW2 story of her uncle Pete (Joseph Peter Alexander), who was lost in the North Atlantic when his ship - the Angelina - was blasted out of the water by a German U-Boat.
There were three survivors, one of whom was able to write an eye-witness account of the moment uncle Pete lost his fight to hang on to floating debris and slipped into the depths.

This is a group of friends who share everything. We pray for each other, we're honest about the times we mess up, we never hold back on the truth.... But I was amazed that there were so few Memorial Day stories to share.

What it revealed was a couple of truths.
  1. We have been, and still are, very much insulated from the tragic reality of this world's day-to-day cycle of conflict and war and death. America has not been - with the exception of events such as 9-11 - a battleground since our own Civil War.
  2. We don't ask enough questions of our elderly relatives, and we don't pass on the stories like we should.
There are lots more Rebekah and I could have told. Like her ancestor who died at the biggest battle to take place in Florida during the Civil War... or the North Carolina Alexanders who fought in the War of Independence (they were a feisty bunch of Scots)!

The point is our family stories help to define us. Any story - even The Greatest Story Ever Told - is in danger of being lost in the span of just one generation.

So my Memorial Day post is about remembering. In England, this day comes in November, and it's called "Remembrance Day." I like that - it's a great concept.

In gratitude for all who served... and serve - DEREK

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Love those Maul-ettes

Well, it was inevitable- I had to include a photograph of Andrew (with his gorgeous mother) from last weekend in my blog. But, really, what am I going to do? We don't know when Andrew will make his way back to Tampa so we'll enjoy while we can.

But we have been very blessed with several serendipitous visits. When we said goodbye in Pisa, last July 3, we didn't know if we'd see Andrew for a couple of years or more. Then he was flown to the US for a conference in October, and he made an unofficial trip down for two days. Then he put together some leave and the world's most expensive plane ticket ever to make it home for Christmas - now that was a treat. And finally Andrew became this "must have" expert in his work so they fly him to St. Louis and then Newport News to teach. He managed another long weekend at home and we are mightily grateful.

It's impossible to express how good it feels to have happy, healthy, hard-working, loving, caring, Jesus-following young-adult children.

Some people make the mistake of thinking that the books I have written are the signal achievement of my life. Not so. Andrew and Naomi are the most definitive expression of the creative impulse of God made evident in and through the fun, hard work, prayers, dedication, application, sweat, joy and perseverance of Rebekah and Derek for two-plus decades of intense focus and deep, unconditional love....

Then there was - there is - the community of faith. The wonderful people at Trinity Presbyterian in Pensacola who saw us through the first 14 years - then the amazing work of restoration and grace we have experienced here at First Brandon.

I have to share this story. There was a time, back during the heavy "angst" days of teen-dom, when Rebekah and I noticed an hour of peace and genuine happiness amongst the young Maulettes: "Wow!" one of us maybe both of us said. "Imagine if there was a whole afternoon like that one day... I wonder what that would look like?"

No exaggeration, by the way.

That seems like a lifetime ago. So to have them happy, not just happy but content; not just content but full; not just full - but moving forward in lives that define what it means to be making your way in this world in terms of abundant living.... well.

So I'll post my Andrew picture, and I'll look forward to our next visit to Naomi and Craig in Connecticut...

... And I will be thankful!

Friday, May 28, 2010

A practical spiritual life

Sometimes - and today would be a good example - I think it would be good to set all my other work aside and work exclusively on my new book. I enjoy all the writing I'm involved in, but once in a while - and today would be a good example - I feel fragmented and unable to focus.

Instead, I will:
  • Write a new "10-Ways" list for
  • Write an article about the "Keystone Heights Alliance to End Childhood Hunger" for the United Methodist News Service.
  • Spend around an hour on the phone, trying to line up my next "preacher profile" for the Tampa Tribune.
  • Outline an article Upper Room Books asked for, designed to support a new marketing initiative they're planning for "The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian".
  • Time permitting - work on some ghost-writing I've been asked to do for a high-profile national Christian leader who thinks my words might sound good coming from his lips.
So you can tell why I'm feeling a little stretched about now!

But this is where a spiritual life that means something makes such a staggering difference. Here's how it works (is working) for me.
  1. I am spending a lot of time in the Bible, seeding my subconscious with words of hope and grace.
  2. I deliberately meditate on scripture, every day, and I seek to be in the presence of God in a variety of circumstances; I actually invite God into my activities.
  3. God's word then speaks into my experience. Verses I have read are available and are recalled (is it me, or does the Holy Spirit awaken the memory? - Yes...). God works with the material I have made available.
  4. Consequently, in moments like this, I recall Psalm 1 - from yesterday's Bible reading - and I am reminded that "[My] delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law [I] meditate day and night. [I am] like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season..."
This isn't magic - it's spiritual discipline. Because I am deliberate and consistent about a few simple principles of spiritual life, then I am - absolutely - different in the way that I approach my work and I am - absolutely - more capable of achieving some measure of sanity in the middle of a stressful, fragmented day like today.

It's not rocket-science; it's not supposed to be. But, the spiritual life does require a little effort - and sometimes a lot.

Try it - DEREK

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The filter of expectancy

But more than anything else, put God's work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well. Don't worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself. You have enough to worry about today. (Matthew 6:33-34)

I love the way that different resources often come together to make an impact in my life. This morning I've been thinking about how or why that happens, and I believe the answer is found in this idea of meditation we've been thinking about this week.

Today, by way of example, it's only 8:30 am - yet I already feel powerfully animated by the presence of God... and it hasn't only been one thing. I'll highlight some of the variables and then we'll discuss what connects them.
  • I woke up extra early in order to make sure Rebekah had some fresh coffee before leaving to moderate a potentially very difficult meeting of area ministers.
  • I read today's Upper Room meditation and made careful note of the writer's suggestion that it's not enough to "not worry" - we need to add a sense of expectation.
  • I prayed for Rebekah and let her know that I was planning to be in constant conversation with God about her day.
  • I read a familiar passage of scripture (the "don't worry" section of the Sermon on the Mount).
  • I walked Scout in a deliberately meditative frame of mind, and - consequently - heard God speaking to me through the beauty of the early morning and the abundant evidence of God's creative love.
  • I "listened" to a spectacular red cardinal who hopped in my direction, cocked his head, then flew to a low limb on one of our oak trees. Everything about him said "I'm expectant for blessing this morning - are you?"
  • I posted a quote from "The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian" on facebook - the quote then inspired me enough to add a rare new entry at my "No More Part-Time Christian" blog.
The "not worry part" of the Sermon on the Mount passage is passive, it's something that we're not doing. Living expectantly, however, is a proactive response; it's something that we choose to do, that we walk into, that we add our "amen" to.

What brings all this together so powerfully, I believe, is the aspect of meditation. Meditation is defined many ways, but - for the Christian - meditation can be a deliberate contemplation of the fact of God. Meditation is an invitation to ourselves, a self-ushering into the awareness of God - and God's glory - and God's love... and whatever it is of God that we need to engage.

What I did, quietly, inwardly, at the very onset of today - was to place the idea of living expectantly as a kind of backdrop to my consciousness. Maybe a better term is "filter". Everything that happens is going to be redirected through the filter of expectancy for God.

The various experiences are all unique - but the filter of expectancy for knowledge of God is common to everything.

It's early yet - still before 9:00 AM. I'll be interested to see how the rest of this busy day interfaces with this filter of expectancy.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Happy are those who don't listen to the wicked, who don't go where sinners go, who don't do what evil people do. They love the Lord's teachings, and they think about those teachings day and night. They are strong, like a tree planted by a river. - Psalm 1

Random word association is a funny thing. Sometimes it's profound, sometimes odd, once in a while amusing, and - on rare occasions - it makes me wonder if God is trying to tell me something.

This morning, walking Scout early enough for the air to still be in the low 70s, a car flashed by that I didn't recognize. I ran through some brand names in my head until I settled on Dodge Caliber. Immediately, an image of the knights of the Round Table popped into my mind, then Sir Lancelot, then some knight throwing a weapon into a lake - but couldn't think why.

After a good 15 minutes, having run through pretty much everything I know about Arthurian legend, I stumbled on the Sword-in-the-Stone and realized that the blur of an outline of a speeding car had somehow conjured Excalibur (ex-Caliber) - the legendary sword thrown into the lake at Arthur's request at the end of his life, and that the stories of the Round Table had all poured through the opening in my subconscious unrestrained, like water through a break in a dam.

I was particularly interested in the chain of events - chain of thoughts - because my Wednesday study group is talking about meditation this evening. And the point of meditation is to un-clutter the mind and spirit so that the distractions of the world around cannot - so readily - steer us away from the spiritual and trap us in the mundane.

The word "mundane" is typically used to describe the everyday or unremarkable... but the real meaning of the word is more properly unspiritual. "Characteristic of or devoted to the temporal world as opposed to the spiritual world."

I was already in the meditation frame of mind. I'd read the scripture from Psalm 1 and thinking about this evening's discussion. So, naturally, I wondered if I was distracted by the car or if - possibly - God was now a part of the discussion because I was in a meditative frame of mind and spirit?

Regardless, I completed my meditative walk with the image of Excalibur in my consciousness, and couldn't help but think about "The Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God" (Ephesians 6). And I determined to engage this particular day appropriately armed, equipped with God's Word.

Like I said, today's thoughts have been fairly random. But I see God in it - always - it's what I do...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

ESE: Mostly, it’s about believing

‘Tis the season for graduation ceremonies! College and high school are the “standards”, but it’s not unheard of to receive an engraved invitation – RSVP – to watch some neighborhood four-year-old walk across the stage in a cap and gown.

Then - yesterday – I got to go back to Turkey Creek Middle School for their Exceptional Student Education (ESE) graduation.

Ten 8th graders made their way across the stage in the Media Center - full with parents, teachers, students, administrators and guests (including the Strawberry Queen and a bunch of school district higher-ups). Principal Dennis Mayo kicked off the ceremony with a welcome, and by the time the graduates headed for the buffet they had more awards than some of them could carry.

So why all the fuss? Why make so much noise about the simple transition into high school? Why not just hand over report cards and start getting ready for the next batch?

The answer addresses the whole point of ESE. Here in American we have this remarkable federal initiative that mandates a “free and appropriate” education (public law 94-142, 1975, re-imagined as IDEA in 1990), and it’s a plan designed to make sure all children have access to first-rate schooling – regardless.

However, such a venture only works when the effort goes both ways. The point of ESE is not to make school easy; the point is to make school possible.

Forgive me, but I must repeat the thought. It’s a powerful idea and I don’t want anyone to gloss over it. The point of exceptional student education – and this applies to pretty much any public program – is not to make school easy; the point is to make school possible.

I taught ESE for almost two decades, and it was amazing how many parents believed it was our job (teachers and principals) to make school easy for their kids! But that’s not it at all. What good ESE teachers do is everything in their power to make success an option for students and families… but they must be prepared to do their part and work as a team.

Turkey Creek has some good ESE teachers. That’s the reason ten 8th grade graduates walked across the stage having actually achieved something. That’s what exceptional student education is all about!

The event's organizer and sponsor (that's Scott Anderson at right, introducing the Strawberry Queen) was kind enough to invite me to speak, so I told the students about Andrew (he’s on the plane to Bahrain today), who really didn’t enjoy school that much when he was their age. “But today he’s doing a job that he loves, committed to helping people, travelling all over the world, and making enough money to live the kind of life he wants,” I said. “And I’m going to tell you how.”

I dove in while I had their attention. “The first thing Andrew did was to simply hang in there. It’s not enough to say that ‘50% of success is just showing up.’ It turns out that 100% of achievement depends on hanging around to the end. So I want to encourage you to stay in school.

“The other thing was that Andrew believed. People may tell you ‘seeing is believing’. But he realized there are things that you’re never going to see until you first believe.”

Exceptional Student Education is about making good use of all the abilities at a students’ disposal. It’s about teachers, parents, and students working together to take collective responsibility and to give everyone a fighting chance. And, mostly, it’s about believing.

Strawberry Queen Natalie Burgin drove the point home at the end of her talk. “You can do it!” she said with a huge smile, and with the kind of enthusiasm only festival queens can pull off with any credibility.

And she really meant it – you could tell.

Peace - DEREK

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Such unbounded hope and belief

What a treat to have Andrew home for the weekend! He drove my car all over Central Florida, he ate at his favorite restaurants, I cooked his favorite food, he spent time with his favorite people, we visited with his grandparents and he got to see pretty much everyone at church this morning.

Additionally, and this was a real serendipity, he was able to accompany us to a friend's wedding up at the Mission Inn, an hour and a half north in Howey-in-the-Hills.

There was a moment, from our vantage point at the end of a long table, where we looked down to the other end and just had to smile. It was a good portion of the First Presbyterian Church youth group, circa 1998, all young adults in their 20s now, sitting around talking, catching up, swapping stories...

How we had worried about them all those years ago! We had met together Sunday evenings just to pray for them - and we still do - and we sometimes wondered if they would even graduate from high school... and we sometimes wondered if our families would even survive the next hour, or day, or week.

But it's what parents do (that's our friends Lynne and Ben, left; Sandy and Keith, below right) because we know that the older our children grow the less we can do to effect the outcome of anything... and the more we must trust...
...And - eventually - we understand enough to let them go and we watch them teeter at the edge of their lives, and we watch them begin to make their way, and - eventually - we watch them soar... and there's nothing much more we can do at that point than sit together at our end of the long table and squeeze one-another's hands and smile as we cry - because we are so grateful and so blessed.

At least that's what it felt like Saturday evening. So today I'm praying for those of our young people who were there. Kirk, Kevin, Josh, Chris, Meg, Andrew, Donna, Traci, Karen, Mark - all in their 20's and none of them in Brandon any more. It is such an amazing privilege to be part of a faith community where such love abounds, and such honestly, and such hope, and such unbounded belief.

Friday, May 21, 2010

This wonderful world!

Just a short post this morning, about how much I enjoy the "connecting" part of my work, and I'm using this picture because it sets the scene so well.

This part of Florida is pretty-much wall to wall people; housing developments, roads and businesses. But, if you drive just a little to the south, down in Lithia, a rural setting unfolds that tells a different story.

I showed up at the "R&R Ranch" to interview a woman who offers horse boarding and riding lessons. The particular interest for the newspaper is the summer day-camp R&R is offering for kids. Her mission is to put suburban and city kids in the "real" Florida setting. Additionally, there is the healing relationship horses often develop with troubled children.

We've all heard of people who are "horse whisperers"... but this is one setting where horses get to be "kid whispereres".

There are animals galore, of course, all over the place. Cats, dogs, chickens, goats, ducks (including one who thinks he's a chicken and another who thinks he's a puppy!), around 15 horses, rabbits, and then this friendly fellow - who thinks he's a bunny!

So I sat at a wooden table in the shade of a real live-oak hammock, made some new friends, listened to some great stories, and reconnected - if only for an hour or so - with the authentic Central Florida that I first fell for years ago, back when I was a college student.

If only we take the time to listen, to explore, to take it all in. Remember, when you're planning your weekend, what you can learn from the people all around you.

It really is a very wonderful world!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Jesus Gate: Let me recommend the journey

This morning - on my "devotional walk" with Scout - I paused for a moment and noticed the way the path ahead seemed to beckon, as if inviting the journey. So I took the picture - at left - with my cell phone. I didn't snap the image because it was particularly dramatic or aesthetically pleasing so much as to remind myself of the insight that came along with the moment.

I realized how often I am drawn to take photographs of paths. Not roads so much as pathways. And I thought about how the appeal of the path is not exclusively the destination but more the journey itself.

I also like doors, windows, and gates. I especially like gates. And in thinking about it I realized that I like gates that are not locked. Not standing open, necessarily, but open-able. And I thought about the way Jesus described himself as a gate.

Therefore Jesus said again, I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10)

It's this idea of a full life, of completeness - it's a recurring theme with Jesus. And he talks about it in terms of being a gateway; a personal gateway. And there is such freedom in the image: Come in... Go out... Find pasture. The Jesus gate is fluid. You don't have a gate without a path.

And you don't have life to the full without passing through the gate, and continuing along the pathway...

Yesterday evening Andrew flew in to Tampa (TPA), and I parked on the rooftop at another gateway, a stopping point on a very long path. I arrived at the very tail-end of twilight, the last light fading in the west and the airport landscape beginning to recede into darkness. The views were spectacular, from downtown Tampa in one direction to Clearwater and the Gulf in the other. And the air was warm, breezy, inviting.

Andrew flew in for a long weekend. He's been in the States three weeks teaching - briefs, meetings and lectures - he's the designated people-person, charged with communicating and building relationships on behalf of his Battalion. Since we saw him at Christmas he's been in Bahrain, Germany, the Netherlands, Oman, The UAE, Italy, Sardinia, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.

But this morning I couldn't help but think about the airport as a gate and about Andrew's life as an extended journey. And I am so thankful that he has invited Jesus to be his guide along the way.

I truly believe this is a journey God intends to be as fulfilling along the way as it promises to be at the destination. I'm not diminishing the destination - it's just that I have no way of comparing it to what I have now. Jesus said "I am the Way." Jesus also said "I am the Gate."

As for me, I say, "Both the pathway and the gate are underutilized. Let me recommend the journey."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Quiet evenings together are the best

Yesterday evening, Tuesday, was date night for me and Rebekah. Every week we set aside at least one evening for a "date", with the strong message that - irrespective of 30 years of marriage - she's certainly the woman I'd be asking out. So I do.

We don't always go out anymore - dates can be at home too. Sometimes I'll prepare a dish from the ongoing "gourmet initiative" and we'll watch a good movie. But yesterday was busy busy and so we headed to our favorite "comfort food" establishment, Mimi's. I ordered the "just enough" dinner that included the entrée, French onion soup, and custard filled beignets for desert. And - one advantage of not being 25 years old and terminally hungry all the time - it really was enough!

Then we walked the mall. It's been a while, so I was impressed with some of the new store-fronts and new vendors who have come in to replace last-year's huge crop of bankruptcies. Impressed, that is, until I realized what is being sold. It seems that t-shirts are now the "happening" item, and just about every other store was dominated by a never-ending supply.

Who in the world pays elite mall-level leasing rates, builds out a brand new store with all the frills, and then stocks it with t-shirts in hopes of making the rent?

Then - and I know this isn't politically correct but what the heck - just about every t-shirt on sale is constructed in such a way that it would only look any good on sizes "skinny through petite." And, I've got to tell you, walking around the mall yesterday evening maybe less than 20% of the population even qualifies anymore!

So we laughed, and watched, and spent a half hour in the card store looking for graduation cards for kids from the church, and walked, and shook our heads at outrageous t-shirt prices, and held hands, and simply wandered like a happily married couple who can't think of anything any more exciting to do that to simply hang out in one-another's company.

So that was it; dinner followed by a leisurely stroll, window-shopping around the mall. But, I've got to tell you, three or four hours of concentrated Rebekah time - no cell phones or interruptions... it simply doesn't get any better.

Gotta go - I have to subsidize this blog with paid work on the side!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It doesn't take any talent to live the abundant life

It occurred to me this morning that I almost never write about sports. Which is curious considering my virtual obsession with all things games when I was a child. I played everything I could and every game I could get in on. If a ball was involved, I was there.

Fortunately for me, it turned out that I had decent hand-eye coordination and a lot of speed. By the time I was a teenager I was a shoe-in for "first team" in every game my school sponsored. Soccer in the fall (that was "autumn" in England), field-hockey in the spring, cricket in the summer. I was also the "star" of high school track and field. I set scoring records in cricket and speed standards in track that held up for years.

Maybe that's why I've held off on sports metaphors for the most part since I've been a writer. I've always found the "Guys need sports stories or they won't listen in church" idea insulting to the intelligence and spiritual aptitude of men. A lot of the "locker room for Jesus" back-slapping, towel-snapping, football-as-religion talk tends to be chauvinistic, and feeds seamlessly into our cultural predilection toward sexist male-dominant religion.

But this morning - reading about yet another Tampa Bay baseball win - I read a comment by Rays manager Joe Maddon that fits beautifully with my thinking about "Living as if we mean it."

The game was another 1-run victory, squeezed out of a contest that could have gone either way. The result was achieved by pure grit. One of the Rays had put the team in position to win by hustling an in-field single, picking up an extra base on a hit-and-run, and then sliding face-first into home on a sacrifice bunt.

"It takes no talent whatsoever to hustle," Maddon said. "There's no kind of ability involved in hustling."

So here's my VERY RARE sports illustration. Most of the time our commitment to a full, rich, complete life - living like we mean it - is 90% hustle. It doesn't take any talent to live that way. It's not as if God has gifted some of us with a natural proclivity to enjoy life and "too bad about the rest of you."

No - if I'm living like I mean it today, it's because I got up this morning hustling. It doesn't take talent - it takes faithfulness and commitment. We can all be there.

Let's do it!


Monday, May 17, 2010

"Love one another as I have loved you" - Jesus

That was one very busy Sunday! I certainly enjoyed my morning at Spring Hill UMC (read about it in yesterday's blog), but then it was great to spend the evening with our small group from First Brandon at home. 16 or so extremely close friends enjoying dinner together, loving one-another, being really, really silly, sharing great stories, and holding one another up in prayer...

It's the kind of contrast that speaks to the richness of experience that is possible within a well-balanced community of faith. We worship together, joyful and exuberant - but it's in the context of commitment, encouragement, accountability and prayerful support that we grow. I've said this before, but it's too true not to repeat - most of my significant forward movement as a pilgrim in progress has come in the context of small groups.

Even in a church as resoundingly cool as ours there are too many people who fail to connect with living faith on a deep and personal level. Consequently, circles of support often emerge around common denominators other than faith. Church can easily become just one more club membership - along with civic organizations, the country club, the alumni booster association and the YMCA.

But here at home on Sunday evening, as a small covenant group of believers, we loved one another eloquently, and in the context of our commitment to follow Jesus. It's not that we don't have varied political opinions, or hot-button issues, or economic realities. And it's not that we don't own differing views about fine nuances of doctrine, or what to do about the homeless population, or favorite hymns and style of worship, or how much to spend on the renovations.... It's just that those differences don't matter nearly so much as the way that we love one another.

We're all "the right kind of people;" we're all "the sort of people we want at this church"... because we're all in need of grace and love and forgiveness and encouragement. Such a posture is the only basis of authentic community.

This morning (Monday) I interviewed a local pastor and we talked about "success". "It's so easy," he said, "to get caught up in the cultural definition, and to believe that ministry must win in the numbers arena to be considered cutting edge...."

Our small group - caught, partially, in a grainy cell-phone snapshot from last night - is the one of the most definitive and ongoing success stories of our ministry here.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

More Fun With Methodists!

Here it is - out in the open. I admit it - I get a real rush from speaking to a large crowd of people.

I swear it wasn't always this way. I've been chief amongst the "knee-knockers" of the world when it comes to public speaking. But, and this has been creeping up on me for a while now, I've enjoyed every speaking opportunity I've been offered over the past few months, and this morning was no exception.

The setting was superb. Spring Hill United Methodist Church has a state of the art sanctuary that's arranged in "the round", seats 800-1,000, and is exquisitely beautiful. The early service was sparse, but 10:15 worship was comfortably full; I got to to speak to somewhere over 800 people this morning.

It's a wonderful feeling to stand in front of a sea of faces and share your passion. They listened intently, laughed easily, and responded graciously. I spoke for somewhere around 25 minutes, and concluded my message knowing that they wanted me to continue.

Maybe it was simply good manners on the part of the people who came to church this morning; maybe they'd have responded the same way if I'd have been a flop; maybe I shouldn't read anything into it. But it really doesn't matter, whatever reason explains my morning the result is the same - I feel affirmed, encouraged, validated in this most interesting direction in my life, and optimistic regarding the future.

So I'll wrap this post with the benediction I left with the Spring Hill United Methodist Church at the close of morning worship. Please accept it as your benediction too:
  • "God is constantly creating and re-creating; God wants to do a new thing in our lives; God does not want us to rely on tired stories from the past. So - Go into this new day with the reality of transformational possibility strong in your spirit. Talk with God; give this day over to glory; live a new story."
Love and blessings - DEREK

Saturday, May 15, 2010

This world is alive!

I've been intrigued by all the "noise" out there in response to this year's well-publicized set of earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, floods, eruptions and such. I can't count how many times I've heard "It's a sign of the End Times..." or, "It's a sure indication that Jesus is coming soon!" or "Look, the Bible predicted this - things only going to get worse."

These are mostly the same folk who insisted that increased tensions in the Cold War meant that the world would soon "Come to an end" via nuclear self-annihilation back in the 70's. Books came out with time-lines for destruction. I even knew some folk who were excited about and looking forward to "The coming events".

Last year Rebekah and I read the book "A Distant Mirror: the Calamitous 14th Century". It's a wonderful, detailed account of a particularly difficult century in "The Dark Ages." The plague that swept Europe for the better part of 100 years wiped out anywhere from 25% to 75% of the population! Prophets of doom had a field day at the time, and it's easy to understand why they thought the Apocalypse was NOW. It's a view of contemporary history repeated time and again over the 2,00 years since Jesus uttered his famously ignored caution: "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven...." (Mark 13:32)

This world is alive!
But, and this is an observation I often reference when I'm out speaking, I love the fact that we exist on a living, breathing planet. This understanding informs both my theology and - hopefully - how I live.

The picture (at top and below right), was taken from the Johnston Ridge Observatory overlooking Mt St Helens during my visit with Rebekah in 2006. It was a clear day, the landscape of destruction from the 1980 blast was awe-inspiring, and - while we were were watching - Mt St. Helens went "poof"!

If you look closely, you can see a new cone being formed inside the crater. There's an ash vent too, and it poofed out a small plume just as I took the picture.

What amazing power! We were privileged to witness creation in progress. It was the same thing when we looked down into the Grand Canyon, but at a much slower pace. The river, running through the deep fissure in the earth's surface, thousands of feet below, was (and is) working God's creative purpose out for generations and civilizations yet to come.

A plaque, there at the interpretive center near Mt. St. Helens, has this quote from a scientist: "Civilization exists at the consent of geology." I like that, but it doesn't go far enough. "Geology, in fact the entire sum of science and beyond, exists at the consent of God."

We live on this living, breathing, fluid planet. And that same creative impetus has promised to live in and through my life! The creative power that is shaping the Grand Canyon, grows Giant Redwoods 300 feet into the sky, birthed our amazing children into life, and continues to both bring down and build mountains... has a personal interest in the lives of people.

For me, that's an enormous thought. And I'm still trying to wrap my mind around how that truth is/should/can/might impact the way that I live today, and into a future that is not uncertain at all in terms of the confidence I have in the promises of Jesus.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Today I'm Rambling - listen in if you want to!

When I was studying psychology at Stetson University one of the other students - "Dina" - was a high-achiever. She had a perfect grade-point average and it was important - in her mind - to remain flawless.

One day we walked by the professor's office to see the grade postings for our mid-term exam. Dina had an 88%, with "B+" written to the side.

She touched the paper with her index finger, stepped back, rubbed her eyes, looked again - and then went to pieces.

"What's the problem?" I asked. Dina was crying.

"I've never got anything below an A," she sobbed. "This is horrible."

Dr. L opened his door to see what all the commotion was about. Dina cried; I explained; Dr. L shrugged his shoulders. The former A-student was inconsolable.

Eventually, after ten minutes of near hysteria, Dr. L went back into his office and returned with a red marker. He drew a bold line under the name "Dina", then wrote "88 and above = an 'A' grade" in the same, bold, ink.

"There," he said. "Now you have an 'A'."

She brightened immediately, dabbed her eyes, smiled with satisfaction, and carefully recorded the amended grade in her note book.

"Look, I made an 'A' on my mid-term," she said to me, happily.

"What?" I said, incredulous. "How is that any different? You still got 12% or the answers wrong!"

Today, 30 years down the road, I'm still fascinated by the way things are measured, how "facts" are reported, and how we interpret such data; even though I've never been much of a math guy (just ask my "maths" teacher - that's English for "math" - from middle school).

On my morning walk with Scout there's a short stretch of Durant road where, for some reason, I started counting cars. I've been doing it for over two years. On average, somewhere between 45 and 60 vehicles pass us as we walk west, between Miller Road and Laurel Oak Drive. There are, typically, almost twice as many vehicles heading west than east.

That's mildly interesting, but it doesn't begin to tell the story. I have counted as few as 18 vehicles, and - one busy morning - as many as 102; as many as five motorcycles - but typically zero; one day five school buses, but mostly just one, or none at all.

If you asked me about the traffic and I told you "an average of 54 vehicles", what might that possible mean? You'd have to know what time of the morning I walked by, how fast we were going, was it a school day, was there road-work that forced more people down this street, how was the weather...?

And what could it say about gasoline consumption? When a truck counts the same as a Toyota Prius? Or one person on board scores the same as a minivan with seven?

So much of what we know depends on the wording of the question, the method of observation, the way information is collected, or collated, or interpreted. Is the same interpretation used by the person reporting the data? Does the wording change after the question has been answered?

The bottom line is that I could tell you pretty much anything I wanted to about traffic on Durant Road around 7:00 in the morning - and I could use "statistics" to back it up - but you wouldn't be any the wiser.

So what's my point? Well, I'm rambling, I'll be the first to admit that! But we live in an age where so much data is manipulated to support pre-conclusive arguments and politically biased agendas. I'm just saying we should all be open-minded yet suspicious. Ask a few questions of our own. Draw our own conclusions. Don't be afraid to re-think. Listen, yes, but think outside the box.

The only way you'll know the truth about traffic on Durant is to go out there and see for yourself. Just make sure you have your eyes wide open when you do!


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Scout Labradoodle = smiles, $$, and much needed balance

Hmmm... I seem to be overloaded with details right now; lots of good writing happening, but nothing sinking in as appropriate for my morning post. I have, however, enjoyed mucho fun playing chase with Scout.

Scout has become, according to my most recent budget observations, possibly the most heavily leveraged investment in our portfolio. She is - apparently - the perfect host for whatever allergen happens to be roaming the face of the earth, looking for victims. So this week, in addition to her daily "skin pill" and her daily "allergy medicine" she has been put on a daily "maintenance dosage" (for life) of anti-biotic.

She can't - of course - have changes in her pharmaceutical regimen without a vet visit to go along with it. There have been a multitude of those already this year. Consequently, she's about the same monthly commitment as a modest car-payment.

But so much more than a car. Consider the benefits: Scout is fun to play with; she doubles as my personal trainer; she brings boatloads of affirmation and positive, unconditional love into our home constantly; she makes us laugh.

Not just laugh uproariously because of her antics, but smile - pretty much every time we see her. The pictures included here were taken during one of our "play breaks" this morning. She's a hoot! It's impossible not to have a positive disposition around an animal like Scout.

By the way, Scout turned four years old this month. She's a huge, galumphing, bundle of silliness and unbounded love. She may not be much help when it comes to balancing the family budget... but she is a huge contributor when it comes to finding balance in our lives.

Peace - DEREK

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Let's be Thinking Information Consumers

Interesting start to the morning today - I launched my work day with a one-hour "consult" phone conversation. I can't say much about the details, because the project I'm lending my brains to is long-term. But I can say that (and this is our third long conversation) I'm learning a lot in the process.

Essentially, and I've never thought of this before, I'm not just a writer so much as a professional thinker. When I write, or interview, or teach, or consult - I'm tapping into creative and innovative thinking. That's why, when I was asked to take on this particular job and was invited to do "research", I was clear from the outset that my role would be broader - that of "consultant."

It's the distinction between merely copying data and creatively processing information. When I'm doing research I'm not simply downloading facts; what I'm actually doing is running the details through a filter comprised of my raw grey-matter (IQ), my creative thinking, my experience, my unique view of the world, my spiritual journey, my years as an educator, my life as a father and husband, my analytical skills, my signature writing style and my relationship with the individual who brought me on board.

But - lest you think I'm aggrandizing myself here - this is what we all bring to matters of news, conversation, opinion, "fact" and social commentary. We bring the cumulative weight of our lives and - most importantly - the experiences and relationships we have had along the way.

That's why it's both useless and dishonest when we limit ourselves to parroting what we hear other people say when it comes to important issues. We should listen to those views, certainly, because what we hear on the radio, learn from other people, and read on-line are unavoidable pieces of the puzzle - but it's critically important that we run the information through the filter of our own consciousness and experience, and that we are questioning in the process.

Let's be thinking, discerning, discriminating and thoughtful consumers of information and opinion. America works best when it's citizenry is not only informed, but takes ownership of the opinions and judgments it uses to back up its decisions.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

So why bother with

It's going to be a good day. I pray that God will be with you. May you know the power of God's purpose, be animated by the indwelling of the Spirit, and walk in the company of Jesus.

Maintaining a "web presence" is a lot of work! There's always content to edit, details to tweak, status messages to post, and expired stuff to dump. The pay-off, experts insist, is worth the investment of time. But - quite often - I'm less than convinced.

Take this morning. I've already done all "the usual" (with the exception of this blog post, something I'm working on now). That means a facebook status update and a mini-devotional post on my "The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian" page. Then I took a look at my website and decided it was time for a freshen up.

I use a simple designe, but realized the front page needed a brand-new look. So I deleted everything, introduced new content fields in new locations, swapped out the color palette and uploaded brand-new photographs from this weekend. All that, plus reestablishing the active links, took the best part of an hour.

Here's the thing: I'm seriously stoked about the new look! But, like the tree that falls in the forest and the question "did it make any sound at all?" was it an hour wasted or a useful investment in my "brand"?

Most search engines will take "Derek Maul" to as a matter of course. That's one advantage of having an unusual name. There's a serious world-wide shortage of Mauls, it turns out - Derek Mauls in particular, and I'll be more than happy to keep it that way.

(I typed in my friend David Dale's name, for example, and this came up - "David Dale, the son of a grocer, was born in Stewarton, Ayrshire, in 1739. After his apprenticeship as a weaver in Paisley....")

The bottom line question, of course, is - or should be - always "What does this activity, this priority, this investment of my time, say about my commitment to live in this moment as a spiritual person, being faithful to my promise to follow Jesus...?"

I've used this thought before, and I believe it bears repeating. "We may not all be called to be spiritual giants - but we are called to be spiritual men... and spiritual women." (GET REAL: a spiritual journey for men, p. 27)

So, if you would, please do me a big favor and take a peak at the redesign over at Shoot me an email at, or post a comment on facebook.

It's going to be a good day. I pray that God will be with you. May you know the power of God's purpose, be animated by the indwelling of the Spirit, and walk in the company of Jesus.


Monday, May 10, 2010

There is a River...

Saturday lunchtime my brother and I took our mum out to lunch to celebrate Mother's Day. The logistics of getting a family all together become increasingly difficult over time, so it's an opportunity we don't want to let slip by. (Rebekah and I only have two children; but with Naomi in Connecticut with Craig, and Andrew living in the Middle East, we'd have to go to extraordinary measures to pull off something like that...)

I picked Mum up and we met Geoff at a seafood restaurant on the Manatee River. I may complain that summer comes too early, but Florida can be stunningly beautiful at this time of the year. Fish & Chips, lobster chowder, key-lime pie, great conversation and the Gulf Coast at it's best.

The point, of course, was giving my mum uninterrupted time with her two little boys! Who could have predicted what our world would look like in 2010, circa 1957 when this series of photos was taken in Folkestone, England? (That's me on the left, Geoff to the right.) In the 1950's my mum and dad were still in the process of launching their new life together, putting down roots in the South of England. Who knew we'd all end up drifting west, against the current of the Gulf-Stream, and wash up on the coast of Florida?

I don't believe in chance. Nor am I a fan of fatalism. My long-view is always wrapped up in the idea of providence. Providence is the notion that, at its simplest, God has plans for each one of us - just like my parents did when they first looked at that series of sepia-toned photographs. But providence isn't over and done with just because God has something "in mind". Providence also includes the element of response.

The way I have taken responsibility, or not, for my life works together with God's big-picture in terms of faithfulness, commitment, obedience and my willingness to receive love. God never lets go, because God is always faithful. So what my life looks like now - over half a century down the road, is most certainly the work of providence.

So there we were, Mum, Geoff, Derek (dad gets his turn in June!) - sitting around the table on the side of mighty river, caught up in the flow of another mighty river. God's love and faithfulness is a river; sometimes we paddle, sometimes we drift. Yet there we are, deep in the flow, secure in the knowledge of everlasting love.

Mother's Day, 2010.

  • There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. - Psalm 46