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Archive for the ‘risk’ Category

“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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I need to share a story with you this morning. No surprise there. The surprise is in the turns of the story.

In listening a second time, one year removed, to an audio version of Donald Miller’s book “A Million Miles In a Thousand Years”, the following quote is an appropriate lead in for this post:

“People love to have a lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen. But joy costs pain.” I often feel that I’m not willing to pay the cost for joy. It’s difficult to give up my comfort. It’s difficult to leave my comfort zone. Pain is not comfortable. But that’s the price.And so living your life deliberately – living your life on purpose – requires something extra of yourself. But giving the something extra is addictive.”

So, here is the story.

I made an early morning milk run last week to get some breakfast fixin’s for my hungry children. While in the store, I ran into a guy who is about to make a kidney donation to a mutual friend and
older mentor at church.

I asked the man “how did this come
together?”, and his answer was quite intriguing. It seems that about 10 years ago, this man woke up one day and told his wife “I want to donate my kidney. I don’t know why, necessarily, but it’s just something I think I should do”.

Time passed. 10 years, give or take, to be exact. Nothing was done to follow up on the desire to donate, but the desire remained. This man then happened to be at church on a Wednesday night (something he says he almost never does, BTW) and he runs into our mutual friend.

Unknowing of the friend’s medical condition and need, he asked how he was doing. Upon hearing of the friend’s need for a kidney transplant, he said “you can have mine”.

Disbelief followed, along with denial and “you need to think about this first”. The man’s response, naturally was “I already have: for 10 years, in fact”.

Weeks passed and they finally reached agreement, and wouldn’t you know it, but they are a match. The donation will be happening soon.

I know risk follows, and we need to pray for both of these men, but I could not leave with my milk that morning without being struck by how God moves in a mysterious way. A man even wrote a song about it over 200 years ago:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sov’reign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

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The song was penned by a William
Cowper (1731 – 1800). His story is not so great. He was born into wealth and opportunity, but when love escaped him and challenges faced him, he slipped in and out of bouts of depression and insanity for the rest of his life. And yet, his name, his story, and more importantly, his music, are still influencing us today.

So, this morning, I’m moved in what is likely no longer such a mysterious way. Why did this man get to the point of needing a kidney? Why is there disease, war, poverty, abuse, and hatred in this world?

Good things happen, and bad things happen, but we are called upon in both counts to make a difference in our own unique, special, and even mysterious way, and in so doing, to live a better story.

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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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Circa 2007: “All is well; buy our stuff”.

Circa 2008: “Dumb question: that won’t happen”. (new BearS chairman speaking to yours truly, 2 months before their doom).

It’s Friday the 13th. The CNBC prognosticators are talking about the Fed, inflation, the SEC, and “the reason it’s different”. And, of course, Goldman is always in the background: the circa 2011 version of Bear, I would contend.

I’m beginning to think the whole lot of them is corrupt with self interest.

Cynicism expressed, I’m cheering for my retirement account. Go baby, go….

:/

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dust, or rust?…and where thieves break in and steal.      (Matthew 6:19)

Friday night was family movie night.    This go round was “You Again“, a comedic flick about ghosts of your past, high school nemesis, coming back to haunt your existence in your newly minted adult life.    The movie had it’s funny moments, but also its “all too close to home” moments about those folks from our past who had such an influence that is hard to shake from our psyche even years and hundreds of miles away later.     The little woman and I were discussing the real life application with each other and our soon to be high school twins this morning, probably sharing somewhat of a “that was hard” salve with each other while delivering a bit of a “get ready kid” to the younger generation.

The conversation then shifted to old music, 80’s pop, to be specific.     You see, one of the more laughable moments was the “roll the credits” ending where Daryl Hall and John Oates appeared with a rendition of the old classic “Your Kiss is On My List”.      I recall that Hall and Oates were not only one of my favorite singing duos in 9th grade (my delusional pre classic Valen Halen days, I must confess), but a cassette tape of their “album” Private Eyes was a Christmas present from mom and dad that year.    As fate would have it, I still have that cassette and a few others, and a player in our “stereo system” that my in laws gave to us seemingly just a few days ago at Christmas, 17 years ago to be more specific.

As I put the tape in and pressed play, preparing to bless my children with the golden olden melodies, nothing happened.     As I opened the player back up, it seems that years of dust and lack of use have rendered it useless.    Even a healthy treatment with the miracle drug WD-40 could not save the electronic patient.     And it got me thinking.    Sorry to spoil the fun.

Vinyl records.    8-Track Tapes.    Cassette Tapes (Sony Walkman, anyone).    Compact Disks.     MP-3’s.     iTunes.      It seems to me that the more we “progress’ and the faster the pace of change, the more we have invested in our treasures and “the more we have to lose”.      Those lyric vault tapes look perfectly good to me, but the player is not.    I’ll likely never make additional effort to know if the digital content on those magic magnetic strips is still intact.    But the memories live on, at least for today.     But what about that iPod, or all those digital pictures?    Ever have a hard drive crash?    Was it backed up?    It’s a 21st century  technology neophyte’s worst nightmare.      While we once worried about loss from fire, flood, tornado, or actual thieves, we now are subject to the added risk of digital decay or the all too powerful power surge.    Can I get a thank you, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, anyone?

So as we finish clearing out the dust from our haunted high school memories and our hallowed halls of favorite old tunes, one more melody comes to mind, this one composed by Mr. Tillit S Teddlie, another multiple degrees of Interconnectedness part of our faith and family culture:

Earth hold no treasures but perish with using
However precious they be
Yet there’s a country to which I am going
Heaven holds all to me
Heaven holds all to me
Brighter its glory will be
Joy without measure will be my treasure
Heaven holds all to me
Out on the hills of that wonderful country
Happy, contented and free
Loved ones are waiting and watching my coming
Heaven holds all to me
Why should I long for the world with its sorrows
When in that home o’er the sea
Millions are singing the wonderful story?
Heaven holds all to me
  
 
Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.  Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.  Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.   (Matt. 6:19-21)

Sort of a “welcome to the dust free zone, where the hits just keep on coming”.     No old nemesis allowed.

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Hedley, Texas: Donley County

Population in July 2009: 354. Population change since 2000: -6.6%

Median resident age:   42.3 years
Texas median age:   32.3 years

Estimated median household income in 2008:

Hedley:   $37,831
Texas:   $50,043

Estimated median house or condo value in 2008:

Hedley:   $35,142
Texas:   $126,800
County population in July 2009: 3,664 (all rural)
Land area: 930 sq. mi.
Water area: 3.3 sq. mi.
Population density: 4 people per square mile     (very low).

Dec. 2009 cost of living index in Donley County: 74.6 (low, U.S. average is 100)

Hedley, Texas was largely populated by early generation Irish American immigrants, farmers, in the mid to late 1,800’s.    Land was abundant, and the price was right (free) to those who were willing to make the long, arduous, and likely dangerous journey from the eastern United States to this new land known as Texas.    Farming has long been the primary economic driver for Donley County, the locale for Hedley, and it remains so to this day.    At its prime, Hedley served as the hub of economic and support activity for Donley County.     A bank, a barber, a dry goods store, a gas station or two, a grocer, a butcher shop, several cafes, a feed store for livestock (run by my wife’s grandfather), a Masonic lodge, a school, and even a movie theater were present on the main street of Hedley “back in the day”.     It was a booming little community.

My wife and several generations of her family hail from Hedley.    We travel there a few times each year to see family, and even in the 22 or so years that I’ve been visiting, I have seen the town shrink all the more.     Not much remains today besides the consolidated school district (a central support service for the surrounding county, today, and a source of pride for the town), a gas station that is occasionally opened, a Justice of the Peace, a Senior Citizens Center, and a handful of random businesses that are supported by remaining residents.

So what happened?    Simply put, things began to dry up.    The town was the support for the county, and was likewise supported by the residents of the county.    A family used to live and farm on every square mile of the county, and they shopped and looked to the town for providing the goods and services they required.   

 Then things changed.    Farming methods improved, things became more efficient, and crop yields (mostly cotton) began to increase dramatically, and in a paradox to the newfound prosperity of every acre farmed, the number of farm families needed began to decline, and so did the population.

The booming businesses listed above were all prospering in and serving Hedley as late as the early 1970’s.     As my wife and her parents and sisters left the town in those years for better work in the neighboring county, so did many of the other residents.    And the businesses slowly continued to close.    The town has continued to dry up, year by year, decade by decade, and the money and populace with it.     Unintended consequences, things getting better for farming, made things grow worse for the town and surrounding county.

Time has passed, the family has worked in and owned several different businesses over the years in the neighboring county, and today find themselves in the large scale farm irrigation system business.    As the economy and technology improved, the ability for farmers to afford and obtain highly technical and efficient irrigation systems has improved dramatically.    The capital needed to acquire these systems has flowed as freely in recent years as the water that is pumped from deep in the acquirer below.

My in-laws live on a small farm several miles south of Hedley.    On the back of the acreage they own, a spring fed creek has run for generations.    But in recent years, this creek has progressively begun to dry up as well.    It seems that the generous supply of water emitted by the underground aquifers is being pumped dry.      There are over 600 pivots running in the county just south of Hedley, and each pumps hundreds of gallons of water per hour.    Pivot by pivot, hour by hour, day by day, month by month, year by year; the water is drying up.    The prosperity and increased farming yield that has come from improvements in irrigation for those remaining in the county is now likely to begin causing just the opposite of the intended effect.    Things may begin drying up, literally and figuratively.

The same thing seems to be happening in today’s global economy.    After years of exploiting the system, the flow of currencies seems to be turning dry.   Things are changing.    What did we do to cause it?   What can we do to stop it?

The Law of Unintended Consequences is alive and well.    Everything we do has a result, if not for our generation, for those that come after us.   It’s an uncomfortable reality, and one most don’t want to address.     Families, business, the U.S. Congress: none want to make the hard decisions that cause an expense today that will benefit many in the years yet to come.    Lessons learned, or lessons yet to be learned, the hard way?    It may get pretty dry in the future; drink up, while you may, but think about how to save some for yourself and others as well.

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I’m likely going to have to apologize to a small army of folks for this one, but here goes.     As referenced earlier, this weekend featured a long overdue catchup visit with an old college buddy, and as you can guess, the photo album came out and the memories ran deep.

The picture here on the left got quite a bit of attention from the kids during the visit, and even an, “oh, Dad, yuck”.   But that’s just it, appearances can be deceiving.

If my teenage son had commented, instead of his twin sister, he might have said something like “wow, Dad, you were a playa“.     (playa, colloquial spelling of “player”, as in the context of dating)  I think it might have been Confucius who said “If you have to define it, you are not one”.    Touche.    Appearance (or first impression) can be deceiving.   You’ve got to go deeper.

Friday of last week, I accompanied my kids to the local high school football game.    Ever the parental creeper, I was keeping an eye on what “the boys” were doing on the hill adjacent to the end zone.      Seems this rat pack was attracting a crowd.    I thought to myself, “hey, my son is a playa“.   But as the gaggle of young ladies in the picture to the right swarmed in around the young men, a very interesting thing happened.     The young ladies sat down, and all of the boys got up and left.    Appearances can be deceiving, but I digress.

So back to the lead picture.   What gives?    Well, you see, this was a university business club trip.    My friend and roommate and I were preparing to leave for the airport to return home after a fun week in Los Angeles with friends, and my friend suggested he take my picture by the hotel lobby sculpture.    That picture follows here.  Bus as he was taking the picture, this “gaggle” of young ladies walked into the lobby where we were sitting.     “Take our picture, too”, was the cry.      You have to remember the context: in this era before digital photography and instant viewing and sharing, we didn’t take very many pictures.    Film, it was called film; and developing.    It could get expensive, and it took time.    But I digress.     Appearances aside, these nice young ladies were friends and acquaintances, and a couple of them are even Facebook friends today (at least, before this post, that is)  but we were not that close before the trip, nor after.    Appearances can be deceiving.       Sorry, Judy, Laura, Krista, and Tanya.   Thanks for the fun picture, and the blog  application 23 years later.

Proverbs 20:8 says “When a king sits in judgment, he weighs all the evidence,
      distinguishing the bad from the good.

So, what’s the application here from this “sea of randomness” this morning?     It’s simply this:   let’s not be too quick to read, rule judgement, and react when we see things in our everyday life.    When you read that email, when you have that stress moment conversation at the home or at the office, or you get what feels like a curt brush off in the hallway at church, think about what might be going on in the background.    How is that person’s day, week, or year?     What is happening in their life?    what is happening in the interactions that go on between the two of you?      Do you need to work on the richness of your relationship?

So, back to the lead question?    Are you a playa?   Am I?     Relationshipwise, that is…

You see, not too many months after this original picture was taken, I met and cemented a rich relationship with the lovely young lady pictured below.    Thank you, Sherry, for not just going by appearances.

When I met my future father in law the first time, he called me a wolf in sheep’s clothing.    Months later, after he’d gotten to know me, he said I was a sheep in wolf’s clothing.    Touche?

But we’ve formed a rich relationship, not just my wife and I, but my father in law and I as well.    And I definitely earned the great prize, 21 years and counting.

Who knows, maybe I was a playa after all….appearances can be deceiving.

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