Monday, January 21, 2008

unattached

First of all, let me just say, “If you could see what I see” outside the window of my caffeine portal. I’m looking out across calm waters reflecting the bitter cold, dawn approaching, radiant blue skies. On the far side the lights of the early morning ferries glow in the foreground while an, out of season, golden moon drops low in the sky, broken only by the outline of the jagged snow covered mountains that seems to swallow it. Within just a few brief minutes, the scene has changed, the mountain snow glows a sunrise red and I’m left with the realization that I could have missed this moment. Like many others who are intent on dealing with the reality of Monday, I frequently get caught up and miss the morning greeting cards that lay out before me each day.
I could just as easily miss it. However today I’m a bit more aware of my surroundings. I’ve begun a stretch of vacation. It’s not an ordinary vacation either. First of all, my gorgeous wife and I will spend the next 10 days at the “happiest place on earth”… or so the phrase goes. I’m not sure about happiest, but it’s pretty far up there. I’ve had previous experience. We’re going to Disney World. Not land, not Euro, not Universal Studios, or anything else. We are going and staying and being spoiled and living like irresponsible Western consumer driven kids at the happiest place on earth. Trust me, I’ll feel guilty for a moment or two, until I realize that as spoiled as this might seem , I’ll probably still be on the bottom of that particular economic pile. Unlike most that will surround me though, I’ll be doing it without melting our credit cards, so therefore I’ll probably enjoy “happy” much longer after I’ve left.
Now trust me, I can only take so much happy. I’m sure that by day 5 or 6, I’ll be wanting to slap one of the perpetually happy inhabitants of this other world. I wouldn’t choose to be there, or anywhere really, for such a long period of extended play time. For this particular trip, half will be work related while my wife is at a conference being held there. Only half is really vacation for her. I’m going to try to get an early jump though while she’s busy. I’ve already gotten an early start by making the decision not to take my trusty travelling keyboard.
This may not seem like a big deal to you, however, this is the first trip I’ve taken without this particular attachment to my being. In fact, the whole reason I have this one is that the last time I took a trip without one, the one left behind was stolen while I was gone. I get great satisfaction thought knowing that the thief now has a unit hopelessly outdated while mine is still relatively young. It really wasn’t a difficult decision to leave it behind though. My mind was made up when I read that I would be charged extra for internet access while living a life of luxury at the Disney resorts. What the heck? First of all, I personally feel that anyone anywhere who is charging for internet access is attempting to pick my pockets. Secondly, these are not Motel 6’s that I’m staying at, they are Disney resorts. Perhaps they feel that those who spend the money to inhabit the happiest place on earth will never miss the extra fee hidden in the “incidentals” on their bills. It’s a matter of principal for me. If I’m giving them a significant part of my earnings, I’m certainly not going to pay for the same service that nearly every independent purveyor of caffeine in my part of the country provides free with a grande’ drip. I have standards you know.
Don’t cry for me though, because I’ll still be waking up at Disney with a gorgeous wife who will be having more fun than any one human should ever be allowed to have. It really wasn’t a hard choice. No airport security hassles, room for more books, and an absence of spam for 10 days has settled remarkably well for me. Consequently, for any of you who read this every Monday, you need to know that I won’t be writing anything whatsoever for two weeks. It’s not that you’re not worth it, but I’ll have more pressing things to attend to, like which ride I’ll need to get a Fast Pass for.

Monday, January 14, 2008

audience

The audience is the key. When I write this down, it all seems absurd to me. Growing through the “what I want to be when I grow up” phase of my life, consideration of an audience never even registered with me. Nothing that I was interested in had any type of audience attached. Actually, had I pursued my original path, I would have spent considerable amounts of time completely alone in vast stretches of wilderness, as opposed to the urban jungle which I now find myself a resident of. Fortunately, I have this thing for warm showers and shaving and all, so here I sit, fairly domesticated.
The only alone time I can seem to be able to carve out now is in the darkness of the pre-dawn hours that most people tend to avoid. It’s fine with me, I’ve still had my shower. Anyway, back to the audience portion of my life. I now have a distinctly different life from the one I had imagined during my “what I want to be” phase. I have an audience. It kind of comes with the territory when you’re a pastoral artist. Every week faces look in my direction and listen for extended periods of time to thoughts that come from my mouth. It’s amazing really. What I mean is that I wouldn’t do it, not to me anyway. I am responsible to inspire, educate, prod, mentally massage, and move people according to study and inspiration from their Creator. I have to admit, it comes much easier when you don’t stop to think about it…kind of like eating squid.
It’s an interesting dynamic, working with an audience. Every communicator worth anything knows that success in communication relies heavily on knowing your audience. You are taking them on a journey and you need to begin with the idea that they might even be interested in going in the first place. It is such a paradox though. You can, if you are observant, totally read when they are with you and when they’re not. At least I keep telling myself that. I say this because in my experience, when they seem to with me the most, they seem to get it the least. Then there are the other days, too numerous to mention, when I am convinced of my total lack of being able to communicate even the simplest of concepts. It is on those days that people inevitably seek me out to thank me for the words, for the encouragement, for the reminder, for the verbal kick in the pants.
I used to think that these were offering of pity, that they could distinctly feel my flailing and wanted to toss some nice words my way so I didn’t give up and turn to AMWAY or Life insurance. I have come to realize that there is not that much pity in the world. My words are being intercepted, reworked and resent to the intended hearer so that good can result. There is another audience before my intended audience. I have an audience of one who insures that what originated from His teaching actually remains His teaching in spite of my attempts to dress it up in humor, story, and object lesson.
I have to admit to being a bit resentful at times. Why do I invest all the time? Why do I try to be clever or humorous or insightful or anything at all for that matter? Why not cut out the middle man (or woman) and just do it Himself? I have no answers for these questions. Perhaps when I die, or turn to AMWAY, I’ll have the opportunity to ask Him. Until then, I’ll continue to assume that He really knows what He is doing because, after all, He is Him and I am not. Maybe I should stick with writing.

Monday, January 07, 2008

imposters

Oh how the mighty have fallen. As today had already been an exercise in futility, I made a decision to change up my caffeine venue and see where I can dig up a bit of inspiration. Well…. I seem to have found some. I’m back at my favorite haunt of a year ago and my how time changes all things, including atmosphere. Let’s just say that I won’t soon be back. It is such a shame to see it a shell of its former life. A year ago my daughter worked here, a friend managed here, and all was right with the world. Not so much today.
It has fallen victim to neglect like so many other great institutions. Maybe it’s a sign of the times. I just read that Howard Shultz is going to be pulled back into actually working for his millions at Starbucks in the hopes that he can somehow, once again, work his magic and entice people to part with five bucks for a fifty cent drink. I don’t think that Starbucks is the victim of neglect though. Probably more like a bit of induced common sense. It’s been said that we’re not paying for the coffee. Quite honestly, we’re paying for the experience and atmosphere. If that is true, and I do believe that it is, then today I’ve been ripped off.
Let me put it this way, there are still poinsettias on the mantle of a cold fireplace. In fact, there are still wilted arrangements on the window sills. Now most who know me know that I have very little sense of timing when it comes to things of style, but even I can recognize that this is just wrong. Did I mention that the fireplace is cold? There are few things more pointless than a cold fireplace in January, especially when all you have to do is to push a button. I was greeted by nearly catatonic baristas, which is beyond my comprehension with this much caffeine flowing. I came here for inspiration and instead was served an overpriced grande cup of depression.
This chain of coffee ports fairly certainly set out somewhere back in time with the purpose of mimicking the Starbucks phenomenon. They did fairly well for quite some time, but like the tin man of Oz, they lacked one thing. They lacked heart. They have the outside look down fairly well. But it’s a bit like an oak dining set. When you scratch beneath the surface, you really can see whether you have the real thing or a laminated veneer. It’s catching up to them I’m afraid. At some time, the faithful who have been so secure will realize that the heart is really a cheap imitation and the atmosphere that they thought they were paying for has disappeared. And then they’ll be off, once again in search of coffee truth.
As a pastoral artist, I can’t resist the parallel here between coffee and spiritual satisfaction. Everywhere I turn I am confronted with a deep spiritual longing. In fact at this very moment I’m listening to Sting lamenting through my headphones about hollowness and want. People are created with a longing as old as creation itself. In the quest to fill that which can only be filled by the Creator himself, we have established a very impressive and attractive lineup of imposters. Even the Church can be guilty of being an imposter. Many fall for that one. The Church, like sex, drugs, and rock and roll (Ok maybe not rock and roll) can promise much and deliver little or nothing at all. Many promises of a life fulfilled, but only Jesus can deliver the real experience. Say what you like pro or con regarding Starbucks. You may love them, hate them, ignore them, but there is nothing quite like them. Say what you like pro or con regarding Jesus. You may love Him, hate Him, ignore Him, but there is nothing like Him…and you don’t need five bucks for the experience.