Monday, December 31, 2007

bites

I’m going to resist the obvious urge to wax poetic about a new year and an auld lang syne and all the other sentiment that comes with this midnight. Don’t misunderstand, I truly understand the lure of being able to begin again with resolutions that we fully intend to keep. I have been through the emotional relief of leaving a year behind that is best left behind. I’m just following an unofficial resolution of my own. This particular one is one in which I resolve to take life in smaller bites. I’m beginning with this “black forest ham, egg, and cheese” sandwich on an English muffin that I’m enjoying right now with a water view from Starbucks.
My wife would be pleased with me. Even though she is understandably madly in love with me, she is still not impressed with some of my eating habits. She contends that if one eats slower, more intentionally, and with smaller bites, that the culinary experience is greatly enhanced. Poor misguided soul. In reality, the bigger and faster the bites, the more you get to experience in the same amount of time. However, because of another resolution to listen more carefully, as she deserves it, I am beginning here, with my breakfast sandwich. Actually it’s working fairly well. I still have some left. For arguments sake, it could really be that I’m too cheap to eat it fast and then need to purchase more to experience. But for now, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. She is very wise.
In my line of work it has historically been valuable to plan ahead. I’m a great planner. Spreadsheets, flow charts, and time lines have been constant companions. I remember the days of the 10 year plan. Then it went to a 5 year vision, followed by a 3 year strategy, most recently a one year goal. I’m now down to a 1 day effort. It’s pretty simple really. I work for the most influential individual who ever walked the planet. He didn’t have the world wide web in which to communicate his plan. He didn’t have a 3 year strategy. In fact his work only really lasted 3 years. He had a saying that went something like this, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for today has enough worries for itself”. How’s that for strategy. Jesus lived one day at a time. One life, a divine one I’ll grant you, but one life just the same, lived one day at a time, changed the world forever.
I want to change the world. Don’t most of us? How could we ever know though since we’ll certainly miss changes occurring all around us today while being worried about tomorrow. It seems as if it might be true in life as it is in eating. If we were to live slower, more intentionally, and in smaller bites, and by doing that live in today without the worries of tomorrow, then the experience would be greatly enhanced. We could even in fact change the world, or at least our corner of it. Perhaps my wife is right after all. She really is very wise.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve. I guess that this means I’ve made it through one more holiday journey. It is true that Christmas day is still on the horizon, but I’m of the opinion that it’s mostly a day of recovery from the previous twenty four of madness. Yeah I know there’s still one more holiday left before it’s all said and done, but don’t even try to put New Years in the same sentence as this day. New Years Eve is like the evil twin. It’s like, “whatever happens New Years Eve, stays in New Years eve”. What happens tonight, I want to keep as memories for the rest of my days, quite unlike the shadowy visions that are certain to haunt too many of next weeks celebrations. It’s kind of coincidental how these holidays fall exactly a week apart. What I mean is that It’s kind of like the cosmic choice one has, to either live by the power of our own resolutions, for the three weeks that they may last. Or we can live by the power of the gift that arrived on this night so many failed resolutions ago.
I can’t wait for tonight. Tonight should be about peace, anticipation, children, and candles. OK so maybe children and candles should not be in the same sentence. That would undoubtedly create some memories, like smoke, big red trucks and endless insurance red tape to be sure. I’d rather not carry those through the year. So I’ll adjust the memory to children accompanied by responsible adults and candles. I really think that you have to have candles though or it’s not Christmas Eve. We tried to have candles outside one year for a Christmas Eve service. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Let me share from experience though, candles, outdoors, December, and Seattle should never be in the same sentence. I wonder what the weather was like on that first Christmas Eve. I wonder if Mary and Joseph had candles.
OK, so I may be guilty of glamorizing Christmas Eve just a bit. After all my children are grown, and time has certainly airbrushed out the carting around of sugared up little cherubs through totally unreasonable expectations of schedules and in laws and church. I just wish that I could remember how we did it before the days of mini-vans, SUV’s and totally portable nurseries. I guess that we had to do it the old fashioned way…with duct tape ,rope, and bungee cords…uphill…both ways…through the snow…but we were thankful. Maybe mine was really the “Greatest Generation” after all. At least I’m pretty sure the snow was real.
And regarding snow…I’m still of the opinion that Christmas Eve without snow is totally lacking. Liquid snow doesn’t count either. For eight years now I’ve heard, “at least you don’t have to shovel it”. I’ve even found myself slipping in to that insipid form of denial. At least I don’t have to shovel it? I still fondly remember Christmases past that I wasn’t soaked down to my underwear and they all included snow in it’s natural state. Hand me a shovel. Rain doesn’t reflect Christmas lights very well, unless its through the smear of old windshield wipers. Rain doesn’t glisten in the sunlight when the clouds pass. Rain doesn’t hang on evergreen branches like Santa’s beard. And when it snows, at least I can ride my sled screaming down a hillside. It’s not quite the same as December rains and riding a house screaming down the mudslides. You really should have snow on Christmas Eve. I wonder if Mary and Joseph had snow.
If I were to travel back, Scrooge like, with my own ghost of Christmas past, I’m sure that some of it would be totally unrecognizable to me. There are things there lost to a selective memory, and things I wouldn’t be proud of even if I could recall them. I’m sure that there were moments created that caused me amazement and wonder and I merely left them in the trash with the paper and the bows…we didn’t recycle back then either. I’m guilty, along with Hallmark and centuries of religious artists, of glamorizing the whole birth event I would guess. I don’t acknowledge the pain, anxiety, sounds…human and otherwise, smells…human and otherwise, the darkness and fear that were all probably in abundance that night long ago. We see clean clothes, well behaved animals, clean stables, and halos. We see a well scrubbed angelic face sleeping peacefully in his mothers arms. Think about it, any woman who has ever given birth knows that they don’t just appear when they’re ready. Mary may have conceived without a man but the Book of Books doesn’t say that she gave birth without pain. Now that would have been a miracle.
So today on my 44th Christmas Eve I pause to wonder. What was it really like? I love the mystery and the magic but I ache for the reality. What was it really like? In the emotion of the real event did they know? Was there peace knowing that God was indeed with them? Did that mute the pain and the fear and the loneliness of the cave? Did the baby bring them hope? Did they see Him for who He really was? How difficult was it to hang on to the promise? Did they know like I know that tomorrow would bring them rest? Did all of creation pause for just a moment when He drew His first breath and when His cries pierced the night? Did the stable animals yield their cries to His? Did the angels bow low to see it? Did God smile proudly like I did at the birth of our children? Were there cigars? OK, so I don’t wonder about that?
I’m just wondering. What are your thoughts today as you read this? Have you even stopped to think about it or are you crashing through another holiday trying to keep up with the Jones’s, Nintendo, and Microsoft? Will tomorrow or any of your tomorrows bring you rest? No matter what we may have done to His holiday, (or dare I say Holy Day) through culture and politics and time, this day did, in fact, come. It was real. There was sacrifice, there is a plan and it began with this baby. Celebrate the day. Honor it with time and thought and decision and wonder. You know, there really has to be wonder on Christmas Eve.

Monday, December 17, 2007

lists

This is a list week. One week left and every moment counts. Every minute lost is a minute lost forever and possibly a bit of magic along the way. Either magic or headache, but either way they contribute to the experience of the season and both can be constructive. Even moments to not live by lists are on my list so that the urgency of one list doesn’t overwhelm the importance of the other list and in the end, as I light a candle on Christmas Eve, I can rest in the fact that this was a Christmas to remember.
So I live a life on paper, all cosmically calculated to achieve the objectives. There are wish lists of gifts. There is a calendar list to observe and make sure that I’m not supposed to be three places at once. I can sometimes manage two, but that’s my limit. There are grocery lists, pastoral lists, lists that I’ll check twice, lists of who’s been naughty, which is quite lengthy, and lists of the nice.
Each list has its own significance and each item, if deemed important enough, will be placed on a list. It actually can be a good exercise in time management. I have to be realistic in what can really be accomplished in the time allowed. Sliding incomplete items to a more convenient time is never a wise strategy. They tend to just build up on the back side, not unlike snow at the end of a plow, until the pile becomes quite depressing. It’s the same concept as bill paying. There is never a more convenient time to take care of them.
This may all sound ridiculous and very stressful, but it actually has the opposite effect. As I get older, I am finding it more and more difficult to remember even my own name at times. This helps, in much the same manner as my defragmenter cleaning up the clutter on my hard drive. If done well, it allows me a chance to relax. If not, well………….
It’s not always seen as an admirable trait, living by lists I mean. Some people may find it an indication of weakness, or senility. Whatever. In my pastoral arts study the other day I was reading about the idea that God deals with lists also. There are lists to be consulted at the end of earthly time, two of them actually. There’s one that you’d want to be on and one that you wouldn’t. We get to choose. I like that. Sometimes He hears us through lists I think. The Book of Books talks about prayers and petitions lifted up to Him. What is a petition, but a fancier more PC way of saying list? I wonder if He’s seen the one about making us a “greener society”?
Anyway, live how you like, but I’ll continue to do my list thing. Then there’s less likelihood that I’ll forget someone or something. If God likes to live that way, then that’s good enough for me.

Monday, December 10, 2007

appearance

I’m just coming up for air. As of this morning I’m half way through my observation of the season and it’s time for another breath. Starbucks is a bit disappointing today, although I’d still highly recommend the apple fritter. The fireplace isn’t on. I can’t think of too many things this time of year more disappointing than a fireplace that isn’t putting out some sort of warmth and ambience. Especially when all one has to do these days is flip a switch. I briefly considered a stay at home in front of my own fireplace before succumbing to better quality coffee and an assumption of flames.
A few haven’t seemed to notice. There’s a star struck couple bundled up in front of it, apparently oblivious to its inability to expend any heat. Maybe that’s why they’re seemingly content to generate their own. Don’t get me wrong…I appreciate their resourcefulness probably more than most. It just makes it a bit more difficult to concentrate on my fritter.
Today is the point where I’ll need to shift gears to make a final drive towards the grand birthday party on the evening of the 24th. Right now I’m still idling in neutral gathering my thoughts from the first half of the journey. So far it’s been quite eventful. Beginning with a turkey to fuel the early days, I’ve experienced shopping wars, a wedding on top of the Space Needle, two seasonal theatre performances, two children’s birthday parties, an elementary Christmas musical, 26 adorable African children, snow, wind, and floods. And so this is half way. It’s time for a breath.
The first part of this seasonal journey is what I like to refer to as “survival”. These things all help to create a sense of joy if paced correctly. Believe it or not, I think that my wife and I did fairly well with the first half. This second half is more aptly called “observation”. We’ll slow down. We’ll rest a bit and take time to wonder and appreciate and recharge. I think that this is probably the reason why things like non- functioning fireplaces are so disappointing. I don’t have time for illusions right now. These times like my Monday relationship with my lap top need to be sources of rest. Fireplaces in cold places can help do that for me.
There are more than enough distractions and things not as they seem during this seasonal time of “peace”. I believe that it’s part of the grander cosmic spiritual battle that rages throughout our culture. Distraction with false hope I mean. Each morning I soberly watch the talking heads on the news try to make a direct link between economics and Christmas success. Weekly I read about another manger – menorah war that sinks into ridiculousness. I’ve spent too much time in the study of Christmas as it really happened in the Book of Books to be able to see any such correlation or conflict. Joseph and Mary had no idea that the birth of their baby would determine the success of American retailers. The shepherds had no idea that their visit might offend some in the ACLU.
We could easily succeed in entirely distorting the entire original meaning of the season if not for one outstanding variable. We still get to choose. I have the choice to stop and take a breath. I can focus myself on observing the reality and conveying meaning rather than adding to false appearances. Try something radical as we head down the stretch. Share joy. Observe peace. If all else fails, stop long enough to yield your place in line during your tour of duty in the shopping wars. For a moment in time, God yielded to our need on a dark night in Bethlehem. I’m sure that we could manage the same for someone else in Wal-Mart.

Monday, December 03, 2007

enthusiasm


I have a window seat for the annual December monsoon season here in Seattle. High winds and mudslides are the order of the day. Part of my agenda will undoubtedly be dealing with a newly repaired and now leaking roof on our arts building and navigating underwater crosswalks while keeping my latte dry. It’s hard to be concerned about this mundane earthly stuff though when I’ve recently been so close to the other side of life. I’ve had the privilege of being in the presence of pure joy.
My community o’ faith is sharing life for the next few days with the African Children’s Choir. I can’t imagine any other group this side of the goal that could pierce the gloom like these young lives have been able to do. They’ve dealt with so much more in their lives than the wind, rain and mud that we’re mired in. Yet they sing and dance before their creator without comparison.
Watching them last night, I was overcome with a sense of envy that I’ve rarely experienced. For me, it could have been easy to pass it off as “rhythm envy”. My feet don’t move that fast unless I’m struggling to keep myself from falling up the stairs while trying to make it look planned. Being rhythmically challenged wasn’t on my mind last night. On further examination I had to honestly conclude that it was “enthusiasm envy”.
Being a pastoral artist and responsible for teaching from the book of books in my community, I do have some skills (besides nunchuck and computer hacking) that I routinely apply to my study. One of them is the study of Greek and the original languages of the Bible. In that study I easily can recall that the literal translation of the word “enthusiasm” is en-theos, meaning “in God”. I know that in my head. I have spoken the words and taught the concepts. I hadn’t really seen it truly expressed in living color though until last night. My wife, having had the privilege to pray with them last night, said that she felt that she should have removed her shoes, Moses like, feeling as if she were on holy ground as they offered their young lives “en- theos”.
These children have lived through war, poverty, disease, and the death of some or all of those closest to them and their response is to sing and dance before God like they’ve already made it home. The most that I have had to live through lately is writers strike induced reruns and idiot induced political campaigns. I’m not sure, even when those end, that I’ll be able to dance. Some things will just take heaven to accomplish.
Some of us live for what we can gain today, and tomorrow, and in retirement. If things are good and painless and, might I add, profitable then we choose to stay there and claim that life is as it should be. These lives of promise are taking in the niceties of what they experience through our culture, but always with a longing and a plan to go home. And it’s not to a home the way it should be, but with the hope of helping it become what it could be. For that I’m a bit envious.
What a wonderful thing it is to take life as it’s given, with joy from the One who created it and then to offer it back as a sacrifice and a chance to make it better. I see it occasionally. I take part in it occasionally, but I have much to learn when it comes to enthusiasm.

Monday, November 26, 2007

magic

I’ve chosen a different view this morning. I have surrendered the beach for the magical world of Christmas that has unfolded in my living room this past weekend. It really is quite a transformation. You’d really have to see it to appreciate it though. I’ve chosen an amazingly comfortable spot on my couch with a prime view of the fireplace, and a tree shining like a jewel. I’m guarded this morning by a large assortment of snowmen, angels, my Santa collection, the holy family, and our loyal and lazy cat who has shared this view for the past 15 years. She loves this season almost as much as we do and demonstrates it by curling up under the tree even before its decorated. She’ll hibernate there until we can lure her out with her annual bag of kitty narcotics. Eventually she’ll end up back there, quite stoned from the experience.
I choose this spot today partly because I have two other appointments with Starbucks today and I wouldn’t want to be a candidate for intervention. I have a weakness for Gingerbread lattes this time of year. The other reason though is that it just seems right. I’ll spend an unusually large amount of time here this next 5 weeks. There is no television here. I have to serve myself at this hour of the day. There is certainly no community here, unless you count the extraordinary amount of inanimate characters that are all staring at me. There is magic though. My wife has a gift of creating it. My job is mostly to haul it back and forth from its place of seasonal storage. When she was all done with the transformation this past Friday…yes it was the day after Thanksgiving, all I wanted to do was to sit right here in the middle of it. I tend to sit back and simply observe more often than not, but for the next few weeks I’ll be leaning closer in to savor every moment. So Starbucks can wait.
I know that I’m not the only one who can feel the magic. The little cuties in my community o’ faith were even cuter yesterday. People stayed long after our scheduled time together was over. It is in the air. We’re surrounded by magic this season. And, as G.K. Chesterton wrote, “if there is magic, there must be a magician”. My wife can serve as a wonderful instrument of creativity and love, and a conduit of seasonal magic, but she’ll tell you that it’s because of the Magician Himself. I wish more people could share the experience that my cat and I are sharing this morning.
I am not na├»ve. I know full well that too many are not feeling it today. It’s bitterly cold outside, which may add to my experience, but it creates quite another for people living on the streets. This time of year may elevate my own personal level of community, but I’m well aware that it magnifies the loneliness of others. People feel compelled to lavish gifts to fill the void, but come away from the season with empty souls and depleted VISA’s. I wish that they could feel it and I wish that those who are like me could be better at sharing it. To those who have taken the time to read this, my wish for you as this season begins is simply this; If anything within you can relate to any part of the magic of this time of year, please consider carefully that, “if there is magic, there must be a magician”.
You might need to a bit lean closer to see it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

seasons

The change of seasons has finally hit me. I’m slower than most. I don’t know what exactly brought that stunning revelation to me this morning. It might have been the mental pre-Thanksgiving to do list that I woke up with. Thanksgiving? Did I miss Halloween. It may have been the rain soaked, “gore tex” clad bicycle commuter that I passed along the water. It might be the nearly naked beachside trees against the gray backdrop in view through my window. It was probably all of those including the very obvious tribute that Starbucks has paid to the impending Christmas season. Although here in the land of denial, we call it “the holiday” season. Wouldn’t want to offend.
Anyway, I’m not lamenting, I do after all love living where the seasons change. I know many of you living elsewhere have heard that Seattle only has two seasons; rainy season and the fourth of July. That’s a load of crap. It doesn’t really rain here as much as rumored and it almost always does on the fourth. I love the change and I love Fall the most. It might be the artist in me that appreciates the color and variety of creation. It might be the cynic in me that appreciates the approaching of winters death. It’s more likely the glutton in me that appreciates turkey and pie and candy and cookies. My yearly tune up has advised me to pace myself though. Cholesterol. Maybe I’ll forget it and ask Santa for lipitor this season.
I’ve also changed seasons in my Monday morning routine. I’m back where I started, kind of like the cycle of seasons I guess. I’ve come home to Starbucks, even without the free wi-fi. I took nearly an 18 month break to follow a friend and my daughter through the land of caffeine competition. They’re both on to bigger and better now. The personality and atmosphere are gone now and so am I. They might not have free wi-fi here, which I’d like to go on record as a crime, but they do have atmosphere. Given the choice between the two, I choose atmosphere.
Seasons keep me humble. They usually occur without my timing and without my control and sometimes without my approval. They are part of families, friendships, and careers. They mandate adjustment and growth and sometimes, if I allow it, time to reflect and just remember. I am humbled to drift back over seasons and call up images of times when I thought that time would stand still and hold that moment forever, only then to come back to the present and realize that said moment will stand in time only as a memory. I’ve left friends there. I’ve left childhood there, mine and my children’s. There are baseball games, summer jobs, college friends, coworkers, weddings, funerals and birthdays. They are only memories now. I don’t say “only” lightly though as I also know that each of those moments and memories led me to today in this chair by the window, slowly sipping over priced coffee….the cup warns me that this is a “hot” beverage after all. I appreciate the extra awareness.
If I’ve learned anything from Starbucks, it is this; experience costs something. The seasons of life and the experiences that accompany them cost something. I may consider myself to be inherently cheap, however, for the experience of sailing on the seasons of my life, I’d spare no expense.

Monday, November 12, 2007

depth

I’ve been thinking a great deal about depth lately. It might be that sitting here every week staring out at the cold waters of Puget Sound have inspired me toward this. My mind wanders to what lies beneath. A pod of Orcas has been hanging just off shore this past week. I’ve recently enjoyed video views from local divers of the giant octopus and the six gill sharks that lurk in the darkness. We’ve been blessed with the adorable baby seals lounging on the beaches and all of this draws my mind towards one question. What’s it really like down below the surface?
It’s carried over into real time for me and peeks out in many different venues. I’ve been reading more lately, possibly inspired from a pilgrimage to Powells City of Books in Portland last week. My studies for my teaching in my community o’ faith have taken a different path. Relationships are slowing, more time is invested. I want to know what lies beneath.
I admire the divers I see who confidently stroll from the safety of the sand into the mercy of the surf just beyond the shoreline. I stand on the edge and look out and see so much uncertainty. Jaws has forever erased the innocence and naivety that would allow me safe and unconcerned passage beneath the waves. I now know much more than I ever wanted to about the dangers. I’ll take a kayak any day. The most I risk there is a bit of salty mist around my lips and sunglasses.
Real life is like that I guess. Too many of us are content to merely skim the surface. We surf, we ski, we kayak across the surface of issues, of relationships, of the human condition, with only the residue of salt spray appearing afterwards to prove that we’d even gone near. We’re afraid of what lies beneath.
Beneath is where the senses have to engage. It takes much more effort. It’s colder, darker, and sometimes you need to hold your breath for uncomfortably long periods of time. Divers tell me in their blogs of the exhilaration that is experienced on each and every dive. There is uncertainty to be sure, but there is wonder and experience and a lure that is undeniable. They are not ignorant of the danger, but the rewards are far more alluring. So they’re drawn in, time after time, to the riches of the depths.
I don’t do that nearly enough. I’m content too often with stereotypes and labels and surface “how are yous”. I’ve been feeling stunted. I want to know more about people, which in and of itself is somewhat of a miracle. I want to learn without judgment. People are far too complicated and lives too complex to fit them in categories. I’ll admit that categories are much easier for me to deal with, especially with the volume of people that I connect with on a weekly basis. The problem with putting people in categories is that they have an annoying tendency to leave my grouping and move to another that fits them better. Being of the pastoral arts profession and holding tightly to a worldview that believes with everything that I am that God is in control of this confusion, I know the danger of being labeled. So my wife and I go out of our way to shed those labels and place ourselves far from them. They can be very limiting to people who, like me, have a tendency to kayak on the surface. I know the frustration that comes when your voice is silenced even before opening your mouth, because of the assumptions of surface dwellers. I guess that I owe it to myself and to everyone else to upend the kayak and spend some time in the depths.

Monday, November 05, 2007

promise

It’s taken me awhile I’ll admit, but I’m really beginning to get the idea that things are not nearly what they’ve been made out to be. For the most part anyway. I really have resisted complete surrender to this concept. Those who really know me will have a hard time believing that I would hold on to an optimistic view of anything. Really, it doesn’t matter to me whether the glass is half full or half empty, it still seems that I’m drowning in the bottom of it most days. Still I hold on to hope.
I recently installed some software on my traveling friend here in hopes that I would encourage it to longer life and strong performance. The program in question came with all of these promises, most of which I downplayed when wrestling with the possibility of purchase. I have been down this road before. Things are rarely what they are promoted to be and many claims fall miserably short of expectation. The one that I did hold out hope for was the promise of cleaning up enough clutter that my boot up time would decrease significantly. Me being of the impatient temperament, this was a hook that I just couldn’t get off of. I was a bit reluctant though. I’ve been burned before. I just wanted what was best for my electronic companion. Surely, God would smile on me this purchase. Certainly someone has marketed something that was worth my financial investment. I’ve missed it on most of my purchases so I guessed that the odds were in my favor this time.
Not this time. I guess that with past experience and self recognized pessimism, I would have been content with even the illusion of quickness. Not this time. It’s become a bit like running underwater. I almost don’t recognize my friend anymore. I fear that I’ve forever altered him. So now I drift into the realm of questioning. Have I been taken one more time, or does this really work for everyone else and I’m in the Charlie Brown “I got a rock” place of existence. I think I can deal with being taken. It puts me on a level playing field with all of the other suckers born all of those other minutes. I can’t deal with the rocks. One more piece of the Jenga puzzle of my life has been pulled.
Today my wife and I leave for a short getaway to Portland. We’re looking forward to it really. I booked a downtown hotel supposedly in a great location. At least the online pics held some promise. I have great hopes. Surely this time something will resemble it’s claims and I can hold on to hope once more. Anyway, you may think this overly dramatic, but I’m really getting tired. I’m leaving with the echoes of failed software ringing in my consciousness.
I’m tired of unfulfilled promises. I’m tired of hollow people with polished exteriors. I’m tired of hundred dollar haircuts on ten cent heads. I know that there is more out there. I live for it. I understand the importance of promise. It’s not something to be played with, yet we as a culture have been more than willing to compromise the trust that is inherently built in to a promise. My life is based on the promise of all promises. Unfortunately many who claim the same promise have difficulty living it. I know that I do. Like so many software companies, we claim something and fall short in the delivery. We need to try harder, understanding what we really have. This one is too important to leave to the marketing group. We need to carry this one ourselves, with honesty and integrity. He’ll take of the delivery.

Monday, October 29, 2007

dressed

I bought some new clothes the other day. It’s probably not a news worthy event, but it is of fair significance for me. It meant that I was in the mood. Most times, when wandering the aisles with my wife, I’m not really wondering “what’s in this trip for me”. If we’re in a clothing store, the answer is usually “nothing”. It’s not because she doesn’t try desperately to liven up my wardrobe. I just have to be in a mood. Usually, I’d call that mood desperation.
Anyway, the other day we’re exploring the racks, shoes I think, when I just began to be inexplicably drawn around the corner to men’s clothing. My brain was whispering to me "shirt". I need a new shirt for my Sunday pastoral arts detail. Maybe it was because my inner voice was reminding me that anything remotely worth wearing was still awaiting rescue at the dry cleaners. It’s the curse of being high maintenance I guess.
I picked out 3 and waited excitedly, well OK…anxiously, nervously, whatever,…I just waited for my wife to appear from shoes, which in and of itself was a practice in optimism. She came, I appealed to her sense of style, and we chose one. I wasn’t going overboard here. Anyway, the success of the shirt led me like Frodo from the Rivendale of shirts towards the Mordor of pants. This is always treacherous territory for me. It’s a place I’d never venture without the Gandalf like presence of my wife to offer wisdom and her magic staff to protect me from falling off a fashion cliff. She didn’t fail me and with the help of a very brave staff member of the store, and a cashier who gazed at our debit card like it was the "Ring of Power", we were on our way. The new outfit made its public debut on Sunday and with one possible exception, despite the best intentions of All Star Fitness, of a slightly out of shape model, it looked great. I think.
That’s my problem. I think. My whole reluctance with the clothing deal is that when I find stuff that I think I like, that I think is cool, that I think is in style, that I think fits, or whatever, I find out I missed the cut by about 5 years. It’s frustrating. It’s a hamster wheel. And the deal with hamster wheels is that they always come around again. Imagine my delight every time I see one of the fashion trends of my youth come back around, only to realize that I just gave that stuff away to Goodwill. Why do I bother?
The wheel goes around again. Some people get motion sickness from it. I get fashion sickness.
That’s why I rely on my wife. She wields her staff with clarity and skill and if I follow her advice, I find my way along the journey. If not, then there are goblins and orcs all around and somedays I dress like them. She reminds me to rotate my clothing because I tend to like something and keep it front and center. Every once in awhile I sneak in an old pair of sweatpants when her all seeing eye is fixed somewhere else.
I try my best. I really do, but it’s exhausting. Sometimes, the best that I can hope for is just to be dressed.

Monday, October 22, 2007

forecast

I woke up this morning, went through the routine which always includes turning on the Today show, and listened to Al’s weather forecast. Once again, it included the phrase “Showers in Seattle”. Once again I wandered outside, laptop in tow, and gazed up at a gorgeous sunrise lifting over the eastern mountains. Into my car, morning radio conversing with me, and it’s down the hill toward the water and caffeine. No showers in sight. In fact, as I came in for my usual, the usuals were already there commenting on, of all things, the gorgeous morning outside on the beach. Once again I’m bugged.
I’m bugged because once again, people all over the nation will arise to the authority of the network weather god and learn that people in Seattle must be ridiculous to endure the soaking that we are surely always getting. One more day, I’ll take phone calls from people in other parts of the world with that condescending “poor pitiful you” tone in their voice, inquiring about when the rain might stop, while I glance outside wondering what the heck they’re talking about. Anyway, it may sound trivial, but that’s where I’m at this morning.
It has occurred to me that this is how stereotypes are born. I don’t deny that, more than likely, somewhere out here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s probably raining this morning. But from my experience, that rarely means “Seattle”. I live in Seattle, not a suburb, not a wanna be, not the county, but actually within the city limits. Someone I know once proclaimed, about an eastern suburb, “well when they think of that they’re really referring to Seattle”. That’s their problem. Just because they think that doesn’t make it so. I have to admit to the same semantics in my own existence. I tell people that I’ve moved from Syracuse because they wouldn’t know where in the hell Pennelville is. I understand that method of connection. However I do think that it contributes to stereotypes and those are rarely a good thing.
I live within the worlds of stereotyping and I live to break the ones that I’m included in. I’m a pastor and I love people never being able to figure that out. I hold to the Christian faith and it brings me major levels of joy to correct that one as well. I’m a husband madly in love with his wife and a dad who tries to stay involved in the life of his kids and consequently, Hollywood would never recognize me. That is just the way I like it. I spend my life suspended between two very easily stereotyped groups, Christians and artists. And the really interesting part as I live in two worlds is that the views of each toward the other can be extremely stereotypical. It’s my mission in life to enlighten people to the amazing concept that God has no stereotypes. Everyone is unique and not to be placed in a box that is not of theirs or His design.
Certainly we all have tendencies that are probably born out of environment, more than creation, however, each has the capability and right to be unique. We answer only to our creator. We’re only responsible for His design. I could wake up each morning, and rely on the forecast given by someone on the other side of the continent. Or I could choose to walk outside, lift my head up and feel the sun. Just so you know Al, it’s not raining in Seattle today.

Monday, October 15, 2007

pacing

I’m trying something different this week. The last few weeks have suddenly added up to a year and I’m breathing a bit heavy. So I’m trying something different this week. It’s called pacing. It’s certainly not a universal breakthrough as far as concepts go, but it’s a bit of a shift for me. I’m traditionally more of the opinion that it’s better to burn out than rust out. Having been born and raised most of my life in the great northeastern United States, I’m well acquainted with rust. I am, however, a bit wiser and more understanding that neither of the previously mentioned lifestyles is conducive to leading a community o’ faith. So I will downshift and begin the process of pacing. For the moment, it’s just me and the crows who are line sitting over the sidewalk outside of my window.
I began this morning by accompanying a group of preschoolers to a pumpkin farm. If that won’t clear your mind of anything seemingly life altering then I don’t know what will. Seeing life and priorities through the eyes of a 4 year old is quite refreshing and balancing. I’ve been reminded that to little boys, it’s still enjoyable to consider the art of booger eating. Three hours of this can be quite enough for some, but today it was far too short. So now it’s back down to the beach for me with this electronic keyboard, caffeine and a bit of “Magic” from The Boss on my headphones. I’m pacing myself.
For once I get to enjoy not trying to outguess life and figure out just where I should be at the end of the week. I don’t have any plans for the week, except to make some plans that might be worth carrying out. I don’t have any goals for the week except to come up with some goals that might be worthy of chasing.
It’s important to do this from time to time I think. Not doing so can leave me in danger of stranding those who are following out on a long stretch of desert road, much like Forrest Gump, while “Running on Empty” plays softly on some cosmic background track. I lead a somewhat public life, and in doing so, it’s often very sobering to know that, to some, I have an inside track to something they seek. They see me polished and clean and looking somewhat competent……….occasionally anyway. So I sometimes think that somehow I have a greater responsibility. I’m pacing myself.
The truth of the matter is that we all lead public lives. Some of us just have titles that make it more obvious, but we all live publicly. We are friends, parents, partners, and co-workers. We have influence, the power to choose to do good rather than evil, the choice to burn or rust. We can lift up or put down. The right things always take more energy than the wrong. I’m going to need some more pacing.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

history

G.K. Chesterton once proposed that, quite possibly, each morning, God says to the sun “Do it again!”. This morning is one of those I believe. As I drove down to the beach, the sun was painting watercolor streaks of magenta and orange against the misty, muted violet mountain lines on the eastern horizon. I realize some of you never get to see this. You should try it sometime. It’s worth the effort. And I couldn’t help but think, “Do it again!”. Upon arrival at my caffeinated home by the water I discovered that He was saying the same thing to a whole bunch of His other creation. Being Tuesday morning I am a day late in my routine due to some pressing needs, but even still it looks like Monday in here. God obviously had the same “Do it again” message for the seniors who haunt me here as well as our local law enforcement. History does seem to repeat itself.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a fan of history. I appreciate days gone by, antiques, and Nickelodeon. However, I’m much more enamored with the concept of being historical, rather than the simple passing of history. There is a difference. Very simply, history passes time, while, I believe, historical changes it forever. Everything that has happened throughout time leading up to my previous key stroke is history. Fewer moments can really be considered historical. I’ll give you an example. This past Sunday within my community o’ faith was history as soon as it was completed. This next Sunday will be historical long after it passes. This Sunday will be historical for us because, for the first time in our 100 years, we will not hold services on Sunday morning. Instead we will be in groups throughout the community performing acts of service. It’s historical because, this moment in time will alter our routine. It will challenge assumptions of “we always done it this way”. It will be a moment to be lived and savored, and then remembered as an “I was there” type of event. It will be invigorating for some. For others, simply frightening. Many who surround us would choose the routine and comfort of being history, rather than the risk and uncertainty of being historical.
I take comfort in the knowledge that God has been through history already, and remarkably, even as I type these words, this moment is history to him as well. He’s been there, He’s here now, and He’s already been where I’m going. I just read last night the reality that God has already said all that there is to say. There is nothing new to Him. There are no surprises. There is mystery to be sure, but only to us. He’s already covered all of the bases. If you don’t believe that then your God is too small. It’s already contained in the Book of Books. The key to unearthing it is interpretation. That’s where we have fallen woefully short. It has nothing to do with the shortcomings of the Creator, but rather the misguided meddling of the creation. I am certain that I have contributed plenty of meddling. I’m thankful that He can and does often work it somehow for good. Even still, each meddling day passes into night, and as the dawn approaches, He says “Do it again”, and we have another shot at being historical.

Monday, October 01, 2007

leading

I admit that I really have no idea what I’m doing most days. I may be able to put on a good showing, but most of any success that might be observed in my life is literally by the grace of the One who created me. I’m a follower more than a leader by nature. Leading tends to give me headaches. Following however, if done correctly, can appear brilliant and lead to its own success.
This process is a tough sell in corporate, the one who dies with the most toys wins, America. The same goes for the American church. The traditional view is overwhelmingly in favor of “leaders”. The type “A”, dog eating dog, top rung on the ladder people are the ones who get recognition. I happen to be in a position and a role that, at times, recognizes those very types. I have no doubt that it can be beneficial to the church community to have such people in such places. I have seen these instances first hand. I also have no doubt that it can be a trap from which a community o’ faith will be hard pressed to escape. Unfortunately I have witnessed this as well, along with throngs of media and tabloid subscribers.
I guess it could be argued that I have personal motive to feel the way I do. After all, I am by no means a type “A”. Even the thought of attempting to be one exhausts me. So if I would concede that the popular notion of leadership is the preferred one, then I would invalidate my own method. I cannot do that. I have seen too much evidence to the contrary. So the question becomes “How does one lead by following?”
I think that I have an answer. I didn’t say “the” answer. I said “an” answer. I believe that I learned this through a combination of life experience and faith experience. Before my life as a pastoral artist, I had a life working with sonar. Sonar is a brilliant technology which helps one see without the aid of sight. That concept fits my life most days. In simple terms, when one is underwater in a submarine, despite the images from Jules Verne, there are no picture windows to lounge in front of sipping cognac. You don’t look outside at 20,000 leagues under the sea. You travel by sending out signals and waiting for them to bounce back to you. The bouncing back of signals can determine anything from size and structure to distance of objects around you under the sea. From that information you get to adjust course or speed or torpedo launch.
Over the course of my new life I’ve learned to be a sonar type of leader, minus the torpedoes. Although, most days, a few could come in handy. In order to lead by this method, one needs to send signals. In my life of faith, it’s known as prayer. It’s a relatively simple process really but, like sonar technology, there is a huge element of faith in following what you can’t really see. . I don’t want to sound like I’m the only one who lives this way. Many people do. My experience is not that we need more signals being sent out, we really need more paying attention to the ones being sent back. We tend to filter out the ones that are uncomfortable or inconvenient. The ones that would cause us to alter our course are often sent back for reinterpretation. I know many who are off course, or they’ve already been torpedoed and it’s not because they haven’t gotten any signals back.
The key to leading by following is in interpreting the return signals. I’d be quite arrogant, I guess, if I claimed to be able to read the signals accurately. However, the more I send out, the better my chances are of getting some of the return ones right. So I hold no claim to success in any leadership endeavors. I really prefer to follow. The best I can hope for on any given day is to, by faith, follow the Leader.

Monday, September 24, 2007

gray

I went to bed last night looking forward to my time with some beach front caffeine. I even woke up this morning, early like a typical day, looking forward to my, shot in the dark, beginning to another week in the pastoral arts realm. For those of you who have not been cultured in the art of coffee, a shot in the dark for me is a grande (that’s graand – A) brewed straight coffee with a shot of espresso (not expresso). My life centers around it now pretty much and my 10 days back on the East coast drove home the reality that I can no longer consider living anyplace that I would have to go more than two blocks for a fix.
Really, I don’t know how the rest of civilization deals with a Maxwell House kind of life.
Anyway, before being sidetracked, as I was saying, or typing, I was looking forward to the day. Almost imperceptibly though, a change began to come over me on the way down to my Monday retreat. It’s almost as if the grayness of the morning sky seeped into my very being.
It is gray this morning. It’s probably a redundant statement considering I’m writing in Seattle. I like to think of it as the land of the concrete sky. Almost as if on cue, as the calendar changed to the first days of Fall, the grayness has begun its relentless march onto our landscape. Now, I want you to notice that I said nothing about rain. All the rumors of the rain in Seattle are pretty much left over desperate whinings of the natives trying desperately to keep the interlopers from southern California from settling here.
You want rain? Try Syracuse. You want gray? That’s what we’re here for. Gray doesn’t mean anything but gray here. It may rain, probably not. In Syracuse, gray means rain, sun means rain, a rogue wandering cotton like cloud means rain. This place is the Sahara compared to my east coast hometown.
This gray is different though. It’s not just the color of the water. It’s not just the marine layer, aka fog, aka overcast, whatever. It’s a point where, imperceptibly, a switch is turned and your soul downshifts, like a truck entering a mountain pass. My headphones become more melancholy, people seem more intrusive, and isolation more appealing. It’s as if a more intense level of quiet and self absorption will reveal an inner voice of comfort, offering answers to great mysteries of the universe and my own personal being. Fortunately for me, in the midst of the gray, almost according to some cosmic stage direction from “The Truman Show”, color happens. A tug boat passes.
It’s not much and you might not quite understand, but the brilliant red of the tug against the backdrop of dull reminds me of a greater truth. This day has purpose in and of itself, regardless of the surroundings. I can be color against the gray. Hope gets to stand in contrast to despair. The Master painter has a greater variety on his palette than I can even comprehend. It’s held out to me, on a Monday of all days, to choose from as I will. I’m not sure of the choice yet, but I can tell you that I will resist the gray.

Monday, September 17, 2007

roles

Joanne and I went on a date last night. After a week of playing many different roles, we were overdue for playing our most important one, that of a married couple still madly in love after 23 years. So when balance is needed we often find a way to get back into one of our favorite Seattle neighborhoods. We were taking in a movie and dinner at her favorite place. The movie, “Becoming Jane” was actually a good investment for us, despite being a fairly obvious female attraction. Anyway, as the credits scrolled at the end of the film, one particular role stood out very near the end of the cast of characters. It was simply listed as “Wine Whore”. The reaction from those of us lazy enough to still be sitting around near the end of the credits was immediate. “Wine Whore”? That’s just funny. As my wife shared, “just imagine telling grandma…Hey I’m the wine whore”. How does one prepare for that part?
As humorous as it was at the time, I guess you had to be there, I’m still contemplating that this morning as I sit here in my seat of caffeinated inspiration. I wonder if that is going to be her big break. I imagine her putting that proudly on her resume. It sure beats “extra” and probably pays a bit more. Will she be type cast in that role from now on? What kind of future is there for her in future films? Did I already see her in any of the “Pirates” films? What would the film have been like without a “wine whore”? It’s a role. It’s a legitimate one to be sure, but hopefully not one that is worn for life.
If one subscribes to the notion of life as art, then a parallel starts to come into focus. I have to then consider the roles that I have played or maybe am still playing. The greater question for me then becomes, when the cosmic game of “Scene it” is played out in the end of time, and the category is “Identify the actor” what will my scroll down resume of credits look like? And maybe more importantly, which role will I be most easily identified with?
I have played many, although I’ll have to confess, never the “wine whore”. I have been or currently am still playing roles such as son, brother, husband, dad, pizza delivery guy, youth pastor, computer tech, pastoral artist, friend, and far too many extras. Some of my roles have changed over time. Some have been refined, some need to be. Some are those that I’m not proud of and would not want to be type cast in. Some I would see as golden statue worthy. To a conscious movie critic, there are some roles that seem to be created for certain actors. These are the ones that get paraded each year on the red carpets. I wonder what mine would be.
A role has certainly been created for me and me for a role. Of this I am sure. Even without my level of faith in the Creator, I cannot deny the evidence of witnessing a fellow actor that is so well suited for a role that even golden statues cannot reward it. Golden streets are more likely. It’s not coincidence. It’s not accident. It is a role written by the Writer himself, with a particular actor in mind and the performance of a lifetime is the result. It’s a beautiful thing to witness. It’s certainly more inspiring than “wine whore”.

Monday, September 10, 2007

dawn

They say that it’s darker just before the dawn. I wouldn’t know. It’s not that I don’t get up early. I really do, but contrary to the popular belief of those who know me, it is not before dawn. My creator has graciously wired me to come on line just as the dawn has broken. Ok, so once in awhile he’s wired my alarm to go off then, the result is still the same. I’m up and witness to the unveiling of each new day. For the past several mornings, really since the return from my east coast vacation, my eyes have opened, as if on cue, 10 minutes before the alarm sounded. I enjoy this. In my limited and somewhat demented state I feel that this indicates that I have achieved some sort of balance. I call it life without alarm.
So I’m up early today, earlier than most, and anticipating all that He has in store for me. I’ve already seen some of it. The sky is progressing from that chalk- like gray blue, with a sliver of light outlining the skyline. Now, as the ferries glide across the bay like beacons, I can see the mountains rising behind the city and across the sound. They’re very much background ghosts at the moment, kind of like an artist who has stepped back into the shadows to witness the admiration of his work. The only shortcoming within this plan is that very few actually get to admire this repeating act of creation.
When I arrived at my beachfront caffeine supplier this morning, I was quite alone, except for the two who have graciously accepted the task of arriving here before me to make sure that my drink would be available on my schedule. So I get the amazing gift of sitting by the window, fresh with a morning gift deposited by a seagull, and watch this amazing display that pours forth every day. To be fair, there are a few hearty souls who chose to inhabit this part of the day with me.
Some have chosen this time of day. There’s the woman who is strolling by in rapid step, certainly on a mission directed by her cardiologist. The only thing tighter than the laces on her shoes seems to be the curls in her perm. It’s kind of impressive really. There are the seniors who are now just arriving. Did I say it was quiet here? Well it was, emphasis on was. In fact I was trying to do the morning without headphones, just a piped in jazz kind of thing to sooth my soul at the beginning of the week. But here they all come, so I guess it’s now headphones and Dave Matthews for me. Whatever.
Some have not chosen this time of day, but have had it chosen for them. There’s the walking dead, tethered to some very over anxious canine companions, being towed from bush to hydrant to bush to other bushes. There are those who have the misfortune to have real jobs with real schedules and real bosses that hold them to real deadlines. These poor unfortunate souls stand dutifully at the bus stop, looking quite like travelers in C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” waiting for transport to the great beyond. For them, it’s simply downtown, but I can see how you could confuse the two.
I myself choose this time of day because it is valuable to me. It brings me hope. No matter the day previous, I get to live in this one and I wait anxiously each day for it to be unveiled to me. It gives me more time. I have always gotten up early for as long as I can remember. I can’t imagine life any other way. Even with more hours actually lived than the average American, time has still gone by way too fast. This past week I celebrated a birthday. It was one of those double same digit birthdays that are only exciting until you reach a certain decade. This one was manageable, but it did remind me, as I was blessed to spend the weekend with my now adult children, that my dawns are becoming somewhat more limited. I remember dawns interrupted by little feet padding across the floor. I remember dawns shortened by school day drives and discussions about homework and baseball and lunch time choices. Those are past regardless of how early I rose. I can’t imagine what it would be like if my waking hours had been shortened.
So now I continue to enjoy my show in a much different venue, in a different environment, on another coast. The show is always different, but the promise remains the same. It’s a new chance to make new marks and impact new lives. The creator of the show still calls, “take it while you have it”. It’s easy to hear the call this time of day, in the stillness. That is until my new morning interruptions arrive. I don’t know about the whole darkness and dawn thing, but I can tell you that it’s always quietest before the seniors.

Monday, September 03, 2007

highlighter

I am a reader. From the early days of elementary school when my mom would take me to the great mysterious library until now I have read everything that I can get my hands on. To be fair, I know plenty of people who read more than me, some of them walking through life literally with a book in their hand. But I do read more than the average Joe or Jane.
It’s not just that I read frequently, I just read everything. I read labels, packaging on toilet paper, and every magazine that ever found its way into a waiting room . I've read about hair, health, and homes more times than is probably healthy. I’m always searching for that illustrious bit of trivia that only I would care about. And I do know truckloads of useless trivia, enough to keep my wife campaigning for me to park my butt on a game show. I’m not really tempted though. In all of if I’m still not sure that I’d be smarter than a fifth grader.
A thought ran through my brain last night about my reading patterns. Yesterday was the day that we were able to connect with our history as a family during a outdoor picnic event for us to be able to introduce my daughter in law to our east coast connection. Friends and family, some of whom I haven’t seen since moving west 7 years ago all came by to hang out for awhile. As I shared with some very special connections, both family and friends, it was like picking up and old favorite again to go back through its familiar chapters.
I said I read a lot, but I didn’t say that I was good at it yet. When one reads, especially for information sake, it is a good idea, and actually common sense, to have a highlighter with you as you delve into the pages searching for treasure. A highlighter vividly marks the special place and calls out, “Remember me! I’m that thought you were looking for”. It’s a way to mark your past and to identify that which is most important in your experience with the wisdom in the words. You could at least take notes or something. I seldom do either. As a result, I frequently find myself with bits of information in my brain and not the reference point to go back to. It’s not until I stumble upon the book again, sometimes years later, and recover the lost pages, that I am reivigorated by the truth contained within.
As I said, yesterday was like finding an old favorite and thumbing through the pages. Some of it was as a third person spectator, watching others reconnect who have not connected since the last time that our relationships connected them. Just like my old books, everyone was a bit more worn from time. Some have certainly advanced and the meaning of their relationships enhanced by our experience through the years. Some things have certainly changed, but the treasure was familiar and most certainly there as the pages were turned back.
I find myself at a place in life just as I find my relationship with a favorite book. I hesitate when I read it again. As the pages open and I rediscover the treasure inside that has been hidden by the years, I want to stop and linger. I am tempted to keep reading it over and over. But there are new books calling me. Barnes and Noble have both stayed open late for me to peruse their aisles and experiences. So I tuck the book back on its shelf and anticipate the next time that I’ll get to pull it back out and wander through its pages. In the mean time, a new book is just waiting for me to wade into its introduction. Hopefully this time, I’ll bring the highlighter.

Monday, August 27, 2007

vacation

I’m on vacation. Just being able to write those words should somehow elicit some overwhelming feelings of joy shouldn’t it? Vacation….I’ll write it again and see if it sinks in. I had always expected more. I’m having a “Princess Bride” moment right now. You know the line. “Vizini, you use that word a lot, I do not think it means what you think it means…” That’s how I’m feeing about vacation.
It used to be that I had high hopes for what one might actually be like. That was, of course, back in the day before I could afford to really take a true vacation. You know the type, airlines, rental cars, eating out, blah, blah, blah. Now that I’m older and more capable of taking said vacation, not to mention that I’m older and really need said vacation, I have found that it is all illusion.
A friend asked me, “where would you go on vacation if you could go anywhere?” That’s a nice thought. I really didn’t have an answer for that. Every place I could think of involved airlines and rentals and eating out and the like. From experience, I know that these ingredients do not combine well to form a “vacation”. The only thing it’s a vacation from is reason.
The first indication that all is not what I would have expected is the fact that I’m sitting at home, drinking my own coffee while I write this because we can’t be late for THE AIRPORT. Actually we would be fine except my wife needs to squeeze in a stop at the chiropractor to help her survive the flight to the east coast. She really needs a vacation.
We’re headed back to Syracuse for this years version of a vacation. Actually it’s kind of a last fling as a whole family opportunity. It will be the first time in 6 years that we’re all back together and now we’ll have my daughter in law in tow for her inaugural visit to the “holy land” of childhood memories.
We’re going back to relive some memories and share some experiences with her so that she can understand a little more about who we are and where we came from. Whatever… Anyway, I hope that these experiences really existed somewhere besides the Norman Rockwell lobe of our brains. I’m desperately wanting some relaxation and normalcy. It’s not starting out well, the airline has already changed the seats on our flight and left us with an ominous “seats will be assigned at check in” message on my email. In other words, “We’ve severely overbooked your flight and you could in fact loose the seats that you purchase in January to some “Johnny (or Jenny) come lately” who bought the same seats yesterday”. I can’t wait.
Anyway, it starts today. I’m trying to stay positive even while my flight reminder boasts to me that my particular flights having a stellar 50 and 60 percent on time rating. Why would you post that? I’m trying to relax. I’m sure that I’ll enjoy most of it along the way, as soon as I get away from the airlines and rental car agencies. This may be more than a bit cynical this morning. Cut me some slack. I need a vacation.

Monday, August 20, 2007

access

I live within a closed world. At least sometimes it’s closed. Too often it’s closed.
It shouldn’t be closed at all….ever. After all, the one who created said world formed it with quite the opposite view in mind. The world I refer to is the world of my faith.
Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not closed unto myself. It is actually the community which one becomes associated with when living within a faith context that can too easily become closed.
We can speak our own language. We have our own symbols. We have initiation rights and coded conversations. To be fair, most of us don’t realize that we’re doing it. Many that I am friends with would never seek to live in that vein. And to be fairer still, I have been part of many subcultures who act in much the same manner. In my manufacturing engineering days I existed in a culture of acronyms. Never knowing what any of these letters or designations stood for, we would pompously posture ourselves to show off our limited yet impressive sounding vocabulary. In the end, all it amounts to is words and letters representing over-priced junk.
That is why, when my present world as pastoral artist begins to close in around me and my community o’ faith, I begin to panic. The world I used to represent was somewhat meaningless in the annals of time. Every acronym ever perpetuated by that life will become obsolete even in my own lifetime and much of it already has. This world that I live and breathe even as I type these words will be eternal. Even the nonsense on this blog will outlive my past life's accomplishments in creative engineering. This current world is life and death. It’s real and important and far too often closed to those who seek it.
It is closed in by its own acronyms. It gets buried in “Jesus junk” and can be perpetuated by people who are too comfortable among their own to enjoy the creativity of the very world God has called us to reveal. In the old section of the Book of Books, God has written that His very presence and influence has been written in the skies and the earth that surround us, for all to see. He has given us an all access pass. In the new section, when observing nature was not clear enough for us, He came in the form of a baby and then through the influence of a growing presence, walking among those whom He created. Even in the midst of that we can read about others who lived by the acronyms of comfortable faith. And we also get to read of the outcomes of those choices. Read closely and once again you get an all access pass to the heart of God.
It’s a great formula actually. He writes the story, He paints the stage, and in the end He becomes the main character. That is all access. I’m sorry to say that too many of my kind have distorted the picture. We have tagged the canvas of the Great Artist, sometimes to the point that the masterpiece becomes unrecognizable. My prayer, for my part, is that I would be more of a guide and less of a bouncer. My job isn’t to check credentials. I just need to provide access.

Monday, August 13, 2007

wrestling

I’m into wrestling lately it would seem. I’m not referring to the “men in tights”, thrashing around on a big mat, type of wrestling. I’m also not referring to the chair on the head, cage match to the death, arena lights and fog machines, pseudo rock star world of the WWF. It’s a more personal form of wrestling. It’s like shadow wrestling if there was such a thing. Most of us deal with it. Some of us deny it and still others are treated for it.
The opponent is a formidable one to be sure. Everyone has, is, or will face him. In my life, I’ll just call the opponent “the point”. Some would call him “purpose”. You may call him "meaning". Whatever the name, the contest is the same.
I refer to it as wrestling because I know the feelings, emotional and physical that are attached to a real life wrestling match. Unknown to most, except those who have known me from childhood, is the deep secret that I was once a person of the mat. I was actually fairly good at it. In my short tenure I was only beaten once. I have ribbons packed away to prove it. If I had continued, it may have transformed into a “men in tights” kind of thing. The very thought of that possibility still makes me cringe. Anyway, as I said, I was only beaten once. That one defeat is important because it wasn’t just defeat. I seem to recall that I was soundly thrashed. It is that feeling that still lingers at times when I get into wrestling mode with “the point”. It is an, on your back, bridging to keep your shoulders up, counting referee and screaming spectator, anxiety that tells you that you must gain control or you’ll be hearing the slap on the mat signal to the end of the match.
Now to be honest, for me, wrestling with “the point” doesn’t have quite the same dire consequences that being pinned would have to a middle school boy. It’s more of a flooding of signals all screaming for attention and my seeking to address the one move which will put me back on top of “the point”. But what is that one move?
For those of you who haven’t experienced the exhilaration of a public wrestling match, I need to tell you that in the midst of your contest you will be receiving all sorts of advice as to just which move you should make. These are all well meaning suggestions of course, but the truth of the matter is that most of them are coming from women and overweight, out of shape men whom obviously haven’t had the opportunity to actually wrestle in quite some time. They mean well, but since they are not actually in your tights, their advice is just not the same as being there. It’s not much different when you wrestle with “the point”. There is no lack of suggestions from well intentioned bystanders and not so well intentioned marketers. I can, in fact, right from my window this morning, tell you what the various advertising, within sight of my table, has to say about what the next move should be. I just now put down a professional magazine which struck me as being full of suggestions for what my next move might be.
I know “the point” that has been set before me quite well. I am one of the lucky ones who have a fairly good understanding of it in my own life. The Author of my story has written me in fairly clearly to the pastoral arts field. It’s not really the what of “the point” that I wrestle with from time to time, it’s more of the how. You may be in the same conflict.
I don’t have any advice. I may have spent time in my own tights, but not yours. All I can say is don’t give up. Somewhere, locked inside your experience, the Author of your life has written a move which will put you on top of your match. I didn’t say that you’d win. Neither you or I will experience the ultimate outcome until the Referee calls an end to the match. My one defeat may have been a sound thrashing, but I was never pinned and I never gave up. And I went on to win my next one before calling it quits. It’s best to finish on top.

Monday, August 06, 2007

intersection

It’s amazing the things that one notices when paying attention. I’ve been coming to this particular part of the universe most weeks for the past year or so. And is my nature, I usually sit in the exact same place. Some would call that boring. Some would call that predictable. I call it calculated. Whatever. It’s just who I am. Anyway, this morning, as I sat at my corner table, I realized something very profound. I face the corner, but just to the left of my table is a window. There is also one just to my right, next to me in fact. Looking straight ahead, my view is divided by the corner into two distinctly different worlds. I’ll refer to the one on my left as “coming” and the one to my right as “going”.
In the world of “coming”, off to my left, there are streams of people and their various means of transportation slowing to approach the intersection. They have decisions to make as well as signals to give. Some are approaching with caution and some are testing the laws of physics and braking distances, but all have a directional choice to make as they approach the intersection of “coming” and “going”. Some will give electrically generated signals. Some will give hand signals. I’ve even witnessed individuals extending hand gestures, although I think that these are more of an indication where they feel other travelers should go. It’s nice that they are willing to be so helpful though. Some give no signals. I’ve come to believe that these individuals either have no thought as to where they are going, or else they could care less if others know which way they are about to choose. Some wait for the green. Some go right on red. Still others are obviously color blind and treat red as green and green as red.
In the world of “going” life is much different. There are fewer decisions to be made. Actually the only one that these people appear to be making is how far through these floor boards can I push this pedal? Many of these folks just got off of the ferry so I imagine that possibly they haven’t gotten their land legs quite yet. At least their driving seems to indicate that. There are some in the world of “going” who are not in cars. Even these people seem to walk with a bit more purpose than the “coming” pedestrian types. They’ve made up their minds. They have turned the corner and are striding towards their destination. Either that or they’ve spied the bus stop and the obvious signs of their bus beginning to pull away from the curb.
One benefit of sitting in my seat is that I can also see people making the transition from “coming” to “going”. Change in lives takes place right before my eyes. Same cars, same lives, but new worlds. Decisions have been made, goals have been set, and journeys taken in new directions. It’s amazing what one can observe when paying attention to the surroundings that we are placed in.
I love that about the pastoral arts profession that I have chosen, the changed lives I mean. I love being able to be around to see the life altering decisions that are made. People can change directions and choose to follow or not to follow certain paths and then when the direction is chosen, there can be a refreshing deliberateness in their journey. Some will decide to choose the road less traveled. Some are going to choose to lead instead of follow. It’s the undecided ones that are a mystery.
You know some of those. Some of you are some of those. They are the ones who sit still at green lights, when it is obvious that one can proceed. They are the ones who sit at red lights, waiting to turn right with no approaching traffic, and yet still don’t take advantage of the legal right to proceed. You know them. You have been behind them. You may have tried to gently encourage them on their way. You may have even included gestures to inspire their directional choice. These are the ones who make my life interesting. With them all bets are off. All I can offer from an outsiders point of view is prayer for guidance. They may care if they knew that I’m praying for them, they may not. I just consider it an honor to be at their intersection in the same moment.

Monday, July 30, 2007

signals

I have an interesting, for me anyway, dilemma at the moment. It’s certainly not life threatening, and easily resolved for me. I’m sitting here with a blank screen and a blank mind and hoping for God to drop inspiration into my lap so I can get my writing fix in at the beginning of the week. Inspiration in the form of an annoyance appears. Not exactly how I would have scripted it, but I’ll take what I can at the moment. This is where the dilemma enters.
Lately, it seems, that whenever I fire up my trusty porto-pc at this particular caffeinated establishment, I get conflicting signals for my wireless. Here’s the issue. In this place I can look out the window, across the corner, to a Starbucks. I realize that this is not such a stretch in Seattle. So anyway, I fire up my laptop and it automatically seeks signal from a friendly wi-fi provider. The place that I frequent, Tully’s, has free wi-fi. The venue across the street does not. In fact it has a very expensive choice for wi-fi that I will not mention lest I be sued on top of the wi-fi charge.
Anyway, the obvious sane preference is going for free, and sometimes the signal from here kicks in immediately. But occasionally the extortionist from across the street increases impulse power like a tractor beam from the Starship Enterprise and it beseeches me to log on for only $19.95 per month. Now I will admit, the reason this happens is that I have, in fact, at one time gone over to the dark side and created an account with the previously mentioned extortionists. It was a desperate time. I was in New Orleans a few months after the hurricane on a relief mission and it was the only game in town at the time to provide outside updates to those who cared about our trip. I understand the extortion then, everyone seems to be doing it at the scene of natural disasters. I’m told it’s supply and demand. I’d call it a load of crap. However, it is what it is.
After some extra strokes of the keyboard I can solve my dilemma and log into the free wi-fi that I have come to expect. Here’s the inspirational parallel though that I was seeking. As I reflect on my daily situations and decision making, I often know what I prefer. I often know the right thing to do versus the wrong thing. However, more than I care to admit, the signals come in from everywhere else but the place that I’m at, and there can often be confusion as to what is really the profitable thing to do. Sometimes the signal comes in the form of something more recognizable. I am convinced that some people pay the ridiculous fees because it is what is provided at the mecca of coffee. They already pay the increased coffee prices, so why not add wi-fi to it as long as they can be with the “in” crowd. There is a culture who would rather be poor and “inside” than responsible and “outside” in those other places. They can’t think deeper than the brand and the advertising and they’ll buy anything associated with it. I don’t blame them, the signals can overpower at times and it appears that these choices, no matter how costly, are the only choices. I interact with a good many people who question whether, indeed, there is right and wrong at all. Is it all relative to the situation? I think the answer to this one is a bit more obvious than we may care to admit. How much does it cost? Every decision has some type of cost associated with it. Wrong choices cost a great deal. They may cost relationships. They may cost health. They may cost security. It is nearly beyond my ability to comprehend how deceived people truly are who don’t see that poor choices come from bad signals.
It’s not that I don’t always know when the signals are wrong. Probably, for the most part I do. The question is in the effort that it takes to make the right ones. Honestly, in the case of my wi-fi, I have less clicks of my mouse to log into $19.95 per month than I do for free. I the moment, it really is easier to pay. The problem comes at the end of the month, when the bill comes due. That is when I realize the cost of following the wrong signal. By that time it’s too late, and I have to pay.

Monday, July 23, 2007

limits

I’m trying to regain a sense of control this week. Selfishness has been taking a beating lately. During this past week, little has been about me. That’s ok I guess, for a week anyway. I’d rather not make this a habit though. Last week was about college, and movies, and artists, and internships, and weddings, and herniated discs and cars, none of which were mine, but all of which I was responsible for. This week didn’t promise to start off any better.
Last night, in thinking through just the mornings tasks, I nearly had a panic attack. At least I thought it might be one. I’ve never had one, but I imagine they feel that way. It ended quickly though when I resolved to get up extra early today to start the week with some caffeinated beach time to try and establish balance real early. I’ve heard that the best defense is a good offense so I’ve decided to go on the offensive today and take some of my selfish time right at the beginning. I’ve discovered that if one finds that there is not enough time in the day, just get up earlier and make more. It’s working for me at the moment.
I was feeling a bit guilty about all of this. Let me clarify. I’ve been feeling only a hint of guilt about the selfishness. I should feel more I know, but the older I get the less guilt I feel. I think it will totally disappear when I retire and then, like millions of other retired people, I will do whatever the heck I want to do. I’ll probably order Big Mac’s at Burger King and Whoppers at McDonalds and both with coffee and no one will be able to tell me I’m wrong. Did I say that out loud? Anyway, it’s only been a hint of guilt. Then I read these encouraging words in the “Book of Books”, “Then Jesus went off to a solitary place”.
So there it is. The creator of the universe and everything in it, the Savior sent for all mankind, the King of kings, Lord of lords, Alpha and Omega, every once in awhile must have had enough. So off He went to a solitary place. I chose Tully’s. It’s not quite the same, but then again neither are we. I would guess that He dealt with more schedule alteration in a week than I’ll deal with in my life. The amazing thing is that it was pretty much, as far as I can tell, without caffeine. It’s probably why He chose wine, but that’s another line of discussion.
So here I am, at the start of a new week. All that I know for certain is that it will be a week and I guess that it will be whatever I choose it to be. I’ll need some solitary places. I’ll need lots of caffeine, and before its over I might even be longing for wine. What I do know is this….It’s beginning right now, ready or not and I need to get out of here and live with it. The retired crowd has just shown up. I know my limits

Monday, July 16, 2007

There

Life is totally off center today. I didn’t get to any of my places of inspiration. I barely got coffee at all really. Don’t feel bad for me though. Compared to what is going on around me, these details are insignificant. The two main ladies in my life are in crisis which means my needs can wait a bit. Their situations are far from similar, which makes their needs not even remotely close, which then translates into a magnified challenge for me. My wife’s crisis is physical. She has another herniated disc in her lower back. This makes three consecutive summers with unplanned spinal failures which have fairly well debilitated those of us who depend on her. It’s not just what she does that we miss, but it’s also who she is that is incomplete. My daughter, has a crisis all her own. It’s known to most of us as the pursuit of higher education and the quest to find oneself. It is also a painful journey which should not be taken alone. That’s where I come in. I need to be there for both of them.
So I spent the morning with my wife at the chiropractor and now the afternoon with my daughter. In fact this page is originating from what’s commonly referred to as a Student Union. They haven’t changed much since the pre-Microsoft days of my own higher education.
In fact I think I recognize the same students sleeping in the same chairs in the same lounge with the same books open. It’s kind of a Rip VanWinkle thing going here. Anyway, here I sit waiting for her to get through her assessment testing.
I wish that it was that simple. Assessment testing I mean. Like if you could just take a test which would place your life on track in a whole and satisfying way. I wish that guidance counselors really did have answers that could help. In my pastoral arts profession I get to do something wonderful called referral. If I don’t have the answers, then I can refer to someone who does, and I frequently exercise that gift because, really, I have few answers. Parenting doesn’t allow for many referrals.
I didn’t say that many parents don’t refer out. Unfortunately they do. I say unfortunately because in the end, I’ve discovered, that children, no matter what the age, don’t really need answers as much as they need parents. Let me make this a bit clearer to any parentals, as my daughter refers to them, who might be reading this. They want to know you care more than they need you to have the answers. They want you to journey with them, not pay for a professional guide. That’s not to say that there are no occasions for professional guidance. It’s just that in my experience, most of that should be reserved for the parents.
So for me, I’m left with a feeling of complete inadequacy. With my wife, I can comfort her, get her something to drink, help her get dressed, move pillows, rotate ice packs and steady her on walks. It doesn’t solve her back issues. I have realized though that just my presence brings her comfort. For my daughter, my presence is the key as well. I try to know her. I wish that I could understand the intricacies of being a female in her phase of life, I’m not yet convinced that even God knows. I know that she’s scared, although she puts up a good front. I know that she has doubts and I wish that I could reassure her.
I’m sitting here in the twilight zone of a college campus, remembering my own freshman experience in a time long ago and a galaxy far away. I can see myself sitting at one of these tables, without the laptop of course, not having the faintest clue of what having a daughter would be like. It was pretty close to the furthest thing from my mind. And now, I look and here I am, with someone that same age is looking to me to provide some insight or wisdom learned from all of those years in between. I’m embarrassed to tell you that I don’t remember nearly enough of the in between. I can tell you this though. What I have learned is this. Parents develop all kinds of delusions about what the ultimate parent must be. You can be funny. You can be serious. You can be lenient, strict, generous, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. All they need is for you to be there.

Monday, July 09, 2007

gifts

It’s crowded in here this morning. I’m a bit later than usual so I avoided the beach this morning, but this isn’t much better. Even the local police are having a hard time finding a seat. I’m not giving up mine. I’ve given enough to local law enforcement lately, but let’s not go there today. They have their jobs to do. It’s just that they seem to enjoy it so much when it’s not to my benefit. I do have to admire the attitude though. To love what you do is certainly a gift that not nearly enough get to experience. I have a feeling that this has a direct effect on the mid-life crisis phenomenon.
I know this to be true. I’ve already been there and come out on the other side. Growing up in a success driven culture, an understanding is formed that you need to be good at what you do. Good is successful right? Good brings you recognition. Recognition brings you finances, and finances bring you security, and security brings you happiness, right? Maybe. Most likely not though. Mostly it’s a load of crap. The only ones to get rich off of this concept is the counselors who treat those of us who have been sold this concept and the ones who right the books that encourage us onwards toward being good.
Now, lest this become depressing and morose and melancholy and whatever else leads one to turn to the goth side, let me brighten the day. Good may be good, but loving is best. Allow me to elaborate. It’s all well and good to have expertise in your chosen life’s work as long as, and only as long as, you are passionate about what you do. If it lifts you out of bed in the morning and helps you seek the beginning of each new day, then you have my permission to pursue expertise in it. After all, being good at something certainly enhances the experience. It doesn’t however create the experience. The love of it naturally leads to the expertise, it doesn’t work the other way around.
I have recently been honored to be surrounded by people in my community o’ faith who truly love what they do regardless of the status and compensation. Yesterday I was able to enjoy the presence of a truly gifted guitarist. He was beyond gifted actually, one of the best I’ve seen and certainly the best I’ve met personally. The energizing thing about being around him though was his obvious love for what he did and his “God will provide” attitude in which he pursues the sharing of his gift. I was able to witness artists and artist “someday will- be’s” contributing to a collaborative painting that takes place each week during our teaching time. The love of the experience brings it all to life as I get to do what I love in my pastoral arts role while they get to communicate in a way that they love in the visual arts discipline.
Even better news for you reading this today is that you can start today, doing something that you love I mean. It is a gift and you don’t need to wait until tomorrow to open it. (Unless of course you’re reading this at 11pm). Why do you do what you do? Is it because it is the responsible thing to do? The cynics will ask “what if everyone just did what they really loved, willy nilly, with no regard to salary, security, or family?”. I’d respond that we would all be in a much happier place. God can handle it. I see Him as big picture, as in the Milky Way galaxy, and He’s in the details. Just look at your fingers as you type. A new dynamic would be created, maybe even a new paradigm. (I’ve never been able to use that word so I thought I’d just stick it in here)
What will my wife say, my husband, my kids? They just might say “I love you” more if you are an enjoyable person to be around. I would suggest that you would be a more enjoyable person to be around if you are immersed in the gift of what you love. If you love what you do, truly love it with every bit of your being, it’s probably because you’re doing what you were created to do. So do it with every ounce of your being. Take a risk and really live life. Jesus promised life more abundant for those who choose to live life according to His plan. If you are of the persuasion that you don’t buy into the Jesus thing, well consider this. You only have one life. Make it count. I’m confident that mine will count in this one and the next. What about you? It is your gift and the only thing better than getting a gift is sharing yours along the way. That is really the only thing that we’re called to be successful at anyway.

Monday, July 02, 2007

calling

I’m back at the beach this morning. I feel smarter here sometimes. Let me put it this way, if gray hair is a sign of wisdom and knowledge, I’m swimming in the Encyclopedia Britannica this morning. The retired crew is out in force inside and outside. I’m beginning to think that the promised rapture has come and only taken those under 50, with a few notable exceptions at caffeine central.
The sun is out, the water is blue, the mountains still white, and the ferries are dutifully carrying their cargo of those less fortunate to real jobs across the bay. I on the other hand, live and breathe in the realm of pseudo employment. By that I mean, I don’t necessarily have real hours in which I perform the tasks for which I receive financial reward. This might sound like a brilliant plan to operate by but, let me assure you, it’s not always all that it seems. As a pastoral artist, I really kind of get paid for being instead of doing.
In order to really be effective at this, I believe anyway, I can’t be confined to a 9 to 5 schedule. That would mean that I would need to be giving, serving, loving, patient, reverent, and all the rest of those admirable pastoral qualities all within the regular schedule of traditional office hours. When off the clock, I would be free to unwind and be a total jack ass. All deaths would have to be between 9 and 5. Of course I would need an hour for lunch a few 15 minute breaks in between, so please no marital strife then either. I can’t do weddings unless you want to deal with time and a half for overtime and Sunday messages…… don’t even go there. I have rights you know.
Fortunately, someone had the wisdom, somewhere back in time, to understand this. They must have had a full head of gray hair. It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure. It is if you treat it right anyway. It’s actually more of a calling. Honestly, sometimes I wish that I had caller ID back when I received “the call”. Most of the time though, I really appreciate this life. I mean really, how many ever get to be paid for just being rather than doing. Pastors and artists, successful ones anyway, both share in the idea of being financially compensated for being. I guess that is part of the reason for my self proclaimed title of pastoral artist.
So I’m watching the ferries and letting this stream of consciousness role through my synapses, and I wonder what life would be like if more were identified by their roles and not just their tasks. Granted, there would be some disadvantages. There are some professions that, while absolutely worthy and essential to our civilization, would not wear well as a 24/7 role to play. There are some jobs that need to be left after the shift, but all the same they require a level of skill and care and effort that could carry over into our being. On the other hand, what would life be like if people lived their roles beyond the pay scale? What if teachers lived lives that taught all of the time? What if physicians were consumed with healing? What if lawyers….well never mind. There are admittedly some flaws in the concept.
I don’t really think that this is a one size fits all concept. I have assimilated some of the wisdom in this place, after all. I do think that this carries over in other aspects of life. In my life, it’s essential that I live my chosen mission. There are demands and responsibilities that go with the description. I knew this going into it, as do most who take on a task or a role for which they are wearing a title. Doctors know this, lawyers know this, flight attendants know this, baristas know this, cooks know this, and landscapers know this. Most times, unless you have a union job, the title identifies the task.
It’s my professional opinion that people of faith need to know this as well. To call yourself a Christian, for example, comes with certain expectations. They identify the role. When in a hospital, it’s not too big a stretch to tell who the doctor is. They act like doctors. When in a courtroom, it’s not difficult to identify the lawyers. On a beach, the life guards are readily identifiable as is the ice cream guy driving by in the truck. When in a church, you should be able to identify at least some of the Christians. When outside of their natural settings, it becomes a bit more challenging to separate any of them, one from another. You might wonder why I even take the time to care about this at all. I’m glad you asked.
Here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter as much if you can’t identify the others outside of their task. Christians, on the other hand, even more so the professional ones, are specifically called to be identified outside of their environments. Being identified on the inside is not a very big deal. In fact their environments aren’t supposed to be their environments at all. I’ll take just one more minute to address those who share my faith. We are supposed to exist outside. We are supposed to be more than do. Ours is a calling, not a title. Some of us are paid for this and therefore have a higher obligation to live and love and serve, but only lightly higher. None of us are hired, all of us are called. So take some time, after 5 of course, to go outside and practice being. It’s a good life when you live it.

Monday, June 25, 2007

enthusiasm

Things are a bit brighter at this time of day. I had a date with about 100 kids this morning which took priority over the caffeine hideout. It’s a good change for me actually. I get a different drink, one that’s cold and blended as opposed to hot enough and stiff enough to blast me headlong into the week. This one is just smooth and soothing. It goes well with the sunshine streaming in from the street. I also have a fresh perspective, compliments of said 100+ cherubs who I was surrounded by all morning.
They reminded me what enthusiasm looks like. They also reminded me where enthusiasm came from.
At the risk of exerting my pastoral artist influence, I’ll just share that “enthusiasm” literally means “in God”. It is from “en – theos”. I had forgotten that bit of trivia. Fortunately 100+ “enthusiastic children did not. I was brought face to face with enthusiasm “en – theos” this morning as these children in question went crazy over the idea that the creator of the universe loves them unconditionally and, as a result, they are “enthusiastically” willing to love Him back.
The cynical ones in any crowd might observe that this is merely another occurrence of brain washing or crowd hysteria. Now I can be as cynical as the next guy, but allow me to share that this would be a load of crap. I’ve seen brain washing and I’ve witnessed crowd hysterics and none of this is even in the same league as the enthusiasm of a child showing appreciation for being loved. It’s a magical thing to witness really with not much room for cynicism.
Allow me to be philosophical for a moment, and believe me, for only a moment. I wouldn’t want to hurt myself. Contemporary social science teaches us that we have two innate needs within the human species. One is to love, and the other is to be loved. Coincidentally, or not, the Book of Books teaches us that we were created to love and to be loved. It would seem to me that reason would dictate that when even one of these aspects are being met, then a response would be demanded. We certainly have seen the wreckage from lives where these fundamental needs are not being met. It would also seem likely that we should give credit where credit is due.
Somewhere within the ancient wisdom and philosophy that many are quick to quote as a sort of merit badge for intellectual superiority lies the origin of the enthusiasm that I was privileged to witness this morning. Somewhere in classical thought, someone observed the reaction that we now call enthusiastic and decided that it’s origin was in fact “en-theos”. In other words, it was in and from God.
Basically, it is so much fun and enjoyment and joy all wrapped up into a demonstrative life. My wife is a very demonstrative person. You could say that she’s enthusiastic about life and you would be right on. It does indeed come from “en-theos”. It’s a great thing to watch how she takes in life. The inspiring part is that it is a natural expression of her child-like appreciation for the One who loves her unconditionally. The irony is that many who encounter her have a hard time believing that she is the spouse of a pastoral artist, let alone even a person of Christian faith. She could be a poster child for a living breathing faith, but for many it doesn’t add up. They’ve never seen it before.
Their experience is stoic, serious, prudent, and anti whatever the cause may be, people who look like the last thing on their daily agenda is to have a bit of fun, and then only fun with the strictest of guidelines. I don’t want to become one of those people. Let me be clear though, I don’t doubt their faith. I do question their understanding of what it means.
Jesus once declared that when you know the truth, “the truth will set you free”. The imagery that comes to mind is captives being set free. Too often I see the free looking like their being taken captive.
It is possible to live life enthusiastically “en theos”. I was able to witness it again this morning as 100+ children were led to show appreciation for being loved unconditionally. I have to admit that it seems so much easier for children to be able to demonstrate this. That is, until I remember the one who was leading said 100+ children this morning. She is very much an adult and very much “en-theos”. There’s hope for me still.