Life Design 4: Detour

. 9 min read

Nov 2019, Christ Mountain Top
setting the table (or Psalm 37.1-11)
2 Kings 4.1-7 (widow and the jars of oil)
Mark 8.22-26 (healing in two stages)
Our fall discipleship theme is “life design” and I just
finished a wonderful book,
Bill Burnett & Dave Evans, Designing
Your Life: How to Lead a Well-Lived, Joyful Life.
One of the things they
point out is that the design process is never over. You keep designing
and redesigning. Part of that is in response to the environment, which changes
around you. Part of that is treating each design as an experiment that you
evaluate. Part of that is that we change in unexpected ways. And part of that
is what we talked about in our first week, Disruption, and will talk about this
week, Detour. In between, we discussed Dance of Delight and Dare to Dream. In
the coming two weeks we have Discern and then Decide, with a celebration
luncheon on Nov 17.
many of you have experience with a detour, literal or metaphorical, in the past
year? How many of you forgot the bridge was out until you drove too far and had
to turn around? How many times? Detour. It is a part of life, and because it is
a part of life, it is part of designing our life.
       This week, Suzanne was driving back
across the USA with her daughter. Interstate 80 was closed due to a snowstorm.
Tractor trailers were pulled over in every parking area to ride out the storm. They
kept going, following their GPS on side roads and a gravel road, and – for
forty miles – behind a snowplow. On Thursday night this week, Tammy and Mary
were roasting eleven turkeys to prepare for the turkey dinner. Then the power
went out in the storm. All the turkeys migrated to Tammy’s house and they
tested the limits of the generator to support ten roasters and the oven.
Detours. Part of life. And, if we are willing to reframe them, an opportunity,
maybe even an adventure.

Scripture, 2019: Ephesians 3:18-21
 I pray that you may
have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and
length and height and depth,  19 and to know the love of Christ
that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of
God.  20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able
to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,  21
to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever
and ever. Amen.
Carpenter’s story: When things were tough at one point in the work to launch
her own business, I showed her a FB post of her daughter, Bethany. It was a
quote by Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and philosopher, highlighted on the
page of a book: “What stands in the way becomes the way.”
       It is a simple truth that we encounter
over and over again in two dimensions of detour and our life design: the
obstacles and the resources. “What stands in the way becomes the way.”
Robin and I met, I was headed to start churches in Spain, and she was headed to
a medical clinic in sub-Saharan Africa. Is this a long detour? Thirty years
ago, we committed to a two-year internship in York, Pennsylvania, and planned
to head overseas when that was concluded. But six months into the internship,
the church could no longer pay us. Disruption, detour. We finished out the two
years and learned plenty of things we had not planned to learn. Toward the end
of that time, we were struggling to identify our future. The path ahead was not
what we had anticipated. It looked more like a dead end. But it was the path we
were on. And that’s what a detour is – a dead end where there isn’t supposed to
be one. I was talking about this with dad (Robin’s dad) over breakfast and he
said, “Don’t let your past keep you from your future.” We ended up jumping the
tracks, migrating into The United Methodist Church, and six and a half years
ago were sent by the bishop to serve the Mountain Top community, a place we had
never heard of before. None of this would have happened without that detour.
       How did we end up on that new path? Our
practice has been, generally speaking, to choose the open door, however
unexpected. I have always imagined that God guides the process even if my understanding
of the big picture in any given moment is severely limited. What matters is the
next step, even when there is a detour, large or small. And in every detour,
there are multiple options, multiple ways we can be faithful to the call and
will of God. We can only pick one – and that’s where the themes of the next two
weeks come in – Discern and Decide.
       Dale Evans would emphasize that most of
us have multiple lifetimes within us, multiple possibilities in which we could
thrive, discover joy, and fulfill our God-given calling. We just have one
lifetime to life, and every choice we make along the way opens up a new set of
possible next steps.
       Burnett and Evans list several mindsets
to help us get “unstuck” when we face detours (p 221):
be curious (curiosity)
try stuff (bias to action)
reframe problems (reframing)
know it’s a process (awareness)
ask for help (radical collaboration)
love the Jesus healing story we have before us today. It is just fun to imagine.
Jesus heals him and then has to ask, “Do you see anything?” Is Jesus unsure of
himself? (Doubtful, it seems to me.) Is it a standard verification question?
(But it doesn’t show up in other times Jesus heals blindness.) So, wash, rinse,
repeat. And, the second time was the “charm.”
       Most commentators are convinced that Mark
tells this unique story as a way to reflect on Jesus’ question to his disciples
earlier in the chapter: “Do you have eyes, and fail to see?” (Mark 8.18). Sometimes
we assume that we see when in reality our vision is severely limited. We see “people
like trees walking.” As Burnett and Evans state, “it’s a process.” But we don’t
want to work the process. We don’t want to be curious at the detour. We don’t
want to ask for help. We don’t want to experiment, or “try stuff.” We’d much
rather keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. I know that’s
insane, but we all do it.
       But I like the story for another reason.
I like it not only as a comment on our incomplete vision, on our need for a
fresh touch from Jesus. I like the story because Jesus – JESUS! – had to
try a second time. How many times have you failed at something and succeeded on
the second or third attempt? How many times have you had to try it again and
try it differently? The first time Jesus spits on his eyes and places his hands
on him. The second time Jesus doesn’t spit, just places his hands on the man’s
       If this happens with Jesus
performing a miracle, what makes us think that we should always succeed on the
first try? Why condemn ourselves as a failure when things don’t work out as
planned? It is simply time for the next experiment as we, in the language of
design theory, “prototype our way forward.” In this manner, “what stands in the
way becomes the way.”
these days … are encouraged to do job shadowing. Katie Thomas is in her first
year of school for physical therapy. She job shadowed at Smith Health Care and
I ran into here there a few times. One of the main reasons we encourage young
people to do this is to offer a limited risk opportunity to determine and
clarify their direction in school. College and graduate school is a big
investment and it would be nice to know at the front end that you actually want
to do what you are studying to do.
       It is a practice we should all employ
when considering something new, when looking to jump the tracks, when dealing
with a detour. You want to hike the Appalachian Trail? Talk with Steve Ross.
You’re curious about owning and operating a hunting camp? Talk to George Wilt.
You want to turn water into wine? Talk with Jeff Hirt. You’re interested in a
job in a particular field or in a different company? Get to know who works
there, take them to lunch, and indulge your curiosity. You want to step out
into children’s ministry? Meet with people who do it, and do it well.
2 Samuel 5, David is the new king of Israel. The Philistines, who had extensive
experience with David as a warlord among them, mass their forces to defeat him
before he can consolidate his power. He prays and gets direction from God: “Go
up” against them in a frontal assault. He bursts through their lines and routes
their forces. The Philistines gather a second army and come back to the same
battlefield. David prays and gets direction again. This time, he is told to move
his army under cover and attack the Philistines from the rear. Again, a
victory. Same result, different method (2 Samuel 5.17-25).
the obstacles we face at a detour, “what stands in the way becomes the way.”
Clif Kehr, a saint in my life, was a research chemist who ran a major lab for his
company. They invented, among other things, longer lasting barriers in car
batteries that greatly extended battery life. He had almost 90 patents to his
name. One of the greatest was an accident, a detour, in the experimental
process. The experiment was a failure and the standard clean up practice with
this type of chemical was to use water, the universal solvent. They poured some
water into the chemical and let it sit, since it was the end of the day. The
next morning, they found what they never expected – a brand new undiscovered
foam with all kinds of applications including in the helmets of astronauts and
toys for children. A failed experiment stood in the way and became the way. “Do
you see anything?” Jesus asked. Maybe we see people like trees walking. Maybe we
have a more complete healing and think creatively about the detour.
both the obstacles and the resources, “What stands in the way becomes the way.”
What of the resources? Over and over again in Scripture, when the biggest
detours, the most certain dead ends, are right before us, the resource question
is asked.
       Jesus sends his disciples out on mission
and tells them to take nothing extra with the, to find the resources in the
mission field, to find the resources in connection with others.
       Moses is surprised by God at the burning
bush and Yahweh asks, “What is that in your hand?” A resource question. The
answer: A rod, a staff. God tells him to lay it down. It becomes a snake. God
tells him to pick it up. It becomes the rod. And no matter where the story goes
from there, it is labeled “the rod of God.” It is the rod of God that Moses
extends over the Red Sea and the waters part. It is the rod of God with which
Moses strikes the rock and water flows in the wilderness. It is the rod of God
which Moses holds up – with the help of Aaron and Hur – as Israel wins victory
over Amalek.
       The prophet’s widow is dead, and her
children are about to be seized by her creditors. She comes to Elisha, who asks
her, “What do you have in your house?” A resource question. The answer: Oil. Elisha
tells her to network, to utilize the community, to collect every empty bottle
or jar she can find. And her one flask of oil becomes enough for her to sell
and restart her life.
stands in the way becomes the way. Even in the detour, the resources are there.
We can’t see them because we need another touch from God. We can’t see them
because we want different results with the same efforts. But they are in the
way with us because God is with us. And so, as the apostle Paul says, “We live
by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
       So, we come once again to our collection
of practices to pray over and commit to for the coming year. One of the biggest
classification of detours in our lives is breakdown in relationships. Under the
community of friends, the second category is practicing reconciliation.
       One of the steps is to take the
initiative to apologize and reconcile. It is painful, scary, and a way to
follow Jesus faithfully. The other big class of detours is big dead ends where
we need to jump the tracks for real. In the purpose of mission category, we
have “Step out in faith: experiment in the direction of my calling.” If you’re
at this point in your life, don’t despair. Even Jesus needed a second chance to
do a miracle. It’s time to try stuff. Even if it fails, you may end up with a
revolutionary new foam. Even if you have nothing but a flask of oil, you
already have all you need. Experiment in the direction of your calling. With
the partnership and support of this community of saints, you never know what God
will do. We’ve seen it in action in the saints that have gone on before.
       Now to him who by the power at work
within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or
imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations,
forever and ever. Amen.
Bill Burnett & Dave Evans, Designing Your Life: How to Lead
a Well-Lived, Joyful Life
Beckert, “What do you have in your house? Turning what you already have into a
Fresh Expression,” 25 Sept 2019, accessed 08 Oct 2019,