Monthly Archives: December 2015

Essential 2016 Core

Mindset for 2016:
When our college-student grandson was about three, he loved to greet the mail lady and receive the daily mail. He sat in his dad’s chair and tore open all the envelopes. Each one miraculously contained a card for him. They all contained the same message—even the one from Shell Oil. He would examine the “card” and read it out loud:

“Dear Davis. I love you. I have been missing you and will come see you soon. I’m proud of you. You are a good boy and my favorite friend.”

Tie that around your heart.

I have been so moved by Stephen Mansfield’s story “Miracle of the Kurds.” There are more Kurds in Nashville than any other American city. They are not Arab and they are Iraquis. They are fierce fighters, loyal and hospitable. If we could know that other refugees were like them, we would not be as hesitant. The next time I go to Nashville, I want to eat at a Kurdish restaurant.

If I could give you a late Christmas gift, it would be chapter three from Mansfield’s book that contains the story—perhaps mythical—how this forgotten people decided on Nashville. The Kurds were brutalized by Hussein and betrayed by our government. Mansfield says, “…embedded in me the central reality of Kurdish life—the fierce and unshakeable necessity of belonging to a people.”

That is the core of Davis’ interpretation of those cards—the
need and strength of belonging to a people.

I keep returning to this paragraph in “The Miracle of the Kurds” written by Stephen Mansfield (Worth 2014): “The Kurds first captured me by simply inviting me to belong. This is, I believe, the radiating message of the Kurdish soul:

Be welcome among us. Belong if you will. It is an honor to us.”

Mindset for 2016—The controlling assumption that you will have a place to belong and you will be embraced and it is to our honor to welcome others.

©2015 D. Dean Benton—writer & wonderer

Twitter: @DeanBenton

What Goes on?

When the von Trapp family reached the USA in 1939, they had no home. They toured the country in concerts saving money to buy land. They liked Vermont because it was much like their former homeland of Austria. (One of the delights of our lives was meeting a Jewish lady from Austria. She said to us, “Maria von Trapp looked nothing like Julie Andrews.)
While their father was away booking dates for a tour, the family stayed in a Vermont inn. The children turned a broom closet into a chapel where they took turns praying around the clock for three days. They couldn’t afford any of the houses or farms they had seen. When their father returned, he said a farmer had decided to sell his land. The family went to view the land and not only did they like what they saw, they heard God saying that this was the place. That was 1943.

After a fire destroyed that 27 room home, the family built the 96-room Von Trapp Family Lodge on 2500 acres in Stowe, Vermont which the family still operates.

A gathering of top-ranking international business and educators hold an annual workshop at the Lodge. The event planner says,
“We need to rediscover the importance of sacred space, those places that are rich in life energy and potential for connection—like the site in Northern Vermont.”

When the workshop event planner told the von Trapp daughter, also named Maria, that the beauty and tranquility of the land moved people deeply, she didn’t seem surprised but simply said, “When we bought the land, we blessed it. We dedicated it to serve God. People feel that.”

That story impacted me! That’s the way it is supposed to work! Eight children ages three to twenty-five rotating their praying one hour at a time and something shifted in the spirit realm that was still being experienced seventy-five years later—and is presumably being experienced to this day.

What went on in that broom closet?

The movie “War Room” is wrapped around prayer closets and a real-life prayer warrior who in fact is the mother of a well-known gospel pianist and record producer. What goes on in her prayer closet?

I have been on a hunt during the past couple of months. What is the process that produces multi-generational anointing such as the Von Trapp Family Lodge? It is larger than talking God into providing a building or land or some other provision. Prayer is not trying to overcome God’s reluctance, but laying ahold of His plan so we can join Him in the emerging future or the future He desires to bring forth and to use us as co-laborers and co-creators.
Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteous…” (Matthew 6:33)

It seems to me—the first step is to quiet the voices. When Kona focuses on a squirrel or some prey she is intent on chasing, it is as if she cannot hear us. It is true—her hearing shuts down so she can focus on the chase.

Seeking first is quieting the voices clamoring for our attention and those voices that have an agenda. The voice that whispers words that make you conclude you are less than…must be throttled before you can hear and believe when God speaks your name.

The process has been called “centering” or “quieting,” and other things. “Wait upon the Lord,” is more than tapping your foot waiting for the Lord to get at it. Waiting’s first meaning is to silent the voices. Shutting down the running narrative and the inner critic and the collection of voices who have an opinion about your performance, or worth.

This is the first step in finding purpose, meaning of vision or direction about God’s instruction for business decisions or how to walk yourself out of a dark valley.

I’m writing a chapter for “Seizin’ Your Season—An Inner Net for Vision Catchers.” I will share what I’m learning. Start here: Where would the “sacred place” be? Prayer closet? If you were to find Joshua’s “standing on holy ground” in your world, where is it?

©2015 D. Dean Benton—writer & wonderer

Twitter: @DeanBenton

Good Growing!

An annual task is to bring in the perennials. Carole doesn’t like to garden and tells me so every time she goes out to water her flower gardens. She does, however, want to brighten the neighborhood.

When the plants come in for the winter, there is always the question—where do we put these? Certain kinds of bugs will hitchhike and infest the house. Sometimes we have an issue of root rot which is a horrible smell.

The house becomes a nursery with plants hanging from ceilings and fighting for space in front of the windows. The TV is shrouded by plants. I have to lean over to see a full screen.

We probably could have waited a couple of months to bring them in. Friends have tulips emerging. I’m not sure we have had a hard freeze. Maybe it was recalled. Tulips in late December in Iowa? They are going to be confused in May.

Do you remember one of our family members paid cash money for a kitten? I’ve been thinking this cat has to be Ph.D. candidate when we could have had several free ones. This money cat is visiting us for a couple of days. Ava likes me best. She looks me in the eye and talks to me. There is something she desperately wants me to know. When I talk to her, the dog gets jealous and begins to howl like a hound dog and has her own conversation going.

Ava has presented a challenge to the nursery. She likes green stuff in her diet and playing in the flower plant dirt appears to bring her pleasure. So the plants have been moved several times. There is no shelf high enough, no screamed threat adequate.

I have an east-facing window in my office and a floor-level window to the north. I’m not a plant person, but there is something classy about having flowers-plants in my office. Ecological. Helping out the climate control people with an antidote for smog. So, like other years, I have three huge plants in the windows and stacked on tables.

I don’t do well with plants. Few have survived an entire winter in my office. I forget to water or water too much. One has already begun to turn yellow and another one has broken branches. And the million-dollar cat loves my office. This feline is a full-time snooper who runs to my chair, climbs my back with her panther length toenails to sit on my shoulder to tell me what she has discovered. I think she may have killed the plant in a porcelain cooking pan. Ava pushed it off the book shelf and was pleased with herself that it landed upside down on the carpet.

While lugging the vacuum up the stairs with the cat chasing the electric cable and talking to me on every step, I asked why I want flowers and plants in my office. Carole fights off the cold season when the plants are outside with coverings and straw. There comes a time when she says, “I think I’ll let nature take its course.” That death sentence bothers me. I tell her we’ll put the plant in my office.

I want my office to represent green and growth. What I ship from this room is sent with the intention that someone will find a growing edge expanding in them.
I don’t know if my office will be like the prophetic Israeli desert that blooms like a rose, but I want to give it every opportunity.
I attempt to give a greening gift to family members on each national holiday. I know that some of the books will not be read immediately. For Thanksgiving they each received Roger Ailes’ “You are The Message.” I pray they will keep the book long enough to connect it to their own lives.
I like to be with people who intentionally teach me, or from whom I learn just by being with them. I like to be a person who is known as a dispenser of growth ingredients. That is a good brand to aspire. Give me a minute. Carole wants me to move some plants into the attic.

Good growing.

© 2015 D. Dean Benton—writer & wonderer

Twitter: @DeanBenton

Song for the Season

A few of us discussed over lunch what’s wrong with Christmas this year. I wondered if taking the decorations down before Christmas was indicative that something is strange. Warm weather? Usually Christmas depression settles in four minutes after Christmas bills arrive. It has arrived before the holidays this year.

Christmas time is a time-released bomb waiting to go off. Part of it is that we want to experience the “Golden Moment,” more than we want the perfect gift. The Golden Moment is when something repairs something that was broken in a previous time. Classic Christmas songs set us up for maudlin and melancholy. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” as I remember, was written during WWII for soldiers to sing from overseas. Dreaming of a White Christmas does not segue naturally into the Hallelujah Chorus. “White Christmas” is that Golden Moment which has nothing to do with snow. Christmas is a wounder and will not return the dead loved one to the table this year or repair the damage done by the emptiness left by memories of atrocious earlier holidays.

One of my beloveds is feeling uncharacteristically “dis-heartened.” When the scripture says, “Guard your heart,” it is warning us about being dis-heartened. Somewhere in the Christmas season either neuroses or reality kicks in and reminds us that the snow Bing Crosby sang about turns into slush, slick roads and more germs than can be measured by the climate control committee. Cynicism doesn’t help. Measuring expectations and managing disappointment does.

Dan Harris, the ABC news anchor, had a panic attack on-air and thought his life was over. His book “10% Happier” describes the voices in our heads that are never silent. Comparison, self-criticism, judgment and urgent demands lead to disheartening. Harris says multi-tasking is impossible. He is not the first one I’ve heard say that recently. Chronic multi-tasking can lead to disheartenment. Monitoring and rebuffing the voices is a healthy holiday habit.

Brace yourself. I’m going to tell you my dream from last night. I was hired by a seminary colleague to help him on his farm and preach for him this Sunday. Our first job was to feed the hogs. When we got to the pig pen, there was a baby sleeping in the pigsty with its head on some straw. I’m not a hog farmer, but I know people who are. Pigs may be cute; hogs can be vicious. I asked that preacher if he wasn’t worried that the hogs would eat their baby. He said they weren’t and that they placed the baby there frequently. I woke up shaking.

Carole interpreted part of my dream by changing the word pigsty to manger. I knew who the baby was. Christmas can be depressing even when we keep Christ in Christmas. Our Christmas can be devoured by unrealistic expectations or impossible hopes.

Carole instructed a loved one to “Take heart.” When she said that, I knew if the Bethlehem angels were to show up at our house for a short concert tonight that is exactly what they would sing. “Message from Jesus—to you and your kin—take heart.”

How do you take heart?

©2015 D. Dean Benton—writer & wonderer

Twitter: @DeanBenton

Shaping Your 2016

C. Otto Scharmer is a teacher at MIT and part of the team that wrote the book Presence and built Theory U. At age sixteen, he was told by his school superintendent that he was to go home immediately. What he found shifted his life. Many years later, his life hypothesis is that there is a future seeking to emerge that is waiting for co-creators to birth it.

This scientist is suggesting we can co-create the future by our choices. This morning, a news program reviewed trending “safe rooms.” These are an update of the hurricane-tornado shelters which will resist home invasions and terrorist attacks. My grandmother had a “storm cellar” where she also kept fruit and vegetables. As 2016 approaches, we have the choice. How will we mentally face the future? Hunkered down in a safe room—a hiding place—or to be open to a future seeking to emerge? We do not have to make a physical choice, but we will make a mental-spiritual-emotional choice.

What Otto Scharmer found was his family’s 350 year old farmhouse burned to the ground. There was “nothing—absolutely nothing—left but the smoldering ruins.” Scharmer describes his reaction and what happened to him:

“I suddenly realized that there was another whole dimension of my self that I hadn’t been aware of, a dimension that didn’t relate to my past, to the world that had just dissolved. …I began watching the whole scene from that other place. I felt my mind expanding to a moment of unparalleled clarity of awareness. …with everything gone, I felt released and free to encounter the other part of my self, the part that drew me into the future—into my future—and into a world that I bring into reality with my life.
“The next day my grandfather arrived. He was eighty-seven years old and had lived on the farm all his life. He had left the house a week before to go to the hospital for medical treatments.
“Summoning all the energy he had left, my grandfather got out of the car and walked straight to where my father was still working on the cleanup. He didn’t even turn his head toward the smoking ruins of the place where he’d spent his entire life. He simply went straight up to my father, took his hand, and said, ‘Keep your head up, my boy, Look forward.’
“…(Grandfather) shifted all his remaining life energy on shifting my father’s attention from reacting to the past to opening up to what might emerge from the future.
“It also evoked a question in me that still remains: What does it take to connect to that other stream of time, the one that gently pulls me toward my future possibility?”

(“Presence,” Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, Betty Sue Flowers, 2004 Published by The Society for Organizational Learning, Inc.) Page 81-82

There is enough in this book’s teaching to make me uneasy. It has the feel of what has been called New Age philosophy. There is also enough with biblical base to stir my imagination and faith. I’m going to discern carefully and go with what my soul or spirit is stimulating.

I am confronted with the question: what shall I do to know the future I’m involved in that God wants to emerge? How does He want me to respond so I can connect with His plan?” I can’t directly influence the outcome of the 2016 elections. I can’t influence the governing of Argentina or any place in Europe. I can influence my world with my choices.

Many leaders use the time between Christmas and New Years to contemplate what they are to do with the New Year. The founder of Panera’s says that business was birthed as he sat on a beach contemplating. I believe there is a tool to help us hear and see the future that is “seeking to emerge.”

What does it take to connect to that other stream of time, the one that will gently pull me toward my future possibility?

©2015 D. Dean Benton—writer & wonderer
Twitter @DeanBenton

Oil of Peppermint

Peppermint. Peppermint with chocolate—maybe white chocolate. It is the one taste that captures the holidays from my earliest years. The season invites putting up the trea and white chocolate mocha. Carole puts up the tree; I drink the mocha. It takes the right blend. When I add Watkins Peppermint to my coffee it is usually too strong. It is hard to capture all the hopes and dreams of all the years in a cup, but I seriously try.
My lady has bronchitis. It is nagging and won’t surrender to antibiotics and she won’t drink the hot toddy I fix for her. She knows what is supposed to work—she knows stuff. She has a couple of nagging health issues which has required see doctors, having tests. None are catastrophic, but they are worrisome and bothersome.

We have friends and acquaintances from very young to older who are dealing with serious problems. Some have a long list of recent deaths reaching into family and tribe.

And then, there is ISIS.

The past few days have aggravated a constant question. How do I pray for these people? I say, “Jesus, be with Carole this morning, heal the cause of her cough. Attend her as she works.” I think of the one-year old whose story tears me up. I cannot think of any words that Jesus has not already prayed for that kid. I can hear Jesus respond in exasperation: “Don’t you think I want to? You think I can’t remember your last 6000 prayers? You think my compassion for Carole and that whole list of hurting people slipped past my attention or I forgot?”

Of course not. Because he is our intercessor, I speak words that I think will agree with what Jesus is praying for these people.
I was asking these questions while reading about an evangelistic team on the streets of Tijuana. Right after setting up their PA torrential rain began. The team gathered for prayer—what to do? The leader felt God wanted him to make an announcement. He jumped onto the stage to say, “Jesus loves you! He is going to prove it right now by stopping the rain.” He pointed to the clouds and shouted, “Rain, stop now! Clouds roll back!” In one second the rain stopped and the clouds rolled back. The people were stunned and responded with questions like, “How can I be saved?” People in surrounding buildings and on the street fell to their knees.

Then I read about a young man in a supermarket checkout counter. The lady in front of him was wearing hearing aids. He fixated on them. Totally deaf in one ear, 50% in the other. He asked if he could pray for her. After some convincing, the woman took off her aids and found she was healed. Both ears! The clerk, who apparently knew the lady, broke into tears. The young man asked for the microphone.

“Attention all shoppers.” He handed the mic to the healed lady who told her story. The young man spoke several words of knowledge—like, “Someone in the fruit aisle is going to have hip surgery tomorrow. Meet me in aisle 12 and I will pray for you.” A few minutes later, a hip was restored in aisle 12.

The person who tells these stories has credibility. I think that is the norm for Spirit-filled followers of Jesus. How, then, do I plug into that world? Into that supernatural power stream?
Supper time is not always pleasant at our house. All the questions of the day come to the table. What stands in the way of God doing His work in aisle 12 when we go to HyVee? Why are we still praying for healing for friends when we should be proclaiming the goodness and power of God in response to the healing we asked for? Blaming myself for somehow being the blockage is not satisfying or even probably totally true.

“Did smoking that cigar when I was 14 disqualify me forever?”

And finally, if it doesn’t work, can we continue to make these faith assumptions and announcements?

So, I lured you into this with the promised taste of white chocolate and peppermint to ask you a question. How are you praying against ISIS? When you say you are praying for the election, how are you doing that? And the immigration situation? What are the words? What is the prayer stance? Tone? Do you tell God or do you pray against the illness or the evil?

My prayer list is in front of me. I have read James 5:15-16 and John 14:12-14.
I’m waiting.

©2015 D. Dean Benton

You May Not Know This

One spring we traveled state highways across several southeastern states. We didn’t count but there must have been hundreds of churches along those highways and almost every one of them was advertising their “Spring Revival.” The only sign along those highways that outnumbered “Spring Revival” signs were signs for “Free Kittens.” Thousands.

Comedian Jeff Allen tells the story about his wife buying a kitten. The cadence of his voice sticks in my head: “You bought a kitten? You paid money! for a kitten?” A purchased kitten—incredulity is your name.

A family member has been pre-approved to adopt a kitten. I like kittens and I’m not making fun. The concept seems strange. I have offered to use the purchase price money to drive to mid-Alabama and pick up a litter which we can then sell on the black market out of the trunk. Keep the pick of the litter—man? We would be cash money ahead, get to eat southern cooking and get out of the cold weather.

It is not as simple as, “I’ll take the female gray one.” Being “pre-approved” actually means they trust your initial look and will allow you to apply for full approval. That means you give them permission to talk to the vet of every pet you’ve ever owned, submit seven personal and business references, two forms of federal ID, a credit report and a copy of your 2014 IRS return.

As I have watched and listened to the negotiations, a stunning thought came into my mind:

It is easier to get married than to adopt a kitten.

©2015 D. Dean Benton Writer and Wonderer.
Benton Blogs and Books

Man, this sucks!

I came away from a Miranda Lambert concert with two evaluations. First, I wished I had the profit off the beer tent and Second, I liked her energy. That girl has been through some tough days lately. She says not to take sides in her divorce, but I have. I have! She is going to keep living her life and singing her songs. Her words are helpful.

“Some of that might mean nights on my porch crying, drinking whiskey, and going, ‘Man, this sucks right now.’”

Getting through the holidays when there are tire marks across your heart or question marks stenciled across your mind is seldom jovial. Ms. Lambert models a couple of good coping suggestions. She is expressing her emotions. “Drinking whiskey” is not something I would recommend or sing about, but I’ve never been in her boots.
“…and going ‘Man, this sucks right now.’”

That sounds so healthy—acknowledging the pain and placing a time limit on it: “right now.” It isn’t going to last forever. It gives permission to cry or scream or pound your fist. You can mourn what’s been lost even while you acknowledge what you still have. Your grief doesn’t lessen your gratitude. It transforms it. Tears turn an ordinary, two-dimensional Thanksgiving table into a complex and glorious altar. (I don’t know if I wrote that or if I am quoting someone.)

I heard these suggestions from podcaster Mike Kim: For those sitting on the porch with a square bottle, a soggy handkerchief and the realization that the difficult days are going to “suck” for a while. But, by God’s grace and my confidence in Him it will not kill me!

1. Write in your journal or Evernote, your five most limiting beliefs.

These usually begin with “I will never,” or “I can’t,” or “Everyone knows…,” or “If only….” However you frame the words, these are self-fulfilling prophecies. They are limiting or crippling.

2. What three things do you need clarity on?

I’ve been thinking a lot about clarity. It is difficult, if not impossible, to gain clarity without input from your closest friends, a therapist-counselor, a spiritual director connected by the Holy Spirit to your specifics. Clarity often shows that what we’ve been believing and doing have not served us well. But, they are our survival kit coping tools which is terrifying to think of losing.

I talk about clarity in my new book Depot. Our son was in a restaurant recently to meet a friend. While waiting for the friend to arrive, a guy at the bar asked his name and then said, “I know your family. You’re the singers.” The first few years on the road gave us a ton of stories which we repeat whenever we’re together. Although most of them are funny or had eternal impact, not all of them were good experiences. Some of those experiences drew blood! Clarity asks what impact the events that are still vivid and hurtful have on our present lives. If someone in the vehicle asks, “What is that noise?” every Benton will feel the instant fear that is 30-40 years old.

Clarity also demands that we ask if we are remembering the story correctly. Can those who experienced the event with me corroborate what I remember?

3. What five or ten people and abilities am I thankful for and celebrate? In the face of what I’m facing or what I’ve lost, who will never leave me? What gift, ability brings pleasure to family or solve problems?

“Man, this is going to suck for a while,” is a healthy and healing statement. One of my peeps says, “This is an inconvenient time to have an anxiety-driven mental break down.”
Meet you on the porch?

© D. Dean Benton
Writer, Wonderer, expert in pondering and meandering.