Tag Archives: joy

#WavesUp

With XC Team Pictures

“[T]he task of the first half of life is to create a proper container for one’s life and answer the first essential questions: ‘What makes me significant?’ ‘How can I support myself?’ and ‘Who will go with me?’  The task of the second half of life is, quite simply, to find the actual contents that this container was meant to hold and deliver.  As Mary Oliver puts it, ‘What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’”

– Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

Richard Rohr’s description of two halves of life in Falling Upward has me interested in emerging from the locker room for the second half.   We shall see.  Since the first half is so much about achievement and success, the transition is surely difficult to wrap my brain around.  It is much easier to try to be someone than to actually be someone.

As I struggled over the summer just to imagine such a thing, I tried to remember myself as a child before I boarded the train to Achievement Town.  What did I enjoy back then?  What did I love?  What made me smile?  What would I do just for the joy of it all?  Well, one of the primary answers was sports, so I made the calculated decision to be a huge Pepperdine Waves fan this year.

I haven’t been a very good Waves fan in recent years.  This is my third year to serve as volunteer chaplain for the cross country team (see proud team picture above), but I have been a sporadic fan at best for the other sports on campus.  My excuse was that I was just too busy, but “too busy” is undoubtedly the sort of thing you say when you are stuck in first half of life thinking.

The thought that got me was that if you had told “Little Al” that I/he would one day live on an amazing university campus with a fantastic NCAA Division I program fielding seventeen teams and would have open access to watch all of them in action, that would have sounded like heaven.  And I am too busy?  Give me a break.  Literally.

I am off to a great start so far.  I have been there in person to cheer on our cross country, soccer, volleyball, and water polo teams in the last few weeks – with many more teams to cheer on soon.  

Being a sports fan is surely not the point of or secret to life.  But for me, it just may be the secret to remind me not to be too busy to enjoy it.

#WavesUp

Advertisements

Hold on to Joy

1
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.

DCF 1.0

Love for Rio

Love Rio Pic

I love Rio.  Spectacular, natural beauty.  Dazzling, exploding colors.  Lovely, diverse people.  Steady, infectious rhythms.  Seemingly endless energy.

And I love the Olympics.  A global convention of dreamers.  Miracles on ice and dream teams.   Guts and glory.  World records.  Pedestals, wreaths, medals, anthems, and tears.

But Rio plus the Olympics has proven controversial with concerns over pollution, health, violence, political strife, economic recession, and corruption.

So, breathtaking beauty and contagious energy on one hand and social injustice and civil unrest on the other.  Heck, sounds like Rio is the world.  And if the true goal of Olympism is to keep us moving toward a peaceful planet, then why not assemble in a place that exemplifies both the goal and the challenge?

I watched a large chunk of the opening ceremonies but was too old to make it past Liechtenstein in the parade of nations.  Next morning, however, I was curious as to who lit the Olympic cauldron.  NBC told me it was Vanderlai de Lima, and although I’m a sports fan, I needed a little explanation.

De Lima is neither an Olympic champion nor a Brazilian sports legend.  Instead, de Lima competed for Brazil in the marathon at the 2004 Games in Athens and surprisingly led the race at the 22-mile mark.  With just four miles to go, however, a crazy dude jumped out of the crowd and attacked de Lima, pulling him into the crowd.  Although the attack only detained de Lima for several seconds, it threw him off his pace, and eventually, he was overtaken by two other runners and finished with the bronze medal.

What was striking about de Lima, however, was how he finished the race.  No complaints.  No anger.  Instead, he came down the home stretch blowing kisses and pretending to be an airplane, filled with joy.

That spirit is why he was given the great honor of lighting the cauldron to commence the 2016 Games in Rio.  That spirit personifies the Olympic creed that claims, “The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.  The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

Maybe that spirit is what I sensed in Rio last summer, and why I love it so.

150805-vanderlei-de-lima-10

Jeremiah’s Joy

My daughter, Hillary, is in the middle of a summer photojournalism internship in Kenya and recently published her first blog post and set of photographs.  First off, she didn’t have to show up her dad by out-blogging him on the very first post, but what can you do with these millennials?  And second, her photographs are simply stunning.

With no actual reason, I immediately set out to narrow the 150 pictures to my favorite one.  This proved impossible.  There are several that feature little kiddos that are just too awesome.  Like, for instance…

MITS 3

But my quest continued, and I succeeded in identifying two photographs that go together in my opinion to tell a powerful story.

As its website explains, “[t]he mission of Made in the Streets is rescuing children from the streets of Nairobi, Kenya, meeting their physical, emotional and spiritual needs, loving them fully, equipping them to earn a living and sending them out to a new life.”  It is a beautiful thing to observe firsthand, and what is full of beauty are the children.

Now don’t be mistaken.  This is not some make-believe world where staff members ride in on unicorns and pick up innocent children off puffy clouds and ride off on rainbows while angels sing.  No, it is messy work, and these children have seen and done and had done to them terrible things.  But what is striking when hanging out with these rescued kids are their good hearts in spite of such a painful past.  Their smiles are contagious.  Their basic human dignity is unmistakable.

Which is why I narrowed down my daughter’s works of art to two particular photographs.  The first is of a young man still living on the streets, and I love this particular picture because his smile betrays that good heart although he remains in the frightful streets of Nairobi.

MITS 1

But there is a second picture that in my mind completes the story.  It is Jeremiah, the first student I met on my trip earlier this summer.  Jeremiah is a big boy, close to my height and twenty times stronger.  He could be intimidating, but he is just the opposite—a kind, thoughtful, funny, tender young man.  Jeremiah sits in the front row of his classes and is an eager learner.  He likes to act in drama productions.  He is a good friend to many.

Hillary took a picture of Jeremiah being silly, and I absolutely love it because at one point Jeremiah was that young man in the other photograph, living in abject poverty but with a smile that betrayed his good heart I’m sure.  And the “after” photograph powerfully shows Jeremiah’s joy.

MITS 2

(And, I can’t help but say it given the title of my entire blog, I love that he is looking up.)

The Greatest

ALIDAYS1

My dad was a boxing fan, which made sense for a member of what Tom Brokaw termed “the greatest generation.”  Boxing was the American sport when he was a boy in the 1920s and 1930s, and I remember his tales of the great Jack Dempsey as we watched fights together a half century later.  I somehow failed to inherit his love for the sport, but the combination of his love and the golden age of heavyweight boxing that coincided with my childhood unleashed personal memories when Muhammad Ali’s passing was announced last Friday.  Elvis Presley, John Wayne, and Muhammad Ali—those were the names that seemed larger than life to this little boy in small-town Arkansas.  Now, all three are gone.

That Ali is a popular American hero is fascinating.  I doubt that his outspoken racial pride and conversion to Islam in the 1960s endeared him to all who now mourn his passing.  I doubt that his refusal to accept military service makes him a hero to all patriotic Americans.  And his brash, in your face, “I am the greatest” trash talking is not typically the personality that leads to universal love and admiration, the Donald Trump phenomenon notwithstanding.

Maybe America just likes a winner?  I don’t buy it.  Call me crazy, but I’m guessing that Barry Bonds, Bill Belichick, and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. will not be universally adored when they ultimately move on from this life.

So, why did Muhammad Ali die an American hero?  Some say it is his social activism, his willingness to stand up for what he believed in.  Maybe so.  That has to be a part of it.  But I suggest there is something more to Ali’s universal appeal.

Muhammad Ali embraced life.

He was fun and funny and full of joy.  He lived without fear.  Think about it: the religious conversion, the brash statements in an era of racial violence, the thumbing his nose at the government’s draft, and the claims of boxing greatness all displayed that he was not afraid of any threat.

More importantly, he lost in the boxing ring multiple times—but came back for more with a smile.  Over time, in what seemed to be the cruelty of fate, the powerful and eloquent athlete lost his famed strength and good health and bold voice—but he came out in public with a smile.

Check it out: Muhammad Ali was not afraid of any threat, but he was also not afraid of any consequence.

I believe that is why we loved him so.  We want to live without fear, too.  We want to face both the goods and bads of life with unshakable joy.

Wouldn’t that be the Greatest?

Discovering Diversity

I participated in a “privilege beads” exercise at a diversity conference a year ago that involved reading statements and taking applicable beads to create a privilege bracelet.  As a white, straight, Christian, highly-educated, American male who lives in Malibu, I made a privilege hula-hoop.  It was embarrassing.  It was particularly embarrassing because one of my primary self-identifiers has always been growing up poor (read: underprivileged).  I am all about sticking it to the Man, ironically, and standing up for the little guy, i.e., my people.  Imagine my surprise.

But discovering diversity has been, for me, a humiliating pathway to joy.  The world is a big and beautiful place, and leaving the startling homogeneity of my hometown, though filled with wonderful people, has been an indescribable blessing.  I have learned so much, mainly that I know so little, and what I don’t know is fascinating without fail.  More importantly, I now have relationships with people who represent ethnicity, identities, faiths, interests, and nationalities that I never even heard of as a child.  That is my real privilege.  I am better for knowing these good souls, sure, but more importantly, the world is better for knowing them, too.

I returned to the same conference this year hoping for no privilege beads but anticipating new and deeper relationships and was not disappointed on any count.  One of the many things I learned at this year’s conference is that the majority of the United States will be non-white by 2044 and that 2011 already marked the first year that more non-white babies were born in the United States than white babies.  Significant change is occurring as to several of my privileges, some far more quickly than others.  My Facebook feed reminds me that many find such changes to be frightening.  Since diversity has been a great blessing in my life, I see it with different eyes.  To co-opt the famous FDR quote, the only frightening thing I see is the fear itself.

A Runner’s Thoughts

I ran thirteen miles Saturday morning (well, 13.2, but you know how I hate to brag). My big race is two weeks away, so running the full half-marathon length in advance seemed like a good idea, although sleeping in followed by a trip to Krispy Kreme sounded good, too. My final choices are often a teensy counter-intuitive.

So I had a lot of time to think. Admittedly, several thoughts were of the “uh-oh, am I getting a rash?” variety, while others centered on the theme of “and why not Krispy Kreme?” More often than not, however, I escaped to a sublime place and experienced ineffable thoughts.

• How do you describe witnessing the early morning dawn give way to a new day, revealing a curious mix of pastels and haze?
• How do you describe the irrepressible smile in your soul when you discern the distinct sound of the beach formed by crashing waves and squawking birds?
• How do you describe the spectacular variety of humanity that greet me on the path, reflecting in clothes and shoes and faces the bright and colorful explosion that is the world?
• How do you describe the runner’s sensation of settling into a pace and listening to your body talk in the clearest language?
• How do you describe the playfulness evident in all things, from the dolphins and surfers bobbing together in the open waters, to the hyperactive dogs and children frolicking in the surf?
• How do you describe running with the ocean waves up the Venice Pier and sensing in your heart, for the first time, how it feels to crash into the spongy shore?
• How do you describe the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the road where labored breathing fades into the quiet harmony of the new day and you consider that you have never felt so alive?

You don’t describe it. You experience it. And when you do, you do not forget, and cannot wait for more.

My to-do list is thankful for cars and the occasional airplane, but in my humble opinion, the world is best explored on foot.

Joy to the World

My family traditionally opened presents on Christmas Eve, so the Twelve Days of Christmas confused me. Heck, we barely did one. But I never found leaping lords and diverse birdlife, i.e., laying geese, swimming swans, turtle doves, calling birds, partridges housed in pear trees, and hens of French origin all that appealing in the first place.

But I get it now. No, not the lords and birds. I get the Twelve Days of Christmas because I counted and my calendar contains at least twelve holiday-themed events before we even make it to family on Christmas Day.

This observation comes with zero complaints, but it does feel a little disjointed with all the violence and fears and anger and arguments in the world right now—especially since the most recent tragedy occurred at a holiday party. Peace on Earth seems a little, well, laughable, if it wasn’t so sad.

The feeling is familiar. When Hurricane Katrina devastated our community in 2005, it seemed a little odd to have a holiday party that year, too. (We may have worn ugly sweaters, but mostly because that’s what arrived on the relief truck!) But I concluded then that we needed to celebrate even more. After all, given my particular faith tradition, the story of the season revolved around a family with nowhere to sleep.

Maybe that works this year, too. (There was after all a violent infanticide in the Christmas story.) I’m not thinking that “Peace on Earth” is such a terrific phrase right now, at least not if we expect signs of that coming true anytime soon. But, any celebration that talks about Hope seems timely. And anything at all that produces a measure of Joy sounds pretty good, too. As many songs and gifts and love and light as we can muster is a pretty fantastic idea when it’s dark outside.

If it takes twelve-plus days and parties to make a little dent in the darkness, then bring on the egg nog!

Better to Give (but Receiving Is Often Pretty Great, Too)

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

I’m not sure what lights Otto’s fire, but if I could bottle it I would sell it—and drink it, too.

The first time I met the dean of our law school, she asked me to locate the best programs in the country at connecting law students to practicing lawyers. Elon Law’s “preceptor program” was one of the best, so as soon as possible, and with permission, we started our own. In the years that followed, what began as a voluntary opportunity for our first-year students has now grown into a required first-year course component that has extended to create mentor matches for interested upper-division students, too. We now have 150+ practicing attorneys and judges giving their time to mentor students with more on the way.

And then there is Otto. Otto was a fill-in preceptor (read: mentor) during the first year of the program. He was named Preceptor of the Year during the second year. For the third year, we named the award after him.

We give Otto a mentee or two each year and then he goes and collects more like baseball cards. I have no idea at this point how many students—and graduates—now consider themselves one of Otto’s “kids.”

Here are the sorts of things students said about Otto in the past:

“From allowing me to use his office space to study for finals, to taking our mentor group out to dinner every couple of weeks, to giving me thoughtful career advice, he has done so much to make my law school experience both enjoyable and comfortable.”

“Most importantly, he represents everything that Pepperdine stands for: a person who overcame the odds and does good things for people on a daily basis. He is truly one of the most unselfish people I know.”

I attended one of Otto’s dinners for his “kids” last weekend, and as expected, there were first-year, second-year, and third-year students in attendance alongside those not even in law school anymore. It was a family gathering: relaxed, lively stories, laughter, and lots of smiles.

Otto would say that it’s a toss-up whether he or the students get more out of these relationships, but it appears to me to be a tie ballgame.

To be candid, I know exactly what lights Otto’s fire and am convinced that it presents itself as a potential source of joy for all of us, and that is pouring oneself out into the lives of others. But on the flip side, being loved is a pretty great thing, too.

Comparison Is the Death of Joy

blog pic

[If anyone just has to have the shirt, click HERE.]  🙂

“Comparison is the death of joy.” – Mark Twain

“People watching” is great fun, and a trip to an airport is like working in HR for the circus.

Recently, I was at the gate in LAX awaiting my flight to Phoenix when three ladies sat down beside me in brightly-colored muumuus. They were quite the sight. I think it was a mother and two daughters who could have been grandmothers themselves. The mother looked like Helen Roper as a smoker, and I mean that in the best possible way. From the phone call home, I deduced that they had just returned from a cruise. They told dad/husband that they had a blast but were sure ready for home.

I tried to read my book and not pay attention, but at one point one turned to the others and whispered that “you see all kinds in the airport.” They chuckled condescendingly. I nearly fell off my chair. Airports are awesome.

On my return to Los Angeles, I was a few hours early for the flight and looked for a gate that was not crowded so I could eat my overpriced lunch in peace. There was a perfect row. One young man sat at the end in the lotus position reading a hardcover. He was tall and looked like European Jesus, and with the long hair, beard, black shirt, and blue jeans, I imagined that he had an elective choice in high school and chose Buddhist Meditation over Motorcycle Gangs in a close call and the rest was history.

We sat in peace for a few minutes but were then joined by Frustrated Lady. Of all the open seats in the gate area, she chose to sit directly across from European Jesus. I applauded her choice. She, too, looked like a smoker (what is my deal with smokers?).

Frustrated Lady made several phone calls and made it very clear that she had missed her connecting flight and was not happy with the aviation industry. When she got hold of Alan, who I presume is her husband based on her change to a more unpleasant tone, she told him that the flight tonight to Kansas City would be her last. Next year, when she travels to California, it would either be by car or bus, and I don’t know what Alan said to that, but he was wrong.

Eventually, Frustrated Lady went for some ice cream, which seemed to help. European Jesus seemed happier, too.

I thought about the great sport of people watching and considered something that might be important: When we encounter other human beings, we see ourselves as the norm and consider everyone else the odd ones out.

This thought appeared right after it dawned on me that European Jesus had stories of both Frustrated Lady and Skinny Bald Man when he gathered with his apostles on arrival at his final destination.

So, do with this lesson what you will, but my suggestion is this: Fly Southwest.

Ha!

No, my suggestion is to keep on people watching, and keep on noticing all the crazy differences in humanity, but resist the urge to make it a competitive sport.

Non-European Jesus once told a story about two people praying: one thanked God that he wasn’t like the other person and the other simply asked for grace. The moral of the story was that you get to choose.

——————————————————————————————————–

* Click HERE for a good article from Daniela Tempesta on the dangers of comparing ourselves to others.