Monday, October 29, 2007

dressed

I bought some new clothes the other day. It’s probably not a news worthy event, but it is of fair significance for me. It meant that I was in the mood. Most times, when wandering the aisles with my wife, I’m not really wondering “what’s in this trip for me”. If we’re in a clothing store, the answer is usually “nothing”. It’s not because she doesn’t try desperately to liven up my wardrobe. I just have to be in a mood. Usually, I’d call that mood desperation.
Anyway, the other day we’re exploring the racks, shoes I think, when I just began to be inexplicably drawn around the corner to men’s clothing. My brain was whispering to me "shirt". I need a new shirt for my Sunday pastoral arts detail. Maybe it was because my inner voice was reminding me that anything remotely worth wearing was still awaiting rescue at the dry cleaners. It’s the curse of being high maintenance I guess.
I picked out 3 and waited excitedly, well OK…anxiously, nervously, whatever,…I just waited for my wife to appear from shoes, which in and of itself was a practice in optimism. She came, I appealed to her sense of style, and we chose one. I wasn’t going overboard here. Anyway, the success of the shirt led me like Frodo from the Rivendale of shirts towards the Mordor of pants. This is always treacherous territory for me. It’s a place I’d never venture without the Gandalf like presence of my wife to offer wisdom and her magic staff to protect me from falling off a fashion cliff. She didn’t fail me and with the help of a very brave staff member of the store, and a cashier who gazed at our debit card like it was the "Ring of Power", we were on our way. The new outfit made its public debut on Sunday and with one possible exception, despite the best intentions of All Star Fitness, of a slightly out of shape model, it looked great. I think.
That’s my problem. I think. My whole reluctance with the clothing deal is that when I find stuff that I think I like, that I think is cool, that I think is in style, that I think fits, or whatever, I find out I missed the cut by about 5 years. It’s frustrating. It’s a hamster wheel. And the deal with hamster wheels is that they always come around again. Imagine my delight every time I see one of the fashion trends of my youth come back around, only to realize that I just gave that stuff away to Goodwill. Why do I bother?
The wheel goes around again. Some people get motion sickness from it. I get fashion sickness.
That’s why I rely on my wife. She wields her staff with clarity and skill and if I follow her advice, I find my way along the journey. If not, then there are goblins and orcs all around and somedays I dress like them. She reminds me to rotate my clothing because I tend to like something and keep it front and center. Every once in awhile I sneak in an old pair of sweatpants when her all seeing eye is fixed somewhere else.
I try my best. I really do, but it’s exhausting. Sometimes, the best that I can hope for is just to be dressed.

Monday, October 22, 2007

forecast

I woke up this morning, went through the routine which always includes turning on the Today show, and listened to Al’s weather forecast. Once again, it included the phrase “Showers in Seattle”. Once again I wandered outside, laptop in tow, and gazed up at a gorgeous sunrise lifting over the eastern mountains. Into my car, morning radio conversing with me, and it’s down the hill toward the water and caffeine. No showers in sight. In fact, as I came in for my usual, the usuals were already there commenting on, of all things, the gorgeous morning outside on the beach. Once again I’m bugged.
I’m bugged because once again, people all over the nation will arise to the authority of the network weather god and learn that people in Seattle must be ridiculous to endure the soaking that we are surely always getting. One more day, I’ll take phone calls from people in other parts of the world with that condescending “poor pitiful you” tone in their voice, inquiring about when the rain might stop, while I glance outside wondering what the heck they’re talking about. Anyway, it may sound trivial, but that’s where I’m at this morning.
It has occurred to me that this is how stereotypes are born. I don’t deny that, more than likely, somewhere out here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s probably raining this morning. But from my experience, that rarely means “Seattle”. I live in Seattle, not a suburb, not a wanna be, not the county, but actually within the city limits. Someone I know once proclaimed, about an eastern suburb, “well when they think of that they’re really referring to Seattle”. That’s their problem. Just because they think that doesn’t make it so. I have to admit to the same semantics in my own existence. I tell people that I’ve moved from Syracuse because they wouldn’t know where in the hell Pennelville is. I understand that method of connection. However I do think that it contributes to stereotypes and those are rarely a good thing.
I live within the worlds of stereotyping and I live to break the ones that I’m included in. I’m a pastor and I love people never being able to figure that out. I hold to the Christian faith and it brings me major levels of joy to correct that one as well. I’m a husband madly in love with his wife and a dad who tries to stay involved in the life of his kids and consequently, Hollywood would never recognize me. That is just the way I like it. I spend my life suspended between two very easily stereotyped groups, Christians and artists. And the really interesting part as I live in two worlds is that the views of each toward the other can be extremely stereotypical. It’s my mission in life to enlighten people to the amazing concept that God has no stereotypes. Everyone is unique and not to be placed in a box that is not of theirs or His design.
Certainly we all have tendencies that are probably born out of environment, more than creation, however, each has the capability and right to be unique. We answer only to our creator. We’re only responsible for His design. I could wake up each morning, and rely on the forecast given by someone on the other side of the continent. Or I could choose to walk outside, lift my head up and feel the sun. Just so you know Al, it’s not raining in Seattle today.

Monday, October 15, 2007

pacing

I’m trying something different this week. The last few weeks have suddenly added up to a year and I’m breathing a bit heavy. So I’m trying something different this week. It’s called pacing. It’s certainly not a universal breakthrough as far as concepts go, but it’s a bit of a shift for me. I’m traditionally more of the opinion that it’s better to burn out than rust out. Having been born and raised most of my life in the great northeastern United States, I’m well acquainted with rust. I am, however, a bit wiser and more understanding that neither of the previously mentioned lifestyles is conducive to leading a community o’ faith. So I will downshift and begin the process of pacing. For the moment, it’s just me and the crows who are line sitting over the sidewalk outside of my window.
I began this morning by accompanying a group of preschoolers to a pumpkin farm. If that won’t clear your mind of anything seemingly life altering then I don’t know what will. Seeing life and priorities through the eyes of a 4 year old is quite refreshing and balancing. I’ve been reminded that to little boys, it’s still enjoyable to consider the art of booger eating. Three hours of this can be quite enough for some, but today it was far too short. So now it’s back down to the beach for me with this electronic keyboard, caffeine and a bit of “Magic” from The Boss on my headphones. I’m pacing myself.
For once I get to enjoy not trying to outguess life and figure out just where I should be at the end of the week. I don’t have any plans for the week, except to make some plans that might be worth carrying out. I don’t have any goals for the week except to come up with some goals that might be worthy of chasing.
It’s important to do this from time to time I think. Not doing so can leave me in danger of stranding those who are following out on a long stretch of desert road, much like Forrest Gump, while “Running on Empty” plays softly on some cosmic background track. I lead a somewhat public life, and in doing so, it’s often very sobering to know that, to some, I have an inside track to something they seek. They see me polished and clean and looking somewhat competent……….occasionally anyway. So I sometimes think that somehow I have a greater responsibility. I’m pacing myself.
The truth of the matter is that we all lead public lives. Some of us just have titles that make it more obvious, but we all live publicly. We are friends, parents, partners, and co-workers. We have influence, the power to choose to do good rather than evil, the choice to burn or rust. We can lift up or put down. The right things always take more energy than the wrong. I’m going to need some more pacing.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

history

G.K. Chesterton once proposed that, quite possibly, each morning, God says to the sun “Do it again!”. This morning is one of those I believe. As I drove down to the beach, the sun was painting watercolor streaks of magenta and orange against the misty, muted violet mountain lines on the eastern horizon. I realize some of you never get to see this. You should try it sometime. It’s worth the effort. And I couldn’t help but think, “Do it again!”. Upon arrival at my caffeinated home by the water I discovered that He was saying the same thing to a whole bunch of His other creation. Being Tuesday morning I am a day late in my routine due to some pressing needs, but even still it looks like Monday in here. God obviously had the same “Do it again” message for the seniors who haunt me here as well as our local law enforcement. History does seem to repeat itself.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a fan of history. I appreciate days gone by, antiques, and Nickelodeon. However, I’m much more enamored with the concept of being historical, rather than the simple passing of history. There is a difference. Very simply, history passes time, while, I believe, historical changes it forever. Everything that has happened throughout time leading up to my previous key stroke is history. Fewer moments can really be considered historical. I’ll give you an example. This past Sunday within my community o’ faith was history as soon as it was completed. This next Sunday will be historical long after it passes. This Sunday will be historical for us because, for the first time in our 100 years, we will not hold services on Sunday morning. Instead we will be in groups throughout the community performing acts of service. It’s historical because, this moment in time will alter our routine. It will challenge assumptions of “we always done it this way”. It will be a moment to be lived and savored, and then remembered as an “I was there” type of event. It will be invigorating for some. For others, simply frightening. Many who surround us would choose the routine and comfort of being history, rather than the risk and uncertainty of being historical.
I take comfort in the knowledge that God has been through history already, and remarkably, even as I type these words, this moment is history to him as well. He’s been there, He’s here now, and He’s already been where I’m going. I just read last night the reality that God has already said all that there is to say. There is nothing new to Him. There are no surprises. There is mystery to be sure, but only to us. He’s already covered all of the bases. If you don’t believe that then your God is too small. It’s already contained in the Book of Books. The key to unearthing it is interpretation. That’s where we have fallen woefully short. It has nothing to do with the shortcomings of the Creator, but rather the misguided meddling of the creation. I am certain that I have contributed plenty of meddling. I’m thankful that He can and does often work it somehow for good. Even still, each meddling day passes into night, and as the dawn approaches, He says “Do it again”, and we have another shot at being historical.

Monday, October 01, 2007

leading

I admit that I really have no idea what I’m doing most days. I may be able to put on a good showing, but most of any success that might be observed in my life is literally by the grace of the One who created me. I’m a follower more than a leader by nature. Leading tends to give me headaches. Following however, if done correctly, can appear brilliant and lead to its own success.
This process is a tough sell in corporate, the one who dies with the most toys wins, America. The same goes for the American church. The traditional view is overwhelmingly in favor of “leaders”. The type “A”, dog eating dog, top rung on the ladder people are the ones who get recognition. I happen to be in a position and a role that, at times, recognizes those very types. I have no doubt that it can be beneficial to the church community to have such people in such places. I have seen these instances first hand. I also have no doubt that it can be a trap from which a community o’ faith will be hard pressed to escape. Unfortunately I have witnessed this as well, along with throngs of media and tabloid subscribers.
I guess it could be argued that I have personal motive to feel the way I do. After all, I am by no means a type “A”. Even the thought of attempting to be one exhausts me. So if I would concede that the popular notion of leadership is the preferred one, then I would invalidate my own method. I cannot do that. I have seen too much evidence to the contrary. So the question becomes “How does one lead by following?”
I think that I have an answer. I didn’t say “the” answer. I said “an” answer. I believe that I learned this through a combination of life experience and faith experience. Before my life as a pastoral artist, I had a life working with sonar. Sonar is a brilliant technology which helps one see without the aid of sight. That concept fits my life most days. In simple terms, when one is underwater in a submarine, despite the images from Jules Verne, there are no picture windows to lounge in front of sipping cognac. You don’t look outside at 20,000 leagues under the sea. You travel by sending out signals and waiting for them to bounce back to you. The bouncing back of signals can determine anything from size and structure to distance of objects around you under the sea. From that information you get to adjust course or speed or torpedo launch.
Over the course of my new life I’ve learned to be a sonar type of leader, minus the torpedoes. Although, most days, a few could come in handy. In order to lead by this method, one needs to send signals. In my life of faith, it’s known as prayer. It’s a relatively simple process really but, like sonar technology, there is a huge element of faith in following what you can’t really see. . I don’t want to sound like I’m the only one who lives this way. Many people do. My experience is not that we need more signals being sent out, we really need more paying attention to the ones being sent back. We tend to filter out the ones that are uncomfortable or inconvenient. The ones that would cause us to alter our course are often sent back for reinterpretation. I know many who are off course, or they’ve already been torpedoed and it’s not because they haven’t gotten any signals back.
The key to leading by following is in interpreting the return signals. I’d be quite arrogant, I guess, if I claimed to be able to read the signals accurately. However, the more I send out, the better my chances are of getting some of the return ones right. So I hold no claim to success in any leadership endeavors. I really prefer to follow. The best I can hope for on any given day is to, by faith, follow the Leader.