shortbread

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

Archive for the category “Wisdom”

“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

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“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/

“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/

“Tony Stewart…and the verdict is…”

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I confess that I’m not a NASCAR follower.  But I do know a few names and numbers–and  I do know there are days when people die on that oval altar of speed and big money.

Shift gears.

I have known two salt-of-the-earth people who endured the trauma of striking and killing another human being with their vehicles.  In both cases, the drivers were innocent of any wrongdoing.  The pedestrians just stepped in front of them on busy thoroughfares–both at night. The drivers were not speeding or texting or fiddling with the radio.  They were just driving.  But in a split second, a life ended, and their lives were changed forever.

Shift again.

Did you know that our eyes naturally adjust to the brightest object in our field of vision?  When we are driving at night, our pupils are constantly adjusting to dashboard lights and oncoming headlights, and  McDonald’s arches, and reflective road signs. Objects without lights aren’t as evident.

Clutch…shift again.

My parents taught us to stay out of the middle of the road…to walk on the left-hand side…and to look both ways before crossing.  They also insisted we wear brighter clothing when we walked or jogged in the evenings–so drivers could see us.

Now,… shifting down.

August 9, 2014, during a Sprint Cup race in upstate New York, veteran NASCAR driver, Tony Stewart struck and killed 20 year-old driver, Kevin Ward, Jr.  Ward had climbed out of his car after an accident allegedly caused by Stewart.  In the nighttime venue, under the glare of stadium lights, the young driver– dressed in a black jumpsuit and helmet, walking directly into speeding traffic like a crazed matador–was hit by Stewart’s car.  And it was all Tony’s fault?

No.

Investigations and hearings rightly found no wrongdoing in Stewart’s actions and gave him the go ahead to race again.  Of course, now, there is talk of a civil suit against Stewart.

So what’s my point?

Though it is tragic young Kevin died–it wasn’t Tony’s Stewart’s fault.  In a moment of anger and frustration, the young driver did what anyone would admit was a foolish act–and, sadly, it cost him his life.

We so want it to be–we need for it to be–someone else’s fault, don’t we?  When we mess up…when the deal goes south…when we hurt ourselves or someone else.

But sometimes it is our fault.  And if we can own it, we just might learn from it….

…and live to drive another day.

Keith Elder
10-1-2014
http://keithelder.com/

“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

“Tony Robbins, Dog Training, and Saving Yourself”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twead–i.e., read tweets–carefully.

Keith

5-13-14

 

http://keithelder.com/

https://twitter.com/keitheldermusic

 

 

“The Best Time to Plant a Tree…”

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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

“It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming’”

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

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

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

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

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

Some sermons need no words.

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

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

Keith

4-18-14

keithelder.com

“Facebook, Betty White, and The Debul!”

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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

“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

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