shortbread

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

Archive for the category “Love”

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”

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

“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” 🙂

“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

 

“Short, Sweet, and to the Point”

I was doing a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education at Carraway Methodist Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama—part of my ordination requirements to become a United Methodist pastor.

Our regimen included chaplain rounds on assigned floors, 24-hour on-call assignments, and a weekly reflection seminar. At the seminar, one participant would share a word-for-word recollection of some pastoral experience in the hospital and we would then discuss it from every angle.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that the experience was not so much about us helping patients as it was about understanding ourselves. It was about getting in touch with our own stories and emotions. If we could do that, we had a snowball’s chance in Helsinki of being helpful.

At our final evaluations, we were required to share and receive constructive observations about one another. One of my peers began by describing me as “bright, witty, and articulate,…” I’m thinking, “right,…right,…right….” Then he continued, “but after a while, Keith’s words can be wearying.”

“Wearying!”  Ouch!  Talk about a gut-punch insight. Unbeknownst to me, I almost ALWAYS ran long—word-wise or content-wise, if not time-wise.  (I’ve been clocked at gusts of up to 450 words a minute!) I was the verbal equivalent of a meteor shower!

Maybe part of the reason people liked it when I sang a song was that—good or bad—it was over in three to four minutes.

Blogging, as I do in “Shortbread,” is a sort of occupational therapy for me. “Short, sweet, and to-the-point”…350 words or less–PERIOD. I have to get in, share a focused, hopeful word, and wind it up.

“Tweeting” is even better—140 characters–PERIOD.

You know, limits are a good thing. They remind us that we’re mortal…that we need to be clear about what we are trying to say, then pick and choose and craft and make every word count.

Some time ago, I had the thought: “Most sermons would be twice as good if they were half as long….”

People would be able to stay with the train of thought… they would retain more…

…and–most importantly–we would beat the Baptists to the restaurants!  🙂

Keith

6-3-14

“…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

“Slower Traffic Keep Right”

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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

“The Dalai Lama..The Super Bowl…and Much ado about Something”

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It’s been an interesting week in the news—or, at least, on my news feed. 

Birmingham and Atlanta, paralyzed by winter storms…The State of the Union Address…American Idol auditions…The Phoenix Open…Richard Sherman re-rants… Peyton Manning… a trip to Rome, GA, to see “the fam”…a new song or two…almost getting the caramel cake icing right.

I didn’t say it was MSNBC.  It was just some of the headline news on my screen.  What did your news feed look like?  What were the lead stories?  What stories bumped other stories or interrupted regularly scheduled programming?  In a week or so, which ones will you still remember?

Scripture would suggest that God—even with unlimited memory—just lets go of a lot of what happens over time. It’s just not worth saving. Unfortunately, so much of what we do and say and buy, and labor over, and worry about, and invest in—time-wise and money-wise—probably won’t make The Editor-in-Chief’s “Remotely Important” list.

A Shakespearean title comes to mind: “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Rescuing people trapped on gridlocked interstates; taking care of children who can’t leave school; hosting total strangers in churches and homes?  Something.

Spending tens of thousands of people-hours and, billions of dollars on food and tickets and travel and security and pre-game and halftime rehearsals—for yet another non-competitive Super Disappointment?  Nothing.

With all the amazingly important options out there—most of which cost little or nothing in monetary terms—we human beings keep going back to the same old “Nothing” bin and trying to make something out of nothing.

Late breaking news… “Actor/Oscar winner, Philip Seymore Hoffman, found in NYC apartment, dead of apparent drug overdose at age 47.”  Amazing talent.  Hyper-successful. Respected by his peers.  Loved by a beautiful life partner and mother of his three great kids.  And heroin.  It’s just a shame—all that “something” lost to a “nothing.”

The Dalai Lama wrote, “The planet does not need more successful people.  The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.”

I would paraphrase that wisdom: “WE do not need to be more successful people.  We desperately need to be peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.”  

Yes, desperately.   The Nothing’s are killing us.

Keith

2/3/2014

keithelder.com

“Acknowledgements… Hands Free Mama… and Making Someone’s Day”

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My wife, Jean, said, “Keith, you are in here.”

I looked up from my laptop, “In where?”

“In the ‘Acknowledgements’…of Rachel’s book!”

Just that afternoon we had received a delivery from Zondervon Books. To our delight it was our very own advance copy of Rachel Macy Stafford’s new bestseller, Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters!  

Jean got the right of “first perusal”, and found the note (page 231, in case you’re interested ). Sure enough, there I was! “…Keith Elder….”  (After that, everything else sort of faded into “yada, yada, yada.” Sorry. Rachel!)  Why would I be mentioned in such a wonderful new work?  I just lucked out. I happened to be serving as pastor of Liberty Crossings UMC in Birmingham, Alabama, where Rachel and her beautiful family (Scott, Natalie and Avery) became very active and supportive members. I did very little.  They were just “wonderful” looking for a place to happen.

Rachel had so many gifts to bring to the table—creativity, passion, attention to detail, just to name a few—and having a “people pleaser” tendency, she could easily have been swallowed up by dozens of church and community commitments.  She almost was.  Fortunately for us, a comment by one of her young daughters brought her to the realization that “Mama” might just be missing out on the best part—that is, her daughters’ childhood!  In her effort to be all things to all people, she was missing a thousand little moments and looks and smiles and stories and hugs and conversations and adventures that truly are here today and gone tomorrow.  It was a wake-up call for Rachel, and, mercy! did she ever wake up!   Her “Hands Free Revolution” now touches literally millions of readers. *

Back to “the acknowledgement”.  It was just a few words…among several pages of acknowledgements…in the back of a 236-page book. (Did I mention…I’m at the bottom of page 231 )  Just a few words, but they meant so much!

With just a few words—spoken or written—we acknowledge someone’s existence…their sacrifice…their gift.

“My life’s better because you are in it.”  

“The way you stepped out and took a chance on your dream gave me the courage to step out and take a chance on mine.” 

It’s a “thank you” to an old school teacher.  It’s a “thank God for you” to that special relative or friend.  It’s a sincere “You made my day” to that coworker who complimented your work or made you laugh.

Acknowledgements.  They are a big deal.

By the way, whoever you are…reading this…I want you to know that you just made my day.

Keith

12/30/2013

* Please get to know the work and words of Rachel Macy Stafford at handsfreemama.com. Such a gift.

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