shortbread

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

Archive for the category “Personal Vision / Purpose”

“Psalms…Up Close and Personal”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Has that devotional time been a little lacking of late?

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

Keith

4-11-2015

http://keithelder.com/

Advertisements

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

Einstein's face

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

How to describe Burns?

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

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

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

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

Desk-Einstein

Desk-Mark Twain

Desk-Steve Jobs

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

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

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

Amazing that he could find it in that office!

Keith Elder

2-3-2015

http://keithelder.com/

Derek Jeter vs. Keith Olbermann…by the numbers

Derek Jeter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

”SAFE!” Yankees win! Yankees win!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keith Elder
9-27-2014

http://keithelder.com/

“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

“Smokey the Bear and Catherine of Sienna?”

Image

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.

Image

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

“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/

“The Best Time to Plant a Tree…”

Image

It was just one of the little facebook quotes you see while scrolling down the news feed—not too many words. Light, but substantive:

“The best time to plant a tree is twenty-five years ago.  The second best time is TODAY.”

Maybe you have heard Paul Harvey’s “rest of the story” of Arthur and Walter.  Walter was trying to convince Arthur to invest in a vision—a family-friendly setting away from the big city. A place where people would come and spend their whole vacations in the name of reclaiming the joy of life.  But as the two men stood looking across the large tract of undeveloped land, Arthur just couldn’t see it. 

Now, do you think Art Linkletter ever regretted not buying into Walt Disney’s little theme park, the original Disneyland?

People get wind of the latest direct marketing program.  Notice, I did not say “scheme” because companies such as Amway and Shaklee, based upon people knowing a few people who know a few people, would never get off the ground without a quality product or service at a fair price. There is a load of wealth to be made. But listening to the presentation you’re thinking, “If only I had gotten into this on the ground floor!”

Regret has got to be one of the all-time greatest robbers of life. Why? Because it is physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually impossible to look backwards and forwards at the same time.

“The best time to plant a tree—to start a business, to go to school, to get in shape, to learn to play an instrument, to apply what you know, to be a better parent, or spouse, or neighbor—is twenty-five years ago.”  But, friends, you can never go back.  Hindsight may be 20-20—but it is also a debilitating waste of another day!  Spend enough days looking in the rearview mirror and you wind up at the end of life with a big ol’ handful of sand.

THEREFORE…considering our options….

“The best time to plant a tree is…TODAY.”

Now, go plant a Sequoia.

Keith

p.s., Another fb poster read, “Beware: not everything you read on facebook is accurate. –Abraham Lincoln.”

4-26-14

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

“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

Post Navigation

Little Fears

Tales of whimsy, humor and courgettes

Holy Soup

with Thom Schultz

Hey Preacher!

everything I forgot to say on Sunday

Mind's Seat

Set your mind on the things above

JUMP FOR JOY Photo Project

capturing the joy of the human spirit - in mid air - around the world

AIKIDO-NO-SEKAI

Non-violence. Talking Peace. Everything Aikido.

Tony Romano

Songwriter

Songwriting Pro

Helping songwriters turn pro.

4 Worn Passports

Inspiring Family Gap Years and Global Adventure Travel