Empty Calories II…

(This is a continuation of a post from several days ago…)

And yet…

It isn’t the end of the story, as John tells it. The story continues as Jesus leaves the crowd and his companions to venture into the mountains by himself to pray. The disciples go down to the shore, enter their boats, and push off into the sea. A surprising response to both the miracle, and to Jesus’ absence, but life once again must go on, even after miracles… Darkness catches the disciples in the middle of the sea, without Jesus, and a storm rushes in. As the disciples despair of life, they find Jesus…

…in the middle of the sea

…in the middle of the storm

…walking on the water

…the disciples fear him a ghost

…and Jesus calls Peter onto the water

…catches him when he falls

…then gets in the boat and it comes quickly to shore.

……………………………………………………………………………………………

I have a renewed friendship with a woman I knew in college. At the time, we were basically friendly acquaintances, whose paths crossed in the music department while in choirs, operas, and the like. Eventually, she married a guy that shared an apartment with me at the time. I really liked the guy, and he was especially caring for me when my father was killed in a truck accident. Our lives took sharp turns away from each other after college, and she enjoyed a deep love with my buddy as well as shared ministry with him. They had two daughters later in life, and while the girls were young, he was found to have cancer. After a heroic battle with the disease, he died, and his wife… my re-found friend… was left to raise the girls alone. My buddy did a wonderful job of organizing their financial affairs during the final stages of his disease, so his three girls have been supported and cared for by him even from the grave. He was and is a wonderful, courageous father and husband… one for his daughters to remember as a model as they eventually enter relationships of their own.

Lori, Dave’s wife and my friend, has born the grief in heroic fashion, too, I must say. Even though Dave’s provision has cared for their needs, and her church family was deeply supportive, she still has had to walk through the dark storm of grief, loss, and the wet blanket of loneliness which seems to suffocate hope at times. I imagine her to be like the disciples in the boat, on a violently tossing sea, fighting despair and trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus through the darkness, rain, and waves.

This year is the fourth since Dave’s death. Each New Year, Lori tries to find a one-word theme to pull her through each day as a faith-mantra that invites her gaze to continue to slice through the storm to find the Beloved Christ walking upon the open sea. This year, our friendship was renewed due to a Facebook status I wrote at the end of 2012 which was trying to point towards the living presence of Christ in 2013 even before we arrived there. I wrote the status, as a message not only to others, but also to myself. I suggested that we either do or do not trust that God loves us, and is capable of bringing resurrection out of death. Lori and I exchanged comments about the post, and I suggested a beloved book I have read: Ruthless Trust, by Brennan Manning. Through this interaction, Lori decided to use the word, Trust, as her theme for 2013. We are now reading the book together and conversing about our lives and God’s presence in them.

I will include below some excerpts from Ruthless Trust about following the confident, water-striding Christ:

Trust is our gift back to God, and he finds it so enchanting that Jesus died for the love of it” (Pg. 2)

 

“Unwavering trust is a rare and precious thing because it often demands a degree of courage that borders on the heroic. When the shadow of Jesus’ cross falls across our lives in the form of failure, rejection, abandonment, betrayal, unemployment, loneliness, depression, the loss of a loved one, when we are deaf to everything but the shriek of our own pain; when the world around us suddenly seems a hostile, menacing place—at those times we may cry out in anguish, ‘How could a loving God permit this to happen?’ At those moments the seeds of distrust are sown. It requires heroic courage to trust in the love of God no matter what happens to us.” (Pg. 4)

 

“Craving clarity, we attempt to eliminate the risk of trusting God. Fear of the unknown path stretching ahead of us destroys childlike trust in the Father’s active goodness and unrestricted love.

We often presume that trust will dispel the confusion, illuminate the darkness, vanquish the uncertainty, and redeem the times. But the crowd of witnesses in Hebrews 11 testifies that this is not the case. Our trust does not bring final clarity on this earth. It does not still the chaos or dull the pain or provide a crutch. When all else is unclear, the heart of trust says, as Jesus did on the cross, ‘Into your hands I commit my spirit.’ (Luke 23:46)

If we could free ourselves from the temptation to make faith a mindless assent to a dusty pawnshop of doctrinal beliefs, we would discover with alarm that the essence of biblical faith lies in trusting God. And as Marcus Borg has noted, ‘The first is a matter of the head, the second a matter of the heart. The first can leave us unchanged, the second intrinsically brings change.’

The faith that animates the Christian community is less a matter of believing in the existence of God than a practical trust in his loving care under whatever pressure. The stakes here are enormous, for I have not said in my heart ‘God exists,’ until I have said, ‘I trust you.’ The first assertion is rational, abstract, a matter perhaps of natural theology, the mind laboring at its logic. The second is ‘communion, bread on the tongue from an unseen hand.’ Against insurmountable obstacles and without a clue as to the outcome, the trusting heart says, ‘Abba, I surrender my will and my life to you without any reservation and with boundless confidence, for you are my loving Father.” (Pg. 6-7)

 

The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future. The next step discloses itself only out of a discernment of God acting in the desert of the present moment. The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.” (Pg. 12-13)

 

“Wallowing in shame, remorse, self-hatred, and guilt over real or imagined failings in our past lives betrays a distrust in the love of God. It shows that we have not accepted the acceptance of Jesus Christ and thus have rejected the total sufficiency of his redeeming work. Preoccupation with our past sins, present weaknesses, and character defects gets our emotions churning in self-destructive ways, closes us within the mighty citadel of self, and preempts the presence of a compassionate God.” (Pg.15)

 

Hopefully you get just a taste of the feast within this small book. Trusting God is stepping out of the boat of perceived safety all-the-while feeling like an idiot! Risking trust will most likely open us to the criticism of those still huddled in fear in the thin structures of the boat of legalistic comfort, and humanly constructed and maintained moral safety which is inherent in human empires… especially religious ones. The crowd in the boat will most likely shout words of shame in our direction, and our inner voices are tempted to pick up the chant and even expand them. Yet the grace and mercy of the walking Christ invites us to cast the words into the depths of the untamable waves of God’s forgiveness. There is no going back… Rather… full speed ahead!

The Passing of an Era…

In the past several years, I have made it a habit to find a second place to spend several hours a week. A second place is somewhere other than where I live. I used to choose a coffee shop primarily, but since moving to Florida, I found a bar/restaurant as my hang-out. There are different reasons why I might like one spot over another:

 

Design/decor…

 

Proximity to my home…

 

Quality of the product they sell…

 

Attitude of staff towards those who want to hang out…

 

Usually, however, the spot I choose has more to do with the staff, and people who also hang out there.  I have found it enjoyable to kibbitz with staff, and to find conversations which serendipitously happen. I am often amazed at the stories of people that I learn just by being a fixture in a place. Friendships happen, and life is shared. I love the process until the process ends, because a place closes. That is what has happened to my most recent second place.

I don’t remember the first time I stepped into The Sloppy Pelican, but I remember that every time I went in, the staff was friendly and seemed to get along with each other. That is a key to a great second place: the people who work there enjoy each other. I love a group of employees who have a great work ethic, and a playful attitude with each other and customers. I will definitely miss my friends at The Pelican. I came to know and care for them.

I knew some of their stories…

I knew the spouses or boyfriends of them…

I knew if their relationships were healthy or dysfunctional…

I knew of their second jobs…

I knew of their kids…

I knew a little of their dreams and how they spent their free time…

I prayed with them…

I pray for them…

We came to love each other… all over a beer or two.

I also got to know some of the musicians who came to share their talents there. I even came to know a few of their fans and wives and children and fathers and friends and business associates, and became friends with them as well.

It was quite lovely…

Actually, it wasn’t that different from being in church, as far as the social aspects were concerned. I was frequently surprised how often conversations turned to God, or faith, or past experiences in church. The conversations scattered between positive experiences with the above, or hurtful ones.

Honestly….

… I kinda felt like Jesus…

…with Zacchias…

…or Matthew…

…or Mary Magdalene…

I only hope I did Him justice. I know I didn’t do it perfectly by any means, but often I realized the presence of God’s Spirit speaking eloquently through me. Not something I would expect, nor was raised to expect, when my tongue was slightly thick after a beer… or two. Love seems to seep into places we least expect it to be…

… all over a beer or two…

But the affect wasn’t one sided. These folks’ lives spoke to me, as well. I marvel at the hard work of Alejandro, removing trash, lugging food, cleaning the floor, replenishing the liquor cabinet, and doing just whatever needed to be done; then working a day job mowing lawns Monday through Friday. He always has a smile and warm greeting: a GREAT attitude. One evening, Alex told me of his 4-year-old daughter and her fresh diagnosis of leukemia. His day-job gives him benefits, so her medical care is covered by insurance, yet he continued to work at Sloppy for extra money. Actually, he didn’t receive an hourly wage there. He worked only for a share of the tips given by customers. His life gave me a different perspective on the importance of giving a tip after a meal.

I was amazed in the way the staff dealt with customers, and their savvy in knowing when someone was being deliberately unkind and/or belligerent, or just allowing the alcohol speak, with no mean intention. They also had each other’s back, while continuing to do the job.

I pray each of my friends will be guided by the kindness of God towards ever-greater health and loves. Hopefully, our paths will cross again…

Symmetry and Redemption…

I first came to the Kansas City area in August, 1980. I came to go to college, but more importantly, at least to me, to play football at Mid America Nazarene College (that was the name at the time, but has now grown up into a university) in Olathe, Kansas. The first guy I met was Tim Robbins, a defensive lineman from California. Tim was to become a good friend, with whom I would work for several years at a local juvenile detention. I fancied myself a somewhat mature freshman, as I had finished high school in 1979 in Longmont, Colorado while living with family friends, since my parents had moved to Indiana. The summer after graduation, I traveled to Europe with a choir and concert band. We were 6 tour-buses filled with high school and college students from across the United States. It was a month-long trip to 7 different cities, filled with adventure, history, and beauty; with few chaperons. Lots of fun and no jail-time. After the trip, I came to Indiana to live with my parents and work for a year to pay for my trip.

After attending an Indiana high school football game, I decided to return to my first love: football. I began the process of looking for a college. I was a player looking for a game. My search wasn’t primarily about education, or a scholarship… I just wanted to put on the pads again. Mid America wasn’t originally on my list, because I didn’t know the school was beginning a program. Through a circuitous route which passed through KC, lead to Dodge City, Kansas, then back to KC/Olathe, and to Indiana again; I learned of the new program, participated in spring, “players only” drills, and decided that God wanted me back in Kansas. (I have since questioned that assessment several times. At that moment, it seemed right.)

So, as I began to unload my belongings from my parents’ car, with Tim’s help, and carried them up the walk to Snowbarger 104, I believed myself ready to begin the next step into adulthood.

Wow… that seems like a lifetime ago…

Looking back, I am reminded that from the beginning, I didn’t seem to fit. Actually, that was one of the things Tim and I had in common. He was a California beach guy, used to hanging out in board shorts, a t-shirt and flip-flops. We were BOTH in for a lot of surprises. In particular, I found that I had to prove myself. In football, this wasn’t particularly difficult, although I was suprised by this fact, and besides, all jocks are used to having to prove themselves to their teammates. I came in as a non-scholarship walk-on. The program was new, and we were mostly freshmen and sophmores. Only three upper-classmen in the group, and two of the three were kickers. The week before the other students moved in, the team was busy running, fighting, and bleeding together; so when everybody else came for the fall semester; we kind of felt they were trespassing. The bond of two-a-days cemented our claim on the campus as ours… at least for one year. At the time, small college football was rife with players leaving after one semester. People left, sometimes without telling anybody…

“Have you seen…?”

“Gone!”

“Daaaang…. that didn’t take long…”

“That’s ok. If he didn’t want to be here, then we don’t need him.”

While I never considered leaving MNU, it was more because of my teammates than anything else. The day before registration, the head coach approached my locker to tell me that I had earned a scholarship due to my play. I was both surprised and filled with a sense of accomplishment. Not because of the amount of the scholarship (only $500, half the amount the school was allowed to give by the NAIA at the time). Mostly, the scholarship affirmed that I was accepted and good enough to play college football.

However, the next day at registration, I came face-to-face with a feeling of dissonance that I was a square peg, trying to ram myself into a round hole. My educational plan was to major in Church Music, with the intention of eventually becoming a Minister of Music for a church somewhere. The problem was… I was a football player. To me, these two identities made perfect sense. I had always loved both music and sports, and excelled in both. The academic adviser to which I had been assigned, however, didn’t see the fit. When he learned I planned on pursuing both in college, his words smacked me in the face with my first taste of social dissonance:

Adviser: “I see you are playing football…”

Me: “Yes…”

Adviser: “I don’t want to dissuade you… (dissonance)… but it has been my experience that music and football are two mistresses that don’t like each other very much. I suspect you will eventually drop one of them in favor of the other…”

Me: (Outwardly) … well… I want to try both. (Inwardly) It ain’t gonna be football…! I choose football…”

What I WISH I would’ve said?

“Watch me!”

His words to me communicated that I didn’t fit…”You gotta be one or the other: musicial/creative or jock.”

The truth? I was and am both. 50-year-old me knows that. I am comfortable with that. Maybe even a little proud of that!

To be fair, the adviser tried to help me adjust to the structured world of music theory, while also acknowledging and allowing me opportunities to use my natural, music gifts. Yet his first words stick in my memory as a first challenge to an identity, as yet unformed. When I took my first Music Theory class and Beginning Class Piano, I looked for any reason to leave my original plan. Football gave me that reason. I dislocated a finger playing in a junior varsity game, and quickly dropped the piano class. I then began looking for a different major.

I have always regretted that decision…

The Mystery of Unrequited Friendship…

I was thumbing through my facebook… ok… mousing through…. and ran across a new friend addressing another friend of hers…. is that clear? Maybe not… anyway… she posted that, although she had tried to befriend this person, she wasn’t on her list of friends, but she was able to read the posts of the prospective friend. So my new friend was confused as to why she could read about the other person’s life, but they weren’t yet official friends.

Actually, I think I may have some friends like that. I know all about their life, because they tell me about it, yet we really haven’t known each other very long. Like a young man I met at the orientation for my new job. We were hanging outside aftward, and he came up to bum a cigarette… oh… and my cell phone. My daughter was in town for a visit, so she was driving my pick-up, and I was waiting for her to pick me up. He was waiting for his girlfriend to get him. As we stood there talking, this guy just starts telling me all this personal stuff, and I am thinking, “Dude! You don’t KNOW me, and you’re just laying it all out there…” Either pretty trusting or pretty needy. I didn’t mind, I’m always interested in people’s stories, but sometimes a little self-editing is in order. You never really know what someone else will do with it, or what they will think when you just unload all this stuff in their lap.

I have a couple of other friends at the Starbucks I live at. One of them is a homeless woman who calls me “Paul” all the time. She usually hits me up for a cigarette, too. If I have them, I share. She really has some difficulty with reality, I’m thinking. She used to have a 19-year-old daughter that hung out there with her, but the daughter is now living with the woman’s sister. We had an extended conversation once, and she told me that the city police department stole 1 million dollars from her, got her kicked out of her house, suspended her license, beat her up, and continue to harrass her. At that time, she was looking for a lawyer to sue, and carried around a spiral notebook into which she wrote all the things she could remember that the police did to her.

Another friend there, is a former comedian and bartender, who now lives with his parents to take care of them. He has a pretty sad life right now, and spends most of his time talking with pride about his younger brothers while talking himself down. We hang out and talk, although when I am studying, I kind of hope he will just read… but usually he likes to talk. He thinks my name is “Paul” too, because he heard the homeless woman call me that. He now introduces me to other people that he talks to as, “…Paul, my favorite theologian…”

So…now… I have a homeless woman who thinks I am Paul…

…a former comedian, who thinks I’m Paul…

…a pastor from a local church (where former-comedian attends sometimes) who thinks I am Paul…

…a woman pastor (with blue eyes who former-comedian was sitting by the other day when I came in) who thinks I am Paul…

All the baristas know my name, but I am becoming “Paul” to a larger and larger number of people who hang out in the coffee shop. I think it is kind of funny, and have been thinking of seeing how many people will come to know me as “Paul” and how many as “Larry”. Maybe that is weird or a little cruel to the people who continually get my name wrong, or shows I have some deep seeded attachment issues…. I don’t know.

I’ve been thinking about that… about friendship…

How do we know who our friends are and who aren’t? Is that quandary answered when things get hard, or are there some friends who are better suited for difficult times and others for light, fun times? Do we really need to distinguish who our friends are, or does friendship just happen organicly? Can single men and single women be  “just” friends? Are there different friends for different times in our lives or different things we like to do?

And what about God? Can God be a friend? Does the all-powerful-lives-forever-pure-and-holy-everywhere-at-once-knows-everything-about-us-thing get in the way? How would we treat God if God were our friend? How would God treat us? Would either of us go out of our way to hang out together? Would we tell everything about ourself without getting to know one another? Can God be both a guy-friend and a girl-friend…at the same time? What if you wanted to hang out with God, where would you go? Could we really consider God a friend, if we never got to know God’s family, or does God’s family make God as crazy as your family makes you?

What if friendship with God were possible, and all it took was an open mind?

Indulgent Intercessions… Part 8

When Chris got home, Mia met him at the door with a huge hug and a kiss. However, when her lips met his, she tasted the sour edge left over from his after-work stop with Mercer at a bar near his office. She sensed tenseness in him, too. He pulled away a little too quickly, and said, “What a lousy day!”

Stepping past her, he went into the small living room of their apartment and sat down in his leather chair. Immediately, he began to talk about a deal that fell through, and how Mercer believed it to mainly be Chris’s fault. Throughout his monologue, he never mentioned the lowered lights, or table with lit candles and precisely set china which Mia had prepared to properly break the happy news about their daughter. Instead, he began to complain about the unfairness of Mercer’s expectations and of how he never seemed to notice or mention the long hours Chris was working.

“He is just like Frank!” Chris said harshly. “Nothing is ever good enough for him! He doesn’t like it if I take clients to lunch or dinner… and then he doesn’t like it if I DON’T take them out! I try to explain that my best conversations happen with clients when we can relax and get to know each other. What does he WANT from me?”

“Well, maybe if you…” Mia began, but Chris cut her off by continuing his imagined conversation with his boss.

“MERCER is never there to see how well I get along with clients. After two or three drinks, we begin to RELATE to each other. They LIKE me then. I have been SO close to huge deals in the past couple of weeks. But Mercer wouldn’t know that. He asks if I got a signed deal yet. NO I don’t have a deal yet! He was the first one to tell me that the larger the deal is, the more complicated… the longer it takes! I just don’t GET it!”

As Chris continued his tirade, Mia quietly walked around the table, blowing out the candles, and picking up the plates. Walking into the kitchen, she set a load down, took a deep breath, put a hand to her protruding stomach to quiet the moving child, and said, “It’s alright Hope… his day was bad. We will introduce him to you another time. Just know that Mommy loves you…” Walking out of the kitchen, she added, “…and Daddy does too! He just doesn’t know it yet…”

Chris got out of the chair and walked over to the living room window and looked down on the street. Suddenly, his face brightened, and he walked swiftly to the couch upon which he had tossed his jacket, and picked it back up.

“Mia, I just noticed a client walking down the street. I’m gonna see if I can’t catch up with her…uh… him, and catch a drink before he goes home for the evening.” He said as he hurriedly put on his jacket and straightened his tie.

“But what about dinner?” Mia argued.

“I’ll pick something up while I am out… Go ahead and eat!” He encouraged. “Really… It’s ok!” He then breezed through the door, and left it standing open behind him.

Mia walked over to the door, watched him rush down the hall and down the stairs. She began to caress her stomach, as if holding her child in her arms, and said, ” I know, Hope… it’s time to feed you again. I guess we both need some nourishment. Keep growing, Honey, I need to remember you are there. I promise I will continue to feed you. You must keep growing, Darling. You may be all I have!”

Turning from the doorway, she closed the door and walked into the kitchen and began the task of reheating  the dinner she had fixed for a romantic meal, but which was now a culinary collection of tarnished dreams. 

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

Chris hustled down the hall, and took the stairs two at a time; which was quite a feat in a Brooks Brothers suit, and black wing-tip shoes. Rushing into the lobby, he nearly bowled over their next door neighbor as he vaulted himself through the doors of the building and immediately turned to the right.

“Hey D!” Chris shouted to a rapidly retreating figure. “D…wait a minute!” The figure kept walking, and Chris began to quicken his pace, dodging the apartment doorman, and then spinning around an approaching family carrying bags of groceries. “Hey… DELORES!” He finally screamed in desperation.

The figure turned at the name to reveal dark hair, brown eyes, and a widening smile. She was dressed in a pair of chocolate brown slacks and a brown and cream, zebra-print shirt, covered by an old, London Fog rain coat which was unbuttoned and hung loosely on her trim figure.

“What are you doing down here?” Chris asked as he got nearer to Delores.

“I didn’t want to go home after work, so I decided to catch a movie.” She answered.

“What were you going to see?” He asked.

“Well, that’s the problem.” She said, “When I got down here, there was really nothing worth seeing.”

“Are you in a rush to get home?” Chris inquired.

“N-n-not really.” She hesitantly responded. Although it was the truth, her husband, Glen, was out of town for some training for work, she wasn’t sure how she should answer. The light from the coffee shop they were standing in front of, made her decision for her as it lit up Chris’s eyes in the most amazing shade of green.

“Then let’s take a walk and see what we can find.” He suggested.

Pretty Women/The Ladies Who Lunch…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87vMxIw5skg

I spent some time at my local Starbucks the other day. I will usually hit it several times in one week to read or meet a friend… whatever. I usually like to sit in one of the comfortable, overstuffed chairs or couches rather than one of the tables. Let’s face it, my butt is getting old and craves the softness. When I came in, most of the soft chairs were taken except the two without arms near a  longer table which was filled with a group of 5th and 6th grade girls hanging out with a 20-something young woman. How did I know they were 5th and 6th graders? Well…. you just kinda know. Very animated conversations. The stray loud noise from time to time. Giggles. Less robust that 5th and 6th grade boys, who wouldn’t be it Starbucks anyway let alone sitting at a table and talking.  They were perfectly content to talk, look at magazines, and do the stray homework project. Kinda cool, actually. Not in the least distracting, just a nice picture of shared friendship which acted as a visual backdrop to the atmosphere.

As soon as the couch openned up, I moved my assortment of stuff across the room to sit where I could put my legs up on a coffee table. Settling back into the leather and my book, I heard an unusually loud snort from the table of girls, and my head came up in surprise. After the noise, the girls started to laugh, immediately followed by one of them saying, “Look at that guy over there.” I noticed several pairs of eyes furtively glancing in my direction, and then away when they made eye contact with my quick glance. I just smiled. I loved the scene. The ladies who lunch….

A short time later, a group of 20-something-age women entered the door and stood just inside for a moment. One of their group arrived just seconds later, and two of the girls from the table moved quickly towards the door. To the older women, one of the girls said, “You don’t know us, but we know HER…”, motioning to the woman just outside the door. As soon as the late-comer openned the door and before she could enter, one of the girls threw her arms in the air, began hopping up and down, gave a little scream, and jumped through the open door before the woman could even get in. The girl enveloped the young woman in an huge bear hug. Waiting her turn, the second girl also met the woman outside the shop. A second hug was given, and the three came back in the shop. After the greeting, the girls flew back to their table, the young woman said a quick word to her friends and approached the woman sitting with the girls. They must have also been friends, because they exchanged several words and smiles while the group of women settled into a table, grabbing several chairs from about the shop. Eventually, their late friend finished her conversation with the table of girls, and returned to her older friends.

I smiled… and smiled some more. I loved the scene. Since I had to leave for work, I decided to relate to the table of women the thought that had made me smile…

Walking over to the table of women, I said, “Excuse me for a moment…” Motioning with my hand towards the table of girls, I said, “…do you feel like you are looking into the mirror of time?” They all started to laugh while I laughed with them. “That’s good,” I said, and then left.

How valuable friendships of women are for them. I know they can be difficult at times….. circa “Wives of New Jersey… Orange County… Atlanta… New York …or wherever”. But really, women seem to carry healing to each other, when the friendships are positive.

While thinking about these young ladies the other day, I remembered a breakfast I attended several years ago while I was an associate pastor in a small, east coast community. The senior pastor came into my office one afternoon and said, “Are you free for breakfast tomorrow morning?”

“Yes.” I responded.

“Good. I want to introduce you to a neat group of ladies. I’ll meet you at the diner at 7:30.”

“Uuuhhhh, Ooook…..” He wasn’t more specific, and I wondered just what type of breakfast I would be attending.

The next morning, he met me in the parking lot of the diner… there are no BETTER breakfasts than DINER breakfasts, btw…. and we walked through the line of people waiting for a table to a tall desk with the seating list and the hostess. Upon seeing Pastor Jim, she grabbed two menus, and escorted us to a large round table around which were seated several senior adult ladies. They must have been in their 70’s or 80’s, and they were full of life. Since they knew we were coming, they had two place-settings already prepared for us. After ordering, we began to talk and listen. I really couldn’t tell you  the topic of conversation. As I recall, the conversation kind of meandered, until…

“Well, it’s about 9-o’clock… we need to give up the table or they will be yelling at us…” one of the women said. At the time, I was confused. Why would a diner complain about customers taking up table space, especially ones who had eaten as much as our group had? Smiling at my look of confusion, Jim explained, “There is a group of older men who always meet here at 9 a.m. and this is the only table large enough to seat either group.  They get very impatient if these women are late in leaving.”

I started laughing…. that figures…. good natured jousting between the two groups, but jousting nonetheless.

Looking into the mirror of time, how beautiful it is to see friendships begin, grow, and last. Especially friendships of women. 

 I think Barbara Streisand gets it right, “How they make a man sing…”

Courage to Believe in Other People….

I’ve been away from this blogging discipline for quite awhile. The last blog I posted was about having courage to believe in myself. Frankly, I have been working on that process. I am learning how fundamental learning about myself is to how I approach life and relationships. Actually, my relationship with God, grants me access into a deeper, and more honest understanding of my value, gifts, talents, and the manner in which I am hard-wired to approach life. Counterintuitively, this self-knowledge and honesty helps me approach others with greater understanding.

My dad used to say that a man is tempted to live in one of two ways: Either he is hard on others and easy on himself or he is easy on others and hard on himself. While I understand what his point was, I have begun to see that the manner in which we see other people is tied to what we think and feel about outselves. As I have  stated before, Jesus’ statement regarding the two most important commandments (Mark 12: 24-34), points us to a principle of relational life. I suppose if I were to put a name to the principle, it would be: Vine Life. Jesus uses the picture of a vine as a means of describing healthy living….

John 15: 1-17

  “I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

 “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.

 “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

 “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.

 “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

 “You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.

 “But remember the root command: Love one another.

In a vine, the elements necessary for life of each branch flow while it is connected to the vine. If a branch is seperated from the vine and the flow of nutrients, it shrivels and dies. If the branch is still intact, however, they are enriched and grow, and the nutrients are passed along to other branches which sprout from the original branch.

My relationship with God, reminds me that he chose me. He calls me his friend. He created me to be fruitful. To be someone of value to him, to other people, and to myself as I express my passions in unique beauty. I am also reminded within this relationship that there is also dysfunction within me. But the presence of my dysfunction does not deter nor detract from my value. God communicates that to me as only God can, in love… by giving me good things I don’t deserve…. by continuing the flow of life giving nutrients while I remain connected to him. I can then be safe. I become thankful for my gifts, yet humble regarding my weaknesses, and that it is ok to have both. I don’t have to pretend to be something I am not, because who I am is enough… actually, its really good. Knowing this produces courage within me to believe in other people. I don’t have to keep a mask in place. I give others what I have received from God. The life flows through the vine into me, and through me into other people. I also give them room to work through the issues in their life. I can become involved, if it seems to make sense and they are open to it, but I do not control them nor their process. That is God’s work, and I am fully incapable of doing God’s work. I sometimes forget that.

Learning my own areas of passion and the manner in which I naturally express them, helps me understand and value the manner in which other people express their individuality. The danger is when I expect other people to love the same things I love and to express that love in the same manner as  I do. I saw a great illustration of this today on the cable tv show, “Overhaulin”.

I love make-over programs on tv. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the object being renovated is a home, a vehicle, or a person’s wardrobe and fashion style. I just love to watch someone enter a person’s world, and give them something of beauty where there was once mediocrity or ugliness. The show “Overhaulin'” uses the automotive, creative genius of Chip Foose and his team of artisans to completely redesign someone’s automobile in 7 days. The process isn’t completely straight forward, however, because they want the transformation to be an elaborate surprise. They scam the owner of the vehicle with the help of close friends or family, and a steady supply of actors who fool the “mark” into believing their vehicle has been stolen or wrapped up in extensive red tape which will require it to be out of the owner’s possession. The scheme isn’t just one scam at the beginning of the week where the “mark” is advised they will get back the vehicle at the end of the week. The practical jokers aren’t that kind. They string the owner along, with repeated scams which continue to highten the tension of the “mark”. Often, the vehicle has some sentimental significance to the owner, like it was his father’s car who bought it new, or the owner just has a passion for the vehicle and is intent on restoring it but just hasn’t had the time or money… whatever the reason, there usually is a strong emotional tie to the vehicle, so it’s loss is extremely upsetting. To make matters worse, as they tape the show, the actors and mechanics talk to the “mark” via the videotape they will eventually see. As they view the tape, they will also see themselves fighting for the return of their vehicle, which can be really embarassing to the “mark”. It’s really a great show!

Today, I watched “The Best of Overhaulin.'” In this segment, they bring former recipients of Fooste’s creative makeovers, and talk to them about their experience during their show, and how people have responded to their “new/old” car. I immediately became particularly interested in one of the former “marks” when he mentioned that his was the tenth project the show had taped. The car was an Oldsmobile 442, a real gearhead car. A 70’s muscle car that could really get up and move in its day. Actually, the guy had taken pretty good care of the car before the makeover, and one of the scenes included the two actor/hosts showing some speed while they “stole” the car.

When the owner was being interviewed by Chip, genius car designer and hands-on gear head artist, he was asked how he liked the car now. The guy, of course responded with pride and gratitude, but then something very interesting happened. Chip gently said, “I hear you changed the motor…”

After a slight pause, the owner said, “Yeah…” and then began to explain what he had done and what systems he had kept in place from the original engine makeover. He spoke almost apologetically, hoping, I suppose, that his changes hadn’t offended Chip and his team. However, Chip responded gently, with no trace of being offended at all.

As soon as Chip asked the question, my mouth fell open. To me, changing a Foose design is like taking a paint brush and paint into the Louvre, and beginning to change the smile on the Mona Lisa because you feel it’s too subtle. Suddenly, I saw that I had a dilema on my hands. How was I to interpret the actions of this car owner? One way of interpretting his actions was to believe he was too picky. One of the most famous car designers in the world had changed your car from good to priceless and it just wasn’t good enough for you. What a small-minded, egomaniacle little man….

Another way of looking at it is that the owner felt like a victim… like it wasn’t his car anymore. Someone else had done the work, and in his mind, it now belonged to them. How prideful. How short-sighted….

Suddenly, a new thought crept into my mind… What if…. What if this guy just really loved to work on his car? What if it were one of his passions? Maybe the guy loved the new design, but he just loved getting grease under his fingernails. Maybe he comes alive in the creative process of working on a car he loves. Looking at the guy in this way helped me. The manner in which Chip Foose responded to the owner makes me wonder if this isn’t the case. Chip wasn’t threatened by the guy’s work. He seemed to understand it. Mainly, because Chip is a car-guy too. He is ALWAYS hands-on during the process. Chip’s father was a world-class car designer, so I suspect he grew up in a garage with a screw-driver in his hand. If anyone would understand the love of working on a car, Chip Foose would, because he shared the same passion.

I love thinking that thought. Two passionate people who hold lightly to the metal upon which they work because they know it is the process that holds their attention. And change just means a lengthened, enjoyable process. The car was like a canvas upon which they could both create and express themselves. By working on the same canvas, it became a shared piece of art. That is so cool!

Knowing ourselves opens us to deeper sharing with other people. However, it takes courage to hold lightly to our own perceptions and assumptions about somebody else. The healthier we are individually… the more secure in our value as defined by God… the easier it is to accept and love others deeply.

Knowing what we love, helps us see the same value in someone else and appreciate their courage to express that love…