Monday, July 30, 2007

signals

I have an interesting, for me anyway, dilemma at the moment. It’s certainly not life threatening, and easily resolved for me. I’m sitting here with a blank screen and a blank mind and hoping for God to drop inspiration into my lap so I can get my writing fix in at the beginning of the week. Inspiration in the form of an annoyance appears. Not exactly how I would have scripted it, but I’ll take what I can at the moment. This is where the dilemma enters.
Lately, it seems, that whenever I fire up my trusty porto-pc at this particular caffeinated establishment, I get conflicting signals for my wireless. Here’s the issue. In this place I can look out the window, across the corner, to a Starbucks. I realize that this is not such a stretch in Seattle. So anyway, I fire up my laptop and it automatically seeks signal from a friendly wi-fi provider. The place that I frequent, Tully’s, has free wi-fi. The venue across the street does not. In fact it has a very expensive choice for wi-fi that I will not mention lest I be sued on top of the wi-fi charge.
Anyway, the obvious sane preference is going for free, and sometimes the signal from here kicks in immediately. But occasionally the extortionist from across the street increases impulse power like a tractor beam from the Starship Enterprise and it beseeches me to log on for only $19.95 per month. Now I will admit, the reason this happens is that I have, in fact, at one time gone over to the dark side and created an account with the previously mentioned extortionists. It was a desperate time. I was in New Orleans a few months after the hurricane on a relief mission and it was the only game in town at the time to provide outside updates to those who cared about our trip. I understand the extortion then, everyone seems to be doing it at the scene of natural disasters. I’m told it’s supply and demand. I’d call it a load of crap. However, it is what it is.
After some extra strokes of the keyboard I can solve my dilemma and log into the free wi-fi that I have come to expect. Here’s the inspirational parallel though that I was seeking. As I reflect on my daily situations and decision making, I often know what I prefer. I often know the right thing to do versus the wrong thing. However, more than I care to admit, the signals come in from everywhere else but the place that I’m at, and there can often be confusion as to what is really the profitable thing to do. Sometimes the signal comes in the form of something more recognizable. I am convinced that some people pay the ridiculous fees because it is what is provided at the mecca of coffee. They already pay the increased coffee prices, so why not add wi-fi to it as long as they can be with the “in” crowd. There is a culture who would rather be poor and “inside” than responsible and “outside” in those other places. They can’t think deeper than the brand and the advertising and they’ll buy anything associated with it. I don’t blame them, the signals can overpower at times and it appears that these choices, no matter how costly, are the only choices. I interact with a good many people who question whether, indeed, there is right and wrong at all. Is it all relative to the situation? I think the answer to this one is a bit more obvious than we may care to admit. How much does it cost? Every decision has some type of cost associated with it. Wrong choices cost a great deal. They may cost relationships. They may cost health. They may cost security. It is nearly beyond my ability to comprehend how deceived people truly are who don’t see that poor choices come from bad signals.
It’s not that I don’t always know when the signals are wrong. Probably, for the most part I do. The question is in the effort that it takes to make the right ones. Honestly, in the case of my wi-fi, I have less clicks of my mouse to log into $19.95 per month than I do for free. I the moment, it really is easier to pay. The problem comes at the end of the month, when the bill comes due. That is when I realize the cost of following the wrong signal. By that time it’s too late, and I have to pay.

Monday, July 23, 2007

limits

I’m trying to regain a sense of control this week. Selfishness has been taking a beating lately. During this past week, little has been about me. That’s ok I guess, for a week anyway. I’d rather not make this a habit though. Last week was about college, and movies, and artists, and internships, and weddings, and herniated discs and cars, none of which were mine, but all of which I was responsible for. This week didn’t promise to start off any better.
Last night, in thinking through just the mornings tasks, I nearly had a panic attack. At least I thought it might be one. I’ve never had one, but I imagine they feel that way. It ended quickly though when I resolved to get up extra early today to start the week with some caffeinated beach time to try and establish balance real early. I’ve heard that the best defense is a good offense so I’ve decided to go on the offensive today and take some of my selfish time right at the beginning. I’ve discovered that if one finds that there is not enough time in the day, just get up earlier and make more. It’s working for me at the moment.
I was feeling a bit guilty about all of this. Let me clarify. I’ve been feeling only a hint of guilt about the selfishness. I should feel more I know, but the older I get the less guilt I feel. I think it will totally disappear when I retire and then, like millions of other retired people, I will do whatever the heck I want to do. I’ll probably order Big Mac’s at Burger King and Whoppers at McDonalds and both with coffee and no one will be able to tell me I’m wrong. Did I say that out loud? Anyway, it’s only been a hint of guilt. Then I read these encouraging words in the “Book of Books”, “Then Jesus went off to a solitary place”.
So there it is. The creator of the universe and everything in it, the Savior sent for all mankind, the King of kings, Lord of lords, Alpha and Omega, every once in awhile must have had enough. So off He went to a solitary place. I chose Tully’s. It’s not quite the same, but then again neither are we. I would guess that He dealt with more schedule alteration in a week than I’ll deal with in my life. The amazing thing is that it was pretty much, as far as I can tell, without caffeine. It’s probably why He chose wine, but that’s another line of discussion.
So here I am, at the start of a new week. All that I know for certain is that it will be a week and I guess that it will be whatever I choose it to be. I’ll need some solitary places. I’ll need lots of caffeine, and before its over I might even be longing for wine. What I do know is this….It’s beginning right now, ready or not and I need to get out of here and live with it. The retired crowd has just shown up. I know my limits

Monday, July 16, 2007

There

Life is totally off center today. I didn’t get to any of my places of inspiration. I barely got coffee at all really. Don’t feel bad for me though. Compared to what is going on around me, these details are insignificant. The two main ladies in my life are in crisis which means my needs can wait a bit. Their situations are far from similar, which makes their needs not even remotely close, which then translates into a magnified challenge for me. My wife’s crisis is physical. She has another herniated disc in her lower back. This makes three consecutive summers with unplanned spinal failures which have fairly well debilitated those of us who depend on her. It’s not just what she does that we miss, but it’s also who she is that is incomplete. My daughter, has a crisis all her own. It’s known to most of us as the pursuit of higher education and the quest to find oneself. It is also a painful journey which should not be taken alone. That’s where I come in. I need to be there for both of them.
So I spent the morning with my wife at the chiropractor and now the afternoon with my daughter. In fact this page is originating from what’s commonly referred to as a Student Union. They haven’t changed much since the pre-Microsoft days of my own higher education.
In fact I think I recognize the same students sleeping in the same chairs in the same lounge with the same books open. It’s kind of a Rip VanWinkle thing going here. Anyway, here I sit waiting for her to get through her assessment testing.
I wish that it was that simple. Assessment testing I mean. Like if you could just take a test which would place your life on track in a whole and satisfying way. I wish that guidance counselors really did have answers that could help. In my pastoral arts profession I get to do something wonderful called referral. If I don’t have the answers, then I can refer to someone who does, and I frequently exercise that gift because, really, I have few answers. Parenting doesn’t allow for many referrals.
I didn’t say that many parents don’t refer out. Unfortunately they do. I say unfortunately because in the end, I’ve discovered, that children, no matter what the age, don’t really need answers as much as they need parents. Let me make this a bit clearer to any parentals, as my daughter refers to them, who might be reading this. They want to know you care more than they need you to have the answers. They want you to journey with them, not pay for a professional guide. That’s not to say that there are no occasions for professional guidance. It’s just that in my experience, most of that should be reserved for the parents.
So for me, I’m left with a feeling of complete inadequacy. With my wife, I can comfort her, get her something to drink, help her get dressed, move pillows, rotate ice packs and steady her on walks. It doesn’t solve her back issues. I have realized though that just my presence brings her comfort. For my daughter, my presence is the key as well. I try to know her. I wish that I could understand the intricacies of being a female in her phase of life, I’m not yet convinced that even God knows. I know that she’s scared, although she puts up a good front. I know that she has doubts and I wish that I could reassure her.
I’m sitting here in the twilight zone of a college campus, remembering my own freshman experience in a time long ago and a galaxy far away. I can see myself sitting at one of these tables, without the laptop of course, not having the faintest clue of what having a daughter would be like. It was pretty close to the furthest thing from my mind. And now, I look and here I am, with someone that same age is looking to me to provide some insight or wisdom learned from all of those years in between. I’m embarrassed to tell you that I don’t remember nearly enough of the in between. I can tell you this though. What I have learned is this. Parents develop all kinds of delusions about what the ultimate parent must be. You can be funny. You can be serious. You can be lenient, strict, generous, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. All they need is for you to be there.

Monday, July 09, 2007

gifts

It’s crowded in here this morning. I’m a bit later than usual so I avoided the beach this morning, but this isn’t much better. Even the local police are having a hard time finding a seat. I’m not giving up mine. I’ve given enough to local law enforcement lately, but let’s not go there today. They have their jobs to do. It’s just that they seem to enjoy it so much when it’s not to my benefit. I do have to admire the attitude though. To love what you do is certainly a gift that not nearly enough get to experience. I have a feeling that this has a direct effect on the mid-life crisis phenomenon.
I know this to be true. I’ve already been there and come out on the other side. Growing up in a success driven culture, an understanding is formed that you need to be good at what you do. Good is successful right? Good brings you recognition. Recognition brings you finances, and finances bring you security, and security brings you happiness, right? Maybe. Most likely not though. Mostly it’s a load of crap. The only ones to get rich off of this concept is the counselors who treat those of us who have been sold this concept and the ones who right the books that encourage us onwards toward being good.
Now, lest this become depressing and morose and melancholy and whatever else leads one to turn to the goth side, let me brighten the day. Good may be good, but loving is best. Allow me to elaborate. It’s all well and good to have expertise in your chosen life’s work as long as, and only as long as, you are passionate about what you do. If it lifts you out of bed in the morning and helps you seek the beginning of each new day, then you have my permission to pursue expertise in it. After all, being good at something certainly enhances the experience. It doesn’t however create the experience. The love of it naturally leads to the expertise, it doesn’t work the other way around.
I have recently been honored to be surrounded by people in my community o’ faith who truly love what they do regardless of the status and compensation. Yesterday I was able to enjoy the presence of a truly gifted guitarist. He was beyond gifted actually, one of the best I’ve seen and certainly the best I’ve met personally. The energizing thing about being around him though was his obvious love for what he did and his “God will provide” attitude in which he pursues the sharing of his gift. I was able to witness artists and artist “someday will- be’s” contributing to a collaborative painting that takes place each week during our teaching time. The love of the experience brings it all to life as I get to do what I love in my pastoral arts role while they get to communicate in a way that they love in the visual arts discipline.
Even better news for you reading this today is that you can start today, doing something that you love I mean. It is a gift and you don’t need to wait until tomorrow to open it. (Unless of course you’re reading this at 11pm). Why do you do what you do? Is it because it is the responsible thing to do? The cynics will ask “what if everyone just did what they really loved, willy nilly, with no regard to salary, security, or family?”. I’d respond that we would all be in a much happier place. God can handle it. I see Him as big picture, as in the Milky Way galaxy, and He’s in the details. Just look at your fingers as you type. A new dynamic would be created, maybe even a new paradigm. (I’ve never been able to use that word so I thought I’d just stick it in here)
What will my wife say, my husband, my kids? They just might say “I love you” more if you are an enjoyable person to be around. I would suggest that you would be a more enjoyable person to be around if you are immersed in the gift of what you love. If you love what you do, truly love it with every bit of your being, it’s probably because you’re doing what you were created to do. So do it with every ounce of your being. Take a risk and really live life. Jesus promised life more abundant for those who choose to live life according to His plan. If you are of the persuasion that you don’t buy into the Jesus thing, well consider this. You only have one life. Make it count. I’m confident that mine will count in this one and the next. What about you? It is your gift and the only thing better than getting a gift is sharing yours along the way. That is really the only thing that we’re called to be successful at anyway.

Monday, July 02, 2007

calling

I’m back at the beach this morning. I feel smarter here sometimes. Let me put it this way, if gray hair is a sign of wisdom and knowledge, I’m swimming in the Encyclopedia Britannica this morning. The retired crew is out in force inside and outside. I’m beginning to think that the promised rapture has come and only taken those under 50, with a few notable exceptions at caffeine central.
The sun is out, the water is blue, the mountains still white, and the ferries are dutifully carrying their cargo of those less fortunate to real jobs across the bay. I on the other hand, live and breathe in the realm of pseudo employment. By that I mean, I don’t necessarily have real hours in which I perform the tasks for which I receive financial reward. This might sound like a brilliant plan to operate by but, let me assure you, it’s not always all that it seems. As a pastoral artist, I really kind of get paid for being instead of doing.
In order to really be effective at this, I believe anyway, I can’t be confined to a 9 to 5 schedule. That would mean that I would need to be giving, serving, loving, patient, reverent, and all the rest of those admirable pastoral qualities all within the regular schedule of traditional office hours. When off the clock, I would be free to unwind and be a total jack ass. All deaths would have to be between 9 and 5. Of course I would need an hour for lunch a few 15 minute breaks in between, so please no marital strife then either. I can’t do weddings unless you want to deal with time and a half for overtime and Sunday messages…… don’t even go there. I have rights you know.
Fortunately, someone had the wisdom, somewhere back in time, to understand this. They must have had a full head of gray hair. It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure. It is if you treat it right anyway. It’s actually more of a calling. Honestly, sometimes I wish that I had caller ID back when I received “the call”. Most of the time though, I really appreciate this life. I mean really, how many ever get to be paid for just being rather than doing. Pastors and artists, successful ones anyway, both share in the idea of being financially compensated for being. I guess that is part of the reason for my self proclaimed title of pastoral artist.
So I’m watching the ferries and letting this stream of consciousness role through my synapses, and I wonder what life would be like if more were identified by their roles and not just their tasks. Granted, there would be some disadvantages. There are some professions that, while absolutely worthy and essential to our civilization, would not wear well as a 24/7 role to play. There are some jobs that need to be left after the shift, but all the same they require a level of skill and care and effort that could carry over into our being. On the other hand, what would life be like if people lived their roles beyond the pay scale? What if teachers lived lives that taught all of the time? What if physicians were consumed with healing? What if lawyers….well never mind. There are admittedly some flaws in the concept.
I don’t really think that this is a one size fits all concept. I have assimilated some of the wisdom in this place, after all. I do think that this carries over in other aspects of life. In my life, it’s essential that I live my chosen mission. There are demands and responsibilities that go with the description. I knew this going into it, as do most who take on a task or a role for which they are wearing a title. Doctors know this, lawyers know this, flight attendants know this, baristas know this, cooks know this, and landscapers know this. Most times, unless you have a union job, the title identifies the task.
It’s my professional opinion that people of faith need to know this as well. To call yourself a Christian, for example, comes with certain expectations. They identify the role. When in a hospital, it’s not too big a stretch to tell who the doctor is. They act like doctors. When in a courtroom, it’s not difficult to identify the lawyers. On a beach, the life guards are readily identifiable as is the ice cream guy driving by in the truck. When in a church, you should be able to identify at least some of the Christians. When outside of their natural settings, it becomes a bit more challenging to separate any of them, one from another. You might wonder why I even take the time to care about this at all. I’m glad you asked.
Here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter as much if you can’t identify the others outside of their task. Christians, on the other hand, even more so the professional ones, are specifically called to be identified outside of their environments. Being identified on the inside is not a very big deal. In fact their environments aren’t supposed to be their environments at all. I’ll take just one more minute to address those who share my faith. We are supposed to exist outside. We are supposed to be more than do. Ours is a calling, not a title. Some of us are paid for this and therefore have a higher obligation to live and love and serve, but only lightly higher. None of us are hired, all of us are called. So take some time, after 5 of course, to go outside and practice being. It’s a good life when you live it.