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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 8, 2006

'Anyway' author finds key

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser books editor

Kent Keith, author of "Jesus Did it Anyway," is a member of Manoa Valley Church.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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As a young boy, Kent Keith couldn't for the life of him understand why the day that Jesus was crucified should be called Good Friday — what could be "good" about a day of torture, mockery and murder?

Then, in Sunday school at Central Union Church, while listening to the Rev. Don Asman, Keith had an epiphany — one that, 30 years later, has given rise to "Jesus Did It Anyway" (Putnam, hardback, $19.95), his latest book, which is dedicated to Asman. This book, like his first two, is based on a group of 10 principles he calls "The Paradoxical Commandments."

But as he sat in that class in the mid-1960s, the commandments were yet to be written and the teenage Keith was struggling to understand what Christians should learn from the Good Friday story.

Then it came to him: The bad stuff was only part of the story.

The other part was how Jesus responded: He focused on others. He commended his mother to the care of his friend, John. He prayed for forgiveness for those who had hurt him. And he promised salvation to a repentant criminal.

"We don't control the exterior world; bad things are going to happen to us. But the decision of who to be and how to respond is always within our power," said Keith.

Even bleeding on the cross, "Jesus loved people anyway. He forgave people anyway. He saved people anyway."

"Anyway" is the link that runs through each of the Paradoxical Commandments, which Keith published in 1968 in a training booklet for student leaders when he was a Harvard sophomore. Each commandment acknowledges a harsh reality, then urges doing the right thing in spite of it. The first one, for example, is: "People are illogical, unreasonable and self-centered. Love them anyway."

Keith lost touch with the commandments, which developed a life of their own and traveled the world, appearing tacked to the wall of Mother Teresa's clinic, excerpted in one of TV preacher Robert Schuller's books and photocopied for thousands of bulletin boards.

Meanwhile, Keith, whose upbringing as a military kid appears to have left him with a peripatetic streak, was on career No. 5 (lawyer, government official, high-tech park administrator, university president, development director) when he heard his own words quoted back at him during a luncheon speech. Shortly thereafter, he decided to reclaim his work and began to write "Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments," which was published by Inner Ocean and then picked up for international release by Penguin Putnam in 2001.

Keith and his wife, translator Elizabeth Carlson Keith, now own Carlson Keith Corp. and he works full time as a motivational speaker and writer. A lifelong Christian who belongs to Manoa Valley Church, Keith speaks in both secular and religious environments. Christians, however, wanted more: They began asking him to show how the Paradoxical Commandments relate to the Bible.

After a question was asked by Schuller before the audience at the famed Crystal Cathedral, Keith decided to develop this book.

Schuller's custom on his "Hour of Power" televised service is to interview a guest each week. In 2003, Keith was invited to appear on the telecast.

The night before, Keith studied the questions Schuller's staff had sent him, even practicing his responses.

But when the two met before the service, Schuller asked: "How do the commandments connect to the Christian faith?"

Keith told the Good Friday story.

In the end, the other questions went out the window and, at the pulpit, Schuller threw Keith just one lead-in: "Good Friday?"

On the airplane home, Keith realized that story was just the start. There were many other points he wanted to make about how the Paradoxical Commandments play out for Christians.

Now his mentor Asman is using the book in a class at Nu'uanu Congregational Church, as is the Rev. Dan Hatch at Community Church of Honolulu. A class at his own church is based on the book, too. Keith said the book stimulates discussion of deep, person questions and provokes people to think about mission: What am I called to do?

He uses stories from Scripture, and real-life examples of Christian workers, to show how the Paradoxical Commandments can be lived. The book closes with 25 pages of discussion questions to be used in classroom settings.

A central question for Christians is how to live in the secular, commercial culture. The Paradoxical Commandments —which urge doing good, being honest and frank, thinking big, fighting for underdogs, building what you can, helping people and giving the world your best — all suggest a moral compass that is independent of the world and its vagaries.

Keith recalled a woman who told him her son was coaching at a YMCA. He loved the job, she said, and got up every morning happy and eager for the day. But he didn't get paid much.

"I wish he'd get a real job someday," she concluded.

Keith understood, but disagreed.

"Even those who love you will sometimes encourage you to go for the power, pay and prestige, because they want what they think is best for you," Keith said. "But what could be better than what this young man was doing, teaching values, instilling healthy skills the kids will be able to use all their lives?"

His experiences and his faith have convinced him that living a meaningful life is its own reward.

Unlike tangible things, he said, "the meaning that you get is always available to you. It's always yours and nobody can take it away from you — it's spiritual and it's about your inner life and it's enough."

Reach Wanda A. Adams at wadams@honoluluadvertiser.com.