Thursday, September 30, 2010

Morning has broken/ is breaking

Good morning! First, if you haven't read Wednesday's post, then scroll down and do that - I believe it's worth the read.

Second, simply a prayer for today:

Morning has broken (will soon be breaking, at this writing) like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word...

I like it when my mornings spring fresh from LOGOS. New and full with promise because the Creator of all life has spoken promise into my new day.

This is both the promise and my prayer - that the emerging experience that is Thursday, September 30, 2010 will be a God-saturated, Grace-charged day.

Amen

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Teach Your Kids About Politics - via Tony Dungy

One of my favorite (current) writing gigs is the opportunity I have to provide content for the All Pro Dad website. All Pro Dad is the on-line arm of SuperBowl-winning coach Tony Dungy's work to support and encourage dads throughout the USA.

This year - to date - I've penned 72 of the "10-Ways" lists associated with the ongoing Billboard Campaign. My lists appear on the website, and are also emailed to thousands of men via the "Tony Dungy Play of the Day".

Today's "10-Ways" column is especially timely as the subject is politics. I've also highlighted the headline as an active link to this article as it appears on the site:

Enjoy - DEREK

10 Things You Need to Teach Your Kids About Politics (It's possible to disagree with respect, to be wrong with integrity, and to be right with humility)

A well-known adage declares that polite conversation always steers family away from politics, religion or sex. But we say that’s bunk!


If we’re not talking about these things in our family, then our kids are most certainly having the conversation elsewhere. “Elsewhere” should never be the primary source of facts, discussion, advice and grounding when we have the opportunity to talk about important matters at home.


This time it’s politics, and it’s a subject that’s always timely. Here at All Pro Dad we don’t want you to necessarily think like us – but we do want you to think. And we want you to teach your children how important it is to replace bias, and rumor, and prejudice, and misinformation with a thoughtful look at what makes America tick politically.


The greatest enemy of freedom is a people unprepared to engage in intelligent debate and thoughtful decision-making. Don’t be that guy.

Here are 10 things we all need to think about when it comes to politics:

1. Freedom relies on widespread participation in the political process: Kids need to understand that it’s important to take part. Not voting and not thinking about politics is a decision to not value liberty.

2. The Constitution: We need to teach our children the U.S. Constitution. They need to be familiar with the contents and understand how it was written and why it gets amended.

3. An open mind is not a political affiliation! Party affiliation does not determine receptivity to new ideas. Openness to growth and learning is more of a spiritual condition. A closed mind can repel wisdom irrespective of our politics.

4. Our political preference is not a religion: Politics does not provide spiritual nurture, nor does our leaning necessarily say anything about our standing with God. The writer of the Declaration of Independence acknowledged that “The Creator” endowed us with fundamental rights, not the government, and certainly not one political party.

5. Free speech should not be a higher value than courtesy: It is important that our children understand the necessity of courtesy in political discourse. It is possible to disagree with respect, to be wrong with integrity, and to be right with humility. This is where parental modeling is of the essence.

6. It’s okay to get excited! America was born out of passionate disagreements, has been sustained by heartfelt debate, and will remain strong because of - not in spite of - sometimes over-enthusiastic differences of opinion: While #5 is true, it’s also important that our kids realize it’s Okay to be fervent in our views and to communicate our convictions with enthusiasm.

7. Children must learn to think for themselves: Too many people have given up critical analysis in favor of simply parroting other people’s opinions as their own. This is not only lazy, but dangerous. The greatest threat to democracy is a voting public – and families - who don’t think things through.

8. Listen to both sides: Teach your kids to listen to both sides of a debate and to pay attention to people they think they will disagree with. We must learn how to cultivate multiple sources when gathering information.

9. The truth can handle good questions: If children don’t understand, they should always ask. Good questions reveal truth… or the lie. Either way, good question asking is critical to a political process that works

10. People who disagree with us are not by definition un-American: We all know people who believe everyone should walk in lockstep (both in politics and in religion). We must teach our children that there is always more to learn, that people who disagree with us aren’t always wrong, and that narrow-mindedness is the shortest path to political oppression.

(Columnist Derek Maul provides on-line content for AllProDad.com and FamilyMinute.com)


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Breakfast? Please pass the defibrillator!












This morning got off to a great start with breakfast at church. I visited with our "SunRisers Breakfast" crowd. The group, traditionally men, has grown over the past few years and now averages around 20 regular participants.

I think it's awesome that there are two strong arms to our men's ministry. My "support and encouragement" group meets Wednesdays, then Tuesday mornings the SunRisers get together and pray.

The SunRises have an ongoing prayer-card ministry, praying for people in (and friends of) the church. Every man present signs each card and they send them out along with words of encouragement.

Talk about a faithful band of disciples!

The group has one fundamental problem, however: The idea of a "heart-friendly" meal is completely outside their cooking repertoire! This morning, for example, we ate stuffed French-toast, eggs scrambled in sausage fat, and the fattest, most enormous pile of pork sausages I've ever seen. They should have been served with a side order of defibrillation.

Ironically, we prayed for one member of the group who is dealing with thoracic cardiovascular issues.

I was there for two reasons (in addition to eating cholesterol-enhanced food).
  • First, I shared a meditation that fits into Rebekah and Tim's current sermon series on "Perspective". I talked about how God has given me renewed clarity to see things through spiritual eyes, and how I am now able to see things more clearly than ever before.
  • Then, I started a conversation about the history of First Presbyterian of Brandon (fpcbrandon.org). I asked the men to share how long they have been coming and what it was that helped them decide to stick around.
I only had fifteen minutes, but managed to glean some powerful testimonies and wonderful insight. My favorite was Ralph, who's been involved for 45 years. "I realized I'd been a hypocrite all my life," he said. "But here at First Brandon I found people who understood about moderation. It's all right to drink, and to dance, and to go to movies. They were honest, they were moderate, and they weren't afraid to have a good time."

I'll be sharing more insights about the history of this faith community as we approach our 50th Birthday celebration, next year on May 21.... Interestingly, that's the day - according to one extremist religious group - that the world is scheduled to end. Either way, it should be quite an interesting day!


Monday, September 27, 2010

Let's talk about education...

BRANDON, 9:00 AM -It's another Monday morning and I still relish the fact my commute is now a mere 25 feet down the hall to my study rather than out on the road heading to some school as a teacher!

I haven't talked that much about my former career in this space. I'd long since stashed my Florida Teaching Certificate when I launched this blog and I have no intention of dusting it off any time soon.

But I am very much involved in the world of education. I teach all the time. Plus I have many, many great friends who make their living in the classroom. I've been talking with these friends, and what I'm hearing is not good. It's still September, but the cynicism and the sense of unreasonable burden is already taking its toll.

And - this is something I must make clear to the uninitiated - no, it's not the kids who are the problem. It's not classroom management either and it's certainly not a lack of professional expertise. The problem is the politics, the way the politics are applied, the school board, and the huge gap between what people think they know about education and the reality of great teachers doing great work.

GATES FOUNDATION: Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates has "gifted" Hillsborough County Schools with an education grant to the tune of some $100 million.

I’ve often wondered what good could be accomplished if we ever put our money where our priorities should be and actually invested in education, but I'm honestly not sure that this is what any of us need!

You see there's a huge elephant in the room we simply must address. I’m talking about the foundational set of premises that drives the 100 million dollar train.

Here goes: Better teachers = better schools... better schools = better education... and better education = successful children who become fully functioning adults. So far, so good.

We’re concerned about the future, and we know our children really should be better equipped than they currently are. Okay, no argument there.

Therefore… ergo… we need to improve the teachers. All this leads to the following conclusion; poor teaching must be the reason society is – essentially – on the brink.

Flawed logic! There you go. That’s American education in a nutshell, and there’s really not much to argue about in anything I just said, at least prior to the conclusion. However (and this error is at the root of much that passes for contemporary social and political debate), stringing a series of statements together that are – ostensibly - true does not necessarily prove the case, nor justify so many sweeping generalizations.

In the case of education, there are good teachers and there are the not so good. Professional standards, supervision and accountability often work together to accomplish a "so-so" job - as in any profession.

But, and this statement needs to be hung on a huge banner in every legislature in America - and a few school board meeting rooms for good measure, "Classroom time = a mere 14,4% of a child’s year – and that’s assuming perfect attendance. Kids actually spend more or their lives with the computer and the TV than a classroom teacher! The key variable in preparing children to succeed in life is the home."

That’s worth repeating: The key variable in preparing children to succeed in life is the home.

But the legislature can’t get inside my house or yours, and neither can Mr. Gates (unless Windows 7 is even trickier than we knew!). So we do what we can do and we throw rocks at the teachers instead.

The Gates Grant’s end game is the laudable goal of identification and implementation when it comes to best practices in terms of classroom instruction. But, the initiative seems to be being parsed as “Fix the teachers and everything will be Okay.”

Well, no, it won’t!

  1. Bottom line, the majority of teachers don't need fixing. Hillsborough County’s teachers are already well qualified and competent. They will doubtless benefit from the Gates program in the same way they profit from any of the extensive in-service trainings they already pursue.
  2. The Gates program is a distraction that's already being used more as an offensive weapon than an opportunity to grow. Such an approach will, in all likelihood - negatively impact the classroom.
  3. What public education really needs is a general revival of family life; one that takes more active responsibility for raising children, supports education, and works to re-craft the values that define our culture.

But that’s another post – or series of posts. Meanwhile, we should understand that we can’t blame the teachers for what we seem to be unwilling to take on ourselves.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Men Provoking Men - in Love


Please... people... Enough with the endless "Derek's shirking on his blog" complaints. Sheesh... This has been one monster of a busy week. Leading a men's event in Atlanta last weekend; then (just a few moments ago) completing another at Camp Cedarkirk; plus lots of writing in between in preparation for the big October vacation.

Overall, with my earlier visit to Seven Springs, this has been one of my busiest speaking months to date. In a way, exhausting, but without a doubt very worthwhile. I'm honestly a little disappointed that it's over. Writing is one thing, getting feedback and touching lives from all over the planet is quite a rush. But, there's honestly nothing quite comparable to standing in front of a room full of people and sharing a message I'm passionate about and that becomes more and more interactive as the event moves on.

This weekend was no exception. The group from Hyde Park Presbyterian church were open-hearted and gracious to a man. We talked about the critical importance of taking our general desire to move forward spiritually, and then adding the decision to take a deliberate step in the direction of being an active disciple of Jesus.

What a strong core-group of men! I am convinced that one of the most under-resourced demographics in the average church is men in their 30's 40's and 50's. Here's my theory: bring a few small-groups of these guys together, purely for spiritual formation and discipleship, and then witness what power is unleashed in the local congregation.

Imagine 25-50 such men charged up spiritually in a medium-sized church. Guys committed to a faith-walk that has a profound impact on every moment of every day!

I'm imagining it right now! I'm praying for it. I'm praying for the men of Hyde Park Presbyterian, and the men here at First Brandon.

Won't you join me?

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur/provoke 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 (Hebrews 10)...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

My Calling Card is Passion!


This morning's "mug-shot" (right) is certainly not the most flattering image of me ever taken! But I'm including it because I believe it captures some of the passion I'm feeling when it comes to sharing the central message that's beginning to emerge as I speak with more and more groups of Christians throughout the USA (Look, I'm even waving my arms!).

The photo at the end of this post shows a few of the men present during the afternoon seminar this weekend at the First Baptist Church in Decatur, GA. We talked a lot about what it means to walk "in" faith in every-day life (I'm grateful to my new friend, Tim Pennington-Russell, for the photographs).

One very meaningful conversation was in response to one man's comment, "I understand that God has saved me from so much..." My response launched from this introductory statement: "I think it's more helpful to understand salvation as something we're saved into, rather than from. What, 'Henry', do you think it is that Jesus has saved you for...?"
______________________________

POP-QUIZ....
Q: - "Derek, did you get to the computer in time to write and post your blog before 10:00 this morning?"
A: - "Not even close! My morning appointment to interview a high-school principal came too quickly."

Q: - "But did you at least spend some time with God before you went to work?"
A: - "Most definitely! It's critical if I'm to take my commitment to be a Jesus-follower seriously. Prayer is my initial trajectory 'out of the box'. This was my meditation verse this morning, Psalm 89:1: I will sing of the Lord's great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations!

At 6:20 AM when I walked down the street, the huge "Harvest Moon" just hung there, front and center, suspended in mid-air like I could climb on if only I had a step-ladder. It was luminescent, creamy-white, like fresh cream poured into a ball but with it's own light.

I thought about this clarity of vision realization that's been hanging around the edges of my consciousness lately. And I wonder if I've ever seen things in this kind of detail before? Every morning a gift; every day an opportunity; every moment a step in increasing confidence; every relationship a gift.

That's it for this morning. Maybe I'll get back on this blog later today. But I doubt it - way too much to do!

Peace - DEREK

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Church decorating with body parts...

This week, according to an article in the Tampa Tribune, several parts of a dead Italian priest will be making the trip to St. Petersburg, Florida.

John Bosco's dismembered right arm and hand were separated from the rest of his remains when his urn was exhumed in 1929.

"Normally," said the Rev Len Plazewski (Catholic Diocese of St Petersburg), "one goes to where the saint is buried."

"[But] instead of us going on a pilgrimage," added Rev Michael Conway, "Don Bosco is coming to us."

To properly frame what I'm thinking this morning, I have to share the following (brief) story from our trip to Tuscany in 2009.

Last summer, when Rebekah and I travelled to Italy, we spent a marvelous day in the city of Siena, including a tour of the Basilica of San Domenico.

Meandering through the great nave, I stopped to look, incredulously, at a roped off, well-lit exhibit. It was a severed human head - its features mostly preserved - along with a thumb!

I pulled out my camera, zoomed in, and had the grotesquely misaligned details of the tragic woman's face focused to a high definition. But I could not bring myself to snap the picture.

Rebekah and I talked about it. We were perplexed because, in our church, adornments are more along the line of stained glass, banners, candles, posters - that sort of thing. We did some research (You can see us, below right, listening to the "self-guided tour", not believing what we're hearing, inside San Domenico).

The head (and thumb), it turns out, belong to/with "Catherine of Siena", a 14th Century Dominican who essentially starved herself to death because she "found no nourishment in earthly food". She was buried in Rome, but religious leaders in Siena wanted her body after miracles were reported in the vicinity of her grave.

A raiding party was sent to Rome, where the thieves removed Catherine's head and a thumb and stuffed them in a bag before heading home. Religious authorities in Siena had the body parts crudely preserved and placed them on display at San Domenico....

I can just imagine the conversation in the "Church decorating committee" meeting.
  • Father Toni: "Who has any ideas for making the sanctuary more appealing?"
  • Mrs. DeLucca: "The fall colors are lovely, how about some late roses?"
  • Mrs. Angelo: "I have a nice head..."
  • Father Toni: "Right then. Let's go with the head. Now, about the fall festival...."
So I must admit that the spectacle of a parade in St Petersburg, featuring body parts that John Bosco's family thought were safely buried almost 200 years ago, strikes me as a bizarre combination the macabre, the melodramatic and the medieval.

Give the saint a break, I say, restore some dignity to his memory, and consign such rituals to the history of the Middle Ages. We didn't have a Reformation for nothing, you know.

- DEREK

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Child Abuse: Open Your Eyes!

When you receive the childlike on my account, it's the same as receiving me. But if you give them a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you'll soon wish you hadn't. You'd be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck. (Matthew 18:5-7, The Message)

I just returned from attending Tampa's annual "Champions for Children" breakfast. The event, staged in the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Downtown, was designed to raise both awareness and dollars for the work of the Child Abuse Council.

There was a lot of information to digest. Statistics such as the fact that our abuse rate in Florida is twice the national average. That's 200%. Double. Then, as if that's not enough, we were informed that Hillsborough County ranks at first place within the state. It's a "worst of the worst" designation that rankles.

This morning's emphasis was prevention. Prevention is a gift that keeps giving. Why? Because - and here's another statistic for you - a full 90% of abused children grow up to repeat the offense as adults.

One dollar of prevention - to paraphrase the well-know aphorism - is more than equal to possibly $100,000 dollars of cure.

You think that number's inflated? Try the opposite. When I worked with emotionally disturbed middle school students my program spent some serious money. My salary, the teacher's assistant, ancillary school programs, social services, police interventions, off-site therapy - and the list goes on. Try a few well-placed dollars on early intervention, then compare the cost of not addressing the problem. I believe a ratio of a hundred grand to one dollar is anything but an exaggeration.

Back at the Champions for Children Breakfast, News Channel 8 anchor Gayle Sierens was honored for her many years of generous service to the cause. Her heart-felt acceptance speech boiled down to one key phrase. "Once you know, you cannot pretend that you don't..."

What do you know about child abuse in Hillsborough County? Or what's going on in your neck of the woods? Well, know this: Child Abuse is a scandal and a scourge, but it doesn't have to be a "fait accompli".

There is a lot that can be done and a lot that is being done. But there's so much more that should be done. Its our problem as much as theirs.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"Brother, you've got it going on!"


Hmm - long time no blog. It's been since Thursday. I must be off my game... Or maybe I was off flying the friendly skies, meeting cool and fascinating people in Atlanta?

The answer is number two. Atlanta; Decatur; men's ministry; great church; a most excellent weekend indeed.

DATELINE: DECATUR - First Baptist Church in Decatur (that's the top right-hand side of Atlanta, around three-o'clock on the perimeter) is a cutting-edge faith community. Three years ago the church became the most prominent Southern Baptist congregation to call a women - Julie Pennington-Russell (JPR)- as their senior pastor/lead pastor. The Convention responded by booting the approximately 2,000 member church from their roles.

I remember reading about the brouhaha (The Christian Post: Baptist Megachurch Makes History Electing Woman to Pulpit). "I'd really like to meet that pastor," I thought at the time.

This past weekend I was invited to JPR's church to speak briefly at both services, teach a Sunday-School class, and lead an afternoon retreat for the emerging men's ministry.

AUTHENTICITY: If there's one word to describe both the church and its senior pastor, it's "authentic". I felt at home at First Baptist. Not because I grew up Baptist in England, but because I attend an authentic, Jesus-animated, Spirit-filled, God-blessed church at home in Brandon. The preaching at FBD - like FPCBrandon - was dynamic and the congregation bursting with life.

My host, Bob Waters (pictured at right), was a joy to be with. Bob simply bubbles with positive energy; his passion for faith and his love for the church seem to fill every pore; bottom line, Bob leaks Jesus.

It was a long afternoon. I gave two lectures, facilitated two break-out sessions, and concluded with a 30-minute message. But the men present were patient, gracious, attentive and encouraging.

ENCOURAGEMENT: One moment I just have to share today. During my conclusion I talked about the Gourmet Initiative, and my idea that the way we live out our faith can be inventive in the same way: featuring the best quality, the freshest ingredients, and a commitment to make the most - 100% - out of everything we're involved in.

I thought that my point was communicating, but I wasn't completely sure... However, I soon set aside my doubts after one man raised his hands in the air with enthusiasm and shouted out, "BROTHER, YOU'VE GOT IT GOING ON!"

Love and blessings - DEREK

Friday, September 17, 2010

Clarity & Definition


This morning's post is pretty-much a message to the guys in my Wednesday evening small-group Bible-study. I've had a lot of thoughts running through my head this week about what it means to be a Christian man in this culture.

The process started with a conversation with a pastor who is responsible for small-group and discipleship ministry at a large church. Bottom line, and I'd be hard-pressed to disagree with him on this, he suggested that the majority of people who attend church and identify themselves as "Christian" do not live as full-time disciples who are immersed in an ongoing relationship with the Living God.

We don't, for the most part, live moment by moment in the context of faith.

This morning, as if to underline the idea, I spent a mile and a half of my walk talking with a young man who has become cynical about life exactly because he does not see any relationship between what people say in church and the way that they live their lives as real people in the real world, twenty-four seven.

HUGE DISTINCTION... This conversation is not about rule-keeping, or guilt, or "am I doing the right things to look like a Christian"... No, this conversation is about who we are more than what we do.

Granted, who we are is going to lead to direct, observable evidence in terms of behavior. But behavior is not the definitive measure. It is critically important that we understand that.

I had a great conversation the other day with a friend who worked for two decades as a news cameraman. Years ago, shooting a state-department reception in Washington D.C., he noticed a change in the entire room.
  • It wasn't so much quiet as it was expectant.
  • It wasn't that everyone shut up so much as that they switched to openness and reception.
  • It wasn't trivial in the room anymore; it was suddenly loaded with meaning.
What had happened is that Mother Teresa had walked in. And it wasn't so much what she was doing at the moment as it was who she was - down to her very foundations...

When we live Christ-filled saturated lives it effects systemic change, change that is actualized down to a cellular level. It's like other people get to be, in that moment, in the presence of a little bit of Jesus.

It's funny, and it should be a whole other blog post, but I've noticed a certain clarity in my world of late. The reason it's funny is that I now need to wear progressive lens glasses 100% of the time, and there's good reason to believe I have some measurable hearing loss in at least one of my ears....

Yet I am seeing this world with such clarity! I'm looking at the sky with more wonder. Framing up pictures in my mind as I walk or drive. Thinking, "Wow... what an amazingly beautiful world this is!" Listening to music and feeling, understanding, more layers and nuances of emotion than ever before.

It's as if I have moved into 3-D, High-definition, 4-G. It's like the world is suddenly more beautiful and more meaningful than ever before.

I've got to believe it's Jesus.

Grace and Peace - DEREK

Thursday, September 16, 2010

My best writing advice....


Yesterday I stayed up writing till almost midnight. Not by choice so much as necessity. I suspect it's going to be this way for the remainder of the month.

Fortunately I'm enjoying the assignments, and it's always such a privilege to learn one more person's story, and to know that they trust me to re-tell it to the world in around 675 words!

This is how I've learned the value - and the effect - of concise story-telling. Sometimes (in fact, more often than not) an image can be more powerful because the writer supplies less in the way of detail.

Here's some free advice for writers: Ready? Imagine you have been asked to speak about someone's life at a memorial service... then imagine you've been given a strict limit of five minutes. Yet there is so much you want to say, such a rich picture that needs to be painted, and so little time.

Here's what you do. Think of your words as a sketch, a penciled-in line drawing. What you're doing is providing a hint of the detail, just enough so that the others present can fill in the colors and the nuances from their own experiences and memories.

The same thing happens in writing. Set the ball rolling, provide just enough so that the reader completes the picture. That way the effect is more authentic, even though ten different readers will "read" what you say ten different ways.

Sometimes I see the Bible this way. It's a short book, really, when you consider it's the epic story of the relationship between God and creation.

But I'm not sure that I'm 100% on board with people who say that the text of the Bible tells us everything there is to know about God. I am convinced that it contains most certainly more than enough... but I also suspect that the scriptures are a kind of sketch, that they set the tone and launch us in the right direction. I suspect that God's Word is only a thin slice of the depth and the richness and the completeness and the wonder that is the potential of our relationship with God.

It's kind of along the lines of Christ's statement that "I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture." (John 10:9) God's word is a portal into the kingdom.

I will never be familiar with or adequately immersed in all of The Bible. This lifetime is not enough for that. Yet, at the same time, I understand that it's only a sketch, and I can't wait to see the treasures that are temporarily hidden.

I get glimpses sometimes. Not ecstasy per se or, as an atheist friend accused, euphoria, but concrete snapshots that have given me such a rush and such enthusiasm for continuing the journey.

- DEREK

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why I have great HOPE for the future...

Today I'm thinking about the future. Not my future, in particular, so much as the future of our world.

I'll start right out and confess that I am - essentially - optimistic. Or, in words variously claimed but most often attributed to Cornel West, "I am a prisoner to hope."

My optimism has some serious limitations. You see, I also subscribe to the good old-fashioned theory of total depravity (original sin). This is not so much rooted in theology as it is in a life-time of observation!

So I more properly should say that I'd like to be optimistic... but that the evidence too often points to an outlook loaded with less sunshine.

Hence my need for the the reality that is hope - and hope has a lot more of theology about it. My hope is founded both on humankind and God - to be honest it's hard for me to separate the two; there's a lot of overlap in definition and I'm grateful for it.

COMMUNICATION: Right off the bat I'm interested in the future in terms of communication. When I first began seriously thinking about communication, or - my definition - "How information is stored, accessed and distributed", I viewed information as simply one more category within an economic system, like "goods", "services", "medicine", "education," "manufacturing" etc. etc.

But now I see that information/communication is beginning, more and more, to define the way that we live, the way that we interact with everything, from manufacturing to medical services to politics to religion to goods & services.

Accessibility - for example - is now as much a product of information sharing as it is of means. The way that we distribute information is having an increasingly important role in what it means to be egalitarian. And I'm wondering - as I think out loud (remember, this is a blog post, not a position paper) - if even the great inequities of medical care and education will ultimately be addressed best in terms of how we distribute information?

You see, one of the great roadblocks to universal health coverage is not so much lack of funding as it is a glut of inefficiency. If you listen carefully, most opposition to "government" health care is not so much the cost as the "rationing." What this really means is, "I don't want to share my doctor or my medicine or my hospital stay with anyone else. The best way to keep them out of my doctor's office is to ration care my way, and that means this culture's ultimate value - money."

If we could somehow demonstrate that there's enough to go around, then I honestly believe we wouldn't mind so much paying for it. Most of this huffing and puffing is about keeping their place in the line.

Communication... information... "The Future" is going to go a long way (I hope) to begin to fix all that.

Bottom line is this: We have the resources in North America to provide top-notch care to everyone (as well as top-notch education, adequate housing, more than enough food and more...), including those who wander in over our borders. The big stumbling block is inefficiency, communication, access.

Revolution: I believe we're in the beginning stages of a revolution when it comes to how we make best use of our resources. Information technology is - increasingly - going to be key.

The other part of the equation has to be faith. Freedom doesn't have a prayer unless we learn how to love one-another. So it's time for a revolution of love. Not the 60's kind of love revolution, but one that is rooted in Jesus.

I don't argue the efficacy (capacity to produce an effect) of using money as our primary tool for rationing; money is far superior to "might". But what if we found another way? What if we discovered that we could improve the equation?

The way that we share information may go a long way toward answering that conundrum. I'm hopeful....




Tuesday, September 14, 2010

There's more (so much more) to Christian witness in Gainseville than, you know, THAT...

Picture at left: Rev David Fuquay and four Wesley Foundation stalwarts. Below, three more student leaders.

Today was one more example of why my job rocks. Or, I should say, my JOBS rock.

My "job", or course, is "freelance writer". But my regular "jobs" are: weekly correspondent for the Tampa Tribune; monthly reporter for the Florida United Methodist News Service; monthly columnist for FOCUS magazine; twice-weekly columnist for All Pro Dad; featured commentator for the Presbyterian Outlook; and author for Upper Room Books.

Today was "If it's Tuesday it must be United Methodists" day! Consequently, I tooled up I 75 in my lovely Saturn Aura to meet with David Fuquay at the Gator Wesley Foundation Center adjacent to the campus of the University of Florida.

David is the resident reverend (R-R), and we enjoyed a wide-ranging conversation about all things faith. I also had the privilege of interviewing seven students who hang at the awesome shiny-new complex. The young people were bright, enthusiastic, and articulate; they'll be excellent sources for my article.

Most importantly, the students represent what I believe is a promising new wave of Jesus-followers. Right across the street at the Presbyterian/Disciples of Christ student building, my friend Traci Reynolds is also committed to "live faith out loud" ministry; she, too, is sharing Jesus with enthusiasm and love.

I've got to tell you, and the R-R agrees with me, there's new generation of faith-filled young people emerging, and they own the energy and the passion to help re-define what "The Church in the World" looks like... if only we'll let them. But if the church doesn't encourage their passion, then they'll simply take their action-charged relationship with God in another direction and the world will be blessed by their witness in spite of us.

That's why I'm excited about what the Methodist Church is willing to do in student ministry in Gainesville. They are investing in young people and they're doing it for the sake of the Kingdom - not just individual local congregations. These students will most certainly be blessings to local congregations somewhere down the road... but, right now, the effort is pure mission - money spent that may never make it back into the donors' home church.

There are more than enough students in Gainesville to keep the Presbyterians busy too. University campus life is an open mission field. So why on earth do so many people say, "Let's just them go. One day they'll start their family and they'll be back."

No, they won't... Not more than maybe one in ten. But more importantly, young people who have stepped away from faith are missing out on the cutting edge of abundant life right now! Jesus is the best party anyone will ever see, in college or beyond.

Praying for our twenty-somethings. Why don't you join me - DEREK

I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sharing The Greatest Story Ever Told

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience (1 peter 3:15-16 NIV)

Yesterday morning I drove out to New Port Richey to speak about this "hope that I have", at the Trinity Presbyterian Church of Seven Springs. I may have been advertised as the "preacher" for the morning, but I always insist I'm simply sharing a few thoughts and stories at the time-slot where there would normally be a sermon.

So here's what I'm learning about speaking in public:
  • Most importantly, I can't talk about faith with any credibility if I'm not practicing it deliberately in my own life.
  • I need to spend quality time with God during the preparation; it's the first and most critical element of the process. Additionally, I need to set aside some time with God that very morning, before I even climb in the car to drive to the place where I'm scheduled to talk.
  • Enthusiasm is a must. The quality of the words are only a small part of the equation - they have to be launched with passion and sincerity, in a manner that suggests I really do believe what I'm saying.
  • Authenticity is the strongest selling point of any message. When people realize that I'm not reading someone else's script, and that everything I say is coming from my heart, then things such as erudition and smooth speaking skills become secondary. Have you ever heard a joke told by someone who really believed it was the funniest story they'd ever heard? That sense of belief, a confidence that is unshakable, is infinitely more important than "slick" presentation or comic timing.
This idea of authenticity is something I wish the politicians understood. Good grief! Just stand up and speak from your heart!

No spin necessary; no need to impress; no need to adjust your message because the focus group said so. People simply want to hear from the real you, and they will only be able to predict what kind of a leader you're going to be if they know you - the real you - and can have some confidence regarding the kind of person who's going to be representing them in office.

I'd rather elect a politician I honestly disagree with on some issues than one who falls over backwards to tell me everything some focus group told them I probably want to hear!

BOTTOM LINE: All I know how to do is to tell a few stories about where and how God is meeting me in my day to day life. It's not hard to be enthusiastic about something like that. I'm learning to be less anxious about the presentation, I'm learning how to engage my audience, and I'm learning to recognize what an awesome privilege it is to encourage other people in their journey.

But most of all I'm learning how to rely on God. After all, it's God's story I'm sharing. All I do is talk about how I fit in to what is still The Greatest Story Ever Told, and then invite the people listening to live their story in that context too.

Blessings for a Monday filled with hope in believing - DEREK


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Getting it across...

This evening (Saturday) I've spent several hours preparing the message I intend to share at Trinity Presbyterian Church of Seven Springs.

I feel good about the content. But the exercise has given me a renewed sense of admiration for preachers who create new material every weekend... and even more admiration for those preachers who do that plus make the message interesting, inspirational and instructive.

Rebekah especially. She never fails to encourage me, to make me laugh, to bring home incisive truth, and to teach me something about faith in a new way. Her messages are not only relevant, but loaded with good news. Her passion is authentic and compelling. She believes with her whole heart, and she puts her whole heart into the message.

So my main focus tomorrow is going to be to make sure that I remember to bring some enthusiasm into the pulpit. I know that my writing is - typically - loaded with much more than just words. So I pray that I manage to bring that kind of applied joy to what I say when I open my mouth.

I am convinced that the core message I need to get across - wherever and whenever I speak - is the amazing opportunity that we have, as believers, to live the kind of life we've always wanted to. Jesus is the key. He has given is the word of life - our opportunity is to live it in a way that communicates the truth of God's generous love.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Never Argue With a Crazy Man (You ought to know by now)


Faith is a journey - a pathway and sometimes a more serious climb. But it is always moving somewhere, always making some kind of progress, always open to direction. - always listening, always trusting...


My status on facebook this morning read: "Derek Maul got a record high number of 'hits' on his blog yesterday. He thinks he should use words like 'nincompoop' in the title line more often!"


By now most of us have read the contradictory headlines: "Pastor calls off Koran (Quran) burning..." "Florida pastor says imam lied to him." "Koran burning may be on again..."

It was an entirely predictable progression, of course. As soon as Pastor "N" announced he has persuaded the imam to relocated the proposed New York mosque it was obvious there was wishful thinking, distortion, manipulation, megalomania, spin and more on the table.

My brother Jesse (on Rebekah's side of the family) pointed out to me that Pastor N ("N", by the way, stands for "Nincompoop") is like a small child with a loaded gun: he enjoys the attention but is completely ill-equipped to handle the possibility that it might go off.

ESE: The first part of my career life as an adult was spent teaching Exceptional Student Education. I work for two decades with Severely Emotionally Disturbed, Autistic, Emotionally Handicapped and Behavior Disordered children. I discovered early on that it is both inadvisable and impossible to reason with unreasonable children.

Billy Joel put it this way in one of his hit singles: "You should never argue with a crazy man.... you ought to know by now...."

It's a principle that should be very much in play when dealing with someone like Pastor N. Reasoned discourse is irrelevant when a conflict is predicated in emotion, superstition, ego and fear.

On the other hand I have been completely impressed by the restraint, the good faith, the courtesy, the understanding, the reasonableness and the patience shown by those who have spoken directly with Pastor N - all the way from the Administration in Washington to the imam representing Central Florida Muslims. But I fear their well-intentions will be sidestepped by irrationality, blinded by hatred and stymied by an approach to religion that is characterized more by superstition than by faith in a loving God.

There is a difference I believe in understanding that faith and truth are deeper and more real than mere fact and empirical conclusion (a position I take on a regular basis) ... and - alternatively - lashing out at the world around you from a fortress built around a religious bigotry that has no respect for the rights and sensibilities of other people, sees no room for reason, offers no relief from narrow interpretations and owns no ability to see or hear information its rigid paradigm cannot process.

As of this writing, the burning is off. But damage has been accomplished already that will not be resolved, cannot. It's not over yet - not by a long shot.

What are you doing to promote Christ's promise of "Peace, my peace - not as the world understands it..."?


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cutting edge content - every day - fresh out of the oven!

This "post five times a week" exercise is an interesting phenomenon. It helps keep my writing "edge" fairly sharp, and I like the way I have to "scramble in the pocket" sometimes, forced to improvise because my self-imposed deadline is pretty-much 10:00 at the latest - and then move on to actual paid work!

I'm enjoying my recent penchant for responding to current news topics - just so long as it all fits within the general theme of "A Life Examined." Back when I wrote a weekly Op-Ed for the Tampa Tribune I always wished I had the opportunity to publish three-four columns a week, so my writing could be more cogent. This blog is my opportunity to do just that (I just wish some guy in a van would still throw my work on 300,000 driveways).

Once again - and this has happened quite often in the past two weeks - I am astounded at the positive response yesterday's post generated. Here's the link if you missed it "When is a preacher a nincompoop?" One friend who edits a Texas weekly said she would have run it as commentary... but now they're working on the Sept 17 issue and it will - hopefully - be a moot issue by then. Again, the idea of timeliness and the value of posting fresh content every day.

This is why I always begin every morning with scripture. "But wait!" you may exclaim... "The latest thing "posted" in the Bible was written almost two-thousand years ago. How can you still say that's cutting edge?"

Good question, my friend. Fact is, the texts of the Old and the New Testaments still speak to me with relevance, freshness, wisdom, insight, authority - and so much more. It's a fact that boggles my mind on a daily basis. Scripture speaks with a sense of timelessness that reveals something about the transcendent character of God's nature. When Jesus said, for instance, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled..." he was speaking directly into my experience this morning. No gap, no distance, no separation....

Truth, the evidence suggests, has a quality that resists weathering. Truth stands apart from the vicissitudes of culture and fashion and the political wind... Truth even stands apart from the more temporal structures of religion. This is why it is so critically important that we remember to worship God, to follow Jesus, rather than become infatuated with what the Apostle Paul dismissed as "The winds of doctrine..."

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching (doctrine) and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4)

Growing up into Christ!

If this daily "column" inspires, encourages or facilitates such a pathway in anyone at all, then that's better than great. Primarily, though, this discipline is a huge part of my personal journey, and my readers simply get to listen in....

Peace - DEREK



Wednesday, September 8, 2010

When is a preacher a "nincompoop"? When he burns the Koran....

Disclaimer - I understand the problems with name-calling, but I looked up the literal meaning of the following words, and I'm using them with deliberate care in the opening couple of paragraphs of today's post:
  • sad: "deplorably bad; sorry; pathetic."
  • idiotic: "senselessly foolish or stupid."
  • indecency: "offense against accepted standards of propriety, or good taste."
  • consummate: "being of the highest and most extreme degree."
  • pathetic: "miserably or contemptibly inadequate".
  • nincompoop: "non compos mentis"; "insane, mentally incompetent;" "a fool or a simpleton."
  • aberration: "deviation from truth or moral rectitude."

I had fully intended to ignore plans for the upcoming "mass Koran burning" September 11. The stunt, an act of deliberate indecency, has been dreamed up by a sad and blatantly idiotic pastor and his consummately nincompoopish followers in Gainseville, Florida.

I didn't want to give any extra publicity to such a pathetic aberration.

However, it has come to my attention that some people actually read this blog, and that I might have a modicum of influence in the world of faith-based thinking. In fact, if I am to achieve anything of long-term consequence in my writing, then I want it to be in the realm of facilitating a reconstructive conversation regarding what it means to be a Christian in this Twenty-first Century.

I am increasingly convinced that some of the loudest religious voices in this culture are not faith-based at all. They are so far off base as to be:
  • Ungrounded in credibility
  • Unanchored in scripture
  • Unrelated to the mission of The Church
  • Unconscionable in terms of foundational moral thinking
  • Unreliable vis-a-vis the eternal purposes of God
  • Indefensible when it comes to our responsibility to follow Jesus, honor the Prince of Peace, love one another ("so people will know you are my disciples"), and live according to the light.
I've said a mouthful, and I could very well be exposed as a hypocrite. Well, let me beat you to the punch! I am a hypocrite. But I believe I'm an honest hypocrite, and one who is committed - day by day - to making progress.

REGARDLESS, I feel that it is critically important that the world understands what it means to follow Jesus. I've said this before, but it bears repeating: I can't sit on my hands anymore when it comes to this Gospel!

Here is what the Gospel means to me: Jesus has extended an invitation for me - in a sense - to move back into the Garden vacated by Adam and Eve so long ago. Because of Jesus, I am free to engage in and to enjoy an ongoing relationship with God - it's exactly what humankind was created for. My life is qualitatively different because I continue to choose, daily, to follow Jesus.

The way that I relate to other people is profoundly affected by my moment-by-moment walk with Christ, as is the manner in which I go about my work, how I order my life, my values and priorities. My "salvation" isn't "pie in the sky when I die", it's the opportunity I have - right now and for eternity - to participate in the ongoing work of God.

And so I am deeply disturbed when - once again - the loudest "testimony" about faith in Christ, plastered all over the news from coast to coast and around this confused, broken world, is a message of extremism, deception and hate.

This pastor is not only turning countless people away from truth, but he is setting up scores of innocent people to be victims of acts of violence all around the world. Acts of violence that are the spawn of this cycle of ignorance and hatred.

That's why I can't sit on my hands anymore when it comes to telling the story of Jesus! It's the Greatest Story Ever Told! It's Good News for the entire planet! It's the only story with the power to heal! It's the answer to this world's deepest need!

Grace and Peace - because we sure need them - DEREK



Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Its not the divorce industry that needs additional creativity...


It's been a while since I posted a photo for the "Gourmet Initiative" files. But yesterday I made this exceptional Pasta Primavera, with grilled chicken, and the dish was begging for some face-time on my blog!

Any time - at least this is my theory - the cooking involves garlic, asparagus, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and two varieties of mushroom that I can't even pronounce, the result is pretty-much guaranteed awesome. I won't detail the process, because the ingredients list is very, very long. But the result, served with an Italian Chianti, was more than satisfactory.

Well worth the effort:
I wasn't even thinking about yesterday's meal this morning, until Rebekah and I ran across a pathetic news segment just a few minutes ago. The story featured a "Divorce Ceremony." The couple gathered with friends, smashed their rings with a wooden mallet, then sat back-to-back at separate tables during the reception.

"It's like a wedding ceremony," the reporter said, "only with a different outcome."

"I feel free," the (former) groom said. "After I smashed the ring I feel free."

The party favors, the story concluded, are chopsticks. "Because they are easily pulled apart."

I can't help but wonder if this marriage had any ongoing commitment to being a gourmet relationship? Or had the union been too much trouble from the outset to take that seriously?
  • People who chose a diet of fast-food, soda, sugar fixes, snack-food, heavy desserts and junk-food become overweight, undernourished and generally unhealthy.
  • Likewise, a marriage unwilling to invest the time and the creativity to cultivate a balanced, healthy relationship lifestyle is likely to end up in the emergency room or the morgue.
The idea I've been floating - An ongoing "Gourmet Initiative" - is designed to target every aspect of our lives. Spiritual, physical, mental health, our relationships, work, recreation... you name it.

The principles of:
  • The best possible ingredients
  • Care in preparation
  • A commitment to excellence
  • Balance
  • Flavor
  • Nutrition
  • Presentation
  • Serving (with delight)
  • Celebration
  • Giving thanks...
These all may have their genesis in the idea of gourmet cooking - but they (and we have discussed this already) apply to our lives of faith and - by natural extension - to our relationships too.

Rebekah and I have been married, with varying degrees of, but steadily increasing, happiness for over thirty-one years because we are always learning, always tweaking the ingredients, always faithful to our promises, always committed to adding flavor, always serving one-another, always celebrating, always giving thanks.

Conclusion:
It's not the divorce industry that needs additional creativity and an influx of ideas... It's the marriage part of the equation. If only we could encourage more gourmet marriages, more initiatives of faithfulness and more self-giving service.

Faithfully - DEREK