Pencil Practice — September 19, 2011



I love Mondays.

It is my day to pack up my belongings, get in my car and roll on down the road to the next community, where I will be headquartering for a week to share my thoughts, dreams and little dab of talent.

I also use Monday for another purpose. Monday reminds me of when I was a kid and knew I had an important paper that had to be turned in for school, and the teacher wanted that assignment to be written in pen–my best cursive writing.  Terrified that I was going to have to start over and over again to avoid mistakes, I chose to practice writing the assigned paper in pencil first.

Pencil is wonderful. It glides nicely–and also erases when you screw up. But I do believe that as people we need “pencil practices” in preparing for our dealings with one another.  Otherwise, when it comes time to “pen” ourselves down, we will not be ready and will have a bunch of scratch-offs.

So I use Monday for that purpose. Having the success of a good week, meeting good folks and sharing good things, I allow myself a few moments to think about how I can do it better. It’s a good day to practice being a real human being instead of a jerk going through the motions. Here are three things I do:

1. Come up with a greeting. Do you realize that if you stop saying “hello,” “good morning” or “howdy,” you will eventually stifle that reflex to be friendly, and pass by that fellow-man or woman without comment.  And how is that supposed to be interpreted by them? Believe me, there are enough crazy people in the world that if you decide to snub the wrong one, you might regret your choice. I think greeting one another in a civil way is a talent that if you stop using, just may depart, leaving you sullen and without remark.

So I have fun trying out different ways of saluting my fellow-travelers. One of my favorites is, “Hi, y’all.” Southern accents can be quite endearing. Greet one another–we do need a starting place, you know.

Much to the chagrin of one of my brothers, I call everyone “my friend.” It aggravates him. He thinks it’s pretentious. If by pretentious, he means that I do it on purpose, then he’s right. If by pretentious, he assumes I’m insincere, he’s wrong. I call people “my friend” because it’s the way to tell them that I believe we still have a chance to do some really great things.

2. Go for the second question. Our conversations with people are very short, usually revolving around the weather or some ill-defined answer to “how are you?” Just a few minutes ago, I said to this dude, “Good morning.” He said, “Good morning to you.” I responded, “Do you have a good day planned?” It kind of shocked him. It was fun. He paused and responded, “I sure hope so!” As I was walking away, he called out, “How about you?” I replied, “Much better now that I met you!”

I know some of you may think it’s corny.  Good. If the worst thing ever said about me is that I’m corny, I will not only survive it, but I will be able to produce a very stable crop of ideas.

3. Once every hour, look in the mirror. Sometimes we forget how we look. Sometimes I forget that I’m getting older, because my mind is still popping at about a 22-year-old level. Look in the mirror. Do you see a grimace? A growl? Or some glee? That’s what folks are looking at, you know. When we forget what we look like and what countenance has etched its way across our face, we do a disservice to ourselves and everyone else. Work on your facial expression. It won’t kill you, although contrary to popular opinion–our looks CAN kill.

That’s about it. It’s not difficult; it won’t change the world. But I’m really not out to change the world. I just want to make sure that when I greet my Maker, I’m ready with a second question and I pretty well know what I look like.

And since who I am is going to be written in down permanent ink in the Book of Life–if you don’t mind, I think I’ll just use my Mondays to “pencil practice”–right here and now.

The Lessen Lesson — September 18th, 2011



You know the joke–a man walks into the doctor’s office, moving his arm up and down.  He says, “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.”  The doctor replies, “Well, stop doing that.”


I am not quite sure at what age we begin to equate maturity with the accumulation of stress and pain as a symbol of our growth and adulthood, but whenever it happens, we seem to puncture a hole in our spirits–where all the joy drains out. If the human countenance is any sign of what’s going on inside the human heart, then the folks in the United States of America appears to be continually constipated.

We should have learned through the falsehood of the statement “No pain, no gain” that life is not meant to produce discomfort in order to generate progress.  Because as you well know, if you are in the midst of exercising, and pain is the result, you are no longer producing benefit, but instead, just fostering aggravation to your physical being. Muscles can stretch–that’s good.  Sweat on the brow never hurt anyone.  Heart rate raised? Excellent for the cardiovascular system. But pain is not a good sign.

And that goes across the board.  We think we should have an “all nighter” to prepare for the test instead of taking notes all along and learning as we go. Emotionally, we feel the need to worry over “what might be” instead of taking on the problems one at a time and absorbing them into our being, using the wisdom we have and applying the principles we know to be true. Spiritually, we are preoccupied with pleasing a God who at times we insist is already pleased with us so that we can be found pleasing by occasionally being displeased with the actions of others.

It’s a mess. And if you think you have the backing of Jesus and Christian theology in this pathetic process, you are sadly wrong. Because when the Pharisees were trying to corner Jesus, they asked him why his disciples didn’t fast.  In other words, “Why aren’t your followers as miserable as us?”

Jesus’ response, paraphrased, was, “I’m here, things are going great, we’re having fun–there’s no need to fast.”

He constantly told us not to worry or take thought about things that were not happening now–that tomorrow would take care of itself. And he told the multitudes to come to him with all their weariness and burdens–and he would give them rest.

Here are two questions you must ask yourself:  Is life about doing a project or achieving a goal at all costs, or is life about considering the cost and finding a better way to achieve your goal?

Your answer to those two questions will determine your sense of well-being and happiness.

Yes, it is important, if you’re going to be a successful human being, to put in practice “The Lessen Lesson.”  Lessen your fear, lessen your struggle, lessen your apprehension, lessen your worry, lessen your responsibility whenever possible and most important–lessen your expectation. How can we begin?

1. Stop the pain. When you feel pain, just take even five minutes–and stop. Whether it’s emotional pain, mental “insane” or physical strain–just refrain. Because remember, Jesus told us to “take up our cross and follow him.”  He never suggested we climb up on it and get nailed down. He merely wants us to learn how to handle responsibility, shifting the weight onto our shoulders in the correct proportion.

2. Confront the weariness. Weariness happens when we begin to believe that the work is more important than the product. So even though we’ve lost our enthusiasm, passion and even are beginning to sacrifice our skill and intelligence, we continue to trudge on–putting brick and mortar together, often constructing a crooked wall. It’s why the American worker has lost an edge in the world–weariness is no motivator for excellence. How do I know I’m weary? When my sense of dread about what I have to do is not given a chance to be relieved by a better idea.

3. And finally, lift the burden. Many years ago for a brief season, I taught at a small Bible college in Louisiana. The dean of the college was an austere fellow who believed in hard work and hard knocks. He had two young men on his staff who were janitors and he always found the most difficult way for them to perform a task. One day he asked them to move sheets of plywood about 150 yards, from one building to another. They were supposed to carry it by hand. It was arduous–and ridiculous. I backed up my old station wagon and we put all the plywood on top of my luggage rack and hauled it over in one load. We laughed, joked and sang all during the procedure. The dean came out, infuriated because I had suggested a simpler way to achieve the goal. I was perplexed. The work was done, it was done well, and he had two employees who still had energy for the rest of the day. He was angry because it was not painful. So I will tell you, the main thing to remember is to stay away from people who think life is hard and want to make sure that they provide your portion. Find a way to lift the burden from yourself and others, and thus prove the heart of Christ.

So–The Lessen Lesson is to stop the pain, confront the weariness and lift the burden.

Because when life is through, people will not remember what you did as much as how you did it.




Remarkable, pathetic or mediocre? Those are the broad-stroked headings available to me as the writer of a daily essay such as this in conveying concepts and feelings.  In other words, I can talk about remarkable things, I can share something I deem pathetic, or I can joke with you about how some selection was made which proved to be mediocre.

Honestly, I don’t mind sharing with you my more pathetic or mediocre moments. Making fun of myself is the only sure source of material that never fails me and guarantees a good laugh.  But I generally do not choose to talk to you about pathetic things I see in the world around me, nor the mediocre that crosses my path. Candidly, I think you get enough of that from other sources. It’s not that I am some sort of Pollyanna penman, incapable of seeing the darker side of life. It’s just that I believe a certain amount of light is necessary to illuminate the even the darkness for review. I also contend that well-placed exhortation is fuel to the human tank and would rather do that instead of drilling a hole in the gas line, leaving us drained.

So last night I was overjoyed to meet a dear woman and her lovely young daughter. It was not a large crowd that gathered for our presentation in Oxford, Pennsylvania. It is often difficult for our sponsors to explain to the potential audiences exactly what we are going to do when we arrive–and when you add in a little apathy, a touch of disgust, frustration and a big dose of “I don’t know who they are,” sometimes the size of the gathering can be a bit lean.

So as I put on my show last night, the sparseness of the spectacle before me did allow for me to notice this woman and her daughter sitting in the array.  The mother had her arm around the daughter, and they exchanged smiles and rib pokes all during the show. It almost brought tears to my eyes to see two people from different generations enjoying one thing at the same time. And then, when the fine lady and her offspring came to the table, I discovered that they had driven by the church at 6:30 that evening, spotted the announcement on the marquee about the concert and had decided to run home, clean up quickly and come back for the show. I don’t even know whether they had ever been in that church before.

They were alive. They were beautiful. They were remarkable.

Now you must understand, in the presence of every remarkable story, there is also a mediocre tale and a pathetic one. Because nothing is truly remarkable unless it exceeds expectation and rises out of the pit of pathetic and mediocre. I could tell you about the pathetic folk who might have had much more information than this lady, but decided to stay home because they “didn’t know enough about it'” or were too tired or too busy. I could even tell you about some who did show up for the performance, but instead of letting it in, viewed it as if they were watching television or perusing the Internet–barely a passing glance.

But I don’t think that makes a good story. We spend too much time in this country discussing what doesn’t work, why it doesn’t work and who’s to blame. As the genius once said, “I, for one, am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

I’m going to walk around with a little spotlight in my hand, shining it on every remarkable thing I see and every remarkable person I meet–until we finally get the idea that “remarkable” is the only way to live. I just looked at that beautiful young daughter and knew she was going to be all right–because she had a mother who was spontaneous and moved out to do something good with her that they both could enjoy–and put her arm around her the whole time to let her know that she loved her.

Now, that’s just candy bars and cupcakes in a world filled with fast-food-greasy-grub.

So you can feel free to commiserate over all the pathetic things in our world if you want to. You can shake your head in disgust over the mediocre manner in which politics, government, corporations and religion handle their business.

Not for me. I would rather find one remarkable woman who reaches out to touch the hem of life’s garment, believing she will receive a miracle.

Remarkable means it’s worthy of receiving our attention–and remarks.

So, my dear lady and your sweet daughter, you now have been shone upon by the light of revelation of words–and read by tens of thousands of people. For after all, if we actually begin to believe that remarkable has more benefit to our life than being pathetic and mediocre, well … who knows?

We might actually go home, change clothes and make it to the show.

Peculiar — September 15, 2011



Words are not that different from birds–in the sense that they are quite capable of flying away and becoming extinct.  Such is the case with “peculiar.

I don’t think anyone anywhere would consider the word “peculiar” to be a positive term.  How about some examples?  “He joined the football team–he was a peculiar player.”  “I really like my new girlfriend–she’s so peculiar.” “I would like another serving of that lasagna–it has such a peculiar taste.”

See what I mean?  But when those King James boys were translating the Bible into English from the Greek, they inserted the word “peculiar” to describe a people who were followers of the philosophy of Jesus.  Future translators rejected the choice, favoring inserting “special” instead of “peculiar.”  (But I’m not so sure that “special people” flies in our society either…)

If I’m not the first to say so, let me at least be the second.  Without some peculiar people in our generation, we’re all going to lump into a great, big, hairball tumbling down the hill towards our own mediocre demise.  Peculiar people do unusual things, which through trial and tribulation, are decided to be outstanding and eventually garner the reward of being termed “normal.”

It was a peculiar notion that a man could fly–so peculiar that certain individuals who believed they could soar like eagles either ended up at the bottom of a cavern, smashed on the rocks, or were committed to sanitariums by their overly protective relatives.

It was a peculiar thing in 1861 to contend that black people were actually equals to white people and at least should have the right to be free.  Today it’s beyond our comprehension that anybody ever believed anything else. But at least 90% of the populous–both North and South–had some ongoing sense that the black race was inferior.

And I am constantly reminded by good Christian folks that I am doing a peculiar thing by traveling across the country and sharing my message of simplicity with a musical soundtrack for thousands of hearers, in hopes of dawning a better day.  Yes, I am peculiar–and you do not need to call me special.

I was just wondering today how willing YOU are–to transform your personal life into potential instead of a problem, and risk changing our society from its doldrums of dreariness, into a flowing river of possibility?  Here are four things I suspect will make you peculiar–but also potent:

1. Lead with “nice.”  I know this will give some people the creeps.  But I meet hundreds and hundreds of human beings every week, and the common profile seems to be suspicion and caution, which quite bluntly, only makes them look ignorant and vulnerable.  After all, if I were a murderer, I would not kill someone who was smiling and confident, but rather, that nasty individual who grimaced at me, standing in the shadows, afraid to make contact.  Okay–maybe some people don’t deserve “nice.”  Then you can quietly cool down and walk away.  But if you are rude to a child of God’s making who needed your encouragement, and instead you offered nothing more than your flat response, then you might have missed an opportunity to “entertain an angel unaware.”

2. Step forward.  Such a simple thought!  Don’t stand back and wait for things to happen. I have not seen less failure in those who are reticent than I have in those who are aggressive. Step into life instead of waiting for someone to draw you out and bring you into the mix. Intelligent, successful, prosperous folks are ALWAYS moving their feet forward instead of stumbling backwards.  I even notice it in the body language of people I meet for the first time.  They often stand several feet back, making me cover the distance.  Really?  I don’t think this profile will get anyone very far.  Step forward and take the chance that what you feel, believe and sense in yourself is worth sharing with someone else.

3.  Know what you want, but more importantly, want to know. I do meet people who are positive about their agenda–-but they become obnoxious when some point they made is proven to be useless.  I always know what I want.  Without knowing what you want, you walk into every discussion and frustrate your fellow-travelers with your lack of commitment to a cause.  Yes, I always know what I want–BUT it is more important to me to learn what is better.  Then I can quickly change that to my new want. The best way to become a viable and usable human being is to balance “dedicated” and “flexible.”  I am dedicated to what I want, but I am also aware that everything on this planet evolves, and I will always choose to move towards the better way. We are so afraid of “flip-flopping.”  But I will tell you this–you can’t cook a pancake on both sides without flipping it.  Maybe that’s why we have so many half-baked politicians.

4.  And finally, honor freedom.  Freedom is supreme.  I have told you before in these essays that freedom is above love.  God so loved the world that He gave us the freedom to stupidly kill His son, without destroying us for it, but instead, turning it into a symbol of his salvation.  That’s huge.  The best way to get on the right side of history is to always be the ally of freedom.  Freedom does not mean that I agree with you.  Freedom does not even mean that I give my unconditional support.  Freedom means that I will not interfere with your right to pursue your dreams.

Now THERE is peculiarity.  If you choose to lead with “nice”–stepping towards humanity and knowing what you want, but more importantly, wanting to know, while believing in freedom for yourself and everyone else without question–you WILL be peculiar.  But you will also find yourself in the favor of God and man.

Peculiar–an old-fashioned word, disdained by the masses, but embraced by this particular, overweight, traveling troubadour.

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