Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Rip Tide

I need to begin this by saying that I hesitate to write what is going on in my brain. Sometimes I probably ought to listen to my hesitation. I only hesitate this week though because it's a heavy subject matter in my heart. You could even call it depressing. It's not very inspirational, but that being said, I think it's important. It's important because too many times we try to only focus on things that make us happy and encouraged and the rest of the world can go to Hell and we're okay with it. So anyway, It’s Summer at the beach. It seems as if anytime I pick up a paper or turn on a television I’m reliving a drowning somewhere. Some are not good swimmers. Some are delusional in their self perceived abilities. Some very capable accomplished swimmers just get carried away in a rip tide without warning. My beach has few of those dangers and therefore almost never experiences those tragedies, or so I thought. Last night I think that I was witness to the effects of a rip tide. Well sort of anyway. Actually it wasn’t the type that we read about along the ocean beaches. It was more of a cultural rip tide I guess. Last night, with record temperatures still lingering in the evening air, my wife and I decided to visit our favorite spot for a long romantic sunset walk along the beach. It was a bad idea, at least it was a bad Summer weekend idea. I’ve already journaled for you my disdain for the Summer flow that comes through here. Well at the time, I wasn’t even considering the weekend evening crowd. In our defense though, we thought that after 9pm on a Sunday night would be manageable. After all, these people must have jobs right? And surely if they had a respectable job to report to on Monday morning, then one would assume that one would go home at a reasonable hour. Two bad assumptions in one thought process are not a good thing.
Anyway…it allowed me to witness the effects of a cultural rip tide that I thought I’d been all too familiar with already. It saddens me deeply to realize the extent that I was wrong. And it saddens me even further that I didn’t do more to put up warning signs. Rip tides are usually almost invisible to the untrained eye. That is their danger. Well meaning and well intentioned people wander into them and don’t realize until it’s too late and they’re caught in the flow. The thing about a rip tide is that it chooses it’s victims randomly and without prejudice. People can be all along the beach, and only a small section might be at risk. The average person couldn’t tell you which section is which. But a trained eye can often detect them and warnings can be posted. I consider myself a somewhat trained eye in this case and I wonder now if I ever could have done more in the warning process.
So here’s what I’m referring to…. It’s a cultural rip tide that is pulling so many of our youngest, brightest, and most promising to disaster, while most of us watch like another reality program. As we attempted to walk through the business section along the beach, it was much like walking through a foreign land. You need to understand that I have walked this landscape for much of the last 20 years and even I didn’t recognize it. A side trip to Starbucks, the same one I sit at this morning, brought us right into the middle of it. There were islands of high school students scattered about as if in their own little countries. Each had their own obvious power structure. Each had their own purpose, Each however seemed to be in competition with the others in one way or another. They all seemed to have a gimmick or a routine in which to taunt the others into carrying out their own set of identification. So obvious the competition had become that there were security guards placed strategically among the mini nations. What is this world coming to when we need security guards at Starbucks. This is the same place that I sit this morning with bus drivers, dog owners, exercise fanatics, and lazy writers at their keyboards. Outside was even more hostile and foreign than the inside. High school girls with barely a thong on were displaying themselves innocently in and around the guys who hadn’t read the tags on their pants before they bought them. Couples were giving each other CPR in the midst and oblivious to those who were trying to wander by. Guys were trying to reason with and care for dates who had consumed a bit too much. I’ve not felt this old and detached in a long time, and it caused a great remorse. I still feel it this morning. It’s not a personal remorse, it’s a sort of corporate feeling. Someone owes this generation an apology and it’s not someone from their own group.
My generation are like the producers and directors of a grand play lived out on life’s stage. We set the mood, we select the costuming, we direct the dialogue and we wait for the reviews and more importantly the profits. The appalling thing is that then many of us, myself included, wander around mumbling in disgust about “these kids”. We are the ones who have created this or at least allowed it to be created. I don’t mean to take anything away from those who have or are currently investing their lives trying to speak truth into the lives of students. I applaud them. They are the ones still posting signs warning of the rip tide. And I know that despite my experience last night and the same one that will be lived out here nightly through the Summer, that many have seen the signs. I know many of them. I see them in some of the friends of my own kids. All of them have one thing in common. Someone somewhere have invested in their lives and led them with truth. To those people I extend a great admiration. But some others need to extend an apology and a realization of what we’ve done. As I walked last night, and as I sit here this morning, I just feel sorry. I feel sorry for the girls who get their esteem from a guys admiration of their bodies. I’m sorry that they bought in to it and I feel sorry for those who are desperate to achieve it. I feel sorry for those whose parents don’t care enough to have a clue what is going on in the precious life of their little girls. I feel sorry for those whose families are fractured and too exhausted picking up their own pieces that they can’t post signs for their own children. I’m sorry for guys who can’t exist on the same block if they happen to have been born into different school districts. I’m sorry for the drugs that they need and we supply to numb the effects of the lie that they’re living in. I realized that I must have become numb over time myself. I’ve become desensitized to death. I’ve seen so many individual people going down destructive roads that it has numbed me and I’m sorry that it seems to now take a mass tragedy to get my attention. It’s overwhelming. I’m sorry that I didn’t put up more signs.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Dogs

As I sit in my seat with a view, I’m watching a dog. Actually it’s a beautiful dog. It’s one of those caramel cream colored labs, the very expressive kind. It’s the kind of dog that actually has a smile on his face when he’s happy and a sort of melancholy look when things are not as he’d wish them to be. This dog looks half way melancholy this morning. He’s tied to a small tree outside of Starbucks patiently waiting on his companion to continue their walk along the beach. He’s not distressed, he seems to accept this as a temporary break from the daily quest that awaits. He understands his partners need for some caffeine “to go”. After all, what type of person would actually walk around Seattle in the morning with nothing in their hand. The steaming cup sleeved in an environmentally friendly jacket is much a status symbol as the retractable line that he’s tethered to. So he waits patiently. Actually I see him quite often. I remember him because most in his situation look longingly at me with faces urging me to help them in their great escape. They don’t understand their partners caffeine fix and they’re, quite frankly, not as eager to indulge them this break on their quest to greener pastures and bigger hydrants. So they bark and lick and jump and participate in anything to encourage my pity, but not this one. This one barely gives me a glance when I greet him. He’s focused. He’s loyal. So I’m wondering what instills this type of loyalty. I miss it. There’s not much of it anymore. What I used to expect from others just as a form of courtesy, can no longer be assumed. People come and go, live and leave, based on their own whims, preferences and sense of self-preservation.
This dog is loyal though. He’s not budging, no matter how many other coffee seekers offer casual distraction to his partner and delay his departure. There are times during this temporary exchange that I wonder if the partner even remembers that they in fact came with someone else. It’s like watching a movie where the dreamy prom date leaves with someone they found more appealing and worthy of their presence. The human flits and flirts while the dog sits patiently, eyes fixed on his partner, oblivious to the clock and probably his bladder as well. There must be something unseen by me in this relationship that instills this loyalty. One would assume so since I only witness about 30 minutes of their lives each week. There must be reciprocation that goes on apart from Starbucks that has inspired this type of unflinching devotion. Something has been given during the course of their life together that enables him to such undying loyalty. You can argue that it might just be a good obedience school. This isn’t obedience. I can tell by the expression on his face. I envy him. He obviously has caught something that most of us miss. I’m sure that life is not always milk-bones and long walks in this relationship. I’m sure that they have had their share of misunderstandings and messes on the carpet, but the love seems to be unconditional. The loyalty is based on something deep and understood. I wish that we could get that sometimes. I wish that we could hang in there with people who have invested in us. I wish that we could get more beyond the selfish “I” to the “we” of relationships. As a leader of an community of faith I see too many instances of “what’s in it for me”. I’ve experienced more instances than I care to remember where meeting demands only results in more demands and then separation. I’ve witnessed broken relationships that are broken simply because the “I” could never be satisfied. All it would take is a realization of what has been given and a recognition of mutual investment. Some think that this world is going to the dogs. Some days I wish that it would.

Monday, June 12, 2006

cursors

I have a blinking cursor this morning. It’s annoying actually. I’ve never really thought about it until this morning. This morning I’m sitting back in my seat of first choice, by the window on the beach at Starbucks. All seems to be right with the world again except for this annoying blinking cursor. I must have been sitting here for awhile, at least through the first half of a Rascal Flatts CD that’s playing on my laptop. I’m waiting, watching, thinking, anticipating some type of inspiration that will cause my cursor to move across the screen. But it was just sitting there blinking as if to be repeating “You’ve got nothing”. And this was becoming very annoying, because truthfully, I had nothing. I didn’t appreciate being reminded of it though. Not many of us like to be reminded that we’re lacking, we’re falling short or we’re not fulfilling some greater task. I am very capable of knowing when I’ve got nothing. Anyway, the cursor was blinking, as if counting down some unseen clock that would eventually signal that time was up. I had used up my allotment of time to contribute something of significance to the world. It was as if the annoying Jeopardy tune was playing in the background waiting for me to scribble an answer that would validate my existence. Meanwhile, a cell phone dependent young girl droned on endlessly through multiple calls to no one about nothing in particular. Talk about meaningless existence I thought. But yet this stupid cursor keeps blinking and asking, “so what have you got?” At least she had someone on the other end. You may have seen “You’ve Got Mail”, well this morning I was enjoying “You’ve Got Nothing” blinking endlessly on my screen.
So I did the only thing I know to get rid of that annoying cursor, short of shutting it down. I began to type. Then things got worse. The cursor moved, but every time I stop typing the stupid thing starts blinking again at the very end of the last word I typed. It’s as if what I just typed wasn’t enough. It’s Oliver asking “Please Sir, can I have some more?” every time my fingers cease. I’m following this stupid thing across my screen in an endless pursuit of accomplishment that I fear is never going to come. Every pause demands more. I try punctuation, still blinking. I exaggerate my punctuation to an exclamation, still blinking. I plead with a question mark, “What more do you want from me stupid little blinking line?” And still it blinks as if I ought to already know the answer.
And then it hits me….this is how I spend most of my time. It may not always be in front of this laptop, but there’s always something blinking in front of me. There always seems to be a cursor of some sort, taunting me, leading me like a donkey with a carrot. Maybe the donkey image ought to give me a good visual on my life. Why am I always pursuing something that can never be satisfied? Why can’t I just be? I don’t think that life should be merely about doing, it ought to be more about being. I have a profession where leading is a key to fulfilling my calling. I can’t lead without at least some wanting to follow. I’m not dragging, I’m leading. But leading implies following and following is a decision of the heart. It seems to be much harder to lead lately. It makes sense really as I watch this annoying black line flash on my screen. No one needs another cursor to chase across their life’s page. Have I become another cursor? I am looking at the mountains reflecting the morning sun and His amazing creative ability being reflected to all who take the time to see. What character of His is my life reflecting? Am I giving the impression that faith is merely another cursor to be pursued across the screen? Maybe resting in one place, simply resting in being would be a more attractive place to be. Probably resting in His being would be the best thing for everyone involved. Quite possibly, the best way to get rid of this thing would be to turn it off. I think I’ll try it

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

entitlement

Summer here on the beach always has contained an element of frustration for me. Summer is when all of “the others” appear to enjoy the sun, waves and incredible views. You would expect that, I guess, for a place as attractive as this. My problem with it is that now I virtually have to compete with “them” to enjoy all of the niceties that for most of the rest of the year are just mine for the taking. They take up the walkways, the picnic tables, the bike trails, and even all of the best view seats at the best hangouts. This morning is a great example. I was a bit later than usual to my routine place of inspiration, Starbucks. All of the best seats were taken. Any other time of year I could enjoy some grace period and still get a good seat, but not today, not in the sunshine and warmth of June. So here I am, down the block, at Tully’s. It’s a decent place with decent coffee and decent views, but it’s still not fair. Why did I have to change? I live here. Where are they when the sky is gray and the wind blows colder across the mountains? Where are they when the mist and the fog wrap around you like a cold wet blanket? Then it’s not convenient. It’s not attractive. They don’t live here, so there’s no reason for them to come then. They’re conditional, but I’m always here. I’m entitled. Did I say that out loud? Well I am. I am here through good weather and bad. I give back. I am loyal. They just take, take, take, and when it’s no longer fun or convenient, they’re gone like the Summer breezes and low tides. It bothers me. I’m entitled, aren’t I?
So I wonder, this morning as I sit in my seat of second choice, what causes this resentment? Where does this feeling of “I deserve this” come from? I think that it’s my upbringing actually. I don’t mean my family upbringing. What I think I mean is that because I’m an citizen of the United States and I’ve enjoyed the luxury of such things before, my good seat and all, I’m entitled to it every time I want it. They probably feel the same way, those “others” who invade my space. After all, they’ve done this year after year, season after season. They probably don’t even realize that I resent them. They just want what’s theirs even if it conflicts with my wanting what’s mine. Does that mean that it’s all actually “ours”?
Anyway, this is not the only place that I feel entitled and I’m sure that I’m not alone. I feel an entitlement to fast service when I’m in a checkout lane marked “express”. At least I’d like it to be as fast as any other non-express lane that’s whizzing by me while my clothes go out of style waiting to purchase a candy bar. I was in New Orleans a few months back doing some relief work. I was appalled that they had hardly a coffee place open in their airport and none at all once past security. What was I supposed to do while waiting for my flight home? I couldn’t believe that there was nothing open. They gave us some song and dance about no workers left in the area and all that. Whatever…, I just wanted a cup of coffee. Is that too much to ask? I’m entitled. I’m from Seattle. I can get a cup of coffee at just about any other airport in the country. Even those crop duster county airports have machines that would give you coffee in a wax cup. Sometimes my selfishness can alarm even me. I had just spent a week sludging through what used to be peoples homes and sharing in their heartache and loss. I was only a few miles and a few hours removed from that and yet I felt “entitled” to a quality full service coffee experience.
I’m making a mental list of things that I could find myself feeling entitled to. I can list my laptop, wireless connectivity, cell service on demand, clear picture on my television, traffic free passage, a seat with a view, reasonable gas prices, no train delays, privacy, on street parking, Summer sunshine, advertised sale items available, to name just a few. As someone who professes a Christian worldview I can get the same way. I feel entitled to the benefits regardless of the reality around me. I expect grace and forgiveness and peaceful right to worship and all that. I expect to be respected for my views and I expect answers to prayer in my view of answers and in my time frame. It’s scary, my Americanized view of my own universe. How demanding I’ve become. A I look to my list, I can’t help but think that the former have affected the latter. As I’ve come to expect all of the creature comforts of American life, I’m worried that it has carried over to my spiritual life. I tend to forget that my faith calls me to be a non-resident of this culture. I’m only passing through. I’m an alien here. Or at least I should be. And as such, I have no entitlement. I have no right to forgiveness. That’s what grace is. I can’t earn it, I didn’t deserve it, and never will no matter what my American experience is. It’s just there for me. I just need to learn thank you.Here’s some irony. As I sit here wrestling with my struggle with what ought to be mine, how I ought to be cared for, a resident bird has just flown in and perched next to me. He comes here often, and when he does people feed him what’s left of whatever they’ve been enjoying with their coffee. So I’m feeding him what’s left of my blueberry muffin. And I’m reminded that the only entitlement I’ve been promised is that I’d be cared for even better than the birds of the air. I used to not think that this was such a big deal. After all, bird seed and worms is nothing to write home about. Anything has to be a step up from that. But this bird eats coffee cake, donuts, and blueberry muffins. It makes me feel a little better that God will provide for my needs and probably even a few selfish pleasures along the way, even without the entitlement