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