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

Archive for the tag “growth”

“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.



“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-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


“Tony Robbins, Dog Training, and Saving Yourself”


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.” (, 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.





“This is TV… This is Your Brain on TV…”

“Hello, My name is Keith and I’m a TV-holic.”  Well, maybe not quite–but I could be, and if I was, I would probably have plenty of company.

According to the Nielsen folks, the average American watches 34 hours of television per week.  A little statistical breakdown… (not a nerd dance):

“Children 2-11 watch an average of 24 hours of TV a week, or 31/2 hours a day.

That number dips to 22 hours for teens, ages 12-17, then goes back up to 25 for 18-24s.  After that it rises steadily until people over 65 average 48 hours a week, or nearly seven hours a day.” *

Let’s do a little math.  Say you watch even 20 hours of TV per week x 4 weeks per month = 80 hours of TV per month.  Eighty hours!  That is two full work weeks.  Waking hours.  Primetime hours for reading or writing the book, or painting or gardening or learning to play an instrument or getting in shape or going to the zoo with your kids.  You get my drift.  “But,” some say, “I do other things while I watch.”  Maybe…and maybe not.

I was in the fitness room at our local rec center.  There are seven screens across the front of the room and more on the other walls.  It occurred to me, one day, while trying to multi-screen, that it is literally impossible to focus on one screen while trying to keep up with what is happening on the others. We are wired to focus on one thing at a time.  Multiple “screens” fragment us.

Now, add one more screen to the conversation.  That would be the “screen” of your imagination. That place you dream dreams and hope hopes.  That place you see your potential works of art and solutions to problems.  That mental Etch-a-sketch where you conceive new ideas and plans to realize them.

But on other screens across the front of your room, you’re watching The Today Show or ESPN or CNN or “Duck Dynasty” (I know, I know—I just “stopped preaching and went to meddling!”).  Bottom line, the screen of your imagination—your seat of potential and greatness—gets trumped, short-circuited, upstaged by all of those lesser screens.

So, the average American watches 34 hours of television per week.  Might explain why most of us are just average when we could be great.   The great ones turn off the TV—or, at least, they don’t turn it on nearly so often.

–Keith   10-4-13

* If you are interested in more stats:

“Fail Forward”

Famous Failures

The slide with “Famous Failures” is a ray of light…a rope of hope to all of us not-so-famous folks who may have yet to see the magic happen.  Oprah, Walt Disney, The Beatles.  Can there be any more enormous success stories?  And yet there was a point when they were at the bottom—unknown, unproven, disrespected, discounted as losers by “people in the know.”

One thing I have learned about most people-in-the-know—i.e., the critics—is that they are critics because they can’t perform themselves.  They can’t play the sport or the instrument… or write the hit song or the novel… or get elected to public office. Talk about losers—how about the coach who cut Michael Jordan from the high school basketball team?  How about the educator who said little Albert Einstein would never amount to much? And the station that fired Ms. Winfrey because she wasn’t fit for television?  You think those geniuses haven’t kicked themselves to China and back a few times?

Everyone knows failure—at least, everyone who’s ever tried to do anything worth doing.  Learning to play a musical instrument.  Learning to swim, or to paint, or to speak before a crowd, or to sell, or to write a song…or to surf.  Write it down: there will be wipeouts along the way.

You’ve heard of the successful businessman (could have been a woman, but in this case, it was a guy).  In an interview he was asked about his secret to success. “Good decisions,” he answered.  “And how,” the interviewer asked, “did you learn to make those good decisions.”  “Bad decisions,” the man replied without hesitation.

There’s no question whether or not we are going to fail from time to time.  The question is, what will we do when we do.  Wallow in shame?  Blame the world?  Quit?  To quote Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman with bad teeth) in the movie, Hook“Bad form!”  The call of the day is to do your best to succeed, but on those days you do fail, fail forward.  Grow from the mistakes.  Process the pain and apply the newfound knowledge to that next challenge.

The Bible calls that “wisdom”.

Keith   9/12/13

“Claypool, Bigger Rooms, and the Way We Grow”

If I had to sum up the life journey in a few words, I think I would choose hope (what keeps us in the game)…then transformation (growth)…and ultimately, holiness (peace with God, neighbor, and self).

My experience and observation would suggest that the transformation/growth part happens in stages.  We go to a seminar or a seminary or retreat.  We meet or lose a special someone.  We read an earth-shaking book.  We are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.  However it happens, we wake up in a different place.

I was at a seminar in Birmingham. The speaker/presenter was the late, great, John Claypool.  Having converted from a childhood in the Baptist Church to the Episcopal Church, Claypool became known for his appreciation of grace, his buttery-smooth delivery and his piercing insight.

Insight for the day (in paraphrase):

“You know, we all start out in a little room—our mother’s womb. It is warm…safe…comfortable.  All our needs are met.  But one day a traumatic event occurs—we are thrust into a bigger room…the delivery room to be exact.  Bright lights, noise, cold.  We cry, “We want to go back!”  But in time, we adjust   We get used to “the new digs”…accustomed to a world of Mom’s nursing and Dad’s knee bouncing and siblings’ sparring.  Life’s good.  But then the day comes when we are yanked out and thrust into yet a bigger room—school. It is strangers and books, lunch and recess, and teachers and homework.  Yikes!  But, over time, we adjust….”

Claypool talks of other rooms—leaving home, marriage, work, retirement, and inevitably Heaven.  His point: that growth is a process of moving from smaller rooms to bigger rooms.  Call them chapters or stages, but the move from one to the next will be uncomfortable at best, excruciating at worst.  It’s a trauma… a new perspective…a gnawing dissatisfaction.  But something makes the old status quo unacceptable.

What room are you in at present?  Does it light your fires and bring you joy?  Maybe you’re in a new room with a mix of discomfort, excitement and fear.  Maybe you are in transition.

Wherever you are, count on it: there will come a time when you have to change rooms.  And that’s not a bad thing.  It’s just the way we grow.

Keith — 3/16/2013

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