Saturday, May 28, 2011

Memorial Weekend Reaches Beyond the Uniform

Remembering those who sacrificed so much...
Sometimes life – and most especially the life-charged life – isn’t even remotely possible unless, first, some serious sacrifices have been made by people with the courage to give away their future so that we can enjoy ours.
That’s a startling concept. And it’s a hard one for an avowed pacifist such as myself to wrap my mind around.
It’s doubly difficult when I go on to say that I honestly don’t believe that war-mongering is ever necessary or even vaguely warranted as an appropriate course of action. But, at the same time, I have to acknowledge that military intervention isn’t always war-mongering; sometimes military action really is a move to secure stability and peace.
That said, I’m convinced that – disturbingly often – even “The Good Guys” fall into the trap of confusing “national self-interest” with loftier goals. “Protecting our way of life” doesn’t always mean advancing or protecting unalienable rights -such as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Too often, what we really mean is, “Doing whatever it takes to take what we want, and to do what whatever we like.”
At least when England’s “East India Trading Company” (1600 – 1874) put troops in the field and ruled a continent, nobody tried to pretend the guys with weapons they were anything other than the strong-arm division of a for-profit corporation. Today the lines of control are more nuanced and significantly less easy to pin down.
The scene of Pickett's Charge - Gettysburg 1863
Memorial Day. So, what I want us to remember with particular care this Memorial Weekend is not a carte blanche “rah, rah, rah!” endorsement of all things military… but a humble and well thought out gratitude for the sacrifices so many brave men and women have made for the sake of freedom.
U.S. forces wore the same uniform when our government practiced genocide against Native Americans as when they stood for freedom against Cornwallis at Yorktown. On the one hand we have Normandy, The Battle of the Bulge, the liberation of the concentration camps and the rescue of hostages held by pirates… And, on the other, situations such as My Lai and Abu Ghraib.
I think it’s important that we never let the uniform – or even the flag – become unquestionably interchangeable with the spirit of what continues to make this nation great. And I think it’s incumbent on citizens – always – to ask hard questions regarding why we go anywhere with weapons, why we stay when the answers begin to change, and if we really are doing what we said we were when the action began…?
This Memorial Weekend I’m thankful for everyone who has sacrificed so much for our freedom and liberty. And I’m especially grateful to know so many amazing people of faith and integrity who not only wear a uniform (or work with the military as civilians), but who serve first as lovers of freedom, and who respect the rights of all people regardless of their nationality, or race, or religion.
I hate war, and I believe we need to do much less of it. But I’m thankful for those who serve, and most especially when their mission advances freedom for all people in all places.
Gratefully – DEREK
  • How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, Who proclaim peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things, Who proclaim salvation… (Isaiah 52:7)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Why I Always Park on the Roof

Read this post at it's home "The Life-Charged Life"
Once in a while, as Great World Travelers will, our son – Andrew – makes his way to TPA (Tampa International Airport) and we enjoy a few days together. Yesterday evening his priority coded baggage rolled off literally first, and we headed up the Armstrong elevator to the 9th floor – the roof – where I always park.
It just takes a few moments more to ride all the way up. There’s fresh air up there, and 360 degrees of expansive views, and summer storm clouds forming to the east. You can see airplanes landing and taking off for far places. You can see cars heading somewhere. And there’s the city, teeming with life, set out like a Lego set with matchbox cars.
Andrew has always been interested in his world. I remember driving through downtown Atlanta when he was a baby and he’d always have his head tilted, looking up at the buildings, or the clouds, or an airplane. Pointing, tracking. His favorite book was the Richard Scarry collection of things that go: planes, trains, trucks, cars, bicycles, buses… and he’d always gravitate to the planes. And he thumbed through encyclopedias from the first day he could hold a book; maps, diagrams, cut-aways.
In kindergarten he flabbergasted the teacher when she mention Mt Everest, “The tallest mountain in the world.” She wanted to know if anyone had heard about it, or where it was? “The Himalayas,” Andrew said. “If you want to get there you have to fly over the Atlantic Ocean, go over France, the Alps, and the rest of Europe. After Turkey you have to steer across the Middle East and India. Then you get to the biggest mountains in Tibet and Nepal. It’s a long way to Everest…”
So it was no surprise when he turned his stellar college performance into a government job that promised to take him all over Europe and beyond. I’m no travel slouch myself, but Andrew passed by long ago in terms of reach, and he’s well on the way to lapping me before he leaves his 20′s.
Anyone can travel, of course, especially if your job makes it possible. But not everyone embraces the opportunity with such gusto and gratitude. Which is my point in mentioning Andrew in this post. Andrew quite simply makes the most of his life. It’s an unremarkable statement at face value, but it represents an essential tenet of “The Life-Charged Life” that pretty much sets the tone across the board.
Because there’s very little more offensive to me than squandered opportunity. Especially here in the Land of Plenty.
How many people do we run into who engage this and every other day with a pervasive chronic case of “I don’t give a crap and it really doesn’t matter”?
BUT…. “This day belongs to the Lord; let’s celebrate and be glad today!” (Psalm 118:24, CEV) Not tomorrow, not yesterday, not next year, not maybe. But today. This day. “Now is the acceptable time; look, now is the right time!” (2 Corinthians 6:2)
I can’t get over how beautifully this concept comes across in Eugene Peterson’s translation of Psalm 118:
  • This is God’s work. We rub our eyes—we can hardly believe it! This is the very day God acted—  let’s celebrate and be festive! Salvation now, God. Salvation now! Oh yes, God—a free and full life!
So much to see...
There’s so much in this amazing world that can capture us, and add a charge to our life!
Some people never even look. But it just takes a few moments more to ride the elevator to the 9th level, to walk over to the edge, and look into the sunset, or the sunrise, or the expanse of the city, or over the water toward the Gulf of Mexico….
Now you know why I always park on the roof – DEREK

Thursday, May 26, 2011

When Religion is the Antithesis of Life

Public Service Announcement!

If you're used to reading me at this blog space, don't worry - I'll continue to post here. BUT, for an experiment, I'd like you to check out my new home at WordPress. This blog has a new name - "The Life-Charged Life", and a new format I believe you''' enjoy.

Today's post is about The Church. I question what we're up to when our personal preferences become more important than the Good News of Jesus. I think you'll enjoy the read.

So, please check it out and consider making "The Life-Charged Life" one of your new "favorites".

Peace and Blessings - DEREK

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Love The Small Things

The ball rolled in from 75 yards for an eagle!
"Who dares despise the day of small things?"(Zechariah 4:10)

Gotta Love the Small Things: The temptation - when choosing a Big Picture blog title such as "The Life-Charged Life" - is to be too selective with my anecdotes, to routinely skip the everyday stuff, and to go directly to the oversized stories as a matter of course. However, the real power of the life-charged concept is the understanding that even the small stuff - maybe most especially the small stuff - is loaded with rich layers of meaning and irrepressible life.

Saturday morning, before I went to the church for the first leg of our big birthday bash, I played in a charity golf tournamentorganized to benefit  a local homeless ministry. Half my team didn't show up, so it was just me and a local doctor playing best ball.

We were on fire! I couldn't miss a fairway, neither of us could miss a putt. We were six-under after eight holes and finished in third place with a 63. Not too shabby. But the signature moments were two shots I hit in succession that I couldn't repeat if I tried a thousand times.
  • First, I holed out a 75-yard lob wedge for an eagle on the par-5 16th. We whooped, hollered, and generally danced a jig around the golf cart.
  • Then I walked over to the next tee-box, complained that the "over-the-lake" par 3 had been moved back to 185 yards, promptly stuck my 6-iron five feet behind the hole, and then watched it spin back before stopping two feet shy of an ace.
Yes, I won "closest to the pin", but the real prize was what I learned about "The life-charged life."
You see the truth is, I'd have enjoyed the game just as well if I'd missed the green entirely, dropped the two successive shots in the water, and led my team to a last-place 85! My approach to golf is process-oriented, not results.

I think process is a key orientation for the life-charged life. It's not about waking up in the morning with something huge on your radar, angling for that special "charged up" experience, or being anxious if something monumental doesn't come along by lunch time.

No, God is in the small things. God redeems the small things. Bringing an open spirit and a willing heart to the most routine and mundane of tasks is exactly how life can't help but take root and take hold. We are called - I believe - to honor the small things. Big things... transformational experiences... serendipitous... emerge like those time-sequence photos of opening flowers when we nurture the possibility of light and life in the thousand small moments that define the substance of each day.

"Consider the lilies of the field..." (Matthew 6:28)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Birthday Party - Part I

Rebekah with Paul Reiter (pastor from 1977-1995)
Read this post at its home - "The Life-Charged Life"...

5oth Birthday party = A Big Hit! What an amazing weekend! Where to begin?

I simply have to share about the past two days with my faith community here at First Presbyterian Church of Brandon. I need to be careful not to sound as if I'm writing advertising copy for a great church I'm understandably partial to... or trying to make life around here sound too good to be true. But I've got to say - in all honestly - that my church really is a living community of faith, and it's full with the most amazing people. Fact is, we love really well here at fpcBrandon, and it's no exaggeration to say that spending Sunday morning with 400 people who love this eloquently is always good medicine for the soul.

Our oldest sign and our newest building
Over the centuries, a key element of the definition of church (or at least what church is supposed to be) has been the mandate to, "Be the visible evidence of the Kingdom of God on Earth." In other words, the core mission of any given faith community is to tell the truth about God's love in action. We need to do this in such a way that we make an exhibition of Kingdom life.
Being a committed part of a living faith community is - I believe - of critical importance if we're serious about building this "Life-Charged Life" we've been discussing.
What a charge! That's one reason our church birthday party was such a hit this weekend. This is what the Kingdom of God looks like; this place, these people! And it's impossible to experience such vibrant, life-charged community without being both refreshed and filled up at the same time.

Part One - Saturday Evening: "I like ribs," Rebekah said; "let's have a barbecue!" So we did. It was a birthday bash of epic proportions. Best estimate 300 plus people showed up for "dinner on the grounds" under the massive oaks and some big tents bought in for the occasion.I walked around with my camera and had the best time simply watching people meet and greet and eat. People showed up from way back in our church history.

I've posted lots of pictures on facebook, but have no idea what few shots could possible do justice here.

Yummy barbecue
Tours: Part of the festivities involved tours of the partially completed "Campbell Discipleship Center". It was my first time behind the ropes and I am seriously amazed at the size of the project. Rebekah gave me a "hard hat" tour. She's literally oozing excitement. I know exactly where she's coming from, because the whole point of a "discipleship center" is to invite then equip people to make the move from cultural Christians to Followers of the Way of Jesus. What we're up to at church is all about the life-charged life!

The word is "Community". Community is one of my key life-charged words. We're building a discipleship center because we want more people to experience this particular blessing in their experience of faith. But the community is much more important than any structure we can erect. Or, as Rev. John DeBevoise said in his "keynote" sermon Sunday morning (more about Sunday morning in "Part II"), "Don't let your concrete get in the way of your koinonia."

Life on display during the evening program....
Koinonia is the Anglicisation of the word "κοινωνία". It's the concept of building community, a coming together that's not only celebratory but intimate. I believe koinonia is not optional but necessary when it comes to "The Life-Charged Life."

This weekend, celebrating 50 years of witness to the truth of koinonia in this community, I feel deeply privileged to be a part of such vibrant life.
Peace - DEREK

Church 50th Party - Part II

Worship at First Presbyterian, Brandon. May 22
(Read this post at its home "The Life-Charged Life")
Enough people attend our church to justify two Sunday morning meetings. We average around 160 at the 8:30 "Contemporary Worship", and 240 for the 11:00 "Traditional." It makes good sense to offer the two worship styles, and seating 400 people simply won't work at the one time...

... Unless, that is, we schedule a special event like a 50th Birthday Celebration.

So we squeezed the 16-piece Praise Band, the Praise Chorus and the 30-member chancel choir onto the stage area all together - plus tables of chimes for the "2nd Ringers". The musical sardines principle, coupled with a few extra chairs and some creative car-pooling, freed up some seats eleswhere and we managed to get everyone in.

Tim Black speaking to the children
Personally, I was completely captured by the experience of community. To play my guitar in the middle of a stage crowded with over 50 people, leading another 350 in the Chris Tomlin arrangement of "Amazing Grace".... well... words cannot begin to describe. "My chains are gone; I've been set free. My God, my Savior, has ransomed me. And like a flood, his mercy rains. Unending love, Amazing Grace...."

I've got to tell you, the people who get caught up (pun intended) in "escape theology", obsessing about rapture and tribulation and the fiery flames of hell - well, they're missing the whole point of the life, and the beauty, and the grace, and the present reality of redemption.

Yesterday morning, in the epicenter of the living community of faith, I caught the dynamic truth of what it means to love and to be loved in the context of God's overarching agape. And this morning (Monday), standing in the life-charged reality of the generous reach of God's mercy, I rest assured.
  • Chains? Gone!
  • Freedom? I can feel it all the way to my bones!
  • Sin? Washed away like a flood!
  • Mercy? It rains down!
  • Love? Unending!
  • Grace? Still amazing!
We had a lot of preachers sitting on the front two rows today. Good people, representing history and Presbytery and the great connectivity of The Church. Rebekah invited John DeBevoise, senior pastor at Palma Ceia Presbyterian in South Tampa, to bring the word.

Rev John DeBevoise
John preached a great sermon, constructed around the Psalm 27 passage, "Unless the Lord build the house, those who build it labor in vain." But there was one more thing John brought to the pulpit that communicated more profoundly even that the excellent words he spoke. When John stood up, and he started to get the ball rolling with his opening remarks, he did not hide the fact that he was overwhelmed with the emotion of the occasion. There was something about the koinonia of the experience (κοινωνία, see yesterday's post, "Birthday part 1") that grabbed ahold of him.

The reality of the fact of life-charged community filled John's eyes with tears, and for a moment it threatened to muddle his speech. But - and this was a sensitivity to the moving of the Spirit - John didn't fight it and he didn't try to pretend it wasn't there. He acknowledged what he was feeling, and he stood in front of the crowd without his guard up - witness to the power resident in authentic community.

Rebekah greeting at the door
John's openness to the Spirit was his real eloquence yesterday morning.

Once again, I can't help but draw the conclusion that "The Monday Blues" are completely unnecessary when Sunday worship happens in the context of redemptive community.

What a great start to the next 50 years of our history as faithful witnesses to "The Life-charged Life" here in Brandon!


Friday, May 20, 2011

The Grandaddy Letters - Volume III

Rain Lilies
It’s a boy(read at this post's original home - "The Life-Charged Life"I guess if there’s anything that has a charge of life about it… it’s the promise held in a brand-new child. Yesterday, many, many miles to the north, Naomi and Craig discovered that our 18-weeks and counting grandchild is a boy.
Not, “It’s going to be a boy,” but, “The baby is a boy.”
He’s actually cute, so far as sonogram portraits go. His heartbeat is strong and everything looks on track in all the right ways.
And he’s moving around. “Turning somersaults”, Naomi said. Our grandchild is an amazing personification of the life-force that animates the universe and that is so hard for us to pin down to describe.
There is something insistent and persistent about life; it’s a tenacious impulse that screams purpose and redemption and promise. Some of my favorite words.
We have some flowers in our garden we call “rain lilies”. Most of the time they can’t even be seen. In fact this year we hadn’t found any evidence at all and thought they were gone for good. Then, just a few days ago, we got two good rains in 24 hours.
  • Monday we noticed a little brownish-green poking through the dirt.
  • Tuesday the stems were a good four inches tall.
  • Wednesday – and all over the yard, not just one area – clumps of stems stood up like stiff, ten-inch bristles.
  • Thursday around breakfast they all got the signal and bloomed in perfect unison.
  • This morning it’s like a flower-bomb went off in the garden!
We have around five main concentrations of fresh vibrant color, with hundreds and possibly thousands of exquisite lilies – crowded together – splashing vitality and promise and life in a triumphant, giddy display of unbounded belief!
Some days I wake up so expectant that I just can’t wait to see what will burst on to the scene next!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Life-Charged Book

Well the timing couldn’t be better on the launch of this new blog. I set up “The Life-Charged Life” here at WordPress just a week ago, because my “Blogger” host site crashed and stayed down way too long. I picked the title based on my own observations regarding the question, “If I had to narrow it down, what is it that I’m really writing about?”
It turns out that what’s driving me is this growing sense of responsibility to the urgency of life. This is different and more nuanced than the exclusively religious sensibility I thought I had been writing about. Yet, at the same time, this is very much a response to my commitment to live as a Follower of the Way.
By “responsibility” I mean I have this huge awareness of the potential held in “being”, and at the same time I see such damning evidence of falling short. I have to say that it breaks my heart.
Let me try to explain… 
I believe I’ve said this before, but the idea is so important I have to re-state my position here. I’m finding that it doesn’t make sense any more for me to talk about my “spiritual life” as if it is something other than, or a sub-set of, my life in general.
I just can’t separate the two any more. And the implications of this realization are significant.
  1. First, it means the end of compartmentalization; I’m either a Follower of the Way, or I’m not.
  2. And second, there’s the implication that everyone – not just the Christian – has a spiritual life. The question therefore becomes one of awareness, of tapping in, and of “how do I respond to this reality?”
Critically important (and lest some of you worry that I have lost my grip on theology) is my understanding that a rich spirituality is imperative if we are to grasp hold of the life that truly is life. There are not – in other words – parallel disciplines here, one set of recommendations for the person of faith and then another set for one who choses otherwise.

“Ten Life-Charged Words”

Again with the timing. I’ve had a book proposal in the works for a while . The idea considers exactly what it means to live a life-charged life. My publisher – Upper Room Books – is interested in more writing from me about what it means to be a fully engaged man of faith. So, bringing the two elements together, I suggested “Ten Life-Charged Words for Men”.
Yesterday afternoon the publication committee met and decided to give me a contract!
Now this is going to be fast-tracked. Typically, a book takes 18-months to two-years from conception to publication. This one will be on the shelves early next summer! That’s why I can begin to talk about it today.
The title isn’t “Ten Life-Charged Words for Christian Men”, because I believe every man in North America (how’s that for a target demographic!) has the capacity for a “Life-Charged Life” (every woman, too, but there are several reasons we’re targeting men with this book). The potential for fully engaged spirituality is loaded into and critical to each one of the ten concepts I’ll be presenting.
I believe with all my being that choosing to follow The Way of Jesus releases the full potency of life. The Christ-life inhabits the complete/unabridged meaning of “passion”, and “community”, and “service” and the other concepts I’m presenting.
This is a book that I’m confident will bridge some of the distance between “secular” and “spiritual” publications. Because I’m convinced that we’re essentially talking about the same thing, and that we can be (and should be) in this conversation together!
So please pray for me as I write over the next few weeks. Pray that my words will be charged with authentic life, that the project will touch and inspire and encourage many lives, and that – because more of us embrace “The Life-Charged Life”, this world will be significantly more redeemed.
Peace (because this world needs it) – DEREK

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Emperor is Stark Naked!

Grabbing Hold of Life!
All that glitters is not gold:
(See this post at its original home at "The Life-Charged life")

A few days ago I was talking with a friend about (yes, I'm embarrassed to admit this...) economics. I'm not exactly a math genius, but I do personally know the dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Business - he's a brother by another mother... and father. (Of course, I can't understand a word he says when I see him on television, but I do know him!)

But I digress. So I was talking with this friend, and I was spouting off about how, "I can't believe the ridiculous incentive bonus payments all these executives keep receiving. Their financial service businesses are still losing money, they're leveraged to the hilt, and they're laying people off!"

I was referencing bonus payments of five, ten, even fifteen million dollars and more!

"The incentive system is important," my friend argued. "How else are they going to attract or keep the top talent?" It's a line of reasoning I've heard repeated often over the past few years.

"The emperor has no clothes," I said.

"What?" My friend responded.

"The emperor is stark naked!" I said.

"What do you mean?" My friend asked.

"I mean, maybe 'The top talent' aren't really all that talented!" I said. "Maybe they're pulling the wool over our eyes and laughing all the way to the bank - and that laughing bank is in the Cayman Islands!"
Seriously, people. Maybe they really aren't that smart!

This is my point about grabbing hold of - as the writer of Timothy puts is - "The life that truly is life." What are we doing? Why do we put our trust in people who say, "Just give me all your money and I'll give you everything you ever wanted"...? (Insert temptation of Christ text here). "The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 'All this I will give you,' he said, 'if you will bow down and worship me.'"

Really? Are you serious?

We're grabbing hold of something, and we're desperate, but it's got nothing to do with life! I believe the reason so many Americans are willing to go back down the same road again with this economy - quite happy to continue to roll the dice in the same old way and to mortgage their grandchildren's future - is that they (we) have bought the BIG LIE...

And the BIG LIE is this. "If we simply gorge ourselves on material things then - eventually - we'll be happy. We have to be happy...."

And why do we believe it HAS TO be true? ...... Because it's all so many of us have; it's all we know - and to admit we've been heading in the wrong direction for so long would be to admit how completely lost we all are. And so we continue down the same path, and we continue to gorge ourselves on what does not and will not satisfy. And we do it because we're afraid. We're afraid that we might have been wrong all this time.

It's a kind of obesity - we're overstuffed with values that will never deliver on the promise.
Here's an alternative idea. How about we grab hold of some life?

Peace - DEREK

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Life Fueled by Enthusiasm!

Enthusiasm can be contagious. (See the original post at "The Life-Charged Life")

This is Scout, she's Rebekah's labradoodle. When Scout is excited, there's really nothing else to do but to get on board for the ride.

In this picture - taken yesterday afternoon - Scout evidently can't contain her enthusiasm for her new haircut. Or maybe she's just happy to be home from the groomers. Or it could be that she's smiling because she's outside, or that her mama is holding the other end of the leash, or because it's such a beautiful day....

Bottom line, it really doesn't matter what's going on - Scout is going to be thrilled to be there no matter what. Everything is her "favorite thing" because that's just how she rolls.

We could all learn a thing or two from Scout Labradoodle. Such simple gratitude for the fact of being is a huge reagent - or change causer - in the equation of life. Life is an experience that needs to be actively engaged rather than something we wait to have happen to us. Scout always has a big time because she lives into that expectation.

Enthusiastic belief works because a bona fide appetite for life is always more about the person than the circumstance.

You can't be neutral on life: I know some people who like to put a downer on everything. They crop up - even in church sometimes - wearing a perpetual scowl. If they ever had a "favorite thing" I can guarantee it's long-lost in the selective memory of the past; you know, the mythological "good old days..."

The problem with the well-practiced scowlers is that they're not neutral. You can't be neutral on life. These folk are anti pizzazz, gusto and oomph. They're not non-exhuberant so much as they are proactive agents of decay.

That's when I wish sometimes I had the blissfully unembarrassed  presence of a labradoodle.
  • I could run up to them with a toy hanging from my mouth...
  • Or zoom back and forth from the door, all the while grinning..."Let's play?" "How about a walk?"... or "I could look adoringly at you while you scratch my ear?"
  • "You're my favorite person! I love you; I love you; I love you!"
  • "Let's play! Come on, come on, come on...."
Because life is something we have to step into - willingly, with enthusiasm and a purpose. That is, if we really want to carry life around and to share it like the precious gift it is.

In fact, generous sharing is pretty-much required if we want to experience enthusiasm for ourselves. It's one of those "give it away and it keeps bouncing back" principles.

"We never really have anything until we give it away" is especially true if we're genuinely interested in ramping up the wattage when it comes to the life-charged life.

I like the way Jesus ties this principle in to love:
If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:10-15)

Talk about giving life away so that we can claim it for ourselves.