Monday, March 28, 2016

A Master of Understatement Has Died

If you've ever seen a modern preacher speak in a totally relaxed way, while slipping seemlessly between a standing position, a hand in his pocket, and sliding onto a bar stool, then you have comedian Garry Shandling to thank.

If you have ever felt that your soul just couldn't take another heavy, dark, foreboding (and forbidding) Easter sermon message, but to your surprise the pastor stood up and instead said; "I know you all have a lot to do this morning, but I just want to take a moment to share a few things that have been on my heart," then you have comedian Garry Shandling to thank.

If you have ever attended a large church conference, say the Global Leadership Summit (Willow Creek), and you sat back, before it began, wondering if it was really worth the trip and the money, and then an announcer got up on stage and, with total apparent ease - made you laugh, cry and really tune in, then you have comedian Garry Shandling to thank.

On Friday, comedian Garry Shandling died of an apparent heart attack (and by the way, even if subsequent reports of Garry Shandling's death end up to be more lurid than the initial details that have been reported, it doesn't matter since this blogpost is more about style than content), at the age of 66, in Los Angeles, California.

For a long time, public speaking and preaching have been about a single, forceful, totally deliberate and laser-like act of larger than life personality and message.  The great speakers and preachers of this ilk have all embodied these traits (Billy Graham, John F. Kennedy, Louis Evans Sr., Lloyd Ogilvie, Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt).  When these speakers and preachers delivered their message, it was with searing-hot intensity and intentionality.  You knew that they had prepared every detail of their talk for months in advance, and that every single effect and affect and delivery note was rehearsed.

Stand-up comedians tended towards the same dynamic.  Johnny Carson, for all of his off the cuff "awe shucks" delivery, was extremely rehearsed.  Bob Hope, for all of his golf-club swinging shenanigans had an intentional comedy set, which he would deliver from beginning to end, and then sit down.  Both men often delivered their monologue in suits, with pocket-squares - need I say more.

Garry Shandling was different.  When Garry delivered a monologue, you got the feeling that he had just thought of a joke right at that moment, and last second decided to deliver it.  Garry's entire countenance on stage often reminded you of a guy they just picked off the street and who somehow found himself on stage in-front of millions of people with lights and microphones in his face.  What was funny was that Garry didn't seem to want to be there, but at the same time he did.  Shandling's understated approach made you feel extremely comfortable, at ease, and even welcomed.

Many modern Christian speakers and preachers remind me of Shandling in their delivery.  Dr. Henry Cloud has a comedic delivery, and no-nonsense approach that sometimes smacks of Garry Shandling.  Kenton Beshore, senior pastor of Mariners Church in Irvine, California has a tincture of Garry Shandling in his presentation.  Andy Stanley, senior pastor of North Point Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia reminds you of Garry Shandling on occasion.  All of these modern Christian speakers are a refreshing antidote to centuries of speakers who have sometimes taken themselves altogether too seriously.

In an interview that was recently published in the wake of Shandling's death, he told NPR interviewer Terry Gross that in his first television appearance on the Tonight Show, he got a standing ovation.  In reference to this he said,"And you know, I really am not that funny, I know was just one of those things...."


All For Now,


Monday, March 21, 2016

Don't Miss The Miracle

I have a major announcement to make.  At the end of July, my wife Star and I will be having another baby.  Yes, I know - it's jaw dropping!  But it's true.  Star is about five months along in her pregnancy, and is very healthy.  The child will be a boy.  As many of you know, we already have two wonderful children (Haley who is 7 and Sheena who is 3).  Our next child will round our family out nicely (and completely!) at 5 people.  We are all very excited.

When I told a friend of mine recently about the eminent (and imminent) birth of our child, I announced it at the end of a long string of other activities going on in our lives.  In the midst of having a new baby, we will also be moving houses once again, keeping a Mission Street Church going, finishing papers for my DMin project, taking the girls to horse lessons and dance lessons, preaching at San Francisco Seminary, speaking in several other churches around the area, and many other sundry activities.  What my friend told me, though, shall remain with me...

Don't Miss The Miracle

And what he, of course, meant was that in the midst of the business and the difficulty of so many of life's other demands (demands that always exist, in every season of life), don't miss a once in a lifetime miracle that is occurring right in your midst at this very moment.

It occurred to me that my own example of a miracle in the midst of a morass of life's challenges, is not at all unique to me.  All of us are presented with miracles in the midst of life's details.

I was stuck in traffic on the 101 freeway the other day in literal bumper to bumper car alignment of confusion and anger.  An announcement came over the car radio that there was a car crash on the freeway that was causing the delay.  All of the cars around me were becoming more and more agitated, as many of them swerved in and out of the lanes to try to speed up the inevitable process of being stuck together.  Just then, the most amazing sunset spread itself across the sky.  It was red and blue and orange all combined into one and flowing in streaks across the horizon.  Most of the other drivers I could see were craning their necks to see the wreck on the road.  I was craning mine (and almost causing a wreck of my own) to look at the sunset.

Don't Miss The Miracle

In 1971, when the late President Richard Nixon was in the midst of one of the greatest political scandals to impact the United States (Watergate), he was approached by his younger daughter Patricia (Tricia), to ask if it would be ok to have their wedding in the Whitehouse.  Tricia, as it happened, was engaged to a young man named Edward Cox, and they were in love and they wanted to get married.  Nixon wasn't sure it was the best time to have such a wedding at the Whitehouse.  But they decided to go forward with the event.  And so, as Woodward and Bernstein and many other reporters were investigating the coverup which would embroil and ultimately doom the presidency of Richard Nixon, a wedding was held at the Whitehouse.  Nixon later reflected that the wedding of his daughter was one of the most magical memories of his entire life.  And he almost missed it.

Don't Miss The Miracle

This is the Monday of Easter week.  What Christ followers believe (and live by) is that some 2,000 years ago, a man named Jesus who was also God, died on a cross just outside of Jerusalem.  The gospel of Matthew tells us that from the moment Jesus entered Jerusalem, the Sunday before, the whole city was "a stir".  On the Sunday after Passover, however, what we call "Easter Sunday" only  a handful of women were present in a garden cemetery.  Only a handful of people were ready with perfume and balm for the dead body of their friend, and Lord, Jesus.  When they arrived at the tomb, it was empty.  And then there was a voice.  It was Jesus.  "Mary!".  Jesus was alive.  It was the greatest miracle in the history of the world.  And if it had not been for those women at the tomb, the world might have missed it.

Don't Miss The Miracle

This Easter Jesus still is alive!  What are the miracles, in the midst of your challenges, that God is making happen in your life right now?

Don't Miss The Miracle!

All For Now,


Monday, March 14, 2016

The Zeigarnik Effect

I recently learned about an extremely fascinating aspect of how the human mind works.  The theory is called the:

Zeignarnik Effect

What is this?  It is a theory that was first posited by a woman named Bluma Zeigarnik, who was a psychologist and therapist in the Gestalt school of thought (she studied under Kurt Lewin, if you are a student of psychology yourself).  The theory goes like this:  "People tend to remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than they remember completed or finished tasks".  In laymen's terms, it means that people tend to file away in their brains events that are finished or resolved in a different way than they file away events that are not complete.  Events that have some kind of resolution, our minds check "done" - and now forget it.  Events that don't have resolution, our minds check "not finished yet" and keep thinking about this.

What do I mean my completed and uncompleted tasks or events?  Well, completed tasks might be finishing a term paper, selling a car, getting a job promotion, writing a book, composing a song, or cleaning the house.  You know when that task is done, and it gives you a kind of personal satisfaction that it is complete.  Completed tasks can also relate to the world of relationships.  An example of a "completed relationship" might be getting married, having a good conversation that has helpful resolution, sending the kids off to college after raising and nurturing them for 18 years, or saying goodbye to a friend and sharing your heart before they die.  For some reason the brain puts these completed tasks and relationships in a bin that says, "finished" and it doesn't dwell on them much more.

What about uncompleted tasks?  These can be the things that we keep working on and pondering.  A social worker might think of a case that she is working on that has some aspect of incompletion.  A police officer thinks about a crime that is unsolved.  A writer might be working on a book that just isn't coming together at the end.  A house builder might want to build a huge back section on a house but not have the money to do so.  A politician might have high ambitions for public office, to be President let's say, but only becomes a Congressman, so there is a sense of incompleteness.  Again, uncompleted tasks also relate to relationships.  An "incomplete relationship" might be one where your girlfriend breaks-up with you, but you don't know what happened to cause the break-up.  You get fired from a job but you don't understand why you got fired.  You lose a loved one without having final conversations or goodbyes.  A house burns down that had pictures inside that were priceless to you, and you will never see them again.  These are incompleted relationships.

The Zeigarnik Effect is this, that we remember, and focus on, obsess about uncompleted tasks  and uncompleted relationships, much more than we remember, focus on, or obsess about completed tasks or completed relationships.

I can find so many examples of this in my own life.  Yesterday, for example, I preached a 50 minute sermon (at a men's retreat), that I memorized and presented without notes.  My mind remembered every small detail of the sermon as I was giving it.  I memorized 12 pages of manuscript without much trouble.  This morning, just a day later, I have a hard time remembering very much at all about my sermon, that I just gave yesterday (I am sure that some in the congregation felt the same way:-).  Why is this?  Because my mind filed the sermon away as "completed" and therefore not necessary to remember.  It's as if the brain says to the body, "Now go do something else."

On the other hand, Star and I own a house in Colorado still.  The house is being rented and will go on the market soon.  I think about the house all the time.  I lay in bed and ponder all the aspects of that house.  Are the sprinklers turned on?  Is the garage door working?  Do the washer and dryer work for the renters?  Is the radiator system busted?  In a sense, that transaction is incomplete, and therefore I remember it and think about it all the time.

The Zeigarnik Effect is a particularly helpful tool for those who are recovering from some sense of loss or grief.  Why is it so hard to move on?  The reason that you wake up every morning and think about that person you lost is because it feels incomplete to you.  There is no sense of resolution or finality.  Your mind goes back again and again to think about it.

The Zeikarnik Effect is also an important dynamic to the Christian prayer life.  There are things in life, the Bible tells us, that are simply incomplete.  The Apostle Paul alludes to this in First Corinthians, "For now we shall know only in part" (1 Corinth 13:9).  Paul is saying that there is an inherent incompleteness to our lives on earth.  Someday, though, we will know all things, we will be complete, through Christ.   We all have, "griefs to bear" as the song Amazing Grace says.  We all have incomplete things.  These griefs and losses we must simly give to God, and allow the Holy Spirit to heal.  In a sense;  

The Holy Spirit helps to make the incomplete tasks complete, through the power of the cross!!

And now that this blogpost is complete...I can forget it:-)

All For Now,


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Remembering the Reagans

Like all of us who have lived in California for any length of time (my father's family have lived here for four generations), the passing of former first lady Nancy Reagan at the age of 94 this morning in Bel Air, California conjures up some fleeting and very slight first-hand glimpses I have experienced through the years of the Reagan family.  Here they are:

Political junkies may remember the name "Brownie" as the Director of FEMA under a controversial hurricane relief effort in Louisiana by President George W. Bush.  However, I will always remember "Brownie" as my first pastoral volunteer secretary when I served as an Interim Pastor in Red Bluff, California.  Brownie had previously served as the Rev. Donn Moomaw's personal secretary at Bel Air Presbyterian Church when the Reagan family attended there in the 1980's.  Brownie would regale me daily of stories about when one of the Reagan family would want to have an immediate and instant meeting with the Rev. Moomaw.  Brownie said; "the whole church office was put on high alert that the President would be breezing through at any moment."  Brownie said that the church would, for a few moments, drop everything to attend to the President and Nancy's pastoral needs.  She said, "The Reagans were proud of being Presbyterian, and it was important to them."

Ronald Reagan's Funeral
In June of 2004, when President Ronald Reagan died, my brother, Jamie Baird (who is also a pastor in San Marino, California), and I were staying in Sacramento where my parents live.  Sacramento is, of course, where the Capitol of California is located, the seat of power, and where the historic governor's mansion still is located.  Even though the Reagans never officially lived in the designated governor's mansion (actually, the rumor is that when Nancy first saw it she was mortified because of its moribund state and drafty corridors), my brother Jamie and I, who are both bagpipers, instinctively bee-lined it to the governor's mansion to play funeral dirges on the pipes for the fallen president.  Television cameras were, of course, on hand, and many media people.  Flowers were lain at the steps of the old mansion.  People were crying all around us.  The moment was covered in local newspapers, and shall remain with me for a long time.

"Can I Have Some Bread?"
One of my very good friends, Paul Batura, who is a Vice President of Focus on the Family, tells this remarkable story of a first hand account with President Reagan.  This story is heretofore un-published. In December 1997, President Reagan was in the full throws of the Alzheimer's disease and affliction that eventually took his life.  Paul wanted to meet Reagan personally, so, out of the blue, he sent him a letter (something more of us should remember to do every now and then).  Incredibly, Reagan agreed to meet with Paul.  The meeting was to take place at the Fox Studio Building in Century City, in Los Angeles, in Reagan's office on the 21st floor.  When Paul entered the room, an enfeebled and somewhat dilapidated former President met him at the door.  "Welcome," said Reagan.  After a few perfunctory comments and remarks, Reagan walked towards the window and looked pensively down at the park below.  Reagan then said, "Can I tell you a story, Paul?" Paul said, "Yes, of course".  "Every now and then, I like to go down to the park and to feed the birds."  It struck Paul as a bit odd that president Reagan, a former leader of the free world would be feeding birds.  "One day," Reagan continued, "I met a little boy in the park.  The little boy asked me what I did for a living. I said, I feed birds."  Not sure about the octogenarian's response, the little boy then asked Reagan, "What did you used to do?"  Reagan smiled for a moment and then said, "I used to be President of the United States".  The little boy looked quizzically at Reagan and then said, "Oh...can I have some bread?"

The Reagan Ranch
Through an acquaintance, I had the opportunity to visit the original Ronald Reagan Ranch just north of Santa Barbara, to the east of highway 101, way up at the top of the canyon.  When the shiny, white Chevy suburban that carried us arrived on the property, I was stunned by it's simplicity.  Off to the side was a small cabin with cowboy relics on the porch.  The cabin was tiny, by comparison to modern homes.  Beyond a grassy glenn was a lake, and a horse meandering aimlessly on the property.  For a brief moment I understood why Reagan, before becoming president, was not sure he ever wanted to leave this property.  "It's time to go now, Mr. Baird" said the security personnel.  And we were away...

And those are my fleeting connections to the Reagans on this evening of remembrance and loss for our country.  We thank God for all those who serve our country at the highest levels.  What are your memories?

All For Now,