Archive for July, 2009

Quinn Michele Kemp is born to Kevin and Sonya.

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Deep Sea Fishing

Monday, July 20, 2009

Let me introduce the first guest writer in the ten year history of LeaderFOCUS.  I dare not name him.  He works as a linguist and translator on the other end of the globe in a dangerous place.  He keeps a low profile along with his wife and family.  Not everyone welcomes him.  I think you know the challenge.  His name is Craig.

Here’s what he wrote…

I’ve been thinking about one of your weekly leadership writings a few months back.  I can’t remember now the main point of that week, but you mentioned somewhere in the story about a changing of habits, or things we deem acceptable among men in the evangelical church.  Smoking cigars, drinking and using coarse language is much more common now than 20 years ago… or in other words – smoking, drinking and cussing.

I’ve actually seen this among some of my expat ministry friends here in [omit].  They offer me cigars, but I just don’t like them, and can’t justify spending several bucks on one.  And [my wife] thinks they are gross, so that should settle that anyway.  I drink beer and wine, maybe a few times a month, usually with [my wife] and friends who usually join us in that.  Before I became a follower of Jesus, my mouth was pretty foul, and that was one of the first things that He began to clean up, so I try and control my language.  [My wife] (probably like Carolyn) has maybe once or twice uttered a cuss word (since I’ve known her!), so I know she doesn’t appreciate it.

What I’m coming to, is that in your article, you left it open as to whether or not this was a good trend, or not.  How far do we need to go for our message to be received?

One challenge in front of me is some of the language I’m hearing at our international school.  They are mimicking their dads, along with movies, etc.  I’m challenging myself to clean up the gray stuff, so that I can challenge my boys to do the same.

Any thoughts?

And then Craig changed the subject.

Hey, I had a perfect guy day yesterday.  The younger, single guy on our team came by early and wanted me to go fishing and diving with them.  Hard to pass up, especially as I brought two new Rapala big game lures.  And one of the three with us (Rudi) is the premier spear fisherman in this big village.  So the four of us got in a medium sized outrigger with a small Chinese diesel motor, literally jury rigged.  A one gallon plastic can with diesel tied and hanging from a piece of wood (the gas tank), and the water cooling is a ten foot hose going out the back of the outrigger, into the water as the intake.

The weather had calmed a bit, as the days before it was really rough and windy.  As we headed across to the bigger island, I hauled in a ten pound giant trevally, a very good start. We use hand lines, with two hundred yards of one hundred pound test and a three foot long stainless steel leader wrapped around a one and a half foot long big piece of bamboo.  Trolling takes on a bit of a different meaning with a hand line.  Pure mayhem takes about two seconds to develop, as we have to keep control of the line (not getting my hands destroyed), bamboo line “holder” and not have the line snap when a fish bites.

We hadn’t had any good fish since getting here, either.  That was the only fish to bite as we got to the diving spot.

I had planned to just snorkel and swim with the two guys who were spear fishing.  No gear at all except masks for them.  Spearguns with hand made bodies of iron wood, with small bore stainless rebar as shafts and thick pieces of rubber stretched and hooked with stainless wire to the shaft.  It got dark with rain, but still always awesome to see God’s creation in the reef.  After seeing Rudi spear a few fish, I grabbed one of the guns and wound up taking three shots in twenty plus feet of water, and getting three fish.  Two small one pound coral trout, and one three pound grouper.

I’ve never gone three for three.  Then heading back to our island, I caught two more giant trevallys and a fifteen pound barracuda, out of four hits.  We ate the barracuda shashimi style, marinated in palm vinegar and blazing hot chilis.  Their hearts still beating as we prepared them…  I gave one of the Rapalas to a friend, and he was out trolling in his small canoe (sailing only) at the same time.  He came strutting up with a huge Wahoo (thirty to forty pounds). Wahoo is an apt name, as all you can say when you see one of these is “Wahoo!”

That one fed a lot of people that night!

Here’s my reply:

My only comment on this trend toward “wordliness” is that it seems so incredulous to me that this generation thinks they are the first to indulge in “freedom” from the tyranny of the old restrictions of separatist evangelicalism.  We experimented with that a long time ago.  (Come to think of it, the “experiment” continues.)  I went to Bible school in the sixties; and we thought we were pretty progressive then; my pipe-smoking phase kicked in during the seventies.

I thought I looked intelligent smoking that thing.  I didn’t have to say much; just nod knowingly and take a draw.  Maybe give a one-word comment, “Damn.”  It was all form, no substance.  But so cool.  Carolyn stayed with me (thankfully); but it took an extra measure of grace.  We long-time Christians can be so full of ourselves; especially us Bible school grads.

What we all know (from our study of Jesus and Paul) is that true spirituality is something other than conformity to someone’s idea of upright living; it has more to do with the kind of wonder and awe and camaraderie that kicks in out there beneath the surface of the blue waters, no snorkel, mask and no fins together with a bunch of guys with makeshift spear guns in their hands.  Later, tearing into spicy barracuda sashimi style in a celebration of God’s good provision, when most of the rest of the world is sitting comatose in front of a flickering, high definition television screen.

That’s when God is near.

I’m learning to be on the lookout for those moments, like last night when Carolyn and I sat in the spa looking over at the Rocky Mountain peaks at a lightening show under ominous gray clouds and a big sky.  As the storm drifted in our direction we talked long, our sentences interrupted here and there by “Whoa!  Did you see that one?”  After an hour or more, we only got out of the water because we feared the next bolt just might connect with our little bubbling pool.

Seems like when we are in tune with God’s regular visitations, the need to declare our independence from a stifling, suffocating religion just kind of goes away.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2009

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Monday, July 13, 2009

It is not all that comfortable to talk about marriage in this crazy culture, this brave new world of ours.  We can no longer assume “traditional” marriage these days.  We do not like to be the one to force awkward little explanations; who lives with whom for how long or which children belong to which adult or who is the bio-parent or if the settlement is final and if the custody arrangement is working out alright.  These are personal matters.  We have learned (sometimes the hard way) to avoid them in polite conversation.

Take for example the flight attendant last month.

Circumstances all came together in one great convergence of coincidence.  As a result, I accompanied my niece and her two young children on a direct flight from the Pacific Northwest to Southern California.  We bid farewell to her husband and and the boys’ father.  He hugged his two little guys sending them off with their mom and their Uncle Ken.  It was not an easy send-off for Jared; or for the boys to say good-bye to their dad.  Our destination: a wedding, which was also a large family reunion.  The agent arranged for us all to sit together in the same row for the nonstop flight.  When the seat-belt sign went off, I took on the assignment to walk young Wesley down the center aisle to the in-flight lavatory to take care of business.

That’s when the flight attendant commented, “What an adorable boy you have!”

Before I could offer a clarification, she asked, “Is your wife doing alright?”  She nodded in the direction of our seats.  “Can I get her anything?”

When I snickered and explained that I am her uncle, the flight attendant blushed.  “Oh.  Sorry.”  She flashed one of those smiles that must of got her hired in the first place, and waved her hand as a gesture of “silly me.”

Understand that I am an aging, mature man.  My niece looks every bit my daughter.  Wesley, a grandson.  But we are living in a New Modern World.  No surprise, I guess, that she would assume that this Baby Boomer is, like so many of my contemporaries, starting over.  Giving it another try.  Maybe get it right this time.

Hardly.  This summer, Carolyn and I reach another milestone.  We have been together as husband and wife for four full decades.  We cringe whenever we receive accolades as a model couple because the two of us know that it hasn’t always been easy and we still have a lot to learn.  We do, however, commend the lifetime gig.  Whatever challenges come along, and we have seen our fair share, it is well worth holding on.  The benefits and rewards at this stage cannot be bought; and growing together through the stages of adult life brings a depth of gratitude that goes beyond words.

We run with the evangelical crowd so we are quite accustomed to speeches on the sanctity of marriage and the horrors of the widespread collapse of traditional values and the surety that these are the End Times.  Generally the message comes from the pulpit or Christian radio or Christian books.  But occasionally, that message comes from an unlikely source like it did this week.  TIME Magazine.

Caitlin Flanagan likes to make waves.  She sharpened her writing skills as an English teacher in an upscale high school in North Hollywood.  Then she landed a job at the New Yorker.  When TIME published her first article in 2006, she aimed her verbal arsenal at her own Democrat Party.  She proclaimed that the party was hopelessly out of touch.  Her passion for the Democrat social agenda had been established in several articles appearing in the prestigious New Yorker magazine.  But after her years of loyal votes and determined activism, the party shunned her.  Why?  Because she also believes in marriage, in fidelity and the need children have for both a mother and father.   For many of the party leaders, this mighty contradiction was punishable by banishment.  She warned two years before the Presidential election that the party had better step up and articulate support for home and family or risk alienating most of the country.

Her rant published in TIME could well be the reason that the candidate with the healthiest marriage won the party’s nomination; and went on to White House.

Caitlin Flanagan authored a lengthy article in the current issue of TIME.  It got my attention.  In a section called Marriage Matters, she poses the question: “Is There Hope for the American Marriage?”

The recent spate of high profile marriage calamities dominating the airwaves prompts the question.  You know the names of the current offenders.  The evening news headlines the salacious details.  (Why is it that television news more and more resembles the magazine rack at the check out stand over at the grocery store?)  Flanagan’s article is chock full of quotable quotes.   Here is a sampling –

“Adultery is not about sex or romance. Ultimately, it is about how little we mean to one another.”

“How much does this [the high incidence of children born without marriage] matter? More than words can say. There is no other single force causing as much measurable hardship and human misery in this country as the collapse of marriage.”

“Growing up without a father has a deep psychological effect on a child. ‘The mom may not need that man,’ Kefalas [Maria Kefalas, a sociologist who studies marriage and family issues and co-authored a seminal book on low-income mothers] says, ‘but her children still do.’”

Well, you get the idea.  TIME magazine sees it, too.

Marriage does matter.

Copyright Kenneth E. Kemp 2009

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Monday, July 6, 2009

The long-term consequence of this economic shift is one of the great unknowns we live with this summer of 2009. Few of us imagined that the government would succeed in the short term at turning back the clock to the way things were.  Statistics support the view that a multi-billion dollar infusion of cash will fall considerably short of our high expectations.

On one level or another, all of us are working on strategies to cope.  We are looking for more than survival, we want to capitalize; to seize the opportunity.

We’ve been bumped right out of the rut.  We’ve been pushed to reconsider what we really want.  What we really care about.  When a bubble bursts, you can’t remake it.  Maybe that’s what they were getting at when they told us the story about Humpty Dumpty and all the King’s horses and all the King’s men.  Sometime it breaks.  You start over.  And here we are, back to the proverbial drawing board.

But already, I’ve seen at least one tangible benefit to this global size correction.  I experienced it this weekend.

We all know about economic cycles; the fundamentals of supply and demand.  We understand that market value is simply defined.  What will a willing seller take from a willing buyer?  That’s your value.  It certainly is not fixed; value goes up and then comes down.  Price fixing never works for long.  People who create products race to meet demand.  But the minute they produce more than the market will absorb, value falls.  Simple as that.  When you run out of buyers, price drops.  That’s the way it works.

Some argue that market forces are right up there with earthquakes and hurricanes.  Now that capitalism has been unleashed all over the globe, the ebb and flow of market tides are beyond the reach of governments and corporations and boardrooms and taxing agencies.

There is a whole new generation of bright, tech savvy, eager young people who just twenty-four months ago viewed the American dream as the impossible dream.  Apart from access to a major chunk of cash from wealthy family members, the possibility of home ownership remained well out of reach; especially here in Southern California.   When entry-level homes start at six or eight hundred thousand dollars and a one hundred thousand dollar annual income qualifies you, maybe, for a three hundred thousand dollar mortgage, what’s the point?  It’s not going to happen.  (Unless the bank gives you a loan you can not possibly repay.)

When an entire generation is robbed of the possibility of a home and neighborhood and a place to drop roots and build a life, what is the consequence?  Motivation goes, too.  It’s no wonder that a whole wave of twenty-somethings seem lost and tentative toward commitment of any sort.  When an education is no guarantee of marketability and incomes fall way short of providing a path toward upward mobility, why even participate?

Blame who you will, the market is cleaning itself up.  Bloated corporate expenses are disappearing.  Banks that made loans without bothering to check credit-worthiness are paying a serious toll.  Money managers who manipulated markets are washing out.  The government cannot possibly prosecute every abuse of the system; but the system can.  And it does.  It’s not a perfect justice, but it is a kind of justice.

So now, thanks to a substantial market drop, a new generation has been invited into the system.  Values are back within reach.  Our own kids have been on the hunt for property for several months.  They competed with other young buyers – ten to twenty offers per house on average.  Last week they closed escrow on their first house.

Trust me when I say it needs work.  Carolyn and I were there this weekend scraping and painting and sanding and sweeping and demolishing old stuff that needs to go.  We were back at Home Depot again.  It will take time and sweat and care to create the space of their hopes and dreams.

It is a community of twenty-somethings all helping each other.  A whole pack of friends joined in.  Our grandson will celebrate his fourth birthday next week in the living room of his own place; and we’ll be clearing a play area in the back yard.  And in a month or so, he will welcome a new sister.

It is hard for me to put into words the pride I feel in those kids putting in the long hard days, making the decisions, working with their friends and getting the place ready.  We were there, too, back then.

What is at work here?  Something primal.  Right off the script of “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  Sixty years ago.

Just before the big dance over at the high school, the two of them at the dinner table, George and his father discussed the merits of the Building and Loan downtown.  The senior Mr. Bailey said,

You know, George, I feel that in a small way we are doing something important.  Satisfying a fundamental urge.  It’s deep in the [human] race for a man to want his own roof and walls and fireplace.  And we’re helping him get those things in our shabby little office.

Later, when George and Mary Bailey stood on the front porch of a new home.  In dedication, they presented gifts and pronounced a blessing with the whole neighborhood listening in –

Bread! That this house may never know hunger.
Salt! That life may always have flavor!
And wine!! That joy and prosperity may reign forever.
Enter the Martini castle!
The crowd cheers.

As Carolyn and I looked back, sweaty and covered with splotches of paint, soreness here and there, at the little house there on Timothy Drive and our kids working so hard to make it their own, we cheered, too.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2009

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