Once Upon a Time…

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lauraritchie/ via https://flic.kr/p/cSuLVN

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lauraritchie/ via https://flic.kr/p/cSuLVN

Once upon a time…

Four little words that fill us with anticipation, that open wide horizons, that set us on a journey to Who Knows Where. Four little words. Filled with power to create.

I’ve been thinking today of J.R.R. Tolkien, who gave us the wonderful world of Middle Earth, and hobbits, and wizards, and elves, and dwarves, and dragons, and adventures that enchant and inspire us.

According to Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac, Tolkien was grading student papers at Oxford when he came across a blank page. For whatever reason, he filled that student’s blank space with the words…

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

…and a whole new world was born.

El Camino de San Carlo…

Camino de Santiago

Creative Commons License Luis Hernandez via Compfight

Ever since I saw the movie The Way, I’ve been fascinated by the pilgrimage on The Way of Saint James, El Camino de Santiago. The ancient trek from many points in Europe leads to Compostela near the western coast of Spain. Pilgrims have traveled this road for hundreds of years and for hundreds of reasons.

When I say I’m fascinated by the pilgrimage, I mean to say that I’m interested in reading and learning about it. My heart says to be fascinated means that one day, I may walk The Way as a pilgrim. My spirit says to be fascinated means that one day, I should walk The Way as a pilgrim. But my mind says to be fascinated with The Way means play it safe, put aside the silly notion, and forget ever walking The Way as a pilgrim.

“Experience and enjoy the Camino vicariously through the exploits of others younger, freer, richer, and bolder,” my brain shouts.

Then I think today, though I may never embark join The Way of Saint James, I am walking The Way of Saint Charlie every day!

Pilgrims on the Camino say they start on The Way for a hundred different reasons or for no reason at all, but they end up at Compostela different than when they began. The Way changes them. The Way prods them along. The Way clarifies and mystifies, they say. And they say The Way, while ending up in the same destination, is very different for each of them. To walk The Way of Saint James is a journey inside as well as along an ancient path.

The Way of Saint Charlie is like that, too. I’m heading in the general direction of an ultimate destination, and I’m making the trek that countless others have made before me. I’m walking that well-worn path along with countless others, and we’re heading in the same direction.

But I have to walk The Way of Saint Charlie. I have to find my reason, my purpose, my motivation for walking. I have to stay focused on my horizon, my, markers, my shell. I have to carry my gear, drop my burden at the Cross of Iron, and make my way my own.

Random Thoughts, 01.14.15…

había lluvia

Drew Herron via Compfight

It’s been a few days since I posted My500Words output here on the ol’ blog. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have written most days during this challenge, but I haven’t considered all those words worthy or public enough to put up in this space.)

So here we are, almost halfway through the month, and I need to get some words up here. So here are some unrelated random thoughts that dropped out of my head on the way to somewhere else…

  • Both of my side gigs seem to be running beyond their expiration date. When it’s not fun, and you don’t feel like you’re making a difference anymore, it may be a good indication a change is in order. The problem with that is the side gigs are making a difference in the financial picture. On one hand, it feels like you may need to move on or change up for your sanity’s sake. On the other hand, the stress of the missing income may be greater than the stress of the two side gigs. Either way, it’s not a good place to feel trapped by the necessity of staying with something that may not be as beneficial as it once was.
  • I may be rethinking the whole paper and pencil thing. See, I’ve  been a big fan of the Moleskine notebook, the Black Warrior pencil, the Pink Pearl eraser, and the Staedtler barrel sharpener as long as I can remember. There’s just been something about the whole notebook thing. After all, Hemingway sat in the café in Paris, drinking, watching, and writing it all down in his blue-backed notebook. Lately, though, especially during this 500 Word Challenge, it has been easier to type than write. I’ve been using a variety of tools: Pages, Text Edit, Microsoft Word (for Windows and for Mac), and the native WordPress input screen. (Believe it or not, I’m partial to the simplicity of Text Edit on the iMac.)
  • I was intimidated by the challenge of writing 500 words. But I’ve been surprised by how quickly the words pile up, once you put your fingers on the keys and start typing. (I’m at 363 right now.) The problem for me is I see the mistakes and the needed edits as I type, and it’s almost impossible to let them go until the end.
  • The other problem is not having anything worthwhile to write. I know the other folks in this challenge have been patient and supportive and encouraging. I get that, and I appreciate that. Finding your voice, finding your subject, having something to say is a bigger deal than most people imagine!
  • Finally, a little gnat bite from one of the side gigs this morning. When you say you have questions about why we’re open on New Year’s Day but closed on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, it’s not real hard to see what you really mean. Trust me, it’s not. It says a lot about your character and attitudes. You can smirk and shrug it off as you walk out of the building, but it’s evident.

OK…rant off, random brain drippings contained, over 500 words on the blog, and life is good!

This is the only Wednesday you’re going to get this week…make it count!

Someone Else’s Story…

Va. Guard engineers support Battle of Fredericksburg reenactment

Virginia Guard Public Affairs via Compfight

(Today’s prompt for the My500Words challenge is: Tell someone else’s story.)

As a preacher, I tell Someone Else’s Story all the time. I don’t have anything worthwhile to say, but the Someone Else that I tell about has a lot to say! The issue is whether or not I’m telling that Someone Else’s Story in a way that He would approve.

On the other hand, there is another aspect to my life practice of telling someone else’s stories. When we tell someone else’s stories, we are limited because we know how those stories turned out. We know where the twists are. We are aware that what seemed to be crucial turning points when the stories were first told have become familiar and expected. Those turns have almost become clichés in many circles.

The other problem we have with telling someone else’s stories is that we become accustomed to thinking our stories should turn out like their stories did. If it worked that way for someone else, we reason, then it should work that way for me, too. We are often disappointed for we feel entitled to walking the paths that others have walked and ending up at the same destination.

If Someone Else fed the dejected prophet by miraculous means, then we expect He should do that for us, too. When the sick woman gets better immediately, we are troubled if our own disease doesn’t miraculously resolve. When the lions don’t have a snack, and when the fire doesn’t consume, we assume our experiences should reflect that reality. If struggles with illness, famine, and other dire circumstances turned out well for those others, then my struggles should have the same result.

And there’s the thing about telling someone else’s stories. While I have someone else’s stories to teach me principles and guide me to Someone Else’s truth, the fact is I’m me.

Myself.

With my own story.

I’m not someone else. I can’t exit my existence and live in someone else’s reality. I can’t walk the way they walked. I have to live my story. I have to face my struggle and look for Someone Else’s lessons in my circumstances.

The good news is that Someone Else – who has worked in someone else’s stories before – is still in business. Someone Else’s Story is ongoing, and I get the incredible opportunity to jump into The Story and write a line or two. Whitman wrote:

…the powerful play goes on, and and you may contribute a verse.

What verse will I write today? How will I contribute to the Story Someone Else is writing? Will my verse, my lines, be a worthy addition? Where will my story take me today?

Sad…

starbucks cup, red door, brown leaf

Sarah Gilbert via Compfight

The saddest place in America is Starbucks the day they stop using the red cups after Christmas. The second saddest place is the Christmas decorations aisle of the department store when all the leftover trimmings go on sale.

After all the anticipation starting at Thanksgiving, all of a sudden, Christmas is over.

Just. Over.

It comes. It goes. And we are left with a cleanup job we are hesitant to do.

Even if you celebrate Christmas the way it’s celebrated according to the liturgical calendar – Twelve Days, Epiphany, and all that – there is still something quite depressing about finally letting go of Christmas and getting back to the normal routine.

I drove down my street yesterday, looking at the houses that still had Christmas decorations up. I wondered if the folks inside just hadn’t gotten around to cleaning up or if they were keeping their decorations up to prolong the joy of the holiday season as long as possible.

I wondered if there were loved ones – maybe serving in the military – who hadn’t made it home yet. Maybe the decorations were ready for a delayed Christmas homecoming.

I wondered if the children and grandchildren were far off at Christmas. Maybe they were with the “other” parents and their families. Perhaps there was an unexpected crisis that postponed the holiday at home.

Maybe those families just can’t bear the thought of the effort required to take down and pack up.

For whatever reason, leftover decorations in the first full week of January seem, well…sad.

The routine beckons. There are things to do. The kids are back in school. The office will be in full swing. It’s back to “normal,” whatever that means these days.

But I say there’s an antidote. I say take the decorations down, fine.

But I also say keep Christmas alive all week, all month, and yep…even all year long. That’s the transformative power of Christmas in its truest sense. That’s how crotchety old Scrooge changed to generous new Ebenezer. He said, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol).

Sad to see Christmas end? Sure! Disappointed that it’s over, at least for another year? Absolutely! But until Labor  Day (when everyone starts listening to Christmas music!), you and I can keep the joy of Christmas alive.

Reboot, Part 1…

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 Image:  Acid Pix via https://flic.kr/p/dPcExT

Sometimes we encounter problems and issues with our computers, phones, and other devices that can only be resolved with a complete reboot. Powering down the device completely and giving it a chance to fix the issue is often the only recourse. In fact, some experts tell us we should schedule regular times of powering down and rebooting to keep or devices running at optimal effectiveness.

We’re like that, too. Just like our devices, we encounter issues that can only be resolved by a time of rebooting. I’ve come to recognize some of the symptoms in my life that may indicate it’s time for a reboot.

I need a reboot when…

  •  I’m isolated. I’m not talking about the time alone that most of us need more than we admit. I’m not talking about being an introvert by temperament. I’m talking about those times in my life when I go out of my way to avoid other people, even those who are in my close network of support. When I find myself shutting people out and retreating to the places where I can stay away from others, I may need a reboot. As an introvert living in a world that tilts toward extroverts, I need some time away to recharge and refocus. But I also need to realize I was created for community and any excuse I find to get away from others over an extended time is a good indicator I need to reboot.
  • I’m impatient. A sure sign of impending failure for me is my short fuse that gets shorter when I’m stressed or under pressure. Every little thing sets me off and makes me irritable. Things that I normally ignore or try to resolve peacefully seem to fester from “gnat bites” into major events. I need to reboot when my patience is running thin over minor issues.
  • I’m inconsistent. In my work, in my ethical dealings, in the way I treat others and issues. When my work starts to slip into shoddiness, I may need to step back, rest, and refocus on excellence. When I start to cut ethical corners with little thought, it may be time for a reboot and a heart check. When my relationships reflect a lack of consistency and compassion, it’s often a sign of something wrong in my system. I need to check that and restart with a commitment to do what’s right.

Next time, I’ll give some practical pointers on how to make that reboot effective.

Until then, think about the issues that get your system off track and out of sorts. Can you identify those triggers and symptoms?

How to Pick a Champion

UPDATE: With about 4 minutes left in the third quarter of the Rose Bowl, Oregon leads FSU 39-20. I wrote this post before game time. They still have the ugliest uniforms in all of college football, but it looks like they also have a spot in the national championship game.

Here we are approaching the climactic point in the annual chase for the college football national championship. Somebody, somewhere decided that there are four teams in the land worthy of playing for the honor. Fans all over the country are divided as to the validity of the selections: my team would’ve been in, should’ve been in, could’ve been in, etc.

As a fan of college football, I’ve decided I need to figure out which team I’ll root for in the four-team tournament. I thought I’d give you a little insight into how I chose my team.

In case you’ve missed it, the four teams are Oregon, Alabama, Ohio State, and Florida State. Let’s break it down, the Just Charlie way, shall we?

First, I didn’t graduate from either of the four schools. I have no alumnus loyalty per se. I’m reminded of my father-in-law’s old joke: “I wear a Georgia Tech shirt because I went to Georgia Tech. You wear a Georgia shirt because you went to Walmart.” So let’s get that out of the way at the outset.

Here’s my somewhat convoluted reasoning.

Oregon has the ugliest uniforms in all of college football. Period. They can’t even make up their minds what combination of colors is really the Oregon uniform. At any rate, all the combinations are U-G-L-Y, as in “butt-ugly.” They’re even worse than all the Orange Rule schools (see my posts elsewhere for explanation of The Orange Rule of College Football). The Ducks have a Heisman Trophy winner playing quarterback and they score a lot of points, but neither factor trumps the ugly uniforms. Strike Oregon.

Then there’s Alabama. The mighty Crimson Tide from the mighty SEC West division. (How’s the bowl season working out so far?) They win. A lot. They are one of college football’s traditional powerhouse programs. Bear Bryant used to coach at Alabama. But so did Mike Shula, and for a few days, some guy named Mike Price (who?) did, too. Nick Saban is the current head coach at Alabama. Lane Kiffin is his offensive coordinator, with the key word being “offensive.” That, paired with the fact that they’ve won enough in the last few years, is enough to keep AlaDamnBama from getting my nod. (What, exactly, do elephants and yellow hammers have to do with Crimson anyway?)

Consider Ohio State. They play in the Big Ten Conference. I mean the Big 11. Wait…make that the Big 10 + 2, since there was already a Big 12, which incidentally, has only ten teams. Wait. Now make that the Big 10 + 2 + 2 More, which in reality, makes it the Big 14. But that doesn’t sound nearly compact enough for a major athletic conference, so there you go. Throw into the mix that Ohio State’s mascot is a nut. No, I’m not casting aspersions on the mental stability of their mascot. They’re the Buckeyes, for crying out loud. Oh, also, factor in their most famous coach slugged an opposing player on the sidelines as the Buckeyes were losing a bowl game. And that their current coach, while a Worthy Brother in my own fraternity, used to be the coach at the University of Florida. All that makes it easy not to pull for the Nuts.

That leaves Florida State, the reigning national champs. What can we say about the Seminoles? They may be the most hated good team in America right now. They have a punk quarterback (who won the Heisman last year) with lots of character and conduct issues. Their coach, in sweeping his star’s issues under the rug, comes off as a punk who never grew up. They’re undefeated, but they’ve managed squeak by in a lot of those wins. They barely survived in their conference championship game. But still, the Seminoles have managed to win every one of their games, and stand at season’s end as the only major undefeated team in the nation.

And that’s where it gets hard for me. See, while I didn’t graduate from Florida State, I did matriculate there at the beginning of my long and checkered academic career. I learned to love college football in Doak Campbell Stadium. I thought Coach Bowden was – and is a great man and coach. I know Coach Bowden turned his head and ignored a lot of junk that went on during his tenure (Free Shoes U, Criminoles, etc.), but I have to believe he wouldn’t put up with some of the nonsense going on in Tallahassee now. I may be wrong.

So I’m holding my nose and pulling for Florida State to win it all again. The old garnet and gold is still a little bit in my blood from 35 years ago. Go Noles!

How Will I Be Remembered?

Image: "funeral 139" by pepa garcia https://flic.kr/p/6eZVji

Image: “funeral 139″ by pepa garcia https://flic.kr/p/6eZVji

One day, more than likely, every one of us is going to die. And more than likely, at least someone will have something to say about us, our lives, and our legacy. Someone will remember us. The question today is: How will they remember us? What will be the characteristic of our lives that stands out above all else?

I thought about that question today, after a couple of interactions with friends, digital and real. It turns out if I died today – based on those two interactions – I would be remembered as a “nattering Nabob of negativism” who sits around and posts on Facebook all day long.

Wow. Just. Wow.

Stephen Covey suggested a powerful exercise: visualizing our own funeral. As we look ahead in our minds to what those people gathered there might say, we begin to have a pretty good idea of our core values and what makes us who we are.

Is my life right now indicative of how I want to be remembered at the end of my life? If not, I have some work to do.

Let’s get busy.

If You Wanted To, You Would…

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Ray Edwards is a copywriter/blogger/podcaster/etc. who coaches/challenges/encourages/etc. wannabes to get started/get better/get busy/etc. His recent blog post – a pitch for Scrivener – included this story…

Once upon a time, I loved the writing tools more than the writing itself. I loved to talk about writing, to speculate about writing, and to collect writing pens, writing paper, and writing software. One day, when I was complaining about not having time to actually write, my wife asked me, “Why does it bother you?”

“Because I want to write,” I said. I am certain it came out in an exasperated tone.

“No you don’t,” she said. “If you wanted to write, you would write.”

Ouch.

Ouch, indeed.

If we say we want to do something – whatever it is – and we keep looking for excuses not to do it, it may be time to question whether we are telling ourselves and others the truth.

I know I keep coming back to this space and moaning and whining about wanting to write, only to keep putting it off.

I don’t have time.

I’m not good enough.

No one wants to read it.

I don’t know enough. 

I haven’t found the right tools.

I’ve used every excuse imaginable. And some unimaginable ones, too. I see people who I never imagined being real writers knocking it out on a regular basis. They can do it. Why can’t I?

I keep coming back to Ray Edwards’s wife’s “ouch” moment…

If you wanted to, you would.

The stark truth is not that I can’t, but that I don’t.

I have a birthday this week. I can’t think of a better time to focus on some intentions that have gotten off track.

What do you say you want to do, but aren’t doing? Why not? What would it take for you to get back on track? What’s stopping you? What’s stopping me?