Monday, April 30, 2007

thirst

I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I was reminded of that this morning as I crested the hill on my way down to my “home by the beach” also known as Tully’s. Everyone who comes here on the days that the sun makes an appearance is in agreement. The beauty on those days is what keeps us here the rest of the year. As I crested the hill with the sun rising, the city to my right, the mountains to my left and the water all around my place on the peninsula, there was a great peace and contentment filtering into my soul. I feel that way every time I near the water and since I’m surrounded by water here, this is a daily occurrence. I’ve been around water for much of my life. I’ve had this peace before, but the feeling is different here. On my winding down to beach level I pondered this difference.
I’ve come to believe that there are two profound environmental aspects surrounding the life in and around Seattle. One is certainly the water and I’ve come to believe that the second is the mountains. Snow capped mountains as a backdrop to the salt water waves create a spiritual aura like no place I’ve ever been. It is no wonder that this region is one of the most spiritually sensitive places on earth. I began the process of wondering why that is. I do that sometimes. I mean its all well and good to experience this for awhile, but there’s only so much experience that I can take before I try to dissect it. What is the spiritual draw to the mountains and the sea?
Evolutionists, I’m quite sure, would have us believe that the draw to water signifies our quest for survival. It’s an instinct they would claim. We need water for survival and therefore we inherently seek it. I on the other hand believe that this is a load of crap. Well, a significant part of it is. From personal experience, which is all that matters to most, if this were true I’d be dead by now. Two of my strongest draws to water in my life have been to bodies that, if I had in fact given in to my biological instinct to survive and plunged in mouth wide open, would have killed me. One was my early days living near one of the most polluted bodies of water in the western hemisphere and the other would be to the salt waters that surround my current home port. So much for evolution and survival of the fittest. If I were to, right this very moment, give in to my primal urges and run screaming into the surf that comforts me, my evolutionary process would be over.
I personally believe in something a bit deeper and more profound than evolution. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in thirst and its profound effect on humanity. I know what thirst and the quest for water will do to a people. I’ve seen that Hollywood classic “Waterworld”. When I read the “Book of Books” I read of the realities of thirst, but it’s not a physical thirst. It is a spiritual thirst. I read of Jesus claim to be living water in whom there is no longer any thirst. He still is that today for those who honestly seek Him. I think that there is a parallel here, between the water and the real thirst.
What makes it different and even more intense here than other places is the mountains. It’s not just any mountains either. I think that it is the snow capped peaks. They are significant. They reach up to places that we can only long to be. Throughout the story laid out for us in “The Book” we can see the place that mountains have played in our relationship to the One who created them. The God encounters that took place on the mountains of the middle east are legendary. In my growing up years, when I wasn’t near the water I was frequently near the mountains. Not only was I near the mountains, I spent a considerable amount of time alone in the mountains. It was profound, but it was still different.
Long before I had enveloped myself in God’s story I was having God experiences through the same venues that people throughout time had experienced. I was drawn to the mountains, I was drawn to the water, all the while not knowing why. All I knew was that I was drawn. There is a reason why cruises exist as a national pastime. There is a reason why people have vacation places on the water or in the mountains. There is a reason why view property is so much more valuable. There is a reason why men and women will risk their lives for the cameras of “The Most Dangerous Catch”. There is a reason why mountain climbers are driven, sometimes fatally, to conquer the worlds highest peaks. It’s the same quest that drove the builders of the Tower of Babel. People, the creation, all of us, want to draw closer to the Creator.
Those of the scientific persuasion do have it partially right though. There is an inner sense that drives us. It can even be argued that it is a sort of survival instinct. It drives all of us. There is more at stake though than our physical existence. Our survival mode is first and foremost spiritual in nature. We all want inherently to meet God on the mountain. And whether we’ll admit it or not, we all want Jesus to relieve our thirst.

Monday, April 23, 2007

weddings part 2

Well the wedding is over, but the marriage has just begun…day 2. It’s gotten off to a good start anyway. I mean, how hard could it be? They’re spending a week in Disneyworld. I guess that you might be able to argue about which monorail car to sit in or how many times to ride Space Mountain. I don’t think that they will. My prayer for the newlyweds is that they’ll get to spend this week on nothing but imagination and fun, before coming back to the sobering reality of jobs, rent, school, groceries and all that they rest of us wrestle with. It was a beautiful ceremony. I mean really….how many times have you heard about bad ones? Especially if you are intimately connected to it. I would guess that it would be about as many times as you’ve heard a new parent admit that their child is rather alien like, or about as many times as you’ve heard some real honesty at the funeral of someone who had lived a rather abrasive existence. I’ll tell you that it was a beautiful ceremony and a thoroughly enjoyable reception and you’ll have to take me at my word. I really am a pastor after all.
I’m taking a breather from it all this morning in my second home by the beach. I’m not sure what I have to take a breather about. I was the father of the groom. It’s a pretty low key place to be in the whole scheme of wedding logistics. Some well meaning guest even felt led to share with me that in his opinion, there wasn’t a more useless position to be in than the father of the groom. It’s a good thing that developing a better self esteem wasn’t on my “to do” list that day. That fine piece of encouragement came from someone who only had daughters. I smiled and nodded, because, at that moment, I was too physically tired to chase him down the hall and too mentally tired to engage him in a battle of wits. It has occurred to me though, with the help of a familiar place and a caffeine buzz, that I didn’t have such an insignificant role as I had been led to believe.
The thought has entered into my realm of consciousness that I may have not had such a significant role in the wedding, but I certainly have one in the marriage. I would say that in the whole scheme of things, for the most part, marriages last longer than weddings. I know that it’s not always the case, but for the most part they do. I should know. I’ve been part of many wedding ceremonies, including my own. I personally believe that if we would just give half the attention to our marriages that we give to our weddings, then the statistics would begin to reverse themselves. Anyway, back to my point and reason for self esteem. I have a direct role in the success of the marriage, regardless of the wedding. Fathers of the groom have a tremendous role that many of us have never realized. Just ask yourself this question. Where does the groom learn what it means to be a good husband? Where did my son learn habits of how to love, care for, and take care of his new wife? Excuse me….that would be ….ME! In the ceremony he made vows to honor and cherish her. How would he even be able to picture that if not for….ME ! It seems as though I might not be as worthless as I might appear.
I’ve been involved with plenty of weddings and even more marriages in my pastoral arts profession. I’ve seen the difficult hurdles placed before the masses of men seeking marriage by the previous generation of self serving and less than manly men who were influenced by their previous generation, who were influenced by their previous generation. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not talking about a level of masculinity or being sexist, our chauvinist, or any other kind of “-ist”. I’m just telling you, not merely suggesting…I’m telling you that men, fathers, husbands, sons have a role to play in the success of the family system. Many of my kind have jettisoned that role like a space shuttle fuel tank. In the seminars that I lead on anything to do with the family, whether it be parenting or marital in nature, the men are noticeably absent. I hear all kinds of excuses and every one of them has been a load of crap. There are no excuses for not being what you were meant to be. In the old half of the “Book of Books” it is declared that the sins of the father will be visited upon their children up to (and beyond) three generations. You may not give much weight to The Book, but you ought to because I’ve seen it.
It pains me that we mourn the losses splashed across the front pages across our land, but refuse to acknowledge that we are mostly just reaping what we’ve sown. (Again, from The Book). I have a choice. Fathers have a choice whether they are fathers of the bride or most assuredly if they are fathers of the groom. We can choose to accept the “worthless” label that culture has thrust upon us. We can choose to be minimized. We can choose to sit on the sidelines and wait to be featured on some ESPN clip of “parents gone bad”. We can choose to be absent, or busy, or distant, and use the “supporting my family” excuse for it. We can say “You don’t understand”, or “ I didn’t have a choice” or “I’m only doing this for you”. We can also choose to stand and deliver. We can learn to be good husbands with the help of or even despite our own influences. We can choose to love, honor, and cherish. We can hold to our vows. We can be a good model and foundation for all of the future generations of men to come. I want to leave this one thing to all of the future “fathers of the grooms’ yet to come. Don’t believe, even for one minute, that you are worthless. The fathers of the brides will invest heavily in the future weddings, but you are needed to invest heavily in the future marriages.

Monday, April 16, 2007

weddings

I have a wedding to be at this coming Saturday. It’s not any old wedding. I don’t really like “any old” weddings to be honest. In my pastoral arts calling I participate in plenty of “any old” weddings”. This one is different. It’s special. It’s for my son and his fiancé. I’m old. I may not look it, but trust me I am. People tell me all the time how I don’t look old enough to have a son who is planning a wedding that was actually planned for, if you know what I mean. “Trust me, I’m plenty old enough” I assure them. Not only am I old enough, my own wedding was actually a planned for affair, so you do the math. It works out. I guess that I’m like a decent used car find. I look good in the right lighting and from 10 feet away. Get close enough and I have plenty of stone chips and door dings. My wife, on the other hand, is the real find. It doesn’t matter the light or the distance, she’s the real steal.
So he’s getting married and I’m left to wonder whether or not I readied him for it. It’s a bit late, I’ll admit. I mean really, if one hasn’t been preparing your son for the task throughout the years, then this week will not be of much use. I think he’s ready though. He’s got some rough edges to be sure, but I can’t expect anything else to be true when I still have my own after having lived twice his life. He love’s God, he loves her, and he loves his mom, and he knows how to show it to all three. I guess that you can’t ask for a whole lot more. Children are a measurement of ourselves whether we ever intended them to be or not. What I mean is that how others view our children is often self perceived as a reflection on us as parents. Are they polite? Are they kind? Are they accomplished? Are they responsible? Some parents I have encountered would claim that it’s all about them. I only care about their well being. That’s a load of crap, or at least cause for some costly therapeutic adjustments. Honest parents know that answering those questions in the affirmative is part concern for them and part concern for us. I am fortunate. I frequently have others tell us what wonderful kids that we have. They are wonderful and I’d be lying if I told you that I wasn’t proud of that. But I’d also be lying if I told you that part of it wasn’t self centered pride on the illusion that I may have had influence on that. I have my wife, their mom, to thank for that bit of influential genius. I have those, behind closed doors when not in the public, memories of parenting gone bad. I remember those moments when all of the parenting seminar wisdom and all the parenting advice that I give in my profession goes right out the window and the yelling ensues.
Children have the best of us and the worst of us all rolled into one. It’s both encouraging and horrifying to look into that mirror. They get that way by modeling us and our behaviors. If I could do one bit of magic in my pastoral calling, I think that it would be to place a special mirror in front of expectant parents and to help them realize that one day they will stand where I am this morning. (Ok, so I’m sitting) One day you'll look at them and they'll look like the image in the mirror if you're not careful. It could be a good thing or a bad thing. The best thing is that you get to decide. One day you will wonder if you did well, or did enough, or did too much, and on that day it will be too late. It will be too late to spend more time at their school stuff. It will be too late to buy their mom more flowers and to give more hugs. It will be too late to establish trust and communication. One day, all of your appointments and commitments, and every other "–ments" that slowly steal your life away will still be there, but your children won’t. You’ll wake up and realize that you became one of “those” parents. You know the ones. The parents you swore you'd never be in the traps that you swore you'd never fall into.
Fortunately, that’s not me. I have tried beyond trying to keep my family front and center in my life, the creation order, in my humble opinion, needing to be God, family, self, task, and then everything else. That’s not been easy in a task that serves others. I miss the mark more than I ever intended, but far less than I could have. God has given me the sense that I can best serve by modeling, just as I can best parent by modeling. I have also been blessed with a community o’ faith that believes this as well.
So here I sit at “Tully’s on the beach” and look back over 21 years and realize that indeed I do have good kids, better than I deserve. I also realize that it was time consuming and sacrificial and wonderful and frustrating and scary and everything that parenting was created to be and I feel privileged to be part of the process. We did alright, my wife and I. My prayer for you parents who take the time to read this is that you put yourself into it with everything that you have. I pray that you love and sacrifice and model. I pray that you realize the enormous responsibility and joy. And I pray that it doesn’t take a wedding to bring you to that point.

Monday, April 09, 2007

waves

I’ve missed this place. Today I have followed a friend back down to the beach in support of his quest to reinvigorate another caffeine establishment. I have to admit, the motives are fairly selfish. I left the beach quite a while back to support his previous post as café restorationist in a different part of town. The change was good, I’ll admit, and the atmosphere that he was able to create is what kept me there and kept the creativity alive. Besides, like I said, the change was good. Change is good.
I just wish more people would realize that. I say would because all could, but most won’t. I wish they would. In my “pastoral arts” calling, I don’t get to see and experience nearly enough change. After all, let’s be honest here, church change is quite the oxymoron. It’s right alongside government intelligence. I’ve come to believe that church change doesn’t happen quickly because “church people” change doesn’t happen quickly.
Yesterday, I was honored to watch a real professional depict a testimony of change taken from the pages of the Book of Books. This was real change inspired by a real encounter with a real gift from a real God. It was the result of an experience and then an investment with Jesus himself. I believe that we are all created with very real flaws, sometimes fatal flaws, and that they, if dealt with in a healthy non-denial attitude, will lead us to a very real savior. A savior demands change though. An overwhelming number of people who I interact with are very much interested in Jesus, but in denial over His application in their lives. In other words, they see no need to change. And I’m referring to “church” people. Don’t get me wrong, they are certainly interested in a “savior”. They just think that He’s for a “friend” with problems. I find those who are not “church people” to be much more open for their need to change. They just don’t know where to look.
I teach in my community o’ faith on a weekly basis, and you’d be amazed at how many times I’ve heard “that was such a wonderful message, I just wish …fill in the blank…were here to hear it”. Psychology has a word for that. It’s spelled D-E-N-I-A-L.
It’s the concept of I’m ok, you’re not ok and it’s the number one barrier to real change.
I received some insight recently from an unlikely source. A young lady who I’ll call a “searcher” was asking me how one determines what is really true when everyone acts like their own reality is the actual truth. “There’s no real constant” she claimed, even with church people. I couldn’t argue. I couldn’t even make excuses. All I could say is, “you’re right”. We had a great discussion on rules and humanity’s inability to keep them which led to a conversation on God providing Jesus for people because we couldn’t do for ourselves. We can’t change on our own, we need to allow Jesus to help in that. For a long time I didn’t really know what that meant. I just repeated it like a parrot. “Invite Jesus in to your Life”. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve begun to have any kind of understanding of the rhetoric that I’ve slung. Now I know a bit more of what it means to allow Jesus to influence lives. We can only do that by knowing His heart and by faith, living according to His example. How did He treat people? How did He value people? How did he feel about meaningless, but very passionate hypocrisy? How did He serve? How did He heal? You have to “know” Him, and then change to be like Him. Her next comment still sticks with me days later. “I guess that I’ve just never seen it”, she said.
Now I am more aware than many of my own need for change. It is constant. I sit here watching waves washing steadily on the beach and I know from experience that every rolling white cap of foam brings unrelenting change to the sand as it rolls upwards and then drags back down into the depths every manner of marine stuff imaginable. But it’s a force that directs the change. All things left to themselves, without the motion of the water or the early Spring storms, and there would be very little change. Change should be constant. It should also reflect the force which is directing it. Sitting here in the early morning overcast I can observe that waves happen, so should change.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

earned

I’m breaking the pattern. I’m going for two posts this week. I’m back in my house of caffeine, relaxing to the sounds and smells of another morning in Tully’s, and chasing this cursor across the screen. It relaxes me. I’ve earned it. At least I tell myself that. I worked a long hard day yesterday. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked longer. I’ve had harder. For some reason last night, as I drug myself up the stairs and into the house, I declared to anyone who cared….that would be my wife….that I was “going in late tomorrow”. I had earned it. I still don’t know why really. It just felt right.
So I began to wonder, as I drove here this morning, what constitutes earning? I mean really, in the whole scope of labor efforts, what did I do yesterday that was monumentally above the other wanderers that I can sit here watching while they run for their busses? Some of them look longingly into the window as they pass by. I have my donut and my grande drip with a shot in the dark, my laptop and my headphones. Some of them look at me as if to say “get a job”. “I have one”, I scream in my thoughts. I’ve earned this! But there it is again, the nagging question. What constitutes earning? Is it cash accumulated? I don’t think so. I just heard on the “Today Show” that the presidential candidates have already amassed a record amount of campaign funding. I know that I work harder than they do. I just don’t have the sound bites to prove it. Some people don’t even have jobs at all and they accumulate more in a day than I will in a lifetime. They are the ones who have coffee brought in to them and dictate their writings to others who probably could use a morning away. It can’t be physical labor that earns the morning “off”. I’ve worked way more physical things than this without a trip to the café. What about dads who live and work in the third world areas of the world? Their work never ceases if survival is what they’re working for. All of that pressure without the promise of a double tall the next morning. I admire them. I’m not that strong.
It’s very presumptuous of me, I guess, to attempt to justify my need over that of the other wanderers that surround me. What about those who served me this morning? Did they just have an average day yesterday and so are sentenced to satisfying my morning experience? It’s very American of me too, to feel entitled I mean. Aren’t we all promised, life, liberty, and the pursuit of 3 bedrooms and a garage? It really bugs me when I have fallen into the entitlement mentality. I should know better. My faith and my calling demand that I live counter to the entitlement philosophy. The promise that I have cannot be earned. The promise that I teach cannot be earned, no matter how hard or how long one has tried. It’s been given, it merely needs acceptance. That’s Easter. But, almost without warning, I’m a hamster on a wheel once again. Worse yet, I’m a caffeinated one.
I’m glad that I caught myself after only a few delusional hours of entitlement…this time. It’s an everyday thing. Every morning waking up and deciding to “relax”, and just “be” within His arms of grace is all that I’m seeking. Do you want to know the irony? Do you want to know what I working so “hard” and “long” on yesterday? I was putting together this “experience” for my community o” faith called The Labyrinth. It’s sole purpose is to lead people into a very personal, quiet, and reflective time in God’s presence. In other words, to rest in Him. It worked too, at least based on my own time in the Labyrinth and the comments of others who journeyed through last night. It was centering. It was calming. It was peaceful. It lasted until I walked across the street. My efforts can be so pathetic. A voice in my head…and no, not from the headphones…is even more insistent this morning as I sit here, reminding me of my need for His grace which cannot be earned. This exercise, that I do here under the influence of Tully’s, whenever I can, is not earned. It’s another reminder of that grace. I can use all the reminders that I can get.

Monday, April 02, 2007

passing

Yesterday I was privileged to spend some time honoring the passing of a special friend, along with hundreds of others who considered her the same. In my “calling” this is a fairly common occurrence. I usually don’t know the one who’s passed as well as my “yesterday” friend. I rarely contemplate as deeply as those who are remembering. I rarely have the memories or stories that the others have. Yesterday was a bit different. I was engaged, I was contemplative. This was a friend who I loved, admired and respected. I was connected to her life and she was connected in mine. This was one of those rare occasions that my family was joined in remembrance of someone who influenced and loved all of us. We are who we are and where we are, in part, because of her involvement in our lives. So yesterday, we sat, and we contemplated, and cried a bit in the company of others who could claim the same. Today is not yesterday though, and my life has, all too obviously to me, gone on.
I’m back in my space. I’m back in my routine. I’m back to looking ahead and running from behind. So I wonder more today than I wondered yesterday, what is the meaning of life? I know all about, and hold closely within my being, the hope of greater beyond the gates. I know that she was promised that, and she lived every moment to claim that same promise. I barely paused to reflect before getting right back on it, my task I mean. The question though has become “What is my task?” Is it that urgent that I get right back after it without so much as a few hours contemplating? Do we all gather inward for a bit, remember, and then turn back outwards again in pursuit of whatever carrot lay before us? It’s a kind of “Go back to your lives citizens, there’s no more to see here”, reflection and then all of our ADHD selves are off and running again. We spend our lives either running for or running from. I’m not really sure which is more beneficial and which is more destructive.
Let me be honest for a moment. I want to make a difference. I want to make my mark. My friend certainly did. She made hers with endless energy. I guess that you could call it running. She ran until she was running on empty and the physical just couldn’t do any more. I have no doubt that the first thing she heard after the last breath that she took was “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That would be an understatement for her life, but considering who would be saying it to her, it’s pretty impressive all the same. I want to hear that when I’ve breathed my last and then my first. I’m running, but I have to be honest. I’m not always sure if I’m running with or running from.
In my “pastoral arts” calling I read quite a bit on leadership principles. I really want to run with the others in my life. But I’m haunted by the fact that all of my readings say very clearly that, in moving your influence forward, if no one is going with you, you are merely taking a walk. An honest evaluation of my life tells me that I have left a good many behind. I’ve run ahead and away. I tell myself that life goes on and so does my mission, but lately I’ve realized a very distinct truth. Objects in the rear view mirror are closer than they appear. That’s fortunate for me. I had gotten to the point where I believed that they were so far behind that it would be pointless to go back. They’re closer though. I believe I’ll wait a bit. I may even turn back some.
That’s where the tension for me becomes a great struggle. How can I wait when there’s so much left to do? How can I go back when there are so many still in my future? What will leave more of a mark, more influences or deeper influences? I’m not capable of making that decision myself. Interestingly enough though, as I was engaged in studying a passage in the “Book of Books” last night with a group of LIFE friends, it was made clear to all of us that Paul was content to make deeper influences with the circumstances he was given. That’s a directive to me I guess. After all, he was the one who wrote all of that “running the race” stuff about God’s desire for all of our lives. No one wanted to have an ever farther reaching influence more than he did. And yet, when he was stopped by chains, he didn’t get all ADHD in his circumstance. He was content and went deeper with what he had. Maybe that’s the answer. I’m starting to have a Forrest Gump in the desert moment. I’m tired of running. Maybe it’s time to go home now. Maybe it’s time to rest in Him and be content. May I should wait a bit for those in my mirror that are closer than they appear. The “yesterday” moments that my family and I share remind me that someday, somewhere, someone will reflect on my life. I hope that they will remember me walking with them and not merely passing them by on the way to somewhere else.