Archive for September, 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

The summer before last, we made our third visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem just outside the Temple Mount and off limits from the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.  It is the center of the religious universe for what many like to call the Three Great Monotheisms.  You can’t help but get a sense of that lofty description as you stand there in the shadow of the ancient stone wall, chiseled with an uncanny precision, massive blocks somehow lifted and placed in perfect symmetry by some unimaginable technology long lost to the still undiscovered records books.  Every day, folks dressed for the occasion in traditional garb, often black, many of the men bearded, most all with heads covered, come to pray.  Some men are orthodox and arrive under broad brimmed back hats.   The rest are under a yarmulke, a round cap, often embroidered.  Women’s heads are delicately covered with a properly folded scarf, or sometimes a stylish hat.  If you have no head covering, one is made available to every visitor, no matter what your ethnicity, religious preference or nationality.  All are welcome.  But best to cover your head.

This is a place of tradition.  Though the years, it has been known as the “Wailing Wall.”  Jewish visitors from all over the world come to pray for the restoration of the biblical Temple.  For Peace in Jerusalem.  They leave their prayers in the cracks of the wall; little notes rolled up small enough to squeeze in between the massive stones.  The guardians of The Wall clear the paper from time to time, but keep all of the written prayers in a permanent archive in perpetuity.  They are considered sacred.

It is not uncommon to witness a joyous Bar Mitzvah at The Wall.  According to a tradition thousands of years old, men and women are separated at The Wall by a distinct border.  When a Jewish son reaches thirteen and has completed his course in basic Hebrew and a study of the Torah, a great celebration is planned.  It includes dancing and laughter and singing and the obligatory recitation in Hebrew by the youngster.  A properly attired Rabbi superintends the ceremony.  The highpoint of the celebration is a declaration by the boy, in Hebrew, “Today, I am a man.”  The crowd cheers, from both sides of the barrier.

I captured an image that day which later moved me with deep emotion.  It has almost a Norman Rockwell quality about it, though this is an exceptionally Jewish moment, rarely American.  A beautifully dressed mother reaches over the barrier to hold her son as tears stream down her cheeks.  The boy is wearing his yarmulke, the Rabbi holds the scroll, and two lovely sisters, smiling broadly, join the mother in reaching over the fence to touch their brother, whose father watches over the scene with obvious pride. All join in together in a long anticipated moment of joy and accomplishment.  The son/grandson/brother officially transitions from boyhood to manhood.  Here, in the shadow of the Great Wall.

It is a rite of passage.

As we left the scene, and as I have studied my photograph, I have wondered – “Why is there no such rite of passage in my own tradition?  For my own son?  For my daughters?  For me?”

Jim McBride wonders, too.

So he wrote a book: Rite of Passage – A Father’s Blessing.  Jim is executive pastor at Sherwood Baptist Church.  It’s the church that gave us Facing the Giants, Fireproof and now Courageous.  He served in the Marine Corps.  He’s a tough guy.  It wasn’t until he had children of his own that he got serious about God.

And he’s concerned about the myriad of lost kids everywhere – who live their lives without a father’s blessing.  It’s an epidemic.  He documents the stats.  It will only confirm what you see all around you.  His book is a call to do something about it.  He shares his own experiences with his own kids, Buddy, Tommy and Sarah.

Jim points out that there are rites of passage in our lives and our children’s, but we miss the opportunity if we fail to be intentional in capturing those moments and affirming our kids as proud, loving, affirming parents.  We can create some of our own custom rites, too.  He shows us how.  We also ought to involve our community – to bring in those who are close to us and share our values to celebrate these meaningful moments of transition with praise and joyful celebration.

That Bar Mitzvah moment remains one of my favorites, maybe because it calls up those memories of our own three and their passages into adulthood.

And perhaps that is the most meaningful part of our lives at this stage – to be there with affirmation, affecion and pride.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011

BLOG  TOUR for Jim’s new book |  Rite of Passage on Amazon

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Three years ago, the seed idea sprouted its first shoot.  It was, as my friend Scott Last likes to call it, a BHAG.  Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal.  Our team got together and agreed – “Let’s make a movie.”

Frankly, if we had known in advance the obstacles, the barriers, the resistance, the seemingly insurmountable, the flat opposition – I’m not sure our guys would have proceeded back then.  There is something to be said for naïveté.  In the three years that followed, there were a hundred excuses for quitting – maybe more.  And most everyone would have understood.  But it was a powerful dream.  A compelling vision.  The impossible emerged as a possibility.  The door cracked open.  Our guys barged on through – with a team of prayer warriors holding them up all the way.

I’ve had a close look at this thing from the beginning.  I had the incredible experience of two personal trips to India in the interim.  This weekend, the official two minute thirty second trailer was introduced to over four thousand eager enthusiasts.  It’s been a long wait.  The guys nailed it.  They call it NOT TODAY.

Brent Martz, road weary and worn, beamed as he launched the video short.  Just a few weeks ago, on the flight back from India and a premier showing (to rave reviews) for the good folks who hosted the six-week on-location shoot and thirty American cast and crew (not counting the local actors, technicians, and support staff), Brent felt awful.  The day after his arrival home in Yorba Linda, he was admitted to the Emergency Center with a near burst appendix.  The doctors performed a surgery just in time.  But this weekend, Brent stood strong and tall – and as the trailer ran, the folks were flat blown away.  This is a real movie.  A powerful message.  A compelling story.  A fast paced journey, learning all the way.  A heart-tugging experience of India.  People you care for.

Back in the planning stages, we all looked around.  We could see it.  The church is abundantly blessed with artists, musicians, actors, writers, technicians and all the equipment anyone would need to make a feature film.  Most important, there was a message.  Global Freedom!  Free the Dalits!  This became our rallying cry as a church body.  And in the message of freedom is the essence of the Gospel.  Transformed lives lead to transformed culture and a transformed world.  Reaching out across the globe had a corresponding effect on the local neighborhood.  Our team agreed.  A documentary would be good.  But a full-length drama would be better.

Brent and his partner, Jon Van Dyke, were commissioned to write a script.  I read it for the first time while attending the first graduating class of Dalit students (high school) in Hyderabad.  I loved it.  A privileged Orange County millennial (Caden Welles) goes to India on a fluke with his partying pals.  They play the “ugly Americans,” Caden leaving behind a caring Mom and girlfriend. He stumbles across Annika (an eight year old Dalit – played by a student in one of our schools) and her father on the mean streets.  At first, he shuns them.  But they come back.  He grows attached to the little girl.  And when he learns that her father, thinking it best, accepts cash and a promise that she will be better off from an agent who takes Annika away, Caden does his homework.  He staggers, surmizing from an Internet search that the innocent little girl has become the victim of human trafficking – children snatched from their families and tossed into a world of unimaginable torment.  Off balance, Caden becomes obsessed with her rescue.  He and Annika’s father, Kiran, join forces as an unlikely pair in the hunt.

I couldn’t put down the script.  I spent the next week traveling with Brent and Jon scouting film sites and locations for the movie.  Then the next ten months researching and writing a book with Matthew Cork on the story of Global Freedom.  I spoke regularly with our partners in India who were enormously helpful in the research.  Next came the casting.  Then delays in filming (getting “permissions” to bring the film crew into India and through customs).  Then more challenges with time constraints and weather conditions, sickness, unreliable permissions on site, language barriers, clashing visions, debates over locations and scene selection, transportation, and every other distraction you might imagine.  Then in the editing room.  What to cut?  Keep the story moving, with all the hints and details just right.  And finally, post-production – color corrections, animated sub-titles, original music for the sound track, smoothing out the dialogue, adding street sounds and highlights.  And this paragraph barely begins to identify the monumental challenges.

It was an unfortunate banner – “Mission Accomplished.”  If former President G.W. Bush could do it over, the announcement would not have been so apparent on that aircraft carrier as the nation celebrated the fall of Hussein’s reign over Iraq.  Because, in retrospect, the work wasn’t done.  The mission still incomplete.  To this day.

So, when I congratulate our team with a  “Mission Accomplished,” I am compelled to add some qualifiers.  In many respects, the work is just beginning.  The movie needs to be seen, and should be seen by a mass audience.  The message needs to get out there. We’re eager (and sometimes impatient) as we watch the plan unfold.

But for today, just for today, our team has accomplished that BHAG. Kudos! It is nothing short of amazing.  We like to call it a God-sized vision.  Impossible, apart from His clear passion for a world in need – prompting us all to see beyond ourselves to something more – and His power to enable us to go far beyond what we can imagine.  Mission accomplished.

A great film is “in the can.”  Ready for prime time.  Who would have imagined it?

Well, some did.  And here we are.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011


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Monday, September 12, 2011

Where were you?  You know the answer.  Me, too.  I know exactly where I was when I first got the news that the World Trade Center was hit.  I didn’t comprehend the magnitude of the event then (a small plane crashed into the World Trade Center, they first speculated), but the memory is indelible in my mind, even at this age, as it is for you.

On this ten-year anniversary, we will not forget.  Retrospectives fill the airwaves and print media.  They bring back all those days of uncertainty, images of a terrible moment like Armageddon, when we wondered if this was The End.  And for far too many, it was.

I was in the habit of writing a weekly LeaderFOCUS back then.  These days, the current of LF version is trimmed down.  Some years before September 11, 2001, I established a discipline that got me in the habit of writing on a regular basis.  My goal: fifteen hundred to two thousand words a week – that’s three to four single-spaced pages with a twelve-pitch font for those of you not conversant in word count.  Today, my weekly essays are pared down to less than half that, knowing that you have plenty to read.  But that pivotal week, in the aftermath of the massive spectacle of horrors, I let it go.  I couldn’t stop.

This week, as part of my little personal memorial, I went back and read the two thousand, seven hundred and twenty-four (2,724) words I wrote on September 17, 2001[1].  I got carried away that day, but what writer wouldn’t?

Here’s one of my musings on the Saturday morning that followed the Tuesday we will never forget…

For a couple of decades, we [“Boomers”] crammed our naïve but ardently held ideas (which we thought were new and bold) down the unwilling throats of the Greatest Generation (we didn’t think of them in those terms back then) and embraced this rather ambitious notion that our heady enlightenment would usher in the Age of Aquarius and be the dawning of a new day of global brotherhood and sisterhood and the elimination of hunger, poverty, disease, violent conflict and every other sort of nasty contamination.  Sadly, all that has gone the way of the tie-dyed t-shirt and the flowered VW Microbus. 

As the dust of the ruined towers settled back then and we all looked into each other’s eyes in stunned disbelief, we wondered out loud – where will we all be in ten years?  Twenty years?  Well, we do not yet know about twenty, but here we are: ten years later.

And we were right.  The world has changed.

Ten years ago, most of us did not know the name Osama bin Laden.  Ten years ago, Saddam Hussein controlled Iraq.  Ten years ago, we barely noticed the proliferation of Mosques in our own country.  We knew little about Islam.  Ten years ago, we believed the “Internet Bubble” would be the worst of our economic troubles, and that it was behind us.  Ten years ago, at least half of us were not confident that the election gave us a legitimately elected President.  Ten years ago, I was not a grandfather.  (Now there are ten with two more on the way.)  Ten years ago, I had no real understanding of the plight of Dalits in India.  Ten years ago, I did not anticipate that a fire would sweep through our little town (The Paradise Fire of October 2003) and change the direction of my life.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is taking considerable heat for his decision to exclude “clergy” from the roster of the tenth anniversary memorial.  Righteous indignation abounds.  As a quasi-clergy myself, I can’t say I blame him.  My esteemed clergy colleagues spend far to much time clamoring for a prime spot at the head table, asserting their view that certain others ought to be excluded for the sake of principle (or “truth”) and bemoaning about how the rest of the world falls far short of their lofty standards.  Bloomberg may be right about shifting the focus from competing “world views” to the people for whom the event was created in the first place.  Anyway, clergy’s best work happens person to person – not in the spotlight.  (I’ll never forget the moving image of those collared priests, covered with ash, ministering to the dying.)

So if Bloomberg’s intent was to eliminate God (as many have charged), it didn’t work very well.  God got honorable (and powerful) mention from the people, most of whom were family and friends of those lost in the flames and rubble of the attack.  In the shadow of the new structure and beside the water spilling into the footprint of Towers One and Two, the names were read, bells rang out, bagpipes wailed, songs went up and if you paid attention, God was in the midst.  “A very present help in time of trouble,” read President Obama (quoting the Psalmist).

President Bush made no speech, other than to cite the words of Abraham Lincoln to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, who lost five sons in the Civil War.

“I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, 2011

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Tuesday September 6, 2011

We generally don’t think about the impact of anti-Seminitism on the occupied territories of Nazi expansionism. This weekend, we got a double dose. In a session on the history of Israel, we saw the stats. The countries that opposed the formation of the Israel as an independent state in 1948 became inhospitable for their Jewish populations. In countries like Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia, as Arabs fled Palestine so Jews fled their home countries to what we now call Israel. (Jewish populations are nearly non-existent in Arab states). We know about the pogroms in Germany and Poland, but few of us know about the round up of Jews in occupied France. It happened in July of 1942, when French police assisted the Nazi army in extracting more than 13,000 Yellow Starred Jews from their homes and businesses and corralling them in a public stadium in Paris, the giant velodrome called Vél d’Hiv. The Nazi’s convinced city officials to halt the games, and use the facility as a holding station while the deportation was arranged. The conditions more than rivaled the horrible days that followed the catastrophic storm of 2005, Katrina, when thousands gathered for shelter at the Superdome in New Orleans.

Most of those detained in Paris during the war were shipped to camps (like Auschwitz) and few returned at war’s end. Sometimes it takes a combination of fiction and history to draw us in to the power of these historical events.

In 2002, Julia Jarmond stumbles across the story when she and her husband rent an apartment in Paris. She learns that the building was stormed by police during the war and that all the occupants who were Jewish were removed from their homes and taken to the famous Velodrome (long since destroyed) and then shipped off to Germany. She remembered that President Jacques Chirac publicly apologized to the Jewish people in 1995 in a well publicized speech. An American journalist living in France, Julia convinces her managing editor to commit to an exposé in the historic incident on the sixtieth anniversary of the episode. Her younger colleagues knew very little about the events surrounding the Holocaust. She got the green light, and pursued her research and writing, producing a piece that got a wide audience and high praise.

Sarah, age ten in 1942, is terrified by the invasion of their home. Her father hides in the cellar. Her mother tries to fend off the police. Sarah and her younger brother are perplexed, but they understand the danger. Sensing that they will be taken, she hides him in a closet, and then, along with her mother and father, are taken against their will to the Velodrome with thousands of others where they suffer in waiting, no facilities or food, for more than a week.

In her novel, French author Tatiana de Rosnay develops a story that is an intentional mixture of fiction and non-fiction. It is a story of family and loss and love and hope. This year, the novel is now a full length feature film. Carolyn and I talked for an hour, trying to unpack the reasons why it had such a powerful impact on both of us.

The critics, it turns out, haven’t been so kind. It’s just as well that we did not read them before we sent to see the film. They complain that the two story lines don’t mesh. We don’t agree.

History understood impacts the way we live, they way we think and the way we interact with others. Our world, it seems, has little time and little sense for historic perspectives. I wish I knew why I needed to get to this stage in life before I understood the power of history.

Sarah’s tragic journey is a gripping tale about the bond of family that inspires courage and determination. Julia’s quest for understanding leads to a new degree of self-awareness, breaking open secrets to find healing. And in the often tragic sweep of history, stories of bravery emerge, inspiring us to find our own courage against all odds.

Sarah’s Key unlocks many doors. Don’t read the critics. Go see for yourself.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011


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