The Latest 05-22-2016

It seems a long time since I’ve posted “the latest.” Tulip Time feels like it was ages ago despite it only being two weeks. After getting through our performances of Almost, Maine and then our Pella Tulip Time duties, Wendy I were ready to get our heads back into some semblance of normal routine. We did have one more appearance to make as the Dominie and Mareah Scholte for a meeting of Pella Corporation executives and board members at the Scholte House.

It was wonderful to have Madison and her boyfriend, Matt, with us at Tulip Time. Matt left for his return trip to Colorado on Sunday and Madison spent Sunday with her mother. On Monday I drove to Des Moines and had lunch with Madison before she was to fly out to her new home in South Carolina. Taylor joined us at Palmer’s Deli with her nannying charge, Joel. We all headed over to Grandpa Dean and Grandma Jeanne’s for a visit before taking Madison to the airport.

I will admit that Wendy and I spent the week after Tulip Time decompressing. There were things at home and at work that required attention, but our evenings were blissfully quieter than they had been in a long time. It’s been an enjoyable time for Wendy and me to reconnect and spend quiet evenings in one another’s company sans the responsibility of doing this or that for Union Street Players or Pella Historical or Third Church or whomever. We even had a date one night, just the two of us. Dinner at Kaldera followed by a movie at Vander Well Pub [sigh]. It’s been wonderful.

Contraband Cuban Cohiba Cigar
Thanks to the friend, who shall remain nameless, who gifted me with my first contraband Cuban cigars which were procured on travels abroad.

Our new lawn is growing like proverbial weeds and I feel like I’m mowing every 2-3 days to keep up. Between the frequent rain we’ve received and my work/travel schedule, I have to “make hay while the sun shines.” I mowed last Sunday. Afterwards I relaxed on the patio with the last of my contraband Cuban cigars that were a gift from a dear friend while enjoying a long phone conversation with Madison.

This past week was hectic work-wise. I have two different training programs that I delivered in three presentations. Then it was off to Minnesota for a long day and a half of call coaching and training. When I returned from “The Land of 10,000 Lakes” on Friday I barely had an hour to unpack, repack and jump in the truck with friends Chad and Justin for a jaunt to the lake.

We are so blessed with friends who have joined us in embracing our little Playhouse as an annual retreat. It was JP who suggested last fall that we have a guys weekend to resurface the swim dock. The platform desperately needed some new treated lumber sans the rusty old nails that have held the current swim dock together since, seemingly, the age of Noah.

The guys and I arrived at the lake late on Friday and woke early on Saturday to begin a very full day of construction. A trip to Menards in Osage Beach was required to get the necessary lumber and then work commenced pulling up the old decking and replacing it with the new. Chad took care of the meals for us over the weekend and earned the worthy nickname “Cookie” as we were capably well-fed. The white chocolate raspberry cheesecake Wendy sent along was frosting on the cake for our menu. Not only was the swim dock resurfaced, but the gangway to the dock received new decking!

The boys were very tired by the time Saturday evening rolled around, but we had been really blessed with a perfect day to “git ‘er done.” It was a gorgeous evening and we enjoyed grilled chicken breasts and rice on the deck as we listened to our beloved Cubbies drop a game to the San Francisco Giants. We started a movie, but everyone was quickly nodding off.

It was another gorgeous morning this a.m. and we enjoyed coffee and rest on the deck as the sun climbed a cloudless sky and the lake presented a mirror-like calm. The guys took off for home late morning and left me to do some pick-up and cleaning around the Playhouse. Wendy drove down and arrived late in the afternoon.

We’re looking forward to a week of working remotely from the lake.

Increasingly Rare (and Priceless) Moments

Taylor Madison Gma Gpa VW

A couple of weeks ago we were blessed to have Madison home for Tulip Time. Taylor’s sudden bout of stomach crud meant that Wendy and I did not get to spend time together with the four of us, but before Madison flew back to South Carolina Taylor joined us at Grandpa and Grandma Vander Well’s apartment and I got to capture this lovely moment with my iPhone.

As our girls have left the next, it seems that these little family gatherings are increasingly rare. Therefore, I find them increasingly precious…priceless really.

Spiritually Slimed Over a Cup of Dark Roast

“But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.”
1 Corinthians 8:1b (NIV)

Many years ago I ran into a pastor in a coffee shop in Des Moines. He was a charismatic and persuasive teacher and had been on the staff of a large church in the area until he and a small faction of his followers led a coup against the senior pastor and elder board. The church broke asunder.

This young pastor led a small group to form their own church that was predicated on his own brand of arcane, intellectualism that split people into a spiritual version of Dr. Seuss’ Sneetches. If you agreed to his personal list of spiritual criteria then you were part of the small few who “get” the “truth.” In his eyes you then had an acceptable star on your heart and were among the chosen few. If you disagreed with him then you were pitied, ignorant, and his version of the spiritual star on your heart was woefully missing.

I make it my intention to love everyone and treat everyone with deference. So, when he recognized me and offered to sit down for a chat over coffee I invited him to join me. Over the next half hour I listened as my friend gave me the most subtle and insidious dressing down I’ve ever received in my life.

With a smile on his face and in the most gentle, patronizing tone my friend proceeded to inform me of all the ways I did not measure up to deserving his version of the Sneetches spiritual star. My education was woefully inadequate and poorly sourced. My belief system and theology did not include his requisite knowledge and acceptance of various teachings and “isms” that were necessary to elevate me to the minimum state of knowledge that he, and therefore God, clearly required.

I listened quietly as he waxed his own profundity over our cups of dark roast (at least the coffee was good). I said very little, as I’d quickly learned that any thing I said only earned me a new line of insult cloaked in arrogant, spiritual intellectualism. By the time we shook hands and he departed to his booth with his backpack of books, my soul felt coated in thick, sludgy, spiritual slime.

I thought about this experience as I read Paul’s words today. I have no idea where this gentleman is today. His own church seemed to fall apart over a short period of time and he seemed to fall off the map. For all of his own impressive knowledge, his brand of belief appeared to me not to be structured on foundation of love that builds others up, but rather on a foundation of knowledge that separated and diminished all but the few who followed him blindly and, therefore, he deemed acceptable.

This morning I’m  getting ready to train and coach some wonderful people on the principles of customer service, principles rooted in the teachings of Jesus (who understood and exemplified humility and servant-heartedness better than anyone). I have a lot of knowledge built on a quarter century of experience in my industry, but my knowledge is nothing if I use it simply to prove to my clients how much I know and how little they know. I will only be successful if I build on a foundation of love and use my knowledge as a tool for building them up to be better at serving others.

The Double Edged Sword of Marriage and Singleness

“I wish that all of you were [unmarried] as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.”
1 Corinthians 7:7 (NIV)

Paul was unmarried, and in his letters to the followers of Jesus in Corinth he expresses his appreciation for being “undivided” in his loyalties. He means, that as an unmarried person he could devote himself fully to the work of God without having to invest time, energy, and resources into a marriage relationship. I understand the common sense in his reasoning. Marriage certainly takes work and a large investment of time and energy.

Over my earthly journey I have observed that we as humans tend to err on the extremes of many earthly issues. I have come to believe that my culture often does a disservice in fostering a pervasive expectation of marriage for all young people. Marriage is a great thing when it is right, but many young people walk into marriage thinking it will solve problems when it can actually creates more problems (with greater complexity) than it solves.

The traditional marriage vows of the church state that “marriage should not be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but soberly, deliberately….” but I’ve observed that this is what happens more often than not. If the church wants people to heed that advice, then I think we need to do a much better job of communicating that singleness is a healthy, acceptable, and advisable life choice.

On the other end of the spectrum, it’s clear that some find celibacy and singleness to be a better spiritual choice. While I appreciate much about the Roman Catholic traditions, I have always thought the blanket prescription of celibate priests a silly idea. Just as it is wrong to think that everyone would be better off getting married, it is equally wrong to think that everyone is better off spiritually by staying single. I understand that the Roman church wants their priests to follow Paul’s example and be fully dedicated to their work, but I’m not convinced that celibacy is universally better for serving God.

This past Sunday I delivered the morning message in two services among my local gathering of Jesus followers. While I could have done it without Wendy, I am much better off with her by my side. She takes care of my needs in the morning (all the time, really) so that I can be prepared. She is a sounding board for my thoughts and ideas and helps me refine my message. She is quick and adept at helping me get wired for sound. She is constantly by my side providing relational and emotional support. She runs and gets me water or coffee if I need it. She gives me flawless and on-target critiques between services to help me improve. She is my greatest cheerleader and my strongest prayer supporter. After the service she helps me debrief. Paul may have been better off serving God without a wife, but I am certain I would not serve God as well were it not for Wendy.

This morning I am thinking of my unmarried friends and family, some of whom struggle constantly with the cultural (or personal) perception that there is something wrong because they are not married. I’m thankful for them, and happy for the good things in this life that they enjoy with their freedom. I am also thinking about Wendy this morning. Like all marriages, ours has its constant challenges. Nevertheless, I am constantly aware of the many ways she makes me a better human being, and a better servant of God.

Freedom, Rights, and Responsibility

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial.
1 Corinthians 6:12a (NIV)

When I was growing up there was premium placed on personal responsibility by my parents and grandparents. You took responsibility for your own needs, your own debts, your own responsibilities, and your own actions. Looking back, I believe that some of it was motivated by their spiritual principles and some of it was motivated by social pressure. No matter the motivation, there was a self-respect that simply came from doing what had to be done to make your own way and not be dependent on others.

It seems to me that the social pendulum has swung in the past fifty years. I perceive that the rugged individualism and value of personal responsibility that seemed rather pervasive in my youth has given way to a spirit of entitlement and a “take what you can get” mentality. A few weeks ago I spoke with an employer who was behind because a part of the work force on which he depended  was choosing to be unemployed as long as possible in their off season to collect as much “free money” as possible. I recall a friend who was quite capable of providing for he and his family, but chose to manage their lives to get as much welfare as possible. “The money’s just sitting there,” he said. “If I don’t take it someone else will. Might as well be me.” I’m afraid that our world has become adept at taking for ourselves while shifting the cost to others.

In today’s chapter, Paul is addressing a parallel thought process among the believers in the city of Corinth. There were those who were acting out of a claim that they had a right and freedom to act in ways that were having a negative effect on themselves and the whole of the community. Paul points out that having a right and freedom to do something does not make it beneficial for yourself or for the whole.

This morning I’m doing a little soul searching of my own. I’m asking myself a few hard questions. Where in life am I cost shifting? Where in life am I exercising rights and freedoms in ways that are ultimately not beneficial to me, my family, my fellow believers, or society as a whole? In what ways am I acting out of self-centeredness that may ultimately be detrimental to everyone else?

Just another wayfarer on life's journey, headed for Home. I'm carrying The Message, and I'm definitely waiting for Guffman.

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