Monday, October 19, 2015

Building

As someone who has been given a certain mechanical aptitude along with the accompanying joy of building things, living in this neighborhood can sometimes be a virtual playground for my imagination.  In the midst of the expected annoyance of noise, dust, and traffic diversions rises a sense of wonder and amazement of watching buildings from 7 to 40 stories high rise on nearly every corner of my neighborhood ... many at the same time.  Living here and daily walking these streets I have had the privilege of watching these steel and glass giants rise from deep holes formed by concrete and rebar.  Like a time-lapse video, this process spans the course of months until, before you realize what you're really seeing, the finishing touches are being put on and those who have crawled over, under, and inside these structures pack their lunch and tool boxes and move on to another corner and another reclamation of abandoned space.  In recent days, as I've paused at the various intersections to take in the various phases of this neighborhood rising, I was reminded that we live in a part of the world that is waiting for "the big one".  The earthquake of all earthquakes.  They say it's not a matter of if, its a matter of when.  It occurred to me that in a matter of minutes, all this that has been literally years in the making will be, at the very least, structurally compromised if not destroyed.  It's a sobering thought, and one that I'm sure the steel workers 14 stories above me would choose not to think about.  I have also been in enough meetings with the developers of some of these projects to know that, structurally speaking, these buildings have been designed to withstand some tremendous shaking.   They may sustain significant cosmetic damage, but their basic foundational structure has been designed and built to hold up under unthinkable stress. 
I know enough about structural design to know that this is because the engineers and architects have invested an incredible amount of time, effort, and resources to insure that the foundation will stand under pressure.  It's not that the cosmetics of the building are not important.  It's just that they are not life and death.  Think about it ... How tragic that, if it were the other way around, where all the time effort and resources went into how cool and put together the building appeared, at the expense of structural integrity, a big stiff wind could reduce the effort into a pile of rubble. 
The tragedy in all of it is just this;  we understand this in a construction sense yet we don't seem to get it in a personal sense.  I spend enough time living and breathing here in the city to realize that what would be unthinkable in creating a structure is not even given a second thought when it comes to creating a life.  We, and I'll use it in the collective sense, are quick to invest ourselves in that which doesn't have any real significance and certainly wouldn't sustain us in the midst of a personal 9.0 shaking.  At the same time we find a whole folder full of excuses when it comes to building our inner core.  When it comes to the activity and investment required to develop our spiritual foundations, our inner well being, our opportunity to build community and do good, we suddenly don't have time, have more urgent demands, or better things to do with our money.  Is it any wonder that so many have little to no ability to withstand even the small storms much less "the big one" or why the smallest shaking sends us off the deep end.  The storms and the shaking will come, we all know this.  It's not a matter of if, its a matter of when.
Jesus has a parable that addresses this ... the one where he talks about how wise is the one who builds upon rock (read "firm foundation"). The one where he says the rains come and the streams rise and the winds blow.  The pastoral artist part of me finds this tragically ironic that the builders in my neighborhood understand this far more than the rest of us.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Thoughts on Mondays

So it's Monday, and as easy as it might be to stand here as if in a hole looking up at at some insurmountable summit, I'd like to see this day instead as the beginning of a new journey.  Even as these words appear on my screen, I cannot believe that they have originated from my fingers ... Or better yet, from my mind to my fingers.  I've been programmed to curse Monday ... to see it as an interruption in the recreational pursuits of a weekend ... or the abrupt return to reality.  We act as if we ourselves were the recipients of the first walking papers that ushered Adam and Eve out of paradise and into the world of toil and unreasonable bosses.  We put our heads down and trudge up Sisyphus' hill ... knowing it's only a matter of time before the rock we are pushing flattens us.  
So I ask myself, probably because no one else cares to wonder about such things, where did this all originate? Who was the first to climb out of a warm comfy bed and mutter "ugh, Monday"?  Once upon a time, Sunday was regarded as the first day of the week.  It was so long ago that many of us have no memory of this, and I'm pretty sure that they're not teaching it in schools.  There was generally no working and though not currently en vogue, people of my faith tended to gather and worship.  
Quite possibly that's where it all began to change ... when Monday became Sunday I mean.  Before the change, Sunday's were rather uneventful.  In fact, it's my understanding,from ancient writings, that events were frowned upon.  An event could be construed as "work" which was not ok on a Sunday.  So people looked forward to get into Monday because something eventful could possibly happen I suppose ... even if that event was a conflict with an idiot boss.  Now our weekends have nothing built in to encourage us back into the adventure that a new week can hold.  Weekends are two day events with only a huge drop off at the end and then a let down.  Instead of looking at the week as a journey to take, or an adventure to live, we look at it as an obstacle to get through until the next 2 day event.  
I would like to begin this Monday with the intent to change that, beginning with my own journey.  As much as I wonder about where this view of Monday's originated, I wonder even more how people of my faith persuasion have allowed themselves to be dragged into it... how I've allowed myself to be pulled in.  I mean really, we should be the optimists and those who plunge head long into a new week will a wild wave and a call of "follow me".  Hopefully we just took advantage of the opportunity presented to us to gather and celebrate the promise of hope, the reality of grace, and the potential of a "do over".  Hopefully, upon being reminded of said promises, you became anxious and eager to live these and share these.  I know statistically, especially here in the enlightened Northwest this may seem a bit too optimistic.  Those of you who know me would not be surprised to hear that optimism is not always my first response ... Ok hardly ever, but I'm determined to change that.  I live in arguably the most apathetic place in the country to such promises.  People here are more likely to place their faith in the drudgery of Monday than the hope and adventure of Sunday.  For some unknown reason, this is where we've been called.  I'll confess to a great deal of  traditional "Monday" attitude, quite possibly even more than you'd find on the calendar, during this 2 years and counting journey.  Most of them I've  stumbled into, not even looking to get to the weekend.  I've felt challenged, I've felt punished, I've felt rolled over by the rock.  I should have felt honored.  A new week awaits and I should feel honored that we've been chosen for this journey.  Today, on a real Monday, I choose to stand in that place.  The journey of this week begins today and I have no idea where it will lead.  I hope you choose the same.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Home

We are moving again this week.  It was only a year ago that I said "not again".  It was only a year before that that I said "not again".  We haven't even moved our boxes yet and I am once again saying "not again".  And yet I know this is probably not true.  We did go 11 years in the same house a few years back before our nomadic tendencies have kicked back in.  It seems to be getting worse instead of better.  Last year we moved one block.  This year we moved one building.  Next year I anticipate taking over our next door neighbors I guess. 
Walking down through my neighborhood this morning it all hit me square in between the eyes.  Passing new apartment complexes rising right before my eyes, I thought back to these past few months.  Here is the summation of our recent experiences.  We signed on to move into a bigger unit with some much desired outdoor space.  Our faith community is looking for new space in anticipation of new apartments being built in its place.  Let's be honest,  at the rate we are going, we may be back as some of its first tenants.  I recently ended a year on staff with a local homeless shelter.  We just spent some time back in New York staying with friends who have just completed their new house build this past year.  We wandered around and took pictures of some of our previous residences while we were there, some which haven't changed much and some suffering signs of the 15 -20 years that have passed since we lived in them.  I passed the street that I spent my first 4 years of life on.  Last weekend we visited friends who recently bought a new home across the water.  Next week we will be celebrating our grandsons birthday in a home that they recently moved into.  Apparently, stability is not part of our story. We even had the recent animated movie "Home" as our inflight entertainment on our way to New York. As I write this, hundreds of people, just across the mountains are having their definitions of "home" challenged as they evacuate even as dozens of "homes" are being consumed by raging wildfires.
All of this has continued to challenge and refine my definition of home.  A number of years ago, after sharing some of my thoughts on a need to re-think my idea of home and how perhaps I was not supposed to feel "home" until I was actually called home in the final sense,  an older gentleman in the congregation observed that this line of thinking may not be appropriate for a "pastor" called to care for a faith community.  I hold that question in the back of my mind even as I remember that, ironically, he was called home not all that long after our conversation.  Perhaps the best legacy that I can leave is that, as the old hymn goes, "this world is not my home, I'm just a passin thru".  I mean really, I live life in pursuit of Jesus who was basically homeless during his ministry years. What else can I expect?
Spending this past week loading and now tripping over dozens of moving boxes, I'm trying to figure out whether home is the stuff in the boxes or the rooms that the boxes are sitting in.  Honestly, a good deal of the stuff could stay in the boxes and I'd not miss it ... just ask the stuff already boxed and sitting in our storage area for the past year.  On the other hand, within a few weeks, the only thing that I'll miss about the rooms that the boxes sit in is the incredible view of downtown that we've been blessed with for this past year.  So I don't think its exclusively either.  It may be a combination I guess, but after celebrating 31 years of being married to the love of my life this week, even while packing for another move, I know for certain that I could have the best view and the best collection of stuff and it would not be home with out her.  If the question of "home" referred only, as is the case for so many, to this life, then undoubtedly my home is wherever she is.  However, as one who has faith in a life yet to come and Jesus who waits there, I would have to hold on to still being homeless.  Like me, my permanent place is still under construction.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

worth it

This past weekend I had the privilege of being present for a memorial service honoring a fine lady who passed away recently.  She lived into her 90's and I have had the joy of knowing her these past 15.  Hers wasn't a traumatic death, it wasn't unexpected, and if anyone knew what promise lay before her in the afterlife, she certainly did.  Let's just say that I wasn't attending her service expecting to experience anything particularly profound... And yet I did.
For many years my wife and I shared this community of faith where she brought people together for one last occasion.  As I sat there, watching pictures of her life float by, high above the service, and heard stories of her life,  being close to so many who shared life and faith with her, I felt a voice.  Not the big booming, James Earl Jones voice of God ... Rather the still small voice of the Spirit ... I think. I'd love to say after so long in the pastoral arts that I can recognize it, but I'm still always left wondering.  What I'm sure of though is the impression that was left... And the impression was very simply and clearly, that in that moment I was being reminded what community, true community, community formed by shared faith journeys, really looks like.  In that moment, even though we were surrounded by generally the older crowd of our former faith community, those who we probably had less in common with than others our own age and life stage, I missed the idea of community so much so that it left an indelible ache. It came racing home to me in a moment that I had, in fact, shared so many moments with many of these.  They weren't all good moments.  When you are the "young guy", the "change agent", you have a tendency to drive those less likely to want change totally crazy.  And those on the older scale, and their resistance to my brilliant ideas, tended to drive me totally crazy.  However, here we all were, gathered again, like little or no time had passed, even though the reality of those who no longer sat in these seats with us lingered off to the side with an unspoken fondness
and respect.
It occurred to me in that moment, that this is what community really looked like.  Memories and shared experiences, some wonderful and some not so much, all mixed in with time binding it together and making it last.  This is what those of the "I can live my own faith in my own way without community"  mindset have carelessly and arrogantly set aside.  This what the witnesses to the ancient faith communities wrote of in the pages of the New Testament.  It wasn't glamorous, it was quite a bit dysfunctional, it was community and it carried all those who chose to participate through the pages of lives not meant to be travelled alone.  And it reminds me one more time, when I truly need to be reminded, that this is the divine plan and church is worth it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Stability

If you haven't gained this from any previous posts, you should know that I live in an area of constant transition.  Literally nothing has stayed the same for more than a month at a time on any block in my neighborhood.  It's a constant state of flowing into or out of existence.  I can guarantee you that Google earth will be of little value here.  Less than a year ago we were excited about a partnership with a local non-profit that gave us our first home here as we try to set roots down for a new faith community.  We might as well be trying to settle in to quicksand.  The sign to left here gives you an indication on how long lasting that development was.  Don't get me wrong, I knew this area well enough to know that this was going to be temporary.  It's just that temporary gets so much shorter in this part of the world.  So once again, we look for a foothold to grab onto.
It does seem illustrative of the nature of what we are ultimately trying to do, God willing ... And I'm assuming that He is.  We live and serve an area and a population that is as changing as the landscape that they inhabit.  They come for the fleeting security of high wages and high rise living.  It's an illusion that they've long dreamt about and that this neighborhood promises.  However, they are still mere mortals, living among mortals, employed by mortals, pursuing a hope which only the immortal can provide.  The instability of this place speaks to the instability of that which has brought them here.  It's easy to get caught in it ... And much like quicksand, the more activity one puts into it, the deeper one gets.
So we are off again, sometime in the next few months, as our home becomes home to hundreds more ... Hundreds who, in the midst of pursuing the illusion, will long for the hope long sought after.  Pray with us as we grab on and offer the handhold and stability of  a relationship with Jesus.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Further

So a month ago I mused about life that was coming up and decisions on the how's and when's of navigating the path.  A month in, I find myself in the midst of it.  Most of us understand that life can be planned to a degree and then ultimately it has a way of just happening regardless of plans.  When you give over control, it can get even more interesting.
My journey of pastoral artistry has taken me down some "I'll never go down that one" paths.  My illusion of where I'd be in the latter years of pastoral artistry has become just that, an illusion.  The latest "never" to become reality is the "never" of graveyard shifts.  I have always valued sleep too much to do anything other than truly admire those who watch over us and work for us in the darkness.  When my story is done it will now include a chapter of working in a family homeless shelter.  I have no idea who thought that this was a necessary side stop along the road to establishing a new church.  I'd have never scripted this.  In fact, if I knew that it was part of the deal, I'd have excercised the "Jonah" clause and jumped the next boat out in the opposite direction.  It can be challenging not seeing where you're headed.
 I have a distinct memory from several years back of a boat journey on a beautiful Summer day on a beautiful "Great Lake".  When you journey out onto a body of water large enough, you can get to the point where the shore you came from disappears before the shore you are headed to appears.  If you aren't paying attention, you can travel across for quite some time without really noticing ... With an illusion you know where you're going, all the time just soaking it in.  However, just possibly, at the point you loose sight of the shore you began from, and before the one you are headed to comes into view, there might be a moment of anxiety while you try to grab onto your bearings.  A momentary feeling of "lost" can come up quite fast.  It's at that point, if panic is to be averted, you must focus on the heading.  You may have a focal point.  You may have coordinates, gps, or even the ever reliable compass.  The important thing is that there is something leading you further along the journey.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Jump

So my last post probably indicated a level of exasperation when it comes to wrestling with God through the medium of prayer.  For the weak of heart it may have seemed a bit jaded ... And I'm sure to some degree that it was, and in fact continues to be.  However, I choose to view it as real and honest, raw and certainly uncomfortable.  It mirrors my journey to a degree. You'll never mistake me for Joel Osteen, I can assure you of that.  Since the last post, not coincidentally I believe, I've engaged in another wrestling match with God that has left me grasping, wondering, grateful and frustrated, mostly all at the same time.  I've found that sharing with others the journey and the wrestling can help,that is of course  until it doesn't.  I've found that waiting on God, meditating patiently, and proceeding cautiously helps, until it doesn't.  I've seen where putting out the fleece of "just one more confirmation" can help, until it doesn't.  I have no answers in a position where I feel compelled to have some.  I can only offer an honest journey... And here is the honesty when it comes to discerning answers to prayers and moving your life accordingly ... Sometimes all that is left is to jump.  Following Gods lead is so much more about risk than it is risk management.  I used to live by a "what's the worst that could happen?" philosophy.  I knew deep within that the worst that could happen would be that I'd fall and he would be there to pick me back up...and that was always good enough.  The older I've gotten and the further I've extended, the more I've lost sight of that. I've become afraid of failure, not remembering what it feels like to be picked up, held, then dusted off and sent on my way.  So there it is ... I have some significant (at least to me) decisions to make and offered  them all to prayer.  I've shared, I've proceeded slowly, I've put the fleeces out, and still before me lies the unknown.  But my choice is simply to jump or sit on the ledge.  So jump it is ... Whats the worst that could happen?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

on ghosts, geese, and grasping at the wind

This post will someday make its way into a book if I ever can begin the book writing process.  For
now, since I seem to have enough of a challenge just getting a post done here or there, I will settle on a few hundred words to unload something out of my soul.  I have a dilemma.  Its a fairly serious one, far more serious than the decision for or against skinny jeans.  My dilemma is that I feel compelled, from the depths of my soul, that my story is to encourage others to dive deeper into their own stories ... and in doing so to overlay God's story into theirs so much more fully than most are ever likely to do.  My story has driven me out of a secular life into something that I'd term professionally sacred.  I make my living doing this, but on top of that, my very living is doing that... so much more than average.  Allow me to be painfully honest and to remove any humility for a moment.  My journey has not been average, by professionally sacred standards. It's not that I'm more sacred by any means ... most time my sacred is totally lacking and frankly rather sucks.  It's not average though ... the unconventional path to ministry, the challenges that I've chosen (not had thrust upon me) and this resulting current phase of planting something new in some of the rockiest soil imaginable, have all been beyond average.  Most people who do what I do, haven't done it the way I've chosen to do it.  Don't misunderstand ... I'm not bragging here.  I'm complaining.  It's not an honor, this calling,  no matter how I may want to color it. Certainly I can look back and find a sense of accomplishment, pride and gratitude for the journey ... after the fact.  In the midst of it though I just want to whine, shake my fist, and move to a small, white clapboard, country church at some 4 corners of nowhere and mind my own business.  I want that more than anything and at times I strain like a 3 year old straining for the cookie just out of reach.  Herein lies my dilemma.  I want the people that I encounter to have such a rich and deep relationship with the author of their own stories that they learn to walk by faith, not by sight.  From the depths of my being I know that this is the place where true relationship with Jesus and the true formation of a follower begins to form... and I desperately want that for them, even while I'm tired of it myself.  I'm tired of chasing the ghosts of possible answered prayer,  It's the "aha" followed by the "just kidding" that has a way of getting to me.  Like having a faint light emerge in the darkness and a form seemingly take shape only to have it disappear like a wisp of fog when the breeze kicks up.  Ancient Celtic faith referred to the Holy Spirit as a "wild goose".  Insightful analogy that I'd love to sit and meditate on but I'm too pissed to care when my own version of chasing them unfolds.  In the end I don't know the answer ... I just know that I want for them what Jesus wants, a deeper and richer walk down a path that challenges faith in every way imaginable.  How is that going to happen?  How will this be played out?  What exactly is my role, beyond mere survival?  I have no idea.  I thought that I did once, but I ended up grasping at the wind one more time.

Imago Dei

Sitting at the Starbucks in my neighborhood would be considered quite challenging for anyone who might have sensory challenges.  On a typical day it can resemble a between classes campus hangout.  The people are predominantly Amazon in origin with a random smattering of Microsoft and bio-tech thrown in for variety.  I am, by my own observation, one of the few here who hasn't merely chosen to change wifi sources and office space to continue on in the pursuit of all things beyond the leading edge.  It is an endless stream of people coming in together, ordering together, waiting together, then continuing the meeting that began somewhere else on the campus.  Needless to say, there is no meditation going on in this space ... no crazy soul filled Jazz, no espresso hiss is discernible and little, if any, banter between barista and consumer.
On rare occasions that I brave the madness and get a seat, I immediately grab the ear buds and turn on the music.  It began as a defense mechanism, but now continues by serving a greater purpose.  With the ear buds in, all I can discern is this group of people, mouths all moving, hands gesturing, and legs posturing within the course of undoubtedly the most important conversations to ever be influenced by caffeine.  I have a pair to my right in the midst of the interview of a lifetime.  I have a pair to my right in some deep negotiating over the application of a software update.  Many of them are in the midst of this generations version of multi-tasking, talking while texting.  I don't say all this to belittle what is taking place here.  They are obviously all important people doing vitally important work.  It's just fun to watch, because without the benefit of the dialogue, each looks very much the same.  A few are more relational in nature ... I can tell by the smiles ... Otherwise it is all quite intense ... In volume and in the amount of space being taken up.
I imagine as I'm sitting here, watching all of this that it could be a snapshot of the view that heaven gets of humanity.  So many talking heads ... looking so much the same, doing so much the same, and yet at the same time, so different.  I'm reminded though that heaven sees this through a different filter.  Through their filter, the one labeled "image dei", everyone ...though appearing same, are so much different.  I can look at all of these and wonder which matters and which doesn't.  In heavens eyes, it all matters because they all matter.  I can't begin to care enough about all of what is going on around me in this place.  Heaven can't help but care enough.  And that my friends is why this process of church planting is so much more dependent of God than on me.  That is why following Jesus literally means following Jesus... Don't forget the headphones.

Friday, January 09, 2015

"Not all who wander are lost" ... but some are dangerously close

I've returned to an old friend today.  We've been apart for a good number of months now... a longer stretch than ever in our 10+ year relationship.  It is probably not a friend that many would recognize and certainly not one that many would understand.  In fact, its quite possible that some who had suspected that I had lost all sense will have all doubt removed.  The relationship that I'm referring to is this space where thoughts go from my heart, hopefully stopping long enough in my brain to wrestle with their appropriateness, and are then interpreted on this keyboard.  You may not recognize this as a legitimate friendship, but as proof I'd offer a few of the following thoughts.  First of all, the most meaningful relationships, as I'd define them consist of sharing ... shared struggle, shared experience, shared conversation.  Real friendships consist of communication and time and investment.  All of these have been part of our relationship, this page and I.  I need only to go back through the archives of this blog for smiles, tears, and memories shared between us.  Obviously ours is a relationship than only another introvert can truly understand.
There is one other thing about a true friendship that I find particularly encouraging today as I wander back.  This one, and perhaps most important, defining of true friendship is the ability to come back together at random times, sometimes far more distant than either one cares for, and be able to immediately be back in sync like no time had passed at all.  That is my prayer for this new year and this new post.  I'm longing to return to the company of this old friend. 
These past few months have been some of the most difficult since our relationship began, and like any true introvert, it seems as if I chose to pull away.  It's not that I didn't think about it.  I often did... and if I wasn't thinking about it I often had others who were reminding me and encouraging me to return.  It's quite possible that our continued conversation may have provided some light along an often seemingly darkened path.  I guess I will really never know.  
What I do know is this, that when I was ready, like a true cherished friend, this space was right here where I left it and we can begin again, right where we left off ... wandering the road together.