Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Out There

Back down at the beach after a week away. The last week that I was here nearly did me in so I needed the break, but I did live to fight another day. School marches on with this one last semester in my sights. The end is near, crawl if you have to. At the end of another year I’m still having a hard time looking backwards on it. It’s a fatal flaw that I seem to have, not looking back I mean. It’s the main reason that none of you received a Christmas letter from us. It was my job to initiate the first draft. There is a rumor that it might become a New Years letter, but don’t look for it before the 1st as I’m still straining to see what’s back while avoiding the auld langsyne. I still don’t know what that even means.
It’s not that this was a bad year by any means. In many ways it was, as my wife would put it, a fabulous year. We watched a daughter walk down the aisle. We watched a granddaughter taking her first steps. We watched a village in a jungle see the first clean water flow from their ground. I plowed through 3 semesters of school with grades way beyond reason. We remodeled our kitchen, our deck, and I repainted the house. We made it through the year without my wife being taken down with back issues. I have a new studio with our artist community and I actually did some work in there. My year as a pastoral artist has been one of the most enjoyable in many years. There is so much to look back on and be thankful for and I am….thankful I mean … not the looking back part.
This year, within my community o’ faith, we will be celebrating the reality of 100 years of existence. You know what that means don’t you? It means even more looking back. That is one event that I am really not looking forward to, if you know what I mean. I don’t like birthday’s in general, except for my wife’s. Don’t get me wrong, 100 years in existence as a community o’ faith is an amazing thing, especially when, at 100, you are healthy and full of life. I’m just not into looking back…. much, especially when it comes to being a vibrant community o’ faith. Let’s face it, one of the least likely places that you’d expect to experience the 21st century is within the walls of the average church building. Too many of them exist like medieval fortresses that draw up the bridges as the people enter. They ought to, in my humble opinion, exist like an amphibious transport deploying Navy Seals on the beach, ready to attack poverty, suffering, and general boredom each and every time their doors open up.
Let’s be honest for a moment. Which do you think is more life giving to people who need to experience real life? Would you be more excited to go backwards in time behind the walls of a religious museum, or would you be more eager to have a point to your life and to live that point out within the natural surroundings that you find yourself in? Would you rather retreat and hide or would you rather advance and experience? If retreat is your preference, I can’t help you. I will say that, in my experience, the more time you spend on past history, the closer you drift to museum status. As far as the church goes, we’ve spent the past several months experiencing the book known as Acts in the Book of Books. If you don’t already know, it is about the birth of the Church as it was launched through a commission from Jesus himself. I’ll give you a hint. It’s called Acts because it is an active book about an active church called to “Go”. It’s not called “Beliefs”. It’s not called “Theories”. It’s not called “Propositions” or “Dreams” or “Plans”. These are all passive expressions of the faith that is open to all of us. It is called Acts because Jesus called his people, through the vehicle of the church, to act. He didn’t call them to “go to church”. He called them to “be the church”. In my opinion, this all just screams “forward”.
So there it is and here I am, at the end of another year. We’ve all scaled another year called life and as we approach the summit, we all have a choice. We can look backwards on where we’ve been. There is value in that. The view might be breathtaking. But my encouragement to you is, after taking a brief glance over your shoulder, to seek the mystery that is just beyond the summit. It’s something that we’ve not seen before. It’s packed with possibility. As we learned through the wisdom of Pixar and “UP”, the future is out there.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

toys

Well it’s warm and dry in here this morning…which is more than I can say about anywhere else around here. I brought the 4 wheel drive down to the beach just in case. You never know what to expect when the hills are sliding here. I don’t mind the rain as much as I thought I would. At least I’m not out shoveling it. It doesn’t often rain here nearly as much as is rumored, but when it does, it can come in waves that can get old after awhile.
One of the effects of the rain here is that I spend a great deal more time inside with princess Lily relearning how to amuse myself. I look forward to my play days with her. Grandma says that she needs to learn to amuse herself a little more than grandpa allows, but I’m having too much fun to pay much attention to that bit of advice. I’m sure that she’s right, but I’m sure that I’d rather play too. Lily is teaching me a lot through our play time. I’m also being reminded of things that I already knew…like the fact that it doesn’t matter how much you spend on the toys, they’d rather have the box. She is reminding me again about the idiots who pass themselves off as child experts who are designing the toys while they are really just marketing experts who are fleecing the adults who buy their crap.
The theory is that, if you come up with something that will convince parents or better yet grandparents that this is a worthwhile investment into their precious ones intellectual development …in other words, my kid will be smarter than your kid…, the money will start flowing and these things will go flying off the shelves to enrich forever more the lives of the children who are fortunate enough to be graced with them. What a load of crap. They just want the box. Even if they do eventually show some interest in the toy, it’s not to use it as designed and featured on a well produced commercial with well scrubbed and well behaved cherubs playing with it. Why would we ever think that people who produce commercials like that know even the first thing about children? Anyone who has ever spent an hour with one knows that life doesn’t happen like that in the realm of parenting. Now my granddaughter is the smartest 13 month old on the planet and she doesn’t have the slightest interest in using one of our latest acquisitions for anything resembling it’s stated purpose. She wants to do with it what she wants to do with it. As I was getting the privilege of playing with her yesterday, a pastoral light bulb came on in my brain with like 100 watts. We, and the people that I am Pastoral artist to, are not really any different than these children.
I have spent 18 years being fed the latest and greatest spiritual tools by the spiritual marketing machine and experts who write the books that tell me how people will respond to this or that latest trend or purpose driven whatever. I have spent 18 years being frustrated by the reality that they don’t…… respond I mean. They’d rather have the box. Lily taught me so much in our play time together yesterday about this. The reason that adults don’t play as intended any more than children do is because we all are where we are. These one size fits all ideas are for a world that is orderly and well scrubbed. The reality with us adults, just as it is with children, is that we’re not orderly. We’re not well scrubbed. We are a mess. We misbehave. We don’t follow the rules. That is the reality of the need for Jesus. In the individual image of God that we’re all created in there is no marketing plan that can address each of us on individual levels. That’s what Jesus is for.
The church has inadvertently become a marketing machine for spiritual toys that no one wants or needs. Pastors have become spiritual infomercial pitch men and women. In three easy payments of 19.95 we’ll be able to address all of your deepest spiritual longings. But wait ! There’s more…. Whatever………… I’m leaving the beach this morning to go back and search for the box.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

investment

As we bust now headlong into the Christmas season, I am in the paradox of trying to do something deeper than gifts, while at the same time trying to figure out which gifts to buy and for who. It is not a mystery to me why people just dive in and submerge themselves in the pool of consumerism. It is just easier. You might want to argue with me on this, that’s your right, although you’d raise some eyebrows by talking back to your screen. In my opinion, which is generally the one that I write about here, it is easier to bridge your relationships with gifts, even meaningless ones, than to figure out a way to invest in them more personally. There are, I think, a few reasons for this. For one, it’s easier because many will give you lists of things they want or need. Or for some people, what they want, like or need is fairly obvious. So the challenge is the prices, the crowds, and the time. It’s a logistical challenge. Now don’t misunderstand…I realize that these logistical challenges can be huge and often maddening. But stay with me for a few more lines.
To really invest in someone…what they really need…what they will really remember…what will actually fit them and they won’t be searching for the gift receipt…you need to invest relationally. The thing is, there are no lists for that. Your friends and family are not going to list for you some of their emotional, relational needs that you could fill and make their Christmas an incredible experience. In fact, if they did give you a list like that, your best course of action would be to run…fast…away. You yourself probably would not want to give a list like that to someone. You’re not wanting to be known as the “needy” friend.
In the 90’s I read a report that stated that in this new century, the most valuable commodity would become time. I think that this has absolutely come to pass. Even the wealthiest individual does not have enough of it, and they realize it. My own personal thought on this is that this is the biggest unspoken motor that is driving the economy of the holiday season. We buy because it is ultimately, in the end, no matter what our credit card statement reads in January, less costly than human relational interaction.
I know that there are sometimes logistical hurdles to relational giving. Location might be a hurdle. Most of us live around or with our cell phones… How about sending a 30 minute call instead of a 30 dollar sweater? I’m just thinking out loud here. I am really the worst of the worst when it comes to the time thing. Drop a note in the comment section if you have other ideas. I am also not advocating no gift giving either, but you could do so much more with so much less by placing yourself in the gift somehow…most of you anyway. If you are a needy person, give the gift of not being needy for the season. That will be more valuable to your friends than you can ever imagine. I’m celebrating a season that honors a life that was given for all. I guess that the least I can do to honor that is to give a bit of my life as well. Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

spectators

With Thanksgiving in the rear view mirror, it is now time to set our sights on Christmas as I enjoy celebrating December 1st with a sunny morning view at the beach. It all begins for Joanne and I tomorrow as we make the long drive to Mount Hood down in Oregon to perform a wedding ceremony at the beautiful and very snowy Timberline Lodge. We’ll get to enjoy the snow and fireplace for a few days before heading back for the annual tree lighting celebration here in my corner of the world. I have the honor of once again speaking at the event and trying to add a bit of Christmas meaning to the beginning of the season. It’s a tradition here which really kicks off the season for all of those who will be hanging out with us. Every place that we’ve lived through the years has held to their own unique celebrations of the season. Joanne and I have always added our own to the mix to create memories that are unique to every place and every year.
Chances are, that wherever you are reading this, your town, city, or district has their own ways of trying to help people celebrate the season. We have a unique one here that I’ve been reminded of just this morning. It’s one of those “you have to do this” at least once in your life moments that people tell you about when you move into an area. It’s also one of those that, you find out later, people go once or twice and then can’t really tell you why they quit going. Here in my place of residence, one of these events is known simply as “The Christmas Ships”. The concept is very simple. This fleet of dinner type cruise ships are all decorated for the holidays, they grab a local choir that knows some Christmas music, and they set sail all around our peninsula. A schedule is posted for their arrival times at the best traditional viewing …and listening places…and people go there.
Each year the conversation goes, “have you ever seen…., are you going to see…why haven’t you seen….well I used to go see…” the Christmas ships. It is true, that they are beautiful to see out on the water…assuming that you’re not trying to view them in a gale force rain storm. It is true that the music is nice…the choirs are fairly talented which is why they get free passage on this tradition. It might be true that everyone should see them once, but I can’t really say that I’ve seen them more, nor do I want to see them more than once. Why? I’m glad that you asked.
I’ve pondered this mystery every year since seeing them a few years back. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is because it’s not very experiential…unless of course you included frozen ears and toes as the experience. It is not really participatory. It is a spectator event. You just really, for the most part, watch… and in most venues you are watching from a distance, depending on tide and all that. It’s like watching a television show while you are cold and or wet. I don’t really enjoy that sensation, which is why my big screen is inside my family room and not out on my deck.
Here’s my thing…while I do enjoy a good spectator event as much as the next person, life is too short to have it filled with watching things happen. In my community o’ faith we believe that Christmas can once again change the world. But it is not going to change by getting more people to watch. For us it means getting more people involved in doing the changing. We have this thing that we’ve joined called Advent Conspiracy which is really just a cool name to describe a new attitude about how we celebrate Christmas. Along with and sometimes instead of all of the gift hunting, we do things like volunteer at a homeless mission, a food bank, and community functions. We concentrate on raising money for our next well that we’ll get to drill next Summer. And long the way I’ve discovered something that is not really all that profound. I’ve discovered that there are so many more people like me who aren’t really looking for another chance to watch something happen. They want to make it happen.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

focus

So I love my 4 wheel drive SUV this morning. These past few days its been worth every inch of its gas guzzling carbon footprint. For those of you not from the area, we’ve been dealing with another crippling blast of winter here in Seattle. Snow, ice and 50 mile an hour winds combined with hills, a general fear and unfamiliarity with such occurrences has not been a welcome addition to the holiday season here. As I walked up to the door of my beachfront caffeine stop I was trying to figure out what the nasty film was that covered the entire storefront. My brilliant powers of deductive reasoning, along with a swiped finger on my tongue, told me that it was a layer of salt spray from the water a hundred yards away. As someone who has experienced the blizzards of the Midwest and the deep snows of the Northeast, I would have to admit that this storm was impressive. So strong and so much like a true winter memory it was that it drove me to the unthinkable.
Over the past few weeks I have noticed an unusually large number of people that I know chattering about listening to Christmas music and even decorating for Christmas. Of course the stores have been pushing it since Labor Day but lately it seemed as if everywhere I turned and in every Facebook post from a far off friend I read, people were drinking the kool aid. It was like nails on a blackboard. Even my daughter, in her newlywed, first Christmas excitement, has had her tree up for 2 weeks now. That one actually didn’t surprise me because when she was little I had to hide the collection of Christmas movies or she began watching them in July.
Anyway, as I said earlier, the storm the other night had so much winter intensity that I lost all equilibrium and judgment. In the height of the storm, as it was obvious that my wife and I were in for the night, I suggested the unthinkable. Actually I think that I just kind of wondered out loud what it might be like to be engaged in our Christmas conversion while it was snowing outside. In my defense, it really has never happened for us since leaving New York. That’s all that it took…that and me being willing to drag myself through the blinding snow and freezing squalls, attached to a lifeline between the house and garage. Well, ok… a bit dramatic, but I did have to bring a flashlight. And just like that, while friends were enduring literally hours on mass transit trying to get to their homes, we converted ours. A couple of evenings dancing with ornaments and we are all done for the season. All this and its not even Thanksgiving.
I confess that I still feel a bit guilty. I don’t know if I’d ever do it again…even if it does seem like everyone’s doing it. In my earlier Catholic days I would probably even consider this a confession inducing event. It seems like we have just really begun to focus on what Christmas really means in our lives and now I may have just begun down the slippery slope of holiday mixing. Right now I’m supposed to be focusing on being thankful for whatever it is that the public schools say it is ok for us to be thankful for. I didn’t want that to confuse that with the clarity of the Christmas/Hanukkah/Bodhi Day/Solstice/Kwanzaa holidays. I’m trying to focus here. With all of the inner turmoil going on inside of me on this ridiculously cold morning I will admit to one thing. It sure is beautiful.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

productive

It’s still dark out and my eyes are struggling to find the beach. Despite the warning on the cup, Starbucks brew is sliding effortlessly and quickly down my throat and Pandora is playing in my head. It’s an indication that I’m working on launching some type of a productive day. Good luck with that. There’s a whole line of people standing in the mist waiting for an idling bus to open its doors. I think the driver was in line ahead of me. They are waiting for the start of their productive days…I can see it in their eyes. That’s the difference between them and myself. If I were headed to the office it probably would not be the same as heading towards a productive destiny. It would be heading towards plumbing issues, blinking answering machines, bills to pay, and salespeople trying to sell me the latest in Christian crap. I am fortunate that I have the freedom to choose where I meet my productive self.
What I do with my life is best done

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

center

Sun is up…water is calm…air has some Fall briskness to it and I’m watching the ferries emerge from around the point as their journeys are watched over by the Space Needle standing solitary in the distance. I don’t usually have this view, but I moved to the other side of the room this morning… Let’s be clear though, it wasn’t by choice…it was an adjustment. I’ve done well with it though I think, after some mindless cyber wandering, my mind is drifting back to center as Van Morrison is singing about wild nights on my Pandora channel. I remember those days… now my song of choice is “I ain’t as good as I once was”. Anyway, for a change I’m back here in Seattle and get to stay here for the foreseeable future. Guatemala a few weeks ago was life altering. Indiana last week was about all that you could expect out of it in the first week of November. Air travel, as is the case nowadays, was a treat. So as a result…

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

one

It’s been three weeks since I’ve been back in the familiar world of my Starbucks at the beach. I must tell you that the familiar is not all that familiar any more. While I’ve been gone, some further changes have been completed inside while outside an entirely new building is taking shape. There is new art work hanging behind me and new lighting in front of me. Perhaps it is fitting that home has changed a bit while I was gone since a good deal of what I thought I knew has changed along the journey as well. I have attached this picture, one of my favorites from last weeks journey as a memory of the change. I’m not so sure it has been change as much as it has been reminder. I needed to be reminded once again of the power of one. One life, mine or someone else's, can change the destiny of many. One church, relentlessly following Jesus, can change the destiny of many. One organization, with the right perspective, vision, and motives, can change the destiny of many. I have to fight to remember that truth in a culture that doesn’t desire any to move above the mediocrity of the crowd.
These past several days I was privileged to be one person,

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

mixed

So this morning I’m in a different Starbucks and a different city, but I will say that I’ve found the match to my chair. It feels like a long lost friend, even though it really means that I’m once again contributing to the cooking of my upper thighs. Whatever....You get the bad with the good. It’s a mixed bag. In my headphones, Bruce is traveling down Thunder Road as I get ready to head home after being gone way too long. Ten of the past fourteen days have been spent trying in vain to fill my head with stuff that will eventually become a graduate degree. It’s a time that I always look forward to, and then can’t wait to get out of. What it will eventually get me I have no idea, but I do know that you get the bad with the good. It’s a mixed bag.
In the midst of it I was able to spend a few days

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fall

Back to the beach today on a beautiful Fall morning. I’m surrounded here on National Coffee Day by the retirement clan, dad’s with kids before school, and the assorted fitness freaks trying to no avail to make me feel guilty for my “just say no to spandex” stance. It seems as if my posts will be rather spotty of the next several months. I am in “finish or die trying” mode when it comes to grad school and to tell you the truth, I am now in a love / hate relationship with my laptop. Between an increased course load, the regular correspondence that flows through this thing and my need to develop a message for my community o’ faith each week, I cannot even bear to look at the screen much longer. On top of that, in the past months I have put all of my reference material for the Book of Books on my laptop and also purchased a Nook (like a Kindle only better) so I now spend most of my waking hours looking at a screen. Something has to give

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

voices

It’s a foggy morning at the beach, making it a bit difficult to see some of the finer features of the Seattle skyline. If you were to drive along the beach here this morning you would not be all that impressed by the images that you were seeing. You wonder about those picture postcard views and impressive claims of snow capped mountains and the space needle and all that. You’d begin to buy into all the claims of rain and gloom and images of umbrellas and fleece. Well ok …. The part about the fleece is actually true. I think it was invented here.
My point is that there is another view here,

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

enjoy

It’s just another day in paradise. Even in the rain, there is no place I’d rather be… at the moment. That feeling has a habit of changing, all in a glimpse, in my experience. I’m pretty sure that I’ve felt that way just about every place we’ve lived. Today is the first day of school for many in my part of the country. Even though I’m beyond the days of new clothes, new pencils, and new pictures of faces caught between the excitement of a new year and the mortal embarrassment of having parents with cameras. Actually, as I think of it, after 20 some years, this is actually the first that we haven’t dealt with a child and the start of a new year. Now that my youngest is married, we no longer have to drop her off at college. It’s her husbands deal now to make sure she’s up and away on her first day.
In a perverted twist of fate though, I find myself still a perpetual state of learning. Yesterday was the first day of my final year of grad school journey number 1. I am now terming this as journey number 1 because as I enter the home stretch, I am now seeing glimpses of the remote possibility that I may continue on. I am still using the terms remote and glimpses so it’s far from a sure bet, however I never want to be known as the Bret Favre of higher education, so I need to always leave the door open.
As a parent having survived all of the “first days” and being witness to the results, let me send this off as encouragement to you. Here are a couple of things

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

answers

Well……….. remember what I said last week about “as long as I have my chair and my coffee” that everything would be alright. I have my coffee. Guess what’s missing from this picture? That’s right…tell them what they’ve won Johnny. Crime of Crimes…my chair is gone. I’m trying to be optimistic and think that perhaps it went to some Smithsonian tribute to Starbucks. The whole feel to this place has changed, probably for the better I guess. The baristas really like the change and since they’re the ones who look at it every day, I’m thinking they have a better handle on it than I do. It’s a visual reminder to me that change doesn’t always turn out the way you had anticipated. I’m living that right now anyway so I might as well live it here too.
Last week I also shared that I was wrestling with the question “Is anonymity too high a price to pay for significance?”. One more week of pondering has also resolved that question for me as well. All of my preconceived ideas on what my answer might be disappeared along with my chair. The answer is

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

anonymous

My Starbucks by the beach is being renovated this week and the evidence is all around me this morning. The good news is that, so far, my chair is still here. I’m guessing that they could tear the place down around me and as long as I still have my chair and my coffee I’d survive the change. On week 2 of my sabbatical, it kind of resembles what I might look like on the inside while I attempt some renovation time of my own. From my own DIY projects I have learned that renovation goes through phases. There is demolition. There are glimpses of vision of what the project may look like. There is the reality of the mess that things become and the feeling that it might get worse before it gets better, and then…..

Thursday, August 19, 2010

26

Yesterday, I and the love of my life celebrated year 26 of our incredible marriage journey. We relaxed, wandered some of our favorite parts of Seattle and then finished off the day with an amazing dinner on a patio overlooking the water of Puget sound while the setting sun made lavender silhouettes out of the mountains against a clear blue sky. A few tables away a young couple sat celebrating their first anniversary. This began a conversation between my wife and I about where we had been on our first anniversary , trying to recall where we have spent subsequent anniversaries, and how much more madly in love we are now than when we began.
Unfortunately, try as I might, I cannot remember where we spent each of our anniversaries. I can remember a good percentage, but I have to admit once more, “I ain’t as good as I once was”. I do know, or at least have a good feeling, that most of them were reflective of our lives at that moment. In other words, as I look back on where we were each of those 26 years, the setting and events surrounding our celebration would have been appropriate to the context of what was happening in our lives. You might think that this not an important note, however, as we remembered last night, none of these milestones passed with the obligatory card and dinner out. We never sat stiff across the table from each other trying to manufacture the emotion that should accompany the event. Many years in fact, although many of you won’t believe this, we didn’t even exchange cards. Instead we exchanged whatever was going on at the time for a reason to celebrate.
As we ventured into ministry together, a journey that can be very hazardous to a family and a marriage, we have clung even tighter to these occasions. We don’t throw money at it. We make the entire day a priority. Having just finished the monumentally draining event of our daughters wedding, this year we avoided all temptation of a few days away and just relaxed together with nothing but a 7pm dinner reservation to lead our day. It was a fitting tribute to the life that we have built together.
In my profession as a pastoral artist, I am in the wedding /marriage business more than I care to be. I can honestly say that the biggest reason why there are not more people as madly in love as we are is that they really have no idea what the vow “for better or worse” might be leading them into. We have skipped through the better and trudged through the worse. One thing we have learned is that when you are trudging through the worse, there is always better on the other side… but you have to climb the rocks to see the view. When you are skipping through the better, you had better be holding the other ones hand, because there is something lying in wait to trip you up.
Lest you think that this blog was written by some Hallmark flunkie, let me tell you that it’s not always been perfect. Sometimes it is exhausting on both our parts… mostly for her I suppose. As I look back over the years and the journey with the birth of our children, the miscarriages of some, the life, the death, the security, the uncertainty, the haves, the have nots, moves, career changes, dreams, realities, teenagers, colleges, weddings, and a grandchild, the common thing to all of this in our lives is that we experienced them together. I don’t always know where the time went, but I am certain that we went with it. So this morning I sit here in my chair by the beach and salute with everything that I have and all that I am. Here’s to the next 26, Gorgeous!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

clouds

This morning marks the first full day of my one month sabbatical. The marine layer is very thick down here at the beach and I’m finding it a fitting scene for the beginning of this time. If I were to sit here the entire day I would witness a gradual clearing of the skies. Right now I cannot even see the water from my big comfy chair by the window. Soon though the water will appear, and then I’ll begin to catch a glimpse of the ferries. Eventually I’ll see clearly the sun shining from the snow capped peaks across the water, the city skyline, and everything else a sunny day in Seattle promises to reveal. The reason I’m on a sabbatical in the first place is that in just about every part of my being, I’m sitting in the marine layer (aka fog).
The most frequently asked question from those who have heard of my status these next 4 weeks is “what is a sabbatical?”. Dictionary dot com identifies as “any extended period of leave from one's customary work, esp. for rest, to acquire new skills or training, etc.” I try to simplify it even more by saying it’s a sort of working vacation. I am at the point that a vacation in its purest sense could be disastrous to me. The traditional sort of vacation (that there’s a recreational vehicle Clark) is meant to clear out one’s mind from all of the accumulated trash of the previous 11 months. There are two good reasons why this would not be a good thing. First of all, you usually need a vacation to recover from the vacation. A good vacation can wear you out physically and you need an energy boost just to recover. Secondly, an empty brain at the end of this time isn’t going to help anyone. The problem is that I am empty in the first place. A good part of the objective is to be filled once again for the long haul and to build into my life refilling stations and boundaries so that I do not get to this point again.
So I’ll be here for the next few weeks, to be a writer, to be a reader and sometimes to just be. I am incredibly grateful for the leadership of my community o’ faith who have allowed and encouraged this time away. I am eternally grateful to my gorgeous wife who has supported me in this journey. As I sit here in the morning clouds, I look forward to the rest of the day and what the afternoon sun might reveal.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

fabulous

Some of you will be annoyed as you read that I’m enjoying a nice cool start to the day here at my seat by the beach. The marine layer, known as fog in other parts of the world, is in which only promises another blue sky, sunny and 80 degree day. We have settled into the weather pattern that is the reason I won’t leave Seattle in the Summer. It is, in a word, fabulous. Anyway….enough of the taunting. While the weather on the outside has been fabulous, inside it’s been a fairly turbulent season. This week represents, I think, the eye of the storm. It is peaceful. It is clear. Best of all, it’s quiet,

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

doing

I’m entering the calm before the storm. The grand event takes place 16 days from now. I think that plans are going well, but what do I know…I’m only Father of the Bride. What I do know is that hundreds of people are about to descend upon my house for a week in 11 more days. Ok, so it’s more like dozens…. Well maybe only about 1 dozen, but for a recluse like me it’ll seem like more. I’m kind of looking forward to it though. 10 years of west coast living has seemed to mellow me out a bit. In preparation for the event, I have just completed the third installment of our new DIY reality show called “What the Hell Were You Thinking?”. This last installment involved painting the entire exterior of the house myself. If nothing else, these projects have firmly and not so lovingly established my advancing years and recently recognized mortality. This episode involved toying around with heat exhaustion, but at least I didn’t fall from a ladder. I will tell you that at one point, I was on the roof still painting at 1am. Don’t try this at home, I’m a trained professional…. Whatever.
My wife has joined me

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

prayer

The beach is the place to be today. The sun is out, the skies are blue, and for the first time in 9 months the thermometer is going to surge past 80 degrees. The retired contingent has decided to place themselves nearly in my lap as they compare today's forecast with their months in Arizona. Even though I’d rather not focus on things like weather, I’ll have to admit that this has been a very poor excuse for a Summer. Actually Spring wasn’t much to write home about either. The Fourth of July has come and gone and we’ve not been out on our deck yet. Who’d have thought that my late June DIY pergola project would not disrupt our outside activities at all. So Sunday it was like 65 degrees and tomorrow we will reach into the 90’s. I thought that I had left behind this kind of thing when I moved out of the Northeast to a more reasonable climate here, apparently not this year. Anyway, with my wife in Florida this week experiencing what a real 90 plus degree Summer feels like, I have plunged into project number 3 called “Dan paints the house… by himself”. Now don’t weep for me, the “by himself” part of this was initiated by me. I am thoroughly enjoying it. I will confess to having some help yesterday though…Princess Lily spent the day with Grandpa and assisted with the paint pick up as well as some power washing.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

history

It’s a bit brighter down here than it has been in recent memory. It’s also a bit quieter…. Probably because people are getting their caffeine to go in order to enjoy the 5 minutes of sun. I don’t have that luxury today, I have work to do. Specifically, at this time of the morning, I’m engaged in keeping my head above water in my attempt at higher education. I’ve got to tell you honestly that Summer classes suck. I’m glad that Summer school was never part of my routine back in my high school days when I actually knew what I was doing. School should be from September to May. Anything more is quite depressing. I’ll also tell you that the Summer class thing is even worse when you’re not enjoying the class in question.
I admit that this is a first for me in the “not enjoying” part of this journey.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

mortal

So this is like the 4th week in a row that looks exactly the same down here. It’s gloomy, misty, gray, and damp. I feel like I’m in “Ground Hog Day”. It’s been an unusual Spring, even for the “land of the concrete sky”. I am confident that, any day now, we’ll break out of this and it’ll be Summer once more in the most amazing place to ever spend a Summer. It’ll be none too soon as I have a long list of outdoor projects that need attention before THE EVENT happens in August. I still imagine, even on days like this, that I’ll have time to finish. Who am I kidding? I’ll never finish because I’ll never be finished. There is always “one more thing” …. “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie”. Some of you know what I mean by this… the rest of you can rely on Google to figure it out.
Anyway… I used to think that, with enough time, I could accomplish anything. I handle my graduate studies that way. I handle my house projects that way. Sometimes, I’ll confess, I handle my teaching prep time in my “community o’ faith” that way. I learned both in college and as a parent, that even though there are only 24 hours in a day, I could use as many of them as I needed to accomplish a task and sleep could slide a bit. Now as a grandpa, and on the backside of my fourth decade of existence, I am finding that time no longer works that way. Our princess has driven home the point that sleep, for me, is not optional any longer. And my body has driven home the point that my waking hours are no longer what they used to be. Two injuries in two weeks have wiped hours of productivity from my map which has not only affected my ability to do the physical, around the house, tasks, but has also placed my graduate studies timeline in jeopardy.
It’s interesting how the physical has impacted the mental. My graduate studies require no more physical effort than getting myself and my laptop to a chair. It’s the realization that I have limits that moves even into my mental tasks. It takes away confidence and creates so many distractions and questions. The realization that I am mortal has come like an unwanted visitor. This is sort of amusing to me at the same time as one who holds on to the hope of immortality and eternity and all of the promises that my faith brings. It’s not that I doubt any of this. In fact in a strange way, I think my finally owning my mortality makes the promise of immortality even more appealing. It’s like the gold at the end of the rainbow or the finish line tape at the end of a marathon. It keeps me moving through life and trying to fit in as much as I can. After all, I am promised that when Jesus comes for me I’ll receive a new body and an unlimited amount of time. Some days that just sounds really appealing.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

running

Sitting here watching all of the commuters running for busses, I wonder where each is going. Are they running because they’re late or because they can’t wait to start their day? It’s graduation time again and I’m wondering how many of them this morning are “living the dream” that they envisioned on the day of their own graduation. This week, in my community of faith, as part of my pastoral opportunity, I am in a group that is reviewing applications for scholarships that we are privileged to be the stewards of. There are plenty of dreams listed. I can’t help but wonder how many of these will be realized. Where will they be running off to on a Wednesday morning, some years down the road?
We live in the land of dreams, where we tell our wide eyed graduates that the world is their oyster, ready to be plucked from the sea. We don’t tell them about oil spills that may threaten to destroy the oyster of their dreams. We avoid the difficult conversations of failure and the trials of tragedy that may lie just down the road. We have no way of knowing and even if we did, they don’t want to hear it any more than an engaged couple wants to hear about the complexities of marriage. They are, as we were, free to be anything and everything.
Graduation speakers like to say things like “be all you can be” … oh wait, that’s Army recruiters…whatever. You can be whatever you dream that you can be. You can go wherever your dreams take you. It’s popular. It’s inspiring. It sells books. It’s also a load of crap. Well, to be fair, not all of it is. However, what we should be telling them is that you can do, see, and become whatever you’re engaged in. The issue is not the dreams. The issue is in showing up to engage the process that leads there. We’re not a generation of problem solvers anymore. We’re a generation that runs from them. If your marriage isn’t all that you dreamed it would be, run. If your job isn’t all you imagined it would be, run. If it seems that life hasn’t given you enough, run. It would be disingenuous of me to say that running is never the answer. It very well may be the end answer, but it should never be the first response. Sometimes the only way to move forwards is to go backwards and discover where you might have wandered from the path and to reengage the journey from there.
As a fairly new grandpa to a beautiful little princess, I wonder if that’s not part of the joy that I feel spending time with her. Even though I imagine that I was a decent parent, with Lily there is a chance to reengage a part of that journey and to do some things differently. In her life, I have the privilege to go backwards even as I am still moving forward. If you are presently a parent, it might be that all you need to do, in order to go back and reengage a relationship that is not what you had always imagined, is to say you’re sorry. Use a “do-over” if you need to. Teach your kids that life is not necessarily linear like we’d like it to be. Sometimes you have to go backwards to move forwards… to learn from mistakes…. to reengage the dream. Someday, some years down the road, maybe I’ll see them running….and it won’t be because they’re late. It’ll be because they can’t wait to get back to their dream.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

same

Some days are better than others. I can sit and stare at this sentence for the next hour until my grande drip goes cold and no longer holds the potential of a lawsuit, but it won’t change its truth. Even though I know this intellectually, some days seem to go out of their way to drive this reality home. So I come down here where I can get a sense of same and seek to begin again. A seat in front of the fireplace with a waterfront view is helpful. A good set of earphones with some Jars of Clay running through my brain, drowning out the disjointed conversations around me is even better. An open schedule which gives me an entire morning to shuffle brain cells back in place is the best.
It is interesting that in a place like this, some come here to gather in groups and others come here to avoid groups altogether. I fall into the latter category. That’s where the headphones come in. And guess what… as I am typing this in “real time” a gentleman sits down across from me , I’ve had this experience before with him, and seems to ignore the obvious fact that I am wearing headphones. So I’m typing this … he’s asking me questions, and I’m nodding …. While still typing …. And who says I can’t multi task. I’m nodding like I know what he’s saying, although I do know what he’s saying even though it sounds like Charlie Browns teacher, because he’s made the exact same comments on at least 3 other occasions. He’s liking my laptop. I think that the Book of Books would refer to this as coveting. I must admit that, compared to some others, my laptop is kind of cool with its burgundy case and back lit keys. Now I’m nodding again to a preschool boy who is pointing out the fire in the fireplace to me and questioning me on the whereabouts of the nearest fire truck. He doesn’t see headphones either. His mom does though and she’s now trying to shoo him in mid questioning back to his seat. Laptop guy is now wondering out loud, again, where one might find a laptop like mine. If one of you reading this can IM the guy and tell him Best Buy for the third time, I might be able to clear my brain. This is why I try to get here at the butt crack of dawn.
In front of me are two high school girls playing musical chairs while texting and passing notes at the same time. Impressive…. I wonder if they teach that as an elective at West Seattle High? And now as they have just finished their dance, I have a mother/daughter team pulling their chairs into a cozy set up right behind me to chat about who knows what. It seems as if clearing the brain is not something that is in the cards for me this morning. Same doesn’t seem to be same at least on this day no matter how I wish it would be so. Even Jars of Clay has faded into the distance and the sounds of the room are pouring in again around my ear buds. Well at least I still have the fireplace.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Princess

It’s a gray morning down at the beach as I get caught up on some of my work that is screaming for attention. I’ve been serving a princess these past few days and these other things have taken a back seat. Like so many others of royalty, she is not as much concerned with my agenda, she has her own. As I would assume it would be in any other circumstance where one would get to serve royalty, it’s been a privilege to accompany her as she explores the world that she’s only had 7 months experience with. We have this honor, Joanne and I, every week, and every week it’s a new lesson and new experiences. I’m not sure who is learning more, her highness or her servants.
It is true, what someone has wisely said in the past, “Grandchildren are reward for you not killing your kids when they were younger”. Every moment is a wonderful adventure of learning and self discovery….. and I’m not talking about hers. I think that the greatest learning along with plenty of relearning is on the side of the grandparents, and the princess is just happy to be able to teach. Some things that I have learned or been reminded of these past several months are as follows:
• Poop happens … it just does and it is most often experienced after having just changed to a new diaper.
• Sleep is overrated … but enjoy every minute that you can get, especially on a snuggly lap of someone you love deeply
• Bath’s are meant for fun, not for washing… so splash all you want to
• Peaches are way better than peas … even if they do start with the same letters
• It is much more fun to see where you’re going than where you’ve been … facing backwards tends to lead to a deep sleep
• Chubby and toothless can be very attractive … hope for my future
• It may not look all that good, but taste it anyway, you might be pleasantly surprised … or not
• Whoever invented the “Onesie” has never had to wear one …. Or put one on
• There are a lot of infomercials on late night television
• Sweet Potatoes can be a colorful accessory
And so it goes in our house … life as you’d come to expect it. Grandpa is the transportation and Grandma is the entertainment. Each and every week I look forward to another round of lessons with Princess Lily and when she’s not around, every bit of me misses her…. Except for my back.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

push

Another welcome spring morning down here at my caffeinated beach front view. I don’t have much of an agenda after having just finished a required posting along the way of my perpetual quest for higher learning. I’m at about the 2/3 mark towards completion of a degree and it seems as if I’m once again at the “push through” point. It’s the place where you finally step off momentarily to consider the costs, financial, emotional, and physical, and weigh them against the “imagined” outcome of having this paper in hand. I’ve been in this place before. It’s when the question “What in God’s name am I trying to accomplish here?” comes front and center. I am too far from the origin of this journey to clearly remember what I was trying to accomplish, so it’s time to just put my head down and push for the finish. Maybe if I just fall forward, the forward progress will carry me across the line.
This time around I’m 16 years older and not sure of the reserves that I know I’ll need for the rest of this quest so I’m trying to dig deep and remember what this is really all about. And I will tell you that it’s not all that helpful when you are in the midst of a grouping of classes that you are having a hard time engaging in…. the ones you have to take as opposed to the ones you want to take. Anyway… I can honestly say it’s not about money, unless by that you mean paying out lots of it. Some get advanced degrees with pay raises in mind. That doesn’t necessarily work in my realm of pastoral artist. It doesn’t matter how many papers in handsome leather bound folder frame things that I have. People are really only interested in my charming personality and selfless demeanor…. And did I mention the humble servant part…. whatever. I can honestly say that it’s not about a greater level of respect. Most will never know that I have this degree when it’s done. That’s because of the “humble servant” part.
I used to think that it would bring a greater competency to my role as pastoral artist. That is the what the voice in my head kept telling me as I was filling out the applications and buying the first round of books. I really don’t know if that is true or not. Some have told me that they notice a difference in some of what I do but I’m not really sure if it’s the schooling of the past two years or the “schooling” that I’ve gotten over the 20 years in this profession. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of benefits along the way. I have gotten connected and established friendships with people from across the country that I never would have enjoyed. I am learning some invaluable stuff from some invaluable people. I get to spend a decent amount of time in a very cool place called Portland. And then there are always the books… I’m a book junkie and this only validates my insatiable buying of books and my membership at Barnes and Noble. It just may be that this, like many undertakings in life, is more about the process than the outcome. If I’ve learned one thing it is this; Enjoy the journey. I’ve always been an outcomes based individual when all along the way God is trying to teach me to enjoy the process. I may get nothing ultimately out of the end product, but I can surely enjoy the journey.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

frontier

It’s another good looking morning at the beach. Spring is here, at least for a day… the coffee is hot… and an Eagles concert is playing on my laptop as I think back over the last two weeks since I’ve gotten down here. Our 3 week DIY reality show “What the Hell Were We Thinking?” has just officially ended last night. I might add that it was very successful and we are more in love than we were when we began the kitchen renovation experiment. It all looks fabulous and my wife did an amazing job of managing the dream throughout the process. Last night was the first official meal as well as the shakedown cruise for the new stove and both were a great success.
In the midst of this process, we took a much appreciated break in Sun River, Oregon which probably saved us both mentally and physically, even though we were nearly snowbound during our run through one of the mountain passes. You’d think, since I’m a native of upstate New York, that snow in May would not get to me, but it absolutely does. You’d also think that, as much as I’ve travelled through these passes in Spring, I’d be better dressed for the possible random blizzard, but I wasn’t. I was thinking it a bit more than ironic that the night before we left, we were watching a segment on the Donner party disaster in another snowy mountain pass.
I will say that, along with a much needed physical break from the remodel, our time in Sun River was a great mental break as well. Unexpectedly it became a time where I was able to answer a question that has been plaguing me ever since we moved here 10 years ago while passing back and forth through these mountains. This area was known as the western frontier, Lewis and Clark, the Oregon Trail and all that. I find it difficult enough to travel it by car and every time I do, much to my wife’s questioning of my sanity, I always ask the question “Why?”. Why would anyone, in a wagon of all things…. without suspension or air conditioning or heat, or surround sound, or rest rooms… continue across some of the most desolate areas that I’ve ever seen. Why would you stand at the edge of an unending plain, after just crossing the previous unending plain, immediately preceded by a desert of sage brush, not to mention the wild canyons filled with raging rivers, and decide to continue on? What was it that drove these people to drive their wagons into the snow covered peaks and through the passes to somewhere they’d never seen?
I think that I finally found my answer through a time travelling volunteer at the High Desert Museum between Bend and Sun River. This gentleman, dressed as a traveler in the mid 1800’s, answered my question, just as clearly as if I had gone back in time to join he and his family. He shared very simply, yet very profoundly, that there was nothing for them back in Central Illinois any longer. After having lived there for four years I can concur. Anyway… He shared that, for his family, times had become hard, and that the expected and assumed comforts of life were no longer there for them. They had lost the security of employment, of health, and even home, and that, on the suggestion of a family friend, they had set out to start over. Basically they were going to keep going, based on the hope from the stories of people who had come west and had come back to tell others about the promise that it held. It occurred to me, for the first time, the desperation that drove these people to follow the hope experienced and then shared by someone else. Personally, I think that I’d have been tempted at times to find one of those story tellers and beat them to a bloody pulp. This journey, as difficult as it was, offered more promise than the lives they had left behind…. And it was all based on the stories of those who had already gone.
This revelation has challenged me, one more time, to consider my own story and how it might offer hope to some who are falling victim to the uncertainty that lies in everything they were once certain of. Those who are of my persuasion, as followers of the creator of The Story, hold great hope for those who have lost theirs. Many that I know hold tenuously to the empty promise of perpetual employment, health and home, while deep inside understanding that there must be something more. Those people of the 1800’s imagined that there must be something more on the other side of the endless canyons, deserts and mountains. But it took the encouragement of those who had already made the journey, coming back to offer confirmation of the ache in their gut. The trouble is, too many of my kind… the followers of Jesus… never come back. They prefer to live in their newfound bubble, afraid of anything that might corrupt it, or too selfish to look back. For any reading this who may have already made the journey, don’t forget that you once stood at the edge of the desert and wondered. And just like you, there are people standing there today, and it just might be that the only thing between them and a new frontier is an encouraging story from you.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

renovation part 2

Okay, so you know its early when even the newspaper delivery person is yawning. I’m here getting an early start at the beach because I need to fit three days worth of work into one day today. Some of you are weary of 60 hour work weeks. I’d consider that a welcome break right about now. I haven't seen 60 hours in months…. But don’t weep for me, we’re getting a new kitchen. This is week 2 of our own version of some new DIY reality show called “What the Hell Were We Thinking?”. It’s actually close to being on time and on budget, so I guess that is something. In addition to that, this is my final week of my grad school Spring semester, complete with the final projects due. And of course, there are my usual unusual duties as the leader of a community of faith. Along with this we have included 2 days with the fair Princess Lily. So why am I spending time writing this? One word….. “denial”.
We have a self imposed deadline for the kitchen remodel of this weekend. I’m still thinking we’ll make it. Who said that I’m not an optimist? With all of the deconstruction and reconstruction that has gone on…new tile counter tops, backsplash, new floors, wall board replaced, etc. that has been going on this past week, who would have thought that the thing that has tripped us up would be the painting. I’ve done so much painting over the years that I don’t even consider it work anymore. It’s more like a calm in the midst of a destructive storm. Well not this time. This time is has been work. Mostly because of color choice and false advertising.
The first problem was the choice of color. It’s called “retro avocado”. I’ve actually come to decide that this is code for a “color that your grandmother once had in her kitchen that you thought was hideous, but now its become cool”, kind of thing. Anyway, it’s actually very nice. But it is a very deep color… meaning that you have to plan on priming first and then painting multiple coats until it no longer looks like a preschool water color painting. We knew this going in….sort of…so we adjusted by ordering “paint with the primer mixed right in for maximum coverage”. Whatever….what this turned out to mean was maximum wallet and maximum effort. I can hardly believe that it really made any difference at all in the coverage…. Buyer beware. Last night I finally finished the final coat, with much relief, until I walked through this morning only to discover that I hadn’t really done the “final” coat apparently. Fortunately for us, this was only half of the kitchen. The other half was a light color that literally only needed one coat. I put 2 on the new walls just because I could.
Part way through this renovation reality, our cat, who has now earned a nickname that translates into “ a donkey’s questionable level of intelligence”, decided that it would be great fun to leap onto the counter, straight into the paint tray. After my wife’s scream, she then proceeded to tear off through the house, with me in pursuit, trailing white paw prints all the way. Thank God our last project was to restore the hardwood floors. After dragging her, by the tail, from under the couch, she spent the rest of the painting adventure locked in the bathroom cleaning herself off. To all of you animal lovers… don’t write me letters or I’ll “invite” you to our next painting party.
I don’t know what the lesson is in all of this except for the possibility of pushing through the “stuff” to get to your final vision. What keeps me going this week, as I look to Sunday, is the promise of satisfaction and rest, with another semester complete, another teaching time shared, a fresh new avocado kitchen, and an exceedingly clean cat. Then we leave for a few days of “R and R” in Sun River. Until then though, I have a paper to write, so I must leave this land of denial and push through.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

renovation

This week marks the official beginning of our “Extreme Makeover” kitchen edition. Joanne and I are beyond the point of no return on this one. Yesterday we were still in the early excitement phase of the project. You know the phase. It’s the Home Depot, window shopping, dreaming of the finished product while buying some of the lower cost items so we don’t get in too far over our heads, phase. Accompanied by “The Princess” Lily, we made our way through the flooring and tile aisles one last time, picking up a few last minute color samples. It was like the preflight check in a NASA shuttle launch as the excitement builds. Only a few hours later we were in the midst of the project, complete with a sledge hammer and the, wife encouraged, stylish eye protective wear.
I’ll have to admit to liking the sledgehammer part… it’s a guy thing. The secret is to be effective with it, but not too effective as that can have a great impact on the finished product….which, curiously enough, seems to be a woman thing. Anyway…. I used all of the grace and finesse that I have perfected over the years, and before we knew it we had accumulated a nice pile of 50 year old, toxic, oil based paint covered, plywood and nails that had at one time, before the days of Home Depot and Lowes, been some woman’s dream kitchen. Let me just say that this particular kitchen was built in the day when it was assumed that it was being built to last. This wasn’t any old, subdivision based, built for speed, kind of kitchen. There is no, unscrewing cabinet units from the wall and popping up the new ones from IKEA, standard kitchen operation. This place was built to withstand an earthquake, and already has since we’ve been here without any government mandated retrofitting.
As with any home project, soon after the first swing of the sledgehammer, one encounters an “a-ha” moment. These moments are usually accompanied by the loud whooshing of your dream vision as it rushes right out of your head and quickly fades into a dream like memory. I dread those, so I took small swings and for the moment, the “a-ha” is only a murmur. I would imagine that it’s like being at DEFCON 3 on our national security level. Things are relatively quiet, but pessimism looms on the horizon like a mid western Summer storm.
In my experience, what keeps it all together and moving forward is the initial vision. Joanne and I continue to talk through it and verbalize it to each other and keep it fresh so we can see the freshly painted walls and new floors. I continue to imagine the culinary delights prepared by the bakeress on the newly finished counter tops and I push through till it, somehow, becomes reality.
I find it’s the same with most renovations, whether construction based or relational in nature. Issues that can seem like impassable quicksand can and have been repaired by a relentless focus on the initial vision that encouraged you into the process or relationship in the first place. As with any home renovation, it will most likely take a bigger investment than you had anticipated in the early days. It may take more time, more energy, and more finances than you had emotionally budgeted for, but the initial vision is always possible. It just may take a few more visits to The Home Depot.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

rest

It’s a miserable day at the beach, but the fireplace is on and Johnny Cash is in my headphones so all is not lost. Just a week ago I was preparing for a trip across the “Misty Mountains” to Boise wondering if my rental agency would come through with my much anticipated convertible. They came through and it didn’t disappoint. Joanne and I enjoyed the trip in a 2010 Mustang that had only 9 miles on it when I drove it out of the lot. We were even fortunate enough to get some “top down” weather to enjoy with it. Now here I sit in my big comfy chair on another Tuesday morning looking ahead into a schedule that looms like thunderclouds before a summer Midwestern storm.
This next 3 weeks is approaching like a train that has no ability to break. I just heard Gandalf say that “things have been set in motion that cannot be undone” as the restraining bar comes down over my head for the rollercoaster ride that is just beginning. I can hear the clack, clack, clack, as the car lurches up towards the big drop. The first hill that looms is April 15th. If you don’t know what that means then there is no use explaining it to you here…. Let’s just say that I’m not ready. I will be, but I’m not yet.
Just yesterday I discovered that I had lost 2 weeks from my end of the semester schedule. I was under some vague impression that the semester lasted longer than it really does which means an incredible amount of writing and reading accompanied by more writing, all due on April 30th. On the home front I have work waiting for me inside, outside, topside, and underneath. I have a princess and a queen to spend time with. Baseball had begun at Safeco and there are bobbleheads to collect. I have community engagements…. places to go, people to see…. A couple of movies and of course, there is this thing called my vocation as a pastor and artist for which I get paid. I have three weeks to get it all in before the bakeress and I are off again for some “R and R” in Sun River Oregon. Don’t weep for me Seattle.
So, as I’m tempted to do when my schedule looms, I am sitting, catching my breath and imagining what life might look like when May 1st arrives. I know where I want to be then. I know what I need to have accomplished. It could be easy to focus there and forget all of the in between, but I’ve been in this long again to realize that the key to May 1st is how I invest my time between now and then. It is my firm belief that we, as people, and especially as people of faith, have spent way too much time focusing on what we desire for our end that we don’t invest in the process of getting there. When it comes to eternity, we see our faith as a means to heaven, the end, instead of a blueprint for investing in the time here and now.
Jesus becomes our insurance policy instead of our purpose for being. What can result is the creation of many insensitive asses who are so enamored with the end date that they forgot to live the days in between. Jesus came to change the world, not just my world. For me in the immediate crisis of this chapter in my life’s schedule, I get to work like my life depended on it and then on May 1st I can rest. As far as my spiritual existence goes…there is an end date for me although I don’t know what it is; preferably not May 1st. One thing I do know though…. Until then I need to work like my life depended on it. The rest comes on the other side.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

preparation

It’s a blustery day at the beach this morning. I’m feeling a bit like Winnie the Pooh, although most would consider me to be the human version of Eyeore. I’ve got a full day ahead of me as I prepare for a Seattle to Boise run over the Misty Mountains. We optimistically rented a convertible for the trip to warmer weather, but, as it turns out, we’ll have to trudge through the snow in the passes first before we can really enjoy some promised sun. I’m not too worried though because, let’s be honest, it’ll be a miracle if the rental company actually has the car that I reserved when I get there to pick it up. I’m about zero for twenty on actually getting the car I reserved over the past few years. And they always seem to, with great joy, want to give me an upgrade to an SUV to make up for the fact that they don’t have my car. Maybe if they can give me an SUV that gets the same mileage as the smaller car that I actually paid for would I be as enthusiastic. Last year, we rented a van to take a group of students on a trip and when “They didn’t actually have one” they offered me two SUV’s to make up for it. As if one van wasn’t going to get crappy enough gas mileage on its own.
I try informing them that I already own an SUV of my own and if I wanted to rent my own refinery to drive it extended distances, then I wouldn’t have bothered putting myself through this absurdity… but yet, here I am again, once more attempting the improbable…. And some people say that I’m not an optimist?
Anyway…. In the olden days, I would have been all prepped for this trip already….bags packed, trip mapped, reservations made, etc. It’s not that way anymore. Little by little I’ve become more like my wife in this area. I have yet to pull the luggage out. We just realized the other day that we never made our hotel reservations. In years past I would have already figured out what time I’d be getting up in order to get on the road at a certain time in order to be in an appropriate place for lunch to be able to arrive at a good time for dinner, avoiding all of the possible trouble spots for traffic, yadda yadda, yadda. Fortunately, on this particular trip, traffic is not an issue, unless you consider needing to pass wagon parties in the passes still trying to complete their trek on the Oregon Trail .
I guess it’s somewhat better for me that I’m not as consumed as I once was with time, preparations, etc. It’s still a concern, but it’s not obsessive like it once was. I’m learning to take things a bit easier. I’m reminded of my life as Pastoral artist and the times that Jesus had these “calm down, you don’t need to know the exact time” conversations with his friends. They wanted details so they could get ready for “THE EVENT”. His advice that they would not know the time of “THE EVENT” so that they could “get ready” but just needed to “ be ready” speaks volumes to me. I’m learning that the key is not in the getting, it’s in the being. My existence needs to exude readiness, not frantically trying to get ready. If the ultimate last stop on my journey is going to be heaven, I’m thinking that it’s more a product of who and what I’ve already become and not the frantic preparations of who I know that I already should have been. Now where did I put that sunscreen?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Easter

All is quiet and as it should be at the beach this morning. The rain has stopped. The ferries and the busses are doing what they do. My Starbucks chair has my butt in it and the fireplace is still on. This morning kind of resembles the calm before the storm in my world. I’ve just come from a week of mom visiting from the East, a daughter’s wedding shower, a few more days of princess Lily, and generally not much structure or schedule whatsoever. It’s been a decent time of head clearing…not that I can afford that any. Now it’s time to focus on the week that lies ahead.
In case you didn’t already figure it out…this week is fairly big in my world. Being a leader in my community o’ faith, I tend to look at things like Jesus walking out of his tomb as a big deal. And just as a bit of defense for my beliefs, this one event is fairly unique in the world of religion and faith. We have the only faith whose originator and leading figure walked from his tomb. The rest are just….. well…they’re just dead. Sorry… I don’t know any other way to put it.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that this fact tends to be overlooked by people of my tribe while we wallow in stupid things. History has plenty of stones to throw at us for the ignorant things that we’ve been a part of. Yeah I’ve just about heard them all… the Crusades, the Inquisition, colonialism, homophobia, Fred Phelps, Pat Robertson… blah, blah, blah. My response is simply this; What does any of this have to do with Jesus? What does any of this have to do with the historical reality (look into it) that Jesus did not remain in his tomb? Answer…. Absolutely nothing. What it shows is what happens when idiot people who claim Jesus forget this event central to our faith. We ought to be different. We ought to be but unfortunately too often we’re not. Although, let’s be honest in this…most people ought to be different because of what they say they believe in but they’re not. I live in the most “environmentally conscious” part of the country. It’s also, with the possible exception of Texas, home to the greatest concentration of SUV’s that the world has ever known. Car pool lanes remain relatively traffic free right alongside thousands of single occupant vehicles containing people who’d rather be unemployed than share a ride. We ought to be different, but too often we’re not.
I’m beginning a social experiment this week. I won a one hundred dollar bill last week. This week I’m going to see how far some goodness might go, originating from this bill…one person at a time. I’m going to undertake this “pay it forward” kind of thing, not for myself, but in honor of the one who walked out of his tomb 2000 years ago for the sake of idiots and ingrates throughout the ages. I should be different because of it. We should be different because of it. I apologize for myself and others when we’re not. It doesn’t have anything to do with Jesus.
This Sunday may pass you by like the Easter Bunny. You may have little regard for people like me because of past history, and that would be understandable. All I would ask is this; that you wouldn’t base your opinion of Jesus on your opinion of those who claim to follow him. The reality is that this Sunday, many of his “followers” will decide that they can’t even get out of bed. However, the rest of us will celebrate the fact that he got out of the grave. If nothing else, this event should give overwhelming evidence of the need for Jesus. We ought to, all of us of any faith or lack thereof, be different. We ought to, but too often we’re not.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

storage

I’m up and moving just a bit earlier than usual this morning. I’m picking up my daughter at the airport from an early flight. She’s flying in for a Spring Break visit and one of her wedding showers. Another transitional week in my life I would suppose. At least it means that I’ll need to clear out room in the garage to store the gifts until they have an apartment. Let me pause here to give those of you who think that once the “kids are grown” that you can downsize your living arrangements. I know, as my parents before me know, that this is not a good idea. Your job as a parent is to reside in a home larger than your children until such a time as they buy their own home. In the mean time, you become a “U Store it” outlet. Some of you, with children more numerous than myself, may have to own your own franchise.
I need to do a good job with the garage arrangements. Besides the wedding stuff that will begin to arrive, I also happen to be storage for a Spring garage sale. And don’t forget that we actually have some of our own stuff that seems to get lost in the mix. The other day, as I was shuffling through stuff out there and trying to make a preliminary assessment of the situation, I came to the realization that I’d lost 20 years somewhere. I’m out there pulling boxes and bags off of shelves to see what needs to be saved and what might have “gotten lost in a move”. Anyway, I begin to uncover an assortment of items stamped with the Fischer Price logo. It’s like a time capsule. As our kid outgrew them and went on to cooler and more expensive things, my wife encouraged me to “hold on to these for our grandchildren”.
Some of you don’t understand how ridiculous this sounds to a guy trying desperately to find space for the craftsman toolbox. Like a good husband, I honored the request. Through five moves, totaling about 4000 miles these remnants of childhoods past have accompanied us to places most of my tools never saw. They survived a dozen garage sale seasons. They came across mountain passes like the Donner party, except they survived. They’ve fought off mold and spiders and rats and….. well you get the idea.
And all of a sudden, quite without warning, 20 years vanished in the time it took for me to open a box. As I peeled back the tabs on the box, I realized that it’s time for them once again. Princess Lily will experience the same joy that they once brought to her dad and like the “ring of power” they will draw all children unto themselves once again with the promise of being the cool kid with the retro toys. I have to admit that it was a little unbalancing to open a box and be flooded with memories of 20 years ago when I couldn’t remember 20 minutes ago. It was like a U- haul induced Alzheimer’s moment. It’s possible I guess, that as I spend time this weekend making room for more boxes, I’ll catch glimpses of these past 20 years. And hopefully, this new stuff going in won’t be around here for 20 more.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

IKEA

Another fabulous morning is beginning at the beach with some extremely hot (think lawsuit) coffee, big comfy chair, and a fireplace that is actually on. It’s quiet here in my little corner of the world. It’s still dark out thanks to daylight savings. I can still see the lights of the ferries as they shuffle people from the seclusion of their islands to exposure of their city. The 37 is shuttling a new group of weary workers downtown. I could feel guilty, but I’ve given it up for lent.
I’m feeling a bit under the weather this morning. I think it’s the residual effect of princess Lily’s less than peaceful sleep from the other night. It gives me an even greater appreciation for parents of younger children, although I must admit to enjoying the seniors tour version of parenting that is otherwise referred to as grandparenting. I just wish that it came with better instructions.
Speaking of instructions…. as I have been leading my community o’ faith through a study in the book of Ephesians, we are being led to the reality that what’s contained on these pages might be known as life instructions for Christian faith. When asked what insight that they are gaining from our journey through these pages, it was overwhelmingly agreed that the impression is that “this faith thing in incredibly hard”. It might not be the most theologically astute answer, but practically speaking (and I always look for the practical) they are right on the mark. My response is, to quote an unknown source “of course it’s hard, if it weren’t hard then everyone would be doing it”.
As one who teaches from it, I’ll be the first to admit that one of the most difficult parts is in interpreting the Book of books, also known as the Bible, also known as the instructions. Let’s be honest, just taking the time to read the instructions is a monumental task. It just may have something to do with the reality that the Christian faith is more readily accepted by women than men. After all, with any given project, who is more likely to try to wade through the instructions, and who is more likely to just toss them with the packing material and head out on their own….just sayin.
Anyway….having been to IKEA a number of times over the past few months, I am reminded me how impossible these instructions can seem to the faint of heart and the unmotivated. You’ve not lived in American culture until you’ve assembled something from IKEA. The tagline for IKEA is “You don’t have to be rich, just smart”. They’re not talking about the wisdom of purchasing their multilingual erector sets either. Their talking smart, as in the ability to put something together completely from worthless instructions and a brilliant inner mechanical intuition…and then to be satisfied when the end product reveals a number of unclaimed screws and bizarre, MacGiver like, tools. They have even given up on printing words with their instructions…they just use pictures.
One of the greatest realizations that a human can ever come to grips with is that faith does not come neatly packaged, nor does it come preassembled. It is a promise of extra screws and somewhat tenuous connections that somehow are going to, at least on the outside, look pretty decent. That is why it is called faith and not assurance. The only thing that we can have assurance in is faith. All of us have lives that are held together with contact cement where screws should go. Many have hinges that need to be shimmed and some of us need special tools to shore up one side or another. The bad rap that IKEA stuff gets is that “it won’t last”. If you count longevity as constructing it and then using it relentlessly without any additional attention, then you’re right…it won’t last, but then again neither would you. In psychiatric circles that’s know as denial. Something purchased there will need adjustment and extra bonding assistance from time to time. The doors might sag and the drawers may hang up, but with some love and attention, it can be back to functional.
I personally believe that IKEA is another metaphor for how we ought to honestly be living our lives, especially when it comes to matters of faith. If you encounter someone who tells you they have absolute assurance of their own faith lives and how they should be lived, I have some advice for you. Run. Or as the Bible puts it, “flee”. I don’t care how much they paid for it, it’s not true. Unless you have screws left over and a bit of wood glue added here or there, it’s not an honest life of faith. I know some who would look down on the IKEA side of life. At least it’s honest.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Lily

So like Bret Favre, minus the athletic skills and the unbelievable salary, I’m coming out of retirement. It’s not all that its cracked up to be. I went on this sabbatical of sorts a few months back because I found that I had run out of things in my brain to write about. The schooling, the schedule, and life seemed to have taken its toll and I was running on empty. Now I am finding that I need to write again to maintain a sense of balance and sanity, and we all know how important that is. Also, believe it or not, this early morning journey to the beach every week gave my week an anchor and sense of order. All of you who know me can appreciate how important that is in my life. It gives me a schedule again.
I’m happy to share, as I begin this journey once again, that my chair is right where I left it, and miracle of miracles…. The fireplace is on this morning. Must be under new management here…or else it is a definitive sign that economic recovery is upon us. Either way, the sun is out, the waters are blue, the mountains are snowy, and my coffee is very hot.
It’s Tuesday, which is a change for me anyway in my writing schedule. I now have a beautiful little reason that Monday’s are no longer free. They are dedicated to the ever lovely princess Lily. My wife and I have the joy of having our granddaughter from Sunday evening until Monday evening, so the entire 24 hours is dedicated to her. She is part of the reason for my need to write again. I am learning and being reminded of so much from my time with her that I just needed to put it somewhere. She helps me have a greater appreciation for parents and parenting. She reminds me often of how I must look to God and the great lengths that he goes to on my behalf.
One of the major changes that she has brought for me is that I find myself living more carefully. I choose my words more carefully before I speak when she is around, especially when speaking to our idiot cat. When she is with us I must consider another schedule above my own. It’s not that I have to do this, but if you’ve ever been around her when the bottle time has come and gone, you’d adjust too….and quickly. She unknowingly helps determine even where we live. I’d seriously consider really becoming an urban dweller, complete with an apartment with a roof top garden and all. However, we have a house with a yard and she can have her own room. It’s grandma and grandpa’s house. There just doesn’t seem to be as much romance in grandma and grandpa’s apartment. When grandma and grandpa get an apartment, it’s probably going to mean assisted living time. I’m tired, but not that tired. There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do for her. I change her clothes, her diapers, her messes. I change my clothes when her messes become mine. I feed her and bathe her and rock her and walk her and try every thing that I can think of to make her smile. Most of the time she appreciates it. Some of the time she tolerates it. Occasionally she doesn’t like it at all.
It has occurred to me recently that I have someone in my own life who loves and responds to me even more that I do to her. No it’s not my wife, even though she is amazing. It’s not my caregiver either, I’m not yet that old. In the reality of my faith in a God who has done all of the above for me and more, I can find an appreciation and a parallel. For all that I’ve ever done for her, he does for me and more. For all that I’ll continue to do for her in her life, he is and will continue to do for me. It occurred to me yesterday, as I took her for a walk down the hill to the store, that, like my own kids and my own wife, I’d give everything up for her. And in that moment, I was reminded once again, that he already did.