Monthly Archives: January 2017

A Personal Update

pic3

Those who know me well might want to sit down for this one.

The co-chairs of the preacher search committee at our church announced this morning that my name has been proposed as the church’s new full-time preaching minister.  This is most definitely not a done deal since I (and the rest of the elders) insisted on feedback from the congregation this week.  If the proposal proceeds, however, I am willing to transition into that full-time role in March.

(Pause for friends and family who didn’t listen to the suggestion to sit down.)

Both my current work (law school administration) and my church find themselves in important times of transition, and I have struggled for the past several years with serving in effectively pastoral roles in both places and the accompanying feeling that I am unable to do justice to either one.  And I care a lot about doing justice.  At one point during the past year I tried to step back from church leadership but circumstances simply would not allow that to occur.  Maybe that was a sign.  Now, through lots of late-night talks and prayers with my sweet wife, it seems right that I focus full attention on church.

Those who don’t know me well may not know that I served as full-time preaching minister for a wonderful group of people on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for nearly a decade (early 1999 to late 2008).  Some preachers take a sabbatical after such a run.  Apparently, I went to law school for nine years instead.

This is a big week for me and for us.  My law school years have been fantastic, but this may be a time for transition.  I do hope that the congregation will share their thoughts with the church leadership so that the proper decision is clear.  If the time isn’t right, then, well, who would want that?  But if it is, I am ready to dive in.

My blog is titled, Starting to Look Up.  Looking up is surely how I will spend this week.

Advertisements

Rising From the Ashes (Waters, Rubble, Ice, or Whatever)

al-jody

Mother Nature cleared her throat this week and shut down several roads leading to our life here in sunny (once again) Malibu.  My wife and I apparently collect natural disasters, starting with Arkansas tornadoes and ice storms, continuing with Gulf Coast floods and hurricanes, and now that we’ve hit the jackpot, California drought, earthquakes, wildfires, and mudslides.  We just need a blizzard, tsunami, and volcano to complete the set.  Stockpiling seashells sounds significantly safer (sweet sentence!), but since an ice storm played a major role in the early days of our relationship, I guess the disaster collection is appropriate.

Jody and I met on New Year’s Day 1994 at a high school basketball tournament in Jonesboro, Arkansas.  I was there as a high school basketball coach, and she was there, according to her own rendition, in part to meet me.  You can picture me there at a guardrail in the arena, standing by myself, watching basketball, unsuspecting, when this beautiful young woman innocently (ha!) walks up to introduce herself.  I never knew what hit me that night, but it turned out to be love.

I didn’t have much of a chance according to the Vegas oddsmakers given my dating record yet somehow didn’t mess things up right away.  We talked through several basketball games that night, followed by a trip to Steak ‘n Shake since we weren’t particularly ready to stop the conversation.  We subsequently went on a date or two in January and could sense that something special was in the works.  And then came the infamous ice storm of 1994, a disaster that The Weather Channel ranked as #2 in their list of the “Nation’s Worst Ice Storms.”

Best.  Disaster.  Ever.

Classes at my school were canceled for what seemed like forever.  Jody’s work was not canceled, but since she lived about a forty-five minute drive away on super treacherous roads, she stayed close by at a friend’s apartment throughout the ice storm.  Over the course of that week or two we had the equivalent of a year or so of dating.  At least that’s what we tell ourselves since we were engaged a month later and married by May.

Jody and I have seen a natural disaster or two along the way, and living in California we can count on encountering more.  But we’ve also seen some pretty amazing things emerge “naturally” from both natural and unnatural disasters, and the past twenty-three years of my life is the best evidence of all.

A Little Moderation

download

The Great Southern California Drought seems awfully wet nowadays.  I read that it will take several wet years to rescue SoCal from its drought condition, but you have to give it to January 2017 for trying to do it all at once.  Last Friday’s rains produced multiple mudslides that effectively turned Malibu into a peninsula in advance of the heavy rains that hit on Sunday.  If the Pepperdine deer and coyotes start lining up in pairs, you will find me consulting Waze for the nearest Noah.

So it appears that the prayers for rain produced so much of it that the world around here is literally falling apart.  Figures.  Life’s strong suit does not appear to be producing a happy medium.

While not below the poverty line, I grew up relatively poor.  In the early 1980s, my dad was laid off from his longtime work as a butcher in a meatpacking plant and took a part-time job at a neighborhood grocery store.  I knew the store well, having built my baseball and football card collection from its candy counter thirty cents and one pack at a time.  When my loving father found out that I liked a particular brand of candy, he would bring home so much of it in brown paper bags that I couldn’t stand to look at it anymore.  You don’t get upset with a dad who loves you that much.  But you do start secretly feeding Laffy Taffy to stray animals.

Moderation is as rare as happiness is elusive, and there just may be a connection between the two.  And if the current state of American politics is instructive, moderation is less popular than ever.  Extreme is in, and moderation is out.

Imagine changing the names of television shows and events from extreme to moderate:

  • Moderate Home Makeover (ABC)
  • Moderate RVs (Travel Channel)
  • Moderate Weight Loss (ABC)
  • Moderate Couponing (TLC)
  • Moderate Homes (HGTV)
  • Moderate Cuisine (The Food Network)
  • The Moderation Games (ESPN)

Not really ratings grabbers.

But the ancient philosophers may have been on to something when they advised moderation. “Never go to excess, but let moderation be your guide.” (Cicero)  “If one oversteps the bounds of moderation, the greatest pleasures cease to please.” (Epicetus)  “If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it.” (Proverbs 25:16, ESV; see also Laffy Taffy, above.)

As this blessed rain falls and the hills collapse, I guess I’m just thinking that the ancient virtue, Temperance, deserves a second look.

Beneficence

bush-letter

“Our culture has made it harder to be good.” – David Brooks, The Road to Character

With the news that former president George H.W. Bush is in ICU and the worldwide attention on today’s presidential inauguration, I found this worth sharing today.

In one sense, today is simply a Republican president succeeding a Democrat president, something that has occurred three times in my lifetime (and three times vice-versa, too).  But everyone knows that this inauguration is almost indescribably different.  Donald Trump won the presidency by brazenly declaring that he is indescribably different.  And today is the day he moves into the White House.

President Obama will cede center stage today.  I have watched him navigate the post-election drama, and I may not be objective enough to comment, but it seems that he has been consistently gracious in what must be an awkward time.  Today will be particularly scrutinized.

A couple of months ago at the height of the election drama, a handwritten letter that outgoing president George H.W. Bush left in the White House for incoming president Bill Clinton in 1993 made the rounds, and given the campaign histrionics this go around, it was almost shocking to read.

He wrote:

Dear Bill,

When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago.  I know you will feel that, too.

I wish you great happiness here.  I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.

There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair.  I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.

You will be our President when you read this note.  I wish you well.  I wish your family well.

Your success now is our country’s success.  I am rooting hard for you.

Good luck,

George

In President (George H.W.) Bush’s autobiography, he describes that day: “And so time goes on and I’m sitting here now alone, the desk is clear and the pictures are gone.  I leave a note on the desk for Bill Clinton.  It looks a little lonely sitting there.  I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but I did want him to know that I would be rooting for him.”

I don’t want to be overly dramatic either, but the graciousness offered by President (George H.W.) Bush to President Clinton is something that in my opinion does more than transcend politics—it transcends life.  And it displays a depth of character not rewarded in our culture today.

I want to highlight it.  Especially today.

Be the Best of Whatever You Are

mlk2

Fifty years ago, and just one year before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached a sermon at the New Covenant Baptist Church in Chicago titled, “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life.”  Dr. King’s 3D sermon emphasized the height dimension of life (God) along with the length (self) and breadth dimensions (others).  Some of his thoughts about breadth made the entire sermon known as “the street sweeper speech.”  Today, on the holiday that remembers Dr. King, I ask you to remember this:

When I was in Montgomery, I went to a shoe shop quite often, known as the Gordon Shoe Shop. And there was a fellow in there that used to shine my shoes, and it was just an experience to witness this fellow shining my shoes. He would get that rag, you know, and he could bring music out of it. And I said to myself, “This fellow has a Ph.D. in shoe shining.” What I’m saying to you this morning, my friends, even if it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, go on out and sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures; sweep streets like Handel and Beethoven composed music; sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry; sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”

If you can’t be a pine on the top of a hill
be a scrub in the valley,
but be the best little scrub on the side of the hill,
be a bush if you can’t be a tree. 
If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail;
if you can’t be the sun be a star.
It isn’t by size that you win or fail— 
Be the best of whatever you are.

Bring It On

friday-13

Happy Friday the 13th!

I suspect we are all more superstitious than we want to admit.  I don’t like to switch positions on the sofa when my team is playing well on television, which just makes tons of sense.  But, come on, because a particular numbered day falls on a Friday bad things are expected to occur?  That seems a bit illogical.

So I consulted my friend, Google, and searched “good things that happened on Friday the 13th” for proof that all this is silliness.  This returned several lists that shared the following highlights:

  • Ben Franklin said “nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” (1789)
  • The accordion was patented. (1854)
  • Alfred Hitchcock was born. (1899)
  • Black Sabbath released their first album. (1970)

Um.  Those are the highlights?  Maybe I should stay indoors today.

It didn’t help to learn that some really bad things have happened on Friday the 13th.

  • The collapse of the Aztec Empire. (1521)
  • The first of seventy-six consecutive nights that Germany bombed London. (1940)
  • An oxygen tank exploded on Apollo 13. (1970)
  • Tupac was pronounced dead. (1996)

I’m not feeling better.

And coincidentally (?) law school grades are released to our first-year students today.  This will be a particularly good day for several of our students, but experts in mathematics informed me that 90% of the students will not be in the top 10% of the class (I double-checked their math to be sure of this).  More disappointment than elation on the way.

So what to do today?  Well, I have to go to work.  But beyond that, I have a carefully designed plan of attack:

  • Face the world head-on;
  • Bob and weave; and
  • Dive into the fray singing the classic song from our Malibu neighbor, Pat Benatar: “Hit me with your best shot!”

When I go down, misfortune will at least be worn out from the fight.

Running the Golden Gate Bridge

running-the-golden-gate-bridgeGoing out for late night drinks on a business trip never sounded appealing but even I questioned my understanding of fun when the alarm broke the dark silence of the hotel room last Friday morning.  Not without healthy debate, I crawled out of bed anyway.

That it was thirtysomething degrees outside did not help.  Someone’s coldest winter may have been a summer in San Francisco, but I wonder if they tried it in January.  That was my brilliant plan.  I dressed in layers but had brilliantly chosen not to bring the running clothes designed for cold weather.  My capacity for wise choices continued to be an open question.

The first sign of good fortune arrived with a prompt Uber driver in a Nissan Altima whose name I could not pronounce who took a lesser-traveled route to deliver me to the Welcome Center on the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge at daybreak.  Things were definitely starting to look up.

The Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937 and is considered one of the Wonders of the Modern World.  Not that anyone asked, but I wholeheartedly agree.  It is breathtakingly beautiful in design, and its distinctive international orange was particularly striking as the sun burst over the San Francisco skyline to my right.  This was going to be cool.

It is just under two miles across the bridge, and on this cold, early morning, I was the only jogger.  A few zillion cyclists whizzed by, and there were three walkers (well, standers with cameras), but like a dream I had this legendary run all to myself.  The morning sun and the chilly Bay wind continually slapped the right side of my face as if to say, “Hey, dummy, look at how awesome this is!”  I did.  Look from time to time, that is, amazed at my great privilege.

At one point it occurred to me that killer earthquakes happen in San Francisco from time to time.  And that I couldn’t swim.  This did wonders for my pace.  And just about then the signs for emergency phones and crisis counseling showed up to remind me that this is the second most popular suicide bridge in the world.  I decided to pick up the pace just a bit more.

Eventually, I emerged on the Marin County side of the bridge and looked back on the amazing sight.  It really is spectacular.  My dad left rural Missouri in 1942 to join the Navy in World War 2 and was sent to San Francisco on his way to the Pacific Theater.  He mentioned how much he loved San Francisco, and I paused to imagine what he must have thought about this wondrous structure that opened just five years earlier.  He must have felt what I was feeling, and that thought was worth the getting out of bed all by itself.

I then ran back, glorious experience times two, but at the Welcome Center I just kept running, angling for a long, flat run along Crissy Field and clicking off more miles until arriving at Marina Drive.  I would have stopped there but the sudden appearance of scores of joggers inspired me to keep going.  These were my people, and we ran together along the waterfront and past Fort Mason.  Just past seven miles the classic Ghirardelli sign appeared, and I called it quits.  Good enough.  Who am I kidding, GREAT enough.

An Uber escorted me back to Hilton Union Square where I showered, put on a business suit, and learned more important things about legal education.

But I ran the Golden Gate Bridge.  Unforgettable.

#winning

foam-finger-11-e1395603815168

We live in a world of competition.

This weekend, a mind-boggling number of people will tune in to see who wins and loses when Jimmy Fallon hosts the Golden Globes a few miles down the road at the Beverly Hilton.  Since I watch more football than movies, I will be more interested in the winners and losers of the College Football Championship and the wildcard round of the NFL playoffs.  Whatever your fancy, there is a competition for it—just look at the ridiculous number of reality competition shows on seemingly every network, e.g., Cupcake Wars; America’s Next Top Model; Last Comic Standing; The Bachelor/ette; Whisker Wars (yes, that was a real show).

And why should it surprise us that a former reality show celebrity emphasized “winning” so much in his shockingly successful presidential campaign?

Our entire social order is based on competition.  Our justice system is adversarial with the thought that the fight to win will produce just results.  Our economic system is designed to pit businesses against one another so that prices are lowered and products are improved.  Our political system sets parties against one another to determine the will of the majority and promote compromise.  And sports and entertainment?  Well, again, just turn on your television.

We live in a world of competition.

Even if I thought competition was a bad idea, any attempt to speak against it would be a losing battle (Ha!).  Competition is apparently inherent to human existence, but it sure makes it hard to promote love for and cooperation with others in a world that teaches us to see each other as competitors.  What’s a blogger to do?

In 2011, actor Charlie Sheen had a public meltdown and in a series of bizarre statements famously declared that he was “winning” and created one of the more popular Twitter hashtags to date.  Unwittingly, he also may have solved my dilemma.  You can apparently redefine what it means to win!

So here’s my proposal: Be a winner, sure, but first pick a battle that is worth the struggle and then carefully consider how to calculate true success.

Resolute (Or, 17 for ’17)

happy-new-year-resolutions-quotes

I resolve to do the right thing even if it appears illogical.

I resolve to laugh more often and at inappropriate times.

I resolve to spend more time with people and less with screens and devices.

I resolve to see otherwise invisible people.

I resolve to spend more time with my eyes closed listening to good music.

I resolve not to listen to music when I’m driving.

I resolve to go for long runs in new places.

I resolve to spend more time outdoors in familiar places.

I resolve to try something new.

I resolve to treasure something old.

I resolve to feed my mind, body, and spirit healthy things.

I resolve not to give anyone or anything the power to choose my attitude.

I resolve to replace a noisy, busy life with a simple, smooth rhythm.

I resolve to read books and learn stuff.

I resolve to use my talents to make the world a better place.

I resolve to love my wife and daughters more than ever.

I resolve to live resolutely.