Saturday, October 30, 2010

A little nudge from the Canterbury Shakers

Sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way (Colossians 3:17 - The Message).

This weekend's post is bought to you courtesy of the Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire. Read to the end and you may surmise what I mean...

It's been a cleaning kind of a Saturday. Friday evening we took The Niece over to South Tampa, where we schooled her in the fine arts of gourmet burger-ing. Our destination was Square One Burgers, and we were not disappointed. We were seated outside in the perfect evening air and all enjoyed amazing selections. I paired my burger (I believe it was "Toga Party") with some sweet-potato fries and a bottle of Rogue Dead Guy.

The problem, however, was that my car was the only available transportation, and I had to quickly pile the trash on the driver's side back seat floor in order for Faith to get in! The pile was so huge it spilled over onto the seat.

The good news is that I was embarrassed. This led to this "Cleaning kind of Saturday". I've taken care of the inside of my car, the kitchen (which I tend to stay on top of) is almost done, and my study is next on the list.

Which brings us back to the Shaker Village in New Hampshire. The place was immaculate. But that's how the Shakers lived. They lived as if every act was/is an act of worship. Consequently, the built-in cabinet in the attic will have the same quality of finish... on the back... as the sideboard in the dining room.

Live, love, work, play, read, clean... as if everything I do is an act of worship. And it is! Because there is not a moment of any day, not a breath I take, not an idea that I consider, that is not accomplished in the presence of the Creator.

Rather than a burden, this knowledge is actually fairly freeing. I don't have to compartmentalize my life, this part being for God, this part being none of God's business, this part a kind of neutral territory. No, it's all an opportunity to live in the context of great love and great redemption.

Gotta go, this room is an absolute disaster!

"Sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way" (Colossians 3:17 - The Message).

Friday, October 29, 2010

"10-Ways to Love Your Wife Like Crazy" via All Pro Dad

A few weeks ago I posted "10- Things You Need to Teach Your Kids About Politics", one of my "10-Ways" lists from coach Tony Dungy's All Pro Dad website. All Pro Dad is the web interface between the SuperBowl-winning coach and his commitment to help men become better dads, husbands and all-round human beings.

Today, and especially in light of what I wrote about Rebekah yesterday, I'm sharing my latest list: "10-Ways to Love Your Wife Like Crazy". I believe it's a must read for men and women alike. You can either read my draft (below) or click on this All Pro Dad link.

Love and blessings - DEREK

10 Ways to love your wife like crazy

Remember how much fun it was to love your wife like crazy, back in the day when everything was fresh and new and exciting? That’s the reason you proposed. That’s why you got married. That’s what you had in mind for the rest of your life.

Then, more often than not, life gets in the way and everything - and that includes relationships at home – is in danger of lapsing into mediocre. Boredom leads to more boredom and then before we know it we have the mind-set that believes, “This is all there is” and we should be prepared to settle because, “Well, everyone does, don’t they?”

Well, no! Mind-numbing sameness is not necessarily the only option for the balance of our lives. We can – you can – love your wife like crazy, and enjoy marriage with passion and verve and the kind of fun that animated you as a couple back in the day.

Mostly the solution is about belief, and about decisions, and about practice. Try the following 10 Ways to love your wife like crazy. Then, once the ball is rolling, it will be up to you to take it from there!

  1. Choose Love: We have so much influence over the way we feel. Wake up in the morning with the choice to love your wife like crazy front and center. While you’re thinking that way you’ll likely pour her a cup of coffee or serve her tea. Now you have a positive roll going and it’s all because you made a conscious choice.
  2. Every day for a week: Make a commitment – to yourself – to so something mildly spectacular every day for a week. Then follow through. It could be as simple as a single rose at home… or it could be as outlandish as surprising her with a love-song (by you) in a public place. Regardless, by the third day you’ll be excited about it too.
  3. Propose to her again: Get on one knee (if you still can!) and tell her all over about how you’d love to spend the rest of your life as her husband. Think of all the reasons you love her, then show her how much you do.
  4. Believe it: There’s a principle that declares, “If you believe something to be true, then it is!” Tell yourself you love her like crazy – believe it. Say it out loud. Do something about it. It will be true.
  5. Talk about her: And make sure it’s positive. Keep your wife in your mind, on your heart and in a positive light. Research suggests it takes seven positive to counteract one negative. Well, load those odds by always talking your wife up. Your friends, at work, at church, to other relatives… It doesn’t matter where you are or who you’re talking to, talk positively about your wife and you will love her more. It’s not just mud that sticks when you throw it against the wall.
  6. Hold her: You’ve heard of the five love languages, right? Well women speak more than one language and one of them is always “hold me.” A big, long hug when you come home. Holding hands walking and in the car. Snuggling on the couch. You name the situation – now add some version of “hold me”. It’s win-win, and it will help you to love her like crazy.
  7. Spend time together: Sound like a no-brainer? Well it is! But parking our brains is a common phenomenon for men, so this one makes it to the list. Just be together, remember how great it is to simply hang out. Familiarity breeds love.
  8. Make it special: It’s too easy to reserve special for other people, and then limit ourselves – and our primary relationship – to run of the mill.
  9. Carry her picture in your wallet: Don’t just cart the picture around, but show her off too. “Hey, check out this great pic of my wife!” “Your grandkids look cute… but look at this new photo of my wife.”
  10. Tell her “Thanks” on a regular basis:

a. Thanks for loving me.

b. Thanks for being such a great mom.

c. Thanks for this awesome meal.

d. Thanks for being so beautiful.

e. Thanks for saying yes when I proposed.

f. Thanks for everything... “I love you like crazy.”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My wife: Insatiable life personified...

"I came that you might know life, in all of it's fullness!" - Jesus

This morning's - short - post is a reference back to vacation. The best vacations are more than rest, they're restoration - meaning the experience is in a sense reconstructive. Rebekah and I enjoyed one another immensely, and it was the quality of enjoyment that always adds up to knowing one-another better today than we did before the trip.

That's why the picture (above, left) is a good one for this post. We made a deliberate effort to get to Jacksonville in time to see our nephew Jared (the one who is constantly schooling me at various games) play soccer. Rebekah is sitting field-side with niece Jordan, sister-in-law Heather, and niece Sarah. Do you notice anything about how Rebekah is watching the game?

Well, it's not hard to miss! She's cheering, and encouraging Jared, and she's not just doing it with her voice, she's doing it with her entire self! She's 100% there, in the moment, with 100% of herself thrown in.

That's Rebekah in a nutshell. If you only know her via attending church on Sunday mornings, you might wonder if the animation, the energy and the passion that characterize her preaching/teaching/leading is merely a "preacher-persona" for the occasion? But one of the awesome things about my wife is what you see in the photograph: Rebekah is, always, insatiably alive - that's a definitive fact. Her enthusiasm for life, and the way she lives faith out loud is authentic; it's one more reason this thirty-one years and counting adventure of marriage is in a constant state of renewal.

This is Derek, recommending life, and living it out loud the best that I can!
As always - PEACE

Picture of Rebekah, below, taken on top of Mount Washington, New Hampshire, two weeks ago... Picture, above right, taken in Jackson, NH, the next day.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Church Steeples

This is definitely one of those "Good grief, just where do I even begin?" days. It's 10:30 and I've already been out and back two times this morning. I have another preacher interview at 11:00, so chances are this post won't go up until sometime this afternoon.

Which is why I'm going to punctuate today's entry with a few New England church photographs.

There is something peaceful and reassuring about the message a church building brings to a community. I'm well aware that many such congregations are struggling to stay afloat, with aging memberships and dwindling contributions, but I know beyond a doubt that the void created if they disappeared would be impossible to fill any other way.

Let me share a story: Eleven years ago Andrew and I travelled to my hometown of Folkestone, England. I wanted to show him around my old stomping grounds.

The town was busy, full with people shopping and bustling around doing whatever business. But something felt wrong. Something felt odd, and out of place.

Then it hit me. There were no churches.
I knew that my old congregation had moved to the edge of town and sold the historic building to become a collection of specialty shops called "Baptist Galleries"... but what I didn't realize is that, over the years, all the other congregations had also moved out or closed down.

The town had no spiritual life and I could sense it.
The experience made me wonder: "If your church packed up business and bulldozed the site, would anyone notice?" Would your town be any different, qualitatively, if your congregation ceased to exist?

It's a good question. And, by extension, so is this: "Does your faith make any discernible difference to your life?" If you quit practicing Christianity, and if you walked away from your relationship with God, would anybody notice? Would God even notice..?

"Shine like stars in the universe..." Paul said in Philippians Chapter Two, "As you hold out the Word of Life."

I'm thinking about living like a well-crafted New England Church Steeple, or at least how it was intended to be. The message on the inside advertised by something unmistakably and eloquently pointing toward God. That something is my life.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Strong Resolve and Deliberate Practice

Hmmm. Now I need to slip into a "post-vacation" mindset. The emphasis is necessarily shifting from raw discovery - "OMG I can't believe how awesome The Flume (waterfall) is!" - to the mostly less glamorous lessons of everyday life - "You want HOW MUCH to fix the AC on Rebekah's Santa Fe?"

But there are lessons nonetheless. Every day. Road-tripping or negotiating the routine of life in and around our home and work.

That's the beauty of being equipped with ears that hear and eyes that see. Or at least ears and eyes that are willing to hear and to see. Oh sure, I'll be throwing in the occasional eye-catching photograph from our trek up to New England and back - the pictures are simply too good to pass up - but the Brandon area is where, for me, real life happens, and I'm happy to be home.

Devotional Routine: One daily practice that helps keep a degree of continuity in my experience, regardless of vacation, work, travel or staying at home, is my morning devotion. Just a few minutes, deliberate, in the presence of God. It sets the table. Typically, I use the Upper Room Daily guide (it shows up on my BlackBerry, just before I walk the dog).

Today's scripture was Hebrews 4:16: Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

I am confident. It's a confidence that comes via experience. The best way to strengthen faith is to practice it. Simple enough. But so many of us wait for our faith to be strong before being willing to practice. Strong faith, however, is most often the result of strong resolve - and deliberate practice.

Try it for yourself. Every day.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Back from Vacation!

Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, West Virginia...

That's 14 states; 4, 563 miles; 21 days; almost all of Rebekah's siblings (sorry, Joe); awe-inspiring scenery; breath-taking hiking; four major historical sites; 12 different beds (sorry, lower-back); church in Albany (NY), Westchester (CT), and Jacksonville (FL); and - wait for it - 1,135 photographs!

The image I've chosen to anchor today's post is - fittingly - a family shot. I borrowed Heather's tripod (soooo much better than camera-balancing) and took the photograph via the ever-helpful timer yesterday afternoon, just before we pulled out of Jesse and Heather's home in Jacksonville.

Jared (he's the one next to Rebekah) took another shot at crippling his uncle (remember the "Bend it like uncle Derek" soccer blog a while back?). Well, this time it was "Wii", a game I had previously thought safe. So this weekend I played a rigorous game of ping-pong, followed up by some hard-hitting tennis, and rounded out with 12 holes of golf. All well and good... until I woke up the next morning with a shoulder that felt like it had been hit by a truck and a right arm that couldn't lift a cup of coffee to my mouth!

But it was a good weekend that rounded out an excellent and restorative vacation. We made sure to arrive in time for Jared's soccer game Saturday (he played very well), and attended worship at Geneva Presbyterian Church, where Rebekah's brother Jesse is pastor; he's a most excellent preacher. We then finished off by taking everyone (and the youth director) out to lunch.

If you're a facebook friend (send me an invite if you're not), you'll be able to see the best of the vacation pictures in a couple of days - like this one, at left, taken on the top of Mount Washington. Plus I'll plug a few into this blog.

It's good to be home, and I'm looking forward to getting back into the writing routine. But there's nothing I enjoy so much as being on the road with Rebekah.

Love and blessings - DEREK

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Last Battle

Yesterday, driving from Winston-Salem to Jacksonville, we took a detour south of Charlotte to the Kings Mountain National Historic Site. The monument, left, talks about "grateful descendants".

The Battle of Kings Mountain, October 7, 1780, was a pivotal encounter in the struggle for independence. It came on the heels of devastating British incursions in South Carolina that included brutal tactics by Banastre Tarleton, who butchered Patriot prisoners after their surrender on several occasions.

Ferguson, a more honorable soldier, was pushing into North Carolina with around a thousand Loyalist militia, determined to crush any allegiance to the struggling American cause. Four loosely organised companies of Patriots rallied, including 150 "Overmountain Men" who crossed the Appalachians to protect their independent way of life.

The forces converged at Kings Mountain, chosen by Ferguson for its defensive attributes. But the Loyalists were overwhelmed by the conviction and the spirit of the Patriots, and the battle ended in a rout, with the angry Americans offering "Tarleton's Quarter" even after the white flag was raised. It took a long time for the commanders to regain control, and even then a Kangaroo Court quickly hung nine prisoners of war before order was restored.

Kings Mountain was the beginning of the end for Loyalist forces; it was the point at which the tide most discernibly turned in the favor of Independence.
Rebekah and I especially wanted to visit the site because three of her direct ancestors fought there. They were Alexanders, and they also signed the 1775 "Mecklenburg Declaration" of Independence.

Once again, though, I was overwhelmed by the tragic brutality of it all. Engagements like Kings Mountain were 90% civil war. Neighbors fighting neighbors, cousins and former friends hacking each other to pieces, offering "Tarleton's Quarter" to folk they sold vegetables to last month, or passed on the street on their way to church.

I wonder at what we are capable of... and I think about how critically important it is that we work extra hard to listen to one-another, and to respect the right of all people to hold independent viewpoints and to live according to the dictates of their conscience.

Violence bubbles close under the surface of even the most civil society. Intolerance is the fuel that too often brings it to the fore. Here in America it's critical that we respect those we disagree with. We simply must be willing to listen to one another - especially those people who we can't - or won't - understand.

And when it comes to this moral-superiority self-righteous holier-than-thou nonsense I hear on the airwaves, and too often proffered in the name of those who helped establish this nation...? Do I even need to say any more...?

Peace - and I really, really mean that - DEREK

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lots of Monuments, Little Sign of Peace, and the Definition of Insanity...

Just a reminder. The best definition of insanity goes like this: "Doing the same thing over and over, each time expecting a different result."

It's difficult to pick one image that does justice to the past few days of driving/exploring. I have, for example, an amazing photograph of Valley Forge (Tuesday) that speaks eloquently to the spirit of grit and resolve that helped usher the dream of America into its tentative beginnings. I also considered sharing a poignant scene from Appomattox yesterday, as I looked down the road Confederate soldiers walked when they finally lay down their arms. Then there is this picture - left - of several national flags flying over the recently constructed D-Day memorial in Bedford, Virginia.

I picked the flags - from yesterday, early evening - not because of the massive monument (I found it a little odd, far removed from the cliffs of Normandy) but because the image speaks to the disturbing reality that this earth is an ongoing battlefield, full with conflict and grief. We are so constantly at odds with one-another, and when we don't get our own way we unfailingly resort to violence.

The flags flying at the D-Day monument represent the many nations who pulled together in order to defeat a common enemy; people who gave everything for the cause of freedom; people who willingly died so that others would be freed from the grip of tyranny...

I get that. I understand what was at stake. I don't know what else could have been done other than what the Allies worked so hard to accomplish during the course of WW2. But what I don't understand is how readily - knowing what we know about war - we continue to go in with guns blazing like it's still 1944. Don't we know by now that this isn't the movies? Don't we understand that we can't just twist an arm till they cry "uncle" and it's all over?

When I worked in ESE (Exceptional Student Education) I knew teachers who would deliberately provoke already unhinged students to act out, because then they could justify the use of their superior weight and technique and "authority" to physically restrain the child. They did this because they were either too lazy or too incompetent to use classroom management skills, or because they got some perverse satisfaction from fighting children.

Sometimes I think that we take a similar approach to international conflict. When are we going to learn that much of the world does not and never will respond according to the rules of engagement we espouse?

What's that definition of insanity? Oh yes, "Doing the same thing over and over, each time expecting a different result...."

I believe we have programed ourselves to rely too much on the flexing of muscles. Surely there is a better way.

On this vacation we have toured Gettysburg, Valley Forge, Appomattox, and then a huge tribute to the landings at Normandy.

Isn't it time we put our efforts to the building of peace rather than new monuments?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Let Me Count the Ways...

As you can see, I've changed the blog "banner" once again. I really had to, as we are no longer freezing our rear-ends off up Mt. Washington but, instead, enjoying the resplendent colors of New England Fall around Moodus, Connecticut.

Today, Sunday afternoon, we have been relaxing around Naomi and Craig's home. It was such a treat to spend this morning at church together, the four of us comfortably filling the traditional gated pew at the local congregational house of worship.

The preacher talked about Psalm 119 (the longest chapter in the Bible). The psalm begins by suggesting we all live according to God's law, and then - in essence - outlines 176 ways we could go about doing this. The point, of course, is that living our faith out loud is an art form.

I love the idea that we could take 176 passes at the idea of "Blessed are those who... walk in the way of the Lord." I suspect that 176 would be just a warm up. More likely - and I may just write the book - 365 takes on the foundational concept "What does it mean to live faith out loud, a one year experiment a day at a time."

I guess I'll add it to my list. Somewhere here soon I have to wade into the next project. Maybe this will be it.

Peace - DEREK

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I have Super-Powers!

Yesterday I decided that I quite possibly have super-powers. The moment I had this revelation was during a hike through the woods around Flume Gorge here in the White Mountains.

Everything about the afternoon was perfect. The fall colors were crisp and luminous; the path through the woods was inviting; the walk through the gorge was breathtaking; my sense of satisfaction at enjoying such a day with Rebekah gave me peace. I felt at one not only with creation but with the Creator.

What I understood, in that moment (or long series of moments over the entire day), was a heightened ability to see clearly, to perceive everything around me to what felt like the fullness of possibility. It appeared to me that I owned a super-natural ability to sense (think, feel, see, hear, intuit, apprehend...), and that I was doing it in four distinct dimensions.

Thinking about this, I realize that it wasn't (isn't) super-power so much as it is fully engaging everything that is and should be natural for us as beings created in the image of God.

I believe it is just as accurate to say that too much of the time too many of us engage the world with dulled sensibilities and zero imagination.

This is what vacation is supposed to be. It's supposed to involve re-creation, renewed spiritual sensitivity, and the opportunity to appreciate and enjoy this amazing world like never before.

My prayer is that I bring this back with me when we return home, and that I will continue to exercise my super-powers - with thanksgiving and with joy.

Peace - DEREK

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Channeling Robert Frost

As you can see from the blog "header", and from the picture of me and Rebekah, today we took the "cog-railroad" to the top of Mount Washington. Yes, it was (more than) a little chilly up there! And, yes, the views are amazingly spectacular. We could see more than 120 miles. We could see Canada. We could see our breath.

The world is so big from the top of Mount Washington that it can't begin to be more than partially represented on a photograph. The best a picture can do is to tell a small piece of the story. And believe me even the best photography is just a hint of the wonder we experienced today on that mountain.

I feel that way sometimes when I'm writing about my experiences with God. I'm a good writer... but all I can do is to offer a glimpse - which brings me to the other slice of this day: This morning Rebekah and I found the Robert Frost Home, nestled in a very quiet corner of the White Mountains. The place features a meandering walk through the woods with a few well-loved Frost poems on display.

Frost's signal achievement - to my mind - was his ability to convey real sentiment and profound truth in just a few lines. I was inspired. Just maybe, in this Twenty-first Century of sound-bite and fast-forward, I can deliver enough of a taste of what I'm experiencing to keep people meandering through the garden of my prose.

Keep listening in. Be patient. Just maybe I'll deliver.

Monday, October 11, 2010

New England Inn

There's a cliché in the world of writing that pairs authors with New England Inns, where they hunker down to write their magnum opus that wins the American Book Award or a Pulitzer. Later, they return to craft the great story into a screen play.

Well, I've got the New England Inn, thank you very much. And I've also got the idea, or at least the general direction for the Great Novel. But, alas, I'm coming up short in the way of a grant or a sponsor to pay the bills for six months while the epic pours out of me!

Not to worry, though. Rebekah and I are ensconced here at the Christmas Farm Inn for a full four and a half days. We've scheduled hiking, leaf-peeping, a trip up Mount Washington (weather permitting), and epic scenic drives. There's inspiration a-plenty around these parts, and if I don't have time to crank out my novel at least I can guarantee two or three decent blog posts.

Stay tuned in, we'll keep you posted.
Love and blessings - Derek

Sunday, October 10, 2010

White Mountains etc.

Picture - me with the White Mountains as a backdrop. Taken Sunday afternoon.

One of my favorite vacation activities is sitting in church with Rebekah. This morning we slipped in (late) to the First Presbyterian Church in Albany, New York. It's a beautiful building, with stained glass by Tiffany, situated on a lovely park near the center of the city. There were probably a little more than 100 worshipers scattered throughout the spacious old sanctuary.

The service was very formal, and the (visiting) preacher offered what was more of a moral lesson than a message about transformational life in Christ. But the people were friendly, the choir sang beautifully and the church is obviously very much active and alive as a faith community.

The bulk of the day involved driving through amazing scenery. We took 7/9 from Albany, driving east as far as Interstate 91, which we took due north until we picked up 12, right through the heart of the White Mountains.

Around nightfall we arrived at the small community of Jackson, in the middle of the mountains. We plan to be here for the remainder of the week.

Stay tuned....

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Gettysburg - Tough Questions...

Today was our visit to Gettysburg. If you haven't been, go; it's as simple as that. Watch the video presentation and see the Cyclorama before spending several hours exploring the battlefield.

Know your history. Know who Lincoln was; find out something of his background as a writer; understand the particular ethos the remarkable Civil War President's world view emerged from. Then read the Gettysburg Address again. Read it if at all possible at the site where it was delivered.

Discover a few of the personal stories that go with the tens of thousands of casualties those few days in early July of 1863. Listen to the voices that speak from the soil.

Rebekah and I stood at Mead's position and looked down across the mile of open fields that Picket marched his men across to certain death. We then walked the mile down the steady slope to Lee's line and looked back across the unspeakable gap that stood between those in blue and those in grey. Then we walked back, wondering at how a mass of infantry could move with such deliberation across such terrain while scores of artillery pieces hurled canister and shrapnel into their ranks. It was a long walk.

And so I became a pacifist again. I'm always close and it doesn't take much to put me back over the edge. I can't for the life of me understand war, not emotionally - and that's all that I have as a viewpoint, at least for this evening.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Prime Steak, Good Conversation & Restoration

Thursday was a good evening at Rachel and Tom's home. It was cool, clear and refreshing. Then Reed (now my favorite nephew for reasons that will soon become apparent) showed up with a bag full of steaks. He cooked them on the grill and we paired them with yummy crisp veggies. Now that's what I call being an awesome nephew.
When I heard that the steaks were coming, I made my way to the grocery store to procure a bottle of most excellent Chianti (Italy 2009 made a Chianti believer out of me).

It's always a treat to sit around a table with good food and people you love. Conversation is a too-often neglected art, but not so this week on the McMahan porch. We were pleased to enjoy a good dose of quality dialogue to accompany the fine vittles.

Reed has perfected the art of steak grilling as a manager at Outback... and we have perfected the art of steak eating in as many venues as possible. So it was an evening made to order, so to speak.

It's what tends to happen when we relax and let a good day just wash around us. We'll be doing a lot more of that over the next couple of weeks. Fine food, great conversation, renewed spirits. It's what the doctor ordered.

Redemption and renewal, part III.

Ramping up our sense of "Being"...

Thursday... Virgina Beach. And hanging on the back porch at Rachel's house (Rebekah's sister).

The photo says - Derek and Rebekah eased their way to the coffee pot well after Eight O'clock and that may well be the extent of their adventures for the day...

I'm not sure, but the theme of this vacation may well be the "timer-remote" camera shot. Derek & Rebekah... somewhere.

That's the point. We're somewhere and we don't care where... and we're together and we care deeply about that. Sometimes vacation isn't about re-invention; it's about being.

It's a truth that we can't accomplish much in the way of "doing" until we come to grips with "being". This vacation is all about being.

Serendipity. Yesterday evening we went to Rachel and Tom's church for Wednesday evening Bible-study. Who should be there but the man who invited me to keynote the 2011 Presbyterian Men's National Conference! The conference theme is slated to be, "In Life and in Death We Belong to the Lord."

It's already a key element of what it means to be on our vacation. "Belonging to the Lord" brings the unity, that compelling sense of continuity, to our experience. We don't care so much what we're doing as the fact that we're doing it in the context of relationship... and that's a relationship that includes our "resting" in the awesome to contemplate fact of God's love.

Until I next make my way to a computer - that's attached to the Internet - love and blessings - DEREK

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Breathing (it's a good thing)

Dateline - Jacksonville: We're heading north, and that pretty much sums up the vacation launch in terms of what's important right now. Three words: Out. Of. Town.

Rebekah: "So what do you want to do? Just drive up and down the East Coast?"

Derek: "I'm open to that. Just so long as we see Naomi somewhere around the middle then I'm good."

That's Rebekah's smiling face at some fancy outdoor shopping mall in Jacksonville. Outdoors - Imagine that! So we ate outdoors too. Just to see what it felt like. Sunshine. Fresh air. A breeze. Almost shivery. That's what I'm talking about.

So relaxed my camera stayed in its bag in the SUV. Good thing I have a Blackberry. The really good thing was that we could breath. And that's so much more than low humidity and temps in the 70's. I'm talking about we can breath because we're on vacation quality breathing. This one has been a long time coming.

Oh yes, it was certainly great to see Jesse/Heather and family for a few hours. And also good to be able to visit my brother, Geoff, two-thirds of the way into his evaluation here at the Mayo Clinic. News on if he's accepted for the transplant will be forthcoming in about a week.

Meanwhile it's "onward and northward for us."

Grace and Peace - DEREK

Monday, October 4, 2010

Monday Morning Inspiration for my Holy and Faithful Friends....

Both my Sunday morning class and my Sunday evening small group are in the process of reading Paul's Letter to the Colossians. I especially love the opening greeting. "To the holy and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ at Colosse: Grace and Peace to you from God our Father."

When I first said, "Wouldn't it be cool if the Apostle Paul walked in here and said, Good morning, holy and faithful friends," there was a general murmur of dissent. More than one of of my Sunday morning group said there was no way they could be accurately described as holy.

I appreciate the humility, but fact is most of us misunderstand the meaning of the word holy. Holy simply means to "set apart" for something special. So, this week, I asked for some examples of how my friends had responded to the imperative to be holy... to walk in the fact of their holiness... to act and interact proactively in a faithful response... to live as if being holy was a fait accompli....

They shared some remarkable stories. So this week, for "homework", I have asked everyone to keep the image of "holy and faithful" front and center in their consciousness. Because there is a lot of power in proactive belief. Seeing ourselves - positively - as people both commissioned and equipped to be holy and faithful will likely produce observable results.

And it doesn't matter what we're up to, who we're with, and what circumstances are at play. Our mission is still the same, simple and clear cut. Live in the truth of our salvation. We have been commissioned to participate in "Kingdom Life". Kingdom living necessarily involves walking in the light as children of the light.

It's Monday morning, holy and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and Peace to you from God our Father.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

"The Book Thief" may be the best writing I've come across...

This is not a book-review blog (unless it's one of mine!) But this week I finished up one of the most remarkable books I've ever read, and I simply must talk about it with you.

The novel, "THE BOOK THIEF", was written by Australian author Markus Zusak. You can see my copy with some other books on my messy bedside table. Bottom line - The Book Thief is possibly the best writing I've come across in a decade or more.

Zusak is only 35 years old. "What's that got to do with anything?" you may ask. Believe me, 35 is very, very young to have the depth of insight and the craft with words this author exhibits. I didn't publish my first book until I was 50, and in large part because my writing was immature - relatively speaking. Zusak writes with the maturity of a man wise beyond his years.

The story follows a few short years in the life of a "The Book Thief", a young German girl living near Munich during WW2. She is placed with a foster family because her parents' own views are unacceptable to the Nazi regime. The narrator is Death, but his voice is more gentle than you could imagine. Death knows the girl well because Death is - as you can guess - extremely busy in Germany during the early 1940s.

The word pictures the author paints are vibrant; personal invitations for the reader to experience language from a new perspective. Zusak's words are animated with their own life. Sentences jump from characters' mouths and sit on the table expectantly, demanding a hearing. It's like the lexicon he pulls from has graduated from some kind of rehab facility. The words are motivated, charged up, eager, anxious to get out onto the page and connect with the reader.

If I develop half the ability Zusak is blessed with in my life-time I'll be ecstatic.

The story is poignant, heartbreaking, challenging, very real. Read The Book Thief. Then let me know what you think.

Peace - and I really mean that - DEREK

Friday, October 1, 2010

Turning Difficulty into Unity... With Jesus

Yesterday, Thursday, was a long and difficult day. Rebekah and I left the house at 7:00. We were headed for St. Petersburg, where the Presbytery of Tampa Bay - the 80-some PC(USA) churches in the greater Tampa Bay area - was scheduled to deal with some contentious issues. On the way home I dropped Rebekah off at church for an evening meeting; she didn't get her long overdue cup of tea till well after 9:00.

The back story to yesterday's Presbytery meeting is complex, convoluted, and - at times - murky. But the foundational idea - a clarification of our mission, a redefinition of how to implement that mission, and a new model of how we will be organized - has been long overdue and was enthusiastically received.

Some folk, however, both elders and ministers, had become enmeshed in politics, personality issues and the choosing of sides. We witnessed the application of pressure, hidden agendas, power-brokering, veiled threats of repercussions, grandstanding, the introduction of motions and amendments designed to confuse the process, the circulation of carefully nuanced misinformation, and - to use the language of fall football - fakes, feints, end-runs, sneaks, clipping, penalties, hand-offs and blitzes.

Consequently, the three month lead-up to yesterday's gathering was long, arduous, deeply layered and extremely stressful...

But - and this is why I'm sharing this story in today's post - what could have been a terrible day remained difficult - yes - but the process worked out to its conclusion in the context of Gospel, love, respect, reasonable yet passionate debate, prayer, dialogue and the over-arching context of the great Mission of The Church.

And the reason yesterday worked was, in a word, my amazing wife, Rebekah.

Rebekah was elected moderator for Tampa Bay Presbytery for 2010. Even on a good day, being moderator is complex juggling act. Yesterday her task was like conducting a symphony orchestra... while a marching band walks in.... as the football team wants to scrimmage on the stage... and - at the same time - a number of amateur musicians from the audience also pick up their instruments to join in ....

Instead of cacophony, however, the result was order. It was an order that offered the opportunity for all to participate but that required the parameters of Ephesians 4:29-32. Rebekah read the passage at the beginning of the day and dedicated several inspirational minutes to carefully setting the stage:
  • Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Yesterday's long and difficult meeting turned out to be a powerful testimony to what becomes possible when we remember that we are disciples of Jesus in everything that we do. It's OK to disagree, it's OK to feel confused as to the direction we are being led, and it's OK to be at an impasse even with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It's OK. It's called being human, and being real. Disagreement can never be completely avoided.

But what is also possible is unity in the Spirit.

Sometimes such unity requires great leadership. That's one more reason why I am so proud of Rebekah.