Monday, December 22, 2008

snow globe

No Starbucks today. No beach. No comfy chair. No travelling at all actually at the moment. I do have coffee….my own, and I do have a fireplace…that is actually working, so all is not lost. Outside of my window, we seem to be locked in a snow globe that some persistent preschooler keeps shaking. If I was back on upstate New York right now, this would just be routine for an expected Christmas and we’d be settling in for a few more months of this. But I’m not there, I’m in Seattle where we’re not accustomed to this activity. It’s a novelty. At least it was a novelty when it began over a week ago. It was much like the first few times you shake a snow globe.
The scene changes and the snow swirls and changes the landscape. You set it down on a table and get on your knees for a level “real life” view and watch as the swirl settles down to the bottom to decorate the landscape in sparkling white. It usually only takes a few shakes, at one sitting anyway, for the novelty to wear off. Then it’s time to walk away and find some other Christmas novelty to experience. You’ll come back to it, to be sure, but the novelty only lasts for a bit each time, unless………….you are a preschooler, and you don’t understand novelty. For a preschooler, novelty is reality, and the longer and more persistently one shakes a snow globe, the longer the reality lasts.
So here I sit, in my own globe, caught between my wishing that the shaking would stop and the admiration of the beauty that it creates. I am reluctant to completely give myself over to the novelty turned reality and just enjoy it. By doing so I would relinquish all thoughts as to when this would end and life would become normal again. What if it never does? After all, at one point in the history of the world, in these parts, it began to snow and never let up for, what we’re told, millions of years. They called it the great “ice age” or something. I think that there was even a movie, complete with a sequel.
As I think about such things, with my coffee, in front of my electric fireplace, locked in a snow globe, it is very sobering to realize that I am really not in control of the amount of shaking this Christmas season. It’s not all about me and where I want to be able to drive and when. There are things beyond my control and very limited wisdom. The world continues whether I approve of its direction or not and I’ve not really been consulted about how it all is to take place. I should be grateful. After all, I am trying to lead my community o’ faith in celebration of Christmas and all that it really means. To be honest, If I had been consulted on the plan involving a baby born to peasants in a stable in the middle east, I’d have probably given other advice. It may not seemingly have made too much sense back then, but now I marvel at the profound simplicity and wisdom. And the whole point was to bring peace between God and others like me who would prefer to rule our own worlds and destinies when what we really need is to relax. Perhaps the world, and most importantly, my world, is safer with me locked inside my snow globe letting someone else do the shaking.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

(n)ice

A day late due to the ice, but I’m just glad to be back down here this morning, even though the fireplace is not on. I promised my wife that I wouldn’t complain this morning about it, so it’s really just an observation. I wonder how it would feel to be enjoying this morning in Starbucks on the coldest, iciest day in 18 years with a fireplace that is actually working. I’m just wondering….anyway back to the cold and ice. It’s funny how, one of the most recognized stereotypes of Christmas, that being snow, can wreak so much havoc on a place that isn’t used to experiencing it at Christmas. I, for one, am thoroughly enjoying it, although I must admit the inconvenience in a place that is ill equipped to deal with it. After 3 days, our street remains a sheet of ice that 30 years ago I would have considered golden with a runner sled. Now I see it as a broken hip waiting to happen.
I think that it is actually nice. It had added to the ambience of Christmas. It has forced us to slow down. We have cancelled things at my community o’ faith that were well intentioned and probably would have been great fun, but instead, we’ve had more time at home with lights and friends and dogs and a cat and unending Christmas music and “It’s a Wonderful Life” on a big screen. It’s Christmas for goodness sake. What about the angels promise of peace on earth? I’m guessing that it came for me in the form of ice and snow which helped me slow down and enjoy the moment.
I do recognize that what has given me peace has done just the opposite of many who surround me. It has heightened the stress and strain of the relentless pursuit of “the gift”. Fortunately for me, my season began with my focus on “The Gift”, and its not wrapped in bows, it was wrapped in some form of cloth and placed in the feed trough of some hospitable stable animals in a middle eastern village.
Lest you think that this is another sermon on the “true” meaning of Christmas because it’s a natural part of my pastoral arts profession, I’ll leave that for Linus and Charlie Brown. It’s more of a journey that I’m on that any really “good” person in my profession, maybe should have arrived at years ago. I’ve spent years in pursuit of the really good gift, the worthy gift, the prideful gift. Each time I thought that I would get it right. Every yearly pursuit has left me coming up short and waiting for next years attempt. I look back and realize that I don’t remember them much at all. I don’t remember the ones I’ve given, or the one’s I’ve received with the possible exception of those that were actually labors of love. The ones made for me or by me with gratitude for the relationship that was being expressed. I remember the faces of my kids each Christmas morning as they searched. I remember Christmas eves together and dinners after church and even parties from my childhood. I remember experience.
So I’ve come to wonder about , along with non-working fireplaces, the reality of the Christmas experience. Maybe, it’s about experience for me because the season was initiated by experience. Perhaps it is because, God sent his son, as a baby, to share in the experience of that which he created. As I read in the book of books, it was experience with Jesus that changed lives. It was God, through Jesus, experiencing humanity that changed humanity. It is still experience with Jesus that changes lives. Many try to “observe” the holiday. Many try to “observe” their faith. I can tell you, it’s one thing to watch a parade, but quite a different matter to be in a parade. It’s one thing to watch a football game, but quite another to be in it. Faith is the same and Christmas is the same. It’s one thing to watch it from behind a mound of presents and credit cards. It’s quite another to be “in” it.
So I look at it for us this year and I see the first year that we’re here by ourselves. A son who’s married and a daughter in college have brought us to a new chapter in our life and new experiences of Christmas, but some things don’t change much. We still have snow and ice, and I’m very grateful for it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

cheer

I’ve returned to the beach this morning. Hearing the familiar sound of the waves and seeing my corner chair unoccupied helped me to feel that all is, once again, right with the world. If I could remove anything from this Starbucks experience and take it home, it would definitely be this chair. If I had one there I’d almost never leave. I can get better coffee and I can even get a better view, I’m really just here for the chair. Since I’ve last been here, B.S. (before surgery) it has become dark at the time I come by here. I don’t mind though since it gives me an extra shot to admire the holiday lights.
This morning was especially nice for light observance as I had just finished watching some “high minded” people protesting religion on the steps of the capitol building here in the great state of tolerance. Tolerance here only comes for those whose ideas are in line with those being perpetuated at the time. Right at this moment it came in the form of what I’ll lovingly refer to as “Scrooge nation”. It seems as if their holiday cheer comes in the form of protesting all origins of the holiday season. Allow me to clarify something right off…I’m not talking only of the holiday celebrated by my community o’ faith. I’m talking about the entire month which see’s major holiday observances for most of the worlds religions. They were not protesting Christmas, they were protesting religion. They are atheists, so called, who want to banish the observances of ALL religions. So we’re all in this together.
The image that is etched in my mind and won’t go away is their sign claiming that religion is myth…blah, blah, blah, and oppressive, blah, blah, blah, there are no angels, and demons, blah, blah, blah, and then that it creates “hard hearts”. What? I can tolerate all of their other opinions here in the land of tolerance, even though obviously I can be tolerated only if I believe what they believe or don’t believe or whatever. I’m having a really time with the hard heart part though. Most of what they complain against is fairly subjective and not really measurable. Hearts however, in my opinion, are the one thing that can be measured. You can actually see the practical implications of a “soft” heart.
In case you are not sure of what it looks like, here is how I think you can see it. You can see it in the trips made to the muck and mud of New Orleans to dig out and rebuild peoples lives. You can see it in flood relief. You can see it in trips to third world countries to provide shelter. You can see it in providing fresh water to a village in Africa, and a library to a school in the Philippines. You can see it in orphans adopted in foreign lands and families adopted right here in our community. You can see it in graffiti painted over and playgrounds cleaned up. You can see it in schools built and businesses supported. You can see it in a place for artists to gather and create and share. You can see it in little cuties dressed as the mythological shepherds and angels. And these are only a few hearts that I’ve seen that my religion has helped form in my community o faith alone. Now add to that, similar examples of hearts throughout the various faith communities just in my neighborhood. That’s like a grain of sand on an ocean beach.
Now don’t get me wrong, they certainly have a right to opinion and to proclaim it virtually wherever they wish, unless their opinion is regarding fire in a crowded movie theatre. What about an empty theatre?....never mind. I care about people though and I care enough about them to be concerned that they have so fixated themselves on whoever or whatever has given them this impression of religion that they risk being that which they abhor. They risk perpetuating myth and creating hard hearts. The “religious” people are certainly guilty of some of what they are accused of, but let’s be honest, no more so than other people. It’s not religion that kills, it is people. I know well meaning and cheerful atheists as well as those who make headlines. We are not so different as you might imagine. My hope for them this holiday season is not that they’ll find “religion”, but that they’ll find cheer in the holiday. Perhaps a visit from 3 ghosts might be helpful? …but then again, that might fall under the category of myth.

Monday, December 01, 2008

story

Our tree went up on it’s appointed day. While others were doing battle in far off places like Wal Mart and Target, I was engaged in my own with boxes, lights and bows. It was a much different experience transforming this place into it’s Christmas wonderland. With my wife’s still limited mobility, she became the foreman and chief designer and I became the laborer. I would have to say that the working arrangements were better than any other place of employment. With different furniture after 8 years here, we now had a new setting to deal with and the hardwoods just seemed to make it even “christmasier”.
Anyway, back to the tree. I love our tree. It’s lights are already built in and after years of stringing and bulb checks, I think that I’m quite entitled. After all, I’m sure that Santa has never dealt with his own lights so why should I? As I said, she was the foreman, I was the laborer, and the task was the tree. She unpacked the ornament boxes, handed them to me, and watched with amusement as I tried to “engineer” it’s design. Have I told you that we really have too many ornaments for this tree? I’m needing to do some “quake like” reinforcement to be assured that it will remain in an upright position and so it won’t void the warranty. My wife and I don’t agree on engineering. We always get to a point, each and every year, where I see the tree as half full and she see’s half empty, which means…………..more ornaments. And so it went on “Black Friday”. She kept handing and I kept searching for adequate space. It’s a spruce not a redwood after all.
What is interesting about ornaments, if you do this thing right, is that each of them has a story. Each was bought somewhere or brought somehow and became part of our monument to stories. There are store bought and home made. If you do this tree thing right, there are hardly any, if any random ornaments. If fact, if you do it correctly, you don’t have to have any “ornaments”. What you have is only stories. We have one that was bought on our honeymoon in the Christmas store on Cape Cod. We have the one of my grandfather holding our nearly newborn firstborn. We have one with a picture of Joanne and I washing dishes together near the time of our first Christmas. We have every “first Christmas” kind of ornament. We have the ones from preschooler’s and later schoolers. We have the one from the Corning Glass museum bought during the summer of my internship. We have those that were given by people in our community o’ faith. We have the antique ones left to my wife from her mom. By the end of the day, we no longer have a tree, we have a collection of stories standing in our window, lit by fiber optics for all the world to see.
If you were to walk by our house in the evening, and many people do, you’ll see our story burning brightly in the corner windows. The wonder of this all, for me, is that, over the years, our story has been woven into “The Story” that this season resonates with. All around us, especially in my line of work, we are reminded of the larger story of the baby in the manger,shepherds and sheep and the ushering in of hope that we celebrate this time of year. I’m not just a spectator in this one. I’m a story that is part of his story. I get to be an ornament on a bigger tree. My ornament probably looks more preschool than grad school. But I’m placed on there lovingly just the same.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

twenty five

Words aren’t coming very regularly these last few weeks. Even these ones have been stopped and started and deleted and continued several times this morning. I guess that I could come up with all kinds of excuses. Most of them might even be legitimate. I’m still not back to any kind of routine after my wife’s surgery. I thought about trying Starbucks this morning. I haven’t even been to the beach except for a brief drive by to get her some fresh air. At this point, I’m just being the over-protective husband. She’s much more independent. But I’ll give it one more week. Grad school has been draining during this time of schedule juggling, and we all know how important my schedule is. I haven’t really had one for three weeks now and that’s been an adjustment. Things have even been far from normal in my community o’ faith. So if I wanted to, I could find an excuse here or there. I just don’t want to….find an excuse I mean.
I don’t even want to write to be honest. Today is a discipline day for me. I just have to suck it up and do it for my own good. It’s like the 25 minute mark for me on the treadmill. When I get to 25 minutes I have an overwhelming desire to press “stop” to end that workout. After all, who’s going to know? It’s not like I’m getting anywhere anyway. The thing is though, when I began the workout, I programmed 30 minutes for a reason. I always forget just what that reason was at about the 25 minute mark. So far I have resisted the urge to press “stop” before the finish. I could also just fall down and let the “clip on” safety switch do its thing and stop the work out for me. I’ve resisted that urge also. In the end, deep in my soul I know that the last 5 minutes will benefit me in ways I probably won’t see until later on. It’s the last 5 that really matter. It’s those moments that you have to find inspiration from somewhere deeper than “how you feel”.
This morning I’m at the 25 minute mark. I don’t want to even write anything. I’m fresh out of inspiration for the journey at the moment. I don’t have any big corporate giants to whine about. I haven’t been around the public much to make any observations or smart ass comments. Spiritual inspiration has been on reserve and what I have has been channeled to leading my community o’ faith.
Don’t cry for me though….whatever. I have plenty to be thankful for this season of thanks. I have a wonderfully resilient wife who has not whined even once during this recovery process. She’ll be wheeling around the kitchen today and tomorrow, with only one good leg, performing the culinary wizardry that keeps me looking forward to this day each year. I am exceedingly proud of my kids and the choices that they’re making as adults which I might have had a hard time imagining during their teen years.
So , even though I don’t really feel like it, with the 25 minute mark telling me that I could call it a day, I’ll do what I’ve always been able to do at this point. I’ll choose to look deeper and press on. I’ll write even when I don’t want to, knowing that, somewhere down the road, I’ll see the benefit of not giving in.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Shadow

It’s been a few weeks since Starbucks. It may be a few more, I don’t really know at this point. Right now I’m sitting in front of my own fireplace (electric), drinking my own coffee (Hotwire), and looking out at the world from my own window. I’ve spent the past two weeks living as a shadow of sorts. Now living as a shadow can be seen in a very negative light I suppose. We’ve all heard the phrase “living in someone’s shadow”. That’s not a very flattering concept. Shadowy figures are usually looked upon with suspicion. Even Peter Pan was always trying to elude his shadow. For me it’s a bit different. I’m not living in someone’s shadow, I am their shadow. I have been my wife’s shadow. She had surgery two weeks ago on her foot and leg and we’ve been almost inseparable ever since.
One of the benefits of a marriage, a good one anyways, is that you have someone to go through traumatic times with. You get to laugh together to be sure, but you also get to hurt together and you get to hang together. We’ve been hanging together for two weeks now and I’m sure that it has been more beneficial to me than to her. I can imagine that I can be pretty boring at times. Thankfully for her, the first few days were spent mostly sleeping or in a drug induced haze that probably helped make me look better than I am. In my defense though, I have been a good movie companion and last night I actually suggested that we play a game together which, if you know me, you know is the supreme sacrifice. We have been to appointments together, spent a fun filled day at the ER, and wheeled all around the neighborhood. This shadow deal is not bad at all.
In the typical arrangement, there is the original object, a source of light, and the shadow that is created. In the traditional sense, it always seems as if the shadow gets low billing. After all, it’s just a by product. In order to have one, you need an original and you need a light source. But on further thought, I have imagined all of the benefits that being a shadow brings. The other day we were in Barnes and Noble and I spied a cool book on making shadow animals. Those shadows were quite imaginative, but they all benefited from the creativity of the original who supplied the hands. I know some shadows that can be much better than reality even. We’ve all had the opportunity to witness some big beast like impressive shadow coming towards us from an unknown source, maybe from around a corner or whatever, and when the original appears you realize that it was only a Chihuahua. Shadows can be taller, thinner, more muscular, more whatever, sometimes only controlled by the original.
Shadows aren’t forever though. Circumstances change and the shadow disappears. Like Peter Pan, my wife is each day eluding her shadow a bit more. She is healing and gaining independence and the shadow isn’t needed as much, although I’m still trying to stick around as much as I’m allowed. This shadow thing is a good deal, especially when you’re attached to a beautiful blond. Like a shadow, she makes me better than I am. I can stand taller, appear more muscular, but we’re still working on the thinner bit. I’ve enjoyed it immensely and she’s recovering faster than expected. I like to think, other than the time I dropped her, that it’s because of her shadow.
So I don’t miss Starbucks at all. Shadows are only for a time and I’ll take this for as long as I get. It’s not a bad deal at all.

Monday, November 03, 2008

undecided

I’m a statistic today. I’m one of the undecided. I’m not very politically astute. I do attempt to be informed, but all of the misinformation clogs my arteries and muddles my mind. Do I really care which candidate has which solution to the current crisis, whatever it might be? I don’t. The reasons are fairly simple. Number one, I’m not naïve enough to believe that either candidate actually came up with said plan themselves. Number two, regardless of whatever plan you have to solve the “crisis du jour”, I don’t think for one minute that you can get it accomplished by yourself anyway. In our current political system, the president doesn’t really have much more influence than the Queen. I’m much more interested in congress than the president. Remember, it was the congress from both sides over many administrations who have gotten us to this point in our history. All the presidents have really contributed, in all honesty, are sound bites and state dinners. So I’m still among the undecided. I prefer to look at it as pacing myself.
My son is frustrated with me, as he and my wife are much more interested in this process than I am. They had a great, and often times very animated conversation while my daughter-in law and I got to roll our eyes. I lost interest in this process about the time Hillary was trying to find a way to bring Florida back in. He asked me last night what my basis was for choosing who I was going to vote for. To be honest, at one point it was who would be the first to appear without a tie at a campaign stop. If you really want to identify with me, then lose the tie and the blue blazer, especially when bowling. I don’t care how bad a bowler you are, if you wear a tie at the lanes, I don’t know you. Lately, I am looking to Saturday Night Live for some political insight. At least they are honest about the process.
Really what I was searching for was a bit of honesty and fair play. I must have slept through that part. You may have an opinion one way or the other on who is or was or will be. It is not just the honesty of the candidate that I have been searching for. I think that it carries through to the people who follow you as well. I am tired of the talking droids who are paraded out to comment on their party’s behalf after each speech, sound bite, or debate. Do they ever really surprise us with their comments? I’d vote for honesty. I’d vote for the side that admitted their candidate just screwed up royally instead of trying to paint it as brilliance in disguise. You may call it strategy, or good politics or whatever. I’ll call it for what it is….lying. So, I’m sitting here in my seat by the beach, with my dilemma of being undecided with only 24 hours to go, trying to wrestle with how I will finally make my choice……. and in walks my solution.
This guy just walked in with a laptop bag slung over his shoulder, not unusual certainly for Starbucks. What was unusual, and what has finally given me a standard to vote by, was the image emblazoned on the side of his bag. It was the insignia for Batman. It’s answered prayer for me. Now you may think me ridiculous and shallow, but even I’m not that far off to think that I could actually cast my vote for Batman. But I would vote for someone whom I thought would call on Batman if given the opportunity. I have always admired Commissioner Gordon and his willingness to call on Batman without hesitation. It’s a true sign of humility. Anyone who would outright convey to me that they “can’t do it alone” and would be willing to humble themselves, just might get my vote. In the absence of what I really want to see, servant leadership, I’ll take the next best thing; humility. So now I have 23 hours left to wrestle with this. Who would be the most likely candidate to call on Batman should the need arise? I think that I already know the answer to that one, but I just have to make sure in my heart that the call wouldn’t first go to Oprah. That would be a deal breaker.

Monday, October 27, 2008

enough

Something has been on my mind for quite awhile now. I’ve tried to resist it. I’ve tried to ignore it. I’ve tried not to engage it. I just can’t take it anymore. I am about to take on, once again, an old enemy that I had thought I’d outgrown. For any who have history with me, I’m sure that you’ve noticed a quietness about me on this subject. But now, it’s overcome me and the voices are loud again and I need to confront it head on. I am about to re-engage my one man rant against the purveyor of all that is bad in fast food, healthy food, comfort food, and every food that I can even think of. The mark of the beast in this case is “the golden arches”.
I’ve tried to maintain my dignity through many of their past years assaults against human health, dignity and intelligence. I didn’t say anything when they brought in the, then in vogue, “wraps”. I looked the other way when they tried to pass themselves off with healthy salads. I bit my tongue when their big revelation was to actually use real chicken in their McNuggets. I’ve even almost forgotten the ill fated “pizza years” of the early 90’s. But I have to tell you that I’ve reached my limit this time. This time they are treading on my sacred grounds. It’s the Mcspresso.
If you haven’t yet heard or seen one of their ads, you may not understand this. Maybe you’re not a coffee drinker and it doesn’t affect you. I need to be clear on this. I don’t personally care what they choose to try and pass off as food. I don’t even care if you choose to be deceived. My personal theory on the current economic crisis is that they are at it’s foundation. All of their billions of hamburgers sold have certainly cost us the national debt a few times over, maybe more, and the related health costs are certainly more than one nation could reasonably sustain. All of that aside, this is America and it is their God given right to fleece the naïve and get wealthy at it. It is everyone else’s God given right to throw money down the toilet, literally. However……………….when they begin to imply that the reason I drink the coffee that I drink is because of some level of entitlement and snobbery, then I take the gloves off.
Now I’m not saying that there aren’t a great many asses who frequent the places that I get my drink of choice. I deal with the triple tall, hold the foam, hold the milk, add the chai, low fat, no fat, no milk, soy, breve, grande, not too hot, but not too cool either, decaf, latte. I have no defense for them. They are people too. Have you ever gotten in front of someone in the midst of a “Big Mac” attack? One is annoying, but the other can be lethal. For a company to imply that I sit here at Starbucks on Monday mornings because of my attitude is just crossing the line. If good taste is construed as attitude, then I guess I’m guilty as charged.
One of the latest ads is elevating the reading of tabloid rags and reality TV addictions and implying that this is the path to enlightenment and that those who order their drinks followed by “do you want fries with that” are the real people of substance. Is it any wonder that the banking industry is collapsing if this is really the measure of intelligence in our country? I want to be clear on this. You can drink what you want to drink where you want to drink it. There happens to be a good reason why their drinks are only half of what I choose to pay. Just don’t make assumptions or critiques about me because I choose not to order mine from a place that couldn’t give me correct change if it didn’t read out correctly on the register.
In the end, I want it known that I tried to play fair. I had chosen to “drink and let drink”. I have watched the “great deceiver” from afar. I tried to stay neutral and look the other way. I can’t do it anymore. Enough is enough.

Monday, October 20, 2008

research

Today has been a stretch for me. It began with my alarm not going off, me sitting straight up in bed 90 minutes beyond my intended launch time and muttering the first word that came to my mind in the moment. It wasn’t a word that, most generally, one would imagine coming from the lips of a pastor on a Monday morning at 7:15. It was my word nonetheless . I really wasn’t bothered by it, as it seemed to fit the moment. I did feel bad that it was the word that my wife also woke up with seeing as she has no problem with 7:15am. In any event, this was the day I was dealt and I am handling it appropriately. I’m taking a break from it.
So I’m at Starbucks on the beach at 1:30pm instead and I must tell you that it is a totally different experience, in case you were wondering. The mornings here are peaceful, with the possible exception of seniors who can congregate occasionally, and the occasional 2 year old that waddles around in pj’s. This afternoon is living proof of our economic demise as a culture, at least in this town. No one works here, in Seattle I mean. It’s job security if you’re a barista, although I don’t know for the life of me where the money comes from to pay for $5 lattes from people who don’t work. This place is packed out with working age people. To be fair, I’m also here, and passers by might think the same of me. The difference is that I am in fact working…at least I tell myself this anyway. I am in the midst of a sociological study that I’m sure I’ll be able to use for illustrative material somewhere down the road. So I’m here researching. Yeah, that’s it! I’m doing research.
Here are my preliminary findings……..people don’t work here. At least they don’t appear to, unless they get paid to wander, to stroll, to chat, to drink coffee. Wait a minute, I had one of those jobs. It was a union job. Anyway, it’s a very interesting place to people watch. I’m doing fashion research for a future episode of “What not to Wear”. This store alone could fill an entire season, and yes I’m sure it would include me. The only reason I avoid that spotlight is that I have an amazing wife who combines incredible taste with an ability to ask well timed rhetorical questions like “are you wearing that?”. “Actually, no, I was just checking to see if this still fits me so that I have an outfit the first day that I get past your radar.” I could web cam this place and you’d have the stereotypical Seattle fashion runway. This afternoon we have the pajama pants girl. We have the socks and sandals guy, with shorts for added emphasis. We have hoodies. We have fleece everywhere; fleece being, of course, the official fabric of Seattle.
All of these observations are wearing me out. I’m beginning to remember what I’m normally doing when I’m not researching down here at 2 in the afternoon. It’s nap time. The only thing better than waking at 5:30am is napping at 2pm. Today it seems that I have struck out on both ends. I’ve now seen how the other half lives and it’s not so impressive. From now on I’ll leave the research to the experts.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

magnet

I’ve been wandering all week attached to a little magnetized card that identifies me as a guest in a Portland area hotel. It lets me in the building. It lets me in my room. It lets me in the hot tub room and the work out room. It is my lifeline into my home away from home this week. This morning, the magnetized part of my card failed. I lost my identity somewhere in between my complimentary continental breakfast and brushing my teeth. It really wasn’t that big of a deal. I’ve been here long enough that they think I’m on staff, so all I needed to do was to get it zapped and I was back on track with my schedule intact.
It did get me to thinking though about all of the identities that I’ve taken on this week. I’ve been a commuter. I’ve been a student. I’ve been a customer. I’ve been a poor single slob, a husband, and then a poor single slob again. I’ve been a church “spectator”. I’ve been a dad by phone and by text. I’ve been a pastor by email and I’ve been a friend by Facebook. Some of these were all going at the same time. The one thing that they all seem to have in common is that almost all of them would be labels that other people would identify me by. For me, in my mind, its just been me, flowing from one realm of life to another; Just me and my magnetic card.
I am aware though, sometimes regrettably, that the card I carry for each one of these roles sometimes doesn’t work. Sometimes the magnet is not magnetic. The presence might be there but not the identifying force. It is those times that people get frustrated with me. In any of these roles, I can merely exist. I can look the part without being the part. I can be a student who’s not engaged in the study. I can be a husband who’s not engaged in the marriage. I can be a friend who’s not engaged in the relationship. I can be a church member who’s not engaged in the community. I can be a pastor who is not engaged with the people entrusted to me.
When my hotel key went bad, I merely needed to go back to the main desk where they know me and get re-magnetized. I could do that there, because they know me….or I could show ID which I didn’t have because it was locked in the room. For the rest of my life, I need to go back to the one who knows me. I’m not referring to the IRS either. I mean really know me. I’ve been busy this week. It has been a good busy. Some of it has even been a “God” busy. But in the midst of it, I have seen that I have spent a great deal of time trying to “know Him”, trying to understand His word more fully, trying to understand His faith community better, but what I really need by the end of this is to allow Him to know me more fully.
What I’m getting at is simply this; I just need to “be”, quietly, and in His presence. Some of you who read this may be skeptical, but it is absolutely true. Just to be in His presence, to allow quietness, to open your heart to the one who knows you, is one of the most energizing and transforming things you can do. You don’t need ID either. You just come to the desk, smile and hand over your card. He already knows that you’ve locked yourself out.

Monday, October 06, 2008

gates

My, how the years have gone by. I remember the days of toddlers and baby gates keeping little feet and hands confined to safe zones. I remember the day that my daughter, two years old and unimpressed, destroyed one that we had recently purchased, much like Godzilla on a stroll through Tokyo. Much older, any many garage sales later, I am back to employing a baby gate. No I haven’t violated my two hands two kids rule. Initially the gate was purchased to keep my son and daughter-in-laws puppy from eating from our cats litter box. These days it is being used to keep that senile old cat from relieving herself in inappropriate places. She has gone through 8 lives already and this is me being benevolent and not relieving her of her last one.
This is a recent development. I guess these things become “developments” even for old people. Fortunately for humans, they make diapers in all sizes. Not so for cats. Several weeks ago, totally unannounced, she began to use our curtains and carpet for her restroom stop. It may be that the curtains were green and the carpet brown and that she’s confused it for the great outdoors. I’m not sure. I thought I had the plan solved as a byproduct of tearing up the carpet and refinishing our floors. They are gorgeous. They glisten like glass. Apparently she has always wanted to pee on glass, because that’s just where we found her visiting last night. Exit life number 8… This began a series of events that led to “the gate”. She used the curtains….again, so we took them down…again, to wash them…again. This time was different though. The curtains came down revealing a very large spider who had taken up residence on the outside of the window pane. I really admire spiders, and it getting closer to Halloween and all, it could have provided some cheap ambience. It really was a big one though. My wife didn’t share in my admiration of God’s creative abilities. I decided that it wouldn’t be worth it as she feels that every spider outside is really a spider looking to get inside, and frankly, if this was the case with this one, we didn’t have enough room for him in here. Although, I could have traded him for the cat as long as he didn’t pee on floors.
Anyway…not wanting my gorgeous wife to lose sleep while this spider plotted his way in, translating into my losing sleep, I decided to eliminate him. Well…it sounded like a good idea at the time. His window pane was out of reach, but the broom was plenty long enough to reach. In the end, I had one big dead spider, one broken window pane, and one cat behind the gate….just before the police arrived, even though that was for a different matter. I was just glad that I wasn’t going to be featured on COPS.
So now life is different for us. We have a gate. We have a cat and she is not allowed to go, unaccompanied by us, beyond the gate. A small part, a very small part of me empathizes with her. Now I look at her life and I think of the gates that are set up in my own life. Sometimes they’re open and sometimes closed. Wisdom keeps me from opening closed ones. There is probably a reason for them being closed, sometimes temporarily, sometimes forever. There is someone greater than I who knows that I’ll probably behave inappropriately if I go through the closed ones. He also knows that there is good for me when I’m brave enough to go through the open ones. I always have the option, much like my daughter, of busting one down, but that’s probably not going to be in my benefit. There is a reason that it’s closed. She doesn’t know it now, but I really do have the best intentions for my cat. She may not appreciate the gate, but it’s the only thing keeping her last hope alive.

Monday, September 29, 2008

grains

I love this place. It’s going to be another exceptional morning. The sun is rising over the sound for the beginning of another amazing warm fall day. I love Monday mornings at the beach and I love my coffee. The little blond boy is bopping around in here again this morning, but this time he’s attached to the long arms of a very tall human. It was exceptionally busy when I got here. The line was to the door which was very odd for this time of the morning. It didn’t take too long to realize the reason it was so long.
We seemed to have more than our share of high maintenance Seattlites exercising their perceived right to bizarre, never intended to drink, coffee made to order. One of the groups of people that I most admire are the baristas in this town. They have the privilege and opportunity to gracefully serve a clientele of some of the most sophisticated coffee palates on the planet……… Whatever……… It at least seems as much to those who consume their idiotic concoctions of choice. Sometimes I’ve heard the comment that a Starbucks is just another type of bar. Are you kidding me? If patrons of a bar all came into their neighborhood watering hole, all making up their own drinks and expecting each bartender to have a clue what they were referring to, there would be some things broken…. Bottles, noses, stools, whatever…something would end up broken. No self respecting bartender would be putting up with high maintenance, unless they were in some wine cellar. They’d be tossed out like George and Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
I do want to clarify that this doesn’t apply to everyone. But it only takes a few to screw up everyone else’s life. One woman ahead of me was sending her drink back repeatedly, first for more foam, then less foam, then it was 3 degrees cooler than she wanted. If you’d have just taken it and drank it in the first place, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The woman directly ahead of me was ranting that she wanted the “9 grain” bread and not the “multi-grain” bread. Excuse me, but last time I checked, 9 was multi. Then she had to add to it some venti, soy, double, extra this, not too hot (can we be a bit more specific”) latte. First of all, she was in her pajamas…. Go back to bed. Secondly, my apologies to those who are lactose intolerant, but I don’t think that “soy” constitutes as anything you should be arguing over. A latte means “milk” and if you can’t drink milk, then don’t get a latte. Whatever……..the end of the conversation is simply this; they never, “they” being the high maintenance privileged class in their bedroom slippers, think to even leave the change for a tip.
So the result of these horse’s behinds wreaking havoc on what would have normally been an exceptional day, is that I and others like me, feel compelled to give an extra tip to these baristas who get this kind of abuse heaped on them. Someone needs to let them know they’re valuable. These girls were here this morning @ 4:30 am to get ready for some people to crawl out of bed, put on their slippers and stumble in here ranting about the grain count in their bread. It’s a coffee shop, not a bakery….wake up!. Anyway, my drink, a grande drip, cost me a bit extra this morning. But it was worth it for the ongoing social experiment that I get to witness. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love this place.

Monday, September 22, 2008

reserve

I’m running on reserve this morning. Actually, it’s the reserve tank on my daughters car, which I’m driving because I’m in a dispute with the State of Washington. My car failed its emissions test on Friday. Except for the fact that my car is easily the nicest and best running vehicle that I’ve taken through this ridiculous test in 8 years, and the only one to not pass, I’m not bitter. It is what it is. If they say that it’s a rolling case for global warming, who am I to argue. After all, I wouldn’t expect any less from the great green state of Washington than to be on the prowl for noxious offenders like me. I could even respect them for it. Until….
Until they gave me the explanation and the “packet of approved mechanics” which they recommend taking the offending vehicle to. Apparently, if you take your car to one of the mechanic mafia, spend “at least” $150 and it still doesn’t pass the test, then they will take pity on you and pass you anyway. My first question is, “what kind of solution to global warming is that?”. My car would still be driving around burning a hole in the ozone and making Seattle look more like L.A. everyday. Apparently it’s more about economics than environment. The important thing is that there would be $150 more out there in the economy. My second question is “who really gets my money?” My wife, who is a far better accountant than I am, seemed to have a quick solution to the problem. She offered to “cut out the middle man” and just give the $150 to the testing station. They weren’t biting though. Apparently at least some of the cut needs to go to the mechanic mafia, and I’m sure there would be hell to pay if they thought someone was skimming from the top.
One explanation given, which I can believe since I’ve lived here long enough, is that the law wouldn’t really be fair to lower income people who can’t afford more than $150 to have a repair done so we shouldn’t penalize them for destroying our environment. I wonder if that applied to the guy next to me, who passed by the way, in a car that obviously burned more oil than gas. Apparently, it’s not the choking black petroleum based smoke that will kill you, it’s the unseen vapors leaking inconspicuously from a smooth running engine. Those are the ones you can’t trust.
So I don’t get mad, I just get even. I’ve parked my offensive purveyor of pollution until I can get it in to see my mechanic who, by the way, is not a member of the mechanic mafia. In the mean time, I’ll drive my daughters car, which I was supposed to sell two months ago. Apparently God knew this day would come so He blessed my procrastination to provide me with a state approved “clean running vehicle”. Her car, which did pass while often times idling like a big diesel rig, is in desperate need of new Oxygen sensors which are pretty important in the emissions department. But don’t worry about the smoke and the fumes, the state says it’s just fine. The only problem with it this morning is that it’s still running on reserve.

Monday, September 15, 2008

bus stop

This morning has to be one of my top 10 morning experiences since moving here. It is the start of a cloud free 80 degree early fall masterpiece of a day. The sun was rising red over the eastern mountains while a gigantic moon was fading over the snow topped western mountains. The ferries are steadily gliding over calm waters and there are even two tug boats already hard at work. The breeze is still cool and my grande drip is still very strong. I even seem to have missed the retirement club here. On my way down here I passed one of the neighborhood bus stops where people wait dutifully for metro to carry them off to the start of a new adventure in the world of the employed. I don’t know if it was the season that inspired me or the bus stop or a combination of both, but I had a flashback to elementary school and bus stops of my own.
When I was growing up in upstate New York, I lived in a neighborhood sub-division, housing development kind of land. It was one of those places that sprung up in the 60’s with ranch style homes and 1 car garages and just enough yard. It was the burbs. In that environment, for an elementary age kid, the bus stop was a landmark. It took the form of some lucky family’s driveway. I’m sure, now that I am one, that the adults who owned the “chosen” driveway were less enthusiastic about their acquisition than the kids who resided there. It was kind of cool, in a dorky sort of way, to own the driveway where the bus stopped. This was of course in the innocent days before the school bus became more about survival than social experiment.
It seems to my memory that there were about a dozen of us at the stop in the middle of our street. It was more than waiting for the big yellow limousine with the socially graceful driver to whisk us away to public school nirvana. It was a social event. It was where we all “checked in” with each other. It was where life moments were revealed; who hated who, who loved who, who was sick, whose family was in crisis, and who was moving out or moving in. It was also the sight of some of the best amateur sporting contests that I have ever witnessed or participated in. There was the “Great Lunch Box Jump”, where we’d line up our lunch boxes, in ever increasing distances and then, with a running start, see who could clear the most. Give me a break, this was in the glory days of Evel Knievel, someone had to carry the torch. Woe to the kid whose lunch was in a brown paper bag. In the winter we had the “Great Dress Shoe Slide Off” which was similar in nature but involved icy driveway, running starts, and slick soled dress shoes….for distance of course. Being naturally gifted, I myself claimed many titles.
We were loud and obnoxious, I’m sure. Although at the time it never seemed so to us. It was a lawsuit in motion most weekdays, although it was still in the time of innocence, even for adults, where we’d never think of suing our neighbor for allowing stupid kids to do stupid kid stuff in their driveway. We just dealt with the pain, the blood, the missing teeth, and torn school clothes. It was life.
The thing I’m noticing about bus stops nowadays is that they are quite the opposite of my memories. First of all, these ones that I’m seeing have adults at them. Most of the kids I’m acquainted with either are driven to school or ride the metro. The big yellow taxis have become demilitarized zones. It’s dangerous to be a 3rd grader on the bus now. When I was in 3rd grade, the only danger was when the kid in the front of the bus threw up on the floor while we were going up a steep hill. The bus stops that I see around here, even in the middle of neighborhood streets, are not very social places. The one I passed this morning had 4 people all spaced about 10 yards from each other. Not a word or a glance was being exchanged amongst any of them, and not a lunch box in sight. They all seemed pretty self absorbed. I wonder if they saw how beautiful the day was. I wonder if they’d miss each other if one of them weren’t there. I wonder if they have memories of bus stops past.

Monday, September 08, 2008

45

As long as I’ve been posting here, I am always wondering if I’ve already used a title for a previous post. Not today. I’ve never been 45 before so I’m kinda sure that this one hasn’t been taken already by me. Actually 45 came yesterday for me. I never really used to reflect much as these milestones passed. But I never really used to be this old before, no offense to those of you who wish for 45 again. It seems that lately I’m seeing more headstones than milestones. In fact, yesterday morning, upon reflecting on this new number, a black and white newspaper editorial cartoon kind of image appeared in my head, and the central focus of it was a headstone.
I’ll try to give you a mental image of it so you can enjoy it as well. I was posing the question to myself, while in the shower where all great philosophical questions are asked, “What constitutes middle age?”. 45 seemed to be one of those great halfway numbers. So this image comes into my head. There is a giant headstone in the middle of the page with a cartoon caricature of me standing on top peering over the edge. On the backside, the side with my backside showing, is a very large number 45 carved into the granite. On the other side, the one I’m peering over to is carved with two words; “the rest”. I’m not sure what it all meant, except that maybe I’d have a lower water bill if I’d start showering and quit hallucinating
On further reflection, all that I can say is that the message probably has something to do with the fact that “middle age” has only to do with the individual. None of us knows our appointed time, so instead of looking and waiting for a number to appear on the other side, we should be concerned with what we do with “the rest”. So this birthday I’m looking forward to “the rest”. I could also use some rest, but that’s for another day. I used to look backwards and reflect on all I’ve done or not done, on all those who’ve influenced me for the good or the bad, and everywhere I’ve been and the things I’ve seen. Now it’s time to look forward and consider all who’ve made the journey with me, and the new friends who have joined me, and as the great book of life changes claims… “Oh the Places You’ll Go”.
So it’s back to work, and back to school, and back to life. No matter where I’ve been I can’t imagine any place I’d rather be. It seems like a good way to celebrate 45, headstone and all.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

chariots

This may be my last Monday morning at Starbucks for awhile. Howard and Starbucks haven’t yet come through with their promise of at least limited free internet and my 3 year pursuit of higher learning begins tomorrow morning, much of which takes place in an online environment. Therefore I will have to find both decent coffee and free wifi elsewhere. But that is the subject of another day. Today I’m thinking about chariots and hurricanes. I know that may seem an odd combination, but in my life they have come together once again. I’ll attempt to make it a bit more clear, in case you’re missing the metaphors.
This morning, as I am writing this, another hurricane is coming ashore in New Orleans. My wife and I have spent two different weeks there after the last round in a limited attempt to help them rebuild their lives. It is still fresh like yesterday, walking through neighborhoods that will never be neighborhoods again and playgrounds where no one will be playing again. We worked alongside proud and resilient people who were trying to salvage what they could from the slimy muck that had overwhelmed their middle class existence. There were single moms who were trying to offer comfort to younger kids and there were retired couples trying to reclaim the remnants of their younger years. That was the first time that I began to understand clearly about where the chariots fit in.
In the Book of Books, there is an admonition of sorts that says “some trust in chariots, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God”. It was always kind of a random statement for me. I understood that somewhere in time it meant something to someone, but I generally had no clue. Two trips to New Orleans, sharing lives and hearing stories about loss and faith and determination began to clarify it for me. The chariots had failed them, chariots being a metaphor for all of the man made security that we have attempted to surround ourselves with that should prevent bad things from happening to good people. I stood at the foot of the levees in the 9th ward where the chariots failed and the people died and others wished that they had because everything that had been set in place for their well being had washed away in the flood. In many cases people were left behind because, literally, there were not even enough chariots to carry them from harms way. The chariots that had been created to support and provide for them in the aftermath have failed miserably.
The people that I was privileged to work beside after the storm, who still had hope, all had one thing in common. They knew the difference between faith and chariot. The chariots had been nice and all, but their faith was still in God. They didn’t blame, they just put their heads down and pushed on. Others chose to move on to other safer lands, realizing the limits of chariots. I greatly admire and respect them. They get it. There were and are, though, plenty of others who are still waiting around for someone to fix the chariots so that they can get back on with life. It’s those people that I am sorry for. I see many more like them in places outside of New Orleans. They have entrusted their lives to the chariot builders and that is just another disaster waiting to happen.
It is ironic to me, in a culture that claims evolutionary understanding and intellectual and technological might, that we can continue in our attempts to prove Darwin was right. We build towns in flood plains, million dollar homes in landslide zones and along fault lines, and cities in bowls within the seasonal track of the hurricanes. Yet we’re still surprised when the wheels fall off. The tragedy is that the people most impacted by this are the ones who have entrusted their lives to the chariot builders to keep them safe. My thought is that when God set the world in motion, he had little regard for the Army Corp of engineers’ ability to keep it in line. He wasn’t all that impressed with the tower of Babel and probably even less so in the concept of levees.
Now please understand that I am not trying to imply that God causes these disasters. On the contrary, I’m sure that it breaks His heart to witness the effects of a planet in decline. However, I imagine it much like a parent who watches a child continually return to the hot stove no matter how many times he’s been burned. There is not a chariot big enough or sophisticated enough to replace common sense, and that is a painful lesson for any parent to have to witness.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

footprint

Coffee at the beach holds a different meaning for me today. Usually I’m more concerned about the coffee than the beach. Not today. Today, the beach is more than a location. It’s a metaphor. Gazing at the footprints disappearing in the rising tide, I think that I am able to understand a comforting lesson about our recent life changes. We just returned last night from taking my daughter to college in the high desert of Boise, Idaho. The trip lived up to the destination. It was high and it was 100 degrees. Mountains and sage brush are the realities there. Personally I prefer mountains and beach front, but that’s me. It wasn’t just a change of scenery for us though. It was the beginning of something totally different and totally inevitable.
For my daughter, it’s a new life, with new friends, in a new room, with endless opportunities. For my wife and I, it’s a new life, with each other, with empty rooms, and a sense of loss and “where did it all go?”. We’ve already gone through this drill once with my son and that was difficult enough with all of its own challenges and sadness. I thought that this time would be different, with different meaning “easier”. It was different, but not in the way I had hoped and assumed. So in the midst of change, my wife and I seek what we all seek in times like these. We seek comfort and clarity. I’m not sure about the comfort, except that it only comes with time. Clarity, I may have glimpsed in the footprints.
Walking down the beach, everyone leaves footprints behind them. The universal truth is that, over time, through wind and waves, the footprints begin to fade until they are merely a faint imprint. Further along, over time, they disappear altogether. My daughter, like my son before her, has left distinct footprints of her life as she has passed through. I was putting some things in her room last night and it occurred to me that her room still had her mark. It had her colors, her curtains, her imprint left behind, but without the personality behind it all. A wave has washed over and the imprint had already begun to fade.
Like I said, we’ve gone through this all before. It took a week or so before I could go into my son’s room, as the footprints were so fresh. It also may have been because the trash was so deep, who knows really. Anyway, as he’s continued on through schooling and jobs and now marriage, the original prints left behind have faded significantly. It could all be so depressing, except for the insight I found this morning in the gentle waves. I can choose to stand here feeling all lost and nostalgic while the old ones fade to something quite indistinguishable, or I can pursue the one making the footprints. Sure the old ones are fading in the surf, but as long as the one making them keeps walking, new ones appear with every step. I don’t need the same old footprints when I can follow along with new ones into a new place for all of us. We’ve all followed my son joyfully through all that has come since his initial leaving home and the paths that he has walked. He’s still central in our lives. It’s different to be sure, but it’s clear. Now it’s her turn.
It is still painful to watch them fade. Tears will come easily for awhile, like right now. I don’t imagine that it’s much less painful to be the print that’s fading as life’s surf is washing over. I look forward though to her new paths and the new prints. That is, as long as it doesn’t include boys and marriage anytime soon. I’m thinking of buying a gun, just to have something to be cleaning when the first one comes calling. For now, the tide is coming in so I’d better get walking.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

24

You’ll have to excuse me from missing my Monday morning appointed blog time. Yesterday was 24 years for us. If you’ve been with me over the years you know that, as long as I’m here in Seattle, there’s not much that would keep me from Monday mornings at the beach. Even my birthday wouldn’t keep me away. My anniversary would though, and it did. No particular reason except that on this particular day of the year we choose to spend every minute of it together. We don’t work on that day. We aren’t apart on it either. This is non-negotiable. Neither of us would even consider being separated on that day. It has meant that we have spent the day together in some pretty unusual and interesting places. That wasn’t the case yesterday.
24 for us was a bit unusual though. We’ve been talking about it all year and yet it really took us by surprise. I spent last week beginning the new phase of my educational journey and this week my daughter begins the new phase in hers. Between those two consuming events and my wife in a walking boot, we really didn’t have the planning time in place to compensate and create some elaborate experience like past years have seen. We settled for doing what we know and do best, just spending time together. I’m not going to elaborate much at the risk of underwhelming you. Let’s just say the day involved some good coffee, a decent movie, a great dinner, a purchase for our kitchen and as much kissing and hand holding as we could tastefully fit in. We just spent the day centered only around us.
Now those of you who know that we already work together very closely might not find this all that unusual. I’m finding in year 24 that some of the secret to why we still rival couples on their honeymoon is that we are comfortable in our unstructured time together. Unfortunate for many that I know is the fact that their identities revolve around structured time. Life together has become all ballgames, recitals, holidays and family vacations. When the activity is over and the house is quiet, two strangers remain. Hopefully they are reintroduced and fall in love once again, but that’s not always the case. We’ve passed those years and unlike many of our contemporaries are excited about an empty nest, two people and an annoying cat in a four bedroom house, kind of life. I’m excited for our kids. They have new lives. They have new adventures. We are not “helicopter parents”, hovering over our children, forgetting that we ourselves have lives. We get to be stadium parents, and cheer them on, offering them encouragement and advice when they want it, but knowing that it’s their game now. 24 years ago we were on the same journey that they are now in the midst of. I miss it. I remember it. I wouldn’t want it back though for anything. What has happened during these past 24 years has shaped what we’ve become and enjoyed during these past 24 hours.
As part of my role in my community o’ faith, I have the honor of celebrating the beginnings of many journeys. Many that I encounter are amazed at the possibility of 24 years. I am saddened by this a bit. I don’t know what they’re thinking. Actually I do know. They are, in all probability, more consumed with the event of the wedding that they are with the lifestyle of the marriage. Call me ignorant, but I never entered in to this covenant wondering how long we could last. I went into it with an “Apollo 13” attitude of “failure is not an option”. I didn’t spend yesterday amazed that we had scaled some imposing summit that few have scaled before us. We just enjoyed each other and another day together. I do wish they’d slow just a bit though. 25 is just around the corner.

Monday, August 11, 2008

plans

So let me start this morning by telling you that I believe that there is a plan for my life. In fact I believe that there is a plan for every life, just as there is for mine. You may not believe this way and that’s okay, we can still be friends. I don’t think that the plan is an all inclusive set of detailed blueprints like you’d find at a Donald Trump construction site. In my way of thinking, it’s more like an IKEA set . You know, the big picture, I’m not really sure what this is saying in Swedish, kind of plan where you can get a general idea of what is being communicated and a general idea when it’s all done whether or not you got the chairs or the table in this box. There are two reasons why I feel strongly about the existence of these plans. The first one centers around my faith and the words that have been recorded for me in the “Book of Books”. In the grander story of the grander plan, I can picture my own story intertwined, and just as an author develops an intentional course for every character in their own books, The Author has developed one for my character…hero or villain I’m not yet sure. I’m just sure that a plan exists.
The second reason is by my own personal experience and observation. Whenever I am blessed with an IKEA project, about the only thing clear to me is the picture of the finished product. I can stumble my way along towards what I think will lead me to the end. Sometimes, it is way too easy to wander off target, and then I feel the frustration begin to build. At times, to be honest, I need to invest in a complete “do-over” . I consider myself to be fairly mechanically competent. I can just imagine the frustration level of those who are not. Most of the time, I just wish they could have, by mistake, sent me directions with words that are in English and make sense. One without the other is of no use either. Or better yet, if I could just get some intelligent direction from that Swede who designed the thing in the first place, then maybe I could make some progress. I see the same thing going on in real life for me and every other person I encounter. We’re all trying to figure it out. We all get frustrated. Sometimes we get desperate and do desperate things to try and achieve the picture on the box. It doesn’t really matter whether or not you believe that there’s a picture on your box and that the inner parts should resemble this picture when they’re all assembled. Our intellect can’t forever deny what our conscience has already determined. Some things are just true whether we believe them or not.
These particular plans are often accompanied by packages of various assorted hardware. Usually there is more than one package. This is where the difficulty lies and interpretation is the key. Careful scrutiny of the hardware and comparing it to the drawing is absolutely essential, otherwise a trip to customer service is almost guaranteed. Looking at my life, the realities and possibilities, in light of the grander picture, can ensure some measure of success. Sometimes I have a tendency to guess, and this has a tendency to lead to mistake, which in turn leads to frustration, then desperation, and sometimes disaster. When I wanted a chair, it seems that I’ve constructed a sofa sleeper, and I don’t have to tell you how worthless those things can be.
So I have some choices. I can do some good picture comparison and see where it leads. I could learn Swedish, but I’m not really sure that those plans are really accurate uses of the actual language. I could also get to know the designer himself and have him assemble it with me, obviously the most inconvenient, but the most likely to lead me to the finished project. The only other option available is to take my chances and see what turns out in the end, but I’ve already been to customer service more times than I care to remember.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

demand

I wonder if Mick Jagger still thinks that “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”? Didn’t we all try to teach that concept to our children? I’m pretty sure that we’ve stopped teaching it, singing about it and even believing it somewhere during my lifetime. This morning as I wandered in, a bit later than usual (I’m on vacation), I ordered my usual for a Monday morning… a grande` drip. Well, there happened to be about three sips less in the pot than a true grande` size. It was fine by me, but not by the Starbucks barista code. She apologized profusely and if I could wait 3 minutes I could have a fresh one. If I couldn’t wait, they’d whip me up an Americano. Either way, my drink was “on the house”. Apparently, the code is “on demand” or it’s free.
Last night we enjoyed a great family meal out. My son ordered an enormous sandwich, hold the tomatoes. Well, they forgot to hold the tomatoes. It was no huge issue to him, but to our server and the manager it was at least a misdemeanor offense and the meal came free of charge, which was fairly significant at this place. Once again the code is “on demand” or it’s free.
So I’m wondering again on a Monday morning, what have we become? Are businesses so afraid of the high brow, high maintenance public that no measure of inconvenience or incompetence is to be accepted. We’re pursuing the “super race” of humanity, just not on a genetic scale. No grace is given and no trouble is tolerated. Are we on schedules strung so tightly that 3 minutes would destroy our life’s mission? If my schedule can be detained for 3 minutes for the sake of a fresh pot, then anyone’s can. I know that the customer is always right and poor service should probably not be rewarded, but neither should self centeredness and self importance. Sometimes I wonder how “The Greatest Generation” ever saved the world from Hitler. I’m sure that conditions in the foxholes were less than stellar and I know that mess hall service left something to be desired. How did they ever get by? “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try….sometimes you get what you need.” Isn’t that what Mick sang? People used to live that way. Sadly though, some of the most demanding I’ve met lately have been older individuals who have begun to sing another song…. “Have it Your Way”. Thanks a bunch Burger King. My way would have meant that you didn’t change your fries way back when, but lets not open that wound.
Anyway, it’s easy for me to sit around here in my comfy chair by the beach with my free coffee and be critical. Until I remember my Friday evening dining experience at another place that shall remain nameless. Not only was my fairly simple “hold the ….” Order not accomplished. It was never even acknowledged. To be honest, I don’t care to go back anytime in the foreseeable future. What does that say about me when I can’t always get what I want? Maybe it was worth it for them to give me the coffee for free.

Monday, July 28, 2008

impressions

“You only get one chance to make a first impression”. At least that’s what they say…. “They” being the invisible force of opinion that rules the world. That’s a bit of pressure. I mean, if you don’t get it right the first time, then who really knows if you’ll be able to get it at all? One of the things that fascinates me about the north west is the reality that many here don’t seem to be hung up on what their first impression might be or whether or not it influences others for bad or good. Our contributions to the fashion world are, after all, fleece, socks and sandals, fleece, Doc Martins, fleece and vests made of fleece. It’s not really much of anything to boast about. I’m convinced that this area of the country has the least amount of mirrors per capita, and most of those that do exist are probably part of an independent art exhibit.
There is not nearly the pressure here that I’ve experienced in other areas of the country. Just one early morning visit to my beachfront hangout here at Starbucks would confirm that we’re not all that wrapped up in this idea. Just ask indigo hair guy, or slippers girl, or the guy in the Sponge Bob boxers, they don’t seem to be hung up on impressions. I haven’t seen hair like this since the last wake up call at an elementary age sleepover. And then there’s me. I’m the one who see’s some distorted wisdom in paying decent hard earned money to keep my hair looking messy. I mess it up and then put this natural, organic (code word expensive) crap in it to hold it there. If I’m not successful making it look messy, then I put a hat on. It all seems kind of backwards to the logical mind. We don’t care about logic here.
I could tell you that I haven’t fallen into the trap of conformity…that I haven’t sold out to “the man” (or woman)…that I don’t care about first impressions, but that would be a lie. I’m not a liar, I’m a pastor (pastoral artist to you). I may stretch reality a bit or say “someone once said” before a story, but I wouldn’t lie about this. I spent the first 15 minutes this morning trying to figure out what a good opening sentence would be to this post. After all, if the first line was not engaging, then you wouldn’t have gotten this far now would you? I spend significant effort each week trying to figure out how a good first impression might lead into a teaching time with my community o’ faith. I am always seeking how to engage others in whatever the Book says. There is nothing more lame in my line of work than to communicate that God’s words in the book might be a bit boring or irrelevant.
Sometimes it even comes down to what I will wear and what that will communicate about me or else what my wife will let me leave the house wearing. Honestly, She is actually more concerned about what my clothing choice says about her than about me. I try to honor that. After all, somewhere back in time, I made an impression on her and she married me. I’m not so sure it was the first impression that did it. Fortunately, she was gracious enough for another chance. We don’t always get that.

Monday, July 21, 2008

wait

Yesterday I had a plan. Fortunately some friends had a better plan. I knew it was a better plan because I felt it deep down, at heart level. It wasn’t even my plan, it was theirs, but it resonated in my being. I was envious of the simplicity of what they were about to experience. Usually when someone tells me about their planned activity, even if it’s a really good one, I can only manage a polite “Oh that’s nice”, kind of response. This was different. Yesterday, my first reaction was an envious “I wish we could do that today”. It hung precariously close to whining. The plan wasn’t complex, in fact its simplicity was what was attracting me. I could have easily done it, except for one small complication. I had my own plan for the day.
Those of you who know me, know how much of a dilemma that could be for me. It was worse though. Not only did I have a plan, I had a timeline that had to go with the plan. Let me explain. I am in the midst of remodeling a guest room. Time is running short, and actually getting shorter with some unexpected, but very welcome guests. In the infinite wisdom of my plan, I would need all of yesterday afternoon to solidify my chances of completing this project. The clock doesn’t stop after all.
Now to their plan….They were taking a ferry across to an Island with a daughter and some dogs. It was fairly simple, hang out as a family in the sun along the water and take in a lavender festival. I didn’t even know that lavender had festivals. Well it does here. Now you must understand that yesterday was one of the most beautiful days of the year. They had graciously invited us to come along, but the pull of my plan was strong. “The Plan” for me is like “The Ring”. I both love and hate it. As much as their plan resonated within me and the thought of a carefree afternoon with good friends, good dogs, and some good food thrown in was pulling me, it was still a difficult decision to make.
What finally put it over the top was our own daughters willingness to go along. This was really the hand of God pushing me away from my plan. She rarely gets to or wants to spend much away time with us. She works, she has friends, and sometimes we’re just not cool enough. I get that. However, she’s leaving in a month for school in another state and then the time will be pretty much gone. Her yes to the plan became my yes. My own plan would have to wait. I wasn’t sure how it would wait, but I was sure that it would have to.
I’ll have to tell you that the experience was every bit as good as it had sounded in the first place. A ferry ride itself is an experience all its own. The natives here might be a bit less impressed, but I’ve not lost the enjoyment of the ferries. We were able to wander through a couple of lavender farms that were part farmers market and part renaissance fair. Artists, craftsmen (and women), musicians, and of course lavender filled our afternoon, along with scrambling down a trail to the waters edge to watch the dogs take a much needed swim.
It worries me a bit that I nearly missed it. I stood on the edge of boredom yesterday looking over with countless others and nearly stepped into it. Like many, I nearly sacrificed the important on the altar of the urgent. I almost became another who never saw what Gods plan was because I was blinded by my own. It probably has helped my cause that I’ve spent a good deal of time lately reading the early parts of Genesis and rediscovering God’s original plan for us before “urgent” arrived. There’s more to life than sheetrock, tape and mud. He happens to be more interested in husbands and wives, daughters and dogs, lavender and islands. Everything else can wait.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

umbrella

I’ve spent enough time here in the northwest, that I’m sure I’m overdue to write something about umbrellas. It might be considered a bit odd that, with the winter rains gone and my grass burning up, I’d pick now for the topic, but many things I do seem a bit odd to many people so why disappoint now. Actually, for your information, this happens to be a very appropriate time.
This week I have the privilege of teaching, in my community o’ faith, the part of God’s creation story dealing with the introduction of Adam and Eve. Just a few weeks ago I was able to be back in New York performing a wedding for a very special couple, and next month, my wife and I will officially become empty nest parents. In case you haven’t caught on yet, the theme of the month for me is relationships. That’s where umbrella’s come in.
I found an umbrella the other day as I was rearranging our living room. It brought back images to me of walking in the rain with my wife. Lots of times when we walk in the rain I get to hold the umbrella for the two of us. Now let me set the record straight; It does not rain here as much as is rumored. It’s a conspiracy devised to keep undesirables from moving here. It didn’t happen to work with us though because, as far as rain goes, this is the desert compared to where I’m from. Anyway, we walk a lot here, it’s what old people do… and when we happen to be walking and it happens to be raining, I like to hold the umbrella.
I’m have not really been sure of the reason, besides I’m in love of course, to hold the umbrella. I mean really, the reality is that usually this means we both get wet because we can’t both fit well under the 3 dollar umbrellas that we tend to buy. I could spring for 2 umbrellas after all if it was a protection from the rain thing. It could be that my mom just brought me up right. She did have that rule about not hitting girls, which usually just meant that I’d get the crap beat out of me. On a deeper level though, as I go through the Garden story with Adam and Eve, I wonder if it’s not something more profound. Maybe it’s something deep within that has me trying to make up for the fact that Adam didn’t really take care of Eve in that critical moment with the snake. I am always the one to deal with snakes in my house,…and spiders and cat throw up and dirty litter for that matter.
I don’t want you to think that I’m Superman or anything. If it wasn’t for the amazing wife that God has placed in my garden, I’d be in deep. I’d be subject to people’s pathetic glances wondering who dressed me, who cut my hair, who forgot to give me some culture. She cares for me. It’s quite a tall job and certainly more time demanding that snakes, spiders, and senile cats. As far as I can tell, it was Adams ultimate fault that fashion even became an issue. As a result, I have a deep seated need to care for her. I’m sure it doesn’t always seem that way. Sometimes it is lost in translation, to be sure. After all, I am still a guy, so a certain amount of cluelessness is just part of the deal. When my head is on straight and I remember who’s in my garden, it just kind of comes naturally. Other times all I can do is hang on to the umbrella.

Monday, July 07, 2008

loyalty

I’m getting to witness a profound transaction taking place this morning. From my seat this morning, a big stupid hulking hybrid bus is filling the background. That should be criminal on a morning like this. Anyway, it’s causing my focus to shift in the direction of two golden retrievers. They had just been hitched up outside while their human marches inside for a venti iced something. They really are beautiful dogs, but what is catching my attention is their stance as they wait for their human.
They are almost rigid at attention, pointing longingly towards the door. I’ve noticed that they don’t alter their gaze a bit when any of the rest of the caffeine clique wander back outside. They don’t even flinch when slippers and boxers guy wanders past. This is a bit unusual because many of their contemporaries, when left in similar situations, will give their attention to just about anyone or anything that walks by. They attempt to bribe you with their eyes, pleading with any sympathetic passer-by to free them from their predestined loitering. Not so with these two.
I wonder what causes such loyalty. How is this relationship played out? Are these two aware that God passed them over as mans perfect garden companion back in the beginning? He went through all that trouble with the rib and all to create Eve in order to make up for some shortcoming that they obviously had. Maybe it was simply the lack of opposable thumbs. Before I dig myself any deeper, let me just reaffirm that I wholeheartedly believe that women have far more advantages than opposable thumbs. I’m just hypothesizing as I watch the “man’s best friend” ideology being lived out.
I remember the days of excited children greeting me at the door or looking longingly out the window at the time that daddy was to come home. I still experience the joy of a reunion with my wife even after only a short time away, sometimes measured in minutes. Even still, no one has ever stood at attention eagerly awaiting my exit from a Home Depot, or Auto Zone. It’s touching. They must have a special bond.
I actually thought all these things in the five or so minutes that I witnessed this interaction taking place. Great ideals, great emotions, these Old Yeller moments were presented for me against a Metro Bus backdrop. They must have an unusually special bond. All of these presented themselves until the human emerged and the secret to this relationship was revealed. It seems that this particular Starbucks, in addition to some quality coffee, has some very delectable dog treats. I guess it’s not that big a mystery after all.

Monday, June 30, 2008

imagination

This is my week to dream, to use my imagination, to get out of the weekly grind that my job can get me into if I’m not careful. I get to engage the artist role a bit more if I work things right. It’s started off well so far; early morning on the beach with two layers of the inside of my mouth scalded with Starbucks. It’s going to be a good one. I’ve already seen an eagle glide across the beachfront. The ferries have their snow covered backdrops in place and the sun is promising 80 degrees today. It’s going to be a good one.
The usuals are here, catching busses and the morning news. One guy even came right out of bed, pajama shorts and furry slippers. I have to wonder about his judgment. After all, furry slippers and 80 degrees? Tall people, short people, espresso people, chai teas and frappucinos are all represented this morning. There are writers and readers, those on their way to work and those with work being the furthest from their minds…. And then there’s me.
I’m just around to observe for awhile. It’s not really work, although I do get to employ it as work once in awhile. It keeps my mind fresh and encourages my creativity which helps my teaching role. It helps to develop some observational practices, which could help my counselor role. It gives me a few moments of balance and down time, which will definitely help to keep me from killing someone this week. Imagination is the key. Otherwise it’s just another cup of coffee with a great view.
This is the week that I get to imagine what it might be like to be that dog that just wandered by with it’s human in tow. I wonder if he’s really as embarrassed as he should be about that haircut. I wonder what was going through his human’s mind when she paid for that haircut. I wonder if the guy at the window, scribbling in his notebook everyday, some famous author that I should know…. Or maybe he’s just writing down observations about me? Is the lady in the comfy corner chair that much into the daily news or is she just passing time? I wonder if it was a good morning in this young moms house, or did she have to “count to three” to encourage her little dark curly haired cutie to put her shoes on and get out the door on time.
I wonder how many of the people filing onto the metro are excited to start another week and how many are just “doing time” till something better comes along. I wonder if the guy at the ATM is satisfied with his balance or is he panicking over how to balance his balance. I wonder how many “weather” jokes and basketball questions this extremely tall guy has had to endure every week. Does he wish he were 5 foot 10 as often as I wish I were 6 foot 10? What made that woman think that her dress was a good idea ? Is that guy really that confident in his pink shirt? What are these people doing with cut off ski poles? Did that old couple really intend to match this morning, even down to the hats? How bad would an extra donut be for me? Are any of these people wondering if their life matters? Do they worry about dying? Have they even been able to enjoy the view, or are they too consumed with life?
Every once in awhile I get a chance to step off the train and just watch it go by. I can leave my baggage behind and hope that it never does make the destination with me. It’s great therapy. I highly recommend it. It’s not a long exercise, a few hours at most. The only thing you need to bring with you is your imagination.

Friday, June 27, 2008

labels

I followed my daughter down to her shift at that “other” coffee company this morning. Life has kept me off schedule this week, way off in fact. It’s usually the other end of the week that I’m writing this blog. I’m okay with it which is a sign of growth for me. I’m at the “other” place staring at the label on my grande’ drip. It tells me that the cup I’ve just invested in is 100 percent compostable. This cup is one of the main reasons that I changed back to Starbucks in the first place. Well, actually not this one, but the original one that I bought way back when, only to discover that compostable meant that it would begin to become compost even before I reached my table to enjoy it. I’m not exaggerating. It began to disintegrate and leak profusely even as I was sitting down. Now I’m as “green” friendly as the next guy here in the Northwest, but for someone as cheap as I am, trying to stretch a cup of coffee over a 2 hour time span, this was very alarming. I think that they’ve worked a bit to improve it a bit since then. The half life of a cup is now up to about 45 minutes. Still the label brings back bad dripping memories.
That’s the way it is with labels isn’t it. Someone or something puts a label on, thinking it’s the answer to all of life’s difficulties, only to discover that the label may create even more difficulty. Take for example, a certain pizza empire that I used to deliver for. It’s label said “30 minutes or less”. This seemed to be an answer for the impatience of the American consumer. What it said to others who may have actually appreciated a quality pizza was that speed trumps taste. I used to see a sign in my previous place of residence that read “free manure”. That must have been good news to some, but to my way of thinking, coming from a fairly public profession, I had more than my share dumped at my doorstep every week. I certainly didn’t need to stop and pick more up.
Labels are a professional hazard for me in my role as a pastoral artist. It’s the main reason I came up with the term “pastoral artist” in the first place. That’s correct, lest you see the term somewhere else in a book selling millions, I came up with the designation first. In fact I’m the only one in existence as far as I know. A friend asked me a while back, “What the H… is a pastoral artist? I really have no idea. I made it up. It has something to do with me being a pastor focused around the creative ability of the Creator and those He created. I see it as my role to reconnect the Creator with everything and everyone created. Kind of a broad job description, I’ll admit. I came up with it because the label “pastor”, while well intentioned to some, is a barrier to many, not unlike “compostable cups”. I don’t even like many who wear the label. I respect them, I just don’t like them….much….but to be fair, they wouldn’t appreciate me much either.
I have attached “artist” to pastor because, first of all, I am one….when I get the chance. Secondly, it’s leveling. While pastor says one thing to people, artist says the opposite. When one thinks artist, it’s not generally in the context of middle class, conservative haircut, SUV driving, Republican, and angry. I am none of those for the most part, but yet I could be if I wanted to be. No two artists are the same, nor is their art. You just get to stand back and objectively utter “hmmmmmmmm”. It’s a bit more liberating.
Labels aren’t generally helpful. I still struggle not being bound to them. I’d rather live life according to the beliefs that I own and let that be reflected in my actions. I’d rather have conversations with people and get to know them beyond their fabricated images. Everyone has worth and value that tends to be obscured by an inaccurate message. The reality is, the coffee at this “other” place, never changed, and improvements have even been made to the cup. I’m just having a hard time with the label.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

back

I’ve always heard it said, when considering your past, that “you can’t go back”. I’ve never really been totally sold on that concept, at least as it might apply in my own life. Now, to be sure, I would agree that things change from your past the moment you leave the past. People die, property is sold, relationships pass, almost immediately. My wife and I certainly have had our share of past lives, living as we have in various parts of the country. My wife has been the most affected by whatever we haven’t been able to go back to. She puts roots down deep wherever she is planted, and when those roots get pulled up, so does a lot of other stuff, and things are never the same again. Still, I don’t think that it’s a universal principal. I don’t think that everything gets changed by time. Sometimes I think that the “you can’t go back” concept was created by people who wanted to run away in the first place. It was an excuse to not even attempt going back. It was the reason that they never made the effort to hold on to previous relationships.
I just came back from going back, if you can follow what I mean. I’m back from a 10 day trip back to my previous and one time original place of existence in upstate New York. I’m back from going back. It’s kind of fitting as I’m back on the beach, but looking out the window with our own Statue of Liberty in the foreground and the Space Needle in the background. I’m still processing the trip, still contemplating the “can’t go back” theory. Things have changed to be sure. People have died, property has been sold, relationships have passed. But on the other hand, some things don’t change all that much. They still don’t really know a good coffee experience. I went to the one stand alone Starbucks not associated with the mall or the university and it was a sorely disappointing experience. I don’t think those baristas could even spell Seattle, let alone know what it stands for. They do know doughnuts though. There was a Dunkin Donuts on every single corner of every single town. It might account for the unbelievable number of cops encountered along the way.
We did spend moments when we were able to really be “back”. There is still nothing like sitting on a giant front porch in Mallory watching the world go by. Boldt Castle is still majestically sitting on its Island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. Summer is still humid and the sweat still finds its way down my back and into my shorts. Finger Lakes wine is still as good as it gets and a chocolate soft-serve ice cream with chocolate sprinkles from a road side stand will always be a reason to brake. The Carrie and Derik that I married were still the Carrie and Derik that I first encountered as middle schoolers. Our best man, who we haven’t seen in 20 years, was still the same guy we grew up with. Certainly we are all more refined and experienced. There’s more gray and more stories as to how the gray got there, but the same spirit resides there.
This morning I’ve come back from going back. Some things have even changed here in this short time. There are 2 new baristas and a few changed seats in here. A new dog is waiting patiently for a new owner and my blueberry coffee cake is off the menu. I have my chair though and the coffee is better than I remember. All is right with the world at the moment; of course I haven’t been to the office yet. It’s good to be back.

Monday, June 09, 2008

blond

There’s a little blond haired cutie wobbling around here this morning. He’s got that bow legged, pants full of diaper waddle, wandering from person to person amidst thoughts ranging from “isn’t he cute” to “where the heck is this kids parents”. From where I’m sitting, the little guy is an orphan. I assume a parent is somewhere in the place, hidden behind a couch or this music display featuring Neil Diamond and Carly Simon releases. To think that I’ve lived long enough to see them cool again….
Anyway, back to the youngster. It doesn’t seem that fear is in his vocabulary yet. Neither is discretion. He goes from one conversation to another, one table to another, not merely willing to be a spectator. He’s hitting, poking and conversing as he goes. It’s interesting to watch this interchange. You can instantly tell who amongst us has children, and who will be sticking with dogs. Some avoid him as if even the minutest of contact will turn them into one of him, while others openly engage him in face making games. He doesn’t discriminate though. One or the other, ignore him or engage him, he is making his own amusement.
I wonder what he’ll grow up to be. At what point, if any, will he lose that sense of adventure? Phil Collins is singing about “Throwing it all Away” in my headphones. I’ve seen so many do that in their lifetime. Will he be one of them, or will he take that same spirit that propels his diapered butt all over Starbucks this morning and lead others to adventure? At the same time, in regards to his Dad, who has suddenly emerged, I’m wondering if I’m watching a parental genius in action or someone to be judged as “too permissive”, clueless even. I walk the line between envy for the future that he has with him, and sympathetically remembering the mistakes I made as a dad to my own little diapered explorers.
I remember those days, though it was a long time ago, not as far back as Carly Simon and Neil Diamond to be sure, but still long ago. I remember little padded butts waddling optimistically around the rooms. I remember peek-a-boo games with strangers in the next booths. I’m sure of the “where the heck is this kids parents” moments”. Despite my best efforts and pathetic attempts, my kids have grown. They have their own personalities and dreams. They have their own faults and they have their own strengths. They are who they are, in large part, because of an accumulation of these types of Starbucks moments and opportunities to explore the world. Each one mattered. Each one counted. Each one accumulated to the greater sum of who they became. Some I understood and embraced fully and others I fell victim to the clueless dad syndrome. Most of their good qualities I attribute directly to their mom, most of their bad I can honestly see as mirrors of myself, but all of their qualities, good and bad, make up the whole of who they’ve become, and I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.

Monday, June 02, 2008

obvious

There’s a little dog outside on the sidewalk this morning. It’s one of those little fox like puff balls, a Pomeranian I think, that get all excitable and yippy when their human comes near. This one is no exception. He/she, I can’t tell, has been staring, straining, longingly, almost painfully towards the doors since being tethered to the little green fence post a few moments ago. The only thing distracting focus from the door is when indigo hair guy stoops down and acknowledges the hyper little prince/princess.
When the door opens again and the human appears, the excitement is pretty much uncontainable. I’m not sure which one has had their morning caffeine already. It’s quite obvious where the allegiance lies. Now that I think of it, there’s no lacking in obvious behavior around here this morning. The furry beast and its human are obvious in their relationship. Older guy is painfully obvious in his establishing contact with younger woman. Old couple is obvious in their desire to preserve their morning ritual of being together yet quite separate. Metro bus driver is obvious in his attempt to take advantage of a stop equipped with public toilets. News paper lady is obvious in her desire to become engrossed in the daily dose of what passes for news in this town. And here I am, obvious in my, hidden behind my laptop, headphone encased, desire to escape the world. It’s neither wrong nor right; it just is what it is.
All of it, day after day, week after week, spent down here in my judgment seat in the corner, leads me to believe that just maybe, despite all of our attempts to the contrary, our motives and behaviors become quite obvious to those who take the time to observe them. I don’t mean in clinical, psychoanalytical, that’ll be $200 and we’ll schedule you for next week, kinds of observations that drive our professional economy. I think that I mean the, I’ll invest a bit in your life because I care, kinds of interactions that our social economy is lacking.
Professionally speaking, as a pastoral artist, I wonder what would happen if I observed those in my “community o’ faith” with the same interest and scrutiny that I give my fellow Starbucks inhabitants? It’s not that I don’t care, or don’t intend to. Our interchanges don’t tend to lend themselves to this. Usually when I see them, they’re on their “Sunday best” behavior. I don’t have nanny cam to see them in their own reality shows. Granted, I don’t have the time it would take to get to the level of investment where the hidden becomes obvious in all of the people I interact with, but someone needs to. If friendships and relationships were more a place of investment, perhaps we wouldn’t be investing as much in our counselors, therapists, and life coaches. I’m not desiring to be trivial in this, because I fully acknowledge the need for some, maybe even many, to employ professional help. But I would also put forth that many of us just need a real friendship. We need to experience time consuming, caring relationships that take effort, and observation, where needs are acknowledged and met, where the hidden becomes obvious.