Archive for the ‘Thank You Notes’ Category

Lew Floyd Memorial

December 9, 2010 8 comments

My dad acting goofy with his sons: Jeremy Floyd, Lew Floyd, Andy Bickers, Doug Floyd

We gather to remember. Following the rhythm of God’s people from across the ages, we gather, we remember, and we rejoice in the goodness of our God.

Even as we remember the life of Lew Floyd, my father, we are giving glory to God in Christ. For all things are created in and through Christ, and in him we live and move and have our being.

Lew Floyd was a Athlete, Competitor, Adventurer, Artist, Socializer, Dreamer, Joker, Painter, Gardner, Friend, Father and a Storyteller.

Born in the middle of the Great Depression, his life reflected anything but that Great Depression. In fact, he recounted having little memory of struggle and hard times in those raw years. One of the earliest images I remember about my dad is watching a film clip of a two or three-year-old boy feeding chickens. He threw seed on the ground and then threw seed in his mouth.

In the early 1940s, America was busy fighting a war. My dad was busy fixing bicycles, raising rabbits and selling newspapers. He used to recount his experience selling papers on the day America dropped the bomb. He had never seen the word “atom” before, so he stood on the corner shouting, “Read all about it! America drops ate-om bomb.”

As a new optimism took hold in the country during the 1950s, my dad stepped into new possibilities when he graduated from high school. He spent his first quarter at University of Tennessee in Knoxville. After the first day of classes, my dad decided UT was too big and unfriendly, so he got on the bus and went back home.

His mom told him, “Get back on that bus and go back to school!” Of course, he promptly returned to classes. But he ended up winning a football scholarship to Carson Newman and was able to transfer the next quarter. While at UT, my dad served in the Navy ROTC program. Carson Newman did not have a Navy ROTC program at the time, so he wrote the Commander at UT and requested a discharge.

The Commander told him that he had to return his uniform before receiving the discharge. As college life took hold of my dad, he forgot the request and the uniform. Four years later, he graduated from Carson Newman and was promptly drafted into the Army.

Only there was a problem. My dad was still officially in the Navy. When he told the Army, they requested a discharge. The Navy complied. The Army gave my dad credit for serving four years of service, and he entered the service at a higher pay grade.

But before he left, he married my mom. She worked at Sears, and his sister introduced them. My dad always like to say that he got my mom from Sears and Roebuck. They spent their first two years of marriage in Europe courtesy of Uncle Sam.

The 1960s represent a period of dramatic change in America’s history. At the same time, my dad’s own life went through several dramatic changes. He finished his tour of duty and was prepared to settle down to the family business of selling insurance. A friend’s mom suggested he apply to the FBI.

For kicks, he applied and spent the next 25 years serving as a Special Agent in Springfield, IL, Buffalo, NY, New York City, and eventually Knoxville. Eight of those years were spent in the Big Apple, New York City.

This time proved to a pivotal time in my dad’s life. He followed Russian spies by day, and played with us kids in Oradell, New Jersey by night. He told us many stories of his time in the city and his adventures, but the stories I enjoyed the most were the mishaps and funny incidents involving other agents.

Once he told us about a new agent who recently arrived in the city. The other agents encouraged him to eat at a nearby deli because the owner would give agents bigger sandwiches. He stopped in one day and ordered a roast beef sandwich, but the owner was not in and he got a regular sized sandwich. The agent asked for more roast beef on his sandwich, and the lady replied, “That’s the way they come sir.” He promptly pulled out his badge and said, “FBI, more roast beef!”

New York City shaped my dad in some ways, but the greatest impact on his life during this season was at a local church in New Jersey. Him and my mom were looking in the yellow pages for a church when he spotted a church advertising “Air Conditioning” in their ad.

Those two words sounded perfect in the middle of a hot summer. Soon my parents joined this “cool” church. They both experienced a profound encounter with the Lord. Soon their life was defined by serving in various ministries from the church “bus ministry” to the children’s church to the youth group. Their time at First Baptist Hackensack shaped them in ways that impacted the rest of their lives.

In the 1970s, the United States brought our soldiers home from Vietnam. At the same time, my dad and mom returned home to Tennessee. He served at a SWAT team leader, a photographer and eventually a trainer in the local FBI office. My dad also found opportunities to share his faith with the very people he arrested and was known to bring bibles to them while they served in prison.

My dad retired in the 1980s, started a second career in banking and retired from it in the 90s. All the while, he remained active, engaged in life and ministry and full of good humor. He helped start a Sunday School class with a friend Jack Davis. The class became the center of my dad’s focus and energy over the last decade of his life.

In the late 90s, my dad, brother Jeremy, brother-in-law Andy, and me all decided to hike up to Mt LeConte right after Christmas. As the poorly trained hikers we were, we departed for the hike in late afternoon on a snowy December day. We finally reached the trail around four p.m.

Most people appeared to be coming back from the trail as we headed out and up. At first the path seemed fine, but soon we were walking (and slipping) on ice. Daylight was slipping away alongside us. Soon the dark shadow of night was fast approaching.

The trail shifted from a smooth passage over tree roots and rock to a steep climb along the side of the mountain. In my typical less than courageous mindset, I was ready to head back to Gatlinburg and enjoy a good meal! But we pressed on.

Soon a heavy set guy passed us heading down the trail. He stopped and said, “You really shouldn’t go any farther. It’s too steep, too icy and getting too dark.” After he passed out of sight, my dad replied, “Ain’t no fat boy gonna tell me I can’t climb the mountain!”

That one statement captures the energy and fire in my dad’s belly. If you tell him he can’t do it, can’t win, can’t make, he’s sure to give everything to prove you wrong. Thus we trudged upward and onward. I was convinced we’d die on the side of the mountain. But to my amazement, my dad’s drive pressed us all forward, and we made to the top and spent the night up there in a three sided-cabin.

Over the last several years, my dad’s quote became part of the family lore. Even now when facing a hard struggle, one of us will say, “Ain’t no fat boy gonna tell me I can’t climb the mountain!” That one moment (which was so exhausting and overwhelming at the time) has come to be one of the fond memories of time spent with my dad.

As I reflect on that moment, and the subsequent moments and the final moments of my dad’s life, I am reminded of how he lived fully in the moment. When he was serving in the FBI, he was fully engaged. But after he retired, he didn’t sit around and look back, he continued to embrace the moment before him.

We live moment by moment. In fact, every moment is gift. For in every moment we are sustained through the grace and goodness of God.

And in the moment, Christ says “Come”

“Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

In our weakness, pain, suffering and struggles, he calls us to come. In our strength, joy, victory and success, he calls us to come. In the moment, he bids us come.

In the moment, he calls us to love one another. Most of us are born into community. Most of us will die in community. We are created and called to live in community.

In the moment, Christ commands, “Love.”

“Love one another as I have loved you. ”

Yet we are loveless and we waste the moment. We corrupt the moment. We betray the moment through unforgiveness, bitterness, covetousness.

Athanasius said that sin causes a corrupting corruption that infects everything and everyone.

Christ enters the corruption. Bears the suffering. Leads the weary world into death in Himself and life in himself. In Christ, we rediscover love.

We are loved and loved and loved.

In Christ, we learn not simply to live in the moment, but to love in the moment.

Let us love in the moment.

Life is but a series of moments.

Many moments we want to rush through. Some moments we want to slow down. There are painful moments, joyous moments, lonely moments, exciting moments, funny moments, sad moments, mundane moments.

All these moments are gift from our Lord and Father. Just because we may feel pain in this moment, just because we may suffer in this moment, just because we may sit in darkness in this moment, let us not grow deaf to the call of Christ.

Come. Live. Love.

We respond in thanks to the loving Father and seek to obey his command to rest in Christ this moment. To live in Christ this moment. To love in Christ this moment.

We are gathered this moment. We offers thanks to God this moment.

All we have is the moment.

And just a moment ago, my dad was suffering in the hospital.

And a moment earlier, he was hiking Mt Le Conte.

And a moment earlier, he retired from a career in the FBI.

And a moment earlier, he was marrying my mom.

And a moment earlier, he sold newspapers announcing the atom bomb.

And a moment earlier, he was born into a loving community.

Life is a but a series of moments.

And in a moment, the last trumpet will sound,

And in a moment, the dead will be raised imperishable,
And in a moment, we shall be changed.

And in a moment, this perishable body will put on the imperishable,

And in a moment, this mortal body must put on immortality.

And in a moment, Death will be swallowed up in victory.

So let us rejoice in this moment.

Let us be steadfast in this moment.

Let us be immoveable in this moment.

Let us abound in the work of the Lord in this moment.

For our Lord is Faithful, and our obedience to Christ in this moment is not in vain.

In this moment, Christ invites us to come.
You who are weary, you who are heavy laden with burdens and grief, come to Christ.

In this moment, Christ calls us to love.
Beloved let us love one another as God has loved us in Christ.

In this moment, Christ calls us to go,
Let us go out proclaiming the good, good, good news of our Savior’s love for this broken and suffering world.

And in this moment let us say but a momentary goodbye to Lew Floyd.

Categories: Advent, Thank You Notes

Dictums of Dr. Drake

August 11, 2010 6 comments

Robert Young Drake Jr.

I stumbled into Dr. Drake’s class kinda like the way I stumbled into college. While my friends were applying for grants and scholarships, I was busy dreaming of some great venture, some great project, some great something…or some great something else.

Then suddenly I was there. Sitting at freshman orientation for the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. I didn’t worry too much about what to study. As my dad would tell me, “What’s important is that you finish what you start. Study anything you want just finish the degree.”

My dad had just returned from the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. At one point, he shared a helicopter ride with Scott Hamilton’s dad. Dr. Hamilton, a college professor, told my dad that “if a young man is not sure what to study in school, he should learn how to communicate. If you can write and speak well, you can do about anything.”

My dad passed on that advice. That sounded good enough for me, so I ended up studying Creative Writing and Speech Communication at UT. Almost thirty years later I can thank Dr. Hamilton for helping launch me on the adventure of learning to speak.

Now where was I? Oh yes, stumbling into Dr. Drake’s Advanced Creative Writing class wearing one black shoe and one red shoe. For some reason, two different colored shoes made perfect sense in the 80s. As I sank down into my seat, I noticed that the man standing at the front of the class was wearing a linen suit. He looked and sounded like he stepped right out of nineteenth century Southern aristocracy.

Robert Young Drake Jr. stood before us as a living testimony of another time, another world. An old Southern sophistication that was and is vanishing under concrete Interstates, concrete shopping malls and concrete lives. Listening to him talk was like sitting on a big porch during the late afternoon, sipping on lemonade and swapping stories.

His slow drawl, devilish wit, and penchant for telling stories captivated us half-dazed students who stumbled toward degrees and possible oblivion. On the first day of class, he handed out no syllabi, no reading lists, and he gave no expectations for what was ahead.

Someone raised his hand. “What’s your policy on cutting class?”

“I don’t have a policy. Don’t cut class.”

Another hand. Another question. “How do you figure our grades?”

“Do what I say and you’ll come through with flying colors.”

One day he asked if anyone in the class had ever read Charles Dickens. I nodded yes.

“What did you read Mr. Floyd?”

“Well, I started ‘Tale of Two Cities,’ but I didn’t finish it.”

“What? You didn’t finish. Oh Mr. Floyd that is a grievous sin. You must go home and pray without ceasing.”

Another day he read a story aloud, and asked us what was the main theme of the story. Someone shouted out, “Compassion.”

“Oh my. I simply hate that word. The word compassion is so over used. I think people say it when they don’t really know what a story is about.”

This was the first class I had ever attended where the professor diced our answers to pieces and never hesitated to humiliate. Of course, he said everything with that slow drawl and that slight grin.

One student made the unfortunate mistake of cutting class. Next class he reappeared.

“Well, Mr. Jones I see you’ve decided to stay at the University after all. I assumed that when you failed to come to class you had left for some pressing reason. But here you are in our midst once again.”

Looking around to all the rest us he continued, “It amazes me that people will pay good money for a University education and then fail to attend the classes. That makes no sense whatsoever.” After about five minutes of a public tongue lashing, he finally released Mr. Jones from shaming and started the class.

Some people would drop Dr. Drake’s class but no one was bold enough to cut his class.

For the next three months us stumbling students sat up wide awake with holy fear: never sure if we might be subject to a public trial on the spur of the moment. At the same time, most of us loved this class and this professor. He spoke and taught and challenged us in ways we’d never been challenged.

He mocked our simplistic assumptions and forced us to think and speak and write better. Sometimes he’d say, “People ask me if I ever see talented writers in these classes. I reply that it’s not a matter of talent. It’s a matter of work, of discipline. A good writer writes and writes and writes.”

Then he might add, “Show me a great writer and I’ll show you a great reader. If you want to write, you must learn to read.”

“The most important thing a parent can teach their child is how to read. I don’t care if the child reads comic books or Mad magazine. If the love of reading captures their soul, they’ll read and read and read. And the reading will teach them to speak.”

Religion showed in one person’s story and Dr. Drake began discussing his own faith. “Of course, I believe in purgatory. I experience it every Sunday morning sitting on a hard wooden pew during the church service. After of lifetime of such suffering, God must surely allow me into heaven.”

Another day, he decided to introduce grammar into our conversation. “There are no rules.”

“Write what’s in your heart. Discover your voice. Grammar is your servant not your master. It may help you say what you need to say more clearly, but never let it confine you from saying what you must say.”

He taught me that writing is not about fame, not about fortune. Most writers are poor. Writing is about finding and speaking my voice. It is the discipline of listening and speaking and learning to articulate. He taught me to read.

On the last day of class, he gave each of us a blessing. As he turned toward me he said, “Mr. Floyd, my hope and prayer for you is that one day by God’s grace you’ll actually finish a Charles Dickens novel.” The class burst out laughing. I laughed.

And in a strange twist of irony. One day I did read Dickens and fell in love with his words, his characters, his world. And I am always haunted by the cry for justice that echoes all through Dickens.

Dr. Drake died almost ten years ago. And sadly, I never expressed my deep appreciation for his influence on my life. It took years for me to even realize the deep and resounding impact of this thoughtful provocateur. Yet, I still find myself quoting him and listening to him and responding to him.

I continue to write. I continue to read. I continue to learn.

Dr. Drake freed me from the oppressive weight of wanting to be recognized. He freed me to a life of learning how to speak…how give voice to one moment in to discover that articulate word. As Czeslaw Milosz once wrote,

“To find my home in one sentence, concise, as if hammered in metal. Not to enchant anybody. Not to earn a lasting name in posterity. An unnamed need for order, for rhythm, for form, which three words are opposed to chaos and nothingness.”

Dr. Drake spent his life teaching students to pound that one sentence into this fleeting world of glory. And for that I am forever grateful.

Thank You Dumitru Staniloae

May 29, 2008 3 comments

There is a sweetness in the writings of Dumitru Staniloae that draws me into the love of God. This precious Orthodox theologian opened the gift of relationships within time and space for me. I was struggling to understand the problems of the West and the modern world in the way we articulate and understand time and space when I first discovered Staniloae.

Instead giving me the answers, he caused me to raise more questions. And I am grateful for that holy stirring in my soul. Like Heschel, Staniloae suggests that the modern world tended to spacialize time and invert the proper order of time over space. When writing about time, Staniloae says that time is the interval between the offer of love and the reciprocation to that offer.

But maybe I better back up a moment. Staniloae introduced me to another aspect of Maximas the Confessor beyond the four hundreds texts on love. He develops the creational vision of Maximas in his writings. Staniloae suggests that when God chose to create humans (in his image), God created time and space as to planes where humans could move (in differing ways) towards love. Thus time and space provide a plane of motion for movement toward love in relationship with God and with other humans.

At first this may be a little difficult to wrap around, but I encourage to let it simmer in your thoughts and heart. It will unfold riches of the beauty of this creation. As a way of offering some glimpses into Staniloae’s writings, I am posting a segement from his little pamphlet “The Victory of the Cross.” This 20 page treasure opens in the riches of the cross in ways that most of us completely miss.

Here is the opening paragraph from this meditation on the cross of suffering in our lives:

The world is a gift of God, but the destiny of this gift is to unite man God who has given it. The intention of the gift is that it should be continually transcended. When we receive a gift from somebody we should look primarily towards the person who has given it and not keep our eyes fixed on the gift. But often the person who receives the gift becomes so attached to the gift that he forgets who has given it to him. But God demands an unconditional love from us for he is infinitely greater than any of the gifts which he gives us; just as at the human levels the person who gives us a gift is incomparably more important than the gift which he has given and should be loved for himself and ot only on account of his gift. In this way every gift requires a certain cross, and this cross is meant to show us that all these gifts are not the last and final reality. The cross consists in an alteration in thie gift, and sometimes even in its entire loss.

I am planning to put some notes on his themes on the cross soon, and I’ll post them. But I’ll pause now simply to say thank you for the gift of writing you gave. May I move beyond the gift to love God and others more fully.

Thank You C.S. Lewis

May 24, 2008 1 comment

I just finished The Last Battle, and my heart was stirred afresh by the cries, “Further Up and Further In!” My fourth grade teacher introduced our class to C.S. Lewis by reading portions from the Chronicles of Narnia each day in class. Then I read the books myself, and it was the first time as a youth that I had any longing for the kingdom of God. I didn’t know what I was longing for until I was older, but Lewis’s words awoke this yearning that only grew as I grew older.

Recently I listened to all the audio books again (and realized that I think I somehow skipped the Silver Chair as a youth). After all these years the stories still worked their magic. I felt foolish driving down the road blubbering at various transcendent points in the tales.

So thank you C.S. Lewis for you gift of another world. You helped to train my eyes to see glimpses of the kingdom around me and my ears to hears echoes of a new creation song.

Thank You Hans Urs Von Balthasar

May 15, 2008 Leave a comment

I am grateful to Hans Urs Von Balthasar for writing about the riches of God in ways that both challenge my mind and stir my heart to worship. The Beauty of Jesus captured Von Balthasar soul, and his writing carries the sweetness of a beloved child entranced by the riches of his heavenly Father.

I first discovered Von Balthasar while ambling through a used bookstore in Knoxville. I found a small, stained book with only one word on the cover: Prayer. For three dollars I purchased his classic theological devotional that wounded me with God’s love. Since then I have been enriched and mentored by many books from this man who wrote with a heart to stir God’s people to prayer.

Here is a small excerpt from this rare treasure:

“We yearn to restore our spirits in God, to simply let go in him and gain new strength to go on living. But we fail to look for Him where He is waiting for us, where he is to be found: in His Son, who is His Word….we fail to listen where God speaks; where God’s Word rain out in the world once for all, sufficient for all ages, inexhaustible. Or else we think that God’s Word as been heard on earth for so long that by now it is almost used up, that it is about time for some new word, as if we had the right to demand one. We fail to see that it is we ourselves who are used up and alienated, whereas the Words resounds with the same vitality and freshness as ever; it is as near to us as it always was. “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (Rom 10:8). We do not understand that once God’s Word has run out in the midst of the world, in the fullness of time, it is so powerful that it applies to everyone, all with equal directness; no one is disadvantaged by distance in space or time. True, there were a few people who become Jesus’ earthly partners in dialogue, and we might envy them (in) their good fortune, but they were as clumsy and inarticulate in this dialogue as we and anyone else would have been. In terms of listening and responding to Jesus’ real concerns they had no advantage over us; on the contrary, they saw the earthly, external appearance of the Word, and it is largely concealed from them the divine interior.”

Here is an excerpt from another stunning classic, The Heart of the World.

Thank You Notes – G.K. Chesterton

May 9, 2008 1 comment

G.K. Chesterton’s writings helped restore my eyes to the wonder of this world and the marvel of God’s goodness revealed in this creation. His chapter, “The Ethics of Elfland” in Orthodoxy stands as one of my all time favorite chapters in a book. In Chesterton I disocvered the grace of God working in the imagination to awaken faith.

The gift of Chesterton is the gift of “eyes to see.” Our busy schedules, personal trials, and distracted imaginations can blind us to the wonder of God. Whether telling the story of Thomas Aquinas, revealing Jesus as the “Everlasting Man” or writing poems about an upside down world, Chesterton consistently shouts and sings out as the merry jester that penetrates my heart with delight in the goodness of God.

As his warm love and laughter stirred in my mind and heart, I found my clouded vision finally opening every so slightly to the marvel of creation, the wonder of life, the miracle of love that God pours out continually upon his people. Thank you G.K.

You’re words have been medicine for my soul.

Read all Thank You Notes.

Thank You Notes – Kelly Floyd

For my inaugural thank you note, I wish to express my deep appreciation for the presence of Kelly Floyd in my life. Kelly is my wife of almost 20 years. Kelly taught me to think more practically. Her questions have often challenged my “ideal theories” and forced me to think in terms of the world we live in right now.

She models constructive confrontation both in the workplace and in her personal relationships. Even though my background is in communication and interpersonal relationships, I’ve learned more about speaking directly from her than I ever did from a class.

While there are more kudos she deserves, I’ll stop for now with those two gifts that challenge and inspire me.

Read all Thank You Notes.

Thank You Notes

I like reading lists such as top movies, top books, and top songs. Chris Tilling recently linked to Nijay Gupta’s list of Top Scholars that have influenced him. After reading his list, I thought about replicating the list with scholar who’ve influenced and shaped the way I ask questions of the Scripture and the world around me.

But I have such a hard time limiting lists. I started thinking about musicians, writers, and teachers who shaped my life. The quick list that flashed through my head included people who lived presently and who had lived in the past, but it also included people I know personally and people I don’t know. personally. Then an idea occurred to me. Instead of posting a list, I am going to start posting short “thank you notes” to people who have enriched my life in one way or another.

As such, this will be a never-ending list and there is no ranking. I will simply post “thanks yous” to people who have blessed me as a way of recording the rich circle of people who’ve graced me with their words, their talents and their presence.

Read all Thank You Notes.

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