Tag Archives: pepperdine

Followed Through

18579549_1670127713295036_4028566310173540352_nPepperdine Law’s graduation ceremony occurred last Friday at Alumni Park, and the venue is simply unbeatable — a spacious green lawn on a hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean under the warm California sun. Spectacular.

Having recently resigned from the law school, I had no official responsibilities at graduation, but having recently resigned from the law school, I had hundreds of reasons to be there.  I ran into several friends on the way in, and knowing how graduation works decided to wander over to the place where the graduates would march in to see if I could offer a high five or two as they passed by.  (I really did not know that this would produce a lead candidate for my life highlight reel.)

I was dean of students when the Class of 2017 began its law school adventure and had the honor of welcoming them aboard on their very first day as well as cheering for them on their arduous journey.  There was no way that I would miss this culminating event.  As I stood there on Friday, my high five or two suddenly became a line full of hundreds of high fives and hugs.  It was an amazing experience for me. At one point I wondered if I was holding up the ceremony, but then I remembered that they couldn’t fire me and just kept hugging these wonderful human beings.

Several mentioned that they remembered to “follow through” as they passed by, letting me know that they remembered the little talk that I gave during their law school orientation when I taught them how to shoot a basketball. I explained that you could do everything right but forget to “follow through” and the shot would be unsuccessful. I gave them a little stress ball that looked like a basketball that day with the words FOLLOW THROUGH printed on.

They remembered.  And they surely followed through, and I am proud of them.

I stuck around afterward and met family and friends and posed for pictures and offered congratulations. It was their day of honor, but the warm smiles and good hearts of the Class of 2017 provided a happy day for me, too.

This Unpredictable Life

18253094_119542288608447_7804326198149906432_n(1)We travelers, walking to the sun, can’t see
Ahead, but looking back the very light
That blinded us shows us the way we came,
Along which blessings now appear, risen
As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,
By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward
That blessed light that yet to us is dark.
– Wendell Berry, Given: Poems 74 (2006).

I first traveled to California ten years ago to attend the 64th Annual Pepperdine Bible Lectures.  At the time it seemed possible that it would be my first and only trip to beautiful Malibu (ironically blogging at the time, “I cannot imagine working in this gorgeous setting.”).  Life is funny.  By the next year, we were planning a crazy cross-country move to Pepperdine for law school with absolutely no idea that we would just stay—and “absolutely” absolutely no idea that I would ever return to full-time ministry.  So you can imagine the crazy déjà vu feelings this week when “Lecture Central” took up residence in my office for the 74th Annual Pepperdine Bible Lectures.

Life apparently is analogous to a box of chocolates (all rights reserved).

Life is unpredictable, and if you give me enough time to think about it I can pull my brain muscle.  What if we had stayed in Mississippi?  What if we had left California?  How did we really end up here?  Where are we headed now?  What’s for lunch?

But you know what?  I do know exactly how we got here: One day at a time.  And I’m pretty sure that’s how we will get wherever it is we find ourselves ten years from now, too.

Henri Nouwen wrote, “The real enemies of our life are the ‘oughts’ and the ‘ifs.’  They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future.  But real life takes place in the here and now.”  I’m with Nouwen on this one.  I’m not good at it, but I’m with him.

Still, looking back every now and then, as Berry so beautifully described, provides nice motivation for the journey forward.

Beauty in the Fog

17932387_153447835186184_4417267868438102016_n(1)Our 2008 move from Mississippi to Malibu sounds like a seismic culture shift, but moving from affluent, artsy, coastal Ocean Springs, Mississippi, to affluent, artsy, coastal Malibu was not as mind-blowing as you’d think. Okay, it was mind-blowing, just not as mind-blowing as you’d think.

One of the major differences is simply topographical. Ocean Springs sits on the super flat Mississippi Gulf Coast. Malibu officially sits at sea level, too, but that is only half the picture since the vast ocean spectacularly combines with equally stunning mountains. The views we are privileged to enjoy on the Pepperdine campus are ridiculous, and quite often we awaken to see that we are actually above the clouds. It is like a flight with adequate leg room and spacious bathroom facilities.

Recently, on such a morning, I drove from Sunshine Mountain down into the murky clouds for a beachside run along Malibu Road. It is one of my favorite runs because it is nearby, flat, quiet, and scenic, but it isn’t quite as scenic on mornings when the clouds decide to take a nap on the surface of the planet. Despite the cloud cover, I took off with eyes wide open since I have developed a habit of memorializing each morning run with a photograph. It was a challenge. The crashing waves were pretty great in the fog, but not so much for my increasingly outdated iPhone camera, and the horizon was simply nowhere to be seen.

And then I noticed the flowers. The reds and purples, the yellows and lavenders, all nestled in a setting of green and white, almost shy and hiding in the morning fog.

Life lessons exploded from the haze like the colorful flowers. For starters, when life descends into a fog, remember to look for the beauty that is ever present. But also, when life floats in the sunshine above the gray clouds, remember to go to the trouble of joining the world struggling through the smothering gloom. It would be tragic to miss out on the stunning grace that can be found in the obscurity.

Just Stop

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The classic Christian hymn, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, contains the line, Drop Thy still dews of quietness / Till all our strivings cease.  That last part just sounds terrible.  You see, I’m a striver.  Striving’s my thing.  I like accomplishment.  Give me a problem to solve, yours or mine, and I will strive all day and night to solve it.  One of my latest projects is striving to learn how to take a break from striving, which it turns out is just as complicated as it sounds.

Last week Pepperdine hosted theologian, Miroslav Volf, who in his final lecture extolled the Jewish practice of Sabbath as a weekly event where one stops striving.  I have long agreed with that concept but am just terrible at it.  Since my new preaching gig sees Sunday as work day, I approach Friday-Saturday as weekend and Friday in particular as a personal sabbath.  Well, that’s the idea at least.  It hasn’t gone well so far.

For starters, I don’t want to stop striving for a day.  I prefer catching up on unfinished striving and go a little bonkers ignoring things that need attention when I actually have time set aside to do them!  But even when I try, presumably non-striving activities morph into things to accomplish.  A nature walk becomes the quest of the perfect picture or story.  A novel becomes a mission that needs to be completed in a certain time frame.  A sport becomes a personal competition.

I am more than a little nutty.  How exactly do I not strive?  I could say that I will work on it, but that is exactly the problem.

John Greenleaf Whittier wrote that 19th century poem-turned-hymn that imagined the cessation of strivings.  Ironically, he hated the very idea of singing in church and wrote the poem to promote silent meditation in contrast to musical worship, but his poem became a tool of the thing he despised.  Life is funny.  He was also an abolitionist, who in his lifetime saw the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing the practice of slavery in the United States.  So he was a striver, too! 

Well, obviously striving and Sabbath are teammates, not opponents.

Breaks are important for any endeavor, which obviously includes life itself.  This may not come naturally to me, but the secret just may be when it no longer feels like something to accomplish.  Stopping is the opposite of accomplishment.  It is a gift.

Madness

17126701_1108437092601567_4197244785582407680_nBasketball used to be my thing.  I thought about it all day, every day, and dreamed about it at night–and sometimes still do.  Hour after hour alone in the driveway getting sunburned, soaked in rainstorms, and frozen in the snow and ice.  Dreaming I was Dr. J.  Dreaming I was an Arkansas Razorback.  Dreaming I was the hero of a state championship game for the C.R.A. Falcons.  Alone in my dreams.

Basketball became my community.  Countless practices.  Pickup games anywhere there were players and some version of a ball and goal.  My very best friends and mortal enemies.  Jammed fingers.  Shirts and skins.  Dunk goals.  Make-it, take-it.  We got next.  Cut-off t-shirts and short shorts.  High tops and two pairs of socks, pushed down to be cool.  Arguments and hurt feelings.  High fives and heroics.

Popular culture fueled my obsession.  “Hoosiers” hit the big screen when I was in high school, the peak of my love affair with the sport.  Rap music became a thing, and I wore out a cassette learning every word of Kurtis Blow’s “Basketball.”  Thanks to an NBA commercial, the Pointer Sisters’ “Let’s Get Excited” became my warm-up song–even though I don’t think that’s what they were talking about.

I was valedictorian of my high school class and had options, I suppose, but all I cared about was basketball.  Since I wasn’t talented enough to play at the college level, my attention shifted to coaching.  I made every home game at Barnhill Arena during my college years.  Rollin’ with Nolan.  Dreaming that I would some day coach in the madness of March.

I remember the exact day my basketball dreams began a rapid disintegration.  It is hard to forget since it was one week before my wedding.  Appropriately, I was playing basketball in a outdoor three-on-three tournament at a local festival when a nasty fall shattered my right leg in three places.  Emergency surgery led to a four night hospital stay, released in enough time to make it to my wedding in a wheelchair.  In sickness and in health, right?  

In 1994, I began a love that has grown stronger year after year, and maybe not ironically, began to lose my feelings for basketball.  With my broken leg, after the lengthy recovery, I learned that I just couldn’t play all out anymore, and that stole all the fun.  I really don’t follow basketball much anymore.  Sure, I root for my Pepperdine Waves, and sure, I fill out an annual bracket and will be rooting for the old alma mater today as they take on Seton Hall (Go Hogs!), but it is no longer the center of my life.

I’m not sad about this.  I follow other sports as a spectator and am now somewhat obsessed with running.  But what I learned is that it is possible to walk away from something that was once important to you without regrets.  What is not okay, at least in my book, is pretending something is important and then doing it halfway.

Tell Them the Truth

17075864_1838189199788768_4657554125959987200_n1I’m hoping that preaching every Sunday is like riding a bicycle because it has been nine years since I broke the habit.  We’ll find out soon.  Come see for yourself if you are near Malibu starting this weekend (10:15am, Elkins Auditorium, Pepperdine University).

I have known several impressive teachers and scholars who regularly communicate complicated material to large groups of people and yet are totally freaked out by the prospect of delivering a twenty-five minute sermon.  At first I thought they were crazy, but it actually does make some sense.  Preaching is its own animal.

When I moved to Malibu for law school in 2008 after a decade of preaching, I had the pleasure of listening to Ken Durham preach each Sunday.  After my first year here, Ken asked me to fill in for him one Sunday.  I accepted and on that Sunday in the summer of 2009 read a classic selection from Frederick Buechner that is my all-time favorite description of the preaching moment.  As I mentally prepare to climb back on the proverbial horse, here it is once again:

“So the sermon hymn comes to a close with a somewhat unsteady amen, and the organist gestures the choir to sit down.  Fresh from breakfast with his wife and children and a quick runthrough of the Sunday papers, the preacher climbs the steps to the pulpit with his sermon in his hand.  He hikes his black robe up at the knee so he will not trip over it on the way up.  His mouth is a little dry.  He has cut himself shaving.  He feels as if he has swallowed an anchor.  If it weren’t for the honor of the thing, he would just as soon be somewhere else.  In the front pews the old ladies turn up their hearing aids, and a young lady slips her six year old a Lifesaver and a Magic Marker.  A college sophomore home for vacation, who is there because he was dragged there, slumps forward with his chin in his hand.  The vice-president of a bank who twice that week has seriously contemplated suicide places his hymnal in the rack.  A pregnant girl feels the life stir inside her.  A high-school math teacher, who for twenty years has managed to keep his homosexuality a secret for the most part even from himself, creases his order of service down the center with his thumbnail and tucks it under his knee . . . . The preacher pulls the little cord that turns on the lectern light and deals out his note cards like a riverboat gambler.  The stakes have never been higher.  Two minutes from now he may have lost his listeners completely to their own thoughts, but at this minute he has them in the palm of his hand.  The silence in the shabby church is deafening because everybody is listening to it.  Everybody is listening including even himself.  Everybody knows the kind of things he has told them before and not told them, but who knows what this time, out of the silence, he will tell them?  Let him tell them the truth.”

Me & Pepperdine Law

 

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Me as a 1L (August 2008)

In October 2007, in the midst of what now seems like a mid-life crisis my wife and I concluded that I would apply to law school, so I went to Barnes & Noble to purchase an LSAT study book and signed up for the December administration and secretly began to imagine where we might end up.

Initially, there were two schools on the list.  Ole Miss was a strong choice for a Mississippi resident, but I also had dreams of Pepperdine two thousand miles away.  I had visited the breathtaking campus once for the Pepperdine Bible Lectures and spent time with my good friend, Mikey, who taught English there, and the idea of law school at Pepperdine was how I imagined it would feel to win the lottery.

Here I am, over nine years later, and I am pretty sure that I won the lottery.

My wildest dreams did include law school at Pepperdine, but nowhere in those wildest dreams did I think it would be my home for nine consecutive years.  Well, during my first semester of law school, I did think that it might take nine years to learn enough to graduate (if ever) but once I survived that first semester it never occurred to me that I might have the honor to work in this special place for six years after law school.

Tomorrow, I hear there is some sort of farewell party as I transition into a new role as the preaching minister for the University Church of Christ here on campus.  This is directly backwards.  I should be throwing a party for the law school out of sheer gratitude for these past nine years.

I learned so much from the faculty, many of whom became close friends.  I was a proud member of the staff and developed deep relationships as we worked together.  But the students…well, I don’t even know how to begin to describe how special the students have been to me.  From being a student to serving them, spending time with students has been my deepest honor.

Meetings with prospective students.  Move-in days at the George Page apartments.  Launch Weeks.  Freak-out moments.  Personal tragedies.  “Is-law-school-right-for-me-after-all” conversations.  Academic successes.  Academic challenges.  Final exams.  A zillion emails.  Facebook groups.  Administrative announcements.  Just for 1Ls/2Ls/3Ls.  APIL auctions.  Santa Anita horse races.  Orange books.  Dodgeball tournaments.  Quiet gyms.  Saturday morning runs in Santa Monica.  Law school dinners.  Student organization events.  Open conversations.  Global village days.  Sack lunch Saturdays.  Interfaith evenings.  Sunday morning Bible studies.  Wednesday nights at the Gashes.  Thanksgiving dinners.  Job searches.  Moral character applications.  Graduation celebrations.  The dark days of bar summers.  Bar lunches.  Swearing-in ceremonies.  Even officiating twelve weddings!

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It is all too much to capture in words right now.  I can just say that it has been a deep honor to walk alongside impressive human beings on an arduous journey.

We law school folks say that law school is a marathon, not a sprint.  Mine took nine years.  And it was awesome.

Respect the Animal

pepperdineSo we get that we are spoiled.  We have lived on the stunning campus of Pepperdine University for nine years now, which just isn’t fair.  Perched high on a mountainside overlooking the Pacific Ocean in sunny Malibu, the campus is consistently ranked one of the most beautiful in the world.  I heard that a federal judge once said that Pepperdine is the sort of place where God would live if he had the money.

As if the geographic setting wasn’t enough, there are deer that lazily wander around the campus as if they own the place.  They drive our hard-working groundskeepers crazy, but the beautiful deer are popular with the steady stream of campus visitors who just can’t believe that such a place exists.

But once every year or two we receive notice of a mountain lion sighting somewhere on campus.  Not cool, but balancing living in breathtaking beauty with a fleeting moment of potential terror every year or two is not a terrible trade off.

And then there is now.  There have been eleven mountain lion sightings in the last six weeks.  An expert came in to advise the University, and we were told that “[t]he expert expressed with confidence that this is a healthy mountain lion, moving within its territory, and acting normally.”  There is no good news anywhere in that sentence.  I have no desire to live in the territory of a normal, healthy mountain lion.  If forced to coexist, I’d prefer a mountain lion that’s sort of antisocial and experiencing a curious loss of appetite.

We were also provided a list of tips on how to respond if we encounter a mountain lion.  I’m not very excited about most of the items, including “Do NOT run,” which seems like the sort of advice the mountain lion would give instead.  And, “Appear as large, loud, and powerful as possible,” which if you know me, really just isn’t possible at all.

My friends often comment on the pace of my morning runs.  One word, my friends: Motivation.

There is one piece of advice, however, that I am particularly good at: “Respect the animal.”  Done.  No problemo.

In this crazy, crazy world of ours filled with fear of each other and the “other” and the toxic vitriol that such fear produces, I wonder how much progress would come if we chose to truly respect one another.

It supposedly works with mountain lions.

A Little Moderation

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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.

Invisible Places

jailLike any good American, I went to jail the day after Christmas.  Well, maybe it was a strange thing to do.  My youngest daughter, a college sophomore, crawled out of bed on a Monday morning to join me because she just might share my unconventional approach to interesting holiday activities.  But you have to give us the “interesting” at least.  When our host asked his colleague at the beginning of our tour if an older gentleman escorted past us was the murder suspect, we were pretty sure we weren’t returning gifts to Macy’s.

The Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine Law has conducted conflict resolution trainings for the LAPD over the past couple of years—a most important work to be sure.  As a result, several officers have enrolled as students in our Master of Dispute Resolution program, including the officer that commands the particular LAPD jail that we visited.  In our interactions at Pepperdine, he offered to give me a tour, and I jumped at the opportunity.

The jail we visited is one of several that process and hold arrestees for a couple of days until their court appearances, which means that all manner of folks pass through, from benign offenders to death row convicts.  We saw everything.  On the lighter side, we played with the equipment, tried on riot gear, held a Taser, and posed for smiling pictures behind bars knowing we were free to leave.  On the sobering side, we saw the padded cells and the strip search rooms, but more poignantly the prisoners who were not free to leave: the voices yelling for attention; the disembodied hands sticking out from behind the bars, one my daughter saw mimicking a gun; faces behind the glass that embarrassingly felt like zoo exhibits, including the bloodied face of a man booked for assault with a weapon who looked like he lost the assault.

I didn’t feel like saying Happy Holidays very often.  I was impressed by the professionalism of the staff.  I felt, almost surprisingly, a measure of pride in being an American, what with the processed turkey dinner served on Christmas as opposed to the regular fare, the prominent posting of prisoner rights throughout the complex, the attention to cleaning the facility (despite the horrid smell by the shower in the men’s block), and the detailed cataloging of the personal items of the prisoners.  Gary Haugen taught me that the developing world rarely needs better laws, just (non-corrupt) law enforcement, and I was pleased to see a place led by an officer dedicated to enforcing the law with integrity.  But, still.  A jail is intentionally not a happy place to be, which was psychologically jarring on the day after Christmas.

Our world is full of unsettling, invisible places.  There are things we would rather not see, but we don’t have to travel far to find them.  We just don’t hang out in jails very often.  We rarely visit hospitals or nursing homes.  We avoid the homeless and hungry and lonely and stay away from poverty-stricken parts of town.  Heck, there are parts of ourselves we choose to ignore.  If we don’t look, I guess we can pretend these places don’t exist, which I’m fairly positive is a less than healthy approach.

In the women’s block of the jail, we met a young female correctional officer completing the probationary portion of her new job.  She was impressive in uniform, professionalism, and personality.  We instantly liked her.  She is also twenty years old, basically the same age as my daughter.  This young officer sees (and does) things in her work every day that I would rather not think about very often, if at all.  We learned that the LAPD desperately needs more female officers like this, and it struck me that the world must need lots of public servants in lots of invisible places.

I am humbled by those already there.

In 2017, I intend to spend more time in invisible places.  The tourist spots are just too crowded anyway.