Monthly Archives: June 2017

The Desert Dweller (by Howard Thurman)

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I am a fairly new Howard Thurman fan. Most recently, I stumbled across this short essay he titled, “The Desert Dweller.”

He has lived in the desert so long that all of its moods have long since become a part of the daily rhythms of his life. But it is not that fact that is of crucial importance. For many years it has been his custom to leave a lighted lantern by the roadside at night to cheer the weary traveler. Beside the lantern there is a note which gives detailed directions as to where his cottage may be found so that if there is distress or need, the stranger may find help. It is a very simple gesture full of beauty and wholeness. To him it is not important who the stranger may be, it is not important how many people pass in the night and go on their way. The important thing is that the lantern burns every night and every night the note is there, “just in case.”

Years ago, walking along a road outside Rangoon, I noted at intervals along the way a roadside stone with a crock of water and, occasionally, some fruit. Water and fruit were put there by Buddhist priests to comfort and bless any passerby — one’s spiritual salutation to another. The fact that I was a traveler from another part of the world, speaking a strange language and practicing a different faith, made no difference. What mattered was the fact that I was walking along the road — what my mission was, who I was — all irrelevant.

In your own way, do you keep a lantern burning by the roadside with a note saying where you may be found, “just in case”? Do you place a jar of cool water and a bit of fruit under a tree at road’s turning, to help the needy traveler? God knows the answer and so do you!

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#MyMile

19275276_10154444289351784_2410358217710841199_nStrava is the self-described “social network for athletes.” I accepted Brad’s invitation to join anyway. Strava challenged its users to go for a personal record (“PR” in runner lingo) in June in The Strava Mile. For some reason I accepted that invitation, too.

We jogged a warmup mile to the Pepperdine track last Thursday morning for this midlife crisis, er, I mean, historic event only to discover college basketball, soccer, and cross country athletes there in early morning workouts. They must have been entertained to see two middle-aged men take turns laboring at (our) top speed around the track to see how fast we could run a solitary mile. Will Ferrell and David Spade will play us in the movie.

I think we impressed ourselves if no one else. That was true for me since my regular exercise routine never includes speed work and because Michael Dukakis was running for president the last time I ran a competitive mile. It got me to wondering what an old man could really do if he was committed to a solid workout plan?

So I consulted my good friend, Google, and discovered John Trautmann. John was an elite college athlete and a 1992 Olympian who like most young adults gave up exercising, got a job that paid actual money, and started eating a lot of doughnuts. He added sixty-five pounds of Krispy Kreme by the age of forty and then decided that he preferred being in shape. So he went to work and at age forty-six (my age now) established the world record in the mile for the 45-49 age group by running an astonishing 4:12.33. 

Okay, that’s not going to happen for me. But it did happen, and that fact alone is crazy inspirational.

What needs changing in your life? And what are you waiting for?

One Love

Fathers DayMy sweet daughters took me to reggae night at the Hollywood Bowl last weekend for Father’s Day. It was a beautiful evening that featured Ziggy Marley, and it was extra special to hear him perform his father’s classic music on a day that honored dads.  It was also a little, ahem, “foggy” in the Bowl on reggae night, and let’s just say that I was glad it was an open air venue.

You can’t tell from looking at me, but Bob Marley remains one of my favorite artists. My daughters knew this, of course, and it was sweet of them to endure an evening of reggae with old dad even though reggae probably doesn’t crack the top ten on either of their favorite musical genres list. Those two girls are sure at the top of my list of favorites.

I went about this whole dad thing unconventionally. I fell in love with sweet Erica before meeting and marrying her mom and skipped straight to the homework and bicycles stage of Erica’s life. And I was there from the start with sweet Hillary, complete with diaper duty and sleepless nights and everything that followed. They are different people with different talents and different approaches to life, and I have had different experiences with each of them. But they are sisters and daughters together who love each other very much, and I love them both with my whole heart.

It’s a stretch to claim that our unique approach to family formation is an ideal approach, but I have to admit that it has turned out pretty crazy fantastic for me. I have two separate amazing relationships with two separate amazing young women.

But it is one love.  And one heart.

Give thanks and praise to the Lord.  This dad thing has turned out all right.

ThanksLiving

Meister-Eckhart-Quotes-25-The-Best-OnesOur church family has long prepared and served periodic meals for the weekly meetings of a local ministry that serves marginalized people in Malibu. After the meal there is a Bible study for those interested in staying, which ends up being a decent number of people. Last week, the message from the ministry leader was part sermon and part motivational speech that encouraged those in attendance to live with courage. I was particularly impressed by the connection he had with the motley audience. It was obvious that they liked him, which I suspect is in large part because he likes them.

At the end there was a short time of prayer — short because it was getting dark and the audience was well aware of when the city bus made its last run through Malibu. As the leader went person to person for short prayer requests, I was stunned to hear that the emphasis of a majority of people was on how thankful they were to God for their blessings.

Marginalized. Poor. Damaged. Broken. Homeless. And thankful.

I got in my car as the sun descended over the Pacific Ocean and drove back to a beautiful home on an immaculate university campus. And as I headed out I drove past this slow line of individuals that will cause citizens to roll up their windows and lock their doors. They were headed to the bus stop. To the beach. To the woods. To God knows where.

I have much to learn from those good souls. The car and the house and the job and the respect of society — none of it is worth very much if I do not live thankfully. To live thankfully regardless of circumstances is a true sign of success regardless of the outside packaging. 

Spinning Strong

Jody Spin InstructorMy wife is now a certified indoor cycling instructor and I am on notice that I will soon attend one of her first classes. She is amazing, and I am slightly terrified.

I remember the first “spin” class she ever attended quite well. We were new to California and she was new to working out, but she had a celebrity crush on Bob Harper from The Biggest Loser television show and could not pass up the opportunity to attend one of his classes. On arrival, she soon determined that she was in over her head since it was a ninety-minute class for experienced spinners, which is not the bunny slope approach to this particular workout. However, shortly after the class started and she concluded that this wasn’t for her, she tried to get off the bike only to discover that her legs did not work. So, out of options, she decided to just keep spinning and finished the class.

Bob left as the class wrapped up that fateful day for a speaking engagement at another L.A. gym, and Jody and her friend, Jeneen, planned to attend that as well so that Jody could get her picture made with him. They thought that the gym was two blocks away and decided to walk, but it turned out that their math was a little off and the gym was actually twenty blocks away. This important fact came to light a little late in the walk over. At one point, Jody actually collapsed in a crosswalk when her jelly legs gave way. But again, out of available options, she kept walking and got that picture.

At the time we lived on the third floor of a college dormitory—a college dormitory that had no elevator—and when she made it home I showed no mercy since the self-inflicted pain came as a result of pursuing a celebrity crush! The pain was such that she had to pull herself up and down the stairs each day. And after relaxing on the couch, she had to roll off the couch simply to pull herself back into a standing position. It was funny (for me) for quite some time until she really started to wonder if there was some sort of permanent damage. But she recovered and lived to work out another day.

In fact, she has worked out a lot of other days since that memorable introduction to spinning and the results are stunning. Did I mention that she is now certified to teach these sorts of classes?

My wife is the strongest person I know, and I am the luckiest. She will be an amazing teacher and inspiration to others as an indoor cycling instructor. But she has me pretty scared.

Life Soundtrack

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The Teragram Ballroom is an intimate concert venue a little off the beaten path in downtown Los Angeles that holds around six hundred people. My wife and I tracked it down Thursday night to see Princess, a Prince cover band, since my wife is a huge Prince fan (and since our friend, Karl, told me about the concert just in time for Mother’s Day shopping).

We arrived early, partly because that is a sickness of mine and partly to combat the oppressive Los Angeles traffic. We entered the venue ninety minutes before showtime only to discover that there is no seating in the Teragram Ballroom, so we found a spot at the edge of the stage and began our standing marathon.

It was worth it.  It was such a fun show.  Princess consists of Maya Rudolph of Saturday Night Live fame and Gretchen Lieberum, a singer-songwriter college friend of hers, so it was part great music and part hilarious. That Rudolph’s fellow SNL actor, Fred Armisen, unexpectedly was part of the band made it even better.

I don’t go to many concerts but happened to attend a couple lately and both were trips down memory lane. Both U2 and Prince music apparently produce large class reunions from the 1980s. I did not see kiosks for treating baldness, midlife crises, or fading eyesight at either concert, but those seem like missed opportunities.

What I did see were people reconnecting with thoughts and emotions from over thirty years ago that were important early chapters in what has now become life stories.  I was not immune.  I surely did not know what I was looking for in high school, but reconnecting with that U2 song made me consider how I have handled the journey in the intervening years. And I didn’t really go crazy in high school, but reconnecting with that Prince song made me reflect on whether I have made good use of this fleeting life since I first sang that fleeting life anthem along with him in 1984.

It was fitting that Maya Rudolph and her college buddy were on stage Thursday night.  They are us, the children of the 1980s, and we are all together at this interesting stage of life.  In this time of life reflection, it is a general rule that regrets and disappointment show up to say hello. So if I can call for one more class meeting, I simply have one question for my fellow students: Are we gonna let the elevator bring us down?  

I choose to punch a higher floor and start looking up.

Seek Wisdom

18888351_719161668263349_4688144046978236416_n(1)“Knowledge is flour, but wisdom is bread.” – Austin O’Malley

Today, I will drive to LAX to pick up our youngest daughter who is returning from her sophomore year of college. Next week, our oldest daughter begins a graduate specialty program for working with deaf and hearing-impaired students. And when you add that my wife and I live and work on a university campus, it seems safe to say that education is an important part of our lives. And that we are familiar with student loans.

Everyone seems to agree that education is important. There are significant disagreements on how to go about it, of course, but it is rare to hear anyone say that education is unimportant. Stay in school. Hit the books. Do your homework. Go to college. Study hard. All cliches by now, but all motivated by the idea that education is uber-valuable.

Why? Why is education so important? As a recent education professional, I spent some time with that simple yet complex question. Is it knowledge acquisition? Is it to prepare students for the working world and increase their earning potential, or more broadly, become contributing members of society?

I arrived at a working answer. In my view, the purpose of education is so that students may acquire wisdom. In other words, in its highest form, education goes beyond the impartation of knowledge and allows students to use the knowledge and skills they acquire for good purposes in this world. It teaches discernment.

The entire project may best be described by Gene Kesselman, a WW2 vet from New Jersey in his mid-nineties, who told a local magazine writer last year, “You know the difference between knowledge and wisdom? Knowledge is knowing tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing you don’t put tomato in a fruit salad.”

Exactly. 

Hold on to Joy

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Loving Joan was not optional. She was eminently lovable. I preached in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, for a decade and could count on Joan and Joel (or, “Joe,” as she called him) to be sitting up front cheering me on every time the doors opened. Joan cheered everybody on.

It was sad to hear that Joan died last week at eighty years young after a heck of a fight with cancer. But it would be a discredit to her memory to linger in sadness.

Joan was no stranger to challenges. Before my time in Mississippi, she lost her son in a tragic car accident. During my time in Mississippi, she encountered the American law of eminent domain when the government decided to put a highway through the house she and Joel intended to inhabit for the rest of their retirement years. After my time in Mississippi, her “Joe” contracted Parkinson’s Disease. And then there was the cancer.

But Joan never let a challenge dampen her positive attitude. She often quoted a line from an old sermon that she accepted as a life approach: Don’t let anyone steal your joy. Joan spent her life giving to others, but she jealously guarded her joy like she was Ebenezer Scrooge.

It has been years since I saw her in person, but Facebook worked its magic to keep us in distant contact. Joan “liked” lots of things on Facebook. That fit her well. Joan was a really good liker of things. She would have made it just fine without the frowny-face option.

One of my favorite memories came as a result of one of Joan’s worst days. Joan had two children, the son whose life was tragically cut short, and a daughter who was her pride and joy. Joan’s daughter pursued a successful career and chose to marry later in life. Joan was ecstatic about the wedding and could not wait to travel to the ceremony. But one afternoon, while shooing blackbirds away from the back porch, Joan fell and broke both ankles, landing her in a rehabilitation hospital and threatening her ability to make it to the wedding.

True to form, Joan kept her joy and started to work. She soon knew everyone in the hospital and worked hard at physical therapy with that beautiful wedding ceremony as her inspiration. The fateful day came when the doctors would decide whether she was fit to travel, and despite her very best efforts, Joan was not cleared for takeoff. I’m not exactly sure how devastated she was, but the rest of us were heartbroken.

In those days before Skype and FaceTime, we tried to invent things like Skype and FaceTime just for Joan, but alas, we were in over our heads. Joel traveled to the wedding alone, and the family had the clever idea to use a cell phone during the ceremony so that Joan could listen in. A group of us from church went to her hospital room that day to share the occasion with a corsage, wedding cake, and being good Southern church folk, sparkling cider. It was a party, but it was no pity party. I will never forget Joan trying to hand the cell phone to the rest of us during the ceremony so that we could listen and our laughing and frustrated refusals — This is for you, Joan!

It remains one of my best days. A terrible day somehow turned into joy.

That was Joan. And today, in her honor, and while mourning her loss, I will hold on even tighter to my joy.

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The Natural World

34973774115_987464cc46_oMy wife and I went camping last weekend. Well, that’s unfair. You should at a minimum struggle to set up a tent and consider cursing to be able to say that you went camping. Better stated, around sixty of our good (church) friends went camping last weekend and we spent Saturday with them. We ate delicious food and enjoyed relaxing conversations and then went home to sleep in our own bed. For us it was like an all-day backyard barbecue if your backyard was an entire river valley in the middle of nowhere. It was a most fantastic day.

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The highlight of the day was a nature hike led by our friend, Steve. Specifically, he is Dr. Stephen D. Davis, world-renowned plant biologist and winner of the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching, which is the college professor equivalent of a Nobel or a Pulitzer. To say he is respected in his field is like saying Willie Mays could play baseball. But to us he is Steve, one half of “Steve & Janet,” members of our church family and the couple my wife says that she wishes we could be when/if we grow up.

Steve took about thirty of us on a nature hike and opened the world to us. And I’m not kidding. We were a diverse group of children, teens, and all ages of adults who saw, touched, smelled, and tasted a variety of plants along the way. Steve was an amazing guide. It was like getting a tour of the Sistine Chapel from Michelangelo, although Steve’s area of expertise is Planet Earth.

Toward the end of the hour-long hike our group decided to trek down to a stream of water, which was a little bit of a physical challenge. Steve said, “We have one rule: If you start to fall, be sure to yell so that the rest of us can watch!” Once we arrived safely at the water’s edge, Steve asked us to listen to the sound and share how it made us feel to hear the gurgling water making its way through the rocks. (Turns out the correct answer was Peaceful, although I still think my thought of having to pee was equally valid.) Steve suggested that we need to find and listen to the babbling brooks of the world today more than ever–and I think he is right.

Nature. It just seems so unnatural these days. How messed up is that?