10 Pieces of Wisdom for 2016

2016blogThis year I will surpass the average age that men in my family have attained over the last 11 or 12 generations. There were some curve busters in there to be sure and now I hope to bust the curve in a more positive direction. That being said, in my own context, I am an old man.

Thus, as an old man, I offer up these ten bits of acquired wisdom for your 2016. I do not call them “pearls” for to you they may be old hat, or pieces of something quite different than semi precious stones. Nonetheless I hope that your New Year is a blessed one!

  1. Two things you must do everyday: Laugh out loud and exercise. There will be many days when you don’t want to do either but every day you do both will be a day that feels brighter, better and more hopeful. (Typing “LOL” multiple times doesn’t count as laughter OR exercise.)

  2. Invest in three new relationships: 1 person who can teach you something, 1 person whom you can teach, and 1 person who is just fun to hang with. This will stretch you more than any self-improvement class.

  3. Commit to dialogue: Yes, I see the irony of typing this in a monologue.

  4. Learn to ask questions and fact check: it will make you better equipped for dialogue.

  5. For my young friends who are trying to decide is they are currently with the person they should marry: Do NOT ask yourself “Can I see myself with this person for the rest of my life?” This is the wrong question. You’ll always find some foible that distracts you from saying yes. Ask instead, “Can I see the rest of my life without this person in it?” Because if you choose someone else that will be your reality. If your answer to this second question is no, then odds are you’re with the right person.

  6. If you’re a Christian: Spend time everyday reading your Bible. This will be difficult, really difficult. For myself, if I don’t do it before I get out of bed in the morning I will almost assuredly miss a day and have to catch up. There are many plans out there that can help you do this and even 1 year Bibles that break it up for you. When you read don’t worry about getting something profound out of it every day. It isn’t about “the words” it is about The Word.

  7. If you’re not a Christian: Invest some time each day in developing a deeper understanding and commitment to whatever it is you do believe: meditation, the Koran, the Talmud, the Vedas, etc. The result will be either a consistency between what you say you believe and how you live it or a change in what you believe that results in a consistency with how you live it.

  8. Set one goal: I’m bad at goal setting, really bad. I find though that if I set just one that is a little bit of a stretch AND set three milestones that land between here and there I not only get a little better at goal setting but I also have something to look forward to and strive for on the journey.

  9. Remember that text has no tonality: Real conversation, whether in person or via phone / Skype / Facetime is ALWAYS clearer, more easily understood, and more enriching, than anything you type anywhere. Don’t believe me? Give me a call and we’ll discuss it.

  10. Ask yourself often what it means to love people: The word has become so diluted that it is often hard to distinguish between what it means to love your spouse or to love pizza. Supposedly Sanskrit has 96 words that mean love. I’m sure one covers love of a spouse and a different one covers love of pizza. There is very little, dare I say nothing, in life that is riskier but that will give more back to you than loving people.

May your loved ones be close and drawn closer, may the scope of your world grow larger in wonder and in purpose, and may your God, whomever or whatever you conceive him to be, bless you richly in the coming year.

Curtis

A Reminder to Christians About Noah

noahheaderAs most of you are no doubt aware Darren Aronofsky’s film version of the Noah story came out this week. I actually thought it came out weeks ago given all the flap over it but there you go…that’s just me not keeping up. With all the furor over the film I find myself sometimes amused and other times annoyed by what I read.

 

A couple non-spoilers here:

  1. I’ve not yet seen it.
  2. Aronofsky himself claimed it would be the least biblical film ever made, or some such thing.
  3. Christians viewers of the film seem divided on whether the faithful should attend or no.

My intent here is not to come down on either side of the see-it-or-not argument. There is merit in not wanting to put your money or support towards something you believe may go against what you hold to be true, strong merit.

On the other hand there is merit in wanting to be culturally relevant. Even if there are those who too often use this as an excuse.

If you read anything about Darren’s other movie, The Black Swan, then you had to guess this film would come replete with shock value. So why are we all so up in arms when the guy claimed it would not be biblical and we knew ahead of time it would be shocking in some shape or form? Come on man! We’re better than that!

So as you, my Christian friends, try to determine if you’ll go and watch this film I want to offer you a couple reminders:

1. We believe this is a true story.

It may be portrayed incorrectly, even if I like the idea of a Russell Crowe-like Noah, but we believe in a version of the same story and we believe it is true. AND, isn’t part of what we’re called to as Christians is to speak the truth in love?

Ephesians 4:14-15As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. 15 Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ,

So whether you see it or not be prepared to speak the truth, intelligently, and in love.

2. We believe we win in the end.

Sometimes it seems like the bad guys always win. I have a number of Christian friends who get violently upset when they feel that the Gospel message has been attacked. There is nothing wrong with a little righteous indignation. But at what cost when it gets too heated?

One of my favorite moves as an athlete, when I was winning a game and the opponent started talking trash, was to smile at point at the scoreboard. Even sweeter than that was enduring trash talk when we were behind and then being able to smile and pat them on the head when we won.

Not to trivialize in any way anybody’s eternity. But let’s remember that we believe we win in the end and we want to do our best to be sure that even the producers of non-biblical versions of bible stories, and perhaps more importantly, those whom they influence, win too.

So whether you see it or not remember to speak boldly, kindly, and with confidence.

Funny how the secular world isn’t up in arms, divided in the mindset, over it all. Just those of us who are supposed to be unified. Come on guys, we’re better than that. I, for one, hope some good conversation comes out of this film so I’ll probably see it at some point. Whether you do or not just remember, we win, and while it appears that we’re momentarily losing we get to speak the truth in love.

Will you go see Noah?

Throwing Down the Christian Social Media Gauntlet

lentGot your attention didn’t it ? Yeah, probably a bit more of a provocative title than was really necessary. But true nonetheless.

For those of us who don’t go by some of the more Catholic traditions surrounding Easter lent may seem like something “the other folks do”. No matter your persuasion toward lent though, if you claim to be a believer in Christ then I would like to offer up a challenge as to what we might all give up for the lenten season.

Ready?

Here it is: Let’s all agree to give up ANYTHING in social media that is aimed at telling our Christian brothers and sisters what they should NOT do.

Whether it is five theological fallacies we need to reject, or the one thing we must stop doing, or the eight reasons we should not be excited about an Oscar acceptance speech, let’s all agree, that for at least the period of lent, we’ll only be supportive, encouraging, a positive in how we choose to “instruct” one another in social media.

Don’t get me wrong. In private you can have a go at whomever and whatever you like, just not in a public forum.

Yes, I do appreciate the irony of this challenge. But in the spirit of lent I thought it was ok.

Why do I throw down this particular gauntlet?

Ephesians 4:

The Message (MSG)

4-6 You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.

Or maybe it is more…

John 13:

The Message (MSG)

34-35 “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”

Or perhaps it’s just…

Colossians 3:13-14

Living Bible (TLB)

13 Be gentle and ready to forgive; never hold grudges. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Most of all, let love guide your life, for then the whole church will stay together in perfect harmony.

So what say ye brothers? How cast ye thy vote sisters?

Just for lent, nothing but unity and encouragement in social media. What would a united body look like in the public eye? What difference might it make with those who choose to come to church that one Sunday out of the year? What might the lasting impact be on those who are watching?

Can we, for 40 days, present a unified loving reality? If you like the idea pass it on.

God Math

godmath

About a year ago my wife and I decided we needed to get back to tithing regularly. We were giving to a several different ministries but we weren’t at 10%. This wasn’t a theological compunction so much as a feeling it was what we were supposed to do.

And really it made no sense.

We had a lot on the calendar already for 2013-2014 and giving away another several hundred bucks a month seemed ridiculous. Unfortunately it also seemed obedient. We knew we’d have to rely on God Math.

I won’t go into all the details of the past year but let me provide the most recent example.

We’re trying to put together a graduation trip for Ian that includes some steep airfare costs. A week or so ago we were going over options and fretting over how to afford airfare. We had several conversations about it before I had to travel to Houston for three days at a customer site.

The trip went fine until I was headed to IAH to come home. My boss and I got notice that our connecting flight out of Austin was delayed. (We took the connection because it was cheaper.) Fortunately because he has mega world status with the airline he was able to get us both switched. He was going direct back to Denver and me direct to Colorado Springs. Or so I thought…

We got to the airport and went to the Red Carpet Club where I was told my flight was oversold…by 1…so they’d have to wait to give me a seat. Not to worry thought, several connecting flights were late so I’d be fine.

An hour before my flight I went to the gate to get a seat. I was told that my flight was oversold…by 1…not to worry though the connecting flights were still late so I’d be fine. They’d give me a seat closer to boarding.

For the next hour I watched the gate agent giddily sharing facebook photos of her new puppy with anyone who would look. I wasn’t TOO worried, after all, I’d be fine. Right? That was until our flight started showing 10 then 20 minutes delay.

Michelle, the puppy loving gate agent, had my seat confirmation though so although I began to boil inside at her canine cavorting I managed to keep it cool on the outside. When she started boarding the plane and stalled the line to show off her pooch pics I didn’t flinch. When she ignored me standing at her desk and called two people who were apparently on the stand-by list I bit my tongue. When she turned to close the door and asked if I was standing by I kept an even keel.

“Um, no actually I have a confirmed seat which we talked about a little over an hour ago.”

Recognition dawned and she furiously started typing in the information she had on my flight card right in front of her. She realized she’d blown it bad but wasn’t going to admit it. She talked to the folks on the plane twice hoping to find an empty seat but there were none.

“Mr. Fletcher I’m apologize, but I have managed to confirm you on a seat on the 5:15″ (two hours later). I was TICKED!!

“Because we involuntarily bumped you we’ll have to compensate you. You can either get the unused portion of your ticket back in cash, (probably $100) or we can issue you a coupon for a future flight valued at $500.”

Hmmm, two hours delay for $500? Yeah, I’ll take that…and just about cover what I need for the grad trip airfare.

God Math. It comes out of nowhere, shows up when we need it, and always seems to add up.

When was the last time you experienced God Math?

A Matter of Perspective

225This past Sunday I found myself driving to the airport in the pre-dawn darkness planning on staying awake just long enough to sleep through a two hour, early morning flight to Dallas.

As I smoothly guided my little MR2 around the corner from I25 onto I225 north I found myself momentarily befuddled. You see I225 actually heads mostly east at this point, yeah, don’t ask, and there, in front of me, in the phantom light of early morning, I saw mountains on the horizon.

If you’ve ever been to Denver you know the mountains are on the west. To the east is the beginnings of the great plains…NO mountains…even very few hills.

I started to wonder if I had taken the wrong exit. I started checking the road that I had taken so many times before to be sure all the proper landmarks were in place. The entire landscape started to look unfamiliar and different. It probably took me close to 30 seconds to fully convince myself I was headed in the right direction.

And then I realized the “mountains” were just clouds.

For the next ten minutes or so my mind kept bouncing back and forth between the assurance that I was following a well known path and the suspicion that I was headed into some entirely new, unknown, potentially misleading landscape. I must have checked the next six or seven exit signs just to be sure they were filing by in the corrected order. But that rolling feeling of strangeness and discomfiture continued.

Fortunately I wasn’t lead astray. I stuck to, constantly glancing at the mountainous clouds which became more and more evidently clouds as the sun came up and as it did my discomfiture ebbed.

Those several minutes stuck with me though and made me wonder, how often does this kind of thing happen in everyday living? How often does some odd cloud on the horizon of life suddenly change my entire perspective and cause me to question where I am headed, cause me to question if I even really know where I am at all?

Allow me to share three lessons I learned from my Sunday morning encounter:

1. We’ll all encounter clouds on the horizon of life.It is inevitable. Usually we know they’re clouds and we know how to handle clouds but sometimes they’ll look a LOT like something else, something different, something disturbing to our normal order. When that happens remind yourself they’re just clouds.

2. Clouds are temporary

When you find odd shaped clouds on the horizon of life remember that clouds are temporary. Yes they may LOOK like permanent mountains but don’t allow that to stop you. Consider them carefully and you’ll discover they’re really clouds, no need to change course. (Of course CAREFUL consideration is the key…just in case you ARE going the wrong way and they ARE mountains!)

3. We don’t have to be fooled.These confounding clouds can confuse us but when we stick to what we know rather than giving in to the emotion of the moment we find that our path hasn’t changed, nor does it need to change. We can, and will, continue towards our goal, even getting a laugh out of the moments confusion if we allow ourselves the freedom to laugh.

When we find ourselves confronted by a confusing set of clouds on the horizon, if we remember that it is expected, it is worthy of careful consideration and it is temporary we can more easily navigate the confusion they cause and continue towards our original goal. It’s really a matter of perspective.

What are the “mountainous clouds” that have popped up on your horizon? How have you navigated that strange set of moments?

 

The Tebow/Lewis Conundrum

timrayIt’s funny how a year changes things.

Last year, when Tim Tebow was leading the Broncos to their first playoff win in a long while the media could not get enough opportunity to bash him for what they saw as an over the top display of faith that some said had no place on the football field.

I’ve found it interesting then this year, as the Ravens have made their unprecedented run to the Super Bowl, that very little is being said about Ray Lewis’ outspoken display’s of faith.

Oh sure there are the undercurrent of social media debates both amongst and between those on the far right and far left of the socio-politico-religious scale. I’ve seen Lewis actions lauded as those of a man who has “found Jesus” and decried as fake by those who remember Lewis as a murder suspect back in 2000. In either case though the press seems largely unimpressed.

Which makes me wonder…why?

In my musings over the mystery of the media’s maligning of my man Tebow and their seeming silence on the self same stuff with senior statesman Lewis I’ve considered a cadre of conspicuous contributors:

(All of which is to say I think I’ve figured out what happened.)

1. TimeTewbow was a rookie, a highly touted rookie but a rookie nonetheless.  He hadn’t had any time in the league to establish himself with anything other than pre-draft hype.  Although Tebow had been highly regarded throughout his college career he hadn’t had the same kind of media attention that players get in the NFL. In short the media hadn’t really had an opportunity to build a relationships with him.

Ray has been in the league for seventeen years. Granted that time has been turbulent at points but over the course of time the media has been able to craft an understanding of how they relate to Ray and how he relates to them.

I think it is very true in this case that time equates to relationship.

2. PerformanceThis one is almost a double edged sword because while Ray had proven himself over time, Tim WAS proving himself in his short opportunity to do so. I actually believe now, in hindsight, that part of the shots that were being taken at Tim were specifically because he was winning when by all intents and purposes he should not have been able to pull out those wins.

The media really didn’t want to admit that this kid, who looked like he really was NOT an NFL passer, was somehow winning games that he should be losing because of his relationship with God. Tim put them in a place where they had to consider that as a possibility. Tim wasn’t winning WITH God, Tim was winning BECAUSE of God and that didn’t sit well. We’ll never know, on this side of the box, whether God was orchestrating wins for Tim but the media certainly didn’t want to entertain that possibility.

By contrast Ray Lewis has proven himself a proficient, first ballot hall of fame, linebacker. Ray wins. If Ray wants to give credit to God the media can give each other a wink and a nudge and say, “Ok, but you won before you got religion too.”

This combination of time and performance creates a certain credibility in relationship. Faith has a place in the public arean of football no doubt. But the arena IS football. The Tebow/Lewis Conundrum seems to support the notion that the people who manage the popular opinions ensconced in that arena are willing to accept faith second if football is proved first. You can be good at football solely because of faith, they don’t like that.

Which leads me to wonder:

  • What are the arenas in life where our faith is welcomed AFTER we’ve proven ourselves in the arena?
  • Where are the places that we can invest time and performance that produces credibility?
  • How patient are we in building that street cred before bringing faith to bare?

 

Winnings, Endings, and a New Respect

playoffsI started playing football when I was 10 and had the good fortune to play all the way through college and a little bit beyond. That’s why I both love and hate the playoffs.

You see when a football season ended I always had a terrible ache in my gut. Whether it was the season in middle school when we one only one game, the year we lost in the NCAA Division II semi finals, or the time we won the Ukrainian National Championship, season over, same nasty feeling.

So for the last two weeks I have had that same feeling, several ties over, Saturday and Sunday.

This past weekend was one of the worst. I went in to the weekend with high hopes only to exit the weekend with just 1 out of 4 of my hoped for winners emerging triumphant and yes, the Broncos loss was the hardest to take.

In terms of those losses let me just say this: I can’t stand playing conservative offense at the end of the game with the lead. If you keep the ball the other team cannot possibly score. I also don’t like playing some skanky prevent defense. If your regular defense has you in the lead after 59:30 why change it? Ok, done with that.

If you think about it this internal sinking of the gut at seasons end isn’t really meant to be. I mean, look at where we started out. Adam and Eve, in the garden, tree of life available for the eating, eternity in our grasp. We could have lived without endings, without regrets, without the sinking gut.

Sure we still would have invented football, probably early on, and there still would have been winners and losers but every game would have been hard enough fought and scheduled with enough chance at a replay that we’d have always felt we had done our best and that the better team had truly won. Sheesh, we might not have even needed referees if you think about it!!

Unfortunately though endings and regrets are a part of the human condition. I think God gives us the grace to live through them but I think he also gives us the gut check to remind us that one day we won’t have to any longer.

Which brings me to my new respect.

I used to really, I mean reallllly, dislike Ray Lewis. There was all that legal craziness when he came into the league, he always seemed a little too cocky and he always seemed to beat the guys I was rooting for. But I have to say Ray has mellowed with age. The guy is a completely class act from what I’ve seen over this, his last season. I even find myself thinking that it wouldn’t be all bad if the Ravens win the Super Bowl. (I will however be rooting for the NFC this year.)

I don’t know Mr. Lewis so I can’t say for sure what’s gone on with him but he does sound a little like Tebow in his praise for the Lord. Funny how people jump all over Tim but just nod and smile at Ray. I guess they’ve seen him thump enough heads. I hope I can finish my race with the same amount of grace Ray seems to be exuding as he finishes this one.

I also hope the 49ers win the Super Bowl and that Alex Smith has to come in on the final drive…but that’s a different story.

What do you think of Ray Lewis’ run into the end of his final season?

 

 

A Contemporary Take on the Christmas Story

This is a bit of a traditional Christmas post. The tune has changed over the years but the words have been in my family for some time, even passing down to the next generation now. I hope you enjoy.

 

A number (OK, a pretty large number) of years ago my brothers and I were asked to “put together a rap” for a Christmas program at church. We decided we’d try to stay as true to the text as possible, obviously taking some poetic license as you’ll see, so for grins you might want to open your Bibles to Luke chapter 2.

OK folks I’m gonna take a shot
I’m gonna tell you what it is and what is not
We’re gonna take a little trip back in time
To when the Roman Empire was in its prime

Now in this days there went out a decree
Telling everybody where they had to be
The Roman emperor Cesar was on people’s backs
And wanted to be sure that everyone was taxed
And so in order to be counted everybody had to come
Unto the city that their ancestors were from

A Galilean named Joseph from Nazareth
Went to Judea to the city of David Beth-
lahem was the place that he had to sign
Because he was a descendant of David’s line
And he took with him his wife to be
And you know that her name was Mary

Now Mary was a virgin but she was with child
A lot of people today think that that sounds wild
But it was not strange bizarre or odd
She was the chosen human mother of the son of God

But getting back to the story of Joseph and Mare
They went to Bethlehem and when they got there
You know it seemed that Mary’s time had come
And that then and there she’s gonna have a son
But since the inn was full they had no place to stay
so she laid the baby Jesus down in the hay

Now in that region watching over their flocks
There were some shepherds in the fields eating bagels and lox
When a glorious angel of the Lord appeared
And as the glory shone around them they were filled with fear

“Be not afraid for I bring good news”
“Of great joy to all people both Gentiles and Jews”
“For unto you is born today in Bethlehem”
“The savior Christ the Lord”, the angel said to them
“And this to you shall be a sign”
“that the baby you might more easily find”
“He shall be laying in a manger in swaddling clothes”
The shepherds looked around and said, “what are those?”
And then suddenly and amazing thing
A multitude of angels began to sing

They “appeared to the shepherds in the sky
Singing glory to god in the highest
And on earth peace among men
Because the Lord most High is pleased with them”

Now when the angels had finished the shepherds turned
They went to Bethlehem because of what they learned
And I think you’re gonna know just what I mean
When I say that this was the nativity scene
It was the Bethlehem stable where the shepherds went
Along with three wise men from the orient
The three kings had brought frankincense and myrrh
And I’m not really sure what those things were
But that’s really not important but neither is
Santa Clause Rudolph and all that biz

The real deal of Christmas is that it shows
God’s love for us because he chose
To send to us his only son
To make salvation possible for everyone

Hope you enjoyed it. Merry Christmas!

What Would You Do IF…?

What would you do today if the world were really ending tomorrow?

It’s probably a good thing the Mayans are no longer around. I think they’d feel quite mocked, although I am certain their capital would be surrounded by press trucks, their leading elders would all be fielding interview questions, and their cultural norms would be the subject of much scrutiny.

While there are a few folks who seem to be hedging their bets I haven’t had anyone offer up their cars, homes or credit cards for me to use here in the last 24 hours. So I think it is safe to say most of us don’t believe.

But what if it were all coming to an end tomorrow?

Is there a food you have always wanted to try?

Is there a movie you’ve wanted to see?

Is there one last Angry Birds achievement to beat?

Is there a boss you’ve wanted badly to tell off?

Is there one last beer to drink in order to finish the Old Chicago World Beer Tour?

Is there someone you’ve always wanted to kiss?

Is there someplace you’ve always wanted to travel?

Is there a flight that gets there today?

Is there someone in your life who needs to know how much you really love them?

Is there someone who you need to share your faith with one last time?

Is there someone from whom you need to ask forgiveness?

Is there someone you need to forgive?

Maybe the gift of the Mayans is not the knowledge that the calendar ends. Maybe the gift of the Mayans is a reminder that we should live our lives as though tomorrow IS the end of the world. Maybe the novel idea of living with daily intentionality, with fatalistic purpose, or with a sense of urgency is one worth considering.

If today were truly the end of days then what would each of us do?
Would we drink and dance, confess our love, or go one last time to the zoo?
Would we take a risk?
Would we roll the dice?
Would we bury our heads ‘neath the sheets?
What would YOU do given 24 hours to be sure that your life was complete

What are you going to do with your last day?

A Christmas Blessing

Colored lights cast their warm glow both inside and out. The distinctive scent of pine bows, that Christmas tree smell, resurrects memories of childhood bringing a soft smile that reflects the warmth of the season.

Since I was about  5 or 6 I always find time to sit in the living room in silence, no lights showing anywhere other than those on the tree. In the hustle and bustle that can surround the season I like to take that time to slow down and rest.

In the spirit of those restful moments I wanted to share this video with you. Consider it my gift, my contribution to your moments of reflection.

The music is my own arrangement of my favorite Christmas carol. ( I discovered just how difficult it is to record a low D Irish whistle in Garage Band!)

My hope is that this humble offering will provide you a moment of rest and reflection in the midst of what can be a busy time of year.

Peace be with you.