Monday, May 28, 2007

holiday

Well, I know it’s a holiday. It could have been the lack of commuter traffic on the way down here this morning. It might be the reduced ferry traffic between the islands. If nothing else, the clientele is noticeably different in my caffeinated hideout. The “usuals” are not to be seen. The machinery is a bit quieter this morning. It’s just a handful of my friendly retirees who have found me again, chattering away about the unusual phenomenon known as a winning streak for our “Mariners”. There is no one around with any real kind of employment, save the faithful baristas who man (or woman) their posts.
It’s a different kind of feeling for me, sort of what I imagine it would be like if I played hooky from my community o’ faith on any given Sunday morning. So this is how the “other half” lives. Or should I say, the “other 90%” in this part of the country. It’s peaceful here, at least it is when my headphones are in place with “The Boss” flowing through my brain. I’m sure that there are better words to describe it. I could call it sedate. You might say that it’s relaxed. I could play with the words all that I like, but the feeling would still be the same. I like it. That’s why I choose to be here even on a holiday. The rest of my family feel that being home in bed at this ungodly hour is much more peaceful, sedate, relaxing and logical. I’m blessed with being a morning person, and it’s mornings like these when I appreciate that the most. Besides, when I get home I have a deck to finish. They’ll be grateful that I’m pounding on these keys instead of those nails at this time of day. I’m up anyway, might as well get some work accomplished. They are always telling me that I need to relax, so here I am, the deck can wait another hour or so. I’m enjoying the holiday.
I’ve considered the concept of relaxing a great deal. I appreciate it, and I’ll admit that I admire more than I let on the ones who seem to have it mastered. I can tend to be critical about the ones who don’t do well with it, until I look in the mirror. I’m not a good relaxer. I guess that relaxer isn’t even a word since I have this red underline on my screen now each time I try to type it. When I observe the concept, it can seem to be a bit confusing to me. I picture it as a complete surrender of body, mind, and soul to a sense of timelessness and rest. I can usually surrender one of the previous three and perhaps on a really good day I can surrender two of the three, but never all of them at once.
For example, I tend to use physical labor a means to relaxation. I used to, in a former life, always have some sort of vehicle in a garage which I would periodically go out and pound on with an assortment of tools. Eventually, despite my efforts to the contrary, said vehicle would be roadworthy, and I would sell it, usually to buy another and begin the process over again. It was a great way for me to clear my mind. This weekend I am constructing the fore mentioned deck. It seems like a great American holiday thing to do. Building something while cooking out on the grill. My soul is somewhat being refreshed through the experience, but certainly not my body. At this point in my life, my body is more in tune with grilling than hammering.
The only relaxing that I seem to be able to accomplish for my physical self involves an incredible couch in my living room and a good book. The book lasts about 5 minutes, but the nap that ensues closely resembles life on a cloud.
I read “In The Beginning” in the Book of Books about the creation account six days of work/creativity and one of relaxing. I’m not sure how it was accomplished. I wonder if on the seventh day when God rested, was it a physical rest? Was it a mental rest? After all the creative genius behind all of this is rather impressive and I can imagine quite taxing. Was it a spiritual rest, like playing hooky on a Sunday morning? Did He accomplish all three in one day. I guess that I’ll find out one day. Personally, I’m of the opinion that it will be on that day that I finally experience the reality of relaxing. All three will finally be accomplished in one place at one time, for all time to come. And according to The Book, even the deck will be already built for me.

Monday, May 21, 2007

junkyards

Her power steering is dead at the moment. This fact must be totally understood if anything good is to come of this story. Whatever……I know that her power steering is gone because I drove her car down to the beach this morning. It’s not the easiest thing to do at this hour of the morning, driving without power steering, and no caffeine to assist me yet. The vehicle in question is my daughters Honda. “Dad I have no more power steering”, was not exactly the thing that I wanted to hear last night. I have to say that I am proud of the fact that my daughter knows what power steering is, but the important item for the moment is that she doesn’t know how to fix it. That’s where I come in.
Unfortunately, I have been blessed, or cursed, with a mechanical aptitude that doesn’t allow me, in good conscience, the luxury of passing this off on a professional.
So I know that this means two things for certain. Number one is that my week has already been destined to not go as planned. For those of you who know me, you realize that this is not a good thing. Number two on my list of certainties is that I will be soon visiting an emporium of used automobile mechanical accoutrements, otherwise known as a junkyard. I know that to be perfectly PC about this, especially in the great Northwest, I would refer to them as automobile recycling establishments. I’ve spent years visiting these places and believe me, they are just what the name implies…….junkyards. Most of them complete with the obligatory resident dog. You can dress it up anyway you want to, but in the end, most of them are large yards with junk in them, hence the name junkyard.
Some of my favorite moments of my previous lives have dealt with my visits to a local junkyard. The best ones are the ones where you can go with a tool box and pull the parts off yourself. There is something about that which reaches a forbidden part of the soul I guess. It’s a kind of a legalized car stripping operation. Maybe it’s a “Gone in Sixty Seconds, Nicolas Cage, kind of experience. Or at least in my case, it’s “Gone in Sixty Minutes”. I guess that’s why I didn’t try a life of crime.
Anyway, when you live where I live now, in the midst of a major metropolitan area, you can’t legally enjoy car stripping, like I have been able to do in other parts of America. I have to settle on some guys in greasy overalls to pull it off for me. I get to make the phone call, venture down to the “store” and pick up my “pre-owned part”. It’s kind of an “AutoZone gone bad” type of experience. The stores in question are greasy, the parts in question are greasy, the questionable employees are greasy. Can I tell you that it is overall, just a greasy experience. You should try it sometime. And all of this is nothing compared to what follows afterwards in my quest to play car surgeon and the organ replacement that I’m about to embark on.
I must tell you though, as unappealing as it all may sound to some of you more well heeled types, there is nothing like the feeling that comes over one when the surgery is successful. I can already anticipate the joy of winding along the beach, freely wheeling said Honda with merely my finger tips as opposed to the Popeye like forearms that it takes now. A good share of the satisfaction comes from the knowledge that another pre-owned, pre-loved, and otherwise used part has received a second life of sorts. This morning, there is a power steering unit, probably long since removed from its original owner and purpose, waiting on a dusty shelf with a greasy tag wired to it, just waiting for reclamation and a second chance. It was created with a purpose and still has that purpose contained within it as it waits on the shelf. All it needs is a second chance. I intend to give it one.
I know people like that…used, pre-owned, pre-loved, slightly greasy. They’re waiting for a second chance. I encounter many of them in my pastoral arts profession. I have been with them. I have been one of them. I guess maybe that this is part of the correlation between my satisfaction with junkyards and used parts and my relationship to my community o’ faith. We all have an original owner, created with an original purpose, unique to us all. And we are all in some stage of waiting reclamation. Some of us are still waiting on the shelves. Some of us are in the process of being installed, and some of us are already winding the curves along the beach. All of us should be thankful for that second, or third, or twenty ninth chance.
Junkyards are a wonderful thing. I think that we have done them a disservice by trying to mold them into a PC type of terminology. We can call them recycled. We can call them salvage (which is just French for “junk”). We can call them pre-owned, or pre-loved. We can lure ourselves into a denial state, or we can call it like it is. One of the most comforting parts of the Book of Books for me is the part that says “ all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. Literally it means that we’ve all missed the mark of perfection. We’ve all lost sight or lost the ability to perform up to our original intent. Any thinking other than that is just denial. Fortunately, we have someone who is fully and totally able to perform the replacement operation necessary. He loves the process. He came up with it. He loves the satisfaction of seeing a life reclaimed to its original purpose. I read where heaven, assuming that you believe in such a place, throws a great party each time a salvage operation is successful. He’s a wonderfully gifted mechanic. And the really good news is that He loves to wander in junkyards.

Monday, May 14, 2007

aura

I’m down here this morning, enjoying my caffeine with a view, and wondering just what exactly what the week has in store for me. Across the room sits a representative group of Seattle’s finest. You gotta believe that a place that can attract cops without the lure of a good donut must be a pretty worthwhile establishment. I find it interesting, how one reacts to the presence of uniformed law enforcement. It causes me to wonder about the placement of my cup. It causes me to be self conscious about my choice of seating. Is my posture appropriate? Do I look guilty for that last rolling stop on the way down to the beach? How much of the two hour parking have I used up? Do I look like the last APB that was broadcast over their radios? Do they even notice paranoid people like me all around them, and if they do, is there some measure of demented pleasure that comes from knowing that you can torment people like me simply by stopping by for a good cup of coffee? It’s rather funny because I have friends here who have been policia or currently are. They don’t care about my posture. In fact they are very gracious to my shortcomings.
So I’m wondering then, what kind of signals do I give off? Is there an aura about me? I’m pretty sure that there is and it doesn’t bring me comfort. Believe me, it’s on my “to do” list, working on my attitude and presence I mean. For those of you who have never tried it, I have to tell you that it’s hard work. It’s going to be the most difficult thing that I’ve ever done, next to being a good husband and a good dad. Since I’ve not yet mastered those two tasks, I’ll be working on all of them simultaneously. It can sometimes be like spinning plates high on those poles. You have to be timely and you have to concentrate. There is always the risk that one falls while concentrating on another. And then there’s the people who are witness to the whole process. Some will be casual observers and some will have box seats. Every one of us lives a fishbowl existence whether we want to acknowledge it or not.
Being of the “pastoral arts” profession, I have a somewhat larger task ahead of me than some, not that it is a competition. It’s just that with the title comes inherent expectations. It is mainly because of the “aura” that comes with the image of “Pastor” that I choose not to tow the company line. From first appearances, I’m not recognizable as pastoral in the traditional sense. People would put up unnecessary walls and hold onto unreasonable paranoia, much like I do around the uniformed coffee house inhabitants here at the beach. I also don’t like the haircut…I have other things to work on though. As with the police, I understand that, if recognized, I have the power to do good or evil when it comes to how people feel when they are around me. I have it within me to make them comfortable or anxious. Even larger though is my responsibility to help those who learn from me in my community o’ faith to be conscious of their “aura” that is presented to those they encounter everyday.
As it is with everything, in order for me to teach on a subject, I feel the responsibility to have begun to struggle with the journey myself. My goal is to be one step ahead of those I teach and then lead them and empower them incrementally along their own journeys. I’m not, by nature, a people person. I get drained, emotionally and physically, by people. It is one of God’s ironies that I have been led straight into the midst of people for the past fifteen years. I’m a pessimist with an optimistic faith. The difficulty for me becomes in trying to convey the optimism that grace demands. I mean really, it is because of grace that I have hope and yet I know that I am more than capable of degenerating into an aura of hopelessness. There are some people who radiate energy and optimism and hope. They give life and people want to be around them no matter how mundane their task at the moment might be. My wife is blessed to be one of those people. She is type “A” with a capital bold font. We have often shared together how our personalities balance each other. I have only recently realized the implications of that for myself. It means that in order for there to be a balance I have to be boring in direct proportion to her being fun. I have to suck energy in direct proportion to her radiating it. I need to tell you that this idea of a balanced relationship, while being beneficial to the whole, is not so much so for the “balancing” individual. It is not acceptable for me to have an “aura” that is anything remotely draining on anyone who I may encounter. In fact, being a light in the darkness is a pretty prominent teaching in the Book of Books. So I continue on my journey.
And on this particular journey, I have become increasingly aware that those who share my faith and sometimes even my faith community have an “aura” problem. I have to wonder sometimes if it is not a reflection of my own. There is a saying that “those who can…do, those who can’t…teach”. I intend to work on doing and not merely teaching. I want to live hopeful instead of teaching it. I want to extend grace instead of teaching it. I want to love people instead of teaching it. I want to give energy instead of removing it. On this journey, I confess that I’m not one step ahead of anyone, but if you’ll agree to join me, I can at least walk alongside.

Monday, May 07, 2007

rocks

I was looking at “my rock” recently and reflecting on the view that has been developing since my time spent there. For those of you who haven’t been along since the beginning of the journey, allow me to bring you up to speed. In August of 2004 I spent a very deconstructive and reconstructive week in the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming. It was an organized time of reflecting, mentoring, and listening. It was the listening that I think was the most difficult for me. Specifically it was time spent on this particular rock in question. It’s actually the rock pictured on this blog. I spent about 4 hours very much alone in the wilderness of the Medicine Bow mountain range at 11,000 feet, just my rock, my self, and my creator. I’m not sure that I realized at that moment that it was anything more than 4 hours of excruciating silence lying on my rock, not unlike a flank steak on a griddle in the eyes of the local bear population.
Anyway, that is where all of this began in a very profound and humbling way. I know that I’m not alone in this experience. You may not have a rock, but you may have or will have a moment in life where you have to search deeply to answer the age old, “What have I become, and What’s my purpose anyway?” type of questions. For me it wasn’t a crisis of identity, or a midlife crisis, or anything like that. I had already taken that hill and moved on. I was already convinced that my creator had me where he wanted me to be, but I wasn’t really sure that He had me “how” he wanted me to be. It’s kind of like this; You get to a point in the race and you’re running with your head down for all your worth and all of a sudden you look around and realize that your running alone and you’re not really sure where. Somewhere along the course, the signs were switched and you are running a course that you never intended and it’s probably not going where you thought it would go. So you’ve been running, with purpose and passion and all the energy that you can offer, and when you stop nothing is familiar anymore. Anyway, it seems kind of deep, but not really. Most people will go through this to some extent in their life time and its not necessarily an indication of a need for “some time away”. It just means that maybe we missed an onramp and need to proceed to the next one.
I have this line of a song in my head this morning “starting today I’m someone, I’d be proud to know”. It’s from the group VanZant, from the “Freebird”, lighter waving, VanZants of Lynyrd Skynyrd days gone by. This and the revisiting of my rock have me looking in the mirror again. It’s the same concept that I had to come to terms with 3 years ago. Am I becoming someone that I’d be proud to know. Am I a husband that I’d be proud to know? Am I a dad that I’d be proud to know? Am I a leader that I’d be proud to know? I was and still am doing fairly well with these things, and I’m told that more than I care to or need to know. My realization lately though is that I do well according to standards and comparisons that have been created by a lowest common denominator culture. I do very well there, being graded on a curve.
My rock experience has led me to realize though that once again I’ve been running with my head down. There’s a higher standard that I’m needing to hold myself to and as a result there is a higher standard that I need to lead those in my community o’ faith to.
I often wonder what in the world is the point to my pastoral arts calling. I mean really, do people really need my influence to love and serve people? Am I just a talking head, or an administrator, or someone to perform weddings and funerals? What is my role? Is this faith community really what Jesus envisioned when He entrusted His worldly influence to “the Church”? Is it really about the ABC’s …attendance, buildings, and cash? Is it deeper or is it not that deep? Those are the voices in my head.
Before anyone who knows me and can physically reach me begins to size me up for a big butterfly net, here is my conclusion as of 8:29am on Monday May 7th @ Tullys on the beach; It’s not so complex. Notice I said it’s not so complex. I didn’t say that it’s not difficult. It just isn’t very complicated. As a member of a community o’ faith, it’s not that complicated. I need to love people. That’s it. Not only that though, I need to find out just what it is that will demonstrate the fact that I love them. As a leader of a community o’ faith, I need to encourage and model loving and serving people. That’s it. Some people will get it and some people won’t. I pray that those who get it far outnumber those who don’t. Those who don’t get it, but wear the T-shirts anyway, give those of us who get it a bad name, and worse yet they give Jesus and His church a bad name. I apologize for when I screw up and I apologize for those others who screw up, but my job description is my own and that is enough to be responsible for. As a husband I need to love my wife, and not just in the snuggling up to see what I can get kind of way. I’m supposed to love her by sacrificing and providing a sense of security. As a dad I need to love my kids. I need to give them time, I need to reserve energy, physical and emotional. I need to offer direction and then consolation when direction is ignored. Looking back over this revelation, it seems very simplistic to say, but I can’t help realize that I simply need to be like Jesus. I need to put my head up every once in awhile. I need to make sure that I’m in the right race. I need to change the signs for those who have missed the turns. I need to rise above the curve.
We have all experienced rocks in life. For some of us, they represent challenges and obstacles to formidable to deal with. They divert our paths or frustrate our efforts and sometimes they cause us to just sit down and give up. For some, rocks are for climbing on. We have discovered that it greatly improves the view.