Monday, March 31, 2008

foreground

The metro is blocking my view this morning. At least it’s blocking some of it. I can’t see the beach, the waves or the gulls. I can’t see the skyline or the mountains for that matter. Lot’s of windows here filled by a hulking, hideous, green and yellow, diesel , double length, people mover idling at the curb. It blocks one view, however it does enhance another. I have to focus on the foreground this morning. I have to look at what is right in front of me for a change. I’m usually not very good at that.
It’s ironic because one of my motivations for starting this Monday morning Starbucks routine was so that I would stop for awhile and focus on what is right in front of me. When the background is removed from my view I’m forced to look at the foreground. I have no doubt that I was created more for the foreground than the background. I just prefer the other. Out there I can dream. I can imagine. I can plot and I can scheme. I can envision what is out there and how I can get myself and others who will follow to the places of mountains and skylines.
I’m here for the view. If I didn’t want or need the view, then I’d do this from my office. I come here early for the seat. If I didn’t want the seat, then I’d come at a more reasonable time. So this morning, I have the seat, I have the fireplace, I have the grande drip, and I have the view….at least the one intended for me this morning. What I get to do with it is now totally up to me.
When you do this as long as I have been, you begin to realize that places become defined. Allow me to elaborate. The same people order the same drinks waiting for the same bus to go to the same jobs. The same guys come to read the same papers and have the same armchair coaching discussions. The same writers grab the same seats for the same inspiration. This morning it is very much the same here. It’s my own Seattle version of “The Truman Show”. There is one anomaly though. There is one thing out of place.
It’s kind of like one of those paintings that are basically just a wash of one color, with a dot of contrasting color placed somewhere on the canvas. You are drawn to the contrast. It takes every bit of your focus away from the rest. This morning, the out of place element is a homeless man. Someone new I’ve never seen before, or worse yet maybe not noticed? Most aren’t acknowledging his presence, except the barista who asks politely “Sir, can you please move away from the doorway”, at the request of an uncomfortable patron. I really don’t know why. He’s a customer after all. He has a bigger drink than I have. The only difference is that I’m carrying a laptop and he’s carrying blankets. They didn’t ask the tall guy with the khaki dress slacks, green hoodie and purple hair to move away. I personally found that look far more disturbing. He chose that.
It’s somewhat depressing at times to live in an area where so much social awareness and compassion is preached and such an air of smugness about our level of tolerance, as long as it’s not in my backyard. We all love to dream of mountains and skylines in the background while trying to ignore what’s right in front of us. It’s quite tempting to preach about what needs to be done until we get confronted with the reality that someone needs to do it and just maybe it needs to be me. This guy has a name beyond “sir”. At one time, or perhaps even now, he was a significant part of someones foreground. He has a story as do we all and it’s undoubtedly a chapter in the grander story of man. It’s quite conceivable that it’s a more interesting chapter than mine. I’ll never know though till until I focus on the foreground long enough to ask him his name.

Monday, March 24, 2008

meddling

I’m a meddler. That’s my confession of the day. I’m a meddler. Simply defined, I just can’t bring myself to leave things alone. I am always, relentlessly plotting and scheming a “new way” of doing something. I have an inner built in belief that everything can be improved upon. I’m not bragging, it can actually be quite annoying. It has served me well, this tendency to meddle, in some areas. Engineering and design come to mind. An aptitude to meddle is a valuable commodity there. It pays well and can be highly valued. Not so much by the meddle-e as it is the meddler. It works well where things are seemingly broken. It is just plain annoying where things are already fixed.
I’m watching with great interest the meddling that is now reportedly taking place here at Starbucks. Howard is back and charged with the task of meddling them back to the basics of what made them great. That was of course before someone meddled them out of greatness. See that’s what I mean about when meddling crosses the line to annoyance. There’s a fine line, a tipping point if you will, where you are precariously perched on the edge of greatness for a time until some well meaning, too much time on their hands, meddler comes along and knocks greatness into absurdity. The grand McDonalds experiment with pizza back in the 90’s comes to mind. Who thought that they could compete in that market? What the heck was that meddler thinking? How about putting beef back in a hamburger? Now that would be a return to the glory days.
I envision the delicate balance and timely restraint in much the same way as I have experienced water skiing. Assuming that one is starting at least partially submerged in the water, there is a decent amount of effort that needs to be expended to get upright as the boat accelerates. When you are up, where you are supposed to be, there is balance and strength and a bit of patience involved to successfully navigate within and sometimes through the wake of the boat. All things can be fine and you can at least exude some level of competence to those on shore. But then confidence overcomes common sense and the meddling begins. Meddling with the laws of physics I mean. A slight meddle maintains balance. A major meddle brings disaster. A one hand move here, and a backwards turn there and you become just like all of the other amateurs skipping like a rock across the surface until the rapid deceleration brings you right back down beneath the waves, coughing and sputtering, and looking totally ridiculous.
The frustrating point for me is that I usually can tell when that moment is approaching. I know when just one more turn will snap the bolt off and I’ll be in really deep. I feel it coming and the inner voice says “stop” the meddling, it’s just right, leave it alone”. But I just can’t help myself. I have come to believe that with a few exceptions, there are meddlers and there are maintainers and more often than not, they are different people. The meddler can’t maintain and the maintainer can’t meddler, but the world needs both. After all, you can only maintain something for so long before you need to meddle a bit to keep it balanced. Think water skiing.

Monday, March 17, 2008

yearbook

I can really get drawn in anytime some media outlet presents one of their “Where are they now?” deals where they go in search of formerly famous celebrities, athletes, and iconic figures of the past. Hearing the tales of what went wrong for them and even sometimes what went right to boost them out of the limelight or maybe their own personal 15 minutes of fame is often very enlightening. I haven’t seen one of these stories in awhile, but I started thinking about them again recently when I stumbled upon an old yearbook. Yearbooks were a brilliant invention. Whoever decided it was a good idea to record, for history sake, the photos of everyone who shared those formative years of ones life should be given due honor. I don’t know their history or how far back they go. Sometimes I imagine unearthing one from prehistoric times, carved entirely on stone, Flintstone –like. I wonder if Davinci provided the yearbook for his graduating class, done entirely in oils. Is there an ancient scroll out there with the graduating names of Jesus and the apostles?
Living entirely on the opposite side of the country from my old high school, I have succeeded in losing track of everyone in my yearbook with the exception of my wife. I’ll be honest, it was never an area of major concern for me. High school wasn’t necessarily my “glory days”. They weren’t miserable either. They just were. Living in those moments, I never even really understood their value and the life long importance of recording them in a book of “glamour shots by Deb”. It’s only been recently though that I have come to understand their impact in helping to wire me into the person I’ve become and onto the path that God has drawn out for me.
It’s not just high school though. I can look back on all of the influential periods of my life and realize that they are strewn with undocumented yearbooks of relationships past. They were all, from my earliest days in McNamara Elementary, Durgee Junior High, Ray Middle School, Baker High School, the University of Buffalo, moments and relationships that, in the moment, I thought would be around forever. They’re not though. Most didn’t even make it past the 10 year mark. They have been filed like dusty, page curled yearbooks on the shelves of my memory. As I’ve taken this journey with stops all across the country, each place has become its own moment and memory. Some people never leave the place of their childhood and so I would imagine that they may have a better handle on these things. I imagine it, although it may not be so at all.
So every now and again, my memory offers up snap shots of those days and those people. When it is particularly generous, mostly in dreams hardly remembered in the morning, I’ll get a brief video clip, more like the old home movies my parents used to show up on a sheet at holiday time. I see them as they were, sometimes with great clarity, other times merely as misty figures in semi familiar situations. Now all of you “arm chair” analysts can just relax, many of my earlier days were not that flattering so it’s not an inner wish to go back in time. My wife says I’m better with time so this is where I choose to stay. I’m perfectly happy here. I just wonder sometimes about the pictures and clips that fall off the shelf from time to time. Where are they now? Or maybe more importantly, where am I? I wonder whose shelf I might be on. I wonder if I’m a memory stored somewhere. I wonder at what point I’ll stop wondering.
I’m about to reluctantly head one more time into the great abyss of higher learning. I’m sure it will signal a new chapter in my life, complete with a new cast of characters, new stories and new experiences. I’m going to try and take it slower and more fully appreciate those who God brings my way. I may even buy a yearbook.

Monday, March 10, 2008

teeth

So I broke a tooth the other day. That can only mean one thing. I’m officially old now. Now I don’t mean to imply that old age is the only thing that reduces teeth to shrapnel in your mouth. I know of people who have experienced cool and exciting adventures which led, ultimately, to having a tooth broken. Many pirates, not that I know any personally, have at least one broken tooth from a drunken brawl in some exotic Caribbean port. Sports figures, particularly hockey players, are likely to have broken a tooth if they’ve had a distinguished career bashing heads and eating pucks. Mine was from a wheat thin.
That’s right, back up and read it again to be sure. I broke a tooth on a “WHEAT T-H-I-N”. You need to understand that just before I ate said wheat thin I dropped a handful on the counter accidently and most of them broke of their own accord. They were apparently already resigned to their assumed destiny. One of them had other plans I’m guessing. He was taking prisoners on his way out. It wasn’t an ordinary tooth mind you. It was what I have always considered to be one of my “horse” teeth. You know the ones toward the back of your jaw, the big, fat, thick ones that are supposed to grind up anything. They’re like “ginsu” teeth. I used to grind down whole tootsie pops, jaw breakers, blow pops, and all sorts of things of that consistency. Just the week before I was powering through a theatre sized box of Milk Duds…nothing, not even a creak or a groan to indicate the impending structural failure.
Just so you know, as if you wanted to, it was a bicuspid… the tooth I mean. The next morning I happened to run into one of my hygienists from the dental establishment that I am connected to. I was standing in line at my favorite coffee place (not here at Starbucks) telling her about my dental woes and my impending visit to her office. Being the helpful and professional soul that she is, she asked if she could see it. It was just as I thought. I broke off a “cusp”. It guess that it is now known only as a cuspid, since the “bi” part was eliminated. Wednesday is the day chosen to begin the rebuild effort.
I’m sure that I can’t wait for this experience. I haven’t exactly been the model patient for dental awareness and tooth care despite my mother’s best intentions. It’s not that I have a fear of dentists though. Did I tell you that my dental office used to be a funeral home and mortuary? I have actually performed a funeral there in my pastoral life. That was of course before it was resurrected for living body use. I don’t fear dentists any more than I do funeral directors. I have insurance. This whole thing is simply inconvenient. I have better things to do than sit in a chair with the jaws of life holding my own jaw open while pairs of hands try to “bondo” my tooth back to its intended shape.
I guess the worst part of this experience, what is really bothering me, is the knowledge that life will never be the same for me. Tootsie pops will now become potential grenades in my mouth. Blow pops could possibly be landmines every time I indulge. Milk Duds are bound to cause me anxiety instead of the peace and joy that they’ve always provided my inner being. Don’t even get me started on Sugar Daddies. Life will never be the same. Days of jello and mashed potatoes approach. It’s been a good run though. I’m proud of my mouths accomplishments. We’ve conquered many things together. It’s just hard to go out on a wheat thin.

Monday, March 03, 2008

blame

Ok, so I’m not a writer. At least by writer’s standards that have been thrust upon me. It wasn’t even a valiant effort. I did get to attend a new writers group this past week. That should count for something. And the teaching for my community o’ faith was much more of a literary work than the usual offering. They were just coincidences though, merely anomalies within an otherwise lame effort. I could blame it on practically anything. This has been an unusually draining few weeks with one more to go. However, my feeling is that if a challenge can be conquered against intimidating odds, then it can be conquered anytime. I’m not sure of the wisdom here, but I’ll not whine “It’s not my fault”. It is what it is. Time to regroup and reevaluate, I don’t have time for blame.
Life is too short. Get over it and move on. Try again. Take another angle. Those are all preferable to me over “It’s not my fault”. Why is it always about fault anyway? I can’t tell you how many I encounter in my pastoral arts position who are paralyzed by blame. They are justified by “It’s not my fault”. What difference does it make? Is there resolution to the conflict by placing blame? Does one get any closer to the goal with the magical phrase “it’s not my fault”? You’ll not hear that from me. I’d much rather put my head down and press on to my original goal. So I was lame this week, what does next week have to offer?
I guess part of this weeks perspective, if I’m honest (which is always a good thing), comes from my study and consequent teaching to my community o’ faith. This week found us in the garden with Jesus as he begged the Father to “take this cup”. He wanted relief from the suffering that was approaching. It was suffering, by the way, for something that was not “his fault”. He would eventually be killed. He could have wasted his energy on blame. He could have run and hid like his friends. He could have blamed his childhood or the crappy living conditions that he was born into. Not many of us can compare ours to a stable. He could have pleaded the unconstitutionality of the charges against him. He could have claimed poor representation from his lawyer. He put his head down pressed on towards his destiny.
How many of us can say that? How many of us can compare our past week to his last week? Get over it. You may not believe what I believe at all about all of this. I am certainly OK with that. If you don’t though, I want you to be sure that it has nothing to do with a desire to place blame somewhere else. Don’t let it be because you don’t think that it’s fair, needing a Savior I mean. I like to think of myself as honest enough to realize that I need second chances. I fail all on my own. It may not be immediately related to my own actions, but chances are, if you trace it back far enough, I share in the “blame”. So I choose to live my moments secure in the knowledge that at a moment in time, what I couldn’t do for myself, was done by someone refusing to place blame.