life and light – sunflowers and grandchildren

In [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. – John 1

10522558_10100298664356532_8589005450285050439_n- (all images in today’s post by Naomi Campbell – captions below) OMG! That’s Oh. My. Goodness. I feel a huge “Grandaddy Letters” post coming on today! Seriously, friends, I can’t help myself. Fact is, I could write a complete novel based on the picture, above. It’s our 33-month old grandson, David, looking out on a field of sunflowers in Connecticut yesterday afternoon.

Our daughter, Naomi, may have the eye of an artist when she frames out a photograph, but more importantly our grandson, David, has the posture, the aspect, of an adventurer – hungry at that – as he looks out over the world of promise and opportunity that is laid out before him.

And David’s tomorrow is “laid out” in a purposeful way. I believe from the bottom of my heart that God sees a child like David, looks into the future, and rolls out the cornucopia of possibility; every turn in the road a gift and a challenge prepared with faithfulness and love. I believe that is how God sees the future for all children – it’s just rare that someone could capture it on film in quite this way.

Cairo
Cairo

BROKEN WORLD: But we live in a broken world. Life happens, and life is loaded with sin and with disappointment, and the way forward for many children often looks more like this (left), an image Rebekah and I captured on the street in the “Garbage City” section of Cairo, just a few weeks after David was born. And what is so heartbreaking about this picture is truth of the story that it tells.

Precious few of the children of this world look out over a field of sunflowers; and even here in the U.S., a land defined by opportunity, far too many are raised without reference to promise. I’m not talking about economic opportunity, so much as my concern that the balance of hope has tipped away from the light.

Listen to these words from the beginning of John’s story about Jesus:

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:10-13

10375900_10100298697150812_2000430825600305678_nPROMISE! Our opportunity is to live as Children of Light. My hope for my grandchildren is that they will live into that kind of promise.

The real difference being made in Cairo isn’t via any influx of capital, its the work of missions such as “Mother Maggie’s Kindergarten,” where the light is being turned on, one child at a time.

Likewise, the kind of future I pray that my grandchildren live into won’t be found in a nice neighborhood, in cute clothes, abundant toys, or even living in the United States of America. No, they have to find their way to The Light.

I pray for a community, a nation, and then a world, where the balance of hope tips back toward the light. This won’t be accomplished by armies, by economic manipulations, or by imposing “our way of life” on other cultures, but by living with integrity as beloved children of God, and by inviting others to live a different kind of story – to enter the Narrative of Light.

10577156_10100298697140832_2035998597838957021_nFrom his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. – John  1:16-18

 

 

peace is something that we do (or we may not find that much)

Washing the feet of desperate need in Cairo
Washing the feet of desperate need in Cairo

It’s hard to remember sometimes, especially in the middle of the kind of tragedy I wrote about yesterday, that we’re in the second week of Advent, the time of preparation for Christmas.

But this is exactly why ideas like Advent, and the intentional spiritual practice of preparing our hearts for the coming of the King, are so important. Literally everything can get lost in the distractions, and that is no way to go about the business of embracing a life of living faith.

PEACE: Advent, week two (in my book at least), is the week we emphasize PEACE. But there is so much we get wrong about the idea of peace, beginning with the limited understanding of peace as a negative value (the absence of conflict; the absence of noise; the absence of war).

Instead, peace is best understood positively, as an active and deliberate presence. Reconciliation, restoration, rejuvenation; coming together; serving the poor; standing against injustice; proactive interventions of compassion, mending, healing, grace.

Peace, perfect peace
Peace, perfect peace

PEACE is PROACTIVE: I have to share this picture with my grandson, David (taken outside our home), because the walks we took together during his recent, week-long, stay at Camp Grandparent, bring together so many of the elements I’m thinking about when it comes to deep and abiding peace.

Two times a day – if not more – I put David in the stroller and off we’d go. He always wanted Scout to come along too and, even though the whole operation required so much more coordination with Ms. Giant Labradoodle along for the ride, that’s what we did.

It was in the middle of one of those expeditions, easing my way down the sidewalk with a gentle breeze in my face, grandson looking over his shoulder, grinning at me, fun-loving dog trotting along at my side and checking the baby with an occasional sniff, that I realized once again (probably for the umpteenth time in as many days) that life is so very good and that “The life that is truly life” is not some pie-in-the-sky fantasy but a present and constant reality.

“Do good, be rich in good deeds, and be generous and willing to share.  In this way you will lay up treasure for yourselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that you may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:18-19 – paraphrase)

"So, Scout... are you thinking what I'm thinking...?"
“So, Scout… are you thinking what I’m thinking…?”

PEACE IS SOMETHING THAT WE DO: What strikes me today, is how much work – deliberation, intention, action – so often goes into an experience of peace. We work at peace… we work for peace… we actively engage everything that creates an environment characterized by peace.

Last Sunday, and I’ll round off this post with this illustration, I asked my church study group to each share something they could intentionally do during the week to bring peace into the world. Here are just a few of the responses:

  • Listen more than I talk
  • Be more courteous when I drive
  • Speak with kindness 100% of the time
  • Interact with deliberate positivity
  • Refuse to rush anything
  • Be gracious to store clerks and cashiers
  • Encourage my friends
  • Support the work of a hunger ministry
  • Be a genuine witness to Jesus
"I've got peace like a grandson..."
“I’ve got peace like a grandson…”

All of these ideas represent positive, deliberate, intentional actions in response to our understanding that – in the coming of Jesus and as we carry his name – the God of Peace is acting on this world via the ongoing work of incarnational love.

Peace – and I mean that – DEREK

the life that is truly life (live like we mean it)

“The life that is truly life”

Do good, be rich in good deeds, be generous and willing to share. In this way you will lay up treasure for yourselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that you may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

LIVE LIKE WE MEAN IT: This weekend marks exactly one year since I moved my blog over to WordPress. When I got this site up and running I decided it was time to begin writing around a common theme. The result, I believe, has been a sharpening of my focus.

Bottom line, I want people to know what to expect when they show up at “The Life-Charged Life.”

RE-RUN: Here is the original “life-charged life” post from May of 2011, where I thought out loud about how I wanted this blog to sound. It began with the following question….

Is there an over-arching theme to my writing (I think so)? What – if anything – is the common thread that runs through my words?

It turns out there’s a lot if content that I come back to time and again; here’s a partial list:

  • The Greatest Story ever Told, and most especially how our lives can be a part of that story.
  • My family, simply sharing some of the day-to-day anecdotes that get my attention.
  • I talk a lot about my role as “The Preacher’s Husband.”
  • Related to the clergy-hubby stuff are observations about the living community of faith at First Presbyterian Church of Brandon.
  • Another sub-set of that important theme is my ministry to men.
  • Sometimes I write about the world scene, events from the news that capture my imagination.
  • Then there’s my work, the books and the travel and the speaking engagements…

But – and you can probably tell that I’m thinking out loud here – if I had to shove all this inside one pithy category that might actually spark some kind of a national conversation (something that might move this blog from a curiosity my friends read and into a search-engine tour-de-force), then I wonder what that might be?

It comes down to this: I’m interested in life. I’m particularly interested in how we engage life in the everyday “get up and do it again” rhythm from day-to-day. And I’m most interested in how we can lift that experience from the mundane and the mediocre and into what is possible.

  • I’m talking about the end of half measures. No more “good enough,” or “I guess that will do.”

This is how I put it reads in “GET REAL”:

Mediocrity is a sad curse that threatens to suck the lifeblood from many people, people who might otherwise pursue lives that actually mean something beyond the day in, day out of survival. We all know people who constantly regress to the unremarkable. We may sometimes be tempted to follow that path ourselves. It is too easy to fall into patterns of below average, develop a comfortable rhythm there, and consequently live out our lives without ever pushing any kind of envelope at all. (p 119)

My category, it appears, is The Life that is truly life”. That’s a concept from Paul’s letter to Timothy in the New Testament. It’s a handle I can live with.

- DEREK

Epic Adventure revisited – to teach is to learn

Late night at church with the guard-puppy

Monday afternoon Rebekah came home in time to enjoy supper – an amazing gumbo that took me most of the afternoon to fine-tune into a work of gumbo art – then she immediately turned around and headed back to the office. I went in with her, along with our highly trained ferocious guard-puppy. I have to say the flexibility to go places together is one of the best things about this “empty nest” stage of our lives.

Rebekah was working on the Bible-study/Travelogue we launched Tuesday evening. We both took some pretty good photographs, plus we’re supplementing the images with stories from the trip plus some biblical scholarship to elevate the event from slide-show to seminar.

We originally scheduled a three-week overview. But now we’re getting into it we really don’t see how we can do the adventure justice in anything less than four.

RABBIT HOLE: The problem with doing research to supplement our notes is how deep any one thread can go. Sharing great pictures is one thing; folding in some interesting facts adds a lot of interest; just a little additional digging turns you into an expert. We quickly discovered that each slide had the potential to evolve into a 30-minute lecture…. But don’t worry, we didn’t!

That's me on Mars Hill, with the Acropolis behind me

MARS HILL: One great example was this picture at Mars Hill. This is where Paul made his famous “I see you worship many gods…” appeal to the intellectually and spiritually curious Athenians. Paul referenced both Epicurean and Stoic philosophies, making his starting place exactly where the people were.

“Epicureanism,” Rebekah said, “is a fondness for and an indulgence in sensual pleasures; it’s about luxurious tastes or habits, especially when it comes to eating and drinking.”

“These folk ended up inventing Italy,” I said.

“The Stoics taught that people should be free from passion,” Rebekah continued. “The Stoics were unmoved by joy or grief, and felt it was best to submit without complaint to unavoidable necessity.”

“These people eventually settled in Scotland,” I said.

Rebekah teaching Tuesday evening (low-light phone picture)

LECTURE: Around 75 people attended the first night, and we managed to cover the trip up through to the point where we crossed the Suez canal and entered the Sinai Peninsular.

For me, this is Stage Four of our Epic Adventure:

  • Stage One was the preparation. We did background research, watched a lot of Discovery Channel specials, and made sure we were ready.
  • Stage Two was the trip itself, Jan 1-Jan 15.
  • Stage Three was my series of blog entries, Jan 16-Feb 4. If you haven’t seen these, take the time to go back and read a few.
  • Stage Four is teaching. I’m a strong believer in the “to teach is to learn” adage, and there is such a wealth of discovery in each day’s review.

EIGHTY-FIVE PERCENT! I’ll finish off this post with the number “85.” We heard a lot of talk about excavation, archeology, and the meticulous process of documenting any new discovery. Everywhere we went in Egypt, Jordan and Israel, our guides told us “Only 15% of this site has been excavated.” or “The dig has been going on for a decade, but a good 85% of this site remains undiscovered.”

It reminds me of our human potential, and my constant challenge to live like we mean it. We’re just beginning to scratch the surface. What many people label “miracle” is merely – I believe – one more soul beginning to live to capacity. Imagining living into our potential as Followers of The Way of Jesus?

It’d be a miracle for sure! - DEREK

Mama Maggie’s Kindergarten – and why my root canal shouldn’t be such a big deal

Fun times at the dentist!

Yesterday morning I spent a couple of hours back in the dentist’s chair – this time it was prep work for the crown that will cap off last-week’s root canal. But what I thought about the whole time – my eyes clenched tight so I wouldn’t have to see my dentist (no offense, Dr. G) coming at me with all those gruesome instruments – was the children’s mission we visited in the Garbage City slums on the edge of Cairo.

People there can die of an abscessed tooth. Children suffer and die for lack of basic medical care. And here I was, sitting in a state-of-the-art office, whining like a baby because I can’t handle a little pain, and because we’ve already spent more on medical stuff this year than the entire of 2011!

Boo-hoo….

Children in Cairo's slums

Timing is everything. It was just yesterday that I received an email from a friend asking me to re-post my article about the children’s mission in Cairo. He said he’s concerned that “Mama Maggie’s” work isn’t getting the attention (and consequently the support) that it needs.

I agree with him. So I’m breaking my rule and running a repeat. But, if you’ve seen this already, please read it again. I’m tweaking the prose and adding some pictures. And – believe me – it won’t hurt to be reminded of a crying need you can actually do something about if you really want to help - DEREK

Children living in "Garbage Town"

SYMBIOSIS: THE PEOPLE AND THE PROMISE IN CAIRO’S WORST SLUMS:

- DEREK MAUL - This is a hard post to write. The topic is still travel, yes, and the venue is still spectacular; but today I’m focused more on the deep struggle that much of humanity engages just to make it through the day.

Rebekah and I were bumped up to business class when we flew from Athens to Cairo on “Egypt Air.” It was a strange contrast to arrive in the absolute lap of luxury, and then drive through a city teeming with 20-million people where squalor seems to be ubiquitous. Tired, rundown infrastructure; desperate living conditions; piles of festering garbage; unfinished apartment blocks occupied regardless of the conditions.

Then, having seen Great Pyramids and treasured antiquities, we visited a children’s mission in the heart of “Garbage City.”

Children are a splash of color and light

Mother Maggie’s Kindergarten (“Mama Maggie”) is located in “Garbage City” on the edges of Cairo. Yes, I said “garbage.” The town is the industry; the industry is waste; the community is built around the refuse; the garbage is the town.

The economy amounts to sifting through the garbage in order to salvage anything potentially useful, to dispose of what can’t be somehow re-claimed, and then to live off the refuse. The community exists on and is built around garbage. The relationship between the people and the waste is symbiotic. Yes, symbiosis with garbage… waste… trash… refuse.

Hope for the future

The mission we visited is a day program designed to get one child per home exposed to an environment where they can imagine a different tomorrow. One child spending a few hours each day in the presence of a little education, a little hope, a little promise, a lot of love and the Good News of Jesus.

And what is Good News for these kids? – ”You are not garbage; you are beautiful children; you are special creations from the heart of a God who loves you with as much passion as God loves anyone on this troubled Earth.”

So we met some of them. Children make your heart sing, and they also make your heart cry. Often both at the same time.

Washing the child's feet

At the gate – and this was telling – we saw a woman washing the feet of a child. They were seated under a mural of Jesus doing just that to his disciples. “We do this for every child,” the director told us. “We do this to teach humility to our staff, and we do it to model the way Jesus looks at ministry.”

HOPE: Farther up the mountain, through streets running knee-deep with refuse and head-high in festering despair, there is an amazing church built literally into the side of the cliff. Each Thursday evening, thousands of residents stream into the place to worship God and to hear the message of promise and redemption.

In Egypt, ground zero for the Arab Spring, there is another revolution going on. It’s a revolution against hopelessness.

In Romans 8, Paul talks about how creation literally groans in anticipation as it contemplates the full meaning of a restored world.

“For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”

Garbage City

Children of light were not designed to live in the middle of garbage. But the children who attend Mama Maggie’s Kindergarten do. We all do in some regard. The Gospel is all about liberation, and promise, and the end of a life defined by decay and by existing in the middle of filth.

I don’t have a tidy answer for these children, other than my voice, support for such missions and an unremitting advocacy for justice in this broken world.

But Jesus offers answers – both for those who live up to their necks in physical garbage and for those of us who live mired in other kinds of messes.

Mama Maggie's Kindergarten

Note: Financial help for Mama Maggie’s Kindergarten under the umbrella of Stephen’s Children, is possible by sending a check payable to “Stephen’s Children” to Stephen’s Children, 30 Pied Bull Court, Galen Place, London WC1A 2JR

- Derek Maul blogs at http://www.derekmaul.wordpress.com

Derek and Rebekah’s Epic Adventure: Epilogue…

Having fun... and hanging on for dear life!

Jesus – “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” (John 10:10 – The Message)

This is my “Great Adventure” wrap-up. I’m sure I’ll talk about it some more, and I’m sure I’ll find some excuse to throw in more of these amazing photographs – but today’s post officially brings this “travelogue” series to a close.

If you’ve been visiting this blog because of our Epic Journey, then “Thanks for stopping by.” But don’t leave just yet, I believe it will be worth your while to keep coming back. Here’s why:

1. The essential content is consistent; I write about “The Life-Charged Life” and the life abundant is an ongoing experience no matter where I am. Bottom line, you don’t have to travel somewhere exotic to live like you mean it.

2. I will continue to feature good photography and a faith-based perspective. Read this blog as your daily devotion if you like.

"Derek of Arabia!"

CAMEL as METAPHOR: I’ve opened with two camel pics (right and above) because they capture a lot of why this Great Adventure turned out to be so epic. I’m laughing for a couple of reasons. First, the experience was pure fun. Then, I was totally aware that I had very little control over what was going to happen. I was, to employ an over-used and typically misused cliché, one hundred percent “In The Moment.”

When you begin to climb onto a camel and your Bedouin hits the “start” button early you know immediately this is no Disney Ride. Lesson # 1 from Derek and Rebekah’s Epic Adventure, then, is… Stop trying to over-civilize your life.

Taking in Petra

SHARE EVERYTHING: Originally, this was to be Rebekah’s solo study trip; continuing education courtesy of our generous church. But I am so glad we made the effort to pull together the resources necessary for me to tag along. Fact is, everything we’re involved with becomes that much more meaningful when we are connected. Dreaming together is an important part of any relationship… but actually following through as a couple takes a marriage partnership to the next level.

Simply put, this adventure has been great for an already great marriage! Lesson # 2: Be serious about having fun together!

Mt. Sinai at 6:30 AM - view not available from my couch!

LEARN: Rebekah and I may be in our mid-fifties, but we are still committed to a continuing, life-long, education. There’s television, there’s the Internet, there’s reading, there are great movies, there are live performances and educational seminars, and so much more… and THEN THERE IS TRAVEL.

Travel is the key to the world, and there is only so much we can learn from our armchair at home. Travel forces us to deal with the fact that diversity is more than a politically correct ideal; diversity is The World, a world where the bubble we live in simply does not exist. Yesterday (Friday Feb 3rd) a tour bus on the road to St. Catherine’s Monastery was stopped by Bedouins and some Americans were kidnapped….

… Rebekah and I were on that exact stretch of road just a couple of weeks ago. There’s good reason I threw 55-year-old caution to the wind, and followed without a second thought when our Bedouin guide (Yusef) suddenly decided our friend Lonita needed a one-on-one detour down a precipitous “short-cut” as we descended Mount Sinai. Lesson #3: The World is Bigger than America!

The face of Egypt

COMPASSION: I’ll be honest about what I do when one more “Save the Children” commercial interrupts my favorite show on television. I thank the technology geeks for DVR and skip on ahead.

But it’s a different story when you witness a child playing in filth in the middle of garbage piled high against his home – and when you can smell as well as see as well as hear the misery of systemic decay. That’s when sentiment moves through pity and into compassion.

I may carry a passport that says “United States of America,” but I am a Citizen of the World. And so are you. I couldn’t begin to understand what’s going on in Egypt today if we hadn’t stood at the end of Tehir Square in Cairo and looked into the burned-out shell of Mubarak’s headquarters; or driven through neighborhoods teeming with desperate people and persistent squalor; or climbed the side of The Great Pyramid, and listened to it whisper to me: “These people know they could be great again and the tension between that knowledge and the reality of their situation will not… cannot be contained much longer….”

Lesson #4: This world is populated with real people, and God loves them just like he loves us.

Petra - looking back at The Treasury

PURPOSE and PROMISE: So what? So was this trip an extravagantly expensive carnival ride… or was it an opportunity for me to grow significantly as a human being and in my understanding of what it means to deliberately engage “The Life-Charged Life?”

Most definitely this experience has been – and is – a monumental opportunity. The more important question has to do with what is it that I’m going to do with this opportunity now that I’m “back to normal?”

This series of travel posts has helped. I’ve debriefed and processed and organized my thoughts and emotions. (If you’re new to this blog you can scroll back to January 16 to catch up on the entire journey.)

What you see depends on where you stand, where you look, and what you're willing to learn....

But the real test is today, and every “today” that I encounter. And it’s always going to be a choice (it is for us all). And the choice is to invite God to use me, to use my experiences, and to equip me to live life out loud, a story that “Tells the truth about the Good News of Jesus, simply by being.”

Lesson # 5: “We have been blessed in order to be a blessing.”

I am so grateful – DEREK