shortbread

short, sweet, and to-the-point — by Keith Elder

“Being Human Better”

being-human-better

It’s not a scientific study or Barna research, it’s just my take…my personal observation over time. The little chart above is not about race, or religion, or creed. It’s not about who we cheer for on Saturday afternoons or vote for in November. It’s about how we see people and treat people and live in God’s world.  They are four basic world views, and they inform every thing we do:

#1 “My Life Matters”
It’s safe to say that I came out of the womb thinking about my own personal comfort. Instinctively, I will do or say anything to have my wants and needs met, even if it means someone else will not have theirs met.  Nothing personal, I just have to take care of old #1. MY LIFE MATTERS.

#2 “OUR Life Matters”
At some point, as we become aware of people around us, we naturally gravitate toward those who look like us—or think or talk or believe like us. We find security and acceptance in families and teams, office pools and peer groups and political parties. At this stage we do anything, say anything, in the name of taking care of our own. Why? Because OUR LIFE MATTERS!

#3 “ALL LIVES Matter”
Hopefully, one day, we venture outside of the family/friend compound. At this stage, we recognize the humanity in all of humanity. Why, that man in the supermarket has feelings too!…and the lady behind the checkout counter has a story,…and the Syrian refugees on the evening news—they must be terrified!  Newfound compassion and mercy compel us to stand up for the little guy. Maybe it’s a random act of kindness; maybe it’s a career in social work; but we do it because ALL LIVES MATTER.

#4 “ALL LIFE Matters”
The final perspective—and I would say, the highest—moves beyond mere human concerns. “All Lives Matter” is noble, but there is a greater good: “ALL LIFE MATTERS.”  Not just homo sapians, but every living thing. The coral reef, the polar ice caps, the itsie-bitsy spider, the earth and moon and stars. God made it all and called it “good.  No doubt, ALL LIFE MATTERS!

So, which is your life line?…your soul mantra?  Not sure?  Just ask anyone who has known you for a week or more. But be prepared—sometimes the truth hurts.

Keith
10/6/2016

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“The Toast–To Durwin and Carey Beth”

Version 3

I guess every father of the bride has his “Father of the Bride” (a.k.a., Steve Martin) moments when it comes to the big day—that surreal day when he gently, perhaps, reluctantly, places the hand of his beloved daughter into that of young man who is saying, in so many words, “I’ll take it from here, Pops.”

Ouch.

Maybe the day-of-wedding haze has something to do with all that has gone into the making of such a momentous occasion:

A thousand cross-country phone calls and texts and e-mails and Skype conversations. Prospective plans and adjusted plans and final plans. Dresses and rings and attendants and venues and invitations and logistics. All of these are dwarfed, of course, by that first meeting of “the one,” and the subsequent meeting of the family of “the one.”  (An aside—both meetings received an “A+”!)

Maybe, the father of the bride fog has more to do with getting acclimated to the idea that his baby girl, has grown up! We are talking major “rite of passage” here. She has finished college, found a real job on the Left Coast, found her way to a Pacific Ocean of friends, and most importantly, been introduced to this heart-and-soul mate whom she vows “…to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer of for poor, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish…”

An added piece of my personal “Father of the Bride” moment may have been the fact that I was also the Officiant—that is, the minister charged with saying the magic words. “Who presents this woman to be married to this man…?”  (Awkward silence…) “Oh!… I guess that would be her mother and I.”

The ceremony went forward relatively unscathed with the exception of me saying that I had been married to my mother for thirty-eight years, (Correction: I have been married to Carey Beth’s mother for 38 years). Then there was the moment when Dave, the Best Man, almost had to disrobe to find the rings (kidding, Dave!).

It was a joyful joining. The knot was tied. The kiss, the hug, the kiss again (in case the photographer missed the first one). The couple turns to face a sea of smiling faces. “It is my honor to present to you Mr. and Mrs. Durwin Tsay….” Standing ovation.

We recessed to take photos and visit with friends while the ceremony venue was transformed into a stunning reception/dinner venue.

Guests are seated. The wedding party is introduced. Applause. The salad is served. The Maid of Honor is introduced to make a toast. The entree is served. The Best Man is introduced for his toast. Music. The Father of the Groom is introduced and offers a beautiful, humorous word and toast.

Immediately, the band leader introduces the bride and groom for the lead-off dance… followed by the Bride/Father-of-the-Bride dance… followed by the Groom/Mother-of-the-Groom dance. Applause.  At this point, the band leader invites all to join the happy couple on the dance floor and we dance the night away.  Joyful!…a celebration–as well it should be!

My “Father of the Bride” moment?… I failed to make a toast. Arghhhh!

To be fair, they did announce the other toasts—but still, I should have stood and said, “Wait!… Stop the music! I have something to say!… (I mean, something MORE to say—I did get to perform the ceremony, after all—including a few personal words.)

But THE TOAST is different! The toast is where I would have said:

“First of all, thank you, thank you! Thanks to all of you—friends, family, co-workers, and kickball enthusiasts—many of whom crossed the continent or even oceans to be here and add your seal of approval to this holy moment.

On this auspicious occasion, Jean and I could not love Carey Beth more or be more pleased that she and Durwin have been brought together—we believe, providentially.

We love Durwin. He is an amazing, thoughtful, gentle-spirited, joy-filled, friendship-rich, family-faithful, man who loves our daughter with all his heart. What father and mother of the bride would not be thrilled.

We cannot help but say, “Thank you,” Yuhgeng and Margaret, for raising such an exceptional son. (Actually, you raised two, but tonight, we are particularly thankful for this one!) Thank you for pouring your love and wisdom into your first-born, and giving him an example that, I am sure, he will follow as he begins to build his own household.

We are so proud to welcome Durwin into our family. We do so with open arms and cannot wait to see the future unfold for “Tsay Family—The Next Generation!”

Now, would everyone please raise a glass, and join me in toasting–and giving thanks to God for this wonderful affirmation of love and family and life.

To Durwin and Carey Beth!”

Sincerely,

The Father of the Bride

 

p.s., You pronounce “Tsay”—“t-sigh”… or “t-say”…or “sigh”… or “Dur & CB” 🙂

“Psalms…Up Close and Personal”

Psalms have always been special to me. Maybe because they came out of the gut of the writer—David for the most part. David and Psalms are a little like Billy Joel and “New York State of Mind” sung in Central Park, or Whitney Houston hitting the key change in, “I Will Always Love You.” Soul stuff.

Decades ago, I read that Billy Graham went through Psalms every month—all 150…five per day. That’s commitment—particularly when Psalm 119 rolls around. It may have been the original praise chorus as it goes on and on…and on. (Being a little ADD, I appreciate the short ones. 🙂 )

I tried the “five a day” approach for a while, but for me it was just too much goodness to savor at one sitting.  So I adjusted and have for many years now, read just one psalm a day—a sort of spiritual vitamin. But that one psalm a day has become the most meaningful reading I do. As my little quartz guitar tuner helps me tune my guitar to a standard “A=440” tuning, Psalms helps me tune my heart to God.

A couple of tips that, for me, have multiplied the power of Psalms.

1) Take it personally!  Read the verses as though you were the writer—not David or some ancient, at-a-safe-distance somebody else.  Yes, psalms were written about Jerusalem, or David vs. Goliath, or a monumental blunder with Bathsheba, or processing up Mount Zion to worship on holy days.  But for your devotional purposes, the psalm is all about you. Take it personally.

The second tip has to do with a sort of spiritual geography.

Assume “Jerusalem”–that all-important, center of the Hebrew universe, the Holy City–is your life, and  that “the Temple” is your heart..your soul.  “The wilderness” and “Babylon” would be those times and places you feel furthest from God–desperate times and lonely places.

And what about “the enemies”?  Well, for now, the enemies are not some invading army or an angry King Saul trying to destroy David.  For now, the enemies  are those real life forces that are out to do you in.  Fear… lust… loneliness… financial pressures… addiction… anger,… shame… grief… greed… pride… a physical malady.  The enemy may be real life attackers like terrorists or political adversaries, or perhaps, social ills such as racism or injustice.  

Has that devotional time been a little lacking of late?

Try reading Psalms “up close and personal” for thirty-days…or thirty years.  Just one-a-day. It might just be “the cure to what ails you.” 

Keith

4-11-2015

http://keithelder.com/

“No More Tangles…”

tangled_string

I was reading in God Calling this morning when a little phrase/image snagged my attention:

“It is not passionate appeal that gains the Divine Ear so much as the quiet placing of the difficulty and worry in the Divine Hands. So trust and be no more afraid than a child would be, who places its tangled skein of wool in the hands of a loving mother, and runs out to play,…” *

“…its tangled skein of wool….”

What’s your tangled skein? The moment I highlighted those words, your little spirit-elves took-off for the backroom of your brain, only to return a few moments later with your tangled skein (or skeins). The elves plopped the mangled mess on the counter, turned, and left you with…

…that troubled relationship—maybe new, maybe decades-old…

…an aging parent….

…health concerns….

…a child or teen struggling to find their place….

…a job that pays the bills but saps the soul…

…financial worries….

…bad choices from the past short-circuiting the present…

…self-doubt and fear sabotaging your possibilities….

Maybe I hit on one or more of your tangled skeins—maybe you have an unlisted skein. Either way, you have some challenge that won’t be untangled overnight.  There’s no easy way out, and there’s this nagging negative voice inside that says, “It will never get better.”

But it can.

To use the vernacular of a mid-high girl: “God is like,… the best untangler ever!!!”

The timetable varies, but the pattern goes something like this:

  1. Life gets tangled beyond our ability to untangle.
  2. In desperation, we cry-out for God’s help and wisdom
  3. We allow God free reign to untangle—when, where and how he will.
  4. We cooperate with his efforts and guidance.
  5. And before you know it—no more tangles.

It’s Ash Wednesday… the beginning of the Season of Lent. And whether you do the ashes or not, it might be a great 40-plus day period to have a skein or two untangled.

Keith Elder

2-18-2015

* The readings in God Calling are dated, so you can find the full reading at http://www.twolisteners.org/God%20Calling%20TOC.htm and click on the date, February 18.)

“Ms. Satterfield…Valentine’s…and 52 Names for Love”

Besides being an English teacher and life-friend, Gail Satterfield was and is a dream caster and seed planter. Of course, she had to teach us the what’s and why’s and how’s of words, but she took teaching to the next level.

For one, she always had a thoughtful quote waiting for us when we came in the room. The quotes were power points long before Powerpoint–written in perfect cursive on the big green chalkboard behind her desk. The quotes were John Donne or Robert Frost or Eleanor Roosevelt or Mark Twain. They were carpe diem! before “The Dead Poets Society” and they changed the way we saw the world.

For the record, Ms. Satterfield is still at it—still planting seed and casting dreams after all these years, only now her chalkboard is Facebook.  Two to three times a week she will post some plutonium-level, keeper of a saying, and knowing long before Twitter that 140 characters is ‘a plenty, her borrowed wisdom is always short, sweet, and to-the-point.

Today’s quote?…

“The Eskimos had fifty-two names for snow because it was so important to them; there ought to be as many for love.” (Margaret Atwood)

Forget Fifty Shades of Grey—let’s go with “Fifty-Two Names for Love!” I can do that!

  1. Jean… 2. Carey Beth… 3. Mom… 4. Dad… 5. Darryl… 6. Dwayne… 7. Celeste… 8. Grandmother… 9. Grandaddy… 10. Nanny… 11. Papa… 12. Roxy (the Maltese—you’ve got to love your dog).

I’m already at #12, and I haven’t even gotten out of the house.

“Fifty-two names for love”—I could get that many without going beyond our extended families. Some quiet. Some hilarious. Some wise. Some handshakers, some huggers and cheek-kissers, some note-writers.  Some, a little goofy—but all, “names for love,” due to things said or done, and the manner in which they were said or done.

Add schoolteachers and coaches and band directors who invested their lives into mine. They taught me to conjugate a sentence, to use a sliderule, to block and tackle, to swim and dive, to shoot a lay-up, to tie a square knot, to paint with oils, and to think for myself.

There were caring friends and neighbors who kept me on the straight and narrow (such as it was). They were pastors and Sunday School teachers and devoted youth leaders who taught me about God and prayer, and where to find Habakkuk in the Old Testament.

I could get into “names for love” like, guitar, pizza, camp, songwriting, speaking, travel, fishing, golf, sports, movies, ice cream, standing on the beach or at the top of a mountain, watching the game with friends, or just having a great conversation.

I could talk about God. God is love, you know.

You get the idea–fifty-two names for love.

Now, it’s your turn.  Piece of cake.

On you mark…get set…

Hey, wait a second—add “cake” to my list.

Keith Elder

2-14-2015

 

“Einstein’s Desk…Burns…and an Organizing Principle”

Einstein's face

My first job after college was that of “Youth Director” at Huffman United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. My supervisor was Director of Christian Education, Burns Nesbitt. Burns was a 50-something, retired Air Force chaplain with way too much life and knowledge to spend it golfing away the golden years, so, Burns took on the challenge of cultivating the educational ministries of a 1500-member congregation.

How to describe Burns?

Burns was a dreamer/planner/world-thinker/justice-seeker/teacher/trainer/ uproarious laugh-er/theologian/connoisseur of life’s simple gifts—not to mention, husband to Mary Alice (delightful, strong, and refreshingly honest), and father to Phil, Jaye, and Chris. All this said, Burns tried his best to bring it all together and live a life of integrity.

My first visit to Burns’ office was unsettling. How do I describe that 8’ x 12’ish space? Overstuffed bookshelves reaching floor-to-ceiling… institutional, gray-green metal desk…a couple of mismatched chairs—all upstaged by two-foot-high stacks of file folders, open reference books, periodicals, and do-dad keepsakes from people and places past. There were 2’ x 3’ sheets of white newsprint masking-taped around the walls with barely legible, color-coded, Magic Marker scribbles from recent meetings. There was a flip chart in the corner on a flimsey aluminum easel, and a fire hazard of a desktop strewn with loose papers, sticky notes and cheap pens. The words “tsunami” and “tetanus shot” come to mind. John Wesley, father of our Methodist OCD-ness would not have seen eye-to-eye with Burns—and not just because Burns was a foot taller. 

In time, I came to understand that Burns was perfectly comfortable in his little disaster area. The disorder was his order—and Burns could put his hand on anything he needed at a moment’s notice. He knew exactly where the red Magic Marker was, and the children’s Sunday School material, and the book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Question: Have you ever seen a photo of Einstein’s desk?…or Mark Twain’s?… or Steve Jobs? Take a look….

Desk-Einstein

Desk-Mark Twain

Desk-Steve Jobs

My point?   Different people have different ways of making sense of their world—that is, different organizing principles.  Maybe it’s do-lists, PDA’s, calendars, personal assistants, executive secretaries.  For some, it’s mentors, managers, coaches, or trainers.  Maybe it’s a favorite philosopher or theologian.

What’s important is that you find something that works for you—a simple truth or system that helps you figure out the specifics of your life…that helps you make sense of a discombobulated world, and make a little hay while your mortal sun shines.

Now, Burns was no Einstein—though he had his occasional bursts of brilliance—but Burns had found a system that worked for him….

Amazing that he could find it in that office!

Keith Elder

2-3-2015

http://keithelder.com/

“Scattered, Smothered, and Covered?”

Waffle House

I confess. I love Waffle House.

Call me a health foodie, but I love stopping at Waffle House for an occasional cheese steak omelet with extra grilled onions. Oh, I know—if I had a cholesterol meter on my arm, the little needle could double as a fan as I enjoy this unapologetically tasty treat. But life is short… carpe omeletum!

“Sides?…” the waitress asks.

“I’ll take hash browns.”

“Do you want anything on those hash browns?…onions?…cheese?…  Want them scattered, smothered and covered?”

“I just want them brown, but not burnt.” (It’s my Waffle House version of, “Shaken…not stirred.”) “Oh,…and I’ll have wheat toast with that.  I’m trying to cut back.”

“Scattered, smothered, and covered.” It’s the Cadillac of hash browns. I mean, if you are hash brown potatoes, it just doesn’t get any better this. It’s Hash Brown Harvard.

But, then, it’s also the story of my life!

Scattered… by a billion bits of data and day-to-day responsibility. And since, in truth, we can only focus on one thing at a time, “multi-tasking” means that everything suffers. Scattered!—it’s the story of my life.

Smothered… again, by the sheer deluge of stuff.  Like it or not, I am mortal…“on the clock.” So I get smothered as I try to handle this “more than I was ever meant to handle.”

And covered…. This takes the problem one dangerous step further. When I am covered, I disappear—like when I pull a blanket over my head. You can’t see me. The me that I was meant to be is lost in the noise and confusion.

All that said, I got a glimmer of hope this morning…Jeremiah 29:10-14.

The word came at a time when the Jews were in exile… far from home…separated from family and friends… under the thumb of foreign rule. Dare I say, they were “scattered, smothered and covered!” But out of the disorder and darkness, God spoke through the prophet:

“When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. … I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you, and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

“Scattered, smothered and covered?”

There’s hope.

Gotta go… the waitress is here with my breakfast.

Keith Elder

1-31-2015

http://keithelder.com/

“Tony Stewart…and the verdict is…”

th

I confess that I’m not a NASCAR follower.  But I do know a few names and numbers–and  I do know there are days when people die on that oval altar of speed and big money.

Shift gears.

I have known two salt-of-the-earth people who endured the trauma of striking and killing another human being with their vehicles.  In both cases, the drivers were innocent of any wrongdoing.  The pedestrians just stepped in front of them on busy thoroughfares–both at night. The drivers were not speeding or texting or fiddling with the radio.  They were just driving.  But in a split second, a life ended, and their lives were changed forever.

Shift again.

Did you know that our eyes naturally adjust to the brightest object in our field of vision?  When we are driving at night, our pupils are constantly adjusting to dashboard lights and oncoming headlights, and  McDonald’s arches, and reflective road signs. Objects without lights aren’t as evident.

Clutch…shift again.

My parents taught us to stay out of the middle of the road…to walk on the left-hand side…and to look both ways before crossing.  They also insisted we wear brighter clothing when we walked or jogged in the evenings–so drivers could see us.

Now,… shifting down.

August 9, 2014, during a Sprint Cup race in upstate New York, veteran NASCAR driver, Tony Stewart struck and killed 20 year-old driver, Kevin Ward, Jr.  Ward had climbed out of his car after an accident allegedly caused by Stewart.  In the nighttime venue, under the glare of stadium lights, the young driver– dressed in a black jumpsuit and helmet, walking directly into speeding traffic like a crazed matador–was hit by Stewart’s car.  And it was all Tony’s fault?

No.

Investigations and hearings rightly found no wrongdoing in Stewart’s actions and gave him the go ahead to race again.  Of course, now, there is talk of a civil suit against Stewart.

So what’s my point?

Though it is tragic young Kevin died–it wasn’t Tony’s Stewart’s fault.  In a moment of anger and frustration, the young driver did what anyone would admit was a foolish act–and, sadly, it cost him his life.

We so want it to be–we need for it to be–someone else’s fault, don’t we?  When we mess up…when the deal goes south…when we hurt ourselves or someone else.

But sometimes it is our fault.  And if we can own it, we just might learn from it….

…and live to drive another day.

Keith Elder
10-1-2014
http://keithelder.com/

Derek Jeter vs. Keith Olbermann…by the numbers

Derek Jeter

Though I’m not a true baseball fan, the Yankees-Orioles game was on my calendar last Thursday.  The game had no bearing on the playoff picture—New York was already out, Baltimore was already in. But Thursday night wasn’t so much about baseball.

Thursday night was about #2…The Captain…Mr. November. On this long-anticipated evening, after 20 years in pinstripes, Derek Jeter would play his last game at Yankee Stadium.

“Rainout” was on Al Roker’s radar, but there would be no raining on this parade. The capacity crowd was on its feet every time #2 was announced, and early on, he gave them something to cheer about—a first inning hit…an RBI in the middle innings.

The Yankees were leading 5-2 as they took the field for the top of the ninth. New York manager, Joe Girardi, was probably trying to decide when to take Jeter out for one last ovation.  Apparently, Baltimore didn’t get the memo about the fat lady singing, and they proceeded to hit a home run, then a base hit, then another home run. Result?… TIE GAME.

For once, Yankees fans didn’t mind. Why?…because this meant they’d get to see Jeter one more time.  The Captain was slated to bat third.

I can play it all back in my head: the lead-off man gets a single. The next batter lays down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runner into scoring position.

All eyes–from the owners’ and celebrities’, to the Little Leaguers’ and their dads’, to the hot dog venders’–are trained on #2 as he walks to the plate.  He stands in the box… one pitch… one swing…. one crack of the bat.  The ball drops into shallow right field for a base hit.  It’s fielded as the runner rounds third… the throw…the play at home…….

”SAFE!” Yankees win! Yankees win!

…on Jeter’s final swing…and his first walk-off hit in seven years.

Of course, the haters will hate and the naysayers will nay.

After one player’s comment that Jeter was the greatest, Keith Olbermann, of ESPN, takes it upon himself to detail all the statistical reasons #2 is NOT #1.  (You will understand if I don’t share the link.)  I’m sure it was just oversight that K.O. failed to highlight post-season stats Jeter does lead.  I’m afraid that all he proves in his rant is that it’s possible to make A point while entirely missing THE point.

Thursday night wasn’t about stats–it was one last tip of the cap to Jeter’s integrity and dedication and leadership, and humility.  Sure, it was about hundreds of great plays and proud moments over time–but, more, it was about a great human being who also happened to be a great ballplayer.

“Who is the greatest” can never be determined by stats alone.

But five World Series rings, millions of forever fans, and one class act, should keep Derek Jeter in the conversation for years to come.

Keith Elder
9-27-2014

http://keithelder.com/

“An Open Letter to Jameis, Ray, Roger, etc.”

Dear Jameis, Ray, Roger, etc., etc.”

All we wanted was a nice, evening with friends and family. A little food and drink. A little friendly banter. A great game. But that’s not what we got. Our night was intercepted by play-by-play and commentary on the latest episode of “Athletes Behaving Badly.” Suspensions, arrests, abuse charges—then, of course, spin by publicists and coaches and league officials trying to save their… Butkus awards.

Now, I don’t know you guys personally. And no head coaches or commissioners have called to ask for my take on the matter—but here it comes.

You guys are ruining it for everybody. Taking away from a game that has given you everything. Where would you be today without this game? And, yet, you are ruining it—siphoning off the magic and the excitement of great rivalries and cool autumn afternoons and tailgate reunions.

FYI, Average Joe and Jane Public don’t to want hear another “athlete beats up anybody story.” (Add to that, doping, bird-flipping, shoplifting, racial slurs from penthouses, or disgusting language from atop cafeteria tables). There’s not a person out there who works a real job, who is not repulsed by your behavior. We commoners look to sports as a little break from realities of a tough economy and terrorist threats and killer viruses—and here you come, just turning it into more bad news. We are tired of having to explain you to our kids, “Oh, he’s not a bad person, he just did a bad thing.”

Or are you a bad person?  Lord knows, there are evil people out there in the world. Jesus said, “You’ll know a tree by its fruits.” Right now, Friends, your fruits don’t speak very highly of you. They’re saying you don’t respect the game…or the fans…or your family…or yourself.

As far as we are concerned you can go away and stay away, until you begin to get your orchard in order. But that won’t happen, really, without a change of heart…and that’s something you’ll need to discuss with God. Only God can change a heart.

Sincerely hoping your tree gets better soon.  Mine too.

Keith Elder

9-22-2014

http://keithelder.com/

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