Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christian Materialism : The Good

Tis the season, again. The shopping with the twin complaint of the over materializing of Christmas, along with cries to remember the reason for the season. Like the cold, the falling leaves, the shorter days, these indulgences and complaints are now part of the decor of the next few days and weeks. We will again be bludgeoned with reports of people behaving badly trying to get a bargain on the hottest Christmas present, this year it was pepper spray, last year, a death, 30 years ago battling mom’s over Cabbage Patch Kids (remember them?). We will listen to the siren track of pop Christmas music both frustrated by the holidays and filled nostalgia and anticipation.

They are all integral to the annual rite of our holiday season. As are the related complaints of offense given by saying “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas” or the opposite offense of saying “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays.” Of course somewhere there will be a nativity banned or a counter display for Atheists will garner news. We will all have our opinions for Christmas brings out a great deal in us. Lets not forget some poor families will be remembered, when usually they are forgotten. Many will get items they would not have, and the cuisine for the homeless will turn remarkably better. For a month, the poor will be called less fortunate and not their what we normally call them. Christmas in America, like all things human, is a mix bag.

Some how it seems strange to believe that pointing out the obvious, the commercialization of Christmas, will somehow turn it into one of our imagination or make it, at least, look more like a Christmas TV special. Like indulging the illusion of pointing out the blue of the sky will somehow make it red. It’s more like if we complain about it, then we can participate with a minimal amount of guilt. We live in a consumer culture and one where Christmas can mean up to 40 percent of the year’s business to most retail shops. We will be shocked at the excess of Black Friday. And in this economy, we also will rooting for big shopping numbers just the same. Yet, we complain. The complaints have been around longer than before my birth and most likely long after I am dust.

As a Christian, a follower of Jesus, what am I to do? Shake my fist at the appropriating of the holiday (all the while pulling out the credit card for presents for my family)? Indulge with the comfort that of course I know better? I have come to believe that the complaining does as much to keep the commercialization of Christmas in place in our own lives, because the complaints are directed to the society or the other, not me. The complaining, like the lights and the anticipation for getting presents and the anxiety of getting presents for others are all just distractions.

I have written before in Praise of Christmas materialism.   Christmas should be about the flesh around Christmas time, as we Christians are in fact worshiping when God became flesh. But Christian materialism is based being together and taking care of each other. It is summed up in the two great commandments, love God and neighbor. The most telling words for Christian at Christmas is in John 1.4 “dwelt with” for after the Word became Flesh, the Word (Jesus, God incarnate) dwelt with us. God being with us in skin, bone and blood as a baby, helpless and needing mother’s comfort makes the very act of living Holy. This is a materialism in reality.

This made me think about the nature of consumerized Christmas. The reality is that it’s not a materialism, but a disillusion. I remember as a young boy wanting a deluxe Electric Football Game, you know the one where plastic football payers move on a vibrating metal plate. It looks so cool on the commercials. I did get it on Christmas morning and for all of Christmas day, I was happy. After a few days, the game was boring and I did what most boys did, I experimented with other things to vibrate like dirt, and my sister’s dolls. That became boring, as well. Within a couple of weeks it was in closet. The promise of endless fun was not real. What was real and I keep coming to was moments and rituals of my family. I plan to cook Beef Bourguignon for my in-laws this year, because I want to share space with them and show them I love them. A group of us will serve at Ronald McDonald house and share food with families that have a child in the hospital out of a sense of knowing what means to have a child in the hospital. Joy comes from sharing good and suffering. I will not complain but find moments to look into the eyes of my fellow humans, even if they complain. Because God came to us.

For where everywhere God trends the ground becomes holy, and choice to be with us, and so our lives have been touched by the Grace of Emanuel, which means God with us. So as I watch my son, a 2-year old with dawning of the awareness of Christmas with its wonder lights, I am reminded for the glory of God-loving us in the touch of a new-born. If any thing we, Christians, should pause on the materialism of Christmas. Enjoy the excitement of the children at this time. Taste and see the goodness of the holiday treats. Be with people where ever they may be. If a person is offended by saying “Merry Christmas” I will say Happy Holidays (at least Merry Holidays to shake both of our non-thinking for a while.) I will serve at the Ronald McDonald House, as we do once as month, not as a duty but as gift from God.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Commercial White Water Rafting

Commercial White Water Rafting

Rather than pouting, the pair pointed upward
in a gaze, daring the gathered around them
to see the bearings of the universe in the fight
on one lone eagle gliding in the blue of dispersed
light. On their feet, the gesture of the two, leads
the others to the untouchable show above them.
Soon, the Eagle disappears in the updraft,
and we return to our smoked gouda sandwiches.
The Arkansas River leading to prime show
of Browns Canyon still flows past, while the rental
equipment loses a bit of its water coating to the sun.
The 12 year old boy from Delaware still talks of the Golden
Eagle’s visit as if the bird made a personal visit.
The meaning and metaphor are there, but my hands
too small to grasp it. Between our lunches end, the fourteen
of us, our two rafts, and our remounting in formation,
I count eleven passing rafts filled, two kayaks
and one canoe, which means seventy-seven
photos will snapped before ours. The pair that fell
into the cold Colorado river water just before lunch
will, fifteen years later, still have the frame image
on their living room wall. The boy? He is lost
to the mystery though his breaking voice remains.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

In the Valley of Life: Stories

I have been reading John Goldingay's reflection and remembrance of his wife, Remember Ann. I have had the book awhile and have been fearing reading it. I knew John and Ann during my days at Fuller. Ann was 
diagnosed with MS early in their relationship and John took care of his wife throughout their forty year marriage. I made the acknowledgements. But I fear reading it on two fronts. First, my son has NF-1 and it may be a severe form and I don't know if I have the strength to go through if I know what that means. Better in such journeys to only dealing with whats in front of you. I remember when a friend from Colorado was looking up at the top of Mount of the Holy Cross mountain. Seeing the top he could not imagine making to the top. I had been on the top already, by taking on step a time. I did not what to deal with seeing the top from John's story. Second, I am dealing with a persistent Glaucoma problem. I fear being a blind husband to my wife, and undue burden up her, especially if our son also might need care. It was to overwhelming. 

Last night, the three of us, wife, son and me, sat a the dinner table and laughed. My two year old laugh with a deep laugh that filled his whole being over something little. I saw God in this moment. I found the courage to read a friend's story. Tears mixed with laughter, this is what I am grateful for. This does not change the devil's choice that my wife and I will have to make. Nor does it change the possible terrors my son will have to face. But sharing the story, as John does, somehow makes more alive. Below is a poem I wrote when I found out Ann had passed away. In it I remember what many forget about the Gospel is about being fully alive and fully alive with others.

The Early Church Father St. Irenaeus of Lyons famous quote about the meaning of Gospel, comes to me through the giggles of my son, “The glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God”

In the Valley of Life
In memory of Ann
The music exists
           in time, in silence,
     and in the valley of the bones before the prophet,
               the mortal, spoke. The dryness of the land
    lacked the wind of life before the God’s

question. God
          asked the prophet if the bones
      could find flesh again and dance as a living
              people. Demanding an answer,

We become
         Mute to the fractures of our time.
      Snap, and we are orphans. Crackle, and life
             Dissipates like the smoke

From an extinguished
         Beeswax purple candle. The still hot
      Liquid of stilled blood longs to move as if
              It remained a springtime brook.

On the crossplanck
          Where the points of the valley meet,
      We answer with a song, only God could know,
            of cold loss in our marrow.

God asks the prophet
        Again, and we defer our different
      Ignorance. We speak to the bones of our past,
          Finding memories, finding

Sinew attaching
      To our stories. Will they spring up
    From out of the ground? Will they speak to us
         In a new voice.

The mortal speaks
      To the brittle dust and water begins
   To turn to blood. The skin needed to contain
          The red wine colored

Fluid covers
      The memories. Notes of forty plus
   year marriage begin to play the dignity of Ann.
           Through the silence,

She heard
      God’s s libretto through the voice
  Of the mortal. The mortal proclaimed the words
       Of life, of body broken

For new being. Alive,
     Again and for the first time,
  We remember  and give thanks and sing
     For sweet Ann given to us.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Pain in my Thoughts and Thighs

 The Pain in my Thoughts and Thighs 

I start my morning with a cliché,
a lukewarm one at that. Walking
on ice, my reality.Trending on ice
that was once was snow, but tires
and time turned into a sheet of a mixture
white and black ice, another overused
metaphor of good and bad. So, here
I was pushing, with likeness of a beer
induced dance, toward my morning bus
stop. In the wide middle of the street
there was a path cut by tires, I meet
the moonlight of the walk and snow dust,
making sure of the planting of the heel,
the best way to avoid slipping in real
time. The red lights of warming cars
with exhaust breathing into the darkness,
became markers in my not falling.
Already, I ave pain from the ape walk
that I use to walk on the ice. Being
a meaning making machine, I wonder
why? The best I can come up with, due
much to the weakness of my morning coffee
yet to hit, and the knowledge of so many
thousands of year of poems, predictions,
pacing on ice, both black and white,
is that sometimes it snows in November
and being prepared to start earlier
will keep you from missing the bus.
Luckily, I did not have to run on ice,
another cliché altogether.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Going to the Well in the Middle of One Hot Day

Going to the Well in the Middle of One Hot Day
a mediation on a question about the purpose of a Sunday Night Bible Study

You ask how, on our emerald
and blue ball, I would direct
the coming of God, fearing
if we are doing right. I know

the temptation. Just gather under
a name and wait to see what happens,
while for others, home watching
a football dances on TV? Really,

that’s it? Better, let us go
out and conquer for the Kingdom.
Pull out the sword and cut the ear
of those who do not hear.
Dance upon the waters

through faith and trust of the message,
less we fall into the murky sea.
Adventures in the cross, yes,
but patiently pounding the book,
timid in talking about timing and tempo
in our prayers of pows, wows and hows?

Again, that’s it? Sitting in stillness
of the darkness of a random Sunday
night? What would Jesus think?

Feathering the threads
of our individual lives
into a joint blanket, what’s the use
when so many are crippled?

When so many need to be lowered
from the roof to meet the God
incarnate they so desperately need. Feed

the hungry. Yes, 
God is with us when two
or more, but Martha knows the work
still needs to be done.  Come,

and follow, 153 Sundays
and what will we know?
So, I stop and sound
your question to the wind.
What is the use?

I know the terrible secrete.
It blows in the upper floors,
His question, “Do your love me?”
leads to life, the unknowable risks
and at times to an upside down
death on a cross. 


Friday, November 18, 2011

Not Another Telemarketer

Dime Day Doubts

When the history of world is written in blank verse,
as all true history is inscribed in iambic pentameter,
the main roll will go the ghosts of telemarketers,
telling your to buy the telegraphed past you’ve strive
to forgot, and who show up when you make love
to your wife or when you are playing pick up basketball,
or even at dinner. They will have to take three nos
before they leave, any less and their supervisors write
them up for lack of efforts. They will burnish all their
techniques of the trade, tone deaf fears of step-fathers'
murdering fathers, of dark Dane days of indecision 
and keeping you in their world. They will do anything 
to keep you in your past. "Leave me alone," you shout
and they still appear, and appear and appear. You son
will be on stage as a pilgrim, black hat doubling
his size, and you will be wanting to hang up
on the persistent past pestering you with problems
of the seven year old you were. Then, on follow up calls,
pointing you guilty for not paying attention to you child’s
part in second grade play of Thanksgiving.
Why, you think, do we lack a National Registry of No
Calls for the ghosts of Telemarketers.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I Read Mine On My Ipad

 I Read Mine On My Ipad

Codices, then a technological advance
of the young, were leather, vellum
and papyrus butterflies fluttering
in the wind throughout the Roman
world. Compact and carried by Jews,
missionaries and faithful slaves,
these first bound books became
the pollination for the destruction
of the Trinity of the Roman
Gods of their Golden Age:
success, wealth and fame.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Limitations of Local

The Limitations of Local

Chanterelles, yellow chandeliers in the wild,
have the look of brains as the butter
and balsamic vinegar sizzle on a new coat
of flavor. While we hunted for them
in the shadows of the Grand Traverse, we
found alpine strawberries smaller then the nail
on my ring finger. I recall the taste of the wild
mushrooms with shallots, clams, and linguini
to girls in Los Angles who thought the Milky
Way was a candy bar and never seen the spray
of stars. Of course, they were appalled we used
can clams and not fresh out of their beloved ocean.

Monday, November 14, 2011

History Repeating Persistent Patterns

History Repeating Persistent Patterns

Most of us will miss our rightful place
in the Book of History. If we do achieve its ink,
probability proclaims we merely will be

an endnote, a footnote, or a nameless allusion.
Few get a headline, let alone a chapter. Some,
fed on the illusions of exceptionalism, self-love

and been told since birth that they are
extraordinary, discover this truth as a tragedy.
Yet, to go missing from the Book of Life

tasting the acrimonious sourdough straight
out of the hundreds of degree heat or popping open
a petite syrah colored like the purple of Ceasar’s

robe, yellows or reds our green leafs in preparation
for falling.  But, is distracting our future offspring
from their dreams of importance really a requiem

of suffering? I mean I remember when I started
school, age six with coke bottle glasses, I want to them all
to like me. Strange, I can’t recall any of their names.

The Interlocking Chains of Command

The Interlocking Chains of Command

When a bird is no longer in flight
he dreams of worms to eat. Might
he fantasize of freedom’s glide and glaze
of flying? We humans speculate. But
for the bird, the air is just a means
for finding food. Dinner—not escape.
What, then, do the worms dream
as they pick our bones white?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Poetry, Nobel, the stream of life

I have not been posting as I have been pushing in getting a book of poems. I am going to see if I can write a poem a day for the whole of 2112, and think that there is nothing like the present to build the muscles to write. When I heard that Tomas Transtormer won the Nobel prize for his poems, I was affected. Twenty years ago in my writing program in Texas, he was a visiting poet, and very few people went to hear him, then a unknown poet from Sweden. I remember how intrigued by hm I was. He thought in metaphor and tried to capture the flow of life in his quiet poems. He is the first Nobel writer I have touch with a handshake. Now, I look to turn my poems as a testament to life, finding voice for the quiet moments that make living, but seem to be neglected in the course of biography and story. Below is a poem about going out with a group of young fathers and fathers to be from my small group from our church.   

Church Boys’ Night of Beer, Fun and Football

On the table, all the buffalo wings left: one.
And the battered wheels of onions
the diameter and color of a grapefruit left: one.

Of the flatbread, the latest craze, baked with pieces
of shredded Romano and Parmesan left: one.

Though its tomato, olive oil and sweet basil dip
long gone into the tummies of the young
fathers of preschoolers. Fear of appearing
gluttonous to each other left this plethora of ones. 

“Bonding” what a strange way of putting it,
as if stuck by together by Gorilla glue or black
duct tape binding us into a group in front
of a big screen. Hittites, who now only exist
in others’ accounts and archeological digs, would

use just one word to say hello and goodbye
that translates from their dead language into,

“Be alive.”

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Power of With

Yes, there are libraries full of books promising the secrets of life, the how to guides, and books that even try to make scripture into a tool of manipulation. Click your heals three times, close your eyes and tell the universe your heart’s desire. Pray the right prayer to God. The universe or God, white wand in hand, grants you your desires because you wanted it so bad. While fantasy is fun, this is not of the book I am writing. Within analysis you will not find answers to fulfilling your desires for a dream job, getting people to liking you, getting stuff, getting more stuff or getting fame or even getting success.

It may happen. It may not.

These are unimportant in the long course of our lives.

I speak of smaller things. I speak of bigger things. The good life, the honest life, the real life transcends time. Love transcends time. Jobs, reputation, wealth, fame, and even success are all limited by time. Chasing them is like chasing moving water with a wholly cup. A little may find your lips, but only enough to keep you thirsty. Going from success to success leaves you wanting, empty and frustrated without relationship or love. Think about the time you accomplished a great success, made the winning basket, got the applause. Why did it leave you empty so quickly after? Real living fills you with living water, quenching your thirst. Think back to a connecting to another, a great heart to heart talk, seeing you son or daughter walking for the first time, overwhelmed by the beauty of ocean line. Imagine.

Imagine that the worth of yourself and others is not measured by stuff, status or success. Imagine the worth of a life coming from your connection to others, to God, to your life, irrespective of your circumstances. Where prayer, ceasing to be a tool of wanting, births you into unknown adventures. A life of memories worth having.

I will not promise here of mysterious keys to life, hidden truths, or magical potions. That’s left for others. The key to the good life is simple and full of suffering. It is also fills us with joy. I will just share my experiences on being with others. Use what you can for yourself. Toss out what you want or doesn’t work for you.

Nor will you find anything new. Yes, I will share techniques to listen better. Yes, I will share ancient and orthodox Christian theology. That is what I have studied and have my degree in. I will also share what I have learned from the world of science. With the discovery of mirror neurons, the ancient truth of living a life of love makes the highest life has been confirmed by modern science. We are hardwired to be with each other.

With one a simple word, I will the hope is that we can reclaim the power of love. A word so common we ignore it, a word that is at the center of Immanuel, at the center of the divine, at the center of love without pretensions and without lies. Follow.

What we speak about here is joy, passion, and love. What speak about is a simply word “with.” A contemplation on such a small and common a word might look like a waste of time, and effort that a quick search of the dictionary or Google search settle any question on the meaning and practice of the word. But think back when you have connected with another, eye to eye, face to face, and for a moment time disappeared. Why did you connect with them? Was it that you were with them? Did you, for a moment, transcend yourself and found yourself carried away with another human to a different place than your normal life? Yet, paradoxically, you also maintain your own self. If fact you experienced your self at a heighten state. The theologian Martin Buber named such a being with another, I-Thou. He was right saying that the I of being with another is different from the I that is apart from the world. The I that can be with another is the real I. The I that touches God.

Remember such an experience. Think of a space and time when something came over you. Maybe a sense of beauty overwhelmed you. Whether it was nature or animal that you found yourself changed, even if just a little while. It could have been a song, music, art, painting or film that carried you away only the place of a heighten you. Wouldn’t these experiences be worthy of meditation, or at least a pause for reflection?

Could we repeat such events? Or at least be more open to them?

Stay with me, though. Yes, “with” is just a preposition; a word used a million times a day without thought. Defining a word can do one of two things either give one a greater understanding of the word or dismiss it. The word “with” does two important things. First it places one in relationship to whatever one is with. Second, it maintains our own boundaries in the relationship. To have no boundaries with the other means being adsorbed by the other. Obsession is not love.

There has to be a sense of compassion to love or it sinks to obsession.

Compassion simply means being with another’s passion. Communicate simply means sharing language with another. Common simply means being with duty. Community simply means with unity. The word “with’ gets to the heart of living, of loving, and finding joy. Learning to be with another will lead to a full life. “With’ teach us the heart of God. Emmanuel simply means God with us.

The prefix “com,” etymology tells us, comes a word that means “with.” Com be with me in my exploration.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Silly Thing Called Love

How come we sound so trite and superficial when we speak about love? The jokes of seeing life as a Cumbia sing alongs by the campfire with endless supplies of smores come one’s way as way of shutting up any talk of love. The dream of love seems more a fantasy or a tool of manipulation. Do this because I love you.

Saying we should love one another and that we should try to be with one another makes us play a marble game of rolling eyes. The cat eyes shoot out any seriousness talk of love from the circle of life. Love, connection and community seems more of a kid’s game before we lose our innocence and reality takes all of our marbles. Love makes for good movies and pipe dreams, but if one really tries to be with another, well, understand that disappointment will bully us into reality. People disappoint. People hurt each other. Being with another poses real dangers. If we are to be with another in authentic way, we have to know the thorns along the path.

Yes, one of the dangers of advocating being with people tends to down play the opposite. It seems that connecting with others should be a slam-dunk when compared to being disconnected. Being alone drives our loneliness and angst. Yet, the truth is that most of us are disconnected from each other. Even in our closest relationships, especially in our closest, most of will disconnect by a variety of ways such as manipulation, pretense of being alright, stonewalling, and so many others. Then years pass and we wake to realize that we have wasted our relationships. The protective shell becomes carbon fiber strong as we age and then we realize that there are very few, if any, people that we really close to. Our children never call, feel guilty when they are with us and cry at our funeral. They never know how weak we felt as we held on their first day of life, until they hold their own. The pattern repeats.

Of course, I am saying nothing new. This is as old as humanity itself. Our fear of connecting and love, our wanting to be over others instead of with others defines the structure of our history. Disconnecting from others out of fear or out of control protects us from the dangers of being with others.

Disconnection is about protecting ourselves. In the older psychosocial stereotypes, being disconnected protects our ego. Yet, protecting the ego sounds a bit selfish and really does not capture the very real threat to us in opening ourselves to love. Jesus, as incarnate love, ended on a cross. If God opens into vulnerability and suffers a cruel death, what hope is there for us? We all have a cross moment of loving only to suffer.

The first memory I have is of a beating I had at the hands of my father. I refuse to eat spinach and got black and blue. I use to think this is sad and it was rare. While it still sad, in most people I know, their first memories are profound moments of disappointment. The scramble of the four year old to protect himself and understand the pain of being bad for not eating spinach and the betrayal of a father’s love, became a large facet of my personality. The first moment, not the last, of being disappointed in love shades my interactions with others except when love breaks through the protection.

We call opening ourselves up to love, being vulnerable, and vulnerable means the possibility of real hurt. This threat does present a possibility of real pain. People know this and that is the reason vulnerability is a risk. While calling the pull to disconnection an egotism, we down play the threat that being with another does posses. Going down a double diamond run thrills us we do risk blowing out a knee. God understood this problem as when Jesus opened up to others, he was strung on a cross. Opening up to love does open ourselves to love, and to suffering. The pull toward disconnection moves us toward safety. We also move toward a non-living existence filled with frustration.

Since, we need to connect with others by disconnecting we slowly starve like a anorexic. The next solution we try to disconnect from some and connect with others. We call this trust. If we can trust another then we can open up. The problem with this is that how do we find people we trust? Most of us are very bad at placing trust. Also, all of will break trust. Second withhumans being are all weak as we are, we fail to realize that at one point we will all break trust and everyone in our lives will disappoint us. We retreat into our disconnected safety. The dance of life.

What to do? Before we risk we have to know the dangers. There will be crosses, but there will resurrections. Say yes to life means being with others; being with others will mean pain. Being with others also means joy, love and caring. Can’t have one with out the other. Dr. Brene Brown remind us that when we numb, we numb the good along with the bad emotion. I will go further, when we protect ourselves from hurt, we also shield ourselves from love. We need love. There is no way around it; being with others in a real way will bring love and suffering. While this sounds daunting, remember disconnecting from others will only bring numbness and ultimately only suffering. The best option remains the risk of being with the others humans we share life with.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

High Heat and Cooking Chicken Stir-fry

I knew his eyes, worn out like thrift store laundry. I had worn those eyes before, hospital eyes of a powerless parent. the heat was just starting to work on chicken, soy sauce, hosin and fresh cut veggies. He looked at me, part of a church group serving dinner to parents weary from the hospital, with mistrust. The wok sounded like fast falling rain. All he wanted was some hot food and to collapse into his bed at the Ronald McDonald House. The last thing he needed was a bunch of do-gooders wanting his attention or his applause for providing dinner. His son was battling cancer that had already taken half his son’s leg. His face wore wrinkles of leave-me-alone. I understood his wariness. I had been nailed to the same cross of sick child’s parent.

The wok needed stirring. The wood spoon already had worn on the side from use. I looked at his eyes and saw a reflection two thousand or hundreds of thousands of years old. I saw my reflection. I wore a similar look at another Ronald McDonald House not long before.

My son, right after turning one, had to go through seven hour brain and skull surgery to fix a genetic fault that left his brain pushing out his eye. I knew the fatigue that comes doing nothing but being at the hospital, the fatigue that comes from worry over the fear of death, not mine, but my son. Powerlessness describes what it means to be human, but we, parents of the kingdom of sick children, have gotten good at hiding this fact. My son’s biology had taught me this truth. I remember how my son looked after the operation, like a plump blueberry. Five days later, he was playing peek-a-poo. The wonders of my son ring like a mystery.

After we came home, I felt the need to be with others going through the same pain. We met with our church and after some convincing we added a night of serving dinner at our local Ronald McDonald house. We, my wife and I, went to serve out of my being with my own weakness; the others went out love for my family. o

Since being a citizen of the Kingdom of sick children isolates parents, we were there to be with others. I wanted my church to offer an ear and a presence. We were not there simply to do for others, but to be with one another. We were transformed by the experience, but not without struggle.

The first few times we went to serve dinner, I found a problem. People want to help, and they found it easy to do for others. Being with another, opening up to a pain they were powerless to solve was something they had trouble with. They wanted to cook the hot meal, served with a smile, but they wanted to wait to eat and eat among themselves. The path of a waiter, professionalism, makes for a childhood fort easy to defend, a good way to avoid being with another. Protecting our weakness makes us easy cowards. I wanted them to eat with the parents, being with the parents and give the parents a place to put their story.

Cooking Mac and Cheese was easier. Hearing a story and being powerless to changed the outcome of the children left the church crew uncomfortable. The risk of love can be a double diamond ski run, daunting and relentless. Understandable, they feared.

The first night we grilled brats and burgers. When the food came out, I went to call my wife to see how our son was doing. I came back to the crew was eating in the kitchen waiting to clean up, and the parents out at the tables. I scattered the crew out to sit with the worried parents, to enter into the Kingdom of sick children.

Hearing their stories of babies the size coke cans, stories of cancer, stories of mysterious aliments both scared the group and made them come alive. Being with another even in their pain, transforms us making love possible. We slowly learned to share our own stories. Most of church helpers had stories of hurting children in the hospital, or pains to relate to. The families needed people to walk with them. Only by leading with our own stories could we learn to pray with them. Miracle of miracles, we soon broke the barriers and became united as one community. Then the next month and new people, and we would have relearning to breakdown the barriers, which keep us from being with each other.

So, I had gotten good at recognizing those eyes of mistrust, those hospital eyes. When I saw his eyes, I remember the days of praying at the hospital, doing nothing but looking at my son. I remember hating people call us brave, of saying that children were resilient, of listening between the words of doctors looking for clues to the fate of my son. Yes, I understood the temptation to punch some do-gooder in the mouth for wanting credit for serving some hot food. I could read the stirring of his mind, mixing with the high heat of the moment.

“I hated those long days of doing nothing at the hospital. It’s exhausting.” I said to him. I started the process of pouring the chicken stir-fry into a serving dish. His eye change and he recognized a fellow citizen of the Kingdom of sick children. We have our own language.

“Yeah, they sucks.” He answered. “What was wrong with you kid?”

We exchanged stories, the currency of love. I said I could not fathom what it was like to have a teenage son lose half his right leg. He said thanks. He said that the boy was getting good on his crutches. We prayed and then parted. I had to finish the stir-fried chicken I was cooking. Food is important. For a moment we were with each other. For a moment our burdens were shared.

Later, my now two year toddler almost tripped his sixteen year old. His son, indeed, was quick and agile with his crutches. My son was singing the wheels on the bus, when he tried to hold the missing leg. I apologized for my son’s action. He said to think nothing of it. Two sons, two fathers painted the scene. Somehow love revealed something. Somehow love prayed for us when we couldn’t. The flavors mixed as I knew, and the dinner was tasty.*

*This is the second part of my exploration of the power of with. I will post something about the power of with for the 30 days. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Question of the good life

             The good life! Yes, imagine a life fill with adventure. Imagine living as life reveals its newness in the present, each moment having the potential of meeting another human beyond fear, and with a deeper connection to others. Could we begin to live again? It seems like a dream, but it is possible? Living with power, each moment meeting our own lives as it unfolds! Many books offer a better you, I know. The heart of the self-help industrial complex is a promise of three things: being smarter, being healthier, being influential. Once smarter, healthier, or influential, then one will have a better life. But science and most religious text claim that the quality of our lives depends on our relationship. Most of the self-help aims at improving our branding and packaging.There lies a disconnect between the better self and relationship.
            Imagine, a chance encounter, unexpectantly, becomes a place of where love, the fullness of live, reveals itself. Can we live life as we did as children, with each moment full of hope, with each moment full of joy and passion, with mystery and discovery? Could we, despite the many years our calendars have flipped, befriend life again? Yes, live despite our cynicism. Somehow it has to do with love, we think.  It seems worrying about our packaging and branding works against our living a life of love, vulnerability and passion. How can love flourish if we always have an eye on the mirror?
            Yes, it sounds like a dream, to live a life of love. Strangely, it has to do with a four letter word. Remember love experienced before we became jaded by real life, before we developed walls of protection, before becoming adults. Yes, we can imagine, but is it possible beyond wishes or the lose of innocence? Love transcending our narcissism.  Love beyond accepting and to the higher mountain of affirming. Living like a beloved daughter or son at each moment seems like a dream of those unaware. The problem arises with the word love which has been load with trouble; it has been poisoned by being a tool of selling; it has been stretched beyond meaning into the meaningless mush of bland sounding pop music, a catchy tune we hum to our own annoyance. Greeting cards have stained “love” dark making it hard to see the orginal. Could there be another word?
Can love regain its power? There must be another word to draw us back the world we lost while young, when she work    Many times we know what we want ot say and then we lack the words to say it. My wif, when she wasworking on her dissertation, work look up and ask for a phrase or word because she was struck. I would ask her what she wanted to say, and the words would pore out of her. I think of this as I introduce the word I spent time understanding, and once understood, it changed the experience of my like for the better. It's a word that gets at the heart of both my faith and love. The word is the simple prepositon, with. *

 * this the start of sharing of about a book I am working on. I will share my investigations, scientific, theologically, personally and philosophical about the power of a simple four letter word. The word is so used without thought that most of ignore it, and yet as I have grown to understand it; it is at the heart of what it means to be alive and as I said in this post to living the good life. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

And so another 30 day challenge ends

Today, as I calculated is the end of my second 30 day challenge to write a poem. This one focused on writing love poems. My mind has been thinking what will be my next 30 day challenge. I have taken a couple of days off before staring the the next challenge and will do so. The next challenge will be working out the ideas for the book I am working on. The theme of the book is the power of living face to face as expressed by the simple word with. In the mean while tell me what you think about the last of my 30 pays of poems on love. I will continue to write love poems and read them and wlll post them periodically.

Love Lives

Drink from the spout of being with you.
Everyday the level rises and we continue,
beyond the sickness of our son, beyond the minor
and major setbacks. Drained at the night’s fall,
the glass refills with joy, with your business
in cleaning our house, with helping our son’s
vision, patching him even as he hates it. Yes,
I love in the middle of life, rather than
the fantasy of plucking out of time like
picking a silk rose that has all of the delicacy
of reality and none of the life. Life means
I fight glaucoma and you suffer a bad back.
Yes, we drain the glass. Yes, it refills. Miracle.