Friday, April 29, 2011

Flying around the country and talking about LIFE...

So here I am, all checked in a waiting for my flight at Tampa International Airport. Security was quite possibly the biggest crowd of people being herded through cattle gates I've experienced thus far. And, you  know what, it seriously wouldn't hurt a few of those TSA folks to break the occasional smile.

Regardless, I'm glad I'm here. Scoutie was not really jazzed about a 5:20 am walk, but she managed to slouch around the neighborhood, albeit reluctantly, and she did brighten up considerably when we discussed the possibility of an equally early breakfast.

But for me, getting up early so I can head to the airport for the sole purpose of travelling cross-country to talk to a retreat full of men about what it means to live a fully-engaged life of discipleship, well that's as good a reason as I can think of.

It's not coincidental, when I think about it, that I finished up my proposal for a new book just yesterday. The new book is all about engrafting the imperative of life into what it means to be a person of faith. Of course, when I think about it, a lack of dynamic life is incompatible with faith - or it should be. Which is pretty much the point. I know it's early in the morning, but I'm on the verge of suggesting that faith without recognizable signs of life... is really no faith at all.

Life is, by definition, regenerative and constantly in a state of reinvention and adaptation.When those elements are removed, then an organism is typically described as dead. James was pretty blunt about this when he wrote "Faith without works is dead."

Let me parse it this way: Faith without self-evident life is faith that - in hospital lingo - is fixing to code (if it's not on life-support already). Think about it. It's the heart of my message this weekend and it's already buzzing around in my heart and spirit now... 7:35 at PTA.

God's rich blessings to all - DEREK

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The only way to deal with "too busy"

Just a short post today, because there's just too much to do! If you're a person of faith, I'd value your prayers. And if you're not, well, please consider this your invitation to begin that long overdue conversation with God... consider it a public service!

My "mountain of work" today is two-fold:
  • First, I need to be 100% ready for a retreat I'm leading this weekend. I'll be working with 35 men and speaking seven times on the theme of "A Spiritual Journey". I always enjoy this kind of experience, but the "getting ready" part can be a tremendous amount of work.
  • Then, and this also needs to be wrapped up and delivered today, I'm finishing up my latest proposal for a new book. My editor is very excited about the idea, but this formal proposal (an over 50-page document) will be presented to the new publications committee for approval and it needs to be spot-on. If they give the thumbs up then I'll work to deliver the manuscript by September 1, with an expected publication date of June 2012.
Too Busy Not To:
I've said this before in this space, but it's worth repeating. The best thing I can possibly do when I'm this busy is - first - to set aside some time for worship and prayer. If I'm too busy to pray, then I always tend to be unproductive and out of tune. However, when I begin a day like this in the instructive and redemptive presence of my Creator - especially when I don't think I have the time to spare - then I find that I get a whole lot more done and at a deeper quality too.

Typically, I'm not the kind of guy who hangs out much in the Old Testament book of Job. This morning, however, the following words from one of the oldest narratives in Judeo-Christian literature really resonated with me. Take a moment and read the short passage below, and see how the scriptures speak to your heart and soul.

Peace - DEREK

Job 19:23-27:
“Oh, that my words were recorded,
   that they were written on a scroll,
that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
   or engraved in rock forever!
I know that my redeemer lives,
   and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
   yet in my flesh I will see God;
 I myself will see him
   with my own eyes—I, and not another.
   How my heart yearns within me!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Will and Kate... What's Up With That? (All you need is love, na-na-na-na-na...)

Will and Kate
To me, the most fascinating element of the upcoming Royal Wedding in the UK is the worldwide interest. It's hard to imagine how the nuptials of two English twenty-somethings could generate such an avalanche of coverage. But there it is, splashed all over the newspapers and animating television and Internet news. Day after day of "analysis", social commentary, speculation, royal retrospect, human interest, and most unseemly gushing.

Kate, simply by becoming engaged to the future King of England, moved from "Attractive, college-educated Brit with a promising future", to "A-list celebrity with mega-wattage star-power." The transformation was virtually instantaneous.

Caché  of Cool:
Interestingly, and also instantaneously, the whole "English-heritage" vibe now has a resurrected caché of cool that I haven't seen since - well - the tragic death of Princess Di and prior to that her wedding to Charles.

London - my last visit
I've been fielding some interesting questions lately. And the funny thing is people think I'm qualified to answer them just because I was born and raised the other side of The Big Pond. So, just in case you're poised to ask me something about "Heraldry", "The Lists" or - as one facebook friend queried, "Exactly what does 'knackered' mean?", let me outline the extent of my qualifications to offer commentary on the Royal Wedding.
  • I was born in the south of England and raised in the Kentish town of Folkestone.
  • I attended an all boys prep school where we all wore coats and ties and had to wear caps - all in the school colors.
  • I played cricket, established a long-standing school record in the sport, know what a "sticky wicket " is, and can use words like "googlie" fluently.
  • I turned 18 the year the UK lowered the age of majority and voted in the 1974 parliamentary elections.
  • I have a cousin who worked as a footman in Buckingham Palace, rode on the royal coach, and earned international fame the day he saved Queen Elizabeth when an intruder entered her chambers. They are friends to this day and still get together to play Scrabble (Monopoly would be pointless...).
  • I remained a British Citizen until 1985
The intriguing question as to "why" as many as three billion earth-dwellers will likely tune in to the Friday morning ceremony, has - I believe - a fairly simple answer.

I think it's those guys from the Wizard of Oz...?
People are desperate for some good news - especially good news that translates well across international and cultural boundaries.  They want to celebrate coming together, they need to affirm the foundational goodness and belief that is resident in the human spirit, and - most elementally of all - they want to believe in love.

That's why Will's father and Princess Di's husband, Prince Charles, was and is so deeply unpopular. Charles obviously didn't believe in love, and they hated him for it.

Personally, my heart aches for men and women who don't believe in love. Because Love believes in them.

That's why half the world or more will be watching Friday morning. It's not the pageantry; it's not the shallow, vapid appeal of A-list celebrity; it's not the love of monarchy. No, it's a chance to see love on the world stage, and it's an invitation to believe. And it's an invitation to believe that is not going unnoticed...

So I sure hope the preacher that morning doesn't miss this unprecedented opportunity to say something about love that is so true it transcends every barrier we try to erect to hem it in. I pray that the preacher says, in all humility, that what it's going to take for Love to Win in the here and now, is our active participation in living the truth of it out loud.

Like I said before, "Love has already won!" What's required of us is to live as if we believe.

You don't have to have a cousin who's buds with "Queen E-2" to understand that.
In love, and because of love - DEREK

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Sunday - just like any other Sunday at fpcBrandon

Wow... that was tough to deal with - over 48 hours off line! Rebekah managed a little "shovel versus fiber-optic" action Saturday and we were immediately - "poof" - no internet, no tv, no telephone! Also no research, no on-line teaching, no posting on my blog. But we were back up again around suppertime this evening (Monday), and I've been itching to write all day.

Easter Sunday, what a celebration! The whole morning was just brimming over with faith and promise. Church was a lot of fun, we enjoyed a few additional fine-tuned musical touches, all the people were dressed up and full of life, and it was exhilarating to be in a sanctuary so stuffed with people...

Sam speaking to the children
However, what struck me most of all was not so much how different Easter Sunday was... but rather the opposite, the fact that Easter was really just about the same as all the usual Sundays we enjoy around here.

Sure, there were more people; but it was 600-plus rather than our typical attendance around 400 this time of the year. Yes, the music was awesome; but we always enjoy great music at fpcBrandon. And, no surprise, Rebekah's sermon was inspirational and vigorous with life; but isn't that always the way she preaches?

And, yes, there was a buzz of electricity around the sanctuary as people greeted one another, worshipped together, sang their hearts out and shared life... But that's the way our Sunday mornings always are! First Presbyterian Church of Brandon has a buzz that just won't quit. The Spirit is active in this place, and God's people are doing God's good work with conviction and enthusiasm and love, and you can feel it before you even walk in through the doors....
Rebekah preaching at 8:30
  • We get together whenever we can;
  • we share our stories;
  • we worship God with enthusiasm and joy;
  • we study the scriptures;
  • we sing from the deepest places that we know;
  • we listen to thoughtful messages that make us laugh, sometimes make us cry, and always encourage us on our way;
  • we invest ourselves in one-another;
  • we talk about what we can do to make the Good News more evident in the way that we live;
  • we reach out into the world with love and compassion.... 
And we do all this in the spirit of a love that never condemns, always listens, believes with a passion, and is motivated to share the Gospel because - well - the good news really is that good!

Someone asked me my favorite moment. Well it's tough to settle on one thing, but if I had to chose I'd say it was about halfway through the HillSong United praise tune, "Mighty to Save". I was playing guitar, singing my heart out, and feeling a most excellent musical groove; around me, our 16-piece orchestra was playing pure notes with rich tones. I looked up and into the sea of faces in the congregation, giving the song absolutely everything they had. And there, right in the front of all those people, Rebekah was wearing the most peaceful, joy-filled expression and I knew - I just knew....

Was it a moment of pure worship? Was it an experience of ultimate community? Was it simply a washing over of glorious music and a taste of eternity? Was it the presence of the Holy Spirit? Was it heaven, crashing into earth, fragmenting into peace and love and holy fellowship?

Yes! Absolutely and quite naturally. All of the above. If you don't believe me, show up next week. It's how church is meant to be.
Peace - the good kind - DEREK
Looks like Tom and David got the good seats!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday - I Know Beyond a Shadow...

Just a short post for a day that is packed with huge meaning. I'm captured with the idea - this morning - that Jesus cared enough about opening the door for a renewed relationship with humanity that he willingly set everything else aside, and put himself at risk as one of us.

Jesus died because the values that have come to define life in this World could not absorb - cannot absorb -such a radical message of unconditional love, grace, reconciliation and redemption. Christ was too beautiful a truth for us to hold... and so "The Way Things Are" felt compelled to snuff him out (And some - religious people no less - are still of that mind today).

But light is irrepressible, and even a smidgen of it is more than any darkness can cover. And so, while I am very sad on Good Friday, aware of how the way I order my life is so often and so much at odds with the Good News of Jesus, I cannot hold back a twinkle in the corner of my eye, because I know beyond a shadow that light always prevails.

So I am celebrating Good Friday in the light of the knowledge of Easter Sunday. Because Easter Sunday is already at work in my soul.

It is so good to be loved, and forgiven, and redeemed.

Peace - and Grace - and Light - DEREK

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday - Covenant - Love Winning

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

I'm offering this Maundy Thursday post against the backdrop of a very successful (to my mind) gathering with my Men's Room small-group yesterday evening.

Typically, we don't meet the Wednesday of Holy Week. With additional events scheduled Thursday and Friday, and along with the fact that half the church education space is now unavailable due to construction, the prevailing wisdom was "Don't meet."

However, my group has picked up some positive momentum of late, so I wanted to keep the ball rolling. Additionally, and most compelling of all, we had planned to begin a study of Rob Bell's new book, "LOVE WINS". And - think about it - what better time to consider the triumph and the promise of love than during Holy Week?

I've gotta say, something is afoot with the men's ministry here. It's a small group - that's the design. And, by definition, a small group ideally involves anywhere from 5-12 members. However, because of the nature of this new study and because I want to give a few more guys a taste of what such a group can involve, I've restructured the format for LOVE WINS.

It's just as well that I did, because 21 guys showed up and we used literally every available chair (because of the construction, the buildings and grounds ministry-team have been stashing/hiding furniture in all kinds of places!).

But it's not just the raw numbers. What I'm sensing is a positive move forward in terms of grasping hold of the implications of faith with more enthusiasm. It's as if several years of prayer and conversation and meeting together has finally coalesced. I honestly feel that I'm meeting with a group of faithful disciples, men who are open to being defined as Followers of The Way rather than, merely, members of First Presbyterian Church of Brandon.

My prayer is that LOVE will WIN a profound victory in the hearts, and the minds, and the actions, and the families, and the workplaces, and the priorities, and the prayers, and the commitments, and the lifestyles.... etc. etc. of these good men. In the name of Jesus, who came to be with us because love is - first and foremost - a faithful commitment.

Here's the same passage - from above, Philippians 1:9-11, but this time as translated in The Message: So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover's life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God
With love and for love - DEREK

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Time to Turn off the Glare

  • Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people. (Ezekiel 12:2)
  • In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: "'You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving." (Matthew 13:14)
I often write about my morning walks with Scout, setting the stage for each new day with a short meditation from The Upper Room and a long hike with the galumphing labradoodle. But we go on a similar trek every evening, too, and last night I picked up some startling insight that I hope I don't forget.

In contrast to the morning, which is quiet and reflective, I often spend the entire 45-minutes in the late evening multi-tasking on my "smart"-phone. I read pages of news, answer emails, scroll through facebook status updates and update my calendar.

What happened yesterday, however, has given me pause.

It was a beautiful evening, the moon was in and out from behind some thin clouds, and there was enough ambient light to see details out on the golf-course. Until, that is, I turned on my phone. The screen is huge, and the backlighting is so strong I've often used it as a flashlight.

The effect, when staring into such a bright, focused, screen, is profound.
- The aperture of my pupils shrinks to pin-points
- Everything outside of that narrow focus becomes completely dark
- The balance of my sensory interface with the world also closes down...

So there I was, walking the sidewalk and staring into the screen, reading an article from the Wall Street Journal titled "Trump's Candidacy Shows Signs of Life" (that, my friends, is a whole other potential blog post!). I rounded the corner, thought I heard some noise, stopped, then looked around me to see only impenetrable blackness.

I started walking again. This time I thought I heard the panting of a dog, but it didn't sound anything like Scout (who was at the end of the leash but I couldn't see her). I stopped again and looked searchingly with my pin-prick aperture pupils. Seeing nothing I started to move on.

Then a voice started talking in my direction and I stopped once more. I turned in the direction of the sound but could only perceive a wall of black. So - smart move - I stuck the phone in my pocket and closed my eyes tight to jump start the dilation. Gradually, after I opened my eyes again, I began to make out my neighbor, Mike, along with his two dogs, Harris and Snoopy.

They were all standing - I kid you not - just eight-ten feet into their driveway.

I was completely embarrassed, and I wondered how many people I have ignored or even run off the sidewalk while my vision and most of my brain were sucked irretrievably into a small, bright screen?

So I spent the balance of our evening adventure thinking about other ways in which I effectively cut myself off from the greater world, both abroad and even here at home.
  • Hunger
  • Poverty
  • Injustice
  • Human Trafficking
  • Desperation
  • Spiritual Poverty
  • Loneliness
  • Ignorance...
There is more, of course. But here's the twist. I had become temporarily blind on my late-night walk with Scout labradoodle - while I was staring into a device designed to broaden my access to information and to improve my interface with the world.

Sometimes what's needed is to turn off the glare, to open our eyes, and to allow God to speak truth into our consciousness right were we are. Enough with the distractions! How can I be a Follower of The Way if I can't even see the dog on the end of the leash?

Peace - DEREK

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

From "Parents of Teens" to "One Foot In", and beyond - it's a short trip!

POTs and POGs eating together before our discussion
Sunday evening my POGs small group met in joint session with the POTs small group that shares our 5:30-7:30 time-slot.

POTs - in explanation for those who don't know - stands for Parents of Teens. Rebekah and I started POTs as a support and encouragement group when we first came to Brandon over 14 years ago. Essentially, we guarded our mutual sanity, prayed together, and held one-another accountable as we negotiated the long decade of teen-dom. We met at one end of the church while the youth met at the other.

Eventually we noticed that our teens had become young-adults. So we recruited new leaders for the POTs group and started Parents of Grads. Before long we'll be running a dynamic OFI ministry (One Foot In) from our rocking chairs, and then it'll be our highly popular ASW* class via video up-link from the nursing home (* try to figure it out, I'll spell out the definition after my signature!)

Back to Sunday.... Anyway, the reason we met together this weekend was fourfold:
  1. To help the current crop of POTs realize that they are not alone
  2. To share some of our own stories of hope and redemption from recent history
  3. To field a few questions and concerns
  4. To reassure the younger parents that we all struggle, constantly, and that the point of faith is not a free pass from trouble, but the presence of God on the journey. 
Our time passed quickly - it always does, because there is so much to share. There were 30 of us in a big circle, and as I looked around the room I realized how much we had all been through together, and how overwhelming the task of raising a family seems at times.

As the clock started to run down I threw out one final question. What - for you as a parent - is indispensable? Here are just a few of the responses:
  • "Your children have to know that you love them. You have to tell them, every day, no matter what." 
  • "Family time is critical. And I don't mean racing around in the car together to some game or event. Our decision to eat dinner together (no television), as a family, 4-5 times a week, paid off big time."
  • "The marriage comes first. The best gift we can give our children is a mom and dad who are crazy about one another."
  • "In a similar vein, we need to be the kind of rock the children can tie up to. We have to be solid first."
  • "Pray for your children every day. Sometimes we'd go into their rooms after they fell asleep, put a hand on their head, and pray for them. Even when they were 16, 17, 18 years old.... Especially when they were 16, 17, 18 years old."
  • "It sounds corny, but GO TO CHURCH. The decision to worship with our faith community - every week - as a family commitment, faithfully, even when we didn't really feel like it, was one of the best decisions we have ever made."
  • "Never give up. Hold the course. Always believe."
A common thread in all the encouragement boiled down to two words. The first word was "decision". We're grown ups now, and most of what works for us - especially as parents - has to be conceived and implemented in the decision realm; just do it. The other word is "faith". Not just having faith but being faithful. Hmmm, another decision-oriented concept... how about that?

Peace and blessings - DEREK

* In case you're still wondering, the "ASW" class we'll be running from that nursing home in the not-too-distant future stands for "All She Wrote"............. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Holy Week

This morning I feel propelled into Holy Week by an inspirational Palm Sunday with my church. Two things have been on my mind. First, this scripture - below. And then the challenge to tell the story of the Good News with authenticity. 

So, read this passage, then click the link to my "The Preacher's Husband" post for today. It would be silly to repeat the same thoughts here.

Peace - DEREK
  1. Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” (John 12)
  2. Some Good News from The Preacher's Husband....

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Which Parade are You Marching in Today?

Today is Palm Sunday. I don't know how you celebrate in your church, but we're going to have a whole herd of kids marauding down a couple of the aisles waving palm branches, and generally beating other congregants about the head as they sing their "Loud Hosannas!" It's going to be beautiful.

I have to share this really cool idea with you. It's something that we've been discussing in my Sunday morning study group. Here it is, grossly simplified from a very interesting book we've been looking a together, "The Last Week."

At the time of Jesus, the Roman authorities liked to make a big deal about spelling out exactly who was in charge. The governor would ride into town for important Jewish festivals, just to demonstrate who really held the power in Jerusalem. The main Roman garrison was located on the Mediterranean coast, to the west, and the governor would lead an ostentatious parade, entering from that side of the city along with an intimidating display of Roman soldiers.

Imagine the contrast... Pilate riding in on a warhorse or sitting in a chariot - from the west - and then Jesus entering from the east, sitting on a donkey, making a very strong statement of his own.

So here's my question for this weekend - as we live in this particular culture. The "occupying force" in our land is more subtle than the Pax Romana, yet just as dangerous; it is materialism... greed... self-interest... and the crushing debt that comes along with it. It is very easy to get caught up in values that have little to do with freedom, liberty, justice for all, or the pursuit of happiness.

Jesus and the disciples...? Or the occupying force...? 
Which parade are we in?
"Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest!" - DEREK

Friday, April 15, 2011

FCATs - and state government's other silly ideas - are the real distraction to learning

The big challenge for bloggers - the way I see it - is that of maintaining a balance between immediacy and meaningful content. Nobody wants to read old material, prepared ahead of time and pasted in; but at the same time readers are also looking for substance and craft.

One way I try to stay fresh is to - usually - post by 10:30 in the morning (that's EST - I have no idea how or why "Blogger" time-stamps the way it does!). I use the exercise to jump-start my writing for the day, and the post quite often serves as a window into my devotional life. Editing and re-writing does not fit into my blogger MO.

This morning I can't get away from thinking about education. Teaching has been a huge topic in recent news. Then, yesterday, I received an interesting contact from a former student.

So I believe it's time for a few words about school. In recent weeks I've listened - mostly with my mouth hanging open in amazement - to an avalanche of unwarranted criticism directed at teachers. I'm astounded at the politicization, and the piling-on, and the repetition of untruth, and the ignorance... and then the aggravated ignorance.

My credentials to speak to this issue come from two decades in the public school classroom and a lifetime of teaching. I graduated UWF's College of Education in 1984 with top honors in the program, and then worked with both community mental health and middle school initiatives before joining the faculty at Turkey Creek Middle School when we moved to West Central Florida.

By now, I can see where many people in the process seem to have lost sight of what the conversation is really about. Education is - quite simply - about facilitating the kind of environment where learning both can happen and will happen.

Here's a great example: A friend has an elementary aged child with Type-I diabetes. Last week the kid was fitted with an insulin pump. The school wanted his mother to keep him home during FCAT testing because the pump - which needs new numbers dialed in three times during the day - "Would be too distracting".

Here's the problem. We are confusing standardized testing with actual education.

School is supposed to be all about learning. Fact is, having a kid come to school with a new insulin pump is an educational experience without peer. If anything is distracting kids from learning, then it's the FCAT testing.

The more that politicians meddle in the classroom, the further away from a learning environment school becomes. School has become - by necessity - a factory for conformity. Teachers are now expected to be technicians who churn out finished products, rewarded for producing kids who can check the correct answers on standardized tests! Give me a break!

My experience in the classroom taught me that the most important job a teacher has is to create an environment where learning happens naturally.

In one longitudinal study, researchers administered a creativity assessment tool to preschool children. Over 85% scored extremely high. The same instrument was given, periodically, over the next twelve years. Each time, the group score diminished, until - at age 16 - only 10% of the young people revealed much creativity at all.

Only one consistent variable could account for the decreased scores. It was education; these kids had all attended school and had been required (among many things) to do the following:
  • Color inside the lines (figuratively and literally)
  • Look for just the one correct answer (no matter how satisfactory/unsatisfactory) and then move on
  • Pace themselves with the herd who occupied their age-group and their classroom
  • Sit still and shut up
  • Only be interested in what they were told to be interested in....
  • etc. etc. etc....
What we don't need to do is to throw money at this problem (sigh). I'll concede that we do need to pay fair salaries, that we do need to attract top-notch people to this most important of professions, and that we really should give education a higher priority in state budgets - but it's not really about the money: it's about the freedom to teach, and it's about trusting the teachers to do a good job. And it's also about trusting our children to pick up the tools we make available to them, and to apply those tools to develop their curiosity and to learn... because that is exactly what whole, well-rounded children do; it's the way they were created and it works a hundred times better than teaching to some test that's possibly indexed to the teacher's next raise.

Parenting is Job One:
It's a family thing
OK-OK-OK, I understand that not all parents "get it". But that doesn't change the facts of how things work! We all know that learning starts at home, that the parent is supposed to be the "first teacher", and that mom and/or dad should own the role of team leader when it comes to moving a child forward...

 But the state legislature (and the federal government) are well aware they can't stand inside people's living rooms and tell them how to raise their kids. So what do they do instead? They legislate the heck out of the classroom because they can. They throw a million stupid rules at our schools because they need to throw something at someone - and the school is an easy target.

The problem is this: Now we're spoiling it for everyone. So stop it, legislators. Let the teachers teach. Then pray for America's families. Lord knows we could all use it.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Transition points for the Future...

Construction is moving forward!
Wednesday evening, my "Men's Room" small group gathering was the last official meeting of any nature held in the old education wing of our church. The building is already empty, stripped of every appliance, fixture, chalkboard, doorknob etc. We had to carry in chairs. But the A/C still ran and there was a live outlet I could use for my powerpoint.

It was kind of like camping. Plus the projector worked great because the wall for the new building already completely covers the old windows!

I think it's cool that a circle of prayer, twelve faithful men committed to a closer walk with God, closed things out.

So I used the occasion to share what's on my heart about the spiritual lives of men. I did this for two reasons:
  • First, I already had an outline ready to go for last week's cancelled "Presbyterian Men's National Conference" in Virginia Beach - it seemed a shame not to use it. 
  • Then - and this is very exciting - I'm writing a formal proposal this month for Upper Room Books (URB). My editor is very positive about my idea for a new book for men. I wanted to throw out some of the foundational concepts to see how they resonate with my peers.
Chris, Gary & Eric from "the Men's Room"
I'm not going to let any more details out of the bag at this point. But I will say this: URB are motivated enough to fast-track this project. The proposal is due May 2. Then, if the publication committee gets on board, the manuscript will need to be in Nashville by September 1. The idea is to have this book in the warehouse by the end of June 2012. That's a short 14 months down the road! 

I'm excited! I'm ready to write... But, first, I'm going to spend the rest of today working on my taxes - I thought I'd get an early start this year.

Peace - DEREK

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Thoughts on "Global Happiness" and "GWB"

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

This morning is almost too beautiful to allow for any work or task-oriented concentration. When I returned from my long trek with Scout I made coffee, threw open all the windows, and tried to map out my day. So far all I have achieved (and it's already 8:40) is a lot of listening to birds singing, leaves rustling in the breeze, and the distant noise of traffic.

This is both the privilege and the price of working at home.
  • The privilege is this amazing workspace, fresh coffee in my own kitchen, the ability to take my laptop onto the back porch, a huge galumphing labradoodle standing beside me with a toy hanging from her mouth before flopping down with a huge sigh,  and choosing my own hours.
  • The price is pretty much the same: this fabulous home, gourmet coffee, the back porch, playing with Scoutie, choosing hours that - yesterday - included an afternoon on the golf course I can see from the porch.
Looks like I'm "Cutting-Edge":
It would appear that I'm in the kind of position that is now valued by the British government. Statisticians in the UK have been asked to "measure the nation's well-being." Prime Minister David Cameron was quoted as saying "It's time we focused not just on GDP (Gross Domestic Product) but on GWB - General Well-Being."

"Our happiness levels have been stuck for the last 60-years," explained "Action for Happiness" co-founder Richard Layard of the London School of Economics. "There are a lot of ways in which [the quality of human relationships] has been neglected in favor of higher income."

In one very revealing article, the Associated Press reported "surprising results" from a global happiness survey that put Third World nations ahead of "much richer" European and North American societies.

Wow! What a damning one-sentence assessment of the shallow arrogance that drives our consumer culture! But I shouldn't be surprised, we spend billions of dollars annually for the sole purpose of convincing people that the only route to satisfaction in life is via the unbridled acquisition of consumer goods... and then we create elaborate lifestyles in order to justify the expenditure and perpetuate the myth.

Ignorance and Deception:
I'd like to say that this report holds out the promise that secular society is on the brink of stumbling into the foundational principles of faith, and that people will undoubtedly recognize the timeless teachings of Jesus in this Action for Happiness agenda.... I'd like to say that... But I'm doubtful, because so much of the public face of Christianity seems to have been moving in the opposite direction. The Good News that Jesus taught is - all too frequently - hijacked by religious people intent on using Christianity to prop up the status quo.

Consequently, instead of a message of liberation, and an invitation to discover joy beyond the strictures inherent with amassing personal wealth, Jesus has been re-cast as a middle-class suburban consumer who blesses the faithful with material goods and then wraps himself in the American flag.

We've been charged with the responsibility to share the Good News (Matthew 28). But I'm beginning to wonder exactly what message many who espouse the word "evangel" are evangelists for?

Sign me "Already Happy" - DEREK

Monday, April 11, 2011

Living in the Beauty of Our Potential

I have a good life. I don't think a day ever goes past that fails to contain - at least on some level - joy, and peace and blessing. There is always reason to be thankful, reason to celebrate, reason to look forward to tomorrow with anticipation.

But there are certain times, certain experiences, that underscore the joy part of the equation with such assurance that I find myself full beyond capture and I simply overflow with it.

Yesterday morning I experienced one of those moments in church. I'm not a high-caliber musician by any definition, but I do know enough chords on my guitar to play - quietly - as part of the 8:30 worship Praise Band. I stand - with the other two guitarists - just behind the keyboard and the clarinets, and at a 45-degree angle from the trombones, horn and trumpets.

Halfway through one song ("You are Holy") a rich, complex harmony emerged from a layered mix of guitar chords, voices, and instrumental finesse. Surrounding our offering from the stage, I could hear and feel the voices of the congregation fill the room with praise. I could hear myself singing without reservation, and all the sounds worked together to produce a few minutes of such great beauty that I felt saturated with peace.

I don't believe my experience was supernatural. I'm more inclined to suggest that it was in fact natural - but natural to capacity. What I mean is that God created us with the capacity to experience love and peace and community with an intensity and a quality that most of us fail to engage 99.9% of the time. Inviting God into the details of my life has the effect of releasing the potential that's been there all along.

That's why I have a hard time (and I've said this before) separating my "spiritual life" from my "life". The idea of salvation - to my understanding and in my experience - has as much to do with releasing the potentiality of "Kingdom Life" in the here and now as it does with securing a spot in Heaven after I die.

Like I said, I have a good life. My goal is to live at capacity, because I believe we were all designed with so much more in mind than the torpid mediocrity of the uninspired.

My personal experience has been - consistently - that I am more likely to live in the beauty of my potential when I am in relationship with God. God, simply put, has (and continues to) put me in touch with life, love, beauty, peace, goodness and grace.

Or, to quote one of my favorite Hebrew writers: God's Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. There is no law against behaving in any of these ways. And because we belong to Christ Jesus, we have killed our selfish feelings and desires. God's Spirit has given us life, and so we should follow the Spirit. But don't be conceited or make others jealous by claiming to be better than they are. (Galatians 5)

With a thankful heart - DEREK

Friday, April 8, 2011

"Eau-de-Dog" Issues... and Why Life = Change

Ah, the best laid plans... So the carpet people did show up; and they did a really good job on the bedroom; and they were really nice guys. The only problem turned out to be some worker at the factory, who managed to shave a good foot off the length of the family-room berber, thus leaving us five inches short of a new room! Now it'll be a week until we get the house all put together again.

However - and emerging out of its recent feng shui slump - our bedroom really does look amazing. We took the opportunity to paint the walls, changed some of the layout, and re-purposed a few items of furniture from elsewhere in the house. Rebekah has a natural flair for decorating and completed the kind of makeover most HGTV shows would doubtless pay to feature.

Scout, meanwhile, spent the day frolicking with her friends at the beauty parlor. The old carpet, had - let's face it - serious Eau-de-Dog issues, so it made good sense to get Her Royal Pooch-ness sanitized at the same time. It's easy to tell she turned out just fine.

I've decided that owning a home is pretty much the same as painting the Golden Gate Bridge. The moment you think you're finished, then sure enough something new crops up... or you discover that the first remodel you did has faded, or worn out... or you have to double back and re-do a project you can't believe you missed the first time around.

I know people who try to move every five years or so just to avoid that kind of process.

Come to think of it, I know preachers who deliberately relocate every five years or so because a similar dynamic is at play. It's either the church building, the work that's required to forge through some challenge, or a new layer of depth in relationships - and it all begins to look too daunting to deal with so they move on (looks like this is an entry I'll need to re-post at my "Preacher's Husband" blog!). 

But life is process, and it's the process that provides so much of the depth and definition that make it beautiful.

Here's a short story to illustrate. Several years ago we met two couples who both lived in very nice homes in the same neighborhood. 
  • In one house the floor-plan rambled, involved at least five different flooring surfaces, and the design was constantly subject to tweaking. Decorating evolved around wildly varied styles, obscure pieces of art collected while traveling, antique family pieces and photographs etc. There were books everywhere, and there was no way to predict what the next room might look like based on the one you were in. Change was ubiquitous and there was always a drop-cloth and a tool-box in play somewhere.
  • The other home had been recently gutted in response to a divorce. The man remarried, remodeled, and then went to a huge furniture store with his new wife. They purchased complete rooms of furnishings, including pictures for the walls and designer-coordinated home accents. The house was gorgeous; everything matched; it was a showcase... It had no soul.

Bottom line; if you want everything ready done and pre-finished... if you want to wake up every day with no problems to solve and no mess to clean up... if you want sterility and predictability and no bumps in the road to distract you from, well, whatever it is that you'd do in such a life... Then you're welcome to it. 

But such a life won't have much to do with the dynamic, creative, challenging interactive dance we're caught up in. And I don't think you'd like it all that much after a few days.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Stuff - and what lives under the old carpet...

Just to be clear, I'm not in any way suggesting that I'm aging - much... or that my joints hurt more because I just celebrated my 55th birthday... or that I'm even remotely concerned when it comes to moving large pieces of furniture around the house... or that my knees are still hurting from that soccer game I played March 26...

OKay, now we've got that out of the way, does anyone have a couple of Extra-Strength Advil they can spare? Or maybe some Aleve? Because something happened when I was moving that sofa yesterday and my back is killing me!

All this pain is probably the result of the new carpeting that's being installed this morning (if, that is, they ever show up!). The price looked suspiciously good, then once we asked a few questions we realized there are extra charges for just about anything you can imagine. Extra to take up the old carpet, extra for removal of the old carpet, and extra again for moving the furniture - each charge computed per square-foot of flooring. On top of that, another hefty dollar amount is assessed for each piece of furniture they think is heavy (coach, piano, bed etc.)

So Rebekah and I decided to move all the furniture ourselves, and then pull out the old carpet and roll it up for removal. The one in our bedroom was 14 years old! The carpeting on the family room was last changed around 2001. We may think we live clean, uncluttered lives, but don't tell that to the old carpet! Good grief that was some nasty stuff! Kind of a bio-archeological dig.

We've been serious about de-cluttering for the past several years. We have - best estimate - only 50% of the "stuff" we used to. And we were never in any way people who hoarded to begin with. However, and this was something we realized when we rebuilt the kitchen in 2009, even 50% of a limited amount of stuff is still an unbelievable amount.

The contents of the family room (you can see the empty space in the photo above) are variously stashed in the kitchen, the living room, the back hallway, and the back porch. I can guarantee that some of it is going directly to the trash, some of it to Good Will, and some of it to the black hole of the garage. There will be even less clutter when it's time to reassemble the rooms tomorrow.

In the meanwhile. I'm reminded of Christ's timeless words from the Sermon on the Mount:
  • "I tell you not to worry about your life. Don't worry about having something to eat, drink, or wear. Isn't life more than food or clothing? Look at the birds in the sky! They don't plant or harvest. They don't even store grain in barns. Yet your Father in heaven takes care of them. Aren't you worth more than birds? Can worry make you live longer? Why worry about clothes? Look how the wild flowers grow. They don't work hard to make their clothes. But I tell you that Solomon with all his wealth wasn't as well clothed as one of them. God gives such beauty to everything that grows in the fields, even though it is here today and thrown into a fire tomorrow. He will surely do even more for you! Why do you have such little faith? Don't worry and ask yourselves, "Will we have anything to eat? Will we have anything to drink? Will we have any clothes to wear?" Only people who don't know God are always worrying about such things. Your Father in heaven knows that you need all of these. But more than anything else, put God's work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well. Don't worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself. You have enough to worry about today."