Sunday, January 27, 2013
My book, Growing Disciples Organically: The Jesus Method of Spiritual Formation (Deep River Books, 2013) will be available sometime in April 2013. I am working on a website specifically for the book and it will feature articles, resources, Bible studies, coaching and mentoring ideas about spiritual growth and discipleship. It should be up and running before the book comes out. Watch for future posts about it.
My wife, Jodi has a new book coming out in 2013 as well: The Jesus-Hearted Woman: 10 Leadership Qualities for Enduring and Endearing Leadership (Influence Resources, 2013). She is also a regular columnist for The Seattle Times, one of America’s leading daily print and e-newspapers. You can find some of her back columns at www.seattletimes.com and then doing a search for Jodi Detrick. You can also find more at www.jodidetrick.com. Did I mention to you how proud I am to be her husband? Besides being the national chairperson for the Women in Ministry Network (www.wim.ag.org), she is a terrific public speaker and life coach. Most of all, she is the woman I have been married to and loved for more than thirty-five years, and the fantastic mother of our three children and three of the smartest and cutest grandchildren in the world.
As many of you who are friends with me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter know, I love photography. I’ll be featuring a lot of my photos and related posts on this site as well. I’ve had some photos published in our local paper, and last year (2012) one of my photos was a picture of the year for the Sno Valley Star (http://issuu.com/issaquahpress/docs/snovalleystar122712). If you click on the link to read that edition of the paper, you’ll find my photo on page eight.
You can find me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dondetrick or Twitter: @dondetrick https://twitter.com/dondetrick or at www.northwestministry.com and I'm linkedin, too!
So let's stay in touch, and God bless.
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Like many baby boomer children of the 1960's, I was smitten by Mattel Toys and their TV commercials. Back in the fourth grade or so (around 1964-65 for me), I was particularly smitten by Mattel's "Thingmaker." This electrical device resembling a square hotplate was designed to reach extreme temperatures while containing metal molds of assorted insects and worms. The idea was to place a sticky liquid substance called, “Plastigoop” that was cleverly bottled, and marketed to easily influenced boys like me, into the molds. After cooking for a few minutes, delightful plastic bugs called, "creepy crawlers" emerged. Combining science, making a mess, potential danger, and the prospect of scaring every girl on the school bus with a phenomenal assortment of creepy crawlers made this device the stuff of things a boy dreams about—at least this boy and in those days.
Every visit to our local Rutherford's Nickel and Dime Store (yes you could actually buy a number of items that appealed to a boy my age for five or ten cents in those days)found me drawn to the toy aisle and a plea to my mother, "Please, please buy me a Thingmaker! I'll be a good boy, get good grades, and I would never think of scaring my sisters with those Creepy Crawlers!"
But my mother met my pleas with passive intellectual resistance. She focused on the economic improbability of wasting the family's valuable resources on a plastic bug maker that could double as a device to inflict 3rd degree burns on my extremities, or my sisters for that matter. Besides, we had real bugs in abundance down on the farm, why pay for imitations when I had easy access to originals?
So imagine my delight when I discovered a large wrapped box under the Christmas tree, exactly the same size and weight as the Thingmaker from Rutherford's, with my name on it. But like many promises made by TV commercials, the Thingmaker left much to be desired. The bugs could fool and scare my sisters in the dark, but in the light of day they just looked like pitiful imitations of the real thing.
And once the novelty wore off, I was rather unimpressed myself. My own economic sensibilities required serious choices to be made. Spending my allowance on Plastigoop, when there were candy bars, soda pop, Duncan Yo-Yo’s, and baseball card bubble gum available, did not make sense. Ultimately, the Thingmaker and bottles of Plastigoop found themselves progressively marginalized in my maturing mind. Consequently, as a wiser and more sophisticated fifth grader, they were moved to a back corner of my closet, then the garage, and finally given to an uninitiated nephew who might appreciate the prospect of scaring a sister or two.
Sometimes things appear more valuable on the surface than may be revealed through careful inspection and a deeper look. My experience with the Thingmaker and creepy crawlers served as a good example early on in my life. Over time, you learn to discern objects that are truly valuable, and it often takes more than a casual glance or fleeting moment to do so. Because sometimes persons, places, and things prove to be much more appreciated, even cherished, over time than they do at a first look.
Buckminster Fuller rightly observed that, "There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly." While Dr. Fuller was certainly not a theologian, he had a knack for seeing things others might miss. We can become so focused on looking at what is there, that we fail to see what is not there, or simply disregard it if what we observe is not what we are looking for at the moment. What do you see when you observe a caterpillar? Nothing more than a humble fuzzy worm—a creepy crawler. You certainly don’t see an elegant butterfly. But over time you learn to observe the potential beautiful butterfly residing inside the banished bug.
With age and wisdom comes the ability to take another look beyond the obvious conclusions from a casual glance. Caterpillars can look clumsy, ugly, and even frightening. After all, not too many humans are attracted to fuzzy worms, nor would they welcome them into their home. If you discovered one in your house, what would you do? If you aren’t creeped out by creepy crawlers, you might pick it up and throw it out the door. If it freaked you out, you'd probably call an exterminator or look for a can of Raid.
But what if the uninvited visitor to your home was a gorgeous butterfly? You'd not be frightened by the creature, but amazed at its colorful design, beauty and graceful motions, even while trapped inside the walls of your home. Rather than look for a can of insecticide, you would perhaps try to find an appropriately called “butterfly net” to capture the frightened creature so it could be released unharmed and outside into its natural environment.
Like it or not, we all have a tendency from time to time to exhibit creepy crawler tendencies. Although unintended, we may simply put people off by our behaviors or appearance. Others may look right past us because they do not see the latent potential, the possibility of future greatness, or the exquisite joy of enduring affection that one person may bring into the life of another through delightful interchanges over time. All of that is missed when we judge only by outward appearances or casual observation. After all, the skillset and potential asset of a novice or apprentice is often nothing at all comparable to the competency gained over time.
A few years ago Jodi and I enjoyed a visit to Springfield, Illinois. There we toured Abraham Lincoln’s home, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, and the old Illinois State House where a young Lincoln tested his political mettle. Being a lover of history, and all things having to do with Lincoln, the visit was a dream come true and I savored every moment. But I came away from my visit with one lingering memory—and it did not specifically center on Lincoln, but rather on the General who would become his leading man during the Civil War, a war hero who also made his way to the White House.
Under a stairway in the old Illinois State Capital I observed a small desk with a plaque indicating the desk had once been occupied by Ulysses S. Grant, who served as an assistant in the Illinois Adjutant-General's office. The man who would lead the Union Army to victory and later become President of the United States of America was occupying that humble spot under a staircase as his office, doing clerical and administrative work prior to Lincoln’s call for more troops in July of 1862, at which time Grant re-enlisted. The rest is history. The man who was sitting at a desk, hidden away under the stairs, would within a few years occupy the most famous office in the world. Grant was a caterpillar, who proved a capable leader and spread his wings during a period of our nation’s greatest conflict.
I went away from that visit to Springfield with a new appreciation for Lincoln, and also for Grant, because I saw firsthand the cocoon from which two great leaders emerged. Lincoln, toiling away in a law office and as a provincial politician with more political losses than wins under his belt. And Grant who toiled under a staircase, out of public view, humbly serving and honing his leadership skills until the moment came for those skills to be tested. Divine destiny can direct the path of a leader so that obscurity intersects with opportunity, granting the chance to make the world a better place by using the gifts and skills honed and forged in the either the furnace of affliction or anonymous arena, or both. The resulting character provides a solid framework and foundation to lead and build.
So the next time you see a creepy crawler, remember it could over time become a lovely and graceful butterfly. And the next time you see someone toiling in an obscure clerical position, you might be observing a future leader of the free world. In either case, the transformation is amazing and it doesn’t take a Thingmaker to make it happen.
©2012 Don Detrick
Sunday, February 20, 2011
It seemed like such a good idea at the time. It turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. Although I was far from being a leader at the time, it also turned out to be a defining moment in my life that helped shape my thinking about leadership and staying true to mission.
As a college student in 1975 I worked the swing shift in a Eugene, Oregon sawmill. I took my place at the bottom of the food chain, in a system of position and power based upon seniority and hierarchy. The guys referred to me as the “cleanup boy,” a belittling term that I endured because I earned a whopping $4.50 an hour, while the minimum wage in 1975 hovered a little over $2.00 an hour. My job required me to clean the mechanic’s shop and equipment. Having grown up on a farm, I was used to cleaning up after livestock, so I figured this could not be much different, besides the smell of sawdust beats the aroma of manure any day.
In addition, I knew how to operate tractors and machinery. Working in the sawmill expanded my operating portfolio as I drove forklifts of all sizes, log trucks, and assorted heavy equipment for the purpose of combatting their grease and grime with a steam cleaner. The work was dirty, noisy, physical, and sometimes monotonous. I took my responsibility seriously and made it my mission to keep everything as clean as possible. At times that seemed like a never-ending task because the mechanics and various machinists working in the shop knew how to make a mess, and never cleaned up after themselves.
One night I completed my regular tasks, and set to work organizing and cleaning up one particular storage area of the machine shop. A large pile of old metal parts seemed to be taking up a lot of space, gathering dirt, and making it difficult to keep the area clean. My muscles ached as I hauled the heavy metal components out to the dumpster where they would soon be deported as scrap. Looking over the newly cleaned up area, I beamed with a sense of pride in my work, believing the foreman would be pleased when he arrived in the morning at my initiative and hard work.
Arriving at work the next afternoon around 3:00 pm, I was not surprised when one of the mechanics told me the foreman wanted to see me right away. I could barely contain my enthusiasm at the prospect of a word of commendation, or maybe even a raise, promotion, or bonus. Upon arrival, the sour look on the foreman’s face soon took the wind out of my sails. “What did you think you were doing by hauling all those parts out to the dumpster last night?” he boomed.
“Well, I just got tired of cleaning up around that mess, so I thought I would get rid of all that junk,” I stammered.
“That pile of junk, as you called it, contained parts necessary to keep this sawmill in operation in case of a breakdown. You threw away about $20,000.00 worth of parts last night! It’s a good thing one of the mechanics noticed after you left last night, and lugged everything back in. If those parts had still been in that dumpster when it got hauled off this morning, you would be fired right now!”
Luckily, he was a Christian man, and knew I was a theology student, so he had mercy on me. Even though I did not lose my job, my mind reeled at the implications of my good intentions gone awry. Using my wages at $4.50 an hour, it would have taken me nearly five thousand hours to pay for my mistake. Twenty thousand dollars was a lot of money back in 1975, when you could buy a nice home for not much more than that in our area.
I thought I knew my mission, to clean up my part of the mill. But that particular evening I suffered from mission confusion, thinking that I was doing a good thing, while I was actually destroying the potential operation of the entire sawmill. The conversation with the foreman provided clarification. After that, I left the big decisions to the foreman, and asked before tackling a project that seemed like a good idea to me at the time.
The bigger mission of the sawmill, of course, did not center upon my role, as important as it might have seemed to me. The bigger mission involved keeping the entire organization operating efficiently so lumber could be produced, creating the raw materials for construction, building homes and industry. Keeping the larger mission in perspective requires perspective. Without that perspective, a cleanup boy might think his mission was just to clean up messes left by his fellow workers, and fail to realize that he was actually helping to make it possible for houses to be built, and the economy to flourish.
Without a view of the bigger picture, it is possible to lose sight of your purpose and true mission. The custodian of the church might view his job as cleaning rooms, picking up trash, or vacuuming the carpet. In light of the bigger mission, he could be an integral component in helping guests feel welcome in a clean and inviting environment, facilitating an openness to receive Christ.
Even amongst church leaders, mission confusion abounds. Some believe the mission of the church is tradition, to preserve their particular doctrinal statement or denominational affiliation. Others believe their mission revolves around numbers, maintaining and exceeding metrics for buildings or budgets. Still others view their mission as relevance, expanding programs, technology, and ministries to an ever-widening and diverse audience. Some point toward churches that experience explosive growth as they aim at the constantly moving target of popular culture. There are always those who believe the church’s mission finds its best expression through social justice, or community organization and development. Then there are those who believe the church is all about worship, as they define it. And many are the churches that believe their mission to be the defense of truth, or their version of it, at any cost.
Please indulge me as I invite you to peruse the following mission statements or slogans, gleaned from a few minutes surfing the internet for church websites. It seems a bit lengthy, yet it illustrates the point. Feel free to pass quickly through the bulleted points to the text below. While there are several familiar themes, I think you will agree no actual consensus appears to exist amidst quite a bit of confusion:
• Our church is called to proclaim the Gospel of Christ and the beliefs of the evangelical Christian faith, to maintain the worship of God, and to inspire in all persons a love for Christ, a passion for righteousness, and a consciousness of their duties to God and their fellow human beings.
• Love God. Love others. Serve the world.
• Developing fully devoted followers of Christ.
• Our mission is to sow "the Seed of Hope," Jesus Christ, in the hearts of many here and to the ends of the earth. Our context is the emerging post-modern culture. Post-moderns have rejected the "trinity" of modernism: reason, nature and progress-and the church that is built on it. Lacking a metanarrative, post-moderns turn to a sort of primitive tribalism, or bury their pain in technology or consumerism.
• Our mission is to carry the gospel, the sacraments, and God's love and fellowship to the unchurched, the alienated, and the excommunicated (the church's homeless).
• Reaching out to the World...Preaching to the Unsaved...Teaching the Saved to Serve.
• To yield to the wind of the Holy Spirit blowing through our mist, allowing it to change us into the image of Christ, thus making us the loving people God would have us to be.
• Christian, in our beliefs... Methodist, in our approach... Episcopal, in our organization.
• We strive to be an "open-door" church, actively reaching out and welcoming all persons. A Great Place For Your Family!
• First Church especially focuses upon those who are seeking a "new beginning," and those who want to become more "Christlike," and want to learn more about living a "holy life," and for those who are yearning to grow in "love and compassion," and the building of "family relationships."
• Where faith and adventure meet!
• To preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.
• To teach, preach, and baptize all who will heed "The Word".
• To courageously represent the kingdom of God through witness, discipleship and service to others.
• To worship God as we evangelize the world, and provide a place of fellowship to equip the believer for service to God and man.
• The goal of our mission is to introduce all who can be reached to our precious Lord Jesus, whose return to rapture His Church is so imminent.
• To increase our love for God and to help meet the needs of humankind by "Loving God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves
• We are a church that is committed to Christ and his Word.
• We are a church where we "Exalt the Savior", "Evangelize the Sinner" and "Equip the Saint"
• To make Christ known to the world through a loving, growing, giving and serving group of committed people who are connected in small groups.
• "The Word of God is our focus."
• A church that strives to be a beacon of light in our community
• The Church that understands that people don't care about how much you know, until they know how much you care
• Our purpose here is to reach as many people with the good news of Jesus Christ as possible through: Relevant and challenging messages from our pastor - An exciting atmosphere of praise and worship during our services.
• We are a full Gospel church that believes everything the Bible states. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. We preach and teach the truth. We have the desire to see souls saved.
• Our mission is to save, educate and liberate humanity for Jesus the Christ by sharing the Gospel Message, teaching the Bible, and living in the power of the Holy Spirit.
• Where everybody is somebody and Jesus is Lord.
From the pleasantly simple to the painfully complex, churches struggle to define their mission. How do you synthesize twenty-seven New Testament books containing thousands of verses into a simple mission statement, proclaiming the main thing? With the variety of churches and Christian organizations, is it possibleto define the mission of the church organically?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines organic as, “relating to, or derived from living matter.” The word comes from the Greek organikos, “relating to a tool or instrument.” Organize and organization also stem from the same root word. Although this organikos is not found in the New Testament, we do find familiar themes of building, tools, and workmanship. Something organic derives from something living. Paul expresses our connection to Christ, “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV) The Greek word for workmanship, poiema, conveys the idea of craftsmanship, something organically fabricated, like linen cloth.
Perhaps the best mission statement for the church is an extrapolation of the one Jesus provided just before his ascension. Long known as “The Great Commission,” the words of Matthew 28:18-20 indicate our co-mission with Christ—providing explanation and substance for the “good works” Paul mentioned that “God prepared in advance for us to do.”
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’" (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV)
There is nothing new here, expositors wrestle with this text and preachers expound on its urgency on a regular basis, as they have done for all the centuries since Jesus first uttered the words. Yet the profound simplicity of these words convey an uncomplicated, organic message for continuation of the church, our true mission for organic growth, coming directly from the living Head of the church.
Personally, I shy away from simplistic approaches and do so throughout this book. Our modern and post-modern tendencies to discover linear solutions and offer a one-size fits all “how-to” solution cannot find basis in scripture. So we try to make texts say what we want them to say, in order to come up with a program or process for disciple-making. Yet I cannot escape the fact that Jesus’ organic commission can provide a steady and sturdy skeleton upon which our spiritual formation depends. We all look different on the outside, but we all look very similar within. That is a picture of the church in our diversity, yet having a structure framed by Christ himself. For those of you looking for an outline, here it is, alliteration and all:
EMPOWERMENT (vs. 18): Notice the words of Jesus, “all authority. . .therefore go. . ..” We cannot begin to think about accomplishing God’s mission without God’s authorization and power. Just as the disciples needed the upper room experience, so we need the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to actively engage our culture, touch people, and be the church Jesus desires us to be. What could be more organic than a connection to the source of life?
EVANGELISM (vs. 19): “make disciples, baptizing them. . ..” The same Holy Spirit that compelled the 120 disciples to move from the Upper Room to the streets invites us to move from our safe inner circles to where the people live in our context. This involves proclaiming the Gospel, the evangel, the good news—using both words and deeds. At various times the church has turned the good news into either an argument, a political profile, a creed to recite, or a polemic for a particular theological perspective. The simple truth remains that the Gospel is best conveyed as good news, in a personal conversation between two or more real people. Encountering people and building relationships with them is natural, not staged or forced. The early church grew, not because of programs, or crusades, or organizational skills. It grew because it was organic.
EDUCATION (vs. 20a): “teaching them to obey. . ..” Notice the emphatic use of the strong words by Jesus, obey and command. There is nothing prescribed or enforced about the method of teaching or style of ministry, but we are expected to educate others. How did people learn at the time of Christ? They learned by watching and listening. A disciple or learner was an apprentice, in close relationship with a mentor. There are those who will point to the Greek word didasko (teaching, vs. 20a) to indicate a particular didactic style of teaching. However, it is clear that Jesus used a variety of methods to teach, based upon the need for information and condition of the learner. We have an obligation to teach, and content is more important than the style of delivery. The very task of educating all types of people in all settings with the most important message requires a more fluid, organic approach.
EXPERIENCE (vs. 20b): “surely I am with you always. . ..” The continued presence of God within the community of believers and in the lives of individual believers may provide the very best antidote to skeptical or apathetic individual objections to faith in Christ. Cerebral protestations to the Gospel or even toward the idea of theism find themselves usurped by personal experience. When the church recognizes that part of our mission involves taking Jesus with us into the marketplaces and private spaces of our lives, we will influence others toward faith in him. People took note of the early believers and recognized that “they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
The writer of Hebrews tells us that, “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV)
How could a return to these simple organic concepts Jesus so clearly explained help us reach into the lives of people who otherwise will persist in their unbelief? What if we truly loved the world as much as God does, and edited our mission statements in light of these truths? What if we examined our personal mission in the same light? We may discover that our core values and mission change when we learn the true value of those things we might ordinarily throw away.
©2011 Don Detrick
Friday, February 4, 2011
An ordinary day in my life revolves around a core of technology. While interacting with actual human beings in a virtual way, my working and waking hours are often spent answering e-mails, browsing webpages, articles or books on my iPad, talking on my iPhone, or videoconferencing with people half a continent away. I take pictures and video with my digital devices and send tweets and posts to Facebook while writing manuscripts, policies, or correspondence at my computer keyboard. My ordinary life is just that, ordinary. There is nothing unique about my ordinary life because it is also the ordinary life of billions of people in this second decade of the twenty-first century who now work in environments that require technological sophistication with its continual evolution and demanding learning curve.
But it is far from an ordinary day in my life thirty years ago, when my interactions with electronic technology were limited to listening to a transistor radio, putting a cassette tape in a stereo, or playing “Pong” on a black and white video screen. Ordinary people seldom encountered sophisticated technology in those days, and those encounters were often fraught with suspicion. If you are old enough, you remember how computers were blamed for everything back in the day. If there was a mistake in billing or business, a computer was generally faulted—not a pc, but an impersonal, monstrous machine that inhabited some corporate cave far from the world of real, ordinary people. Things have changed. Today you’d be hard pressed to convince the throngs of people lined up to spend their dollars at an Apple store that the cleanly displayed devices will bring them nothing but trouble.
Luddites do not receive much sympathy from me. Personally, I generally have been quick to embrace technological change, choosing to believe the benefits outweigh the challenges in the long run. I must admit it took me a while to eliminate my Smith Corona typewriter from my personal inventory, but after my first PC back in 1990, I decided to never turn back to the old ways of communication or putting words on paper. Nor do I subscribe to various conspiracy theories about the inherent slippery slope of technology. What could be used for evil, also could offer generous rewards if used properly.
Although our ordinary lives look far different from the ordinary lives of people a generation or two ago, much remains the same. While technology has improved the methods, we still must wash our clothes, prepare our food, earn a living, travel to our destinations, and learn to get along, just like people have done for centuries. At the end of the day, we still lay down our tired bodies to sleep, while our troubled minds reflect many of the same questions our ancestors pondered about truth, love, family, purpose, and meaning.
In our sophisticated, technologically empowered scientific world, it may seem irrelevant to reflect on the life of a humble carpenter from a small Middle Eastern village who lived 2,000 years ago. But does our scientific acumen and technological prowess really trump those questions we ponder as we lie in our beds with the lights out while the iPhone and iPad are charging in silent mode? Does it matter what I believe about Jesus Christ? Dallas Willard answers that question in The Divine Conspiracy by explaining, “He matters because of what he brought and what he still brings to ordinary human beings, living their ordinary lives and coping daily with their surroundings.”
Over the past year I’ve returned several times to a small recent volume by Matthew B. Crawford titled, Shop Class as Soulcraft. In it he laments the decline of shop or industrial arts classes in public education. He also notes the dismaying fact that our growing dependence upon technology makes it virtually impossible for the average person to actually understand how the devices that we depend upon for our ordinary existence work, let alone how to repair them if they fail us. That makes us more and more dependent upon experts to keep our ordinary lives moving along.
For example, when I look under the hood of my 2009 model Honda, little besides checking the oil makes much sense to me. Compare that to my old ’55 Chevy pickup, where I dissembled and repaired almost every component pertaining to the engine, transmission, and drive train with ordinary tools found in my toolbox. I still have the tools and toolbox, but the sophisticated technology of today’s automobile makes them relics without the knowledge of how the computers and onboard electronics actually make everything mechanical work.
At the beginning of the book Crawford quotes an unknown shop teacher: “In schools, we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement. Without the opportunity to learn through their hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.”
Thus, he sounds a nostalgic chord by reminding me of the importance of working with your hands and using hand tools—enduring lessons I learned in junior high shop class. Our teacher, Sandy Brown, provided a daily illustration of the importance of shop safety as we observed the missing digits from his always animated hands, fingers lost through careless interactions with a power saw blade in his younger, pre-teacher days.
Besides safety concerns, he instilled in me the importance of creating a plan of procedure, a list of materials, a budget, and using the right tool for the right job. In short, shop class helped prepare me for the most fundamental and practical components of living an ordinary life. As I work in my shop today, I am reminded of those practical lessons and their timeless application to transform ordinary work into accomplished works of art.
I wonder what it would be like to see a door, shelf, or table built by Jesus Christ? How did the Creator of the universe make his mark of master craftsmanship upon a simple piece of furniture? Did it stand out from the work of all others, or did it appear ordinary? What did an ordinary day in his life look like as he interacted with customers, raw materials, and the tools of the trade? Did he take pride in his work? Did he think of just snapping his fingers to create a modern, twenty-first century shop with all the latest machinery, or better yet, just order a few angels to do the work? Such speculation aside, the important lesson of the incarnation remains that God himself so valued simple, creative, and ordinary work that he took no shortcuts in creating simple structures and furnishings, using equally simple tools of the first century.
In contrast, my days are filled with the busyness that technology affords to accomplish a myriad of tasks. Perhaps it is just the nature of my work with human beings in the church world, but at the end of the day I am sometimes hard pressed to see any tangible results from my efforts. Without an underlying eternal purpose to my activities for perspective, my soul is left void of an emotional sense of worth or genuine accomplishment.
Yet I nostalgically remember a simpler era, when as a young laborer working in construction or in a sawmill I could see the tangible results of a job well done, leaving me emotionally satisfied. My own father was both a farmer and a roofer. Both occupations offered opportunities to observe the tangible results of manual labor. You could see it in the rows of a crop, or in the rows of chicken houses and barns he built with his own hands. As we drove down the main street of our small town, he would point out the houses and businesses that bore his mark of craftsmanship as their crown.
Perhaps what is missing today is that balance that leverages the best parts of technology with the accomplishment of a satisfied soul. For me, Jesus Christ helps bridge that gap. Our most stunning advances in technology and science are no surprise to him. When I lay down to rest at night, I can do so with the sense that there is a purpose in it all, and while I don’t have all the answers to all the questions, I do know the One who does, and that makes all the difference.
As a carpenter, Jesus no doubt crafted many wooden ox yokes, enabling farmers of the day to have the best current technology could offer as they used their oxen to plow. Humble, ordinary objects, and humble, ordinary work, that’s what it was. And that makes his invitation in Matthew 11:28-29 even more significant, as he offered his own yoke, normally used to bear a burden of work, to provide rest for your soul—your thoughts, decisions, and emotions. The irony of using a metaphor for work as a symbol for rest provides a lesson for technologically advanced, but soul weary human beings today. His invitation still stands, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29 NKJV)
©2011 Don Detrick
Monday, January 17, 2011
Yesterday’s Sunday edition of The Seattle Times featured a front page story about a prominent area businessman, accused of masterminding the largest Ponzi scheme in the history of Washington State, bilking investors in his bogus mortgage company out of $100 million. The headline said it all, “Financial empire, luxurious lifestyle were built on a mirage.” The article pictured the architect of the scheme relaxing by the pool of his $10 million mansion, just down the road from Bill Gates’ home, complete with two yachts parked in his dock at the back—not to mention his two jets for personal use.
The Seattle Times author quoted the bankruptcy trustee who compared him to the Wizard of Oz. There was absolutely nothing behind the curtain of legitimacy that lured investors through the promise of big profits on their investments. Sadly, we can become jaded by reading about such scammers, developing a deep sense of distrust and suspicion that easily leads to skepticism or cynicism. When we hear or see something or someone who seems too good to be true, we often wonder what is hiding “behind the curtain.”
So where should we land? We certainly should not believe everyone who says, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” On the other hand, we miss a great deal of life’s beauty if we do not recognize good character and the accomplishments of those who surprise us with their honesty or unexpected kindness. Sure, there are Bernie Madoffs in this world, just like there are preachers who are charlatans, and politicians who are corrupt. But I believe they are in the minority—those who have given themselves over to wholesale corruption and deceit. I personally know hundreds of pastors, lawyers, politicians, and business leaders who quietly do their jobs with dignity and integrity, working for justice and seeking the truth.
For most of us, the struggle is to maintain our integrity in the face of temptation. And for those of us who believe God cares about such things, our challenge goes beyond the surface, what people see on the outside. Our challenge remains the challenge of character, of staying true to our convictions, of living a life free of duplicity or hypocrisy.
In the Gospels, Jesus viewed the hypocrisy of religious teachers and leaders as reason enough to publicly chastise them for not practicing what they preached. Today, we may not use the word, “hypocrite” very much, yet we know how we feel when we spot one, particularly if it is a person we have trusted. And when a person loses our trust, we lose as well. We become less likely to trust others, more jaded in our perspective, and suspicious of those whose kindness or good works seem too good to be true.
The trouble is, we often separate the sacred from the secular. Believing that what we do in our personal life has nothing to do with our professional or public life is a slippery slope. We all have recollections of a former U.S. President whose private Oval Office sessions with an intern, and subsequent denials of wrongdoing, brought scandal and impeachment proceedings. Along the way, many took the position that a person’s private life should not be open to public scrutiny. The false assumption that there is a sacred side of life and a secular side of life contributes to this skewed perspective.
I am the first to admit that none of us would want absolutely everything about our private lives broadcast for public consumption. Not that there isn’t a market for it—reality shows and webcams provide ample evidence of a ready audience. But watching the failures of others is no excuse for our own shortcomings. There is a price for leadership, and that price is a sacred trust, especially for those of us who labor in the church.
I love old books, and recently ran across two antique volumes I purchased for a couple of bucks on eBay containing the Messages and Papers of President Theodore Roosevelt. In it, I discovered a speech to a gathering of Methodist church leaders. Teddy delivered the address to a receptive audience in Carnegie Hall on February 26, 1903, on the occasion of the 200th birthday of John Wesley. Listen to a bit of what he said (by the way, the copyright information of the book says, “There is no copyright on this work, as President Roosevelt considers that his messages and speeches delivered while President have been dedicated to and are the property of the public.”)
“The instruments with which, and the surroundings in which we work, have changed immeasurably from what they were in the days when the rough backwoods preachers ministered to the moral and spiritual needs of their rough backwoods congregations. But if we are to succeed, the spirit in which we do our work must be the same as the spirit in which they did theirs. These men drove forward, and fought their way to success, because their sense of duty was in their hearts, in the very marrow of their bones. It was not with them something to be considered as a mere adjunct to their theology, standing separate and apart from their daily life. They had it with them week days as well as Sundays. They did not divorce the spiritual from the secular. They did not have one kind of conscience for one side of their lives and another for another. If we are to succeed as a nation, we must have the same spirit in us.”
Wow! I wonder what the press would have to say today if the President of the United States delivered such passionate lines to a group of church leaders. I believe it to be a relevant message to twenty-first century citizens hungering for authenticity. However, “Separation of church and state” would no doubt be the cry of those calling for his resignation. That’s too bad, because there would be a lot less headlines in newspapers across this country reporting on another fallen leader if everyone took his advice! (c)2011 Don Detrick
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Like many in my generation, I grew up believing that God spoke in Elizabethan English. I heard so many “thee’s” and “thou’s” in the prayers, hymns, sermons, and scripture readings during the course of an excursion to church or Sunday School that it seemed a logical conclusion to a young boy. You can imagine my surprise to later learn that the archaic expressions used in the church of my youth were more a product of the 1611 King James Version of the Bible than a proclivity for speaking in God’s native tongue.
This year we observe the 400th anniversary of the Authorized or King James Version of the Bible. If my brief perusal of the Jan/Feb edition of the History Channel Magazine is any indication, the year will be filled with articles and memorabilia to commemorate the occasion. Marketing strategies will pitch every conceivable edition of the venerable KJV, including those in the original 1611 olde English (hardly decipherable by modern English readers), along with bindings in leather and designer fabrics. Already I’ve noticed a number of media responses to include NPR broadcasts and various special reports.
Although I rarely use the KJV for public speaking or preaching anymore, I must admit to an affinity for this most common of the English translations of the scriptures. Probably because of my youthful exposure to the best-seller of all time, I tend to think biblically in the King James Version. Indeed, most of the hundreds of Bible verses I memorized as a child and teenager were from the pages of the KJV. Those verses have served me well over the years, filling my heart and mind with principles, promises, and ideas that transcend human comprehension.
When faced with temptations to compromise my convictions or do wrong, I immediately think of a verse like Psalm 119:11, “Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” or 1 Corinthians 10:13, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man. But God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which ye are able, but will with the temptation make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (For the purposes of this article I am writing out the verses from memory, so I might not get them exactly right—maybe you should check.)
When weary or troubled, my thoughts go to those red-letter words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me. For I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
When discouraged, my mind turns to Hebrews 10:35-36, “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” or 1 Peter 5:7, “Casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you.”
I could go on, but I think you get the point. Although we never use a word like “recompence” in daily conversation, the word has meaning to me precisely because I was taught at an early age to look up words I do not understand in a dictionary. That may seem quaint and even archaic in the post-modern world of electronic technology, yet it served the purpose of encouraging my love of learning, and desire to investigate and find out something for myself. There was something intrinsically satisfying about going to the library and taking a look at the Oxford English Dictionary to find the precise definition of a word, or using the old oak library catalog and Dewey Decimal System to research just the right book or resource, that I find lacking in the 5 million hits of a one second Google search.
Don’t get me wrong, I would not trade the ability to search the internet for a throwback to the old Dewey Decimal System and its arcane code of numbers and alphabet. Still, there is something to be said for actual printed books and real brick and mortar libraries that I miss when using my iPad. In the same way, there is something to be said about a translation of the Bible that has served us in the English speaking world well for the past 400 years, and you can be sure to hear at least some of it in the coming year.
The King James Version of the Bible has strongly influenced our culture and history. Handel used it as the text for his oratorio, The Messiah in 1741. Verses from its pages can be found engraved in public buildings in Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King quoted from Isaiah 40:4 in his 1963 “I have a dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial: "I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together."
King James authorized this translation of the Bible to, “be read in churches.” When read aloud, the poetry and majesty of the words create a syllabic soliloquy that convey the drama and pathos of the printed word, often in relatively simple terms. The fact is, most of the British citizenry was illiterate in 1611, and having a Bible available to be read in the common language of the people, with verses easily understood and memorized, opened up literacy to the general populace.
Our modern tendency is to explain and over-explain, and use far too many words in the process. As a man who has made his living preaching sermons most of my adult life, I should know. While many verses in the Bible do require explanation, exposition, and commentary using principles of biblical interpretation, many verses easily stand on their own with clear meaning—even when using the 400-year-old KJV.
The late British journalist and host of Masterpiece Theater on PBS, Alistair Cooke, once used hyperbole to offer a modern politician’s wordy rendition of God’s simple command, “Let there be light, and there was light” in Genesis 1:3: "The Supreme Being mandated the illumination of the universe and this directive was enforced forthwith."
Even the detractors of the Bible recognize its importance as a singularly unique and glorious piece of literature. “For three centuries, this book has been woven into the life of all that is best and noblest in English history; it has become the national epic of Britain and is as familiar to noble and simple … as Dante and Tasso once were to the Italians … it is written in the noblest and purest English and abounds in exquisite beauties of pure literary form.” One would not expect such accolades for the Bible from Thomas Huxley, known as the first public figure in Britain to declare himself an “agnostic” while championing Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Such is the power of the Bible to create conversations about the most important topics of life: “Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?” And those who objectively look at the Bible will acknowledge its influence and beauty. For those of us who believe it to be the Word of God, we also acknowledge its inspiration and authority—but primarily its power to change lives for the better.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not worship the Bible, rather I worship the God of the Bible. And I do not think there is any special blessing that comes from reading the KJV as opposed to any other translation. Those who believe so ignore the fact that Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek make up the original languages of the Bible. Nor was King James a saint by any stretch of the imagination!
Yet the translation endures in popularity. And I for one, want to say, “Happy 400th birthday!” to an old friend and faithful companion from my youth. The leather bindings, gilt edges, and India paper will always bring a sense of peaceful nostalgia to my soul, but it is the power of the printed words upon the pages that have been transferred to the flesh of my heart that really make the difference.
Saturday, January 8, 2011
This morning I was reading John Greenleaf Whittier's epic poem, Snowbound. Whittier, a Quaker who gained fame as a celebrated poet and a crusader against slavery, served as a member of the Massachusetts legislature in the 1830's, and was a founding member of the Republican Party in America. Like his contemporaries Longfellow, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Emerson, and Whitman, among others, his was a household name before, after, and during the Civil War era, during one of the most tumultuous times in our nation. Many of his musings seem surprisingly relevant to twenty-first century residents of planet earth, including one of my favorite Whittier quotes, “Of all sad words of tongue or of pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’”
During my morning meditations on this winter day filled with anticipation of the forecaster's prediction of snow, I was drawn to Whittier's lengthy, 769 line treatise, first published nearly 150 years ago, in 1866. Snowbound begins with a detailed description of the effect of a New England blizzard on the landscape, home, and hearth of a farm family of that era. His first-person narration makes it clear early on that this is not a piece of fiction, but Whittier’s own story. His accurate depiction of the humble home filled with a loving family, and barn filled with cattle, horses, sheep, and chickens are bursting with such exquisite detail that only a resident observer, thoroughly familiar with the characters and setting could describe.
Soon the author takes the reader on a nostalgic journey, as he reminisces about winters past, and reflects on the memories of family and loved ones through all the seasons of life. A cold winter day is a perfect time for reflection. Reading Whittier’s personal snowbound echoes through the tunnel of time plucked my own heartstrings, producing several resonating chords on this snowy winter day. I would like to share a few of my observations from his Snowbound notes with you.
1. Faith is stronger than doubt, and life is stronger than death. While reminiscing about the past Whittier observed that out of his immediate family, only his brother and he remained. Yet no matter how old he was or how long he lived, he could not forget the influence of his loved ones. He wrote:
(Since He who knows our need is just,)
That somehow, somewhere, meet we must.”
While looking over the marble tombstones of a cemetery, he observes:
Who hath not learned, in hours of faith,
The truth to flesh and sense unknown,
That Life is ever lord of death,
And love can never lose its own!
During the long months of winter it is so easy to forget that spring and summer will return. And during those times of frigid, isolated darkness we cannot allow our immediate circumstances to control our feelings, or thwart our God-given destiny. Despite the current surroundings, we must set our course on the truth: Life ebbs and flows like the seasons. A high point will be followed by a low tide. And both can reveal details and open passageways that are hidden by the other. We do well to “learn in hours of faith” the truths that will sustain us when doubts tug at the fabric of our souls, seeking to create an opening for unbelief and defeat.
2. We have a God-given right to liberty and justice. A staunch abolitionist, Whittier found himself on that snowbound day reflecting on the struggle for justice and liberty, only recently won through the horror of Civil War. No doubt his own conscience was battered by the tension and dilemma between his Quaker pacifism and the battle in which he had long engaged that led to the bloodiest war in American history, literally pitting brother against brother. The cause was just, but the price was high. As if to remind himself of this he recited the “trumpet call” pen and voice of Mercy Warren, once called the most remarkable and influential woman of the American Revolutionary period:
Does not the voice of reason cry,
Claim the first right which nature gave,
From the red scourge of bondage fly,
Nor deign to live a burdened slave.
Slavery takes many forms, with tyranny and terror always the twin results. We can become enslaved to habits, to people, even to institutions or ideologies. The consequences are always the same as we yearn for freedom from the chains that bind our hearts and souls. The human heart beats for freedom. Human lungs long to be filled with the fresh, unpolluted air of freedom. The human voice cannot be silenced by tyranny and terror, as those who enjoy the blessings of liberty must use their voices to speak on behalf of those whose voices are stilled by the tyrant’s whip.
Sadly, nearly a century and a half after the American Civil War, slavery still exists in one form or another in many parts of our world, and wars are still being fought for far less noble purposes. Despite the geography or time, the human heart continually cries out for freedom. The abolitionists of the day used St. Paul’s clarion voice as a banner for their movement, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Corinthians 3:17) Those words remain faithful and true to this day.
3. A simpler and slower pace of life allows space and time for sorting out the important from the unimportant. There is nothing like an extended time of reflection for determining our core values. The temporary and trivial melt like the snows of winter when exposed to the sunlight of truth, revealing the foundational structure upon which all of a good life is built. Love, mercy, justice, piety, integrity—principles that form godly character, must be joined with friends, family, and community—relationships that sustain and nurture human existence. Reflecting upon simpler times, Whittier was reminded of:
The common unrhymed poetry
Of simple life and country ways,
The story of her early days,
She made us welcome to her home
At another point he wrote of an uncle, lacking perhaps in formal schooling and social graces:
Our uncle, innocent of books,
Was rich in lore of fields and brooks.
Whittier went on to describe persons like his uncle, who were rich in their own character and skills, unseen or unnoticed by the casual observer, but readily viewed and appreciated by those long familiar with golden treasures lying below the wrinkled patina of experienced skin. How often do we pass by or dismiss others because they lack the appeal of youth or beauty in our rush to judgment? I have frequently reflected upon my own life growing up on a farm, how that one can observe things from the seat of a tractor traveling at 8 miles per hour that you would surely miss from the seat of an automobile traveling at 80 miles per hour.
Our trajectory is frequently so rapid that we grow accustomed to the dizzying pace, and feel faint when given a moment of respite. It is too bad that it often takes a crisis to bring a busy life to a temporary halt. We learn so much from those experiences as we mine strength from the depths of our souls and learn to depend upon God and others for our mere existence. It is during such times that we separate the trivial chaff of life from the wheat that produces the bread of life. Those moments can lead to Him who invites us to “Come and dine,” freely offering the Bread of Life to all.
4. There is more to life than the here and now. Within the heart of man lies a tendency to ponder the imponderable, to ask the question, “Is this all there is?” Unlike his transcendentalist friends, Whittier possessed a foundational belief in the Bible and saw God as more than an impersonal force of nature or voice of reason. Reflecting upon a loved one lost in death he wrote:
But still I wait with ear and eye
For something gone which should be nigh,
A loss in all familiar things,
In flower that blooms, and bird that sings.
And yet, dear heart! Remembering thee,
Am I not richer than of old?
Safe in thy immortality,
What change can reach the wealth I hold?
I cannot feel that thou art far,
Since near at need the angels are;
And when the sunset gates unbar,
Shall I not see thy waiting stand,
And, white against the evening star,
The welcome of thy beckoning hand?
The Bible speaks of three eternal virtues: faith, hope and love. This trio plays a passionate song that cannot be extinguished by the desperate circumstances of life or the traumatic sorrows of death. When its music plays, the heart can soar above the winter landscape; over the regrets of the past, and the perils of the present to see the mystery and glory of a future known only to God but bright with the promise of spring.
I am still awaiting today’s predicted snow, although the temperature is hovering near freezing, and the clouds are foreboding. But the meditations on Whittier’s Snowbound have fueled my spirit on this cold winter day, and once again reminded me of the importance of reflection and sorting out the trivial from the treasure, regardless of the weather. Whittier is listed among the group known as “Fireside Poets” and I’ve enjoyed sitting by the hearth of his warming words.
If you are interested in reading Snowbound, and have a Kindle, iPad or other electronic reading device, you can find a copy of it on Amazon.com for the low price of $00.00—a good price for a good read on a snowy day.