Tuesday, December 26, 2006

gone

I can’t believe its over already. How many are feeling the same thing. It’s kind of like a holiday hangover. There’s all of the flurry of activity, the laughter, the good feelings of good company….maybe… and then the morning after. Tired, worn, slightly disoriented, trying desperately to dredge up memories and feelings from the night before and not let them swirl into the darkness of my mind, is the order of this morning. Even my caffeinated work zone is quieter and more subdued. It arrived, sort of like the polar express bearing down on the day. Then, in a wave of paper, boxes, ribbons and bows, it left again. Gone but not forgotten, I hope.
It was said of Ebeneezer Scrooge, that if any man had the ability to keep Christmas all year long, it was him. I wonder how he accomplished it. Was it because he was so far gone that when change came, it swept over him like a wave that continued to carry him up the beach long after the rest has receded? I guess that maybe I’m not that far gone? Sometimes I wish I had been so that I could be changed so drastically that I could carry the change all year long. I’m having all that I can do to carry Christmas another 24 hours, let alone the next 365 days. Gone, but not forgotten I hope.
It was better and not as good as I imagined it would be, the giving and getting gifts I mean. My surprise at what has thoughtfully been picked out for me was humbling. I’m not sure that the response of others lived up to the hype, confetti, and parades that I imagined would break out upon opening. I’m not sure how this goes for you, but for me it goes like this. The presents get handed out. The turns are taken, the wrapping gets tossed as the recipients get closer to “the gift” that you picked out. Its all anticipation and a bit of confidence as the gift is lifted upon the lap. Then a brief moment of doubt and panic replaces the confidence as you briefly doubt your choice and size and color. This is followed by a bit of relief as the paper comes off and a smile replaces the look of curiosity, or frustration depending on my skill in wrapping. For me, the unveiling is never as good as the hunt, but maybe that’s just me. All in all, its always better and not as good as I imagined it would be. The memory remains however, and it grows and embellishes itself until it gets used in a “remember when” story somewhere down the road. Gone, but not forgotten I hope.
How did he do it? Ebeneezer I mean…how did he keep Christmas all year long? Did he make an attempt to stay in touch with the kinds of people that most of us only enjoy seeing on Christmas Eve? Did he track down long lost friends? Did he follow up on those holiday letters? Did he return emails and phone messages? Did he visit long lost relatives when he was “in the neighborhood”? It’s sobering when I realize that I’ve lost track of as many or more that were part of Christmases past as the number who are part of my Christmas present. At this time of year, they are gone, but not forgotten.
If I have one wish that remains to be fulfilled for Christmas I guess that it would be this one….that I could explore how to keep Christmas all year long. I’m not sure that I’m up for it. I’m exhausted just imagining what that would look like. I know that I’m worse than the average person with this. I have a horrible tendency of leaving people behind. My capacity for keeping up and keeping track with people of Christmas past is not very large. I could tell you that it’s due to my current life’s work, but somehow deep inside of me there’s a voice whispering “that’s lame” to my desire to place blame. There is no where to place blame except squarely on me. I have tried desperately to keep the past just where it is, in the past. After all, it’s gone right? Gone, but not forgotten.

Monday, December 18, 2006

humility

Coming towards the end of a year, my first instinct is to look back. One thought rings loud as Christmas bells rattling between my ears. Here it is….my philosophy for the year. We’re not as strong as we think we are. I’ve been reminded of that repeatedly this past year. Two relief trips to New Orleans, friends dealing with cancer, a wife with serious back issues, teenage lapses in judgment, a season of flooding, and now the latest and greatest of storms will tend to do that to a person with any type of balanced reality. To be honest, its not been the event itself as much as the attitude that surrounded it this past year that has helped me appreciate our truly humbling existence. It seems almost as though I can’t pick up a paper or turn on a news broadcast without witnessing us failing miserably in our attempt to overcome our human limitations. Only half way into December and it seems as if more people have been reported lost in the snow than during the days of the Oregon trail. A staggering number of them have not ended well.
It may be that we’re fastly approaching the “tower of babel” stage again in human history where we feel that we are so close to a god state in our human achievement that we have this expectancy of long, safe and secure lives. Whatever your take on the words preserved for us in the bible, you can’t argue with the wisdom of passages such as is found in James where we are asked why we make plans to do anything far out into the future when we don’t even know where that future may lie. In other areas we are encouraged not to worry about tomorrow because today has enough stuff of its own. Who of us living anywhere in society don’t already realize that truth. I happen to think that the words are true wisdom because they come from the source of true wisdom. The writer knows our limitations because he created us. They ring true in our hearts because they are true. Truth is what it is regardless of your view of the source. And truth is bore out and proven according to the results observed. Be honest, have you observed these things to be true or not?
Have you observed bad things happening to good people? Have you observed good things happening to bad people? Have you observed justice….injustice….consequence? Have you seen grace given? Have you seen people who claim to believe one thing live totally opposite to their claims? It’s all in there. Have you seen goodness and evil? It’s all in there. Have you tried your absolute hardest and been soundly defeated by forces beyond your control? It’s all in there.
Humility is a healthy thing. It’s freeing and liberating and honest. It only makes sense to me that as I read these things and understand them to be universal truths, that a parallel and undeniable thread woven alongside is the need to live life humbly. We’re not as strong as we think we are. Our creator knew that even as we were created. In the midst of that is His answer comes in the form of humility. It’s a baby, born in a manger, in an obscure backwoods town to a regular Joe and Mary. The same book, the one that tells me about all the limitations and trials and victories, also tells me that this sign of humility was born to save us from our limitations, also referred to as sin. It’s not a popular concept in the circles that I travel in these days. It shouldn’t be so offensive. The true definition of sin is “missing the mark” and who of us could claim that we haven’t “missed the mark” this year. Truth is truth, regardless of your feelings about the source.
If you’re still reading this, then I’ll offer my Christmas wish for you this year. Look around you and tell me whether or not we are as strong as we think we are. How well have our answers faired this year. How much has our technology, our government, or our intellect succeeded in guiding us all safely through the journey. Still unconvinced? Find for me another source of “truth” that so honestly and thoroughly describes the true human condition. Then look at the baby wrapped in cloth, lying in a manger, and ask yourself “Could it be true?”. Does the author of this story truly know my limitations, and if so, could He then also know the solution? I’ll warn you ahead of time. It’s going to take a bit of humility.

Monday, December 11, 2006

ruined

I’ve been ruined. It’s been a long steady road I guess. I’m thinking that its taken nearly seven years, but I’m finally there I think. Allow me to explain. It has taken nearly seven years, but I think that I’ve finally become comfortable in an urban existence. I can no longer imagine life without mass transit. I can’t conceive of a world without coffee on every corner….and I don’t mean Flo’s 10 cent ceramic mug coffee. I mean real status coffee. The kind of coffee that I spend a ridiculous amount on, while kids go starving in other parts of the world. I don’t know about any other kind anymore. I don’t know what it would be like to not have coffee on every block. I’m looking out of the window by my seat at Tully’s directly across to Starbucks on the opposite corner. My wife and I walk everywhere. Within a 5minute walk we can eat at restaurants from all over the world, including real authentic New York style pizza. People know us in the community and to some degree we matter, or at least it’s an illusion that I’ve created. I like it anyway. I know artists, and writers and baristas and techies and managers and moms. I know people of every lifestyle and every nation and I see God everywhere. I don’t know if I could ever go back.
I want to be clear though. It’s not that I didn’t know those types of people before in other phases of life. It’s just that they didn’t all live within a two block walk from my house. I saw God all over other phases of my life, but He didn’t seem to live on top of me as He does here. In addition, as if I needed any more stimulation, I live within sight of some of the most beautiful natural creation in all of the world. I can walk on a beach, enjoy the skyline of a city all as foreground to all 14,000 feet of Mount Rainier painted in the sky. In the context of an urban setting like this, one can be on sensory overload very easily. Hence the need for all of the caffeine, I believe.
It’s quite different from the previous 36 years of my life. The change from East coast to West coast has undoubtedly been huge in my life, although I think that it pales in comparison when set beside the change from suburban/rural to urban metro. I live inside the city limits. The last time I lived inside city limits it was a Midwestern “city” of 16,000 people. It has a sign outside of town that read “City of Lincoln”. Personally I believe that if you need a sign to identify some place as a city, then it isn’t. In my last place of residence, my neighbors were cows, literally. There was no one else for at least 500 yards. My road was over a mile long with only about 8 families on it. Here, people live on top of each other, literally. This is becoming condo heaven. One family leaves a home and 6 months later 8 families move onto the same lot that doesn’t look anything like it did. I’m not claustrophobic by nature, but my first experience here was not a comfortable one. I was overwhelmed. There are still situations that tend to overload me. A weekend trip to a local Wal-Mart is one of them I don’t know if God will ever help me to adjust to. It’s not the rural, “Hi there, how can I help you” Wal-Mart experience that I grew accustomed to in the Midwest. It’s more of a trip to the United Nations or maybe even a glimpse of what Ellis Island was back in the day when “The Boat” came over. You know….the one “Boat” that all of our ancestors seemed to come over on. Anyway, to be honest, there is still stretching and sensory overload from time to time, but I can’t imagine life without it now. Now I’m just ruined.
I’m not complaining, I’m grateful actually. I have a bigger view from here of what I have always imagined about God. I have a bigger view of His creativity which I never though was possible. I have a greater appreciation for grace and the human condition which He sacrificed for. I have a greater tolerance for divergent views, but I also have a greater urgency about my life to be an agent of the before mentioned grace that is a lifeline for us all. I believe more strongly in the disarray and destructiveness of evil and the peace and restoration of the cross. I’m more aware of the metaphors and the stories that surround me. Ruined has become a good thing.

Monday, December 04, 2006

butter

This morning, for the first time in a long time, I’m feeling somewhat closer to the age that’s listed on my legal identifying documents. I wonder if this is how others that were born in 1963 feel, and if so, how long have they felt this way. Not only am I feeling it physically, I’m experiencing it emotionally as I sit here and answer an 80’s trivia question tossed out by a barista half my age. Sometimes my mind creates this illusion that I “grew up” during that era. I only remember being young then. The reality is that I was married and having children then. I myself am a child of the previous decade. But then again I’ve always been about 10 years off. One look in my closet testifies to that reality.
I can’t complain too much though about age and aging. The last time that I can remember feeling old was about 8 years ago. It was August 1998. It was 95 humid degrees outside and I was lying on a field with a severely broken arm and shoulder after being tackled by a three hundred pound teenager playing football. I distinctly remember two thoughts that were floating through my mind. The first one was sort of a dream of floating in the surf on the coast of Cape Cod, a sort of shock induced illusion. That’s a story for another time. The second and most vivid memory is of my body, for the first time, accepting the limitations of age. It was a humbling experience. It was a turning point in my life I think. It even, I think, marked the beginning of the journey away from a passion for working with and ministering to teenagers. It had gotten the best of me. My mind still remained engaged in the process for some time afterwards, but my heart began to fade. I don’t know that it was a bad thing, it just was.
And so this morning, there’s no broken bones and no broken dreams, but I’m feeling aged just the same. Or maybe it’s just that I’m feeling truly what how I ought to feel. It’s hard to say. I mean, I’ve never been 43 before right? Usually I love Monday mornings. I love the time with my laptop and Tully’s. I look forward to the week. Everyone is new and unknown. I like that….usually. Today I feel like there is much to do in and with my life and not the energy or passion to complete it. In the words of Bilbo, I’m feeling like “butter spread over too much bread”. I love that line. It’s so true at times for those of us who allow it to be so. I guess that I’ve allowed it to be so.
Therefore, as I sit and write this, I am committing to stand and do something about it. My inspiration for the moment goes back to another teenager. I’m studying the life of Mary this week for a Christmas teaching series. Here is someone whose circumstance certainly didn’t match her age. She was painfully aware of her limitations. She had a much larger piece of bread to deal with then I’ll ever know. One line from the passage I’m in right now jumps out from the page like a three dimensional Imax film. “I am the Lords servant, may it be to me as you have said”. There is a great deal of insight and confidence contained in that line. She knew whose she was and who was controlling the size of the bread. She just needed to be willing to be butter. I need to know that, or at least I need to be reminded of that. If I allow it, especially during this time of my year, my environment will become overwhelming. The bread becomes too large and I feel ill equipped to handle it. If I can remember that my job is simply to be butter, then He will handle the bread.

Monday, November 27, 2006

priorities

I’m observing these days the idea that adversity establishes priority. This concept takes shape in many different ways. Basically how it works is, in an observational sense, adversity will create barriers in an individuals life. The level of adversity, or the size of the barrier that it creates, determines the effort needed to get over, around, or under said adversity. It is in this effort that is required where priorities are brought to light.
For example, we recently experienced a rare and unusual snow storm here in the land of caffeine. People here have a tendency to be very wary of rain that turns hard and slick. A barrier began to go up in the lives of the inhabitants of the great Puget Sound region. Immediately priorities began to be established. These were indicated by answering the question “ how badly do I want to go to…………?” The answer and the actions following the answer indicate a level of priority. In that moment, if you look analytically at the situation, you can identify priorities. Would I go to work in this? Would I go to school in this? Would I go after the sales in this? Would I go to the in-laws in this? Would I go to church in this? Would I go for coffee in this?
Another barrier observed this past weekend was the American phenomenon called “Black Friday”. Incredible sales and once in a lifetime savings were promised to those who would overcome the adversity. In this case the barrier was the other 30,000 going for the same line at Best Buy that you has your eyes set on. The stakes were high. After all, success for you could mean the savings of $20. It could mean the difference between superstar and also-ran on the parents walk of fame. So what if I lose 4 hours of sleep, or more. So what if I am on the bottom of the pile after some idiot begins tossing laptops into the frenzied crowd. So what if my toes get crushed and my hopes dashed at the sight of another empty pallet and a pile of rain checks. I’m a parent and my priority is to make my child’s life free from want, or so it might seem to an alien observing my species during this time of “Peace on earth, good will toward men”.
Anyway, on the positive side, I’ll have to admit to a bit of pleasant surprise. In my faith community I was able to witness a bit of encouraging priorities in action. In this, the county where you are least likely to find anyone in a church setting on any given weekend, the weather basically gave a hand written note from the doctor excusing most anyone with any type of creativity from the tedious and possibly treacherous task of negotiating the higher regions of my peninsula to attend a gathering of the faithful. In other words, these types of days in my profession can lead to thoughts of canceling due to anticipated dismal attendance. Did I say that out loud? Of course, one could never really entertain such thoughts, but it can be tempting. It was very encouraging. I think that I saw a glimpse of priorities that I had previously underestimated somewhat.
It was encouraging as a leader of said people. It is encouraging because I know that we have been promised much more adversity than a dusting of snow in our lives. We’re promised that in this world we will face all kinds of trials, tribulations, and trouble all for the sake of our hope and faith in a promise. I am able to hear about it and read about it already taking place in other parts of the world. In those regions there is no doubt where the priority lies. I don’t know if I’m there yet. I don’t know how high a barrier might ever, if ever, discourage me from going around, over, or under. I do know that every bit of adversity only further refines my priorities, and for that I am thankful.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Claw

Do you remember “The Claw”? I’m not talking about the “sitting around the campfire, creepy story so you can’t get to sleep” type of claw. I’m also not referring to the “all you can” eat crab legs type of claw. The claw that I have in mind is the selective force of the universe type of claw found in Pizza Planet. It’s the same Pizza Planet that can be seen in that classic groundbreaking Hollywood achievement known as “Toy Story”. If you remember “The Claw” then you may remember it’s mission to basically select who stays and who goes. At least the little bug eyed alien toys thought so. They worshipped “The Claw”. They believed that their destiny was in the jaws of “The Claw”. Little did they realize that there was someone on the outside who was operating “The Claw” and at least influencing the selection process. I have been that operator during different times in my life. I have been known to hypnotically drop quarters into the slot of one of these machines and try repeatedly to grab the “right” toy out and drop it into the chute of freedom which all toys dream of.
It’s an interesting concept actually. What I mean is, this consumer of change that sits in the foyers of every Wal-Mart in America, constantly feeds into our illusion of worth. The child and the child-like stand and deliver endless streams of quarters in the quest to select the “Pearl of Great Price”, only to receive endless supplies of squish balls and fuzzy dice.
We spend more money than the gross national product of most developing nations only to accumulate garage sale inventory, while what we think that we are truly seeking sits snug and secure behind the glass, doomed to a toy like purgatory, never to fulfill the true destiny of every toy. “The Claw” makes those choices, along with a little help from its human partners. It’s a pretty futile exercise when you think about it, and yet I continue to participate. It’s hypnotic. It’s addictive. Ultimately, what I usually get is not what I think that I really wanted.
It causes me to wonder. Does this not mirror parts of my ministry life? How much time, effort and cash do I go through trying to “select” who could and or should be released from their glass walled prison? How much effort will I spend trying to reach those who might be buried beneath the surface while those on top are beckoning to be lifted free of the pile? What is my “claw” that I wield here and there trying to snatch people from the margins of a meaningless existence? How do I really determine who is worth the cash expended and what gives me the right to be the determiner of that investment anyway? After all, in all likelihood, like my childish counterparts in the lobby of Wal-Mart, its probably my Fathers money anyway. Aren’t they all just toys with the same purpose and same plan, regardless of their appearances and internal stuffing?
Maybe the best use of my time, effort and money would be simply to break down the glass walls that trap so many inside. That might be difficult. After all, they’ve been constructed through years of human meddling and managing. What we need is to get rid of the selection process that unconsciously determines who we believe should stay and who should go. Eliminate the walls that separate us and there is no need for “The Claw”.
I have spent years trying feeding quarters and manipulating “The Claw” trying to painstakingly ease the desirable into the chute of freedom. What’s wrong with this picture? The walls are made of glass. All I really need is a hammer.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Flats

I got a phone call late last night. It certainly wasn’t one that I had been anticipating. In fact it called me out of a meeting. The voice on the other end had a bewildered tone. “Dad, why didn’t you tell me that I had a flat tire?” It might be a reasonable question in some other circumstance, however not in this one. He thought that I might have some insight into his inflationary issues since I had changed his tires that morning. The problem with his thought process was that since that time, early in the morning, more than 14 hours and at least 100 miles worth of driving had occurred, primarily by him, and the tire was at its reliable fighting weight of 34 lbs psi. Then it had sat at his place of employment for about 5 hours. In addition to these minor details, in his driving he had been all around his car packing it to go home, as well as putting new registration tabs on his license plates. On top of that, the tire in question was the front drivers side tire, which he had passed numerous times that day. I on the other hand, had not even laid eyes on his vehicle since the wee hours of the morning. Don’t even ask why I was out in the rain, in the wee hours, changing his tires, while he was on a flight back from Southern California sunshine.
Anyway, after some brief lamenting of just where I had failed as a dad and a significant male role model, I began to process this inspirational parental moment. My son is not unique in his world view of how things operate. The best way I can place him and many others that I encounter, is that they live in what I refer to as “The Land of Should”. In this far and foreign,….actually imaginary….land, the people of should try desperately to exist on a plane of being where all things operate as they think they “should”. Practically played out, this means that when I get in my car, the tires should have air in them. The gas tank should still give a few more gallons of gas even when it has read “E” for the last three days. In “The Land of Should”, the red “E” on my dashboard should mean “enough”. In this fabled land, when I have to be somewhere in 10 minutes, there is no stopped traffic, even in places where traffic has never moved before. In this land, oil just appears on the dipstick. Fine print doesn’t appear anywhere in a contract and rebates actually come in 4 to 6 weeks. My homeowners insurance would cover exactly what I had intended it to cover and my health deductible actually gets met before my year expires. It’s a wonderful place, this “Land of Should”. Tragically, it doesn’t exist, except for in the minds of those who pursue it. Even more tragic though, in my opinion, is that it’s the only land that we have equipped most people to live in.
People are driving around with flats in their lives that they think shouldn’t exist and when the revelation finally shines on them, they feel someone else is responsible. This plays out for me professionally many, many times over the course of my year and throughout the relationships that I encounter. People think that relationships, marriage and otherwise, should just happen with no effort. They think check books should just balance, no matter how tied to the mall that they are. They think that forgiveness should just occur without words or interaction. They think that faith should just cover up a multitude of sins. Faith can cover up every “tude” of sins, however consequences do linger. But not for them, in the “Land of Should” they don’t exist. I apologize for appearing trite or simplistic with peoples lives, but this is really how much of this appears by the time it reaches me.
In the real world, where we actually live, things rarely happen as they might in “Should”. Life is difficult, but faith is real and empowering. Relationships are difficult to navigate, but faith gives us direction and insight. In the real world, money is earned and spent and oddly enough, my faith has guidance for that as well that can provide for me far better than I ever could. In the real world, we need to be participants and strugglers and responsible for the things that come our way, even flats.

Monday, November 06, 2006

assignment

I have an assignment. I should clarify that maybe. I should tell you that I’ve given myself an assignment. It’s the worst kind of assignment for me. It’s an assignment to be creative. I hate those. The whole reason that I quit pursuing the creative arts as a career back in the day was that I couldn’t deal with creativity on demand. It was too difficult to schedule times of creative influence simply to receive a grade which would then justify the exorbitant cost of my higher education. For me it just never worked that way. The way it usually worked for me was that I got graded for the schedule driven junk that I hated while those gems which occasionally came along during odd hours never saw the pages of a grade book. I don’t know how God did it, the creation thing I mean. Six days of continual creativity is more than my brain can comprehend. Writing this blog once a week is almost more than I can handle as it is. The other day I read back, with awe and wonder, through the 80 plus entries that I’ve written here. Let me make this clear though, it wasn’t awe and wonder about what was written. Actually, many times I wondered how I could have possibly thought that some of the randomness was worth writing. I was amazed that I had strung so many thoughts together on a consistent basis.
Anyway, back to the assignment. I have assigned myself the task of pursuing a regular “writing of the blog” gig with a magazine. It’s not a paying gig and it won’t lead me out of my current calling in the pastoral arts…a field that I just created myself. Actually it might enhance my ability to do what God has currently called me to do, namely lead people to lead others to a vibrant growing faith in Christ. God knows that I could use all of the enhancement that I can get my hands on. Actually, it’s a worthwhile and relevant cause because, from all indications that I’m seeing, most of us could use some improvement in that area. At least those of us with slightly less than megachurch status might appreciate the encouragement.
I’ve been wrestling with this idea of “assignment” because my submission for consideration is due by the end of the month. Due dates… that’s the hump that I need to get over. Actually as I’ve wrestled with this “assignment” on outreach I think that I’ve stumbled upon a correlation between the two, outreach and assignment I mean. The way I see it is this…we, those of us of the Christian persuasion, have turned outreach into assignment. Don’t get me wrong. I totally believe with all of my being that we have been charged with the task of outreach, individually and as the Church. I also have observed that we are often not acting up to the task. You could argue that we’ve been “assigned” the task. What I mean is simply this…I have come to believe that outreach needs to be more about inspiration than it is about assignment.
We put due dates where we have no right to assign them. We don’t have a due date because we’re not the giver of dates in the first place. Inspiration is the key. Godly inspiration along with some observation, followed by relevant, meaningful interaction will lead us to a more effective outreach. It fits into Paul’s principle of planting, watering, and reaping. God is the one working through the interaction of the individual and the Spirit. We are part of the process. There are no due dates on process. If I looked at outreach in the same way that I looked at creativity, I wonder where it would lead. If I looked at opportunity in the same way that I looked at inspiration, I wonder how much more effective my life would be. If I allowed the Spirit to lead and, when prompted, took full advantage, I can only begin to imagine what might be created in the lives of those who I long to influence. I don’t know how it might turn out. I do know one thing. Opportunities are far better than assignments.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

power

It’s been a long time since I’ve been here, more than two weeks I’m thinking. I know that the tree outside the window of this caffeine based establishment is now bare. The last time I sat here watching life go by it was a deep burgundy color with just a hint of green left at the tips of the upper most branches. Now its bare, sort of a Tim Burton film kind of look. Actually it looks now how I felt then the last time I sat here….a sort of thin, haggard, spindly feeling. As I’ve been sitting here this morning looking at a blank screen, I can’t help notice the little battery icon in the lower left corner that keeps warning me of a depleting energy level. It’s a reminder like the witch gave to Dorothy about her impending demise when the sand runs out. I’m not plugged in, and if nothing were to change in this computing relationship then I will eventually run to the point of hibernation. It doesn’t stop unless I plug in.
As I sit here this morning I’m thankful that I’m feeling a bit more plugged in. A vacation will do that for you. We just got back from two weeks of being plugged in. It’s not the vacation that I’d have planned if I had the choice. In fact it wasn’t the original vacation at all. But it was a vacation all the same and we got away from the source of draining and plugged into some continued inspiration. It was energizing. There was no icon for us to watch anymore. It wasn’t the weather because it was cold and rainy most of the time. It wasn’t the location because for the most part we were surrounded by structures blocking out any view whatsoever. It wasn’t non-stop activity or recreation because we had a bunch of downtime when we had this “I don’t know, what do you want to do” type of look on our faces.
I’ve decided that it wasn’t as much being plugged in to something specific as is was being away from things that drained us. The list is long I suppose. No phone ringing incessantly, no people asking, demanding, expecting, no mail, no unfinished home projects looking accusingly at me and basically no responsibility to anyone but ourselves is what inadvertently created a power source. I guess when there’s a lack of issues, it creates a vacuum which draws back in life and creativity and inspiration and all the things that get pushed aside from day after day living. Of course I was also able to put some good time in with faith issues and some quiet for the still small voice to penetrate my soul again.
Two weeks seemed like a long time to be away as our plane lifted off from here back then. I thought of so many things that just couldn’t carry on without me. I thought of the house and the cat and the desk and the lawn and as I settled back in two days ago, I realized that it was all just right. The two weeks had also been just right. A day shorter and I’d not have been fully charged. A day longer and I’d have probably overcharged. I thought I knew what would be good for me, as I always think that I do. However, one more time, He knew and His plan was better. He knew because He knows me. He knew because its His power anyway.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Good

So I’m wondering this morning….Is the state of marriage in our culture as bad as husbands would lead us to believe? To be sure, there are some wives who act like their husband is similar in nature to one of the great plagues of Egypt. More than likely though it’s the husbands that I’m hearing from. Usually what I hear from the wives are tales of men behaving badly in their relationship. By badly, I don’t even mean cheating. It’s more clueless, insensitive, self-centered, childish (am not, are so, am not….) and well, just generally men-like. I totally understand this, because I am one…a man I mean. All of those adjectives at one time or another can aptly describe me. My goal however is that it wouldn’t also be identified with my relationship to my wife.
I’m reading in Genesis this past week, the early parts with all of the cool creative stuff that God was doing with His creative ability, and I, one more time, read through the activity surrounding the creation of Adam. I’ve read this at least a gazillion (gazillion’s not a real word, is so, is not…) times and it finally hits me. God looks down at His created, walking and breathing lump of clay, He looks around at all of the animals that he’s whipped up, and for the first time, probably ever for Him, He saw something not really all that good. No, He didn’t see their selfishness. He didn’t see the insensitivity. He didn’t even see the childishness (am so, am not, am so….Stop it). What He saw was that it wasn’t good because His created living, breathing lump of clay, did not have a more beautiful, more refined, more cultured lump of clay to live and breathe along side of. All of the other animals did, but not him, and God saw that it was not good.
Now you might say, at this point, nice going, you being a pastor and all and just figuring that out after 20 years of studying the Book. You need to understand though. It became clear as anything, real heart knowledge instead of head knowledge, because I was living in the context of God’s story. Mine intersected with His and the lights really came on for me. I’m in the context because I’ve been alone this weekend…and it was not good. I’m beginning to understand some of the intricacies of His intent during the creation process.
One thing that I know about myself is that, whenever my wife leaves for awhile, I get really miserable. So much so, in fact, that my routine when this happens has become to just distance myself from people and preoccupy myself with work. It’s sometimes dangerous and frantic amounts of work that would not be healthy for anyone for more than a few days here or there. I wonder if that’s how God figured out that it was not good. Was Adam distancing himself from the rest of creation and just frantically gardening for all he was worth. Probably not likely, …whatever. I know that’s what I do and I know that I never understood it until just now. I’m miserable because its not how it was supposed to be. It’s not how I was created to be and I’m not with who I was created to be with. So it is not good. Now I know that this may sound borderline psychotic, stalker, controlling type mentality. Please any liberated female create types who may be reading this, don’t send me notes about oppression and control and all that. I know very well that I need to give her space. Because of the way she’s been created, she has opportunities to go and share with other women and to spend time with other friends that make her who she is. So, yes I can deal with miserable once in awhile. It doesn’t mean I have to like it though.
I have been asked if I think that God creates people to be with certain people. I don’t know why not, He did it once. He certainly has the ability. I’m not sure if it’s specific people in all cases. It is in mine. I am sure that it is specific types of people. It doesn’t mean that we’ll make the right choices. I know from being on one side of many marriage ceremonies and counseling opportunities that we make really bad choices. I didn’t, but many do. I know I didn’t, even after all these years, because I still feel what Adam felt and what God felt when she’s not there for me. Far be it from me to get my theology from Hollywood, but the phrase “You complete me” is as close to God’s intent as it gets.
I know this because I’m there.
That leads me to some conclusions. One of which is that the marriage relationship was designed to complete one another. As I talk with guys in casual conversation, I rarely get that desire from them,…to be completed I mean. Most of it is macho, independent crap about how “the wife” is making me do this or that, or not letting me do this or that. It’s a conversation of burden and woe. You can see the fear in their eyes as they describe the descending of the plague upon their household. It’s all crap, at least most of it I think. If you’re a women reading this and you even remotely share my worldview about how we’re made and all I want to try to explain it to you. I believe that guys like that are probably fighting with their created being. Guys were initially created alone, independent and task oriented. Adam was alone watching the garden and everything in it. He didn’t realize the shortsightedness of the plan. (no offense to the Creator). Some guys struggle with the pull for alone and independent. It’s shortsightedness on their part, but understandable considering their inner wiring. I said understandable, not excusable.
Add to that our culture which tells them constantly how their marital relationship should look to other men that are in their circle, all macho and independent. Add a touch of selfish and a pinch of childish (am not, are so, am not…) and there it is. It’s certainly more complicated than anything Rachel Ray could whip out in 30 minutes.
So here I am. I understand it a bit more. I still don’t like it one bit, but I can do it when I have to, just not for more than a few days at a time. She completes me and I’m tired after a few days of trying to make up for her absence with work and activity. She’s back in 14 hours and then, once again, it will be good.

Monday, October 02, 2006

spectators

Where does time go? Does anyone else want to know or is it just my bizarre way of thinking. I mean, is it recorded like some great eternal TiVo, to be played back for you when you die? Or is it just erased to make room for more episodes, kind of like some old VHS tape you might find last minute when you’re desperate to record a show you didn’t know would be on. Will it ever come back around in a déjà vu moment or will it drop into a black hole. I’ve read that sound waves travel indefinitely through space. I wonder about time moments.
The sound thing bothers me because there are many things I’ve said that I would never want to hear again. I have similar feelings, I guess, towards time that I’ve wasted and would be far too painful to have to live again. For sure there are moments that I’d love to experience one more time. That’s not what I’m referring to. I’m thinking more along the lines of an, Ebeneezer Scrooge type, replaying of my life where I would only be a spectator. To that end I wonder, are there spectators who now view my life and all it’s moments? My understanding of faith and God’s word would lead me to believe that there are. Great clouds of witnesses, I believe, made up of those faithful who have gone on before me, are watching. I wonder if they act like parents at their child’s soccer game, running up and down the sidelines yelling for me to make the play, kick the ball, run faster, while I race back and forth, totally oblivious to their well intentioned directions. I imagine them, at times, yelling at Satan dressed as the umpire, while he throws red cards all about the field. I hope that, at the end of the day, they’re proud, like those parents, no matter how well I played the game.
I hate to think of how much time and how many moments that I’ve wasted in just this past week. I have friends that are battling serious illness, and I can only imagine how precious each moment must be when you’re not really sure how many you have. It’s hard for me to dwell on the fact that at my age, I could be counting moments. At any age, moments should be counted. One very glaring message that I encounter, whenever I combine the truths of God’s word with the reality of the lives I intersect with everyday, is the message that time is a luxury that we can’t afford to waste or dismiss readily. Procrastination is the message of Satan. Don’t worry, he whispers, there will always be tomorrow, you’ll have that moment again. I do believe that we’ll get to see a replaying of our life’s moments one day. But on that day, we’ll only be spectators.

Monday, September 25, 2006

voice

Everyone wants a voice. At least everyone wants to be heard in some way. It may not be audibly. It may be visual. You could argue, I suppose, that visually means that they want to be seen. I don’t think so. I think that they really want to be heard and if seen equals heard for them, then that’s just fine by them. You may not agree, but this is my blog so I get to be heard at the moment. If you want to be heard then you could always respond. I simply mean that people want to know that they’ve had influence or that they’ve been recognized for a contribution that may last beyond their natural lives or at least beyond their immediate circle.
Visual artists want to be heard. They have a message. They want their work to communicate it. They want you to listen. Writers obviously want to be heard. Teachers want to be heard in order to convey a lesson. Lawyers want to be heard to convey truth, …or not. People who have bumper stickers want to be heard. They want their views and ideologies known. Protesters and parents, ball players and baristas are all trying to communicate something about themselves, their team, their authority, whatever. They want to be heard.
I will confess that my belief in the concept of “heard” is based solely and selfishly on personal experience and observation. You may feel differently. That is your right. However, if you feel differently, and feel it strongly enough, you would tell me, because after all, you’ll want to be heard. Anyway, I also believe that this desire to be heard goes all the way back to the dawn of creation in the garden known as Eden. God wanted to be heard as creator and so He spoke everything into being. Satan wanted to be heard as preeminent, so he spoke as a snake that, except for in Narnia, should have no voice. Eve wanted to be heard as a pair so she approached Adam with the forbidden. And Adam wanted to be heard as innocent so he passed blame before God. And so it goes. King George wanted to be heard, Adolf Hitler wanted to be heard, Joseph Stalin wanted to be heard, Chairman Mao wanted to be heard, Fidel, George, Saddam, Osama, and everyone on the current world stage wants to be heard. Andy Worhol wanted to be heard. Maya Angelou and Pearl Jam want to be heard. Billy Graham wants to be heard. I want to be heard. And I want to know why? What is it that cries out within us to make us want to cry out to see if someone is listening?
I’ve written before about a desire for significance. I think that this explains only some of it. Some of those who read this stuff have told me that they have some degree of agreement with the significance thing. I think that there is still something more. There is a magic that is deeper than the deep magic before the dawn of time. It has something to do a bit with the story of the prodigal son, or the prodigal God, however you choose to read it. From the dawn of time, when our fabric was woven in the depths of God’s design, He has been calling to us. We have wandered, we have stumbled, we may even have lost our way, but all along, throughout our existence, the still small voice is calling to the depths of our being. And the voice that we seek is the same one that Abraham, Samuel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and all those others recorded in history who, on hearing, leaped within themselves and yelled “Here I am”. We all want to yell “Here I am” just as if we were a child, lost in the overwhelming expanse of women’s wear in the local department store, hearing our mothers voice over our panic. All of us find a way to declare “here I am”.
Unfortunately, like Adam, Eve, and those of us who have followed behind them, we sometimes yell to the wrong things and for the wrong reasons, even using wrong methods. What I mean is that the methods may be destructive. It’s not very PC to state that certain things may be wrong or right, but believe me, sometimes they just are. I’ve not always yelled to declare “here I am” to the right source of my identity. I’ve been known in less than stellar days to yell to the world of success, financial and otherwise, to find my identity in respect. I’ve been known to yell to popularity to find my identity in parties and intoxication. I’ve been known to yell to recognition in my various professions. I’ve not yelled in appropriate ways or appropriate times and I know this to be true because I have also yelled to the voice that calls me home. I know what it feels like to be identified by the one truly searching for me and my best. I know what it is like to be lost and I know what it is like to be found. You can argue all you want about right, wrong, truth, error, and all that we waste our time arguing about. What you can’t argue with is outcome. I see it everyday. I see the outcome of trying to be heard by that which can never really hear you. I see it and it’s hurt and empty, and tragic, ultimately. I also have the privilege of seeing the outcome of yelling to the only one who can truly hear, because He created us. It’s comfort, and care, and peace. I’ve seen them all. I’ve lived them all. I know what it is to have a voice.

voice

Everyone wants a voice. At least everyone wants to be heard in some way. It may not be audibly. It may be visual. You could argue, I suppose, that visually means that they want to be seen. I don’t think so. I think that they really want to be heard and if seen equals heard for them, then that’s just fine by them. You may not agree, but this is my blog so I get to be heard at the moment. If you want to be heard then you could always respond. I simply mean that people want to know that they’ve had influence or that they’ve been recognized for a contribution that may last beyond their natural lives or at least beyond their immediate circle.
Visual artists want to be heard. They have a message. They want their work to communicate it. They want you to listen. Writers obviously want to be heard. Teachers want to be heard in order to convey a lesson. Lawyers want to be heard to convey truth, …or not. People who have bumper stickers want to be heard. They want their views and ideologies known. Protesters and parents, ball players and baristas are all trying to communicate something about themselves, their team, their authority, whatever. They want to be heard.
I will confess that my belief in the concept of “heard” is based solely and selfishly on personal experience and observation. You may feel differently. That is your right. However, if you feel differently, and feel it strongly enough, you would tell me, because after all, you’ll want to be heard. Anyway, I also believe that this desire to be heard goes all the way back to the dawn of creation in the garden known as Eden. God wanted to be heard as creator and so He spoke everything into being. Satan wanted to be heard as preeminent, so he spoke as a snake that, except for in Narnia, should have no voice. Eve wanted to be heard as a pair so she approached Adam with the forbidden. And Adam wanted to be heard as innocent so he passed blame before God. And so it goes. King George wanted to be heard, Adolf Hitler wanted to be heard, Joseph Stalin wanted to be heard, Chairman Mao wanted to be heard, Fidel, George, Saddam, Osama, and everyone on the current world stage wants to be heard. Andy Worhol wanted to be heard. Maya Angelou and Pearl Jam want to be heard. Billy Graham wants to be heard. I want to be heard. And I want to know why? What is it that cries out within us to make us want to cry out to see if someone is listening?
I’ve written before about a desire for significance. I think that this explains only some of it. Some of those who read this stuff have told me that they have some degree of agreement with the significance thing. I think that there is still something more. There is a magic that is deeper than the deep magic before the dawn of time. It has something to do a bit with the story of the prodigal son, or the prodigal God, however you choose to read it. From the dawn of time, when our fabric was woven in the depths of God’s design, He has been calling to us. We have wandered, we have stumbled, we may even have lost our way, but all along, throughout our existence, the still small voice is calling to the depths of our being. And the voice that we seek is the same one that Abraham, Samuel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and all those others recorded in history who, on hearing, leaped within themselves and yelled “Here I am”. We all want to yell “Here I am” just as if we were a child, lost in the overwhelming expanse of women’s wear in the local department store, hearing our mothers voice over our panic. All of us find a way to declare “here I am”.
Unfortunately, like Adam, Eve, and those of us who have followed behind them, we sometimes yell to the wrong things and for the wrong reasons, even using wrong methods. What I mean is that the methods may be destructive. It’s not very PC to state that certain things may be wrong or right, but believe me, sometimes they just are. I’ve not always yelled to declare “here I am” to the right source of my identity. I’ve been known in less than stellar days to yell to the world of success, financial and otherwise, to find my identity in respect. I’ve been known to yell to popularity to find my identity in parties and intoxication. I’ve been known to yell to recognition in my various professions. I’ve not yelled in appropriate ways or appropriate times and I know this to be true because I have also yelled to the voice that calls me home. I know what it feels like to be identified by the one truly searching for me and my best. I know what it is like to be lost and I know what it is like to be found. You can argue all you want about right, wrong, truth, error, and all that we waste our time arguing about. What you can’t argue with is outcome. I see it everyday. I see the outcome of trying to be heard by that which can never really hear you. I see it and it’s hurt and empty, and tragic, ultimately. I also have the privilege of seeing the outcome of yelling to the only one who can truly hear, because He created us. It’s comfort, and care, and peace. I’ve seen them all. I’ve lived them all. I know what it is to have a voice.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Fall

The leaves are beginning to change. To be sure it’s the early stages here, but they’re changing nonetheless. I’m gauging it by the tree across the corner from my new caffeine port. A maple tree, nicely trimmed from beneath to politely allow pedestrian passage, begins on it’s lower reaches in a summer emerald tone. As it progresses towards it’s ultimate upward reach though it begins to tan slightly through the middle. The uppermost branches are a bit of burgundy, finally yielding to a Fall orange as the tips are reached. It’s early Fall here. Most are probably not even recognizing the subtle shift. I do. I’m not from here. I mean I am, but my memories of Fall still move me back to earlier days in Upstate New York and the unbelievable blanket of color that has already unfolded by this time. It takes about a week longer here in the Northwest and the coloring doesn’t compare and it’s probably the only time now that I still feel as a foreigner.
I think that this is probably because I know what I’m missing. It’s not a postcard for me. It’s not a poster in a Hallmark store. It’s a real experience in a real life for a really long time. I’ve had it and I miss it. There’s a hole now of sorts. I have an opportunity to travel back in a few weeks through parts of the Midwest and into the Northeast and whenever I contemplate it, the imagery that comes to mind is sunshine, Indian Summer blue sky days and color, real color. I don’t think of the people I may see, I think of the sights, the sounds of crisp leaves under my feet, the smell of orchards. I also think of grain elevators rising above nearly forgotten towns with tree lined streets, but that’s for another time. It’s still the color that draws me. I feel it. It wraps around my memories and it’s encouraging me forward through the next few weeks. I don’t realize that I’m missing it until I begin to see it revealed more and more here. For sure it’s not perfect, but it leads me to what is perfect in my memory.
I’m beginning to see my faith community that way. We have grown significantly in the past few years and I think it’s even been magnified as of late. We are so much better at sharing family moments than we have been. We share life, death. We share victory and defeat. We cry some and laugh much. In many ways we’re becoming more family than the biology that we’ve existed in. We have become real and honest. Color has come in great waves and it’s becoming attractive. Don’t be mistaken, our community has many faults. After all, I am leading them. That should tell you something. It’s a bit foreign for me, to be honest. I’ve not been known for hospitality. I’ve not been known for an affinity for family. I’m still pretty independent and self centered. But I’ve become surrounded by people who aren’t and my faults have been lessened by their strengths and it also works the other way around. Color is coming to our lower branches and beginning to bleed outward, and the further outward it bleeds, the deeper it becomes and more it draws. And I believe it’s drawing people who are yearning for the color that they once had.
Everyone had it at one time. They were created with it. We were all created with it. And ever since it left, if indeed it did leave, we’ve all been drawn back to every hint of it wherever it gets revealed. We yearn for relationships that are open and honest and true. We were created for that. In the garden, the one named Eden, we were created for relationships and we were to be surrounded by color. We yearn for family that is close and caring and even a bit boundary setting. We were created that way. It’s color to our souls. It’s attractive to most. I say most because I’ve seen those who run full tilt away from anything resembling intimacy. Some are only comfortable in complete anonymity. I’ve come to believe that those types are shocked deep within themselves, so deep that they don’t even comprehend it. Their inward selves are shocked by the great chasm between what is and what was meant to be. It’s not unlike how magnets can either attract or repel, depending on how they are situated in relationship to each other. But that’s the exception and not the rule. Personally I’m tired of living my life according to the exception. We’re different now, the faith community and me. Some may come and then run like the wind out of our midst. That’s alright I guess. I’m not sure that I’ve come to the point of being able to help them bridge that chasm. God can though so I leave them in His hands. But others will see the color spread and they’ll stop long enough to watch. And when they do, they’ll be hooked. My prayer is that they’ll stick around long enough with us to witness Fall return once more to the garden.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

vapors

I’m sure that I ought to know better. I’ve told others this before. I’ve taught about it. It’s gone through my ears but not stuck in my head. I’m talking about planning. I should have known not to begin planning out how my life was going to go so far in advance. Actually it was going, sort of, according to plan just the other day. Then came Monday, just like all of the other proverbial Monday’s that we deal with and Monday did its Monday thing and decimated all of my plans. Actually I shouldn’t sound so selfish, because it took a lot of lives with it. Within the scope of just hardly any time at all, the plans that I had laid out before God for His blessing were totally altered. Personal, professional, physical, financial, social, you name it. It was all altered. I guess that I should know better knowing who it is that really controls my life and destiny. Why am I shocked when I lay my plans before someone who wonders “why do you say today or tomorrow we will go here or there when your life is nothing but a vapor, a mist that’s here today and gone tomorrow”. I lay my plans before Him and usually walk away expecting them to be blessed, but not really waiting to see if they will be or not. He knows what is ahead, He’s already been there, and He’s probably even trying to get my attention as I walk away confident in my own ability to live my life or life on behalf of others. “Uh, excuse me…..” I can imagine Him saying as I wander away.
I know this, the futility of planning I mean. I know that I should pull back a bit more and plan a bit less and enjoy the ride. But sometimes the ride is a bit like Space Mountain and I’d just like to see what’s around the next sharp jerk of the car. Anyway, plans change and here I am trying to refigure. It’s like those annoying Magellan GPS car navigational devices. You plug in an address and you follow this sultry techno-voice and at some point you miss a turn and she seductively exclaims “recalculating”. Which means, “Can’t you even follow direction?”. I wonder if the people who named this device realize that Magellan died on his journey. Anyway, it’s a humbling experience all the way around. I like to think that I’m in control and I’m not. I like to provide security where there is none. It’s only a mist and I’m only a vapor and it’s all very challenging to scheduled people like me.
I’m not as good as I should be with that vapor thing. I ought to be. I live in the land of marine layer where the morning mist dissipates by early afternoon and things are totally different than they began. The thing is, the altering of my plan is usually a better plan after all. It doesn’t seem so at the time, but I think that this is only because of the trauma of realizing that life is not mine in the moment. It causes fear. When the fear passes though and the reality unveils itself, peace sets in. And that’s really all I ever wanted in the first place.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

familiar

You may have heard the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt”. I’ve not really been all the sure about what that really looks like in real life. I think that it means that the more familiar you are with a situation, the more you take it for granted and the less you dwell on certain possible consequences. We’ve all been reminded of this with the passing of “The Crocodile Hunter”. It could be said that he died doing what he loved. I’m not an expert and have no great insight into the circumstances, but it has caused me to pause and wonder if some people don’t die because they are doing what they love. What I mean is, because they are pursuing a life long passion that has become second nature to them, their guard is down and danger happens. Statistics show that an abnormally large percentage of auto accidents occur relatively close to home. Many serious injury accidents occur in the mundane routine parts of everyday life. We may try to keep to the familiar to feel safe, but the paradox is that the familiar can indeed lead us straight into danger.
Every once in awhile, for some bizarre reason, I find myself consciously watching cars fly by at ridiculous speeds only inches apart from each other. It’s amazing really. It’s also frightening. I don’t really remember the process of learning to drive myself, but I remember teaching my kids. We took back roads and side streets for some time until they became familiar with the concept of speed and other 2 ton missiles being guided by other unconscious souls along the same pathways. When I stop to think about it, it’s not comforting to know that we are relying, in large part, on the wisdom of engineers to insure a reliable missile in which to propel ourselves. I should know…I spent a great deal of time in engineering. Take my word for it, you’re better off not thinking about such things. Anyway, when you think about it, considering that we’re relying on human engineering and human training and human consciousness, we shouldn’t be shocked and surprised when fatal accidents occur. We should be shocked when they don’t.
We have been lulled into a subconscious dream state of the familiar in which bad things do sometimes happen. It causes me to pause this morning, as I approach 43 years of successfully navigating and dodging bullets. I wonder what I’ve missed during my “take for granted” periods of existence. Have I missed friendships because of it? I’m pretty sure that I must have. I’ve certainly neglected them, assumed that they’d always be there for me on a day less busy than today. The sobering fact is that I can’t remember a today that was less busy than a yesterday. I know that I’ve missed “growing up” moments with my kids. I imagined that they’d always be little. They’re not anymore. I imagined that they’d always live at home. They don’t anymore. I know that I’ve missed romantic moments with my wife. The flowers will always be there, right? I’m sure that I’ve missed teachable moments before God. The sunrises painted for me in the mornings should tell me everyday that He cares. The sunsets should comfort me that He’ll be there again tomorrow. I talk too much and listen too little. And I know that a primary reason in all of these instances is familiarity. I’ve been lulled into a subconscious land called “been there”. It’s a land of no surprises, no challenges, and no goals. It’s the autopilot that we inadvertently engage in the morning when we think we’re turning off the alarm. We imagine ourselves living each day, only to realize in later years that we were sleep walking.
The good news is that I’m awake now. I can work on now. I can focus on now. I can pay attention to now. I can learn, I can experience, and I can thrive in now. I can keep my guard up for as long as possible and not let the minutes slip away into a meaningless dream state. The minutes and days and years that I pass through will know that I’m there. It may not keep me alive any longer, but at least I’ll be living.

Monday, August 28, 2006

edge

I’m just beginning to realize that I’m getting old. In 10 days I’ll be 43. That isn’t really all that old to many people I know. Some would tell you that it’s middle age. If it’s middle age, then that would mean I would live to be 86. I don’t think that I want to live to be 86. I know that I don’t want to be in the life phase where every nightly trip to bed is an adventure that I won’t be sure of waking up from. I’ve been in some venues lately where I’ve noticed how much older people struggle to keep up, mentally, physically, and sometimes even emotionally. I work hard to be current. I work hard to keep an edge. I work hard to be a part of the contemporary world that I live in, but I have to tell you that it gets harder every month to keep up, to look like I have a clue about what’s going on around me. The edges that were once sharp yearn to go back to dull. I watch those in their later years struggle with this. I don’t want to struggle.
Whether I want to or not, I may make it to 86. Rest assured that if I do, I won’t pout about it. I won’t grumble about it. I will take advantage of it. When I get old, I’m gonna do whatever the heck I want to do. I’ll have earned it. At least in my mind I’ll have earned it. That seems to be the way it is with a great many older people who I know personally. The rules don’t apply to them. By rules I mean, rules of law, rules of etiquette, rules of physics, you name it, they don’t apply anymore…..apparently anyway.
They drive how they want, act how they want, and just generally live their lives however it is that they want. A part of me admires this. The other part fears it. I’m afraid to grow old and to be like them. I don’t want to be in line at Burger King demanding my right to a Big Mac. I don’t want to be sending the fries back until they are my personally entitled version of crispy. I don’t want to order coffee with my value meal. None of these are okay in my humble opinion, yet that is common behavior for the masses of the aged. They feel entitled and maybe they are. Maybe this is their prize for living so long and contributing so much. I don’t want the prize thank you.
I’ve also noticed that, in general, the older one gets, the more he or she seeks the safety of the known. There are exceptions to be sure, but lately it seems that I’ve been inundated with people seeking the assumed safe path. These same people throughout their lives sought everything but the safe path. Theirs wasn’t foolish, but it was often times not safe. I see the same thing in me. It’s a struggle to stretch and experience new. I’m scheduled. Actually I’d probably enjoy a nursing care facility because they have schedules. But every so often, I do something that is totally unpredictable. It might even seem foolish to my more grounded friends. Each time is a freeing event though. My family and I have shared a great many adventures and the freedom of going boldly where God is leading regardless of safe. But I’m getting old and I’m getting fearful of new adventures. God whispers them to me occasionally as a kind of “what if?” scenario. They’re not all major. They’re not all life altering. They are potentially stretching. They demand attention. Recently I made a change in writing venues. I left the beach for a bit for a change of pace. It’s been a bit freeing. It gives me the courage to try it again somewhere down the road. Yesterday I wore a tie as I stood before my community of faith. It was different. It was freeing. And God, being faithful as He is, took advantage of that moment later in a day in the life of a wanderer, to place me in a room of “older” people who are struggling with the future. I could sense from some the undeniable signs of faith in a God who has always been. I could also sense some undeniable signs of worry about a God who may not be anymore, at least in a way that comforts them. What I mean is, they have lived long lives doing great things and participating in great works of God. They have seen provision and purpose and all that. Their heads acknowledge, but hearts begin to falter in later stages of life. They desire more security than I believe we are afforded or entitled to. I have to believe that it’s age. I fear it, the lack of confidence that overcomes faithful provision, the paralysis more debilitating than arthritis. I don’t want to live to that point in life. I want to get every bit of adventure in before I lose the edge.

Monday, August 21, 2006

balance

Balance is an elusive thing. The thing about balance is that you’re never really “there”. It’s never really final. Maybe in a perfect world or in a vacuum existence you could achieve balance, but not in the life that you and I live in. Balance is never final because it depends on outside influences that are constantly at work. Balance comes in all forms in every part of life. You have physical balance. It’s the kind that keeps you walking on the straight and narrow. It’s the type that you hope you can maintain when a uniformed individual asks you to walk the yellow line alongside a local highway. It can be affected by what has been introduced to your body, like alcohol. It can also be affected by what ought to be introduced into your body. A few weeks ago I had issues with heat exhaustion and dehydration. The most pronounced symptom for me was that I lost my balance. I had a sense that any quick movement would result in my swirling rather gracefully to the ground in a black haze. It was solved for the most part by consuming mass quantities of water and Gatorade. When I was young, growing up a few hours from Niagara Falls, I remember images of a great high wire artist named Blondin perched on a tightrope high above the water. In each image he had this long pole that he used to counter the physics that were trying to cause him to give in to gravity and plummet to the earth. I remember scenes of the late Karl Wallenda plunging to his death when a gust of wind overcame his determination to maintain balance.
There are other types of balance that I deal with on a regular basis. There is the emotional balance that sometimes comes with the job I have. There is a balance that is always being worked on in my family, in my spiritual life, in my mental health. You name it, I’m trying to balance it. So is everyone I encounter. And like Blondin, everyone needs a pole of some type to counter the affects of whatever it is in life that is threatening your ability to walk the yellow line in a competent manner. For some people, the pole is artificial. There are those who are medicated into balance, legal or otherwise. Not meaning to offend, what I mean is there are some who are rightfully and competently medicated to offset something that is physically lacking otherwise. There are others, however, who choose their own medication without professional help. Not only is the method artificial, but so is the balance, and eventually the natural forces of gravity will plummet them from their high wire existence.
My emotional state at times can waver precariously and I need a pole to pull it all together. I’m scheduled, I’ve confessed before. If my schedule is set and my planets are aligned then I stand a decent enough chance of surviving the week. However, like Ebeneezer Scrooge, the slightest thing can affect my senses. A blot of mustard or an underdone piece of potato…. you know the rest. Anyway, I try to have built in to my life some poles that help me through. The first is some time spent with the one who created balance in the first place. I guess if He created the concept, then He can get me back to it. Some time alone with God, walking in the garden, which sometimes looks alarmingly like a coffee shop, can tip me back to where I need to be. Writing does this for me as well. I sit down once a week, at the beginning of the week, to just blurt out stuff that has been confined in my brain. My time this week was in jeopardy for a few brief moments and it caused me great stress. My pole was nowhere to be found. I was going to need a lot longer walk in the garden to get through this one. But at the last moment, the planets aligned and here I am. And I can virtually feel myself come back into line in much the same way as the gallons of water and Gatorade brought me back to steady feet a few weeks ago. Gravity still calls and pulls and I know that its only a matter of time before I’ll need to wave this way or that for balance to be maintained. I’m just grateful for the pole.

Monday, August 14, 2006

holes

We have holes in our backyard now. I’m not referring to little mole holes. They are in the front yard. I’m talking about big holes, deep holes, intimidating holes. They are holes that used to be filled with hundreds of pounds of concrete. They are all over my backyard. It’s not as bad as it sounds though. Actually they are a sign of progress. There used to be a playground where the holes were. For the past 5 years we have lived with a preschool playground where a yard should be. In the next few months there will reappear a yard where the playground used to be. It’s not much, but it’s progress. We’re praying for the day when we can look out and the holes will be only memories.
I have holes in my life at the moment. They’ve not come all at once. Actually its been a few year progression. It began when my son graduated from high school. Things began to change rapidly around here. Those of you who have gone through this already know that which I am talking about. Those who haven’t experienced this time….it’s coming. And the humbling thing about it is that there is nothing you can do to stop it. It is a relentless progression, growing up I mean. Each day your child wakes up is one less day that they will wake up in your house. And then the holes begin. The void that comes when they are no longer there any time you want them to be there begins to form earlier than you can even notice it. I think it actually begins when they get their drivers license.
Two years ago we left our son in the Midwest and flew home to an empty room. It took weeks for me to be able to walk by it. I had never experienced holes like that. This one caught me unaware, kind of like those sink holes in Florida that swallow cars and homes. They began long before they appeared too. My son has come back in various stages of living with us which I always thought was the worse fate that a parent could experience. Next year he’ll be married and it will be permanent, at least I’m praying anyway.
Two days ago I watched as my daughter flew off to the next adventure in her life. She’s now working in Disney World. Can you imagine, those people actually get paid to work in the happiest place on earth. Some days I’d pay them to work in a happy place. Another hole dropped out from under me that I never really saw coming. You’d think that I’d have been more prepared. I know people who have gone through it twice as many times as I have. They tell me the same two things. First of all, you never see them forming, the holes I mean. Second, it doesn’t hurt any less when they do come.
The holes form because when they leave the routine of your daily existence, what they’ve contributed leaves with them, and a hole is formed. An empty place at the table, a clean room, and fewer loads of laundry, are all reminders that the ground you built your life on is unstable and disappearing. The phone calls, the school activities, the friends leaving pizza in your family room, all leave when they do, and there are only holes left in their place. It’s a sobering realization of how fragile the life that you’ve built with your family really is. It’s there for 18 years and then, in just a moment, it’s a hole.
I’ve learned though, in the midst of aching emptiness, that holes fill in. I could probably write a book on the choices that you can make which will fill these holes. Unfortunately, I’ve known many couples who had nothing constructive to fill their holes in with. Their relationships didn’t survive and rebuild. But I won’t…. I do know this much…. As much as it hurts, I wouldn’t have traded this experience for any other in the world. There is beauty and appreciation and increased love in the midst of the pain. It’s a growing experience that can’t be matched in anything else. It reminds me of a line in a current popular country song, “Life ain’t always beautiful, but it’s a beautiful ride.” Just as our backyard will be filled and made whole with a new look and endless new possibilities, so too our holes are filling and our lives are resurfaced and the possibilities are endless. The memories of our family will always remain even as the new look emerges. Sometimes it seems like it’s not much to hold on to, but it’s progress.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Beaches

Summer on the beach. It’s not really what I had always imagined that it might be. Although this is not your average beach I guess. This morning as I drove around the point I encountered a few of the unique features that go along with Northwest beaches.
The first thing that is apparent here is the marine layer. Don’t know what marine layer is? Neither did I until I moved to Seattle. In most of the rest of the world I think that it would be called fog. The ships are gliding in and out of the curtains floating just above the water line. There may be a difference between them, marine layer and fog, but I couldn’t tell you what it might be. It’s just basically the low lying clouds that obscure most of the beachfront this morning while the towers of the city across the bay rise up into another day of promised sunshine. We won’t see it on our level for awhile yet. An eagle is on the beach this morning, poking around for some seafood I guess. Now there’s something that you don’t see everyday. As often as I see them, I’m always amazed. They look out of place according to my upbringing where I was accustomed to seeing them behind bars in a zoo. I always thought it intriguing that our national symbol of freedom spent the majority of its time behind bars. It’s amazing how your experience dictates your view of the world. It’s also humbling to know that for me as well as the people who surround me, truth relies on experience. Truth about beaches for me, while living in upstate New York, is far different than reality for me in Seattle. I guess that’s what made those guys in the New Testament so sold out on the cause of advancing a faith in Jesus. They had the truth, they lived the experience. Truth and reality coexisted and an incredible bravery ensued. Truth and reality coexisting in the life of an individual is a galvanizing force.
It helps me realize, I think, that the two are crucial to faith development and also that most of us are too heavily relying on one to the detriment of the other. The two worlds in which I exist tend to use one or the other. Those who are of the modern mind, think in terms of absolute truth which can be reasonably and empirically proven. Those who are of the post modern thought process are totally into the reality of personal experience. The tension exists, I’m thinking, because each falls to their own preference. My modern mind told me that beaches were warm places that one would desire to swim in. In that world I believed that the clouds floating low over the water were fog and that eagles resided behind bars. My post modern experience shows me that beaches have marine layers, you could suffer from hypothermia in minutes even in July and that eagles roam and eat freely, often times better that I do. At least it’s true in Seattle. The encouraging part of my faith journey, even in the midst of the conflict, is that the truth of Jesus is the same here or there, then or now, and I can certainly experience Him no matter what beach I find myself on. Truth and reality are powerful forces.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

freedom

Looking out from my window to the beach world this morning, there’s a ship cruising the sound that demands my attention. It is not an ordinary ship. It evokes more emotion than an ordinary ship just as a police cruiser evokes more emotion than the family mini van. There’s a battleship gracefully plowing the waters on its way to the naval base in Bremerton. It’s interesting how your pulse races when a patrol car eases in behind you. You instantly become guilty although you’re rarely sure of what, and most of the time even what you may guilty of is of little consequence to the police. If you’re on the wrong side of the law, the patrol cars become even more alarming. As I watch the battleship pass by, I’m fully aware that it is not on a mission. At least it’s not on a mission to do battle. It’s actually headed home. Probably nothing short of invasion would tempt the crew to about face and head away from home. The ship, in my eyes anyway, represents freedom, in fact freedom bought with a price. There is the obvious financial investment that comes along with a ship of this size. It also involves personal price, sacrificial investment as a matter of fact. I can’t help but wonder if the ship instills the same anxiety, boosted heart rate and sweaty palms from those on the wrong side of freedom.
Just as a criminal with half a brain would flee the presence of a patrol car, wouldn’t those opposed to freedom have that same reaction regarding the presence of a battleship. In fact as I ponder freedom even further, I can’t help but relate it to my own personal freedom. The freedom I refer to is eternal, spiritual, and life giving. I believe with all of my heart that I am free in eternity. I’m free in the present for the most part if I choose, but it’s eternity that I’m most concerned about. It lasts longer. I live among perhaps the most enslaved people in all of the United States, eternally speaking I mean. They are a people group who, at least among the majority have tossed away the keys to freedom along with a relationship with “The Key”, Jesus. They are enlightened here. They are wealthy here. They are technological here. The are educated here. They are physically fit here. They are among the most literate in the country here. They are also enslaved here.
And within this culture of slavery, the very signs of freedom tend to evoke the same sharp emotions as do the battleships to the dictatorial and the patrol cars to the criminal. Their hearts may race, their palms may sweat, their agitation increased by the presence of those freed and the fortresses that they reside in. I wonder why that is. I don’t really have an answer. However I do have a plan. Take off the sirens and the flashing lights. Remove the guns and the flags. Don’t announce your arrival, demonstrate your friendship. I’m convinced that part of the issue is that some of us have been free for so long that we take it for granted. We’ve formed a club. We’re so invested in our maintenance that we’ve ignored the opportunities to demonstrate by a life well lived the incredible gift that grace is in our lives. Maybe we’ve just forgotten how amazing that gift is. As a youngster I would eagerly show off my latest Christmas gifts during Christmas break to everyone who cared to look. However, by Spring break, I’d forgotten the gratitude and they no longer cared. Freedom, especially eternal freedom, is a gift that is as fresh today as the day I received it. I’m guessing that if I could figure out how to let my life show that, then people would not want to run from His presence or mine.

Monday, July 24, 2006

vacation

I’m on vacation this week. I’m not really sure if it’s a valid one or not. Virtually every person who has found out that I’m on vacation has asked me the same question. “So where are you going?” It got me to wondering….at what point in history did vacation become defined by where one goes? What I mean is, what location apart from my normal existence would validate my not being in the office for an extended period of time? I’ve been surrounded by the private school crowd for the past 6 years. Within that culture, vacation destinations are like merit badges to achieve. I know that I’m out of my league when a week in Hawaii is considered routine, average, middle of the road, no brain vacation. I thought that Cancun sounded exotic, until I learned of Cabo San lucas. The theory seems to be the harder it is to say, the more desirable it is to stay. Anyway, I know families with vacation homes in other parts of the world and seemingly other parts of the galaxy. So what can I offer? How do you compete? Two words…. “You don’t”.
I can’t compete, so I refuse to compete, therefore my vacation is actually the last place that anyone would consider vacation. It’s at home. I used to feel bad about that. I had dreams of visiting the worlds largest ball of twine, shooting it out with Jesse James in some “Frontier Town”, or driving the family truckster to the Grand Canyon. My wife and I used to have an illusion that our kids would think that a vacation with mom and dad would be cool. My wife still thinks that. I have asked her to quit suggesting it as my kids eye rolling has gotten so pronounced that I fear their eyes will be permanently rolling and then we’ll need to spend our vacation money on eye care.
I understand their thinking. I still remember my “family vacations” growing up. Riding all over the country in the back seat of a Pinto with my sister has left it’s mark on my personality. We have been on numerous family “trips” that most families would have considered vacations. The problem for us is that they have always somehow been associated with my career. We drove throughout the East coast to camps, conferences, and the like. We even drove across the country on a vacation that was disguised as a move to the West coast. We drove back across the country on a vacation that was disguised as taking my son to college. My wife and I spent two weeks in New Orleans this Spring cleaning up after last years hurricane. I am so tired of traveling over theses past several years that we cancelled a Summer trip that we didn’t even have to pay for. We are always flying, driving, walking, biking, hitching, sailing, or crawling somewhere. I’ve realized that the only place we haven’t been is home. Home will be a change of scenery. Home will be a change of routine. Home will be a bit more peaceful. I’m turning the phone off and not answering the door. We even have a new privacy fence in our backyard. I can’t really think of any place that I’d rather be for vacation than home.
So don’t pity me that I can’t or won’t be going anywhere else for vacation this year. I have a sure thing. I like the beds, the food is amazing, the weather is magnificent and I don’t have to sell anything to afford the gas.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Jury

“I just got out”. That was a common response for me last week when I met up with people I know. Most of them knew that I had been called for jury duty, and the item of interest in my life, for a week anyway, was how long would I last before I got kicked off. I had no doubt that I would be kicked off, the only question was when. It’s not anything like how I imagined it would be, the jury selection process I mean. Being kicked off was everything that I have ever imagined and also experienced with rejection.
I was certain that I really wanted nothing to do with jury duty at this point in my life. And by the way, it is a duty, or so I was told repeatedly throughout the process. I was thanked repeatedly from the court and the attorneys for taking part in this process and giving time out of my life, almost like I had volunteered for this. I was coerced. Actually I was threatened. My summons told me that to ignore this “duty” would be a crime carrying with it a fine and everything. Believe me, I considered testing this. On the other side of the experience I can’t help to imagine that if I were ever caught and prosecuted for “jury avoidance” that I would never be convicted by a jury of my peers. They, after going through the process, would certainly have been sympathetic towards me. It’s not anything like “Law and Order” or CSI. It’s not like “Runaway Jury” either.
It is more like “Ishtar”. It’s hours of meaninglessness and waiting for an end. I realize that the justice system was rolling along somewhere in a parallel universe while I waited in purgatory, but on the juror end time stood still.
I was told by the judge that this was serious business. Because of my background and history I had a personal interview with the judge and the attorneys. I was informed that I could speak to no one about any aspect of the case, being a criminal case, but that at the conclusion I could say anything I wanted, even to the media. This is as close to the media as I wish to come. It was a great experience for observation though. I kind of think that somewhere behind two way mirrors there are undergraduate Psych 101 students taking notes regarding human behavior during maddening circumstances. The jury selection process basically divides people up into two distinct groups of people. There are those who read and become islands unto themselves for hours at a time. It was interesting to watch as people, almost in a paranoid sense, would ignore the reality that they were surrounded by dozens of their same species in a nondescript room filled with out of date magazines and readers digest versions of the classics. Everyone staring straight ahead or at the floor or into anything that was moving slow enough to read. Then that brings me to group two. I think that these were the people who couldn’t read. At least I imagined that they couldn’t read because they insisted on talking to whoever was around them about whatever seemed to wash through their brain. I scoped these people out early and tried to avoid them for the duration. My conscience told me that they might need Jesus too. My sanity took over and secretly feared that if I talked with them that they might find Him at my church. We were a community for four days. Not a willing community mind you, but a community all the same, all waiting for our number to be called. If your number was called you might get dismissed or called to a panel. Either way it meant that you were not forgotten. My number was called. I was juror 37. Walking to the jury room and then into the courtroom, in the presence of bailiffs, attorneys, and a judge, I couldn’t help but wonder why it was that I felt guilty. The judge couldn’t have been nicer or more professional. I trusted him immediately. He seemed to be the epitome of fair. The prosecuting attorney was polite, professional looking and engaging. The defense attorney was a bit more aloof. I could tell that engaging was a chore for him, probably because of a career dealing with criminals. The defendant was present, but as they questioned me I was feeling that I was on trial. I felt sure that they were going to kick me off early. It wore on for 2 more days though and I was still there. I was feeling important. They like me I imagined. I was significant in this pool of humanity. It was like the ring, I both loved and hated the idea of being on a jury. I had so much other real work to accomplish, but I was important here.
It was interesting as we got into the phase where the attorneys were able to make their final cuts. They didn’t even have to tell why they were cutting someone loose. I watched as jurors were dismissed. Some of them seemed confused when their number was called. They seemed, even though they were instructed not to, to want to say something in their defense. Just leave! I thought to myself that they ought to feel relief, they were free to go. They could join the rest of the world where magazines were current and they didn’;t feel compelled to ignore everyone around them. “Juror number 37, your dismissed with the court’s appreciation”. It came unexpected. I didn’t see it coming. I was sitting in the box, the official box. I was already getting comfortable in my chair. It swiveled. Now I know where they got that idea that they should say something. My instant response was “What?, what’s wrong with me, I could make a good juror, maybe even a great one.” They could make a movie of my case. I loved and hated the jury process. This tug of war continued as I exited, back through the metal detectors, out the door into the sunshine that I had looked longingly at for the past four days from the windows upstairs. Even as the car started and I drove back towards the interstate, I felt rejected, just another chewed up and spit out by the system. But, looking back, at least I was free, which was more than I could say for the defendant.

Monday, July 10, 2006

confession

I have a confession. Actually, it’s been awhile since I’ve given a formal confession. Back in my days as a good Catholic growing up I would be in the confessional for the weekly list of my “sins du jour”. I never really was a good Catholic, but my mother was and she “inspired” me to make the Saturday visits with the priest so that I could stay in good standing with whoever it was that I needed to be in good standing with. I never really thought that it was God keeping score. In fact I’m pretty sure that He nodded off and sent in a designated confession angel after about my third trip when it was apparent that I only really knew of a few things that constituted sin and I repeated them with great regularity. They usually had something to do with calling my sister names. I’ve been accused many times of being boring, predictable, and scheduled. I am. I’m sure that in those days my priest would have agreed. I secretly imagine that just once in my relationship with him he would have loved for me to confess to shoplifting or even a hidden stash of “Playboy’s”. I believe that it’s true that all of us are made up of parts of God’s image. I just may be that part of His image that He’d not always want remembered….kind of like those pages in Leviticus, necessary but not really inspiring. My own children serve that end for me from time to time. They can seemingly magnify the qualities in me that are real and true but I’d rather forget. Anyway, back to my confession.
I want to be significant. There I said it….or at least I wrote it. It’s a desire as old as creation. I even have a book called The Search For Significance. After reading it and not really feeling any more significant I bought the extended, revised, study edition. Still nothing. The overwhelming desire for significance is what I feel is the root of original sin. I get that from my Catholic upbringing as well. Oh sure I can piously pontificate on occasion that I don’t care what people think of me. And in short spurts I can actually live that way, but truthfully…after all we are confessing here, it only comes in short bursts. It’s not unlike swimming against the current. As long as I’m fighting and swimming and sweating, I’m making a bit of headway or at least staying still. When I relax, I’m again swept away by my search for significance. Searching for significance has taken on various implications depending on life stage for me. When I was a child I was greatly fashion challenged. I still am and it causes me great stress which has enough background for its own confessional. So I looked for it in grades and awards. They were a lifeline for me and a source of sustenance. College brought its own challenges that grades really didn’t satisfy, so on to the next stage comprised of my two best friends at the time, rum and Coke. Then it was career, advancement, security and when I came to the end of that line, the Holy Grail of spiritual significance….ministry. All through my search I walked alongside my faith. I took part in it and acknowledged it from time to time, but I hadn’t yet ingested it. In the midst of despair and close to a very successful crash, and I believe that there is such a thing, God whispered a hope that I could affect people lives. Certainly there could be no other prize greater than this for a significance junkie touched by the Spirit.
I’m confessing this as a warning to others who may feel that same hunger and feel justification for obsession based on faith motives. It is still obsession and it can still be destructive. Destructive behavior with good intentions is still destructive. I’m not saying that I’m in a destructive mode, but I could be and many I know in my profession are.
In a reflective mode I confess now as I evaluate my life that a noble cause has, more often than I want to admit, been fueled by the same search for significance that first launched us out of the Garden.
Now don’t take this too far out of context. Most of this you’d never notice if you knew me and walked with me through life. Most of it doesn’t manifest itself in obvious ways or anti-social behavior. Most of it you might not notice, I think anyway, because you are probably in your own similar pursuit. My faith tells me that my significance is because I’m a child of the King. I know that. My faith tells me that I have been set free. I know that. My faith tells me that God works all things for good on behalf of those who hold on to Him. I know that too. But the whisper is there. I have wanted to write a book, but I haven’t yet because I’m not sure of the motives. I’ve enjoyed my role as preacher and teacher, but I’m no longer sure of the motives. My life has been energized by serving those in trauma and suffering, but even within that, when things are quiet and the whisperer comes, I question my motivation. The irony is that so much of my life is based on fighting with the very thing that God has granted me and wants me to feel, which is a sense of significance.
I’d love to share a solution. I’d love to wrap this up like one of my favorite “Seinfeld” episodes. I ought to be able to. I am a Pastor and all. That’s the significance thing, solutions to every life difficulty. I could tell you that you have significance in God’s grace. I could tell you that you have freedom through Christ’s sacrifice. I could tell you that there is hope because of His defeating death. I could tell you chapter and verse and the great eternal story. All of this is undeniably true, but all I have at the moment is confession.

Monday, July 03, 2006

magnets

You may have heard it said of someone, “they just have a magnetic personality”. I’m sure that you even personally know people who just seem to attract a crowd. In Malcom Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point these people are identified as connectors. My wife is one of those people. She’s a magnet. By that I mean that, first of all, people are attracted to her, and secondly, wherever she happens to be there is a certain energy or force in the air. Things happen around her. Her driving philosophy is that life is a party and if she meets you once, she wants you to be a part of it. Your agenda, whatever it may be, will be greatly advanced if you can get her to buy into it. Then it becomes like so many dominos lined up in succession that when the leader is tipped, they all fall in line. Sometimes I envy her. I’ve never really considered myself to have a magnetic personality at all. As a leader, this means I have to work extra hard at things which are naturally a part of her being. I have to convince people to follow me. I sometimes have to plead with, reason with, beg, bribe, and any other creative method I can come up with to encourage someone to follow me. She just is. She just goes and people line up behind her like children waiting to see Santa. You aren’t sure what is going to happen, but you are sure that something is going to happen and you don’t want to miss it. Anyway, I’m not a connector or a magnet. At least I thought as much, until this morning.
This morning I realized that magnets don’t always attract, necessarily, what you might want them too. I’ve come to believe in a short time here that maybe everyone is a magnet of some type. It’s Monday morning so naturally I’m at Starbucks. I came today with an intent to begin my book. Of course I have no title, no outline, and honestly no subject matter whatsoever in mind for a book. But I have a pressing feeling that I should be writing one. Anyway, to give some background, a month or so ago a group of retired individuals began to frequent my favorite morning establishment. Each and every Monday they will show up with anywhere from four to six of them to catch up on the latest in the retired world, drink coffee and laugh loudly. So okay, I’m not against groups of friends congregating together. It is a free country and all and they have their rights. This place is plenty big enough for all of us, unless I get here late. But I’m not into the group thing on Monday morning. I’m just looking for some alone time with my laptop. I’ve notice however, from the first week of their arrival, that they seem to migrate towards wherever I’m sitting. At first I thought that it was just a bit of caffeine induced paranoia. I pushed those thoughts aside, you know the ones you get when you’re convinced that someone is following you down a darkened sidewalk in an unfamiliar neighborhood. I just put my headphones on and retreat into my own 15.4” widescreen world. But today all my fears came true. The voices were right. They are following me.
I came in and sat, because I was later than I wanted, over in the opposite corner from my usual seat of first choice. I was alone and surrounded by a sea of empty chairs and vacant square tables. I’m going to write a book. I think that I may need the space. Headphones in place, I’m getting into a zone and here they come, all six of them, to the table right next to me. They have the whole place and they sit less than two feet from me. Not only that, there’s six of them trying to take a table designed for four people on Jenny Craig. So here I am, headphones and all, and here they are, sitting right with me basically. They asked for the other chair at my table for two to make up for the lack of chairs at their table for four. I kindly nodded, but I was thinking, “What’s wrong with the other 52 unoccupied chairs at the other 20 unoccupied tables?”. Maybe I look retired, I don’t know. Maybe I’ve just been assimilated into their group by some invisible tractor beam. I even tried to humor them a bit and listen in on their conversation to see if I could add anything of value. Maybe this is one of those divine appointments that God keeps placing before me and I’m just not getting it. Nope, this morning they’re discussing cruises and doctors visits, or is it doctors visits while being on a cruise. I’m confused. Anyway, I’m obviously a magnet of some sort and I just want to turn it off.As I attempt to analyze this mornings events, I’m beginning to realize that all people are somehow magnetic. Everyone has a tendency to attract someone or something. I attract old people and dogs. At least dogs sit quietly on the sidewalk while I’m in here. Some people attract trouble. Some people attract mishaps. My daughter seems to attract bizarre injuries. How many people do you know who get hit by a shot put at a track meet? Some people attract children. I think that if you work at it, you can also learn to attract things. The media tells me that guys can learn to attract women, and that there are certain secrets that women can use to attract men. Basically for most guys it would only take dinner and a flattering outfit, we’re not too deep. I guess you can even learn, if you’re so inclined, to repel people. It seems logical, after all, magnets when reversed will have opposing energy fields. There’s even a movie that my daughter loves called “How to Lose A Guy in Ten Days”. I’d settle for how to lose old people in a coffee shop