Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Simple Christmas

Change is in the air, and it is a welcome thing. The other day I opened the Wall Street Journal and spotted a full page ad, pictured at left.

I felt like I was standing in a fresh fall breeze, even though I was very much indoors at the time. Right there in the Journal, the bible of evil capitalism.

Pictured at right is a full page add that is running in the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, New York Times, Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle, according to the agency that placed the ad on behalf of the Dalio Family Foundation. (Click on the add image for a larger version)

Ray Dalio, the patriarch of the family has made a fairly large bucket of money in
hedge funds. The family foundation has decided that people need to...get ready for this..."Give people donations to their favorite charities. And request that they give donations to your favorite charities." Do this instead of, as the ad states "chaotic shopping....a month-long compulsion to buy something, anything, for everyone". Who does this Dalio Family think they are? Turns out, they have some pretty good family members.

Gasp! What? No shopping? No buying an electronic sock warmer for Uncle Phil at Brookstone (an entire mall-type store full of thoroughly useless crap, that I will admit I like to visit)? No smelly body soaps (luffa included) for Aunt Martha? No more Transformer toys for that annoying but lovable little cousin?

A simple Christmas? Giving gifts to strangers? Not expecting anything else back?

I think I remember some other guys who gave gifts, and got nothing back but a blessing.

I long for a simple Christmas.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

What I Am Thankful For

This painting hangs over the fireplace in our family room; it has been there since we added the family room on to our house, almost six years ago. This image seemed a fitting way for us to express our sense of thankfulness for a slightly larger home, and the blessings of each day. When I first saw this painting I was struck by its sense of humility and simplicity, expressed in the imagine of a prayer. That my faith might be expressed this way....

I still love this painting, and I look at it often and reflect on what I am thankful for. This year I am thankful for countless things, just a few of which are expressed below.

I am Thankful for....

Redemption. Transformation. The offer of new life I have found in Christ and experienced daily now for more than 28 years. God, made know in the person of Jesus, has been my guide and companion on this remarkable journey, and I am thankful for His Mercy, Joy, and abiding Grace, each day along the way.

My wife, Nancy. After more than 19 years of marriage, you still find me funny, and tolerate my strangeness each day. You are the best thing that ever happened to me on this planet, and each day I take a moment and thank God for you, and tell you too. You are beyond wonderful. Words can never express my love.....

For my daughters, Kelly and Heather. Thank you both for the most amazing journey a guy could ever want - sharing my life with you two amazing ladies has been a challenge beyond my wildest imagination and a source of joy I will never be able to completely express. You two young ladies are amazing!

For my parents, both of whom I have lost over the past 18 months. Although my relationship with them was emotionally disconnected, for various reasons, they did the very best they knew how in raising me, and provided me a college education and a great start in life. I have turned out ok; no felony convictions yet. My Dad served in World War II, which leads me to my next area of thankfulness.

For my country. Perhaps being the son of a World War II veteran makes me more acutely aware of the tenuous and precious nature of my freedom.

I am also particularly thankful for those brave Americans that currently serve in our armed services, both at home and abroad. Thank you, each and everyone for serving. Whenever, I see someone in uniform now, I make sure to shake their hand, and just say "Thank you for serving." That's all.

For my job, and for the great team of folks who work with me. I really love my work, and each day I wake up and realize its a work day, its no problem getting out of bed to do it again, and to try to do it all Solo Deo Gloria.

Sacred music. Over the past decade or so, as I have "matured", I have become much more fond of sacred music. Classical pieces, chants, chamber works, choral pieces, hymns, orchestral works, the works. Perhaps music in this form expresses something of the mystery of life, of faith, and of this terrible and beautiful world we have been set down on.

James Taylor. Enough said there.

My dog, Cindy, a nearly 10 year old Chocolate Labrador retriever. This kind old dog (and friend) is a daily reminder of a Peaceable Kingdom I someday hope to find a permanent home in.

Sports Center.

The Internet. Without this amazing tool, I would not be able to share these thoughts, get the news instantly, and learn neat new things everyday.

Babies, and all children under the age of 50. As my own daughters grow up, I find myself thankful for every age, but particularly struck at the beauty of little kids. Of such is the Kingdom. Amen.

For the approaching Advent Season, and the Celebration of the birth of the Infant King. After all these years, the wonder and mystery of this continues to strike me as completely amazing.

May my life reflect the gratitude and joy of thanksgiving, not just this weekend, but each day, without fail, going forward.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How Thankful Are We Now, Really?

The following was written in the depths of the Civil War; the greatest war in American history. More than 3 million fought - 600,000 died. I have a great-great grandfather who fought for the Confederacy.

As I reread this amazing proclamation (really a guide to prayer, I think) I am struck at how very little has changed in the human condition in the last 144 years.

Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well as the iron and coal as of our precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility [sic], and union.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the city of Washington, this 3d day of October, A. D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Picking Up Trash For Jesus

The other night I took a long walk in the fog, and listened on my Ipod to this conversation. Listening while walking felt like moving into an unclear, scary, yet new and exciting paradigm.

I need to share some with you. The future is not going to be like the past, and those of us older than about 30 better get ready for it, or we will be left in the dust, with our mouths open, wondering what happened to the church we loved. Get ready:

"What would it look like, where I live, for the Kingdom of God to come a little more?"

"Jesus does not use language of build the Kingdom, advance the Kingdom, impose the Kingdom. He uses the language of receive and seek..... enter."

"We pull people out of our PTA, our communities, and get them involved in our churches."

That last one is an "ouch" for me. How much time have I sacrificed from involvement in my local town to be involved in countless church committees. Yikes.

Brian told the story of a pastor in Costa Rica, who got the people together in his village (mostly women), "What would it look like, in this village, if the Kingdom of God was more fully here?" And so, his people said in reply, "Our village is really dirty. If the Kingdom came here, people would pick up the trash." The people of the church even went down into the polluted stream in the village (surely you can imagine how messy this was) and cleaned up the stream. Then, the church folk got wagons full of flowers, and planted flowers with their neighbors in their yards.

Imagine that. What messes are there, around us, and in our greater world, that simply need us to lend a hand, to clean up.

And finally, for those who want more, read a wise review of Brian McLaren's new book

Sunday, November 18, 2007

I Have Been Classified!

I have been labeled!

It seems that the fine, handsome, well-groomed, and upstanding people at The High Calling in Texas have decided that I rate. And here is the big comedy; they think I rate as a business blog! Egads! I think I have spoken of my business here only about five times in almost three years that I have been carrying on this blogging silliness.

My wife would call it that. Silliness. Anyway, I digress.

Given that I am now classified as a business blogger, I have decided to clean up my act. I have discarded my khakis and Hawaiian shirts in favor of a nice grey business suit; and I have affixed a toupee to my balding head and have joined the local Rotary, as can be seen above (I am the slightly younger looking one, on the right). Fashion note here: My Dad used to have a hankie in his pocket like the fellow pictured here, but his was, and I kid you not, plastic, and it had a little note pad (for making important business notes) on the back side! Is that cool or what?

I remember that as a kid, I hoped that I could grow up, be a business man, and have one of those babies.

Alas, no plastic pocket hankie for me. What I have instead is a business world that is moving fast, changing daily, and challenging my ethics, intelligence, and faith. I feel called to this place, unsure of the final destination, and yet energized to fulfill my small part for Kingdom purposes.

One of the best resources in this journey, for me has been a group of good friends and Christ followers in Irvine, California, know as InsideWork. If you are involved in the world of business, and are trying to figure out your way around, check them out.

As an example of the amazing world we live in, check out the video below (HT: InsideWork), which illustrates how we exist in an entirely new world. The question is, where is Christ in the midst of all this?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bizzare Teenage Conversations

Several years ago, I read a book that changed my perspective of raising teenagers. The Primal Teen is a book that explains in new ways what is going on inside of the mind of adolescents, and, in many ways, rewrites the way in which we look at, and can interact with teens.

Earlier this week, I had a classically bizarre conversation with one of my teenage daughters that illustrates the strange, mysterious, and comical workings of the adolescent brain. We were driving to school, and discussing her preparation for a significant history test that is coming up later in the week. This is early nineteenth century American history, and her history teacher is a great fellow who really pushes his students to think and learn. My daughter (who will remain nameless to partially protect her strangeness) asked me to help her prepare for the test by reviewing her textbook and quizzing her. So, the night before, I had reviewed the history text, in preparation for our pending study time together.

However, my efforts to help, little to my knowledge, were to soon collide with the strange workings of her adolescent brain and Teenage Bizzaro Land, a place we often visit. It is a very strange place.

As we drove to school, our conversation went thusly:

Me: Ok, so I looked through your history textbook last night. Have you seen the references they have in the text to book publishers’ web pages, where you can go and take quizzes related to the material in each chapter?

Daughter: What? Huh?

Me: Have you READ the textbook? There are web page references every couple of pages, they show you where you can go online to get further information and take quizzes. I looked at the web pages, and they seem really helpful. You should check them out.

Daughter: What are you talking about? What web pages? Where? Huh? Didn’t YOU read the textbook?

Me: Yes, I have read the textbook, that is what I did last night. Did you know that the textbook has a bunch of additional web resources to HELP YOU STUDY? Did you see those?

Daughter: Da-ad! (Note: My name is often pronounced in two syllables, as a implied sign of my near complete stupidity, irrelevance, and general dorkiness) What?! You said I should not read the textbook? What the heck!?

Me: Nooooo! (Now on the verge of laughing out loud and having a stroke at the same time) I did NOT say you should not read the book! Now I am wondering if YOU have!? You haven’t seen the web page references in the textbook, there are like ten of them, every couple of pages, in glow-in-the-dark colors, right there in the two chapters you need to know! What HAVE you been reading and studying?

Daughter: (Now getting the textbook out of her backpack) What the heck!? What are you talking about? How can I study if you don’t think I should read the textbook? (Shuffling through the textbook pages…….awkward pause, as her eyes find the web page references I was mentioning) What the heck…, I have not looked at these! Duh! Besides, everyone says these things are stupid to review.

Me: (See note below) Ok, honey, lets just study the material together later tonight.

Note: I had barely enough wisdom, to see beyond my confusion to understand that I was, yet again, confronted with the teenage anthem song “Everyone Says!”

Neuroscientists tell us that chemical connections and development inside the adolescent brain are not complete until the early to mid-20s for girls. I am here to vouch for that.

Nevertheless, I love my girls more than I could ever say, and I am deeply thankful for their apparent nuttiness. Every day.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veteran's Day 2007

Click the image to see today's For Better or For Worse. During the declining years of his life, this was very much who my Dad was. He could remember events of the Great War far better than he could remember what he had for breakfast.

On The Tops of Mountains

The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards are releasing an album later this month.

The producer, John Cohen was interviewed this morning on NPR. As it turns out, Amazing Grace is one of the feature songs of this album. And, as it further turns out, this song, by this group of pipers, was a huge hit in Great Britain 30 years ago(#1 single for a few weeks).

The making this album was, for Mr. Cohen, a very moving experience. I don't for a second wonder why. Mr. Cohen said something during the interview that caught my imagination. When asked about working with a bagpipe regiment, Mr. Cohen said this:

"They are very, very loud. When you are in a room with a bunch of pipes playing, its a big noise. They weren't designed to be played in recording studios, they were designed to be played on the tops of mountains."


Just then, when I heard those words, I understood why, every time I hear the bagpipes, I am so deeply moved to the core of my soul. This is a very ancient instrument, and it really does not belong indoors; it belongs on a mountain top.

As I reflected upon Amazing Grace, the simple haunting majesty of the pipes, and then my faith, I thought to myself, does it belong "indoors"? Should the music be bottled up?

Or rather, should it be played happily in the streets, in the places where the homeless are? Should it be sung, softly, in the quiet corners of life, where others are hurting? Can my faith song, be played gently and warmly for others, for those who do not yet know the melody? How can I play this music in a way that might move others to come, and listen, and perhaps join in the song?

And should it not be played, in the end and all throughout, loudly, on the top of a mountain?

I will entrust you to figure out your own answer.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Lloyd John Ogilvie - Faithful Servant

For more than 10 years, we had the privilege of listening to this man preach the Gospel each Sunday. He went on to become Chaplain of the US Senate, and continues a speaking vocation today.

My friend Mark Roberts shares a remarkable story about a good man

I have noticed that this post is very frequently visited. If you wish further information on Dr. Ogilvie, visit his web site, here.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Grades, Hurt, a Parenting Moment

Do you remember the feeling? That feeling of getting back your grade on your high school test, and the result was way, way less than what you had hoped for. Remember that feeling? The sinking feeling.

The pit that opens up in your stomach, as if some void of despair had suddenly opened deep in your bowels. The sudden opening of the Clam Shell of Failure.

I still remember that feeling well. I also remember my Dad and his reaction. His primary response to the news of poor grades was, well, how do I say this? One word. Anger. For some reason, although my Dad was basically a good man, his primary response to academic under performance was not an encouraging word, a pat on the back, and a "you'll do better next time, son". Nope, not that.

So when I got a bad grade, I often would dread my father's reaction almost more than the getting of the grade itself. For my Dad, my life was all about getting into the right college. Shame was a nice motivator to that end. Getting into college was essentially the whole point of my life in Dad's perspective. This was what his generation valued. As I think, my generation is not much different, for that matter.

And strangely, I did not learn something very important about my Dad until I almost graduated from high school. What I learned was that my Dad actually never graduated from college. He had a Big War to fight. It bothered me that he was after me about my grades and getting into college, and he never bothered to tell me that he never went back and finished college himself. For years I was bothered about that.

The DNA our parents give us is often unavoidable. This week I was confronted with the lineage of anger within myself. Suffice it to say that one our our girls came home with a not so hot math test grade; and this after she has been visiting a math tutor. My wife Nancy told me the news on the phone in the middle of the day, so I was prepared.

Honestly, the first reaction I have with news like this is to want to cut off my kids from all extraneous Internet use. I mean, if you can't do well on a math test, why should you be able to "IM" your friends all afternoon, whilst you are doing your homework, while also multi-tasking and looking at your Facebook account. And while we are at it, lets cut off the kids from all social contact, as well. Grounded for the rest of your life, that works for me. Let just get angry, that was the model when I grew up.

However, as I drove home from work the day of the math test report, I made a decision for Grace, but one that felt counter to how I am wired. I decided to offer grace, to just love, and to lay off the anger. When I got in the house, I went to the room of the "math offending daughter" (who was, by the way, in her room studying).

I said this;

"You know that sinking feeling you get in your tummy when you get a crummy grade on a test? (look of semi-surprised recognition from my daughter) Well, I sure do remember that feeling, and I was thinking about you this afternoon, and that math grade you got back today. I said a quick prayer for you. I was remembering about how I felt when I was a kid, and I wanted to just tell you that no matter what, I love you, and I will always love you. I am really glad to be your Dad, and I am proud that you are my daughter. I love you. That's all."

Then we shared a hug.

As I thought of this, I realized that this might be one of the only pure things I have done this week that is motivated by my faith.

I thought it was a good parenting moment. I don't have a lot of those, so I thought I should share.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Brig. Gen Paul Tibbits

Three weeks ago today, my Dad died. He was 87 years old, and a former B17 instructor and pilot.

Today, former Brigadier General Paul Tibbits, 92, passed away. General Tibbits was made famous (or perhaps infamous) as the pilot of the Enola Gay, the B29 that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

The men and women of the Greatest Generation continue to leave us daily, making our lives much less for their loss.

As I grew up in my house, my Dad would remember the first atomic bomb each year on August 6th, and speak of it, and General Tibbits, who he knew distantly from the War. We would hear stories of the famous plane, the Enola Gay, named after Gen. Tibbits mother.

My Dad was aloft in his B17 the day of the bomb's dropping, being informed in a morning briefing that no flights were allowed within a wide radius of Hiroshima that fateful day. As he flew early that morning, Dad recalled seeing what he described as a "second sun" in the sky, and remarking to his crew, "that must have been one hell of a bombing run!"

Many will continue to argue of the morality of the decision to drop the bomb, but Colonel Tibbits remarked once, "The guys who appreciated that I saved their asses are mostly dead now." Tibbits went on to offer that "in war, there is no morality", as a partial response to those who questioned the morality of the use of the atomic bomb. My Dad would have agreed with that. Still, between 70,000 and 100,000 Japanese souls perished in the blast that day. Hell on earth, unleashed.

Lord, save us from ourselves.

For a brief overview of the life of General Tibbits, see this NPR piece, released today.

This Would Be Me

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