Friday, November 30, 2012


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


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 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 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'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 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.