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.