Monday, March 26, 2007

mark

I’m staring at another blinking cursor, taunting me and trying to convince me to chase it across the virgin white screen. I wonder if this is how extreme skiers feel when looking at the untouched powder that they long to slash through, making their mark along the way. I’m having some difficulty chasing this morning, but it’s Monday and being the slave to schedule that I am, I’m here in my caffeine portal trying to fill the white with “my mark”. I can’t decide whether I’m being driven by need or want at the moment. After all, I reason to myself “what would it hurt to take a day off?” Would it be held against me? That doesn’t seem to help. Here I am anyway.
Is it need or want that brings me here again? I guess that this is the question of a lifetime. In the dawn of time, excluding the cell merging, fish forming, legs growing, dragging up on the beach, growing hair and then walking upright part, when Adam and Eve sat in a garden looking at the apple, lost in the “I’m not going to try it, you try it” argument, the conflict began. Do we need it or do we want it? In a garden full of other choices, why do we have to make this one? And just what is the more valid question anyway?
Back to my dilemma…Do I need to make my mark or do I just want to? I’ve spent the past few weeks wrestling with my future. I have some options. Believe me when I say that I’m fortunate to have options. However, options demand choices and choices mean decisions and decisions are not something I want more of at the moment. I can pursue an even higher form of education than currently hangs on my wall. I’m not a great fan of formalized education. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve valued it for the most part. Ultimately though, the only reason anyone really knows that I have any is because I insist on hanging the paper on my wall. No one has ever, since my acquiring it, asked to see it. Why would I want to pay large sums of disposable income on another piece of paper that I’ll need to spend even more disposable income on buying another frame to hang it in so that I can display it next to my “Far side” collection. So I wonder, do I need it or just want it?
I’ve also been experimenting in the idea of formally publishing some marks that I make on the white of the screen. This past weekend I was challenged in a publishing seminar with the question, “Is there a need for what you write?” That one question redefined the whole need and want discussion one more time, but in a different way. Is there a need or do I just want to write it? This morning I’m beginning to realize that this taunting cursor that I have viewed for so long as a nemesis is actually a mentor of sorts. When I sat down here this morning, I certainly didn’t want to write. I needed to write. I’m not sure why? I look back over 100 plus posts and I realize that it hasn’t always been fun, but it’s always been freeing.
This time of year holds special meaning to the “pastoral arts” profession that I find myself in as well as those in my community o’ faith. As we prepare to observe the indescribable events of 2000 years ago, I’m drawn to the need versus want struggle that is highlighted in another garden. As I read these pages and I see the struggle between needing to extend a means of grace and wanting to be the one to do it, I am fixated by the implications. My future hung there in the balance as Jesus wrestled with needing to do what He didn’t want to do. It helps bring my current dilemma into a new, rather humbling, arena of insignificance.
I have come to believe that people are led towards what they need to do, by the influences of what they want to do. What Jesus needed to do, offer his life, ultimately came about by an overwhelming want to express His love. It was a love for The Father and a love for those whom He created. It was who He was. It is recorded and demonstrated that God is love and that Jesus is God, so therefore Jesus is love and love drove Him to do both what He needed and ultimately wanted to do. It’s almost circular. It’s probably not all that theologically deep, but it comforts me. In a similar way, although very pale in comparison, I think that my life is driven toward what I’m needed to do, by what I really want to do. It’s how I came to express my faith in the first place. I needed to do it. Everyone does, but I was led by what I wanted which was to more fully explore something that I new was “out there” and I had seen evidence for in the lives of significant people in my life. As my journey has progressed, I believe that I’m needed to continue to explore and grow in my faith and influence. It’s been happening through my want to be a better model of faith than others I have witnessed.
For now, I’m still in the middle somewhere. I have more questions than answers, which is how it should be if God is even half the God that I imagine. I think that maybe I do have one answer though. I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that I want my life to make a mark. I have to be content though with the realization that it probably only will when God needs it to.

Monday, March 19, 2007

learning

I woke up twice this morning. Actually it was three times. Once was an unscheduled response to a bottle of IZZE just before I went to bed. Once was to the alarm and the last was a frantic jump when I realized I had drifted off again after the previous. Late again… I hate being late. At least I used to hate being late. I’m not all that bothered by it as much anymore. I’m a bit more relaxed about it. I’m just a little more flexible as I get older. Learning is not an option for me. I’m trying to go against the traditional tide of becoming more set in my ways. It’s a mental exercise that I have tried to employ at the same time that I’m using the gym thing in a futile attempt at physical rejuvenation. I realize that I’m swimming upstream, but it feels worthwhile.
In working with my community o’ faith, I have come to value most highly the learners in the group. Those who don’t know everything are the ones I choose to spend the most time around. It doesn’t really matter what current state they are in. Some are very successful, some are marginal, and some just barely are at all. If they are learners, then I want to spend time with them. They exude an energy that is life bringing. I want to be one of them, learners I mean. It’s the ones that know it all that scare me.
I think this has much to do with my fascination with God. There is so much to know and at the end of the day, so much still unknown. I find His Book alive every time I open it, even when I accidentally turn to those pages dealing with old Hebrew mold and mildew. I guess you had to be there. I wasn’t really sure of a modern day application for those passages until I spent a couple of weeks in New Orleans cleaning out the remnants of The Hurricane. It’s everywhere, knowledge I mean, if you just choose to look in the right source.
There was a time, during my first journey through college, that I thought that I could know everything there was to know about just about anything that mattered. That delusion ended with first semesters grades. I remember vividly seeing posters for different guest lecturers scattered around campus dealing with nearly every life mystery imaginable and a few made up ones along the way. I imagined myself sitting though each one and just soaking it all in. One day I would be brilliant. I didn’t even attend one. In fact most of my sessions were spent with Captain Morgan and his best friend Jack. Needless to say, I think that I actually left that era of learning having lost ground in the brain cell department. I had a real job and a real career and all that goes with the survival of the university experience, but not the wisdom I had assumed I would stumble upon. Many people I’ve encountered through the years seem to have settled for that. I did not find wisdom, but fortunately wisdom found me.
My second venture into the college environment was much more fruitful. This maybe because it involved studying something of such infinite depth that no matter how long I’ve spent doing it I’m still scratching the surface and looking for more. I came away with much more than a career. I came away with a quest and a journey and a purpose. I came away with a continual hunger for more.
Those who I most deeply respect are those who come again and again to the wellspring found in “The Book of Books”. They are life long seekers. They see things I don’t see and have thoughts that I don’t think. They are life giving. They are also not unique. By that I mean, they are not blessed with anything more than any of the rest of us are entitled to have. They don’t have greater education. They don’t have better jobs or better families or better cars, or even cars at all. All they have is all that I want. They have open minds and a desire to fill them with life according to The Book.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Paint

I had the privilege, this past weekend, to complete a project with some from my community o’ faith. We were giving a much needed facelift to a popular gathering spot in our building, the legendary “social hall”. Very simply it involved a new color scheme with some fresh paint. It wasn’t just any paint though. This paint promised to go on like yogurt. I was wondering, how does one know such a thing? I mean do high priced executive types try their hand painting various food textures onto walls until one is found to be desirable? Or maybe, quite by mistake, they have painted a surface only to have the experience transport them back to their days when they indeed used mom’s yogurt for a new creation on their bedroom walls. I have personally been found guilty, as a child, of painting my bedroom walls with a less than desirable paint substitute, although I don’t think that it would be appropriate to use as a new marketing campaign.
Anyway, this particular paint was incredible. For the most part it covered in one coat and was everything it promised to be. I’ve worked with much less. If it had been up to my spending, we wouldn’t have been using that grade of paint. Because of my personal bent for financial responsibility I can’t imagine paying for premium paint. In other words, I’m cheap. But you get what you pay for, and fortunately someone else generously donated it to us paid in full. When we were finished, there was a great sense of accomplishment. The room had been and will continue to be well used. After all, it is referred to as the “social hall”. It’s for socializing. The very name dictates its function. It is used for socializing. That’s kind of a wide open term. Basically, I think that it means practically any function from a formal wedding reception to a place that middle schoolers experience “tag” marathons. We have coffee houses, potlucks, and pancake breakfasts. It is well used and well lived. During the course of two days of very close inspection I found all much evidence of its use. There were stains. Dust gathered in unseen spots, raised by the turbulence of elementary age kids on sugar highs. One more coat of paint has now covered over one more era of socializing in the room meant just for that purpose. Each pass of the roller sealed in a few more memories. Each hole that was filled had a story.
The room was well lived, that is to be sure, but so were the lives that were restoring it.
All of us there had some background that we had come from, some struggle that we had come through, or some baggage that we are still carrying. We have well lived lives.
Its not that they were always lived well, but we were all well-lived. I think that you get the point. Just like the social hall, our lives were created to be lived. During the course of living, we get stained. We gather dust. Holes happen. We need repair and we need refreshing. A good coat of paint would be nice. Too often though, we settle for the cheap stuff. It promises greatness and delivers far less. Substitutes just won’t cover the real need and prepare us for the real use that is still to come. The real stuff covers though.
For me, the comfort comes from knowing that it covers, once for all. There are little touch ups all along the way to be sure, but in my life there will no longer be a need for an extreme makeover. It was painted over by grace years ago. In one coat, like yogurt I guess. It wasn’t cheap grace using a substitute. It cost everything to someone and yet nothing at all to me. All I had to do was accept it and allow it to be applied. It fills the holes and scatters the dust and eliminates the flaws of the past in one swipe of the roller.
It is said that grace covers over a multitude of sins. So does the right paint.

Monday, March 05, 2007

biased

So I was listening the other night to this preacher guy on the television. I’m usually not too impressed with preacher guy types with obvious connections to local cable companies. I’ve not yet determined whether or not it’s their message, their hair, or just a case of “pastoral arts” envy that causes me to be so critical. I guess that I have formed an opinion, I’m not saying that it’s a good one, that if you have to pay large sums of money to put yourself on the air, then maybe that’s kind of a self serving use of your resources. It’s kind of like writing a screen play so that you can star in the movie. I’ve never been a fan of self promotion. It’s probably why I haven’t published the novel, the short story, or even the catchy tag line that I’ve always dreamed of writing. Like I said, it’s not necessarily a good opinion.
All that being said, I have to admit to a certain admiration for this particular “preacher guy”. I’ve heard him on a number of occasions and no matter what part of “The Book” that he’s referring too, there is always a certain theme that he seems to be able to draw from. It’s a game, admittedly bizarre, that I play now when I push the remote and his distinguished whine comes across the airwaves. I’m trying to figure out just how long and in what context will his particular bias appear. It’s quite amazing actually how creatively it comes about. Time after time, sermon after sermon, “preacher guy” has the same underlying theme woven through. It’s practically subliminal. It’s creative, but it’s also biased.
Don’t take this as criticism, as much as it might seem to be. Rather, it has become a wake up call for me to really look deep inside and discover what I bring to this “pastoral arts” profession. I speak to a faith community each week. Granted, it’s not with the technology of “preacher guy”, although we do have hearing assisted devices to keep older members of our community awake during the thirty minute monologues. I have been so successful lately putting newborns to sleep during my teaching that I’m considering packaging the CD’s to help parents with bedtime. Anyway, I’m wondering what biases do I bring to the Word that I’m entrusted with? Even more importantly, does a particular bias color and influence some of my teaching? I would say that it has to, being human and all. I’m no different than “preacher guy”, except for the hair of course.
I guess that is what makes what I do so amazing. It’s not amazing from a “look at me, I’m amazing” standpoint. It’s amazing because of the partnership that I’m allowed to be involved in. Even with my bias and personal stuff and life issues that have to influence how I look at the passages in “The Book”, God is still able to work amazing things out if it. I’m overwhelmed that people hear what He wants them to hear, despite my efforts. Sure, if I’m not careful, the people who listen to me with any regularity will begin to have some similar biases. I know that to be true with those who admire “preacher guy”. On the other hand, God still speaks and lives still change and that is truly what matters in the end. And, He is totally able to do it with or without technology.