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“God is subtle, but He is not malicious. I cannot believe that God plays dice with the world.” – Albert Einstein.

I’ve long thought that to be true, but now wonder if He is not often times speaking to us more directly. Take a random walk with me, and see if you agree.

Many of us recall the “Rocky” movie franchise. He started his saga in the slums of Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. The movie details him out running past a group of likely unemployed young men standing on a street corner singing “Take it Back”. Four movies later, some good, some less than good, and Rocky is back in the same neighborhood, a rags to riches to rags scenario, but he is still “Rocky Balboa” at the core, albeit changed by time, experience, and the impact of money.

I have experienced in the past 24 hours what I’ll dub “the day of diatribes”, polite though they may have been. This may or may not be considered just one more of the same by the time you finish this reading.

The first diatribe was by a Facebook friend protesting the use of the American flag as a form of forced advertising by a local realtor who placed them in every yard as far as the eye can see.

The second diatribe hit a little closer to home. It was written by a youth minister in Texas about the problem of increasing costs in higher education, specifically private faith based education, and the amount of debt it takes for many to get an undergraduate degree. The university for which I work’s mission statement is “Transforming Lives for faith, scholarship, and service.” Trust me when I say we do not intend for that to be “debt service”, and are listening and seeking solutions to the broad based problem of the higher education industry making our experience affordable and relevant. Pardon my digression from the topic at hand.

The third diatribe dealt with the problem of sensationalism and desensitizing in our mass media, all to get attention and “viewership”. It is a well written piece about things that are good and true, and you can read it at http://www.reddirtchronicles.com/2011/06/rdc-editorial-whatever-is-good-true-beautiful/

The fourth piece, more a reflection than a diatribe, was a personal look at living a purposeful life, and not a life of “Shadow Purposes” as we are so prone to do in this rich society. It can be read at http://www.reddirtchronicles.com/2011/06/chasing-my-shadow-purpose/

The final referenced piece in the “24 hours of diatribes” was my own, preceding this one, mind you. I read an article this morning about the NBA lockout and some of the quotes in a war of mega millionaires fighting mega millionaires over who gets the bigger share of the billions being offered by the masses at the alter of modern day entertainment. I love the NBA, but this article made me mad, and I suspect it will do the same for many fans as what promises to be a protracted labor negotiation fight plays out.

To paraphrase author Donald Miller, I think we all have forgotten that we are just trees in a story about a forest. The forest may be on fire all around us, but we are too focused on the near surroundings and our own concerns to notice.

The global economy appears to be badly broken. We have “stored up treasures on earth, where moth and rust corrupt, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matt. 6:19) and need to be prepared for a different day and age, even within the lifespan of some current generations. The economic storm is raging as we speak in benefit rich European society, and the tsunami is racing toward us across the Atlantic even now. Societies are in debt up to their eyeballs; we are soft; we are spoiled. And fundamental societal things are changing. We are aging. The balance of trade and who makes and who buys is evolving. Health care is a concern. The U.S. Government won’t be able to pay for it all or fix all that ailes us. All the while, I fear we are standing on the beach arguing over who gets the bigger share of sandbags while we should be moving to higher ground to stay safely out of the coming wake.

Our societies often have found themselves in these moments in history, and it seems they are often ultimately resolved by fighting a war. The U.S. War for Independence; the French Revolution; the U.S. Civil War; WWI; WWII; the Middle East conflicts. Its about a groundswell of the masses when they can’t get what they want and need, and when the establishment is out of touch. We may be entering another “let them eat cake” moment, I fear. Get the picture?

I think the establishment may be catching on. One of the more telling advertisements running on TV today is “More Saving: More Doing; That’s the power of the Home Depot”. We need to realize that David Stanley (OKC auto dealer) does not really lead the way. The Mathes Brothers may have “our style at our price”, but they will never know us by name.

As I began to pour these random reflections down and try to tie them together cohesively, I looked through the “categories and tags” section of my blog site, and a huge percentage of those previously used seemed strikingly relevent. Take a look at all those listed at the end of this and see if you agree.

After an early morning of pondering these thoughts, I got into the car to come to the office and was immediately presented with “Awakening” by Switchfoot playing on my car radio. God is subtle, indeed, and He was speaking right to me.

Face down with the L.A. curbside endings
In ones and zeros
Downtown was the perfect place to hide

The first star that I saw last night
Was a headlight of a man-made sky
But man-made never made our dreams collide, collide

Here we are now with the falling sky and the rain
We’re awakening
Here we are now with the desperate youth and pain
We’re awakening

Maybe it’s called ambition
You’ve been talking in your sleep about a dream
We’re awakening

Last week saw me living for nothing but deadlines
With my dead beat sky
But this town doesn’t look the same tonight

These dreams started singing to me out of nowhere
And all my life I don’t know
That I’ve ever felt so alive, alive

Here we are now with the falling sky and the rain
We’re awakening
Here we are now with the desperate youth and pain
We’re awakening

Maybe it’s called ambition
You’ve been talking in your sleep about a dream
We’re awakening

I wanna wake up kicking and screaming
I wanna wake up kicking and screaming
I wanna know that my heart’s still beating
It’s beating, I’m bleeding

I wanna wake up kicking and screaming
I wanna live like I know what I’m leaving
I wanna know that my heart’s still beating
It’s beating, it’s beating, it’s beating, I’m bleeding

Here we are now with the falling sky and the rain
We’re awakening
Here we are now with the desperate youth and pain
We’re awakening

Maybe it’s called ambition
But you’ve been talk, talking in your sleep about a dream
We’re awakening
Dream, we’re awakening

So, where do we go from here, in this digital community, and in each of our own “cities of brotherly love”? Maybe we are a little like that prizefighter who has gone one or two rounds too far, and needs to reset. What is our task? More saving, more doing? Maybe. Less spending, more doing? Likely. More sharing, more caring? Absolutely. Heightened attention spans are in order. We’re awakening. The bar is raised. A groundswell is happening all around us, and a tsunami may (or may not) be headed are way. Let’s move to higher ground and be ready.

Take me back.

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As referenced in last night’s post, I encountered a team of people during my early morning jog on the beach yesterday. They were a clean, well dressed, polite looking bunch. They carried fish net poles. And they were intensely focused. I approached the lady at the end of the column and simply verbalized my two hunches in the form of a question: Jellyfish, or tar balls? She half smiled, half grimaced, and nodded her head in acknowledgement. “Tar balls”, she said.

I never would have known it was an issue. Since that time, however, I’ve been on the internet, and the pictures of this very beach from exactly one year ago are shocking and sad. How they got it cleaned up is a mystery and a marvel. A regular “reconstruction” is what it is.

It is beautiful here today. But I wonder, “how did it look 15 months ago?”. My wife and daughters came to this place at that time, and they raved about it’s beauty and clear blue water. When we arrived here a few days ago for my first visit, they commented about how the water is “not as blue as last time; maybe it is the time of year…”.

How did the accident causing all of this “collateral damage” occur? Because of the decisions of a group of only a few people, primarily those in roles of authority on the Deepwater Horizon rig itself, and some in the halls of corporate power.

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The book I brought along on this trip is “Flyboys” by James Bradley, the author of “Flags of Our Fathers”. The premise of the book is to tell the story of the flight of men, including President George Bush I, who were shot down over the island of Chichi Jima and what eventually happened to each of them. It is a fascinating account, but is almost as much cultural history and a treatise on the horrors and crimes of war (on both sides) as it is about the men he calls Flyboys.

The horrors of war and the mass number of civilian deaths and suffering from WWII are astounding. Even more astounding is how much death and destruction occurred in the final days of each theater of war, mostly because the few refused to read the handwriting on the wall and give up their positions and demands. Millions upon millions, and suffering beyond measure, all because of human pride, greed, and ego. And hatred, lots of growing and compounding hatred.

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The same was true of the civil war, as my kids so earnestly discovered in our tour of Vicksburg earlier in the week.

I won’t even attempt to touch today on the bigger basic points of “original sin”, “death thru Adam and Eve”, redemption, and the like. My point today is about leadership: vision, motivation, and responsibility. There is a management saying that “Where there is no vision, the people perish”. It is a fairly innocent saying, mostly condemning policies and practices that hold people and companies back from achieving to their full potential.

An even more sobering reality, though, is that with bad vision, people will perish. And suffer. Lots of people.

It all starts with one person: Me. You. The other guy.

We are each responsible; responsible to be responsible. And to be loving, caring, and cautious. Can this decision hurt others? Is the desired outcome worth it? Is it about me, or my agenda? Is it driven by greed, lust, pride, anger, and the like?

But, reconstruction can occur. It happened in the Confederate South. It happened in Japan. It happened in Germany and throughout Europe. And it happened on this beach. Yes, scars, remain. Maybe the water is not as blue as it was before. The name Hiroshima will always conjur up images other than the place of beauty it represented 70 years ago and prior. What happened in Dresden should never be. We need to remember.

Scars remain, and diligent people remain to ensure the cleanup happens and that the accidents and incidents hopefully don’t repeat themselves. Leaders are more aware. Constituents are more aware. The memory of the cost is vivid.

So long as time continues, history will repeat itself. Memories will fade. There will be greed and renewed self interest. There will be mistakes. There will be more wars.

But, not here, and not today. We have beautiful friends in Japan. We have beautiful friends in Germany. And it is a beautiful day in Gulf Shores, even a mere 12 months after the devastation, and I can see the morning cleanup crew forming down along the water’s edge, and it’s not even 7 AM yet. Diligence and caring will pull us through.

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I went jogging on the beach this morning. Go ahead: begin humming the tune from “Chariots of Fire” here. I will even insert some bad Irish accent dialogue to go along with it: “whenn A runn, A feell HIS strenth“. And, yes, one man’s slow motion is another man’s full speed.

The family was sleeping late today, so off alone I went. I wanted to run in the surf, so I left my iPhone behind. No thought of taking pictures would distract me on this morning jaunt. I also did not want to get a lot of things wet, so I went simply equipped with a wristband given to me by the OC International Programs Office and my trusty old pair of Dallas Cowboys gym shorts. No shirt, this morning. Shocking, I know, but it was 6 something AM, and a man needs his vitamin D. And, of course, I was wearing a garment made by the good folks at Hanes. I may be a rogue at times, but I’m no commando.

Running unencumbered was quite liberating. As mentioned earlier, no temptation to stop for pictures. No fear of losing my keys. No worry about what would get salt water or sand on it. And yet, as I ventured down the beach, I began to wonder “how will people identify me if something were to happen?”.

I began to imagine the musings of my fellow beachcombers, were something to occur. Some might say, “with that physique, he must be someone noteworthy”. OK: it is acceptable, even suggested, that you stop laughing now. Others might say, “he is wearing Hanes, but he is too pale to be Michael Jordan.”. And others “judging by the farmer’s tan, he is most likely not a lifeguard”. Still others, “he is wearing Dallas Cowboys gear: he might be Tony Romo, but where is Jessica?”. Even my “international” wrist band might cause some to suggest that I was some type of international man of mystery from a land called OC.

And they would all be wrong. As my run continued, I even came across three large prawns that had washed up on the beach. Perhaps I could be Survivorman, and maybe I was diving along the reefs earlier searching for food, and I hit my head and can’t even remember my own name.

Nah. None of that is true. And I, for one, am grateful. I’m just a guy, on vacation, whose dear family is sleeping soundly back in the condo. But I’m still a rogue, at least from time to time, or maybe from blog to blog. Taking off for vacation and staying away from email (as much as possible, or more) is but one way to evidence such “rogueness”.

I believe it was Job who said, in a less positive context, of course “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!”. Of course, positive circumstances noted, I also was not naked: I had my wristband, and my Dallas Cowboys shorts. And my Hanes. I almost forgot about my Hanes.

All that being said, I might suggest, unencumbered is a good way to go. Less to worry about. More time to think. More time to observe. Less distraction. More opportunity to pay attention. Little Frau would say an “Amen” to that. And only a rogue man of mystery like me could have ever landed a woman like her.

And by paying attention, I even met a nice team of people clad in khaki and white and carrying little nets as they walked in a line and studied the surface of the beach. They worked for some company called “BP”, and seemed to be looking for a ball or two, made of tar, of all things, that I can only assume they lost, somehow. More on that in a blog post all it’s own for another time.

So, back to the morning run. As I was heading back to the condo to rejoin my secret agent beach-combing family, I passed another man who was decked out almost just like me. Middle aged, gym shorts, maybe even a wrist band. I don’t recall. I don’t know if he was a commando, but I could tell that he was no rogue man of mystery, like Yours Truly. You see, there was one key difference between he and I. He was not Unencumbered. He was carrying an old style portable compact disk player, held high up to keep it from getting wet. I’m sure it was likely equipped with “no skip” functionality.

He was no rogue agent like me, indeed. He’s probably just some nerdy accountant from the Midwest. 🙂

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Great goal for a lifetime: B-Complex. Not complicated. Not complaining. Not cantankerous. Not critical. Complex.

B it. It’s energizing. 🙂

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I am preparing to participate in the upcoming OKC Memorial Half Marathon.  This will be a first for me.   I’ve gone from not exercising in years to participating in two 5k events during the past year, and my training has taken me up to about the 7 mile mark twice in the past two weeks. It feels good.   It has not only been life changing on the health front, but a has provided great time for reflection and clearing my mind.

Life is not a short sprint, it’s a marathon. I’m beginning to try out new ways to finish the race without getting injured or fatigued along the way.  But simply finishing the race is not a sufficient objective; “running (walking) with style and purpose” is.    

1 Corinthians 9:23-25 says: I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.   Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

In focusing on the long distance, I need to be aware of the landscape and the fellow runners inside each virtual mile.

So as I was training the other day, a few “walking moments” from my past came to mind, and I thought I’d briefly share what each has meant to me:

1) Plunking with Granddad – Howard Pope was legendary for his walks. My favorite ones were spent “plunking”: throwing rocks down into the deep creek across the street from his house and waiting to hear the splash (the “plunk”). It has been 35 years, but I can recall those moments like it was yesterday. Good memories.

2) Dove hunting with my Dad – in the “early years”, we lived out in the country and could simply walk across the street and go bird hunting. I’m not much of a hunter or fan of dealing with guns, but those were good times. Listening to my dad talk about things, watching our Fox Terrier plow thru the fields in search of game, and seeing the birds fall from the sky after my Dad spotted them and fired all replay in my mind’s eye. My son wants to learn to be a hunter. Gun lover, or not, it seems that these random walk moments may begin a new round of filming soon.

3) The stroll out to the fields with Coach Jackson – ever since I was about 12, I began walking fast everywhere I go. It’s called getting in a hurry, and it’s not always a good thing. Productivity of the mind and feet comes at the expense of seeing the sights going on around you. It was my 10th grade football coach, the man who got me started as a trainer or “athletic program assistant” (underpaid grunt who loves the game that he can’t play) who first pointed out that I walk “too fast”. “Slow down: you will get there. The game won’t start without us”. Good advice, and I still struggle with walking too fast today.

4) Trips across campus – not a lot to say on this one. As a college student, I fell in love with the OC campus on beautiful weather days, but I also recall enduring long distances in high winds and driving rain. Great metaphors for life. I still love the campus, and am blessed to walk it every day.

5) Singing in Europe – thank you, Ralph Burcham, for the draft notice.     The walks over several weeks in that summer of 1988, the time after college ended and before “life” began taught me several things:   a love of and fascination for Europe, the knowledge that there is life outside these United States, that we don’t have the monopoly on the world that I grew up believing, and that, quoting the later years words from “Finding Nemo”, we need to Just Keep Singing.   (OK, it was swimming, but it fit in nicely here)    The good Lord may not have given all of us a voice, but all of us have a song.     Whether you are tired, hungry, or “your feet are stained” (there’s a long story behind that phrase), you need to just keep singing.

6) Courting the girl – Ah, yes.  TCU.   Life on a real college campus.   That’s what she used to call it, anyway.     The academic bastion of the Southwest, I think it was?    Anyway, I digress.      Many a walk under the beautiful old oak trees, surviving a near skunk attack, and maybe even a kiss or two (shocking, I know) preceded the inevitable proposal to spend a lifetime together.     Fun times to remember.

7) Spatting with the girl – Yes, we have had a tiff, a time or two(shocking, I know) , but such is inevitable when spending a lifetime together.    Kind of like surviving a virtual skunk attack, not ever admitting who’s the skunk and who is the victim?    I’ll never tell.     Anyway, I digress.   The point is, when disagreeing, sometimes it is a good idea to step away from the “conversation” and go take a walk.    Clearing your head, understanding where you were wrong, and making a case for why she should let you back into the house are all good by-products of a nice walk on a cold winter’s night.

8) Strolling with baby(ies) – Yes, I have done this a time or two, as well.    I remember the first time like it was yesterday.     Baby H was screaming and hollering and would not settle down late at night, and after giving up on all other potential remedies, mom politely “suggested” that I take Baby out for a walk in the stroller, despite the fact that it was after 11:00 pm.     After about 20 minutes of strolling and her crying, the strangest thing happened.   She began to laugh.    I have a hard time remembering that babies do laugh, on occasion, but not this time.    I can still hear it, even now, 18+ years later.     I think she was laughing at me.     Years went by, and many a stroller walk, both the old “single” and the later “double” followed.     Maybe one day I’ll push a stroller again, this time with a GK instead of a simple K, and it will be OK if they laugh at me.

9) Working – I call 200+ of the best acres anywhere home between 8 am and sometime later than it should be every day, and I love it.   It comes with stress, but it also comes with joy in the challenge.   Academic bastion or not (and I would argue, it is, thank you very much) it’s my university, and I want it to succeed.     And yes, I do still tend to walk too fast in the course of a day.

10) Climbing Colorado – “Everybody needs a little time away…from each other”.     Those famous lines from a tune by Chicago, while taken out of context here, ring true in terms of the need for vacation and recharging.      And, I will argue, there are few places better to get away than the high altitudes of the mountains of Colorado.     “The girl” and I went there together after our wedding, and we are blessed to go back every couple of years with a group from church.     It’s an amazing part of God’s creation, and is often best enjoyed in the cool moments during sunrise.

So, back to the Memorial Marathon for a moment.   The theme for the marathon is “We Run to Remember” , and preparing for the event has helped me to do just that.     A few shout outs and thank you’s are in order here.    You see, I mentioned not having exercised in many years, and it was taking its toll on me, physically and mentally.    One day about this time last year, good friends and coworkers Neil, Sonya, and Darci showed up in my office on a Friday afternoon and said “we are not leaving until you sign up for TeamOC.   So I did.     When telling others of my commitment to the upcoming event, my friend  Ted said “don’t do it, you will only injure yourself”.     I owe those four a big thank you for getting me out of the chair and onto the treadmill, and subsequently on the streets walking and occasionally running.      I don’t know why I did not do it earlier, and it’s been a blessing.

As I was out doing a 6.55 mile outdoor prep one morning a couple of weeks ago, the path took me past the Baptist church whose longtime pastor had just been killed in a motorcycle accident.    It helped me to remember, mostly that life holds no guarantees, at least this mortally confined life, that is.

As I close up this marathon of memories today, the desire to just keep singing is there.    And an old song from the younger days is in my head.   Maybe it is the song I’ll be singing when it is too hard to do much walking.    If so, it should be a fund ride….Roll the Gospel Chariot along, and we won’t tag long behind…

 

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This picture of my twins sits on the credenza behind my desk at work. I love that picture. I love those kids, now just a few years removed from their “messy cute years”.

It reminds me of how God must feel. He loves us, despite our messes. He only asks that we clean up before we come inside His house. And who can blame Him? He even sent us a cleanup Man.

Can you relate?

Oh cleanser of the mess I’ve made
Your boundless love for me portrayed
With patience for my learning curve
By holding back what I deserve

How wonderful Your mercy is
How awesome are Your ways
I come, I come
To worship You
For all You’ve done

Oh cleanser of the mess I’ve made
With everything at Your feet laid
I watch as all my cares erode
And from my soul these words explode

Lyrics by Clint Lagerberg (Point of Grace)

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Have you ever had one of those days?    If you will allow, let me tell you about part of mine.   I believe Albert Einstein was once quoted to say “God is subtle“.     That’s a little how today feels.

I opened the door this Sunday morning to find a new copy of “the Yellow Pages” sitting on the front porch.    Largely a seldom read, often irrelevant book that takes up space in the house, I brought it in and dutifully found it a place in the kitchen cabinet.    Shortly thereafter, Sherry and I were briefly discussing my recent preparatory workout for an upcoming half marathon that I’m going to do my best to survive, and she stated simply that she was “proud of me”.     It seems that this upcoming event has become a sort of bucket list item, something to do while I still can, and it comes with a mixture of embarrassment both in the doing and in the fact that I’ve never attempted something requiring such discipline and preparation before.

An hour or two later, we were sitting in our Bible class at church discussing the book of First John.   It was then that I noticed, really for the first time, that the pages of the Bible in my hands were beginning to turn yellow, as if it were some type of ancient document.    “How can this be”, I wondered, knowing full well that I had only owned this copy of the Bible since Junior High School.    

And that got me to thinking. (sorry to spoil the fun)     If the pages of this seemingly new copy (a mere 33 years young) of the Bible are beginning to show such wear, what do I look like to others?    Is the wear and the age showing to such a degree?      Does my face bear a strong resemblance to a weathered piece of heavy stock paper?    While admittedly being a little silly here, it does make me wonder if the living contents of my jar of clay are as true and correct as those words contained in the ageless Word of God contained in this deteriorating copy currently in my possession.

I remember the first time a student at the university where I work referred to me as “sir”.      You can’t call me sir, I thought, I’m not old enough to be a “sir”.    That being said, I’m not sure that any in my generation were ever quite as young as the students of today.     I guess it’s all in the perspective.    

The chronological clock for me rolls to 45 today.     I sometimes quote the great philosopher, Jon Bon Jovi, by saying “we’re halfway there, living on a prayer”.     More than halfway there, is probably more like it.    Although the women comprising the older generation of family I’ve known have lived to their mid 90’s, the men have not fared as well.     How long will I continue?    I guess that’s for the LORD to know and for me to find out.

God speaks to us, and we should listen.    And His testimony is true.    His testimony endures, even after the pages of my Bible and countless others have dried up and withered away.

In the meantime, as the tone and consistency of my physical pages begin/continue to change with time, I am left to ask if my testimony is enduring the test of time.    Is my testimony true?       Will it endure the ages, even after my “life’s daily pages” have stopped turning?

 But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. 
 (I John 1:7)   

Truer words were never spoken.

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