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.