Posts tagged ‘Life’

September, take your time

October Trumpets 7

These bright little trumpet-shaped flowers appeared on my fence last year in early October. This afternoon while walking around the yard, I found them on the same fence again. More buds than flowers but no less beautiful. I had forgotten all about them, and it amazes me that they bloom defiantly at this odd time of the year. They hid throughout spring and survived the withering heat of a Louisiana summer. It just so happens that today is the first cool day we’ve had at the end of the summer, a sign of things to come later but not here to stay just yet.

Summer in Louisiana is Ordinary Time in every sense. “Winter never feels truly at home in New Orleans. An unwelcomed visitor that shows up long enough to remind us of what we’re missing, then leaves us just in time for us to forget again.” (A Love Song for Bobby Long) I guess that’s part of the reason that the changing of seasons has always been sacred to me. It affects me deeply. As much as I love springtime, the new colors, and digging in the dirt with my hands, I think I’ve always loved fall the most.

By the time summer finally wanes everything and everyone is parched and wilting. For some reason my soul usually feels that way by now. Every chance I get I have the windows in my house and car wide open during spring and fall. For a few days this week I’ll get to soak it in as we go from summer to fall to summer to fall again finally. I suppose the main reason the changing seasons affect me so much is that they mark time for me in a way the calendar never can. I feel and know for myself that time is passing. It gives me sacred time to reflect, to take in, to breath out, to mourn, to look forward, to wonder…

The school year is getting underway. The Fair will be coming round before long ushering in the holiday season earlier and earlier every year. While the long awaited ball games kick off and the post-season plays out, the parched leaves will give up their color in a brilliant show and fall slowly to the ground, over and over making room for memories. This is a time for remembering, and I don’t want to rush it. September, take your sweet time.


A pilot who doesn’t fly, a preacher who doesn’t preach

Driving down the interstate cruise on 75 and Springsteen on shuffle my imagination takes the wheel. I push the throttle in, gently pulling back on the steering wheel with two left fingers as the wheels below me come off the ground. I push the nose over hard and trim it out, flying just off the ground. Watching the highway stripes fly by below my window and the airspeed indicator climb I keep my eye on the power line crossing the highway just ahead. The yoke is pushing back. These wings want to fly. Too soon and I might stall, too late and the wheels may clip the line. Hold it… hold it. As soon as I clear the line, all that speed is going to shoot this plane up like a rocket. I’ll let her climb fast and steep trimming it out just before I stall, bank left and head into the sunset.

I have no idea how many times I’ve caught myself daydreaming about flying over the years on the road. I haven’t flown since December 20, 2004. Fuel prices shot up, work slowed down, “I just won’t fly as often, but I’ll still go,” I told myself. Before I knew it a year went by and I was due for my physical and check ride to stay airborne. “Whenever I get the time, I’ll go get that physical done and schedule my check ride. Maybe in a month or two,” I thought. Life happened, work didn’t, and neither did flying.

I’ve met a few older guys who told me they had their pilot’s license but hadn’t flown in decades. I used to think there’s no way I could go that long without flying. You sit and listen to them. It’s in their blood. They talk about it with a romantic glare in their eyes, like they’re somewhere else outside the conversation. “How did you become a pilot who doesn’t fly?” I ask.  “How did you become a preacher who doesn’t preach?” They ask.

I don’t think I planned on it anymore than I decided to stop flying. I was going to work for a living. I had a family to support, and the longer I stayed in full time pastoral ministry the more I became convinced that something about the whole way we do church just isn’t right. I took a few months off, then began pastoring part-time while building a business. There was only so much of me to go around. I wasn’t doing the pastorate justice. The church deserved more attention than I could or wanted to give. I left. Within a few weeks I was getting phone calls to fill in for a Sunday or two. That turned into an interim position with no end in sight. A few months later they found a pastor. I was relieved in every sense of the word. Another church called. I went and for the first time in a long time really enjoyed going. A few months later they wanted me to stay for good. I knew it wasn’t meant to be and slipped out gracefully, opening the door for restoration between the church and its founding pastor who had desperately needed a sabbatical to take care of himself and his family.

The phone gradually stopped ringing, perhaps, because I always had “other obligations” that kept me from filling in. I had changed. A lot. I never felt compelled to drag people with me. I took no pleasure in telling people they were wrong and I was right. I always felt it most polite to avoid confrontation and let them believe whatever gave them peace. It just wasn’t for me any longer. It’s been a couple years since the last interim pastorate, but I don’t daydream about pastoring.

Although I don’t fly anymore and I don’t preach anymore, I still consider myself a pilot and a preacher. I haven’t vowed to never do it again. I just don’t know when I will again or how. I saw a book title yesterday, “Be Yourself Because Everybody Else is Already Taken.” I’m trying real hard just to be me. I really like it. It suits me. For a long time I was somebody else, anyone else. Everything and everyone shaped me into who they wanted me to be. No longer.

I never craved the spotlight. I ran from it when I could. Let me do what I need to do, say what I must say, then I’m out the door. Preaching was never about being center stage for me. I was the lens and the conduit through which the message was delivered, but I never wanted to make it about me. I started reading the Bible when I was 15. I mean really reading it, studying it, contemplating it. For some reason I understood it and could explain it simply. People began recognizing this and starting giving me opportunities to speak and teach. I just wanted people to see what I saw, hear what I heard. It was up to them what they wanted to do with it.

I still don’t miss the pulpit, but I do miss sharing things with people, showing them what I’ve found. I get excited over ideas and possibilities, like a new rock or a new bug I found in the yard as a toddler. Everyone must see it and be amazed like me. A lot of people aren’t amazed though. Most people, it seems, want someone to tell them what they already believe. They don’t want to be challenged. They’re not comfortable with having their imaginations stretched or their assumptions second guessed. No, sir. No, thank you. I’ve never been confrontational and would rather people go on in their delusions if that’s what makes them happy, but what do I do? What about this amazing, shiny, colorful rock I found? Doesn’t anyone want to see it?

I have to rethink community and what it means to me. I’ve had to rethink friendships and wonder who they really are to me. I think about sages and mystics from long ago. They didn’t climb a box in the middle of town and shout to the world. They were alone in their thoughts and those who craved to know more and to be more sought them out like moths to a flame. Like minds, like spirits attract one another. So, I’ve learned to find kindred spirits in unlikely places.

I don’t regret my time as a pastor. It’s part of who I am. It was another step on the journey. I don’t see my task as a pastor any different than my passion today. I have an innate desire to know and be known. I am working out my salvation and my humanity with fear and trembling. I am participating in my own evolution. That is the highest calling I believe we have.

Water Vapor Confirmed on Alien Planet | Wired Science

Water Vapor Confirmed on Alien Planet | Wired Science

Life happens and so does death

Yeah, I know. I haven’t been around much lately. I don’t know if it’s because I haven’t had anything to write about or maybe too much to write about. Life happens. I haven’t felt like writing. It’s felt like an exercise, and I’ve been slack on that too for the last few weeks. There has been work, lots of work. There’s been sickness. Between the four of us somebody’s always passing something around. There’s been lots of family time, for which I’m very grateful, and there’s also been death. My grandmother ended her struggle with Alzheimer’s three weeks ago.

I never really expected to be affected by her passing as much as I was. I thought that I had dealt with this already. She started going downhill a few years ago, and for the last two rarely knew most of us. I don’t know that I fully grieved the loss a few years ago, or maybe it was a slow constant awareness of things lost. My feelings on the subject had degraded to indifference. Then she died.

I have been very fortunate in my life to have known all of my great grandparents during my childhood and also to have never lost an immediate family member in my now 31 years of life. I have had my share of death in the pastorate. It’s part and parcel with the trade. I spent many hours going through prolonged terminal illness with several people. You cannot help but become emotionally invested in others during such ordeals, but this was different.

Not only had we lost our grandmother, but in manys ways her passing closed a door on a huge portion of my life. Growing up as a child in south Louisiana is long since past and will not be again. Although myself and my cousins have grown up and are trying to find our way in the world, I believe each of us are those same little kids at Maw-Maw’s house. We may look like we’ve got it together, but in many ways we all still battle our same childhood insecurities. We just think when we’re kids that the grown ups have their act together. Ignorance is bliss, right? All sorts of family drama have not made handling any of this any easier.

My grandmother asked me a few years ago to preach her funeral. I agreed. Little did I know that I would no longer be pastoring churches and seldom preaching when the time came. The task is hard enough in and of itself, but so much of my belief system has radically changed. There are more things that I do not know than I used to know. Gone is the dogmatism. I live in the tension of mystery and paradox. I ended up spending most of my time ulogizing her and speaking briefly about her faith, which was also my faith. It didn’t help matters that her funeral fell on my birthday, but we move on, although walking slowly.

Do not hurry
As you walk with grief,
It does not help the journey.

Walk slowly,
Pausing often:
Do not hurry
As you walk with grief.

Be not disturbed
By memories that come unbidden.
Swiftly forgive;
And let Christ speak for you unspoken words
Unfinished conversation
Will be be resolved in Him.
Be not disturbed.

Be gentle with the one
Who walks with grief,
If it is you,
Be gentle with yourself.

Swiftly forgive;
Walk slowly
Pausing often.

Take time,
be gentle
As you walk with grief.

– From Celtic Daily Prayer by the Northumbria Community

I’ve been thinking a lot about death the last few weeks. Morbid, I know, but someone has to do it. I don’t know what happens when you die. I know all the lines about heaven and hell and what gets you where. I don’t think it works quite the way we’ve been told. The whole system is too conveniently construed to give power to those who want power and peace of mind to those who need peace of mind. Truthfully, I don’t think anything happens when you die. That really sucks when you think about it. Even hell seems preferable to nothing.

Listening to “Last Request (acoustic)” by Paolo Nutini a few days ago really brought home the gravity of the moment of our death and sums up my feelings about nothingness:

Slow down, lie down
Remember it’s just you and me
Don’t sell out, bow out
Remember how this used to be
I just want you to know something, is that alright?
Baby let’s get closer, tonight

Grant my last request and just let me hold you, don’t shrug your shoulders
Lay down beside me
Sure I can accept that we’re going nowhere
But one last time let’s go there
Lay down beside me, ohhh

I’ve found that I’m bound to wander down that long way road, ohhh
And I realise all about your lies,
But I’m no wiser than the fool that I was before.
I just want you to know something, is that alright?
Baby let’s get closer, tonight.

[chorus repeat]

Baby, baby, baby
Tell me how can, how can this be wrong?

[chorus repeat 2x]

Ooohhhh wohhhhohhh, yeah
Lay down beside me
One last time let’s go there,
Lay down beside me.

When you think about dying, it makes every day of living that much more precious. I don’t really know how long we have on this earth. Even if it were 80 years, it would not be enough. What matters most isn’t how much money you made and the stuff you’ve bought. What matters most is those you loved and the time you spent with each of them, which makes grieving over a death or loss of relationship all the more difficult.

Grief is a strange and unwelcome guest that you just don’t know what to do with and can’t wait to get rid of. I’ve been grieving in a way over leaving pastoral ministry. Not that I miss it, but that I get angry thinking of how I was used and tossed aside. Learning the painful truth that relationships were a means to an end for most people. They were friends with my position but not with me. I grieve over time wasted but find a measure of comfort in knowing it led me to where I am now. I also grieve over the loss of my childhood, the loss of innocence. Many people that I’ve talked to who have deprogrammed from ministry and from church go through a process of grieving with all of its stages. I’m somewhere in the mix… not where I was but not where I’m going. I’m just trying to take one day at a time and be myself. I’m not qualified to be more than that.

I’ve been working a lot the last few weeks, which is a good thing. I’m trying to get back on track making up for lost time, which has been a needed distraction. I’ve been able to be home a lot but not as much as I’d like. I’m looking forward to down time for the holidays and a change of pace come January. Something’s got to give. If you don’t mind, you might not hear from me again until 2008. Silence is therapeutic, and I’m overdue.

Happy holidays to all of you. I’ll drink a spiked egg nog in your honor and put 2007 to rest.

The universe looking back onto itself

Colliding galaxies (photo from Hubble telescope)

Breathtaking! A few years ago my first thought would have been that this is the fingerprint of God. Maybe it is; maybe it’s not. I’m not able to answer that anymore. My first impression on seeing this image today is that we are looking into a mirror at a reflection of ourselves.

I’m in complete awe of the beauty and grandeur of the universe. It is inadequate and inconceivable to even say that it is big. I highly recommend you read this article just to get some perspective on our place in it: Window of Possibility: Why the Hubble Ultra Deep Field is the most incredible photograph ever taken.

When we see images like this, we cannot even begin to appreciate the significance of them. This image captures the birth pangs of our mother. This is where we all came from. We are the children of stardust, whirling and colliding in massive and spectacular beauty. All life as we know it has this common ancestry.

My 3 year old son was looking at family pictures yesterday. Some of them were taken before he was born with only his mommy, daddy, and older brother. He got very sad and asked where he was and why he wasn’t in the picture. It was a temporary dilemma of sorts for him to imagine that there was a time when he was not, just as it is sometimes difficult for us to imagine a time when we will not be any longer.

Perspective is what is lacking in our culture today… macro perspective. We have none beyond our own narrow selfish interests. Life is rare, precious, and beautiful. Every day, every moment, and every person in ours should be cherished and celebrated. The world and all those in it are not ours to exploit or to ruin. They are ours to love.

Leann Rimes: What I Cannot Change

Wow! Leann Rimes has really come into her own. Her latest song “What I Cannot Change” shows the depth and maturity of her voice with rich and delicate reflections on life. Her voice is as tender as the lyrics are profound.

It is a tremendous step forward in life to recognize the truth that “all the rest is out of my hands.” We cannot fix everything, nor do I believe everything is meant to be fixed. Some things just are. The sooner we stop trying to resist the “divine flow” (to borrow from Chopra) and learn to embrace complexity, mystery, and wonder, we will find an enormous source of peace.

When we come head to head with what we cannot change, we have a choice to let it go, to forgive, or to love. Perhaps the latter is the hardest for most to understand. I think it’s wise of the songwriter to say “I will learn [to let go, to forgive, to love] what I cannot change.” It is not easy. It is a process, and one that we may not fully understand until we’ve been there and come out on the other side. It is possible to love what you cannot change, to embrace it, and to find beauty and truth in even the smallest of joys and heartaches. Read more…

If you think your life is insignificant…

I’ve been enthralled by Brian Swimme’s book The Universe is a Green Dragon. I trust that you already know that we are children of the stars, literally. The planets, comets, moons, and even life on earth are all products of star dust. For that reason Swimme describes the universe observing itself through us:

We are the self-reflexion of the universe. We allow the universe to know and feel itself. So the universe is aware of itself through self-reflexive mind, which unfurls in the human. We were brought forth so that these experiences of beauty could enter awareness. The primeval fireball existed for twenty billion years without self-awareness. The creative work of the supernovas existed for billions of years without self-reflexive awareness. That star could not, by itself, become aware of its own beauty or sacrifice. But the star can, through us, reflect back on itself. In a sense, you are the star.

This got me to thinking. Often we live our lives trying to discover where it is we came from and wondering where it is we are going, not knowing either for certain. What happens to the world around us once we’re gone? Did our lives really count for something? Make an impact on others? All of those billions of stars had no idea of their own significance until we came along, formed from the leftover dust of their death. Just because we don’t know what will happen in the future doesn’t mean we won’t make a difference. One day we will become dust again, and in time we will return to our source, another star in another time that will one day too explode into a world of new possibilities. It really isn’t such a small world after all, is it?