shortbread

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

Archive for the category “Encouragement”

One Old Camper’s Take on Camp Sumatanga

(The following relatively long reading—is an adaptation of a letter I shared with the devoted Trustees of Camp Sumatanga—the much-loved Conference Assembly Ground that has, since the 1950’s, served The North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. This is my limited perspective, as I did not grow-up going to Camp—I’ve just been involved since 1980. But once I got a taste of Camp, I honestly grieved the fact that I did not have the experience as a youth.)

As I understand it, the vision of Camp Sumatanga’s founding fathers and mothers was to provide a place set-apart for children and youth—for all who came—to experience God’s Creation and be introduced to God’s kingdom possibility for their lives. It has been driven by the best of Methodism—devoted laypersons and clergy, lovingly volunteering weeks and/or weekends of their time in hopes of creating life-changing experiences of Christ and Christian community. One of the first things Nina Reeves—long-time Conference Youth Coordinator—would make clear at the beginning of every camp was, “This week we are going to be living in Christian community….” And we did. And it changed us.

The camping program—whether held at the Lodge or at Pool Camp—has carried that mantle faithfully through the decades. Lives have been, and continue to be changed through Elementary, Jr. High, Sr. High, Special Needs, Day Camps, and others.

All Youth events–Mid and Sr. High Camps, Leadership Camps, International Peace Camps, and now dormant weekend events such as Spiritual Life Advance, Church-Related Vocations, Rec Lab, Social Justice weekends–have been conceived, planned and executed by a Youth-elected Youth Council under the guidance of highly committed, adult volunteer leadership. When we had a Conference Youth Coordinator, that person and a single summer assistant were the only paid staff.  The “Youth Team” gave their summers out of love for God, one another, and Sumatanga.

Thinking back, trying to reconstruct a typical day at Camp, I was reminded of the immense value, not only of what we do, but of how we do it.

A typical day in Pool Camp would begin with the playing of a wake-up song—sometimes thoughtful, sometimes playful (“Why do you build me up (build me up) Buttercup, baby just to let me down…”)–which led to a mad dash for the showers. Soon, there was the “first bell” which let us know the Dining Hall doors would be opening for breakfast in a few minutes–that is, with the ringing of the “second bell.”  We were out the cabin door and down the hill to get in line.  A lot of new friends were made in that line.  Some folks would get to the door only to be sent back to their cabins to get their name tags!… “Wear your name tags!… and don’t forget to bring your Bible for Morning Watch!”

Now, we’re in the high-energy, low-ceiling, Dining Hall, enjoying (some of us more than others) a noisy, but substantial breakfast. After everyone made it through the line, a team member would stand on a metal chair (by those heavy wood doors…and the plaques detailing who had won Folk Festival in past years). The leader raised a hand—a silent signal that meant, “Everybody raise your hand and close your mouth.” And we did. Then the ”chairperson” would speak into the little P.A. microphone with a not-quite-long-enough goose-neck. “This morning, for the blessing we will sing, “Johnny Appleseed”— “Oh, the Lord’s been good to me….” Everybody sings.

After everyone finishes eating and takes their trays back, the leader climbs on their chair again and proceeds to explain the logistics of “Morning Watch”—about it being “your time alone with God”…a new concept for many first-time campers. “When you go out, find a place and settle in for the duration, out of respect for those around you…” (a “Christian community” thing) “…Now, stand and slide your chairs under the table… (loud metal on concrete scraping!)….  Today, for our morning watch hymn, we will sing, “Spirit of the Living God.”… And we’d file out singing—being handed a Morning Watch sheet as we went to find our quiet spot away from anyone else.

The scene?… a hundred or more campers and counselors scattered all around the Chigger Bowl–that large grassy field surrounded by a circular dirt drive. Once people settled in, the only sounds were nature sounds… a hawk… a breeze…. It was amazingly quiet. Holy quiet. Everyone is reading the carefully penned Morning Watch sheets with scripture and poetry and quote-worthy quotes from great thinkers and theologians–and sometimes, little line drawings to complement the writing. Often, there would be a bothersome question or two that made us think about God and faith and who God might be calling us to be in this world. Then there was always a little prayer at the bottom….partly there to jumpstart our own personal prayers.

Fifteen minutes… then a carefully selected song washes over the camp—“Create in me…a clean heart, O God, let me be like you in all my ways….”  We’d been instructed, “Stay in your place till the song is over!” And we did, out of respect for those who still might be finishing up.  For some campers, there was no more meaningful element of Camp than Morning Watch. Some have those sheets from twenty or more years back.

P.A. Announcer: “O.K., Campers, it’s time for cabin clean-up… Cabin 1-left cleans up the breezeway…7-right has Assembly Hall…”  We all picked up any incidental trash we might see along the way.  It was “our” camp, you know–and like the sign said as you pulled in the gate, “Let no one say, and say to your shame, that this was a place of beauty, till you came.”  So much life-teaching at Camp….

After cabin clean-up time, we were called down to the Assembly Hall where high-energy songs drew us in for Morning Program.  “Grab a neighbor’s hand, grab a hand next to ya…”  “Now, take your Sumatanga Songbooks and turn to page….”  Kelly on the piano (with sticking keys)… Team members up front singing enthusiastically and adding motions to songs for greater involvement….

Great, sometimes hilarious skits promoted Free Time options such as a staff-camper softball game in the Chigger Bowl, or listening to music in the Book Store, or creating something in Craft Hut. There would always be a plug for Youth Service Fund—an avenue through which youth could make a difference in the world. Youth brought their nickels, dimes and dollars (from their own limited “spending money”) and gave toward weekly goals…which we always reached via various cabin challenges. Hundreds of dollars were raised at every camp—and every penny went toward changing the world.

After announcements, we were singing songs like “My God Tears Down Walls!” and “It’s a Long Road to Freedom,” and “You are the Salt of the Earth”–songs that went beyond a personal “Kum ba ya” moment, to a call–a call to be the hands and feet of Jesus out there in the real world. (p.s., nothing against “Kum ba ya.”)

There was always a theme song for the summer,… and a theme hymn. Now, being raised in church, I thought I knew every hymn in The UM Hymnal—but at camp, I heard and sang, for the first time, “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light,” and “Hymn of Promise,” and one that I’ve quoted a hundred times since in sermons and messages: “I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew… He moved my soul to seek Him…seeking me. It was not I that found, O Savior True. No,… I was found of Thee.” Wesleyan theology in a nutshell. A long-time songwriter, I have had the joy of being invited to write many of the theme songs for Youth summers and Peace Camps. “I Run to Christ” and “One” and “Rising on the wings of faith…over life’s storm-troubled seas. Carried along by a spirit of grace. Rising… we’re rising.”  Those songs would not exist were it not for Camp.

The special speaker of the week brought the Word each morning. Speakers were dynamic and engaging–“provoking” in the best sense of the word. Jordan Grooms and James King and Tex Samples and Leonard Sweet and Bishop Leontine Kelly and “Bro. Bert” Goodwin–just to name a few. It has been my great honor to be invited into that role a few times—and I will never speak to a more engaged audience. The hearts were primed…the clay was moist.

A word about theme. The Youth Council “Theme Committee,” consisting of youth, lay adults and clergy representatives, would gather annually for a time of study, prayer, and discussion about what was going on in the church and world. “What do we need to focus on this year?… What’s on kids’ hearts and minds?…Where is God moving?”  Then, and only then–after careful, prayerful deliberation–would the summer theme be selected. As a result, the theme was owned by the entire group and unique to that moment in history. Each team’s gifts made their camp a work of art—organic…unfolding naturally as we journeyed together through the week.

Being one of the go-to songwriters, I would receive the “theme sheet” at least six months–sometimes, a year in advance.  This simple sheet (’tis a gift to be simple,” you know) would include the overall theme, theme scripture, and theme hymn. Underneath the heading, there would be a neat list of the daily themes and scriptures. It was perfect.

The deliberative planning process was a snapshot of what we Methodists call “holy conferencing” at it’s best. Over time, it produced an ocean of loving, responsible, serious-minded, Big-picture-aware, disciples of Jesus Christ—people unafraid to speak their conscience but, at the same time, able to “listen to understand” and respect the perspectives of another. These camp and team alumni have become “salt of the earth, light of the world”—so many going on to full-time Christian service or positions out in the secular world that honor God and reflect the Kingdom values.  They won’t hesitate to tell you that Camp made an enormous difference. Through the speakers and programs and small groups, they heard the call of God in Micah 6:8—“What does the Lord require of you but to seek justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.” No way they would think of putting a lid on the Christian mandate to address social issues.  Jesus’ inaugural address (Luke 4) provided a short list of what we, as followers of Christ have to do: “…to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

If we are going to be faithful to Jesus, we cannot NOT talk about social issues—particularly in these days in which we live.

Following Morning Program and Canteen (a snack hut), we made our way to small groups, which were held in the open-air classrooms lining both sides of the breezeway. Each group had 8-10 campers and 1-2 counselors. The counselors would facilitate discussions centered around the morning message and theme of the day. Spend several days with the same group, grappling with the issues, playing together and praying together, and before you know it, you’ve made new friends. It wasn’t unusual for a youth to stay after class to talk with an attentive counselor about something that was on their mind or heart. Because there were many adult counselors, there were many different personalities and life stories for the youth to relate to.

Then it was Free Time—playing softball in the Chigger Bowl, hanging out in the Book Store, playing ping pong or four-square—maybe just sitting on the breezeway ledge watching all the action.

In no time, the bell was clanging, announcing lunch. Lunch led into fun singing, sometimes using those little blue “Let Us Sing Together” songbooks… “Dewey was an admiral at Manilla Bay…” “There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight!…”  Over the week, we sang all of the Camp “greatest hits”—and we sounded good… in that low-ceiling, concrete-floored room!

All filled-up and sung-out, we’d file out to strains of “Go rest, go rest….” sung to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne”—heading to our cabins for ”flat time”

“Flat time” is an hour of nap time, or at least quiet time. We needed it with the full schedule we kept. We grew to love “flat time.”

Then a song plays… and a voice echoes across the camp, “Time for Interest Groups!” Story-telling, games, songwriting, crafts, journaling, creative movement, wood-carving, poetry, choir, social issues—the list was as varied as the talented, volunteer leadership team on site for the week.

After Interest Groups, it was afternoon Free Time options—a group hike up the mountain to the open-air Chapel and the panoramic view; an ultimate Frisbee game on the Chigger Bowl; swimming at the pool; hanging out with new friends; or maybe helping prepare for the Evening Program.

Campers were enlisted to help with any number of tasks and programs throughout the week, 1) as we learned of their interests and talents, and 2) as they ventured out of their shells. The gifts and graces were drawn out as Christian community was lived out. And, it wasn’t just the kids that came out of hiding.

I remember one night, I was so inspired by the evening program–describing the darkness so evident in the world, and the desperate need for the light of Christ.  When we broke for Recreation, I slipped over to Bessemer Lodge where there was a piano and wrote the song, “Candle in the Night.” I almost ran back to the Assembly Hall, pulled that week’s program director (Reggie Holder) aside. He looked at it and without hesitation said, “It’s perfect! Let’s use it during closing tonight!” And we did, and it was magic. That’s Camp!

I digress—where were we?… Oh, “afternoon Free Time.” Now, the dinner bell’s ringing… then dinner…then more fun singing.  Then, “Stand up and slide your chairs under the table….” and we are heading out to Vespers.

Vespers really started with the walk—the wordless walk out of the Dining Hall…past the little Prayer Chapel… negotiating the roots and rocks… up…down…maybe getting a helping hand or two from the person in front of you. After three or four minutes, we emerged at “Vespers Point”—every person filing-in and finding a hard seat on the rock-tiered amphitheater. Thoughtful program… maybe a meditative song… always a scripture.  Maybe it’s read antiphonally—that is, with people chiming in on-cue from all across the crowd.  So striking—the changing voices.  Why can’t we do something like that back home in “Big Church”? Maybe we will, now. (There were so many things we learned at Camp that we could take back to our local churches and youth groups.)

Vespers was reverent—respectful of God, of Creation, of the speakers and actors and musicians. It was important–and we treated it like it was important.

After the speaking, there was always a moment of silence.  No sound except a breeze in the high branches…. Then, a voice from above–that is, from the big rocks behind us, at the top of the amphitheater…“May the Lord bless you and keep you….”   We stood and turned and followed the person in front of us, up the hill and out of the sacred space.

Evening Program was the culmination of the day. The creativity and integrity of those programs was unsurpassed–something I had never experienced anywhere else. An all-volunteer team, working with the theme of the day—bringing their A-game, using every available talent and technology at their disposal. Involving scores of campers as readers and singers and dancers and actors; transforming that rough-hewn Assembly Hall nightly into yet another unforgettable, multi-sensory, experiential, holy ground, encounter with God. There were forever-memorable visuals and backdrops that evolved over the course of the week (many by design of artist-friend, Danny Rountree).

The content was drawn from every conceivable source. If it was “truth,” it was fair game. Like John Wesley, the program directors and youth “plundered the Egyptians” and used whatever they had to in order to communicate the message.  It was glorious, really. These lovers of God and life and the Church and, yes, Camp Sumatanga, would, and often did, pay their own way and expenses just to be a part of such excellence. It was all filtered—consciously or unconsciously—through Philippians 4:8… “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” All of camp—but especially, Evening Program–was excellent.

Of course, following Evening Program, there was Recreation! “Everybody stack your chairs against the walls….”  Folk dancing!…so fun…beginning with Nina or Danny or Heath up front, “Right, together, right together, left together, left together…” and “Amos Moses,”… and “King Tut”… and the big circle dances where you constantly changed partners. The best part of Recreation?… EVERYBODY was included—red and yellow, black and white,… tall, short, large, lean, young, old, jock, nerd.… It was such a beautiful snapshot of the Kingdom. God had to love it.

Then it was time for everybody to move toward the stage and sit on the floor, facing the makeshift screen for song slides. As flashy and polished as modern graphics and media may be, they don’t hold a candle to what was experienced through these hand-drawn, colored song slides.  (I actually took a workshop to learn how to make them–at Camp, of course.)

We sang along with John Denver and Kermit the Frog and other then-contemporary artists.  “Love is everywhere!… and I feel it! You are all that you can be!… go out and be it! Life is perfect!… I believe it! Come and play the game with me!” and “We are a Rainbow…together we are a sign!…” and “Someday we’ll find it, The Rainbow Connection—the lovers, the dreamers, and me….doh-di-oh-doh-di-oh-doh….”  And, in those moments, we found it.

Then it’s Story Time with Nina and her storytelling stool. (Sometimes, there were guest storytellers, but usually, it was Nina—I mean, she was a world-renowned storyteller and Conference Youth Coordinator for nearly fifty years). It was an anchoring moment for us. If Nina was telling stories, “God was in God’s heaven and all was right with the world.”

An animated reading of “Whobody There” or “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-good, Very Bad Day”…or “Split Dog” or the whistling of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” Or “Two Brothers”–you know, the one about the two brothers who were so close until a silly disagreement over a calf born on their adjoining property lines…and the Carpenter who came along and built a bridge instead of the high fence one brother had hired him to build. In my mind, I can still see those brothers, in tears–running to embrace each other at the center of that bridge. “I’m sorry!” “No, I’m sorry–you can have the calf….”

The stories entertained—but, more, they taught Kingdom lessons.

Story Time over, the lights come up a little and baskets are passed for Youth Service Fund donations. Someone starts an a cappella singing of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Everyone joins-in… in spontaneous, natural-as-breathing 3-part harmony.  We learned to sing in harmony at Camp…literally and figuratively.

Baskets collected, the room goes dark.  From the back of the Assembly Hall—someone begins reading a poem or a scripture… or someone sings a verse of an old hymn that now jumps off of the page for us because of what we have experienced throughout the day and evening.  It’s the perfect word for the moment…

“Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore… May the search for Thy salvation…be our watchword every more. Grant us wisdom! Grant us courage! for the facing of this hour! For the facing of this hour!…”

Then silence…

After a holy moment or two–out of the darkness, something begins to glow at the front of the room … a simple cross over center stage… faintly at first… then brighter,… and brighter,… till the light of Christ lights every face…and heart.

A pregnant pause… then a voice begins…

“May the Lord bless you and keep you…”  And all join in….
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you;
May the Lord lift his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

Perfect.

Then it’s Canteen… and a Team Meeting up in Suther Lodge with good snacks—freshly-popped popcorn or slices of ice-cold watermelon or ice-cream sandwiches—or, maybe, a birthday cake for that team member spending their birthday at their home away from home.  Then, Nina…“OK, everybody gather in…”

“Everybody”—that is, all these volunteers who have poured their heart and soul into the day and the campers and the program  All are leaning against door facings or piled onto the worn couches and chairs, or seated on the dusty floor of that old den, propped against the knees of a friend….

“Just just checking-in,… Is everyone alright?… Any problems with any of your kids?…” One of the female counsellors says, “I did have one I had to take to the Nurse’s cabin…chigger bites….”

“Anything else?…” 

Someone “glows” on the speaker’s message from the morning…and someone else says, “Could you believe that Evening Program!” Everybody nods or claps or, maybe, just smiles, “Yes!”  Those team meetings were like Heb.10:24, in the flesh: “…let us consider how to encourage one another to love and good deeds….” Nan Jones, chimes in, “Why, I believe this is THE BEST TEAM we’ve ever had.” (She said that about every team for thirty years or so—and, you know, she was right every time!)

Time’s up…. Gotta go round up the campers… “W.G.,” (or whoever happened to be in Nina’s line of vision…anyone in the room could and would gladly) “…pray us out…”  Sometimes we even prayed with our eyes wide open—looking around that room for the face of Christ in each other.

“Amen!”…and we’re outta there—headed down, or up to our cabins—Suther’s spring-loaded screen door banging behind us.

Counselors lead cabin prayer time on their respective sides of the cabin… teeth are brushed… “Lights Out” at 11:00….

Then, as we’re laying on our bunks—maybe thinking back over the day,… maybe beginning to doze off—a slightly scratchy recording of “The Lord’s Prayer” (The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, as I recall) comes wafting through the trees….

“Our Father… which art in Heaven… hal-low-ed be… Thy name…” 

Our minds are a blur of all that has happened over the course of one day. Our hearts, a mixed bag of happiness and gratitude and nostalgia and hope… and shalom.

“…for Thine is the Kingdom!…and the power!… and the glo—ry!… FOREV- – ER!!!…Ah – – – – – men….”

The lighted cross at the top of Chandler Mountain watches over us as we sleep…and somewhere up in Heaven, a great cloud of witnesses—most wearing handcrafted “Deacon Jones” name tags—looks on and smiles.

 

Some might argue that the “Camp” in the above narrative is obsolete, outdated, a relic!—that it’s outlived its usefulness.  I would beg to differ.

I think we need Camp more now than ever. There’s nothing like it.

And now,…

“May the Lord bless you and keep you;
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you;
May the Lord lift his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

–Keith Elder

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“Being Human Better”

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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

“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

 

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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

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“…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/

 

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

xerox-monks-miracle

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’”

th

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

“Slower Traffic Keep Right”

Slower-Traffic-Keep-Right-Sign-X-R4-3

We’ve been cruising along on the interstate, within the commonly understood “you won’t get a ticket if you only go nine miles over the posted” speed limit.  Then we see them—brake lights piling up in the not-too-distant distance. As we catch up and slow down, we see the problem.

It’s not an accident. We could get frustrated with an accident because it’s putting us behind schedule, but we feel badly getting angry because it could be us in the accident.  It could be us for whom the flashing lights and wailing sirens toll (apologies to John Donne and his bell).

It’s not roadwork.  There have been no large, fluorescent orange signs letting us know the speed is reduced for the next six miles, or that fines are doubled when workers are present.  Again, frustration, but not righteous indignation.  They are not repaving the roads to make us late for our soccer tournament.

It’s not a posted fog area, or someone in the median with car trouble, or someone pulled over by a State Trooper.  Interesting how, if someone else is pulled over, it’s oddly entertaining.  If we are pulled over, it’s a sickening injustice. But today, it’s not someone pulled over by the guys in the cool Smokey the Bear hats.

It’s a tractor trailer in the left lane trying to pass a tractor trailer in the right lane—and not quite having the zippidy-do-dah to get past.  Or maybe the driver is just doing it to make a statement: “I hate my life and I’m going to share it with the rest of you”—a sort of passive aggressive thing.

Maybe it’s just a car or SUV… cruising along at the exact posted speed limit sort of citizen’s arresting the rest of us would-be lawbreakers in the name of justice. Actually, police, “county mounties,” and state troopers can have this effect even in the right lane—going the speed limit and double-Deputy-Dog-daring us to pass.

Maybe it’s a ten-year old luxury car with 15,000 miles on the odometer and seemingly no driver.  Only as we finally pass the vehicle and glance over to give the requisite glare, do we realize it’s a little old fellow so short that he has to sit on a pillow to see under the steering wheel he’s vice-gripping as though he’s hanging on for dear life.

He’s “slower traffic,” but doesn’t mean to be.

Slower traffic.  The ones who hold us up.  The ones who may or may not be going anywhere.  May or may not have anything to look forward to.  They may or may not have places to go and people to see.  Mad?… sad?… scared?… jaded?… wounded?… bewildered?

Slower traffic.  They may be at work. Some folks just take longer to get it done—whatever “it” is.  Maybe they are in the grocery aisle trying to read a label, or at the checkout counter with coupons to make the paltry paycheck check stretch till the end of the month.

Some slowbies (I think I just made up a word) may be in the classroom.  They just don’t catch on as quickly as the other students.  Maybe it’s a medical thing. Maybe it’s a home life thing.  Maybe it’s a nutritional thing.  Maybe it’s a lack of discipline thing.  Maybe they are a science kid in an artsie class—i.e., a way-we-are-wired thing.

Whatever the specifics…

Slower Traffic, it never hurts to keep right.  It’s a courtesy.

And, Faster Traffic, it never hurts to think about why the other car might have trouble keeping up.

Keith

4-14-14

keithelder.com

“What Inspires You?”

Shiane Hawke--X-Factor

This morning, as I sipped my standard cup of non-gourmet coffee and spent my allotted fifteen minutes scrolling down the facebook newsfeed, I stumbled across a post that inspired me.

A shy fourteen year-old from Darby, England, Shiane Hawke (pronounced Cheyenne) walked onto the “X-Factor” stage without the stereotypical superstar look—whatever that looks like.  (Note: if you are famous or popular or rich simply because you look a certain way, it doesn’t say much for you or fame or the popular intelligence and soul.)

Shiane is just Shiane—she’s bright and winsome, but she was on the newsfeed this morning because the girl can sing!  She stood alone before a live audience of thousands and a television audience of millions and blew their socks off with a spot-on (only British I know) rendition of “Mercy.”

Bottom line, I was inspired.

I watched the clip not once, not twice, but three times! I was stirred, motivated, moved—again, inspired.  It wasn’t a “spiritual” post, but somehow it was.  It made me want to get better at what I do… to be a better person… to try, try again… to take chances… to forget about my limitations and fears-due-to-perceived-limitations—and just go for it.

What inspires you?  What makes you want to do better and  be better?  What puts the life-breath back into your life?

A particular artist?… a writer of great songs or fiction?… a motivational speaker?… a visual artist?… a coach or teacher? …going to a certain  place?  …being around a certain group of people?

Maybe you are inspired by someone who has struggled against all odds and found their way to great success.  Those stories are my favorite.

Be inspired, friends.  There is inspiration at every turn.  God, inviting you to come-out, come-out from wherever you are.  There’s life and hope and love and joy–as the saying goes, “There’s gold in them thar hills!”

Assignment:  Look in the obituaries this morning.  If your name is not listed, assume this is your day.

Go for it.

And now for the clip…

http://blog.petflow.com/they-all-made-fun-of-this-girl-until-she-opened-her-mouth-wow-you-have-to-hear/

Peace and Passion

Keith

4-10-14

“Facebook, Betty White, and The Debul!”

Image

I try to limit my facebook time. On break from other projects, I will open facebook, glance at the clock, and promise myself, “OK, you get fifteen minutes, then it’s back to work.”

An hour later, I will have checked messages, opened and scanned various articles and links to those articles, opened one person’s posted photo and been drawn into their other photos which, in turn, open other tagged people’s photos. Being a songwriter, I will have listened to numerous posted songs and been drawn into the Youtube related video column.

While I am browsing, someone will inevitably pop-in via the online chat feature, and I will have to at least acknowledge their e-presence. Depending upon the chat-er, the chatter can go on for a while.

By the intervening grace of God, I never got started playing the games.

Remember the scene from the Batman movie where The Riddler (Jim Carrey) created an insidious machine that sucked the intelligence out of people via their TV screen? Welcome to facebook.

Friends, if time is our greatest of all mortal resources, facebook can be—to quote “the Waterboy (Adam Sandler) and his swamp Momma (Kathy Bates)—THE DEBUL! (i.e., the Devil).

Asked if she was on facebook, 92 year-old Betty White replied, “No. I don’t really even know what it is—but it seems like a terrible waste of time!”

When you get to the age when you don’t even buy green bananas, time gets precious. But then, time has always been, precious.

Facebook can be a great connector. I wrote a blog entitled, “Zuckerberg for the Nobel Peace Prize” pointing to facebook’s value as a means of bringing people together. But fb can also be a terrible waste of time–time that would be better spent writing that book or painting that picture…or giving your employer an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.

If you’d like to read my blog posts without going on facebook, just subscribe and new posts will go directly to your e-mail.

Wow… I just noticed that I haven’t posted since February….

Must have been on facebook.

Keith

4-3-14

keithelder.com

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