Monday, February 26, 2007

gym

I need to go to the gym. That’s not a huge revelation for anyone who sees me on a regular basis. The good news is that I actually belong to a gym. It rather humorous to even write that phrase down. A gym membership is one of those luxuries that I had always looked down upon as frivolous. I looked on those with “gym” memberships the same way that I looked on those who had their shirts cleaned, pressed, and starched and then picked up once a week, only to begin the whole absurd process over again. I now take my shirts out to be done. And while I’m confessing life on a different plane of consumerism, I’ll also let it out that we shop at a local “Natural…designer” pet store for my ridiculous cat. Her food costs more per ounce than my own. How the mighty have fallen. Anyway, back to the gym. Since I have this membership, and pay monthly for it, I feel the need to use it. My wife and I have had memberships together for about 6 months now. The hardest part about the gym is not the treadmill, the weights, the stair-creature or anything that one may encounter there. The hardest thing is actually getting there with any regularity. The only thing that gives me peace is that, once inside the guys locker room and shower area, it’s readily and disturbingly apparent that some people have an even more difficult time of getting there regularly than I do.
I’m not sure what it is that inspires men to think that the bigger they become, the smaller their shorts need to be. I mean, after all, people in clothing manufacturing go to great lengths to put sizes in the labels. I know that I shouldn’t think this way because, in my life, judgments have a tendency to become curses. Before I know it, I am one. Remember the shirts I always say. All of this, in some way, the shorts, the shirts, the gym, involve discipline. I need that. Actually I’m not sure if it’s discipline or routine. When the routine is there, the discipline follows right behind. On the other hand, if the routine gets broken, then its discipline that’s needed to get the routine back on track. There seems to be a parallel working. Right now, my routine has been broken twice in the past 3 months for extended periods. First it was a sprained ankle that kept me out for a week. Although I must say that I fought through it and returned much sooner that others half my age with multi- billion dollar contracts would have. Most recently the routine was broken again with a back injury. My wife has tried encouraging me to try her physical therapist induced water aerobics class at the gym. I’d rather not, but I’m not saying anything more than “no thank you” lest I encourage another curse.
My physical health parallels my spiritual journey in some very interesting ways. Again, it seems to be a tension between routine and discipline. I need discipline to establish routine and then routine increases discipline. Just like my gym attendance, I’ve never been able to be consistent in my “God-class” attendance. I’m sure when the role is called on many days and my “here” is not recorded, that my presence is missed. It’s not that the days objectives cannot be met, but it may not be as complete as He’d have envisioned it. It’s not that I don’t want to be there. I really do everyday, and not because I’m paying for it. There are some days that I ache for time spent in His presence, even if for nothing more than assurance that I matter. I matter with no regard to how big or small my shorts are. I am worth something even if my biceps aren’t where they were designed to be.
The difference, between spiritual and physical health, is profound. When I’m at the gym, I’m not sure whether or not its doing any good, but I feel that I’m at least contributing. I’ve paid for it and I’m inherently cheap so I want to get my moneys worth. Sometimes that is the only discipline that drives me back to the routine of working on it. I have a faith membership. When I work on it, I’m not always sure how much good its doing, but I feel that I’m contributing. The motivation is different though. I’m not driven by financial responsibility. I’m driven by gratitude. My faith membership is not something that I have electronically withdrawn every month. It’s already been paid in full.

Monday, February 19, 2007

vowels

This week begins, at least in my real life experience, a quest to further my writing ambition….Or is it obsession? I can’t keep it straight. Anyway, before I begin this particular part of the journey I feel the need to confess a deep secret that I would imagine might be relevant to the pursuit. Actually it’s not that deep of a secret. Those who know me best know what it is. For the rest, here it is. I have a deep seated resentment for vowels. It may sound a bit strange from someone who is pursuing a writing obsession. I mean, I don’t know a whole lot about grammar and sentence structure, but I do know that vowels are pretty crucial to the writing process. Just think if they weren’t used. Words would be pretty hard to decipher. The Valentines I gave to my wife would say things like “ Lv Y” and “Kss M” instead of the simple I Love You and Kiss Me that is so much easier and so much more rewarding. Even those who communicate in the cellular mode need a few vowels to clear the air. I don’t have a problem with those. The vowels I’m speaking of are the kind that cost you $250 a pop. You know the ones I speak of. They are the “I’d like to buy a vowel” kind of vowels. They infuriate me.
It has gotten bad enough for me that in recent years I can no longer bring myself to watch “Wheel of Fortune”. The problem for me is that, for the most part, people already know what letter lies behind the blinking block. Either that or, worse, they already know the whole phrase in question. People spin a wheel, they gain some cash, and then they throw it away needlessly. It’s infuriating. It causes me to yell irrationally at the television. Why don’t they just hand them the bills so they can roll them up and smoke them? Sometimes I get so angry that it causes me to get spiteful and vengeful and all those other things that one can get “ful” of. When a vowel buyer gets another spin I very vocally express my desire for them to land on bankrupt, to lose it all and to find out how the rest of us live. It’s pretty disturbing I know. I’m talking more of my response than the television. Maybe there’s a reason I no longer own guns.
I know that I’m supposed to be bigger than all this. I’m supposed to be mature in my television viewing. My “pastoral arts” calling demands that I not be judgmental. And really, over all, I do a fair job, except when Vanna comes on screen. So I’ve chosen the biblical path to avoid sin. I flee. Upon further examination, I’m beginning to understand even more clearly that, in my life as it is in the life of other wheel watchers, art imitates life.
As I struggle to grow and lead within a faith community, my mind keeps wandering back to the annoying vowels that keep people from advancing another step in their faith journey. I’ve realized a profound parallel. You might not think it profound, but this is my blog and I’ll define it that way if I want. Anyway, I believe, for the most part, that people already know what the phrase is that they are seeking to solve. They at least, most often, know the vowel that lies behind the blinking block. They certainly know that it’s going to cost them to turn it over, and yet they do it anyway. They may solve the puzzle, but the profit is so much less because of the insistence on wasting on what is already known.
I spend my life teaching and trying to make applicable wisdom from the Book of all books. It’s the only book of its kind in the world and everything that needs to be known is made known through it. The interesting, and frustrating thing is that so many people already know the phrases. They’re just fearful of completing them. I’m not sure if it’s a case of “it can’t be this easy”, or just what it is. Sometimes things are no more complicated than the words on the pages. They just need to be done. We may need to, in our infinite human stubbornness, insist that there’s more that we can or have already added on our own behalf. Sometimes it just is what it says. “Just answer the puzzle!", I want to say. You already know the vowels, and occasionally a few consonants as well. It says this, so do it. We have obedience issues. The humanness intervenes, interferes, and otherwise divides our intent and reduces the impact that we could have had. We’ll probably get there in the end as long as the puzzle of who Jesus is gets solved within our individual lives. I know a great many incredible people of faith who are one day going to join me at the end of the journey complete with the bonus round and everything that’s been promised. Some of us, I fear, will have completed the journey so much less than we could have been because of our reluctance to “just do it”. Some won’t complete it at all in the manner that was intended. I’m well aware of the danger in my own life. Some call me simple, because I have a simple faith. I believed that Jesus was who he said He was. I believed the Book is what it claimed to be. I accepted, repented, submitted to baptism and began life on the narrow path. It hasn’t been easy, to be sure, but it’s all there, spelled out. Some want to add or detract, to make it more complicated or more convenient. Some are waiting for a “closer to completed” picture. However we wish it to be, it is what it is. The rest is only vowels.

Monday, February 12, 2007

one hundred

This is one hundred ! I’ve been waiting for this day for weeks now, counting down. It actually began when it hit ninety and then I realized that one hundred was possible. I’m referring to the number of posts that I’ve made to this cyber page. It’s amazing really. Maybe not for anyone who is reading this stuff, but for the one writing it…this is a monumental day. It’s so big for me that I am sitting here amidst the caffeine even though a weekend battle with a bathroom remodel has left my back quite limited in its ability to withstand these tiny little caffeine people chairs. It was implied at home that, perhaps, I should delay this post. I don’t think so.
I took an opportunity this past week to read through some of this wandering nonsense from the past two years. It was a very humbling experience. If you know me, then you know that this fits with my examination, both in life and profession, of humility over the past several weeks. God seems to have a way with teaching me “by immersion”. These are never isolated lessons He’s showing me. I’m always immersed in whatever I’m supposed to be learning. It comes with being a block head and a slow learner I guess. He’s the master teacher and he works with what He’s got to work with. Anyway, as I was saying (or writing) it has been another lesson in humility. To be sure, there are some things of value. However, looking back on some of them I seem to have forgotten the context in which they were shared and they don’t seem to mean as much as they did at the time. At least I tell myself that. It couldn’t be that I really wasn’t as accomplished as I thought I was.
I have a hard time really comprehending that I actually have had one hundred things to write about. Actually, I probably didn’t. I just used my “preacher” skills acquired over the years to “stretch” some issues. It’s been a process, these one hundred entries. I began by just writing some things as a form of therapy for my own relaxation and enjoyment. I know it’s bizarre to some, but I actually enjoy writing. After a time, I began to realize that some of it was actually being seen by some others and my motivation began to creep, ever so slowly, towards a subconscious teaching experience. I began to imagine that I could actually impart some type of understanding of some observations through my own imagination and exploration. It doesn’t take a genius to decide that real teaching involves two way communication, so after a time in that illusion, I began to think that I was really only talking to myself for the most part, kind of schizophrenic in nature. At this point, I ignored who may be reading this and focused inward again, and the cycle began all over again.
Through it all I have decided, after one hundred posts, that I get more out of writing this than reading it. I had always considered life as a writer and this has been a disciplined way of investigating whether or not God has a plan for me that way or not. The discipline has been the best part though. I began this journey ninety nine posts ago, with no plan except to write. All of a sudden, nearly without warning, here I am at the century mark. Its quite remarkable. Its very satisfying to see what can happen when you put your head down and move forward. It gives me hope that I can transfer the same discipline to my spiritual journey. I know that God has greater plans for the depth of my pursuit than I began with. I am certainly farther than I was then, but when I look to all I could be it becomes an almost overwhelming task. There are so many areas to grow in. There are so many things I still don’t understand and so many ways in which I still fail miserably. But this life lesson that I’m being led through here in cyberspace has taught me patience and perseverance. If you had asked me to put together this many coherent pages of observations and thoughts with any type of emotional investment, I’d have thrown out the laptop and run screaming into the fog. But two years ago I put my head down with the purpose of writing, one post at a time, and here I am today. I’m one hundred.

Monday, February 05, 2007

ghosts

One of my favorite shows, although I rarely get to watch it, is “Ghost Hunter” on the A&E channel. It may sound odd, me being of the “Pastoral Arts” persuasion and all, being fascinated in the paranormal. We’re not supposed to believe in that sort of stuff I think. It has something to do with Jesus’ ability to conquer evil spirits, but more about denial I think. Personally, I’ve had way too much experience with evil and things paranormal to not allow some credibility. I really don’t think that there’s conflict at all with faith and the spiritual world. In fact, it sounds even more credible when I actually write the words faith and spiritual together in the same sentence. One of my secret, “If I weren’t a pastor” type jobs would be a paranormal investigator. That’s why I enjoy the show so much. I secretly think “Yeah that could be me” kinds of thoughts. Honestly, I’ve had a few experiences where it was me, although I didn’t have the benefit of all the technology and an army of fellow investigators to “enjoy’ the experiences with me, but those stories are for other times in the company of people who I can be sure won’t be rolling their eyes at me.
I write this, as I sit between the fireplace and the fog, because it’s recently been made a bit clearer in my life that I, in fact, have my own ghosts floating around my life. They’re not the type that would ever be featured on A&E. In fact most people would find them quite dull and unappealing, and I’m sure that they would not register on any type of paranormal apparatus. They wouldn’t trip any meters or activate any motion sensors. If I had to describe them though, they might actually, as I think through this (I’m doing just that as I type), be somewhat like cold spots. You don’t actually see them, they just register suddenly as you pass through a particular place. It’s quite a sensory jolt that alerts you that something is not that it seems.
In my own life, the cold spots have appeared lately as I have tended to be on auto pilot in some areas of my life. I see life in one interpretation, my own, which I feel is quite accurate and on the mark, running along with few flaws. I tend to self-congratulate myself along the way and be quite amazed at the way I weave my way through the lives that surround me. Until…………cold spot. My system gets shocked, and I question whether or not what I believed is really going on around me is really going on around me as I have perceived it, or is there another world lurking imperceptibly that I’m missing. It’s not a world of spirits, evil and otherwise. What I’m referring to is a world of assumptions and ideals. It’s in those moments that I realize that maybe, just maybe, I’m not as strong or as wise I think that I am. Another world comes into focus. Ghosts appear of interactions past. Relational things that I thought I was above or beyond and in fact have handled quite well. Now I’m not sure. What was that I said? What was that I did? Could I really have misjudged, misinterpreted, or just plane missed the boat? Ghosts, they have a tendency to do that, cause you to question I mean. It happens on A&E and it happens in life. But I’ve come to believe that they’re not a bad thing.
After all, they do awaken my, sometimes otherwise deadened, senses. I’m certainly more aware and alert after the cold spot experience. They make me contemplate. They make me reexamine. They help me to stay teachable. They are certainly humbling. After my encounter, I certainly proceed with more caution and, in my best times, discernment. I may not have all the gadgets of the typical ghost hunters, but I have something better. Commonly referred to as “The Holy Ghost”, I am led by something more vast, more experienced and knowledgeable and infinite. If I’m willing, His lead helps me to discern, to learn, to actually improve and work towards the reality matching the dream. I can be led by God himself, through His spirit (or dare I say Ghost). You’d think that someone in my profession would have that pretty well figured out. I may be a pastor and all, but I’m first and foremost human. And in my human form, I’m still a bit afraid of ghosts.