Monday, August 27, 2007

vacation

I’m on vacation. Just being able to write those words should somehow elicit some overwhelming feelings of joy shouldn’t it? Vacation….I’ll write it again and see if it sinks in. I had always expected more. I’m having a “Princess Bride” moment right now. You know the line. “Vizini, you use that word a lot, I do not think it means what you think it means…” That’s how I’m feeing about vacation.
It used to be that I had high hopes for what one might actually be like. That was, of course, back in the day before I could afford to really take a true vacation. You know the type, airlines, rental cars, eating out, blah, blah, blah. Now that I’m older and more capable of taking said vacation, not to mention that I’m older and really need said vacation, I have found that it is all illusion.
A friend asked me, “where would you go on vacation if you could go anywhere?” That’s a nice thought. I really didn’t have an answer for that. Every place I could think of involved airlines and rentals and eating out and the like. From experience, I know that these ingredients do not combine well to form a “vacation”. The only thing it’s a vacation from is reason.
The first indication that all is not what I would have expected is the fact that I’m sitting at home, drinking my own coffee while I write this because we can’t be late for THE AIRPORT. Actually we would be fine except my wife needs to squeeze in a stop at the chiropractor to help her survive the flight to the east coast. She really needs a vacation.
We’re headed back to Syracuse for this years version of a vacation. Actually it’s kind of a last fling as a whole family opportunity. It will be the first time in 6 years that we’re all back together and now we’ll have my daughter in law in tow for her inaugural visit to the “holy land” of childhood memories.
We’re going back to relive some memories and share some experiences with her so that she can understand a little more about who we are and where we came from. Whatever… Anyway, I hope that these experiences really existed somewhere besides the Norman Rockwell lobe of our brains. I’m desperately wanting some relaxation and normalcy. It’s not starting out well, the airline has already changed the seats on our flight and left us with an ominous “seats will be assigned at check in” message on my email. In other words, “We’ve severely overbooked your flight and you could in fact loose the seats that you purchase in January to some “Johnny (or Jenny) come lately” who bought the same seats yesterday”. I can’t wait.
Anyway, it starts today. I’m trying to stay positive even while my flight reminder boasts to me that my particular flights having a stellar 50 and 60 percent on time rating. Why would you post that? I’m trying to relax. I’m sure that I’ll enjoy most of it along the way, as soon as I get away from the airlines and rental car agencies. This may be more than a bit cynical this morning. Cut me some slack. I need a vacation.

Monday, August 20, 2007

access

I live within a closed world. At least sometimes it’s closed. Too often it’s closed.
It shouldn’t be closed at all….ever. After all, the one who created said world formed it with quite the opposite view in mind. The world I refer to is the world of my faith.
Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not closed unto myself. It is actually the community which one becomes associated with when living within a faith context that can too easily become closed.
We can speak our own language. We have our own symbols. We have initiation rights and coded conversations. To be fair, most of us don’t realize that we’re doing it. Many that I am friends with would never seek to live in that vein. And to be fairer still, I have been part of many subcultures who act in much the same manner. In my manufacturing engineering days I existed in a culture of acronyms. Never knowing what any of these letters or designations stood for, we would pompously posture ourselves to show off our limited yet impressive sounding vocabulary. In the end, all it amounts to is words and letters representing over-priced junk.
That is why, when my present world as pastoral artist begins to close in around me and my community o’ faith, I begin to panic. The world I used to represent was somewhat meaningless in the annals of time. Every acronym ever perpetuated by that life will become obsolete even in my own lifetime and much of it already has. This world that I live and breathe even as I type these words will be eternal. Even the nonsense on this blog will outlive my past life's accomplishments in creative engineering. This current world is life and death. It’s real and important and far too often closed to those who seek it.
It is closed in by its own acronyms. It gets buried in “Jesus junk” and can be perpetuated by people who are too comfortable among their own to enjoy the creativity of the very world God has called us to reveal. In the old section of the Book of Books, God has written that His very presence and influence has been written in the skies and the earth that surround us, for all to see. He has given us an all access pass. In the new section, when observing nature was not clear enough for us, He came in the form of a baby and then through the influence of a growing presence, walking among those whom He created. Even in the midst of that we can read about others who lived by the acronyms of comfortable faith. And we also get to read of the outcomes of those choices. Read closely and once again you get an all access pass to the heart of God.
It’s a great formula actually. He writes the story, He paints the stage, and in the end He becomes the main character. That is all access. I’m sorry to say that too many of my kind have distorted the picture. We have tagged the canvas of the Great Artist, sometimes to the point that the masterpiece becomes unrecognizable. My prayer, for my part, is that I would be more of a guide and less of a bouncer. My job isn’t to check credentials. I just need to provide access.

Monday, August 13, 2007

wrestling

I’m into wrestling lately it would seem. I’m not referring to the “men in tights”, thrashing around on a big mat, type of wrestling. I’m also not referring to the chair on the head, cage match to the death, arena lights and fog machines, pseudo rock star world of the WWF. It’s a more personal form of wrestling. It’s like shadow wrestling if there was such a thing. Most of us deal with it. Some of us deny it and still others are treated for it.
The opponent is a formidable one to be sure. Everyone has, is, or will face him. In my life, I’ll just call the opponent “the point”. Some would call him “purpose”. You may call him "meaning". Whatever the name, the contest is the same.
I refer to it as wrestling because I know the feelings, emotional and physical that are attached to a real life wrestling match. Unknown to most, except those who have known me from childhood, is the deep secret that I was once a person of the mat. I was actually fairly good at it. In my short tenure I was only beaten once. I have ribbons packed away to prove it. If I had continued, it may have transformed into a “men in tights” kind of thing. The very thought of that possibility still makes me cringe. Anyway, as I said, I was only beaten once. That one defeat is important because it wasn’t just defeat. I seem to recall that I was soundly thrashed. It is that feeling that still lingers at times when I get into wrestling mode with “the point”. It is an, on your back, bridging to keep your shoulders up, counting referee and screaming spectator, anxiety that tells you that you must gain control or you’ll be hearing the slap on the mat signal to the end of the match.
Now to be honest, for me, wrestling with “the point” doesn’t have quite the same dire consequences that being pinned would have to a middle school boy. It’s more of a flooding of signals all screaming for attention and my seeking to address the one move which will put me back on top of “the point”. But what is that one move?
For those of you who haven’t experienced the exhilaration of a public wrestling match, I need to tell you that in the midst of your contest you will be receiving all sorts of advice as to just which move you should make. These are all well meaning suggestions of course, but the truth of the matter is that most of them are coming from women and overweight, out of shape men whom obviously haven’t had the opportunity to actually wrestle in quite some time. They mean well, but since they are not actually in your tights, their advice is just not the same as being there. It’s not much different when you wrestle with “the point”. There is no lack of suggestions from well intentioned bystanders and not so well intentioned marketers. I can, in fact, right from my window this morning, tell you what the various advertising, within sight of my table, has to say about what the next move should be. I just now put down a professional magazine which struck me as being full of suggestions for what my next move might be.
I know “the point” that has been set before me quite well. I am one of the lucky ones who have a fairly good understanding of it in my own life. The Author of my story has written me in fairly clearly to the pastoral arts field. It’s not really the what of “the point” that I wrestle with from time to time, it’s more of the how. You may be in the same conflict.
I don’t have any advice. I may have spent time in my own tights, but not yours. All I can say is don’t give up. Somewhere, locked inside your experience, the Author of your life has written a move which will put you on top of your match. I didn’t say that you’d win. Neither you or I will experience the ultimate outcome until the Referee calls an end to the match. My one defeat may have been a sound thrashing, but I was never pinned and I never gave up. And I went on to win my next one before calling it quits. It’s best to finish on top.

Monday, August 06, 2007

intersection

It’s amazing the things that one notices when paying attention. I’ve been coming to this particular part of the universe most weeks for the past year or so. And is my nature, I usually sit in the exact same place. Some would call that boring. Some would call that predictable. I call it calculated. Whatever. It’s just who I am. Anyway, this morning, as I sat at my corner table, I realized something very profound. I face the corner, but just to the left of my table is a window. There is also one just to my right, next to me in fact. Looking straight ahead, my view is divided by the corner into two distinctly different worlds. I’ll refer to the one on my left as “coming” and the one to my right as “going”.
In the world of “coming”, off to my left, there are streams of people and their various means of transportation slowing to approach the intersection. They have decisions to make as well as signals to give. Some are approaching with caution and some are testing the laws of physics and braking distances, but all have a directional choice to make as they approach the intersection of “coming” and “going”. Some will give electrically generated signals. Some will give hand signals. I’ve even witnessed individuals extending hand gestures, although I think that these are more of an indication where they feel other travelers should go. It’s nice that they are willing to be so helpful though. Some give no signals. I’ve come to believe that these individuals either have no thought as to where they are going, or else they could care less if others know which way they are about to choose. Some wait for the green. Some go right on red. Still others are obviously color blind and treat red as green and green as red.
In the world of “going” life is much different. There are fewer decisions to be made. Actually the only one that these people appear to be making is how far through these floor boards can I push this pedal? Many of these folks just got off of the ferry so I imagine that possibly they haven’t gotten their land legs quite yet. At least their driving seems to indicate that. There are some in the world of “going” who are not in cars. Even these people seem to walk with a bit more purpose than the “coming” pedestrian types. They’ve made up their minds. They have turned the corner and are striding towards their destination. Either that or they’ve spied the bus stop and the obvious signs of their bus beginning to pull away from the curb.
One benefit of sitting in my seat is that I can also see people making the transition from “coming” to “going”. Change in lives takes place right before my eyes. Same cars, same lives, but new worlds. Decisions have been made, goals have been set, and journeys taken in new directions. It’s amazing what one can observe when paying attention to the surroundings that we are placed in.
I love that about the pastoral arts profession that I have chosen, the changed lives I mean. I love being able to be around to see the life altering decisions that are made. People can change directions and choose to follow or not to follow certain paths and then when the direction is chosen, there can be a refreshing deliberateness in their journey. Some will decide to choose the road less traveled. Some are going to choose to lead instead of follow. It’s the undecided ones that are a mystery.
You know some of those. Some of you are some of those. They are the ones who sit still at green lights, when it is obvious that one can proceed. They are the ones who sit at red lights, waiting to turn right with no approaching traffic, and yet still don’t take advantage of the legal right to proceed. You know them. You have been behind them. You may have tried to gently encourage them on their way. You may have even included gestures to inspire their directional choice. These are the ones who make my life interesting. With them all bets are off. All I can offer from an outsiders point of view is prayer for guidance. They may care if they knew that I’m praying for them, they may not. I just consider it an honor to be at their intersection in the same moment.