Monday, March 20, 2006

Tug Boats and Barges

I’m a fan of tug boats. I’ve always admired them somewhat, but it’s become a genuine passion of mine since moving to the Northwest. This morning I’m encouraged as I see another one steadily plying it’s way through the waters of the Sound, dutifully and reliably dragging in its wake a well used, well rusted barge overflowing with whatever barges tend to overflow with. I don’t hold the same admiration for barges. In fact, I don’t really appreciate them at all. If I ever won the lottery, one of the first selfish items that I’d purchase would be a tug boat. The main problem with this plan is that I don’t play the lottery, but that’s another story for another time. I’ve often considered taking a sabbatical from the pastoral thing for a few months of real work on a tug. My biggest obstacle (apart from testing my wife’s patience) would be that I would have no idea what I was doing on a tug. I’d probably not be of much use. However, if I bought it, I’d own it and then who cares how much I’d know about running it. I’d hire people who knew what they’re doing and I’d just ride along. It seems to work for professional sports teams, so why not? Anyway, my admiration for the tug passing by on the waves and my disdain for the barge behind it got me to wondering. Why one and not the other? I mean, cosmetically the choice is obvious. Even the most barnacle encrusted, oil stained, tire draped tug is more attractive than any new barge freshly painted from the shipyards. It must be beneath the surface I think. It seems like I’m attracted to the function and purpose of the tug and I’m not that impressed with either for the barge. One of the tug boats functions is to “tug” a load of whatever on a barge from port “A” to port “B”. It has to “tug” because the barge does not run on its own power. It is hopelessly stationary without the pulling power of the tug. It’s a pile of whatever, hopelessly stationary. I guess maybe that it sounds like the lives of some people I encounter. They are overflowing with the “whatever” stuff of life and they seem unable to move. Whenever I’m tired and selfishly considering myself in the world, I harbor bad feelings toward barges. They are draining. They are tiring. They are a load. Why can’t they just get on with their own lives, make their own constructive choices? Then, on the other hand, there are those people in the world who are tug boats, whose mission in life is to pull or push others towards a life of productivity. I admire them. In my self righteous state I can even imagine myself as one of them, dutifully dragging lives from point “A” to point “B”. It’s a tiring life, but someone has to lead it I think to myself. Another function of a tug is to guide ships, often times much larger than themselves, into port. These are ships that in close quarters are too powerful for their own good, so the tug boat captain will take over and skillfully nudge and direct the big ship where it needs to be. Some people are like that. They are big ships in a small space. Either, their ego is big, their material means too big, or their baggage may be too big. They are too big for their own good. They need a tug into reality and healthy balance. It’s important to know though that I believe that everyone at one time or another in their life can and will be either a tug or a barge. I know that I’ve been both. I can get pretty self absorbed thinking that I’m the tug to the world, and then…I can remember, fairly painfully, those periods of life when I was a barge. I’ve had my share of “whatever” being pulled and pushed on the power of an encouraging tug. They create balance, tugs and barges. Relationships need balance. It’s the calling of all of us at one time or another to pull not only our own weight, but also that of someone else in need. It is also healthy for us, every once in awhile, to learn when to just float on the energy, encouragement and support of another who has our best interest in mind. As I finish this out, I am looking out on the waves, watching as a lone tug glides across the scattered whitecaps. I bet he’s looking for another barge that needs to be delivered.

Monday, March 13, 2006


It’s somewhat humbling when you realize that the things you hold dear in life are not all that significant to others. It can be humbling, it can be disturbing, and it can even be maddening. I find myself many times distraught after giving some big dissertation on another brilliant discovery that I’ve made, only to have the person I’m revealing this to
say something like “What does this have to do with me?”. They don’t get it. They don’t appreciate it. Maybe it’s just that they don’t want to better themselves. I tell myself this to soothe my ego. I can almost hear my angel laughing hysterically. His response to my brilliance would most likely be “duh, look who just caught up”. After all, he knows what I too often have forgotten, that “there’s nothing new under the sun.” I find this whole process of thinking oneself brilliantly enlightened to be an occupational hazard. My greatest fear as a speaker and teacher of God’s word is for people to roll their eyes and say “whatever.” I’m afraid that they won’t see what I’m seeing, or how I’m seeing it. I’m realizing, maybe a bit slowly, that it’s all in the view that one brings to life situations. For example, I’m sitting here at Starbucks looking out through a wall of windows onto an unobstructed view of Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains. Anyone can step back and interpret this view in a variety of ways depending on what state of life they find themselves in. If I were a lover of boats and all things nautical, my eye gets fixed on the ferry that is gliding across in determined fashion toward the Islands. I would even know it’s destination by it’s size and shape. If I were someone inclined towards climbing and hiking, I’d notice the snow capped peaks stretching toward the sky and imagine what kinds of trails I’d encounter there and maybe I’d recall successful climbs of my past. As it is, for me, I’m wondering which peaks have roads that I can drive my Honda up to viw the summit. If I were an admirer of wildlife, my gaze would be fixed on the eagles nest high in the tree across the street. And If I had a deeper social consciousness, I’d take more notice of the homeless guy selling papers on the sidewalk. It’s all in the perspective you bring to a given scene that helps you interpret it. As I’ve gotten older and more aware of my faults, I try to step back on occasion and not impose entirely my set of eyes on a situation. I don’t know about you, but I for one am getting extremely tired of the Hollywood gossip rags that litter the aisles of every supermarket and convenience store that I venture into. I’m tired of looking at the pitiful lives and exploits of people that one segment of our culture emulates. But I admit, when I step back and put on another view, it causes me to wonder what my life would look like in a tabloid. How would I fare on the cover of Rolling Stone. What photos would people pull out of my family album to declare how much weight I’d gained or lost. I can be very judgmental of these people who are only guilty of being people. Our elected officials get the same treatment. I can see every one of their faults and sometimes even imagine myself in their roles thinking, I’d do it this way or that way, certainly not their way. What a closed view I can have. There certainly are faith implications for me in this. I’ve often wondered, in the whole cosmic world salvation issue, why God didn’t just do what he intended to do without going through all the effort of sending his son, the sacrifice and all that? Where is the deeper magic behind all of this? Him being God and all he could do it any way he wanted. I have a handle on the free will stuff I think. I have wondered though about the whole coming to earth thing, Immanuel, God with us and all. My thought is hardly deeply theological, and it might make my Bible professors cringe, but I wonder if it wasn’t to get a different view. Now follow me. God’s love for me and others like me is totally about grace. I find myself to be more grace filled and grace giving when I try to change my view and look at life through others expereinces. Maybe His ability to offer immeasurable grace to me and others like me is enhanced by His willingness to change His view point. Don’t get this wrong, I believe wholeheartedly in truth and Gods steadfastness in it. I don’t think changing view means changing what’s inherently true. I just wonder if it doesn’t allow Him to totally understand where we are when He’s already been there. I’m not sure. I guess it’s all in your point of view.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Toy Box

George Carlin once observed, on a flight across the United States, that everyone lives in their own box of stuff. I’ve flown many times across the country and every time I look down on a clear day I’m reminded of the same thing. We all live, if we’re fortunate enough, in a box of some sort which is mainly a collection of our stuff. When I was young there were times that I could climb into my toy box and there reside amongst my stuff. When the box got too full of stuff, I’d have to get a bigger box. What was I to do?
It never occurred to my child sized self-centeredness that I could actually get rid of some of my “stuff” and therefore be content in the same size box. My how some things do not change easily. Now I basically still live in my toy box. It’s a bit bigger and I have to share it, but it really is a toy box. I’d like to say that I’ve grown up a bit and learned to live within my box. The truth is that I’m only determined to stay in this box because, in the area that I live, I would need a bigger allowance to increase the size of my box. Some things have changed though. I’m actually more possessive of my toys now that I’m older. I have locks on my box. I have multiple locks on my box in fact. Some people I know have alarms on their boxes. They have more serious possession issues than I have . I think they might have better toys that I have too. I don’t know though, because they don’t invite me over to play all that much. People are more suspicious where I live now.
On the other coast I almost never locked my box. In fact, in the last box we lived in I never even had a key. Friends were always welcome to come over and play, well almost always. They were even welcome to come over when we weren’t home. We shared more. Even I shared more now that I think of it. That was amazing all by itself. And if the boxes became crowded, a new one was much more affordable. That made it all the more difficult to get rid of my stuff. It made garage sales so much more attractive for me back then. Even though I could probably benefit from getting rid of some stuff, I wouldn’t dream of leaving my box unlocked today. It causes me to sometimes have to get up in the middle of the night from my perfectly wonderful bed just to check and make sure that the box is locked. I’m into sharing and all as long as I get to pick who it is that I would be sharing with. I don’t think that I’m all that much different from other people. One of the first concepts that we learn in life is “mine”. Sharing stuff is difficult for most of us. That is why a true community is so amazing. The church was begun as a community where people shared their stuff. They not only shared it, they sold it when necessary to make sure that everyone in the community had the stuff they needed. No one in the community went hungry. No one painted signs that said “will work for…”Some of them even sold their boxes to make sure that others could have one for themselves. And I ‘m guessing that most weren’t even locked

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


How much is enough? It’s one of those questions like, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?”. It’s not really answerable. The answer for most is “just a bit more”. Then you could ask “What defines a bit?”. It certainly is a deep question though. In fact the answer to it probably defines the existence of a great many people who I’ve encountered in my life time. I’ve wrestled with it… haven’t defeated it though. In my more pious moments I might try to think that I could say “enough is right now, it’s my existence, I have reached contentment”. That would be a load of crap though, at least it wouldn’t be true five minutes after I thought it. It causes me to wonder though what really drives us? Is it the quest for enough? I don’t mean “enough” in a specific sense, rather “enough” in a broad sense…enough materially, enough financially, enough relationally, even enough spiritually. We’re never really satisfied are we? That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just depends on where the quest is leading. The defining answer is not what constitutes enough in our lives, but what constitutes enough-ness. I think enough-ness is the state of seeking more, but being content with what is. It’s a more healthy balance. I just recently was reminded of a lady who was known as “the witch of Wall Street”. Her deal was a lack of enough-ness. She was wealthy beyond measure, but living without the benefits of any of it. It was said that her diet consisted of onions, eggs, and dry oatmeal. She didn’t want to spend the money to heat her food. Seems to me like she didn’t have to worry about the “enough” relationally thing. That would have beyond hope. I know of a church in the Midwest who sat on stockpiles of wealth accumulated over the years while refusing to pay anyone to minister to the congregation because of an unwillingness to part with the money. They wanted to save for a rainy day. They refused to see that it was pouring outside. A good perspective on this can come from reading about a man named Job in the Old Testament. Job had it all at one time, and he lost it the next. In one of the most memorable quotes in the Bible, we hear a bit of reality from Job, “the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away…” I think he’d advise us to take advantage of the “giveth” part