Monday, December 31, 2007

bites

I’m going to resist the obvious urge to wax poetic about a new year and an auld lang syne and all the other sentiment that comes with this midnight. Don’t misunderstand, I truly understand the lure of being able to begin again with resolutions that we fully intend to keep. I have been through the emotional relief of leaving a year behind that is best left behind. I’m just following an unofficial resolution of my own. This particular one is one in which I resolve to take life in smaller bites. I’m beginning with this “black forest ham, egg, and cheese” sandwich on an English muffin that I’m enjoying right now with a water view from Starbucks.
My wife would be pleased with me. Even though she is understandably madly in love with me, she is still not impressed with some of my eating habits. She contends that if one eats slower, more intentionally, and with smaller bites, that the culinary experience is greatly enhanced. Poor misguided soul. In reality, the bigger and faster the bites, the more you get to experience in the same amount of time. However, because of another resolution to listen more carefully, as she deserves it, I am beginning here, with my breakfast sandwich. Actually it’s working fairly well. I still have some left. For arguments sake, it could really be that I’m too cheap to eat it fast and then need to purchase more to experience. But for now, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. She is very wise.
In my line of work it has historically been valuable to plan ahead. I’m a great planner. Spreadsheets, flow charts, and time lines have been constant companions. I remember the days of the 10 year plan. Then it went to a 5 year vision, followed by a 3 year strategy, most recently a one year goal. I’m now down to a 1 day effort. It’s pretty simple really. I work for the most influential individual who ever walked the planet. He didn’t have the world wide web in which to communicate his plan. He didn’t have a 3 year strategy. In fact his work only really lasted 3 years. He had a saying that went something like this, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for today has enough worries for itself”. How’s that for strategy. Jesus lived one day at a time. One life, a divine one I’ll grant you, but one life just the same, lived one day at a time, changed the world forever.
I want to change the world. Don’t most of us? How could we ever know though since we’ll certainly miss changes occurring all around us today while being worried about tomorrow. It seems as if it might be true in life as it is in eating. If we were to live slower, more intentionally, and in smaller bites, and by doing that live in today without the worries of tomorrow, then the experience would be greatly enhanced. We could even in fact change the world, or at least our corner of it. Perhaps my wife is right after all. She really is very wise.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve. I guess that this means I’ve made it through one more holiday journey. It is true that Christmas day is still on the horizon, but I’m of the opinion that it’s mostly a day of recovery from the previous twenty four of madness. Yeah I know there’s still one more holiday left before it’s all said and done, but don’t even try to put New Years in the same sentence as this day. New Years Eve is like the evil twin. It’s like, “whatever happens New Years Eve, stays in New Years eve”. What happens tonight, I want to keep as memories for the rest of my days, quite unlike the shadowy visions that are certain to haunt too many of next weeks celebrations. It’s kind of coincidental how these holidays fall exactly a week apart. What I mean is that It’s kind of like the cosmic choice one has, to either live by the power of our own resolutions, for the three weeks that they may last. Or we can live by the power of the gift that arrived on this night so many failed resolutions ago.
I can’t wait for tonight. Tonight should be about peace, anticipation, children, and candles. OK so maybe children and candles should not be in the same sentence. That would undoubtedly create some memories, like smoke, big red trucks and endless insurance red tape to be sure. I’d rather not carry those through the year. So I’ll adjust the memory to children accompanied by responsible adults and candles. I really think that you have to have candles though or it’s not Christmas Eve. We tried to have candles outside one year for a Christmas Eve service. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Let me share from experience though, candles, outdoors, December, and Seattle should never be in the same sentence. I wonder what the weather was like on that first Christmas Eve. I wonder if Mary and Joseph had candles.
OK, so I may be guilty of glamorizing Christmas Eve just a bit. After all my children are grown, and time has certainly airbrushed out the carting around of sugared up little cherubs through totally unreasonable expectations of schedules and in laws and church. I just wish that I could remember how we did it before the days of mini-vans, SUV’s and totally portable nurseries. I guess that we had to do it the old fashioned way…with duct tape ,rope, and bungee cords…uphill…both ways…through the snow…but we were thankful. Maybe mine was really the “Greatest Generation” after all. At least I’m pretty sure the snow was real.
And regarding snow…I’m still of the opinion that Christmas Eve without snow is totally lacking. Liquid snow doesn’t count either. For eight years now I’ve heard, “at least you don’t have to shovel it”. I’ve even found myself slipping in to that insipid form of denial. At least I don’t have to shovel it? I still fondly remember Christmases past that I wasn’t soaked down to my underwear and they all included snow in it’s natural state. Hand me a shovel. Rain doesn’t reflect Christmas lights very well, unless its through the smear of old windshield wipers. Rain doesn’t glisten in the sunlight when the clouds pass. Rain doesn’t hang on evergreen branches like Santa’s beard. And when it snows, at least I can ride my sled screaming down a hillside. It’s not quite the same as December rains and riding a house screaming down the mudslides. You really should have snow on Christmas Eve. I wonder if Mary and Joseph had snow.
If I were to travel back, Scrooge like, with my own ghost of Christmas past, I’m sure that some of it would be totally unrecognizable to me. There are things there lost to a selective memory, and things I wouldn’t be proud of even if I could recall them. I’m sure that there were moments created that caused me amazement and wonder and I merely left them in the trash with the paper and the bows…we didn’t recycle back then either. I’m guilty, along with Hallmark and centuries of religious artists, of glamorizing the whole birth event I would guess. I don’t acknowledge the pain, anxiety, sounds…human and otherwise, smells…human and otherwise, the darkness and fear that were all probably in abundance that night long ago. We see clean clothes, well behaved animals, clean stables, and halos. We see a well scrubbed angelic face sleeping peacefully in his mothers arms. Think about it, any woman who has ever given birth knows that they don’t just appear when they’re ready. Mary may have conceived without a man but the Book of Books doesn’t say that she gave birth without pain. Now that would have been a miracle.
So today on my 44th Christmas Eve I pause to wonder. What was it really like? I love the mystery and the magic but I ache for the reality. What was it really like? In the emotion of the real event did they know? Was there peace knowing that God was indeed with them? Did that mute the pain and the fear and the loneliness of the cave? Did the baby bring them hope? Did they see Him for who He really was? How difficult was it to hang on to the promise? Did they know like I know that tomorrow would bring them rest? Did all of creation pause for just a moment when He drew His first breath and when His cries pierced the night? Did the stable animals yield their cries to His? Did the angels bow low to see it? Did God smile proudly like I did at the birth of our children? Were there cigars? OK, so I don’t wonder about that?
I’m just wondering. What are your thoughts today as you read this? Have you even stopped to think about it or are you crashing through another holiday trying to keep up with the Jones’s, Nintendo, and Microsoft? Will tomorrow or any of your tomorrows bring you rest? No matter what we may have done to His holiday, (or dare I say Holy Day) through culture and politics and time, this day did, in fact, come. It was real. There was sacrifice, there is a plan and it began with this baby. Celebrate the day. Honor it with time and thought and decision and wonder. You know, there really has to be wonder on Christmas Eve.

Monday, December 17, 2007

lists

This is a list week. One week left and every moment counts. Every minute lost is a minute lost forever and possibly a bit of magic along the way. Either magic or headache, but either way they contribute to the experience of the season and both can be constructive. Even moments to not live by lists are on my list so that the urgency of one list doesn’t overwhelm the importance of the other list and in the end, as I light a candle on Christmas Eve, I can rest in the fact that this was a Christmas to remember.
So I live a life on paper, all cosmically calculated to achieve the objectives. There are wish lists of gifts. There is a calendar list to observe and make sure that I’m not supposed to be three places at once. I can sometimes manage two, but that’s my limit. There are grocery lists, pastoral lists, lists that I’ll check twice, lists of who’s been naughty, which is quite lengthy, and lists of the nice.
Each list has its own significance and each item, if deemed important enough, will be placed on a list. It actually can be a good exercise in time management. I have to be realistic in what can really be accomplished in the time allowed. Sliding incomplete items to a more convenient time is never a wise strategy. They tend to just build up on the back side, not unlike snow at the end of a plow, until the pile becomes quite depressing. It’s the same concept as bill paying. There is never a more convenient time to take care of them.
This may all sound ridiculous and very stressful, but it actually has the opposite effect. As I get older, I am finding it more and more difficult to remember even my own name at times. This helps, in much the same manner as my defragmenter cleaning up the clutter on my hard drive. If done well, it allows me a chance to relax. If not, well………….
It’s not always seen as an admirable trait, living by lists I mean. Some people may find it an indication of weakness, or senility. Whatever. In my pastoral arts study the other day I was reading about the idea that God deals with lists also. There are lists to be consulted at the end of earthly time, two of them actually. There’s one that you’d want to be on and one that you wouldn’t. We get to choose. I like that. Sometimes He hears us through lists I think. The Book of Books talks about prayers and petitions lifted up to Him. What is a petition, but a fancier more PC way of saying list? I wonder if He’s seen the one about making us a “greener society”?
Anyway, live how you like, but I’ll continue to do my list thing. Then there’s less likelihood that I’ll forget someone or something. If God likes to live that way, then that’s good enough for me.

Monday, December 10, 2007

appearance

I’m just coming up for air. As of this morning I’m half way through my observation of the season and it’s time for another breath. Starbucks is a bit disappointing today, although I’d still highly recommend the apple fritter. The fireplace isn’t on. I can’t think of too many things this time of year more disappointing than a fireplace that isn’t putting out some sort of warmth and ambience. Especially when all one has to do these days is flip a switch. I briefly considered a stay at home in front of my own fireplace before succumbing to better quality coffee and an assumption of flames.
A few haven’t seemed to notice. There’s a star struck couple bundled up in front of it, apparently oblivious to its inability to expend any heat. Maybe that’s why they’re seemingly content to generate their own. Don’t get me wrong…I appreciate their resourcefulness probably more than most. It just makes it a bit more difficult to concentrate on my fritter.
Today is the point where I’ll need to shift gears to make a final drive towards the grand birthday party on the evening of the 24th. Right now I’m still idling in neutral gathering my thoughts from the first half of the journey. So far it’s been quite eventful. Beginning with a turkey to fuel the early days, I’ve experienced shopping wars, a wedding on top of the Space Needle, two seasonal theatre performances, two children’s birthday parties, an elementary Christmas musical, 26 adorable African children, snow, wind, and floods. And so this is half way. It’s time for a breath.
The first part of this seasonal journey is what I like to refer to as “survival”. These things all help to create a sense of joy if paced correctly. Believe it or not, I think that my wife and I did fairly well with the first half. This second half is more aptly called “observation”. We’ll slow down. We’ll rest a bit and take time to wonder and appreciate and recharge. I think that this is probably the reason why things like non- functioning fireplaces are so disappointing. I don’t have time for illusions right now. These times like my Monday relationship with my lap top need to be sources of rest. Fireplaces in cold places can help do that for me.
There are more than enough distractions and things not as they seem during this seasonal time of “peace”. I believe that it’s part of the grander cosmic spiritual battle that rages throughout our culture. Distraction with false hope I mean. Each morning I soberly watch the talking heads on the news try to make a direct link between economics and Christmas success. Weekly I read about another manger – menorah war that sinks into ridiculousness. I’ve spent too much time in the study of Christmas as it really happened in the Book of Books to be able to see any such correlation or conflict. Joseph and Mary had no idea that the birth of their baby would determine the success of American retailers. The shepherds had no idea that their visit might offend some in the ACLU.
We could easily succeed in entirely distorting the entire original meaning of the season if not for one outstanding variable. We still get to choose. I have the choice to stop and take a breath. I can focus myself on observing the reality and conveying meaning rather than adding to false appearances. Try something radical as we head down the stretch. Share joy. Observe peace. If all else fails, stop long enough to yield your place in line during your tour of duty in the shopping wars. For a moment in time, God yielded to our need on a dark night in Bethlehem. I’m sure that we could manage the same for someone else in Wal-Mart.

Monday, December 03, 2007

enthusiasm


I have a window seat for the annual December monsoon season here in Seattle. High winds and mudslides are the order of the day. Part of my agenda will undoubtedly be dealing with a newly repaired and now leaking roof on our arts building and navigating underwater crosswalks while keeping my latte dry. It’s hard to be concerned about this mundane earthly stuff though when I’ve recently been so close to the other side of life. I’ve had the privilege of being in the presence of pure joy.
My community o’ faith is sharing life for the next few days with the African Children’s Choir. I can’t imagine any other group this side of the goal that could pierce the gloom like these young lives have been able to do. They’ve dealt with so much more in their lives than the wind, rain and mud that we’re mired in. Yet they sing and dance before their creator without comparison.
Watching them last night, I was overcome with a sense of envy that I’ve rarely experienced. For me, it could have been easy to pass it off as “rhythm envy”. My feet don’t move that fast unless I’m struggling to keep myself from falling up the stairs while trying to make it look planned. Being rhythmically challenged wasn’t on my mind last night. On further examination I had to honestly conclude that it was “enthusiasm envy”.
Being a pastoral artist and responsible for teaching from the book of books in my community, I do have some skills (besides nunchuck and computer hacking) that I routinely apply to my study. One of them is the study of Greek and the original languages of the Bible. In that study I easily can recall that the literal translation of the word “enthusiasm” is en-theos, meaning “in God”. I know that in my head. I have spoken the words and taught the concepts. I hadn’t really seen it truly expressed in living color though until last night. My wife, having had the privilege to pray with them last night, said that she felt that she should have removed her shoes, Moses like, feeling as if she were on holy ground as they offered their young lives “en- theos”.
These children have lived through war, poverty, disease, and the death of some or all of those closest to them and their response is to sing and dance before God like they’ve already made it home. The most that I have had to live through lately is writers strike induced reruns and idiot induced political campaigns. I’m not sure, even when those end, that I’ll be able to dance. Some things will just take heaven to accomplish.
Some of us live for what we can gain today, and tomorrow, and in retirement. If things are good and painless and, might I add, profitable then we choose to stay there and claim that life is as it should be. These lives of promise are taking in the niceties of what they experience through our culture, but always with a longing and a plan to go home. And it’s not to a home the way it should be, but with the hope of helping it become what it could be. For that I’m a bit envious.
What a wonderful thing it is to take life as it’s given, with joy from the One who created it and then to offer it back as a sacrifice and a chance to make it better. I see it occasionally. I take part in it occasionally, but I have much to learn when it comes to enthusiasm.