Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Snow for Christmas

We woke up to snow this morning...not a lot, and its not going to be here longer than another hour or so, but its enough to legitimize the season just a bit more.  Even with the unexpected arrival, it's generally gray and dreary here.  The news of four more funerals on the other side of the country make it even more so.  It makes me wonder.... If a simple dusting of snow enhances my picture of Christmas, what can possibly speak into lives a few time zones away that have been dumped on by a blizzard of heart wrenching loss?  One part of me...the human and frail part ...imagines that the loss is magnified by the season.  I mean really, isn't this the season of love, charity, peace, giving, and all the niceties of humanity?  It was a bit difficult to defend this view on Friday afternoon.  Isn't this the season where family and friends gather together?  It is a bit difficult to hold on to this when family and friends are taken away.  Isn't it about gifts and giving, sales and socks?  And yet there will be dozens of unopened gifts under those trees...purchased for those who won't be celebrating in our midst.  The human and flawed parts of me come up empty.  For those whose view of Christmas are all of those things that we've comfortably hung our stockings on over the years because we can touch them, see them, use them...for those of us who view the season in such simplistic earthly terms, there remains only a black hole that threatens to suck all meaning away.  That is my human response.
How thankful I am that my humanity is not all that sustains me.  I am in fact human...only a few would object to that...but more importantly and profoundly, I am spiritual.  For me, even in the midst of sorrow and questions, one thing that I am sure of is this;  the fact that this season does exist is the whole point of the season itself.  What I mean is that the season exists because Jesus exists.  This season, despite all of those who might want to hijack it and claim it as their own, is all about the birth of the one known as Emmanuel "God with us".  Lest I be labeled "not PC" let me just say that the other religious and otherwise holidays that have clamored into this time period all have value.  They hold strength in various ways for people who follow them...but they are not Christmas.  They do not celebrate or even acknowledge the birth of "God with us".  They are good and sincere ways to honor various religious beliefs, but they do not offer the solution of  "light born into darkness" and we are certainly living in a certain degree of darkness.
This season, beyond a dusting of snow, socks and sales is about a God who is with us.  The theological truth is that God is not a far off entity.  He cries with us during unimaginable loss.  He stands with us in the face of incomprehensible evil.  He enables us to dig out from the blizzards that threaten to bury us.  He, and the people spurred by His spirit, offer light in a darkness that threatens to consume us.  He doesn't will it...it's not a punishment...he is not vacant or vindictive.
Please don't misunderstand...all of the talk of love and charity, all of the time to connect with friends and family, all of the time spent serving those less fortunate, these are all good things....but they are not Christmas.  They are a poor substitute.  You are shelling out for cubic zirconia when the diamond has already been paid for.  Emmanuel is already here.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Consider the Shepherds

This morning, Joanne and I were reflecting on the shepherds during our Advent time.  It's not really an earth shattering occurrence to be considering shepherds during this time of the year.  It's about as ordinary as baseball in April really.  One thing that occurred to me though is how much we take them  for granted...shepherds I mean.  Our understanding of them is quite frankly limited to preschool boys in bathrobes feigning fear before preschool girls dressed in sheets with tinsel wings and pointing down at them from on high.  Now that I think of it, it's probably good for them to get used to fearing them at a young age.  Its cute but just slightly off center of accurate.  Let's be honest, who doesn't like preschoolers in robes.  The reality and irony of the shepherds is that they were not very welcome members of the very culture and story which made them famous.  They were a necessary evil.  They were arguably the most valued and least respected players in the ancient religious observances of the day.  In that day and in that faith, the sacrifice was the central security measure and really the center of existence.  The shepherds were keepers of the sacrifice.  They were keepers of the offering.  Without them and their seemingly loathsome task, the entire faith system would be compromised.... And yet, no one wanted to really acknowledge those who were really holding the whole thing up.  It wasn't that people were mean or persecuting towards them.  It was worse...they tended to pay them no mind whatsoever.  They were invisible.
As I have reflected on this, it occurs to me that, 2000 years and half a world away, we still have shepherds among us.  Not the cute, bathrobe clad preschool type.  I am referring to those who still exist on the margins while "holding the whole thing up".  They are those who are invisible to us.  All of us have our own shepherds...our own people who we might tend to pay no notice of.  Don't believe me or know what I'm talking about?  Stop for a moment and consider those who are really indispensable and yet we rarely if ever acknowledge them or convey our heart felt appreciation that, because of their efforts, our civilization still stands.  It is different for all of us;  a clerk at Costco, the person behind the counter at the gas station, the barista who made your drink, the bus driver who navigated traffic so you didnt have to, the drive thru window voice, the server of your happy hour, and my all time favorite...based on personal experience....pizza dude.  Let's be honest, without these people, our economy, civilization, and entire way of life would collapse.  And how do we thank
them?  We generally don't much.  We may not be openly mean about it, generally it's much worse.  We ignore them.  We "expect" of them.  It's their "job" to serve in this way.  "Hey, no one thanks me much or acknowledges me much so why should I invest in others in this way?"  After all...they are shepherds aren't they?  Thats right, they are, and remember this...without them the Christmas story would be terribly lacking.  Remember who were the only ones getting the evite to the birth.  This fact was not lost on me this morning.  At this time, maybe more than any other time of the year, I am reminded to consider the shepherds.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Pools

A slightly different time for me to be writing, but its a slightly different day, with slightly different circumstances.  The season is charging full speed ahead.  Not sure about you, but for me it's a bit like a white water ride...it ebbs and flows, crashes and churns, and then, every so often, a calm pool appears and with a bit of hard paddling and a bit of luck, you can nose yourself in for a bit of rest.  Today is my day of rest...and I paddled the crap out of myself to get here...so I'm dang well going to enjoy it while it lasts.  This morning, on my way to my previous writing engagement, the spirit whispered to me that, although it seemed like a good plan, there was a better one available.  I chose  better one.  You can do that when things are calmer and quieter... Hear the spirit I mean.  You can also get your oars under you and choose the better plan when you are in the calm.  I could never have pulled it off yesterday, or any of the previous 4 or 5 days for that matter.  What could possibly have been better than quiet coffee, pastry and beach view writing on a sunny Seattle morning? ... An even quieter opportunity to enjoy the exceedingly better view of my wife across the table from me on an impromptu breakfast date at the newly opened creperie only 50 yards from my back door.  You are never going to believe this but they serve coffee also...and not just coffee.  They offer "pour over" coffee.
That may mean nothing to you, but if you appreciate good coffee, you need to take advantage of any place that offers it.  I will warn you though, it does take longer...so you"ll need to paddle yourself to a place in life that allows you the luxury of time to experience it.  My wife and I have, in recent months, gone exclusively to the pour over method for our own home brewing experience.  No longer can I just get up and push a button while heading to the shower.  Every morning is an adventure in creating and enjoying what was once unceremoniously and mechanically provided for me.  Some of you reading this will dismiss it as a luxury that you can't afford to take...the time investment I mean.  I'd tell you that, first of all, if you really appreciate coffee, this experience should be on your bucket list.  I'd also tell you that no one is too busy for a good coffee experience any more than you're too busy to share a "moment" or twenty with the love of your life during the very season that exudes love.
The key to surviving white water seasons is in finding the deep calm pools.  They look different for everyone and you have to be looking for them.  They tend to come up without much warning, many times hidden around the bends.  So open your eyes this season, and when you get a glimpse of calm waters and deep pools, paddle the crap out of that boat until you get there... Enjoy the rest while you're at it, this too shall pass.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Savor


Tomorrow being December 1st and all, it's probably about time that some of us hit the pause button, take a deep breath, and ease on in to the season before us.  I understand that some of you are already in free fall mode, plunging headlong towards the end of the year like someone whose chute didn't deploy.  For you, I wish you "good luck with that" and I hope that you find the back up cord to slow you down before its too late.  For the rest, here is my Christmas wish list for you to consider; slow down and savor it.  That's it.  For everyone of you reading this, it means something completely different.  Each tradition has its own way of celebrating, and all of these were meant to be markers to stand still for a moment and observe.  They are not part of your "to do" list.  They are the entirety of your "to be " list.  For many it is for your own good and personal well being that you take this to heart.  So like anything else, you have a choice.  For fellow Christ followers, it is not an option.  This is because, contrary to our nature to think otherwise, it's not all about you, or us.  Your ability to observe the season in ways that both savor and celebrate is not only for your well being, but also for the well being of others.  So...without further commentary concerning the obvious, I am going to be pastoral for a few minutes and leave you with some things that I've learned through the years concerning celebrating and savoring:
Before you do a thing...grab hold of your calendar.  Whatever day has not already been grabbed, you'll need to X it out and claim it.  Now, as the month progresses, these days are already committed to some observance of the holiday.  Plan them ahead or take them as they come, it doesn't matter.  What does matter is claiming them first before they are consumed by the tyranny of the urgent.  I am not kidding on this...if you do not do this, the season will become an avalanche from which you cannot escape. 
1.  Have change on you at all times...especially if you have children in tow.  This is not for you or 
them.  It is for you to be able to demonstrate as well as take part in the joy of giving this season.  You know all those people standing next to red kettles this time of year ringing bells?  They aren't there because of their musical prowess.  Let your child remind you once again what a joy it is to give what was never really yours to begin with.
2.  Buy a drink for the person in line behind you...I'm talking coffee (or ?) use your discretion.  One caution ...Make sure that it doesn't look like a holiday opportunistic "pick up" attempt.
3.  Find a "Giving Tree" and enjoy the simplicity of buying a gift that is probably considerably more humble than something demanding a Black Friday camp out.
4.  Drink lots of hot cocoa ... Even if you live in Arizona...just turn up the a/c for mood enhancement.
5.  Sit in front of a lit tree in the dark ... early morning, before dawn, is best.  It will remind you of the beautiful reality of light piercing the darkness.
6. Tip generously ... It will remind you that whoever is serving you, while you enjoy a moment this season, is actually working and allowing you a moment this season.
7.  Take a walk thorough a neighborhood with a great holiday light display...take someone with you, and preferably a child when you can.  If nothing else, it will remind you that light was sent to a people "living in darkness".
8.  Read the Christmas story in the beginning of Matthew and the beginning of Luke.  It certainly makes more sense than the breaking and entering stories of a fat man in a red suit.
9.  Acknowledge the fat man in the red suit ... Anything else, noble as our intentions may be, is denial.  While you are at it, meditate on, talk about, and be comfortable with the difference between Jesus and the fat man.
10.  Find a candle lit Christmas Eve service somewhere and invite everyone that you can to go with you...even if its not your church.  If its not your church, consider changing churches...any church that doesn't have an observance on Christmas Eve is a bit off center anyway ... Just sayin.  I know...many of you have "parties" or family obligations...unless your party or family obligation includes candles and a reading of the Biblical account of the event that we are supposedly celebrating, it's only white noise.  It is a pseudo-celebration.  Whose birthday party is it anyway?  There are so many churches, so many traditions and times available, before and after any other substitute Christmas celebration that there is no way that this isn't possible.  Even as a pastoral artist, my wife and I have been known to find a midnight mass when other opportunities were not available.

take this all for what its worth...but I challenge you to consider the alternative.  I'm sure that many of you have even more suggestions, traditions and tricks to enjoy the holiday ... please share them here...and most importantly ... savor the season



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Best

With a national day of thanks and gorging speeding towards me like a runaway butterball, it is unlikely, I suppose, that I would not be thinking through some of the many things and people that I have to be thankful for.  This morning, my first round of thanks is directed towards my community for having more coffee shops than street lights.  Somedays, this morning being one of them, options are appreciated.  I was chased from my first destination by a very loud band of cribbage playing seniors at one table, a gaggle of ladies who did not know their lattes from their mochas, and a wireless router that brought me back to the days of dial up modems.  That was a failure of epic proportions.  After passing on 4 other options and 2 blocks, I ended here again at Uptown, drawn by the lure of a chocolate croissant.  For a few brief moments I wondered what life might look like in a neighborhood that did not have 2 dozen choices within 4 blocks.  I'd probably have to resign myself to the premature AARP mailings that I keep receiving and learn cribbage.  Somehow I don't think that would be my fate.
My life has reminded me that, like coffee shops, there are many choices laid out before us.  In my pastoral artist profession, many continue to ask...sometimes desperately...how to find and live in the will of the one who Created them in His image.  I ask this myself quite frequently, even more so as the days pass and cribbage looms before me.  How do I know what is intended or "best" for my next chapters?  I have come to the conclusion that the answer is more general than I may be comfortable with. It's kind of like, you'll know it when you get there.   It's the same as asking which of the 2 dozen coffee shops I should venture into.  After all, they all serve coffee, so if its coffee I want, it really doesn't matter.  I could go drive thru, pump pots, lots of foam, no foam at all, corporate, individual, online, baked goods, breakfast...all of it with coffee.    If it is something deeper that I'm looking for....well then that is a different issue all together isn't it?  Then there are choices and no two look the same, for any two people, no matter what anyone may tell you.  The reality of this is probably why I changed careers midstream while others work their same deal forever.  It is probably why I moved across the country to pursue something while others choose to pursue the same thing in their hometowns.  It's the same and different at the same time and its ok either way.  Having said that, I also have to share that it does, I believe become a bit more complicated if you are wanting to discern the "best" or specific piece you are searching for.  For example, I am convinced that Gods will for me is simply that I follow him with all that I am.  I believe within all of my being that I could have remained a follower of Jesus, working my previous career, and he would have loved me unconditionally with all the love that he has for me.  For me though, I felt something deep within that there was something even better if I would choose it.  I didn't have to...but it was just that much better...and not even for him I don't believe...it was for me.  From there, I could have become a pastoral artist in any setting, in anyplace that I wanted...but if I chose, there was what was better...not for him, but for me (actually, as a family first and foremost, it had to be for us).  How do I know that I chose well?  I stop on occasions like this and look at the result.  All I really have to do is stop to consider that these choices have led to children who understand the same thing, spouses who were made for them, and grandchildren who reflect nothing but the perfect plan of Gods intent, if we are brave enough to consider it.  And so it has gone, and so it continues to go.  Opportunities, like coffee shops, laid before me.  All serve coffee.  All are good, some are better, one is best.  It may sound like I have it all figured out...it's easy to sound that way when you are looking backwards.  I will tell you, if you haven't figured it out already...this is only as certain as your next choice.  As long as I draw breath, I have choices ... Good, better, best.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The improvised life

Another monumental project has been checked off of our list during this past week.  Together, from beginning to end, my wife and I plowed through another home improvement adventure.  This time it involved the painting of our living room, dining room and ceilings throughout.  This follows our fairly recent bedroom renovation and also the reclamation of our office space.  I attribute much of this to a blend of necessity mixed with a bit of HGTV overload.  It all looks quite good actually.  We are both very happy with it.  That is quite remarkable considering we are both total amateurs and learn everything by trial and error.  What is even more remarkable, from my perspective, is that not only are we happy with the outcome, we are still really happy with each other.  When we do these projects we are both all in, from the beginning discussions, to the choosing of colors, fixtures, appliances and furniture.  We both take part in the construction process, from paint to tile to countertops to lighting.  Really the only adjustment comes, and it always does come, when the planner/designer part of me clashes with the dreamer/"I have no concept of physics or the laws of nature" part of my wife.  When that moment arrives, and it always does, I spend decent energy trying to rationalize why one of her concepts is impossible, only to finally yield my position and, in an attempt to prove said dream impossible, discover that, in fact it really can be done, nearly exactly as dreamed.  You would think that I would learn...but it's apparently not in my nature.
We know each other well.  We seem to instinctively know when to push and when to pull.  I'm not exactly sure how it is accomplished in our relationship when so many don't seem to even be able to agree on a restaurant choice.  I think that,  just maybe, it comes from 28 years of plunging into the unknown and having to rely only on the grace of God and each other when nothing else was certain.  When life is not scripted you have to learn to improvise and just like good improv teams, you learn to adapt to and play off of your partner.  My observation is that many aren't comfortable with an improvised life.  Many would rather put life on auto pilot as soon into the flight as they possibly can and then coast.  In those relationships, certainty and script is the gauge of success.  When the inevitable turbulence of life comes and things don't go according to "plan", all sorts of unnecessary, uncomfortable, and unproductive havoc is wreaked.   Had we chosen to live life on auto pilot, I'm pretty sure that our successful home renovations would easily turn into another episode of  "Renovation Realities".

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Don't Miss This

I've treated myself this morning to a return trip to my former beachfront post.  It's been more than a year since I spent an early morning out down here and I have to admit, things have not been the same for me since I left.  For over 6 years now I've been writing this, sort of, weekly post to clear my head and clear my conscience, in a number of venues, with a variety of caffeine and pastries, and yet this still seems like home to me.  My chair is long since gone. It's been remodeled and repurposed at least twice.  The staff behind the counter have changed many times....only one thing remains.  The retirees haven't changed a bit.  They have changed neither seats nor stories in my years in and out of here.
As I look out over the water, beyond the metro busses assembled to take people with real jobs to their downtown destinations, a scene is repeated that has always drawn me here.  The sun reflecting off of the peaks reminds me that its time to just stop and soak it all in.  Much like the concentrated effort to stop and notice that, as the princess likes to remind me, " the flowers are happy papa", this morning I will just sit and enjoy the view and imagine that the mountains too are happy.
I was saddened by my brief visit to social media land to see so many don't realize that the political season kind of ended yesterday.  Today is a new day, with a new hand dealt to us, just as happens every other day.  It's time for us to move on...to breathe...to realize that there are still flowers that are happy.  Look at it this way, regardless of opinion and political stances, win or lose, now is the time that will really tell who was right and who was not quite right.  Everything else, who would do what and which promises would be kept, up until today, were just theory.
As a follower of Jesus and one who ascribes to the "Book of Books"... I still have the same task.  I also still have the same promise and the same ruler on my throne.  All in all, I need to remember the outlook that the princess has, passed down from her grandma, regarding floral self esteem.  If the flowers are happy, and the mountains with them, then that's good enough for me.  My prayer for you is that you wouldn't miss them.  Take the opportunity today to just breathe...and to realize that, whichever your side or political persuasion...our promise is that this too shall pass.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Story of a lifetime

I just read something from Donald Miller this morning that said "what you'll leave behind is the story you've lived".  This struck me as being so true, and at the same time a bit overwhelming.  This may be due to the fact that some of my favorite places in the world to hang out in are bookstores.  With the exception of a really well thought out Barnes and Noble, these are all used book stores.  My favorite is undoubtably the original Powell's in Portland.  In fact, it's because of the time spent in these places that I am still hesitant to actually go through the pain of birthing an actual book of my own.  I wander the aisles and see countless thousands of books lying untouched or no longer wanted on the shelves.  I imagine finding one of my labors of love, with a two for fifty cents sticker, lying forgotten and dusty behind something by Louis L'Amour.  I imagine myself weeping uncontrollably and being forever banished from the hallowed shelves of Powells, never to find a bargain again.
So....chances are slim that my story will ever be left behind somewhere in print form.  More than likely, as is the case with most of us,  my life is all the story that I will get to leave behind.  Now I could deal with this in one of two ways.  I could be a passive participant, or character, in a story written about me, starring me, but not being driven by me.  On the other hand, I could be an active participant, or character, who actually has a hand in writing my own story.  Now understand, as a pastoral artist and a follower of Jesus, I freely admit that my story is not entirely my own.  The great Author Himself is actually writing this, I am just a sort of contributing editor.  A principle that moves story along is conflict and the attempted resolution of each conflict.  A story without conflict tends to be quite boring...not much to leave behind.  Those who know me might think that I tend to live more to the boring side.  Those who know me best though, probably understand this next statement.  I like conflict.   Now by conflict, I don't mean the personal kind.  I am referring to the obstacle to be overcome sort.  I've come to understand that this is what makes life more, shall we say, interesting.  If there is not a conflict on the horizon, I tend to start looking for one.
A recent example of this was the demise of our car 8 months ago.  Normally, and actually in  practically every other stage of our life, we would and have run out and purchased another primary  mode of transportation.  Not this time...and not for this stage of our being.  In our 12 years here we have become solidly urban dwellers.  One of my curiosities about people who dwell in major metropolitan centers is the reliance on mass transit and the absence of personal vehicles.  My wife and I decided that this chapter of our life would be greatly influenced by our decision to not own a car of our own.  Even as I write this last sentence and after 8 months of loving this new reality, I have a hard time resolving the memory of an earlier chapter of my story which included getting my license on the very day that I turned 16.  I don't always understand it but I can tell you that this chapter is much more " interesting" than it would have been with car payments and gas pumps.  
Once upon a time I thought that this stage of my life, especially as a grandpa, would include some down time and perhaps a cruise control setting that would buy me some time to rest.  Now that I'm into it I understand this to be boring and low reaching.  One of my other very favorite things to do is to hang out at Disney with my incredibly beautiful and adventurous wife.  This is most likely because of her enthusiastic appreciation for rides.  There is almost nothing I enjoy more than to strap in next to her as the ride begins.  It more than doubles the enjoyment of the experience.  The same goes for living life with someone who's motto is "if you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space."  The goal isn' t always as important the ride you took to get there.  As things slow down, which they always tend to do eventually, I am reminded that there is more adventure out there somewhere, with or without a car.  Many things I don't know, but this one thing I am sure of...these last chapters will be the most memorable.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The color of context

As the view from my window displays for me this morning, Fall is solidly here in the Northwest.  The leaves are turning their muted shades of red and yellow while everything else has chosen its own form of brown.  Next week, Halloween makes its annual appearance with its own shades of color, much of which will certainly be borrowed by the impending death and hibernation of the season.  It occurred to me this morning on my commute across the street to my office, that looks down on this scene, there is a natural correlation for me between the seasonal colors and the holidays.  Right around the corner comes Thanksgiving, again with its reds, yellows, oranges, browns, all signs of harvest and the end or at least dormancy of another life cycle.  It has always been this way for me.  My life has always been lived across the northern reaches of our country.
When I first looked out my window on the scene below, with the colors before me and Halloween plans in the back of my mind, it occurred to me that Halloween would look very different to me if it occurred during another time on the calendar.  Just think about it for a minute.... What about July 4th?  Red, white, and blue, are just not Halloween colors.  Witches in long flowing robes and black pointy hats, riding brooms don't inspire firing up the BBQ while rolling out the dogs and burgers.  What about December 25 with all its red and green, or the Easter season that really has more random dating but a definite pastel bent when it comes to choosing colors?  Certainly not inspiring a zombie apocalypse.
After contemplating this for a bit, I realized what a small view that I really have of all this.  A good section of the country must not view these things in the same way at all.  What I mean is, Halloween without green palm trees, while never entering into my mind, is completely unthinkable in Southern California or Florida.  And consequently, a vision of Santa in a speedo is something that I would want surgically removed from my brain, it might be quite powerful and relatable imagery in Hawaii.
So is there something deeper in this thought process or is this just a reflection of the reality that I just spent 3 days on the couch dealing with some version of the flu?  It's one word really.  Not only is it one word, but its one of my favorite words.  The word is context.  This activity in my brain has reminded me that context is one of the most powerful words and powerful concepts that any of us deal with on a daily basis, especially when it comes to relationship.  It helps or hinders communication.  It can foster understanding.  It can build communion and community.  As a pastoral artist for the past 20 years in different contexts, I have come to a better understanding on the power of context and the dismal lack of appreciation that followers of Jesus have for it.  This is kind of irony for me because Jesus was a master of context, and people of my sort seem satisfied to paint him with the same brush...with the same color scheme.  In 20 years I have been in rural small town, sprawling suburbs and urban centers.  Each is different and into each context Jesus speaks differently.  Same message, different language.  In my reading of The Story, he entered into every context that he needed to enter into in order to build a relationship or to speak into one already established.  It's easier though to create one size fits all though isn't it.  However, if you have any fashion sense at all you understand that "one size fits all" really means" looks good on none".  The greatest tragedy to all of this is the idea that we would ever want to mute the incredible color palette that was provided for us into something that more fit our comfort level.   Frankly it makes us seem boring and rather uncreative.  That is criminal, in my opinion.  When I look out of my office, I am proud to say that I am looking down on a community of artists that I have had the privilege of leading for 6 years now, housed in one of our buildings.  These are some of the most creative people that I have ever had the honor of knowing and working with.  Many would not consider themselves followers of Jesus, but they all understand color, context, and creativity and, I believe that, until now, these are certainly not things that they would have ever associated with those of our kind.  Does anyone else see the irony in this?  We represent the Creator of creativity.  We represent the One who spoke color into existence.  We represent the master of context.  Our community of artists is known as "ginomai".  It's the Greek word taken from John 1 verse 3 meaning the creative process of God which reads " Through him all things were made (ginomai); without him nothing was made that has been made (ginomai)."   The Church used to be the major patron and influencer of art throughout the ages...but the palettes changed and it became uncomfortable and unfamiliar.   Instead of speaking into it, we wandered off to our own comfortable colors with artists we understood and waited for others to come over to our, frankly more boring, palettes.
So...to followers of Jesus,  I want to say, in the last words I have this morning, that if you have the courage to put down your pallete and your one size fits all faith, there is a whole new adventure awaiting you and along with that a whole new collection of relationships that god may be calling you to.  To those of you who don't necessarily consider yourselves followers, on behalf of all the monochrome and otherwise boring palletes whose lives you've been subject to, I apologize.  Jesus is not one size fits all or one brush paints all.  Don't take my word for it though.  Read his story.  Read about ginomai in the book of John.  And to all....Enjoy the season in whatever your context.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Put a bird on it

This morning, as I ventured down the block for my weekly writing get away, I was confronted with a gauntlet that I was really not willing to pass through.  Look at the accompanying photo and see if you don't agree.  It puts another spin to the Portlandia "put a bird on it" culture.  There are some occasions where I might be willing to chance my timing, however this was not one of them...not after last weeks attempt at writing.  Last week, after settling in to my chair with my big red cup of caffeine perfection, I was hit with some writing inspiration that, in my estimation, hasn't occurred for me in recent memory.  It might be years now.  I had a burst of words and wit and insight and it all flowed together like some cosmically orchestrated divine plan.  You'll just have to take my word for it...because....after about 45 minutes of channeling from the Great Author himself, my post went blank.  Now in today's technologically advanced, plug and play, user and idiot friendly technology, this should not have been much of an issue.  I have autosave on this for just such an occasion.  Whether I want it to or not, this modern marvel saves as a draft anything that I input...always has, always should.  It saves incredibly boring and mundane crap.  It saves elementary gibberish.  It saves words that I hope to never have to read again.  Not this time.  This time, I indeed have a file called "draft" waiting for me...it too was empty.  I don't know if you've ever had this happen to you?  I don't know how you handled it.  I know how I did...I didn't .  I could not recover.  I packed up.  I downed my caramel latte like a college shot of "jack" and went on my way.  I'm really trying to be routine once more with these posts, I really am.  Every week...whether I or anyone else need it, has been my goal.  You won't find one for last week though.  It doesn't mean that I didn't exist.  I did.  I lived, I loved, I dreamt, I wrote...there's just no evidence...at least not the writing part.  I hope that there's plenty of evidence for everything else.
So....on my way this morning to give it another shot, perhaps you have a better understanding of why I took this sign from above and altered my route.  I'm not at Red Cup...I don't even have a Red Cup.  I'm at my familiar and safe second home known as Hotwire, with a drink skillfully and tastefully prepared by people who love me.  I'm at the end of this post and there's still words on the page...good choice.  Life is good, I'm sure you understand .

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The politics of holiness

It's a beautiful Fall day, I've got a caramel latte in a big red cup and I'm "Learning to Fly" with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in my ears. The only thing that could possibly ruin it is another trip through the Facebook land of political commentary. I can't help but imagine the heights that we as a nation might aspire to if we collectively invested as much time and passion in our vocations as we do with "sharing" and "liking" each others recent finds on YouTube and all things cyber. What is the most intriguing and, I'm not going to lie, distressing is the amount of rabid rhetoric from people who, like myself, claim to follow Jesus. It's not a partisan thing either...in fact, in my opinion it's one of the only truly bi-partisan efforts within our political process. At the moment, I am leading my community o'faith through a study in what it would look like to actually be a people who live lives of holiness. This actually sounds more intimidating and self defeating than it is. Holiness is really defined as living "set apart" from the rest. It's defined as people living with the realization that they are not citizens of any earthly kingdom nor bound by any political process. There are directives such as "honor the emperor" and love people unconditionally while giving any responsibility for judgment back to God. I'm told that this is not our kingdom, that i'm a citizen of something higher. This is only a temporary place and God places people in authority, good or bad...its not ours to decide. It occurred to me this morning that I have lived through many, many political seasons. Each and every one marked by people claiming Christ, on both sides, living and longing for their own parties success as if the very existence of the "Kingdom" itself was being held in the balance. It occurred to me this morning immediately after realizing this that I am, and we are, really now about the same as we were then. I still pay too much in taxes, I still know too many people out of work, homeless, hungry. If anything, I'd have to say that we are worse off. How can this be? We've been through several cycles of each parties administrations and yet, here we are and no one has an answer, unless there are several special interest amendments to it. So here I sit...looking at these words to the original church... "Honor the emperor"...really? Weren't these the guys who were using followers of Jesus as street lights and sport? How much more set apart could you possibly be than honoring him? Where were the petitions and placards? Where were the boycotts? When I look up from my reading I see Christians and churches, from both sides of the political fence, lobbing verbal assaults and worse, continually during the reign of the other side. It is as if, through the sheer force of effort and resources, we could take this kingdom. Problem is, the pages of my copy of the Book of Books tells me that its not mine to take. So what is the solution? Are politics off the table? I don't think so. I'm going to vote...then whatever the outcome I plan on going to work for the kingdom that I was called to. In the past week I've witnessed people who claim the name of Jesus protesting both sides of the same issue. Each side should say that they are truly in tune with what Jesus would do? I'd have to humbly disagree. Jesus held many things in his hands...a political placard was not one of them. It is said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing continuously and expecting different results. From where I sit, that has been the political strategy of both sides of the faithful fence for my lifetime at least. I propose something new. I propose that we "honor the emperor" whoever he or she may be. I propose that we trust God with the leadership choice and whatever judgment He may want to deal with while we live as citizens of a higher kingdom, loving unconditionally and sacrificially. I propose that we pursue holiness. That would once and for all truly set us apart.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sound bites

So, according to my running tally, I have finally reached the elusive 300 posts on this site. It may not seem like that big of a deal, but this past year has really been a grind trying to post with any regularity. This morning, I went for the blueberry muffin instead of the donut...terrible choice. I have no idea what I was thinking. No matter though, a hardened pastry isn't going to dampen my time. I'm just grateful for the quite and separation from the intolerable political noise. I'm thinking, as I'm sitting here with Pandora in my headphones, I am so happy that, within the occasional "commercial" that you have to suffer through with the free version, they have not become a venue for political ads. Even with Bruce in my ears, I can still hear some of the obnoxious sound bites rattling around my head. I'm sure that this is exactly what the brains behind these campaigns are hoping for, but I've got news for them. In my opinion, when this happens for a particular candidate, it's like having "it's a small world" stuck in my head. I'm just going to be annoyed and there is no way in their version of hell that I'm going to vote for an obnoxious sound bite. Their wisdom is not mine. Speaking of this, did you know that Jesus might have been married? In case you haven't heard, that's one of the latest and greatest in sound bite news this week. I've got news for you. Jesus was (and is for that matter) married. It's not really a mystery to those of us who really have paid attention in church. All throughout the newest half of the book of books, we have read for the past 2000 years that the Church is the bride of Christ. In fact, Jesus himself compares his coming return to a groom returning for his bride. So this latest sound bite from biblical scholarship is not really, or shouldn't be, a big revelation to those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus, nor should the idea that the bride(wife) would be a disciple, since we as the church are called to that very thing. Now... let me tell you that I'm not sitting here writing this smugly, thinking that I have the absolute answer to what this scrap of ancient manuscript really reveals. It is actually quite remarkable to have found it. I also appreciate that the one who translated it has stated that this really doesn't prove anything. I admire her honesty. There are in fact a good deal of scraps of ancient manuscripts that claim all sorts of weirdness about Jesus and most have been relegated, by scholars, to the realm of fairy tales and legends. This one may or may not, but is really only dependent on whether or not more of the manuscript is discovered. Otherwise, a few sentences out of an entire document would have to be the epitome of taking something out of context. True or false, fact or fiction, here's my point.... Yes there is a point. We, as a culture, have been conditioned and wired to engage, interact, learn, as well as teach, by sound bite. Don't believe me? How do you account for the explosion of twitter as one of the most powerful and influential social mediums we have. If you don't already know, twitter is based on communications of 144 characters or less. I deal with this as a pastoral artist struggling to communicate weekly in a teaching environment to people who are increasingly wired for sound bites. Those of us who do this week to week can tell you that, for the most part, we can communicate 30 minutes or more and it's remembered mostly as sound bites...and you never really can be sure which ones are going to be caught. This isn't new, and I am secure knowing that God is big enough to do His work within that context. Here is the problem though, we have evolved ... Yes I used the "e" word ...into a people who have a real hard time thinking real deep thoughts. The "Jesus could have been married" issue is a perfect example of this. Instantly, without further thought, investigation or action, people jumped on duelling band wagons. One side says, " I knew it all along, this proves that Jesus, religion, Christians, yada yada yada, are all full of crap.". Why?...because the sound bite affirmed my belief system. The other side jumped onto defense because the very fabric and foundation of their belief system is being attacked...by a sound bite. No one wants to think anymore...to step back, to pause, to question. Yes, sound bites are likely to determine our politics, our world view, our religion, the very fabric of our culture, so allow me to add mine to the mix... In case there was any doubt... Yes Jesus has a bride, and he's coming back to claim her.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hopeful

Wednesday morning in "Red Cup" and enjoying a red cup filled with a caramel latte alongside a "mighty o" donut, with some Pandora induced Springsteen in my headphones. It's two weeks and a day since my gall bladder was invited to exit my body and, even though I just celebrated turning a year older a few days ago, I actually feel a year or two younger...so no complaints here. While I am nearly within site of my real home sweet home and my office across the street, I am far enough away that, with headphones on, I can ignore some of the pressing demands that scream for my attention day after day and dream of things more suitable for dreaming on. I'm not so sure that this is always a good thing, but today it certainly is. This morning I woke up to a mixture of news reminding us that all is still not right with the world alongside commercials from politicians trying to convince us that if we would just elect them, this would all change. One in particular, running for governor in the great state of Washington, tells us,in each and every commercial, that he wrote a book a bunch of years back in which all of the answers can be found. I'm pretty sure if that were true, he wouldn't be needing to sell it as part of his election bid. I think it's a bit more likely that he just wants it taken off the dollar shelves in the local used bookstores. I say this with all love and respect as someone who aspires to write a book someday. In fact, my main hesitation in ever trying to get a book published one day is the bargain shelf at Powells. I don't know that I would ever be able to bear the inevitable site of my life's work selling 2 for a dollar. Let's be honest...the point for me would not be to write a book, or even publish a book...it's going to be to sell a book, many books in fact, well beyond the scope of my family and friends. It is the selling of a book that validates that you have something worth saying. Anything else is just delusion. So, here I am, trying to dream without being delusional. On September 12, 2012, through a latte induced haze I have a dream: ... That politicians everywhere would realize that spending limits on their campaigns alone could go to provide clean water to a significant amount of the world without it Or eliminate the national debt Or balance the budgets of each and every public school district in the US so we could once again teach our children that 2 plus 2 does in fact equal 4 ...that Christians everywhere would once again actually follow Jesus in loving and serving rather than judging and accumulating ...that politicians who are Christians would drop their delusion that Jesus was a member of their party, thereby validating their platforms ...that politicians who are not Christians would understand that not all who claim the name of Christ actually follow him, so we shouldn't all be feared...some of us actually want to love and serve, no agenda required ...that people who are neither politician nor Christian could see Jesus through the clouded lens of the Church and that the Church could commit to cleaning that lens often so that people could clearly see the real Jesus ... That someday I'd wake up to find out that both left and right had disappeared, leaving only those who long to live together in the middle ... Delusional? Perhaps, but I'd prefer to think its hopeful.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Lighter

Much has changed these past several weeks. This morning I am in a new place and from early experience, this may become a weekly thing for me. "Red Cup" is literally less than a block out my back door. I am enjoying the coffee and the vibe a great deal. It will never replace my first love, Hotwire, but they have the space for me to relax and reflect that is lacking with my first love. So I begin another season of life and pastoral artistry in new surroundings. Along with the new surroundings, I am now missing one of my internal organs...not a significant one, but part of me for 48 years all the same. A week ago my gall bladder was skillfully removed by a robot ... Yes it was intentional. I knew before the surgery that it wasn't functioning as designed, the gall bladder I mean, and afterwards I was informed that it wasn't looking very good, even for a gall bladder. So I'm glad that it's gone. Truthfully, it has caused me to lose a good share of this past year to feeling like crap. It has also caused a number of people to have lost some good quaility time with me because I felt like crap...without really knowing why. Its been a week since saying good riddance to bad organs and this morning is the first one in recent memory that I've felt whole and ready for the day. So here I sit, with a yummy caramel latte in a big red cup, what else, Jason Mraz in my headphones, for optimism, watching all of the parents wander through misty eyed after just dropping their precious cargo at school for the first time in 3 months. We are on our 45th consecutive day of blue skies and no rain here in the greatest city to spend a summer in, what could be better? And if that weren't enough for me to be grateful for, two weeks ago we were sweating in a jungle community in El Salvador, drilling a well to bring clean water and enjoying getting to know some fabulous people, constantly reminded of the incredible creativity of the Creator, and our own place in the world, with or without gall bladders. There isn't much of a point to this post this morning except to celebrate new beginnings, old memories, modern medicine, and my prayer that any who read this will enter this season as I am, lighter.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

this and that

In just a few days our team leaves on another Central American journey to bring clean water to a point in the world that doesn't have it. This time its a village in El Salvador. It's another, never been there and can't really find it on a map adventure. Even Google Earth can't pin it down. That's really ok for me, it just adds to the mystery. Having done this before, these next few days are when I know that I need to cleanse myself of all expectations and experiences from prior trips because chances are extremely high that it will be entirely different than any of the others. it's a whole lot easier said than done though...leaving the expectations behind I mean. It goes against human nature....or at least American culture. Most of us really like to know what's around the bend...unless maybe your last name is Lewis or Clark. We are molded that way. Our culture and way of life has conditioned us that we shouldn't have to deal with unexpected situations or suffer with unintended consequences. The reality is thoug that the world in which we live in is, a great deal of the time, a cause and effect environment. Do this and you get that. Now I will admit, sometimes the "that" takes a great deal of time to occur...sometimes so delayed that it's hard to identify who did what to cause "that". Trace it back far enough though and you can probably find a legitimate "this" which has, over the years, caused an identifiable "that". This doesn't have to be bad news and uncertainty all around. Fortunately, the creator of the cause and effect world that we live in, at least in my own pastoral artist opinion, also responds, for the most part, within the guidelines that He has created. In those instances where this is not the case, we often refer to them as miracles. In my case, in our case as a team and a community o' faith, there is some cause and effect about to take place in a very remote part of El Salvador. For years, followers of the creator have prayed for the ability to draw life giving water from the ground. I know this because each time we travel to a place such as the one we will be at next week I am told of people, worlds away, that have prayed this specific prayer. I, and the team I am a part of have the honor of being part of the "that" which in reality is an answer to their prayers. Not only this team, but our church community, the organization that makes this all possible, and the graciousness of the community in which I live, are a part of the grand orchestration of God's cause and effect. You might argue that the water should be clean in the first place. I would call you to find the origin and I will bet, that if you're honest, there is some human "this" which has contributed to "that". I'm just grateful that the one who created a world of order in the first place has a plan B when we've messed it up. I've been part of plenty of "this" in my life over the years, I'm now honored once again to be part of the "that" of God's great love.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reframed

New adventure this morning...I decided to ride my bike to seek out a location for caffeine and contemplation. It seemed like a great idea at the time. Actually, in the long run, if I keep at it, it will become a great idea...right now it's just a bit more work than I had intended. Most know that we are now on month 5 of our journey into living without car ownership. For the most part, it has been a great life adjustment. Mostly it means more miles on my running shoes and more miles on the Metro. Now that we finally hit summer, it's more miles on our bikes. You could say that we are reframing our lives somewhat. It demands more intention. It demands more creativity. It really demands more effort. Last night it seemed to be a great idea to take a ride for my time away this morning. This morning, my legs were indicating that I should rethink the plan. And...I'm embarrassed to admit, this was on a relatively flat ride over. It was one of those routes that you drive on hundreds of times, never realizing that it was a hill at all...until you need to pedal up it. Considering that I live on a peninsula that is basically a hill rising out of Puget Sound, I have little room to complain. I know that one day, after intentional effort and an undetermined number of rides over these roads, i will Be better off for it. However, i can tell you, that day is not today. I'm not complaining, my legs are. But after some caffiene and coffee cake, they have learned to relax a bit. Reframing your life is difficult...and I'll admit that I have relatively little to adjust in comparison to many that I encounter. My own meager attempts have helped me realize how hopelessly far from balanced many people are and how incredibly high the mountain must appear to those who need to climb it. Some minor health issues have caused me to consider the real need to reframe my life. What about those who have long passed minor? What must their hills look like? It's my opinion that many of us can't even really point to the moment when our lives came out of alignment. Some have obvious traumatic events that push us one way or another, but for most of us, it happens more gradually. It's like a car. Sometimes you hit the big pothole that can alter the very structural integrity. Most times, it is the accumulation, over time, of bumps and jolts. One day you wake up and realize that no matter how hard you try to center it, the car is always pulling one way or the other. If you are not good at the preventative maintenance stuff, inevitably you'll find yourself in the shop, with a decent portion of your livelihood going towards a realignment. One observation from all of the above. The preventative stuff needs to be intentional, it needs to be scheduled, it can be inconvenient...but ultimately you will be better off for it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Untitled

Usually I have a title before I even have a post...not this morning. It's been a long time coming though...this post I mean. About 6 weeks ago I put down all of my social media outlets in an attempt to wrestle at least a corner of my life back. That happened to include this blog. One thing that I will add here is that I have found some great relief by nearly eliminating Facebook from my radar. I have returned to "tweeting" on occasion and posting a few pastoral artist related items to FB but that is about all. I discovered what I had already thought to be true... Status updates are not something that I generally want to be tied to and they certainly aren't helping my outlook on humanity. Jumping from the social media train has come in the midst of some serious redefining of my life, priorities, and aspirations. I'm trying to forge a new outlook on life. Better yet, in pastoral artist terminology, I'm trying to allow myself to be more moldable in the hands of the Potter. Another contributor was a two day stay with the fine people of a local cardiac care unit and the ensuing forced R&R (rest and reexamination) that can come with that. The good news from that adventure is that a. I have a heart and b. it is in great shape. In fact I think that it even "grew 3 sizes that day". I've been told that I need to dial it down a bit...so I am. I've been referred to another set of doctors to track down whats ailing me...so I'm going. My wife has suggested Yoga as an outlet...I don't know if I'm that far gone yet. Stay tuned. Another good thing of late has been my earlier mentioned loss of vehicles and our joining the walking/bussing/biking/zip car culture. What a wonderful thing that has been. If you had asked me, on the day I turned 16 and got my license and first car, what would be the one thing that I could never do without ever again, I would have definitely said "wheels". I lived my first 16 years waiting for my license. I've been using it ever since...and not just to write checks Notice that I didn't say I waited my first 16 years to drive...just something left of my grandfathers legacy. Anyway, what a great unexpected freedom this has become for us. Who knew that you could live quite well, save money, and the environment without 4 wheels and a gas tank? We are a bit amused at how people perceive this as detrimental to our well being. So don't weep for us, we are getting along quite nicely thank you. I'm sure that one day we will wander onto a car lot (walking of course) and subject ourselves to the absurd dance of the dealer and drive away with 4 more wheels and a gas tank. I'm also pretty sure that the longer people think tha we can't survive this culture the longer i will be happy to prove them wrong. By the way, and this will only make sense to this who have been reading from my earlier days of blogging, in my new life God has granted me the pleasure of discovering one of those long lost chairs that I was so fond of in my seat by the beach. And guess how I found it ... By taking the bus to another Starbucks on the other side of town.

Friday, June 01, 2012

consider

Let me just state at the outset of this post that I intend for this to be the last one for the month. This morning, in my circuit of cafe wanderings in the neighborhood, with every good intention of writing, I randomly picked the one place that has no wifi. In their defense they do have the best chocolate croissants...but still no wifi. So, sitting outside at a sidewalk table, watching the community walk, bike, and drive by, with nothing else to do but savor the previously mentioned croissant, I began to consider some new possibilities and realities. It has been a sobering week for those of us who spend significant time at local coffee establishments when it becomes apparent that one individual with one gun can change the world that we've created for ourselves within those walls. The pastoral artist part of me wonders even more than before how can anyone deny the existence of evil in the world, and with that same existence comes the reality of a loving God. I know all the arguments..."How can a loving God allow such things to happen?" It was a loving God who gave creation the free will from which these tragedies stem. His love comes from everything that he has made available to deal with such tragedy. Those who argue against this imply that a loving God should have made a utopia within which there is no choice... a creator of mere puppets. Let's be honest, that crowd would rail against that assumption as well as a denial of "rights". Anyway...I have long known, and from experience I might add...not theoretically, what Elijah knew about God's voice. It comes after the storm, on the back side, in the whisper of a still small voice. God speaks, for the most part, gently, and yet I'm convinced, steadily. It takes a decent amount of work to not hear it. It takes a decent amount of noise to not hear it. Some people, in their flight from God, have filled in the quiet spaces of their lives with every bit of activity ever conceived for the sole purpose of drowning out the voice. Some people, quite inadvertently, have also drowned out the voice and then claim that God has left their side. "I don't even feel God anymore" is what I hear consistently. I can assure you that He hasn't moved. I hear Him when I close everything else off long enough to hear. In these past several months I've struggled to hear all the while longing to hear. In the short bit of time that I existed this morning without wifi, without music, without anything online to consider, I was able to hear a piece...only a piece...but it was enough for me to know that i needed some time to learn to hear again. I have too much extra noise and I suspect that it is coming from the same place that a lot of other peoples come from. In my opinion it's internet noise. It's noise from my ipad and my iphone and all of the twittering that fills the void. So in this, my last post for the month, I bid you all a fond cyber farewell. I am looking forward to what has been hidden in the margins by the busyness of facebook, twitter, and blogs. As tempting as it is to "check in" and let you all see the glamorous life I lead, as much as I'd like to "tweet" some short yet infinitely deep thoughts, and with great regret over not being able to ignore your "farmville" requests, I will be off to other endeavors. Gone is the Facebook and twitter apps from my phone and my ipad. Quiet will be the posts on my blogs. This is my new adventure...just something to consider.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Smarter

It's been nearly 3 months since my last visit to this blog, which is pretty inexcusable for someone with a desire to write and a commitment to keeping a blog updated. Not that its an excuse, but life kind of happened big these last several weeks. This was a particularly crazy end to a particularly crazy chapter of my life. I think that I'm at the back side of it, but not without some measure of exhaustion. This morning I made a desperate move to get some of my life back by coming back down here to my initial place of inspiration...a window seat with a view of the beach. One of the events marking these past several weeks was the completion of my graduate school career and the awarding of my Masters Degree. I don't really know what I thought life might be like after getting a piece of paper indicating that I'm 3 years smarter and 3 years poorer. I remember the wisdom that the Wizard bestowed on the Scarecrow regarding this issue. "Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, Where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out they think deep thoughts, and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing that you haven't got: a diploma.". Part of this has been encouraging me along the journey of higher education...but, I have the diploma now...or at least it's in the mail, and I don't feel any smarter whatsoever. In fact, in my current frame of being I think I know less than I did when I began. I'm sure that this isn't really so, but it seems that way if I allow myself to think about it. This week, in my return to the office and all things that I'm paid for in my pastoral artist role, I'm finding that what I can really engage in is some brainless, but creative renovating of a new office space. Every attempt at pushing more "knowledge" into my brain is being met with some pretty serious resistance. I used to be known for voraciously reading anything and everything which would provide the slightest bit of knowledge. Even the wrappers on a roll of toilet paper could provide some interesting bit of trivia. This morning I had to turn my Starbucks cup around so that I didn't have to look at the little check boxes on the side. Definitely a sign of information overload. The short of it is, from a "living out that which I believe" point of view, a reminder that this is not all about me and my ability to do anything. I am reminded, when I have no reserves left, that humility is the beginning of learning. When you know that you don't know all that you thought you knew...then it may possibly be revealed. When nothing else remains, God still does, and He moves me along. I wonder might happen if I worked from this reality, instead of having to repeatedly fall back on it. I hope that I can spend the next chapter of my life finding out...and somewhere along the road I just might be smarter.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Walking

So there is no coffee shop and no early morning peacefulness ... Not to mention no chocolate croissant either. I had no way of getting there this morning. At least not how I had planned on getting there. Yesterday we said good bye to another member of our family who has been a vital part of our lives and is now gone once more. Our beloved Ford Focus, who has been part of our lives for 2 years now, has begun the transformation from daily companion, to the automotive equivalent of an organ donor. The fatal blow came in the form of a head gasket that could withstand the pressure of too much heat. In weighing the options, as well as our bank account, it was deemed necessary to put her to rest. Most likely she will endure the purgatory of craigslist to await her final destination, but regardless, her fate with us is sealed.
In my younger days she may have found refuge in my garage to await a life saving procedure. However, those days are not today and "I ain't as good as I once was". Don't weep for us though. My ever adventurous wife and I have determined that this will mark the beginning into the closer to true life of an urban dweller. What I am implying is that we will be walking much more than we are even currently doing. We will bus more than we are currently bussing. These are fairly regular occurrences for us already, so there is not much challenge there at all. The new challenge and opportunity that we have chosen to engage during this grand experiment is to wade into the land of the "Zip Car". For those of you who aren't familiar with the concept, it's a high tech vehicle sharing program. There happen to be 2 parked 75 yards from our house, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try this out for trips where walking and/or public transportation just isn't going to be the best option...like trips to Costco or IKEA.
I am thinking that, in cooperation with this effort, my gorgeous wife and I will begin a joint blog on our adventures in zipping. Just doing our part to reduce our carbon footprint. This is no small matter for someone who has had his drivers license since the day I turned 16 and have and access to a vehicle since day one. Over the past few years of just the two of us living day to day in the city, we have had many conversations about conserving, driving less, walking more, gym membership or no gym membership, carbon footprints, and ridiculous gas prices. Ironically, many of these took place while behind the wheel of our Focus. I guess that it's time to get off the fence, get out of the car and begin walking...We will let you know how that plan works out.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Cause

It has been exactly a month since I've last been here. Two things brought me back this morning. The first was a desperate attempt to wrestle my life back from the tyranny of the urgent. The only thing that brings me balance in times of desperation is balance...if that makes any sense. Balance, for me, begins with some of my own time in my own place with my own coffee listening to my own music and writing on my own iPad...although it seems as if, once again I'm already outdated. The second thing, and the inspiration of some additional writing, is the felt need to process some, in my opinion, misguided and destructive thoughts on faith and disaster that have appeared to the masses this past week. These originated from someone whom I will choose not to identify because the thoughts expressed, unfortunately, are not unique to him. He just happened to be the mouth piece for these thoughts and, again unfortunately, he happens to have a huge forum for delivering them.
These thoughts dealt with the destruction of the tornadoes that devastated so many lives and communities throughout the mid west. I will not elaborate on these other than to say that the summation of them is that this destruction and loss of life can be directly attributed to the intent and will of God. The idea was put forth that these were the "fingers of God" and that Jesus killed those people, with the basic purpose for all of this being to draw others to Him and also that this was justified because, long before he killed these people, he himself died on a cross for them. I know this theology all too well. Let me just say this about the people, and there are many, who ascribe to this theology; they are just wrong. I do not believe that they are bad, they are just wrong, in my humble opinion.
For those who don't understand this thought process...the one that attributes these occurrences to being caused by God, I will tell you that it is consistent with their picture of God. It's an idea known as "sovereignty" and it deals with, in their line of thinking, the idea that God, being all powerful and capable, holds and directs all things good and bad. Let me just say, before I am labeled, that I too believe in the sovereignty of God. However, myself and many of my tribe believe that God doesn't cause them, but allows all things good and bad. Do you see the difference? Those of the other camp would say that this makes my version weak or anemic. They would tell you that the bible supports their version. There are some areas of the book of books that would indeed seem to support them. However, there are also areas, just as many or more, that would support my theology. When this happens, and it happens in many areas of theology, I yield to the only really clear picture that we've ever been given of God, that being the life of Jesus. I see a different version and different methods of drawing all people to him than mayhem, intimidation, and destruction.
Within the life of Jesus, as it is within the character of God, since they are one and the same, it has always, since the time of "The Great Garden Experiment", been about this idea of free will. That should be good news for a good segment of our culture...the idea that God is a pro-choice deity. I believe that you make choices, and whether they are good or bad, God can work through them and despite them...and sometimes He may choose not to. Our trajectory in life is often determined when we make a choice.
God is frequently portrayed as father and I see this as parental type of theology. There are sometimes in being a parent that I will choose, out of love, to step in and save my children from choices. There are also the times that, again out of love, I have chosen not to so that they will learn from their choice. I really think that part of being created in His image means that I have some of His tendencies within me.
When it comes to explaining natural disaster and death and innocence and other such subjects, it sometimes can be attributed to choices that mankind makes or has made. Sometimes, unknowingly the choice was made for them...but make no mistake, somewhere along the line a choice was made. It just sucks when it wasn't made by you and you have to live with it. Some see this as not "being fair"....whatever...it's just reality.
The only time in the grand history of the world, if you attribute anything to Gods act in its creation, that the seas didn't rage and the winds didn't howl and the ground didn't shake and the rivers didn't flood was in the days of "The Garden". From the point that man/woman exercised their "free will" and the garden became a memory, the earth began to change. In our lifetime we have a reality which includes tornadoes and hurricanes and floods and earthquakes. None are desirable and all are potentially lethal and destructive. The choice, either ours or made for us by our culture, is where we live and how we are prepared to deal with them. If you live in the Midwest, the question is never "if", it is a question of "when" a tornado will occur. If you live along the east or gulf coasts, the question is not "if" but when and where a hurricane will hit. God does not cause them...they were a reality from the beginning. How many times does a family need to loose their possessions from flood waters before they move to higher ground?
People want to know where God is when these things happen...I know where he wasn't....he wasn't standing back looking at his handiwork. I have a difficult time fathoming a God who values his creation so much that he would provide his son as a sacrifice for it, and then wreak havoc upon it in order to get their attention...just because He could. Where I see the influence of a loving God and the presence of Jesus is how he works through his people to respond to the sufferings and loss of life. I see Him in the miraculous stories of survival and sacrifice. I see Him in a new recognition that returns value to humanity and relationships. I see Him in the hope that prevails for those who are desperate and hurting.
See the difference? For every cause, there is also an effect. Now don't get me wrong... I do acknowledge that God could cause such things if He desired...He is capable. I just don't see it as a part of His character. My idea of sovereignty lies in his ability to work through the effects. Obviously others do not believe this. They think it is weak. I don't think they are bad. I just think that they are wrong.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Couples

I'd be curious to know just what the percentage of people in this world is that admits to sitting around in public spaces just watching people. My wife and I have a few games that we've come up with over the years to refine our own guilty pleasure in this field. One of them is called "friend or relative" which we usually play at occasions such as weddings or large social gatherings. This one is fairly simple. It's usually a matter of determining whether a particular person was invited from desire or obligation. Another game is "whats their story?". Or to put is a bit differently... "what did he/she ever see in her/him?" or however the couples match up. Go ahead and judge me if you want, but we all play these types of games. I realize that I am also the object of someone else's game that they are playing. I think that this realization is a healthy humbling knowledge.
How many of us have a couple that we know personally where one of the other of the pair we would just rather not deal with? Conversations about them begin with " I'd love to hang out with..... But I just can't stomach ....". And so more often than not, there is no hanging out, or the hanging out happens conditionally ...aka when the other one is not around. I'm pretty sure that as much as we'd like to, we can't fully develop a relationship with one while they are still attached to the other. There are always parameters. There are always things you can't say. You wouldn't have them to dinner and certainly not go on a trip with them.
I have recently, in my profession as pastoral artist, begun to see this phenomenon lived out in a spiritual dimension. Hang with me for a moment. The metaphorical description that we are given of the relationship between Jesus and the church in the Book of Books, is one of bride and groom, husband and wife. Maybe for you the language is that of the " significant other". Either way the principal is the same. If you like both halves of the pair, then you get along well and over time, there is even the possibility for a pretty deep friendship...shared birthdays, vacations, etc. You get the picture...it's a fairly complete package. What happens though when, in the context of the couple, you like one and not the other? In a spiritual realm, I see it playing out in two arenas. In one, you have a person who claims to love, respect, follow, seek after, Jesus and at the same time they have no use for or time for or appreciation for His bride. Let's face it, in that relationship, as with a living breathing couple, you can only get so far...and there is always going to be weirdness there. In the other arena, you have people who are sold out, in love with, can't live without, the church, but they are not so hot on the groom. They like the social part, the community, the opportunity to volunteer and feel good that a relationship with the bride provides. It is the stuff of sacrifice, life change, living out the words of Jesus that you can do without. The end result is the same. You don't get very far. There are plenty of awkward moments. It just doesn't add up and it's really not healthy.
If you fall on one side or the other of that spectrum, I wish that I could give you the magic pill to help resolve this...it's beyond me though because it's your relationship...you need to resolve this. And can I tell you that, if you are claiming to be a person of the "following Jesus" persuasion, then you must resolve this. If you are claiming to be a "church goer" then you must resolve this. This is a complete package, bride and groom. They are not a perfect couple (well ok, one of them is), but they are a couple just the same.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Location

It's amazing what a change of scenery will do. I highly recommend it. It's true that many will not be able to experience the extent of the change that I've been fortunate to experience, but anything is a step in the right direction. A month or so back I made a move from a years old tradition of a beachside Starbucks view to a smaller urban neighborhood caffeinated venue. The change has been good. This week I am tagging along with my wife on her conference at the happiest place on earth. No, I'm not in Cleveland...I am right in the heart of the realm of the mouse.
Disney world is indeed everything that the name implies. It is another world. Many will disagree and charge me with being part of the "1 percent" and for this week I'm certainly
Ok with that. After all, I am sitting here, lakeside in a gorgeous resort, typing mindlessly on my iPad, so I can't reasonably deny the charge. I could ignorantly claim that I deserve this, or I earned it or whatever...but that's not true at all. I don't deserve or earn anything except to be more responsible to those around me. In the book of books that tells the story of my faith, I am told that to whom much is give, much is expected. That speaks directly and sincerely through all of the temporary sunshine, shorts, and mouse ears that I'll encounter this week.
Interestingly, I find the longer I am part of this, the more I am drawn to consider past and future experiences in Central American villages where the simple act of drawing water to drink is not so simple at all. I have a refillable mug, purchased at the beginning of this time away so that I can, at anytime I wish, wander through the resort watering holes and grab a carbonated or caffeinated beverage of my choosing. Ironically, I'm staying in a Latin American themed resort that repeatedly reminds me of the people that we've enchanted and will encounter who have no such luxury. Some of my time here is being spent wrestling with the theological questions born from a final semester of graduate school. Questions like the purpose or point, if any, of sin and suffering that are quick to inspire doubt in the goodness or greatness of God.
I, like everyone else, have two possible responses to the questions. I can choose to wring my hands and helplessly loose all faith in a good and loving God. I can run the other way, full of doubt or denial. I can angrily shake my fist and decide that a God who allows this is no God at all. Or.... I can ask, what are the implications for me. What is my responsibility?
Instead of asking God where He is in all of this, I can hear him asking me where I am in all of this. What am I prepared to do?
For now, I'm grateful for the change in location. I intend to use it for good. As for the refillable mug, I'll pray that, in addition to far too much diet coke, it'll be filled with prayers, peace, and the remembrance of my responsibility to those in a much different location today.