Monday

You’ll Enjoy Reading If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name

You’ll Enjoy Reading If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name

“Looking at all the people at Matt Bell’s funeral was close to an out-of-body experience for me. I remained in my seat, but I felt as if I were high on the wall. I could see everyone clearly that way, and how we all fit together and how tightly we were all holding on to one another with otherwise invisible ropes. In school the children learn drownproofing skills ... (they) learn that the best way to survive if your skiff capsizes and sinks is to link arms in a circle and hold on tight. That’s what we were doing for the Bells that day.”

These words were written by Heather Lende in her book, If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name (p. 215). Heather is the obituary writer for her local newspaper. The title of Heather’s book leapt up at me from the shelf in our local library. “Read me,” it exclaimed.


Sometimes I read a book and say, “I can write one like that.” And I did, once. Other times I read a book and say, “I can’t write one like that.” Heather’s book falls into the second category. With such a book all you can do is read it and thank God there is someone who can put your feelings to words better than you can.

I’ve been in the situation Heather describes about young Matt Bell’s funeral. Eleven-year old Luke, a drowning victim in Cody, who gave his life trying to save another swimmer. Cole, also age eleven, who died in a car wreck. Five hundred people celebrated his life at his funeral, one of the hardest I ever performed. When it was over all I wanted was to go home so I could cry without anyone seeing me. There is a precious young child whose loving mother shares her ongoing conversation with her daughter on FB for family and friends to share in. And we will still remember Julia, Tori, Myranda, and Veronika, four high school sophomores we lost a few years ago.

In each of these and numerous other funerals I have attended or performed for young people and children, we were holding on to each other with invisible ropes, trying desperately to communicate love and support to families we love. We were consoling ourselves, too.

Since If You Lived Here was written by an obituary columnist there are, as you might expect, a number of stories about death and dying. They are not morbid. They are sensitively written and touch numerous fibers of your being: hope, sadness, laughter, grieving, purpose. You will do a lot of smiling and laughing as you journey through the book.

Lende says of her work,

    “I love what I do. Being an obituary writer means I think a lot about loss, but more about love. Writing the obituaries of so many people I’ve known makes me acutely aware of death, but in a good way ...

    My job helps me appreciate cookouts on clear summer evenings down on the beach, where friends lounge on driftwood seats and we eat salmon and salads by the fire while our children play a game of ball ... Most of all, though, writing about the dead helps me celebrate the living - my neighbors, friends, husband, and five children - and this place, which some would say is on the edge of no where, but for me is the center of everywhere.” (pp.8-9)

“This place” is Haines, AK, located about 75 miles north of Juneau, population 2,400. This little town is now high on my places to visit. I was privileged to speak in Anchorage two years ago, and will be in Homer in 2016. Maybe on that trip I’ll be able to visit Haines and pick up a signed copy of one of Heather’s newer books at the Babbling Book Store. Hope so.

Lende is right that she writes about love. She loves her town, her family, and the people she writes about. Writing obituaries isn’t a job for her; it is a spiritual service. And because it is, the author weaves spiritual reflection throughout, causing you to pause, ponder, and find some meaning in your own experiences. This isn’t the kind of book I can write, but it is a book I’m glad someone else wrote for me to read. I encourage you to read it, too.

Warren Baldwin

Friday

Sacred Spaces

Sacred Spaces

Teens are leading the way. Brad, a high school senior, takes periodic breaks from Facebook and Instant Messaging. Instead of sending and receiving digital messages that are pushed aside the instant a new post or message beeps or lights up, he is choosing face-to-face encounters with real people.

With wisdom far exceeding his eighteen years Brad says, “Humans learn to talk and make eye contact before they learn to touch-type, so I think it’s a more basic, fundamental form of communication.” He says abandoning digital connections allows him to enjoy “one really nice social interaction with one person.” (Sherry Turkle, Alone Together, 274).

Brad joins a growing number of teens who are disappointed in the shallow relationships typified by Facebook, Twitter and other internet social sites. They also describe digital relationships as exhausting. There is the constant pressure to maintain your on-screen image, presenting yourself in the best possible light, even when you have to fudge on the truth with exaggerated profiles and doctored pictures.

Brad regards online relationships as “throwaway friendships.” Another teen, Hannah, wonders what she has to show for the hundreds of hours she has spent maintaining her various social network sites and perusing those of her online acquaintances. She realizes now that those online friends are not really part of her life, and she longs for a genuine, flesh-and-blood connection with someone. Pattie, only fourteen years old, leaves her cell phone on the table when she walks out the door. “It feels good,” she says, “to have people not reach you.” Not reach you with a technological device, that is. Without a cell phone in hand Pattie is free to engage someone eye-to-eye, to see the smile, feel the touch, and hear the laughter. (Alone Together, 275).

lovetoknow.com

Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together, describes the inner desires of these and many other young people as the longing for sacred spaces. Sherry says “a sacred space is not a place to hide out. It is a place where we recognize ourselves and our commitments. A sacred space is about location and values. “Where we live doesn’t just change how we live; it informs who we become.” Technology promises us life on the screen, with a host of social, dating, and chat sites and pages to interact with scores of people with whom we will never shake hands or share coffee. But, Turkle asks, what kind of life flows from our connection to and location in our computer? “Where do we live, and what do we live for?” (Alone Together, 277).

Young people like Brad, Hannah, and others are saying, “I’m not living for the screen anymore.” They are powering down and checking out, checking out of the digital and opting for the personal. They are seeking sacred spaces to discover themselves and experience life with others in real time connections.

We gave our kids the digital world. Some of them are saying “No thanks,” and are giving it back. Good for them. Good for us.

Technology is part of our lives now. Frankly, I don’t want to do without it, not completely. But I don’t want to be enslaved by it, either. I need the occasional break from the incessant hunger of the tech devices to be turned on, looked at, listened to. I need sacred space.

In sacred space, a place of quiet and calm, we can find our location and values. We might even find more. Adele Calhoun sees sacred space as a place to rest, a place to “make space in my life for God alone.” (Adele Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, 66).

Brad and Hannah are leading the way. Shall we follow them? For one hour today, and for one afternoon this week, let’s power down and check out. Seek time in quiet, contemplating location, values, and God. Take a friend to coffee. Hold your spouse’s hand. Ask your kids what their highest values are. Spend real life time with God, friends, and loved ones. There’s hope some of our teens might help us rediscover other ways to power up and check in.

Warren Baldwin

Tuesday

Robin Williams

Robin Williams

A famous entertainer once said, “You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” It may take a degree of madness to be a public personality like an actor, comedian, singer, or other such out-in-front character. Every time you perform you put yourself out there to be evaluated, judged, and written about.

We’d think that since it happens so often entertainers are probably used to the public scrutiny and even develop some hardness to the negative reviews they occasionally get. That is true in some cases, but not all.

Ernest Hemingway is regarded by many as the greatest writer of the 20th century. Among his published works are Death in the Afternoon, The Old Man and the Sea, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, To Have and Have Not,  Big-Two Hearted River, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, The Torrents of Spring, Islands in the Stream and much more. With this many books to his credit you know Hemingway came under the critic’s pen many times, and you know he had to be used to it, no matter how unfair and caustic the comments might sometimes be. But, apparently that wasn’t so. Hemingway wrote, “That terrible mood of depression of whether it’s any good or not is known as the artist’s reward.” When Hemingway’s Across the River and Into the Trees received a negative review in 1950, Hemingway was apparently “emotionally wounded.” New York Times Columnist Timothy Egan wrote of Hemingway’s emotional hurt: “Creativity has its own land mines.”


The land mines of creativity are that the artist must continue to be creative, over and over and over and over again. There is no let up, no break. The adoring public wants more ink, more laughter, more music from the stars. And the stars must produce, and it must be as good as the previous performances, or the critic section will shift into high-gear.

The same entertainer I quoted earlier as saying, “You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it,” also said, “You bottom out. People say, ‘You have an Academy Award.’ The Academy Award lasted about a week, then one week later people are going, ‘Hey, Mork’” (Timothy Egan, “Robin Williams, the Vulnerable Showman,” NYT, Aug 14, 2014). In other words, “You made us laugh last week. You made us laugh tonight. But what new stuff do you have for tomorrow?”

With my last quote from the famous figure some of you probably recognize the entertainer I am speaking about is Robin Williams. I was as shocked as everyone else when I read about his death. And I grieved when I read the cause.

I was not surprised that immediately articles and blogposts began to appear discussing suicide, its causes, and its aftermath. “Can Robin go to heaven?” some writers asked and answered. With a confidence I can not seem to find on the subject, some answered, “No,” others answered, “Yes.”

Suicide is an intensely sensitive and emotional issue. I’ve sat with friends who wept over the self-imposed death of one of their loved ones. They not only missed the person who just took their own life, they were filled with those questions  we all pray we never have to ask: Why? Could we have done something to prevent it? Where is he or she now? Can you be forgiven of suicide? My answers are, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.” And for the last one, “I sure hope so.”

Right now, I must admit I am thinking more about Robin than some of the other issues. Robin, the funny man, one of the funniest in the public eye. I didn’t like all his humor, no, but some of it I did. And I always marveled at his quickness. He was fast!

I think about a story of Robin sitting in a dressing room after a performance in Seattle. “You were great,” someone told him. “Really,” Robin asked? “Did you really like it?” The visitor later said Robin was like a schoolboy hungry for a pat of approval on the head (Timothy Egan). I wish one of us could have said to him in a way he could have felt it, “Yes Robin, you were that good.”

I hope all of us has someone saying that to us. And I hope all of us are saying it to someone else. You are that good.

Today, we will speak words of life into someone’s heart, and give them hope to hang on, with God’s power in their lives.

Warren Baldwin

Wednesday

Listening is Ministry

Listening is Ministry

“Listening carefully and responding accurately to the story of another is a true ministry. To be understood and accepted by another person is a treasured dimension of human living. It is also the first movement of any kind of care.” Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals, Herbert Anderson & Edward Foley

Ridiculing someone’s idea or mocking their serious question are effective ways of making them feel belittled and inferior (they are also sinful, just for the record). Though these verbal offenses cause great harm they are committed frequently and enjoy fairly widespread acceptance, which is too bad.

There is a less aggressive but equally effective way to make a person feel emotionally debased and hurt: just ignore them.

Maybe you’ve had the experience of trying to speak to someone and they totally ignore you. They know you are speaking to them, but they don’t even acknowledge your presence or speech. Equally bad is when they do address you, but it is not in response to what you said or asked. Rather, it is for them to express what they want to say to you. They are controlling the agenda by ignoring you and redirecting the conversation.

Pointing out these inconsiderate ways of treating people will, I hope, make us wise and sensitive to the problem, and will encourage us to be aware of any tendencies we may have to practice them. I certainly hope no one reading this will respond with, “Oh, so that is another way I can annoy someone. Ignore them.”



Admittedly, I give too little thought to the power of listening. The first time I realized how deeply some people need to be heard was when I was 17, and a woman I met at a summer job told me about the death of her son, the same age as me, only the summer before. She began telling me about the accident, then the sense of loss, then the annoyance of legal and insurance issues, then the constant darkness of his absence, then the cancerous pain that ate at her soul everyday. She cried. I listened. I was overwhelmed. My heart ached for her, but I had no way to comfort the incredible hurt other than to listen to the flood of words that poured out of a soul desperate to be heard. After an hour the clock chimed it was time to resume work. Soon, my summer job was over and we never talked about it again.

I’ve thought about that experience many times over years. I hope I’m finally learning something from it. The power of listening. No one could bring her son back, dull the pain or ease the loneliness. But anyone could listen. A group of listeners may have saved her marriage. When her husband, also burdened with grief, could no longer bear his wife’s need to unburden her heart, he left. A group of five to ten caring friends and fellow church members, meeting regularly with both the husband and wife, taking turns listening, may have saved their marriage.

Listening is ministry. Over a kitchen table, in a hospital room, after a funeral, over a cup of coffee.

“Listening carefully and responding accurately to the story of another is a true ministry. To be understood and accepted by another person is a treasured dimension of human living. It is also the first movement of any kind of care.”

Listening is a way to honor a person’s dignity, reassure them of their value, relieve them of intense inner burdens, and possibly even save their families and lives.

What do you think Jesus must have been doing with the sinners and social outcasts of his day? We assume he was preaching.

I think he was listening.

Warren Baldwin

Thursday

Tending the Sheep and Fields

Tending the Sheep and Fields

Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, Give careful attention to your herds;
for riches do not endure forever and a crown is not secure for all generations.

When the hay is removed and new growth appears and the grass from the hills is gathered in,
the lambs will provide you with clothing and the goats with the price of a field.

You will have plenty of milk to feed your family and to nourish your servant girls. Prov. 27:23-27

This Old Testament passage looks like a word of warning to a farmer to tend to the needs of his animals and land. Grass is to be cut and gathered at the right time, just before the rains, so that the water will refresh the earth and allow another crop of vegetation for the animals to graze.

If the shepherd gives proper care to his animals, making sure they have food and water, the animals will reward him with clothing, milk, food and income. With the money made from selling animals he can afford to buy another field and expand his operation.


“Be sure to know the condition of your flocks” literally reads, “know the face of your animals.” The implication is that the shepherd spends real time with his flock. He knows his animals and evaluates their health. Knowing the face of his animals means he is investing considerable time and effort with them. Further, even if the shepherd has enough money to hire others to work his flocks and land, he still gives the time and energy to move among his animals and see how they are doing. There is too much at stake as the shepherd of the flock to leave all the evaluation and care to others who have no personal stake in the health of the lambs and goats.

Interestingly, while this poem addresses shepherds and flocks, it may not be about animals at all. This poem appears in a section of proverbs known as the “Hezekiah Collection” (Prov. 25:1), a group of sayings that concern the king and his reign. So, this poem is really addressing the responsibilities of a monarch toward his people.

We know a king would deal with political and economic issues, but in Israel the king had one more important responsibility: providing spiritual leadership. Deuteronomy 17:18-20 says the king was responsible to copy, learn and remain faithful to the law. The king was not just responsible for providing healthy economic conditions for the people, he was responsible for providing healthy spiritual leadership as well.

A crown is not secure for all generations (Prov. 27:24b). That means, a king who does not tend to the needs of his flock could lose his position as king. Whether through rebellion, assassination or takeover from outside forces, a king who failed to monitor the health and contentment of his people could find the loyalty of his people fade, and with it, his position and authority.

It isn’t difficult to see several application of this for today. Dads and moms, we are shepherds of our home. Do we know the faces of our children? Not just what they look like, but how they function? Are we giving proper attention to their emotional, physical, and spiritual health?

This has application for churches, too. Teachers, we don’t just teach Bible classes, we teach the Gospel to our flock. Elders, we don’t just provide general leadership, we move among the flock to “know the faces” of our people. Preachers, we don’t just deliver sermons, we speak the Word to hearts hungering for good food. Deacons, custodians and maintenance workers, we don’t just tend to a building, we provide a safe and clean atmosphere for our fellow worshipers. To all of us who provide leadership at any level, our number one task is to spend time with and know the faces of our people. If we do, we will find loyalty returned to us. If we don’t, we may find we our flock grazing in someone else’s pasture.

Warren Baldwin

Tuesday

How To Change Your Husband Or Wife

How to Change Your Husband or Wife

As soon as the ecstacy of the romantic stage of marriage is over, frustration, doubt, and a sense of “Oh no, what have I gotten myself into?” can terrorize a young husband or wife’s heart. The realization that their loved one is not the person they thought they married can lead them to manipulate or coerce them into becoming the kind of person they want them to be (or thought they were). Do you find yourself in that position? If so, here are seven suggestions on how to change your husband or wife.

One, watch them closely to catch them doing something good and helpful. Spend a few quiet moments reflecting on the kind spirit that motivated them to perform such a gracious act. Give yourself a few moments to let the things that irritate you about your spouse slip away so you can concentrate on what is good.

Two, do at least one thing everyday that you know your spouse likes. It could be cooking a meal, cleaning part of the house, wearing a certain outfit, taking them out to eat, attending a ball game, or anything else you know he/she likes. Perform your task with a genuine sense of joy, knowing you are doing something for the simple reason of pleasing your partner.

Three, take a look at yourself. Try to discover anything you may be doing to hinder the honesty, intimacy and pleasantness of the relationship. Do you constantly find fault? Do you criticize? Are you ungrateful? Are you forgetful of the reasons that initially attracted you to this person? Have you forgotten the vow to love for better or worse? Are you selfish?

Four, pick one of the personality or character flaws you have identified in yourself and devote a month to work on it. If you identified a tendency to criticize your mate, dedicate the next month to not saying anything that could be construed as critical or judgmental. Nothing, period. If the urge to criticize becomes too strong, leave the room. If you are selfish, submerge your will and allow your spouse to have his/her way. For at least thirty days take the back seat willingly and joyfully. A begrudging spirit, one that says, “Ok, if I have to,” doesn’t count. If another flaw is a lack of gratitude, devote yourself to finding reasons to be thankful for the spouse you chose.


Photo compliments of Amy Free Photography

Five, pray fervently for the next thirty days that God blesses your efforts to change for the better. Work and pray; pray and work. Personal improvement and prayer does not end at the end of the month. When the period is over, pick another flaw and devote thirty days to working on it.

Six, keep your personal inventory, self-improvement and prayer to yourself. Do not use this as an attempt to impress your spouse or to leverage for advantage. Do not use it to guilt or manipulate them into changing. That would ruin the very purpose of the exercises. Keep it to yourself, expecting nothing from your partner.

Seven, compliment your spouse, sincerely, at least once everyday. Now that you realize you have your own slate of problems, and you contribute to some of the difficulties in the relationship, it should be easier to be genuinely appreciative of something your spouse does.

Work these seven steps faithfully, and there is some hope your spouse will change. As you become an easier and more gracious person to live with, your husband/wife will likely notice the difference and may just make the effort to become the person you need them to be, even without your demands and coercion. But, even if they don’t change, you will.

Joe Beam says, “You are the only person you have real control over. So instead of trying to change your mate into the perfect human specimen, look inward. What is it about yourself you need to work on to make you a healthier, happier and kinder individual?” http://www.marriagehelper.com/

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to give any feedback or suggestions.

Warren Baldwin

Wednesday

Reclaiming Lost Skills

Reclaiming Lost Skills

Computers. iPods. iPads. iPhones. Other smart phones. iTvs. GPSes. Xboxes. Are there more? More technical gadgets and toys? I’m sure there are. Too many for me to keep track of. And really, too many for many of us older folks to want to keep track of. That’s a lot of tech stuff.

But they come natural to young folks. Punching buttons, hitting switches, swiping screens, they think nothing of it. Manipulating a tech device is as natural for young people as splitting firewood was for the older folks.

We are in a period of rapid transition. The necessary skills of the present are huge challenges to the previous generations. Will we be able to successfully navigate all of the electronic changes? We’ll try. To live in this age, we have to know the tools and tricks of this age.

But, there is something for this generation to consider: what are they missing by not learning the skills of previous generations? Shelley Emling wrote an intriguing article entitled, “7 Skills Your Grandparents Had That You Don’t.” The seven skills are:

1) Cooking from scratch.
2) Sewing, crocheting, knitting and darning.
3) Canning.
4) Ironing really well.
5) Meeting people without benefit of the internet.
6) Haggling.
7) Writing beautiful letters.


My grandparents and parents did all of these. Cheryl and I do some of them. My kids do fewer of them.

We might ask, “What does it matter? These skills are all out of date for our modern era. Who ever cooks from scratch anymore?”

Just asking the question, “What does it matter?” shows that more than just a skill has been lost. A way of life has been lost, a way of life that was self-sufficient and self-sustaining. Many of our grandparents worked the farm, raising the food that they ate. Their fingernails had dirt under them from tending the crops and their ears heard the final cries of the hogs at slaughter. They knew their food came at great costs, both in their own labor and in the shed blood of their animals. Supper was a family effort, with all the family members planting, raising, harvesting and canning the crops, feeding, slaughtering and packaging the meat, and then cooking it. Then, the family dined around a common table. No fast food or microwave dinners for our grandparents. They ate food their bodies could digest.



Meeting people, haggling, and writing letters are all part of interpersonal skills and communication. Many times grandma or grandpa needed some cloth or a tool, but didn’t have the money for it. They know how to haggle, barter, or negotiate for what they needed. They didn’t have charge cards. Their communication skills were learned in conversation with family members and friends, so they learned words and concepts that could be written with proper grammar in meaningful letters, many of which they saved for generations.

Society has made a lot of gains with technology, gains that have made our lives more pleasant and enjoyable in many ways. But, society has lost some things in the transition from the farm to the iPhone as well. Might it benefit us to occasionally put the phone down, turn off the tv, sit around a home cooked meal, and be family? The excitement of our eight year old talking about her great play at third might quiet the call of our devices, and we might begin to reclaim some of the lost skills of our grandparents.


What are some other ways we can reclaim the lost skills of our grandparents for our own kids?

Warren Baldwin