Friday, December 20, 2013

Unexpected Santa

I'm sure that you couldn't tell by my youthful appearance and slim, disciplined physique ...whatever... that I once upon a time held a job with high holiday esteem.  Two weeks ago I was reminded of this when observing a friends Christmas display and about a dozen photos of her children in their growing years sitting on the lap of a jolly fat man with a white beard.  No it wasn't someone's uncle Earl, it was Santa himself.  Some photos contained the real Santa I'm pretty sure, but some were obviously the "fill ins".  That's right, I was Santa.... Or at least a good fill in.  It occurred to me, for literally the first time, that in numerous homes somewhere, probably on the East coast, there are moms, grandma's etc with photos of me in their living rooms at this time of year.  Let me clarify ... They are photos of me in a red suit with their children on my lap.  Anyway, it was a fairly distant memory and only a fleeting thought, until quite by chance and a random conversation, I was re-enlisted to play the man in red for a number of patients and their families at their Christmas party/open house in a well known cancer care center here in our new neighborhood.  The "real" Santa had come down with a cold...apparently an occupational hazard... which made him unable to come in contact with the patients who tend to suffer from compromised immune systems.  Anyway, very unexpectedly, I became him, literally overnight.
Now I have to tell you that the "Santa" part came back like falling off a bike, which I have a great deal of experience in.  The physical part of transforming myself from this young, fit specimen of health, to the weight challenged, white bearded, leader of toy making "little people".  From the first sensation of the while wooly faux beard hair getting in my mouth to the pillow strapped to my central regions, this was alarmingly second nature.  What I had not anticipated was the emotional piece that would enter in to the next 5 hours.  My previous shifts as the Christmas ambassador to the holiday mall madness primarily consisted of filtering requests from little cherubs whose impression of Christmas consisted of endless days of life and happiness and toys and life.  I was not prepared for the 5 hours that I would spend looking at the holiday through a different filter.  In looking back I am sure that there was no way that I could have been.
There were absolutely some of the usual requests for the latest on Amazons top 10.  But there were far more adults than children wanting to sit on Santas lap.  They came after exhausting rounds of chemo.  They came to smile for a moment.  They came to ask for a cure, and some literally to get photographic evidence of what they suspected to be their last Christmas.  When children did come, they were facing down treatment themselves or living through the treatment of a mom, a dad, or a sibling .  I was literally on holy ground and the smiles that came in those moments rose like the  incense of the continual prayers that I was compelled to lift on their behalf.  In the end, the images of Santa, on that day and in that moment, were immortalized again ... Monuments to these brave people, living the best that they knew how, smiling through the pain and uncertainty, on the lap of an under qualified fill in.
It was indeed a unique opportunity, for a pastoral artist to fill in as the competing image of the season.  Some would offer this as another proof of their suspicion of my pastoral qualifications.  That is just fine I guess, I don't really know.  What I do know is this;  I saw hope that day, and more importantly the undeniable quest for hope, the longing for it, even in the form of a guy in a red suit.  In the end, it was me, dressed in red, who when asked "Santa, will you pray for me?", was able to confidently and quite unexpectedly, grant their wish.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Watch this

I'm having a "never saw this coming" moment...actually several of them seemingly coming in waves.  There are moments in everyone's life that, if you could have stepped outside of your stream and looked in on yourself, should have been quite obvious.  The reality is that few are able to step out of the flow that is rapidly ushering us through life, so every once in awhile we come face to face with those moments.  Our lives flowed fairly nicely through Thanksgiving only to land us on the doorstep of Advent where we encountered an obvious reality that had not yet clearly presented itself.  All of a sudden Joanne and I were struck with a reflection that this year, for the first time in 22 years of pastoral artistry, we are not leading others on a journey towards the birth of Christ.  Simply put, we have no church.  For me there is no wrestling with the birth narratives, praying and being led to extract new and timely hope to people clinging to it.  For Joanne, there is no wrestling with music and musicians, praying and being led to extract opportunities to engage the manger in new and fresh ways.
A bit of insider information for you ... This time of the year, for us and countless other pastoral and worshipful types, is the highlight in a year of chasing backside glimpses of God.  For us, for 4 weeks, if we slowed down for it, which we often did, it was as if God paused momentarily, looked back towards us and said "watch this".  Light was brought forth, both figuratively and literally, and we had a front row seat.
This year has all of a sudden become so much different...not bad, but different.  Past years we were spoiled with captive audiences and faithful friends who journeyed alongside of us.  This season our congregation is a new and busy neighborhood.  Our "audience" is, by and large, captive only to their smart phones and head phones.  Our challenge is not figuring out how to light a building.  Our challenge is figuring out how to light a neighborhood ... From the homeless and the alcoholic to the privileged and the workaholic... So many walking in darkness, and they aren't much impressed by my ability to draw fresh meaning from a

story of shepherds.  They do, however, need to see the hope and the light of the manger reflected into their own settings.  So this year, it's Christmas and a church without walls.  We can do this. We can do different.  God can still say "watch this"... and I have a feeling that He will.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Perception

I'm sitting with a new view... This morning I have the Space Needle, a Tesla dealership, and 3 industrial cranes as a backdrop to the stream of amazonians filing by.  I'm not judging, as this morning I could be perceived as one of them...in fact I was by the barista crafting my drink.  I can quite easily blend in and join their ranks, set apart from the other groups who comprise a good deal of the neighborhood.  From my window seat I can watch throngs of "badge people" passing by throngs of "orange vests" passing by "cart pushers".  If one had the desire, these groups could easily be defined in these terms...this neighborhood perhaps more than any other that I've been part of.  It would be a tragic mistake though.   Much of life around here is more about perception than reality.  Again not judging, as it is most likely that way wherever you happen to be reading this.
I was reminded of this even before leaving the house this morning as I sat watching "The Prince of Egypt " with the Princess.  Seeing the life of Moses, or at least an interpretation of it, unfold on the screen, I couldn't help comparing the Dreamworks version to the one that I grew up with in the form of Charlton Heston.  Tragically, I am of the opinion that his version has somewhat tainted a whole generation of my types who came to view him and as a result God in a certain fashion.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggestion that we base any level of theology on Dreamworks, but I do have a guess that they may have created a more "human" Moses.  He was certainly more emotional.  His was a more flawed, a more "I could relate" sort of character.  Charlton Heston was the superhero status that none of us could ever attain.  Honestly, I'm guessing that his was the image that we of the faithful followers were comfortable presenting.  It offered an image that made us, or those that came before us, look stronger than we really were and are.  Perception was more important than reality.  Reality was and is messy and sometimes unattractive.  The paradox of this, in the real world when I choose to live in it, is that what we of the faithful wish to hide as unattractive ...weakness, vulnerability, struggle, is in reality attractive to those who are honest enough to understand their life has those qualities.
This morning I remember that, though I may look quite Amazonian at the moment, I am not.  And while the perception of me as a follower of Jesus might be that as one having it all figured out ... I do not.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Just saying "thank you"

Although I have a few to choose from, it seems like my new home away from home has been found.  CafĂ© Torino, in the heart of my new neighborhood, has quickly become my "go to" spot for some strategic work moments, as well as those moments which have nothing to do with anything besides sitting in an Italian coffee shop contemplating their offering of classes in Italian.  I'm as grateful for the provision of this place as I am for their skill in caramel latte's.  From here I can literally look upon our new residence and, this afternoon, I can look upon the latest gift provided once again by God's grace and the generosity of amazing people who choose to follow his lead.  Parked outside the window is our exit strategy from the world of Zip Car.  In other words we, after more than 18 months spent in our mass transportation odyssey, are back to the world of car ownership.  Not only is it a wonderful vehicle, the best part of it is that we didn't have to go through the usual car buying routine.  In fact we didn't have to buy it at all.  It is a gift from a friend of our mission here in South Lake Union.  Grateful doesn't seem to cover how we feel right at this moment.  It doesn't really cover the entirety of what has transpired over the past 10 days.  It seems, as I look back, that gratitude can apply to joy and blessing, but it also is possible to see it in the midst of pain and trauma.  In fact if it wasn't for the latter, I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't have been experiencing the former. 
Sometimes I need to be hit on the head, literally it would seem, to take in all that God has in store for us.  A little more than a week ago, after a cheap shot by an industrial dumpster, I ended up in the ER with a head injury.  It could have been, actually should have been, much more serious than it was.  In the end I came home with staples in my head and a new example of what happens when one is an idiot.  A few days later, the well meant and well timed question from a member of our group "hey would you guys like a car?" was put in front of me.  In normal circumstances I'm pretty sure that the acceptance of a gift of that magnitude would have been nearly impossible for us.  However, the memory of the panic over how one would get to an ER, while bleeding profusely from the head, without personal transportation was still fresh in our minds.  Zip Car came through for us in that instance, but then the added concern for bleeding in a car not our own still lingered long after.  That scenario had never occurred to me, nor had the scenario my wife possibly having to transport me to a hospital at night in an emergency situation.  Those all factored in, and without even knowing what the vehicle was, we humbly accepted the gift eagerly offered.  Another dear friend encouraged us to just say "thank you".  So we did. I'm not going to elaborate here on the vehicle, save to say that it's not your average used car and it only adds to our amazement at how God works in the hearts of people who understand that their stuff is merely God's stuff entrusted to them to be put to best use.  Grateful doesn't nearly cover it.
The lesson here, in my humble opinion is simply this.  Say "thank you" and accept what comes your way.  Don't be resistant. Experience gratitude.  If it becomes too difficult a task for you, just pay it forward.  Don't be the one needing to be knocked upside the head.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Searching and 50 years ...

A few weeks ago, my gorgeous wife and I spent a wonderful Northwest Summer day celebrating our
29th anniversary.  In a few days I will celebrate the day that my AARP card mailings have been seeking to validate...otherwise known as a half of a century of life on this planet.  If you are a friend or have read anything from me lately you also know that last month ended 13+ years of serving a wonderful community of faith because 3 days ago we began the journey of nurturing a new one into existence.  10 days from now we move from our home (75 years old,4 bedrooms and a yard) of 12 years to a townhouse (1 month old, 2 bedrooms and a sidewalk).  Whether you can keep up on all of the math or not, you must be able to sense a climate of change in our life. 
As my wife and I have reflected on all of this during a number of happy hours recently, one thing continues to resonate with us.  The only thing predictable about our journey is that it tends to be very unpredictable.  We are both alright with that, the planner in me and the seat of your pants in her.  If you don't stop to take it all in once in awhile, you could virtually miss it all...or at least much of the important parts.
In my pastoral artist role over the years, one continuing theme seems to span nearly everyone that I encounter, young or not, nice house or not, employed or not, married or not.  The theme is searching.  We who consider ourselves to be followers of Jesus, if we are not careful, can tend to look at others who are not as the ones "searching" or "lost".  More often than not its denial, destructive, or just plain crap.  My experience is that ALL of us are searching or lost to some degree.  Failed and flailing more often than we care to admit. 
As I look forward and back, past, present, and future I can see it in my own life.  The road to recovery begins with acknowledgment so I'll begin by acknowledging that I am always searching.  The difference, over the years, has become what I am searching for.  Its not hope, love, or meaning.  Those I have found through Jesus, my wife and my family, along with an assortment of characters who have come, gone, or remained in my story.  What defines my searching always seems to be the idea of living life itself, with everything that it offers.  When my wife and I look back on our life to date and contemplate the days before us, we are in total agreement that something that can never be said about us is that we didn't live life with everything that we have.  I am satisfied with that.  As 50 approaches, I am looking forward to far more than an AARP discount.  I am looking forward to living the next decade with more abundance that even these past ones.  It might just take me a bit longer to get going or a bit longer to recover...but I'm going to do it.  We are going to do it.  Living life more abundantly is still searching to some degree...but its in the right direction.  Ironically (or not) the one we follow is the one who has promised it to us.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Mirror numbering

Depending on the layout of the city, town, or rural roads that mark the place of your inhabitance, you may have experienced the system of what I have come to term "mirror numbering".  I'm sure there is probably a more technical term given to it by some traffic engineer...I've just never bothered to investigate .  As is the case in many other situations, I prefer to come up with my own metaphor that explains it.  Mirror numbering is simply the method of having street address numbers proceed in opposite directions from a specific point of origin.  In other words, 1st avenue north and 1st avenue south both originate in one point and there is a 100 block on either side of that point.  As you progress to the middle from either direction you are moving towards zero and at the meeting point you begin to again move away from zero without even changing the direction that you were originally heading.  I have discovered this phenomenon to be true even within some life journey's and the process of change.
This has come to be our reality these past several weeks.  I find myself back in the100 blocks of life as we are only 3 days away from the completion of more than 13 years of ministry in this setting.  At the end of 3 days we will be back to the point of origin on this road we've been on for so long.  On the 4th day I will wake up and be once again at 100 heading in a new direction.
Thinking back over this time I realize that I've missed a number of blocks along the way.  I don't mean that I didn't experience them.  What I mean is that I have a hard time recalling them.  Many are quite unforgettable, but some I passed by because I wasn't really paying attention.  We live a block off of a main thoroughfare in our neighborhood.  For 13 years we've traveled up and down, both directions, sometimes multiple times a day.  I thought that I had seen everything there was to see....until we gave up automobile entitlement more than a year ago and began to rely on our original mode of transportation ... Feet.  Now I can honestly say that not a day goes by that I don't see something different or changed or otherwise unnoticed.
If I take a bigger view of things...a google earth view... I can see that the journey began to wind towards the center from the day it began.  That's the way it is.  That's the way it is for all of us.  I just missed enough of the numbers along the way to miss the progression.  Let me offer this bit of insight from someone who now walks a decent part of my life.  Those numbers are winding down for many of us.  At some point, you will, just as we have, reach a point of origin in whatever circumstance, good or bad, that you find yourself in and will then begin to head in a different direction...same journey of life, just different.  Let me caution you... Those numbers are there for a reason.  Slow down enough to take note of them...walk if you have to.  Stop at a bench, sit down and take it all in.  Chances are that they've prepared you for the new direction, or at least imparted some wisdom.  Enjoy the journey.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Fashion ... Northwest style

It seems that I have been blessed to live in a place that considers exercise clothing to be appropriate fashion for the rest of daily living.  I'm not sure when this became acceptable but I'm guessing that it was around the same time that underwear became a statement.  I want all to know that I would never claim to be any kind of authority in fashion, but I do recognize poor taste and bad choices when I see it.  For example, the guy grabbing his two extra hot americano's who is obviously not running, yet wearing his running shorts tight and high.  How do I know he's not in the running mood this morning?  It was probably the tight leather jacket over a tighter top, gold chains with sandals to finish off the ensemble... All in black I might add.  Can I just say that unless you might be Johnny Cash, it is very difficult to pull this off.  This was shortly after a visit from the woman who obviously is under the impression that tights also can double as jeans when you are not heading to a hot yoga class.
I remember when "dress down Fridays " were the highlight of the work week.  Obviously the pendulum has swung violently to the other side.  Every day is a new adventure in how far we can push the envelope the other way.  I'm sure if I sit here longer I can be blessed even further, but alas, it seems like I have forgotten the socks for my sandals...so I need to be on my way.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Retreat

This morning I have been blessed by being able to sit down in a very beautiful place, which is, considering the earthly location that I call home, a very big statement indeed.  I'm in a place called Sun River, in the high deserts of central Oregon.  I'm here simply because God has blessed us with a relationship with a group who understands that retreat is healthy and sometimes there is no greater blessing that you could give to someone than a chance to retreat.
So, by virtue of their generosity, here I sit and rock in a chair on a deck looking over a golf course shadowed by the majestically snow covered Mt. Bachelor.  I'm sitting and watching the world and the golfers go by because, even though I'm a golfer, golf itself would not be a retreat.  My wife is getting spoiled by skilled hands in the spa, while I get spoiled by the evidence of God right in front of me.  A literal procession of golf carts roll by and I hardly notice for the view.  I need the reminder of the view before me.  Its the one that reminds me that he who began this, the creator of the view, is the same he who is with me today and next week and next year.
This is an important thing.  Once again I sit in the early months of the year with no picture of what the end months will bring.  Oh sure, none of us really knows what will transpire tomorrow and next week and next year, but lets be honest and admit that we all have at least submitted our own picture of it.  We've placed our order on our preferred future.  We imagine the end and then we plan the means to get there.  It's our means of security and comfort.  Once again, but for the first time in a long while, I have no picture.  When I look to the end of the year, its only blank.  Don't weep for me, I have chosen, we have chosen, to step into a blank canvas.  These few sentences are not a lament, they are a longing.
My discomfort without the plan has nothing to do with Gods ability to reveal one, it has to do with years of relying on my own.  I've relied on my own long enough that I have begun to imagine it as reality, and, because of my role as a pastoral artist, I have believed it to be pre-ordained.  The danger is this is that, when you step away from your own, you can get anxious.  It's the same anxiousness that comes when you sail your boat to the initial point where you loose sight of land and all landmarks...and for a moment you forget that you have a compass, and bearings, and maps.  But then the realization comes like a warm blanket in the cold, and assurance and confidence arrive once more.
My longing comes for that point.  The point where I remember that I have a compass.  I have a map, and I long for the relationship with the map maker.  He's the one who set this mountain before me to remind me that he held the past and he holds the future.  I needed a retreat to remind me and I needed the generosity of a group to provide it.  And I need to remember that a year ago this was not on my canvas, and yet here it is.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

By faith ?

Last week I was reading through a passage in the book of books that I'm sure was meant to be encouraging but, can I say this, it just wasn't....to me anyway.  Each phrase mentioned a great hero of the faith, in olden days, who did something incredible...at least incredible enough to be written in a book thousands of years old.  They all were involved in different things but each had one thing in common.  Each person was said to have embarked on their journey to immortality " by faith".  That was the only thing ascribed to them.  "By faith" they all wandered away from typical and into the pages of the best selling book of all time.  I've heard this passage taught in many, many contexts.  I've taught it myself.  In each instance, including my own, the implication was that "they did it so why not you?".  Just turn on your " by faith" switch, hike up your pants and get moving.  Apparently all one needs to break out of a typical life, a typical faith, a typical story, is that the "by faith" switch is cosmically activated and away you go.  It should be encouraging I guess, but I've come to believe that it's a simplistic load of crap.  We read in one sentence about one person in one moment in one decision, arguably inspired "by faith", who moved in one direction that ultimately led them to biblical stardom.  What we don't read is the next moment, and the next person to whom the message was conveyed ... usually the wives, and the next day, and month, and year after that.  We get a very simplistic look at a very long and complicated, everyday, wrestling with God, family, friends, and faith that eventually led each of them to the destination at the end of that single sentence.  Many of us know in our hearts that this is true.  We know because, although our stories may never be recorded, we have experienced a "by faith" moment in time.  Some of us have even been able to hang with it through the rest of the journey.  Some of us have not.  Some of us have walked the rocks to see the mountain view.  Some have not yet left base camp.  I, for one, can tell you that the "by faith" move is actually, in a bizarre way, the easy part of the journey.  The real stuff is the everyday wrestling along the way.  It is also the most rewarding stuff, if you survive it.   There is a heresy that those of my faith can be guilty of committing if we are not careful, and open, and transparent.  We can communicate to unsuspecting travelers that the journey is as easy as finding the right "switch", and that its a one sentence journey.  That doesn't convey reality.  It doesn't account for those lost on the road.  It doesn't  explain those gained along the journey either.   It doesn't account for the scars and the healing. It leaves no room for the brokenness and doubts.   It is not honest and it is also why so many who are searching still find it wanting.  A life lived "by faith" is so much more than a sentence.  It's an entire story and all that goes with it

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

On writing and living

I came down to visit an old friend this morning.  My honey is spending some time with a friend on the East coast this week during Spring break...and by East Coast Spring Break I'm not referring to Panama City or any sort of beach like destination.  I, however, am at the beach; my friend being my Starbucks hangout of former days.  The sun is out and glowing a faint orange on the snow caps and the ambitious ones are on bikes or on foot.  I wasn't intending to write anything this morning...just going to hang for some early coffee before entering the realm of office, work and all things pastoral.  It's pretty unavoidable though, the writing I mean, when you are sitting as a spectator before a sight like this.  It makes me feel better in the days when my better half is not around.  It makes me, even though I fight it, not want to be a spectator.  I see the runners pacing themselves along the sea wall.  I see the cyclists optimistically pumping their way downtown.  I even see a different level of freedom in the dogs who are privileged to wander the shore than I see in the ones walking the sidewalk in front of my house.
A hero of mine, Donald Miller, believes that the best stories are those that are planned.  There is a deep part of me that understands this.  It is the part within me that sees a runner and puts an ancient memory into my leg muscles of days gone by when running was actually not a spectator sport for me.  It is the familiarity of picking up a fly rod after decades of not and feeling it run through my forearms .  It is the gazing that I was doing yesterday at my, still wintered, bike and running through the mental checklist of Spring time prep that I just want to do.  These days, this understanding of story and the desire to be active in mine can too easily be countered by age...either my own feeling of it or others felt need to point it out.  It seems that the more days that pass, the more effort it takes to step back into my story...much more than it used to anyway.  I have been blogging on this site for years now, long enough to be able to look back fondly and remember moments when I was in mine.  I can also see, in some old posts, familiar echoes of longing to be.
There is good news in all of this though, and it is directly related to my stop by an old friend this morning.  It may take more effort to get in to the story than it used to, but with only a little guidance and some inspiration along the way, it takes a lot more effort to get me back out.  Within the familiar posts and this familiar view, I can see both sides of the story; the one reading and the one writing, the one planning and the one watching.  There is no comparison.  My wish, prayer, and blessing for you today is that you will engage your story and write it for all its worth.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

High maintenance

In the place where most of my writing takes place lately, I have a ring side seat to listen in on the various ways that people want their coffee prepared.  Two words generally come to mind each and every morning that I sit here.  "High maintenance".  I mean really, who came up with the thousands of variations of drink/flavor/milk/temp options?  And how many tries does it take the average person to come up with a 3 minute spiel for a single order?  And what did we possibly do before it was discovered that when one was finished smoking hemp, one could actually drink it as milk?  How do you milk a hemp plant?  Maybe that was in one of the out takes from "Meet the Parents".  The longer that I sit here, the more I admire the baristas who juggle these orders from people who obviously desperately need them.  I feel very boring when I can walk in and know that my drink can come lovingly without me even speaking it.  Not only that, they know what drink that I'm needing merely by the time of day that I'm walking in.  I'm so glad that I'm not high maintenance.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Setting spam filters

So yesterday my wife started a new 2 year lockdown with Sprint by getting a new phone.  She has now joined me in the land of iPhone.  It seemed like a logical step considering her love affair with her iPad.  Anyway...we really only intended to "look" at new phone options in the midst of a walk past our neighborhood Sprint portal.  We were going to look, leave, consider, return, purchase.  However, in communicating her desire to spend literally nearly nothing on this exchange due to the near mortgage cost of her current but disappointing EVO, the customer service rep made a brilliantly calculated move.  He offered her the iPhone (remember the iPad ) for free.  Since I'm the only one alive who would jump at that quicker than she,  needless to say, he had her at free.  Remember that I have already stated that we were not prepared to actually grab a new phone...we were on a walk after all... And if you realized my age, you'd appreciate how important that it was to continue on it.  So we did.... And we left the discarded EVO to have its worth transferred to the new phone.  We came back almost an hour later and it was still in transfer mode.  I fact it still had 30 minutes to go.  So I'm fairly technical and I noticed, upon spying on the transfer setup that the delay was being caused by the incredibly bizarre amount of images being transferred.  I add bizarre because she rarely uses the phone for any sort of images.  She rarely takes photos, even more rarely takes video, and has practically never downloaded anything.  Imagine my surprise when, upon finally receiving and examining the phone, we discovered nearly 2000 images.  Only about 150 of them originated with her efforts.  The rest were a phone version of spam.  Her phone was nearly overrun with it.  For months she has been getting low or no available space warnings.  Somewhere along the course of the past two years, various sources have felt the right to dump crap into her source of life and communication.
So it occurred to me that, ultimately, people are somewhere behind the spam in technological circles, just as they are in relational circles.  Nearly every day we are exposed to others "spamming" of our lives...intentional or not.  People, especially hurting people, have a way and or need to dump on others lives.  It is just the way it is.  All of us have done it, all of us have had it done to us.  Some of us, short of a supernatural spiritual intervention are never going to stop.  Seem of us, short of the same intervention, are not going to be able to take anymore.  It acts the same within us as it does on our technical devices. It clogs our life, it slows us down, it takes up all available resources.  We could choose drastic relational choices.  Many people have.  We can run away.  We can self medicate.  We can lash out.  Or just maybe we can learn from the tech companies in their battles to neutralize spam. We can set filters.  We can set limits.  They would look different in every life certainly.  Here are some that I have found helpful in a profession where spam can indeed be a hazard:

"Limit your exposure" ... You know what and who can tend to clog your life...set boundaries to how much and how many you can be exposed to and keep a reasonable level of sanity.  You may need to literally stay away from some sources during certain rhythms of your life...or at least literally schedule the blocks of exposure...and I do mean appointment style, and not open ended appointments.

"Watch your energy (storage) capacity".  Make sure that your personal life has a balance between people who give and people who take.  This will give you what you need to listen and be present in the lives of people who need you to be there.

"Do not open".  Be aware of the relationships that you have and the hot buttons that cause a spam dump.  Listen more than you speak. Relational spammers tend to thrive on open channels and will turn every conversation that you initiate or elaborate on into their issue (read ... Never ending)

"Engage a professional" when necessary... Either for yourself or the spammer.  I am pretty tech knowledgeable but even had I known the extent of the crap in my wife's phone, I would have gone right into the store to have a tech deal with the issue.  Ironically, the longer that I've been a pastor, the more aware I am that I don't know a great deal about "pastoring" people in a great deal of their situations.  I am very quick to refer to the professionals.  It is best for those I am pastoring, and its best for me.  It leaves me with the energy to deal with the things I can and need to deal with.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Same journey, next chapter


"One of the hazards of being a pastor is that you are continually exposed to Gods prompting and movement.  It may be through the constant evaluation of His word, through sermons offered and received.  It might be through prayers offered and answered.  It might be through interaction with people whose paths you cross.  It may be a combination of them all.  Joanne and I have discovered in our lives that these promptings can begin as whispers, but eventually can become a relentless pushing that becomes difficult to ignore.  The process has been the same every time we've been led in our ministry lives.  It's how I ended up leaving an engineering career to pursue ministry.  It's how we landed at a younger church in New York.  It's how we ended up at an older church in West Seattle.  Over the course of 24 years we've learned what it feels like to be called.  It is important for you to know that Pastors are not immune to God's word.  It has the same power to prompt those of us who teach it as it does for those who hear it....."
This is how I began our announcement to my faith community this past Sunday that, because of a series of promptings,  Joanne and I will be moving at the end of Summer into the neighborhood that we in Seattle know as South Lake Union in order to plant a new church.  I was grateful to be able to finally invite this incredible community into the journey that we have been walking with only a very few individuals these past few months.  I will say that, although we were very optimistic about what the reaction to this news might be, we were and continue to be overwhelmed by the love, support, encouragement and excitement offered by the people that we've journeyed through life with for more than a decade.  While sorrowful to a point, I am proud to serve with a community that has overwhelmingly received this news as one more opportunity that they/we can be  actively and missionally followers of Jesus who see the larger kingdom before our personal ones.  A body of people, faithfully willing to follow Christ with attitudes such as this will accomplish much for the kingdom.  In fact, Jesus statement to Peter about the Church that "the gates of hell will not prevail against it" is most appropriate to this group.  I am honored to have been considered a pastor to this group.  I cherish the next months that we have and I covet the excitement, encouragement, and prayers for a new journey and most importantly for people that we don't even know for whom we are starting this next chapter.  It will and does pull at our hearts to know that we will not be personally involved in the great future of our current community, but I am proud to have part of the leading up to the next great opportunity here.  Every bit of our life here prepared us for what God already knew would be the great need there.  Every journey is comprised of steps, one after the other.  The only time the journey stops is when we quit stepping out. 
 

Friday, March 29, 2013

the truth about Good Friday

Today for me, along with those who share my faith, is known as Good Friday.  I must confess that for a good deal of my growing up years I was mystified by why this was called Good Friday.  I mean really...from Jesus' perspective on a cross it couldn't have been "good" could it?  It was about death and dying.  I always wondered why this day wasn't known as "Black Friday" instead of the day after Thanksgiving.  Shouldn't Easter Sunday have been named "Good Sunday"?  The only thing that I could possibly see as "good" about it was that, in my day, it was a holiday from School.  Now in these days of tolerance and equal time and all, the most that even Christian schools can seem to get away with is a half day off.  I guess its really a wonder, with this depth of understanding, that I ever entered into the field of pastoral artistry.  Fortunately I have come to see the relevance of the "good" in Good Friday.  The "good" is actually not about Jesus, but about what this event means to us.  It's good news because this very sacrificial act  stands in the place of our own inability to live up to the holiness and purity that God originally intended for us. It's good news because he died for my sin and shortcomings so that I can live free from them in community with a Holy God.   It's good news because he hung on the cross at all.  After all, him being the son of God and all, and within the great mystery of our faith he was/is God, he did not have to endure the events of the original Good Friday.  He could have called down angels, he could have come down from the cross, he could have not taken up the cup of suffering in the first place. He proved that he didn't have to just by the fact that on Sunday he rose, rolled away the stone, and went for a walk with his friends.  I can't hope to explain it all, nor would I want to, even in my role as a pastoral artist. 
I do think however that I understand the motivation...the mindset... the ability to take on this unthinkable task when he obviously could have done it another way.  In the book of Philippians we learn about this Jesus that although he was God, he didn't consider that to be something to hold on to, in light of the needs of his creation.  So he "incarnated" himself.  He became flesh and blood and walked the very earth that he created.  In short, he didn't hold on to the entitlement that one could argue was certainly his to hold.  Entitlement .... its a pretty big word that basically means, I deserve it, I've earned it, its owed to me.  Interesting.... he surrendered entitlement on behalf of and to live among and die for a creation that certainly has a tendency to wear our own entitlement like a badge.
One small example for us to consider.  I live in Seattle, where there are more dogs than children.  Now don't get me wrong...I love dogs...I've been a dog owner.  But in this part of the world, besides bicyclists, dog owners can come across as some of the most "entitled" people on the planet.  The other day I was chatting with a guy who manages what are considered to be "luxury" apartments.  Its a place that actually welcomes dogs into their community...and consequently dog owners.  This guy was sharing with me that there are actually people who live there who let their dogs relieve themselves anywhere they wish...hallways, elevators, etc.  This despite the fact that there are stations placed strategically around the complex with bags intended for owners to use to pick up after their four legged children.  Now I know what its like to be out with your dog and forgot the bag and well, a dogs gonna do what a dogs gonna do.  That's not the case here.  You don't even have to buy your own.   And yet...they cannot even be bothered.  So the maintenance crew, who don't have dogs at this complex mind you because they probably couldn't afford the rent, has the task of cleaning up after the "entitled" ones. 
Here's the thing that I think we have such a hard time comprehending about this God who demonstrated his love  for us and this Jesus loving us enough to die for us thing.  Its all about entitlement.  We don't get it because we have such a hard time dropping ours.  Personally I know that grace covers over everything and that the love of Jesus embraces us all.  It's there and its offered, but we have to open ourselves up to the understanding that, although its there and its real, its not an entitlement.  Its grace...its undeserved.  Personally I have a hard time imagining that anyone who lets their dog take a dump in an apartment building can ever let go of their entitlement and receive grace.  Fortunately that's not my call....that's why its called Good Friday.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Zipping through life

So it's been nearly a year today since we've surrendered our "God given" right to owning a vehicle that we could call our own.  If you weren't aware, the selling of our SUV and a subsequent blown head gasket on our econo car led us to the place of considering our ability to really urbanize our lives and walk, literally, away from car ownership for an undetermined  amount of time.  It was the grand experiment.  Quite honestly I thought that it would last a few months, and most certainly not beyond the rains of a Seattle winter.  It's been a year now and, although nothing is ever certain, I don't see a vehicle anytime in the foreseeable future.
We can walk to most anything.  We zip around in Zip cars when necessary, we recently joined the smart car fleet from Car2go, and if needed, Enterprise is always ready to pick us up.  All of this adds up to more intentional trips and far less cost.  When we began this experiment, there were many questions that we had to answer about how all of this all might work.   At the one year mark, I can honestly say that we've answered pretty much all of them.   The only question, for most people anyway, that's never been answered is "Why?".  Why would we "choose" this?  The reactions have been mixed.  It seems as if it has stretched from admiration all the way to pity.  Some honestly wish that they could break the chains of bondage to their vehicles while others seem to think that we are homeless.  It has even been implied that its our God given right to own a car.
The best answer that I can give as to why we would "live this way" is that its because we can.  I would never impose or expect this way of life from anyone else.  It's our choice.  In the land of tolerance and choice, it is very interesting to discover which choices really make people uncomfortable.  Where, in other socio-cultural choices one would be tempted to say " well I would never choose that but who am I to judge", not so much with this one.  A choice to abort a child would draw less attention than our choice to give up car ownership.  You may think that an extreme statement.  You wouldn't think it extreme if you lived my story.  This past year has revealed a great deal about how we can really view comfort, convenience, and the "American way".  We do this because we can.  It's just that simple.  It is stretching, but its good to be stretched.
We have been encouraged by people who tell us in secret whispers, or like Nicodemus, under the cover of darkness, that they dream of getting rid of their cars.  There is an undercurrent out there, threatening all things oil centered and convenienced based.  A secret revolution of sorts.....whatever.... We may or may not continue in this life. The choice is always there.   For the time being though, we will continue to enjoy the freedom and the ability to do something out of the ordinary, simply because we can.  It isn't the first time and will certainly, prayerfully, not be the last.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Waiting on Joy

As a pastoral artist, and more importantly as a follower of Jesus, I often find unexpected and sometimes long forgotten promises tucked away in the pages of the great Book of Books.  I admit that I don't find them as often as I'd like, and mainly because I am not exposed to them as often as I should be.  These past months though I have been in a season of searching and being more than I have been in recent memory.  I will tell you that in these seasons that I have experienced from time to time, He is faithful to deliver.  I'd often like it to be sooner than later, but I am also reminded by Gandalf that " a wizard is never late...He arrives exactly when he means to".  In the dark night of the soul as some would term it, that commentary is often not very comforting.  But comforting or not, I do believe it to be true.  In reading through some wisdom in the book of Psalms I have run across one of these hidden promises.  Psalm 30:5 promises those in trying times that "Though sorrow may last through the night, His joy comes in the morning".  Now really, who among us has not experienced trying times of some nature.  Whether its loss of a relationship, loss of employment, loss of a loved one, or a loss of our senses, we've all encountered loss.  In those times, it has been my experience unfortunately, that those who claim the faith that I hold on to, and even those who claim my profession, have a tendency to use verses like this in a cliche form.  I think that turning them into cliches is one of the greatest disservices that we could ever render on the most sacred communication ever offered to us.  Does this mean that we should "buck up" tomorrow is another day or that we should sing and dance "the sun will come out tomorrow"?  I don't think that this even plumbs the depths of the wisdom found here.  Our idea of pain and loss is that it should be taken away immediately.  Our culture screams to us that we don't deserve it, get rid of it, medicate it, deny its existence.  The wisdom of God is the recognition that it in fact is real...pain and loss I mean.  It just is.  It just happens and it's probably, to some extent, going to keep on happening.  The promise of God though is that joy is coming.  It does't promise happiness.  It doesn't even promise healing.  It is His joy within His presence.  His joy is accompanied by His presence.  The reality of it though is that it may take some time...you may need to wait on it.  You and I may be living in the midst of the night, but eventually morning comes.  When you feel abandoned and alone within your pain, remember...morning is coming.  This too shall pass.  Wait a minute, that's another cliche.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Weakness

Ok so I'll be upfront for those who know that I'm in the midst of the H2O project...I am taking the morning off from the water only consumption.  I am enjoying a special drink made with love at my home away from home known as Hotwire.  It goes along with the double chocolate donut that also probably doesn't factor into many people's view of a Lenten fasting.  I know, I know...I'm sure it's not the best example for someone leading a community of faith in this season of sacrifice.  So get it all out ... "Don't do as I do....", " practice what you preach" , " you are a leader...you have a higher level of expectation".  Yes, yes, and yes.  I've heard it all, know it all, said it all.  My penance for this infraction will be to add the amount spent twice and offer it for the sake of clean water.  It's not that I don't believe in the cause.  It's not even that I couldn't probably push through for a few more days.  It's fundamentally that I'm human and in certain moments of weakness and insecurity, formy sanity's sake, I need a healthy leveling mechanism.  You may question my definition of healthy, but considering the many alternatives offered by this world, a latte and a double chocolate donut seem fairly mundane.
But here is what I'm wondering as it sit, trying to remember to think of all that is good and right and pure.  Considering that I am in a momentary "break of the fast" for a questionable version of breakfast, I can't help but wonder what people in those parts of the world, that I am fasting on behalf of, do to center themselves as I am attempting to do this morning?  I mean really, for a parent raising children in a village without clean water, what do they do in response to whatever their weakness may be?  I want it to be understood that I believe that "weakness" is a very relative term.  In my estimation, having had the privilege of meeting and spending time among parents for which this is a constant reality, I have seen their weaknesses, in some degree,as towering above most of my strengths.  In other words, I cannot fathom the level of strength that must accompany joy in the midst of this level of suffering.
It is at least a reality check.  I have a difficult morning/day/week/year and I retreat to the comfort of lattes. Where is their retreat?  To be sure, in these villages, there is desperation beyond measure.  I've also seen their joy and contentment beyond my ability to comprehend.  We often look to them and want to relieve the suffering in whatever way is within our means.  That part I can get my head around.  I can appreciate it and contribute to it...but I have to wonder, beyond the physical needs which I do not wish to dismiss or minimize, do they have access to something that I, in all my relative wealth, have no understanding of.  Could it be that suffering is the key?  Could it be that a certain depth of suffering brings to light an understanding and an incorporating of our weakness? Within my own faith I have the opportunity to teach on what Jesus has presented as a concept of suffering, the virtues of poverty, and the idea that, contrary to American culture, it will be the meek who prevail.  It comes from my mouth and sometimes some of the words may even stick and resonate, but I have never really grasped it apparently.  I spend all of my efforts to combat it, run from it, and hide the weaknesses that I teach can actually unleash Gods power to transform not only myself but all those I encounter. And today I wonder, why would one do that?  What drives us to cover it up?  In the end, I'm embarrassed to think that, for me, a simple walk from my backyard, across a courtyard, and into a coffee shop can help me recalibrate my day.  Maybe that is my real weakness.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Good news

I'm downtown at the moment...at a Starbucks in the center of it all...Westlake Center, taking in the lunchtime flow of so many lives intersecting in one relatively small space.  I'm taking this opportunity to write before my latest observation of Lent begins tomorrow with the project known as H2O.  For the next 10 days the community of faith that I am privileged to lead has committed ourselves to not drink anything besides water and, at the end, dedicate the money saved to give clean water through our partnership with Living Water International.  Anyone wishing to join me in this can take the challenge and then donate as well through our clean water site or theirs.
We often, as a common humanity, can get behind something larger than ourselves for the greater good.  Unfortunately, it doesn't often happen naturally and we are indebted to those organizations who, by their very nature, have the greater good as their focus.  So as we begin this next challenge, I am painfully aware of the irony that a church and a pastor...and churches and pastors....need another organization or individual to remind us of our calling to the greater good of humanity.
I have been so greatly impacted during my graduate work to have heard it stated that in order to be a credible source of proclaiming what we, as people of faith, know as "the good news", we first need to address what is good news to those who we love and are concerned about.  Let me put it this way, how much good would it be to know that Jesus loves you as one of the millions suffering and dying without clean water, if no one was able to deliver to you the good news that clean water is being provided for you?  We think that they should be contented merely knowing that Jesus loves them as they die, when we have all the resources that are needed to keep them alive.
So I sit here in the midst of humanity shuffling by, mainly disconnected from each other and on their own mission, feeling like I need to get my one last taste of luxury in before beginning my "10 day sacrifice" that I didn't even think of in the first place.  It's a sobering thought.  How far off course have we drifted?  What could happen if, in the midst of the wandering souls here in the downtown rush, a greater good could be communicated to even a fraction of those with the means to be "good news".  God knows that there is plenty of need here already in the midst of homelessness and walking mental illnesses.  What if we took our headphones off long enough to hear someones story? What if we could do something more than throwing a dollar into an open guitar case to buy a burger or to blow wind into the fading sails of a wanna be rock star?  What would good news look like to those who you pass by?

Friday, February 08, 2013

Noise

I was watching a report this morning which was pointing out what may be obvious to most already; we are a culture that cannot escape noise...or will not.  It seems that even in places where there is no noise, we find creative ways to expose ourselves to it anyway.  I am old enough and private enough to not only remember the days, but to long for a return to the days when you could not be reached by phone unless you were in your own home next to a phone permanently attached to a wire.  You could not be reached in the car.  You could not be reached at the store.  You could not be reached during a quiet walk in the woods.  We are a culture of walking headphones.  I write this while Pandora is streaming through my own set.
In the community of faith that I lead, we recently had a discussion that centered around the profound effects of the ministry of Jesus, marked by both the proximity and presence that placed God himself directly into the neighborhood of humanity.  In theological terms we know this as the "Incarnation".  It is, in my opinion, the central defining difference between the faith that I hold, and all the others that humanity may hold to.  It is in reality, divine wisdom.  It changed humanity.  It changed and continues to change the trajectory of the world.   The advancement of our culture and the rising genius of the technological age is rapidly negating the ability for our humanity to experience presence any longer.  We desperately try to fill the void and the miles with cell coverage, twitter and Facebook .  We have anesthetized ourselves into believing that daycare and, better yet, nannies can fill a void in the lives of our children.  We create mobile movie theaters in our cars rather than interacting with the epic story passing us by at 60.  When we are old enough, we grab the headphones and the iPod and wander out, in proximity, without any desire or knowledge in how to engage presence.  Then as we get older, we rage against the machine which created "these kids nowadays", when, if we just took time to quiet ourselves, we would realize it was our doing...or at least our contribution.
The good news is this;  the one who created us for proximity and presence, who modeled it for us, still guides and speaks through it.  He never left, we just turned up the volume of everything else.  In the language of the oldest parts of the Book of Books, we know that the voice of God is only audible in the stillness.  It's known as the "still small voice" of God.  He's not all thunder and lightning.  He is whispers and prayers.  I know this to be true, not simply because the "bible tells me so" but also because I have experienced it, on more than one occasion.  I am embarrassed, as a pastoral artist, to admit that it doesn't happen more often, but too often I am the one doing the talking.  Too many opportunities for quiet are averted by headphones and pathetic karaoke in the car.
So after all this, here's the thing...I don't hear from God and people don't hear God in me simply because I tend to not be present...in either relationship.  If I can offer a prayer for you, today it would be this...take your headphones out.  Be still, be present.  Amen

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

more than half of me

Friday marks another beginning of the annual event in our house known as Valentines.  Many of you who know me, know what this means.  Some of you wish that you didn't.  Some of my guy friends wish that their wives didn't.  For the rest, let me just say that this isn't your grandmothers version.  I'm not talking about the once a year, flowers, chocolates and dinner reservations type of event.  I decided long ago that I didn't need FTD, Hallmark, or Yelp to drive my observation of the holiday.  This isn't meant to be judgement on the rest...it's simply a reflection of the least I can do to honor my soul mate and the best half of my life.  Simply put, our celebration goes from the 1st to the 14th.  It does include flowers, dinner, and cards.  The biggest part of it though is the daily, intentional demonstration of love and honor through little expressions and experiences that, quite honestly, are not costly at all, unless you count the investment of yourself.
Many years ago, understanding that the landslide of life was threatening to overwhelm the details and moments that hold relationships together, I was convicted that our relationship was worth more than a days concentrated investment.  If my faith in the God who modeled love was real and present, one of the most important places for this to manifest was in my marriage.  I thought back to our dating days when everyday was invested in how I could demonstrate my love.  It can come to a point in life, after you both say "I do", that we begin to think thoughts like "they know".  I don't need to buy flowers because "they know".  I don't need to express my love with cards and notes because "they know".  Knowing that they know is not a valid excuse for not showing what you feel.  Neglect is a leading cause of disintegration and one of the poorest excuses.
I knew and I know that I could and I can do better.  Everyday during these next two weeks takes an investment in creativity and thought, both to incorporate something fresh along with some old favorites that help her glimpse the tip of the iceberg of her value to me.  She is the best part of me and continues to help refine the rough spots.  We can complete each others sentences.  We hear each other when neither of us is speaking.  When we are "on" there is nothing that we cannot accomplish.
It is a smooth meshing of gears, clutch, and footwork that can make a manual transmission so sweet.
When we are not on.... Well it's a bit like teaching someone to drive stick for the first time.  Within the grinding there is still the miracle of getting there intact and surviving to drive another day.
If you know us you understand the "opposites attract" rule.  She is fun, I am not so much.  She is spontaneous, I am not so much.  She is hospitable, I'm working on it.  In fact, logic might dictate that she was the likely candidate for this ministry gig and I was an afterthought.  In fact, early on anyway, that was the impression from some.  The truth is that, if her outward people oriented disposition led the way we would not be a ministry in Seattle.  We would not have been in ministry in New York.  In fact, we would not be in ministry at all.  The fact that we are is a testament to her openness to God, faith in me, and willingness to follow.  The strength of my ministry originates in the same places.  It may sound cliche to state that without her I would not be half the man that I am, but it is undeniably fact.  So the next two weeks is dedicated to unapologetically showing her how much that I value her. Happy Valentines month!


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ghost writing

So last week I had the privilege of being in the enchanting realm of the mouse.  While my Seattle friends were suffering  through some particularly frigid temperatures, I was tagging along with my wife at her conference in the wonderful world of Disney.  It's a tough life, but occasionally I can bear the burden.  Anyway, it afforded me the opportunity to take part in some very insightful and sometimes inspirational people watching.... Sometimes not so inspirational.
One of the sadder trends that I've observed over the years is one facilitated by the tsunami of social media.  In a place that almost screams presence, many are not at all...present I mean.  In their desire to be connected to their circles, they become disconnected to their surroundings.  I often wonder how they are tweeting and facebooking the experiences that they are not actually taking part in.  This year, in particular, I was witness to, in my opinion, a great casualty of living your life online.  This event took place during the famed Magic Kingdom parade.  If you've never been to one, you may not understand this, but it is exceedingly popular and almost a must for a complete experience during a day at Disney.  Some people can actually be quite rabid and unreasonable in their desire to get the perfect viewing spot.  For each and every parade the Disney dignitaries offer the chance for the best seats in the house to a fortunate family, couple, group, whatever, you get the picture.  These seats are at the very front of the parade in the grand marshalls vehicle.  If the stars are aligned for you and you are chosen for this honor, there is only one responsibility.  You smile and wave.  That's all, smile and wave.  In each and every Disney parade that I have ever been witness to this is exactly what I have seen...smiling and waving at the thousands who are smiling and waving back at you.  Tragically, not this day.  On this particular day last week I watched, sadly, the grand marshalls car, complete with the required family, winding its way along the parade route.  From my vantage point I could see quite a distance in both directions.  I wished that I couldn't.  In the car sat a family of four, excitedly smiling and waving...or at least three of them were.  The mom had her head down, intently, no almost longingly, gazing at her "not so smart" phone....texting.  Are you kidding me?  Unfortunately I am not.  The experience of a lifetime and instead of living it, she was texting that which should couldn't possibly have known...yet it was right there for her.
It left me with this very profound question, or at least I think that it is.  How many of us are living life in this way?  How many of us are letting ghost writers craft our story for us?  How many counterfeits are walking around tweeting that which they are not even subject to because their gaze is down and not forward?  In an informal study conducted at Disney by my wife and I, it was our observation that the ratio of women to men experiencing the parks through social media and text were easily 10 to 1.  Don't kill the messenger, but I think that it says something about a culture in which even the biggest ignoramus would agree that women are more relational than men.  In other words, those most hungry for relationship were ignoring the very people that they could relate to.   It tells me that, for whatever reason, they are, in a phrase, " looking for love in all the wrong places".  Living your life online is a sign that its not being lived in real time.  I will leave it to the sociologists to figure that one out.
As for me, since I live in a glass house, I can't afford to throw stones.  I have had my share of ghost writing represented within my own life...times when I'd rather live through someone else than write
it first hand.
As a pastoral artist I have many conversations with people disillusioned with the God that I know because of the experiences of others.  Rather than embark on their own journey of discovery, they, for various reasons, have chosen to live vicariously through the spiritual tweets of others.  If this happens to speak to you, let me be an encouragement when I tell you that the parade is set before us.  In fact we are in the midst of it.  You have two choices.  You can put your head down or lift it high and enjoy the moment.  Don't rely on the words of others to write your story...chances are they've never seen the celebration.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Breath

It's a frosty clear winter morning here in the great Northwest...the kind of morning
that really separates those native to Seattle and those from all points elsewhere.  The natives, while uncomfortable, are drawn to the elusive sight of the sun like moths to a flame.  Those from sunny points south, not at all impressed by the sunlight, have all but disappeared under the fleece and down filled jackets, shivering like their hairless dogs that share the same attire.  Meanwhile, those of us from places that experience real winter for significant parts of the calendar wander with wistful memories of days past in former lives, remembering fondly the otherwise bite of sub freezing air entering our lungs.  In other words, we are enjoying these days in an auld Lang syne kind of way.  Being from the snow belt of upstate New York, I represent the latter view.
One sign of the cold that I can't get enough of is watching my own breath leave its place of warmth to react quite dramatically in a cloud of manufactured smoke.  I still remember the imagination of my younger days that gave the seemingly cool illusion of smoking way before I was old enough.  Now that I'm beyond old enough, and entirely too cheap to take up smoking, I confess to still appreciating the illusion.  Beyond that bit of ridiculousness though, I am reminded every time I see these wisps that there are real people behind them...literal souls that inhale and exhale.  Individuals trudging through cold mornings each leave their own individuals trails, there for a moment and then gone again, waiting for the next exhale.  When individuals blend into groups, their wisps intertwine like the lives that are represented in them, each breath an individual story waiting to be shared and then offered up to the giver of breath.  These wisps are stories, mixed, mingled, and then disappearing again after a time.
In these moments I am reminded that I am as responsible for my own interaction as I am for my own exhaling.  As my own wisp interacts with another, so does my life...and I am responsible for that, for better or worse.  It reminds me, if I let it, that with the same effort it takes me to exhale, I can influence another for good or for bad.  I can be reminded, if I take the time, that the exhale of another represents the soul of another created in the image of the breath giver.  I can, within the same wisp, represent the sun to a native of this place or the cold and dark to those from points south.  Watching ones breath can be a reminder that there is a story behind each one...and even a brief exchange of words can alter a story long after the wisps disappear.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

On writing a new page

Jaywalked my way across the street to Red Cup this morning because I was in more of a hurry than usual.  I got up late....well it was late for me anyway, later than I had planned...and we all know what the plan means to me.  The plan is everything.  I love it when a plan comes together...and consequently, when it doesn't, I can get desperate.  It can force me to jaywalk.  Mine is once again a do as I say, not as I do kind of day.  It's a bit ironic since I had "planned" to get up earlier because I had "planned" to write something about what I had "planned" to pursue this coming year.  So I'm laughing at the irony...seriously I'm laughing here, just me and my americano.  For those of you not versed in coffee culture, that's a drink, not some US tourist in Latin America.
One of my "plans" for 2013 is actually to change my drink of choice over to these.  It's better for my waistline.  It's better for my cholesterol.  Is better for my wallet.  Americano straight up in 2013.  I say that as the steam from mine this morning is fogging up my glasses, reminding me that Father Time stopped by yesterday to collect another year and point me towards this one.  I'm convinced now, at the beginning of this one, maybe more than ever before, that my life is indeed a story.  Each year is a chapter and everyday is a page.  Someone much wiser than I am has put it in terms of God as the author and we are the characters.  I'm not so sure.  I do think that God has a story " in mind".  I've come to believe now though that I am more the author of my story.  Before I'm given up as an agnostic bordering on humanist, let me complete my thought.  I'm of the opinion (emphasis opinion) that I'm the author, but He (emphasis on HE) is the editor...and beyond that he's quite possibly the entire publishing committee.  I know that I will now be forever be written off by my Calvinist friends...that's ok, it was probably already destined to be that way.
Here's the point though, and there is one.  I as the author, have a page to offer each and everyday.  I, as was the case with the authors of old, also have been granted an eraser.  I can begin again.  This morning when my first draft didn't cut it, I had the thought, for the first time in a long time, to grab the eraser and begin again.  If my theory holds true, every year a chapter and every day a page, I can afford the time to erase.  Lets face it...the main obstacle to all of our resolutions for the new year is the imminent day that we fail to keep them.  The story is the goal, not the page, and sometimes not even the chapters.  The story doesn't resolve itself in a day, nor does a life.  Now don't misunderstand....I am not saying that days don't matter, and choices that make up the day don't matter.  I'm simply saying that its quite possible that you could erase and begin again on your quest to a better story.  It's better than giving up  on the whole book.  I can take heart in knowing that, although my writing may have flaws, I do have an editor who has the ability to make it a best seller.