gtkj-blog-graphic-what-are-the-odds

What Are The Odds?

“Josh?”  I was resting, attending to my own aching body. We had reached the final leg of the 4.5 mile ascent of the right edge of Exit Glacier. My son Arthur and I had climbed part of the way last year, but this time around, he decided that we should climb to the viewpoint that looks out over the vast Harding Icefield, now part of the Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska.

Exit Glacier is one of 40 Glaciers connected to the Icefield and is easily accessible to the town of Seward on Resurrection Bay.

The climb to the top had taken about 3.5 hours. We were lucky because this year August has been particularly wet, but not on this day. We could see for endless miles and yet we were looking at only a small fraction of an icefield that nearly equaled the area of the state of Rhode Island.

“Josh?” Arthur had gotten up and had begun walking over to some people resting nearby. I assumed Arthur had run into one of his kayak guide friends and so continued to settle in.  Then, Arthur called out to me “Eric, It’s Josh.” I still didn’t register what he was saying or who this Josh might be. Then I saw who it was he was talking to.

Josh Schneider had worked for my company from 2009 through the first half of 2012. He had overseen the launch of the company’s new website, a very complex and crucial job. Then he departed to get a law degree and after graduating, he moved to Anchorage to serve as clerk for a Federal judge.

Before I set off for Alaska, I had contacted Josh but we had never followed up. Then this. Often when hiking, you can be 5 or 10 minutes ahead of or behind someone and never know they are there. It turned out that Josh and his wife Haley had left the visitor’s center about an hour before Arthur and myself. They had taken a few long breaks on the way up and so they reached the top shortly before we did.

So what are the odds? I had been in Alaska for one full day before we decided to climb up the side of Exit Glacier. Josh knew I was coming back to Alaska, but did not know when. He lived in Anchorage, a 2.5 hour drive from this place. I had wanted to meet up with him, but had not followed up after the first phone call.

Maybe it was the sheer size of Alaska that made this meeting seem so improbable. Maybe it was the distance I had travelled to get from New York to Seward. Maybe it was the vastness of the icefield. But I kept wondering what are the odds? I am still wondering about that. What are the odds? Maybe Alaska is the perfect place for questions like that. What indeed are the odds?

Eric Kampmann in Alaska, 2016

Eric Kampmann in Alaska, 2016

ruth old testament

A Simple, Courageous Act of Goodness

The Bible is full of seemingly insignificant people who actually become a “crowbar of history” in ways not evident to them or to anyone else at the time. A great early contender might be found in Ruth, in the eighth book of the Old Testament.

As a young woman Ruth finds herself suddenly widowed, leaving her with a difficult choice: Does she remain with her own people in Moab or return to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, Naomi? She choses the harder path, saying, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.

Ruth puts everything aside to remain with Naomi. She is certain of one thing: the way will be hard and may even lead to death for both of them. But she will not be dissuaded and so, having no knowledge of what lies ahead, the women return to Bethlehem, the village of Naomi’s ancestors.

But if we pull back to see the larger picture, we slowly become aware that Ruth’s decision to leave her own people and go with Naomi is pivotal to almost everything that will follow. Once back in Israel, Ruth eventually finds protection in Boaz, the owner of a field nearby to where they settle and a relative of Naomi’s husband’s family. Eventually, Boaz takes Ruth as his wife and she gives birth to a son, Obed who will be the father of Jesse who will become the father of David who becomes the King of Israel.

And out of a simple act of kindness and loyalty of one woman to another will emerge a vine that will grow through generations and generations, leading directly to Jesus Christ and from him to his Apostles and disciples and from them to each one of Christ’s followers up to and through this very moment.

Of course, Ruth could not have known the impact of her decision to stay with Naomi. And yet her simple act of grace had cosmic ramifications. Ruth just acted; she could not have known what we now know about how pivotal she is, but her own lack of knowledge was secondary to her courageous act of goodness.

Where does courage come from-

Where Does Courage Come From?

A man approaches Jesus and pleads for help for his afflicted child. The father is at his wits end and he fears that even Jesus will not be able to help. But Jesus replies to the request for help by saying: “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” And the father of the child cries out in anguish, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24)

This unnamed father speaks to an issue that touches many of us, even people deeply engaged within the Christian community. There is nothing new about abandoning Jesus. Every one of his disciples fell away in fear as the mob approached the Garden of Gethsemane. Betrayal and abandonment built on a foundation of insufficient belief left the followers in a condition of despair, guilt and shame. Their unbelief overcame their belief and they fled, leaving Jesus behind to be taken prisoner by his enemies.

The passage below is worth reading and rereading because it shows that love is the true foundation of belief and out of this belief in Jesus Christ flows the courage to act even when risks are involved. The women who followed Jesus during his time of ministry show that genuine love overwhelms fear and doubt. “For the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6) Unbelief is conquered by one’s love and devotion to Jesus Christ. Then all things do become possible.

Jesus has died. He is a corpse. Those holy women had no expectations. They had seen how he had been abused, and how he had been crucified. How vivid in their minds was the violence of the Passion he had undergone!

 They knew, too, that the soldiers were keeping watch over the place. They knew that the tomb was sealed shut. “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door?” they asked themselves, for it was a massive slab. But all the same, in spite of everything, they went to be with him.

 Look: difficulties, large and small, can be seen at once. But if there is love, one pays no heed to these obstacles: one goes ahead with daring, with conviction, with courage. Don’t you have to confess your shame when you contemplate the drive, the daring, and the courage of these women?

Italicized Passage from The Forge by Josemaria Escriva

Selling Your Own Book

Selling Your Book: Part Two

When It’s My Own Book

When you’re marketing and selling your own book just about everything changes. And not always for the better. I’ve authored several books prior to Getting to Know Jesus and each has been unique in both its content as well as the journey from concept to bookshelf. And here is what I have experienced thus far with Getting to Know Jesus:

First, it took a full year to write the book. Second, it took three months to have the manuscript properly edited by a good and engaged editor. Third, a great deal of thought and effort went into creating an attractive package. Fourth, I hired a strong marketing team eight months before pub date. And fifth, I had no illusions that the world would beat a pathway to every bookstore to get a copy of my book. In fact, I thought that it would take about a year to lay a foundation that would begin to support my own credibility as an author.

Right now, we are about half way there, but even if sales are not that great, I know that the more I network with radio and TV appearances, the more I speak to audiences and the more word of mouth begins to build, the more I will live up to my own expectations for the book and for myself.

Selling your book part one

Selling Your Book: Part One

Three Undeniable Truths about Selling Books

It is one thing to advise authors on how to promote and sell their book, but it is an entirely different thing to do it for yourself. Over the course of my publishing career, I have handled literally thousands of titles. Sometimes I dive into the trenches and become deeply involved in packaging, printing, sales and marketing and at other times, I play a peripheral role. Let me share three undeniable truths that I tend to live by when dealing with someone else’s book.  

No one can predict how well a book will sell. Very wealthy authors have spent millions promoting their title with little to show for it in the end. People with a strong personal brand will always have an advantage, but even fame can sometimes disappoint when it comes to book sales.

The public is usually indifferent to your book. What may be important to you just may not mean very much to the rest of the population. It is up to the author to persuade the public to care. Writing a book may primarily engage the intellect, but selling is all about heart. You really do want people to care, almost as much as you do; authentic passion about your book will open all kinds of doors. An important corollary to this is finding the best way to communicate your passion to the wider world.

Little details are important. The book jacket should catch the eye. The text should be attractive and easy to read. And the publishing team should be well informed and committed. While it is your vision and ability that was of greatest importance in the beginning, it is the quality and commitment of your team that will carry you toward the finish line.

 

Black Swans

Black Swans are Out There

We have entered a period of history where a flock of black swans have congregated overhead. I am sure you heard the theory of “A Black Swan Event”.  It is a term originally popularized by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a finance professor who used the phrase as a metaphor to describe rare, unanticipated occurrences that shatter the norms we use to predict and understand the world around us.

I personally marvel at the constancy of the seasons, the predictability of tides rising and falling, the time of day the sun will set and rise again the next morning. All around us we find a reassuringly measured and measurable world that seems to follow physical laws.

And yet, black swans are out there, ready to swoop in and mess up all our fondest assumptions, including the assumption that there are no black swans. The trouble is that while we may never have seen a black swan, they do tend to show up and they can change everything.

Miracles are Black Swan Events. We discount them because they often seem to be rare and sometimes contradict our understanding of natural laws and events. But just because someone may not believe they have experienced miracles does not mean they haven’t. It all depends how we look at reality.  If we assume God does not exist, then reducing everything to the laws of physics might make sense, but is the physical realm really the whole story? Or by limiting our explanation to one dimension, are we missing the presence of the spirit of God in our existence?

In his letter to the Romans, Paul says that we blind ourselves when we close our eyes to the reality of God: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, has been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1: 18-20)

Paul turns our modern materialistic assumptions on their head. We assume that the laws that regulate our solar system and universe exist because they exist, whereas Paul sees God’s hand in all of it. Conventional wisdom indicates all things can be known and all things can be predicted. And yet way off on the horizon, I see something like a tiny dark dot that seems to be winging its way in our direction.

What Do You Value

What Do You Really Value?

Why do so many people find it easier to follow Jesus in the breach than to actually attempt to truly live what he preaches? In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says this: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

Jesus brings up the problem of competing loves many times. In Jerusalem he silences the scribes and the chief priests by simply saying give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s. What he says sounds so right but putting that precept to work in everyday life is difficult for many people and impossible for some. Someone once asked me  “Do I really have to give things up to follow Jesus?” The answer is clearly yes. You do have to relinquish the love of the things of this life to follow Jesus wherever he might lead you.

It was this idea of “giving up” that made me so reluctant to commit myself fully to following Jesus. I did not want to do it, and while I studied the Bible everyday and came to know the New Testament very well and even taught small group Bible studies, I could not get over the idea that Jesus wanted to separate me from the things that I loved in this life. Even to this day, I hate the idea of letting go of the clutter I have accumulated. It boils down to what do I really value in life?

Jesus understands how hard giving up is. In the parable of the sower he explains to his followers how concerns of this life can easily separate us from the love of God and His Word: “They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desire of other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” (Mark 4: 18-19) Jesus says you cannot serve both God and money. He is not saying that you must take a vow of poverty. He is saying that the love of money will separate you from the love of God. “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” (Philippians 3:8)

The Hill of Joy- Title Image

The Hill of Joy

Walking the Camino toward Santiago resembles ordinary life in many ways. We follow a path, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends or strangers. We experience good days and bad, stormy weather and brilliant sunshine, energy sapping heat and unexpected cold. The real difference is how we treat strangers along the way because it is almost a universal custom to acknowledge other pilgrims with a friendly “Buen Camino.” We connect through the common purpose of reaching Santiago.

My own journey had begun on a Sunday and now, five days later, I was approaching Santiago, the city where James, the Apostle of Jesus, rests. Around 10:30 in the morning, I arrived at an open high point called Monte Do Gozo (Hill of Joy). Unfortunately, an oversized metal monument had been placed on the spot where pilgrims could see for the first time the city they had traveled so long and hard to reach.

IMG_2327A small chapel has been built at a short distance from the monument. In contrast to the rusted block of metal, it is a simple structure. I looked inside, but it was empty and so after putting my pack down and grabbing my camera, I headed up toward the monument where I might steal a glance of Santiago just as centuries of fellow pilgrims before me had done.

I confess I felt little joy at that moment; the monument itself looked to me like a relic from World War ll. It was out of place and marred what should have been a spirit of lightness and joyful expectation.

I took a few pictures of far off Santiago and then walked back toward the chapel and my unattended pack. When I got there, I unexpectedly decided to detour back to the little chapel one last time before leaving. As I approached the open door, I heard a beautiful voice singing the words of John Newton’s Amazing Grace:

Amazing Grace how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

At first, I thought I was listening to a recording, but then I saw the back of a woman kneeling. From the slight movement of her head and shoulders, I could see she was the source of the words and music. She never looked up, but her voice filled the room with a sound of music that brought joy back to my own spirit. She sang with a soft passion that made me believe she was living the words she was singing:

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fear relieved.

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares

I have already come,

‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far

And grace will lead me home.

Somehow the words of the song, the singer herself and the simplicity of the chapel combined to create a moment of genuine grace. The small chapel was filled with the fragrance of beauty, goodness and truth and the Hill of Joy became for me what it has been for thousands upon thousands of Christian pilgrims who now at last could feel that the purpose of their journey had finally come into full view:

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,

And mortal life shall cease,

I shall possess within the veil,

A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we’ve first begun.

The Language of God

The Language of God

When I read the Bible, I look for patterns of imagery and language that help point to the heart of what is being revealed. Paul tells us that the language of God is the language of the Holy Spirit and it must be read with that in mind in order to understand what the Bible is saying about God and about us.

The language of the Holy Spirit transcends time and place, for it speaks to the deepest longings of the human heart: “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” (1Corinthians 2:12-13)

The language of Scripture has beauty and truth embedded within its very core, and it is through the power of this language that we absorb the truth of the reality of God’s presence in the world and in our lives. The Bible opens with God saying, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). Before there was light, the universe was void and without life and form.

And here is how John describes the second creation story, the birth of God’s one and only Son: “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:4–5).

And here is Jesus during His three-year ministry: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). John echoes this in his first letter: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

It is the light of God that flows out of the darkness and into and through the window of our mind and heart. When we open our minds to what this light really is, we see with a new heart and transformed mind a world flooded with the beauty, truth and mystery of God’s everlasting presence.

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom

and knowledge of God!

How unsearchable his judgments,

and his paths beyond tracing out!

“Who has known the mind of the Lord”

Or who has been his counselor?

“Who has ever given to God,

That God should repay them?”

For from him and through him and for him

are all things.

To him be the glory forever! Amen.

(Romans 11:33-36)

Thirst

Thirst

Let’s talk about two kinds of thirst.

The first is physical. If we are deprived of liquid for a period of time, our body will send out faint signals that it needs replenishment. If nothing happens, the signals will become more urgent until our entire being becomes frantic for something to sustain it. And it will not let up until the thirst is satisfied.

About twenty years ago, while hiking with a group of teenagers in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Montana and Idaho, we turned off the main path onto a trail that seemed to provide a shortcut to our destination for that night.

The new trail was easy at first, nothing special. We began to climb and as we moved higher the land grew dryer. Trees and vegetation gave way to dust and unrelenting heat; even the trail seemed to merge into the surrounding land before vanishing altogether into the shimmering furnace-like air.

What had seemed like a plentiful supply of water at the trail intersection now became inadequate. We tried to preserve what we had left, but the climbing in the heat and dust demanded we drink, causing our water supply to deplete rapidly.

Finally we gained a wide ridge and proceeded to follow its contour toward what looked like a body of water on our map. But the ridge kept unfolding and obtaining water remained only a hope that began taking on the characteristics of urgent need and finally near panic. At one point, it felt like we were crawling. We looked out over the unrelenting landscape of forests and mountains but saw nothing resembling bodies of water or even life except for the hawks and buzzards floating patiently above.

Since I am telling this story, it is clear that we survived. We found a small pond of still water and drank. We recovered quickly and then descended a rockslide to find a place to tent for the night. We had experienced physical deprivation; we thirsted and we yearned to quench that thirst obsessively until water was found and consumed.

The second thirst can be found in our need for something that transcends the appetites of this life to a higher need that may counterfeit earthly desires, but can only be truly satisfied through inviting the Holy Spirit of God into our hearts. Here are a few confirming biblical verses:

“O God, you are my God. Urgently I seek you. My soul thirsts for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1)

“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:2)

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”(Matthew 5:6)

After forty days of fasting in the wilderness, Satan tempted Jesus with sustenance to feed his physical hunger and thirst. But listen to what Jesus says to the Tempter: “It is written, ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”(Deuteronomy 8:3)

The Devil wanted to reveal that man is no more than a bundle of physical appetites. Jesus shows that men and women have the potential to become so much more than just creatures of the earth. We are made in the image of God, which means that while we may often live in an alienated state from God, Jesus promises, “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)