Thursday, January 31, 2013

free speech and talk radio

Free speech is much more than a nice thing; it’s an amazing privilege. However, rather than being its champion, “Bubba the Love Sponge” is spoiling it for the rest of us.
IMG_3438Here in the Tampa area, yesterday saw the conclusion of the courtroom battle between Talk-Show host Todd Schnitt (aka “MJ in the Morning”) and Todd Clem (aka “Bubba the Love Sponge”).
Schnitt claimed that Clem’s repeated on-the-air personal attacks, insults, veiled threats, accusations, and insinuations amounted to defamation. Clem’s attorneys argued that their client’s behavior (which included more vitriol, on-the-air bullying, and offensive references directed at Schnitt’s family) is protected by his First Amendment rights.
The jury agreed with Clem.
“The First Amendment prevailed today,” Clem told reporters. “And you know, as unpopular as my speech is at times, it’s necessary.”
NECESSARY? ”Necessary” is the word that caught my attention. I’m not a fan of either radio personality, but I am a fan of free speech. However, Clem’s self-aggrandizing comments (you can read them all in various news outlets, but I don’t recommend it) immediately reminded me of a discussion I had with a group of 7th grade students when I was teaching in the public schools.
I’d been teaching a segment on government, and some of my students tried to leverage various items from the “Bill of Rights” to justify their obnoxious behavior. “I know my blankity-blank rights,” one of them said.
“Then I’m sure you understand that you also have the right to remain silent,” I said; “and I suggest that you use it.”
DECENCY: ”Necessary,” Mr. Clem? What’s “necessary” around here is a little more decency, a little less junior high-school mentality in grown men, and a huge dose of self-control.
51R5Ev5LdVL._SL500_AA300_Back in the early 70′s, actor David Carradine stared in the TV series, Kung Fu. The show chronicled the adventures of a Shaolin Monk as he wandered the American West armed only with his skill in Kung Fu.
Carradine’s character, Kwai Chang Caine, drew his power – and ultimately his respect, from applied restraint. Not fighting demonstrated power, courage, effectiveness and influence. However, if Caine made the decision to use his phenomenal fighting ability wantonly, in order to draw attention to himself, or for personal gain, then he – and what he believed in – was immediately compromised.
121512-bill-of-rights2ABUSE: That’s the problem with the misuse of free speech. Clem’s wanton promotion of indecency cheapens free speech; it pours scorn on the sacrifices made by so many to guarantee him the right to be obnoxious; it compromises the core principles of our permission-giving culture; it harms the very thing he says he values.
Clem’s abuse of free speech makes me think of the aphorism that often comes into play after something special gets lost or broken: “That why we can’t have nice things.”
Clem’s abuse of free speech makes me think of the aphorism, “That why we can’t have nice things.”
Free speech is much more than a nice thing; it’s an amazing privilege. However, rather than being its champion, “Bubba the Love Sponge” is spoiling it for the rest of us.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

when is a "public" story really private?

Video-blog segment: Here it is – click here - , the promised once-a-week video-element to this blog. It’s “one-take,” and rough around the edges. I’d appreciate your candid appraisals – DEREK 
2156STORY: I had an interesting experience yesterday, while conducting three more interviews for my series on veterans who served in the armed forced during WW2 and other times of national crisis.
What happened raised the question – for me – of, “Whose story is it?” and, “When does a story transcend privacy and really belong to history?”
(My thoughts have also been prompted by recent controversy regarding the coverage of private grief in public places, most notably an image of a woman on her knees, praying in front of a church the day of the Newtown shootings. “My grief was private,” she insisted. “The place was public,” countered others.)
DSC_0004LIVING HISTORY: And so I returned to the retirement community where I’m in the process of interviewing men and women with some amazing stories. I talked with John Newcomb (pictured with his son, Mike), who served in the Air Force before enjoying a long career as an engineer with Boeing. Then I was fascinated by William Templeman’s varied career in the Navy, as a Warrant Officer in the Reserve, as a school guidance counselor, and even in television with WEDU.
Then I spent an hour with one more gentleman, an interesting and deeply intelligent soldier with vast experience. His work placed him in close proximity with some of the key players in mid 20th century military history.
STOP THE PRESSES! Eventually, 50-minutes into the conversation, because of the tone of a couple of his comments, I said: “Are you sure you’re OK with these questions? Your last answer was a little hesitant.”
“I consider this a huge intrusion,” he retorted. “My life is none of your d___ business!”
He was angry. His voice was raised. He was visibly upset.
“Would you rather I didn’t publish your story in the newspaper?” I asked.
“Can you do that?” he responded.
“It’s your story,” I said. “If you don’t want me to write it, then I won’t. In fact, if you’d like me to I’ll delete this interview right now.”
“I’d like that,” he said.
So I did. I cued up the file on my digital recorder and I let him watch as I hit the “delete” button.
Almost immediately he relaxed. And I told him that – for me – it was an hour well spent, regardless. Because we had enjoyed this great conversation and my life was enriched because of him. I told him I was grateful for the experience, and I told him I felt privileged to know him.
The recording/file is gone, but I do have his photograph for my own collection (with his permission). And, other than the one priceless quote he gave me that I’m going to conclude today’s post with, this one retired soldier’s story is going to have to be limited to being a part of my general background for the Big Picture story in my head.
MacARTHUR: It’s a shame; because there’s not a human being on the face of this earth who doesn’t have a story worth sharing. But at least he did share it with me, and my prayer is that the telling of the tale provided a measure of healing for this man’s wounded spirit.
So here’s my one quote from the interview. As a soldier, serving in the Philippines, my new friend worked in the building occupied by the legendary General Douglas MacArthur.
“So you met MacArthur?” I asked.
“Meet General MacArthur?” he laughed…. “You don’t meet God!”

Monday, January 28, 2013

Ready for Monday!

File image - not this week
File image – not this week
Church yesterday had a real “buzz” about it. You know what I mean; it’s when you enter the sanctuary and you can almost feel the electricity, the sense of anticipation, the low rumble of dozens of conversations, the undercurrent of prayer, the knowledge that everyone is there for the same purpose.
When it’s time for the children’s moment – and this is true for both services now – the kids tumble their way to the front like a pack of puppies, falling all over one another, stepping on one another’s tails, eyes bright, laughing.
What’s cool is that it’s not just the children (well, maybe the falling all over one-another to get to the front part is…). Church is an invigorating, encouraging, joy-filled motivational experience for absolutely everyone! You just can’t help but feel good after spending an hour or two at First Brandon.
parable_of_sowerPEOPLE OF THE DIRT: Rebekah preached on the Parable of The Sower and the receptivity of the soil, and she spent the entire sermon referring to our congregation as “People of the Dirt.”
There were some interesting lists in the message, covering questions such as “The top-ten reasons people don’t come to church,” “The top ten reasons the ‘un-churched’ actually do visit a church,” and “Why the (previously) un-churched tend to come back, and keep on coming.”
Rebekah said she was surprised to learn (from several examples of published research) that “The Preacher” was the number one reason “the un-churched” come in the first place. “However,” she said, “‘the preacher’ dropped all the way to sixth place when those same people were asked why they returned for more visits and why they eventually joined.”
Interestingly, we had a good number of first time visitors, and they were all impressed to learn that they were already a part of our conversation. One pair of visitors, a man around my age and his son, told Rebekah they had showed up for worship in response to a “Something’s out of balance in my life” urging.
“We’ll be coming back next week,” the younger man said. And then, with a twinkle in his eye, “but not because of the preaching!”
It’s good to know that visitors can pick up on the spirit of goodwill and deep love that permeates our church home.
IMG_3391THE WORD: But there’s something else that defines this community of faith, something that’s been growing over the past couple of years. What I’m talking about is a deep passion for scripture that’s increasing as time goes by.
A couple of years ago, Rebekah challenged the congregation to read large chunks of scripture every week. She calls it “Engaging the Bible” and the initiative is still front and center on our church web page at
A few people got on board early on, then several more as time went by. This year, with the addition of the “Read through the Bible in one-year” booklet, more and more members of our congregation are involved in serious, regular Bible reading than ever before.
My Sunday morning study group is tackling the New Testament; we’ve decided to read the books in the order in which they were written. This week we looked at Pilemon, and the conversation settled in around the idea of freedom.
In the Gospels, Jesus said that “the truth will make us free,” and the Bible is an amazing resource if we want to not only know truth but intend to live into truth.
  • Know the Truth…
  • Live into the Truth…
And so, with this combination of abundant life, transformational discipleship, encouraging community, and the life-giving truth we experience through God’s word, I’m as ready for another Monday as it’s possible to be.
In truth, in light, and with encouragement – DEREK

Saturday, January 26, 2013

when Jesus messes with my theology

Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd…
…The Jews who heard these words were again divided. Many of them said, “He is raving mad. Why listen to him?” (John 10)
In Israel, asking questions
In Israel, asking questions
BEST STORY EVER: The Gospel-writer John is my hands-down favorite of the Jesus-Story tellers. He always seems to tap into deeper layers of the narrative. I seldom read from John’s account without imagining how I would have responded, or thought, or blogged about my encounters with Jesus.
John’s entire Gospel is a “must read” (and I recommend – once in a while – tackling it in one sitting); but Chapter Ten especially intrigues me. Jesus describes himself as The Gate. He talks about life, “real and eternal,” “more and better life than (we) ever dreamed of.” He affirms his identity as “The Son of God,” And he does another exceptional job of ticking off the authorities.
Jesus goes on to talk about “Sheep that are not of this sheep pen,” and about his long-term vision for “one flock and one shepherd.” Is he talking about Jews and Gentiles? Is he looking ahead to today’s Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics et al? Do his words apply to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and more…?
And exactly when do these sheep that are “not of this sheep pen” all “listen to (his) voice,” and begin to be “one flock” with “one shepherd?” What’s that going to look like? At what point will Jesus “bring them also”? Does it have to be now? Must it be here on earth, during this lifetime?
“There is more than enough room in my Father’s home,” Jesus said in John 14:2. “If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?”
Anyway, this kind of talk was way too much for the religious leaders of Christ’s day, and they responded with, “He is raving mad. Why listen to him?
Or, as The Message vividly paraphrases the text, “He’s crazy, a maniac—out of his head completely. Why bother listening to him?”
zbehold-i-stand-at-the-door-and-knock-x1200BLAME JESUS! This is the Jesus who gets inside my head and my heart and stirs things up so deliciously. And I find myself challenged – by Jesus – with questions that are significantly more difficult than those posed by regular people.
In fact, pretty-much every time I’m accused of questionable theology, crimes against right doctrine, not being a “Bible-believing Christian,” “Coming across like a conservative,” or “Getting a little liberal there, aren’t you Derek?” those times are always because of scripture; and it’s because of writers like John; and – most of all – it’s because of the thoughts and ideas JESUS challenges me with!
If you want to blame anyone for my struggles around the margins of orthodoxy, then blame JESUS; he’s the one who makes me wonder out loud the most often.
Your fellow traveller, and always a “Pilgrim in Progress” – DEREK

Friday, January 25, 2013

You-Tube and Beyond

IMG_3379Yesterday I spent the entire day on a project that was supposed to take around one hour. The good news is that I learned a new skill. The bad news is that I’m now a day behind regarding everything else.
What I was doing was making a video.
GET REAL: The short explanation is this. A pastor friend in Alabama has decided to use GET REAL: a spiritual journey for men with his men’s ministry group over the next eleven weeks. He let me know his plans and asked if there is any way I could be involved.
  • I said, “I’ll be happy to help in any way;”
  • he said, “How about a video message?”
  • I said, “Fine;”
  • He said, “10-15 minutes and please address the following topics…;”
  • I said, “I’ll knock it out in an hour Thursday morning….”
I know, those of you who know anything about video production are snickering just a little bit right now.
SHOOT! Right off my tripod keeled over and the lens stuck tight; it can still mostly focus but the zoom is shot. Then, 10-minutes into an almost flawless take the video shut off; apparently 10-minutes is the limit. My next take turned out to be out of focus. Then I jogged the camera and another take had my head out of the picture.
The final result was a ten-minute video I’m fairly pleased with and a five-minute “Part Two” that’s “just going to have to do.”
In the process (and when I couldn’t talk my “Dropbox” into helping me share the files) I learned that I could post videos to YouTube.
IDEA? Oh Joy! This opens up a whole new world. Not video-blogging, necessarily, but producing a series of vignettes to go along with some of my writing projects, maybe to support a book, or a chapter in a book.
Or maybe – I’m thinking out loud here – a regular “Video Wednesdays” blog post, or some dedicated day of the week?
man in the camera
man in the camera
But this much I promise; if I post a video-link in this blog, then it’s not going to run more than two-minutes. Never. Never ever.
Stay tuned. Or, maybe I should say, “You have been warned.”
Peace – DEREK

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Comics, News, Theology and Hope

LET-M-Sy morning routine rocks! I often write about walking Scout, the beauty of the quiet, or my devotional time. But one of my favorite elements is sipping that first cup of coffee with Rebekah and reading the newspaper together before breakfast.
We always start with the comics. Currently my favorites are Pearls Before Swine, Zits, Arlo & Janis, Non Sequitur, and Doonesbury.
Then we catch up on the news. But sometimes I wonder why. Too often the morning paper is simply a sad litany of the brokenness of this world; an expanded indictment, or “exhibit A”in the case against humanity.
stock-photo-negative-newspaper-economic-headlines-85310515SPEAKING & LISTENING: But we read nonetheless, because both Rebekah and I work in careers where we are called to speak into the reality of people’s lives.
We need to be aware of the stories, to be in-sync with the narrative of life and in touch with what’s going on.
Reading the news is a form of listening.
So, if we listen so that we can speak, then what do we say?
SCRIPTURE: For both of us, the answer to that question is rooted in scripture. I already mentioned my morning meditation and devotions, so let me share the passage I read this morning. It came from the book of Titus, chapter three and verses 3-7. “Listen” to this:
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Talk about speaking exactly to the content of most morning newspapers! Those first few phrases from the Titus passage absolutely nail it.
  • The message that I would like to speak into this world for Thursday, January 24, is this: “But, when the goodness and the loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us.”
  • And how does God save us? “Not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy…” 
  • And what does that mercy look like? “Through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
IMG_3373Consequently, when I read the morning paper and look at the brilliant, cutting humor of Non Sequitur, where the author (Wiley) both lampoons religion and points his finger at the rotten core of our cultural values, I know exactly what to speak into the reality of day-to-day life.
“But, when the goodness and the loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us.”
In Hope and in Promise – DEREK