Unplugged… 15 Minutes at a Time…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5K6_ZtTcMQI

In 1992, Eric Clapton played a segment of MTV’s Unplugged. The album became one of his most popular. The concert included many of his classic hits, but also became a model for a style of music that was stripped down from a preponderance of technology, and delighted in the simplicity of musicians sitting around and just playing. The model was so popular, that Clapton began to include an unplugged segment in most of his concerts after that. Although not exactly true; the “accoustic” instruments were still electricly amplified; the unplugged model points back to an earlier day when musicians would play music with no help from electric amps and speakers.  People listening to these relaxed concerts had to develop keen listening skills, and maintain a perticular concentration to the music’s subtleties. The audience had to stay fully involved in the moment, and that meant the performance was a collaborative effort: the performer not only giving to those hearing his/her music, but also receiving feedback from the others in the room. Kind of like street musicians, who ply their wares and watch for passers-by to stop and turn their attention to the music being played, and away from the distractions of the surrounding noise.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMyXfdk_Fp8&feature=fvwrel

As the above link shows, not many people are willing or maybe even able, to set aside the distractions of their immediate life to recognise and listen to beauty when it enters their world. It is so much easier to be entranced by our press forward into the urgency we perceive to be necessary. Sometimes, our distractions are less important than necessary tasks we need to complete. Sometimes, the distractions are a tad more frivolous…. like Facebook.

The other day at work, I went outside to take a 15-minute break. It was hot, but the wind was blowing and I really like getting out of the store into the natural (or as natural as JoCo suburbia retail is) world for a little while. I took my phone out in order to check Facebook… also a habit. As I pressed the button for it to load, a question suddenly occurred to me:

“How many more posts about people adding 83 new friends, or telling about their new blog do you need to see? The wind is nice, why not sit down and enjoy it?”

Now I really don’t have a problem with friends adding friends, or marketting their new blog posts… this post will run across your screen if you are one of my Facebook friends… but really… do I HAVE to know that information every free minute of the day? When does habit run into addiction? So I determined to unplug, at least for that 15 minutes. That 15 minutes was like pushing in the clutch on a manual transmission vehicle. It allowed the engine of my mind to disengage with a busy world, and enter a more tranquil one where the wind blew and cooled my body. I could hear the high school marching band practicing nearby. By so doing, I continue the practice of allowing myself to see, hear, and feel the beauty around me.

In the link about Joshua Bell’s Washington, D.C. subway concert, there is one woman near the end of the clip who stands in the middle of the entryway, transfixed by the beauty of the music played by a modern-day master. She knows who the “street” musician is, and stops her mad rush through the world in order to receive the beauty of the Master.

What a great idea… 15 minutes at a time…

A Delight-Filled Day…

This past Sunday, I spent the day with my son. I began school this past week and have been hard at work trying to get my life together, purchasing the tools I will need for the next three years of classes, ordering the books, trying to find a vehicle to save time cycling to and from work, and beginning my first tentative academic responses to the mission laid out for me by each class. I rented a car for the weekend in order to save time and aid in my search for a pick-up to buy. So, Sunday I decided to go downtown and hang out with Baird. Originally, I thought I would go to church where I usually do, and pick him up for a late lunch. Instead, I asked Baird if he wanted to go to Jacob’s Well in mid-town KC. JW is a cool church. I love the vibe of the music, which has an alternative feel. I also loved the speaking of JW’s founding pastor, Tim Keel. Tim has since followed God’s call on his heart to New Zealand… I kinda wish God would call ME to New Zealand… JW has been searching for a new “teaching” pastor for a year, and is in the final stages of deciding on which person to extend an invitation to. Before the divorce, we attended JW, and it holds a unique place in my heart.

So I called Baird and asked if he would like to go to church with me, eat lunch at Gates Barbeque… Best bbq in Kansas City and therefore the WORLD!…  and then hang out at Broadway Café in Westport. Baird loved the idea… especially Gates… and we decided that I would pick him up at 10:15, to make it to JW by the 11:00 service.

I was looking FORWARD to Sunday!

Before classes started, I began reading a book titled: “Sabbath” by Dan Allender. It is another book in The Ancient Practices Series published by Thomas Nelson Publishers. I only read into the first chapter, and had to lay it aside once school started. However, the introduction and first chapter made a distinct impact on my understanding of Sabbath. The faith tradition in which I grew up aligned the concept of Sabbath with going to church on Sunday: Sunday School at 9:30, Church at 10:45, and then church AGAIN at 6pm that evening. They also defined Sabbath more by what you WEREN’T supposed to do, rather than what you WERE supposed to do. For instance: Don’t work, don’t eat out, don’t watch TV, blah, blah, blah… Therefore, I have always had a low level of guilt which accompanies each Sunday. Thankfully, I am breaking out of that dysfunction. Looking back at my past and most recent experiences in church, I find that there are two ends of an emotional spectrum to which the Church has difficulty expressing, or giving room for expression corporately: Joy/fun and Grief/sadness. The concept of Sabbath, as defined by Allender fits into the Joy end of the spectrum. Allender defines the experience of Sabbath as, “a day of delight that delivers us to joy.” In fact, the manner in which Allender describes Sabbath sounds more like a party than a somber day spent mining the depths of the ontology of God. Instead, it sounds like God walking through the expanse of his creation with a smile on his face as he encounters the beauty there, followed by a deeply significant word… “That’s just VERY COOL!”

 Another aspect of Sabbath which Allender suggests is experiencing “the holy”:

“The holy is not located in one designated and agreed-upon space, such as a church, a monastery, or a stunning vista that captures a breathtaking view of a mountain range. The holy comes in a moment when we are captured by beauty, and a dance of delight swirls us beyond the moment to taste the expanse of eternity in, around, and before us.

The holy usually comes in unexpected, utterly surprising moments where the gift of goodness opens our heart to wonder and gratitude. It may come as we are traversing a familiar ski run and the play of light and shadow creates a stage of grandeur; or in awakening in your new home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, after six months of language study and realizing that for the first time you dreamed in the native language. These moments of delicious surprise are pregnant with delight.

Delight doesn’t require a journey thousands of miles away to taste the presence of God, but it does require a seperation from the mundane, an intentional choice to enter joy and follow God as he celebrates the glory of his creation and his faithfulness to keep his covenant to redeem the captives.” pg. 3-4

These thoughts were in the back of my mind as I gained speed on the entrance to I35 heading north into the heart of Kansas City. As I drove, I listened to a cd I had recorded with some of my favorite artists. I was listening to Santana when a guilt-producing thought came into my mind: “It’s Sunday, you really SHOULD be listening to Chriiiiiiiistian music!” Old habits rarely die easily, and guilt is firmly entrenched in the crevices of my brain. Suddenly, from the recesses of my mind, came a thought:

“You are driving with the windows down, the wind blowing through your hair, listening to music that you love…. Isn’t that delightful? Allow yourself to enjoy the blessings of the experience and this beautiful day. THAT IS SABBATH!”

I took this new thought to be the voice of God to me. And I think he said in a slightly quieter voice, as if under his breath: “…besides, I like Santana too!”

Although I could be mistaken on the last part…

I was then able to become fully present in the beautiful moments of that day:

The light coming through the old stained glass windows of Jacob’s Well…

The music…

Being in church with my son…

The children dancing in the aisles to the music…

The incomperable briscuit at Gates which is always served piled between two pieces of plain white bread…

The bread sticking to the roof of my mouth…

The Cafe Mocha with the beautiful foam artwork on the top from Broadway Cafe’…

The wonderful conversation with my son that always begins, meanders from subject to subject, and never seems to end until it must end, with each of us knowing we will pick it up again… later…

Joy!

Delight! 

Simple things which were certainly, “… a seperation from the mundane, an intentional choice to enter joy and follow God as he celebrates the glory of his creation and his faithfulness to keep his covenant to redeem the captives.”

Sabbath…

If His Grace is an Ocean…

I am acting as a facilitator in a Divorce Care small group this spring. Two of the leaders asked me if I would consider it and I agreed. Walking through the DVD presentations always helps me remember where I have been throughout the last year, and then how life is right now. Going through the emotional morasse of seperation and divorce is a confusing trek through the wilderness. So much about who we have been in life is completely shifted. The mental and emotional map of the landscape of life is torn and obliterated. We are lost, and the identifiable patterns of grief have taken hold on our personality.

My first time through, I was so impressed with the courage of my patners in the small group process. It is quite unnerving to walk into a room with strangers, and begin to tell a very personal story. Yet telling and hearing is a large part of the healing process. After being cut so deeply by another person, I am amazed that we would still reach out to others. And yet, that is the best thing for us to do, to reach out of our personal darkness and begin to assess the new reality. A group of people going through the process of laying aside our past lives and adjusting ourselves to the new. We must redraw our mental and emotional maps to see life now, redefining ourselves in the process.

Personally, I have been gaining traction in my life. I am making headway and have attained goals which I have chosen, and frankly have chosen me. My divorce was final January 26, 2010. I am enrolled in George Fox Seminary to pursue a Master’s level degree in Spiritual Formation. It is an online program which allows me to live anywhere and still take the classes. The great part is that I must travel to Portland, Oregon once a semester for a couple weeks on campus. I have never been to Portland, and look forward to the adventure of exploring, what appears to be, a city of the new century. George Fox is a university founded in the Quaker faith tradition. I was particularly interested in that fact, since my great-grandfather was a Society of Friends minister throughout the early half of the 20th century. Something just seems right in pursuing the degree within theological reach of my ancesters…. full-circle, so to speak.

I had a conversation with a very dear friend the other day in which he told me that he had never really experienced God. He was raised in the church, where his family was intimately involved in ministry, but his parents’ marriage ended in divorce. The word which most described his faith context at the moment was and is “agnostic”. He is very intelligent, and views the world with a mild skepticism, guarding himself from the selfish intentions of others. His view of much of the church is somewhat jaundiced, or at least this is my observation of him, and the trendiness in style of worship kind of seems like a sales pitch. But, ultimately, he hasn’t experienced God…. so he finds he can explain many things about modern religious experience. He says there is a divide inside of him, part of him holds to a belief in God, but another side of him questions the personal nature of God.

Although I have always felt God in the big areas of life: success, nature, mother with child, when I performed well… I always felt God was disappointed with me in my weaknesses and failures. As I have written before in this blog, I spent the majority of my life living by a secret formula:

Church + Family + Performance = Worth

This formula remained a secret to me until all the areas on the left side of the equal sign were in ruins. I was left with no personal belief of my own worth to the world or to God. But somewhere in the ashes of my life were embers of a passionate love of which I was unaware. This love manifested itself through other people when, to my own view, I deserved no regard from them. Also, the ashes began to stir with new heat when I saw God bring about beautiful things into my life. Although I had hoped for the good… well, if I were to be honest… I had even stopped hoping… to hope would have been a step up. Yet hope entered my heart, from outside my circumstances. I cannot explain to a skeptic with enough logical eloquence to convince them of this reality. Love is a “faith” thing. Love is a leap into the darkness. To receive love is especially so, when your experience has been rejection.  To receive love and know it is from God, requires a raw faith, which is also a gift from God. I have found that I was able to receive this deeper, raw faith, only when I was emptied of all the things with which I had been trying to fill my heart. God destroyed me, in order to remake me. God allowed me to be rejected and alone, so He could speak His own love into my heart.

Sunday night, I attended a church service oriented towards 20 and 30- somethings. I love those types of services because they tend to be raw and honest. There is less polish and more scuffs. If such a service were a room, it would have peeling wallpaper with wooden floors and deep scrapes in the wood. The furniture would be a scattering of misshapen chairs painted different colors and surrounding a couch with worn arms and no legs. Strangely, such a room has an authentic beauty, especially if it is your home. This particular service was about God’s love. I am always drawn to music. If the musicians use their gifts in a worshipful manner, as if they aren’t performing for a group of people, but for their own benefit and as a celebration of God’s gift of life and music; then I am able to join in. But if it seems to be more about the “show”, then I have to concentrate on other things in order to “step into the stream of grace”, as I once heard a speaker put it.  On this particular night, God was there. There was a gentleness to the place. I really didn’t know the music, so I listened until I learned each song, and then sang. For me, singing and worship seem to go together. My spirit frees itself of its inhibitions when I begin to sing… full voice… expressively… let ‘er rip… so to speak.

And yet, on this night, the lyrics of a couple of songs, seared into my heart. Like a knife, they cut deep into a place  of which I was unaware. A place where I still felt lonely… unloved. God has been sending me waves of grace lately. Looking back on my life, there have been times I wish I had acted differently. Mistakes. Poor judgements. Words I would love to take back. Actions I wish I’d taken. It’s like a little kid who comes across a newly poured, concrete driveway, reaches down with his finger and begins to write. Over and over his finger traces the words until the concrete begins to harden and the pathway of each word becomes not his choice of the moment, but a trench of past actions. The words are set. Unchanging. For all to see, never to be erased or changed. And that is how we see our lives if we use the eyes of humanity and reason. But with the eyes of faith….

The words of our lives are

written in sand on Mercy Beach

where tidal waves of grace

inch by inch

take away the words which were once

our tombs.

And yet…

These same waves

dissolve the walls of sandcastles

 we build which make us feel

secure

but in reality

isolate us.

As each wave rolls and more of each wall dissolves away

we learn we are vulnerable.

And mercy can finally reach us.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWgeUrD4MHI

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realise just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

And oh, how He loves us so,
Oh how He loves us,
How He loves us so

Yeah, He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves.
Yeah, He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves.

We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
So Heaven meets earth like a unforeseen kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about, the way…

He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Oh how He loves.
Yeah, He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves.

Soon

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8I3VO19i2w

Foreplay/Long Time…

It was in Dennis Smith’s basement. He had a new record….vinyl…. he wanted me to hear. He turned it up…. We JAMMED…. not Wayne’s World jammed… but, oh-my-gosh-this- is-instantly-classic-perfect jammed. Frankly, I don’t want to hear a live cut of it. I want the original perfection of sound. Of course I bought the……8-track. Last song on channel 4. I drove our chocolate brown, with white landau roof and luggage rack Plymouth Duster and styled. I’m sure I wore out the original tape. Sweet music in a sweet ride. I still remember coming home from a summer baseball game in that car with 6 buddies with Boston on and cruising at 110… and I’m alive.

Windows open…

Hair flying…

Heads nodding…

Alive!

Man….. music DOES  that to me. It makes me know I am alive! So, today out for a walk…

 Whaddya wanna listen to, lw?

 Maybe a little Boston….thank you!

And you know what? Foreplay starts… a little smile begins to tug at the corner of my lips. I wait…… and wait….. and wait….. and then…. THERE IT GOES! I smile and my head starts to move…. my gate matches the drums… and it is STILL perfect! Once again, my hair is blowing…. maybe not quite so much…. but, still…

It’s been such a long time
I think I should be goin’, yeah
And time doesn’t wait for me, it keeps on rollin’
Sail on, on a distant highway
I’ve got to keep on chasin’ a dream
I’ve gotta be on my way
Wish there was something I could say.

Well I’m takin’ my time, I’m just movin’ along
You’ll forget about me after I’ve been gone
And I take what I find, I don’t want no more
It’s just outside of your front door.

It’s been such a long time. It’s been such a long time.

Well I get so lonely when I am without you
But in my mind, deep in my mind,
I can’t forget about you
Good times, and faces that remind me
I’m tryin’ to forget your name and leave it all behind me
You’re comin’ back to find me.

Well I’m takin’ my time, I’m just movin’ along
You’ll forget about me after I’ve been gone
And I take what I find, I don’t want no more
It’s just outside of your front door.

It’s been such a long time. It’s been such a long time.

Yeah. It’s been such a long time, I think I should be goin’, yeah
And time dosnt wait for me, it keeps on rollin’
There’s a long road, I’ve gotta stay in time with
I’ve got to keep on chasin’ that dream, though I may never find it
I’m always just behind it.

Well I’m takin’ my time, I’m just movin’ along
Takin’ my time, just movin’ along
Takin’ my time, yeah I’m takin’ my time…

So many times, we all are “chasin’ that dream, though I may never find it…” and it feels like, “I’m always just behind it.” But maybe today is the dream we keep chasing. A lot of our life seems to be focussed on what is, may, or may not come tomorrow. It is trite, but we miss the joy of today while pursuing the happiness of tomorrow.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly have dreams that only tomorrow can bring. That’s a GOOD thing… to press on… stretch forward… like a good running back… running with a forward lean! But today is what we have….uh….today.

Yes… we prepare

Yes… we plan

Yes… we save

But

TODAY… be alive!

TODAY… be thankful!

TODAY… be content!

TODAY… take what you find, and don’t want no more!

TODAY… love her!

TODAY… love him!

Brother, roll down the window, turn up the music, and LIVE!