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Archive for June, 2009

Monday, June 29, 2009

CNN has a text option on their web site.  I signed up.  Breaking News will be delivered to your mobile device automatically, just in case you are disconnected from another news source.  Since all of our news outlets relish the opportunity to relay BREAKING NEWS, I thought I might get a barrage of text messages.  But surprisingly it only happens a couple of times during a normal week.

Generally a CNN Breaking News Text will announce a plane crash or a commuter train collision or a high profile Supreme Court decision or a shooting in the public square.  The text will be the length of a headline, or a Twitter entry.  And it gets the point across.

On Thursday afternoon, June 25, I got a series of four text messages from CNN.  They are stored in the memory of my iPhone.  “Pop singer Michael Jackson has suffered cardiac arrest, KTLA reports,” was the first.  Then, an hour later, “Pop singer Michael Jackson in coma after cardiac arrest.”  Another fifteen minutes later, “Michael Jackson has died according to multiple reports.”  Then less than an hour after that, “Michael Jackson is dead.”

I don’t know who measures the magnitude of breaking news events on the world as we know it.  Planet earth is wired to give us an instant reading on the Richter scale for seismic activity.  (I read recently that Hawaii moves four inches closer to Japan every year.)  Satellites track hurricanes and tornadoes.  But who decides who will get precedence when Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon all expire within a few days?

Us preacher types are always on the lookout for living examples of biblical truth.  Michael Jackson is a goldmine for those of us on the hunt for illustrations.  His story has all the key elements: money, fame, power, self-image, sex, family dysfunction, parenting, legal entanglements, misadventures in marriage, addiction, eccentricity, narcissism, to name a few.  We are repulsed and fascinated all at once.  But in the early years, we were mainly dazzled.

We watched his image transition from cute to grotesque.  We wonder what plastic surgeon could have taken his/her fee in good conscience, considering the results.  We watch those retrospectives and we scratch our heads and say, “What a great face.  Why mess with that?” We are left to contemplate what dark forces would prompt the obsession to blur identity from ebony to ivory, from male to female.  One commentator, while discussing the indisputable genius of Michael Jackson, pointed out that Jackson’s transition of image mirrored his fan base.  Music tastes often remain grouped by ethnicity or generation or gender.  Jackson broke the barriers.  A true crossover.  Everyone, the world over, connected to his music, his moves.  He was a genuine global phenom.

Our kids were young when Thriller was released.  I still remember it was one of the few R&B albums in our collection.  They loved those songs.  And when I heard that his next collaboration with Quincy Jones would be called simply “Bad,” I feared it would influence our children negatively – but the tunes were so catchy, so compelling, that we got caught up in the dangerous notion that “Bad” was really synonymous with “good.”  And then Disney created a 3-D attraction that made it all seem well, frighteningly wholesome.

So there is a Shakespearian quality to all this drama played out on this inescapable media blitz that will probably keep going for a while.  (Jackson’s promoters have a lot of ground to recover – they are currently a half a billion out of pocket.)  They say that the Elvis brand has been way more successful since he died; many predict the same for MJ.  The irresistible interplay between comedy and tragedy will live with the legend and energize the curiosity and leave us wondering, what happened to that pure soul, that magical voice, those moves that from his childhood combined the grace of Fred Astaire and the energy of West Side Story and the charm of James Brown?

How did such an entertainment machine spin so desperately out of control?

David Edelstein, CBS’s movie critic, raised an interesting question on Sunday Morning.  When Jackson sings “You Are Not Alone,” he is so convincing.  So believable.  Many fans, he suggests, hear Michael sing that song and for a few moments, at least, they are not alone.  Michael is there.

Another day has gone
I’m still all alone
How could this be
You’re not here with me
You never said goodbye
Someone tell me why
Did you have to go
And leave my world so cold
….
Something whispers in my ear and says
That you are not alone
For I am here with you
Though you’re far away
I am here to stay
….
For you are not alone…

Edelstein wonders.  Did Michael hear the words to his own song?  Who was there to sing that song for him?

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2009

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Monday, June 22, 2009

In a 2008 speech, Barack Obama addressed the issue of fatherhood in America.  Understand the context.  A full four out of ten American children are born without a father at home.  He said, “The duties of fatherhood do not end at conception.”  He paused for a moment to let that one sink in.  Then he added, “What makes you a man is not the ability to have a child.   Any fool can have a child…”  Another pause.  “That doesn’t make you a father.  It’s the courage to raise that child that makes you a father.”

Obama seems quite comfortable as a father in the “fishbowl” we call the White House in large part because he made a commitment to give Sasha and Malia something he did not have as a boy growing up.  His own dad walked out when he was very young.  When he convinced Michelle to marry him, he took many of his cues from her dad who died two years before they were married.  As they courted, he learned a lot about the role of a dad from him.  Michelle let Barack know in no uncertain terms that she expected him to take parenting seriously, should that day come.

Obama talked about the little things that count between father and son.  His own dad, who abandoned him, still did things that had major impact.  When they had next to nothing, he gave young Barack a basketball for Christmas.  He introduced his boy to jazz.  Both of those little things opened doors to big things.  Dads matter, the President said.

CBS Sunday Morning, on their Father’s Day program, captured something of our President’s view of fatherhood. They call it “Father in Chief.”

* * * * *

Matt Luke took the stage on Sunday morning as a local businessman, former professional baseball player, and fellow church member.  When Pastor Matthew interviewed him, he talked about his pursuit of a baseball career – and how it landed him first on the Yankees, and then the Cleveland Indians and then the Dodgers and finally the Anaheim Angels.  An injury cut his career short – but not so short that one of his many big-league homers was caught on video.

That crushed home run was a special moment for a couple of big reasons.  He was an Angel.  It was in a game against the Yankees.  On the air, the game was called by Angels’ the popular sportscaster Rex Hudler.  It was Father’s Day.

After the big-league video from ESPN was played and all of us clapped and cheered, Matthew introduced Hudler who bounded to the front of the room in his Angels jersey, a firecracker of a man full of energy and infectious laughter and good humor and the two giant guys, Matt Luke and Rex Hudler, shared a big old man hug right there in front of the crowd.  More applause.

Hudler’s reaction to the homer in the video set up the whole interview – back on that day on television Rex got pretty emotional over the left-hander who smashed that ball high into the upper deck against the Yankees on Father’s Day.  And here they were together again on the platform, years later in front of hundreds (actually a couple of thousand for the weekend) of grandpas and dads and boys on Fathers Day.  The two of them talked about the things that matter most in life – mainly their commitment to follow Jesus.

And now they are dads.

* * * * *

I sat there thinking about my dad, and how much he would have enjoyed this kind father’s day.  He loved it when strong guys came together, open about the hard times but thankful for the great moments that keep us all going.  I also thought about my three guys – a son and two sons-in-law and how proud I am of them as dads.

Then a line up of about ten or twelve young couples filed up on that same stage to dedicate their new little children to God.  It always gets me, this circle of life – those newbie moms and dads who fell in love back then and look what happened – those beautiful little kids.  They’re all standing there not quite sure what hit them.  Grandparents shoot photos.  They need prayer.  They got it.

And I looked around the big room and saw a bunch of older guys who seemed a little uncomfortable sitting there; like maybe their own sons and grandkids dragged them out on a Sunday morning to darken the door of a church which they rarely do and I could tell the whole thing got to them too, like it would have my dad, and did me, and I thought – this is too good.  You can tell by just looking at them – they’ve taken some hits.  Life has collected its toll.  Age is settling in.

But this morning – a reminder: you matter, Dad.  You count, Grandpa.  You are a loved man.  Welcome to where you belong.  Take it in.

* * * * *

So they all called in yesterday, my three guys.  I let them know.  They fill me with pride.  They make me smile.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2009

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Monday, June 15, 2009

My son and two sons in law are all pretty serious sports fans.  I generally tap in to their expertise when we hang out.  They get me current.  None of them consider me much of a source when it comes to analysis or calling up a piece of trivia or reviewing the latest game.  It may be aging; you know, the onset of memory loss.  Then again, in the case of sports stats, it probably has more to do with database overload.  At this stage of my life, the hard drive is pretty well jammed.  The only way to have access to those little bits of illusive information is to carry some sort of device with Google access twenty-four-seven, which I do.  Google arrived on the tech scene just in time.

So I can’t say that I watched the Lakers until the post-season; when they were well on their way to the NBA national championship.  If they had been knocked out early in the season, I don’t know that I would have watched a single game.  I guess that makes me a fair weather fan.  But the morning after victory, I must say, these guys are good.

I remember writing about Kobe and Shaq in June of 2001.  It’s the story of coach Jackson taming his two young stars, who came very close to victory the year before.  But ego got in the way.  Here’s how I described them back then – “The Glory Days in the Windy City [Chicago Bulls] followed [Jackson] to Tinseltown.  The Blue and Gold [Lakers] enjoyed the deftness of a young twenty-two (now twenty-three) year old star player many people believed was the heir to the Michael Jordan throne.  Then, under the boards, his team-mate: that giant of a man, seven feet one inch tall and three hundred fifteen pounds of Philistine warrior; a modern day Goliath with the smiling eyes of a teddy bear.”

Kobe was young and brash.  He openly disdained his team-mate calling him lazy.  Their personal aversion to one another cost Los Angeles the Big Win. But with Coach’s (Jackson, the son of fire-brand Mom and Pop Pentecostal preachers) tutelage, they overcame their mutual distrust back in 2000 and emerged as champions in 2001.

Last year, after a similar scrubbing by the Boston Celtics (the game six blow-out 131 to 92) in 2008, a new kind of determination emerged this year.  Kobe is no longer the impetuous youngster long on attitude short on experience.  He’s become a leader.  There have been major disappointments.  Professionally, none would be as severe as the humiliating loss to Boston (picture him walking off the floor, dejected, as green confetti floated down from the ceiling like a ticker tape snow storm).   Personally, Kobe has suffered high profile embarrassment as a husband and father.  But last night, the ones he wanted to hold first in celebration were Vanessa and the two girls.  (I understand that he had a very public recommitment ceremony a couple of years back.  From all appearances last night, the man’s in love.)

I understand from my son-in-law from the southeast that outside of the Los Angeles area, there is little affection for Jackson, Kobe or any of the Lakers for that matter.  (As a loyal Floridian, he’s been cheering for the Orlando Magic.)  But something happened this year.  Yes, it’s true.  No one has a game face like Kobe.  Call it attitude.  But it takes more than a game face to win a championship.  It’s what happens on the floor.

Back when Shaq and Kobe learned from their legendary coach that basketball is a team sport, the seed was planted.  Kobe would take it to the next level.  And here we are.  This is his fourth national championship.  Jackson’s tenth.  As predicted, people are growing more comfortable with the comparisons of Kobe to Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.

It was a thing of beauty and thus a joy forever.  Kobe is not only a phenom on the floor, with his impossible moves, deadly shots, lingering hang-time, and the spring in that jump, he’s become a leader.  One on one, he’ll beat you.  Cover him tight, he’ll find a way around and charge the net.  Hang back for an instant and the ball will be gone – on its way arching toward the goal.

But he’s anything but a solo player these days.  He’s in rhythm with his team.  Jackson has included him as a player coach.  He finds the open man.  He delivers the timely word, personally.  He high-fives the successes, fist pumps the effective move.  He chides the errant, just because they both know it needs improvement.  He’s as aggressive and fearless as he expects everyone else to be.

The giant seven foot Spaniard, Pau Gosol, lived up to, probably surpassed his billing.  (I loved the puff piece highlighting his friendship with Plácido Domingo.)  Derek Fisher emerged as a force to be reckoned with.  Lamar Odom.  All of them, played with the intensity and harmony and joy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic where Domingo conducts.

This year, the Laker’s conductor was Kobe Bryant.

There were some clear lessons in leadership in this series.

And it’s all in the history books.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2009

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Keats Island is one you’ll see from the highway to Whistler.  Look West at those forested islands poking out of the great expanse of water and over to the steep slopes of the mainland disappearing into the deep and the great snow-capped peaks to the North and then back out there towards place on the horizon where the sun sets, and there it is: Keats.  Home of the Barnabas conference center.

When you arrive at the dock on the water-taxi, your first thought is the realization that just setting foot on this dock, turning for the full circle panorama, is enough.  But then to stay for the week, well, it doesn’t take much more to put you in the zone.

It’s only a few miles off Horseshoe Bay, where the massive ferries load and unload passengers and vehicles delivering them to ports all around the islands north of Vancouver, British Columbia.  Canadians celebrate Spring and Summer with gardens that take their cue from Butchart near Victoria whose designers were inspired by Regents Garden just around the corner from Buckingham Palace.  Barnabas follows in the tradition of those English Gardens filling in the foreground with bright blooming color on the ground, along the pathway and hanging in baskets from the eves and the lampposts.   The backdrop only looks more like a photograph or mural than actual sea and mountains because we spend too much time looking at plasma screens and not enough taking in the real thing.

But this is the real thing.

It’s our second week on Keats.  The first we spent a year ago under those common gray skies of the Pacific Northwest.  The clouds formed a relatively high ceiling, which means visibility remained unlimited except when those heavily laden clouds decided to release their moisture for a gentle rain.  We would sing “Let It Rain” knowing that the watering is a key element in turning all things green up there on those islands. “Let it rain.  Let it rain.  Open the floodgates of Heaven.”  

But this week, we had six consecutive days of blue sky, balmy breezes and bright sunshine.  Spectacular sunrise.  Magnificent sunsets.  I’d like to find words to put you in the setting, but the scene challenges a writer in the same way it challenges a painter or poet or a photographer.  Can it be captured?  Probably not.

They call it Barnabas because he’s the Bible character who just couldn’t stop spreading encouragement everywhere he went.  And that’s what you feel everywhere you walk on these grounds.  And at mealtime the menu fits right in: cuisine presented with the same loving care and color and international flavor as the grounds.   Your private quarters, as I think about it, are just as warm and embracing as the panorama opening up through the windowpane.

It’s at a place like Barnabas at Keats that God does some of his best work.

The twenty-four of us who gathered as leaders for refreshment, instruction, and connectedness in community were all looking for some of the same things: confirmation and clarity and direction and energy for the journey.  I found all of that.  The others, I’m quite certain, would say the same.

We came from all over the world.  And we completed the course.  An evening of celebration and commissioning on the bluff looking across the water at the jagged peaks of the Canadian Rockies marked the conclusion.  Our journey took many of us through transition and hardship, accomplishment and celebration.  We are now forever linked.

Leaving the island, we all came home to family, and for me, as the calendar would have it, just about the whole family.  My nephew called the meeting.  When his bride walked down an aisle between a large collection of white chairs filled up with the people he loves, lined in straight rows on a green meadow on the highest point, a hilltop in an old park in the city near the house he called home as a young boy, we were all there (save one or two).  Amid big red balloons and a collection of noteworthy friends and extended family, Jessica in a white dress and shawl and veil gently covering her smile, on the arm of her father, approached him down that aisle.  And as she did, Tyler wept openly.  They were tears of celebration.  And anticipation.  And pure joy.

We all joined in.

 

Coming away from Keats, in our pockets, the twenty-four of us all carry a token, a reminder of a journey that began on an island across from Gibsons on the Straight of Georgia: a sharp edged pointed flintstone.  Shaped with precision and care.

An arrowhead.

We are now alumni.  Arrow leaders.

And I also carry with me a distinction among the thirteen hundred graduates serving all over the world.  I was the oldest in my class (the 25th).  And the President confirmed it – the oldest Arrow graduate ever.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2009

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