shortbread

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

Archive for the category “Challenge”

“Twenty Years Ago”…

I hope you’ll read the story before you click on the link. It’s a pretty neat story.

Recorded and released by Kenny Rogers in 1987, “Twenty Years Ago” was a hit for me from the first listen.

So many vivid word pictures. I know it could have been about any “Small Town U.S.A.,” but it took me back to N. Wall Street (in Calhoun, GA, not NYC),…and the Martin Theatre where I once saw Roy Rogers and Dale Evans in person one 1960-ish Saturday morning. A couple of doors down, there was Mason & Owens Drug Co. with all the sights and smells and friendly vibes of a mom & pop establishment. It had a bonafide soda fountain with twirly stools at the counter and slaw dogs (with buns sliced the right way), and the option of regular Coke or cherry Coke (“cherry” by way of a squirt or two of real cherry syrup). Diet Coke had yet to be invented.

The song brought back all manner of good, “simpler time” memories, but there’s another reason the song hit home for me today.

A dozen years after the song came out, while serving as a pastor in Decatur, Alabama, I somehow stumbled across the North Alabama Chapter of The Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI). As I recall, the coordinators were Donny Grace and Jim Parker–both great songwriters, but also great encouragers of my songwriting efforts. They were gracious—but honest. They gave me “attaboys”—but also helped me understand what worked about a song and what didn’t.

Besides being a successful realtor and having a few hit songs to his credit, Jim also birthed the now-acclaimed “Jim Parker Songwriter Series.” Every month, Jim brings some of the finest songwriters in the country to The Playhouse at Huntsville’s Von Braun Civic Center where they share their songs and the stories behind the songs.

I actually got to be the opener for that event one time and it was such an off-the-charts, top-of-the line, gig. Beautiful theatre, state-of-the-art sound system, a sound engineer who “knew his stuff”—oh, and a packed house! I got a thirty-minute time slot…five or six songs! (I remember thinking, “Take me now, Lord—I’ve got nowhere to go but down after this!”)

A few years before moving to the VBCC, Jim hosted his event at “Sister Gooch,” an upscale restaurant in the Madison area. One night after NSAI, he asked if I’d like to sit in on one of his monthly events as the “up-and-coming local writer.” He said, “We can’t pay much, but we’ll feed you dinner.”
All I heard was, “…we’ll feed you dinner” and I was in. (I was younger and hungrier back then.)

So, now we’re sitting on the stools behind our guitars and microphones—Jim, me, and some guy by the name of “Wood Something-or-other.” I didn’t know the soft-spoken, mild-manner fellow, but at one point in the rotation–remember, it’s a songwriter event, so all songs are originals–he plays a familiar intro on his guitar and begins to sing…

“It’s been a long time since I walked
through this old town,
but oh how the memories start to flow.
And there’s the old movie house—
they finally closed it down.
You could find me there every Friday night
Twenty years ago.”

I was a little awestruck, but as he moved into the second verse, I couldn’t help myself and began playing along. I didn’t need a chord chart and I never missed a beat. You see, I knew this song. I’d heard it a hundred times on the radio. I’d performed it for years—one of Kenny Rogers’ greatest hits. When we came to the chorus, I gently folded-in a darn-near perfect high harmony….

“All my memories from those days come gather round me
What I’d give if they could take me back in time
It almost seems like yesterday
Where do the good times go?
Life was so much easier twenty years ago.”

I had no idea, but I was sitting next to one of Nashville’s most successful and prolific songwriters, Wood Newton. After the song, he looked at me and smiled as if to say, “Not bad–not bad at all.”

Following the show, during which he heard several of my songs, he gave me one of those compliments that sticks with you…a word that keeps you in the game.

“Now what’s your name again? ‘Keith, what?’…”
“Keith Elder,” I replied.
“I think if you were up in Nashville, I would’ve heard of you.”
Very cool.We shook hands (that was back when people could still shake hands) and said our good-byes.

End of story….
…at least, until today.

You see, that night would have been a couple of years before 9-11-2001…that September day when—as Alan Jackson put it—“the world stopped spinning.”

I can’t help thinking…

…as I read of the death of Kenny Rogers… as we experience a global pandemic that could well make 9-11 look like small change… as I recall a great night at “Sister Gooch” with Jim Parker and Wood “Something or other”…

I can’t help thinking…

“Life was so much easier… twenty years ago.”

Wood, thanks for the gift that just keeps on giving….

And Kenny,…

R.I.P.

“My Covenant of Salt”

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The lectionary passage was Matthew 5:13ff, and it began with Jesus’ words, “You are the salt of the earth….”  In the course of the sermon, I referenced a biblical tradition of a “covenant of salt”–that is, an everlasting covenant between God and God’s people.

There were just a few recorded examples, but to give you an idea—-one was establishing what portion of the offering the Levites were to receive.  Another was establishing King David’s household for perpetuity.

As a part of the sermon, I wrote my own little “covenant of salt” and found it to be a most helpful, “holy ground” exercise.

For what it’s worth….

“My Covenant of Salt”

Lord, I am an imperfect soul.

As much as I long to be right and do right, over time, I am going to err.

But my prayer is this—that when I do err, let me err on the side of kindness, never cruelty…on the side of courage, never cowardice.

When I misstep, let me err on the side of mercy and compassion, not care-less-ness or callousness.

Let me err on the side of humility, never arrogance; on the side of grace, never vengeance—assured that there will come a day when You even the score—repaying evil for evil, and rewarding goodness with good.

Lord, when I err, let me err on the side of excellence—always giving more than expected, never “just getting by” or following the path of least resistance. Let my measure be Philippians 4:8—“Whatsoever things are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious…If there is any excellence, anything worthy of praise,” let my mind dwell on these things.”

God of all, who sees all and knows all, let me ready to suffer the heartbreak of losing a hard-fought, fair race–before stooping to “win” by cheating, After all, “what does it profit a man—or a team, or a party or a nation—to gain the whole world and lose one’s soul.

Lord, when I err, let me err on the side of “real”–acknowledging my foibles and faults, owning my brokenness and mistakes, so that I might actually grow from them, and mine them for some redemptive value. May I never again be caught shaming and blaming and passing the buck.

However,…whenever I fall short of the glory, let me err on the side of soul-level faithfulness—even when my faithful response might appear foolish in the eyes of the world, or be labeled “disingenuous“ by critics and doubters. May I never again err on the side “political expediency” and “what’s in it for me?”—to the neglect of my one, God-ordained conscience.

Lord, when I err, let it be on the side of doing more than my share—never less. And may I never play the fool, building bigger barns to store my excess, while my neighbor suffers need.

Remind me every day, that my soul is required of me–every day.

Lord, I am an imperfect soul.

As much as I long to be right and do right, from time to time, I am going to err.

But when I do, let me err on the side of truth and goodness and love.

That would be…

Your side.

“Tony Stewart…and the verdict is…”

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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/

“Smokey the Bear and Catherine of Sienna?”

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Besides being bears, what do Smokey the Bear and Winnie the Pooh have in common?

Wait for it…  Hold that thought…  I’ll tell you in a sec….

It was just another facebook poster:

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” – Saint Catherine of Sienna  (shared on meetville.com).

The irony—and I didn’t know this till I did a little research—Saint Catherine was/is the Catholic Church’s Patron Saint of Fire Prevention.

I’ve known a few “saints of fire-prevention” along the way.  Self-designated dowsers throwing water on anything vaguely resembling innovation. If it was not in the rule book…if it meant going off the beaten path or over the beaten budget…if it threatened to crack the glass ceiling of “the way we’ve always done it”—the saints of fire prevention just said, “No.”  In church. In business. In society.

Unfortunately, the only way we find the new-and-wonderful is to let go of at least some of the old-and-not-as-wonderful-as-it-once-was.  Nicodemus did it in John 3.  It’s the story where Jesus said, “you must be born again.” It’s a new wineskins for new wine thing.

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Though Catherine received no formal education, and though she only lived to the age of 33, she was recognized as one of the most intelligent theological and philosophical minds in the Catholic world.  Don’t you know the old cardinals loved having this young, female voice swaying the Pope’s decisions?  But she didn’t care. True truth-tellers aren’t bent by winds of popular opinion. She was a mover and a shaker. And despite her later designation as Patron Saint of Fire Prevention, she was anything but in her life on earth.  She was a fire starter, bringing light and hope and joy and new life to a struggling Church.

Her secret?…

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”  She was, and she did.

Oh… I almost forgot….

Besides being bears, what do Smokey the Bear and Winnie the Pooh have in common?

…………..same middle name.

It’s a dumb joke, I know.  But becoming who God meant you to be and, setting the world on fire is not.

Keith

5-21-14

http://keithelder.com/

https://twitter.com/keitheldermusic

“Tony Robbins, Dog Training, and Saving Yourself”

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I’m new to Twitter. Just beginning to know some of what I don’t know I don’t know. I do know I need to tweet more. I need to learn about hashtags (#duh).

Mostly, I’m learning that not everything you read can be read lightly.

For instance, Tony Robbins tweeted a Michael Hyatt link entitled, “What my Dog Trainer Taught Me About Leadership.” (http://buff.ly/1j3vMI1, but don’t go there just yet.)  It offered a few good insights, but there was a quote that, as I mentioned, cannot be read lightly.

“The Russian saint, Seraphim of Sarov (a household name, I’m sure), once said, ‘Save yourself, and thousands around you will be saved.’”

I don’t think that the 18th century saint and wonder worker, celebrated January 2nd in the Russian Orthodox Church, was nixing Jesus’ words, “He who wishes to save his life must lose it.”  (Matt. 16:25)  I can’t imagine that he was tossing out most New Testament writings about laying down one’s life in service to others, taking up our cross, etc.

My bet is that he was talking along the lines of securing your air mask before securing your child’s in case there is a loss of cabin pressure on the plane. I mean, if you pass out, your kid’s a goner.

Maybe Seraphim was talking about coming to grips with our issues—be they addictive behaviors, bad habits, painful pasts, broken relationships, or even something as simple as not showing up on time for meetings. Maybe he was trying to say that if others see us overcoming and succeeding, it just might stir the hope in them that they can overcome and succeed too.

Not to put words in a Russian saint’s mouth (you know that’s not sanitary), but maybe that’s what ol’ Seraphim of Sarov was trying to say to people in positions of leadership.

Become your best you, and there is no telling how many others will be inspired and empowered to become their best them.

Twead–i.e., read tweets–carefully.

Keith

5-13-14

 

http://keithelder.com/

https://twitter.com/keitheldermusic

 

 

“Wake up Leroy!”

Joe was a long-time, long-haul trucker. With several million miles in his log, he found himself having to apply for a new job with a new freight line.  On the oral exam, the interviewer lays out a scenario:

“You crest a mountain in your rig and begin easing down a long, steep grade.  As you try to shift to a lower gear, for whatever reason, it won’t engage, so you begin picking up speed.  After a minute or two, your brakes begin to fail. To your right is a guardrail, then a 400-foot drop. Ahead, you see two 18-wheelers coming toward you—one in your lane trying to pass the other. To their right is a sheer granite mountainside. What would you do?”

After a moment, Joe leans forward and responds, “Why, I think I’d wake up Leroy.”

The interviewer asks, “Leroy?  Who’s Leroy?”

Joe explains, “Why, Leroy’s my driving partner. And you see, if I’m driving, Leroy’s probably back in the sleeper catching a few winks.”

“I don’t understand,” said the interviewer. “Why, wake him up?”

“Well, you see, Leroy is a young fella—just 20 or so.  And he comes from a really small town, and I guarantee you, Leroy ain’t NEVER seen a wreck like the one that’s about to happen!”

“Wake up Leroy!”    It might make for a pretty great battle cry…

…for those who’ve been waiting on life to come to them.

…for those who’ve “let themselves go,” physically, morally, spiritually

…for those who’ve been shaming and blaming everyone else for their problems

…for those who have been in a self-imposed exile due to past failures

…for those who are waiting for all of the lights to turn green before they start whatever.

“Wake up Leroy!”…not to watch a big wreck, but to avoid it!  Joe might have been in an impossible situation, but you’re not—and I’m not.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” *

…and I can too,… if I will.  And you can too,… if you will.

Otherwise, you “ain’t never seen an accident like the one that’s about to happen.”

Keith

5-1-14

*  Philippians 4:13

http://keithelder.com/

“…a date which will live in infamy…”

 

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“Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan….”

Of course, these are the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and plunged the U.S. into World War II.  But there are other dates that will “live in infamy”—some newly added.

April 27, 2014, in Mayflower, Arkansas.  April 28, 2014, in Tupelo, Mississippi.

Like December 7, 1941, some dates are national dates—October 29, 1929. November 22, 1963.  September 11, 2001.

But some dates belong to a particular region or state.  Some are etched in the collective memory of a community.  I had several specific dates and towns in this paragraph—but I have just deleted them out of reverence for those communities. The dates and events are private pain and holy ground.

Some dates “live in infamy” closer to home. Family dates.  The day Daddy died.  The day of the accident. The day the military chaplain showed up on our doorstep. The night the house burned.

We all have our dates that will “live in infamy.”  What strikes me, is how we live through them—how we survive.  For a while, it may be all we can do just to breath in and out, but then we begin to regroup and find our way back to life again.  True, it is a different life.  But new life comes—and with it, love and laughter and purpose and gratitude.

We are the Itsy bitsy spider that…

“…crawled up the water spout.  Down came the rain and washed the spider out.  Out came the sun and dried up all the rain, and the itsy bitsy spider crawled up the spout again.”

Storms have once again wreaked havoc across the Southeast. The aftermath is overwhelming, and some do not see how they can possibly recover.  But they will, and somehow, by the grace of God, they will find their way back up that waterspout.  And the rest of us will help—with our dollars and our work gloves and our friend-indeed-ship, and our prayers.

Keith

4-29-14

website: http://keithelder.com/

 

“THE World Religion…and Football”

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I like that.

“BUDDHA was not a BUDDHIST.  JESUS was not a CHRISTIAN.  MUHAMMAD was not a MUSLIM.  THEY were TEACHERS who taught LOVE.  LOVE was their RELIGION.”

Now, I realize that some folks will be offended to have Jesus lumped in with other world religious leaders and simply referred to as a teacher.  The Easter event did set him apart as being out (of the tomb) of the ordinary. However, whoever made the observation made a good one.  LOVE was the common prize in all three Cracker Jack boxes.  Love was the light at the end of their tunnels. Love was their “bottom line.”

Honestly, I haven’t studied Buddha or Muhammad (by the way, spell-check has three acceptable spellings for “M___”), but even if they didn’t claim to be God, I’m sure they meant well .  They were just trying, along with Jesus and John Lennon, to get people to understand that “All We Need is Love.”

Jesus tried to reboot the system of his hyper-religious forbearers who had gotten tangled up in six hundred and thirteen Old Testament laws and centuries of religio-politics.  We do that too, don’t we?  I mean, get tangled in what version of the Bible is best, and how much of the church budget should go to missions, and what kind of music to play in worship. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. …By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  (John—not to be confused with Lennon—13:34-ish)

A frustrated football coach walks into the locker room after yet another dismal performance, stands before his players and says, “Boys, I think it’s time we got back to the basics.” At this point, he holds up a brown leather oblong air-filled object with white stripes and seams. “This,” he says, “is a football.”  At which point, a big lineman, half-listening in the back of the room, raises his hand and says, “Hey, Coach, could you go a little slower?”

What’s your religion?  I’m thinking, “LOVE” would be a really good answer about now.

Keith

4-23-14

keithelder.com

“Xerox… Brother Dominick…and writing your own book”

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I’ve had many book ideas through the years.  An insight would hit me, and I would realize immediately, “This is going to take more than a three-minute song to unfold.”  So, with a great sense of urgency, I would grab pad and pen and begin scribbling an outline. After breaking the big idea into ten or so chapters; after bouncing the idea off of whoever would listen; I would begin writing the actual manuscript, only to freeze like a deer in the headlights.

What happened?  Why have I yet to finish my first book?

Fear, I think.  I’m afraid that people won’t like what I write, and that I’ll look foolish (or more foolish).  I’m afraid that the publishers won’t catch the vision, or that people who know me will say, “Who does he think he is, writing a book?”  The people looking for something profound to quote in their book or sermon will say it’s simplistic.  “He didn’t say anything that I didn’t already know.”

Any artist who’s too worried about what others think has ceased to be an artist.  They have become a toll painter. There’s nothing fresh.  Nothing original.

The same goes for writers.  If I’m just rearranging what’s already been written, I’m not an author, I’m a scribe—like Father Dominick in the old Xerox commercials—just copying someone else’s scrolls.

The student who gets a C+ on an essay stays after class to ask his professor why.

“Why did you receive a C+?” the professor responds. He leans forward in his chair and peers over his reading spectacles.  “Because you didn’t say anything.  True, your form was exceptional, the references were interesting, but you never said anything.  Use the source material as a springboard to tell me what you think and believe and feel.  Only then will you get an A in my class—or in life for that matter.”

Gotta run.  I have a book to finish.  If I don’t write it, it won’t get written—and it matters too much not to be written.  “The Stories of Our Lives”… very cool… a must read!

Keith

4-21-14

keithelder.com

“It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming’”

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Shadrach Meshach Lockridge, better known as S.M., was pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, a prominent African-American congregation in San Diego, California, from 1953 to 1993.  He was known for his powerful preaching across the United States and around the world. Most recently, I heard his sermon, “That’s My King,” and was re-mesmerized.  But the sermon I think about on this Friday before Easter is his Good Friday message that has jump-started the hope in many a heart.

The title?… “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming.’”

I loved what Martin Luther King, Jr., had to say about the rhythmic, dramatic dynamics of much preaching in the African-American tradition.  Asked why he preached what he preached the way he preached it, MLK responded something to this effect, “Yes, the preacher’s job is to speak the truth, to confront sin and injustice—but his job is also to delight the people.”

Wow. When’s the last time you were delighted—I mean, truly stirred in church?  When’s the last time you were compelled to do something about it—whatever “it” the pastor happened to be preaching on?

To me, this three-minute, forty-second sermon, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming” is, perhaps, the greatest Good Friday sermon ever preached—second only to Jesus suspended on a cross.

Some sermons need no words.

I’ll just let you click on the link and listen to S.M. Lockridge–and hope the words hit pay dirt.

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=It’s+Fridan+but+sunday’s+coming&FORM=VIRE3#view=detail&mid=F3A1491F05BC78FEBFA9F3A1491F05BC78FEBFA9

Keith

4-18-14

keithelder.com

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