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.