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.

Monday, June 18, 2007

ginomai

It’s been quite a week. I began here a week ago and I returned here this morning, but in between….well that was a week. Let me just explain it as briefly, but thoroughly as I can. Seven of us traveling together on a ridiculously early flight, arrival in Chicago, rental car success, great meal, great hotel, cicada invasion, ridiculous traffic, plan B on the “El” to downtown, wonderful walk in wonderful weather through some classic architecture, Michigan avenue, Hershey’s store, great neighborhood deep dish pizza, back on the “El”, great hotel, very large conference full of artists and inspiration, more cicadas, Navy Pier, back to the airport for a ridiculously late flight, giving up seats for two more tickets, a free stay in a gorgeous hotel, first class flight in the morning, graduation parties, teaching in my community o’ faith, Fathers Day, and now here I am again. It’s been quite a week.
All through this experience I’ve had the same thought running through my head. Ginomai. It’s pronounced gee-no-my, or something close to it if you want to be in the know. Otherwise you can just butcher it like most people do. Usually they just look at me with a “what are you talking about?” kind of look. It means “bringing into being or existence”. It’s Greek. It makes me feel smarter when I say it and it sounds kind of cool. Anyway, I chose to name our own art community offering that my community o’ faith has embarked upon over the past 10 months. I chose this word to identify what was resurrected after the death of our school, in a tribute to the origin of everything that was created outlined in the Book of Books, John Chapter 3. The word haunted me all week.
As I said earlier, I was surrounded by artists all week. They were painters, sculptors, dancers, musicians, poets, writers, vocalists, and technicians. It was very inspiring because, as was repeated often during the week, artists have been noticeably absent over the past many decades when it comes to the average faith community. It’s in the heart of why we have given some of what my community has over to artists. For many years I’ve wondered what has happened to creativity in a community that worships the Creator. I may have come to a resolution of sorts with this.
Here it what I think. Take it for what it’s worth. I have considered myself an artist of sorts for the majority of my adult life. However, it has always been in the context of “artist in hiding” or a “closet artist”. I’ve never stopped to consider what has kept me in hiding or in the closet. I’ve never stopped to seriously wonder why I don’t spend more time in something that is obviously part of me. I never did, until this week. When it finally occurred to me, it was actually very simple and very obvious. It’s time. Actually it is time spent and where it is spent. I spend most of my time dealing with a profession that is in and around and under and about the Creator. I’m realizing that I don’t get to spend much time “with” the Creator. In the simplest of terms, I’m in church and most artists that I know aren’t. On the surface it seems simple doesn’t it? I spend too much time in the church to be creative. Even as I write these words, I see how dangerous this has become. Let me say this clearly though. I do not believe that I have to get out of church to have time to be creative. I have to quit “doing” church.
There is an interesting and haunting passage in the “Book of Books”, actually in John again, which deals with this very dilemma. Coincidence? There are two sisters hosting Jesus, the original ginomai, at a home party. Think Tupperware, except the demonstration is given by the Creator of the universe. Anyway, like two siblings in the back of a minivan traveling across Wyoming, they are in conflict. And like the average pair of siblings, they can’t resolve it themselves without tattling. So Martha, the anal retentive sister, is tattling on Mary to Jesus about how here sister won’t share the load when it comes to snack prep. I think that she was actually of the mindset that Jesus would be on her side. Responsibility and all things considered, I totally could understand where she was coming from. It’s the schedule thing. Anyway, as Jesus usually did, He came up with an unexpected answer. It’s unexpected to me, but it really shouldn’t be if you understand His point of view. He tells Martha that Mary, who has chosen to sit at His feet listening to His every word, has chosen the better work. How is that possible? She didn’t choose work at all. She chose sitting on her tail. I know those people, they drive me crazy.
I need to get over it. He is Jesus after all so I’m guessing that it’s more likely that His interpretation of life is a bit more accurate than mine. The artists that I know spend time in a presence and process that allows them a flow of creativity. I don’t mean to say that they all share my faith or at least my views on how it is lived out. Many, if not most, do not. That doesn’t negate the fact that God as ginomai, is most likely involved in their creative process. I’m not sure. What I am sure of is this. The reason why I’m still an “artist in hiding” is that I spend way too much “doing” my life of faith and not enough “being”. I’ve referred often to my chosen profession in the pastoral arts field. In that field, titles have become very important. They identify what you’re place of influence could or should be. I think that I may change mine to Pastoral Artist. In order for it to be credible though, I’ll need to focus on “the better work”. I’ll need to focus on ginomai.

Monday, June 11, 2007

listening

I woke up this morning trying hard to listen. Now, I’ll admit that some would say that at the hour that I wake up in the morning there is not much to listen to. That’s kind of the point. It is quiet, I’ll grant you that. But quiet isn’t necessarily what is needed to help me in my listening skills. I’m not necessarily seeking to listen to voices of the human persuasion. It’s the inhuman kind that I’m listening for. Some call it the inner voice. Some call it the inner self, and some even call it the inner child. Sometimes I think that those people should have probably had their inner child spanked a number of years ago. The Book calls it the “still small voice”. My faith calls it the Holy Spirit of the God of the universe.
I’m not sure how you think, but in my finite mind I tend to wonder why the still small voice is small at all. You’d think that the God of the universe and author of some type of creative “Big Bang” could come up with something a bit more attention getting. Some people could use the still small lightening strike to give them guidance. In the Oldest parts of the Book of Books I read about earthquakes, pillars of fire, plagues, and all sorts of “not so small” attention getters. I wonder why all I get is a whisper that, at times, is so hard to discern. I’d settle for a trumpet blast here and there, maybe even a doorbell or two. It’s the smallness that I don’t get. I have to concentrate. I have to focus. I have to listen.
I’m learning to do that more with the people who surround me. I know in my mind that the way to show someone value is to listen to them, to acknowledge them and then to respond. Appropriate response is the key. I have a tendency to respond before listening. I tend to want to fix without being asked to. I have a history of thinking beyond the interaction of the moment. The interesting thing is that this quality really drives me crazy when it’s used on me. It’s the politician handshake. It’s the hand in hand with their eyes on the next person, type of interchange which tells me that I’m valued for the contact, not for the relationship. Even someone as relationally challenged as I can be knows that this is not as it should be. I’ve become a number to them. So it’s hard for me to imagine doing that until I realize that in fact I am doing that. Too often I’m on autopilot. Too many times I’m thinking ahead of the moment as opposed to resting in the moment.
If I choose to, I find that I am able to focus on the moment and speak to the interaction, not to my own created illusion of the interaction. Can I tell you that it’s hard work. It takes eye contact. Sometimes it takes physical contact. Neither of these things could I lead seminars on. I run at full tilt, physically and mentally, with the best of intentions, but I can easily leave some behind. Don’t get me wrong. I am fairly successful in my pastoral arts field. I’m not sure that this is my calling though, to be successful. I’m first and foremost a creation of the Creator with a design for relationship. I’m not necessarily created to help lead a church “successfully” in whatever my world considers success. It just might be that I’m created to impact the people who I encounter through meaningful interaction. It just might be that a by product of that interaction is some measure of success. It might not be though.
I wonder, as I write, whether or not the parental plea of “look at me while I’m talking to you” might have some deeper meaning and supernatural connection. Perhaps God has implanted that desire deeply in our own hearts as those who are created in His image. I guess that I could have been created in a droid like state which would insure an automatic response to my creator. The evidence that I’ve come across would lead me to believe otherwise though. I think that the intent of the “still small voice” is that we would have to focus on it. We would have to seek it. It takes an investment and it invites contact. I have to concentrate on Him when He’s talking to me. There is a relationship forming there as opposed to a religion. I have to get away from the business of my faith and spend time making faith my business. And it doesn’t even have to be quiet.

Monday, June 04, 2007

different

The weather has changed. I’ve changed up the scenery, for a day at least, by visiting my daughter at my former caffeinated hangout. I’ve even changed my schedule this week. I can feel myself inching further out on a limb even as I write this. For someone with my idiosyncrasies, I find that the best contributor to balance is a recognition and an attempt at stretching. It combats denial. At least I tell myself that anyway. I’ll admit that there’s a bit of Bob (as in “What About….”) in me. It all comes down to baby steps. Even as I proceed through an altered morning ritual I keep telling myself that everything will work out. It will be fine. The clock will still move onwards and dinner will still happen at the appointed hour. It will be just fine. It’s not bad. It’s just different.
This place is full this morning. I can’t help but wonder how many others here are living as planned this morning. Most look as if they are. Even with caffeine coursing through their veins, they all appear calm and collected. The prying part of me wishes that they would all have those little cartoon thought balloons hanging above their heads. On the other hand, if they did, then I would, and all of theirs might be directed at mine telling me to mind my own business. If you can follow that thought then you should consider yourself an expert at deciphering random. Now you have a look into my brain under the influence of change. It really is a great experiment when one can control and direct the change. I would highly recommend it.
It causes me to look at other areas of my life and wonder how much control I could exert over other less than admirable qualities. If I could control some, then should I control some of them? All I’m saying is that I’m sure that this world would be a better place if people would control those attributes and outbursts that they were capable of controlling.
I’ll give you a “for instance” For instance, I am one of those individuals whose moods are greatly altered by my state of hunger. And no, it’s not just because I’m a man. If I don’t eat at certain times and sometimes even certain things, there becomes for me a point of no return and then I become irrational. At seemingly irrational times, the first question asked by my family is usually “Did you eat lunch?. Sometimes I’m just plain irrational. All of us deserve a bit of that luxury in our lives. However, many times my irrational state has been directly determined by my not eating. The part of this that causes me to stop and ponder is that usually I can feel it coming from a ways off. I can feel the rpms approaching red line status. I can feel the wheels beginning to come off. Wouldn’t that be the point in time that I should stop the train and eat something? You’d think so. Life would be measurably different. I’m trying.
So how many other places is this the case? How many situations do I get into when the still small voice inside of me is advising against any more forward progress? How many bolts have I broken when all logic told me to stop yanking and yet I proceeded anyway?
How many relationships have been damaged as I continued to speak even as the voice within tells me to stop speaking? Within my faith there lies the belief that the still small voice is God himself, in the form of the Holy Spirit. You can call it what you will, but He’s there and He’s trying to guide me despite my sometimes plans for otherwise. There are many times that I’m trying to steer the ship on my own power while shutting out the voice. I understand that there are plenty who don’t share this belief. There are plenty of you who are also determined to chart your own course. To you I’ll ask the same Dr. Phil question that I ask myself when another roadblock is inevitable. “How’s that plan working for you?”
I think that this other form of living, I’ll call it conscious living, is much more preferable when I can accomplish it. In order to attempt it, you need to be in the moment. Think through your interaction with the bank teller or maybe the cashier in the not so express lane. How could your 3 minutes together improve the quality of their day? Be conscious of what your child is actually asking you instead of giving the standard parental unit reply. Invest in a moment that you normally would race through without contact.
I love this time that I share with this keyboard each week. We have moments together and sometimes I take them for granted and they hover on the brink of routine. I’m glad I decided to change it up a bit today. I’ve invested in the moments. It’s not bad, not bad at all. It’s just different.