Bricks and Community

Posted: August 28, 2017 in Communities
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We have a lot of exposed brick inside our home. It’s one of the things that attracted us to the place originally. I’ve been looking closely at all the brick and pondering it in recent days. No two bricks are the same. Many look very different. Some have weathered 117 years of use better than others. But working together, they are beautiful. They endure. They accomplish exactly what they were created to do. Remove even one brick and it would be noticeable. Remove very many and the effectiveness of accomplishing the larger purpose is jeopardized.

When I consider the disturbing division among people in our country, how I wish we valued each other, appreciated the differences, and focused on what unites us instead of what divides us. A nation (or business or church or city or family or…) divided against itself cannot stand.

Together, the bricks are beautiful. They are strong. They endure. They unite for a common cause.

And they don’t have to be alike to do so.

My Mom, Dad, sister & me around 1960

My Mom, Dad, sister & me around 1960

Saturday, January 28, 2017 is my 60th birthday. For months I’ve just shaken my head in disbelief at the thought of it. It doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t seem possible. Maybe it should just be another date on the calendar, but it isn’t. Like I jokingly said to my bride of 37 years recently (who turned 60 last summer), “This is more serious because it’s happening to me!

Part of me still thinks of myself as the young son of a wonderful Mom & Dad living on the farm during junior high and high school, catching the school bus daily and being bullied on the way because of being the skinniest kid around. Part of me is the 16-year-old grocery stock boy putting cans on shelves and buffering the store aisles for $1.60 an hour. Part of me is still having fun in college with those who would become lifelong friends. Part of me is the shy introvert who still prefers a good book and a quiet room over any loud gathering. Part of me is still fumbling around trying to figure out how to talk with others – especially girls. Part of me is recalling my first full-time work or moving to a new city or experiencing new ventures of faith that would shape a lifetime. Part of me is trying to figure out how to handle kids’ diapers (only now they’re grandkids’ diapers).

But nobody can see those parts of me regardless of how real they are in my mind. My soul hasn’t aged quite as obviously to others as has my appearance. I’m not exactly sure what others see when they look at me or what they think when they think of me (if they do at all) – especially younger people.

With my parents and sister graduating from college, May 1979

With my parents and sister graduating from college, May 1979

Do they just see someone who is old? Someone with thinning, gray hair and age spots in way too many visible places? Do they see someone who tends to slouch a little more than in years past? Do they see someone who isn’t as relevant, useful, trendy or fun as others who are younger and more energetic? Does that car of teenagers driving by see some old fart they want to scare by yelling at me out the window while I’m walking my dog? (Yes, that’s happened several times in recent years.) Do employers see a senior to push out of the work force in favor of someone younger who has more creativity, ideas, and energy (and a much lower salary)?

Those who haven’t approached 60 birthdays yet may not know or suspect how this day can mess with one’s mind. Older friends with 20-30+ more years than me under their belt are probably chuckling at me at this point saying, “Jeff, you’re just a kid to someone my age.” I know they’re right. I’ll always be my parent’s youngest child to them regardless of my age.

Most birthdays don’t get to me, but this one has. Why? I think it’s because the social/cultural perceptions and expectations just don’t match who I am and what I feel inside. My head and my body know I’m 60, but my heart and spirit haven’t gotten there yet. So how should I respond to the day? I see three options:

  1. See myself as growing old and start living the life others expect of seniors in our culture;
  2. Carry on as though nothing is changing;
  3. Take stock of life and reenlist for a continuing tour of duty with adjustments made as needed.
A 60th birthday picture sent from a friend

A 60th birthday picture sent from a friend

The first option above just isn’t me. Part of me imagines what it would be like to retire from full-time employment, volunteer more for my church, run a little Airbnb business on the side to help pay the bills, and downshift from the faster pace I’ve traveled for decades to something more common to one in his 60s. I’ll consider that a guilty pleasure to think and dream about, but not something likely to happen anytime soon. I have no plans to dramatically change course, riding off into the sunset of some presumed, easy, self-absorbed retirement. There is work to be done, and as far as I know, I’m still the best person to be doing some of it. So I can cross the first option off the list. It isn’t me and it isn’t financially an option, anyway.

The second option of carrying on as though nothing is in flux sounds like a possibility, but isn’t very realistic. My body (energy, sleep needs and more) is, indeed, changing and it’s foolish to pretend otherwise. I’d wear myself out ignoring that reality.

It seems like option three makes the most sense to me: take stock of life and reenlist for a continuing tour of duty with adjustments made as needed.

So here is what I think is ahead insofar as it is up to me:

  1. There is more to learn, so I’ll keep learning something new every day. I thrive on learning – always have, always will. When the court ruling came out earlier this week on whether or not a federal judge would allow another company to purchase the one I work for, I relished the opportunity to read all 158 pages of the decision before going to bed that night, learning all kinds of matters related to relevant law, the opposing sides’ arguments, and the judge’s reasoning. It was fascinating and the highlight of the month for me personally and professionally in terms of learning. Teaching others forces me to keep learning as well, so I’ll keep saying “yes” to teaching opportunities because I know it will force me to learn more. True lifelong learners know it’s a vital part of a meaningful life and should have no end.
  2. There is a better me to grow into, so I’ll keep working at being a better person. Growing in my Christian faith and practice is also an unending pursuit to become more like the One I worship. I’m attending a marriage seminar this weekend at our church because there is always room for learning how to be a better husband even after these nearly 38 years of marriage to my bride, Linda. I haven’t yet mastered the art of being the best father, grandfather, son, employee, teacher, friend, citizen or neighbor I can be, so there’s work to be done to keep moving in the right direction on all of those fronts.
  3. The older you get, the more important it is to pay attention to your health, so I’ll continue to be mindful about my health. I’ve been blessed to work at Humana for over 13 years where employee health is a major focus. I wouldn’t do what I do to #startwithhealthy if not for my employer’s vigilance at emphasizing health and well-being with all employees. That doesn’t mean I deny myself any type of food I enjoy, but it means I make more healthy choices daily than not. I keep my weight in check and stay reasonably active averaging 4-5 miles a day of walking. I could do more, but I won’t obsess about it. As far as my doctor and I are concerned, I’m in good health and I want to keep it that way.
  4. As long as I can make positive contributions, I’ll keep giving my best to my employer. I love what I do and the wonderful people I get to do it with every day at my job, so unless some unexpected ideal opportunity comes knocking on my door and makes me an offer I can’t refuse (not likely), I’m happy to stay where I am and do my best to make a positive difference for my company. I’m in my 14th year here and I like the thought of making it to my 20th anniversary.
Christmas 2016 family pajama party

Christmas 2016 family pajama party

As long as God gives me life, breath, passion, skills and opportunity along with the health and mind to make a difference in the world, then who am I to plan otherwise? Sure, I’d rather be working out of my home these days most of the time instead of going in to the office. I’d rather have more sleep and more free time. I need to get better at saying “no” to some requests that consume huge amounts of what should be free time. But I value serving others more than serving myself, so saying “no” is a constant struggle.

There is actually a spiritual and biblical component to why I keep the schedule I do. I just don’t see anywhere in the Bible where old folks are told to stop being productive and fade away, doing nothing but living for themselves the rest of their days. It just isn’t scriptural. The ways in which we are able to serve necessarily change over time, but the fact that we serve does not change. My health and abilities may dictate what I can and can’t do, but I can still serve God and man in some way as long as there is one more breath in me.

So this week I turn 60. It sure has me being more reflective than a typical week or a normal birthday. It isn’t just another date on the calendar. It’s a chance to reenlist in life – in making a difference and serving the best I can wherever ability meets opportunity.

Time to get back to work…

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Added Feb. 3, 2017: I just ran across this quote from Margaret Mead which seems appropriate – “Sooner or later I’m going to die, but I’m not going to retire.”

I just published an article on LinkedIn reflecting on some lessons learned over the past 16 days of being in a new (to us) house, and how the experience compares to joining a new online community. I invite you to read it here.

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resetI don’t normally think too much about my age. I’m a busy guy who loves my life and my work and the many opportunities to engage with friends, family, church, work colleagues and others every day. My health is good and I’m thankful that I can do just about whatever I choose to do when I choose to do it. While I grieve at the direction my country seems to be heading in a number of ways, I still wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I do not take such blessings for granted.

Nevertheless, passing my 59th birthday this past January and starting the countdown to 60 has impacted me more than I expected. More time is spent thinking about the next decade, changes I’m experiencing or want to experience to position myself to live life as I envision it being in the coming decade. Some changes are forced on me by health and aging. For example, I’ve noticed the last couple of years that my body demands a lot more sleep than before. For decades, 5-6 hours of sleep a night was adequate, but now the body wants 8+ hours a night (which I’m still not giving it, but at least I’m closer to that number than before). There are a few consistent aches and pains with feet and joints that remind me I haven’t found any magical fountain of youth. Reminders are frequent that I can’t continue indefinitely the pace I’ve kept for decades.

So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about slowing down – about hitting a few reset buttons in life that signal a shift in gears or direction to something more suitable for life in my 60s. That does not mean retirement in the typical American sense of the word. I just don’t see anything biblical about ceasing to live a productive life and turning nearly hedonistic for the last few decades God gives me on this earth. That isn’t an option for me financially, anyway, but even if it was, there are too many needs around that I can do something about to sit back and live life as though I’m the center of the universe the rest of my days. (Here’s a good interview with John Piper on that subject.)

The slowing down I’m thinking of might be analogous to a road trip in a car. We started slow from our place of origin, picked up steam and cruised along for decades at a pretty high speed, only occasionally slowing down to rest. Now we are closer to our destination. Because of that, it’s time to exit the fast lane, get off the highway, take a slower ride through the remaining neighborhoods, and settle in to a new routine. It’s not the end of the road, but the end is more in view than ever before.

BauerAve

Current home in St. Matthews, KY

I have several reset buttons in mind that I can see myself pushing in 2016 as part of the path forward to life as I imagine it in my 60s. The first is to leave the wonderful home we’ve enjoyed for the past 28 years – the home we raised our boys in and dearly love, full of memories that will last a lifetime. We agreed in January to purchase a Victorian home in Old Louisville currently undergoing a total renovation. It should be ready in another month or so. It was built in 1900 and has stood empty and lifeless for a number of years – a blight on an otherwise wonderful block just two streets away from the church we’re so invested in. To that end, we listed our cozy Cape Cod home in St. Matthews (Louisville) and just accepted a contract to sell it a few days ago after 69 emotional days on the market. Closings won’t happen for another 1-2 months, assuming all goes well, so the limbo continues somewhat but with far more calm than before the contract.

Future home under renovation

Future home under renovation

That major reset button of being in our new home does several things. It puts us very close to my work, my wife’s work, our church, and my mother-in-law – basically where most of life happens for us on a day-to-day basis. It gives us a dream home that many may think is unwise for folks our age due to its size and three floors of stairs to climb, but which we love the idea of having for many reasons. At the top of the list (besides proximity to work and church) is the opportunity to use the home for hospitality on a regular basis with different groups, especially from the church and, we hope, the neighborhood. At some point down the road, it also gives us the ability to keep in the family many cherished items that now reside in my parents’ large, pre-Civil War home. Those pieces of furniture don’t work in a Cape Cod home like we live in now, but they work in our new home, and this gives us the chance to keep them in the family for at least one more generation.

ParentsHome

My Parents’ home

There are two other reset buttons in view for me that deal with finances and work, but the details of both are still uncertain at this point. Time will tell whether I push them and what happens if I do. One reset button at a time is more than enough for now and the current one concerning our home will keep us occupied for the next several months.

The most important parts of life are the present and what has yet to happen. We can’t stay in the past because life just doesn’t move that direction. Regardless of one’s age, we ought to be thinking about and planning for the future, reinventing ourselves occasionally, making the most of our abilities and opportunities, adjusting as needed to the realities thrust upon us. I’m thankful for nearly 60 years of a blessed life with opportunities most people on earth don’t enjoy. My mind, though, is focusing on the decade to come and what changes I should make in the journey now to position myself to be where I should be, doing what I should do, in this next important chapter. It’s exciting! I thank God for the journey and the possibilities ahead, and I trust him to work them out as he knows best.

I’m looking forward to the journey ahead.

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p.s. – It’s good to get back to blogging. I’ve missed doing so for the past two months while buying & selling homes was a major distraction. A lot of thoughts have built up and need to come out. Thanks for reading.

[edited April 1, 2016]

Praying-the-BibleHaving read the book Praying the Bible earlier this month, and having attended a conference last weekend at my church on the subject led by the book’s author, Dr. Don Whitney, and having practiced this method of Bible meditation and prayer since the beginning of the year, I’m eager to share this post which will be more than just a book review. It will be a personal testimony as well.

First, some background…

There are a number of spiritual disciplines which Christians encourage in the practice of their faith. (Dr. Whitney has a book on that subject as well.) Prayer and Bible study are among the most practiced and encouraged. While no day goes by without me engaging in some degree of prayer and Bible study, I sensed in 2015 that of all the spiritual disciplines, prayer was where I was most lacking. I prayed daily, but I knew I needed more both in quality and quantity.

When my church in Louisville, Kentucky – Walnut Street Baptist Church – announced late in 2015 that Dr. Whitney would be leading a weekend conference on praying the Bible at our church in mid January, I was immediately interested. It was also good timing because I finished my latest reading of the Bible and was interested in choosing a different method for my next reading of it. So I purchased Dr. Whitney’s book and read it over a couple of evenings at the beginning of the year and immediately put its teachings into practice. Two weeks later was the conference led by Dr. Whitney which greatly reinforced the teaching and provided a shared experience with many others on the practice.

Dr. Don Whitney is a Professor of Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the founder and president of The Center for Biblical Spirituality. He travels nearly every weekend speaking and holding conferences on praying the bible, scripture meditation and biblical spirituality. He is a godly man, a great communicator, and a person whose obvious passion is for the people of God to more closely experience God in their daily lives. His writing and teaching clearly demonstrate that passion.

The book Praying the Bible is a small, 106-page book easily digested in a few hours. The concept is simple, but the impact of practicing what it teaches is quite profound.

Dr. Whitney begins the book by stating the problem many Christians have with prayer – that they don’t enjoy prayer as much as they wish they did, and that this leads to not praying as much as they think they should or as they really wish they would. Numerous times in the book and during the conference he reiterated that we tend to pray the same old things about the same old things, so we get bored and we just don’t choose to spend much time doing what we think is going to bore us.

Assuming, though, that the person really does have the Spirit of God living inside, Dr. Whitney proposes that the problem may not be the person, but the method of prayer that is boring and unsatisfying, and that a different method – praying the Bible – can be a solution to the problem. The problem isn’t so much that we pray about the same old things because our lives are made up of pretty much the same old concerns from one year to the next. The problem is more in our pattern of how and what we pray about those same old things that bores us.

If there is to be a solution to this problem, Dr. Whitney explains that it must be very simple because it must work for all Christians of all cultures and backgrounds worldwide. What is the solution? “When you pray, pray through a passage of Scripture, particularly a psalm” (p. 27). How do you do that? Simply go through a Scripture passage line by line and stop whenever a word or phrase stands out or a thought comes to mind that you can turn into a prayer to God. Take God’s word and turn it back to Him as a prayer. When you’ve prayed all that comes to mind about a line or verse or passage, read some more and then stop to pray again whenever a thought comes to mind that can be expressed to God as a prayer. Keep doing that until you run out of Biblical text or out of time.

The purpose of praying the Bible is not to study the Bible and intake its meaning as intended for the original hearers or readers. The purpose is not to concentrate on biblical interpretation. This practice is intended to focus on prayer, but uses God’s Word as the starting point to keep us focused on what God has already said to us. It enables us to keep from going off on tangents that surely all of us have done many times praying. It provides a biblical vocabulary and basis for what God’s Spirit will then bring to mind for us to pray back to Him. It doesn’t matter how many verses or passages you get through in a session. You just keep going until you run out of passage or you run out of time. Then you stop.

It is a remarkably simple and profound process.

Dr. Whitney highly encourages praying through one psalm daily and he provides a simple method of determining which psalm that should be in a way that exposes you over time to all 150 of the psalms. You can read a recent article he wrote on five benefits of praying the psalms here. The psalms are especially suited to use in prayers, but all of Scripture can be used this way because it is all God’s Word that can be turned Godward in prayer by any of His children anytime. In fact, I’m going through the latest edition of the Reformation Study Bible using this method and simply started at the beginning of Genesis with a goal of averaging one chapter per day praying my way through the whole Bible. It’s January 23 and I’m on Genesis 23. At this rate it will take me about 3.5 years to work my way through, but that’s OK. My desire is for the experience and not to force a condensed time frame on the experience as I have in previous annual or biennial readings that were focused more on learning the Bible.

Dr. Whitney’s book contains plenty of samples of what one might pray while reading various passages of Scripture – both from the psalms and from other types of Scripture. The chapter called “The Most Important Part of This Book” forces the reader to stop and actually do it rather than just keep reading (as much as a book can force someone to do anything). This was the practice in the conference as well when Dr. Whitney pleaded with us to be present for the first 10 minutes after a break because it would be the most important part of the conference. It was during this time that we paused to choose a psalm and privately pray through it. Our shared experience in the conference mimicked the testimonies discussed in the book. Dr. Whitney could have told us what our many reactions would be before we practiced it at the conference because he hears the same reactions everywhere he teaches the method. He shares these common reactions in the book.

One of the key takeaways from the book, the conference, and the experience of praying the Bible the past few weeks is stated succinctly in the book when it says “if you have the Bible and the Holy Spirit, you have all the equipment necessary to profit satisfyingly from the Word of God and to experience a meaningful prayer life” (pp. 72-73).

The book contains other informative teachings about people who have prayed the Bible with tremendous spiritual results and even explains how Jesus must have prayed the Bible. It gives suggestions for praying the Bible with a group as well as alone.

In my personal practice of this discipline since the first of the year, I have learned and experienced several things:

  • I find myself praying about so many more topics, situations and concerns than ever would have made it to a prayer list I would otherwise go by in praying.
  • Some passages require a lot of time in prayer, meaning I may only pray through a partial chapter in a full hour, while other times a narrative story may not provoke many prayers at all and I’ll keep reading perhaps through multiple chapters in an hour.
  • The void I felt in 2015 regarding my prayer life has vanished. This is a wonderfully satisfying time of communion and conversation with God daily.
  • I still want to pray about the same old things and it’s OK to do so because they are the concerns of my heart and my loving God cares about them.
  • Remembering my usual prayer concerns through a fresh method that is never the same from one day to the next is exciting and different and satisfies me far more than my previous habit of “saying the same old things about the same old things.”

I guess I’ve read through the Bible 30+ times in my life, but I’ve never prayed through it until now. This may be the most meaningful pass through God’s Word of my life to date. I am eager to continue the practice and to cherish those times daily of communication back and forth with God. He is talking to me through His Word and I am turning those words back to Him in prayers of the heart. What could be more meaningful?

If you have never read Whitney’s short, little book Praying the Bible, I plead with you to do so. You can finish it in an evening. Then practice what it says. You may just discover that your prayer life has elevated to a deeper, more meaningful level that you ever imagined.

While you’re at it, check out Whitney’s website and follow him on Twitter. If you have the chance, attend his conference or take his seminary class on the subject. This is the kind of teaching where afterward you’ll wonder “How is it that I’ve been a Christian ___ years and this is the first time I’m hearing of this?”

May God bless you in your path of following and daily communicating with Him in prayer.