Pete…

We lost a friend a little over one week ago…

Pete Chenhall was walking on Blind Pass Road on Friday night to see a friend, and was struck and killed by a drunk driver that drove her car onto the side walk. We all lost a great guy.
Pete was only 40-years-old, but he was kind of old-school. He was in a bowling league and loved to play pool. He loved sports, but was particularly passionate about the Indiana Hoosiers. Actually, Pete was a pretty good athlete, too. He played basketball in high school…obviously…because he was raised in Indiana, and made the Indiana University golf team while in college. Pete and I shared frequent conversations about sports, but also about life. He loved life, and people. People loved him back, too! What I especially loved and respected about Pete though, was his relationship with his father. “Pops”, as he is affectionately known along the beach, would hang out with Pete all the time. Pops was Pete’s best friend, too. Pete was the first to tell you so! What I especially loved, though, was how much Pete enjoyed Pops finding love later in life. When the love first began to blossom, I remember telling Pete how much fun I had watching the new love affair. Pete responded in an explosion of joy! Immediately, he began to describe how much he liked her, and how happy she made Pops, and…on…and…on…and…on…..
His response brought tears to my eyes.
I have always loved watching fathers spending quality time with their children, no matter where I see them together. I think it says something about the dad. He seems to understand his responsibility, but is also learning the joy that can be shared between child and parent. A man that is a Dad…or Pops…is invaluable in the life of a child. Obviously, being a dad isn’t just about trips to the amusement park, or buying the newest “toy”. Sometimes being a dad means confrontation. However, these difficult times can be more effective in helping a child learn to make decisions when they have been prefaced by time spent doing mundane, normal things together. When the child comes to know their father’s love for them by watching him choose to include the child in the activities he must do, the child learns they are valuable. Many times, it is easier for a man to do the errands or tasks he needs to do by himself, but inviting your child with you is both a teaching opportunity and a show of respect towards the child. I think its a good idea to ask your child questions, that spur individual thought and problem analysis. Especially when they are young.
This isn’t only affirming when the children are young, however. One of the most important moments in my life, was when I was older and my father asked me a question about a book we both read. To me, the question wasn’t as important as the fact that he asked me my opinion. It felt like I was invited into the adult world of ideas. I could tell he wasn’t just asking me the question in order to prove a point, or begin an oratory about his own viewpoint. He was really interested on my take on the issue. He was being vulnerable, and showing respect to me. It was especially interesting to me that he was asking about a point of theology. He was a preacher, and he was asking me about how I viewed God, and my perspective of God’s interaction with people that held differing theological viewpoints and lived in different theological traditions than the one we both were raised in. What was especially surprising to me was that, after I shared my perspective, which was different than our common faith tradition’s doctrinal perspective, he agreed with me! I wasn’t expecting that.
Unfortunately, that conversation was both a beginning and an ending, because it wasn’t long afterwards that he was killed in an accident. In the years since his passing, during my adulthood, I have looked back at the conversation with a wistful disappointment. His acknowledgement of respect for me by simply asking the question whetted my appetite for an adult relationship with my dad, which could never be. I have always wondered if his presence in my life would have changed some of the decisions I made through the years. When I was younger, Dad was never one to butt in, and I was never one to ask. But as I grew older, I became less cocky and more cognizant of my need for a mentor. Life has a way of washing away your sand castles leaving a man feeling both vulnerable and defensive. It is in that gap, between vulnerability and defensiveness, that a trusted mentor can fit. I never was able to find one, or courageous enough to seek one out. However, I learned about life! It was the crucible in which was shaped my own style of fathering. While that style hasn’t been perfect, my children seem to love and respect me.
I have come to believe that the love of a child back to the father, not only shows respect for the father, but also the strength of character of the child. Every father that takes being a dad seriously knows when he has blown it. Quite honestly, many fathers carry these moments with them like a load of bricks. I have and do. It is this load that fuels the anger of many men, I think. We often feel like we have to be perfect. So many messages in the culture, at least men’s culture, tell us that. Too often, since we don’t know what to do with that anger, we either pour it outward, or turn it inward, becoming silent and distant. Handling anger with either method is quite destructive both to our self, and our relationships. If a man is to grow, he must acknowledge this anger, and try to make amends in some way to those he loves. That is what I tried to do. 
Not long after our divorce, I went to both my children separately and apologized for my own mistakes as a father. Especially for the times my anger came out in emotionally disruptive ways. The times when my discipline was too strong. I told them that I was wrong, and that I regretted my actions. What surprised me was that each of them responded almost identically:
“What are you talking about? I don’t remember that!”
They both then shared positive things about me as a father, and I was blown away by their grace and love.
As I watch them being adults, I am proud of their character and tenacity to love and care for their friends. They have great relationships with people. To me, this is most important! They are good people worthy of respect, and I do respect them.
The relationship a father has with their children changes through the years, and a wise father adapts. A strong father allows their adult child to see their own vulnerability. He remembers his child is a person, capable of making their own choices, and yet is willing to come alongside during times of struggle or confusion, to help the adult child with the pain, or process of making tough decisions. Much as he would a friend. And that is what I saw in Pete’s relationship with Pops…friendship. 
It is what I experience with Baird, Ryann, and Hannah. I am sure Pops is both distraught over the tragic death of Pete, yet thankful for the man he was…
…the son he is…
And so am I.
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Christmas, 2016…

The idea occurred to me on a hot Florida day in July as I sweated my way through a long line of appointments doing pest control. Finally, after wiping my face for what seemed like the thousandth time, I said to no one in particular:

“I want to be somewhere cold…not cool…COLD!”

That thought began to stir within me a longing to return home, at least for a little while.

For me, Home is in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. My family moved there when I was 16, between my sophomore and junior years of high school. I have come to believe, that there is perfection in this life. Perfect in terms of time and place and how they combine in life to provide experiences filled with joy, fun, challenge, and growth. Longmont, Colorado was just that for a span of two years. The opportunities I had in Longmont High School through music and football were foundations upon which I built a life filled with love for both. Although I had previous experiences in music and football, my two years at LHS were filled with positive relationships that welcomed me as a new student as if I had been with them our whole lives. The students, choral director, teachers, and coaches recognized talents of which I was somewhat insecure, and then nourished and challenged me to develop them. The school introduced me to a level of community that was open, positive, and affirming with each other. I have yet to find another community like it.

Similarly, the mountains were always a haven for me. I would often take our Irish Setter, Sammy, into the mountains when I went fishing. Rather than fishing in one of the mountain lakes close by, I preferred to fish in the streams that cut their way from the high country through the rocky foothills that then spread out across the flat landscape at the base of the mountains. Longmont is about 10 miles from the beginning of the foothills, and is surrounded by farms and ranches which take advantage of the rich soil deposited by these same streams, and also by ancient glaciers as they eventually melted. At some point following WWII, Japanese farmers came to the St. Vrain valley (named for the river in which I fished), and began to raise vegetables which they trucked to farmers’ markets either in Longmont, or just outside of town. These farms were incrementally sold through the years prior to my family moving there, and yet there remained a couple farms still raising and trucking vegetables when I lived there.

The presence of these farms also felt like home to me when I first moved there. We previously lived in the Hi Plains region of Southwestern Kansas, and I had worked on a ranch. I especially enjoyed working with horses and cattle on the ranch, so the ranches and farms surrounding Longmont were pleasantly familiar to me.

I left Longmont, Colorado and my beloved Rocky Mountains immediately following high school graduation ceremonies and moved to Indiana, where my parents had moved early in my senior year, allowing me to live with family friends and finish high school at LHS. Sadly, I seldom returned after leaving. But I never lost the feeling that, in some way, my identity had been both shaped and discovered in this place. However, I don’t think I was able to articulate that feeling until later in life, after I had lived in other communities and geographical regions.

I now realize that this place will always be Home for me!

It is with this historical context that I decided in the heat of July, that I would rent a place in Estes Park, Colorado and invite my adult children to join me in celebration and pilgrimage to the Rockies at Christmas.

The cabin I settled on is cozy and part of a cluster of similar cabins a few miles outside of Estes Park on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes Park is an old-school tourist community surrounded by peaks of the Continental Divide. Since it is further north of the myriad of skiing resorts that are busy during winter, Estes Park is less crowded and less expensive during Christmas time. That makes it perfect for an intimate retreat for my kids and I. I have always wanted to do this, but never realized it: un-rushed time together.

Time to just Be Family…

Fully in the present…

Open to serendipity…

Surrounded by the beauty of the Natural World…

Our reservation began on Saturday, Christmas Eve, and we couldn’t check in until 4 P.M. Baird and Ryann drove in from Kansas City a couple days early to spend a day skiing and stay one night in Boulder, Colorado. I flew in from Florida late Friday night and spent the night at the airport before getting my rental car early Saturday morning. Hannah flew in from Huntington Beach, California on Saturday morning, and I picked her up. Hannah and I met Baird and Ryann in downtown Denver for lunch and to wander around talking and taking pictures…OK…it was mainly me taking pictures.

Since we had decided earlier on to exchange gifts with each other, we decided…OK…they asked me to decide…when we would open our gifts. When I was older, my family traditionally opened gifts on Christmas Eve. I always liked that, because…well… we didn’t have to wait until Christmas Day! Decision made…

We left Denver and began the drive to Estes Park via a drive through downtown Longmont and a stop at Longmont High School. Once again, I took pictures at LHS, and we walked partly around the school, while I told them stories about my time there. We then took a quick detour past the house in which I lived at that time, and the church of which my father was pastor.

Finally…

The drive through the farmland and into the mountains!

After a quick stop at the grocery store (where they didn’t have Egg Nog!), we drove through town to our cabin. Upon arriving and unloading our luggage, I started a fire while Ryann put up the small Christmas tree, and Hannah began cutting cheese and Summer sausage to go on Ritz crackers, which is one of the family traditions we do. The gifts came next, and then…

White Christmas… a movie we all love, and traditionally watch together…

…and a beautiful epiphany for  me in the midst of the movie…

…in a cozy cabin in the middle of the mountains…

…with my daughter’s head resting on my leg…

…my son and daughter-in-law lying on the floor…

…a fire burning, lights off, candles lit, and lights on the tree twinkling…

…as Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney sing the following words:

“When I’m worried, and I can’t sleep

I count my blessings instead of sheep

And I fall asleep, counting my blessings

When my bank roll is gettin’ small

I think of when I had none at all

And I fall asleep, counting my blessings!”

Blessings…

A lump grew in my throat, and my eyes became moist.

I am Home…

…and it’s Christmas…

Later, I went outside into the quietness of the night where millions of stars met me with a symphony of silent light…

Somewhere in the distance, an owl called into the night…

I realized just how connected I am to this place and these people…

It seems to me, that the point of Christmas is just that! A child is born into the world surrounded by people, and animals, and stars, and shepherds, and searchers…

The birth is an affirmation of humanity’s connection to time and place and each other and the larger world and universe. A celebration, really, and in that moment, my heart was full of joy. It felt…

Perfect.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

It is now February 17, 2018. I wrote most of the above in the days following my Perfect Christmas. The world feels very different than it did in that cabin in the mountains, whipped by a cold wind bearing show, surrounded by my children. I don’t really need to explain the state of the world currently to you, Reader. You know.

My memory returns there every so often. I am reminded of the joy we shared that Christmas. Honestly, the world was pretty chaotic then, too. We were just able to pull in tight, together, and keep warm in the cold mountain winter nights. We were present fully with and to each other in that place. We were able to take in the beauty surrounding us, because we were open to it. It’s called “being present in the present.”

I have to admit, I spent most of my life preoccupied with what MIGHT happen in the future, or what DID happen in the past. Both practices robbed me of the beauty I could have experienced in the present, and were mostly tied in some way to fear and self-criticism. Pretty self absorbed, actually. To be fair to myself, I need to explain what I’m NOT talking about:

I’m not talking about planning for the future…

I’m not talking about learning from the past…

Both of those activities take place in the present…

And they mean I am in the process of living fully, and honestly in the present…

I guess what I DO mean is living daily with a mindset to choose gratitude rather than fear, anger, and suspicion. I am still learning how to do that. I believe it is important to feel what I feel, and examine the feelings, yet remain optimistic that “the arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” as Martin Luther King Jr. put it so eloquently. Mourning is part of gratitude. Activism towards change through confronting injustice, is also part of gratitude. Living with gratitude does not mean living in denial, nor does it mean being unaware of the needs of other people. In fact living with an attitude of gratitude in the present means that I am more aware of both my own pain, and that of those I come across daily.

The birth and life of Jesus, the Christmas Child, calls me to live that way. He gives me hope that I can be that person with each new day.

 

 

Liturgy for A Political Divide…

This is a re-posting. It seems especially pertinent this election season…

Blue Eyes Seeing Clearly

I just returned from the Face 2 Face component of my online seminary program at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland, Oregon. Part of the program entails travelling to the seminary campus in Portland, for a more traditional classroom setting. This occurs each semester, and allows us to come together with the members of our cohort, meet the professor and online coordinator, and other members of the seminary community. Face 2 Face is always the highlight of each semester. The document below, was written for a class I am taking: Christian Ministry for Reconciliation. The class is about the process of reconciliation; whether it be in a marriage, racial divides, societal issues, gender issues, or whatever division needing reconciliation. The document below was drafted by myself and two classmates for an assignment which required us to draft a liturgy for a public worship service. My group had to choose the…

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I Am Hearing…

I hear God speak…

 

…in the natural world…

 

“That same day, Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. As he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. Let anyone with ears, listen!”[i]

 

The story above is a parable told by Jesus on the banks of the Sea of Galilee during one of his treks through Galilee.

(If anyone reading this blog doesn’t have much…or any…experience reading the Bible, please know that I will keep that in mind as I write. Also…if that is the case, I would invite you to purchase one…you can get one in a used-book store pretty cheap…and read through it. The Bible is arguably the most historically foundational piece of literature ever written. It would be worth your time and money.)

A parable is a fictional story constructed about ordinary events with a larger meaning that must be interpreted by the ones listening or reading. Jesus used parables all the time, and when asked why he used them, he said it was because…

“(although) seeing, they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.”[ii]

 

He continues with the explanation by quoting an ancient prophet: Isaiah…

 

“You will indeed listen, but never understand,

And you will indeed look, but never perceive.

For this people’s heart has grown dull,

And their ears are hard of hearing,

And they have shut their eyes;

So that they might not look with their eyes,

And listen with their ears,

And understand with their heart and turn—

And I would heal them.”[iii]

 

It seems Jesus thought people were so busy living their lives, that they were blind and deaf to the meaning of their lives, so he told a story to externalize normal events in a way that meaning was perceived from listening to it.

The parable above was taken from the normal activity of people farming the land; which was a common way people fed themselves in Galilee, in conjunction with fishing in the Sea of Galilee. I have had some experience living in a predominantly farming and ranching community, so the parable speaks to me in great depth. The primary interpretation I learned growing up in my ancestral faith tradition explained that each type of soil was symbolic for different types of people. In fact, Jesus explains the parable to his disciples in this way:

 

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom (of God: where God’s intention for the way life on the earth is to be lived is actually lived out) and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what is sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”[iv]

 

However, I have recently understood, or “heard”, a different interpretation for the types of soil. I have begun to realize how each type of soil can be illustrative of different areas in my own life. In effect:

I am the soil!

Each soil metaphor helps me understand that I can be resistant to Eden’s balance in many ways. I also correspond to the seed sown in good soil, in that there are areas of my life and personality, in which I bear fruit.

And yet…

…I often feel like some of the seed sown in my life, personality, and body…in the form of talents, interests, relationships, and experience…now lie dead and deteriorating deep within. “That time and opportunity in my life is past. Its history!”, I think to myself, as I try to make peace with its passing. However, God challenged my assumptions about the dead seeds earlier this year…

In my back yard, just outside the back door, lies a small patch of ground on which nothing grew for the first 3 years in which I occupied the house. The patch is a perfect rectangle, measuring roughly 5 feet by 8 feet. It is bordered by the walls of the house on two sides, the concrete patio on one side, and a path made of 6-sided concrete landscape pavers that are especially popular on older properties in Florida. Since I moved in, I have wanted to fill the space with some kind of living plant. Part of the challenge to grow something in the space is that it is partially covered by the overhanging roof of the house on one side, and the branches of a tree on the other. So, it is shaded, sandy, and portions of it can be quite dry in all but the wildest of rainstorms.

Finally, last spring, I decided to find a plant that would act as a decorative cover for the patch. I went to Home Depot, and found a plant that the label indicated would grow and spread quickly. I bought 12 of them and planted them after adding topsoil and compost (chicken manure…I forgot just how bad it smelled until I watered-in the plants) to the sandy soil of the patch. For the most part, everything I plant in the yard must fend for itself. I try to use plants that supposedly will work in the Central Florida tropical climate and soil. I then give it a push start with water in the beginning and in dry spells, but after that: it grows or it doesn’t. After the summer of that year, 2 of the three landscape projects pretty much failed miserably. I wasn’t completely disappointed by the results, though, because I learned a lot from the long term process.

For instance, most of the plants in the small patch in the back yard died, except a small strip which was closest to the pavers; the soil of which received the most water and diffused sunlight. By the end of the year, I decided I would use different plants this spring: Foxtail Ferns. I planted them in another spot, where the conditions were similar, and they have done quite well since.

Then…

…around the end of February or the beginning of March…

…I noticed something I hadn’t expected…

Little tendrils of the plant began to pierce the soil from underground roots, which had remained dormant during the winter (a FLORIDA winter anyway). I realized that the plant wasn’t done…it hadn’t died…it was just waiting for another growing season in which it could, once again, take hold of its space and grow. Excited by this unexpected re-appearance, I bought three more plants, planted them along the path, and then watered and fertilized them through the spring. As I am writing this, it is late July, filled with the humid heat of summer, and the recurring afternoon and evening showers of the tropical rainy season which continue to both challenge and nourish the plants. Although they haven’t spread as quickly nor are they as dense as I hoped, they are hanging in there.

When I first noticed the re-emergence of the plants this spring, I was personally going through a daze of ambiguity regarding the purpose of my life. I am 55-years-old, and in a period of my life both unexpected to the younger me, and perplexing to the older me. I often feel alone, but have friends who remind me I am not. There are talents I have used throughout my life that now feel buried, and dead.

But…

When I saw the plants, God seemed to say:

“Your gifts aren’t dead they are just waiting to re-emerge in the next growing season. It is how life is designed to work. Death and Resurrection. The Seasons of Grace!”

 

Reading the parable above, in light of this…

I remember all the farmers I knew when I was young, and how they would patiently work the soil before planting the seed…

When the soil was too hard…they would till it, to open it and make it more permeable to the seed, rain, and other nutrients…

When the soil was susceptible to pests…they would tenaciously fight them…

When the soil was too rocky…they would remove the impediments, so the land could be farmed…

When weeds and other plants grew and competed with the seeds intentionally planted…they would cultivate the soil in which the newly planted seeds grew, in order to remove the weeds until the seeds grew into plants which were mature enough to fight off the interloping species…

When the soil was good…they would do everything they could to help the seeds grow and be as fruitful as possible…

I imagine how the words of Jesus must have been understood when he first spoke them. Seeds were precious in that time and place. Seeds for this year’s harvest were ones saved from last year’s harvest. Broadcasting seed just anywhere, without the soil being prepared to receive it, would have been a waste of a generative and highly valued resource. So, while I am usually most concerned by the quantity of the harvest…

“How much will the seed produce?”

“Who is at fault…who do I blame…if the seeds don’t produce, or how much they produce?”

“Who gets the credit for how much they produce?”

“How can I force them to produce more?”

“Produce…produce…produce!”

 

I firmly suspect the people hearing Jesus’ parable would have been thinking about the sower:

“What an idiot! You don’t waste seed that way! You plant a seed in order to grow a plant which multiplies the first seed into a harvest of grain to make food! Not all seeds sprout and grow at the same rate! They must be planted at the right time of year! Some seeds take time to sprout, and even longer to grow into plants capable of producing a harvest. Some seeds need the perfect conditions to grow, and if it is a dry season, the harvest is affected. It isn’t that easy! It takes a wise farmer that prepares the soil, plants the seed at the right time, and gives the plant what it needs to be healthy and reproductive. The farmer works WITH the seed, and WITH the land, and WITH the plant, and WITH family and neighbors to get the work done, and WITH GOD who provides the rain and sun….

Ahhh…..I understand!”

 

God was the first Gardener…

A wize Gardener…

 

My life is a jumble of soil types and qualities, all in different stages of preparation. I often…ok…usually…believe it is my responsibility for the condition it is in, and to prepare it to be fruitful. I am also quite critical of the quality of seed, too.

Talents…

Giftedness…

Passions…

Insights…

I am especially critical of the quality of the seed, how I let it germinate, and the quantity and quality of the harvest. But the soil doesn’t GROW the seed planted within it. The life present within the seed does that! God places within each seed the qualities and power necessary for life and reproduction. The soil receives the seed, nourishes it, and has…in its very composition…everything it needs to allow the seed to sprout and begin to grow. It could even be said that the soil is a Sanctuary for the seed. None of this is surprising. Seed and soil are meant to benefit each other, and facilitate the growth of new life. It is a naturally recurring process.

I mentioned earlier about compost…

The soil in my little patch is very sandy. It doesn’t hold moisture very well, and I figured since nothing grew in it in the preceding three years, it might need some additional soil and compost. Compost is a mixture of organic materials which are being naturally broken down in composition to become a rich addition to soil. It is filled with helpful bacteria that break down formerly living and growing organisms into nutrients in a more usable form for new seeds and growing plants. Compost also helps to conserve water so it doesn’t run off and leach away the nutrients you are trying to add to the soil. To make compost, you add plants, table scraps, leaves, and miscellaneous garden scraps in a pile or a container designed for the purpose and add three things:

Additional bacteria to help the process of breaking down the material…

Water intermittently…

And air, by turning over the material with a pitch fork.

These four components cause the mixture to heat up as the process takes place…

…and sometimes produces an unpleasant, distinctive odor…

Yes…

It stinks!

Additionally, you will often find twigs, and the occasional small rock in compost. These objects either take longer to break down, or are more resistant to bacterial action. A benefit of these harder objects in the soil is that they help the soil stay loose, and create small pockets of space in which air and water are located.  Loose soil is beneficial for planting, because it is easier for the seeds to take root and for new growth to push through the surface into the open, then continue the ascent to maturity. Most plants grow both upwards, and downwards. Roots push through the soil in all directions to support the needs of the plant for water, but also to provide a strong physical foundation underground to keep the growth above ground anchored to the earth. It is important to know that good soil is full of life and activity both where it can be observed in the landscape, but more fundamentally, below the surface; where it takes some digging to detect. To judge soil only on the surface production, neglects where it all begins: below the surface.

Nature is patient. There are rhythms to the natural world. Seasons of growth, but also of dormancy. It is often in the dormancy of winter, or apparent dormancy after a fire, that the soil is being prepared below the surface for new life in the growing season.

If we describe Nature as patient; how much more so, God? Just as a forest takes decades, or centuries to be considered mature, I must remember that my life isn’t defined by what I consider to be “Production”! I am beginning to understand that there will be aspects of the fruitfulness of my life which are so deeply buried, that it won’t be available for harvest until after I have died. Also, just as in good soil, I find certain “hard” elements in my life that I am not sure what to do with. There have been experiences I don’t understand, and about which I feel dissonant. They don’t fit nicely in line with my previous expectations of life and fruitfulness. However, I am realizing that the hard elements…

Hold…

Space…

The space surrounding the dissonant memories are where…

Air and Water…

Grace and Mercy…

Meet the Dust of my Flesh.

These spaces are where God’s Spirit invites me to tenaciously trust that the Seeds God has placed in the soil of my life are and were intentionally planted. The hard places do not detract from the ultimate fruitfulness of my life.

Another word for it:

 

Incarnation…

 

Where the separation between Seed and Soil becomes imperceptible.

 

The Ecology of Eden…

The trick is to remember that when life stinks!

[i][i] Matthew 13:1-9. New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

[ii] Matthew 13:13.

[iii] Matthew 13:14-15.

[iv] Matthew 13:18-23.

God Continues to Speak…

God speaks…

…in the heat of the day when my shirt, hat,  and top half of my trousers are soaked with sweat, and I am wondering why 94 in Florida is so much different than 94 in Kansas City, as the sweat pours into my eyes behind sunglasses so fast that my shirt sleeves are eventually useless to dry them, and my vision is blurry and eyes stinging from the salt.

God speaks…

…as I roll down the window while I drive to my next appointment so I can smoke a cigarette, and realize simultaneously how good the hot wind feels against my wet skin and how thankful I am to feel God’s…

…patient…

…persistent…

…nudge towards the day that I will quit smoking…

…not because God is angry that I smoke…

…but because God’s love is…

…patiently…

…persistently…

…convincing me that I am both worth loving, and worth having around on earth for a few more years.

God speaks…

…as the workday ends, and I drive home listening to Bill Withers knowing full well that when I get home, and after I organize my schedule for tomorrow, that I will argue with myself about whether I will go to the gym to sweat some more.

God speaks…

…while my mind composes beautifully articulated, well chosen words and phrases that communicate perfectly what I would like to write, except I am driving, so cannot record them, and the only ones to hear them are God and me…

God stops speaking…

God listens…

…and I realize…

I am praying…

God Speaks…

God speaks…

…in the early morning, during the final dream state of the night, as my Unconsciousness magically expresses my deepest longings or greatest fears in a symphony of emotions, free from the…

commanding…

demanding…

structuring…

influence of Consciousness.

God speaks…

…as my mind slowly climbs out of the clinging, inviting arms of slumber, and the enticing gaze of the snooze button, then regretfully instructs my arm to wrestle the covers off my body, and swing my legs over the side of the bed.

God speaks…

…while my muddled steps wind their way to the waiting coffee maker, and my fingers fumble with the filter after partially spilling water poured into the reservoir, followed by coffee spilled both in the filter and into the water on the counter.

God speaks…

…as I grumble about needing to clean the spill, but lose the argument, push the “Start Brewing” button, then wander to the bathroom to brush my teeth.

God speaks…

…when the aroma of brewing coffee  brightens my optimism for the day, all the while trying to desperately grasp, or shake loose the retreating emotions of my final dream.

God speaks…

…when I remember that the dream wildly leapt from one unfinished storyline to the next in a disconnected ramble which elicits a response of, “What was THAT all about?”, while the toothbrush rumbles away in my mouth.

God speaks…

…in my first taste of coffee…

…which energizes me to clean the mess surrounding the coffee maker, and order my thoughts about the day before me.

God speaks…

…when my thoughtfully constructed plans for the day work perfectly, and I begin to progressively feel like I have a handle on this thing called Adulthood.

God speaks…

…as the events of the day conspire to crush my thoughtfully constructed plans for the day, and I am left hearing Life laugh at my audacious attempts to control the future.

God speaks…

…graciously, on the days I have NO plan, and events work perfectly in SPITE of my incomplete preparations.

God speaks…

…when I am listening…

God speaks…

…when I am NOT listening…

God speaks…

…when my response to Parker Palmer’s wise counsel to “Let Your Life Speak” is, “But my life speaks a language I don’t understand, and I could use either an interpreter, or a ‘Life-to-English’ dictionary! Is there a Gibberish interpreter in the house?”

God continues to speak…

…and I will too…

Later!

 

 

Peace in the Present…

One morning this past week, as I was beginning my morning routine before heading off to work; I was sitting outside on the back patio drinking a first cup of coffee. I woke up a little early, so my mind was active for some reason. In recent years, my mind is slower to get running in the morning, and slower to shut down at night. On this particular morning, however, my thoughts seemed to be reaching out for….something.

There is a cat that usually meets me on the back patio. My neighbors told me the cat was part of a herd of cats fed by the woman who lived in my house previously. Some of them were feral cats that she fed in a little workshop which borders the patio on the left. She cut a hole in the door to install a cat door, and left food inside for them to eat. Although this seems nice at first glance, once she moved, she left them without the food source they had come to depend on. The last time I saw the woman, she asked if I wanted to continue the practice. I responded, “No. Although I love animals, my life style doesn’t allow me to be a good pet owner.” So she put a piece of plastic in the door, to obstruct entrance to the space.

(Eventually, I found another reason not to keep feeding those cats. I bargained with the property manager to allow me to clean, and re-paint the interior of the house as long as I could choose the colors. I had help with both the cleaning and painting. My sister and brother worked with me to get the house ready for me to move. One task that I accomplished on my own was removing the carpet… It was a heavy Berber carpet, and it STUNK from cat urine! The lower parts of the walls bore the stains of male cats spraying their territory. By the time we were finished cleaning, I was CERTAIN I made the correct decision about feral cats outside!)

The cat that meets me when I go out on the patio, is interesting. Reportedly, it was born in my house. That is easy for me to believe, because the manner in which it first approached me was as an offended owner of the house. All the other feral cats eventually left the yard (someone else in the neighborhood started feeding them), but THIS cat walked into the yard, and immediately began to yell at me! I had to respect that, so…..I eventually began putting cat food on the patio in the morning.

Yeah…

I know…

I’m a sucker for anything showing pluck!

Now, part of my morning routine encompasses putting food out for the cat…which also becomes food for birds….and the occasional opossum and raccoon at night. On this particular morning, as I was drinking my coffee, a dove flew down and lighted on the roof of the house no more than ten feet away from me.

Four years ago, shortly after I moved into the house, I noticed the yard seemed to be a haven for doves. At the time, I was attending an online master’s degree program in Spiritual Formation from George Fox Evangelical Seminary, and my vision for using the degree, was to become a Spiritual Director and develop a program for Spiritual Formation specifically for the pastoral staffs of churches. The presence of the doves in my yard spoke to me about the house being a place of peace for others as we learned together how to experience and pursue Shalom. One day, when my brother was there the doves returned. I said to my brother,

“I want this house to be a place of peace for other people.”

My brother responded simply, “I am hoping it will be a place of peace for YOU!”

In the succeeding years, I have found this statement to be both insightful, and prophetic.

Prophetic, not in the sense of telling the future, but in the biblical sense of confronting people with Truth which is dissonant with their current perceptions, actions, and life.

Ok…

Back to the dove on the roof…

I began to talk to the dove, telling it that it was safe, and that I wouldn’t hurt it…

…and eventually, a second dove lit on the roof next to the first. The two moved impatiently upon the roof while looking at the patio and the grass next to it, as if seeing all the insects in it…..food. Finally, the late-comer lept softly down onto the patio, and began feeding on the grass seed, or insects, on the concrete. At this point, the dove was within five feet of me, and about six feet from the cat which was facing away from the bird and feeding on what I had put out.

Quietly, I spoke to the dove…

“You better be careful… you’re awfully close to this cat!”

When the cat moved, the dove on the patio softly flew upward to a limb of a tree beside the patio and patiently watched me, the cat, and probably the cat food.

At this point, my attention was distracted by a bird sitting on an electric line about 30 feet away.

I thought, “That looks like a dove, but it looks different, too.”

While I fixated on the bird in the distance with features like a dove but also not like a dove…

…the doves closest to me flew away…

Disappointed, I realized how the experience felt like a metaphor for my life to this point.

I have often become so…

distracted…

fixated…

obsessed…

by a shadowy future, that I miss out on the beauty closest to me.

I often ignore and neglect the gifts of the moment in my pursuit of a fantasy built by an unhelpful definition of perfection, and the comfort I believe will be…

…in the future…

I don’t like this habit…

I am robbed of the present by this habit…

Now…to be fair…

Dreams and visions are not bad.

They help us imagine how the world could be.

That can be a VERY good, and generative, perspective…

But…

Dreams occur when we are asleep…

and visions occur when we are transported out of the present…

So, in some ways, dreams and visions are a criticism of the reality of the present, and when we are transfixed by them, our mindfulness of the present can be distracted so that we are blind and deaf to the ways God comes to us in THIS moment!

So…

What can I do differently?

What can WE do differently?

We can:

Observe our peace…

It would be easy to say that violence is the opposite of peace, but that’s too easy. As I have thought about it, I have come to believe that being numb is the opposite of peacefulness. Peace does NOT mean the absence of conflict. Peacefulness is a process which involves a recognition of conflict, and a determination to look for generative and sustainable resolutions to conflict. Living peacefully is a way of seeing and living life in a way that acknowledges all the tragedy in the world surrounding us, chooses to embrace the uncomfortable emotions we feel in response, and learns to find God in the midst of it all. Often, our best way through conflict, or tragedy, is to wait…

Stop…

A good practice is to allow the emotions and thoughts to wash over us without trying to deny, numb, or ignore them. I realize that some people during crisis events must act immediately in order to protect others or themselves, but eventually there needs to be a time we acknowledge how these events have affected us personally. We need to carve out space to “feel what you feel.” I’m not saying that life will stop to wait on us, but we must realize that what we feel is a biological part of being human, and denying them will NOT stop them from being expressed in a physiological way. Acknowledging our own emotions is a step of trust, in ourselves, and in God.

When I am conscious about my life, I notice how often I try to run from my feelings by numbing them rather than acknowledging them, feeling them, and soothing, resolving, or expressing them. If I numb them, they don’t go away. Often, they sneak out when I least expect them, which can be embarrassing, given the circumstances. Peace invites me to let down my guard, become honest about and identify what I feel, and in vulnerability, express them.

Look… 

Its amazing how often I miss seeing things that are right in front of me. I have always used the metaphor of a bulletin board when I talk about becoming more observant of our life. A bulletin board is a tool used to communicate something visually to people. However, it is my experience that a bulletin board, because it is so “normal” becomes part of the wall. Often, I view it as part of the visual blah, blah, blah of an external space, such as in a break room at a jobsite. So, that which is meant to communicate important information is ignored, because I am pre-occupied with something else. If I am not careful, I can become so pre-occupied with the visual cues in the world…

the media…

an angry driver…

the sameness of my physical surroundings…

that I miss entirely the beauty and significance of the gifts I have been given:

health…

a job…

a home…

family…

friends…

the world around me…

To guard against this, I have to find ways to slow down my constantly shifting gaze. Photography is one way I do this. When I have a camera in my hands, I slow down and take in the world around me, not just to absorb and enjoy it personally, but also to capture an image of what I see in order to share it with others, as well as with myself at a later time. When I view one of the images I have captured with my camera, I am reminded of the experience of that moment, and I am thankful…again. This tool has helped me recognize the beauty when my hands are empty, too. I see everything with new eyes and in greater depth, so that I feel part of the world around me. I realize that I am in the picture.

Listen…

I have found that in order for me to hear another person, I need to attend to them…I need to give them my attention. In fact, I have instructed my sister…who I also works with…to wait until she can look me in the eyes before she tells me something.

…and then text it to me…

There is noise all around me. And much of it becomes “white noise” that I tune out. There is also noise in my head…my thoughts…which can compete with what I hear from other people. Peace invites me to listen both to my life, and to the natural world, because in so doing I often find the presence of God. One practice which can help me develop the skill of listening is engaging music, either in the hearing, or in the doing of it. I often put on headphones and lose myself in music. I become part of it, and it becomes part of me. My emotions eventually find a resonance with the style to which I am listening.  It is similar when I venture into the natural world, and listen…really listen. It is in those moments that I hear the music of God, which speaks to me on the level of my soul, and it is renewed with peace.

Protect our peace…

Boundaries…Honestly, I haven’t been very good throughout my life at either identifying what boundaries are or what I need them to be in my life. In the past 5 years or so, I have begun to understand the concept of boundaries in relationships. I now realize that boundaries are different than obstacles. When we construct obstacles in our relationships, we are essentially running away from intimacy and trust while running to isolation and distrust. Constructive boundaries in our lives actually allow us to be more available in the present to people, tasks, and activities we care about. A personal boundary is something we set and acknowledge which communicates how we choose to live. They are choices that communicate self-respect, and ways we want to be treated by others. For me, setting boundaries is difficult not because I am unwilling to defend them, but because it is hard for me to identify the need for one, and where it needs to be placed.

I am a preacher’s kid, and in my family, other people always came first. ALWAYS! The theological perspective within which I was raised pretty much sanctified the concept, even though Jesus set clear boundaries in his own life and ministry. As an adult, I often said “yes” to something that I really didn’t want to do, then felt aggravated at the person to whom I said “yes”! This was true in my personal life, as well as career. Eventually, I learned how to say “no” in my career, as well as to stand up for myself when I felt something was unfair. In my personal life…especially my marriage…I never really did. This could have been one of the reasons it was so unsatisfying to both of us, and ended in divorce.

Protecting our Peace means not choosing to place ourselves into circumstances in which we are treated with disrespect, nor to associate with people who treat us with disrespect. Although we may have to be associated with those types of circumstances or people for short periods of time or in events which occur outside of our control, the choices we make on a regular basis protect our peace when we live treating others and ourselves with respect.

Embrace peace in the present…

Sometimes I fight myself, and my expectations of myself. For instance, it is Saturday as I write this. This morning, I wanted to do several things:

Go to the gym– I have a sore shoulder, and I need to do some strength training with it.

Clean the house-I have found that I feel calmer in an orderly personal space, so when I have put off cleaning the house for awhile, I realize I am running from something, so am punishing myself by letting my space become disorderly.

Do yard work– I enjoy this, for the most part, but especially enjoy the way it looks afterward and the feel of my body with dirt under my fingernails.

Budget– I hate money…..

So…what did I do this morning? I came to Starbucks and began writing. It’s now 4:40 in the afternoon, and my day is almost over. I am feeling a mixture of emotions, and not much peace! What I am trying to do right now, is embrace the process of writing with the hope that, once I publish it, other people might find something in my experience they recognize, or that it stirs their thinking in ways that promote growth and living in healthier ways.

And…

Quite honestly….

I mostly hope someone likes it….

I also realize that once I am through with a piece of written work, I feel very peaceful about having written. Right now…that peace is what I will embrace as a gift from God. I also will embrace it because I will remind myself that it takes courage to tell pieces of your story, as well as your thoughts about it. Embracing one’s own voice is a way of embracing peace, and when I neglect to write, I am instead embracing the fear that the value of my life experience and what I am learning has no value. Because embracing peace also means embracing growth and sharing that growth with other people.

Release our peace into the world…

Peace isn’t a commodity we buy and then horde. Peace is shared. When we embrace a life of peace, we release it in the process of embracing it. Whether we realize it or not, the people around us know if we are at peace or not. Sometimes even better than do we! As I wrote previously, peace doesn’t mean the absence of conflict, and it also doesn’t mean there will be no struggle. Peace and struggle co-exist…personally and collectively. Peace means that we will fight. Personally, my most common combatant is myself. I often fight with fear, and shame, and isolation, and pride, and ignorance, and anger, and impatience, and body image, and addiction, and….numbing…

Yet what I keep coming back to, are the words of Jesus:

“In this world you will have many problems, but take heart! I have overcome the world!”

Perhaps that is why he has been called the Prince of Peace!