Thursday, January 31, 2008

Pizza Ponderings

It’s 5:26 a.m. Mountain Time here in Denver, and I want pizza. I was at the hotel gym reading Eat, Pray, Love, and Gilbert describes a scene where she and a friend encounter the world’s greatest pizza in Naples. I want some pizza, more than the usual pizza craving that I carry with me each day in general, but there is no pizza available at the moment. Even normal breakfast food is beyond my reach until 7:15 a.m., when the T-Mobile Human Resources events begin. So I am stuck thinking about pizza, feeling my stomach rumble and wondering how on earth I can write a blog entry about anything other than the Eden-esque longing for pizza this book has wood-fired inside of my soul at the moment.

I suppose I’ll keep wanting to visit Italy with extra intensity for as long as I’m reading the Italy section of Eat, Pray, Love. The book will soon shift to India, and I don’t know how much I will long to visit there. I doubt there will be the same pizza imagery. I’m expecting a very spiritual focus. Several people I know from my seminary days have been to India on mission trips. One of my favorite Christian writers, E. Stanley Jones, spent much of his career there. Then there’s my whole Gandhi admiration. So pizza or not, I’m sure I will be quite intrigued with the India chapters. Then it will be on to Indonesia, and I have no idea what might taste good there, either.

Just to balance things I’ll need next to read a book based in Paris. I have a hard time deciding whether I want to see Paris or Rome first. A lot of great writers lived in Paris, Hemingway and Fitzgerald chief among them, and I really want to go there mostly for the inspiration. Now, you can get inspired anywhere if your heart and mind are open, but if I had the choice I would like some homemade French pastries and wine to assist in the inspiration. And clichéd as it might sound, I long to sit with my laptop at one of those crowded cafes I’ve read so much about. I want to people-watch French people and talk to the natives who can speak some English and have no touristy agenda. I really would approach Rome the same way. I want to feel the heart and soul of a unique place, because that touches my own heart and soul in unique places and helps me to more fully express whatever art is bubbling inside of me.

Thinking about bubbling art makes me think about hot, bubbling cheese, the kind you would find across the surface of a pizza. I still want pizza. I don’t have to have it in Rome or even Paris, I would settle for it here in Denver. I would take one of those microwavable deals right now, a pale imitation of the real thing.

Like Rome or Paris, pizza is out of my reach at the moment and I must leverage what I do have at my disposal. So I am off…

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Yes Old Country for Middle Aged Man

So now, at my wife’s encouragement, I’m now reading a book she just inhaled along with her new book club: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, a current bestseller. Gilbert accounts her year spread across Italy, India and Indonesia and the things she learned about herself. It’s a provocative, humorous and gut-wrenching memoir that speaks to me on many levels, and makes me want to travel to Europe more than ever.

I’m currently immersed in the “Italy” section. I know a few things about Italians. I lived with them for a big chunk of my life. I ate their food, inherited their Catholic guilt, absorbed a bit of their temper and passion. And there are Italians who are related to me who actually live in Italy—really, in Sicily—just waiting to meet me. My parents traveled there years ago and hung out with about 20 of them. Just writing about this makes me hungry and leaves me craving a good glass of red wine.

So I am thinking this might need to be the year when my wife and I hit Italy for a week or so, as visitors rather than tourists. It is our 15th wedding anniversary in May, so we have a good excuse—not that we need one. There are more logistics and financial questions than I can even name that will have to be grappled with first, but every great journey begins with a vision or an idea. So I am plunging into the pool of possibility here at the end of chilly January, and will see how sustainable it has proven itself to be by the warmth of summer.

If anyone is actually reading this, any tips on how to travel and see Italy on the cheap are appreciated and will result in me at least thinking about sending you dark chocolates!

Monday, January 28, 2008


I’m actually writing this entry while aboard an airplane somewhere between Nashville and Denver. I’m in the Mile High City this week, attending a gathering of all of T-Mobile USA’s leadership.

Something good has happened on the flight—something even greater than receiving the bag of miniature pretzels with a grand total of 50 calories. I glanced through and edited my book proposal for Chased by the Wind, the manuscript about my childhood I have written and fine-tuned across the past two years. This provided great momentum, now that I am settled into Nashville, toward resuming my pursuit of agents for the project. I laughed as I realized the proposal still had my old email and snail mail address, and was happy to add my T-Mobile gig to the brief bio.

Furthermore, I delved back into the fledgling pages of my “sequel” memoir, an examination of my working life to date that is tentatively called Overcome by the Wind. Maybe this book will end with my ordination this coming May, maybe sooner, maybe later. I don’t know what the third memoir, if there is one, will be about or what period of my hoped-for life it will cover. Hopefully I won’t have to call it, from the vantage point of old age, Big Bag of Wind.

Long flights are a great opportunity, far above the busyness of things, to get back on track with serious writing projects. I’d already felt the groundswell of writing motivation the past several days, triggered by reading Blue Like Jazz and starting to read the popular Eat, Pray Love.

Now the next step is chiseling out regular blocks of time for writing and marketing….marketing and writing. I find the more I blog the more likely I am to work on more extensive writing projects. Little things lead to big things.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Blue Like Jazz

I'm finally reading this really cool book called Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller. It's one of those books that has been on the periphery for me for a couple of years, and for whatever reason this week was the right time to go ahead and buy it.

Basically, I resonate with nearly the entire work. Miller is passionate about Jesus but doesn't care much for most of what passes itself off as Christianity. I've felt the same way for quite some time, which has led to much frustration given the fact that I've been deeply immersed at times as a "professional" Christian in a major denomination. So now I need to read his other books. And get back to marketing the proposal for my own completed spiritual memoir, and get back to writing the second part of said memoir.

Basically, I need to get back to writing. Every day. Something.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


I’ve reached the end of a long, crucial leg of an even longer spiritual journey. Last evening, after more than 12 years in the making, I learned I will be ordained as a “deacon in full connection” with The United Methodist Church.

What does that mean, exactly? In the UMC, clergy can take the route of “elder” (those who pastor churches full-time) or “deacon” (those who serve in concentrated areas of ministry, in the church or beyond the congregational walls). Each path is of equal standing, albeit with differing functions.

Since 2000, when I graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary with my Master of Divinity, I have been a “commissioned” pastor licensed to preach, officiate weddings and funerals, provide spiritual care to people and carry out various other pastoral duties. Commissioning precedes ordination, which is the final credentialing that offers permanent status—sort of like tenure—as professional clergy with the denomination. Ordination is viewed as a sacred, unbroken line of God-granted spiritual leadership, stretching from Jesus Christ and the Apostles through clergy across the ages and symbolized by the laying of a Bishop’s hands upon the prepared candidate.

After many years on the elder path, I switched to the deacon route a few years back and have since then viewed my ministry as the work I do in corporate America and my writing and speaking endeavors. Many times I have felt that I am carving a new niche, and it has been a wonder to see things unfold.

My road to ordination, which I will be formally granted during a ceremony on May 30 in Lakeland, Fla., began in 1995 when I experienced tremendous spiritual growth and felt a stirring to visit theological seminaries. After being accepted by Asbury, I formally connected through my church in Ormond Beach, Fla., with the denominational process for ordination. In addition to my professional work since 2000, this process has involved numerous meetings across the years with clergy boards; some counseling services; a summer as a hospital chaplain; several public speaking seminars; seminary itself, a 90-plus-hour professional graduate program; and lots of essay writing and reflection.

I took some time off from the process earlier this decade after deciding to move from full-time local church work to the marketplace. As I began to intensify my organizational development work, it became clear that the deacon path was the best fit for me. The denomination agreed, and last night’s meeting with the UMC’s Board of Ordained Ministry in Florida was the final step before ordination.

I had a lively, challenging discussion with the Board and its 50 or so members (a combination of clergy and laypersons). The deacon path I have chosen in the marketplace is relatively unpaved, and our dialogue necessitated me painting a portrait of how God has been utilizing me to build a bridge between the pews and the cubicles. The Board had a tough decision, and I applaud its thoroughness.

I truly believe this is the direction that organized religion will find itself moving, as a post-denominational culture continues to emerge and younger generations seek non-traditional venues for growing in their faith. “Church” will become less and less about brick-and-mortar and more about relationships amid social and professional networks.

During the last few years I have sought to be a positive light for Christ in the stressful and rapidly changing business arena, serving in financial services, health care and now telecommunications. What I have observed is a deep spiritual hunger among people striving to make a living, and that by serving them well in practical and relevant ways—with authenticity—the opportunities to discuss deeper matters of the spirit abound, and the artificial walls between the church and the marketplace evaporate. We simply become people, free of our categories.

I don’t know what all of this will look like in 10 or even five years. I am certain, however, that my purpose is to constantly grow in self-awareness, competencies and relationships…and allow God to open the doors that enable me to leverage the power of words to help others thrive and discover timeless truths.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Layers Upon Layers

Last night was something new for me--driving home in a snowstorm. It wasn't exactly the kind of blinding snow that shuts down an entire city, but seeing those little white stars shooting at me along the crowded interstate made me feel I was stuck in a retro 1980s Space Invaders video game. To pull into my driveway and view snow plastered across my grass was pretty cool.

I am getting tired already of having to consider so many layers when I want to venture out for anything--especially exercise. In Florida throughout most of the year you just take the warm weather for granted and stumble outside in whatever you might happen to be wearing around the house. Here, such behavior is met with frostbite. Makes it hard to get motivated to head to the gym or go out for a run at my usual 5:30 a.m., when the temperature and the grand sum of the digits on the clock feel nearly identical.

Sifting through too many layers challenges me on a more deeply personal level as well, beyond the external challenges of the weather. When I am over scheduled and left with too little time for reflection, I feel the clutter of layers of responsibilities and tasks crowding out room for deeper introspection. I want to peel these layers back or shove them to the side, but there are few solutions other than plowing through them and reducing them via action.

I keep counseling myself that much of the extra fabric relates to the newness of everything in my situation right now--the job, the move, etc. I really don't know what life here will feel like three or four months down the road, but in general the intensity of what I do as a full-time leadership consulting professional has been kicked up a notch or two. I am eager to master certain key aspects of the new position so I feel there is more space to breathe and intentionally pursue some networking in the Nashville area, and certainly some new writing.

The beauty of Williamson County continues to energize me in the midst of this transition. I don't want any of the layers to shield my eyes from the sense of vibrant life that abounds in this latest leg of the ongoing call to adventure.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

40 Soon Dawns

As I journey into the weeks preceding my 40th birthday on Feb. 17, the goal of the "second half" of life seems to be a dual embrace of growing spiritually and serving others. Many other pursuits have been tried, some with success and insight and others more fleeting. Things seem to be simplifying, although pockets of complexity can be expected since life here is always lived in the concrete. My new job still feels quite complex, but with each passing day I sense the inner invasion of that disposition of spirituality and service. And it gets me excited and enables me to feel less like a task-master and more like a person again.

This "second half" obsession is simply my personalized way of framing my years. My father died at 80, I am about to hit his half-mark, therefore I assume I have 40 more years. I may in fact have only one more day or just 20 years or perhaps 65 years, but it is a helpful metaphor to frame the focus of my heart.

I love that number, 40, that biblical symbol. Moses tinkered around for 40 years in the fields before God called him through fire--only to wander with a stubborn nation for another 40 years to the brink of the promise land, where he died flawed but having seen in part the radiance of God. David served as king of Israel for 40 years, flawed but after God's own heart. Jesus fasted and prayed in the desert for 40 days before publicly assuming his identity, having risen beyond the powers of temptation. Psalm 40, which I first heard about through my favorite rock group U2, declares the singing of a new song, and we are always in need of lyrical renewal.

And so I enter the year of 40 with optimism, on a spiritual quest, open to an ongoing outpouring of delicate but riveting threads between the arts of the necessary aims of leadership, seeking to nourish others through whatever has been fed to me. Jesus, Joseph Campbell, Frederick Buechner, my wife and children and many others will continue to be my teachers and mentors this year.