Monday, March 30, 2009


I just put my youngest on a plane back to Boise at the end of her Spring break. A few weeks ago I find out from my oldest that I’m going to be a grandpa this Fall. A few nights ago we celebrated my honeys birthday with a bowling party. If all of these things don’t send me the message that I’m not as young as I’d like to think I am, then maybe the arthritis in my elbow will help reinforce the point. The encouraging thing is that I get to live to fight another day.
I’m not sure if it was the realization that I would now have another family members birthday to remember when memory is getting thin, or the pain in my elbow, but I have just recently begun to have a crisis called “what difference do I make?” If you haven’t experienced it yet, you someday will. You might be in the middle of it yourself. It’s not necessarily an age thing. Actually, it is how I wandered into the pastoral arts profession 20 years ago. It just seems to come when the dust settles and a moment of clarity arrives and the image of your life comes into focus. At that moment you get to really see what your life consists of. Sometimes, there is satisfaction and an appreciation of where you are. Sometimes you might not like the reflection at all, and sometimes it is somewhere in between. It is those in between times when you begin to wonder if you are missing something.
Now I’m not that old, but I am old enough to understand that this is, regardless of what you think your faith might be, a spiritual experience. It is, in my opinion anyway, critical to understand this point. Many lives have been ruined because we don’t understand the spiritual nature of this. Instead, it is seen as circumstantial and therefore we must change the circumstances. People try to change their marital circumstance, their family circumstance, their employment circumstance, their residential circumstance, or whatever quick pick solution seems to present itself. That is the tactic of the great deceiver who whispers that you are not right in comparison to everyone else. The truth lies only in your comparison to what you yourself were created to be, and only your creator can communicate that to you. It is a spiritual unrest and no matter how many spouses or houses or leases you exchange, you will never find rest.
As I said, I’m at the point where the whisper is back, the dust is settling and something is off just a bit. I think that this is more frustrating than being totally off center. Those adjustments are clear….difficult, but still clear. It’s the little nagging, Charlie Brown teacher, voice that I can barely make out, mumbling “You’re almost there” except I don’t really know where “there” is. I know from experience though that I won’t know until I actually get “there”. I’ll let you know when it happens. Until then, it’s still missing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I’m enjoying a few days way from reality while I recover from a mystery illness that has annoyed me for the past few days. As it is completely possible that one of the causes may have been stress related, I’ve chosen a few days away from the source of said stress, namely my office. Anyway, something within me thought that perhaps a trip to the beach and a grande drip from the new purveyors of instant caffeine drinks would be somehow relaxing….. must have been the drugs talking. I forgot that the Tuesday crusaders against peaceful coffee existence would be in force….namely the retired group that has pursued me through numerous caffeine excursions over the years.
One humorous episode that came from them this morning was their insistence that the music be turned down as it was just too loud. This, in the midst of them driving everyone, who didn’t have the benefit of headphones, far from them to the other side of a fairly spacious room. Personally, smooth jazz was far more appealing than a boisterous medical report of recent physical exams. Whatever….I can turn up the headphones, but it took some fairly intense vocals from Mick to drown them out this morning.
I find it interesting that we as a culture are so quick to notice what annoys us, while missing the whole reality of our own annoyance to others. We’re a culture devoid of mirrors I suppose. Here in the kingdom of nice, we strive for consensus and tolerance while we refuse to extend them ourselves. What results is the surface look of agreement and harmony, while underneath, resentment and frustration are festering. I come from another land, far, far away where consensus is not valued as much and sometimes it seems as if rudeness is the native language. While I make no excuses for rudeness, could it be that much of what gets classified as rudeness, is actually honesty that we’d rather not deal with? It might just be an inconvenient truth…..sorry Al. It might simply be an unscheduled look in the mirror. The result may not seem harmonious, but everyone knows where they stand. There are exceptions to that, to be sure, but as a whole, I had a fair assessment of where I stood. You knew your friends and your enemies and could adjust accordingly. It also helped in the humility department. Rarely did I get a chance to think that I was all that, for very long anyway.
I seem to have lost my footing here trying to stand in the midst of so much shifting sand. I imagine that part of what makes leading a community o’ faith in this environment so difficult can be attributed to this whole consensus harmony thing. When I read in the Book of Books about Jesus and his message, he was never one to build consensus. The refreshing thing about him was that you always know where you stood, and you always knew that he was leading in his direction. He had this concept called truth that was, and is in fact, inconvenient to many. Looking in his eyes was looking in a mirror, and as a result, lives were changed. The reality of our lives cannot be altered by turning up the headphones or by reaching consensus with that which seeks to keep us from the mirrors. I may be irritated by retirees who enjoy keeping loud company, but I’ll be there one day, and somedays already am.

Monday, March 16, 2009


You’ve heard the term “dream job”? Some of you are living it no doubt. I can appreciate the idea of having a dream job. There are some days, most actually, that I think that my existence as pastoral artist within my community o’ faith is a dream job. After all, how many of the rest of you get to do research and study time at coffee shops and caf├ęs? If you do, I hope that the fireplace is working for you Anyway…., dream jobs are one thing, but I hate it when my actual dreams are invaded by my actual job. Far be it from me to complain but, since so much of what I do is for others, I’d prefer to reserve my dream energy just for myself thank you.
I woke up this morning with the annoying realization that my dreams, at least the part that I remember, and who really cares about the rest…, were invaded again by my working environment. It makes it seem that I was working even in my sleep. Now there are some in my community who probably feel that I must have been working in my sleep when they’re listening to me teach on Sunday’s, but I’m talking about really working while I was physically in bed sleeping. I don’t like it at all. I went to bed exhausted last night, mainly from my chosen vocation. That’s ok. As Neil Yong sings, “it’s better to burn out , rust never sleeps” and now that I’m gonna be a grandpa this year rusting out is looking more prominently on the horizon. What is not ok with me is when my chosen vocation chases me into the safety of my flannel sheets.
Some of you, or most maybe, know what I’m referring to. Working in your dreams can be a double edged sword. Besides all the weird Pink Floyd, Alice in Wonderland activity that tends to happen in dreamland, sometimes, in your work/dream, you get to tell your co-workers exactly what you think of them and why….unless you’re a Seattle dreamer then you still fear offending someone. The rest of us will be able to finally tell it like it is. On the other hand, there is always the risk in your work/dream that someone will tell you exactly what they think of you….Seattle or not. I don’t need that crap. I get letters already. I know fairly well what they think of me, I’d like to keep my dreamscape illusion if you don’t mind….whatever.
So I wake, frustrated, still tired, and seeking the sanctuary of a hot, black grande drip, a smooth croissant, and the sun peeking through the clouds at the beach while Bruce and the band are singing “Out in the Street” in my headphones. A tug boat is gliding by, the wind has died down, the snow melted, the retired people have not shown up yet, and my favorite chair was open. If only….a working fireplace….alas, not even in my dreams.

Monday, March 09, 2009


Being the morning person that I am, I have to tell you that I’m not a fan of the Spring version of daylight savings. It doesn’t help that the first two days of it have come cold, dark and snowy. Part of the benefit of moving to Seattle was to get away from those places where it was still snowing in March. It didn’t happen for the first few Spring times that we were here….just long enough for us to settle in and decide never to move again and now….global warming in reverse. I know, don’t write me letters…global warming doesn’t mean that your place may get warmer, it might mean that the climate is all screwed up. Well it certainly is here and no amount of Dave Matthews in my headphones can take away the fact that I’m sitting at Starbucks on the beach while it is snowing and the only thing matching the daylight savings darkness outside is the darkness of the fireplace inside. But hey, at least we have instant coffee……whatever.
Does anyone know if the theory behind stealing an hour in the Spring and then giving it back in the Fall is still bearing any weight in our culture. We have a tendency of allowing things to far outlive their useful lives just because, “we’ve always done it that way”. I’ve even heard rumblings in recent years of certain parts of the country wrestling with the idea of voting to not observe daylight savings. That, to me, sounds like a democratic process gone completely off the deep end. I mean really, when you decide that you can vote on time and whether or not it does or does not exist. It makes me want to put a measure on the next ballot to declare next year 2030. That’s the year I’d like to retire. Or perhaps, we could declare that next year is really last year and then my clothes would be back in style. Can someone remind me of the practical benefits of daylight savings; I mean the real practical benefits, not the scientific theory.
Perhaps this should have been included in the stimulus package? We’ll appropriate 15 million dollars and create a department to study the effects of daylight savings. I’ll volunteer for the documentary. It can be called “An Inconvenient Truth” or …..wait, that one has already been taken. Somehow I can probably wrap it in as a sequel. It will soon appear in court rooms as a new diagnosis for an insanity plea… Daylight Savings Disorder… or DSS for short. Or more than likely Walmart is somehow benefiting from this I’m sure. Or we’ll have senate hearings on C-span regarding daylight savings reform and its affects on the steroid usage of professional athletes……. Or, Oh sorry, I just drifted off somewhere. It was obviously a dream. I open my eyes and I’m staring at daylight….and no more snow. What time is it really?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


It’s morning at the beach, Bruce is in my headphones asking if Rosalita is gonna come out tonight and I’m mourning the passing of another great ideal gone with most of the rest of the credibility and self respect that our economic system once held dear. It’s like listening to the great big flushing of a toilet as you watch all manner of honor and dignity swirling down the hole. Listening to Bruce reminds me that at one time in our history hard work and honorable character might eventually bring respect and success. Now it seems we need either the instant fix or the government bailout to keep our self esteem intact which, God knows, is the most important commodity being traded on our cultural floors. It’s bad enough that I’ve lived through this era of cold damp days with dark fireplaces. I’ve now seen the once proud ideal of the Starbucks experience breathe it’s last.
I should have known that something was up this morning when the gulls were shrieking at me in unusual numbers out front. They were trying to warn me. I had heard the rumors, but like a big 3 auto executive, I tried to close my eyes to reality. Well I’m here to tell you that it’s true. This morning is day one of Starbucks “instant coffee” era. My how the great ones have fallen. After studying the rise of Starbucks and the ideals that they once held dear, I am just speechless. This once proud empire was built here in Seattle on first and foremost the promise of good coffee, which has frequently been called into question as it is. The genius behind this whole experiment though has always been not so much the coffee but the experience. Love them or hate them, they established and validated the American version of the coffee experience. In knowing their history, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the determination that built them into a worldwide trademark for coffee experience.
I come here every week and it’s never been for the coffee. It has always been for the experience. I’m a coffee snob and if I want quality, I’ll walk half a block from my front door to Hotwire in West Seattle. I come here for the experience, although the fireplace issue with me has dulled even that in recent months …. I should have seen this coming. Which is why this act of desperation cuts so deeply. They’ve sunk to Sanka. They didn’t just lower the bar, they dug a hole and dropped it in. There is no experience with instant. It doesn’t come instantly. I’m crushed, like their tiny little ridiculous crystals that you just add water to and stir.
Let me be clear on this, the coffee is not the point. The sellout of an ideal is almost more than I can tolerate as I’ve watched the rest of our ideals of free market, cause and effect , self sustainability and self respect being flushed while we just stand around like dogs watching the bowl empty. I don’t think that I’ve seen a more desperate attempt at gaining market share since the ill fated McDonalds venture into selling pizza.
Being of the pastoral arts profession, I tend to look for the spiritual implications in the cultural realities. This one for me is crystal clear as I get prepared to teach on the concept that a tree is known by the fruit it produces. Words and claims don’t mean much and can’t hide much when the fruit appears. Reality always trumps the “ideal”. To claim quality and experience means little when the result is “instant”. In the end, as we worry about bailing out those that a true free market economy would never bailout, we watch ideals fall like domino’s. And speaking of Domino’s, whatever happened to the simplicity of delivering decent pizza in 30 minutes or less?