Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Basics of Faith

This morning when I was reading the third chapter of Job, in which this fine man who has lost so much both materially and relationally is cursing the day he was born...but not cursing God. Most certainly could empathize with his emotional state and his deep suffering. As one scholar writes, Job was forced to grapple with "the basics of his faith." Did he fully trust God in all circumstances?

From my perspective, the clouds of negativity and uncertainty floating above the economy and our sense of quality of life are putting many aspects of faith to the test for a whole bunch of us. Faith in long-standing institutions. Faith in the tenets of capitalism itself. Faith in government.

Faith in ourselves, to be resilient, forward-thinking and creative? Faith in God, in whatever way we relate to him?

Many of us might be drilling down to the basics at the moment. What constitutes our hope? Are we tenacious enough to continue to develop professionally, morally, spiritually....or are we resigning ourselves to the prognostications of doom, feeling helplessly dragged along on this uncertain journey that traverses shifting and sometimes collapsing foundations?

This is a time for leadership, not just for those seeking high office and the captains of industry but for each of us. This is a time for discipline, in every category. And it is a time for moral courage, a bravery grounded in a deep-seeded belief in some set of principles--however one defines them--that is larger than circumstances.

May each of us peer deep inside to the basics of such principles, and learn that our faith is still strong even if the world around us seems to be teetering.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Gas, Identity and Faith

My aspiration was to rise early this morning and do some writing in the home study. The day broke long ago, and I am just now settling in with the laptop after a successful quest for, of all things, gasoline.

Middle Tennessee in particular has faced a severe gas shortage since the fury of Hurricane Ike a week ago. I drove throughout the main corridors of the city of Franklin at 6 a.m. this morning, seeing nothing but empty pumps until at last I spotted some activity at a station just past the interstate. I filled one car (and a gas can for my new lawnmower) and then sped home to switch to the minivan, and found an even closer gas station for that one. We are now set for, hopefully, at least a week.

It seems kind of crazy, having this mentality of being grateful to have found gasoline--almost feeling as if I got away with something, that I was undeserving to be lucky enough to spend $3.99 per gallon for gas. Never in my driving lifetime of 24 years have I ever thought twice about my ability to find gas; affording it has been another matter. Resources like gas, food, clothing--I've taken these for granted across a lifetime. I've never had a ton of money to buy whatever I've wanted, but I've always had enough to get whatever I've needed and could certainly find it nearby.

This pauses me to grapple with some larger questions. Where do I place my hope and trust, when I run across circumstances beyond my control?

This connects well to a passage I just read, in John 1:22. Jesus is being questioned about his identity and intent by various people, and one of the questions posed is, "What do you say about yourself?"

I set down the Bible and my journal and pondered that. Still pondering, actually. I've been thinking a lot about my identity/brand/"what I am known for" dynamic, especially as it pertains to my writing and what I have or have not accomplished at the age of 40-and-a-half. I'm still not convinced that I'm spending all of my time doing what I'm supposed to be doing, yet the clarity eludes me. I'm wrestling with what to say about myself, and what to do with myself.

The past several days haven't helped much, because of annoying distractions. Not only has it been hard to find gas to put in our cars, but just keeping the cars running has been a challenge. First the minivan has a blow out and a dead battery within the same afternoon, then my car's battery dies on Friday. I've spent a lot of time the past few days running around, dealing with mini-crises and looking for gas. It's been hard to focus on creative, deeper things. There is more substantial fuel I want to pump inside of my mind and heart, but it's been hard to get to the station to fill up.

I also read the first chapter of Job this morning.

When tested by incomparable loss, he mourned with passion and then fell to his knees to worship. Job will waver later in the book and question God, but his first instinct is to trust and adore.

So I'm reminded to be grateful for the many things I have and to juxtapose them with the small annoyances that I've allowed to detract from my energy. What I'd like to say about myself is that I'm someone whose faith and perseverance are not rattled by sweating the small stuff.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Facebook vs. Face-to-Face

I've spent quite a bit of time on Facebook during the past two weeks. A late bloomer to this particular social networking platform, I've connected with friends from almost every era of my life. It's like one-stop-shopping; almost everyone I care about is right there on the same page, an email, comment box or chat stroke away. It is helping me to feel more connected, which is important because I'm still getting settled in Middle Tennessee after leaving Florida behind.

And yet, there's still nothing like sitting across the table in a coffee shop or bookstore from a good friend, looking them in the eye. The virtual world makes staying in touch amazingly possible beyond what I could have dreamt up, but in the end we all hunger to be known up close and personally. I have started building new face-to-face relationships in this area, and am excited by the possibilities.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Reminded of Love

Yesterday seemed to teem with bad news and bad luck--poor economic news close to home and across the land, and a flat tire in the middle of nowhere that was followed minutes later by a dead battery. After rescuing my wife on the lonely country highway and giving her my car, I proceeded to drive the minivan back toward Franklin with the cruise control set at a James-Dean-Would-Be-Jealous 50 mph.

I kept the radio off, trying to clear my head and embrace the silence. There was no lyric, no tidbit of news, no talk radio data-smog I needed at the moment. My brain was filled enough, and needing to let some things go rather than absorb even more.

It was a perfectly sunny day. The view of the hills and trees around me could not have been more gorgeous as I proceeded along, in a sense grateful for the frustrating interruption to my corporate day.

It all gave more room for the deepening stirring that is the hunger for more of the presence of the holy in my life. I texted a new friend from church, Marc, with the simple message: "Argh....pray for me plees." Marc immediately texted back with his positive energy, assuring me that whatever the circumstance happened to be he was praying....and he finished his communique with the most encouraging text message I have ever received:

"Jesus Christ loves John De Marco."

Wow. If I ever doubted that God uses a BlackBerry, such lack of faith was disabused in that moment. The economy feels in shambles and the price of gas sucks and corporate life these days is moving at a stressful pace with many challenges...I don't have the time I need to reflect or write, or at least I think I don't...and in the midst of it all, I remember that I am deeply loved.

I kept the radio off, content with the music of the spheres, tapping into mystery made flesh.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Name This Entry

I'm at a loss for where to take the focus of my writing vocation, in terms of book manuscripts.

The marketing and journalism arenas of my writing continue to make sense and bear fruit. I am building on my base of higher education clients, and continue to write for a variety of Christian publications. I've taken a bit of a break from writing for leadership development-related publications, but that's just a matter of time.

But there's the larger dream that still remains of cranking out the books, the way I did when I was a youth and had loads of time on my hands. I've spent a big chunk of the past three years writing a spiritual memoir and beginning its sequel, taking the former through numerous drafts...and showing it to a few agents and at least one publisher. The results? Nada...or multiple nadas, as Ernest Hemingway would have said (see his short story A Clean Well-Lighted Place).

I may have to come to grips with the reality that the memoir project is more of a personal writing journey than one intended to impact others. I think of a special friend last week who said he would pray "for God to close doors"for me," so that I could focus my energy and gifts in the best directions. Is a 50,000-word manuscript that--rather than proceeding toward publication--might end up being mainly a lasting gift for my children one riveting example of a door that is not meant to be opened?

I can deal with that, if that is the case. The more frustrating aspect is what to write about next in terms of a longer project. Fiction? Some aspect of leadership development? Spiritual disciplines for busy corporate leaders?

I have a million resources at my fingertips, a pretty decent educational and professional background, lots of interesting people in my network that inspire and inform, and decent enough writing talent...

...and yet here I sit, close to 9:30 in the evening, in the home office I've longed to possess, surrounded by my most sacred books, in a beautiful part of the somewhat of a loss.

A tense undercurrent at play here is the lack of quality reflection time. Ideas need to incubate. When the brain and body seldom stop to reflect, the best ideas never get past their embryonic state. I must address this, and make changes.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Trying to Flip the Switch

i have quickly learned that having a sacred place to reflect and write does not necessarily translate into consistent reflection and writing.

The biggest challenge seems to be the difficulty in "flipping the switch." I spend my work week in a fast-paced, noisy customer service center working with frontline leaders--and my family time is equally chaotic in its own designs. So I carry all of that nervous energy and multi-tasking into my space here by the window overlooking the trees, and find it hard to escape into my thoughts.

I also am simply not used to having a home study, having worked in coffee shops most of the past three years. I can tune out the noise from strangers, but not from my own family. There are other elements of ambiance missing as well: the smell of coffee, the overhead music, and the energy I often tap into when immersed in the general public. It seems counter intuitive, but I may still be more effective writing and reflecting in the midst of a crowd than in a solitary place. This may take some practice and perseverance.

Throughout 2007 I worked a four day, 10 hour schedule and took the fifth day for writing, heading to the coffee shop and usually the library. It was a pretty effective routine. Now I am down to maybe an hour or two per week, early in the morning on a Sunday.

I need more time to feed my soul and craft words in the crucible of reflection. This is easier said than accomplished. But it must be done. I've lived enough to know that the secret to reflection and writing is to keep showing up and giving it your best, and the time factor usually settles itself out with such discipline and rhythm.

A very lovely looking Sunday has arisen before me. This is the day the Lord has made, and I pray that despite my frustration with diminished reflection time I will rejoice in it.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The "A" Word

It is very tempting to want to blog about politics right now. But there are so many other blogs dedicated to that, and political rhetoric in this particular space would detract from my core focus of grappling with the confluence of spirituality, leadership and the arts.

One thing I will share is that, in light of having observed two weeks of political theater and news media punditry, I heard a powerful statement on Friday morning that cut to the heart. I was attending a breakfast meeting of Brentwood's Christian Executive Officers (CEO) Fellowship, and the speaker was talking about leaving a legacy.

"You cannot pass on what is not authentically in you," he said.

Wow. Authenticity. The goal of this blog! You can bet that statement elicited a deep look inside of myself, examining the pockets of disconnect between what I present to the world and the darkness few others ever see.

Politics often gives permission to pass on to the public what is not authentic, but a life that truly impacts and inspires others with sustainable, positive change flows from a clean heart.