Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bend it like Uncle Derek!

It's an interesting thing about pain; depending on how you came by it, reaction can be anything from sympathy to side-slapping amusement.

Same pain either way.

Case in point. An anonymous 54-year-old man (with the initials "D.M.") plays 30 minutes of soccer with his ten-year-old nephew... two days in a row. The morning of day three the aforementioned middle-aged guy is raked with intense muscle and joint pain. A couple of hours ago he tried to do the usual two and a half mile morning walk but barely managed a full mile.

When pain happens to some 35-year-old international super-star soccer cry-baby, all sorts of people run on the field with stretchers and everyone gets all concerned...

... But sports related pain in men my age is typically considered extremely funny. I'm thinking I might need to show a couple of "red-cards" - but I'd have to find an official referee with some actual working knowledge of the game. and there evidently aren't enough of those available even for the World Cup in South Africa...

Good news:
But the good news is that, 14 years after "hanging up my boots", I can still juggle, pass, dribble, trap and "Bend it [better than] Beckham" - That's "Bend it like Uncle Derek"!

So my nephew is actually getting a one-on-one soccer workshop this week. We're watching some World Cup Games, then working on some specific skills. Stuff like:
  • Dribbling without ever looking at the ball
  • Bending the ball both to the left and to the right
  • "First touch" (control and awareness)
  • Keeping the ball within "shoelace length" of his feet while dribbling (like it's tied to his shoelaces)
  • Shooting without any set-up or warning
  • And - two key things the USA did NOT do well in South Africa - "Moving off the ball" and "Finding empty space"

But I really do have to be more careful! It's like my instinct still responds the way I did in my 30's (my last soccer game was in September of 1996, I had just turned 40) - and then my body obediently tries to follow through but without the flexibility, strength or speed necessary to perform without hurting itself!

It's Okay though. I'm very pleased that I still have the skill and the imagination. And I'm even more pleased that the essence of who I am is not defined by my physical abilities anymore! If it was, then my "Adventures in middle age" will turn out to be one long story of pain and disappointment!

As it is, there's just enough pain to give everyone else a good laugh every now and then!


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Filling in the blanks

Starting just recently, Rebekah has spent a few minutes each morning with the crossword puzzle - not with the need to complete every clue, but because it's fun to unravel a few. Interestingly, even though I'm a word guy, I have never done crosswords. So I sip my coffee (fair trade), read my section of the paper, glance over every once in a while, and wait for her to throw an extra tricky question my way.

I think that, so long as we don't get sidetracked by an irrational sense of "My life is not complete unless I fill in every space", this is going to be fun.

Then it occurred to me that many of us approach life that way, including faith and especially politics. We become obsessed with the minutia of detail, fine-tuned correctness, doctrinal purity, legalism and making everything fit just so.

In this morning's puzzle, for instance, we had inserted the word "basin" as one of the answers. It fit beautifully, and even supported the other words. The difficulty was that "basin" could in no wise - even remotely - be considered the correct answer for the question. So we looked at each other:
"Do you care?"
"Nah... how about you?"
"I certainly don't!"
"Fine then..."
The question hung in the air between us for, at the most, a second and a half. We were totally comfortable with basin. It looked good and evidently contained most of the right letters, and we could move on.

It was only later, doing something else in another part of the house, that the word "basis" jumped into my mind and we made the appropriate adjustment. And I'm fairly sure that I'd have never come up with the exact right word if I let "being right" become too important.

The point is engaging the puzzle, allowing the experience to stimulate our minds, growing in skill just a little bit each day and learning some interesting stuff along the way.

I think that's why the "I'm right therefore you must be wrong!" people leave me sad and shaking my head. The obsessive need to line everything up in tidy rows, and to disallow any creative thinking that doesn't interlock seamlessly with everything else that they have already decided... pre-concluded... pre-empted...
  • You have to color inside the lines...
  • Flowers are red... Green leaves are green. There's no need to see flowers any other way than they way they always have been seen... (Nod to Harry Chapin)
  • If you don't look like us, act like us, think like us and have the exact same interpretation of obscure Bible verses as us... then you're going straight to hell (You know who you are!)
  • If you don't eat yer meat, you can't have any pudding. How can you have any pudding if you don't eat yer meat... (Thanks, Pink Floyd)
  • If you don't agree with our politics, then you're not really an American...
OKay, that's enough of that. Back to the crossword puzzle. Back to finding balance and enjoying the journey. Back to God so loved the world. Back to the basin... basics... basis... Whatever.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Rebekah and Derek - Not in Tuscany...

This time last year, Rebekah and I were happily touring Tuscany! So I think I'll include an image from the epic trip just to make myself feel better about mowing the yard today.

Visiting Andrew in his favorite part of the world was an amazing experience, and one of the top "Great Journeys with Rebekah and Derek" we've experienced thus far.

But we're certainly not in Italy today, and it's other people's turn to travel. This weekend my parents traveled to England for their summer visit, and Andrew flew from Bahrain to - guess where! - his home-away-from-home in Italy, to volunteer as a middle-school counselor for "Beach Week" with hundreds of American young people with parents living all over Europe.

Travel sounds fun but, at least for a while, Rebekah and I are happy to be spending a few weeks with some regular routine around home. So today that meant a long morning's yard work for me... and a day of sermon preparation for Rebekah.

It's amazing how my poor long-suffering lawnmower can give me one more effort, week after week. That's how we always start the mowing, with a short pep-talk. "Can you please, pretty-please, give me one more trip around the garden before I have to buy a new lawnmower?" And, sure enough, we limp back to the garage and hope to do it again.

The weeds are especially happy this time of the year. What with good rains every few days along with 98-degree temperatures they're growing like - well - weeds.

But this week, playing golf, I took a look at the house and garden from the 7th green. I noted how nice it looked. So today I took my camera up there. It turns out the view looks better when I'm actually playing golf, but here it is just the same.

And so, while I trudged around, pushing my lawnmower, I actually saw a different view in my mind's eye. I was looking out over the Mediterranean Sea, from the cliffs at Cinque Terre, trying to keep up with Andrew, who thought his parents were unreasonably slow.

Enjoy your ten days back in Tuscany, Andrew. We'll hold down the fort here in Florida. Meanwhile, my hiking boots are itching for the opportunity to get back on the trail.

Grace and Peace - DEREK

Friday, June 25, 2010

Fun with videography!

Well that was fun! A little intimidating, but certainly a good experience.

I'm talking about the video-shoot I did yesterday. My publisher has asked for a series of five 60-80 second videos based on questions from The unmaking of a Part-Time Christian. They plan to drop them into some kind of a chute that would take them into U-Tube, make them available on their bookstore website, include them with press releases, that kind of thing.

Not my comfort zone, that's for sure! I've learned how to speak to groups of people and have come to enjoy the interactive element of "live". It's an entirely different dynamic to that of writing - the emotional connections come from a whole other set of variables.

But video is something else! It's talking at/into/toward a camera. I had to imagine that there were actual people listening to me. My friend John Barlow is handling the videography. He has years of experience as a TV News cameraman, and his sense of what to do and how to set it up was a huge help. I told him his editing skills need to be even better than his shooting technique in order to create the illusion of competence when people hear me talk!

Essentially, we broke down every one-minute video into three or four sections. That way I had to glance at my notes less, and it added flexibility to John's view. John shot each segment several times, and changed up camera angles, close-ups, view etc. A few times he even walked with the camera, rolled it on a set of wheels, or had me walking toward the shot.

We filmed in the church prayer-garden, the library, and the sanctuary. Then, to go with the video about how media and busyness crowds into our lives, we set up on the side of Hwy 60, with heavy traffic, noise, and billboards in the background. Can't wait to see how that one shakes out.

No, I do not see a future for myself as an on-camera reporter! But I am very excited about using film media to get my message to more people.

Today, more than ever, I want to encourage everyone to live like they mean it. A sense of urgency, not in terms of anxiety, but in response to God's imperative to live - live out loud - live a life that is abundant in every way!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Labyrinth- walking an ancient way

LITHIA - "Crunch, crunch, crunch." The sound of eleven pairs of feet on fresh laid sea-shells, moving purposefully on a well-worn spiritual path.

The occasion - yesterday evening - was the closing session of my Wednesday "Men's Room Bible study". We've been talking about the spiritual disciplines, and it made perfect sense to wind up for the summer on a practical note, with a field trip to Camp CedarKirk in Lithia to break in their new labyrinth with an inaugural run by eleven men from First Presbyterian Church.

A newly renovated labyrinth, yes - but a truly ancient practice, a discipline that's been followed by faithful followers of The Way for centuries, walking the same path via an ancient pattern older than the Cathedrals of Europe.

How providential that one of our young people, Shelby Dale, had chosen this as her Girl Scout service project, and was in the process of completing construction just as we were talking about prayer and meditation! We had confidence in Shelby, but we weren't prepared for the well thought out, professional job she had accomplished.

The labyrinth, modeled after the classic Chartres Cathedral (France) standard, is beautifully laid out in a wooded glade. The carefully constructed path is delineated with sea-shells and the prayer stations marked with wooden posts, each topped with a different aspect of the Presbyterian Cross.

Shelby also prepared a leaflet with instructions, scripture references, and a history of the labyrinth and its story in the practice of faith.

I experienced the labyrinth, but also watched my group move carefully through. We set aside the time as a deliberate worship/meditation experience, with absolutely no talking. Little by little a palpable sense of spiritual gravitas settled in on the scene. Without exception, and quite simply, God showed up.

Afterwards, we debriefed. We each acknowledged that the thirty minutes it took to transcribe the 2,000 ft. path (1,000 in, 1,000 out) was not enough time, and that the labyrinth should ideally be walked alone.

However, it was also a powerful moment of spiritual unity. We were all affected by the "crunch, crunch" of footfall, the listening in on a cumulative journey. Then, later, I noted a point at which each man was walking in a different direction - yet we were all headed the same way on the same path.

I wasn't the only one to pray for the others as they passed me by. I picked up a shell for each of my friends, prayed for them while it was in my left hand, then transferred it into my right to join the others. I passed out the shells when I told them what I had done.Most poignant of all, though, was the emotional impact of the short exercise on men who do not cry easily.

There is power in deliberately practiced spiritual discipline. I pray that my friends continue to walk, one tentative footfall at a time - crunch, crunch - through the hot summer months, and that they walk, always, in the presence of Jesus.

Redeemed golf for the redeemed life

Yesterday was the most fun playing golf I've had in a long time. Which was curious, considering how hot it was out there. But I was relaxed, I struck the ball well, the guys I played with were good company, and I finished with an awesome par save from deep trouble well off the fairway.

My putting was several shades of awful! But I made up for it by scrambling. I also put a ball in the lake on two holes on the back nine, resulting in a couple of sevens.

But my best moment was on the #1 handicap hole, where I left my drive in the rough adjacent to a sand trap. I had to stand, too close to the ball, perched on the edge and with my heels hanging over the bunker. Somehow I managed to launch a six-iron around 170 yards; it landed close to the pin and my birdie putt stopped about three-inches short.

I believe the way I play golf is a decent metaphor for my life. My "success" is best measured in terms of the integrity of the process, my "might as well enjoy this" attitude, the fact that I'm genuinely thankful for all the opportunities I have, and a growing commitment to apply the principles of faith to absolutely everything I do.

It doesn't really matter if a shoot under 80... or if I leave 50% of my putts well short... or if I hit a boat-load of awesome drives. And - likewise - it doesn't matter if my books sell thousands of copies... or I ever win another AMY... or if I'm invited to speak at choice events.

I like the admonition in First Thessalonians: "May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it."

Being sanctified is living like we mean it - because God does; it's taking each day and embracing whatever we're up to as another opportunity to live as if we really are redeemed people; it's being thankful and forgiven and blessed, and it's engaging life in the fact of those dramatic truths.

My 87 was pretty darned good for an infrequent golfer. But I wouldn't have had a better day - couldn't have - even if I'd shot 70. The way I play is the way I live - it's process-oriented, not results-oriented. I am faithful because God is faithful, and I'm enjoying the journey.

I really am a pilgrim on this amazing road. And I really am making progress.
Grace and Peace - DEREK

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Anybody HOT yet?

I don't know if anyone's mentioned this recently (sarcasm) but it's HOT in Florida about now... Fortunately we've had a few very decent early evening rain-storms in the past few days so my late evening walk with Scout is less oppressive and the mornings have been somewhere approaching pleasant.

Scout's "go-to" posture through most of the day is to find the coolest position where she can both be under a strong AC vent and spread out on either tile or hardwood flooring. When she warms up her section of tile she just moves over to some fresh ones, flops down hard, and sighs...

This morning I interviewed the director of the Brandon Sports & Aquatic Center for the newspaper, and all I wanted to do was throw myself in the pool.

But I guess I really must not be hot enough. I've signed up to play golf today with a 12:45 tee-time. Should be interesting. It will be my first foray into golf-dom since my April 9 fun-fest around the hilly course in Virginia. I'm posting a "predict Derek's score" status on facebook. I'm guessing an even 90, but I'm taking votes for 70's, 80's, 90's, and 100 plus. Otherwise known as fantasy, hopeful, predictable or embarrassing.

On the way home from the interview I read a bumper sticker that offered "You think this is hot? Try Hell..." Well, despite my distaste for the general posture of judgement that such a message suggests, I had to admit I was slightly amused!

And the message did at least remind me of how important it is to keep things in perspective, and to enjoy the fact that God loves us, and to never allow ourselves to be caught in a negative patterns that offer nothing but complaints about heat... or politics... or the economy.... or prices... or religion... or anything else that distracts us so easily from enjoying this wonderful life.

Enough for now - I must go embarrass myself on the course!
Peace - DEREK

Monday, June 21, 2010

Not just relaxed but replenished

Now that was a good weekend! Yard-work, a refreshing day of rain, a speaking engagement, dynamic worship at church with a couple of favorite nieces and nephew sharing the pew, Father's Day lunch with my dad, a good conversation with Andrew in Bahrain, and a long lazy evening watching U.S. Open golf from Pebble Beach.

The result of a great weekend is waking up Monday morning refreshed and ready to go. Not just relaxed by replenished.

There is a pervasive misunderstanding about the idea of rest that leaves too many of us ill-equipped to engage Mondays with the kind of creative energy that's necessary to impact the world in the right way. We stop, take-a-load-off, unwind, "veg" (vegetate), and take it easy. And that's all good. But what we fail to do is to replenish, restore, reinvigorate, renovate, re-tool, renew, repair, reanimate, recover and redeem. We need refreshment sometimes more than we need rest.

Yes, I know, that's a lot of "r" words. But they're "r" words that all point to a critical aspect of personal and corporate faith that we too easily sidestep if we're not careful.

How many people, for example, stay away from church on a Sunday morning because they're "too tired", "over-extended" or "need a rest"? When the truth is that church is exactly the place to be when we are stressed, burned-out, weary or in turmoil.

Jesus invited tired people into his presence because replenishment was at the top of his agenda. "Come to me, all of you who are tired and are carrying heavy loads. I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). I like the way the passage reads in The Message - "Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest."

Weekend rest doesn't go nearly far enough. But the replenishment I receive when I spend Sunday with my community of faith restores the source of my life. Creativity on a Monday morning isn't such a stretch in the context of such grace.

Peace - and restoration - DEREK

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Authentic Christian Community

VALRICO - Saturday afternoon - around 2:45 - and we've just had this massive thunderstorm pass through. It's amazing how thirty minutes of rain and a cool air-mass can bring down the temperature. So we sat on the back porch for a while, watching, just drinking in the brief respite from summer.

I got the lawnmower going at 7:50 this morning (sorry, neighbors!), so I could do the bulk of the work before the heat become too oppressive. Then I turned my attention to this evening's men's event at First Presbyterian Church of Plant City. I get to share and listen and inspire and - mostly, I pray - encourage the guys as they think seriously about who God is calling them to be.

I'd like to simply show them a video of the Friday evening (yesterday) Rebekah and I spent with some of our friends. There is no such footage, of course, but it stuck me that the best thing for the health of any church is small groups of people who simply live their faith out loud, loving and encouraging one-another in the process.

That's why I chose the messy counter top picture. It simply shows one part of the preparation for a great dinner party. Yes, Rebekah and I used pretty-much every pot and pan in the kitchen! But we had a blast getting ready to serve our guests.

All the ingredients were fresh - so there was chopping, dicing, mincing, slicing, measuring, mixing, blending, sautéing, reducing, baking, boiling, steaming, marinating, pressing, rubbing, mashing, grinding, uncorking.... and more - but I think you get the picture.

What we were doing was pouring our best into the event. When our friends arrived there was an air of expectancy. We all gathered in the kitchen while we finished cooking and we had a long, long meal at the dinning room table, full with laughter and stories and concerns and much peace.

We prayed before the meal, and our interaction all evening long was marked by the presence of our faith. God grounded our conversation; Jesus was present at the table, the Spirit animated every aspect of the evening.

What I'm saying is that - just like that photograph of the counter-top about an hour before our guests arrived - our spiritual lives were indispensable ingredients to a great evening. We didn't just say a blessing, and then park God back in the cupboard where we keep the nice china.

This is what I mean when I talk about full-time faith. It makes everything richer, more abundant, and exciting. If I can get that message across this evening, the power and the promise of authentic Christian community, then there's really not that much else I'll need to say.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25)

Grace and Peace - DEREK

Friday, June 18, 2010

Words for the healing of the nations

Today I have decided to move forward with no particular agenda in mind. I'm going to work - there's too much to be done not to - but I'm not going to set aside "an hour for this", "three hours for that", "Such-and-such after lunch". I'm just going to see what direction suggests itself, and "go with the flow."

I'm hoping it's a move that releases "The Muse". The Muse has felt a little left out this week, what with all the deadlines and such (six feature articles, four "10-Ways" columns, two commentaries, one Op-Ed, one community profile, five chapters of my new book, several hours of consulting and three speaking engagements...).

Sometimes The Muse simply gets elbowed out of the way. And so today (nothing due on anyone's desk and just the one phone-conference) I'm going to pretty-much let things flow.

Who knows... maybe poetry could happen... or photography... or I could outline this new book that's been patiently suggesting itself over the past few weeks? All I know is that what is possible is typically more exciting than what I have planned.

There's nothing wrong with planning - in fact it's a great way to be productive and to harness my creativity; I'd get very little done without it - but it's also critical to let the Spirit have free reign and to leave room for some prompting from the Author of all creativity.

So I'm going to try to set aside more time for improvisation. More time for serendipity in my work. More time for nourishment to seep into the well of my creative unconscious and to grow something new.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelations 22)

I want to write words for the for the healing of the nations...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Work in Progress

Yesterday I enjoyed a really great conversation with Mary Jacobs (left), a religion writer in Texas. She was interviewing me for a story in her news-magazine - The United Methodist Reporter. But I'm not sure if I was much help so far as a Q&A interview goes. It wasn't her fault - I just kept running off on these tangents.

Thinking about it (and I'm not worried, I'm sure she'll salvage some relevant material for the story) I realized that I'm really not so much interested in rehashing material that I've previously written as I'm interested in picking up where I am now, talking about what I'm learning today, and thinking about where I'm headed.

Because there's always new insight, new thoughts, new moments of revelation, new ways to understand and interpret and listen and grow.... What I should have been doing, when she asked a good question about some content area in "The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian", was delivering sound-bites from the book. But I wasn't/couldn't/didn't want to. Instead I let the conversation track along with my imagination, and we explored ideas that should probably be developed for my next book!

Work in Progress:
The point is that I believe we should always be engaged in this kind of conversation, that we are all continuous "works in progress" when it comes to exploring what it means to be "Followers of the Way", that a life of faith is a commitment - something we chose to actively engage rather than passively float along with.

I'm not talking about legalistic, guilt-ridden, ritualistic religious practice. I'm talking about simply being deliberate and reflective about what is possible and how:
  • this day,
  • this moment,
  • this relationship,
  • this work,
  • this journey,
  • this meeting,
  • this conversation with a friend,
  • this decision about finances,
  • this response to the news,
  • this _______
is qualitatively impacted by my decision to follow Jesus.

Postscript: Most of you know I had the privilege of speaking at a Disciples of Christ Men's retreat in Virginia this April. Well, the denomination used the retreat as the backdrop to roll out their new men's ministry initiative. It's just a one-minute video and it features a few seconds of yours-truly. Take a look, I think you'll enjoy. Then pray for the DOC Men.

Peace - DEREK

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"Preaching to the Choir"

Today's list:
  1. Write blog (if nothing else, it gets my writing engine running)
  2. Write news story about FishHawk Fellowship pastor (the deadline helps)
  3. Write new article for All Pro Dad ("10-Ways to teach your children to be grateful" - I'm open to suggestions)
  4. Take a conference call from the United Methodist Reporter in Dallas (the interviewer becomes the interviewee...)
  5. Prepare for my 45 minute talk to the choir this evening....
Yeah, that's right, this evening I get to "preach to the choir." It's fun to actually enter into a bona-fide cliche. The phrase, for those who aren't familiar, refers to any message/advice/appeal etc that is delivered to people who already have the information and probably don't need to be told again...

...Kind of like the letter Rebekah got from our health insurance company that said (and I kid you not) "We have analyzed your medical records over the past decade and believe you should consider being screened for diabetes..." Like we both say, we don't make this stuff up.

Grade-A Sinners:
I'm not sure about the choir at your church, but at my church there's nothing about our songsters that makes them either A) immune to preaching or B) people who don't see the value in a good word. In fact, I know most of them pretty well and I'd say (and they'd enthusiastically agree) they're as accomplished a group of sinners as anyone else!

But of course I'm not preaching. I've been invited to give a talk at their last practice before taking the summer off. I've been thinking about what to share, and I've just about decided to do the standard, introductory, "This is who I am and what I'm about" presentation I give when I'm kicking off the weekend at a retreat or a conference.

It occurred to me that I take the time to introduce myself on the road, but the people I've been worshipping with for 14 years have never heard my story... my "testimony" as it were.

All I want to do is to encourage and - hopefully - to inspire. I want any group of people I'm fortunate enough to talk to to take up the challenge to "Live as if you mean it", to live passionately, and to break out of the numbing sameness that characterizes too much of day-to-day life among those of us who claim to be a part of the "Greatest Story Ever Told."

The best:
This really is the best part of my professional life right now. I'm grateful that anyone at all is willing to read what I write... and I'm bowled over by the fact that they want to hear me talk about it as well.

I've said this before, but I believe one of the reasons all this has started happening - now I'm in my 50's - is that it's taken this long for me to have something worth saying! Life happens, and sometimes it's overwhelming - but eventually the pieces start to come together and you can see the big picture. At least that's what's happened/happening to me. I've been an observer my entire life and after a while it all starts to sink in.

One brief illustration: When I was a teen I attended all the Bible-study and fellowship and discussion groups. I remember noticing how quick so many people were to jump in and say something - even when they had nothing to say. And so I listened, and processed, and waited. If I said anything at all it would be toward the end, very short, and only in response to the listening.

Well, I've been listening 50 years now. It must be my turn.
Peace - DEREK

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Life will have its way...

I am so tempted to begin the day by complaining about the heat. But I'll refrain, and limit my whining to "I typically don't even comment on the temperature until at least late-July-August." There, I'm done.

Meanwhile with the excellent rain we had yesterday evening, I can almost hear the vegetation growing around the house. I'm not sure if the grass is making any progress, but I swear the weeds have shot up a couple in inches in less than twenty-four hours. I'm always amazed at the phenomenon of growth. How can something as small as a seed turn into a plant, or a tree?

The other day our neighbors commented on our magnificent Cyprus. When I told them it was a twig, no bigger than a thin pencil, when we planted it they couldn't believe me. Hold on a moment and I'll go outside for a couple of photographs.......

... There, and that wasn't easy because the humidity is so thick my lens kept fogging up. But the tree is tall, strong, thick-trunked, and still reaching into the sky.

The imperative of insistent life is all around us. Even in the face of environmental catastrophes like the BP oil spill, life will have its way. And I find a lot of hope in that. In fact, even the stuff I don't like (like the 98 degree reading on my thermometer yesterday afternoon along with 99% humidity) contributes to growth and strength and long-term health.

Sometimes I think we distance ourselves too far from the earth. I'm not saying we should all be gardeners, but I am suggesting more of a deliberate connection. Personally, I find that God often speaks to me with more clarity (or I hear with more clarity) when I take the time to appreciate creation and to immerse myself in the work of God's imagination.

I am also the work of God's imagination. How I respond to that fact determines if I will be a co-creator with God in all the possibilities... or a half-hearted functionary in a plot that's already played out.

Today the cedar tree is the touchstone of my spiritual path. I'll be keeping my eyes and my heart open to see how God speaks to me tomorrow....

This is what I saw as I was stretched out on my bed. I saw a big towering tree at the center of the world. As I watched, the tree grew huge and strong. Its top reached the sky and it could be seen from the four corners of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant—enough food for everyone! Wild animals found shelter under it, birds nested in its branches, everything living was fed and sheltered by it - Daniel 4

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Day for New Paradigms

Sometimes, when you're writing, it's easy to become so focused on your own work that you miss other stuff that's floating around.

That's one reason why it's so good to be involved in an intellectually as well as spiritually stimulating church (Actually, I don't think it's correct to use the two terms that separately - the spiritual and the intellectual are not discrete entities that must be approached individually or separately - they inform one-another...).

Rebekah's Sunday messages always point me in new directions, where I end up challenged and inspired and educated all at the same time. Sunday-school and small-group experiences typically push the envelop, stimulating discussion and heartfelt prayer and edgy ideas. And then conversations during the week, with class members, other leaders, and friends who value intelligent dialog. It's all good.

My friend Charles sent me a link to an 18 minute lecture on creativity and the challenge to engage people - children and adults alike - educationally in ways that stir their deepest passions. The speaker was excellent, but I was most excited about a quote he shared, an Abraham Lincoln vignette I had heard before but had not really processed until now.

The context for Lincoln's remarks is the Civil War, and the futility we experience when we try to solve current problems by reaching backward, instead of forward.

  • The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country - Abraham Lincoln, 1862

OKay. We've all heard that before. But today, June 14, 2010, I am captured by Lincoln's understanding that this nation is in danger when we allow ourselves to be "enthralled" by the dogmas of yesterday, rather than "thinking anew" and "acting anew."

The word "enthrall" comes from a Middle English expression meaning to be held in the spell of. The idea had the connotation of slavery - to be bound. It is a mind-set that is hobbled. I can't help but think of the constant wash of forwarded emails, evoking an idyllic image of "The Good Old Days" and the suggestion that if we just turned the clock back then everything would be hunky-dory.

Well, yes... if you're white, and middle-class, and male, and socially "christian" (lower-case "c" my choice).

People enthralled by yesterday - and this is true in many religious circles too - seem to be unwilling to "rise with the occasion". Yesterday holds them in thrall. Creativity and hope die on the vine.

But I am increasingly convince that there is no standing still. There is either moving forward or there is sliding back. Maybe it would help if we thought about the learning curve this way: It was the recent past that brought us to this point; yesterday (for good or for ill) was the horse we rode in on. I'm not suggesting we shoot the horse, but it might be time to put it out to pasture, with appropriate thanks and honor, and continue in the business of reformation.

I believe this is the day for new paradigms.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ordination at the Methodist Annual Conference

Hmmm... where to begin? The past two days have been a frenetic flurry of activity, hanging out with the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. The emphasis (Bishop Whitaker's theme for this year) was "Eradicating Extreme Poverty". Pretty much everything about the conference supported the theme, and my job was to write about it all (5-6 stories) for the Florida Methodist News Service.

Yesterday's blog post highlighted my meeting with Bread for the World president David Beckmann. I followed that up with a fascinating conversation with Stan Doerr, president of ECHO (Educational Concerns For Hunger Organization). I'll likely comment on ECHO later, but today I'm going to talk about the service of ordination and commissioning I covered yesterday evening.

Over 40 pastors were presented for various stages of the long candidacy process. Licensing, commissioning to provisional status as deacons and elders, and full ordination as deacons and elders. The Lakeland Center was full with conferees, visitors, and supports (bus-loads in some cases) representing family and the ministers' local churches.

There was a lot of pomp and pageantry. The service opened with a processional, a veritable phalanx of robed clergy moving in like an occupying force - which in some respect they were. The district superintendents and other luminaries camped out on the stage and an atmosphere of anticipation and expectation filled the auditorium.

The Praise Band was most excellent and Bishop Whitaker preached a good sermon on "Table Manners" from Christ's story about the Great Banquet. But the high point of the evening was the service of ordination.

That afternoon I asked one of the ordinands how he expected the ceremony to affect him. He said it was very important marker in his ministry, that it meant a lot to him to have arrived at this particular moment, but - essentially - it was just a change of title. So I watched him closely when he knelt for the "laying on of hands", and I prayed for him as the bishop prayed for him - with both his hands resting on his head. When he stood up it was obvious that something powerful had happened.

Such is always the story when people humble themselves and offer the next stage of their lives to God in prayer. Ordination is more than a ceremony - it's an action of the Holy Spirit and it comes with substantive spiritual authority, and it does make a difference.

At the conclusion of the service an invitation was issued for those who felt God's call to be leaders in the future of the church. "To lead the church as we embrace a new paradigm of ministry" the Bishop said. Over the next ten minutes 20-30 came down. Young and old; men and women; all shapes, sizes and races.

It was a good way to end my couple of days with the United Methodists. I'm always encouraged when I visit with spiritual leaders of all denominations. God is full with creativity and purpose - we simply need to catch the vision with more consistency.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A faith-grounded constituency on behalf of the hungry

So this week my work has taken me to Lakeland, where the Florida United Methodist Church is gathering for it's annual conference. I have six story assignments - which is a lot in two days - and I've already met a bunch of interesting people.

Yesterday I covered the keynote, which was delivered by Bread for the World president
David Beckmann. Beckmann is a veritable encyclopedia of facts, stories, facts and more facts.

His emphasis is leveraging our citizenship to advance God's purposes. He said that the hungry need a faith-grounded constituency to work on their behalf.

I like the concept of "faith-grounded constituency." Beckmann pointed out that we experience our Christianity so much as individuals that we forget that "God is a God of nations and history and laws."

Our collective political will as people of faith can and should make a bigger difference in terms of policies that directly affect the "Widows and orphans" who have always - according to scripture, been our responsibility.

HOPE: Beckmann pointed out some startling statistics that demonstrate just how much progress has been made in the global fight against hunger and poverty. What we do is making a difference, he said. The key is to make sure we don't give up now, and that we apply the same intensity of effort to domestic challenges.

Charitable organizations do a great job, Beckmann pointed out, but all the food provided directly via charity amounts to only 6% of what the federal government achieves via nutrition programs. It is critical, he said, that we don't plunge millions back into crisis by cutting these important programs.

Well - got to head over for more listening and interviews and stories. It's going to be a long day, but a good one.

Blessings - DEREK

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Come and see

Wow! No blog yesterday. I simply didn't have time. And today is already stacking up to be extra busy. So I'll just share a short thought from yesterday evening's small-group meeting at church.

My men's Bible-study is looking at some of the "spiritual disciplines" Richard Foster describes in his book. It's a helpful study/discussion because there is always so much more to learn.

The spiritual is, by definition, unfathomable; it deals with the infinite and the mysterious. Spiritual life, then, is a constant journey - it has to be. One huge problem with being Christian in the North American cultural milieu is our tendency to want to control everything about our lives. The only way to control the spiritual aspect is to limit our exposure to the point that what we have is small enough for us to A) understand and B) bury in a manageable nook, somewhere fairly shallow where we can keep an eye on it.

Yes, that's a harsh generalization. But generalizations like that can be useful in terms of painting a picture. The picture is me (and probably you) keeping God at arms length, and being very suspicious of anything we can't easily control.

Remember the lion, Aslan, from C.S. Lewis's Narnia series? The lion would growl when the children asked if he was "tame", or "safe". How tame is your Jesus?

In my men's group we're at least talking about the possibility that God may just want us to step out of our safe zones. Personally, I'm both intrigued and on guard.

More later today if I have time. Meanwhile enjoy the scripture (from John 1) that's on my heart this morning:

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God!"
When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.
Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, "What do you want?"
They said, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?"
"Come," he replied, "and you will see."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The life that really is life speaks for itself...

I like to share great quotes in this blog. I'm a fairly voracious reader, and consequently find inspirational stuff from a number of good sources. But, more often than not, it will be a verse or two from the Bible. I don't do this to be moralistic, or to impose my religious agenda on readers. I simply share these words because they have touched me, inspired me, or fed me in some way.

Today I have a fairly long passage for you. I'll start with the key concept, the verse that I meditated on this morning - but the selection is so awesome I'm going to have to paste in the whole thing at the end.

[You] are to do good, be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for [your]selves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that [you] may take hold of the life that really is life. (1 Timothy 6:19)

I appreciate the idea "The life that really is life." It resonates with the way I've been thinking this year. Paul is suggesting - and this is clear in the complete passage, below - that what we tend to call life, much of the time, really isn't.

Often, when I'm out on the road speaking, I like to put up a slide taken at Naomi and Craig's wedding (almost three years ago, now). It's our church fellowship hall (there's the picture, to the right), teeming with people. There's dancing, hands up in the air, groups at tables or in intimate conversation... It's not a video, it's a still - and there's no sound track. Yet, somehow, the photograph does a great job of capturing the spirit of the occasion.

Underneath the slide, in bold print, I include the following statement. "Christian Community tells the truth about the Gospel."

The way we live together as a faith community communicates what we believe. Maybe the slide should read this way: "The way we are together (as a body) is an honest commentary on the type of gospel we preach."

Fact is, the "life that really is life" speaks for itself.

Hmm. I like that. So I'll repeat it and let my post for this morning be this simple statement. THE LIFE THAT REALLY IS LIFE SPEAKS FOR ITSELF.

So let's grab hold of it - DEREK

  • Here's the entire passage. It really is a good read:

Timothy 6:6-19 (NRSV) - Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time--he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion.

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

Monday, June 7, 2010

James Taylor & Carol King!

Sunday - always an amazing day. This time it was like I got to go to church twice. I actually think the James Taylor/Carol King concert in the evening was probably better because we'd enjoyed such a phenomenal morning with our faith community earlier in the day.
I've always been a JT fan. His songs tend to find that sweet spot in my soul, the lyrics are typically right on the money, and I try to emulate his guitar playing style. I've often joked that if I were to lead the praise band at church it would be an "if James Taylor had a praise band" kind of a sound.

So, when our friends hooked us up with some tickets earlier this week we were thrilled. We'd seen him at the same venue over a decade ago, but back in 1998 the acoustics were bad, the stage was set up at one end of the auditorium, and we were as far away as it's possible to be without being in the parking lot.

But this time everything worked. Second row, right by the stage. "In the round" with a rotating floor. Amazingly sophisticated acoustics - balanced and clear. Typically, I won't take a camera to a concert, but this time, knowing where we would be sitting, I made the effort and I'm glad I did.

We've never heard Carol King live before. We were blown away by her performance, energy, dynamic range, presence and powerful song-writing. Taylor sang back-up for her, she sang back-up for him, and they simply shared several songs such as "You've got a friend."

JT jokingly referred to his "Shower the people you love with love" as an "agnostic hymn". But I've sung it in church and I sense more belief in his music than he would be prepared to acknowledge.

In that regard what I wrote about the Rene Fleming concert (the world's leading operatic voice) held true once again. Music tells some of the story of eternity, regardless who is singing. JT and Carol King opened the window to heaven and let us enjoy a deep drink from the truth Sunday night. Our souls were fed.

Music has the power to bring so much to the surface. Faith, emotion, pain, joy, longing, satisfaction... I knew that, but was still surprised at how "You've got a friend" affected me. I've always loved the song, and have sung it in church more than once. It also became a favorite for me to play for Naomi to sing, and we had planned to do it together for her senior "Ambassador" solo at Bloomingdale High School - but things didn't go well that year and the performance was scrubbed.

So I did the song at her senior dinner at church - then Nathan McMillen performed You've Got a Friend for our father-daughter dance at her wedding. Tears, of course, every time. Later, Naomi sang it with me at a church fund raiser, just before she and Craig moved to Connecticut and - of course - people knew the story and she made the whole room cry.

All that came to the forefront when JT played the opening measure and offered the best rendition of the song - written by Carol King - I've ever heard. Not so much heard as experienced. And I couldn't help it, I cried the whole way through. Good tears. Tears of understanding the amazing scope of blessing I have - we have - as a family, and what it means to know without a shadow of a doubt that we are loved so deeply.... and unconditionally.

Bottom line, and this is a consistent theme in my life, I enjoyed an event that was not only first-rate, top-notch and state-of-the-art... but the experience was significantly enhanced by the state of my spirit.

I don't care what we're talking about: children, marriage, church, sporting events, beautiful scenery, gourmet meals, travel, art, history - or the most unbelievably awesome concert it's possible to attend. Everything is made more complete... more redemptive... when it is experienced consciously as a child of God. Forgiven, loved, free.
  • Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD (Psalm 150)
Happy Monday! This is going to be a great week - DEREK

Saturday, June 5, 2010

And it was good...

Today's post is simply a collection of slightly random thoughts (But, it turns out, linked by a common thread):

1. I mowed the "grass" this morning, then I edged: While I was circling the garden I noticed huge amounts of work needing to be done. Weeding - just about everywhere. Landscape timbers - they all need replacing. Erosion - we need probably 10 cubic yards of soil. Dead stuff from winter - it seriously needs removing.

Then I retreated to the house for some cold libation. Guess what, it all looks good from in here. So it looks like I'm all caught up around the yard after all!

2. Mailed huge birthday box to Andrew: Can't say what's inside because there's a "one in around a hundred" chance that he'll read this blog. Wouldn't want to spoil the surprise. But I can say I paid the extra dollars for "priority all the way to Bahrain" mail.

Associated serendipity - found this picture of aforementioned son from Italy last year while searching for his address.

Tuscany is still just about our favorite vacation destinations to date. We'd love love love to repeat. But of course, it's a beautiful world all over, and there's so much to see that simply takes my breath away.

3. BP and the Gulf of Mexico: I think what works so well about Italy is how the human impact has blended with the natural beauty instead of industry fighting against nature - an approach that seems to define far too much of the way we "manhandle" today's world.

Here we are, living on the Gulf Coast, one of the great, lush wonders of the natural world. It's not enough that we've built over the wetlands, devastated most of the beaches, and over-developed the barrier islands so they're unable to do what they were intended to do... Now we're turning the entire Gulf of Mexico into an environmental wasteland.
  • What is it going to take before we make a serious move away from dependence on oil?
  • What is it going to take to make us realize that making more money is not necessarily the best avenue to a more satisfying life?
  • What's it going to take to finally convince us that catering to the greed of big business is never the answer when the question is, "How will America and its people define themselves going into the heart of this Twenty-first Century?"
4. Which leads me to this question: What's it all about? You know - the big picture thing? Look at today; I'm mowing the garden, sending birthday packages to my son, worrying about the environment. Then I got the car worked on, washed it, cooked a really delicious shepherd's pie for dinner, cleaned the kitchen and made a cup of tea. Now I'm in my study, writing.

So what's it all about? Why do all this stuff? What's the point?

Well, it makes sense to me when I understand the purpose behind why I am here in the first place. I was created - I believe - as a being in the image of God. My life makes sense inasmuch as I actively embrace the fact of that relationship, and live to the fullest extent in a way that honors the intention of my Creator.

It's the thread that runs through it all. The garden, the birthday package, the writing, my concern about God's magnificent world... All of it.

And here's the kicker. I still believe it can be good. So very good....

And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them... (Genesis 1)