Monday, August 31, 2009

heaven


The beach front is pretty much unrecognizable this morning with the fog that is blanketing the water. The Alki Statue of Liberty seems to be waving at no one in particular. Everything is a pale gray backdrop to the street side monuments and the people walking by. I suppose it could be a bit like a scene from heaven if you believe that we’ll be walking through clouds in the afterlife. I don’t. So there you are. I certainly believe in an afterlife, it’s kind of a requirement for my line of work, but the whole cloud thing is not part of my vision. To be honest, I’ve not thought too deeply about what it might be like. Every time I attempt to it seems that some Hollywood depiction seeps into my brain and waters everything into silliness. Personally, if it’s something Hollywood was able to recreate, then it wouldn’t be all that impressive.
I remember watching “What Dreams May Come”….actually I think that I own that one. The imagery that I’m left with of heaven because of that film is people floating and flying oddly about, the grass smearing away like melted crayons, and Cuba Gooding Jr. walking around naked, but blurry. I only bought the movie because I love the depiction of Hell. Not that I’m a fan of Hell, but I think it has some interesting concepts that might be closer to how I imagine it. Then, I’m almost ashamed to admit, the Warren Beatty film, “Heaven Can Wait”. That’s got the whole cloud thing going….not very much imagination.
Any vision that I have of heaven comes from the only place that I’ve ever seen anything recorded significantly on the subject, apart from those “I died for 45 minutes” books that are in the spiritual section of a Barnes and Noble. I’m referring to the Book of Books and all of the descriptions of heaven that are contained there. Specifically, I like to turn to the section at the end in the book called Revelation, chapter 20 to be exact. It’s a fascinating, very vivid picture of gold and jewels and walls and gates and all that. It’s interesting to note that there are no clouds though, no smearing, melted crayon, grass, no floating or flying, and no Cuba Gooding Jr’s blurry backside.
There is plenty of singing though. That used to be the worst part of it for me. I can’t sing to save my life, but I like doing it now a whole lot more than I used to. It’s a good thing too because what I see in earlier descriptions of heaven, there is a bunch of singing, almost non stop and church like, only without the organ. It’s like one cosmic, eternally long, church worship service, except it’s a really good one that you don’t ever want to end. Now do you understand why I have a hard time imagining it? I do find it interesting that most people that I encounter express either a desire or an expectation of being in heaven when they die, but an enormous amount of them wouldn’t hardly consider going to church now when they’re here on earth. If you couldn’t stand it for an hour here in this life, why in the world would you ever want it for eternity in the next. I guess maybe they figure it’s better than the alternative of being in hell. Obviously they haven’t been in some of the church services that I’ve been in. They also express a dislike for “church people”. Obviously they aren’t aware that many of those same people will be there when they get there. After being a pastoral artist for the past 17 years, I’m counting on a few missing that train though.
Most of us are too busy surviving this life to seriously consider the next one, that’s why we like Hollywood to fill in the gaps. It keeps us from thinking. We only think about our own mortality when we get to witness someone else’s…. or when we run into the fog.

Monday, August 24, 2009

ruts

The Monday after a 2 week break can be a bit of a surreal experience. I’m back at Starbucks on the beach, perhaps for the final time. I think that it’s time for a change once again. I’m getting restless. Mile posts are passing and they seem to be picking up speed. I just brought my youngest back to college. I celebrated 25 years with the greatest gift ever given to me and in two months am looking forward to the arrival of a granddaughter. We are now in warp drive. One might say that this is to be expected when you are “over the hill” and headed down the other side. Trust me, I’m not there yet. I’m still trudging uphill at the moment. I’m listening to the Eagles sing about wasted time this morning and it’s forcing me to contemplate some things. First of all, how do these guys, older than I am, harmonize like that in a live setting? Really..... Secondly, I wonder how close I am to slipping into wasted time?
There is a point, I’m thinking, where the familiar becomes all too unfamiliar. As we crossed back through the mountains of Eastern Oregon after delivering my daughter to college in Boise, we passed by many markers of the Oregon trail. For those of you not up on Western US history, that is one of the main routes for settlers travelling West in the 1800’s. More than 150 year has passed since the majority passed through those mountains in their covered wagons and the most fascinating thing for me is that there are places where you can still see the ruts from their wagon wheels. So many travelled the same path for so long and each passing one etched deeper into the mountains.
I have an idea, with my limited knowledge of ruts from my days on a dirt bike, that in the beginning, this trail gave a sense of direction, familiarity, and security for those who followed behind, like footprints in the snow when visibility is bad. I can also see that, after some time, it became almost a necessity to run your wagon in those ruts. It probably became an additional hazard to try to straddle them and carve your own path. Years down the road I would imagine that they were deep enough that it was extremely difficult to get out of them. So there they were….thousands stuck in the same path. Perhaps they were safer that way. Maybe they did have that sense of security that comes with following a genuine path. But as much as they were able to experience along that trail, imagine how much went missed along the way because they were travelling in the rut. I fear this in my life. As a pastoral artist, I have placed my faith in the one who promised me life and life abundant. It was not intended to be life in the safety of the ruts that I have created.
So as much as I like my view, and as much as I like my chair, I believe that it may be time for me to haul myself out of the rut and look around. Every minute that passes is another that I’ll never get back so I want them each to be filled with wonder. Perhaps I will find more challenges. I’ll definitely find different scenery. Who knows what I’ll find. It might be a bit unnerving, but I doubt that it’ll be as unsettling as the feeling that I have now that the familiar has become unfamiliar.

Monday, August 03, 2009

whatever

I stopped by Hotwire this morning since I’m running behind again. It’s been a profitable stop since there were still some of my wife’s scones available. I’ve never been into the scone thing since moving out here….that is until my wife began her baking company. I don’t like scones because I don’t like dryness coating my mouth like a blanket. Really…if I wanted a mouthful of baking soda, I’d just pour some on my tongue. Hers are different. I’d eat them like a bucket of KFC if I had the chance. Anyway, it might sound odd that I have to pay for some of my wife’s baking, but it’s a sacrifice that is well worth it. I’ll do whatever it takes.
I don’t encounter many people anymore with a “whatever it takes” attitude. Oh I know many who will say “whatever it takes”, but when encountered with various opportunities for “whatever” they shrink back with a “but not that” attitude. In my life as pastoral artist, I used to encounter communities o’ faith that were in desperate need for a change, many even used to tell me that they’d do “whatever it takes” to change. Then out would come the “but not that” lists of things they wouldn’t be willing to address, which ultimately became a recipe for paralysis and dying. I’m happy to report that in my current community o’ faith, they had professed a “whatever it takes” attitude, for some reason I believed them and moved 3000 miles to help, and in 10 years a “but not that” list has never appeared. Guess what? They are younger and healthy again and more importantly attractive to and serving in the community that God has placed them in.
I’m told that this is the “place of pioneers”. People tell me all of the time that this or that is the result of the pioneering spirit of the Northwest. Whatever… none of them came over the Oregon trail in a covered wagon. None of them have families who died in the passes. The pioneering spirit would undoubtedly result in a “whatever it takes” methodology….if it were really present. What I see more of though is the same “but not that” kind of hesitancy that is prevalent everywhere else. People want the marriage relationship that my wife enjoy after 25 years, but they won’t invest in it. For all of the smiles and PDA that people see on the outside, there is plenty of investment on both of our parts. There is sacrifice. Come on, I have to buy my own scones. There is humility. There is serving. There are investments of time and at some points there have been financial investments with professionals who know far more than us about the inner workings of our emotions.
I deal with people who want quick fixes. They have long “but not that” lists. They refuse to afford investments of either time or money. They say things like, “but you don’t know my life”. They can’t get over themselves. They change relationships like Microsoft changes windows. I know couples who will invest in a rental but not a relationship. They’ll commit to a mortgage, but not a marriage. Then they want what I have? Excuse me if I sound a bit annoyed, but that’s because I am. Sometimes you not only have to do “whatever it takes”, but you may have to invest everything that it takes.
I pray for these people. I really do. It’s all that I can do. As a pastoral artist, I try to focus on and lead others to the source of my faith, who lived and died a “whatever it takes” life. In order for me to be able to be back in community with God, he invested everything he had. In order for people who don’t even give a rip, he paid the ultimate price. I’m thankful that he didn’t have a “but not that” attitude.