A Birthday Gift to Myself: The Way of St. James

Carnival in Ecuador

On my 47th birthday earlier today, checking out the sites on the first real day of Carnival.

“I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.”  ~ Herman Melville

February 10, 2013.

My 47th birthday. Oh, the humanity.

I’ve almost always given birthday presents to myself. Over the years, sometimes I’d show others what I’d given myself. Other times, I’d keep it private.

The most special gifts I’ve given myself are challenges, or commitments that I’d make for the sake of nothing more than the personal satisfaction of facing the challenge itself.

On my 38th birthday, I challenged myself to run a marathon before I was 40. I did three. More recently I proclaimed I’d be a published author by the end of 2012. Still working on that one. But it will come to pass.

Those who know me best, know one of the things that keeps me motivated and at my best, is when a great challenge, or adventure, lies ahead. It took me 28 years to beat my best buddy in a single round of golf, but I never quit.

In 47 years I’ve learned that adventure rarely creates itself, so today, I’ve given a birthday gift to myself.

The narrow path, or The Way.

The narrow path, or The Way.

I’ve given myself permission to plan for a new adventure.

Within the next two years (sometime before my 50th birthday) I’ll go on a great pilgrimage to walk the Way of St. James, or the Santiago de Compostela, or the Camino de Santiago, whatever you wish to call it. It’s the 500 kilometer pilgrimage to the burial place of James, brother of John.

Completing the camino should take about 75 days of steady walking.

With a little help from Wikipedia, here’s some information on the camino.

The Way of St. James

The Way of St. James was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during medieval times, along with that of Rome and Jerusalem.

Legend holds that St. James’s remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where he was buried on the site of what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela.

The Way of St. JamesThe Way can take one of any number of pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. Traditionally, as with most pilgrimages, the Way of Saint James began at one’s home and ended at the pilgrimage site. However a few of the routes are considered main ones. During the Middle Ages, the route was highly traveled. However, the plague of the Black Death and political unrest in 16th-century Europe led to its decline. By the 1980s, only a few pilgrims per year arrived in Santiago. In present day, the route attracts a growing number of modern-day pilgrims from around the globe. The Way was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in October 1987. It was also named one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites.

The Way of St. James

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The pilgrimage to Santiago has never ceased from the time of the discovery of St. James’ remains, though there have been years of fewer pilgrims, particularly during European wars.

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The Christian origin of the pilgrimage has been well documented throughout the centuries.

To the End of the World

The main pilgrimage route to Santiago follows an earlier Roman trade route, which continues to the Atlantic coast of Galicia, ending at Cape Finisterre. Although it is known today that Cape Finisterre, Spain’s westernmost point, is not the westernmost point of mainland Europe, the fact that the Romans called it Finisterrae (literally the end of the world or Land’s End in Latin) indicates that they viewed it as such. 

To this day, many pilgrims continue past Santiago de Compostela to finish their journeys at Cape Finisterre.

Scallop Symbol

The Way of St. JamesThe scallop shell, often found on the shores in Galicia, has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Over the centuries the scallop shell has taken on mythical, metaphorical and practical meanings, even if its relevance may actually derive from the desire of pilgrims to take home a souvenir.

Two versions of the most common myth about the origin of the symbol The Way of St. Jamesconcern the death of St. James, who was martyred by beheading in Jerusalem in 44 AD. According to Spanish legends he had spent time preaching the gospel in Spain, but returned to Judea upon seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary on the bank of the Ebro River.

Version 1: After James’ death, his disciples shipped his body to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. Off the coast of Spain a heavy storm hit the ship, and the body was lost to the ocean. After some time, however, the body washed ashore undamaged, covered in scallops.
Version 2: After James’ death his body was mysteriously transported by a ship with no crew back to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. As James’ ship approached land, a wedding was taking place on the shore. The young groom was on horseback, and on seeing the ship approaching, his horse got spooked, and the horse and rider plunged into the sea. Through miraculous intervention, the horse and rider emerged from the water alive, covered in seashells.

The scallop shell also acts as a metaphor. The grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes pilgrims traveled, eventually arriving at a single destination: the tomb of James in Santiago de Compostela. The shell is also a metaphor for the pilgrim. As the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God’s hand also guides the pilgrims to Santiago.

Why do I want to walk The Way? Because it’s there, and life’s too short not to. And I have no idea what the experience will bring, but I know something’s waiting.

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The Power of YES

“Say, yes. And if you’re lucky, you will find people who say ‘yes’ back. Now will saying yes, get you in trouble at times? Will saying yes, lead you to some foolish things? Yes, it will, but don’t be afraid to be a fool. Cynics don’t learn anything. Cynics always say no. But saying yes, begins things. It’s how things grow.” ~ Steven Colbert in his 2006 commencement speech to the graduates at Knox College.

***

This story isn’t about me, or even Harold, really.

It’s about the power of “yes,” and it’s true.

***

More than how it curbed my enthusiasm, I mostly remember how it outright dampened my spirit.

I’d just enjoyed an hourlong visit, and a cup of coffee with an old friend. Three years earlier, he’d presided over the ceremony where Dana and I became husband and wife.

We talked about life’s ups and downs, some common challenges we’d both shared, and how it can sometimes just wear you all down. Then he hit me with something I never expected.

“You know, I haven’t had a vacation in 17 years. I really need a vacation,” Harold said, explaining that he had neither the money, nor the time for a really relaxing trip.

Seventeen years. That’s a very long time.

This is Harold. Actually, his name is Bill Barber, and he's one of my wisest friends. Bill has said "yes" more times than anyone I know.

This is Harold. Actually, his name is Bill Barber, and he’s one of my wisest friends. Bill has said “yes” more times than anyone I know.

Minutes later, I left our visit determined to put the 75-year-old Harold and his wife on a plane to somewhere, anywhere, tropical, for at least a week. But I would need some help. I would surely need some “yesses.”

Harold is a man who goes above and beyond the call for whatever it is he’s called to do. For a year or more we attended the same church where Harold was then leading its membership through a time of transition to a point where a new pastor would ultimately be appointed. I got sick of the politics and left the church months long before it all came to pass, but faithful Harold stayed behind to lead where no one else could, and he wasn’t one bit mad at me for doing what I had to do. He just wanted me to be okay. That’s why I love Harold. He “gets” things.

For me, the very thought that Harold hadn’t seen a vacation in 17 years was unacceptable, and I intended to do something about it, and right fast, but I’d need some help.

On a dime, I scrapped the day’s schedule, and put on my fundraising hat. In a previous career as director of development at a 12,000-student university, I’d helped raised millions of dollars a year over several years, so the $5,000 we needed to put Harold and his wife on a plane to somewhere tropical would be no big deal, I thought, and I had every intention of raising it by 5 o’clock that afternoon, and putting Harold on a plane to somewhere tropical in the next two weeks.

I went back to my office and wrote down 10 names. Ten names in Harold’s church who I really thought would see the need and vision for this wonderful opportunity to “give back” to Harold for all his wisdom and leadership over the years. And, moreover, 10 names that I thought could cough up $500 each on the spot, and never miss a dime.

An hour later the list was on paper, and I was making phone calls.

“I think it’s a great idea, but I’m not sure the time is right,” one said. “Maybe in a few months.”

“Don’t you think this is something we ought to run by the leadership?” another asked.

“I see where you’re coming from, and admire the effort, but why such a hurry?” another finally confessed.

Less than halfway through the calling list, it was clear we weren’t going to put 75-year-old Harold and his wife on a plane to somewhere tropical that week, or any other time for that matter.

No one would say “yes,” to such a whimsical gesture from such an apparently naive dreamer.

Harold’s still there, giving as much as ever, and he’s not getting any younger.

Many months later “when the time was right,” the church leadership went on to acknowledge Harold. I’m pretty sure they gave him a certificate of achievement.

One day soon, I’m going to put Harold and his wife on a plane to somewhere tropical. Count on that.

***

To lead a movement, one of the greatest qualities a person can possess, I suggest, is the ability to say “yes” now, and figure out the “how” later.

Are you a leader? At your company? In your family? In your church?

Want to see your team make a difference? Learn how to give a reflexive YES. Stop throwing up barriers to the very people who want to make a difference.

Stop making them sense apprehension at the very thought of asking your PERMISSION.

Lead with a yes, and ask how later.

Now what laughable dream will you say yes to, today?

Say yes.

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Failure: Friend or Foe? (Part II)

https://www.dropbox.com/s/gdvnm5a7i6zj9od/Watkins_EverydayMissionaries_20121212.mov

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As a follow-up to this post yesterday, I’m attaching a 7-minute video clip produced by, and shown yesterday, at Fellowship Bible Church in Jonesboro, AR. Just click on the link above and enjoy.

For Dana and me, it chronicles our life during the last three years, how things seemingly fell apart, and then,  how God responded to it all with the most laughable dream we could ever imagine.

Life is good.

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Failure: Friend or Foe? (Part I)

(Blogger‘s Note: This is the first in a two-post series on how I look at failure. I’ll post Part II this afternoon in the form a a 7-minute video – a short testimony from Dana and me, produced by Fellowship Bible Church of Jonesboro, AR)

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“I’ve come to believe that all my past failure and frustration were actually laying the foundation for the understandings that have created the new level of living I now enjoy.” ~ Tony Robbins

***

Kings of  Failure. Queens of Regret.

Thank goodness God wants us to live in a Realm of Redemption because I invent new ways to fail every day.

And I wouldn’t exactly call failure my friend, but he’s someone with whom I’m very well acquainted.

In fact, up until not too long ago, when anyone asked me about the one thing in life that motivated me most, my response would’ve been – fear of failure. How screwed up is that?

Mile 25 at the St. Jude Memphis Marathon, just looking for the finish line.

Mile 25 at the St. Jude Memphis Marathon, just looking for the finish line.

One day in 2005, after nine months of training, and just moments after completing my first 26.2-mile marathon, all I could think about was the failure of having missed my finishing time goal by 20 minutes. The fact that I’d just finished the monumental race – unfortunately, it was meaningless.

One day in 2008 I woke up to the realization that I was divorced, a business failure, broke, and a likely disappointment in a new marriage to the most amazing woman I’d ever met.

And one day shortly thereafter, my professional and personal life went dark, absent of a vision, and I thought I’d never again have the opportunity to work again in the communication business I loved so much.

It took a long time to grasp, ever so slightly, the concept of Grace, and my freedom to fail without penalty.

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 3:12-14

Experienced failure? Let people down? Got guilt? Violated the very thing you knew was right?

What does God say to that? This, I think, maybe…

“I’m not going to ask for your transcript or your resume. Fallen short?

“It’s okay. And it’s okay to Own It. But I’m God, so for God’s Sake, Own It, But Stop Carrying it Around.”

Watch for the video post later today and see how, for Dana and me, our greatest failures turned into the realization of our most Laughable Dreams.

“The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of, and response to, failure.” ~ John Maxwell, Failing Forward

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Are Christians the Least Forgiving People on the Planet?

“I could be a really good Christian if it just weren’t for other people.” ~ unknown

As research for an upcoming book project, I recently posed this open question to anyone who wished to respond:

Do you believe Christians are more forgiving of sinners outside the church than they are to their own “brothers & sisters” inside the church? Example: If a man or woman had an affair as a member of the church body, would members be less forgiving of them than they would to someone who was not a church member? Are Christians nothing more than cannibals who devour their own?

Sweden Zombie Walk

The question was prompted by a recent story in Christianity Today, titled “Going to Hell with Ted Haggard.

The response was overwhelming. Read of few of these unedited reader comments, and feel free to add to the interesting (and very civilized, I might add) discussion…

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Maybe not cannibals… but they do have a way of shunning for a real long time. Even then, the whispers continue.

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Now this is just my opinion … I think yes, if you truly ask for forgiveness of your sins, I think it would then be a sin of the fellow church members to not forgive you … nobody lives a perfect life … isn’t it also a sin to judge others ?

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cannibalThe measure of grace that we show is usually directly correlated to how close to home the sin occurs.

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As a general observance, I don’t see the majority of Christians being very forgiving at all, to either party. However, personally, I tend to be grace-filled/forgiving more to believers who are truly repentant and not as much to unrepentant believers … as for unbelievers. It just depends on the situation and how close it hits home for me (see comment above). I say all of this realizing that my feelings on forgiveness are subjective and not at all what they should be, obviously.

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I am one of those folks who doesn’t lead the life that most Christians would approve of, but I do my best, and I have faith that grace will save me from any of my earthly mistakes.

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I have to keep going back to your question! Romans 3:23 tells us that everyone sins. I believe that to be truth. Each of us, daily, makes mistakes. But I believe that we are to hate the sin and love the sinner. So that is why Gal 6:1 makes sense to me. We are to restore those who have made bad choices.

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I’m not going to quote any bible passages but I do know that good christian people make cannibalmistakes and sin frequently. But is it also not a sin to judge people? Especially when you have not personally walked in their shoes. I grew up in a christian family with parents that were truly heaven-sent. But I know what it is like to do something so against what you were taught and wish you could just crawl under a rock or make time turn back. From my experience, the guilt I experienced was worse than anything anyone else could do to me due to the fact I was a christian. What I’m trying to say is, instead of judging each other, christian to christian, why can’t we just be there for each other. Sometimes that’s all people need. The problem is between them and their God after all.

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In theory, they should be. In reality, unfortunately it doesn’t happen that way most of the time. The hypocrisy of those that CLAIM to be Christians blinds the view of what being a Christian should be so often. And I’m definitely not saying every Christian is like this; I’m saying those that are, ruin the true meaning of what being a Christian is about. I know this doesn’t answer the question, but I think this is why so many people lose faith.

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If we could all be saved and have no further fears of making a mistake or committing a sin, why would Jesus have stressed the importance of fellowship? Am I not to be just as good an example to my fellow Christians as I am to a sinner, up to, and including, the understanding and forgiveness that all of life is one day at a time? Not one of us, whether or not we are at church every time the doors are open, is perfect. I depend on my church family to lift me up in prayer and mercy just as I do each of them.

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We are in the Kingdom because of Redemption. It’s God’s best work. I’m compelled to believe it should be ours as well. Awesome discussion.

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Generally when folks are judgmental and unforgiving, I believe they are frightened of their own vulnerability to the action they are condemning, inside, as well as outside the church. Which is less forgiving? Not sure. I suspect that it us good Christian people. Somewhere through the centuries church membership became confused with Pharisee-ism, where we get to decide who is in, and who is out. It makes us feel safe if we see someone else step in it.

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Don’t think I can add anything that hasn’t been said, but I enjoyed reading this feed & seeing a discussion carried out the way adults should speak with one another!

What would you add to the discussion?

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2012 in Review: A Few Favorite Reader Comments

blogger

Today marks my 230th post since taking up residency on WordPress in late January. Lots of great discussion. The posts will be fewer and farther between for the remainder of the year as we take on some new business opportunities thousands of miles away. The interaction with readers has been my highest honor during 2012. Here are some of my favorite reader comments from the year.

And special thanks to the blogging buddies represented in the three visuals below for their steadfast encouragement throughout the year:

www.project-40.com

www.ourcrowdedheart.wordpress.com

www.writingstraight.com

1. Very inspirational post. This is why you’re on my blogroll – in response to this post.project-40-logo12

2. If there were a way to better put this into words, I would, but can’t. So I’ll simply say thank you for writing this and making it available to a somewhat lost soul who’s often given up on healing and who so desperately needed to hear these words today – in response to this post.

3. Unpatriotic, left-wing, democratic garbage – in response to this post.

4. Steve, this is not funny. Obviously, you’re not the man I thought you were – also in response to the post cited in #3 above.

holly michael5. Your bucket list is not just a list. It’s a framework for how you’ll live your life. You’ve inspired me to create my own bucket list – in response to this post.

6. You’re a very blessed man, but I can see that you already know that – in response to this post.

7. Love your boldness,  Steve, but wasn’t the reader whose comment offended you also within his First Amendment rights? Don’t people have the right to say they don’t want to hear what you have to say? – in response to this post.

8. Thanks for this post. It really helped me understand SEO strategies – in response to this post.

9. Thanks for putting into writing what most of us are thinking – in response to this post.rhonda hardisty

10. I don’t like it. I love it. Best blogging advice I’ve seen on the web – in response to this post.

11. Your dad looks like a young Paul Newman in this photo – blues eyes and all – in response to this post.

Tomorrow:

12.21.2012 – What Time Does the World End Because I Have a Plane to Catch That Day. Seriously.

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The Parable of Waste Management

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” ~ John 8:32

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Each morning’s routine was different, but there was always a routine.

It went something like this:

Four o’clock wake-up call, two cups of decaf coffee (half teaspoon Splenda, one small splash French vanilla cream); 10 minutes of Seinfeld; 4:30 dress for run with all the attire perfectly placed on the guest bedroom floor the preceding night; out the door at 5 for a three-mile run; back in the door at 5:40 (give or take); think about breakfast for the twins; lay out their matching clothes for the day; shower; then wake-up call for everyone else in the family, and the madness begins.

Parable of Waste ManagementAnd Monday mornings were especially exciting since it was garbage pickup day.

Jenna was totally OCD.

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Her organizational skills trumped all others. She was super wife, super mom, super friend, super bank vice president; super community volunteer and super everything. Schedule and a daily checklist were her inspiration, all coordinated from the calendar and notes of her mini Ipad. She managed an unmanageable schedule with total, masterful control.

Almost always.

If she could only control her garbage…

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Weekly curbside garbage pickup came to Jenna’s quiet cove about 10:15 every Monday morning. Around 5 p.m., each Sunday, Jenna wheeled the garbage can to its proper place near the driveway curve and parked it at a proper 90 degree angle adjacent to the street. It brought a certain feeling of triumph each Monday morning when the garbage was picked up, and hauled away.

Checklist. Check.

The garbage was gone, hauled to a distant landfill, and never seen again. Sort of.

As much as she loved taking the garbage out and sending it way, one thing still really nagged at Jenna. It was her trash can. Specifically, the bottom of her trash can.

Every two weeks, Jenna made a trip to Wal-Mart to stock up on household supplies. Garbage bags were almost always on the Ipad list, and Jenna didn’t skimp for the cheap bags. She bought the 40-ply, scented bags that held everything and covered up the odors accumulated by a family of four each week.

But frequently, there was a problem with the bags, and for someone like Jenna, it was a nagging problem she could never quite release.

No matter how carefully, how strategically, how methodically, Jenna Parable of Waste Managementplaced items in the trash can, something always seemed to pierce the best bags money could buy, and what remained behind was awful.

Whatever pierced the trash bag on a given week facilitated the dripping stuff that quietly oozed to the bottom of the can. Spoiled milk, spaghetti sauce, yogurt, all the disgusting liquids that never stay in the tightly wrapped boneless chicken breast package.

They all made their way to the bottom – a collective, offensive concoction – the foulest of reminders of the family’s garbage – and it was putrid. Every week.

Each Sunday evening, Jenna would take the garbage out, pleased to send it on its way, only to come back to the trash can, see the remaining filth, stare it down, and curse it. She washed it thoroughly with bleach every week, but it always came back. Some weeks what remained was less grotesque than others, but, in some form, it was always there.

She often wondered what it would be like if there were a garbage bag that could hold everything. Everything? …and be sent away forever so she could move on to other things.

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The Parable of the Weary Traveler and Her Heavy Bag

“Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” ~ Acts 10:43

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It seemed just like yesterday that Matt snagged up last-minute travel deal

own it. but for god's sake stop carrying it around.

I’m always at my best when packing light. One bag for on the fly is usually all I need. And it feels good, because it’s not HEAVY.

straight from his inbox. Four days and three nights in Cozumel for cheap. Now it was quickly coming to an end, and all that remained was the logistics of a two-hour international flight home.

Passports, customs, what to declare. So many rules after so much fun.

Always on the lookout to break the daily grind, Matt and his free-spirited wife Chase, were prone to such whimsical adventures simply because they loved the unexpected.

Airport veterans, they now stood in the baggage check line some  70 frequent flyers deep among the back and forth rows of weary, but tanned and rested travelers.

Chase took note of a prominent sign just ahead that read:

“Cell Phone Use is FORBIDDEN in this line.”

It is Forbidden!

They shared a quick laugh and a couple of Soup Nazi jokes, and moved three steps ahead.

***

own it but for god's sake stop carrying it aroundOne young traveler about 30 up in line somehow stood out and caught Matt and Chase’s attention. An early 20-something with long blonde hair and an athletic build, she was toting about all she could handle. Two standard carry-ons and two bags for check-in. One of the check-in bags was quite large.

The young traveler seemed anxious as she approached a scale midway through the line – a scale permitting passengers to weigh their bags in advance of the counter. If a bag exceeded a certain weight limit, she’d have to pay extra.

With each shuffle step forward the young traveler scooted her bags ever so closer to the scale – her Moment of Truth.

A few minutes later she stood before the scale, and the dread was evident in her eyes.

Sure enough, one particularly large bag exceeded the limit. It was packed way too heavy.

The young traveler obviously owned a lot of stuff, and moreover, she’d picked up some additional keepsakes in Cozumel. So she had to pack those things too, on top of everything she already owned just to get it all home safely.

Matt and Chase were now focused on the young traveler to see what she’d do next.

steven w watkins

Appropriately unfocused and blurry, that’s exactly how I feel when I carry around too much baggage. Bogged down, and heavy.

Most of what the young traveler owned appeared quite frivilous  and unnecessary to live life comfortably while traveling on the fly. But because she owned so many things, she felt obliged to carry them around. Everywhere. Everywhere she went. And the things she carried were heavy and most burdensome beyond any benefit they provided.

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Flinging the overpacked bag off the scale, the young traveler went on a frenzy. Unzipping this bag and that, shuffling swim suits and curling irons from one bag to the next. To avoid the weight limit penalty she’d have to distribute all she owned more evenly amongst all the baggage.

With any degree of success she’d still have to carry it all, but to get past this checkpoint, this hurdle, this moment, she had to redistribute and better compartmentalize.

So she repacked the baggage and placed the big bag on the scale once again.

Still too heavy.  Try again. Repack once more.

People behind her are waiting, and now she’s become the focus of everyone’s attention. Everyone wonders if the young traveler can manipulate everything she owns to get past the checkpoint without penalty.

She repacks. Underwear and dirty laundry fly. Literally. Others are now telling her how to shift things around. Everyone’s pulling for the young traveler. Put this here, put that there, they say. She’s almost oblivious and inwardly focused now. At all costs, she does not want to pay that penalty.

Restuff, rezip. It’s all back in. Another faceoff with The Moment of Truth. The scale reads 47 pounds. Proceed and move on. You’ve done it. This time.

All the young traveler owns is now properly packed for the moment – more evenly distributed to get past the checkpoint. The Moment of  Truth permitted her to pass in this circumstance. This time.

Funny thing though. Properly redistributed as her belongings may now be … it’s all just as heavy as it was before. Everything still weighs exactly what it weighed before. And it’s still heavy.

***

Today, whatever you’ve done, whatever burdens you may carry, no matter how heavy they may be – own them. For all that you’ve done, own it.

But for God‘s Sake, stop carrying it all around.

Stop it. Don’t do it anymore.

It is FORBIDDEN!!!

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Related posts:

Own It.

The Parable of the Enlightened Christian

Why Are You So Aggressive…

Why Are You So Aggressive Toward the Things You Believe are Wrong?

(BLOGGER‘S NOTE: For a writer (at least for me, I should say) there’s no higher honor than reader commentary – good, bad or indifferent – it’s my cocaine. Last night, I threw out a quick Facebook post about my dilemma for choosing today’s blog post, with low expectations for feedback, and was overwhelmed with the response. Allow me this moment to say “thank you” to each of you, and anyone who reads either regularly or sporadically. From my heart, thank you. So … discounting the lady who submitted votes on behalf of her three pets, here’s today’s winner.) ~ steve

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There it was, tucked away in the in-box, about at subtle as an elephant walking into the room. It came during what was a nearly 24-hour social-media hiatus, and when I returned, it was waiting.

The private, in-box message was a reader response to this Sunday post, one that left me physically, spiritually and emotional drained. Depleted. Spent.

It was one of my anti-religion posts. If you’re a regular, or even occasional reader at this site and don’t have the faintest idea what I mean by anti-religion there’s probably no point in reader further, so go on and have a nice day.

***

The subconscious is an amazing thing, is it not? Hiding back there in the shadow, lurking just behind the soul, prodding a low-grade awareness of certain things we may or may not wish to recall, yet always there.

Know this. When a reader points to a writer the very same thing the subconscious reminds him/herself about – well, it’s revelation.

***

Seeing the name, I opened the in-box message as a priority and quickly came to an attached YouTube video. Less than 10 seconds in, the narrator posed to himself this question:

“Why am I so aggressive toward the things I believe are wrong?”

And so Jay Gunter, a man in many ways my spiritual soul mate, had done it

aggressive behavior

For me, it’s an ongoing exercise to just breath, and relax.

again. Pointing out something he AND my subconscious knew, but bringing it to the surface for my own awareness’ sake.

I’d show you the video here, but it’s much more powerful a bit down the line, so come along, you’ll get it soon.

In the meantime, why am I so aggressive toward the things I believe are wrong?

***

As a writer soliciting public consumption, I’ve been called everything. Unpatriotic, blasphemer, un-American. One reader even called me the blackest white guy he’d ever known.  And because of my style, I consider the latter high praise, for I’ve never wanted to fit into any certain genre.

The question the narrator posed took me back about 10 days, when a man I hadn’t seen in 20 years asked me to meet with him and discuss blogging of all things. He drove 75 miles to ask for some tips on how to get where he wanted to go, and so first I posed the most obvious question:

“Just where is it you want to go?

His response was not only transparently profound. It was as if his words had come right out of my own mouth.

“I’m 50 years old now,” he said, “and because of so many life circumstances, I’ve been quiet. If you and I sat across this table from one another even just three years ago, and you offered up an opinion on some topic where I felt the polar opposite, I’d have stayed quiet just for the sake of avoiding confrontation. But I can’t do that any more because I realize it has to come out, and I realize I haven’t been true to myself all this time.”

This guy’s gonna be a good blogger one day. Really good.

I have to be true to myself. It has to come out. I can’t do it any more.

Been there. Done that. Yes.

In response to the question at hand, I suppose this is what I’d say:

I’m so aggressive toward the things I believe are wrong because they’re the very things about which I’m most passionate … and I’ve spent a lot of years suppressing passion. It’s time to be true to myself.

***

why are men so intense

Unfortunately, intensity and aggression are prevalent, even in a friendly golf match with best buddies. You’ve gotta get your game face on, right?

Jay’s comments, and the message in his attached video, put me in an introspective mood, and I set aside a time to consider for myself: Why am I so aggressive toward the things I believe are wrong? I set the time aside because when a wise man offers up such a notion, it’s wise, in turn, to ponder it one’s self.

A bit later, I pulled out pen and paper and wrote down the topics that spark my writer’s aggression and considered all the reasons I believe they are so wrong.

So here’s my list:

1. Chief among them is the very thing we’ve all made of “the church.” Now, you’re about to get the opportunity to click on that video I promised earlier, but first, one of many personal experiences … and it’s one of ONLY many:

I’ve been a member of, or attended just about every denominational church you can imagine. Three years or so ago at the outset of an extended personal depression (yes, I can talk about depression for there’s no shame therein) I joined a non-denominational church. Almost immediately, the skids came off a place that previously seemed really safe.

This is a church most caught up in itself, focused inward, inside four walls. Structural leadership is regarded in high esteem. Elders are elected by the body, the elders, in turn, manipulate the people, and the people back-bite the elders on any given Sunday.

Losing control, the body fired the pastor, created a tri-lateral bureaucracy and spent the next nine months immersed in writing a set of rules and regulations for governance they call the constitution and bylaws. And in the end, they recreated what they originally established 30 years before – a self-governed fiefdom, blinded to genuine outreach.

Those are sharp words, for which I am accountable.

So if that account is self-righteous on my part, it’s mine, and mine only, for which to answer. But such a thing makes it hard to stay quiet, and I necessarily removed myself from the circumstance. I wish they would simply own it, and move on to better days.

As one friend recently, and so aptly put it, the value of most churches today is keeping the sin franchise alive.

If you have five minutes to set aside today, in no other way could it be more well spent than viewing this video. It profoundly captures what we’ve all done to the church.

2. Legislating morality. What a slippery slope. Most of my closest friends maintain strong positions on immigration, same-sex marriage, the death penalty, abortion, etc. For the record, and morally, I agree with them. But I simply do not believe we can legislate morality because it’s forced, enacted absent of love and sends the “minorities” an entirely ineffective message. I’ve learned over time that true heart change comes only from within and we can never impose “goodness” on others. Even if it makes us feel good, it NEVER works for the greater glory, or higher purpose. And so I stand against it, wholeheartedly, but respectfully. That’s a whole different column in the upcoming post list.

3. Racial intolerance. What can I say? It’s prevalent around me and I hate it.

4. Repressing freedom of speech. It’s truly one cause for which I believe every veteran would say he fought. The most aggressive post I ever wrote was one that conjured up a reader’s comment telling me to hush up. It’s one of the few times I’ve completely reacted to such a comment, and I’m not sure if I’m sorry or not about my response.

5. Self-righteousness. This was never more fiendishly prevalent than in the U.S. presidential race that turned into a red-state, blue-state debate over who had the higher morality – and a week later, it still saturates every venue in social media. The debate was good for us in many ways, but it became so personal.

One kind reader offered last night that she took such a strong position in support of Mitt Romney she believed she’d offended some people and reluctantly stopped offering her opinions. I wonder if this piece will offer her any condolence or recompense?

6. Passive-aggressive manipulation. I’m all for aggression, but I loathe passivity. Say it straight up, face-to-face, or don’t say it at all. Don’t be a coward.

7. Cultural superiority complex. Ever been to a foreign country and become frustrated with the way things work there? Have it in mind they are doing things all wrong? The world’s beauty is found in all the ways people do things differently. Right or wrong is all in your mind.

8. Rules. I truly believe Jesus died because he knew we could never follow the rules. I’m self-employed now, and hope never to be corporately employed again. Especially when it comes to managing creative people, I believe it’s the greatest misunderstanding in the corporate world today. Truly creative people can’t follow rules. Mathematically, I’d express it in this way:

Freedom³ x (x) = ∞

In words: Give a creative person, ultimate and unwavering freedom, and there is no limit to their capacity for achievement and success.

9. Hidden agendas. I (and probably you) see it all the time, and it flies in the very face of transparent value.

10. Blasphemy – It’s that which crosses the line of loving your enemy. I’m guilty many times over, and I hate it as much when I do it, as when I see it in others.

image of marathon runner

Perhaps the most intense moment of my life summoning up all the aggression I could muster — Mile 25 of my first marathon – the Memphis St. Jude. At Mile 25, a man poses to himself many questions including, but not limited to: What the Hell am I trying to prove, and to whom am I trying to prove it?

Two final notes on aggressiveness:

“Now, there’s one thing you men will be able to say when you get back home. And you may thank God for it. Thirty years from now when you’re sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee and he asks you, ‘What did you do in the Great World War II?’, you won’t have to say, ‘Well, I shoveled shit in Louisiana.'” ~ George C. Scott as General George S. Patton speaking to the  Third Army in the movie, “Patton”

  • Ever watched a young boy play? His spiritual DNA causes him to turn fingers into guns, sticks into swords and dirt clods into grenades. He’s built to fight and defend honor. Young boys aspire to become the likes of cowboys, police officers and astronauts, seeking a life full of adventure. No young boy dreams of living in a van down by the river.
  • Much of our confusion comes from misunderstanding the character of Jesus and the whole “meek” thing. It’s a whole different topic for an entirely different day, but research it yourself. Jesus was anything but a passive, man who stood on the sidelines.

***

I have no idea what dialogue this may bring. I say only this.

Raise up the brave warrior within you my friends, and bring it.

You’ve been great. I’ll be here all night.

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The Parable of the Enlightened Christian

leap of faith

Her most treasured photo, Dana calls this, “Leap of Faith.” I call it, “Enlightened Man.” Near Casablanca, Morocco.

“…that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth, he confesses, resulting in salvation.” ~ Romans 10:9-10

***

All photos by Dana Hoggard Watkins

Two men.

Aydin, at 71, rests in a hospital bed. He’s just come to terms with an incurable diagnosis. It will take his life in days, if not, weeks.

Nabal is a Christian pastor, who for the last 40 years dedicated his life in service to the Lord. He’s led many flocks, built many churches. He updates his resume twice a year with an endless list of accomplishments for which he’s tirelessly worked. There’s a kingdom to build out there, and it requires a lot of work.

Circumstances prompt a meeting between the two men in Hospital Room 2008, and they form a kinship.

In the precious days to follow, Aydin opens up to Nabal. He describes a life of regret. Booze. Women. Foul language, and everything else you can throw into the kitchen sink. Aydin wishes his time had been more well spent.

But Nabal replies with a message of hope.

“What’s important is this moment,” the spiritual veteran says. “Have you made the decision to acknowledge Jesus as the Lord and Savior of your life? We can say a prayer right now and your scarlet sins will become white as snow.”

“I’m not ready, but maybe I will be soon,” Aydin replies. “I just need to think on things some more.”

Good News: Aydin now owns his sins and shortcomings.

No-So-Good-News: He’s still got baggage, and he’s carrying it around. Everywhere. And it’s heavy.

sunset near casablanca, morocco

Sunset near Casablanca, Morocco.

And so Nabal plants a seed. In the waning hours, the seed takes root, and grows in Aydin’s heart.

Days pass. Friends and family come to Aydin’s bedside for what everybody knows may be their final visit. The times are pleasant, good memories shared. There’s even laughter, and everyone who leaves Hospital Room 2008 senses something different. Something they can’t quite comprehend.

Despite the dire circumstances, Aydin seems relaxed, peaceful, happy, and not quite his former self. There’s a newness about him. Transparency. Freedom, if you will.

Three days later, something rouses in Aydin’s spirit. His new-found freedom stirs thoughts to acknowledgement, and acknowledgement, to action.

Aydin tells his faithful wife of 47 years he wants to be baptized.

And so Aydin’s wife, beside herself with joy, calls Nabal requesting that he come to the hospital right quick. No explanation of why. Just come, Nabal. Please come.

Nabal puts it on his list of priorities, but first preaches his Sunday sermon because he carries an obligation to his flock. He’s been charged with a duty he takes most seriously, and first things first.

He rushes through the normally relaxed three-point message, shakes a few hands on the way out and heads directly to Hospital Room 2008 where Aydin awaits.

Aydin’s faithful wife, meets Nabal outside the door.

over the skies of Greece

Somewhere over the skies of Greece.

“He wants to be baptized,” she says, smiling, knowing nothing else to say beyond just that.

“That’s wonderful. Praise the Lord,” Nabal replies, all the while, Aydin awaits anxiously in the bed inside Hospital Room 2008. “We’ll make the arrangements.”

“No, you don’t understand,” she says. “He wants to do it right now. He’s asked the entire family to come and witness, and everyone’s on the way.”

And Nabal goes silent. It’s a long silence before he offers a reply.

A baptism’s not possible in Hospital Room 2008, he says, because the Bible specifies the proper procedure, and it includes a “full-immersion.”

Aydin’s wife looks confused.

“We don’t care about the full immersion,” she says. “A sprinkling will be fine. He just wants to make the public profession of faith, and everyone’s on the way.”

“But he can’t be fully immersed,” Nabal responds. “I don’t conduct baptism with a sprinkling, or anything short of full immersion. It’s our doctrine.”

“But this is just for him,” she says. “It’s what he wants, and we don’t know how much longer he has left. It’s time.”

“I can’t do it,” he said. “He can’t be fully immersed.”

And Nabal returns to his home, and his flock. And he never sees Aydin’s family again.

Four days later, Aydin died, but he’s never been more alive.

TOMORROW: “The Parable of the Enlightened Church.”

For related posts see:

Days and My Dad

Forty Things You Feel 40 Days After Your Dad Dies

-30-