Sunday, March 26, 2017

Pep Talk: "Somebody's Gotta Serve"

A buddy is an avid tennis player. The other day in a meeting of government and faith leaders, while discussing ways to improve collaboration, the mentor to many blurted out something that knocked my socks off: “In tennis, and life, the game always starts with somebody serving.”

Amen to that!

The Vietnam veteran’s profound comment immediately zipped the cranium to the work of the Denver Dream Center, This wonderful community of spiritual warrior’s mission is to “Rescue People, Rebuild Lives and Restore Dreams.” It reaches out tirelessly to Denver’s most vulnerable populations with a real simple motto: “Show up. Smile. Serve.”

There’s that “serve” word again. In this crazy world in which we live these days, have we perhaps overcomplicated matters? Could it be that IF we just decided to “show up, smile and serve” we could make a difference in reducing the amount of, current,  societal suffering? We’ve got issues, folks. Anybody happy with the status quo?

A leader from Jefferson County (CO) social programs said something very powerful when stating, “The government needs to get out of the mentoring business. That’s where we need the faith-based community to really step up.”

Amen again.

On a challenge, A Stronger Cord,, was born more than three years ago. The community outreach wellness movement would love to invite all faith-based organizations, of any religious affiliation, to join the Knuckleheads in using fitness, relationship building and community service to build a stronger cord to one another. Exercise reduces stress and is a wonderful connector and equalizer. Faith-based groups reach out to communities with worship (Join us for services!), with works (Food, clothing, book drives!), right? Why not reach out with wellness? It’s easy and fruitful community outreach.

Long ago, while earning a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, many lessons were learned. None has resonated more deeply than a simple edict from professor after professor at the nation’s first, and best, journalism school: “Keep it simple, stupid.” KISS.

Service requires time. It’s something few seem to have in abundance these days. In this age of instant global communication and connection, just my opinion, our communications skills are dysfunctional and we’ve, at least in my 58 years of living, never been more divided. There’s too much discourse.

At the national and state level, expected budget cuts to social services ain’t gonna make things any better. Let’s get government out of the mentoring business and turn it over to the faith-based world. It’s encouraging to hear government leaders, like from Jeffco,  speak less about more money and more about more time. As a society, if we truly want to lessen the suffering of the less fortunate we need to SHOW THEM a different path. It’s tough to crawl out of the isolated, vulnerable and displaced crab pot if all I’m doing is hanging out with others in that same predicament. We are products of our environments, correct? 

“Somebody’s gotta serve.” Why not us? Invite your faith-based friends too.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Pep Talk: "Bedrock of Contentment"

While waiting at Denver’s airport to depart for Chicago and a much-anticipated Illinois’ prep hockey championship (niece Shannon Schmitt’s team won!) thoughts drifted to another Windy City-related matter. The Northwestern University men’s basketball team’s first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament.

A few days prior, during the first Bad Daddy’s “Bad Ass” Tuesday, which raises money for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s efforts in blood cancer research, Broncos’ quarterback Trevor Siemian, a Northwestern grad and fan, quipped, “It took 78 years.”


Anyway, the point of this Pep Talk is the lingering effect of watching the Northwestern basketball team explode in joy when it was announced the Wildcats were in the tourney. It gave your knucklehead scribe a “Thrill of victory” moment and made this aging jock feel warm and fuzzy.

Northwestern coach Chris Collins was being interviewed. Reflecting on days as a television sports journalist it triggered this fact: These are real easy interviews. Coaxing an euphoric human being to open up? You just stick the mic in front of them and enjoy the result. When hired to lead the program the fourth-year coach let everybody know playing championship-caliber hoops was THE goal. A beaming Collins, when asked to summarize feelings at the moment muttered, “We are thrilled. We are honored. We are grateful.”

Wow. Amen dude.

Since hearing the Chicago native’s thoughts the ol’ cranium has not been the same. Think about it. Can you imagine a life dominated by feelings of being thrilled, honored and grateful? Bartender, another round for everybody! However, we know that’s foolish. Life RARELY brings moments like Northwestern basketball’s emotional high at that particular time. Enjoy them. They are precious gems.

For most of us, mundaneness and mishap are the norm. Stuff happens leaving us anything but thrilled, honored and grateful. But as Pastor Bryan Sederwall of the Denver Dream Center said the other night at one of their fantastic “Third Thursday” events, “If we always shift the blame, we will always stay the same.”

In other words, to experience euphoric “thrilled, honored and grateful” snapshot, in all probability, we MUST, initially, get kicked around a bit? Could it be that basking in utter joy would not be possible without a journey that had moments of, “WTF?”

It’s constantly talked about at A Stronger Cord. This community outreach movement that’s trying like crazy to unite America with wellness,  encourages participants to embrace the importance of realizing we all have stuff. What’s critical? Let’s be students, not victims, of it!

I know, easy to talk about, far more difficult to accomplish. This week, let’s remember a basketball coach who turned around a moribund program. The 42-year-old exudes, despite challenges life throws our way, a wonderful “If we see it and believe it, we can achieve it” spirit.

For a basketball team, a high school hockey team and us, it opens the door for moments where we’re gonna be thrilled, honored and grateful. What a terrific trio with the latter, gratefulness, a bedrock of contentment.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Pep Talk: "A Melodious Chord"

A childhood value has stuck like glue: Give credit where credit is due. Given that, kudos to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and the Centennial State’s professional musical community for devising the Colorado Music Coalition. It’s “Take Note Initiative” holds promise in providing every child in this fast-growing state, kindergarten through 12th grade, access to musical instruments and professional instruction. Bravo!

Watching video of a two-year-old child enthusiastically air-drumming at a Red Rocks Amphitheatre concert inspired the two-term Colorado governor. From a  Denver Post article, Hickenlooper said, “Watch the ending! I’ve deleted like 80,000 things from my phone, but not this,” said the music lover. “When I’m depressed I just want to watch Judah (Slade’s son)  drumming.”

The beautiful state of Colorado has many attributes. One is not our educational performance. There is room for improvement. Just a long-time observer’s opinion but today’s policies have resulted in too much administrative stuff and too little extracurricular activities for kids, especially those living in neglected areas. 

Personally, I have experienced the value easy access to extracurricular activities had on my educational experience. It was recognized early that a freckle-faced southpaw had considerable athletic talent. What a blessing to have, in abundance, youth, junior high and high-school sports and coaching. It shaped my life. Marinating in that culture played a huge role in this ol’ jock earning a college athletic scholarship.

More important. For a young man with big athletic dreams, the educational journey in the Raytown (MO.) School District carried a caveat:  “You want to participate? Keep your grades up and your nose out of trouble.”

A primary goal of A Stronger Cord is to provide more music, sports and arts for kids growing up in Denver’s gang-infested neighborhoods. The outreach wellness movement’s efforts in northeast Denver has verified Denver (it’s not alone) has too many quite-deserved children with little, if any, access to extracurricular activities. The recruiting pitch of the ever-present gangs is tempting. It gives kids a sense of identity, protection and puts a little money in their pockets. We need to give these kids another team to play on!

Innovative ideas like the Take Note Initiative are desperately needed. When it comes to developing children’s gifts and talents (all have them) America is off key. Who ever thought it was a good idea to cut funding for music, arts and sports? Of course, children need to be tested for learning progress but we’ve gone too far. As a society, we’re paying the price. I’m not the only dreamer who grew up aspiring to express creative talents in healthy and productive ways. I was lucky the resources were present and available.

Obviously few kids will end up being professional musicians, artists or athletes. That’s not the point. The point is abundant access to extracurricular activities encourages kids to learn discipline, study, avoid trouble and develop positive relationships. 

Guv, thanks for leading the extracurricular activities charge. May it strike a melodious chord for our kids, parents, schools and communities! We could use an uplifting tune!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Pep Talk: "Legacy over Length"

The unexpected question was certainly thought-provoking. “If you could pick five deceased people to have dinner with,” queried a buddy over a beer in a northeast Denver establishment, “Who would they be, and why?” Four folks came immediately to mind, starting with Jesus.

The Jewish carpenter’s earthly life fascinates me. He was curious and cool under fire, always asking questions and would have made a great journalist. Obviously many felt threatened by the master teacher’s message of living by the spirit and not by rules and laws. The Nazarene didn’t asked anybody to start a religion. The out-of-this world ambassador encouraged others to follow a spirit starting with love and ending with self-control and believing, as noted in Galatians, “Against such things there is no law.” 

Abraham Lincoln would get an invitation. Our nation’s 16th president saw injustice and tried to address its destruction. America today? We live in challenging times. What a thrill it would be to hear the Kentucky native’s thoughts on how to handle the current strife. I can’t imagine the sleepless nights endured during America’s Civil War and the tragic backlash received after freeing the oppressed and upsetting the status quo.

I would hope Martin Luther King, Jr. had time to join us. In 1968, I was old enough to remember his assassination. Five decades later, America faces similar civil unrest. The social activist had a dream that resonates deeply within the A Stronger Cord community outreach wellness movement. It does not matter the color of skin, location of dwelling or statement of assets, Americans need to build a stronger cord to one another. Why not with wellness? The preacher was also an amazing orator and great writer. 

The dude at the bar was bobbing his head in agreement as the fourth invitee was unveiled: Mother Teresa. Officially known these days as Saint Teresa of Calcutta. How did a petite woman become a giant for the forgotten? I love how she described herself: “"By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world.” She reached out to the isolated, vulnerable and displaced. Admirable indeed. 

Back to reality. With a good song playing in the background the bar conversation paused a bit, before my buddy offered, “What about the fifth? Who would it be?” It didn’t take long to suggest, “My dad.” The father of four passed almost a decade ago. He’s missed daily. My buddy grinned, raised a glass and asked, “Where you gonna make a reservation?” Humm. Given the nature of the guests, it would not have been fancy and probably would have been inexpensive considering one invitee’s reputation of turning water to wine.

These days, I have trouble staying up late but believe the dinner conversation would have gone deep into the night. Five incredible human beings. Only one (Saint Teresa) lived into their 80‘s. It’s a reminder, the length of our journey is uncertain but the legacy is not. Work diligently on it this week, at dinner and elsewhere!
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