Archive for September 2011
Cultivate Thankfulness: Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. (Colossians 3:15-17 – The Message)
Recently, I’ve been taking some heat from the cat. No, seriously. Darth Maul – otherwise known as “The coolest cat to ever prowl the neighborhood” – has expressed some serious angst regarding all this “Scout for President” noise, the “Dog Blog,” and all the various attention our oversized, galumphing Scout Labradoodle has been generating since the day she arrived home.
So, far be it from me to treat the pets with anything other than complete parity. Here’s a little love for Mr. Darth.
Darth arrived on the scene back in 1999. He was abandoned in the neighborhood and hung around our house for a few days, just to see what might happen.
Coincidentally, that was about the same time “STAR WARS: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” was released. A new dad-guy character burst onto the scene, the apprentice to the evil Sith Lord. His name, Darth Maul. Well, two things were immediately obvious. First, the name of the mysterious black cat. Second, where he was going to live.
I even wrote a commentary for the Tampa Tribune that featured my photograph alongside that of the sinister Star Wars character. The legend read “Derek Maul; Darth Maul. Same last name; not related.” That day I was stopped by someone on the street in downtown Tampa – it was possibly the only time I’ve ever been asked to autograph an op-ed column in the newspaper!
But I tell you, this cat turned out to be the sweetest feline ever. He snuggles, he follows Rebekah around the garden, he doesn’t need to be sedated at the vet’s (he waits quietly, talks back just a little, and allows them to do what they need to do), he let’s Scout get away with sticking her nose in his face, he knocks on the front door when he wants to come in, he talks to you. Young adults who have house-sat when we travel come back to visit – not with us so much as to spend a little time with Darth.
One day, when he was four years old, Darth had a terrible accident. We’re not sure exactly what happened, but he had a deep, penetrating, 3rd-degree burn on his neck. It was huge, and he thought he was going to die.
Darth was so convinced he was going to die that (rather than come home and tell us he’d been hurt) he found a quiet, secluded place under a neighbor’s hedgerow and prepared for the end. Fortunately, Doreen happened to hear something. She went to investigate, thought she recognized the cat, and came to get us.
After our vet (Valrico Animal Clinic) saved his life, Darth hid under our guest bed during recovery. I had to crawl under the bed to give him his medicine. Eventually, after a couple of weeks on the brink, he pulled through. He has lived ever since as if he remembers, and is grateful.
I’ve decided that conscious gratitude is a game-changer in terms of how we live. People could learn a lot from Darth Maul. It seems to me that there’s seldom a day that goes by that I don’t remember to pause and give thanks for my family, all my blessings, my life, the fact that I’m forgiven, and the amazing truth that God loves me.
Living in that kind of awareness affects everything. I’m convinced of it.
Peace – DEREK
Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
There are so many directions I could take this morning:
- Yesterday’s “story-telling” post touched a nerve in a surprising number of people, and some very interesting dialog has ensued…
- Our discussion at my Wednesday evening “The Men’s Room” small group was – I believe – very encouraging…
- I happened by the church at lunchtime while the painters were transforming the appearance of the new building…
- The Tampa Bay Rays pulled out a baseball miracle last night that – with the help of the Boston Red Sox’s epic collapse – made sports history…
- I have an epiphany regarding the 2012 Presidential primary process that I’m dying to share…
Yes, the “How do I tell my own story” question is generating a lot of conversation (most of it via private email). In fact we picked up part of that discussion in my small group, because I had used some verses from Psalm 139 in the post and we’re already in the middle of a study of the Psalms.
One of the guys wanted to know how I’d landed at that particular passage in my reading. “There are 150 Psalms,” he pointed out, “how did you end up in number 139?”
So I shared a little about how my devotional life and my work have become so interconnected. As a writer, I often have the luxury of time to follow through with a line of thought, or study. So here’s how it “went down”:
- I had already planned to write about the idea of discovering our own stories… and
- That led me to think about how well we know ourselves (or don’t know ourselves)… and
- That thinking put the idea of “knowing my own heart” into my head… and
- I wondered what the scriptures had to say about it… and
- That put the words of the old hymn in my mind – “Search me, Oh God, and know my heart today”… and
- I knew that the song was certainly based on a Bible passage… and
- That’s where Google played its – always - very helpful role…
- So a list of scriptures came up and I read them all until I came to Psalm 139… and
- The beginning words of the passage were so beautiful that I read the entire Psalm….
I don’t write exactly “stream of consciousness”; but my consciousness is impacted by what I have been exposed to, by my natural facility with words, by my original train of thought, and (I truly believe) by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
I am truly thankful that my job allows me – requires of me – the time commitment to follow up and arrive at a place where I am learning and growing. It’s humbling to then have the opportunity to share what I’m learning with others.
So my conclusion – this morning – is that, no matter what I’m writing about or where my day is headed, grounding the experience in God’s Word and in the context of prayer is as important (when it comes to engaging “The Life-charged Life”) as the very air that I breathe.
Peace – DEREK
1 You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
You are familiar with all my ways. (Psalm 139)
Every day I find more great stories to tell. Currently I’m right in the middle of telling the church story (yesterday’s post); each Wednesday I publish the story of another local resident in the newspaper; I’m showcasing a number of huge stories in my upcoming book; I share new stories every day via this blog… and – yesterday – I started work on the task of helping my brother, Geoff, begin to tell his story.
You don’t have to be famous to have a story. Fact is we all have one worth sharing, and there are many ways to go about the task. Your story could be told via a series of conversations, a biography, an autobiography, a journal, a blog, a movie, a scrapbook, a collection of letters, a play, a series of recordings… so many options.
But, regardless of how we proceed, I believe it’s important that each one of us find people and communities where we can safely allow others to read (and comment on) our ongoing narrative like an open book. Sometimes that simply means being more deliberately open and honest with our spouse or our family; sometimes that means sharing our ongoing story with friends; sometimes that means being part of a support group. We’re not all going to have our life translated into a “Lifetime movie” and discussed on Oprah… but that doesn’t mean we have to remain anonymous to the people who love us.
My brother Geoff wanted to know where to begin. He said it sounded tedious to go back to 1954 (when he was born) and work forward in a chronological line. I told him there are countless ways to frame a personal history; there are so many potential lenses to look through, so many apparently important things that don’t have any place in a memoir, and so many seemingly insignificant events that turn out to be the life-blood of the tale.
And so I did what I do – I asked him some questions, as if I were interviewing him, which I was.
“Here’s what’s fun and interesting about a good interview,” I said:
- You don’t really know what you’re going to say until I ask you some questions.
- And I don’t know what questions I’m going to ask you until you begin to talk.
He was certainly right about the beginning being seldom the best place to start. Now I can guarantee we’ll end up back at the beginning at some point, but the telling of the story will instruct us as to when.
The launch: “Let’s pretend I don’t know you,” I said. “Let’s pretend I’m a writer from The New Yorker Magazine and I ask you this question… Please tell me about a landmark event, an episode at any time in your life, something that represents who you are? What event comes to mind when you think ‘Geoff Writ Large’?”
The question surprised me. It’s not usually on my list. But good conversations are like that. Regardless, Geoff was ready. He jumped on it in an instant.
“Hannah’s wedding,” he said (Hannah is his daughter). And he talked about why the wedding came to mind. The result was about ten minutes or so of free-flowing monologue punctuated by only the smallest of prompts. I realized immediately that this could well be exactly where my brother’s story begins.
So I wonder, where does your story begin? What event could be the looking glass through which you might tell the story of your life?
There’s no such thing as a life without a story. The real question is, do you even know your own?
Today is another “concentrate on the church history project” day. By church history, I mean the 50-year story of fpcBrandon (First Presbyterian Church of Brandon), the congregation Rebekah has now served for 15 years.
But it is certainly interesting to think of our 50-year story in the context of the greater (2,000-year) narrative of The Church. The Church has spent 20 centuries struggling with its role in the world. It was at its worst, by all accounts, when it was the most powerful politically; and it has been at its best when it simply seeks to serve, without regard to any agenda other than love.
Our particular congregation was started, back in 1961, when a small group of people felt the need for a Presbyterian church in Brandon. It took 15-20 years for fpcBrandon to find its unique personality (and, like all of us, it is still a work in progress). During the first decade the church grew significantly, but then lost half its active membership when a group of leaders realized they could not dictate the direction of the church without regard to Presbyterian polity. This group included the majority of those with financial means. Those that left, in a non sequitur of monumental irony, named their new church “Independent Presbyterian.”
However, like many events that are catastrophic at the time, the 1971 split did a lot to pave the way for who this congregation eventually became. Those who stayed were, by definition, committed to a more inclusive witness to Brandon; were, because of the experience, more inclined to value their identity as Presbyterians in the context of a diverse denomination; and were, by virtue of their sudden financial stress, more reliant on one-another and not just the purse-strings of a few.
Consequently, the church that established such a strong presence in the Brandon community during the 1980′s was an entirely unique community of faith. First Presbyterian of Brandon was – and still is – a one-of-a-kind congregation in the middle of a suburbia dominated by literally hundreds of versions of the same church.
First Presbyterian of Brandon was – and still is – a one-of-a-kind congregation in the middle of a suburbia dominated by literally hundreds of versions of the same church.
The first few years of the 1990′s were another tough time for First Brandon, but the core identity of the church was rooted in the right soil. This church may have experienced some hardship and disappointments, but at the heart of themselves the people knew who they were and they understood how vital their witness was to the Brandon community.
What has been remarkable, in the 15 years since Rebekah and I arrived in 1996, has been exactly how this faith community has matured into a vibrant witness not only to Brandon, but to other churches in the Presbytery of Tampa Bay, and beyond.
We’re not another one of those churches with diminishing attendance, a predictable order of worship, a conservative budget, a struggle to stay afloat and the goal of maintaining the status quo… We are a transformational community of faith, and a center for discipleship where Jesus followers gather for worship, grow together, and are equipped for service and mission.
I’m having a great time telling this story. But it’s hard because this is an open-ended narrative. First Presbyterian of Brandon is an ongoing story of redemption and love.
Peace, and every blessing - DEREK
I love our home. I know it’s just a physical place – concrete block, stucco, glass, wood and shingles – but we’ve lived at this address now going on 15 years and I’ve spent more time here than any other house on Earth.
Let’s see if that’s right: 1 year at the house where I was born, then 6, 11, 2, 4, 2, 5, 9 and then 15 (and, yes, it all adds up to 55!)
I think what I like about this place the most is the work we’ve put into it. When we were house-hunting (two rainy days in the late summer of 1996) I simply could not see the potential here. I recognized the plus of being on the golf course, but all I could see was badly stained shag carpet, outdated appliances, cheap cabinetry, a large yard that was also a wasteland, and all the accumulated grunge of a decade as a rental.
But Rebekah – she who is always blessed with vision – could see what was possible.
We did a lot in the first few months, although it was mainly limited to ripping out nasty stuff, applying gallons of paint, gardening our butts off, and cleaning till our hands turned red and wrinkled. The work of those early years was important, but it was all a kind of deep prep defined by the application of muscle rather than money.
Then, little by little, we transformed this lifeless box into a dramatic remodel that would have won Rebekah accolades and awards if she’d done it in front of an audience on Home & Garden Television.
This has been such a positive experience that it reminds me why I am so thankful that – likewise – my life has been and will continue to be a work in progress. What would be the challenge if, the moment I turned my life over to Jesus, I’d been suddenly, without any effort, the best possible version of myself? What if, rather than being redeemed I’d been instantly upgraded – essentially as good as it gets?
I’m serious, friends! I treasure this struggle, this constant working at it, this collaboration with the Holy Spirit to imagine, work, install and fine-tune my journey through life, one small renovation at a time.
One day (I hope not, but I’m sure the time will come) we will doubtless leave this amazing home we’ve put so much of ourselves into. But, wherever we are, God will continue to pour himself into us! I’d like to think that I will always be open to the remodeling and the restoration – I know I’ll always need it.
By faith we have been made acceptable to God. And now, because of our Lord Jesus Christ, we live at peace with God. Christ has also introduced us to God’s undeserved kindness on which we take our stand. So we are happy, as we look forward to sharing in the glory of God. But that’s not all! We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope that will never disappoint us. All of this happens because God has given us the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with his love. – Romans 5
It’s Sunday – don’t forget to attend worship. Peace – DEREK
The hot topic of conversation in scientific circles this weekend is a report (a collaboration between France’s National Institute for Nuclear and Particle Physics Research and Italy’s Gran Sasso National Laboratory) that a beam of neutrinos was observed to travel faster than the speed of light.
(I’m not sure, but I think “neutrinos” are a new, high fiber, breakfast cereal).
If the research is proven and replicated, then Einstein’s theory of relativity – one of the building blocks of theoretical physics and understood as the force that keeps the universe from collapsing – could, reportedly, fail to hold up under scrutiny.
Relativity is a tough concept to get your mind around. I am one of the people who both took the time to read Stephen Hawking’s classic A Brief History of Time (1988) and kind of understood what he was getting at. However, any scholarly work that attempts to lay out a reasonable groundwork to account for the universe (as we observe it) necessarily builds its arguments on hard and fast rules. Demonstrating that lynchpin hypotheses are not 100% true makes every consequent “logical” conclusion questionable.
Personally, I’m not all that surprised. This universe is magnificent, beautiful and wondrous; we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of its depth and mystery. At the same time, I’m not exactly bothered by the possible questionability of an equation that purportedly “holds the universe together.”
LOVE: Because there’s another “relativity” theory that has always worked better for me, and that’s my personal theory. It states (WrF) multiplied by G to the power of 3. Or, more simply, “WrF -X-G3″.
Translated into layman’s terms my theory reads like this. “We are Family (WrF) multiplied by God to the power of three (Father, Son, Holy Spirit).” In other words, we’re all relatives.
The relativity that counts, to my way of thinking, is the fact that we are all brothers and sisters – because we are all children of God. Understanding this, and living in love, is what’s going to hold the world together. Expressed in the negative, the constant E=mc2 is the force that keeps the universe from collapsing. Likewise it’s not just that love will hold us together… love is the only thing that has the power to keep us from tearing everything apart. Love will stop this world from collapsing. This world is, currently, collapsing under the weight of the lack of applied love.
I don’t look to science to explain God. But I am looking to God to explain relativity to this world; the relative-ity that affirms that we are brothers and sisters and that – while destruction may eventually come to us at a speed faster than the speed of light – God created both light and the galloping neutrinos, and the answer to our destruction comes to us at the speed of love.
The answer to our destruction comes to us at the speed of love.
In love, and because of love; your relative – DEREK
Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:18-19
Rebekah and I often talk about spiritual things. It’s not so much that we deliberately slip into the spiritual mode, or decide to “talk church,” or think to ourselves, “You know what, we need to have a conversation about faith….” No, it’s far more natural than that, more along the lines of there is no distinction between our lives and our spiritual lives. Faith comes up because it has become the filter through which we both see and experience our daily lives.
Yesterday, I believe it was over supper, we found ourselves talking about what’s become known as “The Emergent Church Movement.” Here’s short explanation, for those who don’t recognize what “emergent church” means (this is not from a text-book, just my personal take on it):
The Emergent Church Movement is an attempt to:
- Understand some of the new – “emerging” – ideas regarding forms of worship…
- Understand how these practices resonate with people who otherwise might not attend church…
- Identify common threads of experience and the theological meaning attached to these practices.
We talked about the tendency of faith communities to say, “That worked for them, we should try this here.” or “Maybe we could attract more people if we did _______ (insert “emergent” idea here).”
However, truly emergent practice is a response to the Spirit in any given local setting. The moment we try to attach “rules” to what “emergent” is supposed to look like, then it is – by definition – not emergent anymore!
“We have to be open to the Spirit where we are,” Rebekah said. “We need to be constantly asking the question, “Is our worship authentic?” and “Are we moving forward or simply marking time?”
Of course, any given community of faith is going to have a variety of participants, and public worship is more about coming together in the presence of God than crafting a “state of the art” experience.
Ultimately, any congregation that honestly desires to grow in faith and offer praise to God is potentially an “emergent” community. We just have to be open to God, and make sure that we are worshipping the Lord rather than worshipping our traditions.
I am so blessed to be in a church that values authentic worship… and in a marriage where our spiritual life is always worth talking about – DEREK
You, LORD, are my shepherd.
I will never be in need.
You let me rest in fields
of green grass.
You lead me to streams
of peaceful water,
and you refresh my life.
You are true to your name,
and you lead me
along the right paths. (Psalm 23:1-3 CEV)
Yesterday evening there was a moment, standing in the kitchen, when life was absolutely perfect.
I was preparing dinner and had just checked on the salmon that was baking in the oven; the aroma was heavenly, a Jimmy Buffett CD played optimistically in the background, Scout was spread-eagled on the cool tile floor. I looked through the window to the back garden where Rebekah – who had just come home from work – was pruning rose bushes; Darth, our cool black cat, followed her as she moved around the patio.
I glanced at a recent photograph of our son, Andrew – living his great adventure in Italy; and our daughter, Naomi – who (along with Craig) is happily expecting our first grandchild in a few short weeks. I paused to offer thanks.
It’s not so much the huge things that make life wonderful, but more often the quiet apprehension of grace in the moment. The way the sunlight catches an open flower; the particular phrasing of a favorite measure of music; Rebekah’s smile in acknowledgment of my wave; the goodness of nutritious food; a welcome pause from busy lives; the knowledge that our children are at peace….
And, when we held hands to say a simple blessing and voice our gratitude for the meal, we were speaking thanks for so much more than good food. Resident in those simple words were all the moment by moment evidences of God’s love that provide sweet commentary on the deep meaning of life, the awesome privilege of sharing truth and inspiration via our work, and our confidence that sublime serendipity will decorate the promise that is tomorrow….
Grace and blessing – DEREK
Interesting, very interesting. Yesterday’s post scored HUGE on the hit counter (check it out at, Not Always the Gospel Truth). And all the responses were positive – another “Who knew?” There are, evidently, some conversations we really must continue to explore…
And, while we’re on the topic of conversations, Rebekah and I fielded an excited call from my favorite niece-named-Faith yesterday evening. “Hang up and call me back,” she said. “But while it’s ringing chose the ‘face-time’ option! This is so cool.” And then she was gone.
Cool if you know enough about technology to follow what’s being said! Well, long story short I flubbed the first attempt, figured out I needed to switch Rebekah’s iPhone over to the “Wi-fi” setting, tracked down our wireless security code, punched in the numbers again and then selected the ‘face-time’ option once it was ringing.
And, way cool indeed, there we were – watching Rebekah’s Virginia Beach family looking back at us through their new iPad, and all was right with the connectional world.
VIRTUALITY: There are several ways to try to understand this video-phone phenomenon. Were they looking into their iPad and then out into our living room? Were they simply looking at an image of us, projected onto their screen? Or were we all meeting up somewhere in the space between, temporarily inhabiting a virtual reality?
We seem to have such a need for immediacy in our world today:
- Correspondence has moved from letters that took months, to the Pony Express, to trains, to airplanes, to emails, to IMing, to texting.
- I used to write newspaper articles that I mailed in, then I started dropping them off at the office on a disk, then we switched to email. Now this blog/column will be posted by 10:00 today. It will be tweeted shortly thereafter.
- The sunrise I photographed at 6:45 this morning was on facebook before 6:46.
- When I left home at 18 I’d send the occasional letter, plus we tried to talk on the phone every couple of weeks. Today I’ll likely talk with Naomi three or four times, we’ll exchange a handful of texts, and there will be pictures too.
But here’s my question – are we actually communicating any better? Are our connections as sound as they were before? Are we able to conjure up substance in the instant mode, or has the bulk of our communication been reduced to drivel?
I’m not drawing any conclusions here, just raising the question.
I remember watching parts of the famous “O.J. Simpson white Bronco car chase” on television. What was remarkable was how it all played out at around 15-mph, lasting an interminable time. Ten minutes into the farce I concluded that a two-minute summary on the late-night news would be much better than watching lots of nothing happen in real-time.
Yet, somehow, millions of people were hooked by the idea of “instant”, “real-time”, and “breaking news.” Now we can participate in “reality” irrespective of if we’re actually there or not.
Personally I believe real-time is over-rated. Give me something someone has worked on, edited, fine-tuned, finessed and nurtured into a fine piece of correspondence/news/entertainment.
But… when it comes to family, I’ll still take them live, unrehearsed and as it happens. The rest of the world can (please…) leave 99% of their content on the cutting room floor!
(I edited this before posting!) – DEREK