shortbread

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

Archive for the month “January, 2013”

“Life’s too short to spend it ________.”

“City slicker”/mid-life crisis guy, Mitch (Billy Crystal) had to figure out his “one thing”.  (Remember leathery, real cowboy, Curly, giving Mets-cap-Mitchie life advice?…holding up that one index finger?)  Mitch was unhappy.  Unhappy at work, at home, at his kid’s school career day, wherever. The whole cattle drive adventure with his buddies was just one more attempt to jumpstart his heart.  But riding and roping weren’t going to do it.  Before Mitch would find his happy face again, he would have to figure out his one thing—that is, what was most important to him.

There are various ways to approach eating this elephant—some positive (What do you want to be when you grow up?) and some negative (What are you NOT good at?).

The go-to scripture reading at many weddings is First Corinthians 13—a.k.a., the love chapter (Imagine Barry White saying, in his deep mellow tones, “the Luv Chapter”—very cool.)  The Apostle Paul, was back-and-forth with the negative-positive approaches, as he tried to help people grasp the concept. After a couple of positives, “Love is patient and kind,” he launches into the negatives, “…love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude…” etc.  Of course, he gets back to the positives, but knowing what love is not is helpful.

This little blurb is one of those negative-on-the-way-to-positive exercises.  Of course, it’s shared in the name of helping you find–or, perhaps, just helping you fine-tune your happy face.  It’s fill-in-the-blank.

Life’s too short to spend it ______________.

Of course, I have a few thoughts.  Life’s too short to spend it mad  (I know, “Dogs are mad; people are angry.”)  Life’s too short to spend it pretending.  Life’s too short to spend it with a pain that can be repaired (not talking about spouses, here—just the bum knee, the lack of education, etc.). Life’s too short to spend it watching TV.  Life’s too short to spend it trying to eat, drink, or entertain your way to happiness.

Your turn now—and you may have several as well.

Life’s too short to spend it ______________.

So, why do we? 

Keith Elder  1/30/12

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“Catching Up…but Not Really”

If you have read any of my previous blogs, you notice that this one is in a different format.  Before, I was using an embedded blog on my website; but due to numerous bugs, I made the shift to an external blog.  (I know, blah, blah, blog.)  Hopefully, this will be more user-friendly and hieroglyphics-free.

The transition involved the tedious process of transferring my earlier blogs to the new site. I “got ‘er done” (thanks, Larry the Cable Guy), but the final product carries a little scar.  When you pull-up any one of the first sixteen posts, you see “January 24” as the date posted.  There was no way to go back and insert the original posting dates.  Too bad for OCD me.

That is so like life.  We fall behind in our studies and, consequently, have to cram for the exam. “All right—I made a ‘B’!”  Yes, but you could have made an “A” if you had studied all along.  “I went to my friend and apologized for hurting their feelings.”  They forgive you, but there will be a little hesitation before they trust you again. See, we catch up, but not really.

There may be some things we can catch up on.  Runners can strategically lay back in a race, waiting for the right moment to make their move and sprint past the leaders.  We may catch up on the bills or make-up the game that got rained out.  But there is always a cost for getting behind in the first place.  Stress. Late fees—literal or figurative. Lost time which, by the way, is our most precious natural resource.  Worst of all, we miss new opportunities at the front door because we are out back trying to repair our past.

The old rock anthem, “Taking Care of Business,” is a pretty good life mantra.  Take care of business by forming a few good habits: eat right; exercise; keep the room in order; brush your teeth; save some; give some.  When you mess up, say, “I’m sorry”.  Spend a little time daily with God.

My experience—after extensive research on the subject—is that it’s easier to get something right the first time than it is to take the make-up test.

Keith Elder  1/25/12

1/21/13 “…Holy Yes’s”

“Nick-Knack Racks, and Holy Yes’s”

Picture a little collapsible nick-knack or hat rack you might hang on a wall or on the back of a closet door.  The one I envision is wooden, criss-crossie, and has eight or ten little hanger-knobs. Perfect for belts or ball caps—or maybe your Olympic medals. (I hate to stuff my Olympic medals in my sock drawer.)

Now imagine the rack with no knobs.  Now it’s just a lattice frame hanging flat on the wall.  If you tossed your cap in that direction, the cap would just fall to the floor.  You have no place to hang your hat. 😦

Call this a life with no commitments.  Pretty useless.

At the other extreme, imagine the rack with dozens of little knobs—so many that your can’t organize your stuff (for lack of a better word). This would be the overcommitted life—trying to do everything and please everybody.

Truth is, we all need a few hangers on our nick-knack racks. Not so many that they clutter and confuse the situation; but enough to bring order to our lives.  These would be the “biggies”–those key decisions that, over time, will make hundreds of lesser decisions for us.  (Btw, even God had to make a few organizational calls in the beginning—check out Genesis 1.)

I say “yes” to football—and that one decision makes a thousand sub-decisions for me. It determines what I will be doing with my fall afternoons and Friday nights for years to come. I’ll be working out and practicing and playing in the big game—while other guys are working jobs or hanging-out at the DQ.

I say “yes” to marriage and family—and that one decision creates a whole new priority that trumps “doing whatever I want, whenever I want.”  I have a spouse and kids and I choose the joys and responsibilities of family over other options.

Here’s where the “holy yes’s” and “holy no’s” come in.  Because I have made a few meaningful commitments—placed a few key hooks on my rack—then when lesser things come along (and they will), it’s easy to say a holy “no” because I’ve already got my holy “yes’s” on the books…

…I mean, on the rack.

Keith Elder,  1/21/13

1/18/13 “OCD, Dr. Seuss…”

“OCD… Dr. Seuss…and The Artist’s Way”

You’ve heard it: “I’m not OCD (obsessive-compulsive)—I’m CDO!”  That would be, so OCD that you alphabetize it.

I am notorious for over-beating the batter.  Over-painting the painting. Over-thinking the blog.  I have even been known to rearrange ornaments on the Christmas tree that other people—or even I—have so carelessly mis-hung.  I am a sick, sick man.  But there are others on the ward.

I read that Theodore Geisel, a.k.a., Dr. Seuss, would not release a story or book until every single meter and rhyme was exact.  Rick Warren (“The Purpose Driven Life”) joked that preachers spend thirty seconds coming up with the first two “S” points of their sermon, then rack their brains the next two hours trying to come up with a third “S” point.  I know of artists who touch-up paintings even after they are hanging on the wall, and songwriters who beat themselves up because they think of a better way to say it after the song has been recorded.

In “The Artist’s Way”, Judith Cameron spotlights perfectionism and points out some of the devastating effects it can have on any would-be creative person.  The perfectionist tendency judges, stifles, condemns the little child within that IS the artist, and, more often than not, keeps the artist from completing much of anything. I mean, why bother?  It won’t be perfect.

A panel of hit songwriters was asked, “What has been your most helpful learning over recent years?”  One insight particularly convicted the OCDemons in me: “Create…and finish.”  I have an ocean of song bits, book ideas and outlines, concepts of paintings, musicals I want to write, CD’s or EP’s I need to finish.  The sad reality is that most will die with me, because I won’t let them go.  They aren’t perfect.

One biblical parable really worries me—“The Parable of the Talents.”  Remember, some folks took what they were given, invested and showed a return.  One buried his talent for fear of losing it.  My bet: he was OCD… that perfectionist who had to wait for everything to be just right before he let it go. And of course it never was…so he never did….

And, as I recall, story didn’t end well for him.

Keith Elder,  1/18/13

1/11/13 “Maverick…”

“Maverick, Wide Receivers, and You”

Maverick.  When you see that name, your date-of-birth will probably determine whether you think “James Garner, cowboy hat, and string bowtie,” or “Tom Cruise, ’You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling,’ and Kelly McGillis.”  Though I know about the former, I’m thinking about the latter and “Top Gun”.

What got me started down this road was hearing a football term repeatedly over the past NFL play-off weekend. “Get separation.”  It refers to a pass receiver getting open so that he can catch the football. Using speed, quickness, and precision pass routes, the receiver must get separation—that is, create a little distance between himself and the defender.  If he does, he has a much greater chance of catching the ball. If not, the ball is batted down or worse, intercepted.

It is late in the movie—after Goose has died in the not-Maverick’s-fault training crash.  It is after a disillusioned Maverick has quit the program; after the heart-to-heart talk with Viper; and after Pete “Maverick” Mitchell has shown up to graduate with his Top Gun class.  In the climactic scene, the young pilots are engaged in a real-life, do-or-die dogfight when Maverick, still struggling with his demons, bugs-out on his assignment as wingman for Val Kilmer’s “Ice Man.” Or so they would have you think.

Why bug-out, Maverick?  Uncertainty?…fear of failure?…self-doubt?  Probably all-of-the-above.  Then again, maybe, he just needed a moment.

Don’t we all, at times?  We need a moment to gather our thoughts.  Regroup.  Back away a few seconds—like the painter from a canvas—to put things into perspective.  To use our football term of the day—we need to “get separation.”

In Top Gun, the triumphant moment comes when Maverick suddenly reappears and reengages.  Focused, confident, barking orders, he reenters the fray, saves the day, and ultimately, finds his peace.

Maybe you could stand to get a little separation between you and whatever it is that might keep you from making your big catch.  It’s taking a few minutes out of your busy schedule to just breath.  It’s taking that rare personal day to consider how it’s going and what might need adjustment.  It’s a sabbatical month or quarter or year.

Bugging out?… Not if it’s done in the name of getting healthy…getting right…reclaiming the joy.  At the risk of mixing metaphors, call it sharpening the ax…tuning the engine…cleaning the windows…focusing the telescope.  It’s not bugging out if you reengage a little stronger, a little wiser, a little better than before.

Keith Elder, 1/11/13

1/11/13 “God Still Works”

“God Still Works”

The parents are concerned that their little boy is not speaking by the time children typically begin to talk. A year goes by…then two.  Finally around age three, the child breaks his silence at the breakfast table. “The toast is burnt,” he says, in perfect English.  His parents are overjoyed.  “Oh, Son, this is wonderful!  But why did you wait so long to speak?”  “Well,” he says, “up until now, everything was O.K.”

Bad things happen. Burnt toast. Katrina or Sandy or (you fill in the hurricane blank). Tornadoes and earthquakes and tsunamis.  9-11.  Columbine and the 30-plus school shootings since Columbine. Droughts. Lay-offs. A shadow on an X-ray.

But wait—there must be some mistake!  You follow the rules. You “honor thy father and thy mother…” for the pay-off “…that thy days may be long on the earth.” You “do unto others as you would have you do unto you” and pray, and worship, and give.  And still, bad things happen.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People, hit the bookstore shelves in 1978. In this little classic, Rabbi Harold Kushner shares his story of grief, disorientation—and eventual reorientation—following the death of his young son.  Looking through the lens of The Book of Job, he grapples with the inevitability of suffering in life…even in the lives of “good” people.  I paraphrase his introductory comments:

“Please note: the title of this book is not WHY Bad Things Happen to Good People. That would be the shortest book in the world—just three words: I don’t know.”  The title was WHEN Bad Things Happen to Good People—because they do.  He draws upon the blessed/tragic/blessed-again life of Job for his conclusions (which we will not go into here).  But let’s talk about you.

I don’t know why you have had to…why you are having to…or why you will have to go through the painful moments and chapters. Losing a job or a house or a marriage. Watching the nest egg disappear in a bad stock market. Getting sick or having a loved one suffer.  I don’t know why.  But I do know that, when it happens, God still works…

The Bible is filled with references that support this simple affirmation of faith. God still works.  Know it.  Hope it.  Believe it, folks. You fill in the blank with your personal pain, but finish the sentence with “God still works”—because God does.

Keith Elder, 1/11/13

1/7/13 “How are You Doing…”

“How are You Doing…I Mean, Really…?”

I read somewhere that it is never as bad or as good as people say it is—whatever “it” is.

It’s just a hunch, but I’m thinking that most people probably play-down the bad and play-up the good.  In a world where weakness and brokenness is stuffed, denied, and socially shunned (remember, “Every party has a pooper, that’s why we invited you….”)—we just don’t want people to know that we struggle. That we fall sometimes and can’t get up. That we are lonely or lost.

“How are you doing?”  “Fine” is the auto-reply to the auto-question. It shuts down the search. Creates a little distance between you and the would-be intruder. It says, “Let’s talk about something else.”

An aside. (You’ll learn that I have about as many “asides” as I do main dishes.) Dave Ramsey, the “Financial Peace” guy, has a response to the “How are you doing?” question: “Better than I deserve!”  It’s lovely in that it is humbly proud and yet still leaves room for shame. ϑ

But, what if someone asks, “How are you doing?” You say, “Fine.” Then they follow with, “No, I mean, really, (your name)…how are you doing?”  It’s disarming…unsettling.  It reminds me of Jesus’ questions.  People would be in “ordinary people” mode and Jesus would invite them out with…

“Do you want to be made well?”

“What do you want me to do for you?”

“But who do you say that I am?”

“How are you doing, (your name)…I mean, really?”

I memorized the 23rd Psalm as a child and have recited it hundreds of times through the years–mostly during worship or at a graveside, but, also in the dark nights of my own soul.  One phrase has saved me a thousand times.

“He restoreth my soul.”  It’s that rope of hope when you think you are all out of rope.

Where, today, are you soul-weary, meaning-starved, heart-stressed, mind-muddled, love-challenged?  Just say the words over and over: “He restoreth my soul….” Say it aloud. Say it under your breath or silently. Say it when you look in the mirror…when you stop at a traffic light…when you’re lying in bed trying to go to sleep.  It’s just four words, but they’ll jumpstart your hoper, rekindle the fire, and it—whatever “it” is—will get better.

Keith Elder, 1/7/13

1/4/13 ‘Where you’d rather be…”

“You’ll never leave where you are until you decide where you’d rather be.”   –Anonymous

Years back, I read of a conversation between Dean Martin and John Wayne. It took place after “The Duke” had been diagnosed with cancer and, subsequently, stopped smoking. Lifelong party boy, Martin, offered his old friend a cigarette, which Wayne politely declined.  “Since when did you stop smoking?” Dean asks.  JW replies, “Since I decided I wanted to live more than I wanted to smoke.”

Where would you rather be?  Career-wise?… family-wise?… in regard to your physical conditioning? Where would you rather be in your spiritual life?… in regard to your conscience and morality?

Maybe “where you would rather be” has to do with a passion or special interest you have had on the backburner for decades. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn to play a musical instrument…or get more involved in the community…or finish that degree…or write or paint.

I’m a firm believer that if your do not have a target, you’ll likely never hit it.  The wisest person ever to live, King Solomon, wrote, “Without a vision, the people perish.”  What’s a vision?  It’s just a clear idea of “where you’d rather be”–better, where you were meant to be.

Do you have a vision for your life and future? I’m not talking pipe dream. I’m talking about the combination of an unquenchable passion, a natural giftedness, and some degree of affirmation from those around you—intersecting with the needs of a real world.  You see, we are born into a particular context, and our greatest joy and sense of purpose will be found within that context. It is an awesome life-moment when we come to the realization that there really is a purpose for our being here.  Lived-out, this purpose leads to that ultimate “where you’d rather be.”

Where would you rather be?  Until you hammer-out a soul-satisfying answer to that question and begin stepping in that direction, you’ll most likely just stay where you are—and never know the joy of “where you’d rather be.”

Keith Elder, 1/4/13

1/2/13 “Most Excellent”

“Most Excellent”

Picture Wayne and Garth—a.k.a., Dana Carvey and Mike Myers at their “Saturday Night Live” best—leaning forward enthusiastically in their low-riding, overstuffed chairs for yet another episode of “Wayne’s World.”  “NO WAY!”… “YES, WAY!”

There were so many memorable quotes and catchphrases and musical classics—“NOT!”   But in the interest of word economy, I cut to the helpful-hopeful chase.

“MOST EXCELLENT.”  It was such a warm, bobble-head compliment, used to describe just about anything that didn’t make you throw up on air. (With Wayne and Garth, even that could be “most excellent.”)  But, I digress.

I once heard “excellence” defined as “giving people more than they expect—in a good way.”  The food is made from fresher ingredients, more skillfully prepared, and served promptly with a smile.  Most excellent!  The game was well-played, exciting and penalty-free—with the outcome determined in the final seconds.  Most excellent!  The accommodations were fantastic.  The band played non-stop for two-hours.  Most excellent!

It’s an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. (Hellllloooo, Washington…) It’s the solid repair job at a fair price. It’s an exceptional product. It’s a sermon or lesson that has received it’s due preparation and leaves people thinking, “I want to hear more.”  It’s patient care that actually cares and customer service that actually serves. It’s a friend indeed. A faithful spouse. A parent who has his/her priorities in order. Most excellent!

I don’t know if it was near the beginning of a new year that the Apostle Paul wrote these words or not—but they would have made a great Watch Night sermon text.  

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

The world is dying of mediocrity…just getting by…going through the motions. (Hellllloooo, Washington…) I wonder how my world—how THE world might change if I made “MOST EXCELLENT!” my standard.  If we did.

I’m in.

Keith Elder, 1/2/13

12/31/12 “Life is the Burning…”

“Life is the Burning”

“Life is not the wick or the candle – it is the burning.” ~ Author Unknown

It was just one of those little pilfered quotes you see on a Facebook posting—superimposed over the image of a single candle. I guess it sparked something in me, because I copied and pasted the words into my “pilfered quote” file.  Thought I might think about thinking about it one day.

“Life is not the wick or the candle – it is the burning.”

My take?  Life is not the person; it’s the passion. Life is the relationships that fulfill us.  It is the felt-joy in a task that consumes us.  Life is that unquenchable something that keeps us working late into the night and wakes us early in the morning with another idea or piece of the puzzle.  I read that Andrew Carnegie often woke up with bursts of insight. “Are those from God?” someone asked. “I don’t know” he said. “I just know that when I go with the ideas, I make money.”

Life is the burning—that something that you would do whether you are paid to do it or not.

I heard Lady Gaga in an interview. (By the way, I am not a big LG music fan, but she is original, and I am a fan of that.)  When an interviewer asked her what she would be doing if she had not hit it big, she said, “I would be singing in some little club somewhere, making music. It’s just who I am.”

It is no secret that, in the Bible, fire is usually a sign of the presence of God.  God called to Moses out of a burning bush.  God set a pillar of fire that guided the Children of Israel through the wilderness. The prophets of Baal were consumed by fire on Mount Carmel in a classic “throwdown” between Elijah’s God and the little-g pagan gods.  Candles, symbolized the ongoing presence of God, first in the Tabernacle, then in the Temple.  In Hebrews 12:29, we read, “God is a consuming fire.”

Maybe we find God–or God finds us–when we find our “burning.”

John Wesley, forefather of modern-day Methodism, was an 18th century Anglican priest whose preaching and organizational gifts spawned a 50-year spiritual/social revival across the British Isles.  Once asked why the crowds came out to hear him preach, he calmly said, “I set myself on fire, and the people come to watch me burn.”

A question I might ask myself as I move into another year:  What is my burning?…my passion?…my cause… my all-consuming love?

If I have one, maybe I need to stoke the fire and fan the flames.  If I don’t have a ready answer to the question, maybe it’s time I found one.  After all, life’s too short to spend it dead.

Hey,…now, there is a quotable quote.

Keith Elder, 12/31/12

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